Monthly Archives: November 2011

Windows Phone web demo side-by-side: surprisingly similar to the real thing

A new Microsoft mobile site has been making some noise today that allows users of Android and iPhones to test drive the Windows Phone experience with nothing else but their browser. To idea to educate and entice users through an interactive demonstration that can be accessed with just an URL sounds great on paper, but how does it stack up? I decided to put it to the test, next to the real thing.

Testing both on a modded HTC HD2 phone running Android 2.3.7 and simulated iPhone browser via Safari, I’m impressed by just how much of the motion-driven user experience they’re able to replicate with some fancy CSS3 animations.

Side-by-side, most of the screens and functionality is simulated perfectly or extremely close, there were a few subtle differences. For example on the messaging screen in the demo, a picture message shows a preview in the list. On Windows Phone, I’ve never seen MMS messages display a thumbnail, instead it says “Media content in this message”.

Between Android and the iPhone there’s also some differences, notably only iPhone can replicate the tile flipping animation whereas Android only slides (due to a lack of CSS3 support I’d imagine). Incidentally this demo also proves it’s possible to design a Metro-styled yet cross-platform mobile web app.

In conclusion, this is a pretty smart marketing idea which has been executed very well. I’ve included a comprehensive set of side-by-side comparisons below for an afternoon fun game of “spot the difference”.

Nokia denies rumor Nokia Drive will be available to other Windows Phones

Nokia’s Communications Director Mark Squires tweeted,

Folk’s Nokia Drive will not be made available for other WP OEMs. It comes on our Lumia range and there are currently no plans to change that

What a shame. I’m sure there are many other people out there who are like me, happy with their current Windows Phones and would have paid ~$30 for a simple GPS navigation app with comprehensive map coverage. Nokia could have earned money at the expense of other Windows Phone OEM.

If it came to buying a phone just for the GPS, I’d buy a standalone Android device for the free Google Maps Navigation – the best mobile navigation by far. So much so I modded a HTC HD2 to run Android full-time. Now with tethering in Mango, I can even use it on the road sharing data to the Android.

Tellme on Windows Phone vs Siri on iPhone

In a Forbes interview with Microsoft’s Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer, he contended that comparing Siri on the iPhone 4S and Tellme on Windows Phones are much alike. Craig says,

At least from a technological capability you could argue Microsoft has had a similar capability in Windows Phone for more than a year… All that is already there, fully functionality for years.

I respectfully disagree. Tellme might be state of the art speech recognition technology, one of the most accurate and adapted to different accents, however its commands are still keywords syntax-based. “Call John. Find pizza.”

Where scenarios exceed the confines of syntax-based functionality, Tellme doesn’t have much to offer. The example Craig used of messaging, “message Person, say message, send” is more of an exception than the rule.

In comparison, I regard Siri as a speech interaction technology. Because it places much more emphasis on context, it appears to be accurate enough for the limited set of functionality it provides. Speech recognition might not be new technology, but Siri definitely puts a pretty face on it. It remembers your name, responds through voice and makes jokes.

“What’s the weather going to be like this weekend” is what you expect in a conversation, not “Find weather in Melbourne” which is like computer talk.

Now to say Apple invented this would be false, Apple bought Siri – a very smart acquisition. Of course Tellme, which was also acquired, has plans to make itself more natural too and they most likely will, but that’s not happening overnight. Siri is available today.

The next big phase of Tellme is in the upcoming XBOX dashboard update where it will power Bing search. You could say “XBOX Bing Batman” but the XBOX doesn’t talk back, like “Would you like to watch The Dark Knight?”. Although it makes you wonder what a voice for XBOX might sound like.

Microsoft and Novotel teams up for “hotel room of the future”: bookings accepted

It looks like Microsoft isn’t just waiting around for their envision videos to become reality, they want to build it. Australian Business Traveller today wrote about a new partnership project Microsoft and Novotel has recently launched, Chambre 3120 (Room 3120 in French).

It’s a concept for a futuristic hotel room and you could book it for your 2012 Paris holiday.

For the price of 200 Euros a night, this is not your typical hotel room at the Novotel Vaugirard Montparnasse. To sleep a family of two adults and two children, the two contemporary-styled room are equipped with technology with both current and experimental technology.

Besides the expected bundle of XBOX, Kinect, tablet PCs and Windows Phones to deliver an array of entertainment to guests, there’s also a 1st-gen Surface table embedded into a Japanese-style tatami for the “play room”.

Linking the two rooms is an interactive mirror by Sensorit, powered by Kinect. As one of the first third-party Kinect SDK applications, it allows users to interact with real-time news feeds, weather and music using hand gestures on a mirror-like display.

For those of you who aren’t planning a trip to Paris, here’s some pictures from the room.

Beyond this concept room, “Novotel and Microsoft will continue their partnership through the deployment of specially-designed Kinect Experience stands in public areas across the Novotel network. They are also considering the possibility of offering the game console in rooms so that guests can benefit from an ultimate entertainment experience during their stay.”

Unfortunately the future is available for a limited time only. Bookings close 14th of February 2012.

Stepping back in time to use Zune Music Pass

Since the Zune Music Pass finally arrive on the shores of Australia – a land beyond the grasp of modern civilization by some Microsoft standards, I had to try it out. I was enthusiastic until Zune displayed an error. “The media rights system on your computer has encountered an error and needs to be manually reset.”

Challenge accepted.

Even though Zune’s own “web help” link directed me to an entirely unrelated help page for an error I was not experiencing, I thought “This must be a test. A test of my devotion to how much I want Zune.” After years of anticipation, this was just a small detour in a much bigger quest.

After consulting the great Google and Microsoft Answers, I arrived at this

A Microsoft intern quips, “Hmm that doesn’t look very legit.”

Of course I knew it was. A Microsoft page styled with distinctive Windows XP-era logo and design dating back to 2001 might be a decade old, but it is most definitely legit.

I soon realized I would be facing an old nemesis, ActiveX where my Firefox was no good. Who would have thought ActiveX might actually outlive Flash.

In one last attempt to throw me off, the popup dialog clearly shows an “X” in the icon as if something wrong and I should give up. If I had been any less determined, I may just have. But I was strong until the end. Until I pressed “Play” in the Zune Music Marketplace and there was sound.

Microsoft’s internal bidding war, all for charity

If photobooks or music albums doesn’t fancy you, then how about an Aston Martin Vanquish? For at least one Microsoft employee, the dream of driving like James Bond for a day came true just by placing a bid in the Microsoft Online Charity Auction, one of the most popular employee initiatives of the Employee Giving Campaign.

Unknown to most people outside of the company, this annual employee-only auction has grown to become somewhat of an attraction since it started in 2003. Just to paint a picture how big of a deal this is, this year’s auction has raised over $600,000 for United Way.

Two weeks before the auction begins, employees are encouraged to submit novelty prizes for the bidding that takes place during the month of October. Although it’s not a requirement, there’s a growing reputation for fun, wacky and downright bizarre prizes. Over 1,000 items donated this year, 16% more than last year. A sample of items past included:

  • Highly-valued reserved parking spots at prime Microsoft building locations
  • Tesla Roadster Joy Ride: An hour ride in the electric convertible car
  • Lunch for 10 with Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie at Microsoft’s Home of the Future
  • Mr Big’s Boxers: A pair of boxer shorts signed by actor Chris Noth, a.k.a. Mr. Big in “Sex and the City”
  • Specially prepared food from fresh baked bread to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich party
  • A personal music video professionally produced or personal written song
  • A chance to compete with a Microsoft Vice President in martial arts
  • Chance to cut off an employee’s pony tail for the charity Wigs for Kids
  • dinner on Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith’s yacht

Not only has the scale of the auction changed over the years but the technology too. Starting out with a portal powered by BizTalk and InfoPath forms, it was rewritten as a HTML website in 2006 and Silverlight in 2009. This year it saw a total transition to Windows Azure and SQL Azure with a Metro-inspired HTML5 website which minimized performance degradations during last-minute bidding.

As part of the dogfooding spirit, this year also saw the introduction of a Windows Phone 7 application to make bidding and tracking auction items even easier.

I tip my hat off to the team of roughly 20 volunteers who plan and build the auction tools every year, some of whom have been with the project for over five years. If being responsible for processing more than half a million dollars of donations wasn’t enough, they generate a further $30,000 through Microsoft’s volunteer matching scheme. They must be swimming in karma.

P.S. On a related note, I’ve since gotten in touch with the charity Microsoft Cat Calendar people. Look forward to an interesting story about that next month.