Aviate Launcher Steps out of Beta, Gets One Step Closer to Becoming the Perfect Android Home Screen

Aviate Launcher, which dubs itself as an ‘intelligent homescreen’ for Android, was acquired by Yahoo in January. Unlike most other Yahoo acquisitions, Aviate wasn’t put on the chopping block. To the contrary, Yahoo promised to make it a core part of its Android-based experiences in 2014 and beyond. Today, Aviate came out of the private beta, and released the most significant update since its launch.

Aviate-Home-Screen-Android

The new version retains the two cornerstones of Aviate.

Workspaces

Your Aviate experience changes throughout the day based on where you are and what you are doing. There are several pre-configured workspaces (‘Spaces’ in Aviate terminology) like Today, Moving, Listening, Work, Home, and Nearby. If Aviate detects that you’re at work, it will automatically show scheduled events from your calendar and display productivity apps. If it detects that you’re travelling, it will automatically pull tips about nearby venues from Foursquare. Throughout the day it keeps switching between the different Spaces to surface information and apps that are most relevant. Each of these workspaces can be manually configured to display the content that you want. Yahoo has also begun leveraging Aviate to cross-sell its other apps by tying them in with the workspaces. For example, the Today page integrates with Yahoo News Digest to showcase breaking news from around the world. I suspect that future versions will integrate other Yahoo properties including Stocks, Weather and Flickr.

Aviate-Spaces
Aviate – Spaces

Collections

Aviate automatically categorises all installed apps into Collections like Social, Productivity, Utilities, Music, Transit, and Games. You can add or remove apps from Collections, or even create entirely new Collections. You can add these Collections to relevant Spaces to get quick access to apps when you really need them. Each Collection also doubles up as a neat app discovery service, by suggesting other popular apps that belong to the same category.

Aviate-Collection
Aviate – Collections
Aviate-App-Drawer
Aviate – App Drawer

Aviate has also introduced three major enhancements with this release.

Favorite People

A simple swipe up from the home screen brings up a list of your favorite contacts as well as recently dialled numbers. This ensures that the people you want to call or message are just a swipe away.

Aviate - Favorite People
Aviate – Favorite People

Calendar

Previously Aviate used to simply display calendar apps when you were at work. It now directly displays your calendar entries in the Spaces and offers neat options such as getting directions to your next meeting, booking an Uber to your destination, or directly calling a conference number. This is once again an example of Yahoo leveraging its existing portfolio to improve Aviate. The calendar capabilities are similar to what was previously present in Donna, an intelligent assistant from Incredible Labs, which was acquired by Yahoo.

Aviate-Space-Calendar-Integration
Aviate – Today Space

Daily Delight

As mentioned earlier, Aviate integrates with News Digest to offer you a quick glimpse of events around the world. A new digest is available twice a day –in the morning and in the evening. The weather functionality has been enhanced so that if a significant deviation in weather forecast is detected from the previous day, Aviate will automatically alert you. Additionally, Aviate also monitors your usage to double up as a light-weight sleep tracker.

Aviate-Home-Screen
Aviate – Customised Home Screen with Google Now

Smart launchers aren’t exactly a new concept in the Android world. However, among all the smart launchers that I’ve tried, Aviate is the one that comes closest to getting it right. The objective of smart launchers is to make you more productive by simplifying things, and simplification often mandates trimming down on features. The biggest challenge for developers is to achieve this without alienating users by eliminating the strong suites of Android. For example, Nokia’s Z Launcher goes too far in its pursuit of simplicity. By removing everything from multiple screens to folders and widgets, Z launcher stifles users. Using Aviate also entails sacrifices. You’ll have to live without live wallpapers. You’re restricted to three screens – Spaces, Home, and Collections. You can configure these screens by adding app collections and widgets, but you won’t get the myriad of options that you’d get with Nova or ADW. Nevertheless, Aviate never ends up being too restrictive. Once you spend some time personalizing your home screen and the Spaces, you’ll have a smart home screen that’s truly personal. And, this is its biggest achievement.

[ Download Aviate ]

RunPee Helps You Plan Your Bathroom Break during Movies

Intermissions were necessary in the olden days because as they enabled the operators to change reels. However, as technology improved, intermissions became unnecessary, and were phased out in most parts of the world to save time and squeeze in more shows. India remains an exception, where for both Bollywood and Hollywood movies, theatres have an intermission, which gives the audience a chance grab more popcorn.

RunPee-Bathrrom-Break-Movies
RunPee – Plan your Bathroom Break During Movies

The unfortunate downside to phasing out intermissions is that, in case you need to take a leak, you are forced to miss out on parts of the movie. RunPee is a mobile app that’s designed to help you with planning your bathroom break during a movie. Theaters don’t have pause buttons, but with RunPee you can at least ensure that you don’t miss out on the best parts of the movie. RunPee’s database is updated the day a movie comes out with the best moments to run to the bathroom. These scenes are normally three to five minute intervals in the movie where not a lot happens. RunPee tells you the exact time that the scene will start at as well as a dialogue by which you can identify the scene.

RunPee-Peetimes
RunPee – List of Best Peetimes during a Movie

For an app with just one purpose, RunPee is rather feature packed. You can either select a movie, and chose to identify the scene manually. Or you can start a timer as soon as the movie starts, and RunPee will vibrate your phone, when a ‘peetime’ comes along. It also provides a quick summary of what happens during the scene.

RunPee-Bathroom-Break-Timer
RunPee- Countdown Timer to the Best Bathroom Breaks during Movies

There are also a couple of bonus features. If you’re running late, you can read a summary of what happens during the first three minutes of the movie on RunPee. Additionally, it also informs you if there are any extra scenes during or after the end credits.

RunPee-End-Credits-Bonus-Feature
RunPee – Bonus Features

RunPee is a free download on iOS and Android, while the Windows Phone version costs $0.99. I reviewed the Android version, and found it to work rather well. The user interface doesn’t strictly adhere to the Android design guidelines and is a mishmash of Android and iOS UI elements. RunPee won’t blow you away with its design, but the apps is undoubtedly handy, and serves its purpose brilliantly.

[ Download RunPee ]

OneDrive Increases Free Storage and Office 365 Gets 1TB Free

On June 23, Microsoft announced several 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.

OneDrive 1TB with Office
OneDrive 1TB with Office

Free Storage

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.

Office 365 Consumer Plans
Office 365 Consumer Plans

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.

(Images courtesy OneDrive blog and Office Blogs)

Microsoft launces Internet Explorer Developer Channel

On June 16, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer will now have a Developer Channel release which can run side-by-side with the production/GA version of Internet Explorer on Windows 7 and Windows 8.x. This feature, which has long been available in Google’s Chrome browser and Mozilla’s Firefox, is a pleasant surprise to those who use Internet Explorer.

This release is a continuation of the effort Microsoft, and especially Internet Explorer team has started, to become developer-friendly by being proactive in communication about the roadmap and the features. This release, unlike the previous developer previews Microsoft created, not only runs side-by-side with the existing version of Internet Explorer but also includes changes to the UI as they are made.

Some of the key updates in this release include:

Updates to F12 developer tools

An enhanced debugging experience with event breakpoints that help you get to your event-driven bugs faster.

Richer analysis capabilities throughout the Memory and UI Responsiveness profilers, which support further reduction of noise through multi-dimensional timeline filter, while further increasing the semantic value of the data being reported by lighting up performance.measure() based instrumentation and dominator folding.

An improved navigation experience that provides more keyboard shortcuts (ctrl+[ and ctrl + ]), as well as new header notifications, which allows you to quickly determine whether any of the profiling tools are running or how many errors your page has.

The complete list of updates are on MSDN here.

IE Dev Channel F12 Tools
IE Dev Channel F12 Tools

Support for WebDriver standard

IE Developer Channel also comes with support for the emerging WebDriver standard through which Web developers can write tests to automate Web browsers to test their sites. It’s a programmable remote control for developing complex user scenarios and running them in an automated fashion in your Web site and browser. See how you can setup WebDriver in the IE Developer Channel, and try out this sample WebDriver project.

Support for Gamepad API standard and improved WebGL support

IE Developer Channel comes with support of the emerging Gamepad API standard that lets you use JavaScript to add gamepad support to your Web apps and games.

IE Developer Channel also improves WebGL performance and adds support for instancing extension, 16-bit textures, GLSL builtin variables, and triangle fans. This release improves our Khronos WebGL Conformance Test 1.0.2 score from 89% to 94%.

Status.modern.ie Gamepad Status
Status.modern.ie Gamepad Status

The team is promising frequent updates to the Developer Channel and we shall see how frequent that is. Given the pace and cadence across various other groups at Microsoft, it could be anywhere from two weeks (Xbox Music) to a month (Xbox One, Power BI) or three-four months (Windows, Windows Phone). Whatever it is, for developers this is much better than anything Internet Explorer has done in the past.

You can download the Developer Channel release from here.

Here’s Charles Morris introducing the Developer Channel IE:

Micromax launches two Windows Phones in India, the Canvas Win W121 and Canvas Win W092

Micromax, the second largest smartphone manufacturer in India, introduced its Canvas Win series with the launch of two Windows Phone devices – Canvas Win W121 and Canvas Win W092. With this announcement, Micromax has become the first Indian smartphone player to launch a Windows Phone device.

micromax_canvas_win“I congratulate Micromax on the launch of their first Windows Phone today. The Micromax Canvas Win will be available both in India and other emerging markets. Our deep engagement with local OEMs is one of the engines of growth for Windows Phone and we are proud of our partnership with Micromax. With Micromax Canvas Win, Windows Phone is now available to a whole new group of consumers in India, who are looking for innovation and value.”
– Bhaskar Pramanik, Chairman, Microsoft India.

Powered by the latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system and a 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 quad-core processor, the Canvas Win W121 and Canvas Win W092 are dual SIM smartphones. Both phones feature 1GB RAM and 8GB internal storage expandable up to 32GB with a microSD card.

The Canvas Win W121 sports a 5-inch HD IPS display, and features a fine leather-texture back cover. The phone packs in 8MP rear camera with LED flash and a 2MP front camera, and includes a 2000 mAh battery. The Canvas Win W092 features a 4-inch IPS display and packs in a 1500 mAh battery. The phone sports a 5MP rear camera with flash and 0.3MP front camera.

The Canvas Win W121 is priced at INR 9,500 and the Canvas Win W092 is priced at INR 6,500. Both phones will be available across retail stores and online portals starting early July 2014.
micromax_canvas_win_w121

Canvas Win W121 Specifications:

  • Windows Phone 8.1 OS
  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 200 processor with 1.2 GHz Quad Core CPU
  • 5-inch HD IPS display
  • 2000 mAh battery
  • 8MP rear camera with flash; 2MP front camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 1GB RAM; 8GB ROM
  • Up to 32GB expandable memory
  • Proximity Sensor, Gravity Sensor, Light Sensor and Accelerometer

micromax_canvas_win_w092Canvas Win W092 Specifications:

  • Windows Phone 8.1 OS
  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 200 processor with 1.2 GHz Quad Core CPU
  • 4-inch IPS display
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • 5MP rear camera with flash; 0.3MP front camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 1GB RAM; 8GB ROM

[Sponsored] Why All Businesses Could Benefit from Fiber-optic Broadband

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OPPO launches their next flagship, Find 7 in India for ₹37,990; also launches the Find 7a

OPPO India today unveiled their next flagship smartphone – Find 7. The 4G/LTE compatible OPPO Find 7 is the first smartphone in the country that sports a 5.5-inch Quad HD screen. Continue reading OPPO launches their next flagship, Find 7 in India for ₹37,990; also launches the Find 7a

Summary: Microsoft’s Power BI Team Does an AMA

One June 10, the Power BI team at Microsoft conducted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit, and there were some standard non-responses, but there were also some interesting insights into what the team is thinking about the product and the direction it is planned to be taking.

Here is a quick summary of the items discussed:

Power BI in Office 365 Home

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)

Another response here:

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]

And another one here:

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

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:

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