A Microsoft Fantasy

MandroidMicrosoft and their “Windows Everywhere” strategy — it’s a painful thing to watch.  Microsoft is becoming the new Blackberry.

Technology is always improving at an ever-accelerating pace.  Mobile devices combined with ubiquitous, ever-present Internet, combined with ever-increasing bandwidth have come together to disrupt the traditional PC market, which itself was a disruption.

Companies that ride the wave of technological disruption frequently become household names. Once upon a time one of them was Microsoft, which was able to ride the crest of the wave of the personal computer revolution. Microsoft software was once almost everywhere. Alas, the next wave of disruption came along in the form of mobile hand-held computers with always-on connectivity, and now Microsoft in many respects is drowning behind that next wave.

I believe people at Microsoft see the handwriting on the wall – traditional PC sales numbers are dropping like a stone into a bottomless pit. The vast majority of people don’t need a traditional computer because modern handheld touchscreen devices such as iPads and smartphones frequently do most of what consumers want faster and better.

So, with Windows 8 Microsoft tried to force Windows users away from the traditional PC desktop to a new touchscreen interface dubbed “Metro” that seems to be sort of half-baked. When users rebelled, they released a semi-compromise in the form of Windows 8.1. Apparently the thinking must have been that if they could get end-users of desktop Windows computers used to the new interface, they would naturally gravitate towards the same interface on Microsoft smartphones and tablets. Thus – “Windows Everywhere” has been implemented and is clearly floundering, with good reason.

Microsoft is still a profitable enterprise, largely because of the X-Box and server software. In my opinion, Microsoft should concentrate on these two profitable areas of their business and forget about selling tablets and smartphones.

A Radical Suggestion

However, if Microsoft can’t bring themselves to abandon the mobile device market, I have a radical suggestion for them. It’s clear to me the only remote chance Microsoft has of success in todays’s mobile market is if they would dump mobile versions of Windows and adopt Android. They could call it Mandroid.

Microsoft now owns Nokia, and even before the Nokia purchase Microsoft has demonstrated it can produce sleek hardware.

Microsoft, if you want ANY chance of the vast majority of consumers considering buying your mobile products, re-develop them with Android. You would have the huge instant advantage of the Android app market, and a stable mobile OS that already has plenty of marketplace traction.

Will Microsoft adopt Android? Not a chance. If Microsoft is lucky it will end up like IBM, a beached shell of its former self.

Free eBooks From Your Local Library

These are tough economic times and if you want to save yourself a few pennies, stop buying ebooks, join your local library and borrow ebooks for free. The OverDrive Media Console app lets you download and read ebooks offered by your local library for nothing, and if audiobooks are of more interest, the app can handle those as well. The OverDrive app is available for most common smartphones and tablets, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire and Nook tablets. If you have a Kobo, Sony or Nook ereader, you can still borrow books from your library but you’ll need to use Adobe’s Digital Editions to download via your PC. If you have a Kindle ereader, you’re out of luck.

The app can be downloaded from most app stores and directly from OverDrive if your device’s app store doesn’t host the app. In the first instance, the app asks you to find your local library via simple search. Poking around I was able to find libraries in UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, India and Japan, so it has worldwide coverage but I’ve no real idea of how extensive it is.

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For my library, I had enter my borrower number and again I assume it will be similar for most public libraries. Once you are in the system, you can browse for your favourite novels and authors, and then borrow the book you want. Before you can download the book, you’ll need to sign-up for an Adobe ID and put it into Overdrive’s settings. This is all part of the ePub DRM, but getting an ID is straightforward and free of charge.

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Obviously the range of books is entirely dependent on your library but I found a good selection of books available (several of which I already owned!) and once you’ve got your reading selection downloaded, you can swap to Overdrive’s bookshelf to see what’s available for reading.

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As a reader app, OverDrive Media Console is good. There’s a bit of delay when opening a book for the very first time, but after that it’s snappy. All the other usual features are there – typeface selection, font size, line spacing, colour schemes, animations, but overall it’s well done. Reading books is easy and a pleasure.

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So, if you don’t want pay for ebooks and you’ve a tablet or smartphone, download the OverDrive Media Console, join your local library and start saving money. It’s a no-brainer!

The Paperback is an Endangered Species

Nook ClassicPicture the scene….I’m on holiday, lying by the swimming pool, relaxing in the summer sun. It’s a 4-star hotel, nothing fancy, catering to families from all round Europe; Britain, France, Germany, Norway. As I look around my fellow guests, I notice that many of them are reading from ereaders – Kindles, Kobos and the odd Nook. A few people are reading celebrity magazines like Hello and Chat. What does surprise me is the total absence of paperbacks – in all the rows of sun loungers that I can see, there’s not a single paperback book. It’s as if the paperback became an endangered species from one year to the next.

In reality this shouldn’t be a surprise. Ebooks and ereaders have become popular and the continual reductions in weight allowances by the budget airlines have encouraged travellers to leave heavy paper at home. The result is children, parents and grandparents are all lying round the pool, electronics in hand. The paperback is on the verge of extinction.

And while the paperback is all but gone, this isn’t the death of the novel. By all evidence round the pool, the written word is still alive and well. Only the medium has changed from paper and ink to glass and eInk. I see a bright future for authors and novelists.

I’ve certainly no regrets myself, but it does make it very hard to see what your fellow sun-worshippers are reading.

Nook Moves to Partnership Model

Barnes & Noble logoBarnes & Noble has announced that it is not going to continue to produce new Nook tablet devices. Instead, it is going to transition to what it is calling a “partnership model”. The announcement from Barnes & Noble did not say what company it will be partnering with.

I believe a lot of us saw something like this coming. Barnes & Noble has been doing sale after sale on the Nook for quite some time now. It knocked down the price and suggested that it would make a great Mother’s Day gift. It ran the same sale for Father’s Day. There were other sales as well.

Barnes & Noble is planning to “adjust” its strategy when it comes to the Nook. Previous to this announcement, Barnes & Noble was building the Nook in-house. Now, it wants to have a co-branded program where some other company will build the Nook.

Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch said:

Our aim is to sell tablets, but to do so without the up front risk.

Barnes & Noble believes its unsold inventory of Nooks was the biggest reason for its loss of about $155 million in the most recent fiscal year. The company is going to continue to make black and white eReader devices. It will sell the color-screen Nook HD and the Nook HD+ at a discount through the holiday season.

Barnes & Noble Retires Nook Apps for PC and Mac

Barnes & Noble logo Avid readers who have been enjoying the Nook app on their PC or Mac are in for some disappointment. According to The Digital Reader Barnes & Noble has officially ended its support for the Nook app for PC and the Nook app for Mac.

More specifically, this is in regards to the Nook for PC for Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista. It also is in regards to at least some Mac versions of the app. The Digital Reader got an email from Barnes & Noble that suggests that people use Nook for Web instead (whether they are on a PC or Mac).

The eBook Reader notes that Nook for Web doesn’t allow you to save the book you are reading offline. You have to go online to access it. Another problem is that not all of the Nook books are available through Nook for Web. Some people are going to lose access to at least some of the Nook books that they had access to through the apps that have now disappeared.

Personally, I am an avid reader. I love to read and I have more books than I have shelf space for. I am one of the people who has a pile of books that I am dying to read… as soon as I get through the ones I bought before them. Despite my love of reading, I’ve never been interested in owning an eBook Reader. To me, paper books are a whole lot safer than digital ones. I won’t lose them if an app disappears.

Tablet Nirvana

I’ve been playing around with tablets for a while now along with several smartphones along the way, and I believe I’m getting very close to my idea of what the ideal tablet should be.

I started out with a Nook Color. The original Nook Color is a nice piece of hardware with a beautiful 7″ inch color screen, but the hardware behind it was somewhat lacking. The original Nook Color’s processor was a bit slow, and the performance lagged somewhat. I even experimented with other versions of Android on it. What I found was that I loved the 7″ inch 16 x 9 format color screen size, which is close to ideal, but the processor was too slow, it didn’t have an integrated GPS chip, nor did it have functioning Bluetooth capability. Overall, the hardware just wasn’t enough to push it beyond the locked-down version of Android that Barnes and Noble shipped on it. I ended up finding the Nook Color a good home and sold it.

Next, I got an iPad 2. I really like the iPad, and I still have it. The iPad 2 came close to the ideal tablet, but it lacked an integrated GPS chip. It is also a bit bulky to easily handle with one hand. The problem came with the upgrade to iOS 6. I drive a truck over-the-road, and I was constantly using the integrated Google Maps. Google’s satellite maps are very clear and detailed, and I often make use of Street View as I’m constantly having to travel to new places I’ve never been before. iOS 6 ripped out the quite superior Google Maps and substituted Apple’s inferior also-ran excuse for a replacement. I can see no good reason for them doing this, other than a lame back-stabbing attempt to punish Google for coming out with Android. I am still quite unhappy with the loss of mapping functionality. Of course I realize that I can simply go to the Google Maps website and use Google’s satellite maps along with Google Street View, but doing it through the browser is an inferior experience to what the original iPad Google Map once was before iOS 6 took it away. By the way, I’ve never found much use for the integrated cameras in the iPad 2. Mostly I’ve used the forward-facing camera for occasional video Skype or Facetime chats.

A few days ago, I purchased a 32 gigabyte Nexus 7 manufactured by Asus, priced at $249 for the 32 gigabyte version and $199 for the 16 gigabyte version. After using the Nexus 7 for a while, I think I might be in tablet heaven. I love the 7″ inch 16 x 9 widescreen size. It can easily be held in one hand. Also, it will easily fit in many inside coat pockets.

The Nexus 7, which of course comes with Google Maps and turn-by-turn street navigation, has an integrated GPS chip. It also has a powerful quad-core Tegra 3 processor, along with full Bluetooth functionality. It has a forward-facing camera for video chatting, along with great battery life, and a stellar high definition screen.

I’m finding that I’m tending to reach for the Nexus 7 rather than the iPad 2. The Nexus 7 is so light. The iPad 2 now feels a bit clunky and kludgy.

Am I ready to sell the iPad? Not just yet. I want to wait a while and see how it shakes out. It’s still handy to be able to have two separate devices to watch streaming videos on — when one runs down, I can switch to the other if I don’t have them plugged in.

The Nexus 7 is an incredible value. Now that the vast majority of apps also come in Android versions, why needlessly spend hundreds of dollars extra for a product where the manufacturer has a proven history of deleting popular functionality with so-called upgrades?

Eason Fails to Sell eBooks via Billboard

…or “Why DRM is killing ebook sales outside of Amazon or Barnes & Noble”.

Being a international superstar and global jetsetter*, I had the pleasure of passing through Dublin’s Connolly railway station today. In the atrium there was a billboard display of book covers complete with QR codes.

Billboard of Books

“Totally cool,” I thought. Scan the QR code, buy the ebook, download to my tablet and start reading. The bookstore, Eason, had helpfully included free wifi in the area to get on-line. (For those not familiar with Ireland, Eason would be the leading newsagent, stationers and bookstore, comparable to WHSmith in GB). I scanned this book:

Book cover

The QR code took me to this page. Strangely, the book offered was a paperback and not an ebook. Huh?

Book purchase

Then I looked at the original poster, “1. Choose your book 2. Scan your QR code 3. Make your purchase 4. Wait for the post 5. Enjoy your book!”

Seriously…”Wait for the post”. Have these guys actually heard of ebooks or did the Kindle completely pass them by? Sure enough, Eason does have a section for ebooks on their website. It says, “Eason eBooks are compatible with Sony, Iriver and Elonex eReaders, as well as all devices that support Adobe EPUB DRM eBooks. Our eBooks are not currently compatible with Apple iOS, Google Android or Amazon devices – this includes iPads, iPhones, iPods, Android phones and tablets, and Kindles.

So let me get this straight….Eason is appealing to a travelling customer, offering the QR codes to smartphones that will typically be iPhones or Android devices, but ebooks can’t be offered on these because of Adobe’s ePub DRM? Fail, fail, fail.

It’s both totally unbelievable yet completely expected. It’s no wonder Amazon and the Kindle are dominating the market because everyone else is fighting with one hand tied behind their back with DRM. Eason, I had a two hour train journey ahead of me and you had a 100% chance of an ebook sale but you blew it. I’ll turn on my tablet, fire up my Kindle or Nook app and buy directly from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Fail.

* This is completely untrue.

Tech Coming to the UK

It’s a good time to be in a geek in the UK at the moment. Over the past week there’s been a raft of announcements for predominately US-based offerings making it across the pond so here’s a quick round up of the latest news.

NookBarnes and Noble are bringing the Nook to Britain and if the marketing is right, it could be hit. Public libraries are still popular and they offer ebooks in the .epub format, which the Amazon Kindle doesn’t support but the Nook does. Some shrewd money-saving marketing and the Nook could give the Kindle a run for its money. I have the original Nook which I’m hoping will be supported in the UK, despite it being no longer sold. Pricing for the current Nooks to be announced but Argos and John Lewis are on-board to sell the hardware.

Amazon rolled out its Android Appstore to UK residents and parts of Europe, presumably for the as-yet-unannounced launch of the Kindle Fire. Coming with the Amazon Appstore is the App of the Day, which will have some great apps for nothing so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those. I’ve installed Appstore on my tablets already and have downloaded a few apps – all looking cool so far.

If you are looking for a small tablet, I think UK readers will be spoilt for choice with the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire and Nook Color / Tablet all likely to be available soon.

AmazonLocal Finally, Groupon has some competition in the shape of AmazonLocal, offering similar group deals. At the moment it seems to be focussing on London with a few national offers. Presumably city or regional deals can’t be that far away. There’s a 2 hour flying lesson currently on offer for £99 which looks fun. (As an aside, I always thought Groupon was a rubbish name until someone pointed out it was like group-coupon. Duh!)

All round, it’s good news for geeks in the UK.

Ford has In-Car Tablet Compatibility

Ford has produced a brand new feature called SYNC. This is the perfect name for the first system designed to give you in-car tablet compatibility. In other words, SYNC will allow drivers to hook up their favorite tablet device to their car, and access it through voice commands while they are driving.

The voice commands make things safer. Drivers won’t need to actually look at their tablet, or touch it, in order to listen to an audiobook, a podcast, or a song. It truly makes a tablet into a hands free device, and does not require the driver to take his or her eyes of the road.

This is exciting in many ways! This is the first time that drivers will be able to safely make use of their tablets while they are driving. The voice commands that a driver uses to access their tablet make the road a safer place to be. We live in a world where people have gotten into car accidents, and died, while trying to send or receive a text message. The SYNC allows drivers to be entertained without making them into a distracted driver.

Imagine how great this would be for road trips! Tell your tablet to start reading you an audiobook. Choose your favorite playlist, and listen as you drive through places that you have never been before. The SYNC will charge some tablets and e-readers when they are connected through SYNC’s USB connection. You won’t have to worry about finding an outlet to plug your tablet into long enough to charge it. The Ford SYNC will do that for you!

Right now, Ford engineers are testing the SYNC’s compatibility with the new iPad3. The SYNC is already compatible with the original iPad and the iPad2. Other SYNC-compatible devices include: Amazon Kindle, Amazon Kindle Fire, HP Touchpad, HTC Flyer, Barnes & Noble Nook Color, and the Sony Tablet S.

The SYNC also allows you to make a hands-free call with your phone. Answer the phone with the push of a button. Make a call using a voice command. SYNC automatically downloads the names and numbers programed into your compatible phone. Tell your phone to call Mom, and it will do exactly that.

While you cannot put SYNC into an older model Ford, there are several different 2012 models of Ford vehicles that are SYNC compatible. They are the 2012 version of the: Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, Mustang, Taurus, Escape, Edge, Explorer, Flex, Expedition, Transit Connect, F-150, E-Series Wagon, and Super Duty.

Image: Autoshow by BigStock

3feet Universal Smartphone and Tablet Stand

3feet Universal Smartphone and Tablet Stand3feet almost need no introduction. Their universal smartphone and tablet stands are well-known for their neat design and their (probably) unique feature of being dishwasher-proof.

Being universal, the 3feet stand works with iPads, TouchPads, Playbooks, Xooms, iPhones, Nexus, Galaxies, Lumias, Nooks, Kindles… Pretty much anything that’s reasonably flat and you want to see. The 3feet can hold a device at three different angles.

Moving away from the gratuitous product placement, there’s now a wider range of basic colours (11) and the opportunity to have different colours for different parts of the stand. The stand is made from recycled plastic and it’s all made in the USA.

Available from good retailers for around $20.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine and Andy Smith of Geocaching World.

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