Free Fitbit Flex with Windows Phone Purchases

If you’re in the market for both a new smartphone and a fitness aid this year, Windows Phone could defiantly be your friend.

Microsoft UK are currently running a promotion that started on January 12th 2015 and runs until March 31st 2015. If you purchase either Microsoft Lumia 735, 830 or 930 between these dates from one of the eligible retailers (almost all UK high street and network outlets are listed) then you can claim a free Fitbit Flex fitness activity and sleep tracking device.

To find out more information about the detail then visit http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/mobile/campaign-fitbit/. If you want to skip straight to claiming your Fitbit device or want to know if your device is eligible then download the Fitbit Gift app from the Windows Phone Store at http://www.windowsphone.com/en-gb/store/app/fitbit-gift/ee34cfd1-e302-4820-a3cc-0d4e349ccf6a.

I’m a Fitbit user so I like the idea of this promotion but I equally struggle to see it: Microsoft are now in the fitness and activity and sleep tracking business with the Microsoft Band but as we know, this isn’t available in the UK right now. I have to question whether this promotion would instead be against the Microsoft Band if it was available here. Given that the Flex retails for £60 and the Microsoft Band is $200 in the US, I can’t imagine it would be a free promotion like they have on the Flex but I think it would likely be a discount code for £50 off the price of a Microsoft Band.

Fingers crossed the Microsoft Band makes its was UK-side via official channels one day soon and the promotion will flip on it’s head. Don’t forget that all Windows Phone 8.1 devices are going to be eligible for Windows 10 upgrades once the new OS ships too.

Internal Speaker Stops Working on Nokia Lumia 925

So today I had a weird issue. The internal speaker on my Nokia Lumia 925 stopped working. When making calls, the third party could hear me but I could not hear them. If I set the phone to loudspeaker then I could hear them just fine though so the problem was clearly the internal speaker only. I knew that their shouldn’t have been anything wrong with the phone as such as I had used it the evening previously to make a call.

I looked on the Nokia Support site and the recommendation was to perform a soft reset on the phone, holding the Power and Volume Down button for ten seconds. This didn’t work and after the reset, the phone still wouldn’t give me any audio so the next step was to RMA the phone back to Nokia.

I tried a web search which I was expecting to be fruitless and it was largely, except for one article, a number of pages through the results, past some people complaining about other audio problems with the Lumia 925. A user suggested plugging and unplugging something from the 3.5mm headphone jack to make sure that the phone wasn’t confused about which audio device I was expecting to be using. I figured it was going to be a dead duck but I would give it a try and guess what, it worked.

It would seem that the phone got itself into a weird state where it thought a set of headphones was connected even though there was not, perhaps something as silly as dust blocking up the audio jack contacts. As such, it was trying to direct the audio for the call down the 3.5mm headphone jack to a set of connected headphones and not into the internal speaker. Popping a headphone connector in and out of the jack seems to have reset it and restored order to the force.

Hope this helps something else out there with a similar problem.

Build 2014 Day 1 News

Before I get into the meat, I need to point out that I wasn’t at Build. This post is based on information from the live blogs, news and tweets taken from those at the event.

If you are a Microsoft fan, this was a really big week for you. The Build conference always gets all the new toys (as do the attendees to pay back their ticket prices).

Last week Office for iPad was announced and released which was amazing for the Apple community but yesterday, Microsoft really rolled it’s sleeves up and delivered the goods for Windows and Microsoft users. The new features, updates and announcements are wide sweeping and as the updates and products are released, more will no doubt be learnt.

Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update

Let’s get the biggest one out of the way first. The Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update 1 will officially be launched on April 8th worldwide. I’ve been lucky enough to be running this update for about three weeks now since the .msu files accidently leaked onto the Windows Update Catalogue and my desktop and Surface are already running it. On the Surface, the impact is minimal but on the desktop with a mouse, it makes a big difference and it feels much nicer.

If you are a TechNet or an MSDN subscriber, the good news is that you can already download the updates. The updates are available for download as either a standalone update to apply to an existing Windows installation or as a complete Windows installation media with the update slipstreamed in. The update is in essence, a service pack too meaning that it includes all of the previously released updates for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 and includes the optional updates most people never bother to install and even some which Microsoft didn’t release previously, those which fall under the bug fixes and performance improvements category.

Windows 8.1 Update MSDN

For those of you who don’t know already, the update is aimed at improving Windows 8.1 functionality for desktop users with options to pin full screen immersive Apps to the taskbar, minimize and close Apps with a fly out title bar that appears when you hover at the top of an App. Additionally, there are now Power and Search buttons on the Start screen to save people who aren’t familiar with Windows 8.1 from trying to find the Charm bar.

The update also includes the new Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer which is aimed at improving compatibility with Internet Explorer 11 and existing Line of Business applications, most of which will have been designed around existing versions of Internet Explorer like 6, 7 and 8. There is also an update for the server SKU to Active Directory for users with Office 365 to allow users to sign in to Remote Desktop Services sessions using their Office 365 email address.

Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2 Future Update Preview

Insight into a future update for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 were shown yesterday at Build including a demo of a hybrid Start Menu to further help desktop users. This hybrid looks on face value feels like the classic Start Menu but has an additional column on the right allowing you to pin Live Tiles to it and have the tiles update like they do on the normal Start Screen in Windows 8.1.

Personally, I like the Start Screen but I can see this is going to be a real winner for enterprise customers who are either still relying on Windows XP looking to get out of the support retirement hole they are currently in or for customers on Windows 7 looking to upgrade but aren’t quite convinced on the interface of Windows 8.1 right now.

This future update demo also showed how in the future, we will be able to have immersive Apps running in windowed mode further adding to the look and feel more comfortable for enterprises to deploy.

 Windows Phone 8.1

The Windows Phone 8.1 update has been much the talk of the blogosphere since early information about it started to leak. The main talking point is the Cortana digital voice assistant which is Microsoft’s answer to Siri. Sadly, the demo didn’t go particularly well for Joe Belfiore on stage but the premise is really there. In my current mindset, I can’t really see me finding huge value in Cortana but I will wait until I get my hands on it in two months when the update is released to tell for sure. Regardless of my thoughts, Cortana has a myriad of features allowing to you to interact with and control not only native operating system functions but also with third-party apps, something will Belfiore demonstrated on stage.

Aside from Cortana, there is now going to be support for VPN and S/MIME digitally signed email in Windows Phone 8.1. I will certainly be trying out the VPN capability back to my home as I’m interested to see if I can use the VPN tunnel as the default gateway which will then allow me to avail of my OpenDNS DNS protections at home on the move and mobile. Other improvements include the much asked for Action Center which will be the notification hub for Windows Phone, the ability to switch mid-call between GSM voice and Skype to enable video calling, similar to that of FaceTime and also improved controls for enabling and disabling phone features such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Flight Mode and the volume controls. There is also a new developer API to allow apps to customise the lock screen is ways we haven’t been able to do previously.

With respect to the VPN and S/MIME support, I will be interested to see and hear if Windows Intune gets an update to allow administrators to deploy these features over the air (OTA) and then have the settings enforced on the device so that the user of the handset can’t override or disable the VPN or email signing.

I’m a huge Windows Phone fan and I’ve been using it since day dot. The evolution of the platform has been exciting to be a part of and I’m really looking forward to this Windows Phone 8.1 update.

New Lumia’s

Stephen Elop came out on stage to present some new Lumia handsets, some of which may be available to buy with Windows Phone 8.1 before the update is available to existing devices which is interesting to note. The new Lumia 930 is the update to the phone I have right now, the Lumia 925.

The Lumia 930 looks amazing and is a GSM take on the Lumia Icon currently available on Verizon in the US. To say I’m pretty upset that I’ve got another 18 months on my mobile contract with Vodafone before I can look at another Lumia as a free handset upgrade is an understatement. I may have to sell one of my children so that I can get a Lumia 930 SIM free.

A couple of other Lumia’s were shown however these are low end devices aimed more at the developing markets than the hyper-consumer US and EU markets where the 930 sits.

Universal Apps

This one is absolutely massive, if the developer community pull together and work on it properly. The premise is simple. A single app which you can purchase from the store would be available across Windows Phone, Windows 8.1 supporting both Touch and Desktop modes and Xbox One.

Whether you need to pay for access to each platform separately is up to the application developer to decide but the fact that in the future, we could see Apps that we all use and love working in harmony across all of our devices is what you can clearly see Microsoft have been working towards.

With the power of ‘the cloud’ the App developers can allow the synchronisation of content and settings between all of these devices so that the user experience is consistent. Tweaks in Visual Studio are going to allow developers to provide modified interfaces per device so that the experience suits the form factor of your device best too.

Universal Apps is something which iOS specifically has struggled with across iPad and iPhone so if Microsoft and the developer community can make this work right, I think this is going to be a massive boost for the Microsoft eco-system and hopefully should see a lot more Apps being written for the platforms because developers can get the biggest bang for their buck (exposure and revenue vs. time spent coding) by having the App available across a wide range of devices.

Office for Touch

Many people, including myself, took to Twitter to have a bit of a moan about the fact that Office for iPad was released last week and that is looks great. The problem of course is that we still don’t have a dedicated touch version of Office for Windows to really take advantage of devices like the Surface. Microsoft answered these to demo a preview version of Office for Touch which isn’t even at the beta stage yet. For a set of Apps which aren’t even at the beta stage yet, it looked impressive so the finished product should hopefully blow us all away. The interfaces were clean and reminiscent of the interface shown last week with Office for iPad.

Judging by how good the preview version of the Apps looked, I’ve got my fingers crossed for an Autumn (Fall) release but nothing was said or committed with regard to shipping of this product. Either way, it can’t come soon enough as although the Touch Mode in Office 2013 is okay, all it really does is space out the icons some to make it easier for me to fat finger the icons and a fully touch oriented version of Office for Windows would make the experience on devices like the Surface a real leader.

Conclusion

There is a lot in the pipeline for Windows and Microsoft. New products, company reorganisations and announcements, this is going to be an exciting year to be a fan of and a worker in the Microsoft space. All I can say on the subject is Prepare for Titan Fall.

Windows Phone is Best for Business

In this post, I’m going to cover the contentious topic of smartphone selection and why I think that Windows Phone is best for business. For the purposes of this test, I’m going to pretend that Android doesn’t exist and compare Windows Phone against the Apple iPhone and to level the playing field, I’m going to pit the Nokia Lumia 925 against the Apple iPhone 5S 16GB.

Handset and Tariff Pricing

First thing first, I’m going to look at price as money is what makes businesses work. Using an O2 Business plan price, the cheapest way to get the Apple iPhone 5S 16GB handset free is on a 24 month contract at £39.17 per month giving you unlimited UK landline and mobile calls, 1GB mobile data and unlimited text messages. A plan over the same 24 month term with the same entitlement to unlimited calls and text with 1GB data for a free Nokia Lumia 925 handset is £30.83 a month, a saving of £8.34 per month per handset issued in the business. Over the 24 month term, that’s a saving of £200.16 per handset issued.

Some businesses don’t like leasing the handsets as part of the network contract and like to buy them SIM free so that they own the asset outright from day one which I can understand. Using consumer prices from Expansys, the iPhone 5S 16GB retails for £599.99 and the Nokia Lumia 925 for £399.99, a saving of £200 making it the same as the saving over the 24 month contract. For some business who like higher ROI (Return on Investment) and to sweat their assets, you could run either handset for 36 months or longer if you wanted.

Handset Specifications

Not such a point for the accountant but for the consumer of the device is specification. I carefully chose the iPhone 5S 16GB against the Lumia 925 because they both have 16GB of internal mass storage making them balanced on this point. The Nokia Lumia is slightly heavier than the iPhone at 139g verses the 112g of the iPhone but both of these phones are super light. I use a Nokia Lumia 820 currently which weighs in at 160g and is a smaller phone than the both of these two up for review.

The Nokia Lumia 925 has a 4.5″ screen with a 1280×768 resolution whilst the iPhone has just 4″ at 1136×640 resolution. This amounts to a 326 ppi (Pixels Per Inch) DPI on the iPhone whilst the Nokia Lumia has 334ppi making the Nokia better than even the much touted Retina display on the iPhone. The Nokia Lumia 925 uses an AMOLED screen which produces super vibrant colours and is easy to view in sunlight too whilst the iPhone uses an IPS LCD which does reproduce colour marginally more accurately than the Nokia but also consumes more power to run making the 2000 mAh (Milli Amp Hour) in the Lumia 925 even more desirable and the somewhat lacklustre 1570 mAh battery in the iPhone 5S less appealing. For consumer and business, this effectively means less electricity consumed charging the phone as you’ll need to charge it less often in the case of the Nokia Lumia.

The Nokia Lumia 925 can be upgraded with an official Nokia Qi wireless charging shell for £17 plus £32 for the Nokia desktop wireless charger. The iPhone 5S still doesn’t feature wireless charging and if you wanted it, you need to go down the third-party route which results in about the same cost to implement as the Nokia but is still third-party so don’t expect friendly support from Apple if something goes wrong with your battery as a result of using it with a Qi solution.

Business Use

As we’re comparing these handsets for their corporate and enterprise value, this is the main selling point. Firstly, Windows Phone is a great, simple and easy to operate interface. The interface is so great, that Apple event took some of the design cues in the latest iOS 7 from Windows Phone, flattening the interface, de-cluttering it’s previous 3D everywhere effects. Apple fans haven’t exactly been in love with the new style but us Windows Phone users have been enjoying it for several years now already.

For business users, Windows Phone gives you what I think is the best, least complicated to use email apps out there. You get conversation view, the ability to turn off, on and customize your out of office message (something that you cannot do with the iPhone as Apple don’t license this feature of Exchange ActiveSync) all making you life, triaging your inbox easier and faster to achieve. If your company makes used of Information Rights Management and users are sending and receiving RMS protected email messages and you use Exchange Server 2010 then you can read the protected messages on your phone too.

If you work in a Windows office environment then you will no doubt already be using Office and even if you are in a Mac environment then you will potentially be using Office for Mac 2011. Windows Phone gives you the full suite of Office applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote built-in allowing you to not only receive and read documents but in the cases of Word, Excel and OneNote, you can also author documents on the move.

If your company uses SharePoint Server for an intranet or document version control and storage solution then this can be published securely to the internet and accessible through the Office hub on Windows Phone. When configured correctly, Windows Phone can automatically translate internal document links sent to you via IM or email into the published address so that you can still access those documents while you are mobile and great quality Lync, Yammer and Skype apps allow you to stay in touch and collaborate and communicate with people in your company. All of this works perfectly whether you are an on-premise customer or an Office 365 tenant customer.

When it comes to apps, Windows Phone is based on the same code development languages as Windows 8. This means that if you have internal or contracted software development teams working to write apps for the desktop or even Windows RT tablets in your environment, modifying the code of those apps for a mobile experience is super quick, saving huge amounts of time and potential re-education compared with re-writing or converting apps into Objective C for Apple iOS. Instead of having to re-write the inter functions of the application, you only need to modify the interface to suit the mobile experience.

By registering your Windows Phone handsets with a company account under the settings menu, you can access a Windows Phone company app store that the company can publish to install available Windows Phone company apps too.

The Windows Phone Start screen is 100% customisable, not just moving standard, lifeless squares around like the iOS home screen. Windows Phone apps can have Live Tiles, icons that represent the apps showing highlight or latest information right there on your home screen, you can re-arrange and re-size those tiles to build an interface and style that suits your working needs giving you access to the apps you need faster and more informed before you even enter the app with the information from the Live Tile. Some apps, you don’t even need to launch because the information on the Live Tile could be all you need, like the weather or calendar apps or it could be a line of business app showing you daily sales or some other kind of important data or metric.

You can configure your most important apps to appear on your lock screen so that you can see notifications or even full data from your apps so you can decide if you even need to unlock your phone to dig deeper. A new feature added in the last update allows you to use the Glance feature so those of you using your smartphone as a watch don’t need to evenness the power button to see the time as it will appear on the screen automatically as you withdraw the phone from your pocket or bag.

Nokia Lumia phones include the fantastic Nokia Drive satellite navigation software which has really good mapping and directions so those road warriors in your corporations no longer need to worry about using and charging a separate device for getting around. Based in London? The excellent Bing Get Me There app allows you to get notifications of problems on the tubes and you can even get recommended alternate routes to avoid network issues.

Personal Use

Okay, I’ll admit it, this is where Windows Phone suffers slightly. The app eco-system for Windows Phone is continuously improving as Windows Phone develops more market share and software app writers start to take more notice of it and develop applications for it, but right now, it’s not where it should be really. I’m not a huge app user on my phone so this doesn’t bother me, but it may bother some people. Core essentials like Facebook, Twitter (although I’d recommend Rowi instead), Instagram and Angry Birds exist but some of the other apps you may be used to on iOS won’t exist. If you like games then Windows Phone is certainly great for you because of the integration with Xbox Live and you can even earn Xbox Live gamer points by playing a large number of the titles available via the Windows Phone Store.

This section is short not because I’m trying to avoid the topic but because this is a Windows Phone for Business post so the point of personal use, whilst important for companies that allow users of company mobile devices to do this, isn’t the point of the article. I’ll summarise here with Windows Phone has a lot of great apps; just not as may as Apple in their App Store right now.

Whilst this may not sound like a truly personal thing to say, but with the slightly lagging nature of the Windows Phone Store verses the Apple App Store, it actually means that you can use your business smartphone for business without the continual distraction of time-wasting apps that you’ve probably got installed on your iPhone if you have one right now. Yes, it’s nice to break up that work time sometimes, but if you pull out your phone to do something for work, you should stay on doing that something for work and not distracting yourself with a quick blast on Candy Crush or Farmville.

IT Management and Policy Enforcement

If you aren’t using anything in your business to manage mobile devices such as an MDM (Mobile Device Management) solution then you should probably take a look at one. If you are using Exchange ActiveSync device policies to manage your devices currently then Windows Phone is defiantly for you. Windows Phone is the only platform which truly honours a number of the device policies which you can apply as an administrator .

If you are using a full MDM solution such as Good Technology then you’re in luck as they provide their mobile app for Windows Phone too. If you are using Configuration Manager to manage your on premise device estate (the Gartner leader for Client Management may I add) then you would be wise to look into Windows Intune, a cloud based service, providing MDM for your BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) personal devices or even non-domain joined company owned CYOD (Choose Your Own Device) devices. Configuration Manager 2012 SP1 or even 2012 R2 combined with Intune give you a single pane of glass management viewport for your desktop and mobile devices and allow you to manage policies on both device types simultaneously. Whilst Intune does support Apple iPhones and iPads, to get the best from it right now, you want to be on Windows Phone.

Software Updates

Both Microsoft, the makers of Windows Phone and Apple, the makers of the iPhone release regular software updates. Both devices are able to download their updates OTA (Over the Air) without the need for a physical connection back to a PC with the relevant software installed. If I had to call it, I would say that Microsoft are generally more responsive at releasing security fixes for vulnerabilities found in the operating system but with this said, Apple have defiantly upped their game with respect to security so the two could become equal on this point before we know it.

Wrap up

I hope that this post has been informative in helping companies large or small who may be on the fence right now as to which direction to take their corporate mobile strategy. It’s been a whistle stop tour of comparing the cost of ownership of an iPhone (a 5S 16GB in this case) verses a Windows Phone (a Nokia Lumia 925), the specifications of the handsets and some of the many benefits for business of using Windows Phone with an existing Windows and Microsoft stack based environment.

Windows Phone is still fairly in it’s infancy compared with Apple’s story and I think that as time passes and the Windows Phone story will get better, stronger, more compelling, there will be even more benefits to using Windows Phone. With the recent purchase of Nokia by Microsoft, pending regulatory approval, there may even be some great new things to look forward to as the two companies become one hopefully harmonising the Windows, Surface and Windows Phone brands.

References

Just in the event that any of my maths over pricing or over specifications come under scrutiny here, here’s a list of links and sites I used for my fact finding: