Mango, Dissected (part 1)

August 2, 2011 Leave a comment

June 29th 2010, it started off as a normal, quiet day. That was until a post by Brandon Watson surfaced over on the Windows Team Developer Blog announcing the release of a Beta version of the Windows Phone 7 update codenamed “Mango” for developers. Since then the Developer Team over at Windows have been slowly rolling out the Mango update to its registered developers and this is my take on the new features.

Well the good news is that I finally have gotten a reply from the Windows Phone Developer Team saying that I can post this up! So here is my take on Mango, now bear in mind, the developer copy does not have all of the features fully enabled like Twitter and LinkedIn integration.

Multi Tasking and Open App View

My first thoughts was that multi-tasking would seriously drain my battery life, how wrong I was with that. Through the few weeks that I have used Mango I have noticed no difference in the life of my battery which is a good thing in my book, especially as it is Beta software because you usually expect it to be buggy and a complete drainer.

Now when you hold down the back button on your WP7 device, you are presented with your open applications, each of them are depicted with a screenshot of the last view you had of the application before you exited it. The downside to this is that not many of the applications available on the market at the moment allows you to re-enter the application where you left off. This can be quite an annoyance as it means the applications takes a little while to reload. Now this is obviously something that can be resolved with a little change to the applications or maybe even the way that Mango captures the application state. Overall, I feel that multi-tasking and app handling has been handled better in Mango then I have seen with any of the rival platforms so far.

Another multi-tasking style option that I have noticed is hidden away within the settings menu is background services which feels very Windows 7 like. When some more applications are able to be made for Mango, I think that applications like IM Clients or even a client that wants to use the notifications system and they could use background tasks like a fail safe system.

XBOX Live

One of the main features that seems to be placed in Mango for the name of UI (User Interface) is the changes to the Games hub.

Bringing the design, layout and feel together over multiple platforms is a major achievement especially when that layout is known to be a successful one. One of the main parts that I like the most about is the new spotlight page within the hub, it really has opened my eyes up to some of the gamers within the community, as well as the big deals that is around. I am not that much of an XBOX person so there is not really much more that I can say on this apart from the new options within the settings that I will leave for you to find out yourselves ;)

Calendars

There is not too much that is new in the Calendar but it does seem like they have listened to a few peoples requests. There is now a birthday calendar that is automatically selected but it comes from your Windows Live account not from Facebook which I think would be more useful to many people. Another default account that has been placed into the calendars list is for US Holidays, hopefully by the time of release, it will be changed so that the Holidays is based on the localisation of the phone.

The Facebook integration into the People hub seems like it has also been extended to the Calendar too, allowing you to either have just events that you have RSVP’d or all events show up in your calendar. One good thing to come of the calender is that it has a quick edit box, so you simply need to just click the time slot, type the event name and you are done, now obviously if you need to add more detail or the event lasts more then 30 minutes you will need to go into the normal, full editor but for quick and dirty entries it works out quite nicely.

 

 

For now I will leave you with this and part two will be coming shortly which will include the new Beta 2 for Mango :)

Decentralisation of Windows Phone services

So far in these series of posts, I have been talking about Windows Phone, Zune and other services as a whole. I have been reminded yet again that I shouldn’t do that, especially when Microsoft decides that when they announce their features list for Mango, that quite a large proportion of the mentioned features are localised, mainly for America (of course). Now in some cases, these restrictions could be the result of local legislation, in other cases it could even be because the Windows Phone team hasn’t tried hard to look into the application of these services.

At this moment, there are seven features that is a mixture of Zune and Windows Phone marketplace services. The seven services are as follows:

  • Windows Phone App Marketplace
  • Zune Pass
  • Zune Music Marketplace
  • Zune Podcast Marketplace
  • Zune TV Marketplace
  • Zune Movie Marketplace Rentals
  • Zune Movie Marketplace Purchases
Now for these seven services, Microsoft and the Windows Phone team, have decided on only sixteen different countries. Now looking at the list, it seems to be Microsoft’s core countries only that are on this list. Some readers might be wondering what I mean by “Microsoft’s core countries”, the answer to that is the core countries are the ones where Microsoft have good to high level of sales, an “acceptable” level of loss amoungst other markers. Below is a list of all the current countries and the features that they are able to use. Now what you will notice on the table is the vast disparity between the countries, there are several different theories that could be put into play based on the disparity, I wouldn’t like to speculate which theory or even the reasons as to why the setup is like it is. You can take a look at it and try to evaluate your own theory yourself.
Now if you are as curious as I have been, you might also be wondering why the spread of availability is as it is as well as how it remains to be profitable to be able to limit the countries in which some key services which would/could have brought Microsoft in to a more direct and aggressive position in the Mobile and television market. Unfortunately, I am unable to actually see many of the services that Windows Phone 7 and Zune but from demonstrations and clips that I have seen, applications live Zune TV could be a very strong contender to Apple TV for example.
I will leave this as is, allowing you to ponder whether or not you would prefer to be able to use and would prefer to use some more of the services.

Easy Steps to Gain a Better Battery Life

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment

As any smartphone user will know, you constantly need to be on the lookout for ways to increase the ever diminishing battery life on your handset. Whilst we all like to have the handset that is able to give the biggest range of features, we also need to look at a healthy balance just so that we can get more then just a mere handful of hours of use. There is no point in having the most features on your handset if you never have enough battery life to show those features off or even just utilize them.

In this post, I compiled several different methods that I have either found (will mention sources) or worked out myself all of which will be simple to impliment and it should barely effect any functionality of your phone, those that does affect a feature just needs to be turned back on when you want to use it! Quite a few of these are just common sense that I would hope many people do follow, if there are any developers that are reading this then hopefully they implement at least a few of these in their applications to help their users!

Things to Change

  • Change the phone’s theme from Light to Dark (Settings->System->Theme->Background) the dark means less of the screen needs to be lit-up which reduces battery consumption
  • Turn off WiFi, until you need to use it (Settings->System->WiFi)
  • Turn off Bluetooth, until you need it (Settings->System->Bluetooth)
  • Change the frequency in which your phone retrieves from your Email account(s) (Settings->System->email & accounts->(click on email account)->Download New Content
  • Have your lockscreen kick in quicker (Settings->Lock & Wallpaper)
Now these might seem like common sense ideas but unfortunately I have seen many people complain about battery life and they do the exact opposite of what is above and somehow are unable to grasp what they are doing wrong. This is a start and there will be more to come but hopefully this will help you out a little bit more.

Windows Phone Marketplace

As with every good mobile platform, Windows Phone 7 has a good, well designed, simple marketplace where you can download over 19,000 applications, some of them are free, many of them you need to pay for. You also get an unfortunate mixture of good and poor quality applications, the same as with any platform. One of the annoying things that you will find with any platform is the sheer number of spam applications that make it through a platform’s “certification” checks, it is starting to become annoying, almost like they don’t care because they can make a quick $ from it. Unfortunately it seems that even the Windows Phone platform is plagued with the same issues until recently, they have decided to combat the issue in a way.

Rather then make the certification checks more rigorous, kind of like the checks that Apple impose on their developers, they have decided to put a limit on the number of applications that a developer is allowed to have certified daily to 20! I, personally think that no quality developer will release 20 different applications within a 24 hour window, if the limit was say, 20 a month, that would be a more reasonable level for quality developers.

It does make you wonder that since the announcement of 19,000+ applications, how many of them are spam applications, well I would take a good guess at the number being around 1,000. Whilst you may think that this is a high number, if you look at pretty much any other platform the probable ratio of 1:19 is extremely good! Most other platforms, especially Android, would have to strip the majority of their applications out of the system just to come close.

Even though my previous paragraphs might not sound it, I am actually glad that the Windows Phone team have taken an initiative to stop the surge of spam applications, it might not be the best course of action but it is better then doing nothing. It does make you wonder though, why people would throw money away to make these pathetic attempts at applications that just annoy people. I can’t see how it benefits the creators so why?

Mango and Me

So it has been over 2 weeks since the massive announcement from Microsoft over the planned system upgrade for their mobile platform codenamed “Mango”. Rather then following everyone else and live blogging the event, I have decided to spend the past week sitting back and collating all of it into one post aimed at why Mango should be considered a game changer for Microsoft. Why this release can help to reduce the deficit that Windows Mobile 6.5 brought to the table. Why Mango is going to help improve your mobile experience.

What is so good about Windows Phone 7 and Mango?

So, first of all, I have to clarify a massive misconception, Windows Phone 7 (WP7) and Windows Mobile 6.5 (WM) have absolutely nothing in common in terms of the code-base, the way the handsets work or even the support from the Microsoft staff.

The first launch of the WP7 brought about mixed results both within retail stores and with consumers alike. Many people were still burnt by it’s predecessor WM, others just thought this was a poor attempt by Microsoft to enter an already crowded and over-competitive market. I was lucky in the fact that I never had any experiences with WM and that my first experiences with WP7 was in a pre-launch meeting that was organised for us. Even though the devices we handled were pre-production models, they were still very powerful, the software was very polished and as much as I hate to say it, I started to sway towards liking a Microsoft products, which if you know of me, you will know is a big step!

Now when they released the orignal WP7 OS, there were issues and bugs creeping into it, as you get with almost any piece of software. People always like to focus on the worst points for any product, never the best, but Microsoft managed to resolve these issues quite quickly unlike some other OS manufacturers. One of the biggest issues that I believe Microsoft have had is the OEM’s following the specifications as Microsoft wanted. A perfect example of this is when the NoDo update was released and Samsung devices that tried to be updated ended up being bricked. From the issues that Microsoft and the Windows Phone team had to deal with when applying the NoDo update, it does unfortunately make you wonder if they will run into the same issues when they release Mango or have they kicked the OEM’s into line?

Now you might wonder why I put so much doom and gloom into a section entitled “what is so good…”, well I believe that they best way to learn how to improve the outcome of your future is to focus and build on the mistakes of the past. Even with all of the issues that have been present so far, Mango is bringing a lot of good and promising features to the table and with these, I believe it will bring the whole platform into a more aggressive position against it’s competitors for the first time since the release of the platform. Below are some of the key features that have been announced and why they are so important to the progression of WP7.

Instant Messaging Integration

So one of the more exciting features announce for those of us who are social, the update to the messages system brings in a whole new experience by giving you the opportunity to integrate Windows Live and Facebook Chat into the Messaging Hub. From the hands on demo that I have been able to see, the ability to switch between SMS, Live and FB is so seamless that you probably wouldn’t be able to tell where each message comes from. To improve this further, in the People hub, it will now show you what service everyone is logged into so you can direct your messages to them that way and know which service you are using.

Office Hub Improvements

Well for those of you who are more business orientated, who use Sharepoint or Office a lot, this upgrade is going to come as a herald of good news for you. The WP7 team have managed to throw in extensive support for Office 365. This can prove to be a massive improvement for those who use this service. For those companies who heavily use and implement Sharepoint into their systems, it seems like they have integrated it into the software a lot better this time around which is going to be great. The one new feature that I think is the best part to the Office improvement is the Skydrive integration. Much like the Google Docs integration on Android, this will be a very useful tool to not just improve the usage of Skydrive but to also bring in a nice, simple way to store important files in the cloud especially with the free 25GB of storage space!

 

XBOX Live/Games Hub

It seems like there is just a few minor updates here which presents itself in the form of a graphical overhaul, which is quite beneficial as it is going to help bring a lot more continuity between the WP7 and console versions of XBOX live, which any UX professional would love!

There also seems to be a new sync option added but what it allows to be sync’d seems unknown for now. Hopefully it will help with improving the on-line gaming side of XBOX live. Again, that is speculation as nothing is set in stone yet, but it will be interesting to see what happens!

 

Groups

A feature that will bring some joy to users is the ability to group all of your contacts together, to categorise them. It is not a new feature, it is one that many different OS’s have offered and hopefully it will help speed up the way that you are able to send messages to multiple groups, either SMS or Email depending on what details you have for them. Other then this there is not much that I need to write on this as it is self-explanatory.

 

Lockscreen

Well it seems that we will be able to see album art on our lockscreen now and that it will be (obviously) relevant to the song currently playing within Zune. There also seems to be a very promising option to allow the screen to never time out, but there are doubts as to whether that will be allowed on all handsets, or whether it will be available on certain handsets only, like it currently is. Another big bonus is that the Windows team have finally increased security on the lockscreen by allowing an AlphaNumeric  password. It just means that it isn’t as easy to be able to quickly unlock the screen like you currently can.

 

So as you can see, overall there are a lot of new and exciting features being put into place and hopefully it will all work straight out of the box… One intriguing thing is whether or not they will introduce Skype as a last minute change to the Mango line up. Now obviously, Sykpe will not be great for the original handsets that do not have a front facing camera, but it would still allow for calling and instant messaging, something that the telephone networks will not be too happy about as it obviously will impede their ability to make a good profit.

The Benefits of Using Zune

Well as promised, here is the post about my current experiences with the Zune side of Windows Phone.
Zune was something that I wanted to stay away from because I didn’t see the need to pay £8.99 a month for unlimited streaming and downloading which is a good deal.
After setting up on the site using my Live ID, I noticed that there was an option for a 14 day trial, so I thought why not. It had taken me only 15 minutes to line up 30 albums to be downloaded onto the computer. A notable point to make is that if you have a Windows based computer, the Zune client is remarkable, it looks like a lot of work was put into it.
The PC client isn’t just good as a replacement for Windows Media Player with the added ability to download as many albums as you want or to buy/rent films. It is also good for managing your phone in the sense of updating it’s software, managing the content or even just downloading applications and games!
To sum it all up, for it’s money, Zune is worthwhile IF and only if, you like to keep getting all the latest music downloaded.

P.S. This is the first post done through the WordPress application for WP7

Moving From One Platform to Another

Well now that my new Mozart is ready to be set up, I thought that I should write this post to cover same/similar applications between the two marketplaces (yes it is limited to the apps I use but I hope it helps convey the message), easy way to transfer contacts from a Blackberry (pain in the arse) to a Windows Phone 7 device and a few other tips and tricks that I have learnt so far.

So lets start off with applications, this is my current setup:

  • Dilbert (awesome comic strip)
  • foursquare
  • Dropbox
  • Twitter
  • Telmap Navigator
  • QR Scanner Pro
  • 4Shared
  • BrickBreaker
  • Angry Farm
  • Documents to Go
  • MSN

Now I know that it isn’t too massive of a list, but they are all used on a regular basis so it is helpful to have use of them again. Now applications like the Documents To Go is easy to replace and is an improvement thanks to the full copy of Microsoft Office for Windows Phone 7 and foursquare is replaced by Zune. There is unfortunately some down sides, like how on WP7 you can only get a viewer application unless you want to set yourself back £3.49 for an application that says it can sync with dropbox and several other similar applications.

As always, Twitter never fails to let you down with another awesome free client available for download yet there is no foursquare client which is a bit of a let down. One suprising upside is that the only free Dilbert client also includes XKCD which is just AMAZING!!!! Instead of Angry Farm, I decided to download Pandas vs. Ninjas which is a humourous alternative to Angry Farm and Angry Birds, which after the announcement of the cost of getting it on WP7 (over £4) is too pricey for something I have completed on Android makes Pandas vs. Ninjas just awesome!

Now one big advantage of the Windows Marketplace is the try before you buy option that a developer can offer to potential customers, this has allowed me to take advantage of a couple of applications so far that I wouldn’t otherwise look at getting like Fruit Ninja, Need for Speed and more! It is certainly worth a try with the marketplace as there are many applications and games that give you this option.

So to finish off on the subject off applications, yes there is not as many applications available at the moment (17,000) compared to the numbers that you see Apple and Google boast about, yes some of the applications are more expensive (for now) compared to their counterparts on other Markets, but the quality of the applications that I have seen so far are very, very high and it is a good example of quality over quantity.

Contacts

Well as anyone else who owns a Blackberry knows, it can be a pain in the arse to move contacts from your Blackberry device over to any other device without writing them down and typing them back into the new handset, well I guess I got lucky with originally owning an Android device as I kept my contacts up to date via my GMail account. So all that was required was to perform one last sync on the Blackberry then set up my GMail account on the Mozart and within a minute my contact list was quickly populating itself.

Now if you are one of these people that has a Facebook account, first off may god help your soul, secondly if you sign in on your new Windows Phone device, make sure you choose the option to only populate your contacts list with people that were already there unless you want your hundreds of “peeps” to bog your contact list down… One big bonus to the upcoming Mango update is the seemless contact integration that extends to twitter and your IM messages, makes all the information you need placed in one single location for ease!

I was going to share some tips and tricks in this post but as it already is getting a bit on the lengthy side, I am thinking of moving it to it’s own post for ease… Look forward to my next post which will *hopefully* cover Zune and a few other cool features!

Marc

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