Moving to the Latest Windows 10 SDK

Sunday, 7 August 2016

I never updated to any of the preview Anniversary Update SDKs in the last 6 months to ensure my migration to the final SDK would be non-problematic. Seamless even. But that was clearly me being stupidly naive as it has been a terrible experience. I've gone through a number of Visual Studio modifications/repairs and still getting nowhere. So unnecessary.


Friday, 5 August 2016

Appy Weather celebrates its second birthday today. At the start of 2016, I was hoping to drop 2.0 to mark this occasion. But life happened. The good news is I'm on the verge of leaving behind The Swamp.

Broken Links

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

I can't comprehend the everyday niggles I continue to routinely encounter on Windows 10 when I consider it just celebrated its an Anniversary Update. Here's one that still gets me even though I should be used to it by now: whenever I tap on a link on the excellent Quartz Daily Brief in Mail, the scrollbar resets to the top. This seems to be happening with links in other emails too but weirdly not all. And what's even more weird is this doesn't happen when I click on the link using my trackpad - seems to be an issue when touching on links only. For an OS now 1 year old and with a core app that to be fair has been regularly updated during this time, the overall experience remains bereft of polish.

Appy Weather Turns 1

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Growing up fast.

Jumping Through Hoops

Saturday, 1 August 2015

There are six (!) steps to this:

  1. You must have visited Google once.
  2. Click on the "..." more actions menu on the Menu Bar.
  3. Choose Settings.
  4. Scroll to the bottom and click on the "View Advanced Settings" button.
  5. Scroll half-way through the list and choose "Add New" from the "Search in the Address Bar with" menu.
  6. Select "Google" from the list and click on "Add as Default".

The very first step is totally unnecessary. If you skip it, you won't have Google available to set as your default search engine. On that page, there is a "Learn More" link that takes you here which clarifies the need to go to Google first. But why not save the user this inconvenience and just have a list of search engines to pick from?

It's not unreasonable to assume a user may ignore the "Learn More" link and conclude it's not possible to change to Google. I almost did but then I have immediate access to knowledge that the average user (read non-tech enthusiast) probably doesn't. But maybe that's the point. Also, for this to be considered an advanced setting is a dubious move. And not even one of the most prominent ones at that! Apparently, a user is more likely to be interested in turning on caret browsing than changing their default search engine. I actually had no idea what that setting was and I suspect many others won't either; Microsoft seems to think so too which is why it's one of the few settings which comes with a description. Go figure.

For comparison, on Chrome the default search provider can be changed from its main setting page (and not its "Advanced Settings" list). Furthermore, Bing is actually available to pick from by default too. No needing to visit it first nonsense required.

On Second Thought

Friday, 31 July 2015

A Windows Update later, things feel noticeably better. And I'm actually on the verge of changing my position on whether it's a smart idea to upgrade for one reason. Edge. I love it. No really. It may not be feature complete, but that doesn't matter because of how consistently fast and accurately it renders the web (at least from my limited experience so far). I've been so impressed that I actually don't feel any need to install Chrome. This is the same Chrome which has without fail been the first thing I grab on any fresh install of Windows. Didn't see this one coming.

First Impressions of Windows 10

Friday, 31 July 2015

There is absolutely no way this would have been released when it has if it wasn't for back-to-school. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that I like but this is no where near a snappy enough experience for me to recommend an immediate upgrade. I must say I wasn't expecting this at all when I decided to take the plunge. And no I wasn't expecting it to be buttery smooth either this early. Anyway, hopefully this will not get in the way of my productivity as I've a busy few months ahead. Gulp.

Waiting for 10

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

No sign on my Surface Pro 2 or Stream 7 that they're ready for a Windows 10 upgrade. A bit of an anti-climax. But seeing as I'd successfully managed to resist the temptation to become an Insider for the past many months, I suppose another evening on Windows 8 isn't the end of the world. Come back tomorrow.

Stream 7

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Picked up a Stream 7 while on holiday in the States recently for Windows 10 development. Battery life is poor, speakers are muted, performance occasionally stutters. But for $79 that's okay. Even if it wasn't bundled with a 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which itself comes with unlimited OneDrive storage. This is incredible value. Crazy to think what $79 will buy you later this year.

RE: Faking WebKit on Windows Phone 8.1

Tuesday, 13 January 2015 reader, Brian Graham, responding to "Faking WebKit on Windows Phone 8.1":

As much as Microsoft's hand was forced here, masquerading Android merely papers over the cracks. This can't be the viable solution longer term.

Faking WebKit on Windows Phone 8.1

Sunday, 11 January 2015

This is what it looks like:

Downloading the native app.. whoops! I know what's going on, but think of the average user. Microsoft are actually shooting themselves in the foot here by showing users what they can't have on a Windows Phone and need to switch to Android to get.

When an app isn't available on Windows Phone, the fallback is its web app. Unfortunately this is a sub-bar experience on Windows Phone 8.1, and I fear will continue to be as long as WebKit isn't adopted as Microsoft's browser's rendering engine. The recently leaked Windows 10 browser changes suggest it will be easier to use but the UI improvements won't necessarily result in better UX.

I'm certain Windows 10's browser will render the web better. It might even support more web standards than the competition. But as long as web developers continue to ignore Trident (i.e. not routinely test against IE) in order to to have the optimal mobile web experience you'll need to be on an iPhone or Android phone. 

Windows Phone Needs Better Not More Apps

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Woke up to a Twitter timeline polluted by CES tweets. Tried to catch up on the night using Tweetium, what I consider to be the best Twitter app on Windows Phone. But after a few minutes, I gave up on the idea because the experience was so infuriating: Attempts to interact with my timeline, whether to check out a link or reply to a tweet, consistently jumped me to another seemingly random location on my timeline. So I grabbed my Surface Pro 2, launched Chrome and used the Twitter website instead. No problems at all. 

This is what is most wrong with Windows Phone. Forget about the apps unavailable on the platform. Commenting on something that doesn't exist is ultimately a waste of time. No non-Windows Phone developer is going to start giving Windows Phone face when they learn someone with a few Twitter followers has abandoned the platform. Focus on the apps that do exist instead. When you do and compare them to their equivalent on iOS, as I get the chance to through my wife's iPhone, you'll notice that app fluidity and polish in general continues to pale in comparison. 

If this doesn't change, then if/when the missing apps belatedly launch on Windows Phone, you know it won't have ended being worth the wait. I don't want the same apps as on iOS. I do however want the same experiences

On Universal Windows Apps

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Over the weekend, I was messing around with a Windows universal app 1 and I must say it's made me very, very excited about Windows 10. In less than 48 hours, and almost by accident, I've managed to build the basis for a viable app which is running seamlessly between my Surface Pro 2 and Lumia 1020 2

Having said that, I still don't expect Windows Phone to become relevant this year. Possibly never. But if Windows 10, and more specifically Windows Store apps, gain significant traction 3, I'm confident the Windows Phone app gap conundrum may finally make undeniable strides because it will be way too convenient to build a universal app than to not. 4

1. No, an Appy Weather universal app is not in development. And it won't until I become more familiar with universal apps, which was the point behind this exercise.

2. Would have taken much less than 48 hours even if I wasn't familiarising myself with Azure as well.

3. That is (much) more than 3% of the market.

4. Even if Windows Phone manages to ever achieve app parity with iOS/Android, I still think it will remain irrelevant. I think more than apps it's the lack of genuinely killer Windows Phone hardware stopping the platform from growing. 

Charging $3.99 for a Weather App

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

I launched Appy Weather in August with the expectation that there may be no market for a $3.99 weather app. I was wrong. So much so that I've even managed to resist the urge to offer the app at a reduced price for a limited time to boost sales/ratings. But I'm not naive. I know at $3.99 I continue to limit the app's growth. But you know what? I'm okay with that, because through my regular interactions with Appy Weather's users, it's become pretty clear that charging a premium for an app attracts a certain type of user: smart, tasteful, constructive, patient. As a one-man-shop developing Appy Weather purely out of passion (and not necessity), I neither have the resources nor patience to satisfactorily support a potentially larger but less considerate user base. 

And so I decided that instead of lowering Appy Weather's price to artificially increase its value proposition, I will do the opposite: stop $3.99 being a hindrance by continuing to add value through regular updates. For any one who has bought AW despite the availability of other (much) less expensive weather apps, it's the least I can do to thank them for their support because I know although $3.99 is not much in the real world, relative for an app, especially one that just tells the weather, it is expensive. But, lucky for me, I've learnt that its value and not price that users prioritise when deciding whether to buy an app.1 2

1. Well, unless you're a freeloader, a user group increasing in number as more and more apps go free(mium).

2. This would most certainly not be the case were it not for trials on the Windows Phone Store, because you can only meaningfully extract value from an app by trying it out yourself.  

$3.99 is objectively expensive for an app. The actual cost to a user may be more/less depending on their personal wealth/circumstances, but its expensiveness is relative to the competition and is a constant for all users. On the other hand, value is more of a fluctuating variable per user. That is, although Appy Weather at $3.99 may represent poor value to one user, it may be invaluable to another. For example, someone in Dubai, where the weather is predictably hot throughout the year, may feel AW offers not any more value than a free weather app, but someone in London, where talking about the weather is a national past-time, may find that the rain toast notifications alone justifies forking $3.99 out for.

As far as I'm concerned, screenshots, videos, and reviews of an app help inform users on whether they should try out an app, whereas it's the trial that determines whether they will buy it. I'm curious how many paid AW users would have if it didn't come with a trial; wouldn't be surprised if it was significantly less.

Appy Weather

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

10 months ago it began.

Three months ago I thought I was done.

Three months later, Appy Weather is on the Windows Phone Store

[puts on marketing hat]

It's the most personal weather app. Made especially for Windows Phone.

Try it out people. There's a three day trial available, which I'm hoping is enough time to convince you that $3.99 isn't the end of the world. See for yourselves.

And if you know anyone with a Windows Phone, let them know about it too.

Oh, and I'm back. Speak more soon.

The Problem with Multitasking on Windows 8

Monday, 10 March 2014

Paul Thurrott on Windows 8.1:

It doesn't do a thing to address the fact that Windows isn't a single OS. It's two of them, mobile and desktop, fused together unnaturally like a Frankenstein's monster.

More specifically, it didn't do anything to improve multitasking. This is my biggest problem with the Surface Pro 2. 

In Windows 8, if you click on the upper-left hot corner, you can switch between apps but there's a caveat. It only switches between the Desktop and a Metro app, or between Metro apps - it can't be used to switch between Desktop apps. That's because the Desktop only occupies a single slot in the Metro App Switcher irrespective of the number of Desktop apps open. 

For example, when I'm making changes to, I usually have three Desktop apps open: Chrome, Sublime Text and FileZilla. 

Desktop Taskbar

When I open the Metro App Switcher, the only apps I can jump to are Metro apps.

Metro App Switcher inside Desktop and outside Metro

And when I switch to a Metro app (or go back to Start) and re-open the App Switcher, there's only a Desktop app visible. This is fine as long as the Desktop app I wish to change to is its currently active window i.e. Chrome in my example. But if it's not, then things are unnecessarily convoluted.

Metro App Switcher inside Metro and outside Desktop

If I wanted to change to Sublime Text, for example, I'd first need to click on the Desktop from the Metro App Switcher and then click on Sublime Text from the Desktop's Taskbar. Needing to transit in the Desktop before reaching my intended destination is neither fast nor fluid. It should however be noted that this isn't the case if I used alt + tab as this lists each Desktop app (and window) open, thereby allowing me to jump to Sublime Text from Metro even though it's not the active window on the Desktop. 

alt + tab inside Metro or Desktop

I'm assuming this inconsistency exists to appease Windows 8 power users. Not modernising a legacy multitasking aid makes sense, but the rationale behind the Metro App Switcher's app discrimination policy is less clear. It could be because its vertical single column layout doesn't accommodate many apps (six on a Surface Pro) and grouping Desktop apps together meant more Metro apps can be switched to. If yes, then this self-imposed space constraint has resulted in a design that inadvertently de-emphasises the Desktop.

Metro App Switcher at full capacity on a Surface

Alternatively, the Desktop's de-emphasis may have been intentional. That is, the Desktop has been relegated to a secondary citizen within the context of the Metro App Switcher on conceptual grounds. Other moves, such as the absence of a boot-to-Desktop option when Windows 8 was released, makes this plausible. Or it could be for another entirely different reason that I've not thought of. What cannot however be speculated is the serious effect this move has on using Windows 8 every day. 

When I'm multitasking in Windows 8, my intentions are never to switch between a Metro app and the Desktop but between apps in general. Microsoft needs to recognise this. I don't think of Sublime Text as a Desktop app and Tweetium as a Metro app. I think of them as apps. One a text editor and the other a Twitter client. What environment they live in is not a detail that I'm concerned with. I should be able to move freely between them unconditionally. I'm only reminded that I can't after I make a mistake; something that shouldn't really matter turns into something I must be attentive towards.

For example, when I'm working in Visual Studio, I'll instinctively have Chrome on the Desktop parked at Stackoverflow; not a coding session goes by where I don't click on the upper-left corner to switch to Chrome. I consistently feel stupid when I do, but then quickly become frustrated because I need to go through all open Metro apps before the Metro App Switcher returns me to the Desktop. And then I feel stupid again because I accidentally click past the Desktop and need to go through the process again but this time more carefully. This could be avoided if I depended entirely on the Taskbar and/or alt+tab to multitask within the Desktop, but I find clicking on the upper-left hot corner a more convenient way to switch to an app due to Fitts' Law. And because it does switch me to the correct app enough of the time (i.e. when wanting to switch to a Metro app or to the Desktop's currently active window), using it becomes a reflex whenever I want to switch to any app. 

I however accept that it would be odd to use the upper-left hot corner to switch to a non-full-screen Desktop app. Even OSX's multitasking app queue doesn't accommodate this behaviour: its Desktop is considered a full-screen app and any non-full-screen app can't be swiped to using the Mac's four finger swipe gesture. That's however where the similarities end. The Dock, unlike the Taskbar, is accessible when you're in a fullscreen app. This means you can jump to any app from any app.1

Rdio in fullscreen mode on Mavericks

Dock still there if/when needed

Furthermore, an OSX app in full-screen occupies a separate slot to the Desktop within OSX's multitasking app queue, unlike a full-screen Windows 8 Desktop app, such as Internet Explorer; the ability to swipe between full-screen Desktop apps in OSX is behaviour reserved only for Metro apps in Windows 8. What exacerbates matters is that when a Desktop app is in full-screen mode you actually can't access the Metro App Switcher nor Taskbar; you need to exit its full-screen mode first. 

Internet Explorer on the Desktop in full-screen mode looks a lot like its Metro equivalent but there are fundamental differences

Most notably when you move your cursor to the upper-left hot corner, the Metro App Switcher doesn't appear - the App Bar does instead

Multitasking on my MacBook Pro is unquestionably easier than my Surface Pro with Type Cover 2. And that's not because Windows 8 is a Frankenstein OS, but because Metro and the Desktop have been sellotaped together; the two need to be bound with glue. Making the Desktop look and feel more like Metro and less like Windows 7 is an obvious starting point. But visual consistencies such as a shared Desktop and Start screen background doesn't make Windows 8 any easier to interact with i.e. multitask. Here are a few changes that may:

  1. Standardise full-screen mode support in Desktop apps. At the moment, this feature is left to developers to implement. Some do, others don't. That's fine, but using a non-standardised toggle isn't. For example, although F11 causes both Internet Explorer or Sublime Text to enter full-screen mode, the non-keyboard shortcut toggle is buried within different titled menus in each app: "File" in Internet Explorer and "View" in Sublime Text.

    Full-screen menu option in Internet Explorer is found inside Settings -> "File"

    Full-screen menu option in Sublime Text, on the other hand, not in "File" but "View"

    Not only does F11 not work in Word 2013, I embarrassingly needed to refer back to this to remind myself where the toggle is located. Moreover,  I was also reminded Word 2013 has in fact a pseudo full-screen mode: the Taskbar is visible and the Metro App Switcher also accessible. These type of inconsistencies are expected when the implementation of full-screen mode support within Desktop apps has not been standardised.

    OSX, on the other hand, elegantly surfaces this feature on an OS level. 

  2. Make the Metro App Switcher available inside full-screen Desktop apps.

  3. Likewise with the Taskbar.

  4. Allow swiping between full-screen Desktop apps like you can with Metro apps.

Ironically, my multitasking Windows 8 gripes would be softened if Metro apps were not useable with non-touch input i.e. I never venture out of the Desktop as if it's still 1995. But they are, I do and it isn't. What apps I use is input-agnostic when I'm using the Surface Pro as a laptop.3 For example, I use Tweetium all the time and not only when I'm using the Surface Pro 2 as a tablet, even though MetroTwit is an excellent Desktop client that's perhaps more optimised for Type Cover use. But despite Metro apps' increasing viability as Desktop app substitutes, I expect to continue using Desktop apps alongside them for the foreseeable future.4 Future Windows updates need to acknowledge this reality and ignore the fantasy that the Desktop will be going away any time soon. From what I've read of Windows 8.1 Update 1, Microsoft seem to get this. But they need to move faster. The bulk of the changes necessary to make Windows a more cohesive OS are incremental improvements that don't need to wait till Windows 9/next year.

1. Windows 8.1 Update 1 partially addresses this by showing the Taskbar inside Metro apps when the cursor is moved to the screen's footer, similar to how the Dock in OSX is activated. However, I doubt that this is also now possible inside a full-screen Desktop app; I'll confirm when the update has been released.

2. Inversely, multitasking on my Surface Pro without a Type Cover is unquestionably easier than on my iPad.

3. Although I never hesitate to use a Metro app with my Type Cover, I mostly avoid using the Desktop when I'm using the Surface Pro as a tablet. I only do when I absolutely have to; that's usually either changing a setting only accessible via the Control Panel or when troubleshooting a technical problem such as network connectivity. Windows 8.1's expanded Metro PC Settings has made both more manageable inside of Metro, but Desktop dependency can still be reduced significantly further.

4. Some professional apps may always need an app optimised for keyboard and mouse when precision is a necessity; in these exceptional cases, touch support would primarily be catered to in a separate app that may not be as feature-rich but still functional enough for most tasks.

Running Two Apps Side-by-Side is Surface's Hook

Saturday, 8 March 2014

There are switching costs when you try to try to perform two tasks simultaneously. This has been scientifically proven. But Snap on a Surface isn't really designed to help you shift between goals i.e. tasks 1. From my experience, it does the complete opposite. Its implementation is elegant with sensible restrictions to keep things simple. If it's not a second screen, then it's there to support whatever I'm doing. This feature could have been designed in California. 

You may actually never invoke Snap explicitly but still use it regularly. For example, the feature reveals itself organically whenever I click on a link from NextGen Reader, Tweetium or Mail. When I do snap an app explicitly, it's usually either as a reference point for something I'm working on or to provide a second screen experience without an actual second screen. This could be a blog post that I'm referencing like here, or keeping an eye on Twitter or a live stream video while doing other work. 

Anyone who continues to defend the iPad for not allowing you to have more than one app open at a time and who insist it's a productivity booster because it means your focus is undivided must have never completed a task on their PC that required context to assist the task's completion. Or never used a Surface/Windows 8. Or is an Apple apologist. You pick. 

1. Snap on a screen that supports three or more windows is designed to enable you to work in Metro more like you would traditionally in the Desktop i.e. have multiple windows open for two or more concurrent tasks. The unshackling of Snap in this environment fundamentally alters its purpose and is a true multitasking enabler. This may make sense on a 27" monitor but not on a 10.6" Surface.

More Thoughts on the Surface Pro 2

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

I was 22,500 feet in the air on a seven hour flight. The original plan was to use the time to do some light reading. But when I read this, I felt the urge to write. And so, moments later, I changed my tablet for a laptop.  And I didn't even need to move from my seat. 

A great tablet can't be a great laptop. And a great laptop can't be a great tablet. That's what the popular consensus seems to be. I was never convinced by this theory before buying a Surface Pro 2, and especially not after - the last two months have only reaffirmed my position. 

Let me be clear. If you're looking for one device that is both a great tablet and great laptop, the Surface Pro 2 is not that device. But I've used the Surface Pro 2 plenty as both a tablet and laptop to know that an utopian hybrid is inevitable. It won't necessarily be built by Microsoft, but this device is coming.

I don't want a Kindle to read books on my way to work. I don't want a MacBook to write a blog post with. I don't want an iPad to watch videos in bed. I hate having so many devices in my life 1. And just because no device exists today that can be all without compromise doesn't mean the concept is not worth pursuing. 

There were smartphones before the iPhone. And tablets before the iPad. Their failure to gain market traction was not because people were not ready for touch input but because they were executed misguidedly. Similarly, the problem with the Surface and Windows 8 is not conceptual. The problem is in its execution

1. The iPad Air is more suitable for certain tasks than the iPad Mini and vice-versa. If you don't mind owning more than one device as long as each is the best at something, then why not buy both an Air and Mini?

Four Hours

Monday, 17 February 2014

That's approximately how long my Surface Pro 2 lasted before it needed a charge today. This on full brightness running only Visual Studio. Although my expectations were not high when it came to the Pro 2's battery life, even after Microsoft claimed it had improved it by 75%, I've still been very disappointed. Much work still clearly needs to be accomplished before the Surface Pro can be considered truly mobile. 

Surface Pro 2 in One Word (And Then in a Few More)

Sunday, 19 January 2014


What I wasn't expecting is how much I've used it as a tablet. It does feel slightly heavier than my girlfriend's iPad 4, and that's not great because I find the iPad 4 too heavy to use. I realise this is no longer an issue with the iPad Air, but do you know what is even more comfortable than using a tablet with one hand? Using none. Most (if not all) Surface Pro 2 reviews I've read seem to think the kickstand solely exists to accommodate laptop usage with a failure to recognise how this feature enables it to be used legitimately as a tablet. It's made using the device in bed or on the sofa incredibly convenient. Much more so than the iPad 4 from my experience. 

The Surface Pro 2's guts (battery life and weight) may be more PC than post-PC 1. But, without wanting to trivialise the engineering required to better both, this is relatively low hanging fruit that will inevitably be addressed, if not with the Surface Pro 3 then most certainly with the second-to-next iteration. Until that day, one thing is for certain - this is a Surface I won't be selling.

1. Having said that, it's been very silent, screaming fast and not got warm hitherto i.e. the performance of a PC without some (but not yet all) of its drawbacks.