5
Dec

Look for even more feature hype as ISVs present new features somehow failing to reach consumers as promised

In an earlier post to this blog, titled Enterprise IT ISVs Contributed to the Bloated Feature Set for PCs this writer published comments about how the very close relationship between Intel and Microsoft, which first began, one can argue, when IBM turned over the chip manufacturing pieces of the original PC to Intel, actually worked to the disadvantage of both parties. The outcome of this mismatch of efforts was, we argued, the Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC) hardware architecture, which covered far too many bases to successfully compete with its Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) rivals. The RISC machines won the contest. The mobile device world is filled with small, smart devices built to conform to RISC architecture principals.

Now, in late 2014, we think it would be better, (and consumers would, ultimately, benefit more) if hardware, firmware, and software all actually worked closer together. Unless/until these players warm up to each other, devices are simply not going to work as advertised. Marketing communications messaging about new features will simply devolve into just more hype.

Over the last several posts to this blog we’ve presented some examples we’ve found of this problem eating away at some of the opportunities computing hardware consumers may hope to enjoy from their purchase decisions:

  1. Solid State Drives, purchased after market, do not work well with Intel PCs running Microsoft’s Windows O/S.
  2. Android devices, at least from Samsung, can’t be upgraded to new versions (for example, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, 2.1, requires a “root canal” if a consumer wants to avail of the new KitKat or Lollipop O/S, and chuck JellyBean).
  3. A new Apple iOS O/S is made available to older iPhones and iPads, but performs poorly once it is installed; consumers suspect they have been hoodwinked into downloading and installing the new O/S as a means of pushing a new hardware sale.
  4. Finally, Personal Assistants aren’t equipped to understand complex verbal linguistics, and fail to work in high demand situations. Bi-Directional voice conversations don’t sync well with hands free bluetooth audio in cars

This list could go on for quite a while.

In this writer’s opinion, ISVs will do better to either completely abandon the notion of an after-market for new hardware products, or work closer together, perhaps via standards committees, etc.

But there is nothing on the horizon pointing to either of these events happening any time soon. For now, consumers are simply better off researching very carefully each nuance of any planned changes before embarking on them.

Ultimately ISVs will likely suffer more than consumers from this condition.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

28
Nov

A bump on the road to consumer tech heaven worth a mention

Anyone with a keen interest in consumer computer technology should quickly learn to study, carefully, the gap between what a manufacturer claims about a product and what is actually experienced. The point of the exercise is to develop a sober view about the likely performance of products they may introduce in the future, and, subsequently to at least save some time, if not some money.

Here’s a case in point:

  1. Solid State Drives (SSDs) and PCs with a Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) managed by Intel Matrix Storage Manager

Consumer Grade SSDs and PC Software RAIDs don’t mix

We own a Dell T1500 Workstation, with 2 80 GB Samsung Drives in a RAID 0 configuration. The holidays are approaching. We thought we’d give ourselves a present and swap out the 2 Samsung Drives in this computer for a pair of Crucial (consumer brand for Micron) 500GB SSDs. This swap looked great on paper. We checked with Microsoft to ensure we wouldn’t experience problems backing up the current RAID architecture and restoring it to a RAID 1 (which would give us a Disaster Recovery option should one of the drives fail). We also checked with Dell (actually we downloaded their version of the PC Doctor diagnostic tool) and determined the BIOS for the T1500 was absolutely current.

But once we put our cash on the line and paid over $420 for the pair of Crucial SSDs, and physically received them, we learned the configuration wasn’t going to work. Crucial support let us know the consumer grade SSDs don’t get along well with the Intel Matrix Storage Manager at all, regardless of whether the SSDs are configured as a RAID or not.

Readers thinking of making a similar effort to “upgrade” older computers are advised to think otherwise. The only option, for the record, is to purchase the commercial grade version of these SSDs, which carry the Micron brand. But we can’t claim to have verified the accuracy of this option. The fact is we can’t reach Micron to confirm our assumption (in 2014 pre-sales support for a commodity product like SSDs is, apparently, not available from Micron).

Does all of the above give this writer cause for concern? Certainly. So we are thinking very carefully about how we will proceed on the renovation we have in mind, and may just end up purchasing a pair of old fashioned spindle driven WD hard disks (1 TB each) and simply configure them into the RAID we are after.

What’s the bottom line impact on the manufacturer vis a vis the consumer market? It would be better for the manufacturer’s marketing communication content to speak to the kind of configuration we had in mind, so consumers, like us, would have saved the time and thought otherwise before paying for the SSDs.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

19
Nov

Seamless access to all other personally important apps should be a mandatory feature of any high value personal assistant app

The differences I’ve noted between Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s competitive Google Now and OK Google, which I cited in the prior two posts to this blog and are important for me, are emblematic of my need for a Personal Assistant (PA) application to seamlessly interact with like applications on any mobile computing device I own. I imagine I’m not alone in this. So how do Windows Phone 8.1 and Android 4.1 KitKat compare on this point?

When I ask Cortana directions, the PA passes the request over to Bing Here maps. Once the handoff is complete, any voice interaction appears to be with the Bing Here app, and not with Cortana. In contrast, when I set Google Now and “OK Google” on the same task, the voice interaction is strictly with “OK Google”, which appears to manage the Google Map application for me.

This distinction is potentially a big deal if either PA is limited as to just what can be indexed when it comes to compiling a set of content for search. Let’s include Microsoft’s Delve Office 365 application into the discussion. I have added Delve to the Office 365 E3 plan I maintain for my business. But when I use Delve I don’t get much of anything at all. Why? I am a consultant and the only user on the Office 365 subscription I maintain for my business. As well, I am not making much use of One Drive for Business, but I am making a lot of use of the rest of SharePoint Online for an Enterprise Document Management (EDM) application.

Nevertheless, when I call up the Delve application, I am served with the following message: “Give Delve more to work with[:] Store and share your documents where Delve can get to them, such as in OneDrive for Business, and Delve will automatically bring you the most relevant content.” But why can’t Delve work with the content in the Document libraries I’ve set up in Office 365, or with the voluminous amount of email messaging I have available across my email accounts (I have more than 5 active email accounts)?

Unfortunately I haven’t an answer to share with readers on this question. But it may be helpful to consider why, and how product marketing at Microsoft opted to proceed careful with regards to just what information Delve would be permitted to parse, index, and then to serve up in response to queries. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which side of the Privacy debate a reader happens to choose) I suspect privacy concerns have limited how this potentially very helpful application can do.

Bottom line: I find Google Now, “OK Google” approach to a PA to be more useful right now. I’m genuinely excited about what a “manager of managers” kind of PA can do to help my personal daily productivity. Perhaps readers will share this enthusiasm.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

18
Nov

Continuing a Comparison of Cortana and OK Google for queries likely to be popular with mobile users

Getting driving directions is likely to be a very common need for mobile computing. I used Cortana and OK Google to put together driving directions with very different results. I picked a location forty miles from my home and simply asked each personal assistant to provide me with driving directions.

The response I received from Cortana was less than satisfactory for two reasons: 1) Cortana cut me off in mid query on two of my three attempts. Pauses appeared to be interpreted, incorrectly, as end-of-voice-query field delimiters. So the audible responses I received on both of these unsatisfactory results were wrong. The response to my third attempt to present the destination was even worse. Instead of receiving an audible reply, I was presented with a results page from Bing with a list of results, all of which were relevant to the location I was after, but, if I had been driving, would have been entirely useless. 2) When Cortana correctly understood my question, the app started the “Bing Here” mapping application, with its own voice response component. This is not necessarily a problem, but for the otherwise computer limited user (my wife is a good example of this type of person), the kind of seamlessly integrated response I received from “OK Google” to the same query would have been preferred.

It’s worth adding a bit to the above critique. There are likely to be a good set of voice commands sure to prompt Cortana to reply with an audible answer. I was not able to find them. When I attempted to start my direction query with “Navigate to” as per a command I found on the list at Cortana Commands List – Microsoft Voice Commands – Video, the reply I received was erroneous “navigate to 57th Street in Manhattan, between 6th and 7th Avenues” was intrepreted as “navigate 257th St. between sixth and 7th ave in Manhattan”. The results were served as a list of links, and, once again, Cortana wasn’t helping.

In contrast, “OK Google” correctly fielded a request phrased as “get directions to West 57th Street, Manhattan, NY” and replied, correctly, with an audible answer. What’s more, “OK Google” “spoke for” the Google Maps app in precisely the kind of seamless handshake needed for computer challenged users, as I mentioned above. As I will explore in the next post to this blog, the question of how best to serve up a seamless response to this type of query, and what a successful effort has to say about the usefulness of search across the set of apps someone happens be be using, is, in my opinion a big one.

Bottom line: I was better able to find a list of useful voice commands to produce the kind of audible reply I required for “OK Google” than was the case for Cortana. One would hope Microsoft will move to correct this issue and close the gap, at least as regards the list of commands one needs to use to elicit a desired audible response from Cortana.

Ira Michael Blonder

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