Gadget Nirvana

My latest Slaw post:

Apple announced a new iPad mini yesterday as expected, along with upgrades to several other products. Surprisingly, an iPad 4 is now available, just a few short months after the iPad 3 was introduced. Apple is a master of innovation and marketing, and somehow manages to make evolutionary changes to its products seem revolutionary.

But they are not the only game in town.

Microsoft has an event on Oct 25 to launch its Surface tablet, on Oct 26 to launch Windows 8, and on Oct 29 to launch Windows Phone 8. Early reviews show they are solid products. I find these new Microsoft products interesting. The Surface tablet has a lot of features that will make it easier and more seamless to use than an iPad. Corporate IT departments will love them. But iPad users may be slow to switch, as many of the apps we use with the iPad are not yet available. For example, iPad users using apps like pressreader, newsstand or flipboard won’t switch until those are available for Microsoft products.

Not to be outdone, Google also has an event on Oct 29 where it is expected to launch its next generation Nexus smartphone, new tablets, and an update to its latest Jelly Bean software.

For the record, I use Microsoft PC’s, an iPad, and a Google Nexus phone. They are all good products, even though each one has subtle advantages and disadvantages. Each one also has its fans and detractors to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to know how realistic either positive or negative reviews are. For example, there has been some criticism that the Windows 8 surface RT tablet operating system won’t run full office software – just pared down versions. But that is the nature of the tablet beast – and is the same approach taken by Apple and Google.

Phone & tablet wars continue

My latest Slaw post:

Apple fans will already know that Apple has scheduled an event for next Wednesday. While Apple did not specifically mention the iPhone 5, it is rather obvious from the invitation.

Rumour has it that the iPhone 5 will be available September 21.

This comes on the heels of the jury decision in the US that awarded Apple a billion (yes, that’s a “b”) dollars in damages against Samsung for violating Apple patents. No word yet on whether it will be appealed, but given the amount of the damage award, and what the decision could mean for the future of Android phones, it would be surprising if it is not.

No matter how that shakes out, though, Android phones will survive and thrive.

The phone and tablet market is not just an Apple v Android race. Microsoft’s new Surface / Windows 8 products will be a compelling choice, especially for business use. Windows 8 hardware will blur the line between tablets and notebooks. Microsoft’s goal is to bring a similar look, feel, and experience accross all devices, whether it be a phone, tablet, notebook, or desktop. Windows 8 products are coming to market in late October.

The good news for consumers and business is that competition in this market is alive and well, and the technology keeps improving. Each has its fans and detractors, and each has pros and cons for different situations – but none of these are bad choices.

Tablet wars – don’t count Microsoft out yet

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows.

At this moment, Apple’s iPad is without question the tablet that is defining the category and vastly outselling any competition. But it is too soon to write off competition from Android tablets. And Microsoft just yesterday officially unveiled its new Windows 8 operating system at a build developers conference. They gave away Samsung windows 8 tablets to everyone at the conference. Windows 8 is not ready for consumption yet – it will be some time in 2012 before it is ready for use. If you are keen to try it now, you can download the developer preview edition from the Windows Dev Center.

Initial reaction from the tech press has been positive. Windows 8 will replace Windows 7 for PC’s, and for that use includes a desktop similar to Windows 7. It also includes a touch-screen desktop similar to Windows phone, Apple and Android for use on tablets, or any computer with a touch screen.

This is a good move for Microsoft, as it allows them to be in both the PC market – which is shrinking because of tablets and smartphones – and in the tablet world as well. If it can end up with a competitive experience and usability, it will be especially compelling to the corporate world where IT managers will like the compatibility with existing infrastructure and software.

For more details, see this ZDNet article, this cnet article, or this allthingsD article.


Vintage Gadget Collection – Failure is an option

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows.

We use a lot of technology today that is – to borrow a term from Steve Jobs – magical. Consider tablet computing, cars that respond to voice commands or even drive themselves. Calling an ipad2 or an Android Tablet or a Playbook magic is not a huge exaggeration in historical terms. An iPad2 would have been on a list of supercomputers rivalling a Cray as recent as 1996.

But we don’t get to this level of technology without experimentation and failures along the way. The important thing is to use those failures to lead to new insight and better products. Failure may be a result of many factors, including: flawed design, being ahead of its time, our tendency to stick to “good enough” solutions we are comfortable with rather than the possibility of something better, solutions in search of a problem, being too expensive, poor execution of a good idea, poor marketing, being user unfriendly, and simply not as good as other solutions to name a few.

Slashdot points to a vintage gadget collection just published by a Microsoft researcher. From the site:

Over the past 30 years, designer, writer, and researcher Bill Buxton has been collecting input and interactive devices whose design struck him as interesting, useful, or important. In the process, he has assembled a good collection of the history of pen computing, pointing devices, touch technologies, as well as an illustration of the nature of how new technologies emerge.

Part of the collection was first shown publicly at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of the Massive Change Exhibition, curated by Bruce Mau, in 2004. Since then the collection has grown significantly, largely through the generous support of Microsoft Research.

The point of the site is not to focus on failures – it includes many successful products – but the history is interesting. Try the PivotViewer version – its a great way to navigate through the images.

Changes stretch from devices to laws

For the London Free Press – January 10, 2011

Read this on Canoe

The year 2010 was a significant one for technological innovation. We saw the continued advancement of the smart phone, the rise of the touch screen tablet in the guise of the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the introduction of electric cars that plug into a standard household socket in the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.

So what can we expect in 2011? Here are a few things that might be worth keeping an eye on:

Windows Phone 7: Windows Phone 7 is not a physical device like the iPhone but rather an operating system that will be offered on a variety of phones built by various manufacturers. Its features and creative take on the user interface mean Windows Phone 7 will be a strong competitor in 2011.

But with the level of competition in the smart phone marketplace, Windows Phone 7 faces an uphill battle. Its adoption may suffer from a lack of available applications, especially compared to Apple’s app store, which has a significant head start in app volume.

Windows Phone 7 sales in Canada will also probably be slowed by carrier lock issues, as most consumers have to wait out the three-year contract with their existing phone before they can upgrade. That is a serious impediment to phone sales in general, compared to the two-year term that is normal in most countries.

Kinect: Kinect is a controller for the Xbox 360 video game console. The Kinect allows users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without using a handheld controller. Essentially players operate the console and play games by using hand gestures and body motions.

The Kinect is selling extremely well. In fact it has become so popular that it was hacked immediately following its release to enable it to be used with PCs and other devices.

Look for the Kinect to receive official support from Microsoft for use with PCs by year end. Controlling computers this way may lead to some interesting applications.

Anti Spam Law: Bill C-28, the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act, has just been passed. It will come into effect sometime this year after its regulations are drafted.

The implications of this legislation for a typical business or organization are not fully clear. The language of the legislation has the possibility to affect how typical businesses communicate, as things that we may not consider to be spam might get caught by the act. Stay tuned for more detailed commentary on this as the year progresses.

Copyright Reform Bill: Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, is the latest attempt to update the Copyright Act. Controversial elements include digital lock provisions that will allow publishers to trump user rights.

It is likely this bill will become law, unlike the several failed attempts over the past several years.

One certain thing about copyright reform is that the details will make some people happy and will disappoint others, depending on whether one is a consumer or producer of content.

Tablet competition heating up

The iPad will start shipping in a few weeks.  While it is perhaps the first to market, the standard to which all others will be compared, and will no doubt sell in large numbers – it is by no means the only option.   I’ve read estimates of 50 to 100 similar devices in the works. 

More news on the HP slate is on engadget today.   From what I have seen so far, I would prefer that – or something similar based on the Windows Phone 7 OS (I have not seen anything about that – but its a logical way to go) to the iPad.

IMHO these devices are revolutionary and will fundamentally change the way we consume what is now traditional print media.   They will be pervasive within fairly short order.   Why has this not been done before?   Its a matter of getting a device with sufficient computing power, battery life, light weight, and useability – at a low enough  price point.

This will become far more than just virtually flipping newspaper or magazine pages.  See this Wired video for what we might expect.

And I suspect we will find them useful for business, as well as personal use.

I’m holding off for a bit to see how the various devices perform –  hopefully I will have one by the end of the year.

UPDATE:  Here’s an eWeek article I just found that delves into this in more detail.

Windows Phone 7 at MIX10

Microsoft has released further details about Windows 7 Phone – mostly from the developer side – at the Mix10 conference.   It continues to get a positive reception from the tech press.   For more detail take a look at various posts such as these on Engadget and Wired Gadget Lab.

So I have 2 questions.  

These phones will be available before the end of the year (assuming Canadian cell cos debut them at the same time).  By then I’ll only be 15 months into a 3 year contract on my phone.  So will there be any deals to be had for an early upgrade, or is my choice either pay a huge penalty (not happening) or wait another year and a half?   3 year terms are nasty.

This OS seems like a natural for an iPad competitor.  Windows 7 based versions are coming – how about a Windows Phone 7 based one?

Windows Phone 7 – “Microsoft has out-appled Apple”

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows:

Microsoft unveiled its much anticipated Windows Phone 7 operating system this week at the Mobile World congress in Barcelona.  It is not based on the existing 6.X OS – but is entirely new – based on the Zune.

The reaction by the tech press has been very positive. For example, Gizmodo says that “Microsoft has out-appled Apple” , and “I’m sorry, Cupertino, but Microsoft has nailed it. Windows Phone 7 feels like an iPhone from the future. The UI has the simplicity and elegance of Apple’s industrial design, while the iPhone’s UI still feels like a colorized Palm Pilot.”

For other comment, see PCWorldengadget, Wired.

New phones using Windows Phone 7 will be available from several manufacturers and several carriers “by the holiday 2010 season”.

I have not seen any comment on when it will be available in Canada.

The frustrating part for me is that I bought a new phone last summer – I hate 3 year terms!

Apologetic Microsoft pulls service

For the  London Free Press – January 18, 2010

Read this on Canoe

Rival service Plurk alleges Microsoft copied as much as 80% of the code used in running the Juku program without permission

Microsoft recently susp-ended its new microblogging site, Juku, after it became clear the site contained code taken without permission from rival startup Plurk, a free social networking and microblogging service based in Canada.

Plurk recently alleged Microsoft copied as much as 80% of the code used in running the Juku program without permission. After investigating, Microsoft confirmed some Juku code had been used without permission and apologized to Plurk.

Though Microsoft admitted the plagiarism, it claimed a Chinese vendor developing the Juku application for MSN China was responsible for copying the code without permission.

“When we hire an outside company to do development work, our practice is to include strong language in our contract that clearly states the company must provide work that does not infringe the intellectual property rights of others . . . we are obviously very disappointed, but we assume responsibility for the situation. We apologize to Plurk and we will be reaching out to them directly to explain what happened and the steps we have taken to resolve the situation,” Microsoft said in a statement.

In response, Plurk co-founder Alvin Woon said, “we are still thinking of pursuing the full extent of our legal options available due the seriousness of the situation . . . basically, Microsoft accepts responsibility, but they do not offer accountability.”

“This event wasn’t just a simple matter of merely lifting code . . . due to the nature of the uniqueness of our product and user interface, it took a good amount of deliberate studying and digging through our code with the full intention of replicating our product-user experience, functionality, and end results. This product was later launched and heavily promoted by Microsoft with its big marketing budget,” Woon said.

This is not the first time Microsoft has apologized for infringing the intellectual property rights of others.

A month before the Juku allegations, Microsoft apologized for another third-party vendor improperly incorporating open-source codes into a Windows 7 download tool. The tool was developed to allow users to more easily load Windows 7 onto thumb drives. Microsoft subsequently withdrew the tool.

The recent allegations about Microsoft have caught many by surprise given that Microsoft has been a leader in the fight against piracy in China and elsewhere.

The lesson for anyone who hires others to create code or other creative works is the importance of having an agreement in place that requires the code to be original.

In the Juku case, it appears the contractor did not abide by that requirement. But having it in place let Microsoft move swiftly to protect its reputation, and show that, while it may be ultimately responsible, it did not intend or condone the copying. It should also give Microsoft some recourse against the contractor.

Microsoft says go direct to Windows 7

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows:

In a recent speech Bill Veghte – senior vice president, Windows business, for Microsoft – advised that if a business is now in the testing phase to upgrade from XP to Vista, they should stop and go direct to Windows 7.

The Windows 7 release candidate is now available for testing purposes, and Windows 7 is expected to be available this fall.

Conventional wisdom for operating systems in the enterprise is that we should wait until the first service pack is released to deploy, to give more time for initial bugs to be worked out. Early reviews and commentary on Windows 7 are positive and suggest it is not necessary to wait.

See the text of his speech, and an article in Computerworld.