“What would you do to revive Windows Phone?”

A recent post on Twitter by Brad Sams asks the question

That tweet has been getting a few responses and it’s been a trendy topic of late. Between newly blond Joe Belfoire tweeting from an iPhone (for which he has a really good reason for doing so, but still freaked some people out) and the latest report on earnings showing Lumia sales dropping; people are commenting more than usual on the fate of the platform.

Many of the responses to Sams’s tweet were calls for Microsoft to spend more money promoting Windows Phone, get more iOS apps for the platform, release a Surface Phone, run Android apps, fix the Store etc.  I saw posts about just keeping the platform alive like Apple did with OS X and wait for the market to change.

Microsoft has pretty much done what it can to boost market share for Windows Phone.  They wrote native versions of popular iOS and Android apps (like Facebook and Twitter).  They assisted in getting other apps (like Flipboard) ported.  They bought technology (Project Islandwood, the Windows Bridge for iOS) to allow Objective-C iOS apps to be recompiled with little to no changes (like Candy Crush).   But in the end, no one bought a Lumia over an iPhone because they could still run Candy Crush.

The Windows Phone to Mac comparision doesn’t really have any legs to stand on.  Apple computer sales were always a fraction of Windows, but they usually had 10-12% of the market.    And Apple made their machines cool.   And Microsoft made sure that their apps (Office) ran (more or less) on the Mac.

Anything that resets the playing field is going to reset that field for all of the players.  Windows wont be able to step in to replace iOS and/or Android because whatever makes them irrelevant will make Windows 10 for Mobile irrelevant too.

This is the type of device that resets the playing field. It’s a 23rd century mobile phone/tablet device, as envisioned in the “The Expanse” TV series. Notice the crack in the upper part of the screen. Some things never change.

And then you had Project Astoria.  The Windows Bridge for Android. Last year,  Microsoft demoed the technology that would let you run Android apps on Windows 10 for Mobile. Windows 10 for Mobile had (past tense) had a subsystem that allowed Android apps to run.  You could run them basically unmodified, but Microsoft made it was to add a few lines of code and link to a library and it would give an Android app access to Windows features like live tiles.

Last fall, Microsoft pulled the plug on Astoria.  Officially it’s “on hold“, but I think they blew that bridge to smithereens.  The problem Islandwood and Astoria is that they don’t actually address the problem.  App developers were not committing resources to Windows Phone development.  Writing the code was just one piece of the problem.  You still had to have people test the apps and support the apps.

Some people have talked about a rumored Surface Phone.  It’s a unicorn, wrapped in a VaporMG case.  Microsoft could release a Surface phone tomorrow  running on top of a Snapdragon 820 and it really wouldn’t change anything.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been porting everything from Office, to Cortana, to the Word Flow keyboard to iOS and Android.  That’s been one of the shifts that has occurred under Satya Nadella’s watch.  The mobile OS is less critical, it’s the apps and the services used by those services that Microsoft is now going after.

I have a Lumia Icon phone running Windows Phone 8.1.  It has been my favorite phone of all time.  I don’t expect to see any new flagship phones for Windows 10 for Mobile coming to Verizon.  Microsoft has already shown that it’s not terribly concerned about not being on 50% of the US market.  Nadella made it clear last July that growing their phone business was no longer a top priority.  My next phone is most likely going to be an Android phone.

So what happens next for Microsoft on mobile?  Windows 10 for Mobile will eventually be released for the Windows 8.1 phones that can run it.  Windows Phone global market share will level off at some number between really bad and awful.  It’s a minor player, some markets more minor than others.  To pretend anything else is just wishful thinking.

Microsoft will continue to bring apps and services to iOS and Android.  They could write an Android launcher that brings live tiles to Android.  That’s pretty feasible and they could provide an API to make it easy for other apps to add live tile functionality.  You could start seeing the bits and pieces of what made Windows Phone special on Android.  And to a lesser extent on iPhone.  It’s hard to upgrade a walled garden, and the walls around iOS are pretty high.  But the Microsoft apps will be there.  And those apps ultimately sell Microsoft services like Office 365 and the Azure platform.

Windows Live Writer is dead, Long Live Open Live Writer

In case you missed it, Microsoft has allowed Windows Live Writer (WLW) to go open source.  The new project is called Open Live Writer (OLW) and it’s taking the current version and breathing new life into it.  WLW has been basically in a coma since 2012

It’s part of the .NET Foundation, an umbrella group for various open source projects that have come out of Microsoft.  You read the announcement on the .NET Foundation blog.   This is cool, very cool.

When this blog was hosted on Blogger, WLW was my tool of choice for writing and editing blogs.  When I moved to a self-hosted WordPress site, I used the built in editor on the siter.  Which is actually quite good.  Good enough that I never bothered to switch WLW over to the new site.  Now that OLW will be picking up where WLW ended, I plan on using it it again.

I’m looking forward to seeing some plugins come over to OWL.  A long time ago, I wrote a plugin for WLW to generate image galleries for your blog from Smugmug.  It was so long ago that the Microsoft site for hosting plugins is long gone. 

I don’t think I would update the gallery plugin, with responsive design as the driver, it would be a better user experience to let the user go right to the SmugMug gallery.  I would do one for pulling in images from SmugMug.  Almost of the images on my blog come from my SmugMug galleries.  I don’t store images with the blog.  No point in duplicating the storage and it’s one less thing to worry about if I ever migrate the blog again.

Marvin Gaye as an antidote for Road Rage

Marvin Gaye

If our cars could just play “Mercy Mercy Me” when a Road Rage situation is detected, countless lives would be saved each year.  It shouldn’t be that hard to do.  If the car is going faster than 45 mph and it detects sudden braking and the horn being pressed, the odds are pretty high that the potential for a Road Rage condition exists.

When that happens, the car should immediately start playing Marvin Gaye singing “Mercy Mercy Me”.  You just can’t stay mad listening to that song.

I discovered this amazing fact this morning, while driving into work.  I was in the left lane, driving a large breadbox that is also known as the Honda Odyssey.  Some guy in a  Fiat 500 (named because that’s about how much it weighs) started moving into my lane, right about where my front fender is.

I tapped my brakes and pressed the horn to gently remind the driver that while we can both occupy the same place, physics prevents us from doing this at the same time.  His response was to give me the finger and do some assorted other hand signals.

That made me mad.  It’s one thing to be a lousy driver and to make a mistake of not looking to see where you are putting your ridiculous car; but it’s quite another to get mad at another person because you missed the Driver Ed class on how to use a mirror.

If I had not hit the brakes, he would have crashed into me.  Which would have been annoying.  I probably would have had to pull over and wipe Fiat off my fender.  In addition to not understanding the laws of physics, those laws would be decisively unkind to the Fiat.  When  a 2300 pound object hits a 4400 pound object, it’s not hard to pick the winner of that outcome.

He then attempted to speed away from me.  Which in a Fiat 500 is cute to watch.  Soaking wet, a Fiat 500 has about 12 horsepower (OK, 101  horsepower).  The Odyssey has 248 (breadbox aerodynamics requires the horsepower equivalent of 1980 Ferrari 308 GTS.  To be fair the Ferrari weighs less and looks cooler) horsepower.  I could tailgate the 500 without the Honda breaking a sweat.

Before I could start participating in today’s Road Rage challenge, “Mercy Mercy Me” came on the radio.  The soothing tones of Marvin Gaye pushed the Road Rage out of my head and replaced it with a pleasant calmness.  In the same amount of time it took to get mad, I became unmad.  I then maintained a normal cruising speed, while in the increasing distance the Fiat 500 driver tailgated the car in front of him.

This could work for other people.  It doesn’t have to be Marvin Gaye, you could pick from a selection of music that would soothe you, based on your own tastes.  But I think “Mercy Mercy Me” would work for most people.

Microsoft’s Privacy Manifesto

In the Cloud We Trust

Microsoft News just posted an article by Brad Smith, the President and Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft about privacy in the age of the Cloud.  You really want to read it, it’s about where we are now and where we should be going, and what Microsoft is doing to get there.

If the Sony attack taught us nothing else, it was this: There is no national security without cybersecurity. That helps explain why so many governments are taking action.

I came across the article by a link posted by The Register, which basically called it an ad for Microsoft Cloud services.  It’s that, but it’s also much more.  It’s about Sony Hack, it’s about Snowden, it’s about data residency requirements, and it’s Je suis Charlie.  It’s also about the lawsuits between Microsoft and various governments over data being stored by Microsoft.

Microsoft is taking steps in ensuring that they will treat their customer’s data properly and lawfully.  Smith wrote that Microsoft’s cloud business will be grounded in the following four commitments to “governments, enterprises, consumers, and people around the world”.

  1. We will keep their data secure.
  2. We will ensure people’s data is private and under their control.
  3. We will figure out the laws in each country and make sure data is managed accordingly.
  4. And we will be transparent so people know what we are doing.

Smith goes on to provide some information about the lawsuits that Microsoft has been in and the nearly mystical Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  It’s worth reading.

Even if you don’t care about the topic, but like to see an innovative and clever use of HTML, go read the article.  It’s easy on the eyes and uses HTML5 tricks to make the graphical data interactive and non-annoying.  Go read this and go check out the Voices for Innovation web site..

On sharing media files between Windows Phone and OS X

There used to be a Windows Phone Connector app in the Mac App store.  It was the way to directly copy music and images to and from a Windows Phone and a Mac.  That app apparently stopped working when Yosemite was released and some time ago Microsoft pulled the app from the Mac App store.

The question of how sync music from a Mac to a Windows Phone comes up in the forums every now and then.  Well, not that often.  The Venn diagram of OS X and Windows Phone users has a very tiny overlap area.  I reached out the Windows Phone account on Twitter and had the following exchange:

Windows Phone uses MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) as the way to expose your documents to other devices.  Apple does not do MTP, at least not at a way that exposes it to Finder or iTunes.  It does support it partially within some apps, for the purpose of accessing photos from cameras that connect as MTP devices, but only within that context.

Since OS X does not have any file system support for MTP devices, you have two choices.  You can try locating a 3rd party MTP app or go the cloud.

One OS X app that I came across is named SyncMate.  It says it will allow you to sync up Android and MTP devices, so it should work.  It’s not free, but if you have a bunch of devices that your Mac just doesn’t play well with, it’s worth checking out.

There is a free app call XNJB that provides MTP support, but it looks like it has not been updated in a  few years.  I would be surprised if it still worked.  I would imagine that whatever changes that Apple made to OS X to break Microsoft’s app would have also broken XNJB.

Microsoft’s suggested solution is to use cloud services.  Like OneDrive or Dropbox.  If you have a Windows Phone, you should be using OneDrive to backup your photos.  But for transferring music, that’s awkward and slow.  If you like to change your music frequently from your own collection, using a  cloud service to transfer the music across will work. But your’re not going to like it.

If you use a Mac, the user experience with Windows Phone (and Android to a lesser degree) is going to be less than optimal.  Apple wants a walled garden and they generally achieve it.  I can’t imagine the number of people who only have a Mac and a Windows Phone to be a large number.  I can see why Microsoft hasn’t done anything to update their Connector app.   It’s hard to justify spending the development cycles on a product with a tiny user base.

When a UX hack has unexpected consequences or “Why did my iOS app name get truncated when I used TestFlight?”

While testing a iOS app with TestFlight, we noticed that the app name was being truncated.  The name was just under the length where iOS truncates it and adds the ellipses.  When we compiled the app and deployed it a device, the name displayed normally.  When we put a test build up for QA through TestFlight, the name was truncated.

Without the dot, the full name would have been shown

One of our developers contacted Apple Support and they came through with a quick answer.  When you install an app through TestFlight, Apple pre-pends an orange dot to the app name.  This is to distinguish the app from one that had been downloaded from the iTunes App Store.  This takes up space and reduces the amount of space available for the app name.  It’s artifact of using TestFlight, when the app is installed from the App Store, the text will not be truncated.  This is nothing new, it’s been this way since Apple launched TestFlight with iOS 8.

So this was a UX hack.  Apple wanted to be able designate that the app had been installed from TestFlight (which is good), but did it in a way that would have unexpected consequences (which is bad).  I’m kind of surprised that this was implemented that way.  Apple controls the entire chain, from device, to OS, to the development tools.  They could have found another way to indicate that app came from TestFlight.

Like draw an underline in orange underneath the app name.  Place a new style of badge over the icon, in a different corner.  Draw an orange box around the icon.  Or, hold on to your seats, allow for a longer length for the app name when the orange dot is added.

Monkeying around with the app name seems a like a quick and dirty hack.  Now we have to let our QA people know that the app name isn’t broken, it’s just a side affect of using TestFlight.  Making sure that the app name is displayed correctly is one of the things that our QA people check for.  TestFlight just made that a little harder.

Waiting for Microsoft’s hardware event on the 6th

As a long time Verizon customer and a Windows Phone fan, I’ve been waiting for the new Windows 10 for Mobile flagship phones from Microsoft.  In a couple of days, Microsoft will be holding an event to announce some new hardware.  It’s expected that Microsoft will announce and demo the Surface Pro 4, the Band 2, and a pair of Windows 10 for Mobile phones.  It’s not exactly a state secret that the phones will be known as 950 and 950XL and will be the logical extensions of the higher end Lumia phones.

Being a Verizon customer, I got a sinking feeling that I’ll be sitting on the sidelines for those phones.  Mind you, this is just conjecture,  but past experience with Verizon Wireless has dimmed my expectations with Windows Phone on that carrier.  While nothing has been said, I would be very surprised if 950 (I’m too lazy to type “the 950 and/or 950XL”, so I mean both) shows up on Verizon.  And there have been rumors about exclusivity.

Verizon has been more or less indifferent to Windows Phone over the years.  When Windows Phone 8 came out, we did not get the cool Lumia phones.  It took a year for Verizon to get a great Windows Phone.  And then they changed their mind and pulled it after a few months.  I was lucky enough to get a Lumia Icon before they pulled the plug on it.  And that phone has been my favorite phone on Verizon.

If you walk into a Verizon store right now, you have to hunt to find where they keep the Windows Phones.  Verizon is basically an Android carrier that carries iPhones only because people would drop them for AT&T if they didn’t carry them.  I don’t think that the Windows Phone platform or Microsoft are important to Verizon.

If we go on the assumption that Verizon doesn’t pick up the 950, what happens next?  Verizon is the largest carrier and has about 1/3 of the US market.

If Verizon doesn’t carry the 950, that’s a big piece of the US market gone.  That’s large deficit to overcome.  I’m not switching carriers to get a phone.  I have a family plan that would be difficult to untangle and it has the best reception where I live.  When it comes time to replace my Icon,  I’ll have a difficult choice to make.

In the US, I think that Windows Phone has become dead man walking.  Outside North America, Windows Phone is comparable to the iOS market share in a few markets.  It’s not going to beat the Android juggernaut, but it’s still in the game.

As an American. my views are biased to what is going on in the US market.  It bugs me as a Windows Phone user, but that’s the reality in this market.  When Microsoft released Office on iOS and Android, before their own phone, that’s when the handwriting on the wall went from spray paint to neon lighting.  So what’s next?

If Microsoft tries the Motorola model and sell an unlocked 950 directly to the consumers, I have a shot at getting the 950 on Verizon.  That will be dependent on Microsoft selling an unlocked 950 that supports the radio bands that Verizon uses.  It’s also dependent on Verizon allowing the phone on their network. In the past,  Verizon has been somewhat difficult about allowing devices that Verizon had not certified on to their network.  People buying the Moto X Pure directly from Motorola have been able to use Verizon, so the precedent exists.

If Microsoft doesn’t sell an unlocked 950 that would work on Verizon, I’ll be facing the decision of Android vs iPhone.  And that bugs me.  I like the Windows Phone UI.  Their home page makes sense to me.  The iOS design of multiple pages of icons worked great when you only had 16 apps.  But now, finding an infrequently used app is an exercise in scrolling and squinting.

Android is a little better with managing app icons, and it allows you to replace the default launcher with one of your choice.  But Android is teeming cesspool of security vulnerabilities and their update story is a sad one.   Between the vendors being less than quick with updating older models and the carriers taking ages to sign off on updates, with Android the updates are much less frequent than with iOS.

Apple does have two advantages: a much smaller pool of different devices to update and the iron clad control of issuing updates on Apple’s schedule.  I just don’t want to have to use iTunes to manage the content on my phone.  And what’s the deal with their mobile hotspot?  It can take some serious voodoo to get it working sometimes.

If I go Android, I’ll want devices that get updated as needed.  Motorola has the advantage of selling the devices, they can update the Moto X Pure when they want to (but will they?).  The Google Nexus phones are supposed to work that way too, but I have a Nexus 7 tablet on Verizon and the Android Lollipop update came at least 6 months later for that tablet than the one for the Wi-Fi version.  Since Google is selling the 5X and 6P directly, hopefully the updates will be timely.

That being said, the new Nexus 5X and 6P phones look like very nice devices.  It’s odd that they left out wireless charging, but the rest of the hardware seems to be very good.  If I can’t get a 950, they may be the closest devices to what I want.  Take this all with a grain of salt, I’m just making a guess based on past experience with Verizon.

Send your name to Mars

If you want to take part in the next NASA mission to Mars, there’s still time.  NASA is inviting the public to submit their names to be encoded on a chip that will be sent to Mars.  That chip will be on the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission to be to launched on March 4th 2016.

The InSight mission will be sending a lander to the Red Planet to conduct advanced  geological tests to study the formation of the planet.

Because Mars has been less geologically active than the Earth (for example, it does not have plate tectonics), it actually retains a more complete record of its history in its own basic planetary building blocks: its core, mantle and crust.

From the InSight mission overview.

By studying the size, thickness, density and overall structure of the Red Planet’s core, mantle and crust, as well as the rate at which heat escapes from the planet’s interior, the InSight mission will provide glimpses into the evolutionary processes of all of the rocky planets in the inner solar system.

In terms of fundamental processes that shape planetary formation, Mars is a veritable “Goldilocks” planet, because it is big enough to have undergone the earliest internal heating and differentiation (separation of the crust, mantle and core) processes that shaped the terrestrial planets (Earth, Venus, Mercury, Moon), but small enough to have retained the signature of those processes over the next four billion years. Within its own structural signature, Mars may contain the most in-depth and accurate record in the solar system of these processes.

The InSight mission will follow the legacy of NASA’s Mars Phoenix mission and send a lander to Mars, which will delve deeper into the surface than any other spacecraft – to investigate the planet’s structure and composition as well as its tectonic activity as it relates to all terrestrial planets, including Earth.

Follow this link to enter your name to be included on the InSight mission.

All the names will be printed on to pages, and the pages will be scanned in and printed on silicon chips. They will use an electron beam “E-beam” machine at JPL that specializes in etching very tiny features (less than 1 micron, or less than the width of a human hair!). This machine is used to to make high-precision microdevices in JPL’s Microdevices Laboratory.

After a successful launch in March of 2016, the InSight Lander is expected to land on Mars on September 28, 2016.

Why the Virtual Keyboard on the Microsoft Band doesn’t work with Android and iOS

Microsoft Band's Virtual Keyboard
Microsoft Band’s Virtual Keyboard (image from Microsoft)

Someone recently asked why the Microsoft Band Virtual Keyboard only works with Windows Phone 8.1.  I’ve been using mine with my Lumia Icon and didn’t realize that replying to a SMS message only partially works in Android and not at all for iOS.  While there doesn’t appear to be any documentation explain why the functionality is missing from some platforms, I’ve made a semi-educated guess for the reasons.

With the Band, you have three basic ways of replying to an incoming SMS message .  You can send a predefined text message called a “quick reply”.  You can define up to four quick reply messages.  Two are already set up for you: “I’ll call you back” and “I’m in a meeting”.  You can change those two or add two additional through the Microsoft Health App.   They are handy to use when you are in a meeting and need to send a quick response back without having to be that person who plays with his phone during a meeting.

The quick reply messages work with Android and Windows Phone.  In addition to the quick reply messages, with Windows Phone 8.1 you can use a virtual keyboard  or voice dictation on the Band.  Both of which require Windows Phone 8.1.

Voice dictation uses Cortana on Windows Phone 8.1.  You speak into the Band, the audio data is sent to the Phone and Cortana converts it to text and sends it back to the Band.  You can preview the text and then send the reply to the message.  Right now Cortana is Windows Phone 8.1 (and Windows 10) technology.  Microsoft has announced that they are porting it to Android and iOS, but it’s not available yet.  It’s also not known if the Cortana integration on Android and iOS will extend to working with the Band.

The Virtual Keyboard on the Band uses your phone to process your keypresses and swipes into text.  It uses the Word Flow technology in Windows Phone 8.1 to match the swipes to the appropriate word.  To support this on Android, Microsoft would need to port the Word Flow engine to Android.  It’s doable, but probably low on their backlog.

With iOS, we have a different story.  For an app, in this case the Microsoft Health app, to send an SMS message; it uses the SMS messaging API.  This is exposed through the MFMessageComposeViewController class.  The app composes the message using this class and then uses it to invoke the standard SMS composer view comes up.  The user can view or edit the message and then finally tap the send button to actually send the message.

By design, Apple does not allow apps to send SMS messages without the user confirming the message.  This is to prevent apps from spamming your contacts without your consent or knowledge.  There is a way to send messages without tapping anything on the phone, the Apple Watch supports that now.  At this time, that is handled by the Apple messaging app, I don’t think Apple has an API call for 3rd party devices to use.

It would be nice if Apple made a public API to allow wearable devices to send SMS messages, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.  Apple places a higher priority of preventing spam from being sent than allowing 3rd party device access.  Plus opening up directly sending a SMS would help a product that competes with the Apple Watch, and that’s not in Apple’s best interests.

Exporting SMS/MMS messages from Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone Message Backup as displayed in the Windows Store

An annoyance with Windows Phone 8 is the lack of any built in facility to export your text messages.  It’s easy to have the messages backed up, but you can only access them from your phone.

While reading a message thread in the Windows Phone Community forum, I came across a mention of an app for Windows 8 called “Windows Phone Message Backup”.  It’s from Tafidi, and it just works.  You can get it from this link.

You will need to have previously enabled the text message backup on your phone.  For more details on how to enable the message backup, go to the Back Up My Stuff page and scroll down to Text Messages section.

When you run the app, it asks you for the Microsoft account that you use your phone with.  If you have enabled two factor authentication (and you really should do that), create a new app password and use that.

Once it has authenticated under your account, it will download your message history.  This may take a few minutes.  After the messages are downloaded, they will be grouped by the other party in the message.

To export the messages, you will need to select the other party from the list and then right-click on the message thread.  That will open up a toolbar panel that will allow you to export the messages as text or as an image.

Right now for text, the  only text format is supported is ASCII text, but since that format is listed as a choice, I’m assuming that other formats will be a later release.

For image exports, you get a long PNG formatted image of the entire message thread, but without the images.  That’s kind of a big limitation.  You could make screenshots from the app itself, but you would be limited to what fits on the screen.  But that does allow you to capture the images.

So if you need to export SMS messages, this is pretty much the only game in town that works across the carriers.  Different wireless carriers may offer their own tools for accessing the text messages.  I use Verizon Wireless and they have a decent portal that allows you to access messages and also to send and receive them without going through the phone.

A work in progress

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