Tag Archives: iOS

Skype for iOS Updated, Pre-release Program Announced

Skype has been updated for iOS on January 14, and per a blog post on Skype Blogs, they have now made it possible to quickly search for contacts and start conversations quicker via an update to the chat picker.

According to the post, the following two enhancements are part of the latest update:

In Skype 5.9 for iPhone, when you start typing a phone number in the dial pad, Skype will suggest contacts with matching phone numbers, making it faster to find who you want to talk to.

We’ve also updated the new chat picker to make starting conversations easier. Once you’ve chosen who you want to talk to, tap the phone or video icon at the top to start your call. (To open the chat picker, tap on the message icon on the bottom navigation bar when in the recents, favorites or people view.)

In other news from Skype, they announced a pre-release program for Skype enthusiasts. This program, for which you have to sign up here, gives access to early release of the software. This of course in based on the assumption that the enthusiasts will provide feedback so Skype developers can tweak the functionality before releasing to a wider audience.

You can help us shape your skype experience by:
* Trying out some new or upgraded features (don’t worry we’ll let you know what’s new) and tell us about your experience after doing so
* Giving us feedback and suggestions on what you would like to see in the app in the future
* Letting us know of any issues that you run into while using this previewed version

Per the blog post, there program has a limited number of spots, so if you are a Skype enthusiast, hurry up and enroll.

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!

Microsoft Band Is Almost Here

It sure looks like Microsoft is very close to announcing and releasing their fitness band, simply called Microsoft Band. Their smartphone and Mac apps are available in respective stores ahead of a formal announcement.

Based on the details listed in the app description, an updated health privacy policy and screenshots, it does look like the band will work with all platforms and will be, as is normal with Microsoft these days, powered by a cloud service called Microsoft Health.

The band will apparently track heart rate, steps, calories burned and sleep. The band will also work with your smartphone and show notifications, and in the case of Windows Phone, integrate with Cortana. Among the type of notifications that the Band will be able to show are email messages, calendar reminders, phone calls received, text messages social updates like those from Twitter and Facebook, weather and finance. The band will use the smartphone’s location services to determine your location, in order to show the weather, for example.

Notifications and other settings will be configured via the Microsoft Health app which is now available on all platforms.

It is unclear if the following tweet from Microsoft Store has any connection to the Microsoft Band, but it is quite a coincidence, if not:


I don’t know about you, but I am more excited about the cloud-powered service Microsoft Health, than the band itself. As a cross-platform consumer, I would love to have something that works across all my devices, and it looks like Microsoft may have the answer.

Some screenshots from the various apps follow below:

Mac App Store

Microsoft Band - Mac App
Microsoft Band – Mac App
Microsoft Band - Mac App
Microsoft Band – Mac App
Microsoft Band - Mac App
Microsoft Band – Mac App

Android Google Play

Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App

Windows Phone Store

Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App

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?

OneDrive iOS App Update: PIN, TouchID, Sorting, iPhone 6 Support

The OneDrive app for iOS is updated and available in the iTunes App Store as of October 8. Given the iterative nature of app updates at Microsoft, this update brings a bunch of unrelated updates to the app, described below.

PIN and TouchID

Given that as customers start trusting the cloud storage service more, and start putting more stuff there, there is bound to be cases where they store information that they wouldn’t want others to see mistakenly. In order to protect the contents of OneDrive, the app now supports adding a PIN so that even if someone is able to steal the phone and get access to the phone itself, they would need another level of security to access the app’s contents.

In addition, on those devices that support TouchID, the OneDrive app now allows the PIN to be entered via TouchID. The TouchID access to third party apps is a feature introduced in iOS 8, so in addition to the device being able to support TouchID, it will also need to be updated to iOS 8 in order to get access to this feature.

OneDrive iOS App: TouchID
OneDrive iOS App: TouchID

 

Sorting

Now it is possible to sort the contents in OneDrive app in a variety of ways. This helps in getting to the latest or the oldest files quickly.

OneDrive iOS App: Sorting
OneDrive iOS App: Sorting

 

Large Screen Support

Also, the app now supports larger screens on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which means one can see more files and folders on the larger screens.

I am personally happy to see the PIN support because I have now uploaded all my documents, music and many videos to OneDrive, given that I have 1TB of cloud storage (via Office 365 Home subscription). I immediately set up a PIN and enabled TouchID and it is working well.

What would you like to see added to the app next? (You know that they have a uservoice site for making your voice heard, right?

Bing App on iPhone: iOS 8 Extensibility and Widgets in Action

On September 23, Microsoft detailed some of the new features delivered through the latest update of the Bing app on iPhone. With iOS 8, Apple did bulk up and two of the many features added were extensibility through sharing between apps as well as widgets on the notification screen.

The updated Bing app utilizes both of these features:

Bing Translator

With Bing Translator feature of the app installed as a supported shareable app in Safari, you can now instantly translate any web page in Safari. This feature is also of course available inside the Bing app itself, so if you need to translate search results it can be done within the app itself.

Bing App Translate
Bing App Translate
Bing Translate Share Sheet
Bing Translate Share Sheet
Bing App Extensibility iOS 8 Safari
Bing App Extensibility iOS 8 Safari
Bing App Translated Page
Bing App Translated Page

 

Today and Trending Topics widget

In addition to the translator, the Bing app now lets you choose Bing Today as a lock screen widget. This widget shows the Bing Image Of The Day, as well as three top trending topics. Clicking on the image leads to the front page inside the Bing app and clicking on any of the trending topics leads to the news items about those trending topics.

 

iOS 8 Lock Screen Widget Chooser
iOS 8 Lock Screen Widget Chooser
iOS 8 Bing Today Widget
iOS 8 Bing Today Widget

 

Microsoft has moved Bing’s value from a pure desktop web search engine to a vast pool of entities and relationships which get better as more people use the service. The more “end points” Bing has, the better the quality of the engine becomes. With this background it is easy to see why the Bing team would improve the Bing app for iPhone and jump on the latest technologies supported by the latest features of iOS.

Although most users who need to search on iOS can now use iOS 8’s updated Spotlight, it is still nice to use an app that lets you search not just the web, but also news, images, photos, videos, etc., and that’s what the Bing app lets you do.

Do you use the Bing app on iOS? Do you like the updates?

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?

The New MSN is Here. Bing Content Apps Re-branded.

msn-main-page-without-signin

That’s right, folks. You have not woken up in the 90’s all of a sudden. In a post on September 7 on the Official Microsoft Blog, officials at the company announced a new preview of their MSN portal. In addition, a big re-branding is planned, where all the Bing apps on Windows and Windows Phone will be renamed to corresponding MSN versions. Finally, these MSN apps will also expand to iOS and Android, reflecting the new philosophy at Microsoft where their own platform is just another platform.

The new MSN

The new site at preview.msn.com is a cleaner, fresher and adjusts according to the screen size (“responsive design”). The busy front page is gone and is now replaced with a main “top stories” panel with large pictures along with a few smaller units for other top news.  Of course, there is a big ad space to the right.

New msn main page
New msn main page

 

As you scroll down, you see the normal sections for content: News, Entertainment, Sports, Money, Lifestyle, Health & Fitness, Food & Drink, Travel, Autos, and lastly, a section for Video. These sections can be moved up or down, or removed completely. Other sections can be added, from the following: Movies, TV, Music, World, US, Tech & Science and Politics.

New msn: Other sections
New msn: Other sections

 

New msn: Remove or move section
New msn: Remove or move section

 

Services strip and sections

Along the top, there is a strip of information, with quick access to various Microsoft and non-Microsoft services. This includes Outlook.com email, Office Online documents, OneNote notebooks, OneDrive storage, Maps, Xbox Music, Skype and optionally, Facebook and Twitter. For Facebook and Twitter, you have to not just sign in to Microsoft account, but also link your Facebook and Twitter accounts. I am not sure why this information is not derived from the existing Microsoft account, where at least in my case, I already have a link established to Facebook, Twitter and others. Below the services strip is a simple navigation link to access sections in your page directly and quickly.

New msn: Services access
New msn: Services access

 

When you mouse over the various services, you get a quick preview of what’s appropriate for the service, like the top 3 emails from your Outlook.com inbox, or recently used Office Online files, OneNote notebooks, and as you will see below, a map of the current location, files and folders from OneDrive, or latest tweets from Twitter.

 

New msn: Maps dropdown
New msn: Maps dropdown
New msn: OneDrive dropdown
New msn: OneDrive dropdown
New msn: Twitter dropdown
New msn: Twitter dropdown

 

Bing Favorites

As mentioned above, the Bing content apps that exist today on Windows and Windows Phone are going to be re-branded to MSN. As a first step in that process, the new msn has Favorites from Bing imported automatically, based on the Microsoft account used. So for example, my favorite sports teams showed up as Favorites in the Sports section, my watch list showed up under Finance, etc.

Don’t judge me, I liked the 49ers until they hired Harbaugh. That’s perhaps because I like USC and he has a history when he was at Stanford with the then USC coach whom I liked. And that’s going to explain why I like the Seahawks :-)

 

New msn: Favorites imported from Bing
New msn: Favorites imported from Bing

 

Actionable items

In addition to serving content from a variety of sources, the new msn also includes sections where you can gain some actionable insights. For example, there is a symptom checker in Health & Fitness, as well as a 3D Human Body in the same section.

 

New msn: 3D Human Body
New msn: 3D Human Body
New msn: Symptom checker
New msn: Symptom checker

 

Top-tier sources and iOS/Android

Per the announcement, the content on the new msn comes from a variety of top-tier sources.

We’ve partnered with the world’s best to deliver on this goal:

  • In the US, some of our premier partners include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, AOL (including TechCrunch and Huffington Post) and Condé Nast (including Vanity Fair, Epicurious, Bon Appétit).

  • Worldwide, we’re excited to include The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Asahi Shimbun in Japan; Sky News, The Guardian and the Telegraph in the UK, NDTV and Hindustan Times in India, Le Figaro and Le Monde in France, and many more.

Along with the new preview, Microsoft is also preparing to launch iOS and Android apps like the ones that exist on Windows and Windows Phone. These iOS and Android apps will roam Favorites and keep content in sync much like the connectedness of Windows and Windows Phone apps. This way, Microsoft is ensuring that no matter which device you use at any time of the day, you have the premier experience with consuming and using the msn content.

I like the new msn, except for the brand name itself. I am not sure the negativity around “msn” is as much as it is around “Internet Explorer” and we know how badly Microsoft and IE teams are trying to paint a brighter image of the latter. It is unclear why the “msn” brand is the one that Microsoft chose to continue with rather than coming up with a new brand or reusing the Bing brand. In any case, time will tell if the branding is right or not.

Have you set preview.msn.com as your home page?

OneDrive Apps Updated: Android App Merges Work and Play

The OneDrive team at Microsoft announced in a blog post on August 28, that among other updates across platforms, the OneDrive app for Android now lets users access OneDrive as well as OneDrive for Business accounts in the same app.

Android App Updates

The Android app update is the first across platforms where one can access work and personal documents and files in a single app. This means, within a single app, you have access to all your files and will be able to share them appropriately with friends and family or co-workers.

Additionally, the app will clearly show which account is active so there is no mistake in terms of auto-uploads of pictures or sharing of work files with people outside work.

Additionally, the Android app now allows setting up a 4-digit PIN to secure the app and its contents in addition to the phone’s main locking method.

There are speed and reliability improvements in terms of photo backup, as well as the ability to have other apps open the files from OneDrive.

OneDrive for Android Updates
OneDrive for Android Updates

 

iOS App Updates

The iOS update now includes a native search. Much like the iOS system-wide search, within the OneDrive app you can pull down to reveal the search box and the search will be conducted across the entire OneDrive.

The iOS update also introduces an All Photos view (which curiously includes videos too, which I don’t mind, but may seem misleading). The All Photos view is similar to the one on the web, and an important consideration here is that screenshots are automatically removed from this view. If one wants to see uploaded screenshots, they can always navigate to the Camera Roll folder within the OneDrive app and see the screenshots.

I think this screenshot elimination from the main view is a good move. I take a lot of random screenshots and while I like that they are automatically uploaded to OneDrive (unlike the native Windows Phone photo backup), I don’t necessarily want them to pollute my main photos view. So, props to the product manager who made this decision!

 

OneDrive for iOS - Search
OneDrive for iOS – Search
OneDrive for iOS - All Photos View
OneDrive for iOS – All Photos View

 

Windows Phone App Updates

The Windows Phone app update actually showed up a few days ago and besides bug fixes, it includes the ability to see the OneDrive Recycle Bin. This way, one can always go back and see deleted files and restore them if necessary.

 

OneDrive for Windows Phone - Recycle Bin
OneDrive for Windows Phone – Recycle Bin

 

Good to see updates across all the platforms, and looking forward to seeing the OneDrive for Business update show up on iOS and Windows Phone apps too.

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)