Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

This simple idiom is understood by the youngest of school children. It has been around for centuries, so why do our financial institutions, retailers and cloud based service corporations continue to put all of our sensitive data in one basket!?

First things first. This idiom, Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket applies to you, the companies and businesses you interact with and do business with, the stores where you shop as well as the cloud(s) where you store your personal data and photographs and social networks you participate on.

Your data, their data, our shared existence on the Internet is vulnerable. No person, business, corporation, utility or government is immune or impervious to hacking. One thing we should all know by now it that today your financial institution could be hacked and next month your it’s your co-worker or neighbor’s bank or transaction.

It seems simple enough that if Target, Sony, Bank of America and other major businesses sites get hacked, they are not just getting a fraction of user’s data, they are getting all of their user’s data.

Check out Entrepreneur.com’s 8 of the Biggest Data Breaches Ever and How They Happened (Infographic) – it’s all pictures, so no heavy reading is required.

I don’t think the government needs to always step in and tell corporations how to conduct their businesses, but when it comes to protecting customer data, I think we need the government to step in and create some “best practices” for businesses, our data and their corporate and employee data.

Best Practices for Business

  • Do not place all your customer data behind one firewall
  • Do not place all customer data on one server cluster
  • Limit credit card and payment processing from one vendor to a percentage of your business
  • Limit the data shared back to third-party creditors, financial institutions, marketing services
  • Split customer data into logical or random packets to assure that if data is stolen, it can’t be used in whole or in part by the hackers

If all businesses, corporations and governments implemented just one of the above Best Practices, it would go a long way to protecting our sensitive customer information.

In fact if these, the most simple and most basic of practices isn’t followed, the same insurance companies who have been bailing out these businesses after each credit card breach, each server hack, or just plain old corporate arrogance and stupidity should stop taking policies which are not in good faith being protected to begin with.

What can you and I do as consumers?

We can tell let the businesses we currently do business with, that we take these breaches seriously and expect that they will change the way they conduct business, store our personal and financial data and when breached, they will respond with full disclosure to the public and support the breached users and businesses with safeguards and protections.

We can also do what we can to place our own eggs in more than one basket.

  • Diversify your banking to two or more financial institutions
  • Use different email aliases for correspondence and online shopping, another for your user login name, etc.
  • Use one password for social networks, another for banking and another for work, and so on
  • Change one or more of your passwords or email aliases after a busy shopping seasons such as Christmas, or after returning from a vacation

Let’s face it, most people re-use the same username, email and password over and over again. Many do not change this information for years at a time – if ever.

By utilizing the email “Alias” provided by nearly all email hosting services, such as Outlook.com, Exchange, Google, Yahoo!, etc you can have one email Inbox for all your incoming email, but use a give out different email addresses (aliases) to different services and businesses you do business with.

This way if one hacked and your data has been breached, you only need to discontinue using the breached alias and give the new updated alias to a fraction of sites and services.

Four is a good number of aliases people should consider

Red: High security sites such as banking, financial, credit cards, Bill Pay

Orange: Online retailers and Utilities such as Amazon, Target, Best Buy, NewEgg, PG&E, AT&T, Comcast

Yellow: Minimal security for cloud services, non-financial social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, or political campaigns, charities…. Yellow should also be used for mailing lists

Green: General correspondence to trusted family and friends

Your Bank gets hacked, just change your email address yourname-red@service.com to yourname-red2@service.com and password for all “Red” accounts.

Say you start receiving lots of spam on your Orange Alias – change the email alias and password for only those sites. This way the spam goes to a non-working/cancelled Orange Alias and your new correspondence goes your updated Orange Alias.

Apply the same four color rule to your usernames and login for different sites and if your social network gets hacked and your data is stolen, the people who now have your information can’t use it access your bank or credit cards.

Grade Schoool

Remember, not putting all your eggs in one basket is something that we learn in grade school. This most basic of principles to protect oneself should not be forgotten once we turn 18, or our income skyrockets. We should all diversify and we should all demand that the businesses we trust with our business also follow this simple rule.

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Way back in 1999, two tech startups introduced the first direct to consumer Digital Video Recorders. Both Tivo and ReplayTV introduced into the retail channels their first generation of DVRs. These two DVRs had plenty in common, but also had their own take on how to get their products and services into the mass market.
Tivo
Tivo supplied an inexpensive DVR into the retail channel. However, the DVR could not be operated without their Monthly, or later, Lifetime TV Guide services for $9.99/mo or $200 for lifetime.

ReplayTV
ReplayTV supplied a more premium product into the retail channel, however their products were priced 3-4x higher than Tivo, however it did include the necessary program guide for no added fee.

Both the Tivo and ReplayTV were both limited to recording only one standard definition program at a time. The program guide was updated and collected nightly via your home phone line. Both products could be configured to work with coax (free) cable television, or could be connected to a premium cable box or satellite box to access premium content such as HBO, Showtime and other pay channels.

During initial installation, the user would select which antenna, cable or satellite service they were using and that specific guide would be downloaded to their boxes.

Dish Network licensed technology from Microsoft to bring DVR capabilities to their customers. Built into the satellite box, users of Dish had the added convenience of having one less piece of hardware to place beside their television.

Being designed by Microsoft, the Dish DVR also brought basic web browsing features to the family television.

In Europe, the current satellite television providers provided “plus” (+) boxes which included the satellite tuner plus hard disk for time shifting content.

While these products were all available in 1999 or early 2000, these products were still very much a niche product and while people had had Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs) for years now, the mass public still did not know what a DVR was, nor did they even understand how a DVR could actually enhance their television viewing experience.

Usage
People who owned a DVR loved their DVR and most homes had more than one – in many cases people had 3, 4 or even 6 DVRs in their homes.

Since the first DVRs could only record one show at a time, people started stacking their DVRs up under their televisions and soon people went from having one cable box per television to having 3 DVRs and 3 cable boxes per television!

As you can imagine, the cable companies loved this scenario, because they were now making more in monthly box fees than ever before. Homes went from paying $30 per month for cable boxes to paying $100. In those days, you also subscribed for premium channels on a per box fee, not a per household fee.

Just 2 years later, in 2001, second generation products were hitting store shelves. These products allowed for watching one live show and recording one show at a time.

ReplayTV added a networking feature which allowed multiple Replay TVs in a home share previously recorded content on one ReplayTV and watch it on anther ReplayTV on the same network.

Soon TiVo would add similar features as well add more features unique to TiVo where they would recommend and record shows for you based on your existing recording habits. This didn’t always work very well and if you happened to record the Golden Girls one time, it would seem that your TiVo now thought you were a “chic” and record all shows that aired for “chics.”

Today that wouldn’t be big problem, but back then, if you could only record one show at a time and your DVR could only hold 10, 20 or later, 30 hours of television, this feature had its haters.

What else did these early DVRs do?
Well, ReplayTV was the first to allow “streaming” shows recorded on one ReplayTV device and play them on another ReplayTV device in the home, but ReplayTV was also the first (and only?) DVR company to allow users to SHARE recorded programs over the internet to other friends and family who also owned a ReplayTV! By linking two or more ReplayTV units with a secret code, all future recordings from one ReplayTV could be sent/received by another ReplayTV.

Sharing recordings was a two-step process. First the user had to share the program and secondly, the receiver would have to accept the show before it would begin transferring. While this was a little cumbersome, it was a unique and amazing way to share shows with family and friends – remember, only one show could be recorded at time. J

All of these program sharing features have since been removed from all modern DVRs because of costly litigation from the content owners (network television, mpaa, etc).

Enter Windows Media Center
Microsoft, who already had several DVR products and technologies in various states of release and or development brought a new and unique product to market with it’s OEM hardware partners – Enter Windows XP Media Center Edition – yes, XP!

In 2001, Microsoft brought the DVR to the home PC however there a couple differences between the Microsoft offering and the consumer products that were already in the market.

Whereas the products from TiVo, ReplayTV, Dish, etc all included one or more dedicated analog tv tuner(s) paired with dedicated MPEG-2 (some proprietary) encoders to quickly convert the analog television signal into a digital MPEG-2 file that could be stored and replayed, the solutions for Windows XP Media Center were a mixed bag of mostly cheap analog tuners without the hardware MPEG-2 encoders. Because these early “Media Center PCs” sold by Hewlett Packard, Dell, Gateway and others didn’t have the dedicated horsepower like the DVRs did these Media Center PCs weren’t able to consistently record programs in full quality. Many recordings had ships or blocky images, audio distortion or simply didn’t complete a single recording to the end of the airing show – but there was promise in this fledgling system….

Enter the Media Center Extender…
Another very notable difference was that Windows Media Center supported a mode called an “Extender” where a “dumb” set top box, could extend the Media Center interface to the living room, bedroom or other televisions throughout the home.

These Media Center Extenders as the name suggests, would extend your copy/installation of Windows Media Center on your PC to multiple televisions in your home. Every networked Extender when turned on, would connect to the Windows Media Center PC and actually be run on the PC as a separate user.

This distinction of the Extender running the software on your WMC PC and not on the extender itself, allowed Microsoft to circumvent future legal issue that plagued, hindered and eventually would put many DVR companies out of business.

Computers Get Faster
Over the years to follow, computers would get faster and better able to multitask. Hard disk drives would become faster and the link between the CPU and the HDD would become faster too, allowing for many-multiple shows to be recorded at once.

TV Tuners with dedicated MPEG-2 encoders would be released, although costly, many of these cards cost $200 and came with 2 standard definition tuners. Thus a home Media Center PC could record 2, 4 or even 6 shows at one time!

But just because it could be done, doesn’t mean that it was easy to build the computer, configure the software and once working, Windows Media Center required a lot of maintenance to keep it operating smoothly.

New versions of Windows Media Center

With Windows Vista, Microsoft was ready to unbundle Media Center from a dedicated product sold by OEMS and package this software and interface into the more premium versions of Widows Vista.

Windows Media Center would get enhanced and upgraded over the years with support for 16:9 widescreen televisions, support for recording premium cable content with the use of CableLabs certified CableCards provided by the local cable companies.

All was not rosy
While anyone could configure their Pro or Ultimate versions of Windows Vista or later Windows 7 to work with standard definition television tuners; premium (pay) channels still require that a user have a dedicated cable box for each tuner on their Media Center PC.

Another problem for Windows Media Center’s central hub was that people didn’t have computers in their living rooms where they had their Cable TV coming into their home. Home also didn’t have wired networks and wifi networks were too slow and too unreliable to transmit video.

Now, HDTV is transmitted through the cable service already in MPEG-2 format in 720p and 1080i standards. Windows Media Center computers no longer need to convert the video signal into MPEG-2 formats and allows for much more reliable recording and trouble free use.

For me personally, I switched from having a dedicated Media Center PC to combining my main PC and Media Center PC into one. That’s less overall cost for the system and one PC uses less electricity than 2 computers, and much less electricity than 2, 3 or 4 DVRs from the cable company.

Fast forward to today

Before all these latest advancements, even a geek like me couldn’t rely on using one computer to do it all and was much easier to have two machines.

Many households are getting their internet connection from the Cable company so they now have a cable going to their computer – in addition to their TVs. The same cable that feeds your internet, also can be your one cable to supply your home with all your television. Most homes top out at 12, others have more.

The “main” computer isn’t used every day or even ever week. People are using their mobile devices and phones on their sofa, bedroom, etc.

Fast wireless networks are the norm in many households and many homes now either have a wired Ethernet connection to various rooms in their home.

While not every television in the home has a DVD or Blu-ray player, every television is connected to a cable box and/or Cable Company provided DVR. Our need for having premium content on each of our televisions, or rather, the requirement set by the Cable companies to have a “box” on every television, keeps us tethered and paying premium prices for services we may or may not be using on a daily basis.

The Best features of your Leased DVR and none of the annoying or bad stuff

  • No advertisements: there are NO ADS in the program guide and there are no ads when switching channels
  • Remove annoying unused channels: Only have Media Center expose the channels you subscribe to and/or use in the program guide
  • Watch recorded shows on any television connected to an Xbox 360 – regardless of where you recorded it
  • Stream your home videos or play photo slideshows on your TV without having to transfer them to your tv
  • If you have a DVD or Blu-ray movie collection, you can add on 3rd party Media Center apps to allow you to stream those movies anywhere in your home – without leaving Media Center
  • 3rd party apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows 8 and Windows Phone that allows you to remotely record shows when you are away from home
  • More

Xbox 360 Media Center Extender
Over 25 million Xbox 360s sold in the USA – over 78 million worldwide.

With so many homes already owning an Xbox 360 and many of those homes already owning a Windows PC, there are a lot of people who could quickly and easily switch from their Cable TV monthly rentals to a single much less expensive CableCard rental. Each CableCard supports up to 6 simultaneous channels recording or playing back at once and combining 2 of these cards can give you a total of 12 shared simultaneous channels shared on ALL your televisions.

The Xbox 360 is also the first game console with support for the most popular HD streaming services from Netflix, Amazon, Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable, ESPN, Hulu Plus, ESPN, Vudu, CinemaNow, HBO Go and many more. There is also the Microsoft Xbox Video service which allows you to rent or purchase 1080p movies – before many are available for sale on Blu-ray!

With all these services available on the Xbox 360 as well as it being able to play all your DVDs, the Xbox can become the one and only device next to or under your television.

The latest Xbox that supports Media Center Extender is the Xbox 360 E. An Xbox 360 E with 4GB storage (plenty of space for non-gamers) lists for $199 and can be found selling for $180 new at retailers. The older slightly larger Xbox 360 S 4GB can be found selling for around $120 used on Craigslist or game store. (Note: The Xbox One does not have support for Windows Media Center Extender).

Repurpose your desktop or tower Windows computer

Don’t throw away your “old computer”

Repurposing your lightly used Windows computer and adding the hardware to allow it to record HDTV and share it around your home is a no brainer.

Is your old Windows computer still running Windows Vista or Windows 7? Have you not felt the need to upgrade to Windows 8.x? Why not? Chances are you haven’t upgraded the OS because love it or hate it, it works just fine and allows you to do everything you need.

  • Store digital photos from your camera or phone – check!
  • Surf the World Wide Web – check!
  • Send and receive email – check!
  • Pay your bills – check!

Get Under-used Computers Back in Circulation!
Chances are, you purchased a good computer at the time thinking you would be using it for years to come. However, now we find ourselves ignoring the home office or computer desk and are using other devices around the home.

So you see, the computer that you purchased 3, 4 or even 6 years ago has all the horsepower it needs to be a Media Center PC and record cable HDTV. Note: the PC you already own may not be powerful enough to record over the air television from an antenna, or standard definition television using a “tv tuner,” but today’s CableCard tuners are nothing more than a fancy network card – and a slow one at that. 😉

What does it cost to get going and replace one of your Cable Company rented DVRs with a Media Center Extender?

Well, if you already own an Xbox 360 – and 78 million of you do, and you are one of the 68% of households that has a PC running Windows Vista, 7 or 8.x then you only have to pay a onetime fee for the HD Cable tuner that is certified by CableLabs and by Microsoft.

You may be able to still find 4 tuner cards or solutions, but the tuners have a total of 6 available tuners on one device.

You can get one that sits inside your PC, or you can buy one that sits outside your pc and connects to your home network’s router with a standard Ethernet cable.

These cards list for $300, but can be found for less – Newegg has sales on the cards every so often, but they usually sell new for $260.

A single DVR rental costs $120 a year before service fees and taxes. A Single CableCard rental which supports up to 6 tuners, will cost only cost you about $48 a year.

That’s the savings just for replacing one DVR, if you have more than one DVR or televisions in your home without a DVR or cablebox, just buy a used Xbox 360 for $120 and instantly get access to both live and recorded television on that TV as well!

Depending on the Windows OS version you are running you may not have to purchase an upgrade as many shipping PCs with Vista and Windows 7 included Media Center. Windows 8 removed both DVD player and Media Center from the standard versions, but it can be added on as an upgrade – prices vary, so you will have to check your version and local retailer.

Windows Media Center isn’t for Everyone

While I am a huge advocate of Windows Media Center and Ceton’s InfiniTV CableCard digital tuners, there are some people who should switch or upgrade to Windows Media Center.

  • If you don’t have an existing Windows PC
  • If you only have a Mac (there are no CableCard and/or HD Compatible solutions for any platform other than Windows)
  • People who like remote controls with 30 buttons on them (Xbox Media Remote is easy to use and doesn’t require you to look at the remote in order to find the function/button you need)

Heck, I was talking about easy… My 82 year old mother installed Windows 8 Media Center herself with me directing her over the phone a couple of years ago. Since then, she’s had little to no issues. If she reboots her computer once a month or after major Windows Updates, everything works as it should.

I am happy to say, that uses her television much more than before and has mastered recording her favorite series on television – whether she gets around to watching them or not. 😉

As for me, I’m still a “power user” and in addition to recording everything, most shows I watch later after they have been automatically processed, commercials removed and placed in their series folders.

Living Room Entertainment Microsoft Apple Google
Watch and record Live HDTV OTA and Cable television Yes, available since 2001: Windows 8.1 Pro Media Center with TV Tuner Card or with cable service No No
Watch and record Live HDTV Cable TV & Premium Channels Yes, available since 2007: Windows 8,1 Pro Media Center with CableCard and network tuner No, negotiating directly with content providers for new TV product No
DVR “TiVo” Functionality Yes, available since 2001: Windows Media Center 3-6 simultaneous channels per cable card No No
Select and Stream videos, photos or music stored on storage device or PC Yes, Today: Xbox 360 via DLNA or Windows Media Center Extender
Limited, Xbox One can only control cable box and cable DVR via Ir blaster and HDMI pass-through
Yes, videos, photos and music stored on Mac No, push only
Remote schedule, Record Programming Yes, Today: 3rd party app Ceton Corp, My Media Center for Windows 8, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad and Android No No
Internet Movie Streaming Services Yes, Today: Xbox – 60+ video streaming services including, Xbox Video, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu+, VuDu…. Limited, iTunes and Netflix No, Chromecast cannot run apps; Yes, Google TV compatible appliance required
Watch On-Demand Cable Programming Yes, Today: Xbox 360, Xbox One via Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable apps + other International No No
Control programming via Remote Control Yes, Today: Xbox Media Remote, game controller, voice control with Kinect, Smartglass app (Windows, Windows Phone, iOS, Android) Yes, Apple TV remote, iOS app No, all content needs to be pushed to television via Chrome browser or Chrome compatible app.
Electronic Programming Guide (TV Guide) Yes, Today: Xbox 360 Media Center Extender w/Windows Media Center PC
Yes, Today: Xbox One via native service
No No
Open and Free API Yes, since 2001: Windows Media Center and Media Center Extender like other Windows platforms have an open API for 3rd parties to write apps and interfaces within Media Center  No, must be invited by Apple and agree to royalty shares Chromecast, No, shortly after introduction Google closed it’s open API for Chromecast and it became invite only
Google TV, Limited by vendor/OEM
Offers 100% of both Internet and cable television programming TODAY YES NO NO

Xbox_One_Guide

Well, the competition between Microsoft’s next generation Xbox One, vs the Sony PlayStation 4 is already underway and it looks like, at least for now, that Sony is taking the lead — and is only looking in their rearview mirror.

That said, the real next generation console war might just be between Microsoft’s current Xbox One and the next version of the Nintendo Wii.

It is common knowledge that Nintendo is already working on a successor to the Wii-U, and it is only logical that Nintendo takes the best intellectual properties used in the Xbox One and PS4 and designs their next Wii console on the backs of Microsoft and Sony.

I don’t know anything about what the next generation Wii console will feature or what new and exciting “gimmick” they may introduce — but I’m betting that Nintendo will need NO gimmick because it will be designed for breathtaking high definition game play.

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are great game consoles, but it is clear to everyone that neither of the two has lived up to the users expectations.  The game play is better, but it’s not drastically better than when users went from the PS2 to PS3 or the Xbox to the Xbox 360 — no, the gameplay is subtly better at best.

Sure both platforms have added socializing capabilities, share video gameplay with your friends and online, you can even receive a Skype call during game play or watch the World Cup in the corner of your screen while playing Halo.

These things are all good, but both companies made some compromises on the hardware this time around.  Gone are the PowerPC and Cell cores on the previous generation consoles and gone is the independent graphics chips supplied by AMD/ATI and NVidia.  Now both the Microsoft and Sony consoles use an x86-64 bit APU which includes “8 Jaguar cores” and graphics unit.

Sony’s implementation is slightly more complex than what is found in the Xbox One, but they are architecturally “twins” – fraternal twins, but still twins in my opinion.

Both the One and PS4 are held back not just on graphics as everyone in the industry keep pointing to, but ultimately they are both held back equally or more so by the AMD designed Jaguar x86-64 cores.  Don’t get me wrong, I love AMD’s APUs and I use them in ever PC build I do, but they are not the best for gameplay and today’s games are more than just pushing fancy images to the screen.  They need great compute units to support the graphics and push gameplay further than currently possible.

So while I secretly wish that Microsoft is quickly prepping the “Xbox One.5” that includes AMDs next, Excavator architecture Carrizo APU with updated cores and graphics, I’m not holding out much hope for that product just yet. 

Sony is in the number one spot and while they could come out with a PlayStation 5 based on the next gen Excavator Carrizo APUs from AMD, it isn’t likely either since they are “winning” this generation of console wars.

But what is more likely, is that Nintendo comes out with a new 3rd generation Wii console that leapfrogs both the Xbox One and PS4.  This “Wii-3” could take one of two approaches the way I see it.

  • 8 core Puma based core
    Discrete AMD Graphics Next GPU

or they could build

  • 6 core Intel x86-64
    Discrete AMD Graphics Next GPU

If released today, either of these two “Wii-3” platforms could easily best both the Xbox One and PS4, in both graphics and compute units.  At the same time, both of these designs share the same core architecture with none of their weaknesses.  Game developers could easily and quickly port their games over to the new Wii-3 platform because it performs much quicker in every respect.

New games could be written to take advantage of the faster hardware and showcase true next generation gaming — the gaming that doesn’t need a side-by-side demonstration to show how improved the graphics and gameplay is.

Fast forward a year and Nintendo could release the all AMD Puma system, currently with discrete graphics with a new and improved APU which would save them manufacturing costs, but would also bring the cost of the system back down to the same pricing as Sony’s and Microsoft’s.

This isn’t far fetched.  The home console gaming market doesn’t need another gimmick, it needs quality games, quality next generation games that both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are having trouble delivering.

Gamers don’t need gimmicks like snap-screens, HDMI pass-through, numb chucks, or glowing remotes, they want a gaming experience equal to or better than what they see in movie theaters.  That is NEXT GEN.

broken-chains_00401670

The new plans from T-Mobile and AT&T which allow customers to upgrade their phones as frequently as every 6 months as it is in T-Mobile’s case or every 12 months in the case of AT&T may just give Micosoft and Nokia new opportunities to not only gain much needed market share, but steal away the very valuable and influential smartphone enthusiasts who crave the cutting edge hardware they crave.

Mac or PC – It’s an Investment

My reasoning is that consumers aren’t married to their smartphone platform in the same way they are for their Windows or OSX based computers and laptop.

When you purchase a laptop or desktop computer, you are making an investment in hardware. Neither Windows of Macs come with productivity software, so the consumer makes additional investments in a word processor, photo editing software, video editing software, software to play DVDs or Blurays.

This is a big investment to make and one that you plan on leveraging for years to come. Upgrade it little by little and very quickly you have, “bought into” the platform you chose.

Smartphones

Up until this summer, Americans “buy a phone” for a discounted rate and are locked into a contract for 24 months – this lock isn’t just for their wireless service, it’s also linked to the smartphone you purchase.

Apps are for the most part free and an “expensive” app or game could cost you $10, but more than likely, if you buy an app it will yt between $2-$3.

Like in the example above, you have now invested in the cost of the phone, you may have purchased some apps, but the investment is very small and I’d argue many people spend much more a at Starbucks in one visit than most people pay for their apps in 6 months.

Smartphone users no longer have the same capital invested in apps and games because they are free or very low cost, they still have the 2 year commitment to the smartphone.

This commitment to one phone, one platform for 24 months is not to be taken likely and I believe that people’s loyalty to their 2 year plan extends to the device they chose and for many people they make the most of it and select the “best phone at the time.”

Next and Jump!

So now we have the plans from AT&T and T-Mobile which allow users to exchange their phone on a more frequent basis and since the users never buy the phone and have to trade it in to get the newest plan they now have the opportunity to get a new phone – a clean slate.

So every 6 or 12 months customers can trade in their current phone for a brand new device. There is a premium for this service, but making a trip to Starbucks once a day is much more costly than these carriers’ premium plans.

So now the 2 year commitment is out of the equation and consumers who choose one of these plans they now have the mindset that they phone they have today will not be the phone they have next month or in the near future.

The shackles are gone

If Nokia and Microsoft and Blackberry for that matter can come out with phone designs that are compelling on a reguar enough basis, keep them current and up to date, the person who has an iPhone, Galaxy or One trades in the phone they have only had for a short period of time, they are free to choose the smartphone with the most “wow factor.”

I could see many people who purchased a high end smartphone from Apple, Samsung or HTC trade and on their 6 or 12 month cycle “try” a phone like the Nokia Lumia 1020 – with its revolutionary 41MP sensor and HD zoom technology.

One of the biggest barriers to switching phones has been removed and in AT&Ts case, after 12 months, they can exchange their year old phone for the latest and greatest with no money down – not even any fees.

What about the App Store?

While I will be the first to say that there are some holes in the Windows Phone 8 Store, most people will never notice – well, maybe after Instagram gets released for Windows Phone, but seriously, there are an abundance of apps in the Store and while there isn’t everything, if consumes switch platforms, the developers will follow their customers to Windows Phone.

Gosh, once users have HERE Drive+, HERE Transit, HERE Maps and discover the built-in and instantly accessible app-like features built into Bing on Windows Phone, they will see the wealth of features available to them and everyone who has a Windows Phone out of the box – it’s really an amazing feeling showing an Android or iPhone users Bing Vision or Bing Music. They go nuts!

Loyalty and Superfans [Disclosure: I am a Microsoft and Nokia superfan]

For every Android, iPhone or Windows Phone 8 superfan out there, there are 30 more who are not loyal to any of the smartphone platforms. These people are heavily influenced by that one friend, co-worker or family member and will then make a purchase based on what these people have.

If Nokia and Microsoft can come out with smartphones with WOW features that people really can relate to and then see the superior results immediately – like with an ultrahigh resolution phone with “zoom later” capabilities, then I believe these people, the non-techy people will be drawn to the “new” Windows Phone platform.

Of course, if Microsoft and Nokia don’t upgrade both the operating system with more features and improve upon not just the phones camera, but evolve beyond the imagination they will get more users leave Android and leave iPhone.

Wrap-up

So while these plans for power users aren’t for everyone, they do allow consumers in the US who are locked to a carrier in 2 year contracts one to three additional times in their contract to trade-in the old for the WOW!

starting tomorrow, Sunday July 14, Staples is reducing the price of all Surface RT models by $150, with the 32GB model with 10.4″ widescreen for $349.99

ms_office_rt_2013_1_jpg_17101

For me the one thing that differentiates an ordinary or extraordinary tablet from a computer isn’t its size, shape or design, but what defines a computer is its ability to connect to a broad and diverse set of peripherals.

I’m not just talking about USB storage, a smartphone, external monitor or television, but peripherals which add value to a device such as printers at home or work, scanners which allow your device to scan in photographs and documents.

This is the holy grail of computing.

If you can walk into a Kinko’s or client’s office and be able to connect to their printers or scanners with your “tablet” then it has gone beyond the definition of tablet and has crossed over to PC. Think how many times you have purchased tickets for the movies or vacation and printed your tickets? These are things you can do on RT – at your home, hotel, office or friends place – without downloading messy printer drivers which never quite uninstall. :/

In my opinion, a keyboard or traditional laptop form factor doesn’t make your device a PC. The ability to create content on your device, no matter what its shape is, be able to manipulate it and then to finally print it from that device makes a device a PC.

For example the iPhone can many things that we traditionally used a PC for – whether it was a Mac or Windows. You can surf the web, play movies, read email and with relative ease, you can also create or respond to emails.

There are even apps which facilitate bookkeeping, banking, etc on the iPhone – it can send a document or email to a printer equipped with Apple AirPrint support, but these are not your everyday printers and the all-in-one devices which include a scanner or fax cannot be directly used by your iPhone.

The iPad on the other hand can have a keyboard and mouse added to it, but without the ability to print or scan to ordinary printers – like the one you already own, it is a dead end device and leaves it in a category that has more in common with your smartphone than your desktop computer.

Android and Chrome are even less capable than similar products from Apple because there is no printer you can print directly to. Everything you want to print has to be directed via the internet or network to a service or app running on your PC which then sends your printout to the printer after first being uploaded and downloaded through the internet and then prints.

That’s not very convenient or very practical and limits the use of your Chrome or Android device and makes Google’s “Office” suite of apps little more than a gimmick.

Enter Windows RT

Windows RT is Windows and don’t be fooled by people who tell you otherwise!

Windows RT in fact has the underlying capability to run many apps designed for Windows 7 – in fact, it can run many apps written for Windows XP. The fact is simple, Microsoft has disabled the ability to run these apps on devices that run Windows RT – the future is touch, the future of apps is sharing resources and suspending when not in use to allow RT devices to operate longer between charges, and at the same time, rid developers and users from a system that was designed back in the late 80’s and released in the 90’s.

Windows RT ships with Microsoft Office 2013 preinstalled on all RT devices and includes the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and with the launch of Windows RT 8.1, it includes Outlook 2013. All of these apps operate just like their x86-64 counterparts that you would purchase for your home desktop PC or Office PC. Yes, some features have been removed like macros in Excel as well as some other features, but those are not used by many people and they have been removed (for now?) to conserve battery power and other performance reasons. All in all, you will never know those features are missing.

But like I said before, a tablet or device isn’t a PC if It can’t be used to take your work from idea to final product and printing is the way most of use finalize our work.

Since Windows RT is Windows, it also has decades of peripherals which have support for Windows built in. No, it can’t print to every printer you have eveer purchased, but out of the box, it can print to thousands and thousands of dot matrix, injet and laser printers without even downloading any drivers from the printer manufacture – and this can typically be well over 100 megabytes of files just so that you can print.

Windows RT and Windows 8 have a new driver model for printer which is built into Windows and has a built in library of thousands of printers, their capabilities and features and as soon as you connect to the printer or all in one with a USB cable or via your home network you can print immediately (period).

You can even scan in photos from your scanner directly to your RT device – although there is no pretty Metro interface to do this, you can do this from the Windows desktop.

Windows 8.1 adds the ability to print to 3D printers and also adds the ability to scan from your scanner or all in one without leaving Windows 8’s finger friendly interface (this was likely possible before, but it wasn’t included with every RT PC sold – now it will be).

The last difference I have found between an iPad, Android or Chromebook is the ability of Windows RT to have totally separate user accounts all accessible on one device. Log in with your personal account and your Start Screen, accent colors, wallpapers, email, documents, photos, cloud storage, etc, etc, etc, are loaded on the device and are separate from all other users on the device – and follow you between RT and your desktop or laptop running Windows 8.

So, before you go out a purchase a new “tablet” or feel like you need to upgrade your current tablet or even replace your laptop, please consider replacing it with a “PC” running Windows RT.

** All devices running Windows 8.0 and RT 8.0 are upgradeable to 8.1 free of charge later this year. (Unlike your Android tablet which will likely never be upgraded or patched with security updates).

Patrick Moorhead from Tech.pinions recently wrote an editorial with the title, Leaving the iPhone- How Windows Phone 8 Stacks Up and he brings up many if not all the misgivings many users have when they switch from an iPhone or Android phone to Windows Phone.

I could tell from reading Patrick’s editorial that he didn’t spend much time with the Lumia 920 phone and also didn’t seem to have anyone to get answers to his questions.

Here is the prolog to his editorial, followed by my wordy response (you can read his entire article which is well written and obviously has good intentions at the link above)

“Approximately six weeks ago, I made the decision to stop using my iPhone 4s and immerse myself in Android, which I lumia 920did for about a month. I wrote about that here. After Android, I wanted to try out Windows Phone 8 for an extended period of time and I want to share my experiences with you. My goal here is provide some insights into how an American, technically astute Apple iPhone user would feel about using Windows Phone 8. I don’t represent the masses, but do represent the demographics of a an influential block of analysts, press, pundits, etc. I will talk about the pros, cons, and things that just didn’t matter one way or the other when comparing my iPhone 4s to the Windows Phone 8 powered Nokia Lumia 920. The 920 is considered by most as the flagship Windows Phone 8 phone and a good representation of the state of the art.

Let’s start out with the Windows Phone 8 (WP8) plusses.”

Here is the email with a few typos corrected and nonsense turned into sense. 😉

I’ve been a fanatic Windows Phone user since day 1 and know the ins and outs of Windows Phone 8 as well as Nokia’s apps.

While you did write a very balanced article for your seemingly short time spent with the 920, there are few things I think need clarification or explanation.

Navigation with Nokia Drive+ Beta

First off, yes it is beta software, but what you may not have known is this is the nearly 9 month old version 2 of Nokia Drive app which was released on Nokia’s first Windows Phone 7.5 devices. The most current version of Nokia Drive is version 3.x and is available on both Symbian and Nokia Lumia smartphones powered by Windows Phone 7.x.

Windows Phone 8 will receive the updated version of the Drive app as well as new features including better traffic data points. It will take time for Nokia to weave this updated Drive+ 3.x software into the new APIs for Windows Phone 8, the current and future version of Drive+ is not a standalone product, but is fully integrated into the OS and therefor meets and exceeds the features and performance of it’s predecessor (I am speculating on the performance here).

Turn-by-turn with street names.
This is in fact is 100% available in the software you reviewed, but for some nutty reason isn’t the default voice which auto downloads when you first run the Nokia Drive+ software – I truly hope that this is changed when the updated non-beta version ships because everyone I talk to with a Lumia has this same experience.

To have the street names announced you simply open Drive, Settings, Voice and select “English US announce Street names” or something to that effect. Street names are available for nearly every language and more are being updated as we speak.

Microsoft Office
Yes, you did mention how flawless the opening and editing of Office apps is and how ridiculous it is that Excel is included, but you neglected some additional usability features that Office on Windows Phone offers which, in my opinion, tips the scales in Windows Phone’s favor.

OS level SkyDrive integration!
Office defaults to opening and saving files to SkyDrive! So 100% of the files you keep on your PC or Mac are always accessible to you no matter where you are. In addition, the files you most recently opened on your phone are cached for quick access and if changes have been made since you lasted opened your cached file, you are notified of the changes and offered to download the current file. This all happens nearly instantly on your phone and takes the worry out of having multiple versions of your documents or presentations, etc scattered around the drives of all the computers you use on a daily basis.

Additionally, you can also easily and quickly access files saved to your phone or files that you recently opened in your email.

Did I mention that 100% of what I just mentioned is accomplished without ever installing a SkyDrive client app on your phone!? Yep, SkyDrive is baked into every Windows Phone 8 device sold and gives you easy access to any folder on your computer. Your Word, Excel, Power Point, PDF, files etc all appear like they are on your phone.

Most people synch their Libraries to SkyDrive. Not only is it a simple way to keep an off premises backup of all your data, but you are also making them accessible to you everywhere you go.

SkyDrive app
On Windows Phones you do not need to install a SkyDrive app to access the files on the cloud. But if you want to add and remove folders, files or move them from one folder to another, then you will want to download the SkyDrive app, most people will never need or use it, but it’s there for the more advanced user. SkyDrive client software for Windows Phone operates much the same way as its counterparts for Microsoft Windows 8, RT, Phone, Xbox 360, iPhone, iPad and Android.

You can synch entire folders/directories on your PC or your Mac.

Photo Tile
The Photo hub by default has two folders; Camera Roll and Saved Pictures. In addition to these two folders, a 3rd folder is created the first time you take a “snapshot” of your Windows Phone screen. All of those folders have your files stored locally in your phones available storage.

Then there are all the photos that you have stored on your computer and synched with SkyDrive and all the photos you have uploaded to Facebook.

The Photo hub also features the following screens you can easily swipe left or right to reveal: Favorites, which places all the photos from any of your online or offline folders at your fingertips. What’s New which shows new photos that were posted on your Facebook or Twitter accounts – not just the photos you posted, but also the photos which your friends posted to your Facebook wall and lastly the reveals the camera related apps you have installed on your phone.

Photos are also synched from your SkyDrive, Facebook, even Dropbox via a 3rd party called Cloudy Box. The API are there for any vendor to use and unlike Apple, these features are royalty free and are open to every developer.

Camera
One of my favorite camera features has to be the dedicated physical camera button and how that single “universally understood” camera button can wake the phone with a long-press, open the camera app even a phone which is password locked and not compromise security.

Windows Phones are the only phones you can hand to your aunt or grandparent and you don’t have to give a lesson on how to “take a photo” – priceless….

Camera Lens
Camera Lenses are unique to Windows Phone as well. This is a new feature in Windows Phone 8 which keeps all of your camera mini-apps or apps which use the camera of the phone in one easy to access location or hub from inside the Camera app.

These new Lens apps, as well as former apps that have been updated to support Lenses do not have to replicate the Windows Phone Camera app, etc. because they operate from inside the camera app. This not only makes things easier from a user’s perspective, but it also is easier for the developer as well because it gives their camera app the ability to save photos and videos to the sandboxed Windows Photos Tile which would normally be off limits to most developers.

While every Lens compatible app you install is can be set as a Tile on your Start Screen or opened from your App List like any other app, but every installed Lens can be easily access with one touch of a button from inside the phone app.

Example, take your phone from your pocket, press the camera button for a couple seconds, the camera turns on and you can either instantly take a photo or open any one of your Lenses to take a panorama or translate a sign in a foreign language to English, scan to a PDF, the options are limited only by the developer.

Application List, no endless Screens
I am not surprised that you didn’t know about being able to jump alphabetically through your apps with a ‘tap’ not press of the letter. This feature is not turned on by default, but only appears after you have loaded or installed 40 or 45 apps – I can’t recall what the current “magic number” is at the moment.

When I show how the Alpha jump feature works to an iPhone or Android user they go crazy! They love it and prefer it the endless screen after screen of apps which never seem to be organized properly. (see the heading below called Alpha Jump for more)

Having your apps listed alphabetically isn’t new and is used on other smartphones. The difference is, is that Windows Phone lines all your apps up in a single easy to read column which displays a thumbnail of their Tile and their applications name. Simple, clean straightforward. No clutter or distractions. The thumbnails are small and square in shape while their associated app name is in large clear type. Other platforms seem to emphasize the each apps unique and zany icon and their names are small and secondary.

Another benefit to a standard and consistent way to display lists, such as your list of installed apps, is that it behind every Start Screen displaying your most frequently viewed or favorite app Tiles and Live Tiles you are only one swipe or click away from a simple alphabetical list of every app you have installed. This is true for all Windows Phones as well as every computer running Windows 8 or RT – not only do users love and appreciate this, but IT departments do too since they can quickly move beyond your personalized Start Screen and find what they need in seconds.

One thing I do know for sure is that if you know how to use Windows 8 Modern UI, RT UI or Windows Phone UI, you can pick up a friend or spouses phone and be able to find any app easily and quickly. IT departments can ignore the Start Screen and custom tiles and Alpha Jump quicker than looming through screens or swiping endlessly to S for Settings, etc.

Alpha Jump
Being able to quickly jump through long lists in Windows Phone by tapping on a block with a letter from the alphabet in it is a root and basic feature of Windows Phone. Any built-in feature in Windows Phone as well as nearly every app in the Windows Phone Store also implements this feature.

Let me offer a quick description of how this universal feature works. First, you are presented with a list of the names of your contacts all sorted alphanumerically in a single column. If you have a contact or business which begins with a number or symbol the top of your list will feature a solid box with a “#” inside it. Immediately below this box is your contact’s name, followed by boxes with the letter “a” more contacts and so on.

If you do not have a friend or contact for every letter in the alphabet that letter’s box is not present.

To quickly access your contact Steve, you would tap any of the boxes described above which are visible, such as the “#” or “a” and immediately your screen changes from a list view displaying a list of names, to a screen filled with square tiles of each letter of the alphabet. If the list you are viewing does not have a contact which begins with a letter or symbol, that letter’s box is left blank – only the letters representing your list are in view.

This method of jumping to a quickly to a letter in the alphabet is much quicker than pressing Search and typing in the typing in the first few letters of their name on the keyboard. Unlike other areas of the Windows Phone OS which is more forgiving of typos, this is one area of the OS that has all typing assistance turned off.

A good use for the Search function in People, is when you want to find all your contacts who work for XYZ Corp. Type xyz into the People Search and all your contacts with xyz in their name or business name pops up.

Once you master jumping to specific a specific letter in your People hub, then you can use the same feature throughout Windows Phone and Windows Apps such as Facebook.

Jumping using the letter tiles/blocks is now second nature to me, it’s like pressing “Accept” when installing a new app on your pc – you do it without even thinking.

Sharing Contacts
Sharing contacts as well as sharing webpages, photos, videos, etc. is indeed possible on Windows Phone and unlike the other phone platforms, search is fully part of the core of Windows Phone.

Nearly everything you create, discover or produce on Windows Phone is easily sharable in a consistent way from every app that allows sharing. Just press the three periods at the bottom of nearly every app (. . .) which will expose the lesser used functions of your app.

If I could include a post-it note in the box of every Windows Phone Sold, it would say “if you can’t find what you are looking for, tap the . . .”

Simply put, the new Modern interface is designed for simplicity hides everything but the most common functions from view.

To share a contract with someone, you open the contact, touch the . . . to expose the additional functions that are relevant, select Share Contact, confirm by selecting the checkmark, and a new screen pops up titled, Send From; choose from Tap+Send to share the contact wirelessly via NFC, Bluetooth, Messaging or optionally select from any of your email account which are also listed.

Want to share a photograph? It’s done the same way. Microsoft took care to add many of these every day functions into the operating system itself. Every app works the same way, although you may see more or less locations you can share with depending on what you want to share.

For example, Internet Explorer 10 adds the option of sharing the webpage you are viewing with your Xbox 360 running Internet Explorer. Find a great video on YouTube and want to share it with your friends, watch it on your TV. The best part, is that once the webpage opens on your Xbox/TV, your phones screen becomes a touchpad for your Xbox so you can browse the web on your 50” HDTV as easily as you can on your laptop’s 15” screen.

Simple and consistent wins every time.

Having these menus or functions hidden is maybe one of the reasons that makes Windows Phone so easy for beginners to use and easier for them to access features in Windows Phone than on other platforms which lay everything out in front of the user, all the time and distracts from getting your task(s) accomplished.

A great example of this is how my Mother, who was 78 years old at the time, got her first smartphone about 5 months before her trip to Tanzania. It was a hand-me-down which I had passed along to her in hopes of being able to use the phone for email, etc while traveling. I should mention that my Mother was never able to figure out how to use voicemail on her mobile phone and only received calls or placed calls with it either by memory, or by looking up the phone number.

She started off with a Samsung Focus which she gradually began to use more and more than her dumb flip-phone until one day she called me and told me that she decided she liked having a smartphone and would switch to it full time.

When Nokia released the Lumia 900 on AT&T, my Mother spent actual money on her first phone (all her previous phones were all free phones on contract) and get the latest and greatest for her upcoming trip.

She wasn’t going to Tanzania alone, she was going as part of a group. She knew a few people before she went, but for the most part, she didn’t know the other members. She was the only person who had a Windows Phone and she was nervous that she would forget how to access a feature and wouldn’t be able to get help.

Well, she surprised everyone when she returned home and told everyone how much she used her phone! She used it for simple things like photographs and emails, but she also used it for navigation, translation, finding restaurants and boutiques and markets too.

While everyone else had iPhones and one person had an Android phone everyone was asking my mother who never had a smartphone before for information. She became the go-to person for everything. Even though everyone else had smartphone, none of the other people could figure out how to get their “smart” phones to give them the information they each wanted to make their trip more enjoyable or productive.

Yet, my mother who happened to be 20 years plus their senior was able to accomplish nearly every task quickly enough soon enough, the questions were going to my Mom and not the one of the several tour guides.

I realize that a 78 year old women being able to use so many features on her smartphone isn’t a ringing endorsement to the 20-something generation, but it does say a lot that My Mother who is now 79 and I, the geek do use the same phone. 

Mail/Outlook
The mail client is pretty darn good and I think much better than what you find on iPhone and I think you agreed with me on this one, but I would also say that it’s better than the latest Jellybean version of Android too.

Mail fully supports synching folders, you can merge multiple email accounts into one Inbox, you can pin a specific folder to your Start Screen as a Tile too. This is great if there are email you receive that are urgent and you need to take action right away. Here is a good example of how Live Tiles work and how pinning a Tile to your Start Screen representing different folders can be helpful.

You have a Tile representing your work folder or work email address, you have another one for your Inbox and maybe a 3rd Tile for emails come from eBay, craigslist, etc.

It’s 10pm and you that your Work Tile shows that new email(s) have arrived and since you are not on call you can ignore that notice until the following day.

By the same account, you are at work or on a business trip and you see that the Tile you have designated as your Inbox has new mail and you can safely ignore it until you have a break or at the end of the day. There countless practical uses for Live Tiles and they are only limited by your imagination.

And just maybe you will want to excuse yourself from a meeting to read the email from eBay.

Full Search
You did mention how the Mail client’s search is more limited than iOS, and I haven’t used an iPhone in quite some time, but I find that the Mail search does more than you mention. I’m not list them off, but trust me, they are there and depending on your mail service/host there are several queries you can use.

Multitasking
First let me start with a feature you didn’t mention but many people consider a bug or failing of Windows Phone.

Apps always open at their home page and not where you last left it.

This is by design, most people are not power users or are cutting and pasting from one app to the next, etc. They are not actively working with 4 or 5 apps let alone 3. They open their app for News, read the headlines and maybe an article or two and then put down their phone.

When they come back their phone and are at the Start Screen, they open their News app again and instead of being presented with the latest headlines, they see the last article they opened. If they don’t get around to opening the News app for several days, seeing an old article has gone from annoying to confusing.

So by default, if you open an app from its Tile or the App list, it will always open from the same home screen.

There are valid reasons why people want to switch apps and be on the page where they last were, and I’ll get to that now…..

Power Users eat their cake too
Yes, as you not in your editorial, holding down the Back button is a pretty elegant and convenient way to see what apps you have open in the background – I say ‘open’ because while Android may have apps ‘running’ in the background sipping at the phones limited battery reserves, Windows Phone uses a pause and quick resume feature to conserve resources but keep many of the benefits of having an app running in the background.

By holding down the dedicated back button on your Windows Phone you can horizontally scroll to your open apps and return exactly at the point you were at when you last left it.

Users who come from Android or iOS love to close apps they are not using because many of the apps on those platforms do drain the battery and the more you have running in the background, the sooner your phone will run out of power.

So while it usually isn’t as necessary to close apps on Windows Phone, there is a simple way to close apps and you don’t need to download and install another program to do it.

To close any app you are no longer using, all you need to is tap the Back Button until you are no longer in the app. On occasion it may take tapping the back button several times, but a trick is to re-launch the open app and the previous copy of the app you had open is replaced by this new instance and can be closed with one tap of the Back button.

To verify that the app(s) is closed, long press the Back button and verify that it is no longer displayed in the multitask view.

Running in the background
So, yes, most WP apps suspend when in the background not because Microsoft doesn’t allow apps to run in the background, but I think it’s that MS discourages this practice and have put some great alternatives in place that developers can alterably use, such as quick resuming, etc.

When a Tile is a Live Tile
Unlike apps which are suspended in the background, Apps which support Live Tiles, Tiles that display content downloaded periodically form the internet like email, weather app, news apps, etc. can drain the battery and if you allow enough apps access to update, especially the apps you don’t have on your Start Screen, they can lead to draining your phones battery faster than you would expect – and I am pretty sure that many users new to Windows Phone install a lot of these apps and are not aware that even if they do not open the apps or pin the app to their Start Screen, they are all working in the background none the less.

Turning off Background Apps
Apps which are set to operate or update in the background notify the operating system of this when they are first installed and a list of those apps is provided in the Settings section of the phone. Many of these apps are enabled by default and you can manually “block” these apps from working in the background without opening the offending app. Simply select “blocked” under any app name that currently lists itself as “allowed” – voila!

You can also easily re-enable those same apps by opening the app you want to re-allow to update in the background and turn the feature back on.

Battery Saver
First and foremost your smartphone is a phone. Yes, it’s great at game playing, listening to your favorite music or podcast and checking your email. But if it comes down to saving some battery power to make or receive a phone call or having the current temperature or new emails displayed on your phone most people will choose phone calls over the weather (we can look out our windows if we have to).

By default when a Windows Phone is running low on battery it automatically turns off all apps and Live Tiles operating in the background – this is called Battery Saver mode.

You can still check the weather, check for new email, etc, but they will only be refreshed or updated when you request it.

Battery Level Indicator
When the Battery Saver mode is activated heart shape is placed over the battery/power indicator.

As an aside, another complaint by iPhone and Android users is that while the current time is always displayed on the top right of your Home Screen and many apps, it does not display the following status icons unless they need attention.

Signal Strength Indicator
When you are traveling in an area or are in an office building or department store and your phone can not access your phone carrier’s cell towers or the signal is very weak, then Windows Phone will show the status.

If you are curious or OCD about things like battery life or signal strength, you can easily lightly swipe down from the top of the screen to reveal the status bar where all the status indicators you expect will be shown and then disappear after a few seconds.

The thing to remember, is that the information that you desire is there for you to access and you don’t have to open 2 folders and then tunnel down several menus to access it.

YouTube
Yes, not having an official YouTube app and being provided with a YouTube tile that open the mobile YouTube website on IE sucks. Windows Phone was designed for multimedia content!

Why does Windows Phone not have an official YouTube app as full-featured as the iPhone and Android phones? It was recently leaked via Microsoft that while they have a YouTube app already developed and have apparently had one since the dawn of Windows Phone. Google refuses to give Microsoft permission or a license to distribute it.

Windows Phone did initially launch with a YouTube app, but was later replaced with a link to the m.youtube website
Thankfully, there are several 3rd party apps which provide access to YouTube’s complete library of videos from some very cool and creative Modern UI based apps. The downside is, that they are ever playing a game of cat and mouse as Google keeps changing the tools needed for these apps to work. Interestingly, the changes Google makes do not interfere with either Android products or Apple products. :/

While these 3rd party apps are great at delivering content, they are not as friendly when it comes to uploading either videos taken with your phone or are stored in your Xbox Music + Video hub. Many of the YouTube-like apps can upload videos, but only if you record the video from inside their app, since these apps are not authorized to access the video files stored on your phone.

I am hopeful that these vendors will soon be able to use the phones new Lenses and be able to access the phones videos that way. (This may not even be possible, it’s just wishful thinking on my part)

Phone Search
Yes, I too wish that a universal Search was present in Windows Phone. There are many occasions I would like to search my calendar for past or future events or appointments. There was an app I used for a while for Windows Phone 7.5, but I don’t recall the developer or the apps name, but while it did make searching the calendar possible, it wasn’t as good or seamless as I would have liked.

I know Microsoft is expanding the search capabilities on Windows Phone 8. I met a young women who introduced herself to me as an intern who works for Microsoft and she personally designed the backend of a future search for the Messaging portion of the phone. She mentioned that is was modeled after the search that is integrated into the Mail client.

Lack of Windows Phone Apps?
Yes, the apps you mention you use daily are either not present or sometimes inferior to their iOS and Android counterparts. I have held the hands of several friends and work associates who found that this is one area of Windows Phone which was not as robust as the smartphones they had switched from.

Is every app available for Windows Phone which is currently available for iPhone or Android? No, Windows Phone does need more apps for a small fraction of users before they feel they can switch platforms – I get it. But don’t forget, none of these features even existed several years ago and we all survived for without them.

Part of what I do, is listen and ask questions. After hearing their complainants and asking them what they were using these apps for, I reminded them (several times) that that those features are built-in to Windows Phone and that they should relearn to use Local Scout and Nokia City Lens or OneNote.

When is Bing more than Bing?
When you press the dedicated search button on a Windows Phone, it opens up a window to search the web/internet, but this isn’t just a quick way for Microsoft to get you to use their search engine over Google, no, this is much more.

At the bottom of the Bing Search screen are three buttons you won’t find on your computer’s Bing page: Scout, Music and Vision, here is a summary of what each function does:

Bing Local Scout
Think of Scout as in an army scout. A scout was sent ahead of the troops to food, water, shelter, roads, etc. Scout on Windows phone is similar in that this Scout shows you all every restaurant from the closest one to you the next 20 ones from your location. You can even search by cuisine, star rating, whether the establishment is open or not, or if they are currently offering deals. You can even opt-in and allow Microsoft to study your searches and make recommendations for you.

Bing Music
Music in Bing doesn’t play music, it uses the phones mic to listen to the music playing and tells you what the song playing. If you have ever used Shazam, you know what Bing Music does, but how Bing accomplishes this is quite different and can provide you with a match in as little as 4 seconds when connected to wifi, if it can’t get it in the first few seconds, it keeps attempting to match the song or comes back asking to try again.

Assuming you have Shazam on your home screen of your iPhone or Android phone, and you open Shazam it still takes several seconds to load, then takes and other tap to begin the mandatory 10 second recording from the phone’s mic before it even uploads the sample to their server.

What Bing can do in as little as 5 seconds, Shazam takes a minimum of 15 seconds. In side by side tests with identical phones, Bing was able to find the track before Shazam each and every time before Shazam even finished recoding the sample.

Bing Vision
Simply put, Bing Vision uses your phone’s camera to quickly translate signs or menu’s from a foreign language and give you a fast literal word-for-word translation without using an app. You don’t need to be traveling in a foreign country to use this feature either, if you are a student taking a foreign language you can quickly translate a word or series of words you are having difficulty with.

Translation is not limited to just English there is direct translation available to and from 30 languages without downloading or opening any app – although this feature does use your internet connection.

Does Bing Vision replace a dedicated translation app? NO, this is quick and dirty and what most people need when they are presented with something they cannot read. Microsoft and others have full apps which translate voice to voice, to text etc. Why download and install a translation app when you may never need to use it?

Barcodes, QR codes, book covers, CD and DVD covers

You can also use Bing Vision to look up prices, reviews, ratings, etc of book, CD and DVDs – all without taking the time to find and run the app. Want to look up a barcode when you are shopping? Maybe you need to see reviews, find the right edition or see what other colors the product comes in.

Use Bing Vision, I have never used any other device or app which locks in to a bar code faster than a Bing Vision. Another time saving feature is you don’t have to have several barcode apps for electronics, groceries, home furnishings, etc. Bing find the items and then presents you with fast results on all the things you expect to find from a barcode app without the fuss.

Every feature in Bing Music and Bing Vision are instantly stored for you to access in the future, possibly when you have more free to time to read the reviews and ratings.

Bing finds and organizes Information
In addition to these three integrated features, you can also swipe left and right and discover what’s playing in your local theaters, local deals aggregated from several discount sites, the most active videos being played on the internet, the top new stories and lastly, current local events. This is all without opening an app. No switching screens to locate the app, no waiting for the app to load, no waiting for the app to connect to the internet to download the current data, etc. All this and more is at your fingertip and can be accessed in less than a second.

Is Windows Phone 8 right for you?
Is Windows Phone right for your friends?

Granted, Windows Phone is not for everyone and Microsoft needs to put a lot more effort into educating all users on how Windows Phone operates and how it’s intentionally designed differently than the other phone on the market.

Windows Phone is not an immature platform like many like to claim, It’s actually quite advanced and in many time saving and tangible ways we use everyday it is vastly superior to anything that Apple or Google has to offer.

I hope you took the time to read this message as it took me quite a while to respond thoughtfully and in a way that wouldn’t put you off. I hope I succeeded and I look forward to your future article on whether you will switch to Windows Phone 8.5.

John Freiman
San Francisco

Sent from my Nokia Lumia 920 powered by Windows Phone 8