Heck Yes, Microsoft Absolutely Should Make Its Own Phone

See on Scoop.itDanilo Pianco

Microsoft’s attempts to crack the mobile market have thus far failed.
The latest comScore data shows it is still losing marketshare in the U.S., even with critically acclaimed phones from Nokia. It’s in fourth place, behind Research In Motion, and far behind Apple and Android who are running away with the market.
As a result of being backed into a corner, it apparently now feels the need to make its own smartphone, putting it in direct competition with its most important mobile partner, Nokia, as well as other manufacturing partners like HTC and Samsung.
Our snap reaction to Microsoft’s decision to make its own phone is that it’s a big mistake. On further reflection, we think it makes sense. Microsoft is pretty much screwed either way, so it might as well go down swinging and make its own phone.
We laid out the reasons for Microsoft to skip making its own phone. They’re pretty straightforward, and obvious.
The main point is that Microsoft’s smartphone partners are making really good phones. The Lumia 920 looks great. The HTC Windows Phone 8X also looks like a solid phone. This is the key difference between the smartphone market and the tablet market. Microsoft’s computer partners were not going to make great tablets, therefore it had to build the Surface. With smartphones, Microsoft doesn’t have to make a phone. It can trust its partners to make good hardware.
This argument is weak, though. As long as Microsoft makes a phone that’s as good as Nokia and HTC, then that’s good enough.
Smartphones are all quickly reaching the point of parity on the specs level. The difference in performance between a Samsung Galaxy S III and an iPhone 5 is negligible.
It all comes down to the look of the hardware, the software, and the marketing of the phone. If Microsoft can make a good looking phone that competes with its partners, then markets it well, the Microsoft has as good a chance as anyone.
But won’t Microsoft infuriate its partners? We’ve got two words to say about that: Who cares.
Nokia decided to bet the company on Windows Phone software. It has no choice but to work with Microsoft. HTC just made a huge investment in Windows Phone, building the 8X from scratch. It’s not going to throw in the towel on that effort right away. Plus, HTC isn’t exactly doing all that well with just Android. It needs Microsoft.
Besides, the entire idea of competing with partners is overblown. Imagine if Apple suddenly had a change of heart and decided to license iOS to anyone in the world. Do you think HTC, Samsung, and even Nokia, would pass on using iOS because Apple makes iPhones? Of course not. Those companies would immediately jump at the opportunity because iOS is good software people love.
If, against all odds, Microsoft builds a phone, and it’s a smash hit, it’s good news for HTC and Nokia. It means consumers want Windows Phone 8 software. Nokia and HTC will be able to go to consumers with alternative options to Microsoft’s phone.
There’s another reason for Microsoft to do its own phone. The Windows business model that once made Microsoft the most valuable company in tech doesn’t work in mobile. It can’t charge partners $80 for Windows Phone software. It charges much less, thus making less money. If it can sell phones, and copy the Apple model of charging carriers $600 for a phone that sells for $200, then it could net $400 per phone, which is obviously much better.
Most importantly from Microsoft’s perspective, the Nokia and HTC phones are not working. We can’t emphasize this enough. We want to shout it: Microsoft’s current plan is not working!
So, it can stick with Nokia and HTC because it doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, or it can strike out on its own and take a chance building and marketing its own phone.
When you think about it like that, Microsoft making its own phones isn’t a crazy decision, it’s Microsoft’s only decision.

See on www.businessinsider.com

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Where oh where is Windows Phone 8?

See on Scoop.itDanilo Pianco

Two companies have now announced their Windows Phone 8 hardware. Samsung was first out of the blocks, showing off its ATIV S at IFA last month. With much fanfare, Nokia revealed its first pair of Windows Phone 8 handsets, the Lumia 820 and Lumia 920. But in spite of gathering journalists from all over the world, a few things were missing from Nokia’s press conference.

Some things weren’t entirely surprising. Nokia didn’t announce any availability information—pricing, dates, carrier partnerships, all were left unspoken. While one always has to wonder about the value of this kind of paper launch—it may create excitement, but there’s no way of converting that excitement into revenue if nobody can actually place an order—it’s an unfortunate industry standard practice.

But what was a little surprising is that there were no handsets for the press to play with. There were some demonstration units carefully attended by PR personnel, and while we were able to get kind of close to them, the general rule was “you can look but you can’t touch.” This isn’t unprecedented, but it’s a little unusual for such a high-priority smartphone launch. Touching the phones, seeing how they feel in the hand, checking that their UI is nice and fast, these are all important parts of a smartphone launch.

The problem Nokia has appears to be not so much its hardware; it’s the software. Windows Phone 8 isn’t done yet. Not only is Windows Phone 8 not done, it’s not even public yet. If Nokia let the assembled members of the fourth estate use its shiny new phones, they’d end up learning about Windows Phone 8’s unrevealed features—features that Microsoft hasn’t yet talked about.

All we officially know about Windows Phone 8 was announced in San Francisco in June. This event was originally billed as a “Windows Phone Developer Summit,” and according to the first set of invitations that were sent out, it was originally due to last two days. It’s unconfirmed, but widely believed that Microsoft was planning to ship the Windows Phone 8 SDK at the same time.

That didn’t happen, though, because the SDK wasn’t ready. So instead of cancelling, Microsoft put on a much smaller event, announcing just a handful of new features—turn-by-turn navigation, VoIP integration, an NFC Wallet, a more flexible Start screen, greater enterprise support, and underlying it all, a version of the Windows NT kernel—and promising that an SDK would arrive at some point in the summer.

With the end of summer fast approaching (I may be old-fashioned, but the equinox marks the end of the season), with the occasional leak excepted, the SDK is still nowhere in sight.

Apparently aware that time is running out, Microsoft has at long last spoken. Next week, the company will release a beta SDK… to a few people. Calling it a limited “Preview” release, some number of developers with existing, published Windows Phone 7 applications will be able to use the new SDK. This is in addition to an existing private beta program already running, that’s giving OEMs and special software partners access to the software.

A full SDK will come, but not until the company properly unveils the operating system—which is currently rumored to happen on October 29th. Presuming Windows Phone 8 devices ship this year—and Microsoft is certainly talking as if they will—that leaves developers little time to update their applications and get ready for the new platform.

Needless to say, developers are unhappy. They had months of SDK access prior to Windows Phone’s initial release. The same was true of the major Mango update; Microsoft gave developers beta firmware, so that they could test it on real devices, and an updated SDK months before the software was actually delivered. iPhone developers similarly have ample access to new SDKs and firmwares; the iOS 6 SDK was first made available on June 11th. With iPhone 5 likely to materialize next week, that will be three months of SDK access to prepare for the new platform. This compares to a handful of weeks for Windows Phone 8 developers.

And getting that SDK is important, given just how disruptive it’s going to be. The development model on Windows Phone 7 was pretty straightforward; normal programs used C# and XAML (Microsoft’s language for developing user interfaces), 3D programs used C# and XNA (Microsoft’s cross-platform 3D API built on top of Direct3D), and, with the release of Windows Phone 7.5, programs that needed both could mix and match both.

Windows Phone 8 is more complicated. Although it will continue to run Windows Phone 7 applications as is (whether XAML, XNA, or both), any applications that use new, Windows Phone 8-specific features, will have to fit a new development model. 3D programming will have to be C++, using Direct3D directly. XAML programs will continue to use C#. Mixing 3D with XAML will be possible, but will require a mix of C# for the XAML parts and C++ for the 3D parts. Certain Windows 8 APIs will also be available to new programs, with a mix of both C++-accessible Win32 APIs, and C++ and C#-accessible WinRT APIs.

Among other things, this means that any developer wanting to add new Windows Phone 8 support to an existing Windows Phone 7 program will have to rewrite all the 3D parts from scratch. That’s a big deal.

Talking to some of those who have been using the beta SDKs, the reason becomes clear. The documentation is still very incomplete, and the platform as a whole still has more than its fair share of bugs. The software just isn’t ready. It won’t be ready next week, either, which is probably why Microsoft is limiting its distribution: in controlling who can use the SDK, Redmond can control who looks at the new features and who talks about the state of the SDK.

This all paints a troubling picture for Windows Phone 8. Microsoft’s position in the smartphone market is tenuous, Nokia’s is downright perilous, and a strong Windows Phone 8 release is the bare minimum needed to have a chance of turning that around.

As for what’s making it take so long, it’s hard to be certain, but we can speculate. None of end-user features—either officially announced, in June, or leaked via SDK emulators or other means—do much to justify the delays. The features are certainly desirable and valuable platform additions, but they don’t appear to be especially complex or at any real risk of delaying the platform.

This would tend to point the finger at the architectural work Microsoft is performing. The switch to the NT kernel, along with the new mishmash of an API, with its mix of programming language requirements, was in all likelihood a major undertaking, as was ensuring that the NT kernel fulfilled the power and memory efficiency demands placed on a smartphone operating system. There was also plenty of ancillary work: the new Windows Phone 8 emulator, used for testing and development, requires the use of Hyper-V and Windows 8 (and as a result requires a processor that supports SLAT). The old emulator, meanwhile, had much less specific hardware demands, due to its use of Virtual PC as the underlying virtualization technology.

This work does have some value for developers, especially those wanting to use Direct3D, but it is not a pure win even for them—the inability to use XNA and new features in the same application is a bitter pill to swallow.

Whatever the cause of the delays—whether they’re because Microsoft has bitten off more than it can chew with the kernel transition, or due to some other reason—the situation is now growing critical. It’s not just that it’s annoying developers; the delays are undoubtedly hurting Redmond’s hardware partners. They need to be delivering the important information like prices and dates, and they need to be putting phones into the hands of press and public alike, without the fear that they’ll see something they’re not supposed to.

See on arstechnica.com

Where oh where is Windows Phone 8?

See on Scoop.itDanilo Pianco

Two companies have now announced their Windows Phone 8 hardware. Samsung was first out of the blocks, showing off its ATIV S at IFA last month. With much fanfare, Nokia revealed its first pair of Windows Phone 8 handsets, the Lumia 820 and Lumia 920. But in spite of gathering journalists from all over the world, a few things were missing from Nokia’s press conference.

Some things weren’t entirely surprising. Nokia didn’t announce any availability information—pricing, dates, carrier partnerships, all were left unspoken. While one always has to wonder about the value of this kind of paper launch—it may create excitement, but there’s no way of converting that excitement into revenue if nobody can actually place an order—it’s an unfortunate industry standard practice.

But what was a little surprising is that there were no handsets for the press to play with. There were some demonstration units carefully attended by PR personnel, and while we were able to get kind of close to them, the general rule was “you can look but you can’t touch.” This isn’t unprecedented, but it’s a little unusual for such a high-priority smartphone launch. Touching the phones, seeing how they feel in the hand, checking that their UI is nice and fast, these are all important parts of a smartphone launch.

The problem Nokia has appears to be not so much its hardware; it’s the software. Windows Phone 8 isn’t done yet. Not only is Windows Phone 8 not done, it’s not even public yet. If Nokia let the assembled members of the fourth estate use its shiny new phones, they’d end up learning about Windows Phone 8’s unrevealed features—features that Microsoft hasn’t yet talked about.

All we officially know about Windows Phone 8 was announced in San Francisco in June. This event was originally billed as a “Windows Phone Developer Summit,” and according to the first set of invitations that were sent out, it was originally due to last two days. It’s unconfirmed, but widely believed that Microsoft was planning to ship the Windows Phone 8 SDK at the same time.

That didn’t happen, though, because the SDK wasn’t ready. So instead of cancelling, Microsoft put on a much smaller event, announcing just a handful of new features—turn-by-turn navigation, VoIP integration, an NFC Wallet, a more flexible Start screen, greater enterprise support, and underlying it all, a version of the Windows NT kernel—and promising that an SDK would arrive at some point in the summer.

With the end of summer fast approaching (I may be old-fashioned, but the equinox marks the end of the season), with the occasional leak excepted, the SDK is still nowhere in sight.

Apparently aware that time is running out, Microsoft has at long last spoken. Next week, the company will release a beta SDK… to a few people. Calling it a limited “Preview” release, some number of developers with existing, published Windows Phone 7 applications will be able to use the new SDK. This is in addition to an existing private beta program already running, that’s giving OEMs and special software partners access to the software.

A full SDK will come, but not until the company properly unveils the operating system—which is currently rumored to happen on October 29th. Presuming Windows Phone 8 devices ship this year—and Microsoft is certainly talking as if they will—that leaves developers little time to update their applications and get ready for the new platform.

Needless to say, developers are unhappy. They had months of SDK access prior to Windows Phone’s initial release. The same was true of the major Mango update; Microsoft gave developers beta firmware, so that they could test it on real devices, and an updated SDK months before the software was actually delivered. iPhone developers similarly have ample access to new SDKs and firmwares; the iOS 6 SDK was first made available on June 11th. With iPhone 5 likely to materialize next week, that will be three months of SDK access to prepare for the new platform. This compares to a handful of weeks for Windows Phone 8 developers.

And getting that SDK is important, given just how disruptive it’s going to be. The development model on Windows Phone 7 was pretty straightforward; normal programs used C# and XAML (Microsoft’s language for developing user interfaces), 3D programs used C# and XNA (Microsoft’s cross-platform 3D API built on top of Direct3D), and, with the release of Windows Phone 7.5, programs that needed both could mix and match both.

Windows Phone 8 is more complicated. Although it will continue to run Windows Phone 7 applications as is (whether XAML, XNA, or both), any applications that use new, Windows Phone 8-specific features, will have to fit a new development model. 3D programming will have to be C++, using Direct3D directly. XAML programs will continue to use C#. Mixing 3D with XAML will be possible, but will require a mix of C# for the XAML parts and C++ for the 3D parts. Certain Windows 8 APIs will also be available to new programs, with a mix of both C++-accessible Win32 APIs, and C++ and C#-accessible WinRT APIs.

Among other things, this means that any developer wanting to add new Windows Phone 8 support to an existing Windows Phone 7 program will have to rewrite all the 3D parts from scratch. That’s a big deal.

Talking to some of those who have been using the beta SDKs, the reason becomes clear. The documentation is still very incomplete, and the platform as a whole still has more than its fair share of bugs. The software just isn’t ready. It won’t be ready next week, either, which is probably why Microsoft is limiting its distribution: in controlling who can use the SDK, Redmond can control who looks at the new features and who talks about the state of the SDK.

This all paints a troubling picture for Windows Phone 8. Microsoft’s position in the smartphone market is tenuous, Nokia’s is downright perilous, and a strong Windows Phone 8 release is the bare minimum needed to have a chance of turning that around.

As for what’s making it take so long, it’s hard to be certain, but we can speculate. None of end-user features—either officially announced, in June, or leaked via SDK emulators or other means—do much to justify the delays. The features are certainly desirable and valuable platform additions, but they don’t appear to be especially complex or at any real risk of delaying the platform.

This would tend to point the finger at the architectural work Microsoft is performing. The switch to the NT kernel, along with the new mishmash of an API, with its mix of programming language requirements, was in all likelihood a major undertaking, as was ensuring that the NT kernel fulfilled the power and memory efficiency demands placed on a smartphone operating system. There was also plenty of ancillary work: the new Windows Phone 8 emulator, used for testing and development, requires the use of Hyper-V and Windows 8 (and as a result requires a processor that supports SLAT). The old emulator, meanwhile, had much less specific hardware demands, due to its use of Virtual PC as the underlying virtualization technology.

This work does have some value for developers, especially those wanting to use Direct3D, but it is not a pure win even for them—the inability to use XNA and new features in the same application is a bitter pill to swallow.

Whatever the cause of the delays—whether they’re because Microsoft has bitten off more than it can chew with the kernel transition, or due to some other reason—the situation is now growing critical. It’s not just that it’s annoying developers; the delays are undoubtedly hurting Redmond’s hardware partners. They need to be delivering the important information like prices and dates, and they need to be putting phones into the hands of press and public alike, without the fear that they’ll see something they’re not supposed to.

See on arstechnica.com

Mark your Microsoft calendars: Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 launch dates revealed

See on Scoop.itDanilo Pianco

Expect September to be a month of Windows Phone 8 handset reveals, and late October to be the official launch of the coming devices.

We Microsoft watchers already knew October was going to be a crazy month, given Windows 8’s general availability date is October 26.

But until this week, I didn’t realize just how jam-packed that month is really going to be.

A source of mine privy to Microsoft’s event plans, who asked not to be named, just shared with me dates and tentative locations for a number of Microsoft’s upcoming launches. Some of these we suspected; a few we knew.

Windows Phone 8’s build-up to launch started today, August 29, with Samsung showing off what’s officially the first Windows Phone 8 device (but offering no pricing or availability details). September 5, Nokia is expected to show off some of its planned Windows Phone 8 devices, with AT&T rumored to be the lead carrier for them. And HTC is expected to be next out of the gate with Windows Phone 8 handset(s) — around mid-September, I hear.

But October — specifically late October — is when things really ramp up.

October 25, the day before general availability, will be Microsoft’s big launch event for Windows 8 and the Surface RT. And that event will be in New York City, the site of most recent previous Windows launches. (I don’t know specifically where this event will be, but selfishly think it’s nice that it’s on home turf for me.) Windows 8 and the Surface RT ARM-based devices should be available (at least technically) at midnight, following the launch event.

October 29 will be the official “launch” of Windows Phone 8, I am told. I’m hearing this event will likely be on the west coast, either in San Francisco or Los Angeles. (Again, I don’t know exactly where. A photo studio? Outside an Apple store?) But this is considered the “consumer launch” of the product, with handsets to be made available starting a week or two later, meaning early November, as other sources of mine had indicated.

October 30 to November 2 is Microsoft’s Build 2012 conference, where the Softies will talk all things developer-focused around Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Windows Azure, Xbox, and more. If you’ll be in the Redmond vicinity on October 30, we’re holding our second Build Blogger Bash that evening (tickets are limited and on sale now).

(In November, the coming Xbox Live dashboard update is expected to arrive, but I don’t have details as to whether there will be an Xbox event to coincide or where it will be.)

I asked a Microsoft spokesperson to confirm this timetable and was told there would be no official comment.

See on www.zdnet.com

Skype for Windows 8 leaked, shows off Microsoft’s tablet interface

See on Scoop.itDanilo Pianco

Microsoft appears to be readying a new version of Skype that’s designed for the new Windows 8 interface. An image of the Skype Metro style app leaked to Twitter this week, showing how Microsoft has optimized its voice and video calling service for upcoming Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets. The new version of Skype matches existing Metro style apps from Microsoft and uses a sidebar to display status and message history.

The application is clearly marked as “App Preview” in screenshots posted by Neowin — indicating that Microsoft may be preparing to release a public preview version shortly or it’s in the middle of a beta testing phase internally. Other features include the ability to initiate voice and video calls, pinned favorites, and access to pay as you go or pay monthly options for Skype calling. We reached out to Microsoft regarding the leak and a company spokesperson says it has “nothing to share at this time” regarding beta or final availability.

See on www.theverge.com

Want a Windows 8 Start Button? Open source to the rescue!

See on Scoop.itDanilo Pianco

Windows 8 users need not do without a Start button, thanks to an open source application titled Classic Shell that can banish the Interface Formerly Known As Metro (TIFKAM).

El Reg’s antipodean lab installed Classic Shell on a Windows 8 RTM virtual machine running under Oracle VirtualBox on Mac OS 10.7.4. We can report that the application installed without a hint of trouble, and as soon as we clicked in its shell-like Start button we were offered a nice set of options to arranged Windows 8 so that it resembled versions of Windows past.

There’s even an option to load up Windows 8 without ever seeking the TIFKAM screen, while the app also happily disables the “active corners” features that invokes the tiled interface.

Classic Shell’s origins lie in another controversial Microsoft operating system, Windows Vista, which the authors so despised they set to work on an alternative .

The authors aren’t 100 per cent certain that Classic Shell will work with Windows 8, as the app’s FAQ indicates there’s not been formal testing under the RTM version made available for download last week. We’ve not been able to test Classic Shell for long, but after an hour or so of experimentation can report that if Windows 8 is inflicted upon you, it’ll do a job.

See on www.theregister.co.uk

Surface to arrive with Windows 8 on 10/26, says Microsoft

See on Scoop.itDanilo Pianco

Though it’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, Microsoft has confirmed that Surface tablets will arrive October 26 along with Windows 8.
“The next version of our operating system, Windows 8, will be generally available on October 26, 2012. At that time, we will begin selling the Surface, a series of Microsoft-designed and manufactured hardware devices,” Microsoft said in its annual report filed this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Microsoft has said before that Surface products “would be available the same time that Windows 8” was launched, but it’s reassuring to see the date in writing.
And, remember, those are Windows RT tablets only. The Intel-based Surface Pro is expected about 90 days later, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft has also peppered disclaimers throughout the annual report (these appear often in SEC filings) about the success, or lack thereof, of Windows 8.
In fall 2012, we are launching Windows 8…Its success depends on a number of factors including the extent to which customers embrace its new user interface and functionality, successfully coordinating with our OEM partners in releasing a variety of hardware devices that take advantage of its features, and attracting developers at scale to ensure a competitive array of quality applications. We expect to incur substantial marketing costs in launching Window 8 and associated services and devices, which may reduce our operating margins.”
That last part about “may reduce operating margins” is something Wall Street will of course be watching closely. In short, if Windows 8 is not relatively successful, this may fuel doubts about Microsoft’s viability in the age of the iPad and Android.
The Surface products will be offered in basically two forms. One is expected to be a more price-friendly version running Windows RT on top of ARM chips. The other, likely a bit pricier, will run Windows 8 Pro on top of Intel “Ivy Bridge” processors.

See on news.cnet.com