If you follow the news closely enough, you might notice that Microsoft tends to follow a product cycle along the lines of:
Realize product isn’t catching on (or there are lots of complaints), make changes and improve product to state it should have been on day one
Release fixed product after large amount of time has elapsed
When we take a look at various products across the company this seems to be quite true. For example, Windows Phone 7:
Announce Windows Phone 7. No multitasking despite all competitors having it, no application fast resume. No major applications that competitors have. No turn by turn directions. No front-facing camera.
Realize that customers are holding out is because many of these features are on competitors' hardware. Announce massive update for Windows Phone that ‘solves’ the problem.
Take a long time to release fixes, eventually ship them (and then eventually waste all that work by releasing Windows Phone 8 which should have been the actual product all along).
This isn’t limited to Windows Phone, either. This happens on the software side of Microsoft too:
Announce Windows 8.
Realize product is meeting a lot of resistance and confusion from potential customers, promise to update and make it less confusing. Bring back features seemingly removed for no reason and add consistency between their own products.
Get around to developing a Metro version eventually (and probably ship it around a year or two later).
The trend seems to occur over and over and over. I get it, it’s an iterative way of designing software and hardware. Ship the product, learn from your mistakes and do it better. But, many of these problems seem to be issues that Microsoft should have been able to see coming.
A good (and easy) example of this is the release of Windows 8. Microsoft lined up the release of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 quite nicely, but it almost seems like the product teams hadn’t even talked to each other about their own code. Basic consistency across the UI like the small tiles on Windows Phone 8 don’t exist in the shipping build of Windows 8, Skydrive and Skype weren’t integrated and neither was Bing.
The same issues have plagued almost every release of a Microsoft product in recent memory. The company rushes a product from development to release to meet some sort of arbitrary release date and leaves out key functionality. The biggest problem this creates for Microsoft is a perception problem.
It’s already hard enough trying to be cool again, as Microsoft is desperately trying to be, but when key functionality or features are missing, customers are unforgiving. If your OS is missing a key piece of functionality and customers know about it, they’ll write the product off as being not good enough. It doesn’t matter if you release an update that makes it better, the customers already consider the product to be sub-par.
Windows 8.1 brings great features to a platform that was part-way there, but it doesn’t change the perception that it’s not good enough. You’ve already lost them, they’re not going to wait around for the situation to maybe get better. As far as potential customers are concerned, Windows 8 didn’t fit their needs.
What kind of update would we be getting right now if Microsoft had taken their time, pushed out the release a little to allow these features to be in the shipping build and nailed it on day one. Perhaps we’d be looking at actual new innovation; features we don’t see on any other platforms?
It’s unfortunate, because this attitude seems to have reached the Microsoft hardware department too. The company trumpeted ‘always connected’ and ‘always online’ abilities of Windows 8 but failed to even include a 3G/LTE card slot on their own Surface products.
It’s easy enough to argue that the iPhone 1, for example, shipped without many features we have today as they were added over time, but Apple at the time were creating their own market. The popular phones were the kind that flipped and slid open, or had a stylus. Microsoft is executing the same strategy – release now, fix later – that their competitors use but they’re five steps behind the rest.
The company seems to understand the need of consumers but aren’t able to actually deliver what it needs to immediately as it’s ultimately perceived as being able to be done in a later revision. Their competitors are outpacing them because the company is too slow to market and aren’t anywhere near hitting the mark it needs to when it releases the product and the opportunity is lost.
I wonder about a world where Microsoft ignores the fact that it supposedly need to ship their products by the holiday season and actually get them 100% right first.
Get feature parity – include everything that needs to be included – so that instead of just adding what should have been there before in over the next year it can focus on actual innovation. Doing groundbreaking things. Because right now, it’s still behind the pack.
Iteration is completely reasonable – if you’re the leader – otherwise you need to step up the game and get a home run on the first try.
I knew about the Leap Motion before today, but I hadn’t seen this advertisement. If Microsoft’s vision of the future is touch-screen based computing, then this technology has just one-upped the company.
It’s like Minority Report, without the gloves and complicated accessories. An even better direct comparison is a intensely sensitive Kinect that takes only a tenth of the space.
The Leap Motion doesn’t replace the mouse or keyboard on your computer outright, but it certainly adds a new dimension to computing that touch doesn’t. Not only does it allow real world objects to become input devices (pencils, for example), you can quickly manipulate pages or data without touching anything at all. I could see this becoming the primary way we interact with computers in the future, with the fallback for long word processing and other tasks that can’t be done like this being the keyboard
This morning, an update for the Google Search application on iOS was released by Google and along with it came Google Now. The predictive search feature has been available on Android for just under a year, but in that time, it’s only been able to reach a peak of 25% of all Android devices.
Unfortunately for Google they’ve had a fragmentation problem since the beginning of time with Android, making it hard to reach users when a new service is only available for Jellybean (4.1+). By releasing on iOS, they’ve effectively made the service available for up to 500 Million devices on day one.
Comparing that to Android shows a sad state of affairs. Eric Schmidt said late last year that there were around 480 Million Android devices out there at the time, meaning that if we assumed those numbers were current and Jellybean made up 25% of that install base, Google Now only had potential to reach 120 Million customers. It’s still a high number, but Google’s managed to potentially quadruple that install base in a single day.
It’s sad that Android is still plagued by issues with fragmentation and I’m not sure it’ll ever be fixed, which makes iOS much more appealing than their own mobile OS to a company like Google who needs as many eyeballs as it can get.
I tweeted earlier today that I’ve been finding it hard to find things to write about lately because the blogging scene seems to be saturated with so much great content. I’ve been stuck on the thought that just adding to the noise is pointless, so why do it?
Then it hit me. Matt put it eloquently in reply to my grumbling:
I’m sure many that are reading this have experienced writers block at some point in their career. With so many great content creators online and such simple ways to surface killer content it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the thought/opinion that you have has already been voiced (or perhaps that it’s not worth voicing in the first place).
It’s easy to discard a completely valid opinion that could result in a well orchestrated piece when content creators like Marco, Gruber and MG have the platform to propel their opinions faster and further. It’s even easier to discard an opinion and just carry on.
The simplicity of discovery websites like StumbleUpon, Reddit and Hacker News make it easier to continually consume content without ever becoming a creator. Flicking between bits of good content endlessly can make one feel like their voice isn’t good enough to be heard.
The thought process can go something like “someone’s already said it” or “I’m just adding to the noise.” Even more strangely, it can sometimes vary into “if I don’t say it someone else will.” I’m sure if you read around for long enough you might find an opinion that’s similar to yours, but their opinion isn’t yours and the way that you articulate your opinion is unique to you.
Yes, there are probably a few thousand other content creators out there airing their own opinions on whatever topic you’re talking about, but if your opinion is sound, quality and unique then a community will eventually gather around you.
The big guys started out somewhere, but they’re still people. I’m sure at some point, John Gruber or Marco Arment wondered why they were blogging when it was getting them nowhere. Or if it was worth contributing to the discussion when one of the others already had. Hey, maybe they they never thought that. But the fact is that the way that they’ve grown massive communities around them speaks to how incredible just giving a simple opinion is.
Websites designed to surface content across the internet have turned many of us into mindless zombies who only consume and never create. I find it so easy to get stuck in the trap of browsing instead of creating. It’s an endless loop that feeds itself.
Consumption is still important (after all, it would be hard to stay relevant in the fast moving technology world without it) but it’s important to restrict reading time and allow (or sometimes, force) writing time.
If we look at this from the perspective of the Android community then yes, Facebook Home is a stupid idea because it dumbs down Android. But, for everyone else out there that doesn’t care about tinkering with their phone it’s perfect. There’s nothing to it, just scroll through your feed and interact or send a text. You’ve got the capability to install Android applications if you want and that’s a bonus, but the two big parts of many potential buyer’s life is front and center.
Those potential buyers? Teenagers. Young adults. The Facebook generation that is stuck interacting 24/7. They’re sharing as soon as they wake up and go to sleep. This market doesn’t like making phone calls. One of the biggest criticisms of Facebook Home is that it makes other apps hard to reach. I agree, but the teenagers I know really only use Facebook and SMS anyway.
Facebook Home isn’t targeted at those who go and manually download it from the Play Store. The application has bad reviews because it’s never It’s not destined for any member of the Android community or even those who currently use a smartphone. It’s targeted at a new generation of young people who don’t actually use their phone as a phone anymore. It’s intended as a preinstalled experience that some will intentionally seek to buy.
Instead of declaring Facebook Home “dead” by our standards, let’s wait to see how the HTC First does in the market. That’ll speak much louder than existing Android users.
A $99 phone that does 100% of what teenagers need is better for parents who might have otherwise been buying them an iPhone.
Microsoft has a bad habit of releasing an OS to the world – like Windows Vista – that’s rushed and not polished, just to meet deadlines. Vista would be the prime example of a “half-done” operating system that was directly improved on by a later iteration, Windows 7.
When Windows 8 was released, it was met with harsh criticism from those in the news business as well as the technology industry. Early reviews of Windows 8 slated the OS for having many missing features, inconsistencies and general “odd” usability issues. Here’s a handful of examples:
It’s easy to find things that are wrong with Modern (which was called Metro in developer and early versions). For example, there are no overlapping windows, and there’s simply no way to put three or four applications on a single screen at the same time—even if your work space has a screen that’s 27 inches across. Windows 8 largely eliminates menus—the product of more than 40 years of usability research—and introduces a new system of touch-based text labels and controls that are frequently hidden and obscure. The interface is sparse—applications like e-mail and the address book now present far too little information on the screen, resulting in the need to frequently pan and scroll.
Windows 8’s Snap lets you position two apps — desktop or Windows 8-style — alongside each other. Unfortunately, the Snap view is rather limited, with one app occupying a small amount of screen real estate (320 px) and the other taking the majority of the pixels available.
The sad, somewhat predictable truth is that the fundamental act of moving a file from one folder to another—the drag-and-drop action that was probably one of the first three things you learned to do on a computer—is kind of terrible in Metro.
These are just a handful of examples that talk to some of the issues Windows 8 faced at launch. There’s a bunch of other ones I haven’t quoted here either: the lack of a Modern-style control panel, no Modern-style Office suite (I still can’t believe this one), the total disconnect between desktop and Modern UI, generic share commands and the over-simplification of basic system tasks.
It bewilders me as to why Microsoft would dumb down fundamental features like Bluetooth or even completely ignore adding functionality for dealing with system settings in the gold release of Windows 8, but it seems that it simply comes down to a lack of time. Windows 8 needed to be out by the holiday season of 2012. They cut functionality and dumbed down features to deliver it on time.
Now that we’ve got our first glimpse of Windows Blue, it’s telling that Microsoft knew what was missing from day one and that they’ve taken on the criticism from the world. Keeping in mind that Blue is a very early preview (and is very unofficial) of whatever we’re going to see later this year, the leak that we’ve got gives us a glimpse at how Microsoft is going to proceed with what they started.
The first thing that’s been addressed is the odd disconnect between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 that happened at launch, despite the fact that the Windows Phone team’s designs were public for some time before Windows 8 came out. Windows Phone had the ability to have large, medium and small tiles. Windows 8 had large and medium. Despite the plans being public, the Windows 8 team didn’t seem to pick up on this before release.
You can now align tile sizes with those on a Windows Phone. Maybe not a big deal, but a consistent experience across platforms is key here and it’s important that Microsoft gives a consistent interface across their offerings. Microsoft was never good with consistency previously, perhaps they’ve turned over a new leaf.
Secondly, Microsoft has dealt with the watered down Modern control panel. You can finally delve into the settings of your Bluetooth devices and configure them (amongst other things). Those who live in tablet world no longer have to deal with dropping out of their dream into the desktop to change settings in the old control panel. Almost every system setting imaginable is now configurable from here.
Next, a file manager has been added for the Modern interface (something that users moaned about a lot) so that it’s possible to actually deal with files from the Modern UI rather than having to switch back to the desktop mode and poke at tiny controls to manage.
Microsoft even dealt with complaints from users about being unable to run applications at any ratio other than 20%/80% of the screen per app. It’s possible to resize an application to any ratio a user likes in Windows Blue. It’s actually taken one step further, though, allowing users to add a third and even fourth application to the Modern interface split view without issue (on a big screen, you can add as many as you like).
From the developers I talked to about this, the consensus was that this could create mayhem for those that chose to wrote XAML applications instead of HTML5 applications, as the HTML5 applications tend to be able to handle display scaling better. It could be interesting to see how this is handled by the community once it’s official.
Office isn’t included in the leaked build, but I desperately hope that Microsoft has a Modern UI version of it ready by the time Blue hits the street. It needs it, and this rounding out of the OS actually just shows how desperately the company needs to complete that part of the picture.
The Modern UI is the path forward; it’s clear from Windows Blue’s leak (so far) that there’s little focus on the desktop experience. There’s a few small changes that are barely observable by the user, such as the “libraries” now showing up in My Computer.
Otherwise, the desktop has been ignored (as far as we’ve seen), and the void between the Modern-UI touch future and the desktop that Microsoft is forging ahead with is growing larger. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just obvious where the company is betting we’ll be wanting to spend all of our time. The disconnect between the touch interface and the desktop is growing and I fear that PC users are going to be left behind as the company moves on.
Windows Blue shows that Microsoft is sticking with their guns and that Windows 8 needed improvement. It was the basic form of what’s to come and this functionality should have been there from the start but wasn’t. Perhaps if the company had waited to release the product and baked these features in from the beginning it might have won consumers over even faster. Apple is renowned for taking as long as it takes for their features to become fully baked, even if it means delivering late. Microsoft still hasn’t learnt that trick, but it doesn’t matter anymore.
Blue is coming and it completes the picture of where we’re going with Windows. I hope this upgrade doesn’t have a price tag attached.
That’s right, 4G LTE is now available in one New Zealand city with a few more to follow this year. It’s crazy fast, supporting throughputs of up to 90mbps and already supports LTE advanced devices (for whenever they’re released) with a total throughput of 140mbps. The above screenshot - taken by @johnreader last night on a Samsung Galaxy SIII should be enough to blow your pants off.
Disappointingly, there’s no Voice over LTE yet, but hopefully we might see that eventually. Amazing that Vodafone can release this a full year ahead of Telecom NZ who are only just starting trials.
Vodafone seems to think that the current data caps are more than enough (which are on average around 1GB) for 4G, which isn’t good news. Additionally, the company is charging an additional $10/month for access to 4G. That said, the company is launching with a decent few handsets including the iPhone 5, Windows Phone 8X by HTC and Samsung GALAXY Note II 4G variant.
A press release that hit my inbox this morning caught my eye. Visa and Samsung have announced that they are going to partner, and that Visa will preload their Mobile Provisioning Service on all Samsung mobile phones so that they are able to use Visa’s PayWave NFC technology.
The company says that they will load the PayWave applet onto “any phone with NFC functionality” and this will allow them to make “wave and pay” payments on existing contact-less payment systems.
As far as I know, this is the first mobile provider to come to this sort of agreement - I’ve been wondering for a while now how this would pan out, and it looks like Samsung might have exclusive access to it for now. In the press release, they state something particularly interesting:
The Visa payWave mobile applet will be preloaded onto selected next-generation Samsung mobile devices featuring NFC technology and an embedded secure element.
Today Google announced the Chromebook Pixel, the first Google-branded laptop to feature a massively pixel-dense display. There has been much backlash to the launch, mostly around the price and design that is somewhat reminiscent of the HP Elitebook.
The device is very expensive, I won’t disagree, but that’s because parts like this are not mainstream or even used much outside of Apple’s hardware. Despite the price, the Chromebook Pixel is important because it shows that Google understands the direction that things should be going in.
It amazes me that we’re now in 2013, Microsoft has recently released a new version of Windows and we still don’t have high pixel density hardware hitting the market for PC’s, nor does Windows 8 even support it properly.
Yes, Windows 8 “supports” these kinds of screens, but no, it doesn’t do it very well on the desktop. More pixels means sharper images/text, making using screens for a long time much easier on the eyes and more comfortable to use. Not only that, they’re very visually pleasing.
The technology might be only emerging now, as Apple put it into the first Retina notebook last year, but Microsoft still lacked the vision to actually do something about it, as did others in the PC hardware market. It was completely ignored, it seems. Microsoft has three hard-coded scaling methods for pixel dense displays, but it doesn’t work too well in practice. In fact, it pretty much makes everything unusably tiny.
Paul Thurott published a picture of what said scaling would look like on the iPad some time back (below), which was somewhat amusing.
Despite the crazy price, the Chromebook Pixel is progress. Movement towards newer types of screens is important, especially from vendors other than Apple. Hopefully, one day, screens with high pixel density will be the norm, and once it does, hardware like this comes down to a realistic price point. There are countless good reasons as to why users would prefer these kinds of displays, they likely just don’t know it yet.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, wearable technology like this is going to be the next thing to take the world by storm. This video is evidence enough that if the actual “technology” layer of the device doesn’t get in the way of living life, and is actually natural enough to integrate into every day movements then it is killer.
It may take half a decade for it to catch on, but I expect this kind of innovation to become both socially acceptable and the norm within the next decade. Sure, it might look goofy to have us all talking to ourselves, but it’s also incredibly useful and transparent to the user.
We’re also not specifically talking about Google Glass here. I expect a wave of innovations from smart watches to electronic clothing to become “mainstream” at some point in the foreseeable future.
As with self-driving cars, there will be a period where the market will probably reject it saying that it will “never” happen, but it will. It’s obvious that our lives could be somewhat enhanced by peripheral devices that show us information without needing to pull a slab out of our pockets to catch up.
These innovations are likely to feature minimal interfaces and beautiful natural user interaction to make them stick. The key to their success is making them so simple to use that they’re instantly integrated into the consumers' life.
All of this, though has some pretty interesting ramifications. Always-on cameras on everyone’s faces are a bit concerning. The Hacker News thread for Google Glass has some amazing discussion, and I was reminded of this video of a futuristic world where technology not dissimilar to this exists. It’s somewhat haunting, but the positive opportunities are also endless. Imagine broadcasting your wedding, live to your friends from your perspective. Special, indeed.