501 – Next of Kin

clip_image002ToW’s #350 and #353 looked back at technologies of old which are long gone – or at least should be. Lots of tech somehow lives on, though – did you know,  for example, that pagers are still a thing, and that more than 10% of the world’s remaining bleeps are used in the UK’s NHS? The same organisation has even been told to ditch the fax machine by April 2020 – a target that looks like being missed.

Some old tech has just been superseded by better, cheaper, easier alternatives – the erstwhile fax message gave way to email, the film camera largely replaced by digital photography, though there are always people who doggedly prove exceptions. Vinyl records came back from the brink, even prompting a potential rebirth of physical music retailing. There’s even a revival of cassette tapes for goodness’ sake (Hey kids! throw away your DVDs and get those VHS tapes from the attic…)

The path of progress is littered with the wreckage of ideas that didn’t quite work out; sometimes, they’re just a development that nobody wanted, or at least the target audience didn’t want in enough numbers, or maybe other forces combined to nix them (eg Google Glass) or at least to sustain their development enough. Some ideas were subsequently proven to be on the right path, but the first executions didn’t succeed: maybe the technology wasn’t advanced enough at the time.

The fab new devices previewed at the October 2019 Surface Event gave cause to recollect some old and perhaps before-their-time devices. The forthcoming Surface Pro X looks like the ultimate evolution of a Tablet PC, the due-next-year Surface Neo brings to life the “Courier” prototype that never made it out of the lab, and the especially groovy-looking (and also “available Holiday 2020”) Surface Duo makes Windows Mobile fans shed the remaining tears by embracing Android, though don’t dare call it a “phone”.

clip_image004Remember when 3G was going to set the world on fire? When people would pay handsomely to watch football clips or do video conferencing on their mobile device? The first such thing to enable that dream was the Orange SPV M5000, aka the HTC Universal. It was a folding device, had front-facing camera, 3G, Bluetooth, WiFi… It was ground-breaking, though too big and heavy to be a phone and too small and cramped to be a laptop replacement. It ran Windows Mobile 5.0, soon-to-be-eclipsed by the awesomeness that was Windows Mobile 6.0 (jokingly codenamed “Crossbow”, after a weed killer that had a deadly effect on blackberries…)

clip_image006Before Windows Mobile / Windows Phone was really a platform, Microsoft had the vision to build a tablet device with touch screen, UI navigation and handwriting recognition via a stylus, and all sorts of use cases and software that would differentiate it from other laptops.

The Tablet PC specification spawned a whole new version of Windows that eventually merged into the mainstream with Windows Vista. It only took maybe 15 years for technology and successive software improvements to turn the original dream into something of a reality.

Tip o’ the Week #124 – The evolution of Windows Phone Marketplace

Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that an update a few months ago to the desktop Zune software has removed the Marketplace for buying or downloading clip_image001Windows Phone apps.

This was something of a surprise move to some, since the Zune software has been the primary way of finding and getting hold of phone apps, other than using the Marketplace app on the phone itself.

Read more about the development here. Hear it from the Windows Phone team here.

Over the months since the Windows Phone 7.5 (“Mango”) release, the web site at windowsphone.com has been getting more and more functionality, including a much improved “Web Marketplace” – as of now, the web site is the only way to browse apps on your PC and get them sent to the phone. Very soon, it will only be possible to get apps for the phone if you’re running the “Mango” release.

clip_image003If you browse the web marketplace (http://www.windowsphone.com/en-gb/marketplace for Brits) and see an app you like, you can quickly have it sent to your phone – over the data network, without needing to plug the phone into the PC first. It’s a good idea to be on WiFi if you’re going to be installing apps since it’s quicker, and it won’t cost anything compared to downloading data over 3G. Especially if you’re abroad at the time…

The Zune software is still going to be used to feed updates to the phone, such as OS version upgrades – it allows the PC to manage the large amounts of data required to do the update, and the Zune software can also make sure a backup is taken of your phone, in case things don’t quite go to plan. So, if you get a notification on the phone that an update is available (either the phone telling you, or if you plug it into your PC and the Zune software tells you), then it’s worth applying the update. For more info on how to get Mango if you haven’t done so already, see here.

Also, if you’re downloading very large apps (games, perhaps), you may find that they can’t be installed using the over-the-air method, e.g. if they’re larger than 20Mb in size. For apps this big, you’ll either need to connect the phone to WiFi or plug it into your PC. The delivery of apps is still done using the Web Marketplace in the latter case, it’s just that with the phone connected to the computer, it will use the PC’s own internet connection and be fed the apps that way.

Tip o’ the Week #95 – the new Windows Phone lock screen

clip_image002One of the most immediately user-friendly aspects of Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, is also one that is not automatically enabled… Try this out, and I bet you’ll love it. Show to your friends who’ve upgraded: they’ll love it too.

Windows Phone supports having a PIN lock policy so that if you haven’t used your device for a period of time, you’ll need the PIN to wake it up again. Pretty much every phone that supports the Exchange ActiveSync protocol has something similar, and many companies will not allow any device to connect & sync email unless the policy is active and set up.

With Windows Phone 7, the lock policy also kicked in every time the screen went off, either by the user pressing the power button to switch it off, or because of a time-out. Not an amazing hardship to have to enter a 4-digit PIN, but it’s a slight annoyance.

clip_image004Deliverance from the PIN

Mango introduces a number of new and useful capabilities to the Lock Screen – the principal one being that you can set a time-out before a password needs to be entered.

So, you can “lock” the screen with the power button and unlock it again with only a press of the button and a swipe upwards, rather than having to enter your PIN again – up to 15 minutes after the phone was locked. Really handy if you’re walking along the street and need to consult the Maps app again; a simple press and swipe and you’re straight back in.

To set, simply go into settings -> lock + wallpaper.

The first time-out is the one that automatically switches the screen off (and that would have PIN-locked the phone in WP7 too). The second time-out specifies how long a grace period you have before you need to unlock with a PIN.


If you want to customise your phone’s wallpaper, there’s an option (just off the top of the screenshot above) to do so, or you can press and hold on any image, and it will let you set it to be the wallpaper – even pictures that people have emailed you (just open the pic from Outlook, press/hold, and bingo).

The new lock screen in Mango lets you show the Zune-supplied artist’s photo as your wallpaper whilst you’re listening to music. When you stop the track, it reverts back to whatever wallpaper you had before.

Tip o’ the Week #93 – Ring the changes with Mango


Windows Phone 7.5 – aka Mango – is here! (Find out what’s new).

I’m publishing this tip out of sequence as I think it is relatively topical and rather than wait until the end of January 2012 – when it would be scheduled to go – I figured it would be useful to share it now.

If your Windows Phone 7 hasn’t already prompted you to update, then it should do so soon. If you’re super-desperately-laser-focused-excited, you might want to follow the steps taken by some enterprising types who have figured out how to force the update to get downloaded.

One of the nice changes that’s been a while coming is the ability to set your own ringtones, so you can pick your phone out from everyone else’s when it starts to ring, after you’ve left it on your desk on the other side of the open-plan office. Choose an appropriate ditty like “The Birdy Song” or “Agadoo” to amuse your colleagues. Or maybe not.

Create your own Ringtones

There are a few rules to follow when making your own Ringtones. Firstly, the music/sound must be MP3 or WMA in format and not copy protected (eg not downloaded with a Zune pass), and it needs to be less than 40 seconds in length and less than 1Mb in size. Finally, it has to have the genre “Ringtone” set within the Zune software, then be synced to the phone.

clip_image004All of this means it’s unlikely that your existing music will be suitable – you’re probably going to need to chop the sounds down in length so you can use them as a ringtone. You could use a variety of software to edit the waveform of a sound file, but a free and simple-to-use download called AVCWare Ringtone Maker* does the trick nicely. Just load up the sound file, mark the start & finish points you want and set the properties of the tune to make sure the clip is small in size (might as well make it mono, and you could probably lower the bitrate to 64). Click on the “Convert” button and in a few seconds you’ll have a neatly trimmed tune.

clip_image002Save the sound file in one of your Music folders, and in the desktop Zune software, you should be able to locate the new file (probably without any of the artist information, but you can edit its title so you know it’s a Ringtone), and set the Genre to be “Ringtone” so when you sync it to the phone, it shows up in the correct place.

Save your changes, now right-click on the song and choose to sync it with your phone. Once that’s completed, go into the Settings on the phone, choose ringtones+sounds and the “Custom” tones should be at the very top of the list. If your new one doesn’t show, then either it doesn’t meet the requirements on size & format, or it hasn’t been tagged properly with the right Genre. The “Ringtone” Genre setting means that your custom ringtones don’t appear within the Music & Videos hub on the phone.

*NB: Internet Explorer identified the AVCWare setup file as potentially suspicious, but it appears to be clean.

Reading Microsoft Tag

Microsoft Tag has been covered in previous Tips o’ the Week, so it’s good to see the Tag reader (and QR Code clip_image005scanner) being built into Mango rather than having to download it separately.

clip_image007To read a tag, simply press the magnifying glass symbol on the front of the phone – this has now changed behaviour so instead of searching within an application, it always launches the Bing search app, which itself has received numerous tweaks. If you tap on the eye icon on the bottom of the Bing app, it will switch to scan mode.

Now, just point the phone at the Tag and if it is recognised then you should see the detail of the Tag appear on the screen – tap on that to action it (eg follow the URL or open the contact information etc). To create tags of your own, check out http://tag.microsoft.com

Zune 30Gb ‘worldwide meltdown’

Zune Freeze at startupI went to grab my trusty 30Gb Zune today and it froze on startup – the “Zune” logo stayed stuck on the screen indefinitely. Hitting the web to look for techniques on how to reset the device yielded a few tips but nothing that solved my issue.

I did spot that I wasn’t alone, however – and the newswires are currently hot with the word that this problem is affecting many – if not all – of the original 30Gb Zunes. The support forums are getting pretty busy.

UPDATE: Official confirmation says here that the issue will resolve itself after the date ticks over to 1st January. This is an issue relating to the fact that 2008 was a leap year.

Microsoft has at time of writing, not said anything other than “we’re aware there is a problem and are working to fix it”: how some potential fix might manifest itself remains to be seen – hopefully, the customer experience will be similar to the so-called XBox “ring of death” scenario – I’ve had that happen on 2 XBoxes, and I have to say the smoothness and quality of the return experience is the best I’ve ever had from any company. Maybe that’s where the $1bn was spent…

Anyway, to Zunes… (and note this is the original, 30Gb Zune only – later models – 80/120 and the flash models – are unaffected). Reportedly it only affects the latest firmware – from November 2008 – too, so if you’ve a Zune that’s been sitting in a drawer for a couple of months then it’d probably be OK.

How to reset the device – in essence, reboot it by holding the back button and pressing up on the D-pad. This didn’t work for me in the “frozen” state.

P1010106P1010104How to reformat the device – I could only get this to work by waiting for the device to run out of power, then plug it in (and get the battery charging icon) and as soon as it began its start up procedure, press the back button and hold both the left part of the D-pad and the button in the middle of the pad. It did start the procedure but appeared to hang at stage 4…

A reported fix is available by opening the Zune up and disconnecting/reconnecting the battery – instructions for the brave, here. This would ordinarily void any warranty, though my device is about a year our of warranty anyway. Maybe I’ll wait for a few days and see what Redmond says, though…