So it seems Nokia wants to sell off its HERE maps division; or at least seriously considering it. In reports coming out today from Bloomberg and Reuters, the Finnish mobile giant is in talks to sale HERE which is a mapping competitor to Google Maps. No reason is given (that I’ve read yet) for the sale but the articles indicate Nokia is looking to concentrate on its backend businesses Nokia Technologies and Nokia Networks. Nokia made a few waves with sort of backdoor reentry into mobile with the N1 tablet, but that was part of a licensing deal with Foxconn. The HERE sell would further remove Nokia from the consumer mobile market.

Now as of this writing this potential deal is a rumor; it could fall through. But the sale has interesting ramifications for a number of companies.

Here Maps was a division created from Nokia’s mapping service and Navteq which Nokia purchased in 2008 for $8.1 billion. It is one the few mapping companies that can compete against Google in terms of services like street side views and indoor mapping. The division was almost snapped up when Microsoft bought Nokia’s hardware division last year. That deal fell through according to reports due to Nokia wanting more than Microsoft thought it was worth.

Right now potential buyers seem to include a lot of private equity firms who may maintain the business as is but more than likely cut it up and keep the patents. HERE’s business provides backend mapping data to a number of companies including Microsoft, Amazon, and YAHOO any of whom is a potential buyer. HERE also sells services to manufacturing and automotive companies for in car units and amongst those Uber (the ride sharing company) has come up as a potential suitor. Personally I would add Apple as a credible buyer due to its wanting to reduce its reliance on Google for essential services; also it has the most in the bank to close this deal.

Where ever HERE ends up the future of the company will be up for grabs. Companies like Apple or Amazon will most likely purchase them to enhance their own services and end any cross platform play. An equity firm will most likely push HERE to be service company focused on manufacturing and being the map your car uses. YAHOO could sweep in but I don’t think they have the cash but you never know. Then there could be a surprise like Google snapping HERE up but in my opinion they would do it so no one else could. Lastly Microsoft could finish what they started when they bought the Nokia hardware unit. Bing uses HERE’s map data and they wanted the unit before. But Microsoft may be a little gun shy given past history and Nokia wanting to get as close to what they bought it for in 2008. And even with all this speculation Nokia could decide not to sell. They want to recoup some of that original buying price when they bought Navteq (right now HERE is worth $2.1 billion). If they don’t see a number they like they could decide it’s just cheaper to keep her.

All in all it is surprising news from the Espoo tech company which has been quiet until now.

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image: SuperNerds.it

This is post on wearables but not about the Apple Watch.

Yes I know today was the day all the tech blogs and gadget columnists hit the send button on their reviews of the Apple Watch; call this a bit of counter programing.

A few weeks ago I pondered what would happen if the Apple Watch failed. And I thought I came off too negative in the post about the potential for wearable devices. I still don’t feel like they are the next big thing but I do think they are part and parcel of computing’s future. I think computers and digital appliances will end up in a lot of places including the things we wear. That means smart watches and sensors in clothing; the issue right now is the current wearable fad is about adding onto the phone.

With few exceptions the smart watch in 2015 is about putting your phone on your wrist and adding a clock. There are things like fitness trackers, think FitBit and Nike’s Fuel band, but they are singular devices. Android Wear and the Apple Watch are platforms that require you be inside their perspective ecosystems to use their product. And if you do the devices act as another phone screen.

The  problem with this first generation of wearables to me is their sitting in a niche whole waiting on something to die; an answer to a problem only nerds were asking for. At best smart watches become the must have accessory for your phone; at worst a fad that turns ugly. I don’t see people turning over watches every two years like they do phones. Phones are bought on plans that hide the cost or for the cheap. What we have here is technological jewelry; circuits and baubles. Smart watches aren’t required and their value add is negligible. You are paying for a device so you don’t have to pull the other out your pocket.

It is a little too easy to come up with the reasons why smart watches can fail: niche product, useless without a phone, built for obsolescence, and no good in bright light. But what intrigues me is how to you need to think about wearable tech and make it work.

So in order to understand how a wearable can work we (that’s the royal we) will turn our eyes toward Disney.

Yes Disney

See Disney has a wearable device that they have been selling in troves. It sells for about $13.00 a piece, can be personalized with skins and buttons, and comes in many colors. They do nothing but make it easy for you to walk around Disneyland and Disneyworld (seriously it’s a band with an RFID chip and that it; no touch screen). The Disney MagicBand is the perfect wearable because it embraces what it is.

The Apple Watch and the Moto 360 want to be watches but they can’t. A watch does not go bad and updated after two years. You spend money on a watch thinking it will last; even the cheap ones. Watches are accessories that we collect and pass down; they sit unobtrusive until needed. They don’t tap and make you conform to constant checking or become unusable in sunlight.

The MagicBand’s purpose is to be a fun way, a magic way, to go ride Magic Mountain or pay for dinner at Disneyland. It is designed to be unobtrusive; not to distract but make easier to engage. The Band can be made to be as personalized as you want for a price that makes it easier to walk away from. The Band is a proper accessory where others are PCs strapped to your arm. And the funny thing is that MagicBand that cost way less than Apple’s watch makes people and children giddy because it has a clear end unlike the plethora of smart watches that are the FUTURE.

Last week Microsoft watcher site WinBeta put up a post talking about a successor to the Surface 2 called the Surface 3. Unlike the previous non-Pro Surfaces the 3 would run on an Intel chip and thus run Windows 8.1 and not Windows RT (the ARM version of Windows). It would be a smaller device that was essentially a smaller model of the Surface Pro 3 (Pen enabled and using a 3:2 screen ratio). The WinBeta article described the new tablet coming out before Windows 10 for a lower price point.

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Now I was getting ready to write up something on the Surface 3 when Microsoft up and decided to unveil the Surface 3 with a quiet un-announcement. Instead of holding an event, gathering the press and presenting the Surface 3, Microsoft launched quietly with a few YouTube videos and interviews. Today has been filled with the obvious headlines about the death of Windows RT and a few articles on the $900 million write down on the original Surface tablet. There were even the occasional pieces written by Apple watchers.

The Surface 3 is exactly what I thought Microsoft would do and honestly what I wanted to see. While I’d love to see Microsoft keep an ARM option, the move to an Intel chip is logical. The market has responded to Intel Windows tablets and thus Microsoft has to answer. Moving to Intel means running the x86 version of Windows which removes the issue of app availability. The big question will be around Microsoft’s choosing the new Intel Atom x7 chip over the more powerful Core M. Core M is closer to the full power Core i-Series of chips and will be on the upcoming Apple MacBook; basically it gives you major computing power but allows for a fan-less design. Personally I think the new Atom was chosen because it’s a purer mobile chip, price, and Core M’s marginal benefits (battery and heat).

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So the Surface 3 is the Surface Pro 3 shrunk and without a fan. Like the third iteration of the Pro model the Surface 3 uses a 3:2 aspect ratio packed in a 10.8 inch frame. The screen size is about .4 inches bigger than the Surface 2 but also smaller (taller) than the 2 because of the aspect ratio. The 3:2 ratio makes the new Surface easier to use as a tablet in portrait while still keeping it laptop friendly. The Surface 3 has a resolution of 1920×1280 on a Full HD Plus ClearType display (means it’ll be a good screen).

The new Surface will sport a new charging port and accessories. The Surface 3 will be charged by Micro USB, commonly used by smartphones and other devices. The port can also be used for data. The move ends the use of the proprietary plugs use in the previous Surfaces. Some have been upset that the device isn’t using USB-C but in my opinion this makes more sense.

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With a change in screen size the Surface 3 will have a new TypeCover to match. The new cover will be the same as the one used on the Surface Pro 3; it has the extra strip of magnets that lifts the keyboard and makes the Cover stiffer for typing. You can still use older TypeCovers but they won’t close and fold up to fit. One new thing with the Cover is it ditches buttons used to access the Charms bar which will be going away in Windows 10. The Surface 3 will be the first non-Pro model to use a pen, however the pen won’t be included. The Pen is the same N-Trig one used on the Pro but now it comes in multiple colors (Silver, Black, Blue, and Red). The Pen will be sold for $50 and the keyboard $130 (price w/tax). There will also be a $200 Dock available.

The Surface 3 will come in four models: 2GB Ram/ 64GB storage (WiFi) (3g/LTE) and  4GB Ram/ 128GB storage (WiFi) (3g/LTE). The LTE version will be launching a month after the initial May release with Verizon and T-Mobile as the first mobile partners. The WiFi models will go on sale May 5 and will go for $499 or $500 with tax for the base model. As of now you can go to local Microsoft Stores and check the device out.

images: Microsoft

Do you hold or have any thoughts that if said would change the way people would perceive you?

Are you an atheist who thinks the world would be better off if there was no concept of God?

Are you a person who believes in marriage being between a man or a woman?

Are you a person who feels there is no real race problem only agitators waving a stick?

Are you a person who feel like gamers hate women, gays, and minorities?

Or are you someone who feels like its all too much? (which is what I feel like some days)

It does feel like some days the world is asking me to take public stands or simply respond in some Pavlov-ian way to some hot button issue. In a world where people want to be adjective-less we add a lot of qualifiers. Right now I am an African-American heterosexual cis-male I have to add other terms to describe my political and religious denomination.

We exists in a world where we have this tremendous technological lifestyle and it should be this freeing instrument. We now can communicate and see everyone but we choose to limit our interactions to those who share and reinforce our views. It isn’t just the FOX News or conservative Christian crowd who does it anymore. And when you combine this with social media you create this echo chambers of “Me Too”. Online it is so very easy to be a troll even when using your own name; responding to things people say and do without thought.

All this has left me thinking that I really want to find that rock everyone is supposed to be under.

I think we have come to a point where on some level we cannot live with the idea there are people who don’t think the way we do. We no longer can deal rationally with our differences so we’re building walls to contain us and keep out them. And I don’t know if that is ultimately good or bad.

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This week the minds in Redmond have decided to add to the flood of information that has been steady this month.

So after Mobile World Congress, GDC, and a renewed WinHEC the Internet Explorer team decided they needed to do something too.

Yesterday the IE team held a Developer Workshop at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus on Spartan for select developers, enterprises, and web tool makers. Like similar Windows 10 events the workshop provided an early look at Project Spartan. The event was a surprise and not live streamed so news trickled out through the usual Twitter stream.

The developer workshop coincided with news that Adobe was contributing to Spartan. Adobe is contributing assets in CSS gradients and an upcoming CSS image specification from the W3C (the web standards body). Adobe is part of a larger initiative to include more web developers and tool makers in constructing Spartan; it may even foreshadow Project Spartan being open sourced.

Another bit of information disclosed by Spartan’s project manager Kyle Pflug was a shifting policy on Spartan and IE.

With Windows 10 Microsoft will deliver two browsers, IE11 and Project Spartan. Originally both browsers would run a combination of Spartan Edge engine and IE’s Trident engine with the later only used when accessing legacy sites (sites built using old web technologies). The goal was to make the transition easier on businesses and users who needed legacy support but the matter muddied the waters.

That is until now.

Now Microsoft is drawing a line between Internet Explorer and Spartan. Starting now Spartan will run the Edge engine and IE11 will run unchanged to maintain commonality across Windows 7, 8.1, and 10. According to Pflug the reason for the separation was user and developer confusion and the need to make a truly forward facing browser.

The move simplifies the issue but it’s risky. Pulling out the legacy support from Spartan makes it easier for companies to hang onto IE (and older version of Windows). But the move also signifies that Spartan will be the future Microsoft browser going forward

This week Microsoft re-launched it’s hardware conference, WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Community), in Shenzhen China. WinHEC is aimed at PC and Phone makers along with companies working on software and drivers.

In the past WinHEC was a showcase for hardware collaborations between Microsoft and its partners and new initiatives that the software company wanted to push. WinHEC’s return comes as Microsoft prepares to launch Windows 10 across phones, tablets, and PCs and the company needs to get makers on board. Microsoft finds itself having to hustle in mobile and recalibrate in the PC market.

The choice of Shenzen is appropriate as its one of the key manufacturing hubs for almost all the tech we purchase. This conference will be one of four held across Asia aimed at getting companies on board for Windows 10. So what was shown at this WinHEC? Well here are the biggest stories.

New Hardware

At the opening session Windows chief Terry Myerson announced that Lenovo would be launching a series of Windows 10 phones later in the year. The phones will be sold in China as is most of Lenovo’s branded phones. The bigger news (which was tempered) was a pilot program between Microsoft and the hot Android maker of the Xiaomi. The two companies are working on porting a ROM of Windows 10 to Xiaomi’s Mi4 phone. Xiaomi’s VP Hugo Barra called the announcement an experiment between Microsoft and the Mi community. According to sources if this becomes popular Microsoft may offer this option to others. Either way running Windows on an up and comer like Xiaomi is a big deal.

Save the Date

So we now know when Windows 10 will launch; sometime this summer. Myerson revealed that summer is the end goal for the release. Windows 10 will launch in 190 countries and in 111 languages. The only question will be can Microsoft achieve delivering the new OS in time. Right now the company is in the middle of testing Windows 10 across phones and PCs taking user feedback and one has to ask if doing this will delay release.

The Percision TouchPad

With Windows 8 Microsoft introduced native support for multitouch not just for screens but also for touchpads. A few companies got on board like HP to integrate it. The Percision touchpad was introduced with Windows 8.1 and added additional support. With Windows 10 Microsoft is going all in on making touchpads work like Apple’s with more options and gestures.

USB-C

There was a number of sessions on support for USB-C, the successor for current USB technologies. USB-C is faster than current USB technologies and also easy to plug in. USB-C has been in the news lately because it will be on the new adjectiveless MacBook and the refreshed Chromebook Pixel. USB-C is part of new docking initiatives that include Intel’s WiGig (a form of wireless docking).

Log On with your FACE

Last week, before WinHEC, Microsoft announced Windows Hello. Hello is a new way to login into Windows using facial recognition and (I think) fingerprint. Microsoft also announced Windows Passport which allows programs to use Hello as way to securely sign into websites and apps.

There was plenty more announced but for now these are the big headlines.

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This week Microsoft decided to profile a number of designers working at the company as well as do a podcast interview with Principle designer Katie Holmes and Principle researcher Bill Buxton. Given the dearth of info on what’s new in Windows 10 UI/UX I of course pounced on these posts.

Gang of Four

One of the interesting, and sometimes confounding things, about design at Microsoft is how communal it is. Whenever a designer from Redmond talks about design it’s never about a person but about a community of designers. This makes it hard to turn any number of people into a Microsoftian Jony Ive. However the consolidation of Microsoft’s products and groups has lead to veil being lifted so we no whom to praise (or blame).

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The designers profiled represent the hardware and software sides of the software giant. There is Kat Holmes who is Design Director, Operating Systems who worked on Cortana and is part of the team working on Windows 10. Next is Jonah Sterling, Azure’s Creative director and the guy I sort of wished would get a crack at Windows proper (I mean it the Azure web portal is sexy). On the hardware side is Yeongyku Yoo creative director for the Microsoft Devices team and Ralf Groene who is creative director for Surface. Yoo works on the upcoming HoloLens and for the newest hardware group, Devices, which is also working on wearables like the Microsoft Band. Groene, who every time there was a Surface video made me ask who he was, is part of the team that works on the Surface line of devices.

Each profile provides background on the designers and their various paths to Microsoft and their views on design. It’s an interesting mix because there is no lock step answer on what design means. Beyond these profiles was an interview on Microsoft and design done for the Next at Microsoft podcast.

Microsoft’s Five Burroughs

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Bill Buxton is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and someone who has done a lot of work on devices with consider commonplace. Buxton is also part of a larger movement to make design thinking a bigger part of Microsoft. In an interview with himself and Kat Holmes he discussed some of the issues Microsoft faces. One of the most interesting points was made by Ms. Holmes on where Microsoft’s interfaces are going. She described Windows and Microsoft services as being like the 5 boroughs of New York City; united but distinct. Buxton discussed the challenge facing technology was connecting devices and apps across their barriers.

And that is the latest in Microsoft Design news.

Next At Microsoft Podcast: Philosophy of Design

A Gang of Four: Holmes, Sterling, Yoo, Groene (Microsoft Stories)

images: Microsoft

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