There's something of an air of excitement surrounding the release of the next version of Windows. The various builds of Windows 10 Technical Preview have delighted, frustrated, aroused, and annoyed in just about equal measure. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, one thing is certain about Windows 10 -- even months before its launch it has got people talking.
There's not long to wait until we get our hands on the next build, but now attention is shifting away from the desktop to mobile devices. There has long been talk of Windows 10 merging mobile and desktop platforms, and the launch of a new Windows Phone app shows that the time could be coming when Windows Insiders see their first glimpse of Windows 10 for phones.
Mobile devices equipped with a kill switch are starting to become fairly common, in no small part thanks to Apple and Google, which have added this nifty security feature to their respective operating systems, iOS and Android. Now, US chip maker Qualcomm is also joining the party, albeit using a different approach, which, on paper at least, appears to be superior.
That's because Qualcomm has decided to go for a hardware kill-switch, which will first ship in its flagship mobile processor, Snapdragon 810. The main selling points? Users will be able to take advantage of it no matter which operating system runs on their Snapdragon 810-powered device, or whether the operating system offers such a feature or not.
The tablet market experienced something of a slump in 2014 and things don't look like being much better this year according to a new report by research specialists Gartner.
It estimates that tablet sales will reach 233 million units in 2015, an increase of only eight percent over last year's figure. Worldwide combined shipments of devices (PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones) for 2015 are estimated to reach 2.5 billion units, an increase of 3.9 percent over 2014.
When it comes time to buy your next smartphone, will you be swayed by hardware or operating system? Forget iOS for a moment; put Apple's mobile OS out of your mind for right now. Hardware to a large extent determines price, and an upcoming range of budget phones from Alcatel offers an interesting choice.
The Pixi 3 -- that rainbow-colored delight you see above assaulting your eyeballs -- comes with a choice of four screen sizes, and three OS choices. The smallest measures just 3.5 inches, but 4, 4.5 and 5 inch models are also available. But the interesting thing is that each is available with a choice of Android, Windows Phone or, erm, Firefox OS installed.
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.