What Microsoft needs to fix in Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8

After months of being bored with good (but same) old iOS, I finally decided to drop my iPhone 4 and get a new phone.

I ended up with Nokia Lumia 920. It’s a great, performant and sturdy phone that I will probably praise in a different blog post, but for now I want to write about the functionality gaps and flaws that I feel Microsoft needs to address to make Windows Phone 8 the greatest option in the market. A lot of these things have already been said in a few Windows Phone forums, threads or reviews, but a few others I haven’t seen anyone suggest or complain about.

Once again, before you read this, regardless of these flaws I really like Windows Phone 8 and feel it’s a fresh and great alternative to the iPhone and iOS.

Here is what I believe is wrong with Windows Phone 8 and needs to be solved or implemented, and a couple of wish-list features I’d like to see in Apollo+ or the next version of Windows Phone.

Security

  1.  I would’ve liked an unlocking mechanism like Android’s, instead of the typical 4 digit numeric PIN. If Microsoft wanted to make WP8 awesome, it would introduce Voice unlocking. No one else has it. 
  2. VPN Integration. Corporate users need it, and adoption will not be as fast as it could be until it is there.

Phone Settings

  1. I honestly cannot believe the amount of things that were NOT made configurable in WP8. Stuff like a brightness slider, Tile colors, battery percentage display, leaving the top information bar visible all the time, lock screen information and a lot more. Level: High.
  2. Inability to change Microsoft account on the Phone. This is just plain ridiculous. After spending a full day installing the apps I wanted and customizing the phone as I wanted, I had the need to temporarily switch the Microsoft account on the phone, but apparently it is impossible to switch the account without having to reset your phone to factory settings. There should be an option to Sign out of the current account or switch to a completely different new one without having to delete everything on your phone. Level: High

  3. Social Apps identity integration. When you setup your facebook or twitter identities on iOS, you can control if other installed apps can use your identity. In WP8 you have to log in to each social network (or even SkyDrive) from that third party app just to give it access to your identity. That is wrong, and also highly insecure, since a free third party app could (theoreatically) just mimick the login UI of facebook or twitter and transmit your credentials. WP8 already has access to whatever accounts you have added; it should also control permissions to use these identities.
  4. A “Do not disturb” mode, like Apple’s. I think “Zen Mode” would be a good name.

User Interface (UI)

  1. Notification Center. We all want this. Apparently it was not in 8.0 due to time constraints, but it better come in Apollo+. It not good to have to scroll through all the tiles to check for notifications. It would be great if the items displayed on the notification center would not only fire the app from the notification, but allow app-specific actions right from the notification center.
  2. The Search button should allow search providers/programs, not be Bing only. While Microsoft has done a great job with Bing, the search results are still not quite there in my opinion, so I don’t see a reason why I am forced to use Bing. Allow us to configure the Search button to launch the Google App, which has the same functionality (voice search and the like).
  3.  Settings should be listed alphabetically. I’m not sure whose idea was to list them in any other order that doesn’t even appear to be importance-based.
  4. The Search button should allow context-based actions, not always bring the Bing window. It would great if tapping it once would search the current application, keeping it pressed bring the Search provider, et. Of course this should also do system wide searches (files, SMS, settings, notes, emails, etc).
  5. Orientation Lock. How the hell it was not included is beyond me. This is a critical feature on any smartphone.
  6. Implement finger seek in media. Ridiculous that I can’t fast-forward or rewind to a given point.
  7. Just because I can pin a person from my contacts to the main screen doesn’t mean I want to pin all 10 of the people I call/text often. Not including a “Favorites” page on the Dialer/Phone app is just not smart.
  8. Text selection is not easy. Needs to be improved.
  9. Only one app can display information on the lock screen. Complete nonsense. 8 years ago I had an HTC PocketPC that allowed you to configure more than 1 application to display lock screen information. It is not nice at all to have all that screen space and be limited to only display Calendars OR Emails.
  10. The additional apps that you can configure for quick lock screen display should be able to fire that app from the lockscreen directly, and even cooler would be to touch them to display their information full-screen on the lock screen, and be able to toggle between them.
  11. Have certain design guidelines to indicate which pieces of information on a screen are clickable. Not necessarily make them a button, but it is not always clear when you have to click a word to display more information, or if that word is all the information that is available. This pattern or heuristic is also driving some applications to ridiculous number of steps to display the information I want.
  12. No functionality to clear all the contents of a text field. Why, people love to hit the backspace key a lot, don’t they?
  13. Text Expansion. Why on earth do we need to type our full email address every time?
  14. We should be able to use gestures as in Windows 8 to do perform some actions the phone. Swiping up or down to close the current application, swiping from the right to access settings. In fact, define a set of system actions and allow us to configure what gesture does what (launching a specific program, closing an app, etc).
  15. Physical indicator of notifications. I read on a forum a suggestion to make the Windows flag button glow when there are notifications pending, that would look great. Of course, it would be more awesome to be able to configure which type of notifications make the button glow (calls only, calls and mails, IM messages, etc).
  16. We need an X button to close whatever program we want, from the list of running programs. I’ve heard people say it’s not needed because WP8 handles memory efficiently and allocates/deallocates resources and memory as needed, but people forget that sometime an application will missbehave, or won’t refresh certain settings or display until it’s restarted. We still need to be able to close applications at will. Just yesterday I had to reboot my phone twice because the Facebook app and another newspaper one just wouldn’t display anything.
  17. I’ve seen applications where you change a certain setting or configuration and you get both Save and Cancel buttons.  However, I’ve seen others where there is no button at all; you’re just supposed to click the Back button on the phone to save changes. But if hitting Back will save the changes, how would you cancel them? WP8 needs explicit guidelines about action buttons. Inconsistency can (and will) only confuse users.
  18. Music controls are not entirely global. It took iOS a while to allow the global music controls to control third party applications like Pandora or TuneIn radio, and it’s somewhat there in WP8 but not completely. The global music/audio controls should control any and all music/playback applications that are running. Having to go back to a specific application is a hassle.
  19. A lot of people have mentioned independent sound profiles. I say location aware configurable sound profiles. I want to be able to configure a “Work” sound profile that mutes all sounds except phone calls and that can automatically become active when I enter my company’s building. There’s also a nagging problem in which the “Vibrate” only profile does not mute all sounds. WP8 should classify sounds under specific categories (Apps Sounds, System Sounds, Games sounds and “Other” sounds) and allow us to set up profiles that toggle those categories as we want.

Applications

  1. Find my Phone is broken. The first two days I had a lot of problems with WindowsPhone.com’s Find My Phone functionality. Fortunately, the @WindowsPhoneSupport team is awesome, replying immediately to help requests and guided me to get it working completely. Kudos to them for great customer support. The one thing I would like is for Microsoft to allow us to specify the time frequency that the phone has to send location updates to the site. So many iPhones and iDevices have been found thanks to Apple’s service, showing that this functionality is life-saving (not literally, but close) and critical. Microsoft needs to one-up Apple on this one.
  2. Microsoft should take the initiative and if third party makers will not or can not write the apps for their services (i.e. Google Drive), who better than Microsoft to step up and provide at least the stepping stone to fill those gaps?
  3. File Manager. If it can be seen as a drive when conected to Windows, it should have a file manager. Whatever can be stored on the phone should be made seen in any application, to process or work with it.

How to activate a Windows 8 clean install with a Windows 8 upgrade key

I’ve always hated how most products (if not all) force you to install an older version of a product if you have an upgrade product key for it, and not just allow you to do a clean install and simply use your upgrade product key.

I was on Twitter yesterday and Jon Skeet had been able to do a clean install of Windows 8, but has having trouble activating the product online, getting the following error:

“The Software Licensing Service determined that this specified product key can only be used for upgrading, not for clean installation”

One of his followers pointed to a page that contained the steps to work-around the clean install activation crippling. The steps are:

  1. Open the Registry (Windows + R –> regedit –> Enter)
  2. Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Setup/OOBE/
  3. Change the value of MediaBootInstall from 1 to 0.
  4. Open a Command window as Administrator (Windows + Q –> cmd –> Right Click –> Run As Administrator)
  5. Type: slmgr /rearm and hit Enter
  6. Reboot
  7. Run the activation utility again. You should be able to use your upgrade Product Key.

I got the steps from GHacks: Windows 8 Upgrade: clean install possible?

Give your Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 Previous/Next song functionality

This post shows how to “hack” your Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 to give Previous/Next functionality to the numeric “Favorite” keys (specifically the 4 and 5 numbers) although you can probably use this to set Previous/Next to any of the custom keys.

These will not be application-specific but system wide, which is the beauty of it. You don’t have to switch to your music player application in order to change the track. So far I’ve tried it with Spotify and iTunes, and it works.

Here are some things that are useful to know when you do this:

  1. The Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard center uses the registry to store/retrieve the assigned target program or commands to each of the special keys. The path on the registry is at HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\IntelliType Pro\ModelSpecific\1016\EventMapping.
  2. Given that the registry is used, it is possible that for 64 bit installs there are duplicate entries on the usual SOFTWARE path and on the Wow6432 node. I bumped into that the first time I tried this. The tutorial that showed me how to do it was only for a 32 bit Windows install, so I didn’t know I had to look for the 64 bit entry at that time. This second time I did it, I’m on a Windows 8 x64, and I didn’t have to anything else other than to edit the default registry path. When I did this on Windows 7, I did have to alter the entries on the Wow6432 node.
  3. Each key has a corresponding registry Key/folder, and inside, a REG_DWORD (32 bit) entry has the actual command to execute for that key.

So, the actual steps to do this:

  1. Open the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center.
  2. Go and assign custom targets for the keys that you want to you use for Prev / Next. I use #4 for Prev, so I set #4 to prev1.exe (the file does not have to exist, just makes it easier to find the key you need to edit on the registry) and I set #5 to next1.exe.
  3. Open Task Manager and kill the itype.exe process.
  4. Open the Registry, with Administrator privileges.
  5. Edit -> Find -> prev1.exe
  6. Just one registry entry should be found. Inside there will be about 4 or 5 entries. Delete all of those, it will not let you delete the default one.
  7. In that spot, create a new DWORD (32 bit) Value, make sure Hexadecimal is selected on the radiobutton, and paste the following text to its value: 000002c0. Rename the entry to “Command” (without the quotes) or it will not work.
  8. Now do the search for next1.exe, and repeat the procedure but assigning the new entry the value of 000002bf.
  9. Manually start itype.exe (location of default install is at C:\Program Files\Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center\itype.exe).

You should now have Previous/Next functionality on the keys that you selected. Hope it works.

Thanks to Tom from ElectroLab Games, which is where I saw the original tutorial: Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 + Play Next Song Hack

Quick shortcut to reset page zoom in Chrome

I’m having some trouble with my external mouse and Google Chrome. The zoom functionality available by holding the CTRL key and scrolling the mouse wheel is working in extreme increments.

The slightest scroll of the wheel will either max the zoom out to 1000% or reduce it to 10% if I have the CTRL key held down. I haven’t been able to find the reason, but I just learned that hitting CTRL + 0 defaults the zoom to 100% (or whatever your default zoom is, in Chrome Settings). Great tip!

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