I'm not easily impressed. Lots of tech products see the light of day each year, but only a few I consider to be truly great. And by that I mean technology that I want to have in my life, that brings value, and, last but not least, that makes me feel good. The subjective factor is just as important, I believe, when it comes to the things that I have to look at and interact with on a daily basis. That's just the way it is, and I'm fine with it.
Because of this, a pretty long list can get really, really short in no time. My colleagues have already shared their favorite tech products of 2014 with you, and now the time has come for me to do the same. It's BetaNews tradition, after all. So, without further ado, here they are.
The older I get, the more interested in sports I become. I suppose as my own dreams fade away, I can live vicariously through the athletes on the TV. Though I can appreciate all sports, I am mostly a fan of baseball, basketball and football -- sometimes hockey. While most of the world likes soccer, we Americans, for a large part, ignore it, despite the media trying to force it down our throats.
Unfortunately, watching sports often conflicts with real life. Case in point, the NFL is primarily a Sunday-affair, and my family usually has other plans for me that day. While I always side with living my own life over watching someone else play sports on TV, I never abandon it altogether. You see, I track sports scores and watch plays on my smartphone. Today, Microsoft announces that WatchESPN is available for Windows Phone.
At the end of 2014, the Windows Phone landscape is dominated by low-end smartphones. Of the ten most popular devices that the platform has to offer, just two are high-end handsets -- however, neither is a current-day flagship. If it is not clear enough by now, Windows Phone is nothing more than a low-end affair, after more than four years down the road. Is that a bad thing?
Nokia Lumia 520 is the most-successful Windows Phone around, accounting for a whopping 25.4 percent of Windows Phones in use. Put differently, it is as popular as the following nine most popular Windows Phones put together. Altogether, the top ten makes up 67.2 percent share in this market, according to information revealed by AdDuplex.
The mobile market is a four horse race... if we're being polite, that is. Really it's a battle between Apple's iOS and Google's Android. BlackBerry desperately neighs about its importance to the enterprise market, while Windows Phone stamps its hooves trying to gain attention as it's hauled off to the glue factory via the knacker's yard.
Microsoft's mobile OS may have gained ground in some parts of the world, but the reality is that it's struggling. Whenever we talk about Windows Phone it feels like the same topic comes up again and again, forcing us to re-tread old ground, bang the same drum. The app situation is dire; it's all but impossible to paint it any other way. But could opening up the ecosystem to Android apps save it from a slow and painful death?
New Year's Eve is almost here! Woop Woop! Are you excited for the partying? Me neither. Not only am I socially awkward, but I don't drink alcohol either, making me quite the boring party guest. Sadly, my usual date for the evening, Dick Clark, is dead. In lieu of Dick, I must make do with watching Ryan Seacrest or Kathy Lee and Hoda, while eating a shrimp ring, pizza bagels, crackers and a can of spray cheese.
But wait; maybe I can have some real fun after all. According to Microsoft, you have a party in your pants pocket with Windows Phone! You see, the company today announces a collection of apps, "The Holiday Parties Collection", to enhance your New Year's Eve celebration. Will you be kissing a Lumia at midnight?
Microsoft is keeping its promise of delivering Lumia Denim in the last quarter of 2014, as the firmware update is rolling out now. However, most devices which are slated to get it will only receive it starting early next year.
"The Lumia Denim update has started rolling out to a limited number of devices in selected markets, and will continue arriving in waves by device", says Microsoft's Adam Frasier. "A wider rollout of Lumia Denim to all Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to begin in early January, following partner testing and approvals". I wouldn't be surprised if the roll-out ends very late in Q1 2015.
Nokia’s HERE suite of driving and navigation apps first made its appearance on Windows Phone, and although it’s now being developed for other platforms, for many it remains best associated with Microsoft’s mobile operating system.
However, now that Nokia is no longer tied to Windows Phone, the Finnish company’s interest in developing for that platform is waning, and it will in future be focusing on Android and iOS -- which have a much larger user base.
With Windows Phone still struggling to gain considerable traction, Microsoft is trying to boost its operating system's market share by focusing on the low-end of the market, which has real potential of attracting consumers, especially those in emerging markets. And, so far this year, Microsoft has introduced quite a few affordable Windows Phones, with the latest of the bunch being the still-Nokia-branded Lumia 638.
Lumia 638 is a new Windows Phone 8.1 handset that is designed for India. It is touted to be one of the most affordable smartphones with 4G connectivity available in this Asian market, which is sure to attract the attention of price-conscious local buyers. What else does it have to offer?
Windows Phone is a great operating system. If you disagree, you are wrong. Sure, it has frustratingly low app availability, including a lack of Google apps, but the underlying OS is wonderful. Live tiles are useful, and the UI is smart and attractive. Hell, the hardware is wonderful too, and it is often sold at very affordable prices.
Today, Microsoft and Sprint are joining forces to bring the Lumia 635 to Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile USA and Sprint's own network. Believe it or not, this is the first-ever Lumia handset for Boost and Virgin USA -- two of Sprint's sub-carriers.
Windows Phone started off as an easy to use smartphone operating system without many bells and whistles. Over the years, it has picked up more and more advanced features, reaching the point where it can now hold its own in a comparison against main rivals, Android and iOS. And Microsoft keeps adding to the list.
One area where Windows Phones have struggled -- against Android rivals -- is gesture-based features, like the ability to answer a call by holding the phone to the ear. (You can find that on some old Android devices, like Samsung Galaxy S3.) It is not a major feature by any means, but it is nice to have. Well, Microsoft is trying to catch up by introducing a new app, called Gestures, which enables (more) gesture-based features.
We've heard that 2015 could be the year of cryptocurrencies, and now it seems that Microsoft is getting in on the action ahead of the New Year. There is yet to be a formal announcement, but Microsoft now accepts Bitcoin as a form of payment for apps, games and other digital content.
The virtual currency can be used to make purchases in the Windows Stores, Windows Phone Store and the various stores that exist for Xbox. While Microsoft is yet to issue a statement about the acceptance of Bitcoin, a page has been added to its customer support site that gives some details.
Whenever I read about a company deploying a certain number of smartphones for internal use, it is usually Windows Phones which are given to employees. And Microsoft is the company that proudly does the official announcement on behalf of (or together with) its customer. This time around things are (very) different.
US airline United Airlines has announced that it will deploy iPhone 6 Plus to over 23,000 flight attendants, with the initial goal of giving them the ability to access company resources -- like email, Intranet, policies, and procedures manuals -- and also to handle retail transactions during flights.
When Fitbit launched its free, native app for Windows Phone 8.1 four months ago, it was a huge win for Microsoft which has in the past struggled to entice big names to its platform. The Fitbit app includes pretty much everything an owner of one of the firm’s activity trackers could want, including real-time and historical stats, automatic wireless syncing, activity and food logging, and the ability to pin the Fitbit Live Tile to your Start screen.
But where some companies simply port Android or iOS versions of their apps to Windows Phone and then forget about them, Fitbit shows just how committed it is to Microsoft's mobile platform by updating its app to introduce Cortana integration for easy voice-activated food & activity logging, as well as various other features.
What is Nokia doing after ditching phone-making? The Finnish company is focusing its efforts on more lucrative endeavors, like HERE. Even though nowadays the brand is mostly associated with Windows Phone, Nokia also brought its well-known mapping software to Android and ramped up its efforts to make the web version more attractive as well.
The result of the company's work to improve the online version of HERE is said to be "a better, faster and stronger here.com", which packs some interesting, value-adding new features. However, there is also something in store (no pun intended) for Windows Phone users, in the form of an update which is available for HERE apps on the platform.
If Microsoft wants Windows Phones to have a higher market share than the current 2.8 percent, it needs to step up its applications game.
The current state of affairs is simple: There are just not enough apps. Some apps have hundreds of fakes and rip-offs in the store, some available for Android or iOS are simply missing for Windows Phone and arrive half a year late.