More Windows Phone 8 Thoughts

November 3, 2013

imagesLast night I spent a few hours lying on the couch playing around with my recently purchased Nokia 520 smartphone. This is a low-cost device running the Windows Phone 8 (WP8) operating system, and I was using it in WiFi mode (since I don’t have a cellular plan for it). I purchase it to check out the WP8 OS and make a decision whether I want to port some of my apps over to that platform.

The 520 was really snappy as I used it, jumping from app to app with very little delay. I brought up the CNN and USA Today apps and read several news articles. I checked my Outlook email, and looked over my calendar events for the upcoming week. I ran the Weather Channel app to check the weather for tomorrow, and played around with the Nokia Maps app to see what new restaurants may have opened up around my neighborhood.

One of my favorite sites is wpcentral.com (which exclusively discusses WP8) and I ran their app on my 520 to read some forum postings. I have to admit that the WP8 version of wpcentral’s app doesn’t seem to work as well as the Android version (strangely ironic).

I also spent some time running the “Nokia Trailers” app, which allowed me to play several upcoming movie trailers (everything worked smoothly with no glitches).

In working with my Nokia 520 I concluded that it is truly a very useable device for my basic needs. Hopefully, Microsoft will continue to develop and polish WP8 and make available new cool hardware to run it.


Number of Apps – Really That Important?

November 2, 2013

images-1It seems the measure of how good a smartphone OS is, is tied to the number of available apps for that system. The Apple iPhone is considered the best smartphone because it has the most apps in its app store. Android follows behind with its massive number of apps, and in far third place is the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 with its small number of apps. But, does having say 1 million available apps make one smartphone OS better than another that only has 200,000 available apps?

In my opinion, no. It’s not the quantity of apps but the quality and depth that is important. If I have a smartphone that has all of the apps I need, then I should be content. Case in point, I don’t care about Facebook or Twitter, or any other social media apps. What’s important to me is a good news app, something for podcasts, email, and web browsing. I also want a good notification system so I don’t miss appointments, emails, or if my wife sends me a text message. So if I can satisfy my app needs, then I’m good with that particular smartphone OS.

In Microsoft’s case, I’ve found that WP8 has a good deal of solid standard apps available. They have Evernote, CNN, USA Today which I use on a daily basis. I also found a good podcast app, as well as the Weather Channel app. What’s also nice, is that Nokia offers numerous good quality apps with their WP8 smartphones. Apps such as Nokia Music, Mapping and Navigation apps, as well as an assortment of photo editing apps. Understandably, my app requirement may be different than your’s, but it does show to me that you can’t judge a smartphone OS by strictly the number of available apps.

 


Developing Apps for Windows Phone 8

November 2, 2013

imagesI decided to check out what it would take to begin writing apps for the WIndows Phone 8 smartphones, and here’s what I found:

  1. You need to have a desktop machine running the Windows 8 Pro 64-bit OS. The “Pro” version is required if you want to use the WP8 emulator for testing your app.
  2. To use the WP8 emulator, your desktop machine must have a CPU and motherboard (and BIOS) that can use “Hyper-V” or virtualization. If it can’t, then you can’t use the WP8 emulator for testing your app.

In my opinion, these are pretty heavy requirements for developing WP8 apps. First, you need to have the “Pro” version of WIndows 8 on your desktop machine which I don’t think most people have. Most new desktop and laptops seem to be shipping with Windows 8 Basic from what I’ve seen. Also, to run the emulator you need a machine that can do virtualization, which limits you to Intel i3/i5/i7 CPUs and some specific AMD CPUs. Even if your computer has one of these chips, the motherboard needs to support virtualization as well as the BIOS (which most laptops can’t do).

These requirements really restrict people from creating WP8 apps if they don’t have the required hardware and OS. It particularly affects me, since my main computer system is an Apple iMac desktop computer.

In contrast to writing Android apps, you can do so on a Windows machine, Apple Mac, or Linux machine. There are no special hardware requirements that I know of. So, why make it so hard for developers to switch to WP8?

In my case, I would need to purchase a copy of Windows 8 Pro, and either install it as a 2nd OS on my iMac (via Bootcamp), or try to run it in a virtual emulator (like VMWare Fusion, which I would have to purchase). Or, buy a laptop or cheap desktop system that had the necessary hardware requirements. This slowly becomes a big investment, which I’m not sure I want to do at this time.


Windows Phone 8: A Contender Now?

November 2, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 4.32.45 PMIf you visit your local AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint store, you’ll see that most customers are hovering around the iPhones or Android Phones, or maybe around the iPads and Android tablets. What you don’t usually see, are people hanging around the Windows Phone displays at these stores. That’s because for the longest time Windows Phone 8 (WP8) smartphones were thought of as inferior phones. They were usually the bulkiest, shortest battery power, heavy, and just down right non-appealing. But WP8’s have come a very long way with Nokia building and releasing some nice hardware. So, is WP8 ready to compete with iPhones and Android phones?

I decided to revisit writing apps for WP8 devices again, since I’ve been reading of the renewed enthusiasm in several tech blogs. So I started my investigation by reading forum postings at wpcentral.com, as well as other independent web sites. I also purchased a Nokia 520 smartphone for $90 US off-contract from AT&T to check out the WP8 OS first hand.

I also visited my local Microsoft Store to check out the various WP8 smartphones available. While there, I also examined the new Windows 8 touchscreen laptops. So, here’s my assessment after researching the current state-of-affairs for WP8.

So for some positives, it seems that Nokia has released some very nice hardware for the WP8 phones, and I was suitably impressed.  The WP8 OS runs very snappy on the WP8 hardware (even on my low-end Nokia 520). I was able to jump from app to app with virtually little delay. I swiped from one screen to another very smoothly and quickly. If you haven’t seen WP8 in action, the UI has a lot of “fly away” elements when you go to different screens or start up/close apps. This can seem cool at first, but then it became a bit jarring to me coming from an Android phone. But, after a while the visual animations started to grow on me. The OS in general is very nice and fluid, and for some apps very colorful and appealing. But in other cases (like the settings screens) the apps can also seem very plain jane compared to iOS and Android.

For some negatives, I found the lack of a notification center screen bothersome. On my Android device, I can swipe down from the top of my home screen and check my pending notifications. On WP8, you don’t have such a feature. Also, there are no quick toggle switches available that you can quickly turn on/off things like WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. You are forced to go to the main settings screen and drill down to the desired option to change it. Having the ability to lock the screen from auto rotating is also missing from the current release of WP8 (although it should be available in 2014 when the next update is scheduled to be released). These are some examples of small things that Microsoft needs to fix quickly for WP8 to make it a full fledged contender to compete against iOS and Android.

So in general, I felt that the WP8 OS is very usable but still needs some polishing. There’s the issue of WP8 integrating with the Google/iOS/Microsoft online ecosystem, and the smaller number of available apps when compared to iOS and Android (which I’ll discuss later in another posting). I personally won’t switch from my HTC One Android phone to a WP8 phone just yet, but I might at some point in the near future if Microsoft  picks up the pace and continues to improve WP8.