Reviews, Solutions

Best Replacement for Weave News Reader

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!

Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.
Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.

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.

The contenders

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.

The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It's also distinctively Modern.
The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It’s also distinctively Modern.

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.

FlipBoard for Windows is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.
FlipBoard for Windows (Above) is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 (Below) is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.

Fuse 2.4.0.2 – 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.

Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.
Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.

Microsoft News 3.1.4.381 – 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?

MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive.
MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive. News for Windows (Above) has a tendency to show old news. News app for WP8 (Below) is great though with Auto-sync.

Nextgen Reader 6.3.0.5 – 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.

NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!
NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!

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!

Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.
Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.

Weave News Reader 8.7.0.2 – 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.

Winner in Red.
Winner in Red.

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!

Reviews

Microsoft Windows Phone 7.8 is here but could have been more!

ImageMy Lumia 800 updated to WP7.8

Nokia delivers!

As promised by Nokia, Windows Phone 7.8 was released this morning & many people are already receiving the notification to update. I didn’t so I had to use the Network cable unplug/disable method to “trick” Microsoft update servers. It worked albeit I had to babysit the entire process since the update came in 3 parts & I had to perform the trick 3 times.

General Impression

If you’ve read my previous article about whether MS is shortchanging WP7 users, you’d see that I concluded the article with we’re not shortchanged unless it’s just the Start Screen & nothing else. Well…

The truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s the Start screen but with not much else…

I like it that the Tiles are bigger & support all the new Windows Phone 8 Tile sizes, I also like that the screen refresh rate *seems* to be 60hz making transitions & scrolling smoother.

There’s also the Bing Lock screen that refresh your Lock Screen picture everyday but I very much prefer my Lumia 920 Facebook Lock Screen.

Nokia Bluetooth Share seems to appear in Marketplace after WP7.8 probably due to more Bluetooth profiles being implemented.

Other than that I haven’t found any other differences. MS Windows Phone Team must have dedicated a very small group of developers for so little changes.

Battle for 3rd place

I feel that this is a wasted opportunity especially with the successful launch of Blackberry 10 yesterday. BB10 came out guns blazing & seems to be a more complete platform than when MS launched WP7 in 2010. Bad publicity from a mediocre WP7.8 release will just backfire on the entire WP Eco-system as a whole.

Granted, Windows Phone 8 seems to be pretty successful with tons of compelling features with much polish, and early indications of good sales figure gave WP8 a good head start. But, to gain market share rapidly in 2013, MS & partners must compete with Android on the Flagship to Mid-range with WP8 and Budget to Entry-level with WP7.8, while battling with BB10.

BB10’s 2 new devices Z10 & Q10 seems to be targeted at Mid-range market currently. Having seen it’s feature sets, it’s not a bad start from a technological point of view. It’s GUI & UX is somewhere between Android’s wild west customization & Windows Phone integrated experience. Diehard BB users will no doubt upgrade to BB10.

A strong WP7.8 would show MS is still giving very strong OS support & grab more developers. Positive media coverage will also give buyers sitting on the fence more reason to switch. No doubt WP7.8 IS generating a lot of news but imagine what it’ll be like if MS surprised everybody with a major overhaul. THAT will definitely steal the thunder from BB10 in the months to come. As it stands now, MS share prices dropped 1.44%.

What’s missing?

So what will bring WP7.8 up to present standard based on the limited hardware & dominate in the Budget/Entry-level market? Here are what I think will do it.

1. Kid’s corner
2. Number pasting in dialer
3. Lock screen customization (Including API for developers as well)
4. Screen capture (come on MS, is it so hard?)
5. Backup (In some form like in Zune, Skydrive would be even better but may not be as practical for target market with limited broadband access)

I do hope that MS will upgrade WP7.8 some more soon so that we can see the above missing features in WP7.9.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I’m a bit disappointed WP7.8 didn’t turn out to be more. Maybe Qualcomm has let MS know that Snapdragon S4 will soon be priced like the Snapdragon S2 now. So next year, even Budget WP will be dual-core & can support WP8.

By that time, Lumia 900 users’ contract will be up & it’ll be time for them to move on. Maybe if WP7.9 is good, they’ll consider to stick around for WP8+ or else, MS can expect a mass exodus of users who’re soured by WP7 just like many did with WM6.5.

Here’s hoping…

Opinions

Why Microsoft risk alienating 1Billion users by overhauling Windows 8?

Overview

If you’re reading my blog, you’d probably know Microsoft released Windows 8 & RT on 26th Oct 2012 & it looks nothing like any Windows before it. So why is Microsoft willing to risk causing computing mayhem & potential sales by making such a drastic change?

If you’re looking for tips on navigating the new Windows 8 Start Screen, come to my tutorial page to get up to speed.

Windows 8: A bigger more cheerful environment to work & play in

With the rise of Apple iOS & its simple uncluttered design philosophy for iPhones & iPads, consumers have been flocking to buy up every new version even though a typical iPhone/iPad cost as much as a netbook. The smooth & fluid transitions is both appealing to the eyes as well as help to mask the loading time of apps or webpages. iOS works because much attention has been paid to simplicity & emoting the senses.

Microsoft Windows on the other hand has always been about getting the job done in the fastest possible time & letting you get on with your work & personal life. Little effort was made to connect with the user on an emotional level.

Sure, Windows allowed tons of customisation. Windows Vista introduced a prettier shell called Aero with all its transparency but that was all just copying Mac OS X, which does connect to the user on an emotional level with tons of fancy animations.

Much debate has been made about a pretty interface versus getting the job done, and iOS has proven you can have both & feel good about it.

In the past, many Windows XP/Vista users would just revert to the classic shell because it was much faster, especially for older hardware. Microsoft didn’t make it a point to make the XP Luna & Vista Aero shell work faster even though the GPU supports it. Windows 7 changed that but the battle was already lost to OS X with many migrating to the Mac during the mess Vista made.

Many people are already drawing parallels between Vista & Windows 8 but as you’d read later, this isn’t the case at all.

Microsoft knew they screwed up with Vista

Microsoft knew way back then they screwed up big time with Longhorn (the codename for Vista). Some major features like WinFS had to be dropped & unpopular features like UAC introduced.

The minimum requirement was too high for hardware and the (perceived) improvements didn’t justify such a drastic increase in CPU & RAM. However, in the name of better security, these painful changes had to be implemented but it was poorly executed & explained despite the massive Beta programme.

During this whole time, Microsoft had been streamlining their kernel with the MinWin initiative to breakdown the Monolithic NT Kernel into a modified Microkernel platform to allow easier maintainance of code, with emphasis on security.

Windows 7 was the fruit of that labour & for the first time in Microsoft history, you could run Windows on LESS hardware than its predecessor.

One of the design goals of MinWin was to allow Microsoft to scale the NT kernel for less powerful CPU to super-high-power CPU clusters. On the low-power end, mobile was definitely a target ever since Bill Gates introduced the TabletPC in 2001.

Microsoft has been monitoring the situation closely & according to reports, Microsoft had to delay entering the Mobile market due to viruses & other malware targeting Windows. We’re all aware that using Windows without Antivirus & Firewall is suicidal if you’re online. Fortunately, according to this report, Microsoft products now much more secure than before. (Scroll to the bottom for the list).

Having said that, I wouldn’t advise you to uninstall your Antivirus software anytime soon.

Windows 8 Build on Windows 7 security strength

With Windows 8, Microsoft seek to make it even more secure by promoting their curated “Windows Store” to ensure that in future, most software (called App) must be checked by Microsoft before they’re published for download.

Microsoft has also built-in an Antivirus called Defender beside the Firewall that came bundled since XP SP2. Users of the free Security Essentials will feel right at home.

If that didn’t catch the virus, the Windows 8 Remove everything function will basically wipe out everything including your data & any viruses that may be present, thereby returning it to pristine condition.

After using Windows for a year or two in desktop mode, bloat & junk build up & slow Windows down. You can use the new Refresh function to wipe out all these unnecessary stuff without losing your data.

In theory, Apps should not have this problem because they exist in their own sandbox environment with no access to the underlying system except to save files.

Now that Microsoft has solved the most pressing issue with Windows in a mobile & hostile internet environment, the next step was to be competitive with new players like Apple’s iOS & Google’s Android.

Microsoft saw in iOS & Android the same tired icon interface that everyone has been using for the past 20 years. Granted, the resolutions are higher & the colour richer, but it’s still rows of static icons. They decided to adopt a design philosophy that has been extremely successful for public transport & road signs. It was called “Metro” after the subway train services across the world.

Changing for the Better

Many people are afraid of change. A lot of these people are very vocal about staying within their comfort zone. And yet, time & again, it’s change that drive growth, financially, philosophically & functionally.

Steve Jobs is the embodiment of how doing what’s right & needed in a timely fashion is what drives innovation & growth. Unfortunately, his death seems to have diminished the spark Apple had during its bull run.

Microsoft on the other hand, is just coming out of its Antitrust funk, with many good leaders coming out of that difficult time. Many of the current leaders are following Bill Gates aggressive way of doing technology, if not his business practise.

Microsoft knew there has been many calls to fix many of the shortcomings of the Windows interface, both functionally & aesthetically.

The Start Menu becomes a big mess after you install & uninstall many programs & games over time, and there was no obvious way to organise & clean it.

Many of the software are buried in levels of sub-menu & there was no description for what they do. Over time, your desktop will have so much useless files on it, it becomes unmanageable & you can’t find your programs or files anymore.

Vista introduced a Desktop search function but it was slow & clunky. Windows 7’s version was better but not by much.

According to usage data collected from millions of PCs around the world, Microsoft start to see an emerging trend. People like to pin stuff to the Taskbar & Windows 7 Live Preview were GUI hits that receive universal compliments.

On the mobile front, people were responding well to the new interface on the critically acclaimed Zune HD, which flopped commercially due to Apple’s entrenched iPod & iTunes. The final nail came after iPhones became a huge success.

TabletPCs were still doing poorly because as the resolution becomes higher, it becomes increasingly difficult to use Windows software with Touch, which was the next paradigm in user interaction.

So Microsoft started an experiment by putting an enhanced Zune interface on their next smartphone OS called Windows Phone 7.

Windows Phone 7 & Metro

WP7 launched to mixed reviews due to a lack of critical features & lack of apps but reviewers were mostly positive about the Metro interface because it was fresh & completely different from iOS & Android. It was also smooth & fluid even though the hardware was 3 years old.

The design philosophy lends itself well to the underlying message of sharing in a social context, things that happen to you & how you respond back.

It’s a level of emotion that’s both deep & personal because the idea is for you to connect to the people & things that are important to you while at the same time, not linger too long on the phone.

In & out of the phone and get on with life. This philosophy is completely different from iOS & Android, which wants you to stay with the phone for as long as possible, either to make you spend more money on apps & accessories, or to drive ad revenue.

With WP7, Microsoft was attempting to combine both emotion & productivity into a single expression. Currently, WP7 is hampered by inadequate hardware & legacy software since WP7 OS was descended from WinCE which shares many of the architectural features as the obsoleted Windows 95 16-bit operations.

Things like lack of multi-cpu support, cooperative multitasking, unprotected memory management, etc. prevented Microsoft from using the latest hardware available. Fortunately, the user experience was generally positive with high marks of user satisfaction on Amazon & other e-commerce portals.

Unfortunately, the blogging & Tech publications were unforgiving when comparing the hardware, citing WP7 single-core CPU as being obsoleted even though WP7 run smoother, faster & more stable than many dual-core Android phones & even iPhone 4 in some areas. This negativity has heavy leanings on sales staff who read them for information, because they can’t test every device they sell, which in turn result in poor sales because sales people are not willing to push WP7.

Extending WP7 experience to a larger screen

Lessons learnt from WP7 were directly transferred to Windows 8/RT. The pinable & sizeable Live Tiles, the tight integration of the various apps provided by the OS like People, Calender, Messaging, Email all sync to the cloud & popular social services like Facebook, MS Account (including XBox), Skype, LinkedIn & Twitter. The smooth & fluid interface that works well with Touch & Pen, as well as Keyboard & Mouse.

In terms of hardware, Microsoft never expected iPad to become the huge hit it was. So it was a shock when iPad quickly overtook TabletPC as the dominant tablet within less than a year in 2010. This was just after Windows 7 was launched. Something had to be done!

The answer was the Microsoft Surface & Surface Pro. After years of uninspiring hardware design from OEMs, Microsoft decided to build their own Tablet, answering the calls of TabletPC users worldwide. Granted part of the problem was the Intel x86 CPU but I believe more could be done by the OEM.

Now that Intel’s Clovertrail & Ivy Bridge CPUs are low-power but fast enough for Enterprise & Power users respectively, Microsoft can craft a desirable tablet that is actually productive. The next half of the equation is a desirable software platform to use it with.

The new Start Screen as your new “Desktop”

The Start Menu has been a mainstay since Windows 95 introduced it in 1995. That in itself was a big deal when icons & windows were all there was. Third-party shells like Central Point Desktop (part of PC-Tools for Windows 2.0) extended the Windows 3 Program Manager when power-users like me wanted a more extensible Shell with features like lists & Multi-desktops.

As more people started using Windows & more software becomes available, it’s painfully obvious Program Manager isn’t going to be able to keep up & provide the platform Microsoft wanted to take Windows.

It’s the same with Windows 8. With the number of things you can do with a PC + the usage scenario projected for the new Microsoft Surface, they needed a new Shell. But this time, there’s a new wrinkle… Capacitive Multi-Touch screens.

The Touch interface was inherently inaccurate with your finger covering most of the area you’re targeting. The Windows 7 Desktop interface was modified to compensate for this but it was still frustrating if your TabletPC was very small or has very high resolution.

Windows Phone 7 Tile Based Metro Interface neatly solves this problem & by extension, Windows 8’s as well. These Tiles aren’t useless squares and rectangles. They display Live information that are periodically downloaded from the Internet or corporate intranets so only updated information is presented.

The information is also relevant for the App so you don’t get useless information like Ad bombarding you all the time. However, this concept required traditional Windows developers to learn new skills. Something Microsoft has been pushing since WP7.

It is also the new “Desktop” because if you pick up a Windows RT tablet from November 2012 onwards, you can only run Windows Store app. Traditional Windows software cannot run on Windows RT at all except for a few Microsoft native software like Notepad, Paint & Office 2013.

The good news is, whatever App you bought from Windows Store can be installed on up to 5 devices, be it Windows RT or Windows 8 devices. Yes, Microsoft has made it possible to share apps on many different classes of devices irregardless of their CPU!

For developers, this is huge because if you write a Windows App from 2012 onwards, it can run on ARM, Intel & AMD CPUs! For consumers, they can select computing devices without too much consideration to the underlying CPU architecture. This has never happened before in computer history.

(Note that Windows RT is not compatible with every ARM licensee because each of them add certain features which are incompatible with other licensees, unlike Intel/AMD.)

Insurance against a shift in CPU architectural dominance from Intel x86

This is the future that Microsoft is envisioning & is a bet that eventually, all Windows software will become Apps & legacy desktop software is retired, allowing Microsoft to retire the Desktop for Windows RT completely.

Microsoft is also working with ARM directly to support 64-bit operations to allow for larger RAM & Storage for future Windows RT devices even as Intel is continuing to lower their power consumption while providing more processing power to these new generation of CPUs based on “Haswell”.

This is necessary to ensure the survival & proliferation of the Windows platform in general just in case the market moves towards ARM as the dominant CPU instead of Intel x86 since ALL competing tablets on the market currently are running on CPUs based on ARM.

Of course, for Power-users who need the Desktop for the foreseeable future to run information intensive tasks, we have Windows 8 which runs both legacy software & Windows Apps giving us the best of both worlds.

Seeing that Intel & AMD will always have the more powerful CPU/GPU, x86 isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.

For naysayers of Windows RT, having Windows 8 support Windows Apps will ensure that whatever developer create for Windows 8 will (almost) automatically be available for Window RT creating a real Halo effect & ensure Windows RT will have a large number of Apps in the near future.

Windows App & Windows Store as the new preferred distribution channel

Apple iOS introduced the concept of a centralised location where you can download all your apps. For the user, it is much easier to discover useful software. For Apple, it is a huge revenue generator. For developer, the ability to tap the entire installed base of users was an enticing proposition!

In the Windows world, discovering software usually means a trip to the Search engine, which more often than not, throws up a huge list of webpages, some of which have questionable reputation.

Microsoft had success in courting many developers to the WP7 marketplace & they’re confident developers will do the same for Windows 8 & RT due to the humongous Windows installed base. Steve Ballmer recently announced 4 million Windows 8 Pro licenses bought within 4 days of launch. This number did not include Windows 8 licenses that were pre-installed on hardware already & Microsoft Surface 32GB being sold out everywhere. Not a bad start.

Customising YOUR Start Screen

Usability of the new Start Screen will require a new way of thinking but in terms of getting things done & getting to your software or apps, it’s faster than the Start Menu especially if you use Windows keyboard shortcuts a lot.

Management of the various software is also much faster. You can uninstall anything from the Start Screen. You can pin & unpin Software & Apps you use quickly to the Start Menu. You can Group them together so that you can see at a glance where everything is & if there are any updates on their Live Tiles if they’re Windows 8/RT Apps.

It’s also a full-screen affair so all your personal stuff are up front & ready for you to Touch/Click, creating a deep connection between yourself & your Start Screen. Even your name & Account Picture is displayed prominently on the top-right corner making your Start Screen uniquely yours.

You can change your Desktop wallpaper but the Start Screen background is restricted to specific design. Because the Live Tiles take up over 70% of screen real-estate, you can’t use your photos for the Start Screen’s background nor would you want to anyway.

Beyond the Start Screen

Your Start Screen is also synchronised with the Microsoft cloud called Skydrive, which allows you to have a familiar environment across any devices that you login to with your Microsoft Account. You’ll also automatically have 7GB of online cloud storage which you can easily access from your Windows 8 PC or using a browser on any platform.

Neat touches like Picture Password also adds a layer of personalization not common on other platforms.

The new Search also allow the Search bar to find not just Software, Apps, Settings and Files, but also any items within the Apps & its cached and online data.

For example, if you search for “Paris” & click the Weather App, the App will immediately show all cities named Paris & display their weather.

One of the issues with iOS & Android is you can’t copy & paste complex information between Apps. Windows 8/RT allows an app to share information in a pre-determined fashion, allowing users the flexibility of sharing information, not just to friends, but between Apps as well, negating the need to sync to the cloud & back with another app.

One of the things that most people take for granted is printing. iOS & Android printing is severely limited requiring compatible eco-system. Windows 8 naturally support any printers that ever existed with a Windows driver & Windows RT supports many of these same printers with Microsoft converting more printer class drivers for Windows RT as the platform matures.

Since Windows has the broadest peripheral support, you are insured against a piece of hardware not having a corresponding Windows driver. For Windows RT, driver support will hopefully come when the user base increase.

International support

Windows 8/RT also have much better International support versus Windows 7. You no longer need an “Ultimate” license to change Display language & you can even switch it on the fly!

You’d also get the multi-language IME including secondary touch/pen-based handwriting support free of charge for Windows 8 Pro. This used to be an expensive upgrade to the Ultimate version.

Bilingual people like me can finally use Chinese handwriting to input an unfamiliar Chinese word instead of using the much slower hand-stroke method. I assume this will work for many stroke-based writing like Japanese & Korean as well. Just install the Language Pack!

Conclusion

I think you can tell from my article that I’m pretty impressed with Windows 8 Pro. I’ve already upgraded my Fujitsu T4215 TabletPC & have not encountered any problems so far.

However, this TabletPC is 5 years old & lack a Touchscreen. This isn’t something I can upgrade unlike the CPU, RAM & SSD. So, I’m waiting for Microsoft Surface Pro to be launched next year.

There’re many Windows 8 tablets already launched but so far, only the Lenovo Thinkpad 2 excites me besides the uber-cool Surface Pro. Let’s see how Microsoft price the 64GB Surface Pro. If it’s priced too high, I might just buy my first Lenovo.

Opinions

How Microsoft should market Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8 looks like it’s good enough to take on iPhone 5 & Android Phones running Jelly Bean but it means nothing if Microsoft is not able to get it into people’s hands. In order to do that, they need to market, market, market WP8 phones with all their money! Here’s my opinion on how they can approach the market.

MS should do what Apple always does. Emphasize on the strong benefits of the OS. This kind of marketing CAN change people’s perspective. The important thing is not to belittle the competitors, just say we’re better. Emphasize on the BENEFITS (user scenario) as much as possible.

As an example. The #smokebywindowsphone strategy has work to a certain extend but MS should have made a big TV campaign that say that WP7 is single-core, so what? We’re still faster than a Quad-core smartphone (cue Nokia Lumia 800 overshadowing Samsung Galaxy S3 in capturing a FUN or embarrassing moment, then Tag the victim & upload it to Facebook). All done in 10 seconds before the victim even have a chance to stop you.

Then do another Ad that say WP8 has 100,000 apps while others have more than 600,000. So what? Our apps are actually useful & beautiful in bold “Windows 8” style that’s easy on your eyes, (cue HTC 8X’s camera app + CNN + Weave, in app & on Live Tiles, etc. then show Motorola RAZR HD succumb to a virus.)

And most importantly, something like WP7/8 connects you to your most important (anything), then show HTC 8S showing Me Hub, People Hub, Group updates, Picture Hub, Notification & What’s New filtered according to Facebook, Twitter or All. Ends with a tagline with the effect that WP8 helps you run your life, not be overrun by it. Then show Apple rows & columns of icons scrolling aimlessly.

These Ads should be designed to invoke desire & emotion. Make it look fun & easy. Show off the integration & speed, show people are able to get BACK to their important, their lives, their friends & family or their work made easier. No talking in these ad please! The “Really” campaign didn’t work because people don’t get it.

Getting celebrities to show off these phones is another great way to promote the platform. Jessica Alba was recently spotted with a Cyan Nokia Lumia 900. Why not get her to spearhead a North American or even Worldwide campaign? Do it with blitz & glamour like how they sell fashion or cars. It’s about the concept & association, not the product. You want WP8 to look cool when engaging Star power.

Nokia Lumia ads circa 2011-2012 are going in the right direction with everyday people using their phones for important parts of their everyday lives but it’s time to actually show how these features will benefit the average person, which will reduce the comparison with Android & iOS. Currently, most people still don’t “get” Live Tiles & Hubs.

Do mini-ads that emphasis on a particular hub like how Apple like to showcase their improvements in lovely ads even if it’s so minor, like a fifth row on their screen due to the longer form factor. Not a big deal you say? But it means more screen to show stuff & being able to watch movies in letterbox format.

For example, the Me Hub, introduce the individual function like FB Check-in, a central Notification for ALL communications associated with Me, the What’s New page showing what I’ve post on all the different social medias.

Or the People Hub that show all the things you could do with other People’s posts on all the different social medias including traditional calling/VoIP & SMS/IM + a integrated History page that shows you how you’ve interacted with this person all in 1 page.

There’s also the oft-overlooked Picture Hub & for businessmen & students, the Office Hub.

As for OEM specific stuff, things like the OIS camera on the Lumia 920, they should totally reshoot that girl on the bicycle with a Lumia 920 to shut all the critics up & put boldly in the Ad “Shot with Lumia 920” like those Canon DSLR ads. Nevermind if they have to NG 200 times… Then purposely zoom in when they pass by a mirror to show the guy holding the Lumia 920… sorta like giving the middle finger to all doubters. But I recommend a change of venue to one a couple will actually go to for a date, like a park or the beach. Not some dock…

The NFC? Samsung ad showing the SGS3 with the guy proposing to a girl thru glass using NFC to transfer his video proposal. Fantastic idea! MS or Nokia should totally ripoff this idea! Maybe get Samsung to do that with their ATIV S as well but maybe at a fancy restaurant to avoid confusion with the Galaxy S3. After the girl saw the vid, get the guy to flash the ring & the restaurant comes alive with confetti or something. Some good old fashion feel good vibe for the shy guys among us.

Wireless charging? Show a guy playing Angry Bird or a sports game at an Airport lounge with wireless charging built into the table until he misses his flight because his battery never dies. Make it funny, make him grow a beard & long hair with the clock racing in the back… When he finally finishes the game or when someone demolishes the lounge, he’s now in a space-port with spaceships rocketing by…

Make sure these ads are targetted at the correct audience in the correct media. This part, MS got it but they need to do more in each demography they’re targetting.

I could go on & on but end of the day, the ads that people remember are those that emote them & buyers buy based on emotion (with the saleperson being the final push). Or for the Japanese market, something so absurd, people will it remember as well.

I’m getting a sense that people are starting to notice WP, now we just need to swing them to our side of the pendulum.

Lastly, MS & their distribution channels must train the sales-force well enough so they can genuinely excited by the possibilities with WP8. And I’m talking worldwide here.

After Oct 26 2012, if there’re new integration of Windows 8, Windows RT & Xbox 360 with WP8, they should totally emphasize on that integration as well come Oct 29 2012 WP8 launch.

Opinions

What Microsoft should bring to Windows Phone 7.8

Introduction

The bloggers & forum goers & tech journalists are still arguing over Microsoft’s announcement of all existing WP7 smartphones only being upgradable to Windows Phone 7.8 with only the new Start Screen as the only addition + that’s the end of the line for the WP7 line. Some have made-up their mind that’s the case, whether they’re fans of Windows Phone or not.

My opinion is more optimistic mixed with being realistic. But this article is not about that argument anymore. I’ve always argued that Microsoft hasn’t shown us ANY consumer features in the coming WP8 & by that line of reasoning, WP7.8.

So let us see where this line of argument takes us…

End of WP7? Maybe not…

According to this post from WPCentral, Senior Product Manager and Windows Phone team member Larry Lieberman has just given some indication that WP7.8 is not all it appears to be, just an additional Start Screen.

Towards the end of this video, Larry was evasive when asked if that’s all developers can expect of WP7.8, a new Start Screen. His words were carefully considered but it seems to indicate there’s more to come for consumers.

Greg Sullivan, Senior Product manager for Windows Phone has also told Pocket-lint, Microsoft has only shown a small portion of the consumer features at WP8 Summit in Jun 2012.

Let’s go back a few months & look at these news.

http://www.intomobile.com/2012/06/14/microsoft-helps-floundering-nokia-lower-prices-and-compete-against-android/

It’s speculated that these low-cost devices will run WP8 but if that’s the case, Microsoft can bring WP8 to all WP7 devices! Wouldn’t it be faster & cheaper to continue WP7.8 on single-core Qualcomm S2? So far, we’re hearing WP8 runs on Snapdragon S4 only.

Greg Sullivan had also confirm what many bloggers have suspected, that MS will not bring WP8 to WP7 due to time & manpower cost. It’s technically possible but it simply wouldn’t make it a great experience on current phones.

If Microsoft maintains WP7 & WP8, they owe it to WP7 users to ensure comparable features

Below is the list of stuff that should appear in WP7.8 that’s not hardware dependent:

  1. Screen capture (It’s possible because it’s already in most Custom ROMs)
  2. Custom sound for Notifications
  3. Support more Bluetooth profile like Contact transfer & file transfer
  4. User information backup/sync to Skydrive. Stuff like APP states (game progress), Message Thread, Video, Music, Podcast
  5. Skype Integration (Change its P2P operations to semi-P2P, super-node reside on servers rather than phones)
  6. Notification Center ala iOS 5 by swiping left or something
  7. A more full featured Network stack (OK, this one may be a stretch)
  8. Maps by Navteq with Nokia Drive
  9. Xbox Music (Everywhere)
  10. SmartGlass (if it doesn’t rely on DirectX)
  11. Graphics equalizer!
  12. IE10 (even if it’s without the Smartscreen feature)
  13. Like/Edit/Delete Comments/Pictures/whatever in Me/People Hub

What wouldn’t make the cut?

  1. Multi-threading (apps running in background)
  2. Integrated Skype (if they don’t get off their butt & re-engineer Skype network or do workaround in the client)
  3. Wallet (it’s only useful with NFC)
  4. DirectX for high performance gaming engine like Havok (Adreno 205 doesn’t cut it)
  5. Full IPv4/IPv6 network stack with VPN, IPSec, etc.

Microsoft will reveal all in the (rumoured) BUILD event coming end July, beginning August October, beginning November when they launch the new SDK for WP8.

What do you think? Comment below!

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!

Opinions

What a Windows 8 Tablet should be…

* Follow-up of this article here “OEMs can’t do it, so Microsoft DID IT!”*

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.

Conclusions

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.