Microsoft’s OneNote team announced on August 19 that OneNote for Android is now available for Android tablets. However, that was not the only update made to OneNote for Android.
OneNote for Android now supports handwriting. So on the tablet, one can write and draw with a stylus (or fingers too). These notes are of course synced across all devices. Much like on the desktop version of OneNote, the inking works with images (for annotation) as well as for pure writing/drawing. For devices which come with active digitizer, the stylus can instantly invoke the inking mode so one can start writing/marking immediately.
Other features included are changing pen colors, as well as changing the paper style and color to make handwriting stand out even more.
The UI now supports a larger real estate on the screen. Much like the iPad and Windows Store versions, the Android tablet UI now shows a cascading list of notebooks, sections and pages with the selected page occupying much of the screen.
Ribbon for Android tablets
Similar to the iPad and Windows Store UI, the Android tablet UI now has the ribbon with several formatting options.
A quick video overview of the new OneNote:
Given that Android apps normally stretch to fill a larger screen, it is commendable that the OneNote team did not rely on that, but instead chose to build a separate UI for larger screens. It is also nice to see inking support in OneNote, and like the blog post says, it is directed towards the students going to or returning back to school.
After weeks of seeing leaked images and specifications of the device, we now have confirmation that HTC is releasing their flagship Android device, the HTC One M8 in a Windows Phone variant. The HTC One (M8) for Windows was announced on August 19 as a Verizon wireless exclusive.
Even though Samsung’s Ativ SE was similar to their Android devices, the HTC One for Windows is the first true “clone” of an Android device running Windows Phone. Recently, Microsoft made it possible for OEMs to build Windows Phone hardware on their Android device chassis by relaxing the guidelines and minimum specifications in their reference design. One of the key changes made were relaxing the requirement to have three physical buttons on the front (Back, Start, Search) and to have a physical button for the camera. With those restrictions lifted, and adding support for accessories like cases to interact with the phone, as well as widespread support for Bluetooth LE and the like, the road was cleared for OEMs to re-purpose their devices for Windows Phone with minimal changes. An additional key barrier removed was the license fee for Windows Phone which went to zero dollars.
The impact of these relaxed guidelines was the signing of a dozen-odd new OEMs, primarily in the Asia-Pacific and India regions. These current low-cost Android device makers would now be able to put Windows Phone on those low-cost Android devices. These device makers are of course playing in the high volume markets where a large population of feature phone users are moving to their first smartphone. It is therefore crucial for Microsoft to have a significant presence in the region or risk being completely cut out of the next big platform play.
Back to the HTC One for Windows, it comes with all the goodness we have seen in the Android variant like HTC BlinkFeed, HTC BoomSound, Duo Camera with UltraPixel technology, a 5MP wide-angle front-facing camera and support for the HTC Dot View case. Additionally, the Windows Phone 8.1.1 OS adds Cortana, the personal digital assistant and a host of other features as I detailed in an earlier post.
Key specifications for HTC One (M8) for Windows
SIZE: 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm WEIGHT: 160 grams DISPLAY: 5.0 inch, Full HD 1080p
CPU: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 801, 2.3GHz quad-core CPU
Total storage: 32GB
Expansion card slot supports microSD™ memory card for up to 128GB additional storage
3.5 mm stereo audio jack
Bluetooth® 4.0 with aptX™ enabled
Wi-Fi®: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz)
DLNA® for wirelessly streaming media from the phone to a compatible TV or computer,
Microsoft Project My Screen
Support consumer infrared remote control
Primary camera: HTC UltraPixel™ camera, BSI sensor, pixel size 2.0 um, sensor size 1/3”, f/2.0, 28mm lens
HTC ImageChip 2
1080p Full HD video recording with HDR video
Secondary camera: capture depth information
5MP, f/2.0, BSI sensor, wide angle lens. with HDR capability, 1080p Full HD video recording
Gallery with UFocus™, Dimension Plus™, Foregrounder
HTC’s previous stab at Windows Phone, the HTC 8X/8S, was a well-designed phone which got no love at all after being released. Let’s hope, for the sake of Windows Phone, that this iteration gets some marketing push as well as support in terms of future updates.
Are you going to get this device? Let me know in the comments.
As announced on the Xbox Wire blog, the latest update to Xbox One (“August Update”) is now generally available and is being rolled out to consoles. This update continues the monthly cadence in which updates are being rolled out to Xbox One. This is presumably made easier due to the fact that Xbox One is essentially a Windows 8 machine so updates are applied to the console like Windows updates are applied to PCs on a monthly basis.
The features made available in these Xbox One updates are now primarily driven by the user feedback provided over at the Xbox UserVoice site at Xbox Feedback.
Some of the new features added in this month’s update:
Much like Windows Phone, Xbox One now allows you to buy games and other add-on content from xbox.com or Xbox SmartGlass app and have it remotely download to the console. This way, the content can download while you are away and it is ready when you get to your console. No more waiting for gigabytes of downloads.
Activity Feed Updates
Several updates to the activity feed are included in this update. The list is now a single column and it enables more viewable content. Now, one can post to the feed, comment or like content in the feed. Sharing anything is now possible, and that sharing can be made public by adding to the stream, or private by sending as a message. One will now see a notification for new comment, like, etc. Finally, SmartGlass now lets you see what friends have shared on their activity feed, and “like” the same.
Low Battery Notification
The controller’s low battery indicator is now available as a notification on the screen.
Disable Notifications During Video
Now it is possible to disable notification pop-ups when playing video.
3D Blu Ray
This update enables 3D Blu Ray playback on the Blu Ray player.
Last Seen Online
Based on user feedback, this feature shows how long it has been since a friend was online.
This is a lot of stuff to be applied in a monthly update, but like much of Microsoft, this is now expected of the Xbox team. They have picked several items directly off the feedback site, and are serious about making sure the console remains fresh in terms of the functionality and features. Unlike the past consoles where updates were at best annual, this incremental update process makes customers see changes happen more frequently.
A quick video overview of this update by Xbox’s Major Nelson (Larry Hyrb)
What features are you waiting for? Anything in this month’s update that you were looking forward to? Let me know in the comments below.
As communicated by Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore on Windows Blogs on July 30, the first update to Windows Phone 8.1 is now rolling out to devices with the preview program. The update, simply called Windows Phone 8.1 Update (although it has been referred to as Update 1 too), brings Cortana to more markets in beta and alpha form, adds a Live Folders feature, adds a Live Tile to the Store icon, allows multiple SMS merge/delete operations, brings new Xbox Music app, adds a new feature called App Corner and increases privacy and security by enabling consumer-level VPN when connected to wifi hotspots.
Among the several unnamed changes and fixes are “hundreds of fixes” made to mobile Internet Explorer 11 to make it more compatible with the mobile web. The irony here is that on the desktop web developers had to code specifically for Internet Explorer 4 or 5 because it had several non-standard features. Now, Internet Explorer (both on the desktop and mobile) is promoting coding to web standards whereas web developers have catered their site for Webkit and specifically for iOS. This unfortunate reality made the Internet Explorer team re-think their strategy, and for their customers’ benefit, they made some tweaks to mobile IE that make it appear as an iOS browser to websites. Therefore, many sites which have browser sniffing enabled, will now provide the iPhone version of their site to mobile IE visitors as well.
After reading that blog post, I was very curious to see how Google’s websites render after this update. Another irony here is that Google, the company that beats the standards drums, has most of their properties coded for Webkit and/or detects mobile IE as a feature phone browser. The result is that GMail, Google News, etc. render very poorly.
I am happy to say that these changes in mobile IE11 do make the experience better, at least at first glance. See the comparisons below:
Apps Corner is much like Kids Corner where one can set one or a few apps to be available in a “corner” so when it is activated, no other apps are visible or accessible. This has good uses in the enterprise setting but it is clearly not only targeted to enterprises.
Live Folders is an interesting take on folders. Live Tiles have been a distinguishing feature of Windows Phone since it launched as Windows Phone 7. Instead of creating “dumb” folders which just hold the icons included in the folder, Live Folders presumably show the live tile contents of all the tiles included in the folders. This is neat because now you can reclaim some of the real estate on the Start Screen but not have to give up on one of the key features of the platform. It is also good to see that the icons included in the folders retain their tile size inside the folders, and the folder tile itself can be set to any size.
I don’t see how I can enable the consumer VPN feature, but that sure sounds extremely useful if I understand it correctly, which is, when connected to wifi hotspots, one would be connected to a VPN server right away. I may have misunderstood the feature so I will wait on reserving judgement until I actually find out more, or experience it myself when I connect to a public hotspot.
Have you downloaded the update? What are your thoughts?
This week, we have seen some news items about Microsoft and its OS strategy. Based on CEO Satya Nadella’s remarks in the post-earnings conference call, many were led to believe that Microsoft is going to create a single version of Windows. That is of course not true, and what’s happening is also not new information. What is in fact happening is that from an engineering perspective, Microsoft is hard at work to make a single “core” of the OS which will then power devices of various types: phones, phablets, tablets, laptops, PCs, Xbox, and even “things” in the “Internet of Things”. Again, this is not new, because Microsoft has said in very clear language that they want to get there sooner than later.
It is also clear that Microsoft wants to unify the commerce side (Stores) so that you can buy apps for various devices all from one place. They have also announced the concept of Universal apps which let developers share code among various form factors they would like to target, and also enable their customers to buy once on one device and freely download it on other types of devices. Some apps have already taken advantage of the “linkage” so when one downloads the app on Windows tablet, the message on the phone says the app is already “owned” and can be downloaded for free on the phone.
Effectively, what Nadella was implying in his remarks was they are working to unify the engineering and back-end side of things as opposed to the end product itself, when it comes to “One Windows”.
With that backdrop however, I would like to highlight some customer-facing changes that are badly needed in Windows 8.x which already exist in Windows Phone 8.1. These are now glaring deficiencies in Windows as compared to Windows Phone.
As you may have read in my earlier article, the Action Center is a well-implemented and a much-needed addition to Windows Phone. It is coming to phones via the latest Windows Phone 8.1 update (rolling out now). It is great to see notifications pile up in the Action Center as opposed to disappearing after showing up as toasts.
Well, guess what. Windows 8.x now feels ancient because the notifications there are never collected anywhere. On the PC, I especially miss this feature for things like calendar and appointment reminders. The Action Center is badly missed on Windows 8.x.
Install apps from web
Windows Phone has had the ability to install from the website windowsphone.com to any device attached to a Microsoft account since a long time. It is very convenient because apps are discovered from a variety of sources, and I imagine a bulk of that discovery would come on a desktop PC, browsing technology sites. When you read of an interesting app on a site, you could quickly send it to your phone so you don’t forget about it when you are at the phone.
The Windows Store on the other hand does not support such functionality yet for Windows 8 apps. I can imagine the experience to be very similar to the phone app install, because Windows 8.x devices which use the Store have to have a Microsoft account tied to the Store. So when you browse to the app’s web location, you could click on the install button much like Windows Phone apps’ web locations, and then choose the device you want that install to be on.
This one is at the top of my personal wish list because of how bad the situation is on Windows 8.x. I was impressed with Windows Phone keyboard from the day Windows Phone 7 launched. The predictive nature of the keyboard (Word Flow) was miles ahead of the competition, and with Windows Phone 8.1, they added the gesture-based input on the keyboard to make it even more impressive.
On the other hand, I have nothing but frustration to report when using the keyboard on Windows 8.x. It not only cannot do predictive input as well as Windows Phone, it actually does not seem to be learning as I change auto-corrected words. Even after using it for so long, my PC still corrects my name from “Romit” to “Remit” (yes, despite the capitalization).
I know, patience is the answer
I know all of these are natural additions which may be in the works already. I don’t know when they are coming, but it can’t come soon enough because it makes the difference between using Windows Phone and Windows that much more stark.
Do you have any other nifty features you like in Windows Phone which you’d like to see on Windows 8?
So, what changed? First of all, if you have OneDrive, your base storage goes up from 7GB to 15GB. You have OneDrive (formerly, SkyDrive) if you have a Microsoft account which you would have if you ever had a hotmail account or an Outlook.com account, a Zune subscription, an Xbox Live account, or if you have a Windows 8 PC and chose to sign in with a Microsoft account. So, Microsoft has effectively more than doubled the free storage that you get with your Microsoft account.
The bigger jump is for Office 365 subscribers. For Office 365 Personal, Home and University subscribers, the alloted storage (in addition to the 7GB free storage) was 20GB. This storage is now bumped up to 1TB. In addition, if you are an Office 365 Home subscriber, each user on the subscription (it could be up to 5 users) will get their storage bumped from 20GB to 1TB. That’s a pretty sweet upgrade.
Finally, if you want to purchase additional storage (regardless of whether you have the free OneDrive account or through Office 365 subscription), the plans are now more inexpensive than earlier. For example, a 100GB plan is now $1.99 per month instead of the earlier $7.49 per month.
So, what do you do with so much inexpensive or free/included storage? How about moving all your music there? I did that, and am pretty happy with it so far. OneDrive has excellent sync clients for Windows 7, Windows 8.x (where it is included in the base installation), Mac OS, iOS, Windows Phone, Android. These apps will allow you to access your files from virtually anywhere, and best of all, keep the dirty work of backing up your critical data out of your plate. Everything is in the cloud and synced to your devices so you don’t have to worry about losing your data. For your digital memories like photos, videos, music and documents, especially if you have Office 365, you won’t have to worry about backup at all. Not only will OneDrive provide you access to your files anywhere and anytime, it will also be a safe offsite copy of your data in case you lose your local disk for whatever reason.
One other note, Office 365’s business and enterprise editions have OneDrive for Business included and those plans’ subscribers also get 1TB storage. Although the two services OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are named similarly, they are not the same on the back end, although Microsoft has made 1TB available to all OneDrive customers, consumer or business. The OneDrive for Business storage upgrade has also started rolling out.
How do you plan to take advantage of the extra storage? My next move, given that I have an Office 365 Home subscription, is to move my photos and videos to OneDrive. It is a much bigger effort so it may take some time for me to plan it out and do it. Plus of course, I have to keep an eye on the bandwidth consumption since my ISP has a cap on how much I use every month. However, with my cloud storage being 1TB, I can now say that I have more storage in the cloud than on any of my PCs!
Microsoft announced on July 15 over on the Nokia Conversations Blog that Windows Phone 8.1 is beginning to roll out to general public starting today. In addition, for Lumia devices, Nokia is also making their firmware named Cyan available in tandem.
As you know, Windows Phone 8.1 is a major update to Windows Phone 8 (despite the .1 name, which is mostly to be in line with Windows 8.1) which includes many features that bring it up to par with iOS and Android, and in some cases, catapult it ahead of those two. For example, Windows Phone finally gets a notification center in the form of Action Center to bring it up to par with iOS and Android. There are many other new and updated features, including:
A digital personal assistant with a personality of her own. Many think of it as a good blend of Siri from iPhone and Google Now. It takes the personal nature of Siri and combines it with the ambient and context-aware nature of Google Now, and throws in a privacy-focused “notebook” which stores all the information that one would want the assistant to track. I have used Cortana quite a lot since the developer preview was released and am really happy with how she works, including the recent sports predictions.
Third column of tiles
Previously this feature was only available on the larger, 1080P screen devices but now it is a setting on all Windows Phones. The added density of tiles makes it possible to see even more information on the go, and thereby makes it possible to have more wide tiles which surface more information on the live tiles.
This feature allows one to automatically log in to wireless hotspots, including optionally filling out browser-based login screens which are common at many wifi hotspots. The settings are saved so that the information does not have to be entered over and over again. WiFi Sense also allows one to optionally share wifi username and password with connected contacts (who obviously should be using Windows Phone), so there is no awkward password sharing involved when friends and family visit each other.
Word Flow goes to the next level
The Windows Phone keyboard is one of the best among its competition, especially given the accuracy of its predictions of the next word, but with Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft added a gesture-based keyboard. This keyboard is similar to the ones found on Android (and coming soon to iOS 8) but combine that gestures with the predictions and you get a fast, fantastic typing experience.
Internet Explorer 11
Besides an updated browser engine, Internet Explorer now lets you share favorites, open tabs and most importantly, passwords among Windows devices (as long as they are Windows 8 and above :-)).
New Calendar view
Not only is the Calendar app now a standalone app (as evidenced by updates to the app delivered recently to those who are on the developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1), but it also adds a much-requested week view. The view is very smartly designed because when you tap on the date icon in the app bar below, it keeps the weekly view but simply expands that day of the week. Similarly, if you tap on any other day of the week, it simply expands that day. Tapping it again will switch the view to the daily view.
The Cyan firmware update is applicable to Lumia devices, and as suggested by it being firmware, the update provides lower-level improvements to the device in general. These improvements help Nokia’s great photo applications like Nokia Camera, Creative Studio and Storyteller.
Cyan also delivers a new Device Hub, which is meant to identify devices near you which you can connect to, as well as suggest apps which will be able to take advantage of the connection to the said devices. For example, if it finds a Windows 8 PC nearby, it may suggest Remote Desktop as an app, if it detects a media streaming device like a DirecTV receiver, it may suggest a media streaming app.
For the low-end Lumias like Lumia 520, 525, etc., the HERE Drive app gets bumped up to HERE Drive+. For the high-end Lumias like Lumia 1520 and Lumia Icon, Cyan enables Rich Recording and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 sound. The high-end Lumias also get improvements in photos with improved colors and even better low-light photos along with RAW images and a new Living Images feature which adds a tiny bit of animation before the shot is taken, to add “life” to the image.
Now, for the not-so-great news. Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan are available but they have only been delivered to the carriers. The update rolls out based on the carriers’ testing. The good thing is that Nokia is documenting the updates on their page as usual. The page is here.
I have been running the developer preview and I feel it is now up to the developers to bring their apps to the performance level that Windows Phone 8.1 provides, especially on the higher-end devices. I had almost given up on Windows Phone but Cortana and Action Center kept me interested. Along with many new apps coming to the platform, it has become a truly legitimate contender from a features perspective. The market, especially US and China, will of course speak with their wallets, but at this point Windows Phone 8.1 on a recent Lumia is not a bad choice to go for.
Here’s Nokia’s official video walking us through Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan:
As part of the evolution of Office 365, the service is going to see three new plans this October, per a post on the Office Blogs on July 9.
The three new plans, catered towards small businesses (from 1 user to 300 users), will eventually replace the existing Small Business, Small Business Premium and Midsize Business plans.
The new plan details are as follows:
Office 365 Business
This plan is more in line with the Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home in that it is essentially the desktop Office suite available on a subscription basis. Compared to the consumer edition of OneDrive that comes with Office 365 Personal and Home, Office 365 Business will come with the 1TB of OneDrive for Business. The applications included in the desktop suite are Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher. Curiously, no mention of Access.
This plan will cost $8.25 user per month.
Office 365 Business Essentials
This plan includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online and Yammer, but there is no desktop software subscription included. It will also have the 1TB of OneDrive for Business.
This plan will cost $5 per user per month.
Office 365 Business Premium
This is somewhat of a combination of the above two, so it comes with the desktop suite as well as online versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync along with the 1TB of OneDrive for Business.
This plan will cost $12.50 per user per month.
Some overall benefits include the ceiling of these plans being raised to 300 seats, as well as being able to upgrade to Enterprise plans if the growth of the company goes beyond that number. Additionally, since the new Business Premium plan replaces a plan that currently costs more ($15 per user per month), current customers on that plan will see the reduced cost applied at the next renewal. All of these plans of course unlock the ability to edit documents on Office apps for iPad.
This announcement comes days before the annual Worldwide Partner Conference, with a clear intent to incentivize partners to sell these plans to small businesses, which should be the most likely candidates to move to the cloud given their limited IT resources.
Are you an existing small business Office 365 customer? Do these plans sound interesting to you? Let us know in the comments.
The folks over at Microsoft’s Xbox Music Developer group announced on July 3 that they were extending the Xbox Music API more generally to all third party developers. This REST-based API, announced at //Build earlier this year, encompasses metadata, deep linking, playback and collection management.
This means, a developer with any interest in pulling up information or content related to music, can now use the Xbox Music catalog and resources and integrate them into their apps. There are various possibilities like a video editor being able to use background music, video game makers allowing custom soundtracks, or something as simple as a band’s fan page pulling up metadata from their catalog on Xbox Music.
The more interesting news in the blog post comes later, where they announce an affiliate program:
Every user you redirect to the Xbox Music application can earn you money on content purchases and Xbox Music Pass subscriptions. You currently will earn a 5 percent share on purchases and as the Xbox Music pass is at the core of our service, 10 percent on all music pass payments for the lifetime of the subscription. In the US for example, that’s one dollar, per user, per month!
That’s no small change, if you ask me. The Xbox Music Pass is a pretty good deal as it is, and if a developer can lead someone to that vastly underrated product and their customer is able to sign up, a 10% commission is pretty sweet.
The headwinds are strong for Xbox Music because established players like Spotify have also opened up their catalog to developers in a similar fashion. It remains to be seen if the developers find the API and/or the affiliate terms strong enough of an incentive to build against the Xbox Music API vs the others.
One thing to bear in mind is the new Microsoft is not going to remain uni-platform anymore. They have shown all signs of being completely platform-agnostic to prepare for the new normal where Windows becomes just another platform that Microsoft services support.
Are you a developer building apps which require music? Are you using Spotify or anything else? Would you sign up for Xbox Music Developer program? Let me know below.
[All images courtesy Microsoft/Xbox blogs; header image is from the author’s computer]
The extremely affordable Lumia 521 (a variant of the Lumia 520, made for T-Mobile) has a successor. Microsoft announced on July 1, that the first Windows Phone 8.1 device for the US will be arriving on T-Mobile/MetroPCS soon.
The schedule is a bit hairy, so here goes:
From July 5, this phone can be purchased via the Home Shopping Network
From July 9, it can be ordered online at t-mobile.com
From July 16, it will be available at T-Mobile stores
From July 18, it will be available at select MetroPCS stores
The pricing is $0 down and $7/month for 24 months or a promotional price of $99 off-contract.
The phone has a 4.5” screen combined with a quad-core Snapdragon processor, and unlike its predecessor, it works on the fast 4G LTE speeds. The phone will come pre-loaded with Windows Phone 8.1 and its personal digital assistant Cortana.
It is also one of the first phones to include software-based buttons on the front as well as SensorCore, the technology which enables low-power tracking of various sensors in the phone.
Here’s an official hands-on video:
I am a big fan of these low-cost Windows Phone devices, and I love my Lumia 520. Most apps work flawlessly on my 520 (subject to the 512MB RAM limits) and I am sure the same will be true for the Lumia 635. Another improvement in this phone over the 520 is that the microSD card slot can accept cards up to 128GB, and Windows Phone 8.1 allows apps and media to be stored on the expansion slot, so the 8GB default storage is no longer a concern.
Windows Phone has not picked up any steam in the US market and while in the rest of the world has shown a fondness for the low-cost Windows Phone, it remains to be seen if the Lumia 635 can change any of that. I am considering swapping out my 520 for the 635. Are you thinking about getting one?
I have noticed a slightly disturbing trend in Windows (and Windows Phone) apps, and that is “big brand” apps being released as a website wrapped in an app. I am going to refer to three specific examples I stumbled upon recently, but please note these apps are not the only ones with this issue.
Let’s take a look at United Airlines app to start with. Here’s the app’s opening screen:
Even at the first glance you can tell this is the website being rendered inside the app. I don’t have a problem with HTML inside apps, but just throwing the website as is into the app makes for terrible user experience especially on touch. For example, you can see that the links are so dense that they will make it hard to tap:
Even some other “pages” in the “app” where the density is not so high, the layout does not feel native at all:
Finally, compare the screenshots above to the United Airlines website:
So yes, the Windows Store team can claim we have a genuine and official app for United Airlines, but as a user I’d much rather just go to the website than use the app.
It gets worse in the evite app, whose main screen is shown below:
When I tapped the header image in the app, I was brought to the details page. So far, so good. The touch targets are big enough, the layout does not look like a website but it is because evite’s website is designed that way.
However, the issue arises when I tap something in the details page, it launched the evite website! That is terrible, because the app itself is the website, so why should it throw me out of the app and open the website?
For comparison, here’s the evite website:
Finally, the Orbitz app, where you will see a link to their mobile apps!
See the Orbitz website below, which looks exactly like the app:
Starting from scratch as a distant third in the mobile ecosystem wars, Microsoft is in a bad situation when it comes to breaking the Catch-22 of users not buying Windows devices because of lack of apps and developers not building apps for Windows because of low volume of Windows devices sold. I have seen other desperate attempts by Microsoft, like encouraging student developers to submit apps without much regard to quality of the apps. We have also seen Microsoft getting caught submitting web wrappers in their own name, for popular products and services like Southwest Airlines. This could very well be another such attempt to get big brands in the Windows and Windows Phone Stores, but I am unclear how it benefits the end users. The fact that several such apps have been released recently points to some level of green lighting by Microsoft, even if they are not the ones making it.
The least Microsoft can do now, is to make sure the layouts are modified to make them touch-friendly. Don’t get me wrong though, there are a lot of good, big brand apps coming to both Windows and Windows Phone lately, and I am really happy about that as a user in that ecosystem. Also, increasingly the apps are being released as “Universal” where you buy/download on Windows and it becomes enabled on other Windows/Windows Phone devices (and vice versa). This trend is also great news for the ecosystem.
Do you agree that these apps are close to “junk”? Are you ok seeing such “apps”? Let me know in the comments!
On June 23, Microsoft announcedseveral updates related to its OneDrive consumer-oriented online storage service including bumping up the free storage tier, reducing costs for purchasing storage dramatically, and adding 1TB to Office 365’s non-business plans.
While OneDrive (then called SkyDrive) offered 25GB free long time ago, Microsoft changed the free tierto be a then reasonable 7GB around the time of Windows 8 launch. The reasoning then was 7GB was higher than the competition at the time. Of course, as cost of storage has gone down, and as cloud services become more essential for ecosystems, Google and even Apple, have announced very inexpensive plans for their respective online storage services. Now, Microsoft matches some of the recent competitive updates by making the free tier to be 15GB.
Office 365 Personal, Home and University plans join the 1TB party
Microsoft had already announced that Office 365’s business editions would be getting 1TB of included storage (although that would be under OneDrive for Business, which is not the same product as OneDrive). With this announcement, Office 365’s non-business editions, which is Personal, Home and University, also get 1TB of included storage.
This makes Office 365 a pretty fantastic deal if you have the need for desktop Office, or if you want to be able to edit Office documents on the iPad. Not only does Office 365 now come with 1TB of storage, it always included 60 minutes of free Skype worldwide calling and of course desktop version of the Office suite, as well as edit rights for iPad version of the Office apps. If you have more than one person who needs Office, then Office 365 Home is a killer deal @ $99 per year for 5 users.
Reduced prices for additional storage options
Of course, as storage costs have gone down, each of the online storage providers have kept cutting their prices. OneDrive will no longer have the 50GB option since the $100GB option is now at $1.99 per month, down from $7.49 per month. An additional 200GB will be $3.99 per month, down from $11.49 per month.
These are great updates to an already useful storage service. As a reminder, OneDrive has a presence on all platforms, making it a truly universal online storage service: Windows 7, Windows 8.x, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac OS. The price changes were not completely unexpected because it is much easier for a larger company with scale, to keep lowering costs to meet the competition’s prices. I wonder what this means to the likes of Dropbox and Box, especially the former, since it has long been the darling of consumers for being so easy to use, sync and share. With OneDrive (and Google Drive and soon, iCloud) being so front-and-center in those various ecosystems, it will be interesting to see how many consumers will decide to switch away from the smaller companies. We shall see.
Edit: An earlier version of this article stated that OneDrive is perhaps the only service with apps across all platforms. Dropbox and Box also have apps across all platforms. Author meant to say, only one among the big ecosystem providers, but the sentence has been modified to refer to OneDrive by itself.
As you may know, Power BI is only supported with Office 365, and only with certain higher-end editions of the service. Many customers and potential customers who have interest in analytics and business intelligence but simply cannot afford a higher-end Office 365 edition. So the question about being able to access Power BI in a Home edition is legit, and I am glad the team responded to it and the good news is that it is a highly-requested feature, and we may see something on that soon. From the answer here:
Customers have asked for some subset of Power BI functionality be available in other versions of Office and it is something we actively discuss. We are hoping to have great news in the coming months. (Carl Perry, PM)
Power BI On-Premises
Power BI currently only works with Office 365 and SharePoint Online. One of the reasons is that with cloud-based services, Microsoft is able to release quickly and release often. Hence, the response here is that it won’t happen at least until the next version of SharePoint is released. From the answer here:
For Power BI on-prem, the earliest you’ll see this is in the next major release of SharePoint. (As of today we don’t have dates to share/discuss for this release.) We’re taking advantage of the capabilities of Office 365 cloud services to release early and often in Power BI, but on-prem SharePoint is releasing on a more traditional on-prem schedule. [Matthew – Data Catalog PM]
Duplication of languages/interfaces
Microsoft now has several ways of doing the same thing, across client and server. For example, in Power Query they are using the “M” language to transform and shape data, whereas their SQL Server Integration Services, their Extract/Transform/Load tool has its own expression language. They are aware of this, which is a good thing, but there will always be overlap in functionality across their tools. Similarly, Power Query and Power Pivot offering similar ways to manipulate data. From one response here:
We are working hard on making sure we remove as much overlap as possible in the UI, for example we want to have a single place to import data in future updates of the product. The overlap between M and DAX is a very interesting as in nature they serve very different purposes. DAX is very analytical in nature, meaning optimized for business problems / aggregations. M is optimized is a functional language optimized for data transformations. I agree there is some overlap between DAX calc. columns and M and we are thinking about optimizing the overlap here. (K de Jonge, AS team)
We are definitely working on our relationship, as with any marriage it’s a lot of hard work. No, seriously, you will some of the more annoying issues fixed in the current version of Office and we are looking into how to optimize our two products for future versions. (K de Jonge, SSAS team)
We’re actively working on improvements in Power Query that will address the most common causes of this type of “destructive change” problem. We release a new version of Power Query each month, so be sure to stay up to date. [Matthew – Data Catalog PM]
Although both “M” and SSIS expressions are tools for manipulating data, the contexts in which they operate are different enough that it’s pretty unlikely that M will replace SSIS expressions.
But with this said, we are actively looking at ways to make Power Query and SSIS play better together. Prior to Power BI GA we separated the Power Query engine (the part that executes queries) from the Power Query add-in UX, and are looking at a variety of scenarios where that engine can be hosted in different processes. SSIS is an obvious one. [Matthew – Data Catalog PM]
Power BI for Android
This was bound to come up, and per Microsoft the fact at the moment is that Android has tremendous reach in consumer space, but not much in the enterprise. As a result, the focus has been on Windows and iOS. From their response here:
We decided to initially focus on Windows and iOS first. Android does have a big market share in the consumer space but its growth in the enterprise was less initially. We are actively monitoring the trends and Android support is definitely on our roadmap. (Cindy S. – Mobile BI PM)
Power BI with Dynamics? Maybe a Salesforce connector hint?
While Power Query can pull from a variety of data sources, there is no connector to Dynamics CRM. Power BI officials said that they have friends in Dynamics team and something should happen soon. At the same time they seem to hint that something else in the CRM space may happen soon too. Could that be a hint that a salesforce.com connector is coming soon, given the recently announced partnership between the two companies? See here:
We have some really good friends in the Dynamics team and are pushing to make getting that data in to Power BI as seamless as possible – And, as we generally like to make new friends, we’re working on some new CRM capability provider friendships as well.
Feedback for Power BI is being collected via Connect, and it goes straight to the team’s Visual Studio Team Server. They use the votes up/down as a factor to prioritize the backlog of features. See here:
Challenge accepted: http://connect.microsoft.com And as proof yo: http://imgur.com/BHmZTh7
Connect items go straight into our VSTS instance so they really do get looked at! We track the up/down votes and that goes into our planning cycles. You can also give feedback through the product now! There are links and smiley faces in the products that you can use to give us feedback. Also: http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/home?forum=powerview%2Cpowerbimobileapps%2Cpowerqanda&filter=alltypes&sort=lastpostdesc
(Will T – British Power View PM)
Third party visualizations
On the topic of allowing third party visualizations, Microsoft said that they are focused right now on getting the HTML5 version to be on parity with the Silverlight version. Once that happens, they plan to add many more visualizations and maybe even open it up to third parties. That’s promising! See here:
Currently the Power BI team is working on bringing the new HTML5 version to parity with Silverlight with respect to visuals and also adding some new important visuals. We will then be adding lots of new visuals and during that process, we will take a look and see how to open up the platform to third party custom visualizations.. Stay tuned! [Ajay, Power View PM]
It is very easy to duck questions in an AMA, especially when it is product roadmap type of questions. I think the Power BI team did a good job of taking the important questions, and responding fairly openly. I am most interested in the addition of Power BI in Home edition. What about you?
Here is a video talking about Power BI for Office 365:
When Windows Phone 8.1 was announced, we learned of a separate Podcasts app which was going to be made available as a pre-installed app, and instead of relying on the Zune back-end, it was going to be powered by Bing.
Having installed the Developer Preview of the Windows Phone 8.1 on my Lunia 920, I wanted to check out the podcasts app. After all, in order to become my daily driver, a phone has to be able to provide me a superb podcast experience. There is much to like in the app, but much more to dislike.
First off, some of the things I like:
International support I haven’t tried this myself but it is well-known that this new app is now made available everywhere Windows Phone is available, which is a boon to all international customers. Given that the back-end is not Zune’s, I suspect that the US-only nature of the earlier podcast functionality may have something to do with the database. Still beats me, but regardless that is a thing of the past now. All Windows Phone customers are now welcome to use podcasts “natively”.
Database maintenance Since the discovery and addition of podcasts is powered by Bing, there is usually no issue with addition of a new podcast feed. I did find it odd that a popular Windows-related podcast, Windows Developer Show was found but had no content. I know in this specific case that the podcasters changed their feed a few weeks ago but it is a bad sign that the feed was not updated even after so long. Regardless, at least it is not a person or a team that has to manage the database, which is a good thing.
Playback speed Yay, yay, yay. Finally, we can speed through podcasts with a 1.5x and a 2x setting.
Manual refresh Repeat after me: yay, yay, yay. Prior to this app, there was really no way to detect when the phone checked for new episodes and more importantly, there was no way to trigger a check. As a result we were forced to resort to hacks like unsubscribing and re-subscribing, connecting to power and WiFi and waiting, etc. Not an issue anymore, since each podcast now has a setting to refresh which checks for new episodes.
However, there are a bunch of major annoyances which I am hoping get fixed before Windows Phone 8.1 (after all, it is still in a developer preview state!) becomes final.
Episodes to keep In default series settings as well as for a specific series settings, for how many episodes to keep, I see none for streaming-only as well as discrete numbers from 1-5, 10, and “all”. However, my usual setting is to keep x number of unplayed episodes, including “all unplayed”. There is no way to have a series keep the latest unplayed episode (daily news podcast, for example, where archive is not important) or keep all unplayed episodes in case of podcasts that are not too frequent but are generally not-to-be-missed. I would love to see that selection change from how many episodes to keep, to what type of episodes to keep based on unplayed status.
Playback speed setting I will chalk this up as a bug, where the speed setting is not remembered between app launches. In other words, after I exit the app and resume, it gets switched back to 1x, or the normal speed. This one is highly annoying, and hopefully gets squashed before general release.
View only new episodes Under collection, there are two sections, one for audio and one for video. Unfortunately, once you tap into one of those sections, there is no way for you to see only the new (or “unplayed”) episodes. In fact, even on the main screen where the app shows favorites, there is no indication which series has new episodes. So I am forced to browse all the podcasts and view under the icon if it says there are new episodes. This is very annoying and I don’t think it is a bug. It seems like it is functionality that was left out, perhaps due to time constraints. Hope a setting is included under “audio”, to see only new episodes across all podcasts. Also, hoping some indicator is made available in the favorites section, to show which podcasts have new/unplayed episodes waiting to be consumed.
Played episodes not removed After I set up several favorite podcasts, I had to naturally and understandably go through each podcast and mark everything except the recent few episodes as played. That went fine, but unfortunately, the played episodes were not removed from the view. As a result, after tapping into a podcast and swiping over to the list of episodes, I have to scroll through all the played episodes in order to get to the unplayed episodes.I could use the filter and choose just “downloaded” episodes, which is what I essentially need, but that filter does not retain its setting :-(
(Side note: if I am going into the podcast from the favorites area, why show me the podcast information screen and make me swipe left in order to see the episodes? Why not just land me directly to the list of episodes? I would understand if the landing spot is the information screen if it is launched from a search but if it is from favorites or collection, I don’t need to see the information, right?)
Universal, please Finally, now that we know of Universal Apps and shared settings and configurations, I cannot see why this app cannot exist on Windows 8.x as well. I would love to continue listening to my podcasts on my PC/tablet and get the play position and subscription settings sync-ed across my devices via my Microsoft account. Hope that also happens around the time the app becomes final.
As you can see there is much to love in the app, but some key functionality is missing and needs to be present in order for this power user to truly embrace it.
Are you happy with the app? Any pluses or minuses I may have missed? Let me know!
On May 20, Microsoft officials announced the latest entry in the family of Surface devices, the Surface Pro 3. This device is a larger form with many updates to the existing pro device, the Surface Pro 2, and comes only eight months since the launch of the Surface Pro 2. So now, Microsoft has launched three generations of Surface in the span of less than two years, being incredible for a company which only recently pivoted to devices and services from software.
The launch of Surface Pro 3 however raised several questions: why isn’t there a Surface 3 (the ARM-based version) to complement the Surface Pro 3? Why also, didn’t the much-rumored Surface Mini launch alongside the Surface Pro 3? What is the goal of these Surface devices, according to Microsoft?
Where is Windows RT?
The first two questions have a common thread, and that is Windows RT. The ARM-based version of Windows has had very little success both from OEM adoption as well as sales perspectives. OEMs have slowly been pulling out of making such devices, and with Nokia’s devices group now a part of Microsoft, Microsoft is the only company that makes Windows RT devices. The operating systems group at Microsoft is undergoing some level of consolidation and transformation, and there is a possibility of some fundamental changes coming to the Windows RT OS as it merges with Windows Phone OS. It would be somewhat silly to offer a Windows RT device that may need some major updates in a few months when the operating system makes potentially big underlying changes. Also, let’s not forget that Nokia also makes a Windows RT device (Lumia 2520) which may now become a contender to be the only Windows RT device Microsoft produces. Hence, the lack of ARM-based Surface at this point in time.
No room for Surface Mini
Surface Mini on the other hand, has a bigger issue. The rumors were that it would be an 8” device and regardless of whether it was going to be an Intel-based device or an ARM-based device, it would really offer no differentiation from the several other 8” Windows devices in the market today. All of the existing devices are Intel-based and as a result, are able to run old Windows desktop programs just fine. Most of these existing devices are also priced at the very low end and as a result, Microsoft would have to start competing on the low end which I am not sure they want to do. There are also rumors that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the new devices chief Stephen Elop decided to remove that device from the announcement for precisely that reason – it offered no differentiation from whatever else is out there in the market. If that is in fact the case, I commend them for doing so since it is not easy to change directions this way and at the last moment.
Who is the Surface for? What does Surface mean for Microsoft?
That brings us to the last question – what is the role of Surface devices? Microsoft executives have constantly said that Surface is not meant to compete with the OEMs but instead be a reference design for OEMs. However, the huge write-off Microsoft took at the end of the past fiscal year related to excess inventory of the original Surface shows that at least someone at Microsoft expected to sell these devices in larger volumes.
The Surface Pro 3 is indeed unlike anything else in the market today, both from a Windows devices perspective as well as the competition’s devices. There are Android tablets of all shapes and sizes that are selling quite well, but they are limited to a maximum of 10” form factor, and while there have been rumors of an “iPad Pro” sporting a larger display than the current iPad, those have been simply rumors. At the launch event, Microsoft made the point that the Surface Pro 3 is aimed squarely at the laptop user (there were a *lot* of MacBook Air comparisons) rather than the tablet user. The viewpoint they provided was that most of the iPad customers also have or buy a laptop, so why not make a device that can do both the tasks well? The Surface Pro 3 specifications are obviously more “computer”-like than “tablet”-like, starting with the processor which is not an Atom variant but in fact, it is a Core processor. At the same time, it is so much lighter than a laptop – even MacBook Air that they compared to at the event – that you could see yourself using it as a tablet every so often.
The Surface Pro 3 pricing is in line with a mid- to high-end laptop, depending on the configuration you choose. You could get the entry-level model with a Core i3 processor and 64GB storage for $799 and the highest-end model with a Core i7 processor and 512GB storage for $1,949. Both the ends of that spectrum are higher than the average for a Windows laptop with similar specifications.
Another example to understand where Microsoft is going with this family of devices is the included (and completely re-done) pen. There is a deep integration built into the pen which enables the customer to launch OneNote even when the screen is locked. The OneNote emphasis shows not just the integration aspects but also the intended, or expected, use of the device.
The screen at an excellent 2160×1440 resolution, the aspect ratio which is a much better 3:2 than 16:9, the higher power processor and the pricing all point to a realization at Microsoft that it is better to compete with the laptop than with the iPad. Think creative professionals like artists, medical professionals, or the “information worker” in corporations. Think students on a budget, who have the funds to buy only one device which needs to be their television, book reader as well as productivity tool. These are the customers Microsoft seems to be aiming at with their Surface Pro devices now.
So Microsoft is clearly going for the laptop user and giving that user the choice of using that device as a tablet. They know that the OEMs are able to compete at the low-end, especially with the recent announcement of making Windows free for 9” and lower screens. Knowing that Apple has consistently outsold Windows in the PC sales for the past several years, it makes sense for Microsoft to address the high margin area so they don’t have to sell extremely large volumes in order to justify the business.
I still expect Microsoft to release the mini tablet, and there are multiple possibilities there too: a productivity mini tablet which would have the upcoming touch version of Office (codename Gemini); a larger phablet-style device like the Lumia 1520 and of course, a gaming-oriented mini tablet with some type of Xbox brand and tie-in. All of those have dependencies that need to be addressed before these products can come to market in order to differentiate themselves from the competition.
There is an empirical truth to Microsoft products: by version 3, they perfect the product. Surface Pro 3 surely looks like a “perfect” product, we will see if the market agrees with Microsoft or not. The Surface business has steadily grown in volume and with Windows 8.1, Microsoft may have enough to get CIOs interested in upgrading to Windows 8.1. If so, there is a large-sized market opportunity that is for Microsoft to dominate, given their past relationships and reputation in the enterprise. If that happens, it may create the virtuous cycle that Microsoft has been able to create in the past with Windows and even now with Office. Many will use these devices in school and workplace and would like to continue that experience at home.
Microsoft certainly seems to demonstrate that it is in the devices market for the long run. Naturally, mastering manufacturing cannot happen overnight. It is now up to the customers to decide if all of that is worth it, by speaking with their wallets.
Are you interested in the Surface Pro 3? Were you disappointed by the absence of the Surface Mini? Sound off in the comments below.
(All images and the video, courtesy Microsoft’s official websites)