Windows 8 Phone is just another Phone?

I recently got a Verizon (US) Nokia Lumia 822 Windows 8 phone for some work. This is the first time I actually tried using a Windows 7/8 phone since it was launched. Sure, I had brief looks at a variety of Windows 7/8 phones, but, this is the first time I actually tried to use one (really!). So, one could say that this is my first real impression of a Windows 8 phone.

The first impression was that the phone was a reasonable paperweight and somewhat bulky. It was supposed to be upgradeable to Amber and so, that was the first thing I wanted to do. When I started up the phone, it asked me for a “Microsoft ID” which I supplied, but, it forgot to ask about the connectivity first. What could be more lame than asking for an ID without any connectivity to verify it and then come up with an error.

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Google – Can you rely on their “free” services?

Now that Google has announced the demise of it’s “Google Latitude” service, one has to wonder if one can actually rely on any of the free Google services.

Starting this month, 1st of July 2013, “Google Reader”, with millions of subscribers, was also shut down.

A staggering number of “Latitude” subscribers on cheaper/older mobile devices, including some Android based, that have “Latitude” embedded on them, would land up having a permanently dead application on their devices.

Just a few months ago, GMail users would recall that Google also shut down the Active Sync service for free users.

With a history of such services being shut-down, the biggest question for all netizens would be if they can rely on any free services that come from Google…

Apple iOS vs Google Android…do you really know the difference? Part 8

This is the last part of the series where we will come to conclusions on the variety of devices available and the potential fitness based on usage. Before we move on to the conclusions, the one point that we need to remember is that nothing is perfect. Not Apple and iOS devices and the same applies to Google and Android based devices from a variety of vendors. All have their pros and cons.

The most interesting part of my observations of device usage is that fact that most users do not really need or understand the concept of a “smartphone” or a “smart” device. For the vast majority of iOS and Android device users, it’s just the fad of a new device and nothing beyond that. The excitement of the novelty dies out within weeks of getting a new device.

So, if all you need is a phone or a pad/tab, almost any would do depending on your budget. For just using a stock device with pre-installed apps only, I would not recommend purchasing an expensive Android tablet or the Apple iPad. The same applies to the top end Android phones and the iPhone. Even the age old, tried and tested Nokia phones can beat any of the top end “smart” devices in terms of battery life and stability by a very large margin. Think about it, if all you need is this kind of functionality, why waste money on any expensive device?

A common example can be used to demonstrate this. A vast majority of Android users today know about and use WhatsApp messenger simply because it comes pre-installed. They have no clues on any other apps and never user the Google “AppStore” for any purpose, excepting to look at it from a novelty perspective. Of course, another major reason for this spread of Android based devices is the sheer price difference between an Apple device and almost all others. So, before you spend a whole lot of money on a new device, do try to analyse your need/requirement and usage.

The next observation is a class of users, who get “smart” devices based on feedback/advice from friends and manage to install and use a few apps. This category of users would also land up putting some documents and data on the device over a period of time. Keep in mind, this is all in the technology domain and the majority still does not quite understand even simple terms like login/upload/download etc. It takes some time and effort to figure things out. For this category of users, I would recommend a low to mid-range device. Once they are used to the technology part and how it can be applied in ways that make it more useful and productive, they will be far better placed to make a decision for the next high-end device purchase.

The last category of users is where the high-end Android devices or the Apple iOS devices fit in. This category has either graduated from the earlier mentioned one, or, is already tech and gizmo savvy. These users would actually be using apps other than just FaceBook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Any “recommendation” for this category is pointless since at this stage you already know what suits you best.

I had mentioned earlier that the iPhone is my primary device of choice for a variety of reasons and that I would share those reasons. To start on the reasons, I have to go into a bit of history of the good old Nokia/Ericsson days. Initially, you could just about save a name and number, then, that expanded to multiple names and numbers and other fields like addresses etc. Then came the speaker and connectivity on the phones and finally bluetooth.

Over a period of time I had identified my basic requirements. Initially, it was just the following 2 requirements.

  1. A complete address book
  2. A functional calendar with reminder alarms

With the passage of time and advancement in technology, the following 3 were added to the list.

  1. A speaker phone
  2. Connectivity (including a WAP browser etc)
  3. Bluetooth

Not a major issue one would say, but, the issue, actually, was a major one. Even my first two requirements where never completely fulfilled till the iPhone came along. The bigger issue was the first one…the address book. As and when fields were added, the size was either inadequate or did not exist, depending on the phone.

The only way to backup and sync the address book used to be unstable proprietary apps from vendors (all Windows based only) and they could sync only with Microsoft’s Outlook to start with. Outlook itself was a fairly unstable app and had fixed fields. For example, if I wanted 2 or more mobile numbers for a contact, there was no way of labelling them “mobile”.

I could go on and on about this including the calendar, but, for people who have been there, already know. It was a major pain getting organised and keeping it stable. I used to keep multiple backups and still was not able to completely recover all the contacts etc at times. Changing a device was yet another painful activity.

The last non-iPhone that I purchased was a Nokia N82 in 2007. Impossible as it might seem, it was equivalent to the first iPhone price wise. I then tried a friend’s iPhone (the first generation) and was amazed to see that all I had wanted in a phone was there. The iTunes backup and restore also seemed to work almost perfectly. I finally took the dive and purchased the first iPhone a few months before the 3g came out. Due to a flaw in the first iPhone, it was possible to permanently carrier unlock it and use it anyplace.

Although I was skeptical initially, after some time I discovered that my basic needs from a phone had been fulfilled for the first time. I fixed up all my contacts in the address book just as I would want them, set up the calendar with all the events that I wanted (meeting, recurring payments etc etc). Although not perfect, but, it was the best experience thus far for me. I still kept the backups (including files copied off this jailbroken phone) just in case.

After this, my confidence in the device and iOS increased and I started putting more data on it. Once the AppStore came up, I started using some apps. Oh, I skipped the 3g and since then I have always purchased factory unlocked iPhones. I have had the first generation iPhone, followed by the 3gs, 4, 4s and now 5. Personally, for me, iPhone 4 was the device I was looking for. It did almost everything I wanted from my phone.

Keep in mind that there was no real competition to the iPhone initially. With all the time and effort that I had already put into setting up stuff just as I wanted it, there was no way I would repeat that effort for another device unless there was an extremely powerful reason to do so. This fact, coupled with the security and the application variety on the iOS makes it my primary device of choice. In all honesty, if there had been a choice like Android when the first or the second iPhone was released, it could have been a different story.

Even though the iOS device build quality and support is unmatched by any Android device on the market today, an iOS device is the last one I would ever recommend to the first two category of users. The basic reason being the steep difference in price and the missing requirement/usage of an actual “smart” device. Also the fact that you have more to play around with on Android devices. Once you learn, you can make your own decision far more effectively.

There are some more reasons why the iPhone is my primary device today and I will write about the overall system that I have setup for my family, which, currently, is not feasible on the Android devices. For now, I hope this series of iOS vs Android would help some people make more informed decisions.

Apple iOS vs Google Android…do you really know the difference? Part 7

In this part, we will look at some paid apps. In general, you will need to purchase some apps on either of the platforms. The only exception to this would be people who purchase a smartphone, but, really need only a phone and therefore apps do not make a difference.

There are a few categories where one would make some purchases. In my case, those categories are personal finance, password management, business apps, navigation, reference, utilities/productivity, games (no one can escape this one), and some music.

1Password

This is possibly the best password manager for OS X and now extends the same to iOS and Windows. In todays connected world with a variety of gizmos, a password manager becomes a necessity. Some years ago, after I got the first iPhone, I also started experimenting with the Mac. When the AppStore was finally introduced on iOS, I was lucky enough to get 1Password for iOS as well as the Mac for free. Although the desktop version of 1Password was no real match for my existing Windows password manager, it was just about usable. Today, I have purchased the new iOS version of 1Password and have a family license for the desktop editions. Highly recommended for all now. 1Password is also available on Android as well and actually works much better on Android since Google does not have the “artificial” limitations like Apple puts on iOS.

PocketMoney

This is possibly one of the oldest personal finance apps on the mobile device scene. It was just about okay and was stagnating. Once the iOS AppStore came into being, for the first time, development on PM was galvanised. It just a few months, it was really usable and kept getting better and better with every iteration. I don’t mind admitting that I purchased a few other such apps, including a current, very highly rated app, only to discover that these “highly” rated apps were pathetic and light years behind PM in every respect. Personally, I look at my purchases as a price paid trying to find something equivalent or better. This has not happened so far. I continue to use PM (from Catamount) and now have over 4 years of data in it. Highly recommended for both iOS and Android users.

QuickOffice

I purchased this office suite as a well known and functional one. The current recommendation would be to purchase Apple apps for iOS and find alternates on Android. Since Google took over QuickOffice, it has stagnated on iOS and I would not recommend this for any purpose anymore.

Abbyy Business Card Reader

The Abbyy OCR, although the most expensive around on the desktops, also happens to be the best so far. Having worked with the Abbyy SDKs in the past, I had no hesitation in purchasing this app when it was introduced. No surprises, it remains the best on the device as well. Highly recommended if you need a business card reader.

Sygic India Maps

As far as maps for India are concerned, MapMyIndia is the only one that has usable maps. Sygic partnered with MapMyIndia and uses their maps. If you are looking for maps and navigation in India, do not be mislead by companies like Navigon and the likes that claim to have maps for India. There are only 2 apps on the AppStore that use MapMyIndia maps. The other alternate came much later and is more expensive that Sygic. Either of the MapMyIndia map apps should be good enough. Sygic is a legacy app and I would still not bill it as an iOS UI/UX compliant app even after quite a few updates. The UX is still dated and almost terrible. Still, only 2 apps fit the bill if you are looking for maps and navigation in India.

IM+ Pro

This is actually a legacy requirement from a few years ago when we had very few people on actual “smartphones” and the world still used messaging from providers like ICQ, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google etc. IM+ Pro does almost all such known messengers. It also includes features like saving the conversation history and email notifications. I don’t really use this anymore, but, if you do need a multi-IM on iOS, this is probably one of the best if not the best.

Mercury Browser Pro

Although this is an iOS only app, the idea applies to all platforms. I wanted an Ad-Blocking browser. Keep in mind that mobile bandwidth is expensive and there are quite a few occasions (with me) that I need to lookup stuff and that would include getting into a lot of ads. Although, I don’t mind ads on regular broadband/leased lines, on 3G, it is expensive. So, although I would recommend Mercury Browser Pro, almost any similar ad-blocking browser would do.

MailBox

Although this is a new app on iOS and is currently free. I only mention it here for two reasons.

  • I forgot earlier in the free apps 🙂
  • Is a decent free alternate for GMail and notifications on iOS.

Ever since Google stopped the Active Sync (Exchange email) for free accounts earlier this year, you cannot get GMail notifications on iOS by default.

You can setup MailBox with all your GMail accounts and then delete the accounts. MailBox will still continue to deliver notifications and you would still enjoy the seamless email experience (almost) as you did before.

And now, some more ranting from my side…

Mostly when you see benchmarks being published across devices, one of the most common one is a “browser” benchmark. Specifically, how fast javascript performs. Hey, this spanking new xxx core processor based device loads this particular page (which, most people would never visit anyway) 2.x times faster than the other device. The difference? Zilch…nothing in practice. How do I care if a browser renders a page I never visit 2 times faster? If we talk in terms of time, the difference is there only for benchmarks. If we talk in terms of the data transfer (cost of 3G) it is the same. So, how do I care if the un-visited page is rendered in .01 seconds on one device and .02 seconds on another? Benchmarks are good for perception and competition. For the end user, it should be taken with a pinch of salt (so to speak).

Games

Well, I have purchased all of 3 games till date (well…maybe some more that I don’t recall). Although I will not go into any preferences here since I am not a gamer, I would like to mention the name of a company and it’s mal-practice which is allowed by Apple on the AppStore on iOS. It could be the same on Android, but, I cannot comment on that since I have not tracked this on the Android platform. I wrote to this company and the final reply was that it was “company policy”. I wrote to the AppStore support and got no reply on this issue, even though the Apple support, otherwise, is extremely prompt and good.

Normally, I would not mention these specifics, but, since this mal-practice continues on the Apple AppStore even today, it deserves mention.

The company is Playrix. They make stunningly beautiful games. Almost every aspect of their games is really outstanding. With such immense talent, one would have to wonder as to why they resort to this kind is mal-practice. What Playrix does is that they occasionally release “premium” or “full” games for free. Within hours or day(s), the same game gets an in-app-purchase (IAP) to unlock the full game or becomes fully paid only.

You will see similar comments in reviews on the AppStore as well. If your re-install the game that you had a full version of, you would need to pay for it again. If you paid for the IAP, then, you might land up paying for the full version. Interestingly, all their games also have non “premium” or non “full” versions which have IAPs. There is absolutely no difference between the two. I have, from this company, on email, that this is their “company policy”. I also have sent email to Apple iTunes support with no response. For the end user, my advise would be to keep a check on all Apple AppStore purchases and there may be a lot more companies following the same pattern.

Once again, like I already ranted in an earlier post, none of this happened while Steve Jobs was around.

The next post, would be the last in this series. In this, the last one, I would present my own conclusions based on my own experience as well as the experiences of friends and colleagues. Hopefully, the conclusion would help you make a better purchase decision on the next device.

Apple iOS vs Google Android…do you really know the difference? Part 5

Let’s now look at some of the free applications for iOS and Android from Apple and Google.

Apple has some free applications on iOS which have no real equivalent on the Android platform currently. We will briefly look at them one by one.

Find my Friends & Find my iPhone

Find my Friends, like Find my iPhone, was an absolute killer app. Somewhat like the obsolete Google Latitude, Find my Friends allow you to see where your family and friends are currently. This works on demand and does not drain out the device battery like Google Latitude and you can keep both the “Find my…” apps installed and running with almost no impact on the battery life. Find my Friend also allows you to add temporary friends. This can be used to guide people to where you are without adding them to your permanent friend list. It also allows you to set notifications as and when a friend arrives or leaves a location. You can also add labels to your current location so people on your friends list can figure out where you are (Home/Office/Gym etc etc).

Unfortunately, this killer app was also killed when Apple released their own “maps”. Now, you would have to make guesses as to where your friends really are since the Apple maps would not tell you anything! I have a lame work-around for this issue, which, I will mention in another post later.

iBooks

iBooks, the Apple eBook reader is indeed one of the best such applications around. Although Google has come up with their own Google Play app, the Apple iBooks is streets ahead in almost every respect. You can also find iOS user manuals in the iBooks store for free.

iTunes U

This freebie from Apple gives you access to consolidated education content from universities and professional institutions. A must have for almost everyone!

Podcast

As the application name suggests, this app gives you a consolidated view for all your audio and video podcasts. Again, one of the must have apps for almost all!

Apple Safari/Google Chrome

Although Safari is iOS only, Google’s Chrome browser is available for for both. Despite Apple’s restrictive (read anti-competitive) practices, Chrome is far superior to Apple’s Safari. Since Apple does not allow changing the default browser on iOS, you are stuck with Safari as the default. One has to wonder as to why Microsoft was forced to allow the IE and Media Player change some years ago and Apple happily continues to follow the same practice on iOS.

Apple Remote/Google TV Remote

The Apple remote app allows you to remote control iTunes and/or your Apple TV. The Google equivalent allows you to remote control the Google TV.

Apple iWorks

Although these applications are not free, Apple has it’s own “Office” suite of applications for the iDevices. I choose to mention it here since there might be people interested in this category of applications. Another reason for mentioning this here is that Google acquired the creators of the QuickOffice suite and there have been no updates for the suite since. I happen to be one of the extremely unhappy customers of QuickOffice…still waiting for the iPhone 5 update!

Google YouTube

When Apple removed the YouTube app from the standard iOS distribution, Google created a separate app for the iOS platform. Android has the same kind of app from Google. Just like the Apple iTunes U and Podcast apps, this is one of the must have apps for both platforms.

Google Maps

Although the Android platforms have Google maps as a standard, Google created an iOS app (iPhone/iPod only, not meant for the iPad) when Apple chose to go with what they call their own maps. The Google Maps app can be a life-saver and is a must have for all. Although I am happy with the current iOS version, it does need some work like making bookmarking easier and more apparent.

Google Drive

This application from Google includes what used to be Google Docs. Not only does it allow you to use the storage you have on Google, it also allows editing/creating documents and spreadsheets. A good, free, alternate to paid “Office” apps. Google Drive, like most of Google apps, excepting Mail, allow only one account and therefore you cannot use this for a personal and an official Gmail account.

Google Search

This has become a multi-facted app and one should have this installed. The voice recognition is far better than Siri. The functionality of this application is limited on the iOS, but, works with far better integration on most Android devices.

Google Mail

Although an integral part of Android, on iOS this app was just a formality. It’s UI/UX and functionality on iOS still leave a lot to be desired. The iOS mail app is far superior is almost every respect. Although Google bought out an iOS/OS X based company that created a really good email client called Sparrow, the results of the acquisition are yet to be seen.

Google+

This was Google’s attempt at trying to compete with FaceBook and they also tried to set their “rules” on it, somewhat like Apple. This failed miserably, but, the usage has picked up since Android came up. On iOS, if you are not careful, it will default to uploading your entire photo library, with no way of removing the photos from the app itself. Overall, like most of the Google apps, a lot remains desired in terms of UI/UX.

Conclusion

In the standard free apps department, iOS remains a clear winner…for now. In the next part, we will look at some 3rd party applications. Some would be available on both the platforms and some on just one.

Apple iOS vs Google Android…do you really know the difference? Part 1

Having used the iPhone since the first one and then a couple of Android based handsets, it is time to share my findings and views so far. I will break this up into some parts instead of making one long article. This, the starting one, outlines the basics of both the mobile OSes and the major differences in usage and configurations. The following ones would outline the basic usage and how to get the best out of each.

Both the mobile OSes have *nix roots. Apple iOS is based on it’s OS and Google’s Android is based on Linux. While Apple made iOS ground up for the first iPhone, Google created Android as a competitor to iOS. Microsoft’s Windows and Blackberry are nowhere in this picture being completely ancient systems by comparison and therefore will not be discussed in these articles.

The basic difference in the approach or Apple and Google is the major difference to begin with. While Apple designed and created a mobile OS, Google simply hacked around Linux to create what would seem to be a mobile OS. While the first release of iOS and the iPhone ran only on 128 MB of RAM, the requirements for Android were far larger to begin with.

Android is more like Windows or DOS that runs on a variety of devices whereas iOS runs only on Apple iDevices. Although Windows and DOS had the same UI/UX across the hardware they ran on, Android, has customisations from every vendors which differs even across the same vendor’s models of handsets.

In short, what this means is that if you ever used one Apple device, you were sure the other would work exactly the same way or very similar. In case of Android based devices, even devices from the same vendor could well behave very differently and you would have to get used to the different UI every time.

Since all these devices come under the category of “smart” phones or tablets, the better devices are expensive. One of the basic things to consider when purchasing expensive devices is updates. While Apple’s iOS had had free updates for at least 3 generations of the devices so far, Android updates are vendor dependent and therefore, in general, have no guaranteed updates for any purpose.

The above outlines the reason for Android based devices concentrating their advertising on hardware specifications when comparing with the iPhone. Android, like the recently announced Ubuntu mobile OS is a Linux hack and needs a far better hardware configuration for a reasonable user experience. Neither of these were created or designed for a mobile device, they are just hacks, with “features” tacked on!

Although it is not quite the time to comment on the Ubuntu side, some of the Android OS variations are almost un-usable compared to iOS. Having said this, it is also a fact that most people with an iDevice are clueless of the actual usage and power that iOS can provide over any other device OS today. The majority that I have come across, there seems to be no difference excepting the UI/UX. This is quite in-correct and is the basis for these series of posts. The intent being to differentiate and provide a basic, working knowledge of the device OSes.

Both the OSes have their own pros and cons. While the Apple iOS is severely restricted by what Apple thinks that users should and should not have, Google’s Android has no such artificial and stupid limitations. While Apple artificially limits functionality on older devices in current iOS releases, Android does no such thing! Of course, to be fair, there is also the fact that Android based devices might never have any updates.

The following posts will start outlining the basic usage and differences between iOS and Android.