Microsoft co-founder and current chairman Bill Gates recently sat down with the editor of Microsoft’s own Next blog Steve Clayton to talk about Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and the Surface tablet. Unsurprisingly, Gates was pretty upbeat about all of the company’s upcoming product and argued that “Windows 8 is key to where personal computing is going.”
Citing Microsoft’s current CEO Steve Ballmer, Gates noted that Windows 8 “is an absolutely critical product” that takes Windows into “the world of touch, low power devices – really giving people the best of what you think of as a tablet-type experience and the PC experience.”
The interview also touched upon why Gates thinks natural user interfaces are so important (Gates, after all, also championed Microsoft’s first forray into touch through pen-based tablets many years ago). One thing he specifically stressed in his answer was that people want to have easy access to their email and the web. Users want this to be “awfully simple and touch is a great part of that,” he said. “But you want to incorporate touch without giving up a kind of mouse/keyboard capability that is just so natural in most settings.” With Windows 8, said Gates, Microsoft wants to “blend together” all these different forms of input (speech, touch, camera input and others) and still ensure that they can all be used together on a single device.
In that spirit, here are four more offerings that have come to my attention since I pulled together that article. I am only focusing on development environments or services that a small-business owner should be able to use herself or himself.
Sorry to those of you that are pitching full-blown toolkits for creating commercial mobile apps, but that just isn’t the focus of this blog.
Application Craft - The company’s development environment uses a drag-and-drop interface for assembling features and touts one-click application deployment on platforms including Apple iOS, Android and, actually, Facebook. It uses HTML widgets for geo-targeting, analytics, and social media sharing. The company’s free version supports creation of up to 10 apps (but you have to run the company’s ads in them when you distribute them). The paid service starts at $45 per month or $450 per year for unlimited applications.
App Press - Founded in 2010, the company behind this cloud platform for Android and Apple iOS apps created it with graphic designers and creative agencies in mind and it shows. A small business can rely heavily on existing content to create highly visual mobile applications. The App Press service offers an instant preview feature so progress can be reviewed along the way. A basic version of the service starts at $30 per month.
Mobile Roadie- The first thing you’ll probably notice when you visit this site is that the company touts high-profile celebrities as some of its customers. That said, it serves plenty of small businesses looking to create a native mobile presence, according to the company’s CEO Michael Schneider. “Consumers aren’t really consuming the information that small businesses are putting out online in the same way that they were in the past,” he said. You can use the platform to create a mobile version of your web site for free; the service starts at $99 per month for creating native iPhone or Android smartphone apps.
MobileAppLoader - This platform offers templates for all sorts of small businesses to use in their mobile app development — that includes everyone car dealerships to contractors to automotive services companies to hair salons. Its claim to fame is “app in a snap,” which lets a small business get an application created and published fairly quickly. There’s a set-up fee (generally $99.99) and then you pay fees starting at $9.99 per month, depending on whether you’re publishing for Apple iOS, Android, iPad or all of these.
For two more resources about mobile apps development:
On October 25, Microsoft will formally unveil Windows 8, followed closely by a separate presentation of Windows Phone 8 on October 29. Windows 8 computers, notebooks, tablets and hybrid devices will go on sale on October 26, and Windows Phone 8 phones will go on sale through all carriers in early November.
Taken together, the releases represent the most significant change in business and consumer technology since Windows XP arrived eleven years ago. Apple’s mobile devices have changed the world for consumers but Microsoft’s vision is broader and might even have a greater impact in the long run.
Microsoft is engaged in remaking itself on a scale that is rarely attempted by large companies. If it succeeds it will maintain its place on a playing field that increasingly appeared to be limited to Apple and Google and perhaps Amazon. We will be using computers running Windows for many years but the shift to handheld devices is profound and Microsoft was in danger of being left out of it. This is the bet-the-company attempt to avoid turning into IBM, successful and rich but no longer important to anyone outside of enterprises. (And make no mistake – Microsoft’s attempt at a makeover might fail, brought down by poor execution and torrential criticism, and send it down that road, not irrelevant but increasingly ignored.)
Over the next few weeks I will be writing extensively about Windows 8. I’ve been using it exclusively on my computers for months and I have some ideas of what it will take for you to understand it, how I can help make it easier for you to get started, and who should ignore it and stick with Windows 7. I’ll have tips and tricks for you to file away for the day when you get your first Windows 8 computer. I’ll give you some advice about whether to upgrade your computer. I’ll give you some perspective on why you’ll see so many reports by people who just hate it with a white-hot fury. (Or so they’ll say. There might be some other agendas at work.)
Over the next few days we’ll start with a view of Windows 8 from 36,000 feet, the very big picture.
There will be two articles aimed specifically at people using computers in very small businesses: one demonstrating that Windows 8 is exactly the same as Windows 7, the other showing that Windows 8 is completely different than Windows 7. Both articles will be right.
Let’s see if I can answer your first question before we get to any of the details.
Should you buy Windows 8 the minute it comes out?
Okay, is that clear? Stand down. Nobody should be getting worked up blindly. This is a time for paying attention. By the time it arrives, you’ll know if you’re the kind of person who is excited enough to step up right away.
Now let’s look at the nuances, because I said “no” mostly to make you feel better. Actually it’s possible that some of you should be lined up outside the (virtual) stores on October 26.
When you buy a computer after October 26, you will likely have a choice between Windows 8 and Windows 7. Some (but not all) of you should choose Windows 8. Many businesses, especially enterprises, will choose Windows 7 for continuity and compatibility. A fair number of people will skip Windows 8 completely. In any case, most desktop computer users will use Windows 8 in a way that emphasizes its similarity to Windows 7.
There will be dozens of new notebooks and hybrids on the market in November with new features – redesigned keyboards and touchscreens and innovative form factors. If you’re in the market for a notebook, wait until November.
There are compelling improvements in Windows 8 for notebooks – some of you may want to replace an existing notebook sooner rather than later to take advantage of Windows 8 as well as the hardware changes that have made notebooks lighter, thinner and faster with longer battery life.
Nonetheless, just as with desktops, many people will want Windows 7 on their new notebooks for familiarity.
Microsoft will be selling the Surface tablet, similar in size and concept to an iPad. Lenovo and other manufacturers will have similar tablets – ten inch screens, light, long battery life.
The Windows 8 tablets deserve special attention! They are designed for touch, just like an iPad, but almost all of them will include a lightweight keyboard, making them better suited for doing real work. All of the Windows 8 tablets will have a desktop that resembles the Windows 7 desktop slightly modified for touch, and they will either include Microsoft Office or they will be capable of running Office programs.
Windows Phone 8 phones will be available from all the carriers starting in November. They will have the same interface as Windows 8 on computers and tablets, an interface that works particularly well on a small device.
If you get a Windows 8 tablet or phone, you will be much more interested in getting a Windows 8 desktop or notebook, because your experience will flow from one to the other seamlessly. The interface, your documents, your Internet favorites, your wallpaper and so much more will be the same on all your devices. Microsoft is creating a walled garden to rival Apple and Google and your experience will be better if you stay within the garden.
Technology is arriving at a dizzying pace. You’re feeling overwhelmed. Clear your mind, take a few deep breaths, and follow along with me as we start down the road that leads to Windows 8. You’ll arrive relaxed and in a better position to make some informed decisions about how it affects you.
Software-defined networking, or SDN, is a new technology that has the hardware industry in a tizzy. But what exactly is it? To answer that, we talked to networking veteran Arpit Joshipura, Dell’s vice president of marketing for its networking business. He shared the graphic below.
With SDN, some challengers see the potential to topple Cisco. But Cisco, which is making its own investments in SDN, could seize it as a big opportunity. HP and Dell could grow their networking business, too, if they create new products to cater to it.
SDN will certainly fuel a whole new crop of startups includingBig Switch Networks, Midokura, Embrane, Contrail Systems, and others.
Point is, it’s all up for grabs.
Take a look at this graphic. That spot on the right, circled in red, is what all the fuss is about.
You’ve got hardware on the left. That’s the traditional way of thinking about putting a network together.
The new way, powered by software-defined networking, is on the right. SDN lets you stop worrying about the hardware and focus on the services that run across your network. It lets networks be more flexible.
A network’s job is to send data from one point to another. Say you want to view a video posted on the Web. That data has to get from the server hosting the video to your computer. All along the way, it hits various pieces of networking hardware running networking software.
In addition to simply transmitting the data, network equipment also controls its flow. It chooses the fastest or cheapest route, prioritizes some kinds of data (voice or video) over others (email), and keeps it all secure.
SDN inserts a new layer of software in between the hardware dealing with data, and the software that controls it.
This layer tricks applications into thinking they’ve got the network to themselves when they are reallying sharing it with lots of other applications. It lets more servers use the network, saving companies money. More importantly, it will also let companies information-technology departments move pieces of the network around as they need them.
“The physical network is decoupled from the control plane, so IT can write apps on their own and can give you much faster service,” explains Joshipura.
For instance, let’s say your board of directors decides to meet in a conference room that isn’t set up for videoconferencing. With SDN, IT can, in a heartbeat, add more capacity to accommodate that new usage scenario.
That’s very different than how the network works today where someone has to physically install switches and configure them.
So SDN is a good thing. The question is who’s going to make the most money off of it.
Traditional retailing, at least in the U.S., is in a funk. Of the 100 largest U.S.-based retailers according to STORES magazine, only 17 are growing in the double digits. Fast risers are either growing overseas or are in hot categories like mobile phones (Verizon Wireless and AT&T) or discount goods (Dollar General).
You could blame this on the uncertain U.S. economy. But I put equal blame on the mainstreaming of e-commerce. Everyone I know who is my age or younger buys a ton online. There are sexy category specialists – Newegg, Gilt Groupe, Groupon and Zappos – but Amazon.com gets the lion’s share of their dollars.
Fittingly, Amazon.com is the fastest riser on STORES’ list (42.5% year-on-year growth). Ranked 15th, Amazon.com already sells more than Safeway, Sears and Macy’s. It is the poster child of how to win in e-commerce: low prices, speedy shipping and personalized offers that leverage its rich data on customers. Add a fourth factor: the hot trend of consumers “showrooming” goods at a brick-and-mortar store while checking online prices via a smartphone, from whom they will presumably eventually buy.
How can retailers fight back? I don’t think it’s through expensive attempts to amp up the EQ (Entertainment Quotient) of their stores. It doesn’t fly with time-pressed moms, who control the majority of household budgets.
Nor is the solution to further streamline their supply chain in order to compete with Amazon.com and its ilk on price. Most of the retailers around today survived the initial dot-com onslaught by deploying ERP software and successfully adopting lean and Just-In-Time techniques to cut costs.
In other words, they’ve done a good job of playing defense. Now, it’s time to play a little offense – use technology to enhance customer service, boost sales and, rather than lamenting sales lost through “Showrooming,” take advantage of it.
Mobile Point of Service
On customer service, retailers are arming their floor salespeople with smartphones and tablets and apps that allow them to reprice items, check inventory for customers and speeding transactions by conducting them where-ever they are in the store.
Good customer service is not just providing information on demand and accelerating purchases. It’s also about anticipating consumer wants, and delivering them personalized discounts and offers not just in real-time, but at the right time.
If it sounds like I’m going to talk about marrying Big Data and mobile, you’re right. This is taking customer data from every channel, from Web to POS, and applying predictive analytics to it, so that you can augment the in-store shopping experience with mobile coupons and reminders that are relevant and not spammy.
“Instead of old-school loyalty programs with their points and reward schemes, you want to give consumers real, meaningful relevant information based on what they’re looking for,” said Colin Haig, the retail industry principal for SAP.
In other words, the exact opposite of that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is bombarded with ads as he runs through the shopping mall.
That puts the Precision in Precision Retailing.
Rather than describe how this would play out real life, I’ll let this video do it so much better. Click on the image below or this link. Added bonus: there’s a rom-com storyline cuter than a Katherine Heigl movie and a box full of kittens:
SAP is showing off a Precision Retailing solution, which combines a mobile app with cloud-based analytics courtesy of SAP HANA on the back end. Retailers from L’Oreal, European grocer Groupe Casino and the Montreal Transit Agency are already using SAP Precision Retailing, said Haig.
Haig says that Precision Retailing’s ability to help shoppers build lists of recurring items (think kids’ clothes, batteries or toothpaste) and offer them discounts means that the solution today makes it perfect for grocery stores and other general stores (think Wal-Mart or Target).
But Precision Retailing can also help speciality stores, the kind that offer high-ticket items or are beset by showrooming customers. Here’s how. First, we must note that only 25% of shoppers who check competitor prices in a store actually end up buying the item online.
That means 75% of shoppers or more are potential net new customers for the store. And the amount of sales lost to showrooming can be reduced – through precision.
Imagine a consumer visiting a retailer’s Web site to check if a large-screen TV is in stock. That raises a red flag to a retailer that the consumer may be coming to a store soon to inspect that particular item. When he or she enters the store, the store’s app on the customer’s smartphone can immediately open and buzz, alerting him or her to a coupon that for that item or category of items that would match or beat competitors’ online prices.
Such tactics can win back the shoppers who came into a store fully intending to showroom, says Roland Gonzalez, senior directory for mobile industry marketing at SAP.
“Retailers have always been customer-centric. But now they are trying to be customer-intimate,” Gonzalez said.
I love linen pants. Stronger than cotton and guaranteed to wrinkle, it is the most perfect summer trouser for men when neither shorts nor jeans fit the social agenda and khakis and dress slacks appear to be over-done. I’d wear linen all year long if I could – well, maybe except for during Chicago winters… Spun and woven from the fiber of the flax plant, linen is one of the oldest textiles made (ancient Egyptians dressed their nobility and wrapped their mummies in it) and seemingly has never gone out of style… And it is making a splash of recent with new color palette, straying away (successfully I might add) from the usual white and beige standards that hang in my closet. Look for a full spectrum of color offerings, as well as a choice of textures. Some of my favorites: orange sherbet pastel from Zegna; light navy blue tint from Canali; and Brooks Brothers linen pleats.
Here’s to staying cool and looking good while you do it!