Archive | December 2011

Designer envisions generative Microsoft brand

In contrast to the ever-so-slight tweak of angle on the Microsoft logo late last year, Daniel C. Young, a graphics designer at the Art Center College of Design has imagined what a much more radical Microsoft rebranding could look like.

Although the project appears to be entirely speculative. Unlike the recent HP rebranding exercise which was actually commissioned by HP but not executed upon, this is just Daniel playing with an idea, an interesting one at that – an logo and colors generated purely by algorithms.

Microsoft’s focus and leadership on natural user interfaces seems to be the main source of inspiration for his concept as he explain,

Generative logo and transmedia campaign for Microsoft Reimagined, a creative vision for Microsoft to lead innovation in natural user interface (NUI) computing through research and open collaboration with the art, science, and design communities. The identity system can generate infinite variations and unique color palettes for each of Microsoft’s product line.

Daniel’s portfolio contains a range of mockups demonstrating the applications of the concept in both print and digital. There’s even a nice website mockup of a Kinect information page. For a design concept, this is quite comprehensive and quality work.

No doubts there are many practical issues with this idea, notably it’s generative nature leads to a very ambiguous logo without the wordmark, but it’s worth admiring the effort to think outside the box. Due to the tangible and intangible costs of rebranding for modern corporations, it’s unlikely Microsoft will ever change as radical as this which makes it more fun to dream.

Why Windows 8 Tablets Will Surprise Everyone

Windows-based tablets haven’t been treated kindly by the test of time. Those released in the Windows XP era relied on wonky, stylus-based data entry, and even modern, touch-based tablets running Windows 7 are poor performers.

Indeed, Microsoft has a troubled tablet history that the public isn’t soon to forget. This November, Forrester released a study that showed consumer interest in a Windows-based tablet dropped significantly this year. At the start of 2011, 46 percent of potential tablet owners wanted a Windows device. By Q3, that number slipped to 25 percent.

Forrester’s report stated, “Windows 8 hasn’t entered the consciousness of tablet buyers yet.”

That’s a shame because Gadget Lab has seen a Windows 8 tablet in action, and the experience opened our eyes to just how useful — and, yes, even fun — a Windows 8 tablet might be. Sure, Microsoft was demoing a mere reference design, but what we saw was so intriguing, we’re legitimately excited to see final, shipping products.

Windows 8 is being developed from the ground up to elegantly run on both traditional computers (desktops and notebooks) as well as touch-based tablets. The OS can run on either ARM or x86 processors, though apps written specifically for the x86 desktop environment won’t be able to run on ARM-based mobile devices.

Is this a terrible handicap? No, not based on what we’ve seen. Windows 8 tablets will run an updated version of the Metro UI found on Windows Phones, and the UI appears to transfer remarkably well to larger touch screens. You’ll get that same fun, friendly and animated “Live Tile” home screen found on Windows Phones, but with (theoretically) much more processing power to drive more powerful apps.

Windows 8 will go beta in February, which would peg a full software release around June 2012. Everything we’ve seen thus far suggests that Microsoft has really taken the time to develop a platform that will succeed on tablets, without abandoning the company’s PC roots.

Still a skeptic? You should be. Windows tablet wanna-haves have been burnt before. But please consider these four reasons why Microsoft’s upcoming push into the tablet space may surprise everyone by ultimately proving successful.

Microsoft Has a Chance to ‘Think Different’

“If Windows is to have any hope, its product strategists must not only bring new features to the platform but also must fundamentally reinvent the experience,” analysts J.P. Gownder and Sarah Rotman Epps say in the Forrester report.

Many current upstart tablets are just iPad copycats. They share essentially the same UI (multiple pages of identically sized home screen icons), they operate with nearly identical touch gestures, and they basically look the same. But by being such a relative latecomer to the modern tablet party, Microsoft has a great opportunity to look at what’s not being done, what can be done better, and what can be donedifferently.

And all this observation can inform a better Windows 8 tablet. Take, for example, Windows 8’s ability to switch from a tablet UI to a desktop UI. This could be a winning innovation.

“We are reaching a point where ARM platforms can deliver us desktop experiences in mobile form factors,” mobile developer Kelly Sommers told Wired.com. If this is true, and if Windows 8 tablets in desktop mode can overcome the performance issues that plagued Windows 7-based tablets, Microsoft might strike gold by delivering two operational environments for the price of one.

“In my opinion, the ideal user experience allows both [a desktop UI and touch-based UI], but not at the same time,” Sommers told Wired.com. “What if you dock your tablet, and it becomes a desktop experience on your monitor, with keyboard and mouse, for non-power uses? Undock your tablet, and it transitions to a tablet experience.”

Indeed, who wouldn’t want a dual-OS device that can serve as both a casual tablet and as a no-excuses productivity computer? Neither Apple nor the Android contingent have answered this very real consumer problem.

 

The Nokia Lumia 800 runs the Windows Phone OS with great aplomb. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired.com

 

Windows Phone Mango Shows Microsoft Can Do Mobile Well

Microsoft had a rocky start entering the mobile space, but has finally found its footing with Windows Phone 7 (and in Mango, Windows Phone 7.5, in particular). Consumers aren’t flocking to Windows’ new mobile OS like they are to iOS or Android, but if you haven’t gotten a chance to try it out, you should — it’s very well done. For a first-hand look, open uphttp://aka.ms/wpdemo in your mobile browser to give it a whirl.

“I think that what Microsoft learned with Windows Phone will carry over and influence Windows 8,” Display Search analyst Richard Shim says.

Microsoft is working hard to reach out to developers and provide support, marketing guidance, and app visibility through programs like BizSpark and Mobile Acceleration Week to fill out its still meager app offerings. These programs are by all accounts successful, so we can expect that Microsoft will continue them for Windows 8.

Indeed, if Windows 8 is as well-executed as Windows Phone Mango, it will be a positive experience for users. That’s something most Android tablets can’t claim.

And therein lies a very powerful strong point for Microsoft: The Windows Phone platform may not have a copious catalog of apps, or even that many adoptees, but most everyone who actually uses a Windows Phone enjoys the essential OS experience. So, if Windows 8 tablets can somehow get a foothold among vocal opinion leaders, consumer adoption could self-perpetuate as users evangelize the tablets on Microsoft’s behalf.

Windows Could Provide a Consistent Computing Experience

“I think that ultimately what users are looking for is for their computing experience to follow them around,” Shim says. “Creating a consistent UI across devices is the first step.”

It’s not exactly clear whether all Windows 8 experiences will be able to deliver on Shim’s vision described above, but if any platform has a chance to execute this, it will likely be Microsoft’s. Google doesn’t have a desktop environment to speak of (unless you include browser-based apps), and Apple’s iOS and Mac OS X environments are cleanly split with no easy paths to unification.

But Windows 8 will be a cloud-powered experience through Windows Live SkyDrive. As a result, data, apps and settings will be synced across Windows 8 devices using your Microsoft account. Much like whatiCloud is striving to accomplish with a more unified iOS experience, SkyDrive will similarly do for Windows 8.

“A truly consistent experience across every Microsoft device is something new to the space,” Resolve Market Research analyst Randy Hellman says.

So how will this work? Well, first it’s important to note that Metro apps (i.e., Windows 8 tablet apps) are HTML5-based, and will therefore work in any environment — on x86 and ARM devices, on tablets, laptops and full-fledged PCs. This alone provides a windfall for users seeking a harmonious computing experience.

It remains to be seen whether current Windows Phone apps will run on Windows 8 tablets; Microsoft hasn’t officially commented on that possibility. Nonetheless, by using HTML5 as a bridge between tablets and computers, Microsoft has a distinct advantage. For the broad swath of software that HTML5 can support, users should be able to appreciate seamless integration.

 

The Kindle Fire offers its own Amazonian brand of Android. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com

 

Microsoft Will Offer Differentiated, But Not Fragmented, Options

For Windows Phone, Microsoft provides a list of mandatory specs in order to ensure a quality experience across all Windows Phone devices. Microsoft will likely implement the same policy for its Windows 8 tablet devices.

Android, by comparison, lets manufacturers (and carriers) essentially do whatever they want with both software and hardware. This has led to some serious fragmentation issues ranging from OS version incompatibility to inconsistent home-button placement. Even the popular Kindle Fire tablet is a huge departure from other Android tablets, with its own Amazon-centric UI.

“Windows 8 tablets will come in different sizes and different orientations, and have different battery lives depending on their capabilities,” Microsoft representative Christopher Flores told Wired.

But fragmentation? “Never software fragmentation,” Flores said. Former Windows Phone 7 GM Charlie Kindel wrote in a recent blog post that Android “enables too much fragmentation,” which “will eventually drive end users nuts.”

This means Windows 8 could become a refreshing, consistent, easy-to-use alternative purchase for anyone not interested in an iPad, whether for philosophical or financial reasons.

Of course, there’s still much we don’t know about Microsoft’s tablet initiative, and all of the what-if’ing above goes out the window once we have real hardware to evaluate.

But Microsoft definitely has the potential to deliver, and from what we’ve seen of Windows 8 tablets so far, the future is promising. Could a Windows 8 tablet be the focus of Microsoft’s final CES keynote? We’re as excited as anyone to find out.

Claimed hands-on with the Nokia 900 rumours 4.7 inch AMOLED screen (Update: Actually 4.3 inch screen)

Geektechblog.com is claiming to have had a hands-on with the Nokia 900 and have some very specific info to share.

They claim the device will have a massive 4.7 inch large 4.3 inch screen like the HTC Titan, but using AMOLED technology. The phone will apparently have ”a nicer camera to compliment the big screen”. The handset will apparently also retain the same appearance as the Lumia 800, but may have a gloss finish depending on feedback.

Geektechblog also notes the microSIM card will be removable using a pin like the iPhone rather than the current, rather complicated system, and that the microUSB slot will be uncovered.

They confirm the handset will run Tango, but claim NFC support will have to wait for Apollo.

No we never heard of Geektechblog, so we do not know how much credence to give this rumour.   What would our readers think of such a monster from Nokia? Let us know below.

Update: The Geek tech blog have updated their article to change the screen size to 4.3 inch, which is of course consistent with what was leaked earlier, and which makes all the rest more believable.

As long as we are throwing rumours out there, Nokia Gadgets claims to have a bit more info, saying the Nokia 900 has:

  • 16GB and 32GB versions
  • Front Facing camera
  • 4.3? Clear Black Display
  • 125.5 x 65.8 x 9 mm
  • 8mpx camera with single LED
  • LTE
  • Custom video calling app

Via MML

Leaked roadmap says WP Tango coming in Q2 2012, Apollo in Q4

A leaked roadmap offers new info on the release schedule for Windows Phone updates, which doesn’t quite line up with the info we heard about a week ago. Plus, it’s a leaked schedule, so take it with a pinch of salt.

The roadmap has the Tango update arriving in Q2 of 2012. The earlier info had Tango launching at CES (which is in January 2012), but maybe it will be unveiled at CES and the official rollout will begin in the April-June time period.

The tile under Tango says “Product with best prices”, which is in line with what we’ve heard of the codenamed update, namely that it will enable cheaper WP7 phones. It will do that by adding support for a lower resolution. Initial info on WP7 said it will support WVGA and HVGA, so 320×480 is a good guess for the low-end devices.

Tango is also supposed to enable LTE, Microsoft was holding out on adding support for that until there were LTE chips that were power-efficient enough.

Next up is the Apollo update (Microsoft has a confusing naming scheme for these code names). It’s supposed to arrive in the final quarter of 2012, with earlier info suggesting that Microsoft will unveil it in June.

Apollo (often referred to as Windows 8) will supposedly add the promised dual-core processor support (or more likely multi-core processors, not just dual-cores), bump up the supported screen resolution and add NFC. Changes to the UI are likely too.

According to the roadmap, Apollo will help increase overall volume of WP phones and make them competitive and also enable business and superphones.

Source

Nokia Lumia 800 Selling Well

The Nokia Q4 report will be one of the most interesting things to look forward to at the start of next year. The company took a huge gamble by betting on Windows Phone for their smartphone portfolio and the holiday season sales should show if it will pay off.

And even though the quarter that saw the market release of Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 is nearing its end it’s still really hard to tell if they are being well received by the market or not. We are getting all kinds of reports about their sales, so we are not even sure what to expect in the end.

For example, according to the survey done by mobile comparison shopping site MobilesPlease, the Lumia 800 accounted for a mere 0.17% of the UK smartphone sales in November. That’s close to 100 less than the market share of the most popular phone according to the survey – Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II.

However, in the Lumia 800 appears to still be doing greatly in the Netherlands. The smartphone was the second best-selling device on KPN Netherlands (the country’s largest carrier) at the end of November, than rose to first place at the start of this month and has been staying there ever since.

The O2 Germany most popular phones chart tells a similar story, with the Nokia Lumia 800 occupying the first spot for quite some time now. Over at T-Mobile Germany the Lumia 800 ranks 6th, behind three of the iPhone 4S versions, the black Galaxy S II and the black Galaxy S Plus.

As we already told you, we won’t know the truth before the actual results are published, but for the sake of a more competitive market, we are keeping our fingers crossed the Lumia duo will turn out a success.

Windows Phone App: Quote Shuffle

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Shuffle quotes in swipe of your finger tip. Share them with your acquaintance as text, status or e-mail.

Microsoft Metro on Xbox and PCs: Good or Bad?

Orignally posted on: http://goo.gl/cK6bc

 

Sometimes, companies like to make changes just for the sake of change without offering any real improvements. Sometimes, there are real improvements, but it takes a while for the masses (unwashed and nicely groomed, alike) to see these improvements because they get hung up on the aesthetics of the changes. Indignant outbursts like “What was wrong with the way it was before?” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” echo noisily in the void for a short while before dying down and people learn to cope with such changes — whether they’re made to Facebook, Twitter, or Xbox Live. Life, as they say, goes on.

The day before last, I logged on to my Xbox dashboard with the intention of watching a movie on Netflix, and patiently waited for it to update. And waited. And waited. At long last, the little status bar filled and I was surprised at the very different-from-expected interface that greeted me. At first I was puzzled, and hoped that learning to navigate wasn’t going to be a counter-intuitive experience. (I like to watch a little TV with my meals, and dinner was already getting cold — yes, I know. First World problems.) As it turned out, everything was just as easy to find as it was with the last design; in fact, I think the new interface utilizes space with better efficiency so that features are more easily accessible than they were before. (In my experience so far, it seems that there’s much less aimless scrolling necessary).

Microsoft Metro on Xbox and PCs: Good or Bad?Now that I’ve seen Chris Pirillo’s video (included below), it all makes sense. This is the much-discussed Metro UI that Microsoft has been working on for its Windows Phone and what we’ll see in whatever the company decides to call Windows 8 (which developers have been allowed to tinker around with for a while). So Microsoft seems to be slowly preparing the world for its Metro interface one little step at a time. While Microsoft Metro is obviously being forged as a response to the popularity of the tablet and mobile touchscreen markets, it makes sense that Microsoft will do its best to make this effort as cross-platform and cloud-friendly as possible. Adapting Metro’s features to play nicely on an interface that requires a keyboard and mouse (such as a PC) or one that works with controllers and voice control (such as the Xbox) is a daunting challenge, but if successful, Microsoft could really reassert its dominance in the industry.

In this video, Chris responds to a viewer’s question:

“What do you think of Microsoft taking Metro to PCs and Xbox? I would love to know how Metro works with a keyboard and a mouse.”

As a comment to this video in Chris Pirillo’s Google+ stream, Justin Moore makes some observations about his experiences so far with Metro on his Windows Phone 7, and brings up some excellent points about how people are quick to bash anything new that Microsoft brings to the market without even trying it. (Read up, iPhone and Android fanboys and fangirls!)

I like it so far, and, fingers crossed, my WP7 has yet to crash or lock up on me (this was a daily occurrence with my previous phone an Android). The new phone is definitely more responsive; my Droid had noticeable lag between clicking an app and the app actually opening.

I do not understand how people blast Metro for its appearance when my Droid was, most things considered, similar — the only differences being that the icons were “unique” to their apps in Android and the screen was swiped left to right to show more apps instead of the up and down direction for WP7.

Would an app that looked like an actual alarm clock help me identify my alarm clock any better than the red square that says “alarm clock” with an alarm clock drawing on it? I have currently had no issues locating my phone’s alarm clock.

Personally, I think the UI of Metro looks a lot more uniform and, therefore, is cleaner in appearance. My Droid looked cluttered with different icons everywhere, and I have never owned an iPhone, but my coworker’s looks similar to what my Droid did with apps showing up everywhere.

And the “number of apps available” argument that gets thrown around a lot is ridiculous. Often, WP7 is disregarded in reviews because its app marketplace has relatively few apps compared to Android and iOS. My Droid must have brought up several hundred Facebook apps when I searched, but I downloaded the highest rated one, which was at the top of the list, so I did not bother to scroll down. A hundred *$#&%$^ apps are pointless when you only need one!

Why is it an admirable thing to be considered an Apple fanboy or an Android fanboy, but if you like an MS product, you are considered to be a moron? I went to my carrier’s store, tried out the new Android phones, the new iPhone, and the WP7 phone, so I bought with my money what I felt was the best: the HTC Trophy.

And that’s really what technology’s supposed to do for us, right? Improve our lives while appealing to our personal tastes? People are different, and people will have different tastes, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Rather than judging someone for the hardware and software they prefer to use, we could all probably review one of the most important lessons that we learned from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: Just be yourself; if we can agree to disagree, we’ll be wonderful neighbors.

Chris Pirillo really sums it up nicely when he says:

“Good on Microsoft for embracing alternative platforms and getting [its] software out there. After all, isn’t that [a big part of] the company? Software? Who cares where [it’s sold]?”

As a consumer, it’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft’s endeavors with Metro (and how other companies react) will play out. Change for change’s sake is easily spotted, but real progress will win out and benefit everyone — no matter what corporate logo your tablet, smartphone, desktop, laptop, gaming console, or e-book reader happens to sport.