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? 😛

Microsoft & Nokia: My Personal Thoughts


Well, the big news has been swirling around the Interwebs for several hours now – that Microsoft is acquiring Nokia’s devices and services division.

A collection of industry pundits and financial analysts have been spinning their own perspectives on this already. The reaction seems generally positive, if measured.

Personally, I see this as a massively positive step for both Nokia and Microsoft (then again, of course I would, being an ardent pro-Microsoft guy).

The upside for Nokia is a no-brainer. The Devices and Services arm has been losing money for a substantial period now. The losses have reduced, but losing €33 million in their latest quarter is still a substantial hit! Offloading the loss-making phones division shores up Nokia’s balance sheet, and allows them to focus on their profit-making NSN division. In addition, it will make Nokia’s job licensing their mapping (HERE) and “Advanced Technologies” to other OEMs a much easier experience, since these are no longer tied exclusively to Nokia handsets. Topping this off, Risto Siilasmaa – Chairman of Nokia’s Board of Directors – himself admitted that “it’s evident Nokia doesn’t have the resources to fund the required acceleration across mobile phones and smart devices”. [Source: CNET]

The upside for Microsoft is less clear-cut. Spending €5.44 billion – in cash – is no small decision. Thankfully, it shouldn’t trouble those fickle American stockholders too much – this purchase is being funded by Microsoft’s overseas cash reserves – money that would have been difficult to repatriate into the US (and thus to shareholders) without incurring a substantial tax hit. So, what does Microsoft get for its cash?

Immediately, and in the short term, Microsoft gets control of the hardware component of Windows Phone. This is no small thing. The influx of 32,000 new employees (to an existing 90,000 strong workforce) will include among them the designers responsible for the signature Lumia look and the geniuses behind the 41-megapixel PureView technology. Microsoft are buying an awful lot of design and technical expertise – something that would have taken years to build organically. The acquisition helps to short-cut this process, and enables Microsoft to more seriously compete with Apple and Google/Samsung in the shorter-term.

Microsoft also instantly acquires a large, well-developed, and well-respected channel distribution network to mobile operators all over the world. As Surface so aptly demonstrated, creating great hardware is only half the battle. You need to get these devices into the hands of the consumer. Nokia has long cooperated with mobile operators, and the market share and visibility of Nokia’s Windows Phone devices – versus those from Samsung, HTC and others – demonstrates how important distribution and operator support is.

The acquisition also fits very neatly into Microsoft’s medium-and-long-term plans. Back in July, Microsoft announced a massive reorganisation for the business, announcing a “One Microsoft” that encompassed Devices and Services. Hardware devices suddenly became a core, strategic part of the entire Microsoft business (and not just “small” sub-divisions, like Xbox or keyboard/mice). Surface was the first play in this area, and the Nokia acquisition outlines just how committed Microsoft is to the “devices” part of their Devices and Services vision. The vision itself makes sense, especially in respect to Windows Phone. It was clear that – other than Nokia – OEMs were generally not pushing nor innovating on the Windows Phone platform. Their support seemed – frankly – lacklustre, almost as if they were paying lip-service, but not really trying. Nokia certainly invested and pushed the platform as far as they could, but were hampered by resources. Now, in the hands of a cash-rich owner, the hope is that Microsoft can make substantial investments into Windows Phone devices in order to create a better mesh between their hardware and software, as well as tighter integration into the overall Microsoft ecosystem (think Xbox, Skype, Office, etc.)

One last long-term observation. Nokia is still the 2nd-largest manufacturer of mobiles phones globally. Lumia (and therefore Windows Phone) accounts for only a small proportion of these sales – last quarter, out of 61.1 million units, only 7.4 million sold were Lumia phones. [Source: Nokia]  That’s an awful lot of “feature-phones”. Looking over the long-term, those feature-phone users will slowly upgrade to smartphones. If Microsoft can hold the customer loyalty, and spring-board Asha feature-phone buyers to Lumia smartphone buyers, then they are looking at a significant growth in overall market-share for Windows Phone. In order to do so, Microsoft needs to treat the Asha line of feature-phones with care and support, to convert those phone users to Windows Phone toting Lumia smartphone owners… This, I think, is Microsoft’s biggest challenge in the mobile phone space.

As a Partner, and as a long-time Microsoft supporter/fan, I’m extremely optimistic about today’s news. The potential for changing the mobile phone segment is massive… Please, Microsoft, don’t squander this brilliant opportunity through mismanagement, indifference or inaction!

Retrenching Against the Creep of “Social Media”

I’m a terrible procrastinator – I use (abuse?) any possible excuse I can in order to justify dodging meaningful, productive work. Unless I’m really in “the zone”, I struggle to sit down for a handful of hours to focus on “Getting Things Done” – David Allen would despair. Social Media (predominantly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in my case) has delivered the pinnacle of “justifiable” time-wasting diversions that I could ever wish for. Almost every hour, I could dive into one of these social mediums and burn vast amounts of time “catching-up”, “socially interacting” and “learning”.

Alas, this is having a destructive impact on my work and – ironically – my social connections.

Used properly, Social Media is an immensely powerful tool for communicating and building connections – talk about stating the obvious. Over the past year, I’ve blagged a brand-new 3D television for free from Sony, a network-unlocked Nokia Lumia 920 phone from Windows Phone UK, and a free Xbox 360 replacement for my out-of-warranty unit from Xbox Support. These weren’t gained through online competitions, but instead through brief conversations via Twitter. Most of my recent technical knowledge has been gleaned from links, sources and resources I’ve gathered through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And, most importantly to me, I initially bumped into a (now very good) friend through an obscure social network.

On the flipside, I’ve burned through thousands (literally thousands) of hours over the past 12 months reading, writing, and interacting via Social Media – most of which, I can confess, has not improved my life in any meaningful way. Of course, we *all* get a small kick when we interact socially with a friend – a witty Facebook riposte, a shared cat video, or admiring a photo of someone’s dinner. Great stuff, and tremendous fun, of course. Lately, though, I have been viewing all of these interactions with an incredibly cynical eye and wondering whether my social connections have been deepened, or my knowledge broadened, by these fleeting moments of interaction… Sadly, I’ve observed that I’ve spent too much time diverging off at random tangents to consume content or interact with people that only have the loosest of relevance to my work or my social life. More insidious, though, is that I’ve noticed I’ve spread myself too thin – not communicating with the right people, at the right time, because I’ve been too busy tending to a stack of other queued “interactions” that won’t bring any real value to me, other than the small kick of satisfaction you get when communicating to another fellow human being.

Time to retrench, then. I’ve always been sensible with whom I connect to – I don’t accept just any/every Facebook friend request, nor do I just randomly follow people on Twitter. I also prune my connections regularly – a process I used to perform every half-year, but now intend to do every quarter. Even though I’ve been reasonably merciless, I still have more Facebook friends than I care for (253 versus the 150-200 I’m aiming for). I’m happier with my Twitter count – I follow 140 Tweeters – but it’s still a shade over what I would really like. We’ll see how things go over the next 3 months, prior to the next “cull”… 😉 It’s also time to set a few new ground rules for me to adhere to:


Given the rapid pace that our feeds update at in our various social networks, it’s understandable to worry that a meaningful nugget of information passes by without us noticing. Certainly, I’ve been guilty of falling victim to this – which is why I’ve been checking Facebook and Twitter at pretty much every fleetingly available moment. To combat this, I’ve decided to channel all of my notifications onto my phone. Windows Phone is great at presenting relevant information to you, at a glance, via the dynamically-updating Live Tiles on the Start screen. Further, the Me Tile provides notifications if someone has specifically tagged or mentioned me in the social networks that I’m part of.

130407Start 130407Notifications

Now, at a glance, I can see if anyone has tried to get in direct contact with me regardless of medium (in one screen, I can see phone/voicemail, SMS/Messenger/FacebookChat, Skype, business and personal e-mails, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Lync, WhatsApp).

Also, I have a select handful of people whom I consider good, or very close, friends (my left hand has more digits than the number of people in this group). I’ve placed these folk in my “AWWW FWIENDS!!!” tile – my phone basically stalks these people and updates that Live Tile as soon as they post anything up to a social network, or communicate directly with me.

The Me Tile informs me if anyone has mentioned me directly – a single tap and a swipe later, and I see a summary of activities that directly relate to me in my “notifications” area.

The theory is that if anyone needs to get in touch with me, I’ll be immediately aware. (Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ll immediately respond – but at least I won’t “miss” information I think would be pertinent to me.) Let’s see if this theory pans out well… 😉


A lot of people mash all of their social networks together, and approach status updates with a scattergun approach, “spamming” Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others with the same update. I’ve decided to take a more finessed approach to status updates and, in future, will use the most suitable medium for whatever updates I post. A caveat – as my personal and professional lives are so similar and intertwined, a handful of posts will indeed hit multiple social networks. In which case, I’ll at least tailor my messages to suit each medium (@mentions and #hashtags won’t leak onto Facebook, for instance).

Facebook is my primary means for connecting to my “social” friends. Details of my social shenanigans will most likely end up here, as well as posts on items I’m passionate about. I’m determined also to never spam my friends’ News Feeds with “I found this vaguely amusing, so I’ll share it with the world”-type posts. If I’m linking to something else, it’ll be because I’m passionate about it, or I feel it highly relevant to the majority of my friends.

Facebook friends are people I’ve been in touch with recently, or those I expect to meet in the near-future. I’ve taken an interest in their personal lives, and will use Facebook to keep the social connection alive. I don’t tend to add as “friends” people I’ve only met once or bumped into fleetingly; I also tend to cull people I’ve lost touch with. It sounds harsh but, if we really were good social friends, we would not likely have lost touch in the first place. Right?

Twitter is the medium I tend to use for work-related communications and personal interests. I don’t often follow social friends on Twitter – I reserve that for Facebook (the exception being close friends, and those people who aren’t on Facebook but are on Twitter). I tend to follow “influencers”, companies and social teams on Twitter.

I primarily “consume” content on Twitter – that is, I tend to do a lot more reading of tweets and linked articles/videos, than I do of producing tweets. I’ll interact socially with people here only if I can’t do so via Facebook. Most of my interactions, however, are geared towards “community interests” of stuff I’m passionate about – technology, all things Microsoft, and a few other interests I have.

LinkedIn I pretty much use only to maintain business connections. I don’t use LinkedIn for any social purpose at all, and I pretty much accept any request for connection provided there’s even the vaguest hint of professional relevance. I also don’t post much on LinkedIn – I don’t create a lot of commercial content I wish to share (I’m not a serial business blogger, nor does my job involve writing technical content for my professional peers).

Other social networks I dip into and out of as needed – and some more regularly than others. I check my YouTube stream once every few days, but never generate any content for it. I regularly use Foursquare (but I’ve yet to work out why, other than for metrics tracking for my personal use). I also dabble in a few other social networks, but nothing noteworthy of late.


By cutting out the distractions and focussing on my favoured social networks with more specificity, I should find myself with a little more free time to really communicate with the people who matter.

The rise of social networks makes it easy to connect with an abundance of “friends” – indeed, some people make it a habit of connecting to as many people as possible for bragging rights. Personally, I struggle to keep up with the 250+ Facebook friends I have, never mind the thousands-plus that some others keep (my brother keeps 1,192 “friends”, for instance). If, by chance, I really could communicate with a thousand friends – those connections would undoubtedly be very diluted. Instead, I’m determined to spend more time focussing on the people who matter to me – whether that’s on a professional basis, on a developmental front or – most importantly – for pure, personal social benefit.

I’m still unhappy with the number of contacts I have on Facebook and Twitter, and am likely to cull more people in the near-future. This isn’t because I dislike anyone. In fact, I can’t actually think of a single person I could really describe as “disliking” – I just avoid people I find disagreeable and leave it at that. (Who has the time, patience, and – frankly – immaturity to hold ill-will or grudges against another person?) I’m consciously choosing to reduce the fleeting interactions I have, so that I can increase the meaningful ones. Sounds clichéd, but certainly something I’m going to try and put into practice.


Finally, credit where credit is due. Although I’ve been contemplating this retrench for some time, this video posted by Nokia@work (Twitter handle @NokiaAtWork) helped put things into motion. There’s nothing revelatory in it, but it’s great to watch just to get some thoughts buzzing in your head. 🙂

(Disclaimer: I’m not a Social Media expert, nor do I proclaim to be one. This post merely outlines how I personally interact via Social Media.)

Buy Your Very Own Windows Phone Tat!

We all love Windows Phone, right? Well, what better way to express your support than to buy gear from the Official Store?

120626 WP

Windows Phone Summit: The Windows Phone 8 announcements

There’s going to be a cr@pload of information about Windows Phone 8 hitting the web, so I’m just providing the highlights of the Summit announcements in quick, chronological order. Bear in mind that these announcements were pitched at developers – new features and functionality for end-users to be announced sometime in the near future!

UPDATE 3: The Verge has published a very in-depth article on Windows Phone 8: http://vrge.co/NQh4Eb

UPDATE 2: The Windows Phone team have also blogged about the news announced today: http://bit.ly/M7ukUe

UPDATE 1: Just sticking an update here. The Windows Phone team have now posed a YouTube video on the new Windows Phone Start Screen: http://bit.ly/MhxdOC

  • Easy to forget, but today is the FIRST official announcement that the next Windows Phone will be called Windows Phone 8. No big surprise, but it’s been known as “Apollo” before today.
  • According to Amazon US, 7 out of the 9 top-rated smartphones run Windows Phone!
  • Windows CE (Windows Embedded) – the foundation of Windows Phone, is going to be replaced by Windows Core (basically the Windows NT kernel), the same platform that will power Windows 8.
  • Confirmation of Native Code support – write your apps once, and (with tiny tweaks) run it anywhere in the Windows ecosystem. This extends to DirectX and driver support – write once, run anywhere.
  • Support for dual-core processors at launch, with multi-core support built-in (ridiculously, the platform supports up to 64 cores – as if we’ll ever see that in a smartphone)!
  • New maximum screen resolution of 1280×768 (WXGA).
  • Support for removable Micro SD cards. I think this is less important than people think, thanks to integrated SkyDrive access.
  • NFC support is built-in, and mandatory.
  • IE10 will be integrated into Windows Phone 8.  IE10 will support twice the number of HTML5 features that IE9 on Windows Phone 7.5 does.
  • New Wallet Hub revealed. Stores credit/debit card details, membership cards (car/airline/store/etc.), vouchers and coupons. Allows third-party app integration into the new hub. Also supports NFC “Tap to Pay”.
  • Bing Maps to be replaced with Nokia Maps. Like the existing Nokia Drive app, maps for different geographic locations can be downloaded for offline use.
  • Full Exchange ActiveSync Device Management support.
  • Encryption and Secure Boot for Windows Phone 8.  Plus, the ability to sign/deploy internal corporate apps.
  • Windows Phone 8 features a new version of the Metro interface.
  • WP81
  • WP82
  • WP83
  • Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows 8 has two tile sizes – square and double-square. Windows Phone 8 has three tile sizes – quarter-square, square, and double-square.
  • WP84
  • Note the Nokia Drive tile below – it can now contain live information. In WP8, Live Tiles become much more powerful!
  • WP85
  • Windows 8 games and apps can run on Windows Phone 8 with the smallest of code-changes. This means that the number of apps/games for WP8 will EXPLODE! After all, Windows 8 is going to have a HUGE market share just by default of being the next Windows OS.
  • Also – it is implied that you’ll pay for a game once, and run it on either your phone, Tablet or PC. This depends on the software developer, but Windows 8 and WP8 will share a common marketplace.
  • NFC “Tap and Send”. Simply tap your WP8 to another phone or PC to share music, photos, files, or other data. Easiest way to pair/transmit information!
  • Below: Joe Belfiore demonstrating how you can tap your phone to your tablet to kick off a multi-player game! The devices create an ad-hoc peer-to-peer network connection for multi-player communications!
  • WP87
  • Below: Demo of the new Wallet Hub.
  • WP88
  • Below: Note the Chase bank details. If your bank allows, you’ll be able to check your balance FROM WITHIN the Wallet Hub. From there, you can click on the link to launch the actual bank app.
  • WP89
  • Below: Demo of the vouchers, deals and coupon integration with the new Wallet Hub.
  • WP8a
  • Local Scout now has integrated Deal Cards – basically they are digital coupons. You can add these coupons to your Wallet Hub, or share them with other people…
  • In-app purchases are allowed. In-app and Marketplace purchases can be integrated with the Wallet Hub, allowing you to choose your method of payment (see screenshot below).
  • WP8b
  • Windows Shared Core allows Direct3D on WP8 devices. Also, the networking comes from the W8 family – so expect improved Bluetooth. Not mentioned at the event, but it’s worth pointing out that, having NFC coupled with Bluetooth, will make connecting devices really easy!
  • Voice over IP and Video Chats are now natively supported by WP8. This means they can continue to function through multitasking, and also over a lock screen.
  • All WP7.5 apps will run on WP8. However, WP8 apps will not run on WP7.5 (not surprising, due to the switch from Windows CE to Windows Core).
  • It’s OFFICIAL now. WP8 WILL NOT be available for WP7 devices. There will be at least one more release for current hardware (Windows Phone 7.8), but you WILL NEED to buy a new device for WP8. This is not as bad as it sounds, as your existing device doesn’t have WXGA, NFC, dual-core, etc.
  • Nokia ToPlay (DLNA app), Nokia Counters (dashboard of notifications), Nokia Music 3.0 app refresh, Nokia “Camera Extras” (upgrade of core camera features) – all announced, and will be coming to existing Lumia devices.
  • Updates to Nokia Maps, Nokia Transport and Nokia Drive also announced.

…and that’s it for the moment! Keep your eyes peeled over the next two months for end-user feature announcements! Smile

…of Emoticons and Emoji

My goodness, I haven’t updated this blog for a while. The semi-shame… ;)  Anyway – this isn’t a real blog post, but more a useful reminder and reference to myself (and anyone else who comes across this) of the Emoticons that are built into Windows Phone.

If you want to find out more, read it direct from the Microsoft Windows Phone Blog…

Part 1: http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_phone/b/windowsphone/archive/2011/11/29/tip-tuesday-express-yourself-with-emoji.aspx

Part 2: http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_phone/b/windowsphone/archive/2011/12/06/tip-tuesday-more-fun-with-emoticons.aspx

Full Emoticons as follows: