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This was going to be my preview and predictions for today’s Microsoft event but the Walking Cat, Microsoft watcher/leaker/Ghost in the Machine, had other ideas.

So we now know what the rumored Surface Laptop will look like. And right now it looks like a well built 13.5 inch laptop coming in multiple colors (Grey, Burgundy, Blue, and Gold). This post will be littered with images. Spec wise the machine weighs 2.76lbs is 14.47mm thin at the back, 9.9mm thin at the front. And the laptop will have a screen with 3.4 million pixels according to the Walking Cat. From view Microsoft has chosen to not use USB Type-C or the Thunderbolt variant and looks to maintain its proprietary charging cord/port. So far reaction is mixed with many wondering why the laptop isn’t on the Type C bandwagon (best guess is for the education market).

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I’m surprised the laptop is not smaller. A smaller screen means this could have been used in early grades such as Kindergarten. And the lack of Type C will be met with head scratches; but the device is looking quite desirable.

So before I go too far into the hardware I did want to preview the event.

Tomorrow in New York Microsoft will be unveiling the laptop but it will also be showing off Windows 10 S aka Cloud. This version of Windows will locked down and limit use to the browser and to applications inside the Windows Store.

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I think the major focus of tomorrow will be about education and how Windows can work for educators and students. Services like Office 365 and Intune for Education will be on display along with applications like OneNote and Minecraft for Education to show the company’s breath and their ability to compete with Google’s ChromeOS.

And while the big reveal is out, the bigger story will be how Microsoft sells its newest SKU. Chromebooks have made a dent in education and the larger computing market. For Microsoft today is about making the case that they have something of use to education.

It will be interesting.

images: Walking Cat (@h0x0d)

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So it has now come to the point where Microsoft’s silence on Mobile has become this cancerous spot affecting coverage around Windows.

Did it have to go this way? No.

To recap: On Thursday, Microsoft released its earnings for the quarter and the phone sales were null. So the  last nail was pushed into the coffin of Windows Phone (with weird glee by some Windows watchers).

Anyway, Peter Bright of Ars Technica wrote about the Surface (Redmond’s computer brand) and how the company was repeating the same mistake it did with Nokia Lumia. Basically ignoring momentum  for sake of alienating OEM partners.

 

Bright argued that Microsoft needs to decide if it’s serious about devices because the hemming and hawing dooms the effort. It was a very alarmist peice which was followed by a more reasoned one by Paul Thurrott. Thurrott countered by saying the Surface brand wasn’t in trouble because Windows Phone was doomed from birth (paraphrased to retain content saltiness).

The thing is both are right but that’s beside the point. The point is silent treatment going on is hurting the Windows platform; and from this enthusiast’s slash armchair analyst perch will only cause more problems.

So on May 2, Microsoft will be holding an education focused event. The rumor is the event will cover Windows 10 Cloud and a new computing device from Redmond.

Now the device will NOT be an update to the Surface Pro or Surface Book.

It will also not be the long rumored Phone.

Many are taking cues from an early DigiTimes rumor saying Redmond will be premiering a Surface clamshell device. That rumor said this device would sell for $1,000 and be positioned as an entry model. Given past devices there is debate on whether this PC will be a straight up laptop or something like the Lenovo Yoga (folds into a tablet).

This is just my take on what may go down beginning with the software.

Windows Cloud

Windows 10 Cloud is a new version of Windows in the vein of Home or Business. Microsoft has not been public about Cloud; it hasn’t stated its existence and what we know comes from leaked information. What we do know is Cloud is a fairly locked down version of Windows 10 that only runs software coming from the Windows Store. Also for a price, a user can upgrade the system to full Windows.

On paper Windows Cloud resembles Windows RT; the early ARM based version of Windows 8 that ran only WINRT based apps. Now that where that comparison ends because Cloud can run apps in the modern Windows store that includes x86 applications and apps built on UWP (the updated version of WINRT). Also those apps run in windowed mode which RT did in a limited fashion. So beyond that we don’t know much about Cloud. It’s a locked down variant of Windows.

The thing with Cloud is its widely considered to be a competitor to Google’s ChromeOS. ChromeOS is an OS based of the Chrome browser; the apps you run are web apps and some Android apps (depending on the device). Unlike MacOS and Windows Chrome is a lightweight system; like a mobile OS. Google does most of the maintenance and updating without user input. ChromeOS and Chromebooks basically offer what most of us do with computers now; the browser. While ChromeOS has had some traction in the consumer market it has had serious success in education.

So Cloud exists because of ChromeOS but what does that mean for May?

Windows Cloud is just one part of Microsoft’s possible education play. I say that in part because most of the leaked info about Cloud doesn’t limit it to devices aimed at schools. There is also a version of Windows aimed at the Education market which no one has said is being merged with Cloud. So in my opinion Cloud if its shown off will be a new initiative around offering lower cost entry devices. The education angle will come in the form of new services and updated applications. Things like OneNote, Word, Sway, and Intune for Education.

 

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Surface Cloudbook

So what about hardware?

Now my personal opinion is there is a 50/’50 chance this event will see no branded Microsoft hardware but PCs from partners. I say this if the event’s focus is on Widows Cloud. But if there is a new Surface device this my idea on what it will be.

Given the focus of the event, past Surface devices, and Windows Cloud I think the device will likely be similar to the Surface 3. It won’t be based off the current Surface Pro as that is too large for kids in Elementary and Middle school. I am going under the assumption that this PC will be positioned as a device that can grow with the child; also work for younger students. So I do think the screen size will be around the 10 inch mark; 11 would be pushing.

Second if we go with the rumor about the clamshell; then this device will look like the Lenovo Yoga Book. This device will be a deviation from what we think of as a Surface device, but not by much. I expect it will use the same aspect ratio use touch, and function like a tablet. The difference will be if the keyboard stays attached. There is a possibility that this may look like a smaller Surface Book. If the keyboard stays attached we could see a new design around a Yoga styled device. I expect a pen will be included. Also if this is an education facing device we may get the first non Magnesium built Surface. Like the Surface 3 this thing will run on a mobile Intel chip (possibly Qualcomm).

 

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Lenovo’s Yogabook a possible guide to Surface Cloudbook

 

My best guess is the May 2 event will focus mostly on Windows Cloud and it’s benefits to education. I’m also guessing Cloud will be a free offering and Cloud devices will be aggressively priced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.