Microsoft competing in tablets and smartphones

This week's Tech Yourself column which was contributed by Rob Orchiston


Microsoft Windows 8.1 will debut on Friday, October 18th. As a windows user for 20 years, I found the sudden absence of the Start button in Windows 8 strangely reminiscent of my ratty security blanket “disappearing” when I was 2 years old.

Microsoft does listen to consumers, and are bringing back the Start button in Windows 8.1, which is of course a free upgrade if you already have Windows 8. You can upgrade to 8.1 for $120 if you have an older version of Windows, but check the hardware requirements.

Microsoft is banking on its huge weight and market penetration to play catch up with Apple and Google in the hugely successful tablet market, and is shipping the Surface 2 tablet also in late October.

The new devices are thinner, lighter and faster than their predecessors, pack a better battery life and start at $449. After writing off $900 million in unsold inventory of the original Surface tablets, Microsoft is having a fire sale on the original surface tablets.

In a move that mimicked Google’s purchase of Motorola for $12.5 billion, Microsoft recently snapped up Finland’s Nokia for a cool $7.2 billion, indicating Microsoft’s serious desire to play catch-up with Apple and Google in the smartphone market as well.

Fall must be the best time to plant a new operating system (OS) as Google too, is also releasing it’s Android 4.4, also known as “Kit-Kat”.

In a novel marketing partnership with Nestle (and Hershey in the U.S.), in which no money changed hands, the chocolate manufacturer will sprinkle tokens redeemable for new Android “Kit-Kat” devices throughout its Kit-Kat chocolate bar inventory in packages marketed with the Google Android logo. Hopefully Charlie finds a lucky token and perhaps gets to meet Mr. Wonka or at least Google’s founders Sergey Brin or Larry Page.

Google has also begun manufacturing smartphones in Texas in a reshoring move, although only producing 15,000 units per day. With well over a million Android activations worldwide each day, the Texas MotoX units are only a fraction of the Android devices being manufactured in Asia. Google’s total Android activations recently surpassed the one billion mark — not bad for a little search engine company that is only 15 years old.

As Newton discovered in 1666, Apples also begin self-seeding in the fall. A couple of new Apples fell into stores in late September –  the Apple 5c and 5s (with a biometric unlock feature). One of my

colleagues has been tasting iOS7 for several months and likes the better responsiveness and improved battery time due to some CPU savings.

In earlier versions of iOS, rendering all those fancy Apple icons’ shadows was chewing up a lot of CPU power. To achieve longer battery life, the new operating system has really flat boring icons reminiscent of the 1980s. But at least now you can stay in the 1980s 3-D timewarp for a couple more hours before your battery dies.

In my next column, we’ll be looking at which new game consoles Santa will be delivering this holiday season.



Rob Orchiston is a software programmer who lives in Invermere and stays on top of the latest trends in technology.