Why can’t Microsoft get their products right on the first try?

Owen Williams calls it how he sees it:

It’s easy enough to argue that the iPhone 1, for example, shipped without many features we have today as they were added over time, but Apple at the time were creating their own market. The popular phones were the kind that flipped and slid open, or had a stylus. Microsoft is executing the same strategy – release now, fix later – that their competitors use but they’re five steps behind the rest.

Microsoft Launches Windows 8.1 Preview

Frederic Lardinois, for TechCrunch:

Windows 8.1 represents a chance to fix some of the issues with Windows 8. The fact that Microsoft is bringing back the Start button and now allowing users to boot right into the desktop is a sign that the company has been listening to its users. In many ways, 8.1 — even in this Preview version — is what Windows 8 should have been.

It looks like Windows 8 is full of fixes, rather than new features. I can’t fault Microsoft for improving their product based on customer feedback, but it is a shame there are so few new and exciting features for users. Frederic agrees:

It’s a shame that many of the features Microsoft is introducing now weren’t in Windows 8 already.

My take? Windows 8.1 is what Windows 8 should have been.

“How to Best Manage an iTunes Library Without iTunes Match: Wi-Fi Sync and the Case of the Audiophile” Updated

This (pretty awesome) article I wrote last year needed updating. So I just updated it. (Yes, the images are fixed, finally.)

For those curious whether I still use this method for managing my music, I do not. I no longer use an iPod Classic — and I’m fully in the iTunes Match camp now, with no full local copy of my music collection on any computer or device. Further, I’m incredibly excited for iTunes Radio, when it launches later this year.

My Review of Duolingo for TidBITS (Plus my First Podcast Appearance!)

Speaking of TidBITS, I'm proud to announce my first article for this respected operation has been published. It's a review of Duolingo:

Learning a new language from scratch is a massive undertaking: getting started with basic words and phrases is a common approach, but leaping beyond these ordinary words to a solid understanding of grammar and pronunciation requires dedication and a lot of practice, particularly for adults. This is often so much to ask that the new language is quickly set aside, turning something that should be a fun and rewarding challenge into a boring chore that’s easy to put off.

Duolingo is a free Web site and app designed to solve this problem.

Bonus points for my first podcast appearance, too! (Big week.)

“Comparison: iPad vs. Windows 8 Tablet”

My recent article, “A Tale of Two Adverts”, received a bit of attention online. Since publication, I’ve been keeping a closer eye on certain tech adverts because I think how a company advertises their product speaks volumes about how they view the product in the world. Microsoft has a new advert, so now’s a great time to analyse it.

I find most of the points raised in this ad to be questionable. Here’s a chronological list of them, along with my thoughts.

Thickness

The iPad is a staggering 0.05” thicker than the Asus VivoTab RT. This seems like a weak first point to make to potential customers? That’s 1mm.

Weight

The iPad weighs 0.28 lb. more than the specific Windows 8 tablet Microsoft has chosen to compare it to. How convenient! (Microsoft’s own tablet, the Surface RT, actually weighs more than an iPad, but who’s keeping track, anyway?)

Microsoft’s poor software support for iPad

Yes, really! Microsoft criticises its own software in an advert — specifically, the lack of Office on iOS. This is an especially weak argument which is only getting weaker with time. Who actually enjoys using Microsoft Office? For me, the lack of Office support is actually a plus — the (hundreds of) alternatives available on iOS are much more enjoyable to use. (I appreciate I’m in a fortunate position not having to use Office, but how many people do actually enjoy using the suite? My guess? Not many.)

Multitasking

Support for multitasking in iOS exists, but Windows RT can display multiple apps at once — side by side. This is the first real point I feel is worthy of being presented in an advert, even though I question whether the tradeoffs made by this UI decision are actually worth it — every Windows Store app should be made to work full size, 1/3 size and 2/3 size. I imagine this isn’t trivial for developers to code. Considering Microsoft is struggling to gain marketshare in the smartphone and tablet world, adding complexities for developers to deal with may not be the best idea.

MicroSD support

The Windows device shown in this advert has a microSD card slot for extra storage — just like the Surface RT. Whilst I appreciate the conveniences a microSD card can provide, it’s solving the wrong problem. The future is ubiquitous online connectivity, cloud storage and streaming — not memory cards. These portable storage cards require careful file management, something Apple wants users to avoid.

AirPrint

Criticising the iPad for not supporting as many printers as Windows RT devices is quite rich, considering what Microsoft considers “support”. Many Windows RT devices include support for cable-based USB printing — but wireless printing is a completely different story.

On iOS, the only way to print is wirelessly. Who wants a cable? Nobody, right?

In order for devices to qualify as AirPrint-enabled by Apple, they must meet some quite tough standards, such as not requiring any drivers. (Perhaps Microsoft is so okay with filling their devices up with crap that a bunch of printer drivers crammed onto the device seems fine?)

Say I own a Windows RT device and want to print wirelessly. Surely it must be much easier than on an iPad — after all, this advert shows wireless printing working perfectly, with the iPad dubbed as “Needing a special Apple printer”. The official Microsoft Surface support page answers my question:

Surface RT is compatible with printers that are certified for Windows RT. Some printers might not work with Windows RT or might not support all of the features of your printer. To find out what's compatible, find your printer in the Windows Compatibility Centre.

(Emphasis mine.)

I checked my printer (which isn’t AirPrint-enabled), but it isn’t supported for Windows RT. Looks like you “Need a special Microsoft printer” in order to print wirelessly from Windows RT. Huh.

Considering AirPrint has been around longer than Windows RT, I imagine the wireless printing ecosystem is actually stronger on iOS than Windows RT — and that there are more AirPrint-enabled printers than Windows RT Wireless Printing(™)-enabled printers. I call foul.

Better luck next time

There are certainly some problems with Microsoft’s branding and advertising, but this article exaggerates them for comedic effect. I hope to see future Microsoft adverts showing products in use, being loved by people who feel real. Apple’s new ad, “Music Every Day”, just like their previous effort, focuses on exactly this. It’s compelling, touching and feels real. What more could you ask for?

The New iTunes Mini Player

The iTunes Mini Player has always been a feature I’ve stayed away from: it never helped me browse, queue up or enjoy my music in new ways. With the latest update, however, that’s all changed. I now find myself making heavy use of it.

Here are some reasons why:

  • Playback controls from within the mini player, including being able to add the current playing song to playlists or start a genius playlist
  • AirPlay controls
  • Up Next access allows me to queue up songs to play after the current track finishes — or stop playback when the current song ends
  • Search feature allows me to find and queue up any song within my music library
  • Beautiful artwork display, with a user interface which fades away when not being used
  • Mini Player hovers above all other OS X windows allowing me to enjoy artwork whilst doing other work — it’s even possible to hide the “Up Next” or “Search” drawer at the bottom of the window so only the artwork is visible

This update to iTunes seems to be one of the most profound in recent memory: whilst the upgrade to iTunes 11 was arguably a bigger undertaking, Apple has now really brought the Mini Player up to the next level. Music enthusiasts and casual listeners alike should enjoy all the new features. To get started, just click the icon next to the “Full Screen” button on the top right of the full iTunes window.

compact-mini-player.png

The compact mini player is now a beautiful artwork viewer, too: apps like Bowtie are now almost unnecessary if you want to just enjoy your artwork whilst doing other things.

Brilliant update.

The TL;DR Google I/O Keynote Video

Great cut, from the recently launched Verge Video website.

A summary? Nothing huge happened, but (as usual), Google gave away hardware to every attendee which cost more than the ticket to attend. I have to wonder if doing that every year attracts “Google fans” rather than Google developers. This year it was a Chromebook Pixel ($1,299) for a $900 ticket.

Samsung Captured 95% of Android Profits in Q1

As a platform, Android is quite poor by a surprisingly large number of metrics: New version uptake statistics are very slow — which isn’t helped by carriers. The paid app business on Android is generally considered bleak, too — even more so when directly compared to iOS.

(And remember that Google makes four times more money from iOS than Android.)