Monday, August 18, 2014

IBM to release annual Tech Trends Report on Thursday, August 21

IBM will release its annual Tech Tech Trends report this Thursday, August 21.   The report focuses on insights and trends around key technologies like cloud, big data & analytics, mobile and social that can help guide business strategy and technology investments.

The report will be available online here

If you're interested in learning about the distinct characteristics exhibited by pacesetters in the marketplace, IBM will be hosting a webcast this Thursday, August 21 at 1pm EDT.

Click here to register for the webcast to learn about the report

Below is video summary of the 2012 report which focused on the growing technology skills gap:

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 impressions

Microsoft released Windows Phone 8.1 on July 15 with over a hundred new features including notifications, Cortana voice assistant as well as a wealth of new enterprise features.  This is first upgrade to Windows Phone since the 8.0 release in October 2012.

I own a Nokia Lumia 5210 which I purchased without a contract for $50 (after rebate) in 2012.  Last week, an over the air AT&T update for Windows Phone 8.1 was released and I upgraded.  While the upgrade took several hours and involved multiple phone reboots, it was automated process requiring little interaction on my part and it didn't involve connecting the phone to a computer.

The upgrade from Windows Phone 8.0 to 8.1 implies a minor, maintenance upgrade but the 8.1 upgrade is much more than that.   I understand that Microsoft settled on the 8.1 nomenclature to coincide with Windows 8.1 (PC).   With the release of Windows Phone and Windows 8.1, it's possible to write applications that run on both PCs and smartphones including Sienna (beta) which uses Microsoft Excel syntax to allow anyone to develop a mobile application.

Windows Phone 8.1 is still playing catch up to iOS and Android and there isn't much new or innovative in this release. For example, the web browsing experience remains awful on Windows Phone.  However, Microsoft is working on an update to 8.1 called GDR1, that should be out in the coming weeks with a new mobile IE experience, folder support and more.  I was encouraged, however, by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's statements on the recent quarterly earnings call around the focus on productivity as platforms as well as devices.

Below is a recent TV commercial that Microsoft has been airing comparing Apple Siri voice assistance to Microsoft Cortana.   Having used both, I'm not sure one has a clear advantage over the other.  Both are programmed to answer specific questions and there are many questions that Siri will respond to, that Cortana won't, and vice versa.   What I find most impressive about the commercial is that the Nokia 635 shown in the video, is available for ~$100 off contract compared to the $650 iPhone.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2014 Summary

I attended the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) earlier this week in Washington D.C and I wanted to take this opportunity to share my impressions.   An annual event, this year's conference had over 16,000 attendees who earn their living from selling Microsoft-based solutions.  The highlight of the conference was a passionate, vision keynote from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

This was my first time attending the Microsoft partner conference as part the IBM MobileFirst team which includes software, services and partnerships including the Apple/IBM partnership which was announced on Tuesday.  Key topic areas for the conference included cloud, big data, mobility and devices and enterprise social which are the key technologies that are fundamentally transforming our industry and the world.

Even before the conference kicked off on Sunday, we had a sense, albeit high-level, of where the new Microsoft is headed.  On Thursday, July 10, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sent an company-wide email which he published to the web titled "Starting FY15 - Bold Ambition and our Core."    In the email, Mr Nadella outlined his vision for Microsoft and the evolution from a "devices and services company" to "productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world."  The e-mail was short on specifics, as was Mr. Nadella's keynote at WPC but it did mention that more details would be shared on July 22 when quarter-end earnings are released.

From Monday's opening keynote, Microsoft acknowledged that while they were once the leaders, they were now the challengers, particularly in mobile, and they stressed the need for change.  Like any large company, it's difficult to change overnight and re-organization and restructuring is required to align the company with the new strategy and its new CEO.   I was encouraged, however, with Microsoft's decision on Thursday to drop its Android-based Nokia X-line of smartphones and focus its efforts on Windows Phone.  Microsoft still has work to do to consolidate Windows Phone/Windows and RT platforms.  However, I am encouraged that the same mobile application can run on both Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 without the need for re-coding.

Although it took time, Microsoft is now delivering solutions for competing mobile platforms including the newly-released iPad-specific versions of Powerpoint, Excel and Word which are excellent.  I use these applications regularly on my iPad Mini as part of my Office 365 subscription.  I'm looking forward to an the upcoming Android version.  Microsoft needs to deliver the same touch versions of Office to Windows tablet which are now lagging in usability.

My short list of highlights:
  • Cortana digital assistant (competitor to Apple Siri and Google Now)
  • Skype language translation: demoed on stage Mr. Nadella's keynote.  Speaking in English, translated and voiced in German language to an employee in Germany.  Not all the translations were successful and it lead to some humorous moments
  • Microsoft Perceptive Pixel display: multitouch displays for presentations, with support for pen and annotations.  Also for use in digital signage and camera can distinguish male/female approaching the sign (similar to Intel demos at NRF last year)
  • Siena (beta): build mobile apps without coding (uses Excel syntax)
  • Windows Phone 8.1 demos.  I'm looking forward to upgrading my Nokia 520 when its released later this month
  • Windows 9 "Threshold"  While not specifically called out or demoed, sharp eyed attendees got a glimpse of the new Start menu and more when executive were presenting other demos.
  • Mandarin Oriental Hotel demo of guest services (room service, transportation, TV and room controls) available via Surface Pro 3 tablet in each guest's hotel room.
  • Delve and Office Graph: intelligent search.  Show me the information that's relevant to me
  • Azure and Office 365.  Office 365 is Microsoft's fastest business ever with over 4 million paying customers. 

I was fortunate to attend the mobile and devices keynote where every attendee received a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet.  I own two Windows 8.1 devices: A Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 and a Microsoft Surface RT.  The Dell is my first 8 inch Windows tablet I've owned running an Intel Atom processor capable of running both Win32 and "modern" (Metro) applications.  While the build quality and screen are excellent, there are a few things I don't like:
  • Pre-installed bloatware
  • The need to type in a Office activation code
  • Odd position of the Windows Start button on the side of the device
  • A single micro-USB connector for charging and file transfer and no full-sized USB adapter was provided (I had to buy one)
  • No hardwire video output capability.  Miracast wi-fi is supported.  This is an issue for me as it would be great to connect the tablet to an overhead projector to present to clients. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

Android for Work announced at Google IO conference

The initial releases of Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone were aimed squarely at consumers and
offered few if any features geared to business users.  However, all that's changed in the last few years with the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE).  Increasingly, users want to access both work and personal information from a single mobile device (AOL CEO Tim Armstong's three smartphones: Android, iOS and BlackBerry not withstanding)

Jump forward to today where very major mobile operating system specifically calls out "enterprise" or work features in addition to consumer features. A few recent examples:
The next version of Google Android, "L",  was announced at the Google IO conference two weeks ago and is scheduled to include new enterprise features referred to as "Android for Work."  In case this sounds familiar, Google has been down this path before with 3LM and Enterproid Divide.  However, this time around Google is leveraging Samsung Knox technology to separate work and personal data.   Today, BlackBerry is the only smartphone solution with native capabilities to keep work and personal data separate via BlackBerry Balance.  Data separation on Apple iOS and Google Android typically requires third party solutions (e.g. Airwatch, MobileIron, Fiberlink MaaS360, Samsung Knox,  Good Technologies etc.).   With the introduction of Android L, that could change and I'll be eager to try the new capabilities when Android "L" is released in the fall. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Travel made easier with mobile applications

I travel regularly for business and personal and the use of mobile technologies has dramatically improved the overall experience.  As I author this blog post, I am in the middle of a two-and-a-half week business trip throughout Asia Pacific including Singapore, Thailand, Australia and the Philippines and I can't imagine making the trip without a smartphone.  Here are a few of my favorite mobile applications for travel:
  • Travel plans: TripIt. All of my travel plans (hotel, airline, restaurants, etc.) all in one place.  In addition, I've installed the TripIt app on my wife's phone so she can view my up to date travel plans
  • Maps:  Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze.  If I'm exploring on my own, I'll need maps so I won't get lost and get walking and public transport directions.   I've also needed to give assistance to cab drivers on more than one occasion.  If I'm driving. I'll use Waze which has great real-time traffic information.
  • Taxis: Uber.  While I can't use it everywhere, it's helped me get a cab on more than one occasion.   
  • Restaurants and hotels: TripAdvisor, Yelp.  While I prefer to get restaurant recommendations from locals, sometimes I'm in the mood to explore.  
  • Weather:   Weather Channel, My Radar.   Be prepared!
  • Clock:  My smartphone functions as my alarm clock in the morning and helps me keep track of the current time, where I'm going and the time back home. 
  • Banking: Chase.  Just because I'm traveling, doesn't mean that there aren't bills to be paid.  As a long time Chase customer, I'm a big fan of their mobile banking app which allows me to pay bills view my account and make transfers on the go.
  • Social: Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram.  I enjoy checking in and posting pictures on Facebook and and Foursquare to share with family and friends.  If I take what I think is a particularly good photo, I'll post to Instagram.
  • Airline: Kayak, SeatGuru, airline check in applications, in flight entertainment apps.   If I need to find a flight, Kayak is my go to application.   Once I've booked a flight, I always use SeatGuru to make sure I get the best seat possible and I don't get stuck in a seat that doesn't recline next to the rest room.   I'm a big fan of airline check in applications which allows me to go directly to the gate with an electronic boarding pass.  In addition, several, including Delta, will automatically re-book if the flight is cancelled or delayed.   Other useful functions include the ability to change my seat and view my frequent flyer points.  In flight entertainment applications from Delta, Virgin, Rouge and others allow me to watch in-flight entertainment on my mobile devices. 
  • Communications: phone, FaceTime, iMessage.  At the end of the day, a smartphone is also a phone and I use it to speak to colleagues, participate in conference calls and talk to family and friends back home.  Apple tools like FaceTime allow me to see my wife and kids.  iMessage/SMS is a great way to send and receive quick messages without getting lost in email.
  • Language and currency exchange rate and conversion: Google Translate, XE Currency. 
Finally, while not a mobile application, a critical tool for me is an external battery to keep my smartphones and tablets charged and ready.  As a heavy smartphone user, I'm unable to get a full day from the battery - especially when using GPS and location services.   My favorite external batter is the Anker Astro.  While it's a bit bulky, the key advantage is that it can provide multiple recharges for both smartphones and tablets with its 13,000mAh capacity.

What are your favorite travel applications?