All posts by Manan Kakkar

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

Apple Copies Zune Tagline For iTunes

This is too good to not be reproduced. Looks like the photocopiers at Cupertino are working overtime. Perhaps, the artists at Cupertino are out of innovation. Use any of the many smart retorts by the loud Apple fans over the years against Microsoft and reverse the company names. As first spotted by CoryRS at Zunited.com, here’s what you get:

The tag line on iTunes.com, today, is exactly the same as the one Microsoft has been using for a while on zune.com.

Go figure.

[Update: Facebook Too] Bing Testing In-line Twitter Trends, Influencing Results?

In September last year Bing and Twitter renewed their relationship with some weird twitter exchanges. Not much was known at that time and we’ve been hoping that Bing will help searching for tweets. As it turns out, Bing has some different plans. Microsoft has tried real-time social updates from Twitter being shown on Bing in the past. I use Bing as my default search engine and when I searched for Pepsi Next, I noticed a small note below the first search result:

Bing not only tells me that a particular story is trending on twitter but also how many shares in the past few hours. This is deep meta data information for a search engine in real-time. My guess is, the number of shares on twitter are also influencing the placement of a link in search result. The Ad Age article most likely has more shares than the rest of the articles.

It makes a lot of sense for a search engine to weigh links based on Twitter interaction since Facebook isn’t exactly known for rapid, real-time link sharing. Facebook’s integration in Bing is more to do with social relevance, while Twitter is more to do with current relevance—a smart approach.

Update: Romit Mehta tells me that this has been around since October 2011. Funny I never noticed it, perhaps I don’t search for topics that trend on Twitter.

Update #2: It looks like the Bing team is now bringing in Facebook share numbers in the mix too. Screenshot:

Microsoft Explains Windows App Store Licensing For Users

Microsoft’s Windows 8 will introduce an application marketplace like Apple’s App Store for OS X. The app store can be tried in the recently released Windows 8 Consumer Preview build and looks like the web and Zune marketplace for Windows Phone. In an article posted on the Windows Store blog, Antonie Leblond has explained the fine print about purchasing apps from the end-user’s perspectives. (Windows 8 tablets based on the ARM architecture will run apps installed via the marketplace only.) Leblond talks about the licensing of apps bought from the store. Here are some details:

  • According to Microsoft’s option to developers, free app trials can last for 1, 7, 15, 30 days or forever
  • A tiny ‘x’ will appear on the app’s tile indicating that the app has expired
  • The expired app cannot be installed on the same PC under another user ID either
  • Settings for apps purchased after using the trial will be preserved
  • The app store will support in-app purchases
  • In-app purchases can have limits too; once expired the user will have to explicitly purchase the in-app feature again, no auto-renew option
  • Apps once purchased can be purchased on not more than 5 PCs
  • Family PCs count as “Shared PCs” and apps can be installed on systems signed-in using your family members’ accounts
  • To install on a 6th PC you will have to de-link a PC from your Microsoft account
  • A vaguely worded line in the post says, we will have to wait for 5 days before installing an app on a 6th PC if a recently added PC was de-linked
  • App updates are free—it’s that simple

FTC Calls Out Apple For Google Being Default Service On iOS

In the US, Google is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on anti-trust charges. There’s a lot being said against Google and the company is being even considered as a monopoly. The company’s policies regarding user privacy, social and advertising have raised concerns. The FTC investigations are focusing on Google’s advertising pricing and search ranking favoritism.

In an update on the FTC investigations, Bloomberg’s Sara Forden and Jeff Bliss are reporting that Apple has been subpoenaed by the FTC for having Google as the default service for iOS features. Google and Apple have had a strained relation since the launch of Android and Apple is trying to reduce their reliance on Google. Back in 2010, Apple added Bing as a search engine option in Safari and much recently, during the launch of the new iPad, the company made its intentions clear when they showed OpenStreetMaps integration in iPhoto for iOS.

It may be possible that Apple saw the FTC investigation coming and this was a reason for switching to OpenStreetMaps. Or it is spite. Or economy.

Apollo Might Come To Older WP7 Devices… In An Alternate Universe

I hypothesize that there is a timeline where Nanam—me in an alternate universe—has a Samsung Focus from AT&T that sports the latest Windows Phone update known as 8107. In our timeline, I don’t since, well, AT&T won’t release it. If there ever was an award for the worst premiere partner, AT&T is the hands-down winner. Microsoft removed their Where’s My Update page clearly due to pressure from carriers as the page made them look bad and Microsoft could easily wash their hands off the delayed updates problem. For those unaware, Apollo is the codename given to Windows Phone 8, the next major update to Microsoft’s phone OS.

In a conversation with some representatives at Microsoft’s booth at CeBit, Thomas from WP7app.de was told that second and first generation Windows Phone devices will get Apollo. (Some Apollo features won’t work due to hardware limitations.) This confirmation, to me, means little. Even if according to Microsoft, current and older Windows Phone devices support Apollo, there is no guarantee that users will get it. In fact, Microsoft seems to have given up on harassing carriers to push out updates.

via Neowin.net and WMPowerUser

Implications Of No Disc Drive In The Next Xbox

Earlier today news of Microsoft dropping the disc drive in their next version of Xbox started spreading. The news first reported by UK publication—MCVUK—is intriguing. Microsoft backed HD DVD over Bluray (supported by Sony PlayStation) and the move in many ways bombed since Bluray won the format wars. The DVD drive in the Xbox 360 makes the console a complete living room TV accessory, and that is why Microsoft’s decision is interesting. In quote to MCVUK, the source says Microsoft is replacing the optical drive with games on solid state cards.

Here’s what I believe will happen:

  • Bluray drive as an accessory for the Xbox, whenever announced, will support older Xbox consoles
  • Games offered to be downloaded, a process like Steam (if this happens, the 4GB Xbox makes no sense, @keithdsouza agrees)
  • An industry shift within the gaming industry from disc drives to memory cards (like the PlayStation Vita card, as @fishfacemcgee says on twitter, we might be going back to the “cartridge”era.)

The current Xbox supports both USB hard drives and pen drives, at the same time the system offers cloud based game state backup. I wrote recently that the post-PC PC is the TV and the Xbox is of prime importance to Microsoft in this consumer market shift. If Microsoft drops the optical drive, my 4GB console becomes obsolete since, well, it will be interesting to see game publishers offer games on disc drives and Microsoft’s newly supported solid-state cards. It’ll be fun to watch Microsoft in this space, the company has sold more Xbox devices than Apple TVs and has strong Xbox integration in Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Dell Tablets To Be Available Same Day As Windows 8

A day after Apple announcing their latest iPad creatively called the new iPad, Dell’s CEO, Michael Dell spoke to Bloomberg about their plans to compete in the tablet space.

Recently, Michael Dell told Forbes that he doesn’t see Dell as a PC company but an end-to-end IT—a significant focus shift for Dell. In his conversation with Aaron Ricadela and Emily Chang, Michael Dell said that they will be competing with the iPad in the enterprise market. Michael Dell’s key statements about the company’s plan for Windows 8 tablets are:

  • Target the enterprise customer with Windows 8 tablets
  • Tablets market a priority for Dell
  • There is demand for a tablet that supports Windows applications
  • Dell tablets to be available same day as Windows 8 launch (this can be significant)
If Dell is planning to launch tablets on launch day, I am assuming other OEM partners will too. I am looking at Samsung in particular. Dell’s focus on enterprise client might give them a market segment to concentrate and target. It will be interesting to see how things play out.

Office 15: Upcoming Features We Know

 

At the Windows 8 Consumer Preview launch event, Microsoft talked about their next Office version, codenamed Office 15. Steven Sinofsky gave us a preview of the product and while the company isn’t talking about the product just yet, a limited test trial is underway. Tom Warren at The Verge has gathered a lot of information about the upcoming Office suite and here’s a list of features we know so far:

  • Bundled Metro versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote on WOA (Windows on ARM) devices
  • Touch Mode for the Office suite
  • Reading Mode in Word (with Resume Reading function that bookmarks where you were last time on the document)
  • Object Zoom (click to zoom into images, charts etc.)
  • Expand and Collapse (hide contents of a paragraph)
  • Insert pictures from Facebook, Flickr
  • Embed and view videos from within Word
  • Open and read PDF like Word files (at least that’s what I understand from Tom’s post)
  • Weather bar in Outlook
  • Broadcast Word documents online (like PowerPoint presentations in Office 2010)
  • Quick Analysis Lens for visualizing data
  • Flash Fill to work with spreadsheets formatting
  • Better Excel and PowerPoint love-making while working with charts
  • Peeks—quick look at schedule, tasks, and contacts
  • Auto updating and viewing of Visio and Excel files within a OneNote notebook
To some these might appear as inconsequential additions, but features like the weather bar, better collaboration, enhancements in working with media, and the touch interface are additions that the Office suite needs. Bundling Office 15 with WOA is probably the single best decision made by Microsoft to sell their tablets.

The Gestures Supported In Windows 8 And Their Mouse Equivalent

Earlier today Microsoft announced the availability of Windows 8 Consumer Preview. The touch friendly Metro interface for Windows 8 is not restricted to tablets. Microsoft has followed a dual-UI strategy for Windows 8 and replaced the traditional start menu with a Metro version start screen. Since one UI is meant for the traditional keyboard/mouse interaction and the other for finger interaction (no pun intended), Microsoft has shared a simple chart explaining the gestures supported in Windows 8 and what they do along with details about how to perform the same tasks using a mouse:

(Click image to enlarge.)

Short Review: Skype Beta For Windows Phone 7

Yesterday during Nokia’s keynote at the ongoing Mobile World Congress 2012 Microsoft released a beta version of Skype for Windows Phone 7. It took the company a while to come up with the version and there is some room for improvement. I downloaded the app and gave it a short try, here’s what I’ve found.

The good:

  • Can be used on first-gen Windows Phone 7 devices
  • Does not require a front-facing camera
  • Pleasant interface (animations for the splash screen and notification are subtle and nice)
  • App supports landscape mode for chat
  • Panoramic navigation within the video call—this is pretty cool

Now for the bad:

  • The app does not run in the background; you’re online as long as the app is open
  • No push notifications

The app’s inability to run in the background is a deal break. However, being beta I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two features in the final version. Here are some screenshots of the app:

 

The audio calling and chat interfaces:

Skype WP7

Here’s How Microsoft Is Simplifying The Windows Brand

Microsoft has often been mocked for their naming convention. The company’s brands have a reputation for being confusing. While the jokes might have merit, Microsoft having multiple SKUs for their software make business sense. As the launch of Windows 8 nears, information of how Microsoft plans to simplify their products and have a better marketing campaign is surfacing.

The Windows Versions

Microsoft’s audience isn’t limited to those who crack the jokes, there’s a wider and more complex market to cater to, add to that different geographic locations and their laws–for Microsoft, it’s a complicated mess that requires a lot of thought.

Windows 7 and Windows Vista had 6 versions main SKUs:

  • Starter
  • Home Basic
  • Home Premium
  • Business (Vista) aka Professional (Windows 7)
  • Enterprise
  • Ultimate

If my information is correct, Windows Vista Starter was limited to emerging markets, while the rest were sold in the US. This was slightly changed for Windows 7; Starter was only available as pre-bundled on OEM machines whereas Home Basic was specifically for emerging markets.

According to documents accessed by Stephen Chapman at ZDNet, Microsoft will be simplifying the available Windows 8 SKUs. Chapman links to HP documentation where he only 3 Windows 8 SKUs were listed:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Professional
  • Windows 8 Enterprise

We know that Windows 8 will have an ARM version but that, like Windows 7 Starter, will be available pre-bundled on OEM tablet devices. Microsoft has no plans to sell Windows 8 ARM (WOA) as an off the shelf product. The three SKUs will be available in 32 and 64 bit versions.

The 3 versions make a lot of sense. Having just 1 version for the consumer and two for the enterprise is a solution Microsoft should’ve tried with Windows 7. For those who remember, there was an uproar on the Internet when Microsoft’s intended to restrict number of apps that can run at the same time on Windows 7 starter, was 3. This was however changed. There was no need of a Windows 7 Starter edition since there was little different compared to Windows 7 Home Basic.

For what it’s worth, it’s an excellent decision to completely remove any possible confusion for the end consumer by having a single SKU. That said, I won’t be surprised to see some variants to meet the legal requirements, like in Europe.

The Windows Live and Zune brand

One of Microsoft’s best and most subtle moves of late has been their slow and steady death of the Zune brand. Windows Phone 7 was called as the next Zune music player, the devices were slowly killed, and then company officials stopped using the name Zune. It was obvious, Zune’s on its way out. The problem however was that Zune is Microsoft’s music and entertainment brand as well as the sync client for Windows Phone 7. According to leaked information, Windows Phone 8 won’t require Zune for syncing. Tom Warren writing for The Verge reiterated that the Zune offering will be rolled into Xbox LIVE. According to Tom Warren, with Windows 8, Microsoft will be killing the Windows Live brand. Tom says the following products will take over:

  1. Microsoft Account (Windows Live ID)
  2. Mail (Windows Live Mail)
  3. Calendar (Windows Live Calendar)
  4. People (Windows Live Contacts)
  5. Photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery)
  6. Music (Zune Music Player)
  7. Video (Zune Video Player)
Except the first, the other six are the feature-names for Windows Phone 7. (Consistency, finally!)

CNET ran an exclusive story by Greg Sandoval that Microsoft is discussing a new Spotify-like subscription service with the labels. (As of now, Microsoft has Zune Pass.) Going by the adage that there’s no smoke without fire, Zune Pass is probably on its way out too. This is a good thing.

[Screenshots] Bing Wants You To Link Your Web Pages & Facebook Account

Earlier today Bing announced a new feature that offers deeper Facebook integration. The feature known as Linked Pages lets you tag webpages just like you tag photos. The feature seems similar to Google’s Author search where authors can get their information shown next to articles written by them. Bing is letting everyone do it. When I searched for my name Bing showed me a little notification about Linked Page:

On the page, Bing shows several of my Internet profiles and search results. I can then link pages with my Facebook profile, and even link the pages to my Facebook friends. (The direct link to the feature is Bing.com/LinkedPages.)

 

Once you’ve linked the pages, Bing results will list the linked pages on top. Screenshot:

Bing also sends an update on Facebook telling my friends that I’ve linked my Facebook profile and my search results:

I decided to run a search for my Facebook friends. The first search was for fellow ZDNet Microsoft columnist–Mary Jo Foley. She did not have pages linked to her but since she is my contact on Facebook I could link the pages directly to her (Link to Mary-Jo Foley). Screenshot:

The second search was for GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop. I haven’t added Todd as my friend but I am subscribed to his updates, as a result Bing doesn’t show me a “Link to Todd Bishop” option. Screenshot:

The ability to tag your Facebook friends and Bing listing all “linked” profiles under the top result, which in most cases is a Facebook profile, is nicely done.

 

For China, Microsoft To Replace Twitter, Facebook, Xbox LIVE With Local Services

Back in December, Michael Kan wrote at Computer World that  Microsoft’s Windows Phone launch in China was delayed to the first half in 2012. According to news surfacing, Windows Phone 7’s handsets in China will launch with Tango.

Tang Dynasty at WPDang is says Windows Phone 7 Tango handsets will be available starting march 2012. The more interesting information in Dynasty’s article is, Microsoft replacing key features in Windows Phone with local services widely used in China. Microsoft has talked a lot about the Xbox LIVE integration in Windows Phone; the phone is being seen as an extension of the console–as a remote and a portable gaming device. Damaster at Liveside says, in China, there will be no Xbox LIVE.

Windows Phone 7’s social integration–Facebook and Twitter–will be replaced with local social networks. Unlike in the West, Weibo is the micro-blogging platform used in China. Twitter Co-founder Jack Dorsey, tweeted last month about Twitter being blocked in China; given this having Twitter integration made little sense for Microsoft. It is probably an intelligence move on Microsoft’s part that they’ve partnered with Weibo to integrate the service in Windows Phone, as confirmed by Damaster at Liveside.

Same is the case with Facebook. In China, Microsoft will be replacing Facebook with RenRen.

More SkyDrive Features Leak, Major Update Ahead of Google Drive Planned

With Google’s cloud storage service—Google Drive—expected to debut sometime soon, the SkyDrive team at Redmond is gearing up for  an update of their own. yesterday Paul Paliath wrote about some features spotted by Rodrigo Ghedin at GEMIND, these included:

  • Paid expansion for SkyDrive
  • Desktop clients for SkyDrive

Paul expects a discontinuation of Windows Live Mesh but I believe Mesh will now be superseded as a product by SkyDrive. Mesh won’t be discontinued but the Windows Live Mesh client (for Windows & OS X) will now offer support for SkyDrive folders and be known as the SkyDrive client.

Today, Damaster writing at LiveSide has shared with us some more features quite likely to be a part of SkyDrive’s next update. Here’s what Damaster shared:

  • Option to share SkyDrive albums on Twitter
  • Short URL for SkyDrive (http://sdrv.ms)
  • Support for ODF formats (.odt, ods,odp) in addition to Office formats (.pptx, .docx, .xlsx)
  • BitLocker recovery key management
  • Remote access to files on your desktop from within SkyDrive (Mesh offers this but let’s just say it doesn’t work)

These are some major updates to SkyDrive as a service and clearly indicative of Windows Live Mesh not being known as a consumer product anymore. The SkyDrive team has been hard at work with the service getting consistent updates.

Some Windows Phone ‘Tango’ Features Leak, Scaling & Fragmentation Begins Early

Earlier today Russia-based Windows Phone enthusiast site—WP7Forum.Ru—shared some features from the upcoming Windows Phone 7 update called Tango.

Tango is the major upgrade between Windows Phone 7.5 (aka Mango) and Windows Phone 8 (aka Apollo). Tango will introduce some interesting features which, I believe, are going to be the first signs of the dreadful hardware fragmentation. According to Svetloyar, Microsoft will:

  • introduce 256MB memory as the minimum requirements, instead of 512MB
  • not automatically sync the camera roll with SkyDrive, images will be sycned when the phone is connected to a PC
  • video streaming will be at 4Mbps (H.264), MSDN document (updated January 13th) says currently WP7 supports a max of 2Mbps
  • allow cameras only up to 3MP, currently, OEMs don’t have to add a camera
  • let carriers & OEMs install 40 apps on the phone, the initial limit was 4. 40 just seems outrageous enough to question

Two interesting features updates in Tango are:

Roaming

Till Mango, data connection on roaming can either be turned ON or OFF; with Tango, users will have the following options:

  1. Don’t Roam
  2. Domestic only
  3. Domestic + International

MMS Updates: Svetloyar at WP7Forum.Ru says the MMS capabilities in WP7 will see huge improvements.

For scale, there will be wider language support. Low specs and more languages—Windows Phones for developing nations. Yay!

A few weeks back, I explained that Microsoft wants to offer better hardware while keeping the main OS experience consistent; it seems that Tango will let us know if that is possible.