Editorials

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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Net neutrality is worth fighting for

Tell the FCC to enforce net neutrality

We tend not to branch out into the political discussion here at Mobile Nations all that often. Politics has little bearing on the day-to-day use of mobile devices. But on occasion, things from the political world cross into our little world of smartphones and tablets. Take SOPA back in 2012, for example. Meant to address the real problem of content piracy, SOPA overreached and the reaction of the American people was enough to kill the bill while still in committee.

We're facing another intersection of politics and technology today, and it's time that we the people made our voices heard. Net neutrality is the issue of the day, and the way that governments move on this issue will have far-reaching consequences for decades to come.

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Normally, I’m a pretty big advocate of WhatsApp. After KIK unceremoniously abandoned Windows Phone in 2012, WhatsApp rose up to take its place. Sure, the app had issues on occasion, but the development team was busy pumping out updates so often it became a running joke (remember update Fridays?).

Lately, things are slipping. For instance, the public version of the app hasn’t had an update since January. That’s almost four months ago. Granted, WhasApp beta users have been receiving updates nearly every other day, but even that does not guarantee a steady or working app. New features have not been added in weeks, just occasionally moving around of elements resulting in a game of ‘what’s changed?’ each time a new version is released (changelogs don’t exist, evidently).

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Following Microsoft's Q3 FY2014 earnings report from last night I thought we should take a look at the big picture behind the numbers and address some of the key themes from the company's analyst conference call (which you can find here)

Let's have a quick look at the numbers for Q3. Revenue was $20.4 billion, gross profit was $14.5 billion and operating income was $7.0 billion. While adjusted revenue grew 8%, earnings per share (which came in at $0.68) grew slightly less at 5%.

Clearly Microsoft is not in any kind of financial trouble. I say this despite not exactly being a Microsoft fan. I own and use exactly zero of their products so I'm simply looking at the business as a technology investor here. Microsoft is growing slowly. No, they're not even growing as fast as Apple and they certainly are not growing anywhere close to as fast as deeply mobile companies like Facebook. But they're growing and are on very strong financial footing.

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Changelogs. They’re the list of reasons why we want to update an app or game. It’s the simplest thing that some app creators often ignore. It’s baffling. Version 1.2 of your app is out? Great, umm, why do I care unless you tell me?

Granted, in Windows Phone 8.0, and earlier there was no real region for a proper list of changes, resulting in some developers creating pop-up screens detailing the fixes upon first launch, or a separate area under ‘About’ where they can detail their continuing hard work, or even jamming it under the app description in the Store. It wasn’t ideal, but people definitely appreciated the effort.

But developers, you no longer have such an excuse with Windows Phone 8.1. And we hope you notice.

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Despite the fact Windows Phone 8.1 has been garnering some fantastic reviews from both tech pundits and the masses, it’s not all roses and ponies. I was reminded of this last night when playing with the Xbox Music app that comes with 8.1.

On the surface, the app looks decent. It’s a continuation of the new app structure started late last year by Microsoft, which replaces the ‘built in’ Music + Video hubs of the past. Microsoft is changing the architecture so that the Windows Phone Team can quickly add new features and fix bugs, all without an OS update.

But let’s not mince words: the music experience on Windows Phone 8.1 is subpar, and it has become worse since 8.0.  In fact, it sits with a pathetic 2.5 stars (out of 5) on the Store, which is awful for a Microsoft app.

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