General Election 2017 – My Unsolicited, Personal Thoughts

[Hey… This will take around 10 minutes to read. Go grab a coffee or something. Just setting expectations, y’know…]

Well well – wasn’t this Friday’s result a doozy? Certainly unexpected – and now every wannabe armchair pundit is proffering their own spin on the election results. And thus, what follows is my own wannabe armchair punditry…

Obnoxious self-deprecation aside, I do feel it’s right to elucidate on my own thoughts and opinions of the recent election results – given I’ve always commented disparagingly on attempts to shoehorn differing standpoints and rebuttals into 160-character tweets or tit-for-tat Facebook comments. Whether anyone reads these words is another matter – but even shouting my opinions into an empty void provides some catharsis. Call this my online diary, I suppose! 😛

My thoughts fall into three broad categories – the bad “boo”, the good “yay”, and the opportunities “ooo”!

But a bit of background first. For those who know me well, I’m an unapologetic Conservative – and recent party member. For those who know me less well, I’m an obnoxious Tory twat. (and Scottish Tory, at that!) For those who don’t know me at all – well, now you know where I sit in the political spectrum!

A lifelong supporter of the Conservatives, I was incredibly fortunate to be born into a reasonably comfortable existence. My working-class, high-school educated parents immigrated into the UK to start a new life here – arriving with nothing to their name and culminating to a modestly comfortable life with a home, some restaurant and fast food businesses, and three children. When I popped into existence, the family was already doing reasonably well – we were firmly “middle-class”, we went abroad on family holidays, lived in a few places around Scotland, and by the time I reached secondary education I was pushed into a private, fee-paying school. I accidentally fell into an industry that I love (IT) and was ultra-fortunate that this industry (especially in Aberdeen) paid extremely well – I basically earn a good living for geeking out to businesses…

In an almost-apologetic effort to countenance the fact that I’m a naturally right-leaning, self-entitled Tory twat born into a life of privilege, I am acutely aware that there are many, many people out there who have had a much less fortunate start in life. One of my big goals – and lifelong learning missions – is to understand the challenges that they face, help upskill people and open opportunities to them (with an acute awareness not to be patronising or presumptive in what *I* think people need help with), and be able to engage in civil discourse (political or otherwise) so that we can all better understand each other, and the challenges that each of us face. In part, this is why I’ve participated in an NGO called JCI (formerly Junior Chamber International) for the past 17 years – a non-political organisation whose mission at a micro-level is to develop young people and open opportunities to them, and at a macro-level to work with the United Nations and assist in pushing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and an agenda of peace on earth (yeah, no small feat)!

Anyway – the point of those last few paragraphs was to provide a bit of context to my forthcoming opinions. In short – I’m a Tory-boy. I’m right-leaning, but I try not to be sucked up into my own ass by doing my darndest to engage, educate, train and help other folk who have not had as fortunate a start in life to develop and to engage with their local, national and international communities. …That’s how I’m spinning it, anyway…!

Context set, here’s my personal take on the boo, yay and ooo off the back of the General Election results.

Boooo. (The Bad)

Obvious point first – we “lost”. The Conservatives no longer have a majority, although they are still the largest party and – as at the time of writing – have a good likelihood of forming the next Government. Might be surprising to hear – but this is the result I had hoped for – just not for this General Election (more of which later). Even more surprising was that – although I wasn’t expecting the party to end up without a majority – I was *very* pessimistic with the party’s prospects and – even at the peak of “landslide majority” fervour – was privately expressing that I was nervous around how the actual results would pan out. I didn’t agree with the early landslide figures, instead personally placing the Conservatives at around 30-50 majority (possibly less), but was astonished that it lost MPs when the results came…

BREXIT

Having said that, the reason I still agree with Theresa May’s decision to call a General Election is because we are at a true, once-in-a-lifetime precipice. Unlike the seemingly biennial “once-in-a-lifetime” Scottish Independence Referendum that the SNP are always so keen to call, our exit from the European Union truly is a lifetime-defining moment. What we walk away with at the end of this process will affect us for decades to come, with little leeway for manoeuvre once the final deal has been signed and we rip away from the rest of the EU. A staunch Remain supporter, I was crestfallen to see that the voting public believed that the United Kingdom had better prospects outside of the EU. However (and however flawed the process might have been), the public’s opinion was expressed, and I now find myself backing an exit from the EU on the best possible terms for our own country (and at the expense of irking our European neighbours, if absolutely necessary). This isn’t like a General Election, where policies can be created and reversed well within a decade – our relationship with the EU will be largely defined by our negotiations prior to departure – and then remain static for many, many decades.

Although I’m a lifelong supporter of the Conservatives, I really wanted the party to win this time around with a generous majority for one overriding reason – to give Theresa May the flexibility she needed to negotiate Brexit in her own terms, without being held hostage by a few in-house dissenters due to the small majority the party previously held in Government.

Given the minority Government the Conservatives are now likely to form, I fear that the Brexit process will now be steered “by committee”, with decisions capitulated to the lowest common denominator – and at great long-term expense to our country. I’d love to be proved wrong, but we’ll see…

NEGATIVITY

Alright – if no-one else in the party will ‘fess up to it, then I’m certainly happy to. The campaign that the Conservatives had run was – in short – a very negative one… The core tactics were to denigrate the opposition, play upon the fear of uncertainty during the Brexit process, and patronise the voting public by refusing to engage with them in any meaningful way (staged appearances to the Party faithful, refusing to participate in debates (although I find this one of questionable value given the way that debates are run – more like shouting matches where everyone tries to loudly talk over everyone else), and refusing to really engage and elucidate on manifesto policies when the media and the public expressed their concern (I’ll cite the awful handling of the “dementia tax”, to name but one item).

Negative campaigns really have taken off recently, and I *hate* it. It does little to convince people to side with you (and – more often than not – those who *do* side with you often do so out of fear rather than hope), and further alienates those people who don’t share the same views as you. It’s also unprofessional – in my business life, I could never imagine going into a competitive pitch by bad-mouthing the competition; preferring rather to talk-up how we offer a better product or service. The same should ring true of election campaigns – try to win by offering a better positive story than your competition…

Yay! (The Good)

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to see the Conservatives as being the biggest minority party. The timing is terrible – I’d much have preferred this result at the next General Election, but hey – fate intervenes. So, why the treacherous undermining of our Party’s strength…?

COMPLACENCY UNMASKED

Simple – I believe the party has gotten too complacent. A minority party result is a lovely kick up the ass and the reality check that the party needs. The Conservatives rely too heavily on the “older generation” vote, and the support of those who fear change. (Scottish Tories aside), there’s no optimism or hope in our campaign – without being dynamic and optimistic, we’re wallowing into our comfort zone as “the establishment”. This might work for short periods of time but – on a longer-term scale – it’s a generational blunder. Only now, after nearly 30 years of isolation and toxicity, are the Scottish Conservatives connecting with the electorate again, having brazenly and ignorantly taken them for granted – and thus causing a generation of discontent with the Tories that we’re only now escaping from. I firmly believe we need to tackle this complacent rot before it sets in at the UK-wide party. And thus, the proverbial kick up the ass I alluded to earlier might be the catalyst to this change.

Hurrah for the short-term defeat – in my opinion, it’ll make the Conservatives a more viable long-term party… (If we learn from it, that is!)

ENGAGEMENT WITH YOUNG PEOPLE

What worked against the Conservatives – but worked well for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn – was that finally “young people” have engaged in politics, and went out to vote in record numbers.

Having spent my entire extra-curricular career at JCI on a local, national and international level – one of the core tenets of our organisation is to empower young people. It’s wonderfully reassuring to see that they’re engaging in political discourse, voting, and taking a role in shaping their future governments. Alas, this worked against the Conservatives in this particular election – but the party is entirely to blame. It has long alienated the younger voter, simply by refusing to acknowledge them and making very feeble efforts to engage with them.

Again, this election has been a wonderful wake-up call for the party to shake them out of their complacency, and to reinforce the idea that young voters cannot be side-lined.

Ooo…! (The Opportunities)

Although not confirmed at the time of writing, it’s more than likely that the Conservatives will still form the Government. However, it will do so with tail firmly between its legs. Great!

WIDER ENGAGEMENT

I hope that this is the wake-up call that the party needs. We’ve seen a resurgence of the Conservatives in Scotland because we have shaken off our complacent self-entitlement north of the border. We have a dynamic, young (relatively, anyway) leader in Ruth Davidson and we have been engaging across all ages, and all communities. Even though the Tory brand is still considered toxic by some in Scotland, there are also those who were not born in Thatcher’s era whom are now starting to engage in politics – and Ruth has kick-started a new level of engagement with the electorate.

This is what needs to happen at the UK level. The Conservative party can no longer blunder forward assuming that “it knows best”, attempting to garner voter support through negativity and fear, refusing to engage with voters (citing the “dementia tax” fiasco), and refusing to acknowledge the younger voting population. I hope that the party learns from this General Election, and comes out stronger.

SWEEPING CHANGES

Also, I hope that the party doesn’t lose the spark to effect big changes. You could see the nexus of these being formed in the party manifesto, but they were delivered in an utterly cack-handed manner.

A great example: “dementia tax” – the premise being that perhaps older, wealthy people should contribute more to their own care and healthcare. In an era where there is discontent about the low level of inheritance tax and the transference of huge assets from one generation to the next – the idea of making the wealthy (and, alright, the middle-class) pay more for their healthcare by offsetting costs against their assets should be an idea that resonates with the general voting public. Hey, we’re effectively taxing well-off people with inheritable assets over £100,000, after all! And we’re not going to claim those costs until they pass away, and thus no longer need those assets! Alas, such a great nexus of an idea was bedevilled by a poorly thought out policy and even poorer communication. This was one such example – there were some good ideas in the original manifesto that need to be picked up, honed (with input from external and affected parties), and polished for presentation.

COUNTERING POLARISATION

One last thought – I hope that by delivering on the above (engaging with a wider audience and effecting changes in a better thought-out manner), we might (as a whole) take a step towards combatting polarisation.

I can’t express how frustrated I am that politics – and discourse on politics – has become increasingly polarised. Parties, and their supporters, have very much adopted a “you’re with us or you’re against us” attitude. I can’t speak for any other party, but as a member of the Conservatives I’m disappointed that all we seem to be able to do is to denigrate Corbyn, Sturgeon et. all without acknowledging that they – and their party manifestos – have some pretty good ideas. And conversely, it’s galling to have people label you as soulless, a “pawn of the 1%”, or even plain evil just because we’ve picked a right-leaning party. Especially in Scotland, I’ve personally witnessed and experienced the wrath and anger of select SNP supporters just because I’ve aligned with the Conservatives. Politics – and political discussion – should be better than that. We, as a society, should be better than that… We don’t tolerate it for race, religion or sex – we shouldn’t tolerate it for political alignment either.

…and that’s partially why I’ve brain-farted my thoughts on the election into actual prose. It might be horrifically uninformed, biased and personal prose – but it’s prose that’s available to anyone and everyone nonetheless. Congrats on making it this far – my blurb has become far longer than I expected. Although I suspect I’m venting into open air, if I can engage with even one person on a constructive discussion around British politics – then the time taken to write this will have paid off…

Cheers!

2017 Plans

As 2016 draws to a close, I’ve been spending the past few weeks mapping out my plans for the 2017 period.

2016 has (mostly!) been an enjoyable blast. It has been a privilege and pleasure to have been able to serve JCI as a 2016 Vice President for Europe, and also as a member of the 2016 Board of Directors. I still find it engaging (and amazing!) to be involved in such a diverse yet impactful organisation, represented by 200,000+ members in over 100 countries.

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On a personal front, 2016 has been a pivotal year for me. Despite appearances to the contrary (and really – you’d definitely think otherwise if you ever saw any of my Facebook photos!) I’m a pretty introvert person by nature and the number of people I trust and confide in is tiny-tiny (easily counted on one hand). Well, 2016 has been a year where I added one additional count to that tiny-tiny circle. Probably a “meh” to anyone and everyone else, but certainly a big life moment for me. So, happy days…!

Less happy (but not necessarily unhappy) is the business and professional front. Aberdeen as a whole has had a tough time this year, in large part due to the drop in oil prices and downturn in the industry. On top of that, I don’t think my company has had the time, attention and love that it perhaps needed over the past 12 months. We’ve made it through, though – and 2017 promises to start well, business-wise…

…and onwards to 2017

I spent an entire weekend scribbling out a mind-map of my plans/goals for 2017, and many more days fleshing out specific milestones and goals. Obviously, I’m not inclined to share this – but I do recommend this particular navel-gazing exercise as it’s great to be able to review your year past, and plan for your next year, at a very broad level.

Speaking (writing?) in very general terms, I have three key focuses for 2017.

Business: I said earlier that the company needs some time, attention and love. Well, I’m certainly going to ensure that it gets that from me. Much as I quite dislike “running” a company, I very much love what our company *does*. So, 2017 will be a year of focussing more on what I/we enjoy (getting to grips with great new technologies, and making them useful to our clients) and less stressing about the back-end admin stuff… We’re reviewing our company and its performance with a fairly critical eye at the moment, and should see a broad set of changes in 2017 which will put us (and hopefully our clients!) in a much better place…

Politics: Yeah, this is going to be my next big challenge – one I’m both nervous and excited about… The past few years have been fascinating to watch in terms of both national and global politics – we’ve had some divisive referendums, and certainly some surprising political campaigns and results! I love that there appears to be greater engagement in politics and government today – surely a great sign of a healthy democracy. Having said that, I’m far less enamoured with the outright dishonesty in some segments of politics, as well as the polarisation of debate and the tendency for political discourse to take place within non-productive echo chambers. I’ve spent many years lamenting about these latter issues – but isn’t it easy to snipe from the sidelines as a passive spectator? So, I’ve taken the decision to roll up my sleeves (figuratively) and to “muck in” and get more politically engaged. Partially because I want to do my part to steer politics – and political discourse – into a more open, communicative and collaborative party-agnostic effort. And partially because engaging in politics at a hands-on level really provides a direct avenue to engage with the local community, and with the larger society. And thus, onto…

Community: This goes very much hand-in-hand with my focus on Politics above. I see being engaged in politics as the mechanism by which I can best contribute to the local and national community. In a way, this is an extension of what I’ve been doing in JCI – except I’m now taking a more direct route to getting engaged with the community. My big drive – my focus – is on engaging in youth development and creating more opportunities for young people in society today. I’m acutely aware that I’ve been extremely fortunate – and privileged – to have had the upbringing and education that I’ve had. I’m also extremely aware that there are many in our community and society who have not had the best starts in life. I absolutely believe that within every person is a potential volunteer/employee/entrepreneur/artist/contributor – a person who can add to society, given the right support and opportunity. It’s my desire, and goal, to engage in this area and to help grow the support and opportunities for self-development of people in our community.

A Quick Summary, then…

On the business front, I don’t doubt there will be big, sweeping changes. Which is quite healthy for us, as complacency and stagnation are easy death-traps for any technology-driven company to fall into.

On the politics and community front, it’ll be small, baby steps. I’m very new to the field of politics (as a participant; not as a spectator) so I’m starting small and in my local area. On the community, I still intend to contribute via JCI, but hopefully amplified with my newer engagement in local and national politics. It’ll be a steep learning curve, I’m sure – but the end goals and the learning process in the interim will make it more than worthwhile…!

So, uh, wish me luck‽ Smile with tongue out

Reboot for 2017

Oops! Smile with tongue out

My last post was in August 2014? Oh dear, that’s a bit of a lag…! Also, an additional déjà vu for the gist of this post, as I’m sure some previous posts here have gone “oh, hello, I haven’t posted for a while”!

I don’t really have an excuse for the extremely sporadic posts. Having said that, it’s not like the world has been craving for my Herculean wit.

Since 2014, I’ve had some adventures. My company has moved office (we’re based in Banchory now), I’ve travelled a lot, I’ve been the JCI National President and then subsequently a JCI Vice President for Europe (phew, that’s a mouthful of a job title), and have generally been having a (mostly alcohol-fuelled) stonkingly good time.

2017 promises more of the same. I might become a slightly more visible (and public!) character (we shall see), I intend to spend more time improving and growing the business, I want to tangentially deviate a bit from my usual working life to spend some time in youth development, and I intend to continue the theme of living life by creating ridiculous memories with friends.

Let’s see how it goes, eh? Also (and back to that “public life” hint), I might have to post more of those exploits here. Thank goodness no-one really reads this blog, right? Right?!?

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

So… The JCI Scotland National President Lesley Fowler nominated me for the Ice Bucket Challenge, to help raise awareness and funds for the disease known as ALS. Although I’ve accepted her challenge – I now question her judgement and authority… Winking smile

I first heard about ALS back in February this year, when I saw this video. It’s a really, really heart-warming story on how technology can help those with ALS.

Further to that story, Microsoft recently ran a one-week “hackathon”, where developers could spend time creating innovative solutions that demonstrate the power of software. The Ability Eye Gaze project won this year’s //oneweek Hackathon – the project was focussed towards creating innovative new ways to help people suffering from ALS. Read more about it here (and also see current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s Ice Bucket Challenge!).

The best Ice Bucket Challenge I’ve seen, though, has to go to Bill Gates – who takes it to a whole geeky new level!

I’d really encourage you to visit the ALS Association website to find out more, and also to donate if you can. (UK folk – I’ve seen quite a few friends donate to the UK equivalent of the ALS Association, so you might want to visit the Motor Neurone Disease Association website and contribute there. ALS and MND are different descriptions of the same disease…)

In addition, I’ve followed Lesley’s lead (OK, so her judgement isn’t that questionable) and have also made a donation to Nothing But Nets. This is a campaign run by the United Nations Foundation to help combat the spread of malaria. JCI has partnered with the UN to help raise awareness and funding for this initiative, and I’d urge you to find out more at the Nothing But Nets campaign here and, again, to make a donation if you can.

Finally, to help spread the icy-cold fun around the globe, I’d like to nominate three international friends for the Ice Bucket Challenge… Roger Pichette from Canada should be able to take this in his stride – being a hardy Canadian, he should be used to the freezing-cold climate and thus a small bucket of icy water shouldn’t faze him! My next nomination is to Annalisa Schembri from Malta – Annalisa, I’m very jealous of the beautiful weather and brilliant sunshine that you enjoy in Malta, so please accept this petty gift of refreshing icy-coldness from me! And my final nomination goes to the person who kept me safe, and looked out for me, all through my time at JCI Academy – Naoki Ogura of Japan – sorry for being mean, but it will be completely hilarious to see you drenched in ice water! Smile

Back to School…

It is only my first full day in Handa, Japan – and already I’ve had one of the best experiences of my life! I’m visiting Japan not only as a tourist, but also as a fleeting participant to its way of life. Thanks to JCI Japan, I’ve already visited a temple, an elementary school, and will be living with a host family for the duration of this weekend.

In a day full of experiences (each meriting a blog post of their own), it’s our visit to a Japanese school that proved the most eye-opening, and humbling.

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I was totally unprepared for the warm welcome from all 800-ish pupils of Midorigaoka elementary school – our arrival was marked by cheering from a welcoming party at the school entrance, and it wasn’t long before we were whisked away to be greeted by all the pupils in the main school hall. A very surreal experience – we were paraded through the hall, following the lead of our flag-bearer, and then seated at the stage to say “hi” and to introduce ourselves to the entire school.

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After introductions, it was time to join our class for some “lessons”. Hello, Midorigaoka class 6-4! Smile

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These elementary kids were around the ages of 11-12. And despite knowing barely any words of English, they were more than eager to try and help us settle into class, and to take part in their calligraphy lesson. Although we had one translator for the three of us JCI members in this class, we didn’t have to call upon his help often, as the children really were keeping an eye out for us, and helping/explaining to us via gestures and actions whenever it looked like we were struggling.

However, it was lunchtime and the subsequent “clean-up” time that proved an utterly eye-opening and humbling experience. It was simply astounding to witness!

Lunch doesn’t take place in a school canteen, but instead in the same classrooms where lessons take place. The children all re-arrange their furniture into columns.

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Some of the children would then put on hygienic overalls and proceed to serve food to all of their classmates. Some were responsible for putting the food onto trays, and others were responsible for serving those trays to the tables. They all looked like they were having fun, but were extremely quick and efficient at the same time!

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The clear-up process after lunch was no less efficient. Pupils put away their own trays (stacking the individual bowls), and even went as far as to separate straw from milk carton, before flat-packing them for recycling. I was amazed at the attention to detail!

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Foolishly, I thought that clearing plates was the “clean-up” time. But I was incredibly wrong. Clean-up time is where the whole school would spend 15-20 minutes helping to clean every aspect of their school. In the classrooms, pupils rearranged desks and started sweeping and wiping the floors…

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But the clean-up process wasn’t limited to the classroom! Everywhere in the school, pupils had chores to perform – whether it was washing windows, weeding the school garden (and wearing cute hard-hats whilst doing so), or clearing leaves – it was astounding to see an entire school so efficiently clean up and – more importantly – take pride in how they performed their duties. There was no half-hearted attempts here – everyone was really making an effort to do their jobs well…

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(See that last pic – that was me trying to give the pupils a hand. I was promptly told off by one of the children for not holding the broom correctly and not sweeping with enough effort, and was actually shown how to sweep the floor properly. How embarrassing to be corrected by an 11 year old!)

After “clean-up” time, all the pupils headed back to the hall for a dancing lesson. It was quite surreal to see hundreds of schoolchildren dance to a Japanese pop-music video, but it was definitely fun and I can see how it helps to foster a community spirit amongst the pupils.

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After the collective mad fun that was dancing (800 kids all dancing in semi-unison, with teachers and staff taking part as well), it was time to say farewell…

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Honestly, I was really quite sad to leave. What was ostensibly a visit to an elementary school was actually one of the most enjoyable and interesting experiences I’ve ever had… Not because we were visiting a school (fantastic though the staff and pupils were). But it was because the visit was an incredible insight into the Japanese ethos and mentality. Here, children (in what would be our equivalent of primary school) were incredibly well-behaved, welcoming, and eager to study and to contribute towards the school and to each other. I still marvel at how they were serving each other school lunches and helping to clean the school. I begin to see where the Japanese work ethics come from – their pride in their work, their willingness to contribute to a “greater cause”. And I firmly believe it instils a sense of responsibility and independence into the children here, which will carry with them into their adult life. Everyone was enthusiastic – there was no lethargy or unwillingness to contribute, and everyone seemed to have fun at the same time. An utterly stark contrast to the sometimes lazy and self-entitled attitude of a few of the children you see in the UK today…

I came to the school already with a large sense of respect and revere for the Japanese work-style and ethics. I left the school with those opinions reinforced, and also completely humbled by what I had seen from the children there. Certainly, *I* learnt a lot personally from the few hours I was there. I also think other countries could do likewise, and might benefit by taking a few notes and pointers from the Japanese education system…

And this on the first full day of my visit to Japan in JCI Academy. My mind is boggling at what I’ll see next…! Open-mouthed smile

(My sincere and heartfelt thanks to JCI Japan, and to our host for the visit and former Midorigaoka pupil Kazutaka Amaki, for providing me with an opportunity to take part in an everyday Japanese school routine. It was fascinating, insightful, and fun. I am so completely appreciative and humbled to have been able to take a peek – and to participate – in a typical Japanese school day.)

A bullet-point recap of yesterday’s big Microsoft news

Wow, and wow! The keynote session of Build took place yesterday, and Microsoft went into overdrive by releasing lots of information about their updates to Windows desktop, Windows Phone, and some technologies and services which power both platforms. In addition, Nokia sneaked in a handful of announcements too!

There’s a lot of in-depth detail on other sites (which I’ve linked to), but here’s a quick bullet-point recap of the big news of the day (well, in my opinion, anyway)!

Windows Phone 8.1

  • Cortana! (more on which below)
  • Action Center: At last, a notification centre (on steroids) for Windows Phone.
  • Word Flow Keyboard: A “Swype” type keyboard. Seems fast – as in it’s the new “Guinness World Records – Record Holder” fast!
  • Calendar can now be panned with left/right swipes (at last!), and also has a week view.
  • Skype is integrated deeper into the phone (more of which below), including being able to “upgrade” regular voice calls to Skype calls at a touch of a button.
  • Xbox Music, Xbox Video and Xbox Podcasts are now baked in. Podcasts are now available globally (we’ve only waited two years for this in the UK). Syncs with Xbox Music and Xbox video across PC, tablet and Xbox.
  • Wi-Fi Sense: auto-connects to free (trusted!) public hotspots. Also syncs Wi-Fi passwords between phones, PC and Tablet.
  • Three-column start screen for ALL sizes of screen.
  • IE11 supports InPrivate browsing and introduces a new Reading mode. See below for some IE11 sync/synergy coolness in the Windows Synergy section.
  • Ability to set a Start screen background that scrolls quite neatly as you move up/down the screen (personally, I’m not too excited about this).
  • Lock Screen Themes – customise your lock screen. Make it look like Zune! 😉
  • Small tweaks to People Hub, Email and Accounts, Photos and Camera
  • Separate volume controls for ringer/notifications and for your apps/media. (I’ve never had an issue with one volume control, but it’s an oft-requested feature which has now been implemented!)
  • Miracast support – wirelessly broadcast video from your phone to your TV, Xbox, or other compatible device.
  • Ability to project your phone screen onto PC via USB.
  • Deeper support for Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms (enhancements in enrolment, content management and app management).
  • Improved certificate support.
  • New Enterprise (EAP-TLS) Wi-Fi support.
  • Ability to encrypt email (via S/MIME).
  • Details of Windows Phone 8.1 improvements here.
  • Further details of Windows Phone 8.1 at the WP UK blog here.

Windows 8.1 Update

  • The biggest changes come to keyboard/mouse users. Windows 8.1 had a great user interface experience for touch users; less so keyboard/mouse users. This has now been improved.
  • You can pin Windows Store apps on the desktop
  • All Windows Store apps have app bars (for close and minimise) – just move your mouse to the top edge of the screen.
  • Windows taskbar can now be “peeked out” by moving the mouse to the bottom edge of the screen whilst in any app.
  • Power and Search buttons are presented on the top-right of the Start screen for keyboard/mouse users.
  • Right-clicking any app tiles on your Start screen presents the familiar right-click menu (just like right-clicking on the desktop).
  • Enterprise Mode Internet Explorer (EMIE) provides legacy compatibility for older corporate web-based apps (mostly those that were coded to run well with IE8).
  • Windows 8.1 Update is available now to corporate users, and will be available to EVERYONE on April 8th.
  • A quick video of the improvements here.
  • A very detailed blog post of the improvements here.
  • An IT Pro blog post on Windows 8.1 Update (especially useful to understand the upgrade/installation scenarios).

Cortana

  • New *personal* Digital Assistant (Microsoft’s emphasis, not mine).
  • Similar to Siri, but powered by Bing. The “personal” side is that Cortana learns about YOU (via what you do on your phone, even to the level of reading your emails if you allow her to) to pick information that is pertinent and relevant to you.
  • Cortana amalgamates data from both the web (news, alerts and more) and your personal data (email, calendar, apps).
  • Released in the US shortly as a beta. Launch version expected in the second half of 2014 – this will add UK and China to the release territories. All other countries to follow in 2015.
  • On launch, Cortana can deal with searches of personal and web data, organise your diary, set reminders, and integrate with the built-in apps (phone, Skype, etc.).
  • If you speak to Cortana, she’ll speak her reply. If you type to Cortana, she’ll reply by text – great for meetings!
  • Cortana has a “notebook” – here, you can see the personal data she builds for you, and fine-tune for accuracy and privacy.
  • Cortana can sync (if you allow) some of your interests back to Bing. These snippets of information will light up for you when you use Bing.com or Bing apps.
  • Cortana can be extended by third-party apps. Skype, Hulu Plus and Facebook are amongst the first few apps that work with Cortana.
  • Working with Wi-Fi Sense, Cortana can detect “key” locations. You can have her turn your Wi-Fi on only at those spots (for example, your Wi-Fi is turned on at home, turned off during your drive to the office, and re-activated at the office. Smart!)
  • A geek-point this… the idea of Cortana’s personality on Windows Phone was partially derived from the Cortana character of the Halo videogame series. It’s utterly brilliant to know that the voice actress for Cortana on Halo is the very same person lending her vocal talents to Cortana for Windows Phone. This is basically every Halo fanboy’s dream answered! Well done, Jen Taylor! 🙂
  • Great blog post from Bing on how Cortana integrates and extends with Bing services.
  • The Verge covers the story of Cortana’s creation here.

Windows Synergy (including IE11 and Skype)

Nokia/HERE

Miscellaneous Stuff

  • Windows Server 2012 R2 Update is also now available.
  • Windows Phone adds two more OEM partners – Prestigio and Micromax. It’s great to see more manufacturers support Windows Phone.
  • A touch version of Microsoft Office was shown at Build. This’ll be part of the next Office release.
  • The Windows Start menu WILL return – this was also shown at Build, and will be part of a future Update release.
  • WINDOWS IS FREE FOR PHONES AND TABLETS WITH SCREEN SIZES OF 9″ OR LESS! That’s right – Windows Phone is now essentially free for phone manufacturers. I really, really hope this signals an upshift in the number of Windows Phone models we’ll see in the future!

 

Phew! Have I missed anything? 😛

Reboot!

Well… It has been a while since I last posted something up here! Happily, as I’ve recently been spending some time planning a revamp of our company’s web site, I’ve also had reason/motivation to revisit this blog!

Let’s see if I can’t make posting my thoughts a regular thing… 🙂