Windows Phone Killed My Children

Matt Baxter-Reynolds, former Microsoft MVP and .NET author, is angry. He’s angry because Windows Phone force-fed him a plate of locusts, then stole his life’s work and forced him into a life of poverty. I think.

It’s almost like Google putting a Google Search box front-and-centre on every Android phone.

I’m trying to interpret his recent opinion piece on ZDNet, in which he lambastes Microsoft for a flawed approach with Windows Phone, because among other things “Everything on Windows Phone feels bent and skewed towards Microsoft’s point of view“. I agree, how atrocious. It’s appallingly similar to the way iOS doesn’t let you uninstall NewsStand, and forcibly replaced Google Maps with the unquestionably inferior Apple Maps (for which they had to apologise to users). It’s almost like Google putting a Google Search box front-and-centre on every Android phone. Shocking stuff.

Windows Phone 8 Start ScreensHe then goes on to complain that the hugely customisable start screen “feels like game of shuffling Microsoft blocks around in a Microsoft landscape”. I suppose it would if you never installed any apps. Personally I don’t have any Microsoft apps pinned to my start screen, unless you count the dialler, contacts, email and the like. I do have Reddit, MyFitnessPal, Twitter, and a few other different apps pinned.

All very Microsoft-centric I suppose. Let me out of this Microsoft cage on my Microsoft Phone you Microsoft Monsters! Even their advertising (at left) doesn’t show Office for fucks sake.

What’s more, Matt got to the point where he “could no longer trust Microsoft to look after [his] career“. I presume that was the moment where they removed support for C# and VB from the platform and demanded that all former .NET developers switch to COBOL?

The career part in particular confuses me deeply. You see I work for a company* dedicated solely to building software for Windows Phone and Windows 8. We are having trouble keeping up with the amount of work flooding in, are hiring as fast as we can, and are landing deals to build software for these platforms every single week. We’re doing work out of New Zealand for clients in the USA, UK, Australia and elsewhere. Can I suggest, humbly, that Mr Baxter-Reynolds is simply not trying hard enough?

This stuff isn’t going to fall in your plate. Just like in the early days of iOS and Android, when they too had single-digit market share, you didn’t see developers complaining about it being too difficult. Microsoft developers have a massive opportunity here to use their existing skills on a new platform, where iOS and Android developers had to learn from scratch (Java skills notwithstanding).

All of Matt’s complaints would be wonderfully relevant if it weren’t for the fact that Windows Phone has accelerating market share around the world, all the while battling against a headwind of installed iOS and Android brand and market, which iOS never (nor Android arguably), had to fight against.

However, there is one truism buried in Matt’s post that I will agree with (but which he unfortunately did not elaborate on particularly clearly): the upgrade from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8 was less than it could have been, and is almost entirely due to internal Microsoft “strategy tax”. The move to an NT kernel was not necessary, and now puts Windows Phone under the crushing weight of the Windows Team. What’s more, we can only expect the move from 8 to 9 to be burdened by more of this tax as Microsoft moves to align WinRT and Windows Phone.

Personally, if I were at the top of Microsoft (because god knows the product managers have probably already tried to articulate this), I’d leave the Windows Phone team to get on with adding features to what is a fantastically fast, productive and customisable phone operating system. iOS is not OSX, for good reason

Oh, and if your friend gives you a plate of locusts, just say “bro, I don’t like locusts!”

 

*Of course this post is my own opinion, but hey, I’ll stand by it in my day job too.

500 Words and Sony Xperia Z

Twitter has destroyed this blog.

I don’t mean that Ev came and smashed my server with a hammer. But because my inspiration and unique thoughts go straight on to twitter without the chance of elaboration (most often to the detriment of society – sorry), I feel no compulsion to come here and write. As I type this I’m finding it difficult to drag these thoughts out of my head, and the very act of writing long-form is alien.

Is this wrong, or just new?

I was gutted, as is usual, to not attend Webstock this year, but didn’t stop me getting inspiration from the event. One suggestion I heard remotely was for creators to write 500 words each day before reading any, as an antidote to the antidata happening online – the trivialisation of news, the sound-biting of thoughts, and the selection of high-fructose corn syrup* entertainment news over the hard-news broccoli.

So this is me, steaming some fresh broccoli for you. Open wide, here comes the aeroplane!

I’ve been an Android hater for many years now. Back in the bad old days of 2.3 I was like the worst kind of Atheist: ranting against the stupid majority for blindly following their Google God; desperately explaining my stance to an unending stream of believers with closed ears. I still say that early Android was trash. Nothing more than a cheap, poorly designed, user-hostile land grab by Google.

Lately, I’ve been playing with Android 4 variants, and last night I got to take a look at the new Sony Xperia Z (both phone and tablet). Wow! Android: you’ve come a long way baby.

Xperia Z_black_frontFrom the outside, the phone is perfect. Some tech blogs are saying the screen is not the most fantastic and the camera needs work. I suggest you take a fucking step back for a minute and just look at the thing:

  • 1080p 5″ screen in a ultra-slim black rectangle
  • Quad-core 1.5 GHz (jesus christ!) processor
  • LTE radio
  • 13MP main camera
  • 2MP front camera supporting 1080p30 video
  • Completely waterproof to 1m for up to 30 minutes

In what world is that not holy-fucking-shit awesome? In what world do you pick this apart and say that the screen looks a fraction washed-out when you view it off-angle? In person the phone is outstanding. The screen looks like paper: you cannot see a single pixel, while its Android 4.1.2 OS – thankfully largely untouched by Sony – is massively fast and smooth. And a quad-core 1.5GHz processor? Son, in my day that was a kick-ass gaming PC. None of my complaints about old Android stand true here.

One of my other complaints about Android has been the shocking treatment of upgrades, with carriers and OEMs leaving customers out to dry on horribly insecure versions. Sony have mostly solved this by cosying up to the modding community, to the point that they were named XDA-Dev’s OEM of the year. One of the comments on that post grumbles that Sony aren’t releasing new versions and have left support to XDA-dev. That’s the point my man! The one thing us nerds have been asking for is the ability to upgrade our own phones, and Sony appears to give us that by default, rather than grudgingly producing a root unlock down the line when they deign it appropriate.

I started watching Burn Notice last night on the recommendation of a friend. I’m talking S01E01 old-school. I had to check IMDB because the program was recorded in 4:3 ratio and the main character was rocking a Motorola RAZR. Take a guess at the production date.

2007. In 2007 the state of the art was a Motorola RAZR. Today it’s that thing up there. I’m going to get all Matchbox Twenty up in here: Let’s See How Far We’ve Come.

*Apparently the actual analogy was pizza-vs-brocolli. My analogy is better.

 

 

Nokia Lumia 920 Review

The Lumia 920 (taken with a competing smartphone)

It’s a fantastic phone. Yes it’s porker at 180 grams, but if you can get over that single downside, everything else is frankly wonderful.

For users coming from Windows Phone 7, the 920 is a huge step-up. The screen is finally on par (and often surpasses) other high-end smartphones; performance is wonderful, with the lack of app load and switch lag making multitasking brilliant; and the new start screen gives you the control you’ve always wanted.

If you’ve never used a Windows Phone, the 920 (and others in its class) might just make you want to.

Hardware

The Lumia 920 brings the familiar polycarbonate body shell from earlier Lumias. Mine is black, but I’d prefer one of the other colour options: cyan, grey, red, white or yellow. The rounded edges feel nice in the hand, and the buttons have been spaced out a little, which makes it easier to differentiate between the volume and lock buttons.

The screen, at 1280×768 rocks a 332 ppi pixel density. For humans, this just means that you’ll fail hard when playing “find the pixel”, just like on the iPhone 4. Brightness and contrast are great, and I haven’t noticed any colour casts or issues.

Another Microsoft device shot with a 920

The camera. Ooohh the camera. Where do I start? Basically this: we took some shots in a dingy Redmond hotel room, and couldn’t stop saying “what the fuck?” when viewing the results. The last time I was this stunned by a camera was when I first used the Canon 5DII. Now there’s no way that the Lumia 920 would match the 5D2’s output, but it’s a hell of a lot better than any other phone camera I’ve used.

Battery seems pretty sweet, and if that’s the one reason the device is so heavy, I can forgive it. Bashing around at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, with flakey WiFi, spending all day tweeting up a storm, and the battery still has 30% charge at 7pm. Not bad at all.

WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G, NFC, and other stuff work fine.

Software

Windows Phone 8 is a player. Finally. Phone 7 was a cool operating system with a stunning new visual design. It worked fine as a phone, but it sucked in a few essential ways that I won’t bother going into.

With 8, performance is bonkers. Running “big Windows” (aka the NT core) means that apps can be massively pre-optimized by the operating system so they load and run super quick. And yes, that means existing Windows Phone 7 apps. Putting 7 apps on an 8 phone is like having brand new apps.

Add to that multiple CPU cores and some serious optimizations around the input and UI thread performance, and you get incredibly slick software. It’s buttery smooth everywhere.

The new start screen is really, really cool. It’s like Android’s customizable launcher without the shitty mess. Pin people, apps, widgets and icons in 3 different sizes, and lay them out in a cool masonry arrangement. For me this was explained best when Steve Ballmer, Joe Belfiore and Jessica Alba held up their phones at the launch event. Three phones, all running the same software, but they looked totally different because of the way each user customized them. None of those users had to root their phones or install custom “launchers”.

Built in apps are fast and work great. Linked inboxes in mail, multiple calendars, the same great people hub, and some nifty new stuff including “Rooms” and “Kids corner”.

Xbox Music with streaming and downloads makes the music hub great, and this is now available to New Zealanders without having to work through a USA Live ID. Like other apps, Xbox music can set your wallpaper using album art, which makes the phone really come to life, even when locked. I’m looking forward to local apps leveraging this wallpaper option, after seeing how the CNN app updates the wallpaper with news photography every 30 minutes.

Another new addition is a real timesaver: not only does the keyboard auto-correct as you type, it also pre-suggests words. If you’re typing a sentence and hit the spacebar, you will get suggestions for the next word without even typing a letter. This is uncannily good: I found it suggested the correct word a good 30% of the time, increasing to 80% after I’d typed a letter or two.

Sure we could have an argument about “Apps”, because Windows Phone doesn’t have Instagram or Letterpress, but my bet is these will come. For one: porting is massively easier in WP8 (I can say this because I have first-hand knowledge of porting c++ iOS games to WP8); and hopefully with 8 we’ll see some decent market share. Hopefully.

So there you go. A biased, enthusiastic review. Feel free to fire any questions in the comments because I’m sure I haven’t covered everything.

Buying

Unfortunately if you’re not one of the lucky few to pick up a 920 at the BUILD conference, there’s currently nowhere you can buy one. There’s no word on carriers for New Zealand at this stage, but given the support of previous Nokia phones, and Microsoft’s planned marketing spend, I’d be confident they’ll show up on all carriers in short order.

On Cycling

I’m frustrated. Every time – every single time – I bring up cycling and cycling-related deaths the response is, in one way or another: “fucking cyclists”. Either they’re riding two abreast on a small road, or running red lights, or holding up traffic.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the eight people killed in the last few months were doing any of the above. So why did Constable Hensley feel the need to mention that “he had seen cyclists do ‘a lot of stupid things’ including going through red lights and weaving in and out of traffic.”?

When a family dies in a road accident on a slippery road at night, we don’t respond with “fucking drivers, always doing burnouts and playing their oonst oonst music”. This is because we know the majority of drivers are not boy racers.

And yet, here we are. Eight people killed, almost certainly through no fault of their own, and we’re pointing out fringe behaviour in unrelated cases. Why?

Why not focus instead on the cycling infrastructure? The inattentiveness of drivers? The lack of cyclists in general here in New Zealand, leading to an apathy toward them as road users?

We allow pedestrians the courtesy of a safe footpath, no matter how drunk, stupid or disorderly they are. We allow drivers huge expanses of road, regardless of how often they use their phone, break the speed limit, or roll through a stop sign. Why are cyclists afforded the barest tolerance, the narrowest possible space – so narrow, that a single inattentive swing of a door results in death – with the reason being that another cyclist, at some unrelated time, was an idiot?

Instead of responding with fringe behaviour by one group, respond as if it’s your mum riding that bike. Getting rear-ended at speed on a country road. Getting doored by a car and falling under a truck.

Fucking cyclists.

So, this happened.

It was a mix of completely surreal and utterly mundane. Well, as mundane as you can get at a pool party with 3 indicted internet millionaires catered by their butler.

We talked about all the things you’d expect – the heavy-handedness of the original raid, how they coped for months without internet (“it was really boring”), and their prospects for the future. They are confident nothing will come of the charges, but are keen to defend themselves legally to whatever degree they need to.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the night were Bram and Finn’s compliments about the Hallertau IPA we took along. I was surprised to see a German drinking terrible piss-water (Heineken), and happy they liked a good drop.

If you want to know how it happened, the Listener’s inimitable Internaut column, and The NBR have it all.