Today's CES news (even though the convention hasn't even actually started yet) was mostly just crazy TV news, but Sony announced their new Xperia Z device during their keynote and it actually looks really good. I didn't think I'd ever say that about a Sony phone. It literally checks all the boxes:
High resolution / pixel density screen
Exclusive Features (Waterproof[!], NFC accessories)
Incredible Camera (13MP[!])
My next phone might actually be a Sony device, they've finally set themselves apart. You can read more here, but the device is due out in Q1 2013. Not bad.
This post has been kicking around in my mind for a few weeks now, but I've not really been sure what to write down exactly. Consider it a collection of notes.
I've been trialing the Lumia 920 since December, and have been giving it a fair go. The more I use it, the less I'm convinced that Microsoft/Nokia understand anything about the mobile market.
I'm sure this drum has been beat on many times, but the Lumia 920 is so heavy that it's a joke. It's not the kind of nice heavy that the iPhone 4 was when it came out, nor is it the nice heavy that you know is well deserved because of some special feature. It's just plain old heavy.
After using the device for a few weeks, I was assured by Microsoft lovers abound that I would get used to it, but I did not. Every time I picked up the device, I resented the weight. I think this is partially thanks to the fact that the outside of the device isn't wrapped in some nice feeling glass or aluminium that may have justified the weight, no, it's just chunky plastic.
I don't care what any of you say, but the design is lazy. Compare the design to that of the Lumia 800 or even the N9 and it's a joke. The elements that made those devices great have been ripped out and the device was stretched and made heavier. The design of the device had been modified to disguise just how thick and big it really is. I really don't understand what could have been added to make the device weigh this much, and regardless, it doesn't even compete in this area with the rest of the market.
The thing that makes this even more apparent is the fact that Nokia actually seems to know that the Lumia 920 was stupidly heavy and is already working on a “new version” that will be lighter. If I had spent my own money on this, I'd be pissed off.
That Pureview thing
I don't get the Pureview thing. Photos just look ridiculously software over-sharpened compared to that of the iPhone . Sure, it works better than other phones at night, but I didn't find myself using it that often at night anyway.
Pureview was supposed to blow us all away with how great a phone camera can be. That didn't happen, and it looks like they've tried to overcompensate for that by sharpening images post-snap to look better. It's good, but it's not phenomenal.
The OS conundrum
I've been torn on this one for a while. I've generally loved that Microsoft is doing something new in the mobile space and how well live tiles are working for them, but I'm beginning to realize that there's something missing. I think I've finally figured out what that is, though. Windows Phone is missing substance beyond the live tiles.
I'm talking about the substance that the company developed on their own devices. The Nokia N9 featured things we'd not really seen before. Gesture based actions, edge to edge touchscreens, tap to wake and a passive notification mode. Windows Phone doesn't really feature anything new or exciting past the live tiles, hell, it still doesn't even have an official Facebook application. There's no innovation, nothing that really sets them apart. I don't know about most people, but live tiles aren't enough to get my wallet out and throw it around.
This low power standby mode on the N9 was on when the screen was turned off and allowed for at a glance notifications
As for Windows Phone applications themselves, the design style seems to make them all just look the same. The beauty of iOS and Android is that developers are given this loose set of guidelines, and they have to go away and build something beautiful with the space. With Windows Phone, it's a very common layout procession that gets old very quickly.
There's not too much more I can say on this, but it's just a lack of depth and innovation. It's nothing special, they're all just applications that scroll and have a different icon/background. Hey, it's cool if you're into that.
It gets much worse when you wade into the marketplace. It's uh, empty in there. Have a look for yourself.
Where to from here?
Windows Phone 8 is a great step forward from the last version. There aren't any more weird teething issues that will drive anyone crazy, but it still doesn't feel finished yet. I don't know what it is, but it feels empty. I like the concept, but it doesn't feel like Windows Phone 8 has gone anywhere significant from the initial premise of Windows Phone.
We're two years in, and nothing that's happened since launch is revolutionary or anything we can't get elsewhere. What's the play? Why would I want to buy a Lumia over a Nexus 4 or iPhone? Especially considering the fact that Nokia knows they rushed the 920.
I don't think there's enough here for Microsoft/Nokia to pull themselves out of third place. Live tiles are cute enough, but is that it?
The simple answer to your question is- yes, users want multiple windows. Based on research, according to the article, the average user has 4 active windows on screen at any one time. For me personally, I kind of see this question as a no-brainer. When was the last time anyone only used one window?
Interesting discussion over on Stackexchange UX about Windows 8 and the lack of actual “windows” in the new Windows.
The discussion revolves around Microsoft's choice to move away from the traditional tiled window desktop and to the Metro interface. The argument is that by switching to the full screen by default model in the future that users will be less productive as productivity seems to increase with window count.
The blogosphere has been buzzing with the news that Andrew Sullivan (of The Daily Beast) has created a publishing experiment in the form of an advertisement free blog that offers subscriptions to readers and has successfully raised a whopping six-figures in less than a day. Wow.
Whilst this news is inspiring, it's also disheartening. Blogs like Daring Fireball, The Loop and Andrew's new creation are extremely popular and fascinating but are the exceptions to the rule. As an aspiring writer, I would one day love to build a platform I could live off that didn't end up caving in to advertisements everywhere. I'd love to go into writing full time and work from home (or a fancy web company office) one day. I love doing it, and like to think I have the ability to inspire and make people think.
The thing is, these goals are hard to reach. The online blogging space is so saturated with content that it's very hard to get started. Almost impossible in fact. If you didn't start out in the industry a few years ago, and don't already have a major name for yourself, it's like screaming in a room full of people. If you don't have the platform or the momentum behind you, it's an uphill battle to get yourself heard. Money has to be made to pay bills and it's hard not to get it without selling out.
Where do you start? How do you get yourself heard? How do you make your content different? In a world of blogs, how do you separate yourself from the crowd? How do you convince readers to bet on you? Why would people pay for your content?
These are all questions that I don't have the answer to yet, but I'd like to someday. It's just hard to know where to go from here, I like writing, and would love to do so full time, but it's not realistic right now.
I can't write full time because it doesn't give an income like a job does, but…I want to. I'm hoping 2013 will be the year I figure out how.
I've been somewhat of a advocate for Windows 8, a person who enjoys it for the most part on the desktop because of various improvements but hasn't found Metro as “inspiring” as Microsoft claims it to be.
Over the last few weeks, I've been trialing Samsung's Ativ Smart PC, the flagship Windows 8 convertible for the company. What I thought would be an experience of the future of computing (with a ultraportable, tablet PC) ended up being an exercise in futility which showed just how much Microsoft doesn't get it still.
On the first day I received the brand new, untouched device, I got it out of the box. Immediately I turned it on, booted it up and began to set it up. Then, I plugged it into a USB drive and this happened:
I figured this would be a one off, rebooted and carried on. It wasn't. Every now and then, when I least expected it, the device blue screened. After figuring this was a software problem, I re-installed the OS using the new reset Windows functionality. It still happened randomly.
Eventually, after troubleshooting, checking all the drivers and ensuring I wasn't doing something wrong, I gave up on trying.
This wasn't the only issue, though. At least once a day the device would resume from sleep like the below. Weirdly enough, the device knew it was upside down, since down on the track pad still seemed to go towards the bottom of the device, but it clearly wasn't able to recognize the fact that the display was up the wrong way. Locking and unlocking the screen rotation fixed it.
You might think these are nit-picky problems, but these problems are issues that have existed since I can remember in Windows. If someone goes and buy a brand new tablet from the store, it should just work out of the box. It should behave how you expect.
These issues show that Microsoft still doesn't fully understand why Apple has cornered the market. They don't understand how polish and usability can influence how the consumer feels about a brand or device, and they don't understand that many are put off the Windows brand by exactly these kinds of issues.
Consider for a second the experience when buying an iPad for the first time:
1) Open box
2) Boot iPad
3) Step through setup
4) Start using iPad
And now, consider a path that many have experienced with Windows 8 tablets:
1) Open box
2) Boot tablet
3) Step through setup
4) Download updates via desktop Windows Update (after finding it)
6) Install/update drivers (after finding control panel)
8) Start using tablet
You may argue that this is not necessary for all devices, but even Microsoft's own Surface tablet wasn't able to get away from this reality. Are we not at a point where it should be possible to automate all Windows update installations and drivers? Users shouldn't ever have to see them, let alone worry about updating them. Tablets should know which way is up when they're docked.
Apple commoditized the tablet PC and it appears Microsoft may have missed the point. We're still jumping through hoops to use something that should be simple.
With the company making bold claims like Windows 8 is easy enough for a child to use and many others along those lines, they seem to have forgotten one of the largest issues facing their brand is that Windows is associated with complexity. It's associated with beating around the bush around to get things working how they should. It's associated with things breaking.
The level of complexity is not insurmountable but it's one that's existed in Windows forever and that has been removed (or at least hidden) from their competitors' platforms.
It's not hard to figure out: Users don't want to mess around with their new purchase to get it right. Every minute they spend configuring the device is another minute they're less happy with their purchase and aren't actually using it.
I'm not convinced Windows 8 is the future of consumer computing.
Edit: I've had a lot of people pointing out that I may have had faulty hardware that caused the problem. This may have been the case, but the fundamental issues still remain; Users are the ones that suffer and are forced to troubleshoot all manners of drivers and updates.
Windows is still overly complex and requires extra effort over platforms that competitors offer. It's not straightforward and simple, and that's precisely why platforms like iOS are rampantly popular.
If you're one of the people who might like to contact me and let me know that perhaps my hardware is faulty, go ahead, but I've also got a slew of emails from people that have had similar issues having to mess around with the OS and have had enough of the way things are.
Two weeks ago, I went to a first for the city I live in (Wellington, New Zealand). TEDx, the prestigious event for spreading ideas finally came to town – in the form of TEDx Te Aro. My girlfriend and I went along to see what ideas were going to be shared(and to support her mum, who was speaking) and I came away empowered about how complacent we all are.
When you work full time for a business, you get comfortable. I mean really comfortable. Every day is somewhat the same, so living a life of going through the motions is easy. You get caught up in a world that talks about performance reviews, salaries, performance, business meetings, red tape and there's no space to innovate. To do something new. To lead the way.
Going to an event like TEDx and hearing from speakers that are shaking up the world (and their every day lives) by doing things that would be considered crazy or risky is inspiring. Their ideas are what started their journey, and it left me questioning both myself and humanity as a whole:
How can people possibly sit still and not want to change the world?
How do people find happiness by just following orders and doing the same thing every day?
Why aren't we just doing the thing we've always wanted to, and following our dreams?
How come we're still in the same spot as last week? Or last month? Or five years ago?
All I could come back to was comfort. The fear of change. Of risk and being in the unknown. How are these things so terrifying?
Comfort is an interesting concept. For me, when I'm comfortable, I feel like life is slipping away through my fingertips. Time is quick, because my brain doesn't need to think twice about what to do. Days fly by. Weeks fly by. Things are easy, but life seems to just pass by.
Getting a full time job and a stable income is the goal of most young people these days, and the simple reason many of them go to university. They're willing to throw away hopes and aspirations of changing the world for a nice 9-5 job that pays the bills and allows a “nice” living standard.
The thing that confuses me is, when I think of spending ten years in an office, just for the sake of money, that's a terrifying thought. A waste of life. You might be alive by definition, but not actually alive at all. When you're watching the clock, looking forward to the next paycheck or counting the days until your next vacation, you're doing it wrong. You might have the illusion of happiness, but these are clear signs that you're not doing that thing you should be doing.
The crippling realization of this is hard to come to terms with, and often more confusing than you may believe. You may love working in the industry you're in and you're likely pretty good at what you do. Hey, there's even plenty of room for you to grow.
…but you may suddenly realize not sure it's the right place to be. These subtle things that creep in, such as the constant watching of the clock are signs that it's not right. Signs that perhaps, while you can, it should be considered that there are more satisfying and meaningful options out there.
This is comfort.
There's a special type of excitement that comes with doing something completely uncomfortable. Quitting your job. Starting an exciting new business venture where you set the rules. Going overseas to a country that doesn't speak English.
One of my favorite examples in the New Zealand market is PledgeMe. Bored of the 'normal' ways of funding projects (generally by begging family and friends), Anna and the team started a platform – not too dissimilar to Kickstarter – for using the power of crowdfunding to achieve goals that previously wouldn't have been easy to get to. Giving people the power to break out of the norm and do things they wouldn't be able to do otherwise.
Doing these things involve learning experiences and the audacity to strive for something outside the textbook definition of normality. By never allowing ourselves to become too comfortable – complacent, even – life can be continually full of experience and learning. Time doesn't fall through our fingers as fast as when the same thing is happening over and over. New experiences are created. The world can be changed.
I don't have a success story of how I got out of the cycle and started my own business yet. It seems hard. I don't even know where to begin. Every day we hear about the next big start up getting a round of funding, but it seems impossibly hard to get there. But the first step is actually doing something crazy. I have ideas, that's all I need.
Well, the last month has been a bit insane, and I know I've been pretty quiet here. Just a quick update:
First, I've been trying to finish my degree and have been wrestling with my final paper which is due next Wednesday. I've learnt a lot in the process, especially patience, and how to deal with an insane amount of stress. I can't wait for that phase in my life to be over. There's been a lot going on at work too (I'm a Network Engineer in the real world) which has been pretty stressful and tiring.
Second, some big exciting news! I've been picked up by The Next Web to do some freelance feature work for the guys. They're awesome, and I'm totally humbled to have a space/audience to write the feature pieces I've been wanting to do. Very grateful to the guys for giving me the opportunity. TNW is pretty much going for world domination, and it's thrilling to be a part of it.
It's exciting, so watch this space. I'm not sure what's happening with Neowin, I'm likely to be doing just freelance work for them here on out too; I'll miss my News Editor gig, but it's exciting to be doing something new.
Anyway, I'm hoping to be writing here more often again once my degree is wrapped up and I can sit down and breathe for a little while. See ya'll then.
I don't know why the mainstream media hasn't covered this more, but Windows 8 isn't just Microsoft's big new Operating System that is going to somehow change the way we think about computing, it's also now an advertising platform designed to sell you, the user.
There hasn't been that much coverage on this, but Microsoft is heavily pushing their new advertising platform which just happens to be the OS that you paid for. This isn't really widely used yet, but the effects are already obvious in many of the bundled Metro UI applications already displaying ads.
Now, I don't know about you, but I don't feel great having paid to buy an Xbox 360 and then paying monthly to play games online and still having advertising shoved in my face. It doesn't seem right, nor is it fair, but it still happens.
The future is ads
Thus is the tale of Windows 8 now too. You pay for the OS license (even in the Enterprise) and the ads still exist. You subscribe to Microsoft's new Xbox Music service and the ads still stay.
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of this story too. Right now, Microsoft's official applications have some basic advertising in them, but I'm worried about what comes next. Ads while I send email? When I'm searching my files? There needs to be a way to turn this off.
I suspect this move could be a sort of test for the company, with them thinking that perhaps at a later date Windows could become a freemium model, or discounted by advertising. They would – in theory – be able to make the OS completely free, thus dominating the desktop space in a perpetual manner.
Either way, I don't like the future. Advertising is already shoved in our faces in things that we've paid the full price for, with no way to remove them and across every medium we interact with daily. We can't get away from it, and now, it's fundamentally on every device you use, every day.