Nokia’s Grand Mapping Plans Include “Living Maps” & More

Nokia has been a player in navigation and mapping for quite a while. Unfortunately neither Nokia nor users at large talked about it till Apple’s disastrous foray into maps. Recently announced cross-platform mapping solution Nokia HERE has brought the focus on one of Nokia’s hidden weapon in today’s smartphone wars. BBC’s Leo Kelion took a closer at Nokia’s offering to understand the technology behind it. Here are some interesting facts from Kelion’s piece: Continue reading Nokia’s Grand Mapping Plans Include “Living Maps” & More

Three Important Pages From Microsoft’s Windows 8 Booklet

Microsoft representative are quite enthusiastic about showing Windows 8 and OEM devices to people at Times Square. Microsoft understands that Windows 8 has a learning curve, and the representatives are asking everyone who walks up to them if they’ve used Windows 8.

At the stations, Microsoft has Windows 8 booklets, 20 pages of images and text elaborating on the various new features in Windows 8. The first 3 pages are the same how-to that is shown when you run Windows 8 for the first time, however, the last 3 pages are the important ones. The 3 pages have a list of 10 interaction features and how they can be performed using touch, keyboard or mouse. Useful for both pro and regular Windows users, these lists should get everyone up to speed with how to efficiently interact with the new Windows 8:

Microsoft Releases Windows 8 Cover Photo App For Viral Facebook Promotions

With Windows 8 available to download and purchase, Microsoft wants its users to tell their friends about Windows 8. And what better way than Facebook. Microsoft has a Facebook app that generates an image of the new start screen using your Facebook information, and this image can be used as your cover photo. You don’t need to be running Windows 8 for the app but you can get a customized Metro start screen as your Facebook cover picture.

Creating the cover pic is a simple one-click process with the app doing most of the work. Once a cover has been created, you have the option of changing any of the pictures and the color:

Microsoft has done similar promotions for Windows Phone 7. An app loaded Facebook information into a Windows Phone 7 mockup and let users try what Windows Phone 7 is like. The promotion isn’t useless since Windows 8 has Facebook integration such as adding Facebook friends to the people hub and Facebook Messaging–which happens to be one of my favorite feature.

Microsoft Shows The Future Of Times Square & Art

Microsoft spared no expense for their Windows 8 launch in New York City. The street in front of their Times Square pop-up store was cordoned off, Times Square is filled with display stations showcasing Windows 8 PCs and tablets by partners, and there were a lot of sales people. As any New York City tourist or local would tell you, Times Square is filled street side sketch artists. Every street has them, and the next one is always right around the corner. You sit on a chair with a consistent facial expression while a guy uses old school pencil & paper to sketch a portrait of you. Then there are the more creative spray painters that will create beautiful portraits of New York using spray paint, it’s just fun watching them do it. So how does the future look like for these creative geniuses? Well, Microsoft’s New York City promotion blitz gave tourists a sneak peak at this:

For those who’ve been following Microsoft, this isn’t new. We’ve seen this before but getting this technology out there, in front of people–showing them what is possible with Windows 8, it’s a statement from Microsoft. Big screen multitouch devices that can be used to create art just like it is done on the street today but with more capabilities because it is all digital, makes a good sales pitch for Windows 8.

With Windows 8, Microsoft Hasn’t Forgotten Its Strength

Microsoft’s Windows OS generates interest like no other product, the only other technology product that commands the same attention is Apple’s iPhone–the reach of these products is staggering. Windows & iPhone are used by anyone and everyone; the two products are ubiquitous in daily lives. The people who cover technology have known what’s coming in Windows 8 for a while but that hasn’t reduced the excitement around the launch. For Microsoft, Windows 8 does indeed mark a turn. Metaphorically, the ship is turning in a direction that defines the company’s future. iPhone and iPad’s success have forced Microsoft to respond, and the company’s past has helped them make the move faster than most expected. As Peter Bright wrote in his piece, to understand Windows 8, we have to look at the company’s past. Steve Ballmer has time and again emphasized the importance of Windows to Microsoft. It’s the one product that’s synonymous with the company’s name.

Google and Apple have forced Microsoft into adapting to the new dynamics of life. Consumerization of IT is not just a enterprise phrase, it explains how the technology resources between ones work and personal life are merging, and this is defining the evolution of computing. Smart and capable phones like the  iPhone and mobile devices like the iPad powered by Internet are changing how people use technology. Microsoft realized this a long time ago but simply failed to get things together on their operating system. Microsoft’s partners–their partners–failed miserably to bridge the gap between personal and work devices. The status quo was disrupted by Apple and as people started buying their devices, Microsoft’s partners had more to lose than Microsoft. The loudest tech press ignores Microsoft’s presence in the enterprise. As Christopher Budd in his guest column on Geek Wire says, Microsoft isn’t going to disappear even if Windows 8 & Windows Phone 8 fail.

Bill Gates’s decision to license Microsoft to hardware manufacturers was the single best decision for Microsoft and even with the Surface, nothing has changed. A huge deal has been made out of Surface and Microsoft’s decision to get into designing computer hardware but the timing couldn’t have been better. To remain relevant in the consumer market that is now dictating technology decisions made in the enterprise, as a company, Microsoft had to take radical steps. You either adapt and change or you fail and perish–it’s the one rule that separates corporations that survived the test of time and that withered faster than the leaves of Fall. Surface was needed to drum up noise, show OEM partners what can be done and to rally the charge against the iPad. For Microsoft to continue its dominance, they need their OEM partners to succeed. And despite the Surface, Microsoft hasn’t forgotten its ecosystem strength.

The New York City launch was about conveying four messages:

  • Windows 8 is here
  • It works great on tablets, and here’s our Surface showing you how
  • We’ve got our own stores for you to see the products
  • Our OEM partners have great products for you too

At New York City, Microsoft’s pop-up store was selling the Surface. And the company had setup several stations showing what their partners have to offer. It was clear that Microsoft knows their success depends on the success of their OEM partners. Devices from all major OEMs were in the middle of Times Square for pedestrians to touch, hold and experience Windows 8.

As much as the loudest tech press in America might want to shout through their blogs, humans have different preferences. It’s why Apple came out with a White iPhone, it’s why Apple was compelled to do an iPad mini. For every person who likes the iPad, there will be someone who doesn’t. For every person who likes iOS, there will be someone who doesn’t–Android’s growth is proof of that. The PC ecosystem has for years thrived on choice, Windows has been the same across all OEMs but we have seen manufacturers rise and fall. Apple has made a huge deal out of a statistic that x% of Fortune 50 are considering deploying iPads but that statistic doesn’t say PCs are being replaced.

Microsoft Details The New Xbox Music: A Spotify, Rdio & iTunes Competitor

We have known for quite a while that Zune was on its way out for a new brand. Over the past few months as new updates to Xbox have and Windows 8 RTMed, details about Microsoft’s entertainment catalog were sketchy. While we knew entertainment was going under the Xbox brand, there were rumors about a major update to the music service. Cnet’s Greg Sandoval broke the story about Microsoft’s initial plans and a month later, Tom Warren at The Verge speculated that Microsoft was ready to launch the service at the E3. That didn’t happen.

However, it looks like Microsoft is timing the launch of the service with their public launch of Windows 8/RT, Surface tablet and Windows Phone 8. In an announcement yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the new Xbox Music. The new service has kept everything that was good about Zune Music (Smart DJ, gorgeous artist backgrounds), and now is more coherent.

The features to be offered under the new service are:

  • Cloud-synced playlists
  • Limited free streaming on Windows Phone 8, Windows 8/RT and Xbox (unlimited for first 6 months)
  • Music  Subscription service (Zune Pass is now Xbox Music Pass)
  • A Music marketplace
  • Cross platform (Android and iOS) soon
  • Add your music catalog using the scanning service
  • Social integration at some point

All these features sound amazing on paper, and over time Microsoft should be able become a major music service with the one-Windows and cross-platform support. Microsoft produced a short video to explain Microsoft’s grand plans with the service:

For what it’s worth, I have started using Spotify because downloading and editing meta tags is a pain–it’s just cumbersome to manage. However, I don’t pay for Spotify Premium, I primarily listen to radio on my phone. Xbox Music subscription might make a lot of sense to me since I am Windows Phone, Windows and Xbox user.

Why I Won’t Stand In A Line For The Lumia 920

The anticipation for Apple’s first few iPhones created a new phenomenon in phone buying–the long wait lines outside stores a night before. While this is a good litmus test to gauge buyer enthusiasm, it’s kinda silly since the phone can be pre-ordered. Anyhow, companies have been trying to replicate Apple’s success. While the iPhone 5 has its charm, I will stick to Windows Phone and end up buying the Nokia Lumia 920. But I won’t be the first customer in Syracuse. I won’t buy it the day it is available or line up a night before–not because the demand in Syracuse is so high but because the $199 price will fall within a week. Why you ask? Let’s go down memory lane…

When the Samsung Focus launched, I got it the same morning it launched, for $199. A few weeks later, the price went down to $0.1. I felt like an idiot but I guess I was too excited about the phone. The same happened during the Windows Phone 7.5 device launch. The holiday season is very tricky for retailers–they want to get as many devices out as possible. For Nokia and Microsoft their failure to compete with Apple’s launch date is an added indicator of price. The company will want whoever they can get, and in such a scenario, dropping the price is one of the oldest trick in the book.

I expect Lumia 920 to go through similar price cycles as previous Windows Phone devices have. $199 on launch and drop during the holiday season. I’d suggest potential buyers hold out a few more weeks after launch. This will be Nokia’s first Windows Phone launch during the lucrative holiday season and I expect them to follow the herd in dropping prices.

I won’t be the first, but I’d rather save the money to get some Nokia accessories.

Nokia Entices Yahoo! Employees With Free Accessories

Nokia and Yahoo as companies have quite a few things in common. Both have been facing tough times in the market, brought unsusptected and charismatic leaders, and are in midst of making a come back by reevaluating their priorities. Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer realized a fundamental flaw in the company–the engineers were forced to use decade old technology while develop products for the next decade. Stuck with BlackBerry all this while, Marissa Mayer decided it was time for Yahoo to dump the clunky phones and move on. A widely reported decision by the Mayer is Yahoo’s handing out of smart phones to all employees.

Yahoo will distribute handsets and even pay for their employee’s data+voice plans (not an unheard of perk). The options that will be offered are:

  • iPhone 5
  • A bunch of new Android phones
  • Lumia 920

The mention of Lumia 920 can be seen in two different ways:

  1. Mayer sees Windows Phone 8 as the 3rd mobile ecosystem instead of the declining BlackBerry
  2. Mayer sees Microsoft as a critical partner and including Lumia 920 was a political move

In either case, it is a win for Nokia. The Lumia 920 is the flagship Windows Phone 8 handset and as I wrote before, it has captured buyer-attention. Not missing this opportunity, Nokia’s Media Relationship manager Douglas Dawson took to Twitter and asked Yahoo employees to wait for the Lumia 920. Unlike the iPhone 5, no Windows Phone 8 device is available for pre-order or expected to be in user’s hands before November. Dawson says Nokia has an exclusive offer for Yahoo employees who’ll wait for Lumia 920:

A really smart move on Nokia’s part for what it’s worth. But it still doesn’t beat Apple’s ability to take buyer money today and get the devices in hand by month-end.

Microsoft Wants You To Subscribe To Office 2013

Microsoft’s plans to offer Office 2013 as part of Office 365 have been known for quite a while; how the products will be priced and offered was still unknown. Yesterday, Microsoft shared their strategy for getting Office 2013 to the users and Microsoft has prepared itself for a new connected and multi-PC environment. As mobile apps and web apps have started giving Office some competition and drastically change user habits, Microsoft had to come up with a new model to keep Office’s prices down for existing customers and attracting new ones.

Microsoft is probably among the first companies to offer a largely used product to a non-enterprise customer through the Software as a Service model. The subscription method brings with it a baggage of terms and conditions, what you can and cannot do; it’s complicated. Microsoft on their part has done a lot to un-complicate this part; here’s how:

(I’m using the chart by The Verge, since it’s one of the simplest I’ve come across.)

The thing about this chart as pointed out by veteran Ed Bott is, Microsoft has made it very uneconomical for users to buy the traditional boxed packages. Here’s why:

Traditional Box pack: (Home & Student–No Outlook)

1 license: $140 (3 years cost=$420)

Also, Microsoft no longer offers the buy 1 pack & use on 3 devices, which means for 3 years: 3×420=$1,260

Subscription: (There is no Home & Student, but Home & Student Premium)

1 subscription gives you 5 licenses with SkyDrive Premium, Outlook, Skype benefits at $99/year. So for 3 years, all this comes at $300 for 5 PCs.

Opting for the standalone boxes now makes no sense at all. Most of users get Office bundled with Windows on our new PCs, I believe OEMs will start offering 1 year free subscriptions with new PCs which might reduce licensing costs for OEMs and ensure customers stick to Office 2013.

How Nokia Beat Apple In Mind Games

When Nokia introduced the Lumia 920 the general consensus was, it’s a good phone but Apple’s iPhone 5 will be the best phone. There will be pigs flying over Mascone when it is revealed. Of course that didn’t happen. The iPhone 5 was underwhelming. The real show stealer yesterday was the new iPod Touch. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the iPhone isn’t innovative; what we saw yesterday was design innovation, not innovation same as iPhone 1. iOS6 isn’t bringing anything new either. As a result, the overall consensus yesterday was that the iPhone 5 is good looking powerful device, it will sell millions but isn’t revolutionary. As Mat Honan puts it, “It is amazing and utterly boring.”

Compare this to Nokia, the company announced a new camera setup, wireless charging and NFC capabilities. The introduction of wireless charging and NFC have generated excitement, while you can rubbish them as gimmicks, wireless charging makes a lot of sense to me. I come home and place the phone next to my PC, and guess what?! The phone isn’t connected to a wire!  The charger is connected to a power source, but my phone isn’t. The phone charging cable just vanished as far as I am concerned.

Nokia made an impression.

The other key announcement Nokia made was around NFC. TO understand this, we need to look at Nokia’s NFC accessories, so far just personal audio equipment. Nokia believes NFC helps you get rid of the cumbersome setup of Bluetooth pairing or WiFi sharing. And guess what?! You don’t have to buy a dock adapter for your phone!

Not new, ergo not innovative, but then Nokia has a concept of wireless charging. Put these together and you have innovation that the end consumer can feel while using the technology in a way where technology is seamless.

Nokia again makes an impression.

The third is specs. Now many say specs don’t matter and that the phone’s experience is what matters. Well, guess what?! So far the general consensus is that the Windows Phone experience is very good! Couple this with no hardware advantage that Apple has with the iPhone 5 & features shown in Windows Phone 8, Nokia has made an impression.

Let’s talk about the now infamous Lumia 920 camera. In the tech circles, Nokia is being mocked for fudging PureView photographs but to the end user  PureView as a brand makes an impression. And while we are on the topic of innovation and winter is coming, being able to use a touch screen phone with gloves on–getting that right, is innovation. On those living in the colder regions, like Central New York, Nokia made an impression.

In a mind game of making an impression, Nokia just beat Apple.

PS: Google Now on Android is far more useful than Siri.