Wednesday, 28 September 2016

With Andromeda Can Google Use Mobile Momentum To Break Windows?

google_pixel_chromebook_hero

What’s the most popular operating system in use in the world today? If you said Android, you’re spot on, if you said Windows, that’s probably something of a surprise. However popular Android is, Google appears to have lost control of its platform, to the point where fragmentation, both in versions and also in forks, has run away with it and there’s no opportunity to put the genie back into the box.

The rumours of a merger of Android and Chrome OS to create a new, all pervasive platform, sound like an attempt to build a new box. One that Google controls and one that leverages the best of both of its parent platforms to create a user experience that puts Microsoft on notice.

Android is everywhere, it is powerful and somewhat flexible. Chrome OS is constantly up to date, supports larger screen sizes and runs fluidly on a variety of hardware. Between them they have the capability to create a single, viable alternative to Windows. Chrome OS is already outselling MacOS in several market segments, notably in Apple’s former stronghold of education.

The problem is that Google has a significant gap between concept and execution, one that has beleaguered almost everything it has released since Android. How many messaging clients, social platforms and devices have come and gone as Google struggled to make them work and get customers to adopt them?

Given the speed with which Microsoft has been iterating through Windows 10 releases and updates it seems unlikely that an upstart OS from Google could quickly rise to compete.

This is where Google’s momentum with Android comes into play. A new platform where Google maintains a much tighter control of ownership and distribution, locks down vendor customisations, preventing fragmentation and enforcing a device independent upgrade mechanism changes the mobile market initially. The new platform offers an easy upgrade for existing Android owners.

Pushing all of those advantages, plus the Play Store, onto desktop class devices offers the potential for a much bigger change on the desktop. Common functionality between desktop and mobile, the ability to morph one device into another (much like Continuum, but with lighter requirements and a wider app base) as well as all of the Handoff-like functionality that Android can already offer, these are all attractive selling points for users who haven’t upgraded a PC in half a decade or more.

Microsoft might find that its inability to compete the mobile space comes back to bite it hard here.

Snapchat Spectacles: Look Past The Product

snapchat spectacles

Snapchat – now Snap Inc – made a seismic shift yesterday with its launch of its Spectacles product. A pair of sunglasses with an embedded camera which captures 10 seconds of video on request. The glasses themselves may or not be a success, but the concept is sound.

Customers today, especially those who use Snapchat, but other social media service users too, expect to be able to visually capture everything that happens in their lives. That means selfies, foodies, and every other-ie that you care to think about.

Snap’s Spectacles just make that easier and more pervasive, and whilst the glasses themselves aren’t particularly attractive they aren’t offensive. They’re also going to be incredibly cheap.

I think that focus on doing something within the frame of an existing social network, for a particular set of tasks that Snap knows it uses thrive on, will be the difference between Spectacles succeeding and Google’s Glass dismal failure.

Whereas Google’s product became irretrievably entwined with a picture of Robert Scoble in the shower – an image so damaging that Google couldn’t save the product or project; Spectacles are much more likely to be associated with images of young celebrities having fun in a way that their followers will aspire to.

Expect Facebook to follow this up with an Instagram camera of some sort. Does anyone else have a play in this market? Not really, although if I was GoPro I would certainly be rushing something cross platform to market on the basis that it knows cameras better than any of the social media networks do – for now anyway.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Microsoft All But Confirms Surface Phone, Commits To Windows 10 Mobile – Just Not For Consumers

slidedeck for business

Presenting at Microsoft’s Ignite conference, Windows 10 Mobile Product Manager Alan Meeus committed the company to future first-party Windows Mobile devices, more or less confirming the future existence of a Surface Phone. However although the presentation made it very clear that Windows 10 Mobile was still a key part of Microsoft’s thinking, it also very specifically excluded any future consumer level interest.

Business was very much the topic of the presentation, with lots of reasons why enterprise customers might choose to go with a Windows Mobile in future. The HP Elite x3 featured heavily in the presentation, as did items of enterprise interest.

Excluding the consumer from the platform doesn’t feel like wise option though. Consumers influence corporate purchasing decisions where phones are concerned and with the deeper penetration of BYOD into enterprise it seems like Microsoft doubling down on a weak strategy.

When Microsoft announced the Lumia 950 / XL as phones for the Windows Mobile enthusiast last yeat  I don’t believe that anyone realised that this might be the last Windows phones not laced up into a business suit. Turns out that may be the case though.

Can You Really Afford To Consider A Device Without Expandable Storage?

sandisk-128gb-microsd-card

There’s a growing split in the way manufacturers handle storage expansion in their devices and with micro SD cards having reached remarkable price to storage ratios you probably need to consider very carefully whether that non-expandable phone is really such a good buy.

Here in New Zealand Apple charges an extra $200 to jump from the 32GB iPhone 7 to the 128GB version. A phone with 32GB on board and expandable memory can be upgrade with a 128GB branded Class 10 micro SD card for under $70.

Buyers of Google’s Nexus 6P fare even worse, paying NZ$200 to go from 32GB to 64GB of storage. That extra 32GB bought as an micro SD card will set you back under NZ$10 right now.

Now in the past the performance of the expandable storage has been called into question, however with most phones starting at 32GB on board, applications can be kept on internal memory and media, which is generally less performance sensitive, shunted off to the storage card.

Of course if you’re going with Apple there’s little option but to take the pain of the cost of the extra storage, especially if you consider the (lack of) capability in the iCloud service. For Android though you really should think twice before foregoing expandable storage.

Who Has The Biggest Surprise Lined Up For October: Google Or Microsoft?

surface-book-2-leak

With Apple’s iPhone launch out of the way, attention turns to Google’s Pixel phone event next week. We already have a good idea of the main event – two HTC made phones carrying the Google branding and the new sub brand Pixel – we’re also seen today evidence of a new 4K capable Chromecast device, but the biggest news might just be Andromeda.

Referenced with Nougat, some are speculating that Andromeda will see the merger of Android and Chrome OS to create a single platform for all mobile devices going forward. Given the work that Google has been doing to bring the Play Store to Android that’s probably a good guess. Will Google be ready to unveil this major change of direction within the week?

Also being suggested for the Google event are a new network router with ground breaking WiFi performance and a Google Assistant speaker puck to compete with Amazon’s Alexa.

Later in the month Microsoft has its Surface event and right now rumours are all over the place, with the biggest being that Microsoft will be introducing three Surface All-In-One devices. However there are also suggestions that we could see the Surface Pro 5, a new Surface Book and even a replacement for the Surface 3.

Wildest rumour of all is of the early debut of the much anticipated Surface Phone – a device that any believe will ‘save’ Windows 10 Mobile.

Of the two events Microsoft clearly has the biggest opportunity to pull off a surprise unveiling, there are just so many products that its due to replace. The Surface AIO doesn’t strike me as a big win for Microsoft though and I’ll be interested to see how the company presents the devices, if it does indeed launch them.

Half of me suspects that this is a cover story that Microsoft has managed to plant to hide the fact that it will be releasing three new Surface devices – a tablet, a laptop and, just maybe a phone…

Nothing that Google has lined up (unless it has completely kept it undercover) seems to have that same potential to grab headlines.

Office 365 Approaching 100 Million Subscribers

Office-365

For anyone doubting Microsoft’s ability to transition its big money Office product to a subscription based cloud service, the company announced its latest figures for Office 365 subscribers – and with the 70 million commercial subscribers announced today and the 23 million consumer subscribers previously published  its a very healthy number indeed.

With an average annual subscription to Office 365 costing $100 that amounts to an annual revenue of close to $10bn.

However we’re still not entirely sure of the cost of acquiring that business. For example subscriptions through the Apple Store cost Microsoft 30% of its revenue, plus there are the costs of providing the 1TB of OneDrive storage it offers Office 365 subscribers, amongst others.

Still, it sounds like a pretty profitable business for Microsoft, and as long as Office remains the business standard productivity suite it will likely remain that way. However in the same way that the US economy is reliant upon oil trading in US dollars, Microsoft is reliant on big business and, in particular, governments continuing to trade documents in its software. If either were to change neither would be in a very good position.

Windows 10 Hits 400 Million Installs

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Windows 10 hit a new milestone today, with Microsoft announcing that installs had now topped 400 million. That’s a slowdown from peak growth of about 30%, but given that the free upgrade offer ended since the last time that Microsoft reported numbers it hardly an unexpected one.

With a limited number of upgrades likely to happen going forward (mainly enterprises with software assurance that effectively get the upgrade for free) future Windows 10 growth is going to be based on new PC sales in the main. There’s no sign that the fall in those sales is going to reverse any time soon though.

Microsoft is still committed to hitting one billion Windows 10 installs, but its going to take a lot longer than the two years originally predicted. The latest figures suggest about half a million new installs per day (in itself a remarkable number) which means the next 600 million users will take around 1200 days – or more than three years – to get onboard.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Janam Intros New Rugged Windows 10 Mobile

xt2-windows

US-based Janam slipped a new Windows 10 Mobile handset under the radar last week, with the announcement of its XT2 rugged mobile, a device with entry-level hardware  aimed at enterprises and packing plenty of scanning solutions in addition to its IP67 water and dust-proofing and MIL-STD 810G drop protection.

There are a few ruggedized Windows Mobiles available, most notably from Panasonic. The XT2 looks like it could cross over to the consumer market with some minor spec changes and targeted marketing. For the more adventurous it would certainly make for a robust partner when away from the trail.

Google Is Going Big On Pixel Promotion

pixel billboard 

If any more proof were needed that the inbound Pixel smartphone is going to be very different to anything Google has put its name to before, then the massive spend on real world advertising hoarding is surely it.

Prime site appears to be in New York is Times Square, however a light projection show and mysterious rounded rectangle statues have also been making appearances.

The theme of the ads, statues, lightshow and websites is #madebygoogle which more than anything suggests the new devices will be very different to previous Nexus smartphones.

Different enough to take the fight to Apple? I guess that depends on how much quality control has been demanded of HTC by Google. If this new device and, more importantly, brand is to compete with Apple it can afford no slip ups on its first device.

I guess the other thing to note is that this appears to be a return to its roots for HTC, the company that truly launched the smartphone revolution with contract manufacturer phones for O2.

Microsoft’s NZ Store Is Having A Sale

microsoftnzstoreoffer

Microsoft’s NZ store is currently offering a bunch of discounts, covering Surface and Lumia hardware, accessories and subscriptions.

There are also a variety of offers for those interested in a new Xbox One, including free Xbox Live Gold subscriptions and new game bundles.

There’s also a new low entry level price for the Xbox One, with the Halo Master Chief bundle now available for NZ$399, which includes the Xbox Live Gold offer too.

Being stuck out on the far rim of the South Pacific Ocean New Zealand doesn’t get a lot of love from Microsoft, so its nice to see Microsoft doing something to promote sales here.

The sale is on for the next three days only, so get your order in quickly if there’s anything of interest.