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Microsoft Makes Its Move, Debuts Surface

Microsoft remains a wealthy and powerful company.  It no longer is the king of computing hill but it still is a tremendous force to be reckoned with and I have thought for a while that it simply had too much money and resources to sit and allow Apple and Google to leave it behind.

So for the last several months Microsoft has been doing two things, continuously building up the successful user base of their XBOX360 console into more than just gamers, rather a total entertainment hub – and the previewing of Windows 8.  The new OS promises to be far more like the others and less like what you think when you consider a Windows OS.  It also holds the promise that what you get from the platform will be consistent from device to device.  Desktop to tablet to smartphone, Windows 8 wants to you know what to expect.

Yesterday Microsoft held what seemed to be a hastily organized conference in Los Angeles and the general prediction was that an e-reader was in the wings, some sort of relationship with Barnes and Noble. What I don’t think anyone expected was Microsoft’s attempt at the proverbial ‘left-hook’ squarely at the jaw of it competitors.

Microsoft’s Surface is their tablet, but it’s actually two different products in the same way the iPad is different from the MacBook Air.  Both hold the tablet form, but one has the guts and power of an ultra book.  Both have a 10.6 screen with proper 16:9 aspect ratio are really thin and reportedly have a “ruggedness” and “high quality feel” to them due to a magnesium case and a kickstand that pops out to hold it at the perfect 22 degrees needed of viewing and video chatting.  The display is called “Clear Type” and certainly shoots at Retina Display quality and falls just short of that in the pixel density department (264ppi v 208ppi).

The brand “Surface” had been attached to a large coffee table sized device topped with a piece of glass (now renamed PixelSense) that allowed for touch interaction and control that led many to think that was the direction Microsoft was headed with their OS and touchscreen.  But that has been recycled here with a non-Pro version that would run of the RT version of Windows 8 and has the same type of processing as other handheld devices (ARM), and then there is this Pro version that knocked everyone out with the news that it would run the full desktop version of Windows 8 and be powered by an Ivy Bridge Core i5, USB 3.0 and other specs that take the device from tablet to a new place of admiration in tech circles.  Here, Microsoft appears to actually built something really neat-o.  In other words, if Apple had released this device, Twitter would have crashed and Walt Mossberg may have had a heart attack from the excitement.

Topping off the cool new tricks is a cover, much like the one Apple added with the iPad2, that clicks onto the Surface, but when opened reveals a full keyboard and trackpad.  The versions shown to the press yesterday were not operable, so no one knows how it feels to work with, or how well it actually works… but it looks beautiful and awesome.

There is way better coverage to be read by people that have actually seen the devices and in some cases held one.

A couple of things to note:  We don’t know how much either of these will cost.  And that will be a giant consideration as the Pro version will probably come in at the $1000 mark which would give anyone pause to consider versus the options in that price range (Mac Book Air), and Windows 8 is going to have to be awesome to really make that deal work.  The RT (non-pro version) has the almost Herculean task of competing in the ring with the iPad – a device so completely in control of that market segment one wonders how anyone (Android or Microsoft) is ever going to best it.  Its price is going to have to be really competitive, below the $499 intro point for an iPad.  Microsoft’s biggest challenge here are the apps.  Apple has such a lead in the department that Android, already with several really nice tablets of their own, can’t grab a real number of developers to spend the time and money to make apps for them.  So, how Microsoft plans on successfully jumping that hurdle has yet to be seen.

It should be noted that Microsoft designed and is building these in-house.  No Dells, Lenovos or HPs.  This is Microsoft’s baby.  We also aren’t sure when these will arrive.  What we know is that the RT version will arrive along side Windows 8, and, confusingly, the version that actually runs on Windows 8 “90 days after that” – an early sign that Microsoft already has some better decision making to do.

Here’s the whole presentation via The Verge:

 

What Did We Learn at E3?

The 2012 E3 has come and gone, and what was left behind is mostly calendar counting until the 2013 E3.

Sure, Halo4 looked great, as did many of the other games previewed during the week (Watch Dogs!).  What everyone really wants to know is when they can shell out their hard earned cash on a next-gen console and use  that “old” PS3 or Xbox360 as a paperweight.  Unfortunately, neither Sony or Microsoft dropped any hints at what’s to come in hardware and left all of that up to Nintendo and their new console due later this year, the “Wii U”.

 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Nintendo exhibitor...

The “Wii U” in many ways simply catches Nintendo up to places their competitors have been for some time, starting with high def.  Yes, you will finally play your favorite games from Nintendo in 1080p, and you will be able to control those games with not only the controllers from your old Wii, but new controllers too – including the new Gamepad.  The Gamepad is a large, tablet like controller with thumb sized analog joysticks in the upper corners and a screen in the middle.  The screen allows for interactive gaming – one thing on your TV while something related is on the controller’s screen – and you can even use it as a separate gaming device all together when you aren’t around your TV.  The happy surprise they announced was that the Wii U would support two Gamepads at the same time, something rumored leading up to the show that would not happen.

Just as Nintendo thought they would own the show since they were showing off the only new nextgen console, Microsoft stole a whole lot of thunder by unveiling something called “Smart Glass“… This isn’t a new piece of hardware, but instead, most ingeniously, an app you will download onto handheld devices you already own.  Smartphones and tablets alike will be used with Smart Glass to not only provide interactive gaming functions, but also interactive video content and video streaming.  You can watch Game of Thrones and use the app to pull up information about the characters, maps, etc.  I wasn’t clear on if this is an automated process of the app knowing what you’re watching because you told it, or if you’re running the video via the app – but it was impressive that Microsoft used the power of existing hardware instead of introducing a new accessory.

Sony was the quietest of the three companies largely pimping upcoming games (‘Last Of Us’ looked very nice) and working very hard to breathe life into the Vita handheld device.  Sony has a lot of problems right now, and their stock price is showing it.

While there was a lot of beautiful preview videos, trailers and demos of some upcoming games, everyone knew that what the 2012 E3 really was going to be is exactly what it ended up being – a holdover to 2013.

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Meet “U”, Watch Video

By now you know that Nintendo released the video seen below before E3 officially started, and at the same time kinda pulled a fast one since Microsoft historically gets the first word.  But Sunday’s release of the video not only steals some of that “me first” limelight it accomplished a few things for Nintendo.

With the video the company gets out of the way explaining in great detail the new console, how they came about the design and many of unit’s new features.  Now when they hold their actual live presentation on Tuesday (at noon) they can spend all of that time showing off the new games, software and Miiverse (the new social platform they are launching).

The video is 30 minutes.  Much of it is woefully painful to watch.  Not sure why they decided to let company President, Satoru Iwata stand and deliver, but his shaky English and v e r y s l o w delivery makes for some tedious viewing.  Additionally, the highly produced explanation/scenario “videos inside the video” and that typical Japanese style of how they present things – very, very literally – provides for some comedy that ends up making the video worth watching.

The “U” (peet:  The seemingly very angry commenter below is correct, the actual name is “Wii U”, but everyone I know and myself has been calling it simply “U”, or the “Nintendo U” – again, he’s correct, so here is my admission he is right and I am half-assed.) is going to end up winning or losing on what amazing gameplay Nintendo can pull off with this new cross platform idea.  Some of what they show where you overlay the controller screen in front of your larger display is very interesting stuff.  But like Microsoft’s Kinect, if there isn’t a great game to play, it doesn’t matter how cool the tech is.

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E3 Is Happening This Week

Its the week video gamers wait for all year – with birthdays and Christmas as exceptions – E3 is happening out on the west coast.

The big news is that Nintendo has already pulled a fast one by releasing a “pre-direct” video (gotta love Japanese literalness) with the company president showing off their new gaming console, the Nintendo U.

As for Sony and Microsoft, do not expect much – or anything at all – about next gen consoles.  A Playstation4 or Xbox720 are most likely a year out, but maybe one or both of them might try to squirt water on Nintendo’s week by at least sneaking something about what is in store. I won’t try and do too much predicting as there are many, far better, sites that are already doing this for you.  But there is some obvious ground to cover.

Microsoft:  Halo4.  That’s going to be the big one.  After that it will be trying to mine a game that really takes the Kinect to the next level.  Microsoft’s motion controller is very nice and very high tech, but it just hasn’t landed THAT game which captures the general public and hard core gamers alike.  There probably will be XboxLive developments, and theres some talk about a multi-platform app that will allow users to stream video content from a smartphone/tablet to the Xbox360, ala Apple’s Airplay.

Sony: The big machine has some serious work to do with Vita.  The newest handheld device is struggling in sales and Sony has a lot invested in it.  Sony will probably spend a lot of their time showing off how Vita can be a cross platform gaming device/controller in the same vein as the new Nintendo U Game pad.  While we will most likely see exciting new titles for the Playstation3, a lot of time will be spent showing off the new games coming for the Vita – giving people a reason to spend the money on the pricey device.

Games:  Look out for Call of Duty: Black Ops2, Dead Space 3, FIFA13, Star Trek: The Game – and there is a buzz that a sneak peek of Grand Theft Auto V will appear this week as well.

The outstanding Guysgirl.com will have live coverage of each of the big three’s presentations, and you should go follow her and talk games with her.

 

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A $99 Xbox? – Yes, Kinda

Xbox Live logo since 2005

It is fully expected that Microsoft will announce a Xbox360 budge package, complete with Kinect sensor and 4GB drive for only $99 starting next week.

The hitch?  You also are then tied to a monthly subscription fee of $15 for Xbox Live for two years.  Rumors are that the $15 per month will give you access to a Gold level subscription and possibly some streaming content.  There will also be an early termination fee and if you’re attempting math in your head this deal is equal to about $459 over the course of two years versus $420 if you’d just bought the $299 bundle with a two years of Gold.

Microsoft is clearly gearing up for the 360 to move well past its gaming origins and trying to make it a full service media center.  Lots of talk about a new music “Woodstock” service being rolled out later this year.  So as many ways for people to spend their money to get one, the better for Microsoft.

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New XBOX Live Dashboard *update*

**update**  It was supposed to start pushing out this morning but hadn’t at the time I’ve written this… Microsoft’s Larry Hyrb has been tweeting updates all day and you should follow him @majornelson to get the most up to the minute info..

 

Microsoft wants you to know that if you have an Xbox360, hold on, because you’re getting an update that they promise will make you feel like it’s a whole new console.

The new dashboard, rolling out on Tuesday the 6th, follows the largely loved Metro design seen in Windows Phone 7 and will be seen in the future Microsoft 8 OS.  Much of what was foretold at E3 looks to be coming with all new search functionality, including voice command search via Kinect and the idea that your Xbox360 is now more of a full time media hub than just a gaming device.

Full You Tube, Netflix, ESPN, UFC and other intrigation are all part of trying to get the user to stay on their Xbox when not playing, and watching media through it rather than another source.

There is also now cloud saving for Live users with Gold accounts that make it easy to move files and game progress from console to console, and a new game scheduling feature called, “Beacons”.  This allows the user to send out appointments to friends to pre-plan game playing times so going full nerd can be a fully co-ordinated event.

Be on the lookout starting tomorrow, and report back to me your thoughts and experiences…  I’m interested because believe it or not, I am still running an original XBOX360 from the day they went on sale, way back when.  Yup, never had the “ring of death” or any failures.  Not sure how.  But I wonder how well my 7-8 year old unit will play and perform with all of this new soft/hardware…

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