The rumour mill has been running strong for Microsoft’s next Windows release, fuelled by the usual sneaky leaks and the intrepid hackers who relentlessly dig through preview builds to find things they weren’t meant to see. For the most part though things have largely been as expected with Microsoft announcing the big features and changes late last year and drip feeding minor things through the technical preview stream. Today Microsoft held their Windows 10 Consumer Preview event in Redmond, announcing several new features that would become part of their flagship operating system as well as confirming the strategy for the Windows platform going forward. Suffice to say it’s definitely a shake up of what we’d traditionally expect from Microsoft, especially when it comes to licensing.
The announcement that headlined the event that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade for all current Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 customers who upgrade in the first year. This is obviously an attempt to ensure that Windows 10’s adoption rate doesn’t languish in the Vista/8 region as even though every other version of Windows seems to do just fine Windows 10 is still different enough for it to cause issues. I can see the adoption rate for current Windows 8 and 8.1 users to be very high, thanks to the integration with the Windows store, however for Windows 7 stalwarts I’m not so sure. Note that this also won’t apply to enterprises who are responsible for an extremely large chunk of the Windows 7 market currently.
Microsoft also announced Universal Applications which are essentially the next iteration of the WinRT framework that was introduced with Windows 8. However instead of delineating some applications to the functional ghetto (like all Metro apps were) Universal Apps instead share a common base set of functionality with additional code paths for the different platforms they support. Conceptually it sounds like a great idea as it means that the different versions of the applications will share the same codebase, making it very easy to bring new features to all platforms simultaneously. Indeed if this platform can be extended to encompass Android/iOS it’d be an incredibly powerful tool, although I wouldn’t count on that coming from Microsoft.
Xbox Live will also be making a prominent appearance in Windows 10 with some pretty cool features coming for XboxOne owners. Chief among these, at least for me, is the ability to stream XboxOne games from your console directly to your PC. As someone who currently uses their PC as a monitor for their PS4 (I have a capture card for reviews and my wife didn’t like me monopolizing the TV constantly with Destiny) I think this a great feature, one I hope other console manufacturers replicate. There’s also cross-game integration for games that use Xbox Live, an inbuilt game recorder and, of course, another iteration of DirectX. This was the kind of stuff Microsoft had hinted at doing with Windows 8 but it seems like they’re finally committed to it with Windows 10.
Microsoft is also expanding its consumer electronics business with new Windows 10 enabled devices. The Microsoft HoloLens is their attempt at a Google Glass like device although one that’s more aimed at being used with the desktop rather than on the go. There’s also the Surface Hub which is Microsoft’s version of the smart board, integrating all sorts of conferencing and collaboration features. It will be interesting to see if these things see any sort of meaningful adoption rate as whilst they’re not critical to Windows 10’s success they’re certainly devices that could increase adoption in areas that traditionally aren’t Microsoft’s domain.
Overall the consumer preview event paints Windows 10 as an evolutionary step forward for Microsoft, taking the core of the ideas that they attempted with previous iterations and reworking them with a fresh perspective. It will be interesting to see how the one year free upgrade approach works for them as gaining that critical mass of users is the hardest thing for any application, even the venerable Windows platform. The other features that are coming along as more nice to haves than anything else, things that will likely help Microsoft sell people on the Windows 10 idea. Getting this launch right is crucial for Microsoft to execute on their strategy of it being the one platform for time immaterial as the longer it takes to get the majority of users on Windows 10 the harder it will be to invest heavily in it. Hopefully Windows 10 can be the Windows 7 to Windows 8 as Microsoft has a lot riding on this coming off just right.
For the last 6 months I’ve been on the lookout for the next phone that will replace my Xperia Z. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite a capable phone, however not a year has gone by in the past decade that there hasn’t been one phone that triggered my geeky lust, forcing me to part ways with several hundred dollars. However the improvements made since I acquired my last handset have just been evolutionary steps forward, none of which have been compelling enough to make me get my wallet out. I had hoped that the Nexus 6 would be the solution to my woes and, whilst it’s not exactly the technological marvel I was hoping for, Google might just be fortunate enough to get my money this time around.
The Nexus 6 jumps on the huge screen bandwagon bringing us an (almost) 6″ display boasting a 2560 x 1440 resolution on an AMOLED panel. The specs under the hood are pretty impressive with it sporting a quad core 2.7 GHz SOC with 3GB RAM and a 3220mAh battery. The rest of it is a rather standard affair including things such as the standard array of sensors that everyone has come to expect, a decent camera (that can do usable 4K video) and a choice between 32GB and 64GB worth of storage. If you were upgrading every 2 years or so the Nexus 6 would be an impressive step up however compared to what’s been available in the market for a while now it’s not much more than a giant screen.
You can’t help but compare this phone to the recently released iPhone 6+ which also sports a giant screen and similar specifications. In terms of who comes out ahead it’s not exactly clear as they both seem to win out in various categories (the Nexus 6 has the better screen, the iPhone 6+ is lighter) but then again the main driver of which one of these you’d go for would be more heavily driven by which ecosystem you’d already bought into. I’d be interested to see how these devices compare side by side however as there’s only so much you can tell by looking at spec sheets.
As someone who’s grown accustom to his 5″ screen I was hoping there’d be a diminutive sister of the Nexus 6, much like the iPhone 6. You can still get the Nexus 5, which now sports Android L, however the specs are the same as they ever were which means there’s far less incentive for people like me to upgrade. Talking to friends who’ve made the switch to giant phones like this (and seeing my wife, with her tiny hands, deftly use her Galaxy Note) it seems like the upgrade wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Had there been a smaller screen I would probably be a little bit more excited about acquiring one as I don’t really have a use case for a much bigger screen than what I have now. That could change once I get some time with the device, though.
So whilst I might not be frothing at the mouth to get Google’s latest handset they might just end up getting my money anyway as there just enough new features for me to justify upgrading my near 2 year old handset. There’s no mistaking that the Nexus 6 is the iPhone 6+ for those on the Android ecosystem and I’m sure there will be many a water cooler conversation over which one of them is the better overall device. For me though the main draw is the stock Android interface with updates that are unimpeded by manufacturers and carriers, something which has been the bane of my Android existence for far too long. Indeed that’s probably the only compelling reason I can see to upgrade to the Nexus 6 at the moment, which is likely enough for some.
The Tesla Model S as we know it today is quite an impressive car. Whilst it’s not exactly within the everyman’s price range yet (getting one landed in Australia likely won’t see much change from $100K) it’s gone a long way to making a high performing electric vehicle available to the masses, especially considering Tesla stance on their patents. Before that electric cars were more of a niche product for the ultra environmentally conscious, combining tiny engines with small frames that would have just enough power to get you to work and back. Now they’re far more easily compared to high end luxury cars and with the new things that Elon announced last week electric cars are heading into a class all of their own.
Elon teased last week that he was going to unveil the D soon (and seemingly forgot how much of a dirty mind the entire Internet has) and “something else”. The D was for their new drive train system that incorporates 2 motors, making the Tesla Model S one of the few fully electric all wheel drive cars. The something else turned out to be the debut of their autopilot system, a sort of cut down version of the Google self-driving car. Whilst the D version of the Model S won’t be available for another couple months (although you can order one today) all Model S cars built within the last couple weeks shipped with the autopilot hardware. Suffice to say both these announcements are pretty exciting although the latter probably more so.
The dual motors is an interesting upgrade for the Model S as it’s a pretty common feature among higher end luxury cars, something which it has been lacking. Of particular note is how the dual motor upgrade affects the various aspects of the car, like slashing 0.8 seconds off the 0-100 time (3.2 seconds) and increasing range by about 3.5%, all whilst granting the benefits that all wheel drive provides. Typically you’d be taking a decent hit to range and efficiency due to the increased weight and power requirements but the Model S has managed to come out on top in all respects. Should those figures hold up in real world testing then it’ll speak volumes to the engineering team that Tesla has managed to cultivate.
However the most interesting part for me was the debut of Tesla’s autopilot system. Elon Musk had always been of the mind that a self driving car didn’t need to be an all encompassing thing, instead they should aim to do the majority of tasks first before looking to take the next leap into full automation. Tesla’s autopilot system is the embodiment of that philosophy, taking some of the technology that’s currently available (emergency braking, lane keeping, collision avoidance) and combining it into one seamless package. It won’t get you from point A to point B without human intervention but it’ll happy take over on the highway, park itself in the garage and even meet you at a certain location. It might not be as comprehensive at what Google is looking to create but it’s available today and does almost everything you’d need it to.
I really shouldn’t be surprised that a Musk created company is managing to innovate so quickly in an industry that has long been one of the slowest movers but honestly these two announcements blew me away. The dual motors might not exactly be a revolutionary piece of technology but the way Telsa has done it speaks volumes to the calibre of people that they have working there. The introduction of autopilot in just over a year since they first talked about it really is quite amazing and whilst it might not be the all encompassing system that Google is seeking it will likely be the standard for many years to come. I can’t wait to see what Tesla has in store for us next as they don’t seem to have any intentions of stopping their brisk innovating pace any time soon.
Microsoft really can’t seem to win sometimes. If they stop making noticeable changes to their products everyone starts whining about how they’re no longer innovating and that people will start to look for alternatives. However should they really try something innovative everyone rebels, pushing Microsoft to go back to the way things ought to be done. It happened with Vista, the Ribbon interface and most recently with Windows 8. Usually what happens though is that the essence of the update makes it into the new version with compromises made to appease those who simply can’t handle change.
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, Microsoft has announced Windows 10.
Everyone seems to be collectively shitting their pants over the fact that Microsoft skipped a version number, somehow forgetting that most of the recent versions of Windows have come sans any number at all. If you want to get pedantic about it (and really, I do) the last 10 versions of Windows have been: Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows ME (gag), Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. If you were expecting them to release Windows 9 because of the last 2 versions of Windows just happened to be in numerical order I’m going to hazard a guess you ate a lot of paint as a child.
On a more serious note the changes that many people were expecting to make up the 8.2 release appear to have been bundled into Windows 10. The start menu makes its triumphant return after 2 years on the sidelines although those modern/metro apps that everyone loved to hate will now make an appearance on there. For someone like me who hasn’t really relied on the start menu even since before Windows 8 arrived (pressing the window key and then typing in what I want is much faster than clicking my way through the menu) I’m none too bothered with its return. It will probably make Windows 10 more attractive to the enterprise though as many of them are still in the midst of upgrading from XP (or purposefully delaying upgrading to 8).
The return of the start menu goes hand in hand with the removal of the metro UI that hosted those kinds of apps, which have now been given the ability to run in a window on the desktop. This is probably one of the better improvements as it no longer means you get a full screen app taking over your desktop if you accidentally click on something that somehow associated itself with a metro app. For me this most often seems to happen with mail as even though I’ve got Outlook installed the Mail app still seems to want to launch itself every so often. Whether or not this will make that style of apps more palatable to the larger world will have to remain to be seen, however.
There’s also been a few other minor updates announced like the inclusion of multiple desktops and improved aero-snap. The command line has also received a usability update, now allowing you to use CTRL + C and CTRL + V to copy and paste respectively. In all honesty if you’re still doing your work in the command line on any version of Windows above Vista you’re doing it wrong as PowerShell has been the shell of choice for everyone for the better part of 7 years. I’m sure some users will be in love with that change but the vast majority of us moved on long ago.
The release date is scheduled for late next year with a technical preview available right now for enterprising enthusiasts. It will be interesting to see what the take up rate is as that date might be a little too late for enterprises who are still running XP who will most likely favour 7 instead. That being said the upgrade path from 7 to 10 is far easier so there is the possibility of Windows 10 seeing a surge in uptake a couple years down the road. For those early adopters of Windows 7 this next release might just be hitting the sweet spot for them to upgrade so there’s every chance that 10 will be as successful as 7.
I’ll reserve my judgement on the new OS until I’ve had a good chance to sit down and use it for an extended period of time. Microsoft rarely makes an OS that’s beyond saving (I’d really only count ME in there) and whilst I might disagree with the masses on 8’s usability I can’t fault Microsoft for capitulating to them. Hopefully the changes aren’t just skin deep as this is shaping up to be the last major revision of Windows we’ll ever see and there’d be nothing worse than for Microsoft to build their future empire on sand.
As of right now there’s only one way to get humans into space: on board a Russian Soyuz craft. It’s an incredibly reliable spacecraft, and probably one of the longest serving spacecraft ever, however it’s ability to only send up 3 astronauts at a time does limit it’s capabilities. Couple that with the fact that the going rate for a seat on one of them is about $70 million you can imagine why there’s an imperative on NASA to find another way to get themselves up there. Whilst there’s been a lot of internal work to develop the next generation of crew transportation NASA has realised that the private space industry will very soon have that capability. To that effect they created the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTCap) award, a $6.8 billion dollar contract to provide crew transportation services.
Today they announced the winners: SpaceX and Boeing.
The contract split gives $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing. Considering NASA’s long relationship with Boeing it’s not surprising that they got a larger chunk of the pie (and the fact that they’ve already sunk about half a billion into the program already) however I’m sure SpaceX won’t be unhappy with that much business coming their way. Both companies are already well underway with their respective crew transports, Boeing with the CST-100 and SpaceX with the Dragon, which is likely why they were chosen in the first place. This program won’t replace the work that’s currently being done by NASA with the Orion capsule (under contract with Lockheed Martin) and will instead function as a supplement to that capability.
Being awarded work under CCTCap isn’t all roses however as NASA is looking to have at least one of the capsules up and running by 2017. That largely lines up with the timelines that SpaceX has for their Dragon capsule, with the first flights scheduled for late next year with crewed missions to follow shortly after. As to how that fits with the current CST-100 schedule is less clear as whilst there’s been some mockup tests done a couple years ago I haven’t seen much progress on it since. Boeing isn’t the same kind of company that SpaceX is though so there’s every possibility that the CST-100 is just as far along its development pipeline as the Dragon is. Still the CCTCap only calls for one of them to be ready by that time and if I was a betting man my money would be on SpaceX.
Both company’s solutions are of the reusable capsule variety which might seem a step backwards but it’s actually the smarter way to do space travel, especially if cost is a primary factor. The Space Shuttle, whilst iconic in its shape and unmatched in its capabilities, was a compromise between far too many objectives that were at odds with each other. If you’re goal is just getting people up and down then capsules are the way to go. It will be interesting to see if the economies of scale kick in with these craft as the Dragon is designed to be launched many times per year and the CST-100 can be reused up to 10 times before it needs a full teardown.
Needless to say this is an incredibly exciting announcement. I’ve long been of the mind that NASA should leave things like this to the private companies who can deliver the same service at a much better price without compromising on saftey. That then leaves them free to do the big picture stuff that will inspire the next generation, the kinds of things that we all remember the NASA name for. The CCTCap is the first step towards them rekindling that spirit and, as an avid space geek, that makes me so wonderfully happy.
There’s no question that Microsoft’s attempt at the tablet market has been lacklustre. Whilst the hardware they have powering their tablets was decent the nascent Windows Store lacks the diversity of its competitors, something which made the RT version of it even less desirable. This has since resulted in Microsoft writing down $900 million in Surface RT and associated inventory something which many speculated would be the end of the Surface line. However it appears that Microsoft is more committed than ever to the Surface idea and recently announced the Surface 2, an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor.
The new Surface 2 looks pretty much identical to predecessor although it’s a bit slimmer and is also a bit lighter. It retains the in built kick stand but it now has 2 positions instead of one something which I’m will be useful to some. The specifications under the hood have been significantly revamped for both versions of the tablet with the RT (although it’s no longer called that) version sporting a NVIDIA Tegra 4 and the Pro one of the new Haswell i5 chips. Microsoft will also now let you choose how much RAM you get in your Pro model, allowing you to cram up to 8GB in there. The Pro also gets the luxury of larger drive sizes, up to 512GB should you want it (although you’ll be forced to get the 8GB RAM model if you do). Overall I’d say this is pretty much what you’d expect from a generation 2 product and the Pro at least looks like it could be a decent laptop competitor.
Of course the issues that led Microsoft to write down nearly a billion dollars worth of inventory (after attempting to peddle as much of it as they could to TechEd attendees) still exist today and the upgrade to Windows 8.1 won’t do much to solve this. Sure in the time between the initial Surface release and now there’s been a decent amount of applications developed for it but it still pales in comparison. I still think that the Metro interface is pretty decent on a touch screen but Microsoft will really have to do something outrageous to convince everyone that the Surface is worth buying otherwise it’s doomed to repeat its predecessor’s mistakes.
The Pro on the other hand looks like it’d be a pretty great enterprise tablet thanks to its full x86 environment. I know I’d much rather have those in my environment than Android or iPads as they would be much harder to integrate into all the standard management tools. A Surface 2 Pro on the other hand would behave much like any other desktop allowing me to deliver the full experience to anyone who had one. Of course it’s then more of a replacement for a laptop than anything else but I do know a lot of users who would prefer a tablet device rather than the current fleet of laptops they’re given (even the ones who get ultrabooks).
Whilst the Pro looks like a solid upgrade I can’t help but feel that the upgrade to the RT is almost unnecessary given the fact that most of the complaints levelled at it were nothing to do with its performance. Indeed not once have I found myself wanting for speed on my Surface RT, instead I’ve been wanting my favourite apps to come across so that I don’t have to use their web versions which, on Internet Explorer, typically aren’t great. Maybe the ecosystem is mature enough now to tempt some people across but honestly unless they already own one I can’t really see that happening, at least for the RT version. The Pro on the other hand could make some headway into Microsoft’s core enterprise market but even that might not be enough for the Surface division.
The primary driver for any company, whether they’re bound to the public via the whims or the stock market or not, is to create value and wealth for its various stakeholders. There’s not many companies that do that as well as Valve who’s profit per employee is among the highest in any industry and an order of magnitude above all its competitors. This is almost wholly due to their domination of the digital distribution market but their innovative use of Free to Play for their flagship games has certainly contributed to that as well. Of course the question on everyone’s minds is where Valve will go from here and their latest announcement, which I speculated about last year, seems to be their answer.
Today Valve announced SteamOS, essentially a Linux environment that’s geared towards playing games. There’s also a number of additional features that will be made available with its release including the also recently announced Family Sharing program which allows you to share your steam library with others. Whilst this isn’t the SteamBox that many were anticipating it’s essentially Valve’s console launch as they’ve stated numerous times in the past that anyone would be able to build their own SteamBox and SteamOS would be the basis for that. What the SteamOS actually entails, in terms of functionality and look/feel, remains to be seen but the launch site promises it will be available soon.
SteamOS comes off the back of Valve’s substantial amount of work on the Linux platform with a decent chunk of the Steam library now available on the platform. If we take Gabe’s word for it much of this was driven by the fact that Windows 8 was a “catastrophe” for gaming, something which I don’t agree with, and Valve sees their future being the Linux platform. Whilst it’s admirable that they’re investing a lot in a platform that’s traditionally been a tiny sliver of the PC gaming market the decision to use Linux is, in my opinion, more likely profit driven than anything else as it gets them a foothold in an area where they don’t current have any: the home living room.
Big Picture mode was their first attempt at this which was pretty squarely aimed at replicating the console experience using the Steam platform. However since most people run their games on a PC dedicated to such activities this would mean that Steam’s penetration in the living room was minimal. The SteamOS, and by extension the SteamBox, is a more targeted attempt to break into this area with it’s additional media features and family friendly control options. I don’t begrudge them for this, the sole reason companies exist is to generate profit, however some seem to think Valve’s moves towards Linux are purely altruistic when I can assure you they’re anything but.
Of course the biggest factor that will determine the success or failure of this platform will be whether or not the big developers and publishers see the SteamOS as a viable platform to develop for. As many are speculating Valve could do this by drastically reducing their cut of sales on the platform, something which would go a long way to making developing for Linux viable. I don’t think Valve needs to do a whole lot to attract indie developers to it as many of the frameworks they use already natively support Linux (even XNA does through some 3rd party tools) and as the Humble Indie Bundle has shown there’s definitely enough demand to make it attractive for them.
If any other company attempted to do this I’d say they were doomed to fail but Valve has the capital and captive market to make this idea viable. I’m sure it will see a decent adoption rate just out of pure curiosity (indeed I’ll probably install it just to check it out) and that could be enough to give it the critical mass needed to see adoption rates sky rocket. Whether or not those numbers will be big enough to convince the developers and publishers to get on board though will be something that will play out over the next couple years and will ultimately be the deciding factor in the platform’s success or failure.
I haven’t been an iPhone user for many years now, my iPhone 3GS sitting disused in the drawer beside me ever since it was replaced, mostly because the alternatives presented by other companies have, in my opinion, outclassed them for a long time. This is not to say that I think everything else should replace their phone with a Xperia Z, that particular phone is definitely not for everyone, as I realise that the iPhone fills a need for many people. Indeed it’s the phone I usually recommend to my less technically inclined friends and family members because I know that they have a support system tailored towards them (meaning they’ll bug me less). So whilst today’s announcement of the new models won’t have me opening up my wallet anytime soon it is something I feel I need to be aware of, if only for the small thrill I get for being critical of an Apple product.
So as many had speculated Apple announced 2 new iPhones today: the iPhone 5C which is essentially the entry level model and the iPhone 5S which is the top of the line one with all the latest and greatest features. The most interesting different between the two is the radical difference in design with the 5C looking more like a kids toy with its pastel style colours and the 5S looking distinctly more adult with it’s muted tones of silver, grey and gold. As expected the 5C is the cheaper of the two with the base model starting from AUD$739 and the 5S AUD$869 with the prices ramping up steadily depending on how much storage you want.
The 5C is interesting because everyone was expecting a budget iPhone to come out and Apple’s response is clearly not what most people had in mind. Sure it’s the cheapest model of the lot (bar the Phone 4S) but should you want to upgrade the storage you’re already paying the same amount as the entry level 5S. The difference in features as well are also pretty minimal with the exceptions being an A6 vs A7 processor, slightly bulkier dimensions, new fandangled fingerprint home button and a slightly better camera. Of course those slight differences are usually enough to push any potential iPhone buyer to the higher end model so the question then becomes: who is the 5C marketed towards?
It’s certainly not at the low end of the market, as most people were expecting, even though it looks the part with its all plastic finish (which we haven’t seen since I last used an iPhone). It might appeal to those who like those particular colours although realistically I can’t see that being much of a draw card considering you can buy any colour case for $10 these days. Indeed even when you factor in the typical on contract price for a new iPhone (~$200) the difference between an entry level 5C and 5S is so small that most would likely dole out the extra cash just to have the better version, especially considering how visually different they are.
Another thing running against the 5C is that the 5S shares the same dimensions as the original iPhone 5 allowing you to use all your old cases and accessories with it. I know this won’t be a dealbreaker for many but it seems obvious that the 5S is aimed at people coming from the iPhone 5 whereas the 5C doesn’t appear to have any particular market in mind that necessitates its differences. If this was Apple’s attempt to try and claw back some of the market that Android has been happily dominating then I can help but feel it’s completely misguided. Then again I lost my desire for Apple products years ago so I might be missing out on what the appeal of a gimped, not-really-budget Apple handset might be.
The iPhone 5S does look like a decent phone sporting most of the features you’d expect from a current generation smart phone. NFC is still missing which, if I’m honest, isn’t as big of a deal as I used to make it out to be as I’ve now got a NFC phone and I can’t use it for jack so I don’t count it as downer anymore. As always though the price of a comparable Android handset to what you get from Apple is a big sore point with the top of the line model topping out at an incredible AUD$1129. I know Apple is a premium brand but when the price difference between the high and low end is $260 and the only difference is storage you really have to ask if its worth it, especially when comparable Android phones will have the same level of features and will be cheaper (my 16GB Xperia Z was $768 for reference).
I will be really interested to see how the 5C pans out as many are billing it as the “budget” iPhone that everyone was after when in truth it’s anything but that. The 5S is your typical product refresh cycle from Apple, bringing in a few new cool things but nothing particularly revolutionary. Of course you should consider everything I’ve said through the eyes of a long time Android user and lover as whilst I’ve owned an iPhone before it’s been so long between drinks that I can barely remember the experience anymore. Still I’m sure at least the 5S will do well in the marketplace as all the flagship Apple phones do.
This year was already shaping up to be a great run for gamers, what with all the new IP heading our way and multiple high quality sequels, and the next console generation will likely be upon us before the year is out. Had you asked me last year what my predictions were I would’ve told you that we’d be lucky to see the next generation Xbox this year and it was far more likely that we’d see both of them sometime in 2014. I’m quite glad to be wrong in this instance however as whilst I might still be primarily a PC gamer I grew up on consoles and will always have a soft spot for them.
Today Microsoft officially announced their successor to the Xbox360: the XboxOne. If you’ve been following the rumours and leaks like I have there’s nothing too much surprising about the console itself as it sports the exact specs that have been floating around for a while. However there are still a few surprises from Microsoft’s next generation console and the launch event clarified some of the more controversial rumours that had been flying around. Suffice to say that Sony and Microsoft have very different audiences in mind for their next gen offerings, meaning that the choice between the two might no longer be based on platform exclusives alone.
Whilst I won’t go over the hardware specifications as they’re near identical to that of the PS4 (although I can’t find a confirmation of DDR3 vs GDDR5) there were a couple surprises under the hood of the XboxOne. For starters it’s sporting a BluRay drive which was kind of expected but still up in the air thanks to Microsoft initially throwing its support behind HDDVD, giving a little credence to the rumour that they wouldn’t incorporate it into their next gen offering. It also brings with it a HDMI in port, allowing those with set top boxes to run their TV through it. Whilst that doesn’t sound like much it’s telling of the larger strategy that Microsoft has at play here: they’re marketing the XboxOne as much more than a games console.
Indeed all the other features that they’ve included, like Snap Mode and the upgrades to their SmartGlass app, are all heavily focused on media consumption and making the XboxOne the central point of your home entertainment setup. Considering that current generation Xboxs are used to watch media more than they are to play games this change in direction is not surprising however it could alienate some of the more hardcore games fans. It seems Sony was well aware of this as their launch focused far more heavily on the gaming experience that their console could deliver rather than its additional media capabilities. The delineation then seems clear: if you want a gaming machine go for the PS4, but for everyone else there’s XboxOne.
The Xbox had always been Microsoft’s last piece in the Three Screens puzzle and it appears that the XboxOne will in fact be running a version of windows under the hood. In fact it’s running 3 different operating systems: Windows 8/RT, a second Xbox OS that’ll remain largely static (for developers) and the third layer sounds more like a hypervisor, managing access to resources for the 2 main operating systems. I speculated last year that Microsoft would be looking to bring WinRT to the next gen Xbox and that appears to be the case although how much of the functionality is directly compatible is still up for question as Microsoft has stated that you’ll “need to do some work” to port them across.
Unfortunately it does look like Microsoft wants to take an axe to the second hand games market as whilst the rumours of it needing to be always online have turned out to be false (although games can make use of Azure Cloud Gaming services which would require an online connection) installing a game to a hard drive locks it to that particular Xbox account, requiring a fee to do it on another. Whether or not you can play games without installing them is still up for debate however and the answer to that will make or break the second hand games market.
Additionally there’s going to be no backwards compatibility to speak of, save for transferring of licenses for media and your gamer score. Whilst this was not unexpected this combined with the lack of a second hand games market might be a dealbreaker for some. Whether this will push more people to Sony remains to be seen though as whilst they’ve alluded to backwards compatibility possibly coming via some kind of cloud gaming service that won’t be something former Xboxers will care about. It’s far more likely that the decision will be made on what the console will primarily be used for: gaming or media.
I’ve been something of a stalwart “buy all the things” consumer ever since I had a job that would allow me to do this but with the announcement of XboxOne I’m not sure if that will be the case anymore. I say this because I believe that the vast majority of titles will be cross platform, thanks to the x86 architecture, and as of yet there hasn’t been any compelling exclusives announced for either platform that would draw me to it. The Xbox360 landed a purchase solely for Mass Effect but I get the feeling that we won’t see another title that’s bound to a single platform like that again. With that in mind it’s highly likely that my current console collection will be slimmed down to one, and the last man standing will be the PS4.
I would love to be convinced otherwise though, Microsoft.
There’s only one thing that I don’t like about my little 60D and that’s the fact that it’s not a full frame camera. For the uninitiated this means that the sensor contained within the camera, the thing that actually records the image, is smaller than the standard 35mm size which was prevalent during the film days. This means that in comparison to its bigger brothers in more serious cameras there are some trade offs made, most done in the name of reducing cost. Indeed for comparison a full framed camera would be over double the price I paid for my 60D and would actually lack some of the features that I considered useful (like the screen that swings out). The rumour mill has been churning for quite a while that Canon would eventually release an affordable full frame DSLR at this year’s Photokina and the prospect really excited me, even if my 60D is still only months old at this point.
News broke late yesterday that yes the rumours were true and Canon was releasing a new camera called the EOS 6D which was in essence a full frame camera for the masses. The nomenclature would have you believe that it was in fact a full frame upgrade for the 60D, something that was widely rumoured to be the case, but diving into the specifications reveals that it shares a lot more with the 5D lineage than it does with its prosumer cousin. This doesn’t mean the camera is more focused on the professional field, indeed the inclusion of things like wifi and GPS are usually considered to be conusmer features (I’ve had them in my Sony pocket cam for years, for example), but if I’m honest the picture I built up of the new camera in my head doesn’t exactly align with what Canon has revealed and that’s left me somewhat disappointed.
Before I get into that though let me list off the things that are really quite awesome about the 6D. The full frame sensor in a camera that will cost $2099 is pretty damn phenomenal even if that’s still well out of the range of the people buying in the 60D range. It’s actually the cheapest full frame DSLR available (even the Sony fixed lens full frame is $700 more) and that in itself is an achievement worth celebrating. All the benefits of the bigger sensor are a given (better low light performance, crazy ISOs and better resolution) and the addition of WiFi and GPS means that the 6D is definitely one of the most feature packed cameras Canon has ever released. Still it’s the omission of certain features and reduction in others that’s left me wondering if it’s worth me upgrading to it.
For starters there’s the lack of an articulated screen. It sounds like a small thing as there are external monitor solutions that would get me similar functionality but I’ve found that little flip out screen on my 60D so damn useful that it pains me to give it up. The reasons behind its absence are sound though as they want to make the 6D one of their more sturdier cameras (it’s fully weather sealed as well) and an articulated screen is arguably working against them in that regard.
There’s also the auto-focus system which only comes with 11 focus points of which only 1 is cross type. This is a pretty significant step down from the 60D and coming from someone who struggled with their 400D’s lackluster autofocus system I can’t really see myself wanting to go back to that. It could very well be fine but on paper it doesn’t make me want to throw my money recklessly in Canon’s direction like I did with all the rumours leading up to this point.
One thing could sway me and that would be if MagicLatern made its way onto the 6D platform. The amount of features you unlock by running this software is simply incredible and whilst it won’t fix the 2 things that have failed to impress me it would make the 6D much more palatable for me. Considering that the team behind it just managed to get their software working on the ever elusive 7D there’s a good chance of it happening and I’ll have to see how I feel about the 6D after that happens.
Realistically the disappointment I’m feeling is my fault. I broke my rule about avoiding the hype and built up an image of the product that had no basis in reality. When it didn’t match those expectations exactly I was, of course, let down and there’s really nothing Canon could have done to prevent that. Maybe as time goes on the idea of the 6D will grow on me a bit more and then after another red wine filled night you might see another vague tweet that indicates I’ve changed my mind.
Time to restock the wine rack, methinks.