Fresh Windows, but Where’s the Start Button?

Over the years, Keith McCarthy has become used to a certain way of doing things on his personal computers, which, like most others on the planet, have long run on Microsoft’s Windows software.
Microsoft's Windows 8 new interface

But last week, when he got his hands on a laptop running the newest version of Windows for the first time, Mr. McCarthy was flummoxed.
Many of the familiar signposts from PCs of yore are gone in Microsoft’s new software, Windows 8, like the Start button for getting to programs and the drop-down menus that list their functions.
It took Mr. McCarthy several minutes just to figure out how to compose an e-mail message in Windows 8, which has a stripped-down look and on-screen buttons that at times resemble the runic assembly instructions for Ikea furniture.
“It made me feel like the biggest amateur computer user ever,” said Mr. McCarthy, 59, a copywriter in New York.
Windows, which has more than a billion users around the world, is getting a radical makeover, a rare move for a product with such vast reach. The new design is likely to cause some head-scratching for those who buy the latest machines when Windows 8 goes on sale this Friday.
To Microsoft and early fans of Windows 8, the software is a fresh, bold reinvention of the operating system for an era of touch-screen devices like the iPad, which are reshaping computing. Microsoft needs the software to succeed so it can restore some of its fading relevance after years of watching the likes of Apple and Google outflank it in the mobile market.
To its detractors, though, Windows 8 is a renovation gone wrong, one that will needlessly force people to relearn how they use a device every bit as common as a microwave oven.
“I don’t think any user was asking for that,” said John Ludwig, a former Microsoft executive who worked on Windows and is now a venture capitalist in the Seattle area. “They just want the current user interface, but better.”
Mr. Ludwig said Microsoft’s strategy was risky, but it had to do something to improve its chances in the mobile business: “Doing nothing was a strategy that was sure to fail.”
Little about the new Windows will look familiar to those who have used older versions. The Start screen, a kind of main menu, is dominated by a colorful grid of rectangles and squares that users can tap with a finger or click with a mouse to start applications. Many of these so-called live tiles constantly flicker with new information piped in from the Internet, like news headlines and Facebook photos.
What is harder to find are many of the conventions that have been a part of PCs since most people began using them, like the strip of icons at the bottom of the screen for jumping between applications. The mail and calendar programs are starkly minimalist. It is as if an automaker hid the speedometer, turn signals and gear shift in its cars, and told drivers to tap their dashboards to reveal those functions. There is a more conventional “desktop” mode for running Microsoft Office and older programs, though there is no way to permanently switch to it.
Microsoft knew in the summer of 2009 that it wanted to shake up Windows. It held focus groups and showed people prototypes of the tile interface and its live updates.
“We would get this delightful reaction of people who would say, ‘This is so great, and it has Office too,’ ” said Jensen Harris, Microsoft’s director of program management for the Windows user experience.
Sixteen million people have been using early versions of the software. The boldness of the changes has delighted some users, who say they believe that for the first time, the company is taking greater creative risks than its more celebrated rival, Apple.
“I think it’s functional, clean,” said Andries van Dam, a pioneer in computer graphics and a Brown University computer science professor, who receives research money from Microsoft. “I welcome it.”
Younger users may be more likely to embrace the new approach. Joanna Lin, 23, who works in sales and marketing for a hotel chain in New York, said she was impressed with the software. “The feeling was very fluid,” said Ms. Lin, who was the most enthusiastic of five people that The New York Times asked to briefly try Windows 8 last week. “Definitely a step up from Windows 7.”
But the product is a major gamble for Microsoft, a company whose clout in the technology industry has been waning. The PC business, which generates much of Microsoft’s revenue, is in a severe slump as newer products like smartphones and tablets take more dollars from peoples’ wallets.
To help it gain traction in the mobile market, Microsoft made Windows 8 a one-size-fits-all operating system for touch-screen tablets, conventional computers with keyboards and mice, and newer devices that combine elements of both. (Confusingly, Microsoft is also introducing a separate but similar operating system, Windows RT, that cannot run older programs.)
Apple took the opposite approach with the Mac and mobile devices like the iPad, which have distinct interfaces, albeit with some shared technologies. Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has said of Microsoft’s strategy: “You can converge a toaster and refrigerator, but these things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user.”
Jakob Nielsen, a user interface expert at the Nielsen Norman Group, conducted tests with four people who used a traditional computer running Windows 8 and found that they had “a lot of struggles” with the new design. Mr. Nielsen said they appeared to become especially confused when shifting back and forth between the modern Windows 8 mode and the desktop mode.
Mr. Nielsen said Windows 8 was more suitable for tablet computers with their smaller displays, but it was not helpful for workers who needed to have lots of applications visible at once.
“I just think when it comes to the traditional customer base, the office computer user, they’re essentially being thrown under the bus,” Mr. Nielsen said.
Microsoft disputes this idea. Mr. Harris said most test users did not have trouble juggling the two modes — and regardless, workers were more likely to operate in desktop mode if they wanted to see many applications simultaneously.
Microsoft is convinced that most people will quickly become accustomed to Windows 8. But to help ease the transition, the software offers tutorials when it is first started up. And Microsoft is spending more than $500 million on a marketing campaign that is partly intended to familiarize people with the new design.
Mr. Harris said the company needed to modernize Windows for the way people use computers today: “We’re not surprised people have a strong reaction to it.”
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Verizon clarifies: You can keep your unlimited data plan, unless you buy a new subsidized device

Verizon has issued a statement to The New York Times which clarifies what will happen with ‘grandfathered’ unlimited data plans when its new shared data plans roll out. Basically, anyone who currently has an unlimited data plan will be able to keep it, unless they purchase a new device that is subsidized by Verizon.
The full statement that was issued is below:
  • Customers will not be automatically moved to new shared data plans. If a 3G or 4G smartphone customer is on an unlimited plan now and they do not want to change their plan, they will not have to do so.
  • When we introduce our new shared data plans, Unlimited Data will no longer be available to customers when purchasing handsets at discounted pricing.
  • Customers who purchase phones at full retail price and are on an unlimited smartphone data plan will be able to keep that plan.
  • The same pricing and policies will be applied to all 3G and 4GLTE smartphones.
The key point here is that if you pay full price for your handset, usually several hundred dollars more than the ’2-year-contract’ subsidized price, you can keep your unlimited data plan. Of course, if you switch to LTE, then you’re going to need to sign up for a new plan so you’ll be forced to move on there too.
So, as long as you buy a full-priced handset, and you’re content to stick around on 3G, you can keep your unlimited plan. But if you want Verizon to foot part of the bill for your new handset, or you want to move up to a new 4G LTE connection, you’ll be forced to give your old plan up.
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Following Apple defection rumors, Samsung reportedly launched new mobile memory chips earlier than planned

Samsung has reportedly been forced to push forward the launch of its new 20-nanometer mobile memory chips to calm shareholder fears it lost a major contract to supply DRAM chips to Apple.
According to various unnamed Samsung executives, speaking with The Korea Times, the new 4GB ultra-thin memory chips are going to be used in Apple devices, despite reports that its rival had shifted part of its supply chain to Japanese company Elpida.
Digitimes claimed that Apple had placed orders for around 50 percent of the Elpida’s output of its Hiroshima factory, forcing Samsung’s share prices down 2 percent to a two-month low in morning trading, stripping more than $10 billion off its market cap.
Samsung’s press release, which hit earlier this morning, is said to have been scheduled for this coming Monday,  but had been brought forward to ease concerns of an Apple-Elpida partnership.
Here’s the key take-away from the article in The Korean Times:
Samsung is increasing the output of mobile DRAMs using a finer 36-nanometer processing technology for Apple as planned. It doesn’t have plans to reduce production of the chips,’’ said another senior Samsung executive in a telephone interview with The Korea Times.
The report from Taiwan is exaggerated. Apple is always looking to diversify its part-sourcing channels. In flat screens and chips, Apple is sourcing parts from various clients that include Samsung, however, that doesn’t mean we are losing our edge as Apple’s top-tier client,’’ said the executive.
The reliability of The Korea Times has been called into question before, with quotes often taken out of context. However, the news outlet does tie official press releases with quotes from what it calls Samsung’s executives, lending a little more credibility to its report.
Apple’s continued reliance on Samsung components is almost certainly down to the Korean company’s reliability and scale. The two companies are currently locked in patent lawsuits around the world but Samsung is one of the only memory makers that is able to fulfil such a large number of semiconductor orders from a large client like Apple.
Elpida may well have secured new orders (it is already an Apple partner), but Samsung isn’t taking any chances. When it comes down to production, Apple will be careful to ensure it can fill its supply chain instead of cutting ties with major partners and threatening the availability of its products.
If true, Samsung’s decision to move forward its launch shows the effect Apple has on the component market. Not even the Korean electronics giant can afford to miss a trick.
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Apple’s new iPhone to feature 4-inch display, start production in June: Report

Working with the mindset that an Apple rumour isn’t confirmed until the Wall Street Journal comments on it, a new report from the newspaper has suggested the company will finally increase the display size of its next-generation iPhone to 4 inches.
Update: Reuters has provided its own confirmation: “The new iPhone screens will measure 4 inches from corner to corner,” according to its sources.
The WSJ says that the smartphone will be increased from its traditional 3.5-inch design, according to its sources, and will begin production in June with the view to a launch later this year:
Apple Inc., which is expected to launch its next-generation iPhone later this year, has ordered screens from its Asian suppliers that are bigger than the ones used in iPhones since they debuted in 2007, people familiar with the situation said.
Production is set to begin next month for the screens, which measure at least 4 inches diagonally compared with 3.5 inches on the iPhone 4S, the latest phone from Apple, the people said.
Here’s what we believe a bigger iPhone could look like:
The report is somewhat contradictory with its statements that Apple is “trying to make its popular smartphone more appealing amid intensifying competition from rival Samsung.”
Further down the article the WSJ quotes an analyst as saying that a new iPhone with a larger screen “wouldn’t mean that Apple is making changes because of what its rivals are doing.”
We are more inclined to agree with Mizuho Investors Securities analyst Nobuo Kurahashi:
“The smartphone market has become diverse, but the iPhone still sets the agenda,” with the whole industry watching Apple’s every move, he said. He said that the iPhone’s strength lies in the overall experience including its user interface and applications, and the screen’s size wouldn’t be its defining feature.
“If Apple ever released a lower-priced iPhone, that would be more of a sign that the changing market environment is beginning to affect the company,” he added.
Apple’s new displays are set to be supplied by LG, Sharp, and Japan Display (a Sony, Hitachi, and Toshiba joint-venture).
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Nokia Lumia 900 gains regulatory radio clearance in China, tipped for June release

Nokia is moving closer to the launch its Lumia 900 smartphone in China, after the State Radio Regulation Committee (SRRC) cleared the device for use in the country, as reports suggest the device could go on sale in June.
The Lumia 900 was approved for use on domestic GSM and WCDMA networks on April 18, in accordance with Ministry of Information Industry, which is set to issue a network license for the device, providing Nokia with the necessary clearance to list and sell the handset in China.
According to Chinese news portal Sina Tech, the device will first launch in the Phillippines on May 18, with sales set to begin in China in June.
Nokia launched the Lumia 900 in the US with AT&T at the start of April, seeing steady sales across its North American channels.
The Finnish company has since rolled out the device in the UK, hoping to pick up on the 2 million+ Lumia smartphone sales it has enjoyed to date.
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Apple’s next iPhone will feature a new design worked on by Steve Jobs, and a bigger screen

The next iPhone, whatever it might be called, will feature an ‘overhauled’ look, including a screen larger than the current 3.5″, according to a report from Bloomberg’s Adam Satariano and Jun Yang. According to their sources, the redesigned phone was worked on ‘closely’ by Steve Jobs prior to his death last year.
Apple has apparently already placed orders from suppliers in Asia for screens that are bigger than the current screen in the iPhone, which measures 3.5″. This device is said to feature a complete design change, the first since the iPhone 4.
The report states that it is unclear if the new phone will be physically larger, or if the screen will just be enlarged, squeezing into the same body size.
This news echoes two reports yesterday, from both the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, that the new iPhone will have a larger screen. The latter report specifically mentions that the new screens will measure “4 inches from corner to corner”.
The new screens are said to begin production in June, in order to ship a new iPhone later this fall, likely in October. An iPhone with a larger screen has been rumored since at least February of 2011. Recently, iMore’s Rene Ritchie took a look at the possible iPhone configurations that would accomodate such a larger screen.
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Apple finishes converting 4G branding to ‘WiFi + Cellular’ for iPads across European stores

Apple has apparently completed converting the wording of all of its European stores from the old iPad ’4G’ branding, which landed it in hot water with consumer advocacy groups, to the new WiFi + Cellular branding. This includes Italy and Sweden, two countries which had not made the switch as of last week.
The change in branding, means that Apple no longer refers to iPads as ‘Wi-Fi + 4G’ and instead calls them ‘Wi-Fi + Cellular’. This was done in response to a legal challenge by the Australian Competition and Consumer Comission. They took umbrage with the fact that Apple said the iPads were 4G, even though there’s no 4G network that supports it in Australia.
The same is the case in many other countries, including Italy, Sweden and many others across Europe. You can see this in the screenshots of the Italian and Swedish stores below:
Screen Shot 2012 05 17 at 5.45.06 PM 520x376 Apple finishes converting 4G branding to WiFi + Cellular for iPads across European stores
Screen Shot 2012 05 17 at 5.44.09 PM 520x372 Apple finishes converting 4G branding to WiFi + Cellular for iPads across European stores
The change had previously been made in the UK, Australia, the U.S., Canada, UAE, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Ireland, and Hong Kong.
Thanks to for pointing this out to us on Twitter.
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