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To Satya Nadella, Frank X. Shaw, Terry Myerson, or anyone in Redmond WA that wants to respond,

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

I mean it, ZDNet is reporting the company is selling a “Microsoft Edition” of the S8. So are you done with Windows Mobile?

I don’t mean the bullshit about maintaining of the software; but in actually updating the OS with new features or maybe an update UI.

I only ask because after the  retrenchment there has been silence other than the pat answer of being committed to Windows phone. And honestly that sounds hollow. In actuality Microsoft has done the barest of bare minimums in terms of support. The other reality is Microsoft has shifted its mobile concerns to supporting iOS and Android (when they feel like they toss phone users a bone if we’re lucky).

And now Microsoft is getting ready to sell the Samsung S8 in it’s stores (which they don’t EVER talk about).

So Microsoft would like us to know something; like are you now really done playing catchup in the phone market?

Are you ready to say the words so everyone can move on because you are now done with mobile?

Or are you holding on to dear life because you know saying, “We are done”, kills UWP in its already stagnant tracks.

I mean honestly you should be honest, just be fucking honest; so we and you can move on.

Sincerely a tired fan boy

So we have a few hours before we are in a new year and of course our eyes turned back to the year we are leaving behind. Now honestly I can’t remember most of 2014 (don’t ask) and this post is not going to recap the year in tech in the traditional sense. There will be some mild predictions.

Manly this is where I talk about a wide group that I haven’t had a chance to. So let’s begin.

Apple

I always mean to do a write up on the Cupertino hardware maker but the closest I do is the occasional post prior to a product announcement or WWDC. What can you say about Apple that hasn’t already been said. The company that once was near bankruptcy, and that Michael Dell joked about selling back shares, is now more valued than Exxon. It has a stock price in the triple digits and it remains the premier computing brand. There is no rule in business or technology for which Apple is not the exception. In 2014 the biggest news wasn’t hardware (we did get an Apple Watch but Gene Munster must continue to endure cause Apple the TV is MIA) but software. iOS hit version 8 and continued the transition to a new design started in iOS7. iOS was joined in its new flatter look by OSX which left the cats and went traveling through Yosemite. Apple tightened the connection between its devices with Continuity or users and a new programming language Swift for developers. Another change on the backend was the introduction of Metal a gaming API that let’s game developers write closer to the hardware. There were refreshes for the iPhone (big and bigger) and the iPad (so thin that had to laser a pencil). If there was one flicker in Apple’s RDF it maybe that at least on the reviewer end the company is predictable. The secrecy that once covered the California computer maker has two years in a row been cut to shreds by leakers. I think the momentum and rapid change that marked Apple’s past products has slowed and its closest competitor, Android, has caught up in phones. At this point I don’t see anything dislodging the tech company other than Apple or something way outside their control.

Google

It is said that sometimes in fighting to not be something you become the very thing you are against. This year has seen Google in many ways become the new Microsoft. Its mobile operating system Android is the major software platform. There are only two companies that don’t use it, Apple and Microsoft, and the latter is constantly rumored to be trying to use it for apps. Almost every new phone or phone maker is trying to use some part of the OS to make a mark in the smartphone business. Google’s ChromeOS is finding a niche in education displacing the once ascendant iPad because of its keyboard. Google remains the preeminent option for search. And all this cumulatively makes it’s a plump target by regulators in the European Union. The EU is looking at the search giant in much the same way the US Government looked at Microsoft; a monopolistic entity stifling competition. Google continues to be passive aggressive with Microsoft. There is a YouTube app on the Xbox One but not on Windows and Windows Phone. And the Mountain View company continues to have difficulty in acting its age and not acting like it’s still a startup premi.

Samsung

In my vicinity there are three Best Buy Samsung Experience Centers. They are well lit spots in which Galaxies, Notes, and Tabs are on view with accessories. Once upon a time there was a space where they had their PC offerings but that’s gone. The Centers are nice but they are also empty and maybe it is an apt metaphor for where the king of Android finds itself. On one end the Korean giant is still the biggest purveyor of Android phones and tablets but it is also seeing that lead eroded by an army of Chinese vendors like Xiaomi who have come in and supplanting them. Sales have been down and the company had to close its high end store in London and stopped selling PCs and Chromebooks in Europe. But at least there was no faux leather devices.

Amazon

I wish I was as enamored with Jeff Bezos and his company as everyone else in the world seems to be. That I lived and breathed Amazon Prime. I mean to me Amazon is Walmart dipped in the high gloss of Seattle. Amazon this year dove straight into hardware of various kinds from stereo’s to a phone. They also faced a number of issues at home and abroad. In the US Amazon is pushing on drones. In Europe on Unions and books. They went to war with Hatchett publishing over pricing and may ace another storm with indie writers cause of their subscription book service. They made a phone, but it didn’t set the world on fire (it just made people realize how low Amazon would go to make us buy something on Amazon).

Facebook

I use Facebook somewhat because of family. The company for me has been quiet. No one has talked about its First initiative but those efforts have been refocused into a series of separate mobile apps that seem to have more traction. Facebook and it’s associate companies, Snapchat and Instagram, continue their quiet dominance on half of social media. Carry On

Twitter

You know for a service that has easy access to people are thinking about in real time on almost a mass cell level they don’t know what to do with it. Like many a company they want to be a platform; of what is anybody’s guess.

HTC

I think there was a plan. They did a Windows Phone variant of the M8 and then a cheaper Android version of the M8. Then they made a video camera slash periscope.

Microsoft

Change, Change, Change. Nadella faced Karma. The Pro 3 proves the rule of 3. The Nokia deal went through. Windows 10. People are now making this is Sparta jokes about a browser.

Nokia

There done with phones (for now) but are going to do a tablet (well Foxconn is doing the tablet and selling it, but Espoo did the launcher and made it look like a European iPad Mini). The deal with Microsoft went through which made them look better on paper since the weight was lost. Nokia fans now sit in front of Espoo waiting on a Nokia resurrection with Android to prove it was Elop’s and Microsoft’s fault. As a Windows guy I’m kind of glad to see them go if only cause the mix of fans was toxic.

And that is that. I know there are things missing and things let unsaid. What’s not unsaid is Happy New Year and may 2015 be ever in your favor.

 

Recently news leaked about another delay in the release of Tizen, the open source system created by Samsung and Intel. In particular the delay was over the Galaxy Z which would be the first mobile device (other than the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo watches). Samsung is said to have delayed the Z to work on further refining Tizen, but the delays have more and more people saying dead OS walking.

I think tech writer Mary Branscombe said it best when she said Tizen might be cursed. The code on which the operating system is built has a certain amount of bad juju around it. It is a Linux based OS made up Intel (Moblin), Nokia (Maemo), Intel/Nokia (MeeGo), and Samsung (Bada). In its first incarnation it was used by Intel to push mobile phones, tablets, and Netbooks. This was when Intel was pushing Intel App Up as a way to get x86 specific apps. Then Intel hooked up with Nokia to create MeeGo. Of this union one phone was created, the N9, which was stillborn. Then came the announcement of Tizen. It was backed by Samsung and other than watches and prototype devices, there’s been little noise.

People like to complain about Blackberry or Microsoft’s struggles in keeping a foot in mobile. Then there are those who want to rewrite mobile history and say that everything was fine until (insert person) changed (insert company/platform) for the worse. Then there is the dreamers and idealists who think true, open Linux, or HTML5 is the answer.

Mobile is growing rapidly and it has changed the face of computing. But its also changed computing in different ways. A phone is a more locked down device than a PC. Mobile is also more dependent on applications than a laptop or desktop. Its a market where the OS is more important. The PC market and especially the rise of Windows PCs made it easier for Linux adoption.

In the mobile world Linux is something trotted out at a small event during Mobile World Congress. Some chip vendor or OEM will remark on the need for a true open source option and the Linux Foundation will launch a new initiative. Afterwards you may see a prototype, meanwhile the same company will show an Android device they will actually ship,

Software and Hardware is hard, but doable. Building an ecosystem and maintaining it is madness. That’s why there are few companies that do it or can do it. Tizen is just another example of how hard it can be. 

 

Today the CEO of Barnes and Noble,Leonard Riggio, was reported to be looking for a way to take book store private and split it from its Nook e-Reader subsidiary. Meanwhile Hewlett-Packard sold part of its WebOS assets to LG for the latter to put the long suffering OS on TVs and possibly phones at a future debt. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal is reporting on a growing conflict between Google and Samsung over Android; stemming from Mountain View’s concern that Samsung is taking over the platform and crowding out other Phone vendors.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again; platforms are hard. Creating a software platform, encouraging developer interest, getting OEM support, and maintaining it is a tall order. Its also expensive, time consuming, and possibly all for nothing. I should also add that hardware isn’t a cake walk either; especially in a market where one major player can lock up your device with one order for screens.

The consumer computer market unlike its business and technical counterpart can be quite fickle. It doesn’t pay attention to the long game or gives point to being early or original. It can make or break platforms base on more minute details than the college admissions process. Anyone going into this market especially at this point needs to realize it could all end badly.

Barnes and Noble and the Nook are an interesting case; it was one of the first of the major booksellers to adopt Android. It was also one of the first to offer a cheap Android tablet to the market. They were the first to offer cheap. smaller tablets but they were passed by others with stronger digital wares. Amazon is to many the defacto eBook seller and Google with the Nexus 7, brought the best Android experience. While the Nook grew to be a major part of Barnes and Noble’s growth, it wasn’t a big turn and it couldn’t protect them from the changes in the book market. Another issue they faced, and one I’ll detail later, was Android itself. It didn’t help matters that they wanted to take Microsoft to court over a licensing deal (which they settled with Microsoft investing in a spinoff Nook company).

HP and WebOS. Where to begin. Hewlett-Packard bought the OS and its parent company Palm because the CEO at the time, Mark Hurd, saw the mobile train coming and wanted a ride. Microsoft at the time wasn’t offering a solid offering and the struggling Palm must have looked like the best deal ever. When HP announced its plans for WebOS it was going to be on phones, tablets, and PCs. It was a beautiful vision but the man that brought to HP was gone and the man that was its heart and soul left Palm for Google as the deal was finalized. The products that came out of what was left came out to lackluster reviews. The whole sad affair, wonderfully detailed in this piece by Chris Ziegler, ended with the apocryphal words of its next (short stayed) CEO, “The tablet effect is real”. HP continued to tinker on the OS; many Palm employees left or were let go and HP publicly thought about splitting the hardware division off and pulling an IBM. They didn’t but they bought another company for another couple of billions, the next CEO was fired, and HP now finds itself selling a $169.99 Android tablet, along with Windows 8. Moral of the story, don’t take a bite if you aren’t going to finish.

Samsung and Google (like Rosarch and Deadpool). The biggest mobile platform and its biggest OEM are possibly butting heads for a good reason. While Android has grown to be the Windows of mobility its success hasn’t really trickled down to any of its OEMs except for Samsung. While companies like HTC and Motorola have had time in the sun, it was fleeting. Samsung, however, has rode the Android train to become the hardware company Apple takes to court. Samsung floods the market with Android it did so even in the OS’s earliest days. Samsung was also the first to put the free OS on a tablet with the first Galaxy Tab. The issue between the two companies is the same Google faces with Amazon; platform control. Google is worried Samsung is crowding out other device makers through things like app exclusives. It was Samsung that brought Flipboard to Android and it continues to get exclusives. This kind of concern is real; on the Windows side Microsoft went with HTC to create a hero device to encourage hardware competition. In some ways this is the price Google has to pay for gaining the mobile market. Google took the Microsoft OEM model and dropped the price (to prevent Microsoft’s growth in phones). They succeeded in becoming the alternative to iOS for mobile carriers and phone makers.

Android also allowed the OEMs and carriers a platform to customize and lock down to their heart’s content. This mix allowed Android to grow at the pace it did, but it also meant that it could be easily forked. This is what Amazon has done for the Kindle and Mozilla for Firefox. Another issue has been the fragmentation of software and hardware; Android keeps being iterated on but devices don’t get the updates. Lastly, Google hasn’t provided the protection against patent deals (especially from Microsoft).

For Samsung……actually Samsung is fine. It took a press beating when Apple took it to court over trade dress (their phones looked a lot like iPhones at first) and lost. For me as a Windows watcher Samsung is a mixed bag. As a major OEM, Samsung making Windows devices is important to Microsoft and its ecosystem. However because it gets the lion share of its profits from Android means Windows Phone and Windows 8 play second fiddle. Designs meant for their Android phones/tablets end up on Windows and the result are products that don’t seem to fit, look a little cheap. Its clear Samsung sees Windows as a hedge and not a major part of its portfolio.

So there you have, three tales of mobile woe and scandal, until later.

Today is the day before Mobile World Congress, basically the biggest trade show for all things mobile. Sunday acts as a preview day where companies can show off new products before MWC opens Monday. This Sunday Mozilla got into the headlines early by formally showing off FirefoxOS, a mobile operating system based on web technologies and named after their web browser. Mozilla announced both phones and partners for their system; 18 carriers including Sprint and phone OEMs like ZTE are part of the initiative. Phones are expected in the market in 2014.

On the tablet front, both HP and Lenovo showed off 7 inch Android tablets aimed at competing with the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire 7. Both companies are aiming these devices close at or under the already affordable Nexus 7; with the HP Slate 7 priced $169.99. Samsung also announced the Galaxy Note 8.0 an 8 inch version of its Note tablet/phone line.  

One interesting observation from today’s events is the plethora of Linux based mobile OSes. In addition to FirefoxOS Canonical will be at MWC showing of Ubuntu for phones and tablets as well as the Samsung/Intel collaboration Tizen. The thing I’ve noticed about these systems is how much they resemble and operate like Android and iOS even down to features like notifications. I’m not knocking these platforms but I’m just surprised but maybe I shouldn’t; many of these third tier systems sell themselves on the ability for developers to easily port Android applications. Another interesting thing is how these systems sale themselves as open but also for their ability to be locked down and changed by carriers. Mozilla spent a some time talking about vendor customizability as a benefit of FirefoxOS.

To me it only illustrates how hard it is to penetrate the mobile market, especially in competing with Android for carrier and OEM attention. The third tier systems also highlight the difficulty of competing with Android’s free model; all these operating systems are free but Android has the market penetration and offers the same ability to customize that they do.

What will be interesting this year is what will be the big news. Android has become the default mobile platform and other than specs a lot of devices are mostly the same. Windows Phone, while making modest gains, isn’t a major player and with Windows 8 out I wonder if Microsoft will be part of the MWC conversation. Blackberry has also released the Z10 so I expect some news from them, but again their impact is unknown.

One thing is certain, Apple will be in the conversation but not to the effect it has had in past.

That’s it for now have a good week.

So in the past 72 hours Microsoft released (or unleashed some would say) Windows 8 to the public along with its first branded device, the Microsoft Surface. Today Microsoft will unveil Windows Phone 8, its update to Windows Phone.

Unlike Windows 8, Windows Phone 8’s story has been murky. It made a brief appearance over the summer at a one day preview. It has had PR from lack of a timely SDK to developers, as well as users of current devices being unable to upgrade devices to the OS; more later. There has also been controversy over hardware.

Samsung, Nokia, and HTC have all shown off Windows Phone 8 hardware; the ATIV S, Lumia 920/820, and 8x/8s respectively. However no one has had a real hands on with the devices and information on carriers was spotty (disappointing in exclusivity).

The secrecy around Windows Phone and the new SDK has lead to backlash; developers wanting to target new features have complain about the lack of transparency. Early adopters of Windows Phone are also in a uproar because the new OS will not be available to current handsets and the update available, 7.8, will not have all the features of Windows Phone 8.

For the uninitiated Windows Phone 8 brings a number of under the hood changes; support for dual and multiple core chipsets, new security features, and voice APIs. The changes have been brought on by the move from an Embedded system to Windows NT itself (NT is the kernel upon which Windows runs). The move breaks compatibility to previous gen hardware.

Today’s San Francisco event will be the OS’s full unveiling, there will also be similar event in England, Spain, Italy, and other countries. There was worry that Google would spoil festivities with a competing event to be held today, but Hurricane Sandy forced them to cancel. So other than a hurricane, Microsoft will have the day to itself.

So what should you expect? Well other than an overview of the platform changes; the move to NT (called Windows Core by the team) and the new Start Screen which allows users to change Tile size and thus the information seen; not much. I think what today’s event will concentrate on will be new apps coming to the platform and what the new kernel will deliver in terms of speed and power. I expect a big push around games with addition of Direct X and the gaming engines from Havoc. Also a concentration on business and enterprise. I don’t expect to see much in new features. There has been one rumored that I somewhat buy a plausible; the ability for apps to create a Live Wallpaper for the lock screen. I only buy it because of some images I’ve seen of certain Tiles like ESPN which were similar.

I’m hopeful for today’s presentation but I’m expecting many will be lat down from the lack of new surface changes and features (partially from letting their imaginations run wild). This may dampen the affair. However the changes seen are major in that it will see Windows Phone and Windows share more code and possibly the ability of developers to write apps for both at the same time.

Microsoft will be live streaming the event Here and be sure to check Engadget and The Verge for hands on and here (because I’ll miss you).

images: VSS Zone, Nokia Innovation

Image from My Nokia Blog

 

Around this time last year Nokia and Intel were combining their collective operating systems (Moblin and Maemo) into MeeGo. Then Nokia changed CEOs and later moved to partner with Microsoft on Windows Phone. At the time of Nokia’s announcement, Intel stated it would continue with its plans for MeeGo as a platform for Netbooks, tablets, TVs, and in car systems. As late as this year, MeeGo was being shown at Computex in Taiwan and Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress. However, even as it was being demoed on tradeshows, there were news reports of Intel temporarily halting work on the OS (which Intel denied). Later the rumor was Samsung was thinking about abandoning Android to take over MeeGo, later denied by Samsung. MeeGo’s future dimmed somewhat more at Intel’s Developer Forum, with the announcement of Android adopting x86 architecture for phones and tablets. Nothing else was known about the future of the platform till now.

Today Intel and Samsung have announced the creation of Tizen, a Linux based operating system that will be based on web technologies such as HTML, Java Script, and CSS. Tizen, which will contain MeeGo, will be hosted by the Linux Foundation. Also the LiMo Foundation, a group of hardware OEMs and Mobile operators, including Panasonic Mobile and Vodafone, will also be joining the efforts. The plan looks to continue what MeeGo was already doing; which is promoting itself as an open platform for anybody to use on any number of devices. There is no news on whether this new OS will make use of QT framework as a way to write applications. I should point out that Netbook News caught an early glimpse of the changes in one of Intel’s meet ups which detailed the adding of Web technologies to Intel AppUp (their software store). With Tizen, Samsung is adding a fourth OS to its stable including Windows Phone, Android,and its own BADA.

I have to ask why is Tizen being built? From what I’ve learned about the creations of Windows Mobile, Symbian, and even Moblin operating systems built purely so they’ll be used by other companies don’t work or don’t work for long. But like everything we shall see.

Tizen is scheduled for its premier next year.

 

Links:

MeeGo.com  What’s Next for MeeGo

Tizen.org https://www.tizen.org/

Engadget

This is my Next

 

Lastly the video I talked about earlier from Netbook News