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March 20, 2013

Windows 8 (yet again!)

Since the time Microsoft announced Windows 8 and showed glimpses of it few years back, it has been highly talked about. I have had my fair share of blogs and papers on it.

Now with roughly half a year since Surface RT hit the retail stores and Surface Pro more recently making its presence on the shelves, the discussions around Windows 8 are anything but slowing down and most of the messages that I am hearing are around disappointment of people with it.

That Microsoft was late to enter mobility market is well known. Windows Phone was miles apart from the earlier Windows Embedded Mobile and created lot of initial excitement, but it failed to do much more. There was negligible market penetration. At this time along with smart phones, the world had also gone miles ahead in tablets and Microsoft again was playing the catching up game.

To me it seems that it took much longer for them to realize that the foundation of PC market were finally shaking and tablets had found their play in this space and eventually the worldwide sales figures confirmed that the tablets were definitely selling more than PC.

So we had 3 different devices in the market - PCs or laptops, tablets and smart phones. It is also well known that mostly these devices required different ways to program the applications that run on them, except for tablets and smart phones, which in some cases allowed application sharing, but PCs or laptops were a different league. At this time creating an operating system that would run on all these types of devises and thus allowing same application code to run on all three would have been a great product, and to me that's what Microsoft tried to with Phone 8 and Windows 8.

However, in my opinion it didn't click because 

  • We were still talking about two different operating systems, Windows 8 and Phone 8. While they were more compatible than ever before, but still there were gaps and application written for one would not run as is on other.
  • Windows 8 bridged the gap between PCs /laptops and tablets, but it seemed to have confused the average home user at the same time with its dual UI state.
  • While Windows 8 runs on both PCs/laptops and also on tablets, it really isn't sharing the same application as it ended up introducing a new framework called WinRT on which one would write the applications that could be deployed via Windows App Store. So the seemingly single OS still had two faces to it.
  • The touch savy modern tile based UI was more amenable to tablets and people using PCs and laptops still preferred the desktop to work. The tiles were more like a forced startup screen that people would want to quickly get past and go to desktop.

I was recently reading this and it seems to state that Surface RT is a good product, but fails only because of lack of sufficient applications for it, given the ARM chipset it is running on. It is however only in time that we should see more ARM based applications. Will that help boost the sales? For Surface RT maybe, as there is no desktop mode to it and users always work with the modern tile based UI.

Enterprise play has been forte of Microsoft and that's where probably Microsoft should focus its energies on. I do think that instead of trying to play in the end consumer space, Microsoft should focus on enterprises more. With AD integration, with Office suite and SharePoint, with Windows to Go (especially in age of BYOD) they have a compelling storyline. They should probably focus on Enterprise App Store, where organizational applications can be quickly deployed and made available for the employees to install. What's your take? Do you agree?

Having been a Microsoft technology loyal all my career, I do feel that Microsoft went overboard with Windows 8. Personally I think that Microsoft should slice Windows 8 into two parts and take the tiled UI to tablets and retain the desktop only look for its PC/Laptop users. What do you think?

March 19, 2013

Do we really need Tablet Devices?

It is a very controversial question to ask, given that we have had 52.5 million devices sold as of Q4 of 2012 (IDC Report).

Before we explore the need for a tablet device, let's first understand - What is a tablet device? I had asked this question earlier also when Panasonic unveiled a 4k Tablet. Wikipedia says tablet is a one piece mobile computer, typically operated by touch or a stylus. Most sites seem to agree on that tablet is a device slightly more convenient than a laptop to carry around, to be used for information consumption and is also a device slightly larger than smart phone so that it is easy to work with it with the larger display.

I think this says it. People were on the move more and more and wanted to be able to continue to work, or at least remain connected. Phone provided them such a device but it was too small. It was good to make calls, send short text messages, quick twitter update or even listen to music, but when it came to reading books, quick editing that presentation, or watching movies, or those HD quality images also and playing games as well, a bigger screen was required.

Laptop offered that big screen, but it was bulkier. While you could carry it around, it wasn't really meant to be carried around long distances. It was heavy and had a short battery life, at least not sufficient to last more than few hours. Also if all you wanted to do was read books or watch movie, you didn't really need that qwerty keyboard, did you? All you needed was a touch screen like the phone, but bigger, which would react to some basic gestures.  Taking keyboard off would mean significant weight reduction.

Tablet provided that perfect fit in this space of having touch screen, no physical keyboard, being light weight, bigger than phone and having sufficient battery power. Also having its own SIM card or Wi-Fi connectivity allowed it to have network access anywhere anytime.

The devices are converging now and so once again the question is do I really need a tablet? I had asked a similar question here as well.

I have seen many people use external keyboards with their tablet devices. Reading books or playing games or responding to emails with a one liner using virtual keyboard is one aspect, but if you want to do any serious editing, there is nothing that beats a physical keyboard still.

Then there are these innovations. HPs new ENVY x2 tablet which has a dock-able keyboard. And there is also Surface Pro which Microsoft itself calls as "A Laptop in tablet form".

Laptops are getting lighter, have detachable keyboard, have better batteries, have touch displays and have more sensors. Like tablets, laptops also connect to the market place and download and use applications. With such modifications do we really need to worry about getting a tablet or will this new breed of laptops serve the purpose? What's your take?

Windows Phone 8 Support Cycle

A colleague just shared this. When Microsoft had released Phone 8 they had talked about 18 months cycle before a new version will be made available. Phone 8 support ending in July 2014 is what it probably meant. Unlike regular desktop OS, in phone space, I believe once they release a new OS, they aren't really bothered about the earlier one. They probably took a different stand for their first version and did bring out Phone 7.8 (but with very limited new features).

Looks like this smart phone space will have very different dynamics. What do you think?

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