Three symptoms of the problem with Surface RT

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Ballmer is reported to have said recently that Microsoft built more Surface RTs than it can sell. I think there are three symptoms of the product that hint at some of the reasons why it didn’t do as well as expected.

Surface RT

It’s called Surface RT

Seriously, you are betting the future of your company on this but you still don’t have the discipline and focus to do one thing right? Pro, RT, what??? This is symptom of a deeper problem at Microsoft where paralyzed by deciding what to focus on, they bet on doing more than is needed. It’s ok to experiment and cast a wide net, but not at the expense of diluting efforts.

Surface with Kickstand
The best Kickstand in the world

How many tablet users complain that the biggest annoyance they have with tablets is the lack of an inbuilt stand. Yes, stand-like accessories are sold a lot, but it only kicks in for specific use cases that aren’t core to what a tablet needs to be. This is a great example where Microsoft uses the best minds to create the slickest, most awesome kickstand in the world, but was it a problem worth solving? Why take on more complexity, moving parts, and make your hardware opinionated for an unvalidated problem? It kinda breaks, you know, and then users have to shell out $300 to get it replaced! Wouldn’t Microsoft be better served by focusing hardware innovation on battery life and weight – which is a more significant differentiator? This is another symptom of Microsoft not being good at understanding and solving for top user frustrations. This also shows that Microsoft thinks of tablets as work and productivity devices while Apples design approach is for the tablet to be very universal with no right orientation and infinite possibilities – be unfettered to laptop use cases.

iPad and Surface RT side by side
It was priced the same as the iPad

What an unfortunate assumption to think that people can’t do math. A brand new, sub-par, v1 hardware software combo with no apps being priced the same as an iPad??? An iPad with 16bg of usable space and retina display at that time was priced at $499. The Surface RT with 16gb of usable space was also priced at $499. With the much touted keyboard costing an additional $129. The reason the iPad 1 flew off shelves is that when they announced it everyone thought it would be $700+. $499 was such a sweet price for what at that time was the only thing like it. Apple’s most wicked move here was pricing it at $499. Had Surface RT launched with $349 as the start price, we would be having a very different conversation now.

I think Windows 8 is  a great leap forward. I think the quality of visual design is awesome. I still think that the interaction design of Windows 8 is subpar which complicates the experience more than it needs to, but I like the possibilities it brings. No organization is too big to take a lean approach to innovation, though, and a lot of the issues here would’ve been mitigated if the development was more iterative and incorporated more external feedback loop. I want healthy competition in the marketplace and would like Surface to take their rightful place – but it’s going to be a lot of hard work to do less and get it right.

iOS 6.01 killed my LTE

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Apple seems to have really degraded in software quality lately. I updated my iPhone 5 to iOS 6.01 yesterday. It was weird enough that iOS 6.0 needed a separate app to be downloaded which would restore OTA updates. But the update said it fixes some LTE issues where the radio doesn’t reliably connect to the network. I have encountered that issue and thought this update would fix it. Guess what? My LTE is gone. My iPhone 5 now only gets download speeds of 0.5MBPs or less. In comparison my iPhone 4S used to get 3MBPs on 4G. And it’s way less than my LTE speeds of 30MBPs. Here’s a table that shows my speeds before upgrading to iOS 6.01 and after.

20121102-134336.jpg

This is just bad. What kind of a software company releases a patch to fix an issue and ends up breaking stuff on the latest hardware? Of course, this is probably not a 100% repro or it wouldn’t have been released. So YMMV.

Bad maps, low software reliability, easily scratching body, unnecessary upgrades to dock connectors. I have enjoyed using Apple products but this might be the lowest point for Apple I have experienced in a while.

Facebook: stop worrying about sharing, live your life, leave the rest to us

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Facebook launched the Like button 18 months ago and it has had a huge impact on how people browse and share information and form associations with other entities. Within days websites had integrated Facebook social plugins which made it super easy to feed stuff back to Facebook and share with your friends in a frictionless way. Though Facebook started collecting information about every webpage you went to as long as there was any social plugin on that page, you still had to take an additional step to decide if something was worth sharing with your friends or else they would never see it. Let’s take an example:

I visit the NYT webpage and read a couple of stories, say A and B. I then decide that story A is worth sharing and hit the “Recommend” button and it gets posted to my feed. My friend arrives on NYT and sees the headline for story B. He doesn’t know that I checked it out as well but he is interested in it and even clicks on it but he never shares it either. Then a third friend is now on NYT trying to decide what she should read. Given the old scenario, only story A would be recommended to her. The information about story B and two friends interacting with it has been lost.

Maybe it’s lost of for a good reason – it probably wasn’t worth sharing. One could argue it keeps the signal to noise ratio high. But the best way to deal with information overload is generating more information, not less. With enough training data, and meta information like time spent and other derived engagement metrics it won’t be too hard to use that lost information to come up with even better suggestions.

Google Gears: Browser up, OS down!

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We all knew this was coming and it has finally come. The final problem of offline access to web-based services has been addressed by Google Gears which was released last week. Today, I saw the first instance of it being available to the end user via the Google Reader.
Google Reader with Google Gears
You can have consistent, transparent access to all your favorite websites/web applications through the browser. The OS becomes less important now and the need for natively installed OS specific applications is greatly reduced.

It would be interesting to see the changes this will bring in our world!

What’s that under my skin – an RFID?

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I have always been very excited about this but have been putting it off. However, the IEEE doesn’t want to let us on-the-edge engineers rest in peace – they went ahead and dedicated an entire issue of Spectrum magazine on embedding RFIDs inside human bodies. Reading about the experiences of the few people who have done it helps reduce the anxiety around it and very strongly tempts me to go ahead and get it done. I have already looked up online about where I can order the RFID chips and readers from. I am at the last step – I need to order it and schedule an appointment with a doctor to perform the 3 minute insertion procedure.

I suggested this idea to fellow students at SI and have got many concerned responses – why do you want to make it easy for the Big Brother? Is it safe? What’s the point?

Big Brother (Privacy): It’s a passive device for identification and authentication, just like finger-prints, so it is not as scary as the potential scenario of a GPS enabled chip that radios in to Big Brother at intervals. Safety: well, the IEEE seems to endorse it, they haven’t made active and scary disclaimers about the risks involved, if any. And animals have been RFIDed since a long time now. The point: Well, to be honest, there is no point. It’s only a cool thing to do, like getting a tattoo; just a more geeky tattoo. There is absolutely no compelling reason about why the RFID should be under my skin – can I really not be ok with it being in my pocket?

Well, we will have to see what I end up doing!

Amdocs 7

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Amdocs’ latest offering is Amdocs 7. When I read about this, I got an instant flashback of the time I spent working in Amdocs. Always on it’s heels, always thinking ahead, prepared well in advance. It was a very good experience. I am glad I am still very much in touch with many of my former colleagues.

Microsoft Robotics Studio Released

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I had referred to this before and I was eagerly waiting for a release. Well, there you go, Microsoft has released the commercial Robotics Studio (1.0). It is quite exciting and I hope to be able to play around with it some time soon.
Yes, you can download it for free for personal use:

That means if you are student, educator, academic researcher, or hobbyist looking to try out or use the software without the objective of making money or running your business, the software is available for download for free.

Go ahead and play around!!!

Microsoft Zune – A new social experience?

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So Microsoft has finally declared that the Zune will be priced at $249. They make a bold statement there on the press release:

“On Nov. 14 we’re delivering not only a device, but a shared, social experience that will be shaped by the collective imagination of consumers,” said Chris Stephenson, general manager of global marketing for Zune. “We’re infusing the spirit of discovery and sharing into everything we do — from the experience we crafted around the device and service to pre-loading music and videos on every device to expose people to something new.”

We will only know for sure once we experience it, but this sure has me all excited. So now you know what I want for Thanksgiving.