IOT Central is Microsoft’s low code, low effort, ease of use approach into the world of embedded projects. This is quite a demanding challenge, because real world problems tend to be complex and what can you do to make these simple in a tool? Well, normally you start with defining an environment, to get rid at least of some of the parameters and thus reducing complexity. This is a valid approach, but for a tool/service vendor it carries the danger that the overlap of your defined environment to common real-world use cases of customers, is not large enough, or, as a worst case, even not existing. Azure IOT Central, in the beginning, felt a bit like: great base features, but not enough to cover a complete project spectrum of demands. Therefore, to me it was good for samples or a quick POC for a project. However, the IOT Central team kept improving steadily and so the product is getting more serious as we speak.
The newest update provides some very interesting features, like jobs that can be execute on devices (very important for device management), webhook improvements looking at identity management, device templates to support IOT Plug & Play as well as improvements on the dashboard.
At least for me enough new stuff to justify a closer and serious re-visiting look into IOT Central!
In nearly every IOT project I had the opportunity to work in, time series data played a very important role. The problem for this type of data is that it normally comes in larger volumes and is therefore not always great to handle. This is especially true in projects, where you have to cope with small storage on devices and no central data store, which makes it very hard, if nearly impossible to get a global view on the behavior of these solutions in time. One could work with thresholds and alerts, but this approach never gives you the chance to detect trends and get “ahead of the wave” to react better, faster and more precise to certain events. Some of the industrial communication standards, such as OPC UA and SCADA, try to tackle this issue by providing historic data functionality in their communication layers, but this is just a single aspect of a comprehensive data solution.
Cloud architectures are able to help in this case, if you have the chance to collect time series data either centrally, or on the edge. A very valuable asset in Azure and in this context is Time Series Insights. It is a cloud service allowing you to handle query, transform visualize and correlate your different data streams into comprehensive views and insights. There are also connectors into reporting tools such as Power BI available. Using the M365 infrastructure Power Automation or Azure Logic Apps and Functions, serverless integration into corporate business process and control processes is also not a problem.
I worked a lot with Microsoft mobile devices during my professional career helping OEMs to create devices as well as supporting customers to operate and manage up to 40.000 Windows Phones in their companies. The last version of Windows Lumia Phones had great hardware and they were really useful enterprise class devices, but, on the other hand, could not make an impact in the all-defining consumer market. This, mainly due to their lack of apps and small size of the eco-system. It was a sad day for me, when Microsoft pulled the plug on their phone business and I had to stow away my Lumia 950 XL, which I really liked due to its high-class, razor-sharp OLED display and the Windows Phone tile UI, which was easy and direct to operate. App development with C#, Visual Studio and .NET was fun and deployments secure using e.g. SCCM or Intune. Sorry, if this sounds a bit nostalgic! 🙂
However, I would never had thought that Microsoft would enter the mobile device space again after the huge losses the last attempts have created.
Surface Duo, therefore, was more than a surprise to me and in the beginning I was really skeptical, if Microsoft was having a “great idea” or just running another attempt to get a “bloody nose”!
After now having a closer look at the specs and capabilities, I cautiously tend to issue a “great idea” judgement, because Microsoft is doing quite some things differently this time! They are not trying to create a new development platform, but are betting on Android, an operating system created by a competitor, which is quite a step for the company. The obvious benefit is that immediately there is a wealth of apps and an intact eco-system available! In addition, they have focused innovation a new device class, the book design, which remotely reminds me at devices with keyboard like the Nokia Communicator as well as some of the HTC Pocket PC models. But, this time the approach is much more versatile, leveraging the two touch screens as display as well as input devices using pen or on-screen keyboard. The book design with hinges to me looks also much more robust and pragmatic than some of the folding screen approaches by the competition. There is some ongoing discussion on the missing second camera, but for normal day use cases the hardware looks well-equipped enough.
Major pain points are the really high price, probably significantly over 1.300,00 € over here in Europe and the fact that the device is currently sold only in the US and foreign markets are treated as second or third class citizens. Looking at the relatively short life time of mobile devices, this is hard to understand and companies such as Samsung and Apple, of course do global rollouts to surf the wave of excitement any device release creates within their dedicated user group. Not to mention that the history of this approach is not so encouraging looking at the list of devices (Zune, Microsoft Band, etc., …) that never went successfully global after an America-First release.
To get more technical info on Surface Duo, have a look at the great video above, or read the interesting and detailed Microsoft Mechanics blog post, which, thankfully, dives into technical details, to spare you the superficial marketing bla-bla one finds nowadays on standard product pages in the store.
Will I buy one, as soon as it becomes available here in Germany? Well, I am heavily tempted, because I do have a feeling that such a device could be a great productivity gain, kind of a small laptop at hand, especially travelling on plane or train, although I still think the price should be more reasonable!
However, sometimes there is pain, when you try to be “cutting edge”!