Tag Archives: tablet

Acer’s R7 the most twisty Windows 8 tablet/laptop yet

What is the name for a laptop that is also a tablet? A tabtop? Or perhaps a tabletop, which is a good way to describe Acer’s R7. The hinge (called “Ezel”) swings up to become a stalk supporting the tablet, raising it above the table.


What is the value of this configuration? Maybe you can think of something?

The thinking here (if I have it right) is that you can get the screen closer to your eyes than would be possible with a normal laptop. In other words, the flat table-top is not the normal use, but rather a tilt towards you but raised above the keyboard, if you see what I mean.

Alternatively, there is a backwards configuration which, I was told, is for presentations. The keyboard is your side, while the screen points into the room.


Of course, you won’t actually be able to see the screen yourself but that is a small detail versus the great view afforded to your audience. I am being a little unfair – the idea I think is that you sit screen-side too, and control it by touch.

You can also fold the screen flat to make a standard fat tablet configuration.

Failing that, there is a keyboard-only mode – note, no trackpad on view.


This is to avoid hitting the trackpad by mistake, apparently. Or if you really want a trackpad, you can have it, but note that it is behind the keyboard:


A bit odd? Let’s just say, different.

Close the lid, and looks like just another laptop.


For more information on the R7 see here.

Review: Logitech K811 Bluetooth Easy-Switch keyboard for iPad, Mac and more

I travel a lot and use a tablet rather than a laptop, and have gone through numerous Bluetooth keyboards. These are a necessity for me, since the tablet I use is either an iPad, which has no USB slot for a wireless transceiver, or a Windows slate that has only one USB slot that is often occupied.

It is surprising how much can go wrong. Some of the issues I have had (NOT with this keyboard let me emphasise) are keyboards turning themselves on in your bag and performing random actions; keys physically coming off the keyboard while in your bag; and tedious reconnection attempts when the Bluetooth pairing somehow breaks.
Another annoyance is that most Bluetooth keyboards can only pair with one device, forcing you to re-pair every time you switch.


Not any more. Logitech’s K811 keyboard can be paired with up to three devices simultaneously. The first three function keys across the top of the keyboard select which one you want to use.


This keyboard is designed for iPad, iPhone or Mac, but I found it also worked fine with the Windows tablet subject to few annoyances (keys that are incorrectly marked).

Specifically, on Windows all the alphabetic keys work correctly, as do the numbers, and most of the special characters. The main issues are that backslash types # but can be found on the § key, and @ and ” are transposed. No Windows key of course, but Ctrl-Esc works. Really not too bad.

Note that there is a PC version of the keyboard, called the K810, which seems similar but is a little cheaper. So get that if you only have PCs, but if you have a mix of devices, the Apple one is fine.

While the keyboard is probably not a good choice if you only use a non-Apple tablet, if you have a mix then it can still be useful.


This is a standard Mac keyboard though too small to have a separate numeric pad. The function keys default to the special functions, like dimming the backlight, and you have to press the Fn key to get the standard functions.

Physically the keyboard feels sturdy and well-made though it can flex just slightly in the middle since it has four small rubber feet. This did not cause me any problems. The keyboard is big enough for typing at speed and in comfort, and small enough that it tucks easily into most bags. It is 29cm on the longest side.


There are some little details that I like. The Connect button can be depressed easily with a finger, no need to find a small pointed object, though I have never pressed it accidentally. There is an on-off switch that is unlikely to slide by accident, avoiding those bag-typing problems mentioned above.

The keyboard has a built-in, non-replaceable rechargeable battery, charged via a USB cable. Battery life is said to be 20 hours of typing with the backlight on, or an impressive one year with the backlight off. You can adjust the brightness of the backlight using the function keys, though it resets when you next switch off and on, so you will probably end up with the backlight on most of the time, though it does dim automatically if you do not type for a while.

The coolest feature is a sensor that detects your hands and turns the backlight on, if the keyboard has been idle, before your hands touch the keys. A bit of a gimmick, but you can’t help admiring it.

Bluetooth switching really does work. I tried a test with an iPad and a Windows tablet. Press the key for the 1st device, and typed text appears on the iPad. Press the key for the 2nd device, and typed text appears on the Windows tablet. Reconnection seems quicker than average.


Overall I love the keyboard, and recommend it. I would have liked a protective bag to help prevent damage to the keys when loose in a larger bag, and suggest care with this as it is a common problem.

If you just want a keyboard for an iPad, you might be better off with one of the Logitech keyboard covers. If you have several mobile devices though, this is great, with a quality and convenience that justifies its price.


The Windows 8 app platform: how is it going? A few clues from developers

One way of looking at Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy is as an attempt to establish a new tablet platform. By welding the tablet platform to the desktop platform, Microsoft ensured that every customer who wanted the latest Windows release would also get the tablet release, though some are stuck with keyboard and mouse to control it. The downside is that some users who would have upgraded to Windows 8 if it had been less radical will stick with Windows 7. Microsoft is betting that despite the controversy, the hybrid operating system is a better bet for the difficult task of creating a new ecosystem than building a completely new tablet operating system that few would have purchased.

So how is the new platform doing? I asked on Twitter for developers with apps on both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 to let me know how the rate of sales or downloads compare.

One was the maker of Cineworld, a cinema listing app for the UK and Ireland. He reported:

my cineworld app has about 1.8K downloads a month on WP.. on #win its a few hundred

The other was an app for fans of Manchester United football club called 1st4Fans:

Windows 8 is 70/day. Windows Phone is 130/day

Another was the maker of Barcode Generator:

Barcode Generator stats say 32K download since Aug and several hundreds dwn/day. Looks pretty good, isn’t it?

The author of TweeterLight says that he has “more downloads of W8 app in 1 month than WP7 app in 1 year”, showing that not everyone is finding the phone platform bigger than the tablet platform, though a key factor is that there is an official Twitter client for the phone but not for new-style Windows 8:


TweeterLight is also a paid-for app, which means fewer downloads and perhaps avoidance of the Twitter throttling that has afflicted the free clients.

Others are reporting a boom in Windows Phone downloads, like Lestyn Jones who says:

I’m finding that my #win8 app downloads are slowly growing where as my #wp8 have skyrocketed.

Put that together with the Cineworld stats – 1.8K per month for an app that is only relevant in the UK and Ireland. It does look as if Windows Phone has been considerably reinvigorated by the launch of Windows Phone 8.

Returning to Windows 8 though, my initial reaction was that these responses are not an impressive start for Microsoft’s new platform, considering the wide usage of Windows on the desktop.

My further reflection though is this. I find myself more willing to try out new-style apps on Windows 8 than desktop apps either on Windows 8 or previous versions, thanks to the ease of installation and removal, discovery through the store, and the additional security of the app sandbox. An interesting question to ask then: if Microsoft had not created this new app platform, how many of these niche apps would have been downloaded as desktop applications?

Despite its imperfections and mixed reception, at least Windows 8 now has an app platform.

This is a small sample and other reports would be welcome.

Windows 8 survival guide for touch and tablet users

Many features of Microsoft’s new Windows are designed for touch control on tablets – or perhaps a touch screen on your desktop or laptop. If you have one of those, congratulations: you are set to get the best from Windows 8. Even so, finding your way around does take a bit of time to learn, thanks to some non-obvious features. Here is a brief survival guide for tablet and touch users – if you only have keyboard and mouse see here. If you have a hybrid with both, I suggest reading both survival guides; some things are easier with a keyboard and mouse.

That said, I have found that almost anything can be accomplished with touch alone; and it is worth persevering since it gets easier with practice. A slate without a keyboard is smaller and more convenient that a laptop or slate with loose keyboard. The exception: if I need to type a lengthy piece, a keyboard is worth the inconvenience.

I am mostly avoiding third-party utilities. This is for out-of-the-box Windows 8.

Options are shown a, b , c etc where they are alternatives. Steps are shown as 1, 2, 3 where needed.

How do you right-click an icon without a mouse?

In the Desktop, you can do the equivalent of a right-click by tapping and holding an item until a rectangle outline appears under your finger. Release to show the right-click menu (context menu).

How do you type in a desktop app when the keyboard does not appear?

Tap the Touch keyboard icon in the notification area at bottom right of the screen.


How do I stop the keyboard covering what I am typing in a desktop app?

Very annoying and I do not have a perfect solution. One option is to dock the on-screen keyboard by tapping the dock icon at top right of the keyboard:


In this mode, it will not overlap any apps. I find it annoying though since you now have a short screen, and when you hide the keyboard apps remain in the position the keyboard pushed them to, so I have to resize them.

Tap the icon when docked to undock.

My tip: try typing in portrait mode. Docked or undocked, this gives you a better chance of not having to type into the void.

How do you get back to the Start screen?

a. The Start menu is a now a full-screen Metro application. You can find it in several ways. Press the Windows key, which is present even on tablets as the solitary key under the display.

b. You can also swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, then tap Start.


c. A third way is to swipe in from the left and then immediately out again. This brings up the app history bar. Tap the Start tile at the bottom.

How do I organize the Start screen into groups?

The new Start screen is not hierarchical, but does support named groups. Two things you need to know:

1. To create a group, tap on a tile and drag up slightly as if you were going to flick to select, but don’t lift your finger. An outline appears on the tile and you can drag a tile right or left until it passes a grey vertical bar. Release to start the new group, or drag further to add to a different group. You can drag past the end of the screen to have further groups scroll into view.


Add further tiles to a new group by dragging them under one of the existing tiles in the group.

2. To name and/or move the group, put two fingers on the screen and pinch inwards. This will zoom out. Now, flick up on the group you want to name. This selects the group. Then you can tap Name group to name or rename it.image_thumb4

3. To move a group, use the same technique you used to move a tile – flick up, but do not lift your finger. Now you can drag the whole group to a new position.

I turned my tablet on and the logon screen comes up, but it does not respond to touch.

I hope this never happens to you, but I have seen it regularly on a Samsung Slate and guess it may happen on other models too. The only solution I have found is to reset the machine. To do this:

1. Hold down the power button until the unit turns off.

2. Now hold does the power button again. When the unit seems to be turning on, keep the button held down. Eventually it will turn off again. Now it is completely off. Turn on again in the normal way, and your touch control should be OK again.

I have the Start screen or a Metro app running. How do I get to the desktop?

You can go back to the Start screen and tap the Desktop tile. There is a better way though. Unless you are already at the Start screen, it is quicker to raise the app history bar by swiping in from the left and then out again. Then tap the Desktop tile.


I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. Where are the menus and settings?

There are two places to look. To get menus, like the tabs and address bar in Metro Internet Explorer, swipe in from the top or bottom of the screen. To get settings, swipe in from the right to show the Charms bar, and tap Settings. The settings are contextual, so you will get the settings for the current app.

I’m in a Metro app. Where is the search function?

I was surprised to see reviews of the Wikipedia app bemoaning the lack of a search function. How could an encyclopaedia app not have search?

It does of course. It is just that it is not obvious where to find it.

The reason is that Windows 8 has a system search feature. You summon by displaying the Charms bar (swipe from the right) and tapping Search. Search defaults to the current app, but you can search elsewhere by tapping another option.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How I can see the on-screen clock?

This annoys me as well. However, swiping in from the right will show it temporarily.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How do I close it?

The idea is that you don’t normally need to close an app. Rather, you switch away from it, which you can do using techniques already described: swipe in from the left and immediately out again, to show the app history bar.

Metro apps may be hibernated when not in use, so they do not grab system resources in the way desktop apps sometimes do.

However, you might want to close an app because it is misbehaving, or just because you have a tidy mind. Swipe in from the left and out again to show the app history bar, then press on an app, do not lift your finger but drag it down and off the bottom of the screen to close it (throw it away).

I hate the “live tiles” in the start menu, how can you turn off all the flickering activity?

Yes, I’m not sure about them either. In the Start screen, flick up on a live tile so a tick appears in the top right corner. Then tap Turn live tile off at the foot of the screen.


There is also an option to remove personal data from live tiles. To get this, display the Start screen, move the mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen, then tap Settings – Tiles. Tap Clear.


How do I start an application when I can’t even see it in the Start screen?

Can be a problem. Before you give up though, there are a few things to try:

a. The quickest way to find an application is by typing a search. Display the Start screen. Swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, and tap Search. Then type a few letters on the on-screen keyboard; all the matching applications are listed.

b. Swipe up in the Start screen and tap the  All Apps button that appears in the app bar. Swipe through the entire list to find an app.

c. Still can’t see it? Try showing Administrative tools. From the Start screen, swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu. Tap Settings, then Tiles, Show administrative tools.

d. If you are really stuck, you might need to use Explorer in the desktop to find the application in Program Files or Program Files (x86).

How do I switch between applications, since Metro apps do not appear in the taskbar?

Swipe in from the left and then immediately out to show the app history bar. This shows all the running Metro apps as well as the current Desktop app. It is not ideal because it does not show all the Desktop apps. Then again, you can use the taskbar as your switcher for Desktop apps so it is just about viable.

How do I shut down or restart the computer?

Swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu, then tap Settings and then Power.


This is somewhat hidden because Microsoft intends that normally power management, or shutting the lid on a laptop, or the soft power-off on a tablet, will be enough. Still, some of us like to turn the PC off completely.

How do I log off or switch user?

Go to the Start screen and tap the user name at top right to display a menu, including Lock, Sign out, and Switch account.


Having two versions of IE is confusing. I keep losing track of which sites are open in which browser.

Agreed. One solution is to make Metro IE the default, so that Desktop IE rarely opens, though this is not ideal since some web sites only work properly in Desktop IE.

If you do want to do this. go to Control Panel, type Internet in the search box, and tap on Internet Options. Tap the Programs tab, and under Choose how you open links, select Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop. Finally, make sure Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop is NOT checked.


How can I avoid going back to the Start screen when I am working in the Desktop?

a. Make sure your usual applications are pinned to the taskbar and start them from there. If you use lots of applications, you can make it double-height to fit more on, or it will scroll.

b. Put more shortcuts on the Desktop and use Windows – D to bring up the desktop when you need it.

Where is control panel? The real one, that is.

If you have read this far, you should know several ways to find it.

a. Start screen, search apps, type “control”, tap Control Panel

b. On the desktop, swipe from right for Charms, tap Settings, Control Panel.

How do I play a DVD?

Windows 8 does not include a DVD player. However your PC may come with DVD playing software bundled by the PC manufacturer. If not, download Videolan (VLC) from here. It’s free, and DVDs will play fine.

How can I stop PDF documents opening in Metro?

Windows 8 is set up to open PDF documents in the Metro-style Windows Reader. It is not too bad, but can be annoying and does not have the range of features in the Adobe reader. To fix this, make sure that the latest Adobe reader is installed by downloading it from here. Once installed, tap and hold a PDF file until a rectangle outline appears, and release to show the context menu. Tap Open With and then Choose Default program.


In the dialog that appears, tap Adobe Reader:


Now PDF documents will open on the desktop in Adobe Reader.

Where has backup gone in Windows 8?

It’s still there, but for reasons best known to Microsoft it is now called Windows 7 File Recovery. Open desktop Control Panel, type recovery top right and tap Enter. Tap Windows 7 File Recovery.


How do you run an application as administrator?

Go to the Start screen find the application icon and flick up to select. Then tap Run as administrator from the menu bar at the foot of the screen.


How do you capture a screenshot without a keyboard?

Use the Snipping tool by searching the Start screen. Tap New to capture all or part of the screen.


Where is the alt key on the touch keyboard?

Microsoft has made every effort to prevent you finding the alt key (and a few other useful things like function keys) if you are using the touch keyboard.

Enabling these is a two-stage process. First, show the Charms menu, tap Settings, and then Change PC Settings. Tap General. and then under the heading Touch keyboard, select Make the standard keyboard layout available.


Now tap to show the touch keyboard and tap the keyboard icon at bottom right. This lets you select a keyboard mode such as the split keyboard. Select the full keyboard, second icon from the right in the screen grab below.


The touch keyboard now shows Alt, Fn and other useful keys.

Review: JoyTAB 8″ Android tablet. Do you need to spend more?

How much Android tablet can you get for £150.00? Quite a lot, as this JoyTAB 8″ tablet from Gemini Devices demonstrates. No complaint about the specs: ARM Cortex A8 1.2Ghz processor, Mali-400 GPU, 512MB RAM, 8GB storage, running Android 4.03 “Ice Cream Sandwich”.

There is also a Micro-SD slot (confusingly labelled “TF Card”), a front-facing camera, headphone jack, USB connector, mini HDMI port, and wi-fi.

No Bluetooth, unfortunately, but you cannot have everything. Though given the choice, I would rather have Bluetooth than HDMI.

Still, no real complaint about the specs. How is it in use?

The unit is light though it feels a bit plastic, particularly the switches on the front and side, but they work fine. There is not much to see on the front: black screen, black surround, and two physical buttons, one for menu and one for back. On the side, there are buttons for power, volume and home. Personally I would rather have the home button on the front, but it is no big deal.

On the bottom edge are the connectors for USB, power, HTML, SD card and sound. Not clear why the SD slot is labelled “TF Card”, but I stuck a 4GB SD card in there and it worked instantly.


I turned on, and was greeted with the JoyTAB wallpaper, its brightness perhaps compensating for the rather dim screen.


Wi-fi connected smoothly, and I had a quick look at the apps:


Nothing exceptional here. Documents To Go is a trial, Twitter and BBC iPlayer I added myself.

Unfortunately BBC iPlayer was a letdown. The app bounces you to the browser, and the browser says my phone (?) is not supported.


I tried updating Flash Player to the latest version with no improvement. In fairness, this may be a BBC issue, though iPlayer works fine on other Android tablets I have tried.

YouTube mostly works, but video is not too good. It looks dark and detail is lost.

I got an even more entertaining error when I attempted to play my Google music in the browser.


Web browsing in general is a mixed experience. Mostly it is good enough, though searching Google is slow and jerky if you have incremental search enabled.

Not only is the screen dim, it is unresponsive too. Pinching and zooming is an effort, and when it does work it is not smooth.

Still, Angry Birds works well, email works with both Microsoft Exchange and Google Mail, and battery life seems not bad though charging is slow even with mains.

I connected it to a PC and got an error. USB storage shows up if you enable it in settings, but it did not connect as an Android device. I fixed this by installing the (unsigned) driver from Gemini, which I found in a forum post here.

While I have not seen any faults, the test device does make odd, quiet popping noises from time to time when charging, which is a concern.

In the end I cannot give this a recommendation. It is good value in one sense, but if you can stretch to a Samsung Galaxy, which admittedly is twice the price, you do get a substantially better experience. An Apple iPad costs even more; but if you want silky-smooth touch control, a beautiful screen, and for everything to just work, then it is worth the money.

What if you only have £149? My pick would be something like a nearly new HTC Flyer, currently on offer at Amazon UK for around that price. Yes, it only runs Android 3.x “Honeycomb”, but it is a lovely device with a great screen and HTC’s customised Sense UI.

Update: It is worth adding that Google has now announced the 7″ Nexus Tablet which is on offer in the UK for £159 for the 8GB version or £199 for 16GB. That changes the rules.

Microsoft to make its own tablet called Surface, puts Windows RT centre stage

Microsoft has announced its own tablet, called Surface, for “work and play”, said CEO Steve Ballmer at an event in Los Angeles yesterday.


The first of what will be a family of devices has a 10.6” Corning Gorilla Glass screen, is just 9.3mm thick, and has a magnesium “VaporMg” case with a built-in stand/magnetic cover which doubles as a multitouch keyboard.

Surface comes in two forms. One runs Windows RT with an NVidia processor, which means it is the ARM version of Windows 8. There is a desktop UI alongside Metro, but the desktop is there only to run Microsoft Office (which is bundled), Explorer, and whatever other utilities Microsoft chooses to include. It is not possible to install new desktop applications. Users can only install Metro-style apps from the Windows Store.

The other runs Windows 8 Professional. Note that this x86 version is heavier (903g vs 676g), thicker (13.5mm vs 9.3mm) and more power-hungry (42 W-h vs 31.5 W-h). However, it does benefit from USB 3.0 rather than USB 2.0.

Why has Microsoft done this, and risked alienating the hardware partners on which it depends for the success of Windows?

I posted on this subject a few days ago. Yes, Microsoft’s hardware partners have driven the success of Windows, but they have also been part of the problem as Apple has captured a gradually increasing proportion of the personal computer market. Problems include foistware(unwanted software) bundled with PCs and rushed designs that have too many annoyances.

With Windows Phone 7, it was not until Nokia entered the market a year after the launch that we saw hardware and design quality that does justice to the operating system. Distracted by Android, partners like HTC and Samsung brought out drab, unimaginative phones that contributed to a poor start for Microsoft’s smartphone OS.

Now with Windows 8, the danger is that the same may happen again. We have seen few Windows RT designs, and evidence that vendors are having difficulty in reimagining Windows.

Until today, that is. The announcement ensures that Windows RT will win plenty of attention at launch, alongside the x86 editions, and that Microsoft has a measure of control over its own destiny, in how Windows 8 is realised in hardware.

Microsoft says that the Windows RT Surface will launch at the same time as Windows 8, but that the Intel edition will follow a few months later.

How much for a Surface? The press release says:

Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT.


Close up with Asus PadFone: is a converged device in your future?

Asus held an event in London to show off the devices it revealed at Computex in Taipei recently, though sadly there was no Windows RT device to be seen.

Among the Zenbook Ultrabooks and Transformer Primes there was something innovative though, which was a near-final sample of the PadFone, which combines smartphone, tablet and Android laptop into one package.

The thinking is simple: why have an expensive smartphone as well as an expensive tablet, each perhaps with its own SIM card and contract, when the smartphone can power both? In the PadFone, the phone docks into the tablet, and the tablet clips into a keyboard case. As a final flourish, there is an optional headset stylus, a stylus with a Bluetooth headset built-in so you can answer the phone easily when it is docked.

Here are the three main pieces:


The tablet, note, is useless until you dock the phone. You do this by opening a flap on the back and dropping it in.


The tablet then works just like any other Android tablet, though it is heavier than average, and has a bulbous section on the underside.

Attach to the keyboard case, and you have a laptop.


The tablet has a 10.1”, 1280 x 800 screen with Gorilla Glass, a speaker and headphone jack, and a front-facing camera.

The phone has 1GB RAM, 16GB flash storage plus Micro-SD support, Qualcomm 8260A Snapdragon S4 Dual-core processor with Andreno 225 GPU, rear camera and its own front-facing camera, and runs Android ICS.

The keyboard adds USB ports and a card reader.

Each device has its own battery so a full setup has three batteries, or  four if you count one in the stylus headset. However you can have scenarios where the tablet is out of power but the phone is not, for example, which would be annoying.

I spent some time with the PadFone, scribbling on the excellent note-taking app which comes with it, and assembling and disassembling the unit to get a feel for how it works. There is plenty to like. The phone itself looks great and seems fast and capable. Docking and removing it is straightforward, particularly since the flap acts as a lever to eject the phone gently. Asus assured me that it has been tested for thousands of insertions. The tablet worked well too, though it is heavier than most and the protrusion which holds the smartphone is inelegant.

A winner then? I am not sure. It is interesting and innovative, but the mechanics need some refinement. Most people have a case to protect their smartphones, but for the PadFone you will either need to remove the phone from its case when you dock it, or else treat the tablet as the case, in which case it will not slip so easily into a jacket pocket or handbag.

The stylus headset is not just a gimmick; you will need this, or another Bluetooth headset, to make sense of using the phone when it is docked.

Some variations on this theme occur to me. After another generation of miniaturisation, perhaps you could design a phone so slim that it fits into the case more like an old PCMCIA card used to slot into a laptop, without an ugly protruding flap? Another idea would be to make all the communication between phone and tablet wireless, building just enough smarts into the tablet that it works as a kind of remote desktop into your phone.

The Asus folk present told me that the PadFone is first-generation and we can expect the concept to evolve. Another goal is to make a splash in the smartphone market, using the PadFone as differentiation from all the other Android devices out there.

Apparently the PadFone will normally be sold on contract, and while it will be bundled with the tablet, whose name is the PadFone Station, the keyboard and stylus headset will be optional extras.

Three reasons why Microsoft should make its own Windows RT (ARM) Tablet

Rumours are flying that Microsoft will announce an own-brand Windows RT tablet on Monday.

No comment on the truth of these, but it would be a smart move.

Here are three reasons.

First, the OEM foistware problem. This has got a little better in recent years, but not enough to compete with Apple and its clean machines. The problem is so bad that Microsoft set up its own retail stores to sell  cleaned-up Windows PCs:

Many new PCs come filled with lots of trialware and sample software that slows your computer down—removing all that is a pain, so we do it for you! Every PC the Microsoft Store sells is put on a software diet and performance is tuned to run the best it can.

Microsoft addressed this in Windows Phone by imposing conditions on the extent to which OEMs can customise the user interface or embed their own software. It cannot do this  though with Windows 8 on x86. Manufacturing its own model is one of the few ways Microsoft can get Windows PCs that work as designed into the hands of consumers.

Second, the design problem. Few Windows PCs (if any) are as well designed as Macs or iPads. Manufacturers are geared towards low prices and frequent model changes rather than intensive work on every detail of the design.

Third, Microsoft wants to make a splash with Windows RT, the ARM version, and there is evidence that it is having difficulty communicating its benefits or convincing its OEM partners to get fully behind it.

This third is the biggest issue, which might drive Microsoft to compete with its third-party partners, and requires some explanation. Many people I speak to cannot see the point of Windows RT. This version of Windows 8 will not run x86 applications, so you cannot install any of your old software. Further, there is no way to install desktop applications, so software vendors cannot port their existing applications. They must create new Metro-style apps instead. So why bother with Windows RT?

This reaction is understandable, but unfortunately for Microsoft Windows 8 on x86 has no chance of competing with Apple’s iPad.

Yesterday I attended an Asus event in London where the company was showing its new range of Android tablets and Windows ultrabooks. It was not showing its prototype Windows 8 machines, but I was able to discuss the likely Windows 8 products, All but one is x86, and they will have Wacom digitizers,  which means they will work with a stylus like an old-style Tablet PC, as well as with touch. That will push up the price.

Worse still, these x86 devices, like the Samsung Slate on which I run WIndows 8 Release Preview, will not be enjoyable to use with touch alone. Users will find themselves running applications designed for keyboard and mouse: you can get them to work, but it is frustrating. These devices are not Windows reimagined, they are the old Windows plus a few new tricks.

Too expensive, too hard to use: Windows 8 on x86 is not an iPad-beater.

Windows RT on the other hand is more promising. This does have a desktop, but it will only run Office, Windows Explorer, and whatever other desktop utilities Microsoft chooses to provide. Office aside, you will be forced to use touch-friendly Metro apps most of the time. Microsoft can tune Windows RT by removing legacy components that are no longer needed, because applications which rely on them cannot be installed. You also get the power efficiency of ARM, so a long battery life. Finally, if Microsoft has done it right Windows RT should be more secure, since the entire operating system is locked down.

Windows RT is critical to Microsoft and if it has to make its own hardware in order to market it properly, then it should do so.

Microsoft, Windows 8, and the Innovator’s Dilemma (or, why you hate Windows 8)

One thing is obvious from the immediate reaction to Windows 8 Release Preview. Most of those who try it do not like it. It is a contrast to the pre-release days of Windows 7, when there was near-consensus that, whatever you think of Windows overall, the new edition was better than its predecessors.

Why would a company with huge resources and the world’s most popular desktop operating system – 600 million Windows 7 licenses so far, according to OEM VP Steven Guggenheimer – create a new edition which its customers do not want?

Microsoft under Steve Ballmer is a somewhat dysfunctional company – too many meetings, says ex-softie Brandon Watson – but there is still a wealth of talent there. Specifically, Windows President Steven Sinofsky has proven his ability, first with Microsoft Office 2007 which beat off the challenge from OpenOffice.org, and next with Windows 7, which if it repeated the disappointment of Windows Vista would have damaged the company severely.

If it is not incompetence, then, what is it?

In this context, Clayton M. Christensen’s 1997 classic The Innovator’s Dilemma – When new technologies cause great firms to fail is a good read. Chapter one is here. Christensen studied the hard drive market, asking why sixteen of the seventeen companies which dominated the industry in 1976 had failed or been acquired by 1995, replaced by new entrants to the market. Christensen argues that these firms failed because they listened too much to their customers. He says that delivering what your customers want is mostly a good idea, but occasionally fatal:

This is one of the innovator’s dilemmas: Blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to their customers can sometimes be a fatal mistake.

Specifically, hard drive companies failed because new entrants had physically smaller hard drives that were more popular. The reason the established companies failed was because their customers had told them that physically smaller drives was not what they wanted:

Why were the leading drive makers unable to launch 8-inch drives until it was too late? Clearly, they were technologically capable of producing these drives. Their failure resulted from delay in making the strategic commitment to enter the emerging market in which the 8-inch drives initially could be sold. Interviews with marketing and engineering executives close to these companies suggest that the established 14-inch drive manufacturers were held captive by customers. Mainframe computer manufacturers did not need an 8-inch drive. In fact, they explicitly did not want it: they wanted drives with increased capacity at a lower cost per megabyte. The 14-inch drive manufacturers were listening and responding to their established customers. And their customers–in a way that was not apparent to either the disk drive manufacturers or their computer-making customers–were pulling them along a trajectory of 22 percent capacity growth in a 14-inch platform that would ultimately prove fatal.

Are there any parallels with what is happening in computer operating systems today? I think there are. It is not exact, given that tablet pioneer Apple cannot be described as a new entrant, though Google with Android is a closer match. Nevertheless, there is a new kind of operating system based on mobility, touch control, long battery life, secure store-delivered apps, and cloud connectivity, which is eating into the market share for Windows. Further, it seems to me that for Microsoft to do the kind of new Windows that its customers are asking for, which Christensen calls a “sustaining innovation”, like Windows 7 but faster, more reliable, more secure, and with new features that make it easier to use and more capable, would be a trajectory of death. Existing customers would praise it and be more likely to upgrade, but it would do nothing to stem the market share bleed to Apple iPad and the like. Nor would it advance Microsoft’s position in smartphones.

Should Microsoft have adapted its Windows Phone OS for tablets two years ago, or created Metro-style Windows as an independent OS while maintaining Windows desktop separately? YES say customers infuriated by the full-screen Start menu. Yet, the dismal sales for Windows Phone show how difficult it is to enter a market where competitors are firmly entrenched. Would not the same apply to Windows Metro? Reviewers might like it, developers might like it, but in the shops customers would still prefer the safety of iPad and Android and their vast range of available apps.

You begin to see the remorseless logic behind Windows 8, which binds new and old so tightly that you cannot escape either. Don’t like it? Stick with Windows 7.

Microsoft will not say this, but my guess is that customer dissatisfaction with Windows 8 is expected. It is the cost, a heavy cost, of the fight to be a part of the next generation of client computers. It is noticeable though that while the feedback from users is mostly hostile, Microsoft’s OEM partners are right behind it. They do not like seeing their business munched by Apple.

The above does not prove that Microsoft is doing the right thing. Displeasing your customers, remember, is mostly the wrong thing to do. Windows 8 may fail, and Microsoft, already a company with shrinking influence, may go into an unstoppable decline. Bill Gates was right about the tablet taking over from the laptop, history may say, but Microsoft was incapable of making the radical changes to Windows that would make it work until it was too late.

Give credit for this though: Windows 8 is a bold move, and unlike the Tablet PCs that Gates waved around ten years ago, it is an OS that is fit for purpose. Sinofsky’s goal is to unify the smartphone and the tablet, making a new mobile OS that users will enjoy while also maintaining the legacy desktop and slotting in to enterprise management infrastructure. I admire his tenacity in the face of intense protest, and I am beginning to understand that foresight rather than stupidity underlies his efforts.

Review: Cygnett Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad, Windows

In the iPad era there is increasing demand for wireless keyboards that will transform your tablet into a productive writing machine. I have tried a number of such gadgets recently, including a bargain-price iPad keyboard case and an expensive Samsung keyboard to go with the Slate I have been using for Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Both keyboards work, but with so many annoyances that I rarely use them. The keyboard case works well enough, if you can cope with squishy keys and a tiny power switch, but adds so much weight and bulk to the iPad that it becomes like a laptop, and in doing so loses much of its appeal. The Samsung keyboard on the other hand has a quality feel but lacks a proper power switch, and I found the only way to prevent it powering up when in your bag is to remove the batteries, which is a nuisance. Further, there is some kind of design fault with the keys which can get stuck down; they pop back easily enough, but after a few times something snaps and I now have a key that slopes slightly.

Enter the Cygnett Bluetooth Keyboard, primarily designed for the iPad but which works find with the Slate and no doubt numerous other devices, and which is priced competitively considering it has hard keys and is rechargeable.


I found several things to like.

First, it has a real on/off switch on the back, something I value having experienced problems with Samsung’s soft power key.

Second, it is small, and will fit in the the top inside pocket of a man’s jacket or tucked into a flap in almost any bag or case. The longest side of the keypad is around 1.5cm less than the length of the iPad itself.

Third, it seems robust and the keys are pleasantly responsive.


Getting started was simple enough. Charge it using the supplied USB connector, and pair with the iPad or other device by depressing the recessed pairing key, scanning for new devices, and typing the code given.

I find I can get a good speed on this device, though it is a little cramped especially if you do true touch typing using all your fingers. Still, this is mainly a matter of practice and it is a big step up, for me, from the soft keyboard on an iPad or tablet. Another reason to prefer a physical keyboard is that you get twice as much screen space to view your document.

The keypad also works fine with my Windows 8 Slate, though it has Mac-style keys so no Windows key. Of course you can use Ctrl-Esc for this. There is a Print Screen key though, so from my point of view all the important keys are covered. There is no right Shift key.

One small disappointment: although it has a mini USB socket for charging, this keypad is wireless only. It will not work as a USB keyboard even if you use a full USB cable, rather than the charge-only cable supplied. A shame, because there are circumstances when a USB keyboard is useful, such as for changing BIOS settings on a Windows tablet.

The keypad also works with some Android devices. However I was unable to pair it with an HTC Desire smartphone, and I have seen reports of similar issues with other Android mobile devices. If the device prompts for a number to type on the keyboard, you are in business. If it suggests typing a generic code such as 0000 on the device, it does not work, though there may be a workaround of which I am not aware.

Another limitation: you can only pair the keypad with one device at a time.

Nevertheless, I like this keypad better than the Samsung keyboard which cost much more. Recommended.