Category Archives: Mobile

Microsoft Introduces the MeeToo

The Microsoft Surface tablet finally surfaced yesterday. I was discussing it with my son and he said the whole thing reminded him of the movie The Sixth Sense, which Microsoft playing the Bruce Willis part. They’re walking around, wondering what’s going on, trying to solve people’s problems and don’t realize they’re dead. People’s computing problems are directly attributable to them, not being alive and aware of how the world now works.

So I looked at the press event and the product video, and I’m trying to figure out why people are excited. Ok, yes, there’s another tablet offering out there, and it’s from a company who in theory can go toe-to-toe with Apple in this space, or sell at a loss for a decade if not (see Xbox profits and marketshare). And it’s a Windows offering for those who’ve been wanting Windows on a tablet. That’s it. That’s the new stuff. The rest are things already out there. NPR has a summary of reviews. And or course there is the obligatory use of the term iPad Killer. I’d actually be careful with that one, it seems a good way to end up with a tablet nobody wants based on past experience. Remember Xoom, Playbook and Touchpad? They were all iPad killers.

John Quain of J-Q.com said:

“Microsoft has always mimicked other technologies, from graphical interfaces to Web browsing to financial software. In some cases, it did improve upon what it copied, but in general the company’s approach worked because it was based on an artificial monopoly. It was important for us as users to work with common files and formats, so Windows continued to dominate and we adopted its browser and related software.”

So let’s look at what we know so far, and what we don’t know.

The thickness and weight are basically an iPad. The screen size is 10.6″ with HD resolution. This is good news if you’re primarily watching videos. Not bad, but not groundbreaking. Bad news if you’re trying to get work done. Note that the larger diagonal with the 16:9 resolution results in a smaller vertical space than the iPad with the 4:3 resolution. And look at the kickstand – this is a horizontal device by nature. Less vertical space is not a great idea if you’re trying to get work done, like email, creating documents, etc.

Screen Dimensions (estimated based on diagonal)
Tablet Diagonal Width Height
Microsoft Surface 10.6 9.2 5.2
Apple iPad 9.7 7.8 5.8

For screen resolution we don’t have any actual numbers yet, but people are suggesting that the “HD” for the RT version vs the “Full HD” for the Pro version means that it’s 720p (1280×720) and 1080p (1920×1080). iPad 2 resolution is roughly 720p albeit a different aspect ratio at 1024-by-768. The new iPad resolution is much higher at 2048-by-1536.

As to the processors we know that the RT is an ARM and the Pro is an Intel I-5. Both have an unknown number of cores and clock rate. How much RAM is also unknown.

Storage is 32GB through 128GB. Mostly standard fare for tablets, although the 128 currently stands out. It may be matched by others in the not too distant future, but currently a lot of space. Remember though that this is for a full Windows installation, so free space may be less than what you expect.

Price, Performance, Battery life are all things we don’t know. Raw specs, currently unavailable, are going to be essentially meaningless. What will matter is how snappy it is. If apps start fast, switch fast, and are responsive, then it’s a plus. Anything less than that will be DOA. I’m presuming it’ll be fast enough. Microsoft said the price of the Windows 8 RT Surface will be comparable to the price of other consumer tablets, while the price of the beefier (and heftier) Windows 8 Pro Surface will rival the price of Ultrabooks. Nothing new here, unless you count a $1000+ tablet as something new. Maybe. Overpriced tablets are a dime a dozen. Remember the Motorola Xoom?

The Kickstand is only new in the sense that it’s built-in. Kickstands and a wide variety of other cases are widely available. Will the Kickstand work vertically like many iPad cases? It doesn’t seem to be that way. How will it work when you put it on your lap? It’s a great idea for a table-top, but wouldn’t work the way I frequently use my iPad.

The keyboard again isn’t a new device. There is a huge selection for tablets from cases that convert your machine to basically being a notebook all the way to standard Bluetooth keyboards. Some are good, some are crappy. Logitech for example makes an extremely thin one built into an iPad case. Bundling it is a definite plus, but nothing new. Some will argue that the keyboard is using latest greatest technology, but it’s still just a keyboard and therefore not revolutionary. Kinect based keyboardless input – now that would be a reason to buy!

Some are calling the keyboard the killer secret weapon. It’s funny while there are many keyboard options available for the iPad, how many do you see in the wild? Very few. The point of a tablet is often to leave the stuff behind. Of course, if your OS is not designed for a tablet, but requires keyboard and mouse, then you need the thing.

The cover – wait for it – comes in colors and has magnets! Wow, how 2011! Has anyone at Microsoft seen the old iPad 2 videos? OK, it has an accelerometer too. You can call it evolutionary, but again not revolutionary.

Applications – you can run your windows applications, at least on the Pro. This will undoubtedly be a reason for many to try the Surface out. The question will ultimately be whether the experience is good enough to last. Remember Microsoft built tablets that could run Windows applications over 10 years ago, and pretty much no one wanted them. A 10 year old capability is nothing new. The tablet touch experience is fundamentally different than a PC. it’s based on UI that doesn’t need keyboards and mice. I’m not sure Microsoft understands that.

And that leaves me with their new marketing video. It reminds me of the droid campaign in that it’s long on sizzle and short on function. It shows lots of pretty pictures the relate to how the device is built, but nothing about what it can do. Looks to me like they’re targeting Android fans. There are those who criticize Apple’s advertising because it shows apps more than the devices, but isn’t that the point? It’s not about the device, it’s about doing something, whether it’s watching a movie, writing the great American novel, chatting with your grandchildren, or killing time with Angry Birds. How well will it do those things is still the great unknown.

[Update] Forgot about the stylus, inevitably someone will complain so here it is. The Pro version has a stylus – can you say Palm? [/Update]

[Update] How did I miss this? Where is the internet connectivity? WiFi only?! I want my LTE! [/Update]

Useless Software Predictions for 2012

crystal ball © by jerebu
It seems like everyone who is anyone is creating a list of software predictions for the software industry for 2012. I decided why not jump on the bandwagon and have some fun. If nothing else, it’s a good chance to rant. So without further ado, here’s my two cents on 2012.

Extensive cross-browser testing will become a necessity

In 2012, you can no longer get away with testing browser-based applications on one or two browsers. Not so long ago, an organization creating an internal application could declare that they were targeting a specific version of Windows, and testers could ignore everything else with impunity. Even if the application was accessed via a browser, it was pretty safe to assume that if the organization had Windows desktops, testing could focus on IE 6 or 7.

Now, more and more applications are accessed from a browser, and there’s no way to predict which browser people will have on their desktop. For a commercial product, you probably need to support (and test on):

  • Firefox on Windows, Linux, and Mac
  • A couple versions of IE on a couple versions of Windows
  • Safari on OS X and iOS
  • Chrome
  • Opera

The only good news on this front: At least you won’t have to test on IE 6 since Microsoft is actively driving it into extinction.

Mobile devices are another huge issue. As a tester, you need to define what you’re supposed to care about. If you’ve got a reason to skip something, make sure your test plan not only documents what you are testing, but also what you’re NOT testing (and why). For example, if you think Firefox is important, get that documented in your test plan.

And then there’s tablets. No matter what you think of Apple, there’s no denying that iPads are everywhere. If there’s any way to access your application from an iPad and you’re not testing it there, don’t be surprised to see a growing number of reported bugs (or lost users) in the upcoming year. The same goes for other tablets that are gaining momentum in the marketplace.

Testing for touch interfaces will need to be done

A finger can move in ways that simply are not possible for a mouse. With a mouse, if you want to move the cursor from point A to point C, you must move through point B. With a finger, you can go directly from A to C without ever passing through point B. A mouse can never be in two places at once, but a touch display often receives multiple simultaneous touches moving in different directions. You also have directional gestures, different lengths of touches, and so on. Web sites that depend on some form of hover for instruction or navigation don’t really translate to a touch interface.

What does this mean for testers? Until now, many teams have been able to squeak by with very extensive testing on the desktop, then some cursory checking on a touch interface to confirm that nothing horrible happens. As more and more people start using touch interfaces—often as their primary computing device—this is going to become more and more of an issue. Test plans will need to address this.

Cloud adoption will continue, but not necessarily help

Super simple guess here. So easy it’s not actually a prediction. People will continue to migrate things to the cloud. At some point in the future it’s possible this trend will reverse, similar to outsourcing. The cloud introduces new problems and complexity while solving others. Some will find that the cloud helped, others that it didn’t really change things (SPDS – Same Problem Different Server) while still others will find that the cloud was for them a huge mistake. Try not to be one of those – make sure that the reason you’re going to cloud aligns with what the cloud can actually do for you. Beware of those who say it will cure all problems.

The Arms Race in PC performance is over for the desktop

Probably this happened even earlier, but I’m making it official. The desktop performance arms race is over! Hurray! No longer do you need to buy a machine worrying that the next one out in 3 months is so much faster that you wish you had waited. Truthfully for most users outside of high-performance gamers, the machines available today are more than fast enough.

If you don’t believe me, look at the tablets and phones out there. They are much lower performance than the desktop, and yet still more than good enough for most people. One thing good about the mobile devices is that with the limited resources there the developers have been more careful to date. As mobile devices grow in capability, the apps will decrease in performance, because programmers will become sloppy as they have on the desktop.

One last long-term prediction on this – most desktop computers will be history within the next 10 years. They’re already approaching the point of being ridiculous.

Siri + Kinect

Ok, this one is not going to happen. Not this year, not ever. But imagine computing devices capable of the voice input that Siri has along with the controllerless gestures and other inputs that Kinect is capable of. I want one, now! Where do I buy it?

Well don’t expect Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL) to team up, but don’t be surprised when we finally do start seeing those two concepts married in the same devices. It WILL happen, it’s just a question of when. Unfortunately, probably not for a couple of years. Someone please prove me wrong.

Some companies will miss the boat on tablets

By this I don’t mean that someone will make crummy tablets – that’s already happened more times than anyone would have expected. I mean from a business perspective companies don’t realize that tablets are necessary both for your staff as well as your customers. Handicapping your staff or your customers results in lost business. More than one company will let that happen to them this year.

In other words, if you don’t have a tablet strategy for your IT department – get cracking. If you don’t have one to make sure your customers that have tablets can access your application/web then hurry up and fix it, because it’s already costing you money. For example, if you have a web site that lets customers make online payments, but Flash gets in the way, people will start looking for other vendors. They are already doing this.

And if you think you can simply re-size your application to fit on a smaller screen, think again. Mobile is fundamentally different – read the section on touch interfaces above.

Flash will die

It’s already officially dead on mobile, in that Adobe has said they’re no longer supporting it. How much farther behind can the desktop be? It’s inevitable that Adobe will not bother with the desktop at some point. Probably NOT this year, but in the not too distant future. If you have a Flash app today you should start looking at HTML5. If you’re looking at new development for heaven’s sake don’t use Flash!

For more software predictions, check out my Parasoft blog.

That Bright Light You Saw was the End of Flash

It’s finally official – at least for those who are aware of how the web works. Yesterday Adobe (ADBE) announced that they will be discontinuing flash support for mobile devices.

HTML5 © by Josef Dunne

A couple of brief quotes from their blog post follow:

“However, HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms. …”

“Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores. We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations…”

To be sure they did plenty of backpedaling about renewed focus and new features for the desktop, but make no mistake, they see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they finally figured out it’s a train. Hello HTML5 Express!

As I’ve said before this is a fine thing. The truth is that many years ago Adobe was the only way to do animation, video, and interactivity at all. And after that, it was just the best way. And after that, the most common way.

Today the need for Flash has greatly diminished. HTML5 has already delivered on the promise in the area of video, and AJAX works very well for interactive web applications.

Three things really killed them. I’ll take them in reverse order, since the third was just a symptom, but most think it was the cause. Namely, Steve Jobs. At Apple (AAPL), Jobs figured out that Flash not only doesn’t work well for mobile, but it probably wasn’t every going to, at least not before HTML5 would catch on. But Jobs didn’t kill Flash, he was just more vocal about it’s shortcomings.

Number one was that the need for Flash simply isn’t there the way it once was. Web pages used to be really static. In the beginning there were almost completely text. Then people started adding more images. Then came databases and data-driven apps. Then video, sound, and fully interactive applications.

But before the last, there was a gap, people wanted video and apps, but it just wasn’t easy. Most applications consisted of some special code that had to be downloaded on your machine, and were essentially client-server programs that used the web simply as a transport mechanism. Flash is pretty much the same as the others, with the exception that it was pretty easy to use, and it managed to catch on. With critical mass, it started to be supported by most browsers, and off it went.

Today we can get streaming video quite easily without Flash. Any web site that doesn’t provide video feeds in HTML5 simply cuts off millions of potential users, which is generally a poor business decision.

As for apps, the simple web applications that are in Flash will continue to live on, but the great desire for them has changed. Now users can download free and inexpensive games all day long on their mobile devices, which is where they normally play the little time wasters. (I’m not judging, I do it myself.) So why do you need Flash?

That leaves us with advertisers – and they have a problem there. People without Flash simply don’t get their message. From the producer side it’s a problem anyway, as a consumer, I’m happy to turn Flash of in my browser, and only click when I know it’s something I need. AJAX is where advertising will end up, and actually it’s very well suited to the task, seeing as the first A in AJAX stands for asynchronous, which is perfect for advertising.

So reason number one is that the need for Flash has melted away. I was tempted to say evaporated, but it wasn’t that quick. It’s been a slow steady change in how the web works, from proprietary thick browser plug-ins to open dynamic lightweight AJAX. And that’s a good thing, both for consumers and for the people who run the pipes that the internet is carried over.

I’ve always said that the value Adobe brings to the table isn’t so much Flash itself as the amazing tools they provide for web development. The designer shouldn’t have to care so much about whether the application is Flash or HTML5, they should be able to just code. Adobe should be able to quickly get in front of this by providing everything Flash does in HTML5. And to do that, they had to finally admit that HTML5 is killing Flash. Mobile is just the first step.

As for reason number 2 (for those who’ve been keeping track… 3,1,2) it explains why mobile is the first step. And that reason is that Flash is ill-suited for mobile for various reasons. One is performance. It’s easy to see that Flash is a hog no matter what the platform.

Try a simple test – fully charge the battery on your laptop. Fully disable Flash and spend a couple hours surfing the web. Then charge the battery again, turn Flash back on, and repeat. You’ll be shocked at the results. Bear in mind, I’m not talking about playing Flash games and video even, just surf the web. Not only do you avoid advertising, but you’re battery lasts longer and everything runs faster. Who would have that that dumping Flash was a way of going green? But it is. Now imaging trying the same thing on a device with a tiny battery, slower processor and a lot less memory. Painful.

The other part of the equation is the usage paradigm. Early in the iPhone era people started writing articles about how to program an iPhone. Many articles described handling the touch interface exactly the way you would a mouse. This is of course ridiculous, especially now with multi-touch and gesture.

Even without that, a finger simply doesn’t behave the way a mouse does. For instance, you can pick a finger up and put it down somewhere and the cursor moves with it. If you pick up a mouse and set it down the cursor is either where you started or in some random place – not the most useful feature.

The touch interface is just one aspect of mobile programming that makes Flash painful on a mobile device. Silly things like x controls that let you close a Flash animation are frequently too small to be used. Add that all up and you find that the basic concept of Flash is flawed, namely to be a “write-once run-anywhere” works fine on the desktop, but doesn’t translate well to the mobile touch-enabled world. Which leads us back to Steve Jobs, 1-2-3.

And a funny footnote. RIM (RIMM) has announced that unlike Adobe, they will continue to support Flash development for the Blackberry Playbook. They just don’t know when to give up, do they? It’s not surprising coming from the people who thought that no one would want mp3 files on their phones. As ZDnet
put it:

But to continue to support an already dead platform on a dying tablet is like throwing salt in the wound of an already squashed slug.

So when HTML5 gets better and your mobile device gets stronger, you can thank Adobe for finally recognizing the inevitable – Flash is dead.

[Update]
Google has a tool that you can use to convert Flash to HTML5.
[/Update]

Lies, Damn Lies, and Hardware Specs

Twitter Statistics © by ©aius
With the plethora of new mobile devices constantly coming out, consumers are bombarded with geek-speak on which ones are best. From the geeks perspective it’s all about the hardware specs. And geeks buy new things all the time just to keep up with the latest.

For everyone else, you buy something to fill some need or desire. If it does it the way you want, then good. If not, don’t buy, get rid of it, upgrade it, etc.

The funny thing about the geek method is that they mistakenly think they’re getting the best thing, because the numbers are there, and as we all know, numbers don’t lie! And there’s the rub – hardware specs are not an indication of system performance.

Luckily for much of the public they don’t fall for such nonsense. It’s like saying that one car is faster than the other simply based on how many cubic inches or centimeters the engine has. Such a number will tell you that one engine is bigger than the other, nothing else. What it doesn’t tell you is which vehicle is faster, which is stronger, which is more responsive, which has better mileage, or anything else useful in and of itself.

Add to this the fact the the market for computing devices has changed. It used to be common for people to have machines that were simply underpowered for their daily needs. That hasn’t been true for years now, most computers you can buy will do what you want them to today, and for the next couple of years or even longer.

A recent article in Wired says it well:

Processor speed, disk size and RAM matter a lot less in tablets or post-PC devices than they did in the classic PC era, when they were expensive and scarce. Design, good software, slick interactivity and good media availability matter more, because that’s what’s scarce today.”

Or as they put it in Information Week’s iPhone Vs Android: It’s The Sum, Not The Specs:

“Comparing individual specs between smartphones is like opening up the hood of a Ford Mustang and the hood of a BMW M3 and pointing out why one is better than the other based on its innards. The Mustang’s engine displacement alone doesn’t make the Mustang better than the M3, any more than the M3’s suspension alone doesn’t make the M3 better than the Mustang.”

Such comparisons blind one to the important issues about a particular product. Questions like “Will it do what I want?” and “How fast will it do what I want?” are more important than “What is it’s PassMark rating?” Some people DO need a faster device for what they are doing, others do not. Some devices will be fast at some things and slow at others. Knowing how they perform for your needs is what’s important.

This was all very much at play last week and Apple (AAPL) released a new iPhone which not only failed to have a new shape, but didn’t have the latest important specs as declared by the geekocracy.

This is a fine example because it’s real, tangible, and recent. Should you buy an iPhone? Should you upgrade? What’s different about the new one? The breakdown is fairly simple.

First, what the new iPhone 4S doesn’t have (the “disappointing” part)

  • A new number – iPhone 5. Does this really matter to consumers?
  • A new shape – again, so what. Unless the shape is a real problem for you, this is a non-issue.
  • Bigger screen – a minor bummer, would have been nice. But bigger screens also carry a cost in battery life and portability. I’m pretty much at the limit for what can fit comfortably in my pocket. Some would have you believe that bigger=better.
  • NFC – stores don’t have it yet, so I don’t need it yet. It’s an early-adopter thing.
  • LTE – AT&T (ATT) isn’t ready, so I don’t mind, especially since I happen to live and work in what should be a good area for HSPA+. For Verizon users this is a major letdown. For Sprint (S), well hey, WiMax iPhone wasn’t going to happen anyway. In either case, you need either a bigger phone or less stuff inside to accommodate it, not to mention lousy battery life. I’m not interested in LTE until I know I can get an unlimited plan for it, otherwise I’ll stick with what I have.

What the iPhone 4S does have:

  • Radically better camera, especially for low-light. If you were going to buy a new point-and-shoot camera, this might do the job.
  • Dual-core – not sure if any apps will actually be faster – maybe not necessary depending on what you do with your phone. This does included a better GPU – great for certain things, maybe not noticeable for others. If your phone is slow, this is a good upgrade. If your phone doesn’t seem slow, then don’t worry about it.
  • Faster network for some AT&T users – This isn’t 4G, it’s HSPA+ and it’s hard to say yet who this will affect. Obviously if you’re not on AT&T this is a worthless feature. If you’re in an area that gives you faster service, this might be a good thing. Again, it depends on whether you’re experiencing slower than desired network performance, like web pages loading slowly.
  • Cloud-syncing – if you have a lot of iTunes content like movies, music, etc. this is nifty. If not, it’s another non-feature.
  • Voice assistant – this appears to be interesting in the videos they show but it’s still considered a beta feature. Great fun for geeks, probably not ready for prime-time yet.
  • More storage space – up to 64 GB. If you’re out of space and you actually need more space this is great. As opposed to being out of space because you don’t delete things you don’t need. This is a classic spec example – some would automatically say it’s a better phone, but the reality is 64GB is going to cost more. If you are happily living with a 16GB phone, why would you upgrade to this? It makes no sense. (disclosure – I’m a space hog – I’m on the edge with my current 32GB phone. But at least I recognize that my personal usage model is abnormal.)

See how easy it is to break things down to real issues? Very few actual hardware specs involved, and no simple assumption that bigger is faster, or that bigger/faster is better.

Luckily the geeks influence is waning over the public at large. A recent article in Beatweek gives a great history and breakdown – give it a read.

A prime example of the waning influence is the ill-fated WebOS. From it’s inception, WebOS was something the geeks loved. I’ve read countless articles about it being better, most without any substance as to why it’s better for me. But it’s new and it smells better – everyone will love it. The rest of the world hated WebOS – and the geeks still love it.

As for me, I’m going to judge things on how they work for me. For those who are only interested in the numbers – good luck with that.

[Update 2011-10-11]
Some people have received their iPhone early and already spec reports are coming in. The funny thing – the A5 CPU on the iPhone 4S appears to be running at 800 MHz, but still outperforms other phones with “faster” processors.

Dropping a CPU’s core voltage, yields a greater-than-linear decrease in power consumption, making the marginal loss in clock speed a good choice.

[/Update]

[Update 2011-10-17]
This one was too funny to pass up. From SlashGear:

Siri was Apple’s middle-finger gesture to the hardware arms-race that epitomizes the Android smartphone market today. Don’t just make a phone that runs 1-percent faster, make one that actually works better with users’ needs.

[/Update]