As you may know, Windows 10 Technical Preview started off with an Insiders program which enabled Microsoft to send updates, software or otherwise, to those who selected to be in the program. As part of the program one was able to participate in forums and also, via a recent update, choose which “ring” to be a part of: fast ring implied updates as Microsoft makes them available to users outside the company, and slow ring implied updates delivered after the feedback from fast ring was incorporated.
Now, there is a Phone Insider app spotted in the Windows Phone Store. This app seems to be a replacement to the Preview for Developers app that launched in October 2013. The Preview for Developers app required one to be a developer in order to receive OS updates (no firmware updates) directly from Microsoft, not having to wait for carriers and OEMs. For the most part, this worked fine and except for the pain of waiting for OEMs and specifically, carriers, to deliver firmware, most enthusiasts were able to get the latest OS features like an improved Internet Explorer right away.
The Phone Insider app is not too functional at the moment, but from the text in the app description, it does look like a way for users (non-developers too) to sign up for a particular release channel and receive updates as and when Microsoft makes them available. It seems like there will be a link to the Windows Insiders program, so presumably once you sign up to be a Windows Insider, you could potentially also sign up to receive early Windows Phone updates.
The Phone Insider application provides registered Windows Insiders the ability to receive pre-release OS updates on their phone, directly from Microsoft. For more information about registering and becoming a Windows Insider visit http://insider.windows.com.
Ed: At this point, it looks like you can only log on with a Microsoft company domain account, so presumably this is enabled for employees only. It remains to be seen if this app is the actual delivery mechanism for Windows Insiders outside the company also, or it remains as an internal use app.
The timing is not unusual. On January 21, Microsoft has an all-day event for the press in Redmond, where they will be talking about the Windows 10 “consumer” story. Obviously, Windows 10 on phones and tablets will be a big portion of that story.
Could we see the mobile bits available that day, or soon after? Personally, I can’t wait to try out the next version of Windows “mobile”, or whatever the combination of Windows Phone and Windows RT OSes is called.
In October of this year, Microsoft released the Music Deals apps for Windows 8.x and Windows Phone 8.1 but not with much fanfare. As it turns out, this app is a treasure trove of free and inexpensive music.
The way this app works is, there is a time-limited set of promotional deals for various types of music. Typically, there is one popular single listed very inexpensively ($0.99) and then there are three sets of themes for free or inexpensive albums. All of these promotions run for a variety of time periods, ranging from a week to fifteen days.
For example, last week there was a sale for fifty boxed sets, each at $2 only. These boxed sets typically sell for anywhere from $15 to sometimes even over $100, so these were fantastic steals. Last week also saw fifty free albums, all by popular artists.
This week the promotions continue and the discounted albums are popular rock albums and popular soundtracks, and the free albums include albums by artists like Ellie Goulding, ABBA, Imagine Dragons, etc.
The way this works is the Music Deals listing opens up the album in the Xbox Music app (or simply, Music app) on Windows or Windows Phone, and the discounted price is shown. Once you click on buy (or “get it free” when the album is free), depending on your settings, the music will start downloading or be marked as owned and available in the cloud for your use anytime in the future.
The beauty of this setup is that the music content is DRM-free and can be played on any device or software. So you don’t have to feel compelled to use Windows and Windows Phone’s music apps, you can use iTunes or pretty much any other software to play these tunes.
I am unclear what is the end game for Microsoft here. I know it will increase usage of the Music app, and maybe create more Microsoft accounts which can then be used to upsell premium services like paid storage or Office 365, but those seem like poor returns for the potential cost of the discounted music.
Regardless, this is a great deal for consumers and you should absolutely take advantage of these deals. Get the Music Deals apps here: Windows and Windows Phone.
Lava and Celkon recently launched their first Windows powered smartphone in India. The Lava Iris Win1 packs a 4 inch WVGA display, 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor, 1 GB RAM and a 5 megapixel camera while the Celkon Win 400 comes with a 4 inch WVGA display, 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor, 512 MB RAM and a 5 megapixel camera. Both the devices runs on the latest Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System. Lava Iris Win1 comes with a Flip Cover and screen guard inside the box along with other standard accessories like charger, Earphone, USB Cable and user manual. This handset will be exclusively available at Flipkart for just INR 4,999 from December 4. On the other hand, Celkon Win 400 is the cheapest Windows powered smartphone which comes with a price-tag of just INR 4,979. These handsets will compete with Micromax’s previously launched Canvas Win W092 smartphone in the Indian market.
“At LAVA we always endeavor to provide our consumers with best possible choices in terms of design, features, apps, services and now platforms as well. We are pleased to add Iris Win1 – Windows powered device in our smartphone portfolio for consumers who are looking for Windows platform.” – Mr. Navin Chawla, Vice President and Head-Product, LAVA International Limited
“We are happy to announce our association with Microsoft and Qualcomm, a new milestone for Celkon. We have many more exciting offerings lined up in the coming year as well which will stand true to our proposition of being innovative and yet, affordable.” – Y Guru, Chairman and MD Celkon Mobiles
Microsoft finally launched the new Lumia 535 in India. This handset is the successor of the popular Lumia 530 smartphone and it is the first Lumia device to sport the Microsoft branding. Microsoft Lumia 535 is known for its ‘5x5x5′ proposition, which basically means that the device features a 5 inch qHD screen, 5 megapixel rear camera and a 5 megapixel wide angle front-facing selfie camera.
It runs on the Windows Phone 8.1 OS with Lumia Denim update. Lumia 535 comes with a price-tag of just INR 9,199 and it will go on sale from November 28 in India. This handset will be available in Cyan, Bright Green, Bright Orange, Dark Grey, White and Black colors.
Microsoft offers 15 GB of free OneDrive cloud storage with this device. Apart from that, Lumia 535 owners will get free recharge worth INR 150 for 4 months on Paytm, BoxTV subscription for 2 months and Flipkart eBooks worth INR 1500. Vodafone subscribers will get 500 MB free 2G or 3G data for two months. Check out the complete specs and hands-on pics after the break.
Microsoft Lumia 535 Specifications:
5 inch qHD Display
960 x 540 pixels resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor
Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System with Lumia Denim
Along with the Lumia 730 selfie smartphone, Microsoft also launched the successor of the Lumia 825 smartphone in india. The Lumia 830 packs a 10 megapixel PureView camera with ZEISS optics and thinnest Optical Image Stabilization system. Apart from that, it comes with a 5 inch HD Curved Glass Display and a 1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor.
Lumia 830 runs on the Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System with the Lumia Denim update. This handset will go on sale from October 8 in India. Lumia 830 comes with a price-tag of INR 28,799. This device will be available in Orange, White and Black colors. Microsoft also offers 1 TB of cloud storage on One Drive free for the first 6 months. Lumia 830 will compete with the recently launched 2nd generation Moto X in the Indian market.
Lumia 830 Specifications:
5 inch HD Curved Glass Display
1280 x 720 pixels resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor
Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System with Lumia Denim
Along with the selfie phones, Microsoft has also announced the mid-range successor of its Lumia 825 smartphone at the IFA 2014 event in Berlin. The Lumia 830 packs a 5 inch HD Curved Glass Display, 1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System with Lumia Denim and so on.
The main highlight of this smartphone is the 10 megapixel PureView camera with ZEISS optics and thinnest Optical Image Stabilization system. Apart from that, the over-the-air Lumia Camera update will bring faster pocket to shot and shooting speeds, plus new capture features. this handset offers stand-by time for up to 22 days. However, this device comes with a disappointing 1 megapixel front facing camera.
The Lumia 830 will go on sale later this month with a price tag of 330 EUR (approx. INR 26,000) excluding taxes and subsidies. This handset will be available in orange, green, white and black colors. Check out the complete specs after the break.
Lumia 830 Specification:
5 inch HD Curved Glass Display
1280 x 720 pixels resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor
Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System with Lumia Denim
Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant introduced in Windows Phone 8.1, has had the ability to predict outcomes of some events. Most recently, she did a near-perfect job of predicting World Cup results.
In an announcement on September 3, Microsoft says they have added NFL to the list of events that Cortana can predict. The American football season starts on September 4, so it is timely. In order to use this feature, just ask Cortana: “Who will win, team A or team B?”
Cortana’s prediction feature is based on Bing’s prediction engine. Bing on the desktop has enabled such predictions for reality shows on TV like the singing competition The Voice before.
Microsoft has earlier explained how Bing Predicts works, and how it is able to predict with a high level of accuracy. It is natural that they use all the signals and the data they have, to take it to one of the most popular sporting events in the American calendar.
For NFL predictions, Walter Sun from the Bing Predicts team says:
For pro football, we model the respective strengths of the teams by examining outcomes from previous seasons including wins, losses, and the very rare tie outcome (two games since 2009), factoring in margin of victories, location of contest, playing surface and roof cover (or lack thereof), weather and temperature conditions, scoring by quarters, and multiple offensive and defensive statistics. In addition to this prior model, we identify fans on Web and Social sites and track their sentiment to understand the aggregate wisdom of this expressive crowd. This introduces data which statistics alone cannot capture, providing real-time adjustments which surprisingly can capture injury news and other substantive factors in win probabilities.
I understand these things are more fun than useful, and I am not sure anyone who gambles will rely on this to make any bets, but it is good to see Microsoft showing off their machine learning prowess through normal use cases like predictions of NFL games.
If you are on Windows Phone 8.1, you can start asking right away. The beauty of most of Cortana’s features is that they are all web services-enabled, which means it does not require any client or app updates. Once Microsoft turns that feature on from the server side, it is available for everyone to use.
Let us know how you like the feature in the comments below!
As communicated by Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore on Windows Blogs on July 30, the first update to Windows Phone 8.1 is now rolling out to devices with the preview program. The update, simply called Windows Phone 8.1 Update (although it has been referred to as Update 1 too), brings Cortana to more markets in beta and alpha form, adds a Live Folders feature, adds a Live Tile to the Store icon, allows multiple SMS merge/delete operations, brings new Xbox Music app, adds a new feature called App Corner and increases privacy and security by enabling consumer-level VPN when connected to wifi hotspots.
Among the several unnamed changes and fixes are “hundreds of fixes” made to mobile Internet Explorer 11 to make it more compatible with the mobile web. The irony here is that on the desktop web developers had to code specifically for Internet Explorer 4 or 5 because it had several non-standard features. Now, Internet Explorer (both on the desktop and mobile) is promoting coding to web standards whereas web developers have catered their site for Webkit and specifically for iOS. This unfortunate reality made the Internet Explorer team re-think their strategy, and for their customers’ benefit, they made some tweaks to mobile IE that make it appear as an iOS browser to websites. Therefore, many sites which have browser sniffing enabled, will now provide the iPhone version of their site to mobile IE visitors as well.
After reading that blog post, I was very curious to see how Google’s websites render after this update. Another irony here is that Google, the company that beats the standards drums, has most of their properties coded for Webkit and/or detects mobile IE as a feature phone browser. The result is that GMail, Google News, etc. render very poorly.
I am happy to say that these changes in mobile IE11 do make the experience better, at least at first glance. See the comparisons below:
Apps Corner is much like Kids Corner where one can set one or a few apps to be available in a “corner” so when it is activated, no other apps are visible or accessible. This has good uses in the enterprise setting but it is clearly not only targeted to enterprises.
Live Folders is an interesting take on folders. Live Tiles have been a distinguishing feature of Windows Phone since it launched as Windows Phone 7. Instead of creating “dumb” folders which just hold the icons included in the folder, Live Folders presumably show the live tile contents of all the tiles included in the folders. This is neat because now you can reclaim some of the real estate on the Start Screen but not have to give up on one of the key features of the platform. It is also good to see that the icons included in the folders retain their tile size inside the folders, and the folder tile itself can be set to any size.
I don’t see how I can enable the consumer VPN feature, but that sure sounds extremely useful if I understand it correctly, which is, when connected to wifi hotspots, one would be connected to a VPN server right away. I may have misunderstood the feature so I will wait on reserving judgement until I actually find out more, or experience it myself when I connect to a public hotspot.
Have you downloaded the update? What are your thoughts?
This week, we have seen some news items about Microsoft and its OS strategy. Based on CEO Satya Nadella’s remarks in the post-earnings conference call, many were led to believe that Microsoft is going to create a single version of Windows. That is of course not true, and what’s happening is also not new information. What is in fact happening is that from an engineering perspective, Microsoft is hard at work to make a single “core” of the OS which will then power devices of various types: phones, phablets, tablets, laptops, PCs, Xbox, and even “things” in the “Internet of Things”. Again, this is not new, because Microsoft has said in very clear language that they want to get there sooner than later.
It is also clear that Microsoft wants to unify the commerce side (Stores) so that you can buy apps for various devices all from one place. They have also announced the concept of Universal apps which let developers share code among various form factors they would like to target, and also enable their customers to buy once on one device and freely download it on other types of devices. Some apps have already taken advantage of the “linkage” so when one downloads the app on Windows tablet, the message on the phone says the app is already “owned” and can be downloaded for free on the phone.
Effectively, what Nadella was implying in his remarks was they are working to unify the engineering and back-end side of things as opposed to the end product itself, when it comes to “One Windows”.
With that backdrop however, I would like to highlight some customer-facing changes that are badly needed in Windows 8.x which already exist in Windows Phone 8.1. These are now glaring deficiencies in Windows as compared to Windows Phone.
As you may have read in my earlier article, the Action Center is a well-implemented and a much-needed addition to Windows Phone. It is coming to phones via the latest Windows Phone 8.1 update (rolling out now). It is great to see notifications pile up in the Action Center as opposed to disappearing after showing up as toasts.
Well, guess what. Windows 8.x now feels ancient because the notifications there are never collected anywhere. On the PC, I especially miss this feature for things like calendar and appointment reminders. The Action Center is badly missed on Windows 8.x.
Install apps from web
Windows Phone has had the ability to install from the website windowsphone.com to any device attached to a Microsoft account since a long time. It is very convenient because apps are discovered from a variety of sources, and I imagine a bulk of that discovery would come on a desktop PC, browsing technology sites. When you read of an interesting app on a site, you could quickly send it to your phone so you don’t forget about it when you are at the phone.
The Windows Store on the other hand does not support such functionality yet for Windows 8 apps. I can imagine the experience to be very similar to the phone app install, because Windows 8.x devices which use the Store have to have a Microsoft account tied to the Store. So when you browse to the app’s web location, you could click on the install button much like Windows Phone apps’ web locations, and then choose the device you want that install to be on.
This one is at the top of my personal wish list because of how bad the situation is on Windows 8.x. I was impressed with Windows Phone keyboard from the day Windows Phone 7 launched. The predictive nature of the keyboard (Word Flow) was miles ahead of the competition, and with Windows Phone 8.1, they added the gesture-based input on the keyboard to make it even more impressive.
On the other hand, I have nothing but frustration to report when using the keyboard on Windows 8.x. It not only cannot do predictive input as well as Windows Phone, it actually does not seem to be learning as I change auto-corrected words. Even after using it for so long, my PC still corrects my name from “Romit” to “Remit” (yes, despite the capitalization).
I know, patience is the answer
I know all of these are natural additions which may be in the works already. I don’t know when they are coming, but it can’t come soon enough because it makes the difference between using Windows Phone and Windows that much more stark.
Do you have any other nifty features you like in Windows Phone which you’d like to see on Windows 8?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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: