The battle for Pocket Computing

The battle for Pocket Computing

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Image source: Windows central

Samsung recently announced their new flagship products. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. These phones are incredible and screams premium devices. But the phones were not the only announcement from one of the biggest phone makers in the world, what intrigued me was something beyond the core smartphone element. But the new era of computing experiences. They call it, the Samsung Dex.

Before I get into Samsung Dex, I must mention about Microsoft’s own efforts in this area, with their Continuum feature available since the launch of Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950XL in October 2015. I’ve briefly written about Continuum in my article Windows Ultimate.

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Image source: Wired.com – Continuum

So what exactly is Continuum, as Microsoft puts it, “Use your phone like a PC to get incredible productivity that fits in your pocket. Connect a monitor, keyboard and a mouse or use your phone screen as your trackpad or keyboard. You’re all set to touch down and get right into email, browsing and working with apps like Office.

So how does it exactly work? Well, with a Continuum compatible device like Lumia 950 / 950 XL, Alcatel Idol 4S or HP Elite x3 it can be plugged into a Continuum Display Dock, and a monitor, mouse and a keyboard also plugged into it. This setup extends the Windows 10 Mobile to the monitor. UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps currently supports Continuum, so mobile apps such as Office UWP (not the Office desktop) scales up on the monitor so you can start or continue working on your word document, power point slides or calculate stuff on Excel. It gives a sense of you working on a typical desktop/laptop environment, as seen in the image above, and more in the following video below.

As much as this feature is exciting and important to Microsoft, there is still caveats to this. First of all, Continuum currently works with UWP and there is a very small number of apps that support Continuum feature. At the moment, the biggest Continuum app is Microsoft’s own Office Mobile apps. Other apps that include are Calendar and Mail. This problem would’ve been resolved overtime if only Windows Phones were not dead, well, I don’t consider less than 1% market share as being alive in phone market. So as much as Continuum was first in the game, without the developers making apps for Windows Phone and supporting Continuum, this feature is not going to go anywhere and probably that’s why we’ve not heard anything from Microsoft in the Continuum space since 2015, how they are advancing with this feature, we don’t know anything. Maybe we hear something at BUILD (Microsoft Developers Conference) in May.

As I had mentioned above, that I was intrigued by Samsung’s Dex announcement which is a very similar feature as Microsoft’s Continuum. Just as Continuum setup, Dex also requires a Dock to work as a desktop/laptop. However, the interesting bit here is this, Samsung does not suffer from the app gap problem like Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform suffers. Samsung’s platform is Android which has well over million apps, of course not all are high quality apps which Android platform hurts a lot from. In fact, unlike Apple, Android developers love to just scale up a phone app which feels like a blown up pixelated photo, instead of rewriting the app specifically targeting the tablet.

 

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Image source: Cnet – Samsung Dex setup

But that’s a different issue. Dex v1 will for sure have its own set of problems and limited number of apps supporting Dex, they will mostly be 1st party apps by Samsung themselves. But as I said, they do not suffer from the same fate as Microsoft and developers can take advantage of this feature and create apps that supports Dex functionality. In fact, in the Dex demo, one of the app that was shown was from Microsoft’s own Office (Mobile) suite.

I then question myself, why wouldn’t Apple be following the same path? Developers love making apps for Android and iOS, a lot of apps supported the 3D touch functionality of iOS when it was introduced with iPhone 6S, just as one example. Why wouldn’t they take advantage if Apple introduced Continuum/Dex like functionality?

If this happens, and the way I see the next big leap in computing is indeed the battle for pocket computing, where all these vendors want that ONE device in your pocket called a phone, is the ultimate device to carry all your daily computing needs, be it at home, in the office or your main smartphone device.

Where does all this leave Microsoft with its Windows dominance? Windows dominance is a thing of the past already, we recently learned that Android surpassed Windows as the king of operating system so there are more active users using Android than Windows. The comparison here isn’t ideal as one is a desktop OS and the other a phone, but the point is the world is going mobile and Microsoft unfortunately isn’t up with its Mobile game. Their mobile presence is practically nothing now. And with the year over year decline in the PC sales, it directly affects Windows sales and its decline also.

If Android and Apple lead in the next computing era, I see Microsoft in big trouble unless they do something quickly with their Mobile strategy, or whatever the next big thing is coming out from their gates. They have been mum about their mobile strategy for long time now and developers, and fans alike are getting agitated. They need answers or they too will be forced to move into either iOS or Android world.

 

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Image source: thesweetsetup.com

Microsoft will lose its edge overtime, of course nothing is going to change in the next few years but as the world moves towards mobile computing, Microsoft will be forced to do something or they will be left behind, in a big way. Microsoft’s appeal with consumers isn’t great, granted their Xbox sells well, though behind PlayStation, their Surface devices are greatly appreciated, their keyboards and mice are great piece of hardware for consumers and businesses. But the real deal is with Mobile in the current era and that is where Microsoft is not there. Their holy grail Surface rumored Phone may bring good luck to them but that is still something to wait and see.

What we can only hope from Microsoft is they must move with its mobile strategy fast, as the competition is moving quickly, where Microsoft was the first in the pocket computing segment, they will be left chasing the competition which they created themselves in the first place.

That’s all folks, do drop in your comments below and let me know about this article.

Surface almost behind iPad

Surface almost behind iPad

 

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Image source: The verge

 

Good news for Microsoft Surface fans.

A survey done by J.D Power, the rating firm said in its latest tablet survey that the idea of a 2-in-1 device is far from dead. Customer satisfaction for hybrid devices is 11 points higher than tablets.

This news comes a week after my two part articles on the Surface and iPad, do check them out here, Part 1 and Part 2, where I described how important a hybrid or 2-in1 devices have become overtime, and the champion in this segment is the Surface Pro.

In the overall tablet satisfactory index, Apple tops with 830 points out of 1,000 as seen below. We know, the tablet offered by Apple is iPad and iPad Pro. Surprisingly, but, not so surprisingly Microsoft’s Surface Pro (considered to be tablet/laptop) comes just a point below to 829. That is big news for Panos Panay (the mastermind behind Surface series, in the picture above).

Surface Pro and RT was first introduced in 2012 along with Windows 8 and in just five years it tops the likes of Samsung, HP and even Amazon (with their Kindles and Fire tablets) who have all been there in tablet market since iPad, it is something Panos and team, and of course Microsoft should be proud of.

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Coming third, is Samsung, followed by Amazon, HP, LG, Acer and Asus.

Panos also tweeted yesterday congratulating the team.

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That’s all for now folks.

Surface/iPad – Now (Part 2)

Surface/iPad – Now (Part 2)

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Image source: The verge

In my post, Surface/iPad – Then (Part 1) I gave a brief history on Microsoft’s efforts with phones, Windows and Surface product line up back in the days. Also, mentioned how iPad almost dominated the tablet market. If you haven’t checked that post out already, I suggest read Part 1 first, and then continue reading this post.

Microsoft’s vision has been clear. They want Windows to play a central part in peoples lives. And with Windows 10, they have laid the foundation and working towards it with every new version of Windows they release. For example, with Windows 10 Creators Update, they have baked in Windows Holographic or Mixed Reality framework into the OS. You can read more about it here. What this means, developers can take advantage of the Mixed Reality foundation and start building new experiences (apps) through the HMDs (Head Mounted Displays)

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Image source: tctechcrunch

It is interesting new opportunity for developers, but an opportunity that is yet to be realized. Mixed Reality (MR) is still far from mass adoption, and I don’t think until end of 2018 we shall see a lot of content made specifically for this MR environment. Nevertheless, Microsoft wants to be ready when the wave of MR/HMDs is set and ready for general public. There are still couple of great HMDs already available in the market, such as HTC’s Vive or Oculus Rift. These are some powerful devices with great potential. But Rift, as much as it is good it can only work with a high end laptop.

Well, I am not going to dwell so much on MR. The point is, Microsoft is bringing in all possibilities, be it a productivity space which it has been for years and years, a mobile, MR, Gaming, Internet Of Things or a collaborative device like Surface Hub. All these different computing needs are packed into one Windows, the Windows 10.

And one of the best device to show full potential, optimized Windows 10, is the Surface Pro product line. The Surface family was never a threat nor a competition to Microsoft’s partners, such as HP, Dell, Lenovo and others. In fact, it was an inspirational device for these partners. Microsoft wanted the partners to make Surface clones, they wanted to flood the market with great, premium looking devices, a fantastic choice for the consumers.

Surface devices are premium devices, with a entry level Surface starts from $899. But it is a device made for productive first, play/entertainment second, unlike Apple’s iPad. The iPad as also mentioned in my Part 1 post that it is first a consumption device.

I will share my personal experience with an iPad. I had bought my first and last iPad in 2012, if I am not wrong it was iPad 3 (or marketed as The New iPad). In the start, I played around with the device quite a bit, loaded with tones of apps. I used it mainly for entertainment, for watching movies and Photos. Listening music was once in a while as I prefer listening music on my phones. Other than watching movies and playing games, reading news and tech articles was amazing, and reading and writing emails was also good. But that’s about it. I am a coder, I use Visual Studio, with SQL Server, Access with other applications. And none of these worked with an iPad, of course, it’s a tablet.

I always switched between my laptop (for productivity) and iPad when I am relaxed laying on my bed, sofa etc. After using iPad for 4-5 weeks, I significantly reduced using the device. And came a point when I hadn’t used iPad for nearly 5-6 months straight. It is when I realized that, iPad is not my type of device. The typing experience on a laptop is far greater than on the iPad (even with optional keyboard attached). There was no real work that I could do on the device other than replying to emails, which my iPhone could also do. So why reach for an iPad even for that.

I wanted an ultra portable device that could balance my work life plus my entertainment/consumption life which I call, Work + Play balanced life. When I first bought the first gen Surface Pro with Windows 8 I knew this was the device that could fit my needs. Although the mid range model that I had picked (i5, 4GB Ram, 128 storage) was not breeze to use with heavy apps like the ones mentioned above. But I used it a lot more than I ever used an iPad.

Today, I am writing this and all other articles for this blog, while running SQL Server 2016 along with Visual Studio 2017, Edge and Chrome both minimized on my stunning, powerful 2-in1 Surface Pro 4 (which is i5, 8GB Ram & 256 storage). This is exactly the space I want to be at, a device handling both my laptop and tablet needs. The device is not perfect, but the vision is clear, Pro 4 is nearly identical looking device to Pro 3 but improvised in all meaningful ways. Surface Pro 5 should be even better handling these two worlds of Work + Play.

Microsoft does not want you to buy a laptop and a tablet separately. Surface Pro can handle both. This is where Microsoft and Apple have taken different approaches. Microsoft with Windows 10 is trying to do everything with these unique experiences like Surface or with other Surface family products. Apple, wants to make one device to cater for one specific need. An iMac for desktop, MacBook pro for laptops, iPads for tablets, Apple Watch for wearables. It has worked for them, they have made big moolah with this method. Good for them.

2016 has been a good year for Microsoft with their Surface devices. It has brought them profits, the devices are selling well, people have realized an ultra portable device or 2-in-1s are a great offerings by Microsoft and other vendors. Sure, the sales still can’t match that for an iPad, but iPad sales have also stagnated and are at a year over year decline. And looking at the fantastic positive response to Surface Pros, Apple in 2016 also released another Pro device to counter attack the Surface, the iPad Pro.

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Apple wants iPad to be perceived as a productivity machine with iPad Pro. They released two screen sizes with giant screen 12.9 and 9.7. What is the difference between the regular iPad and the Pro? The only big difference in the Pro is the stylus support, or as Apple likes to call it, the Pencil. It is funny how Apple has been shying away from such input methods like the touch screens on the laptops or pen support.

But having no much choice, they had to support the pencil and a keyboard. Why I don’t consider a keyboard as a major play here because, even in non-pro versions there has always been 3rd party support for keyboards. This is just an official keyboard support from Apple for the iPad Pro, no big deal here. Apple pencil is good, specially for graphic artists, painters, architects. But the iPad Pro still carries the same problem I had with the iPad in 2012. I still can’t use heavy apps that I regularly use on my laptop or my Surface Pro 4. You still can’t use Photoshop (not the light version), video editing is not as simple as they demo it on stage during keynotes. Both these Photoshop and video editing require precision, which at the moment can and mostly handled by a mouse. Surface Pen or Apple Pencil can also do little justice to precision but it slows down the workflow. For a professional, things need to happen fast, without compromising on the performance.

The best thing about the Surface in my opinion, is the choice you can make depending on what you are doing. For example, if I am on my desk writing this blog or coding, I can throw in full size Bluetooth keyboard and a mouse, dock it to Surface dock and you can hook up one or more monitors and there you go. A full fledge powerful desktop like PC. You can also deattach the Surface keyboard and use it as a tablet, with 10 point multitouch screen, or write handwritten notes with Surface pen.

 

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Image source: blogs.windows.com

 

This is the power of Surface that some of the tech enthusiasts love. Granted, this is not everybody’s need, which is the majority in my opinion. But it is also evident with the decline of the tablet market and increase in 2-in-1s that users are realizing instead of having two devices, have one which is good at handling basic productivity tasks as well as a bit of Facebook, browsing web, watching Netflix etc.

The advantage with Microsoft or Windows ecosystem, the partners like HP, Lenovo and Dell are selling stunning looking 2-in-1 devices as well with incredible price ranges. It is not a must to go for a Surface device, but there are many Surface looking devices which are equal if not better than the Surface.

Microsoft today stands very firmly with their Surface brands. Surface brands screams premium quality, as well as price. And the reception to the Surface from tech journalists, media, and general public as been pretty solid and positive. This is proved by their next attempt at creating a new category, the Surface Book and recently released All-In-One computer, the Surface Studio. The Surface Studio is so beautiful, so premium, stunning looking device that it can’t be rivaled by any AIO computer today. Look at the launch video below and see it for yourself.

Concluding this post, your needs could be different than mine. iPad and iPad Pro maybe perfectly fitting your needs, and that is fantastic. I believe, choose something that best fits your needs, and don’t go by my word or someone else or what Microsoft or Apple markets. There is a reason there are different companies offering different computers and tablets, it’s all about range of choices to consumers and businesses to choose from.

The reason for this Surface/iPad blog was not to tell Surface is better than iPad or iPad is better. I have given the purposes of both devices, what their company’s intentions are with their respective products. And how best these devices can fit your needs.

It is evident the Surface Pro works for me, but that could be due to my nature of work, need.

That’s all folks for now. Please let me know what you think about this two part posts, please leave a comment below, share it if you like it.

Till then, enjoy rest of your week.

You can reach me on:

Surface/iPad – Then (Part 1)

Surface/iPad – Then (Part 1)

 

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Image Source: PCAdvisor.co.uk

 

It is certainly one of the most interesting topics in the tech industry ever since the first iPad released in 2010, or the first flop line of Surface Pro and RT in 2012. People tend to enter in heated arguments over which device is better than the other. There is no definite answer to  this, and it all boils down to, what is your need? The best selling tablets, are indeed, Apple’s iPads. But is it the best productivity device out there? You decide for yourself.

In this two part series of articles, I will go down memory lane when the first iPad and the first Surface released. How they competed head to head over the years, what are their unique selling points and why is one device better than the other, in its own right. I’ll also give my own personal opinion, what I feel about the two devices.

 First Gen hardware

With a lot rumors, speculations, the next category defining piece of tech to be out of the gates of Cupertino, California. Apple finally unveiled on April 2010, the first iPad. At first, it looked like a big square iPod Touch + iPhone squashed together. But iPad was more than that.

1stgen-ipad-56a5334b5f9b58b7d0db72bbIt felt solid and premium, and very thin and light at that time. It did some tasks in a very efficient, natural way than the laptops or the smartphones did at that time. It was a true revolutionary device, which was best at, browsing the web, looking at the photos in a whole new way and watching videos on the 9.7 inch device was a treat. It handled mails decently, and listening music (iPod) was also fantastic. I distinctively remember, when my ex-boss in late 2010 had got the first iPad, and I had chance to play around with it for a while. At first, I could not the true essence of the device. All I could think of it as a big giant iPod. But in just couple of hours, it was evident that this piece of hardware in your hands does certain things really well, better than the laptop back in the day.

However, that was pretty much it. It was geared towards an entertainment device, an in-between category created by Steve Jobs, as he said, what was that one device, that was sitting in between a phone and a laptop. He even mocked the low cost, terrible Windows netbooks. A device that was better at doing things on the phone and on a laptop/desktop. That’s where iPad was born. No doubt, it did a few things better than a phone and a laptop, but, that was it. It remained a consumption device, for reading, watching, listening. iPad has pretty much remained the same throughout its various versions, until iPad Pro in 2016.

Microsoft, on the other hand had tremendous pressure from its shareholders, its fans, developers, and the whole tech industry. Microsoft had failed miserably creating a viable third platform with its Windows Phone 7 and 8 series. It was late to the party, by the time Microsoft arrived, people had already moved on with iPhones and Androids. This was a huge problem for Microsoft, and it became a chicken and egg scenario, what comes first?

Since there was no enough audience or users for its platform, the developers completely ignored creating apps for the Windows Phone. Microsoft was in a fix, developers did not see any incentive making apps for them, and users didn’t want to buy their phones because, well, there were no apps. Microsoft once a company that was loved by developers for its Windows (desktop) platform were now shying away from developing anything on Mobile for them.

So unlike Apple’s efforts which worked for them back then, scaling up their matured iOS platform to iPad. Microsoft had to do the other way round, and the hard way. They took their clunky, bulky, humungous Windows OS and started engineering it to fit or, forcefully adjust itself into the new and modern world of touch first, light weight operating system. After the debacle they had with Windows Vista in 2006, they bounced back with Windows 7 which was well received, it was the OS that Vista should have been.

However, in the world of iOS and Android, Windows 7 was becoming irrelevant and it was mostly perceived as business only OS. Don’t get me wrong, there are billion machines out there running some variant of Windows by both home and business users. But it was a transitional period, where mobile and mobile OS was attracting popularity, Windows on the other hand was more of a appliance for home users, to be used for only certain, more complicated computing needs. Mobile devices were the go to device, from browsing the web, to checking Facebook, reading & writing emails, taking pictures, games et cetera, the simple and basics tasks most home users carry out.

In 2012, Steven Sinofsky (former head of Windows division) introduced their new operating system, Windows 8. A sad answer in an iOS and Android world.

 

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Image: Windows 8 in 2012

 

Remember, Windows has always been a mouse and keyboard oriented OS. Even with Windows 7, they tried to make it touch friendly but it was a far fetched wish. It was never designed for it, it was never meant for touch first world. All the million plus applications available for Windows 7 were designed for keyboard and mouse input, for precision mouse clicks, drags and drops, small icons.

Windows 8, tried to change all of that. It was a tale of two Operating Systems (OS) forced to marry and live together happily ever after. But neither the two OSes were happy, they could not perform their core duties properly, and neither were the audiences happy for the two to get together.

Microsoft brought in Metro concept of Windows Phone 7 & 8. The Live tiles user interface. It was a fantastic idea, but only on the paper. The user was forced to live in the new metro world as seen in the image above. The metro was designed for touch first world, there was a new app development model/framework that only ran and lived in the Metro side of the OS. The Live tiles, the fresh new fast and fluid metro interface, faster search, better and contained install/uninstall process of the new apps was all for the better. Except, it threw the user out of the metro UI the moment you clicked on a Win32 app (eg iTunes or Chrome browser) and brought back the old desktop (like Windows 7).

This was the biggest issue with the OS, and people absolutely hated this notion of going back and forth with the jarring UI. If the user wanted to go to start menu (like in Win7), it brings in the Start Screen (metro UI) hiding away the desktop and anything important running on it. So if you had to multitask between these two UI, the work was too much and a lot of moving between the UIs. Heck, they even removed the most loved, used feature, the Start menu button from the bottom left (Windows Orb). It was only brought in back with Windows 8.1 when users made a big fuss about it.

This was the history of Windows, bringing in touch element to Windows 8/8.1 to fight uphill battle with iOS and Android. At that point of time, there were no good hardware devices that could showcase the power of touch in Windows 8. There were no tablets, there were no touchscreen laptops, but, there was this Windows 8 that needed to go out there, and wanted the users to experience the new metro world.

The stage was set for Windows 8 along with a brand new Microsoft device, the Surface.

 

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Image source: forum.kodi.tv

 

Microsoft Surface was a stunning looking device made out of what they called VaporMg magnesium alloy giving it a semi-glossy look.

It featured a kickstand, a Surface Pen, an optional but important keyboard and came preinstalled with Windows 8. It was the first from Microsoft a 2-in-1 device, that, if used without a keyboard was a tablet, and if a keyboard is attached, converts into a laptop (so to say).

Surface was released in two flavors, there was the Surface Pro, which ran the full blown Windows 8 Pro, that could run modern/metro apps as well as the classic desktop applications. And then there was a confused, younger sibling, called the Surface RT (more confusingly, meant RunTime). The Surface RT, would look and feel like the normal Surface or Windows 8 in it, only to know that, it only ran modern/metro apps. So all those classic, yours truly Win32 apps that you came to love, would simply not execute on the Surface RT.

Cutting the long story short, the result of forcing Windows 8 down peoples throat, putting out Surface RT which many people bought thinking like there was nothing wrong with it, and the first gen of Surface device which was at that time not understood well by the people, specially the consumers. The result was, a whooping $900m (aprox) write-off. There were so many Surface devices that was dusted on the shelves, in warehouses.

The biggest culprit for this loss in my opinion was, one, the Windows 8, two, Microsoft did not explain/advertise it well what really was Surface RT.

Throughout 2010 to 2013 and partly 2014, iPad did really well, so much so that, in 2012, Tim Cook (Apple CEO) said in an interview that “You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are not going to be pleasing to the user.” He meant, you cannot put a tablet and a laptop together, and of course, it came from someone who were selling their Macbooks and iPads in millions.

This was a brief history on the two companies, two products. I will continue writing on the topic in my next article, “Surface/iPad – Now (Part 2)“.

In part 2, I will essentially be discussing where the two products stand today, and the two companies. I will be discussing how Surface product line has shaped up, and what made Apple to change it’s strategy and make something closer to a toaster and a refrigerator, I mean, the iPad Pro.

Till then, have a great day.

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