Apple Announcements 2015: iPad Pro, Watch, iPhone

Microsoft has often be accused of ‘firing up the Xerox’ to copy Apple’s ‘innovations.’  Well, during the Apple presentation on Sept 9, it seems that they are the ones who ‘fired up the Xerox.’  Indeed, the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro they introduced has many Surface 3 Pro features, including the docking keyboard and the pen, which Apple calls ‘the Apple Pencil.’  Cute.  Of course, this harkens back to the Steve Jobs comment “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” Of course, the Apple apologists will say that he didn’t really mean it that way.  Uh huh, right.

iPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle1-PRINTAll kidding aside, the iPad Pro is a credible machine.  At nearly 13 inches, the screen is big enough to adequately display two apps, side by side. Interestingly, there’s no drag and drop between applications. You copy/cut and paste.  An odd thing to leave out.  Maybe iOS 9.2.

The iPad Pro’s stylus has a nice feature that lets the Pro know the angle and pressure the user is placing on the screen’s surface.  Sensors built into the device communicate this data back to the software, which, in turn, acts on it.  Designer’s can now draw fine lines or really thick lines without having to lift the stylus. 

Microsoft was on stage demoing Office for iOS.  Yep, it is a credible package that turns the iPad Pro into a real, honest to goodness productivity device. 

The Pro’s keyboard dock is very, very similar to the Surface 3 Pro’s keyboard.  In fact, there were many, many similarities, so much so, that it seems that Apple was acknowledging Microsoft’s lead in this space.  A refreshing turn of events.

The iPad Pro also boasts four speakers.  The sound, one would hope, is far better than the tinny monoaural sound that comes out of them now.

On the watch front, native apps are now available as is several new bands.

Apple TV got a major upgrade with the addition of in device memory, a redesigned controller and an app store. Yes, it now runs apps and games with ‘stunning, console quality graphics.’ Someone quipped ‘yeah, if the console is a Wii.’  Hey, the Wii is still a cool little console.  Leave it alone or I’ll give you a wedgie!

Prices for the Apple TV are $149 and $199 for the 32gb and 64gb versions.  No 4k yet.

Prices for the iPad range from $799 to $1069.

Of course, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were also on display.  The killer feature:  living images.  This is a feature that Microsoft has had in its Lumia smart phones for quite sometime.  Basically, the camera buffers about four seconds of video.  The best frame, for the iPhone and in the ‘middle’ is taken where as the Lumia is usually the best of the last frames.  Either way, the effect is impressive.  Apple has taken it a step further and provides magic that also captures audio.  The Lumia does not do that.

There were other interesting things about the phones…faster processor, more internal RAM, 12mp camera, but the living images is, by far, the best new feature.

Head over to CNET for much more detail.

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New Surface Tablets, Blackberry rots and Nokia

In the past week, there were three major product announcements. One, that of Blackberry, essentially, throwing in the towel, will have ramifications greater than just losing a once mighty product and service. Blackberry’s retreat will, no doubt, give Microsoft and Windows Phone 8 a badly needed shot in the arm. How? One less target to shoot at and the possibility of those former customers headed Microsoft’s way. A percentage will, no doubt, go to Apple and iPhone but, perhaps, a larger percentage will head to Windows Phone 8 as the capability of that platform is closest to what they know.

The other two announcements, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, while interesting, will not have much impact on the world of computing.  But, they are bound to sell more than just a few and, perhaps, serve to force the other manufacturers to improve their offerings. 

The Surface 2 is the Surface RT, 2.0. Faster hardware and RT 8.1 will make for a more useful tablet. Surface Pro 2 is Haswell based and offers better performance, Windows 8.1, a slew of new accessories and better battery life.  Problem, however, is that they look like the tablets they are replacing. And that could be bad.

With the recent announcement that Nokia was releasing a Windows RT (yep, RT) tablet and then the subsequent announcement that Microsoft was purchasing the phone and hardware end of Nokia, one wonders about the fate of said Nokia ‘Sirius’ Tablet.  I have a feeling we will see the tablet released, before November of this year.  The completion of the Nokia acquisition is probably six months to a year out, so that would give Nokia plenty of time to release the tablet.

A recent Microsoft event reiterated that company’s commitment to Windows RT.  But, Steve Ballmer is due to step down fairly soon and hand the reigns over to a new CEO.  That incoming CEO may decide that RT is NOT the path Windows needs to take.  I think that would be a mistake.  Windows needs to evolve and getting rid of the baggage would certainly help.

[BEGIN RANT] Along those lines, it amazes me that Windows and Microsoft has to travel a different path than any other company. Apple completely changes the way Mac OS X works, CHANGES PROCESSORS mid stream, rendering machines obsolete over night; overhauls, completely, iOS and people CHEER them on and give them more money. Android forks every day and no one cares. Microsoft removes a button and the world is ready to roast them alive.  I’m not sure, but I think this actually means that people LOVE Windows? Could that be? Could it be that people are actually MORE passionate about Windows than Apple fans are of Apple? Huh…[/END RANT]

I am looking forward to checking out the new Surfaces.  I won’t be buying one as I have an Asus VivoTab Smart, but I still want to check them out. Who knows, maybe my Asus might show up on eBay…

In other news, Amazon introduced three new Kindle Fire tablets.  They feature faster processors, better screens, better battery life and new versions of Android.  Check them out at Amazon.com.

Record earnings result in an 11% drop in stock price…seriously?

There is a technology company that reported a ten percent rise in sales, earnings of five billion dollars or 59 cents a share and totals sales of $20.7 billion(US).  Yet, despite these great numbers, its stock sank 11% on the news.

What company? Microsoft. Why? Because they reported a $900 million write down on the Windows RT version of Surface. NOT the Pro Surface, which has been deemed a failure because it is lumped in with RT.  Indeed, the RT Surface is hardly a failure either. The write down is from where Microsoft lowered the device’s price by as much as $150 each.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Surface RT is not taking the retail market by storm. Far from it.  It is not selling all that well. There are a variety of reasons why, but, the biggest reason…it’s initial price was just too damn high.  $499 for an RT tablet is way too much.  Yes, it is a terrific device. Nice display, cool design, good feel and all around very nice hardware. BUT. There’s always a but.  Windows RT simply isn’t mature enough to command that kind of price. Microsoft needed to take a loss up front to get the machines out in the public hands.

Armchair quarterbacking aside, Microsoft has recognized what it did wrong and is making the necessary changes to right the ship. I think they will and I don’t think Ballmer’s head needs to roll. Yes, he should have realized they are not Apple and Surface RT is not the iPad. However, it is close now and lowering the price to $349 is a big step in the right direction.

The news was not all bad for the company. Office sales were up, Windows was steady and Windows Phone 8 is making big strides. In fact, Nokia reported selling more Lumia Windows Phone devices than Blackberry sold in its entire lineup.  Though, given that Apple moved 30 million iPhones compared to Nokia’s 7.5 million Lumias and one quickly realizes just how bad Blackberry is doing and also begs the question about Nokia as well.

Windows 8 devices, overall, are doing well, but not nearly as well as they could be.  The press is partly to blame and Microsoft is partly to blame but, the biggest offenders? The hardware partners. Mediocre hardware is killing the Windows devices market.  There are standouts, but, generally speaking, the state of the hardware is abysmal. You have a dynamite operating system that works equally well with touch and non-touch devices and, yet, the hardware is barely adequate for Windows XP. And these little 8 inch ‘saviour’ tablets? They will do more harm. Witness the poorly received Acer W3 8 inch tablet. The screen has been vilified. It is so bad that even Acer admits they need to do something about it. Question is what and when. In the mean, this overpriced tablet is leaving a bad taste in customer’s mouths. 

And, eight inches? Seriously? As long as that damned desktop mode is in Windows, you cannot have a touch screen under ten inches and be usable. Hell, I can barely use it at 10.6 inches.  I can’t imaging using it on an 8 inch screen.

The funeral that many are calling for is very premature. Microsoft will get it right.  They still have a huge advantage, contrary to what others may write, in Windows. Tablets, while handy, are not the end all and be all of computers.  I love them, but, we will still need our desktops. One day, that many not be the case, but, for the foreseeable future, it is.

Stock car racing, Windows 8 and Surface Pro…together…this is not your dad’s Windows

surface_WebLast week, the Great American Race-the Daytona 500-ran. Danica Patrick was the first woman to take the pole position and she finished 8th. Quite an achievement for any rookie and new team, regardless of who or what they are. It also signaled the start of the 2013 NASCAR racing season. Every year, teams try to eek out every bit of power, gain some kind of aero advantage (all but impossible with the ‘Gen 6’ race car) or, at least, gain as much information about how well a car performs on track.  This year, Toyota Racing Development contracted with Microsoft to develop a mobile, touch enabled application that will allow them to gather and analyze all types of data on car performance-data that can easily be updated by the driver with out the need for them to get out of the car (during testing or practice) as well as other team members.

Microsoft’s solution involves Microsoft Surface Pro tablets and a custom developed application running in the RT environment.

The Trackside app, as it is called, along with the Surface Pro tablet allows the team to capture performance data, via the touchscreen, and share it with the crew in real time.  Techs can then make more efficient use of time and fine-tune the car for better on track performance.

The Surface Pro was chosen mainly for its construction: its casing is durable and the Pro provides enough processing power to handle what ever is thrown at it.

This is a pretty good use for the tablet and Windows 8.  The ease of use that the RT side provides, along with the Surface Pro’s form factor, combine for a very powerful solution. It is nice to see this product being used in a real world (albeit an unusual one) situation and one in which most of the users are not computer people, but car people-racers.

Go here to read more about this and watch a short video about the application.