Waze is STILL your best real-time navigator on Windows 10 Mobile in 2017

Windows 10 Maps, derived from the codebase for HERE Maps, back on Windows Phone 8.1, uses public traffic data, meaning – as I covered here – that its routing only really integrates traffic on major routes and even then not really in real time. I’d have hoped that Microsoft would have put more effort into building in other data sources, but it seems that most of the upgrades to Maps (UWP) have concentrated around places of interest and general research, with an emphasis perhaps on use on the desktop.

It turns out that really good real time traffic navigation depends on human beings, driving around with navigation applications on their phones in cars. Which is kind of a chicken and egg situation, in that Windows 10 Maps isn’t brilliant for real time navigation, plus only a fraction of the population (of any country) uses it, meaning that there’s just not critical mass of any kind to make the product any better in this regard.

In contrast, both Google Maps (on Android, though GMaps Pro hijacks quite a bit of its data on Windows Phone) and Waze (all platforms) have enough real world users in all countries that the automatic speed+position reporting from each phone back to the relevant servers enables pretty good real time navigation. Not perfect (I’ve been testing all these solutions intensively over the last week), but much better at adapting to a changing traffic environment when you’re on the road.

It’s Waze I’m looking at here, in part because I couldn’t believe that such an ‘old’ application still worked properly under Windows 10 Mobile (and Creators Update in particular, in 2017) – surely something would have broken in terms of server APIs in the intervening three plus years? Although Waze is less popular than it was back in 2013/2014, there are still quite a few people using it and you’ll see some of this represented in the real world example screenshots below. And the good news is that the old (Silverlight?) client for WP 8.1 still works well, with just the minor cosmetic point that some panes of information have their bottom chopped off by the (dismissable) virtual navigation contols of Windows 10 Mobile, and with the downside that voice instructions don’t seem to work anymore. (This latter might just be my installation or, more likely, Microsoft has changed the voice APIs since Waze was coded up for Windows Phone 8.1.)

Why use Waze, then? Because your position and speed are reported back to Waze’s servers as you drive, joining in the massed pool of data that Waze maintains and allowing real time navigation instructions to be sent back to your phone as needed. Obviously, you need to keep data ‘on’ for all this and a decent bandwidth is needed (far less than media streaming though, don’t worry), but the confidence that your wellbeing on the road is being looked after by someone else is impressive. Just as it’s always been for Waze, of course. Here’s their original video promo:

Some of the social (Facebook? Pah!) aspects leave me cold and weren’t tested here, but what impressive was how much did work. The gold standard for phone-based car navigation is still Google Maps on Android, I maintain, but Waze gets quite close in terms of traffic, and adds niceties like fuel stations and warnings for ad-hoc police speed traps.

Now Google owns Waze, which is distinctly interesting, though it seems to run it fairly hands-off, with just Waze-reported traffic incidents and roadworks filtering through to its core Maps products. I’d have thought that after all this time the real time traffic data would have been combined, but it seems that each system works well enough as it is…

In return, Waze gets access to Google’s Maps API for ‘Places’, and this also proves useful, as you’ll again see below.

Time for a demo, anyway – this is Waze (from 2013/2014 and still available in the Windows 10 Store) running on a Lumia 950 in July 2017 with production Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update (Redstone 2) installed:

ScreenshotScreenshot

The interface is still…. quirky – it never fitted in with WP8.1 either though, and anyway sat-nav apps are usually different in terms of UI. In this case, these are the two main easy-touch control panels – for application functions (mainly used while stationary) and navigation functions (mainly used while moving*)

 

* it goes without saying that the phone needs to be in a hands-free holder and that you should exercise usual care in terms of distracting yourself from the road 

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Setting off driving then, with a destination planned (and note that the optional dark mode here works, though not in all forms and panes), Waze pops up useful warnings for the road ahead. Bear in mind that you’re still being optimally routed, whether you notice the warnings or confirm or deny their validity – the interaction is all optional.

 

What’s evident from the screens above is that the timecode for each item is important – ’20 mins ago’ for the traffic jam towards Henley sounds very believable (is the Regatta still on?), but ‘721.9 hours ago’ is a month and I’m pretty certain that these roadworks got cleared ages ago. How does Waze remove old incident reports? There’s definitely something fishy going on here!

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Waze’s own place database is for towns and roads, principally, so it’s great to have a full Google Maps place search just a swipe away. Here I was looking for the ‘House of Flavours’ restaurant and the latter search picked it up. In either case, just tap on the control to confirm the location on the map.

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Assuming this location is the one you want, just tap on ‘Go’ etc. (right) traffic, roadworks and police reports are available on the menu too, sorted by their distance from you. In this case, in late afternoon, I completely believe the traffic reports from around Reading. These have been helpfully tapped in (only two taps) by other Waze users – your general routing is still from the mass of all position/speed information that’s been auto-collected.

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When travelling along a problem road (see the ’13mph’ tag above), the background of the route shows that’s a known problem, though local knowledge also tells me that the right hand lane travels twice as fast as the left, so….(!); (right) if I wanted to join in the Waze reporting fun then tapping on the right hand bottom control pops up the reporting menu and then ‘Traffic Jam’ here, just tap on the one you want – or just leave the screen up, a timer accepts a general report and the pane goes away. And, obviously, don’t start taking photos or typing in comments if you’re the driver!!

ScreenshotScreenshot

Oh dear, another report that’s irrelevant from 4.5 months ago! I wonder if Waze on other platforms has the same issues with out of date information? (right) There’s plenty of introductory help in Waze, from screens like this to an in-app explanatory video.

Overall, Waze is a now flawed experience (cropped off information, old data, no voice) in 2017, but an application that definitely still works and, in cases where traffic is a serious consideration (which is most of the time where I live), can still be a big time saver. Worth installing alongside both Windows 10 Maps and gMaps Pro and then use the best tool for the job, perhaps? (Or use Google Maps on Android, but that would be too much like throwing in the towel, so….!) 

I’d love Waze to come out with a proper Windows 10 UWP version of this, of course. I wonder whether they’re listening?

Comments?

PS. One final note on battery life and power requirements – Waze, like all sat-nav apps is using data, GPS and screen all at the same time, and so the power requirement is high. Best to have your phone plugged into a power source in your car while navigating! You can reduce the requirement a little by switching away from Waze and letting it work in the background (it does this to some degree), but given that there’s no voice (for me) under W10M then this foils the point of using the app in the first place!

Volterman: the trackable, thief-proof, smart wallet that charges your phone?

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You know me, I can’t resist gadgets, powerbanks, adapters. And I’ve spotted this ‘Smart Wallet’ concept over on Indiegogo – it’s already funded, so will definitely happen now. Essentially it’s a range of wallets with a wireless (and wired) power bank built in, with GPS tracking (should it get lost), and with a camera to snap whoever opens it when it’s ‘lost’. Is it pricey? Heck, yes, but it’s also unique and perfect for that Christmas 2017 present, surely?

From the Indiegogo listing:

Volterman® is the World’s most powerful smart wallet with 5 smart functions: •

  • Built-in Powerbank (from 2,000 to 5,000 mAh) 
  • Distance Alarm 
  • Global GPS Tracking 
  • Worldwide WiFi Hotspot 
  • Thief Detection Camera

With all the tech inside, Volterman® is slim and lightweight made from premium quality materials.

I have some questions, not least about the standby drain of the integral gadgets. It’s also claimed that the power bank can wirelessly charge from your phone, but that would assume that your phone also had Qi coils and support for this?

There are several variants, with different sizes and capabilities:

  • Volterman CardHolder
  • Volterman BiFold
  • Volterman Travel

More over at the full Indiegogo introduction page.

Naturally, there’s a promo video too, deliberately cheesy and fun(!):

I’m looking forward to reviewing at least one of these variants in due course.

Source / Credit: Indiegogo

ZEISS returns to Nokia

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Totally off-topic for AAS and AAWP in a sense, because the end products won’t be 100% relevant, but the news is very definitely of interest, with Carl Zeiss (later renamed just ZEISS) producing the award winning optics for every Nokia flagship from the early 2000s onwards, and ending with the last Microsoft Windows-running phones, the Lumia 950 range, at the end of 2015. And now ZEISS is back with ‘Nokia’ – not quite the same Nokia that had its Devices division bought up and then eventually gutted by Microsoft – but the Nokia name, even on Android OS, is notable and the presence of a ZEISS collaboration is a good sign that the company is back on track. 

From HMD:

Espoo, Finland/ Oberkochen, Germany, 6 July 2017 – HMD Global, the home of Nokia phones, and ZEISS today jointly announced the signing of an exclusive partnership that aims to set new imaging standards within the smartphone industry. This long-term agreement builds on the shared history and expertise between ZEISS and Nokia smartphones.

With a joint ambition to advance the quality of the total imaging experience on smartphones spanning the entire ecosystem from software, services, through to screen quality, and optic design, the partnership will see ZEISS and HMD Global co-develop standard-defining imaging capabilities and will bring the ZEISS brand back to Nokia smartphones. This pledge to constantly improve consumers’ imaging experience is a reflection of the shared values between both businesses – a single minded commitment to quality, true craftsmanship and a desire to improve real life experience.

The relationship between ZEISS and Nokia phones began more than a decade ago, and is founded on a shared passion for innovation and always delivering the best for the consumer. The past collaboration saw ZEISS and Nokia phones driving technology innovations such as the world’s first multi-megapixel mobile phone and many more standard-setting devices, from the Nokia Nseries to those featuring Nokia PureView technologies. This renewed relationship is a long-term commitment to build on that technology innovation over the years to come.

ZEISS

Will we ever again see mighty imaging flagships from Nokia that are as ground-breaking as the Nokia N93, N95, N86 (shown below), N8, 808 and Lumia 1020? Somehow I doubt it, the competition is largely ‘catching up’, but the ZEISS agreement is certainly welcome.

PS. I’ve yet to even touch a Nokia-branded Android smartphone, but the ‘6’ looks good and it’s due out in the UK early next month.

N86 with variable aperture

Source / Credit: HMD

Libby UWP, by OverDrive, your online window to a real library

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If you have a modern local library then did you know that, in addition to paper books and physical CDs, it also has ebooks and audio books? If your library is modern enough then there’s a good chance you can enjoy access to all of these via Libby, by OverDrive, a new UWP app for Windows 10.

From the Store description:

Meet Libby. Did you know your local library has thousands of ebooks and audiobooks? You can borrow them, instantly, for free, using just the device in your hand.

  1. Fish out your library card
  2. Open the Libby app
  3. Find your local library
  4. Search, sample, borrow, enjoy

It takes just a few taps to find and borrow a book. Libby has a ground-breaking built-in ebook reader, and a beautiful audiobook player. If you prefer, you can send books to your Kindle for reading.

  • Sign in to multiple libraries, with one or more library cards
  • Download books and audiobooks for offline reading, or stream them to save space
  • Sample any book with a tap — nothing to download or delete
  • Try a zoomable graphic novel, or a picture book with readalong audio
  • All your holds and loans are consolidated on a single shelf
  • Tag titles as read, loved, hated, wishlist, schoolbook, beach-reading, whatever you like
  • Your loans, holds, reading positions, bookmarks and notes are synchronized automatically across all your devices
  • Keep track of your reading history in the Activity tab

I did my best to try this out, but my local libraries in Berkshire UK don’t seem to be part of this system yet – or maybe my card is too old! Either way, a selection of my – and promo – screenshots here, showing roughly how it all works:

Screenshot, LibbyScreenshot, Libby

Colourful opening introductory screens..

Screenshot, LibbyScreenshot, Libby

Once signed in via your OverDrive-compatible card, you’re off and browsing both ebooks and audio books…

Screenshot, LibbyScreenshot, Libby

Loans work just as for physical media, with the library only allowed to lend out so many copies of anything at once, for copyright reasons.

Screenshot, LibbyScreenshot, Libby

The included ebook and audio book players look very decent – pity I can’t try them out personally without moving counties and libraries!

You can grab this for free here in the Store.

PS. This seems unrelated to the original Libby for Windows Phone!

Source / Credit: Store

10 years of iPhone? Most of its ‘innovations’ came in with Nokia and others

I guess I shouldn’t get too worked up about people rewriting tech history – but as one of the writers behind All About Symbian (and now AAWP) I just can’t help myself put the record straight. Tech journalists (mainly American) have been falling over themselves to praise the iPhone as the point where the modern smartphone was born, but they’re only right in one small sense.

And even that small sense is highly debatable. Think of the iPhone of 2007 and then today’s phones and there’s a clear sense of continuity of a full-screen experience with capacitive touch. Yet smartphones had been all-screen for years in the Windows Mobile world, with devices like the O2 XDA launching in 2002, a full five years before the iPhone, and based on the existing Windows Mobile PDAs of the previous few years. Even though the iPhone was absolutely to be credited for bringing capacitive touch to the mainstream phone world, it wasn’t the first – the LG Prada had a capacitive touchscreen six months previously.

N95 and iPhone

Nokia N95 and the original iPhone, for comparison. Outstanding functions and capabilities versus outstanding ease of use?

All other functions were represented in existing smartphones. Over in the Symbian world (the dominant smartphone platform from 2000 to 2009, a full decade), the Nokia smartphones – in particular the Nseries – had pioneered the inclusion of a GPS receiver, had introduced the use of accelerometers, with the N95 being the obvious model to point to, being launched at the tail end of 2006, the year before the iPhone’s release.

Then there are good cameras, with some of the Sony Ericsson ‘feature phones’ (culminating in the K850i from summer 2007) containing high megapixel units along with Xenon flash, though again it was Nokia that brought high megapixel imagery to the smartphone world with the N95 and N95 8GB, plus the N82 (again with Xenon flash).

In terms of features, remember that all the early Nokia Series 80, Sony Ericsson UIQ and Nokia Series 60 (S60) smartphones from 2002 to 2006 had full operating systems, with vibrant third party application scenes, full file systems, copy and paste(!) and full web browsers (based on the same Webkit code as the iPhone).

N95

With hardware media controls, landscape UI, full file and office editing, advanced imaging functions, and an onboard application store – the Nokia N95 pretending it’s a laptop (well, almost), and many months before the original, limited iPhone was even available….

Which doesn’t leave much for the iPhone to have ‘innovated’ with. Today’s iPhone ranges do include all of the above (great camera, GPS, sensors, applications, even – cough – copy and paste!), but it has taken most of the celebrated decade for the iPhone to have really caught up with the rest of the industry in terms of raw technology.

Steve Jobs said at the iPhone’s launch that it had ‘Software that’s at least five years ahead of what’s on any other phone‘ – which is accurate in that the iPhone is rightly responsible for smartphone UIs that are intuitive enough not to need to ship a paper manual with each phone (remember those?!), but this quote is often mis-remembered as Apple saying that the iPhone itself was five years ahead. Jobs said ‘Software’, not hardware. And even then the original iPhone lacked third party applications and basic editing functions, so what Steve Jobs really meant was ‘a UI that’s five years ahead’.

Web comparisons!

Perhaps showing that screen size was about to become king – identical web browsing on the N95 and original iPhone, but the latter has a faster and more optimised chipset, but moreover a much bigger screen. The iPhone stayed at 3.5″ or 4″ for years, but made the move to a more competitive 4.7″ and 5.5″ in 2014. Meanwhile, Nokia topped out at 6″ with their Lumia 1520, back in 2013…

Take the iPhone’s basic UI concepts (multi-touch zoom, rubber banding, predictive keyboard) and then add them to everything that Nokia, Sony Ericsson and LG (among others) had been using in phone hardware previously – and then, and only then do you get the smartphone as we’ve known it for the last five years. Apple was very important in the phone story, I agree (not least, making smartphones ‘cool’ to the mainstream and not just the prerogative of geeks and enthusiasts). But so were all the other manufacturers, regardless of what happened to them or where they are now (for a multitude of mis-management or political reasons that we don’t need to repeat here).

Credit where credit’s due.

Windows 10 Mobile Fast ring goes to build 15213

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The new ‘feature2’ builds (‘Redstone 2+’?) are still moving on apace for Windows 10 Mobile Fast ring Insider phones (keep up at the back!), though build 15213, now live in the usual place in Settings on your phone, is more about bug fixes, with a couple of biggies addressed below (see my emphasis).

Source / Credit: Microsoft

Redstone 3 is now the Windows 10 ‘Fall Creators Update’

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Expending zero energy on thinking up a new branch title, Microsoft has announced at BUILD 2017 that the next major Windows 10 branch (for most form factors) will be the ‘Fall Creators Update’. I guess this makes sense since there’s still an emphasis on creating, in this case desktop-hosted story ‘remixing’ (photos and videos), but it’s still a somewhat weak title, if you ask me. The future for phones and mobile in general is yet to be announced, though I’ve got a feature on the way which will hopefully reveal all.

There was no mention of ‘Redstone 3’, of course, but that’ll be the match-up behind the scenes. We’ve already seen the first ‘feature2’ builds for mobile in the Insiders Fast ring, but it’s now looking unlikely that any of the ‘creative goodies’ of the ‘Fall Creators Update’, which are predominantly desktop/laptop/hybrid-based, requiring larger UIs (and, in some cases multiple input methods), will come to smaller screens, at least in their demoed form so far.

Don’t worry, I’ve got a chart in preparation which will explain everything, graphically.

There was mention on stage of iOS and Android also getting tie-ins to Microsoft’s new creative flow applications, but don’t forget that Windows 10 Mobile running phones are already ‘in’, in that they’re integrally linked into Microsoft Photos and OneDrive, so I’m not sure whether there’s a real imbalance there.

Instead, currently supported (Redstone 2) smartphones will be getting ‘feature2’ updates, which does include updates to core security, networking, encryption, Cortana, Edge, and so on – which is probably all you need in terms of currency on a 5″-6″ phone screen? Again, watch this space, I’ll explain more another time.

For Windows 10 Creators Update, for interest sake here on AAWP, Microsoft announced:

  • the Microsoft Fluent Design System (previously codenamed Project Neon) – the transparencies and graphical effects have limited application on the phone, though we have seen some tweaks to the likes of Groove Music recently.
  • OneDrive ‘Files on Demand’ – so you can see what’s in your OneDrive on any device but you don’t necessarily have to have local copies of each file – they’ll be grabbed on demand.*
  • (Cloud) ‘Clipboard’ syncing of all text, images and links between all (Microsoft) signed-in devices
  • Timeline, keeping a history of the documents and tasks you were working in/on, so that you can jump back easily at a later date.
  • Story remix, a video creation wizard, pulling in images, video clips, music, even 3D effects and animations, into an intuitive creative interface.

* Note that this isn’t needed in the OneDrive UWP app on phone or tablet etc, since everything you’re seeing there is, by definition, in the Cloud and also, by definition, available to download ‘on demand’. The new feature above is for Win32 Desktop class devices which would traditionally have kept a local copy of everything, but which is not tricky because of smaller storage, e.g. on devices with SSDs rather than hard disks.

In short, and from watching many of the impressive demos, Windows 10 and its ecosystem seems pretty darned healthy, though what we all want to know is what’s coming up on truly mobile, pocketable form factors, in terms of both hardware and a version of Windows 10 that will suit it.

PS. Many wags have already pointed out the perils of putting ‘Fall’ in the title. ‘Fall’ as in falling over, ‘Fall’ as in only being called that in the USA and in fact being a whole other season in the Southern Hemisphere, ‘Fall’ as in close to ‘Fail’ – and you get the idea, headlines will write themselves(!) Oh well…

Heston Blumenthal bot comes to Skype UWP

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Microsoft is constantly partnering with content providers for the ‘bot’ system in Skype UWP. The idea is growing on me, but it still seems a tiny bit gimmicky. The latest bot was actually announced a while back, but I can see it now in Skype in the UK – it’s chef Heston Blumenthal, whose restaurant is not a million miles from my house and for whose restaurant I once collaborated in helping with Heston’s first ever DVD, back around the Millennium. Not much of a claim to fame, really, but hey, there’s a connection…

Anyway, Heston Blumenthal’s Skype bot is ‘exclusive’, offering “cooking tips, exclusive seasonal menus, and personal anecdotes directly from Chef Heston”. Essentially it’s a once a month short video presentation, along with some chat from ‘Heston’ himself. Here’s the bot in action in Skype UWP on my Lumia 950 XL:

Screenshot, Heston botScreenshot, Heston botScreenshot, Heston botScreenshot, Heston bot

You can try this yourself by looking under ‘Bots’ on the hamburger navigation menu in Skype UWP.

The idea’s not perfect, since the video shorts get interrupted by phone screen timeouts – so you have to tap the screen occasionally to stop this happening. And there’s no real interactivity, you can’t ask for tips or recipes when you need them, which seems a missed opportunity, given the whole ‘bot’ concept.

But it’s a start and an interesting idea, pinging you every now and then with interesting food ideas.

W10M’s File Explorer on your Surface too

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Not strictly phone-related, but there’s an interesting tie in here and one which is absolutely expected. When Microsoft created Windows 10 across all form factors, the actual user experience varied slightly at the application level, depending on what you were doing. One good example is Windows Explorer, the classic Win32 file manager, versus the simplified File Explorer UWP on the phone in Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft didn’t replace it because the newcomer couldn’t do all those geeky tricks that people loved in Windows Explorer. However, some good sleuthing over on Google+ has revealed a way to also use the familiar W10M File explorer on your touch-driven Surface or Surface Pro too – as long as it’s running the Creators Update (Redstone 2).

From Google+:

Enable Touch Friendly File Explorer In Windows 10
You can activate the touch friendly, ( tablet version ) of Windows File Explorer in Windows 10 build 15063 and above.

Just create a desktop shortcut with the string

explorer shell:AppsFolder\c5e2524a-ea46-4f67-841f-6a9465d9d515_cw5n1h2txyewy!App

Right click on desktop >> New >> Shortcut >> enter the above string in location field and click next.
And you are done.

Very cool indeed. As someone who has been trying to use Windows Explorer on my Surface Pro and occasionally struggling with the imperfect marriage of touch and a (originally) mouse-friendly UI, for many things I want to do, the full on touch-designed File Explorer is an excellent option to keep available. For clarification, on my Start menu on the Surface device, I named it ‘File Explorer UWP’ and then I can dive into whichever one is needed at that moment:

Both File Explorers on my Surface Pro Start screen

W10M and Windows 10 on Surface Pro

File Explorer UWP on both phone and Surface Pro

(via)

Source / Credit: Google+

BUILD 2017: Windows 10 users now number half a billion

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At BUILD 2017, CEO Satya Nadella announced that Windows 10 now powers half a billion active devices worldwide. It’s directly relevant to mobile, of course, because the same ecosystem powers all of these, whether desktop, laptop, hybrid, tablet, Xbox or… phone. My own estimate for the number of truly active Windows 10 Mobile users was seven million a while ago, so let’s assume a few more people have now upgraded older phones – call it a round ten million. Which is only 2% of the Windows 10 total, but hey, the numbers do add up. Even if the original target was one billion users in the first couple of years.

BUILD 2017

The last stat we had for the ecosystem was 400 million back in September 2016. Microsoft also announced at BUILD 2017 some major new Azure services, updates to Office, and progress in its work on Artificial Intelligence.

The growth of the Windows 10 ecosystem has slowed but not stopped – as many have noted, businesses work on a much slower timescale to consumers and the vast majority of enterprises are still on Windows 7 – when these upgrade to Windows 10 in the next year, we could get quite a bit closer to that magical one billion user mark.