Category: Products

Surface Pro showered with negative reviews

 

surface-pro

Microsoft’s tablet push seems to have hit yet another snag. The first reviews of Redmond’s new Surface Pro tablet are in and they are not good at all.

Envisioned as business friendly tablet with unparalleled legacy compatibility, the Surface Pro was supposed to challenge the iPad and high-end Android tablets by wooing traditionally conservative corporate customers to embrace a tried and tested platform, more or less.

At least that was the idea and on paper everything seemed right. The Surface Pro is powered by a proper x86 chip and it runs Windows 8, ensuring compatibility with legacy applications. It also has a full HD screen, physical keyboard and a pretty high price tag, which should be justified by its unique feature set. However, reviewers gave the Pro no quarter.

The Verge reckons it is still a better choice than the Surface RT, which really isn’t saying much since the RT doesn’t appear to be a good choice at all. However, consumers can get a decked out hybrid for about the same money, which led The Verge to put forth a simple question: who is it for? Oddly enough, the Apple loving New York Times was a bit more lenient, concluding that the Surface Pro could be the right machine for a lot of people.

“It strikes a spot on the size/weight/speed/software spectrum that no machine has ever struck. You can use this thing on a restaurant table without looking obnoxious (much),” wrote NYT’s David Pogue.

AllThingsD was not impressed, concluding that the Pro is too power hungry and too difficult to use in your lap. “It’s something of a tweener — a compromised tablet and a compromised laptop.”

Engadget’s Tim Stevens tried to be a bit more positive, but it soon ran out of kind things to say. “When trying to be productive, we wished we had a proper laptop and, when relaxing on the couch, we wished we had a more finger-friendly desktop interface,” he wrote.

Business Insider was blunt as usual, saying the Pro is just like the RT version, only heavier, thicker, more expensive and with half the battery life. “It looks like a tablet, but you can snap on an optional (but essential) keyboard cover that turns the Surface Pro into a pseudo-laptop. So why would anyone buy that?”

So what exactly was the Surface Pro’s undoing? Quite a few of things apparently, but most of them are not restricted to the Surface Pro – they apply to all upcoming Windows 8 tablets. On the hardware side all appears well, but vendors have to use power hungry x86 chips in all Windows 8 tablets, rather than frugal ARM SoCs employed by Apple and the Android alliance. The OS itself is bloated, hence a lot of speedy solid state storage is required to come up with a feasible Windows 8 tablet. Android and iOS are a lot leaner. Less efficiency also translates into limited battery life and bigger batteries, increasing production costs and bulk. Modern Android tablets and the iPad mini measure just seven to eight millimeters at the waistline and no Windows 8 tablet can come close to that yet.

Still, legacy app compatibility and unbeatable productivity features could easily outweigh the drawbacks? Well they could, in 2009. Countless developers have spent long hours working on productivity apps for iOS and Android over the past three years, so Redmond’s productivity edge has been blunted. BYOD is another trend that is forcing companies to rethink their approach and embrace cross-platform software solutions.

As far as legacy apps go, Windows 8 tablets seem like the obvious choice, but there are a few caveats. Windows 8 still lacks native, touch friendly apps. Most legacy apps can’t handle touchscreens very well, which means the traditional keyboard and touchpad combo is a must. With that in mind, there is no good reason for those in need of legacy support to get a tablet, as an Ultrabook or hybrid will do just fine.

Windows 8 tablets were cleverly marketed as a natural extension of ultraportable notebook lineups, so many vendors were (and still are) a lot more interested in Windows 8 tablets rather than Windows RT gear. Between Surface RT’s slow sales and the unflattering Surface Pro reviews, Redmond’s tablet strategy seems to be imploding faster than a North Korean uranium warhead.

 

 

Microsoft confuses on Azure

clouds3Software giant Microsoft is trying to encourage its channel to come up with more cloud offerings by cutting the price on its Azure licencing.

Microsoft lowered Windows Azure price on SQL Reporting Services, which is used for business intelligence-type applications.
The SQL Reporting Service is now measured at increments of 30 reports at $0.16 per hour. The previous charge was measured at $0.88 per hour in increments of 200 reports.

Writing in its bog Vole claims that “the smaller report increment will give customers better use of the service and lower effective price points”.

Like most of the postings that Microsoft has made on its cloud offerings this one is as clear as mud. That is one of the things that resellers have been moaning about when it comes to Azure. The licensing arrangements are so Byzantine you have to be Constantine the Great to understand how they all work.

Customers have to pay for the compute time, data storage and data access and the bandwidth of the data transferred out of the cloud. Those various services get priced per GB. Then there is a monthly fee rolled into the overall cost if an organization uses SQL Azure.

To make matters worse, at the end of last year, Vole started reducing the price for Windows Azure Storage (WAS), claiming that costs could be reduced by 28 percent. WAS offers geo-replication storage support, as well as lower cost “redundant storage”. The geo-replication storage service is turned on by default.

However according to RPC magazine the service cannot be that good because when there was a two-day Windows Azure service disruption in December, Vole did not bother using it. If it had, Microsoft would have lost customer data.

Microsoft is apparently planning a few price more cuts which look even more complex as they are discounts based on spending tiers.

All this is because of the effectiveness of Amazon, particularly Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon cut data transfer prices by as much as 83 percent. In addition, Amazon decreased some EC2 on-demand prices by up to 13 percent.

All up this is making the life of the reseller trying to sell Azure based offerings a little harder. Price cuts would make things a lot more competitive, if the original pricing structure was not so complex. Trying to sell such a complex structure to a client is a tough sell, particularly when the customer does not know what they are getting into.

Inkjet market going the way of the Dodo

Dodo-birdIt is starting to look like inkjets are going the way of the Dodo and the Rubik’s Cube.

Figures from Context show that all-in-one inkjet sales in the UK slid 11.8 percent by volume in 2012. That figure is better than the rest of the EU where all-in-one inkjet sales fell by 14 per cent.

Wireless versions of InkJets are doing slightly better because they are popular in homes and small offices because they can be located easily, connecting to multiple devices without cabling.

As you might expect, HP is still the leading vendor of wireless all-in-one inkjets, although Epson and Canon are doing a little better. However, the InkJet market has been looking shaky for a year.

In August Lexmark announced that it was pulling out of the market completely. Lexmark made its name on the “flog a cheap printer make your money back on the ink” model which was pioneered by HP. The fact that it left the market was seen as the beginning of the end. If Lexmark could kill off an entire business, unit sales numbers must have been dramatically bad.

Other companies have been seeing the writing on the wall for about three years. Consumer inkjet sales were proving so bad that it was better to try and flog the technology to corporate. Epson spent a fortune on its WorkForce high-end inkjets and did OK. HP, which has pitched its products to the business market for years, should have been doing fine too.

However, HP CEO Meg Whitman blamed part of the company’s recent and dismal earnings announcement as a steep decline in HP printer sales. She said that this lack of interest from consumers meant HP was going to de-emphasise products for lower-end customers. It seems business customers are no longer that interested either.

It is not quite so clear why the inkjet market has been so completely gutted. There have been moves to claim that the low end market and the consumer space have become completely paperless. Pictures which once would have been printed are now saved and shared across the net. Hard copy is less likely to be needed.

Some of that might be true, but the cost and quality of laser printing has also dropped. Cartridges require filling less often and are frequently cheaper than inkjets. Mostly it is because in the consumer market inkjet sales were tied to PC sales. Cheap inkjets were often sold as packages with PCs.

It also might indicate that there was a gradual realisation among consumers that inkjets really are a waste of cash in the long term. While the high-end inkjet technology was good, particularly for photographs, most of the great unwashed would not pay over £250 for a decent inkjet with all the sub-$100 models floating around. The cheap and nasty machines poisoned the market for the others.

Canon launches idiot proof small biz scanner

beanteddyCanon has launched a compact and versatile desktop scanner, which it claims will appeal to small offices and corporate departments seeking a cost-effective scanning product.

The Canon imageFORMULA DR-C120 is claimed to be easy to use and comes with a range of features that are said to help businesses scan and convert documents into existing workflows and to the cloud.

It has double sided colour scanning of up to 40ipm and a 50-sheet automatic document feeder, using the folio mode feature users are also said to be able to scan up to A3-sized documents, while there is also an option to add Canon’s A4 Flatbed 101 Scanner Unit accessory in case there is a need to scan books or other bound material.

According to the company, the device is simple to use. Customers simply need to press a button on the scanner or through the company’s CaptureOnTouch software.

The scanner driver software also incorporates a full auto mode function that automatically applies the optimum scan settings so that users don’t need to worry about configuring settings for different document types. It features plugins for cloud-based connectivity with Microsoft SharePoint, Evernote and Google Docs.

The imageFORMULA DR-C120 is more energy efficient when scanning, using less than half the power compared to its competitors. It also ships with
software, including CapturePerfect, eCopy PDF Pro, BizCard, OmniPage, and PaperPort.

It will be available through all Canon sales offices and selected disties across Europe this month.

Surface RT faces high return rates, low sell-through

surface-rtMicrosoft’s Surface RT tablet rollout came and went without much fanfare. Although Redmond’s first crack at the tablet market received relatively positive reviews, consumers seem unfazed and many of them are choosing to trade in their new tablets.

IHS iSuppli estimates that channel shipments totaled about 1.25 million units, but far fewer have been sold. In fact, as little as 680,000 to 750,000 units appear to have actually been sold.

Hard drive prices slowly returning to pre-flood levels

hddcloseupThe hard drive industry was hit hard by heavy flooding in Thailand back in 2011. Several plants, providing vital components for Seagate and Western Digital, temporarily went off line following the disaster. The shortage caused a massive surge in hard drive prices and its effects are still being felt.

Keen to provide a bit of perspective, Xbit Labs compiled an interesting chart of hard drive average selling prices, based on data from Seagate’s and Western Digital’s SEC filings over the last four years. Pre-flood average selling prices (ASPs) were between $45 and $55, but they soared to the $70 mark in Q4 2011. The recovery was painfully slow and although some rather optimistic analysts claimed the market would stabilize by mid-2012, we are still feeling the muddy aftertaste of Thai flood water.

According to the latest figures, average selling prices decreased to $62 – $63 per unit and they are still considerably higher than pre-flood prices. Prices are currently at 2008 levels, which means they are still too high for comfort. Of course, the effects of the global economic downturn and recent PC slump were not factored into 2008 pricing and ASPs should be significantly lower today, even after they are adjusted for inflation.
This is bad for consumers and system integrators alike, as they have to adjust their own margins to compensate for the higher prices.  What’s more, hard drive makers are probably not too keen to reduce their ASPs, as further cuts would negatively impact their margins while they are still reeling from flood-related losses. Western Digital CEO Stephen Milligan confirmed the company has more capacity, but it is throttling it to what it sees as demand, which is a polite way of saying WD is trying to keep prices artificially high.

It is even worse for end consumers looking to upgrade their PCs or get some cheap portable storage. Back in mid-2011, per-terabyte retail prices were at their lowest point, about €25 in European markets and a 2TB 3.5-inch drive cost roughly €50. By November 2011, per-terabyte prices hit €35 to €38 and they went on to peak at €50 to €55 by April 2012. Retail prices today are still significantly higher than in 2011 and they are in the €38 to €40 range across Europe.

Xbit also concluded that ASPs peaked in Q4 2011. In the meantime, SSD prices continued to tumble, but SSDs are still too costly to completely replace traditional hard drives. However, SSD shipments are expected to double in 2013, as they are the preferred storage option for Ultrabooks.

Hybrid drives are also entering the fray and they can be found in quite a few budget ultrathin notebooks, although their days in proper Ultrabooks are numbered. So far Seagate is the only hard drive maker to offer 2.5-inch hybrid drives in retail, but Western Digital is also entering the market and it showed off its first consumer friendly hybrid drives at CES.

Traditional hard drives are not going anywhere yet and it is evident that WD and Seagate have enough room to maintain a huge price advantage over SSDs, as they are artificially inflating prices. They can’t bridge the performance and power consumption gap, but by offering hybrid drives they can bring the best of both worlds to value-minded consumers.

 

New generation Intel ultrabooks set to drive SSD growth this year

ssdA new wave of low-cost and attractive Ultrabooks could help double shipments of solid-state drives (SSDs) this year, IHS iSuppli has said.

According to the analyst company’s Storage Space Market Brief worldwide SSD shipments are set to rise to 83 million units this year, up from 39 million in 2012.

Shipments are set to continue to rise 239 million units in 2016, which the company said amounted to around 40 percent of the size of the hard disk drive (HDD) market.

SSDs can serve as an alternative to hard disk drives in personal computers and work by storing data using NAND flash memory semiconductors rather than through traditional rotating media.

In its report, IHS looked at traditional solid state drives in both the consumer and enterprise segments, as well as cache SSDs that along with an HDD component make up a composite storage products such as those found in Intel’s Ultrabooks.

The company said that Ultrabooks had played a part in the slump of SSDs last year. It said that despite SSD shipments rising by 124 percent, growth  had fallen short of expectations because sales faltered – due to poor marketing, high prices and a lack of appealing features.

It said the future depended on the new generation of Ultrabooks, which if, as predicted, take off this year, will see the SSD market growing at robust levels.

Intel, which has been plagued by poor Ultrabook sales despite all of its bluster, is still trying to break into the market, introducing a new range loaded with Windows 8 and Haswell microprocessor architecture.

However, other factors are also involved when it comes to the SSD market, with IHS pointing out that average selling prices for NAND flash memory have come down, in the process establishing new price expectations.

The lower prices are attracting deal-seeking consumer enthusiasts, as well as an increasing number of PC manufacturers that are now more willing to install the once-costly drives into computers.

Over in the enterprise sector, SSD use is also growing as a result of product introductions from major vendors and startups.

Fixing Nexus supply problems is Google’s new priority

nexus4-ceThe botched Nexus 4 launch has already turned into a rather embarrassing episode for Google, but Larry Page is trying to reassure investors and analysts, although it could be too little, too late.

Page mentioned the problems during Google’s Q4 earnings report, but he did not say much and he did not provide any new details.

OLED and LCD patent pecking set to continue

fightLow profits within the LCD market born from cooperation between tech companies, will lead to a continuous spree of patent spats, an analyst has warned.

The comments from Bob Raikes, principal analyst  at Meko, come as yet another two companies went to war late last week over patent infringement claims. This time it was Samsung who went after its rival LG, filing a suit and seeking invalidation of its patents on LCDs.

However LG was not blameless in the spat, kicking off the fight last month when it raised  three patent infringement claims on LCD technologies against Samsung. In court documents filed last month in the Seoul Central District Court  LG pointed the finger at its enemy, claiming that the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 infringed on three different patents related to LG’s In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology.

This led Samsung to retaliate with a an intellectual property tribunal, where it moaned to the court that three LCD patents held by LG Display were invalid as a result of existing patents on the same technology.

The spat is just one of many to come from tech companies with patent infringement claims been thrown about left, right and centre.

Samsung has had its fair share, going to war with LG in the past as well as well publicised disputes with Apple in the US.

However, it seems the war within the LCD and OLED markets may continue.

“The period of the development of LCD has been a period of cooperation and
competition,” Mr Raikes told ChannelEye.

“Basically, everybody uses very similar technology, materials and equipment. As a
result the industry grew very quickly and costs came down very rapidly. However, nobody made any money.

“For OLED (and there are no other technologies currently on the horizon),
the companies are trying to make profit, so there is relatively little cooperation. They know this is going to be slower, but they don’t want a repeat of the financial mess that the LCD industry is in.

“LG and Samsung use different technology, materials and manufacturing
techniques and equipment. Sony & Panasonic & AUO are collaborating on parts
of the technology, but only parts. They use different materials and techniques to the two Koreans.

“All of them will fight over who is doing what to try to protect their uniqueness.”

Juniper Networks kisses the cloud and its partners, too

JuniperJuniper Networks has made bold promises with an announcement outlining changes to its Partner Advantage program.

The network company, which claims to support around 12,000 partners, has decided to take advantage of the growing cloud trend and incorporate these products into its services.

Of course, this isn’t a ground-breaking ploy, with companies moving to take advantage of the cloud and the revenue it offers for a good few years now, and it could be argued that the company has been a bit slow on the uptake.

However, Juniper is pushing ahead also announcing a range of new support, maintenance and professional partner services.

It says its Partner Advantage Cloud programme will depend on, rather than compete with, partners and help to bring “cloud-ready products to the market”. It also claims its strategy is to acknowledge partner cloud service and infrastructure capabilities and connect them with Juniper’s technology partnerships to create cloud-ready bundles that are easier for providers to deploy and manage. Whatever that means.

Partners in the programme will be given relevant tools and resources to drive cloud differentiation and growth.

The company has also outlined two specific areas: Partner Support Services and Partner Professional Services.

Juniper’s Partner Support Services will focus on support and maintenance services with partners treated to four new services troubleshooting workshops, including service provider routing, enterprise routing, enterprise switching and security, designed to help partners improve service delivery effectiveness, later this year.

Juniper’s Partner Professional Services is said to focus on validating partners’ professional services capabilities. We assume there will be a cost. Juniper didn’t say.

The programme also promises revenues and rewards to partners, although how hard they have to work, or how much they have to originally stump up for marketing and training to achieve this, is anyone’s guess.

US security company looks to UK encoders

mi5logo While there are fears that the UK government might be turning over its security to evil Chinese companies, it seems that there is less stress when it comes to using security outfits from the US.

US security company Insight is hoping to win shedloads of British government contracts by partnering with a UK data encryption company called DESlock.

Insight has been around since 1988 and provides hardware, software and services solutions to business and public sector organisations across the pond.

According to Luke Ambrose, UK Product Manager – Security Software, at Insight, his company is working hard to increase its channel on this side of the Atlantic.

Working with companies like DESlock gives Insight inroads into the lucrative UK government contracts as well as home grown products.

DESlock’s flagship data encryption product is Deslock+ which was launched in 2006. Desklock+ allows secure collaboration across complex workgroups and teams.

Kevin Percy, UK Business Development Manager for DESlock said that Insight can be very selective about its vendors and does not tend to pick any old riff raff.

He said it mades sense for Insight to be able to offer encryption as part of its portfolio, and give customers a fully integrated service.

There are a lot of advantages for the smaller British companies too. Insight has a fairly complicated business model which includes more services, expert technical resources, and a long supply chain which can give them access to services and products they might not normally get their paws on.

Insight made $5.3 billion in revenue last year and operated in 23 countries, serving clients in 191 countries worldwide.