Last week before the sad news of Steve Jobs death, Microsoft announced their partnership with various living room content providers. Under the deal, Comcast, HBO and Verizon will start streaming content on the Xbox. With this news, I think it safe to call Xbox as the Windows of the living room. Unlike Google TV and Apple TV, the Xbox (with Kinect and Windows Phone) is a more complete platform for living room entertainment. Fun family games, hardcore gaming, music & movie streaming and cableâ€”that’s the 360 degrees of multimedia and entertainment.
Kinect’s voice and gesture control along with the soon-to-be-released Windows Phone app to control the TV via Xbox brings the much needed interaction overhaul from the button remotes we’ve all be using for the past two decades. In a patent filing I came across, Microsoft plans to give shopping the Kinect treatment. A while back Microsoft showed avatars of a group of friends sitting together and streaming a video, the friends were all their houses. The patent application titled Motion-based interactive shopping experience brings these elements together and a user controlled avatar will be able to interact with objects in the virtual world, much like how playing a game on Kinect is.
The patent appliction as some very interesting possibilities:
You shopping for yourself by trying out the clothes and seeing how you’d:
If you like to shop with a friend, two users can shop together:
If you want to buy furniture, Kinect will re-create a 3D model of your room and show you how the furniture will look like in your room!
Microsoft has been struggling to get marketshare in mobile devices. Android and iOS based phone/tablets are crushing Windows. Then there is the consistent Microsoft stock price and revenues. Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division (EDD) posted staggering results courtesy the Xbox 360 and Kinect (2011 fiscal reports). SeattlePi’s Nick Eaton observed that the rest of EDD revenue is approximately $600 Million. This number includes sales from Zune, Surface, Mediaroom and hardware.
Yesterday, before Amazon joined the cool consumer tech companies, the top news was Samsung and Microsoft signing a patent deal for Samsung’s Android devices. Goldman Sachs estimates that Microsoft is set to make $444 Million from the various Android patent deals with several OEMs. Now, realizing that Windows Phone isn’t the one making $600 Million but making a considerable contribution to the number and $444 Million from Android devices, Microsoft’s investments in mobile devices are bringing them close to a Billion Dollars.
Steve Ballmer did say that Microsoft hasn’t been able to sell as many Windows Phone devices as they hoped to. However, Microsoft’s strategic partnership with Nokia is yet to come to market. Nokia CEO Steven Elop showed Sea-Ray which will be their WP7 device, is expected to launch this holiday season. During the deal with Nokia, cheaper Windows Phone handsets were being talked about. This led to doubts around fragmentation and how apps will function on lower specs. As it turn out, Microsoft’s tier II chasis specs can run existing apps. WMPowerUser points out, the compromise is on camera and storage. (Microsoft shared the official specs as ZTE’s Tania was launched.)
HTC recently launched their Windows Phone Mango handsetsâ€”HTC Radar and Titan. The company says Windows Phone constitutes to 30% of their handsets which is a considerable share.
MG Siegler puts it quite right, the strategy is genius for Microsoft. As partners pay Microsoft for something Google says is free, they might as well pay Microsoft for their platform which is nothing short of Google’s Android and in many cases is better. (Zune Marketplace for content and a coherent update roll out process.)
PS: Asymco estimates Windows Phone 7 current revenues to be $30 Million (2 Million licenses at $15/license).
The build-up to Windows Phone’s major updateâ€”Mangoâ€”has been exciting. With developers having early access to beta builds, Microsoft warned enthusiasts that they will have to roll back to stable NoDo installs before updating to the final Mango release. Surprisingly, the brilliant engineers at Microsoft realized how problematic that will be for them as users. They decided to figure out ways to avoid this and anyone with Mango developer builds will be able to roll forward to the final version of Mango.
Mango introduces several new features and fills most of the holes in the platform. Microsoft had a tough time when their previous update (NoDo) was being pushed to users. For Microsoft, the upgrade involves several hardware manufacturers, carriers and Microsoft which obviously leads to complications. Microsoft promised that they learnt from the experience and it looks like they did. What seemed like eternity for AT&T Samsung Focus users (and others), all carriers except Sprint will be pushing Windows Phone 7.5 soon.
Android and iOS have web versions of their marketplaces for some time. And they are handy. With Mango coming, Microsoft has unveiled their web version of the marketplace. Part of the Windows Phone website, the interface is clean and simple. The apps can be bought and are instantly sent to the phone if it is connected to the Internet. Else, a download link is emailed for you to get the app via the Zune desktop software. Here’s a quick demo of how real-time the marketplace is:
Lastly, the holiday season will see new Windows Phone 7.5 handsets from Samsung, Nokia, HTC, ZTE and other partners. The marketplace is seeing a flood of apps updated for Mango. Samsung released handy apps for their users (video calling, diary) and Nokia is making their presence felt in the marketplace too.
A few days ago, Microsoft unveiled Windows 8. A user interface with new elements and jargon has been introduced. In what seems to be the first Windows 8 trademark, I spotted a filing for Charm.
In Windows 8, the traditional start menu is no more. On a tablet device, swiping from the right side of the screen brings up what is called as Charms. This is an implementation of the start bar. On a non-touch regular PC, Charms can be accessed by dragging the mouse to the bottom-left corner of the screen (where the start button used to be all along). Here are screenshots of what Charms look like:
The sidebar has five options and selecting any one of them shows what is similar to the start menu. It is a bit like Apple top barâ€”application specific options with some system controls like Network, Volume, Brightness, Power, Language and Notifications. The five options are:
Share: Social network sharing applications will appear under the list
Start: Goes back to the tiled home screen
Devices: Shows connected devices
Settings: Brings up the sidebar with application specific options
Microsoft’s Windows 8 has several new features that we’ve covered over the past few months. One of the cooler features that hasn’t been talked about a lot is the ability to take your entire Windows 8 installation with you on a USB drive and use it on any machine. And this isn’t a half-baked solution, with Windows To Go, a user can take his Windows install with files and data on any USB drive and plug it to any other PC and continue working.
The feature according to Microsoft is meant for Enterprises. Scenarios Microsoft sees this feature for are:
Contractors and vendors now won’t have to spend time setting up computers
Work from home or remote locations
Microsoft says this feature works with both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 and according to the demo, USB 2.0 seems to be usable by itself. Some technical details shared by Microsoft:
Windows 8 will default boot to a Windows To Go drive if one is present
Several drivers will be bundled and in case some aren’t there Windows Update will download them
It will support USB 2.0 and 3.0
There is no Hibernate possible for a Windows To Go instance
Windows To Go will work on legacy BIOS and UEFI firmware (the deployment will have support for both enabled, it can be toggled.)
Crash and Dump will be available for Windows To Go instances.
Here’s a demo of Windows To Go in action:
The first question that comes to mind what happens if the USB drive is unplugged. According to Microsoft, this is similar to yanking your HDD when Windows is running. However, in Windows To Go, Microsoft has a very clever implementation. Windows To Go will freeze the OS instance for 60 seconds if the pen drive is removed. Plugging it back within 60 seconds, Windows will resume where it was, if not inserted within 60 seconds, Windows will shut down. Microsoft suggests a 32GB USB drive for Windows To Go.
Update Here’s a demo of what happens if you remove a Windows To Go USB drive:
Yesterday I shared screenshots of how Metro-based and older Win32 applications will be available on Microsoft’s upcoming Windows App Store. The post also detailed some of the steps developers will have to go through to submit and get their applications approved.
In a session today, Microsoft elaborated more on their strategies for the app store and gave a quick demo of the app store. One of the key points mentioned during the presentation was that Microsoft plans to make their Windows App Store the only place to get the Metro-styled apps for Windows. For the developers Microsoft says this will let them get telemetry data about their app’s usage, have them promoted and get feedback from users. A quick demo shows the Marketplace interface and how users will be able to buy their apps:
An interesting fact mentioned during the presentation was that Microsoft will index all the apps submitted to the app store and have them searchable through Internet search engines.
As of now SkyDrive offers remote connections into another device on your Mesh network. Unfortunately it is useless to me. I cannot install Mesh on my college computers and there is no Internet Explorer on OS X. In most cases it is a file that I need to access and not remote control (there’s Team Viewer for that).
With Windows 8 and the new Windows Live update, Microsoft will allow you browse through another device on SkyDrive. WIthin the browser, the Explorer interface is replicated in tiles that allows you to navigate your computer remotely. While not a lot of details were shared about the update, the Windows Live team did sneak this screenshot:
Not long ago, I spotted the Windows App Store tile during a Windows 8 demo. It confirmed what we knew was comingâ€”a Windows App store. During the BUILD conference at Anaheim, CA, Microsoft demonstrated the process and how a developer can get his application to the store.
One of the key features of the App Store is a simple implementation by Microsoft that will bring already available non-Metro regular-Windows apps to the store. As an example cited by Sinosfky, several developers already sell applications through their websites and have different pricing or licensing models. Microsoft wants these developers to leverage the app store and developers can have entries for the apps like any new app but instead of having a buy option within the app store, the user can be directed to the developer’s website. Screenshot:
For apps that will be sold through the Windows App Store, everything is the same except added options to try or buy. Screenshot:
For new developers, submitting an app to the marketplace is a simple process. Microsoft’s IDEâ€”Visual Studioâ€”will have a new option in the menu calles “Store”. This will direct the developer to MSDN app portal to fill in details about the app. Screenshot:
The developer can set the price, enable a trial version and other meta information:
Once done, the developer will be shown where their app is in the submission process. Microsoft stressed on their “openness” regarding the app submission process and said that they will make tools available for developers to verify their apps for potential failure points during the approval process.
The Windows App Store itself looks exactly like the Zune Marketplace. Screenshot:
Earlier today Steven Sinofsky and team demonstrated what to expect from Windows 8. It wasn’t a peak at some of the features but a comprehensive look at the platform for the users and developers.
Microsoft showed how the dual UI strategy comes together and the traditional Windows complements the new touch-inspired Metro-based Windows 8. One of the criticism for Windows’ dual screen strategy was once one uses the Metro versions it’ll become difficult to use the traditional Windows Explorerâ€”a perception problem of sorts. Those concerns were noted and the Windows Live team worked on Metro-inspired versions of the popular Windows Live suite.
At the BUILD conference a short demo of the Windows Live suite and how the cloud plays a critical part in offering a great user experience. Here are some screenshots:
Windows Live Mail
Windows Live Calendar
Windows Live Photo
Sharing photos through services:
Mail within the Photo app:
The thing about Windows Live Photos is that the app is currently only pulling in and aggregating photos, the editing capabilities of PhotoGallery weren’t part of the demo and hence I am not certain whether that will be a separate app or part of the Metro-fied Photos app.