On walkabout in life and technology

Huge Last Week in October 2012 for Tech

It’s going to be a huge week in tech this week, with launches and events from the big three, Microsoft, Google and Apple. Here’s what happening and my take on each.

Microsoft Windows 8 and Surface

On October 25, 2012, Microsoft will hold an event to launch their new Windows 8 Operating System for release the next day. I expect to see more demos of the system itself, a lot more Metro, er Windows UI, style applications and some great hardware that is tuned for it, especially touchable wrap-around laptops from Lenovo and Acer. It will be a good show, unless Ballmer speaks, in which case all bets are off.

The next day, Friday October 26, 2012, Microsoft will also release it’s first true tablet, the Surface, running Windows 8 RT. This is not the full Intel tablet that can run legacy applications (the Pro), for that you’ll need a Samsung tablet or a flappy-laptop still, but it will run all Windows RT applications, such as the few Metro, er Windows UI, applications and a custom, but very limited version of Office. Oh, and the key selling feature, the keyboard cover is an add-on!

My take: Windows 8 is a huge but superficial change to Windows 7 and will take time to roll-out and become the primary OS in corporates (most will finally go XP -> Windows 7). Initially, there will be massive confusion between RT and Pro in the market, and complaints about the Metro interface gestures and lack of the start button. But since Windows 8 is just Windows 7 underneath, and since Windows RT is just Win32 (see Ars Technica Turning to the past to power Windows’ future: An in-depth look at WinRT), the corporates will eventually switch as they roll out new laptops. Once more laptops gain touch, Windows 8 will make more sense. The learning curve is not that steep, but it’s going to generate a huge amount of noise.

On the Surface, I don’t know. Windows RT is limiting and most purchasers are going to expect it to be different. That being said, the hardware, keyboard and UI look great. But the lack of apps, the incompatibility with traditional Windows applications, the difficulty of touch on “desktop” mode applications, and the sale of the hardware at a loss are huge problems. They are way behind the iPad and Android ecosystem, not a position that the new Microsoft thrives in.

I will upgrade my Development Virtual Machine to Windows 8 (once I secure a copy of the latest Visual Studio and SQL Server), but will not even consider a Surface tablet until it matures as a platform.

Google’s New Android and Nexus

While Microsoft is releasing stuff on October 29, 2012, Google will be hosting it’s rushed event to launch their next version of Android as well as updates on Google Play and their Nexus product line. I expect the new Android to be a good update to 4, especially the tablet version, and I think their ecosystem integration across web, Chromebook and tablet to mature. I also expect higher capacity Nexus tablets and a huge price drop. They’ll probably also talk about their new cheaper Chromebooks.

My take: Android 4 is good, and the update will be better, but the adoption rates of the platform still suck. By taking a huge loss on the new Nexus tablet (and possibly phone too), I expect Google to try to claw back the share it’s been losing to its older third-party Android brethren, as well as refresh in the minds of non-iPad buyers that their tablet experience has many more apps and is more mature than the Surface.

I will be watching. With a cheap Nexus, Google can effectively take control of the bottom end of the tablet market away from Amazon’s Fire and squeeze the Surface between it and the iPad, and this just before the biggest holiday buying season. I think Google will do well from this, and depending on the price, I may purchase a cheap Nexus to play with.

Apple’s new iTunes, iPad mini and iBooks

But the biggest news this week is Apple’s event tomorrow, October 23. It’s expected that this event will focus on an updated iBooks for education, building on iBooks Author and iTunes U, with a shot of going after textbooks, something the late Steve Jobs was passionate about. Apple will also demo, and probably release, the new iTunes 11 version with the new iOS UI, which will stink like all iTunes versions because the product still does too much in it’s own, un-Mac-like way.

They will probably also announce a whole bunch of new hardware for the holiday buying season. New iMacs that are thinner, maybe; a 13” retina Macbook Pro, probably; an updated iPad 3 with the new lightning plug, most likely. But the biggie may be the iPad Mini or Lite or Air, the new 7” iPad, priced for the education and reading market.

My take: I have no idea why Apple would really want to make a smaller iPad between the iPod touch and the current iPad, but speculate it’s to fill in the narrow price gap between the two, and replace the current “cheap” iPad 2 that is still on sale. Tech pundits will bullshit that this is to compete in the mini-tablet space against 7” tablets from Amazon and Google, when in fact the current 10” iPad is already winning (maybe we should make this into a drinking game). I expect the iPad mini will be lower capacity, and probably not have a retina display, and will create an additional form factor for us developers to develop for. What does makes sense is a mini for poorer countries and for mass release into education (especially if they add textbooks), which is why I think Apple is doing it. As to the rest, meh, a refresh before the holidays is just fine to boost replacement sales.

I will buy an iPad mini for dev and test purposes, and update to the new software. But only to ensure that my existing applications run on it. And I’ll upgrade the laptop next time round in 2013.

What’s missing

I think there is a lot missing for the holidays though. Nothing from RIMM, their tablet is being further delayed. Samsung is being quiet, even though they are blitzing the Galaxy SIII on TV and pumping out new products. Amazon has a already announced its holiday lineup. Lenovo is quietly launching it’s new ‘yoga’ laptops which are amazingly well designed and built for Windows 8, I guess their marketing splurge comes later. Sony, nada. Dell, nope. Motorola, zip. HP, nope.

My take: They are waiting for Windows 8 or the new Android to launch and the hubbub from this week’s announcements to die down. I think Lenovo will do well in corporates as they replace older laptops with Windows 8 ones, but not the other PC makers. I think Windows 8 itself will grow very slowly (once the early adopter rush is over) and that corporates will not update their desktops for at least a year, or until the Metro interface works better on desktops with touch. I think Google’s new Nexus will be big, but I don’t expect the carriers or handset manufacturers to speed up, or even perform, Android 4+ upgrades on existing or even currently selling hardware.

I do think the iPad mini will be the must-have purchase this season. And I honestly don’t know why.