The Worldwide Partner Conference or WPC is Microsoft’s annual conference for it various vendors, software, and hardware partners. WPC is interesting because it is provides a view into a little understood aspect of technology (or at least as described on the consumer side).

WPC is aimed at those who have built businesses, services, and hardware using Microsoft’s platforms. So unlike the developer focus of the Build conference, or the TechEd’s IT pro focus; WPC is where the salespeople gather. WPC is one of the more interesting conferences because it sort of serves as a, “State of Microsoft”. When Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner takes the stage, usually on Day One, you get a mix of revival preaching, rallying the troops, and motivational speech. But what you also get is the most frank public assessment of where Microsoft is. And that is what was on display yesterday.

The 14 Percent

Last year Turner got on stage and talked about the new world of mobility. This year he took the stage and talked about the new world but in starker terms of Redmond’s place in it. While he sited the 90% market share currently enjoyed on desktops and laptops, in the mobile space Microsoft makes up a mere 14% of devices. It was interesting to hear Turner discuss Microsoft’s mobile predicament in such sharp turns; in particular framing Microsoft’s dominance as a non-issue in discussing mobile.

Hard Choices

So in this new world Microsoft now finds itself having to fight for not just customers, but relevancy and that has forced some tough choices for the (Still) software giant. Turner describe these “hard, but necessary” choices and some surprised me. For one, the decision to make Windows and Windows Phone free was one of those decisions. (Windows is free for devices smaller than 9 inches). Another tough decision was creating first party hardware. From the speech it is clear Microsoft recognizes the need for radical change and is perhaps letting go of protecting the golden goose. It is also clear that Microsoft is looking at all options.

Services First

Turner’s talk reflected the recently released memo by CEO Satya Nadella; Services, Services, and the Cloud. Turner touted the growth of Office 365 and Azure and both played key roles in the Day one keynote. From Turner’s talk it’s clear that Microsoft will focus services as a key differentiator for Microsoft. And while these services will work best on Windows, Microsoft will not ignore platforms like Android and iOS. Productivity was big focus, so much so I think the coming year will see new products from Office outside of Word and PowerPoint.

The Challenger

Its hard to imagine Microsoft as an underdog or as a scrappy challenger, but in mobile that is exactly what it is. The fact that Microsoft is not sugarcoating there place in mobility or putting conditionals on it means this is how they see the world now. The focus on cross platform software/services and on differentiating its platform is like a slow step away from the Microsoft of old.

The state of Microsoft wasn’t all bad; there was growth in cloud services, Office, and even Windows Phone. They also still have that 90% of desktops out there. So the state is strong, but it is also realistic

There has always been this weird uneasiness when its come to he relationship between Nokia and Microsoft. Maybe unease is the wrong word, its been a kind of tug of war. This has been especially the case for fans of both companies.

When Nokia adopted Windows Phone a few years ago it brought with it not just hardware and software but its cadre of admirers. Online these new Windows Phone users would clash occasionally with the Windows Phone users who were coming from the Microsoft side of the fence. Mostly it was over who did more for Windows Phone or who was moving the platform forward.

Now I bring this up because yesterday professional tech leaker @evleaks posted information about changes in the naming and branding of Microsoft hardware. Now I’m not as concerned about Microsoft extending the use if the Nokia brand, even though the idea of using the phrase, “Nokia by Microsoft”, seems absurd. The real news is about the Lumia and Surface. According to Ev, Microsoft will discontinue the Surface brand and opt to use the name Lumia for all its consumer offerings. This would be an interesting development given the release of the Surface Pro 3. I should add this rumor has some legs given a recent mention by about branding changes reported by WP Central’s Mark Guim and Sam Sabri.

Now how well you receive this will depend on how you sit on Nokia/Microsoft spectrum. I know a lot of Nokia fans think this is perfectly reasonable given the brand recognition of Nokia and thus Lumia. A few have said Lumia is simply more recognizable and is in more markets. Now I can’t refute this as I am in the US, but I wanted to point a few things out.

As a name the Lumia is synonymous to most watchers of mobile. For Windows Phone fans its THE phone if you’re on this platform. I think for everyone else it is a Nokia phone. Case in point my sister asked me about my 520 but she called it a Nokia and later a Lumia. I think the Lumia name has grown but that it is a weak brand. It’s simply not on the back of the phone. People may argue that Lumia is a better brand but exists in name only.

My second issue is that Lumia doesn’t fit what the Surface sells. The Surface as I see it is built around computing from the tablet on up to notebooks. It’s this modern looking device made of magnesium and glass that stands out from the black slabs and clamshells that make up the PC landscape. Lumias by contrast are pure mobile, pure color, and authentically (high quality) plastic. The Lumia line also isn’t simple. Surface is built on two devices (yes I know its for but the current line up is two) and the Lumia is built on at least seven or eight. Also as Paul Thurrott points out the name Surface is simple and describes what it is perfectly. It also translates well (how quickly people forget the Lumia lost in translation story).

And the last point brings me to this, I think if Microsoft is listening, that what they need to do is keep both names. I like the name Lumia but its not plastered on the back of anything yet. The Surface I think is solidly becoming a brand in its own right (and I might add is old IP for Redmond). I think dividing the hardware between Surface and Lumia keeps it simple for users and for Microsoft.

 

Last Google I/O I think I wrote a preview and review for both days. This year I’m limiting my coverage to a preview and maybe one review.

Google I/O is Google’s developer conference and will mark the end of the big three’s (Microsoft/Apple/Google) developer shows. After this it’ll be quiet until possibly CES unless someone has new hardware.

Last year’s I/O was relatively quiet. The big news was about the consolidation of Android and Chrome OS under Sundar Pichai and the maturation of the Android platform. The bulk of the news was around building up the developer story for  Android. Last year was about bringing the back end together, this year looks to be about what’s next.

A while back, one of the Android sites reported that we would soon be seeing a revamp to the Android interface that integrated cards and Google Now into the OS. It was also rumored this revamp would uniform the design of Android. Today Android lead Pichai seems to have confirmed that a revamp will be on the agenda tomorrow. I also expect for some time to be spent on ChromeOS and the successes the OS has had in getting hardware and chip vendors to come on board. With Chrome I think the focus will be on features and number of installs.

There have been reports of a revamp of Google TV and there is a 50/50 chance of seeing it. We may also hear about what’s in store for Google Glass and Google Playschool Self driving car. On more realistic fronts I do expect Google to announce new features and improvements to the Play store. The Play store has been Google’s way to bypass the issue of fragmentation and also a nice way of hampering third part alternative stores. I think the discussion around the Play store will be part of a larger one about the Google ecosystem. I expect a lot of time will be spent on services and how those services fit with Google’s App Engine (because you know there will be focus on cloud computing).

Hardware wise I think Google will talk about new Chromebooks running on Intel chips and a possible Nexus device. I don’t think however that there will be a Nexus phone but a third party phone under the Play addition moniker. Also expected is the concept devices or early devices based on Android Wear (Wearable technology). We may even see the modular phone project, Aura.  And whatever’s shown off will of course be given away to all at I/O.

And while I predict all this will be at tomorrow’s keynote I also expect at least one exception; I don’t think Google Plus will be mentioned at all. Part of me thinks outside of tying together services, Goggle Plus as this Facebook/Twitter-like place will be phased quietly out.

All in all I expect the keynote to further cement Android as the new mass market mobile platform with billions of activations and devices. So if you want to catch tomorrow’s event go to the official I/O page which will have live streaming.

Google I/O 2014-Official page

Happy trails kids.

image: The Droid Guy; Google

 

 

So a nerd walks into the BestBuy….

SurfacePro3_OneNote
For the last two days I have had hands on with the Surface Pro 3. This is latest device from Microsoft’s nascent line of branded hardware. Up until now I have only seen videos and read the early reviews which were nice but aren’t substitutes for a nice test drive. Now this is a review, this is a hands on and even that is being generous. (At Staples the display unit kept buzzing as soon as you even touched it)
Now for background I was at a nearby Staples and a nearby BestBuy. The BestBuy had the TypeCover 3 for the Pro 3 attached, while Staples had the smaller TypeCover 2. Both had the redesigned Surface booths which honestly the devices need and they were also on (which is sometimes a gamble when going tech shopping). In addition to the device itself I also checked out the exclusive dark blue Cover which is exclusive to BestBuy.
The Device
As a product line Surface has always been nice. No the lineup doesn’t include hybrids, 2in1s, or even a pure laptop (because this would bring Ragnarok) but they are a lot nicer than most PC offerings. Now for those that aren’t following technology like the FIFA World Cup, the Surface Pro 3 is 12 inch tablet PC running an i5 Intel processor with a resolution of 2160×1440 (means it’s a nice screen).
Right of the bat this device is thin. I knew it was thin from reviews, but in person this thing is as thin as its ARM cousin the Surface 2. It’s a surprising feet given that this is an Intel based device. And its light, maybe not iPad Air light, but amazingly light for what its packing. In many ways the Pro 3 is more like the ARM based Surfaces than its predecessor the Pro 2.

Like the Surface 2, the Pro 3 has the expandable storage under the kickstand and is using the natural color of the VaporMG magnesium process. The Pro 3 has ventilation across the top of the device but it blends into the body well (the vents are or the Intel chip which needs cooling unlike ARM chips). If no one is going to give like a slow clap, standing ovation to the Surface team for this design, let me do it. This device reminds me why I think Microsoft should do laptops; I mean I this is what we get for tablets imagine a PC with this much attention given.

The Screen

Every Surface device has had a decent screen (including Surface RT you HATERS) and the Pro 3 continues this. While not as pixel dense because of the larger screen, both images and video are sharp. Now I played a video during both hands on the colors to my untrained eye were bright and true.

WP_20140524_007(1)

The Surface Pro 3 now sports a 12 inch screen which I wish I had more time to use. In landscape, the extra real estate is liberating. You get to see more on the Start Screen and the desktop. In portrait the Pro 3 feels a bit more natural than the Pro/Pro2′s 10.6 screen which were 16:9 (think tall and narrow).

I would need to really live with a Pro 3 to have a better grasp though, but Microsoft deciding on the 3:2 screen ratio brings it closer to iPad which is I think has set the standard. One other thing about the screen that I like is the thinner bezel. A lot of tablets often have more bezel than screen; it makes them easier to hold but does take away form the visuals.

The Pro 3 has a nice balance between having the needed bezel but also having a decent amount of screen. It would be interesting to compare the screen to the Dell XPS 12 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 12.2, the other 12 inch tablets. For my money I like the Pro 3 because it’s a nice balance between screen, add-ons, and portability. The Samsung feels heavier even though its lighter and is using an ARM chip. The Dell is unwieldy because it’s a clamshell (laptop) with a swiveling screen and wasn’t designed to be terribly light.

The Pen

I tried the new Pen at both Staples and BestBuy. I do wish they had a better setup as BestBuy had the pen connected to the device where you could write with it. Neither had signed onto OneNote with the store setup account so demo fail there. I did use the pen with a Sudoku game and it worked well. As of right now writing with the Pen feels weird because of the rubberized tip (the Pro/Pro2 had plastic styluses which were solid). Again this is one of those things for which I’d want a longer hands on with.

The Kickstand

WP_20140524_003(1)

One of the interesting things about Windows tablets has been observing how each OEM has handled designing them. Very few PC makers opted to make large, pure slates; most make hybrids (designed with attachable keyboards or laptops that fold backwards) or small ones.

Unlike their PC partners, Microsoft has offered the Surface lineup as pure tablets. However unlike other tablets the Surfaces come with an integrated kickstand. The Kickstand has over the 3years evolved from a one position mode with the Surface RT and Surface Pro to the resistive 150 degree hinge of the Pro 3. From my brief hands on the hinge offers enough resistance to stay in place and offers better viewing angles.

The Keyboard

WP_20140523_19_23_44_Pro

Keyboards are important to tablets. Whether some like it or not people will turn these keyboard less things into mini laptops come hell or high water. For the larger Pro model, Microsoft has released a new TypeCover. The new cover matches the screen size of the Pro 3 adds a second magnetic layer that connects the keyboard to the bottom of the screen. This lifts the keyboard up and gives you a new position.

The new TypeCover also comes with an improved touchpad. The touchpad isn’t much larger than the previous ones, but its responsive and feels a lot nicer than most other PC trackpads. The new cover’s keys are cramp but that’s sort of expected from something that serves as a screen cover. Typing on the new cover was as horrible as some reviews made it seem; but mileage varies.

The Covers come in five colors with BestBuy and Microsoft Stores both having exclusives. The BestBuy has a dark blue TypeCover which is nice (hint: I want) and seemed to be sold out. If you already own one of the previous covers you’ll be able to use it on the Surface Pro 3 (the Type 2 was attached to the Pro 3 model at Staples).

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All in all the Surface Pro 3 continues the Surface line’s growing reputation as some of the best Windows devices out.

Okay I am keeping this as short as possible and no there are no figures for my observations Poindexter so ZIP IT.

So you are a tech enthusiasts, a coder, a brogrammer, a girl who codes, or one who self identifies as a power user of great accord. For you technology is a thing to be debated, obsessed over, cuddled like a puppy, and worshipped like that golden calf that got the Hebrews in trouble. You have one (or two) of every gadget known to man and its Chinese knockoff equivalent. You are the Technology elite…..

But you are not the Tech majority.

You want to know who is, your mom and the millions and billions who use mobile devices. You want to complain about why Windows and OSX are looking more like their mobile siblings than the powerful dual core OSes they are blame the people who want to just use a computer. Blame regular users for whom power tools hinder their mastery and enjoyment of the PC they bought at BestBuy for $350.

The fact of the matter my dear PC Master Race member. The tech meek have inherited the digital earth and there is nothing you can do about it. (Well maybe you could blog about it, or do a video on YouTube, or go on Google Plus but no one uses Google Plus)

And once again I am at the laptop writing about the future of Windows.

To be honest I always hate returning to the topic because for me it isn’t about any one issue or fix, but about the nuances and shifts that I think are necessary to move Microsoft forward on the client side. Its about understanding what the shift in consumer habits really mean. It’s even about understanding the reality of the Windows user base versus the needs of the platform to remain viable.

And trying to condense all that information down into something coherent and understandable and readable has been hard.

And so, with apologies, here I go……

Windows as it exists right now is in a transition. People didn’t flock to Windows 8 or to the new Windows tablets in the way Microsoft thought. The progress Microsoft has made has been slow and steady much like the Tortoise. I am not going to try to debate the merits of Windows 8 or bitch about developers, tech reviewers, and fanboys (that has been done to death). What I want to talk about is what needs to happen going forward.

Right now the people I think running the conversation about Windows’ future are power users, developers, and influential tech writers. They all have great insight into what makes Microsoft and Windows tick, but they aren’t concerned with the consumer side of the OS. For the last three years the arguments have been around mainly the desktop as a productivity platform and how useless Metro was for power users. But no one talked about where Windows needed to go to be competitive in the consumer space. And this has led to lopsided thinking about the course of Windows.

Windows as an operating system did grow because of the enterprise but it doesn’t just sit there. It sits in peoples homes in the same way an iPad, a Mac, and a phone do. People do the most trivial things with them, and they buy Windows PCs in stores that don’t discriminate between consumer or enterprise. However Windows is seen by and large as an enterprise OS. And this is an issue.

In my opinion Microsoft’s consumer woes can be broken down like this: mindshare, positioning, and perception.

Windows is a commodity, and commodities are invisible. When was the last time you noticed a PC? PCs are commonplace. Seeing someone use a Windows machine is not big news. Now try that again and imagine a Mac. The fact that Macs are rare (I’m not writing this is Seattle or San Fran) they have an air about them. As a brand Windows is still stuck back with Windows XP. Windows 7 sold well but it didn’t stop the downturn in PC sales. In the time between XP and 7 Apple surged forward and positioned itself as something the rest of the world could use. It also emerged as brand people strived for. The glowing logo as status symbol. Windows doesn’t have that cachet. Windows is a necessity, not a want. 

So how do you fix Windows?

First it begins with putting legacy and compatibility into perspective. Legacy and compatibility are the cornerstones of Windows’s business but they won’t move the OS into the future. People misunderstand the importance of these things to regular consumers. If the majority of users live in a browser, being able to run the command prompt or PowerShell is a non issue. Having the ability to use software you invest in is beautiful but that only goes so far.

The second issue is (honestly) the Interface. Let me be blunt, no one outside of a few message boards, Twitter, Reddit, and Google Plus gives a shit about Aero, Longhorn, or Windows 7. And to go further no one gives a damn if apps meet Metro guidelines. I like Metro (or the UI formerly known as Metro), but it is a start and not an end. I think Metro can be built upon to create a better interface and a better experience for Windows users if we can get it away from purists.

The reality is a lot of what we consider “Metro” needs to evolve. Microsoft needs to steal things out of iOS, Android, and anything else that’s remotely interesting. Computers are a lot like cars; people are not looking for a lot of things but the stuff they are looking for is important. Beyond looks is experience. With Windows 8, we got a partly new Windows. Once you hit the desktop, it was Windows 7. Yes I know it broke your work flow, it made you go to the dirty Start screen (go download Star8). The bigger problem was the desktop needed to be modernized and it needed to feel like it was a part of the OS. For new users the key should be mastery; make it so using Windows doesn’t scare them. For Power users make it easier to access the buttons. And for all make those experiences delightful. Every part of the OS should be designed so you don’t mind use it for longer than two minutes.

Lastly, Microsoft needs to give Windows a new value and a new purpose. Windows needs to break away from its image as complex and virus laden. It needs to stop being seen as unapproachable. It needs to be more than just functional. I’m not saying Windows should not be about productivity, but it needs to be seen as something that feels different. That is not a small order, the OS is used by billions. But its necessary. Now some of this Microsoft is already doing. The biggest benefit of creating Windows 8 was it force them to make it mobile and thus agile. With more and more of Microsoft’s services going cross platform, the focus on Windows needs to shift. Now some of this means “dumbing down” the OS. Some of this means adding features found on other systems, but the goal is to make a “new” Windows.  

So for the last few days Adobe has made a series of announcements around tablet applications aimed at creative on the go. Now this new suite of applications joins Lightroom mobile, Kuler, Ideas, Behance, Creative Cloud, and Voice. The new apps also premier Adobe’s first hardware offerings which they briefly showed last year at Adobe’s developer conference, Max.

The new apps to Adobe’s surprising (to me anyway) iOS offerings are Adobe Line, Sketch, and Photoshop Mix. The Line and Sketch apps make use of Adobe’s new digital drafting pen and ruler called Ink and Slide. Ink is a capacitive stylus and comes with a charger holder. The Slide is as it name applies, a slide ruler that also serves to other drafting duties. Adobe says it working on expanding the software behind Ink and Slide to other pen makers.

What I find interesting about Adobe’s new apps is how tied into the Creative Cloud they are. For example Photoshop Mix (the third new app) uses the Creative Cloud to do some of the processing for Mix. Additionally Adobe uses the Cloud to share work done between the tablet and PC/Macs. Another interesting point with Adobe is that none of these apps are coming to Android. I point it out only because when Adobe began its tablet push it started on Android. Now I you’re wondering about Windows, reading between the lines of a recent article by Mary Breadscomb, Adobe is considering the possibility of porting them. Adobe is also redesigning there current PC programs to work better with touch.

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