Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Did Intel read my blog? Interesting posts about Intel here and here and here.

Of the Android tablets, the Xoom was the first to look reasonable but the iPad 2 made it look dated. The first real iPad 2 challenger appears to be the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Don’t confuse this with the thicker 10.1v. Engadget has a good review here. They also have a review of the HTC Flyer posted here. While not as positive as the Galaxy Tab review, I think the integration of audio and notes on the Flyer has a lot of promise.

Does anyone else think Microsoft buying Nokia’s smartphone business is a bad idea? That would make Microsoft like Apple but still trying to be like Google. Pick an approach! If Microsoft tries to straddle the fence then they will fail. Why should HTC or anyone else make a Windows Mobile phone if their direct competition on the Windows Mobile space will be Microsoft. Microsoft could wind up being the sole manufacturer of Windows Mobile phones. At that point I give a big advantage to Apple.

I haven’t talked much about Chrome and the Chromebook. A good article on them is here.

If you are following what I am saying about transparency and convergence I suggest you read  Sarah Rotman Epps’ Blog.


The old school model has been data everywhere and in its proper place. This directly relates to an old world paper model. Whether at home or at work each bit of data had a place. There was a file folder, nicely labeled, and placed in a drawer. That’s why, when you go to the doctor, you get to write the same information down several times on different sheets of paper. Each sheet has a purpose and a location it will get filed into.  As we have moved into the computer age we have carried this model with us. There was data on the desktop at work, data on the desktop at home, data on the file server and data on the laptop; oh, and data on the phone.

Lo and behold we found that, sometimes, data wasn’t where we wanted it. The first solution was manual transfer. I mean a really manual transfer. We would write data on a piece of paper and enter it back into another computer. Some people still do this when moving contacts from their desktop to their phone. This was replaced by sneaker-net where data was copied onto a storage medium and then read back in on another computer.  First there was the floppy disk and today there is the USB thumb drive. Next came the network. Finally data was easy to move. That is it was easy as long as you were on the net.

The problem was that home wasn’t connected to work nor was the hotel room connected to either one. This was attacked via remote logins and by sending email messages with files attached. However, attachment file size limits have made email problematic for the transfer of large files. FTP transfers had no such limitation but were cumbersome. Another attempt, still widely used today, is syncing. You sync your iPhone and iPad to your home computer so your songs and data travel with you. Less successful have been attempts to sync laptops to your desktop. The latest attempts at fixing this issue have been Dropbox, Yousendit, MobileMe, Windows Live Mesh and Live Sync. These help and are the first steps towards a cloud computing solution. Well, technically, Live Sync and Yousendit aren’t cloud based but I see them as very related. Live Sync can be viewed as a peer to peer extension of classic synchronization software but it feels closer to the cloud solutions when you use it. Actually, Dropbox, MobileMe, and Windows Live Mesh are really a merging of synchronization and cloud services. Synchronization has the advantage of maintaining a local copy so work can continue smoothly when the network is down or slow. The cloud aspect means that you can access your data even when you are away from a machine that is being synchronized. As an example, if a PICTURES folder is on the MobileMe iDisk, under the Dropbox folder, or is selected for Windows Live Mesh, the content in PICTURES can be accessed from a friend’s web browser with the proper login. Sharing content with others is also fairly straightforward. If you haven’t used these services be sure to try them. All but MobileMe are free at the basic level. MobileMe is about to get a major change so hold off on it till you see what the changes bring.

What we are seeing is the rising importance of transparency. In this case it is transparent data access. We want our pictures, music, movies and documents whenever we decide to view them, wherever we happen to be, and using whatever device is handy at the moment. The methods above aren’t totally transparent but they are a big improvement. When I got my iPhone, I left the Apple store with email, contacts and my calendar on my phone. Today, between my laptop, iPad and iPhone, a contact, calendar event or email added to one appears on all of the others.  If need be, I can access it all through a web browser on any machine with web access. Key files, including the document I am editing now, are synchronized across devices as well as being stored in the cloud. What we are seeing is the beginning of data transparency. There is a lot more to be done. In the end you won’t think about where your data is.

Recall what I said about major trends. Do the approaches above seem too similar? Is transparency just a minor trend that seems major? Was I wrong about trends and is this a case of one with a clear development path?  The answer is no to all of the above. There are other directions to data transparency.

Look at the RIM Playbook.Its Blackberry Bridge technology takes a different approach to transparency by tethering the Playbook to a Blackberry phone. One advantage of this is a single data connection, and hence a single expense, for both the phone and the tablet. By definition email is in sync since email is really through the phone at all times.  A big problem with this is that the tablet becomes tethered to the phone in such a strong way that it is no longer a separate device.

Need another direction? Look at the Motorola Atrix with its laptop dock. In this case the laptop is just an accessory screen and keyboard for the phone. Like the Playbook, the laptop is worthless without the phone. For some reason I don’t see that as a major problem. However, layz person that I am, I dislike the idea of having to plug and unplug the phone from the laptop accessory.

Yet another approach was outlined by HP CTO Phil McKinney here. He describes the Fossil Metal Watch which will allow you to carry your data with you.  All of your devices connect to the watch for data access. One problem, among several, is that a lot of people don’t wear a watch anymore. Furthermore, the watch screen is useless for data access. This means that you must, at the minimum, carry a phone in order to have access to a useful screen. Since you are carrying the phone anyway, why not just build the ability to be the data hub into the phone? In reality, that is what is going to happen.

So, what is the final answer? All of the above or at least parts of all of the above will survive the cut. The cloud will become very important and syncing will hang around. Rather than wearing a watch with our data stored on it, we will carry our phones. The phone will move from being an accessory to the laptop to being the main computing device with the laptop as an accessory. The current iPhone has 32GB of storage. It won’t be long until 1TB will be the standard. At that point there will be enough storage for the phone to be the primary data store. But, there will still be a need for offline storage. Also, there is the need to make sure critical data is backed up. That means syncing will stay around. This also means a cloud services component. Cloud services will allow access when the device isn’t with you and the sharing of files with friends. Mixing syncing with cloud services will mean gaining access to you apps and songs and OS updates without resorting to a PC. Expect to see iTunes move more completely to the cloud very soon i.e. in the next few months. What about the Atrix type device? My problem with the Atrix is that I am lazy and I think others are too. I don’t want to take out my phone and plug it in. Instead, I want it to link wirelessly to a keyboard-screen combination. Imagine going home and sitting at your computer. It lights up with what you were working on last. You get up and walk away. The screen goes blank. When you get to work and sit down the screen lights up again with what you were working on. A quick click of a mouse button switches the device to your work configuration and you are on your way. Your tablet will link to your phone to transparently gain access to your data. The same will be true for your TV. Imagine a video call on your phone. You sit down, tap an icon on your phone and the call is transferred to your TV so the entire family can see and talk to Grandma. Wherever we are, we will use the device that suits us at the moment. That device will have immediate access to all of our data. We will move from device to device easily even when we are in the middl of a task. The companies that best develop and integrate with this ecosystem win.

From the earliest days of the PC we have hooked our computers to the TV. Originally the main display device for the personal computer was the TV. As inexpensive, high resolution monitors became available we divorced the computer form the TV. However, there has been a constant pull to reconnect the two. Microsoft made a major push in this area with Windows Media Player. I thought this would be a big hit. I played with the software and found a lot to like. However, I never quite got around to a Media PC. They were either noisy or expensive or lacked certain features. The cable industry dragged its feet on cable tuners and the CableCard and helped to kill off the media center. Rather than enabling a new technology the old guard stood in the path of progress.  This was sad. I liked the Microsoft Media Extender idea. An inexpensive device would allow your Media Center device to ship music, pictures and video to another TV elsewhere on your home network. Today few owners know or care that their Xbox 360 can be used as a Media Extender.

In another attempt to bring media to the TV we have the stand alone media player. There have been numerous devices in this space. The Tvix devices were the first I ran into. Later there were devices from Netgear and finally Apple. Today Apple TV is the best know device but also one of the most limited in functionality. For all of the myriad devices out there, nothing has really taken off. Yeah, Apple sells a lot of Apple TV devices but the numbers pale compared to iPad sales. Yet, there must be something there. People keep trying to get it right.

A related group of devices is the network enabled DVD player. Many of the newer DVD players can stream Netflix and YouTube. This is an easy way for someone to get some media connectivity. Hey, you were going to buy that Blu-Ray player anyway. You might as well be able to stream Netflix. Just click here to check out a nice Pioneer model.

The next group of devices are the network enabled game systems. Netflix is a major item on all of them. The PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii are all Netflix enabled. For a lot of people this is their first and easiest introduction to media streaming. Some like the the PS3 are much more capable than others such as the Wii. Currently I use a PS3 to play movies off of a central file server. The limitation is that I only have one PS3 so I can only stream to one TV.

There is still yet another group. This is the group of network enabled TV’s. Here the TV is connected directly to the network and is able to go on the web or view content off of a file server without an external device. Examples include Viera Connect and Bravia Internet Video. A problem with these devices is that the TV update cycle is very long. Unlike smartphones, people don’t update their TV’s every two to four years. It’s one thing to buy a new $99 Apple TV and quite another to upgrade a $3,000 big screen TV. Still, I suspect this is the winning approach. People want fewer boxes. Convergence says people want devices to merge. Just like the amp, preamp and tuner merged to make the stereo receiver the dominant form factor so I think the game system, media player and TV will merge. In addition, they want connectivity on every TV and not just the big one in the living room. This process will be slowed by several hurdles. Some TV manufacturers, including Panasonic, are going their own way. This will limit the size of their application ecosystem. Those going with Google TV will run into fragmentation as Google has trouble bringing new features to new hardware without making older systems orphans. Apple will want to be controlling. Yeah, what else is new. They will offer TV’s but that means the ever present Apple tax i.e.high prices. They will also face the issue of rapid obsolescence. I have a solution to Apple’s problem but I doubt they will listen to me. Apple should define a small form factor card that holds the Apple TV and allows it to be embedded in the TV and upgraded later. You would buy your LG large screen TV branded with “Apple TV inside!” and upgrade the card for $99 every two or three years. That would keep your experience fresh. It would preserve that unique ability Apple has to make Apple fanboys feel anything older than two years needs to be thrown out after a trip to the Apple store.

A good friend disagrees with me when it comes to the media box getting consumed by the TV. He owns two Apple TV devices. He says they are small and cheap. He feels the difference in the upgrade cycles will keep the devices separate. We’ll see. What do you think?

The merging of the PDA and the phone is a done deal. We have moved on to the smartphone that can run apps beyond those of the classic PDA. Still, for many, this is their view of convergence. The Palm Treo showed the way but success led to myopia and Palm is no more. OK, it’s still there and WebOS is being pushed by HP. We’ll see. Call it a dark horse in a tough race. For too long Palm thought that merging the classic PDA with the phone was where convergence would end. They were wrong and by the time they realized it they were way behind. Myopia resulted in opportunity and market position being lost.

Microsoft saw the need for the smartphone. They should be the big winner today. They aren’t. Like so many in the high tech area they thought it was about feature count. They took the merging of the computer and the phone too literally and thought the smartphone should be a smaller laptop. They were wrong. In reality the computer and the phone are moving to a merged but very different use model.  Understanding convergence without understanding transparency can lead to failure. It has for Microsoft. By any rational, technical feature count analysis they should be a big winner. For many years they have had a small version of Office on Windows Mobile phones. They have a real directory structure. Of all of the smartphones they are the closest in feel to a traditional computer. Yet, the iPhone blew them away.  Interestingly, in the end, Microsoft will turn out to have been more right than wrong. Smartphones will gain a directory structure. Trust me on this one. Even Apple will eventually succumb to this. Already the iPhone has Office type apps that sort of work with MS Office files. Microsoft is the loser who gets to say “But I was really right!” With Windows Mobile 7 they stand a chance but they are number three in a tough race.  We’ll have to wait and see if they can get away from “featuritis” and understand both convergence and transparency.

Next up in the success leads to myopia crowd is RIM and the Blackberry line. What a great success story. The push mail capability brought by RIM has revolutionized the phone. Back when email was an afterthought on phones, RIM made it primary and did it with innovation, insight and excellent execution. Just as importantly, RIM courted the IT community and insinuated themselves into the fabric of business life. Today we take mail on our smartphone for granted. RIM is the gold standard for mail connectivity and Blackerry phones are known for their keyboards that make texting and email easier than on other phones. Surely RIM will be a winner as convergence proceeds. Well, in the words of Leslie Nielson in Airplane, “Don’t call me Shirley.” As smartphones have moved from email device to small, app running, computers, RIM has been left behind. Do you see a pattern? RIM left the door open for Apple and Google. Not only did these companies take the developing space RIM ignored but they are now attacking RIM at its core. Just read this article to see how the corporate world, including financial companies, is opening up to Apple. Yes, Apple! The company that was ostracized from the corporate environment and ridiculed by IT departments everywhere is being warmly accepted into the corporate world. Times are changing. The corporate walls that protected RIM have been breached with the iPad leading the way. RIM’s PlayBook is too little too late. If it had hit the market place two years ago it might have secured the corporate world from attack and had IT departments still recommending RIM. Yet again success and lack of vision have led to stagnation.

All of this is what I call classic convergence. The phone merged with the PDA and then became the premier email access device. It would be easy to think that we are nearly done. In reality it has just started.  That’s because convergence is much, much bigger than calendars, address books and email. Stay tuned as I explore the many areas making up convergence and how this ties in with transparency.