Tag Archives: Windows phone apollo

Windows Phone 8 & The Road To Nokia’s First Hurrah

When Nokia chose to embrace Windows Phone with open arms in February 2011, Microsoft needed Nokia more than Nokia needed Microsoft. A little over a year into the partnership, with Symbian being virtually killed off and MeeGo/Harmattan being non existant, Nokia needed Microosft to deliver like it has never before. For Nokia’s safe Microsoft needed to knock this one right out of the park.

Windows Phone 8 was finally announced at Microsoft’s Windows Phone Summit late yesterday night. This was a developer preview, a sneak peak to the platform changes that MS is bringing to Windows Phone, with more details about consumer centric features to follow.

In early January I did a post about 7 things Windows Phone needs to do better in 2012, and I am glad to say that most of them have been addressed. Windows Phone 8 infact is a whole new operating system, completely different from Windows Phone Mango. The only thing that really remains is the Metro UI, under the hood its a whole new ball game. It borrows a lot of code from Windows 8, and is based on the Windows NT kernel, shares common networking, security, media and web browser technology, and a common file system. Another thing that remains is the support for existing Windows Phone apps, all 100,000 of them, they will run unmodified on WP8.

But before we delve into what I think of WP8, here’s a quick rundown of the major improvements Windows Phone 8 brings.

  • New Start screen: One slightly unexpected, but still very welcome move was MS redesigning the start screen. Putting huge tiles on the top of the screen just to receive notifications didn’t make sense. Now you can turn them into small icons that despite looking like icons on Android or iOS, still work like live tiles. If you choose you can also turn them into the gigantic blocks that were earlier reserved for the Pictures hub and Calendar. If third party developers put in slightly extra work, all three live tile sizes can have varying functionality depending on the screen real estate available to them.
  • Multi-core processor support: Not dual-core, but multi-core. So going forward don’t be surprised if you see Windows Phone devices running on a quad-core chip. Although the keynote stated that the optimisations so far have been done with dual-core in mind, so don’t expect quad-core devices in 2012.
  • Bigger, sharper screens: Windows Phone 8 supports two new screen resolutions—1280×768 and 1280×720. A feature Windows Phone 7.5 was sorely missing. I just hope that manufacturers choose to adopt the 1280×768 resolution that is wider than the 16:9 1280×720. Most of time you use the phone in the portarait mode and having a narrow yet tall display is no joy at all. Manufacturers should stick to 15:9 or slightly wider for phones and 4:3 for tablets.
  • MicroSD support, file system access: During the keynote, the words ‘microSD as a delivery vehicle for music, apps etc’ were used. So you can swap microSD’s between phones, or to copy stuff from the PC. This means that the file system is finally visible to end users on Windows Phone. You should no longer be restricted to using Zune or something similar to sync your music across. Think Symbian, Android. Ideally, you should also be able to use the phone itself in the mass storage profile, similar to how Nokia’s other phones work. This will make a lot of people happy.
  • NFC sharing & Wallet: Tap your phone to share photos, documents etc with another NFC enabled device. Cool, and something a modern smartphone should support. What is especially cool is that Microsoft is also bringing adhoc peer to peer WIFI support. So even if you’re in the middle of the desert and want to send a large video file to a friend, the phones will connect using NFC and create an adhoc WIFI network to share the file at speeds which are much faster than bluetooth. No word on whether you can share music this way, but hey, there’s always the option to swap the microSD. Then there’s the  Wallet. It keeps keep debit and credit cards, coupons, boarding passes and when paired with a secure SIM from your carrier, you can also pay for things with a tap of your phone. It’ll take some time coming, don’t expect payments to work before 2013.
  • Internet Explorer 10: The next version of Windows Phone comes with the same web browsing engine that’s headed for Window 8 PCs and tablets. IE10 is faster and more secure, with anti-phishing features like SmartScreen Filter to block dangerous websites and malware. In the SunSpider test, WP8 beats iOS 6 beta on the 4S, the HTC One X and the Galaxy S3. Microsoft promises 4 times faster javascript performance and twice the HTML5 feature support compared to the current release.
  • Nokia Maps & Navigation for all: No longer a Nokia exclusive, but excellent news for the platform. The best part is that Nokia Maps now will also support offline access as well. Previously map data for Nokia Maps had to be downloaded online, while you could store maps for navigation in Nokia Drive.
  • Cooler apps and games: Native code will go a long way in bringing better games, and more fluid apps to Windows Phone. Things will no longer run inside an emulator and along with better multitasking support, things like Skype, WhatsApp and other apps that need to stay alive in the background will perform much better. 
  • Improved bluetooth support: This phrase was thrown around, but not really commented upon. Given how used-to bluetooth sharing Nokia’s users have been, I’m almost certain that Nokia would have pushed Microsoft to support this functionality. If file system access and bluetooth sharing turns out to be present, which it seems to be, it’ll help shut a lot of critics up.
  • Better Enterprise support: Not something the everyday user cares about, but MS has brought in device encryption, secure boot, remote management and a company hub to really make WP8 attractive to the enterprise market.
  • Better update policies: MS clearly understands that they have burnt a lot of their existing users. To build a bridge, they are promising updates for ‘at least’ 18 months for every new WP8 device. So whoever buys a new Windows Phone is being assured that he/she won’t be thrown under the bus again. Next, updates will be delivered over the air. Excellent. Finally for all eager users who can’t wait for firmware updates, MS is creating a program that will give registered enthusiasts early access to updates prior to broad availability. Its a win-win for all, eager users get access to cool stuff early, and MS gets a ton of free beta testers.

This huge set of changes solves almost every problem I had with the platform. I hated seeing a splash screen everytime an app launched, but with better multitasking and native code that should become a thing of the past. Better push notifications for the platform will also help, and things like Skype and Whats App should now have a pretty seamless experience on Windows Phone. VOIP apps infact will work just like regular phone calls, deeply integrated. One thing I believe MS could still have implemented was a notification hub, and I’m still not sure if third party apps can show notifications on the lock screen now. The smaller live tiles do help, and the lack of a notification center will not be an issue for most people.

Now lets get to the bad news, albeit expected. The current generation Windows Phones will not be upgradeable to WP8. Instead they’ll be transitioned onto Windows Phone 7.8 that features the all new WP8 startscreen and a few other things that haven’t been announced. I wouldn’t expect anything major, but things like new accent colours for the tiles should make the cut. This is a major problem for Nokia. New Windows Phone 8 devices are at least 4 months away, and the obvious question is why would anyone buy a current genration Windows Phone? Devices like the Lumia 900 are still to launch in major markets like India, and its hard to justify buying a product which will be outdated before the end of the year. Nokia for their part are trying to bring as much value to the existing devices as they possibly can. Samsung or HTC have nothing to say when it comes to supporting their existing users.

Nokia will be introducing Marketplace apps like digital Camera Extras that brings panorama shots, a self-timer, action shot for capturing movement and smart group shot for creating the perfect group shot from several different images; new features for Nokia Drive and Nokia Transport; Contact Share to send contact information via Email and SMS, a Counter app to help you keep a track of your data usage, or voice calls, then there’s Play To for DLNA streaming, new Zynga games  and updates like WiFi tethering and flip-to-silence. Firmware updates for the Lumia800 and 710 roll out on June 27.

Some of these apps are must haves and really bridge the functionality gap that Windows Phone Mango leaves, but will they be enough? Despite the Windows Phone 7.8 update existing Windows Phone devices will not have better multitasking or deep VOIP support and apps that are specially made for Windows Phone 8 won’t run on existing devices either. To be fair, there isn’t much that Nokia or any other manufacturer could have done. These problems stem from Microsoft’s shortsighted hardware requirements for Windows Phone Mango. Windows Phone 8 is made for dual core processors and upwards and porting the new kernel to a single core processor doesn’t make much sense.

Its not as if Windows Phone Mango/Tango is going away, mid end devices will still run the same OS, WP8 is high-end for now. There is a market for the current Lumias, but at a much lower price point. Post the official WP8 no-no from Microsoft, even the Lumia 900 cannot command a $600+ pricetag.

Now start the most excruciating three months that Nokia’s ever seen, Q3 will be brutal. But fortunately there is light at the end of the tunnel. Windows Phone 8 has everything that a modern day smartphone should have – high performance specs, flexibility (NFC sharing, microSD support), great social integration, ability to support killer graphics and multitasking. With Nokia’s design and superior optics (plus the Scalado magic) we could really see Nokia’s first real Windows Phone hurrah!

Nokia World is slated for September 5-6, 2012. But unlike previous years, this one is  invitation-only and will ‘cater primarily to our operator and retail partners‘. But since media presence isn’t mentioned, I’m not sure Nokia is willing to publicly show off its first Windows Phone 8 devices by then. But when they do decide to lift the curtains, the launch must be global. Unlike the Lumia 800 or 900 roll-out. The devices must ship the day of the keynote, across the world and on all major carriers. Its a tough ask, but its close to make or break time for Nokia.

Nokia, I’m looking for a 4.3″ 1280 x 768 display, at least a N8 level camera if PureView for Windows Phone isn’t ready by then, dual-core, 1800 mAh or bigger battery and a Lumia 900 like design. Of course with goodies like NFC etc built-in. Should be easy enough. Bring on Q4 then.

Windows Phone Developer Summit Announced For June 20-21, San Francisco

Microsoft has just announced the Windows Phone Developer Summit, which will take place in San Francisco and is slated for June 20-21st. The timing of the summit is what has my interest, June is also when Microsoft is expected to unveil details about the next generation Windows Phone software, codenamed Apollo, and the upcoming developer summit should be all about enthusing developers and getting them to code for Windows Phone 8.

The location of the summit is right at the heart of Silicon Valley, and Microsoft will be going out of its way to bring iOS and Android developers on board with Windows Phone.

Windows Phone 8 cannot come soon enough.

[via: Unleash The Phones, CNET]

Rumour That Makes Sense: ‘Subset’ of Apollo Coming To All Windows Phones

I don’t like to indulge in rumour mongering, but every once a while something comes along that actually makes sense. Long time Microsoft ‘leaker’ MS Nerd is apparently exiting ‘the game’ in a little over a month and has offered to answer all sorts of questions about Microsoft. A key takeaway has from the Q&A is that a subset of Apollo is indeed in the pipeline for older Windows Phones.

Whether Apollo (the next big update to Windows Phone) will be coming to older devices has been a burning question these few past months as the update will not only bring key hardware changes, but loads on the software side will improve too. While things like high resolution screens, multi core processors will obviously only be available when you buy a new device, some highly anticipated software improvements could make Windows Phone far more enjoyable for existing users.

When asked about Apollo for older devices:

Yes, all current Windows Phones will receive a subset of Apollo. The carriers are the primary obstacle in the US. I hear Microsoft is pushing hard for a Mango-like delivery schedule, as are Nokia & HTC. Some Apollo features will be exclusive to the 3rd-gen devices expected to be released this fall on the MSM8960 platform.

That makes 100% sense. While this doesn’t exactly mean ‘OMG yes, the full fledged Apollo is coming to my Lumia 800 or xxx device!’, Windows Phone users should be happy to know they will not completely bitting the dust when Apollo devices come out in Q4 this year. Microsoft is keeping Apollo close to the chest for now, so we don’t know what exactly is coming – but I sure hope some of these improvements have been incorporated and judging by the Pocket Now Apollo leak, they have been.

Some improvements that I am really looking forward to are app to app communication (e.g. you can directly jump to Nokia Drive from Nokia Maps when you want to navigate and not have to perform the search again), native code support for better performing apps which will hopefully kill the splash screen that every app launch entails. Then there is deep Skype integration, BitLocker support and a ton of things we don’t know about.

So even if the full Apollo update doesn’t come to older devices (e.g. stuff like BitLocker encryption requires different hardware) things like app to app communication, native code etc, alone should be enough.

The reason I am confident that old devices will not be left in the dark ages is simple – Nokia and Microsoft are spending way too much money on promoting the current crop of Lumia devices to let users of these devices become disgruntled 6 months later. The Lumia 900 has been publicly called AT&T’s hero phone by AT&T itself, and after a multi million dollar campaign a hero phone that sells with a 2 year contract simply cannot be ignored.

Are there any plans of making the WP more “open” in Apollo? Like enabling USB connection, using it with Linux, more personnalisation (setting default apps)? Do you have any information on this? What is Nokia’s role in designing the WP8?

Yes. For instance, WP becomes a “true Microsoft platform”, like the Xbox & WoA(8) & you’ll see Windows Phone Companion in lieu of Zune desktop client.

Nokia’s role is in defining chipset support (beyond Qualcomm), designing the camera-to-software interaction model, antenna & battery design, languages & regional services, etc.

We’ll know more about Apollo in the coming months, possibly E3 (June 5-7, 2012) if Ms Nerd’s best guess turns out to be accurate. But if you are planning on investing in the Lumia 900 or any other Windows Phone, it seems the thought of missing out on the Apollo action should not be such a huge worry.

On a side note, the Reddit thread is an interesting read if you are interested in what Microsoft will be upto in the next months/years – tablets, desktop and Windows Phone.

7 Things Windows Phone Needs To Do Better In 2012

From a fairly modest start in 2010, Windows Phone came a long way in 2011. The NoDo update brought some essentials like copy/paste, while the big Mango update truly made Windows Phone useable as a daily driver. That being said, there are a number of things I’d like to see Windows Phone improve on in 2012 to truly become a force to reckon with.

The Tango update is expected in Q1 this year, and is primarily expected to bring support for LTE and at the same time help manufacturers push Windows Phone to lower price points. The Apollo update on the other hand is the big update everyone will be waiting for this year, it was originally expected in Q4 2012, but there are rumours to suggest we might see it earlier.

Here are a few things that Windows Phone needs to do better in 2012, I have classified them under seven broad heads:

1. BETTER HARDWARE: The basic Windows Phone specs have remained pretty constant from the day it shipped, and there is still no support for dual/multi core processors or hi-res 720p screens. Both of these things are rumoured to be coming with Apollo, so I will not dwell on them much.

2. BETTER MULTITASKING: As things stand now, Windows Phone uses quick save-resume to give users a feel of multitasking. While this might help save battery life and keep the phone snappy, it does leave much to be desired. For example, the Dictionary.com apps lets you download the database for offline use. But in order to download it, the app must be running, so even if the screen dims out or you lock the screen, the download gets interrupted. During navigation if you happen to lock the screen the app stops running.

Another problem I have is that third party apps cannot load data in the background. So despite having an active data/WIFI connection all through, my Twitter app will not be able to load tweets in the background, such that there are tweets waiting to be read whenever I open it. Instead, whenever I open the Twitter app, it will then start loading tweets and I’ll have to wait, depending on how fast my connection is. These things need to improve.

3. APP BEHAVIOR: Without getting into technicalities like native code access and so on, because of the way Windows Phone lets developers build apps for Windows Phone, the performance, specially the launch times leave much to be desired. Most third party apps (if not all) like the official apps for Twitter, Facebook etc all need a splash screen to bide time while they launch.

Same with games, developers have been craving for native code access to enable high quality games and I do hope Microsoft will do something about this. E.g. Launching Whats App on Symbian, Android or iOS is instant, but on Windows Phone you will see a splash screen everytime.

Next, apps are also sandboxed. So it is impossible to share data from one app to the other. For example on Nokia Maps, you cannot search for a place and then launch Nokia Drive from within Maps. You will have to search for that place in Nokia Drive again and then navigate. Same with location sharing in Whats App, clicking on a location will not open up Nokia Maps or Drive or even Bing Maps, but just a map within the app. So you cannot simply navigate to that location, unlike other platforms.

4. NOTIFICATIONS: I have talked about notifications in my Lumia 800 review as well, and this should be priority number one for Microsoft. There is no centralised place where you see the notifications. Toasts notifications come and go, and the only place where they stay are on the live tiles. This almost forces you to give the first 8 slots for tiles to apps that like Email, Messaging, Whats App, Facebook, Twitter etc so that you do not miss notifications. On the lockscreen, third party notifications cannot be shown as well.

While my favourite notification implementation is Android’s pull down notification bar that both Symbian and iOS have ‘borrowed’, I doubt Microsoft will go down the same route. Flicking to the left on Windows Phone currently does nothing and MS can perhaps use this gesture to build a notification hub that third party apps too can plug into with ease.

Next, there seems to be a bug with tile notifications with third party apps. For example with Microsoft’s own Facebook app, even after you have seen the notifications from inside the app, the icon depicting unread notifications on the live tile doesn’t disappear immediately.

Finally, push notifications also need to get better. WP checks for notifications periodically for the ‘Me’ tile and you have no control over how often does this happen. In general too, across third party apps the situation could be better.

5. OPENING UP WINDOWS PHONE: An open ecosystem is something which Nokia users have been accustomed to for ages. Be it side loading apps, sending files via Bluetooth or using the phone in the mass storage mode to drag and drop content. While Microsoft may not want to allow all these things, it should definitely look at allowing Bluetooth file transfers and ways to support the homebrew community. The Chevron unlock was a good initiative, and even if the Chevron developers don’t want to run it further, Microsoft should undertake the activity itself.

Next, it should allow a lot more customisation. From custom colour accents, to letting users pin multiple shortcuts within a single tile. There is no point in wasting a ton of screen estate for a simple shortcut, pinning four shortcuts into the space reserved for a single tile makes a lot more sense.

6. UPLOADS: Like I mentioned in my Lumia 800 review, Windows Phone resizes pictures before they are uploaded to make it easier on the network. But there are times you want access to the full resolution, yet there is no option to enable that.

7. APP LAYOUT: Windows Phone is all about lists and that’s how all the installed apps are displayed, alphabetically. You can jump between them by alphabet or use the search button to enter a name and filter through the list.

While you do get used to this method, it’d be great to have options. I’d like a grid-based layout as well, where you can flick between pages of apps. One problem that I have faced with the list method is that it is easy to forget apps, as newly installed apps also get buried in the list. I’d also like WP to highlight the newly installed apps for a little while at least.

Reading this post might give you an impression that Windows Phone is hard to use in its current state, but this sentiment would not be justified. While the points I have made above need redressal, none of them is really a deal breaker that should make you reconsider your Windows phone purchase. There are some excellent Windows Phone devices in the market, and I am sure future updates will make them better.

What would you like Windows Phone to do differently in 2012?