This morning, I got up early (at 7 AM, Los Angeles time -- hey, I'm dedicated, anything for you loyal readers...) to watch the live-streaming of Microsoft's Big Event from New York that introduced many of their new products. It was quite interesting (okay, to me...), but don't worry I'm not going to go into many details, it would be just too long -- the event took two hours -- and far too geeky. But a few things did stand out, and I'll mention the most intriguing, plus a few videos of the event so you can see the actual demos.
(Excuse the typos, but it's long-ish, and because of the timeliness, I wanted to get this posted as soon as possible.)
First though, I think the most important thing worth mentioning is how clear it became by the end what the new focus is of Microsoft. They've described this new focus over the past year, but now seeing it in action, it fell more into place. The concept is that devices on how we work and play will always change -- from the desktop computer to laptop to tablet to phone and even a watch-- so who knows what it will be in the future. As a result, rather than make the device the "hub" of work, make the individual person the hub and create software that integrates with all devices whatever they are. It's the "Windows as a service" concept that they've been talking about.
This will make more sense below, but especially when I describe Continuum and the Display Dock, with a video demonstration.
What got the most anticipation coming in was the introduction of the new Surface Pro 4 and a couple of new flagship Windows Phones, the Lumia 950 and slightly larger 950XL. While the Surface is the much bigger story, it was the phones that were actually the most fascinating, by far. I'll explain and have video in a moment.
The Surface Pro 4 tablet was very impressive -- more powerful than its predecessor and so much so that they didn't even compare it to an iPad, but rather to the Macbook Air and came out 50% faster than even that. Being more powerful, the Surface now becomes even more of a desktop replacement. There were other high-end features, expanding the usability of the Surface (like "Windows Hello" which uses facial recognition to access the tablet, rather than typing in a passcode -- or the Surface Pen that has an "eraser" on one end, like a real pencil, that lets you erase your digital writings, or long battery life), though basically it was "just" advances on previous versions.
However, the Windows Phones took the technology in a whole other areas. Yes, Windows Phones have a minuscule share of the market. And may always. But developments turn them into FAR more productive devices than anything else on the market. Whether that impacts sales is for the future to discover. But for the present, he phones will now have Windows 10 Mobile as their operating system soon and that means they'll also have Continuum, which allows apps made for Windows 10 on the desktop to work on Windows Phones by recognizing the device and automatically adjusting. What this means, is that your Windows Phone can become virtually a desktop replacement in your pocket -- and with the new Display Dock. This is a small device, about the size of a pack of cigarettes that lets you connect your Windows Phone to a full-size keyboard and monitor, and basically run Windows 10 from your phone. Here's the intriguing demo, headed by Microsoft's Brian Roper -- a bit too forced-hip, but enthusiastic.
(I'm having a difficulty embedding this particular video, so if it doesn't load below, just click here instead and run the video directly from the top of the webpage under the headline.)
What was unexpected at the event, and nothing I had heard rumored beforehand, was a tremendous-looking new laptop based on the Surface, called the Surface Book. It's even more substantive than the Surface Tablet, with more power, and higher-end tech specs, along with a much better keyboard. But it has a highly-flexible hinge that lets you flip the screen flat on the back to turn this into like a convertible tablet -- yet also has a button that lets you snap the screen off so that it can become a tablet. Yet at heart it's a very powerful, thin, light laptop. It's also higher-priced, at $1,500. Not expensive for a high-end laptop and for what it offers, though there are very good, though basic touch-screen laptops available for much less.
But perhaps the most remarkable demo was for a product that, at least at present, holds absolutely no interest for me. But there's a massive market for it. This is the company's HoloLens product, which they introduced last year in its very early stages. Basically this is a hologram-based "virtual reality" gamer device that uses goggles. (Yes, there are other, serious applications for it, but gaming is no doubt its core focus.)
Rather than describe what leaped out so much about HoloLens, I'll let this demo from the event get into it better. The short version is that it now can use spatial mapping capabilities to recognize the real-world around it and combine the real-world with virtual reality, turning your own house into different level of the game you're playing, for instance (as you'll see in this video) allowing alien creature to came crashing through your living room wall.
There was a lot more, about the improvements to Xbox and Microsoft's Band fitness tracker, but these were the highlights that jumped out to me. Mainly, as I said, what was most clear was how Microsoft's goal of making the individual the "hub" and let yourself use Windows 10 to connect to all your different devices that an largely in sync with one another is beginning to take shape from their introduction in concept a year ago.
If you're more interested in a lot of techie stuff that I left out, here's a page from The Verge website (that did a good job live-blogging the presentation) that has links under the Events Hightlights box with more detailed information and videos of what went on. Just click here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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