Elance Profile Pic - Hand on Chin  Green Jacket
“Some may contend no one wants a phone that big. This is true. But many people do want a tablet that small. It’s all about how this 7” Surface is positioned and marketed.” – Jason L Ward

Rumors, Rumors Rumors
Early last year rumors began to spill that Microsoft was soon to release a new entry into it’s now popular line of hybrid tablets. The productivity powerhouse “tablet that can replace your laptop” – the Microsoft Surface – would soon have a diminutive little brother, the Surface Mini. The Surface Mini was expected to release by the fall of 2014. But alas, Microsoft deemed that not all pieces were yet in place to ensure the proper positioning of this 7″ to 8″ note-taking focused device.
Size Matters

cortana greeting
Last night 1/26/15 at 5:55pm EST Joe Belfiore tweeted “8” (or) bigger for full desktop, going forward on new PCs. The one I showed was 8″”. This was in response to questions regarding what version of Windows 10 would be found on what device sizes. It is now clear that the form factor agnostic Windows 10 OS will be represented on 8” and above tablets with the continuum enhanced full desktop toting version while 7” and smaller devices (tablet and phones) will be sporting the full Modern UI sans the desktop.
We have been hearing that the RT ARM based SKU of Windows would be being replaced by a new ARM based SKU that would run phones and small tablets. It looks as if 7” is the threshold for this particular SKU.
Positioning

As noted above the Redmond companies initial plans for a 2014 launch of a Surface Mini were halted (or postponed) because not all factors were in line to ensure a distinct market positioning for such a device. So what’s different this year? In a nutshell Windows 10. As we know Windows 10 is a single OS that supports a family of devices. This provides users with a common experience across devices of varying form factors, from PCs, to laptops and even phones. With additional cloud based services that are built into the OS like Office 365, One Drive and One Note users are provided with a seamless experience for their personal and professional data and multimedia. A Surface Mini with Windows 10 fits well within this ecosystem paradigm. More on that in a moment.
The Surface line of tablets, which are positioned in the market as competitors to devices such as the MacBook have pioneered a path for Microsoft’s hybrid OS on an equally versatile piece of well-designed hardware. With the ability to function as a touch friendly tablet with access to thousands of Modern apps one moment, and with the snap of a keyboard, via continuum, transform into a productive “Ultrabook” with easy access to the legacy desktop and it’s host of millions of legacy software the Surface, particularly the Surface Pro 3, has carved out a position for Microsoft’s hybrid productivity aspirations.

Key Factors

For devices of a particular size (above 8” – ideally 10”- 12”), such as the Intel based Surface, where targeted productivity tasks would require a full workstation, the keyboard is an integral and powerful accessory. Microsoft has been deliberate in communicating this. Via early ads that focused on the distinctive “CLICK” of the keyboard when locked in place, to ads of exuberant dancers locking and docking the Surface keyboard in place Microsoft has made a point that the keyboard is key to the productivity purposes of the current participants in their Surface line of tablets. That is not to belittle the powerful position of the One Note initiating N-Trig pen, but as far as accessories and market positioning go for the larger precursors to the coming Mini, productivity means keyboard.
Enter the Mini
The Surface Mini I believe will fall into the 7” ARM based realm of devices running Windows 10. The SKU shared by what is currently called Windows Phone. At 7”, though possible to connect to a keyboard, this size is not ideal for keyboard intensive productivity tasks. The display is too small for long term typing and productivity tasks in a sedentary position. Microsoft already has that part of the market covered anyway, with devices well suited for such tasks via the Surface Pro 3. A device which has a pen (rather than keyboard) as its primary accessory and data entry method (beyond the finger) is not, however, a space Microsoft has filled.
This is where a 7” Surface Mini can shine. With a touch friendly version of Office set to debut as free software on all small tablets and phones the 7 inch Surface Mini will be a powerful tool for creating and editing full Word, Excel and even PowerPoint documents. With an accompanying digitizer pen the experience with navigating and annotating documents will be made even easier.
If the pen-centric Surface Mini is indeed on its way, I am sure that Microsoft’s Project Spartan browser with its touted ability to receive annotations directly on a web page, save them to One Note and easily share them with others was designed with this particular device and form factor in mind.
Additionally, One Note, Microsoft’s powerful and versatile cloud based note taking tool is an ideal application on a device that can easily slip into a large pocket (certainly a bag) which has as its primary input accessory – something as natural and intuitive as a pen.
Just a Tablet or Something More
Now I posed a question in the title of this piece, “Is a 7″ Microsoft Surface Mini Phablet on the Horizon?” Yes I am positing that Microsoft’s Surface Mini will not be just a tablet, but that it will be a true representative of that category of devices that has been dubbed phablets.(For the record I do not like the word phablet, however it seems that the term has taken hold in the industry). The word phablet has been used to describe large smartphones (approximately 5” and up) that approach the dimensions of small tablets, which are historically about 7”. It is a combination of the words phone + tablet, thus phablet.
My contention is that Microsoft will make the Surface Mini a true phablet. Rather than being a phone with a large display like virtually every other device on the market dubbed phablet, the Surface Mini will be a tablet with telephony functionality. It will be a tablet first, designed as a tablet, with the full functionality of a tablet and full range of capabilities of a Window 10 ARM based tablet, but will also be capable of functioning as phone. A true phablet, not just a big phone.
Some may contend no one wants a phone that big. This is true. But many people do want a tablet that small. It’s all about how this 7” Surface is positioned and marketed. A productivity tablet with software enhanced to take full advantage of a digitizer pen, full access to a host multimedia and leisure apps with the additional ability to place and receive phone/Skype calls and Skype/SMS messaging is an easier sale than a 7” smartphone. If Microsoft focuses its sale of this device around the first party software like touch friendly Office and One Note and featured touch focused third party and specific software enhancements they may implement to take advantage of the pen – this note taking focused, highly portable, productivity device may indeed see high demand.
Who Would Want It
Well to be honest, everyone. I can see use case scenarios of a telephony enhanced mini-tablet being a device that fits almost anyone’s bill. Students, teachers, administrative assistants, doctors, nurses, executives, parent’s anyone with a need take notes, save data and access it later would find this light weight pen centric device a useful tool for a variety of situations. I believe there is a very strong market for this device in developed regions like North America and the UK, but a tremendous potential in the Chinese market which prefers larger devices.
But What About Phone Calls?
I have a Lumia 1520. And though it seemed huge at first it has “shrunk” in the13 months I’ve had it. Yet even now at 6” it is a sizable slab to hold to my ear when talking to someone on the phone. Now, as noted above market positioning is key to selling any device, especially one that is carving out uncharted territory. The awkward slab of a tab to the ear is a legitimate barrier to acceptance of a 7” device designed to also function as a phone. This is where accessories are key. As the keyboard is key to the Surface Pro 3 and as we have established the pen will be key to this device, another accessory I believe needs to be packaged with the sale of the Surface Mini.
Microsoft has proven, despite their “Cloud First, Mobile First” mantra that they are still a devices and services company. The Surface Pro 3 is an exquisitely beautiful work of engineering craftsmanship. The edge mouse and keyboard are other examples where Microsoft’s hardware efforts shine. Xbox, HoloLens…well we get the picture.
In order for Microsoft to ensure adoption, the foreseeable concerns for using the Surface Mini as a phone must but addressed. I posit a simple solution. Microsoft can design its own Surface Mini Bluetooth earpiece to sale in conjunction with this device as an included accessory (with the pen) to offer a comprehensive package. This provides users with a full solution. The included pen ensures optimal interaction with the device and software as a tablet. The Microsoft Surface earpiece ensures optimal interaction with the device when utilizing the additional telephony functionality.
Carriers
I believe Microsoft will have a strong position with carriers positioning this device. I can envision enterprise customers from diverse industry’s purchasing this device in mass for their employees. I can also see the appeal the device will have for the typical consumer.

Flagship – The Tablet That Can Replace Your SmartPhone
I believe that the Surface Mini Phablet with cutting edge specs and a powerful Pureview camera will provide the Windows (Phone) ARM based SKU an optimal platform from which to showcase Windows 10. As Microsoft’s new OS transcends form factors, this device which is both a tablet and a phone is a perfect duo device to showcase the power of Microsoft’s single OS strategy. As the Surface Pro 3 is the “tablet that can replace your laptop”, the Surface Mini may very well be “the tablet that can replace your SmartPhone.”

 

DontChangeTheName

Master Chief Meets Cortana

The renowned SPARTAN hero of the Halo franchise, Master Chief, meets his AI companion Cortana, who will be a helpful ASSISTANT and guide to him in a variety of situations and environments.

A World of Change

Project Spartan Browser 2

This is the Cortana enhanced Project Spartan Browser running on Windows 10 on both the Phone and Desktop. Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant will assist users contextually based on what she sees on the webpage and what the user has allowed her to know about them.

Last week, on Wednesday January 21st, 2015 Microsoft introduced to the world a host of new products that have breathed life into a company that to many was going kind of stale. Think IBM. A powerful industry leading behemoth yes, but consumer friendly, desirable, cool (with the exception of Xbox) not so much. But with a brand spanking new Operating System in Windows 10 that brings literally every form factor, from the smallest of IoT (internet of things) devices, to the Perceptive Pixel project, sensor laden, 84 inch, 4K Display, multi-touch, communication cradle – the Surface Hub – and every PC, tablet, hybrid and phone in between, under the same all-encompassing Windows 10 umbrella Microsoft is pioneering a new path. Other announcements of course included a free upgrade to Windows 10 for all Windows 7 and up users within the first year of the OSs release. We also got a peek at Cortana on the desktop. The showstopper was of course Microsoft’s ushering in of the era of holographic computing with HoloLens; a standalone head-borne wearable computer that brings the digital world into the real world. All of these things are news worthy and great moves by the tech giant. But we want to talk about Project Spartan, Microsoft’s new, streamlined, innovative web browser with the integrated personal digital assistant – Cortana.

What Makes Spartan Different

Project Spartan Browser

Project Spartan is the only Browser with an integrated PERSONAL digital assistant. Spartan is the only browser that allows users to annotate web pages, save those edited pages and share them with others.

First and foremost the Project Spartan Browser is a departure from the legacy and much maligned Internet Explorer. Microsoft went back to the drawing board and designed Spartan from the core outward endowing it with a new rendering engine which is a true advancement beyond what Internet Explorer brought to the table.

The Spartan browser, as one of the definitions of the word “spartan” suggests is also streamlined – lightweight – laying aside the visual weight of chrome as well to coincide with its lighter and more efficient movements across the web.

Aside from the “physical” enhancements, the project Spartan Browser has some functional enhancements that puts it in true fighting form making it a strong contender, if not superior specimen, in the mobile browsing space. With a unique inking feature which allows users to annotate Web pages and save those edited pages to OneNote for easy sharing with friends, family, co-workers, business partners etc. – the Project Spartan Browser stands out as an elite warrior in the browser wars. Both its rivals Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari lack such an advanced feature.

The Spartan Browser also has a reading mode that strips away the visual frills that adorn many web-pages much like Halo’s Spartans were stripped of the encumbering limitations other humans endure or how Leonidas and his faithful 300 bore only what was necessary to be effective in battle. Reading mode streamlines a webpage for easy reading.

The best part, and the point in this discourse for which many of you have been patiently waiting is The Project Spartans Browsers integration with Microsoft’s/Halo’s very popular Digital Assistant/AI. Cortana is an ever present companion to the Spartan internet surfer. She recognizes the content of web pages, provides useful information such as directions to a venue a user may be viewing on a page. She draws on information she knows about the user from other contexts (i.e. windows phone –notebook) and incorporates that knowledge with what she “sees” the user viewing on the Web. She may offer flight information for a user who may be tracking say his wife’s flight when she sees he’s looking for a venue in the area of the airport she is to arrive in. Yes, this is Cortana as an essential and integrated part of the Project Spartan browser. Any Halo or Windows Phone fan, or even just someone who loves a good story will tell you – Cortana and Spartan, well they go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. They’re just better together. Listen up Chief.

Once Upon a Time

Tshirt

The world was introduced to Cortana on Windows Phone in early April of 2014. Days later on April 14, 2014 eager Windows Phone enthusiasts with the Preview for Developers installed on their devices downloaded Cortana for the first time with the Windows Phone 8.1 update. Things haven’t been the same since.

Eager Windows Phone Fans around the globe whose regions were not part of the initial release clamored (and some continue to clamor) impatiently on social media asking “When will we get Cortana?” Microsoft employees like Joe Belfiore (who runs the team doing Windows Phone/Tablet/PC Product Definition and Design) and Marcus Ash(Group Program Manager for Cortana on Windows Phone) attempted to mitigate the storm the popularity of this Halo Artificial Intelligence companion to Master Chief, turned digital assistant to Windows Phone, users had ignited. Even popular tech Journalists Mary Jo Foley (@maryJoFoley) and Paul Thurrott (@thurrott) acted as buffers, mediators even – between Microsoft and a fan base who desperately wanted/want the digital assistant.

WP8.1 Cortana maxresdefault_jpg

Why was she so popular? What was the big deal? Why didn’t Siri and Google Now, with much larger user bases ignite such an emotional response from their users? The short answer is that neither of those digital assistants exists outside of the OS platform of which it is a part and from which they originated. Cortana is a loved character who was birthed from the blockbuster Halo franchise about 15 years ago. During that time she has been the companion to tens of millions of gamers as they, as Master Chief, heeded her warnings, trusted her advice and [SPOILER ALERT] watched her die at the end of the fourth installment of the Halo series. Cortana was known to many and connected to them in the way game characters, no story characters, connect to participants of stories who vicariously live in the world of the character for a brief escape from the mundane pressures of life.

Cotana info Cotana Gesture

Microsoft was now bringing that beloved character, alive and well, into our world. Actually fans demanded it. When the codename Cortana, (yes it was just an internal codename much like Project Spartan is for Microsoft’s new browser), leaked to the masses – a firestorm of support was ignited pleading with Microsoft to retain the name Cortana for their new and capable digital assistant. The Redmond company, in what is increasingly evident of their new way of business – heard the voice of their base – their avid supporters – and complied. The name has been a tremendous hit ever since and no one, not even the Redmond giant, has looked back. As a matter of fact Microsoft recently ran a story on our favorite AI digital assistant as it’s featured “person” in a Story: The Smartest AI in the Universe is More Human Than You Think. This looks to be a company who is seeing the power of merging the success of a brand that resonates with the masses, by injecting a theme into a set of products and services that even non-gamers can understand (I have never played Halo and have never owned an Xbox -True story.) – and generate a halo effect.

De Ja Vu All Over Again

Project Spartan Browser 2

Spartan Browser – Streamlined, powerful, efficient lightweight and enhanced with AI companion Cortana.

Now here we sit at the cross roads. Microsoft is launching, like their ground breaking World’s Most Personal Digital Assistant Cortana – a ground breaking new browser with said World’s Most Personal Digital Assistant thoroughly integrated therein. Joe Belfiore was clear during the Windows 10 presentation that the browser which we have all been calling Spartan, is actually the product of what is dubbed Project Spartan. In essence, this aptly code named Cortana enhanced browser is nameless. Well at least it is to Microsoft and to most of the world. However, as with Cortana the fans have spoken. We like Spartan.

Master Chief John-177(Halo) Vs Captain Titus (Warhammer 40K)

Spartan (Halo) – Streamlined, powerful, efficient lightweight and enhanced with AI companion Cortana.

Windows Central recently published an article which indicates that names such as:

  • Entourage
  • Elixa
  • Evo
  • Evex
  • Endeavor
  • Edge

are apparently on the table which would effectively sever Cortana’s symbolic symbiosis with the browser. Though not functionally altering the browser a larger theme that Microsoft has already begun and invested in (materially and psychologically with the market at large) with peppering Cortana with Halo themed characteristics via the choice of Jen Taylor, (the voice of the AI from the lauded Halo games), Halo references in Cortana’s jokes and responses and finally some elements of her personality which were translated from the game, will be abruptly severed as that same theme has now transitioned to the Cortana enhanced (via it’s name and AI integration) Project Spartan Browser, if a name other than Spartan is chosen at this point. Via the pre-event leaks, the January 21st event itself and post event videos of the product by Microsoft themselves, the profuse and persistently positive coverage by bloggers, vloggers, journalist’s and the media at large – the marketing for Microsoft’s marvelous new browser has already begun under the widely accepted and appropriately efficient moniker – Spartan.

Why Spartan – What’s in a Name?

Cortana CoupleMarcus RT Me and Kristie Hero Feature

I was hoping that the Spartan name would be under very serious consideration by Microsoft. I think that it is a very appropriate moniker.

Spartan Don't Change the Name

One, the name itself conveys the sleek, “spartan”, efficient nature of the browser. This is an appropriate association when considering Spartan in relation to the Greek soldiers who were efficient warriors in battle, sparsely armed and lightly garbed for efficient movement, but extraordinarily effective rivals against any foe. This browser is that. Streamlined and under the hood, very powerful – and apparently quite an effective competitor against rivals Chrome and Safari.

Don't Change the name(1)

Naturally the more appropriate association is Spartan in relation to Halo. Spartans were deliberately engineered from their core, their very DNA, to be natural warriors, and more. This browser was engineered from the core outward to be a powerful mobile browser that does more than the competition.

Don't Change the Name

Second. Naturally what was on the inside of the Spartan was not all that comprised who/what he was but his armor, with the integrated AI was a key symbiosis to the identity of every Spartan. With Cortana integration in the Project Spartan browser the parallels are too blatant to miss. What better name for the ONLY browser with an integrated personal digital assistant that gets to know you and recognizes the webpages you surf and offers relevant support than “Spartan” which echoes Halo’s Spartans with integrated AI’s that recognizes the environments the Spartan is in and offers relevant support.

Cortana, Cortana app, Cortana for Windows Phone 8 Project Spartan Browser 2

Finally, Microsoft is converging it’s ecosystem, Cortana is already one of the most recognized names that has transitioned from what was the company’s only “cool” product – Xbox, a product that people choose to use not have to use (HoloLens and changes coming with Windows 10 may change that). Cortana is not only accepted but clamored for. Spartan is, in my opinion, a natural name for a browser that is seeking to claim territory in the mobile space with its integrated digital assistant. Whatever avenues were utilized to rally individuals to make the voices of the masses heard to get Cortana’s name to stick for Microsoft’s personal assistant must, I contend, be employed. I think Microsoft needs to hear the voice of the masses again. If they’re looking for a name for their sleek, powerful AI integrated browser, I think I echo the voices of the majority of Microsoft’s enthusiastic and vocal supporters – We are Sp….I mean Spartan it is!

DontChangeTheName

Several months ago, Julie Larson-Green, Chief Experience Officer of Microsoft’s “My Life and Work” team, was quoted as saying, “The short answer is, yeah,” in response to the query asking if there were plans to bring Cortana, Microsoft’s very personal digital assistant, to other operating systems. This naturally set off a firestorm of articles and commentary throughout the blogosphere and on social media. This of course was an issue that we thought settled months earlier when Marcus Ash, Group Product Manager for Cortana, mitigated a similar firestorm ignited by similar comments he made in June of 2014. But here we were again pondering if one of Windows Phones most loved and desired exclusive features would be making the trip to the industry’s more popular platforms. Windows Phone fans were not in the least bit pleased.

There are few features Windows fans can claim as exclusively their own. This is particularly more poignant as Satya Nadella’s, Microsoft’s CEO’s, “cloud first, mobile first” strategy has seen many of Microsoft’s products and services, from legacy products like Office to new products like Office Sway, launch on rival platforms before or in better iterations than on Microsoft’s own devices. Many Microsoft faithful have cried foul. Especially after Julie’s cryptic yet precise statement. Of all features not Cortana.

Julie’s words were very clear. “The short answer is, yeah.” The meaning however is less clear, a bit cryptic even. What we do know is that Cortana, per Julie, would be going to other operating systems. That can mean a couple of things. One is that Cortana would be making a home on other devices within Microsoft’s ecosystem. Or the less appealing option, Cortana would be making her way to iOS and android.

So which scenario was Julie alluding to? If scenario number one, then Microsoft’s Window 10 event has seen the fulfillment of her words with Cortana’s appearance on the Windows desktop. Kind of. Windows 10 is, per Microsoft’s marketing message, one operating system running across a family of devices from IoT devices, phones, tablets, PC and TVs. But technically different SKUs of Windows 10 are designed for different form factors though there is a shared core. So if Windows on desktop is considered a different OS(different SKU) than Windows on phone then maybe Windows fans can rest easy and their beloved digital assistant has transitioned to other OS’s, tablets and PCs, without leaving the Microsoft ecosystem.

Suppose however Windows 10 is indeed being viewed, diverse SKUs and all, as a single OS across phones, tablets and PCs? Well if that’s the case Cortana’s appearance on the desktop is not her being brought to other operating systems. Uh-Oh. Siri, you’re in serious trouble. Google, now is a good time to make room for company. iOS and android here comes Cortana, and Windows fans it might not be that bad.

One of the many new products Microsoft debuted during the Windows 10 event on Wednesday January 21st 2015 was their new, slick, streamlined modern web browser codenamed the Project Spartan which is aimed to take on Apple’s Safari and Googles Chrome. This browser debuts many great innovations such as the ability for a user to add annotations to actual webpages either via touch or keyboard and to share those annotated pages with others. This is a first for any browser. Yet the real standout feature is Cortana integration in Microsoft’s project Spartan browser. Cortana, in project Spartan facilitates search, recognizes content on web pages you visit and utilizes her greatest strength – her ability to learn about you –to offer relevant and personal information to a user as they navigate a webpage. No other browser on the market offers this level of personal support. No other browser integrates a personal digital assistant that gets to know the user. No other browser has Cortana.

Microsoft’s internet presence is meager. In the age of mobile computing and nearly ubiquitous smartphones most of our internet activity is happening on our mobile devices. With a combined 97% market share in the mobile space, android and iOS devices, with their Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers, are scouring the web far more prolifically than Microsoft’s barely represented Internet Explorer.

Microsoft needs to grow its internet presence. The strategy to accomplish this goal is likely multifaceted. One, Microsoft needs to sale more devices upon which its new project Spartan browser resides. With the elimination of licensing fees for devices under 9” and the lowering of hardware standards for Windows Phones, Microsoft has seen an uptake in the sale of low cost Windows tablets and a surge of higher end windows devices as well. A number of OEM partners have joined Microsoft and have already begun releasing Windows Phones or have committed to do so. As more devices hit the market Microsoft’s Project Spartan browser will begin to proliferate. This is one prong of a possible two pronged strategy. The less aggressive of the two.

Launching the Project Spartan Browser on iOS and Android, with all of its Cortana integrated glory, is the other. This is of course the bolder and more audacious approach. By offering a browser with a feature set not yet found on rival browsers to users of competing devices Microsoft opens the door to making its internet presence much more profound. Microsoft wants this. They need this to be relevant in the mobile space. And in this “cloud first, mobile first” era, this fits well within the realm of their current business model and mobile strategy. And it does bring Cortana to other operating systems.

The Project Spartan Browser would likely appeal to users of rival platforms because it, in its fresh, new sleek and well “spartan” form, escapes the negative legacy of Microsoft’s much maligned Internet Explorer. With the added appeal of unique innovative features and an integrated personal assistant, it very well may become the browser of choice for many iOS and Android users if it were to one day make it to, or infiltrate, those platforms. Yes an efficient infiltration of rival territory while winning the hearts of its denizens is a classic Spartan move. Project Spartan. Yes, this strategy could be one of the reasons why Microsoft has been very clear in dubbing this entire “new browser initiative” Project Spartan rather than simply settling on the name “Spartan” for it’s new potentially industry disrupting browser. It very well may be more than an effort to rehash it’s own browser on it’s own platform, but a comprehensive strategy, a project, to introduce a new browser alternative laden with Microsoft services to the entire mobile landscape. What better moniker than Spartan for such a bold and aggressive push into enemy territory?

Actually, the “enemy” territory is indeed somewhat fractured in that most of the world uses PCs – 1.5 Billion of us. That means that most of the iOS and Android toting mobile device users have a PC at home and work that Microsoft is offering to upgrade to its latest Cortana enhanced OS for free within the first year of its launch for Windows 7 and up. Get it. Cortana, with her all knowing (with permission) Notebook will be getting to know these iOS and Android users on their PC (just as she does Windows Phone users today). As they use the Project Spartan Cortana enhanced browser on their iOS or Android devices the personal information Cortana has learned of the user on Cortana on their PC/and project Spartan browser also on PC will be coupled with what she has learned from thier browsing habits on thier mobile devices for a personalized browsing experience on their iOS or android device. Akin to how the Bing website culls interests and that personalized experience transcends devices even now after a user logs in, a similar login will likely help facilitate the personalization of the Project Spartan Browser on iOS and Android. With an additional option for the Project Spartan Browser on a mobile device to recognize a users location the personalization features of the Cortana enhanced browser improve.

Of course the Project Spartan Browser with Cortana in tow brings with it Bing, for Cortana is essentially Bing. If this Project Spartan initiative is indeed what I propose here, and it is successful Microsoft will be putting Bing at the fingertips of millions of iOS and Android users. Such a bold strategy could see Bing’s market share grow dramatically.

Finally, this is good news to those in the Windows camp because it continues to build Microsoft’s, “cool factor” within the market where Microsoft’s services are the “chosen” rather than the “required” solution. Additionally though Cortana technically makes a presence on rival platforms – we here in the Windows camp are the only ones who will have Cortana proper in all her personal, fully OS integrated digital assistant glory. In Satya Nadella’s words, Microsoft’s ecosystem is “home” for Microsoft services. Put simply, the best experience is on a Windows device.

microsoft_hololens_brille

The Microsoft HoloLens. Yes this was Microsoft’s surprise announcement that dripped icing all over a cake that already had onlookers salivating. What is the HoloLens? Well in general terms it is Microsoft’s harbinger and facilitator of what they have dubbed the “Era of Holographic Computing”.  In technical terms it is a standalone, wearable computer outfitted with cameras, speakers, a microphone and a host of other sensors designed to, via a Heads Up Display (HUD), project an interactive holographic virtual world onto the physical world we exist in.

Having only seen it demoed and not witnessed it in all of its immersive glory my excitement about this device, being a die-hard tech and sci-fi fan, is already a 10 out of 10.

Halo Lens 7

Here are some official descriptions about the device from Microsoft themselves:

“No cords, no phones, no wires, no tethers. Transparent lens and advanced sensors allow you to see your world and move confidently in it. Lightweight and adjustable to fit any adult head size. Work and play comfortably. Built-in spatial sound lets you hear holograms wherever they are in the room with pinpoint precision. Next-generation technology enabled by Windows 10.”

So the big question is this. Will a regular, working wage, family man Joe like myself be able to participate in the “era of holographic computing?” I don’t know. Microsoft conspiculously left that part out of the presentation. Or did they? Well, true they didn’t give an outright cost or say blatantly whether the Hololens was targeted at consumers or professionals. But they did say some things that lead me to believe that they want me and everyone like me to have one.

Halo Lens 9

Based on a statement shared by Mary Jo Foley the HoloLens was initially planned as a gaming accessory until Satya got a look at it and expanded its vision. It is therefore conceivable that the price(if the tech currently in this expanded iteration of the device is not vastly beyond it’s original hardware) would be nearer the $299 everyone can have one, rather than the $1299 price point more suited for a target market of professionals, enterprise and private sector.

Additionally given the diverse use case scenarios presented to the audience via the demo, it seemed clear that Microsoft means for the Hololens to be used by the regular Joe/Jane as well as professionals. Further supported by the shere ubiquity Microsoft seems to be aiming for with Windows 10(the OS running this device and the targeted 1.5 billion PC install base), coupled again with the diverse use case scenarios in the demonstration, bolstered further by the presenters pressing home of the point that all Windows 10 PCs(he may have even said all Windows 10 devices) are ready for developers to create apps using the holographic APIs, seems to really build a case, and an infrastructure, that Microsoft wants to introduce Holographic Computing to the masses. An accessible price point would be the final key to this scenario.

Halo Lens 6

This is my speculative, and admittedly hopeful, analysis based on the limited information Microsoft has provided. I believe with Windows 10 and the HoloLens Microsoft wishes to usher all of us into the “era of holographic computing“.  They  can do this if the price is right. I think it very well may be. What say ye?

Halo Lens 4

“While [Windows 10] will give developers the unprecedented ability to develop apps that work on PCs, tablets, and smartphones with a single application development effort, it does not show enough potential for a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and consumers away from iOS and Android,” Gillett said.

Twittera2a5367

BEFORE WE TALK TILES…

Ok. Here we are. It’s January 21, 2015. Big day. Huge Day. Well it is to Microsoft anyway; and to a horde of tech enthusiasts, investors and maybe even to Microsoft rivals like Apple and Google. To the regular Joe or Jane consumer, like my wife who had no idea of the significance of this day (seems this Windows Fan has work to do), the ramifications of what Microsoft presents today may not hit them until the product is in their hands, or on their desks, or in their internet connected devices. We’re talking about Windows 10 of course; Microsoft’s reimagining of Windows that will run across a family of devices from desktops, tablets, phones and Internet of Things devices. Yeah it’s a big deal, and interested or not, what Microsoft introduces to its 1.5 billion personal computer install base matters. Really matters.

What You Know

Twittera2a5367

If you’re reading this you’ve likely had an opportunity to read a deluge of articles leading up to today with titles like “What to Expect in Windows 10” or “Windows 10: Microsoft’s Last Chance to Make Windows Relevant.” And if you’re a news hound like myself you’ll probably be sniffing those articles out up until the 9am PST/12pm EST time of the announcement and live stream. Thus you are all probably well versed on “what to expect”. You know things like

    • Cortana, our favorite personal assistant making her desktop/tablet debut replacing search on the PC. Hopefully this also translates to some really magical interaction with Cortana across devices.
    • Spartan, the aptly named light weight, Cortana enhanced browser that seeks to take on Mobile powerhouses like Chrome and Safari.
    • Enhanced by DirectX 12, PC Gaming will apparently be aligned closer to Microsoft’s popular and cool Xbox Gaming.
    • A Single Code and Single Store will unify Windows across form factors providing developers with the tools to “write once” for various devices. Additionally With a single Store app purchases/downloads for consumers becomes a much simpler and efficient affair.
  • Continuum: Windows 10’s ability to “recognize” the type of device it’s on and conform accordingly to a desktop environment when a keyboard is detected, or launch into the finger friendly, Live Tile Start Screen, when in tablet mode. (I believe there is a prompt that requires user confirmation.) Continuum is also the cohesive experience of a user across devices; where “activity” exists in that ephemeral space between devices.
  • Windows Phone and Windows RT joining forces. Yes small tablets and phone will run the same version of Windows. This in my view gives a great opportunity to make Windows (Phone) a much more powerful device.

So there you have it. These are most of the highlights of what we’ve all read we should expect. So I’m not going to waste your time with echoing what you already know. Instead I’d like to venture down another path. A road less travelled if you will. Frank Gillett, an analyst for Forrester Research had this to say about Windows 10:

  “While [Windows 10] will give developers the unprecedented ability to develop apps that work on PCs, tablets, and smartphones with a single application development effort, it does not show enough potential for a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and consumers away from iOS and Android,” Gillett said.

What Windows 10 Won’t Do

Apple Tim Comm Android

Yep. Windows 10‘s unified front may indeed draw developers in to cater to Microsoft’s tremendous PC user base in time. But if the only achievement is that now the slow moving underdog finally has the app selection the entrenched rivals with committed and locked in users has then there may be little appeal for iOS and Android users to switch given that they can already do on their devices what Microsoft will be finally be making available for them to do on theirs.

See here’s the thing. Most people are not really that invested in their OS. You know the general public. Not we tech folks who can rattle off specs and features at a drop of a hat. You know people like your mom, grandmother, pastor, kid, spouse – frankly anyone who is not a tech head. What the regular smartphone user cares about, is can this device do what I want it to do? That normally then translates into does it have the apps that perform the functions I need it to perform to help me accomplish the tasks I need to accomplish? The answer for about 97% of the smartphone market, about 90% android users and 17% iOS users is yes, my Android device and iPhone does exactly what I need it to do.

Add to that Apple’s proclivity for locking users in via proprietary hardware, accessories and software snares. And androids ubiquity which engenders support from a myriad of third party accessory OEMs and developers, that 97% of the market has a significant portion of that audience significantly locked in.

Ouch. That’s painful news for Microsoft and Windows fans who want to see life flow into the Live Tile adorned OS. Hmmmmm. And that may actually be the key. Live Tiles that is.

Live Tiles

wp_ss_20140806_0002 Spiderman Background wp_ss_20140624_0001

You see, at this point in the mobile era we have all become quite accustomed to apps. You download them to your device, tap the icon and voila the app opens and away you go using and interacting with the app and the content or people it gives you access to. Yaaaaawwwnnn. That’s so 2009. Microsoft in 2010 took another approach when it introduced Windows 7. Live Tiles.

Live Tiles take the best of an icon (unobtrusive) and widget (alive and able to be interacted with) to create a User Interface that provides users with access to content within the app without having to tap, open and use the app. The information you desire is right there on the Start screen in many cases. “Glance and Go” was Microsoft’s early Windows 7 tagline.

So what does this have to do with Windows 10 and the potential to grab some of those 97% iOS and android users? Live Tiles have been flipping and displaying information since 2010 and few consumers have barely even glanced.

Well the market in many developed countries is saturated with smartphones. That is to say, virtually everyone has one, is accustomed to them and is used to the, uh, archaic way we interact with apps. Download an app, place a “dead” icon on the start screen, tap it , it opens, we use it. Yes that model, anyone with a smidgeon of imagination knows must eventually change. I submit Microsoft’s Next Chapter is a good time.

Interactive Live Tiles

Before I proceed I’d like to acknowledge what some of you may have already considered. Android’s widgets. Yes android has interactive widgets, but not every app can be a widget and widgets don’t present the seamless unobtrusive flow of apps across a Start screen like Live Tiles do.

Now imagine a model where users can see and interact with content, data and people without launching an app. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Progressive even. Maybe even the next evolution in mobile computing. Microsoft Live Tiles, more than iOS’s static icons and androids widgets are positioned for this next step in the mobile user experience.

We have been introduced to this concept which Microsoft has apparently been tinkering with, that was to launch in the now defunct (or delayed) McLaren. Exploding tiles, where a user hovers their finger over a tile to initiate an “explosion” of smaller tiles from the main tile, each of which contains some content or means to interact with the app without launching it. Phenomenal! Alas, the McLaren did not launch accompanied with Microsoft’s claim that it was not prepared. The exploding tile implementation too was delayed. Delayed not canceled.

Reports emerged that that concept may still see the light of day, howbeit not in the “touchless” iteration that was planned for the McLaren. If implemented now at this stage in the mobile war, it may not be groundbreaking in the planned ways touchless interaction would have introduced but it could be the groundbreaking game changer Microsoft needs to differentiate a user app experience on its platform.

Better

SavedPicture-20141024232452.jpg

Why switch to Windows if my iOS or Android device has the apps that allow me to do what I want it to do. Answer: Microsoft’s Interactive Live Tiles does it better. In developed nations we (right or wrong) often subscribe to the notion that bigger and faster and newer is better. It’s true. That’s why two years after the fulfillment of a carrier contract we are dumping perfectly good devices for the bigger, faster and newer device. We’ve been convinced it’s better. Now with ATT’s Next, Verizon’s Edge and T-Mobile’s Jump programs our desire for the newer and fresher iterations of our mobile computing devices is satiated even sooner. What am I saying? We like new. And if sold to us properly – we buy it.

The 97% of smartphone (android and iOS) users have been using a particular model of app interaction for almost eight (8) years now since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, then the first android device shortly thereafter. That’s an eternity in computer years! Yes iOS refreshed its UI ridding the OS of those skeuomorphic designs. Android Lollipop has moved things along with Material Design making an aesthetically pleasing UI. But the way a user interacts with the data, content and connections via apps has remained unchanged for iOS and Android users. They’re still using a 2007 model!

Microsoft has an opportunity to evolve its Live Tile implementation to the next level of app interaction. Imagine pinning a Contact to the Start screen and via multiple exploding tiles choose to view either Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn updates. Or select a call option that presents itself as an exploding tile. Or having the ability to filter what is displayed on their main tile. Suppose you want to see all of their Facebook photos, or Twitter posts, or Linked Updates, or maybe just their text messages or WhatsApp messages to you. Live Tiles.

Imagine being able to swipe through messages on your message tile, or your photos on your photo tile. Imagine a photos hub that is reconnected to social networks. If there is someone you care about whose photo updates on Facebook, Flickr, Tumbler etc. you’d love to see cycle through your Photos tile, Live Tiles can be enhanced to provide this option.

Imagine controlling Music via exploding controls on the music tile or advancing tracks with a gesture on the tile. Imaging viewing or previewing video on the video tile. Or imagine cycling through YouTube videos of your YouTube subscriptions and preview selected videos on your YouTube (third party I know) tile. Imagine liking a Facebook post or retweeting a Tweet from a Live Tile. The possibilities of app interaction via interactive Live Tiles is vast. Extraordinarily vast.

Microsoft is establishing the necessary foundation with Windows 10 to get developers on board with a unified code and a single Store. Live Tiles is their unique weapon in this mobile war that will allow them to differentiate how users experience apps on mobile devices. No one has done that since 2007. If Microsoft embraces this challenge they will be giving developers a new and vast landscape to pioneer new app user experiences. Users can then be courted with new, faster and bigger ways to experience apps on their mobile devices. Microsoft’s job will be to show them how it is better. If they’re successful – we will buy it.

Visit the Following Sway:

“A Windows Phone’s Fans Lament and Praise of Windows Phone”