Topic: Operating systems
This feels more like a confirmation of how I think many of us were already thinking about Microsoft’s approach to Windows 10 Mobile, but we do now have official confirmation now from one of the erstwhile champions of Windows Phone and Microsoft’s smartphone hardware that the platform is essentially dead in terms of future development. Yes, there are companies that have deployed devices on the platform, and Microsoft will support them, but that’s about it. Notably, Joe Belfiore, an exec in the Windows team and for quite some time the face of Windows on mobile devices, says he’s now using an Android device. This outcome has seemed inevitable for a long time now, and Microsoft arguably took far too long to make it official, giving a small number of fans false hope that the platform would somehow live on. The actual number of users must be absolutely tiny at this point, while Microsoft’s main focus in mobile for the last several years has been making or acquiring really good apps that could run on iOS and Android, albeit without an obvious strategy for monetizing most of them.
via Windows Central
Microsoft today held what it called in its unique terminology a mixed reality event, at which it made a number of announcements. Perhaps the biggest announcement was that Samsung is making a Windows VR headset, which will cost $499 and therefore land towards the higher end of the spectrum of Windows VR headsets, and well into the territory covered by the premium VR rigs from companies like HTC, Oculus, and Sony, a problem that I outlined a while back in this column. It and other headsets will be available in the next couple of weeks from a variety of vendors and at a variety of prices, though none of them at the $300 price point Microsoft originally touted for the space. That’s reflective of the fact that no-one wants to be the Google Cardboard of PC-based VR, as they all want to provide something of a premium experience. Also announced today was the quiet acquisition of most of a company called AltspaceVR, which was backed by Comcast and was effectively shuttered over the summer, and provided a social angle on VR, something Microsoft itself hasn’t had but which Facebook has made an obvious focus with Oculus and Facebook Spaces. Lastly Microsoft announced the number of apps available on the Microsoft Store for VR – 20,000 – and the fact that a basic Halo game will be coming to the platform this month too.
Overall, it feels like Microsoft is finally getting to the point where its VR push is bearing fruit after a lot of talking about it over the past year or so, and that’s a good thing given how marginal its AR push still is outside of very limited commercial and educational deployments. Its mixed reality terminology isn’t going to do it or its partners any favors from a marketing perspective, and it remains to be seen how many PC owners really want VR experiences enough to spend hundreds of dollars on new hardware rather than going the mobile VR route and buying a $100 add-on for their smartphones. Samsung’s entry into the market certainly creates an interesting opportunity for it to take its so far mobile-only strategy further up-market, and based on the response to its headset, it seems it may be one of the best on offer right now for Windows VR.
Alongside this week’s big Amazon hardware announcements, it’s apparently made a quieter announcement too: the launch of Fire OS 6, the latest version of the company’s fork of the Android operating system, which is used on Fire TV and Fire tablets. This new version is based on Android 7.1.2, which was the last version of Android 7 to be released before this year’s launch of Android 8 / Oreo a few weeks back. So although it definitely brings Fire OS more up to date than the previous Lollipop/Marshmallow-based version, it’s still about a year behind in terms of core Android features. It’s not yet clear when Fire OS 6 might come to Amazon’s tablet lineup, or which Android features it might bring with it, but it’s a good reminder that Amazon still bases some of its most important products on a proprietary flavor of Android, yet another front in the coopetition between Google and Amazon.
via Android Police
BlackBerry and Delphi today announced a partnership which will see the latter use the former’s QNX operating system as a secure foundation for its autonomous driving system. What’s not clear from either the press release the companies issued or the CNBC report linked below is what operating system Delphi’s platform has been built on until this point, because it’s not brand new and the company has been talking about releasing it to car manufacturers in 2019. At any rate, as far as I can tell QNX will join Intel and its Mobileye subsidiary as partners around the system, which focuses mostly on pulling in sensor data and making sense of it, rather than complete control of the car. QNX is already a widely used operating system within the car industry and BlackBerry has spent a lot of time hardening it and demonstrating its ultra-secure credentials since its acquisition several years ago, something that’s likely to become increasingly important as cars become more and more like connected computers. Investors clearly see the partnership as a boon for BlackBerry, whose shares rose quite a bit after hours today, but Delphi is only one of a number of manufacturers building similar systems for smaller car manufacturers, while larger automakers will likely mostly build their own. Further competition in this space will come from companies like Waymo, who will develop their own sensor and sensor fusion technology to go with their autonomous driving software and therefore offer something more like a complete package in time.
Google today announced ARCore, an equivalent to Apple’s ARKit tools for developers to create AR experiences on Android phones. Importantly, it’s not tied to the latest version of the Android operating system but rather is being implemented on a device-by-device basis, with Google’s own Pixel and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 the first devices to support it, with the latter running Nougat rather than Oreo. There are two ways to look at this announcement, given the timing: on the one hand, it looks like a response to ARKit and the massive positive buzz that’s received since it was announced in June; on the other, it’s a natural outgrowth of the work Google’s done with its much higher end Tango AR framework in the last few years, and that’s certainly how Google’s pitching it. I think the reality given the speed with which this has been released is that this was something Google was working on pre-ARKit but has accelerated in light of the ARKit launch.
Its blog post headline is “Augmented reality at Android scale” and you can read that one of two ways: on the one hand, as a counterpoint to ARKit, which runs at the somewhat smaller iOS scale, but on the other as an acknowledgement that – interesting though Tango is as a platform – it was never going to achieve true Android scale. The rollout plans here are a little vague – Google hopes its “preview” of ARCore will hit 100 million devices sometime this winter, which is likely a fraction of the iOS devices that will support ARKit by that time, but there’s potential for broad rollout of this platform to most recent premium Android devices over the next couple of years. That’s likely short of true Android scale (2 billion plus phones) but would likely hit the devices where it’s most relevant, which are those that compete more directly with the iPhone, though Apple will enjoy a year or two of significantly greater adoption before Android starts to catch up.
At this point, it’s hard to see Tango as anything other than a time-consuming and expensive failure in its own right, but it’s clearly allowed Google to learn a lot which can now be applied to ARCore and therefore be much more useful and widely available. Between Apple and Google’s launches, it’s clearer than ever that smartphone AR will be by far the largest chunk of the overall AR/VR spectrum, and we should see some really interesting implementations over the next few months.
Microsoft Begins Bundling Windows and Office for Businesses (Jul 10, 2017)
BlackBerry’s QNX division already makes the operating systems that power many cars today, and it’s just announced a new version of its OS for cars titled QNX Hypervisor 2.0. The key selling point of the new version is that it better partitions the safety-critical and non-safety-critical elements of the OS and the services they support in order to both prevent localized glitches from crippling the whole car and also insulate safety-critical functions from hacks that penetrate, say, the infotainment system. The implication of both of those, of course, is that there could be glitches or hacks that would penetrate certain systems, which seems a realistic if not a heartening concession. But as Android and other operating systems make their way into cars, being able to separate functions relating to driving tasks from those that merely deal with infotainment and other elements of the in-car experience is going to be increasingly important, and BlackBerry/QNX is emphasizing that element. I also wonder if it means QNX will be more able to operate as part of a hybrid operating system environment within cars, where infotainment features might be powered by the new version of Android for center consoles while driving features are still powered by QNX.
Apple today upgraded its iPad Pro lineup and announced a new version of iOS with big changes for the iPad as well as support for AR. The major theme in both the hardware and software aspects of the iPad announcements was productivity, where Apple continues to push the iPad Pro as a potential laptop replacement. The hardware changes improve performance across the board while specifically tweaking the ratio between screen and device size for the smaller iPad Pro in a change that likely foreshadows what Apple will do in a more dramatic way in the Fall with the iPhone. Just as the Mac lineup became more powerful with today’s announcements, so the iPad is becoming more powerful as a potential computer replacement, and the iOS changes specific to the iPad further that message, with support for a much wider range of multitasking scenarios and other more sophisticated features. For the first time, the iPad version of iOS feels like it’s gaining a truly distinct identity that’s really optimized for heavy-duty productivity tasks, and it will be interesting to see how the OS feels on the iPads not designed for pro use, because a number of user interface elements and conventions will change as a result. However, the other big change in today’s iOS announcements is support for AR through ARKit for developers, which is Apple’s first foray into AR. Notably, whereas the VR support in the Mac is primarily aimed for today at creation of VR content, Apple’s AR push is much more end-user centric, and will enable developers to quickly and easily create a range of AR apps and games for the iPhone and iPad. Whereas smartphone-centric AR today is very photo- and video-centric and dominated by companies like Snapchat and more recently Facebook, Apple’s platform approach could dramatically expand the use of AR in smartphone apps and move smartphone-based AR forward significantly in terms of mainstream adoption.