Sunday, 12 April 2015
Picked up a Stream 7 while on holiday in the States recently for Windows 10 development. Battery life is poor, speakers are muted, performance occasionally stutters. But for $79 that's okay. Even if it wasn't bundled with a 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which itself comes with unlimited OneDrive storage. This is incredible value. Crazy to think what $79 will buy you later this year.
RE: Faking WebKit on Windows Phone 8.1∞
Tuesday, 13 January 2015
mtrostyle.net reader, Brian Graham, responding to "Faking WebKit on Windows Phone 8.1":
As much as Microsoft's hand was forced here, masquerading Android merely papers over the cracks. This can't be the viable solution longer term.
Faking WebKit on Windows Phone 8.1∞
Sunday, 11 January 2015
This is what it looks like:
Downloading the native app.. whoops! I know what's going on, but think of the average user. Microsoft are actually shooting themselves in the foot here by showing users what they can't have on a Windows Phone and need to switch to Android to get.
When an app isn't available on Windows Phone, the fallback is its web app. Unfortunately this is a sub-bar experience on Windows Phone 8.1, and I fear will continue to be as long as WebKit isn't adopted as Microsoft's browser's rendering engine. The recently leaked Windows 10 browser changes suggest it will be easier to use but the UI improvements won't necessarily result in better UX.
I'm certain Windows 10's browser will render the web better. It might even support more web standards than the competition. But as long as web developers continue to ignore Trident (i.e. not routinely test against IE) in order to to have the optimal mobile web experience you'll need to be on an iPhone or Android phone.
Windows Phone Needs Better Not More Apps∞
Thursday, 8 January 2015
Woke up to a Twitter timeline polluted by CES tweets. Tried to catch up on the night using Tweetium, what I consider to be the best Twitter app on Windows Phone. But after a few minutes, I gave up on the idea because the experience was so infuriating: Attempts to interact with my timeline, whether to check out a link or reply to a tweet, consistently jumped me to another seemingly random location on my timeline. So I grabbed my Surface Pro 2, launched Chrome and used the Twitter website instead. No problems at all.
This is what is most wrong with Windows Phone. Forget about the apps unavailable on the platform. Commenting on something that doesn't exist is ultimately a waste of time. No non-Windows Phone developer is going to start giving Windows Phone face when they learn someone with a few Twitter followers has abandoned the platform. Focus on the apps that do exist instead. When you do and compare them to their equivalent on iOS, as I get the chance to through my wife's iPhone, you'll notice that app fluidity and polish in general continues to pale in comparison.
If this doesn't change, then if/when the missing apps belatedly launch on Windows Phone, you know it won't have ended being worth the wait. I don't want the same apps as on iOS. I do however want the same experiences.
On Universal Windows Apps∞
Wednesday, 7 January 2015
Over the weekend, I was messing around with a Windows universal app 1 and I must say it's made me very, very excited about Windows 10. In less than 48 hours, and almost by accident, I've managed to build the basis for a viable app which is running seamlessly between my Surface Pro 2 and Lumia 1020 2.
Having said that, I still don't expect Windows Phone to become relevant this year. Possibly never. But if Windows 10, and more specifically Windows Store apps, gain significant traction 3, I'm confident the Windows Phone app gap conundrum may finally make undeniable strides because it will be way too convenient to build a universal app than to not. 4
Charging $3.99 for a Weather App∞
Tuesday, 30 December 2014
I launched Appy Weather in August with the expectation that there may be no market for a $3.99 weather app. I was wrong. So much so that I've even managed to resist the urge to offer the app at a reduced price for a limited time to boost sales/ratings. But I'm not naive. I know at $3.99 I continue to limit the app's growth. But you know what? I'm okay with that, because through my regular interactions with Appy Weather's users, it's become pretty clear that charging a premium for an app attracts a certain type of user: smart, tasteful, constructive, patient. As a one-man-shop developing Appy Weather purely out of passion (and not necessity), I neither have the resources nor patience to satisfactorily support a potentially larger but less considerate user base.
And so I decided that instead of lowering Appy Weather's price to artificially increase its value proposition, I will do the opposite: stop $3.99 being a hindrance by continuing to add value through regular updates. For any one who has bought AW despite the availability of other (much) less expensive weather apps, it's the least I can do to thank them for their support because I know although $3.99 is not much in the real world, relative for an app, especially one that just tells the weather, it is expensive. But, lucky for me, I've learnt that its value and not price that users prioritise when deciding whether to buy an app.1 2
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
10 months ago it began.
Three months ago I thought I was done.
Three months later, Appy Weather is on the Windows Phone Store.
[puts on marketing hat]
It's the most personal weather app. Made especially for Windows Phone.
Try it out people. There's a three day trial available, which I'm hoping is enough time to convince you that $3.99 isn't the end of the world. See for yourselves.
And if you know anyone with a Windows Phone, let them know about it too.
Oh, and I'm back. Speak more soon.
The Problem with Multitasking on Windows 8∞
Monday, 10 March 2014
Paul Thurrott on Windows 8.1:
It doesn't do a thing to address the fact that Windows isn't a single OS. It's two of them, mobile and desktop, fused together unnaturally like a Frankenstein's monster.
More specifically, it didn't do anything to improve multitasking. This is my biggest problem with the Surface Pro 2.
In Windows 8, if you click on the upper-left hot corner, you can switch between apps but there's a caveat. It only switches between the Desktop and a Metro app, or between Metro apps - it can't be used to switch between Desktop apps. That's because the Desktop only occupies a single slot in the Metro App Switcher irrespective of the number of Desktop apps open.
For example, when I'm making changes to mtrostyle.net, I usually have three Desktop apps open: Chrome, Sublime Text and FileZilla.
When I open the Metro App Switcher, the only apps I can jump to are Metro apps.
Metro App Switcher inside Desktop and outside Metro
And when I switch to a Metro app (or go back to Start) and re-open the App Switcher, there's only a Desktop app visible. This is fine as long as the Desktop app I wish to change to is its currently active window i.e. Chrome in my example. But if it's not, then things are unnecessarily convoluted.
Metro App Switcher inside Metro and outside Desktop
If I wanted to change to Sublime Text, for example, I'd first need to click on the Desktop from the Metro App Switcher and then click on Sublime Text from the Desktop's Taskbar. Needing to transit in the Desktop before reaching my intended destination is neither fast nor fluid. It should however be noted that this isn't the case if I used alt + tab as this lists each Desktop app (and window) open, thereby allowing me to jump to Sublime Text from Metro even though it's not the active window on the Desktop.
alt + tab inside Metro or Desktop
I'm assuming this inconsistency exists to appease Windows 8 power users. Not modernising a legacy multitasking aid makes sense, but the rationale behind the Metro App Switcher's app discrimination policy is less clear. It could be because its vertical single column layout doesn't accommodate many apps (six on a Surface Pro) and grouping Desktop apps together meant more Metro apps can be switched to. If yes, then this self-imposed space constraint has resulted in a design that inadvertently de-emphasises the Desktop.
Metro App Switcher at full capacity on a Surface
Alternatively, the Desktop's de-emphasis may have been intentional. That is, the Desktop has been relegated to a secondary citizen within the context of the Metro App Switcher on conceptual grounds. Other moves, such as the absence of a boot-to-Desktop option when Windows 8 was released, makes this plausible. Or it could be for another entirely different reason that I've not thought of. What cannot however be speculated is the serious effect this move has on using Windows 8 every day.
When I'm multitasking in Windows 8, my intentions are never to switch between a Metro app and the Desktop but between apps in general. Microsoft needs to recognise this. I don't think of Sublime Text as a Desktop app and Tweetium as a Metro app. I think of them as apps. One a text editor and the other a Twitter client. What environment they live in is not a detail that I'm concerned with. I should be able to move freely between them unconditionally. I'm only reminded that I can't after I make a mistake; something that shouldn't really matter turns into something I must be attentive towards.
For example, when I'm working in Visual Studio, I'll instinctively have Chrome on the Desktop parked at Stackoverflow; not a coding session goes by where I don't click on the upper-left corner to switch to Chrome. I consistently feel stupid when I do, but then quickly become frustrated because I need to go through all open Metro apps before the Metro App Switcher returns me to the Desktop. And then I feel stupid again because I accidentally click past the Desktop and need to go through the process again but this time more carefully. This could be avoided if I depended entirely on the Taskbar and/or alt+tab to multitask within the Desktop, but I find clicking on the upper-left hot corner a more convenient way to switch to an app due to Fitts' Law. And because it does switch me to the correct app enough of the time (i.e. when wanting to switch to a Metro app or to the Desktop's currently active window), using it becomes a reflex whenever I want to switch to any app.
I however accept that it would be odd to use the upper-left hot corner to switch to a non-full-screen Desktop app. Even OSX's multitasking app queue doesn't accommodate this behaviour: its Desktop is considered a full-screen app and any non-full-screen app can't be swiped to using the Mac's four finger swipe gesture. That's however where the similarities end. The Dock, unlike the Taskbar, is accessible when you're in a fullscreen app. This means you can jump to any app from any app.1
Rdio in fullscreen mode on Mavericks
Dock still there if/when needed
Furthermore, an OSX app in full-screen occupies a separate slot to the Desktop within OSX's multitasking app queue, unlike a full-screen Windows 8 Desktop app, such as Internet Explorer; the ability to swipe between full-screen Desktop apps in OSX is behaviour reserved only for Metro apps in Windows 8. What exacerbates matters is that when a Desktop app is in full-screen mode you actually can't access the Metro App Switcher nor Taskbar; you need to exit its full-screen mode first.
Internet Explorer on the Desktop in full-screen mode looks a lot like its Metro equivalent but there are fundamental differences
Most notably when you move your cursor to the upper-left hot corner, the Metro App Switcher doesn't appear - the App Bar does instead
Multitasking on my MacBook Pro is unquestionably easier than my Surface Pro with Type Cover 2. And that's not because Windows 8 is a Frankenstein OS, but because Metro and the Desktop have been sellotaped together; the two need to be bound with glue. Making the Desktop look and feel more like Metro and less like Windows 7 is an obvious starting point. But visual consistencies such as a shared Desktop and Start screen background doesn't make Windows 8 any easier to interact with i.e. multitask. Here are a few changes that may:
- Standardise full-screen mode support in Desktop apps. At the moment, this feature is left to developers to implement. Some do, others don't. That's fine, but using a non-standardised toggle isn't. For example, although F11 causes both Internet Explorer or Sublime Text to enter full-screen mode, the non-keyboard shortcut toggle is buried within different titled menus in each app: "File" in Internet Explorer and "View" in Sublime Text.
Full-screen menu option in Internet Explorer is found inside Settings -> "File"
Full-screen menu option in Sublime Text, on the other hand, not in "File" but "View"
Not only does F11 not work in Word 2013, I embarrassingly needed to refer back to this to remind myself where the toggle is located. Moreover, I was also reminded Word 2013 has in fact a pseudo full-screen mode: the Taskbar is visible and the Metro App Switcher also accessible. These type of inconsistencies are expected when the implementation of full-screen mode support within Desktop apps has not been standardised.
OSX, on the other hand, elegantly surfaces this feature on an OS level.
- Make the Metro App Switcher available inside full-screen Desktop apps.
- Likewise with the Taskbar.
- Allow swiping between full-screen Desktop apps like you can with Metro apps.
Ironically, my multitasking Windows 8 gripes would be softened if Metro apps were not useable with non-touch input i.e. I never venture out of the Desktop as if it's still 1995. But they are, I do and it isn't. What apps I use is input-agnostic when I'm using the Surface Pro as a laptop.3 For example, I use Tweetium all the time and not only when I'm using the Surface Pro 2 as a tablet, even though MetroTwit is an excellent Desktop client that's perhaps more optimised for Type Cover use. But despite Metro apps' increasing viability as Desktop app substitutes, I expect to continue using Desktop apps alongside them for the foreseeable future.4 Future Windows updates need to acknowledge this reality and ignore the fantasy that the Desktop will be going away any time soon. From what I've read of Windows 8.1 Update 1, Microsoft seem to get this. But they need to move faster. The bulk of the changes necessary to make Windows a more cohesive OS are incremental improvements that don't need to wait till Windows 9/next year.
Running Two Apps Side-by-Side is Surface's Hook∞
Saturday, 8 March 2014
There are switching costs when you try to try to perform two tasks simultaneously. This has been scientifically proven. But Snap on a Surface isn't really designed to help you shift between goals i.e. tasks 1. From my experience, it does the complete opposite. Its implementation is elegant with sensible restrictions to keep things simple. If it's not a second screen, then it's there to support whatever I'm doing. This feature could have been designed in California.
You may actually never invoke Snap explicitly but still use it regularly. For example, the feature reveals itself organically whenever I click on a link from NextGen Reader, Tweetium or Mail. When I do snap an app explicitly, it's usually either as a reference point for something I'm working on or to provide a second screen experience without an actual second screen. This could be a blog post that I'm referencing like here, or keeping an eye on Twitter or a live stream video while doing other work.
Anyone who continues to defend the iPad for not allowing you to have more than one app open at a time and who insist it's a productivity booster because it means your focus is undivided must have never completed a task on their PC that required context to assist the task's completion. Or never used a Surface/Windows 8. Or is an Apple apologist. You pick.
More Thoughts on the Surface Pro 2∞
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
I was 22,500 feet in the air on a seven hour flight. The original plan was to use the time to do some light reading. But when I read this, I felt the urge to write. And so, moments later, I changed my tablet for a laptop. And I didn't even need to move from my seat.
A great tablet can't be a great laptop. And a great laptop can't be a great tablet. That's what the popular consensus seems to be. I was never convinced by this theory before buying a Surface Pro 2, and especially not after - the last two months have only reaffirmed my position.
Let me be clear. If you're looking for one device that is both a great tablet and great laptop, the Surface Pro 2 is not that device. But I've used the Surface Pro 2 plenty as both a tablet and laptop to know that an utopian hybrid is inevitable. It won't necessarily be built by Microsoft, but this device is coming.
I don't want a Kindle to read books on my way to work. I don't want a MacBook to write a blog post with. I don't want an iPad to watch videos in bed. I hate having so many devices in my life 1. And just because no device exists today that can be all without compromise doesn't mean the concept is not worth pursuing.
There were smartphones before the iPhone. And tablets before the iPad. Their failure to gain market traction was not because people were not ready for touch input but because they were executed misguidedly. Similarly, the problem with the Surface and Windows 8 is not conceptual. The problem is in its execution.
Monday, 17 February 2014
That's approximately how long my Surface Pro 2 lasted before it needed a charge today. This on full brightness running only Visual Studio. Although my expectations were not high when it came to the Pro 2's battery life, even after Microsoft claimed it had improved it by 75%, I've still been very disappointed. Much work still clearly needs to be accomplished before the Surface Pro can be considered truly mobile.
Surface Pro 2 in One Word (And Then in a Few More) ∞
Sunday, 19 January 2014
What I wasn't expecting is how much I've used it as a tablet. It does feel slightly heavier than my girlfriend's iPad 4, and that's not great because I find the iPad 4 too heavy to use. I realise this is no longer an issue with the iPad Air, but do you know what is even more comfortable than using a tablet with one hand? Using none. Most (if not all) Surface Pro 2 reviews I've read seem to think the kickstand solely exists to accommodate laptop usage with a failure to recognise how this feature enables it to be used legitimately as a tablet. It's made using the device in bed or on the sofa incredibly convenient. Much more so than the iPad 4 from my experience.
The Surface Pro 2's guts (battery life and weight) may be more PC than post-PC 1. But, without wanting to trivialise the engineering required to better both, this is relatively low hanging fruit that will inevitably be addressed, if not with the Surface Pro 3 then most certainly with the second-to-next iteration. Until that day, one thing is for certain - this is a Surface I won't be selling.
Wednesday, 1 January 2014
This suggests I'm on the way to accomplishing what I'd set out to do a year ago. It may be clichéd, but being recognised for my work by one of my peers is incredibly flattering and hugely motivating. Matt, I won't let you or any of your smart readers down.
Fortunately, with a Surface Pro 2 and my first Windows Phone app on the way, I'll have plenty more to write about this year.
Thank you for reading.
When the Windows Phone Back Button Doesn't Work∞
Thursday, 24 October 2013
Going up an app's hierarchy on Windows Phone can be inconsistent and sometimes impossible because of a dependency on a hardware back button. I'm regularly reminded of this when I'm listening to music and want to change to another song. Let's begin at the start.
I've no apps running.
I go to the Start screen and tap on Xbox Music's tile.
I tap on the top left tile in Xbox Music to start playing a song.
I'm now listening to Apparat's Goodbye.
I go back to the Start screen by tapping on the phone's Start button.
Imaginary time passes. Time to change song. I press my phone's volume rocker to get the playback controls to slide down, and tap on the song title.
This is when things start to get confusing. I tap on the back button to check the other songs on the album.
When I do, I'm not presented with the album's tracklist, but I'm instead taken back to Start.1
Confused, I tap on the back button again. I'm now taken to Xbox Music. More confused.
I tap on the back button again but this time more in hope than expectation. I'm returned to the Start screen once more.
Tapping on the back button now doesn't take me anywhere. At this point, I decide to change my strategy: try again but this time without the back button. I slide down the playback controls and tap on the song title.
Back here. I tap on the artist/album title this time.
I'm presented with Apparat's discography. I've jumped two levels up in the app's navigation hierarchy. I wasn't expecting that.
If I tap on the album title, I'll see the album's tracklist. But if I want to browse other artists, I can't. There isn't a way up Xbox Music's navigation hierarchy from here. I'll need to go back to Start and start Xbox Music anew.2 This wouldn't happen on an iPhone because its apps are not designed to have any external dependencies. That is, irrespective of where in an iPhone app I am, I could reliably move backwards because their navigation is solely internal.
When Windows Phone 7 launched, the hardware search button worked contextually. When tapped, it would present either an in-app search or Bing web search depending on the app you were on. In Windows Phone 7.5 to avoid any confusion, this was changed so that it consistently sent you to Bing.3 As a result, developers had to present search as an option accessible from within their apps. What motivated this change can also be used to justify dropping the back button Windows Phone hardware requirement. If the back button doesn't always work, then it doesn't work. Total reliability should never be compromised for occasional convenience. At least one Windows Phone 8 app ironically developed by Microsoft themselves already acknowledges this.
Hopefully the rest of the platform will soon follow.
The Problem with Launching Metro Apps from the Desktop∞
Monday, 7 October 2013
When a file is opened from the Windows 8 Desktop and is launched in a Metro app, the Start screen becomes sandwiched between the two. This only becomes apparent when the Metro app is closed by holding the top of the app and dragging it to the bottom of the screen1. Instead of being returned to the Desktop, you're unexpectedly diverted to the Start screen.
A constant and unnecessary reminder that you are switching between two different environments. What's worrying is that even though this behaviour can be corrected easily, Windows 8.1 doesn't address it.
On Not Being Around Recently∞
Wednesday, 24 July 2013
I've been busy preparing this. If you live in Europe 1, please sign up. The recently completed pilot was strangely addictive, and even if you don't win, the experience will be educational.
On Why the Windows 8 Launch Didn't Touch Users∞
Saturday, 6 July 2013
Steve Ballmer at the Build 2013 Day 1 Keynote:
When we brought out Windows 8, we talked about touch, touch, touch, touch, touch, touch, touch, touch and more touch. When you went into the stores last Christmas to look for a Windows 8 machine, most of them didn't have touch.
He didn't look very happy. Furthermore, most, if not all, people who've upgraded their machines to Windows 8 have done so on a machine not optimised for it either 1. Microsoft encouraged these users to upgrade early by giving them a financial incentive to do so. This may have accelerated the number of existing Windows users who moved over to Windows 8, but there was a concession made. These users' first impression of Windows 8 wouldn't be on the stage that Microsoft would've preferred them to initially experience it from.
I'm not suggesting Microsoft shouldn't have allowed the ability to upgrade on non-touch devices, but that making it inexpensive to upgrade to a touch-first Metro environment yet needing to use a mouse and keyboard once upgraded has inadvertently negatively contributed to Windows 8's perception.
The good news is that Metro apps in Windows 8.1 are more conducive to non-touch input. Whereas I perceived them to be functionally inferior touch-first alternatives to existing Desktop apps on Windows 8, I consider their Windows 8.1 updates to be modern touch-friendly interpretations of Desktop apps and, more significantly, potentially effective replacements in the medium-term.
When Product Differentiation is Prioritised over Usability∞
Friday, 28 June 2013
In a trade-off between longer battery life and a fresh coat of paint, HTC has prioritised the latter. The HTC One that ships with Sense lasts a full hour less compared to the same phone running stock Android.
When Mobile App Developers Get Ripped-off∞
Friday, 28 June 2013
Going back1 to Windows Phone 7.5 after a few weeks on Windows Phone 8 has been non-problematic. I've comfortably resisted the impulse to upgrade back, and I'm happy to continue to do so until Nokia release a new Lumia that I must buy. This wouldn't have been as easy were it not for a few third-party apps that cost me less than six dollars in total. I've used these apps daily for more than two years and have received numerous free updates2 in this time. In short, they've offered incredible value. So much so, I actually feel bad.
I don't think it's right that a single micropayment entitles me to receive unlimited updates for the remainder of an app's development. I want developers to have the ability to charge their app's existing users for an update they consider merits an additional micropayment. This has never been an issue with traditional software, and so I'm puzzled as to why there appears to be different expectations for mobile apps. When an update inflates the value of software, which was both feature-complete and useable3, at no additional cost, there stops being a correlation between the amount of money paid in and the amount of value got out. In other words, that's the moment the developer gets ripped off.
An alternative app monetisation model I'd like to see introduced is the ability for apps to be sold as a service with recurring subscription micropayments. If I'm seeing value from an app every day, it's only fair that I continue to support its development beyond an initial transaction. It's in our best interest. After all, the extra revenue this would generate for developers will be reciprocated through higher quality and/or more frequent updates.
Given Windows Phone's still insignificant market share and the scarcity of great apps available for it, on the odd occasion that I do come across one, I feel like a few dollars is not enough to justify and support the app's development. The problem I have at the moment is that there's nothing more I can do4.
Update: I've discovered that Metroblur on Windows Phone is a free app that enables its users to offer their support by donating through an in-app purchase. Clever. I remember visiting the official sites of London Travel, NextGen Reader and Rowi and being disappointed that there was no option to send a donation. So, it's refreshing to come across a developer who has creatively identified an unconventional method to finance their app's development.
I don't think that an option to donate should be restricted to free apps either. If you're charging for your app and are actively updating it, like any of the aforementioned apps, then I'd encourage you to add an option in your next update that enables your users to donate. Not all your users will, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by how many are willing.
Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good #7∞
Wednesday, 12 June 2013
When editing an event's details on your Outlook.com calendar, it can now be supplemented with a charm. That is, an icon describing the type of event. November is setting up nicely.
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