Tech Talk: Can Microsoft pip Apple to world’s most innovative post?


Pre-orders for Microsoft’s new Surface tablet went live on Wednesday.


By Jordan O’Brien

Is Microsoft still the company as we once knew it? Or has it managed to change its image drastically enough to take the baton from Apple as the world’s most innovative tech firm?

Microsoft is synonymous with some pretty ‘uncool’ products. When the last time any of us were excited by Microsoft Office or the next release of Windows?

But recently they’ve managed to make even the most mundane products fun.

Microsoft’s main bread winner, which many assume is Windows, is in fact Office.

It makes up most of Microsoft’s vast profit of $21 billion, and is often an overlooked product.

Office is not the most exciting product but it is one that is updated bi-annually without fail, adding new titbits of juicy features to make the Office experience easier and more functional than ever.

Microsoft has managed to stay at the top of the office software game because its products are widely considered the best.

When the announcement for Office 2013 was made it reinvented what people had previously thought of Microsoft Office.

By adding some simple new features like cloud storage with Skydrive and a whole new design to bring it in line with other Microsoft products, they managed to break the mould with something uniquely new.

The new interface, formerly known as the Metro UI, has become a big part of Microsoft’s rebranding. 

They’ve even changed their famous logo to reflect the new UI. 

Microsoft’s first foray into Metro was way back in 1995 with Encarta 95. But don’t be mistaken – this interface definitely doesn’t look outdated, in fact it looks even more modern than Apple’s iOS. 

Microsoft has continued to improve Metro through Windows Media Center and Zune. 

Unfortunately the latter device never managed to make it to the UK.

The Zune was a portable media player trying to take on the wildly successful iPod, with a focus on ‘the social’ element of PMPs. 

Sadly the Zune hardware met its demise in October 2011, but the brand lived on with the Zune Marketplace which was starkly aimed at iTunes. 

However, the brand was destined for failure and in June 2012 Microsoft finally announced the end of it. Instead Microsoft went with a brand known by most consumers: Xbox. 

Zune Music will cease to exist on October 26th with Microsoft pushing the brand new Xbox Music service, which will be exclusive to Windows 8 PCs and will work much like Spotify, with the option to listen to as much music as you want for free but with ads. 

Windows 8 will also launch on October 26th bringing the Metro UI to Microsoft’s most famous brand. 

The start button is gone, replaced instead with large vibrant icons which Microsoft calls “Live Tiles” because they update live with snippets of information from within the app. 

So if you have a Twitter app it’ll update live with the latest mention or direct message.

This is much like the current Windows Phone 7.5 interface, which has yet to catch on, despite having Nokia throw their weight behind it. 

Steve Ballmer believes Windows 8 will propel the volume of PCs sold.

However, it isn’t just traditional PCs Microsoft is targeting, with Windows 8 firmly going after the tablet market. 

Microsoft is known for having strong relationships with its partners, such as HP and Asus. However, it decided earlier this year that it was going to go head to head with them in the marketplace by releasing its own tablet, Surface. 

The Microsoft Surface has irked several OEMs with Acer’s CEO JT Wang telling the Financial Times: “It is not something you are good at so please think twice.” 

Microsoft is however pushing on with its plans, even making it competitive against Apple’s own iPad, offering it in the UK at £399, with pre-orders having gone live on Wednesday. 

The Microsoft Surface amongst the first batch of Windows 8 tablets boasts a gorgeous 10.6-inch screen which Microsoft has touted as higher quality than the new iPad, despite a lower resolution.

On a Reddit IamA, Microsoft’s Director of Research, said: “Doing a side by side with the new iPad in a consistently lit room, we have had many people see more detail on Surface RT than on the iPad with more resolution”

Microsoft is utilising a new technology called ClearType in the Surface display. 

“The amount of light in a room and the reflections off the screen have a huge effect on the contrast of the display,” Batiche said.

“In fact, a small amount of reflection can greatly reduce contrast and thus the perceived resolution of the display.

“With the ClearType Display technology we took a three pronged approach to maximize that perceived resolution and optimize for battery life, weight, and thickness.”

Microsoft have high hopes for the Surface reportedly producing five million tablets in its first run. 

If they reach the sales Apple managed in the first weekend of the new iPad, they’ll find themselves with only two million left from the initial five million. 

Microsoft’s resurgence isn’t completely reliant on their tablet strategy, as they have many products in the pipeline, including the next generation of Windows Phone, Windows Phone 8. 

While Windows Phone may not have the penetration rate of Android of iOS, it can be considered as the most innovative of the three major ecosystems.

Sorry, RIM Blackberry doesn’t count. 

Windows Phone 8 shares the same underlying architecture as Windows 8, which in layman terms means they share the same code base which makes them run. 

Windows Phone 8 also shares the same live tile experience as Windows 8, with applications updating you with all the latest info. 

Since Microsoft released Windows Phone 7, they have pushed the “glance and go” experience.

Microsoft saw that people were spending too long looking at their phones and not enough time in the real world, so it thought, ‘how could we change this?’ 

Coming up with the live tiles and connected hubs meant people could glance at the information they needed without delving in and out of app after app, like many other current operating systems on the market.

Microsoft’s rebranding is far from finished. Even their online services are getting in on the action, with and MSN following the Metro UI. 

With so much riding on such a big rebrand, only time will tell if it can be successful. 

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