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Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft CES 2011 keynote

Steve Ballmer was on stage tonight for his traditional CES opening keynote. Here are some of the highlights:

Netflix for Kinect is coming in Spring 2011. Hulu Plus for KINECT is coming too.

avatarKINECT: This looks pretty cool. The idea is that KINECT watches you and translates the face recognition and facial expressions it sees into an avatar, that you can use to chat with friends online. avatarKINECT is coming this Spring for free for Xbox Live Gold members.

There are now 30 million Xbox Live members, and a new member joins every two seconds. Microsoft has sold over 50 million 360s worlswide. Over 8 million KINECT sensors were sold in the first 60 days.

Fable Coin Golf is joining Halo Waypoint and Crackdown on Windows Phone 7.

Copy & Paste and app performance improvements are coming shortly. Sprint and Verizon will get Windows Phone 7 devices in the first half of 2011. Windows Phone 7 now has 5,500 apps, with 100 being added every day. There are also 20,000 registered developers for the platform. No sales figures were given for Windows Phone 7, make of that what you will.

Microsoft is selling 7 copies of Windows 7 every second. Windows Live has 500 million users and Hotmail is still the largest email platform in the world. A selection of funky new laptops and tablets were then shown off, which you can check out in the gallery below.  Microsoft had nothing significant to announce in the tablet space, that part of their strategy looks to be sorely lacking.

The next version of Windows will run on Intel, AMD, ARM, TI OMAP, Nvidia Tegra and Qualcomm architectures. We saw the 1080p Ironman trailer running on the next Windows on a Tegra System-on-a-Chip and it was buttery smooth, with the ability to instantly seek within the trailer.

There’s also a new Surface PC with a technology called Pixelsense that turns every pixel into a sensor. Surface is still just for commercial uses, but as soon as I can get one in my living room as a coffee table I’ll be a happier gadgetlover.

Neil Berman


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Jan 5, 2011 Posted by | CES, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A new design for Windows Phone 7

Microsoft declared minimum hardware specs a while ago for Windows Phone 7 but the company also has a design opportunity beyond bits and bytes.

The look and feel of Windows Phone 7 is distinctive; its ‘Metro’ UI, carried over from Windows Media Center and Zune and augmented by the home screen tiles is modern, angular and sharp. Unfortunately the early prototype demo devices shown so far have failed to capture this exciting aesthetic in their hardware design. That’s ok for now of course; these devices were created to test and prove the software with reference internal hardware specs, rather than being intended for retail sale.

We’re constantly seeing that the bar is being raised in the smartphone space. Nokia, RIM and Microsoft have all been victims of the sector-leading hardware and software design combinations from Android and Apple. It’s only August, so there are still a few months to go until we see Windows Phone 7 devices hit retail channels. Please Microsoft, encourage OEMs to deliver us phones that go beyond the specs to look as stunning as the OS promises to be.

Neil Berman

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Aug 15, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steve Ballmer talks up Windows 7 tablets, devices still lacking

Steve Ballmer Windows 7 tabletIt feels like a long time ago that I was sitting in Microsoft’s CES keynote in January where Steve Ballmer showed off HP’s elusive Windows 7 tablet. That device is yet to come to market, while the iPad has walked off with over 3 million sales. It also seems that Android tablets are set to make a splash with companies such as Archos already at market, Samsung coming and plenty of others due to follow.  HP has intimated that it is concentrating on the Enterprise sector with its Windows 7 tablet and refocusing on Web OS for consumers.

So it was bizarre that Steve Ballmer’s press conference produced less certainty around Windows 7 tablet delivery than his CES keynote. At least in Las Vegas he was actually holding a tangible prototype device that seemed like to come to market. The message this week was that Windows 7 tablets are coming but we don’t know when.

To my mind this there are two things wrong with this message. Firstly, the lack of timeframe is severely problematic since the iPad holds the consumer mindshare in this sector. Android is poised to bite a chunk out of that near-monopoly as demonstrated by recent demand for the cheap (but unfortunately not cheerful) Augen GenTouch 78. Augen GenTouch 78So as consumers in this small market buy an iPad or Android tablet, Microsoft’s first generation sales become smaller by the day in this sector without a meaningful product. I mean when people need convincing to buy one first gen tablet, who needs two?

Secondly, as I’ve said before, Windows 7 feels like the wrong platform for a tablet and Windows Phone 7 feels like the right one. Just as Apple successfully ported iOS from the iPhone to the iPad, Microsoft should do likewise with Windows Phone 7. The OS is already touch optimized and is designed to run on low power touchscreen devices delivering sustained battery life and fun interactions.

Every Windows 7 tablet device I’ve used suffers from slow start-up times, poor battery life and has been challenging to use without a stylus. They’re essentially netbook-speed devices with a touchscreen and no keyboard; the Archos 9 is a case in point. The market has clearly demonstrated that this is not what it wants, as we can see from the success of the iPad.

Microsoft has admitted to missing a cycle in the smartphone market. It should review its tablet strategy to avoid missing another one.

Neil Berman

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Jul 31, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 hands-on impressions

Kinext Xbox 360 bundleI got some hands-on time with Kinect for the Xbox 360 today.  Actually “hands-waving” is a more appropriate term than “hands-on”, since with Kinect you are the controller.  As a refresher or intro for the uninitiated, Kinect is an upcoming hardware release for the Xbox 360 that turns your body movements into gameplay inputs.  There’s been extensive coverage of the Kinect technology elsewhere so I’ll keep this purely subjective.

Once I learned how to control menus, which is not immediately intuitive, I had a blast with Kinect.  The Xbox 360 responded to my movements instantly, and there was no perceptible lag at all.  After an energetic session my previous concerns about Kinect remain that we might all be too lazy to turn it into an enduring success.  However, just like with the Wii Fit under my sofa, plenty of us will buy one.  I can see Kinect being a big hit for parties and fitness, sports or dance aficionados though.

The Kinect is due to be released on November 4 in the US and is available for pre-order now for $149.99.  The bundle pictured above will sell for $299.

Neil Berman

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Jul 24, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft Kin destined to become MBA case study

Microsoft Kin One Kin TwoThe Microsoft Kin…

a.k.a. The phone that’s so cute it took me five minutes to figure out how to make a call;
a.k.a. The teen phone that’s as expensive to run as an iPhone;
a.k.a. Right product, wrong price: MBA case study…

…is on it’s way out.

This is really sad. Kin is an exciting product marred by pricing that just doesn’t make sense for its target market, and that’s a shame for all those who have invested their blood, sweat and now tears in it.

Neil Berman

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Jul 1, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , | Leave a comment

The dilemma of Xbox Kinect

KinectThe Nintendo Wii took the casual gaming world by storm with its motion control, against most predictions around the time of its launch. With the benefit of hindsight, many now are forecasting huge success for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect, which brings full body motion control to the Xbox.

That’s a fair and logical assumption to make, but here’s the thing about the Wii. After a few weeks most gamers seemed to retreat to the sofa, realizing that standing up for prolonged periods is tiring and the Wii could be enjoyed sitting down with wrist flicks. Let’s not forget that the more sensitive and active Wii Motion Plus never really caught on.

So while I love the idea of Kinect and am guaranteed to buy one, I’m curious about how often I will reach for a Kinect game above a more sedentary experience. That might be a poor reflection upon me, but I reckon that playing a full soccer game using Kinect might just get a little tiring.

Without doubt though it will be great for casual gaming, fitness and a new inspirational yet-to-be-invented gaming craze which I’m already looking forward to seeing.  Who knows, if it really picks us up off the sofa for good it might just fulfill the Wii’s initial promise as a panacea for obesity.

Neil Berman

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Jun 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Today in 2015: The Big Three rule the smartphone market

This article is a fictional work of my overactive imagination depicting how the smartphone market might appear in 2015.  Don’t count on it turning out this way…

Ah, how time flies!  It feels like only a few months ago that Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 Series and fans lined around the block for Apple’s iPhone Evolution, yet five whole years have passed since then.  During these telling years the smartphone market has truly evolved.  Vertical platform integration, wider corporate adoption and growth in the tablet market have been kind to Microsoft, Apple and Google at the expense of the RIM, Nokia and Palm.

With the benefit of hindsight it should have seemed obvious that as vertical platform integration improved, the smartphone market would come to resemble what used to be called the desktop computing market.  In the last five years the Microsoft, Google and Apple smartphone platforms developed such successful …continue reading

Mar 15, 2010 Posted by | Analysis | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Teknica episode 3: A closer looks at the Apple iPad

In this week’s Teknica I take a closer look at Apple’s new iPad, talk about Windows 7 sales and there’s some news about Dell’s upcoming Mini 5 Andoid tablet phone.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 30, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, News, Teknica, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft crashes, then reboots to deliver pre-CES keynote

Things didn’t quite go according to plan for Steve Ballmer and Microsoft at tonight’s pre-CES keynote.  Power failed at startup but after a thirty minute reboot we were fully operational.

Steve was on form with some great Windows 7 stats, revealing that there were an incredible eight million beta testers during 2009, including yours truly.  Steve didn’t mention me by name; perhaps next time ;-)

Some important announcements followed, including the news that Project Natal would be born to the 2010 Holiday Season.  This groundbreaking gaming controller has the potential to be a game changer, using TV mounted cameras to turn your body into a game controller.  Pricing is still to be confirmed; let’s pray for good content to get the best out of this promising technology.

On the wireless front there was no mention of Windows Phone 7, but the HTC HD2 is coming to T-Mobile in the US.  This 1GHz Snapdragon-powered phone is as good as it gets right now on the Windows Phone platform, so it’s great to see this device coming to a major US carrier.

Ceton’s quad HD CableCard tuner was also demo’d, which allows recording of four simultaneous CableCard-encrypted channels within Windows 7 Media Center.  Could this finally propel WMC into mainstream living rooms?  I’d say probably not, because this functionality has existed for unencrypted channels for some time now.  However it’s a great step forward for WMC enthusiasts and takes this excellent home media platform even further ahead of the competition.

There was also a great looking HP slate on display (main picture) along with a couple of others.  Microsoft is clearly taking this emerging sector seriously as everyone awaits Apple’s potential entry.  No details were available on the HP slate, except that it is coming our way soon.

On the Xbox 360 gaming front, Halo Reach looks solid and Microsoft believes it has created a new psychological thriller game genre in Alan Wake.  This new game is said to play like a real life movie, I’ll live in hope but will hold judgement for now.  Microsoft also announced Game Room which is a retro gaming platform for the Xbox 360, giving access to over a thousand arcade games over the coming three years.  Game Room looks great, but I was left wondering whether this is really a viable offering, given that most of these games are already available through compilation releases.

Enjoy the shots in the gallery…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 7, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RIM, Apple winners in 2009; Windows Phone suffers

The recently published ComScore stats give RIM good reason to celebrate the holidays, and tell an interesting story about the US smartphone market overall. These stats show two clear winners this year in the form of RIM and Apple, while the company losing out was Microsoft which experienced a stagnation of Windows Phone users.

RIM’s user population seems to have skyrocketed this year, increasing from just under 10 million in February to almost 15 million by October. Apple also saw a big gain from 5 million to just under 9 million during the same period. Meanwhile Windows Phone tread water throughout the year around the 7 million mark, as it waits long and hard for Windows Mobile 7. It’s also worth noting the Google number, which represents Android. While the numerical increase from around 400,000 to just over 1 million may not seem significant, this platform increased its user community by over 100%, which is a phenomenal growth figure.

What I find most interesting about the RIM figures is that corporate purchasing was probably pretty low this year. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if corporate subscription growth was negative in the first half of 2009 due to companies terminating the BlackBerry accounts of fired employees. So this increase in RIM’s numbers this year tells me that it must be growing its retail consumer population successfully. If my analysis is correct then this is great news for the BlackBerry platform, which has traditionally been perceived as a corporate device. Perhaps the Love What You Do campaign has been more successful than I gave it credit for in a recent podcast!

Neil Berman

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Dec 18, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Microsoft, Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Netflix & Windows Media Center meet, and it’s instant romance

Netflix Media Center 3Microsoft hinted about this one way back at CES in January and after a long wait it’s finally here.  Windows Media Center now has direct Netflix integration and I’m lovin’ it.

The Netflix icon appeared in my Movies section this week and clicking it led to a one minute installation followed by instant gratification.  Not much more to say apart from that it integrates seamlessly into the already superb Media Center interface.  Will other platforms ever try to catch-up with what is so far and away the best media library experience out there?

Here’s the gallery.  A warning for those of you not in the USA, this gallery may make you extremely jealous.  Sorry about that, and here’s hoping Netflix goes international!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Oct 21, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Guides, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, News, Reviews, Software | , , , | Leave a comment

Cheaper PS3 Still Too Expensive To Worry XBox 360

Hmmm…$299 for the lowest PS3 in the range a number of years into the current Wii/PS3/Xbox 360 cycle. Well it’s a start I guess, but let’s not expect it to turn the XBox 360/PS3 balance on its head anytime soon.

At $199 the XBox 360 arcade is still the obvious choice for the recession conscious consumer and it comes with access to a huge selection of games compared to the PS3. The Wii continues to be the broad-based family-fun choice. With many of Sony’s businesses languishing, is it really the right time for its cheapest PS3 to still be a Benjamin more expensive than the cheapest XBox 360?

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Aug 20, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Microsoft, News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Windows 7 Beta Review

windows-7-media-center-viral-videosI’ve been eager to give the Windows 7 Beta a workout following the demos I saw at CES.

My living room Media Center PC was an ideal candidate.  It’s a three year old Pentium 4 which takes care of all our viewing, media and browsing needs on Windows XP Media Center 2005.  Microsoft has claimed that Windows 7 is a streamlined OS capable of running on lower spec hardware than Vista, it’s time to see if that’s really true…

Test environment

windows-7-performance-indexFor reference my PC is running a 2.93GHz P4 with 3GB DDR400 RAM, 500GB hard disk and a low end Geforce 7200GS.  Not the most scintillating system by modern standards and probably equivalent to a $250 purchase these days from the refurbished inventory of e-tailers.  The version of Windows 7 Beta I have is Build 7000.  I’ll refer to it as W7B in this article.

Installations never go smoothly…or do they?

Installation was initially nerveracking but ultimately painless.  Nerveracking because I had to split a live primary partition into two, to create a boot partition for the new OS.  Painless because once Linux GParted had done its partitioning stuff, Windows 7 Beta installed in superfast time, restarting a couple of times and then it was done.  I had backed up my XP partition to another drive just in case, but fortunately all went according to the masterplan and W7B automatically created a dual-boot environment for me.  XP booted just like before and I so was all set for my W7B test.

windows-7-desktopStopwatch at the ready

The first thing I noticed was a faster boot time.  This could have been due to having a fresh install so I initially reserved judgement on that one.  However now that three weeks has passed and I’ve installed everything I’m likely to for a while, the swift boot-up lives on.  It’s not a life changing improvement but in the region of ten seconds faster than my XP boot sequence once all startup items have completed.

Sounding off

All navigation elements were very responsive: Aero, widgets and snap-to-edge all performed well with no lag.  But then I noticed there was no sound.  W7B had found my motherboard’s SPDIF output but did not configure it correctly.  A quick internet search revealed the latest Vista drivers which duly solved the issue.  In fact I now get proper Dolby transmission and far more signal reaching my amp, which means having to apply less gain within the amp therefore achieving a better signal-to-noise ratio than with my XP setup.

Taskbar implemented cum laude

windows-7-taskbarTaskbar, oh glorious taskbar.  So much has been written of thee already, what can I add?  This really is a great addition in W7B, I can envisage how well it could work once the touch interface gets enabled on the full release.  Seeing thumbnail representations of an application’s open windows is a fantastic browsing aid.  Being able to jump into application functions directly from thumbnail menus takes everything a step further.  Best of all, the thumbnails are dynamic representations so if you are waiting for a window to complete a certain action you can hover over its taskbar icon to view its progress in the thumbnail.

CPU and Resource Management

Having an older spec PC presented a good opportunity to see how W7B would cope with average resources.  windows-7-resource-monitorIn the initial days following installation I noticed some frantic CPU and disk activity, which I traced to Windows Media Player cataloging my music and video collection.  Once that was done, CPU activity became XP-like whilst memory allocation was definitely smarter.

Like Vista, W7B was able to address all 3GB of RAM whilst my 32-bit XP build was never capable of this.  W7B also supports ReadyBoost so I threw in a 4GB SDHC card and dedicated the whole thing to the OS.  That’s a cheap 4GB at $10, although ReadyBoost doesn’t make use of flash cards in quite the same way as conventional RAM.  However the combination keeps my paging file to a minimum and I’ve not experienced memory crunches.

Windows Firewall

The versions of Windows Firewall built into XP and Vista were never taken too seriiously by the security fraternity due their inability to block outbound traffic.  So whilst others had difficulty reaching your computer, your computer could reach others…which is a pretty big risk given the amount of nasty malware out there.  The W7B Firewall changes all that with firewall rules configurable for incoming and outgoing traffic.  This could seriously hurt the likes of ZoneAlarm and others, who have thrived to date on the weakness of Windows Firewall.  I run ZoneAlarm on my XP partition, but I haven’t needed to download it for my W7B setup so far.

Internet TV & Media Center

windows-7-media-center-internet-tv-guideEver since the touchscreen demo of W7B Media Center I saw at CES, I’ve been aching to try out the integration of Internet TV in the EPG.  Until now we’ve needed to open a browser, navigate to NBC’s website, find the news page, find the video page and then start streaming the news.  W7B changes this by putting content from nbc.com (and many others) right into the EPG so it’s accessible from within Media Center with the remote control.

The demo of this looked awesome and it’s just as good in my living room.  Content takes a little while longer to access than regular TV channels, but it’s a heck of a great feature and the integration is seamless.  News, concerts, full episodes are all available and free to access with occasional advertisements for some content.

Snap-to-side

windows-7-snap-to-sideThrowing a widow to the side of the screen results in W7B automatically resizing it to fill half the screen.  This makes comparing documents or images super easy.  Throwing to the top maximizes the window.  Again it’s easy to see how these small but useful enhancements will make life easier once the touch version gets released.

What’s needs work?

Hmmm…I haven’t found anything yet inherent in W7B which consistently fails.  My sound sometimes cuts out following a video call, which could be a driver issue.  My computer wakes from standby mode much more often than it did in XP, probably due to some strange service which I might not need to be running.  Skype is not yet fully compatible.  There’s also a registry fix out there for .msi installers which fail – I had an issue installing Office 2007 and when the installer failed W7B automatically downloaded the fix article from Microsoft’s knowledge base…finally intelligent context sensitive help has arrived.  After following the instructions in the article to update the problematic registry entry the installer worked.

A game-changer for Microsoft?

Apart from that the whole experience has just worked superbly and I’m happily running W7B as my everyday environment now.  The Beta version expires on August 1st, so perhaps this hints at the possible release timing of the full version.  Remember that the release version will hopefully be touch-enabled, so that will be a whole new ball-game, and from what I’ve seen so far Microsoft could hit a home run with this one.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Feb 1, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Windows 7 Beta new features hands-on

If you tried to download the Windows 7 Beta yesterday you may have been part of the huge demand which overwhelmed Microsoft’s download servers.  Fear not, theONbutton is at hand with an exclusive video of many of the new Windows 7 Beta features to help you make up your mind…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 10, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, Reviews, Software, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote

p10304161Steve might not have come on stage last night in a blazing storm, but his Keynote was packed with content, a frankly hilarious Xbox song from Tripod but unfortunately no Zune phone.  Here’s a summary from the front row…

  • Windows 7 Beta available now to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  Due to be available to everyone on Microsoft.com on Friday this week.  I’ll write about it as soon as I find a spare PC…
  • Halo Wars (strategy game) and Halo 3 ODST (similar to current Halo 3 but with new storyline) were announced.  See Halo Wars screenshots on today’s earlier post.
  • Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Photo Gallery have been packaged into Windows Live Essentials and will be preinstalled on Dell PCs, together with Live Search
  • Live Search will also be installed on Verizon Windows Mobile phones
  • Microsoft sees continued development and take-on of seamless communication between PC, TV, phone and the internet cloud
  • A partnership with Facebook now pushes Facebook updates to your Windows Live profile
  • Windows 7 cool features demo’d: Play To allows you to stream media to play on any device in your Homegroup or stream from them.  Snap to side allows easy comparison of windows side by side.  Multitouch looks pretty awesome for map and photo manipulation, but is not in the Beta build.
  • Kodu Xbox 360 online community game creator was demo’d and looks like a lot of fun.
  • Netflix queue control from Windows Mobile phones is coming soon.
  • Internet Explorer 8 will hook-in with Hotmail to provide add-ins such as restaurant finders, whose results can be inserted directly into emails.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, News, Software | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Halo Wars Screenshots

Here are some first-look screenshots from Halo Wars for your deeelectation and deeelite, following Steve Ballmer’s announcement of the game in last night’s Microsoft keynote.   Enjoy…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Gaming, Microsoft | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple fortifies home offerings whilst competitors journey to the cloud

Apple’s keynote at Macworld 2009 this morning was surprising.  After rumors suggesting a possible iPhone Nano and much needed new iMacs, we were instead given an in-depth look into feature updates on largely non-web-service software and an updated Macbook whose battery design sounds as problematic for environment as its servicing does for remotely located owners.

On a positive note it’s great to hear that iTunes is going DRM-free and that the new 17″ Macbook Pro will be offered without a glossy screen, albeit for an extra $50.  The celebrity music lessons on GarageBand also sound cute.

For me there were two worrying trends in this keynote:

1.  Apple continues to concentrate on non-web-service productivity software when Microsoft, Google and the IT industry as a whole continues to press on towards online web services such as Microsoft Office Web and Google Docs.  Apple is missing out on extending its application reach to Windows users by doing this.  iWork.com seems to be solely an online document sharing facility for local iWork users.

2.  Apple continues to concentrate on extremely powerful computers in relation to the market as a whole; even its base Macbooks are far more powerful than mid-range Vista laptops (which are cheaper).  This makes me concerned that when (the apparently very fast) Windows 7 gets released the value differential between Windows and Apple laptops will widen further, as Windows 7 will run well on cheap low power computers.

Enhancements like geotagging in iPhoto are nice for the small user-base they serve, but they don’t really extend Apple’s reach into Windows homes compared to say Picasa which is on offer for both Mac and Windows (as well as Linux) platforms.  I can’t help feeling that Apple is moving further towards high power local computing which might not be recession-proof, whilst the market as a whole is gravitating towards a more inclusive low power cloud model which also happens to be more recession-friendly.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 6, 2009 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are Windows 7 pre-Beta success stories responsible for Atom notebook rumors?

Today’s rumors that HP is discussing the possibility of using Atom CPUs for notebooks as well as existing netbooks is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly we have not seen the Atom in any laptops with >12″ screens, but secondly and more importantly I think this could be an indicator of confidence in early Windows 7 tests.

We have already seen Windows 7 running on an Asus EEE PC, and early impressions of the next-gen OS have been extremely positive for a stage so early in the pre-release phase.

So what does it mean if HP really is talking to Intel about supplying the Atom for notebooks?

  • Battery life should skyrocket, if the netbook crowd can be used as a benchmark.  My Wind gets over five hours in real-life usage and the only significant additional power drain on a notebook is a larger screen…but they also offer more real-estate for housing a larger battery.  Could full working-day battery operation from a large-screen laptop become a mainstream reality?
  • The concept is good news for organizations with a mobile/flexible-working workforce and a thin-client infrastructure.
  • Many consumers may only need low processing power as we move towards a web-based services computing model (eg. web-mail/photo/music/productivity apps).  They might trade notebook HD movie editing capabilities for longer battery life in real life usage…however this would require a sea change in marketing tecniques where high power specs aim to sell a life-changing experience.  It is probably a ‘Greener’ sell though, which could lead to Atom-based notebooks being more fashionable that more energy-hungry models.

Time will tell if anything comes of this, but when I put together the early Windows 7 success stories with rumors of HP talking to Intel about the Atom then it does all start to come together…in my hopeful mind!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 2, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

iMac Sales Plunge, Apple Slashes Refurb Macbook Air to $1,149

It’s been a week that Apple fans will want to forget.  NPD reported that Apple sales for November were flat year on year whilst Windows PCs gained 7%, iMac sales collapsed by 38% whilst Windows desktops fell only 15% and Apple announced that the company will stop attending Macworld after the 2009 show.  Apple laptop sales rose 22% compared to 15% for Windows laptops.

mb-air

What does this mean for Apple?  Most likely something needs to be done…and pretty fast.  Apple has responded by slashing prices of its refurbished models, a move likely aimed at removing the carrying costs of old inventory.  Macbook Airs are available for $1,149 on Apple’s US website at the time of writing.  Deep reductions are offered across other lines as well and online stores are offering serious discounts on new models.  After a while this discounting could erode the premium perception of the brand and hurt Apple retail store sales, which are typically made at full price.

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

This may be a short term band-aid to improve working capital, but Apple needs to look deeper at its product line and offer models at prices which relate to the current economy.  The company has been too late in coming to the Netbook market, which exploded with colossal growth this year following the arrival of the Asus EEE in late 2007.  Apple needs a Netbook quickly, and it will need to compete with the quality of the MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One and Asus EEE range, which all sell for around $300-400.

Steve Jobs said that “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”  Well Apple might have to learn how.  Five hundred dollars is now premium Netbook territory as prices have been falling throughout 2008.

I expect that if Apple enters the market they would choose the $600-800 range with a couple of configurations.  They need this because Macbooks are no longer the coolest laptops to pull out of your bag…Netbooks are.  A glance at the Amazon bestseller list shows Netbooks occupying slots which Macbooks used to live in. 

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

Whilst Macbooks used to be the laptop of choice for Manhattan coffee shop outings, Netbooks now get the curious admiring looks.  In an America looking to downsize cars, energy usage and spending, Netbooks are the Prius of today’s laptop showroom.

Clearly the slowdown in the economy has affected Apple as a seller of premium products.  It also seems that Apple’s negative advertising campaign throughout 2008 against PCs may have not had the positive sales effect Apple was hoping for.  In fact the plunging iMac sales figures indicate that Apple might have done better through a positive campaign promoting the benefits of the iMac compared to Windows desktops.  It may be that consumers simply were unable to identify a positive value of spending the extra bucks on an iMac, which is a classic outcome of a negative advertising campaign, unless the competing product is seen as truly worthless.  Clearly not the case in this instance as iMac sales plunged 23% more than Windows desktop sales.

Whilst I think Apple will pull through, it needs to revitalize its line-up to be attractive in today’s economy.  And hopefully that revitalization effort will give us reasons to buy Macs, instead of reasons not to buy PCs.  I want to want Macs for good reasons, not because I’m told the competition is bad.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 18, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mac users finally get Netflix instant viewing, caught thanking Microsoft

Netflix is now offering instant viewing to Apple users…and the Mac version, unlike the Windows one, is powered by Microsoft Silverlight.  Today’s Apple experience is defined by the strength of its multimedia offerings and its increasingly bitter negative advertising campaign towards Microsoft.  So it is perhaps the ultimate irony for Mac users that to enjoy Netflix’s industry leading video player we have to rely on downloading Microsoft’s Silverlight first.

On a related note Xbox 360 owners who are Netflix subscribers are the first to get Netflix HD shows.  Since current 360s all have Dolby 5.1, 1080i/p HDMI and Media Center extensibility for live TV streaming that makes the now-oh-so-cheap Arcade version a $199 bargain imho.  And it plays games.  If you’re quick you can get the 20gb hard drive for very very little from Microsoft too.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Nov 3, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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