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On retrospective- Was Windows8 dead on arrival?

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on April 18, 2013

As Microsoft twiddled and twaddle Windows’ future of computing – Android has chugged ahead and going by the drop in PC shipments (the post PC era) and increase in the number of Android tablets and smartphones coupled with Windows8’s less than lukewarm acceptance – Microsoft has a problem. A big one. To complicate things, besides Windows 8.1, Cannonical (Ubuntu), Mozila (Firefox), Google (Android/Chrome) are also making bets in the shrinking PC/laptop space. Microsoft hasn’t really fired it in the tablet space – and is yet to find a toehold in 150 million/ $64 billion Tablet industry with the Surface!

When Windows8 was being conceived it was seen as “more like a living organism, made partly from familiar bits that have evolved over the last two decades, with several new strands of DNA tossed in”. A better and a continuous experience on multiple devices was key to the rise and spread of Windows8. It was due to be updated for more often, and was a part of a much larger hardware-apps-services ecosystem that is also changing quickly.” However, if one were to refer to the numbers – Windows8 usage has been Windows Vista when compared month to month. At similar points in their roll-outs, Vista had a desktop market share of 4.52% compared to Windows 8’s share of 2.67%. Underlining just how poorly Windows 8’s adoption has gone, Vista didn’t even have the advantage of holiday season sales to boost its numbers.

Vista versus Windows8
Windows 8 usage can’t even keep up with Vista/s poor numbers.

• Thus, on a retrospective count, Windows8 Metro (refreshingly new as it were) failed to cut the ice – possibly because it was too abrupt a jump from the Windows7 Desktop UI to a “want to be a touch interface”.
The interface was great for a tablet – but then again, Microsoft is way behind Android in terms of economies of scale – and the higher pricing served as significant entry barriers.
• Volumes not coming through, key OEMs such as Samsung dropped the RT platform.
• The $500-$1200 price tags on Windows8 made it uncompetitive in an economy that’s still not moving forward quickly.
• Microsoft also did not marry its traditional UI with the Metro UI successfully enough and the unfamiliarity was daunting.

Windows 8, and its relatives Windows Phone 8 and RT, make no impression at all in the smartphone and tablet markets.

All things put together, Microsoft doesnot seem to have moved any further with its Windows8. Microsoft is betting all its chips on the silly notion that Metro will be the one true interface for its entire PC and device line. But the numbers indicate that 8.0 hasnt really taken off. Alternatively it would have soured its relations with key OEMs who would see Microsoft’s ambitions in the device space as a threat to their own positions. Alternate OSs vieing for Microsoft’s 3rd spot in the OSs for the future is also seeing a lot of action and churn.Going back the Windows7 route is out of question – one only hopes that Microsoft is able to crack the business and user case with Windows 8.1.(Else it’s the doldrums.

Has Nokia staged its comeback?

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on September 8, 2012

Continued from an earlier post

The Nokia Lumia has a lot of small details .From a device perspective, the key is that  lots of these small details add up to a holistic experience that creates aspiration. However, what ultimately sells is a collection of details properly integrated into a whole experience which needs a complete end to end eco-system integration. That could be a concern for Nokia given the Amazon and Apple strategies of putting their eco-systems as points of differentiation as against just the devices.

Being from the Nokia stable, there is little doubt these devices will stand out from the crowd in terms of hardware which will help the extra delta at retail.  A quick look at whats in offer from Nokia –

The Nokia City lens Augmented reality app

  1. Nokia Maps is  refreshed to include an add-on functionality is that of Offline availability. This is not the usual cached units, but a true offline feature which is important for data conservation. To top it, it has free turn by turn voice navigation.
  2. Nokia Maps also gets augmented reality.  The Nokia City Lens is pretty slick in delivering augmented reality in what’s useful and not just a gimmicky manner. In scheme of things of  Nokia’s business as a whole, Maps will be a big revenue driver going forward on top of a differentiator on their devices and City lens can be an important enabler in terms of the AR browser to provide a simple, fluid and intuitive experience to the user . Nokia location platform is now a core part of the WP8 platform
  3. The new Lumia range will support NFC with the only drawback that it connects only to other Windows devices. NFC plays music by placing it on the speakers.
  4. Glove dial is another good to have app which allows the capacitive screen to respond to touch by elements other than the human hands – for instance gloves.
  5. A first in the industry which was supposed to be Apple’s thunder is stolen by Nokia as it premiers the Wireless charging across the board. This is actually a new meaning to the term – Power Nap and the wireless charging keeps the battery topped off. Nokia has partnered the Fatboy recharge pillow such that the phone left on this recharging pad will top up the battery charge. Interestingly enough, even before its launch, Nokia has eco-system partnerships to promote its wireless charging feature through Virgin in its Heathrow Airport lounge, and Coffee Bean on its countertops using the wireless power consortium standard
  6. There is also an awful lot that has been integrated into the camera space
    1. Pure view on the new range of Lumia phones is more than a Megapixel count. SO there’s no point in getting misled by a 8MP count on the camera. The Pure View captures between 5-10x the light of any other camera in a phone and easily surpasses image stabilization of most DSLRs. The Floating lens technology used is used to stabilize the lens for HD video stabilization as well.
    2. Cinemagraph which essentially adds a video experience on a still photo. A hybrid between the still and video – it also allows frames customization.
    3. The Smart Shoot feature allows to get rid of unwanted parts of an image automatically.
    4. Nokia integrates the Photosynth augmented reality app too create a hyperlink navigated real time picture of the world indexed by photographs in the web. Photosynth takes a large collection of photos of a place or object, analyzes them for similarities, and displays them in a reconstructed 3-Dimensional space. Now that once done is a WOW!

The Microsoft Photosynth feature

The Nokia Cinemagraph feature

The Nokia fatboy Recharge pillow

The message through the launch event of Lumia is loud and clear -Nokia ecosystem is growing and Nokia has a direction. Music, Navigation and Imaging are the Nokia mantras – as Nokia delves deep into the consumer psyche of why and how the phones are used. While the absence of a launch date and pricing are huge dampeners, the new direction that the Nokia-Windows partnership is taking is pretty interesting.

The only problem remains is that Apple’ event scheduled for 12th September may  see an immediate launch – and the absence of Nokia for the next 2 months will mean that the iPhone5 will take all the shelf space, operator space and consumer space – leaving Nokia out to fight its way back. But so far – it’s a new direction for Nokia and personally I am glad that Nokia-Windows seems to be putting a spirited comeback. The only silent fellow in this interim is Android which seems to be fast fading and loosing its colors.

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Microsoft restricting its Windows RT device partners.

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on July 25, 2012

As against Android which has gone all out, Microsoft is reportedly pursuing the policy of “Less is more”. Microsoft is making a concerted effort to keep the Windows RT tablet market as uncrowded as possible and is forcing NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to each choose only two OEM partners that will be allowed to develop Windows RT tablets at the launch of the new OS in October.

Lenovo and Asus are NVIDIA’s picks, Qualcomm opted for Samsung and HP while TI nabbed Toshiba. These five vendors will be producing ARM-based Windows RT tablets from October and come January, Microsoft lift the licensing restrictions on the operating system.

The interesting question and the notable omission in this list is Nokia. Now, wasn’t Nokia the blue –eyed boy for the Microsoft tablet? Or are we missing something?

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Will Microsoft’s fragmentation take Nokia down?

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on June 22, 2012

Even while Windows8 has just been announced, the spectre of platform fragmentation is turning out to be a real bogey for the bealeagured Nokia.

 Nokia shares plunged 18 percent this June after forecasting a wider second-quarter operating loss from handsets and 10,000 job cuts. After wiping out about $100 billion in market value, Espoo, Finland- based Nokia trades at a 38 percent discount to its net assets, the least expensive on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg dating back to 1995.

Reeling under the impact of business slowdown, loss of market share both in smartphone as well as low and mid range, Nokia had pinned all its hopes on the Windows platform as a differentiator and a saviour. However, if the Windows8 is any indication Microsoft doesnot really accord as faith and importance to Nokia as much as Nokia would have really liked it. The Windows8 will be released with 4 OEMs – Samsung, Nokia, HTC and Huawei. Thats not much comforting for Nokia having to vie with an in-form Samsung .

6 months back, the Lumia 900 was considered the exemplar of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Phone. However, the saviour of Nokia smartphones was not quite the messiah it was touted to be.  As a result of poorly planned platform migration, Microsoft Windows8 would not be available to Lumia 900 owners. Eevn while Nokia sold two million Lumia handsets in the first quarter of 2012 but the company’s top device has essentially been rendered out of date within a year.

This can be looked at from two ways – Microsoft’s platform fragmentation and its inability to bridge the Windows7.5 and Windows8 platforms can leave a lot of the early OEMs high and dry. Worse with the hype and hoopla around Windows8, sales of the Windows7.5 devices are effectively going to stall for a while. The OEMs will be under pressure to undercut prices for distress sales. Thats not great for the bottomline of Nokia which has increasingly been loosing faith with the markets. (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P have already cut down Nokia’s credit rating to Junk).

Secondly, while, Elop’s strategy of jumping of the Symbian “burning platform” was good forbearance, its deserting of Meego and “dont even touch it” stance with Android have really not worked for Elop. Possibly a risk diversification would have helped especially with the Meego platform.

So while Windows fragments, Nokia’s primal fear is to stay afloat in an environment which evolves from Windows7.5 to Windows8 on cash reserves which aren’t comforting really. Will Nokia see the end of 2012? 60-40 it wont.

Why Samsung’s Device strategy will not be a sustainable one in the long hop?

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on June 20, 2012

Samsung has been on the ball with the rise of Smartphones globally. The SIII  pre-ordered 9 million units and Samsung stands pretty much ahead of the competition with Apple some space behind it. However does Samsung have firm ground under its feet as far as Smartphones is concerned? In my view the Smartphone success story for Samsung is very device led and is not very sustainable in the long run. The following are the reasons of my belief

  1.  In fact, Samsung’s superiority in this space stems from its competency across screens – LCD, LED,OLED, AMOLED, Flexible OLED, Super AMOLED.  It essentially leverages its strength in TVs to the mobile screen. True the Galaxy S series phones are possibly the first super phones, but is Samsung missing the consumer and the usage bit? Sample this – Samsung has an astonishing range of devices from 1.4” screens to 11” screens. In Tablets, Samsung has 7”, 7.7”, 8.9” and 10.1” screens for Android and will soon come out with a 11” screen for Windows8. The many screen tablet strategy serves to only confuse the consumer in lieu of greater choice. Most importantly, there is no underlying proposition that  Samsung over-archingly provides across its high end devices except perhaps a large screen migration from one device to other. 
  2. Apple on the other hand has 2 devices each in smartphones and tablets and while it competes on the hardware, it also leverages the app eco-system, the voice recognition technology, the iCloud, iTunes store and a seamless transition (between iPad, iPhone, iTV, iTunes) to build the customer story. That to me is a base which can be used to Apple’s advantage in providing a consistently great experience across all screens and keep building on it. Samsung’s range is made of individually great devices, but no commonality underneath the surface.
  3. Samsung is also on divided stakes on Android, Windows8, Bada OS and Intel powered Tizen. That is good in as far as de-risking perspective. However, Samsung is being dependent on atleast 3 app eco-systems which is a challenge as far as a consistent consumer experience is concerned on Samsung per se.
  4. Samsung would obviously ride on the Android/Windows cloud and the other properties of diverse platforms but there is no singular property which would provide the consistent Samsung experience across the range of devices (Smartphones, Tablets, Laptops, TVs). Compare this with Apple where the iCloud and the iOS form the bedrock of a great consumer experience.
  5. While I personally fancy the 5 inch Galaxy Note for the handwriting feature, what amuses me is that Samsung has not really taken this feature across its other smartphones and tablets.
  6. As the device space becomes increasingly competitive – (remember how HTC One is snapping at Samsung’s edge), the above mentioned factors provide donot quite provide a platform for Samsung for an all encompassing media and mobility experience.
  7. Stickiness and great experience are key to building profitability and that is one area where Samsung shall always lag Apple – in terms of generating profits inspite of a great portfolio of devices.
  8. Even while Sony is itself bleeding from a thousand cuts, it has a few interesting properties around media and entertainment (Sony Entertainment, Sony BMG, Playstation).  Amazon has a firm media selling competency in terms of books, videos, music. Apple is the best itegrator of online and mobility experiences. These are larger customer propositions than just the device. Samsung rides on the device strengths which are at best competitive but not compelling.

Love to hear your views about my belief – that Samsung will never really open up a large lead (assuming it is able to maintain a lead over Apple)

The end of Windows Start Button era!

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on February 7, 2012

Goodbye Start button!

The bottom left corner of the Microsoft machines have for 17 years housed the Start button : The console of the modern Microsoft computing machines. Microsoft first used the Start button in Windows 95, when it reportedly paid the Rolling Stones millions for the rights to the band’s song “Start Me Up” to use at the launch and in subsequent commercials. Windows 95 debuted in August 1995, and was marked by a dramatic overhaul of Windows 3.1’s user interface.

With Windows8, Microsoft is discarding the start button in favour of a “Hotspot” area in the corner that when touched or clicked switches between the traditional desktop and the new Metro-style Start display. When that invisible hotspot is touched or clicked, the interface switches from desktop to Metro, or vice versa.

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Has Microsoft lost out on its Tablet opportunity? (Part II)

Posted in Industry updates, Mobile Computing, Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on December 16, 2011

Continued from an earlier post

In the earlier post i have examined 2 reasons why Microsoft’s bet on its legacy enterprise solutions is not a surefire formula to success in next generation computing devices. In this post, we examine the other 2 reasons: Applications and Pricing as two other deterents to the success of Microsft in Tablet space.

The mastery in Apps…
Windows 8 is the Microsoft’s most important bet ever. However, Windows 8 is only a tablet on the surface — there’s no guarantee that app makers will jump on board to create great touch-enabled apps as they have for the iPad.
Microsoft has pushed its own proprietary developer platforms like .NET and Silverlight. The main programming environment for the Tablet UI — is going to be HTML5 and JavaScript. This is a conflict situation around Windows 8 which Microsoft needs to clarify for the developers to think, plan and work with the platform.

Android and Apple have moved in on application development, and even enterprise use, areas where Microsoft with its cadre of developers should have been reigning supreme.

The Pricing Conundrum
The upcoming tablets running Windows 8 are being squeezed between low-cost tablets from Amazon and the $500 iPad with its well-established ecosystem.

On the low end, Amazon and Barnes & Noble can sell tablets as a loss-leader that get users to buy more digital content. Microsoft can’t compete there because it simply sells the operating system and its hardware partners won’t be willing to match Amazon’s price because they have no services on which to make money.

Microsoft’s fee for Windows 8 tablet version will be $30+. If that is true, right off the bat, the bill of materials costs of Windows 8 tablets will most likely force prices much higher than today’s low-end iPad. If Apple starts lowering its prices in 2013, as I suspect it will, Windows 8 tablets would be at premium pricing. Microsoft’s PC partners simply might not be able to make the kind of tablet hardware that captures users’ attentions and wallets as the iPad has done.

Summarizing the scenario… slow development and delivery schedule isn’t Microsoft’s only problem- iPad’s move into office productivity, consumer interest in Android tablets, pricing of the tablets (at least versus Android) and the level of OEM support for Windows tablets may be affecting consumer interest.

Has Microsoft lost out on its Tablet opportunity? (Part I)

Posted in Industry updates, Mobile Computing, Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on December 14, 2011

In Q1 of this year, when Forrester asked consumers considering buying a tablet which operating system they would prefer on the device, 46 percent said Microsoft/Windows. Now that number has now dropped to 25% — a decline Forrester said should be “alarming to Microsoft.”

Windows 8 tablets are expected to come to market starting in the fall of 2012.However, I would believe that Microsoft is taking too long to bring its Windows8 tablet, a true iPad competitor to market. While it is widely believed that technology, interface and devices would be a three horse race, Forrester believes that Microsoft may have missed the peak of consumer desire for a product they haven’t yet released. Microsoft hasnot quite been a fast follower. It is at best the 5th mover after iPad, Android, HP WebOS and Blackberry Playbook. While Windows’ product strategists can learn from these products, other players have come a long way in executing and refining their products — Apple, Samsung, and others have already launched second-generation products and will likely be into their third generation by the time Windows 8 launches.

At the high end, by the time Windows 8 tablets come out in late 2012, the iPad will have been on the market for more than 2 years, and will have an enormous head start in terms of apps and hardware peripherals. Also, in air are rumours that Apple iPad is readying a 7” tablet at significantly lower proces which would be instrumental in taking the battle to low end Amazon tablets of the world.

The ace that is not to be…
I had blogged sometime back about how Microsoft could move in through a differentiation perspective from iPads and Android tablets by focusing more on office productivity and gaming. However, Microsoft might be overestimating that business users would prefer the ability to run legacy apps (especially Microsoft Office) and that would in turn would provide traction. Condequently, Microsoft tried to get their sales force to emphasize the enterprise shortcomings (like lack of security) of the iPad when selling against it. Windows 7 wasn’t a touch-centric operating system and Windows tablets to date have been pricey, heavy and lacking good battery life.

..And Why the Office wont work
Microsoft had tablets for many, many years. And Microsoft Office had always run on them. Office has been available on Microsoft tablets for almost a decade, and it didn’t help those tablets sell .That was not a selling case for tablets (The experience factor). Plus, it’s not even clear that the next version of Office will be fully revamped for touch. Thus, Microsoft and its partners won’t have time to redesign Office for a superlative touch based experience and other applications to work with the new Windows 8 interface. So customers will see tablets with a great touch interface on top and garbage underneath.

As Robert Scobble puts it, “It (Windows) (would) really look beautiful on top, but you (user) start touching it and go deeper and it looks crap inside.”

to be concluded

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