An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Microsoft CEO to Headline CES 2011
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will provide the opening keynote address of the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. That's quite an honor for the leader of a company that has almost universally squandered its position in the consumer market. (Thank God for the Xbox 360!) Of course, Microsoft has been headlining CES for years and years, and I'm sure for a while there the company actually believed it would dominate in consumer electronics. But that time has surely passed, no?
KIN Sales Closer to 10,000 than 500, Sorry
Ah, it was fun while it lasted, wasn't it? Chortling Apple bullies this week pushed hard to establish a story in which Verizon sold only 500 or so of Microsoft's KIN phones in the past month. But there's just one problem with this little bit of history rewriting—an issue that often dogs these fact-adverse people: More than 8,800 people have accessed Facebook using KIN phones, so the number of KIN devices out there is much closer to 10,000 than it is to 500. So these bullies were off by, oh, quite a bit. When asked to comment, Microsoft noted that the KIN application for Facebook can be accessed only by KIN devices. So that 8,800 figure represents the actual number of KINs that users configured to work with Facebook. The point is that more than 8,800 KINs were sold, because not all KIN users access Facebook. I'm guessing the total sales figure is close to 10,000 units, and probably higher.
iPhone 4: Apple's Vista? Or Apple's Vietnam?
Apple's magical new iPhone has so many endemic problems that it should be sealed in a box and jettisoned into the sun. But not only are Apple fanatics not blaming the company for selling shoddy, expensive merchandise, they're instead going after those who have the gumption to actually call Apple on this behavior. (The email I receive is hilarious: How dare I criticize Apple for hurting consumers! The audacity!) What's interesting to me is that the iPhone 4 will almost certainly continue to sell. And part of the reason is that the mainstream press, accustomed to cozying up to Apple so that journalists can get inside access to new products, hasn't done its job in reporting these very real issues, either in their high-profile, glowing reviews of the iPhone or in the news coverage that has followed (or, in most cases, not followed). What this means is that the iPhone is turning into Apple's Windows Vista, because it will actually sell quite well even though the perception in the blogosphere is that it's something of a disaster. But it also means that the iPhone 4 is Apple's Vietnam, because Apple is now entering an extended period in which it will slowly and inevitably lose market share and usage share to the more diverse and aggressive Google Android crowd. So yes, Apple might win all the reviews, thanks to those cozy relationships. But it's also going to lose the war, because it had to do everything right just to stay in the race. And Apple has done very little right with regards to its only current-generation phone, the iPhone 4. Its continued insistence that nothing is wrong—parroted by Apple fans—proves that nicely. Game over.
Android Steals More Usage Share from iPhone (and RIM, and Microsoft)
Speaking of which, Google's Android platform is poised to overtake Microsoft's Windows Mobile in the US smartphone market and become the number-three player behind Research in Motion (BlackBerry) and Apple (iPhone). The Android platform grew usage share by 4 percent points over the past quarter, according to comScore, from 9 percent to 13 percent, so it's just behind Windows Mobile's 13.2 percent (down 1.9 percentage points). But what's most interesting is that Android's usage gains also came at the expense of iPhone (down 1.0 percentage points) and BlackBerry (down 0.4 percentage points). In fact, Android is the only major smartphone platform to grow share in the quarter. All that said, the top two players are still in pretty good shape: BlackBerry users represent almost 42 percent of all smartphone users in the United States, followed by iPhone with 24.4 percent. And the important thing to remember about usage share is that it represents actual users of the platform, not sales. So, each of the top five players actually grew from a sales perspective. It's just that Android usage is growing faster—much faster—than that of the competition.
Microsoft: Windows Phone Due in October
Microsoft Vice President Mich Matthews recently revealed that the software giant plans to deliver its new Windows Phone platform in October. He slipped up during an advertising conference in Cannes, of all places. Since then, a number of other launch details have come to light, with all the expected major players jumping on board with new devices. AT&T has begun circulating retail signage to its stores that includes Windows Phone device information, and some are now speculating that a September launch is possible. I'll just say this. September is not happening.
Microsoft to Patch Zero-Day B ... Oh, and Thanks for That, Google!
Imagine a story in which a Google employee publicly reveals a software flaw in Windows without first going through the established communication channels, ensuring that Microsoft is unable to patch the flaw before hackers find out about it. Imagine further that hackers then exploit this flaw within days of the publication and attack tens of thousands of computers around the world in rapid succession. Now stop imagining, because that actually happened. And next week, Microsoft will issue a patch for this zero-day flaw—as such things are now called—to help protect users against a flaw that, yes, was caused by its own software ... but was revealed, unceremoniously, to the world by Google. Fortunately, this flaw exists only in Windows XP (and Windows Server 2003). But that's still hundreds of millions of potential victims. Thanks to Google.
Microsoft Owns Page-Flipping Animation Patent. Here's My Advice.
One of the most heralded—but absolutely worthless—features of Apple's iBooks eBook software for the iPhone and iPad is a silly page-flipping animation that lets you flick the "page," causing the virtual page to flip so that you can read the "next page." If you do this slowly enough you can actually watch the "page" flip in slow motion, which is so useful for reading that it's hard to even know where to start. Sorry, did I say "useful"? I meant "distracting." And "lazy." Virtual objects that too closely mimic real-world objects are actually detrimental to innovation because there are often better ways to perform actions when you're given new capabilities, and mimicking an old way of doing things means your head isn't in the right place. I don't mean to go off on a rant, but iBooks is horrible. And Microsoft, which owns a patent on that page-flipping animation for some reason, is in a position to do something about it. Sue them. Sue them and prevent them from using the page-flipping animation in iBooks. That way, when people use the software, they won't have to be confronted with this silly and worthless "feature." Come on Microsoft, for the common good. You can do this.
Microsoft to Tweak Xbox Live Arcade Browsing
Since releasing the Xbox 360 five years ago, Microsoft has prodded and tweaked the console's UI several times, most famously when it replaced the original "blade" UI with today's equally tired UI, which apparently works like shuffling a deck of cards. (I think it works more like "52 pickup", but whatever.) With the Xbox 360 UI, or Dashboard, once again bursting at the seams thanks to an abundance of content that overwhelms the too-simple design, Microsoft is starting to tweak things yet again. (And it better figure out something before the Zune service adds music streaming to the console; that UI will never handle elegant browsing of several million songs. It can barely handle my Netflix queue.) So, some time this month, Microsoft will deliver an update for the Xbox 360 that will offer an alternative browsing mode for the Xbox Live service's Xbox Live Arcade listing, which provides low-priced games for purchase and download. Called Destination Arcade, this UI makes better use of your HDTV's onscreen real estate and is far more elegant than the current disaster. Hopefully, Microsoft can use this as the basis for a deeper Xbox 360 UI overhaul—one that will actually work.
Don't Worry, Couch Potatoes: Kinect Will Work for You as Well
Microsoft's upcoming Wii-like Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360 is eliciting a bit of an emotional response from the nation's couch potatoes. It seems that years of sitting on the couch in the dark, munching potato chips while playing shooter games online and prattling endlessly into their headsets, has turned some of the people—"hardcore gamers" as we call them—into physical disaster areas. And now they're worried that Kinect is going to require them to actually (get this) stand up and potentially bring on a heart attack or at least a head rush. Fear not, gentle giants. Microsoft says that "Kinect can \\[also\\] be used while sitting, when an experience is developed with sitting in mind." I'm envisioning a Kinect shooter game that requires you to sit on the couch and interact with a normal Xbox 360 controller; the game could track your "movement" and then, when you're done, report back how long you sat there. You know, assuming you don't trip the limits of the device's floating point processor. Seriously, spend some time outside.
Microsoft Delivers Silverlight for Symbian
And if you don't know what Silverlight or Symbian are, you're probably in the majority. Let's just move on.
China Renews Google License
Today, China renewed Google's license to operate its websites in that country, ending a nail-biting episode in which the future of Google in China was in doubt. "We look forward to continuing to provide web search and local products to our users in China," a Google statement reads. "As a company, we aspire to make information available to users everywhere, including China." Because of a dispute with the Chinese government—something about spying, hacking, and theft—Google had been redirecting Chinese users to web servers in Hong Kong. But with its license renewed, Google can began filtering search results again and preventing Chinese citizens from finding out the truth about their corrupt government. Victory!
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week on the usual day and time. It should be available by the weekend on iTunes and the Zune Marketplace, in both audio and video formats.
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