All posts by Manan Kakkar

Manan is a technology enthusiast keenly following the consumer products from Microsoft, Google & Apple.

Microsoft Quietly Changed Windows Phone Chassis Specs

As it turns out Microsoft’s plans for cheaper phones are now taking shape. For Microsoft, their partnership with Nokia was going to take Windows Phone to the masses. Powerful distribution, cheaper and sturdy handsets are Nokia’s MO, and that is what Microsoft needs. The Lumia 710 fits the bill; it is cheap and it has features. While the phone is essentially a Windows Phone 7 version of a previously used design, it is a strategy used often.

Leading to Windows Phone 7 launch, Microsoft said they will have 3 chassis specs for the OEMs to build phones. At launch and even the new Mango range of handsets have been built to those specs. Microsoft enthusiast @ms_nerd posted on Twitter that Microsoft had updated their chassis specs to exclude cameras from the required list. This is quite the change from the initial specs of having at least a rear camera.

Nokia’s Lumia 800 comes without the front facing camera which is a deal breaker according to me. While the change is definitely done with cheaper handsets in mind, time will tell whether removing basic features like a camera will impact Windows Phone sales compared to cheaper Android phones with cameras.

The Windows Phone Chassis Specs  were updated back in September and contrary to how other websites are reporting this, @ms_nerd was the one who spotted this.


Microsoft Says Future’s Technology Works Today

When Microsoft shared another future vision video, everyone was excited. The second video continues over the one they produced two years ago.  Translucent  glass  displays  with intuitive interfaces shown in the video also raised eye brows and the Microsoft-haters were quick to dismiss the videos as nothing more than a scene from a 9 year old film–The Minority Report. Having seen some of the technology demo-ed in the first vision video, I find little credence in the skeptics’ arguments. In a video shared on the Office Casual blog, Doung Thomas has done a behind-the-sceneson the second future vision video. Doug shares glimpses of Microsoft’s Envisioning Lab and shows how current Microsoft products are milestones of what is shown in the vision video. Doug talks about three current products that are concepts shown in the future vision video:

  • Excel Powerpivot that connects databases and Excel sheets to create visuals to understand data
  • Microsoft Tags and Windows Phone tag-scanning (eye-wear being able to translate information from possible “tags”)
  • SkyDrive (Office Web Apps), Office 365, SharePoint and  Outlook Social Connector will evolve into “natural collaboration”

With Office Lync and Skype under Microsoft, natural collaboration as shown in the vision video working with PowerPivot isn’t a far-fetched glossy video from Microsoft. The vision video shows how researchers and engineers at Microsoft are working towards enabling better computing. Technologies behind products like Kinect, Bing (geo-spatial innovation) and TellMe will come together in products that make these future vision a reality. Here are the three videos:

Microsoft Future Vision 2009:

Microsoft Future Vision 2011:

Behind the scenes of Future Vision 2011:

Looks Like YouTube Infringes Microsoft’s Patent

Earlier today there was news that Android phones now violate Apple’s iPhone patent. The USTPO granted Apple a patent on the “slide to unlock” feature in iOS. Unlike Windows Phone, Android phones have the same slide to unlock feature. In a patent that I came across, it looks like YouTube and pretty much all video streaming websites now in some way violate Microsoft’s intellectual property. The patent application titled  Presenting video content within a web page  filed back in 2006, Microsoft engineers have talked about a video embedded on a webpage and, well, displaying the video.

Let’s consider the number of websites that now violate the patent—YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu and gazillion other video streaming websites. Not long back, I reported about Microsoft being granted a patent on adaptive video streaming. The two patents combined together give Microsoft intellectual property rights over what is effectively all that’s in online video streaming. Here are two images from patent application:

This sets up some pretty interesting dynamics as far as Microsoft and Google are. Microsoft has licensing deals with most major Android manufacturers and now YouTube infringing Microsoft’s patent.

 

Nokia To Skip US With Windows Phone Initially, A Smart Move

The rumor making rounds is that Nokia won’t be gunning for the US market with their initial Windows Phone launch. My first reaction was that this is crazy and stupid for a company that’s betting itself on the platform only to miss out on the highly anticipated holiday season in US.

Apple, Google, HTC and Samsung have already shown promising products. Apple’s iPhone 4S is selling a lot, Google’s Android ICS and Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus are interesting, feature packed devices. HTC along with Samsung have unveiled their Windows Phone lineup. A lot was being said about Nokia after the burning memo; CEO Stephen Elop has talked about Nokia’s failure to capture the US market and promised to fix this. Unfortunately according to an Ad Age report, those plans don’t go into motion till 2012. The report cites Nokia is focusing on Europe for now and I believe, after some thinking, that it’s a good move.

An analyst is quoted in the Ad Age report stating that Nokia needs to improve their presence in Europe and this might be good start. As of now Europe does not have a lot of exciting second generation Windows Phone devices. HTC is the only company that has announced the HTC TITAN and HTC Radar for some European countries. The first generation Windows Phone range in Europe was disappointing. Some handsets were available in some countries and there weren’t a lot of handsets to choose from in the first place.

With Nokia concentrating on Europe and Samsung focusing  (see what I did there?) on the US market, Microsoft can make its presence felt in both markets simultaneously. The US market is tricky because of subsidies and carrier contracts, Nokia has always had a problem with those and it would be a good idea to think their strategies through after piloting the devices in Europe. If Nokia (and I  believe  that is their plan) is able to succeed as the popular Windows Phone OEM in Europe AND sell a considerable number of these devices, they can get some of their lost reputation back to venture into the US. Given their current situation and carriers already investing in HTC & Samsung, it would be difficult for Nokia to make a mark for themselves.

Nokia is expected to have phones targeting the mid and expensive markets with the Sabre and 800, respectively. The strategy can work in countries like India and even Europe. Price points matter. Even Apple sells the previous generation iPhones at a cheaper price.

My initial reaction was that of disappointment but for Nokia, on second thought, it might be a good strategy.

Revelations About Obama, Bill Gates & Google From Steve Jobs’s Upcoming Bio

A lot is being said about Steve Jobs after his death by those who liked and those who didn’t. The fact is even if Apple wasn’t the first, they did it better. Tablet  manufacturers  haven’t been able to come up with devices as feature rich as the iPad at the same price. Innovation in IT isn’t about the final product, there’s a lot more around it. Apple’s ability to leverage exclusive bulk components and create an efficient supply chain for itself is an integral part of the company’s success. Walter Isaacson who’s a big deal in the publication industry was chosen by Steve Jobs to write his official  biography. With Jobs’s untimely death, the book is being published ahead of schedule and quotes from the book have started causing ripples. The book has information about why Jobs wore his traditional polo neck tshirt for keynotes. It has to do with Sony’s uniforms at their factory and Jobs wanting something similar for Apple.  An excerpt shared by Gawker  from the biography  talks about the turtlenecks:

Sony, with its appreciation for style, had gotten the famous designer Issey Miyake to create its uniform. It was a jacket made of rip-stop nylon with sleeves that could unzip to make it a vest. So Jobs called Issey Miyake and asked him to design a vest for Apple, Jobs recalled, “I came back with some samples and told everyone it would great if we would all wear these vests. Oh man, did I get booed off the stage. Everybody hated the idea.” In the process, however, he became friends with Miyake and would visit him regularly. He also came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. “So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.”

The more interesting details have now started to come out as the book release nears. Associated Press got a copy of the book and their technology writer  Michael Liedtke has shared some of Jobs thoughts in the book.

On Microsoft:

On Google, Android and Larry Page:

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” (via Associated Press)

On Obama’s presidency:

The Huffington Post quotes Steve Jobs meeting President Obama at the Westin  San  Francisco  Airport, warning the President that he is heading for a single term presidency citing regulations that restrict business. Jobs said, “You’re headed for a one-term presidency.”

Steve Jobs’s famous return to Apple and the company’s subsequent success against Microsoft is something everyone will remember. Luckily for Google, Steve’s poort health robbed the tech world of another epic battle.

Microsoft Working On Self-Cleaning Touch Screens

Ultra Violet (UV) rays have magical powers. At the right wavelength they can be used to disinfect surfaces. During a startup event in Syracuse, I saw a demo of the concept being used to cleanse door handles. It seemed cool and somehow I forgot about it till I came across a patent application filed by Microsoft.

If you thought finger smudges were the only issue when it came to touch screen computers, there is the cleanliness aspect as well. Knowing people who would spend 20 minutes wiping the keyboard and mouse in my school’s computer lab, I believe there are people who would love to have self-cleaning touch screen devices. Then there are hospitals and public systems like the automated teller machines. Microsoft’s patent application uses UV rays to sterilize the touch screens.

UV rays at a particular frequency can kill germs and the concept is known as Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation  (UVGI). Quoting parts of the Wikipedia article on the topic:

 UVGI is a highly effective method of destroying microorganisms.  It is used in a variety of applications, such as food, air and water purification.  UVGI utilises the short wavelength of UV that is harmful to microorganisms. It is effective in destroying the  nucleic acids  in these organisms so that their  DNA  is disrupted by the UV radiation. This removes their reproductive capabilities and kills them.

According to the patent  application, the concept is fairly simple. In addition to the backlight LEDs, the devices will now have UV LEDs too. The system will make use of proximity sensors to determine if a user is close to the system and deactivate the sterilization process. If not, the UV rays would be activated. The idea is simple and from the demo I saw on the concept, public touch screen based computing systems should use it. Image from the patent:

If Microsoft plans to let its OEM partners leverage Microsoft’s IP to make such self-cleaning tablet devices for hospitals, it’d be a great USP over the iPad and get Windows 8 based tablets through the door in enterprise.

Patent Application

Microsoft Says WP7.5 Update Ahead of Schedule, Unveils AT&T’s New WP7 Phones

Windows Phone 7.5 (or Mango) was quite a turn around for Microsoft. Not only was the company able to plug in several holes in the platform with new features, they were able to do what Google and Android OEMs have so far failed at—delivering updates for all devices on all carriers seamlessly. The company learnt its lesson from the previous WP7 update rollout and fixed the update process bringing the OEM and carrier partners together.

Microsoft’s Eric Hautala has been  consistently  keeping us updated about the status of the update on the Windows Phone blog and in his latest  update  said they were ahead of schedule. The Windows Phone 7 update status page lists all carriers and handsets (except Venue Pro) in the US are being  delivered  the updates. Worldwide, other than Spain, updates are being  pushed  to all phones. Platform enthusiasts were delighted to have updates  delivered  the day they were released and Microsoft not requiring developer handsets to roll back to stable releases.

Windows Phone 7 Mango has received positive reviews only to be beaten and copied by the recently released Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Ben Rudolf over the Windows Team Blog, shared images of AT&T’s WP7 Mango lineup that includes:

 

At All Thing D’s AsiaD conference, Microsoft’s Andy Lees (president of Windows Phone division) talked about their new line of handsets and Mango. According to This Is My Next,  Lees also said that he expects NFC and 4G capable Windows Phone handsets in 2012. At the Web 2.0 Summit, Microsoft  Steve Ballmer said Nokia’s Windows Phone handsets should be coming out in a week during Nokia’s World event.

Interactive Authentication Methods Get Rid of Annoying Passwords

I hate passwords. To rephrase, I hate remembering passwords. I have often believed that trying to recollect passwords has a lot to do with hair fall. Either naturally or you end up pulling your hair out since you can’t recollect the damn password. Some websites want you to have a 8 character password that’s not your first name or should have a special character . While some websites won’t allow you to enter a special character. The rules make it frustrating to remember passwords. I hate passwords.

OEMs started using finger print scanners for authentication but the accuracy is enough to make you want to chop your finger and tape it to the scanner. Or disable the password—not recommended though. Mobile phones can’t have finger print scanners and until recently, 4 digit number combinations are the standard security feature. These touch devices, however, are capable of more. In Android, Google introduced a feature called Patterns. Instead of entering number combinations, you draw a pattern on the screen to unlock the device. I have tried on my friend’s phone and find it quite intuitive. However, fellow Techie Buzz writer, Rajesh Pandey points out that figuring out a Pattern password is very easy. The finger smudges on the screen after repeatedly drawing the pattern makes it convenient to figure out the combination. Screenshot courtesy Keith Dsouza:

In Android ICS, Google has introduced facial recognition. Another interesting security implementation that uses the front facing camera to unlock the phone. I haven’t tried how consistent the feature under the varying lighting conditions but Google’s demo at the Android ICS event failed. Having said that, Xbox Kinect uses Kinect ID to recognize you and log you into the system. Convenient and secure enough. Screenshot courtesy Google:

In Windows 8, Microsoft showed something similar to Patterns. Called Picture Passwords, users can log into the system by touching specific points on the lock screen image. These points are set by the user and are way more convenient and intuitive compared to entering passwords on the tablet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next major release of Windows Phone introduced picture passwords, in fact it should. Screenshot courtesy me:

While security continues to be a threat as seen by the recent troubles Sony faced, there need to be more intuitive ways to authorize users. Google and Microsoft seems to be working on them with some practical solutions.

Here’s How Microsoft Should Do Windows Phone Giveaways

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 devices haven’t done as well as expected, something Steve Ballmer accepted. The first generation of devices lacked hardware features like dual cameras and gyroscopes offered in iPhone and some Android handsets. (The soon-to-be-released WP7 Mango handsets will have these features.) Microsoft US has an offer running on their web store where for every purchase over $500 you can get a free WP7 handset. The handsets available are the first generation ones which leads me to believe that it is a stock clearance offer. My first thought when I learned about the offer was Microsoft can do better. Instead of $500, it should be $300 which is the price of the basic Xbox 360+Kinect bundle.

Xbox 360 and Kinect integration with Windows Phone 7 has been talked about on multiple  occasions. The Xbox LIVE integration, ability to use  the phone as an Xbox remote to control media  and even a controller  while playing games  make a compelling case for owning the three devices. Mobile operator 3 in Sweden understands the ecosystem and  they have by far the best Windows Phone 7 offer. With every purchase of a Windows Phone 7 device, you get a free Xbox. It can’t get better than this. I recently got an Xbox 360 with Kinect and am amazed at how intuitive everything is. All one has to do is plug the Kinect and setting it up can’t get any simpler! (Although using the Xbox controller for the keyboard is excruciating.)

Microsoft is preparing for the holiday season  that begins in a few weeks and a lot of people will be spending a lot of money. Google’s ICS phones and Apple’s iPhone 4S will be on everyone’s lists, Microsoft needs to get WP7 devices in there and a shortcut is giving the phones for free. XBox 360 and Kinect, in my opinion, will be gadgets that families will consider. Games like Forza 4, Kinect Sesame Street, video content through Xbox LIVE make it the perfect living room television companion.

It is obvious that Microsoft is willing to give away phones for free, they might as well do it with a product that is expected to do well during the holiday season.

PS: The post title is inspired by Business Insider.

Microsoft and Partners Launch New Ad Campaigns For Holiday Season

With the iPhone 4S set to shatter sales records the competition better have something up their sleeves to compete. For Microsoft the upcoming holiday season is going to be tricky. As Todd Bishop at GeekWire points out, the company has a new range of Windows Phone 7 Mango handsets coming out but besides that they don’t have any other new product for users.

Many enthusiasts have been wondering why Microsoft does not talk about the consumer ecosystem it has created. In the coming days, Microsoft will be changing that. The core premise is Windows enabling families stay connected and have a great time with technology. Microsoft shared two advertisements talking about the concept:

The second ad Dog.ppt is a pretty cool ad but I have my doubts about the first one. (I am not the only one.)

Microsoft is rumored to  be investing several Million Dollars for OEM partners for advertising their Windows Phone 7 handsets and it looks like HTC is making good use of it. Spotted by WinRumors’ Tom Warren, the HTC WP7 ad aired in the UK is nicely done. Wrapping features around what the phone enables you to do is always a better message than telling us specs and features. Here’s the ad:

Microsoft UK has another HTC WP7 ad that is eye catching. Both ads show promise and in fact as Tom Warren says, Microsoft should have more ads done by the creative agency behind the HTC WP7 ads.

Microsoft Australia had probably one of the coolest launch show for a developer software. Long Zheng wrote about Microsoft Australia putting up a light show using office lights of two building to launch LightSwitch for Visual Studio. Here’s the video of a very un-Microsoft launch: