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Analysis: Can Nokia teach Microsoft to be one company?


Analysis: Can Nokia teach Microsoft to be one company?

Microsoft and Nokia have been trying since January to find a better way of working together on Windows Phone.

That turned out to be Microsoft buying Nokia’s handset business and bringing back Stephen Elop to head up not just the Windows Phone hardware team but Microsoft’s whole devices business – which is a key part of the ‘One Microsoft’ reorganisation.

Although Nokia has negotiated an excellent deal, with a combination of cash up front, loans from Microsoft that it gets even if the deal falls through and ongoing licence fees for both its Here maps and the large number of patents it isn’t selling to Microsoft, it’s also giving Microsoft the skills it needs to make the reorganisation work – with few drawbacks.

The most obvious disadvantage that could have blocked the deal has already happened; Nokia’s success in selling Windows Phone was discouraging other OEMs, interim Nokia CEO Risto Siilasmaa admitted in the press conference.

Microsoft still believes that making Windows Phone more successful with its own phones makes it more attractive to OEMs (and Steve Ballmer claims that “OEMs are more enthusiastic about Windows Pone today than they were yesterday”, but it wants to be a successful hardware maker itself.

Nokia sells over 80% of all Windows Phones at the moment; that’s better than the 50% of Windows tablets Microsoft wants to sell itself. And Microsoft gets technology for far more than phones: Terry Myerson has already teased us with the idea of combining the Lumia 1020 camera with the Kinect 2 sensor.

Is Elop the next man for Microsoft?

There’s plenty of speculation that this is Microsoft buying its next CEO, but that’s not what this deal is about. For one thing, Microsoft needs Elop to run the devices business if it’s going to make a success of selling its own phones, tablets and the “new form factors” hinted at in the Microsoft presentation. For another, it’s buying a lot more than one person.

Devices and services, as outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer has been saying for over a year now, are Microsoft’s future, and that’s a combination that Nokia is already good at. The Lumia handsets, both premium and budget, and the big-selling Asha phones are complemented by services from HERE maps, navigation tools, Nokia’s extensive music service, dozens of utilities – including Nokia’s own data-saving Xpress web browser and augmented reality tools.

Nokia has been running an app store for a lot longer than Microsoft and it has its own developer evangelism team, which has been at least as successful as Microsoft at bringing key apps to Windows Phone; Angry Birds, Words with Friends, Draw Something, Hipstamatic and other important apps have come to Nokia phones as exclusives months before other Windows Phone users got them.

Stephen Elop

When he ran the business division at Microsoft (which included Office), Elop was an early convert to the principle that grew into the devices and services mantra. Software plus services as Microsoft used to call it – apps that worked well on their own (like Outlook) but got better when you were online with access to extra services (like contact information from Linked In or Facebook). Back in 2009 at the Web 2.0 conference, he was bullish on the importance of the combination of devices, apps and cloud services.

“Some people say it will all be in the cloud; I think that is hogwash,” he claimed (and the less-than-stellar sales of Chromebooks suggest he wasn’t wrong). “How many people here have an iPhone? And how many of you are using the Facebook app on iPhone? Just as many. The device, the operating system, and the rich app – that’s the Facebook app combined with the Facebook service – is a better experience.”

That’s as good a definition of the promise of devices and services as Microsoft has ever given, and it’s something Nokia has been doing itself – especially with Here Maps and Lumia handsets.

Elop also has experience of the way Microsoft can improve in one area by learning from its own products in other areas; something that’s key to making the ‘one Microsoft’ reorg succeed. Again, in 2009, he pointed out that “Xbox is cool but when you play around it there is all sorts of stuff you learn from it – and what we learn from enterprise search transfers to the Live team.”

Microsoft had bought FAST to improve SharePoint search (both part of Elop’s division) but the same expertise turned the disappointing Live Search into the much more effective Bing search engine.

What Microsoft must do next

Microsoft needs to do much more of that transfer between teams – and it needs to keep moving away from its tendency to Redmond insularity. Both companies have spoken in the past about how well their design ethos and ambitions match up and the Windows Phone tem has managed to work well with the Nokia teams in Finland.

Unlike Microsoft, which builds every service for the US first and the rest of the world much later, Nokia is hardly a US-centric company; it’s used to building services for other countries around the world – the countries where Windows Phone is actually selling. Bing Maps is very accurate in the US but try searching for businesses in London using Bing Maps and Here Maps on Windows Phone; Nokia has a far better database of locations and you’re much more likely to find what you’re looking for.

The 30,000 Nokia employees who become Microsoft employees won’t be moving to Redmond; they’ll stay in Finland where they design the phones and in Silicon Valley where Nokia has its research labs – and in the production facilities around the world where they build phones.

Elop coming back to Microsoft

Using Nokia’s expertise to sell other devices

Nokia has decades of experience in building phones – and in running a supply chain that sources components, builds things like the image stabilisation modules that make the cameras in the Lumia 920, 925 and 1020 so good, manufactures the devices and then gets them into stores.

Microsoft has spent a lot of money building up its own supply chain for building the Surface tablets, but it was slow to make devices available outside the US; Nokia has that scale already. It’s also used to working on multiple devices at once; Microsoft didn’t have a large enough team to design Surface and Surface Pro at the same time, let alone get a smaller tablet ready to compete with the iPad Mini and Nexus 7.

To compete in devices Microsoft needs to move faster; having one division rather than two separate companies should help there. It also needs to learn to sell products better and get marketing working better with the product teams.

Nokia still has strong relationships with mobile operators around the world, a sales team that Microsoft doesn’t have – and far better marketing. From genuinely funny ads like the wedding fight to guerrilla campaigns like paring ad vans next to Samsung billboards, Nokia can teach Microsoft to sell its products.

Can Microsoft really save money over the deal?

Microsoft says it will also save money, not just from the extra efficiency and scale but also from the 60-plus patent licenses from companies like IBM and Motorola Nokia is handing over, which have what Microsoft calls “attractive royalty arrangements” – and Microsoft can use them for tablets and other devices as well as phones.

Plus the deal means Google-owned Motorola can’t sue Microsoft over smartphones in future for any of those patents; neither can companies like Samsung and LG who have already cross licenced patents to Microsoft.

Not everything in the Microsoft Nokia deal fits in with the ‘one Microsoft’ plan though. As well as the Lumia handsets, Microsoft is taking over Nokia’s Asha Symbian phones and featurephones like the newly launched Nokia 515.

Microsoft has only just finished transitioning Windows Phone and Xbox to the Windows kernel and now it’s going to have multiple platforms again – in a market where it has little experience and none of it good. Even if Asha doesn’t turn into another Sidekick or Kin – Microsoft’s last phone acquisition didn’t go well – it could be confusing for customers.

On the other hand, Microsoft can’t afford to only develop for Windows and Windows Phone. Steve Ballmer promised that “we’re not holding back services from other vendors.” Making Microsoft services available on the first phone people buy as well is an opportunity to get them before they start in the Google or Apple world.


Posted in Cameras, Computing, Hardware, Mobile Phones, Software, Technology, WirelessComments Off

In Depth: Google Glass: what you need to know


In Depth: Google Glass: what you need to know

When Google unveiled Project Glass, the tech world instantly fell into two camps. Camp one was excited: we’re living in the sci-fi future! Camp two, though, wasn’t so happy. It’s vapourware! some said, while others worried that Google just wanted to plaster ads on the entire world. Is either camp correct? Let’s find out.

What is Google’s Project Glass?

Google Glass is the attempt to make wearable computing mainstream, and it’s effectively a smart pair of glasses with an integrated heads-up display and a battery hidden inside the frame.

Wearable computing is not a new idea, but Google’s enormous bank account and can-do attitude means that Project Glass could well be the first product to do significant numbers.

When will Google Glass be released?

It looks as though Project Glass will see a public release in 2014 at the earliest. Latest news is that developers will be able to get hold of ‘explorer edition’ units at some point in 2013 with a “broad consumer offering” arriving a year later.

What’s the difference between Google Glasses and Google Goggles?

Google Goggles is software, an app that can search the web based on photos and scans. Google Glass is hardware.

How does Project Glass work?

According to well-informed Google blogger Seth Weintraub, Google’s Project Glass glasses will probably use a transparent LCD or AMOLED display to put information in front of your eyeballs. It’s location-aware thanks to a camera and GPS, and you can scroll and click on information by tilting your head, something that is apparently quite easy to master. Google Glasses will also use voice input and output.

An FCC filing in the US also revealed more potential details, suggesting that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth would be used to send pictures to the screen, whilst bone-induction may be used for sound, vibrating your skull to communicate the sound into your inner ear. It’s not a new technology, but certainly does have critics who suggest that it falls short of traditional headphones.

What are the Google Glass specifications?

The New York Times says that the glasses will run Android, will include a small screen in front of your eye and will have motion sensors, GPS and either 3G or 4G data connections. Weintraub says that the device is designed to be a stand-alone device rather than an Android phone peripheral: while Project Glass can connect to a smartphone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth 4.0, “it communicates directly with the cloud”. There is also a front-facing camera and a flash, although it’s not a multi-megapixel monster, and the most recent prototype’s screen isn’t transparent.

project glass

What will I be able to do with Google Glasses?

According to Google’s own video, you’ll be a super-being with the ability to have tiny people talking to you in the corner of your eye, to find your way around using sat-nav, to know when the subway’s closed, to take and share photographs and to learn the ukelele in a day.

YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4&hd=1

GLASS ACT: Google’s video is fun, but it’s not this-year fun: expect more modest systems at first

OK, what will I really be able to do with Google Glass? Is Google Glass a vision of the future?

Nobody knows. The idea is to deliver augmented reality, with information that’s directly relevant to your surroundings appearing in front of you whenever you need it. For example, your glasses might tell you where the nearest decent restaurant is, book your table, invite your friends and show you how to get there, or they might provide work-related information when you’re at your desk.

What information we’ll use it for, if we use it at all, remains to be seen: like Apple’s Siri, it’s a technology with enormous potential. It could even end up in contact lenses: one of the Project Glass team, Babak Parviz of the University of Washington, recently built a contact lens with embedded electronics.

I already wear glasses. Will Google Glasses work for me?

Yes. Google is experimenting with designs that will fit over existing glasses so you don’t have to wear two lots of specs.

google glass

Is Google Glass vapourware?

The New York Times says no: Google’s got some of its very best people working on the project, and experts such as wearable computing specialist Michael Liebhold say that “In addition to having a superstar team of scientists who specialize in wearable, they also have the needed data elements, including Google Maps.”

Not everyone is convinced. Wired spoke to Blair MacIntyre, director of the Augmented Environments Lab at Georgia Tech, who said “you could not do [augmented reality] with a display like this.” MIT Media Lab researcher Pranav Mistry agreed, saying that “the small screen seen in the photos cannot give the experience the video is showing.”

There are several engineering issues – making a screen that works in darkness and in bright sunlight is tough – and mobile display technology doesn’t offer dynamic focusing, which reads your eye to deliver perfectly clear visuals. Current wearable displays have to be two feet away from your face.

There’s clearly a big gap between Google’s demo video and the actual product: Google says its photos “show what this technology could look like” and its video demonstrates “what it might enable you to do” [emphasis added by us].

On a separate note, Google is going to great lengths to keep its Glass development at least partly private. Developers attending its first event had to sign strict non-disclosure agreements that forbade them from spilling the beans. Isn’t glass supposed to be transparent?

What is the Project Glass price?

The NYT again: according to “several Google employees familiar with the project who asked not to be named,” the glasses are expected “to cost around the price of current smartphones.” So that’s around $750/£500, then, possibly with the help of a hefty Google subsidy.

The developer versions – traditionally more expensive that the final consumer units – were made available for pre-order for $1500 (c£966).

Is Project Glass evil?

It could be. Google’s business is about making money from advertising, and some people worry that Google Glass is its attempt to monetise your eyeballs by blasting you with ads whenever you look at something.

If you think pop-ups are annoying in a web browser, imagine them in front of your face. The ADmented Reality spoof is one of very many parodies that made us laugh.

Some of the parodies actually make a good point by showing people bumping into stuff: heads-up displays can be distracting, and there may be safety issues too. Until Google ships its self-driving car, the thought of drivers being distracted by their glasses is fairly terrifying.

There are privacy implications too. Never mind your web history: Google Glass might record everything you see and do.

Google Glass pre-order customers will get regular updates

Those people who paid Google $1,500 for the privilege of pre-ordering some Project Glass specs will be receiving “private updates” through Google+.

Will Google Glasses make me look like a dork?

Er… yes.



Posted in Computing, Hardware, How To, Internet, Mobile Phones, Software, Technology, WirelessComments Off

Gary Marshall: Firefox OS: it isn’t for you (yet)


Gary Marshall: Firefox OS: it isn't for you (yet)

I have a lot of love for Firefox, and for the good people of Mozilla: the web might be nice now, but if they hadn’t come along and fought Microsoft, today’s internet would be marginally less fun than getting punched repeatedly in the face.

The problem at the turn of the century was that developers were coding and for and testing on just one platform, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and ignoring everything else. “To the codemobile!” Mozilla shouted. “We must save the web!”

Save it they did, but as every superhero knows, when you knock down one bad guy another one always comes to take his place.

Today, developers are either coding for a single browser platform – WebKit – or they’re bypassing the web altogether, lured into the warm embrace of walled-off app stores selling platform-specific wrappers for web services. To the codemobile!

Everyone’s a winner, baby

Firefox OS isn’t for you, Mr iPhone user, and it isn’t for you either, Miss Galaxy S3. At least, it isn’t at the moment. We live in countries where the markets for smartphones are so saturated that we’ll throw a big strop if the iPhone 6 doesn’t make us levitate.

Most of the world isn’t that jaded, and doesn’t have our spending power – and it’s those markets where Firefox OS could make a big impact. It’s designed to run on what to us looks like hopeless hardware (single core processors? How 2008 of you), and it doesn’t do native apps. They might look like native apps, and they might work like native apps, but they’re just website bookmarks. It’s all HTML5.

Mozilla reckons that we’re doing apps wrong, and that if we’re not careful we’re going to lose the open web we take for granted today. By making Firefox OS hugely popular in emerging markets, Mozilla hopes to stop that process in its tracks.

Will it work?

Optimistic-me hopes so, but grumpy-me isn’t so sure. Firefox isn’t the only OS targeting developing markets – there’s Tizen and Ubuntu too, and while RIM hasn’t even relaunched the BlackBerry OS yet, it’s already talking about a possible future where they don’t do hardware and licence the OS out instead – and we’ve already tried the web app thing.

Remember the original iPhone? It launched without web apps – and the entire world blew raspberries at Steve Jobs until he changed his mind.

Mozilla is betting that it can make the web as good as native apps, not just on smartphones, but on low-powered featurephones too. It’s a big bet – but then again, so was going up against a web browser with near-99 per cent market share. You might not end up running Firefox OS, but you might enjoy the web apps it spawns.



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In Depth: 5 best Android and iOS benchmark tools


In Depth: 5 best Android and iOS benchmark tools

When you buy the latest Samsung Galaxy S3, Apple iPhone, HTC One X or a Google Nexus 7 it’s reassuring to know that it’s as fast as you’d hoped for.

But beyond whizzing a few web pages up and down, and “testing” that Angry Birds runs nice and smoothly, just how do you check the speed of a device?

For an age the process has been dubbed benchmarking after the standard bench mark symbol used by surveyors.

On computer systems it’s a standard test that can be rerun many times to assess performance across a range of devices in a comparable way. Generally a benchmark will involve testing a single aspect of performance, while an overall system score can be found using a suite. Though it can be somewhat meaningless.

Tests cover raw processor speed or how fast it performs functions, storage access speeds, 3D performance with how many polygons it can draw a second and how detailed effects it can handle, and finally task-specific tests such as browser speed. Because of the range and complexity of these tests, it’s rare that a single one covers all bases. A

nother issue is that cross-platform test for Android Vs Apple Vs Blackberry Vs Windows RT are even more complicated, and somewhat rare. But to get you started here are our recommendations.

1. Vellamo

Vallamo

The latest benchmark app for Android is called Vellamo and you can install it for free from the Google Play Store.

Developed by Qualcomm, this is the company that designs and manufacturers some of the most widely used phone and tablet processors, so it should know what it’s doing. This latest version of Vellamo has been updated to fully test browser speeds running HTML5 tests, plus a suite of dedicated processor speed-tests that are called Metal. An Extras section also includes streaming video tests. The tests can take a while to run but once complete you can compare your results with a host of other Android devices.

2. AnTuTu

AnTuTu

One of the most widely used benchmarks for Android devices is called AnTuTu and it’s free on the Google Play Store. Everyone loves a big number and AnTuTu provides just that, from its comprehensive range of tests – that drive everything from the 3D graphics to the processor as hard as possible – it manages to derive an overall score for your device. You’re then ranked against a raft of other popular devices or you can upload it to the online rankings. While this is great for a quick off-the-cuff compraison it’s doesn’t exactly provide insight into performance differences between devices.

3. Geekbench 2

Geekbench 2

How do you boast that your Apple iPad 3 is faster than your friends Samsung Galaxy Note? It’s not easy but one of the few good choices is the 69p Geekbench 2 available on the Google Play Store and from the Apple iTunes App Store.

As the name might suggest it’s somewhat more complex to understand but can provide a simple number that you can argue about down the pub. Being available on both Android and Apple iOS it does help fuel the argumentative fires. It’s more of a limited test only really pushing the processor and memory aspects.

4. SunSpider

Sunspider

Another cross-platform benchmark that runs on Apple, Android and anything that has a web browser is SunSpider found at webkit.org. his tests something called JavaScript, which is a core aspect of web site and browser performance. It runs a suite of browser-based tests multiple times and will generate a time in milliseconds, the lower this is the faster the browser and processor is.

This test is an interesting one as it tests both the speed of the web browser and indirectly the processor as well. It enables you to test different web browsers on a device and see which is the fastest for web browsing. Or if you use the same browser on different devices enables you to compare processor speeds.

5. GLBenchmark

GLBenchmark

Finally we have the current lead for 3D benchmarking the imaginatively named GLBenchmark from Kishonti. Pure 3D benchmarks often come under fire – usually from the party that has the poorer score – that they’re unrealistc or don’t represent real gaming performance. There is a point about lack of optimisation within these that a game could leverage, but the point is these are benchmarks that provide a level playing field and a guide to overall performance. Not potential performance gained via tweaks.

When running GLBenchmark it’s important to keep in mind that different devices have widely different resolutions. So you’ll see the Apple New iPad 3 getting lower or similar scores to the supposidly slower Apple iPad 2, that’s entirely down to the far higher resolution and so number of pixels the New iPad GPU has to push around.



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Kindle Fire’s Silk browser adds Trending Now, will track user behavior


Kindle Fire's Silk browser adds Trending Now, will track user behavior

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD isn’t the only upgrade the company is making to their proprietary products.

Along with their new tablet, Amazon is introducing an updated version of their Silk browser.

Not only will Silk receive faster page load speeds, better HTML5 support, and an improved start-up page, but the browser will also gain a new, potentially revolutionary feature.

Dubbed “Trending Now,” the behind-the-scenes feature will analyze user trends from anyone using the browser to discover web pages and content that is currently seeing high volumes of traffic.

With this, Amazon hopes to deliver breaking or newsworthy content to you before you even know you want it.

Trending now, privacy issues?

Both the new Kindle Fire and the Kindle Fire HD will get the new version of the Silk browser.

In addition to searching the most-visited content across the entire browser network, Trending Now will also be able to pre-cache your favorite pages.

Silk is a cloud-based web browser, so knowing where you’re going and where you’ve been will allow Silk to find and prepare the most current version of the pages you like visiting ahead of time.

In a 2011 video, Amazon described what they hoped to accomplish with Silk.

“You can think of Amazon Silk as a small store for files you access. What we have done is create a limitless cache used to render the web pages you view every day. It does not take a single byte of storage on the device itself.”

Though some may view this as a bit of an invasion to their privacy, Silk doesn’t appear to track personal information outside of your web surfing habits.

There’s no word as to whether or not the Trending Now feature can be turned off, but we’ve reached out to Amazon, and will update this article accordingly when we hear back.



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