Machine learning and Windows 10 and Windows Phone 8.1

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthMicrosoft’s Windows 10: The Next Chapter (http://news NULL.microsoft NULL.com/windows10story/) event, which was held on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, included a number of new product and features announcements. A lot of editorial copy has been produced on the Holographic computer, the “Hololens”. But other announcements, about machine learning capabilities, while, perhaps not as dramatic, also deserve some comments.

Windows 10 Leverages Machine Learning

During the 2 plus hour webcast, Joe Belfiore demonstrates the new role Microsoft’s Personal Assistant, aka “Cortana”, will play in Windows 10. He makes the point of mentioning Cortana’s capacity to learn, over time.

This machine learning capability is also demonstrated much later in the presentation, within the introduction of the Hololens.

Belfiore’s claims are overstated, at least when they are judged against my use of Cortana on Windows Phones. We own two of these, both are Windows 8.1 Lumia 925 smartphones. Cortana has operated as a feature on these phones for at least the last 90 days, and perhaps even longer. The biggest missing piece for us has been the lack of any improvement in Cortana’s understanding of either of our two users. One of our users has a pronounced accent, which has proven to be the basis of erroneous responses from Cortana, which she has gotten to simple questions.

Our other user, me, recently asked Cortana what it knows about him. Cortana’s reply included mention of a “Notebook”. The “Notebook” is presented in the “Windows 10: Next Chapter” event as a valuable new feature. In the webcast, one of the presenters (probably either Terry Myerson or Joe Belfiore) makes mention of the “Notebook” as an important control people will be able to use to determine just what personal information is available for processing and to limit the cognizance of the system of personal information.

Cortana’s reply to a simple question about what this personal assistant application “knows” about a specific person: “Well, I have my Notebook, so I know what you know you’ve let me know. Y’know?” seems to be more of a disclaimer than anything else. We took a look at the “Notebook”. We framed specific questions about information included in it, but could not get an answer from the system on any questions about any of the entries in the “Notebook”. Recommendation: turn down the hype on machine learning as this component of the system does not seem to have developed much at all since we last took a look at it.

In fairness, we need to also note we have an Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone manufactured by LG and an Apple iPad Air 2. Both of these devices also include personal assistants, “Siri” and “OK Google”, which are capable of understanding verbal commands and formulating audible responses. Neither of these devices are actually any more useful than Microsoft’s Cortana when the requirement amounts to an extended audio discussion with one’s computer device.

Machine learning in all of these applications has a long way to go before it is tangibly useful for personal computing.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft presents Windows 10, a scalable operating system for a wide range of computing form factors

On Tuesday, September 30, 2014 two senior executives at Microsoft, Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, and Joe Belfiore, Vice President, presented Windows 10 to the public via an invitation only press conference.

Within a few moments of the conclusion of this presentation, a press release appeared on the Microsoft news web site (http://www NULL.microsoft NULL.com/en-us/news/press/2014/sep14/09-30FutureOfWindowsPR NULL.aspx). Later in the day a lengthier presentation appeared on Terry Myerson’s blog, titled Announcing Windows 10 (http://blogs NULL.windows NULL.com/bloggingwindows/2014/09/30/announcing-windows-10/).

The big takeaway, for this writer, is Myerson’s assertion about this new operating system. “Windows 10 will run across an incredibly broad set of devices – from the Internet of Things, to servers in enterprise data centers worldwide.” (quoted from Terry Myerson’s post to his blog on Microsoft.com title “Announcing Windows 10”). If Microsoft can deliver on this promise, then they will likely achieve a couple of very important milestones:

  • One core operating system will be available for a very wide range of computing form factors. Once the core operating system is built, then form factors will likely “bolt on”, meaning no more than a set of hooks will be required to bring up an appropriate version of the operating system required to power any/all target form factors. Bottom line: this will represent a truly innovative improvement in efficiency, which should lead to lower Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and substantially higher margins. In short, very good news for Microsoft as a business
  • A truly consistent, and generally predictable user experience will be achieved, regardless of the form factor chosen for computing (tablet, PC, game console, sensor, etc). When consumers can be expected to enjoy a consistent computing experience, it makes sense to plan on higher levels of purchase satisfaction and repeat purchases. Once again, if Microsoft can deliver a truly scalable user experience, then this will be very good news for the business

One of the big questions about the next release of Windows is when it will be available for purchase. Myerson and Belfiore estimated availability after Microsoft’s BUILD Conference for 2015, in other words, sometime in late summer of 2015. We would have hoped this O/S would be available sooner, especially given some remarks from Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, which were captured in the webcast of the company’s most recent earnings conference call. But it is likely Microsoft’s Public Relations team will issue quite a bit of supporting information about this new O/S between now and the actual release date. Therefore, it makes sense to plan on the product gaining momentum from now on.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


With Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft Sees an Opportunity to Emphasize the Personal in the Consumer PC Experience

As Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group (PC, Tablet and Phone) states at the start of his keynote presentation at Microsoft’s Build 2014 Conference (http://channel9 NULL.msdn NULL.com/Events/Build/2014/KEY01), one of the drivers for the Windows Phone O/S was to produce an experience “a little bit less like technology, and a lot more about you”. Belfiore then claims “we think Windows Phone is the world’s most personal smart phone”.

This preamble leads up to the public debut of Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant feature, which will be a very prominent new feature of Windows Phone 8.1 when it is released to the user community this summer. As Belfiore demonstrated, Cortana represents a substantial enhancement to the voice-activated capabilities of Windows Phone. The added power of this personal assistant amounts to a combination of a presumably embedded Bing client, and a set of data collection and analytics features designed to quickly put together a richly featured profile of the owner of the Windows smart phone.

All of the above is very significant, but I want to use this post to illustrate an important component of the Microsoft® computing brand. As I wrote in 2012, in a post to this blog titled Microsoft Understands the Evolution of Personal Computing from Desktop Computers to Handheld Devices, consumers now refer to PCs, but rarely to “personal computers”.

This evolution of consumer awareness of the “personal computer” into simply the “PC” amounts to bad news for product marketers of PC products, applications, etc. In its ad for the SuperBowl, in 1984, Apple at once echoed a comparable emphasis on the personal, but combined it with a notion of the Macintosh as the computer of “the revolution”. The outcome of this marketing communication effort is history.

But Microsoft certainly has an opportunity to reclaim the personal. Belfiore’s presentation of Windows Phone 8.1 at Build 2014 continues the branding effort for Windows Phone as the Personal Smart Phone (synonymous, for me, with the notion of computer), which I picked up back in 2012. This is good news for the Windows Developer community. It would be helpful if the Marketing Communications team could come up with a better method of delivering the same message to consumers.

Ira Michael Blonder (https://plus NULL.google NULL.com/108970003169613491972/posts?tab=XX?rel=author)

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved