When Microsoft purchased the Perceptive Pixel company, maker of 55 and 82 inch touchscreen displays that go by the eponymous acronym PPI, what it intended to do with the firm wasn’t completely clear. At the time, Microsoft stated the following:
The acquisition of PPI allows us to draw on our complementary strengths, and we’re excited to accelerate this market evolution [...] PPI’s large touch displays, when combined with hardware from our OEMs, will become powerful Windows 8-based PCs and open new possibilities for productivity and collaboration.
For more context, here’s how TNW reported Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s announcement of the purchase:
According to Ballmer, Microsoft will [utilize] its research, development and production of multi-touch technologies to further upcoming software and hardware, with the company showing off its huge 82-inch touch-enabled screen at the WPC event.
The purchase of Perceptive Pixel provided Microsoft with both intellectual property that could be exceptionally valuable in the coming decade, and ownership of what I would call the preeminent maker of large touchscreens.
And the prices are coming down. The 55 inch PPI display, according to Microsoft’s Eric Rudder, the Chief Technical Strategy Officer at the firm, will run you around $7,000 at present. In conversation on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, Eric indicated that he was working to quickly lower the price of the displays.
They will ride the lessening cost curve of the television set world, it would seem. This puts the 55 inch PPI but a few generations from being affordable enough for the average enthusiast. The 82 inch behemoth will likely take longer, but the question of its affordability is a when, not if question.
Here’s one in action with someone that you are familiar with:
If you walk Microsoft’s Executive Briefing Center, you will see PPI displays strapped to the walls, free for anyone to use. If you walk through the latest rendition of Microsoft’s Home of the Future, you can’t miss them studded into walls.
Office team demonstration? Let’s use a PPI. Latest gadget that is a must have in an executive office in Redmond? A PPI display. And not only the most senior staff will have access to the hardware; this is Microsoft’s own technology, and the company is rallying behind it.
Rallying is the wrong word, given that it almost intimates forced enthusiasm, which isn’t the case here; everyone wants a PPI because they represent a new hardware category that has the potential to disrupt current computing trends and transform how we interact with digital information.
We’ll get to why in a moment, but let’s rewind.
The first large touchscreens that Microsoft sold were the Surface 1 and Surface 2 – note: very different than the Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. They were jokingly named the Big Ass Tables. Engadget coined the name so far as we can tell, with the excellent headline “Microsoft Surface: one day your computer will be a big-ass table.”
Prescient, if by accident. The second Surface device managed to become a Big Ass Coffee Table, which TNW noted could be mounted to a wall, creating a much more compelling experience. However, it was more prelude than product:
You can still find Surface 2s on Microsoft’s campus, and if I recall, Surface 1s in some Microsoft stores. They are now anachronisms. PPI displays will replace them as both thinner, more responsive, and easier to mount displays that provide a superior computing experience.
For comparison, here is a PPI at work:
However, Microsoft is a device and service company, not simply an OEM – I kid – so how does software fit into the PPI gambit? Let’s answer that.
In its review of the Surface Pro tablet hybrid, TNW dichotomized applications into two categories: Windows 8 apps, and Windows 7 apps. Windows 8 apps are found in the Windows Store. Windows 7 apps run on the desktop, and are what you are familiar with if you aren’t running the latest Windows build.
However, on the Surface Pro, we found their use frustrating:
Windows 7 apps, as defined above, are often a poor experience on the Surface Pro, as the screen is quite small; Windows 7 apps feel designed for more total screen space. Thus, you find yourself holding the tablet closer to your face than you otherwise might like. This isn’t comfortable. And in desktop mode, when the Surface is docked to its keyboard and kicked on its stand, you find yourself leaning in to make out just what is going on. Again, this isn’t comfortable.
Toss those applications onto a 55 or 82 inch display, and they in fact run perfectly.
That, however, is only a sliver of the experience. Windows 8 on a large touchscreen is simply a different operating system. The methods by which you interact with Windows 8 – swiping, sliding, and the like – are far more natural and fluid when you use your entire arm and hand, rather than a single finger.
Navigation becomes simpler, typing faster, and Live Tiles more useful. Windows 8 on the big screen is an improvement. Windows 8 on the big touch screen is something else all together.
A short note here, before we get into how Microsoft will use PPI displays to change computing in its favor: Appex. Appex is an application team under the Bing aegis that takes data from the search product, and translates it into application format.
If you have used the native finance application in Windows 8, for example, you have used Appex code. The team created several applications for Windows 8 that answered a number high-use search queries with dedicated applications. The team thinks of itself as a “North Star” for developers, according to the team’s Mira Lane.
I bring this up to make a point: the guiding lights of Microsoft’s app design crews are building applications that only look better the larger the display that they are splayed across. Fire up the Windows 8 weather app, and then imagine it filling an 82 inch wall display.
Windows 8 is designed for touch input. Microsoft will hem and haw about how great it is with standard mouse and board input, but they are either deluding themselves, or putting a brave face on it. Windows 8 is not itself in a non-touch environment, period.
As noted above, it becomes all the better on a larger display. [I could talk here about how well Kinect fits into this argument, but that is a post for another day.] However, you have to ask yourself who else is working on something like PPI displays.
Apple is a leader in touch, but its focus is on mobile devices; certainly iOS devices are stellar, but they are a focus on small displays, and content consumption. It’s a different space. Windows OEMs are building 24 inch and slightly larger all-in-ones, but they haven’t grown in size for years.
No one but Microsoft is working on 50 inch and larger displays, the software to take advantage of them, and peripherals – Kinect etc – to further extend them. Frankly, it’s a fresh form of computing unlike anything that you have used before. And, it is commercially available; Microsoft is currently “seeding” the displays to corporations, according to the company.
Currently the hottest companies are focusing on the smallest displays; Facebook’s work to bring its Web interface in line with its mobile applications is an example of this. In Redmond, however, Microsoft is making the opposite bet: that the bigger the screen the better.
If the company can get the price down on the PPI units, they will be coming to a wall near you.
Bill Gates Image Credit: Reddit/Imgur/Gates
Surface One Image Credit: Wikipedia
Surface Two Image Credit: Microsoft
Top Image Credit: Microsoft
Canon today announced the successful creation of a new full-frame CMOS sensor, designed exclusively for shooting video. The new sensor can capture full-HD video with extremely low noise in settings where it has been hard for traditional cameras to even operate at all in the past. The sensor will have immediate benefits for astrophotography and for use in security systems, but the developments here could eventually help improve the quality of professional and consumer cameras, too.
The new sensor from Canon features large pixels, each of which measure around 7.5x those found on the sensor Canon uses in its EOS-1DX DSLR. The larger pixels are paired with new noise reduction technologies that counteract the added noise effect of using larger pixels, which allows for full HD video shooting in environments as dark as an outdoor setting with just a crescent moon providing illumination. That means it can capture video with fully visible objects even in situations where the human eye would be hard-pressed to make out any definite shapes.
Canon has already built a prototype device to test out the new sensor, and captured things like footage from a room where only lit incense sticks provided any light, the Geminid meteor shower and other night sky scenes. The prototype would be most useful in the immediate future for astronomical and nature photography, medial research and security implementations, but through “further development,” Canon imagines similar CMOS sensor tech will also be able to greatly improve other more creative pursuits.
Low light video is already an impressive feature of full-frame DSLR cameras, but a sensor like this that takes things to the extreme could take nighttime video capture to a whole new level. Imagine greatly reducing the cost of filming at night, for instance, or, depending on how things progress, bringing similar improvements to mobile and smartphone shooters. We’re still a long way off from that, but this is a very impressive first step, as you can see from the sample video available on Canon’s own site.
The big enterprise companies are starting to put pressure on the startups in the growing field of data analytics. But the pressure is not as much related to innovation as it is to using their marketing muscle to build software stacks they can sell to retain existing customers.
Drawn to Scale Co-Founder Bradford Stephens sees this in his experiences, especially compared to last year when there were maybe three different companies marketing a Hadoop distribution. But just this week alone, EMC, Intel and HP all announced their own distributions.
Out of all this, we are hearing a lot of talk about why one comapny’s Hadoop distribution is so much better than a competitor’s. In our conversation, Stephens talks about the competition, the growing pressure on startups to do more than innovate and start bringing in business in face of the larger threats from the legacy vendors.
The latest rumors out of the DigiTimes (a hit-or-miss Chinese blog focused on Apple supply-chain news) claims that Apple is not working on a larger, cheaper version of the iPhone for this year, but rather that it will debut two new 4-inch models of the smartphone.
One is expected to be the iPhone 5S, an upgraded version of the iPhone 5, and the other is expected to be a lower-cost version of the iPhone, perhaps with a plastic cover as opposed to anodized aluminum.
But before we delve any further, let’s remember that this is simply the retraction of one rumor for another, and we know very little until Apple unveils its new products officially. However, it never hurt anyone to speculate a bit.
Let’s start with the original rumor of a larger, cheaper iPhone model, and work our way to the latest information we have.
According to DigiTimes, the original sources who leaked this information weren’t entirely wrong. Apparently this larger model is in the works, but won’t launch this year. It’s unclear if this larger phone will indeed be aimed at a cheaper demographic as originally reported.
The latest numbers show that Apple seems to be doing fine in the U.S., both in market share and general sales, but Android still continues to dominate in Europe and in emerging markets. If this bigger, cheaper iPhone is in fact intended for emerging nations, it would at the very least be in line with Apple’s goals to capture new smartphone adopters.
Since Android manufacturers have been slowly and steadily increasing screen size as Android’s market share grows, it’s fair to make the logical leap to a larger phone as well, though it seems way outside of Apple’s usual MO. Then again, the iPad mini seemed pretty unlikely for a long time, too.
Apple has one of the most profitable businesses in the industry, because it manages to make its older devices the perfect products for that same emerging market/new smartphone adopter demographic. Prices drop down to $100 on-contract in the States, and depending on the market, certain areas also get price cuts on older models. This keeps costs low for Apple, since it only develops and distributes one smartphone per year, while still adding some sort of low-to-high-end pricing model to the portfolio.
Building a new phone that would carve away from sales of older-gen iPhones doesn’t seem like Apple’s style. Plus, the cost of developing a phone with a larger screen is greater, so selling it for a lower price would cut into Apple’s profitability.
Oh, and let’s not forget how long it took for Apple to budge from the 3.5-inch screen size. I wouldn’t expect any more concessions on size anytime soon.
The word on the street is that Apple will introduce two new iPhone models this year instead of one. Both are said to feature 4-inch displays with in-cell touch-panel technology.
Apple has had a long history of offering a clean, uncluttered product portfolio.
Only recently did the iPad 4 creep up as a slight spec bump to the iPad 3, and the iPad mini was unveiled shortly after the iPhone 5. For the first time, Apple is diversifying its offerings a bit, and the reason for this may simply be the Lightning connector ecosystem rather than beefing up product offerings.
The iPhone, arguably Apple’s baby and most profitable product, will likely be the last to diversify. But, it’s not all that difficult to stuff iPhone 5 parts into a plastic shell instead of an anodized aluminum shell and sell it at a slightly lower price. It’s plausible, and even logical, but I wouldn’t say it’s something to count on.
As I said, Apple may be starting to diversify its lineups across different products, like the iPod and iPad, but that doesn’t mean the iPhone necessarily needs the same kind of diversified models.
The iPhone 4S sold better than the iPhone 4, despite it’s less-than-impressive feature introductions. The iPhone 5 sold better than the 4S. Is there really a good reason to do anything more than upgrade the iPhone 5′s processor, perhaps add a cool (though rarely used) feature that surprises and delights like Siri or Apple Maps, and send that thing to market as the 5S?
According to previous non-DigiTimes reports, if Apple is releasing a second iPhone model alongside the expected iPhone 5S, it will feature a plastic casing as opposed to the anodized aluminum on the iPhone 4 and/or Gorilla Glass on the iPhone 4/4S. The reports are conflicted, as some think the back will still be made of anodized aluminum with a plastic or rubberized bezels, whereas other rumors suggest that the entire back casing will be made of plastic. It might even come in different color flavors.
It’s hard for me to get on board with a plastic iPhone model, for reasons listed both above and below.
However, I wouldn’t completely discount the idea of colorful iPhone models. It seems to be working well for the iPod family of products, though remember that the iPod touch is still an aluminum (not plastic) device. Color flavors also make sense in a world where Apple has gone from being the black sheep to a massive, “baa”-ing herd of sheep.
With a closed ecosystem and only two color flavors, it makes sense to let Apple consumers try to differentiate themselves in some way, shape or form. Color seems like the most cost-effective way to let consumers have a little control over their devices without giving them any real control at all beyond choosing a color. It worked for white, right?
Carrying an Apple device is a status symbol. That symbol has depreciated in value a bit considering that Android flagships compete (and sometimes beat) the iPhone in features, specs, etc., and that iPhones are everywhere these days. A noticeable lack of plastic on Apple’s iDevices plays a big part in achieving this level of status.
Sure, the whole point of introducing a plastic iPhone is to lower the cost to consumers, but Apple is historically unwilling to sacrifice on its products for any reason, even if it means more users.
While I’ll humor notions of color options for the next iPhone, I highly doubt we’ll see any plastic in the coming months out of Cupertino.
Elizabeth Yin, co-founder of email ad network LaunchBit, said she’s hoping that email newsletters get better this year — and to make that happen, LaunchBit is launching a new service called the 2012 Email Newsletter Report Card.
“Email marketing has gotten out of control,” Yin told me via email. “My inbox is so cluttered with too many boring email newsletters, and I’m sure many other people face a similar problem. Some of these newsletters are ones that I subscribed to, and they’ve just gotten boring over time. Others are just flat-out spam.”
Companies that send newsletters can see how they compare to the larger industry by visiting the report card site and either using OAuth to connect to their email provider or providing an API key. (Yin said the report card works with major providers like MailChimp, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, MadMimi, AWeber, and SendGrid.) Then LaunchBit will provide a grade in a number of areas like open rate, clickthrough rate, and subscriber growth.
Now, you could see a lot of this data already (it’s being pulled using your login information, after all), but Yin said the real advantage here is the ability to understand your performance in a larger context (specifically the 300-million-plus newsletter sends that LaunchBit has analyzed). For example, she said she’s talked to some newsletter publishers who think that a 10 percent open rate is good, while others think that a 30 percent open rate is bad — they’re both wrong.
“One of the tricky things about reading analytics from within an email service provider is that often you don’t know whether your numbers are good or bad,” Yin said. “No email service provider gives you a grade or a ranking.”
The report card also provides tips on how to improve your grade and compares your content (the average number of words, images, and links in a newsletter) to the industry average. All this data is packaged into a nice infographic with a sharable URL — but the URL is randomly generated, and it’s hidden from Google, so you can keep it private if you want. You can see a sample report card here.
LaunchBit is backed by 500 Startups, Tony Hsieh’s Vegas TechFund, and others. It’s offering the email report card through NewsletterDirectory.co, its site where newsletter publishers can buy, sell, and trade newsletter ads.
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