Apple, Microsoft, and the future of convertibles 

Paul Thurrot reflects on the convertible/detachable market:

One might argue, correctly, that the iPad Pro is not exactly a full-featured productivity machine today. But the key word in that sentence is “today.” Apple will evolve the iPad Pro and improve things on the productivity side of things. But I don’t see how Microsoft or any PC maker can turn a Surface or other PC tablet into a great consumption tablet. The apps and ecosystems just aren’t there.

And that’s the bit that Microsoft needs to figure out. Surface can see a certain level of success … as a PC. But if Microsoft wants to expand this product beyond that niche usage, it will need to fix the entire Windows ecosystem, a daunting and perhaps impossible task. But all Apple needs to do is keep chipping away at iPad Pro, which already outsells Surface. Imagine how bad it will get when the functionality catches up.

I’d say that for many people productivity equals -right now- a desktop operating system. Microsoft leads the way right now on the convertible market because they didn’t have to change really that much to their Surface line in terms of software. These devices work well as laptop replacements and you can expect to do your job nearly as  efficiently as you would on a laptop or on a desktop.

On the iPad Pro front the problem is exactly the opposite: it works really well as a consumption device -like the iPad has always done- but it doesn’t do that well on the productivity front, where things like a more powerful multitasking, window management or even a file explorer (that’s right, iOS, you don’t have one proper file explorer) are several elements that the user identifies with a productivity environment.

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The question is, which one will perform the other task better and before its rival. The Surface can work as a consumption device, but tablet Mode in Windows is not that good in apps or user experience.

iOS, on the other part, is advancing on the productivity issues and it is becoming clear that software developers will be far interested in taking advantage of the device capabilities becausethe iPad Pro user is a paying customer, one that will probably pay for a good productivity app in order to expand the versatility of that convertible.

I suspect Apple (and Google) have an easier path to conquer the perfect detachable. Remix OS has shown us that. Kids don’t grow using a PC anymore: they grow using a smartphone or a tablet, so Android and iOS are too familiar to them. If those platforms solve the gap to become productivity platforms as well, Microsoft will have a tough battle ahead.

#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?

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.

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.

The new, evolutionary, Xbox One

I’ve been a Xbox One user since its debut, but I’m the minority here in Spain, a country devoted to the PS4. It’s hard to defend that minor position with friends -not many can play along with me- but we can for sure defend it with facts.

One of the latest ones comes from the new update from Phil Spencer at Microsoft, who ‘has hinted that the company will offer optional hardware upgrades for the Xbox One in the future‘.

The path was clear months ago: the universal platform Microsoft is building includes the Xbox One, who will be able to execute not just games but universal apps. As The Guardian explains,

What this could mean is that the Xbox One becomes more like a PC, with Microsoft releasing updated versions at regular intervals with more powerful processors and graphics hardware. In theory, because games will be written as UWAs, older titles will remain compatible with the new machines.

An upgradable console? I don’t see this coming, but I guess Microsoft will be able to make updated, enhanced versions of the console that will improve computing and graphics power and still maintain backwards compatibility thanks to the new software paradigm.

That’s something not easy to do on other consoles, and could effectively transform the Xbox One into something that resembles more and more to a PC.

I wonder if that’s not a danger in itself. Uhm.

Follow up: Mark Walton shares my thinking at Ars Technica UK, where he develops this though with much  more detail. 

 

Microsoft kills its Android porting  tool, welcomes only iOS developers

 

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The Windows Bridge for Android (Project Astoria) is dead. Microsoft has announced that on a new post on the Windows blog in which they explain that apparently the feedback from developers was critical to this decision

We also announced the Windows Bridge for Android (project “Astoria”) at Build last year, and some of you have asked about its status. We received a lot of feedback that having two Bridge technologies to bring code from mobile operating systems to Windows was unnecessary, and the choice between them could be confusing. We have carefully considered this feedback and decided that we would focus our efforts on the Windows Bridge for iOS and make it the single Bridge option for bringing mobile code to all Windows 10 devices, including Xbox and PCs. For those developers who spent time investigating the Android Bridge, we strongly encourage you to take a look at the iOS Bridge and Xamarin as great solutions.

Previous information showed that there was other reasons far more logical to kill this project. Technical problems have supposedly arose in the first few months of life of Astoria, which led their responsibles to delay it. Saying nothing about these problems and the silence on other channels -such as the developer forums- is not a good sign from Microsoft, who again lacks transparency.

The announcement makes one thing clear : Microsoft wants iOS developers to port their apps and games to Windows 10, and they’re trying to convince them with Project Islandwood. There’s other option for iOS and even Android ports: the recent acquisition of Xamarin could prove interesting to push the Windows 10 Mobile catalog as Microsoft pretends.

I doubt it more and more each day. Mobile World Congress was a missed oportunity for Microsoft -they should have published Windows 10 Mobile final version there- and I guess Xamarin is again part of their B plan. If they can’t win with their own platform, they will try to enter into other platforms through apps (Outlook, Cortana, Office), services (OneDrive, Skype) and developer tools (Xamarin).

Tough times to develop for Windows.

Ubuntu convergence: dream or nightmare?

Last year Canonical and bq launched the first smartphone based on Ubuntu. Now they will launch the first tablet that is based on the new Ubuntu convergent platform. This device can act as a tablet, but also will act “like a full-blown PC when you connect a keyboard, mouse and display to it“.

I’ve already written about this in Xataka and Incognitosis in Spanish, so I won’t go much deeper here because mostly everyone is covering the news superficially. It doesn’t matter if the tablet maker is bq, it doesn’t matter what are the specs, and it even doesn’t matter that the device can actually offer the user a desktop experience when the tablet is connected to that display, mouse and keyboard we were talking about.

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What matters is the quality of that experience. And that quality isn’t gonna be high enough to convince users to make the switch.

I’ve reviewed the bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition not once, but twice. I’ve followed the progress of this project since Mark Shuttleworth first mentioned it in October’2011, when no one had talked about this convergence thing before (at least, not to my knowledge), and I had great expectations even though that dream was delayed many times.

The final arrival of Ubuntu approach has been so late that Microsoft has won that race: they’ve stolen the idea and applied it to Windows 10. The execution is still far from perfect on smartphones -I reviewed the Lumia 950 XL and Continuum a few days ago, again, in Spanish- and the problems I’ve seen on that device –UX incoherences, lack of universal apps on many cases, buggy behaviour everywhere– will for sure appear to on Ubuntu.

Launching a platform that wants to change the statu quo is a big challenge, and you won’t succeed with a platform in beta or even alpha status as these two are now.

Even Remix OS  is more promising than what I’ve seen on the Ubuntu front, and I suspect that the Ubuntu team will not be able to offer us that convergence dream they talked about for so long.

In fact, I suspect this will be more of a nightmare. Not only for us, the dissappointed users, but for Canonical as well.

Windows 10 on 200 million devices is not a success

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Paul Thurrot throws new adoption data for Windows 10, which is now active on 200 million devices around the globe. Thurrot is a little bit overoptimistic with comparisons with Windows 7:

Despite the availability of Windows 10 on new device types, the average monthly usage gain over the past quarter was 31.25 million units per month. That is dramatically better than the standard-bearer, Windows 7, which was artificially massaged to accomplished 20 million units per month.

That would be a great reference, but there’s one thing missing in Thurrot’s argument. Windows 10 is a free update.

It has been so since its launch and will be free for another six months. And saying that Windows 10 monthly usage is so huge isn’t such a big deal when you take into account that you actually had to pay for a Windows 7 license.

I’m not a big fan of Apple, but you should consider what happened with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, the first version of that operating system that was available as a free update from Mountain Lion. In five months Mavericks had a 40 percent share in the US on Mac based computers. An image is worth a thousand words:

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If you put that into context and compare that first free version of OS X with this free update for Windows 10, something is clear.

Windows 10 has a 9.96 percent market share globally (data from Chikita in March 2014 was just US based, that’s true), while Windows 7 is over 55 percent. And the 200 million devices include devices like the Xbox One, not just desktop PCs and laptops. The numbers are good, but not that good.

I asked here why Windows users don’t upgrade to Windows 10 and the answer was interesting: privacy concerns was the clear reason for almost half of the respondents. Microsoft made some mistakes on this launch, and I’m affraid that concerns have not been solved to this day. Microsoft is actually forcing the update, which is not a smart thing to do for the vast majority of traditional Windows users.

I wonder what will happen after the free update period, and I really hope Windows 10 takes off both on the PC/laptop and on mobile, but the growth isn’t that great as Thurrot wants to reflect.

Not if you make other comparisons, at least.

Microsoft delays its Surface Hub and nobody really cares

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Microsoft is upping the prices of its Surface Hub videoconferencing systems by $2,000 and pushing back the shipment date from January 1 to Q1 of 2016.

So not only they delay Surface Hub: they will charge even more money for those expensive videoconference solutions. There are certainly cheaper options for that kind of business device, and spending $22k on a 84” SmartTV seems not a wise option.

Source: Microsoft to hike Surface Hub pricing ahead of early 2016 release | ZDNet

Google and Facebook are winning the invisible battle of mobile apps

Great insight from Peter Kafka based on a new study from Nielsen. On it we found a critical comparison: mobile OS market share vs most important mobile apps (by number of unique users).

The facts are there: even with Apple pretty close to Android in the US, five of the top 10 mobile apps are from Google, with Facebook owning three (remember Instagram?) and the latest two owned by Apple. It’s surprising to see Apple Music there (Spotify?) but I guess preinstalling that with iOS 9 makes the difference.

That graph would be pretty different outside the US. In Spain, for example, Android leads with a staggering 89,6% market share (iOS has a 7,3%, Windows has a 2,7% an the rest, a 0,4%, is for “Others”), so the most used mobile apps should benefit Google even more. There would be differences on the instant messaging market -WhatsApp is undisputable leader here, so Facebook would win again on that front- but the data from Nielsen makes this even more relevant: in the US, where iOS is strongest than anywhere else, Google and Facebook are kings amongst app makers.

As hardware has become a commodity in the mobile space, is software what makes the difference, and Google and Facebook dominate this space.

That’s really interesting.

Source: You May Own Apple’s Phone, but You’re Using Google’s Apps