Video for Short Attention Spans

on October 15, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

About 18 months ago, I was talking to my contacts in Hollywood, and they told me that Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg had become interested in short form videos. The word they used to describe his thinking was “short telenovela’s” that could tell an entire story in about 10-15 minutes. At the time I heard this news from these friends, the smartphone had been on the market for close to 8 years. Moreover, during that time, many had observed how people in Asia were using smartphones to watch locally created soaps on their way to work.

I have been on these commuter trains in Japan and Hong Kong and have observed this type of behavior, especially by Asian youth, as they rode the train to work each morning. Most have commutes of over an hour and before smartphones, they would either read or play handheld games on their way to work. However, once smartphones were able to deliver video, local short form video content became widely available, and most watch their soaps or segments of a movie or TV show on the train to their jobs.

Katzenberg is not the only one in Hollywood who was thinking about this idea of creating short-form videos. There are projects inside all of the major movie and TV studios who have been exploring this idea for a couple of years.

This week, Katzenberg and his partner, Meg Whitman, officially announced their new movie studio called “ Quibi” which is short for quick bites of content. Its primary goal is to create a short-form video for quick consumption when riding to work on public transport or standing in line at the DMV, or anytime or place what you can spare 10-15 minutes to watch one of these videos.

At Vanity Fair’s Establishment Summit last week, Katzenberg and Whitman announced their new venture.

According to Deadline Hollywood, “Katzenberg talked about his rationale for the startup, which has secured an initial round of $1 billion. He said people leave the house each day with a television in their pockets — their smartphones; and they are devoting 70 minutes a day watching videos from these ubiquitous portable screens.

YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snap all have created an appetite for mobile video and helped to establish a powerful daily habit. Now, mobile video is ready for its HBO moment — a time for a new player to step in and reinvent mobile video with high-quality content from Hollywood’s top talent.” For top talent, Quibi has tapped big-name filmmakers like Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, and Antoine Fuqua.

Deadline points out that Quibi has big-name backers as well. This includes Disney, eOne, Fox, Lionsgate, MGM, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, Viacom and Warner Media. Tech investors include Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Liberty Global and Madrone Capital.

When I initially heard about Katzenberg’s interest in short form videos, the snarky side of me called it “short attention span” theatre. However, over the last two years, I have found myself watching short video clips from Facebook videos and even short videos I found on Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube when waiting in long lines and when I ride the train to meetings in San Francisco once in a while. However, most of the videos I watch are tied to things like music videos, America’s Best Talent or American Idol or things that are funny or amusing.

What Katzenberg and Whitman are doing is launching high-quality mobile storytelling in which an entire story is told in a relatively short time span. I see this as a significant inflection point in mobile computing history. We already know that 70% of video is already being consumed on mobile devices. Also, most of these videos in the west are like the examples I gave above. However, in Asia, this type of short form mobile storytelling has been going on for years.

Now Quibi is set to deliver high-quality video that will tell a story in a short “bits” or create short stories in the form of weekly episodes like what we already have on TV or as stories that can be linked together perhaps by chapters. More importantly, the shows from Quibi will be movie theater quality given the high powered movie directors who will create them. This will raise the bar for mobile video in that movie quality content breaks new ground and could change the mobile movie game field in useful ways.

Other companies are also doing some of their short videos. Digiday reported on why Netflix and Amazon are experimenting with short-form video earlier this year. Here is what they wrote:

“Netflix, for instance, announced this week that it will air a new documentary series from BuzzFeed News called “Follow This,” which will follow BuzzFeed News journalists as they report interesting stories. The show will span 20 episodes, with each episode running for roughly 15 minutes. Amazon, too, is venturing into short-form video. Last fall, it commissioned three original digital shorts from Funny Or Die through its Prime Video Direct program, which allows video creators of all types — including those that specialize in short form — to upload videos to the Prime platform. This was the first time Amazon funded any original and exclusive content through the Prime Video Direct program. Hulu, meanwhile, hasn’t picked up any short-form video series, but is exploring the format as part of its original content strategy, a source said.”

How successful Quibi will determine how this part of mobile storytelling develops and gets accepted by the masses. They will not compete with the short videos we already have on YouTube or Facebook Videos, much of which is user created. This represents a new phase in mobile video, and it will be up to the writers and directors to craft their stories in this short form format, which is no small task. I have consulted on movie and TV projects in the past with scriptwriters as a technical consultant and know how hard it is to write a screenplay, especially for television, where the content represents only about 22 minutes. Now they have to tell a story in under 15 minutes, and it will take new levels of writing skills and creativity to achieve this.

I see Katzenberg’s and Whitman’s new company as essential trailblazers who will be delivering movie quality storytelling for small screens. If successful, it has the potential of raising the bar on next generation videos we will consume, especially on smartphones, and could be the catalyst that pushes other serious video creators to new levels of quality and innovation.

Podcast: 5G Americas, Quibi And Snap Short Videos, Google Product Launch

on October 13, 2018
Reading Time: 1 minute

This week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Tim Bajarin and Bob O’Donnell discussing the 5G Americas event and the expected impact of 5G, the launch of short-form videos from Quibi and Snap, and analyzing the announcement’s from Google’s product launch event.

If you happen to use a podcast aggregator or want to add it to iTunes manually the feed to our podcast is: techpinions.com/feed/podcast

Magic Leap Is Asking the Right Questions

on October 12, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Magic Leap this week held its first-ever developer conference called LEAPCon, where the company made a wide range of interesting and promising development and product announcements. But the company, its executives, and its partners also did something unique during the opening keynote: They asked developers not to merely rush into the creation of new content for the platform they call spatial computing, but to stop and think about why they are creating it, and what they can do to make it more inclusive.

New Platform, New Possibilities
Over the years, I’ve been publicly skeptical of Magic Leap’s ability to deliver upon some of the outsized promises it seemed to make around its technology. When the company’s first developer hardware kit, the Magic Leap One, shipped in August, many saw it as proof it had radically overpromised what it could do. I was a bit more forgiving, seeing it as the first hardware step on a long journey. At LEAPCon, Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz and company did something equally important to shipping that first piece of hardware: They talked about the future they hope people will build with this new technology.

Abovitz kicked off the keynote by acknowledging something few CEOs would: a troubled world. “Today our world feels divided. It feels broken. Our new medium of spatial computing is fresh; it doesn’t carry the baggage and negative headlines that are dominating the news today,” he said. “As a creative collective, we can refuse to perpetuate the baggage that weighs down traditional mediums that came before like radio, television, and film. They are great, but there is all this baggage. Spatial computing can be a safe haven, and a creative space to include all who respect each other.”

Abovitz then ceded the stage to his Chief Marketing Officer, Brenda Freeman, and CEO of Funomena, Robin Hunicke. Freeman noted that at present, the “magic verse” is a blank slate that affords creatives the opportunity to do things differently. To create an ecosystem that’s “vibrant, future forward, and culturally relevant.”

Hunicke acknowledge that the world today often feels overwhelming and uncertain and that people don’t always feel empowered to make change. “We are here today to talk and think and dream about adding a new dimension to our reality,” she said. “The possibilities are infinite, and the landscape of this work is fresh and new. It is relatively unexplored. This means the power we have to shape the future is incredible.” She went on to ask a question that not enough people in technology ask themselves: “What does that power mean, and how are we going to use it?”

“When platforms like radio, television, and film were first developed, diversity and inclusion weren’t part of the Zeitgeist,” she said. “When the internet, game consoles, and cell phone technology were first invented we were not yet quite honest with ourselves about how our unconscious biases would shape these new forms of communication, perpetuating stereotypes that alienate people from one another and sometimes from themselves. It may have been harder then to predict what such unbalanced representation in our creative, financing, marketing, and promotion structures would do to the industries that sprung up around these powerful technologies. Or how this unbalanced representation would tax our society long term. But this is no longer the case. We have a precious opportunity to ask ourselves some very important and difficult questions about what we build, why we build it, and who we build it for.”

“We can and should hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard,” she said. “To discuss and debate not just what is possible for the technology, or who will be in the marketplace, but what is ethical, important, and universal about this new dimension of reality.”

Thinking Before We Leap
It’s easy to be cynical about aspirational comments like these, especially when it comes from a company that’s hasn’t always lived up to some of the ideals being discussed. And we don’t have to agree with all the backward-looking cause and effects discussed to acknowledge that the technology industry often build new tools, platforms, and mediums without fully contemplating the impact they may have on the world. Too often, we build it because we can.

I’ve been talking about the possibilities of augmented reality for a few years now, and I continue to think this technology will have a world-changing impact. I’m an optimist, and I think that change can be for good, but there is no doubt that when we bring together the real world and the digital world this way, there is risk involved. This week there was a heartbreaking story about bullying on Instagram. Now imagine that happening on a platform where digital and physical worlds are merged together. And these are just kids; imagine what’s possible in the broader world with truly bad actors at work.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t create these technologies. It means we have to do so with open eyes. I find it heartening that Magic Leap devoted time at the beginning of its keynote to discuss these important topics. Will the company or the broader augmented reality industry always get it right? Probably not. But at least they’re thinking about these questions now, at the beginning, when there is still the opportunity to build it right the first time.

China Tariffs Will Impact the PC Components Market

on October 11, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

One of the better parts of working in the technology industry is that it transcends politics. Most of the time. With the advent of the tariffs that have progressively been put in place by the Trump administration on goods produced in China, that has shifted. What started with an emphasis on materials like steel has now muddied the water for the PC ecosystem, and in particular, the segment that depends on individual components like DIY consumers and enthusiast gamers.

The impact of tariffs on the final pricing of products for consumers in the PC space has been discussed for months at this point, with several component vendors proactively reaching out to the media. The hope is that by talking openly about the situation and how it might affect the market that we could prepare readers for the future they are going to be a part of, limiting surprise and anger. Or at least, redirecting it towards the politicians and policy makers rather than channel partners and manufacturers.

Coverage of the tariffs has been steady, but I would argue not aggressive enough. Outlets like GamersNexus have done a great job of laying out the details while also presenting the thoughts of hardware vendors telling their side of the story. Mainstream outlets like CNBC have also touched on the subject with a lean towards the financial implications to major players like NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel.

The biggest component of concern when it comes to the tariff implementations is graphics cards. These are easily the most expensive products (on average) produced in China that will see price increases with the tariff implementation. NVIDIA and AMD will both be impacted to some degree, but it will be how they plan to work with board partners that produce, ship, and sell to the end-user that will be most interesting. It is well understood that NVIDIA and AMD make the majority of the margin in the graphics card and GPU pipeline, with companies like EVGA and ASUS making less than 10% (and supposedly MUCH less in many cases). The tariffs are technically imposed on the company that brings the goods into the US for sale, meaning that the board vendors are on the hook.

But graphics cards aren’t going to be the only casualty here. Most every level of component will have tariffs applied, from power supplies to computer chassis to motherboards. Even coolers and storage devices are on the list. This translates into higher import costs for companies like Corsair, NZXT, Gigabyte, MSI, and many others, throughout their product stacks. Expect to see higher prices that are passed on to the consumer because of these trade policy changes.

Impact of this might extend even beyond the components and companies with direct ties to the tariffed products. We saw a similar situation during the mining craze of 2018, where secondary components saw reduced demand and sales because higher prices on graphics cards were driving away upgraders and new system builders. I foresee the same thing occurring here – if the cost of graphics cards, motherboards, cases, and power supplies all go up by 10-25% in the next quarter, resulting sales of complimentary products like CPUs, memory, keyboards, and accessories could drop.

Interestingly, the tariffs in place with this third iteration of Trump’s policy do not affect complete, pre-built systems. This means that computers that ship from China with a case, GPU, power supply, etc. included and assembled are not required to pay the 25% import fees. Though not useful for large scale operations, it could be an avenue for smaller unit transactions to save.

For these vendors and manufacturers that now must balance the bottom line of their financials with the goodwill and consumer impact of big price hikes, there are only a few options they can consider. The first of which is a direct cost pass-through to the consumer. Rather than paying $400 for that new Radeon or GeForce graphics card, you should expect to see $500. Future product releases will likely include the tariffs in stated MSRPs, something that Europeans are familiar with because of VAT.

The short-term solution in the ramp up to the initial 10% tariff and the pending 25% tariff on these products was to import as much product from China prior to the tax implementation. Companies that had the capability were (and still are) ramping up production and shipping to hoard as many power supplies, cases, and motherboards as possible in stateside warehouses. But being the field that it is, technology changes quickly with new chipset, graphics processors, and designs releasing frequently. It’s near impossible to speed up development of something like a new line of graphics chips to prevent additional taxation.

A long-term option will be for these companies to move production facilities to countries other than China. Ironically, that is the goal of such a tariff, to encourage these vendors to manufacture more in the United States. But no company I spoke with, or that I have seen quoted anywhere else, has indicated that would be the best option. Instead I am hearing that board production will see increases in other Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam, and even some increase in Taiwan. But this kind of move takes time, months at least, years perhaps.

For now, vendors appear to be pessimistic on the outlook for tariff resolution. Enthusiasts and DIY consumers are equally concerned about how this will affect them. For better or worse, this problem is much bigger than graphics cards and motherboards, and our market is simply caught up political storm of our time.

How Social Issues Impact Buying Trends

on October 10, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In last week’s ThinkTank I wrote about the importance of marketing to Millennials in terms that they understand and will react to positively.

Millennials represent 80 million in the US, and they have a strong place in our offices, factories, and business establishments all across our country. They have money to spend on all types of products and services. As I pointed out, their needs are quite different from Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s and how you market products and get their attention should be more focused on their specific needs and wants.

Microsoft’s Modern Life Puts People First

on October 10, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week at an event in New York City, Microsoft introduced in a bit more details the concept of Modern Life. It is always hard when hardware is on stage to get any attention for anything else, especially so when one is trying to articulate a concept that has not been entirely fleshed out. This was not the first time Yusuf Medhi mentioned Modern Life, but it was the first time Microsoft made it a little more clear as to what it meant by it.

Microsoft’s Difficult Relationship with Consumers

After the recent reorg, many jumped to conclude that Microsoft’s decision to no longer gravitate part of the business around Windows was a clear indication that Microsoft was done, once and for all, to try and cater to consumers. I explained at the time that the change was far from signaling a lack of interest in consumers. It was quite the opposite, at least from an opportunity perspective. It indicated that Microsoft was getting ready to look at the experience that comes with Microsoft products. These are products that might be running Windows but which build on Microsoft services, first-party apps, and cross-device features to deliver a more engaging Microsoft experience.

The “I am a PC, or I am a Mac” world has evolved and, as much as the ecosystems that build on those operating systems matter a lot to users, experiences delivered through services and apps are becoming more and more cross platforms. This is why Microsoft deemphasizing the OS in favor of enablers such as cloud and AI is a smart move. Such a shift away from the underlying OS and onto apps and services you use is what is prompting Microsoft to build “bridges” for Android and iOS so that when using Microsoft apps and services your experience does not have to end when you want to move off a PC.

Such cross-pollination of these apps and services also means that, more often than not, we use the same apps and services at work and home.

Consumers Are People

It is this blurring of our work life and our personal life that Microsoft is addressing with Modern Life. Because of its history with consumers and the lack of mobile presence, Microsoft comes to this from its position of strength which is work and the PC.

Within its enterprise play, Microsoft has been focusing on helping organizations transform the workplace with its  “Modern Workplace” initiative. From cloud adoption to workforce transformation, what has been different from the past is a renewed attention to the experience of the final user of the service, app or experience. Microsoft has always been catering to IT departments, but as technology buying centers started to shift, especially for new tech, and BYOD started to include BYOA, Microsoft began to pay more attention to the overall experience that made its offering manageable and secure but also valuable to the end user.

Modern Life takes those users who Microsoft caters for in a corporate environment and addresses their needs before and after they get to the office helping them achieve what they want to achieve: finish a presentation, dialing into a call on the way home, planning a weekend away or juggle the after school calendar.

In other words, Modern Life recognizes that I am not a “worker” between 9 and 5 and a “consumer” for the rest of the time. I am a human being 24 hours a day doing different things depending on time and place but still with the same goals, values, and aspirations.

Being Mindful, not Forceful

What Microsoft is not saying with Modern Life is that one should have no boundaries between work and play. The video Microsoft opened its event with showing some of the challenges that our modern life brings might have resonated more with young millennials than Gen Xers. At the end of the day GenX is who comprises the majority of the workforce and also who will be holding the majority of buying power. For this generation boundaries between work and play are certainly much more fluid than they were for the previous generation and what they are looking for is technology that will help them be in control rather than being controlled.

Being able to share devices, technology, apps, and services across work and play does not mean one has to share data and information across the two. Keeping private what is personal and secure what is work does not have to be compromised just because we share tools like an assistant or a calendar. What sharing tools and experiences does, however, is making our life easier. Modern Life will help you do all the little things that consume your time and aggravate you so that you have more time to focus on the things you want to do.

The Advantage of Trust

Not many companies are in the position Microsoft is in when it comes to its presence in the enterprise and the trust consumers place in the brand. Apple has the latter, but their presence in the corporate environment is still limited. This is why Modern Life has the potential to drive meaningful engagement with Microsoft across the board shifting the narrative away “from using to loving Windows” to “using and loving Microsoft.”

Bloomberg’s Spy Chip Report–Facebook Portal

on October 9, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Late last week, Bloomberg wrote a report titled The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies. The implications of this report are significant and in the end, whether true or not, will undoubtedly lead to a stricter and more secure supply chain.

There are a few things about this report worth pointing out. Although this article came out last week, I wanted to take some time to reflect on it and see what new developments unfolded before writing about it. I’m glad I did, because subsequent reports, and statements from the companies in question (Apple, and Amazon) brought more clarity to this issue.

Top Goals and Challenges for AI in Business

on October 9, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The technology may have a very futuristic feel to it, but in current implementations, it’s clear now that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have very practical real-world applications that aren’t nearly as scary as some may fear.

Thanks to a freshly completed study by TECHnalysis Research on the usage of AI applications in US businesses based on a survey of 504 IT professionals working in medium (100-999 employees) and large (1,000+ employees) companies that are currently doing some type of AI work, the perspective that appears is pragmatic. (To read more on the study, you can also check out two previous columns on the subject: “Survey: Real World AI Deployments Still Limited” and “AI Application Usage Evolving Rapidly”.)

Companies want to use AI-based applications to improve their overall efficiency across a number of different areas. The hope is that AI-based tools can reduce some of the more tedious, repetitive tasks that can slow organizations down—or that some simply choose not to do because the tasks are so challenging to maintain.

In addition, companies of various sizes and types believe that AI-based applications can speed up or help automate many of these tasks. Whether it’s automatically filtering spam and phishing attacks from email; analyzing files or other data as they’re opened, created, or passed along; or acting as a perimeter shield on networks and examining the packets that travel across them, the realistic benefits of many AI-based or AI-enhanced applications are proving to be attractive to nearly 1-in-5 US companies with at least 100 employees.

The chart in Figure 1 highlights the top goals of AI projects and deployments that these companies have already embarked on.


Fig. 1

In addition to efficiency and automation, many organizations see AI as a great tool for increasing security across many different aspects of their organization, including data, networks, and the devices their employees use.

For a number of companies, AI is also seen as a next-generation big data analysis tool, destined to deliver on the promise of big data that many companies disappointingly discovered wasn’t as easy to mine for insights as they were led to believe. The idea is that AI algorithms can take over some of the data grunt work necessary to uncover useful information and leverage larger amounts of raw data in more efficient ways. It’s still early days here, but it’s clear that many companies are eager to see these kinds of results.

Some organizations are also hoping to generate cost savings from AI-based tools, but it’s clear that this is still a lesser priority for many organizations, particularly because of the costs that are often involved with AI-based applications and projects.

Speaking of which, cost concerns were one of the top three challenges that companies are currently facing with their AI efforts, as the chart in Figure 2 illustrates.


Fig. 2

The biggest challenges, however, had to do with complexity—both of the technology itself as well as the means to implement it. This isn’t terribly surprising because the level of real understanding about AI is still quite low. Despite the fact that AI and machine learning have been around in some form or other for decades, most people are just starting to learn about them. Plus, the hidden “black box”-type means by which many AI algorithms work makes it difficult for anyone but dedicated specialists to completely get their heads around the technology and understand how to make it do what you need (or want) it to.

On top of all this, there are still many lingering fears about the potential influence of the technology. Despite the relatively low rankings on impact on headcount impact (see chart), for example, it was clear from the verbatim comments that survey respondents put into an open-ended question on the overall importance, value, and impact of AI, that the fear of layoffs triggered by AI loomed large. As one respondent wrote, “…there is a real fear of putting people out of jobs. You hate to be left behind when helpful technology is out there, but it’s hard to eliminate a job that’s been there for 20 years.”

At the same time, there was also a great deal of excitement and promise expressed in response to the same open-ended question. For example, “AI is bound to impact every single industry, and, in our organization, AI can help deliver better search results and deliverables for some specific business cases. Finding patterns and reducing inefficiency is super important for our organization and [both of these] will benefit from the advent of new AI solutions. We strongly support AI-based solutions and prefer to adopt them quickly and gain a business edge.”

Practically speaking, there was also the recognition that AI is here now, and its impact is going to be critical. As one respondent summarized, “I think that AI will change how a lot of us do business. The change will be good. Getting over the initial hurdles of integration is the hardest part. The data provided by AI integrations will be invaluable and come much faster than was possible before.”

(You can download a copy of the TECHnalysis Research AI in the Enterprise Study Highlights for free. A complete version of the full report, with 178 slides that go into extremely fine detail on all the major question asked in the survey, is available for purchase.)

Facebook’s Erosion

on October 8, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Despite the positive reviews from the Wall Street analysts about Facebook’s ability to survive and prosper after Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress, I was not surprised to see the revealing data that Ben posted this past week. In fact, I found it somewhat refreshing in that it demonstrated how Facebook users are smarter than many think.

While I had no market data of my own, I had a strong sense that the company’s support would erode, just based on simple common sense and a basic understanding of what makes a product successful. There’s no denying that as a product Facebook has had much going for it. It’s been able to provide a lot of value to those that want to keep in touch with relatives and friends in a new light-touch way – something between a yearly holiday letter and personal interactions. Customers loved it and brought their friends on board in record numbers.

But then something happened. Yes, we all know about Cambridge Analytica and the Russians. As disgusting as that was, it raised awareness and an opportunity to hear what Facebook was going to do about it. Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress with all eyes glued to his testimony. Up to that point many of us might have forgiven him, as disappointed as we were. But in his appearances before Congress and in subsequent interviews, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg flubbed their test.

In all their appearances they both managed to create a distaste for their personal characteristics as they dodged the questions and responded with obviously rehearsed responses. They both came across as insincere, evasive, and at times unlikeable. They feigned ignorance and kept saying they’d have to get back with answers. And they said that trite phrase, “We take this very seriously,” but then never showed it in their actions. They came across as being well-rehearsed with canned answers, clearly overly coached by their PR team.
And it hasn’t stopped. Just this past Wednesday in an op-ed piece in the NY Times, Dr. Zeynep Tufekci wrote,

“Last month, Ms. (Senator Kamela) Harris further grilled Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, on this point, demanding to know how much inauthentic Russian content was on Facebook. Ms. Sandberg had her sound bite ready, saying that “any amount is too much,” but she ultimately threw out an estimate of .004 percent, another negligible amount.”

What Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg completely miss is understanding why people use a product. Yes, it’s the value that the product provides, but it’s also the company behind the product. Users want to like those companies they do business with. When they find strong distaste for the company, it doesn’t matter how good the product is. People will desert them.

As I speak with other Facebook users, just an anecdotal sample among family and friends, the consistent reaction I get is disgust with Facebook and its executives’ behavior, a loss of trust and an increasingly distaste for the product.

Facebook is no longer a place many feel comfortable hanging out. Users feel vulnerable to every like or click and now wonder how they’re being taken advantage of. It’s the same feeling you get wandering down a dark alley at night unsure of what lies ahead or lurks around the next corner.

With each new revelation after the Congressional testimony, we learned Facebook was doing things that were much worse than we even imagined then. They are not only tracking and selling their users’ data as we expected, but they’re also tracking people across the web, including those that are not Facebook users. Then we learned that they’re accessing members’ address books, ostensibly to help them better connect with their friends, only to harvest the address book data and sell that to advertisers without permission or clear disclosure. And most recently we learned that 50 to 90 million users had their logins and other information stolen.

Whenever they had the opportunity, they compromise privacy for profit without telling us or asking us for permission. With each action, they erode trust further, to a point where more and more are saying “enough is enough.”

Choosing to use a product always involves a balance between the product’s value versus its cost, whether it’s the cost to buy or the cost to one’s privacy. Facebook’s behavior has shifted that balance so that the scale now tilts in favor of just abandoning them forever.

I expect we’ll see an increasing number of users abandoning Facebook. These graphs provide proof that it’s begun when more than half are uncomfortable about the company and a quarter believe it’s become a toxic place to hang out. It didn’t have to be, but their executives thought they were invulnerable and greatly miscalculated the intelligence of their users.

Podcast: HP PC Event, Microsoft Surface Event, BlackBerry Security Summit, SuperMicro China Server Story

on October 6, 2018
Reading Time: 1 minute

This week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Carolina Milanesi and Bob O’Donnell discussing several New York City-based industry events from the last week, including HP’s launch of their Spectre Folio convertible PC, the Microsoft Surface, Windows 10 and Office 365 updates, and the BlackBerry Security Summit, as well as analyzing the Bloomberg story on secret chips that the Chinese government supposedly put onto SuperMicro servers that ended up inside Apple, Amazon and 30 other companies.

If you happen to use a podcast aggregator or want to add it to iTunes manually the feed to our podcast is: techpinions.com/feed/podcast

Comcast’s Impressive Evolution

on October 5, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

It was not long ago that Comcast was being regularly and quite publicly lambasted for poor customer service, high prices, and outdated technology, vulnerable to the growing wave of OTT options. But the company deserves a lot of credit for what I think is a successful turnaround of its Xfinity TV-Internet-Phone business (this column mainly pertains to Xfinity – rather than Comcast’s broader business that includes NBC Universal, Sky, etc.)

Now, most tech reviews are focused on new gadgets, such as the latest iPhones, or innovative new services, such as 5G. But every once in a while, it’s useful to check in on an established service provider, especially when the market is changing so much around them. As an industry analyst and consultant, I follow Comcast as a company, and have done some work with them in the past. But my recent personal experience as a returning Xfinity customer provides a window into a company that has improved on numerous fronts, and also made some smart strategic moves.

Two years ago, after many years as a modestly dissatisfied subscriber, I ditched Comcast in the Boston market for a competitor called RCN. They offered a classic Triple Play service — competitive channel lineup, Showtime and HBO thrown in to hook me, TiVo interface, and 150 MB internet — for an attractive initial price of $119 per month, all in. Well, as these things do, the promotion period ended, random fees kicked in, $119 became $209, customer service deteriorated, and the technology platform felt increasingly antiquated. So, time to re-evaluate.

I really thought I’d end up with a Millennial-esque broadband-plus-OTT package. Options have massively multiplied and improved, right? So I went through the usual time-consuming evaluation of “these guys offer this but not that” matrix that one must painfully and time consumingly subject oneself to when evaluating OTT (sorry, vMPVD) options. Will I be able to watch the baseball playoffs? Will my spouse get her beloved [Comcast-owned] New England Cable News? Etc., etc. Well, it turns out that the yawning gaps and compromises of OTT Phase I have shored up considerably over the past couple of years, with DirecTV Now and YouTube TV being the best of the bunch, in my view. But yet, these services are in the $40-50 per month range, added to the now unbundled $70-80 Broadband Internet (where are you Starry?), plus Netflix plus HBO, plus, plus…and all of the sudden you’re in $160-170 per month territory. And you still have to sort of piece things together, the UI isn’t great, and things tend to glitch out periodically.

So where did I land after this several-week ‘research’ process? Comcast! (sorry, Xfinity). Huhh?

It was striking to me how these guys have upped their game, in a relatively short period of time, across many aspects of the customer experience, while becoming more competitive on price. It started with customer service.  I spoke several times with a very knowledgeable rep, at a call center not just in the good ‘ol U.S. of A, but in New England! He knows what NESN and NECN are! I could leave him a voicemail…and he would call me back! He was super-knowledgeable about the landscape, liked working at Comcast, and was really impressed with the company. How much shock will be registered when I say that my recent customer service experience has been way better with Comcast than with Apple?

On price, Comcast has adjusted their Pay TV offers in order to be more competitive with vMPVDs. One can more easily change services without wacky fees. And there is more flexibility vis a vis contracts – one can pay $10 more a month for no contract, or within contract there is more flexibility to switch services/plans. And with the rise of Smart TVs, one can save on the $10 per month cable box rental by downloading the Xfinity app (although it’s still a bit rough and one loses some of the benefits of the X1 interface). So, my all-in price: $156 – for 400 MB internet, phone, plus all major TV channels, including Showtime and Netflix. Now, maybe that’s $10-20 more than OTT land, but for many it’s worth the modest premium for some other benefits such as better technology, UI, and less hassle factor than vMPVDs. There are some additional benefits, such as the Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots, and the opportunity to buy discounted wireless service through their MVNO with Verizon.

But what strikes me most is that this has become more of an ecosystem play. Xfinity is moving closer to resembling the Apple model than it is the cable/telco model. Their X1 interface is, bar none, the best overall UI. Theirs is the real TV OS, not Apple’s.  So much so that cable companies worldwide are licensing it. It is intuitive, features cloud DVR, and an excellent search capability, integrating content across platforms into a single view. The customer increasingly gets the sense that is a premium service — from the X1 interface to advanced DVR, to some of the most advanced router/modem products available. In my mind, it’s worth the extra $20-ish a month for the UI and technology.

I’m also impressed with how Comcast has recognized the new world they’re in with regard to OTT. They’ve done a great job of integrating Netflix and other OTT services (Hulu, YouTube, and, soon Amazon) into X1, which vastly improves search and provides the most straightforward approach for a customer to wade through the vast TV content landscape. Heck, Netflix is even included in some bundles. They’re also playing the other side, offering Xfinity as an app for those with smart TVs. The idea is, Comcast wants you as a customer, and is more flexible about how that actually happens.

Now, cable still finds ways to sorta piss you off. Like the ridiculous ‘surcharges’ for Broadcast TV, Entertainment, and Sports. Umm…isn’t that what I’m buying? Does one incur a ‘baseball playing’ surcharge when at a ball game, or a ‘movie content’ fee when attending a film? Why don’t they just bundle it in?  Other random, fees, or the need to buy ‘X plus’ something in order to just get ‘X’ remind you that these guys still can’t, upon occasion, help themselves. Or little gotchas, such as the need to have Xfinity internet in order to access their streaming service on platforms such as Roku.

So, it still isn’t perfect. But after a few years on hiatus as a customer, it was impressive to see how much has changed. Leading-edge, technically. Better customer service. More competitive on price. Embraced and leveraged OTT rather than fought it. Saw the writing on the wall with Pay TV and made it more about the customer experience and the ecosystem. Overall, some impressive moves in an industry that’s experiencing a lot of changes.

News that Caught My Eye: Week of October 5th, 2018

on October 5, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Surface Headphones

This week in NYC, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 6, the Surface Laptop 2 (both of which with a black variant), the Surface Studio 2 and the Surface Headphones. It is the Headphones I want to concentrate on because it has been the most misunderstood product in my opinion.

 

Verizon Campaigns Confusion with 5G Internet Service

on October 4, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

This week Verizon became the first company to deploy a 5G service for consumers. Rolling out in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, it is called Verizon 5G Home and promised to bring speeds “up to 1 Gbps” for internet access over cellular wireless technology. Service should “run reliably” at around 300 Mbps, peaking at that 940 Mbps level during times of low utilization and based on your homes’ proximity to the first 5G-enabled towers.

The problem is that Verizon 5G Home is not really a 5G technology. Instead, Verizon admits that this configuration is a custom version of the next-generation network that was built to test its rollout of 5G in the future.

It is called “5G TF” which includes customizations and differences from the 3GPP standard known as 5G NR (new radio). As with most wireless (or technology in general) standards, 5G NR is the result of years of debate, discussion, and compromise between technology companies and service providers. But it is the standardization that allows consumers to be confident in device interoperability and long-term success of the initiative.

5G TF does operate in the millimeter wave part of the spectrum, 28 GHz to be exact. But 5G isn’t limited to mmWave implementations. And the Verizon implementation only includes the capability for 2×2 MIMO, less than the 4×4 support in 5G NR that will bring bandwidth and capacity increases to a massive number of devices on true 5G networks.

Upcoming 5G-enabled phones and laptops that integrate a 5G NR modem will not operate with the concoction Verizon has put together.

Verizon even admitted that all of the 5G TF hardware that the company is rolling out for infrastructure and end user devices will need to be replaced at some point in the future. It is incompatible with the true 5G NR standard and is not software upgradable either. From an investment standpoint you can’t help but wonder how much benefit Verizon could gain from this initiative; clearly this will be a financial loss for them.

But what does Verizon gain?

The truth is that Verizon is spouting these claims for the world’s first 5G network as way to attach itself to a leadership position in the wireless space. Marketing and advertising are eager to showcase how Verizon is besting the likes of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint with a 5G cellular rollout in the US, but it’s just not accurate.

Take for example the AT&T “5G Evolution” that was actually a 4G LTE service with speeds up to 1.0 Gigabit. An amazing feat and a feature worth promoting, but the carrier decided instead to message that it was part of the 5G transition.

Both of these claims do a disservice to the true capability and benefits of 5G technology while attempting to deceive the us into believing each is the leader in the wireless space. As a result, consumers end up confused and aggravated, removing yet another layer of trust between the customer and service providers. For other companies that are taking care with the 5G story, whether it be competing ISPs or technology providers like Qualcomm, they suffer the same fate through no fault of their own.

These antics should come as little surprise to anyone that followed along with the move from 3G to 4G and to LTE. Most insiders in the industry hoped that we had collectively learned a lesson in that turmoil and that 3GPP might be able to help control these problematic messaging tactics. Instead we appear to be repeating history and it will be up to the media and an educated group of consumers to tell the correct story.

Why Marketing to Millennials Matters

on October 3, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

I recently started looking at a study by GraphicsSprings that researched millennials brand recognition of six major IT companies. The focus of the study is on the impact these companies logo’s had on the demographics it studied but I would argue that what the company does and how it impacts these customers are why these brand logo’s do or do not resonate with these different age groups.

Apple Watch Series 4 to Drive Strong Upgrade Cycle

on October 3, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

When I first saw the new Apple Watch presented at the Steve Jobs’ Theater I immediately said it would drive a strong upgrade cycle, and now we, at Creative Strategies, have brand new data from a study we conducted across 366 current Apple Watch owners in the US the week leading up to in store availability. The study was an international one that cut across several geographies touching a total of 557 consumers. For this article, I will focus on the US data only.

Our panelists were self-proclaimed early adopters of technology with 64% of them owning an iPhone X. Eighty-Four percent of the people who answered our online questionnaire were men, very much in line with the average composition of the early tech adopter profile.

Apple Watch Served its Base Well from the Get-go

Our panel owned a good mix of models: 41% has an Apple Watch Series 3 with Cellular, another 13% owns an Apple Watch Series 3 Wi-Fi only, and 15% has a Series 2. What was a surprise, considering how early tech this base is, was to see that 30% still owned an original Apple Watch.

One might argue that maybe the reason why these users are still on the original Apple Watch is that they are not very engaged with it. The data, however, says otherwise. While they are not as engaged as Apple Watch Series 3 owners they share their love for the same tasks: decline calls, check messages and check heart rate. The most significant gap with owners of more recent Apple Watch models is in the use of Apple Watch as a workout tracker. Here original Watch owners lag Watch Series 3 owners: 62% to 76%.

Satisfaction among original Apple Watch users is also strong with 93% of the users saying they were satisfied with the product. While 93% is a lower satisfaction number than Watch Series 3 with cellular at 99%, we need to be reminded that the original Apple Watch was introduced in 2014. Satisfaction at 93% for a four-year-old product is quite impressive.

When we reached out to a few panelists to ask why they did not feel compelled to upgrade so far, they mentioned that software updates and battery life kept them happy and that it would be a change in design and compelling features that will drive them to look at a new model. In other words, the original Apple Watch was still serving them well.

Strong Intention to Upgrade

Apple Watch Series 4 seems to hit both upgrade requirements for original Apple Watch owners as 76% say they plan to upgrade with 41% who have already pre-ordered while another 32% plan to do so in the next three months. When asked to select the most compelling new features that made them interested in upgrading and the faster processor was mentioned by 80% of the original Watch owners. This was followed by the bigger screen (75%) and the ECG (61%).

Apple Watch Series 3 owners are the same but with different priorities. The larger screen is the most important driver, followed by the faster processor and the ECG. The intention to upgrade is also more cautious with 29% saying they are planning to upgrade (54% already having preordered) with some users being concerned about using the old bands on the new model and some uncertainty on which size they would prefer.

Early Tech Users find Gifting Difficult

We have discussed before that early tech users seem to find gifting new tech hard and Apple Watch owners on our panel are precisely like that. When we asked if they were planning to buy the new Apple Watch Series 4 as a gift only 26 percent said they were. This is despite Apple Watch commanding a Net Promoter Score of 72 among panelists. Among the users who are planning on gifting Apple Watch, 51% will give one to their wife, and another 16% will give one to a parent. When asked which features are motivating the purchase for someone else, four stood way above everything else: larger screen (49%), ECG (45%), and faster performance and fall detection (both at 39%).

Among those intending to gift, 22% already preordered and 48% plan to buy within the next three months.

The Apple Watch User Base is Deep into the Ecosystem

Probably the most fascinating finding of this study is to see how entrenched in the ecosystem Apple Watch users are. While many could see Apple Watch as an accessory, I firmly believe that users who are looking at it as an essential tool to manage their day and their ecosystem of devices and services are the ones who get the most return on investment. Not surprisingly, multi device ownership across the panel is quite high: 88% owned an Apple TV, 75% owned Air Pods, 71% owned a MacBook Pro, 67% owned an iPad Pro, 44% owned an HomePod.

Early tech users are a window into the future, which is why it is so valuable to study them. While the time to turn from early adopters to mainstream users might vary, I think this ownership data best illustrate what Apple is working on when it comes to its user base. I have been saying for years that Apple cares more about selling more products to the same users than just expanding its overall market share in one area. As Apple moves more into services, it will be the combination of products that are present in a household that will drive engagement and loyalty and build an audience for life.

 

Facebook’s New Reality and The Case Against Hyper Scale

on October 2, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Facebook was once viewed as invincible. When chatting with VCs, investors, and many in the business world, there seemed no safer bet than Facebook’s hyper growth business. It seems the invincibility of Facebook carried over into the mainstream media given the amount of backlash we received when we published some recent research on US adults that suggested 9% of US adults on Facebook had deleted their account and 17% had deleted the app off their smartphone. It was entertaining to watch the numbers of people on Twitter respond to our research saying we were crazy or the data was flawed. Most of this coming from people who have no idea how to do research or the details of solid methodology but that is a different discussion.

Are Leather and LTE the Future of PCs?

on October 2, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As technology evolution and maturation continue to move forward, many PC and other device companies emphasize the experience of using their products as key to their design philosophy. The goal, they say, isn’t just to deliver on the key technical requirements and other specs necessary to provide good performance, but to make the overall encounter with their devices engaging and inspiring.

Few, if any, however, have taken the experience concept to the level that HP Inc. has done with their new Spectre Folio convertible PC design. How about a PC that you actually want to smell? Thanks to its very attractive leather-based design, the company has managed to create an elegant, premium feeling and, oh yeah, pleasant-smelling notebook computer that also incorporates an intriguing new take on convertible designs.

Rather than simply wrapping a notebook in leather, HP has actually built the Spectre Folio into the leather casing in a way that makes it an integral part of the device. The end result on the outside is a device that has the smooth, wonderfully tactile sensation that leather provides on quality briefcases, handbags, portfolios, and other non-tech products. Inside, however, is a fan-less, 0.6” thin PC design—driven in part by the non-porous nature of leather—that still manages to incorporate Intel’s new 8th generation Amber Lake 5-watt Y-Series CPU designs (both i5 and i7 versions are available), 802.11ac WiFi, up to 18 hours of battery life, a 13.3” 400-nit display, and an option for a 4K screen. It’s a tremendous mashup of both old-world craftmanship and cutting-edge technology. At a starting price of $1,299, it’s not a cheap offering, but it’s in the range of what you’d expect to pay for a premium device.

Another interesting aspect of the convertible design on the Spectre Folio is the ability to pivot the bottom of the screen forward into a tent mode that’s much easier to do than on typical, hinge-based designs (and doesn’t require the screen-switching hassle, either). So, if you want to watch a movie on a plane, or present slides to someone nearby, you can easily do so, and still leverage the touchpad, which is actually a nice detail of the design. Like many convertibles, the Spectre Folio also ships standard with a cordless pen with 4,096 points of pressure. One additional convenience, however, is that it fits neatly into the pen loop built into the side of the leather casing, making it less likely (at least theoretically!) to be lost.

In addition to its luxurious design, the Spectre Folio offers another intriguing connectivity option: an Intel-built LTE modem offering up to 1 Gigabit download speeds. Of course, with the Always Connected PC initiative, Qualcomm has been banging the drum of cellular connected PCs for a while now, and PC companies have offered integrated modems for years. Despite both these efforts, attach rates for LTE-equipped PCs have remained very low, due in part to the additional cost of a monthly data plan, as well as the ease of using integrated hotspot capability in today’s smartphones.

While none of these issues are completely going away with the Spectre Folio—though HP and Intel announced a special deal with Sprint that offers free cellular service for 6 months when you purchase one—another issue is starting to become a bigger concern: security. With the rising awareness of the potential vulnerabilities in public WiFi networks, many individuals and businesses are started to reconsider their connectivity choices and looking seriously at the private, single device connections offered by LTE cellular networks. I certainly don’t expect to see a massive shift occur anytime soon, but if there’s anything that’s going to make integrated LTE a more attractive option to some, it’s security that could start to shift the tide.

One nice detail of the Spectre Folio LTE implementation is that it includes both support for a physical SIM card and an eSIM. Many US carriers have been somewhat reluctant to support eSIMs in the past because of the potential ease of switching between carriers (they enable “digital” switching instead of having to get a new SIM). However, now that Apple added eSIM support in their latest line of iPhones, the tide of carrier support for them is already starting to change.

The new HP offering represents an intriguing new option for the premium PC market. While it’s easy to write off the leather-wrapped design as little more than a gimmick, the ability to bring an appealing physical experience to a quality digital experience is likely something that many demanding PC users are going to find attractive. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see it inspire a raft of competitors that offer similar physical advancements—especially given the overall device experience focus that so many PC companies now have. Given the more evolutionary advancements now occurring in PC technology, it just makes sense to bring new tactile improvements to our everyday computing.

Could VR Ever Become a Mainstream Consumer Technology?

on October 1, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last year, I have written many times that I believe AR is the major technology that will gain the broadest acceptance by a consumer audience. Up to now, VR has mostly struck a chord with gamers and for use in vertical markets where it is used to visualize new designs in automobiles in a VR/3D environment, for mfg prototypes and numerous applications where VR solves a specific problem.

Even when Microsoft gave us Hololens, the major focus of their apps was education based, also considered a vertical market by many. It did have some games, and it got much attention as a mixed reality headset, but the emphasis was more VR than AR.

I have felt that AR or a form of mixed reality that skews more to AR functionality is the technology that would gain the most significant interest by consumers over time. I still think that AR can, with special glasses and an easy to use interface that includes voice and gestures, will become the technology that gains the most considerable market acceptance by consumers.

However, there are some developments in VR and especially consumer-focused VR headsets like the new Oculus Quest that was introduced last week, that suggests VR could become more of a consumer product over time. I am not sure it will gain a billion users as Mark Zuckerberg suggested last week at the Oculus Developer conference though.

For the past two months, I have spent much time with two VR headsets. The DayDream based model from Lenovo called the Mirage and the Oculus Go. These headsets are stand-alone VR headsets and cannot be used for AR or as mixed reality headsets. They are relatively low powered devices but can deliver a broad 3D/VR experience with low-quality video resolution. When I first started using them, I was not sure what to expect. At the moment, the VR and 3D content are very limited. While the 3D games are fun and I enjoy some of the nature documentaries, I find myself using it more in a 2D mode and watch things like Facebook videos, Netflix, Hulu and other content in which you can view these videos as if you are sitting in front of a big movie screen theatre.

I was over at the Oculus Developer conference last week and was pleasantly surprised to see how many thousands of developers came to this event and seemed to be willing to create content for the Oculus platform. More importantly, they are genuinely excited about the Oculus Quest given that its $399 price point will make it more consumer friendly. However, keep in mind, this is a closed headset for VR and cannot be used as a mixed reality headset. However, if an immersive VR experience is what one wants and developers support it with thousands of true VR apps, this headset could be a big hit.

I also spent some time in a private suite while at the developer’s conference looking at an app in the works on a Magic Leap headset. Although Magic Leap is way too expensive for consumers, it is clear that its approach to bringing VR and AR or mixed reality to the market could be the better way to get consumers to adopt this important new technology in the future. In fact, should Magic Leap ever get into consumer pricing ranges, its potential could be huge.

Watching how the Oculus Quest performs when it comes to market next year will be important to watch. It will need thousands of apps that really gain the interest of consumers for it to gain a broad audience even at $399. While I do think VR headsets like the Oculus Quest has potential, I just don’t see dedicated VR headsets and VR specific applications being what gains the most significant consumer audience compared to what I believe AR or mixed reality headsets can in the future.

These dedicated VR headsets seem more like appointment based products. I would use them for virtual room meetings with friends, for educational purposes, VR and 3D movies, etc. But I would not wear them when walking around as you might with AR or mixed reality glasses. That is why you have not heard Apple talk about VR. Their focus is on AR and its potential mass market appeal. I believe Apple will enter the AR glasses market and tie it to their overall ecosystem of products and services and ultimately be the one which defines how AR gets adopted.

After looking at the Oculus Quest and seeing thousands of developers willing to support it, and expecting Google and their partners to create a Daydream competitor at this same price point and functional level, VR could gain broader consumer interest well beyond its acceptance in vertical markets today. I just don’t believe it will get a billion users to buy in. The majority of users who adopt AR/VR via mixed reality or dedicated AR glasses will come from a headset that can be worn anytime and anywhere and deliver AR and VR lite applications that enhance real-world experiences, not one’s just isolated to viewing from a fixed headset designed more for appointment based applications.

Microsoft’s WVD Demonstrates A Smart, Evolved View of Windows

on September 28, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

There was quite a bit of news out of Microsoft’s Ignite conference in Orlando this week, but its announcement of Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) was one of the most monumental to my mind. WVD represents not just a strong product offering in an increasingly competitive space, but it also reflects the much smarter, more evolved view of Windows that Microsoft has embraced under current CEO Satya Nadella.

Virtual Desktop Basics
Virtual desktops aren’t new, and Microsoft’s partners–and competitors–have been offering access to Windows in this manner for years. In short: A virtual desktop is one that runs on a server or in the cloud, accessed via a client app or browser on a client endpoint. In the past, these endpoints tended to be low-cost thin client hardware, which companies used to replace more costly PCs. Today, pretty much any device with a browser can act as a virtual desktop endpoint, from phones and tablets to non-Windows PCs running Google’s Chrome and Apple’s MacOS.

Virtual desktops are one of those technologies that has always looked great on paper, but often disappointed in practice due to their high reliance on a stable, fast network connection. As network speeds and quality of service has improved over time, and as LTE has become more prevalent, virtual desktops have become increasingly viable. And the pending rollout of 5G should drive even better performance over mobile networks. Over the years, Microsoft partners have rolled out increasingly capable Windows-based offerings, and so have direct Microsoft cloud competitors. Microsoft executives were quick to note at Ignite that existing partners will be able to leverage (and sell) WVD and that its goal with this announcement was to offer a differentiated product that better positions it against competitors such as Amazon and Google.

WVD’s Special Sauce
Microsoft has put together a compelling package with WVD, which will launch as a preview later this year. One of the most notable features is the ease with which current customers can spin up virtual machines and the flexibility around licensing and cost. Existing customers with Microsoft 365 Enterprise and Education E3 and E5 subscriptions can access WVD at no extra charge, paying Microsoft for the Azure storage and compute utilized by the virtual desktops.

Microsoft says WVD is the only licensed provider of multi-user virtual desktops. Multi-user means that a company can provision a high-performance virtual desktop and then assign more than one user to that desktop, leveraging the performance and storage across more than one employee. Microsoft also says that WVD users will access Office 365 Pro Plus optimizations, for a smoother virtualized Office experience.

Finally, Microsoft announced that WVD users will have the ability to run Windows 7 desktops well beyond the January 2020 End-of-Life date. This will allow companies that are behind in their Windows 10 transition, or who are struggling to move propriety apps to the new OS, more time to make the move. For many, this feature alone may represent a strong reason to try WVD.

An Evolved View of Windows
Microsoft’s WVD looks to be a compelling product, and I look forward to testing it out when it becomes available. But beyond the announcement itself, I’m most impressed by what it signifies about the company’s evolution in thinking around Windows. Microsoft under Bill Gates or Steve Balmer could have offered a version of WVD, but it never did. And if it had, you can be sure the company would have charged a licensing fee for every single virtual desktop it served up.

Under Nadella, the company has moved away from Windows as the product that it must sell, and protect, at all costs. Today, it’s willing to offer an easy-to-deploy virtual desktop to existing licensees to drive more customers toward Azure and its Microsoft and Office 365 offerings. Perhaps just as important is the underlying (and unspoken) acknowledgment that the installed base of traditional endpoint devices running Windows natively has likely peaked, while the number of primarily mobile devices running other OSes will continue to grow. By offering a best-in-breed experience that lets companies and employees run a Windows desktop on these devices when needed using nothing more than a browser, Microsoft helps ensure that Windows remains an important business platform well into the future.

News that Caught My Eye: Week of Sept 28, 2018

on September 28, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Oculus Quest

This week at Oculus Connect 5, Oculus announced that in March 2019 they will ship the Oculus Quest. The standalone VR device will be the first wireless Oculus hardware to sport positional tracking, both for the headset itself and the dual hand controllers. The headset will ship with 50-plus games made specifically for the device at launch. The headset will retail for $399.

Augmented Realities Killer Use Case

on September 27, 2018
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Let me start off by saying I genuinely hate when people use the killer app terminology. I say this because the thing that drives a technology into the mainstream is rarely just one thing as much as people desire to believe it is only one thing. In mobile, for example the killer app was APPS, not any one app.

Apple’s Next Frontier

on September 26, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the mantra’s of Apple detractors is that Apple no longer can innovate. They point to Apple evolving products instead of breaking any new ground and some maintain that Apple has not innovated much since the iPhone was released in 2007. They say that the iPad is just an overgrown iPhone. While the Apple Watch does break some new ground for them as a new product, they don’t give Apple many props since it was not the first smart watch and its roots lie in health trackers that were in the market years before Apple introduced the Apple Watch series 1 product.