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!

LG launches Optimus G in India

LG Electronics has finally launched LG Optimus G smartphone in India. Running on Android v4.1.2 Jelly bean, LG has extended the OS with its own Optimus 3.0 UI for an optimum mobile experience.LG Optimus G

The phone, that LG claims to be designed to a flagship standard, boasts of a 4.7-inch True HD IPS Plus Display and a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.5 GHz Quad-core processor. Optimus G has an aspect ratio of 15:9 with a 320ppi high pixel density and is equipped with Zerogap Touch display technology that brings visuals closer to the surface of the screen and gives a more immersive experience. The phone has a unique glass-made back graced with a crystal pattern. This patented Crystal Reflection is glossy and displays different patterns and colors depending on the angle and lighting.

“We provide our users with enhanced experience by advanced and thoughtful engineering behind every feature. The smartphone encourages users to explore a world of boundless creativity and power and also, helps them balance between business and entertainment.”

–       Soon Kwon, President South West Asia Region & MD, LG India

Optimus G’s 13MP rear-end camera and 1.3MP front facing camera come with a number of apps like SmartShutter senses movement and automatically adjusts shutter speed to capture crisp, blur-free images and CheeseShutter that has voice recognition capabilities and automatically clicks a picture when one says ‘Cheese’.

Optimus G also has a lot of unique applications to add to the Android feature set. Its QSlide feature allows consumers to simultaneously run two apps and multitask their way through work and play. Its QuickTranslator easily translates any international language into English and vice-versa, while its QuickMemo app allows users to jot down important notes on any phone screenshot, even while on active call. When videos are played in the player, the Zoom In function enables consumers to zoom in/ out of a live video. Plus it offers a unique concept of Dual Screen-Dual Play, where by users can run any of phone content to a connected TV and simultaneously work on phone on another application.

LG’s Optimus G is priced at INR 34,500 but is available for INR 31,000 at most online and physical stores already.

 

 

Gangs of Wasseypur – First Film in India to Premiere Music on Mobile First

A fancy stage, celebrity guests, and guests from media. Well, that is a typical setting for the music premiere of a movie’s original soundtrack in India. Not any more for some of them.

Presented by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and produced by Anurag Kashyap, the forthcoming film – Gangs of Wasseypur, has earned the interesting distinction of being the first film in India to premier the film’s soundtrack on mobile platform before the album’s physical release. Gangs of Wasseypur has garnered unprecedented buzz from international media and has been selected for the prestigious “Directors’ Fortnight” at the 65th Festival De Cannes.

Airtel and Hungama Mobile collaborated in this interesting change to marketing and distributing entertainment with an intention to tap into the growing tribe of mobile music listeners and generate ancillary revenues from mobile downloads, ringtones, and caller-tones.

Airtel mobile subscribers got 10 days of exclusive access to music from the forthcoming movie via Hello Tunes and Airtel Radio. Hungama Mobile, a part of Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., is the largest aggregator, developer, publisher and distributor of Bollywood and South-Asian entertainment content in the world. It powers close to 75% of all mobile entertainment content in India.

WhatsApp Security Woes; Hardcoded AES Key Used For Message Storage

It seems security is still an issue with WhatsApp. Previously, it was a vulnerability that allowed users to remotely change status names on other accounts simply by entering the mobile phone number tied to their account.

The newest issue has to do with the message storage database that WhatsApp uses to keep a log of incoming and outgoing messages. While the SQLite database is stored in a directory that is only accessible through jailbreaking or rooting a device, and the database is encrypted using AES-192, it’s unfortunately crypted with a hard-coded and static key.

The entire contents of the database can be decrypted using the known key. The database, which is stored in /com.whatsapp/databases/msgstore.db on Android phones and ~/Documents/ChatStorage.sqlite on iOS devices, can be decrypted by supplying the key and requesting that openssl revert the database to plaintext;

openssl enc -d  -aes-192-ecb -in msgstore-1.db.crypt -out msgstore.db.sqlite -K346a23652a46392b4d73257c67317e352e3372482177652c

In order to make it easier for decryption, an online portal was created for doing the deed. Of course you’ll need a jailbroken or rooted device in order to get the crypted database, then you can simply upload the file to http://www2.unsec.net/whatsapp/ and it will be decrypted.

Last time, it took WhatsApp just under a week to patch the hole. In order for them to fix this issue, an update to the client will be required, in order to add a new key – hopefully one that is generated using device-specific information or something the user can input to create a strong key, and then encrypt the database again.

UPDATE: As pointed out by a reader, the original research and analysis conducted on the database can be found in a PDF and there is also a WhatsApp Xtract application posted on XDA-Developers. Thanks Martina!

One Minute on the Internet

The digital world is much more complex than you think. And guess what? This claim will not assume status-quo. In the forthcoming days, months and year, we will witness a larger penetration in connectivity and digitization. Content will be getting richer not only in terms of quality but also in terms of quantity. These claims are backed by eye-opening stats from Intel Corporation underpinning happenings that take place in “one minute” over the internet. Here is how it goes:

What happens in an Internet Minute?

  • 639,800 GB of global IP data is transferred
  • 6 new Wikipedia articles are published
  • 1300 new mobile users are subscribed
  • 20 people become victims of identity
  • 204 million emails are sent
  • 47,000 apps are downloaded
  • 100+ new LinkedIn accounts are created
  • $83,000 of sales happen on Amazon
  • 20 million photo views on Flickr, out of which 3,000 are new photos
  • 320+ new Twitter accounts are created and 100,000 tweets occur
  • 277,000 logins on Facebook and 6 million page views happen
  • 2+ million searches on Google
  • 1.3 million views on YouTube and 30 hours of new videos are uploaded
60 seconds on the internet

This doesn’t stop here! Predictions for the future are even more shocking. Intel Corporation suggests that by 2015, the number of connected devices will outnumber the total human population of the planet by two times.

Time just got faster!

Mobile Is a Serious Addiction

A survey carried out by Intel Corporation reveals interesting statistics regarding to what extent people are addicted to their mobile phones.  The survey was performed across different demographics across the globe demonstrating eye-opening results. It concluded that 80% of the respondents keep their cell-phone by their beds during sleep, 40% of them answer phone calls while in the bathroom and 40% are glued to their cellular devices 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

"Proximity to Mobile is Addictive" - Intel

 

According to the survey, the Hispanics are top-ranked in sharing images and videos. When it comes down to playing games, the Asians take the cake whereas the Africans topped in sending SMS. The survey further reported that North Americans confessed in spending nearly 3 hours a day on their mobiles exchanging different kinds of content.

When adolescents come in the picture, the results are even more alarming. 50% of adolescents send 3330 text messages on average per month.

Intel’s survey goes to state that 20% of the people would prefer to lose their wallets/purses than their cellular devices and 43% stated that a cell phone is part of a life style while 50% assure that not having a smart-phone would cut into their social lives.

This article was originally shared by Noticias Cuatro.

My 2012 Wish List for Windows Phone

Windows Phone

I have been using Windows Phone virtually from launch day, and have been patient with the team about so many things that have been missing from the OS. Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, addressed a lot of my complaints, but now I have another, deeper set of functionality (and wishes!) I’d like to see implemented.

The following is my wish list for Windows Phone for the year 2012. Given that one of the wishes is for more frequent updates, I am hoping some of the functionality gaps are filled sooner than later.

Ecosystem

  1. Market share: First and foremost, I’d like to see Windows Phone get to a decent market share. The stars have aligned nicely with RIM dying a slow death, and webOS being killed by HP for Windows Phone to be easily positioned as the #3 platform. However, it would be a pity if the 3rd-biggest  platform is at 5% with iOS and Android making up 95% of the market. It would be better if Windows Phone could get to 10-15% or above to really make it relevant. Education at carrier stores, more incentives for carrier salespeople, Nokia’s Rolling Thunder campaign, expansion to new markets, etc. should help.
  2. More Silicon Valley startup involvement: Most startups are not going to devote time to building Windows Phone apps with its market share around 1.5%. It simply does not make financial sense. I would like to see the Microsoft developer relations/evangelism folks to embed themselves in such startups and help them build the next cool appfor Windows Phone in addition to iOS/Android. For that, this evangelist team will have to work closely in Silicon Valley (and perhaps New York) to identify the companies which are doing great things in the mobile space and help them as early as possible in their lifecycle.
  3. Get existing marquee apps at par with iOS/Android counterparts: Microsoft would like us to believe that 90% of the top iOS/Android apps are available for Windows Phone. That may be arguable, but even existing apps like Facebook and Twitter have not seen updates to bring features at par with iOS/Android versions. For example, Facebook app does not support updating Groups or Twitter app (still) does not provide notifications. Also, given that some of these apps have been built by Microsoft, or even worse, by a third party, it is hard to understand who is to blame for the lack of functionality updates.
  4. Abandon the annual minor and major update cycle: Windows Phone has settled into a cycle where they have minor releases once a year and major updates once a year, each separated by about 6 months. While this is great for larger, non-mobile programs, it is absolutely slow in the mobile industry, especially for bug fixes and security updates. Until Windows Phone is  at  par with iOS and Android in terms of overall functionality, I don’t think they should settle down into a 6-month update cycle. Till then, the updates should be rapid, incremental and extremely frequent.

Hide your Phone from your Kids; Disney Introduces Four New Mobile Games

Disney Interactive Media Group, India has unveiled a brand new and exciting menu of four mobile games. The four multi-genre Disney games – Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides, The Legend of G-Sword, Brain Gain, and Typhoon Riders – will be available across all the leading mobile phone carriers and can also be downloaded via the Disney WAP site: m.disney.in

Priced at INR 50 each, these games have been developed in India. For each game downloaded, player will get an additional Disney game at no extra cost. Disney Interactive Media Group (DIMG), a segment of The Walt Disney Company, is responsible for the global creation and delivery of interactive entertainment, multi-platform video games, and lifestyle content across all current and emerging digital media platforms.

Brain GainPirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger TidesThe Legend of G-SwordTyphoon Riders

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This official 2D mobile game embarks you as Capt. Jack Sparrow on a quest to find the mystical fountain of youth and come across Blackbeard, the deadliest pirate of the sea. This action adventure game spans you across the plot of the official movie which introduces you to key characters and different locations.

The Legend of G-Sword

This action packed game takes the players into the real Ninja World. The players get to fight against the Dragon Snake, powerful and evil Ninja Gijanosho Eji’ who has only one motive in mind to conquer the Ninjutsu World, his Dark Disciple, and flying creatures.

Brain Gain

Brain Gain is   a complete package of brain games with cute characters and environments. It allows you to test focus and memory power while playing with jumping frogs, puzzles, zooming cars, and counting bees. Brain Gain is an exciting way to sharpen the brain and be smarter than your friends. This game also gives an opportunity to achieve a high score and be a Disney Certified Brain Gain Champ!

Typhoon Riders

The ultimate motorbike racing game, Typhoon Riders, requires the player to race against a motorcycle gang to get to the top and take the ring leader’s place. The players get to earn money, buy new bikes, and use the Typhoon feature to take out any opponents on the road.

SpotMe: A Mobile Device Exclusively for Event Engagement

Last month, at the IBM Software Universe 2011 in Mumbai, India, all delegates were given a unique device called SpotMe. SpotMe is a specialized mobile device to get all event attendees activated and engaged in event activities and the networking around it. Of course, at the end of the event, everybody was required to return the device.

SpotMe

IMG_3349

The device helps in engaging attendees through active participation and includes ways to gather audience response. The attendee features and location functionality make for supercharged networking experience using the device. The device also facilitates logistics and information dissemination by providing maps, navigation, agenda and venue information, and other event details.

IMG_3364

At the event, I met Damien Plumettaz, the Event Engineer from SpotMe. I asked Damien if such functionality can be achieved using mobile apps on different platforms rather than lugging another device during a conference. He said that’s something they have on their idea board as well but wasn’t sure if they would venture in that direction. Damien also shared an interesting trivia about the SpotMe device. The device has microphone because during the design phase they wanted to include calling functionality so that you could call other event attendees through the device!

Here’s a quick hands on of SpotMe that I recorded at the event:

Fujitsu Introduces F-07C, a Compact PC and Phone Hybrid

While the Windows Phone 7 fans advocate putting the Windows Phone 7 OS on tablets and others eagerly wait to see what Microsoft has done with Windows 8 for non-PC devices, Japanese hardware manufacturer Fujitsu has other ideas. Fujitsu has introduced F-07C, a Windows 7 powered mobile phone!

Fujitsu F07C

Hardware

Fujitsu claims that the F-07C mobile phone is world’s smallest PC that fits into the palm of the hand. The phone is powered by Intel Atom Z600 processor and includes 1GB memory and 32 GB solid-state drive. Most netbook computers in the industry are powered by Intel Atom processors. For connectivity, F-07C provides both 3G as well as Wireless LAN IEEE 802.11b/g/n options.

Users can switch between a Windows 7 PC mode and a regular mobile phone mode with push of a button. The phone sports a QWERTY keyboard, a trackball, and a left-click button that enables simple mouse-like operations. The 4 inch wide SVGA LCD screen provides a high-resolution 1024 x 600 display. A USB/HDMA cradle set sold separately allows the user to connect to peripheral devices like keyboard/mouse or printer. Surprisingly, the phone also packs in an HDMA output connector to hook up the phone to a large-screen TV for bigger display.

Software

Fujitsu F-07C runs on Windows 7 Home Premium edition (with Service Pack 1) and comes with a two-year license for Microsoft Office Personal 2010′. I’m not sure what  a Personal edition offers though.

The mobile phone supports several latest services from Docomo like Osaifu-Keitai, i-mode mail, i-concier, and security features like Omakase Lock and Mobile Phone Location Service.

Thoughts

The phone is scheduled to launch in Japan on July 23 in partnership with NTT Docomo. I’m not sure if the phone would interest many even though the hardware specifications are  great.  While smartphone operating systems are getting smarter, there is little need for a desktop operating system on a mobile phone. A limited 2 hour battery life in Windows 7 mode is of no help. The user experience for Windows 7 on a 4 inch wide screen is awkward, and absence of a shell enhancement to provide a better UI layer over Windows 7 hurts.

Hat Tip: Tom Warren at Winrumors