Short Takes: August 30, 2013

Short Takes: August 30, 2013

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...

Reminder: Monday Is Labor Day

This coming Monday is Labor Day in the United States, so Penton offices will be closed. WinInfo will return on Tuesday, but I'll be updating the SuperSite for Windows over the long weekend.

Microsoft Makes Surface Price Cuts Permanent

I can't claim that Microsoft is following my advice here—after all, this is obvious stuff—but Microsoft announced this week that it would do the right thing (my words) and make the recent temporary Surface price cuts permanent (Microsoft's words). "Customer response to recent Surface pricing and keyboard-cover promotions has been exciting to see, and we are proud to begin rollout of Surface Pro, Touch Cover, and Surface RT bundles at even more affordable prices starting August 29," a Microsoft statement notes. So, what does the new pricing look like? Surface RT now starts at $349, which is the right price for this thing, although that version doesn't come with a keyboard cover of any kind. A Surface RT with Touch Cover bundle starts at $399 (but for that price I'd rather see the superior Type Cover). For Surface Pro, pricing now starts at $799 (down from the original $899) for a 64GB version with no keyboard cover (this, too, should come with something, but whatever). There are no new Surface Pro bundles, but Microsoft is also reducing the price of covers: Touch Covers start at $79, limited-edition Touch Covers cost $89, and the Type Cover still costs $129 (no discount there). These price cuts come ahead of new Surface 2 (nee Surface RT 2) and Surface Pro tablets, which I expect Microsoft to ship alongside new and improved accessories in October. Plus, we'll see Surface mini and other new accessories follow later in the holiday season. More on that when possible, but let's hope the pricing remains consistent between Surface generations.

PC Sales Forecast Trimmed ... But So Was Tablet Sales Forecast

The chameleon analysts at IDC (they have never made a prediction that wasn't altered repeatedly when reality didn't fit their original vision) have once again downgraded their expectations for PC sales in the near future, triggering another wave of handwringing. But what many are conveniently overlooking is that IDC also downgraded its expectations for tablet sales. So this isn't another sign of the pending PCpocalypse. It's just a sign that IDC has no idea what it's talking about. As always. According to the firm—and really, you'll need a mouthful of salt by this point, not just a pinch—worldwide shipments of PCs are now expected to fall 9.7 percent in 2013, lower than the 7.8  percent drop the firm predicted in May and the 1.3 percent drop it pronounced in January. (Expect more changes; it's only August, and eventually they'll just predict something that already happened and then celebrate their prescience.) So what's a 9.7 percent shipment drop look like? It means that PC makers will ship "just" 318 million units in the year. (As I wrote earlier, they sold 353 million units in calendar year 2012.) Meanwhile, the Karnakian geniuses at IDC now think that tablet shipments will reach 227.4 million units, down from its previous prediction of 229.3 million units, but still a 57.7 jump from 2012. The point on the calendar that everyone is looking for, of course, is when tablet and PC sales interject, and IDC believes—cough, sorry, got some saline dripping from my eye now for some reason—that this will happen in 2016 or so. I'll need a horse-sized salt lick by the time that happens. Because here's the thing: Just three years into the so-called iPad era (really the Android tablet era, but whatever), tablet sales are already showing signs of maturing. Maybe these things will level off. I'd ask IDC but ... well, you know.

Microsoft Extends Windows Phone Developer Promotion

This summer, Microsoft offered a limited-time discount for its Windows Phone Dev Center, temporarily dropping the $99 annual fee to just $19 in a bid to snag skinflint independent developers. Well, that promotion was supposed to end this week, but Microsoft revealed that it's just going to keep on going (as it should). "Great news," Microsoft's Todd Brix tweeted. "We’re keeping the price at $19. Join Dev Center and publish those apps." This is a smart move, and with iOS developers having to cough up $99 per year, it should indeed be permanent. Indeed, why is there any fee at all?

Microsoft Looking for Foursquare Investment

In a move that signals Foursquare is both overvalued and on the brink of irrelevancy, Microsoft revealed that it is interested in purchasing an investment in the Internet startup. The ever-reliable Bloomberg (alert: No, that wasn't sarcasm) reported this week that Foursquare is talking to partners about investments and Microsoft has taken the bait and is now in an "advanced stage." Of course, Microsoft reached a similar point in negotiations to buy part of Nokia this past summer and pulled back at the last minute, so this may come to nothing.

Nintendo Continues to Twist in the Wind

Since its dominant run with the Wii in the most recent generation of video game consoles, Nintendo has seemed strangely adrift and clueless about the mobile and cloud changes that are sweeping its industry. The firm has released a "next-gen" console, the Wii U, that no one cares about, and yet another handheld device, the 3DS, which even fewer people care about, and now it's planning a 2DS handheld that it thinks will address the problem with its predecessor. But Nintendo's problems in the video game market are in fact the same as Microsoft's in the PC market, the difference being that Nintendo has taken absolutely no tangible steps to  address the problem. (And seriously, say what you will about Windows 8/Windows RT, but it does at least tackle emerging industry shifts head-on.) So why is Nintendo so hard-headed about its future, and why hasn't the firm raced to adapt its amazing selection of games, game characters, and game franchises to the mobile devices that people are really using (smartphones and tablets)? I honestly don't know, but the one bit of advice that I'd give to Nintendo is that this isn't an either/or proposition. There is no reason for the firm not to adapt its best games to these new device types, all while continuing to release new hardware of its own. In fact, given how things are going in the latter market, it's sort of obvious.

If Microsoft Made iOS 7, We'd Call It Lipstick on a Pig

I made this observation earlier in the week on Twitter, but it bears a bit of expansion since few people outside of Microsoft insiders understand the phrase "lipstick on a pig." With iOS 7, Apple has reached a curious spot, though how it got there isn't hard to explain. The firm has an extremely popular but now technically lagging mobile platform with hundreds of millions of users, so it can't just start over from scratch—which anyone technical would tell you is long overdue. Instead, it is doing what Microsoft has done so much in the past: what the firm internally calls putting lipstick on a pig. That is, rather than seriously change the system, Apple is simply putting a superficial UI redesign on top of the same, boring old iOS. But the problem is that this new UI is awful, and pastel-colored, like an Easter rainbow gone amuck. What's odd is that virtually everyone agreed that Apple needed to get rid of the "skeuomorphic" designs of previous iOS versions and present a more modern look to the world. But in doing so, the firm has also destroyed the soul of iOS, at least temporarily, with a sterile and boring—and oddly glaring—new UI. It's a mistake. And it's so bad that it's caused me to question anew some of the design ideals in Microsoft's Metro environments (Windows Phone, first, but also Windows 8 and Windows RT) and whether we've tossed out something important in our zeal to conform to arbitrary design guidelines. If these designs are so good, why do they need to be explained—excused, really—so stridently?

But Wait, There's More

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and the Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows. And check out my free ebooks, Paul Thurrott’s Guide to Windows Phone 8 and Paul Thurrott’s Guide to Xbox Music. Next up: Windows 8.1 Book!

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