Microsoft’s Lumia 950: the shape of things to come?

things to comePeter Bright of Ars Technica did us all a great favor by producing a detailed evaluation of Microsoft’s Lumia 950 Windows phone. I will leave to one side the review of the 950’s phone features, and zoom in on just one capability that Microsoft has debuted: using a new service called Continuum, the 950 can be used as the central module of a PC: you just connect its ‘dock’ to a TV or monitor, and connect to a mouse, touchpad, and/or keypad, and you are running full Windows apps.
As Bright states,

The connections can be wired, wireless, or a mix of the two. Wired connections use a new accessory, the Display Dock. This plugs into the USB type C port on the phone, and it offers three USB ports (which can be used for mice, keyboards, memory sticks, and maybe more) along with full size HDMI and DisplayPort ports for connecting a monitor. For wireless, there’s Bluetooth and Miracast. Either way, the concept is the same: on the big screen, you get a desktop of sorts, and can use this to run Universal Windows Apps. When run in Continuum’s “desktop,” they look and work much the same way that they do in regular desktop Windows 10. Keyboard shortcuts like ctrl-c and ctrl-v work, they contain buttons and other UI elements that are mouse-appropriate rather than finger-sized; it’s pretty neat. You can even alt-tab between running programs.
While connected in this way, the phone continues to run as normal. The big screen has a Start menu, and apps launched from there open on the big screen. The phone’s screen has its own Start menu, and apps launched from that open on the phone. This enables side-by-side multitasking. If you open the Continuum app on the phone, you can use the phone’s screen as a kind of touchpad to control the big screen, including support for two finger scrolling. Similarly, it can act as a keyboard if you don’t have a hardware keyboard available.

Rather than dwell on the specifics of this implementation of these ideas, I’d like to throw a few more conjectures in the hopper: Imagine a tablet/display device based on the premise that you’d be using the computing power of your smartphone rather than an additional motherboard in the display. After all, your smartphone is the device closest to you: the one you always have nearby. So these two devices can be easily configured so that the phone usings the display with a single button push. The phone display converts to a touchpad, and the display cover doubles as a keyboard under the control of the phone.
This configuration supports PC mode. But another configuration would allow the display to act as a touch sensitive tablet, and again, relying on the computing horsepower of the phone.
So, I predict that in the near future, we will see systems like this emerging from other vendors. I’m hoping for something from Apple like this.
One problem is that vendors would like us to buy multiple devices, in principle. However, a Continuum-inspired future is coming.
Imagine going to work with your phone, and display/keyboard. You take an available desk, and connect to the 34″ Dell curved ultrawide monitor there, putting your phone into Mac OS X mode, and also available as touchpad. Your files are all accessible via Google Drive, and your keyboard is the cover of the tablet/display, which you configure to act as a second monitor. Later in the day you head out for a business trip, and a few hours later, when you get to the hotel you set up a similar configuration using the monitor on the desk there. Later, you head for bed, putting the phone on the nightstand, and running the display in iOS mode, catching up on the news in Flipboard.
This is just over the horizon, I bet.
Paradoxically, getting tablets to work this way with phones will sell more of them, although they will cost less.
Note also that Microsoft is the first to get close to a universal OS for PC and phone. Apple’s division between OS X and iOS and Google’s split between Chrome and Android are starting to look like a mess waiting to be cleaned up, not a foundational law of the universe.

When IoT creates a new service

One of the challenges of IoT is figuring out the value of the data coming from so many connected devices. In industrial settings, there are frameworks for assessing the value of data. Does it improve operational efficiency, allow for preventative maintenance, or is it useful for asset tracking?
But increasingly I wonder if other new and creative uses can be mined from that data.
I spent some time earlier this year with executives from ThingWorx, a leading software platform provider for the industrial IoT. ThingWorx serves diverse industries including life sciences, medical devices, mining, smart grid, and water infrastructure. We looked at a number of industrial use cases, including the story of JoyGlobal.
Joy Mining provides products and services for the mining of coal, copper, iron, oil sands and other mineral resources. Initially the company used ThingWorx’s IoT solution to tackle typical industrial problems like preventative maintenance that are important in reducing downtime as well as some other innovations like altering the revenue model by moving from paying per product to paying per tonnage of earth mined.
The company also added hundreds of sensors to mining equipment so that the underground equipment could be managed from above ground. We see this as a continual theme in the mineral resources industry where there’s a premium on remote control of hard to reach assets as well as a shortage of qualified service technicians whose time must be optimized. Operators only have to be deployed when there’s an actual equipment failure that must be addressed.
All of this is interesting from an IoT perspective but what was truly creative was what JoyGlobal did next. They allowed customers of their mining equipment to opt into providing all of their sensor data to JoyGlobal. This data provides a picture of how efficient a given mining company’s operation is at extracting minerals.
In exchange JoyGlobal benchmarked that data against an anonymized set of data from across the industry to let its customers know how they were stacking up against competitors using the same mining equipment. Customers could compare the exact yield they were getting from a piece of mining equipment versus other companies using the same equipment.
I’ve written previously about benchmarking as a business model in IoT. Agtech startup Farmlink, which raised a healthy $40 million last summer, has built its business around benchmarking agricultural fields to a granularity of 150 square feet. Farmers are able to see not just how their farms compare to neighboring farms but can also assess productivity across their own farm.
Benchmarking isn’t a direct boost to operational efficiency but it’s an example of how analytics and intelligence inform managers precisely how efficiently their machinery is working. And it invariably leads to important competitive questions like, if the farm down the road or the mining machinery across the globe are performing at a certain yield, why isn’t my operation performing at that level? This line of inquiry tends to push managers to pinpoint areas where operations can be improved.
For JoyGlobal, adding benchmarking as a service to their existing line of mining machinery services has opened up a potential new line of revenue and perhaps even a new business service. Interestingly, JoyGlobal is similar to Farmlink in that both had other revenue streams related to either selling or renting hardware. Farmlink rents combines, which do large scale harvesting. But by adding connectivity to those combines to collect data regarding yield, Farmlink built an entirely different revenue model. In both of these situations, the existing machinery was in the hands of customers. It was exploring the value of that data and adding benchmarking that created new value.
All of this begs the question: What other industries where there is already significant machinery deployed across a sector could benefit from benchmarking services? For now, I’d bet we might see more of this type of strategy in machinery involved in physical type actions like power turbines or construction. But as we’re seeing, once the machinery is already deployed and connected, there exist real possibilities of building new business services from the collected data.

The new Windows 10 preview is ready and free for intrepid testers

If you want to try out the slick new Windows 10 bits unveiled earlier this week, you’re in luck: Microsoft just pushed out the January version of its technical preview for desktops, complete with a few of the cool features Microsoft promised.

You can grab it by signing up for Windows Insider, a relatively new program for Windows beta testing, here. Windows Insider is free to sign up for, and when Windows 10 is officially launched, the consumer-friendly update will be free for the first year.

Beware — the technical preview isn’t for rookies. You shouldn’t install it on any machine you need to do work on. As Microsoft’s Windows Insider site puts it: “If, however, you think an ISO is some kind of yoga pose, this program may not be right for you.”

This build includes new Cortana integration into the start bar, as well as Continuum, a feature that improves the experience of switching from tablet mode to desktop mode on hybrid computers like Microsoft Surface. Not everything that will eventually end up in Windows 10 is included in this beta build. It lacks Microsoft’s new Spartan browser, for example. Although the build includes the new Xbox app, it doesn’t yet have the ability for an Xbox One to stream games directly to Windows 10 computers.

This build is only for desktops, and we still don’t know exactly when we’ll see the Windows 10 preview for phones. Microsoft promised it in February, so if you’re waiting on it you might as well sign up for Windows Insider now and download the Phone Insider app.