Blog Archives

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 1

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.

New and improved the Band 2

HoloLens

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.

Till then,

Jono

E3: Tale of the tape

E3 2015 has unleashed a wave of surprises and exciting new games for Xbox One and PS4 fans alike but with all the announcements done, it’s time to reflect and see who won this heavy weight fight. To give a detailed comparison I thought I would break this down into three categories; System, Games and Peripheries.

System

Xbox One: Possibly the biggest surprise of E3 was the announcement of backwards compatibility coming to Xbox One this spring (Fall for my friends in the Northern Hemisphere) but currently only available to those lucky enough to be invited to the Xbox Preview. So far the list of Games is very short but it will grow quickly before the app goes live and personally I can’t wait to start playing Mass Effect on my Xbox One. Not only has this caught Sony by surprise but they have since disappointed fans by quickly killing any rumours that they might be doing the same any time soon. In addition Microsoft gave us a look at the new Xbox dashboard complete with Cortana that we will see later this year with the Windows 10 update.

MCV – Sony on backwards compatibility

PlayStation 4: Compared to the Xbox event Sony was much more game focused but they did talk about some exciting changers to PlayStation Vue. The live streaming TV service is being released in new regions and with a chose your own channel service. Notably this sees Sony move further towards the all in one entertainment system that was the original goal of the Xbox One.

Verdict: Got to give this one to the Xbox One as backwards compatibility has the potential to be a game changer as any one needing to replace their 360 can simply upgrade and still play all their old games. Some people like myself may have even put off the decision to upgrade because of this limitation. In contrast the upgrade to PlayStation Vue will benefit existing owners but probably won’t be that nudge to jump on board.

Games:

Before getting stuck into the exclusive titles it is important to recognise that comparing games is always going to be very subjective based on your past experience and your existing emotional attachment. This year that perhaps is more important than usual as most of the big titles from both our contenders have a touch of nostalgia and are the newest games to pre existing game series. Personally that means for me any new Halo is ultimately a kill all since I have been hocked from the very beginning but as always I will try to keep a critical mind.

Xbox One: The line up from Microsoft’s conference didn’t hold to many surprises as they emphasised the favourites; Halo 5 Guardians, Forza 6, Fable Legends, Rise of the Tomb Raider  the official conformation of Gears of War ultimate edition and the 4th instalment in the successful shooter. However, there are a few completely new titles like the action RPG Ashen, run and gun Cuphead, free to play Gigantic, adventurous Sea of Thieves and the action adventure ReCore. In addition to all these new titles the Rare Replay a collection of 30 classic Rare games for $30 including Banjo Kazooie and Prefect Dark is an absolute steal for a quick hit of nostalgia dating back 30 years.

PlayStation 4: Games was defiantly the focus of Sony’s conference and they had done well to keep the biggest announcements secret before the expo. Leading with the long awaited The Last Guardian was always going to be a hit with fans and that was only the beginning then came the remake of Final Fantasy VII and the kickstarter Shenmue 3 which completed fans wish list. New titles like the borderless No Man’s Sky and the stunning looking RPG Horizon Zero Dawn as well as other exclusives including Street Fighter 5 and Uncharted 4 helped demonstrated Sony’s focus on hard core gaming fans. The steal however was Call of Duty as the lucrative franchise departs from its recent partnership with Microsoft to release exclusive content

Verdict: Despite my preference for Xbox i’m going to give this one to the PS4 due to execution, since Sony had been able to keep things quite in the lead up to E3 and pulled off the steal of the year by getting Call of Duty to jump ship.

Finally … Peripherals 

Xbox One: Microsoft got the ball rolling here before the conference with the announcement of a partnership with Oculus Rift to take advantage of VR gaming. Extending this strategy Microsoft committed to a similar partnership with one of the other major developers in this exciting new avenue for gaming in Valve VR. The real star of the show was HoloLens as Microsoft showed off 3D Minecraft to a captivated audience but it doesn’t stop with the obvious applications as reviewers got the opportunity to test out the augmented reality headset with Halo 5’s new Warzone mode. If that wasn’t enough Microsoft have given us the Elite controller which is fully customisable with adjustable parts and settings to let users play their way.

GameSpot – Halo & HoloLens

PlayStation 4: Leading up to E3 every one was hoping for more information about Project Morpheus, Sony’s own VR headset. Unfortunately, I felt this was a bit of a let down since Sony spoke about the headset and showed an interesting trailer for RIGS a VR game that allows multiple players to enter the same virtual world the information and WOW factor was limited with only some vague assertions of a 2016 release. Thankfully reviews got to test drive the headset during the expo and it seems like it is going to offer a rich VR gaming experience.

Android Authority – project morpheus 

Verdict: This one was a clear win to Phil Spencer and his Xbox team, not only did they bring the mind blowing demo but they also made sure they didn’t forget hardcore gamers with the elite.

Overall:

It might not surprise anyone but i have to give 2015 to Microsoft as they seam to have finally learn’t and brought their A game. Overall Microsoft have taken more into account and listened to feedback with backwards compatibility, a real demonstration of HoloLens and a new controller. In addition the only category where Sony have out performed Microsoft this year is highly subjective as personally I’m looking foward to adding at least 6 of those exclusive Xbox titles to my collection ASAP. Meanwhile there are a couple of caveats to some of those surprises, firstly No Man’s Sky will release on PC at the same time as PS4 and most games will not be released until 2016 with Final Fantasy VII and Shenmue 3 without even that level of guidance.

But don’t take my opinion for it, check out the links and make up your own mind and leave your thoughts.

Cheers

Jono

Xbox And Oculus: A Partnership Designed To Blow Your Mind

Xbox And Oculus: A Partnership Designed To Blow Your Mind#xtor=RSS-980.

A pre-E3 bombshell! Oculus have announced a partnership with the Xbox for the release of their long awaited virtual reality headset. I’m still not sure yet if virtual reality will take off as it is limited by tethering and the practical application of VR in the everyday world but this arrangement makes sense for Microsoft. It provides an answer to Sony’s development of a VR system for the PlayStation 4 and gives consumers another reason to jump on board Windows 10. The deal further demonstrates Microsoft’s new mindset to open themselves up to different platforms and allows them to still capitalise on any future success in VR while still focusing on the augmented reality with HoloLens. Perhaps we will find out more at E3 about the potential of this new technology to change gaming.

Build Day 2: Hands on with Hololens

Day two of Microsoft Build conference didn’t have the some WOW factor as yesterday but we learned some important information about the release of Windows 10. We still don’t have an official date but it seems that the Desktop OS is on track for release in the June – July time frame that’s been thrown around for the last few months but it’s clear that it’s going to be a staggered release with Windows 10 for phones coming later. Personally I have never been a fan of Microsoft limited releases as it normally means that people like me in Australia generally have to wait or the launch loses momentum and sales steadily drop off. Maybe this will be different as a strong uptake for the desktop OS could lead to more developers jumping on board with universal apps and especially with yesterdays announcements make Windows 10 Phones more attractive to consumers. We will have to wait and see.

The main feature of the day was definitely the chance for developers to experience HoloLens and gives us their report on the technology away from the light show of the keynote address. So far the reviews I’ve read have been positive about the experience and real world application for HoloLens in the home and more importantly at work or school. The experience of reviewers was heavily controlled but sounds reasonably similar to what we saw in the demos and suggest that the technology might not be ready for market just yet but it should not be too long. Based on the three reviews below the main area that needs work is the initial setup process which required Microsoft staff to measure the distance between the eyes of the user. To get a more in depth look at where HoloLens is follow the links below:

TechRadar

Tom’s Hardware

TechCrunch

There are others out there but after reading a few they start to get a bit repetitive. Considering the similarity of these experiences I’m starting to get excited as both an everyday consumer and a History teacher I see endless possibilities for HoloLens to change the way we live. Stay tuned for tomorrow as I give a final look at Microsoft Build 2015.

Cheers

Jono

Building the future

Hi tech heads, it seems the boys at Redmond have been busy so here is a quick round up of all the news that matters from the build keynote.

Universal apps
We always knew that Microsoft were going to be pushing applications that worked across devices but until now its always been demoed using Microsoft own apps like office. However, now they have taken the next step by creating a version of Visual studios that works in  objective C, Java and C++ coding that will allow developers to easily port thier existing apps to Windows. Microsoft’s demoed version of candy crush from the iOS app store showed the potential of this mentality to finally conquer the app gap. This doesn’t mean that every iOS and Andriod app will be on Windows but with access to the PC marketshare and the Xbox One many develops will be attacted to make the small effort now required.

Continuum
Again this feature was introduced at the Windows event in January as it allows the OS to detect the type of device and change between the touch and desktop interfaces. Using a hybrid device like the Surface Pro this means that it detects when you are using the Keyboard and prompts you to enter desktop mode. The next step was always going to be multiple displays but rather than use a tablet, microsoft showed off how a phone can be used to run a full desktop interface. Its been years of people saying that mobile will kill off the PC but perhaps this new feature will lead to the future were less hardcore uses will only need a phone and a dock.

Microsoft Edge
Project Spartan’s offical name has a bit of a samsung ring to it and as a Halo fan I miss the link to the Master Chief but the times they are a changing. Other than the name the browser didn’t have any new features but did look more polished so I’m looking forward to testing it out in build 10074.

Hololens
Redmond’s new eye candy seems to have come a long way since January. This time the demo showed off a whole new range of apps including the everyday web browser, videos and Skype all of which can be controlled by your voice and resized to fit your walls. Yet, it didn’t stop there as Microsoft obviously wants to highlight the potential for their version of augmented reality in areas like medical education and robotics. If this wasn’t enough thier was something for the real tech nerds as we also learned a bit more about how this new device works and the internal components.

Final thought
I have had a good vibe about Windows 10 for some time but the possibilities show in the keynote suggest a bright future. A universal OS that can port apps from other popular ecosystems and react to way you are using your device may well be the future of mobile.

I would love to get your thoughts on windows 10, even the skeptics.

Cheers
Jono

Apple Insider: Hypocisy at work

I Bet My Life: Microsoft HoloLens perfectly targets its core competency.

I never really wanted to just rant about Apple on this Blog as I feel like it just takes away from the intelligence of my analysis and makes people think I can’t be objective but after reading this editorial and some of the comments on Apple Insider I have to admit that my blood was up and I felt like tacking apart some of the more ridicules points.

Starting with the idea that Apple’s last 2 hour event actually presented people with more substance and innovation, “By way of comparison, Apple’s last event to exceed two hours introduced iOS 8, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple Pay, Apple Watch, a performance by U2 and another 15 minutes to spare.”  The first announcement was mobile OS which has been updated yearly for sometime and there fore was hardly news, while the next is the latest incarnation of a phone released in 2007 with the same level of minor changes that we have come to expect and of course the same phone with a bigger screen to combat the rising demand for Android Phablets. In fact Apple Pay and the Apple Watch were the only ‘new’ products announced the later being expected for the last few years was also hardly a surprise.

The editorial than continued to attack Microsoft over the features that they are including in Windows 10 “ostensibly free OS updates, a standards compliant web browser with Safari Reader, Office running on a mobile device, third party apps that run on a mobile device, AirPlay wireless distribution and Siri“. I think the first point here is a bit irrelevant because while Apple have released free updates their Operating Systems only run on their devices which people have to buy to begin with and considering the premium cost of these products the argument could be made that the cost of the Operating System is included. He then talks about Safari which is only every used on an iOS device partly because of restrictions on other web browsers, despite this the Reader that he is so proud of does not include the Note Taking mode which is by far the key feature of Project Spartan. Finally, he talks about Siri which we know does not have the same personalised capabilities that make Cortana different  and is restricted to iOS which means it is not available on the 8% of people who use Macs for their computing needs.

If this had not already got me started I would have his next attack on HoloLens would have done the job as it smacked of hypocrisy and someone who buys the coloured version of history that Apple has created. He argues that HoloLens is hardly a unique product with features “that PrimeSense showed off two years ago” this is no doubt true as it is very rare that anything in technology is truly new but is rather a refinement of already exciting products. Apple’s own success is a perfect example the first tablet was launched in 2001 running Windows but flopped because it did not have touch friendly UI and was not very portable along came the iPad and refined these problems. Even the iPhone was based on the existing capabilities of phones at the time which already had internet access, email, games and a range of utilities like calculators  but by boarding this experience and making some alterations to the form factor to make use of a touch screen Apple created smartphones. Finally we come to their latest product the Apple Watch which is following in the footsteps of hundreds of different devices including the Samsung Gear and Microsoft Band just to name a few.

His final attack was on Microsoft sketch record with hardware releases including Zune, Surface, Windows Phone and surprisingly Xbox. Now I would be the first to admit that Zune and Windows Phone continue to be a large stain on Microsoft’s history as they try to make themselves appear credible hardware developers but only in some kind of virtual reality could the Xbox be tarnished with the same brush. Especially considering the success of the 360 as the dominate console of the last generation and strong sales of Xbox One which is admittedly still only the second fasted selling console in history. Finally, we come to Surface whose first two versions have been marred by poor sales tied to the pointless creation which was Windows RT but leaving this behind and focusing on raw power and a full PC experience the Surface Pro 3 has become rather successful, inspiring a few knock offs including the rumoured iPad Pro.

I respect what Apple has done for technology and while I don’t personal use their products unless I’m forced to I understand their appeal however I don not appreciate blind fan boys attacking other companies especially with erroneous and hypocritical statements.

 

Windows 10: A New Beginning (part 2)

By now everyone should have heard something about the two new pieces of hardware announced by Microsoft yesterday, especially HoloLens so I’m not simply going to repeat everything from the Keynote. Looking at both these devices they have their links to existing products on the market but seem to take the next step and extend their ability to actually fulfil a practical purpose.

Surface Hub

Microsoft first new piece of hardware has been lost under the shadow of their second announcement as it lacks the eye-catching feel of innovation. Unfortunately that’s what will happen when you reveal something that looks a bit like a TV or giant tablet so hopefully I can put it into some perspective. Firstly, the Surface Hub has an 84 inch 4K display and comes with built-in NFC, WiFi, cameras, microphones and everything else you can come up with all in an easy to install package (one wire). This actually means that you can send and receive data from the Surface Hub any number of ways without too much difficulty regardless of the type of other devices you may be using.

The key difference between the Surface Hub and other conferencing solutions on the market is that you don’t need to have a companion device. Since the Hub runs Windows 10 you have access to shared files for presentations, you can use a variety of apps and easily Skype with colleagues. Despite this there will be times when you still need or want to connect a laptop to the Surface Hub especially if you’re just visiting a workplace or like my situation changing classrooms every 40 minutes, in these situations you can take advantage of the ink back feature. If you haven’t guessed it the Hub supports pen input, allowing OneNote to operate like a whiteboard, but ink back means any notes you add-on the screen will be included on the original document on the laptop.

These are some of the features and possibilities which separate the Surface Hub from the current smorgasbord of Smart TV’s, interactive whiteboards or Apple TV connected screen that are used in classrooms around the country. Microsoft’s keynote focused on the advantage for business but I see a great application for the classroom as long as they don’t price it out of the market. Based on my experience the Surface Hub solves all the issues of using technology in the classroom as you don’t need to mess around with cables or make a choice between functionality. Even the ability to forward information from OneNote to students is a god send as it eliminates the need for the distraction of students taking photos of class notes. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Surface Hub develops and have my figures crossed for a reasonable price tag so I can play with one in the not to distant future at work.

Check out Dan Costa’s hands on at PC Mag if you want to know more.

HoloLens

Moving on to the surprise of the event, there had been rumours about Microsoft working on a VR headset over the last 6 months but none of them even came close to discovering the truth about HoloLens. It still amazes me that they have been able to keep this secret for 7 years, since everything in technology now days from Project Spartan to the two size of the iPhone 6 are known well before they are announced.

HoloLens seems like an advanced 3D form of augmented reality were everything becomes a screen for apps like Netflicks or uses your environment to allow you to interact with a world of possibilities. It seems to share more with Google Glass than any of the VR headsets being developed at the moment as it is completely untethered by wires and is based on interacting with your environment rather than sending you to another world. On display at the event was Skype, Minecraft and a 3D design studio called Holo Studio however the most amazing application is Onsight a 3D exploration of Mars. This last example probably shows the greats application for schools as I could imagine exploring historical sights like the Pompeii from your classroom.

Despite the wow factor and Microsoft unexpectedly breaking new ground our information on HoloLens is still limited. It runs Windows 10 holographic which is based on the same design language so app development should be straight forward but there are no specific details as how it might be used as an Xbox One streaming device or other apps that will be available on launch. We also don’t really know how it works besides the addition of the third holographic processing unit or what this will mean for battery life.

As it stands HoloLens has tons of potential but until we know more, including price and distribution it hard to tell whether it will be the next big thing or just a gimmick like Glass. At least we should not have to wait long as Microsoft have stated that HoloLens will be deployed within the Windows 10 release window.

If your interested in finding out more here is a hands on from Engaget and an interesting comparison with Google Glass from PC Mag.

Cheers

Jono