An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Jumping the Shark, Part II: Belfiore Claims IDC, Gartner Have Validated Microsoft's Windows Phone "Strategy"
There were a number of curious things said this week at Microsoft's MIX conference, but none was more curious than Microsoft Corporate VP Joe Belfiore's statement about analyst expectations that Windows Phone would somehow surpass iPhone by 2013/2015 to become the number-two smartphone platform worldwide. "We were pretty excited to see our strategy validated in that way," he said. Now, Joe's a great guy. But neither IDC nor Gartner "validated" Microsoft's "strategy" (whatever that is ... "move slowly"?) in any way. In fact, Gartner in particular noted that its prediction had nothing to do with Microsoft at all. "Gartner predicts that Nokia will push Windows Phone well into the mid-tier of its portfolio by the end of 2012, driving the platform to be the third largest in the worldwide ranking by 2013," Gartner said. "Gartner has revised its forecast of Windows Phone's market share upward, solely by virtue of Microsoft's alliance with Nokia." (Emphasis mine.) It's just dumb luck that Nokia was so down and out that it needed you. Was the strategy to sit still until that happened? If so, maybe you have a point. Otherwise, no.
Is Microsoft Dropping Vista Support in IE 10?
Microsoft is well known as a company that cherishes backward compatibility, and it is for this reason that businesses of all sizes have embraced the company's various desktop, server, and services solutions. With Internet Explorer (IE) 9, however, Microsoft (finally) abandoned the 10-year-old Windows XP OS, causing a few fretful moments for holdouts. But the new IE 10 platform preview won't run on Windows Vista, which was released just five years ago. Is IE 10 abandoning Vista? Will it only run on Windows 7 and Windows 8? Honestly, I hope so: Although Microsoft's backward compatibility focus has driven some business loyalty over the years, I feel that it has also hampered forward progress, and by focusing only on modern versions of the Windows OS, Microsoft can make a better IE that is more full-featured and consistent. My vote is for Microsoft to abandon Vista much more quickly than it did with XP. And that shouldn't be hard, given consumer reaction to the much-maligned OS. I'm sure the software giant is eager to put Vista in the rear-view mirror too. So let's cheer this decision, not condemn it. It's the right thing to do.
IE 9 Hits Windows Update
Speaking of Internet Explorer, the new version of Microsoft's web browser, IE 9, will hit Windows Update next week, on April 18, providing Windows Vista and Windows 7 users with a chance to upgrade. This schedule is similar to the one that the company used for the prior two versions of IE, and as Microsoft noted in a blog post announcing the delivery, it will be rolled out gradually to users over a two-month period. And, as before, you'll have the option to not install the browser, of course, and stick with your current IE version. I recommend giving IE 9 a shot, however, even if you use another (competing) browser: Microsoft has made some big strides in this release, and if you use Windows 7, in particular, there are some nice OS integration bits you might enjoy too.
First Nokia Windows Phone Handsets Probably Won't Happen Until 2012
Speaking of moving too slowly, if there's any company that can match Windows Phone in that department, it has to be Nokia. So maybe these guys simply deserve each other. Though Nokia has been very clear about wanting to deliver its first Windows Phone handset in 2011, it's also very clear that the slow-moving behemoth almost certainly won't be able to make that happen. And even if it does happen, that first Nokia Windows Phone 7 device won't be particularly differentiated from today's devices: The W7, as its called, features the same processor, GPU, and hardware capabilities as every other Windows Phone device currently on the market, so apparently the only major differentiator will be its camera (a reported 12 megapixels) and, well, that Nokia logo on the box. But even this lackluster device probably won't happen this year since Nokia wants to really personalize the Windows Phone OS software, and that will take even more time. So, early 2012 is more likely. That W7 device will be followed by a W8 handset, which should have even more differentiated hardware and software, and then the company plans a whopping 12 Windows Phone models throughout 2012. That's impressive. I just wish it could happen sooner. (Cue broken record.)
Mango Not Enough to Catch iPhone, Android, Some Say
Now that Microsoft has revealed much (but not all) of what it expects to deliver to Windows Phone customers in 2011, the early reviews are in. And while most seem pretty happy with Microsoft's plans, many are pointing out the obvious: Even with the so-called Mango software update due in late 2011, the Windows Phone platform of 2011 seems an awful lot like the iPhone platform ... of 2009. Windows Phone is getting features like multitasking, an actually usable web browser, developer access to sensors, and so on—you know, features that Android and iPhone have had for years. What we come back to with Windows Phone, again and again, is the same exact evaluation. God, does this team move glacially slow. Rather than release major milestone updates after several months (or, in the case of Mango, a year), Microsoft needs to deliver individual functional updates month to month. Why the company doesn't get this is beyond me. But it's also beyond customers, which have again and again chosen those platforms that really do update their device capabilities on an ongoing basis. Even the fragmented Android market does a better job of this. (And yes, again, cue broken record.)
Google Earnings Mostly Good, a Bit Bad, and Very Interesting
Google reported its latest quarterly earnings this week, posting an 18 percent increase in profits (to $2.3 billion) and a 27 percent increase in revenues ($8.58 billion, a record) when compared with results from the same quarter a year ago. Smashing success, right? Well, sort of. That profit mark was actually well below expectations and now some analysts are pointing out some other interesting numbers that help explain Google's quarter a bit better. For example, the company's operating expenses rose a whopping 54 percent in the quarter, and that figure represents one-third of Google's revenues. R&D costs have skyrocketed, too, up about 50 percent to $1.23 billion in the quarter. Sales and marketing? Up 69 percent to $1 billion. Salaries are up. Hiring is up. And of course the company is undergoing a massive reorganization as it tries to jumpstart the competitive fervor of its early years and prevent itself from becoming, in its own words, "the next Microsoft." Honestly, I don't think the company has much to fear yet. In fact, it's more like "the next Apple": It has about $37 billion in cash and cash-like assets and pretty much could buy anything it wants. These guys could sit still for most of this decade and not risk much.
Android Surge Continues Unabated
Google's spending may be up, but one area of the company is still growing at an astronomical pace and, no, it's not search: The company's Android smartphone platform continues to dominate, and to grow, and there's no end in sight. Google announced this week that Android app installations have hit 3 billion units, and that comes just two months after the company noted its 2 billionth app install. So Android users have installed 1 billion new apps in just 60 days, compared with five months for the previous billion. (In January, Apple announced its 10 billionth app download, for comparative purposes.) Android is now seeing more than 350,000 device activations every single day, too. Yikes.
RIM PlayBook Launches .... But It's Just Not Ready
People will often email me and ask why I don't review this device or that device, and the volume of mail I get around particular tablet-type devices is particularly large. But the truth is, when you look at iPad competitors, you can't just compare the devices themselves. You have to compare the entire ecosystem, the entire experience. For PC tablets, for example, most of today's contenders are quickly written off because they have lackluster battery life, heavy and awkward-to-hold form factors, and terrible Windows-based touch interfaces. For non-PC devices, the issue is always the ecosystem, an area where Apple simply dominates, unchallenged, thanks to the excellent and well stocked iTunes store for media and App Store. Sadly, Research in Motion's (RIM's) new PlayBook suffers from problems in both of these areas. The device itself is decent, but it relies too heavily on BlackBerry integration for functionality; in fact, it doesn't even have native email or calendar apps. And then the RIM ecosystem is notably pathetic, with a small selection of apps, and virtually no digital media content, a situation that is even direr for the PlayBook. So I'm not reviewing this thing—sorry. Because I can tell from the outside looking in that it's just not ready. Maybe that will change later this year, or next. I will of course keep up on it as my search for a viable iPad replacement continues.
Apple Poaches Microsoft Cloud Computing Expert
There's been a lot of talk lately about Apple's rumored plans to expand dramatically into cloud computing, with its mysterious North Carolina data center set to come online soon and a possible iTunes streaming service waiting in the wings. We'll probably know what the company is up to by or before its WWDC developer show this June, but this week we got an interesting peek at how serious Apple is about this market when it hired away Microsoft General Manager of Datacenter Services Kevin Timmons to head up the new effort. Timmons worked on Microsoft's own data centers, including those that are used to power its Azure and hosted services. And there are further signs that Apple is going "all in" with cloud computing, as we say on the Microsoft side of the fence, which makes Timmons' new job appear all the more interesting: The company is now planning new data centers in Europe and elsewhere in the United States, rumors suggest, and a recent job posting hinted that Apple's "most exciting new products and services" would occur within a team that is now building "the future of cloud services at Apple." Frankly, for all the import Apple places on hardware devices and yearly revisions to those devices, this move to the cloud is way behind schedule. They need to get moving on this stuff; infrastructure isn't just boring, it's hard.
Mythical White iPhone 4 Finally Heading to Stores
When Apple launched the iPhone 4 a year ago, it promised white and black versions of the handset, but a manufacturing issue prevented it from delivering the white version immediately. So Apple delayed the white version, then delayed it again, and as the months ticked by the company just stopped talking about it all together. With an expected iPhone 5 launch only a few short months away now, it seemed like we'd simply have to wait for the next device before a white option was ever offered. And then the unexpected happened: After 10 months of delays and silence, Apple will soon begin shipping white versions of its iPhone 4, having finally overcome the manufacturing issues that prevented this device from appearing in the first place. So we can all sleep easy now that that particular national nightmare is over.
Microsoft Adds Kinect Gestures to Netflix on Xbox 360
And you thought the Kinect's Minority Report promises were still years away: Microsoft this week delivered a software update for the Xbox 360 that lets users interact with the Netflix streaming video services using hand gestures and voice control, when the console is paired to a Kinect motion sensor. "The next time you start up Netflix, you'll be prompted to accept the update which introduces Kinect support for Netflix," a Microsoft blog post reads. "That means controller-free navigation of thousands of movies and TV shows, allowing you to use just the sound of your voice or wave of your hand to control your favorite Netflix content ... Try it out and let me know what you think." Here's what I think: This thing is gimmicky, and using hand gestures to control onscreen content is tedious and even tiring, since you have to hover your hand in the air for long periods of time. But then, Microsoft seems to realize this, too: The Netflix hand-control scheme, such as it is, only works with a small subset of the Netflix experience ("Suggestions for You"); if you want more, you go back to the controller. Wa-wa-waaaaaah.
Nintendo Wii 2 Talk Finally Starts Heating Up
Although Nintendo has dominated the current video game console generation by a landslide, sales of its Wii console are finally starting to fall through the floor, and also-rans like the Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 are mopping up in recent months. So Nintendo, in its own glacial way, is finally turning its attention to a Wii successor, or what we might imaginatively think of as the Wii 2. According to sources, Nintendo will announce this product at this year's E3 video game conference, which makes plenty of sense. But it won't ship the Wii 2 until the holiday 2012 selling season, which makes no sense at all. Yes, Microsoft and Sony won't ship their own next-gen consoles until years down the road, but their existing consoles already kick the bejesus out of the Wii, and I'm guessing they'll do the same to the Wii 2 as well. Nintendo has never really played the spec game, per se, but the company needs to deliver something that actually supports HD, at least, and possibly even 3D. And then it needs to prepare for the next generation of competition. The year 2012 is too late to get started on this work.
Nintendo Sells 400,000 3DS Devices
Speaking of Nintendo, another area where the video game maker is falling behind is portable gaming, and this time it's Apple's iPod touch and iPhone that are killing it—not a traditional video game-oriented competitor like Sony. So this year, the company updated its, ahem, dated Nintendo DS handheld gaming system to a new model, the 3DS, which, as its name suggests, includes 3D capabilities. Despite this seemingly next-gen feature, the Nintendo 3DS is as old-school as it gets, with a big body, tiny screens, and about 6 inches of paper documentation in the box. (Apparently, Nintendo didn't get the ecological memo and thinks it's still 1999.) But sales are decent: The company has sold about 400,000 units so far since the March 27 debut, and more than 1 million units of a few game titles, which ship, again, on old-school game cartridges. So Nintendo still "leads" the handheld video game category, such as it is. But that's only true when you ignore what Apple's doing in portable gaming. Maybe it's time for Nintendo to stop thinking about evolution and start thinking about a next-gen platform that embraces electronic services and software delivery. You know, like Apple did years ago.
Next Week: Connections, Las Vegas
Next week, I'll be in Las Vegas for our new series of Connections shows at the Bellagio: Mobile Connections, Cloud Connections, and Virtualization Connections. See you there!
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly a day early this week, on Wednesday, live from the show floor at NAB in Las Vegas. As a result, it was probably a bit shorter than usual, but should available for download by the end of the weekend on iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
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