Looking Forward to Windows Phone in 2015

windows-phones

As 2014 winds down, Windows Phone is at a crucial stage in its lifecycle. Again. Earlier in 2014, Microsoft closed the acquisition of Nokia’s hardware division and Windows 10 was launched in a Technical Preview form. Nokia’s acquisition, combined with the upcoming Windows 10-based version of the phone operating system, has perhaps resulted in a slight pause in release of true flagship devices that can compete with the latest versions of competing platforms, the iPhone and Android/Nexus lineup.

So, as we look forward to the early 2014 look at the combined Windows RT and Windows Phone OS based on Windows 10, what can Microsoft do to preserve and grow its share, both market share as well as mind share? Recently, some prominent writers have written in detail about why they are no longer using Windows Phone as their primary device. Key takeaways there were lack of proper support of the platform by the largest mobile network in the US, Verizon Wireless, as well as lack of key apps on the platform. Apps that include the likes of Slack, Trello, Snapchat, Tinder, etc.

I have my own reasons why I switched to using iPhone 5s as my primary device last year. I know Windows Phone 8.1 added Notification Center but many of the problems are still valid issues for those who care about top-end Windows Phone experience. For example, adding Action Center to store all notifications is a great start, but in order to take action on those notifications, you have to tap it which opens the app, and then you take action within the app. Android, and now even iOS to a certain extent, have actionable notifications and those need to be implemented on Windows Phone.

The broader issue with Windows Phone is that for the third year in a row, enthusiasts are made to wait for “the next version” for feature parity with iOS and Android. Meanwhile those two platforms, due to the incredible ecosystem which creates a great virtuous cycle, have implemented next-generation features that move the goal posts for Windows Phone. Also, this wait for the next version of Windows Phone only takes care of part of the problem plaguing the platform; app developers are still not flocking to the platform because in the US, where most of the innovative apps have been created in the recent past, Windows Phone is still languishing around the 3% market share. Forget Windows Phone, even choosing Android as the second platform to be supported by small developers, is hard (although that Android situation is changing slowly).

Here are some things to look forward to as yet another chapter opens for Windows phone (yes, the “p” is lower case, because rumors suggest that Windows Phone operating system will be merged with Windows RT and just called Windows 10):

Windows 10

There’s a lot of hope for Windows 10’s ARM-based OS version, the merger of Windows RT and Windows Phone. How will apps built for Windows Phone work on Windows 10? What about additional features in the OS which will create an unforeseen appetite both on the consumer side as well as on the developer side? Cortana has rightly won accolades for how well she works, but it has not moved the needle much for device sales. Granted, it is not fully launched yet, but still. Also, what else can Windows 10 do that iOS and Android don’t do, and more importantly, can Microsoft find something that Windows 10 can do which iOS and Android *won’t* be able to do?

Windows 10 Product Family
Windows 10 Product Family

Flagships

One of the issues I had with Windows Phone when I got my iPhone 5s was the increased (and justifiable) focus by Microsoft on the lower end. They see their best market potential in markets which haven’t achieved smartphone saturation yet. In those markets, Microsoft has been able to sell their entry-level devices quite well. So Microsoft making “affordable flagship” a term for mid-range devices with some high-end specifications is completely understandable.

However, many customers in the developed markets would love to get a true high-end phone that competes well with the flagship iPhone and Android devices. The Lumia 1020, for example, has no successor yet. Yes, the Lumia 1520 is a great phone but there needs to be a non-phablet version of that device to make it appealing to the larger customer base.

Lumia 1520
Lumia 1520
Lumia Icon
Lumia Icon

Updates

Yes, Microsoft did create a bypass of sorts by making it possible for any “developer” to get direct updates of the software from Microsoft. Pretty much anyone can sign up to be a “developer” by signing into App Studio online, thereby making sure any enthusiast who cares about latest OS versions, will get it directly from Microsoft. That has helped reduce the angst among the enthusiasts but it is only one part of the updates customers need; firmware that makes devices work better, is delivered by the OEMs and via the carriers. Carriers have no real urgency to complete (or in some cases, even start!) testing and delivering the firmware to Windows Phone devices.

Could Microsoft come up with a way to deliver even more firmware directly? I mean, Windows on PCs get all updates delivered directly, and if Windows 10’s mobile version is going to be like “big Windows”, then I am optimistic that most of the updates could be delivered directly by Microsoft. Having said that, could Microsoft find a way, Windows 10 or otherwise, to deliver it without the need for the device to be a developer device?

Mind share

This is a really tough nut for Microsoft to crack. Much of the mind share these days is delivery via the Microsoft-averse tech blogosphere which has settled down on Apple and Google as being the only two players worth caring about. In order to win them over, Microsoft has to climb a virtually impossible mountain but as we have seen in the enterprise/cloud space, it is not impossible. A few crucial strategic moves on the Azure/Visual Studio side have made Microsoft somewhat of a darling in the same tech press, and Microsoft has to find a similar set of moves to make on the consumer side in order to increase their mind share. I say this because even Windows Phone 8.1 is an excellent operating system and there is a lot to love there, but if the writers who write at prominent tech blogs don’t care to use it, and worse, dismiss it, it does not help. I am not sure what those strategic moves could be, but Microsoft does need to make those moves so that the tech press actually cares about writing about Windows devices.

I am optimistic about Windows 10. I like the fact that there will be one OS for phones and tablets and I look forward to seeing some of the well-established Windows Phone apps get upgraded to be Universal and work on small tablets as well. But most importantly, I want to see how Microsoft expands Windows 10 to work as one OS across phones, tablets and PCs. There are many interesting applications of having one OS work across devices of all form factors and I am curious to see how today’s excellent phone applications work on my Windows tablets. On the phone side, I am looking forward to some nice high-end devices and some marquee apps releasing their Universal versions soon.

Here’s looking forward to another exciting year for Microsoft and Windows!

OneDrive Storage Goes Unlimited For Office 365 Subscribers

Remember when OneDrive bumped up their free storage tier and made the storage included with Office 365 1TB from the 25GB that it used to be? Well, that was only a few months ago. Now, as they announced on the OneDrive blog on October 27, Microsoft is making the OneDrive storage unlimited for Office 365 Home, Personal and University subscribers.

The upgrade to unlimited storage rolls out today and there is a priority list for those who would like to see it early. I was one of those, and I got an email later in the day that while the upgrade to unlimited is in progress, the storage in my Office 365 Home account is bumped to 10TB, ten times the current allocation of 1TB.

So now, a customer can potentially get the full desktop Office suite for a PC/Mac, unlock editing features for tablet (iPad), get 60 minutes of Skype world calling to over 60 countries, use Office Online and Office Mobile on smartphones and unlimited storage for only $6.99 per month.

The above deal becomes even sweeter when there is a need for more than one user to be on the subscription. In such a case, a customer can get Office 365 Home which provides the same features for 5 users for $8.33 per month.

This is another move in the trend for cloud storage to become virtually free, tied closely to other services that companies like Microsoft, Google and to some extent, Apple provide. Here’s what Microsoft’s blog post said:

While unlimited storage is another important milestone for OneDrive we believe the true value of cloud storage is only realized when it is tightly integrated with the tools people use to communicate, create, and collaborate, both personally and professionally. That is why unlimited storage is just one small part of our broader promise to deliver a single experience across work and life that helps people store, sync, share, and collaborate on all the files that are important to them, all while meeting the security and compliance needs of even the most stringent organizations.

While Microsoft and Google have been really aggressive with their pricing, Apple has been a little reserved in how aggressive they get with the storage pricing. However, the biggest impact of such pricing moves are the likes of Box and Dropbox. For these companies, storage is a key factor but for platform makers like Microsoft, Google and Apple, adding storage inexpensively is not a big deal. How will Box and Dropbox combat this move? Your guess is as good as mine.

Apple Announces New iPad Air, iPad mini, iMac, Updated Mac mini, Announces iOS 8.1, Releases Mac OS X Yosemite

In an event in Cupertino on October 16, Apple announced a slew of updates to their iPad and Mac lineup.

As usual, Apple CEO Tim Cook started off with some tidbits, including the how well-received the iPhone 6 has been, the big deal with Apple Pay (which launches on Monday October 20) with offline and online payments, the reception for Apple Watch, the WatchKit SDK availability in November, and as we know, the launch of Apple Watch in “early 2015″.

Biggest iPhone Launch Ever

Cook claimed that these are the fastest-selling iPhones in history. In the first 30 days that the iPhones have been available, Apple took the most orders for the devices. Curiously though, no hard numbers were provided. The phones will be available in China on all three carriers simultaneously for the first time, and the pre-orders there have set a high watermark, per Cook.

iOS 8 and OS X

Craig Federighi, the senior Vice President of software engineering at Apple, then came on stage to talk about iOS and OS X. Federighi showed an adoption chart that had iOS 8 on 48% of iOS devices and iOS 7 is on 46%. He made it seem like that it’s a good thing that the latest two OSes are on such a large percentage of devices, whereas in the past Apple used to be able to claim that the latest operating system was the one on most devices already. He clearly dodged the issue of slower iOS 8 adoption. However, any such chart will compare very well compared to Android. On the Android chart, Federighi showed that the latest version, Android KitKat was on 25% of the devices only after 313 days of release.

After the competition trash-talking, Federighi moved on to recap all the iOS 8 features which have already been discussed in previous events, and are well-known to most of the audience. There was a focus on Swift, the programming language introduced with iOS 8, and its huge adoption. He also talked about how IBM has devoted many resources on building enterprise line of business apps using Swift.

Federighi also announced an update to iOS 8, iOS 8.1. This update will provide Apple Pay support, iCloud Photo Library (5GB free, 20GB for 0.99 and tiers up to 1TB), and in a cheeky acknowledgement, he said it will bring back the Camera Roll which was inexplicably omitted in iOS 8.

On to Mac OS X, one of the curios facts that Federighi mention was that Yosemite beta had a user base of 1 million just two days after Microsoft announced that Windows 10 Technical Preview (not really a beta) has a user base of 1 million too, but that is only over a period of 10 days.

Similar to the iOS 8 recap, Federighi rehashed various new features already announced in Yosemite, and then announced that it will be available today. In addition, he announced that an updated iWork, Apple’s free productivity suite, will also be available for free today.

iPad Air 2

Cook came back to talk about the success of the iPad. He said that there are more iPads sold in the first 4 years (225 million) than any other product Apple has sold, ever. It is the #1 tablet in customer satisfaction, usage, education, enterprise, as well as consumer.

Phil Schiller, senior Vice President of worldwide marketing then came on stage to talk about the new iPads. The focus of the iPad Air 2 is on thinness, with it being only 6.1mm thin. It is 18% thinner than the iPad Air which was already one of the thinnest, if not the thinnest, tablet in the market.

There is no air gap in the next-generation Retina display, so the images and text are even sharper now. Apple has also added an anti-reflective coating on the surface, to reduce reflections by 56%.

iPad TouchID
iPad TouchID

iPad Air 2 Key Specifications

  • New A8X processor with 2nd generation 64-bit architecture
    • 40% faster CPU, 2.5x faster GPU.
  • New motion co-processor M8
    • Tracks motion
    • Calibrates sensors
    • Barometer included, like the iPhone 6
  • New 8MP iSight camera
    • f/2.4
    • 1080P HD video
  • First time in an iPad:
    • Panoramas up to 43MPixels
    • Burst mode
    • Timelapse
    • Slo mo video
  • Dual microphones to capture better sound when recording video
  • New FaceTime camera:
    • Burst selfies
    • HDR with single image, so there is no image composition involved
    • HDR videos
    • Updated image detection
  • Faster WiFi: 802.11ac with MIMO delivers up to 886Mbps
  • Faster and expanded coverage of LTE with 20 LTE bands
  • The most requested feature was adding TouchID to iPad and it is now available
    • With TouchID, Apple Pay is now enabled for the iPad, but only for online purchases, not retail stores

iPad Air 2 pricing

Like Apple did with the iPhone 6, the second tier of storage was skipped and bumped up to the next higher tier. So there is no 32GB iPad anymore, and it goes 16GB, 64GB and 128GB.

WiFi only: $499 for 16GB, $599 for 64GB, $699 for 128GB
WiFi + Cellular: $629 for 16GB, $729 for 64GB, $829 for 128GB

iPad mini 3

The iPad mini did not get much stage time, but it’s probably because the only thing “new” in the mini is the TouchID. Other than the TouchID, the mini 3 is much like the mini 2. The pricing:

WiFi only: $399 for 16GB, $499 for 64GB, $599 for 128GB
WiFi + Cellular: $529 for 16GB, $629 for 64GB, $729 for 128GB

Apple is keeping both, the original iPad mini as well as the iPad mini with retina (newly renamed to iPad mini 2) in the lineup.

Pre-orders for the new iPads start on 10/17, and they ship by the end of the next week.

iMac

The iMac finally gets a Retina display but Apple has packed their 27″ iMac display with a 5K resolution. That translates to 5120 pixels by 2880 pixels. It is the world’s highest resolution display. This 5K display packs 7x more pixels than HD TV display of 1080P and 67% more pixels than  a 4K display. It is also incredibly thin, at only 5mm. Among other things, Apple has made custom components like the timing controller, oxide TFT material, organic passivation technology and power-efficient LEDs for backlight, which results in a computer that uses 30% less energy than the previous iMac.

Retina iMac
Retina iMac

iMac Key Specifications

  • 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, configurable up to quad-core 4.0GHz Intel Core i7
  • 8GB memory, configurable up to 16GB or 32GB
  • 1TB Fusion Drive, configurable up to 3TB Fusion Drive, or 256GB/512GB/1TB of Flash storage
  • AMD Radeon R9 M290X with 2GB of DDR5 memory, configurable to AMD Radeon R9 M295X with 4GB of DDR5 memory

The iMac with Retina 5K Display ships today for $2499.

Mac mini

Finally, Schiller spent a few minutes talking about what he called “the first Mac for many”, the Mac mini. It is updated with a spec bump across the board, with 4th-generation Intel processor, Intel Iris HD 5000 graphics, PCI-e Flash storage, 802.11ac WiFi and two Thunderbolt 2 ports. It will be sold for $499 now, instead of the earlier model’s price of $599, and it will ship today.

So, that was a lot of stuff Apple announced and is going to take pre-orders for and/or ship. One thing missing conspicuously from the event was Apple TV. Many anticipated some sort of an App Store for the Apple TV but that did not happen.

What did you think of the event and the announcements? Are you going to buy any of the new products?

How To Install Third-Party Keyboard On iOS 8 Devices

We already love using third-party keyboards such as SwiftKey and Swype on Android devices. But, Apple never had the option of installing third-party keyboards on iOS devices. The recently launched iOS 8 comes with a number of interesting features, however the one that caught our attention is the ability to install and use third-party keyboards.

Third-party keyboards such as SwiftKey, Swype and Fleksy are already available on the App Store. You will just need to download these apps and follow the instructions given below to use it systemwide. These apps will create an icon on your homescreen just like the regular apps. After installing the app, follow these instructions:

  1. Launch the “Settings” application.
  2. Then select General.
  3. Scroll down to keyboards.
  4. Select Keyboards.
  5. Select Add new keyboard
  6. Then choose your favorite keyboard from the list

You can easily switch between keyboards just by tapping the globe icon on the keyboard. To disable the default keyboard, just swipe to left on the current keyboard. To protect your privacy, Apple won’t allow you to use third-party keyboards while entering passwords.

iOS 8 comes pre-loaded on the recently launched iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. You can even install these keyboards on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Mini, iPad Mini 2 and the iPod Touch 5G after updating to iOS 8. If you have any queries, feel free to ask us in the comments section below.

Apple Moves Into a New Era With iPhone 6, Apple Pay, Apple Watch

iphone-6-front It was Apple Announcement Day on September 9, 2014. At Flint Center in Cupertino, the location where the late Steve Jobs unveiled the Mac 30 years ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook and other executives announced a slew of products and services which for all intents and purposes can be considered the new era for Apple. Having dominated the premium smartphone market and the tablet market with their iPhones and iPads, Apple is moving into wearables with their Apple Watch as well as into facilitating payments with their new service, Apple Pay. Oh, and they announced two new iPhones: the iPhone 6 with a size of 4.7″, and the iPhone 6 Plus with a size of 5.5″.

Apple Watch

Even though they announced the iPhones first, it was clear that Apple officials wanted to devote a lot of time to their new device in a brand new category. The name eschews the long-running “i” naming scheme, which is interesting by itself. The Apple Watch is not circular in shape like the just announced Moto360 and like most wrist watches, but instead, it is a rectangular touch screen watch with a flavor of iOS called Watch OS powering it. It comes in two sizes and its belt/strap is easily switchable, potentially creating a huge 3rd party opportunity for the same.

Apple Watch
Apple Watch
Apple Watch Edition
Apple Watch Edition
Apple Watch Sport
Apple Watch Sport

Although the Apple Watch requires an iPhone to use the GPS and WiFi to measure distances and such, it does have its own sensors to measure not just steps but also the intensity of your workouts. Besides keeping extremely accurate time (it continuously checks the global standard time), it also provides customizable watch faces which are not just skins. These watch faces provide further interactions and customizations, based on the specific face. For example, an “earth” based face could then provide the alignment of planets at that given time for that particular location, or another face that can show the next appointment on the calendar.

 

Apple Watch Faces
Apple Watch Faces

 

Of course, the big news here is the interaction mode. The Apple Watch has a “Digital Crown” which looks very much like the crowns on regular wrist watches. Instead of winding the watch, the Digital Crown helps in navigation: scrolling up and down, zooming in and out, etc. In addition, there is a button below the Digital Crown which acts similar to the Home button on iPhones, iPods and iPads, in that it returns you to the main home screen. The other innovation touted in the Apple Watch is the display, which is made in a way that it can detect the difference between a touch and a press. Depending on what it is, the Watch OS and the apps therein behave and react differently. The Apple Watch features a heart rate sensor which uses infrared and visible-light LEDs and photodiodes to detect your heart rate. It uses induction charging via a new magnet-based charger. Curiously, no mention was made of the expected battery life of the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Sensors
Apple Watch Sensors

Apple is also touting a new development kit called WatchKit which will enable developers to build (or extend) apps and utilize the new gestures as well as interaction modes. For example, actionable notifications are supported, but because of the much smaller real estate on the screen, they will need to be re-tooled.

Apple Watch Home Screen Apps
Apple Watch Home Screen Apps
Apple Watch Messages
Apple Watch Messages

Finally, Apple officials spent quite some time going over Digital Touch which is a new form of communication delivered in Apple Watch. With Digital Touch, you can doodle on the watch face and your friend can see it being drawn in real time and reply back with their own doodle. Digital Touch can also be used as a simple walkie-talkie. It also offers a way to just tap on the screen and send the tap to your friend, and finally, Digital Touch also allows you to capture your heartbeat for a few seconds and send that exact same pulse to your friends. I don’t know how much of this is gimmicky or truly useful but given the new paradigm, I suppose the message here is that the opportunity is endless.

Apple Watch Digital Touch
Apple Watch Digital Touch

 

Apple Pay

The other new category Apple entered is in the mobile payments. With Apple Pay, Apple now provides a way for customers of its phones to pay in stores and online without having to enter credit card and billing/shipping address details.

Apple Pay
Apple Pay

Apple Pay works with NFC in the real world (offline) and contactless payment processing machines. The NFC technology, combined with Touch ID, enable a seamless transaction without having to fumble around your wallet or purse looking for the right card and then signing papers and such.

Set up Apple Pay Passbook
Set up Apple Pay Passbook
Set up Apple Pay by Camera
Set up Apple Pay by Camera

Apple Pay works by setting up one’s various credit and debit cards (American Express, MasterCard and Visa have signed up in the US) in Passbook. This wallet is also made available to 3rd party apps securely. Neither the 3rd party nor the merchant has access to the actual card number or details. Instead of actually sending the credit or debit card numbers, Apple Pay instead sends a Device Account Number which is in turn stored in a new Secure Element chip only available in the new iPhone 6 devices and Apple Watch. Oh yes, the Apple Watch will support Apple Pay. Which means, you can pay using your watch and not even remove your phone from your pocket.

Apple Watch Apple Pay
Apple Watch Apple Pay

Besides the 3 big card networks, Apple has signed up most of the big banks that issue these credit cards and has also partnered with 220,000 stores which will be set up to accept Apple Pay payments sometime this Fall.

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

The event started off with the introduction to the new phones. As expected and heavily leaked, Apple finally jumped to a larger screen iPhone but instead of introducing one new form factor, they went with two completely new form factors this year. iPhone 6 is the 4.7″ device and iPhone 6 Plus (a very Microsoft-ian name,  dare I say!) sports a 5.5″ screen.

 

iPhone 6
iPhone 6
iPhone 6 Plus
iPhone 6 Plus

 

Besides the size, the screen resolutions also differ: the iPhone 6 is at 1334×750 and the iPhone 6 Plus is at 1920×1080. The iPhone 6 Plus has a bigger battery and more importantly, it has Optical Image Stabilization which may support even better low-light pictures. Both the models now support faster LTE and wireless AC standard. Both have new camera sensors, although the megapixel count remains at 8MP. (I know, I know, it is not all about the megapixels, but I just wanted to make a mention.) The video camera in both the models now supports slow motion video at 240fps. Both the models also feature new processor and motion sensor chips, A8 and M8. In a surprise move, Apple went with 16GB, 64GB and 128GB storage models and not 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. iPhone 6 is priced at $199, $299, $399 respectively for those capacities, with a 2-year contract, and the iPhone 6 Plus is $100 higher across the board. Given the larger screen and the obsession at Apple of single-handed use, Apple introduced “Reachability” a feature which brings the top part of the screen halfway down so that one can reach it with their thumb. This is invoked by gently double-tapping the home button. Both the models also now include a barometer so the phone can track your elevation which can be helpful in fitness tracking apps. The new iPhones also support WiFi calling when the carrier supports it, so presumably one can start a call in the car on cellular and once they are home or in the office, switch to WiFi seamlessly to continue the call over WiFi. This is beneficial for those who are not on unlimited calling plans or if they have poor cellular signal in places they want to make a call from.

iPhone 6 Time Lapse Video Feature
iPhone 6 Time Lapse Video Feature

All of these announcements are huge in their own ways, but regardless of what you think about each of the products or service, it is clear that these are Tim Cook’s creations. The Steve Jobs era has been completely transitioned to the Tim Cook era. We may very well look at Apple Watch in a few years and realize it was the big turning point for Apple. The iPhone is clearly the center of the Apple universe, which is astounding because it is only seven years old as a product. Personally, I have stuck to the “s” releases of iPhones: 3GS because it introduced video (Blackberry had that forever!), 4S because of the much improved camera and speed/processor, and 5s because of Touch ID. I will continue that and wait for the 6S Plus next year. How about you?

Put That OneDrive Space To Use: Move Music Collection to the Cloud and Stream It

Do you have a ton of space in your OneDrive account and don’t know what you want to do with it? How about taking the bold step of moving your music collection to OneDrive?

Wait a second, you may say. OneDrive does not “support” music files, you may say. Well, maybe not openly and definitely not as a streaming music service could. However, as I coincidentally found out over the weekend, as long as you have the OneDrive app (I tested on Windows Phone, iPhone and Windows 8), you may at least be able to play your music, one song at a time.

Through a variety of promotions and tie-ins, I have almost 240GB of space on my OneDrive, and very soon, it is going to be 1TB because I have an Office 365 Home subscription.

To The Cloud

First though, moving the collection. If you are like me, and have many ways to listen to your collection, and have multiple forms of backup running, you may be wary of moving things around. I took a deep breath and took the plunge, although I knew what I wanted to achieve: move the music to the cloud but not lose the local files, and still continue to back up to my cloud backup service, Crashplan.

So, on my Windows 8 “home server”, I took the music off the data drive and moved it to my OneDrive’s sync location under a convenient location like OneDrive\Music. It took a while to move my 120GB to the cloud, but once I copied it to the location, I let it do its thing uploading the music to OneDrive. This step should be identical if you have Windows 7 (or even a Mac) with the OneDrive sync client installed.

The advantage with this approach as opposed to leaving the music on the home server is that I now have the ability to access my music from virtually any device connected to the internet. At the same time, since the music is still on my home server, I did not lose the ability to play the music from devices on the home network like my Apple TV.

Backup vs Sync

One common confusion is mistaking backup for sync, or vice versa. I think of it this way: I want my important data to be backed up without any manual effort, and I want some of the digital memories synced so that I can access them from anywhere, at anytime. The nuance here being, the backup is a one-way data transfer from my home server to the cloud whereas syncing enables me to add to my music collection from anywhere. So the next time I see a great deal on Amazon Music for a $5 album, I can not only purchase it but also download it and make it available to my other devices.

OneDrive Website Album Listing
OneDrive Website Album Listing
OneDrive Website Download Prompt
OneDrive Website Download Prompt

 

Use the OneDrive apps

Speaking of being able to access from anywhere, what happens when you try to open one of your (DRM-free, of course) audio files? Well, it depends. If you open from a browser, it simply opens the dialog to download the file. This is because the OneDrive web app is not set up for streaming music. It is only meant to interpret documents (Office formats, text and PDF), pictures and video. In the mobile OneDrive apps on the other hand, you can navigate to the folder with the songs, and tap on the actual song and it will start playing the song.

OneDrive iOS App Artists
OneDrive iOS App Artists
OneDrive iOS App Albums
OneDrive iOS App Albums
OneDrive iOS App Songs In Album
OneDrive iOS App Songs In Album
OneDrive iOS App Song Display
OneDrive iOS App Song Display
OneDrive iOS App Streaming Song
OneDrive iOS App Streaming Song
OneDrive iOS App AirPlay Option
OneDrive iOS App AirPlay Option

I hadn’t noticed this earlier, and while this is good, it by no means makes the OneDrive app a music player like Amazon Music app or Google Play Music app. For example, the app does not play an entire folder. It does not understand playlists. When you skip a song, it simply returns you to the folder instead of playing the next song.

OneDrive Windows Phone App Albums
OneDrive Windows Phone App Albums
OneDrive Windows Phone App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows Phone App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows Phone App Streaming Audio
OneDrive Windows Phone App Streaming Audio

 

But the fact that it can now stream (not download and then play) is a good sign that perhaps the OneDrive app may unbundle the photos/videos, documents and music features into their own apps just like Google and Amazon have done. I can see a OneDrive app like it is today, for general storage features, an Office app to only surface the files that Office mobile can open, OneDrive Photo app for pictures and videos, and OneDrive Music or Xbox Music app to surface audio files.

OneDrive Windows 8 App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows 8 App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows 8 App Streaming Music
OneDrive Windows 8 App Streaming Music

 

Owning music vs renting

I say all of the above but I am one of those who has slowly learned to give up trying to deeply control the music collection. I mostly rent music via one or more of the streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, iHeart, etc. I am also a paying subscriber for Xbox Music Pass which lets me play any song from their catalog on-demand. As a result, the real need to listen to music I “own” (because you know, this collection goes way back to the Napster and Kazaa days), has gone down tremendously. There are still some comedians whose performances I have in my collection which are not available on iTunes or Xbox Music catalog. There are also some Bollywood songs which did not match when I tried iTunes Match and also Xbox Music matching, but those are general the exception rather than the rule.

And then there’s services like Apple’s iTunes Match. It allows one to “match” their local collection with iTunes’ catalog and whenever there is a match, iTunes allows you to listen to the songs from any authorized device. The service is not free, but at $25/year it is a small price to pay for hassle-free management of your music collection. It also allows customers to upload the songs which do not match, although the uploaded songs would count against the iCloud storage quota. Once Apple’s newly announced storage plans go in effect, it would be a good idea to let iTunes completely manage the collection, which is taking one more step towards freeing up your collection. Xbox Music advertised long ago that this feature was coming to the service but so far it only does matching but does not allow you to upload unmatched music to the cloud.

Use the cloud, any cloud

To conclude, I recommend that you start thinking about simplifying your data management. Why leave stuff on your hard drive when you can use the cloud? For digital stuff like music and photos, it is better to make the cloud your primary “drive” and sync it to the devices you use. I used OneDrive as an example in this article but feel free to explore the cloud of your choice. It won’t harm going instead with Google, Amazon, or coming soon, Apple because all of the big ecosystem providers understand that providing a reliable storage solution is key to keeping customers “sticky”. Start planning the move to the cloud, as long as your bandwidth permits.

What’s your personal cloud situation? What about owning vs renting music, do you use any of the streaming services? Which ones? Why? Let us know!

iOS Bulks Up with iOS 8

On June 2, at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple unveiled the next version of its iOS mobile operating system among many other announcements. iOS 8 will introduce a bevy of features, many of which have huge platform implications.

Many of the new features, both consumer-facing and developer-oriented, seem to be pointed squarely at the “power users”. Such users are the ones who may have switched to or prefer Android because of a lot of capabilities in that operating system which iOS did not have or allow until now. But let’s just consider it the natural evolution of the iOS platform, now at over 800 million users (a stat Apple CEO Tim Cook stated in his keynote at the event).

Let’s take a look at some of the key features that Android and to a lesser extent, Windows Phone offer, which lure customers to those platforms, and how iOS 8 has responded to those.

  • Third party keyboards
  • Actionable notifications
  • Widgets
  • App-to-app communication and sharing
  • Google services, including the contextual Google Now
  • Larger choice of devices of various form factors, mostly larger screens

Keyboard improvements

Windows Phone introduced Word Flow, which is to this day, the best predictive keyboard I have used. It is a way by which the system can provide the next few words that you may be about to type, based on what you start typing. For example, if you type “how are”, there is a good chance you want to type “you” next, and the predictive nature of the keyboard will prompt “you”, and maybe a couple of other options like “things” or “the”. iOS gets such a feature finally. It is very similar in nature to Word Flow but obviously it is something the iOS keyboard has missed all this time. No more.

iOS 8 Predictive Keyboard
iOS 8 Predictive Keyboard

Third-party keyboards

In what I thought was a surprising move, Apple also announced that they are going to let third parties provide their keyboards so customers can replace the system keyboard with a third-party keyboard. That is huge because the likes of Swiftkey and Swype have made a name for themselves in the Android world, and users of those keyboards claimed it is a big enough reason for them not to move back to iOS. Already, several key names have announced their keyboards are coming to iOS 8, which is not surprising at all.

iOS 8 Third Party Keyboards
iOS 8 Third Party Keyboards

Interactive notifications

Apple’s Notification Center, while a decent imitation of Android’s notification center, is a bit clunky. Even the upcoming Action Center in Windows Phone 8.1 does a better job managing notifications. So it is no surprise that Apple decided to make some changes and one of the big changes is the interactive notifications. Android has this feature already, where quick actions can be taken on notifications that land in the notification center, without opening the apps. Interactive notifications aim to do the same, and more importantly, Apple has decided to open it up to third parties from day one. That means, developers can enable quick actions like Facebook’s Like and Comment, Twitter’s Retweet and Replies, etc. directly in the Notification Center. Obviously it is a big deal on Android because of the productivity gains, and it was about time iOS implemented the same. (As a part-time Windows Phone user, I do hope this feature is on its way on that platform as well. It is badly needed.)

iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Calendar
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Calendar
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Mail
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Mail
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Messages
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Messages
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications 3rd Party
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications 3rd Party

Widgets

The other big improvement in the iOS Notification Center comes in the form of widgets. This has been another ding against iOS until now because Windows Phone first introduced Live Tiles which enable quick information that app developers can provide to customers via the app icon(s) flipping and updating. Android later added widgets which were sub-sections of the apps that could be placed on a home screen and provided snippets to live information to the customers. With Widgets, iOS 8 somewhat addresses this “gap” by enabling developers to provide live updates, although in the Notification Center, not in the app icon or on the home screen like the competition. So the widget will look like a notification but it will have more real estate and will be able to take more forms vs. a text update. For example, score updates during a game could show the two team names and scores by quarter.

iOS 8 Widgets
iOS 8 Widgets

This is hugely welcome news, for customers and developers alike. For customers, it means more than just text updates and for developers, it is somewhat of a parity with other platforms as well as another way to keep their customers engaged with the app.

As for app-to-app communication, Apple has made it possible for apps to communicate and share data with each other. Although the details are more important than the announcement in terms of how useful this feature is, it is remarkable that after so many years of keep each app limited to itself, Apple has decided to enable inter-app communication which has been a stable in Android as well as Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

When it comes to Google services, they are already available on iOS in the form of various apps, including Google Now. Although this has prompted many customers to consider Android, where the integration with the phone is even tighter, I suspect it will also make it easier for them to make the return trip going from Android back to iOS.

Finally, although perhaps it may be an even more compelling reason for normal users to try Android, there is this thing about larger screen phones. It is rumored and by now almost a given that Apple will be introducing phones with larger screens this Fall, which is usually when they update their hardware. A larger screen iPhone will almost certainly be a hit, if the popularity of large screen devices running Android are any indication. It will be interesting to see how Apple handles the application UI. When they introduced the iPad, they had an elegant (although ugly) option of a “2x” mode. It will be interesting how they handle the larger real estate and yet, make developers’ work to address the larger screen, minimal.

Some other important updates from Apple with regard to iOS, not so much related to Android, but definitely showing signs of bulking up:

iCloud Photo Library

Until now, the Photostream feature backed up photos from all our iDevices automatically, but it was limited in storage. Apple also announced at WWDC that they are moving to an “iCloud Photo Library” which would store all photos *and* videos in full resolution, from all our iDevices. The first 5GB is free but instead of the currently expensive storage purchase options, Apple is also introducing inexpensive storage that can be purchased for what they refer to as iCloud Drive. Effectively, much like SkyDrive camera Roll in the Windows world, and Google+ Photos in the Google/Android world, the iCloud Photo Library is the entire photo library, always available in the cloud and all the Apple (Mac and iOS) devices and Windows 8 PCs. All edits made on one device are instantly available on all other devices. For a company that has not been at the forefront of well-implemented cloud services, the proof of the pudding will lie in the tasting, but as of now, it seems like Apple gets it and is on the right track. Also, in another move that shows Apple is opening up in a way they have not done traditionally, they have enabled other apps to integrate their editing tools and filters within the new Photos app.

iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library

Messaging updates

In what seems like a carpet bomb attack on WhatsApp, Facebook messenger and Snapchat all at once, Apple’s iMessage will now support audio messages, video messages, group messaging and automatically disappearing messages. Apple also added the ability to share location which is very handy when coordinating meetups with groups. So instead of relying on several different apps (and therefore, different logins, different address books, etc.), you can do the same with the default messaging app, only as long as everyone you communicate with is on iPhone :-) But that has been the modus operandi for Apple from day one, so there is nothing out of the ordinary in that strategy.

iOS 8 Messaging Voice
iOS 8 Messaging Voice
iOS 8 Group Messaging Details
iOS 8 Group Messaging Details
iOS 8 Group Messaging
iOS 8 Group Messaging
iOS 8 Share Location
iOS 8 Share Location
iOS 8 Expiring Messages
iOS 8 Expiring Messages
iOS 8 Messages Record Video
iOS 8 Messages Record Video

iOS 8 is claimed to be a bigger update than when Apple announced the mobile App Store and it certainly seems like there are many huge changes coming in iOS 8 for iOS developers which may end up increasing the app quality gap between iOS and Android even more than it is today. iOS is still usually the first platform for mobile developers to build their innovative solutions and experiences. With these changes, despite the rocketing market share of Android devices, Apple is poised to make it even more worthwhile for developers to build for their platform(s).

 

(All images via Apple’s website)

The New Budget iPhone Might be Called the iPhone 5C

The rumor mills have been churning about the budget iPhone for a long time. However, the flurry of recent leaks suggests that something is definitely cooking. Apple has been put under pressure by the massive popularity of budget smartphones from the likes of Samsung, Sony, and LG. The Cupertino based giant is widely expected to finally relent to market pressure and release a cheaper iPhone later this year.

iPhone-5C-Budget-Leaked-Picture

The new budget iPhone is expected to forgo expensive glass and aluminum body in favor of a cheaper poly-carbonate shell. A couple of days back, a blurry-cam pic of the purported budget iPhone with its FCC id was leaked. Now, a new snap from a Chinese blog suggests that the new iPhone will be called the iPhone 5C.

iPhone-5C-Budget-Packaging

All of the boxes in the picture above are pristine white and only have Apple’s logo besides the name of the phone. This fits in with Apple’s simplistic design ethos. In fact, they look quite similar to the 4rth generation iPod Touch boxes. However, the overly glossy surface that looks anything but elegant, and the slightly large dimensions (7-8 inches thick) raise doubts. Take this news with a generous serving of salt. We’ll surely learn more in the coming days and weeks through the inevitable leaks.

Apple Confirms Acquisition of Locationary

Apple has confirmed its purchase of Locationary, a location data company based out of Toronto. The company uses a crowdsourced platform to gather and provide information on businesses across the globe. This platform goes under the name Saturn. Saturn is used to ensure that information on businesses are completely correct, for instance, if a store is closed for renovation, the platform would know and update said business’s location data.

Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling confirmed the acquisition to All Things D and made the following statement:

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

We will almost definitely see Locationary’s data be used in Apple’s Maps application in iOS and OS X. When introduced in iOS 6, Apple Maps was greeted with some outrage amongst the Apple community due to the fact that it would give incorrect information to users. Hopefully Locationary’s croudsourced information will help Maps be more correct, and ultimately provide a better experience.