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.

Good BlackBerry Picking: BlackBerry Acquires Good Technology

BlackBerry Limited (NASDAQ: BBRY; TSX: BB) announced this morning that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Good Technology for $425 million in cash. This move immediately strengthens the reinvented BlackBerry’s position as a provider of cross-platform mobile security services for enterprises. For Good, this acquisition was a logical, inevitable exit.

Back in the early days of enterprise mobility, BlackBerry ruled the market with its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) offerings. However, those products were tied to the company’s hardware offerings. When BlackBerry’s share of the mobile phone market plummeted after the introduction of the iPhone and Android-based handsets, demand for BES and BBM also took a big hit, despite their technical strength.
Recently, BlackBerry has been reinventing itself as a provider of cross-platform mobile security services for enterprises. While the company has demonstrated some success in executing on that position, the market has remained skeptical. As Fortune’s Jeff Reeve’s pointed out this morning, BlackBerry is unprofitable with a lot of negativity priced into its stock. The company is currently valued at less than 1.3 times next year’s sales and only slightly above the cash on its books.
Clearly, BlackBerry needed to do something to bolster the credibility of its strategic market positioning. Today’s acquisition of Good Technology immediately strengthens both BlackBerry’s technical ability and street cred as a provider of cross-platform mobile security services for enterprises. Good’s portfolio of Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) offerings was one of the best available and highly complementary to BlackBerry’s, as noted in the latter’s press release:

“Good has expertise in multi-OS management with 64 percent of activations from iOS devices, followed by a broad Android and Windows customer base. This experience combined with BlackBerry’s strength in BlackBerry 10 and Android management – including Samsung KNOX-enabled devices – will provide customers with increased choice for securely deploying any leading operating system in their organization.”

For Good Technology, this acquisition was a logical, if not inevitable, exit. As I wrote in A market overview of the mobile content management landscape  (summary only; subscription required for full text) just over a year ago,

“Many platform vendors have already acquired MDM and MAM capabilities, so the viability of the numerous, remaining pure-play vendors of those technologies looks increasingly dim. Instead, future acquisitions by platform vendors are more likely to echo VMware’s recent (January 2014) purchase of AirWatch and its well-rounded suite of EMM technologies. MobileIron launched a successful IPO earlier this month and looks to remain independent for the time being. Good Technologies recently filed its own IPO registration paperwork but could be acquired either before or after the actual IPO.”

And so it is. MobileIron remains the last major independent EMM vendor standing and Good has been acquired. It seems that Good really had little choice. They were $24 million in debt when their filed their S-1 (16 months ago) and never completed the intended IPO. It is very likely that they continued to lose money since then. According to CrunchBase, Good had taken on an undisclosed amount of secondary market funding a month after the S-1 filing and received an $80M private equity investment in September, 2014.  It’s highly likely that a combination of slowing revenue growth and a non-existent road to profitability led Good’s management and investors to take BlackBerry’s acquisition offer.
The looming question is will its newly-expanded portfolio of enterprise mobile security capabilities be enough for BlackBerry to accelerate its turnaround? Investors are reacting positively to the news. BlackBerry’s stock is currently up 1.54% while the broader NASDAQ is down -1.04%. Of course, only time will tell. Success will depend on how quickly BlackBerry can integrate Good’s technology into its own and how well they can sell the combined platform.

What’s the state of the mobile workplace?

Workers spend less than half their time at the traditional corporate headquarters, and as companies transition to the cloud, what’s HQ for?

We are living in a country where 71 percent of adult consumers are sleeping with their cell phones and nearly half say they couldn’t go a day without them. We are increasingly connected to the world, and our work, through our mobile devices.

No surprise then to learn that people spend only half their time at the traditional corporate headquarters. Knoll and Unwired recently surveyed those charged with facilities and real estate of 46 multinational companies and found that workers spend only 49 percent of their time in the office, while the rest of their work time takes place at home, peripheral offices, client sites, or public spaces, like coffee shops, or hotel lobbies.

The average desk is in use only 47 percent of the working day, so many companies have given up on dedicated desks, or even the idea that there should be enough desks for all workers. This has led to reductions of up to 30 percent in office space, but more importantly, a rethinking of how to use that space. More space is dedicated now to conference rooms and coworking areas, as workers treat the office more as a place for interaction than for solo desk time.

As the report’s authors state, “Companies are also making an increased commitment to “soft” collaboration areas like “all hands” spaces for gatherings and town halls and new hospitality approaches such as inviting work cafés. Research shows these investments are both successful and popular. Firms report that providing great workspaces is recognized by the workforce and generates a cultural shift causing people to want to be in the office. And our survey results concur: 54 percent of respondents report a tighter alignment between workplace culture and corporate vision.”

Corporate vision has shifted to include an increasingly mobile workforce, where mobility is now a given, not a perk, although there is still resistance in some regions — like Asia — where the cultural norms still dictate that employees should start and end the day at the office. If the trends elsewhere are an indicator, that will soon change.

As companies make the transition to cloud computing, and shut down in house server farms, buildings lose another occupant. Computer rooms — and sometimes entire floors of office buildings — are freed up, and along with them the infrastructure to house them, too. Cooling and power systems, fire systems and electrical and wiring systems are all scaled down dramatically.

And workers are increasingly making personal decisions about mobile devices, to the point that having a desktop computer becomes optional, or irrelevant. The mobile modern sales rep is much more likely to want apps that run on a mobile device that is always nearby — and the first thing picked up in the morning — than some old-time app on a desktop in the office. Even if she still had a desk, which she doesn’t.

As offices are becoming more of a place to meet and to interact with others, they have to become more flexible. There is a growing need for more collaboration space: meeting rooms, café-style work areas, alcoves suited to two or three people coworking, and so on. And given the reality that people are carrying one or more mobile devices at all times, these work spaces need charging stations. Kind of like airports, with a large number of power-hungry transients passing through all the time.

And the biggest issue of these crowded and interactive spaces is noise. Companies are moving past the ‘headphones are the new wall’ approach, and now are communicating rules about where noise is encouraged or discouraged. As the researchers wrote, “Businesses may also set some ground rules, to segregate noisy and quieter work tasks, for example, or to balance public and private space.”

The holy grail is creating an environment where a higher degree of innovation is sparked by chance encounters, perhaps on a stairway. “Creating more interesting footfall can engineer chance encounters, designing hubs for people to meet and work together. In the UK, for example, the BBC uses internal staircases to encourage intra- and interdepartmental collaboration. “It’s no more complicated than that,” says Chris Kane, head of corporate real estate, BBC, “and technology makes it even better as the need to be tethered has gone away for most people.”

The untethered worker has led to a new workplace — one that’s more crowded and noisier — but one that may lead in the end to greater innovation and flexibility.

Cross-posted at Power More.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell’s thought leadership site Power More. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

Handle is another innovative take on email, calendar, and tasks

Email is undergoing a renaissance, of sorts. Perhaps the oldest social tool, email has the hardiness of the cockroach, and now is rebounding due to the rise of mobile.

Part of that renaissance is the stream of innovative companies seeking to leverage the gestural world of mobile devices. One new example is Handle (, which blends together email, calendar, and to dos into one intuitive package, and also supports desktop capabilities, at least on Chrome. I have also recently reviewed Microsoft’s Outlook for iOS (see The best Gmail client is Outlook? Really?), another innovative product.

iOS Version

Let’s start with the mobile side, with email. Here’s my inbox, and I’ve swept right to left on an email. opening options for the handling the email, synced with my Gmail account.

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More interesting perhaps is sweeping left to right, which opens up the ability to turn the email into a to do, a calendar event, or attach a reminder so I might return and handle the email later on.

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Here’s the reminder options:

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Once emails are associated with a task, they can be deleted, or completed. Here I am deleting one from the project Next Steps, that I had defined earlier. Note this only deletes the task, not the email.

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Here I am editing a to do, adding it to the Next Steps project.

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Here I am completing a to do:

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And here’s the calendar view, with an event that was created from an email. Note that these actions are all synced with my Google account, and with the calendar of my choice.

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The Web Version

The web and mobile versions can be synced, but requires Dropbox as the conduit. That worked fine for me, but others might have to start from scratch with Dropbox, a possible headache.

Handle on Chrome has two modes. When you are on Gmail and you click the menu bar icon (after installing the extension), Handle opens right in the window with Gmail. Then, once you’ve selected an email, and you click on the ‘+’ icon to create a to do, Handle links the to do to the email, just as on the mobile client:

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On any other webpage, Handle simply opens a new window where you can create to dos, and see your projects, and calendar events. There is no smart integration with Google Calendar. There is a rapid create tasks option, where you type todos one by one in a post field at the foot of the window.

The Bottom Line

I find that a great deal of my to dos and events are precipitated by email traffic, which is a strong case for Handle or tools like it. In my personal case, I wind up creating a large number of to dos based on webpages other than email — for example, a news story, or a vendor’s web site — a feature supported in Todoist which is my task management tool of choice, for this and other reasons (see Todoist, the small-and-simple task management tool, now supports task sharing with Todoist Next, and Small pieces, even more loosely joined). As a result of that missing feature, I couldn’t switch to using Handle instead of Todoist. Note that Todoist also supports Gmail integration, although not on my iPhone.

Nonetheless, if The Handle folks added that general ‘to do from a webpage’ support, I would be very, very tempted to switch, since I find myself working on my iPhone 6+ much more than I ever did on earlier iPhones.

Nadella’s first year shows he’s staying ahead of the cloud/mobile wave

Satya Nadella has had a good first year as Microsoft CEO, pushing hard on his bet on a ‘mobile first, cloud first’ strategy.

Quarterly (Q2 2015)  results for the company were reported a week ago, and while the consumer side of the business has hit headwinds, the future of the business — cloud computing — posted an annualized run rate of $5.5 billion, from Office 365, Azure, and Dynamic CRM Online products.

Top line revenue for the quarter grew to $26.47 billion from $24.52 billion a year earlier. Computer and gaming hardware sales fell 11% to $4 billion, with lowered Xbox sales. Commercial licensing revenue dropped 2%, mostly because of shrinking sales of Office commercial.

The important thing is that the transition to a cloud first footing for the business is proceeding at a pace that will allow Microsoft to stay ahead of the wave. Yes, the traditional Windows and Office revenue stream is falling, but the company’s future is cloud and mobile software. Even Surface contributed $1.1 billion.

Nadella has made a number of acquisitions recently, like the email app Acompli, now rebranded as Outlook for iOS (see The best Gmail client is Outlook? Really?), and the rumored acquisition of Sunrise, the popular calendar app (see Microsoft reported to acquire calendar app Sunrise).

Just as important is the push to roll out mobile apps on iOS and Android. Dan Frommer at Quartz pulled this chart together using data from AppAnnie showing Microsoft app releases by year:


The spike in ’14 is due to Nadella’s drive to get Microsoft technology on iOS and Android, and he’s succeeding. We’ll have to see how Microsoft’s email and Office war with Google pans out — and with Amazon now playing a spoiler role with its Workmail (see Amazon launches WorkMail to compete with Microsoft and Google), but Nadella is making a strong push to hold onto the hundreds of millions of enterprise customers that use his products daily, and to stay ahead on that mobile/cloud transition, which is going faster than most have predicted.

Steve Ballmer talks about what’s on his customer’s mind

At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference yesterday, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, gave a keynote, and after a preamble thanking everyone for coming and talking about products that had been rolled out, he talked about what the customer is thinking about:

So what is on our customer’s mind? These are the four big trends that I think in particular our IT customers, but businesses in general, want to speak with us about every day. They come to us and they say, what about the cloud? They say it to you. They say it to us. They say, hey, I hear about big data, or I understand big data, or I’m afraid I’m missing out on big data, how are you going to help me get there, they’ll say to the two of us.
Social, part of the consumerization theme of the day is how do we apply techniques and software services that people get to know in their personal lives, how do we apply those to enable business productivity? And we’re going to show you a lot today of what we’re doing with social so that people can come together in what I would call human ways to do superhuman tasks at their work.
And last, but certainly not least, is mobility. I get to do something that the rest of you don’t do, because I sit on the stage, I get to count the number of mobile devices that go up for pictures and various other things during my speech. We’re at about 25 percent would be my gauge this year. I’m sure everybody has got a mobile device with them, but what it says is that the range of applications of mobility just continues to increase. And I want you to really understand just how rich our mobile offering has become, both in terms of the Windows devices that you can use as part of your solution, and the work that we are doing to support some non-Windows devices. So let me dive into each of these in turn.

I will skip much of his talk, and pull only a few one-liners out, that show where Microsoft is headed, like this:

Through your good work our Office 365 service has literally exploded. For the last few years we were saying SharePoint was the No. 1 fastest growing product at Microsoft. Then it was Lync, the No. 1 fastest growing product at Microsoft. Through your good work it’s Office 365. And what all of that means is our mutual customers are ready for the cloud, and our product line is ready for the cloud. People want full, familiar, world-class productivity tools in the cloud.

And what about social? He continued,

Social. Some people think social is one product. I don’t. Social is a way of working. How do four of us come together and collaborate on a project? How do we collaborate if we work in the same company? How do we collaborate if we work in different companies? How do I reach you if you are in my customer base and I want to do a seminar for you? Or I want to put on and have an event where we communicate real time? All of these are social activities that are involved in business. So it’s people to people, it’s people to businesses, it’s employees to employees, it’s all of the constituents, consumers, employees, customers, and partners. How do you bring them together naturally? Sometimes you want to do that on a real-time basis, and sometimes you want to be able to do that in a way in which people can participate asynchronously.
I’m glad to have 15,000 people here today, but many more people will watch the video of this section in our partner community around the world. And it’s part of, if you will, the social infrastructure, letting people participate the way they want when they want. And we’ve woven this into the fabric of everything we do. Windows devices come from the get-go with integrated communications and social capabilities like Skype. Skype and Lync are being brought together to allow the consumer and the businessperson to interact together in real time.
We continue to push forward in Outlook, adding more social capabilities directly into the e-mail client that is the base station from which most of us would communicate with other people. We acquired Yammer over a year ago, and you’ll see the way we’re using Yammer both inside companies and now enabling it to stretch between companies and their partners to involve real-time communication that feels very much like what somebody would do on Twitter or Facebook, but in a productivity context. We continue to push SharePoint social capabilities forward, and even in our Dynamics product line, even when we’re talking about line of business process, it is very important to collect the information from the social realm, and to be able to let people in formal line of business processes actually connect to social environments.

The takeaways:

  1. Azure is the big bet in cloud, and they built it to support Office 365 and Bing, and now they’re opening it to others as they make the move to the cloud. Microsoft was late to this game, but they are working hard to catch up.
  2. Office 365 is the fastest growing product at Microsoft, at the present.
  3. Social is not a single product in Microsoft’s plans: it is a way of working.
  4. Outlook will become more of a social tool, and not just an email platform.
  5. Yammer used within and across companies, adopting social metaphors from Twitter and Facebook for the ‘productivity context’.

What went unsaid?

  1. The impending reorganization — scheduled for tomorrow, apparently — was not mentioned.
  2. Windows and windows devices were touched upon, but of course he didn’t focus on the poor sales of Microsoft’s phones and tablet. He did point out that Microsoft is now agnostic, and is rolling out apps on other devices.

Thursday we’ll see how what is on his customer’s mind is aligned with the new Microsoft organization. Will it have obvious analogs to Cloud, Big Data, Social, Mobility?

RIM offers device management for iOS and Android

If you can’t beat iOS and Android devices in the market, you might as well secure them. That seems to be the stance of RIM, which is launching a device-management and security service for IT departments called Mobile Fusion that builds off its BlackBerry Enterprise Servers.

Digital Filing Service OfficeDrop Now on Android

OfficeDrop, an application for scanning, accessing and sharing paper and digital files via the cloud has been rolling out onto a variety of platforms. OfficeDrop Paper-to-Go app for Android is now available, in addition to applications for Mac, PC and iPad.

Tedious Twitter For BlackBerry Beta Needs Work

The application works and feels like Facebook for BlackBerry; not necessarily a good thing, as the app takes too much effort. Most BlackBerry Twitter applications require patience, but Twitter for BlackBerry is the worst. Much of the time, the screen remains blank while the data loads.