Zach Epstein’s article for BGR puts some perspective on the Smartphone market which no doubt is starting to feel all to familiar for Apple. I remember other commentators making similar observations after Microsoft bought the calander app Sunrise but it is probably becoming an even greater reality as the guys from Redmond are still buying up popular mobile applications like Groove (Ziker variety) and SwiftKey.
Epstein points out that the majority of apps he uses on his iPhone like Google Maps, Skype, Snapseed, Outlook, Google photos and Xbox One Smartglass to name a few are all made by Apple’s major competitors. In contrast the only in built options he uses are generally out of convenience like the camera app or because he sacrifices some useability for features in respect to Apple Music. Neither reason is something that would make software developers really happy. It does highlight Apple’s weakness that while they make great hardware they have never really deliverd the best services.
We don’t need to look far to see a pattern since even the most devoted Apple fan uses Microsoft Office on their Mac. However Apple’s problem goes beyond the failings of the iWorks suite as Safari is usef often just to download another browser like Chrome, Firefox or even Opera. Not to mention more specialised software like Skype, VLC and Adobe which pop up on most Mac’s despite Apple’s own offerings. Even when Apple has experienced success like iTunes it is normally out of necessity due to the popularity of the iPod and iPhone yet it made the simplest task to backup your phone and transfer files into a convoluted mess of wasted time.
The closed system of iOS and Microsoft’s previous strategy in mobile allowed Apple to protect it’s ecosystems from a similar fate for some time. Satya Nadella’s rise to the top job and his mobile first, cloud first made an instant impact with the release of Office for iPad. Their continued development of apps and recent purchaseing frenzy has only continued this momentum. Meanwhile other developers have given into Apple’s constraints and now offer their own services on iOS like Chrome and Firefox so that uses can injoy the same experience on their phone and computer.
It looks like Apple is just going to have to except that their ecosystem is never going to stop making money for their competitors.
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.
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.
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.