It’s less than 3 weeks since Unit 42 from Palo Alto published the IOS XCodeGhost malware that has infected 39 apps in Apple App Store. And they’re at it again! This time Unit 42 published findings on the malware YiSpecter, which uses many attack vectors with the key differentiator being Enterprise certificates & Private API to implement the hack.
This level of sophisticated is usually associated with Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)rather than a simple infection but since Apple Store has very strict checks, I guess they have to go to this level of sophistication in order to infect non-jailbroken devices.
Now I’m not saying that this malware company (YingMob Interaction) is really good, but they did “go the extra mile” to ensure a successful widespread infection by borrowing APT techniques published over the past 5 years.
In summary, YiSpecter mainly targets iPhone & iPad users in China & Taiwan, so maybe the hackers only target Simplified Chinese language users. The infection starts from infected websites, Windows-based IM platform like Tencent’s QQ Chat and forums where malicious HTML files are posted & displayed on the target IOS screen.
On IOS 8 devices, if the user click on dialog box to allow downloading the app, it is automatically installed because it contain a stolen but valid Enterprise certificate. On IOS 9, you have to switch on the permission to install Enterprise app, so new users are protected. However, if you’ve upgraded from IOS 8, it’s likely you’re still infected because YiSpecter is self-preserving, can spread the infection as part of a Botnet and is hidden from the user.
I wouldn’t go into the mechanism of the infection because it’s too technical for average users. You can find the link to the original Palo Alto notice at the end of the article.
To Clean the infection, you have to do the below:
In iOS, go to Settings -> General -> Profiles to remove all unknown or untrusted profiles;
If there’s any installed apps named “情涩播放器”, “快播私密版” or “快播0”, delete them;
Use any third-party iOS management tool (e.g., iFunBox, though note that Apple’s iTunes doesn’t work in this step) on Windows or Mac OS X, to connect with your iPhone or iPad;
In the management tool, check all installed iOS apps; if there’re some apps have name like Phone, Weather, Game Center, Passbook, Notes, or Cydia, delete them. (Note that this step won’t affect original system apps but just delete faked malware.)
Unit 42 finds that malware XcodeGhost infects 39 iOS apps, including WeChat, affecting hundreds of millions of users.
Update your software now as many of the affected developers have updated their official Apple Xcode IDE, which is NOT affected, and republished their apps. If you can’t update the app, it’s better to temporarily uninstall it.
Also make sure to change your app passwords and AppleID password as it’s likely being phished by hackers.
Update: 16/3/2015 – Corrections & additions to WP8 Nextgen Reader & Magnify, Weave Server deactivated Update: 15/3/2015 – More in-depth review of NextGen Reader for Windows 8 & WP8 Update: 12/3/2015 – additional info for NextGen Reader for WP8
Weave is no more!
Weave News Reader was one of the first and one of the best news reader for the Windows Phone platform. I started using it when it was Windows Phone News. It is a Windows Phone exclusive app from Windows Phone 7 till now but like we Chinese say, “There’s no celebration/banquet that lasts forever.” Weave stopped working on 16 March 2015, with @Selesgames pulling the plug on the Weave server. This also means that Weave for Windows 8.x has stopped working as well.
@Selesgames has posted on Windows Central regarding the abrupt decision and while I’m sad that Arash Emami, the sole proprietor of @Selegames, is discontinuing Weave, I’m happy that he’s joining LinkedIn. Hopefully he can do something about the LinkedIn app in Windows 8 / WP8 & Windows 10.
I exclusively use Weave (Windows 8/WP8) for news on Windows, Windows Phone, Technology in general, Science & Astronomy, World News and Self-help. In fact, based on Battery sense, Weave is usually the single biggest usage of Battery!
So what’s next for users like me? Well I think it’s time to do a comparative review of some of the best news reader for the Windows/Windows Phone platform.
There are many great news aggregator in the Windows Store but I have chosen these few to compare against Weave. The areas that I’ll compare include ease of initial & subsequent setup of accounts & feeds, ease of synchronization between devices including Windows & Phones, speed of app in pulling feeds online & offline, speed in displaying news aggregate and individual articles, UX and customisations.
Converge 4.3.1 – Converge is a popular app with a 4.5 star rating. It focuses on Tech news only which makes it less useful for me but it has a very nice UI & includes a Video Hub that display all videos embedded in all the downloaded articles.
The Popular page is the Home page and you can switch between Tile mode shown below as the 2nd screen or Slideshow mode (find this in Settings) which changes to a magazine mode shown below as the 3rd screen.
It doesn’t sync to other devices and also doesn’t have a Windows 8 app, which is a waste, as the potential for this app to be popular as a Universal app on Windows 8 & 10 is definitely great.
Flipboard 2.6 – Flipboard is a social-media driven news aggregator app that’s ported from IOS. The main draw of Flipboard for IOS users was it simulates the page curling and flipping when you switch between articles, akin to flipping the page of a magazine. Alas, this flipping transition was not ported in WP8 thus reducing the “magic.”
The lineage of the app is very Apple-esque. The Windows version is very versatile but UI takes some getting used to. Things like Following which Feed or which Category was scattered all over the Modern app. I have not tried Flipboard on my iPad so I can’t tell if it works the same way there but I felt it could have been better organized. Flipping the page and other navigation is through keyboard left and right cursor keys or the Scroll on your mouse. BUT, there was NO indication on the screen on how that’ll work if you’re not using a touchscreen! Unlike other Modern apps like Microsoft News which has pop-up left/right edge cues, Flipboard for Windows doesn’t have those!
After you spend a few hours sieving through all the hundreds of feeds/website/categories/whatever and Follow the correct Feeds, you’d be very happy as it syncs back to your Flipboard account and that will propagate to all your devices. Unfortunately, there seems to be some issues with my Flipboard for Windows. After I’ve followed some feeds, it doesn’t sync back to my Flipboard account. It will always revert to the default Flipboard feeds & categories.
FlipBoard for WP8 works much better as it syncs perfectly with my Flipboard account and with other devices. However, it overwrites all the categories I’ve selected in FlipBoard for Windows. Now sieving through so many feeds isn’t productive on a small screen so it’s a real bummer that FlipBoard for Windows wasn’t synching properly.
A lot of potential here but it takes too much time to get to the news I want.
Fuse 22.214.171.124 – Fuse is created by legendary Windows Phone developer Rudy Huyn. It is a very functional software with an interesting Film reel layout. Setting up is quite easy but still requires you to sieve through a huge list categories of RSS feeds. After which you can categories it according to your preference.
It is the least polished of the apps in this round-up and lacks important features like sync to cloud and a Universal app for Windows 8/10. The film reel news feed, while functional, is very distracting with huge website name and the perforated separator for time making this part of the UI rather clunky and un-modern.
There’re some nice touches and animations here and there like all of Rudy’s other apps but this app definitely could use more development.
Microsoft News 126.96.36.1991 – Microsoft 1st party News app is a showcase of how a Modern app should be like and they have more or less succeeded in that mission. BUT, it’s also the least customizable of all the apps in this comparison. There’re also some nagging bugs like the Featured News showing SUPER OLD NEWS. See the picture below!
The pre-installed list of news sites are very few and doesn’t cover the full spectrum of interests and categories. You could make it show news from all your favourite websites but you’d have to manually key in the address and configure the RSS, which is why I only use MS News to follow Singapore & World news.
For some reasons, MS removed a great feature which allows you to add your own “Topic of interest.” This is moved to Cortana so I suppose MS means for us to use Cortana as our News source?
Nextgen Reader 188.8.131.52 – Nextgen Reader is another 4+ star app that has won the praise of many user and reviewers. It is highly functional and the Windows UI is modeled after Outlook Express. It’s also a Universal app which automatically syncs your account between devices.
However, its Achilles’ Heels is the configuration has to happen at the Feedly website. As a client only, it is not possible to configure from the Windows app. Fortunately, the Feedly website is easy to navigate with interest & categories clearly sorted and searchable. Even though the list isn’t pre-selected or curated, it was very easy for me to add the individual websites into the category as major topics of interest are #hashtagged in search. Unlike Flipboard or Fuse, getting organized was super easy & quick, and I don’t feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of websites.
After I’ve added some of the websites that was curated from Weave, I selected a few more which were not in Weave’s list. After that, clicking Sync in the Windows 8 Nextgen Reader immediately displays all my selection from the website. It was super easy!
Opening the app in WP8 was the same, the list and news feeds were all sync and ready to read. I just have to change the view to “Headline with Large Image” and it works almost the same as Weave!
You can add & delete Feeds from within the WP8 app which makes it a bit weird that the Windows app can’t. Did I miss something? WP8 Nextgen Reader has an awesome built-in Twitter sharing engine but if you prefer another app, you can always disable to share via WP8 Shares, or you could have BOTH! This multiplicity of functions is what I’ve come to expect from Desktop software. To see it in mobile apps without clunking up the whole UI is why I love WP8 platform and why I’m growing to like Nextgen Reader more everyday.
I subscribe to a large number of Feeds from multiple sources and it can go into the hundreds within a few hours. I don’t read every article, so I scroll through the list and tap only those I’m interested in. A very useful feature for both Windows & WP8 is the ability to, “Mark above as Read.” This allows me to go through a huge list of articles and simply mark ‘read’ the posts that I’ve scrolled past so I don’t have to go through them again later.
Nextgen Reader is not the prettiest of the bunch but so far, it’s the closest competitor to Weave. After using it for a couple of days I find that there were some areas that can be improved. In the WP8 app, currently in List view, ‘Read’ articles are denoted by a greyed Headline, it would be much clearer if the preview image was greyed as well. And when I go into an article, I have to tap “get full article”, why not set this as the default behavior? This is true for both Windows & WP8.
Magnify News Reader 3.1.7 – Magnify (Beta) is a beautiful app with so much bells and whistles, they had to create a video tutorial that runs the first time you open the app. It is also a Feedly client like NextGen Reader and thus, all my feeds are downloaded and sync to the app immediately after I sign in. If you haven’t create feeds in Feedly website, the app will appear empty and that’s why I scratched my head the first time I installed it months ago. The UI & UX is vastly different from NextGen Reader and users who like 3D animations are in for a treat.
All the transitions have 3D animations, from Home Page to individual section, there’s that flying pages animation. In the Preview page, scrolling up & down also scrolls up and down the Preview images. Once inside the article, a 3D cube effect changes the page instead of a standard scroll.
The app is also packed with tons of features that I use regularly in Weave so this is definitely a strong contender, although I must say that after reading a few articles, I got a headache from all the animations. Fortunately, there’s an ‘Article view’ which switches off the 3D cube effect and just scroll as per normal.
A very important feature that sets it apart from Nextgen Reader is the included Curated lists when you tap the “+” hub. It is a full featured Feed management system which gives users the ability to manage their Feeds completely within the app or use the pre-selected ones in each category or interest. It’s also more powerful than Weave and almost as easy to use as the Feedly website, which is an impressive feat given the limited screen size. Also, when I tap to view an article, Magnify shows the preview while downloading the full (mobilised) article automatically in the background. Kudos to the developers!
Its biggest annoyance is perhaps the lack of the “Mark above as Read” which is so useful in Nextgen Reader. Since the Feeds are not paginated, I have to tap on individual Feeds group if I think I cannot finish all the posts at one go. Within the Article list, you can only Mark all ‘Read’ or ‘Unread’. This can definitely be improved. Personally, the app is a bit too colourful for my liking but if you like your Groups to be colour-coded and fully customizable, you’d love Magnify!
Weave News Reader 184.108.40.206 – Weave News Reader. Much has been written about it. It’s a fantastic news reader for the busy person. It looks fantastic when it first came out. While the look is a bit dated now with Flipboard & Magnify looking awesome, Weave still gets the job done pretty well.
One of its best feature, the Weave (mobiliser) server that Weave News Reader sync to is no longer unique and in fact, can be unstable at times. Certain website also doesn’t get mobilised, including some of my favourite websites, causing Weave to switch to the much slower Web View. Beside mobilising the webpage, the Weave Server also prepares the page for Text-to-Speech, which is a great feature not available in most other apps.
Unfortunately, Weave News Reader has its fair share of bugs like the synchronization of Read/Unread posts can become out-of-sync between devices. When the Weave server was unstable, Weave News Reader would crash or its Live Tile can go haywire. Another very common complain was a stuck Live Tile but that’s less common after WP8.1.
Having said that, Weave still has the best curated list of websites sorted into interest & categories to get newbies up and running quickly. After that, you can opt to sync to your Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter or Google Account. This allows your selected feeds to sync between devices, including read/unread posts so you can continue reading on the go or at home/office.
You can easily customize your preferred website or add more if you so desire although IIRC Feedly isn’t supported. Articles can be easily shared to multiple destinations without any fuss and you can favourite any posts so it stays in your synchronized feed forever, or until Weave server goes dark on 14th March.
Weave has tons and tons of features but somehow doesn’t feel cluttered and is one of the best example of a modern app there is!
Which app is the winner?
Well, after this review, I still prefer Weave but since I have to choose an alternative, my recommendation goes to NextGen Reader. It has the best balance between UX, UI, features & customisations. I’d continue to play with the other apps and update this article with my thoughts as I go along.
To help readers make up their own mind, here’s a table.
Comments are welcome and if you want me to review another app on either Windows or WP8, I’d be happy to do so when I have the time. Remember to like my post & subscribe!
Yes, the general buzz among the press & some analyst is that Microsoft should release their Office suite for Android & iOS because it could make them an additional USD2.5 billion a year of revenue. PC is in decline with sharp YoY reduction in shipment & Windows will soon be irrelevant.
I disagree on all these points because I think the short-term gain will actually hurt the overall Microsoft eco-system & is a bad business decision all round. Wintel is in a transition of shifting to full-mobile with Microsoft betting on Windows 8, RT & WP8 and Intel betting on going low-power with minimal performance increase with Haswell & Bay Trail CPUs.
The world economy is also slowing down & more people are upgrading their current PCs than buying new ones because for the 2nd time in history, Windows 8 can run on lesser hardware than Windows 7, just like Windows 7 can run on lesser hardware then Windows Vista.
I’ve been upgrading my PC for more than 10 years with a motherboard/CPU/RAM change every 3-4 years & other peripherals as and when my PC games requires.
So why do I disagree with these analyst? Maybe because of hindsight…
Time for some history lesson
In 1996, Palm Pilot was launched as a simple organizer with a touchscreen + handwriting input. It was a hit very quickly due to its simplicity, small size & light weight, and it soon replaced many paper organizer. The PDA moniker was born.
Microsoft quickly realize that there was demand for a mobile version of Windows on small touchscreen devices & soon launched Pocket PC in 2000. Many professional soon realize the power of having Windows in the pocket. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to use & it’s also impossible to use without a stylus so initial marketshare wasn’t very high.
Palm very quickly updated their OS capabilities & greatly improved the hardware on a yearly basis & very soon, they’re the dominant smart devices on the market. However, when the phone & Internet was introduced into the hardware, Palm started to struggle against more general-purpose operating systems like PocketPC & Symbian.
As the PDA & mobile phone converged allowing the convenience of wireless Internet access through GPRS data connectivity, Microsoft quickly secured many vendors to make Windows Mobile & Windows Mobile Phones & opened their development tools for free to encourage developers to make apps for it.
This resulted in some of the best apps coming to Windows Mobile first or exclusively. This on top of the capability of the OS being able to run on very underpowered ARM CPU of the time soon saw Windows Mobile surpass Palm as the dominant platform.
*Symbian is more of a smarter feature phone than general-purpose smartphone that we recognize today so I don’t regard Symbian as a true smartphone until late 2000 when it was too late*
One of the reasons is MS Office Mobile + the huge amount of free apps + some very high quality paid apps. For serious smartphone users of the day, the only platform to consider was Windows Mobile. It’s also well-known that many Palm users “graduated” to Windows Mobile as they found Palm too restrictive.
Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t take iOS & Android seriously enough & Windows Mobile 6 was not a big change from Windows Mobile 5 resulting in 2 years of stalled development & lost of the market.
So it’s well-known that Microsoft is trying to win back marketshare & mineshare with Windows RT, Windows Phone & Surface devices.
Many professionals have tried iPad & Android tablets for work & many are feeding back that these touch-devices should have many features that Windows 8 & RT already have for years like Windowing, robust Networking stack with Enterprise level encryption support for Active Directory, device management & Microsoft Office.
In fact, many professionals & students who are more savvy are putting aside their iPads & Android tablets for the new Microsoft Surface & Surface Pro because these are viable tablets AND laptop replacement devices that runs Microsoft Office!
One of my clients just picked up his Surface RT in Singapore soon after launch because after years of iPad & Android tablets, he hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office which he needed for work. He said that he can finally sell his iPad & Android tablet.
Besides the Microsoft Surface devices, there’re also pretty decent hybrids like the Lenovo Thinkpad 2, HP Envy X2, Acer Iconia W510/700 & Samsung ATIV Smart PC. If you like exotic flavours, there are the Asus Taichi & Dell Yoga to consider as well.
These devices running Windows 8 & to some extent Windows RT can already do more than iPads & Android tablets because they’re full OS & not stripped-down mobile OS. So in terms of entertainment, Windows tablets is already well covered. You can run VLC player or Media Player Classic which can play almost all known audio & video format & connect it to your Full HD TV for large screen goodness. Since there’s an HDMI connector in every Win 8/RT tablet, you can connect to your AV Receiver & replace your media boxes like WDTV & A.C. Ryan.
At the same time, you can get work done because these devices all support Microsoft Office. Windows RT even bundles it for free with the exception of Outlook.
So we can see that Windows is intricately tied to Office & vice versa. Microsoft is trying to secure Windows future by going “Metro” or “Modern” or the Tile thing that flips all the time. It looks daunting & different and people are scared of change but trust me… It’s the right way forward. Icons are so 90s & Widgets can consume battery like crazy.
This means that for Microsoft to succeed in the future, Windows must succeed & for that to happen, people mindset must be change & this education/perception takes time. Once people have accepted & embraced Metro, Microsoft can think about releasing Office for other platforms, or not…
If Microsoft were to release Office for other platforms now, they would basically be shooting both feet off Windows 8/RT proverbial legs. This is similar to the situation now with Windows Phone 8.
Microsoft should strengthen WP8 by releasing more first-party Xbox games like Halo. They should also have released 1st-party apps like the fantastic Photosynth on WP first, instead of iOS. And don’t even get me started on Skype. After almost 1 year, the dream of free video calls or VoIP just like a normal phone call hasn’t been fulfilled. Skype should already be integrated into WP People & Message Hub by now!
Let’s hope Windows Blue brings all these together & don’t let Office leave the family. There’s no turning back once MS Office is outside Windows. It’s as good as losing control of your best property.
On 14/6/2013, Microsoft announced Office Mobile for iPhone, which is very similar to what Windows Mobile had since 2003 and Windows Phone since 2010. You need an active Office 365 account to use Office for iOS and yes, editing is possible but clumsy on a small screen (same problem in Windows Mobile & Windows Phone). Office for iPad is still not available, which is a smart move.
I think Microsoft did the right thing. On one hand, they’ve shown that Office for iOS is 100% ready, to appease pesky institutional investors, but at the same time, they aren’t giving Office away (yet) to the iPad to solidify Apple’s growing foothold in the Enterprise market.
Microsoft have the responsibility to ensure that traditional PC ecosystem players from software houses & hardware OEM have figured out how to transition to a purely mobile PC platform before they allow Office to move to other platform (if ever, hopefully never.)
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.
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.
This article is about what I think a Windows 8 Tablet should be like.
A bit of background… My first Tablet PC was an Acer TravelMate C110 running Windows XP Tablet Edition. My current is a Fujitsu Lifebook T4210 (upgraded with Bluetooth, 4GB RAM, T7200 CPU & Self-encrypting SSD). The current machine started life with WinXP Tablet as well & was dual-booted with Vista, & finally replaced with Windows 7 Pro 32bit. SO I have a total of 8 years+ of Tablet usage.
I’m looking for a new Windows Tablet because my current doesn’t have a Touchscreen & it’s not something I can upgrade.
Based on my years of using Tablets, I have come to several conclusions which I’ll share here.
The new Tablet OS, Windows 8
Windows 8 is a rethinking of how people will use Tablets to Create Content in the future, versus, Consuming Content on the iPad & Android tablets. It’s made to run special Windows 8 applications + run your good old MS Office & Photoshop, etc.
By supporting 2 different mindsets, Content Consumption + Creation, Microsoft is trying to allow people who like iPads to enjoy ease-of-use & good battery life anywhere anytime. They are also trying to appeal to the office worker who wants a fast, stable & productive platform to get on with work to make the money to enjoy life. There is actually a 3rd mindset which isn’t well-defined yet, that of the gamer/home entertainment with XBox Live integration so we should have to wait to see how that works out.
Microsoft new vision is this. While on the move or onthe sofa, you’d be carrying a light-weight tablet that runs low-power content consumption apps from Microsoft Store & enjoy long battery life. When in the Office, you can plug it into a dock that’s connected to your Keyboard/Mouse/20″ monitor to work & run your old MS Office & Photoshop, etc.
After you’re done, you can bring the tablet home & plug it into your Home Entertainment center where you can play your games or watch streaming video on your 55″ 3D LED TV. That’s the vision Microsoft is pushing for Windows 8. Can it work? Yes! All the technology needed are there, WiDi, DLNA, 4G, HDMI…
Now Windows 8 Beta is coming out soon & should be almost feature complete. It should be interesting for people who has Touchscreen Tablets/Slate because they get to experience this vision first-hand. Some of the suggestions from Developers have been adopted in the Beta & it’ll be interesting to see how far MS goes to satisfy End-users when the Release Candidate comes out by mid-2012.
Hardware, the physical tablet must feel good & look good!
Many manufacturers have also pledged to launch Win8 Slates in H2 2012 after their Android Tablets fail to make a dent in iPad sales. If these new Slates are less than SGD$1000, it will attract buyers (with enough advertising & education.)
The current batch of Windows tablets (in Singapore), Acer W500, Asus B121 & Fujitsu Q550 all have fatal flaws that makes them unattractive to buyers. Chief among them is Windows 7 of course. There’re too much bad press about Windows 7 being a lousy tablet OS. Some of the complaints are true but many the reviewers don’t know what they’re talking about. Let me say again, Windows 7 is a competent Tablet OS when configured right.
It’s easy to configure Windows 7 to be easy to navigate using Touch. All the settings are inside the Control Panel (bigger icons/text & space in between/super large themes). StartBar can be docked to the side & gesture controls can be used to navigate the interface.
The problem, of course, is these things should be pre-configured by the Tablet makers themselves, not the end-users. Slapping a custom layer over Windows 7 desktop isn’t the answer as well! Therefore, the fault lies in these makers, Acer, Asus & even Fujitsu who just slap Windows 7 in as if they’re selling Desktops. No customisations whatsoever!
On top of that, these tablets are either too heavy or too bland or too slow. Take a look at the new Nokia Lumia 800 & 900. People naturally gravitate towards the better looking device even if the specs aren’t as fantastic as a dull looking but super-fast one! Early iPhones & iPads are the BEST examples!
The brains behind the operations, the CPU
The other flaw is CPU. Intel Atom CPU + motherboard + chipset was too expensive for its performance. Being single-core with low bus speed + a GPU that’s slower than molasses. It can’t even play a decent 720p video without dropping most of the frames.
The coming generation of Dual-core Atom CPU (Cedar Trail) should finally solve the problem unless Intel screws up somehow. Dual-core, higher bus speed, support for 4GB RAM + a PowerVR GPU should allow 720p video playback (clear enough for a 10-12″ screen or a 55″ TV). A typical person using this tablet for media consumption & business usage should have no complains about lag. Gamers wouldn’t be interested in Atom CPU of course but home entertainment is definitely doable!
Makers of tablet (Asus) also shouldn’t be using Core i5 in their Tablets. It adds weight & $ cost for heat dissipation & reduce battery life, or they have to use a bigger battery thus increasing weight. Considering Core i5 + chipset uses >30W while Atom + chipset uses <10W. A 4-cell battery powering an Atom N2800 should last >4 hours of actual usage with WiFi on & screen at half-brightness.
SSD prices have come down by a lot on the lower-end, 32-64GB. If storage is not enough, a 32GB SDcard or MicroSD is also dirt cheap. With all these drop in prices, I do not see why a Win8 Slate should be more than $1000.
Let’s guesstimate the costs of the perfect Windows 8 tablet…
MS Windows 8 Home OEM license – $130
Intel Atom N2800 CPU – USD47
4GB DDR2/3-800 SODIMM RAM – $50
Kingston SSDNow Self-encrypting 32GB – $100
IPS 10″ LED screen – est. $150
Li-ion 4-cell battery – est. $100
Motherboard + WiFi + Bluetooth – est. $80
Chassis + Gorilla glass + Touchscreen + Active Digitizer – est. $120
Total around $800 including box + packaging! Maybe I’m optimistic but I think $1000 for this Tablet is entirely possible! If you include branding/advertising, it’s still an additional $100 at most. Still near to the price of a White iPad 2 32GB. Tablet makers can even throw in a 32GB SDcard to act like a secondary storage & only add another $20 to BOM cost.
We can see from the Android camp that users are demanding higher & higher performance by using Quad-core CPUs & integrated high-performance GPU to save power & improve Android’s laggy nature. The irony is, Windows 7 is super optimised already & Intel is simply lagging behind on the low-power front. Nobody I know liked their Netbook due to the many (artificial) limitations that Intel put on the Atom CPU. The only decent Atom is the Cedar Trail CPU that I just mentioned but the price is not low either.
Intel should watch out since Windows 8 will be able to run on some ARM-based platform like Nvidia Tegra & Qualcomm Snapdragon S4. I’m not mentioning ARM-based Windows 8 because older Wintel apps like MS Office cannot run on ARM-based Windows 8 unless Microsoft emulate x86 platform on ARM which will be a major engineering undertaking, not to mention the high licensing fees they have to pay Intel. I may be wrong but I’m pretty sure MS will not do this for many years to come.
So the question is, why aren’t PC makers chunning out great tablets? Maybe it’s because there wasn’t a strong enough vision until Apple launched the iPad or Microsoft was so pre-occupied with the Anti-Trust lawsuits that they didn’t listen to customer demands for the past 10 years. Or even maybe because Bill Gates has left the building.
We have been pushing for lighter tablets with better battery life for the longest time but while Sony & Lenovo have 1KG laptops with >8 hour battery, they didn’t translate these to the Tablet form factor. It has been extremely fustrating for Tablet users like me for the longest time, but finally it seems that our prayers are being answered with Windows 8.
In conclusion, 4 things must come together for the Windows 8 Tablet to be successful or better yet, be desirable.
1. Windows 8 is already super efficient in terms of CPU/Memory performance. It’s the Interface that’s the biggest bet for Microsoft. So far the Metro design language seems to be winning praise from Press & developers. Windows 8 has 2 interfaces, Metro for media consumption & traditional for media creation. If Microsoft listens to End-users during the Beta & makes the necessary adjustment, Windows 8 Metro could be wildly successful. Many people are already praising the Metro interface on the Xbox 360 & Windows Phone 7 Mango, so chances are good.
2. Hardware makers MUST make their tablet shine! Nokia has shown that with a beautiful device like the Lumia 800 & 900 + enough advertising, people will WANT to get it! Apple basically made a name for themselves around simple beautiful design with tons of advertising. That’s why there are calls for Nokia to make a Win8 tablet based on that polycarbonate shell! I certainly would love a Lumia tablet but that HP Slate is cool as well!
3. Intel must support Windows 8 by making a CPU/chipset that’s fast enough & cheap enough. So far the Intel Atom CPU has been a joke in the market. More than anything, users were not satisfied with Netbook due to lag. It’s ok for the processing to be slow but it’s NOT ok for the mouse to stop working after clicking something. This is the problem with a single-core CPU on a desktop OS.
4. Price. Fujitsu Stylistic has been the pinnacle of TabletPC in the Slate format for many years, but few companies & even fewer individuals can afford the $5000-6000 price tag. So long as manufacturers stick to Intel Atom Cedar Trail, they can afford to use cheaper components. These few years has battled the economy of many countries. Having a fast enough tablet at an affordable price will be a major factor in determining how many buyers they can attract which will further drive adoption rates.
To say that I’m excited about new Win8 product launches later this year is an understatement, especially with all the cool Ultrabooks that these same makers can make. If they (Microsoft/Intel/Manufacturers) get the above 4 points right, we could get a iPad killer. Until then, we can wish & pray.