Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What's wrong with Windows 8? This.

If you want to know what's wrong with Windows 8, this is it.  Every junk link that any program creates that used to land in some folder you never touched in your start menu is now dumped out on your screen like some awful scrabble game where every tile is a J, Q, K, and X when all you want is a stinkin' vowel.  That's Windows 8 in a nutshell.  And here's how I fixed it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Microsoft's Billion Dollar Mistake

Bill Gates has been carrying around a tablet PC for years, but never managed to make it popular. To me they always seemed gaudy, like something you'd carry around on the floor of a manufacturing plant or for getting signatures for delivering a package. They ran Windows, had handwriting recognition, and some had a bulky keyboard or stylus. Some of the nicer ones were essentially laptops where the screen rotated and folded back. A business machine, not something fun and playful.  And they always looked heavy.

Then, 3 years ago, Apple announced a tablet PC called the iPad. The idea wasn't new by any stretch, but the implementation was. The only input method was your finger. Now Windows OS. No keyboard. No stylus. And no handwriting recognition. Not what Microsoft (or anyone) thought of when they thought of a tablet. Except maybe those Star Trek Next Gen producers - they were way ahead of their time in predicting future computer interfaces.  But it already had a market - millions of iPhone users with thousands of iOS developers ready to make software for it.

When I saw the first iPad, I scoffed at it. A novelty, surely. I was still using my Windows Mobile phone with a stylus at the time, and a Dell laptop. My belief was that same as Bill's - a tablet was something that looked and acted very different from what Apple had just made, and I thought its only market was people who worshiped at the alter of Apple. I ignored the sleek size, the thriving app ecosystem, the unprecedented battery life, the well placed price point, and the huge attention to detail in the touch interface.  I focused on the sub par weight and lack of camera and wrote it off.  A year later, I had relented (repented?), and had both an iPhone and an iPad 2 in my possession, and have not looked back.

Fast forward to today, and the iPad is to tablets as Kleenex is to facial tissues. No other single model of tablet comes close to Apple's total iPad sales. Turns out, we didn't need to run Windows after all to have an awesome computing experience. A fact emphasized by the fact that I develop software for the Microsoft platform, and my positive iOS experiences have led me to purchase 2 Macs. (Both refurb - Macs are still horribly overpriced retail!) And this is Microsoft's fears from 1995 come true - when they battled Netscape it was because the web threatened the dominance of Windows. I use FireFox or mobile Safari to browse the web. I'm always within reach of an Apple device. I'm not Windows free due to my profession, but I don't have the attachment I once did. Except, as a .NET developer.  I would love to write more mobile software. Enter Surface...

There are tons of Windows tablets, but Surface is the only one anyone might be able to identify by name, and you can't even buy it yet. It's nice looking. Actually, it's beautiful.  It runs Windows (RT though, not full Windows but they hope you won't notice). And it's coming out with Windows 8, just in time for Christmas shoppers. There's only one problem - how will they get anyone to care? Everything that isn't an iPad is the Kerry/Romney of the tablet world - the only real thing going for it is that it's not the other guy.

Microsoft's been late to the market before, but they've done it better. When C# showed up, Java had a choke-hold on development innovation. When SQL Server showed up, people were still forking over countless millions to Oracle and legions of highly specialized DBAs. The XBox has dethroned Sony for many hardcore gamers. But Microsoft has had it's share of struggles too. The Zune, and Windows Phones the most obvious two examples.

Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar international powerhouse, but their success in the consumer market has been with only two main product lines.  Windows and XBox.  If you insist on counting Office (which I don't as a consumer product), you might graciously give them 3.  Microsoft's success has overwhelming been in the commercial market, and that was largely due to their Windows monopoly.  XBox is really their only product where they've fought their way up from nothing in the consumer space.

And that's the issue that Microsoft has to answer or else it's about to cost them a billion dollars in sales. What about the Surface will compel people to buy it? I'm a Microsoft platform developer and I don't even know. And even if they get a customer base, what will make them love it and evangelize it and upgrade to the next version rather than switching to Apple or Google? The pricing has been announced, and sadly it's no different than the iPad. As pictured, it's $599. At that price, why wouldn't I buy a real iPad?  Or, for less, get an iPad-mini?  Or is this meant to be a commercial product, in which case I have to ask why sell it in powder blue and hot pink?

Windows and Office are no longer the killer apps they once were, but that seems to still be the only strategy Microsoft has for selling this thing. Time will tell, but from what I can tell there are only 4 real contenders for the tablet market - Amazon's Fire, Google's Nexus, Apple's iPad, and Microsoft is hoping its Surface offering will be in the running. I don't like betting against Microsoft, but the deck's stacked against them this time. Did they learn anything from the Zune?  XBox?  Time will tell.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Apple's Billion Dollar Mistake

While Apple's iPhone 5 announcement was big news to many, I have the iPhone 4S so I have another year until I think about upgrading. So the frame scratching, the rapid battery drain, the purple haze, and a whole host of other issues will surely be perfected with next year's "5S" model, the same way the iPhone 4S was a much better version of the iPhone 4. I have 2 simple hopes for the iPhone 5S - it's time for them to update to 128 GB of memory, and it's time to bring color to the device. Otherwise, there's not much else compelling to talk about.

But actually, this post isn't about the iPhone 5 at all, but about the new iPod. This was supposed to be the iPod I've been waiting for. The enhancement to the prior generation which touched on an amazing market potential. But instead, what we got was a kid's iPhone Jr - a toy with no market. Everyone who wants an iPod already has one. Everyone who is too young for an iPhone, has access to cheap older models. There is no market for iPods anymore. But Apple was on the verge of making a new market with the prior generation iPod and let it slip through their fingers with this latest model.

Here's the new iPod model (aka: iPhone mini?)

And here's the one they let slip through their fingers:

Did you miss it?  Look again.  The prior one is smaller, more like the Shuffle.  And... wearable.

That's not a watch in the center.  It's an iPod.  It's the same iPod pictured above.  The design wasn't revolutionary.  Dick Tracy wore this in 1946.  But no one has ever done a wearable computer that anyone has ever used en masse.  And then last year Apple made this.  The perfect shape.  A tad big and not enough battery power yet, but that was to be expected in a first gen model.  They could have made this next generation one nearly perfect just by building on the prior model, but they let that slip through their fingers.

Perhaps the idea of a wearable computer died with the iPhone.  My wife thinks I'm stuck in the 80's and no one wants to wear a watch or a computer.  Just having a device with you in your pocket or purse is the new "wearable" concept.  But maybe, just maybe, Apple had finally found a way to make a real wearable device happen.  Think about it - GPS, a payment system, a wifi enabled device, and Siri.  Perhaps some iPhone integration features.  Not to mention the health and medical applications.  FitBit is already leading the way in wearable wellness/biometric devices.  Apple had a chance to have all that and still the best portable music player on the market.  Maybe even a Skype app could make it a phone.  But even without being a voice communication device, it's still got loads of potential.  But Apple missed it completely.  Shrinking it a little and increasing the battery and adding some biometric tracking sensors and it would have made a beautiful v2.  Even if they just targeted joggers at first with heart rate and calorie burning tracking, they'd have seen millions of units fly off the shelves.

But Apple didn't even create that watch band for v1.  They didn't see the potential - someone else did.  That was the first clue that it was an accident that this device could be wearable.  And even then Apple didn't carry the design forward which confirms my suspicion.  And that's hugely disappointing.

No one with an iPhone wants or needs an iPod Touch.  And this new iPod is just a Touch Mini, which is completely useless.  But regardless of what tech you have already, there's a huge untapped potential for wearable computing.  Apple could have made a handful of simple enhancements and created a new market again.  Look at the power and popularity of XBox Kinect, and just imagine how they could have tied this in to iOS as a gaming platform!?  Instead, they went with the status quo.  Now that Steve is gone, is this the new conservative Apple?  Afraid to risk their cash cows?  That's exactly how Microsoft lost their throne too.