How to sell a Windows 8 laptop, or not…

Back in August 2011 I wrote a blog article about how awful the customer experience was at Staples when you wanted to try out anything in the store.

Well Staples could learn a lot from Apple about how best to present the kit they sell they have on display. I was in there the other day and they had a really nice range of tablets on display, most were Android, but there was also the HP TouchPad.

Most had power, but not all. None had anything on them except the default install, so no apps to try, no content to view or look at. Though all had wifi, none could be used to access the internet as none of them were connected to the internet! Really what was the point of having them on display, when the average consumer is going to have no idea about how they work and how they could fit into their lifestyle.

I was in their last week buying some sticky labels and noticed that they had a Windows 8 display.

How to sell a Windows 8 laptop, or not...

Well I thought to myself, though I had “played” with the WIndows 8 Beta, here’s an opportunity to try out, not only the release version, but a piece of dedicated Windows 8 hardware.

So looking at the piece of HP kit, I looked at the screen…

Automatic Repair and that it couldn’t repair the PC.

Automatic Repair and that it couldn’t repair the PC.So not only was it unusable, it was also broken. Hardly a good advert for Windows 8.

I have no idea if this was a Windows 8 problem, an HP hardware problem, however it was a problem for Staples.

Again I ask the simple question, as a customer why on earth would I buy anything from Staples if not only can I not try out a piece of hardware (as I can at the Apple Store) but why on earth would you have on display a piece of broken hardware?

There are very good reasons why Apple can make so much money from every square foot of retail space they have, other companies need to send not only their staff there, but also the managers of such companies like Staples need to go to the Apple store and then go to their own stores to see what a vastly different experience it is.

Also companies like Microsoft and HP need to do so much more to ensure that companies like Staples don’t scupper their efforts in selling laptops and software.

Is this the future?

I always like these videos from Microsoft on the future of “productivity” and interfaces. They say this is 5-10 years into the future….

The thing is most of us are probably still using Windows XP ten years after it was first released, I can imagine in ten years time a lot of us will still be using Windows 7 on our work machines!

I do like the concept of pushing stuff from one device to another, for me that is still a bit of a hassle even with services such as AirDrop and Dropbox. However I do wonder how easy it would be using the interfaces in the video to “accidently” push content from your device to some stranger’s device…

So is this the future?

Update Now!

Have you noticed how some devices continually ask you to update, whilst others seem perfectly happy to stick with the firmware they were delivered with.

Windows can drive you crazy, especially if you use it less often than twice a day it would seem. Turn on the PC and rather than let you get on with stuff, it decides no you can’t get on with the stuff you actually need to do, no it’s much more important to use up the CPU and the RAM (and your Internet connection) to download and install updates. Once it has done that, and you think you can get on with stuff, no it needs to restart. On a bad day it will after restarting decide that you need even more updates… Once that’s done, you start your browser and then Flash, Java and Shockwave all need to be updated. By the time that’s done you’ve probably forgotten why you turned the PC on in the first place.

At work where I have no control over my locked down work PC, it is little better, first thing it does when turned on in the morning is, yes you’ve guessed it, update everything… Generally I turn on the PC and then go and make some coffee.

OS X is a little better, but not by much. The default for OS X is to download updates in he background before telling you what needs to be installed. If you have a small pipe and a bandwidth limit this can cause problems. Before I was lucky enough to get my upgrade to fibre one of the annoying things about OS X updates was the sheer size of them, often in excess of 1GB. On my ADSL connection this could take hours and soak up the entire connection.

iOS updates are just as bad, huge updates for both the iPad and the iPhone. Updating can take a while as files are backed up and apps reinstalled. I have over the last few years downloaded lots of apps, and as a result there are updates for them on a regular basis, at least I have a choice on downloading them. Same with Android, though at least you are given the choice on when you can update.

Of course you an change the defaults and download updates as and when you want to, which I do. I also recognize the importance of updating and especially security updates. It’s just that the default assumption is that the tool and the updating of the tool is considered more important by the tool than the actual reason you have the tool, which is to do stuff.

Back to my first point, I am “forced” to update my computers, iPad and iPhone on a regular basis. Why though does my Canon DSLR not need updating? Can I even update it? Why? Yes it is less complicated than my PC, is that the only reason?

Having said that, my old TV I have had for seven years and never updated it once. My new TV is less than a year old and it has needed updating about three or four times… One of the downsides of have an internet connected TV I guess. Likewise my Blu-Ray player often needs to be updated before I can play a Blu-Ray disc, well it has happened to me twice!

Then there are those updates that actually kill functionality, Sony have been good at this with their firmware updates for the PSP and the PS3. Updating can actually stop you from doing stuff. I remember an upgrade to Microsoft Office that I installed once that killed one of my favourite applications, the original PhotoDraw, that was very annoying.

I guess we are now in an era of updating, a continual process of improvement… But is it always improvement to make things better?

Back to the Future…

Check out this quote.

Checking out your favorite movie during a road trip. Downloading and listening to the latest hot tunes at the coffee shop. Surfing the Web at the beach while your friends surf the waves. More than ever before, people around the world are demanding simpler, more convenient ways to access and enjoy their favorite digital content while on the go.

Sounds like the iPad doesn’t it?

So was this quote about the iPad?

No!

It was from March 2006, five years ago, before the iPhone, before the iPod touch and four years before the iPad.

The quote above was from Intel about the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC). Back then they also said:

The Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) addresses these needs with small, stylish products you can carry with you everywhere you go. The UMPC devices offer ultra-portable sizes and long battery life, plus full PC and Internet capabilities, so you can access your favorite web pages anytime, virtually anywhere!

I remember back then really liking the concept, so much so that I ordered the Sony VAIO UX1XN, which was a great little UMPC computer that fulfilled the dream

UX1XN

So what happened to the UMPC?

Well it wasn’t killed by the iPad, no it was well dead by the time Apple released that. No it was the netbook and more specifically the Asus EeePC. What happened was that when companies like Sony started releasing products like the UX1XN, and Samsung their Q1 they charged a premium price. The UMPC was not a cheap product, it was much more a luxury. The price did drop quite quickly.

When the Sony VAIO UX1XN was released in the UK it commanded a £2,000 price tag. This was a lot of money for a device the size of a PDA (even if it could run Windows Vista).

In July 2007 I noticed my local Sony Centre had reduced the price to £1,600. Still expensive, but 20% off is quite a reduction. Such reductions usually imply that a new model is just around the corner.

On Amazon in August 2007 you could get the UX1XN for just £1,199 which considering the features of the UX1XN (the cameras, flash hdd) makes the UX1XN seem like a reasonable proposition.

In October 2007 it was just £999 at the Sony story and only £899 on Amazon.

UX1XN

Today used models can be have for less than £500 on Amazon, which is the same price as an iPad!

So when the Asus EeePC was launched with a £200 price tag, the concept of the netbook was launched and the UMPC effectively died. Companies did try and compete by reducing prices, but in the end it was impossible to compete on features and low prices were what people looked at.

Pricing wasn’t the only flaw, there were some others. One of the main drawbacks was battery life, iPad users who probably don’t even worry about it today would gasp at the 1½-2 hour battery life with those UMPC devices. These weren’t devices you would use all day, much more a casual device that always needed to be close to it’s charger.

I remember taking the UX1XN to a conference in Cardiff and back then said

It’s small enough to be unintrusive, unlike a laptop which can be a bit of a barrier, it has two cameras which enable me to send images to Flickr or take short video clips, and the keyboard is usable unlike the fiddly mobile phone type split keyboard of the Q1 Ultra. You can also use it without needing to put it on the table or on your lap which makes it ideal in the conference hall or break-out room environment.

I wouldn’t want to write a long blog entry (like this one) on it, but for entering URLs or posting tweets or jaiku postings, I think it will work just fine.

A big flaw for me was the operating system, Windows Vista was rather too bloated for a device which lacked the power and memory of standard desktops and laptops. This would eventually be solved with Windows 7, but by that time the UMPC was just a distant memory. Microsoft really needed to do what Apple and Google have done and create a completely new OS that works on new formats for devices, but that wasn’t going to happen at that time.

Another problem were the touch screens, whereas big Tablet PCs required a dedicated stylus, the UMPC often resorted to a simple touch screen. However with an OS that really didn’t work with touch and needed a stylus, too often you found that neither worked satisfactorily and the experience was not nice.

However many people like me, saw that these early products, though expensive and having some flaws, they really demonstrated the potential of small mobile computers, something we now see in Apple’s iPad and Android tablets. Looking back at the UMPC we can see what worked and what didn’t, as a result when something like the iPad comes along that solves many of the flaws, price, battery life and OS, but still has the the main features of the UMPS, such as solid state drives (SSD), cameras, touch screens. You start to realise the influence of these devices on companies such as Apple and Google.

Many people see the iPad as Apple’s response to the netbook, I don’t, I think Apple looked at the original UMPC concept from Intel and went, “we can do that, and we can do that better!”

It takes ages….

I hadn’t used my Sony VAIO P Series for a while, but deciding that it might be useful (and a lot lighter than my MacBook Pro) to take to a trip to London next week along with my iPad. I have always liked the format of the Sony VAIO P Series, however I have been less fond of the included Windows Vista operating system. The VAIO P was always underpowered and Vista did not seem to suit it one bit.

As I hadn’t switched it on for a few months, I knew that I better update the Vista installation.

Now this seems to take ages….

Even after updating, it appears again and again that I need to install more updates… At least with OS X you can download Combo updates that incorporate all the updates required in one package.

I did at one point install Windows 7 on the VAIO P, however that didn’t work out, so after reinstalling Vista on it, I think I have had to go through the whole updating process – though I thought I did that at the time.

Having installed all the Windows Vista updates, I now need to install the Sony VAIO updates! And I can’t do that until I update the VAIO Updater. It continues….

I am glad that I decided to look at the VAIO P this weekend and not the night before.

When this kind of thing happens, I start to seriously look at the MacBook Air.