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.

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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.

Windows 8 split personality confusion: what to do and what Microsoft should do

win8startshortcutWindows 8.  Talk about split personality.  On the one hand, you have the sleek, modern and sexy ‘RT’ interface. On the other hand, you’ve got the comfortable, somewhat aging and mellow Windows Classic interface. As with everything, ones acceptance of something new depends on how easily one can adapt. For some, this has been a real problem with the RT side of Windows 8. Others, like myself, have had little to no problems adapting.

Windows 8 RT, with the standard mouse and keyboard (i.e. non-touch) is pretty easy to use.  At least, once you understand a few things first. Same for the touch side, though I think the mouse and keyboard are easier to learn whereas touch is easier to use-once you LEARN it.

So, for everyone with a mouse and keyboard, just remember: the upper left, lower left and lower right of your screen are hotspots. All the cool new stuff can be accessed via those three corners.  Click in the lower right to activate the Charms bar.  Charms are simply context sensitive icons that let you access things like search, device settings, Windows settings, etc.  Lower left activates a toggle. You can toggle between the RT start page and the most recently used application, including the Windows Classic desktop. The upper left corner does two things: hover over it to show the last application used, hover and move the mouse down to reveal a task bar showing the last few apps used.  If you grab the top of the screen by moving the mouse up to the edge and hold down the left mouse button while dragging all the way down, you close the current application.  Right clicking will expose a button bar with more options, if any, for the current application.

Of course, there are similar gestures for touch: swipe down from the top of the screen to close the application; drag from left over most of the screen to switch to the previous app; drag for a second and let go to reveal the list of previous apps used; drag just a bit from the top to reveal options for the current app.

The not-so obvious thing, however, are the gestures-be it from the mouse or your finger. It is not intuitive and this is the hard sell for Microsoft and Windows 8. Once you show someone what to do, they generally get it. However, someone just starting and not having any advance knowledge will, likely, not know what to do.  And that’s the problem.

I almost missed the little movie that shows how gestures work because, once the operating system started to do its thing on first boot, I did other stuff. It was only when the video was nearly over did I actually see any of it.

Word of mouth and knowledgeable friends and family will help, but Microsoft needs to do more. A series of commercials that, you know, actually show people using the product is a good place to start.  Maybe something on Microsoft.com.  Certainly, more than a short video on first boot.

I find myself gravitating toward the RT side. It’s easier to use, looks much, much better and, frankly, isn’t as bloated as the Windows Classic side of the house. It makes Windows Classic look sort of dated.

The dual personality is both a plus and a major negative. It’s a plus in that you can still take advantage of what ever Windows software you have, be it Office, Visual Studio or that particular game you like.  It’s a big negative because the transition between RT and Classic is jarring, even after you have used the OS for a period of time, that unexpected transition when you forget that a function is on the other side of the house.  Microsoft made it somewhat better by getting rid of Aero (the cool, glassy look introduced with Vista-and something I miss) and replacing the ‘chrome’ chromelessbuttonsbits with RT like buttons (i.e. the title bar buttons for close, min and max.)  However, it still can be a jarring experience.

Of course, I have been writing about full on Windows, be it Pro or just Windows 8 (the ‘Home’ edition in previous releases.) Windows RT, which still has a desktop mode, is not as bad.  Windows RT (not to be confused with the RT interface) was designed to run on ARM processors (and Intel based chips as well) so your classic applications will not work. Nor should they. 

Windows RT is a shift in operating systems.  Yes, it requires you to buy or acquire all new software.  But, then again, if you bought an Android or iOS based device, you have to do that anyway. (And that’s a big problem that Microsoft needs to address: why is it OK for you to have to buy new apps for Android or iOS, yet it isn’t for Windows RT? Microsoft needs to point this out more.)

I’ve had an Asus VivoTab Smart tablet for awhile now.  I use it everyday. It is Windows 8. Not RT.  However, I find myself using the IE10RT, OneNote RT, the very addictive Wordament game, the RT video player and a number of RT apps.  I do go into the desktop, but not really as much as I thought. When I get into full Windows 8 development mode, of course, I will be in desktop much more, but for my daily use, an Windows RT tablet would probably do just fine.

surfacertI suspect most people, especially those who would buy an iPad, would get by just fine with an RT tablet.  The app selection is steadily getting better, RT is very robust and RT tablets are a little cheaper than the full Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft sold out of its Surface Pro tablets, yet the RT tablets – while popular – did not. While the Pro tablets are nearly twice as much, there is far more interest in them than straight RT tablets.  I think they are pricey and overkill for most, but, because of the software compatibility issue, most will believe that they need the Pro when, likely, they do not.

MIcrosoft, you need to get the word out about RT. And fast. If you want RT to succeed-and kill of classic, then you need to do better. Much better.

Big tech week: Microsoft steals Apple’s thunder

It’s been a big, no huge week in the tech world.  Microsoft released both Windows 8 and Surface. Apple announced a slate of new products including a new ‘new’ iPad and the iPad mini. While Apple garnered its share of press on it’s announcement, it’s been a longer stream of Microsoft news for most of the week.

Microsoft

surfacertIndeed, Microsoft has managed to pull of something that only Apple had been doing: maintain and strengthen excitement for its products for more than 15 minutes.

With the release of Windows 8 and earlier than expected reviews of Surface RT, Microsoft has kept itself in the limelight longer than many had expected.

All was not rosy, however, as many of those early reviews for Surface RT were glowing for the hardware, but less so for the included software.

Windows RT, so it seems, while innovative and beautiful to look at, is full of inconsistencies and bugs. And many of the RT apps appear to be missing features or little more than tech demos. One hopes that has changed by now since release day has come and gone.  I have yet to personally try one out as I live in the majority of the country that is not served by a Microsoft Store. And that brings up another point: how can this product be successful if you cannot go to a brick and mortar store like a Best Buy and try one? I don’t mind ordering online, but I would like to try one first.

Windows 8, however, has been getting good to glowing reviews.  Indeed, it is deserved too.  Windows 8, whether used on a touch or non-touch device really is an innovative and worthwhile upgrade.  I really like the RT side (formerly called Metro) of the house better than the traditional side, however I will probably spend more time in the traditional environment more than the RT environment. That is because of the software I use. Which brings to mind the question: why is the traditional environment in the pure RT release anyway? Seems odd and a bit confusing.

Apple

ipadminiApple’s announcement of a ‘mini’ iPad smacks of desperation. This is a company who is beginning to lose it’s luster with its old fan base and its new ‘fans’ probably just don’t care enough.  Priced at a staggering $329(US), the iPad mini (terrible, terrible name) is too expensive and offers little in the way of features to justify the high price (for seventy dollars more, you get a full sized device) or make it any better than the Kindle Fire HD (which is a hundred and change less.)

The ‘new’ new iPad.  Seriously? The apologists will defend it, saying things like ‘well, they needed to do this so they could get the Thunderchicken connector on all of their devices’ or some other lame excuse. No, they did it because they could. It is the holiday shopping season and this is a way to cash in for them. The ecosystem for the Thunderchicken connector is ramping up and what better way to sell those new connectors and accessories than to confuse the consumer into buying a device that requires them.

They introduced new Mac’s as well.  It’s about time too. I won’t say anything further about them as they are very nice (except for the ridiculous omission of the optical drives) machines and you can get specs galore from just about any Apple site.

Back To Microsoft.

I will be upgrading two machines to Windows 8 over the next few days. I will be documenting the process and will write a post or two about the experience, so stay tuned!