Opinions

No WP8 upgrade for current WP7 users. Are we being short-changed?

Intro

Microsoft has finally unveiled the Windows Phone 8 platform, codenamed “Apollo” on Wednesday 20th June 2012. WP8 is without question the right direction & Microsoft is also wise to withhold most information on user features in case Google copy from them next week.

Below is the Full summit if you’re interested. For most enthusiasts, the first 35 minutes are the most interesting, the rest are mostly for (ex)programmers like me.

In many forums around the world, users are up-in-arms about not being able to upgrade to WP8. These complainers are mainly recent buyers of the Nokia Lumia 900 & HTC Titan II. So are these complainers right to feel angry? Let’s look at the situation objectively.

Windows 8 Summit is meant for Developers, IT managers & CTO

What many of these people don’t realise is that, the WP8 Summit is meant for developers. It was never meant to announce any new consumer features. Joe clarified this when he started his presentation & many people who watched it didn’t seem to catch that.

Anyway, WP8 finally brings feature parity against iOS 6 & Android 4.0, while enhancing on the strength of the Metro design language. The fact that WP8 promises so much might be the reason recent buyers of WP7.5 phones were unhappy that they will not be able to upgrade to WP8 in roughly 6 months time, less than 1 year into their contract.

But is Microsoft really short-changing current supporters of WP7? Let’s find out.

Other platforms

For Android, it’s been frustrating for buyers of low to mid-end devices because more often that not, these devices are never prioritized for upgrades, if at all. Only Google Nexus-branded devices are consistently getting updates but these updates are almost always very late & buggy at first. (Reminds me of Windows Mobile 6)

For iOS, Apple makes it sound so fantastic that even iPhone 3GS can upgrade to iOS 6. What they fail to mention is, most of new features of iOS 6 are not available on the 3GS & the GUI (on iOS 5.1) is so laggy, only a grandma wouldn’t mind using it. Apple likes to emphasize their user experience, but if that’s the case, they should not allow iOS 5 on the iPhone 3GS!

Why is it like this? Long time PC users will know that as software get more capability, their CPU & memory usage increase. On the PC, you can always install more RAM and/or a faster HDD/SSD. On the phone, this isn’t possible, even if the phone supports microSD.

So with every new release of software, the hardware requirement goes up. Just look at Android & iOS devices. The only exception recently is Windows 8.

New platform features in WP8

Below is a list of new features in WP8 from a developer point-of-view. Note that Microsoft has NOT talk about new user features except for the new Start Screen & Skype Integration.

  1. Windows NT kernel + Full core support similar to Windows RT
  2. Multi-CPU (& likely multi-GPU) support (Both physical & logical cores ala Hyper-threading, CrossFire & SLI)
  3. Same development environment for WP7.5, WP8, Win RT & Win 8
  4. 2 new HD resolutions
  5. Removable microSD support
  6. IE 10
  7. C/C++ support + Middleware support
  8. DirectX 11
  9. NFC
  10. MS Wallet
  11. Navteq integration/replacement of Bing Maps (With offline maps)
  12. Nokia Navigation integration into Maps (Full SatNav replacement, bye bye Garmin)
  13. Full Enterprise security, management, in-house app deployment, & compliance
  14. Sizeable Tiles!!!

Now let’s match these new features & see which one requires hardware that current WP7 phones don’t have.

  1. Windows NT kernel + Core Stacks likely require 300-400MB of RAM to boot up. With current devices, maximum is 512MB of RAM, meaning after Win NT loads, you can’t run many other apps
  2. Multi-CPU – DirectX, IE 10, Enterprise security (encryption) all require Multi-CPU to run well
  3. New resolution of phone screen – Higher PPI on the phone allows more content to be displayed clearly especially for 4″ screens & above
  4. Removable microSD – Expandable storage allow users to upgrade their storage according to needs. Flash memory is not cheap.
  5. NFC – required for MS Wallet & Tap+Share

Without good DirectX support, gaming Middleware wouldn’t work very well. Without Multi-core, IE 10 will lose the browser war. WP7.5 is already very optimised & run faster than Android & iOS 5 on single-core devices. Going forward, Microsoft’s customers like me, are not going to be satisfied if WP8 devices are not faster than Android 4.0 & iOS5 devices!

So what are we left with?

  1. Same development environment
  2. C/C++ support
  3. Navteq powered maps + navigation
  4. Sizeable Tiles

Hey! Wait a minute, this sounds just like Windows Phone 7.8!

When we look at Microsoft’s position in the mobile arena, the length of time they spent doing WP8 (more than 1 year) & the innovations coming out of the new Microsoft, it’s almost inconceivable that they’d try to alienate existing customers, both end-users & OEMs by short-changing us. Losing end-users also gives OEMs less incentive to make smartphones running WP8. All bad bad situations for Microsoft’s already weak position.

Conclusion… Not short-changed!

In conclusion, with some concrete evidences & some extrapolations, I think we’re not short-changed at all & Microsoft hasn’t even announced their consumer features yet. (Although I will get upset if WP7.8 is just the Start Screen upgrade.)

It just doesn’t make sense to offer WP8 to existing users because our hardware simply cannot support the huge amount of stuff in WP8, & Microsoft is not going to sugarcoat it like Apple does. Unfortunately for Microsoft, users of Microsoft products typically identify the hardware more strongly than the software. This is a direct consequence of detaching the software from hardware in order to give consumer more choices.

Apple fans, when they find out Siri doesn’t work on iPhone 4, they go out & buy iPhone 4S almost immediately. Microsoft simply don’t have that kind of brand loyalty especially after their Anti-trust legal battles almost 10 years ago.

So if you own a Lumia 900 or Titan II, don’t sell yet! Wait a few weeks for Microsoft to announce what’s in WP7.8  & WP8 before making a decision whether Microsoft deserve your business!

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Opinions

OEMs can’t do it, so Microsoft DID IT!

This is a follow-up for my previous post on What I think a Windows 8 Tablet should be like.

Intro

Finally, our prayers have been answered. While Computex showed some interesting Windows 8 tablet concepts. Most of it was just gimmicky (Asus Taichi) or rehash of a failure (Acer W510/W700) or plain uncomfortable (Lenovo Yoga).

Before Microsoft Surface

The Acer W700 looks like it may be the closest to my wishlist but then they added that huge useless stand. I sure they can squeeze a couple of Lithium cells in there.

The Acer W510 is interesting because the keyboard has an additional battery & based on the battery life it’s an Atom but is it dual-core? Acer isn’t saying.

Asus Taichi looks very impressive & I’m sure some people is going to love the dual-screen, but can you imagine the current draw on the battery? Even when the screen is off, there’s current leakage which can absolutely kill the battery!

Lenovo Yoga has a flip to the back 360° hinge, so in tablet mode, your hand is caressing the keyboard keys. Very nice if you’re an accordion player, not so nice for the rest of us.

The Future

What is Microsoft to do? Well, they did this!

The Microsoft Surface

Not to be confused with the Super-cool but super-expensive coffee table, the new Surface(s), one for Windows RT & one for Windows 8 Pro, is targeted at the iPad & Android tablet market & the TabletPC market respectively. (The coffee-table is now called PixelSense.)

Microsoft worked in secret for this tablet & the engineering effort shows in the precision in the whole thing. Unlike the iPad, the Surface is also easily repairable like all Microsoft hardware products. See the torx screws at the bottom?

The Fully magnesium-alloy chassis is also used in many hi-end tablets/Ultrabooks from Lenono Thinkpad X series to Fujitsu T & S series because of strength & toughness, but this is an expensive material to use & machine. In the Surface, it’s basically magnesium & Gorilla Glass 2.0 protecting the thing. So this thing is NOT going to be cheap. BOM cost is going to be high. So I’m hoping this is like the 1st-gen Xbox & Microsoft sell at or below cost to secure market share. (Me dreaming…)

Why is Microsoft doing this now?

Some bloggers & tech journalist mentioned threat to the Windows eco-system. What do they mean? Windows is installed in more than 1 billion PCs around the world. When you add up all the Macs + iPad, it’s only 300million. (Phones not included). What threat?

Well, Microsoft’s Windows is 1 of the pillars of profit. Over the years, it’s profitability has reduced slightly. One of the reason is iPad is good enough for many people’s needs + iPhones has 30+% of worldwide smartphone market. Many of these people still need a PC to connect & manage these devices. A big portion has chosen Mac OS to be THAT device. Granted, many of them still buy Windows licenses to run in Parallel, but that’s because they NEED to, not because they WANT to.

The soonest their work don’t need Windows, they wouldn’t even boot up or upgrade their Windows license. Microsoft knows this, hardware makers know this, Apple knows this & now, so does Google with their Chrome OS.

After the uninspiring show at Computex, Microsoft announced this ultra-secret press conference to salvage developers’ interest. Remember, without apps & hardware, the eco-system is dead. Just look at RIM, lotsa BB 10 demos but no devices yet. Developer interest is low.

Apple just finished their WWDC & Google is doing their thing next week. On Wednesday, Microsoft will share Windows Phone 8 Apollo with the rest of the world. Monday was the best time to drop the bomb.

Mostly good reception but doubters exist.

Some bloggers criticized Microsoft for always announcing things way before product availability unlike Apple. These bloggers must not have covered the tech industry for very long or they’re only covering Apple, who deal mostly with consumers.

Microsoft has to announce things early so that companies can set the direction & upgrade path for the next few quarters. CTOs cannot have disruption to their business because a vendor suddenly change or discontinue product lines, something Google is famous for, or new features which are incompatible with company infrastructure, Apple’s forte.

Yes, BYOD is on the rise. But in many industries, accountability & compliance is still paramount. Microsoft is successful because they do not disrupt their product lines like Apple do. Surface is the most logical way of moving forward & setting the bar for OEM to follow, just like how Intel set the Ultrabook reference design. Microsoft is also not withholding any special software features so OEMs can play on even ground when they get their acts together.

Another mitigating factor is, Surface is unlikely to be cheap (assuming Microsoft sell at a premium), so OEMs can differentiate themselves using price & features like the laptops & PC.

Research houses like Ovum pointed out a jarring & horrible user experience. Jarring maybe, horrible? Hardly. If you’re using Win RT, the chances of you dropping to Desktop is low & only for Office 15 which you’d use when you’re sitting down & working with the keyboard cum cover. I’d like to ask Ovum researchers, when you’re on the move, will you be formatting your text & checking grammar or generating numbers of Excel or Access, or will you be taking hand-written notes, audio notes & shooting the event with the camera?

For Surface Pro, a stylus is included so you can still use all your Enterprise software that uses ink. When used as a laptop, the keyboard/mouse is still used & Aero is still easy to navigate. When on the move, Metro takes center-stage. Jarring? Yes, but humans are adaptable.

Will Surface cannibalize OEM tablet sales? Just look at why Google came out with their Nexus series of phones. The OEMs can’t make it well. Look what happened to Samsung after helping Google? Their Galaxy line of smartphones benefitted greatly from getting frontline support from Google & Google’s vision.

In Microsoft case, Microsoft Hardware division designed the tablet in-house, according to Pinoys, the actual device is probably made in China by Pegatron. If we look at the hardware market for Mice & Keyboards, you still have a very healthy eco-system with Microsoft, Logitech & Razor on top, & tons of China/Taiwanese brands serving the mid-to-low end market.

Remember, we’re talking about Windows PCs here, which has more than 1 Billion physical devices. Right now, Microsoft has to grow this tablet market so that eventually these OEMs can rejoin at a later date with compelling products.

If cannibalization is the worry, I think the Surface (& subsequent OEM efforts) may wipe out the OEMs’ own Android tablets & overtake iPads. With a wide variety of Windows tablets to choose from, Microsoft’s vision is to beat the iPad the way they beat the MacIntosh 20 years ago.