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Mobility

Mobile has been a disruptive technology for almost a decade now. It shifted the fortunes of a number of companies; turning some into kings while making others paupers. Mobile devices have overtaken personal computers as the way most people compute.

Think about it; all the task we have associated with computing; gaming, doing bills, watching movies; is now done on devices we keep in our pockets. The mobile market grew exponentially faster than the PC market and has in many ways made the PC look like the mainframe; a relic for the back office.

Given the changes it becomes clear why Microsoft did a reboot with Windows Phone and also why despite failing to catch on Windows Mobile is still with us.

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Continuum Machine

Back at the beginning of Windows 10, Continuum was a feature that simply described modal use; tablet mode/pc mode and mobile/desktop-like experience. The Phone side of Continuum was always more intriguing because it was an adrenaline shot to a platform that had/has been given up for dead.

However as a feature Phone Continuum  lacked features to make it’s desktop truly functional. The feature resembled Windows RT; only one app can be seen at a time along with the additional restriction to apps built to UWP guidelines. This changes with the next update for Windows 10. The Creator’s update will allow for windowing so multiple apps running on screen along with improvements for wireless connections. Add to this new reports of x86 emulation, allowing users to natively run desktop applications, and the idea of a phone replacing a computer for periods become feasible.

I have to say these latter features have shown up faster than expected given the last update to Continuum was around the Xbox controller. I should also note this makes the case for accessories like HP’s Lap dock for the Elite X3.

Design in Neon

Right after the Thanksgiving holiday it was reported that Microsoft was working on a new design language for Windows 10 codenamed Neon. While details are scarce Neon appears to a effort to improve and streamline the overall look and behavior of Windows.

For Mobile this will most likely mean improvements to the Start Screen and Continuum desktop experience. Neon may also pave the way for new devices like tablets and Chromebook style notebooks.

Focus on the Enterprise and Services

The last two years have seen Microsoft retrench its mobile efforts (much to the acrimony of users). It has been a period of slumping sales and write offs as Microsoft moves the mobile focus toward enterprises. Much of the announced and known information around Windows Mobile drives this home; x86 emulation and Continuum are primarily feature sets businesses probably asked for.

Microsoft is also continuing to push UWP to be the replacement for .exe and pure x86. Initiatives like Project Centennial are trying to put Windows developers on a platform path toward the Universal Windows Platform. They are also working on features to make UWP as powerful as x86 without too much baggage.

So what does all this mean?

Well right now little.

The Continuum features will arrive sometime in the next year and a little before for those using the Windows Insider program. Any additional features, especially something like Neon, are coming in another update codenamed Redstone 3 in late 2017. And with what we know there are still questions. For example what will be the consumer facing features? Will there be new partners for hardware and software?

According to reporting done by Mary Jo Foley Microsoft is working with Qualcomm on getting the emulation feature working on their newer chipsets. Which is fascinating and proves the company is still committed to mobile. However this work is happening on a platform with no real pull in mobile (and statically no real share of the market). So where does it go from here?

2017: The Slow Return of Windows Mobile

Recently both Microsoft’s CEO and it’s head of Windows have been asked about mobile. The questions follow the usual script in which Microsoft acknowledges it missed mobile and that yes, they are committed to Windows Mobile and mobile hardware. Now Ms. Foley asked the million dollar question: Why bother?! I mean Windows Phone is dead and most want Redmond to follow the list of the former mobile leaders on the path to wherever Android is going. Or why not quit and restart like Nokia.

“When you stop investing in these things, it’s super hard, super, super hard to restart. And at Microsoft, we have a few of those examples where we stopped.” This was the response from Windows chief Terry Myerson. He also cited the ARM chipset and cellular as additional reasons for mobile continued existence.

In my opinion I think Microsoft understands where it is in mobile. I remember an interview done with Microsoft’s Chief Marketer in which he talked about needing to create something that would be truly compelling for phone buyers. His statement was echoed by Myerson and Nadella. This acknowledgement that whatever is coming needs to be truly compelling and groundbreaking to overcome Windows Mobile shortfalls.

So in 2017 expect to see features and functionality added that 1) closes some feature gaps with iOS and Android 2) Bring parity between mobile and pc 3) Entice more hardware partners to join and 4)Provide better user experiences. This will occur alongside updates for the PC so don’t look for a mobile specific update, yet.

Now beyond that I feel like long term Windows mobile’s future will be in helping Microsoft define the future of mobility. I’m talking about something that may go beyond the best guest work around mobile’s future form; or maybe just move the needle to where most think its going. This includes Windows mobile finally running on tablets and possibly laptops similar to Chrome OS. And even then this is leaving out aspects like AI, bots, mixed reality, and inking.

In a few short hours Microsoft’s latest Surface devices, the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, will go on sale. The release of the devices coincides with the release of HALO 5: Guardians and its first flagship store in Manhattan, New York. The devices got decent reviews. The Surface Book, a 13.5 inch laptop with detachable screen, was the surprise of Microsoft’s recent Windows 10 devices event.

It is amazing that four years ago the Surface line was revealed in a surprise event in Hollywood. Then there was the Surface lineup came in both ARM (Surface RT) and Intel (Surface Pro) models. Over the years the line has faced challenges with a $900 million write down of the Surface RT devices; along with grumblings from PC makers upset with Microsoft getting into hardware. Reviewers liked the devices but felt Windows RT and Windows 8 held them back. Analysts looked at the devices as a diversion for the software company and urged them to quit.

I mean what did Microsoft think it could do against the iPad?

Apparently build up a small hardware business that, on the heels of the Surface Pro 3, became a small billion dollar enterprise for Microsoft and a brand.

With the Pro 4 and Book the Surface team is refining their product and moving into new fields. Now the question becomes what next.

In the immediate future I think the next Surface device will be a refresh of the base, entry level Surface. Last year the Surface 3 was announced midway into 2015 as the successor to the Surface Arm based tablets. The Surface 3 updated the entry level model to reflect the Pro 3 and created something that was closer to the iPad. The Surface 4 could be similar to the Pro 4 with the removal of the Windows logo and reduced bezels. My hope is the Surface team also take cues from the Surface Book’s thin and lightweight design. I also hope if there is a Surface 4 is coming that the focus is on creating a thin device and redesigning the tablet with a new design.

Another immediate future device is the next version of the Surface Book. Taking in the early reviews, I imagine a Book 2 will work on reducing the screen wobbling along with improving the hinge mechanism. I also expect the Book 2 to improve battery life for the tablet half which currently runs only for 3 hours. Of course the Book 2 will be thinner and they reduce the hinge size to close the  gap.

Beyond the obvious updates, what’s in store for the Surface brand?

At the beginning of its life Surface was about priming the pump for the PC market; it was about being a standard bearer. That hasn’t changed. But one of the other aspects to Surface is about rethinking device categories, and this is where I think the next devices will come from.

In my mind I see Microsoft working on either a variation of the mini PC or an All in One.

The All in One I see mainly as something that works for both Windows Mobile devices and as a possible alternative to the Surface Dock. Now for those that don’t know newer Windows Mobile devices such as the upcoming Lumia 950 and 950 XL have backed in something called Continuum. Continuum is Microsoft’s way of transitioning Windows devices between various modes. This means on tablets and PCs running Windows 10 can switch between the desktop and tablet, and on phones provide a PC like experience. Now Continuum for phones can be done both wireless and through devices like the $99 dollar Display dock built for the 950s. So imagine a device that allows a user to walk up with their Lumia or Surface and send their screen to an All in One in their house. Something that is similar to the large screen Surface Hub but built for your desk or or office.

Now the second device I think may be in the mind of the Surface team is a mini PC. Now this is a black horse largely due to a device like this would really step on their hardware partners toes. But imagine a thin and light box that was co-designed by the Xbox team that was built with that Surface fit and finish.

Or maybe we may finally see that Surface Mini (now that Panos has outed it in a Wired article).

So the folks over at Windows Central have a countdown clock, and we have 7 hours 2 minutes and 27 seconds until Microsoft reveals its latest versions of Surfaces and Lumias in New York City. I’m glad Microsoft is doing the event on the East coast, but it’s really early in the morning.

I think most of us can already guess what Microsoft will show off in a few hours. There will be a new Surface Pro model, two new Lumias, and peripherals. The next iteration of Microsoft’s wearable, the Band, is also widely expected to be on hand.

Microsoft is expected to unveil the Lumia 950 and 950 XL. Both phones have flagship specs with the larger model supposedly coming with support for inking. Both models will be encased polycarbonate plastic and include wireless charging. Both Lumia models are also expected to be sold across carriers except for Verizon; however both 950/950XL work on both CDMA and other bands.

MSFT_Event_October6_2015image: Microsoft

The Surface brand will be the star of the show with the possibility of multiple devices. Of course many expect to see an updated Pro model. The Surface Pro 4 is expected to be a modest revision with the biggest update being under the hood. The Pro 4 is rumored to be packing Intel’s new Skylake processor. There are also rumors of another Surface device that is at least 14 inches. One story reported by WinBeta is that it is a 12 inch Surface model which can switch the screen to be 13 inches like Intel’s North Cape concept. Another rumor posted by Paul Thurrott says this potential device is a 2-in-1 with a foldable keyboard making this Pro model Microsoft’s first laptop.

Early rumors indicated a new model Xbox would be announced but that was squashed by Xbox chief Phil Spencer. However many believe the Xbox Slim is still in the works. Microsoft is still rumored to show off the second iteration of Microsoft Band which should improve on the first model. Band 2 is rumored to be a more curved model to better fit the wrist and improved sensors.

I am hoping Microsoft may show off a Surface 4 model for those of us who like portability. Also new versions of the Surface Pen and TouchCover. However I think the biggest news will be around applications. Recent rumors have announced the possibility of Google finally creating apps for Windows 10.

If you want to watch the event it will be available online HERE.

Also know various tech sites will be doing liveblogs:

Windows Central

The Verge

Thurrott.com

Today Apple CEO Tim Cook will once again take the stage and announce new products with the now iconic symbol of a half bitten fruit. Months of speculation will finally be answered and whatever is shown will be reported on every news site from here to over there.

Today’s announcement will likely cover a new iPhone 6 variant, a possible Apple TV, and a larger iPad.

The thing about Apple announcements, at least in some circles, is they are harbingers of obsolescence for something. The announcement of the first iPhone ended the mobile phone market as it was and sent companies scrambling. The iPad was the beginning of the so called Post-PC era and resulted in companies almost killing themselves to get into tablets. The long rumored Apple TV which may show today was long supposed to be the grim reaper coming for the souls of television, cable, and gaming consoles.

And so once again we have an Apple announcement; and once again there will be companies wondering if this is the day they loose.

For me as a Microsoft fan I really dread the Apple events because I think  afterwards Microsoft will bow out and quit because X is announced. Its how most feel when discussing Windows Phone. Now the mumbling is around the Surface line.  The gist is a larger iPad with a pen and keyboard will destroy the momentum of the Surface line and especially its Pro model which has sold well.

With the Surface Microsoft’s biggest issue was they created a tablet but didn’t have the app support needed to make it really work as a tablet. The Pro line worked but only because it ran “real” Windows. And even after the success of the Pro 3 Microsoft still must contend with it not being tablet enough.

The iPad Pro according to sources will be as large or larger than the Surface Pro 3 (12 inches) and like the Surface come with a Pen stylus and keyboard. It is not known if its all bundled together. iOS 9 makes things like multitasking easier for such a large screen but the question with the Pro is the opposite of the Surface.

For all the success of the iPad it has faced the issue of declining sales. The iPad Pro is largely seen as Apple’s way of re-energizing the tablet market. And its adding features that the Surface line already had. So for me the question is does the iPad Pro kill the Surface and Windows tablets in general?

Maybe that is the wrong question to ask.

Maybe what should be discussed is how does Microsoft and others meet the challenge. How do they build up their app catalogs and feature sets. For too long we have treated Apple like this thing that can never be competed against; that was unbeatable.

That should now end.

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

Okay Microsoft comes out with a new Productivity Future video and I admittedly want to go to there.

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The new video for me is a little different from past ones because much of what’s shown now represents real world products. Almost everything in this video corresponded to a product available now or soon to be out. So what does the future hold for the Surface? Thinner bezels, screens, and new form factors.

The evolution of Windows, a revolution for Microsoft Hardware

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The next update to Windows will bring a new look but the same focus on getting things done. Cortana’s update brings new capabilities through the new personal assistant software.

The Surface lineup is expanding with the new Surface Courier, Surface Hub Home, and Surface 5.

Surface Courier, the tablet transformed

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The Surface Courier brings new flexibility to the tablet form factor. Use the device folded and it’s a 8 inch device or open it and use the 11 inch screen to get more work done. For those looking for a more traditional form factor, the Surface 5 refreshes the entry level Surface device for students, business, and customers.

The new Surface Pen is now Universal, use it with other Windows tablets, the iPad Pro 3 and compatible Android tablets. Try the new stone charger for faster charging of the pen.

The Surface Hub Home is a new all in one that brings the power of the Surface Hub to the All in One device. Aimed at the education market, Hub Home works seamlessly with other Windows devices.

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Building on the HoloLens, the Microsoft HoloPad brings Holograms further into the home and office. HoloPad allows for the power of Holograms to be used by people without strapping on a Lens. The 3d of HoloPad lets users interact with computers in a whole new way.

Coming soon the next evolution in digital White boarding for the office and home; MagicWall and Surface Hub.

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* this is a work of fiction; I have no bloody clue what Microsoft is doing.

images: Microsoft

courtesy of the Verge

courtesy of the Verge

I think Windows 10 will be a test for Satya Nadella. I think no one questions his commitments to services or to cloud computing. He gets enterprise and helped build the platform that will grow the software giant, but is he cut out for rebuilding Microsoft’s consumer market? He has said some interesting things in his short time as CEO about hardware and about consumers.
Now in Nadella Microsoft has a man who is comfortable with the enterprise side of the software giant. He was head of enterprise and development before becoming boss. His background is not in consumer software; he was in charge of Bing and Online services. His conversations so far around Windows and Xbox has been broad but not really specific. The same is true of his views on the company’s growing hardware component.
His obliqueness has made many wonder if he intends to pull out of the consumer computing market. I know it is something many a pundit has advised. Many took the appearance of Office on iPad before Windows as a sign that the new CEO had no place for it.
Nadella_NY_Times
My personal read on Satya is that I think he is open to things; the guy is clearly a thinker. I think it is interesting that in his  comments about Windows he makes a point about appealing to customers and design. Actually the fact he brings design up at all as a differentiating factor is important to me because it signals someone who knows that the OOBE is something one should get right.  He has talked about a focus on productivity, in some ways getting back to basics. Nadella has talked about what is core to Microsoft (and no it is not Candy Crush). But he has also talked about the importance of gaming and of the need for devices being about work and play.
The push in making services truly cross platform has been rough on some Windows fans. Some have wondered aloud if Windows makes sense if you get the same if not better on iOS and Android (and they have the apps). I admit I have said it myself. It will be an issue Nadella must answer on the 21st when Microsoft unveils the next update to Windows 10.
Here’s hoping we get an answer (we like).
image: New York Times