Editorials

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5 ways Microsoft can make Xbox Music even better

Make me king of Xbox Music and here's what I'd do

Hold the pitchforks, I'm not talking about the Xbox Music app on Windows Phone. The headline above is about how to make the Xbox Music service better. I don't think I'm too naïve, but Microsoft will eventually make the Windows Phone 8.1 Music app exactly how you want. If there's a feature or two missing you can look to third-party devs to fill that gap with the Xbox Music APIs. Instead let's look at the core service itself and what Microsoft should do to make it compete with the Spotifys and Beats Music of the music streaming world.

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Last week we looked at how the iOS App Store compared to the Windows Phone Store in 2014. It was a sobering look at how much work Windows Phone still has to close the app gap between the two platforms. That's especially apparent when you look at 'fad apps' like popular games or apps from a new startups or company.

It's not all doom and gloom for Windows Phone. Over the past two months we've seen major apps officially join the platform. Thanks is due in part to the Universal Windows app model that allows devs to target Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 with minimal work. Recently we've seen updates or releases for apps like Comedy Central, PlentyOfFish, UPS, AutoCAD 360, Barclays Pingit, Adobe Photoshop Express on Microsoft's platforms. The future is looking bright for Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Today we're going to turn the tables and look at some apps that are unique to Windows Phone and not available on iOS. We'll list some of the more popular ones and our favorites. Then you can hop into the comments and tell us what apps you love on Windows Phone that you can't get anywhere else.

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Ever since the Surface Pro 3 announcement, the future of the Surface Pro 2 was in question. Would Microsoft continue to sell both or focus on their new redesigned Surface Pro 3, and what about Surface 2? The story is coming into focus a bit as it looks like Microsoft is putting the Surface Pro 2 out to pasture.

Windows Phone Central has learned through various Microsoft Stores that all or most stock of the Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 2 accessories are being sent back to Microsoft. A few stores are keeping units on hand for customer issues, should any arise, but many stores now have zero stock with no plans to carry it any longer. It is not clear if other retailers are following suit or if Microsoft is mandating this only for their own stores.

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Time to check in on how the Windows Phone Store is doing against competitors. While the app marketplaces for Android and iOS are larger than Windows Phone, the gap between high-quality apps gets smaller and smaller each week.

Today we're going to check out the top 25 free apps in the iOS App Store and see if they're available for Windows Phone. If an app isn't available, we'll try and offer an alternative for Windows Phone fans. Let's go.

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Microsoft will be the icebreaker in China’s previously prohibited video game industry with the introduction of the Chinese Xbox One later this year. We have voiced our concerns about that bizarre adventure, like pricing, and the rigid content censorship for game software. The ridiculously high price might be a placeholder, but the frustration on the game content front seems to be very true.

As we have mentioned earlier, the problem of China as a game market is that there are no rules to follow. The country doesn’t have a game rating system like the ESRB. Every game is to be reviewed separately by multiple government organs, led by the Ministry of Culture. In this process a game could be condemned improper, harmful, or politically incorrect, and banned for all sorts of reasons.

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What's on your Start screen, Sam Sabri?

It was way back in mid-March that boss man Daniel kicked off a fun Start screen layout series where you get a chance to look at our Start screens. Since then you've seen which apps populate the Start Screens for Rich, George and Abby. Now it's my turn. Today you get to see what I deem important enough for my Start screen. Plus you finally get a chance to download the Start background I've been using for a few weeks. I've had many requests on where to get it, but wanted to save it for this post.

My Windows Phone 8.1 Start screen, Start background and favorite apps are waiting for you down below.

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In Windows Phone 8.1 certain core services have changed in that they can be updated dynamically, bypassing the requirement for a full-fledged OS update. In theory, that should allow Microsoft to respond to the rapidly changing market by delivering faster paced, piecemeal updates. In reality, it also increases the chances that something may go wrong, and that is exactly what has happened.

Last night Microsoft pushed out a rare update for the calendar app, which was disentangled from the OS in 8.1, much like Xbox Music. The update brought the version number to 1.0.14127.246 and there was no changelog. Although it is exasperating to users to have to update an app without knowing what changed – or improved, it is even more vexing when that update breaks something.

Immediately following the update, people in comments started to complain that the attempting to create or edit an appointment caused the calendar app to crash. We have tested the update on various devices, including the Lumia 630 with the Lumia Cyan firmware, and they all have the same problem, rendering the calendar app a view-only tool.

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It's kind of hard to believe that I've been using Windows Phone 8.1 for over two months now. Like many of you, I downloaded and installed (and upgraded) to Windows Phone 8.1 on April 14. That was the day the Preview for Developers version was released to Windows Phone developers and enthusiasts. I've been using Windows Phone 8.1 as my daily driver on my Lumia 925 and Lumia 1520 since then.

How's the OS holding up? What are my favorite features all these days later? Read on to find out the 8.1 things I like about Windows Phone 8.1 for over two months.

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Starting with Windows Phone 8.1 users can select a background wallpaper for their Start screen. The trick only works with apps that have a transparent Live Tile, which has resulted in a massive push by fans for more apps with those see-through Tiles. But like all things in life, sometimes it goes too far. For instance, many people have – rightly – complained that they liked those 'signature' colors for certain apps because it made finding them easier. I agree.

What's the best way to rectify the situation? Give users a choice. Here's how to do it.

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It's Sunday afternoon, and I just landed in Los Angeles, and while it's a quiet news day, that's because E3 is about to kick off, specifically with Microsoft's big presser tomorrow morning (more on that later). Although not much is happening now, my inbox is getting hit with bogus "Microsoft announced a Smartwatch" tips and now a website I've never heard of is claiming to have seen the smartwatch "a number of months ago."

Let's clear up a few things …

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Why you should buy a fitness tracker

It's #MobileFit Month here at Mobile Nations, and that means we're looking at all of the best devices to get you fit and healthy. A big part of that group is of course, fitness trackers.

There are people who like to exercise and those who avoid exercise at all costs. The exercising group may be more willing to strap on a fitness tracker, however we'd argue that those who avoid exercise are the ones that would benefit much more. In fact, it seems the non-exercising group are the ones that should consider buying a fitness tracker.

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There's a major niche for fitness products that is mostly untapped — for now

As you will see during Fitness Month here on Mobile Nations, there is a wide array of cool and connected gadgets to help you get fit or stay fit. Bracelets, bands and clips that communicate with smartphones to tell you how far you've walked, how fast you did it, and how healthy it makes you come from plenty of manufacturers. They even get social and make for great games and contests. It's really cool to see how far this area has come in such a short time, and it's pretty great to see how well it's been accepted by tech enthusiasts and those who aren't quite as enthused about circuits as we might be.

But there is one group of people who have (so far) been left mostly out in the cold when it comes to being healthy connected-style — folks who have disabilities.

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Windows Phone and Android have a lot in common. Both are competing for second place in app revenue against the juggernaut that is Apple, and both types of handsets/tablets are more affordable than iOS devices. Although Android has a leg up over Windows Phone worldwide, Microsoft’s mobile platform has a great opportunity to surpass Android in a number of emerging markets like China and Brazil.

There are many factors at play in the ongoing mobile battle between Microsoft and Google. To get a better idea of how each side stacks up, we spoke with Martin Koppel, COO at mobile payment specialist Fortumo. If Martin’s predictions are correct, Windows Phone’s continued growth in developing markets will soon put it on much more even footing with Google’s mobile OS.

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Years ago, Windows Mobile had many built-in methods that an IT administrator could use to restrict the device when used in a corporate setting. This was a good thing. Then Windows Phone was introduced and almost all of those administrator features were removed. Microsoft stated that Windows Phone would be a consumer device, and not meant for the enterprise. As time passed, it seems that Microsoft realized that they really did need to address the enterprise as the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement took off. However up until now, the few restrictions that were added have not satisfied IT administrators.

Recently Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.1 that provides some Mobile Device Management (MDM) improvements over Windows Phone 8.0. These features are part of what is called the 'enterprise pack'. Windows Phone 8.1 will likely be pushed out near the end of June, but we already know what will be included. Lets take a look at whether Windows Phone is now more acceptable as an enterprise device.

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Yesterday was an important day for Microsoft. With the announcement of the Surface Pro 3, Redmond is continuing to show that they’re in this for the long-haul and perhaps more importantly, they’re actively improving upon their previous work. A Surface Mini was not revealed as expected, but it sounds like for good reason, including the possibility of it contradicting the “one device to rule them all” message.

Sitting in the same room with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Stephen Elop and the who’s who in tech media, it was fascinating to watch Panos Panay – the corporate vice president for Surface Computing at Microsoft – take the stage and sell us on the idea of the Surface Pro 3. Soon after the now familiar promo ad for the device, the audience cheered and enthusiastically clapped. It was an odd thing because it felt genuine; people were seriously excited about this announcement.

Fast forward 24 hours and most of the ‘new tech high’ has worn off, and a few of us who have the Surface Pro 3 are digging deep into this new creation. Being sold on the idea is one thing, but using it and actually liking it is another. While it’s much too early for a review, here are some of my first thoughts on the Surface Pro 3 and Microsoft’s chances of success with it.

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Earlier today, eBay issued a press release letting users know that a cyberattack "compromised a database containing encrypted passwords and other non-financial data." Users will be asked to change their passwords just in case, though they noted that eBay "has seen no indication of increased fraudulent account activity." This is sadly just one of many attacks recently, and something that won't be going away anytime soon, if ever.

Attacks like this are nothing new, over the years plenty of big-name sites have become victim to similar cyberattacks. Retial chain Target has been all over the news lately, and there's also vulnerabilities like the recent Heartbleed Bug that affected Google, Facebook, Yahoo and dozens of other sites.

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Ever since Steve Ballmer stepped down to make room for Satya Nadella as the new CEO of Microsoft, the company has been loudly talking about its mobile first, cloud first strategy and the Internet of Things (IoT).

I think this change in how Microsoft talks about itself makes sense. After all, the desktop and notebook markets are not growth businesses anymore, and Microsoft is actually shrinking here as Windows loses market share to Apple and now Chrome OS. Google is making great strides pushing into the enterprise with Chromebooks and Chrome OS desktop boxes. I think the days of Microsoft dominating the desktop computer space are numbered.

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Yesterday Microsoft broke my heart and the hearts of early Xbox One adopters around the world. In case you missed it, Microsoft announced a Kinect-less version of the Xbox One will be offered for $399. That’s $100 cheaper than the current Xbox One SKU. That Xbox One sans Kinect will be available on June 9th in all regions where the Xbox One is already available. That bright future of the Kinect with the Xbox One that Microsoft promised last summer is now dead.

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