FEATURE REVIEW – ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA

Please hold while I try to resolve this problem…

Introduction
As I stated a little while ago, I’ve found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. It hasn’t been a lot of fun. Unfortunately for me, I really have no idea where Microsoft and Apple are headed with their computing initiatives. Its unnerving, too. I simply don’t know what to do at this point, and quite honestly, this is the first time I’ve been in this boat in the 20 plus years that I’ve been a tech journalist.

However, I think I may have found an interesting and rather affordable solution to my problem. Enter the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA-D4-GR. Is this the right solution? Does it resolve most, some or all of my issues; or am I chasing through a rabbit hole without the possibility of finding my way out OR the white rabbit that made the hole? Let’s take a quick look at the device and find out.

Hardware
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Surface Pro clone. It’s a 10.1 inch transformer (ultrabook and “tablet”) in one. It’s got a magnesium-alloy casing and weighs less than 800g; and is running Windows 10 Home.

The device has a quad core Intel Cherry Trail processor running at 1.44GHz. The device, as reviewed has 4GB of RAM and a 10.1 inch, 16:10 backlit, HD display sporting 1280×800 resolution and integrated Intel HD graphics. The device as reviewed has a 128GB EMMC SSD.

The device has integrated 802.11 AC Wi-Fi for wireless networking and internet connectivity. It also supports Bluetooth 4.1 for short range, accessory communication. The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H also has a 2MP web cam for video communications.

For connectivity, the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H has one of each of the following ports:

  • Combo Audio Jack
  • USB 3.0 Port
  • Micro USB Port
  • Micro HDMI Port
  • Fingerprint reader (supports Windows Hello)
  • microSD Card Slot

The build quality here is surprisingly high. I have been really impressed with the hardware and its fit, form and function. For the cost of the device, it’s going to be hard to find something better, in any class of notebook.

The full 360, below, has some really good shots of the hardware, including the included keyboard AND pen.

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The back of the device. Notice the circular fingerprint reader at the top The back of the keyboard
The device, opened up. The keyboard has magnets that attach it to the landscape side of the tablet The device, open
The left side of the device Close up of the left side, ports
The top side of the device with the microSD slot and the power button Right side of the device
Close up of the right side, volume rocker and speaker

 

Tablet
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Windows 10 ultrabook, just as the Surface Pro line of PC’s. However, it’s not a tablet. Please don’t consider this to be a true convertible – meaning this isn’t going to turn into your iPad or similar tablet when you remove the keyboard.

Like any other Windows 10 ultrabook convertible, all that happens when you remove the keyboard is that the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H becomes a slate PC.

A slate PC is NOT a tablet. It’s a regular PC with a touch interface that doesn’t require a keyboard or mouse.

A tablet is a content consumption device with an ecosystem – apps, videos, audio, etc. – available from a built in store, specifically made to consume ON that tablet. While a slate PC and an ultrabook have apps, and Windows has a “store,” per se in the Windows Store, you can get PC apps just about anywhere. You can also find videos and audio files (be they music, podcasts or other audio) nearly everywhere else that can easily be played on any Windows PC.

Windows 10 tablet mode is just a change in the standard Windows UI, nothing more. Nothing magical happens to the hardware. Nothing really magical happens to the OS after the keyboard is removed. It’s still Windows; just with a slightly different UI.

Aside from the whole Tablet Mode thing, this is really nothing more than a notebook computer with a removable keyboard. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it IS still just a PC. It just has more than one interface; but please don’t’ confuse this with a tablet like an iPad or a Galaxy tablet. It doesn’t run a mobile OS and it won’t. It’s going to have the same performance as it does when its keyboard is connected.

Keyboard
With the Surface Pro line of devices, the detachable keyboard is made of rubber and plastic. While this makes for flexibility, it doesn’t lend a lot of confidence that you’re getting a quality product. Well, that and the fact that the Surface Pro 3-4 Type Cover is an additional purchase that runs $129.99 for the older version to $159.99 for the version that has the Windows Hello compatible, finger sensor.

The keyboard that comes with the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is included with the tablet at no additional charge. It functions nearly the same way as the Microsoft Surface Type Cover, but has a metal alloy shell. The keyboard itself employs a butterfly switch under each key and sports 1.5mm of key travel. The extra-large touch pad is built in.

The typing experience is merely ok. It’s nothing to write – or type – home about. In the end, including the keyboard as part of the whole package, is another stellar move. It just cements the value of the whole package.

Out of the box, the keyboard of my ASUS Transformer T102H had a problem with the touch pad. The keyboard is supposed to support a right click via clicking the lower right corner of the track pad. This hasn’t worked right from the moment I pulled the device out of the box, and it’s obvious that the issue is a hardware issue and not a software or driver issue.

I called ASUS Tech Support and got someone who read a script at me and had me uninstall and reinstall APK and touch pad drivers. Getting her OFF the script wasn’t possible. However, 4 restarts and one full uninstall/ reinstall round and me insisting that this wasn’t a driver issue stopped the tomfoolery.

She then told me that I could return the device to my point of purchase, or could send the device to ASUS for warranty work. I told her that since this was a detachable keyboard, and that was the only part that I needed, couldn’t ASUS just send me a replacement keyboard?

No. ASUS doesn’t send parts to customers. If I wanted a replacement keyboard, I would need to send in the entire device, and then they would examine it and then determine if they would repair my existing keyboard or send me a new one. When I reminded the tech support rep that the keyboard was removable and that all that anyone in Repairs was going to do was take a look at the paperwork, grab my unit, pull the keyboard off, attach another one and then call it a day.

I got similar service from Newegg, as I bought the device from them and also purchased their extended warranty for $50. I would need to send the entire device and they would then send a replacement. Both companies knew that this would leave me without a working machine and didn’t care.

I blame Newegg more than I do ASUS, simply because they are the ones that I bought the extended warranty from. Why no one will send me a detachable keyboard is way beyond me.

Performance
I’m going to get to battery life and other performance factors in just a moment, but I wanted to take a moment and talk about this computer and its processor and RAM performance.

In a word – WOW!

The Intel CherryTrail Atom processor definitely makes a difference. I’ve reviewed value based tablets before and haven’t been impressed. Atom processors promise decent performance coupled with battery savings, but, in my opinion, always have a hard time delivering.

My assessment of the Dell Latitude 10-ST2’s Atom processor can clearly be seen here:

The Atom processor doesn’t have a lot of horse power. In fact, it’s pretty anemic. The system is optimized for a few specific apps – Microsoft Office being one of them – but don’t expect it to power through anything else. The weak processor performance even seems to affect network traffic, disk I/O and display performance as well, though obviously system interaction between dedicated subcomponents will also factor in.

With the ASUS Transformer T102H, the tune is a little different. While this is NOT going to run Photoshop or Lightroom with any sense of reliability or desired performance, it can ink notes in OneNote 2016 without ANY ink lag at all. It will also handle most, if not all, your PowerPoint and Excel documents – barring any really complex macros or large, external data calls – with reasonable results. For reliable, light to medium level productivity work, this computer should more than adequately meet all of your needs.

To be honest, I don’t know if the level of performance satisfaction I have is due to the more advanced Cherry Trail processor in the ASUS Transformer T102H vs. the Atom processor in the Dell Latitude 10-ST2, or if the satisfactory performance is due to the device’s 4GB of RAM… or both. I don’t have the 2GB version of the device to compare mine against. However, I’ more than certain that it plays into the equation more than you might initially think. At the very least, it’s the combination of the quad core, CherryTrail processor and the device’s 4GB of RAM that are making such a remarkable difference in my expectations.

Battery Life
Led in part by its 1.44GHz CherryTrail Processor, I’ve found the battery life to be totally crazy awesome on the ASUS Transformer T102H. The device advertises an 11 hour, all day battery.

These estimates are close but I’ve found my results to be about half of what’s advertised in real life. However at five and a half hours, this should get me through most of the work day without really NEEDING a charge. This is great news; and a huge relief, as having a day long note taking solution is HUGE in the office, especially when you have back to back meetings and CAN’T get back to an AC outlet and charging cable.

I wish that all of my notebooks were as good on battery life and did me so well when it comes to the task at hand.

Software
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Microsoft signature PC. This means that its free of crapware. It doesn’t have any third party add-ons or software. The only thing that it really does have is the installation stub for Microsoft Office 365. Other than that, this PC is junk free.

In my opinion, Signature PC’s are the best on the market. I know in many cases that software companies cut deals with OEM’s to help defer the cost of software development, and the OEM’s get help to defer the low cost of the device. I think the software companies come out on top of that deal; and that’s fine when the software in question is useful; but when it’s something that’s so bloated like Norton Antivirus or MacAfee Internet Security, you really have to wonder why the OEM chased after it.

I’ve seen MacAfee software preinstalled on low end PC’s with budget processors and quite honestly, all that it really does is bring down the performance of the device. Having the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H be a Signature PC without all of that garbage software, is a huge blessing. Those apps don’t always remove themselves well, and you can end up with a gimpy system afterwards. Here, you don’t have to worry about that.

Conclusion
This one is fairly easy. If you’re looking for a Microsoft Surface Pro clone and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on the device, this is likely the PC for you. Its CherryTrail processor isn’t going to be something that’s going to punch through any audio or video editing or run Photoshop or Lightroom, well, really at all; but if you’re looking for a productivity machine for you or your kids, THIS is a really good choice.

The device will run Office very well; and if you’re into OneNote at all, then you’re in for a treat. The device comes with both a detachable keyboard and a pen, so you can take notes, draw, markup documents – whatever – right out of the box. There’s NO ink lag with the pen in OneNote 2016, and with an Intel Atom processor, that’s really very surprising. I’ve had other devices where that was NOT the case.

A side view of the ASUS Pen The top of the ASUS Pen. Notice, there’s no application button on the end.

This is an ultrabook PC, so even though you can remove the keyboard and use it without a keyboard, it is not a true tablet, as it doesn’t run a mobile OS. It runs 64bit Windows 10 Home. In any “mode,” PC or tablet, this is a PC. Period.

Speaking of the keyboard, it provides a decent typing experience. While it’s not something that I’d like to work with all day long, its ok; and can get you through a meeting in a pinch. Again, the fact that this device comes WITH the keyboard is huge. On the Surface Pro, it’s a $129 – $159 add on.

As a Signature PC, this device is awesome. No junk software! No crapware! This is huge on a device like this with a budget processor, no matter how good that processor may be; and huge when it has a non-upgradable SSD as a main drive. While it does have a microSD card slot for additional storage, the fact that you don’t have to run an app like the PC Decrapifier to try to remove all of the OEM sponsored junkware that comes on most Windows PC’s is huge.

The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H runs $349.99 for the 64GB version and $399.99 for the 128GB version. It is readily available on the internet and is perhaps one of the best budget PC buys you can make this year.

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Microsoft Surface Gets a Desktop All in One

Microsoft will be introducing Surface Studio on 2016-10-26

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Microsoft is going out of its way to tell Apple how awesome it truly is.

Microsoft has done a lot to chase after Apple in the past six and a half years or so, since the release of the iPad. Their TabletPC’s couldn’t stand up to the iPad, and so they mostly disappeared by the end of 2012. By 2013 and 2014, Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 had firmly taken hold and were making some inroads, but more in the PC market than the tablet market. The Surface Pro – in all its variations – is NOT a tablet. It’s an ultrabook (or ultra-notebook). Despite “Tablet Mode,” it’s not a tablet. A successful tablet requires a successfully implemented ecosystem for content acquisition and consumption, and Microsoft doesn’t have that…but I digress.

So, Microsoft has a tablet-like, computer really, device in Surface Pro and Surface Book, and now, it appears they are chasing after all-in-one’s as well with a new device rumored to be announced on 2016-10-26, apparently named Surface Studio.

surface-studio

My good friend, Mary Jo Foley broke this last month with a heads up on the October Microsoft event. According to Mary Jo, Surface Studio was previously code named, Project Cardinal; and the intent of the new hardware is to turn your desktop into a studio. The device is rumored to come in up to three different sizes – 21″, 24″ and 27″; and MAY also be the consumerized version of Microsoft’s enterprise focused Surface Hub a large screen conference and collaboration tool, previously known as Perceptive Pixel.

If this is the case, then this will be an interesting entry into the already saturated, and sadly, poor performing, desktop market. Running Windows 10 – likely Anniversary Update – the Surface Studio will feature a way to convert the all-in-one from the standard desktop format into a flat drawing and writing surface, ideal for creating paintings, drawings and other touch and stylus work.

According to the engineering drawing, above, the screen will likely fold down over its base with the assistance of some type of pneumatic or spring powered hinges. It is also rumored that Microsoft has trademarked the names Surface Laptop, Paint 3D,Surface Dial and Dial as well as Surface Studio. It is believed that Surface Dial and Dial refer to either a radial styled, creator-based interface for the Studio. Others believe it to be connected to the further rumored Surface Phone

Any way you slice this, however, it’s likely that much of what Microsoft announces on 2016-10-26 will likely be overshadowed by the Apple’s marketing machine and hype when it reveals its anticipated Mac hardware refresh the following day, 2016-10-27.

Hopefully, for Microsoft, their rumored hardware will be compelling enough to help provide the shot in the arm that the Windows consumer PC market needs to turn it back towards profitability. Because right now, it could really use the shot in the arm.

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Windows RT and Surface Tablets are Dead

Here’s why I’m sad to see them go…

303387-microsoft-surface-with-windows-rt

Its clear to me that Microsoft really tried to create a total converged device with Windows 8 and its Surface RT product. Its also clear to me that the computing public – both consumers and tech pundits alike, myself included – totally panned, bashed and otherwise lambasted the OS to the point where Microsoft scrapped its roadmap, dropped back and brought back not only the desktop, but the Start Button and Start Menu as well.

The mobile strategy was simple, really… build and market a product that could compete with Apple’s iPad line of consumer tablets so that Microsoft wouldn’t miss out on the tablet revolution that was sweeping the nation (back in 2012 when the tablet revolution was in full swing).

Unfortunately, Microsoft failed. Back in the 1990’s you’d never even think of anyone thinking those words, let alone typing them on a web page that would be read by ba-gillions of people. Today, however, the tables have turned on Microsoft and their mobile strategy, well… it just sucks.

Windows Phone never caught on in the States, which is unfortunate, because the mobile OS is very capable and does what it does very well. Microsoft thought, erroneously, that they could combine the success of the desktop products with the tablet form factor and give everyone a product that would be a home run. I’m certain it sounded good in the Board Room when it was pitched, too. Unfortunately, this is where Microsoft missed the boat.

They thought that people wanting to bring their iPad to work meant that they really wanted a TabletPC. They don’t. They want a tablet that can do some PC-like things; but they still want a tablet. Microsoft, I think, got that; but maybe not so much.

Windows RT was an experiment that didn’t quite make it because Windows on ARM, or WoA as it was originally called, couldn’t run all of the desktop apps that everyone had been using and amassing for years. Users of Windows RT and Surface RT tablets couldn’t install their familiar applications and Microsoft was never able to convince its 3rd party development partners to release any software for the platform. Thus the death of a platform.

They just couldn’t leave the desktop alone. Putting a desktop on a product that didn’t have any desktop apps didn’t make any sense and really kinda tanked – and eventually killed – the product. Nobody could EVER figure out what it was supposed to be.

uC15s

However, if Microsoft had just embraced the iPad-like need that their customers were telling them they wanted, and made Windows RT more like Windows Phone, then they may have had a chance on making the product work. The in betweeny thing that RT really tried to be – a bridge between the TabletPC/ desktop world and a more productivity-based, consumerization of IT device – just didn’t work and as I said, confused nearly everyone, Microsoft included. They ended up concentrating more on the Surface Pro product line, as it followed the standard desktop PC paradigm they were used to seeing and working with.

However, I can’t help but think of what Windows RT really could have been if it did what it should have done. I really think that Apple has the right model. iOS is very similar to OS X. It just lacks a few key support items and features, but its really very close to Apple’s full blown, desktop OS. While those differences do require developers to make mobile counterparts to their venerated desktop programs and apps, Microsoft has been struggling (until Windows 10) with how to make that work. They really only wanted developers to HAVE to make a single app if they wished (hence the whole “universal app” concept in Windows 10).

But if Microsoft had totally ditched the desktop on Windows RT devices, which confused and befuddled users, and didn’t really permit them to DO anything that they could do on their Desktop machines, and figured out a way to have Phone apps run on RT, who knows what could have happened to the product.

We *COULD* have had a Windows based tablet that was a real and true iPad competitor. With a clarified and solid marketing strategy that differentiated and defined exactly what “Windows Mobile” was (Windows Phone plus Windows RT), Microsoft could have had a platform that may have been able to compete with both Apple AND Google’s Android. It could have been really cool.

And that’s why I’m a bit bummed. I saw an article on Computer World that says all signs point to the death of Windows RT, and they’re right. Microsoft isn’t going to provide an update path to Windows 10, though they will have some kind of update released to sort of bring it close.

I have no idea what that sentiment means. I have no idea what Microsoft is really going to do with Windows RT. I don’t think THEY know what they are going to do with Windows RT. However, its clear… they need to do something, and they need to provide some way for users to either use the hardware they invested in, or provide a way to spring board into Surface Pro (maybe some kind of hardware trade up program..??)

But it could have been cool… Unfortunately, the technology world is full of “could have been cool’s” from over the years. In the end, we’re just going to have to wait and see what Microsoft wants to do.

Goodbye Windows RT… We really never knew you or what the heck you were supposed to be.

What do YOU think Microsoft should do with Windows RT and Surface RT and Surface 2? Should it all be scrapped? Should Microsoft provide some kind of premium trade up program? Should they do anything else? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion Area below and give me your thoughts on the whole situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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2015 Predictions

Here are my technology predictions for 2015…

Businessman Consulting Glowing Crystal Ball

If there’s one thing that you can count on every year, its that nearly every website and [tech] publication will have a best and/or worst of the [outgoing] year feature as well as a [my] predictions for the coming year feature. In fact, in many cases, it can be laughable. Many have come to expect both of these types of articles; and in fact its something that I’ve tried to embrace as much as I can, believe it or not.

While I haven’t done a best/worst of the outgoing year set of articles here on Soft32, I do enjoy making predictions for the coming year and then reviewing those predictions at the end of the year to see how I did. Those micro-look backs can be kinda fun. A lot can change in a year.

So without too much pomp and circumstance, here are my predictions for the coming year of 2015.

2015 Makes or Breaks Wearable Computing

A lot has been happening in the Wearable Computing category over the past 12 or so months. While there’s been little to no news on Google Glass and one can likely (thankfully??) declare it pretty much dead, wearables have taken off here at the end of 2014. There are a boatload of new fitness bands out there. There are also a great many new smartwatches hitting the market and while you can’t figure out what’s what without a program, its clear that something is about to happen.

2015 is going to be the year that either makes or breaks this computing hardware category. Period. This middle of the road, undefined but possibly probable burgeoning market gets defined in 2015. Remember, it’s the year that the Apple Watch is going to get released.

And that’s the lynch pin.

Apple’s Apple Watch is either going to totally set this market on fire where we see a TON of companies trying to jump on the me-too wagon, or I think the category kinda just fizzles and cools off. If Apple Watch can’t make it, I don’t think anything really will.

Wearable computing has been sorta hanging out in the background waiting for something to define it. Fitness bands like the Nike Fuel Band or any number of Fitbit bands, for example, have been out there for a while, and while the quantitative self is big in just about every mobile OS on the market today, if tools like Apple Watch don’t hit and hit big, then I think the whole category of computing devices just bombs.

Cost may be the biggest contributing factor to all of this, too. Apple Watch starts at $350 bucks; AND you have to have an iPhone to pair it with, at least in the beginning. That’s a big investment to make on top of your new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, or even iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s, the latter two, just now can be considered, “paid for” or fully depreciated. Spending an additional $350 bucks on top of either a subsidized or financed iPhone may be difficult for some to shoulder.

However, suffice it to say, that if Apple Watch doesn’t kill it, you can pretty much count on the rest of the market dying and this computing category fading away.

Phablets become more Relevant, but not in the US (yet)

Most computing users I know, want a bigger screen than what can be found on their phone or tablet. Maybe is the crowd I’m hanging out with as I *AM* getting a little older; but while tablets and smartphones are GREAT for computing on the go, most everyone that I talk to or associate with prefers having a bigger screen to compute on. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why phablets are becoming so popular.

Phablets are huge in the Asian markets. Many people there have one computing device and only one computing device, and having something WITH a big of a bigger screen is where they’re headed; but they still need a mobile phone. This converged device, if you will, or the phablet, gives them the [mobile] computing power they want and need; but also keeps it [mostly] affordable and provides that bigger screen.

In the US, while phablets are gaining in popularity, and I expect that to continue somewhat even here, many people consider them to be a bit too big. In those Asian markets I mentioned where a phablet may be a user’s ONLY computer, I can certainly understand their popularity. In the US, where most have access to a smartphone and a secondary computing device like a tablet, notebook or desktop PC, the urgency or need for a phablet isn’t as high as it is overseas.

I don’t see this trend taking any real hold, here in the US. Phablets are cool. Some of them are very usable, but I don’t see them eating too much more into the smartphone or tablet markets here. Phablets run in the 5″ to 6″ screen size range, and I don’t see users leaving their 7″, 9″ or 10″+ sized tablets for a 5″ or 6″ screen. Especially when we have access to another device, likely with an even bigger screen. We just don’t have the need. I don’t see those market conditions changing much in 2015, and such, the phablet, while an interesting and amusing dalliance here, won’t cannibalize the US tablet market too much more than it already has.

There is a possibility that this may change, as devices like the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4 gain in popularity, but I just don’t see it.

Mobile computing trends here in the States will likely stay the course in 2015.

Mobile Broadband becomes More of a Need than a Want

Mobile Broadband will see a HUGE gain in 2015. I think we’re going to see a big uptake on usage and you’re going to see carriers like AT&T and Verizon struggle to keep up with T-Mobile’s whole, no-contract, Uncarrier thing.

If Apple Watch takes off like I think it will – and I think it will end up being huge (and therefore the wearable market will also get bigger as everyone tries to jump on to ride the wave), you’re going to see more and more people need and want mobile broadband. I think we’re going to have issues going forward in this category. Mobile traffic is going to get congested, and there’s going to be an even bigger demand for additional mobile spectrum, beginning in 2015.

Competition is going to heat up and I think we’ll see the bigger carriers begin to shift away from prepaid and begin offering better postpaid (pay as you go) plans, as people find that they don’t want to be tied to contracts so much anymore.

Anyway you slice it, or how ever it happens, there’s going to be a huge push for bigger, better, faster, and MORE mobile broadband in 2015. Given the current spectrum allotments in the market that I’m in, I think mobile speed performance will also take a huge hit as a result. Its going to get slower before it gets faster with more available spectrum as the swim lanes get crowded with more devices and more mobile users.

T-Mobile Overtakes Sprint as the Number 3 US Wireless Carrier

I gave this its own prediction instead of piggy backing it on top of the last one simply because I think its big enough to deserve its own, separate prediction. T-Mobile is doing all the right things. I see them getting more and more popular in the bigger, more densely populated, metropolitan areas. As such, I see Sprint continuing to struggle to keep pace and T-Mobile will overtake the number three carrier spot, albeit, late in the year.

Microsoft Super Hypes Windows 10 Release, but it gets a Luke Warm Reception

It’ll be the thud heard ’round the world.

Microsoft is going to work their butts off unifying the Windows platform in 2015. There will be some really good things that will happen in the Windows 10 space before the replacement OS is finally released to the public in late 2015 (as in October – or Q4 – 2015).

I think Windows 10 is going to be a decent OS. I think its going to be better received than Windows 8 was. I think it will be preferred over Windows 8.x; but I’m not sure how much its going to matter.

Microsoft is making their apps and services available on other platforms – like iOS and Android – and doing so a lot quicker than on Windows. For example, Office for iOS and Android was available long before Office for Windows tablet or Windows Phone.

With Microsoft unifying the Windows Platform to include Desktop AND Mobile (Phone and Tablet) into one OS, I don’t see it being as relevant or as important as a Windows release may have been in the past. On the consumer side of the world, its not as critical as it used to be for me to have a Windows PC at home like I do at work. I can create and/ or modify documents for Work not only on my home PC, but on my personal tablet or smartphone, and those devices can be just about any device I’ve got. Microsoft no longer cares.

While Windows 10 is likely going to be a much better desktop OS than Windows 8.x, its not going to matter. IT departments are still not going to jump on the OS right away. They’re going to stick with what they have (most likely Windows 7) and continue to deploy that OS with new and existing hardware in the Enterprise. I also think Microsoft is going to unify development of Office versions for other platforms so that the same “version” is going to be available everywhere. It won’t matter what device or platform you’re on or using. Microsoft is going to have a version of what you’re needing to get work done on any and every platform so you don’t have to worry if what you’re updating at home is going to be usable or readable at work.

Computing is going to be a bit simpler as a result, and the emphasis is going to be taken off Windows as a platform. Windows 10 is going to be a good OS. Its going to be easier to use than Windows 8. Its going to have less issues than previous versions of Windows. However, its not going to matter as much, and as such, much of the thunder of a decent Windows 10 is going to be stolen by none other than Microsoft itself. When I say, “thud,” I don’t mean bad release. I mean, it ain’t gonna matter as much as it did in the past, because Microsoft is going to cannibalize their own market.

What do you think of my predictions? Am I on track, or off my nut? Will wearables fizzle out, especially if Apple Watch is a dud; or will it be a success even without Cupertino’s much anticipated contribution? Will Phablets be a big deal in the US, or will they continue to be a niche market here in the US? Are we going to need more mobile broadband beginning in 2015 or will usage remain flat? Will Sprint relinquish its number 3 spot in the Mobile Carrier market? Will T-Mobile become more of a success in 2015; or will things there maintain the status quo? Is Windows 10 going to be a big deal or will Microsoft sorta shoot themselves in the foot because they’re supporting all platforms, including desktop and mobile versions, of just about everything that matters to the world – meaning mostly Office in 2015; or will Windows 10 be a huge hit, breathing life back into the Windows PC market?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these and any other computing trends you think are going to take off or die in 2015. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion Area below, and give me your thoughts on the year in tech to come?

 

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Winning with Windows 10 – What Microsoft Needs it to Do

After the mistake that was Windows 8.x, Microsoft has a few things to do with Windows 10. Here they are in a nutshell…

Introduction

07668051-photo-windows-10-logoWindows 10 is (going to be) Microsoft’s new desktop OS when its finally released next year. Currently in technical preview, Microsoft is giving it a test drive. I’ve published a couple of articles on Windows 10, letting everyone understand what they need to know about the new OS. I’ve been working with it for a while now and have installed two, new additional preview builds that Microsoft has quietly released.

Here’s what Microsoft ultimately needs the new OS to do if they want it to succeed better than its most recent edition, Windows 8.x.

Make us Want to Upgrade

In the enterprise, Windows 7 works. It’s the new Windows XP. While Microsoft SAYS it’s only going to last until 2020 and then everyone is going to have to move to Windows N(ew), XP lasted for so almost 15 years because it did the job, did the job well, and didn’t really make people want to leave. With XP now out of the way, for the most part… I’m certain some companies still use Windows XP at the time of this writing… Microsoft has to find motivation for people and companies to move away from their older computing operating systems and to embrace the newest platform.

From an enterprise perspective, this is REALLY hard. Companies can’t afford to have employees sitting on their hands because their stuff doesn’t work; or they don’t know how to use it. That’s one of the reasons why no one bought into Windows 8 at work…its UI is too different from Windows 7 and earlier to really invest in. It would take the average front line office worker three to six months to figure out where everything was, how the OS really worked, and how they can get all of their daily tasks done. Most companies don’t have the luxury of time to wait for that to happen. Nearly everyone experienced that with Windows Vista and THAT UI was still pretty much like Windows XP. It’s hard for anyone to get work done when the computing environment is so radically different.

As such, we’re all happy with Windows 7 at work. Now, Microsoft has to figure out how to get us out of that comfort zone without destroying our productivity; and THAT’S really hard. They may want or need to change the UI, but they must do so gradually without really making it too difficult.

Given that they can actually DO that, which isn’t an easy task, they have to find a way of making it easier to move from one major Window version to another without a bunch of hoops to jump through. In the past, you could move from one Windows version to another, provided you took every major version step along the way. If you wanted to skip a version or two, you couldn’t upgrade without completely wiping your computer of all applications and data; and no one wanted to do THAT either. Microsoft has to find a way to make upgrading from one version to another easy, even if you skip a version or three, without all of the in between steps.

The technology exists, the problem is, figuring out a way to do that without making it too big of a development task on their part. From what I know of Windows upgrades, while its painful for the end user, they don’t upgrade because for them, any pain is too painful. Microsoft may just have to eat the development costs and figure out how to move everyone from their current version OS (however far back that may be) to Windows N. It’s going to be ugly, but they may have to eat the end user’s pain if they want everyone to get and remain current.

Now… if you bring in the more popular computing concepts like cloud computing, mobile computing trends and BYoD, Microsoft still has a great deal of work to do and a great deal of consumer resentment and angst to get around (see my section on defining the difference between a desktop and a tablet, below). Cloud computing is something that Microsoft is still actively working on, and despite what they might think, they STILL don’t have a solid mobile strategy yet.

Make us [Totally] Forget Windows 8.x

Over the years, Microsoft has released some real turkeys in the Windows line – Windows ME, Windows Vista and Windows 8. Windows ME (for Millennium Edition) was an upgrade to Windows 3.11 that totally tanked. The UI added too much eye candy and glitz, moved some things around and broke a LOT of stuff. Microsoft made it go away with the release of Windows XP on the consumer side and Windows 2000 on the enterprise and power user side. It’s a good thing, too. Drivers for Windows ME were a mess.

Windows Vista was an upgrade to Windows XP, and was supposed to be Windows Blackcomb, but Blackcomb could never get itself together, and Vista was the cobbled together bits of what survived. WinFS or an update to the much outdated NTFS file system was supposed to make file and end point management much better than it was under the (then) current paradigm. When Microsoft couldn’t get it together, they abandoned WinFS. Unfortunately, they didn’t abandon the rest of the design of Vista which depended on WinFS to lower resource consumption by the OS. As a result, Vista was a bloated, glitzed up processor and RAM hog that killed most computers and made computing slow and difficult. There’s more to this, and Paul Thurrott from the Windows Supersite has a great deal more to contribute to this this particular MS debacle. There’s more to the Blackcomb thing, and more to the demise of WinFS that will help you understand exactly what went wrong. If you’re interested in the full and complete story that was the hockey puck that Windows Vista was, you can go there to find it…

Windows 8 was, quite simply, a mistake from the start. The split UI that no one understood and Microsoft’s insistence that everyone use MetroUI no matter what type of computer you were using be it a traditional laptop (both with and without touch), a convertible laptop (including things like the Yoga, a more traditional TabletPC AND the MS Surface Pro line) or a traditional desktop, just confused everyone. No one knew where MetroUI really fit. Microsoft’s lack of mobile strategy and confusion over what a tablet is and is not (see below) as well as them trying to put a full blown version of Windows on a device with GREATLT reduced specs to help manage battery life, really hasn’t helped.

Define the Difference between a Desktop and a Windows Tablet

This is probably the biggest hurdle that Microsoft has to resolve in the actual, PHYSICAL market place. After hooking us and getting us to go with Windows 10, and helping us to forget the total train wreck that Windows 8.x was (both of which are really going to be tough to do…) Microsoft has to define exactly what a Windows 10 tablet is, help us understand that difference and then show us how magical THAT device can be.

Historically, Microsoft has been all about Windows and Office. Historically, this hasn’t been an issue for them, because they really had a lock on the desktop market and made businesses around the world run. Now, business models are changing and Microsoft has to learn to change with them. Windows and Office aren’t the cash cows they used to be, and Microsoft is switching Office licensing to a subscription model. Instead of paying $500-$600 per copy/ seat of office, you pay say, $7-$10 bucks and month and get nearly everything you need. This gets you Office at home, plus all the online storage you can eat (as OneDrive storage is now unlimited – or supposed to be – with an Office 365 subscription) for a year. The subscription auto renews, and you’re supposed to have access to the software on the platforms you need it on, be they Mac, PC or mobile device, plus all of the associated updates. MS still gets paid, but how and when they get paid changes a bit. I’m still not entirely certain (nor do I think, are they) if they’re making just as much on this model as they were before, BUT the way the world delivers retain software has changed, and Microsoft had to change too…

The change also came about because the WAY people are computing has changed. People don’t want to HAVE to work on a traditional PC any more. Most people often have to take work home with them, and as such, want to use the same tools at home as they do at work. While MS did provide a way to get office at a HUGE and DEEP discount, not every company took advantage of this, and not everyone got to buy Office for their home PC’s at $10 bucks a copy.

With the introduction of tablets and tablet productivity software – or at least the ability to run web based apps through a mobile browser, most people that don’t want to HAVE to work at a specific desk in their house can now come out on to the family or living room and instead of having a heavy and sometimes hot laptop on their laps, can instead work from a tablet or other mobile device.

Traditionally, Windows doesn’t run on these type of lean back – or more casual computing – devices, and as such, Microsoft has had trouble here. TabletPC’s or some sort of notebook convertible has worked in the past, but they’re now becoming too bulky and heavy to be used in these casual situations. Convertibles are also traditionally more expensive, and people have started shying away from these types of full-blown Windows machines.

This is where Microsoft has a huge problem – Windows doesn’t work well without a full blown computer. Microsoft’s foray into tablets – the Surface RT and Surface 2 – were a huge disappointment. Microsoft couldn’t break themselves away from the traditional computing model and failed to transition everyone away from Windows to a more tablet-centric version of Windows that should have existed without ANY traditional computing artifacts like the Desktop. People didn’t’ understand Windows RT, MetroUI (often called ModernUI), and they couldn’t get any of their developers to create applications for it. As such, the platform died, and Microsoft has still to really tell us if Windows RT is dead or just hibernating until they can figure it out.

The Surface Pro (in any of its carnations) isn’t a true tablet, despite its removable and detachable keyboard because it runs a full version of Windows. When you pull the keyboard, it’s still an Ultrabook, despite its now full tablet-like appearance, and regardless of how good the touch interface may be on top of Windows, you still need a keyboard and the on-screen version doesn’t cut it.

The problem here is that Microsoft still doesn’t have a clear mobile strategy yet. They’re taking their sweet time figuring this out, too. If they don’t do it, and quickly, they’re going to find themselves seriously wishing they had. At some point, they are going to lose their enterprise foot hold and will end up playing catch up to Google and Apple who are really trying to figure out how to best serve the enterprise with not only their desktop products (in the case of Apple) but their mobile products (both Google and Apple) as well. If they’re not careful, Microsoft may find themselves the Blackberry of the PC world – irrelevant and living off the glory of their past accomplishments. That only goes and lasts so far and so long…

Conclusion

Microsoft has a huge row to hoe here. They’ve been in the Windows and Office business for so long that I’m concerned that they know how to do much else. Despite buying Nokia’s mobile handset business, they still don’t have a clear mobile strategy that I or anyone else is aware of. They need to figure that out quickly or regardless of what they do with Windows 10 will make any difference…

Microsoft is unifying the Windows platform and Windows brand. That means they are putting Windows 10 on every compatible device, and it will only run what works. All apps developed for any version of Windows are SUPPOSED TO work on all Windows compatible devices without any kind of rewrites or recompiles. All of this is a huge what-if though, as no one has seen it all work yet.

I’ve been using Windows 10 now for about 6 weeks, and its ok, but really, it’s nothing more than what Windows 8.x should have been. It’s really more of Windows 8.2 than Windows 10 (or even Windows 9…) there’s nothing new and compelling in it yet that would make me want to dump Windows 7.

Windows 10 will definitely make me want to dump Windows 8, because its more Windows 7 like, plus all the “improvements,” so, the cleaned up UI on my Surface Pro makes a great deal of sense. With the ability to run all MetroUI apps in a movable, sizable Window, you don’t have to worry about things acting “stupid” on you. Windows just works like it always has, which is both good and bad.

Its good because now you can get work done again without worrying about MetroUI, or the Start Screen. The Start Menu is BACK, and it can function just like its Windows 7 counterpart if you so choose. It’s bad because, there really isn’t much of anything new that I’ve seen yet. I say “yet” because Windows 10 isn’t feature complete yet. There could be SOMETHING that Microsoft hasn’t shown us or announced yet that would make things a bit more compelling; but I have no idea what that might be.

I will say this for it all though – Microsoft better really wow the crap out of us, or there’s going to be a huge enterprise shift over the next 5 or so years to other platforms. Microsoft’s floundering won’t be tolerated as businesses look for stable, mature platforms that will help them move forward, make money and succeed in their business goals. Microsoft seems to be walking in circles with one foot nailed firmly to the floor, and most organizations won’t tolerate that for long.

What do you think? Is Windows 10 going to bring Microsoft out of the Age of Confusion? Will it set them back on the course for success; or are they headed down the same road as Blackberry is? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area, below and let me know what you think.

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Microsoft Surface Pro vs. the MacBook Air

The commercials just aggravate me to no end…

Microsoft has been televising a very interesting commercial comparing the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 against the MacBook Air. It shows the differences between the two computers features – touch screen, active stylus, detachable keyboard, etc. – and tells you in so many ways that you get the best of both worlds with the Surface Pro 3: an awesome ultrabook when you need it and a tablet when you want it.

However, the commercial – and by extension, Microsoft – just don’t seem to get it. The Surface Pro 3 is NOT a tablet and is in fact, a poor, POOR excuse for a tablet. There are two very large reasons for this; and unfortunately for Microsoft, they just don’t seem to get it. Lets review them in the hope that someone will pass on the information and get it to someone in Redmond so they can stop the craziness…

pro3

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Surface Pro (1, 2 or) 3 is a great computer. My Surface Pro 1 is great. I use it mainly as a digital notepad, taking meeting minute notes. I also use it as an ultrabook PC to do work with MS Office when other PC’s are not available or don’t have all of the tools that I need. Its small, powerful, easy to carry and it does what it does very well. However, it is NOT a tablet or any kind of consumer consumption device. Here’s the specific why’s…

Microsoft Ecosystem – There Isn’t Any
Back in the days of Windows Mobile, Microsoft had the beginnings of an ecosystem – a way and method to sell and deliver consumer content. That content consists of music, videos (movies and TV shows) and apps.

Microsoft USED to have a store via Windows Media Player that allowed you to buy music. It had partner stores that also interfaced with WMP that allowed you to buy music. You used to buy apps from Handango.com or a few other online app stores. All of those stores no longer exist. They effectively died when Windows Mobile died and became Windows Phone.

Since then, Microsoft has been trying to get their mobile developers to embrace Windows Phone and selling apps through the Windows Store. Unfortunately, they haven’t been very successful. Windows 10 is supposed to provide a centralized store and app development experience, but I don’t know how well accepted it will actually be. Windows Phone and Windows Store apps are few and far between and with so much chaos coming from the Microsoft camp in the past few years, I don’t know many mobile app developers who are eager to jump into that swirling bowl of chaos. I know I would have serious misgivings about expending the resources and development costs for what has been until recently little to no return and at best is currently an unknown return.

On the Apple side of the fence, apps written for either iPhone or iPad will run on either device. That’s part of what the new Windows Phone and Windows 10 experience is supposed to provide, but I haven’t heard a lot of feedback from developers on that experience just yet. So far, developers have to code the same app for both platforms separately, and that double work is part of what is causing them to hold back. They also aren’t happy with Windows Phone 3rd party app sales or the mobile OS’ world-wide market share, either.

Microsoft Windows – A Full Blown OS on a Tablet Doesn’t Work
About 12 years ago, Microsoft introduce the TabletPC. TabletPC’s came in two different form factors – Slates and Convertibles. Convertibles are laptops with touch screens that swivel around so they fold back over the keyboard, covering it. Slates usually came with some kind of base station or other way to at least hold them in place while a keyboard and other peripherals were connected to it.

Unfortunately, for both, TabletPC’s were short lived. Convertibles were the form factor that lasted the longest, but at the end, they were really just too heavy and too bulky to be as portable and usable as Microsoft’s vision hoped they would be. Interestingly enough, Slate TabletPC’s were a TOTAL non-starter.

I find that kinda funny, because the Surface Pro line is not only the true evolution of Microsoft’s TabletPC; but it’s a slate. As in the form factor that failed. Interestingly enough, the Surface Pro has the same issues and problems that the previous TabletPC’s had; but it’s a little different…

If you can get past the fact that the Surface Pro is NOT a consumer consumption device due in large part to the lack of any ecosystem or content management app (like the iPad has in iTunes, for example), the Surface Pro line has another problem – its really NOT a tablet, or a slate PC. Its an ultrabook.

Microsoft’s commercials pitting the MacBook Air against the Surface Pro 3 infuriate me at the point when Microsoft starts (or implies) that the Surface Pro 3 is also a tablet.

A tablet is a computer, yes; but it’s a content consumption device that can be used to play games, play music, watch video and take pictures. Yes…the Surface Pro can do all of these things, but Android and Apple based tablets do all of that with an OS that caters to that functionality. Windows simply does and cannot.

Windows is all about computing and productivity, not about mobile gaming or content (music and video) consumption. This is a huge problem for Microsoft in a world that is all about tablets. Windows is still too heavy. Its slow, power hungry and totally decentralized when it comes to content. There are too many ways to play games, play audio, play video on the device. There are too many ways to obtain content and no simplified way to manage it on the device.

Because its more computer than tablet, its also not well utilized without its physical keyboard. While touch enabled, the UI (still) isn’t touch friendly; and the UI Microsoft tried to introduce to satisfy this need(MetroUI or ModernUI) was totally rejected by the public.

Microsoft still hasn’t cracked this nut. They still don’t have a tablet, a mobile OS OR a content delivery and management solution. If Microsoft wants to take a piece of this market away from Apple or Android, they will need to figure it out. Their time is almost up.

The Surface Pro is a good if not GREAT ultrabook. Unfortunately, Microsoft isn’t doing itself any kind of favors by trying to convince everyone else – as well as themselves – that the Surface Pro is a tablet. Just like the Slate based TabletPC, if they don’t get this right, they’re gonna screw it up.

Conclusion

Microsoft still has a lot of work to do. They need to figure out a mobile interface that works on a device with a display larger than 4.7 inches. They need to figure out a method of delivering controlled content – apps, music video and books (and please…do everyone a favor and make it MS Reader compatible. I had a lot of books in that library…) – that allows them and their content providers to make money. They also need to figure out a way to manage that content on those devices. It used to be Windows Media Player, but it isn’t any more. That’s sort of evaporated and unfortunately, the Windows Store doesn’t handle media, only apps.

Until then, that commercial I mentioned when I started this whole thing… yeah, its just gonna continue to piss me off. Microsoft can’t have it both ways. The Surface Pro isn’t a hybrid of any kind. Its just a very portable ultrabook. Period.

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iPad 5 Rumors

With the release of the iPhone 5C and 5S out of the way, thoughts now turn to Apple’s iconic tablet line…

28-Apple-logoThe world changed in January 2010 with the release of Apple’s Magical Device, the iPad. Since then, it’s taken the world by storm, recreating and redefining the personal computing market. Traditional PC sales are on a steady, marked decline and have been for a few years. Google and their supporting hardware partners have been introducing look a likes and similar devices hoping to capture their piece of the pie. Depending on the hardware partner, they’ve been met with varying levels of success.

With the release of iOS 7 now firmly completed and the iPhone 5C and 5S have been rolled out to varying levels of interpreted fanfare, nearly everyone in the iDevice camp is seriously wondering what’s going on with the iPad. Here’s my take on what to expect.

Release Date

I haven’t seen anything yet on a definitive date. However, if Apple stays true to its rev cycle with the iPad, it’s likely we’ll have one well before Black Friday (traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving, in the US) in November. This will insure that everyone has a chance to have another stellar iHoliday giving season.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing definitive or at least reasonably speculative out there that would help us narrow it down to October or November of 2013. However, it is reasonable to assume that an announcement should be forthcoming if Apple wants to make the 2013 Holiday Buying Season.

Price

Apple is famous for pricing new product iterations at the old price points so think $499, $599, $699 and $799 for the 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB Wi-Fi versions, respectively. However, the iPad 2 is expected to be retired with the release of the iPad 5, so they’ll need something else in the $399 spot. Whether this is the iPad 3 or the iPad 4 is still unknown. However, the iPad 2 has done very well in that spot.

Hardware Changes

Screen

The iPad 5 is supposed to have a GF2 touchscreen supplied by either LG or Sharp, which should make the display up to 23% thinner than previous touch screens.

Processor

The iPad 4 had an A6X processor in it. Unless there’s a new “X” version of the A7, you can expect the A7 chip – the same chip is in the iPhone 5S – in the iPad 5.

Bezel

The screen size is changing. The screen is supposed to have a thinner bezel on two of four sides, making for a wider screen.

Case
The iPad 5 is supposed to be thinner and smaller than the iPad 4. I don’t know if the new screen has exactly, near, or about the same visible area as the screen from the iPad 4; but it’s going to be close.

So, in short, smaller, faster with either a wider or same size screen.

Wireless Charging

This one was pretty cool and comes at least in part – or at least people firmly in the Microsoft camp will argue – from the pages of the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro playbook and it’s Power Cover. There are rumors that Apple is working on a wireless charging method for its Smart Covers that would enable them to charge an iPad when closed. How this might happen is open to debate; but the most credible idea has the cover TAKING power from a plugged in iPad, and then GIVING it power when it was unplugged.

Unfortunately, this rumor got publicized early this year and hasn’t seen much more press or discussion since then. You’re going to have to file this under, cool to have, but probably unlikely to happen.

The one thing about Apple watching that I hate the most is that it’s very difficult and not the most accurate activity either. While most of this is culled from information I’ve been able to dig up on the internet, so, please take this with a grain of salt, but I think that the information here is supportable. Hopefully, we’ll hear more in the coming days. Stay tuned to Soft32 for more information as it comes available.

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Microsoft Introduces Surface 2 – What’s it All Mean?

Microsoft has introduced the successors to its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. Let’s take a quick look…

surface-2-2I had an idea this was coming. I had heard a few weeks back that Microsoft was (really) planning on releasing an update to its Surface tablet(s). Of course, everything was rumor at the time… I had hopes for both lines. I only got half of what I wanted, and then really, only half of that, so… let’s take a quick look at what Microsoft actually released.
With Surface 2 Microsoft attempted to address many of the issues and concerns that were generated by both Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. The biggest problems were price and battery life. Microsoft has tried to address both of these issues with the introduction of its Surface 2 line.
Surface 2, the successor to Surface RT will start at $449 for the 32GB version. Surface 2 Pro start at $899 will come in a few additional flavors than originally thought – 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB, with the latter costing $1799. All prices are in US dollars.
Surface 2 will also attempt to address battery life concerns cited by many Surface owners and users. The newer versions will have the latest Intel Haswell microprocessors and should double the original Surface’s battery life. Add the battery enabled Power Cover (think Type Cover, with a battery on the bottom) also due to hit the street before the end of Calendar 2013, and battery life for Surface 2 will be in a good spot.

microsoft-surface-2-press-conference-970x0
As far as color schemes are concerned, think silver. There won’t be a black version of either Surface 2 or Surface 2 Pro, according to my friend Mary Jo Foley. Its going to be very easy to distinguish Surface tablets from Surface 2 tablets.
Both Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro tablets, and most of their accessories are expected to be available for order on 2013-09-24 at 8am ET.

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