Windows 8: Microsoft Needs To Deliver – For Real…

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Microsoft has always been able to pull together great demos of pre-released products. Unfortunately, many of the most exiting features from those demos never seem to make it into the released versions of their products. Here is the most recent demo of their upcoming Windows 8 release for CES 2012:

‘Over promising’ isn’t something Microsoft can have happen with the release of Windows 8. Microsoft is playing catch-up on a lot of fronts – especially in the mobile arena – and needs to seriously ‘over deliver’ if they have a chance of grabbing some market share. With Windows 8 not slated to come out until the later half of 2012, there will be a lot of innovation that takes place on both the Android and iOS platforms before it arrives. What they offer will need to standup to comparison with both of these established players on every front: interface, features, stability, and applications.

Not an easy task by any measure.

Microsoft will also have a very small window to make headway and establish credibility in the tablet space. Apple will probably be releasing their iPad 4 (two full generations of the tablet from what is available today) in the beginning of 2013 – grabbing the media spotlight with rumors long before it eventually rolls out.

If what they are demoing here can make it on to lightweight tablets devices with true ‘all day’ battery life and price points starting at or below $500, they have a chance of success – especially if they can leverage their Office franchise as a differentiator.

If instead it turns out to be a bloated OS running on $1000 hardware with a laptop level battery life, they will be dead on arrival.

At this point, my money isn’t on Microsoft.

Is Android Really Ready For Primetime?…

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After spending over a week on my new Android phone (Samsung Captivate Galaxy S), I can’t help but wonder if the experience I’ve been having with it is typical for other Android phone users.

The Captivate has a lot going for it – a beautiful screen, fast processor, excellent video camera, and good battery life to name a few. It just seems to me that the software – Android 2.1 – isn’t really a serious production release. There seem to be so many things with it that simply don’t function well or reliably. And some of those things are pretty significant on a smartphone:

  • The device constantly loses the settings I’ve configured for my Exchange server email. It completely forgets that the account existed on the phone and prompts me to enter a new email account as if I were starting email for the first time. I had it happen at least 7 times before I simply gave up and stopped setting it up again.
  • During those times when it did remember the account, deleting emails would be problematic. I would select a set of emails and press Delete, but still see those ‘deleted’ emails sitting there even after the app said they were removed. Sometimes they would go away if I waited a bit. Sometimes I needed to exit out of mail and then return for them to be gone.
  • The unit often becomes unresponsive if any I/O is taking place, with the touch screen remaining frozen until it finishes what it is doing. There were several times when I thought the unit had crashed on me only to have it spring back to life 20 seconds later.
  • Getting the GPS in the unit to lock on to my position is a complete crap-shoot. Sometimes it connects right away while other times I need to try repeatedly to get it to work – with both experiences happening in the same location right outside my office.

Given my lack of familiarity with Android, my initial reaction was that I was doing something wrong that was causing these things to happen. But after doing a little research to try and figure things out, I’m not so sure. It seems that I am not the only person having problem like this. Whatever the causes, I find myself in a position where I have no confidence in the device.

I had even considered returning it to AT&T for a different smartphone.

What kept me from doing that, despite the problems I’ve been having, is that I can see some real promise in the platform. It absolutely doesn’t feel completely baked or debugged to me, but I can still see glimmers of ‘something powerful’ in the software that are making me stick with it – at least until the new 2.2 FROYO version is released.

Once it’s out, I’ll do a through review of the device, and compare it in detail to my experiences using the iPhone.

And I’ll decide then for myself what I’m going to do next.

At this point, I couldn’t recommend (this) Android phone to anyone if it were the only smartphone/portable computing device they wanted to carry. The reliability just isn’t there – at least for the things I’ve been trying to do with it. If you needed to choose something right now, I think the iPhone is still the way to go – assuming you can deal with being on AT&T.

If you can wait, the best option is to see how good the Android 2.2 released ends up being, and to make your decision then.

The New Cisco Cius Tablet. Why?…

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Cisco and Intel have partnered to launch a new tablet device called the Cius.

The Cius (intentionally pronounced as “See Us”), is a small, Android based tablet being pitched to communication/collaboration focused business and educational users. When it comes to describing gadgets, images just seem to work best. So to get a feel for what the Cius is like, just skim through this two part demo of the device given by John Chambers at last week’s Cisco Live conference in Las Vegas:

I’m not sure what Cisco was thinking with the design of the Cius. At this point, Apple’s iPad has set the standard for tablet based devices, and by that metric, the Cius is a major fail. It comes across as a thick and ungainly piece of plastic. The large speaker grill (I’m assuming) in the front takes away from the usable touch surface of the device, and the choice of a 7″ screen makes it too small for running productivity apps – yet too large to easily carry around or use as a camera. Even the look of the software being run was unimpressive – very “last decade” in it’s style and interactivity.

I’m sure there is some segment of the business marketplace that will find this device interesting – I just don’t see it getting any real traction beyond that hard core Cisco fan base.

From what I’ve seen here, Cisco would have been much better off focusing their efforts on supporting 3rd party developers for the iPad/iPhone 4 as well as the nascent Android tablet marketplace. The results they got from doing it all in-house are, to put it mildly, unimpressive.

Verizon Wireless Looking To Follow AT&T's Lead…

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According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, it appears that Verizon – like AT&T – may be getting ready to implement a tiered data plan of their own, eliminating their popular prix fixe unlimited data option in the process. If this ends up being the case, it would mean the two largest wireless providers in the US will both be working to discourage bandwidth consumption on their networks, something that could end up being a big drag on the development of mobile services and other non-phone mobile technologies.

The irony here is that both of these carriers were willing to sell unlimited data plans when they knew that the devices they were offering them on couldn’t really make use of it. Now that mobile devices have finally started to catch up, those plans are being eliminated. On top of that, as carriers continue their rollout of 4G/LTE networks (which theoretically can offer significantly higher speeds), folks will simply find themselves running over their usage limits more quickly and racking up whatever overage charges their carriers’ may assess (which can sometimes be frighteningly expensive).

What’s desperately needed in the wireless space is innovation. The structural monopolies enjoyed by incumbent carriers make it easier for them to cut out any meaningful competition that could impact their businesses. The status quo favors them, so any change in the fundamental structure of the market isn’t welcome. They understand that their businesses depend in large part on preserving these advantages, making them less then ideal agents of change in this space.

Ultimately, the real innovation needed here will, by it’s very nature, be disruptive. It will upsets the marketplace and redefine today’s accepted terms of business. Given the nature of how wireless spectrum is managed, innovation will also involve more than just new technologies and algorithms. It will require a reconsideration of the regulatory and licensing frameworks that currently govern the deployment of wireless infrastructure, and demand a fresh look at the way access to the airwaves is allocated. It may also require that a larger chunk of spectrum be allocated specifically in support of the development and deployment of more creative wireless data solutions. There is some incredible research being done in this area, but it needs a path to commercialization if it’s going to get the funding it needs to become viable.

We will never see the promised wireless revolution take hold if the only options available to consumers are congested networks or capped and overpriced plans.

Change urgently needs to happen.

Adobe Strikes Back…

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After remaining relatively quiet over the last few weeks while Apple was out trashing their FLASH environment, Adobe has finally decided to respond. In this video, Adobe lays out their case for having flash available on any device, and takes a few not so subtle swipes back at Apple:

It’s no coincidence that Adobe has chose to feature HP’s yet to be named slate platform in this presentation. With Apple’s big push for the iPad just starting up, they want to dangle the promise of an alternative coming later this year. You can see the similarities:

HP “Slate”:

Apple iPad:

While everything Adobe is saying in their video has a strong element of truth to it, they fail to address the two key issues Apple has had with putting FLASH on their mobile platforms – it’s voracious appetite for power (that reduces battery life), and a less than optimal code base (that causes performance issues). These are not trivial issues in the hand-held computing space, and they shouldn’t be dismissed as just an attempt by Apple to assert control (though there is no doubt some of that wrapped in to all of this).

The fact that FLASH was able to gain ubiquity across the ‘traditional’ web doesn’t mean that it should necessarily play a significant role in the mobile web space. These are vastly different environments requiring different priorities and compromises, and I believe Adobe still has some serious work to do if it want to make FLASH a key component of mobile media delivery.

I’m just not sure if they see it that way.

Windows Phone 7 Series Preview…

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Microsoft is betting ’7′ will be a lucky number for them.

Looking to build off of the initial success of Windows 7 (the consumer side looks good but still not sure how well corporate adoption will go), Microsoft previewed the next generation of their Windows Mobile operating system – the “Windows Phone 7 Series” at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona yesterday. As part of their introduction of the new mobile OS, they put together a video that essentially slams Apple’s iPhone platform:

While slickly produced, this video segment is somewhat misleading. It is comparing Apple’s current iPhone OS against an unreleased version of their mobile OS that probably won’t be available until late this year. I have no doubt that by then, iPhone OS 4.x will be out and offering quite a few new and updated features – including broader multitasking capabilities.

That said, there are some interesting concepts in Windows Phone 7 that give it a completely different feel from the raft of inferior ‘iPhone Wannabes’ that have flooded the market over the past 18 months. I would need to spend time with it to get a feel for just how usable it actually is in the ‘real world’, but it clearly represents a total reset of Microsoft’s previous phone OS efforts. This is something I applaud – the Mobile 6.x line was a complete dead end.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge for Microsoft and almost every other mobile OS provider is that they are trying to support a broad range of hardware options and capabilities. While ‘consumer choice’ may seem like a good thing on the surface, apps developed for this type of heterogeneous environment either end up being limited by the least capable device they support, or developers make a conscious choice to limit their compatibility to selected handset models. While this approach may be satisfying to tech savvy users, it tends to confuse and frustrate mainstream consumers, and ultimately works against broad adoption.

Windows Phone 7 Series definitely looks interesting, and does demonstrate a real commitment by Microsoft to be successful in the mobile space. This is probably the last real chance they will get at making something to work here.

And I believe this OS is more important to Microsoft’s future then Windows 7.

NOTE:To find out more about how the 7 Series will work, check out this complete video of Microsoft’s preview event. It will start to play automatically once you make the video window visible. You will need stop it manually if you want to watch it later.

Apple's IPad Event: Looking Beyond The iPad…

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There has been so much written about the iPad itself over the few days that I don’t think my fawning over it would add much to the discussion.
blog-ipad

Do I think there will be more in the released version than we saw in the presentation? Yes. Am I excited about the potential of the device? Without a doubt. Will I get one when it finally goes on sale? Absolutely! And though I am pretty pumped about ordering one, there is clearly still a lot of speculation in the media over the true market demand for a device like the iPad. Passions seem high on both sides. Given everything that we still DON’T know about the final functionality of the software/OS and about what types of new content will end up in the various ‘iStores’ by the time the iPad is released, I’d rather wait till then before jumping in to the fray.

Instead, for this post, I’d like to dig down a level and look at three of the less sexy things that were revealed during the iPad event that could actually end up being quite significant both to Apple and the industry overall.

Apple’s A4 Chip:

blog-a4-chipOutside of the release of the iPad itself, the revelation that it is powered by a custom Apple chip (handling both general and graphics processing chores) could be the most significant thing to come out of last weeks event. While the A4 chip will almost certainly make it into the 4G version of the iPhone, I also expect the A4 (or some variation of it) to also be at the heart of the next generation of AppleTV. This would likely be as part of a move of ATV onto the same OS platform as the iPhone/Touch/iPad, and would probably allow the box itself to be re-engineered to better support HD video (eg – real 1080p) and also to open it up to running games available from the App Store. As a big fan of the existing AppleTV, I see this as something that is long overdue. (I expect it to be announced before mid-2010.)

Another way Apple could leverage the chip this year could be the release of a successor to the Macbook Air based on some version of it. This could give Apple a way to deliver the dramatically improved battery life and graphic muscle of the iPad in the super-thin laptop form factor of the current Air (not to mention integrated “always connected” 3G/4G ). It could even end up running the iPhone OS, and provide the ‘Touch’ aspects either through a substantial trackpad area or directly on the display. While I’m not trying to predict specific product details here, I do see an opportunity for Apple in this segment as well – a hybrid offering blending the best tablet and laptop features for true ‘road warrior’ types.

Ultimately the most exciting thing about the A4 is that it frees Apple from Intel’s lock on mobile processors, and can give them the ability to change both the economics and overall direction of products they launch in this area. And in the hands of Apple, that holds some pretty big promise for the future.

The Touch Based Version Of iWorks:

blog-iworks-ipadApple’s iWorks has been around for quite a few years now, and has matured into a full productivity suite offering word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. While no where near as popular as Microsoft’s Office suite, each component of iWorks is well thought out and a pleasure to work with. Unlike Office on a Windows tablet computer, the new iWorks isn’t simply an extension of the previous version that makes it usable without a keyboard. Instead, iWorks on the iPad has been designed from the ground up to work in a touch environment. From the way various functional menus are displayed to the way task specific virtual keyboards appear in different contexts, every element of the product is designed to be part of a native touch experience. While I will need to spend some quality time with the new iWorks before passing judgment, it does appear that Apple has learned a great deal from iterations of the user experience they developed for iPhone apps, and have done a good job scaling it to more comprehensive applications on larger displays.

While this is impressive on it’s own, what may end up being the most significant aspect of the new iWorks probably isn’t in the code or design at all, but rather in the business model surrounding it. iWorks for the iPad will be sold through the Apple App Store, with each component application available individually for less than $10. That means the entire suite can be bought for under $30 – less than a third of the discounted price Microsoft’s Office 2007 Home and Student edition sells for on Amazon. By unbundling the individual applications, selling them for such a low price, and making them available through their App Store, Apple is clearly challenging the current economic model for the sale and distribution of traditional software applications. This is not without precedent for Apple – even beyond what they did with pricing in the iPhone App space. When Apple moved into producing professional media creation software (known for outrageously high prices), they were able to reset the price points for applications like video editing, compositing, and audio editing in a similar dramatic fashion. It would not be surprising to see this model finally slip over to the Mac, with the desktop version of iWorks taking on similar pricing and packaging to the iPad version – and possibly being sold through the app store as well.

Selling Books In The iBookstore Instead Of On iTunes:

blog-ibookstoreI think the fact that Apple chose to build a completely separate ‘iStore’ for books is interesting. By approaching print publications as truly unique forms of media with unique content and marketplace dynamics, Apple stands a good chance at reshaping the ebook market and really challenging the current dominance of Amazon’s Kindle platform. I believe that what was shown at the iPad launch is simply the most basic starter functionality for this store. I see it ultimately having different business and functional models to address some unique opportunities found in this marketplace. For example:

  • renting eTextbooks for a semester instead of buying them
  • offering subscriptions to magazine and newspaper content via special viewing applications unique to each of them
  • selling content that is pretty much static – like a daily newspaper – with options for dynamic updates
  • integrating social elements to let people discuss or interact around specific titles – much the way a college study group or typical reading club might interact

There is a lot of room in this space to innovate. The upheavals we have already seen happen between Amazon and publishers like MacMillan (almost 2 months before the iPad is even released!) are a good indication of how dynamic this marketplace still is – and just how disruptive Apple’s entry into this space will be. By having an independent store that can evolve quickly and embrace new and unique ways of accessing media, Apple will have the flexibility they need to learn, adapt, and adjust. Success wouldn’t be achievable with a more static approach.

I am firmly convinced that the iPad will have just as significant an impact on the media marketplace as the iPhone did on the mobile phone market. The convergence of these two markets, and the increasing importance of mobile computing will continue to present incredible opportunities for Apple. I believe the three elements I’ve discussed here will be important differentiators for Apple as the aggressively pursue this new market.

I can’t wait for my iPad…

The Digital Edge: Now Supporting iPhone/Touch…

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The number of readers accessing this blog via a mobile browser has grow considerably over this past year – the vast majority using Safari on the iPhone. Since the design of The Digital Edge isn’t particularly ‘mobile friendly’, many have contacted me asking if I could do anything to make it render faster/better for them.

Starting today, anyone connecting with any generation of iPhone or iPod Touch will see a slimmed down rendering of the regular site when they connect:

Digital Edge on iPhone

You can now scroll through a summary of posts on the home page, and click on the “Read Entire Post>” to view the full story – including all images and comments. Controls are also available to let you share posts on popular social sites.

I have been working – albeit slowly – on a complete refresh of this site that is going to include a more customized version of this iPhone template. However, with interest in a solution increasing, I figured it made sense to go ahead and get this basic iPhone support rolled out now. I appreciate your patience.

Let me know what you think.

Thanks to the folks over at iWPhone for the plugin that makes this possible.