Windows 8 Release Date Getting Closer with Consumer Preview Launch

This Wednesday in Barcelona, Microsoft will be releasing their Consumer Preview of Windows 8, giving users a taste of what the latest version of Windows will be offering. Although an exact Windows 8 release date hasn’t been announced, the timing of the beta version, as it is more commonly known, does indicate a possible release around September/October this year.

The launch of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview at the Mobile World Congress is telling, as it appears to be in line with the ramping up of the Windows environment across many device types. This includes smartphones and tablets in addition to the traditional PC and notebook market. Although Windows 7 has appeared in some touch screen tablets, these have been mostly commercial models and retail versions have not sold in massive numbers. This should change with Windows 8.

The Windows 8 Release Date firms up with the Consumer Preview announcement.

The next big milestone in the Windows 8 development is the Consumer Preview, but how far away is an official Windows 8 release date?

As we’ve already seen on the Nokia Lumia 800 Windows phone, the latest Windows OS for Smartphones is powerful and easy to use. The developer preview of Windows 8 also showed the Metro-style approach, moving away from the traditional desktop environment as we’ve known it for many years. (read our report on the Windows Phone from Nokia here.)

The tile-style grouping of programs and apps works well across the vertical swiping of the smaller smartphone screen, and the horizontal real estate of a widescreen display. How Microsoft intends to lock this down for the Windows 8 release date will be made much clearer as the Consumer Preview is distributed.

The Metro store is also expected to be opened in line with the Consumer Preview. These apps will probably be free previews ahead of the official Windows 8 release date. Apps would then be available to purchase as they are on the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace.

There is plenty of speculation about the final look and feel of Windows 8, including the removal of the iconic “Start” button. If this proves to be true, the Windows 8 release date will mark the end of a love-hate relationship with a desktop OS the world has used for decades. Microsoft could possibly re-invent Windows as a superpower OS integrated into people’s lives in business, leisure and social communication.

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Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Mobile Phone in Action

While at the CES this year we had a quick play with the Nokia Lumia 800 Windows mobile phone. Even in that short period of time, we were very impressed with the mobile operating system that Microsoft had developed, and were eager to get a unit for an in-depth look. The Lumia 800 will be available in Australia for the first time in March. (for more coverage from the Consumer Electronics Show, see our CES section here.)

As we’ve mentioned previously, Window 8 will be the real beginning for Microsoft’s foray into the mobile ecosystem, and if Windows Mobile 7.5 is any indication, it will be a strong contender against Android and Apple, if the total solution is executed well. By that I mean the hardware, embedded OS and app market support. (For our thoughts on what CES may lead to this year, click here.)

For now we have the Lumia 800 to build that case for Windows Smartphone. Here’s what we thought of the phone in our video segment:

There was a lot to like about the Nokia Lumia 800 Windows mobile phone. The physical shape and weight were very comfortable, and I thought the inclusion of the rubber form-fitting case was a nice touch. I actually wouldn’t use the phone without it as it doesn’t take away from the look and does add grip to the daily use.

At 800 x 480 pixels, the 3.7” screen is certainly not the highest resolution, but being AMOLED what was on the screen was easily readable. The Gorilla Glass added further confidence in the robustness of the display.

We also liked the layout of the buttons – all on the right hand side and intuitive once used a few times. The magnetic cover for the charging and connecting port seemed to be a little finicky, but the cover added to the overall design. The use of Micro SIM might make it easy for iPhone users to switch over without the need for a new SIM card. Perhaps that was one consideration when building this phone’s hardware specs.

Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Mobile Phone

The Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Mobile Phone is a strong example of where Microsoft is headed with Windows this year in the mobile and smartphone category.

Instead of widgets, each tile has a dynamic status attached and will display social updates, unopened or unanswered communication, and other software/hardware statuses like Wi-Fi.

Complete customisation can be achieved and would be the key to a successful home screen on the Nokia Lumia 800 Windows mobile phone. All apps can be pinned to the home screen and arranged in whatever order you need them in.

One of the biggest hooks for users will be the People Hub. This is where it all comes together and makes your phone the social aggregator of all your networking tendrils, helping to group people according to their relationship with you and displaying updated feeds for each group that you create.

Microsoft’s search engine Bing will be ramped up further by its inclusion in the Windows OS. They’ve made it easy to access from the lock screen  and different methods of search are instantly available: voice, text or music snippets.  Barcodes and QR codes can also be read using the Bing search.

It was refreshing to use this Nokia Lumia 800 Windows mobile phone. The responsiveness of the OS and the absolute ease of use, along with the social focus, put this phone and the Windows Phone OS in high regard over here.

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It’s by no means perfect yet, and after using it on a daily basis for a short period, there were a few characteristics we found that hopefully will be refined with updates down the track. Being an evolutionary product by nature, the OS is sure to improve over time and with user feedback.

There aren’t any native shortcuts for regularly used settings, like a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi toggle switch. I did find an app on the Microsoft Marketplace though,which was free and seems to work quite well.  There also doesn’t seem to be support for a simple thing such as a screenshot at the moment, which I find myself using all the time.

One of the most noticeable omissions right now is the lack of a function to convert your phone into a personal hotspot so you can connect other internet devices. And Flash has not been deployed on the mobile browser either, although not a huge issue with HMTL5 taking over and the world of plug-ins fading fast.

Over the air updates aren’t active on Nokia Lumia 800 Windows mobile phone yet, either. There is actually an alert that comes to you over the air, but that is only a notice for you to install and use the Zune software on a PC to apply any OS update. Given both Android and iOS both apply updates OTA, this takes a point away from Windows.

These aren’t hardware restrictions, and could all be addressed through system updates. Given that these features would probably be expected on a decent smartphone in 2012, I’m keen to see how quickly Nokia and Microsoft address these omissions.

As a first iteration, it’s the strongest Windows Smartphone offering yet. The focus on the relationship-based groups and social network integration is extremely compelling, and the intuitive and well-designed mobile environment makes it a true competitor in the battle of the ecosystems this year.

Apple and Android, meet your match. Microsoft might be a little late to the party, but they’ve bought a big bag of goodies along to make friends.

How entrenched are you in the ecosystem you currently use? Is the feature set of this Windows Phone convincing enough to move you across? Let us know your thoughts in the comments area below.

Consumer Electronics Show Las Vegas – Reflections on CES 2012

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has come and gone, and left behind a buzz of excitement and expectation for products and platforms that we will begin to see later on this year. A week after returning to Sydney, and with a couple more videos to upload, I thought I’d look back on the show in a holistic view and pick out some highlights.

There were no revelatory launches or announcements, mostly there were hints of things to come, partnerships to blossom and a drive to make things even simpler for users. Here are some of the impressions I had while walking through the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

There is an ecosystem war about to be waged, and the prize is… you. Apple and Google have been fighting for the mobile device market for the past few years, with Google now an extremely capable and experienced hand in the cell phone market. However, inroads have been harder for Google to create for the tablet market, which is still predominantly iPad.

In the second half of this year, Microsoft will put its hat in the ring for ecosystem and cross-device dominance, with Windows 8 expected to be deployed across a raft of new products including desktops, touchscreen all-in-ones, Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

CES attendees flocking to the Microsoft stand to obtain a glimpse on what will be on offer this year.

Windows are in the enviable position of possessing a user base of hundreds of millions that are potentially customers for the Windows 8 system. Of course, many of them are already using iPhones or one of the many well regarded Android Smartphones, and are knee-deep in the App markets of either one.

However, if Windows does manage to execute the launch correctly, it could potentially convert a fair percentage of these users over through the promise of complete and seamless connectivity of files and data through any device. It could be pretty compelling if they can tie Skydrive into the cloud service that manages the always-synched nature of the always connected, always on products that we now demand.

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, which was derided by many at the time of the announcement, now it seems to be one of the smartest moves for both companies to survive and succeed in the brave new world of the smartphone market.

On the other hand, Intel’s major push with Lenovo and Motorola into Google-powered mobile devices later this year gives Android another shot in the arm to stay ahead of the competition and flourish in bourgeoning markets like China – what a country for Lenovo smartphones to launch in! The name of the game here seems to be installed base, and on this metric both Android and iPhone have a comfortable head start on Microsoft.

Nearly every PC brand represented at CES had an Ultrabook offering, and this Intel-created category of slim and light notebooks has given notebooks a new lease of life where there has not been any tremendous technology bumps since the first wave of Core i3/i5/i7 processors were released.

Intel stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

With Intel announcing that they are entering the mobile phone market, other mobile phone chipmakers have been put on notice.

The Ultrabooks show how light, connectable and thin Windows notebooks can be. With most of Intel’s marketing funds being pushed towards the Ultrabook category, it’s no wonder manufacturers are producing their own takes on the Ultrabook in terms of design, weight and ports. As the gap between a standard notebook and an Ultrabook begins to narrow, Ultrabooks will become more attractive for its attributes of SSD, unibody shells, lack of moving parts, instant-on and practical portability without compromising comparable performance.

At the Microsoft Keynote, a few important announcements were made that will start to affect the landscape of PCs later in the year. The first was the announcement of Kinext coming to Windows PCs, and that the developer kit would be released at the beginning of February. This is the first step away from the standard keyboard and mouse and towards Natural User Interface, where gesture and voice control may become a standard plug in for devices in the future. Kinect started as a gaming platform but it was always quite clear that its potential went far beyond waving your hands in front of the TV and would have positive implications for many industries.

Microsoft keynote at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Microsoft Keynote... if only they could get the voice recognition software on that dang Windows Phone to work. :-D

The other key announcement was the support for ARM devices for the Windows 8 platform. This means that popular tablets like the Transformer Prime and Galaxy Tab could end up with Windows pre-loaded in the future. This could be a sigh of relief to traditional PC manufacturers, who will probably find deploying Windows on their tablets less burdensome than Android.

Not that Google is entirely on the outer, either. Intel’s chosen platform for its initial foray into the mobile phone market is with Google, which will strengthen its share in the smartphone category and possibly shore up support for tablet devices.

Integration and simplification seems to be the mantra for many AV companies, who are becoming less reliant on third party peripherals and building technology into their products. For example, LG will have Wi-Di in selected models, making the investment in a Wi-Di enabled notebook much less of a consideration because of the need to buy a Netgear or Belkin add-on, for example.

Glassless 3D was also on display for many companies, including Sony and Toshiba. Toshiba had glassless versions for their notebooks as well. The biggest issue is the need for the viewer to be positioned in exactly the right angle and distance for the 3D effect to take place, otherwise it just shows two overlapping images. It’s a progressive step and an indication of where this will head next.

Television-size OLED screens made an appearance as well, and we’ve seen how good images look on a small 7.7 inch screen, and they looked absolutely amazing on a 55 inch display – thin, light, bright with real colour depth. These are the displays of the future, taking over where Plasma and LCD was and where LED is now.

I was very interested in the integration of Google TV into TVs as well, which to me seems like the proper evolution of the Smart TV. LG’s demonstration of Google’s search and select activity on its screens showed how Google can become the default driver for finding relevant video content regardless of source on your television screen. With YouTube focusing on Channels instead of users, and licensing broadcaster program listings, the melding of online, cable and free to air content could be Google’s next big platform.

LG and Google TV stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Google TV... changing the way we watch TV and putting the control firmly back into the viewers hands.

There was plenty more that I saw, including a fair bit of home automation and security and more IP connected devices and appliances. But for the most part, this year seemed to be all about the evolution of platforms and the devices that will support them.

We’ll be following up with key manufacturers here in Australia as products are released and look forward to sharing our views and demonstrations of these new devices and platforms as they become available. What new gadgets and devices are you looking forward to seeing in the market?

Until the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas from the Ritchie’s Room team thanks for watching and reading and we can’t wait until CES 2013.

Ritchie’s Room at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)!

The 2012 CES is only a few days away and we just wanted to shout out to all our readers that we will be updating this site has much as possible with news from the 2012 tech launch event.

We will be on hand for all the major announcements from the big brands attending CES 2012.

We expect to see and share with you some great new releases including the latest Ultrabooks, Tablets, Windows 8 gear, and the latest in Smart TVs, smartphones and networking products.

We’ll be sharing this on all our social networks, so you ‘ll be able to track our updates and posts on the following platforms:




Google Plus (the link is not an extension as such)

and of course right here on Ritchie’s Room!

So feel free to subscribe to us on any of the above social links and bookmark us here for regular updates straight from the Las Vegas Convention Centre and other venues in town.

If there is anything you’d like to know specifically, or think think there is a stand worth looking at for our readers, here’s your chance to have your Ritchie’s Room roving reporters get around to these stands during the show. We’ll do our best to cover as much as possible during the days we are there.

Cheers, and until next time… in Vegas!

Consumer Electronics Show 2012 – Looking into the Tech Crystal Ball

We'll be right in the thick of all the product announcements, keynote events and vendor stands to bring you the best of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.










For the past year, we’ve had a great time sharing, discussing and responding to you, our readers around the big stories of 2011. Tablets, Ultrabooks, Media Players, iDevices and other categories like photography and home appliances have all had their interesting issues and product releases.

So what can we expect from 2012? The best place to start is in Las Vegas, at the Consumer Electronics Show. Intel, AMD, Microsoft, Google and many of the major computing vendors will be there to show off products and concepts that will make their way into the hands and households of users later in the year.

The great news is we’ll be reporting on all the hot stories from the CES fair in words, images and videos. We’ll be there from the kick-off event on the evening of Sunday 8th January, attending Press Day on Monday and then hitting the stands from Tuesday through to Friday.

We will be providing some insights into the announcements from the major manufacturers, reporting on the keynote events and spend some hands-on time with the new devices and hopefully talk to some key people involved in the industry.

It should be an interesting week as we expect to see a stack of exciting new products including convergence ideas in Home Entertainment, Windows 8 product concepts, as well as new Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

There will no doubt a lot of different products that we will have the pleasure of touching and seeing while at the CES show that will illustrate in their own way what direction this industry might take over the next 12 months.

In the spirit of how we run things here at Ritchie’s Room, we’d like to hand the mic over to you the reader, and ask what it is that you’d like to see us cover and explore while at the CES in January?

Signs of Things to Come?

Although I haven’t posted a blog in a couple of weeks, I have been watching and considering a lot of the news coming out of the IT sector. In the last couple of weeks a few key events have been reported which in isolation are newsworthy, but when looked at as a group, point to a possible shift in some of the key areas of technology. All events seem to have the same basic theme underpinning them all – and that is “choice”.

Choice is what drives competition and spurs companies on to innovate, and separate themselves from the field to offer consumers a viable alternative. You may have already heard about all the news stories below, but I’m looking at them from the angle of how they propagate the theme of consumer choice.

The first one was the news that the new Generation 2 Intel processors had a fault on the motherboard that was designed to be used in the majority of retail computers. This has required a complete return of any Gen2 i3, i5 and i7 computers so they can be reworked with a new motherboard that addresses the original issue, which is related to degradation of hard drive performance over time.

Coincidentally, AMD held their launch of their new APU processors the night of the Intel recall, and it brought to mind a Steven Bradbury situation, where AMD may be able to take the opportunity to offer their processor alternative in light of the Intel issue. I’ve spent time with their new netbook APU, which we’ll be reviewing shortly, and it does impress.

AMD have a very strong new product range and vendors are looking seriously at offering more products with their new APU chip. The Intel recall may provide more impetus for computer manufacturers to produce these alternatives which will give consumers more variety to consider.

The second piece of news was the launch of the online Android marketplace. Although not the first app store launched, the online environment allows for over the air installations. In other words, your google account, which is linked to your Android phone or tablet, is all you need to enter the browser-based marketplace. When you select an app (paid or free), it will be automatically downloaded to your selected phone.

This is great because the online marketplace provides more detail on the apps on offer, and has already been touted as a more visually appealing environment in which to discover and select Android apps than directly from the marketplace app on relevant Android handsets. You can even upload reviews via the browser. This is a great example of innovation to drive choice and add value in the smartphone market.

The third interesting snippet was a report that Sony was considering pulling its artists out of iTunes in order to offer a cloud-based service for users of its TVs, gaming and handheld consoles, and Sony Ericsson mobile phones. It seemed to be the first major crack in the polished and seemingly unbeatable ecosystem that Apple has created, fusing content and hardware together in a closed loop that has to date been massively successful in changing the rulebook for music and entertainment distribution.

The alternative that Sony are offering means a very different way of consuming content, particularly as the content is in the cloud, and therefore would be accessible across multiple Sony devices. It remains to be seen whether this threat is a parting shot from Sony at Apple, or whether they are making their true intentions known.

From the aspect of choice, once again consumers would have an attractive alternative that makes use of the latest technology to deploy content. Cloud-based content and computing is the future, and companies that offer solutions based on this will have a head start as consumers learn to make the most of a non-localised computing system.

The final and perhaps most surprising piece of news to emerge was the Nokia-Microsoft alliance, which will bring Windows 7 Mobile to new Nokia Phones. Nokia and Microsoft are calling it “the third ecosystem” after the Apple and Android environments. This will be a very interesting developing story, because Nokia has not been competing strongly against the likes of the iPhone or the many and wide Android handsets.

Is Windows 7 strong enough to compete with the app-driven system that Android and iPhone/iPad users are so familiar with? Nokia and Microsoft are talking about combining Bing, navigation via NAVTEQ, Xbox Live and Office into an integrated offering on new Nokia smartphones. Right now we have no idea what this may look like, but it does have the potential to be a serious competitor and if its points of difference are compelling we may well see a three-way battle of the Smartphone market. And as I mentioned before, nothing drives innovation like deep competition. This announcement may lead to more choice and better alternatives for users’ lifestyle and usage requirements.

So there we have it: an Intel recall; the Android Marketplace moving online; Sony stoushing with Apple; and Nokia partnering with Microsoft. It’s been a big fortnight for tech news, and I do see a pattern emerging from these individual developments. It highlights that many of the major companies vying for the technology dollar spend are looking for ways to invigorate their market share and position, and consumers will ultimately be the winners with more choice in product and content, and differing platforms on which to enjoy them. And that’s what makes this industry so exciting – the possibilities are huge. We’ll be keeping tabs on all the above, so stay tuned.

Microsoft Office 2010 – Creating Compelling Content

As a buyer in a retail company, I’m glued to my LCD screen for a large portion of my day. Reading and replying to emails, analysing stock and sales, and creating presentations are all part and parcel of a typical day, in addition to seeing account managers, ordering stock and briefing advertisements.

We were lucky enough to get Microsoft Office 2010 pretty much the first week it was released, and it isn’t until you start exploring beyond the standard templates and tables that you can see where this productivity suite really comes alive. The main point about Office I’m going to make is its ability to give your documents real visual flair.

Inserting images into a Word document, for example, doesn’t just have to be a cut and paste job. There are numerous options available to crop that image, frame it nicely and even add some kind of special effect if the image calls for it. You don’t need to open another image editing suite, it’s all done within the page itself. Very cool. You can even save that pic for use in other documents.

PowerPoint can do the same thing but extends the abilities into the video editing area. You can add effects, edit the video down to the main points and choose your own transitions where you made the edit points. In fact, after you’ve finished your presentation and set all the timings, you can save the ENTIRE presentation in video format, so it’s locked down and can’t be edited by your intended audience.

Even Excel, the most dreaded of fun-sucking applications in the universe, can be given a little facelift to more clearly illustrate trends and patterns. If that’s your thing.

From an online perspective, there’s more integration than ever before. I’m writing this post on Word, and all I need to do is click “Publish” and it will update my blog – all you need to do is register your account and it’s saved for any future posts. And the Office Skydrive is cool if you have a team of people working on a document. Just upload it to the cloud, everyone can contribute, and download the final version at the end.

It’s up to you how you use Office 2010, but for me it’s all about Creating Compelling Content. If you do use it and haven’t peeked under the covers to see what else you can play with, here’s a short video I did for Bing Lee that shows some of the cool features: