While it’s pretty obvious that I don’t write all that often (not for lack of want, trust me), there’s one application that I’ve always made sure to install when I do want to get something on my blog: Windows Live Writer.
Unfortunately, Windows Live is dead (long live Windows Live!) and the the only way to get Windows Live Writer has been to figure out where to find the Essentials installer and then remember to remove the apps that don’t work anymore or have been replaced (i.e. everything but Writer). It’s a pain in the ass. Oh, and the app hasn’t been updated in years.
Today a new era has dawned – Open Live Writer is on the air! Brought to us by a crew of volunteers at Microsoft who work tirelessly to get the app converted to open source (yay team!), we now know that the best offline blogging tool will live on into the future. HUZZAH!
Check out http://openlivewriter.org/ for more info and to grab the bits.
It’s been a month and a half since I made a dramatic change in my life, one that I would never have believed possible just 6 months prior: I started using an iPhone as my primary mobile device.
This is a big deal. I’ve worked at Microsoft for 6.5 years and have been a Microsoft-centric infrastructure professional my whole career (including a stint working for BillG). I have been a proud Windows Phone user and advocate, and I ate more than my share of "dogfood" (Redmond lingo for internal beta testing our products). I’ve owned multiple
Nokia Microsoft Lumia devices and run every OS from Windows Phone 7 through yet-to-be-released builds of 8.1. I like the platform and still recommend it to people if it fits their needs.
But on November 11th I swapped my AT&T account over to an iPhone 6 and I haven’t regretted it one bit.
Before I go further I want to point out the disclaimer on my blog – you can see it over there on the right. I have an employer (Microsoft) and an opinion (my own). What follows is my opinion alone – in no way am representing Microsoft. I’ve been very careful to only discuss publically available information here, so don’t go hunting for insider nuggets – there aren’t any.
Now I know a Microsoftie jumping ship for a competitor’s platform comes off as sacrilegious to some, including me earlier this year. Hell, I grew up a Microsoft fan boy long before I ever worked for the company, and I still have a great deal of pride in what we’re trying to deliver to our customers. I take it personally when friends slam the company and/or our products, or we’re the butt of jokes. That’s not to say I have blinders on – in some ways I’m even more frustrated then an external customer/user because I can dogfood products and provide feedback … that in a number cases has been ignored. Trust me – I’ve felt the pain of crappy OS and app builds, and I’ve opened quite a few product bugs.
All that being said, things at the end of 2014 are vastly different than what I just described, and that includes – to a certain extent – the culture inside Microsoft. I have not been immune to those changes. Microsoft has, over the past year under new leadership from Satya Nadella, moved to embrace the multi-platform mobile-first world that is the reality of today’s smartphone ecosystem. It’s no longer tenable for Microsoft product groups to sit in the Redmond Bubble and create products with an "if you build it customers will come" attitude (yes that’s an old article – but I don’t think the point is outdated).
Today’s Microsoft has (finally) woken up to the fact that we’re one of many options consumers and businesses have – and that means that means our products probably won’t live in a homogeneous Microsoft-centric environment. We’ve launched versions of Office on iOS and Android that are far superior to their Windows Phone brethren (and largely don’t exist yet in the wild on Windows’ modern app platform for tablets). We’re making great headway with OneDrive offerings for Apple and Google platforms, and just recently we launched versions of the excellent
Bing MSN apps for non-Windows mobile devices too.
These changes have shown up in the Microsoft culture as well. Previously some folks were hostile towards blue-badges who walked around with iPhones or Android smartphones. I don’t see that as much anymore, though I’m sure it still exists. I certainly don’t personally feel that way anymore (no, I didn’t smash anyone’s phone before my change of heart). And I can even meld both worlds together, helping break down the bubble by not just dogfooding our iOS apps, but also living in a competitor’s experience and having that help shape my feedback on our first-party offerings. To quote my old friend and coworker Dare,
“Learning about your competitor’s product is a great way to understand your target customer’s base expectations. So you can exceed them.”
Great advice to follow.
A review is only as good as the source, so I thought I’d take a few paragraphs and outline my smartphone resume. I’ve used more than my fair share of mobile devices in the last 15 years. I’ve run enterprise mobile phone accounts and have a knack for being able to quickly find the pros and cons of a device and make recommendations on whether to deploy a fleet or pass.
I got my first mobile data device back in 2000 – a glorious RIM 950. It was AWESOME! I was able to get my email in real time, my calendar and contacts were sync’d too, and because it was one of the first devices to leverage the cellular data network instead of the analog voice network it kept working in natural disasters. My wife and I moved to Seattle the day before the Nisqually Earthquake in early 2001, and after it struck all of the cell phone lines were jammed. But my RIM 950 was rock solid and never faltered. I was even able to send a text-to-voice message out via a RIM service that called our families back in North Carolina to let them know we were okay.
When RIM-turned-BlackBerry introduced the 6210 model in 2003 that integrated the same data functionality with a phone I jumped onboard quickly. I was lucky enough to be in a position to actually speak with a couple representatives from RIM about their new phone right before it was announced, play with the device for a brief time, and give some feedback. I clearly remember asking them if you could change the ring tone (something my high-end Nokia “candy bar” phone at the time could do, and with polyphonic realistic sounds to boot). Their response was classic: “This isn’t a consumer device. Business users don’t want those kinds of features.” Remember, 2003 was long before the “bring your own device” revolution, but I politely pointed out that business users are consumers too and that they should reconsider. They didn’t, and RIM/BlackBerry was forever chasing the marketplace instead of leading it because of that very attitude. Sort of sounds like Microsoft’s attitude at the time too…
My point is that to be successful in today’s marketplace a smartphone has to be the best of both worlds: a powerful business device and a feature-rich consumer satisfier.
I was a BlackBerry user until I joined Microsoft in July 2008 when I lost access to a corporate BES server to link my device to Exchange. Windows Mobile, which was our offering at the time, was complete crap, so I dinked around on a couple (horrible) WinMo devices before I finally got an iPhone, then iPhone 3G. I didn’t flaunt it and was keenly aware of the Apple stigma inside the halls of Redmond. I was on an iPhone for a couple years inside Microsoft until Windows Phone 7 launched in October 2010 when I got a Samsung Focus, then a Nokia Lumia 900, and lastly a Lumia 920. Here’s a pic of my *partial* collection back in October 2011…
Hi, my name is Nathan and I’m a mobile tech addict. From L to R that’s a RIM 950, BlackBerry 6210, BlackBerry 8700c, Cingular 3125 (aka HTC Startrek running WinMo 5.0), BlackBerry 8820, Dell Axim X51v (Windows PDA – remember those?), Samsung Blackjack II (WinMo 6.0), iPhone, iPhone 3G, and Samsung Focus. Missing are at least 4 BlackBerry models that I upgraded from (and by upgrade I mean I got a new model and someone else at my company got my 4 month old phone), and both my more recent Lumia 900 and Lumia 920 … and of course my current iPhone 6.
So anyway, I spent months weighing whether to make the jump from my trusty Lumia 920 to an iPhone 6, and I can honestly say that in the end I made the jump with a clean conscience. So without further ado, here’s my comparison and impressions of the iPhone 6.
I’m not going to bore you with a in-depth dive into the specs of each device. If you want that check out Versus.com’s comparison page or a similar table on findthebest.com. Effectively they’re relatively similar phones. The iPhone 6 is notably thinner and lighter (about 30%) – and I really appreciate both differences on the iPhone. It just feels way more comfortable in my hand. It’s also nice to have a plethora of cases and other accessories available for my device, versus hunting for a cool case only to find it isn’t available for my phone.
Swapping out the Windows button for the Home button wasn’t a big deal, but I do miss the Windows Phone standard back button occasionally. The Home button almost seems gesture overloaded (single press, double press, hold down, touch and rest all do different things) and I wonder if having a single physical button take so much use will impact longevity. That said, on my Lumia 920 the power button is noticeably "softer" in click response than the other, less frequently used buttons … and it still works. Maybe a more broken-in click action on the Home button will be a good thing over time.
I also miss having a dedicated camera button to use as a trigger. Yes, you can use the volume buttons on the iPhone to trigger the camera but I honestly keep forgetting that – to do so requires a 90 degree rotation to the right, but on the Windows Phone it’s 90 left. Old dog; new tricks. 😉 My assumption is I just need to retrain my brain and I’ll be fine. Ironically I tried to use the volume buttons with my bank’s app last night to take a picture of a check to deposit it, and the app expected the left-rotation by default; it didn’t recognize the rotation to the right at all.
Speaking of the camera, much has been made of how great the Lumia cameras are. The older 920 is an 8.7 MP F2.0 lens, whereas the new iPhone is 8.0 MP and F2.2. Neither rival the Lumia 1020’s awesome camera (41 MP F2.2), but frankly I don’t think it matters. I certainly can’t tell much of a difference between the two. The iPhone’s HDR mode is substantially easier to engage (I’ve honestly never figured it out on the 920, even though there are settings for it), flash works just as well, and let’s face it – most people pump their smartphone pics through an app filter that makes them look like a shitty 1978 Polaroid snap anyway. I’ll let the bean counters argue this one – for me I’m just as happy with the iPhone 6’s camera as I was with my Lumia 920’s.
When viewing said pictures, and apps, and websites, and email, and whatnot the screen size is roughly the same between the devices as well, as is resolution. 4.7" at 1334×750 vs 4.5" at 1280×768 (iPhone/Lumia). Brightness and readability are fairly similar to me; I’ve used both devices in my car with a dashboard mount (maps – never texting and driving!) and readability in bright sunlight was never an issue on either.
My Lumia 920 is a 32GB device (there was also a 16GB flavor but I can’t remember if AT&T ever sold it) with no option for additional storage. While the iPhone can’t add additional storage either, there are at least a couple larger flavors: 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB. Apple want’s a hefty premium for the extra storage compared to micro SD card prices, but you’re going to want the 64GB flavor at least to avoid storage issues on iOS upgrades, etc. My wife had a 16GB HTC 8X Windows Phone and was forever complaining about running out of room. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Spend the extra $100 and avoid yelling at your device for running out of capacity for the next 2 years. Your blood pressure will thank you.
One of the biggest gripes I have with Apple is that they go off and do their own standard for just about everything. Where that pisses me off on the iPhone is the charging/sync cable. The Lightening connector is great – you don’t have to worry about it being reversed, etc. BUT EVERY OTHER DEVICE OUT THERE (including speakers, portable batteries, my Bose noise cancelling headphones, and just about everything else we own) uses the MicroUSB standard connector. Hell, the EU effectively required all manufacturers to adopt this as the standard to avoid the proliferation of chargers getting dumped in landfills as people upgrade. Apple isn’t playing ball … yet. Why they haven’t yet is simple – they want royalties for their own proprietary connector. $$$ Bastards. 2017 can’t come soon enough. Until then I’ve had to fork over a few bucks for a couple new cables and adapters.
Pro-tip: these little adapter caddies are awesome. Have one in each car since for now we’re a dual-connector-standard household.
Still, it must be noted that even with the proprietary connector the accessory ecosystem for iPhone is alive and well. Windows Phone … not so much.
Other hardware notes
Here are a few other points on the hardware front I wanted to share…
- I love having a physical switch to go to vibrate mode rather than having to toggle a switch in the UI. This was one of my "I really miss this" when I moved from my original iPhones to the Samsung Focus (Windows Phone 7) 4 years ago.
- I miss having Qi wireless charging built into my phone. Yes I could get adapters and retrofit my iPhone to use my wireless chargers, but I’d be giving up easy accessibility to the Lightning connector port, and I use that every few weeks to upload songs for my practice playlist when I’m drumming at church. Yes I could set up wireless iTunes syncing on my home network, but I’d rather stay flexible.
- I’m getting better battery life with my iPhone 6, and it charges faster too. This may have something to do with the age of my 920 and/or running dogfood phone bits on my Windows Phone, but I can’t deny I’m enjoying better battery performance.
- Audio quality on the iPhone 6 is far superior to the Lumia 920 to my ears. Whether I’m streaming via Bluetooth from Spotify in the car or listening to something with my ear buds everything sounds amazing. I don’t think the Lumia 920 sounded horrible, but the difference made me take note the first time I fired up some tunes in my car (no pun intended). And while the Microsoft ads may make fun of Siri for sitting on her speaker, that speaker sounds a million times better than the built-in speaker on my Lumia.
Touch ID and Apple Pay
The last hardware feature I want to touch on is Touch ID (see what I did there?). I’ve been using a biometric fingerprint scanner to authenticate on my laptop and my work desktop for years. It’s super convenient and relatively secure (nothing is unhackable). Plus it’s fast – swipe (or in the iPhone’s case hold for 1 second) and you’re in. Combined with Apple Pay, the iPhone 6 is simply the most secure payment platform I carry around with me these days. It’s true two-factor authentication for every purchase I make with Apple Pay, versus handing your card over to a stranger and hoping for the best. How many times have you wonder what’s up when your server takes forever to charge your card? And when’s the last time someone validated your signature against the back of the card (and that’s to fake – you remembered to sign your new card, right)? Checking against a driver’s license doesn’t offer much of a barrier either. At least with Apple Pay plus Touch ID I have to have my device (i.e. the card) PLUS provide a private/secure auth token via my fingerprint (a signature that’s required and much harder to forge).
Rant: I still don’t know why the US hasn’t moved faster to how credit card payments worked in Europe 7+ years ago. When I was in the UK in 2008 I never handed over my card – even in restaurants they brought a mobile reader to me and I had to be the one to swipe it. Plus they had certificate + PIN authentication on their cards (we didn’t, and largely still don’t). Replace PIN code with fingerprint and you’ve got Apple Pay.
Wait – yes I do know why this hasn’t changed here, US financial institutions think it’s cheaper to eat fraudulent transactions than it would be to do the right thing. Behold the almighty dollar…. Anyway, Apple Pay (and similar tech) is the future. Now we just need retailers to stop blocking it for BS reasons.
Okay, I feel better now. 😉
In general I’ve been very pleased with iOS. There’s of course been a learning curve to remember/figure out how everything works, where various settings are squirreled away, etc. – but everything has functioned as expected. I haven’t really used any of the iCloud offerings (in fact I’ve disabled even photo backup in favor of using OneDrive via our iOS app [thanks Jason!]). I haven’t used Facetime either, but I have had a few shocked replies as my text messages to friends change from green (SMS) to blue (iMessage).
Most importantly in just the last 6 weeks I’ve received 2 incremental update packages from Apple for iOS. Microsoft has never released small incremental patches for Windows Phone to the best of my recollection, no matter how much that possibility was lauded when WinPhone 7 first came out. Even moderate “point” releases have come out on a 6-9 month time scale if you’re lucky (Verizon seemingly stopped approving all updates for the last year or so until very recently). This has been a very frustrating fail for Windows Phone from my perspective.
I’m not going to hold punches: I miss Live Tiles and the modern Windows Phone home screen look and feel. This is perhaps the biggest downside to my migration. The iOS interface was awesome if not revolutionary when it first came out … 7.5 years ago. It hasn’t really changed since other than a false 3D perspective effect of moving the background image slightly as you tilt the phone (that’s cool the first time you see it, but never ever registers again with your eye). How much processing power – and battery – is being eaten to do that? Waste of electrons IMHO.
Yes, I can move icons for apps around on the various pages, but I have to match a strict grid. What if I want all my icons on the right 2 columns? Or just the bottom? Nope. And on those app icons there’s no info besides the occasional badge that tells you there are so many new emails or podcasts or whatever. I loved having my calendar, weather, stock, headlines, etc. info at a glance without diving into the apps. It is a longer process to figure out what room my next meeting is in on the iPhone. I’m really hoping they make some big changes here in coming releases – and so do a lot of iPhone enthusiasts I’ve seen online.
The aging UI is actually the biggest gripe my wife has as well. That being said, I saw online somewhere in the last week (sorry, I can’t find the reference now) a very valid point: on today’s smartphones how much do you really care about the core interface when the vast majority of your time spent with the device is in apps? Even on Windows Phone with Live Tiles it’s not like I’d unlock my phone just to stare at the Start screen (other than to get that next conference room). For that reason I have to look at the last 2 paragraphs and say “Yup, I agree – so what?”
iOS is far more stable than Windows Phone in my experience. Yes this may be influenced by dogfooding OS updates, but even on retail builds I found myself having to reboot my Lumia at least once a week to fix some issue or another (usually a crippling battery drain from some unknown source). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had to do that on my iPhone once when network connectivity on WiFi and cellular just stopped working. Not perfect, but an 83% reduction.
Bluetooth connectivity on iOS is rock solid, much more so than on my Lumia 920. I have a Ford Edge with My Ford Touch that runs atop the Microsoft Auto platform (which I also dogfooded – I’m serious about testing software!). Even on final/retail/gold bits on my Windows Phone and car I still had random connection issues at the start of perhaps 10% of my drives (that’s one per week or so). In the last 6 weeks I’ve had 1 connection issue with my iPhone – and I’m pretty sure that was the car. Ironically Ford seems to have come to the same conclusion I have.
The biggest pain point I’ve had was actually integrating my Microsoft accounts – both public (
Hotmail Outlook.com) and corporate (O365), and specifically around contact sync. This is especially frustrating to me because I spent a year and a half running Microsoft’s consumer address book platform that powers contacts for Outlook.com and Messenger/Skype, and syncs contacts from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve still got good friends running the service.
Anyway, from what I can tell on the user side of the service is that while there are some great features in the AB platform to present a unified view of your contacts when you’re on a Microsoft app platform (Outlook, modern Contacts, Windows Phone), all of that falls down pretty hard when you go to sync your account with 3rd party device. And don’t go through and delete all those duplicate contacts that magically appeared because then you start nuking your Messenger/Skype buddy relationships inadvertently. Thankfully there’s a deleted contacts recovery function available on http://people.live.com.
On top of all that there’s a Lync desktop client bug that under certain circumstances (which I evidentially hit on a regular basis) creates multiple duplicate contacts from your Lync buddy list in a special Exchange contacts folder, which is sync’d to your iPhone by default (you can hide these contacts, btw). You used to be able to disable this Lync contact create feature, but that option went away a couple years ago – I have no idea why, or even how this contact feature (without the dupe bug) is useful.
The result of all this isn’t fatal, but it’s a gigantic PAIN IN THE ASS! I had a TON of duplicate contacts that showed up on my iPhone when I first set up my accounts. Thankfully the iPhone lets you merge multiple contacts together so the end result is that I had to spend some quality time with my address book merging dupes, as shown to the right. Note, I only have 1 account each for Exchange, Facebook, iCloud, and Hotmail. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an issue caused by iOS; I have to lay blame for this squarely on Microsoft’s shoulders (including myself since I was on the feature team that helped create this mess). In fact, this is why having Microsofties dogfood experiences on other platforms is a GOOD thing! If I had been on an iPhone 2 years ago I could have helped prioritize getting this fixed; instead we didn’t really even know this was a problem at the time.
Continuing with the contacts theme, I do miss the excellent and deep contact integration from Facebook and LinkedIn that Windows Phone gives you. It was really nice to be able to search my contacts and have phone numbers and email addresses from people I know on those two networks included in the results, even if I don’t have them as a full-fledged contact in one of my address books.
I also wish the iPhone would “translate” the business phone numbers that Microsoft publishes via our internal global address book in Exchange. Your phone number gets stored as a 10 digit number (direct line) and then an “X+5” where the +5 are just your extension. For example, if my desk phone was 425-555-1234 my business phone number would get stored as “+1 4255551234X51234”. Windows Phone has the built in smarts to deal with this stupid convention and just dials the 10 digit number, but iPhone just sends the whole damn string to your wireless carrier and their phone switch legitimately replies with the technical equivalent of “WTF is that?”. Annoying, but not insurmountable – and likely a very Microsoft-specific feature that was built into Windows Phone to deal with our internal idiosyncrasies.
I’ve never been a fan of iTunes, so frankly I try not to use it as much as possible. I know for a fact I have a lot of company in this camp so I wont belabor the point. Unfortunately I do have a use case that forces me to use the desktop iTunes app with my iPhone: I create rehearsal playlists from MP3s for upcoming set lists with my worship band (I’m a drummer for Bellevue Presbyterian Church). I listen to the playlist for the coming Sunday throughout the week to get the tunes into my head. On Windows Phone I could download the practice tracks to a computer (that’s any Windows computer, mind you – sometimes my laptop, sometimes my work desktop, sometimes my home desktop) and copy the folder for that week’s songs directly onto my Lumia by drag-and-dropping them just as if the phone was a portable hard drive. I can then create the playlist on the phone and reorder the songs as needed.
With my iPhone that’s not possible. For whatever reason Apple thinks that 1 person = 1 computer, so you can only copy songs onto your phone from a single installation of iTunes. Right now I’ve got that set up as my work desktop since about 60% of the time I do my playlist creation during lunch on Mondays. Further, there’s no way to get music onto your phone other than via the iTunes app, so I have to do the playlist creation and sync operation via iTunes. I’m getting used to these limitations, but IMHO Windows Phone makes this scenario a hell of a lot easier.
Other iOS notes
Like I said above, I’ve generally been very pleased with iOS versus Windows Phone 8.1, even though I think of all the topics I cover in this write-up this area is the one where I’ve had the most negative experience. It’s not bad enough to make me want to go back, especially with the superior hardware and app ecosystem, but herein lies the biggest opportunities for Apple to make enhancements and for Microsoft to better support our customers on iOS.
It should be noted that I also gave up the ability to VPN into the Microsoft network from my phone since Microsoft IT requires some pretty complex encryption configurations that the iPhone doesn’t support (it can to basic VPN, so odds are you’re covered as long as you don’t work for MS). Frankly I used this all of 3 times on my Windows Phone, and that was just to approve a trivial request in an internal web app. I’m not missing the ability to VPN at all.
One other feature I do genuinely miss is incoming text messages automatically triggering Cortana to read the message and let me respond via voice-to-text. That’s SUPER helpful when you’re driving. I can get nearly the same functionality by reaching for my phone and holding down the Home button to invoke Siri, then asking to read new texts, but it would be great to have a setting toggle somewhere to automatically jump into “You’ve got a new message from John Doe, do you want me to read it?” I for one would turn it on, and from my searching online a lot of other folks would too.
This is where I’m going to start sounding like an iOS fanboy a bit. I’ve got some criticisms to be sure, but the app ecosystem on iOS is so far ahead of Windows Phone it’s not even funny. This isn’t news to anyone either. Honestly this was the tipping point for me in deciding to move away from WinPhone to iPhone – I was tired of not having access to interesting and relevant apps. I’ve always been a gadget geek (see phone history above), and frankly being on Windows Phone meant that I was locking myself out of a flourishing ecosystem that I really wanted to play in. I also wanted to be able to deposit a check at my bank without leaving home – that’s just too damn cool!
The other part of the app equation is the realization that I’m a consumer when it comes to a smartphone, not a pure business user. Even though I was smart enough to point out that obvious combination to BlackBerry more than a decade ago, somewhere along the way I forgot. Or the Microsoft culture made me forgo cool shiny new toys to support our own offerings. Or more likely both. My point is I wanted to have access to the awesome apps everyone talks about, not the stale feature-stripped versions that get published to the Windows Phone marketplace – if at all. As one of my coworkers put it just this afternoon, “I put up with app my friends talking about this cool Instagram thing for over a year before it ever showed up on Windows Phone.” Lame.
I’m going to break down the apps I’ve been using by area to help organize my thoughts.
Business functionality (email, contacts, calendar)
The built-in apps for Mail, Calendar, and Contacts are actually quite good. The biggest issues I’ve had are with contacts (as noted above in the iOS Experience section). I’m using all 3 as my daily drivers and am quite please with each. The UI for calendar is especially nice and easy to read, but I’ve found the accept/decline flow confusing as to whether I’ve actually accepted or not. Contacts work smoothly and, as discussed above, let me overcome issues generated by my data sources (Outlook.com and Exchange). I do the vast majority of my email and calendar work on my desktop via the full Outlook client, but I’ve been very pleased with my ability to quickly triage email and check my calendar. I still wish Contacts would pull from my full Facebook and LinkedIn lists though.
I of course also have Microsoft’s OWA for iPhone app installed so I can access DRM-restricted emails. I thought at first I’d use this app as my regular email client for business email, but it’s far too clunky. The calendar and contact UI is complete crap, and contact sync doesn’t seem to reliably work to the phone’s main address feed. While the contacts list is supposed to be able to show up in the main contacts app, the calendar completely lacks that integration point – meaning that if you run multiple calendars (work, home, travel, birthdays…) you’d have to check multiple apps to see if you’re busy or not. Not functional. I ended up connecting my phone directly to Exchange for contacts … then calendar … and finally email. I really don’t use the OWA app unless I have to.
I’ve tried Acompli as well (Microsoft actually just bought them) and it’s a highly-functional app as well, though I found I can’t adapt to it’s “we’ll show you what we think is important and file other messages elsewhere” feature. That’s why I have inbox rules set up on my Exchange server for – to filter all that crap out. I do like their “hovering undo” UI that lets you quickly restore an email that you accidentally swiped into the trash and I wish the regular Mail app had that.
One note with all 3 of these mail apps: I’ve always had one complaint with emails sent from folks on iPhones – the mail app ruins formatting in email threads with text showing up as Times New Roman 12pt. I’m picky – and that font looks like crap in email. I always thought it was the default iOS mail app screwing up, but I discovered both the OWA app and Acompli do the same thing. After a little digging I found the problem isn’t necessarily these apps, but rather the Outlook desktop client itself. It figures – Outlook’s HTML rendering engine is notoriously horrid. If you’re like me and want to fix this check out this great post on how to do it.
On the average day my 1-way commute is about 45 minutes … less if I skip the morning rush and stop for breakfast instead. 😉 To pass the time I listen to a number of different podcasts, including The Nerdist, Radiolab, The Alton Browncast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and a few other one-offs. I started off using the built-in podcast app that comes with iOS and was pretty pleased. It downloads new episodes, let’s me easily manage subscriptions, read/unread, etc. I was also impressed with the cloud sync feature that lets me listen in the car and then pick up in the exact same spot from my iTunes desktop app, and vice versa. NEETO! I used it twice.
The pain came when I tried to listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed. My wife taught me this trick on Windows Phone – you can listen to people talking at 1.5x speed and still clearly understand what’s being said. Plus you get through an hour podcast episode in about 45 minutes. GENIUS! But the Podcast app that comes with iOS can’t handle producing a clear audio track at anything other than 1x. There’s some bug that generates a horrible “warble” in the playback that’s just on the edge of annoying at 1.5x, impossible to deal with at 2x, and downright laugh out loud funny at .5x speed. This was true via the internal speaker, headphone jack, and Bluetooth streaming.
I searched for this issue online and couldn’t find any discussion of it anywhere. I wondered if I had a bad device (perhaps something’s screwy in the processor or sound chip) so I stopped by my local Apple Store in Bellevue, WA. After a brief wait I got hooked up with their resident podcast expert who didn’t even know that feature existed. When I reproduced the issue he laughed and said, “oh you’re using the built in Podcast app – that thing is shit!” Heh. He was able to reproduce the problem on his device so he pointed me to http://apple.com/feedback (which I used) and then made some recommendations on alternative apps.
I’ve been using Overcast for the past week or so and love it. It has a cloud sync feature as well, though I haven’t tried the web playback function yet (not sure I will – I need music when I’m working – I tend to zone out voices and I subscribe to podcasts to actually hear them). The nice thing with Overcast is that cloud-based service is what’s checking for new episodes, not the app, so this should save battery life. Best yet it’s got a multi-speed playback feature with a granular slider bar that lets you hone in on exactly how fast you want to listen. I’ve settled in on 1.4x. The UI is a touch confusing at first without a clear option to mark an episode as listened to or not (something important when rebuilding your subscriptions), but I quickly figured it out. To get some of the advanced features there’s an in-app purchase of $5, but frankly I think the app is worth it. I’m more than willing to support great independent devs – that’s how I originally met Dare Obasanjo. I used his RSS Bandit desktop app way back when, provided feedback, struck up a relationship over email, privately reported a massive security hole in a newly-launched Microsoft online service, and eventually leveraged that into an interview and job at Microsoft. Networking at its finest.
Anyway, ditch the built-in Podcast app and use something else. My vote is for Overcast.
Word and Excel are good on iOS, and OneNote is especially fantastic (OneNote has a solid 5 star rating on the App Store!). WAY better than the versions provided on Windows Phone. That’s a shame, but it tells me that the Office group is investing in apps where the users are … just like other developers in the mobile app ecosystem. Catch 22 anyone?
I don’t use it on my mobile device much (on purpose), but even the Lync app is far easier on the eyes and highly functional on iOS.
I mentioned OneDrive earlier – it’s very similar to the Windows Phone version, but that’s a good thing. It can do most everything you want it to … well, there’s not much of a feature gap between platforms, though there are a number of OneDrive features I wish would launch (hi again Jason – you have my list!). I use the OneDrive app to back up my photos to my OneDrive account and then sync to my various PCs. iPhone pictures end up in the same folder my Windows Phone pictures so my workflow is exactly the same. The big bummer for picture backup is that I have to remember to launch the app every once in a while so it can upload those pictures. On WinPhone that happens in the background, but on iPhone the OneDrive app has to be in the foreground. This is obviously a first party vs. third party feature gap that likely won’t be closed; photos are uploaded in the background just fine on iPhone if you’re using iCloud. I can live with it, though.
The iOS camera app really whips the llamas ass (that’s a good thing). It does the essentials, makes important settings easy to change (flash on/off, HDR on/off, front/rear lens) and has some really awesome features like easy high-quality panorama pictures (the Lumia panorama app always gave me fits) and allows you to do slow-mo or time lapse videos. I know there are some other, fancier camera apps out there that would let me do all sorts of other incredible things like mess with exposure and F stops, etc., but for me if I’m taking a pic with my phone I just want it to be quick and easy. If I want a pro-quality image I’m busting out my prosumer-grade Nikon DSLR.
By contrast, while most of the same features (and more) exist on the Lumia camera app, that UI is just too cluttered. By contrast I think it gives you too much control and can be overwhelming. It also lacks built-in support for panorama photos and slo-mo videos aren’t available at all. Interestingly the Lumia camera app, assuming you download it from the Store, is way better than the overly-spartan default WinPhone app. The iOS offering feels like a good middle ground.
I won’t rehash the camera hardware discussion above, but it’s relevant to read if you skipped it.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are all far superior experiences on iOS. Because of the much larger user base of the platform these apps are getting new features quite often. Facebook has a standing 2-week release cycle. On Windows Phone these apps are getting updated a handful of times per year and simply don’t have feature or quality parity. This is again the central catch 22 of the Windows Phone platform: developers have a tough time justifying the return on investment for a third platform (behind Android and iOS) when the user community is so small.
Other apps I frequent
These are some of the other apps I find myself using at least several times a week, if not daily.
- Instagram – on par with the Windows Phone app, surprisingly, though it did take over 3 years from the service’s launch for even an official app to reach beta on Windows Phone. For the record, the app was last updated 9 months ago as of this writing (3/22/2014) and still isn’t out of beta mode. That’s just sad.
- Spotify – my wife and I share a number of playlists between each other. As a 2-musician household, we love having access to all sorts of music from around the world. And no, we’re not missing Taylor Swift’s collection.
- Waze – crowd-sourced mapping and traffic data. This is available on Windows Phone but lacks many of the social features, which is a shame (Google bought Waze and killed off development on WinPhone). It’s fun to earn points while you drive, fix the map yourself when you need to, and report traffic incidents or disabled vehicles to look out for. I’ve found it offers better traffic-based route suggestions than my car, which also gets traffic data sent to it. Waze also lets you share your drive with contacts so they can see where you are along the route and when you’ll get there. Oh, and you can look up destinations from your contacts, Facebook events, calendar entries, Waze’s own database, or the web.
- MyRadar and Weather Underground – I’m a weather geek. These are great apps. The WU app’s user interface is a bit dated, but it provides access to the NOAA scientific forecast discussion which I love to read and can be quite funny at times. [pushes glass back up nose and adjusts suspenders]
- MSN Apps: News, Money, Sports – these are great apps and I’m happy to see them launch recently on iOS. The News app especially curates articles from many different sources. I also use USA Today’s app as well as NBC News.
- Flipboard – another late entrant to the Windows Phone ecosystem. I’m trying to work this into my app rotation more and haven’t used it as much as I’d like to. It’s another great news aggregator, but unlike the MSN app where “they” curate the feed for you, with Flipboard you tell it keywords, topics, and sources to track and then using that data it builds your feed.
- LastPass – password management platform that stores your password library in the cloud as an encrypted blob (they don’t have the key and cannot decrypt). I use desktop browser plug-ins for LastPass as well. This is also on Windows Phone, but here on iOS you can authenticate to the app with Touch ID instead of your password if you so desire (way faster – you desire!).
- ESPN SportsCenter – another app also on WinPhone, but somehow the UI on iOS just feels so much more polished and smooth.
- Personal finance
- Mint – great financial summary and reporting tool. Took forever to show up on WinPhone and isn’t nearly as polished or feature rich there. Have you heard that before?
- Amex – account info and alerts, Apple Pay integration, Touch ID app authentication. Doesn’t exist on Windows Phone
- my bank – no I’m not saying on the Internet where I bank, but suffice to say it’s one of many institutions that doesn’t have a Windows Phone app. I love depositing checks from my couch!
- Starbucks – I live in the Seattle area. Duh.
- Amazon Fresh – we use Amazon Fresh for grocery delivery. This app is actually easier to use than their website and makes putting our next order together super-easy. Not available on WinPhone.
- UPS Mobile – links with my UPS My Choice account to show me what’s on the way to our house … most comes from Amazon. Not available on WinPhone.
- TripIt – Great service if you travel a bunch (I don’t for work, but 2015 is shaping up to be a busy year on the personal travel front for our family). Technically there’s a WinPhone version of this app – last updated in March of 2012.
- Skype – have it because before running the address book service I spent 4+ years running the Messenger service platform, and Messenger
merged withwas replaced by Skype (back-end service is still the same). The Messenger integration into Windows Phone 7 and 8 was awesome and blended into the same “messaging” app as SMS text messaging. Unfortunately Messenger was removed from the messaging app in Windows Phone 8.1 and not replaced with Skype. With Messenger my wife and I could seamlessly migrate a conversation between the Messenger app on a computer and Cortana voice/text interaction in the car; all that broke down with Skype. If I uninstalled the Skype app on my iPhone I probably wouldn’t miss it, and I probably need to replace it on my home screen dock with something I use more often. I’m not convinced this app always stays connected to the cloud and that I’d get notified if I got an IM or call if I hadn’t run the app recently. That probably corresponds to the horrible rating in the App Store.
- Xfinity Home – pretty cool to be able to manage our home security system from anywhere. Not available on WinPhone.
- Xfinity Connect – voicemail on the go and I can technically place/receive home phone calls from anywhere. Way better than Vonage’s crappy iOS app (and non-existent WinPhone app). We’re currently migrating our home phone back to Xfinity.
There are a few others I’ve installed and use from time to time, but they’re specialized and not broadly relevant so I’ll leave them out.
As you can tell I didn’t return my iPhone 6 within the 14 day return window. Please know I have done that before – most notably with a 2004 Windows Mobile device that didn’t even make it 8 hours in my possession before I packed it back up to return – the manufacturer and reseller weren’t happy. It was a piece of crap.
Like I opened with lo all those many words ago (8000 or so), I really want to support Windows Phone and see the platform succeed. Hell, I’m not just an Microsoft employee but a shareholder as well. But I have to face facts – Windows Phone isn’t where I should be right now. I’m not giving up on Windows Phone like Tim Warren did (great read over on The Verge by the way), but for me I have two bigger picture reasons for moving to, and staying with my new iPhone 6:
1. Microsoft is only going to be successful if we provide awesome experiences on every platform our users want to use. That’s not always going to be Windows. To help support that sea change I can use another platform but still use Microsoft apps and services. Not just use – test, debug, and provide constructive feedback to the product teams. Dogfood.
2. I’m a tech enthusiast and want to be on a platform that is “getting the love” from developers and services everywhere. After 4 years and slow, incremental, but of course meaningful, growth I just don’t see the Windows Phone platform as hitting that critical mass anytime soon. It’s a great platform if you just want to have solid essential functionality and have a “cover the bases” app ecosystem. There are a LOT of people in markets all over the world who that brand placement targets and who are okay with flagship devices effectively stagnating while low-end phones that skimp on features proliferate. I wish Windows Phone every success in that marketplace. I’m not in that target market.
What this guy is, for at least the next year if not longer, is a happy iPhone user in the heart of Redmond.
PS – yes that’s a Lego caricature portrait on my wall. 🙂
What a long day. Today I closed a chapter in my career and started writing the next.
As many of you know for the last 4+ years I’ve been on (or leading) the ops team for the Windows Live (aka MSN) Messenger server platform. In the last year we’ve also launched the Windows Notification Service that powers live tiles and messages delivered to modern apps on Windows 8. And oh by they way we’ve also leveraged our Messenger platform to power Skype.
What a wild ride and a lot of work. I’m both incredibly proud of the products we’ve delivered and continually humbled by the amazing talent that I get to call my friends and peers at work. I want to extend a huge thanks to everyone on the Messenger/WNS team for making the last 4 years so enjoyable, especially Seth and Curtis for giving me a shot at it in the first place and mentoring me along the way. I’ve made some great friendships that I will always cherish.
That being said, the great news is that I’m not going too far! Moving forward I’ll be leading the service engineering team powering the address book, account profile, and social network feeds that light up your Microsoft Account across nearly every major property and device Microsoft offers.
But between now and Monday I’m a free man! I’m not on call for my old team, I’m not ramped up on my new team, and I’ve unsubscribed from all the email lists I don’t need to be on anymore. I don’t think my phone will know what to do without all those emails flooding in. Time to relax and celebrate my son’s first birthday this weekend!
Onwards and upwards to new challenges!
I’m catching up on some blogs and came across a great piece on the new (still beta) version of Windows Live Messenger. You can read all about it over at Download Squad.
It’s so awesome to actually be involved with something that millions of people use every day! 🙂
If you haven’t tried it yet, you can get the new version by visiting http://download.live.com/messenger.
I had the distinct pleasure of attending my first Microsoft Company Meeting yesterday at Safeco Field. I can assure you, you’ve never been to a business meeting like this before! Does your office gathering have Rainn Wilson as MC? A pitching mound? Beach balls and pyrotechnics? A drum line? 20,229 paper airplanes (and hundreds more unofficial flying paper objects)? Gigantic display screens? 4 seating levels? 20,000+ people (more than a Mariners game these days…)? A traffic jam?
Jaw-dropping demos of technology that your company (maybe even YOU) helped put together? Steve Balmer running around the room chest bumping people, screaming his head off, and inadvertently knocking defenseless women over? (seriously – that was funny as hell!)
I can’t wait to get using the next versions of Windows, Windows Mobile, Office, and a bunch of the other stuff I saw. I can honestly say that coming from the outside (of MS) recently, that while you may think the Microsoft has lost “the touch” I can tell you you’re wrong. Just wait for this stuff to get out.
Speaking of – check out the new beta version (public) of Windows Live Messenger (and the other WLx products). Head over to http://download.live.com. Messenger is WAY cleaned up from the UI of old, you can leave it logged in on multiple computers (chats appear on both and when you close a window on one it closes on the other – great for folks like me with multiple PC’s), and you can see “What’s New” with all the people in your address book. My extended team runs Messenger, the address book platform, as well as the stuff that makes “what’s new” work.
Lastly, I’m so happy to see Microsoft finally get off it’s ass and compete in the marketing space. Far too long, IMHO, have we countered Apple’s Mac v. PC ads with either nothing or the kind of over-detailed over-engineered non-passionate advertising Microsoft is known for. It’s time to stick up for ourselves and the fallacy that cool people use, and cool things happen, only on a Mac. Great things happen on the PC platform every day, and I’ve heard lots of stories about just as many issues on Macs as Windows boxes.
I’m a PC … and I help tens of millions of people every day connect to their friends, family, and community … one IM at a time. 🙂
I spent the first couple days of this week at Microsoft’s campus working with a small group of folks doing a refresh of the certification exams for ISA Server 2004 and 2006 (70-350 and 351). ISA stands for Internet Security and Acceleration – basically it’s Microsoft’s network firewall product that runs on top of a Windows server. It’s a great too for publishing apps in a secure manner to the Internet, speed up web browsing for your users (by keeping a copy of commonly-accessed web content on the ISA server), and providing remote access to a network (VPN)
I’m under NDA so I can’t tell you a lot of details on what we did and discussed, but I can tell you that it was a really cool experience. If you’ve ever taken a test and thought “these questions are stupid” I had a chance to avenge your experience (as long as your complaints were with either the 70-350 and 70-351 exams). 🙂
It was a blast to hang out with some wicked smart people and get into technical debates about best practices and firewall techniques. Kudos to the whole group for, in my opinion, making some great progress on these exams!
The one part that bummed me out … well pissed me off really … was having 5 people who’ve been using the ISA product since it was called Proxy Server 8+ years ago all look at a test question, debate it, all arrive at an answer, find out we’re all wrong, and then learn that the people who have taken the exam in the last few months have gotten that question right about 90% of the time. What the f…
Folks – don’t cheat. Brain dumps are illegal (people go in to take an exam and steal the content and then post it online), and you’re not doing yourselves any favors. The more people who pass exams by cheating the more diluted the pool of certified engineers becomes, and then you get to a point where having a certification doesn’t matter. Effectively you’re screwing yourself over by making your certification useless, plus you’re lying to your employer (and yourself) in saying that you’re competent in a product or technology when you really aren’t.
Or, maybe you should just keep on doing it. I know a PhD Psychometrician who’s an expert in Wii Boxing that’s gonna get ya!
Check out Steve Gillmor’s post over at TechCrunchIT about his best guess at the future of Microsoft’s online services/platform strategy. Pretty compelling arguments, and perhaps we’re seeing an opportunity for Microsoft to climb out of 3rd place in the online ecosystem. Only time will tell, but this sure seems plausible!
As Bill Gates closed the door for the final time Friday on his ex-office (Ballmer takes over Monday) the rhetoric about continued one day a week doesn’t match the reality. Whether you believe Bill will have an ongoing role in Office and Windows futures, I bet most of Bill’s input is already factored in by the owners of those two dominant sources of Microsoft revenue.
What comes next depends on whether Microsoft can pivot to the open Web paradigm as predicated in the Live Mesh strategy, or meander along while attempting to catch up in search and failing to buy Yahoo. You can find plenty of the latter analysis elsewhere, but here we’ll go for the throat of Microsoft’s disruptive opportunity by using a time-honored approach when faced with few facts but a lot of clues. Namely, building a case out of circumstantial evidence. And a smoking gun.
[ … GO READ THE REST!!! … ]
The Live Desktop is Mesh plus Silverlight. A Silverlight Office, however iteratively it is rolled out, will provide Microsoft the leverage to frame the discussion of an Internet Operating System. By mandating openness at all costs combined with a clear user contract trading software for services, the strategy puts Google and Apple in the position of explaining how they too get from here to there. Perhaps a SIlverlight-like runtime from either company is in the pipeline, but more likely are the Gears and SproutCore developer frameworks which are lighter-weight and less fundamental to each companies’ current success.
Contorting the words of Johnnie Cochran, if the glove fits you must convict. Will a Silverlight-only Live Desktop emerge soon after Election Day? If so, what will Microsoft or its developers do with it? Will Ray Ozzie, who spent the first half of his career as the most successful third-party application developer in Windows NT’s history with Lotus Notes, lead a wave of Live Desktop development under the rubric of Services with just enough Software? If the Himel post goes 404, maybe not.
The Smoking Gun
Sat, 28 Jun 2008 20:28:27 GMT