Microsoft that giant of the tech world appears to be having a case of the wobbles which has not been seen by any of the big players in the tech arena.
First up is the job cuts, the huge ranging slice across the bow of employment with around 18,000 jobs going. Not fully unexpected as with the takeover of Nokia, some jobs were bound to go but this amount was something of a shock particularly as it was the largest amount of job cuts in the history of the company.
Secondly was the closure of the Xbox Entertainment studios, which rumour had prevailed that the studios was disorganised and had no real structure. Coupled with a supposed lack of strategy that could not compete with Netflix as it wanted it’s originals series to push the hardware side of the business.
Change, change and more change
Ok!so fairly straightforward business decisions you may think. But lets look closer at what we, as a consumer driven tech blog see. The Xbox One launched to major derision and immediately Microsoft back peddled away from the negativity and rapidly changed its mind over the price and the always online requirement. Almost a year later they strip off the paywall feature that had Skype locked behind it to name but one point. Change, change and more change to decisions that a tech giant has put in place is something quite shocking and not really seen before. The Entertainment studios get canned before they have really had a chance to produce anything is more of example of panic almost being written into the DNA of the Microsoft.
Its is genuinely hard to think of Apple, Google, Samsung or even Amazon (make a profit quick, please) rushing to market without being really sure of themselves or even panicking at the launch and then changing their minds and products to satisfy the market. And here is the thing that I firmly believe. Consumers, like wild animals sniff out and support the strongest company/pride member and similarly no wild animal or human would support the weaker part of the pride or a company.
Microsoft is showing weakness
Microsoft by showing its weakness to make good decisions or even adhere to the ones they have made is not good for the company and they really do need to buck their ideas up fast. The days of there being no alternative to them are long gone and they cannot simply rely on the existing behaviour of the market to allow them to continue. Consumers will remember that it was Microsoft that brought Vista and Windows 8 to the table and that the bad experience was their fault.
Microsoft too seem to have forgotten that we are part of a consumer society now and its not all business and enterprise. Their new ads in the UK centre around the windows phone and its function within a business for the man that set up own company.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world IBM has got the hint and the scent of weakness and has rocked up to the Apple camp to make enterprise apps for iOS. No mention of the Mac in this deal? no of course not, Apple does not need to worry about this as the plan to work with IBM is genius and a very shrewd one and shows that Tim Cook knows how to run a business.
Tim Cook knows how to run a business
Let me explain my thought. Here I am writing this up on a Macbook Air the latest Apple purchase of a journey that started with the iPod, to the iPod touch and 3 generations of iPhone and 2 iPads led me to the Air. Why? Simple, its the ease with which they all operate together and with Yosemite later in the year it will get even easier and it’s this which I am thinking Apple are banking on. In enterprise, directors and managers are the consumers of the IT department. Supply these people and the rest of the staff with iPhones and iPads and assist with enterprise apps that have the IBM and Apple seal of goodness then it makes very little sense for these people to return to a Windows PC. Microsoft had better wake up soon as its crazy panic laden decisions are not helping it to react to genuine threats like this. Office is the tool which drives business but with Microsoft writing Office for the Mac and iOS are they really writing their own swangsong?
Would Gates and Ballmer have allowed this?
This is not what I would have expected from the Gates and Ballmer era of Microsoft and the speed with which Microsoft seems to be unravelling is quite shocking. Businesses grow by making a decision and running with it. Look at the speed with which Netflix has grown and to an extent the way Apple has made itself one of the largest profitable companies ever when prior to the iPod it was close to bankruptcy. Google is now synonymous with search and the term Bing is not likely to soon replace it. Companies are made strong by the decisions they make and stick to. Evolve a product but don’t publicly panic to negative social media. Microsoft, we need you as a player for competition sake, but come on get out of this funk you clearly are in at the moment.
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Gyms are not me, treadmills are not me, spinning is the work of satan and I hate Gym Nazis. OK, so I will admit that when I was once a member of a Gym I used to totally cane it on a cross trainer for about an hours worth of a Hed Kandi or a trance album. However, in recent years and a move away from the only Gym I ever liked, the only thing I have remotely used to track my health was a pair of analogue scales and recording my weight on the Weighbot app which while functional did not really add anything to my overall desire to be more healthy.
Now here is where I make a distinction. There is a difference between being fit and being healthy. Fit is when you are capable of enduring runs and marathons and uber sessions in a spinning class and being healthy means being in control of your body, knowing what you put in and generally sorting yourself out before your GP (health practitioner) tells you to sort your shit out.
Partly through getting married and partly because my 11 year old daughter looked at me one day and informed me I had moobs, was a sure way to make me kick start a healthier lifestyle. Certainly hitting 40 puts things into perspective particularly as you realise gravity is a burdensome bitch that adds its own influence on how you look. Realising that perhaps I should get healthier I started to look at what was out in the market. Certainly Nike fuleband and the Fitbit were big names but to me they were aimed at the fitness market rather than the more mundane healthier market. To this day I am still not sure how the name Withings popped onto my radar but certainly Amazon fuelled the purchase of the Withings Smart Body Analyser. Now at roughly £120 its not something that you buy and then toss aside without a second thought, its a purchase that shows and warrants intent.
To anyone who has visited an Apple store it makes perfect sense that Withings products are sold there. Design is a key component of Withings and really thats ‘beautiful design’ in the Apple scale of producing and boxing products. Arriving from Amazon the analyser was in their generic cardboard box but on opening it I was presented with a white slim box with coloured parts to it that are infact reminiscent of iOS 7 and their colour scheme.
As the box shows, the analyser is tied heavily into the app and while it shouts out its an iOS app its also a quieter android app too. I guess the loud dominance of the iOS app is part of the reason Withings features in the Apple retail stores.
The packaging is well thought out, and there is clear definition of what the analyser can do for you from the minute you get it out of the box but again the back makes an overture to iOS fans and iPhone owners.
What you get straight out of the box is a quick start guide and the analyser held in a soft plastic bag. For anyone who has ever opened an iPad box the reveal of the analyser is very reminiscent.
One thing I will say though is that the analyser is quite pointless without the app and the app is really the hub of information and the point of which the analyser communicates to the phone over the wireless network.
The quick set up guide is very much that, a quick seamless setup that allows for you to name who you are and setup the first session on it so it recognises you. From here other family members can step on and use the app on their own device to set themselves up and the analyser from then on knows (through some technical wizardry) who is stepping on. What happens when two or more family members are the same weight I don’t know and there is no mention in the set up guide as to any issues that this may create.
What also makes you want to come back to the analyser on a daily basis is its sure beauty in its design, its a blue/black square of succinct gorgeousness with the cross of lighter grey cantering out of the middle silver disc. At the top of the analyser (the word scale is really doing it a disservice) is the LCD panel that shows the readings of weight, fat %, BMI, the average temperature and Co2 quality of the room that the analyser is based in. It now also tells the weather for the forthcoming day. Yes I had to put a question out on twitter to Withings to find out why a picture of an umbrella with falling rain onto it had appeared on the screen. Firmware updates are brilliant but on a smart body analyser on seeing an umbrella and rain made me panic thinking it was foreboding my own funeral given the state of my body. I am grateful that they were quick to respond telling me that they had updated the analyser and this was a new feature.
The main part of the analyser is the app with its 4 points looking like a butterfly showing how well your health is doing. The aim is to fill the wings as much a possible and as the picture shows I was measuring my heart enough, sleeping almost enough, maintaining my weight but clearly being a lazy bugger and not being active enough. However, here is the thing, the analyser only tells you your heart rate and weight and fat mass %/BMI to get the most of the app and sleep tracking and better activity measurement you do need to buy the Pulse but more of that later. What I should also point out is that while there is the app the information is also available on a web based dashboard that does allow for deeper analysis of your health. What is also a brilliant feature is that Withings have made the Health Mate accessible to other health tracking apps, so for instance you can add runkeeper and myfitnesspal information to the mix that shape the information you provide to gain a better overview of activity and nutrition. The latest update to the app now takes advantage of the (2.1) iPhone 5s M7 coprocessor so if you do not have the pulse there is now an alternative to tracking activity by using the app itself.
So lets be clear, the picture on the left is not a regular occurrence for me. This analysis was based on one day of my stag weekend at the DGTL dance festival in Amsterdam. I burnt a total of 2,826 calories that day so screw you spinning classes!!
But it shows the level of data that the app holds, based on daily, weekly and monthly totals with options to see the information in the app as a dashboard for the latest information and a timeline for larger historical data too.
I’m impressed both with the analyser and the app, with the app now moved out of a health folder and placed onto the home screen of my iPhone. Using the analyser and the app has helped me lose just under 9lbs since February 2014 and I am far more aware of what is good and bad for my body and what I need to do to maintain the healthier lifestyle that I have developed.
This high level of satisfaction with Withings meant I again turned to Amazon and for £79 I happily bought the Pulse which now through a firmware update has been relaunched as the Pulse O2 as it now not only tracks:
Activity – both moderate walking and running paces
Heart rate and now Blood Oxygen levels (hence the O2 name)
How long it takes to fall asleep.
How many times you wake up.
Length of time in light and deep sleep.
Once again too the packing is gorgeous and praise goes out once again to their design team.
Note that they don’t ram anything down your throats, the suggestion is subtle to track and improve your activity, sleep and heart rate. Its not telling you to get out there and run until you fall down or throw up. It is as I said at the start more concerned with your overall health as opposed to being a fitness tool.
Information is very clear on the box and the clarity and succinctness that was seen on the analyser box is seen here on the Pulse too.
The app once more features heavily and the Pulse connects to the app via bluetooth. Charging the Pulse is via micro USB and the charge lasts for around 3 weeks. Out of the box, you get the Pulse, a rubbery clip that you can slide the Pulse into and then attach to your clothing for daytime monitoring and then at night there is a soft wrist strap that you slot the Pulse into and then attaches around your wrist via a velcro grip.
Thankfully the Pulse is light and does not feel uncomfortable to wear and is largely unnoticeable during the day but at night if you are not used to wearing anything like this at night then it does take some time getting used to.
The back of the strap has a small gap to it that allows for the sensors to do what they do during the night and I presume they activate to measure your levels of sleep by having the sensor measure your blood flow or something like this. Granted this is not a scientific explanation but really there has to be a reason for why the strap on the side that touches your body has the gap in it.
Its also a lovely shade of orange which against the black other side shows a nice design cue.
The Pulse O2 also sports a touch sensitive strip with a green OLED display that is response but you need to press the physical button on the top right to cycle through the sections, which at times can be a slight pain if you want to check the time or the battery condition. This here is the slight oddity with the Pulse as Withings has recently introduced a watch strap accessory to add to the clip, and wrist strap. Now for €12 it is a no brainer to include this into your Withings based life, but its not a smart watch and to get to the watch function is more than three clicks away. The other small gripe I have is that on the website there is only the blue and black plastic strap shown, yet in the promotional video that CNET have below there is what looks like a red tan leather stap that does look more stylish than the plastic one.
Certainly the new strap does bring the Pulse O2 into the wearable tech category but its more of a very clever and advanced fitbit than a pure smart wearable accessory.
I’m not alone in loving this device as CNET Top 5 gave the Pulse O2 the number one spot in their review of fitness trackers (yes I know the f word is used here but even Withings make more reference to health than the f one).
In conclusion, if you are after a fully fledged health companion to your busy or moderate life then the Withings Smart body Analyser, Pulse O2 and companion Health Mate app are highly recommended and when used in conjunction with other apps can make a difference to a healthier lifestyle.