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Want Me To Read Your Technology Blog? Make It Apocalyptic

The title of this piece must seem a bit disingenuous. What could the end of the world have to do with tech news? Nothing really. But apocalypse does. Let me explain: In modern literary theory apocalypse is about much more than flaming cities and collapsing continents. Apocalypse is an end, any end, that can serve as a metaphor for broader collapse or human fragility. The fall of humanity in I Am Legend is certainly apocalyptic, but so is the implosion of RJR Nabisco chronicled in Barbarians At The Gate. One story is fiction, the other non-fiction; both record an apocalypse. Apocalyptic writing can be depressive, pensive, tragic, or some strange, melancholic blend of the three. It pays attention to the ends and the beginnings within them.

An apocalyptic writer is especially powerful in the technology space, where the constant push forward leaves behind it the scattered graves of forgotten standards and battlefields full of failed gizmos. Great tech bloggers need  to be cognizant of the apocalypses—both small and large—that litter the newscape. They pay attention to the end, not just the beginning. It’s easy in consumer news to focus on the fresh, newborn products.  Companies are eager to highlight their take on the next big thing or the latest fad. They make keeping track of the new a breeze—enthusiastic press releases and “leaks” are tossed out into the tech blog echo chamber for easy consumption by readers who care about nothing but what’s coming up. A constant barrage of positive information creates a narrative of forward motion that makes it difficult to step out of the moment and place what is current in a broader context, to see what is as the product of what has been. But for writers who can step out of the moment the rewards are immense. Looking at the negative as well the positive, the old as well as the new, provides the opportunity  for unique introspection and analysis that pinpoint where a product line’s future lies.

When J. Allard left Microsoft it was the end of an era, and justly reported as such. But no technology site, at least not one that I could find, provided an in depth analysis of what era exactly was coming to an end. If they had, the recent resurgence of a more focused, ambitious Microsoft would have been anticipated by more pundits than it was. J. Allard was a brilliant man, but his presence at Microsoft was one tinged by discord. Yes, the Xbox was the brain child of Allard – but so was the Zune, the Kin, and the never released Courier. Allard was not a Microsoft executive who appreciated Microsoft’s strengths. Unlike Ballmer or even Steven Sinofsky, he did not want to craft (very profitable) multiple vendor software solutions to technology problems. Instead, he wanted to create a company known for Apple style hardware and software integration. He wanted hardware he could shape with his own two hands, not software he had to trust to OEMs. His time at Microsoft brought with it some astonishing wins, almost all of them in the form of the Xbox 360 and it’s associated services, but their impact was mitigated by the discordant messages Microsoft kept sending out. On the one hand Microsoft was the preeminent enabler of third-party vendors, on the other they sought to do everything themselves. Allard’s exit signalled an end to Microsoft’s schizophrenic expansion of first party hardware paired to exclusive software and a return to the ethos of old. Since then, Microsoft has been a company with a vision; a vision named Metro. Microsoft’s decision to take their best product – the design of Windows Phone 7 – to it’s entire consumer product line was not entirely new (anyone out there remember Windows Everywhere?) but the quality of execution was. Had the removal of James Allard been treated as an external indication of the destruction of a dissenting corporate faction, a beneficial internal apocalypse, critical analysis of what was going on could have dramatically changed coverage of the event.

A similar approach can be applied to an analysis of Research In Motion. The company’s performance has been utterly abysmal. They lost high level executives, including their two co-CEO’s, and failed to field an inspiring product for years. But what’s most interesting about the story surrounding RIM is not what is, but what isn’t. Healthy high-tech companies constantly discard crusty old products. A steady apocalypse of the old makes way for the new. Even Nokia at it’s worst recognized the need to break with the past—before Windows Phone, MeeGO would have been the instrument of destruction, the executioner responsible for killing off Symbian. RIM, on the other hand, has shown itself to be a company terrified of death. All of its efforts have been about maintaining a continuity with a storied, almost mythical, ancestry. Legacy designs running legacy software targeting legacy users are the norm, as is an addiction to marketing features that are no longer relevant. In a world where most of our data is stored in the cloud, and on-device information can be wiped remotely, security is not as important as unbridled functionality. In a world with mobile Skype and Google Talk, the average user, even the average enterprise user, could not care less about Blackberry Messenger. BlackBerry OS 10, the ephemeral QNX-powered savior of keyboarded phones, is not immune from the institutionalized fear of taking corporate assets to a well deserved grave. The name is still BlackBerry, even though the brand has been trashed by years of standing still. Icons and graphical elements are largely drawn from the BlackBerry operating system of old, and RIM executives lavish the same praises on their new operating system they used to heap upon their old operating system. There is little in the operating system to appeal to users of other platforms, just a vain attempt to hold on to existing market share. The PlayBook, RIM’s first device to rely on QNX, famously shipped without email or calendar clients. Why? Stupidity had to have played a role, but part of the reason has to be that Research in Motion was simply terrified of cannibalizing phone sales, of risking mobile phone revenue.

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In the Battle Between Giants, is There Room for a Titan?


Article first published as In the Battle Between Giants, is There Room for a Titan? on Technorati.

Last week, Microsoft released a web app for Android and iOS (which can be found here), allowing users to test a limited version of Windows Phone 7 on their devices; It was very intriguing to say the least. This was another part of Microsoft’s recent push to bring users onto their platform, following a free $25 gift card (U.S. only) with the purchase a Windows Phone. But with Android dominating the smartphone space, and Apple holding an 84 percent retention rate, is there any way Microsoft can do what it hopes, and surpass one of them? I think so, and there may be a correlation between this and the browser war.

Since 2006, two players have dominated the browser battle; Internet Explorer and Firefox, Android and iOS in this scenario. Then came Chrome, which has quickly grabbed market share since its launch in 2008, surpassing Firefox in November. Windows Phone has the potential to be Chrome-like player in the near future.

Most people would agree that WP7 is, at the least, aesthetically pleasing, but the interface is so different from what we are used to, many do not know if it is practical. You can have all the integration with Microsoft Office and the Xbox 360 you want, but if the device is too complicated, it will not gain enough traction to be a long-term success. The web app can help alleviate some of these worries.
As an iPhone and Android (I prefer the iPhone), The web application was a pleasant surprise when I heard about it last week. The first thing that caught my eye was the integration. On WP7, contacts social outlets are brought together, seamlessly combining text, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn updates in one place. (A full breakdown of WP7 features can be found on Engadget)

While the interface is elegant, and there are enviable features if you are a smartphone owner on another platform, the main challenge for Microsoft to grow its platform is the lack of similarity. People don’t like change, especially when it comes to their phones. Windows Phone is an immense departure from the squared app and widgets that Android, iPhone, and even Blackberry users are accustomed to. This air of unfamiliarity may change in the near future.

The design inspiration for WP7 comes from Microsoft’s Metro UI, which some of you may remember from Windows Media Center, will be well-known after Windows 8 is released at the end of 2012. You can bet that there will be integration between Windows Phone and Windows 8, and probably with the next iteration of the Xbox. Microsoft is pushing for a Mac/iPhone or Google Products/Android synergy, on a much broader scale. With so many PCs, they may have a chance.

After using a Windows Phone for a few days (HTC Radar 4G), my interest has been piqued. the interface is productive and easy to use once you get the hang of it (much like Android). But as much as I enjoyed my time with the device, I still can’t see myself switching from iOS. With Android, I don’t have as much invested into the OS as I do with the iPhone, which would make a switch from Google to Microsoft a possibility. A count totaled $94 for iOS apps compared to $35 for Android, which is more in line with the free $25 gift card that comes with the WP7 device.

I believe that Windows Phone can be that third player, but I don’t know how they will get there. Will the security risks with Android that will drive users to Windows Phone, or will it be enterprise users? Will Microsoft do what I called for them to do months ago and buy RIM, bringing its market share with them, or will Nokia get them over the hill? It seems the best bet would be to focus on the 60% of cellphone users that don’t own a smartphone.

As more and more people purchase smartphones over the next few years, Microsoft will be in prime position to take advantage of it. You would be hard pressed to find a Mac owner that doesn’t own a smartphone, which would leave Windows as the OS of choice for dumb phone users. The tiles interface will become familiar, and integration is always a selling point. Microsoft will have it’s chance, but will it take it, or will Google and Apple fend them off? Hopefully, Windows Phone will prevail to rival the dominance that is Android and iOS.

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Microsoft’s resurgence to prominence

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

The last two months in the tech world have been abnormal to say the least. Steve Jobs resigned, Google bought Motorola, Microsoft showed off Windows 8 and now uses ARM, Google now uses Intel, the AT&T and T-Mobile merger is on the brink of falling apart, HP stopped making mobile products after spending over $1 Billion dollars last year to start making mobile products, and Microsoft took a page out of 2013 in the Apple product roadmap, announcing an OS that works on desktops and tablets. Out of all these stories, Windows 8 may indirectly have the most impact over the next 5 years. Read on for more.

Remember those analysts who said Windows Phone will surpass Android by 2015, and everyone said they were crazy? They may be right. This may have been the smartest move made by Microsoft since putting Office on a Mac. It may have been designed this way, or not, but Microsoft just threw a big wrench in Apple and Google’s product roadmap. It may even cause delays for the giants. Let’s start with Apple.

Apple has been moving toward one OS since the release of the iPhone. With the release of OS X Lion, and every new iteration of iOS, we see bits and pieces of a coordinated attempt to bring users into one OS. With Lion, it became pretty clear that Apple would like a touch-based OS to run on all of its devices. This dream may have been pushed back.

Apple has been taking the slow and steady approach, with every release adding new features to OS X that closely resemble or mimic iOS designs and capabilities. Many believe that the merger would happen in 2013, with iOS 7 and OS Cougar, or whatever feline they decide to name it after. But that would mean that Microsoft, with over two years of developer input would have a substantial head start in the game. Not that Apple cares — but as they saw with Final Cut — professionals that use Macs will need time to get used to it, time that Apple doesn’t like to give out. Professional users, which make up a large majority of Mac users, like stability, and stability takes time. Whenever the developer version gets released — a few months before the full product launch as usual — Apple will have to have something substantial that Windows 8 doesn’t already carry (yes, it’s that impressive) for the hundreds of millions of users that it is sure to have. Apple will surely meet that criteria, but Apple likes to release features over time, as we have seen with the iPhone (copy & paste, Wi-Fi syncing, etc.). Maybe, for the first time this will change. Apple usually takes a good idea and drastically improves on it, when it can, while making it easier to use. With the early glimpses of Windows 8, drastic improvements may be necessary to maintain its dominance.

Android may be in more trouble than anyone. With developers not making as much money on Android as iOS, horrible tablet sales, and the widespread forking of the OS by Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  and a host of Chinese companies, Google may have to rethink its open source policy for future OS releases. Windows Phone provides an economically sound alternative to developers instead of Android. Windows 8 blows Honeycomb tablets out of the water, and it’s on a device that it wasn’t made for. Users like simplicity and compatibility; Windows 8 provides both. Microsoft may have accomplished something that only Apple has been able to do so far; bring in people who would have never used a tablet, to purchase their device. When you can tell people that using your tablet is the same as using their computer at home, you have some serious potential.

Apple and Google may have been taken aback by the quality and design of Windows 8, but rest assured they will respond accordingly. Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich will be released in the next few months, with a promise to unite the tablet and phone OS. iOS 5 includes most major features that Android fanboys and jailbreakers have been clamoring for, plus new features like iCloud and a reported Nuance-powered voice command system. But Microsoft has done some astounding work. Maybe HP knew something we didn’t. Microsoft will release Windows 8 in late 2012, with an App Store, à la Apple, with over a year’s worth of developer input. Apple and Google’s Mobile OS will have many improvements by then, but the race will be on. A couple of months ago I wrote an article, stating RIM and Microsoft needed each other to become the third power in the mobile world. Microsoft doesn’t need anyone. They have done it all by themselves.

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Microsoft and RIM: The merger that would create the third power

With Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 still lagging far behind the behemoths that are Android and iOS, and HP releasing its new WebOS devices, including the TouchPad, the best tablet available outside of the iPad, and their soon-to-be released Pre 3, something must change. And that change should be Microsoft merging with Research in Motion.

WP7 has not caught on as Microsoft may have expected. According to the recent ComScore numbers, from February to May, Microsoft lost a 1.9 percent share of the smartphone market.  In a time where their market share should be increasing, seeing as WP7 was launched in October 2010. The handset manufacturers were there, including, Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell, but the sales were not. Some of the major complaints weren’t about the handsets per say, but about the lack of developers and a lack of features basic to modern OS’s like copy & paste, a unified inbox and multitasking(not just for their native apps). And yes, these problems will be addressed in the upcoming fall release of Mango, but with most customers tied down in two-year contracts, and major releases expected from HP (Pre 3), Apple (iPhone-whatever they decide to call it), and Android (Google’s new button-less ice cream sandwich monster), it’s not looking to good for Redmond.

RIM is a complete mess. Blackberry lost 4.2 percent of their market share in three months. Their software development is going two different ways, with their QNX software years away from being ready for their handsets, and Blackberry OS barely hanging on to their enterprise and teen texting empire, which is crumbling under Apple’s security and superior touch screen, which is the best capacitive-touch typing available, not to mention their co-CEO debacle, as Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie try to stop their investors from leaving, while both of their jobs are being called for. But alas, there is still hope.

A merger between Microsoft and RIM would bring benefits for both sides. Despite their pitfalls as of late, RIM still owns a 24.7 percent share of the smartphone market place. Combine that with Microsoft’s 5.8 percent share, and you now own nearly a third of the smartphone game. Microsoft lacks features that Blackberry has had in place for years. RIM has the end users that Microsoft desires greatly, along with their remaining enterprise clients, who use Microsoft Office in droves. The teen texting empire of RIM would appreciate the social integration of WP7 with their blackberry handset, as blackberry is not known for its social prowess. Combine enterprise users with full Microsoft office capabilities from their handsets and tablets, a social teen texting empire, and a 30 percent market share, we now have the third power.