Short Takes: October 17, 2014

Short Takes: October 17, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including a coming Microsoft developer event, a "new" Surface Pro 3 ad, the truth about Surface Pro 3 and the NFL is no joke, Verizon hates Windows Phone, Google and Apple hold dueling product announcements this week, FBI director still hates encryption, Google's advertising profits fall so all of Google's profits fall, and no lines for iPhone 6 in China.

Next milestone for Windows 10, sort of: An online developer event in November

Prompted by Mary Jo Foley's report, Microsoft has now confirmed that it will host an online developer event called Connect() in November that will focus on "developer tools, services and application platforms across Microsoft." You can check out the Connect() web site for details about the agenda, but the high-level view is that this is a two-day event that will be held in New York (day 1) and Redmond (day 2) and will be broadcast live on the web. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, but I'm particulary interested in the possibility that Visual Studio might be extended to support cross platform (Windows + iOS + Android) development, though realistically I realize that must simply mean using Xamarin. I'm looking forward to this one, though these are both lengthy, all day events. (Update: Since writing this I've confirmed that Microsoft's cross platform story is "C# and Xamarin or JavaScript and the Cordova tools for Visual Studio (preview)."

"Samsung mimics Amazon's Mayday, tests 'Get Help' button on Chromebook 2"

Proving again that there is no idea lame enough for Samsung not to steal it.

No, seriously, the Surface Pro 3 is all about productivity

In a mad bid to drive home the fact that its Surface Pro 3 is "the most productive tablet on the planet"—a superior tagline to "the least productive Ultrabook on the market," obviously—Microsoft has released a new ad touting this very tagline. Except, hm. This isn't a new ad. This is just the same ad Microsoft released back in July—called Accolades—but with a new tagline: "The tablet that can replace your laptop". (The old one was "Get productive.") Actually, they did remove the embarrassing Verge review quote—I mean, seriously—with a note about Windows 8.1 and "all your desktop software," so I guess that's an improvement too. Long story short, I think it's time for a new ad. You know, one that pushes the fact that the Surface Pro 3 is a real PC and an iPad or Android tablet is not.

"Will Lenovo's Yoga Pro 3 Pro Kill Microsoft's Surface Pro 3?"

Why can't they just both sell well?

Of Surface Pro 3 and the NFL

You may have heard that Microsoft has reached a five-year deal with the NFL to provide Surface Pro tablets on the sidelines during football games. And if so, you no doubt heard only two aspects to this story. That a) Microsoft paid for this privilege and b), giggle giggle, that TV commentators and even some NFL players can't stop calling them iPads. Hilarious, right? But here's the real story, as explained by the New York Times. Microsoft's Surface/NFL deal came at great cost and effort, and the reason you don't see iPads on the sidelines is that those fragile devices wouldn't last 10 seconds in the NFL. The NFL had many requirements: Screens big enough for several people to see at once. The ability to withstand extreme temperatures in both directions. Rugged enough to survive drops. Resist glare. (Cough, iPad. Now that's hilarious.) Hold a charge for a full game. And work reliably on a secure wireless network. Microsoft beat out "several" unnamed competitors for this spot, and it worked with the NFL to ruggedize Surface Pro 3 to meet the challenges. As Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi noted, "the NFL is the crown jewel of entertainment. And on the sideline, it really showcases what Microsoft can do when it brings its full muscle to bear."

"NFL Player Befuddled by Microsoft Surface Tablets"

Sure. But Jay Cutler is befuddled by a 4-3 defense too.

Verizon continues to hate Windows Phone and thus its customers who use, or want to use, a Windows Phone

If you're a Windows Phone user on Verizon, you're very familiar with futility. The futility of waiting for decent new Windows Phone handsets to appear on the network. The futility of waiting for Verizon to approve the free Windows Phone 8.1 update (and, for Nokia devices, the corresponding Cyan firmware update), which was completed back in April. The futility of wondering why Verizon silently and without explanation pulled the flagship Nokia Lumia Icon from its web site. You know, that kind of thing. But the abuses will only continue: Daniel Rubino of WPCentral is reporting that Verizon will not sell the new Lumia 735 until early 2015, despite the fact that international carriers are right now rolling out this handset. Folks, I'm sure Verizon is good for many things. But Windows Phone is not one of them.

"Anonymous app Whisper denies tracking claims"

But then it would say that, wouldn't it?

Google and Apple in dueling product launches

On Wednesday, Google announced its Nexus 6 smart phone (phablet), Nexus 9 tablet and Nexus Play living room set-top box, an attempt to beat out Apple's Thursday launch of the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3 and a few Macs that aren't all that interesting. Frankly, neither announcement was super interesting, though I'm going to have to go with Google if given the choice. Apple's new iDevices are all just warmed over versions of past products, whereas each of Google's new products are a first of some kind. Plus, Google has Apple beat from a pricing perspective, and usually by a wide margin. The weirdest thing about Apple's announcement wasn't so much what was announced—all of it neatly telegraphed by leaks—but what wasn't announced. There were no new iPads (over two years since the last refresh), no new Apple TV, no Retina MacBook Air, and no iPad Pro, which figures to be a Surface Pro 3 competitor. It's a sign of the times that this stuff is so boring: Not a single newly announced Apple or Google product is anything but high-quality goodness. But we're just awash in this stuff right now.

"The Revolutionary New iPad Feature Apple Didn't Talk About"

Ooh, let me guess. Is it that Apple hasn't once cut iPad prices despite the fact that its competitors are killing it on pricing and, now, on unit sales as well?

FBI director continues his losing battle against device encryption

FBI director James Comey can't stop whining about the device encryption technologies that Apple and Google have recently added to their mobile platforms (Microsoft will follow in 2015), and this week he called for the US government to force these firms from removing that functionality from their products. "We have the legal authority to intercept and access communications and information pursuant to court order, but we often lack the technical ability to do so," he said. "If the challenges of real-time interception threaten to leave us in the dark, encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place." I sort of get where he's coming from, but in the wake of the Snowden stuff, even an NSA panel concluded that it was best for US tech companies to freely exploit encryption in order to assure customers that their data was safe from intruders of any kind. Obviously, Comey imagines a future in which a terrorist, kidnapper or whomever has data on a device that could help solve a crime. But in focusing solely on this FUD about encryption, he's really just ignoring the fact that law enforcement agencies also have tons of other investigative paths to use to solve crimes. I don't see him winning this one. The cat is already out of the bag, as we say.

Google stumbles with quarterly earnings

Google may have a near-monopoly on online advertising, but even this cloud-first, mobile-first company is having trouble figuring out how to monetize mobile devices. Growth in paid advertising clicks slowed dramatically in the quarter, mostly because no one has figured out a way to make effective mobile ads, Google admitted. And the price-per-click continues to nosedive, which is of course just a natural and inevitable change. So while Google is still printing money—it earned $2.8 billion on revenues of $16.5 billion in the most recent quarter—like Microsoft, it has yet to find a single huge new business to replace or at least augment its core money maker. (And unlike Microsoft, Google isn't diversified at all from a financial perspective: All of the profits it makes comes from advertising.) "We just need to keep innovating and experimenting here to get it right," Google chief business officer Omid Kordestani said.

No crowding at iPhone launch in China

It looks like Apple still hasn't cracked the China nut. Very few people were standing in line at Apple Stores in that country for the launch of the iPhone 6, in sharp contrast to the mob scenes we saw elsewhere around the world. This is a problem for Apple, since China is the world's biggest market for smart phones and consumers there are increasingly turning to cheaper, homegroup alternatives such as those from Xiaomi. But there's gotta be a positive way to present this news: Let's turn a typical Apple fanboy site, which can sugarcoat this lackluster launch with a headline like "iPhone 6 & 6 Plus met with orderly launch day lines in China" and try to make lemonade by claiming that the lack of bodies in line is because of mail orders. But previous Apple launches all had huge crowds, regardless of mail orders. Maybe China is just suffering from iFatigue. Can you blame them?

But Wait, There's More

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