Microsoft: “Where do we go from here?”

The battle’s done, And we kind of won, So we sound our victory cheer, Where do we go from here?
 

I’ve been meaning to write this posting all week but got tied up with a certain “Super-phone” (Check the reviews section) but on the 18th of June, 2012 Microsoft announced Surface, it’s new tablet offering. In fact, this week was busy for Microsoft as they also announced Windows Phone 8. But first lets start with the big news. On Monday Microsoft announced a new range of Windows 8 tablets entitled “Surface”. Now lets not get confused with Microsoft Surface, that “big ass” table. They renamed it to Microsoft Pixelsense by Samsung FYI.

 Anyway these new tablets offer the new Metro UI. They are widescreen with a 16:9 display with a 10.6″ screen so they are bigger than most tablets out in the market. Is this a good or a bad thing? You know, as we explain later on it may be a good thing. There are two models, a “Windows RT” version (Windows for “Tablets”) And a model that comes with “Windows 8 Pro”. The first tablet, “Surface RT” features an Nvidia ARM processor. All models come with full-size USB ports and this particular model comes with USB 2.0. It comes in 32GB and 64GB variations. It comes with a mobile version of office and is meant for the home user. Micro-SD card slot and Micro-HD Video. There’s also the “Surface Pro”, the big brother. Comes with third generation Intel Core Ivy Bridge processors. This version will run “Windows 8 Pro” and feature full on USB 3.0 ports, Up to 128GB of Storage, Micro SDXC reader and digital pen technology. This model features mini-display port video. Both tablets sport a slim 9.3mm design, surprisingly all models are shockingly light at 676g for the RT model and 903g for the Pro model. The RT model is meant for the home user, some web browsing and email. Watching movies, typing school assignments, stuff like that. The pro model, featuring full Windows is really for enterprise and professionals with it’s Ultrabook class processor and being able to run full apps. They are made out of these VaporMg casing material.

But the real innvoative thing about the tablets themselves is the cover. (Didn’t we hear this all before, or maybe it’s just a trend. Sure the tablet is cool but the real reason you want “XYZ” tablet, for the cover) But anyhow, it features a Microsoft “smart cover” of sorts but what makes them different is there are touch covers. They are two versions, a touch cover and a type cover. The touch cover is 3 mm but the big twist is they feature a keyboard and trackpad! Yeah, you heard me. Keyboard and mouse built in. What’s amazing is they can clip on and off so they are not attached and wired. The type cover is 5mm and obviously a bit thicker but offers a more traditional typing experience that adds moving keys for “a more traditional typing feel”. Either way, they come in all sorts of colours and is just really innovative. Referring back to my earlier comment about the 10.6″ screen, this could be good for Microsoft. With the keyboard and big screen it’s really suited for enterprise that can’t make the full transition to the tablet because they wont be able to get lots of productive work done on them. There is even a possibility that this could kick off the future of tablets and using them for real work, Users with the “Surface Pro” version could actually in theory photoshop and cut video on that tablet with the helping keyboard AND trackpad for my precise clicking.

The “Surface RT” version of the Tablet will come out with the launch of Windows 8 and the “Surface Pro” tablet will come out Holiday 2012 or more likely, 2013. What we didn’t get along with the release date, is the pricing. Microsoft tells us that the “Surface RT” consumer tablet will be priced close to a tablet of today. In Ireland, during the British invasion there was once a term used “To hell or to Connaught” (Connaught is a county in the west of Ireland) But anyhow, in this case “To hell or to less than $479”. If Microsoft can’t release the tablet at the same price/less than an iPad the consumer market for the “Surface RT” is out. The same with the “Surface Pro”: “To hell or less than $1000”. Surprisingly, compared to all the Android tablets released I’m actually really excited for these devices and hopefully I’ll be able to get my grubby paws on them at launch. I think Microsoft did this to steer OEMs who are making Windows 8 tablets to really innovate, make use of ARM processors and make better tablets. If I was to give one piece of advice to you, the consumer. If you plan to buy a tablet, buy the black cover because the other colours will get dirty with all your oily prints all over them. And that’s gross. Also, maybe go for the max capacity so you have plenty of room to store videos, downloaded videos, all your photos as it is quite, possible that this windows tablet ,will become your main computer.

Next up was on June 20th, two days after the Surface event we had the Windows Phone 8 event at Windows phone summit. You can guess, with the next generation of Windows Phone we get new Smartphones (CoughNokiaCough) and new features but I’m going to break it down. It will be Called Windows Phone 8 Apollo.

The first thing is a change to the platform. (So early but NEEDED) Goodbye Windows embedded and Hello Windows NT. Windows Phone 8 will run a full Windows system, not the old legacy embedded. When I say full Windows, I kind of make the comparison to the same way iOS runs full Mac OS X. It wont look like full Windows but a mobile Metro but it has full Windows core frameworks. It use the Windows NTFS file system, games and apps can now use DirectX, same networking and stacks, and also frameworks like Device Driver frameworks & HAL (hardware abstraction layer). On the UI side, live tiles are not going anywhere, in fact they are getting an upgrade.

Each tile is now going to be re-sizeable so you can make for example as shown in the demo keynote, the “Me” live tile one small square. Or as shown in the picture to the right, using Phone, Texts, Mail and Internet into 4 small squares creating one Big square and having a grid based UI. More techy specs in Windows phone 8 allows up to 64 core processors running efficiently (Think 2022 when we will have 64 core processor Smartphones) and will allow display sizes up to 1280×768 which means “Retina” quality in terms of PPI is possible. Another promise is the synchronising between the Windows smartphone, the PC, the tablet and the Xbox. Remember “Smartglass”, that second screen experience for your phone and tablet. Could work well with new Windows Apollo. Thanks to NFC support, there’s a wallet feature for card less payments however it relies on Augmented Sim and not hardware, this could possibly be a win or lose situation. The bad news of this is that carriers could just block NFC and card payments altogether rather than going through the old method of blocking app by app. Nokia mapping will be built in allowing offline support and Nokia mapping technologies. (If they have any) What I like about the phone using full NT kernels is they can now target the phone towards enterprise. With NT kernel it now allows the phone to be a lot securer allowing admins to deploy and restrict apps on the handsets and manage them remotely. All sorts of encryption built in, especially for office files and secure booting is available. We also learnt that Microsoft is releasing new version of Office for web with new office web apps. This will be part of the Microsoft Office 2013 release. (Assuming we all survive 2012) They will be using these web apps to phase out Office starter (That only provides stripped down Word and Excel) and will be a direct competitor to services like Google Docs.

There is also only bad news for Windows Phone 7 consumers. Windows Phone 7 devices will not be able to be upgraded to Windows phone 8. The easiest way to chalk up everyones excitement for Windows phone 8 was put best by Twitter user @endac with “Fairly sure the kind of people who cared about Windows Phone 8 aren’t the same kind of people who bought Windows Phones already.” The good news is that all Windows Phone 8 devices are promised an 18 month life at least with software and security support before being phased out. Apparently no one told Microsoft that outside of Europe, no one uses 18 Month contracts on phones, it’s all 12 or 24 month contracts.

What’s my opinion on all of this? Well the tablets: Awesome although I think it would make sense for Microsoft to outsource the covers to Apple as lets face it, an iPad as a computer with a trackpad would rock (Or that Brydge case with a trackpad) or we can wait for someone to do one heck of a jailbreak app. Going with a 10.6″ screen was a good choice in my opinion as they are really setting out to use the tablets as a computer device especially with full USB ports. As for the Windows Phone 8 phones, a good solid upgrade but feels like iOS4. Microsoft will need to do something radical to climb those two steps up fast to compete with iOS 6 + Android ice-cream sandwich.

Overall it shows that Microsofts strengths are in corporate and with computers and tablets and while tablets are “mobile”, Microsoft is just mediocre at “mobile” when it comes to phones.

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