BlackBerry Z10: Wi-Fi Solved

February 3, 2013

I got Wi-Fi access working again. It turns out that I needed to go to the Identification on Network option, and set both my Username and Workgroup. Obvious enough… what really confused me was that networking worked for a while before failing. It’s also a shame that all these options aren’t in the same place in OS10.

By the way, if you want to use Wi-Fi sharing without entering your password and username every time, you’ll need to know how to make Windows remember your settings. Merely ticking the “Remember my credentials” box won’t do it. (I’m talking about Windows 7 here, though I seriously doubt the problem has been addressed in Windows 8.) If you go to the Control Panel and open Credential Manager, then click on the BlackBerry entry, you’ll find a line that says “Persistence: session.” That means when you log out (or reboot) your credentials disappear.

BlackBerry Z10 007 credentials BLUR

I found the solution months ago, when having the same problem with a network storage server. Here’s the gist of it:

  1. Sign in to your BlackBerry when asked to do so by Explorer.
  2. Open Credential Manager from Control Panel.
  3. Find the BlackBerry entry, open it, select Edit, then remove the domain name (all the extra junk) in front of your user name. Save.
  4. Log off Windows and log back in. Open Credential Manager again. (Your previous BlackBerry entry should be gone.)
  5. Try to open the BlackBerry again in Explorer. When asked, enter your username and password, but don’t check “Remember my credentials.”
  6. In Credential Manager, select “Add a Windows credential,” and enter your BlackBerry name (as shown in the Storage and Access menu), your username (without any of the extra domain stuff) and password. Save.

When you log on next time, you should find that you can connect to the BlackBerry without being asked for login info. In Credential Manager, you should see in the BlackBerry item the line “Persistence: Enterprise.” It may be possible to make this work without all the extra palaver, but this exact sequence seems to work reliably.

BlackBerry Z10 009 credentials CROP-BLUR

There’s another solution here. It involves using the Group Policy Editor, and seems much more elegant. But you’ll have to have one of the upscale versions of Windows 7; cheaper editions don’t include the Group Policy Editor. Other posts suggest that your Homegroup settings may cause slightly different behavior. If so, you may need to try one of the alternate fixes.

Is this all incredibly stupid? Yes. These idiotic problems have been accumulating in Windows for years, and are only rarely getting fixed. My folder of saved workarounds keeps getting bigger and bigger…


BlackBerry Z10 Problems

February 1, 2013

Okay, so now I’m not quite as happy.

First, Wi-Fi access to the Z10 suddenly stopped working. Where before I had not been asked for the password, now attempting to open a folder on the Z10 instantly displays a pop-up asking for the password. Worse, the password is simply never accepted. I tried rebooting everything, changing the password, connecting the Z10 via a different access point, switching from 2.4GHz to 5GHz. You name it. Same problem: password not accepted.

So I broke down and installed the BlackBerry Link app. Ugh.

It’s not quite as ugly as iTunes. But it’s up there. I’m giving BlackBerry the benefit of the doubt and assuming a lot of the junk has to do with enterprise access. But whatever it is, I don’t need any of it. Plain old USB file access would do me fine. Whereas the Link software went ahead and installed at least two services, plus several other even less-obvious things that want to autorun with Windows. PeerManager.exe runs all the time, consuming 0.01% of my CPU capacity and about 5MB of memory. Is this really necessary, just to support a device that may be connected once every day or two? (Or even more rarely, depending on the user.)

snap0680 a      snap0681 a

What’s more, I immediately got a firewall warning, informing me that mDNSresponder was trying to receive a connection from the Internet. I had to Google that one. Turns out this is a standard component of Apple’s thrice-cursed Bonjour service. So I’m almost back to iTunes levels of intrusiveness. Apparently, mDNSresponder is also included with all sorts of other shovelware, including the drivers you get with a lot of cheap peripherals. In any case, it is not something I asked for in so many words.

You can get rid of it, apparently. I found the executable file in

Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Research in Motion\TunnelManager

Fortunately, if you run mDNSresponder -remove from a command prompt, it seems to go away. USB access to the Z10 still seems to work. But I still have multiple services running all the time, even when I have no intention of connecting to the Z10. This is just sloppy, rude and ugly. A huge win for Android.

To be sure, this is something that most users of the BlackBerry Z10 will never know about, or care about. Well, call me crazy, but I resent having my PC treated as a doormat. Software should either be a single executable with a single function, or it should come with discrete options for every piece of resident junk it wants to install. Period. No exceptions. Not even for a nice device like the Z10.

Some of the complexity is probably aimed at providing secure access for enterprise users. That’s understandable. But there’s an obvious trade-off between capability and complexity. It would be nice if there were tiered installation installation options, with simple USB access as a default for private use. Enterprise users taking advantage of the BlackBerry Balance work/home capability may need something more secure. And even then, I have to wonder if it couldn’t be implemented in a simpler and more direct way than it is now.


BlackBerry OS10: Strange Negativity

February 1, 2013

I was at the BlackBerry event, and was very impressed. But I seem to be in the minority, among tech journalists.

RiM (now BlackBerry Inc.) has done just about everything right. They hired Alicia Keyes, instead of, say, Lady Gaga. They based their new OS10 heavily on the PlayBook OS, arguably the nicest mobile OS out there. More importantly, I got a powerful sense of vitality and creativity from all their people. This is a company that’s got a lot of good ideas, that’s listening to its customers. BlackBerry isn’t “innovating” purely for the sake of being different. It’s looking at what’s out there, and trying to do better. That used to be the recipe for success.

And yet, most reviews have been enormously skeptical. With the needlessly alien Windows Phone, it was all “looks very promising,” or “has some great features.” Nothing about a steep learning curve… With the comfortable, discoverable BB10, the learning curve is “steep” merely because there’s no Home button. There are “many flaws,” and “no apps.” I don’t recall a single WinPhone story harping on about the lack of apps, certainly not to this extent. Were people expecting a new OS to ship with 2 million apps? Is that where the bar is set? Are we really that averse to change, to competition?

A couple of random examples. (Google will happily barf up many more.)

“Some icons, in fact, seem downright amateur…”

“But, tragically, there’s really nothing to love.”

“Nothing to love”…? Really? This describes some other gadget than the one I’ve been playing with.

I suspect it’s down to three things: 1) journalists decided long before the BB10 launch that it was time to write off BlackBerry, and they’re now reluctant to change their minds; 2) journalists have a lot of pent-up negativity they’ve failed to use on Apple and Microsoft, and now sense it’s okay to do a mass vent on BlackBerry; 3) journalists have been programmed to respond to ‘innovation,’ even when it’s counterproductive change-for-the-sake-of-change.

There are exceptions, of course. CrackBerry.com, the dedicated BlackBerry site, is quite fair in praising the good and putting the rough edges in perspective. And the Toronto Globe & Mail is reasonably balanced, though tending at times to damn the new BlackBerry with faint praise. (“Apple’s phone seems more crisp and bright…”)

Funny thing is, I don’t think it will matter. At the launch event, I sat in a vast hall full of people cheering like Apple fans at a Jobs revival. I think long-time BB users will jump on this new generation of product, and will not be disappointed. That will be enough to kick-start a slow but steady recovery.

I also think BB10 is an option the market really needs. It fills a gap that the other competitors have been amazingly slow to address: the more ‘serious’ business and enterprise user. The iPhone is almost perfectly conceived to thumb its nose at that market. Android seems to merely ignore it. Microsoft, to its credit, is definitely going after the enterprise segment. But with a product that’s ‘innovative’ in the worst way. Conservative businesses users who find the BB10 learning curve too steep are surely going to faint dead away when presented with a screen full of Live Tiles.

I don’t expect BlackBerry to take over the world from iOS and Android. But I do expect the company to still be in the fray a year from now, and to be shipping better and better products. I also expect that this will be a positive influence on the other competitors, much as the introduction of the iPhone goosed the underachieving cell-phone world into action a few years back.


BlackBerry Z10: Music Player

February 1, 2013

The BlackBerry OS10 Music app plays FLAC files! I think I may be in love…

Well, I guess that’s going a bit far. But this is the first device I’ve come across that didn’t need a third-party app to handle the only audio format anyone should be using at this late date. It means that I can use the BlackBerry Z10 as a music player without constantly transcoding my bit-perfect CD rips to lossy, dull-sounding MP3.

Apart from that, I like the way the BB10 player handles my JPG cover art. Many players insist that you add the cover as metadata to every single file, a really stupid approach. (What happens if you come across a better image?) On the downside, the BB10 player is a bit finicky about recognizing JPG covers. This may have something to do with how files are tagged, but if you simply name all cover images folder.jpg there’s no problem.

BlackBerry Z10 Music Player     BlackBerry Z10 Music app

Of course, the Music app isn’t the last word. It’s got a playlist editor of sorts, but there seems to be nothing like an equalizer. (The default sound is good, fortunately. But cheaper headphones can usually benefit from a bit of tweaking.) Also, only internal files are supported. Much as I like the default player, I’ll be looking out for something like BSplayer, which I use on Android to access my entire music library via Windows (Samba) shares on my server.

Again, bravo to BlackBerry (the company). The default BB10 Music app sets the bar just about where it needs to be. Third-party apps have lots of room to add features, but the core functionality is available out of the box.


BlackBerry OS 10, BlackBerry Z10: First Impressions

January 31, 2013

Yesterday, I attended the worldwide launch of BlackBerry 10 (the Toronto instance). I was impressed by the way the event was handled, by the PR moves that were announced, and most of all by the new OS itself. I think BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) has done everything right. I sincerely hope the often-fickle marketplace rewards them for it.

Since yesterday, I’ve had a chance to spend an hour or so with the new BlackBerry Z10. Here are a few early impressions.

BlackBerry Z10 default apps    BlackBerry Z10 minimized apps

Physical

In a word, sexy. The Z10 is on the large side for a phone, but I like that. I wouldn’t want a much smaller screen, and generally prefer larger ones, myself. The shape is simple and elegant, and the back (which is actually a cover for the battery compartment) is made of a very friendly soft plastic with a dimpled grid surface. (When you open the back to insert the battery and SIM card, you find that this piece is actually quite flexible.)

The Display

The obvious comparison will be to Apple’s Retina display. Bottom line, no matter how closely I look, I can’t see the individual pixels. Looking at a smooth, bright color gradient, you get the feeling the dots are there, lurking just below the threshold of sight. Sharper eyes than mine might just be able to pick them out, from a couple of inches away. But in normal use, they’re invisible. The display looks great.

The User Interface

From the pre-release descriptions, BlackBerry OS 10 seems like a radical departure. In fact, it’s very familiar, if you’ve used a BlackBerry PlayBook. Clearly, BlackBerry (the company) has taken what worked and evolved it for a smaller form factor.

PlayBook users will find that the ability to ‘minimize’ running apps is core in OS 10. The difference (in the handheld version, at least) is that minimized apps display not side-by-side, but in a 4×4 grid. When you have more than 4 apps running, the grid scrolls vertically. Also, the app tiles don’t seem to be ‘live’ as on the PlayBook. They either freeze the last view, or revert to a generic representation of the app.

PlayBook users will also find two very familiar swipe commands. Swipe up from the bottom of the display, in order to minimize an app. Swipe down from the top to drag open the app’s options menu.

What’s missing, alas, is the ability to swipe sideways between running apps. That was one of my favorite features of the PlayBook. It made multitasking truly effortless, and put the PlayBook miles ahead of any other platform. With OS 10, you have to minimize the current app and pick another from the grid. Not a big deal, but less convenient than the older way.

In exchange for removing the side-swipe task switching, you now have the new Peek feature. Swipe up and over to the right, and the current app slides over, revealing the new communications Hub. This works from anywhere. For instance, you can Peek when viewing the minimized app grid, or the desktop of installed apps. However, if there’s a way to Peek at anything other than the Hub, I have yet to find it. If, like me, you value communications less than some other capability, you may find this a bit frustrating. Most users, I assume, will love it.

The Apps

The BlackBerry Z10 includes all the usual apps: calculator, calendar, contact manager, camera, photo viewer, video player, clock. But there are some nifty extras as well.

My own favorite is Documents to Go, which appeared on the PlayBook as well. It’s a meaningful value added, since it’s kind of vital, and costs up around $15 even when it’s on sale. Moreover, the BlackBerry version seems to be significantly nicer than the one I actually bought for my Android devices. For instance, the word processor has a formatting toolbar.

There are dedicated apps for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare, but these can be accessed via the Hub as well. BlackBerry (the company) tells me that the intent is to steer users to the full app for deeper dives, and make message feeds easily available in the Hub.

Story Maker is novel: a simple video editor that can combine video and photos, adding transition effects and text captions. Pretty neat, for a handheld device.

There’s a Dropbox app, which is welcome. And a Newsstand, that shows “view and purchase published content on a per issue or subscription basis.” I had to “share” my name and date of birth in order to run the app, and was rewarded with the option to download the latest issue of Surfer magazine, or Bicycle Times. Not so sure about this one…

Also interesting is the Compass app. Not only does it show the direction, it adds a 3D ’tilt’ effect when you move the Z10 around. Just a visual frill, to be sure. But fun.

Connectivity

Like the PlayBook, the Z10 can be set to share files via Wi-Fi. I had no trouble opening the device from Windows Explorer without installing any software on my desktop system. I consider that a huge bonus… iTunes is the biggest reason I’ll never be a big iOS user. I know some users prefer a comprehensive ‘sync’ capability, and it was certainly there with the PlayBook, but I haven’t discovered the OS 10 equivalent so far.

Oddly, the Z10 insisted I set up a password for Wi-Fi access, then allowed me to access the device and copy files without one. Not sure what that’s all about. Lots more to learn!

Bottom Line

The BlackBerry Z10 is as slick a piece of mobile gear as I’ve had my hands on. I’d pick it in a nanosecond over an iPhone. The greater openness and evolved ecosystem of Android remain compelling to me, but the big thing is that with OS 10, BlackBerry becomes a serious contender, a worthy inclusion in the Top Three. I don’t think Apple will be quaking in its boots, but I suspect that Windows Phone 8 may find its progress slowed still further, as businesses turn first to the mobile solution they’ve already been happy with.

I haven’t even played with the BlackBerry’s new Work/Home capability, which will let enterprises have secure apps and data on the same device alongside a user’s own stuff. That’s a compelling feature. And the overall implementation strikes me as much slicker, more familiar and more efficient than WinPhone. No doubt Microsoft’s OS will continue to have its fans, but BlackBerry will force them to work even harder to justify their views.

More thoughts on this subject as I continue to explore…


CES 2013: Why Should Consumers Care?

January 7, 2013

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is about to kick-off in Las Vegas, and the tide of hype is in full flood. But this year the show is under a shadow. A number of the major participants are seeing ten- or eleven-figure cash problems, and other companies — such as Microsoft — won’t be attending. Industry response to these fundamental concerns boils down to: “What — me worry?”

Reuters has just predicted the major trends at CES 2013:

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas promises a new generation of “smart” gadgets, some controlled by voice and gestures, and technology advancements in cars, some of which already let you dictate emails or check real-time gas prices.

ZDnet speculates along similar lines as to what will be The Next Big Thing. Of course, we all have a vested interest in this, and a strong temptation to offer the most optimistic outlook. But the reality is that this year there may be no “Next Big Thing.” This could well be the year that the whole consumer electronics industry runs out of steam.

Alas, even the most feverish predictions for CES 2013 are unexciting. More tablets. More smart TV. More home-automation. In short, more of a lot of stuff that no one was excited about when it was actually fresh and new. Mixed with a few half-baked concepts that don’t target any burning need, and don’t work all that well anyway.

For example, voice and gesture interfaces. Am I the only technophile who feels depressed at the prospect of waving his hands at the TV screen, trying vainly to get its attention? I’ve actually had a chance to experience this technology, and what I’ve seen has not been encouraging. If you have to repeat even one in ten voice commands, the feature is agonizing and unusable. Unless there’s been a huge leap forward (unlikely, considering current progress in basic chip technology), this stuff is ready only to be the next ’3D’ — a useless, annoying feature that will make consumers glad only if they avoid paying for it.

Advancements in cars? Let’s be honest: the only advancement we really need is one that will eliminate cars. Allowing already borderline-psychotic drivers to dictate tweets at 120 kph has a certain sadistic appeal, but is unlikely to create a new economic boom. (Other than perhaps in the insurance industry.)

The most depressing prospect of all lies in home entertainment. The TV/stereo system has become stagnant, and is likely to remain so at CES 2013.

‘Smart TV’ is neither smart enough, nor usable enough, to excite today’s savvy, jaded consumer. TV makers persist in developing a dozen incompatible ecosystems, none of which will achieve a critical mass of apps, and all of which will only further confuse users who still don’t understand why they need five remotes to watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island. If you want to make it as powerful as a PC, stop pissing around and just make it a PC, or Android, or Mac. Anything less is just going to be disappointing. (Remember: we’ve all used PCs, Android devices and Macs. We do have an idea of what the minimum standard should be.)

Then there’s quad-definition. Quad-definitiion. When most couch potatoes still don’t know if they’re actually watching high-definition. And have no problem watching standard-definition content that’s been cropped top and bottom, or side-stretched almost out of recognition. Yeah, quad-def is definitely going to take off like a rocket.

What home entertainment really needs is for manufacturers to stand up to the content providers and telcos, and insist that they allow consumer access to technologies that are already almost old enough to be passe: video servers, non-realtime content (and, ironically, true realtime content as well), and full app-supported interactivity. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Sony fought and won the Betamax battle decades ago, but today there’s no champion to drive the industry kicking and screaming into the wild, uncharted… present.

Failing that, a more dismal alternative would be to give up on consumer electronics and simply target the 1%. Reuters already talks extensively about features and products that will mainly enhance the cars of the very rich, rather than ones that will enrich the lives of the masses. We could see the entire electronics industry give up on serving the hoi polloi, and move up-market, where there’s still money to be spent on meaningless frills. (If so, forget my previous sarcasm and look for quad-def to be the surprise hit at CES.)

In the lead-up to CES 2013, it’s more obvious than ever before that the digital revolution has been stalled in its tracks. On the one hand, by high-tech companies whose lack of vision is perfectly complemented by their lack of business guts. And on the other by entrenched corporate interests who’ve discovered that ‘holding back the future’ is a viable business model.


Obnoxious Office

December 18, 2012

It’s amazing that Microsoft Office still manages to dominate the world of ‘productivity’ applications. The feature set is good (though stuck firmly in the 1990s), but the under the hood it’s the worst-programmed mess I’ve ever encountered. What’s particularly galling is that a lot of the problems are there not by accident, but by design. Case in point:

  • I need to install holidays in the Outlook calendar for 2013. No can do. Outlook 2007 only goes up to 2012.
  • Is there a simple fix? A tiny download, perhaps? No. You need, at minimum, a Microsoft executable ‘hotfix.’
  • Can you just download it? No. You need to request a link to be sent to your email address.
  • Can you just install it? No. You need at least Outlook SP2.

Remember: I’m not having any particular problems with Outlook that need a whole service pack. I just want holidays for 2013.

  • Does SP2 just install itself politely and go away? No. It needs a Windows reboot. Which means shutting down all the stuff I was working on when I discovered I needed holidays for 2013.
  • Upon rebooting, does Outlook just run? No. It pops up a dialog cryptically (and incorrectly) reporting “Preparing Outlook for first use.” Then proceeds to process all my data, for compatibility with the update.
  • Does this process complete quickly? No. In fact, I can hear my disk thrashing as I type. Why?? Outlook itself is running from my SSD, and the data files will easily fit into my 16GB of system RAM. So no disk access should be required.
  • The process completes after about 10 minutes. Are my problems over? Hardly! A warning pops up: “Microsoft Office Outlook has not been installed for the current user. Please run setup to install the application.” There is only one user: me. When I click “OK” (my only option), Outlook shuts down. Now I have to find my original disks, or something.
  • The installer runs, but now Outlook won’t recognize itself as legitimate. Neither Internet nor phone activation will work. Microsoft’s automated phone-registration robot implies that I’ve got an ‘illegitimate’ copy. I most definitely don’t… it’s a review copy I got directly from Microsoft. (The big plastic box is in front of me now… although I still can’t figure out how to open it.)
  • Does tech support have an answer? Oh, sure, but it’s not very satisfying: “This product is very old, there’s no free support, so pay up for support or pay up for a newer version.” (The support rep was very nice about it, and even confirmed that my product key was indeed legitimate. I’m afraid I was a bit testy with him, which I regret… none of this is his fault.)

What an incredible productivity-suck. If Outlook were just a regular program, with clearly-defined data structures, and without low-level hooks or obnoxious DRM, I’d have had the data I needed in a minute or two and been on my way. Instead, my afternoon is shot, I have no access to my huge file of email, and I still don’t have the 2013 holidays for my calendar. At the very least, I’m looking at a full re-install and probable loss of all my settings.

All for what? A tiny calendar-data update. This is just plain bad.

In fairness, I have to add that Outlook is the only email client that comes close to giving me the features I need. In particular, the ability to define custom columns, which allow me quickly access all messages relating to a particular company. Ironically, this feature seems to be gone in recent versions of the software. Fortunately, the columns I originally created in Outlook 2003 remain.

Despite the creeping de-featuring, Outlook remains my best option. But I’m always painfully aware that it’s a pale shadow of what it could be. The masses of priceless information in its store are only barely accessible to me. The tools for finding, correlating and exploiting all that information are rudimentary at best. The data files are monolithic, inaccessible to third-party tools. Performance, even on my Core i7 system is often lethargic. And every so often, it dumps me into a pit… like it has today.


Auto-updates: Is It Just Me…?

October 17, 2012

I just came across yet another security discussion, in which at least one poster emphasized the importance of auto-updates as a means of keeping a system protected. Here’s the response I added:

I couldn’t agree less. Auto update is a huge vulnerability. It’s literally a welcome mat for some third party to shove software into the bowels of your system. That third party may be both trustworthy and technically competent… but there is no guarantee that it will remain so over time, and no likelihood that you’ll know if and when it becomes untrustworthy or incompetent.

Ironically, far from “getting it right,” [as the previous poster had suggested] Microsoft provided the best-ever example of the auto-update fallacy, when it mis-used the mechanism to shove Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) onto systems around the world. WGA is not a ‘feature’ that any user would want. It gives Microsoft extra control over your PC, and opens the possibility of false positives that could literally require you to buy a new copy of Windows. No, the problems are not frequent… but the point is that whether an update is to your benefit or not, you gave up the right to complain about it when you enabled (failed to disable) the service.

I’m still waiting for someone to hack the auto-update feature. What better mechanism could their be, for installing malware? Even if Microsoft’s auto-update service happens to be secure (a big if), there are probably lots of others on your system by now, some of which you’re probably not even aware of.

It’s your system, do what you think is best. But on my gear, all auto-update services remain in the OFF position.

Am I being unreasonable? Paranoid? I don’t think so. I have never seen any compelling advantage to automatic updates. If the software is so crappy it can’t work without constant updates, I’ll just pass on it entirely. On the other hand, if there are substantial changes, I will inevitably want to assess them before allowing them on my equipment. I don’t give anyone carte blanche to enter my front door, and I can’t see why I should be less stringent with my electronic devices.


Tell Apple to Bring the Jobs Home!

September 24, 2012

I just got a press release from Apple, reporting that it sold 5 million units of the iPhone 5 in that product’s first weekend. At the same time, I noticed an item on (some) news sites, reporting that, despite Apple’s assurances that everything is now hunky-dory at its oriental manufacturing arm, riots have broken out at the Foxconn plant in China. Apparently, a “personal dispute” led to clashes involving 2,000 employees, with some 40 people injured. Clearly, all is not completely rosy.

But whether the labor problems are fixed or not, the fact remains that Apple is having all its gear made in China. It’s hard to see any cost savings being passed on to the consumer; the iPhone 5 tops out at almost $900, assuming you pay cash rather than sign up for the indentured-servitude telco contract. But more fundamental is the fact that major American companies, such as Apple, really should be supporting their American home economy, not that of China.

The Apple announcement didn’t break down sales by geography, but it’s safe to assume that the number of US buyers was in 7 figures. All those millions of iPhone purchasers should feel not happy, but ashamed that they’re supporting low-paying jobs in China, that could have been decent jobs for their neighbors at home. If only they’d put just a little pressure on Apple, and other companies that have been eager to export jobs overseas.

Apple is by all accounts the richest company in the world. It has taken a leading stance on ‘green’ electronics. And it really could afford to take a leading stance on rebuilding the US manufacturing base. By the same token, Apple fans like to think they’re a hip, literate, discriminating bunch. They should be more than hip enough to see the logic of insisting that their favorite companies support the American economy. Of paying a bit extra, if need be, for products made ‘over here,’ and shopping around for alternatives to products that aren’t. Or abstaining entirely, in the case of obvious luxury items, if none of the available products makes the grade.

Everyone loves a nifty new toy. But it’s high time we started looking past the shiny surface, at some of the intangibles. And to realize that we are voting with our dollars, whether we think about it or not. Companies like Apple will always take the path of least resistance, highest profit… unless we tell them, in the only way that matters, that’s no longer good enough.


Surface: Who’s It For?

July 21, 2012

I’ve just been looking at some NPD stats. I probably shouldn’t quote them in detail, as NPD does like to sell these reports. But I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I mention that the percentage of tablet owners currently using wireless or docked keyboards is  just over 10%. In other words, with Surface, Microsoft is gunning for not more than one-tenth of the tablet audience.

Of course, you could argue that the people who really want keyboards are all holding out for something better than the current iOS/Android devices. In marketing terms, that kind of argument is called “wishful thinking.” It’s not necessarily false, but it’s unhelpful at best, and dangerous at worst. (My own theory is s equally likely: that most people like tablets exactly because they lack a keyboard.)

My prediction is that Surface Pro will do modestly well, but that sales will be almost entirely cannibalized off the existing Windows laptop and Ultrabook business. (Surface RT will, of course, fail miserably, given that it doesn’t run Windows applications, has a zero base of it’s own Metro apps, and offers no particular advantage over existing Android or iOS devices.)


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