Friday, 4 October 2019

Surface Phone

Microsoft ran a Surface Event in New York City recently. Much to the surprise of many people they announced a new phone was coming in 2020. It is called the Surface Duo, not the tempting "Surface Phone" that almost everyone will write about.

Surface is a brand within the Microsoft ecosystem. It primarily targets business users with premium PCs and related hardware. It tends to use new device types. Devices that show how Microsoft believe hardware should be to take forward the ecosystem based on it's Windows operating system. It needs to carefully not be seen to directly compete with it's hardware partners. However, what it can do is stir their partners to make different device types by showcasing new designs under the Surface brand. You won't buy a Surface device as a budget item.

The big surprise for the event was that Microsoft would release a dual screen device running the Android operating system in late 2020. This device would be a phone.

Windowsphones running Windows 10 Mobile will end support in December 2019. Microsoft has decided if it wants to produce a phone then the phone must have the applications people expect. As a result it needs to be Android. There are plenty of good Android devices available so, in the spirit of the Surface mission, it needs to have a new form factor that is not being out out by other manufacturers. Therefore it is a dual screen Surface device running Android.

The new Microsoft. Going with what works.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Exprience Economy with Apple

Apple are all about experiences. In particular they have retail stores that deliver an experience. The selling of Apple products is all about aspiration to premium quality devices. Like perfume or up market clothes the Apple brand is defined by how you feel about Apple.

The other side of this is free stuff. Yes, you can get free stuff from Apple. If you do have a retail store nearby you can sign up to an hour’s training with Apple staff. They do short events about music, using Apple products, photo editing, video editing and mixing music. Of course, it uses Apple products. Whether this be Mac, iPhone, iPad and the rest. However, there is no pressure to buy things. This is soft selling.

I signed up to improve my smartphone photography. I use an Android device but I do have an iPad at home. I booked online for one hour of street photography.

When I arrived at the store I was asked whether I had brought an iPhone with me. I hadn’t. So I was offered the choice of different loan devices. Another person had booked in but was a no show. I ended up having a solo session with an Apple Creative. He explained the groups can be up to 20 people. It was raining so I guess the other person was put off by the weather.

The session covered photographic composition, which could apply to any phone, and some specific iPhone features. I expected the latter because it was a very soft sales technique.
It is possible to try an iphone in the store but for a real world test, this is the way to do it. Spend a training session and borrow the device you are thinking of buying.

I don’t have money to buy an iphone today. Nevertheless I must confess that if you are selling a phone costing hundreds of pounds the experience shop seems a good tactic to bring out warm feelings about your brand.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

What is Windows Lite?

Windows is a dinosaur but in a good way. In technology terms it's decades old. It's a mature operating system designed to run every kind of application for every kind of user. Up to an estimated 1.5 billion people use Windows. 

In its code it can support applications created 20 years ago. It is filled with operating system functions for long dead file systems because somewhere on the planet someone may be using them. It is filled with proprietary code that makes Microsoft software work together and, when 90% of PCs used Windows and 90% of people used PCs as their primary computing device, this was fine.

However, in 2019 that isn’t true. Many people have a PC in their pocket called a mobile phone. They pick up a laptop when they need a real keyboard to type an essay or create some kind of official letter. Professionals still use Windows for editing video, autocad or the like. Businesses still use Windows PCs. There are specialist gaming PCs. Most normal users are now practised with the “app” model of mobile devices and services delivered from the cloud. People are no longer storing huge numbers of MP3 files on a PC.
All of this means that PCs are now around 30% of the computing market. The rest of the market is something else.

Windows isn’t going away soon but there is now a lot of talk about “Windows Lite”. It probably won’t be called Windows Lite but something else. Microsoft want to create some kind of computer operating system that people will be more like the instant on continual update system of mobile. There are a lot of ideas floating around; it will be like a Chromebook, it will be able to run virtual sessions of “old windows” to run older software, it will be tied to your Microsoft account and so on.

What Microsoft have talked about is a modern experience. Microsoft have tried this before. Windows RT was developed for ARM processors. It looked like Windows but only ran specially developed applications. So it wasn’t really Windows. It didn’t do well. Windows 10 S was Windows that could only run Universal Windows Applications (UWP) from the Windows app store. It turns out people didn’t like that either and converted “S” to a full version of Windows via a free upgrade. Windows 10 S then became Windows 10 in S mode. The re branding didn’t work any better.

The modern OS, Windows Lite or whatever it may be called, will be the third attempt Microsoft are making to move customers from Windows as their primary client operating system. Microsoft now makes most of it’s money from cloud services, business and Office software. Windows is less important. Catching the next operating system wave is what they want to do. 

Windows Central on What is Windows Lite going to be
My first take on a new Windows

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Hp Stream 7

In 2015 I was on holiday in San Francisco. It was a place I wanted to go for a while. I was in the shopping centre and saw a Microsoft store. There are no retail stores in Britain. Although, a flagship London store is said to be planned. So I went in with a casual view of just looking around. On sale was a 7 inch Windows tablet by HP – the HP Stream 7.

Windows Tablet computers are nowhere in the market. Android Tablets exist but the clear winner is Apple. The ipad is the tablet of choice. However, this device was $79 and it came with a free Office 365 subscription and $20 credit in the Microsoft Windows Store. As a Windowsphone user that credit could come in pretty handy! The dollar was at $1.55 to the pound as it was “pre-Brexit” so basically this was a discounted Office 365 subscription with a tablet for free.

I went ahead an bought it. The slow Intel Atom processor has just 32gb of storage and ran the least popular version of Windows – Windows 8.1. However, being a technology enthusiast means sometimes you just try things out.

Fast forward to 2019. Could this device really run Windows 10? It was gathering dust but it was a decent size to tweet from while in my front room. You can also run the Netflix app. So why not see.
Being a Windows tablet means it’s not separate design from a PC. You can put a keyboard and mouse on it. If you go to the Microsoft website you can download the media creation tool and create a bootable Windows 10 32-bit USB that will upgrade Windows on the device.

What you need at this point is an “on the go” adaptor for the tablet, a USB hub, a keyboard and mouse. I went into the BIOS and switched off the UEFI BIOS and the security. You can then boot the device from the recovery USB and do a completely fresh install. The screen is below 10 inches so my understanding was that Windows 10 will just work and activate. This seemed to be the case.

The installation was smooth. It installed just like a normal PC. Post-install tasks included downloading the touch drivers from the HP website for Windows 8.1. They worked. The Windows key on the front of the keyboard doesn’t. You can just use touch gestures to swipe in for the bottom menu.

I did the update on an HP Stream 7 and an HP Stream 8. Nice to put some life back into some really low-cost Windows tablets.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Microsoft is less interesting.

It’s true. In the world of technology Microsoft is less interesting. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, founded the Boring Company to dig holes and build hyperloop transport. He called it the Boring Company. Both a pun on digging through rocks and, in one sense, the idea that utilities just work.
Microsoft is doing the same thing. It has become boring. It has a cloud-based service business that everyone can yawn at. It has Windows, a thirty-year-old operating system that has been there forever, and Office. If you are under 24 none of this makes the world light up because these are utilities. It has all the excitement of switching on a light bulb. Sharing a video of getting to a concert with mates, photographs of a skiing weekend or a day on the beach are all interesting. The tech that you have with you is your mobile phone.

This week Microsoft made it more irrelevant to millennials. Another consumer service, it’s ebook store, closed. Granted vast number of people didn’t know Microsoft did books. People didn’t know Microsoft had a music service and their mobile phones never broke through to mainstream acceptance. However, this followed closely on the announcement that the health service apps that supported it’s fitness band were closing down. All of this is the story of decline from Microsoft being everywhere as a visible presence to it being like switching on a light bulb or turning on a tap.

The last real service for the average consumer is movies and tv. This is really an Xbox only service for people who have the Xbox connected to their TV and don’t have access to services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Back in 2013 the Xbox One was supposed to be a home entertainment hub. That idea quickly disappeared when they managed to alienate the game players and people who wanted cheap content streaming in equal measure.

So the ebooks store is gone. Microsoft are making more money than ever by ignoring consumers. The modern tech blogger or YouTube video maker rarely covers Microsoft anyway. Microsoft, a technology company so interesting no one really bothers talking about it anymore. 

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Microsoft goes wholesale

In a private press briefing this week Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella admitted that the Cortana AI was not really winning the personal assistant battle. It wasn’t even in second place. At launch, it was ahead of the competition but a failed mobile platform, stagnation in features and a limited global roll out have left the door for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to rule. The Windows 10 update expected in March 2019 is likely to de-couple Cortana from search and potentially allow other personal assistants to live in Windows as equals.

The story of Cortana matches other failed Microsoft consumer technologies;

Zune music player – Never released globally.

Groove music – a service that was called Zune, Xbox Music and then Groove. Never released fully globally and never had a family plan to encourage the use.

WindowsPhone – Killed via constant reboots of the operating system and no consistent app ecosystem.

Band – the fitness band that was always being repaired by its owners. Never released outside the USA.

Windows RT tablets – took at $900 million write down. Discontinued.

For the first 30 years of its life, Microsoft wanted to offer products and services to everyone. Apple envy was felt as the iPod and iPhone were greeted with religious enthusiasm but Microsoft products were not regarded as cool and bombed. However, both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, were CEOs that tried to keep Microsoft in every market. They were in the enterprise, small business and at home. They were “retail” CEOs wanting to sell to all.

When Satya Nadella became CEO the world changed at Microsoft. One aspect of this was what markets Microsoft would cease to address. Nadella quickly decided to kill WindowsPhone and gradually removed consumer services that were not making the profits he expected. The share price soared. One of the few pure consumer services left is the Xbox. Nadella published a book with the title “Hit Refresh” in which he discusses the change in culture in more depth.

The main thing I can see is the Microsoft is ending things it believes it’s competitors do better, partner with more people and seek to sell its services rather than things. Microsoft is now a wholesale business rather than a retail business. Consumers will see less of Microsoft and businesses will run on Microsoft services.

This is incredibly frustrating for tech enthusiasts that follow Microsoft. There is little to get excited about. This is the new normal for Microsoft. They will have premium laptops and devices under the Surface brand. They will have Xbox and games. What they won’t have is the broad consumer portfolio of products consumers bought a few years ago. It’s Microsoft going wholesale and letting other people make a consumer offer.