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).


  • 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)


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? 😛

Windows Phone 7.5 (AKA "Mango") is out!

(Actually, it’s Windows Phone 7.1, but in marketing-speak it’s "Windows Phone 7.5".  Just as "Windows 7" is actually Windows 6.1.  Microsoft likes making product names complicated.)

After several months of waiting (but, impressively, less than a year since I blogged about the original launch), Windows Phone has just had a major update.  Welcome to Windows Phone 7.5.


What Exactly is Windows Phone 7.5?

It’s the latest release of Windows Phone.  If you have a Windows Phone 7 device, then expect it to politely ask you to upgrade the software over the next week or two.  All current Windows Phone 7 devices are eligible for update (and if you weren’t aware – it’s free).

However, there are a few new hardware devices out there.  If you haven’t got a Windows Phone already, then I’d *highly* recommend getting one of these new devices – as they have shinier hardware (like a front-facing camera and faster processors) compared to the devices released a year ago.  If you already have a Windows Phone device, then you’re still going to see a lot of exciting new stuff anyway – so don’t feel too crestfallen… 🙂

There’s a lot to discover in Windows Phone 7.5 (find out more here), but let me step through the stuff that excites me most!

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It’s All About the People You Know, Not the Social Networks You’re In!

This is the major theme in Windows Phone – which is why Microsoft have gone so far as to make the Windows Phone slogan "Put people first".

When you think about your contacts on a mobile phone, do you *really* want to to have them scattered across your phone contacts, your Facebook contacts, your Twitter contacts and your LinkedIn contacts? Or would you rather deal with one list that meshes all of these details together?

The People Hub on Windows Phone does this (although you can, if you’re crazy, turn this off).  When you click on a contact, you can see what they’re up to in Facebook, or what they’ve tweeted in Twitter – all in a single view.

Oh – and you can use Groups to – well – group certain people together.  Like family, or close friends.  Selecting this group shows you only the social updates relating to these people, as well as allowing you to text or e-mail them all at once.  Nice!

Threads allows you to string your conversation with someone into a single view. So – I could chat with you on Live Messenger, then move to Facebook Chat, and finally to SMS as I head outside.  Your Windows Phone will stitch the conversation together in one place, saving you the hassle of jumping to different applications to view different pieces of your conversation.

The last big thing for me is the History View – when you look at any particular contact and pivot to their History, you see a nice summary of all of your interactions with this person. All your recent calls, e-mails, text messages and more!

History view in contacts

There you go! Put people first.

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Speech Commands

Speech commands might seem like a gimmick, but you’ll quickly realise how invaluable it is when you’re driving.  Also – it’s faster to dictate a text message than to tap one out, so I suspect some people will use it as a lazy/easy way to send text messages!  The speech recognition is also great – it’s already part of Windows Phone 7 and has been expanded upon in Windows Phone 7.5.

Seriously – test this over your hands-free the next time you’re in the car!

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Bing Search

Bing Search on Windows Phone is already quite snazzy, thanks to the context search.  Do a search for "McDonalds", for instance, and you’re presented with the current share price and list of internet results.  You can pivot to Local and it’ll show you all the nearby branches of McDonalds.  Pivot again to News and it shows all the recent news articles that feature McDonalds.

Similarly, searching for "BA1317" returns the flight status for British Airways 1317 – the departure time, scheduled arrival time and expected arrival time.  Much easier than navigating to a specific web site or launching a specific application.

Search on Windows Phone 7.5 takes this a step further.  Music Search works just like Shazam, but is much faster to launch and also provides you with links to the music at the Marketplace (which can then be streamed direct to the phone with your Zune Pass).

Vision Search is arguably cooler – scan barcodes, QR codes or Microsoft Tags straight from search.  Even better – scan book covers or CD covers to get search results!

Oh – and did you know it can do text translation as well?  All of this powerful search functionality with two simple finger-presses!

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SkyDrive, if you didn’t already know, is your personal store on "the cloud".  It’s 25GB of free online storage which can be used to store and share your files.

Windows Phone 7.5 hooks up to SkyDrive in a couple of major ways.  First, you can set your phone to automatically store backups of any photos you take onto a private folder in SkyDrive.  This is a great way of keeping a backup of your images on the cloud, in case your phone suffers a terrible accident.  You can also choose to share those photos directly from SkyDrive, or to spend a few moments tagging people and captioning it, and then uploading to Facebook.

You can also store your Microsoft Office files on SkyDrive, and access them via your phone.  Handy for files on the move, but ultra-handy when you realise that any Office documents you have on SkyDrive can also be accessed on any PC, with any web browser, using Office Web Apps!

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…And So Very Much More!

I’ve only really just scratched the surface on the functionality offered by Windows Phone.  If you want to discover more, head to the comprehensive Help and how to page.

Also, jump into some of the community action to find out more:

If you want to find out more, or to see the phone in action, then give me a buzz! 😉

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The “Social” with Bing Maps

It still surprises me how little-known the Bing Maps “Map Apps” are.  The Map Apps can add powerful functionality to the already great Bing mapping service.

With the recent announcement that Multimap.com will now be redirecting over to Bing Maps, I thought it might be a convenient time to point out some of the more “socially-focussed” Map Apps.  Feel free to jump straight to a particular Map App:


Where Can I Find Map Apps?

Easy – just press the button on the menu – shown in the screenshot below.  There are lots of Map Apps – hover over each one to get a short description, and try them out (note: some of them are US-centric, so don’t be surprised if you can’t find cheap fuel prices in the UK)!  Try out the Silverlight version of Bing Maps here

Bing Maps

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Facebook: My Friends

Have you ever wondered how internationally dispersed your Facebook friends are?  Well – wonder no more!

If you let Facebook and Bing Maps play with each other, then a nice Map App is My Friends.  This Map App shows you geographically where all of your Facebook friends “live” (provided that they’ve shared this information with you).

Try out My Friends here…  (Remember to click Connect to allow Bing Maps to speak to Facebook!)

My Friends

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Twitter: Twitter Maps

Another nice social Map App, and the first one of two which integrates well with Twitter (well, out of the two that I’m going to cover).

Twitter Maps takes advantage of geo-tagged tweets by displaying your search results overlaid on Bing Maps.  Using this Map App, you can see who has recently tweeted in your local area, or how many people are tweeting about a specific event/product/anything in a certain geographic area.

As an example – the screenshot below shows people who have recently tweeted about Halo: Reach within the UK (well – and some strange foreign-types at the lower-right of the map).

Give Twitter Maps a whizz here

Twitter Maps

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Twitter: Tweet Heat

Tweet Heat is the second Twitter Map App that I’d like to “big-up”.  This Map App also uses geo-tagged tweets, but in a different manner from Twitter Maps.

This Map App analyses each tweet and determines how positive/negative/neutral the tweet topic is.  It’s possibly best described by the intern who created it: “The map app helps users visualize the public response/feeling towards a product, event or really any topic”.

Did I say intern?  Yep I did!  It’s utterly fantastic to hear that Microsoft helps to foster such creativity and ingenuity within the organisation – even challenging interns to create astonishing tools.  Read more about the genesis of Tweet Heat here.  (As an aside – this isn’t a unique occurrence – the Audio Record feature in OneNote was also created by an intern.  More on Microsoft interns here…)

Anyway – I digress.  Try out Tweet Heat here…  And just to get you started – general sentiments on Halo: Reach throughout the UK below…!

Tweet Heat

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OK – so Photosynth isn’t strictly speaking a “social” app, but it has strong social elements within its DNA.

Microsoft Photosynth is actually a great service for creating massive panoramic, gigapixel or 3D photos by stitching together multiple pictures.  The technology is spectacular, and you can easily upload and stitch your own photos.  Thanks to geo-tagging, it’s been possible to integrate Photosynth with Bing Maps.

Below is a terrific example of the integration between photos and mapping.  Go access and zoom/pan/gaze directly here


There’s a great number of Photosynth images to see – below is a screenshot of those scattered around the UK.  According to the Map App, there are currently 40,989 Photosynths made from 2,973,935 photos at this particular moment.  Go see all them here.


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In Short…

There are a great number of interesting – and sometimes useful – Map Apps available already, and the count is ever-increasing.  If you want to keep up-to-date on the latest developments, remember to visit the Bing Maps Community!