Microsoft and Apple: Dueling disappointments

September 26th, 2013 | Edited by | software


Apple’s new iPhones and Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 operating system vie for top billing this week — but not in a good way
Apple and Microsoft, the two undisputed giants of the tech industry, have been dishing out dollops of disappointment to users. Reaction this week to the new iPhones ranged from “underwhelmed” to “bored,” while Windows 8.1 was likened to a “big, ugly black cloud.” Any minute now, I expect the folks in Cupertino and Redmond to begin channeling Rodney Dangerfield and kvetch: “I get no respect.”
Pundits strove to outdo themselves when describing their ennui with Apple’s announcements. CNN Money jeered at the “iPhlop” and InfoWorld’s own Robert X. Cringely described reaction to Apple’s special event (“only this time somebody forgot to pack the ‘special'”) as “the sound of 10 million bloggers all yawning at once.”
Cooler heads, such as InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman, pointed out that disappointment with the new iPhone is really a commentary on smartphone innovation in general. The challenge facing smartphone makers, Gruman writes, is that “there’s not a lot any company can do with the smartphone hardware any more. They’ve become like PCs — basically the same each time, with the usual faster hardware and some minor improvements (like the fingerprint scanner in the iPhone 5s) every year — nothing to stop the presses about…. The changes are getting incremental or superficial.”

Pundits are angry at Apple, Gruman says, for not reinventing the smartphone. And while he concedes that “the iPhone 5c is just the iPhone 5 in a colorful new case” and “the iPhone 5s is a souped-up iPhone 5,” there is real innovation that many industry watchers have overlooked or undervalued — namely Apple’s move to a 64-bit processor. The A7 chip “sets the stage for Apple devices to replace PCs in the next few years.” While short-term gains from 64-bit computing will be minimal, as most apps today are 32 bit, “ultimately, the bulk of the smartphone market is expected to move to 64-bit chips, and Apple’s move positions it for the future.”
Another underappreciated innovation is Apple’s introduction of the M7 motion coprocessor, which according to Gruman really marks Apple’s entry into the wearables market. The M7 “says clearly that Apple believes in movement-tracking as a core capability … Apple is clearly building a strategy for pervasive wearables … and the M7 is first visible ripple at Apple.”
Apple may have let down fanboys who hoped for news of iTV, iWatch, or some other glimmer of the Steve Jobs glory days, but contrast that to the world of ongoing hurt in the Windows community. Although Microsoft managed to temporarily assuage the wrath of developers and IT pros by backtracking and deciding to grant them access to the latest Windows 8.1 build — a move IDC analyst Al Gillen called a “no-brainer” because that community is “one of Microsoft’s points of entry to corporate IT” — it burned through that good will at record pace by botching yet another Windows Update. As InfoWorld’s Woody Leonhard writes, “It must be Wretched Wednesday — the day after Black Tuesday.”


It took Microsoft more than 14 hours after there were verified reports of problems on Microsoft’s own TechNet and Answers forums before it fessed up and pulled one of the problematic patches. And users “didn’t get an official explanation until 24 hours or more after the bad patch hit.”
Microsoft’s got a real problem with deafness to users’ complaints these days, particularly when it comes to reaction to Windows 8.1. Leonhard pulls no punches in his Windows 8.1 review: “New version, same mess.” The latest build, he says, “changes a bit of eye candy and dangles several worthwhile improvements — but hardly solves the underlying problem. Touch-loving tablet users are still saddled with a touch-hostile Windows Desktop, while point-and-clickers who live and breathe the Windows Desktop still can’t make Metro go away.”
After hammering Microsoft (yet again!) for the “lamentable changes related to Smart Search, Libraries, and SkyDrive,” Leonhard does find something for developers to cheer: “Lest you think Windows 8.1 is all glitz and gloom, there’s a silver lining on that big, ugly black cloud. Over on the developer side, Microsoft has finally — finally! — relaxed many of its stupid rules for Metro app development. As a result, we may actually see some usable Metro apps appearing in the next few months.”
But the bottom line on Windows 8.1, according to Leonhard, is that “if you’re using Windows 8, plan on upgrading to Windows 8.1 — but give it a month or two for all the creepy-crawlies to shake out…. If you’re using Windows XP or Windows 7 (still my favorite OS), there’s nothing to see here. Move along.”
And that’s where Apple’s and Microsoft’s tales of disappointment really diverge. For all the panning the new iPhones took in the media, you can safely predict Apple will sell a ton of them. But uptake of Windows 8 is not so readily assured. The question is: Will Microsoft under new leadership continue to turn a deaf ear to users or bounce back from the Windows 8 debacle? As Leonhard says, “Nobody knows what the next version of Windows will look like or when it will appear, but it’s a sure bet it’s going to be quite different from Windows 8.1 — at least, one can hope.”
Hope is one commodity never in short supply among Apple users, who are already putting this week’s lackluster event behind them and looking ahead to the Next Big Thing. CNet and others eagerly speculate that “if the rumors are true, an October surprise may be in the offing from Apple … and the instant it introduces a new platform, the excitement will be back.”
Or as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”


Apple’s M7 Motion Sensing Coprocessor Is The Wizard Behind The Curtain For The iPhone 5s

September 21st, 2013 | Edited by | hardware


Apple has a new trick up its sleeve with the iPhone 5s that was talked about on stage during its recent reveal event, but the impact of which won’t be felt until much later when it gets fully taken advantage of by third-party developers. Specifically, I’m talking about the M7 motion coprocessor that now takes the load of tracking motion and distance covered, requiring much less battery draw and enabling some neat new tricks with tremendous felt impact.
The M7 is already a boon to the iPhone 5s without any third-party app support – it makes the iPhone more intelligent in terms of when to activate certain features, and when to slow things down and converse battery life by checking less frequently for open networks, for instance. Because it’s already more efficient than using the main A-series processor for these tasks, and because changing these behaviours can themselves also save battery, the M7 already stretches the built-in battery to its upper limits, meaning you’ll get more talk time than you would otherwise out of a device that’s packing one.


Besides offering ways for Apple to make power management and efficiency more intelligent on the new iPhone 5s, the M7 is also available for third-party developers to take advantage of, too. This means big, immediately apparent benefits for the health and activity tracker market, since apps like Move or the Nike+ software demoed during the presentation will be able to more efficiently capture data from the iPhone’s sensors.
The M7 means that everyone will be able to carry a sensor similar to a Fitbit or equivalent in their pocket without having to cart around a separate device, which doesn’t require syncing via Bluetooth or worrying about losing something that’s generally tiny, plus there’s no additional wristwear required. And the M7′s CoreMotion API is open to all developers, so it’s essentially like carrying around a very powerful motion tracking gizmo in your pocket which is limited in function only by what developers can dream up for it.
So in the future, we’ll likely see gesture-controlled games (imagine the iPhone acting as a gesture controller for a title broadcast to Apple TV via AirPlay), as well as all kinds of fitness trackers and apps that can use CoreMotion to limit battery drain or change functionality entirely depending on where and when they’re being used, as detected by motion cues. An app might offer very different modes while in transit, for instance, vs. when it’s stationary in the home.
Apple’s iPhone 5s is an interesting upgrade in that much of what’s changed takes the form of truly innovative engineering advances, with tech like the fingerprint sensor, camera and M7 that are each, in and of themselves, impressive feats of technical acumen. What that means is that, especially in the case of the M7, the general consumer might not even realize how much of a generational shift this is until they get their hands on one, and new software experiences released over the hardware’s lifetime will gradually reveal even more about what’s changed.


OS X Mavericks likely to arrive Oct. 30

September 17th, 2013 | Edited by | software


A late October launch of the new OS would sync with Apple’s habits

Apple will release OS X Mavericks, its next edition of the Mac operating system, near the end of October, according to a report today by an Apple-centric blog.
Citing unnamed sources Friday, said that Mavericks — also known as OS X 10.9 — will debut “at the end of October.”
Although Apple unveiled Mavericks in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference and said then that it would launch “this fall,” the company has provided no release updates since then. Nor has the Cupertino, Calif. company said anything about its pricing plans.
Apple started selling its last two versions of OS X in July — 2012 for Mountain Lion, 2011 for Lion — but Mavericks didn’t make that window. The delay may have stemmed from Apple’s shuffling of engineers to reinforce the iOS team, a move reported in May.

Coincidentally — or not — the last time Apple shipped an OS X upgrade in October was in 2007, when it delayed OS X Leopard for similar reasons in the run-up to the first iOS, called iPhone OS at the time.
A late October launch date for OS X Mavericks would sync with Apple’s habit of touting the impending release during one of the company’s quarterly earnings calls with Wall Street. Last year, for example, the company’s CFO said on a July 24 call that OS X Mountain Lion would ship the following day.
Apple has not yet announced the date of its third-quarter earnings call, which will take place in October. Apple typically hosts its earning calls on a Tuesday late in the month, and virtually always after rival Microsoft conducts its own conference call.
Microsoft executives will explain their company’s third quarter financial status in a call on Oct. 24.
If Apple keeps to its usual timeline, it will do its earnings call on Tuesday, Oct. 29, then launch Mavericks the next day, Wednesday, Oct. 30.
Pricing also remains a mystery. Apple charged $19.99 last year for the Mountain Lion upgrade, a 33% discount from the two prior versions, and it’s safe to assume that same price — or that as the maximum — for Mavericks, if only to give CEO Tim Cook future bragging rights on OS X’s adoption pace.


Parallels Access lets you remotely run Windows and OS X desktop software from an iPad, as if they were native apps

September 5th, 2013 | Edited by | software


Parallels is best known for its virtualization software that lets people run Windows from within OS X. Now the company is stepping into a different — and much more crowded — space with Parallels Access, a remote access solution for controlling your Windows or Mac computer from an iPad. Unlike existing players, however, Parallels says its software “applifies” full-fledged Mac and Windows apps so they run as if they were made for iPad.
The setup process is rather straightforward. Users are required to download an iPad client and run an agent on a Mac or Windows PC. The real highlight comes from the way things are presented once you launch Access on your iPad; rather than just mirroring your computer screen and translating touch into cursor actions, the software detects applications on your desktop and presents them with a grid-style launcher, laid out like other iOS apps.
Desktop apps launch maximized to a full screen view, which gives a native feel to them, and Access will overlay gesture controls to enable iOS-like touch gestures including one finger scroll, pinch to zoom, two finger tap for right click, and triple tap to select. The app lets users copy and paste content from the computer to the iPad, the other way around, or even between computers if you are accessing more than one.
By default, the app launcher shows your most commonly used desktop applications, but you can add and delete those from the home grid as you see fit. For everything else there’s a handy search field.


There’s also an app switcher feature to move between desktop applications with ease, and of course you can always go into full desktop mode and use the mouse pointer whenever finger input just won’t cut it. The keyboard shows up when needed with dedicated keys for functions and arrows tacked onto the standard iOS version.
Initial impressions around the web are mostly positive, though they do note that the experience isn’t always frustration free — depending on the application, inevitably you’ll find yourself tapping on elements that aren’t finger friendly, but Access minimizes this by interpreting taps that are close to buttons so you hit the right one.
More than early software glitches the primary letdown seems to be pricing. Parallels Access will set you back $80 per year for each computer being accessed. The Mac agent is available immediately with a 14-day free trial, while the Windows agent is currently in beta and is available at no charge for a more generous 90 days.


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