A Microsoft Future

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

How To Succeed With a Mobile App

Smashing Magazine LogoGetting into mobile app development often seems like a path paved with gold, but the reality is very different with many apps failing to succeed. Good apps do not simply “get lucky” but rather their developers work hard at  planning a successful app. Smashing Magazine’s article “How To Succeed With a Mobile App” shows the elements needed to plan for app success.

Smashing Magazine identifies six areas to consider for a great app.

1) The Idea. Find a vaccuum or empty niche for your app.

2) Money. Plan the business model for your app.

3) Define. Write down what your app will do in one sentence and stick to it.

4) Design. If the user has to think how to use the app, you’ve failed.

5) Coding. Native, high-quality, robust code is essential.

6) Marketing. Make friends, build buzz, launch big, love your fans.

But don’t simply read the above and move on. Check out the original article by Jeremy Olson at Smashing Magazine as it has plenty of further information for would-be app coders.

 

Pogoplug Mobile Review

Pogoplug LogoThe cloud is definitely where it’s at right now, but what if you don’t like the idea the idea of Google, Dropbox et al looking after your data? Then you might be interested in a Pogoplug, which allows you to create your own cloud storage that’s only limited by the size of the hard disk. A Pogoplug is a hardware gadget that connects USB storage devices to your local LAN and then makes the space available across the Internet, effectively creating a personal cloud. The data is stored in your control and if more storage is needed, plug-in a bigger hard drive.

On review here is the Pogoplug Mobile, the 3rd generation of Pogoplug device from Cloud Engines. It offers a single USB port plus an SD card slot along with the network port and power socket. Newer Pogoplugs come with USB3 ports, but as the maximum speed of the Pogoplug cloud is always going to be the speed of the Internet connection, the faster transfer speeds of USB3 are unlikely to be a significant benefit. For testing, I used a 64 GB memory stick, rather than a hard drive, which means that the unit will run silently with minimal power consumption.

Pogoplug Packaging

The Pogoplug website has downloads for Windows, Macs and Linux, and the relevant app stores have versions for Android, iOS, Blackberry and legendary WebOS. I was able to try the Windows, Linux, Android and WebOS versions. The Windows version connects to the Pogoplug and presents it as a drive letter, allowing most Windows applications to use the Pogoplug transparently. The Pogoplug software has additional backup functionality as well, which may be useful for some people. The Linux version is command line only but anyone familiar with Linux will have no trouble getting the Pogoplug mounted into the filesystem.

The Android app is simple and straightforward with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve. Broadly you can browse files in a directory fashion or you can view music, photos and movies in a tag or meta-data based fashion, As expected, there are viewers and players for the media, though movies get handed over to the default app rather than playing within the Pogoplug app. The music player is basic and has one really irritating flaw; it doesn’t seem to be able to pick up the track number from the mp3 files and consequently orders tracks alphabetically when playing albums. This really needs to be fixed.

Back viewPerformance-wise, the Pogoplug is always going to be limited by the upload (rather than download) speed of the broadband connection when outside of the home. This usually meant a little bit of buffering before playing music but once the playback got underway, there was rarely any stuttering. There were occasional times when folders refused to refresh but my suspicion is that any problems were down to the local data connection on my phone rather than a problem with the Pogoplug. YMMV. Inside my home, the performance was excellent.

In common with other social and cloud apps, the Pogoplug app has automatic uploading of pictures and video from the devices camera. It’s also possible to set the folder where the uploaded images are to go. Frankly, this is brilliant as my wife is hopeless at remembering to copy photos off her smartphone so by setting up the Pogoplug app on her phone, any photos she takes get automatically transferred. On occasion, a photo would sometimes fail to completely upload; again I suspect the loss of 3G connectivity than any fundamental problem, but the error checking could be improved. It’s also possible to upload any image from within the photo Gallery app.

As with most cloud solutions, you can also share with friends and family, using either the app or the web interface. It’s straightforward – select the folder you want to share, select who you want to share with and an email is sent to them with the relevant link. It’s an easy way to share photos of Junior with grandma and grandpa.

Any downsides? Only two that i can see….first, there’s no direct integration with any other apps that I could find. Quickoffice and other office apps typically allow access straight into Google Drive or Dropbox but none seemed to work with a Pogoplug. Effectively I had to download a Word doc to the phone, do my edits in QuickOffice and then upload the doc back to the Pogoplug. Not slick.

The second is that when I was at home and on the same subnet as the Pogoplug, Internet access to Pogoplug’s servers was still needed, presumably to check authorisation privileges. Normally, it’s not going to be an issue, but it would be handy to have a way to bypass this when working locally and the connection to the Internet goes down.

Overall, the Pogoplug is a handy device that gives you control over your data rather than entrusting it to a megacorp. A few glitches spoil what is otherwise a neat little solution that potentially gives as much data storage space as you need, without paying per GB per annum. For the low cost of the Pogoplug unit (about $50 / £35), it’s a bargain.

Disclaimer – this was a personally purchased device.

Where Are Blackberry Users Going?

RIM, or Research in Motion, is in trouble.  That isn’t news anymore because it’s become fodder for every tech blog around.  The mobile company that used to own the space has fallen by the wayside and the only thing left to decide is where the users will go and what last-ditch effort the company will make to save themselves.

As for saving themselves, there is one rumor that has been floating around – that they will go the Nokia route (another company that was in trouble) and become a Microsoft partner in the Windows Phone space.  While that remains to be seen, there was a recent survey done over at the Blackberry enthusiast site, Crackberry, that asked where users would go if they couldn’t wait for the long-delayed Blackberry 10.

The results weren’t very surprising, except for one thing.  iPhone 5  garnered the most votes at 47%, while Android picked up a solid 34%, but, most surprisingly, Windows Phone picked up 19%  of the votes.

Windows Phone remains behind in the market and also in this survey, but they are gaining ground steadily and perhaps can still turn this into a race.  Clearly it’s a three-way battle at this point with Nokia, while still making Symbian, conceding, and Blackberry losing their mojo.  Android, iOS, and Windows Phone will be the only three mobile operating systems that will matter going forward.

Source: WMPowerUser

 

Out of the Shadow of the iPhone

Samsung Galaxy BeamAt this time of year the technology circus does its tour of the world….CES in Las Vegas, MWC in Barcelona and CeBIT in Hanover, Germany. Interspersed are product launches by major companies like Apple.

When Apple and subsequently Microsoft decided to move away from the industry events and do their own mini-shows, many commentators noted that it was disappointing that the market leaders weren’t going to be attending and predicted the death of the big show. From all the evidence I see, it’s been the best thing that ever happened.

Take Mobile World Congress last week – it was a great show with Samsung, Nokia, HTC, RIM all putting out great phones and tablets. With the figures showing Android well ahead of iOS in the US new handset market and the absence of Apple at the show, it really felt like smartphones had come out from under the shadow of the iPhone. Companies were daring to innovate and be a bit different because the competition is no longer simply about being better than the iPhone, it’s about being better than Android competitors.

HTC’s One line-up might not be earth-shattering but there’s a progression from entry-level to top-end. Samsung continues to produce different sizes and integrate other technologies, such as pico projectors (Galaxy Beam), and Nokia supports its long-term plans in the Windows Phone market while still introducing a bonkers megapixel camera on the older line.

In comparison, Apple would have produced largely the same phone as the last one, only a bit faster, yet would have stolen all the headlines. Great products for sure, but Apple isn’t innovating, it’s perfecting.

The smartphone market is in rude health and it’s great to see genuine innovation and competition rather than the predictable progression of a near monopoly.

AViiQ For Gadgets On The Go

AViiQ is a product innovation company that specializes is in cool travel gadgets. Andy and Courtney see the latest toys with Alan Yeung of AViiQ.

First on show is a portable laptop stand that unfolds from a flat strip that’s about 13″ long, 2.75″ wide and only 0.25″ thick. Made from a material called Hylite, it’s a composite of aluminum and polypropylene weighing just 5.5 oz. Prices start at $59.99.

Next up is the Portable Charging Station, a folio USB charging kit that comes with an AC adapter that powers a four port charging hub. Not only does it reduce the number of power adapters needed but by keeping all the cables together, it reduces the chance that one will be left behind. Available for $79.99.

For smartphone and iPod / iPhone syncing, a AViiQ offers short stiff connectors rather than twisty cables, with a USB connector at one end and Apple / mini-USB / micro-USB at the other. The interconnects also have a pen clip so that they don’t always fall to the bottom of the laptop bag. $12.99 and $34.99.

Finally, folding travel plugs and power adapters make traveling easy, with both a folding US-UK plug and an expanding power strip that offers surge protection and USB power. Both $34.99.

Great gadgets for the frequently traveler.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Music in the Morning with the iShower

iShower Bluetooth SpeakerAt last year’s CES, iDevices showed off the iGrill, a Bluetooth-enabled cooking thermometer. This year, they’re back with iShower, a waterproof speaker. Andy and Don tune in with Jonathan Conelias from iDevices.

As with the iGrill, the iShower is Bluetooth-enabled, playing audio from iOS, Android and Blackberry phones. In fact, any device that can stream music via Bluetooth will work with the iShower and up to five devices can be paired. Naturally the iShower is waterproof, making it suitable for the shower, swimming pool and beach. Buttons on the iShower can control the music, skipping backwards and forwards through the playlist.

The iShower’s rich sound speaker cuts through the noise of the shower and in good taste, there’s no microphone. If you were thinking of taking a phone call in the shower, think again. A mounting bracket is supplied and complementary accessories such as a mirror make this a complete shower solution.

The iShower will be available from March both online and in good retail stores with an MSRP of $99.99.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net, and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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PrivacyStar Blocks Unwanted Smartphone Calls

PrivacyStar LogoAs on-line marketers transfer their cold-calling attention away from land-lines to cell and mobile phones, their calls are becoming increasingly an annoyance when you are out-and-about. PrivacyStar offers a multilayered solution for Android and Blackberry to cut unwanted calls. Andy finds out more.

PrivacyStar is a smartphone app to block unwanted calls and SMS texts. At its simplest, user-specified phone numbers can be blocked to prevent calls or texts coming through and bothering you. The app also features SmartBlocking which blocks the top 25 numbers blocked by other users in the past week, so if there’s a major calling campaign on, those numbers pretty quickly get blocked.

Other features include CallerID lookup, where if the phone doesn’t know who is calling, the app consults with an on-line directory and displays the caller. For really persistent callers, complaints can be filed directly with the FTC.

The app is currently only available for Android and Blackberry, an iPhone version will be released before the summer. The app is free for a week and then $2.99 per month after that.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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LiftMaster’s MyQ – Smartphone Control of Your Garage Door

LiftMaster LogoLiftMaster is known for its range of garage door openers and this year, they’re introducing their new MyQ technology that will let home owners monitor and control their garage door from a smartphone or tablet anywhere in the world, including iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and Android devices.

Intended to be professionally installed, the cost is $350-$400 for a new door opener that incorporates MyQ technology and it’s available now.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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I Feel Stupid

Windows Phone 7Over the break, there’s been a bit of discussion by some of the big names regarding the reasons why Windows Phone 7 handsets haven’t been flying off the shelves this holiday season. Charlie Kindel started the debate with “Windows Phone is Superior; Why Hasn’t It Taken Off?” and largely faults the relationship between the OEMs, Microsoft and the carriers.

MG Siegler responded with a fairly weak response largely citing the mantra of “too late and not enough apps” but as can be seen from today’s news of 50,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, the latter argument really isn’t that valid.

As usual, Robert Scoble hits the nail on the head. People buy Android or iOS because it’s a safe bet and they don’t want to look stupid or uncool by buying something else. Microsoft Windows Phone 7 and RIM’s Blackberries simply don’t have the gold-plated appeal of a sure-thing.

And he’s right. I was a big Palm fan and look how that turned out. I do feel stupid. After spending years waiting for Palm to move from PalmOS to WebOS and then HP promising to do big things. I bought in with a succession of Pre phones and pre-ordered a TouchPad. Maybe I shouldn’t be so shallow and have a less of an ego, because WebOS is a great operating system and even with the smaller app selection, it does 99% of what I need a phone to do. But when everyone else is, “Have you got this app and that app” on their Galaxy S IIs and iPhone 4Ss, you do feel a bit of a chump.

So thanks, HP. I feel stupid.