In-Flight Cellphone Calls to be Banned?

The US DoT is moving towards banning in-flight calls

phone

The use of electronic devices on plane flights has been banned for a number of years, not only in the US, but worldwide. Originally, the thought was that the electro-magnetic radiation or EMR from these devices would interfere with onboard aviation equipment. So the FAA banned their use on flights in the US. Recently, that policy has changed.

Last October, the FAA announced that it would permit the use of all electronic devices during all phases of flight. This meant that you didn’t necessarily have to turn off your iPad or iPod when the doors closed and you had your nose reducing headphones plugged in, turned on and pumping music through your ears during take off. No more crying and screaming children for you!

However, this also meant that you could conceivably spend the entire flight next to Chatty Cathy as she gabbed away on her cell phone at 35,000 feet. However, according to the DoT, the agency is preparing some rules that may prevent just that.

While the FAA hasn’t laid down any new rules, and the DoT hasn’t come out with anything definitive as yet, its clear that the airline carriers are considering making some rules of their own. Your time next to Chatty Cathy may be totally cut off if they get their way, so you may be saved from all of the grief.

As of this writing – 2014-08-11 – I am currently sitting in the O’Hare International Airport waiting on a flight to Pittsburgh, PA for a job interview. I’m flying the Friendly Skies, so United has my business on both legs of this trip. In my opinion, United has been one of the more restrictive carriers with passenger privileges and freedoms in Coach. It will be interesting to see how things go after I get on board.

UPDATE:
OK, well, this is already partially implemented…at least on United. They allow use of portable electronic devices at all times on the plane. When the doors close, they tell you smartphones and tablets with cellular have to be put in airplane mode. Wireless headsets are permitted, but no Wi-Fi. The flight I was on didn’t have in-flight Wi-Fi.

I fully expect that despite what the FAA or the DoT implement as rules or guidelines, that the airline carriers will do what they want. They will likely further limit the use of electronic devices on domestic and international flights originating in the US. Despite what the regulatory agencies specify, passengers will be required to follow the rules the carriers lay down. Failure to do so, will get you booted and likely banned (depending on how you behave). Its going to be an interesting time. I will continue to follow the issue and will report back with any new updates.

In the mean time, why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and let me know what you think the FAA and DoT should outline in any new regulations? I’d also like to hear what you think the airlines will do, too; so jump in and give me your thoughts!

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iOS 8 Beta 5 – Finally… PROGRESS!

iOS 8 Beta 5 has been released. Let’s take a look to see how (well) things have progressed…

iOS-8-beta-5-630x208

 Introduction

Over the past ten weeks or so, Apple has been releasing betas of iOS 8, their new mobile operating system. I’ve covered the first four betas with some rants that have left me (and I would assume other developers and testers) lamenting. You can read up on how things have progressed here:

Beta releases of iOS 8, to put it politely, have been a train wreck at best. They have been nearly unusable, crashing and causing issues and problems with nearly each and every core, as well as nearly every third party app I have had installed, too. Apple recently released iOS 8 Beta 5. Let’s take a look at how things are going and see if iOS 8 is (finally?) ready for a wider audience as well as some other third party app work by developers worldwide.

I’m also going to touch on a few OS X Yosemite Beta 5 issues, as I bumped into updates on them while looking at iOS 8 Beta 5. So much of what is cool about iOS 8 requires Yosemite and a Mac, that it’s hard to draw the line between the two devices and operating systems… at least when they are close by (and vice-versa)

 Installation

Installation of iOS 8 Beta 5 was only slightly smoother than previous versions of iOS 8. I did have problems with iTunes Match again (see Music, below), and almost had to blow the device and reinstall, but thankfully, have not… Yet.

There are still a number of know issues with iOS 8 Beta 5, and as always, caution should be used when deciding to install any kind of beta on any mission critical equipment. Generally, it’s not a good idea. For example in Beta 5, updating iCloud settings may appear to hang when you try to change them. The thought is that the device will eventually come back. Try to see if you can wait it out before you kill the app, or perform a hard reset (power + home button until the Apple logo appears), which will clear all settings and reboot the device.

While using Beta 4, I didn’t blow the device and rebuild it from scratch. I toughed it out and made it the entire two weeks. However, during the 2-3 days prior to the release of Beta 5, I REALLY did want to. I didn’t as I knew that I would be doing exactly that for Beta 5 soon. However getting to that release wasn’t a lot of fun (though it was mildly better than with Betas 1 – 3).

The question of stability of iOS 8 Beta 5 is still to be determined.

 Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

According to Apple’s release notes, there aren’t any known issues with Bluetooth in iOS 8 Beta 5. There weren’t any documented issues in Beta 4 either, but it was still a mess. I am pleased to say that things are a bit better here in Beta 5.

BT-LE (Bluetooth Low Energy) seems to be working and communicating with my Pebble Steel smartwatch. However, the Pebble app does seem to be sending some corrupted data, as the watch doesn’t always vibrate at configured intervals and the display often gets corrupted. I haven’t had to hard reset the watch (return it to factory settings), but I’ve wanted to at least once since repairing it with my iPhone 5.

Now, the only issue I need to verify is the secret sauce connection (Continuity and Handoff) my iPhone shares with my MacBook Pro.

Speaking of secret sauce connectivity, little to nothing related to Handoff or connectivity (both relying on Wi-Fi and home network connectivity) worked well for me in the iOS 8 Beta 4 – Yosemite Beta 4/Consumer Preview 1 combination.

There are currently two huge known issues with Handoff

  1. Handoff will not work on systems configured with multiple user accounts.
  2. Handoff icons may not appear in the Dock after using the corresponding app on another device. Trying another Handoff-supported app may resolve this issue.

At this point, Handoff should be considered a work in progress. Though when it does work, it IS pretty cool, especially if you’re using apps that save to documents in iCloud Drive.

 FaceTime, Phone and Contacts

In previous versions of OS X as well as iOS, Apple had a clear line of separation between the Phone app and FaceTime. With Yosemite and iOS 8, that line is SERIOUSLY blurred. This is both good and bad. Now, you have a choice in how you communicate with someone given the type and speed of the network you are connected to. On your Mac, all of your calls regardless of type – FaceTime or cellular – all show up in FaceTime. It looks like it wants to function as the main phone app for your Mac, though you can dial from just about anywhere you can find or see a phone number, Calendar, Contacts and Safari included. In Beta 4 of both OS X and iOS 8, this was nothing more than a total train wreck.

I have no idea if this is because of development issues with Phone on my iPhone 5, with Contacts on either my device or my Mac or with FaceTime on either my iPhone or my Mac. There are too many possible integration points for me as a tester (without direct access to design docs, code and/ or developer resources) to determine. I’m going to have to give this a shot when I get a moment back at the house.

Besides the “progress” made, above, Apple has also fixed the ability for users to use FaceTime in landscape orientations on your iDevice. In earlier betas, this didn’t work. It does now, in Beta 5. Fixed – at least somewhat – is also the ability to determine which number to specify as a Favorite, though the Favorite chooser in Phone. Favorites now provides a contact method picker, but force quits the Phone app when a contact method is chosen. We’re close, but no kewpie doll yet. Unless Apple has gotten the iPhone integration working correctly with both Beta 5 releases of iOS 8 and Yosemite, it’s going to be a very long beta period for both operating systems.

UPDATE: While this article was being written, a new <a href=”http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/08/05/apple-to-hold-iphone-6-media-event-on-sept-9—report”>rumor was breaking</a> regarding a reported Apple media even scheduled for 2014-09-09. <a href=”http://recode.net/2014/08/05/codered-apple-to-hold-iphone-event-on-sept-9/”>Re/code</a> is reporting that both new iPhone 6 devices – the 4.7″ and the 5.5″ iDevices – will be announced with a projected order rate of 80M units. It is not known if the iWatch will be announced at the same event or not. However, you can expect new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina models to be announced with TouchID sensors.

UPDATE 2: The integration between iPhone with iOS 8 Beta 5 and OS X Yosemite Beta 5 is MUCH better than in the Beta 4 release of both operating systems. Previously, while a call could be established by your Mac through you iPhone, no audio would come across. In short, the feature was only partially implemented and didn’t work.

Now, not only is the connection established, but I was able to use my Mac as a speakerphone as intended without too many call quality issues. There does seem to be a volume issue for the person that you’re talking to. The caller I spoke with initially had trouble hearing me, though the call quality for them did improve over the length of the call.

Provided that audio quality and reliability improves on both sides of the call, I can see where this would be very usable as a way to conduct conference calls in a home office. I have my doubts however, how this kind of feature would work in the enterprise. Unless Apple builds some kind of partnership with, say, Cisco, Avaya or some other VoIP vender where the feature was totally integrated into their server(s), I’m not sure how this would be considered valuable or usable in any kind of corporate setting. The feature (even if mic and volume issues were totally resolved and call quality was continuously in the upper 90th percentile), as currently implemented doesn’t seem well suited for anyone else other than regular consumers or SOHO users.

However, it was really kinda cool to be able to get up away from the computer and still be able to converse with the caller without having to wear a Bluetooth headset. This is an area where I will need to do further testing, however, as its clear that this is a work in progress for Apple as well.

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Ok, You can Unlock ‘em Again

If you want, you can unlock your cellphone in the US again

When the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) came into play a few years ago, it changed the way many people looked at not only their websites, computers, books, etc., it changed the way they looked at their digital phones, too.  While it was ok to unlock cell and smartphones that were tied to one specific carrier, before its implementation, afterwards, you had to get specific permissions.  That was fine until about 18 months ago. After a January 2013 decision by the Librarian of Congress, it became a violation of copyright, and therefore the DMCA to unlock your phone.

unlockcell

Recently, with the passing of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act in both the House and the Senate, President Obama signed the rapidly passed law which reverses that decision, until January 2016, that is.

The Librarian of Congress will again at that time review the DMCA, its previous decision to ban the unlocking, the law recently put into place by Congress and signed by the President and rule again if cell phone unlocking should be banned.

This effectively gives you an 18 month hiatus on unlocking your phone. If you want to do it, now is the time.  After that, it could become illegal again.

Congress wasn’t prepared to deal with the underlying issue of copyright that makes it otherwise illegal to unlock your cell or smartphone.  The issue is largely who owns the hardware and how owns the license to the software that runs on that hardware.  The problem stems from the way that cellphones are sold here in the US.

With subsidized phones, argument can be made that until the contract term is up and the phone is “off contract,” that the phone carrier really owns the hardware and holds the license to the software that runs the device.  In that case, making any kind of modification to any subsidized phone would be considered illegal until title for the device passed to the account holder.

With contract-less, financed phones (like those sold by T-Mobile USA), the issue isn’t any clearer.  There’s no clear sense of who actually holds the title to the device while it’s being paid off.  Like a car or any other financed property, the account holder may physically hold the device, but the title to the property is held by the lien holder until the note is paid in full and the lien holder relinquishes title to the property.  While the user may cancel service at any time, in order to do so, they must first pay off the remaining balance to the phone.  After that, the account holder can do what it wants to with the device, as the license for the software running the hardware passes to the account holder. At least, that’s the popular thought…

The problem here is that there’s no clear definition of who holds that title or when it is relinquished and by whom.  If those terms exist in anyone’s wireless contract, no one has brought them to light at this point.  And then there’s the possibility that the wireless carrier could maintain the license to that software even if ownership of the device passes to the account holder. Since the licensee can assert specific rights to protect their license (and therefore have some kind of hold over the condition of the hardware), they could theoretically prevent the account holder and owner of the device from making modifications to the hardware.  At that point, you have to consider who’s rights are more enforceable – the software licensee’s or the device owner’s; and that’s the rabbit hole that Congress doesn’t want to debate and get caught up in.

While the Librarian of Congress can reverse his earlier decision and allow cell and smartphone during the next DMCA review, I’d be surprised of that happened.  The review – as I understand what he does per the DMCA – is review the law, his previous decision(s), and if anything in the law has changed. Since there have been NO changes to the actual DMCA; and this temporary override expires before the January 2016 review takes place, I see no reason why the Librarian of Congress would reverse that decision, leaving us where we were before President Obama signed this temporary exemption.

For any permanent change to the process to come about, Congress would have to change the DMCA. If they did not do that here, then I see little chance of that changing.

This may be an interim election year where some Congressional seats change hands, but I don’t see this becoming a big issue.  While it might be a blip on the 2016 Presidential Campaign Trail, I don’t see this issue gaining enough steam to become big enough to be a huge campaign issue.

How big of an issues is this to you?  Are you a chronic iOS jail breaker or Android rooter?  Is unlocking your phone something that you need to do due to travel or are you just trying to figure out what carrier is the best deal for you without having to buy another cell phone? How important is this to you?  Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts on this as well as the DMCA?  I’d love to hear what you have to say. If it’s compelling enough, I’ll expound more on the issue in a separate column and get your name up in lights.

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Apple Rumors – What to do? What to do..??

There are a number of Apple rumors floating around.  Here’s how you should interpret them…

I’ve been covering the tech industry for almost 20 years. If there’s one thing I know to do – and can do well – its keep my ear to the ground and listen for the whispers.  After a while you get a Jedi like sense about some of this stuff, and like Michael Keaton in Johnny Dangerously (you know your last name’s an adverb..?), you learn to interpret the grape vine and can divine the truth out of the many tech rumors you hear.

Apple-question-markMost of the time with companies like Blackberry, it’s totally easy – especially over the past few years. You know the industry, you know the trends and you know the product.  You just KNOW what their chances are – slim to none.  With Microsoft, it’s not quite as easy. Under Ballmer, yeah… after covering MS under Ballmer for 20 or so years, you can dope it out.  It’s still early with Nadella, so, it’s a bit more difficult.  Apple however, is a completely different story.

There have been a number of rumors about the iPhone 6 – launch dates, release dates (they’re usually a month apart, so you divine one, you have the other…), model types, form factors, components, etc. The list goes on and on.  However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned after covering them for nearly 10 years – it’s don’t even try.

Apple is the most secretive tech company without a US military contract in the country, if not the world.  Sure… checking the Magic 8 Ball and getting the rumors right is real easy the night BEFORE an Apple Press Event, but that’s nothing and not very impressive at all. Any good rumor monger with at least an OK source or a bit of experience can do that.  I don’t know of many people at all that can do that months and months before the event and get it right.  Many have tried. Nearly all have failed. Those that have gotten it right have been merely lucky.

So what should you do with the rumors that you hear about on the internet regarding any unreleased Apple product?

That’s simple – smile, nod your head and move on.

Apple rumors are fun to read. Apple rumors are fun to talk about… but unless you get Tim Cook drunk AND are able to get him to spill his guts (which, by the way will never, EVER happen, because Tim is just NOT that way; but I’m trying to illustrate a point here, so work with me for just a sec…), and can get it on video with some kind of certificate of authenticity, I would treat any Apple rumor you hear as nothing more than a rumor.  Enjoy the story, hope for the best, but in the end… smile, nod your head and move on.

The latest rumors include not only the release of a 4.7″ iPhone 6, but also a second 5.5″ iPhone 6.  One, the other or both are supposed to have a saphire-glass touch screen.  The screen yields of one, the other or both models are said to have good yields, bad yields or other manufacturing problems that may delay the release of either model until late this year or early next year.

OR

We could get the 4.7″ model with or with out a saphire-glass touch screen as early as mid-September.  Or, we could also get the 5.5″ model at the same time, or after the First of the New Year. Maybe… MacRumors is also reporting an iPhone 6 release date of October 14, 2014, based on a rumored press event thought to take place sometime in mid-September.

And what happens in the background at Apple..?  Nothing.  They sit back and smile, basking in glory of the massive amounts of free publicity and hype that will likely send initial sales of the newest (and rumored to be the biggest) iPhone into the tens of millions in the first quarter of sales after its announcement, if you believe all the rumors, that is…

The point, kids is that you should treat these rumors as nothing more than what they actually are… a rumor.  Enjoy them. Talk about them.  Spread the living schtako out of them if you like; but don’t put any stock in them what-so-ever.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about covering Apple over the last 10 years, it’s that you aren’t going to be able to figure out which way they’re going to go until you get there.

Apple is very good at keeping secrets, and divining what they really WILL do with this, that or the other product has proven to be next to impossible.  So again, enjoy the rumors… have fun with them; but don’t buy into them at all.  You’re likely not going to do anything else other than confuse yourself and your friends if you put any stock in them.

So, move along… these aren’t the ‘droids you’re looking for…

Have you heard any new Apple rumors?  Any of them fun or exciting?  If you’d like to share them or have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear about all of them.  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and tell me all about it?

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OS X Yosemite Beta 4/ Public Preview Beta 1: Mac and iOS integration

Beta 4 of Yosemite was recently released to the public as a Beta 1 public preview. In part 2 of this 3 part series, I’m going to talk about Mac and iOS integration.

If you remember last time, I talked about Yosemite Installation and Setup. Here, I’m going to talk about integration between a Yosemite enabled Mac and your iOS 8 enabled iDevice.

Yosemite

 Mac and iOS integration

There is some pretty cool stuff going on with Apple’s Mac + iDevice pairings under Yosemite. However, please note that in order to get some of this stuff to work, especially when everything is released, you’re going to have to run not only Yosemite on your Mac (these features simply will NOT exist under Windows…), but iOS 8 on your iDevice. If your iDevice gets left behind at iOS 7, I don’t care what kind of Mac you have Yosemite install on, this kind of integration won’t exist. Be aware both new operating systems will be required on both ends.

FYI – Please note that these features will always require at least matching beta versions during the Beta Period. For example, Yosemite Beta 4 and iOS 8 Beta 4. They’re both going to be revved at the same time (though the public won’t get newer beta versions of Yosemite, but WILL receive some minor OS updates via the AppStore; and the only way to get iOS 8 is via the iOS Developer Program), so the versions will have to match. You won’t be able to have Yosemite Beta 4 and iOS 8 Beta 3 or vice versa on your gear and have this stuff work right now.

  • Phone Calls
    This is probably the neatest thing I’ve seen yet when pairing a Mac and an iPhone running iOS 8. If you have iOS 8 on your iPhone and Yosemite on your Mac, you can use your Mac as a speakerphone. Calls coming into your iPhone will cause your Mac to ring and a notification of the call to display in the upper right corner of your default monitor. You can answer the call, decline the call or reply with an iMessage if needed.You can also place a call from your Mac. Open Contacts, Calendar, Messages or Safari and click a phone number you see displayed. Your iPhone will place the call and your Mac will act as a speaker phone. Dialing into conference calls is super easy now, and totally hands free. Where was this a year ago? I really could have used it then, as conference calls were my life…The cool deal here, though is that you do NOT need to have your iPhone physically tethered to your Mac for this all to work. Through the magic of Wi-Fi, there’s nothing to setup. As long as your iPhone and Mac are connected to the same network, you’re good to go. This means you get this feature at home, at work or at Starbucks…which is cool. Wi-Fi is the magic sauce.
  • Messages
    When you have Yosemite and iOS 8, you can also send and receive text messages with individuals running not only iOS, but Android and Windows Phone – or any other OS that can send and receive SMS/MMS messages – all from your Mac. All messages that appear on your iPhone, appear on your Mac, and vice-versa. You can also begin a text message conversation on your Mac by clicking a phone number in either Safari, Contacts, or Calendar.Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble with this. I’ve tried this with a couple Android users over the past couple of days, and they never got any of the messages I sent from my Mac. None of those messages ever synchronized with my iPhone. Messages sent from my iPhone got to the user I was texting with, and eventually synchronized to my Mac; but none of the messages that I typed on my Mac in the Message conversation actually sent or were received by the users I was communicating with. There’s obviously still work to do here, as it appears the “send” functionality for non-iMessage users is broken in Yosemite.I have a lot of hope for this feature, as it makes Messages and iMessage a universal way to communicate via text with anyone, on any device, with any mobile OS, at any time. This is a natural progression for the iMessage service, and I’m very excited – or I will be – to be able to use this feature.
  • FaceTime
    While I am on contract with a state government agency and out of town, I use FaceTime as a major communications tool with my family. We speak via cell during the day; but we visit with each other via FaceTime at night. Everyone either has a Mac, iPhone or iPad to communicate with, provided they can get the target iDevice away from my 22 month old granddaughter, that is. She likes to talk to papa, too; but unfortunately, she doesn’t like to share, or can’t necessarily remember where she put her mother’s or grandmother’s iDevice. It makes for an interesting time…I’ve noticed that the new version of FaceTime for Mac has issues searching through large Contact lists. There’s always a huge delay – 30 seconds or more – when typing in a contact name, address or number in FaceTime. It improves slightly after the first search is completed, but there are still lags, especially with larger Contact lists like mine (I have nearly 3000 contacts in my Contacts list).
  • Instant Hot Spot
    One of the coolest features of iOS 6.x and later is the ability to use your iPhone as a mobile hot spot. You turn on the feature, set a password, and then turn on Wi-Fi on your phone and on your Mac. The feature was supported in Lion, Mountain Lion and is supported in Mavericks. Further, if you physically connected your iPhone to your Mac, with the hot spot feature turned on, your Mac connected to the internet automatically without the need to have Wi-Fi on or to configure any password.Apple has taken the feature a bit further now with Yosemite. Now, your Mac can use the personal hot spot feature on your iPhone via Wi-Fi just like it did via USB cable – no setup is required. Your Mac will also display the signal strength and battery life of your iPhone as well. You don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket, bag or anything else. The feature…just works; and now, you don’t even have to turn on the feature on your iPhone beforehand. Your Mac will list your iPhone in the network list of the Wi-Fi menu on your Mac. Selecting your iPhone will turn on the hot spot feature and you’re on the internet.I’m still experimenting with this feature. I haven’t played with it too much yet. However, I would suspect that the bridging technology is not necessarily accomplished not by Wi-Fi, but by BT-LE. You’ll also need to make certain that you’re logged into your iCloud account on your iDevice in order to make all of this work. So here, you need to mix both BT-LE and your iCloud account in order to create the secret sauce. Your cellular carrier will also need to allow the hot spot feature on their network, but that’s really a given…In the end, this looks like a much better implementation of the instant hot spot feature than in previous versions of OS X and iOS. In the end, it’s just on, click, connect and surf.
  • Handoff
    I know when I get home after a long day at the office, the last thing I want to do is get behind the desk in my home office because I HAVE to. Having a laptop makes it easier to compute in places other than an office, but having a hot laptop on your lap for a few hours is neither good for you NOR the laptop. Thankfully, Handoff allows you to use another device.Again, when you pair an Apple iDevice and a Mac running OS X Yosemite, your Mac and iDevices will automatically pass whatever you’re working on between them. You can start working on one device – say your Mac at the office (but it could be the other way around…) – and when you’re ready to go home you save your work to iCloud. When you get home, you can pick up what you were working on at the office on your iPad, at the exact spot where you left off… the availability of the file and the spot where you left off is instantaneous (or as soon as the information get saved to iCloud)…And that’s the secret sauce here – iCloud. As long as your iDevices and Mac share the same iCloud account, the information is traded back and forth with every save. Now you can go to meetings with confidence that the latest information you put in your presentation will show up on the iPad you’re presenting from; and you don’t’ have to do anything else other than save the file. This… is TOTALLY cool; and something that is WAY overdue as a feature not only in OS X, but in Windows AND Linux. Something like this should be available on every platform and computing device; but that’s just me, and probably way too Star Trek for everyone…Currently, Handoff works with Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts. What is even more important, is that app developers can easily build Handoff into their apps. This is a feature of the OS and not necessarily just Apple’s Core Apps.

Do you have any questions about OS X Yosemite’ integration between your Mac and an iOS 8 enabled iDevice? Let me know in the Discussion area below, and I’ll do my best to give you a hand.

Come back next time, and I’ll talk about changes to Apple’s Core Apps and I’ll wrap everything up.

Go back to First Impressions | Go to Apple Core Apps

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Windows 8 is the New Windows Vista

Microsoft on Windows 8 – You don’t see anything…

Windows8 is the new Windows Vista

I think it’s safe for nearly anyone and everyone to say and agree that Windows 8.x is a total train wreck. That’s sad, because it isn’t the OS itself that’s horrible, it’s just Metro, or what Microsoft officially calls “ModernUI” (though I fail to see much that’s “modern” about it. It’s very similar to Windows 1.0 in look and feel…). Microsoft is officially looking forward to putting Windows 8 far, behind it, much as they did with Windows Vista.

When Windows 7 was released, Microsoft went on a huge media blitz. They contracted with a company called, House Party – a company that does classic “Tupperware” styled parties for just about everything – to help them get people across the country to host Windows 7 Launch Parties. If you were chosen to host one, you got a party kit, which included a free Windows 7 license so you could demo the new OS and talk up its new features. I actually got a local newspaper – The Aurora Beacon – to help with the coverage and started a 12 week freelancing stint with them where I started off with a cool series on Setting up Windows 7 for the first time. In the end, they really did great job on moving the limelight away from Windows Vista – the old and busted – to Windows 7 – the new hotness.

Microsoft would very much like to repeat that kind of activity with similar results. In fact, I’d wager that their tactics will be nearly identical. They’ll do anything and everything they can to make the public forget Windows 8.x, and especially MetroUI.

For example, in the months leading up to Windows 7’s release, Microsoft did everything it could to make users forget about Windows Vista. All formal communications released from Microsoft either downplayed the former OS release and/ or played up the new OS release. Microsoft did everything it could to help users forget that Windows Vista ever existed.

For Windows 8, it’s going to be a little more difficult, but in the end the results will be the same. Microsoft has one more major update to Windows 8.1 scheduled for release on 2014-08-12. Windows 8.1 Update 2 (or whatever they end up calling) was supposed to be the update that had the new, revamped Start Menu in it. However, that update was pulled from the release many months ago and will instead come as part of Threshold, largely believed to be called, Windows 9. New – read reinstated – Start Menu with a revamped – read MetroUI removed – user interface, plus some other, yet to be announced, features = new version of Windows that Microsoft hopes everyone will embrace. In an effort to help that, Microsoft will likely have little to no press or released information about the 2014-08-12 Patch Tuesday and the release of Windows 8.1 Update 2 (if, in fact, that is what it called).

Another tactic, as noted by ComputerWorld would be to change the naming convention of the next version of Windows. As I stated above, the next version of Windows is rumored to be called Windows 9. When Microsoft released Windows 7, instead of giving it a name – like XP or Vista – Microsoft instead switched to a numeral based designation. They did this because XP was the OS that just wouldn’t die no matter how hard they tried and Vista was the marketing and sales thud heard round the world. Since Windows 8 is just as much of a dud as Windows Vista is, Microsoft may decide to remake the brand entirely and leave the numeric designations behind.

Perhaps they’ll move back to a product name. The next version of Windows is codenamed, “Threshold.” So, for example, calling it Windows Threshold, or something else may help Microsoft move away from the failure of Windows 8. Perhaps they’ll return to a year designation like they did with Windows 98 and Windows 2000 and call this version of Windows, “Windows 2015,” as the OS is supposed to become available for download and distribution in the early Spring of 2015.

Whatever its name, Microsoft is going to have to put some heavy marketing capitol behind it in order to reduce and remove the market share that Windows 8 has. Windows 7 had three to four years of exclusivity before Microsoft started talking up Windows 8.x. Microsoft is hoping to bury Windows 8 after only 2-3 years of exclusivity. Yes… it’s really that bad for Windows 8.x.

(BTW, it’s not the OS itself that’s bad, just MetroUI, which unfortunately, is nearly everywhere within the OS. While you can’t get away from it, with tools like Stardock’s Start8, and other very cheap utilities, you can nearly turn Windows 8 into a Windows 7 look alike. The OS in and of itself, is fast, optimized, and it will run on cheaper, more affordable hardware. That means your older notebooks and netbooks can use it too, extending their value and life.)

Some pundits – as well as many people in the tech circles that I frequent – that are talking about this issue are saying that Microsoft needs to do something spectacular to help remove Windows 8 from the annals of history. Some feel that giving away Threshold may be the best way to do that. Those that ARE saying that are calling that the, “smart thing to do.”

Nearly every version of every distribution of Linux is free to end users. Apple is making OS X Yosemite free to all Mavericks users. For Microsoft to continue to charge end users for upgrades and new versions is becoming problematic. Only Macs can run OS X, but nearly every Windows machine can run Linux, and their user interfaces are becoming more and more Windows-like and end-user friendly than they were before. With online versions of Microsoft Office and other online office suites that run on any and every OS that has a web browser, a compelling reason to pay for Windows on your PC is quickly disappearing, despite any reasoning behind Microsoft’s One Windows vision and streamlining.

What do you think of all of this? Is Windows 8 a boat anchor drowning Microsoft and holding them back? Should they do their best to erase it from history as they did with Windows Vista? Should they give Threshold away? Let me know in the Discussion area, below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the whole issue.

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One Windows

Say goodbye to Windows RT…

Untitlddded

I saw a report by The Verge yesterday and it kinda got me thinking. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been busy over the past couple of weeks. He cut over 18,000 jobs from the new combined Microsoft after the deal with Nokia closed and they had time to figure out where the redundancies were. He’s killed Ballmer’s devices and services focus for the company and has everyone focusing on the cloud and on productivity. Now, he’s taking a shot at one of Microsoft’s major products – Windows.

There can be only one…

According to Nadella, Microsoft will “streamline the next version of Windows from three operating systems into one single converged operating system.” Windows will be built by a single team with one common architecture. The details of how this will actually happen aren’t known as of yet, but that means that desktop Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox will be unified. This is huge for developers, as they can now create universal apps, meaning they will only have to code and compile once and their app should run anywhere Windows does.

This has been something that Microsoft has been moving towards for months. At BUILD, Microsoft showed of dev tools that support this. While this works better for developers, how it will work in the wild remains to be seen. This ultimately means the death of Windows RT and Microsoft Surface RT/Surface 2 tablets.

THAT isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Microsoft never really got behind RT and pushed it as their competitors – both Apple and Google – push their mobile operating systems. RT was confusing to users who often mistook it for the Pro version of Windows, only without any real apps. The problem with RT was the Windows Desktop. RT still had it and Windows [File] Explorer, making it look and feel a great deal like its bigger brother, but without the ability to run any desktop apps. Quite honestly, no one knew what to do with Windows RT and Surface RT. Microsoft didn’t push it, users didn’t understand what to do with it, and it just kinda died.

As I have stated many times, Mary Jo Foley is a friend of mine, and I trust her take on the inner-workings at Microsoft more than anyone else’s. Well, maybe not as much as a Microsoft press release, but you get my meaning.

Anyway, I took a long hard look at the report by The Verge, and it didn’t quite sit right. Based on what I know MJF has said before, creating one, single Windows SKU that runs on all devices and only differentiates based on the box its running on is NOT what Microsoft has been all about…EVER. Thankfully, MJF has come to rescue again and provided some clarification.

In a nutshell, this is what “One Windows” means:

One Team – a single team developing the core of Microsoft Windows has been in place under Terry Myerson since July 2013. They will continue to take direction from one set of notes.

One “Core” – All Windows variants (and there will continue to be a few) will continue to come from a single Windows Core. Each SKU and variant will be built via a layered architecture, but will be built on top of this common core

One Store – Microsoft isn’t closing the Windows Store simply because RT is dying. Microsoft has been working to unify the Windows Phone Store and Windows Store over the past year and will continue to do so. The unified store should debut with Threshold sometime next year. How or when Xbox apps and games will be made available in the Store isn’t known yet.

One Development Platform – Microsoft will make a single set of developer API’s and developer’s toolset available. Developers won’t necessarily get the code/ compile once functionality as reported by The Verge; but they are still shooting for having developers write “universal apps.” What “universal” actually means is still a bit unclear; but many of those pieces are in place now.

According to MJF what One Windows does not mean is a single Windows SKU. There will be multiple versions of Windows, in much the same way as we’ve always seen Windows – Enterprise, Consumer, OEM and Industrial (Windows Embedded). We should be able to see this come to fruition this Fall when the public preview of Threshold is still scheduled to be made available.

What do you think of these developments? Is Microsoft getting it together, or is their strategy still too segmented/ fragmented and confusing? Does this kind of “unification” make sense to you, or is this all just a coat of paint on a busted wagon? Does the reported death of Windows RT matter? Does the reported death of Windows RT and the apparent loss of the Surface RT/ Surface 2 (not the Surface Pro line, which includes the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2/3). Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and let me know what you think?

UPDATE – After trading a few Tweets with @MaryJoFoley on Twitter, just before this went into 2013-12-09 report, Microsoft isn’t killing RT. It still plans on making it one SKU with Windows Phone that runs on smartphones and tablets. This fits with the “One Windows” MO, noted above.

I know this is all a bit confusing, but again, I trust Mary Jo Foley. Her sources are known and trusted, and she has yet to lead me down a wrong path.

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Pebble Steel is Timeless

Even at nearly 6 months old, PS is the shizzle.  Here’s my take on it…

There are a number of Smartwatches out there (or soon to be out there). In my opinion, Pebble Steel is the only one that really has a decent handle on the market at this point.  C|Net had an interesting article on this, too; but it doesn’t touch on all of the points I’m going to make here.  I’ll try to run down why, as quickly as I can.

140106C.Steel-Trio

The Right Size
One of the biggest issues with fitness bands and Smartwatches today is their size.  Too small, and you can’t get enough information on the screen to be of value. Too big, and you may as well strap your phablet to your wrist. Finding the sweet spot – i.e. the right size – has been an issue that most current Smartwatches have failed at.

Regardless of what the Pebble and Pebble Steel do or don’t do, they don’t look like anything else other than a watch, and that is largely due to the fact that the Pebble is watch sized.  Most Android based watches, including the second generation Galaxy watch from Samsung, the Samsung Gear 2 and they are large and bulky on your wrist, unless of course, you’re someone like Andre the Giant or LeBron James, and then you’re likely not going to look at the device and think, “man, this thing is huge.”

The Right Functionality

·    Apps and Watch Faces
This may have something to do with the amount of time that the Pebble and Pebble Steel have had on the open market; but there are a number of usable apps and watch faces available on the Pebble platform.  Android Wear is still very young, and while there are some apps available for it, the Pebble still has more.

However, I’m not making this bullet about the amount of apps available on one platform over the other. I think Android Wear will quickly close the gap over time.  My point here is the difference between platforms and apps.  Pebble is about telling time and putting usable, value-added information on your wrist where you can use it. Pebble notifications allow you to see the events pushed to your phone on your wrist, allowing you to check the notification(s) without seeming rude. Most other Smartwatches try to be a smartphone on your wrist and not a companion or extension of your phone.

·    Great, readable screen
The Pebble Steel uses an e-paper styled reflective LCD display that’s readable in all types of light, including – and most importantly – natural, direct sunlight.  If you’re in a dark room, Pebble supports a “shake to light” backlight. It’s not too bright, to be too disturbing to others, yet bright enough to see; and it doesn’t stay on too long, either.  Other smartwatch displays like those used by Samsung use OLED displays, and those appear black in direct and/ or natural sunlight. LG’s G Watch is the same way.  Both the Samsung and LG watches also sport color displays, while I’m certain they’re beautiful to look at, they also suck battery life.  The Pebble’s display is always on, and is always available.

·    Battery Life
Speaking of battery life, one of the best features of the Pebble Steel is that it lasts up to four to five days on a single charge (depending on how many notifications you get and how often you have it update weather, news and other info).  With Smartwatches, it’s all about data, notifications and update frequency. The more you have pushed to your watch, the shorter the battery life.

The Samsung watches can last up to two to three days on a single charge most other Android Wear watches require daily or nightly charging. There’s also a chance that you could run out of power during the day, and then what good is the device as a watch?

The longer the battery lasts, the better off you are. Even analog watches that require manual winding usually last a longer than two to three days on a single wind.  This is going to be one area that wearables in general are going to have to concentrate and innovate heavily in. If wearables require daily or nightly charging, I don’t see them getting used much in the long run; and they’ll likely end up being a category of devices that doesn’t last long.
·    Notifications
Notifications are the lifeblood of a smartwatch.  The Pebble app on your smartphone pushes any and all notifications received AND displayed on your device (a very important distinction, especially if you can control what notifications your phone does and does not display) to your watch.  This allows you to discretely check your notifications without having to take out your phone, turn on its screen.  In many cultures and countries, glancing at a watch is a much more acceptable action than interrupting a conversation to check a vibrating smartphone.

While Pebble and Pebble Steel don’t do much more than this, one has to ask if there’s much more that a smartwatch needs to do?  This is the great wearables conundrum. What should devices in this category do?  While fitness bands like the Nike Fuel Band can display the time as well as the fitness information it tracks, what the right balance of functionality and displayed information is, has yet to be universally defined or accepted by users and their most primary voting power – their money.

This part of the whole smartwatch field – what should a smartwatch really DO – has yet to be clearly defined by either a vendor or a demanding public.  As a result, the Pebble with its simple notification system, does a good job. It provides users with the information they want and provides for upgrades and updates via new firmware in the future.
·    Waterproof
The Pebble Steel is water proof to 5 ATM (about 160 feet or 48.77 meters). That being said, you could conceivably not only swim and shower with it, but you could go on shallow dives with it. However, I wouldn’t want to test how long each watch would stay water tight at depth.

Other Smartwatches, like the Samsung Gear watches or the LG G Watch are water resistant.  The difference is that you can get a water resistant watch wet, but it will need to be dried off as quickly as possible. It can’t be held under water.  A water proof watch can be held under water without fear of water coming in contact with the interior of its case.

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