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Very few laptop computers actually get used on anyone's lap, they’re usually placed on a desktop.  So logically they ought to be classified as desktop computers but, of course, this would cause confusion with larger, static, box-like computers which really are only ever used on desk tops.  Hence, in the absence of a better term, we still continue to use the word “laptop.”  The name first originated over 30 years ago in the 1980s to describe a portable computer that was just about possible to use on a lap, as distinct from a computer that was so heavy and cumbersome it would crush the strongest knees.  At that time, all that technology had managed to produce in terms of handiness were types of portable computers that were aptly described as “luggable.”  As these were still pretty hefty they could just about be carried for short distances, but only by the very strong.  Nevertheless, the term “laptop” stuck and today it generally refers to a lightweight, clam- shell design with a built-in mouse and keyboard, some local storage, Wi-Fi enabled, and a self- contained web-cam and microphone.  And it can run off mains or battery, like the MacBook Air pictured on the PowerPoint above.  The laptop configuration has come to dominate the personal computer market and it is the most popular type of general purpose personal computing device you are likely to come across at the moment.  However, that seemingly unassailable position is gradually being eclipsed by smartphones and tablets.  We are now in a personal computing world where many people in developed countries own a laptop and a smartphone.  According to the BBC, 90% of students in the U.K. have both, and 40% of these students also own a tablet.  Modern personal computing is all about using multiple devices.  It is just as Bill Gates foresaw back in 2007 when he was asked by Walt Mossberg what device he would be relying on in five years’ time.  Gates answer was: “I don’t think you’ll have one device.  I think you’ll have a full-screen device that you can carry around and you’ll do dramatically more reading off of that – yeah, I believe in the Tablet form factor… …and then you’ll have the device that fits in your pocket…  …and then we’ll have the evolution of the portable machine. And the evolution of the phone will both be extremely high volume, complementary–that is, if you own one, you’re more likely to own the other.”  Gates was prescient in understanding that one device just wouldn't be enough for many people.  He saw that the trend would be to use and own several devices.  This trend is currently a headache for computer manufacturers whose financial survival depends on being able to accurately calculate how many of which particular devices are likely to sell.  With desktop and laptop sales appearing to decline, and tablets becoming ever more prevalent, the industry consensus was that laptops were becoming less important.  Only last month I wrote about  how Sony, Toshiba and Samsung were going to stop selling laptop computers due to the intense competition on prices and a shrinking market.  But before writing off laptops, read on:  All computing devices need an operating system which acts as the master controller and also as an interface between the device and the user.  You probably use one or more computer operating systems on a daily basis without necessarily being aware that this interaction is how we extend ourselves into the virtual digital world that is becoming such a large part of modern life.  The majority of us use our particular choice of Microsoft Windows, Google's Chrome or Android, or Apple's Mac OS X or iOS 8.1 systems to such an extent that, unwittingly but surely, we’ve become dependent on their individual capabilities, especially as we’ve all invested so much time in learning how to utilise them effectively.  And the more time we dedicate to using a particular computer the more confident and capable we feel about handling the eccentricities of that specific operating system.  Such  habitual usage naturally means we become emotionally as well as practically locked- in to that familiar system.  Laptops, far from disappearing, are now playing a central role in the future development of computer operating systems where a distinct fork in approach is under way.  Microsoft and Google appear to have a similar view about the operating systems in their devices while Apple, true to form, has a totally different vision.  As I've written previously: Microsoft has bet the farm on producing only one comprehensive operating system for all its devices from keyboard and mouse controlled desktops and laptop computers, to touch control devices like tablets and phones.   Google is now starting to follow Microsoft's path in creating one integrated operating system for controlling touch, mouse and keyboard devices.  Until quite recently, separate individuals in the company were in charge of the development of Android (touch) and Chrome (mouse and keyboard).  Google's initial steps towards merging its two operating systems has been to blur the division between its Android and Chrome systems by expanding the role of Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google's vice president of Android engineering, to include responsibility for the development of Chrome.  Having one person in charge of engineering for the two systems only makes sense if Google plans to unify the operating systems. Apple's thinking is radically diverse.  Because the company has always made its own hardware and software, it understands what people need and want in an era of multiple devices.  So Apple is concentrating on producing a visual interface, as distinct from an operating system, that spans multiple devices.  This decision is based on the recognition that people use a laptop fundamentally differently to the way they use tablets and smartphones.  Apple is determined, as always, to create the very best user experience for each device.  Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, recently said that introducing a touch screen Mac (desktop or laptop) was not something that Apple had any plans to do.  Federighi went on to explain: “We don't think it's the right interface, honestly.  Mac is a sort of a sit-down experience.”  Adding that: “it's awkward and uncomfortable to sit at a desk and continuously reach forward to touch a computer screen.  It's not like an iPad or iPhone that you hold in your hands and use in a very relaxed position.” In my view, Apple’s obsession for creating products that are extremely easy to use, puts the company firmly on track to produce better and more integrated operating systems that work across multiple devices than either Microsoft or Google.  This is not the biased opinion of a die-hard Apple fan, I am an everyday user of Microsoft Windows and Google's Android.  In fact it must be 26 years since I last bought an Apple product.  Over a year ago I wrote an article about how difficult it was to use a touch interface for word processing.  Using Microsoft's own telemetry data from a million users, the most common functions are 1) Paste, 2) Save, 3) Copy, 4) Undo and 5) Make Bold.  All of these functions are much easier to accomplish with a mouse or keyboard than using a touch screen.  Apple came to the same conclusion:  Rather than create one operating system for touch, mouse and keyboard, expecting its customers to be happy to use it on their smartphones, tablets or laptops, it utilises two separate operating systems – one for touch (iOS 8.1) and one for keyboard and mouse (OS X).  Apple's approach is to make the interface as consistent as possible across these different devices, so the usability values are familiar to Apple fans while, underneath the hood, each separate operating system has been optimised to create the best possible experience. This integrated but different strategy seems to be a major factor in explaining why Apple’s laptop sales have held up.  But perhaps not as quite as well as some analysts suppose:  As you can see from the chart above, unit sales of Apple Macs (desktop and laptops) have proved to be fairly consistent throughout each quarter for the last three years.  (Note that Apple no longer discloses the split between desktop and laptop units, but in 2011, the last time they did report on the split, the ratio was one third desktops to two thirds laptops).  Several analysts have only looked at the data presented in Apple's Q4 2014 results and inferred that there has been a large increase in sales from the Q4 2013 results.  However, I've plotted the data for the last three years and it shows a more complex and nuanced situation.  Apple’s 2014 Q4 sales appear to be good as they have held up well overall in a shrinking desktop/laptop global market.  But take a closer look and one can see the figures aren’t as rosy as some analysts think.  The percentage increase calculated by Apple for its Q4 2014 results uses the poorer sales in Q4 2013 as a favourable comparison to show a 21% increase in units sold now.  But if you disregard Apple's lower sales in 2013, and instead compare the 2014 Apple Mac sales with the number of units sold in 2012, there’s only a 4% increase, but it is an increase. We have yet to see which strategy works out best in the long run.  Microsoft’s sales have gone down and, although Google’s have risen, it started from such a small base it’s hard to anticipate how sales will develop.  Since October 2012, when Microsoft released its disastrous Windows 8, their first attempt at one integrated operating system for touch, keyboard and mouse, the global sales of laptops and desktops using Windows has contracted while Apple's Mac sales have increased overall.  This is remarkable when one considers that Apple products carry a price premium, aiming at the highest end of the market, and in this period most of the world has been in a severe economic recession.  Apple’s robust sales are certainly due in part to the brand’s “halo” effect – buy an iPhone and one’s next computer purchase is highly likely to be an iPad or an Apple Mac.  Not only will the operating system seem familiar and easy to use, but all one’s computing activities will run seamlessly across devices.  In this Apple seems to be well ahead of Microsoft and Google. Most people don't want to be forced to spend their precious time learning how their operating system works, they just want to get on and do whatever they’re trying to achieve. This approach has proved highly successful in attracting customers who feel content, even proud, to be locked in to using other Apple products.  If someone has an iPhone, they are more likely to buy an Apple tablet because the interface looks and feels familiar.  When they need a laptop or desktop computer they will probably buy an Apple MacBook Pro because the familiar icons behave in the same way for similar functions.  In the computer world convenience and functionality win: work on a file on an Apple iPad when out and about and it will appear on your Apple laptop when you switch on at home.  Now the company is in the process of investing its vast wealth in developing an extraordinary range of user-friendly computing devices, from a watch right up to a 5,000k high resolution desktop computer.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that while these will appear to work and present visually in a similar way, internally they will have two different operating systems. The ideal interface for the operating system on our multiple computing devices should make us feel less hassled by seamlessly working across the devices we all own now, or soon will.  We no longer have to touch a laptop, but it should always make us feel good. November 2014
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Very few laptop computers actually get used on anyone's lap, they’re usually placed on a desktop.  So logically they ought to be classified as desktop computers but, of course, this would cause confusion with larger, static, box-like computers which really are only ever used on desk tops.  Hence, in the absence of a better term, we still continue to use the word “laptop.”  The name first originated over 30 years ago in the 1980s to describe a portable computer that was just about possible to use on a lap, as distinct from a computer that was so heavy and cumbersome it would crush the strongest knees.  At that time, all that technology had managed to produce in terms of handiness were types of portable computers that were aptly described as “luggable.”  As these were still pretty hefty they could just about be carried for short distances, but only by the very strong.  Nevertheless, the term “laptop” stuck and today it generally refers to a lightweight, clam-shell design with a built-in mouse and keyboard, some local storage, Wi-Fi enabled, and a self-contained web-cam and microphone.  And it can run off mains or battery, like the MacBook Air pictured on the PowerPoint above.  The laptop configuration has come to dominate the personal computer market and it is the most popular type of general purpose personal computing device you are likely to come across at the moment.  However, that seemingly unassailable position is gradually being eclipsed by smartphones and tablets.  We are now in a personal computing world where many people in developed countries own a laptop and a smartphone.  According to the BBC, 90% of students in the U.K. have both, and 40% of these students also own a tablet.  Modern personal computing is all about using multiple devices.  It is just as Bill Gates foresaw back in 2007 when he was asked by Walt Mossberg what device he would be relying on in five years’ time.  Gates answer was: “I don’t think you’ll have one device.  I think you’ll have a full-screen device that you can carry around and you’ll do dramatically more reading off of that – yeah, I believe in the Tablet form factor… …and then you’ll have the device that fits in your pocket…  …and then we’ll have the evolution of the portable machine. And the evolution of the phone will both be extremely high volume, complementary–that is, if you own one, you’re more likely to own the other.”  Gates was prescient in understanding that one device just wouldn't be enough for many people.  He saw that the trend would be to use and own several devices.  This trend is currently a headache for computer manufacturers whose financial survival depends on being able to accurately calculate how many of which particular devices are likely to sell.  With desktop and laptop sales appearing to decline, and tablets becoming ever more prevalent, the industry consensus was that laptops were becoming less important.  Only last month I wrote about how Sony, Toshiba and Samsung were going to stop selling laptop computers due to the intense competition on prices and a shrinking market.  But before writing off laptops, read on:  All computing devices need an operating system which acts as the master controller and also as an interface between the device and the user.  You probably use one or more computer operating systems on a daily basis without necessarily being aware that this interaction is how we extend ourselves into the virtual digital world that is becoming such a large part of modern life.  The majority of us use our particular choice of Microsoft Windows, Google's Chrome or Android, or Apple's Mac OS X or iOS 8.1 systems to such an extent that, unwittingly but surely, we’ve become dependent on their individual capabilities, especially as we’ve all invested so much time in learning how to utilise them effectively.  And the more time we dedicate to using a particular computer the more confident and capable we feel about handling the eccentricities of that specific operating system.  Such  habitual usage naturally means we become emotionally as well as practically locked-in to that familiar system.  Laptops, far from disappearing, are now playing a central role in the future development of computer operating systems where a distinct fork in approach is under way.  Microsoft and Google appear to have a similar view about the operating systems in their devices while Apple, true to form, has a totally different vision.  As I've written previously: Microsoft has bet the farm on producing only one comprehensive operating system for all its devices from keyboard and mouse controlled desktops and laptop computers, to touch control devices like tablets and phones.   Google is now starting to follow Microsoft's path in creating one integrated operating system for controlling touch, mouse and keyboard devices.  Until quite recently, separate individuals in the company were in charge of the development of Android (touch) and Chrome (mouse and keyboard).  Google's initial steps towards merging its two operating systems has been to blur the division between its Android and Chrome systems by expanding the role of Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google's vice president of Android engineering, to include responsibility for the development of Chrome.  Having one person in charge of engineering for the two systems only makes sense if Google plans to unify the operating systems. Apple's thinking is radically diverse.  Because the company has always made its own hardware and software, it understands what people need and want in an era of multiple devices.  So Apple is concentrating on producing a visual interface, as distinct from an operating system, that spans multiple devices.  This decision is based on the recognition that people use a laptop fundamentally differently to the way they use tablets and smartphones.  Apple is determined, as always, to create the very best user experience for each device.  Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, recently said that introducing a touch screen Mac (desktop or laptop) was not something that Apple had any plans to do.  Federighi went on to explain: “We don't think it's the right interface, honestly.  Mac is a sort of a sit-down experience.”  Adding that: “it's awkward and uncomfortable to sit at a desk and continuously reach forward to touch a computer screen.  It's not like an iPad or iPhone that you hold in your hands and use in a very relaxed position.” In my view, Apple’s obsession for creating products that are extremely easy to use, puts the company firmly on track to produce better and more integrated operating systems that work across multiple devices than either Microsoft or Google.  This is not the biased opinion of a die-hard Apple fan, I am an everyday user of Microsoft Windows and Google's Android.  In fact it must be 26 years since I last bought an Apple product.  Over a year ago I wrote an article about how difficult it was to use a touch interface for word processing.  Using Microsoft's own telemetry data from a million users, the most common functions are 1) Paste, 2) Save, 3) Copy, 4) Undo and 5) Make Bold.  All of these functions are much easier to accomplish with a mouse or keyboard than using a touch screen.  Apple came to the same conclusion:  Rather than create one operating system for touch, mouse and keyboard, expecting its customers to be happy to use it on their smartphones, tablets or laptops, it utilises two separate operating systems – one for touch (iOS 8.1) and one for keyboard and mouse (OS X).  Apple's approach is to make the interface as consistent as possible across these different devices, so the usability values are familiar to Apple fans while, underneath the hood, each separate operating system has been optimised to create the best possible experience. This integrated but different strategy seems to be a major factor in explaining why Apple’s laptop sales have held up.  But perhaps not as quite as well as some analysts suppose:  As you can see from the chart above, unit sales of Apple Macs (desktop and laptops) have proved to be fairly consistent throughout each quarter for the last three years.  (Note that Apple no longer discloses the split between desktop and laptop units, but in 2011, the last time they did report on the split, the ratio was one third desktops to two thirds laptops).  Several analysts have only looked at the data presented in Apple's Q4 2014 results and inferred that there has been a large increase in sales from the Q4 2013 results.  However, I've plotted the data for the last three years and it shows a more complex and nuanced situation.  Apple’s 2014 Q4 sales appear to be good as they have held up well overall in a shrinking desktop/laptop global market.  But take a closer look and one can see the figures aren’t as rosy as some analysts think.  The percentage increase calculated by Apple for its Q4 2014 results uses the poorer sales in Q4 2013 as a favourable comparison to show a 21% increase in units sold now.  But if you disregard Apple's lower sales in 2013, and instead compare the 2014 Apple Mac sales with the number of units sold in 2012, there’s only a 4% increase, but it is an increase. We have yet to see which strategy works out best in the long run.  Microsoft’s sales have gone down and, although Google’s have risen, it started from such a small base it’s hard to anticipate how sales will develop.  Since October 2012, when Microsoft released its disastrous Windows 8, their first attempt at one integrated operating system for touch, keyboard and mouse, the global sales of laptops and desktops using Windows has contracted while Apple's Mac sales have increased overall.  This is remarkable when one considers that Apple products carry a price premium, aiming at the highest end of the market, and in this period most of the world has been in a severe economic recession.  Apple’s robust sales are certainly due in part to the brand’s “halo” effect – buy an iPhone and one’s next computer purchase is highly likely to be an iPad or an Apple Mac.  Not only will the operating system seem familiar and easy to use, but all one’s computing activities will run seamlessly across devices.  In this Apple seems to be well ahead of Microsoft and Google. Most people don't want to be forced to spend their precious time learning how their operating system works, they just want to get on and do whatever they’re trying to achieve. This approach has proved highly successful in attracting customers who feel content, even proud, to be locked in to using other Apple products.  If someone has an iPhone, they are more likely to buy an Apple tablet because the interface looks and feels familiar.  When they need a laptop or desktop computer they will probably buy an Apple MacBook Pro because the familiar icons behave in the same way for similar functions.  In the computer world convenience and functionality win: work on a file on an Apple iPad when out and about and it will appear on your Apple laptop when you switch on at home.  Now the company is in the process of investing its vast wealth in developing an extraordinary range of user-friendly computing devices, from a watch right up to a 5,000k high resolution desktop computer.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that while these will appear to work and present visually in a similar way, internally they will have two different operating systems. The ideal interface for the operating system on our multiple computing devices should make us feel less hassled by seamlessly working across the devices we all own now, or soon will.  We no longer have to touch a laptop, but it should always make us feel good. November 2014

Touchy...and Feely

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