Category Archives: 13741

NEBytes Event 18th May

Unfortunately I’m going to be out of the country and not able to make this month’s regular NEBytes event, but it’s a good one, so I don’t want you to miss it if you can be in Newcastle.


For developers, we’ve got Gergely Orosz talking about Windows Phone 7 development. Gergely is one of the guys behind the gorgeous Cocktail Flow app, which is the first app that I show people when they ask for a demo of Windows Phone 7.



For IT pros, NEBytes’ very own Ben Lee will be covering Lync 2010. Ben does a great job of covering topics like this one and I’m sure that he won’t be able to stop himself speculating how Microsoft’s requisition of Skype will fit in to Lync going forward.


Full details and the sign-up link are on the NEBytes site.


North East based developers may also want to check out this month’s Super Mondays event on Application Development for the Enterprise. Don’t let the fact that it’s on a Tuesday (31st May) fool you because they’ve got a great international line-up of speakers.

Pre-NoDo WinPho Update Woe

After complaints about the lack of updates to Windows Phone 7, the first feature update, codenamed NoDo is practially upon us (after being delayed, obviously). NoDo brings performance improvements and everyone’s favourite smartphone feature – copy and paste. It seems that Windows Phone 7 made it out of the door with some deficiencies in the updating procedure, so we’ve been provided with a pre-upate update to update the updating.


Sadly for many owners of Samsung handsets, the pre-NoDo update didn’t work, and a small number of phones were even “bricked” by the update (the “fix” being to go back to the shop and swap it for a working handset). Fortunately I didn’t get stung by this – I’d actually attempted the update before reading that it may kill my phone, but having attempted it on my netbook, I didn’t have enough disk space available to do it.


Good news though - Microsoft pulled the update before it caused too much damage and released a new, better version making the Samsung-specific problems a thing of the past.


Except it didn’t.


I am one of a number of Samsung owners (I have an Omnia 7, but the Focus is also affected), who is experiencing a problem installing the updated pre-update update that updates the updating. Specifically, the process times out and offers up error code 800705B4. Microsoft has [sarcasm]provided a solution[/sarcasm] to this issue on the Microsoft Answers site – “temporarily delete media items from your phone and try the update again”.


This fits in with advice on the Windows Phone Help and hot-to pages about updating, which is linked from the Zune client when the error appears where it says that “Windows Phone Update requires that there is some extra space on your phone while it’s being updated.” Sadly neither that page, nor the “answer” on Microsoft Answers says how much space this specific update needs. You’d think they’d be able to know that fairly easily.


When I first received error 800705B4 I only had about 400Mb free on the phone, so I followed the advice and first removed all of my music from the phone. This left a whole gigabyte free, but the update failed again. I then removed some videos, taking the free space up to 1.3Gb. Failure again. Removal of pictures and podcasts took me up to 1.7Gb free – still no joy. Next I’m going to have to start on app removal.


Looking at some of the posts on Microsoft Answers, people have started out with as much as 3Gb free and removed content to free up over 5Gb in total, but they’re still getting 800705B4! I would love to see Microsoft telling us how much space it needs, or some evidence that 1.7Gb or even 5Gb is not enough! As it stands, their “answer” – that the update needs more free space is at best a fluke.


I can understand that the phone needs some space free to be able to complete the update, but surely it doesn’t need several gigabytes. If that was the case, then this problem certainly wouldn’t be specific to Samsung phones! Clearly something is still very broken with this update on certain Samsung firmware versions.


I’m starting to think that I may need to do a factory reset on my phone in order to get the update on. It wouldn’t take me long to get back up and running with most apps (although reinstalling them all will be a pain), and I can re-sync my media. The main problem is that Windows Phone 7 has been positioned as the Xbox Live phone and anyone who has to reset the device will lose any progress that they’ve made in any games because there’s no way to backup or restore application data.


As an early adopter, I expect some pain with a new technology, but this is getting a bit pathetic. I’m nearly mad enough about it to create a Facebook group!

Windows Phone 7: What will still be missing at the end of 2011?

In Steve Ballmer’s keynote at the Mobile World Congress yesterday, Microsoft outlined what’s coming to Windows Phone 7 in updates for the remainder of 2011. There’s some good stuff there: copy and paste will come along with some performance improvements in the first half of March, followed later in the year by some 3rd party multi-tasking, Twitter integration in the People Hub, enhanced support for SkyDrive in Office, and a mobile version of IE9, supporting HTML5 and utilising hardware accelleration via the GPU. It all sounds very positive, but what is still missing?


In fairness, they did say that this isn’t an exhaustive list of what they’re adding, so here are the slighlty less high-profile things that I’m hoping get added to the list:


  • Gapless music playback
  • Variable playback speed for audiobooks/podcasts without changing pitch
  • Over-the-air podcast support in the OS
  • Ability to take screenshots
  • Allow 3rd party apps (and IE!) to save media to audio/video store
  • Offer Bing voice search outside the USA
  • More options to organise the full app list (alphabetical doesn’t scale well)
  • A remote desktop client
  • Mass storage functionality (to allow phone to be used as a USB drive)
  • Custom ringtones
  • Custom accent colours
  • Allow developers to “lock” capacitive buttons (it’s too easy to hit the Bing button when playing some games)
  • Remove/increase the cap on the number of apps that can get push notifications
  • Relaxed restrictions on use of low level APIs for key developer partners

It may be that some of those things are in the updates, but I’m going to bet that I’m still hoping for some of them to appear into 2012.


Of course it’s not clear yet quite how good some of the things that have already been annouced are going to be. I’m especially thinking about the multi-tasking and the SkyDrive support in Office – I’ll stick my neck on the block and say I’m expecting they’ll both have annoying limitations. Still, this is a new operating system and it’s at least moving in the right direction.


While I’m writing about what’s missing, there are some apps that I would especially like to see on the platform from 3rd parties. Hopefully they’ll be with us by the end of 2011 too:


  • Audible
  • Skype
  • TripIt
  • Gowalla
  • TweetDeck
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Flash (although I nearly left it off – it depends how quickly sites move to HTML5)

What have I missed? If there’s some feature or app that you are desperate to have on Windows Phone 7, let me know in the comments…

Last.fm: free on WP7 or not?

Over the last day or so, lots of blogs covering Windows Phone 7 and other mobile devices/gadgets, including big-hitters like Engadget, Boy Genius Report, Wired and Pocket-Lint have been reporting Last.fm’s announcement that they’re bringing free streaming to an end on all platforms other than the web and Windows desktop client, with the exception on Xbox360 and Windows Phone 7.


That seems to be diametrically opposed to the email message that Last.fm sent direct to me and other users of their WP7 app, which was:


From February 15 you will need to be a subscriber to listen to Last.fm Radio stations on devices, including your Windows Phone 7 app.


I tried to work out what was going on here, and the best that I can see is that the email message was wrong (which is odd).


The Last.fm FAQ on this says:


  • Microsoft X-Box Live (also with Kinect) – App free with X-Box Live Membership in US and UK
  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 – Free in 2011 in US and UK; subscription required for radio in Germany

  • Wired did a Q&A with Last.fm’s Matthew Hawn, who said:


    …they are free-to-their users specifically because MS has subsidised the radio experience. This is no different than a mobile carrier choosing to subsidise an experience for their customers too. Xbox Live customers are paying for a great set of gaming experiences and Last.fm was a great fit for them. We see the Kinect Last.fm experience as an excellent one. And it is also ad-supported.


    So that clears it up then. Microsoft clearly has that deal in place for the remainder of the year; whether it continues beyond that will remain to be seen, although since Last.fm is built in to the Xbox360 dashboard, I don’t expect they’ll want that to be an inconsistent experience going forward (unless they decide they want to have Xbox owners getting their music via Zune Pass in future).


    For their part, Last.fm must have thought that I was in Germany, or at least somewhere outside the UK/US. Me and a number of other WP7 users who also posted in the comments on multiple blogs that they received the same message. In fairness, I have since checked, and although I had the correct timezone set and a .uk email address, my profile didn’t have my country saved. I’ve now updated it, so hopefully they’ll know that I can carry on listening on WP7 without subscribing.

    Visual Search for Bing homepage images

    I’ve posted here before about my love of the images that are used on the Bing homepage, and how I use them as my desktop wallpaper. I don’t know how long this has been up there, but I’ve just discovered Bing’s Visual Search for their archive of homepage images (340 of them as I write this). It’s a great way to view these fabulous images, so check it out at http://www.bing.com/visualsearch?g=binghp


    bing


    I should also add that I’m using the Bing Pictures Downloader app on Windows Phone 7 to save the images to my phone. Why would I want to do that? Well, WP7’s Pictures hub selects an image from the collection stored on the device to use as its background image and it also uses that for the Pictures live tile on the phone’s home screen – much of the time it selects one of the fantastic Bing Photos, like this:


    PicturesHub

    Open, Closed, Fragmented – Fun and Games in the Mobile Space

    This week Apple CEO, Steve Jobs – you know, the guy famous for sending brand new iPods to the rescued Chilean miners – took advantage of having an audience for their quarterly earnings call to have a good dig at Google and their Android OS. I’ve been an Android user in a love/hate relationship with Android for a while, but I’ve also had plenty experience with iOS and I’ve been keeping a very close eye on the development of Windows Phone 7. I’ve been meaning to do an opinion piece for a while on the state of the mobile market, and a lot of it can be fairly well summed up in terms of how much I agree/disagree with what Steve said, so here’s a transcript of some of his tirade along with my commentary and further comments…


    “Google loves to characterize Android as open, and iOS and iPhone as closed. We find this a bit disingenuous and clouding the real difference between our two approaches. The first thing most of us think about when we hear the word “open” is Windows which is available on a variety of devices. Unlike Windows, however, where most pc’s have the same user interface and run the same app, Android is very fragmented. Many Android OEMs, including the two largest, HTC and Motorola install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The users will have to figure it all out. Compare this with iPhone, where every handset works the same.”


    I didn’t really want to start this by going off on a tangent, but I do wonder which “most of us” think of Windows as open? It’s not the people who call Android open in the sense of “open source”. In fact if Steve thinks that people are referring to Android and iOS as open and closed in some other sense, then I think he’s missed the point. Unless of course we’re talking about open and closed in terms of getting apps on the platform, but that would be totally out of context.


    He also talks about Windows being open in terms of being able to run the same app across PCs, yet he then goes on to talk about OEM custom skins on top of Android, which don’t affect whether apps work or not; rather how you launch them. So basically that whole paragraph is an attempt to spread FUD.


    “Twitter client, Twitter Deck [actually Tweetdeck], recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than 100 different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge. Many Android apps work only on selected Android handsets running selected Android versions. And this is for handsets that have been shipped less than 12 months ago. Compare this with iPhone, where there are two versions of the software, the current and the most recent predecessor to test against.”


    This is where I agree that Android fragmentation is an issue. Both of the Android handsets that I’ve used to date have had delays in getting upgrades to newer versions of the operating system because the OEM has been trying to make all their extra “value-add” crap work. I definitely know this to be true of my Dell Streak because a single amateur developer who lives 20 minutes down the road from me has managed to get a stock version of Froyo (Android 2.2) working on he device, while the might of Dell is still targeting a release sometime before the end of the year, having already screwed up an update to 2.1 that was semi-released and then scrapped.


    As I write this, the Android ecosystem is populated by large numbers of devices running versions 1.6, 2.1 and 2.1 of the OS, with handfuls of other versions still kicking about as well. That can’t be helpful to developers, and the variety of hardware, even if it’s just a different screen resolution, has got to cause a lot of headaches.


    Indeed the Android version of Tweetdeck (which is fully wonderful, by the way, and may be subject of another post here very shortly because I’m so impressed with it) does work fine on my Streak, provided I don’t want to use any of the homescreen widgets, which are “optimized for Android 2.1+”. The message goes on to suggest that you upgrade to a newer version, which would be good advice if it were possible.


    Incidentally, I’ve just noticed that Tweetdeck say it wasn’t all that bad, but I know first hand from the consumer end, that it’s not a wonderful story.


    “In addition to Google’s own app marketplace, Amazon, Horizon and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android. So there will be at least four app stores on Android, which customers must search among to find the app they want and developers will need to work with to distribute their apps and get paid. This is going to be a mess for both users and developers. Contrast this with Apple’s integrated App Store, which offers users the easiest-to-use largest app store in the world, preloaded on every iPhone. Apple’s App Store has over three times as many apps as Google’s marketplace and offers developers’ one-stop shopping to get their apps to market easily and to get paid swiftly.”


    Ok, so everyone and his wife are going to be running their own app marketplace. I’m not sure that I agree with His Steveness that it’s better for customers to only have one place to go. I don’t think it’s necessarily better for developers too. It’s undoubtedly better for Apple, but that’s not the same thing.


    Part of the reason that the smartphone market is so exciting right now is that there is genuine competition. It’s not good enough to sit on a successful platform anymore, because as Microsoft found out with Windows Mobile, you’ll soon become irrelevant. I’m not suggesting that competition in app marketplaces will necessarily drive innovation as much as it does in mobile hardware and software – a shopping process can only be refined to a certain point – but what it can do is drive down the price that the consumer pays, and drive up the percentage that the developer receives. I think that kind of competition would be great; I’m guessing Steve, less so.


    People are used to shopping around, and on Android, where the app Market app has only just improved beyond its terrible beginnings, 3rd parties have filled the gap and spread the word about the apps. Let’s face it, I don’t imagine that music can only be successful if it’s “featured” in iTunes, and I don’t believe that being “featured” guarantees success, so there will always be room and a requirement to have something beyond that single marketplace.


    Personally, if I could buy everything from Amazon, I would. But that’s just me.


    “Even if Google were right, and the real issue is closed versus open, it is worthwhile to remember that open systems don’t always win. Take Microsoft’s PlaysForSure music strategy, which use the PC model, which Android uses as well, of separating the software components from the hardware components. Even Microsoft finally abandoned this open strategy in favor of copying Apple’s integrated approach with their Zune Player, unfortunately leaving their OEMs empty-handed in the process. Google flirted with this integrated approach with their Nexus One phone.”


    Open systems don’t always win. Closed systems don’t always win either. Best systems don’t always win. Nor do cheapest systems always win. I don’t really know what Steve was trying to say there, unless he just saw a window of opportunity to have a dig at Microsoft too.


    “In reality, we think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, what’s best for the customer, fragmented versus integrated. We think Android is very, very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day. And as you know, Apple’s provides with the integrated model so that the user isn’t forced to be the systems integrator.”


    I would say that there are pros and cons to both approaches. People who want someone to hold their hand are probably better off with iOS. Android offers more rope with which people may be able to hang themselves. The fact of the matter though is that a lot of the iPhone’s biggest fans, especially the tech-savvy ones, are jailbreaking their devices to get more functionality. One of the first things that they do in fact is install another marketplace (so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Steve!).


    Windows Phone 7 is taking a more Apple-like approach (although it looks to be positioning itself somewhere between Android and iOS is a number of ways). Microsoft are restricting what developers can do with the platform in order to ensure a good experience for the user, but time and time again I see developers screaming that they don’t want to be restricted to the managed code environment that is available to write software to the device. None of the approaches keep everybody happy.


    “We see tremendous value in having Apple rather than our users’ be the systems integrator. We think this is a huge strength of our approach compared to Google’s. When selling to users who want their devices to just work, we believe Integrated will triumph Fragmented every time. And we also think our developers can be more innovative if they can target a singular platform rather than a hundred variants. They can put their time into innovative new features rather than testing on hundreds of different handsets.”


    Indeed. This is why I’m beginning to doubt how successful Android will ultimately be as a platform for apps, having previously thought that developers would end up choosing to write code for Android first since it will most likely have the biggest install-base. I don’t doubt that there will be more Android devices than any other mobile OS in the next 5 years, but in terms of app development, it’s not like writing for a single target.


    Mind you, “singular platform” is a bit rich coming from Apple, who already have two screen resolutions on iPhones as well as the iPad which benefits from specifically targeted applications. If at some point they start having iOS apps on the Apple TV then it might not be as diverse as Android, but it’s hardly singular.


    When the launch devices were announced for Windows Phone 7 I was personally a bit disappointed because they were largely all the same, and basically lacking a bit in wow-factor. It’s clear that there’s essentially a reference platform for developers to target and the device manufacturers don’t have much flexibility to delight. That’s fine, because I think the OS will be good enough, but since I wasn’t expecting it, it was a touch disappointing. (I’m still quite excited about Windows Phone 7 – more on that later.)


    “So we are very committed to the integrated approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as closed. And we are confident that it will triumph over Google’s fragmented approach, no matter how many times Google tries to characterize it as open.”


    My biggest problem with the integrated approach that Apple takes, and I expect I may have some similar issues with Windows Phone 7, is that the devices are designed to be a companion piece to the computer. Or to put it another way, they aren’t fully functional without a computer. One of the good things I can say about Android is that I’ve never needed to hook it up to a PC. If it wasn’t for the fact that I sometimes transfer big files to it over USB (rather than using a separate flash drive, then I could’ve survived with only ever plugging it in to a wall socket to charge.


    I know that could be considered petty, but let me put this another way – if the device is so damn smart, why the hell does it need to be hooked up to a more powerful computer for anything? A computer that needs some specific software to be installed at that. These devices are computers, and they talk quite happily to the cloud by themselves. I’ve had somebody argue to me that you don’t want to be downloading big media files straight to the phone. Over 3G, you’re right, but you can’t tell me that downloading something on a mobile device over wifi is worse than downloading it to a PC and then transferring it to the phone over USB – are you nuts?!


    Changing tack, I’m very pleased to see Microsoft re-entering this fray with the availability of Windows Phone 7 just two days away here in the UK. Well it’s two days if you listen to Microsoft – people working for the mobile networks don’t seem to know. One of the reasons that the iPhone isn’t for me is that I like my device to have glanceable data, and the live tiles on Windows Phone 7 looks like it’ll suit me pretty well. There’s also the Xbox Live integration, which I’m very much looking forward to because I like that service a lot – there’s a healthy competition going on between a bunch of my friends for the highest gamerscore (or maybe that’s an unhealthy competition). I also like the Microsoft are retaining control over the updates for Windows Phone 7, and they’re already teasing the first update early in 2011. If the device makers had a free reign to do what they want with the platform, then that wouldn’t be possible, so being tied down to this extent is a good thing in my view.


    If it sounds like I’m planning to jump ship from Android to Windows Mobile 7, that’s not exactly true. I got the Dell Streak with a view to keeping it as an Android tablet even if/when I got a WP7 device, so I’ll continue to use both platforms. I guess that puts me well outside of the target market for Steve’s singular platform. That doesn’t mean I hate it. It benefits all of us if all of these platforms are good.


    Oh, and in other news, Nokia still make phones. Apparently.

    Kin

    I was in the process of writing a post about Windows Phone 7 and I was going to add a quick side note to say that it hasn’t gone beyond my notice that Microsoft has also announced another line of phones. After it got longer than a quick side note, I thought I’d make a separate post…


    Although I don’t like the names (Kin One and Kin Two), and I really want a phone that I can make my own by installing 3rd party apps and the like, I’m still quite intrigued by the Kin devices. I could totally see my step-daughter using one, and if I’m being honest, I’d probably get one as a 2nd phone for myself if I had that kind of spare cash lying around by the time they reach the UK on Vodafone. The Kin Two has the better spec, but I can’t help finding myself curiously attracted to the Kin One.


    I particularly like the Kin Studio which is online storage that all of your photos and videos are automatically uploaded to from the Kin device. If you then what to share one of them, say via Facebook, the Kin will intelligently send it to Facebook from the Studio rather than uploading it again from the phone and taking up more bandwidth. It’s a neat system and means that your content is always backed up off-device. If you’re at all interested, I’d recommend checking out some of the videos from Kin.com, like this one: