Microsoft Announce Windows Phone 8


Just days after the Microsoft Surface tablet event, MS held another – this time to officially announce Windows Phone 8.

There were a lot of announcements, a lot of news – some good, some bad, a lot of innovations and a lot of reasons to get a Windows Phone 8 device. I’ll try and cover them off as best I can here:

New Start Screen

The Start Screen with it’s Metro interface and Live Tiles is one of the key eye grabbers of Windows Phone and it’s being improved in Windows Phone 8 (and 7.8 but we’ll come to that later).

First up is a new, third size for tiles giving us “small, medium & large” with the new “small” size enabling users to fit more on their home screen.

Secondly, Microsoft are removing the blank strip down the right hand side of the screen (you know, with the side arrow at the top), giving users a fair bit more screen real estate to play with.

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They’re also going to be expanding the number of colours available.

NFC

Near Field Communication (NFC) is going to be integrated right into WP8, enabling payments by waving your phone at things, the ability to store card details, store cards etc and more…essentially a combination of Google Wallet & Apple Passbook with extras on top. It will also enable each pairing with a range of accessories such as, and I only discovered these today, Nokia’s NFC enabled speakers…you just touch your phone to them and BOOM – connected. These are available for Nokia’s current range of NFC enabled Symbian devices so I can only assume WP8 will be invited to the party. Another feature will be the ability to “bump” phones and transfer contact details etc…cool and useful for trade shows, impromptu meetings etc…I’m sure I’d end up using it all the time.

SD Support

Proper SD support is coming to Windows Phone 8 devices. SD cards that can be used as true removable storage…transfer music, pictures, documents and also install apps!

Windows 8 Core

This is a huge one – MS are moving away from the former Windows CE core and instead implementing the same NT Kernel as the new Windows 8 desktop OS! This means that file system, media, drivers and a lot of the security will be the same across desktop & mobile; allowing many of the features mentioned above as well as games/apps that can move between the two. That last point will make for a great user experience as well as making things much easier and more attractive for developers – which is always a good thing!

Another thing enabled by the move to the NT Kernel is multi-core processor support which will drive the next generation of WP mobile apps and games.

Internet Explorer 10

IE 10 will be on Windows Phone 8 bring the SmartScreen URL screening & phishing protection. That’s about all the news on that for now though…

VOIP Integration

VOIP is going to be “industry leading” when it comes to integration on WP8, with not just Skype but also Tango et al becoming “first class” app; giving them deep integration into things such as the People Hub and the dialler. The next crop of WP8 devices will surely (nearly) all come with front facing cameras – those 2 things combined could help to make video calling as ubiquitous as people have been predicting for years.

Enterprise Features

One of the (quite) valid criticisms levelled at WP 7/7.5 is its lack of Enterprise features; in some areas it was actually less feature rich than Windows Mobile 6.5. New business centric features WP8 will bring include:

  • On-Device Encryption
  • Device Management
  • Line Of Business (LOB) app support
  • Private market places for internal business app distribution
  • Side-Loading

Now for the bad news…

This ISN’T coming to existing Windows Phone devices. None of them. Not the Lumia 800. Not the Lumia 900. None of them.

Yes, if you’ve just upgraded to a shiny new Lumia (or other WP device) that is a bit of a rage-inducing moment but hey, there’s always Mazuma and Envirofone Open-mouthed smile

Microsoft have taken quite a brave step of angering some people to make wholesale changes that straight away move Windows Phone to the front of the mobile pack. Yes those recent adopters will be a bit annoyed but when their contracts come up for renewal again it seems likely that WP devices will be the best on market so they’ll be able to stick with it going forwards.

One thing that IS coming to current handsets is the new, improved Start Screen under the Windows Phone 7.8 update. Although it doesn’t bring the new features it does make an already great mobile OS even more aesthetically pleasing.

How to Get Windows Phone Mango Right Now


It’s official, Windows Phone Mango AKA Microsoft Windows Phone 7.5 has been released and is now being filtered through mobile carriers out to users.

I was most disappointed to discover earlier that T-Mobile have not started this process for Samsung Omnia 7 users in the UK – and most of Europe I believe. Why this is the case I don’t know…but after the mess that was the NoDo update, I was NOT a happy man! However I came across a post on the WPcentral blog:

http://www.wpcentral.com/force-mango-update-early-through-zune-software

This gives a simple, step by step guide on how to “trick” Zune into giving you the update now. At first I was a little unsure but decided to just go for it…and it worked a treat. It took about 1 hour to to do 2 updates, 7304 (pre-Mango) and then 7720 (Mango itself) and now I’ve got all the awesome good stuff like custom ringtones, Bing Audio, Threads, Groups etc Smile

I’d recommend you click the link above so that WP Central get all the clicks they deserve but just in case it falls over though sheer traffic etc, here are the steps:

Steps to force a Mango update on phones for which Mango has started rolling out:

  1. Connect your Windows Phone to a PC and launch the Zune software
  2. Click on Phone > Settings > Update. Allow the software to tell you whether an update is available. If so, skip this guide. If not continue to the next step.
  3. Time to force the update. Click another button (any of the options above or below the word Update). Then click the Update button again, and this time disconnect your computer from the internet after 1-2 seconds. Do this by pulling out the Ethernet cable, disabling Wi-Fi, etc. If it says your phone is already up to date, you didn’t disconnect quickly enough and need to try this step again.
  4. Wait 30 seconds or so and Zune should display a notification that an update is available. This is 7392, the first Mango pre-update.
  5. Now reconnect to the internet and continue with the update process through the Zune software.
  6. After 7392 is fully installed, you may receive a notification that another update is available. If so, install it now. If not, proceed to the next step.
  7. If the second update isn’t popping up on its own, repeat steps 3-5, causing the 7403 update to appear.
  8. Install 7403, brave reader. Speeding right along, isn’t it? ;)
  9. Mango time! At this point, Zune should automatically start installing the last update, 7720, aka Mango. If it doesn’t happen automatically, force it like we did in previous steps.

 

Again, big thanks to WP Central…

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Windows Phone at WPC 11


Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference 2011 had some good sessions on Windows Phone 7, a couple of which I was able to attend amidst my hectic schedule of sessions & meetings Smile and this is a rundown of what I saw.

First up, in one of the morning keynotes we saw the Lync client running on Windows Phone 7:

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I realise that’s not the greatest picture you’ll ever see but you get the idea Smile

I attended the Windows Phone 7 session, led by President of Windows Phone Division, Andy Lees.

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There wasn’t a huge amount of new content but it did contain some great demos of Mango features such as Local Scout and Bing Audio music tagging, as well as the amazingly slick way that WP7 handles people and messaging. Here are some pictures of my favourite slides:

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There was a pretty rapturous response to the majority of the demos from the 100’s of people in attendance, and there was a great energy in the room, both from the presenters and the Microsoft partners.

Microsoft have made some great changes to the Mobility competency to make it more worthwhile and effective for partners to develop apps for the Windows Phone platform. I had a chance to speak with Andy Lees after the session and it seems there are some good things coming further down the line for Microsoft partners. Not just for those that develop apps but also partners that work with licensing and products such as Sharepoint & Office 365.

Microsoft Windows Phone 7 at Mix 11


Microsoft’s MIX development conference has just finished and there have been a lot of great announcements for the future of Windows Phone 7.

Microsoft’s next update “Mango” will most probably bring about Windows Phone 7.5 as well as a number of huge updates.

Internet Explorer 9

Windows Phone Mango will bring with it a new browser which will have the same rendering engine as their new, much lauded desktop browser. That will mean:

  • Hardware Acceleration
  • HTML5
  • CSS Standards Support

all on a mobile device. Demos comparing an updated WP7 device to an iPhone and an Android handset showed it to be much faster.

Third Party Multitasking

Currently, only the built-in Microsoft apps can multi-task but that will all change, allowing:

  • Fast Application Switching
  • File Transfers
  • Background Audio

and more.

Developer access to hardware/software & Better tools!

Devs will be able to target and use more of the hardware already there, including camera data and motion sensors…bringing Augmented Reality (think Layar) to Windows Phone 7 Smile They will also be able to access contacts and calendars, which I think will bring some great possibilities to the world of WP7 apps.

Not only this but Microsoft are improving the tools that developers can use which will allow them to mix Silverlight with XNA in a single app and emulate location and accelerometer features during the development phase.

Random Extras:

Don’t forget that Microsoft have already told us that Twitter will be getting much deeper integration with the Mango update – that will be pretty great!

TCP/IP support will allow a Skype app.

ANGRY BIRDS IS COMING ON MAY 25TH <—Yes that’s all in caps!

Nokia Windows Phone Devices


Microsoft & Nokia have joined forces to improve, build and push Windows Phone 7 going forwards, this we know. Now the rumours and conjecture have moved, logically, to the next thing – what will Nokia’s first device be, and when will we get them?!

I’ve never had a Nokia.

I’ve had numerous other phones (Motorola, HTC etc) over the years but never Finland’s biggest (?) export, and that’s mainly been down to the OS. I’ve long admired their hardware but couldn’t make friends with the Symbian Operating System…so this could be a first for me now they’ll be running Windows Phone 7. Actually, my Samsung Omnia 7 is the first Samsung device I’ve ever had come to think of it…anyway, back to the Nokia devices!

According to various sources on the internet, the first Windows Phone 7 from Nokia will be the “W7”…based on the Nokia X7 innards but looking like the HTC Mozart. However continuing Nokia’s theme for great cameras, it will have 8 Mega Pixels and a flash.

The next device will be the W8, based on the current N8, although there are apparently a dozen Nokia WP7 devices coming in 2012…should be good times!

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Zune on Windows Phone 7


Having Zune on my Windows Phone 7 device is great and something I use at least once a day. However this constant use means I’ve found a few niggly things that I’d like to see changed.

1) You can’t create playlists on the device. This is something I’d do on my Android device quite a lot…a great way to quickly create lists on the fly. Only being able to create them on the pc feels quite restrictive.

2) You can’t put playlists on random. Now if one created a playlist with proper care & attention, I can see that this probably wouldn’t be necessary. However I don’t put that much effort into my playlist creation! I usually go through my catalogue by artist and add songs in that I’d forgotten about…this means I get runs of one artist for maybe a dozen songs, and I like my playlists to be much more varied than that…

3) You can’t spend Microsoft points. This one I really don’t get. I can spend Microsoft points in Zune on Xbox, Zune on PC but not Zune on Windows Phone 7…why? If you want to purchase something from the Zune marketplace, you have to use real money and that just seems odd. This means I tend to wait until I’m at a pc to purchase anything from the Marketplace…which certainly defeats the mobile aspect!

Windows Phone 7: My thoughts


Windows Phone 7 has been with the world for 5 or so months, and I’ve had the Samsung Omnia 7 for 3 of those:

This is, I believe, enough time to have formed some proper, coherent thoughts on what I do and don’t like about Microsoft’s new Mobile OS. First of all though, the device itself…

The Samsung Omnia 7 is by far the nicest mobile device I have ever held.

It’s light, it’s slim, it’s smooth, it’s sleek and yes…it’s sexy. It’s brushed metal body feels cool to the touch and looks great, as does the huge 4.3” screen. Not only is it a great size, it’s AMOLED…giving a clarity and brightness that puts most, if not all, other mobile devices to shame.

I haven’t seen another device that comes close to it’s overall aesthetic appeal.

Now on to the big one though, The OS!

I’m not going to go into hugely detailed comparisons with other mobile OS’s, just my opinions and what I think are it’s strong points. As a bit of background, I had an Android 2.1 device for over 12 months before getting WP7.

The first thing is how striking it is, especially on the Samsung screen. You can see in the pictures above, the “Live Tiles” in WP7…as you get an email/text message etc, the totals in the tile increase.

  • The Xbox tile is truly live…your Xbox avatar pops in from the side of the tile.
  • The Zune tile shows a scrolling image of the last artist you listened to.
  • If you pin a contact to the home screen it scrolls through their name and their picture.

Having these ever changing sections, right on the home screen, make Windows Phone 7 feel fluid, dynamic and interactive right from the word go.

Two huge, brilliant, unique features of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 are:

Xbox & Zune

Xbox:

The Xbox integration is still in its infancy but already is cool, useful and fun. There are 2 sides to it: interaction with your account & games.

Having it on my phone makes it much easier to do things such as editing my avatar, comparing my game progress against friends & inviting new friends. All things that can be done on the console but all much easier to do via the mobile OS.

Even better than that is the ability to earn actual Xbox achievements and gamer points on your mobile Smile I’ve currently got 5 games that contribute to my gamer score and they make gaming on my mobile more worthwhile, at least in my opinion!

Zune:

I’ve wanted a Zune device for years but, being in the UK, they’ve never been officially available to us. I’ve looked at Ebay many a time and got close to buying one, but when I heard the rumours that Microsoft’s next mobile OS would include Zune, I decided to wait. Lo and behold, WP7 arrives with full Zune integration Smile

I’ve been using the Zune desktop client for quite a while now and it is brilliant – check out my post here:

Read Zune 4.0 Desktop Software

The Zune client on WP7 is, like the rest of the OS, very slick, great to look at and great to use. No music player that I saw on Android came anywhere close to the polished look and feel of Zune…it really is a joy! It has so many great features such as:

History – This section shows the last 6 media items you played. Note I said “media items” not just “songs”…it includes videos too and not just local videos but also videos from YouTube too.

New – This section shows the last 8 items added to Zune…songs, videos and playlists.

Both of these sections are very visual, they both use album cover art and, if it’s a video, a screen grab.

Marquee

This section is pretty special and not something I was expecting. If you have other apps that tie in or relate to Zune in some way, then they appear here. For me this section includes:

  • YouTube
  • Last.fm
  • Lyrics

Office:

This is something I missed when I moved from Windows Mobile 6 to Android. Not having Microsoft Office on my mobile made things just that bit more difficult. Microsoft makes up a big part of my job so Word documents, Excel sheets and PowerPoint slides feature pretty heavily day to day so being unable to read them on my mobile device was pretty annoying!

Now with Windows Phone 7, I’ve got:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • OneNote

at my fingertips and boy is it useful.

The other day I was at home when I came across a MAP 5.5 document that I thought might be useful, so I downloaded it and it showed up in the Office hub on my phone. Today when talking to someone at work about MAP 5.5, I pulled out my phone and quickly showed them the section they needed.

One random thing is how much quicker it is to connect to wireless networks that my Android device. It’s usually a matter of seconds between me arriving at home/work and my phone being connected automatically…that never happened with Android 2.1…

I’m sure there are other parts of Windows Phone that I’ve missed here and when I remember, I’ll put another post together Smile