Microsoft Surface: Over-Due, Over-Priced, Over-Done, Over-Hyped, Totally Unavailable

It’s this year’s Origami and years from surfacing.

I’m sorry, but I’m simply not going to get on the wow bandwagon.  I’ve even had an IM debate with a friend already this morning.

The fact is that there really isn’t any NEW innovation in this, where NEW means “wow I had absolutely no idea this could be done today” or “this wasn’t available a year ago”.

I’m a Microsoft fanboy most of the time, but the answer to the following questions are all “no” so I’m just going to find myself bored and at the same time amused at all the hype that’s going to come out of this.

  • Can I have one today?
  • Does it cost the same as a computer + projector + sensors + table or even close?
  • Can I get it the way I want it in terms of colour, size, form factor?
  • Can I use my existing computer with it – like dock my tablet into the side and so just purchase the table/projector/sensor combo and install some software?
  • Does it have an intuitive interface?  Easy to learn yes; immediately intuitive, no – completely breaks UI standards with different apps having different drag semantics.
  • Is this the first time Microsoft has shown this technology?
  • Can I get one this time next year for the same price?
  • Can I get the runtime and build my own?
  • Is there an SDK?
  • Does my credit card or other existing devices work with it directly?
  • Is there a consumer-friendly kit for making my existing devices readable for placement on the surface?
  • Can consumers get one at a reasonable price with three years?

Do I want one today as my coffee table?  YES, if there’s an SDK.

Over-Due

I could play space invaders on a coin-op machine in a pub about two decades ago.  Why did this take so long?  Microsoft admits starting on this in 2001 – why did it take until now?  If anyone is thinking “But… <insert whizzing technology> wasn’t available….”, stop right there and think if you are acting on blustering belief or considered application.  Even on the 1990s space invader table, you could have had useful applications with that level of graphics.  Considering Microsoft did Zune and Xbox so fast, and everyone up to Bill Gates authorised a team, what took so long?!  I’m not saying it could have been done back then, though I could have justified US$10K at that point – more like 2000 perhaps.  Actually, those paying attention know that Bill Gates has shown this kind of technology already, and it was a while ago, so why is everyone acting like bread could only be sliced today?  Calm down!

Over-Priced

Apparently these devices will cost $5K to $10K US and the END of 2007?  Why?!  Makes it sound awfully delicate to put one in a restaurant if it costs that much to replace.  Does everything in the furniture market have to be so over-priced and unavailable?

Over-Done

Many people aren’t quite as fixated on technology stuff as some of us, so this all looks so cool, but it has been demo’d prominately by Bill Gates before.  It feels overdone because it has been on the cards for such a long time and this announcement (mostly consisting of consumer experiences) carries zero promise of availability to consumers and an extremely low chance of a consumer getting to interact with one.

It’s not surprising that all the sophisticated demoes are for brands that have the money to invest in these things: casinos and telcos.

Everyone is so into this that they fail to notice that the demos are done by people that have been using it for a long time and have learnt the drag semantics.  The demos are so far baked that they all have their differing ideas for what dragging does and how the UI goes.  WPF can be used to break years of Windows UI consistency, and this new UI is a whole new UI that screaming excitement but hasn’t been given to anyone to really standardise or play with.

Over-Hyped

Oooo, Ahhhh, so when can even a developer get one at a reasonable price?  Is news really that slow, and everyone really that bored that they think this is really that innovative? 

“How can you say… or not be excited by…” – because I already asked myself the questions above, the first time I saw a Microsoft demo of the technology months ago.  Everyone seems to be acting like a kid in a candy store, but they haven’t yet realised that all the candy is made of promotional cut outs, because someone hasn’t yet finished developing the candy and their pocket money wont be able to afford this kind of candy for quite some time.

If it’s that innovative, then why does it take companies with deep pockets to get it rolling and drive the price down?

So why has it been announced today?  Well, I’d guess it’s probably because it has been incubated for 6 years, and it would almost be embarrasing not to announce something, especially after Bill demo’d it a while ago already, plus the reality that if some money isn’t made back on the work, it will just end up getting dropped or developed at a cheaper cost by a start-up or hobbyist somewhere (if there’s isn’t one already doing it?)

Of course, all hype (good or bad) adds to the discussion, so even if you don’t agree with anything I’ve said, it will create the opportunity for more people to talk about Microsoft Surface (which is currently 1000s of fathoms far from surfacing).  I haven’t included a single link in here, because it’s all over the Web today and it certainly doesn’t need any help from me 🙂

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Engadget /verbose

In a previous post I discussed how Engadget appears to be getting more verbose with its posts, making it slower to skim through, and less effecient for obtaining useful information.

This was an observational hunch, until now…

Today, Yuvi has posted a detailed analysis of Engadget from the beginning of Engadget’s existance, and guess what I found…

That’s growing as well. The average number of words per post is now 160, up from just a 100 in May 2004. More words, more posts, more people, more news.

Could that be 60% more verbosity?  Along with an increase of about 25% in the average number of posts per day, that’s twice as much information to read through from when they started, with 37.5%+ of post content being potentially redundant.

Bullet points!

Microsoft’s Mobile World Strategy at WinHEC

In his WinHEC keynote (at 07:00), Craig Mundie (Microsoft’s Cheif Research and Strategy Officer) talked about the fact that in ‘ermerging market’ countries, the main computer that millions do have, is a mobile phone.

He showed a video of a Windows Mobile phone playing audio and allowing illiterate individuals to seek services through icon choices, e.g. getting help dealing with a child’s medical symptoms.

Note that he talked about ’emerging market’ countries, rather than ‘developing’ countries, but I still don’t think it’s realistic to think that hoardes of people can afford a Windows Mobile phone but are still illiterate, so goverment or remote funding would likely be required.  In fact, he illustrated (with a pyramid) a view of the richest 1 billion people (that have computers), the 2 billion that has limited disposable incoming, and the 3 billion that do need government or agency sponsored programs, all under the umbrella of something called “Microsoft Unlimited Potential” (complete with local and slogan).

Craig’s keynote was quite dry and there wasn’t really anything too novel or far future-looking from Microsoft Research; in fact the first half of his speech was mostly about application and strategy.

While there was talk about medical assistance for other markets, this keynote really seemed like Microsoft airing it’s idea for how it can get to the 2 billion (who largely have mobile phones that are not Windows-based, but were having an interoperable Windows-based device could bring new activities) and the 3 billion where perhaps medical needs could justify getting a Windows-based phone in were there is still the opportunity to compete from a fresh start.

Remember, while this may sound like a cynical view, Microsoft is a publically traded company looking to increase stock price which often means growing its market reach, and Craig is the Strategy guy.  While it would have made for a cooler keynote, we aren’t ready for Windows SpaceCraft edition yet, especially when it’s proving so hard for Microsoft to penetrate into the automobile market (but I wish they would).

UMPC and Tablet PC mobile goodness at WinHEC

For some reason, whenever Microsoft launches a new wave of non-PC form factors, it’s websites do a terrible job of pointing to the available hardware and how to buy one.  The sites are seldom updated with the latest hardware as it’s released.

Take for example Pocket PC Phone devices.  Go to Microsoft browsing site.  If you live in the US, you are immediately limited, largely because you are presented with what the carriers carry.  I buy most of mine through Expansys which can get me pretty much any device from Europe (where there’s always more choice) and yet the Microsoft sites seem to dutifully segment customers in a way that effectively limits choice to the uninformed.  HTC isn’t listed as a brand, and yet not only are they the original manufacturer for a huge proportion of carrier-badged Windows Mobile device, but they do sell their own brand – browse for HTC at Expansys and pick the appropriate country.

Back to the UMPC.  Take a look at the Microsoft UMPC site – click on the Hardware link at the bottom of the left-hand list.  You get to see just two devices and they are from the earlier round!

So here are some of the new devices that Bill Gates showed during the WinHEC keynote – see around 11:40 (video) and 13:00 (on stage) into his keynote video)

  • Fujitsu FMV-U8240
  • HTC Shift
  • Samsung Q1 Ultra (which is a horrible name since the previous one was just the Samsung Q1 and Ultra is the first world of UMPC so you’ll likely see the old model mixed into the results if you search for the new model)

These devices have varying availability.  On the surface, I’m inclined to look at the Shift because of the keyboard versatility and I’ve had plenty of HTC devices.  I also have a Fujitsu Tablet PC however, and that’s lasted quite nicely.  The Samsung Q1 was not cheap and I’m not sure about the split thumbing keypad – althrough it may actually be the most practical.  Having HSPDA built in, may also be a great plus.

You’ll probably want to consider things like:

  • Does it run Vista Aero?
  • Does it have built in 3/3.5G?
  • What Wifi spec does it have?
  • How long does the battery last?
  • How big is the screen and what resolution is it?

Bear in mind that none of these devices is likely to be that much cheaper than a regular notebook.

A number of new Tablet PCs were also shown on stage and in video.  I recall seeing the Gateway E-155c and E-295c.  There was also an official-sounding video from Dell posted yesterday to confirm rumours that they will have a Tablet PC coming later this year (but no specs). 

In a new Tablet PC I’m looking for these things (in no particular order):

  • Windows Vista with Aero
  • Convertible
  • Windows SideShow (which may be difficult wiring-wise with the convertible hinge)Widescreen
  • LED-backlit
  • Windows ReadyDrive-capable HDD
  • 6+ hours of battery life with standby swap capability
  • Pen and touch interface

I’m beginning to wonder if a UMPC would do it for me at home, rather than a full-blown tablet.

Tablet PC needs to push into the mainstream such that all notebooks at least have the pen and touch digitizers (and the stylus) – this isn’t as easy as it sounds though.

UMPC seems to be stepping up with specs, but battery life and price is still not there on the 2nd generation.  I think they do make a great round-the-house ad-hoc computer with the full power of Windows.

What is Engadget?

Apparently, according to an Engadget post today, they got their Apple delay news wrong yesterday.

I think there are two things about Engadget that I’d like to comment on:

  • It’s acting like it is a reporter (which given today’s television news isn’t necessarily a claim I’d want to make), when I thnk it should go with an angle of being a group of geeky enthusiast bloggers.
  • It seems to have become increasingly verbose in each post – not many bullet point specs present – which makes it time consuming to read; more so than it should be.  I just want to see the facts (especially about product reveals and solid availability) rather than creative monologue/opinion.  I know this gives it style (and makes it ‘Engaging’), but it just feels like it’s getting in the way now.

What is Engadget – a review site, a rumour site, a technology commentary site, a gadget launch site?

The apparent statement that Engadget workers can’t have stocks in companies that are reported on is interesting. If Engadget has so much power (in a way that would seem to have precipitated this post today after their apparent mistake) that their commentary can affects markets (and potentially attract investigation), then perhaps it needs to be diluted or dis-integrated in some way.  Perhaps they should just go with the facts, and become more of a central gadget product/service release feed specifically sponsored by the manufacturers, perhaps with a (stock-clean) reviewing service as a separate entity. 

Except for the verbosity, I actually take Engadget as a decent news/rumour feeds for gadget enthusiasts.  I feel though that the line between news and rumour is somewhat for the reader to decide, rather than relying on potentially reported hearsay.  If I see something I like on there, I’m happy that they let me know, but I also go and look for the official product/service page, since without that, it’s not obvious how I can purchase something to add to my horde.

With power does come some responsibility, which one can choose either to deflect (perhaps with disclaimers, footnotes or just a clear standing) or absorb (possibly to build fame, credibility or loyalty) along with the consequences that comes with it.  What will Engadget become (if anything different) and how will it weigh the responsibilities?

Xbox 360 vs. Sony PS3 vs. Nintendo Wii

I’ve had the 360 and PS3 since their launches and the Wii for just over a month (though it seems longer after my Zelda binge, despite it being two weeks ago).

Overall, 360 is the winner and here’s why:

  • Xbox Live – it’s the 2nd version; Sony and Wii don’t have a story for multi-player games and have weak online marketplace experiences;  PS2 did have some online multi-player support but it was game publisher specific.  Once your firewall was set up for Xbox or Xbox 360, everything just seems to work and the game lobby experience is sufficient and consistent.  Microsoft is a software company and they have played that to their advantage.  Sony is touting an upcoming ‘Sims’ or ‘Second-life’ type experience but it’s too late
  • Price – the blu-ray disc in the PS3 is a compulsory purchase even on the lower model (that they have apparently discontinued) and it may have cost Sony the industry lead they had; having a PS2 compatibility board in there cost extra money, and while it beats Xbox 360 (with it’s slow-release compatibility list), anyone hard-core enough to buy a system at launch will probably keep their old systems hooked up anyway.
  • Interchangeable rechargeable controllers (with the right battery pack) –   the 360 controllers should have come with the rechargeable batteries from the start and I went for the standalone 2-battery charging station which prevents any battery issues; the PS3 batteries are not removeable, and the Wii only seems to have limited 3rd-party solutions available
  • Games – there has been very little PS3-only goodness here and even though Xbox 360 didn’t have a large number of launch titles, they have had a year to bring them on now, giving them the hard start; Wii will still attract people for cutesy games.
  • Dashboard and in-game interface – Nintendo and Sony have finally caught on to the idea Microsoft has with the original Xbox – having a consistent in-game interface to the dashboard is very compelling.
  • Media experiences – the 360 can be a media extender to Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate or XP Media Center Edition, but if you’re like me, you’d put the computer in the same room as the 360 where the big screen is, so this isn’t the big deal that Microsoft says, and if you want TV in other rooms then it’s something to consider but they you’re probably wondering why there’s no media center extender experience for the Windows desktop; if Microsoft plays it’s cards well in the IPTV industry then the next Xbox (once broadband is 10Mbps+) could be the set-top box of choice

For the truly serious technologist or addicted gamer, there are 3 consoles in play.  For the serious gamer, there are 2 (360 and PS3).

It’s really about the experience and the gameplay – Microsoft has it hands-down on experience, and is getting their on gameplay because it’s Microsoft with a huge developer following and they’ve had a year head-start.  A few more good titles and a killer Halo 3, and things could forever become Pepsi.

For the casual gamer with kids there’s the Wii – it only has 480i (in North America or 480p with component cables) and there’s no digital audio out – but the novelty is there and some games (like Zelda) have pleasant graphics once you get passed the very obvious resolution drop.  Wii sports is family fun but it didn’t take long for us to realise that you can sit on the couch and just flick your wrist with far more precision (so RSI is still on the cards for some).  Wii may have one of the strongest back-wards compatibility stories in terms of taking Game Cube games, controllers and memory cards.  The Mii characters you can build for yourself are limited (despite the many choices) but fun for a while.  The launch games are disappointing (esp Mario), however you can buy a fair amount lot of Wii equipment and games before you hit the price of a PS3 with no games.

If you are into gadgets and technology and you are choosing one then get a 360 and make sure you get the Elite (with HDMI output).  If you have $2000 to spare, get all 3, accessories and a switcher, then spend another $2000 on a 47″+ LCD/Plasma screen (making sure it’s native 1080p, not 720p with 1080i support) and of course another $1000 or so on digital sound receiver with 5.1/7.1 speakers.