I think people are missing the point on how to use Surface

As you probably know, the Surface RT and Pro have integrated kick stands that prop the tablet at a 26 degree angle, this has proved to be a controversial addition. The case made out in many reviews is that the kick stand is fine and dandy when you are using it on a table but makes the Surface impossible to use on your lap.

Now, call me crazy but I like to make fair comparisons, and so in the interest of fairness I tried using my HP Touchpad without a case in the same circumstances:

  • Seated: worked fine, slides about a tad
  • Knees up:  worked fine

Amazing insight right? Now I tried doing those again with but this time using a bluetooth keyboard and it was a major PITA. This should not shock you, just because its possible to use a bluetooth or external keyboard on your knees, does not mean you should. Just as you might be able to use the Surface Kickstand and touch cover on your knees (or not as the case may be), doesn’t make it a good idea.

In fact, I would argue that most people would know this, so why is it being used to bash the Surface?

Surface at its core is a convergence device – full power pc when you need it, tablet when you don’t, so it begs the question – why use it like a laptop all the time?  It seems to me that people are stuck in the mindset that you can only use Surface with the touch cover and kickstand, but Windows Store apps can be used with the on screen keyboard. Sure if you want to use desktop apps on the go, then you will most likely need to use the touch cover but think about the use case for a second: what are you doing and do you really need to use the desktop app?

I would argue in most cases that you could use Windows Store apps for the majority of mobile situations, unless you need to spend serious time typing.

My typical usage of a laptop covers these sorts of apps:

  • Evernote
  • Mail
  • Chrome
  • Keynote/Pages
  • Tweetdeck
  • Some form of IDE (Visual Studio etc)

Now, apart from IDE’s everything else is covered by Windows Store apps and if I was on the train, tube or in a cab I would default to metro apps first. If want to spend time writing long form entries or messing around with APIs I would do it somewhere more comfortable i.e. a table and chair. Everyone makes a like for like comparison with the iPad but they seem to be forgetting that typing on a naked iPad is fine for around the house, but on the go it can slip and sometimes fall off. Which is why 99% of people have invested in some form of smart cover as it stops the iPad slipping around and gives you angled typing position.

Which, funnily enough are starting to become available for the Surface:

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It’s “worth to have apparently” but offers a decent solution to on the go usage i.e. RT Apps and on screen keyboard on the move and then keyboard goodness when you have a table.

Or to put it another way, exactly how you would use an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard.

Storage Wars: How much space do Windows 8 default Apps use?

This week Microsoft confirmed that the Surface Pro would have just 23GB free space on the 64GB model and 83GB on the 128GB variant.

Even if you factor in the ability to use external storage and memory cards, having 41GB of storage taken up by the operating system, recovery and default applications is poor. Windows 8 comes preinstalled with a range of default applications and you can view the size of them in metro settings but to save time I’ve collated a list of apps and their size in MB:

Bing Weather – 62.7
Bing Travel – 372
Bing Sports – 90.6
Bing News – 68.9
Bing Maps – 18.4
Bing Finance – 104
Bing – 10mb
Mail, People, Calendar, Messenger – 247
Reader -12.3
Sky Drive – 14.7
Zune Music – 40.04
Xbox Live games – 73.6
Xbox Companion – 61.6
Photos – 19.3

For a total of 1195.44mb (or 1.16GB)

Apps stay around longer than you want

If you navigate to the Windows Apps folder, which contains the metro apps (Its hidden by default and you will need to add your user to the admin group to view its contents) it appears that by default Windows 8 seems to retain all versions of the application. This means that for each update, the previous version of the app is kept, for example I have four versions of Zune Music, three versions of the Music, it’s not clear if they will ever get deleted or if the user has to do something to make that happen. Either way they all take up space unnecessarily and could easily be avoided when the app updates.

1.16GB is not exactly a lot of space, 5GB is taken up by recovery partition, the question is what else is taking up the remaining 34.84GB  and more importantly,  is there a way to remove it?

Surface Pro

My unibody MacBook (late 2008), my companion of two years on the road is getting a little tired, slightly unstable and if I’m honest a little heavy to carry around every day. However, it not dead yet which means I have a while to make my decision on its replacement.

For the first time in a while I can probably justify spending up to £1200 on a replacement, as I want it to last for 3-5 years on the road. Obviously I am more than happy to pay vastly less than this, in fact I tend to buy second hand equipment more often than not so if I am going to spend a huge chunk of cash I want it to be for a product that exceeds my needs.

I spend a lot of time humping my laptop around, developer relations and event management is truly a mobile occupation, with co working spaces often replacing offices. The nomadic lifestyle also means that I need to carry a whole bunch of stuff in addition to a laptop and charger. In fact a response to a question on what makes a great developer evangelist in this post on developer evangelism I detail the contents of my bag excluding my laptop:

  • Decent messenger bag or backpack that is waterproof (or at least water resistant) –  I recommend Crumpler, you can’t risk your laptop getting wet.
  • Pens & paper – quick notes or for sketching out hack ideas (YMMV)
  • Charging cables for major phones – you will be using your phone a hell of a lot, so have these hand, having other cables is useful if someone you are demoing to is running low on charge.
  • Screen wipes – no one wants to view your demo on a greasy screen
  • Travel sized toothbrush, toothpaste – a godsend at overnight hacks
  • Sleep mask – sleep where and when you can, I grabbed two of these from an overnight flight and never leave home without them
  • Business cards – I use Moo Mini cards as they take up less space
  • Swag – stickers, badges etc

All that stuff means that the total weight of my bag is probably about four to five kilograms, which by no means excessive – after all I see some people happily carrying 15 and 17 inch laptops and kit, but after a day on the run it can get wearing. Clearly, I need a lighter device but it still needs to have decent specifications, oh and a battery life of over two hours would be super.

Easily solved, get a MacBook Air – 13 Inch, i7 cpu and 7 hours battery life!

Whilst that is pretty much the defacto choice (and a good one), there are two things holding me back:

1) Its just so boring, OSX does not seem to be the major focus for Apple anymore  (the hamfisted iCloud integration into core applications is one example) but with OSX making such a small part of Apple’s revenue can you really blame them for taking their foot off the gas?

Don’t get me wrong, OSX is still a great operating system (even in its slightly buggy Mountain Lion form) but it just feels like its missing something.  I think its to do with Apples design philosophy, that in making these beautifully created devices Apple has hit upon what it probably feels the perfect interface for both desktop and mobile platforms and now seeks to refine those designs, the epitome of evolution rather than revolution. Which is fine, but give a person the same thing every time and eventually, no matter how good it is they will probably tire of it.

2) I want more out my laptop, or more to the point I want a tablet but I don’t want a consumption device or another piece of technology in my bag. I hate having to carry multiple devices, they add weight and they need charging, two things that I either want to remove or not have to worry about. My perfect setup would be to have a larger smartphone (e.g. a Galaxy Note II) and a hybrid laptop. That way I would have a decent sized phone in situations where a laptop/tablet were not suitable, and a tablet/hardware keyboard when I needed to do long form stuff.  However until recently that hasn’t been possible due to the fact that most hybrids run Android and that does not meet my needs as of yet.

Which is why I’ve stuck with laptops for now.

However, the Surface Pro has been sticking in my mind a lot recently  and I think its because I think it may offer a chance at my ideal setup. Lets look at the specifications:

  • i5 processor
  • 4GB ram
  • 128GB flash storage (with a further 64GB possible via memory cards
  • 10.6 inch screen
  • 1kg weight
  • Wacom Stylus
  • 5 hour battery life
  • Usb 3.0

All fairly standard Ultrabook/Macbook Air specifications, housed within a tablet body, albeit with a battery life closer to the 11 inch MacBook air than the 13, but longer than my current steed by a good margin.

Which is why its so damn tempting, because it can run desktop apps like steam, or visual studio as well as your standard consumption/light creation apps as any other tablet. The question you might ask is, “even though you can run heavy weight apps on the Surface Pro, would you want to?”.

Its a good question and not easy to answer as I’ve never had a tablet with the features of the Surface Pro. If I’m on the train or the tube, I’m not likely to be editing files in photoshop but connect that tablet to a bigger screen and you have yourself a full fat pc. Need a mouse? Plug it in. Its the same with my other accessories like a full sized keyboard or external hardrive, it all works because its running Windows 8.

The concept behind the Surface Pro is compelling, it  appears to offers a glimpse at a alternative mobile future, one where the only computing device is a tablet that’s offers a wider feature set than others – time will tell if its the right call.

I will be looking forward to the reviews, but as I said, my MacBook still has some life in it.

Quick blog: Low cost iPhone?

A new year and an old rumour once again rears its head, no not that 2013 is the year of Linux on the desktop, that Apple will finally release a low cost iPhone. Its a risky move for Apple, as they rarely (if ever) attack the low end markets with their products.

But I wonder, what if?

From my point of view, if they release a iPhone mini/nano in the $150-300 price point in all iPhone regions, then its game over for most manufacturers as we know them. LG, HTC, Sony, et al all have mobile products that haven’t found traction with the consumer and have no real answer to a low cost iPhone.

The question is, would they cede the mobile market to Apple and go elsewhere? If the main market is no longer accessible would we see them return with targeted niche products?


Getting Started with FirefoxOS

FirefoxOS is a new mobile platform, one with the aim to connect the next billion users and give them a great mobile experience.

But you don’t have to wait until a product is launched to try it out or start to develop for it, you can do that right now!

R2D2B2G (catchy name right?) is a Firefox add on that makes getting FirefoxOS up and running on your Mac, Linux or Windows machine really easy!

All you have to do is download the latest version of the simulator from here then install it via the Add Ons menu in Firefox!

Once you’ve installed the add on, navigate to Tools> Developer Tools > FirefoxOS Simulator

Click the Simulator button and congratulations you have a working FirefoxOS simulator!


If you want to find out more, I’m running a meetup at the end of the month where we’ll have FirefoxOS experts on hand to help out and show you how to create apps for FirefoxOS!

Screw social week, this week is all about HTML5!

Firefox OS, a HTML5 mobile platform done right

There’s been a lot of talk about Social media week and it looks to host a great series of talks and workshops on Social media and how to get the best out it.

However, I’m more interested in the HTML5 events taking place this week!

We kick things off at tonights Mobile Monday London which is discussing the age old topic of HTML5 VS Native, which has been done to death – so for it raise its head once again must mean that we have something new to talk about.

Although that may be covering old ground, Wednesdays event is all new as it the first ever FirefoxOS meetup! It will introduce developers to this new exciting platform, how to create content for it and have a chat with likeminded individuals.

Last but not least, we have Bruce Lawson talking about how to better design mobile web, having seen Bruce talk before, I have no doubt that it should be good fun 🙂

So, one week three events and a lot of stuff to talk about! Busy times!

A trip down memory lane

This week I’ve waved farewell to my friend and aid of the last year and half, my Sony Eriksson Xperia Play.

It’s treated me well, inspite of the treatment I’ve dished out to it. No matter the surface it has collided with, the Xperia Play has always managed to survive where other phones have cracked (literally).

I also firmly believe that it deserves a successor, as you simply cannot beat hardware gaming controls.

I’ve talked before on why I think Sony should drop its faltering PSVITA console line and make a push in the mobile gaming sphere.

Sadly Sony appear to disagree with me on that as they have no plans to release an updated device anytime soon.

So I found myself perusing eBay last week and accidentally put a bid on a HP Pre 3. At £99 I thought there was no chance of winning, or so I thought.

Much to my joy/chagrin I did indeed win the auction and so once again I was back in the webOS fold. 

And you know what? I didn’t realise how much I missed the platform, sure it has it foibles (battery life is still as comical as ever) but the Pre 3 hardware is solid and the keyboard rocks.

Obviously the big question is apps, but I’ve found every one that I need including Spotify, Evernote, WordPress and WhatsApp. Mobile web has also developed significantly in the year and a half since I left webOS meaning that for new stuff like ADN I’m spoilt for choice (hello dabr!)

I know most will think me mad for paying good money for old rope, but if it all goes wrong the flagship phones from all major players will still be there.

Its also nice to be using something different, after all this was only on sale in the UK for one day!