An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Windows Phone Puts the Smackdown on iPhone, Android
Although Windows Phone's eventual retail fate has yet to be decided, this much is clear: Microsoft's new smartphone entry is far more innovative and user-centric than anything in the iPhone and Android camps. And that's an amazing turnaround for a company that—a year ago—seemed to have completely ceded this important market to the competition. The biggest problem with Windows Phone, from what I can tell, is the name: This product has nothing to do with Windows at all, and it doesn't work, look, or feel like desktop versions of Windows in any way, shape, or form. Microsoft clearly feels that the Windows brand is too compelling to walk away from, however, so the company has stuck with what it knows. And that's too bad, because the branding is the one final piece of Windows Phone that needed to be done completely differently. I'll start posting my exhaustive review of Windows Phone on the SuperSite for Windows soon. But let me ruin the surprise. It's awesome. And you're going to want one.
Microsoft Cites Record Demand for Kinect
According to Microsoft, more consumers have preordered the Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360 than happened for any previous Xbox hardware (including consoles). But this time, the software giant is going to be ready, and a humongous, record-setting supply of Kinect hardware is on the way to ensure that the company doesn't have a Nintendo Wii-style shortage this holiday season. "Over the course of just three weeks in November, we're launching across every market where Xbox 360 is sold and we'll have more units of Kinect available than any other Xbox launch," a Microsoft statement reads. "Preorders have demonstrated that there is exceptional consumer excitement and demand for Kinect, and we will continue to work hard to ensure that Kinect for Xbox 360 is available for the Christmas season." I finally got to play around with Kinect this week, and, yeah, it's a reasonable alternative to the Wii. But I'm not sure what the long-term appeal is going to be. In my own household, I could see using the device's voice-command features to control media playback. The video game stuff? We'll see.
Microsoft Won't Be Increasing the Size of the Xbox LIVE Friends List
One of the problems I've run into with Xbox LIVE is that it allows you to have only 100 friends. And heck, I'm a people person. So every time a rumor pops up that Microsoft is going to up that limit, I cross my fingers, light a candle in the window, and draw a pentagram on the floor. (You have to cover all your bases. I mean, you never know.) And this week, we got semi-official confirmation that it was finally happening when Xbox Germany said the company would up the limit from 100 friends to a far more reasonable 1,000 friends. Shushing Beelzebub back into his crack in the floor, I started to celebrate, but then the Max Headroom-esque Major Nelson killed my buzz (as he so often does ... why is this gruff old-timer the face of Xbox, by the way?) by tweeting us back to reality. "We will not be expanding the friends list as a part of the next Xbox LIVE Update," he wrote. Well, blewey on you. Let me get that demon after you and see what we can do.
No, No, No: Microsoft Is NOT Releasing Zune for the Mac
Thanks to an errant tweet by a Microsoft employee, the world was led to believe this week that Microsoft would soon ship a version of its Zune PC software for the Mac, allowing Mac users to sync with the upcoming Windows Phones. This isn't happening, sorry. Yes, Microsoft will ship a sync client for the Mac, allowing those users to sync iTunes and iPhoto-based content with Windows Phone. And yes, this client will obviously allow Windows Phone users to download photos from the device to the Mac. But that's all it does. This isn't Zune software, sorry.
Microsoft Turns on IE 9 SmartScreen Feature
After weeks of letting a new Internet Explorer (IE) 9 security feature run in "silent" mode (you know, like the sub from Hunt for Red October), Microsoft has enabled it. The feature, called SmartScreen Application Reputation, will rate potential software downloads and try to provide an intelligent rating for each, warning users of potentially dangerous problems. "With SmartScreen Application Reputation, IE 9 warns you before you run or save a higher-risk program that may be an attempt to infect your computer with socially engineered malware," Microsoft program manager Ryan Colvin wrote in a blog post. "IE 9 also stays out of the way for downloads with an established reputation. Based on real-world data, we estimate that this new warning will be seen only two to three times a year for most consumers, compared to today where there is a warning for every software download." Nice!
Apple's iPad Is Heading to Verizon, Triggering Expectations of an iPhone Deal, Too
Verizon Wireless will begin selling Apple's iPad late this month, triggering another round of rumors that this deal represents a softening of relations between the two companies and will lead to a Verizon version of the popular iPhone. That could be—certainly, I trust the reports I've seen of a pending Verizon iPhone release—but the initial iPad offering on Verizon is a bit, shall we say, lackluster. On AT&T, for example, customers can choose between two versions of the iPad: a Wi-Fi-based version and one that's compatible with AT&T's 3G networks. But since Verizon's superior 3G network is incompatible, it can't sell the 3G iPad. So instead, Verizon will bundle its Mi-Fi hotspot device with Wi-Fi versions of the iPad, giving customers a (bulky and inconvenient) way to implicitly use the iPad over Verizon's network. OK, it's better than nothing. But this is something customers could do on their own, and it's not like you're saving a lot of money by going through official channels. (I'm still confused why people aren't more outraged by iPad pricing. Verizon, like others, is selling an iPad model that costs an ungodly $830, for crying out loud. You could get a killer PC for that much money.)
Apple Vaults Into Third Place in US PC market ... or Does It?
According to IDC, the Mac maker is now the third largest PC maker in the United States, though it still fails to make the grade by a wide margin worldwide. But Gartner disagrees: It says Apple remains in fourth place, despite gaining some ground. (I calculate PC market share using both sets of figures; Acer and Apple tied for third place.) The issue is that both firms measure market share a bit differently, but both do agree on one thing: Acer's woes had as much to do with the position switch as Apple's gains. So, according to IDC, Apple trails HP and Dell—by a huge amount—in the United States but is now ahead of Acer. Meanwhile, Gartner says Apple trails HP, Dell, and Acer. Regardless of the final tally, this much is obvious: Apple hasn't had a good Mac story for years, and yet its share keeps creeping along. That should give pause to Microsoft, which had a huge marketing (and real-world) win with Windows 7 but still can't help many of its struggling PC-maker partners. How does one company (Apple) do so well against a horde of compatible PC makers, all during one of the worst economic downturns in history? This is a question Microsoft and its partners need to start asking themselves.
Steve Jobs Tells Journalism Student to Leave Him Alone; Microsoft Greets Her with Open Arms
The differences between Apple and Microsoft could fill a book, but here's a cute recent example of the different ways in which the companies approach consumers. When a college journalism student asked for some information from Apple PR for a school project recently, CEO Steve Jobs told her to "leave us alone." This prompted the student, Chelsea Kate Isaacs, to "boycott" Apple. (Which is what also happens when your parents can't afford Apple's lofty prices, I guess.) But Microsoft isn't so gruff. It gave Isaacs an award (presumably for jousting with the dour Jobs) and paid for her trip to the Windows Phone 7 launch event this past week in New York. Where, by the way, she proceeded to grill Microsoft officials in a very even-handed way. In fact, it's this fairness that probably turned off Jobs. The last thing that guy wants is anyone looking objectively at his company.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded an epic new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast, largely focused on Windows Phone 7, on Thursday. It should be available by the weekend on the Zune Marketplace, in iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
But Wait, There's More
My next book, Windows Phone Secrets, is now complete and will ship in late October. Coming soon: Windows 7 Troubleshooting Secrets.