May 3, 2012
Google Play may not be the least confusing name for a digital storefornt and the collection of wares that it offers exclusives the Web apps that are offered via its Chrome Web Store. But the rebranding of what was primarily Android Market best represents what an integrated way to purchase the main digital media types – apps, music and video, and books and magazines – should be. While Amazon has subbrands e-books (Kindle Store) and its music and video service (Amazon Instant Video), but these are under the Amazon umbrella brand that is synonymous with retailing..
Apple, though, remains stuck with three different stores for music and video, apps, and books. And two of those storefronts use the iTunes name which, in addition to mixing the function of an organization tool and a storefront, is far out of date with respect to what might be considered relevant to a “tune.” Yes, Apple, can take its time in revealing how a brand makes sense after all, but “iPod” connoted something general. In contrast, iTunes connotes something specific.
Indeed, Microsoft has been on a similar path. It has the Windows (Phone) Marketplace for apps, Zune for music and videos, and its new partnership with Barnes and Noble will result in a Nook-branded e-book store. If iTunes is too broadly associated with the success of one type of digital media, though, Zune of course has the opposite problem, and I’ve never understood why Microsoft would hang on to a brand so strongly associated with a device that failed in the market. The company has decided to move on from its branding of Windows Live, but it also has been known to keep services limping along forever.
Tags: Amazon, app stores, Apple, digital retailing, ecosystems, Google, Google Play, Microsoft
May 19, 2011
Like many, including Bill Gates, I think Microsoft’s purchase of Skype will be a boon for the company’s presence in the wireless and home video chat space. But, of course, the company isn’t exactly a newcomer in the instant messaging and video chat space. It was early to market with NetMeeting, and for the past few years has been pushing forward on Windows Live – nee MSN — Messenger, now part of Windows Live Essentials, which Microsoft positioned as the rapidly evolving part of Windows before Microsoft it mandated that Windows itself needed to evolve much more rapidly. (I suppose Windows Live Essentials will now be the part of Windows that most now evolve at ludicrous speed.)
Windows Live Messenger has attracted a large audience itself. On the software’s tenth anniversary in 2009, Microsoft shared that Windows Live Messenger it had 330 million active users per month.. We haven’t, however, seen a lot of detail on what will happen to Windows Live Messenger after the Skype acquisition. Steve Ballmer didn’t mention the offering once during the press conference although it did appear on a slide. There was also a reference to providing Skype additional talent resources. Clearly the Live Messenger team would be prime for picking there.
The Windows Live Messenger installed base may add significantly to Skype’s already massive installed user footprint. Ultimately, however, and putting aside infrastructure, Skype’s superior cross-platform progress is critical for any cross-platform chat and collaboration platform. Microsoft’s MacBU had created a wisely renamed version of Messenger for the Mac, but now Microsoft will be able to tap into a wider array of handsets and put more pressure on Apple to bring FaceTime outside of Apple’s own devices.
Tags: collaboration, FaceTime, Live Messener, Microsoft, Skype, video chat, videoconferencing
March 19, 2011
My Switched On column discussing the potential benefits of Microsoft using Windows for tablets garnered over a whopping 1.100 comments. many of which were positive. As I noted in the column, though, Microsoft still has a lot to prove in basing its tablet strategy on Windows as opposed to the currently more touch-friendly if feature-strapped Windows Phone OS.
Following a tweet in which I groused about the still unsatisfying state of driver update management on Windows, that challenge became a topic of conversation on Twitter a few days ago when the question was posed as to whether Microsoft needed to have an app store – like Apple, Google, or itself on Windows Phone – in order to compete in the tablet market. If so, the app store would presumably also be available to the next version of Windows. This leads to a number of hypotheticals. Would Microsoft include an app store in desktop Windows even if it were using Windows Phone for tablets? And is an app store even necessarily for tablets?
My answer to the latter is that it is, at least to be competitive with Apple and Google, and it’s a good idea regardless. for desktop Windows, which is under seige not be any particular operating system (OS/2, Linux) as in the past, but the idea of OS insignificance, a battle that Apple is also trying to fight via its app stores both on the Mac and iOS.
Tags: iOS, Microsoft, tablets, Window sPhone
October 22, 2010
Having had some time to try Windows Phone 7, I can say that Microsoft’s overhaul of its mobile operating system – while far behind in the features and apps race versus iOS or Android – certainly has some points in its favor.
- It’s hard to find an opportunity that Microsoft passed up to add some engaging animation or transitions.
- The camera experience is par excellence, an especially welcome makeover from the confusing camera experience of Windows Mobile.
- The software keyboard and typing experience are really strong, and software-typing on the Samsung’s Focus 4” screen was one the best software keyboard experiences I’ve had on a mobile device. I also like the novel approach Microsoft has taken to adding extra symbols, by providing a slide-in.alternative symbols. It may not be particularly intuitive or time-saving, but it eliminates the need to switch into yet another keyboard mode. In any case, it’s good news that Microsoft has a solid software keyboard since, like Apple and unlike Android, it won’t allow alternative typing systems such as Swype..
- I also like the way Microsoft has implemented cursor insertion; this is key for devices that lack a separate control for fine cursor movements as present in Android and BlackBerry devices. Apple gets the edge for style, but the Microsoft approach is more effective than those of rivals.
- While Live Tiles may not provide much more – and in some cases may provide less – at a glance information than widgets, Microsoft makes a statement – and removes some user customization work — by having them as the default display, although Android also allows you to mix and match widgets and launch icons on any home screen, and even iOS and BlackBerry show badges or numeric indicators on information such as how many e-mail messages you have.
On the other hand, Windows Live Tiles also highlight the simplicity of having a simple list for applications arranged in alphabetical order. Apple has let us scroll through thousands of songs in the past, why not 100 or so apps?
- Offering Find My Phone for free is a nice value-add that can bring some peace of mind. This is a sleeper feature.
- This is an OS for avid Facebook users – no apps really needed for the core experience and no cumbersome “social networking” layers . In fact, Windows Phone 7 depends so heavily on Facebook for much of its social plumbing that it’s hard to imagine what the experience would be without it.
My main complaint at this point is the gargantuan font that Microsoft uses to label hubs and other cards. It’s stylish, and may be intended to span the panoramas of Windows Phone’s interface, but it consumes a lot of real estate. Also, while I have not played around a lot with Office, the file fidelity that Microsoft promises in round-tripping documents is offset a bit by the completely foreign user interface for Office apps.
Yes, the UI for Office-like apps is very different on other smartphone OSes as well, but it still seems like more of a departure here. Some of that may be because it’s Microsoft doing the diverging, because there is such a strong association with the interface that makes Office Office (as opposed to something like Documents to Go), or simply the novelty of the Windows Phone UI overall at this point.
And then there are the unknowns. One of the main ones for me is the hubs. On one hand, it is a more visual way to organize related apps and functionality than folders. However, I wonder how well it will scale. That, along with a lack of multitasking, is one of the issues that will be easier to assess as Windows Phone 7 attracts more applications.
Tags: hubs, Live Tiles, Microsoft, Office, Windows Phone 7
April 26, 2010
At Paul Thurott’s Supersite for Windows, Paul Thurott agrees with a recent John Dvorak column noting that Microsoft is losing the PR war by being quiet, that it should be raising the volume now in advance of Windows 8, that the successful response to the relatively quiet launch of Windows 7 happened only because Vista was a disappointment, that not every product should be kept secret until just before its launch in the way Apple launches products, and that not every product should be launched the way Windows 7 was launched.
I agree with Thurrott that Microsoft has turned down the bombast and advance exposure to many of its key products, some good recent example being Windows Phone 7 and Kin devices, but not that it is out of the conversation. It is difficult to say if the “new humility” – or a convincing impersonation of it — has resulted in warmer receptions by the media, but I believe it has. More significantly, Microsoft is paying more attention to the user experience across its products in general. This doesn’t mean that Microsoft is trying to emulate Apple, although like Apple Microsoft is increasingly speaking through its products. Putting up and shutting up are not mutually exclusive.
Incidentally, it is quite amusing to read in the piece that, when it comes to promoting Apple’s products such as the iPad, according to Thurrott, “the press markets it for them, and makes people believe that this is somehow a big deal. It’s a self-replicating back-patting, buddy system, plain and simple.” A few dozen pixels to the right of that statement is the site’s tag cloud, which includes, among the most frequent terms, “Apple” and “iPhone.”
Tags: Apple, John Dvorak, Microsoft, Paul Thorrott, secrecy, Windows, Windows Supersite
April 13, 2010
It was called Project Pink, a name so embedded in the team’s head that the Microsoft team that spoke to a small group of media gathered for a satellite launch event in New York City couldn’t avoid mentioning it. However, the accent color and default user interface are green. Forked off from the core Windows Phone 7 team, the Kin One and Kin Two explore a question that Microsoft claims it painstakingly researched: what do 15 to 25 year olds obsessed with social networks want from their handsets?
Their answer is a Windows Phone that doesn’t run apps, but instead has social networking integrated into its user interface and has solid imaging capabilities. The Kin One has a five megapixel camera whereas the less visually distinctive Kin Two has an eight megapixel camera and 720p video capture capabilities. With the exception of that HD video, the Kins will send nearly all of their information up to the cloud for review in an impressive, but potentially visually scale-challenged, Silverlight Web site called Kin Studio. Microsoft was not shy about coming up with catchy names for different parts of the Kin experience.
The Kin’s user interface is also like no other. Rather than the lines of text like many feature phones or a grid of icons like many smartphones, it takes Windows Phone’s “Metro” design of tiles and blows them out to large squares featuring items to share and people to share them with A small circle on the screen called “the spot” sends them off to be shared. Kin can also share via social networks, but still requires that you manually pick which of the three social networks supported by Kin – Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – receives the update. A classic 1.0 deficiency, sharing photos via Twitter is not supported, which leads me to think that Twitter is planning to launch its own photo sharing service.
Kin faces a number of challenges, but without yet knowing the price of the device, and how it will compete with capable, inexpensive smartphones such as the iPhone, Palm Pixi and Droid Eris, much will come down to how Verizon Wireless –– Microsoft’s exclusive launch partner in the U.S. – prices the service. I take it as a good sign that Verizon representatives did not say at launch that the standard data pricing plan would apply. On the other hand, Kin will be shooting a lot of data up into the cloud all the time, and is a much more mobile device than the iPad on which AT&T offered Apple special pricing.
The second, longer-term challenge will come from the quickly evolving nature of social networks. It is a challenge to keep up with rising stars in social networks and their related services. For example, the Kins support neither Foursqure nor Gowalla, Perhaps Microsoft is waiting to see which one rises to the popularity of Twitter. Or that might spell bad news for the company, as it currently offers its own Bing Maps to convey location information with the handsets.
Tags: Kin One, Kin Two, Microsoft, smartphones, social networking, Veirizon Wirelesss
February 17, 2009
At Mobile World Congress, Nokia and Microsoft joined Apple, RIM, Google and Palm in announcing that they’ll be supporting application stores or marketplaces for their operating systems or handsets. This should result in easier discoverabiliy of functionality for consumers and could further reward developers who have been lured by development funds. While the verdict is still out on whether the horse will pay to drink, Apple has brought the water to it..
However, there’s also an opportunity to build upon what Apple has done with its iPhone-based App Store, which started as a clean experience and still provides good exposure for popular and highlighted software. But many applications have gotten lost in the crowd.
To be fair, Apple has done a better job of providing exposure for these other programs in the iTunes software, but there’s also more that Apple could be doing with personalization. This isn’t like the iTunes music store which was hampered in its “Just For You” recommendation by relying only on paid downloads. Also, several of these new stores provided by RIM, Nokia and Microsoft could hit the ground running with an existing library of hundreds or thousands of applications and the fewer restrictions placed upon applications for many of these other operating systems should open the doors to a wider array of application types.
Tags: Android, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, smartphones, wireless marketplaces
December 1, 2008
When I wrote for MacWEEK back in the early ’90s working with Rick LePage, Missy Roback and now IDC display analyst Bob O’Donnell, the most enduring product I reviewed was probably the first version of Acrobat.
I actually preferred a competitor called Common Ground from No Hannds Software that could produce a 300-dpi bitmap that eliminated the need to embed fonts. It also had the novel ability to create a Windows executable with the document embedded from the Mac version, eliminating the need for the recipient to download a Windows reader. Today, of course, using such a feature would be ill-advised in our age of rampant viruses.
Common Ground was eventually acquired by enterprise software vendor Hummingbird and today there’s no trace of it on the company’s Web site as Acrobat ruled essentially unchallenged for more than a decade. That was, until Windows Vista with its recursive initialism XPS (XML Paper Specification). You may remember the hew and cry by Adobe regarding Microsoft’s inclusion of XPS in Vista. but it has become another Vista technology to see slow pickup like the kind I wrote about in my Switched On column a while back.
Tags: Common Ground, Microsoft, PDF, portable documents, XPS
September 19, 2008
Now that I’ve used a bit of parody to point out how some of Microsoft’s challenges with Vista aren’t really its fault, I’m again addressing Microsoft’s Vista commercials. I didn’t find the second Gates-Seinfeld spot to have as pronounced a latent message as the first, although I defended both ads’ general direction in a podcast discussion with Gene Steinberg this week (iTunes link here, MP3 file here).
The new “I’m a PC” commercial, Web presence, and what Michael Gartenberg points out to be the social aspects, though, take things in a different direction and is doing unto Apple what Apple did to Vista, mischaracterize it. As I said early on in the Get a Mac campaign, one reason the commercials worked was that they avoided the bad taste that the Switcher campaign left in many PC users’ mouths. The “Get a Mac” ads don’t really stereotype PC users, they stereotype the PC (although Hodgman’s behavior has become more bizarre as the campaign has progressed.). Reassociating the person and the platform again portrays Apple as the snide PC user-mocking company of yore. However, with Apple’s surge over the past few years and Apple stores opening their doors to millions of PC users, can that label stick? And are even satisfied PC users offended by the “Get a Mac” campaign?
The ad also evokes recent Microsoft advertising history as this notion of the PC as an empowering tool sounds very similar to Microsoft’s messaging in the “Wow starts now” ads that ran at he launch of Vista, with the new twist that acknowledges Windows’ ubiquity (which Get a Mac has also done in an ad in which PC says, “I’m still the king.”) . But that’s not necessarily bad. It reinforces that — while there may be more cause to grumble than on a Mac — the vast majority of the vast array of Vista users are being productive on the platform.
Tags: advertising, Apple, commercials, Microsoft, Windows
April 30, 2008
Those who say that desktop operating systems are irrelevant because the Internet is the center of the computing universe are too reductive (Using Ubuntu much, Mike?). Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo is, for the foreseeable future, more of a tactical move within the fast-growing and high-stakes online advertising battle vs. Google rather than some panacea.
That said, the other day I noticed that, of the 20 applications in my Start menu, I use 14 to interact with content over a local network or the Internet. The 14 are Internet Explorer and Outlook, Firefox, TiVo Desktop, Trillian, SlingPlayer, iTunes (where I regularly browse the store), Windows Live Writer, Slacker, Twhirl, XDrive Desktop, and VPN, wireless broadband and Wi-Fi utilities, Almost all of them are either available for the Mac or have quality Mac equivalents.
Tags: desktop applications, Microsoft, Yahoo