Report: Windows Phone 7 sales underwhelm

 

Report: Windows Phone 7 sales underwhelm « Technology News with Daniel St-Louis

 

Not surprising, if my experience in trying to buy one is any indication of the effectiveness of the rollout.

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If a phone is launched in the forest, does anyone hear it?

This is a bit of a rant (I do that a lot, don’t I?) Partly it is a rant about Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 launch. It is also partly a rant about our local Bell Mobility retailer, and their complete lack of customer service or sales skills.

I am in the market for a new smart phone. My current phone is a 3 year old HTC touch, which I like, but it beginning to show its age. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. I like the iPhone, but am pretty much anti-Apple because I do not really approve of either the undeserved hype around their products, or their obsessively controlling attitude towards developers and users alike. The Galaxy S looks like an interesting option, however.

For the sake of completeness, however, I wanted to wait and have a look at a Windows Phone 7 device. I am tied to Bell, so unfortunately my only choice would be the LG Optimus Quantum. I am not a fan of slide out keyboards, but I thought I would give it a chance.

I have been faithfully watching the Bell Mobility site for news of the launch. That was a waste of time. Even now, on launch day, there is no information, just a form to fill out to “get more information when it is available”. Last night (November 7) I did get an email from Bell saying the device would be available in their stores today.

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So today I go to my local Bell partner retailer (Sounds Fantastic in Moncton). Actually, I tried calling Sounds first to save myself a wasted trip, but three calls over the course of a couple hours all went unanswered. I figured they must be really busy. So, I decided to visit the store on my lunch break. Not busy at all – in fact, no one there. So I was able to very quickly get the attention of a helpful sales parson. After a brief sequence of questions and one-word, grunting responses, I learned the following.

They do not have any Windows Phone 7 devices.

He does not know when/if they are getting any.

No, he does not know if anyone else in the area is getting any.

No, the guy who might know if they are getting any is not in today.

Not very helpful. He could have maybe taken my name, or tried to find out the information I needed. But he was too busy (even with no other customers in the store).

So that is my rant about Sounds Fantastic. I was very disappointed by the service, but not surprised. It sort of matches all my other experiences there (on the mobility side, anyway – they seem to be completely different business).

Now to talk about Microsoft, and the Windows Phone 7 launch in general.

How can a major tech corporation manage to launch a major new product, and yet generate no hype whatsoever. I have commented on this before. It seems to me that Microsoft’s biggest weakness right now (and for most of the last decade) is its marketing department. Microsoft makes some very cool technology. In my opinion, they are at least as innovative as Apple, and probably more so (at least they are innovative across a much broader spectrum of technologies and solutions).

But lets looks at Microsoft’s marketing track record (especially marketing to the consumer market – their marketing to the enterprise seems pretty good).

  • Tablet PC: Microsoft launched the Tablet PC back in 2002. Since about 2005 it has been a viable platform. I have been using productively that entire time. And yet, even up to about a year ago, I would have people see me in airports, on airplanes, and many other places, ask me what they device was I was using, and be surprised that anything like that existed. Microsoft completely and utterly failed to communicate the existence of this technology outside of the hard-core techie community. And even within that community, they failed to communicate the power of the platform, or to entice developers to develop for it.
  • Windows Vista: Where to begin on Windows Vista? To be clear here, Windows Vista was far more of a marketing failure than a technology failure.  Yes, Vista had its problems. The vast majority of them (in my opinion) were due to third party driver and application updates or lack thereof – this is of course a marketing/product management issue as well. Vista’s biggest problem was public opinion, and failed marketing. For how long did Microsoft sit back and watch while a certain competitor raked them over the coals with very popular and effective TV commercials? When Microsoft marketing did respond, what was the best they could do? Seinfeld and Gates in obscure, bizarre skits? Please.
  • Microsoft Surface: Ok, this is not a consumer-oriented device (yet), but it is an example of Microsoft coming up with really cool technology and then actively hiding it from the world. Until a year ago, it was very difficult to get any information about it at all. Buying one was damn near impossible. Even now, people look at it and say “hey, that’s copying the iPad” – not knowing it has been around for 3 years.
  • Windows Phone 7: Major new launch, and no hype or energy at all, outside of hard core Microsoft circles. A few articles here and there. Even mobile service providers carrying the devices have almost nothing on their web sites about the devices, and then it is buried. And then I go to a store to look at one, and there are none.  Not “we had some but they are sold out”, just “we have none”. I realize I live in a backwater of the world, but it is amazing to me to see how little attention Microsoft has generated for this launch.

This to me is indicative of what truly ails Microsoft right now. In the enterprise market, they are very healthy. But in the consumer market, they cannot generate any hype. As everyone in this business (or any business) knows, you can have the best products and technology on the planet, but if you cannot get the word out, get people excited, and manage consumer perceptions of your products, you will fail!

Update: After my experience trying to look at a Windows Phone 7 device at Sounds Fantastic, I decided to reply to the above Bell email, asking why there were none at my local Bell dealer. Yes, I know it would bounce because that message was obviously form an auto-mailer. I did get an automated response, though:

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Good enough. I happily click through the l;ink to voice my concerns – only to see the following page:

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Just not my day for talking to Bell Sad smile

Bill Buxton: “NUI – What’s in a name?”

Recently (early October) Bill Buxton gave another talk nominally about Natural User Interfaces. For those who don’t know, Bill is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and has a 30 year involvement in research, design and commentary around human aspects of technology, and digital tools for creative endeavour, including music, film and industrial design (and a lot of other things, but I am not going to copy and paste his whole bio!).

The presentation, given at Microsoft Development Center Copenhagen, covers a lot more than just current ideas around NUIs. It looks back at the history of efforts to develop natural and touch user interfaces going back to the early 70s, as well as looking at what exactly we are trying to accomplish with these UI paradigms, what natural really means in a UI, and what makes good design in general.

While I highly recommend taking the time to watch the entire video, here are a few points I found really interesting:

  • The “Long Nose”: the concept of the “Long Tail” turned around, indicating that technologies (even successful ones) have a very long lifetime before they get on anyone’s radar, and in fact are usually in existence for about 20 years before they become major industries. This interesting implication of this, is that if you are looking for technologies that will be game-changers (can’t believe I used that term – I hate it) 10 years from now, you need to be looking that technologies that have been around for 10 years already.
  • Ask what your idea is worst at: Every idea is best at something and worst at something. It is just as important to be able to identify what your idea is least suited for as what it is best at.
  • You do not succeed in spite of your failures; you succeed because of your failures.
  • There is nothing all that new or revolutionary in the iPhone, iPad, Surface, or any other tablet-like devices. Most of the technology they rely upon has existed for 20-30 years or more).
  • Many people are stunned by how far technology has come (smart phones, touch interfaces, etc.), when really it is surprising how little progress has been made, given where things were in the 70s and 80s.
  • Most of us still carry around paper notebooks of some sort in order to scribble notes, sketch ideas, etc. We were getting to the point of replacing them with Tablet PCs. Unfortunately that is going away now with the current  generation of smartphones and slates, since they have done away with the stylus because marketing people have told us (so it must be true) that we do not want to take notes or make sketches.
  • The next generation of natural user interfaces need to be context aware. Not software context aware, but real context – where am I, what is the environment, what are the constraints.
  • Why the buttons on women’s clothes are all wrong!

Those are just the things I found interesting. The video is about 90 minutes long (60 minutes of presentation, 30 of Q & A), but it is well worth the time it takes to watch.

 http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/TechTalk-NUI-Whats-in-a-Name

The end of physical books? I hope not!

I was just reading this article on CNN.com, in which author Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per Child, foretells the demise of physical books.

I recognize the trend, and can see some reality in what he says. I am a big fan of digital books, and have been for far longer than those who have jumped on the bandwagon with the introduction of the Kindle, iPad, and other such devices. I have been using my slate tablets as ebook readers for 8 years now. The fact that I can carry several thousand books with me when I travel is really convenient (especially for an infomaniac like myself).

However, I absolutely do not advocate the end of physical books, for a number of reasons.

First of all, there is no standard distribution technology for ebooks. I do not want to have to drink Apple’s or Amazon’s koolaid just so I can read the books that I want. And when I have purchased material, I do not want that material tied to a specific device (especially if it is tied to iTunes or Apple in any way). Until there is some level of standardization (beyond PDF), then ebooks should not be the principal format for books.

Secondly, an ebook-only world introduces a 2-tier society – those who can afford ebook-readers, and those who cannot. While I applaud Mr. Negroponte’s efforts in the One Laptop per Child campaign, we are not there yet. Even if we were, laptops are not the optimal platform for reading books. There is no way I would want to read any book of any length on a laptop (tablet maybe, but not a laptop). Right now, people (in much of the world) need nothing more than a library card to have access to a wide variety of books. A switch to an entirely digital world takes that away. I recognize that in the third-world,this is not the case, but I am not convinced that a switch to digital media fixes that problem.

My biggest concern is actually more of a “doomsday” or “conspiracy theory” kind of thing. The strength of physical books is that they are just that – physical. I do not need any device to read them. I do not need electricity. I do not need DRM. I pick up a book, and I read it. What happens in situations of natural disaster, decline of society (for example in war – we are not that far removed from the threat of world war), or even zombie attacks ;-). I personally would prefer that most books continue to exist in a tangible form in addition to a digital one. Then again, I still have a slide rule, just in case all of the computers and calculators fail and I really  need to figure something out!

I am also concerned with the greater possibility of distortion and censorship of the written word once it is only digital. We already see some organizations which distribute digital content exerting inappropriate, heavy-handed control over content and “apps” that they will “allow” to be published on their devices. The potential for corporate or political censorship is great in the digital world, though as has been demonstrated in the past, it is extremely hard to completely suppress information on the Internet.

Finally, there is a distinct sensory pleasure to reading a book. It is one of the few escapes I have left from the digital, technological world. When I am reading digital books, I am unfortunately also subject to all of the distractions of the digital world (email, IM, Twitter, etc.) Physical books are an escape from that noise, and i need that.

Just because I can read everything digitally, does not mean that I should read everything that way.

Gartner Says Android to Become No. 2 Worldwide Mobile Operating System in 2010 and Challenge Symbian for No. 1 Position by 2014

Gartner Says Android to Become No. 2 Worldwide Mobile Operating System in 2010 and Challenge Symbian for No. 1 Position by 2014

 

So Gartner weighs in on mobile phone market evolution over the next few years. Points which I found interesting:

  1. Apple does not control the universe, and in fact its market share will remain pretty much steady over the next few years.
  2. The only projected significant market growth comes for Android, and it is really significant.
  3. The imminent release of Windows Mobile 7 will have no positive effect on Microsoft’s market share, and in fact Gartner projects Windows Mobile to drop to only 3.9% market share by 2014 – even though is number of units will almost triple. It will be interesting to see if Windows Mobile 7 is as meaningless as they project.

HP EliteBook 2740p Review

As you may have noticed if you follow my ramblings, I am a big Tablet PC fan. Recently, my favourite computer died (well, its batteries died). While Motion Computing took get care of me and helped me get some new batteries, this pointed out that I really need to start looking for a replacement.

Enter the HP EliteBook 2740p. This is the newest in HP’s ongoing series of convertible Tablet PCs, and features an updated processor, support for more RAM, and support for both stylus/handwriting input and multi-touch. I recently (about a week ago) received a new 2740p to use as my main work computer, and to evaluate for my employer. So, lets talk about this machine…

Configuration

I got pretty much the base configuration:

  • Intel® Core™ i5-540M Processor (2.53 GHz, 3 MB L3 Cache, 1066 MHz FSB)
  • 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (2D)
  • 250 GB 5400 rpm 1.8-inch hard drive
  • 12.1-inch diagonal LED-backlit WXGA UWVA with Digitizer & Touch (1280 x 800)
  • Intel Centrino® Advanced-N 6200
  • Bluetooth
  • TPM+FS
  • 2MP Webcam
  • HP 6-Cell 44 Wh Li-Ion Battery
  • Windows® 7 Professional 64

First Impressions

My first impression of the laptop when I unboxed it was that it felt very solid. Not heavy, but with a sturdy feeling to it. The case is aesthetically pleasing, and looks like it should be able to stand up to wear and tear. Placement of ports, switches and buttons seems logical, and nothing seemed overtly "cheap” About the only thing I was not impressed without of the box was the stylus – it is quite small for doing a lot of writing.

One good thing I note is that there is not a lot of heat coming of the machine. I was a little worried about this, as I have used HP’s TouchSmart consumer convertibles in the past, and they run really hot. The 2740p seems to stay nice and cool, however.

Performance seems pretty good, but I have not really done anything heavy on it yet.

Battery Life

I had seen numbers for the battery life of the 2740p in 5 hour range. I have not so far seen anything close to that – I see 3 hours, maybe 3 and a half at a stretch. Not bad, but not 5 hours. Also, the 3-3.5 hours is in power-saver mode, wireless off, etc. in “normal” working mode, I see something around 2-2.5 hours.

I suspect that I will definitely be buying the secondary battery for the 2740p if I want to use it on the road.

Display

I really like the display. It is nice and bright when I want it to be, and also looks good when I turn the brightness down. I like the fact that it is a matte finish, especially for handwriting and for reading documents it is much easier on the eyes than a glossy screen.

Ink Input

Ink input seems pretty good. I use Ink a lot – mostly in OneNote and in MindJet MindManager. Initially, I had trouble in OneNote as the accuracy of the stylus seemed really bad. Once I set the tablet settings properly (left-handed) and calibrated the digitizer, however, the handwriting in OneNote worked well.

Using the stylus to navigate is not without issues, however. Even after setting the tablet for left-handedness as well as calibrating the digitizer, I find there is significant parallax in the positioning of the cursor relative to the stylus tip. This is especially true near the edges of the display. It is better than on the Acer tablet MS gave out at PDC09, but far worse than it is on, say, my Motion Computing LE1600.

I was also disappointed in the coexistence of ink and touch on the 2740p. I still find that when I am  trying to write, the computer is recognizing touch events and confusing the process. There is a way around this – you can configure the machine to not automatically switch from ink to touch and back, but to rely on a double-touch gesture to switch modes. A little clunky, but at least it works.

Multi-touch

Multi-touch is, in a word, disappointing.  As I stated above, it does not coexist very well with stylus input. Once you are in “touch” mode, basic operations seem to work ok (scrolling, gestures for things like “back” or “forward”, etc.), but there seems to be a significant lag in touch response. I have not really had much success with multi-touch interactions at all – for example using a pinch type gesture to zoom in or out in IE or Word. The latency involved makes it not useful.

Quirks

There are a number of quirks (other than the ink/touch coexistence I mentioned above) that I have yet to resolve on the 2740p:

  • I cannot figure out how to make it use the fingerprint scanner for Windows logon. It is using it for BIOS-level authentication, and I can make it work for logons once I am inside Windows, but not for the actual Windows logon.
  • I cannot make the screen rotate automatically when I rotate the computer in tablet mode. It switches when I go from laptop to tablet mode or back. But when in table mode, when I rotate the machine, the display does not rotate.
  • I have had a lot of difficulties with BlueTooth. I have a BlueTooth mouse that pairs quite nicely with all the other computers I use, but the 2740p does not even see it (BlueTooth is working however, as I have successfully used it to connect to my phone).
  • Power cord: ok, this is a bit picky, but it has also been a problem on every tablet I have every used. The power cords are not designed to work well in tablet mode, they stick out way to far, and they put unnecessary stress on the connector. Seriously, is this the best they can design?

Summary

Overall, it is a nice laptop. Performance is good, battery life is good (and there is the option to add more), and the machine seems very solid and well made. I am still disappointed in both the handwriting and multi-touch capabilities, but maybe I will get used to them (though I should not have to get used to them, they should wow me out of the box!)