On May the second Microsoft unveiled it’s new stream lined operating system aimed at the education market which requires more cost effective ICT solutions. The plan was obviously to create a product that could provide customers with the same experience as Windows 10 Pro but is capable of operating on devices with limited processing power and memory and therefore keep the cost down for the consumer. This consistency of performance has always been a problem for Microsoft as OEM’s have been making low cost laptops and more recently tablets running Windows with the minimum requirements further slowed by useless blotware for years. It is a problem that Google has avoid with Chrome OS and it’s reliance on web apps along with Apple whose clearly defined walled garden allows it to control the user experience yet Microsoft has to position Windows to compete at both ends of the spectrum. The release of the Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Studio has show that Redmond can mix it with Apple at the premium end but has done nothing to halt the advance of Chrome books in schools. The answer; Windows 10 S promises to open up the second front on the low cost end of the spectrum by primarily restricting third party applications that impact the overall performance of the operating system. Controversially the operating system achieves this by limiting the user to applications downloaded from the Windows Store similar to iOS.
It was a move Microsoft needed to make according to the analysts due to the success of Chromebooks in US schools and had the potential for leveraging a popular operating system in Windows 10 to break into a different market. Unfortunately, most of the media coverage seems to attack Microsoft for their approach to the problem and the limitation they have placed on the installation of apps. Typically everyone wants the result but don’t want to face the consequences and seemingly expect nothing to be taken away in order to facilitate the necessary improvements to performance. Yet, as anyone with some experience with PC’s knows the major factor impacting performance is third party applications or related processes running in the background. Unbeknownst to the everyday user popular applications like the Adobe suite, Dropbox and Google Drive have several processes that run at start up by default and continue to draw processing power away from the user. These can easily be disabled in Windows 10 but most PC users in my experience teaching IT at a secondary school and provided ongoing support to colleagues and family this is beyond the average user. While limiting the installation of apps to the Windows store does not necessarily eliminate background processes it does provide a level of oversight missing from the web and prevents third party updates which are one of the major culprits of draining processing power.
Instead of focusing on these facts the Media have instead tried to suggest that Windows 10 S is the second coming of Windows RT except there are important differences for instance RT could not run legacy or Win32 applications and was made specifically to run on ARM based devices. In addition Windows RT was released at the same time as Windows 8 which was a completely revamped operating system that meet with a range of criticism and limited adoption. This ultimately impacted the development of apps for the Windows 8 store and doomed Windows RT. However neither of these apply to Windows 10 S as it not only does run Win32 applications but it is also being introduced after the successful uptake of Windows 10 this simple fact means that the Store is already more useable than the variant available to Windows RT. In addition, last year Microsoft made an important step in the right direction by making sure Win32 apps run on ARM devices this decision in an of itself shows a progress from the days of Windows RT that has been ignored by so called exports and provides the new operating system a real chance of competing with Chrome Books.
Possible the largest noise surrounding Windows 10 S is the suggestion that it limits users to Microsoft own web browser Edge and prevents them from using Google Chrome. This is a matter of perspective as Windows 10 S does not prevent the user from installing a different browser and setting it to default it just requires the browser to be downloaded from the Store like iOS. It is as much Google’s decision to not support the Windows Store even though it doesn’t require them to write a new version of Chrome rather tweak the existing application and submit it to the store. The same could be said for Mozilla and Opera but no doubt as the Windows 10 Store continues to mature the will eventually appear, especially if the media puts pressure on them instead of Microsoft since Windows 10 S is the solution they have been asking for. Until than users may actually learn that Microsoft Edge isn’t useless since it now supports extensions, has a reading mode and renders Java script better than Chrome which still maintains an overall lead in performance with HTML 5. It is a competitive browser even without the unique ink mode which has the potential to really come into it’s own in an education setting with inexpensive tablet PCs, I can imagine teaching students to annotate opinion articles straight from the net or show them how to the can highlight while doing research for an assignment, even sending it easily to friends doing a group task. All it needs is someone with a little understanding and imagination to use the tools that Microsoft have tried to make available for education.
My final frustration is the reception of Microsoft newest member of the surface family, the Surface Laptop. The hardware itself has been well received but as usual the tech media can be positive with presenting a negative. In this case you guessed it the focus on Windows 10 S as most exports don’t really understand while Microsoft first Laptop comes preinstalled with the slimed down version of the operating system. This is obviously more of a marketing opportunity as the Surface Laptop tries to convince people of the value of the new operating system with the lore of attractive hardware. Even if people aren’t happy with Windows 10 S the consumer can easily upgrade to Pro for $49 considering the entryy model comes with an i5 processes the device is configured to run Microsoft’s full OS without any drop in proformance The other area that has been a point of contention is the price point starting at $999 US or $1499 AUS it can hardly be called a budget device which seems counter productive considering the purpose of Windows 10 S to compete at the lower end of the market. However, this follows the same principal that Microsoft have followed with the Surface Pro building premium hardware to lead it’s OEMs to start investing more in design and providing them with the opportunity to under cut their prices and offer consumers a cheaper option. This has been successful with the 2 in 1 market as the Surface Pro is viewed as the premium device and has inspired numerous knock offs from Lenovo, Dell, and Samsung among others. It doesn’t really matter for Microsoft which option the consumer buys since their all running Windows 10 ultimately bringing people to the ecosystem which in turn helps Microsoft encourage developers. The same principal is behind the pricing of the Surface Laptop as it still positions Microsoft as a premium hardware manufacturer and will no doubt inspire OEM’s to improve the quality of their low cost laptops to prevent consumer’s from shelling out a little more for a better product. Again either way Microsoft wins.
It’s about time the tech media started playing fair with the truth and compared apples to apples rather than making connections that don’t make sense based on the changing landscape.
It’s been nearly 3 years since Microsoft first released the Surface Pro to champion it’s new look OS Windows 8 and it was meet by ridicule, scepticism and projected failure, who can forget Apple’s fridge and toaster analogy. The tech media was a bit more reserved with most pleased at the overall performance but critical of the poor battery life, weight and extra cost for the type/touch cover. Then came the $900 million write down for the Surface RT and many were ready to forget about the potential of its more powerful younger brother. Not one to follow trends I was never really a fan of early tablets due to their inability to run any of the software I used on a daily basis so I jumped on board once Microsoft changed their strategy in Australian and released it through retail stores. Ever since then I have never regretted a second as for the last few years it has been my major computing device alongside my desktop, I even convinced my Dad, Girlfriend and some random at Harvey Norman to buy one. Sure the battery life still sucks but the pen input was a revelation for teaching whether taking notes or modelling annotation skills while it also allowed me to keep my excel student planner close at hand. This is all ancient history but it’s worth remembering the humble beginnings of the Surface Line as the idea has always remains the same, a tablet that could replace your laptop, we just needed technology to catch up before it became a reality with the Surface Pro 3. The new design increased the screen size but made the tablet lighter and more streamed line with improved battery life yet still a significant power boost. Finally, people started taking notice from students to enterprise Surface Pro become the ultimate hybrid device and turns into a neat $1b profit making machine. That’s enough for the industry to take notice and even Apple was quick to try and copy this new formula in the iPad Pro but without the silver bullet, a desktop experience. So this brings us to today and the 4th generation.
Surface Pro 4
As it was expected the latest version of Microsoft’s innovative hybrid was all about refinement. The slate boasts a slightly larger 12.3″ screen with an impressive 267 ppi and Microsoft’s new PixelSense technology to take advantage of o.4mm thick cover screen to bring improved contrast. For the most part the SP4 keeps the same dimensions as the SP3 to maintain backwards compatibility with existing accessorises. Even so the tablet is a little bit thinner and lighter while still maintaining all the necessary ports. The main improvement is under the hood with Intel’s 6th generation Skylake processors giving a significant power boost that really put the spring in Panos Panay’s step as he could brag about a 30% increase and a 50% advantage over the MacBook Air. It was hard to remove the smile from his face as he joked about the fridge and toaster analogy or alluded to competitors making tablets with larger screens.
To read an in depth comparison between the SP3 and 4 click here.
It wasn’t just the tablet itself that got an upgrade as the new Type Cover offers an improved typing experience with an island style layout and increased depth similar to what is found on most laptops. A new glass trackpad offers five touch points and should provide a smooth experience while an optional finger print scanner will give SP3 users with access to Windows Hello. Likewise, the Pen has been given the once over as well increasing to 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity to further push the boundaries between computer experience and writing on paper. In addition, the top of the pen acts as an eraser something normally, associated with a pencil, which adapts to applications while still providing a quick launch button for OneNote and Cortana. If that wasn’t enough Microsoft have also introduced a range of colours and interchangeable tips so uses can adapt their experience. Finally, Microsoft has gone back to the original design of the Surface Pen by providing a magnet dock on the side of the tablet, at least this time it doesn’t cover the charging port.
Overall the SP4 is a noticeable improvement and gives fans what they wanted faster performance and a more elegant user experience. It has definitely been worth holding off upgrading if only for the boost from the 6th generation Skylake processor. In terms of the competition the iPad Pro can’t measure up as it still lacks the proper experience to replace your Laptop and for the price is an expensive secondary device. Meanwhile the MacBook Air which Panay admits is a great product has an outdated processor and lacks the same convertible experience. However, Apple is not the only copycat trying to capitalise on the Surface design with other PC makers implementing kickstands, removable keyboards and pen input in an effort to keep up but the SP4 which just raised the bar again. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks with Microsoft’s major OEM’S also hosting device announcements if they can follow the standard that’s just been set.
Microsoft’s big surprise came with only the slightest gossip in the lead up to the event with rumours of a Laptop or a larger Surface but no specs, renders or patients. The Laptop is elegantly designed with a unique look due to the visible gap between the keyboard and screen. The way this comes together reminds me of an empty folder and fits well with the name. The soon to be iconic hinge is where the Surface Book’s design really captures everyone’s attention. It runs out like a carpet to extend the base and give the device balance while the contrast between the magnesium and aluminium gives it a distinct shine that catches the eye. You might think that it’s a bit sad that the tech world has gone into overload over a fulcrum hinge but it truly is a master stroke of engineering. It solves the ever present weight distribution problem with this type of device and allows the two parts to meet perfectly to give the unique shape.
Check out Mashable’s inside with Panay and design chief Ralf Groene about the development of Microsoft’s first Laptop.
Beyond the design the Surface Book boost a 3000 x 2000 13.5″ PixelSense display which means it shares the same 267ppi as the SP4, more than the retina display found on the MacBook Pro. At the entry level the laptop packs a 6th generation i5 processor and 8GB of RAM but at the top end it is a beast which is why Microsoft has labelled it the ultimate laptop. The addition of a dedicated NVidia GPU makes it easily beat out the competition available in comparable form factors and will allow professionals and gamers to render complex 3D imaging more familiar to desktop PC’s and larger laptops. In addition, the ability to upgrade to an i7 and 16GB of RAM makes the top end configuration an expensive yet enticing proposition. Like the Surface Pro’s new type cover the keyboard has been carefully engineered to provide the best typing experience possible. Running Windows 10 the Surface Book performs as you would expect any high powered PC being able to easily run demanding applications like the Adobe suite with no troubles.
It wasn’t all specs however as Microsoft engaged in its own brand of theatre with Panay directing his audience to re-watch the opening promo in order to give us one more thing …
The screen detaches and it becomes a full Surface tablet, surprise. Just at that moment Panay must have been on cloud nine as the crowed whooped and gave a standing ovation. After all he says this is Surface, this is innovation. Now some people might be thinking what’s the big deal there have been 2 in 1 devices that have a detachable keyboard since Windows 8. If you watch the demo its clear Surface Book is different as it is first and for most a laptop and the muscle wire mechanism is nearly as well conceived as the hinge. Relying on a metal that contracts when placed under current it secures the two sections so that Panay is confident waving the laptop around by the screen. Personally the other similar form factors I have played with in stores seem flimsy and didn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence so this is a big change.
Practically the Surface Book provides three possible uses the laptop, tablet or “clipboard” and the canvas. All provide uses with different possibilities to be productive. The “clipboard” is not marketed as a standalone tablet but a portable extension that could be removed when you need to show something to a few colleagues to pass around or take a work through the factory. In addition thanks to the hinge (Simpsons moment of the rod) the screen is able to reverse and lay down over the keyboard to provide a tilted experience for writing and drawing which has access to the GPU and 8 hours of battery life stored in the base. This flexibility alone regardless of any power advantage provides a clear source of difference from the competition which shouldn’t be ignored.
By the end of Microsoft’s event it was clear that they have stopped following with HoloLens, Surface Pro and Surface Book their ready to return to the lead. The company not only has built serious momentum this year through a series of announcements including backwards compatibility for the Xbox One but they now have a confident swagger brought about by a clear vision thanks to Satya Nadella. Unfortunately, this has left me with an annoying problem, which do I purchase they Pro 4 or the Surface Book. Price might have a lot to do with it as here in Australia it seems that the major tech companies feel like we should pay more meaning the top end Surface Book comes in at $4100 while the i7 SP4 is a bit more affordable at $2700. If only money grew on trees and I could get both.
Check out the full Surface announcement here.
Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises. In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant. So lets break it down …
Microsoft Band 2
The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory, personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.
By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience. The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool, robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.
Lumia 950 and 950XL
Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization, USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.
Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices. Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately, most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.
I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace. Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.
Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads. Both realising the importance of getting their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.
I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.
It’s taken some time but Skylake is finally a reality. Intel has been working towards this point since the development of the tablet market in and other chip makers started to muscle in on thier market. No one has ever question Intel’s ability to deliver the best processing power which is why Apple made the switch for its Mac computers. The problem has always been power consumption and heat which has limited there application in tablets.
Haswell released in 2013 after more then two years in development was the first step in Intel’s attempt to fix the status quo. It made it poosible to start putting Intel chips in convertable devices that were starting to become popular with Windows 8 it also brought a significant improvement to battery life as the Surface Pro 1 and 2 clearly demonstated. In the mobile market place Intel followed this up quickly with the release of the Broadwell Architecture and the Core M processor a lighter more power efficent CPU which achieved the same clock speeds on turbo boost as existing Haswell chips with a 4.5 W TDP ( Thermal Design Power) compared to the 15w TDP of a core i5. Suddenly, Intel had a CPU that could compete in the compact market and we saw an increase in hybrid devices in addition to a thinner MacBook.
It is this development that Skylake is set to continue. Firstly, by introducing sub-categries to the Core m line with m3, m5 and m7. Early test show the m7 can clock 3.1ghz at turbo compared to the broadwell core m at 2.9 and the old haswell i5 at 2, it also boast a better intergration of DDR3 memory. However that’s not all, Skylake promises to bring improved battery life with intel saying we’ll get 10 hours of 1080p playback on a charge and finally a 40% increase in graphics. This is definitely impressive progress since 2013.
This development means the next few months could be really interesting as we will likely be seeing a lot more Windows 10 tablets and hybrids, hopefully starting with a new Surface Pro. It’s also worth thinking about Apple’s expected release of an iPad Pro on the 9th and whether they have a skylake suprise or purhaps thier attempt to reinvigorate thier tablet sales may all ready be outdated. We may if rumours are true even see Microsoft announce a few flagship Windows Phones with an Intel chip to take advantage of Continuum in Windows 10. Maybe Skylake coupled with the successful launch of Microsoft newest OS might just return WinTel to the good old days.
Some iSheep will buy anything, but that doesn’t mean everything Apple touches turns to gold the last couple of versions of the iPad has proven as their market share and sales have been disappointing. What Apple needs for the Apple watch to be a success is a perceived need for the category. The reason why most wearables have not run of the shelves is simply that people do not see value in having something on the wrist that is a limited version of their phone with a smaller screen.
The only area where they have got any real traction has been as a fitness device which is not going to encourage people to fork out $300 plus an iPhone. This is also an area where Apple’s own marketing strategy will be against them because the Apple watch will not convince more people to change from Android to iPhone and has simply just narrowed an already limited market.
Finally the idea that the apple watch will be fashion accessory is laughable as at this price point in the form of a watch it is competing with anything from Armani to Citizen so the only people who would actually think this as cool would be diehards and tech nerds. So it might sell reasonably well with the iSheep but they have already sold their soul to the ecosystem and just want new things to show off, so it does not translate to a mass market trend. Until it hits markets I’m only speculating but it think those who are expecting a run away success are a little delusional.