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!

Nexus 6 is Fantastic, but it’s Not the Smartphone I Want or Need

Google launched the Android 5.0 (Lollypop) powered Nexus 6 yesterday. The new Google flagship is manufactured by Motorola and boasts of top of the line specs. Yet, for more than one reason, it’s not quite the device I was expecting from Google. In fact, it’s the most anti-Nexus device yet from Google.

Nexus 6
Nexus 6

The Nexus line started with the Nexus One released in Jan 2010. Google hoped to revolutionize the US smartphone market with the One. Its ambitious goal of ditching carrier lock-ins and getting people to buy phones online at full price didn’t find many takers. Nexus One was a commercial flop. The price tag of $529 dissuaded most buyers. However, it was well received by Android enthusiasts and critics. Google scaled back its ambition and partnered with carriers for the following devices. The Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus by Samsung fared better. However, the first major success in the Nexus line-up was Nexus 4. With Nexus 4 Google managed to deliver flagship quality hardware in a mid-range price bucket. Nexus 5 kept up the same tradition and delivered a comfortable and beautifully designed phone with great hardware at just $349 (16 GB). However, the Nexus 6 marks a stark departure from the LG Nexus phones.

To begin with, the Nexus 6 has a six inch display. This firmly puts it in the phablet category, and it’s technically incorrect to even call it a phone. In fact, it’s about half a centimetre taller and wider than the Galaxy Note 4. Have a look at the comparison below. The Nexus 6 is appreciably taller and wider than all the devices in the list, and two of the devices in the comparison are phablets, and the other two are phones that are already too big to be comfortable. It’s worth noting that in response to the user feedback, One Plus is considering reducing the size of its next flagship. Forget about single handed operation, the Nexus 6 might even be too wide to grip comfortably while talking.

Nexus 6 Size Comparison
Nexus 6 Size Comparison

The next major issue that I have with the Nexus 6 is the price. At $649, it’s almost twice as expensive as the previous Nexus devices. I wouldn’t call it overpriced – not when Apple is charging upwards of $749 for the iPhone 6 Plus. The Nexus 6 boasts of top of the line specs including a 2K display and Snapdragon 805. However, the question that needs to be asked is do we really need the 2K display? I haven’t used the Note 4 or the new Nexus, but I did review the LG G3. While the increased resolution was noticeable, its impact was limited. You won’t feel the difference during most of your day to day activities.

For the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 5, Google took flagship devices from LG, found areas of compromise (like the display size and camera), and produced a top performing device with enough restraint to be affordable. For the Nexus 6, Google took Motorola’s sensibly priced Moto X (2nd gen), and amped up the specs to give us a Nexus that beats every other device in the market in terms of specs, but quite possibly not in terms of the overall experience. May be Google has decided that Android is now popular enough that it doesn’t need to sell low-margin devices. May be it wants to make Android smartphones an object of desire like the iPhone. Or maybe, Google feels that current gen smartphones are mature enough to have a two year shelf life. It has not discontinued the Nexus 5. Future Nexus phones might alternate between a smartphone and a phablet. Whatever be the case, Nexus 6 isn’t the smartphone that I want or need.

Google Launches The Android 5.0 Powered Nexus 6 Smartphone

Today, Google finally launched the successor of its popular Nexus 5 smartphone. The Google Nexus 6 is manufactured by Motorola and it runs on the latest Android 5.0 (Lollipop) Operating System which brings the Material Design, new call and message notifications and much more.

Google Nexus 6 packs a 6 inch Quad HD display, 2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, 13 megapixel rear camera with dual LED ring flash and 4K UHD video recording capabilities. Apart from that, it comes with the Motorola Turbo Charger which gives an additional 6 hours of battery life just by charging the device for just 15 mins.

google_nexus_6

Google Nexus 6 will be up for pre-order at Play Store by the end of this month. This handset comes with a price-tag of $649 for the 32 GB variant. Nexus 6 will go on sale across Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America later this year. This device will be available in Midnight Blue and Cloud White colors.

Google Nexus 6 Specifications:

  • 5.96 inch AMOLED display
  • 1440 x 2560 pixels resolution
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 2.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 with quad-core CPU
  • Adreno 420 GPU
  • Android 5.0 (Lollipop) OS
  • 13 megapixel rear camera with dual LED ring flash
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • 4K UHD video capture
  • 2 megapixel front-facing camera
  • 3 GB RAM
  • 32 GB / 64 GB internal memory
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2 (MIMO)
  • Dual front facing stereo speakers
  • NFC (Near Field Communication)
  • 3220 mAh battery

Google launches Android One initiative in India to bring rich Android experience to affordable smartphones

In a press conference in New Delhi today, Google launched the Android One initiative in India and unveiled the first family of Android One smartphones from Micromax, Spice, and Karbonn. Continue reading Google launches Android One initiative in India to bring rich Android experience to affordable smartphones

Round-up of Everything Announced At Google I/O 2014

The first day of the 2014 edition of Google I/O was jam packed with new product and feature announcements. Some had leaked in advance, many were expected, while the rest took everyone by surprise. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the conference, here’s a round-up of everything (well, almost everything) announced by Google.

Google-IO-2014

Android L Release

The big news was of course new edition of Android. Google referred to the next-gen Android as simply the ‘L release’. The L release will be available to the general public in the fall of 2014; however, for the first time ever, Google will be providing a developer preview, which is expected to be released later today.

Android-L-Material-Design
Android L Release – Material Design

The L release will sport a massive design overhaul as a part of Google’s new cross-platform design principle called Material design. Material design, which will be used across Google properties, including Android and Chrome OS, builds on top of the flat design trend by adding a sense of depth and lighting, beautiful typography, and intelligent animations that enable seamless transition between content. Material design is vibrant, fresh and cheery without appearing to be immature. Based on the demos shown by Google, Material design feels like a brilliant evolution of a lot of concepts introduced by Microsoft’s Metro design language.

The L release’s enhancements aren’t just skin deep though. In fact, Google is throwing out the Dalvik Virtual Machine and replacing it with the Android Run Time (ART). ART is already present in KitKat devices as an optional alternative; however, in the L release, ART will be completely replacing Dalvik. ART uses various optimizations (including Ahead of Time code compilation, enhanced garbage collection, and 64 bit support) to offer significant performance benefits. Google is also working with hardware manufacturers on Android Extension Pack, which will enable game developers to provide console quality graphics on mobile devices.

Android-L-ART
Android L Release – ART

The L release also shines the spotlight on one of the major weak points of modern day smartphones – battery life. The next edition of Android should be able to last longer thanks to Project Volta. Besides introducing a Battery Saver mode, which will be disabling battery intensive services and throttling the CPU, Google has worked on enhanced data collection and better resource utilization.

There are numerous other enhancements in the next edition of Android, including more useful notifications, easier ways to authenticate and unlock your phone, and better multi-tasking.

Android One

Android One is a set of reference hardware that Google will be creating for smartphone manufacturers. Google is hoping that Android One will enable its partners to quickly create high quality Android phones at a low price point. The Android One initiative will begin in India, with Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice as the OEM partners. Android One phones will ship with stock OS, but Google will allow automatic download of OEM apps (Play auto-install). To put it simply, Android One is Google’s Nexus program re-imagined for the emerging markets. These low-end devices are expected to cost less than a hundred dollars.

Android-One
Android One

Android Wear

Earlier in the summer, Google had offered a sneak peek of Android Wear, its new operating system for wearables. At the Google IO, it released the Android Wear SDK, announced the first devices from its hardware partners, and gave a more detailed look at how Android Wear will work. For apps on your smartphone that support Android Wear, the Wear part of the app will automatically be installed and updated on your watch. This is a major improvement over other wearable operating systems as it avoids the hassle of having to install an app on the tiny watch, and then to go back and install the parent app on the phone. Android Wear will continuously stay in sync with your mobile phone, and will be leveraging voice controls and Google now to make your life simpler.

The first two Android Wear devices to launch are the LG G Watch, and the Samsung Gear Live. Both of them currently available on the play store for $229 and $199 respectively. Motorola’s gorgeous Moto360 will be available later this summer.

Android Auto

As the name suggests, this is Android for cars. The focus with Android auto is on simplified navigation and voice controls. As soon as you plug in your phone in the car, your Android installation is projected on the car’s infotainment system. You can control the OS with your voice as well as by using the controls provided in the car. The focus points of Android Auto are navigation, music, and communication. However, Google will be providing an Android Auto SDK, which will enable developers to extend the experience. Launch partners for Android Auto include Audi and Honda.

Android TV

In a move which surprised absolutely no one, Google also announced Android TV. Television sets are quite often the biggest displays in a household, and Google quite obviously wants to be on them. Android TV features a smart homescreen that acts as your content hub. It features a recommendation screen that’s tuned to your watching habits, apps, and games. Android users will be able to cast multimedia content on their TV, just like you’d be able to do with Chromecast. Gaming is also one of the focus areas of Android TV, with support for multi-player experience between smartphone/tablet users and TV users.

Android-TV
Android TV

Chromecast

Chromecast, which was the unexpected hit of last year, also got its fair share of improvements. It’s no longer necessary for everyone to be on the same network to be able to cast to your TV. You’ll also be able to cast exactly what’s on your Android tablet or smartphone screen (device mirroring) on your TV. There’s also a new Backdrop feature which will allow you to play a slideshow of pictures from your personal gallery as well as Google curated content. Using your TV to play slideshows while no one is paying attention seems to be a massive waste of energy to me, but I guess there must be takers for this. Google also announced the launch of a new website as well as a separate category in the Play Store for Chromecast apps.

Chrome OS

Thanks to updates in the Chrome OS, your Chromebook will now be a lot more in sync with your phone. You’ll be able to unlock your Chromebook automatically if your phone is around. Incoming phone calls and text messages will show on your Chromebook. You’ll get notified when your phone’s battery is low. And finally, you can even run Android apps on your Chromebook. This feature is a work in progress, and might take some time to arrive. However, with all of Android’s powerful apps and games, Chromebooks will suddenly become a lot more useful.

Chrome-OS
Chrome OS running Android App

Google Cardboard

This could have easily been an April fool’s day joke, but it is not. In fact, it’s possibly the weirdest and product on display at Google IO. Google gave away a Cardboard to every attendee. And this, is what I mean by Cardboard.

Google-Cardboard
Google Cardboard

Once you assemble the device, all you need to do is pop in your phone, and launch the Cardboard app. You’ll have a low-tech, but apparently awesome Virtual Reality headset with head tracking (powered by your phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope). The only button on the device is in the form of a metallic ring that you can flick to select items on the screen.

Other Updates

Some of the other stuff that were announced yesterday include:
Google Fit: A fitness platform with a multi-OS API that aims to aggregate a user’s fitness data.
Google Play: Play Games will get Quests and a Saved Game section, while Play Store will be get carrier billing option for user purchases.
Google Cloud: Google announced several enhancements to its Cloud infrastructure which is leveraged by several popular apps and services. A new suite of tools – Cloud Save, Cloud Debugger, Cloud Trace, and Cloud Monitoring – were introduced.
Google Docs: Google’s online suite of productivity apps will now be able to open, edit, and save Office files including Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets, and PowerPoint Presentations.
Android for Work: Google will be building on the work done by Samsung on Knox to offer a secure environment for enterprise that’ll be separated from your personal data and apps. Drive for work will offer an unlimited storage option for just $10 per user per month.

OneDrive for Business Now Offers 1TB per User

OneDrive For Business
OneDrive For Business

On April 28, Microsoft announced some updates to OneDrive for Business, the service formerly known as SkyDrive Pro. According to the blog post on Office Blogs:

 

First, we will be increasing OneDrive for Business storage from 25GB to 1TB per user.

Second, all Office 365 ProPlus customers will get 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage per user as part of their Office 365 ProPlus subscription.

Third, we’ll help organizations migrate data from their existing solutions to OneDrive for Business

The first update is huge. Not too long ago, SkyDrive Pro was providing only 7GB per user. When Microsoft announced the standalone OneDrive for Business offering, they also bumped up the default storage to 25GB per user. Now perhaps based on pressure from competitors like Google, they have made the default to 1TB. As always when there is competition, we as customers ultimately win.

Office 365 ProPlus is a service that provides always-up-to-date Office software to customers on a subscription basis. Until today’s announcement, it was purely an Office subscription. Now, it also comes with a truckload of storage space and more importantly, a sync solution that ensures that files are always in sync across devices.

The third item was not detailed but I suspect Microsoft will have some utilities to help migrate data from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and others to OneDrive for Business. We shall see.

The blog post goes on to describe the benefits OneDrive for Business offers in addition to pure storage amount and sync:

Native integration with Office documents: Enables people to discover content and collaborate with others in real time with efficient synchronization of changes and real-time co-authoring using Office Online.

Connected to what you need, when you need it: As cloud services like Office 365 get smarter and more personalized with Office Graph, OneDrive for Business becomes part of a connected productivity solution where content is discoverable, sharable and personalized for individual users, helping to increase personal and organizational responsiveness.

A trusted service: OneDrive for Business provides enterprise content management, compliance and admin controls, financially backed by the industry-leading Office 365 Service Level Agreement. We’ve made investments in manageability, security, auditing and information protection including rights management, data loss prevention, auditing, eDiscovery, legal holds, etc. and more that can work for OneDrive for business but also across SharePoint and Exchange.

Deep investment in certifications and infrastructure: We’ve invested heavily already in areas that are important for doing business in major vertical industries and geographies, such as FISMA, the EU Model Clauses, CJIS and more, many of which are detailed on our Trust Center.  Microsoft has industry-leading, cloud reliability and security and has made a massive investment in physical datacenters around the world, enabling us to deliver high availability and robust disaster recovery capabilities.

Scale through partners: Our 400,000 partners around the world can help customers get up and running quickly with OneDrive for Business as a standalone solution or with Office 365.

As you can see, OneDrive for Business is not a “dumb storage” service but it is in fact the center of a collaborative solution that is protected by certifications and service level agreements. Along with the huge partner network, which enables building innovative solutions on top of the storage layer, OneDrive for Business is now a serious contender for businesses of any size to move their data into the cloud.

Android 4.3 Jelly Bean Announced, Brings Minor New Features

Along with the new Nexus 7, Google also revealed the newest version of Android at its press event. As expected, Android 4.3 (still codenamed Jelly Bean) doesn’t have any major new feature. In fact, users will be hard pressed to identify any differences between this and the older version.

The first new feature that Google demonstrated is restricted profiles. A restricted profile can limit what content and apps a user can access. It can even be used to define what functionality within the particular app is available to a user. For example, you can block in-app purchases in a game for your kid’s profile.

Android-4.3-Jelly-Bean-Restricted-Profiles

Android’s notification feature has once again been slightly improved. You can now see your notification history and browse through dismissed notifications. Additionally, third party apps also have access to your notification. This should be good news for smart watches and other similar devices. Stock apps like Chrome, Drive and Maps have been updated, while Hangouts has replaced Talk and Google Keep has been added.

Under-the-hood changes include support for OpenGL ES 3.0 which should offer improved graphics performance and allow games to use higher quality textures. The previously announced Google Play Games app, which acts as a hub where you can see what your friends are playing and track their achievements in a leader board, is included in the new Android. Bluetooh 4.0 with Low Energy mode is also in. Additionally, a new hardware-based encryption for DRM has been added, which will be first leveraged by an updated Netflix app.

Android-4.3-Jelly-Bean

Android 4.3 update will begin rolling out to Nexus devices today, while other Google experience devices will get it soon. The Nexus devices that will be receiving the update are the Nexus 7, Nexus 4, Nexus 10, and Galaxy Nexus.

New Nexus 7 with Android 4.3 Officially Announced

As expected, Google has officially announced the new Nexus 7 in its summer event. However, the newest tablet from Google’s stable had very little surprise to offer thanks to retailers jumping the gun and putting it up for pre-order well ahead of the official event.

Nexus-7

The new Nexus 7, which is again being made by ASUS, has received a comprehensive specs bump. The Tegra 3 has been replaced by a Snapgradon S4 Pro chipset that includes an 1.5GHz quad-core Krait processor and Adreno 320 GPU. RAM has been doubled to two gigabytes. The screen display is still a 7-inch LCD, but the device itself has been slimmed down fairly significantly (1.8 mm thinner and 2.8 mm narrower and shorter). The new display boosts the pixel density to 323 ppi with a resolution of 1900 x 1200. The super high resolution display is accompanied by dual stereo speakers with Fraunhofer virtual surround sound for an all around improved multimedia experience. The final significant enhancement is the inclusion of a 5 mega-pixel rear camera capable of snapping HD videos to go along with the 1.2 mega-pixel rear camera.

The Nexus 7 will also be the first device to ship with the new Jelly Bean (Android 4.3) which introduces multi-user account with limited profiles, and Bluetooth Low Energy support along with better graphics capabilities and new DRM for hardware powered encryption for multimedia content.

While the new Nexus 7 isn’t revolutionary, it’s definitely better in almost every way. The best part is that all of these enhancements will cost you only a little bit extra. The 16 GB Wi-Fi model will cost $229 while the 32 GB variant will cost $269. Google will also be selling unlocked 4G LTE compatible models, which will cost $349 (64 GB).