Windows Phone 7 – Should we care?

Microsoft release Windows Phone 7 (WP7) a couple of weeks ago with a lot of fanfare. I personally haven’t delved that much into it. I had once written that I didn’t think that WP7 will save Microsoft’s mobile strategy but much of what I wrote in that article is no longer true. I’ll start off by saying that I’ve always been a big fan of Windows Mobile. In my opinion, it was a far more flexible platform whose largest drawback was that it wasn’t exactly user friendly and the users punish Microsoft greatly for it by abandoning them when Apple came up with the iPhone. There are so many “innovations” that were released recently that have long been on Windows Mobile phones. Front facing camera was available on the HTC Tytn II in 2007. Skype for Windows Mobile has been available for Windows Mobile 2003 and because there were no constraints given by the provider, it’s been working over mobile networks since then. Evernote for Windows Mobile supports drawing while that feature is not supported by any other mobile platform. All in all, the strength of Windows Mobile was also it’s weakness. It is essentially a desktop platform ported over to a mobile platform with minimal changes.

So did Microsoft learn from it’s lesson over the past few years? I’ve never played with any Windows Phone 7 devices yet but from what I’ve read recently, it looks like they’ve had. For the sake of this entry, let’s assume that they have. The question is will it be enough for it to be a differentiator. Only time will really tell. However, I do have a few observations.

The general population is OS agnostic 

Outside of a small percentage of us that qualify as fanboys of sorts, very few people actually are even aware of the relevance that the OS has on a device. Most people are looking for a device that works to solve only a handful of requirements that they have. For some it’s an integrated PIM with a phone, for others it’s the integration of a music player and a phone, and for others it’s having productivity tools. As long as people can do what they need to do without many major changes to the way they do things, the OS for the most part doesn’t matter.To reinforce that idea, the Android platform has recently overtaken the iPhone in terms of popularity among new buyers.

I think what most people care about (if they care at all) is the availability of solutions which are represented in apps. While there are still more apps in the Apple App Store than there are in the Android Marketplace, the reality is that all of the major apps are being released to the Android Marketplace as well. From what I’ve read, development seems to be more straightforward than it’s traditionally been with WIndows Mobile in the past.

Microsoft is familiar with coming from behind

The one thing that Microsoft is familiar with is coming from behind. They came behind in the browser wars and they came behind in the PDA wars. While it’s true that they used their ability to influence some of these outcomes through their dominance of the desktop OS, they still shouldn’t be counted out. 

Learning from past mistakes

The one thing that seems to be true is that they seem to be learning from their mistakes. For one, they have created more hype about Windows Phone 7 which in the past has been relegated to manufacturers to tout it as part of a product release. They’ve made developing apps significantly simpler which should attract a larger development base and lastly, they are attempting to be more involved on how Windows Phone is implemented by the manufacturers (and hopefully providers). 

The end results should be more choice for the consumers. I am curious to see what the uptake of Windows Phone 7 would be like. In all honesty, I’m not sure if I’ll desperately try to switch to Windows Phone 7 anytime soon. For me personally, I’m yet to see how it’ll be better than Android.

SmartSleep – Hibernate your Mac, PC style

As much as I really like OSX, it’s not without its flaws. One of the things that bug me the most about my Macbook Pro is that there is no easy way to manage my hibernate settings. By default, it sleeps when you close the Macbook Pro lid until there’s about 5 minutes left of battery before it goes into hibernate mode. It’s quite frustrating to turn on your laptop with the expectation that you still have some juice left for productivity only to find out that you don’t.

SmartSleep

After doing some research on the topic, I came across this post which led me to SmartSleep. SmartSleep installs as a pref.pane which translates into a widget in the Systems Preferences within OSX. It allows you to do the 3 default states of Sleep and Hibernate that OSX comes with plus a mode called SmartSleep. What SmartSleep mode does is allows you to control when hibernate kicks in. I have mine set as having Hibernate kick in once it goes below 75% of the battery life. It would have been much nicer if it allowed you to do a combination of time and battery life though.

ExoPC, here I come

Reading Tristan’s article on the iPad gave me the kick I needed to get going on my own blog entry regarding slates and tablet computers. I’ll start off with I’m neither an Apple hater or lover; just like Tristan, I like technology based on its merits and how it helps me. For me, I’m a huge fan of OS X for the desktop, Android for mobile and Linux for home servers for different reasons. For the tablet, I am really looking forward to the ExoPC that should be launching in just a few weeks barring any more production issues

I’m not exactly new to using tablets. I’ve had my Asus R1F for a while but due to a number of issues, I’ve abandoned it as my primary computer and opting instead for my 15″ Macbook Pro as my primary laptop. However, I have very fond and positive memories of my Asus R1F as a tablet. It had three shortcomings as a tablet. They were that it was heavy, the batteries didn’t last more than 2 hours and it had a bug where it couldn’t be unplugged otherwise the screen would try to keep switching modes rendering it pretty useless.

In the past few roles I’ve had, I find myself to be in fair amount of meetings where I’m often not by a computer. In order to manage my day, I typically carry around a paper notebook and a printed copy of my to do list from Toodledo daily. At the end of the day, I would have to transcribe the information from my notebook to my toodledo list. I purposely leave my notebook at work because it’d be a disaster if I didn’t have access to it during a working day. However, there are often times when I am contemplating certain issues and would love to have access to that information with me.

So why ExoPC?

[image from itechdiary]

Believe or not, I’m buying the ExoPC largely because it’s on Windows 7. There are a number of reasons why Windows 7. The first is handwriting support is native to the OS. If the usage is anything like it was on my Asus R1F, I know that it works really well. Native support of the function means that all apps will have this functionality as opposed to just some apps. I manage my day mostly with Microsoft Outlook. It’s not just the ability to access my mail and calendar but also how I am able to convert emails to tasks and calendar appointments. My whole GTD process is done mostly through Outlook. I plan to use either Evernote or One Note as my primary note taking tool. To be honest, I MUCH prefer One Note over Evernote as purely a note taking tool because of the way One Note allows me to organize my thoughts on information. However, Evernote gives me the ability to access my notes everywhere including the web. I’m able to access One Note anywhere that I can have access to One Note via Dropbox but very few computers have it installed. Other additional benefits that come out of being Windows 7 include that functions like dual display, Remote Desktop and even usage of tools such as Synergy are mature and quite well established already.

I am quite intrigued with the ExoPC UI. Creating new UIs that sit on top of Windows 7 is not new. Companies like HP have long done it to support their multi-touch screens to make it more user friendly. ExoPC is now doing something similar for something smaller and for a very different device. From the demo, it looks like the UI seems quite well thought out. I like that they were smart enough to realize that the default close button for Windows will likely be too small for someone’s hand so they created an additional button to handle it. I would have loved to have seen more usage of the ExoPC being intertwined with Windows 7.

Some peripheral benefits would be the ability to not have to print out many documents before meetings because I’d have them handy to begin with. I also like the idea of being able to jot down my notes on the paper and have access to what I wrote electronically. Given that it has a mini-HDMI, there won’t be many issues trying to display from it.

Another big reason why the ExoPC? It’s being built by a Canadian company and we all know how proud I am to be Canadian.

I am a bit mixed about having USB ports. While the idea that I don’t need special drivers or adapters to use peripherals is appealing, I can’t really foresee how often I’d hook up something else outside of a mouse and keyboard. I think most of my data would already be stored somewhere in the cloud via Dropbox or access to my file server at home. 

Why not the iPad or an Android tablet?

To understand why not the iPad or the Android, we’d have to go back in time. All the way back to Windows Mobile. While people often laugh at Windows Mobile, people forget that Windows Mobile overtook Palm as the dominant PDA OS. It crushed Palm within a very short period of time. It wasn’t until late last year when the iPhone actually surpassed the total number of iPhones out there. While Windows Mobile was vastly superior than the Palm (and in my opinion still a much better mobile OS than the iPhone), it was quickly dominated by the iPhone. What the iPhone did really well was to recognize that people use a small device very differently than a desktop. All Windows did was, for the most part, shrink Windows into a smaller OS to be used on a smaller device. Very little consideration was given to how people used it. Apple seems to have taken the same approach for the iPad. It’s invariably taken an OS for a really small device and plopped it to a larger device. Already, I cringe when I see my co-workers try to type on their iPad when they are taking notes over a long period of time in meetings.

Currently, both the iPad and Android face the same challenge. The difference is that Google recognizes that FroYo is not ideal for tablets; they hope to fix this in Gingerbread. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that it doesn’t work. Approximately 3.8 million people would say that it does. Although right now, there are very few alternatives to the iPad at the moment. As Tristan indicates in his blog, which I wholeheartedly agree, the iPad is great if you want to enter quick data, read books, play a few games and watch movies. For me, I need it to be able to also write notes, allow me to access information from multiple places, annotate existing information and access that annotation from other places as well.

So final caveat, I’ve never touched an ExoPC in my life. I’ve based a lot of my assumptions on videos as well as my previous experience using tablets in Windows 7. It’s also the reason why this is under my “Perfect-isimo” category which is more of a wish list type item. Hopefully the money I spent on the pre-order won’t go to waste.