In Surface Pro 3, no cover for the touch cover

Like its predecessors, the Surface Pro 3 can accommodate type covers in a range of hues. Unlike its predecessor, though, Microsoft has not made it compatible with the Touch Cover, once the pride of its keyboard slimming prowess. There are at least two reasons for this. First, while the Touch Cover continued to retain an advantage over the ever-slimming Type Cover, the marginal advantage was starting to shrink given the superior tactile experience of its more expensive alternative.

The other, more important reason is tied to the “laptopification” of Surface. Of course, Microsoft has always maintained that Surface — and indeed many other Windows portables — was both lapto and tablet. But it’s subtly refined that positioning over time to acknowledge more explicitly that the classifications don’t necessarily apply to the same degree. Surface Pro 3 — with its larger screen and better stability — is evidence of this. And so, with the emphasis on laptop-like productivity, it makes more sense to have a tactile keyboard despite the impressive

Is the Touch Cover dead? Microsoft might continue to keep it around as an option if the Surface RT/2 should re-Surface, in which case  bundling it in would provide further differentiation. A significant portion of buyers would probably upgrade anyway.


iOS 8’s split screens and Microsoft’s split identity

At 9to5 Mac, Mark Gurman reports that Apple may be adding some kind of multitasking (really simultaneous app display) to iOS 8, at least on the iPad; LG and Samsung have added the capability to their Android smartphones in addition to tablets, at least for some apps. Then again, maybe it won’t. The article includes the de rigueur rumor hedge:

…iPad split-screen multitasking… could be pushed back to iOS 8.1 or cancelled altogether…

…or never exist at all.

The article also includes a brief concept video by Sam Beckett showing how adding an app could be added into Apple’s current app-switching user interface. Thera are some nice elements to it, but overall  it’s closer to the tacked-on approach of LG and Samsung and clunky compared to Microsoft’s approach.

One aspect of the rumor that seems odd is that the feature would be reserved for the larger iPad. After the long wait to get a Retina display on the iPad mini and the price it commands, it seems incongruous that Apple would reserve such a feature only for the larger iPad. After all, this has at least as much to do with resolution as screen size.

iOS gaining access to multiple screens would chip away at another advantage the Mac has versus the iPad, but the article (which appears on a site with “Mac” in its name) ignores the feature in that context. (Maybe it was written outside the hours of 9 to 5.)

Rather, starting with the headline, it discusses the feature answering a feature of Microsoft Surface. But split-screen app display is not actually a feature of Surface per se: it’s a feature of Windows and not even just Windows tablets. As the article points out, it’s true that Microsoft has cited multiple app display as an advantage of Surface versus the iPad in TV commercials, but again the article down’t mention Windows once.

That split-screen app display has been so closely associated with Surface when it’s actually a Windows feature merits kudos to the Surface team, or shame on the Windows team. or both.

iLuv’s Selfy puts a great name on the meme of the moment

I’ve long been a fan of functional cases and covers (although sometimes they can be a little too integrated to the product if they are an accessory). Differentiation is particularly important in the oversaturated market for iPhone cases, that can now be had for the price of some MakerBot filament. So kudos to iLuv for getting the brand name Selfy — Hollywood’s current infatuation — for its camera with integrated remote shutter. The product hearkens back to the iPhone case with integrated Bluetooth headset that was offered by MoGo. The selfie is starting to move into the limelight with smartphones like the HTC One M8 starting to give a bit more love (and resolution) to the front-facing camera. Ultimately, though, the remote shutter is likely going to wind up on one of those Bluetooth key chain devices along with a key finder and other functions.

Google Now expands into retail product availability alerts

Chris Welch at The Verge reports that Google Now will now alert you if a product you’ve shopped for online is available at a nearby store, continuing the proactive features walk along the tightrope between helpfulness and creepiness. The key challenge with this feature is that there often isn’t a loop closed when a product is actually acquired (as anyone who has shopped for something on Amazon and then seen an endless barrage of ads for that item even after it’s been purchased). However, Google has implemented the feature in a smarter way than apps such as RetailMeNot that bombard you with messages about a whole bunch of stores selling stuff that may have no relevance to you.

Making proactive suggestions based on you and your behavior is the essence of Google Now. If you consider it an invasion of privacy or creepy, simply turn it off; there are other ways to get the weather. But over time, I suspect that more people will find its utility outweighs its imposition.

What’s up, Docs? Negative reviews.

Google recently decided to split up the components of its Google Drive iOS app into separate Drive, Docs and Sheets apps. Google Drive no longer has any editing features. It’s another chapter in the continuing saga of Google’s mobile productivity story that has included mobile Web sites and QuickOffice.

The new apps are generally receiving poor reviews — one and two stars. It’s true that they don’t provide much new functionality beyond what was found in the Google Drive app. But there is one new killer feature: offline editing. Mostly, people are whining because they must now deal with three apps rather than one despite the virtually seamless interaction between Drive and the new productivity apps. It’s unfortunate that an app should be so saddled for reasons that have little to do with the app itself.

The reaction is, of course, shortsighted.  Google is simply doing what Apple and Microsoft already do as a matter of course, which is separating its cloud storage interface from its cloud productivity app interface. And all in all, it’s a pretty compelling alternative to what the competition offers if one cares about value and cross-platform compatibility (within Google’s formats). Moreover and more importantly, it bodes well for future development of the word processor and spreadsheet. One overdue one in the Google Docs app: word count.

Aereo and the chilling effect

It’s not unusual for both sides to kick up the rhetoric during a contentious court case. Such has been the case with Aereo, which will soon defend its right to continue offering its service before the U.S. Supreme Court. Should it win, broadcasters such as CBS and Fox have vowed that they will take their programming off the air and distribute only through cable, That’s a tantalizing option for those who would like to see such prime spectrum reallocated to wireless data.

A defeat for Aereo would be a loss for consumers, but the chilling effect would be limited. Aereo’s service, of course, applies only to broadcast television and the specific legal issue revolves around the legality of having a remote antenna sending OTA broadcasting over broadband. When one considers the future of television, it seems pretty certain that OTA will give way to native IP streaming of some sort. Consumers want to hold on to as much right to view content as they see fit. But if one wants the functionality of Aereo, there are marketplace alternatives that don’t face such legal challenges.

HTC One’s Dot View is a case of love quickly lost

The new HTC One has a lovely profile and design, but the latest version of Sense remains as polarizing as ever. In almost every case, one can see why HTC chose to implement what it implemented, and the narrower font can be helpful, but rarely is it better and in some cases it’s worse. BlinkFeed isn’t a bad app, but does it really need to be one of the home screens?

The signature accessory for the smartphone is the HTC Dot View which, from a casual look at its operation, might lead one to believe is loaded with LEDs. It’s not and is a surprisingly low-tech affair like the many flat cases for the Galaxy handsets and from third parties for the iPhone. The main problem with the case is that it fails to wrap tightly around the One’s curved back, making the grip of the phone with its screen exposed a bit more awkward that it should be. Of course, you could also let the flap dangle, but that can also be awkward. As for the Dot View display, the functionality is offered via the One’s naked display and in better graphic quality.

Amazon not Fired up about entering the console race

Over at Engadget, Ben Gilbert notes that Amazon isn’t trying to create a console with its svelte new Fire TV. Indeed, despite long-running proclamations by the Xbox team about how much non-gaming applications account for the console’s usage , roughly 80 percent of a console’s value proposition comes down to its gaming. The remainder down to entertainment, mostly broadband video. Why? Because it’s silly to pay $400 for a box that can deliver the same (or less) broadband content than an Apple TV or Roku that costs a quarter of the price or less.

The Fire TV, of course, hits that lower price, but with more impressive specs, and Amazon is putting that extra horsepower to work on games. Indeed, the Fire TV controller is a separate purchase, which helps the retailer create a higher-value microconsole proposition than entrants such as the crowddfunded OUYA (now retreating from hardware) and GameStick. But the real advantage to the positioning is that Amazon gets to mitigate its risk in the unproven territory of casual gaming TV boxes, a frontier that Roku had set out to conquer with the otherwise successful Roku 3. That said, Amazon has assets here that Roku never had and continues to lack.

No, the Fire TV is not a console. In fact, it turns the relative games-video value proposition of a console upside down.

The Xperia Z2: Sony’s prelude to progress

The release of the new HTC One has served as a reminder of the company’s struggles to make market headway despite nearly universally praised designs.

But there is another company struggling with that predicament that has a long history to the contrary: Sony. Its XPERIA handsets are solid, attractive, have gorgeous displays, great cameras and were water-resistant before it was cool. The company continued its flagship back at MWC with the XPERIA Z2, one of the first handsets to include Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology.

That Sony, which has a great tradition of battery technology including rapid charging, adopted the technology is a significant endorsement of its value. The company is still not pushing hard in the U.S. – probably a wise move considering its restructuring and the highly competitive environment. However, should it change its mind as it ramps up to a six-month release cycle, it would be coming in with a strong offering.

iWork updates are no April Fools’ joke

The release of Office for iPad motivated me to take a second look at iWork. Today I downloaded Numbers, which was the only of the three that I hadn’t previously used. I grabbed Numbers because I needed to work with a multisheet spreadsheet and most of the inexpensive and free integrated iPad suites I tried couldn’t handle it. Documents To Go, an old favorite, was particularly disappointing since it crashed. But Numbers handled it beautifully. And then, not a few hours after I downloaded Numbers, Apple updated the entire suite to Version 2.2 with significant improvements including, for example, the ability for Keynote to export to PowerPoint .pptx format. Touche!

How good is iWork compared to Office for iPad? Really good, even at the old price of $30 for the suite So good, in fact, that Microsoft isn’t even really trying to compete directly. Office for iPad is really well done and surely a solid preview of what lies ahead for Windows, but so much of the value of the subscription really makes sense only if you’re in the Microsoft ecosystem. Kudos to Microsoft for writing a great set of applications for the iPad while tackling its monetization issue, but it sure isn’t going to expand its footprint meaningfully off its home turf.