Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Paul has four regular technology advice radio programs on ABC, a weekly column on the smartcompany.com.au website and has published seven books.

Oct 012014
 
Windows-10-microsoft-Tech-Preview_Start-menu-500x281

A few days ago I asked if Windows 9 would be Microsoft’s last desktop operating system.

Yesterday the company partially answered the question by announcing the next version will be named Windows 10 which conveniently skips version nine.

Skipping around numbers isn’t unusual for Microsoft, most famously Word skipped from version two to six just to overtake competitor WordPerfect in the late 1990s.

Windows itself has gone 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, 95, 98, ME, XP, Vista, 7 and 8 in the past — that’s without mentioning the Windows NT family — so jumping to Windows 10 doesn’t detract from any logic in the Microsoft’s naming system.

The key point from Microsoft’s announcement is the business focus along with the continuation of Windows 8’s unified experience across PCs, smartphones and games consoles that has proved less than successful.

One area where Microsoft has conceded defeat is in the battle for a Start button with Windows 10, one of the biggest irritants upgrading users found with the new operating system and one of the reasons why many users chose the older Windows 7 software when buying a PC.

How the Start button will work on Windows Phone remains to be seen although Microsoft seem committed to the ‘One Windows’ vision despite its technological and marketplace difficulties.

Another interesting development with the new product is the Windows Insider Program, billed as an ‘open collaborative development effort to change the way Windows is built and delivered’.

Back in the old days this was called a beta program where testers were invited to try out new software to test the product and fine tune user experiences. At least it shows Microsoft are embracing the language, if not the spirit, of the collaborative economy.

Microsoft have released a YouTube video Introducing Windows 10 with Windows Vice President Joe Belfiore outlining the features of the new system.

Whether Windows 10 is enough to shore up the declining fortunes of the company’s Windows division and Joe’s job will be a key question for analysts and industry watchers over the next three years.

Oct 012014
 
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Paul Wallbank joins Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife across Australia from 10pm Australian Eastern time on Thursday, October 2 to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

For this month’s spot we’re looking at smartcars, smartwatches, the next version of Microsoft Windows and whether the new social media platform Ello can displace Facebook.

Some of the questions we’ll cover include;

  • What’s happening with connected car technologies?
  • Isn’t all this talk about smart cars another way ?
  • So how far are we off the driverless car?
  • Are our mobile phone choices going to dictate what brand car we buy?
  • How does the smart watch fit into how companies are trying to lock us into their software?
  • A new social media platform called Ello is taking off,  what is it?
  • Do we really need another social media platform?
  • Microsoft have announced Windows 10, aren’t we only up to eight?
  • What’s different in Windows 10?
  • Has Windows 8 been a success?
  • When will Windows 10 be released on the market?

 

Join us

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on the night on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Sep 302014
 
management and executive training, workshops and keynotes for technology

Over the last week new social media service Ello has been in the news as the ‘anti-Facebook’ that doesn’t collect user details or push advertising onto feeds.

Certainly Ello has touched the zeitgeist with reports claiming the service is getting 30,000 new signups every hour. It’s clear social media users aren’t happy with the existing services.

Part of this discontent is due to social media’s growing pains as the platforms search for the business models to justify their massive valuations, with the consequence of users finding their streams being polluted with invasive and often irrelevant advertisements.

Social dilemmas

For Facebook in particular this is a problem as they have to balance the service’s relevance to users against the demands of ever desperate advertisers who want to post as many ads as possible into the feeds.

Adding to the discontent is suspicions on how the existing social media services intend to trade users’ information. While many internet mavens may claim ‘privacy is dead’, most people are concerned at how a history of their likes, friends or conversations could hurt future relationships or job prospects.

Which ties into Ello’s manifesto.

Your social network is owned by advertisers.

Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.

You are not a product.

While Ello’s founders are right that Facebook, and to a lesser degree, Twitter are advertising platforms at present it may well be that social media’s days as a marketing tool are numbered as the business models mature.

The evolving social media model

Facebook’s announcement that it is going into the payments field is an indication that the businesses are maturing beyond the broadcast advertising model that worked so well for television and radio while Twitter’s struggles to shoehorn the old marketing tools into its business continue.

The most successful social media platform to date is LinkedIn which makes less than a quarter of its revenues from advertising — down from 30% two years ago — with the company building revenues in its corporate talent finding services, something that makes LinkedIn’s ambitions to be a global content publisher somewhat strange.

So it may well be that Ello aims to solve a problem that may not exist in the near future.

Ello could turn out to be the ‘Facebook killer’ however the odds are stacked against it, what is clear though is the social media marketplace is telling the industry’s leaders that consumers aren’t happy. It’s something the marketers staking their future on social media need to keep in mind.

Sep 292014
 
facebook-buy-button-powered-by-stripe

Last week payments service Stripe confirmed they had partnered with Facebook to power the social media platform’s ‘buy now’ feature.

The buy now button concept ads a button to posts, either sponsored or organic, in a user’s feed which lets them purchase the product being mentioned. This could be a powerful call to action for those advertising on Facebook and a potentially substantial revenue stream for the social media service.

Late last month Stripe co-founder John Collison spoke to Decoding the New Economy about the evolution of online payments and Facebook’s role in the industry.

“We’ve seen Facebook’s announcement a little while back that they’re letting you pay with your Facebook credentials. You can have a little ‘buy with Facebook’ button and if your card details are on file with Facebook then you don’t have to fill out all your details.”

Stripe’s strategic advantage

At the time Collison wasn’t letting on just how integral his company would be to Facebook’s payment services and coupled with company’s privileged position with Apple Pay, Stripe seems to be in a leading position with some of the biggest and well positioned players in an industry that’s being turned upside down.

Those changes are good news for business as I wrote for Technology Spectator last week with the increased competition in the sector is making it easier for new companies to enter their markets.

Making it easier for new entrants is something that drives Stripe’s Collison; “I think one of the things that’s held back online commerce for so long is there is such a high barrier to it and so if you go to a coffee shop and you pay for your coffee — you swipe your card and that’s that.”

Letting businesses sell more

“It seems to me that in five to ten years time we will not be in the same world where people like Facebook and Google are improving the identity story,” continued Collison. “This is exciting because it means merchants can sell more.”

The integration of Buy Now into Facebook’s services also indicates a different direction for social media services beyond being the passive marketing platforms many see them as being today.

It may well be that social media platforms are more the storefront than the billboard.

Sep 282014
 
windows-surface-at-microsoft-store

On Tuesday Microsoft are expected to announce their new Windows 9 operating system at a media event in San Francisco.

If the rumours are true, then the new system will be launched almost exactly two years after Windows 8 was released amid hopes that it would stem the PC industry’s decline.

Windows 8 didn’t deliver with most people being frustrated with the system’s inconsistent interface that tried to be unified desktop, laptop and tablet operating system which managed to be unsatisfactory on all of them.

As a consequence, users avoided Windows 8 like the plague with industry analysts Netmarketshare claiming most of Microsoft’s customers are buying systems kitted out with Windows 7 or just sticking with decade old Windows XP systems.

Courtesy of Netmarketshare http://www.netmarketshare.com

Courtesy of Netmarketshare http://www.netmarketshare.com

Making matters worse for Microsoft is the decline in personal computer sales in general with IDC estimating global shipments of both portable and desktop system will drop 3.8% in 2014.

These declines are already well established in the trends being seen in Microsoft’s business with the company’s Windows division showing an accelerating decline in profit margins.

Microsoft Windows division financial performance

Microsoft Windows division financial performance ($ million)

Should that decline continue with Windows 9, it may well be that Microsoft will have to consider the future of product.

As it is, the market may be deciding for them as users increasingly switch to tablets and smartphones. We may also see a wave of cheap Chinese made laptops running versions of Google Chrome or other Linux based systems also threatening the existing PC sales base.

Either way, a lot rides on what Microsoft announces in San Francisco this week. It could be the end of an era that defined the mass adoption of computers.

Sep 282014
 
lenovo-yoga-2-pro-in-laptop-mode

Can a laptop be a tablet computer? The Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 tries to balance the needs of both in a package designed for home and small business users.

The laptop computer market is in a difficult place at the moment as both consumers and businesses move to tablets and smartphones so it’s interesting to get hold of the Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 to see how one of the leading portable manufacturers is responding to the changing industry.

One of the best ways of testing a portable device is to take it on a long trip, so a couple of 14 hour transpacific flights and trips around San Francisco, the Napa Valley and Silicon Valley proved a good workout for the Yoga Pro.

As a laptop

From a hardware perspective the Yoga is an impressive device with 8Gb of RAM, 256Gb solid state hard drive and a 1.8GHz i7 chip. The screen is a very nice 13.3″ 3200 x 1800 high-resolution display.

Rounding out the hardware specs are two USB ports — one 3.0 and the other 2.0 — along with a Micro HDMI output, webcam, inbuilt mic, headphone jack and an SD Card reader. All the basics expected in a mid range ultrabook that weighs in at a respectable 1.4kg.

lenovo-yoga-2-pro-in-laptop-mode-on-desktop

In using the Yoga as a laptop, the device works well with the keys being crisp and responsive although the position of the glidepad and the backspace key being alongside the home key caused problems for this clumsy touch typist.

One of the problems with the larger form of ultrabooks is their usability when travelling economy on a plane; if the passenger in front of you reclines then it becomes difficult to use the device. This isn’t a problem specific to the Lenovo Yoga, but it is a drawback that the industry seems not to have considered in its move to the larger screens.

In the office

If you’re not travelling on planes, the weight and form factor works well and makes the Yoga 2 Pro a nice device to use while on the move. In an office environment it’s a standard mid to upper range laptop with good fast specifications.

For battery life, Lenovo claim “up to nine hours” for the Yoga Pro but in practice standard office use sees about five hours worth of juice with a full recharge taking under an hour. It’s lucky most transpacific flights now have power sockets.

Flipping to a tablet

While 1.4kg is good for a laptop it’s lousy for a tablet computer with the Yoga Pro 2 weighing in a kilo heavier than the iPad and 500g (one pound) heavier than the Microsoft Surface Pro. This makes it awkward to use over extended periods and the keyboard doesn’t feel right as the backing to a tablet.

lenovo-yoga-2-pro-in-tablet-mode

The Yoga’s weight problem illustrates the core conflict for a device that wants to be a laptop and a tablet as the different demands for each type of device make if difficult for designers to meet both markets.

In the Yoga 2 Pro’s design, it’s clear the engineers had to make a choice between compromising either on the tablet or laptop functionality. As it turns out the designers decided to go with releasing a good Ultrabook laptop with compromised tablet functions — this was the correct choice for the Yoga.

Windows 8 limitations

Probably the greatest problem though for the Yoga Pro 2 in tablet mode lies in software with Windows 8 being far from adequate as a tablet operating system with a confused interface, an inconsistent user experience and unpredictable responses to touch screen commands.

For companies like Lenovo who are persisting with Windows as their operating system, it’s becoming critical that they start demanding better design from Microsoft before they find their market being overwhelmed by Android and iOS devices offering a superior user interface.

lenovo-yoga-2-pro-closed-mode-on-desktop

While the Windows 8 irritations aren’t a deal breaker for the Yoga, it does limit the device as a tablet computer and its something anyone considering it instead of an iPad or Android tablet should keep in mind.

A good general duty small business laptop

Overall, the Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 is good Windows Ultrabook for home and small business use offering the benefits of an ultrabook with the flexibility of being able to flip into a tablet for specific uses.

The device isn’t cheap, but the range of features and good hardware specs make it a decent purchase for small businesses, sole proprietors or workers operating from home who need a versatile Windows computer.

Sep 272014
 
Employees in Starbucks Amsterdam store

Earlier this week I was asked what tools small business could use to increase employee engagement.

My reply was a simple one; start a company blog and let staff contribute to it. Letting workers tell stories of why they enjoy their work not only gives them a feeling of being recognised as part of the team but also shows the human face of the business.

That latter part is an important point as too many small businesses try to sound like Exxon-Mobil when they present their company face when in actual fact most customers are after the human touch.

It’s a simple thing, but showing your business’ human face is not only good for staff morale but also good as a marketing tool as well.