Official Rollout of Windows Phone 8.1 Begins. Lumia Cyan Also Released.

 windows-phones

Microsoft announced on July 15 over on the Nokia Conversations Blog that Windows Phone 8.1 is beginning to roll out to general public starting today. In addition, for Lumia devices, Nokia is also making their firmware named Cyan available in tandem.

Windows Phone 8.1: Action Center
Windows Phone 8.1: Action Center

 

As you know, Windows Phone 8.1 is a major update to Windows Phone 8 (despite the .1 name, which is mostly to be in line with Windows 8.1) which includes many features that bring it up to par with iOS and Android, and in some cases, catapult it ahead of those two. For example, Windows Phone finally gets a notification center in the form of Action Center to bring it up to par with iOS and Android. There are many other new and updated features, including:

Cortana

A digital personal assistant with a personality of her own. Many think  of it as a good blend of Siri from iPhone and Google Now. It takes the personal nature of Siri and combines it with the ambient and context-aware nature of Google Now, and throws in a privacy-focused “notebook” which stores all the information that one would want the assistant to track. I have used Cortana quite a lot since the developer preview was released and am really happy with how she works, including the recent sports predictions.

Third column of tiles

Previously this feature was only available on the larger, 1080P screen devices but now it is a setting on all Windows Phones. The added density of tiles makes it possible to see even more information on the go, and thereby makes it possible to have more wide tiles which surface more information on the live tiles.

WiFi Sense

 

Windows Phone 8.1: More tiles
Windows Phone 8.1: More tiles

This feature allows one to automatically log in to wireless hotspots, including optionally filling out browser-based login screens which are common at many wifi hotspots. The settings are saved so that the information does not have to be entered over and over again. WiFi Sense also allows one to optionally share wifi username and password with connected contacts (who obviously should be using Windows Phone), so there is no awkward password sharing involved when friends and family visit each other.

Word Flow goes to the next level

The Windows Phone keyboard is one of the best among its competition, especially given the accuracy of its predictions of the next word, but with Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft added a gesture-based keyboard. This keyboard is similar to the ones found on Android (and coming soon to iOS 8) but combine that gestures with the predictions and you get a fast, fantastic typing experience.

Windows Phone 8.1: Wordflow with gestures
Windows Phone 8.1: Wordflow with gestures

 

Internet Explorer 11

Besides an updated browser engine, Internet Explorer now lets you share favorites, open tabs and most importantly, passwords among Windows devices (as long as they are Windows 8 and above :-)).

New Calendar view

Not only is the Calendar app now a standalone app (as evidenced by updates to the app delivered recently to those who are on the developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1), but it also adds a much-requested week view. The view is very smartly designed because when you tap on the date icon in the app bar below, it keeps the weekly view but simply expands that day of the week. Similarly, if you tap on any other day of the week, it simply expands that day. Tapping it again will switch the view to the daily view.

The Cyan firmware update is applicable to Lumia devices, and as suggested by it being firmware, the update provides lower-level improvements to the device in general. These improvements help Nokia’s great photo applications like Nokia Camera, Creative Studio and Storyteller.

Cyan also delivers a new Device Hub, which is meant to identify devices near you which you can connect to, as well as suggest apps which will be able to take advantage of the connection to the said devices. For example, if it finds a Windows 8 PC nearby, it may suggest Remote Desktop as an app, if it detects a media streaming device like a DirecTV receiver, it may suggest a media streaming app.

For the low-end Lumias like Lumia 520, 525, etc., the HERE Drive app gets bumped up to HERE Drive+. For the high-end Lumias like Lumia 1520 and Lumia Icon, Cyan enables Rich Recording and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 sound. The high-end Lumias also get improvements in photos with improved colors and even better low-light photos along with RAW images and a new Living Images feature which adds a tiny bit of animation before the shot is taken, to add “life” to the image.

Now, for the not-so-great news. Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan are available but they have only been delivered to the carriers. The update rolls out based on the carriers’ testing. The good thing is that Nokia is documenting the updates on their page as usual. The page is here.

I have been running the developer preview and I feel it is now up to the developers to bring their apps to the performance level that Windows Phone 8.1 provides, especially on the higher-end devices. I had almost given up on Windows Phone but Cortana and Action Center kept me interested. Along with many new apps coming to the platform, it has become a truly legitimate contender from a features perspective. The market, especially US and China, will of course speak with their wallets, but at this point Windows Phone 8.1 on a recent Lumia is not a bad choice to go for.

Here’s Nokia’s official video walking us through Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan:

 

All images from Nokia and Windows Phone sites

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)

Swype Out Of Beta; Now Available On The Play Store

Swype was the first keyboard to bring the gesture typing implementation on mobile devices and especially to Android devices. However, Swype was never available as a download-able keyboard on the Play Store, and was only available on certain Android devices that it came pre-installed with.

swype

Today, all that changes since the new owners of Swype, Nuance Communications, have finally released the keyboard on the Play Store. The keyboard is available in a trial as well as a paid version. The paid version is up for grabs for $0.99 right now, with its price set to increase after a few days.

While Swype truly was revolutionary when it first came in the keyboard scene, it is now barely able to keep up with its competition. SwiftKey, the most popular keyboard and one of the most popular applications on the Play Store, recently implemented its Flow technique of typing that is similar to Swype’s implementation. SwiftKey’s implementation is arguably superior since it allows users to have up to three languages active simultaneously. This makes typing in different languages simultaneously much more easier in SwiftKey compared to Swype.

Play Store Link

Swype Update Brings Living Language And Smart Editor

Remember Swype? The first keyboard that brought ‘swiping’ to the Android devices. Today, its developer – Nuance Mobile – released a new update for Swype beta that brings “Living language” and “Smart Editor” to the keyboard.

 

“Living language” is a crowd sourced dictionary that adds some of the most commonly used word to Swype’s dictionary like Dropbox, LOL, YOLO and more. This feature will be only available to users who decide to opt-in to the service since your predictions will also be sent back to Swype’s server. The company even promises to deliver “trending words and phrases in real-time”, which if true can come in handy.

“Smart Editor” examines your writing style over a period of time and will automatically suggest words when the user ends a sentence with punctuation. Swype will also automatically underline words which it thinks are incorrect in a sentence.

Last, but not the least, Nuance Mobile has finally got rid of all the registration headache to install the Swype beta keyboard on an Android device. Users can now simply download the Swype Installer APK from Swype’s beta website.

Swiftkey Flow – SwiftKey’s Prediction Engine Meets Gesture Typing

Back in October, we blogged about a new Android keyboard called SwiftKey Flow. Android already has several dozen keyboards, so a new keyboard is hardly newsworthy. However, SwiftKey Flow had us salivating, simply because of the folks behind it. SwiftKey’s other keyboard – SwiftKey X, has the best prediction engine in the market. Once it gets used to your typing style, it often manages to effortlessly predict word after word. In spite this, SwiftKey never managed to cement its position as the default keyboard on my phone. The sole reason for that is its lack of support for gesture typing. Gesture typing, pioneered by Swype, is the best way to type on touchscreen mobile devices. It’s not only a lot faster, but it also takes a lot less effort, and requires only one hand.

SwiftKey-Flow

SwiftKey Flow promises the best of both worlds. It boasts of SwiftKey’s renowned prediction engine, and supports gesture typing. After teasing us for months, SwiftKey announced the open beta of Flow a short while back. Like the original SwiftKey, the new Flow keyboard also can scan your messages, Facebook and Twitter posts, and Gmail conversations to learn your typing pattern and build up its dictionary. Flow also keeps on learning as you type. So, the longer you use, the better it gets. The Flow is meant for both tap-typing and gesture-typing. While gesture-typing is identical to Swype, it doesn’t seem to support all the bells and whistles of Swype. However, Flow does have a couple of unique tricks up its sleeve. It features instant predictions, which keep on changing as you keep swiping. And it supports continuous typing, which SwiftKey calls “Flow through Space”. You can type entire sentences without lifting your finger, by simply gliding over the space key to begin a new word.

SwiftKey-Flow-Gesture-Typing

It’s hard to review SwiftKey after using it for less than six hours. However, one thing that’s amply clear is that SwiftKey still has a long way to go because it can match Swype’s accuracy. Gesture typing often leads to wrong guesses, and since the prediction engine tries to predict the next word, going back and correcting mistakes is annoying. I also missed Swype’s convenient single tap replace while using SwiftKey. SwiftKey Flow’s biggest challenge is that it is trying to tailor itself for both tap typing and gesture typing. Right now, its split personality is holding it back.

[ Download SwiftKey Flow ]

SwiftKey Flow Combines The Power Of Swype With SwiftKey’s Prediction System

SwiftKey is hands down the best keyboard for Android devices out there. The keyboard has arguably the best prediction system out there, which makes typing on touchscreen slabs a breeze.

Today, the folks behind SwiftKey have unveiled what they have been working on for the last few months — SwiftKey Flow. Think of SwiftKey Flow as a combination of SwiftKey’s brilliant prediction system with the swyping power of Swype. The combination of these two should lead to a killer single hand typing experience on Android devices.

Here is a video of SwiftKey Flow in action -:

The best part of SwiftKey Flow is that, unlike Swype, users can either glide across the screen to enter a word or go the traditional tap an alphabet mode.

Sadly, SwiftKey Flow is not yet available for beta testing. The developers are still busy putting some final touches to the keyboard before they release a beta version to SwiftKey VIP members. Head over to SwiftKey’s website to register yourself to for an exclusive access to the beta version.

New Swype Beta For Android Now Available; New Look, Better Prediction Engine and More!

The de-facto swiping keyboard for Android, Swype, has released its first major update after being acquired by Nuance. The new update brings a bunch of new and welcome changes including a fresh new look, a a “living learning keyboard, Swiftkey like next word prediction, and default dictionary editing.

The new update of Swype will provide its users with 4 different ways to type now. Along with the usual enhanced swype mode, there is now a Swiftkey like typing mode where the keyboard also learns the user’s typing style by reading his SMSs, emails etc., a Dragon button for voice input, Nuance’s XT9 keyboard and handwriting support. Probably one of the most welcomed addition is the ability to edit Swype’s default dictionary.

Since this is the beta version, Swype has made sure that users can use this new version along side the old version. The new Swype beta is only available for users who had previously signed up for Swype’s beta program.

Swype For Android Updated; Now Supports Ice Cream Sandwich and Integrates Dragon Go!

Swype, the popular Swyping keyboard for Android, has finally been updated to add support for Ice Cream Sandwich. Since the product is still in beta, and this is the first build that supports Ice Cream Sandwich, the company warns that users may find some hard-to-replicate or find bugs.

Other than the support for Ice Cream Sandwich, the new update also adds quite a lot of new features including Dragon Go! Integration. For the less known, Dragon Go! is a service, similar to Siri, and is much more accurate and advanced than Google’s Voice Actions. The bad news is that the Dragon Go! integration in Swype is only available to Swype users residing in the United States.

Additionally, the update improves the prediction accuracy, and is also optimized for WXGA resolutions. The Emoticon key in SMS apps has also been enabled after quite a few Swype users requested it to be brought back.

Swype users who own a Galaxy Nexus or are running Ice Cream Sandwich on their handset are recommended to disable the in-built spell-checker on ICS for optimum user experience. As always, the latest version of Swype beta is available to only those people who had signed up for the company’s beta program.

(Source)

New Swype Beta Brings Context Prediction, OTA Updates and More!

The swiping folks over at Swype have just released a new beta of their popular keyboard – Swype – for Android. This new version of Swype brings with it lots of new enhancements, and some much needed changes.

First and foremost, after installing this latest Swype Beta, users will no longer need to use the SwypeInstaller to update their Swype version. They can install the updates directly via the Swype settings menu. Users will also be automatically notified when a new Swype beta is available for download.

Support for 11 more languages including Frecnh, Italian, Japanese, German, Spanish and Swedish have also been added. The language packs have been divided into 4 regional downloads, so users need to download the  language  pack  separately.

The keyboard layout has also been tweaked, and the “Globe” key has been finally removed. The Numbers row have also been moved to the top row as in a traditional keyboard.

However, the most important change in this update is the context prediction system. Like Swiftkey, Swype will now also analyze the text you have already entered, and offer predictions based on that. Swype states that this will lead to a 40% increase in the  prediction  accuracy.

Users need to update to this latest version of Swype using the Swype Installer that can be downloaded from here.

New Swype Pre-Release Beta Out; Includes Gesture Support and Dictionary Management

The popular swiping keyboard for Android, Swype, has just got a major pre-release beta update. The new update is similar to the one that the Sprint’s Nexus S 4G owners got last week.

The new version of Swype brings two new major features including Gesture support and dictionary management. With Gesture support, Swype users can simply use a gesture to do the most common tasks on their phone like copying/pasting, tweeting, sending it to Facebook or finding a location in Google Maps. The Personal dictionary feature, as its name suggest, allows users to manage the words they have added to the Swype dictionary.

Swype users can check out some videos of these new features in action over at  Swype’s YouTube channel.

There is also a new Swype Connect feature on-board, which allows the folks at Swype to collect more information about a user’s usage pattern and licensing checking issues much more reliably.

Other than that, there are also numerous bug fixes. Below is the full change-log -:

  • Single-tapping a word no longer repositions the cursor to the end of the word
  • Words added to the dictionary will now retain their capitalization (e.g. Cyanogen instead of cyanogen)
  • Fixed a bug that prevented Swype from reading the screen resolution properly on devices running Android 3.2
  • Fixed a bug where dictionaries would sometimes fail to load after a device reboot
  • Lots of application-specific improvements and fixes!

Users, who have already signed up for the Swype’s Beta program, can download the latest update using the Swype Installer App. Other Swype users need to wait until this pre-release beta hits the final version.