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Leadership / Strategy

Jumbo June – How the tech giants’ key announcements stacked up

June 2012 saw Apple hold its World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC 2012) and Google’s I/O developer’s conference, while Microsoft jumped between them with two impromptu events to unveil new Windows 8 hardware. Who came out on top?

Apple

Key announcements:
Macbook Pro with ‘Retina Display’ (2048×1536)
MacOS X – v10.8 ‘Mountain Lion’
iOS 6

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, WWDC 2012
Apple CEO Tim Cook

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Apple remains as ever an over-the-top rumour mill, with everything from mini-iPads and Apple TVs discussed. Primarily a software developers event, much of what CEO Tim Cook unveiled was incremental upgrades to existing technology.

Macbook Pro with Retina Display
The major hardware announcement was a new ‘retina display’ (2880×1800 resolution) third generation 15" Macbook Pro. While a big visual upgrade, it is also un-modifiable – users can no longer upgrade their RAM, hard drives or batteries. Apple strangely made no announcement about its 17-inch models (which look look to be discontinued), and its remaining 13-inch and 15-inch Macbook models which will remain as generation two devices with lower screen resolutions. Confused? Surely the 17-incher would be a fantastic showcase model for the creative industries? It’s an unusually un-uniform approach by Apple which may confuse consumers.
5/10

MacOS X Mountain Lion 10.8
This is an incremental upgrade, more designed to integrate iOS features to create Apple platform unity. Apps, messages and contacts will sync across desktops and mobile devices, ‘documents in the cloud’ was added, and Voice control can be used with any software that accepts typed keys. Mountain Lion can now also mirror computer images on any screen connected to an Airport Express device – such as TVs.
The key feature is Apple’s Power Nap – effectively a hibernation mode where the computer performs basic tasks in the background, such as backing up (through Apple’s Time Machine software), downloading updates, syncing emails (and iCloud). It will be interesting to see what it does to the battery life of portable Macs however.
6/10

iOS 6
Another basic update to the company’s mobile operating system, iOS 6. The main news is that Google Google Maps has been abandoned, to be replaced with Apple’s own mapping software, including 3D mapping, Siri navigation, and a ‘driver mode’ which will compete with GPS devices, such as Navman. The still-poor Siri gets a slight update, and can now find restaurants and give you sports scores. It will also now be available for the iPad.
Apple’s Passbook is the beginnings of what will no doubt become Apple’s mobile virtual wallet when it (presumably) launches it with the (presumed) NFC enabled iPhone 5 towards the end of the year. It will store boarding passes, store cards, and movie tickets all in one place. Again, this is pretty much par for the course in this space.
Phone wise, iOS 6 will add a ‘Do not disturb’ mode, which users can bounce texts back to callers as well as add ‘call-back’ reminders to their calendars. Apple’s Skype derivative Facetime will now work over 3G (which it should’ve from the start).
Apple has also finally got its act together and included Facebook integration into the OS – long overdue. The opposition has had this for some time. It will include ‘inside app’ integration, rather than just within the OS itself.
5/10

Summary
Without the ‘reality distortion field’ this really was a pretty de rigueur developers conference press event – almost Microsoft-ian. A few nice updates, a bit of catch up work with rivals and a new computer. Mountain Lion’s Power Nap comes as very welcome, the iOS 6 updates keep the product in line with the market’s status quo.
5.3/10

Google I/O 2012
Key announcements
– Google Nexus 7 Tablet
– Android OS 4.1 Jellybean
– Project Glass and Nexus Q Media Player

Hugo Barra, Google's Director of Product Management, Google I/O 2012
Hugo Barra, Google’s Director of Product Management

Google had a nice open conference, going so far as to put the mascot of their next OS out the front of Google Headquarters days before the show as a clue. The Google Nexus tablet was also leaked onto the web very cleanly, with a large amount of detail. Deliberate? Perhaps.

Google Nexus 7 Tablet
This tablet proved to be a pretty high powered device (quad core CPU, 16 core GPU) at a cut price point – £159-199 – and it is to be made available in the coming weeks. In the US, this puts it up against the underpowered Android tablet. In Europe it could make some serious headway in the market. While ostensibily competing in the low end market, the device is significantly more powerful than Apple’s new iPad 3, so it’s believable that Google might be selling it as a loss leader to punch Amazon out (and Amazon’s growing proprietary app store). Google could really clean up the low end tablet market in Europe and UK if it plays its cards right (presuming this market actually exists). Again, the main problem is the lack of tablet apps for Android products, which Google is trying to drum up ahead of its release.
Sadly, Google announced that it would only make the device available on its online store, presumably to avoid angering hardware partners. Worrying, as tablets are best demonstrated in hand, especially to the non-tech savvy. Apple has that game down pat. Minus one point.
8/10

Android OS 4.1 Jellybean
Jellybean is mostly focused on UI and speed improvements for tablets more than anything. Google has also jumped on the voice assistant bandwagon, following Samsung’s S-Voice on the Galaxy S3 (see review here) and Apple’s own Siri. It is mostly used for search applications, and for sport scores and restaurant reviews. Visual search has also been added, which produces results in a visual magazine format. Google Now draws on your personal information, such as your calendar, location, and search history to automatically present information it believes might be important – this will be a privacy headache for Google no doubt. All in all, nothing to write home about.
4/10

Project Glass and Nexus Q Media Player
Project Glass is Google’s attempt to put a computer/smartphone into someone’s glasses, and will be released to developers in 2013 after they put a $15,000 down payment down. A product that looks ridiculous, will probably never get traction, and which fan boys love. I do respect that the company is doing this kind of farfetched sci-fi when most tech companies are very conservative, so plus one point for that.

The Nexus Q Media Player is a very cool looking media server that will wirelessly transmit audio visual media from computers, smartphones and tablets to the output device, such as a TV or stereo. This is pretty old hat; various companies have been doing this already, including Apple with its iTV. Its price hurts – $299 – and it is not available in the UK. Buyers can also choose to have $399 speakers included. Nothing new here.
5/10

Summary
Google spent an unusual amount of time presenting hardware for a software developers conference, which reflects its need to get away from smartphones and into the lounge – via tablets and TVs. Nexus 7 looks like a solid product, but will need app support. It has next to none at the moment, unless they expect users to keep ‘stretching’ phone apps. Project Glass – see Segway. The Jellybean updates are mostly pretty basic, a tinker to give the next generation of Android tablets a bit of polish.
5.6

Microsoft
Key Announcements
Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro tablets
Windows Phone 8

Steve Sinofsky, Windows Division President, Microsoft
Steve Sinofsky, Windows Division President, Microsoft

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 event on June 20 was preannounced and booked, but the tablet event two nights prior was more ad hoc, with invites going out while Apple’s WWDC was ongoing – we now know it was to pre-empt Google’s tablet announcement. The hype surrounding these announcements was second to none, comparable to Jobs’ heyday, so Microsoft is learning something in this area.

The Surface Tablets
Microsoft made the uncharacteristically ballsy move to release its own tablets, which appeared to have some pretty high production values, physically. The Surface will run Windows RT, while the Surface Pro will be a high powered x86 model that will be priced similar to Ultrabooks. Microsoft won’t admit it’s an attempt to force their hardware partners to build better ‘shells’ around its Windows 8 software (which seemed to rub some CEOs the wrong way), but backtracked somewhat by announcing that it would only be available through Microsoft’s online stores. Like Google, a daft decision that ensures that very few customers will get hands-on time with the device. Never mind the fact that the company still wants to charge another (daft) $50 license fee for its OS.
To make matters worse, we know next to nothing about the two devices. They quite simply weren’t ready for presentation. We don’t know how powerful they are – and the main mobile flipside to that power – how long the batteries last, the key aspect of any tablet. Poor Sinofsky then had to stand by and watch as his tablet crashed during the presentation. Google and Apple did all this and gave a timeline for the products on the shelves. Namely, the next day (Apple) or the coming weeks (Google). So Microsoft rushed to announce… not very much in particular, which didn’t work, has no specs or firm release date, is going to cost a fortune and pissed off their hardware partners. Still, there is plenty of potential.
4/10

Microsoft Windows Phone 8
Microsoft decided to not only annoy their only hardware partner, but its entire mobile customer base. The company announced Windows Phone 8, which will interconnect with the aforementioned Windows 8 and Windows RT, but runs on code that makes all previous versions of Windows Phone incompatible. This includes lucky Nokia and its customers who bought the new range of Windows Phone 7.5 Lumia Phones just before Christmas.
Microsoft does not see this as a problem – which has been much of Microsoft’s problem in the 21st century. It is terrible brand building.
These customers will get Windows Phone 7.8, which incorporates some of Windows 8’s feature set, but not its core infrastructure. It basically is there to act as a migration tool to Windows 8, and to avoid even more of a PR disaster. I feel confident in stating that Microsoft will quickly forget about these customers. The customer’s won’t, especially those that have just signed up to two year mobile phone contracts.
Stupidly, Microsoft also hasn’t announced a release date for Windows Phone 8, so it creates an Osborne Effect – no one will buy Windows Phone 7.5 devices for the next 6 months. At the rate Nokia’s going, they may not survive too much longer, and must feel a bit betrayed by this announcement. If they don’t, and were in on this move by Microsoft, then Nokia’s corporate culture has been corrupted absolutely by Elop’s reign (who coincidentally is a former Microsoft man) – it would be an example of shocking morals. It may not matter to Microsoft, as it still has Samsung, Huawei and HTC on board with the platform.
Otherwise, the Windows Phone 8 features seem to fit in with current industry standards – quad core phone compatibility, Skype integration, the dropping of Google Maps for Nokia’s proprietary mapping system, and a mobile wallet. It does share a kernel with Windows 8, so the potential for seamless integration across the Window’s 8 platforms and Xbox could be interesting in the future, but Microsoft’s app store and software ecosystem is very weak otherwise when compared to Google and Apple.
There is no iPhone or Samsung S3 killer app functionality here yet I’m afraid.
2/10

Summary
Microsoft really needs to stop behaving like it is a leader in the mobile arena. Its mercenary behaviour endears it to no one, even its allies. Similarly, its Windows 8 software is obviously still second rate if it’s crashing during a tech demo. We also still have no idea who Windows RT and Windows 8 will interact with each other – it looks like Microsoft is fragmenting their own OS. The company still wants to charge high license fees, and sell their products at Apple prices. But it doesn’t have an Apple proposition. Google is a cute robot, Apple is sleek and sexy. Microsoft doesn’t seem to realise that to most consumers they are the big, lumbering, boring bully of the marketplace, and this mercenary behaviour doesn’t instil confidence in the brand – and that is part of a corporate culture problem that extends far past the average, unfinished products exhibited.
3/10

Overall conclusion
Google and Apple are basically in a tie (Google pips Apple at the post). Google’s exciting new tablet is cancelled out by some silly R&D products, Apple manages to be pretty conservative and average across the board, and Microsoft unveils very little on the tablet side (other than that it exists), and sucker punches its current mobile users. Microsoft wanted in on the ‘me too’ visibility game, but probably should’ve left its announcements until closer to the release dates.
This article is from the CBROnline archive: some formatting and images may not be present.