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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface event

I’m pretty excited for Microsoft. I’ve been excited for what they’ve been doing as a company, on several fronts, for a few years now.

I won’t rehash all of the nice things I’ve been writing about them, but I can link to how I feel about Satya, the work they’ve been doing in open source and for developers, Surface, and Windows 10.

Yesterday’s Surface event was very good. I really like how Panos makes everything so dramatic. It is just more fun than how so many other tech companies present things. I totally understand if others don’t feel the same way. But I don’t think anyone has ever accused him of being disingenuous.

The updates to the Surface hardware were excellent. I think the 15″ laptop looks very, very good. And while I wish the Surface Pro was more of a direct competitor to iPad*, I don’t have any other wishes for their hardware. It is all very good.

The Neo and Duo products, both coming late 2020, are fascinating products. I have no idea if they will be successful or be hits – but I’m very glad Microsoft decided to make them.

Though I have to agree with John Gruber, they overshadowed the rest of the products that are available today a little. They likely knew they would though. So perhaps they are ok with it.

I have two quick I told ya sos, if I may.

In July Windows Central said they hoped someone at Microsoft was working on a phone, but if they were, they should keep expectations low. I vehemently disagreed with that sentiment. I wrote:

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

[…]

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels.

Guess which way they decided to go with Surface Duo?

I was wrong, though, they didn’t call it a Surface Phone. They are avoiding the word phone, which I think we all should as well. My Pixel is no more a phone than it is a book, but I can read and make phone calls on it.

And did they ever swing for the fences! A completely new form-factor, category of product, operating system based on Android. SWING!!!

The only thing Windows Phone was missing, you’ll remember, was apps. And now it will have that. Well, not Windows Phone. Android. Which I think is the right call.

I’d love to get one of these Duo devices, only to support bold vision and the stones to put them out into the world.

A few other random observations

  • Windows 10 X looks interesting. Could that be the new tablet mode?
  • The EarBuds look like a miss.
  • The way the Neo keyboard interacts with the device reminds me of the dial you can purchase with the Surface Studio. Microsoft should double down on this sort of thing. It really makes these devices truly like surfaces that you do stuff on. So, by next year we’ll have a Pen, Dial, and Keyboard. I say make a ton more of them.
  • I sort of think they could allow Android apps to run on Windows, this way Duo could still be a Windows computer. But there must be reasons that I don’t know about why they wouldn’t do this. Or perhaps it is still coming.
  • I think both the Neo and Duo will be very different by launch time. They don’t even have outward facing cameras on them yet.
  • Panos’ analogy of flow using his daughter at the piano is apt. When I’m in flow, it could be while I’m writing this blog post, writing code, editing a photo or video, etc I do feel like everything just disappears.

* Windows 10 tablet mode is simply no competitor to iPadOS in a tablet form factor. I’d go so far as to say it sucks in comparison. But, I’ve seen rumors that they’re working hard on this. So, we’ll see.

Microsoft holding Surface Keynote in October

Tom Warren for The Verge:

Microsoft’s Surface chief will hold a keynote speech in London at the end of October. The software giant is holding its annual Future Decoded event in London from October 31st to November 1st, and Microsoft revealed to The Verge today that Panos Panay will be speaking. Microsoft typically launches new Surface devices in October, and sources familiar with the company’s plans tell us to expect at least one new device at the event.

I sincerely hope they launch a Surface Phone. I want more pressure on Apple and I’d love to see Windows Phone (which I thought was fantastic) return to the battle of mobile OSes.

However, I don’t think it will happen. If this was a possibility I think (knowing Microsoft) they would have tried to build up more hype around this event than they are. They likely wouldn’t hold the event in London either. But, I can hope.

Windows Central on Build

Speaking of Build, Zac Bowden at Windows Central has a list of things to expect on Wednesday. Including this Windows Phone long shot:

I have in fact been hearing that internally Microsoft continues to develop CShell for Windows 10 Mobile in Redstone 3 builds. Whether that means we’ll see it at Build, or at all, is another question. But we’ll keep you posted.

I haven’t researched this too much but my basic understanding of CShell is that it is the shell that is run on each device to give basic interface elements access to the core OS. Like the Finder process on macOS that gives you the Dock, menubar, etc. CShell is developed in silos for each device so specifically continuing to support Windows 10 Mobile wouldn’t make sense if Microsoft didn’t plan to continue to have Windows 10 devices (third-party or otherwise).

Again, as I said in my wishlist, I’d like to see Microsoft make a large commitment to Windows Phone so I’ll join Zac in calling for this long shot.

 

Trying iOS, Android, and Windows

Fred Wilson:

I plan to go back to iOS when the next iPhone ships, and then back to Android six months after that. In this way, I can stay current on both operating systems and ecosystems which I think is useful in my business.

I wish I could do this again. For a time I was when we had a number of testing devices laying around. I’d pick one up and using it for a weekend here and there. During that time my eyes were opened to what was available on all platforms.

At that time Windows Phone stuck out to me as the winner over Android but iOS was still in the lead. I wrote:

Windows Phone is a much better competitor to iOS than Android currently is. It is clean, simple to use, vastly different than iOS (which is good since Android and iOS just bite off each other with each release), and really fun to play with. The problem? Official apps.

And official apps are still a problem on Windows. Windows Phone was great the way Mac OS was great for years. Microsoft just didn’t stick with it. They got beat. And now it seems like they are moving on.

It was expensive to have multiple new and up-to-date devices in service at the same time. I think our monthly bill was roughly $700 or so. Not cheap for a small business. I like Wilson’s approach a bit more. Switch between devices completely once a year or so. Perhaps I’ll find a way to do that too.

 

I’d love to see Windows Phone become the third horse in the smartphone OS race

Fred Wilson, on Android and iOS:

But I find myself rooting hard for Apple now. I sense the danger they are in and I don’t want either smartphone OS to be so dominant that we lose the level playing field we have now. It’s very important for startups, innovation, and an open mobile ecosystem for all.

It is true. Apple has been dominant for too long and in some ways Android is really beginning to creep on their turf. There are many layers to the smartphone market onion but I look at three things when I try to determine who is winning: market share, profit, number of official apps.

Each of these three categories are important and any single company can focus on any combination of the three and still be “winning” or at least competing. I think Apple has focused on design quality and number of official apps as their primary ways to maintain profitshare. And they earn the lion’s share of the money being earned in the smartphone market. I think Android has focused on low cost, “open” offerings to capture market share. And they’re obviously doing a great job at growing.

By capturing market share, as Wilson mentioned in his post, Android will now end up capturing the official applications it was missing out on before because Android is where the people are. Or, at least as many people or more than on iOS. Wilson posits that iOS and Android are near parity. I think he’s right. And I think we’re about to see a shift in perception in Android as more and more official apps are made either first or at the same time as they are for iOS. See: Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Imagine if Instagram was made today and made only for Android. Something like that could happen any day.

Because of my work I have an iPhone 5, a Samsung Galaxy S4, a Motorola Razr, and a Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone on my desk. The iPhone 5 has been my daily use phone since June 29, 2007. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is an amazing technical achievement – with the eye watching and all – but overall I am not in love with Android. Certainly not as much as my friend Paul. It is just too busy, too much going on, there always seems to be so much running. Android is far from simple. Not to mention that the manufacturers and telcos end up adding so much junk to the phone it can seem hard to navigate through. The S4 came with three browsers and four ways to buy music pre-installed! I realize this isn’t Android’s “fault” but as a consumer it is certainly confusing.

Regarding Windows Phone

Windows Phone OS

Windows Phone is probably not going to take off if they haven’t found a way to do it already. But can I just say this? Windows Phone is a much better competitor to iOS than Android currently is. It is clean, simple to use, vastly different than iOS (which is good since Android and iOS just bite off each other with each release), and really fun to play with. The problem? Official apps.

Most of the applications on Windows Phone are absolutely abysmal if they aren’t the official apps. The Instagram apps end up getting their photos deleted from Instagram because they use Private APIs. Not to mention that when compared to Instagram they’re terrible. The Dropbox apps, which aren’t official, are simply unusable. All of the official apps, however, such as Twitter, Spotify, and others are superior to their iOS counterparts in a number of ways. I love the Spotify app on Windows Phone.

As the smartphone market matures from people buying their first smartphone to people buying their second, third, and fourth smartphones people are going to come to expect the quality they find on iOS and now on Android. The official applications are, in general, amazingly well-made and work great. If someone gets a Windows Phone as their second or third smartphone they are simply going to think that the applications on it are poor.

I think Windows Phone “the OS” is great. But I think Windows Phone “the business” doesn’t have a focus. They aren’t focused on market share by offering amazingly cheap hardware. They aren’t focused on having the best official apps. And they aren’t focused on profit. I don’t know what Windows Phone stands for besides Microsoft simply having an OS in the mobile space. And I certainly don’t see enough ads for Windows Phone.

I wish Windows Phone had a better shot. I love the Lumia. If it had a few more official applications on it I’d switch to it from my iPhone 5 in a heartbeat. I haven’t tried the Lumia 1020 but if it is even better than the 920 I could see myself switching in spite of the application debacle. But I don’t know if Windows Phone has a chance. I don’t know what they should focus on to get to parity with Android and iOS and I don’t even know if there is room in the market – large as it may be – for a third horse.

I agree with Wilson that Android and iOS are near parity but I’d love to see Windows Phone become the third horse in the smartphone OS race.