I'm not going to retread old ground too much here, but there's no getting away from the fact that Microsoft has something of an image problem when it comes to smartphones. But this could be set to change. The word on the grapevine is that Microsoft -- possibly in conjunction with the likes of Yahoo and Amazon -- is interested in joining forces with, or even, buying Cyanogen Inc, purveyor of some of the finest Android ROMs known to humanity. It's a branch of Android favoured by handset owners who live and breathe tweaking, who want an OS custom made to fit them like a well-tailored suit.
Little is known about what form any future arrangement might take, or how far talks have got so far. But we do know that Cyanogen Inc has met with Satya Nadella -- as reported by The Information. It would be interesting to see where this could go. There are two possible avenues that immediately spring to mind. The first -- and probably the least likely -- is that Microsoft might consider creating custom Windows Phone ROMs. This seems somewhat improbable, but there's another option: Microsoft could be looking to muscle in on Google's Android territory. This is not as far-fetched as it might first sound.
HERE may be commonly associated with Windows Phone, but that is not stopping Nokia from also offering its powerful software on Samsung's Galaxy smartphones as well as the new Gear S smartwatch. Microsoft should be worried, as one of the main differentiating features of its Windows Phone -- the exclusive availability of the HERE suite, among top mobile platforms -- just vanished into thin air.
HERE is making its way to Galaxy smartphones with virtually all of its core features intact. That means turn-by-turn navigation in nearly 100 countries, detailed offline maps for up to 200 countries, live traffic information in more than 40 countries, and directions when using public transportation in more than 750 cities from more than 40 countries. It's pretty much the whole shebang.
There's no question about it -- carrier exclusives are a bad idea. They hurt consumer choice, limit the chances of a device reaching its full market potential, and have a negative impact on the market shares of the vendor and the platform, just to name a few of the main negatives. This especially holds true for Windows Phone. After all, when did anything good come out out of a carrier-exclusive smartphone running the tiled operating system? Every time one comes out, many platforms fans, as well as reviewers, express their disappointed.
So when HTC One (M8) for Windows only turned up at Verizon at launch, it looked like the Taiwanese maker was setting itself and its new smartphone up for failure. Fortunately, that is not the case, as the Windows Phone 8.1 device will also be available at AT&T and T-Mobile, the latter of which just announced the upcoming availability. That's the good news. Now here comes the disappointing part.
While I'm primarily an Android user, I'll dip my toes in the water of iOS and Windows Phone from time to time -- you have to check out what's going on elsewhere after all. A while back I tried to switch to the Nokia Lumia 928, but found Windows Phone too restrictive. But I'm open-minded... I'll give things a second crack of the whip. So now it's time for me to take look at the Lumia 930.
I am impressed with the look and feel of the handset. It's a very solid device that feels robust enough to be used as a tool for breaking and entering should the need arise. It feels like a high-end phone, it oozes quality. But it has Windows Phone 8.1 installed, and that's a massive problem.
Let's cut to the chase. No, they shouldn't. The iPhone used to be exciting and interesting. It used to be aspirational and high-end. Now the world and his dog has an Apple handset and it's turned from something special into a poor substitute for one of the countless alternatives. This is not to say that the popularity of the device in itself makes it less appealing, but it certainly seems to have made Apple lazy. Innovation has gone out of the window. We've had the same design for the handset for what seems like an eternity. It looks as though there might be something of a change in style this time around, but is this really enough to make the iPhone exciting -- or even interesting -- once again?
By far the biggest problem with the iPhone is the lack of choice. While Android users (and even Windows Phone fans) have a huge number of handsets to choose from, the same cannot be said of those sucking on Apple's teat. Things did improve slightly when the 2013 iPhones were released, but you're still stuck, essentially, with two phones to choose from -- the really expensive over-hyped one, or the pale imitation wannabe version. Some choice. To be clear… I've been an iPhone owner. It's a functional phone, but Christ it's dull.
Windows Phone is enjoying the support of more smartphone manufacturers than ever. In fact, at Build 2014, Microsoft revealed its tiled operating system had 15 vendors committed to the platform (theoretically speaking). A few more joined the list since, with Archos being the latest to unveil its first Windows Phone.
The French electronics company is readying the poorly-named 40 Cesium Smartphone for a September launch. The device tagets low-end smartphone buyers, as the Windows Phone will hit stores with a price tag of just £79.
In California, a bill has been passed that will require smartphone manufacturers to include a kill switch in their handsets. The bill states that "any smartphone, as defined, that is manufactured on or after July 1, 2015, and sold in California after that date, include a technological solution at the time of sale, which may consist of software, hardware, or both software and hardware, that, once initiated and successfully communicated to the smartphone, can render inoperable the essential features, as defined, of the smartphone to an unauthorized user when the smartphone is not in the possession of an authorized user". It's a lengthy description, but it means the kill switch that many people have been asking for for so long is becoming a reality in another state.
This is not the first time a kill switch bill has been passed -- Minnesota did something similar back in May. The SB 926, Leno Smartphones bill in California is rather more far-reaching and comes partly in response to the statistic that between 30 and 40 percent of robberies in major US cities are smartphone robberies. Once activated, the kill switch will prevent a phone from being registered on a wireless network, and cannot be bypassed even with a hard reset. In the event of theft, a user will also be able to remotely wipe their device to protect any private information they may have stored on it.
Think about wearable tech and your mind probably jumps to watches first. V.BTTN is a little different. It's a programmable button that links smartphones, tablets and computers via Bluetooth and it can then be used to trigger all manner of events. Looking for a remote shutter trigger for your smartphone? V.BTTN can do that for you. Need a remote control to start and stop recording? Got that covered too. The device comes from VSN Mobil and is available now for $59.99. It's one of those pieces of hardware billed as having virtually limitless possibilities, but this is one instance where the claim is justified.
What the button does depends entirely on the app you decide to link it to. It's slightly more advanced than just "hit the button" -- there are short and long press options, as well as gesture support thanks to a built-in accelerometer. As standard, V.BTTN is just a button. You can stick it in your pocket or bag and carry it around with you if you like, but there are also a number of accessories.
While Windows Phone gets a lot of attention for what it doesn't have, the Microsoft mobile platform is slowly making progress. Now it is scoring a major win, and getting on par with rivals, as Spotify announces it will be going free for Windows Phones.
The new update means customers can now listen to their music without ponying up the monthly fee for a Premium account. The new free version is ad-supported, and customers can still choose to pay the monthly fee for Premium, and eliminate those ads -- and also get offline playlists, as well.
Asha and Series 40 "feature" phones (read cheap, crappy phones) may be taking their last breath -- Microsoft plans to kill them off by the end of 2015 -- but it's never too late to try spicing things up by changing the default browser, eh? This is precisely what's happening with the ill-fated handsets, along with the Series 30+ range, as Opera Mini replaces the current Xpress Browser. Despite the seemingly short-lived nature of the deal, Opera Software is upbeat about the arrangement as, undoubtedly, will any poor blighter suffering with one of these handsets.
What is there to look forward to in the browser switch? Like other versions of Opera Mini, the version replacing Xpress Browser benefits from built-in compression that reduces data usage and helps to speed up web browsing. The deal will come as something of a surprise to many, and it has come rather out of the blue. Starting in October, Asha, Series 30+ and Series 40 handset owners will start to see notifications inviting them to upgrade, and newly produced handsets will come with the browser pre-installed.
Official Windows Phone apps are steadily growing in numbers and quality, as more and more developers support the platform and improve their existing offerings. PayPal is the latest top title to get a much-needed revamp.
Based on my experience, PayPal for Windows Phone was in dire need of a major upgrade, as it failed to provide the same features that Android and iOS users get. Fortunately, according to PayPal, much has changed with the latest version, suggesting that the subpar experience is a thing of the past now.
Windows Phone boasts more than 300,000 apps in Store. Now that the news is out of the bag, let's move on to something that actually matters.
I'm skipping the obvious comparisons because that number is meaningless to the average consumer making up the bulk of smartphone buyers today (and who is unlikely to take advantage of even 1 percent of those titles). It doesn't tell prospective buyers how many great apps are available in Store, or how many great apps are missing. It's just a figure that serves only one true purpose, and that is telling fans, enthusiasts, pundits and other tekkies how much progress was made since the last serving. But that doesn't make you feel all warm and fuzzy, does it? Here's what should.
All Windows Phone 8 devices are supposed to be compatible with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, but it looks like one of them, namely HTC's inconspicuous Windows Phone 8S, will be stuck running Windows Phone 8.1 going forward. That's a shame.
Due to what appear to be hardware incompatibilities, HTC has announced that the first major update for Windows Phone 8.1 will not be offered to its Windows Phone 8S users. The Windows Phone 8X flagship, which it introduced in late-2012, will, however, receive Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1.
Windows Phone users who are enrolled in the Preview For Developers program can now install Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1. The major update, which was announced less than a week ago, is set to officially roll out to the masses in the comings months.
The most important user-facing changes that Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 introduces are Live Folders, a new feature which finally enables folders on the platform, and improvements to the stock apps, privacy and security. Of course, it also makes way for Cortana's first expansion.
Four years ago, I asserted: "Windows Phone 7 series is a lost cause", and it was. But you gotta give Microsoft credit for persistence. Today the foundation is solid, and app developers are finally starting to notice, like they did in 2004 with Apple's flagship operating system.
But pundits howl like the zombie apocalypse, which is pretty good analogy for mindless Android and iOS users constantly clicking and scrolling. Microsoft's Windows Phone "glance-and-go" design philosophy is all about living beings and interacting with them rather than cold plastic and metal slabs. (Say, isn't that where we lay the dead before burying them?)