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Microsoft Surface RT

Before reading the article posted today on Windows Central I have to admit I was nonplused by what was coming down the pike for Windows. The fact is Windows as an OS needs a make over but can’t get one because legacy keeps it afloat while drowning it.

And I know a lot of people need and require software built on top of x86 but it does prevent things moving forward.

Then Neon happened and my inner UI nerd fainted.

 

neon

image: New Creation

 

Metro 2.0

According to Zac Bowden at Windows Central and Cassim Kefti at Numerama Neon is the codename for the next interface update to Windows 10. Kefti says internally Neon is being described as “Metro 2.0” in reference to the UI introduced with Windows Phone. Windows Central describes it as a streamlining of various efforts to bring level of coherency throughout the system. Neon also looks to add new animations and transitions to Windows 10. Neon also appears to be an effort to integrate new UI elements for augmented and virtual reality headsets. The timeline for the changes according to both articles seems to be Redstone 3, the update planned for 2017.

Neon

So what do I think? Honestly I am hyped by the news nd the possibilities. The news follows reporting from ZDNet about x86 emulation running on ARM for Windows Mobile. The emulation news was preceded by new mobile features coming with Windows’ next update. All this adds up to interesting times ahead for Windows mobile users and enthusiasts.

Now that was the hope. Here is the wants and needs.

First, there needs to be a visual update to both the Start Screen of Windows mobile and the start menu/tablet mode on Windows 10. I include them together because those are the public facing parts of the OS and the ones users use when mobile or without a keyboard. Windows 10 is fine for tablets but can always use improvements.

Second more features for Live Tiles and the lock screen. Neon is the perfect opportunity for features like Interactive Tiles or anything that moves the Tile metaphor forward. Also the Lock screen has been there sitting waiting to be unleashed; maybe the work of Microsoft’s Arrow Launcher could help.

Last, seamless integration of mixed reality into the platform. Windows has merged touch with the mouse and keyboard and no it was not easy. Hopefully they learned from those growing pains.

Honestly it’s early days and I will be revisiting this topic in future.

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We are now a few hours from whatever new devices the Surface team have been cooking up in Studio B. As we get closer and closer to the event (which will be live streamed), rumors are still coming in. The latest from CITE World citing sources are saying the Mini will not be part of the event.

However its unclear how valid the story is because the sources the author does have public comments on were consulted not on the Surface Mini per se but the Surface Pro and the possibility that a larger, thinner Pro 3 model will also be shown.
Speaking of today’s news it was all about speculation. Ed Bott did a review of the Surface family so far and on the well worn myth that Microsoft gets it on its third try. Paul Thurrott did a preview of tomorrow and of course discussed the Surface Pro 3 and why it might be the bigger story. Lastly Vlad Dudau did an interesting story on Windows tablet market share (surprise there is a place where the Surface tablets running Windows RT does well).
So what are my predictions, my hopes for the Surface event?
One is I hope we get to see a Surface Mini and it runs Windows RT. I mean I like the various Windows small tablet that have come out, but every review or video I check out only talks about the desktop. I mean damn I know the Windows Store is not the App store but its not empty. Also its time for Microsoft to push Windows as a tablet option. The last few months has been about holding the hands and calming down users about the Metro side. Its time for them to make the case Windows can be a capable mobile OS.
Beyond that I would love to see some new apps that sell the Mini. Given the rumors it will have a stylus let’s have new programs that make use of it. Be it a new drawing app or new reader aimed at students. Given its small style I hope we also see new reading apps. Earlier in the year rumors and video surfaced (no puns meant) of an e-Reading service made by the Xbox. In addition to an Xbox reader a new “reader” from the Office team was seen at Microsoft’s MGX event. So yeah reading apps (or at least the Marvel comics app).
Now onto the Pro 3. Personally I’d love to see Redmond drop the other shoe and introduce an Ultrabook. Barring that a slimmer, larger Surface will make a serious splash. The big thing with the Pro will be pricing and battery life. That’s it I’m sorry I’m a tablet person.
Supposedly new CEO Satya Nadella will be on hand for the festivities. Hopefully we will get an idea about the future of the Surface line. As much as the Surface is seen as hobby and an extravagance, but at this point its PC partners are splitting themselves between Windows, Chrome, and Android. I think at this point the partner model is broken and if Microsoft wants to stay somewhat competitive, it needs compelling hardware. The Surface provides that hardware.
Tomorrow will either be a major event or a letdown either way it will be interesting.
Usually I put up links to various live blogs but since the event itself has limited the number of attendees no one has said they’re doing one; I’m linking the live stream on this post. The event starts at 11 AM eastern, 8 AM pacific.

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2014/may14/05-20webcast.aspx

(This is a FAKE rumor story. Its mainly so I can get in the blogging groove. So if you reprint this as truth its ON YOU)

Today we learned that Microsoft will be holding an event on May 20 that many watchers believe will be the announcement of the long rumored Surface 8in. tablet to be named the Surface Mini. Further reports say new CEO Satya Nadella will be on hand to announce the device said to be aimed at productivity users with an emphasis on pen input.

I can now reveal from my sources in Redmond, WA that this event will also be aimed at providing a glimpse at the future of the Surface brand with a brief preview of both the Surface 3 and Pro 3 but also Microsoft’s first Ultrabook.

Starting with the Surface Mini the device will be running Windows RT but expect for the ‘Softies on stage to refer to it as Windows on ARM. The May 20th presentation will show a 8 inch device that actually has a 8.5 inch screen and thin bezels around the device. The Mini will also be noticeably thinner than the Surface 2 and will be “light” on ports according to once source close to the Surface design team. The Mini will not have a kickstand built in but will have its own version of the larger Surfaces’ type/touch covers in the form of the Smart Case. The Smart Case combines the Type Cover with a case that can hold up the Mini like a Netbook and has three stand modes. The Case’s keyboard will be backlit and come in five colors which according to my source represent the various Microsoft products. Lastly the Mini will come in either Black or White and will have LTE at launch.

During the presentation expect to see a few new apps and services built explicitly for the Mini. Two that will stand out is the new eBook service created by the Xbox and Office teams (they’ll be showing off comics from Dark Horse and Marvel) and a mobile game version of Forza. My sources are mixed on whether the Office apps for Windows tablets will appear as a preview or not.

Now for the wild stuff.

A source close to both the Nokia and Surface hardware teams has said that the two groups started interacting a few months ago comparing notes and ideas. From this love-in came a refresh of the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3. It seems that next Surface devices will have a radical makeover. The Surface 3 will become a bit more tablet friendly in terms of size and will share support for the Mini’s pen. The Pro 3 will be thinner but it may also drop from being a Core I processor to Intel’s successor to Bay Trail. And this is where the Surface 11 comes in. The 11 is actually an 11.6 inch laptop that’s rumored to match the MacBook Air’s 12 hour battery life The 11 will come with a range of options and also LTE. If the 11 does well it could see both a sequel and a matching 13 inch model. As of now the Surface 11 would replace the Pro series in terms of price.

So you read it here first.

Apps

That is the answer to the question that has been confounding every tech pundit and reviewer as to why Microsoft would release an Windows RT version of its Surface tablets before the Intel core based Pro version coming in two months time.

Windows RT is a version of Windows built for ARM chipsets; they can’t run applications previously built for the Windows platform (which were built for Intel x86). Windows RT relies solely on getting applications from the Windows Store; which is missing well known applications from companies like Twitter (which announced it was making a Windows client) and Facebook. It also is a version 1 product with all the immaturity that entails.

Now a lot of reviews have remarked on the above as the reason to not purchase the Surface RT. Why would you they write, buy this device when you could wait for the Intel based version or  another Windows device? Why did Microsoft not wait and bring out RT when the ecosystem was stronger?

The answer is as stated before, apps.

See there is an inherent catch 22 with new platforms. It doesn’t mater how good the ideas are or how intuitive a system can seem, it needs a certain amount of applications to be considered viable. The catch is new platforms need X amount of users before developers will come looking and users won’t adopt a platform if they don’t see their particular app.

It a case where the chicken and the egg both need to be their but won’t until the other goes first.

There is also the unique case of Windows 8. Windows 8 brings a new touch optimized environment to the platform. It’s goal is to compete in the tablet market. The problem, which some don’t see, can be summed up in a simple question:

Why should a developer create a touch application for Windows 8 when they can stay on the desktop? Why should a developer target the new parts of Windows; which require an application be built on the new Windows Run Time when they can stay on the desktop. A better way to put it is how can Microsoft encourage them too.

  And on the flipside of the equation, how can Microsoft and its partners create products that will bring users into the store and buy Windows devices. Think about the devices OEMs brought to market in the aftermath of the iPad and later and compare them to their Windows 8 offerings. They provide a lot of variety but none stand out. Many build on designs done for Android.

So you need to encourage developers and bring in customers. What do you do?

You create the Surface. You create a halo device; one that provides a style benchmark, that’s attractive, and brings them in. You make it an RT device. To encourage developers to build for the new platform. To support Windows move to ARM. And prove Windows RT is viable.

It seems a lot of writers and bloggers get confused by Windows 8 and RT. They have this issue with understanding why people would want Office; or a desktop on a tablet. They get confused why anyone would want to use a keyboard; and if they did why design a tablet where it could be used.

I’m not going to sit here and write that Windows 8 is easy to understand; its not. I’m not disagreeing with people’s issue with Windows RT. But I do think reviewers are over thinking how people will use the Surface. Many will treat the Surface RT as what it is, a companion device. At 10.6 inches, only people living on the edge of tech will think of using it to replace a laptop. I also don’t think people will be jarred by switching between the new touch environment and the desktop. As stated before, most people buying the Surface will be adding it to their collection of technology just as they’ve done with the iPad. Now people will and may not look at the RT device because of lack of apps, but that was exactly why it was built; so they’d look.