Appy Weather Turns 1
Wednesday, 5 August 2015
Growing up fast.
Growing up fast.
There are six (!) steps to this:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
@mtrostyle To be clear, it's not always a matter of devs not testing against IE, it's often about them using UA sniffing to exclude IE.— Brian Graham (@FishFaceMcGee) January 11, 2015
@mtrostyle Which unfortunately forced Microsoft's hand. You see Android app DL prompts because MS put "Android" in the WP8.1 UA string.— Brian Graham (@FishFaceMcGee) January 11, 2015
@mtrostyle If they hadn't, more sites would render a *worse* mobile app (even though WP8.1 supports -webkit prefixes) bcuz IE in UA string— Brian Graham (@FishFaceMcGee) January 11, 2015
@mtrostyle If the problem were simply feature/prefix detection, the "Android" bit wouldn't be necessary.— Brian Graham (@FishFaceMcGee) January 11, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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 mtrostyle.net, I usually have three Desktop apps open: Chrome, Sublime Text and FileZilla.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
This suggests I'm on the way to accomplishing what I'd set out to do a year ago. It may be clichéd, but being recognised for my work by one of my peers is incredibly flattering and hugely motivating. Matt, I won't let you or any of your smart readers down.
Fortunately, with a Surface Pro 2 and my first Windows Phone app on the way, I'll have plenty more to write about this year.
Thank you for reading.
Going up an app's hierarchy on Windows Phone can be inconsistent and sometimes impossible because of a dependency on a hardware back button. I'm regularly reminded of this when I'm listening to music and want to change to another song. Let's begin at the start.
I've no apps running.
I go to the Start screen and tap on Xbox Music's tile.
I tap on the top left tile in Xbox Music to start playing a song.
I go back to the Start screen by tapping on the phone's Start button.
Imaginary time passes. Time to change song. I press my phone's volume rocker to get the playback controls to slide down, and tap on the song title.
This is when things start to get confusing. I tap on the back button to check the other songs on the album.
When I do, I'm not presented with the album's tracklist, but I'm instead taken back to Start.1
Confused, I tap on the back button again. I'm now taken to Xbox Music. More confused.
I tap on the back button again but this time more in hope than expectation. I'm returned to the Start screen once more.
Tapping on the back button now doesn't take me anywhere. At this point, I decide to change my strategy: try again but this time without the back button. I slide down the playback controls and tap on the song title.
Back here. I tap on the artist/album title this time.
I'm presented with Apparat's discography. I've jumped two levels up in the app's navigation hierarchy. I wasn't expecting that.
If I tap on the album title, I'll see the album's tracklist. But if I want to browse other artists, I can't. There isn't a way up Xbox Music's navigation hierarchy from here. I'll need to go back to Start and start Xbox Music anew.2 This wouldn't happen on an iPhone because its apps are not designed to have any external dependencies. That is, irrespective of where in an iPhone app I am, I could reliably move backwards because their navigation is solely internal.
When Windows Phone 7 launched, the hardware search button worked contextually. When tapped, it would present either an in-app search or Bing web search depending on the app you were on. In Windows Phone 7.5 to avoid any confusion, this was changed so that it consistently sent you to Bing.3 As a result, developers had to present search as an option accessible from within their apps. What motivated this change can also be used to justify dropping the back button Windows Phone hardware requirement. If the back button doesn't always work, then it doesn't work. Total reliability should never be compromised for occasional convenience. At least one Windows Phone 8 app ironically developed by Microsoft themselves already acknowledges this.
Hopefully the rest of the platform will soon follow.
1. According to Microsoft's Peter Torr, this is correct behaviour. That is, "back means back" and must always return you to the previous page. This can be practical when multitasking but hinders in-app navigation.
2. This was one example. There are many others that I encounter regularly. Ironically, they're usually experienced when I interact with of one my favourite Windows Phone differentiators: secondary tiles on my Start screen that are deep links to apps. An app when entered from this context usually has restricted navigation. For example, when I tap on my weather app's pinned London weather secondary tile, I will need to return to the Start screen and tap on my weather app's primary tile if I decide I want to check the weather of another city as well.
3. I know some people didn't like this decision. However, I don't think their problem was how Microsoft made the search button behave consistently, but rather how Microsoft chose to prioritise Bing search.
When a file is opened from the Windows 8 Desktop and is launched in a Metro app, the Start screen becomes sandwiched between the two. This only becomes apparent when the Metro app is closed by holding the top of the app and dragging it to the bottom of the screen1. Instead of being returned to the Desktop, you're unexpectedly diverted to the Start screen.
A constant and unnecessary reminder that you are switching between two different environments. What's worrying is that even though this behaviour can be corrected easily, Windows 8.1 doesn't address it.
1. I know you don't need to close Metro apps, but I'm still used to closing apps that I've finished using. Furthermore, although keeping a Metro app open in the background may not affect performance, the app when no longer needed can unnecessarily clutter the app or task switcher lists.