1. Jerks

    So it’s been a big month of top-level firings in the technology industry, an eventful and insightful one too. The recent ‘departure’ of eminent figures - Sinofsky and Forstall notably - allows us a peek into the intricacies of these corporate behemoths beyond that phony facade they’re so intent in shoving down our throats.

    We rarely see this side of corporations, the side that is infinitely more real and substantially relatable - unlike the airy fairy promo videos on product launches where all the top level execs eat rainbows and shit butterflies, together. For every iPhone that emerges from the drawing board at Apple HQ and out the factories of Foxconn, the doors behind Cupertino are laden with internal affliction, divisive disagreements and tension as people have differing views on what’s beneficial to the company - or themselves. A rather amusing anecdote with the Forstall ‘departure’ is the fact that Jony Ive refused to ever be in the same meeting room as Scott Forstall. Steve Jobs often had to act as an impartial mediator before the pair ripped each other’s hair out. It’s subtly comforting to know that such juvenile passive bitch-fighting still occurs at a level so high. We’re all kids on the inside. 

    Sinofsky’s departure from Microsoft is the conclusion to a similar tale, being forced out presumably due to his prickly and unforgiving personality. There is speculation that he left for a multitude of reasons, one particularly strong viewpoint being that he didn’t receive the compensation he deserved for his successes. Sinofsky was instrumental in reviving Windows from its Vista trough up to the high-flying success of Windows 7, and pulling off a significant shift in the business with its Windows 8 venture.

    But in the end that’s unlikely, it’s a proposition that’s far too hard to believe - why would a man so passionate about his work simply leave just as the company enters an exciting new phase? I call bullshit, money ain’t no thing for a bloke so high up in the company’s ranks. Sinofsky was forced out, and based on insider talk, there’s no other reason than the fact that he was viewed as deeply divisive, single-minded and uncooperative. For the sake of brevity, let’s just call him a jerk. 

    What’s crazy is that both Forstall and Sinofsky both delivered results. Forstall was in charge of the most successful and ubiquitous mobile operating system on the planet and Sinofsky was in charge of the most successful and ubiquitous PC operating system on the planet. Businessweek wrote a long missive back in October of 2011 about Scott Forstall, labelling him the ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ at Apple because of his deep, unwavering connection with Steve Jobs and his unforgiving pursuit of goals which made him a figure of polar preferences - love and hate. Sure he made mistakes, but looking at the iOS numbers it’s impossible to say that Forstall’s presence hasn’t been a huge plus for Apple. 

    Yet, in the end it wasn’t even his phenomenal success that could save him but his personality that would send him packing. The moral of the story is that it’s often better to make friends than to unrelentingly accomplish success. Such a statement sounds weak, and stupid since the aim of a business is to roll in dough. But there’s truth in it, and despite the fact that I will always pursue the rationalist view that sometimes we have to put up with jerks to accomplish the returns, that doesn’t suddenly make it okay to be a jerk - an emerging misconception in this industry.

    In November of 2011 in an article titled 'The Jerk', MG Siegler tells us that the industry could perhaps do with a few more jerks - people that are good at making people feel like shit, telling them that their work is shit to instigate improvement and saying no to every proposal that comes by to eventually find the gems. The fundamental backing for Siegler’s contention was Steve Jobs - the fact that he was viewed almost universally as a jerk in this respect but turned the fledgling Apple of 1997 to the brilliant Apple of the 21st century. Siegler’s article may have just been really boneless linkbait, but either way the article fails in acknowledging just how being a jerk is a good thing. 

    Just because Steve Jobs was a jerk and succeeded does not mean being a jerk makes you successful. What if Steve Jobs hadn’t been a jerk? Perhaps Apple would be even more successful. Siegler appears to equate strong-headed focus with ‘jerk-itry’, like saying no and telling people their work isn’t good enough is a bad thing. That’s hardly a bad thing, if anything, it’s ironing out an issue early on before it comes back to bite you later. Saying no is the opposite of being a jerk. Jobs was absolutely right when he said focus is more about saying no than it is about saying yes. 

    But Steve Jobs was known for abrasion, according to insiders mentioned in Siegler’s article, Jobs was noted as telling someone’s idea was ‘shit’ without giving it a half glance. Words I’ve heard in the media that describe Jobs’ demeanour in the office are intimidating, harsh, unforgiving - words we’d typically associate with an unpleasant person, or for contextual relevance, someone we’d absolutely love to fire. But given how Steve Jobs’ behaviour was able to ignite such an agile turn-around in Apple’s business and inspire innovation, suddenly being a jerk is almost a label of endearment.

    An asshole who can deliver results is like god in the industry. An asshole is someone that people can’t get along with, that people can’t understand. People can’t get along with and can’t understand people who are different. Being different is a treasure chest in the technology space, because these are the only people who will dare to challenge the status quo.

    A former Apple software enginner, Mike Lee said of Scott Forstall: ‘I once referred to Scott as Apple’s chief a-hole, and I didn’t mean it as criticism, I meant it as a compliment’. This industry idolises jerks and assholes, I might as well write ‘JERK’ in bold print on my resume. 

    But nobody likes a jerk, and it’s never a good thing. It has its perks but in the long run it almost always stifles any semblance of confidence or growth. At the start, being told constantly that your work is terrible may be motivation to try harder and to reexamine your effort to deliver a better result the next time. But how many times do you have to be told your work sucks before you start to become jaded and tired of being perceived lowly? Being told that you’re not quite up to scratch is a motivational tool when it’s warranted, but when every single idea brought to the drawing board is berated, the message loses its credibility. And employees lose their motivation. 

    What if instead of being uncooperative and siloed, ‘jerk’ leaders shared their ideas, invited criticism, comment, other ideas. I respect the leader who has an unrelenting pursuit for what he believes in, but when that process involves grinding egos, severing connections and testing corporate cooperation, then much of the support that such an idea likely needs goes to the waste-bin. Sinofsky and Forstall, due to their divisive nature were both known to have invited a string of resignation letters from workers whom couldn’t manage in suffocating and uncooperative environments. Imagine the talent that the two men lost which could have been instrumental in furthering their goals. 

    Sinofsky was intensely single-minded and alienating which apparently kept the Office team at Microsoft in the dark when it came to Windows 8 and Surface RT developments. The Office team found out about the Surface RT very late into the development process which may have accounted for a lack of a fully featured Office Suite in the Surface RT. In this case, a lack of cooperation has directly resulted in a diminished product. 

    There’s every evidence to say that playing nice with others will almost always deliver greater benefits.

    Steve Wozniak shares this viewpoint too, when talking to TechCrunch TV at TedX Business Week recently he stated about Steve Jobs: ‘I don’t believe Steve had to be as much of a real rugged bastard - put people down and make them feel demeaned. I don’t think that was necessary for Apple to have the great products that it has today’. And this is coming from someone who worked alongside Steve Jobs during Apple’s earlier days and witnessed it all first-hand. 

    Jobs’ was always something of an exception though - after all desperate times require desperate measures. Steve Jobs never had his head on the chopping block after his most recent tenure at Apple because he delivered results and cultivated a cult-like level of respect from his colleagues and employees. It can be said that his harsh conduct was somewhat warranted, and his abrasive nature would have provided a shake up for a company that really needed it - to shake out of an aura of crippling mediocrity. But who says he couldn’t have been such a significant figure as a nice guy?

    Nice guys don’t always finish last. 

     
  2. 08:11

    Notes: 1934

    Reblogged from parislemon

    Tags: techdesignfacebooksubmission

    littlebigdetails:

Facebook - The notifications icon shows a different side of the globe depending on your location.
/via Thomas Park

The little things <3

    littlebigdetails:

    Facebook - The notifications icon shows a different side of the globe depending on your location.

    /via Thomas Park

    The little things <3

     
  3. An hour with Windows 8

    It’s somewhat hard to believe that I haven’t spent any valuable time with Windows 8 - just us alone (and a third-wheeling sales assistant) - until this afternoon. I’d tried the Consumer Preview version quite some time ago dual booting on a mate’s Macbook Pro extremely briefly. I didn’t really get the opportunity to fully observe the look and feel of the OS, or the OS’s quirks because I was too engrossed playing this intensely addictive game called Treehouse Stampede - a childish game where you make words out of a bunch of letters given to you, it’s actually seriously awesome. Sadly, I’m not sure if it’s made it into the Windows 8 release product.

    My first impressions were bent slightly to the negative, but I think that these initial thoughts were swayed largely by the fact that these computers in-store weren’t internet connected. This was really disappointing to see; in the end this insufficiency probably didn’t affect my final impressions of the product as such, but that’s because I know about this stuff - I eat, live, breathe, write and read the technology space everyday so experiencing Windows 8 properly for the first time was a reinforcement of my views and knowledge as opposed to a pleasant or horrendous surprise. 

    But for most consumers, seeing Windows 8 up close and personal in-store would have been their first contact with the OS - seeing a wildly frustrating continually spinning Internet Explorer loading element because of a lack of an internet connection would leave a foul taste on the mouth, which is especially problematic because Windows 8 is the OS consumers would be most apprehensive about given the steep learning curve associated with it. This was a telling demonstration of the advantage Apple has in being so rigidly in control of its distribution channels.

    The first computer I tried Windows 8 on was a huge HP Touch PC - the kind that somewhat does away with the keyboard and mouse by angling display at about 30 - 45 degrees from the desk so as to act like a huge tablet. It didn’t look anything like a quality tablet though, it was fat, clunky and reeked of mediocre quality with a bland display and relatively low pixel density. It was the kind of device that screamed size more than it did sizeable quality - but as the most prominent Windows 8 sporting PC in the store it was a decent showcase of the new OS’s paradigm-shifting capability, particularly in providing a larger and more fulfilling touch screen experience transcending the 10-inch cap that we typically see on tablets.

    I hinted at such a change back in June of 2011, and swiping on 24 inches of Windows 8 goodness was really actually marvellous. Huge touch-screen desktop slates have huge developer potential - imagine precision editing with your finger (or a stylus) an image on a touch-optimised Windows 8 version of Photoshop, imagine slashing fruit on a screen multitudinously larger than an iPad, Fruit Ninja is already available on the Windows Store. I love it.

    An issue is that the learning curve is definitely there, and it’s fairly steep. Most UI elements are not plainly obvious, or just ‘gettable’ on face value. It took me a solid 10 minutes to find the settings pane for Windows 8, and in that time I ended up at the traditional Control Panel about 5 times. It’s quite a vitiating design decision to not have combined the Control Panel and normal Settings as it only hampers the inexorable Metro style transition. It’s confusing for the user too, Windows 8 doesn’t feel as much like ‘one’ as it really should. The OS definitely feels like two environments attempting an intimate relationship in the most superficial way possible. It’s a shoddy relationship too because the pair are unalike - one’s classy and smooth, the other’s technical and socially inept  one’s noticeably young and the other’s dated.

    The reasons behind the Windows’ design team’s approach is obvious - ‘no compromise’. These two words were the resounding mantra behind the entirety of Windows 8’s development, but I can’t help but think that if they were willing to compromise just a little then it would have resulted in a much fuller and harmonised experience. The Control Panel in the Desktop environment again is a huge factor, the fact that the Desktop environment has its own set of settings makes the OS feel polarised and divided, instead of unified as the Windows team was likely aiming for. The desktop environment is only there for the sake of legacy applications. Full stop. Microsoft will eventually work towards pushing out the traditional desktop anyway, it exists in Windows 8 out of pure necessity so it deserves only features warranted out of pure necessity. Customisation is not necessary in this desktop environment when the focus of the OS should be on the new Metro Style, or Windows 8 Style UI.

    I’m likely just nitpicking here because when it comes to technology I often like to come off as pretentious and fussy. For the average user, it’s a minor inconsistency which may add slightly to the learning curve - overall, it does little to detract from the overall experience. Despite the negativity that might be emanating from the previous paragraph, I really love Windows 8. I really love Windows 8 when there’s a touch-screen involved. With a touch-screen in the picture, Windows 8 turns into the most compelling proposition Microsoft has ever offered in the PC industry - it’s a drop dead gorgeous and sublime experience. 

    After fooling around on the HP, I found a sleek looking Vaio notebook which had a touch display. It wasn’t obvious at first and I spent the first couple of minutes fooling around with the track-pad and keyboard shaking my head at how horrible it was until a thoughtful Vietnamese sales rep came up to me and told me ‘oh, this one has a touch screen too, this is the only laptop with a touch-screen we have apart from that piece of shit over there’. I chuckled at his comment and his honesty too, because the other device he gestured towards really did appear to be a pile of excrement. 

    Anyway, the touch-screen was amazing and the value proposition was immediately obvious, it essentially gets rid of having to use the touchpad on notebooks. Touchpads are often notoriously hard to use, especially when you’re more accustomed to interaction via mouse. The presence of the touch-screen really eliminates the need to use the touchpad for primal tasks such as moving and clicking to switch applications and make selections. You’ll probably be amazed at the amount of time you spend actually moving the cursor back and forth from the taskbar switching between applications or minimising or closing windows and tabs. On Windows 8 with a touch-screen, it’s simply just a swipe in from the left to switch apps, a swipe in from the right to reveal ‘charms’, a swipe down from the top to close an app and a swipe up from the bottom bezel to reveal context menus. Once you get used to remembering that, it’s truly wow

    Which brings me to a really deflating negative: absolutely. positively. do not get Windows 8 if your notebook or computer doesn’t have a touch-screen. It’s an enormous pain in the ass and simple tasks often require a laborious grab and drag process and an unnecessary amount of scrolling. Multi-touch scrolling, or any sort of scrolling on PCs are generally atrocious experiences particularly when compared to Macs, so do yourself a favour and don’t put yourself through it. Windows 8 is not worth it on a computer without a touch-screen. I was considering upgrading my current Windows 7 sporting Vaio Z to Windows 8, but after today, that’s a definite no. I’m really not sure why manufacturers are stupid enough to even build Windows 8 products without touch screens. Oh well, I suppose it justifies Microsoft’s ‘Surface’ venture. 

    Overall, Windows 8 was most things I expected it to be but at the same time a little more and a little less. The bezel gestures which enable app switching and access to ‘charms’ appeared slightly impractical in demo videos and reviews, but it’s an act that really needs getting used to. But once you get those functions somewhat hard-wired into your second nature, the experience is truly seamless and blissful. It just works. At the same time I also expected Windows 8 to be less divided in the Metro/Desktop disparity, and I found it confounding that the Desktop environment could be activated even without legacy applications running. But it’s really an issue that will only trouble someone like me with an intense fuss over unity in UI design. There’s a learning curve, but if you have a touch-screen computer, then trust me it’s worth it. If you don’t, forget it.

    So how would I rate it? Solid. But not superb. Nor is it perfect, it’s far from it. In fact, it probably isn’t even the best release of Windows, from a reviewer’s technical standpoint I’d vouch that Windows 7 trumps it. But in terms of overall significance, Windows 8 is a conspicuous turning point and positions Microsoft well in a disrupted PC market.

    Apple has a lot to think about, but more on that later. 

     
  4. Tourist-ing in my own city during Open House Melbourne 2012. Rather tragic that I forgot to post these until now - but just some quick shots in and around Melbourne.

     
  5. Dear The Verge - please stop hatin’ on Windows

    I’ve been waiting for these reviews from The Verge ever since I heard about these devices - the Lumia 920 and the HTC 8X. The way it seems is that there’s a strange misguided bias against Microsoft and Windows in The Verge HQ. I don’t think that Microsoft and it’s partners are getting the credit they deserve for the effort and innovation being put into so many Windows Phone.

    It’s a harsh industry and I know that nobody gives you concessions for effort - you don’t get points for trying, you only get acknowledged for results. But I think Microsoft’s latest efforts are being unfairly put on the back-foot in these reviews for purely existential reasons, these new devices get a score shaved off them simply for being Windows Phones. I have absolutely no objections to The Verge grilling these devices and the platform they run on for that chronic app deficiency. It’s an issue which certainly plagues the young platform and until it gets fixed it’s an inherent short-coming in the user experience which readers should be aware of.

    Where I do have a problem is The Verge’s numbered scoring system which is kind of crap for two reasons - it’s inconsistent, and it poses a perception problem. I think numbers are great when used properly, but they can be a precarious conclusion in product reviews. Engadget dumped their numbered scoring system for product reviews because of this, apparently numbers are a cheap and hasty conclusion that betray the depth and complexity of reviews. And the author’s just didn’t feel that a number could justify the weight of a product’s strengths and weaknesses because these are all relative to how the author sees it, and not perhaps how readers will feel about it.

    But wait…isn’t that the point of a review? To see an author’s opinion, as opposed to an author’s opinion on what he thinks my opinion would be? After all, I think I’d be the better judge of that. I’m curious to know what different people and publications think, that’s why I read reviews. If I wanted some purely objective overview of how good something is the spec sheet would suffice. And numbers provide another immeasurable benefit - solidity. By that, I mean that numbers are numbers, they’re just digits. Unlike prose, it’s not open for interpretation or misguidance. A 7 out of 10 is a 7 out of 10 for both the enamoured and the disgusted.

    So back to The Verge, I love numbers, and I embrace opinions - but I also think that publications have an obligation to some sort of pseudo-objectivity and that reviews can’t be totally hinged on the pretensions of certain individuals. I think that publications themselves - as a collective of authors - should be the voice behind product reviews instead of individual authors. I think individual perceptions and inclinations play far too big a part in reviews on The Verge.

    I think that’s a problem that hurts my trust for The Verge product reviews and why many are markedly inconsistent and somewhat biased and unfair. The issue shines particularly well when it comes to Windows Phones which always seem to fall unfavourably with the Verge reviewers. 

    Take the HTC 8X and Nokia Lumia 920 - both are undoubtedly fantastic phones. Speaking as objectively as an opinion can possibly be, I doubt anybody can pick up one of these and say that these suck with a straight face. But their scores don’t portray them as too flash - both of these devices received a 7.8 and a 7.9 respectively. Actually these scores aren’t too bad but relative to competitors that have been reviewed recently such as the iPhone 5 with a venerable 8.8 and the new Nexus 4 with an 8.3, it’s dismal - particularly for two phones which Microsoft would happily regard as ‘flagship’.

    I mean, ‘ouch’, people have obviously engineered and innovated the shit out of these two phones and to be handed a rather tame 7.8/7.9 from arguably the most influential technology blog on the planet has got to hurt. But when you look at the details the party pooper of the overall score was the ‘ecosystem’ category, which landed a 5/10 on both these phones - obviously Windows Phone’s lack of third party apps being the soul cause. Aside from that, these phones are stellar. The ecosystem category is the one that hurts all of Microsoft’s newest platforms on The Verge reviews, it creates a mockery of the system because it essentially means that it’s impossible for any Windows Phone to be notably ‘good’ which is absurd. 

    The fact that the ecosystem category, the single low-scoring anomaly on the latest Windows Phones is an unchangeable existential problem is something which absolutely needs to be taken into account when deciding on the final ‘Verge score’. Perhaps people will understand that these are great phones sans the ecosystem problem, but perhaps people won’t - it’s all about perception and a 7.9 doesn’t leave quite a sweet taste in the mouth when compared to the much more tried and true iPhone with an 8.8. The scores on Windows Phones need to be more heavily weighted because the ecosystem oddity is hurting them much more than it needs to. 

    Additionally, inconsistency is something which plagues these reviews. I took it upon myself to look at several first generation Windows Phone reviews done on The Verge and found something peculiar. Both the HTC Titan and Samsung Focus Flash which were both earlier - and now non upgradeable - Windows Phone models (running Windows Phone 7/7.5) scored 6/10 in the ecosystem category. Is The Verge really proposing that the Windows Phone ecosystem has gotten worse in Windows Phone 8? That’s a factual impossibility since all Windows Phone 7 apps are Windows Phone 8 compatible. These reviews were all written by different authors, but there needs to be a level of consistency before these reviews become worthless as an aggregated entity and worthless for product comparisons. 

    There also seems to be a short-sighted assumption that an ecosystem is all about apps. It’s absolutely not. In fact, it’s fair to say that ecosystem product integration in Windows Phone is second to none, this is the story of Windows Phone’s ecosystem that nobody acknowledges amidst the Marketplace bashing. Find me a platform that integrates with Xbox, Skydrive, Outlook, Office or Skype as seamlessly as a Windows Phone and then we can talk.

     
  6. Trend setting and trend following

    No doubt iPad Mini is a great product in every way you’d expect an iPad to be great - it’s fast and fluid, powerful, versatile, thin and a genuine design triumph. The iPad Mini as an idea however is far from great - it’s generic, unoriginal and fundamentally, un-Apple-like.

    Many people will challenge the generalised assertion I’m making here, but it’s undeniably true - Apple was and likely still is the unmistakeable leader in this mobile industry. And by mobile I’m talking about devices that transcend the notebook in terms of mobility and upfront useability. Apple marches to the beat of its own drum, and that’s an aspect of their business that I’ve always admired, and why I’ve always found it in me to back the company when they’ve slipped into moral or ethical grey areas. Apple doesn’t always play nice, but it always plays well and it deserves every dime of its success.

    The iPad Mini is indicative of a digression from this admirable disposition. It’s been quoted enough that Apple under Steve Jobs advocated strongly against the 7-inch tablet, citing that the physical size simply posed inherent useability disadvantages when compared to a larger 9-10 inch. We can delve into petty formalities and say that Apple really didn’t produce a 7-inch tablet which Steve Jobs adamantly stated would be DOA, but produced a 7.9-inch tablet. A minor difference if you ask me, but not according to Phil Schiller who was utterly resolute that this extra 0.9 of an inch was actually equivalent to 35% larger display area. Fair enough, you can’t argue with math - I’m an abomination at math - but that’s really besides the point. 

    35% larger or 10 billion percent larger, the crux of Apple’s philosophy lies in useability and user experience. Apple has been absolutely clear in letting us know - not directly but through subtle reinforcement over years on end - that a great user experience lies at the heart of any of their endeavours. And that really does reflect in the quality and distinctive class in their products - from the fit and finish to the fluidity of user experience, this philosophy shines. 

    The iPad Mini is most problematic from this perspective because the motive behind its inception wasn’t an enhancement in user experience, but it was a kneejerk defensive measure to counteract competitors gaining traction in a hot 7-inch market. If the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 hadn’t come around, the iPad Mini would simply be a shallow delusion marked by fabricated rumours. It wouldn’t be here, because Apple doesn’t believe in this form factor for this type of product. Tragically, the market pressures have prevailed against Apple’s idealistic sacred doctrine forcing them to play a game they never wanted to play and state a case in a battle that they never even believed in. But that’s not Apple is it? Apple creates its own games, it walks at its own pace. It never pursued the visions of others - even when the rest of the market did.

    Take the original iPad as a pertinent example, at a time when the industry was yearning for low cost computing which arrived in the form of crazily popular netbooks, Apple let this open opportunity slide for years. No doubt there would have been demand for a Mac OS X touting pseudo-notebook but it was besides Steve Jobs’ scope of vision. Apple didn’t play the netbook game, but they created a new one - the contemporary tablet - which has evidently turned out to be the better one that everybody wants to play.

    Another example - Apple’s stubborn refusal to incorporate optical disc drives and Blu-Ray drives into its products. Physical media is still a fundamental part of our media and entertainment lifestyles but it doesn’t fit in Apple’s vision. Despite not completely agreeing with the complete removal of physical media from their computing lineup, I respect the company’s passionate and adamant pursuit of a future which it just sees so clearly.

    iPad Mini will sell, but for all the wrong reasons. Farhad Manjoo of Slate Magazine writes that Apple is now a better company under Tim Cook for permitting a line-up with much greater scope and variation. There’s danger in this approach though, it’s a slippery slope towards greater commoditisation of its products, much like the Samsungs and LGs of this world - that’s hardly a good thing. Apple was the rare kind that had the conviction to transcend market pressures and pursue unrelentingly one vision, instead of throwing things to see which ones would stick. Sadly, that might be all changing.

     
  7. A start-up dilemma: Highlight - too early

    Great ideas usually take time to germinate into a model that is truly feasible. People are notoriously slow in grasping new paradigms, preferring to flirt with a comfortable present which is more often than not – entirely worthy and sufficient. This consumer mindset is an issue that faces aspiring and radical technology entrepreneurs – it is not sufficient to simply have the chops to think and execute the new ideas, but the right timing is nearly as crucial. To possess the patience and sense to release a radical idea into the wild only when the market is ripe, is a factor that can determine make or break.

    People discovery is a concept that has floated around the mobile app industry for quite some time. Apps like Badoo - which was founded in 2006 by a Russian entrepreneur and currently has a user base upwards of 150 million - operates around a fundamentally location-based model, by allowing users to see and interact with like-minded people around their specific region. Scores of other location based apps such as Banjo and Sonar have managed to find relative success in their respective niches as a location tag aggregator over various social networks and as a friend-finding system.

    However, none of these apps have managed to crack into the notion of ‘passive people discovery’ – a concept which is far more daring and out of sync with a current person’s typical lifestyle. Highlight, an iPhone exclusive application is perhaps the only app which has pursued this vision right from its inception without pivoting into more conservative and ‘present-day friendly’ fields. Highlight co-founder and CEO Paul Davison’s determined and unwavering pursuit of this utopia where ‘you’ll walk into a room and know everyone’s name’ is admirable, however his app and his team have paid the price for ignoring the warning signs. Highlight boasts a mere 5,000 daily users according to AppData, which is down from approximately 9,000 back in May.

    The sad truth is that nobody actually goes out with the expectation or intention of meeting and discovering new people along the way. For instance, if I was riding the subway to work, the idea that I would happen to stumble across my new best friend during transit is something of an outlandish view – and a wildly optimistic one too. Many people have taken this fact along with Highlight’s declining influence as reason to dismiss ‘passive people discovery’ as a niche concept far too obscure to ever succeed. The short-sightedness of a claim like this however, is embarrassing.

    For example Kirill Sheynkman of RTP Ventures says ‘a lot of these apps come from a problem that 99% of people don’t have’. Sure it’s a problem that almost nobody has, but is the app really trying to solve a problem? Is it a requirement that all apps be born out of a problem that needs to be solved? Highlight was never designed to be the kind of app which would allow people to scour the streets of downtown in order to find interesting people to meet up with. When you look at it from this perspective then Sheynkman is certainly correct, an inability to find cool and interesting people within a certain distance radius isn’t exactly a societal problem which people are screaming to be fixed. But if we’re kicking back with a coffee and find a great person to talk to in the same café, then we’d certainly be glad that the app’s there.

    Evidently, Highlight has its merits and theoretically speaking, Paul Davison’s vision for the app and the future of social encounters is appealing and enticing – it just needs a few more things to fall into place for it to be viable. Something as radical as Highlight isn’t the type of app to go viral and bask in exponential adoption rates, at least not now. The consumer is a hypocritical entity – far too fickle to take for granted but also far too invested in current trains of thought and behaviour to embrace unconventional breakthroughs.

    Privacy is the tallest hurdle that Highlight has to jump over, and it’s a remarkably tall one too. The main criticisms of Highlight from opponents of the app have been simply the fact that it’s ‘creepy’, as if it’s just inherently disturbing for like-minded people to realise that you exist within close proximity. For the sake of the app it would be preferable if the main criticisms of the app were ‘it kills my battery’ or ‘it’s intensely laggy’ because those faults can be ironed out through engineering. You can’t engineer social sentiments, at least not in the sense that would exist in Paul Davison’s nature – through streamlining code.

    The extent to which the consumer backlashes at the mere thought of being watched without explicit knowledge can be summarised adequately by looking back at the Carrier IQ scandal. Carriers and phone manufacturers installed the Carrier IQ software onto many phones, tracking the cellphone’s user activity. The ultimate aim of this tracking was simply for the purposes of troubleshooting and diagnosis, however this reassurance offered no succour for an already enraged and compromised consumer collective. The scandal raised an important discovery of particular pertinence to companies meddling with user data – consumers are intimidated by the idea of being watched, even if it’s for their ultimate benefit. This issue runs contrary to the trajectory of Highlight, which necessitates analysing user data and usage patterns in order to deliver results of greater interest and relevance.

    So how does Highlight overcome such a prohibitive consumer mindset? Well it can’t because the consumer simply isn’t ready and now simply isn’t the time. Warming up to the idea of ‘passive people discovery’ will require people to warm up to the idea of having publicly accessible information follow them around like a cloud above their heads. And for many and most users, this level of transparency exceeds the boundary with which they are comfortable.

    Facebook is the best example of great timing - right from its inception it has gradually worked towards greater transparency. User backlash has been evident, but its impact on Facebook’s growth has been negligible. Zuckerberg got people accustomed to the idea of sharing initially with the ‘what’s on your mind’ status prompt, and then he let our friends see what things we ‘became fans’ of. Then he changed ‘become a fan’ to ‘like’ because nobody becomes a fan of things in the real world, we simply like them – subtly breaking down the wall between our real world and our regulated privacy clad online persona. By making the notion of sharing much more palatable, the company then enabled location-based sharing and more recently, seamless and frictionless sharing through its Open Graph API.

    Timing is a factor which can explain why certain technologies which were deemed potentially industry-shifting haven’t found legitimate practical use. Siri on the iPhone demonstrates this; it was poised to be a game changer when it was released with the iPhone 4S and in theory it was a game changer, in the ads it was a game changer and in the eyes of Steve Jobs and co. it was too a game changer. To the user, it was just an entertaining gimmick. And it still is.

    You could argue that it’s because it doesn’t do anything as well as it should – an Android apologist certainly would – but the truth is, it does. Perhaps not to the extent that the ads portray it, but it certainly suffices in providing quick answers to everyday questions which would normally require us to jump through hoops to find. Sure it’s gimmicky, but it’s more than just a gimmick.  Samsung, through its S Voice feature have taken it upon themselves to emulate it, clearly they see the potential in the idea of the ‘virtual assistant’.

    The truth as to why Siri has been deemed by many as one of the most overrated and impractical innovations in the mobile industry is because talking to your phone is just weird. Such behaviour hasn’t yet entirely transcended the realm of science fiction, or the geek universe. It’s too radical to be normal. Nobody wants to get caught on the train talking to their know-it-all friend ‘Siri’.

    If Apple had allowed Siri queries through text as opposed to simply speech, its practicality and use would probably be significantly higher. Text entry is a much more subtle form of communication, and users need to be eased into the idea of talking to their phones, instead of having the concept dumped on them.

    Google Glass is another example, an idea that will change the world one day but is far too futuristic to digest now. Once people get acquainted to the idea of technology merging seamlessly with the way we live, then people will discover the appeal of Google Glass.

    Being a forward thinking technology entrepreneur is both a blessing and a curse. The ability to think, imagine and develop in anticipation of a distant future is an immeasurable gift, but many would be too smart to realise that society will be slower to catch up and much less open to embracing new ideas. This is Paul Davison’s dilemma; he’s developed for a future which the market simply isn’t ready for yet. People aren’t prepared to open up to a level of transparency which is necessary for an app like Highlight, but we’re getting there. When that time comes, Highlight will be in an environment where it can gain the pervasiveness in order for it to succeed. 

     
  8. Congratulations. Times a billion.

     
  9. 09:44 25th Aug 2012

    Notes: 176

    Reblogged from thisistheverge

     
  10. Microsoft Surface street art marketing in Brooklyn, NYC.

    Loving the concept: simple, smart, eye-catching and effective. 

    We’re still not sure whether this was commissioned by Microsoft directly, but it’s a win-win either way: either Microsoft knows ‘cool’ or they have fanboys passionate enough that do. 

    Source: The Verge

     
  11. 20:47 20th Aug 2012

    Notes: 21

    Reblogged from thenextweb

    Early adopters are keen to take advantage of everything that technology has to offer. Their key demands are summarized in Latitude’s report as ‘The 4 I’s’: Immersion, Interactivity, Integration and Impact. Essentially, they want to be able to explore a story in greater depth, and have it reach out of the confines of a single medium and play out in ‘the real world’.
     
  12. 20:47

    Notes: 365

    Reblogged from thenextweb

    image: Download

    thenextweb:

(via Cyanide &amp; Happiness #2899 - Explosm.net)
     
  13. The defence of common sense

    The transpiring events of Apple’s lawsuit against Samsung has divided the technology industry and has honed in on several overarching talking points and issues in intellectual property which far extend the perpetual ‘eye for an eye’ battle that the companies currently occupy. Many writers and pundits state that the lawsuit will be a primary stepping stone to IP and patent reform and will be a primary decider of the future of patent law in the technology industry. 

    What has risen to the surface during the course of the trial are the two differing approaches with which Apple and Samsung view the situation. Apple’s perspective tends to be hinged on protecting the intrinsic and unique value of their intellectual property, whereas Samsung’s approach focuses much more on the end game of consumer perception. 

    But what both these approaches share is the fact that none can be tied to any semblance of pure rationality or cold hard facts, there’s no way to say with certainty for example that the use of a certain colour scheme in Samsung’s iconography has directly led to loss suffered by Apple, nor can it be said that Apple’s design is generic and therefore should offer no direct or exclusive benefit to Apple. Both these conclusions assume direct causation and attempt to put some logic behind something that inherently isn’t logical – perception and behaviour.

    The argument of common sense is one that many Samsung apologists have put forward in Samsung’s defence, and is once again based purely on perception. What one deems to be common sense could be grounded in a variety of experiential factors, but nonetheless the argument of common sense and obviousness does bring to light several indisputable points. 

    Like, the colour green for instance; Samsung has vehemently argued that the green phone icon can’t possibly go any other way. After all, green as a universal standard means ‘go’ and if that colour was to be attributed to any basic function of a smartphone it would most certainly be its namesake – the phone. 

    But of course, the common sense argument goes much further than that and not particularly in Samsung’s favour. Based on experience and past evidence, we can conclude that it’s easy to argue common sense when it’s already been successfully implemented by someone else. After all, if a successful implementation of something proves nothing else, it proves that there is indeed at least some ‘sense’ behind it. 

    The pre-iPhone and post-iPhone charts display a fairly damning picture of this notion. Samsung’s pre-iPhone line-up is seemingly laden with devices thrown into market with the hope that something would stick, whereas Samsung’s post-iPhone line-up is the polar opposite exhibiting uniformity and purpose in form factor and design. 

    Nokia in their hey-day – before the iPhone - were recognised for the pure variety of their handset line-up and also the mindless creativity in the design of many of their devices. Essentially Nokia were the definition of cool in the cellphone industry, and that coupled with economies of large scale were why Nokia was successful and why their phones were able to move effortlessly off the shelves. Nokia’s approach of spread therefore was deemed an obvious and logical means with which to penetrate the cellphone market and Samsung followed suit.

    Apple’s iPhone literally flipped this paradigm and showed that a device which exhibited simplicity in line-up and product could move even faster off the shelves. Simplicity and fluidity in design are two aspects that make the iPhone sell, so why not emulate that? And why would you do it any other way, it’s just common sense.

    Obviously these successful approaches have sense and prudence, but a nascent notion that a new-found successful way is the only appropriate way is far off base – this point alone being the most prominent gaping hole behind the ‘common sense’ defence that no doubt Samsung has in its card and many of Samsung’s supporters are ready to play in heated fanboy debates. Whether Samsung had or hadn’t the intention of copying Apple’s design is not the epicentre of the debate, it’s that Samsung, regardless of intent did produce a design that resembled Apple’s when other options were and are available.

    It’s difficult to think laterally when there’s a standard that’s trying to be reached – that is, Samsung would certainly have found it a mind-stretch to build a differentiated product when the iPhone in all its rounded rectangle and gridded icon glory was the benchmark to reach. It is a sound presumption that a Samsung product would brandish much more originality if the company were forced to think and develop from the ground up instead of basing thought around a readily set standard. 

    It doesn’t make it easier when the design that the frontrunner has settled on – despite not being the sole logical approach – is certainly one which exercises basic no-frills simplicity to its absolute core. To think of a logical and aesthetically pleasing design as simplistic as the original iPhone is a tall ask, and the case applies even more so with the iPad which is essentially a skeletally bare slab of aluminium and glass. And what’s more simple than an evenly arranged grid of uniformly shaped icons? 

    Devin Coldewey of TechCrunch alludes to this point better than anyone else in his article ‘Tablet Zero’ from December of 2011. Apple went out of their way to develop a design so generic that its form would become the start line for any manufacturer willing to join the race. As Devin Coldewey writes – ‘you can’t make a Xoom without making an iPad first, just like you can’t make a die without making a cube first. This was Apple’s stroke of evil genius.’

    Apple’s sly tactics are still no excuse and can’t form the basis of a defence for Samsung, because even though claiming ownership to a generic form factor and design shouldn’t be allowed, this doesn’t change the fact that there are still many unexplored opportunities that make equally as much sense and are equally as feasible regardless of whether they’re as simple or not. A black slab of glass is not plainly a given in smartphone hardware design and the rounded rectangle icon style isn’t any more commonsensical or intrinsically better than the tile-based UI in Windows Phone.

    Sure Apple gets the perhaps unfair advantage of having their all-encompassing design immediately compared against competing alternatives, but that’s just one of the perks of getting to market first. Apple deserves credit where credit is due.

    The underlying point is that there are still plenty of opportunities to make a functionally and useably better device without aligning with Apple’s plan of attack so closely. That being, there are far too many ways for a design to be commonsensical to excuse Samsung’s phones of bearing such a level of similarity – no matter how significant the granular details. This is a gaping hole in the entirety of Samsung’s defensive case.

     
  14. 10:56 30th Jun 2012

    Notes: 979

    Reblogged from enochliew

    image: Download

    enochliew:

Telecom Central by Architecture+
The 14 storey tower integrates a heritage listed building.

    enochliew:

    Telecom Central by Architecture+

    The 14 storey tower integrates a heritage listed building.

     
  15. Microsoft’s woes and a promising future

    It’s been an eventful and positive week for Microsoft, coming off two major announcements on its two major computing platforms - Windows and Windows Phone. Although much of the excitement has been in many ways noticeably hobbled by the consumer and expert scepticism as Microsoft nose dives into paradigm change, this week was clearly indicative of a profoundly new direction for Microsoft, characterised by refreshing perspectives and paves them a path which leads ultimately in the right direction. 

    A basic unravelling of Microsoft’s stumbles

    There’s no denying that Microsoft has remained relatively stagnant in the past 5 years, promising products and ideas which by the time of fruition were far too little too late. Competitors in Apple and Google have taken strides to pull the rug from Microsoft’s feet and dominate an app-driven smartphone market vastly different from the other type of smartphone which used to be the joint of two big monsters - Windows Mobile and RIM’s Blackberry. 

    Apple’s iPad struck the industry by surprise, sparking the entire market into a flurry - forcing the conception of noticeably unpolished and hurried products running under Google’s hurried and unpolished Honeycomb operating system with the fear of too, being far too little too late. Creative, inspired and refreshing approaches at penetrating the tablet market by the likes of Fusion Garage and HP’s webOS were met with closed wallets resulting in the sad and complicated demise of the former and the hasty and comically brutal termination of the latter. 

    All the while Microsoft seemingly sat steadfast on its burdens of power, market share and cash - taking its time with its planned smartphone reboot and giving no indication of an imminent entrance into the Apple-ruled tablet market. Its competitors continued to make strides. 

    Microsoft’s story so far is perhaps a cautionary tale that in an industry which is driven predominantly by progressions in software and ‘ecosystems’ particularly - things move fast. The concept of the ‘app store’ which was brought to the limelight by Apple’s aptly named ‘App Store’ is the perfect manifestation of the ‘ecosystem’s’ equally constructive and destructive powers. 

    The ecosystem in consumer technology is defined best as products and services which are built for each other and are designed to work best together. The aim of the ecosystem is that the end consumer will get the most out of their products and services if they choose products and services bred in the same ecosystem; and it is to the user’s expense to have to diffuse their personal technology portfolio across multiple. To illustrate this point, it’s fairly obvious that a consumer would be increasingly more productive and enjoy a greater user experience in using in tandem an iPad, iPhone and a Macbook Pro as opposed to an Android smartphone, Blackberry Playbook and a Windows PC combination. 

    To get back to the original point, a growing ecosystem has phenomenal constructive powers for obvious reasons. It acts as a hive for passionate developers to voice and distribute their creativity, it allows vast amounts of content to be distributed and it allows the users first and foremost to be productive and enjoy a great user experience. The most threatening thing about growing ecosystems from the industry’s vantage point though is that they grow geometrically - growing faster and faster as they grow more and more. Large user bases attract developers, apps from developers attract users and the process continues, becoming more prevalent as it progresses. 

    This brings to light the destructive side of ecosystems - their growth is initially unremarkable, but the geometric quality of their growth catches competitors out when they’re not nimble on their feet, as was the case with Microsoft. Caught completely blindsided, Microsoft found itself in a situation where its mobile OS was looking light years out of date and its ferocious attempts at playing catch up were a time suck. Fast forward to 2012 and Microsoft is playing as the hopeful start up in industries it used to dominate. 

    Of course, competitor factors are not the sole reason for Microsoft’s tragic and inexorable fall from grace. Microsoft ultimately was far too narrow-minded forcing them to miss filling in crucial gaps such as integrating their vast library of devices and software. Commanding ease of use was clearly an aspect of user experience with avenues to explore and vast potential to improve, however Microsoft made no ground-breaking alterations sticking with their - by today’s standards, extremely cumbersome - Windows Mobile operating system. And of course, traditional Windows tablets formed a foundation which Microsoft didn’t quite have the smarts to unlatch. Apple got there first.

    Road to redemption

    Microsoft has begun making genuine inroads towards a new strategy which represents a complete paradigm shift from the fundamentals that defined Microsoft and its products over the last couple of decades. The company used to be the anti-thesis of Apple in practically every sense, selling their products based on the abundance of choice as opposed to Apple’s strategy of marketing a small hardware lineup. Apple’s strategy has always focused on ease of use, simplicity and form; whereas Microsoft - although not neglecting form and aesthetic - put functionality first and foremost and wrapped design around this in the most appealing way possible. The announcements this week represent a fully-committed digression from this strategy from Microsoft.

    Although success or fruition is yet to be realised, it’s a positive sign that Microsoft has noticed the writing on the wall and has taken action; and not action in a languid or half-assed manner. 

    On Windows Phone

    Windows Phone 7 was introduced in late 2010 engulfed by an aura of excitement and anticipation. Despite this, Windows Phone has thus far failed to be the stopgap that Microsoft has needed - dragging its heels in smartphone market share and despite being no slouch, its app store still lags behind established players in Google and Apple. Windows Phone launched as a half-done operating system which diminished a lot of excitement and hype that could have accumulated and translated into sales. The lack of basic functionality at launch such as a cut and paste feature and any semblance of a useful multitasking arrangement gave it the essence of a pre-release beta that just happened to run really well and be astonishingly low on bugs.

    I was one of those who fell head over heels with Microsoft’s Metro design language and became an early pre-Mango adopter of Windows Phone. Coming straight off a Sony Ericsson feature (dumb) phone I didn’t expect to be jolted by its lacking app store at the time, and I wasn’t. Though of course, I have stumbled across several desirable Android and iOS apps not available on Microsoft’s emerging platform. Either way, Windows Phone 7 - with strong regard to its stellar user interface and experience - was a promising start to an array of fundamentals that are defining the new Microsoft as it approaches this technological era of immediacy and simplicity.

    This week’s announcement of Windows Phone 8 is ground-breaking for a number of reasons, the most prevalent being of course - as many respected tech bloggers have pointed out - is that it has crossed out one by one many of the platform’s limitations and has almost levelled the platform with iOS and Android; even surpassing it on some levels. More importantly, Microsoft has managed to add this much-needed level of functionality, detail and refinement without detracting from the operating system’s most apparent selling point - the stunning UI. 

    Sure, in the endless spec war Microsoft’s OS is nothing spectacular against many Androids on the market. Windows Phone 8’s resolution support maxes out at WXGA (1280 X 768), which is plenty but with the iPhone’s renowned Retina display already standing at a commanding 960 X 640, we can only expect smartphone display resolutions to grow. Windows Phone 8 also supports multi-core processors which is an instrumental addition given Windows Phone 7’s support of a limited single core Snapdragon processor which was already relatively aged at the time of its utility. However Androids have had this capability for years. On the hardware front, Windows Phone 8 only just levels Microsoft with its competitors - but that’s good enough.

    Despite the obvious shortcomings Microsoft has with its new mobile and computing strategy, its trajectory is looking far more solidified than that of Google and exhibits much promise. Microsoft’s Nokia partnership is crucial to the future of their mobile platform. Nokia, in having no choice but to build hardware for Microsoft’s platform have every reason to throw all their eggs, and the very best eggs into the Microsoft basket. We’ve seen the epitome of Nokia’s hardware prowess in the engineering feats and aesthetic milestones that are the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900 smartphones and we can expect Windows Phone to continue to be treated to the very best of Nokia’s design and engineering. 

    Experience, feelings and emotions

    Additionally, Microsoft’s Surface announcement acted as a solidifier for Microsoft’s clear change in perspective.

    Although we know Microsoft primarily as a software company, it’s increasingly evident that Microsoft is beginning to see the genuine value behind great hardware integration too. Apple hasn’t laboured to hide the fact that their products are incredible because of the unmoving marriage between the hardware and the software. Microsoft knows that their old strategy of allowing OEMs tremendous freedom enabled a certain celibacy between their software and the hardware of OEMs which essentially did them no favours. Strict hardware guidelines enforced on Windows Phone devices are ensuring uniformity in user experience and performance, a level of non-fragmented consistency that Android could only dream of. There are significant grounds to predict that Microsoft will also elect to enforce guidelines on OEMs of Windows 8 tablets and PCs.

    Nokia’s close partnership with Microsoft opens potential for strong marriage between hardware and software. More crucially, Microsoft’s Los Angeles event where they showcased their very own tablet – the Surface - solidifies a new direction for Microsoft, great user experiences can only occur at their very best when hardware and software are designed specifically to work together. 

    Microsoft’s Surface has been received with excitement, though perhaps not the optimism from pundits that the company would have liked or expected. Personally, I expected much more excitement about Surface and personally I see it as the way tablets should have been done right from the very start. The Los Angeles unveiling was much more than a simple product announcement; it was a proud and public display of a changed Microsoft which has adapted to the changing dynamics in the computer industry. Suddenly, user experience and the consumer’s feelings associated with a product are paramount, whereas much more quantifiable aspects such as features, specs and price have fallen to second priority.

    Buzzwords such as ‘feeling’, ‘confidence’ and other emotionally correlated keywords were rampant in Microsoft’s announcement, whereas the classic table of specifications and price lists were noticeably absent. Microsoft didn’t even make the effort to say their product would be price competitive, nor did they aim to build a product modelled on price competitiveness or a competitive spec sheet. Sentiment and experience are the keys to Microsoft Surface and clearly played a large hand in the product’s development.

    Panos Panay, the general manager of the Microsoft Surface took the stage and engulfed us in a showing more reminiscent of an Apple event speech more than any other. Something as trivial as the product’s kickstand had been subject to gold class treatment from the engineering team and Panos Panay was not afraid to boast it in informing us of the ‘visceral feeling and emotional attachment [you have] to your product when you open this kickstand and close it’.

    In reference to the tactile feedback of the device’s discreetly engineered kickstand Panos Panay asserts that ‘it feels great’. Heck, Microsoft even took advantage of an anechoic chamber to engineer the sonic tactility of the kickstand’s opening and closing. When talking about the aligning magnets engineered into Surface’s attachable keyboard he ensures the audience that it has been designed in such a manner that it’s virtually impossible to miss when attaching the keyboard. He then specifies that they ‘do that to give you confidence’.

    This obsessive attention to detail on aspects of the product which are initially trivial is indicative of this new approach by Microsoft in viewing the user experience on all fronts as preeminent to their product’s success. The importance of the emotional targeting of products is perhaps best illustrated by a TED talk by Simon Sinek titled ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’. This TED talk was popularised in the tech industry when it was referred to in an open letter to RIM’s senior management which was a plea for them to model their actions in line with Simon Sinek’s theories. Although the issue of leadership seems irrelevant, many aspects of Simon Sinek’s ideas are pertinent to product marketing and development and by extension to Microsoft. Sinek’s theory is based on biology and psychology and the separation of the brain into two main parts – the neocortex and the limbic. The neocortex is responsible for rational decision making and facts and figures, whereas the limbic brain is responsible for emotions and irrational gut decisions. Thus, by targeting consumer’s rationality through price and specs it’s easy to communicate a products merits and features; however sometimes it just ‘doesn’t feel right’. However by targeting products directly at the limbic brain through unquantifiable qualities such as user experience, it’s much easier to instigate purchases and positive consumer sentiments.

    So obviously, the way consumers feel about a product is crucial, and by appealing more to the subtle emotions consumers invariably associate with devices instead of solely relying on more rationally considered aspects such as specifications, Microsoft is ensuring its consumers develop strong positive emotional attachments to its products and also immense customer loyalty. Both of these aspects have been tremendous stepping stones in Apple’s success and it’s a positive sign for Microsoft that they’re taking the appropriate steps to emulate that.

    Uniformity

    Integration in the new ecosystem approach is the essential element, the element that binds the ecosystem and ensures an ordered and functioning society if you like. Integration is also something Microsoft has lacked recently, particularly when stacked against Apple – the unarguable doyen in this category.

    Microsoft’s current lineup is a disjointed family – Windows and Xbox rarely communicate, and Windows Phone could be assisted being a hell of a lot closer to all of it too. The truth is that many of Microsoft’s products are successful as standalone products; Windows market share in the PC industry is enormous, however this success wouldn’t be correlated closely with the success of the Xbox or vice versa. It’s possible that Microsoft’s offerings in these two separate markets could have been even more successful if there was a larger degree of convergence between the two, meaning that these two products when utilised in tandem would complement each other.

    Windows Phone has been fundamentally left out of the equation, with convergence with Microsoft’s portfolio of software and services only going skin-deep. Xbox Live on Windows Phone is merely a shallow use of Microsoft’s big brand in gaming but without any genuinely useful integration aside from the ability to gain achievement points on mobile Xbox Live games. The vast majority of Windows Phone’s Microsoft-exclusive software are simply Microsoft branded versions of generics, notably Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office.

    But all this has changed with the introduction of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. For the long-run, the most significant advancement from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8 is the shared kernel with Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet and PC operating system. Microsoft is dubbing this the ‘Shared Windows Core’; without delving into technical bombast the primary advantage of this is going to be the easy porting of apps cross-platform. From a developer standpoint this is advantageous because developers will only have to fully write an app once for it to be able to jump from a Windows Phone, to a Windows Tablet and to a Windows PC.

    From Microsoft’s standpoint, this is advantageous because it will enable a swift proliferation of high powered and fully functional apps in Windows Phone’s Marketplace. A lagging app store has perhaps been the largest reason behind the slow adoption rate for Windows Phones, and this will do no harm in fixing that. Microsoft’s PC empire is not going to slow down because of Windows 8; in fact it will fasten due to its head-on entrance into a tablet market with significantly lower price barriers than the traditional desktop market. Microsoft’s Windows operating system is now more accessible to more potential consumers which will result in an inevitable rise in user base. The geometric growth theory of ecosystems will once again take place as developers flock to the platform with a large audience. Microsoft has been clever in leveraging its desktop stronghold in order to boost its emerging mobile platform – a path you could say they should have taken from the very start.

    But the Marketplace growth is not the sole benefit of this announcement, the shared core between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 also works towards an even greater goal of uniformity and cohesion across Microsoft’s ecosystem - a heavenly state which the company has promised for three years since Microsoft’s former chief software architect, Ray Ozzie declared the phrase ‘three screens and a cloud’ back in early 2009. The three screens approach encompasses personal computers, phones and televisions as our primary mediums of technology consumption and how networking and integration would ensure the blessed amalgamation between the three.

    Of course television hasn’t been left out of the equation and Microsoft’s E3 presentation hinged on further and deeper integration between Microsoft’s portfolio of products and services. Xbox’s user interface has inherited traits from Microsoft’s Metro design language which are the pretty face of Windows and Windows Phone. The Zune brand is being recycled as it transforms into Xbox Music, clearly a streamlining effort as Microsoft cleans itself of low-value brands and instead focusing on a smaller and more centralised service offering. This rebranding is indicative once again of the ‘Apple-isation’ of Microsoft if you like, in the sense that they’re condensing their portfolio into a smaller lineup with significantly higher value.

    Xbox Smartglass, the biggest and most publicised fruit of Microsoft’s E3 event further reinforces Microsoft’s addressing of cohesion and integration – enabling Windows Phones, Windows PCs and tablets to engage and communicate with the Xbox hardware, software and brand in a manner that is far more than skin deep. Not to mention, the Xbox Smartglass project could represent in itself a revolution in the gaming industry opening up new avenues for engaging with games and entertainment content. Though, we’ll wait and see what developers are able to come up with in working with the Smartglass SDK.

    Microsoft understands the importance of the living room, and it’s of particular pertinence to Microsoft given it’s the only factor of the ecosystem equation not yet dominated by solidified players. Sony is struggling to excite, the Apple TV isn’t a characteristic breakthrough by Apple, and Google is yet to gain its footing. The Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s big chance, and they have the chops to deliver - to deliver in a manner that too manages to complement and ameliorate the remainder of its ecosystem. It’s time to deliver.

    The road ahead

    This article should not be misinterpreted as a guarantee for future success, nor is it a fanboy preach. Like MG Siegler once wrote in response to being labelled ‘a professional Apple fanboy’, “I’m a fanboy of good products. And I always will be”. I’m the exact same way, and personally I think that Microsoft makes great products hence why I’m shameless in supporting them. Though of course this is not blind support and I didn’t write this optimistic article to put Microsoft on a pedestal and to force myself and you to believe that they’ll be successful.

    I’ve used Windows Phone long enough to form a reasonably objective stance (contradictory, I know) on it - it’s a good product. And basing Windows Phone 8 on the merits of Microsoft’s presentation there’s no reason to believe that it’s not going to get better. I’ve only used Windows 8 sparingly so I’m not in a position to say whether it’s good or bad; however I am in a position to bet that Microsoft’s trajectory is most certainly the right one.

    Microsoft’s pursuit of its networked three screened ecosystem is finally beginning to take shape and bear tasty fruits. The company’s renewed focus on user experience and refined details is a refreshing and positive change of pace. The technical leaps obtained in Windows Phone 8 are a godsend to the emerging platform. Microsoft Surface is a promising look into the future and if the convergence effort with Xbox Smartglass is here to prove anything, it’s that Microsoft does indeed know what it’s doing. This all paints a rosy picture for the influential tech giant, a strong suggestion that the path Microsoft have paved for themselves – no matter how rocky – is unmistakeably the right one.