Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On the Surface, a good idea from Microsoft

Microsoft has announced a new tablet, the Surface. It's a powerful 10" tablet that will run Windows RT - a combination of Windows 8 and Office, recompiled to run on the ARM CPU, a processor used in most tablets.

What makes it interesting right now is that Microsoft has given it dual surface input. The usual touchscreen has been augmented by a touch sensitive panel in the lid, which unlike glass has a certain amount of tactile feedback. The panel can be used as a keyboard, amongst other things.

A lot of commentary has focussed on why Microsoft would want to produce its own tablet. My thought is that this type of innovation is exactly why. Until I bought a case with a keyboard for my Lenovo K1, for example, I hated using my tablet, and considered it a toy. Right now, it's still a toy, but solely because the software available isn't terribly good.

Without Microsoft actually coming out and saying "This is how we think a tablet should work", the reality is that Windows RT would be pre-installed on a lot of iPad type devices. Users would hate it - the touted copy of Office feature would be horrible to use on a touchscreen, and the "tablet side" of RT wouldn't be enough to sell the system against something like the iPad or a generic ICS Android device.

I haven't used the Surface, but I look forward to trying it out. If Surface is designed properly, and if Microsoft can get the marketing right, they may well have the world's first compelling tablet.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Apple's hissy fit: probably a bad thing

The take-home for a lot of commentators after Apple's recent WWDC was that Steve Job's threat to "go thermonuclear" against Google has finally come to pass. Aside from the sniping against Apple's competitors, the Apple has announced a replacement for the Google Maps app. Siri is being positioned as an actual search engine, rather than a user interface, and Tim Cook has made a number of comments disparaging the mobile web, as opposed to the use of apps.

For the Apple faithful, this makes sense. The story goes that Eric Schmidt, then Google CEO and Apple board member, stole the plans for the iPhone and came up with Android as a way to compete with Apple. Android phones, this version of history states, are nothing more than bad clones of the iPhone.

This is, of course, utter bunk. Google was working on Android long before the iPhone was developed (remember the iPhone wasn't originally intended to be a phone.) The iPhone wasn't some new invention made in complete isolation, but built upon the ideas and concepts that PDAs and smartphones had implemented long before it came on the scene. What the iPhone introduced was, essentially, an optimized user interface that required the use of a finger rather than buttons or a stylus, and that was it. And while Google merged that concept (though not the implementation of that concept) with its existing Android project - until then, heavily Blackberry influenced, there's really nothing else in Android that owes anything to the design of the iPhone.

Moreover, Google helped build the iPhone, which originally came with Google's Maps and Youtube apps, amongst others.

But leaving this aside, there are good reasons for both companies to distrust one another. Google has more reasons, indeed, to mistrust Apple than vice-versa, given Apple's control over the iPhone is much stronger than Google's control over Android. If Apple wants to release apps for Android, it is free to do so. Google requires Apple's permission to release apps for iOS, and has had problems getting some perfectly normal apps released - such as the years it took to get approval for a Google Voice app for iPhones.

The question here though is does this make sense? Is it really in Apple's best interests to try to kill Google? Would it be in Google's best interests to try to kill Apple?

We've been here before. A CEO hand picked by Steve Jobs takes over Apple, and continues Jobs's antagonism towards a company that Jobs feels stole Apple's technology. That CEO oversees legal action against parties allied to this nemesis, and Apple's products seem to be aimed at beating the nemesis, rather than being what customers actually want. And while Apple has done a good job in attracting high quality developers to its platform, the nemesis is providing a far more open, relaxed, product that is available to everyone.

The nemesis in this case was Microsoft. The technology was the WIMP GUI (nevermind that Microsoft's Windows was never remotely similar to Mac OS, but then again Android isn't remotely like iOS) The CEO was John Sculley.

I just don't see this ending well, especially not for Apple. The antagonism doesn't seem to have any basis in anything anyone has actually done. The two companies are more natural allies than enemies. Working together they can, as they've done in the past, do great things.