Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where is the New iTunes?

Update: iTunes 11 is now available for download at this link. I'll post my first impressions soon!
Updated: 2012-11-29

In addition to the iPhone 5, Apple announced at their 12 September event that iTunes would be upgraded in October. Their was even a link on their iTunes homepage for "the new iTunes". October came and went, and the banner was changed to "Coming in November".

I'm a pretty reluctant user of iTunes, but as an iDevice owner, iTunes is a necessary evil. On my Windows 7 machine it is particularly clunky, and I usually have to close it down and re-open it before I can connect any of my devices to sync. It's not all bad, and there are some features that are well thought out, but overall it's not a great user experience. However, the new iTunes will be "dramatically simpler," according to Apple SVP Eddy Cue. In addition to the new features and improved UI, Apple is also promising "improved performance throughout". This gives me hope.

It'll feature a grid user interface. Users can change the order of upcoming tracks within a queue. Search has been upgraded with inline results: one click for information, double-click to play. There's also iCloud integration, and users will be able to watch movies from iCloud.

It sounds like a big change, and I'm hopeful that the delay means that Apple will have all the bugs ironed out before its released, but I'm also getting impatient.

It's the 28th of November today. A Wednesday. The last Wednesday of the month. Apparently iTunes updates have been on Wednesdays more often than any other day of the week. So maybe today is the day, but time is running out, and I'd hate to see that banner change to "Coming in December"!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Microsoft Surface - A Failure in Design?

The Surface tablet is being pushed hard by Microsoft as part of its $1,5bn Windows 8 marketing campaign. Pop-up stores have been set up in shopping malls across the US, hoping to convince holiday shoppers to purchase the Microsoft branded tablet over the Android and Apple competitor devices. Microsoft made a big deal about the design of the hardware, and features like the Kickstand, but I believe the combination of the ill-conceived hardware and the dumbed down version of Windows 8, known as Windows RT, will ultmately fail in the market.

 Microsoft are very proud of the Touch Cover, which uses magnets to attach to the tablet, similar to Apple's Smart Cover, but offers a touch keyboard built in. This turns the Surface into a laptop alternative, except for one key point: it's not lap friendly. The Surface only works well in this configuration when placed on a hard surface, like a desk. It definitely does not work in "lean-back" mode, like when you're on the couch watching TV, which is when I use my iPad the most. Detach the Touch Cover, and the Surface turns into a bulky tablet that feels awkward in portrait mode, due to its 16:9 aspect ratio. And that Kickstand also only works in landscape mode.

The 16:9 display may be better for movies, but I prefer reading in portrit mode on my iPad, and alternate between portrit and landscape depending on specific app designs. Perhaps Microsoft are targeting the Surface to appeal to enterprise first, and I can see how it would be great for taking notes in a meeting, but for $600 (with Touch Cover) there are plenty of more versatile laptops I'd recommend before the Surface. One of the Surface's selling points is that Windows RT comes with a version of Microsoft Office. That might be useful to access files when you're away from your desk, or for inputting data when you're on the road, but anyone that uses Excel for document creation and/or data manipulation will tell you that a 10.6" screen is hopelessly small. So who will the Surface actually appeal to? I'm not sure, and I can't think of a use case where I'd reach for the Surface before the iPad.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Problem with Microsoft's Window 8 Strategy

Microsoft have budgeted $1,5 billion for marketing Windows 8, and despite a lot of interest, I haven't read to many positive reviews. Windows 8 comes in many forms, and is part of Microsoft's strategy to revitalize the Redmond Giant's fortunes. Microsoft are traditionally a software company, and Windows has been the most popular operating system in the world for the last 25 years (if not longer). Their Office suite is also used by almost every major company in the world, and is the cornerstone of all enterprise personal computing. So why would they make such a radical change as they have with Windows 8? Simple. Apple. Their competition over at Cupertino introduced the iPhone in 2007 and have grown to be not only the most powerful company in technology, but also the most valuable public company in the world. And so the new strategy was born: copy everything Apple has done.

It started with Windows Phone 7, which got a lot of good reviews for its tile based UI, but didn't catch the imagination of Joe Public. And so Microsoft dumped Phone 7, and re-wrote the OS to create Windows Phone 8, carrying over the UI, but ending the update life of any phones they had managed to sell. Simultaneously they were developing a UI for their new Windows 8 operating system, and this is where they deviated from Apple's strategy, and where I believe they have made a huge mistake!

Apple introduced iOS (originally iPhone OS) in 2007, for the iPhone. In 2010 they adapted it for the first iPad. Apple's operating system for laptops and desktops is known as OS X, and is completely separate. However, following the success of the iPhone and iPad, they have gradually incorporated aspects of iOS into OS X, to take advantage of the "halo" effect of these successful devices. This has worked for them, and Mac usage has steadily increased in a shrinking market.

However, Microsoft did not adapt Windows Phone 8 for use on their tablets, and instead developed a version of Windows 8 (Windows RT) to run on the ARM processors typically used in mobile devices. Their will also be more powerful tablets running x86 processors, and these will use the same version of Windows 8 that will be used on desktops and laptops.

The thinking at Redmond is that there will be a trickle down effect. They practically own the desktop/laptop market, especially in enterprise, so you'll eventually be forced into using a Windows 8 machine. Once that happens, people will automatically purchase tablets and phones running the now familiar UI.

Now this might sound OK, but the problem is that tablets differ hugely from desktops and laptops. Tablets use a touch interface that is just not viable on a desktop and to a lesser extent a laptop. Most of the complaints about Windows 8 on PCs revolves around the new Start screen and the use of the live tiles, the very aspect that get so many complements on phones like the Lumia 920 running WP8. On a PC, the tiles seem misplaced, and are an irritating layer over the traditional desktop screen. On a non-touch screen machine, the UI has become illogical, and requires all sorts of not so obvious mouse actions to navigate.

Microsoft could have easily avoided this with a slightly more cautious approach. The tiles could have perhaps been built into the desktop screen for machines without a touch interface, with the option to turn them off altogether. Instead, they have forced this upon us, and the result: 42% of prospective buyers going Apple, according to a recent survey.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Did You Miss Me?

It's the middle of the Thanksgiving long weekend in the US, and the blogosphere is unusually quiet. Are all the bloggers so stuffed full of turkey, or so busy chasing Black Friday specials, that they don't have the time or inclination to write, or has the whole of Silicon Valley shut down for a well deserved break? This made me think about my own blog, and I was ashamed to see it's been over a year since my last post! Unforgivable!

I would like to commit to writing a little more regularly, and will discuss some of the new technology in my "digital life", as well as comment on some of the tech news that makes the headlines. Hopefully, this, my first blog of 2012, will be the first of many, and I will be able to entertain some of the faithful that have subscribed.

Thanks for reading.