Can Lean Back Devices be used for Lean Forward Activities

…or can you really do that with a tablet??

6a0120a805e490970b01538e1c68a3970bI saw an interesting article by Preston Gralla the other day about how productivity boosting tablets were the gift worth giving this year. Preston sites three in his article – one Android (the Nexus 7) and two Windows Pro (Surface Pro 2 and the new Dell Venue 8 Pro). The bent of Preston’s article is that while there’s a great deal of convenience and multimedia capability built into these, they also contain a great deal of productivity power, providing the user with a well-rounded computing experience.

In his mind, this combination of lean back form factor and lean forward productivity is what makes these types of devices a sure winner. Preston has a point, but I’m not entirely convinced. I think it’s this mixing of features and form factor that are causing problems for these devices.

Tablets were originally (re)introduced as relaxation, or lean back, devices that provided basic, essential computing power in a highly portable, light weight, performance minded form factor. They were small enough to take and use nearly everywhere from the bathroom to the beach; and they got you on the internet, reading and answering email and posting to your favorite social networks without requiring a lot of bulky, computing hardware. They did just enough just about everywhere, and that’s what made them successful. Taking the lean back out of the tablet has changed the dynamic of the device.

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device was a movement that BYTE tried to address between July 2011 and April 2013 over at InformationWeek.com I wrote many BYOD focused articles there and you can still find many of the articles I wrote here. The entire house of cards starts to crumble the moment you try to bring your iPad to work. I know, I tried to do it for 3 or more years. Part of what I wanted to do on the iPad – hand written notes – really doesn’t work well, due to the type of digitizer and touch screen the tablet uses. To this day, handwritten notes aren’t easy, despite the advances in processor, memory, etc.

I have found that both iOS and Android, while capable of running productivity apps, are more suited to handling content consumption focused activities. In other words, while possible, both mobile OS’ are really better at running entertainment software – audio and video players, book reading software, game play, etc. again, even with the enhanced hardware they’ve received over the past few years.

When you put a more productivity based OS on a tablet as well as add a keyboard, you get devices like the Surface/ Surface 2 series type devices that have more in common with an ultrabook or notebook PC than they do a tablet. While this has a bit to do with hardware, its really more pointed at the OS. Windows 8 is more suited towards full-blown productivity apps than entertainment software, though they also do exist on the platform.

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Interestingly enough, my son-in-law recently received a Toshiba Satellite Click 2-in-1 13.3″ Touch-Screen Laptop for his birthday from my daughter. The device comes with a detachable keyboard and Windows 8.1 Pro. He is using it as a productivity machine for school. I recently asked him how often he had used it as a tablet. He hasn’t. Not once.

He said while he can use the device in tablet mode, the device works better as a notebook. When I pressed him for an explanation, it was clear to him that Windows 8.1, despite its live tiles and ModernUI interface, is more of a familiar notebook OS than a tablet OS. Office works better while using the attached keyboard than the on-screen keyboard. Computing in general, worked better with the attached keyboard; touch pad and extended battery than simply with the tablet. So, he is clearly leaning forward rather than relaxing and leaning back with it. He also hasn’t used it as an entertainment device – i.e. to watch movies, listen to music or to read eBooks – though he can do all those things quite easily with the device.

I’m finding that is exactly the case with the Dell Latitude 10-ST2 Windows 8 Pro Tablet. Its all productivity and very impractical as an entertainment device.

You’re likely going to hear a great deal of advertising this Holiday Shopping Season on how Windows 8.x tablets are the perfect combination of lean back and lean forward – entertainment and productivity – devices. In most of the cases I’ve seen and in my personal experience, it just doesn’t work out that way.

The potential for having both in a single device is great. If it works out for you, you can obviously save a great deal of money. However, I’ve noticed that most people don’t actually take advantage of both in a single device. Their device gets “mentally tagged” with a single or main purpose, and using the device for something else violates that tag.

I’ve seen people do that with a number of things – cars, pens, clothing, AND computers. Its not that you can’t drive the sports car to the office, its that you’re saving it for the fun times. As a child, I had school clothes and play clothes. You didn’t mix the two; and I suspect that with many people, whether they do it intentionally or not, they aren’t going to be able to put a ton of movies and music on their work machines. Let’s forget about how most enterprise admins frown on stuff like that and just say that you probably aren’t going to want to give up all the space you might need for documents, spreadsheets and presentations to MP3′s and videos.

In the end, it’s a metal paradigm that I think many people won’t accept. Its not because they can’t, but because for them, the whole idea just doesn’t fit well.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion below.

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Desktop Replacements vs. Laptop Replacements

Some laptops were never meant to replace desktops. Others were. In an era where the desktop is disappearing, are tablets meant to replace laptops AND desktops?
Notebook-vs-PC
I’ve been a mobile computing advocate since 1992. I’ve been an expert really, since 2003. Mobile computing has become a way of organizing my life, a way of being more efficient at work as well as a way to entertain my family.  If it wasn’t for my son’s Nintendo DS-XL, some car trips would be unbearable. Dad likes a quiet car…

Desktop computers are being slowly phased out by the consumers that have historically purchased them because portable, more mobile replacements have been taking their place for a number of years. The trend can be taken back to Compaq’s luggable” portable computer that was introduced back in 1980 blah-blah-blah. People have wanted to take their computers with them since they were first introduced…

It was long thought that laptops and notebook computers would cause desktops to be phased out, but that didn’t quite happen.  You can credit that to the fact that they were really the same computer, at least on the inside. For the most part they used the same operating systems and the same applications. There was so much mobile form factor diversity, that the laptop PC almost insured that it wouldn’t phase out the desktop.  Tablets however, are a different story. There are basically only two form factors 7″-8″ and 10″ – or more aptly put – a mini and a normal sized tablet.

Apple’s new A7 processor appears in not only the iPhone 5S, but in the new iPad mini and the iPad Air. The A7 runs 100mHz faster in the tablet versions of Apple’s newest iDevices, and with some of the newer keyboard covers that are coming out for the devices, you have to ask yourself the question – will the iPad Air replace the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro as Apple’s mobile computing platform?  Should it?

The A7 runs 80% faster than the A6. It seems to, or appears to, have the chops to handle most of the computing tasks that most consumers would need – web surfing, email, moderate digital photography retouching. As I said before, all that most any casual consumer would need at that point would be the right kind of keyboard cover, and without a doubt, the iPad Air or new iPad mini could be their go-to computing device. Those that are more comfortable with a full featured PC, notebook or other computer can still get what they need today with either a Mac mini or MacBook Pro; or even a notebook or desktop PC.

Consumers want what ever device is going to provide the path of least resistance to their computing goal. The biggest problem with tablets as a primary computing device, in my opinion, has been their slate form factor and lack of keyboard and, even with their touch screens, a pointing device like a trackpad or mouse.

Devices like Surface Pro and Surface 2 Pro have the right idea – a portable slate device with a very usable keyboard and trackpad.  Now that third party accessory makers are providing usable, comfortable keyboard covers for the tablets in general, I think we ARE going to see more tablets with magnetic keyboards.  With processors that are providing notebook level computing power, I think that for the immediate computing future, say the next 3-5 years, notebooks and desktops won’t be completely replaced in the consumer market, but more users will likely be headed in that direction. It simply makes sense from a usability, portability, economic and ecosystem perspective.  Forget lean back and lean forward computing, tablets will be the devices we lean TOWARDS to get work done.

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Does a Jailbreak for Windows RT Matter?

RTThe latest rumor to hit the ethernets is a pending Jailbreak for Windows RT tablets; but does it matter?

I read on Computerworld that a jailbreak for Windows RT has been discovered that will allow unsigned applications to run on Surface RT and other Windows RT based tablets.

The big question is – While this is cool, what does it matter?

A jailbreak would only be relevant and important if there were a market for unsigned apps. Windows RT barely has a viable market for SIGNED applications, let alone unsigned apps.

Computerworld is siting a developer who was able to get an unsigned, compiled for x86 .NET app to run without recompiling the source, but again, who cares? The big need for this or similar jailbreak is to get legacy applications from previous versions of Windows to run on Windows RT. Since Windows RT doesn’t run on an x86 (or Intel compatible) platform, having apps like any of those available in Soft32′s vast Windows software library run on a Surface RT or similar Windows RT tablet, is unlikely.

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What is interesting about this whole discovery was that there’s little to no difference between Windows RT and Windows 8. It really amounts to nothing more than a security bit that was set to require apps to be signed in order to run on Windows RT. While the discovery – or really validation – of this was important (Microsoft already told us they were effectively the same OS), it doesn’t get the latest version of running on a Windows RT tablet.

Most applications that run on Windows 8 won’t run on Windows RT without some serious tweaking to account for the differences in microprocessors. As such, the jailbreak, while interesting and somewhat exciting, doesn’t mean much – yet. Again, there’s not much Windows RT compatible software in the Window RT software store; and zero unsigned or “forbidden” software that Microsoft has refused to put in the Store.

Until MS can court enough developers and interest in non-jailbroken software, this jailbreak, while interesting, really amounts to nothing more than an interesting, but irrelevant story.

There’s nothing to see here people… This isn’t the development you’re looking for…. Move along.

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New air-cooling system based on human lungs for tablets, laptops and other devices

Researchers at General Electric has developed a new air-cooling system based on human lungs called DCJ, which adapts the technology that GE researchers originally developed for commercial jet engines. DCJ behave as a micro-fluidic bellows that provide high-velocity jets of air to cool electronic components such as a laptop processor. The turbulent air flow of the DCJ increases the heat transfer rate to more than ten times that of natural convection and is going to support the next generation of thinner, quieter and more powerful tablets, laptops and other electronic devices, the researchers at General Electric says. You’ll find a demonstration of the new air-cooling system in the video below.

“DCJ was developed as an innovative way to dramatically reduce the amount of pressure losses and loading characteristics in aircraft engines and power generation in gas and wind turbines,” said Peter de Bock, lead Electronics Cooling Researcher at GE Global Research. “Over the past 18 months we have addressed many challenges adapting this technology in areas of acoustics, vibration, and power consumption such that the DCJ can now be considered as an optimal cooling solution for ultra-thin consumer electronics products.”

Compared to conventional cooling assemblies used in electronic devices today, GE’s DCJ technology enables cooling solutions only 4mm tall, representing a more than 50% decrease in height. In addition, the DCJ is very stingy on power, consuming less than half the power of a comparable fan, and its simple construction will deliver higher reliability leading to millions of dollars in repair cost savings for OEMs.

“With new tablet and netbook roadmaps moving to platforms measuring less than 6mm high, it is clear that consumers are demanding thinner and more powerful electronic devices.” said Chris Giovanniello, VP Microelectronics & Thermal Business Development at GE Licensing. “GE’s patented DCJ technology not only frees up precious space for system designers, but it consumes significantly less power, allowing as much as 30 minutes of extra battery life. Best of all, DCJ can be made so quiet that users won’t even know it’s running. Thermal management is becoming a big problem for many companies trying to miniaturize their electronics, and as a result we are getting strong demand to evaluate the DCJ technology in many markets, from consumer electronics, to automotive, to telecom and industrial sectors.”

GE is currently providing DCJ demonstration kits for OEMS wishing to evaluate the DCJ technology for their next generation products.

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Microsoft Should Focus on Innovation

Recent MS Survey Wants to Ask Users How it can Improve Customer Support…

Sorry… I’m not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I really just can’t let this go.

I recently agreed to take a Microsoft survey on TechNET satisfaction. I’m a TechNET Pro subscriber and have been for about three years. It’s a great value, especially if you use MS software and have more than a couple PC’s to install it on.

One of the questions near the end of the survey asked – “To provide a better Customer Support experience, who could Microsoft best learn from, and why?”

My answer is below; but the point is not the first part of the first sentence – “Apple; but MS’ problems aren’t customer support, its relevance in the industry. Surface is a good start, but its WAY overpriced. MS should have taken the financial hit and priced Surface RT & Pro tablets for volume, not margin.”

The question came near the end of the survey; but it really didn’t sit well with me. I give MS high marks for being concerned about customer support; but they have bigger fish to fry than that. They need to figure out how to get back in the game.

Their Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets are significantly over priced. Similar partner products are not going to undercut the base level prices MS has set for both tablets at $499 and $899 respectively; and regardless of how awesome they may or may not be, this is a problem. MS Surface tablets should be priced to compete with 3rd party Android tablets – the Kindle Fires, the Galaxy Tabs/Notes which are low to high end respectively. Surface tablets should top out at $499-$599. Not start there.

Microsoft’s approach is to compete directly with Apple in both feature and price sets. They can’t afford to do that. Not at this late date, not with their late to market products in a market place that’s saturated with better established, competitors with more mature products. They need to come in low priced and fight the volume/low margin battle before stepping it up a notch. By pricing things where they are, I’m afraid that Microsoft has priced themselves right out of the market, and possibly, right out of business.

Windows 8 is likely the company’s last big (relevant) hurrah if it doesn’t take. While many enterprise customers will likely stick with Windows XP and Widnows 7 for a number of years to come, once support for both finally sunsets, moving business users to Windows 8 may be problematic.

In my opinion, the best thing that MS can do is push Windows 8 with all of the tools they have. This includes both Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets, and having them available at a much more attractive price point could have been huge for them. They chose to hit their margin targets on individual units rather than via volume.

It was a choice to make. I think it’s the wrong choice, but honestly, only time will really tell there. We’ll have to wait and see.

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We Have Seen the First Windows RT Tablets

…and they’re SERIOUSLY overpriced. Let’s take a quick look at what this really means.

It was recently announced on ZDNet that a leaked ASUS roadmap indicates that the hardware manufacturer will be releasing three Windows 8 based tablets. The tablets will be making an appearance near the 2012 Holiday buying season. Pricing for the tablets is a bit on the unreasonable side.

The entry level, Windows RT based ASUS Vivo Tab RT (TF600T) starts at $599. The mid-level ASUS Vivo Tab (TF810C) starts at $799. Both the TF600T and TF810C can make use of a keyboard based docking station for an additional $199. The high end ASUS Taichi is a tablet/notebook hybrid with a dual screen and attached keyboard that starts at $1299.

With Android tablets, like the Kindle Fire HD starting at $299 for the Fire HD 7″, and the well-established, market leader, Apple iPad 2 starting at $399, ASUS’ has priced itself out of the market. Regardless of how awesome these devices may be, there’s no way they’re going to gain any traction. Unfortunately, they’re going to be non-starters if these prices stick.

With ASUS’ Windows 8 offerings effectively non-players, Microsoft’s Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets become increasingly more relevant. The tablets are set to be produced and sold at a loss; and while MS can afford it, other OEM’s like ASUS can’t. ASUS is an untried business brand, and these devices, especially the dual functioning Taichi, aren’t priced to compete.

ZDNet’s Larry Dignan thinks that “consumers will balk at these tablet prices and either opt for a laptop or go with a cheaper tablet such as Apple’s iPad or any variety of Android.”

I totally agree. The technology here is pretty cool, but Windows RT and Windows 8 in and of itself, is supposed to be targeted at a much lower priced device. Consumers aren’t going to pay $599 for an untried, MS-based tablet, competing in an Apple dominated market.

The roadmap that was leaked was preliminary and the product offering, specs and prices of the devices are totally up in the air. It could all change before Windows 8 is made available in about 5 weeks or so, as of this writing. However if it doesn’t , not only will the devices be short lived, but it’s going to shorten the relevance of Microsoft’s Windows 8, and in the long run, that’s not what MS wants to see.

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The New Face of [Windows] Networking

Mobile computing is starting to make its influences felt beyond smartphones and tablets and is starting to influence the way desktop computers work. Here’s why this paradigm shift is important:

My first home was new construction in Murfreesboro, TN, a small bedroom town 35 or so miles south-southeast of Nashville. My wife and I purchased it in early 2004. The house had wired networking ports throughout the house. This was a big deal, as it made it easier to put computers and networked devices just about anywhere.

When we moved BACK to Chicago in 2006 when a job transferred us, we bought an older home that was not hard Ethernet wired. It made computing in different rooms a bit difficult in the new Chicago house until I found and installed a wireless 802.11g access point (802.11g was the fastest thing going at the time; and I already had a 4 port wired router and didn’t want a wireless router…the location of the cable modem wouldn’t allow a wireless signal to get to all parts of the house). But then again, this was almost six years ago. The face of computing has changed since then. This is no more clearly evident than in the acceleration of smartphone and tablet use throughout the world.

With today’s more mobile computing, computing devices have to be more adaptable, have to be smarter, have to be able to understand what they have built in, connected to them, etc., and be able to adjust how they work to provide the consistent performance regardless of what they have and where they are. Both 3G/4G/LTE smartphones and tablets do this very well. They provide a consistent computing experience regardless of the type and kind of networking radio they have on or are receiving an internet signal from. They can reroute IP traffic from their cellular radios to a Wi-Fi radio without missing a beat should a known Wi-Fi network come in range while the Wi-Fi radio is on.

We’re seeing this kind of networking intelligence in laptops now. Mac OS X has been doing this for a while now. I’m a Mac, and run Windows 7 via Parallels Desktop. I have a Henge Dock docking station for my Early 2011 15″ MacBook Pro. When I work in my home office, I put the laptop in the dock, which has permanently connected cables for all available peripherals, including a wired network connection.

When I’m on the go, I use the PC’s Wi-Fi adapter to go online. When I’m at home in my office, I use wired Ethernet. My Mac is smart enough to drop the IP address held by the wireless adapter when it finds an active, wired Ethernet connection. The Wi-Fi adapter will acquire an IP address when the wired Ethernet is unplugged. This is managed at the OS level, and like (most of) the rest of OS X, just works.

Windows 8 also seems to have this same level of intelligence built into it at the OS level. With its improved battery life methods and processes built in, users don’t necessarily have to turn Wi-Fi on or off to either conserve power, or to prevent the PC from “getting confused” over which adapter to use for networking traffic.

This development is important, because I’ve noticed that its becoming easier to order a desktop PC with a Wi-Fi card in it. Many of the (perhaps) iMac inspired, all in one, touch based PC’s, from Dell or HP for example, come with both wired and wireless networking built in. Of course, laptops have had both networking adapters in them for years; and Microsoft is going to make Windows 8 the default OS, not only for the 30+ tablets due out this Fall, but for all Windows hardware. Users aren’t going to want to worry about turning things on and off (airplane mode aside) just to insure that they can get online without “confusing” their PC.

So, I’m off to rebuild my Windows 8 PC… Stay tuned to Soft32 for continued Windows 8 coverage.

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Powermark battery life test for Windows 7 devices

We all heard of Futuremark, the software development company that produces computer benchmark applications for home users and businesses such as 3DMark and PCMark. Well, a while back, Futuremark expanded its product line with Powermark.

Powermark is a new battery life and power consumption test for Windows 7 notebooks, laptops, tablets and other battery powered devices. Powermark includes a set of standard tests based on productivity and entertainment use-case scenarios, as well as allowing custom settings for bespoke testing requirements.

Battery life is critical to delivering a positive user experience. Powermark helps PC industry OEMs and their suppliers strike a balance between performance and power consumption by providing a consistent, accurate and reliable testing and measurement tool created with Futuremark’s deep experience in quality benchmarking software.” - Jukka Makinen, CEO of Futuremark.

Powermark Professional Edition commercial licenses start at $200 for 10 activations. However, at this time, Powermark is only available for business customers.

Order Powermark

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