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If You Want to Back a Winner, Get the New Kindle Fire

Image Credit: The Verge

Today’s Kindle announcements made one thing clear: if any Android tablet manufacturer is going to hold their own against Apple’s iPad or the flood of upcoming Windows slates, it’s Amazon.

It’s weird to type that, because what Amazon announced today wasn’t that impressive. The new Kindle Fire and Fire HD look a hell of a lot nicer than Amazon’s first tablet, but they’re still not up to the build quality of an iPad or a Transformer. The software isn’t that good, app selection is mediocre, and the core carousel interface isn’t exactly inspired. The screen is good, but Apple and others have better. The price beats the competition, but it won’t stay that way for long; Asus’ and Samsung’s prices are a hairs breadth away from Amazon’s, and what’s to stop them from shaving another seventy-five bucks off come Christmastime?

No, Amazon has the edge because they have something no one else in the Android ecosystem, not even Google, has—focus. They don’t just want the Fire and the Fire HD to succeed; they need it to. Amazon is a massive conglomerate, the Internet’s 1990’s Microsoft. They sell server space, shoes, books, IMDB subscriptions, free shipping, and local daily deals. They run a Netflix competitor and an iTunes Match clone. They knocked off Dropbox and bought Audible. You name it, they probably do it, or will do it, or have done it. Like Google, they try everything once and most things twice.

But unlike Google, Amazon has decided to put everything together in one product. IMDB, the bastard stepchild Amazon bought for a lark? It’s now powering contextual trivia searches in your movies.  Audible audiobooks? Amazon will read them to you while you look at your e-ink copy. All of those media services everyone forgets come with their Prime subscription? It’s all at your fingertips on the brand new Kindle Fire. The original Kindle Fire was a portal to Amazon content, just like the Kindle was a portal to Amazon’s books. Sure, it was integrated with all of Amazon’s other stuff, but just because that’s how Amazon justified selling hardware at a loss. The Kindle Fire then didn’t feel like the future of Amazon; it felt like the future of the Kindle, one small part of Amazon, an unfocused web giant.

With the new Fire, things feel different. It feels like Amazon is making the Fire line the priority of the entire company, not just the content departments. Any service they have, no matter how unrelated it might seem, is going to find its way into Amazon’s tablet line up. Bezos has made selling the new Kindle Fire the priority of his entire company. And you know what? What Bezos wants, Bezos gets. Early Amazon succeeded because Bezos focused the entire company on books. He wanted to transform a single industry, and he did. Since then, Amazon has stretched out, grown, gotten bigger. But in the process, it’s gotten slower, messier. It was starting to lose its focus and its edge. Now, things are changing. There’s a goal line, a plan, and a flagship product everybody has to get behind. The Amazon that is is becoming more like the Amazon that was. And the Amazon of the old, the ruthless bookseller that drove everybody out of business? That’s not a company I would bet against.

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Microsoft Unveils Surface, A New Breed of Tablet

Microsoft has unveiled its newest family of tablet PC’s, called Surface. The team at Redmond has developed two variations of the new tablet — an ARM version running Windows RT — Microsoft’s tablet version of Windows 8 — and an Intel-based version with the full version of Windows 8 Pro. Both tablets come with a 10.6″ ClearType HD Display with a 16:9 aspect ratio, and are cased in VaporMg, an all-magnesium material that Microsoft uses, enabling the tablets to come with a built-in kickstand.

The tablets come with Touch Cover, a 3mm thick cover that comes with a multi-touch keyboard and trackpad. The Touch Cover, which connects magnetically, uses pressure-sensitive technology, which, according to Microsoft, “senses keystrokes as gestures,” which will allow for a faster typing experience. Microsoft also unveiled the Type Cover, a variation of the Touch Cover that comes with physical click-keys, instead of multi-touch.

Gorilla Glass 2 is present on both variations of the tablet, along with 2×2 MIMO antennae, which provides what may be the best Wi-Fi available on a tablet. Microsoft’s President of Windows Division Steven Sinofsky stated that the tablets will come with a custom-built version Netflix for Windows 8.

Surface for Windows RT

The ARM-based Windows RT variation comes in at 9.3mm thick, and weighs 676g. A full sized USB 2.0 port is present on the device, along with an SD card slot, Micro HD video, and the previously mentioned 2×2 MIMO antennae. Office 15′ will also be available for the tablet. Surface for Windows RT will be available in 32GB or 64GB configurations.

Surface for Windows 8 Pro

The Intel-based version of Surface comes with Windows 8 Pro, for a full Windows experience. With that experience comes a larger casing, coming in at 13.5mm thick and 903g. The Windows 8 Pro version does come with pen input, and a larger battery, which weighs in at 42.5 W-h, compared to the RT’s 31.5 W-h. Micro SDXC slot, MiniDisplay port, and USB 3.0 come with the Windows 8 Pro version, along with 64GB and 128GB configuration.

Microsoft has stated that pricing will not be available until it the tablets are “closer to availability,” but Redmond did say pricing will be competitive with ” a compareable ARM or Intel-Ultrabook-class PC.”

Press Release:

LOS ANGELES — June 18, 2012 — Today at an event in Hollywood, Microsoft unveiled Surface: PCs built to be the ultimate stage for Windows. Company executives showed two Windows tablets and accessories that feature significant advances in industrial design and attention to detail. Surface is designed to seamlessly transition between consumption and creation, without compromise. It delivers the power of amazing software with Windows and the feel of premium hardware in one exciting experience.

Advances in Industrial Design

Conceived, designed and engineered entirely by Microsoft employees, and building on the company’s 30-year history manufacturing hardware, Surface represents a unique vision for the seamless expression of entertainment and creativity. Extensive investment in industrial design and real user experience includes the following highlights:

  • Software takes center stage: Surface sports a full-sized USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio – the industry standard for HD. It has edges angled at 22 degrees, a natural position for the PC at rest or in active use, letting the hardware fade into the background and the software stand out.
  • VaporMg: The casing of Surface is created using a unique approach called VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag), a combination of material selection and process to mold metal and deposit particles that creates a finish akin to a luxury watch. Starting with magnesium, parts can be molded as thin as .65 mm, thinner than the typical credit card, to create a product that is thin, light and rigid/strong.
  • Integrated Kickstand: The unique VaporMg approach also enables a built-in kickstand that lets you transition Surface from active use to passive consumption – watching a movie or even using the HD front- or rear-facing video cameras. The kickstand is there when needed, and disappears when not in use, with no extra weight or thickness.
  • Touch Cover: The 3 mm Touch Cover represents a step forward in human-computer interface. Using a unique pressure-sensitive technology, Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. It will be available in a selection of vibrant colors. Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover. You can also click in a 5 mm-thin Type Cover that adds moving keys for a more traditional typing feel.

An Amazing Windows Experience

Two models of Surface will be available: one running an ARM processor featuring Windows RT, and one with a third-generation Intel Core processor featuring Windows 8 Pro. From the fast and fluid interface, to the ease of connecting you to the people, information and apps that users care about most, Surface will be a premium way to experience all that Windows has to offer. Surface for Windows RT will release with the general availability of Windows 8, and the Windows 8 Pro model will be available about 90 days later. Both will be sold in the Microsoft Store locations in the U.S. and available through select online Microsoft Stores.

Contributing to an Expanded Ecosystem

One of the strengths of Windows is its extensive ecosystem of software and hardware partners, delivering selection and choice that makes a customer’s Windows experience uniquely their own. This continues with Surface. Microsoft is delivering a unique contribution to an already strong and growing ecosystem of functional and stylish devices delivered by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to bring the experience of Windows to consumers and businesses around the globe.

Additional Product Information

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6” ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office ‘15’ Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Pro

  • OS: Windows 8 Pro
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6” ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

(1), (2). Actual size and weight of the device may vary due to configuration and manufacturing process.

Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT.

For more information about Surface, visit http://www.surface.com.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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Windows 8: The Biggest Opportunity Since iOS

Over the last year, major developments have change the perception of Microsoft and its Windows platform. Windows Phone 7 has been established as a prominent mobile player, and with the release of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft is looking change minds once again.

If you’re familiar with Windows Phone 7, the Windows 8 Metro-style interface will make you feel right at home. The Windows interface has received a complete overhaul, and getting rid of one of the most iconic Windows emblems in the world – the start button – will be a shock to many users. Yes, you read that right, the start button is gone – replaced by tiles, hey much more aesthetically pleasing design that it is exceptionally efficient. With this new design, Microsoft has begun to blur the line laptops and tablets.

Notable additions to Windows 8 include The Windows Store, where developers can sell both traditional and Metro-themed applications. Microsoft has also integrated their own products with Windows 8, including SkyDrive, Bing Maps, and Xbox Live, among others. Boot times are exceptionally faster than its predecessor, and multi-touch gestures in the new interface have proven to be a much-needed upgrade to a system that has grown mundane over the years — but what strikes me the most about Windows 8, is the complete symmetry with mobile tablets.

Many expect tablet sales will exceed PC sales by 2015. Microsoft is not taking any chances – making Windows 8 fully compatible with tablets. The iPad has dominated the consumer and enterprise markets, and Microsoft wants in badly. No, they wont challenge the iPad’s dominance — no one can — but they don’t need to. When the numbers are broken down, even marginal success in bringing Windows PC users to Windows tablets could completely shift in the market.

Microsoft sold 240 million copies of Windows 7 during its first year. Microsoft managed to sell 10 percent of that, they would be positioned as the number two tablet OS in the world, destroying the minuscule chance Android has of catching on as a true competitor to Apple.

Android has struggled mightily to get consumers to buy in on their tablets. Their dominance in the smartphone market cannot be argued against, but in the tablet space, they have become an afterthought, and without Amazon they would be nonexistent. The fragmentation of Android has led to developers focusing on handsets — an already established market — instead of the fleeting tablet space, something that Apple doesn’t have to deal with.

Microsoft has an opportunity to build Windows 8 into a vehicle similar to the one Apple rides in. The formula has been tested, and is working to perfection as we speak.

When the world is captivated by one operating system, bringing that same system to a different type of device will bring bountiful benefits for the company — and users — if done properly. Apple discovered this with the iPhone, bringing iOS to the iPad, and slowly to the Mac. Google didn’t fair to well with the Android transition from smartphones to tablets for numerous reasons — the key being Android never captivated the world; it was just the best alternative to the OS that did. Windows hasn’t captivated the world in the same way Apple has with its devices — but it has made itself a necessity for most of the developed world.

Windows 7 has sold 525 million copies to date. The process of upgrading has seemingly become habitual to many users; Microsoft releases and new version of Windows, and you upgrade. No fervor, no excitement. No true desire to upgrade beyond the necessities for school and work. Windows 8 has the ability to change this and strike a chord in the hearts of users.

That same chord has been struck by Apple and to a lesser extent, Google. There are many who love their iOS devices, and many who love their Android phone – but you rarely find those who love Windows with the same type of passion. It may be different this time. The look and feel of Windows 8 is such a departure from previous versions, it may all change very quickly.

In fact, Microsoft may have actually mirrored one of Apple’s patented techniques to perfection. When it comes to new features being included in iOS, Apple usually waits for their competitors to do it — be it Android or WebOS — takes ‘inspiration’ from their design and creates something that resembles that product, but is usually cleaner and more efficient (multi-tasking, Notification Center, etc). If Microsoft can build the Windows 8 platform into a properly integrated system – computer, tablet, and phone all using the same basic design – they would have jumped two years ahead into Apple’s road map.

It remains to be seen if Microsoft can add a second level to their Windows user base — keeping those who need Windows for school and work, while adding those who desire the next great thing from Microsoft. If they can accomplish it, Android’s time as the dominant mobile OS may be numbered. We may be back to a familiar two-horse race.

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Microsoft’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview Now Available to Download

Microsoft has just launched the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which is available as a public download right now. The company previewed their latest build of Windows 8 at a Mobile World Congress event this morning in Barcelona, showing off features such as the new touch-friendly Metro UI and Windows Store.

The Consumer Preview weighs in at 2.5GB for the 32-bit version, and 3.3GB for the 64-bit version, so make sure you have some free time and plenty of free bandwidth before you start the download. Any computer equipped with a 1GHz or faster CPU can run the Consumer Preview, with the 32-bit version requiring only 1GB of RAM and 16GB of hard drive space, and the 64-bit version limited to at least 2GB of RAM and 20GB of free disk space.

Windows 8 is a complete re-imagining and redesign of the Windows desktop operating system. The desktop, while still present, has essentially been replaced by a Metro UI style Start screen, featuring the same modern design and LiveTiles as seen in Windows Phone 7. Windows 8 was built to work on a number of form factors, including traditional desktops, laptops, ultrabooks, and tablets. Following their event in Barcelona this morning, Microsoft published a blog post introducing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, detailing the new design, touch gestures, apps, and more.

Microsoft first announced Windows 8 at CES 2011, confirming support for the ARM architecture and showing off the new Metro UI. A developer preview was launched in September 2011 at Microsoft’s BUILD Conference, and today’s Consumer Preview marks the first time that Windows 8 is available to the public. The final version of Windows 8 is expected to ship this fall.

If you’re ready to give Windows 8 a try for yourself, you can download the Consumer Preview now at this link. Our own Micah Singleton will be publishing his hands-on impressions of Windows 8 soon.

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CES: The Best of The Best, as The Lights Dim… (Wrap-Up)

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone, and while there may not have been many high profile products announced (in fact many claim there was no clear “Best of Show”), this years CES brought a ton of awesome new gadgets just the same.

As there was not much activity on Day 3, the final day of the show, I decided I would highlight some of my personal favorite announcements – the best of the best – from throughout the week.

Google’s Android Style Guide
Although it isn’t really a product per-se, the Android Style Guide was released to developers on Day 3, and aims to help them in creating and designing beautiful apps for Android using the new style conventions introduced with Ice Cream Sandwich. The style guide is available now on Google’s Android Developer portal.

Windows 8 tablets
Intel, along with a few other companies, showed off some prototype Windows 8 tablets at the show. I must say, Microsoft is on a roll with their Windows products lately, following up the awesome Windows Phone 7 with the equally new and unique Windows 8. It features the same gorgeous Metro UI of WP7, and aims to provide an experience tailored for touch input, as well as the conventional keyboard and mouse. Microsoft has promised a beta of Windows 8 will be released in February.

Nokia Lumia 900
I’ve recently become a big fan of Windows Phone 7, and if you’re looking for the iPhone or Galaxy Nexus of Windows Phone, look no further than the Lumia 900 from Nokia. The first LTE offspring of the Microsoft / Nokia deal, the Nokia Lumia 900 is described by company CEO (and fellow Canadian) Stephen Elop as “the first real Windows Phone”. It’s a gorgeous device that features an 8 megapixel Carl Zeiss shooter on the back, and a beautiful 4.3” display on the front.

LG’s 55 inch OLED TV and LG’s LM series 1mm bezel TV’s
LG pulled out the big guns at this years CES, showcasing a 55 inch OLED TV that The Verge states was “making love to our eyes”. LG also announced the LM series of TV’s that feature a tiny 1mm bezel. They are absolutely stunning, and all of these models will be arriving sometime in 2012.

Samsung Smart TV
This wasn’t necessarily one of my favorite products, but it is an interesting one nonetheless. Samsung announced a new Smart TV that the user can control using, yes, their voice. Wasn’t there another company rumored to be working on a voice-controlled television? Oh yeah…

Sony Xperia S
Sony’s first Android phone to debut sans-Ericsson was the Xperia S. It’s a cool looking phone that actually features a transparent plastic strip along the bottom which functions as the antenna. Neat! Unfortunately, it’s still running Gingerbread, and it is skinned, though not as heavily as some of Sony’s previous Xperia devices. This one will be hitting AT&T in the US soon.

Vizio’s all-in-one computer and thin-and-light laptops
Vizio, known mostly for their line of discount TV’s, unveiled their first foray into the personal computer market at CES. Their new all-in-one features a very modern design, announced alongside matching peripherals including a keyboard, external trackpad, and subwoofer. The all-in-one also features an HDMI input, meaning you could hook up a Blu-ray player or game console to it and essentially use the monitor as a TV.

Vizio also showcased a line of thin-and-light laptops that they insist are not Ultrabooks! Vizio says their new portables match or outdo Intel’s Ultrabook specs. The laptops are gorgeous for Windows machines, and feature the same modern and sleek design as the company’s all-in-one.

Canon PowerShot G1 X
Canon launched the G1 X, a camera with the power and performance of a DSLR, but in the body of a point-and-shoot. The $799 camera features a 14.3 megapixel sensor and a non-interchangeable 15.1-60.4mm zoom lens. The G1 X is meant for photographers that already own a DSLR, but want something more portable to carry around that can provide the same superior image quality. The G1 X is one sexy piece of kit, though a little out of my price-range…

And that is the best of the best at this year’s CES. Thanks for joining Current Editorials on our look at CES 2012!
Links via The Verge and Engadget.

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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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