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Posts tagged with: microsoft

Windows Phone 8: Show Me Your Live Tiles (Part 1)

Finally! My new Windows Phone 8 phone has arrived. And first things first: it’s yellow. I mean really yellow. Granted I did order it in yellow, but this is smack-in-your-face-safety-vest-neon-super-yellow. I don’t mind actually. As you may have guessed it is the Nokia Lumia 920, and in this geek review I will touch on the handset as well as the new operating system. The first part of the review will wind its way around, through, over and between some of the new bits in the operating system. Part 2 will fondle, caress and make out with the new superstar from Nokia.

[pullquote]My Partner’s 7-year old boy loves Kid’s Corner, as it makes him feel it is his part of the phone. Pretty good trade-off for not sending your boss fart emails.[/pullquote]

I have been a user of the Windows Phone eco system for the past two years and a bit, and in that light I will go over some of the improvement over the past system, that you might not be aware of or have noticed. As was the case with the release of WP7.5 (Mango) in September 2011, WP8 includes a swath of improvements to an already feature rich and mature operating system. Some features are very noticeable, such as the new start screen, and others are buried deep in the belly of the beast, and will probably not be noticed directly. I won’t touch on all the new features and changes, as I do want to do other things for the next week. Instead I will emphasise the areas I feel are important and makes the platform stand out.

When Microsoft announced and indeed launched the new Phone software, the focus was (understandably) on the immediate visual changes and improvements. So that is where I will start.

Start Screen

This is without comparison the most reviewed and featured part of the new Windows Phone operating system. It is the face of the new Microsoft Phone attack and the new start screen has been improved and made more “you” (customizable). The first iteration had live tiles showing your latest updates and content at a glance, but all you could do was to move the tiles around. There were some built in apps, like Calendar and Pictures, that were the size of two normal tiles, but that format was not available to third party apps. All that have changed, so app developers now have three formats to choose from.

Start Screen

The screen feels more alive, more personal and more usable. I especially like the smallest tiles for apps that don’t have text content to show on the tile. Something like Phone, Messages, Facebook and Email accounts only update the tile with a number. The small form factor is perfect for that. Other apps really shine from the large landscape tile, and make my Weather Channel app look very impressive. Once developers get their head around the tile sizes, they will become extremely useful and lets the user customise their phone until eternity.

Performance Improvements

A large part of the work on WP8 has gone into the support for all the new shiny hardware. There is now support for multicore processors, high definition screens, a brand new IE10 browser, memory expansions and much more. All of this performance shenanigans means that Windows Phone 8 is even more smooth and slick to use than Windows Phone 7 devices. All transitions, input screens, app loads and interaction in general is extremely responsive and there is no lag that I can find anywhere. It is like everything just works!

Apps load faster, due to the beefed up hardware, and some Apps now exhibit a much better resume behaviour than before. For example, the Facebook app now resumes to the screen you were on, instead of reloading the whole app. Apps stay in memory much much longer, so you don’t have to reload apps every 20 minutes. This means you can now switch between “My Little Pony” and “Rainbow and Butterflies” apps to your heart’s content, just like @alexmackey would do.

Another improvement I have noticed is that the keyboard is vastly improved on two fronts. For one the “Fat Finger” prediction seems more accurate in guessing which word you meant when you typed in “tebieq”. In fact it seems easier to hit the right letters on the keyboard. This might have something to do with the larger screen and the greater pixel density. However, much more exciting is the new predictive typing. In WP7 the keyboard would predict what word you were typing based on character placement and letter sequence, hence it could predict that when you wrote “Wed” you meant “Wednesday”. Not too difficult to implement, and all smartphone platforms has this feature. Now there is predictive sentences, which means WP8 will predict the next word before you have even typed it. For example I can type “I am going to be late” with only eight keystrokes. I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but the type ahead feature supposedly learn from your typing as well. So it learns which words you put together, so over time it will be much more accurate and useful.

Predictive Text 1 Predictive Text 2 Predictive Text 3

Speaking of the keyboard, Microsoft still haven’t sorted out a feature I loved on my iPhone, being multiple keyboard languages. On my iPhone back in the day, I could switch from English to Danish dictionary with one button click. That meant my text messages in Danish would have the correct spell checking. Still on WP8 I now either switch the language of the phone (not ideal and time consuming) or I teach the phone Danish. Every time a little squiggly red line come up I tap the word and add it to the dictionary. I feel a bit like a primary school teacher teaching the same naughty kid again and again.

Update: Last night I discovered you can download keyboards in a large number of languages, including Danish. Go to Settings -> Keyboard and you can add any of them. They are now available whenever the keyboard is visible, using a little button on the actual keyboard. Woohoo, another awesome addition and I was blaming the wrong kid again.

HD capability

Finally! Hooray, we now have beautiful high definition goodness on the screen. WP8 supports 720×1280 and 768×1280 pixels. On a 4.5 inch display that would mean somewhere in the vicinity of 332dpi. Ha, take that Apple retina display with your puny 326ppi. In other words, Microsoft is finally supporting industry standard screen resolutions.

It means you can record video in 720HD format, but more on the camera in Part 2.

Kid’s Corner

The most surprising, yet simple and useful, feature is Kid’s Corner. Swipe left on the lock screen and a second lock screen (if enabled) is shown.

Kids Corner Lock Screen Kids Corner Home Screen

This is the section where your kid can have their own section on their phone. This means no more access to your phone, no more sending emails to the Buddhist Society saying you want to join, and no more buying of magic unicorns on eBay while you weren’t paying attention. Your offspring can now have their own section they can customise with colours, resize icons and set their own lock screen image and text. As the owner of the phone (and by now probably several unicorns and pictures of cats wearing little Halloween costumes) you decide which apps are in the Kid’s Corner. My Partner’s 7-year old boy loves it, as it makes him feel it is his part of the phone. Pretty good trade-off for not sending your boss fart emails.

Internet Explorer

The browsing experience in WP8 still consists of only Internet Explorer (IE). We are now up to version 10, same as on Windows 8, and the engines behind both the mobile and the desktop browsers are the same. That means you get a faster, more standards compliant browsing experience, but I am still not convinced Microsoft has addressed all of the issues from previous versions. Granted, the browser is much quicker and there are some very nice features, such as customising the toolbar at the bottom and improved JavaScript rendering speed and HTML5 compliance.

 IE 10

I would like to see what Mozilla or Google could bring to the platform as well. If anything it would push Microsoft to improve IE to stay on top.

Enterprise Apps

The direction that Apple, Microsoft and to a lesser extent Google has taken with third party development, means that programs are certified by the corporation and published through the single channel. Back in the days of Wild West programming, every man and his dog (or duck even) could publish a program and sell and deploy it, on a platform like Windows Mobile. No problem. What that lead to, was a mess of different user interfaces, broken programs, general discontent and frustration. It did work occasionally, but there were a lot of problems. To fix this, the big corporations, starting with Apple, took control and dictated how applications and programs (or “apps”) were to look, feel and smell. Not only did the quality of apps improve, but it also proved to be a very generous income stream.

If you are in the development space, especially consulting, you might see a problem with this approach. Stores for purchasing apps are public. You publish one app, you can restrict by market or region, but essentially your grandma will have access to the new Magic Polar Bear Recognition app you made. Or even worse, an intranet application for a large corporation. There was no way to create private apps for a closed audience.

Apples approach was an Enterprise App Store, which allows companies to limit their attached handsets to a particular set of apps, be those public or not.

Microsoft is now introducing the Company Hub application which is similar to side loading apps in Windows 8, and without much of the hassle that was needed to accomplish the same in WP7. A Company Hub can be managed by the IT department in a company and allows full control and integration with Office and management via remote management features. If this is successfully implemented, it might just get Microsoft back in the door for mobility, with a lot of major corporations.

About time

A couple of little things have been annoying me by their pure absence. But lo and behold you can now take screenshots. Yes @sbarski, you can take a picture of your favourite cake recipe on the screen and email it, post it to Facebook or send it via MMS to your fan club. Press the Home button at the same time as the power button and Bob is your uncle (or you can get a picture of him at least).

I have also been trying to figure out why there was no pinching action on the camera when operating it. It seemed like such a natural thing to do, but Windows Phone was not having a bar of it. Until now.

 Go Go Go

I love Windows Phone. Everyone around me will tell you I am a Microsoftee and I have seen several of my friends switch to Windows Phone and never look back. In my mind it is by far the best mobile platform when it comes to usability, personalisation, development experience and looks. There is nothing else like it.

My hope is that Microsoft Marketing can create a campaign that does the phone justice. A large problem I think is that retailers are not educated in showing off the devices, so people naturally gravitates to what their friends have. When it comes down to it, the general public don’t have an interest in which company creates their mobile experience. They buy the phone the guy next to them has. Unless someone can show them the different platforms and pros and cons of each, they aren’t going to change their ways.

Windows Phone 8 – Near Field Communication and Why You Should Care

Yesterday Nokia and Microsoft announced the next generation Lumia phones. That in itself is exciting for a geek like me, and there are a range of new features which could entice even the most sceptical consumer mind. The new PureView technology leaves most cameras behind and the wireless charger is just an awesome party trick (look mum, no hands!).

The most interesting feature revealed, if you look at future uses and applications was the implementation of the Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. NFC has been around since 2004 in an organised format, when some big players including Nokia and Sony set up the NFC Forum to advance the use of the technology. So what is NFC?

According to the official NFC Forum

Near Field Communication (NFC) technology makes life easier and more convenient for consumers around the world by making it simpler to make transactions, exchange digital content, and connect electronic devices with a touch.

It is in essence a short range wireless signal that allows a simple touch with the device to transfer data. By short range we’re talking about something like 1.5cm, or half an inch. Not much at all. So why is this so cool? Because of the very short range of the signal, as well as part of the protocol, it is inherently secure. All it requires from the user to use it, is a simple touch with the device. And this touch enables a data transfer to happen instantly.

If you are still sceptical, let me exemplify it for you, so there is no doubt left. Here are 6 areas I can think of off the top of my head.

1. Payments

Google has already introduced their Wallet technology and Microsoft is now launching the technology as part of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Imagine if you could store your credit card data, your loyalty card data, or even coupons and special discounts applicable only to a select group of people. Mastercard and Visa are already members of NFC Forum, and NFC enabled phones could use the infrastructure already built for the current tap-and-go technologies PayPass and PayWave. Because of the short range and inherent security of the technology, this would be a great match.

For retailers and marketing agencies, this is a major step forward too. They can suddenly see when certain consumers have purchased a particular item, and can accordingly target them. German digital coupon company Coupies is one of the first companies to embrace the technology and taking it to the consumer.

2. Public Transport

I live in Melbourne in Australia. Over the last few years, the state government has introduced the infamous Myki system as a replacement for the ageing public transport payment system. So far it has costed the Victorian tax payer around $AUD 1.5B (yes, that is billions!) and the costs just keep on coming. That means a ticketing system for a single city has now cost about as much as the latest Mars rover. It just doesn’t make sense. If NFC technology had been used instead of the proprietary Myki card, commuters could have used a number of devices including their mobile phone as a payment option, and they wouldn’t have had to “Stop-Hold” (and often change reader) to go through the payment gate.

3. Health Care

Doctors and nurses could scan tags on beds with information about treatment, medication and much more. This would allow a full history of which medical professional has seen to the patient and what treatment they have given them.

Another application could be to help physically disabled people to ring their friends, by touching a picture of them with their phone, as developed and researched by University of Ljubljana all the way back in 2009.

4. Device Pairing

Imagine taking a photo with your mobile phone, and then to print it out, all you have to do is touch the printer with your phone. Or pairing Bluetooth devices with a single touch. Touching two devices together could enable file transfers or team gaming. No more driver hell of finding the right driver, then downloading and installing it manually.

5. Social Media

A German company called FriendTicker developed a system of physical tags in locations, where the user could touch a tag to check in. Or you can touch to devices together to say that you are at Jimmy’s Pub with this particular person. This could allow instant product promotions to consumers by sending them coupons, product offers and promotional material for a particular location.

6. Information Retrieval/Implicit Search

NFC tags could be placed in all sorts of locations. In a museum to allow visitors to touch and bring up information on a particular piece. On consumer items to build up an in-store wish list. Or how about on your suit case to work as your virtual travel agent. That is exactly what tag-a-bag won the 2012 NFC Best Innovative Solution for.

The NFC technology has a real potential to change our lives in so many small and not-so-small ways. And the fact that Nokia is now putting the technology in their latest devices indicates there will be a real push for the technology in the future. But until the technology has been made more “sexy” it will be a while before mainstream consumers, and not just us geeks, picks up on the infinite possibilities it provides. Watch this space is all I can say. Big things are about to happen.