On the Mobile Platform Horizon

Jul 11, 2012   //   by admin   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Microsoft Corp. announced it will brand its own Windows 8 tablet designed to compete with Apple Inc.'s iPad while also offering PC-like flexibly and connectivity. Elsewhere, Apple's new MacBook Pro sheds weight and gains a high-resolution display. Lastly, Research in Motion, Ltd. and Nokia Corp. have their businesses unravel a bit while they try desperately to reinvent themselves.

Focal Points:

  • In an announcement that came as a surprise to most observers this week, Microsoft showcased its new Surface tablet design in hardware that will be Microsoft branded. Not to be confused with a tabletop touchscreen design of the same name from the company a few years back, the tablet-sized Surface comes in two flavors running different versions of Windows 8. The mainstream Surface runs Windows 8 RT and is powered by ARM-based processors from Nvidia Corp. while the higher-end version will run Windows 8 Pro and uses Intel Corp. Ivy Bridge processors. Both devices will feature 10.6 inch screens, have built-in kickstands, magnetized screen covers that double as keyboards with a touchpad, and USB ports for connecting to peripherals.  The Surface running Windows 8 RT will come in 32 GB and 64 GB storage variants, has dimensions similar to Apple's iPad at 9.3 millimeters thick, weigh 1.5 pounds, and is priced to compete with similar tablets. The Windows 8 Pro version will weigh more and be priced higher than the Windows 8 RT offering and will offer 64 GB and 128 GB storage sizes. Though a firm launch date was not announced, availability for the ARM-based Surface should coincide with the Windows 8 launch in October and the Pro version should begin within a few months thereafter.
  • Apple updated its MacBook Pro notebook this week by showcasing a slimline 0.71-inch aluminum unibody design more similar to the MacBook Air than the model it replaces. The MacBook Pro's "showstopper" is the inclusion of a 15.4-inch "retina" high resolution display similar in clarity to those on Apple's latest iPad and iPhone models. Apple has decided to drop its 17-inch display MacBook Pro and is expected to introduce a 13-inch variant with the retina display late this year. Being in the top position in the MacBook line, new models will feature quad-core Intel i7 Ivy Bridge processors, battery life lasting up to a claimed 7.5 hours, memory  configurations between 8 GB and 16 GB, solid state disk (SSD) storage in three flavors ranging from 256 GB to 768 GB.  As with most Apple hardware designs, the notebooks are not designed to be user-upgradable and require specialized tools to service or upgrade the battery, RAM, and SSD. Pricing starts at $2,199 for the model with a 2.3 gigahertz (GHz) processor, 8 GB RAM, and 256 GB of flash storage.
  • Both RIM and Nokia suffered votes of "no confidence" this week as the companies struggle to survive in evolving smartphone and tablet markets. A Toronto-based equipment supplier for RIM announced that it is discontinuing manufacturing services for BlackBerry devices over the next three to six months and will take a $1 billion charge due to unsold equipment. The smartphone company's response was somewhat evasive as it noted making "changes to our supply chain as part of wider efforts to improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness." As RIM continues to prepare for the launch of forthcoming BlackBerry 10-based devices slated for release in October, the company said it will shed around 2,000 jobs – 11 percent of its workforce – to save $1 billion by its 2013 fiscal year. Similarly, Nokia detailed a series of sweeping changes that included shedding 10,000 jobs, reducing research and development efforts, and replacing some senior executives. Moody's Investors Service, Inc. slashed Nokia's credit rating to "junk" after the announcement.


RFG POV: Microsoft's new Surface tablet is a Hail Mary to bolster support for the company's Windows 8 platform across smartphone, tablet, and PC screens. As Windows 8 offers the same Metro UI  interface and compatibility for UI designed apps across platforms, the company hopes that the flagship Surface offering will get users and enterprises excited enough to begin adoption en masse. Surface itself is compelling in both Windows 8 RT and Pro variants; however, it is the Pro version with its notebook-replacement capabilities that are the most compelling for enterprise users. Though Microsoft's hardware history is littered with failures including the Kin smartphone and Zune music player, the Surface's design is a compelling one particularly with the inclusion of full-fledged Office apps. The company is way behind competitors Apple and Google, Inc. in developing its app ecosystem and will need to invest heavily in developer subsidies to ensure the mobile devices are a hit. IT executives can hedge their bets by sticking to a pilot of the Pro version only as it supports all mobile and desktop applications and should limit usage of the RT version until use cases prove themselves. Apple's new MacBook Pro is a genuine thing of beauty with its slim all-aluminum casing, large retina display, and extremely portable 4.5 pound weight. The company's push forward with design has removed several desirable features including an on-board optical drive, Ethernet adapter, and Firewire port. Those corporations supporting "bring your own device" (BYOD) philosophies will no doubt see new MacBook Pros in the enterprise, but mainstream enterprises will wish to avoid the notebooks for all but a small percentage of staff. While it is attractive and functional, IT executives will find that enterprise Mac acquisition costs are double those of Windows-based products and that support is more costly and complex given the closed design. Lastly, the continued challenges facing RIM and Nokia are likely just at the precipice of what it holds for the firms. Both lost their thought leadership position years ago, and while BlackBerry still retains a small league of supporters in security-minded firms, Nokia's loyalty is all but gone. Supplier and cash challenges will plague both companies for the foreseeable future and both have their pinned their hopes on glorious rebirths coinciding with the launch of new operating system platforms in the fall. IT executives should recognize that these Phoenixes are highly unlikely to rise from the ashes and while product support and valuable assets including patents and networking technologies may live on, both companies have expiration dates.