Windows Phone 8 has been available on the market since late-October, 2012. That makes it more than a year old in human time and quite a bit older in tech years. So far, I've been through two smartphones running the tiled operating system -- the HTC Windows Phone 8X (in an insanely gorgeous purple) and Nokia Lumia 920 (the boring "businessman-black" version as I like to call it). There is also a Lumia 520 nearby (in a nice shade of red), that I use from time to time to gauge how it gets along with Windows Phone 8 and various new apps.
I have been playing with three important handsets that are available under the Windows Phone 8 umbrella, in order to discover the benefits and the downsides of the platform as well as get an idea of the direction Microsoft wanted to impose for its latest attempt to make great strides in the smartphone OS market. On paper, the software giant only wants the best for Windows Phone, but in practice there are still a couple of bad points about its strategy that indicate, to a certain degree, smartphones are not really a priority for the Redmond, Wash.-based company.
Today, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and Hanukah, a rare occurrence they overlap. We reflect on the things we feel -- or should be -- grateful. Ahead of the holiday meal I served up "13 things for which Google gives thanks" and colleagues Wayne Williams and Alan Buckingham "5 things to be thankful for in Windows 8.1" and "5 products I'm thankful for", respectively. I would be remiss ignoring Apple.
The fruit-logo company is unique in techdom, inventing or reinventing several hugely successful product categories. Most companies have one- or two-hit wonders. Apple has a string of smash hits, like the rarest of iconic musicians. The Beatles come to mind, because of their 50th-anniversary and name shared -- you know, Apple Records. The many things for which the company should be thankful are obvious, so let's just dispense with those and get to items other list-makers, if there are any, likely will overlook. I present Apple's thankful things from least to most important.
Using a peripheral to interact with your computer is so passé. Xbox One and Xbox 360 owners have the Kinect to dance in front of, and PlayStation gamers have a camera that can be used in much the same way. PC users can turn to the likes of Leap Motion if they like the idea of eschewing traditional forms of control, and an increasing number of smartphones can recognize eye and hand movements. Now it looks as though Apple is joining the party by buying 3D motion detection specialists PrimeSense.
This may not be a firm that sounds all that familiar, but you're almost certainly aware of the Israeli company's work -- Kinect for the Xbox. Yep, you read that correctly. Apple is buying the firm behind one of the most interesting and innovative features of Microsoft's game console. While no details of the purchase have been revealed, and no mention made of any money that may have swapped hands, PrimeSense has confirmed that the purchase is going ahead.
Smartphones have positively impacted the gaming industry. Casual touch-based games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga have turned some non-gamers into dedicated ones. However, hardcore gamers interested in more complicated things are forced to use on-screen virtual controls (d-pad, buttons, etc.). Unfortunately, for many, this virtual solution is unacceptable. Since you cannot feel the controls, it is easy for your fingers to wander and cause unintended consequences. Sure, there have been third-party controller options, but they have mostly been unpolished and largely ignored by developers.
With the unveiling of iOS 7, Apple introduced support for game-pads. Today, Logitech announces its first such offering for iPhone and iPod touch devices, with the PowerShell Controller + Battery. The company says it "turns your compatible iOS7 device into a pocket sized mobile console, all while roughly doubling your play time with its on board battery".
Windows Phone may be the fastest growing major smartphone platform, but its market share still has a long way to go in order to become an imminent threat to Apple's iPhones, let alone Android smartphones. The latest IDC Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker report shows, once again, Microsoft's tiled mobile OS in the same distant third place, far behind its more popular rivals, despite the impressive 156 percent year-over-year growth in shipments from Q3 2013.
"Android and Windows Phone continued to make significant strides in the third quarter. Despite their differences in market share, they both have one important factor behind their success: price", says IDC research manager Ramon Llamas. "Both platforms have a selection of devices available at prices low enough to be affordable to the mass market, and it is the mass market that is driving the entire market forward". That difference in market share that Llamas mentions is a whopping 77.4 percentage points, between Android's 81 percent and Windows Phone's mere 3.6 percent; put differently, Android shipments (211.6 million units) were 22.27 times higher than those of Windows Phones (at 9.5 million units).
The need for more secure communication services has certainly spiked in the wake of the NSA spying revelations, with providers placing a higher emphasis on keeping their users' personal and work information safe from unwanted access. After all, those users expect (and demand) them to do so. As a result, it is not out of the ordinary to see the word "secure" being used as one of the many buzzwords that describe such services nowadays. The question is whether the presentation matches the behind-the-scenes reality.
Among the slew of services that promise secure communications is Perzo, which launched as a beta in late-August 2013. Perzo was founded by David Gurle, who is best known for his former roles as head of the Windows Messenger development and general manager and vice president of Skype for Business in the early 2000s. The service piqued my attention, and I chatted with the man to find out what sort of features and security options Perzo can bring to the table as a newcomer in the "secure communications application" market.
It's becoming a familiar story. A big name company decides to reveal figures about the number of requests for data that have been received from the government, apologizing straight away for the lack of detail it can provide. Microsoft has already done it, as has LinkedIn and Google. The latest figures come from Apple, and they make for interesting reading.
The report starts off by stating that Apple is revealing as much information as it is legally allowed to, and then immediately goes on the defensive:
Worldwide, Windows Phone may hold a distant third-place spot in the smartphone market, but in Europe handsets running the mobile tiled OS are closing in on Apple's iPhones through huge share gains. According to a new Kantar Worldpanel ComTech report, in five key local markets Windows Phone sales more than doubled in Q3 2013, compared to the same period from last year. Meanwhile, iPhones lost market share.
In France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain combined, Windows Phone's market share grew to 9.8 percent in Q3 2013 from 4.6 percent a year earlier. The highest market share gains happened in France (to 10.7 percent from 5.2 percent), Germany (to 8.5 percent from 2.5 percent) and Great Britain (to 11.4 percent from 4.2 percent), with Italy and Spain posting more moderate growths (to 13.7 percent from 10.8 percent and to 3.7 percent from 2.2 percent, respectively). By contrast, in the said local markets iPhone's market share decreased to 14.6 percent in Q3 2013 from 16.8 percent a year earlier.
I like unusual games, and the original Papa Sangre really appealed to me. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s essentially a sound-only game for iOS in which you listen for 3D audio clues as to where you are and the direction you need to be going in. The follow up, The Nightjar (featuring the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch), added more of a story to the proceedings, and now in time for Halloween, Papa Sangre returns.
I was one of the beta testers for the new game, and I’m pleased to report Papa Sangre II is a massive improvement over the original. The rebuilt binaural processing Papa Engine does an amazing job of recreating a 3D soundscape in your mind and the addition of actor Sean Bean’s vocal talents, a choice of control systems and some inspired levels -- one moment you’re escaping a burning house, the next shooting ducks in the dark -- combine to create a very rewarding experience.
Apple took center stage this week. At a special event the new iPad Air, iPad mini, Mac Pro and a raft of free software were all revealed, and we liveblogged through the whole thing. Not to be outdone by Microsoft, Apple decided to give Mavericks away free of charge along with iWork and iLife. But it was the iPad Air and mini that stole the show, sharing the same innards as the recently announced iPhone 5s, but boasting a redesigned exterior -- at least in the case of the Air.
Of course, no tablet launch would be complete without matching cases. There was also the interestingly designed Mac Pro which looks delightful and is a serious powerhouse, but has a price tag to match. After the big launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple showed off the latest addition to the iPhone range in a TV commercial.
I will admit to being intrigued by BBM. I have never owned a BlackBerry smartphone (nor do I have plans to buy one) so I have never had the chance to find out what all the fuss is about. But, after the Canadian maker revealed that the service will also arrive on Android and iPhone, my interest piqued.
And I am definitely not the only one who is interested. Following the second release on rival platforms, in its first 24 hours on Apple App Store and Google Play BBM surpassed 10 million downloads, which is impressive for a service that only had 60 million users before the second half of the year.
It was a feature-packed morning of announcements where it seems as though Apple was going to give away everything for free. Sadly the freebies are limited to software and the new range of hardware has to be purchased in the regular way. The big news for tablet fans is the iPad Air. Borrowing its name -- in part at least -- from the MacBook Air range, thinner and faster are the adjectives of the day.
Phil Schiller said: "Thinner, lighter, more powerful than ever before, and incredibly, excitingly new that it deserves a new name: iPad Air". Boasting the same A7 processor as the recently announced iPhone 5s, the iPad Air is just 7.5mm thick and weighs 1 pound -- compare this to 9.4mm and 1.4 pounds for the previous model. Despite the thinner design and smaller battery size, we can still expect 10 hours of usage from the tablet which offers up to eight times the performance of the original iPad, and up to 72 times the GPU performance.
Back at the start of this month, Hulu Plus for Chromecast made an appearance, but aimed only for Android phones and tablets, as well as iPad customers. Those using Apple's platform as a smartphone device were feeling a bit left out, but today the streaming video service aims to right the ship.
"Today, we are excited to add the Chromecast integration for Hulu Plus to your iPhones", announces Hulu's Karan Nischol. "The Hulu Plus integration with Chromecast will convert your app into a custom remote letting you control video on your Chromecast connected TVs, while allowing you to browse the Hulu Plus app directly from your iPhone", the statement continues.
More and more business users are shunning a traditional desktop or laptop for tablets and smartphones. While tablets are great for consuming information, with the help of keyboard attachments, they are sufficient at creation too. However, tablets and smartphones are very personal devices; they are not optimized to handle a conference call for multiple users. Today, Logitech announces a product designed to solve this dilemma -- the Mobile Speakerphone P710e.
The company says, "with the Mobile Speakerphone, you can be more productive with hands-free access to your mobile device of choice and an integrated experience for video conferencing and conference calls. Whether you’re hosting your noon conference call using your mobile device in a hotel room or joining a call from a conference room in your local office with your PC, the Logitech Mobile Speakerphone is the ideal travel companion for the mobile employee or small business owner".
With Android handsets and iPhones taking the lion's share of the smartphone market, Windows Phone is quite often overlooked by most consumers in their purchasing decisions. The popularity, or lack thereof, of devices running Microsoft's mobile OS likely plays an important part but it also detracts folks from getting the smartphone that may be right for them. Ask yourselves how many of your acquaintances have been in this position.
Many do not even take Windows Phone into consideration and the ones that do easily find a couple of reasons to dismiss the platform and jump on the Android or iPhone bandwagon. Yes, Windows Phone may not be the right answer for everyone but it might be for more people than naysayers think. And I have got 10 good reasons why consumers should give Windows Phone a chance.