#Build2016 signals the death of the Windows phone

Not a single mention. That’s what we had at the Build 2016 keynote from Microsoft a few minutes ago when we tried to get some news from the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

We’ve got lots of other news: the promising rise of the conversational bot (either with voice or with text), the transformation of the Xbox One into a PC, and the surprising arrival of a Linux console natively in Windows 10.

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But again, nothing about Windows on phones. We saw some Lumias on the stage for the demos, yes, but what about new apps, or developer tools, or games for that platform? Nothing was mentioned, and that is the biggest disappointment of a conference that should have followed the ‘Mobile first, cloud first‘ mantra.

It certainly could follow that first part, but not with Windows 10 Mobile, that’s for sure. With a late final version of the OS that isn’t even available on every Windows phone, a diminishing software catalog, an inmature (that’s sad but undertandable given the maturity of the project) Continuum and a worrying lack of devices, the platform has big shadows over it.

#WhereIsWindows10Mobile, Microsoft? Where?

The Oculus Rift era has arrived, the revolution hasn’t

The reviews for the final, consumer version of the Oculus Rift are all over the media, and there are mixed comments. Above all I perceive some kind of disappointment: where is the miracle? Where is the revolution?

It’s hard to surprise with something that has been in the works publicly for so long. The miracle and the revolution started years ago, when we astounded ourselves with a device that finally showed that Virtual Reality experiences were indeed possible.

Being able to enjoy those experiences seems now something almost boring. Of course the Oculus Rift has arrived: it had to, at some point. Those reviewers have written prettydull, unimpressive pieces about a product that was so well known it had no chances to impress us.

That is the next step for the Oculus Rift and the rest of its competitors, of course. But at least they’ve given the first and most difficult step.

Razer Core is a great device with the wrong price

Razer Core

When we recently talked about the promising launch of Razer Core and AMD initiatives to push forward the use of external discrete GPUs for laptops we had only one question pending: the price of these devices.

Razer Core is the best example of the wrong pricing. The device is simply a box with a couple of PCIe slots and a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) connector. The metal chassis is nice, but I wonder how that can cost $500, which is enough to update your current PC with a powerful graphics card.

This is nonsense. Hopefully this kind of boxes will be made by small companies that have the interest to actually sell these peripherals. I wonder how many Cores Razer will sell -what Beats is for headphones, Razer is in the PC world- but they won’t be many at this cost.

Source: The Razer Core GPU box costs more than most graphics cards | TechRadar

On AlphaGo and sadness

AlphaGo won the last game against Lee Sedol and has completed a near perfect score of 4-1 in the match. That has proven how incredible what Google DeepMind team has accomplished with this AI system and paves the way for future applications of this engine.

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As I wrote this morning commenting at Slashdot, this is impressive and somewhat sad. I’ve been following the matches with the same expectation and anger I felt in 1997 during the Kasparov & Deep Blue rematch.

The final result has been similar, and although it has been well reasoned that chess and go are pretty different games and Deep Blue and AlphaGo are pretty different machines, the bittersweet sensation is identical. I had a naive hope in the human superiority just for a little more time, but I was pretty sad after the final game: Lee Sedol seemed really disappointed and sad himself.

I can’t imagine the pressure he’s felt throughout the event, and his face -that’s my impression- seemed to tell us “I’ve failed you all“. He later told in the press conference that he felt he could have done more in the games -I’m sure he’d like to play more games to test himself again- and I wonder what could have happened if the matches would have been played without general knowledge.

Feeling that kind of coverage must have been really stressful. If you ever read this, Mr. Sedol, thank you. And please, don’t ever feel disappointed, you’ve done a fantastic job.

Microsoft Cross-Network is a nice utopia

Microsoft has announced its support for Cross-Network Play, allowing Xbox owners to play games with anyone on PC or PlayStation. First, the caveats – this…

Usually you buy your console based on what your friends already have. Until now that was the only way you could be sure you would enjoy the game experience with them.

Microsoft wants to offer a promising alternative. Its Cross-Network Play technology offers players from every network and platform a unified multiplayer, multiplatform experience.

That means that you would be able to play FIFA 16 (not really right now) with your friends wether they play on the Xbox One,  the PS4 or a PC with Windows.

The problem, of course, is that Sony won’t have much interest in this. They’ve got the upper hand currently, so it’s not that interesting for the winning platform to join the one(s) who are behind.

Nice try from Microsoft, though.

Android N won’t be enough for convertibles

Latest data from IDC suggest that convertibles will transform current tablet sales: the current sales drop this year (5.9% from 2015)  will stop next year with “single-digit growth in 2017“. That growth will have a leader: Windows.

Microsoft’s operating system is leading this market now, but it will do with even more strength in the next few years, increasing the gap with iOS and Android.

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The latter will probably have the same problems on convertibles that it has shown on regular tablets. Not many applications take advantage of the tablet and that’s a real issue for users that can enjoy a better software catalog for tablets both on Windows and, of course, iOS.

But there’s another problem coming: productivity. Last year Pixel C showed promise, but in the first reviews  it was clear that Android was not a good match for a convertible. It wasn’t then, and it won’t be this year despite the current discount in price.

The reason is again clear: Android N is available for developers and supports several devices (Pixel C included), but the only real feature that will enhance that productivity scenario is the new multiwindow support. It’s nice to have that finally -one year after iOS introduced it-, but it’s far from enough. Again.

When you are in front of a convertible with a laptop and a touchpad (not in this case), you want a laptop experience, not a tablet experience. That’s the one we actually are productive with. So I’d ask Google why are they being so stingy and so shy in their convertible bet.

Considering the rumors about an Android and Chrome OS merger, these are not good news. I would expect much more from Google.

The triumph of AI

AlphaGo has beaten Lee Se-dol, one of the best Go players in the world. A machine has showed us its superiority at something that during decades was dominated by human intelligence. And that proves once again that Artificial Intelligence has an incredible path ahead, one that is both incredibly promising and incredibly disturbing.

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The feat was accomplished a few hours ago, and it really doesn’t matter that this is only the first of five games. The victory of the machine shows that AI can go beyond what chess programs accomplished in the 90s. Playing chess against a computer is useless even for grandmasters, because even a mobile phone with the right software can beat most professional players right now.

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This will happen too with Go, a much more complicated board game that relies not only on raw power to calculate future movements and positions: it relies on intuition. Google has given AlphaGo that intuition, and we must wonder what will be the next disturbing marvel we’ll watch in this area.

We should be amazed, but I can’t help thinking if we should be more and more worried about what this can lead us to. Coming from a computer nerd, the situation is more and more troubling.

Bumpy road ahead.

What if HTC and Xiaomi merged?

HTC’s revenue has dropped 55% year-on-year accoding to its latest financial results. The company situation is worrisome, and its smartphone business has been unable to reverse that fact. Every single model released in the last few years hasn’t had the warm welcome other HTC devices had in the previous years.

But HTC is far from dead. The HTC Vive seems to prove that, and it’s clear that virtual reality –and wearables– is now a possible last resort now that their phones are fighting with irrelevance and, above all, with the ones from Apple, Xiaomi, Lenovo and Huawei.

Xiaomi is doing quite well, though: it’s soaring in wearables and the recent launch of Xiaomi Mi 5 marks an interesting milestone that will allow them to compete in the high end (with almost mainstream prices).

HTC’s smartphone business isn’t working, and Xiaomi smartphone business is limited by its international expansion, something that HTC could provide.

What would happen if these two companies merged? Current HTC market cap is $81.94B, while Xiaomi has a market valuation of $45B. One could benefit from the other: HTC would be able to take advantage of Xiaomi’s strengths and ditch its own smartphones (or combine them with the best from its partner), while Xiaomi would be able to expand globally faster.

Is this nonsense?

Microsoft isn’t more evil than Google or Apple

UWP first step towards “locking down the consumer PC ecosystem,” says Tim Sweeney.

Microsoft and its universal platform goes beyond using your smartphone as your PC. It’s all about the one thing businesses want more than anything: control.

That’s what Apple has accomplished with its App Store, and what Google has accomplished with Google Play. If you want to install an app or a game, you must do that through the official app stores. There are ways to side load applications in both cases, but the methods are not straightforward for not experienced users.

Tim Sweeney, Epic Games cofounder, has critiziced this kind of approach from Microsoft, but I wonder why he doesn’t compare that to what happens with Apple and Google:

With its new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative, Microsoft has built a closed platform-within-a-platform into Windows 10, as the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem,” said Sweeney. “Microsoft has launched new PC Windows features exclusively in UWP and is effectively telling developers you can use these Windows features only if you submit to the control of our locked-down UWP ecosystem.”

There are obvious disadvantages to that kind of control -lack of competition from other stores, for example- but no one seems to be crying out loud for the same situation on the most used Operating Systems in our planet.

The Universal Windows Platform is far from perfect and that kind of control is not desireable, but the problem has been real in Android and iOS for years now. Maybe users don’t have a problem at all with all their apps and games being distributed through just one platform, and I don’t see developers protest against the Apple Store, which for many is a great way to sell and distribute their products. The same goes for Google Play, of course.

Everyone is evil here, not just Microsoft.

I want to be able to play in my laptop

I don’t play videogames as much as I used to, but that doesn’t mean that from time to time I don’t want to play them.

Unfortunately that’s the usual situation in my case: I’ve got a Dell XPS 13 (9343). A great machine for almost everything, but not for gaming. No laptop is suitable for this, in fact. Convertibles, Ultrabooks and even more resourceful notebooks can’t cope with really demanding games, and in this cases if you don’t have a good discrete GPU you’ll suffer a mediocre experience.

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So if you want to really enjoy the gaming experience in a PC, you’re out of luck: you must have a desktop computer with a great discrete GPU, because even gaming laptops are not meant to enjoy the same visual detail and frame rates that a full desktop PC can.

We had a pretty inspiring view at the future of this market last CES in Las Vegas. Razer launched there its Razer Core external GPU enclosure, and the smart use of Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C connector allowed its new Ultrabook -the Racer Stealth- to become a chamaleonic machine: one that could work as a conventional ultrathin laptop but also as a full-fledged gaming PC when needed.

The idea seems to have inspired AMD as well: one of their marketing directors, Robert Hallock, mentioned a few days ago how this kind of solution could be the future for many users:

Gaming notebooks are great for gaming, but nobody in their right mind wants to carry one all the time. Ultrathin notebooks are awesome to carry, but nobody in their right mind would confuse one for a gaming notebook.
But there’s still a HUGE appetite for thin notebooks that can game.

External GPUs are the answer. External GPUs with standardized connectors, cables, drivers, plug’n’play, OS support, etc.

AMD is bound to try to democratize these kind of solutions, but once again hurdles will have to be avoided. Will AMD adopt Thunderbolt 3, a standard created by its arch rival? Will it work with NVIDIA in order to set a really universal standard? Will prices make us think this is a better solution than a full gaming PC?

I hope their answer is the right one. We’ll probably have more information in the next few days: GDC 2016 starts March 14th, and I’m pretty sure AMD will talk about this on that event. The PostPC era could open a new chapter after all.

Oh, and don’t forget: this systems will allow us to enjoy virtual reality experiences in laptops, something not possible (in almost all cases) nowadays according to requirements published by Oculus and HTC.

That’s what I would call an interesting turn of events for the demise of the desktop PC.

Update (10/03/2016): AMD XConnect has just been announced with the collaboration of Razer and the Intel Thunderbolt group. Promising. Very.