Microsoft’s Next Device

Microsoft recently introduced a version of Windows called Windows 10 S, with the S standing for streamlined and secure. Unlike the Windows we are all used to, it only runs apps that are available from the Microsoft store. Presumably, the security of these apps has been vetted by Microsoft and they also run very efficiently.

Microsoft tried launching a similar version of Windows that only ran apps from the store 5 years ago called Windows RT. It was a huge failure. So why do it again?

The tech press has focused on Windows 10 S as being Microsoft’s answer to Google’s operating system called Chrome, which runs on a number of inexpensive laptops targeted at students.

There is certainly truth to that. However, it is likely that Windows 10 S is the version of Windows that Microsoft sees running on mobile devices. Cellular connected mobile devices. For example, a phone.

Microsoft does have something called Windows 10 Mobile currently for phones, but it is not clear where that is going. There is very little development happening on it. Microsoft has stopped making phones and its partners have pretty much stopped as well.

My guess is that Windows 10 S will be the version of Windows that runs on the next “phone” that Microsoft comes out with. Phone in quotes, because they have already said that they will not make a traditional smart phone like the iPhone or Galaxy. Microsoft is all about productivity, and while the device might be able to do voice calls, it will likely be more about getting work done.

Right now, most folks carry a phone along with a laptop or tablet and keyboard to actually do their work on.  With its Continuum feature, Microsoft tried to eliminate the laptop/tablet requirement but did not quite get there. But with a new mobile device running Windows 10 S and a keyboard, it just might make it.

 

Apple Goes Mobile While Microsoft Stays Deskbound

Apple took a lot of hits lately in the tech press regarding their underwhelming update to the MacBook line. The thing is, the Apple laptop of the future is not the MacBook Pro, it is the iPad Pro.

First, Google introduced the Chromebooks, a laptop with more or less a mobile operating system. Then Microsoft introduced Continuum, a way to plug your phone into a keyboard and monitor and turn it into an almost desktop. Then HP went one better and started selling a “lapdock” for their phone so you don’t have to find a keyboard and monitor, you can the lapdock with you.

Google is reportedly working on similar technology for Android, and it would be shocking if Apple were not also working on something. The problem for Apple is that they still need to sell proper laptops (and desktops) with their proper desktop operating system macOS because the mobile iOS is not quite ready to do all of the things that a desktop operating system would do. But I am sure that once the mobile operating system has improved enough, they will encourage all of their desktop users to migrate and provide great hardware to help them make the move. Why support two operating systems?

Meanwhile Microsoft is going the opposite direction. It has been doing, and redoing, mobile versions of its Windows operating system for the past decade and none of them have succeeded. So Microsoft is betting big that the mobile hardware will improve enough to let its flagship desktop operating system run on mobile devices with few modifications. From the recent reports about Windows on ARM, they are less than 12 months away from this.

At the end of the day, both Apple and Microsoft will have robust, touch enabled operating systems that work across all manner of devices, one with mobile roots and one with a desktop lineage.

Which approach will win? Well, the advantage of a mobile OS is small footprint and low power consumption. But if the hardware advances to let a desktop OS do the same, then why wouldn’t you want the extra horsepower if it really did not cost that much?

On the other hand, the app ecosystem has been very successful for Apple. Looking forward, one will have to consider future ecosystem needs such as virtual and augmented reality, automobile integration and cloud services. Right now, Microsoft seems to be ahead in these, but who knows what Apple and Google have planned?

Space’s Roadside Service

There are a lot of different commercial reasons reasons for sending people into space. Tourism is one. Private research on space stations is another. But one of the biggest potential money makers is hardly ever talked about: satellite repair and upgrading.

Even if the cost of lifting satellites into orbit is dramatically lowered by companies like SpaceX, the machines themselves cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It is far less expensive to upgrade or repair a satellite than to build a new one. And the ‘reduced cost’ launches of the future will still run in the tens millions.

Right now, satellites are not really engineered to be upgraded and serviced. But they will be. Expect to see teams sent into space or even based there whose primary mission is servicing satellites.Think “Sparky’s Sat Service Station.”

Some satellites in geosynchronous orbits are hard to get to. But they will be engineered to use their last bits of fuel to lower their orbits to where they can be captured and serviced. Or a small robot rocket would go get them and bring them in for servicing – a space based tow truck. Their components will be upgraded or repaired and they will be refueled and placed back in service, extending their lives by years.

This will also drive standardization of certain components, particularly around fuel and propulsion. For example, new satellites might come with a standardized mount for a small aftermarket rocket motor that could be attached to them to help them get back into position faster and bring them down for their next service. Sending 10 of these motors or their fuel into space would be far cheaper than 1 new satellite.

Astronauts get all the glory, but pretty soon space mechanics may be much more valued.

 

The Self-Driving Future: Part 3

Did you save some money by not buying that self-driving car? Not so fast. You’re gonna pay that money and more in the long run.

First, your insurance premiums will eventually be higher because the insurance companies know that manual drivers are not as safe as computer drivers, and anyway, the only people  who want to drive manually are the Fast and Furious wannbees who are more likely to get into accidents.

Secondly, you’ll pay more in gas, because the computer will drive the car more efficiently than you ever can.

Thirdly, you’ll pay more tolls. Let’s say that a lane of highway has a capacity of 1,500 passengers cars per hour. But if all of those cars are in self driving mode they will be able to safely follow each other a little closer and do less rubbernecking, etc. The capacity might increase by 25% to 1,875 cars per hour. On a four lane highway, that adds a whole  lane of capacity.

Highways are very expensive to build. If more capacity is needed, it would be way cheaper to fit more cars on the road by encouraging  people to let their cars drive themselves. At the beginning there will be dedicated lanes for this. Then self driving will become the norm, and there will be dedicated lanes for manual drivers. Finally, on congested roads, they will start charging extra tolls to drive manually.

So all of the out of work body shop workers and auto mechanics that cannot afford the new self driving cars will have to pay a bit more money to commute to their new job at the recycling plant 100 km away.

 

The Self-Driving Future: Part 2

Self-driving cars are coming sooner than you think, and that is bad news for the auto repair industry.

For one thing, there won’t be as much body shop work needed because cars will be crashing less often. Most body shops are small, locally owned businesses employing skipped blue collar labor, so look for a lot of small business owners to go out business and a bunch of skilled people to become unemployed. Not a great outcome.

You would think that auto repair shops would be in a better position. After all, cars that are driven wear out and have to be fixed, right?

Not so fast. Cars driven on autopilot will be driven less hard and therefore wear out slower, meaning fewer repairs. And even worse, the liability legalities around self driving cars might mean that in order to get insurance, you have to have certain repairs done by the dealer. Like anything to do with the steering. If steering repairs are not done ‘in house’, the car manufacturer could refuse any responsibility for self-driving mode and make the car uninsurable.

So look for another bunch of folks to be out of jobs, and car dealers to get additional revenue. Isn’t technology great?

The Self-Driving Future: Part 1

Tesla recently started adding all of the hardware required for fully autonomous driving to their new cars. They have not delivered the software for this yet, but it will probably be available within a couple of years, regulations permitting. Other car makers won’t be far behind.

We’ve already noted what self driving cars will do to the Uber and Lyft drivers. Who else will be affected?

Insurance companies will clean up. Claims expenses will go down for property damage, medical costs and life insurance payouts but premiums won’t. In fact, the insurance companies will probably charge higher premiums for self driving cars because they are ‘risky’ and ‘unproven’. After a couple of years of record profits in the insurance industry, the state legislatures will get involved and maybe some of us will get a break on our rates. But don’t count on it.

The Uber Ankle Bracelet

The other day I grabbed an Uber to meet my wife at an Italian restaurant. On the way there I had the car stop at a flower stand and picked up a rose for her. On the Uber back home we were wishfully chatting about how much fun it would be if we were actually eating Italian food at a restaurant in Italy.

When I got on the internet the next day I got ads for flower delivery and tour packages to Italy for my wife’s upcoming birthday.

The above is fantasy (especially the part about the rose!) but not by much. Uber has already said it may track you even when you are not using its service. Is it really that much of a stretch to think that it will listen to your conversations whenever you are riding in one of its vehicles as well? It would be like Alexa, but listening all the time. Wait a minute, isn’t Alexa already listening all the time . . .  ?

Once self driving cars become the norm, and they are all wired into Big Highway Brother, you really won’t be able to go anywhere at all without being tracked. The assumption will be that anyone manually driving a car is trying to avoid tracking and up to no good. Not only that, since self driving cars can be safely compacted much closer together on the road, manual  drivers will be considered selfish for taking up more space on the roads. So the rap on manual drivers will be that they are selfish and shifty (pun intended). Or rich.

The rich, of course, will find a way around this, as they usually do. So they’ll still have some privacy. But the companies they own and run will know everything about you. Doesn’t the future sound fab?