Can Microsoft be right about tablets and Apple, Amazon, and Google be wrong? | TechRepublic

Can Microsoft be right about tablets and Apple, Amazon, and Google be wrong? | TechRepublic.

Takeaway: If you haven’t realized it yet, Microsoft is trying to do something different in tablets. But, the strategy has three big question marks.

Microsofts Panos Panay shows off the Microsoft Surface tablet. Photo credit: Microsoft

Microsoft’s Panos Panay shows off the Microsoft Surface tablet. Photo credit: Microsoft

I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll repeat it. I don’t really like tablets.

I’ve carried all three iPads, several Galaxy Tabs, the Kindle Fire, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and the HP TouchPad. I always run into the same roadblocks. Almost every time I use a tablet I end up trying to do something like sharing a story to a social network or emailing a photo to someone and I get frustrated because it’s just a lot more efficient to do it on my laptop. Plus, on a laptop I can control the experience a lot better. For example, for social sharing I can shorten the URL with the service that I prefer so I can track analytics or I can quickly and accurately crop and edit the photo the way I want before sending it.

Microsoft thinks it’s got the tablet solution for people like me.

The software giant is building Windows 8 with a full-screen reading and app experience like the iPad (and its competitors) while also offering the ability to jump into a full desktop experience to do the kinds of things that I was just talking about.

I think it’s great that Microsoft is turning its attention to users like me, and naturally I believe there’s an opportunity there. But, there are three big questions marks.

1. How many people want a no-compromise tablet?

Microsoft either believes that current tablet owners would like to do a lot more with their tablets or that there are many more people out there who would buy a tablet if they could do more with it. Or both. Two years ago when Apple first released the iPad, I believed the same thing.

However, usage of the iPad has confirmed that a high percentage of people are mostly reading and viewing things and only occasionally have to do much typing, input, or creation. For these users, the fact that the iPad is so much more convenient and easier to use for viewing things than a laptop far outweighs the fact that it’s a lot less convenient for data input, content creation, and the kind of stuff I mentioned above. For most users, the iPad is good enough for most of the stuff they want to do and it’s a heckuva lot easier to operate than a PC.

Most of them aren’t ditching their computers altogether, but an increasing number of iPad users are spending more time on the tablet and less time on a computer. I think this is the mainstream and these numbers will accelerate in the years ahead. Heavy content creators like myself, programmers, and other kinds of specialists are likely to become the equivalent of CAD workstation users in the PC world. Remember when we all used to spend $2000 or more on a computer tower? Now, the CAD specialists are the only ones doing that.

2. Is Windows 8 doing it right?

In theory, Microsoft is going to offer the best of both worlds. Its ARM-based Windows 8 tablets (the ones running “Windows RT”) will cost a little less and will not run all of the Windows applications that currently run on Windows 7. Meanwhile, the full Windows 8 tablets will run on traditional x86 hardware and will boast the full desktop operating system embedded within the tablet experience.

There are going to be power users who like the idea of having more flexibility and capability in a tablet and the might love the x86 Windows 8 tablets. The challenge for Microsoft is that in trying to have it both ways, it is creating extra complexity that is going to confuse and frustrate a lot of regular users.

For example, instead of making its ARM-based tablets “Metro-only” and focusing on making them a great tablet experience that is separate from the desktop, Microsoft is still falling back on the crutch of the desktop environment for certain settings and utilities. Sure, that will be fine for power users on an x86 Surface tablet with a full keyboard and touchpad, but trying to fiddle with that stuff on a touch-only tablet is going to result in yelps and screams from average users.

While that full desktop environment on a tablet could be the killer feature for power users, it could also be the crutch that kills the Windows 8 tablet experience for everyone else.

3. Are Apple, Amazon, and Google wrong?

What Microsoft is doing in tablets is essentially a more refined version of its original stylus-based Tablet PC approach, adapted for a multitouch world. Microsoft still believes one machine can do it all and can excel at multiple experiences and multiple use cases. With Windows 8, it’s betting heavily on the convergence of tablets and laptops.

Meanwhile, the iPad has mostly been about addition by subtraction. It has purposely removed the complexity of a desktop operating system. Sure, it also threw out a bunch of capabilities along the way. That makes it a deal-breaker for people like me, but the majority of users are shrugging it off. They seem to barely notice or they consider it a reasonable trade-off for a machine that is easy to operate and offers instant-on, long battery life, minimal malware worries, and lots of cheap software.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s nascent Nexus 7 follow the same tablet model that Apple has established and both are seeing some success with it. While Microsoft is taking a few cues from that model — like the low-cost software app approach — overall, it is going in a different direction. It is sticking to its original tablet strategy from a decade ago by betting on a more powerful, multi-use device that harnesses all the power of a PC but just delivers it in more friendly and portable hardware.

Bottom line

Most people don’t need a tablet that can also act like a workstation. They just want a tablet that can perform really well as a tablet. Microsoft is building the CAD workstation of tablets. It could be awesome for the people who want that kind of thing and are willing to pay for it.

But, just as people no longer pay over $2000 for computers like the ones CAD workstation professionals use, it’s unlikely that the masses are going to pay $800 or more for a high-end tablet. And while many enterprise companies are going to like the ability to easily connect Windows 8 tablets to their backend Windows infrastructure, the higher price tag and the added complexity of using them could limit the number of users who will get a Windows 8 tablet from the IT department.

Now, if Microsoft changed course and went with a Metro-only, ARM-based Windows 8 tablet that cost less than $500 and could seamlessly connect to Active Directory and other backend Windows systems, then I believe a lot of enterprise businesses and individual business professionals would be interested. But, that’s not the product we’re going to see this fall.

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Microsoft’s big announcement: Loser + Loser = Winner? | VentureBeat

Microsoft’s big announcement: Loser + Loser = Winner? | VentureBeat.

TechCrunch is reporting insider information that the big and much-anticipated Microsoft announcement tomorrow is an e-reader and streaming media tablet produced in conjunction with Barnes & Noble. If that’s true — and that’s a big if — I’m more than a little shocked by the massive build-up and pre-launch tension-building secrecy.

One loser

Let’s be honest: Windows on a tablet is, at the moment, a loser. Currently, Windows is a tiny, insignificant slice of the tablet market. There’s hope in Redmond, and maybe even belief, that this will change soon, but no-one else is holding their breath.

In this chart from IDC three days ago, Windows is “other.” Get out your microscope.

A second loser

A second moment of honesty: Barnes & Noble is a loser. We all know its chief competitor — the one named after warrior women tough enough to saw off a boob so they could kill their enemies with greater efficiency. And yeah, Amazon is exactly that tough.

Amazon is worth almost a hundred billion dollars; Barnes & Noble under a billion. Amazon had over $50 billion in revenue in the last 12 months; Barnes & Noble just over seven. Amazon’s revenue per employee is triple Barnes & Noble’s … the list goes on. Wolfram Alpha tells the story:

One plus one (plus one)

I believe it was the indubitable Mr. Holmes who said that one plus one has never failed to equal two. Pairing an unpopular and as-yet-unproven operating system with a failing and marginal content partner is not exactly a recipe for success.

However, there is a wild-card: Xbox live streaming.

Microsoft has been adding content partners to Xbox streaming with increasing velocity, announcing 35 new ones in just the past month at E3, including Nickelodeon, NBA Game Time, NHL GameCenter, WatchESPN, and The Weather Channel. These additions, with all the other content partners announced previously, have led to plenty of speculation that Xbox could replace your cable or satellite TV provider.

Now you have something interesting.

If Microsoft’s play is indeed to create a new kind of tablet that can replace — perhaps better than iPad — your TV provider, watch out.

I guess we’ll see tomorrow.

Microsoft ‘to launch tablet to compete with iPad’ | Technology | The Guardian

Microsoft ‘to launch tablet to compete with iPad’ | Technology | The Guardian.

Event invitation to journalists leads to speculation that Microsoft plans to take on Apple’s dominance with own-brand tablet

Microsoft logos

Microsoft is expected to unveil a tablet running a new version of Windows. Photograph: Rick Wilking/Reuters

Microsoft appears to be preparing to launch an own-brand tablet running a new version of Windows in an effort to compete with Apple‘s iPad.

An invitation to an event in Los Angeles on Monday evening sent out by the software company late on Thursday – but lacking venue details – has sparked expectation that Steve Ballmer’s company is now ready to take on Apple’s dominance in the tablet market.

This would be a dramatic break from Microsoft’s usual moves in computer hardware, where it develops the software and licenses that to hardware makers to ensure the broadest possible market. But Microsoft has fallen behind Apple and Google in the fast growing tablet market – already one-eighth as large as the PC market and forecast to be 40% by 2016. The fastest growth in tablet sales is in western countries, where PC sales are slowing, reducing sales in the Windows division in four of the past six quarters. Windows 8, to be released this year, is designed to be used on a tablet as well as a desktop PC.

“If Microsoft wants to control the entire user experience and the entire quality of their products, they have to build their own hardware,” Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Redmond-based market research firm, told the Bloomberg news service.

The location of Monday’s event, near Hollywood, could indicate that Microsoft may announce a content deal using its new SmartGlass app, which bridges the gap between the TV and the smartphone or tablet. Other speculation is that the tablet will have access to an ebook store using Barnes & Noble’s technology, following a $300m deal made at the end of April.

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

The timing of the launch would also spike Google’s guns. The search giant is expected to unveil an own-brand tablet at its Input/Output event on 27 June although Microsoft’s forays into own-branded products have had mixed success. Microsoft has declined to comment. Its invitation says: “This will be a major Microsoft announcement – you will not want to miss it.”

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Microsoft buys Yammer for $1.2 billion – CBS News

Microsoft buys Yammer for $1.2 billion – CBS News.

Erik Sherman
(Credit: Erik Sherman)

(MoneyWatch) Microsoft (MSFT) has agreed to acquire enterprise social networking company Yammer for $1.2 billion, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The move extends Microsoft’s reach into corporate information technology and lets it compete more thoroughly against Google (GOOG) by bolstering its cloud computing offerings.

Yammer is one of a group of start-ups that has targeted so-called enterprise social networking, like a combination of Twitter and Facebook aimed at private use by companies. Such technology allows employees to keep abreast of each other’s activities, which should promote collaboration and innovation. The only company in this space with an even higher profile is Jive Software, which had $77.3 million in revenue during 2011 and a net loss of $50.8 million.

Yammer raised an $85 million round of funding last quarter, bringing its total to $142 million since 2009. That set an estimated valuation of $500 million to $600 million, so those recent investors will roughly double their money.

The company claimed 5 million corporate users in the first quarter of 2012 and penetration into more than 85 percent of the Fortune 500. Although the bulk of these users are unpaid, Yammer uses an interesting monetization model.

It allows people within a company to set up a private social network for free. But a company must pay for administrative control over employee use. By encouraging free use, Yammer hoped to create a grassroots movement in companies, build a dependency of usefulness, and eventually encourage revenue streams using a number of pricing models.

One of the company’s strategic strengths has been its decision to create an open application programming interface, or API. That allows others to create additional and extensions, like integration into SAP’s popular ERP software for running large organizations. In April it announcedintegration with Microsoft Dynamics, the software giant’s customer relationship management platform.

The acquisition adds some important capabilities to Microsoft’s software portfolio. The company already has a major collaboration platform in its SharePoint product, but many companies don’t make thorough use of it. Yammer gives Microsoft a way to build collaboration and communication and extend its reach. Microsoft could then add administrative and other features to its existing software packages.

Yammer also brings Microsoft some important competitive advantages in cloud computing. It could help extend the capabilities of the cloud versions of Microsoft Office and make its offerings more attractive to companies that otherwise might consider Google’s cloud applications and its Google+ social network.

The acquisition could help improve the lot of social network and Internet companies, which have felt a sting in the investment market since the problems of the Facebook (FB) IPO.

Daily Wrap: 5 Biggest Surprises of 2011 and More

Daily Wrap: 5 Biggest Surprises of 2011 and More.

1. Google Does Social: Google+

Back in January, nobody expected any company to challenge Facebook’s dominance of social networking. Next to Facebook’s All-American quarterback, MySpace was too flakey, Twitter too geeky and Apple too snobby. As for Google, when it came to social it was like the class nerd who kept asking girls out and getting rejected: Orkut, Buzz, Wave were just three of its (relative) failures. Google couldn’t get social right. So when people began to hear of the next Google attempt at social, something called Circles that ReadWriteWeb got the scoop on in March, the natural reaction was to dismiss it.

Yet when Google+ officially launched at the end of June, it surprised everyone by how good it was. The circles concept enabled people to easily group people, the video chat “hangouts” were a popular innovation, and Google+ integrated with other Google products extremely well. Most surprising of all? It got rapid uptake, climbing to over 40 million users within months. Google+ may not be the winning quarterback of social networking – that’s still Facebook – but it achieved the touchdown of the year on the Social Web.

2. Microsoft Does Touchscreen… on Desktops: Windows 8

Microsoft is not known for surprising people, but the latest version of its Windows operating system featured an unexpected development. Touchscreen would be integrated into the Windows UI. Windows 8, Microsoft announced in June, will be used across a wide range of computing devices – PCs, laptops, tablets and more. One OS for all of those devices. This runs counter to Apple’s philosophy, which has separate OS’s for its desktop / laptops (Mac OS X) and tablets / mobile phones (iOS).

Whether or not touchscreen on a desktop computer is actually a good idea remains to be seen. But it’s a brave move and – if it works – will show that the old dog Microsoft still has some tricks.

3. Facebook Does Beautiful Design: Timeline

Facebook showed this year that it too still has the capacity to change things up, with the September announcement of a radical new design for its profile page. The Timeline turns your profile from a status-focused Wall into a colorful chronology of your life.

It’s still being debated whether this move will please the majority of Facebook’s users. That’s because Timeline is not yet widely deployed, nearly 3 months after its developer release launch. It was made available in my home country of New Zealand last week, so we’ll soon find out if it delights Facebook users all around the world.

4. Amazon Does Tablets: Kindle Fire

Amazon had a strong 2011. It’s often now discussed as one of the “big 4” of Internet companies, along with Google, Apple and Facebook. In part that’s because of Amazon’s impressive track record of innovating new products: EC2 and the Kindle are two examples from recent years. This year Amazon surprised us again, with an entry into the tablet market currently dominated by the iPad. The Kindle Fire, announced late September, is smaller and costs less than half of what the iPad retails for. Already it’s proving popular, although not without some teething problems.

5. Björk Does Apps: Biophilia

Finally, here’s a wonderful example of how a smartphone or tablet app can take you by surprise and delight you. In August I reviewed the new album by Iceland’s greatest export, Björk. Billed as the world’s “first app album,” it’s an iPad and iPhone app featuring 10 songs. Each song is accompanied by an interactive app. The “mother” app is called Biophilia, which is the name of the album. That is available free on iTunes, but the ‘song’ apps then cost $1.99 each and are bought from within the main app. The first song, ‘Cosmogony,’ is included free.

In an age where musicians are having to find new ways to release their music and make money from it, Björk showed that apps are one way to adapt and thrive. Apps are also a lot of fun for music consumers.

Smartphones : bataille de titans au pied du sapin !

Smartphones : bataille de titans au pied du sapin !.



Qui du nouvel iPhone, du Galaxy Nexus, des futurs Nokia ou du Motorola sera le best-seller de ce Noël ? C’est la place de numéro un du marché qui se joue.

C’est une bataille de titans qui va se jouer au pied du sapin. À deux mois des fêtes de Noël, les lancements s’accélèrent dans la téléphonie mobile. Après l’iPhone 4S dévoilé par Applele 4 octobre, Motorola a présenté mardi son Droid Razr, quelques heures plus tard Samsung et Google ont exhibé le Galaxy Nexus. La semaine prochaine, c’est au tour de Nokia de lever le voile sur ses premiers smartphones équipés de Windows Phone, le logiciel de Microsoft. « Le marché est clairement plus encombré. Il y a deux, trois ans, il n’y avait qu’un téléphone incroyable, l’iPhone, aujourd’hui il y en a au moins quatre », observe Neil Mawston, du cabinet Strategy Analytics.

La place de leader des smartphones est en jeu : le finlandais l’a perdue au printemps après une décennie de règne, au profit d’Apple, qui l’a sans doute cédée à son tour à Samsung au troisième trimestre. Le sud-coréen a même sans doute détrôné Nokia comme numéro un du marché mobile dans son ensemble selon ABI Research.

Toutefois, rien n’est joué pour le crucial trimestre de fin d’année. Trois ans tout juste après la sortie du premier modèle sous Android, le G1, fabriqué par HTC, le système d’exploitation de Google est désormais prépondérant, avec plus de 43 % du marché. « Dans le camp Android, il y a trop de produits qui se bousculent sur le marché, ils vont finir par se concurrencer entre eux », observe Carolina Milanesi, du cabinet Gartner.

Présenté par Samsung comme son « produit stratégique pour la saison des fêtes », le Galaxy Nexus, que l’on peut « déverrouiller d’un sourire » grâce à la technologie de reconnaissance faciale, est le seul smartphone équipé de la toute dernière version d’Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, et risque de faire de l’ombre au Droid Razr, qui n’aura cette version que début 2012. « Les opérateurs vont choisir un produit mais pas trois ou quatre avec les mêmes caractéristiques », fait valoir l’experte de Gartner.

Motorola, dont l’acquisition par Google doit être finalisée d’ici fin 2011 ou début 2012, « n’aura droit à aucun traitement de faveur » et sera « piloté à distance respectable » a déclaré mercredi Andy Rubin, le responsable du mobile et d’Android chez Google, en marge de la présentation du Nexus. « C’est un message envoyé aux autres fabricants, Google aime promouvoir la concurrence au sein de l’écosystème Android », décrypte l’expert de Strategy Analytics.

Plus que la surenchère sur la taille de l’écran, la finesse, la vitesse ou le nombre d’applications, la différence risque de se faire sur le prix : celui de Nexus n’est pas connu, celui du Droid Razr en Europe non plus. Or « l’iPhone 4S et les anciens modèles aux prix abaissés mettent Apple en position de réaliser un trimestre monstre », estime Kevin Burden d’ABI Research. Plus de 4 millions d’iPhone 4S vendus en trois jours dans sept pays, cela relativise les 10 millions de Galaxy SII en cinq mois. Les analystes tablent sur 25 à 28 millions d’iPhone sur le dernier trimestre.

Le « come back »

« Ce sera une compétition très serrée au dernier trimestre, Apple et Samsung seront au coude à coude » prédit Neil Mawston. Mais quid de Nokia ? Le finlandais « se trouve à un tournant, il faut qu’il impressionne le marché avec ses Windows Phone. Il peut rebondir, il possède une marque connue et un bon système de distribution », considère cet expert. Même optimisme mesuré chez sa consoeur de Gartner « Nokia peut faire un vrai come-back car les opérateurs commencent à s’inquiéter de leur dépendance à Apple et à Google et perçoivent moins Microsoft WP7 comme une menace en termes d’écosystème ».

Windows Phone Marketplace now populated by 25,000 apps, speeding up rate of growth — Engadget

Windows Phone Marketplace now populated by 25,000 apps, speeding up rate of growth — Engadget.

It’s not just Apple’s App Store striding past milestones today, Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace has also rounded a notable marker in its development. Specifically, it’s now reported to have passed 25,000 apps by one site tracking comings and goings within it, though that figure’s up for debate as the other WP7 apps tracker still lists the total at just under 25k. The main point is that the WP7 ecosystem is growing, and faster than previously at that — it took until the end of March to accrue 11,500 apps, a span of five months from its launch, whereas the last 13.5k have come in the brisker period of three months. Provided this acceleration continues, and there’s no reason to expect it’ll slow down with Mango on the horizon, Microsoft’s mobile OS reboot promises to be in pretty competitive shape in time for its first anniversary — a notable feat considering how far behind WinMo had fallen. Perhaps RIM can use this as an instructive example?

[Steve Ballmer image courtesy of Reuters]