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Windows Mobile 7 Details - It's Not Pretty

Inside Microsoft has exclusive details on the next major release of Windows Mobile. As expected, Microsoft has taken notes from Apple and Windows Mobile 7 will feature touch controls and motion sensing technology. Reading the notes from the document raises a bunch of issues regarding Microsoft's take on this-gen (for the iPhone) and next-gen (for everyone else) phone OSes:

  • It seems to be meshing too many interaction paradigms - in addition to the new touch/motion controls (flicking to scroll, tiliting and shaking, etc), they're also leaving in button controls (the old Windows Mobile menus everyone loves to hate) and finally "[a] stylus will be required on devices meeting certain screen size, orientation, DPI and resolution marks." Three interaction paradigms makes for a steep learning curve and a lot of energy wasted by users when they have to remember to switch input methods because an action can't be performed in the current interaction mode.
  • Shaking to wake up your phone? Definitely not as classy as sliding to unlock.
  • The phones will use the camera as the motion sensor. I can't see how well this will work in a dark room or when the camera is obscured, such as when you're holding it in your hand.
  • It's coming in 2009. This should be out mid-2008 at the latest if Microsoft has any hope of stopping the iPhone juggernaut. By 2009, Apple will have had a two year lead. Competing with the 2007 iPhone in 2009 makes Microsoft look foolish and reactive; similar to how they looked when Vista was released to match features with an Apple OS that came out two years prior.

So while it's nice to see that Microsoft is actually doing things to advance it's mobile offering (unlike Palm), again, my criticism of Microsoft's efforts boil down to too late and too complex. This report makes it seem as though they're making Windows Mobile 6+1 by bolting on iPhone features to a broken UI instead of doing what they should be doing: starting from scratch and developing a consistent and enjoyable user experience.

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Thoughts on The Beat Goes On

Despite being a day late, I still want to comment on the iPod announcements made yesterday.

iPod shuffle
New colors and no storage bump on the shuffles gets a huge yawn from me.

iPod nano
The actual nano looks much better than those leaked shots that were floating around a few weeks ago. There was no storage upgrade for these guys either, only price drops to $149 and $199 for the 4 and 8 GB version, respectively. Video finally comes to the nano, but with such a tiny screen I wonder how useful it will actually be. Still, having the nano hooked up to a TV via video out makes for a very portable DVD player replacement.

iPod classic
80 GB storage for $249 (and 160 GB for $349) makes the 6th Generation iPod (or 1st Generation iPod classic?) quite the monster. The standard iPod form factor has become, as the name suggests, a classic and I'm glad Apple stuck with it instead of forcing everyone to the touch screen.

iPod UI
The new iPod UI is an incremental upgrade, with the most notable feature being Cover Flow (which I don't find much use for personally). The new UI also marks the first time that the nano and classic have reached software feature parity (video on the nano also means complete feature parity), so it'll be interesting to see if Apple considers the nano/classic "complete". Prior to yesterday's announcement, it had been two years since both devices saw a significant upgrade, and I wonder if it'll be just as long before we see the next big change for these two lines.

iPod touch
I couldn't make up my mind over whether I thought Apple would actually release a phoneless iPhone this soon. On the one hand, pricing would have been tricky - either it would be priced too low to cannibalize iPhone sales or priced too high to make it a terrible value. On the other hand, there was only so much further Apple could take the iPod classic before it had to enlarge the screen (thereby necessitating removal of the click wheel). I personally dislike the design of the device. The chrome border is gone in lieu of either a matte metal or plastic (hard to tell from the shots) and the iPhone's scratch-resistant matte back is gone for the iPod's iconic scratch-prone shiny metal back. Further, the upper bezel looks disproportionate without the earpiece and the WiFi antenna's plastic covering makes the back of the device asymmetric. Other minor things I noticed (and am apathetic about) are that the sleep/wake button has switched sides and that the headphone jack is on the bottom of the device.

iTunes WiFi Store
Apple is ever slowly creeping into tablet/UMPC space and the touch was the second step in that direction. Instead of working down from the desktop, as Microsoft has done (with limited success), Apple has worked up from the iPod. It's apparent from the name: this isn't a MacBook nano, it's an iPod touch. Unveiling the iTunes WiFi Store and partnering with Starbucks is a small step into building Apple's mobile eco-system, something other device makers have either not attempted or have been unsuccessful at. This will be the touch/iPhone killer feature, and perhaps the future of mobile advertising - truly contextual advertising and services that supplement a brick and mortar's main operations. It's not the device that will reach out to the world, but the world that will reach in to your device.

That said, I don't see myself using the WiFi Store that much since I don't use the iTunes Store much to begin with. However, if the WiFi store allows for over-the-air podcast downloading, then I'll be all over it.

Ringtones
I'm tech-savvy enough to not need iTunes to walk me through making ringtones, but I would argue against those complaining about the price. The extra $.99 is something I see as AT&T having a hand in. Still, $2 for both the song and ringtone is a good deal compared to the $2-$3 one might pay for a ringtone-only otherwise.

iPhone at $399
Though Apple announced during their last earnings call that margins would be lower this season, no one saw this coming. The market is interpreting it as a sign that iPhones aren't selling as well as Apple would like. The original 5 GB iPod dropped 25% five months after introduction (from $399 to $299), so large cuts aren't completely out of the ordinary for Apple. I see the price drop as something Apple planned all along as a way to aggressively go after market share after milking early adopters for an extra $200 and as a way control demand during launch.

Am I upset that I paid $599? Absolutely not. I was perfectly paying that amount and the price drop doesn't change that. I don't see Apple owing me anything much more than I see BMW paying me for the depreciation of my car when the 2008 models come out (in fact, I'm paying them for the depreciation). Price drops and technology progressing are facts of life. The only thing that I might be upset about is that the cost of entry to the iPhone Club has gone down and iPhone owners who felt a sense of superiority and exclusivity as a result of ownership just dropped a few rungs on the social ladder now that the iPhone is accessible to "regular" people. I am not in that group. I see adoption of the iPhone (or Mobile OS X platform in general) a good thing for users, both in terms of a greater demand for new software features or an increased pressure on other device makers to make better devices.

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iPhone's Total Cost Of Ownership

The iPhone nay-sayers are making a last-minute knock at the iPhone by bringing in the old Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) argument, which usually centers around uncovering the not-so-readily apparent costs associated with a device/platform/etc.

The iPhone-flavored version of this argument states that the TCO of the iPhone isn't just the $500-$600 entry fee, but that the "hidden" costs of voice and data should be factored in as well. First, let's assume a potential iPhone buyer will have a cell phone anyway. Let's cut out the $40/month that goes to voice, since they would be paying that anyway. Let's also consider the fact that anyone considering the iPhone is probably also considering another smartphone (or probably already has one). If that's the case, then the incremental cost of data is at best negligible and at worst not a hidden and devious fee.

TCO of the iPhone for current/future smartphone users: $500-$600.
TCO for non-smartphone users: ~$1600
TCO for anyone who is not a cell phone user (and most likely not looking at the iPhone as their first phone): ~$2200

On a similar note, why is AT&T's early termination fee such big news now? ETFs have been around for as long as cell phone contracts existed. The fact that it applies the contract you sign when you buy an iPhone shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

I was going to post the above in response to this article on the iPhone's Total Cost of Ownership. I got distracted by this ridiculous video Scoble linked to, and I went to Apple's site to find where Apple is flaunting the iPhone as a replacement for your PowerShot when I saw that Apple had posted the iPhone rate plans (my first story to make the Digg homepage, BTW) and a video on how to activate the iPhone through iTunes.

Thanks to this fresh information, the argument about the exorbitant and misleading TCO becomes even more ridiculous. With the minimum data plan on a Blackberry at $40/month and the minimum data plan on the iPhone at $20/month, it's quite possible for a soon-to-be-former Blackberry user to get an iPhone for under $150 ($20 x 24 - $600 = $120). The iPhone is now cheaper than the consumer-segment Blackberry Curve.

The final piece of the iPhone launch puzzle is now in place (well, until the 80GB iPhone mystery is resolved) and it is killer. Undercutting AT&T's other "pro" data plans by $20/month is going to go a long way to boost iPhone adoption (as if it needed it).

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Google and Yahoo Afraid Of Microsoft?

I can't believe I missed this: Google Gears is available for WebKit. This was announced three weeks ago, but I just found out about it on this TUAW post regarding future Google/Apple iPhone-related announcements.

News of this makes me feel better about AJAX/HTML based apps on the iPhone, easing my concern over offline access to these apps. I also haven't seen many developers complaining about the lack of a "real" SDK on the iPhone, which makes me believe that offline access and home screen placement was discussed at NDA-covered WWDC sessions.

A big question I have is that amongst all this Google/Apple collaboration, Apple decided to go with Yahoo for the iPhone's bundled email solution and widgets (you'll note that the Stocks and Weather widgets now sport Y! icons). Could Apple be playing both sides? If Google and Yahoo were desperate to get placement on the iPhone, then perhaps they didn't want to (or couldn't get) exclusivity. Google and Yahoo are currently tied on home screen icon placement at two a piece (Yahoo is slightly ahead overall because of the mail tie-in, however).

The biggest loser in all of this is of course is Microsoft. The one-two punch: iPhone is going to take away customers from the Windows Mobile platform (RIM sure isn't helping them out either). Thanks to the Google/Yahoo integration, iPhone users will have an investment in Google and Yahoo's online services, driving usage away from MSN/Windows Live/whatever it's called now. After the iPhone, Microsoft will be facing increased competition from both the mobile space and the internet space.

There is a bright side to all of this for Microsoft. From any way you look at it, Microsoft is seen as the biggest competition to Google and Yahoo: Either Google and Yahoo compromised to "share" the iPhone, in which case they don't think they can handle Microsoft alone, or Apple didn't want only Google or only Yahoo on the iPhone, in which case Apple thinks that Google and/or Yahoo are vulnerable to Microsoft.

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How Much Bigger Can iPhone Hype Get?

Signs suggesting that iPhone hype has reached atmospheric levels:

Signs that it still hasn't peaked:

  • No one is lining up yet.
  • There aren't any on eBay yet.

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iPhone Camps

There are a bunch of camps that everyone considering an iPhone fall into:

  • Those that will buy it because it's Apple
  • Those that will buy it because it's cool
  • Those that will buy it because they want to try multi-touch
  • Those that will buy it because they want a converged device
  • Those that will buy it because they're fed up with Palm OS/Windows Mobile/Blackberry OS
  • Those that will buy it because they need every new gadget
  • Those that won't buy it because it's Apple
  • Those that won't buy it because it's an Apple Rev. 1 product
  • Those that won't buy it because it doesn't do 3G
  • Those that won't buy it because it doesn't have an SDK
  • Those that won't buy it because it requires a 2-year contract
  • Those that won't buy it because it doesn't have a removable battery
  • Those that won't buy it because they need more than 8GB
  • Those that won't buy it because it's $500-$600
  • Those that won't buy it because it's out of stock

I'm not quite sure what camp I belong to, but I'm a candidate for the no 3G and no SDK camps. I'm looking to replace my aging Treo 650 with something that doesn't randomly shut off, and the current contenders are the Blackberry Curve and the iPhone.

3G may not be that big a deal-breaker since the BB Curve doesn't have it either, but the slow connection speed on my Treo 650 make it almost unbearable to use. I'll have to decide whether this is enough of a big deal for me to consider the Samsung Blackjack, which does have 3G.

HTML + AJAX do not an SDK make. Though I don't doubt that there will be a real SDK in the future, the lack of one right now makes me wary of jumping into a closed platform. That's one of the main draws for smartphones and the iPhone falls flat in this regard.

That said, am I missing any camps? Which camp do you fall into?

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Two Wows and a Yawn

I was wow'ed twice this week: First with Google Maps Street View, then with Microsoft Surface.

Street View is a fun little tool. It's got the fun factor that Google Earth did when it was released, where you could get lost for hours discovering little things all around the world. It also has some utility, where you could find the name of that restaurant you drove by today but can't seem to remember the name, and who knows what other things Google will be able to do with it.

I think Surface could have a huge impact on the way we compute. Then again, it could be another Origami. Either way, the videos of it floating around the web are impressive, but we'll have to see how often we'll come across one in our daily lives (especially when they're $5-10k and for businesses only). Once we can get one for the same price as a separate PC and coffee table, that's when it'll make an impact. At the very least, Surface looks cool and could be useful.

In contrast to those two is Palm's Foleo, which was announced today. The Foleo is a thin, 2 pound sub-notebook with a 10 inch screen. It runs a custom OS based on Linux and syncs to your Treo seamlessly. This is supposedly the answer to all those complaints that smartphone keyboards and screens are two small. What complaints? I haven't heard anything from the roughly 50 million smartphones shipped year to date. The reason why the Handheld PCs of the 90s failed and why UMPCs were slow to take off is the same reason why Foleo will fail: If it doesn't fit in your pocket, then "it" might as well be a full-featured notebook.

As Ars Technica put it, the Foleo is a 90s device that took a design note from 90s Apple notebooks (the logo on the lid is upside down when opened). What the hell is wjad?

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Twittering

I am on Twitter, but I don't know why. At least for me, Facebook status updates are much more convenient and more readily accessible to anyone that would care to know what I'm doing, if not equally useless.

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iPhone: The Day After

I was sitting in court yesterday fighting a speeding ticket as I read about the death of the greatest rumor ever thanks to MacRumors' excellent play-by-play coverage. This phone is simply amazing; lucky for me my Cingular contract is up in May, so while I'd rather have an iPhone tomorrow, the timing isn't too bad. Others have picked up on something curious though: How does 2 months of FCC approval equal a June release date?

Steve's made friends
Partnering with Yahoo for email and Google for maps is a great way to not piss anyone off. Only Steve Jobs can bring Eric Schmidt and Jerry Yang on stage within minutes of each other to talk about something they're working on together (at leas indirectly). The iPhone is revolutionary and for Apple, Yahoo and Google this is a win-win-win.

Goodbye Blackberry?
I think it's preemptive to start calling for the death of the Blackberry. We still don't know what kind of Office support iPhone will have, and without Exchange syncing its dead in the water for most corporate environments. Of course, with a full-fledged web browser on board, Google Docs & Spreadsheets is a viable, yet inelegant solution. Not to mention that the excellent 2mp camera might be a no-no for some corporate environments.

What of the iPod?
The iPhone has an "iPod" software app, a name that has been reserved for hardware (with iTunes being used for software), so what's to become of the iPod as we know it? While I'm a proponent of converged devices, 8GB is simply not enough to carry around even half of my music library, forgetting about any videos I'd like to watch on the gorgeous 3.5" screen. I predict we'll be seeing a real widescreen iPod with high-capacity sometime over the next few months. The iPod interface on the iPhone looks perfect, and we'll see that on the software side. The hardware I think will look like the iPhone with the top and bottom bezels cut off.

All in all, the iPhone isn't quite the "atomic bomb" that will wake up the U.S. cellular industry as some have said. For one, it doesn’t do 3G. After dealing with slow-as-molasses internet connectivity on my Treo, this is almost a deal breaker.

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These Are Just Links (brought to you by OCR)

I've been ridiculously busy with OCR (on-campus recruiting), aka trying to find a job for after graduation, so I haven't had much time to blog, let alone read half the links I open up from my RSS feeds. Here's just a few of them I opened up today and yesterday:

Get free Digital Life tickets. It looks like a cool little conference taking place in NYC in a few weeks. Tickets are cheap enough that I might have gone anyway, but this really seals it. If anyone else is going or wants to go, let me know to meet up.

Woz will be on the Colbert Report this Thursday, promoting his new book. Woz is a big prankster so expect some good laughs.


The Treo 750v will be the face of Windows Mobile in Europe.
The latest Business Week has the Cingular 8125 (by HTC) in a bunch of ads, so maybe they're just trying to please their two big licensees (BTW, does anyone else besides Palm and HTC make Windows Mobile phones anymore?).

Harvard Econ professor Gregory Mankiw talks about getting rid of the penny (again). I hate pennies and try to use my debit card most of the time to avoid them. We're already rounding gasoline to the nearest penny, why not round everything else to nearest nickel?

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