Programming a New Zune

Since 2012 I have kept using Zune on the Desktop and the Zune HD, but I do realize it’s a dead platform.  That said, I do want to set about programming a new and improved version that keeps its interface style (pivots as opposed to hamburger menus).
Zune-Desktop[1]
This image, for those who may not remember, is what Zune looked like once upon a time.  I intend to recreate this aesthetic in my Windows 10 Universal Windows App, but at the same time, bring it forward into the modern 2016 era.  It will be reminiscent of Zune, but will not be an exact copy.  It will be its own program and be fully featured for 2016.

Features

This new program will have several features that make it useful and innovative, especially in comparison to the Microsoft Groove software.
Advanced ID3 Tag Editor: If you right-click any MP3 file, there will be an option to Edit ID3 tags, and an option for “Advanced Tag Editor” like Windows Media Player 11 had.  If you check the ‘frames’ from the ID3 website, every one of those, I want to have this program be able to edit successfully.
API Integrations: This app will integrate with theTVDB.com, themoviedb.org to help pull metadata for all the TV shows and Movies you’ve purchased and stored on your computer.
Audiobook Support: Using the genre and sub-genre tags, I will have an audiobook section of the program, wherein all MP3s of the genre “audiobook” will be found, and use the sub-genre frame
Auto-Playlist Creation: based on how Windows Media Player and Zune could do this, I intend to program this feature into this program so you can have several auto-generated playlists, such as “Most Played” or “Least Played” and so on.  Further, I intend to program WMP-style auto-playlists based on certain criteria into the program.
Background Images: Zune had several background images (Zero, Phyta, Diaphanous, Koi, Schmikyl, and so on) that I intend to put into the program as options for either theme, and several others from DeviantArt if I can get permission to use them.
Schmikyl Everglade Geisha
Favorites: You can choose heart, broken heart, and no heart ratings for songs, TV, movies, and music videos.  With this you can get auto-playlists generated on this variable.
Internationalization: The app will be fully translated from English to German, French, Spanish, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese, Dutch, Frisian (all kinds), Luxembourgish, and all the Celtic languages (Irish, Cornish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Breton), and further.  I’m going to make sure this app is usable with as wide an audience as possible.
Now Playing: I intend to have a Now Playing screen for this app that will be dynamic and delightful, as Microsoft used to do in their software.  This video shows off roughly how I plan on implementing this in the software.
Play Count: based on the ID3 tag for play count, this feature will let you have
Podcast Support: Using the genre tag, I will have a section for podcasts so that all your podcast series will be organized and together in one place.
Social: You can add friends who use the program, and view their movie, TV, and music collections.  This will be dependent upon your Microsoft account, so if you like someone’s music, you’d be able to download to your own machine or stream it.  You can see their music, and like/dislike whatever music you see, if they allow ratings from other users.  There will be a “What’s New” feed of your friends so you can see what they’re listening to, or what they’ve shared either within the program or to Facebook/Twitter, be it a playlist, artist, album, song, TV episode, movie or TV show.  I also intend to allow a map view so you can see what’s playing in your country or state/province in the top 10 or so for music, TV, and movies, which I think would be very cool to see.
An example of how Zune Social looked at one time

An example of how Zune Social looked at one time

Store Support: Using Microsoft’s API, I can bring store support to this app, helping make it a one-stop place for media purchase and management.
Subtitles: For movies/TV, there will be multiple subtitle support, where you save a subtitle file per language ISO code.  So if you are watching your copy of Avengers, you can switch from English, to Spanish, to French, to German, to Faroese, and back all while still watching the movie.
Themes: I plan on including dark and light theme support that will obey the OS theme you set.
TV Show Organization: TV shows will be viewed first by series; you double-click in and you see the seasons of that show, then click a season, and see that list of episodes.  This is what will utilize the DVD covers and season covers so it looks much nicer than a list of files with file icons.
Video Metadata: Like Zune, I intend to include video metadata so that you can sort your video files, whether they be TV shows, movies, music videos, or personal videos.
Here you can see editing a movie in Zune.  You have Title, Genre, Description, Category, and Release Date.  Great for basics, but in my program, I will add parental rating (G, PG, PG-13, R) so you can have parental controls.  There will be subtitle support so you can add subtitles per ISO Language code.  I will add DVD covers so you can view not a video file thumbnail, but a nice, clean DVD cover image so your files look clean and organized.  In addition, I will add actors/roles, directors, writers, and producers as fields so you can sort and find your favorite actors and writers in whichever video file you have.

Here  you can see editing a music video.  You have Category, Title, Artist, Release Date, Genre, and Description.  That’s a good start, and still ahead of Microsoft Movies & TV and iTunes.  I would like to add subtitles (for lyrics) here so I can sing along to the music.

Finally, we have TV.  In Zune, we had Category, Series Title, Episode Title, Release Date, Season, Episode, Genre, and Description.  To this, I would add subtitle (per language), release date (per country ISO code), episode title (per language ISO code), writer, director, stars (plus roles), guest stars (plus role), IMDB ID, TheTVDB.com ID; and Series cover, Season cover, and episode thumbnail.
Video Playlist: I intend to have the ability to create video playlists so you can put together a TV episode binge list, a music video playlist, home video list, or whatever else you can imagine.

Mobile App

Mobile Support: This program will have a mobile interface reminiscent of the hubs of old.  It would let you access all your media in one app for easy access.

 

There will be a persistent app bar in the mobile app with a search, equalizer, and settings buttons.  Swipe over and you get the recent list, with your now playing at top.  Next is the list of new music, then your social feed, then a list of other apps.

Now Playing: To give users a great mobile experience, unlike Groove, I will show the artist background in addition to the album art (at the same time!) like Zune used to do.  At the bottom will be the buttons for shuffle, repeat, favorite, and share.  In the more (…) menu, you can view/edit the id3 tag of the song in question.  Tap on the small list of songs at the bottom to bring up the playlist, where you can tap to advance or go back in the songs.  Tap the artist name atop the screen to view the artist page.  There will be “scrobbling” so you can advance the song, more useful for podcasts or audiobooks, but also useful for songs.  Swipe left/right to advance through songs.  Tap the album cover to pause and bring up the volume up/down and track back/forward buttons.  Alternatively in settings, I will also put the option for those buttons to be persistent at the bottom, as I know some people like that.
Artist View: When you view the artist’s page, you get pivots for albums, songs, pictures, bio, buzz (from the artist official FB/TW feeds), and videos.  This is a sample image of what I’m going to program into it.  You can pin an artist to your start screen, favorite the artist (in which case you get notified when a new album is released by the artist), and share.  Songs will show you by jumplist each song by the artist; pictures will show the artist pictures for a given artist.  One little extra I plan on including is album-specific artist pictures so that, for example, when playing “Rock Lobster” you get a 1979-era B-52’s image, but when listening to “Love Shack” you get a 1989-era image of the band.
X-Box One App
I also intend to release this for X-Box One so you can have a great media player there also.  For the XBO, I intend this app to work with a remote control, so you can have a great TV interface that’s as feature-rich as X-Box Media Center is/was, but is as easy to use as Windows Media Center.

I intend to use this as a starting point to the app interface, where you can use the up/down/left/right arrows to change the categories, and navigate through the media in a category.  I intend it to be easier to navigate than Netflix on XBO and as attractive as Zune and WMC were in their day, but also modern.
Party likely won’t be there, but TV, Movies, Music Videos, Music, will be there, along with Pictures, Podcasts, and Audiobooks.
Help
This is where you come in.  I will need help first to put a development computer together.  This is critical to getting this project off the ground.  I also will be hiring one or two additional programmers in C# to help speed development along in this project.  Here is a donation page, where I am asking for a small donation of $5, $10, or $20 to help this project.  Any person who donates will get (a) the program free, of course, and (b) credit in the about section of the app and this website.  I am estimating this project will require about $5000 total to get done in a reasonable amount of time and to help pay the one to two developers I will bring in, whom I will also be paying out of my own pocket.
Thank you for reading this post, and if it interests you, please pass this post around and encourage others to donate as well so that we can finally have the media player and manager that we Windows users need, want, and deserve.
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How to Make a Great RSS Reader

I’ve tried out several RSS Readers on Windows 10 Mobile, and news apps, including MSN News and Flipboard, and I have yet to find one that does what I need for my news requirements.  So I will lay out my expectations and how I would do it, if I were a programmer.

Features

The very first feature I would add in a News app / RSS Reader would be the ability to add RSS Feeds from a URL, and then have the ability to categorize it into a specific news category.  For example, I speak German, so I frequently read Die Welt via RSS.  Common RSS Feeds should be prepopulated, and I should be able to ‘silence’ or remove some news sites I don’t believe are trustworthy or are biased.

Interface

The second feature I would add is to make it look and feel more like a Newspaper and a native Metro (or if I must, Modern) app.  That means pivoting pivots at the top for categories, namely: National (US, or wherever I am currently), Environment, Local (my state/province and city), Science, Technology, Travel, Video Games, Entertainment, International, Most Popular, Health, Lifestyle, Opinion, Politics, Finance, Sports.

There should be headlines for breaking news, and side articles for lesser importance items.

When viewing in a mobile environment, the app bar should show a share button, and refresh.  When viewing on a tablet or desktop, the interface overall should still have the pivots at the top, but the layout should look more like a newspaper with live updates (as in, I shouldn’t have to manually refresh), and share counts from my FB friends in the people app if possible.

One of the most important features to me, to make it feel more like a newspaper, is to mix all my feeds together.  For some, they might not want this, but it should be a setting to ‘combine all RSS Feeds from various sources into the same categories.’  So, let’s say I want to have NY Times, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Daily Mail Political news.  I subscribe to their RSS Feeds using the app, and then I pivot to “Politics,” and then I see all the various sources in one single stream of news, but with a tiny little icon telling me whence the news came.  Simple, useful, beautiful.  This is not a very difficult request, but for some reason, most RSS Readers don’t know to do this.

 

What do you want in a News Reader?  Reply below.

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X-Box Music with Background Images

If you used Zune and remember it fondly (as I’m sure most people who use X-Box Music do), if not only for having more features than X-Box Music (hereafter XBM), then also for its aesthetics.

Zune had backgrounds with very odd names: Diaphanous, Emosewa, Everglade, Geisha, Mellifluous, Meridian, Neuxe, Phyta, Schmikyl, and Slate (blank).  But the great thing about these is that they added some visual interest to the software.

So this:

Everglade

This is called ‘Everglade.’  Now imagine for a moment if you could add those to the X-Box Music program.  It could look something like this:

XBM with an Everglade Background.

XBM with an Everglade Background.

Now, how much better is that than a stark white or gray background?  This is a very quick and easy fix that can be implemented with a minimal of code.

More backgrounds for your viewing pleasure:

Diaphanous Slate Schmikyl Phyta Neuxe Mellifluous Meridian Geisha Everglade Emosewa

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Quick Interface Change for X-Box Video

If you’ve used X-Box Video, you’ll know it’s a clunky and feature-poor piece of programming.  Especially if you compare it to Zune or Windows Media Player, both very capable programs full of features, you will find that you miss them when using XBV.  So, to help Microsoft, I present here three very quick interface changes that will go a long way to helping make the program more useful to users.

First, the TV Show collection:

I used filler images, but you can see it's more feature-rich than current X-Box Video.

I used filler images, but you can see it’s more feature-rich than current X-Box Video.

To the left, I added a genre list.  This is present in Zune, which lets you edit video metadata (something X-Box Video still hasn’t figured out how to do), and categorize video files into TV shows, seasons, and episodes.  Top right, the search box, which makes more sense here than top left.  It’s here the search box is in a number of other programs.  You get pivots to see all, new, recent, unwatched, and favorite programs.  The drop down lets you resort your TV Shows.  Easy.  Maybe even on the left we could add under genre ‘ratings’ for parental ratings, or in the ‘sort by’ dropdown.

Also note, there’s a playlist section for playlists of video files.  If you’re having a party, create a music video playlist.  Or binge watching, create a TV Show playlist of several seasons of your favorite show.

For Movies:

More filler images, but you can see the ability to view certain genres, which currently you cannot do.

More filler images, but you can see the ability to view certain genres, which currently you cannot do.

 

Same thing as above, with more content on-screen, and better sorting, including genres.

Finally, the personal collection:

Personal collection

Again, better than the current X-Box Video with better organization and streamlined interface.  To the left, user-metadata supplies the categorization so you can see your videos by location (city, state, country, and even neighborhood in a city), date filmed, people tagged in the video, and collections (your groupings for specific vacation videos).  How much sense does this make?

Now the question is how soon such changes will make it into XBV.

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A Comparison between iTunes, Zune, Windows Media Player, and X-Box Music/Video

It is my contention that it was a big mistake for Microsoft to scrap Zune and go with X-Box Music/Video.  Aside from the clunky interface, especially in comparison to Zune, it is surprisingly lacking in features.  Going on two years now, the software is STILL lacking pretty basic features.  So, to make my point, I provide you this chart:

Feature Zune iTunes Windows Media Player X-Box Music X-Box Video
Wireless Synch to device while charging 1 1 0 0 0
phone app purchase 1 1 0 0 0
plays audiobooks natively 0 1 0 0 0
discover podcasts 1 1 0 0 0
play podcasts 1 1 0 0 0
create/edit playlists 1 1 1 1 0
buy TV/movies 1 1 0 0 1
synch apps to phone 1 1 0 0 0
synch music/video to phone 1 1 1 0 0
synch podcasts to phone 1 1 0 0 0
purchase audiobooks 0 1 0 0 0
synch games to phone 1 1 0 0 0
shuffle 1, shuffle all button 1 1 1 0 0
Smart DJ/Genius Mix 1 1 0 0 0
Channels (curated playlists) 1 1 0 0 0
Picks – recommendations based on your plays/favorites 1 1 0 0 0
purchase ringtones 0 1 0 0 0
cloud synch of media 0 1 0 1 0
edit metadata of media (audio and/or video) 1 1 1 0 0
Textbook purchase/consumption 0 1 0 0 0
books, comics, magazines, newspaper purchase/consumption 0 1 0 0 0
edit album art 1 1 1 0 0
plays music 1 1 1 1 0
plays video files 1 1 1 0 1
auto playlists (based on criteria) 0 1 1 0 0
advanced metadata editing (sub-genre, language, BPM, etc) 0 0 1 0 0
rip CD to hard drive 1 1 1 0 0
displays correct metadata for song if it isn’t matched in a central database 1 1 1 0 0
Option to turn on/off ‘retrieve additional information from the internet’ and choose ‘only add missing’ or ‘overwrite all’ – ‘media information’ 1 0 1 0 0
visualizations with album art or artist art 1 1 0 0 0
social integration – see friends’ plays 1 0 0 0 0
social integration – post to facebook 0 0 0 1 1
social integration – post a playlist, song, artist, or album to your or friend’s wall/twitter 0 0 0 0 0
wireless streaming to mobile device 0 1 0 1 1
Streaming Radio 0 1 0 1 0
Ratings for Music (Stars, hearts, likes) 1 1 1 0 0
Playlists based on Ratings 1 1 1 0 0
Equalizer built-in to the app 1 1 0 0 0
DVD Playback 1 1 1 0 0
Blu-Ray playback 0 0 0 0 0
Browse Music by Genre 1 1 1 0 0
Achievements/Badges for listening/watching to content 1 0 0 0 0
Follow/subscribe to artists to get updated when a new album is out 0 0 0 0 0
Download Manager 1 1 0 0 0
Keyboard shortcuts to different sections of the app (using WinKey or Cmd) 0 1 0 0 0
Browse Music by Artist, Album, Song, Genre, and Playlists 1 1 1 0 0
Mini-Player 1 1 1 0 0
History of what you’ve browsed in the Store 0 1 0 0 0
Synchronized Lyrics 0 0 0 0 0
Add multiple items to a playlist at once 1 1 1 0 0
Total 33 41 19 6 4

For some reason, X-Box Music doesn’t know how to let you browse by genre.  It seems Microsoft forgot how to do this two years ago and still can’t figure this out.  Many people listen to audiobooks in the car, and for that, iTunes is the only game in town.  Zune couldn’t do it natively for some reason, and X-Box Music/Video inherits this limitation.

Interactive Live Tiles may solve the lack of mini-player, but hopefully XBM will do this in an attractive way, and not in a gray/green way.

As far as features go, you can see clearly that the winner is iTunes, then Zune, Windows Media Player, and bringing up the rear is X-Box Music/Video.  It’s been two years.  What is Microsoft doing with its time?  Who’s in charge?  And why are they seemingly wasting time re-writing the app again and again?  It it that difficult to write an app that doesn’t lose features from a past to a successive generation?

Looking at the chart above, the question then becomes: why should anyone use X-Box Music/Video over iTunes?  Why use four apps when one single app can do everything?

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Kickstarter Idea: Zune Media Center

I have an idea that I would like to put out there.  I see dozens of ideas and requests concerning X-Box Music and X-Box Video and there’s even a user voice site for X-Box Music and X-Box Video.  It seems there are quite a few people who are not happy with the current state of Microsoft’s first party software and their inexplicable decision to split Zune into X-Box Music, X-Box Video, Podcasts, Radio, and Windows Phone Synch.  Following that decision, dozens of features – auto playlists, wireless synch, gapless playback among them – have yet to be put back into Microsoft’s software.

Based on the current state of affairs, I have come to the conclusion that we need to take matters into our own hands, since Microsoft is either unable, or unwilling, to create a first-rate media management, purchase, and synchronization program for their own operating systems.  I propose a kickstarter campaign to raise funds to program a media management program that will solve our problems for us.

My proposed set of features:

Media:  The program will play mp3, mp4, avi, wmv, wma, mpg, and mkv with multi-audio and multi-subtitle support.  It will also display pictures.

Universal app: same code-base, but with different interface for the metro/desktop and phone.  Buy once and have it available for any device.

Subtitle support: embedded and *.srt file support on desktop/metro environment

Multi-lingual: you can change the interface language from English, French, Spanish, German, and any other language that we get supported translations.  Also change the subtitle or audio track (if available) on the fly.

Metadata Editing: allow basic editing and advanced editing of metadata.  For example, in Zune, we could edit both mp3 and video metadata:

Basic metadata editor available in Zune Desktop software.  The most important information can be edited here.

Basic metadata editor available in Zune Desktop software. The most important information can be edited here.

I would propose that in my Kickstarter, we would also add an ‘Advanced’ button to get the same mp3 metadata editing that we could in Windows XP’s advanced metadata editor.

It's in French, but you can tell there is much more here to edit: mood, language, subgenre, country, and more.  This should be available behind an advanced button on Zune 2014.

It’s in French, but you can tell there is much more here to edit: mood, language, subgenre, country, and more. This should be available behind an advanced button on Zune 2014.

Search: filter as you type search, so that as you complete your search term, it filters down results.  When you press enter, you get search results similar to how they were displayed in Zune.  If you have subtitles for a TV show / movie on your computer, then it will search those subtitles for matching text, so you can find that one TV show where that one guy said that thing…now you can find it.

Interface: On the Metro/desktop, show Home, Music, TV, Movies, Audiobooks, Podcasts, Pictures, Social, Synch.  Home would give you the overview of everything: newest media; what your friends have been watching/listening to, and what’s popular on X-Box Music.  Clicking on any pivot takes you to that pivot’s home screen.  You can click collection to view your collection at any time to see just your videos or just your music, and if you wish, you could disable the X-Box Music or the video home screens if you just want to go to your collection.  In Music, for example, you could browse the X-Box marketplace, or view your collection.  View your collection, and you get pivots to the top right (like Zune) for album, artist, playlist, genre, and songs to view your collection how you want to view it.  In TV, you view the collection, and get pivots top right for title, genre, year, airdate, rating, cast+crew, and studio.

TV Shows: view your movies by DVD cover by title, genre, year, date, rating, cast+crew, or studio.  They would be arranged by series (unlike Zune which shows series grouped by season, showing you Star Trek: Season 1, then Star Trek: Season 2, making scrolling take a long time), then when you open the series, you see the seasons and episodes within.  To the left, on the screen you’d see TV show banners for your other series so you can switch between them quickly.

Movies: view your movies by DVD cover by title, genre, year, date, rating, cast+crew, or studio.  Scrolling is vertical to get through movies; swipe left/right to change pivots.  There would be letters for jumplists to the left.

Music Videos: view your music videos by title, artist, or date released.

Audiobooks/Podcasts: Simply by using the genre tag on the mp3 file, you could mark your files as audiobooks or podcasts, and have them act as such.  If it’s possible to program, I’d include subscribing via URL to podcasts and searching a podcast database.

Playlists: Imagine a playlist of music videos you could play on your TV while you have a party with friends, for background.  Or a movie playlist (say, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Star Wars, or the Marvel movies) that would save your position, and you could resume any time you want.  Or a TV show playlist that lets you view several various TV series in one coherent order (such as Buffy / Angel, or  Star Trek: TNG, DS9, and Voyager, or dozens of other examples).  You could even share the playlist with friends (it wouldn’t share the files themselves for videos, but you could give them the playlist nonetheless).  All playlists are saved to OneDrive to be available on any device you use that has this program.  I would have auto-playlists for music (which you could hide or use pivots to hide) based on heart/broken hearts, top played, least played; custom auto-playlists (all songs in genre country less than 4 minutes, in a playlist not to exceed 60 minutes, for example) like Windows Media Player.  I don’t know if I can create Channels, but if possible, I will try putting it in there.

Remote Controls: Accept input from Media Center remote controls, as well as Windows Phones acting as remote controls.

Social: share music with your friends: playlists, albums, artists, songs, so you can help friends find new stuff to listen to.  Share it to Facebook.  Share your entire collection with friends.  Like/favorite friends’ TV shows, movies, or music if they share their collection with you.  See your friends’ top artists, most recently played music, just like we could on Zune.  See for any TV show how many friends watched it, liked it, favorited it, or commented on it.  Ditto for movies, and artists.  So you can see how many people are watching/listening to something and see what they’re saying.  A stretch goal would be to put a social map and see who’s listening where, and what’s hot in your state/country or in another state/province in another country, similar to what Microsoft showed off in one of their ‘house of the future’ videos.

Live Tiles: pin any playlist to your start screen to instantly start that music playlist.  Pin a video playlist or audiobook to resume it from last played position.  Pin an artist and get a live tile notification of a new album release.  Pin TV shows, movies, music videos, artists, albums, audiobooks, and podcasts to your start screen.  Pin friends’ Zune cards to your start screen and they’ll flip to see what they’ve been listening to, recent likes/favorites, etc.

Tags: this would require a server, most likely, but have tags on videos like Netflix, so you could search ‘goofy movies’ and come up with Airplane, Kung Pow! and movies like that, or ‘scary’ and get House on Haunted Hill and Ghost Ship.  It might require integrating with the Movie Database in addition to the TV Database to get this implemented.

Multiple profiles: if you and your wife/husband/significant other/siblings/children would like to use one program, maybe you have different tastes.  Log in with your Microsoft account and see only your stuff.

Parental Controls: set your kids to be able to access only certain parts of the program and only certain content within those parts.  Do so by rating (G, PG, etc.) or by specific artists/albums.

Statistics: see what you’ve watched, how much of your collection is TV/Movies, how much is sci-fi, western, drama, etc, how much music comes from which decade, etc.

Badges: Earn badges by listening to music, like on Zune.  Also earn badges by sharing with friends, and by completing TV seasons and series, finishing a video playlist, etc.

Views: Full screen, show similar to Zune with pivots atop the program.  1/3 screen view would be similar to Zune HD’s interface for simplicity’s sake.  The phone version would look like this.  The exact specifics of how the program would look would be in the air, but it would be in the appropriate Metro style, and avoid the stark gray Soviet style that X-Box Music/Video seems to favor nowadays.

Pictures: View pictures by date taken, person tag, place tag, or collection (user-defined, such as ‘London vacation’).  When you choose place tag, you view the pictures on a Bing map, similar to Facebook’s ‘places.’  You can zoom in and see your pictures on the map, and place them on the map by adding untagged pictures.  When you choose people, you see your friends’ pictures organized alphabetically by friend, then by date taken.  When you choose collection, you see it by folder, or by your user-created collection for vacations.

Now, my question to you is: would you fund such a program?

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Windows Phone 8.1 Brings Unwelcome Changes

If you have installed the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview, you have likely been enjoying the use of Cortana, and possible the notification center at the top, along with other new features so that you can write new apps in time for the public release of the OS.  Unfortunately, in giving new features, it seems that Microsoft also takes away, and in quite a few big ways.  Here are the ones I have noticed so far.  I have also made the titles of each section hyperlinks to User Voice feature requests so you can vote to restore these features taken away.  Please do vote on as many as you can so that we can restore lost features to the OS, if you agree with the loss being a bad thing to you.

Bing Scrapbook

This was broken in the move to Windows Phone 8, but you can still go to Bing Scrapbook now to see what it was.  It collated all your checkins, comments on those, and check-in pictures on a map, so you could see where you’ve been. It was a great little feature, and should absolutely be restored to Windows Phone 8.

I propose the following: Restore Bing Scrapbook, allow any app to plug-in to it (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, FourSquare, etc.), and allow you to check off states, cities, and countries you’ve visited, and give you little badges for completing a country (visiting every state/province) or a certain number of cities, or iconic places in a country (Statue of Liberty, Brandenburg Gate, Notre Dame, etc), and more that I listed on the proposal.

Camera

In Windows Phone 8.1, the Camera Roll is now restricted to a very tiny, obscure button in the top left.  You can’t really tell what that’s supposed to be, since there’s no longer any visual cue to the left.

In Windows Phone 7, we saw the edge of the last picture taken, which swiped left in such a way that we knew by taking a picture to swipe left to find that last picture.

Look at the left-hand edge.  The last picture peeked out from the edge, so you knew, even if you missed the swipe left of the picture, that was where your last picture was.

Look at the left-hand edge. The last picture peeked out from the edge, so you knew, even if you missed the swipe left of the picture, that was where your last picture was.

In Windows Phone 8.1, we see this:

Look to the left of the camera.  You can't tell if/which of those 5 icons takes you back to your camera roll, or if you're a new user, that you can even swipe from the left to get back to your camera roll.

Look to the left of the camera. You can’t tell if/which of those 5 icons takes you back to your camera roll, or if you’re a new user, that you can even swipe from the left to get back to your camera roll.

I like the icons, but leave the last picture poking out from the left-hand edge so that we have a visual cue that’s where the last picture was.  That also frees up one of five edge-icons for something else.  The final change I would add to the new Camera interface, which for the most part I like, is to add small text subtitles for the five icons.  They’re new, and I don’t know what they are.  Little subtitles would be a big help for me, and no doubt millions of existing and new users.

Cortana

This is beta software, and it says as much in there, but there are a few things I could say here to improve that could fall in the scope of this post.  Cortana should be rolled out to all visually supported languages as quickly as possible, and in the short-term, to all English-speaking countries, then French/Spanish-speaking countries, then on from there.  Siri is only available in 17 languages.  Windows Phone supports about 60 languages as of 8.1.  Imagine Cortana being available in all of them.

Bing Vision, Music Search, and Local Scout, as mentioned below, where taken out of Bing Search when Cortana replaced that.  It would be a very simple change to put those icons back in, as those are all incredibly useful features that are now needlessly hidden.

I will post later in more detail which features I believe Cortana should add to become more useful for me, but the short version of that is: Cortana should return fact-based searches with answers, not web searches, including Wolfram Alpha information for math and other basic facts; it should track Tv/Movie purchases to give me picks or suggestions on what to watch; it should give movie times and offer to purchase tickets; it should control my media applications; it should replace the generated voice in HERE Drive.  I’m sure others will come up with more, as will I later this week.

Games

Currently, games are unceremoniously dumped in your apps list.  There’s no reason for this, and you can’t change any setting to stop this.  I and many others would like this corrected, or at the very least, an option to stop it.

The list of recent games is removed, as Paul Acevedo has noted on WP Central, and I agree with him that it should be restored.

Internet Explorer

In Internet Explorer, we get a new in-line video playing experience.  The only problem here is, if you view the video, and maximize, the IE address bar is always over the video on sites other than Youtube.  And you can still scroll up/down on the page.  Really?  Now, in Windows Phone 8.1, we have no ability to control the video at all because there are no play controls.  In Youtube, you can watch videos in-line, which is nice, but the window keeps jerking the page left if you view it in Desktop mode.  If you view it in Mobile, you still do not get any play controls, and still see the address bar over the video.  What is this?

Secondly, if you try to open a link to a picture, IE will now take you back to the root of the website, instead of opening the picture.  Why was this even changed?  This looks like a bug more than anything.

Third, open Internet Explorer and highlight the address in the address bar.  Notice anything missing?  The copy circle icon is gone.  You have to tap the URL again to get it to show.  This is different from IE10 in Windows Phone 8.  With this change, do you not think that technically challenged people, or people new to Windows Phone, will believe WP8.1 took away copy/paste, or made it more difficult?  This is another unnecessary change.  It doesn’t do this in Word on the phone, so why here?

Fourth – sharing websites.  Everyone does this.  Everyone shares links to Facebook.  But the result in Windows Phone 8.1 is horrid looking.  It’s a bare URL.  And if you delete that URL and replace it with a comment, you get: your comment.  Even Windows 8 lets us choose a picture from the article, write a comment, and in FB it displays the article title, the first few lines, and our comment as we expect to do from within the FB website itself.  We could do that from our built-in Facebook integration in Windows Phone 7/8 (minus choosing the picture from the article).  I would propose that this form of integration be restored as well.  This just looks bad.  How do you expect me to convince an Android or iPhone user to switch when this is how the phone works on something so basic as posting a website to Facebook?

Fifth – restore the old cursor. The new cursor does not move as responsively and it’s very very easily missed when looking on the screen.  If you try it out, you’ll see what I mean.  The old I-bar cursor was a huge improvement over this supposedly improved cursor.

Me Tile

In Windows Phone 7/8, there was a Me Tile where you could post updates to Facebook and Twitter at the same time, see your notifications from every social network in the next pivot.  Twitter is still integrated, but Facebook now requires a separate app to comment/like what’s showing up on your wall.

My proposal is simple: Restore the notifications to show up in your notifications pivot.  For those who like it, they can use it.  For those who asked for a notification center (to gather all other missed notifications), they can keep that too.  The Facebook integration should be restored also, so I never have to open the Facebook app to make any status updates, comments, post pictures, check-in, or like statuses.

Messaging Hub

In Windows Phone 7/8, the messaging hub was your one-place to conduct all your conversations, whether they be SMS, Messenger, Facebook, or anywhere else.  In Windows Phone 8.1, Facebook messaging was removed in favor of a separate app.  This flies in the face of everything that is at the core of what Windows Phone is intended to do – be less focused on apps, and more focused on experiences.

My request here is incredibly simple: restore the Facebook Messaging integration.  Aside from that, make any other messaging app very easily able to plug in to the Messaging hub so I don’t ever have to open a separate app to message a friend on Facebook, Twitter, IM, Skype, or whatever else comes down the road.  All the hub needs to do is reply to the friend (by default) in the same manner as his/her last message came to me.

People Hub

In Windows Phone 8.0, Facebook and Twitter were completely integrated into the OS at a deep level.  If you tapped the number box in the upper right corner, you were taken to an in-OS page showing the entire social update from your friends, and you could like or comment on that.

Windows Phone 8.1 removed that integration and made you now need a Facebook App to access the functionality that we lost.  This is ridiculous, and removes a selling point of Windows Phone – that you don’t need apps to do things, the phone itself was focused on experiences and making things as simple as possible.

My proposal is simple: restore the Facebook / Twitter integration in the People Hub so you don’t ever have to install the Facebook application to comment/like your friends’ social updates, and you would even be able to like/comment on comments to the original comment, just like you can in Facebook today.  This isn’t asking much.

My second noticed change was the removal of Recent from the People Hub.  In Windows Phone 7/8 we had this:

In Windows Phone 7/8 we had Recent, which showed the last 8 people we contacted.

In Windows Phone 7/8 we had Recent, which showed the last 8 people we contacted.

In Windows Phone 8, we did have this:

In Windows Phone 8, we gained groups/rooms, and Recent became a column, which is a bit more useful.

In Windows Phone 8, we gained groups/rooms, and Recent became a column, which is a bit more useful.

Now we have this:

Do you notice anything missing?  Recent is gone here.

Do you notice anything missing? Recent is gone here.

All I’m asking for is to have the Recent list restored.  Is that difficult?  No.

The second unwelcome change here is the removal of the Pictures pivot from your contacts and groups.  In Windows Phone 7/8, you had a pivot to see your contact’s online pictures from Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.  In Windows Phone 8.1, this was removed, possibly in favor of a supposedly upgraded Facebook app experience.  I do not want to enter an app for this.  I just want to view them as I always did from within the OS.  You have multiple GDR releases in a year to update this feature, so saying that removing it in favor of the app doesn’t hold up.

We used to have this pivot:

In Windows Phone 7/8, we could see pictures within the OS, without opening an app, in their own pivot.  Integrated, simple.

In Windows Phone 7/8, we could see pictures within the OS, without opening an app, in their own pivot. Integrated, simple.

Phone App

The Phone app has lost some functionality, even though it gained the smart dialing.  When you look at history, you see a collapsed list of contacts, so I would see “Amanda (3)” if she called thrice in one day, rather than 3 Amandas.  I then have to tap+hold and click Details to see when she called.  If I simply tap, I call her back.

My proposal here is easy: either have tap on a collapsed contact be to expand it out, or add an icon to expand it out.  Then, add the option in the phone app so we can either show collapsed, or never combine multiple calls from one contact.  Show duration of all calls in the phone history.  Continue to show incoming, outgoing, and missed as 3 separate pivots.  Add a setting so that Phone goes directly to the dialer instead of history.  Older, less technically-savvy people don’t understand that it takes 2 taps to dial someone.  I don’t think it needs to take 2 taps when it could take 1.  And finally, Add T-9 dialing, which was present in Windows Mobile, so that if I tap 533, it shows all phone numbers containing that sequence, and all people’s names you could form out of that, which would include any Jeff’s on your phone.

 

Photo Hub

The Photo Hub has been removed, and it’s now a simple photo viewer.  In Windows Phone 8, you had a photo hub with a pane for your collection (camera roll, collection (including Twitter/Facebook albums, visible right there), dates, and people; next was a list of favorites, then a What’s New giving you your social feeds’ pictures, where you could comment/like from within the OS, and finally, a list of photo-editing apps available in your phone.  The entire Hub had a background based on a recent picture, or you could set one manually.

The new Photo app is a very stark, simple pivot-based app that shows all, albums, favorites.  You can tap on dates, to get monthly bar-based jump lists.  It’s stark, not attractive at all, and bad for demonstrating the integration-friendliness of Windows Phone.  go to albums, and you have now links to Facebook and OneDrive, rather than listing all your albums right there.  The integration is gone.  Now, it’s app-centric – just like iOS and Android.  What differentiated Windows Phone was the integration, which is gone now.

My feature request is to put back the old Photo Hub, plain and simple.  The only change from the old Photo Hub I would like is an additional item in the collection pane: Places.  Since we have geotagged pictures, we should be able to view our pictures by place, so that if I went to Paris last month, and New York this month, and back home to Atlanta, I should be able to tap ‘Places’ and see: Paris, New York, and Atlanta, with little thumbnails showing that there are pictures in there.  Tap on the name of the city or the mini-thumbnails (see Zune HD for the right size of these mini-thumbnails).  Like the Photo Hub was intended to be, so should it be – the ONE place where all your pictures are located and accessible – Facebook, Camera Roll, OneDrive, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, whatever. Not the ‘whack-a-mole’ one app for every single thing you want to do, like iOS and Android do now.

Compare this:

Notice here you saw all your pictures, favorites, what's new from Facebook/Twitter, and your picture apps.

Notice here you saw all your pictures, favorites, what’s new from Facebook/Twitter, and your picture apps.

The original photo Hub, with social integration

The original photo Hub, with social integration

To this:

Photo App in 8.1, compared to 8.0. No integration whatsoever.

Photo App in 8.1, compared to 8.0. No integration whatsoever.

On the left, that’s all you get.  A sad removal of features.  If you have an extra vote, this request is also for restoration of the panoramic interface.  Why was this changed?  I can’t see a reason to remove this great feature.  It just makes the purpose of Windows Phone – integrated experiences, regardless of app – less prominent.

Search

In Windows Phone 8, Bing Search had 3 buttons: Bing Vison to scan QR codes and translate, Bing Music Search to find music you are listening to, and Local Scout to find stuff nearby.  In the move to Cortana, all but Bing Music have been removed.  Also, the enhanced Bing search panorama was removed.

We had this:

Panoramic Experience we had in Windows Phone 8 which is gone in WP 8.1

Panoramic Experience we had in Windows Phone 8 which is gone in WP 8.1

Where is all this in Windows Phone 8.1?  Even if you disable Cortana, this is gone.  I propose to restore this, either by:

1. Restore search tap to search the app you’re in; make tap+hold Bing Search; make Start tap+hold Cortana

2. Restore search to Bing Search; make search tap+hold Cortana.  In this version, the microphone icon in Bing Search brings up Cortana for dictation.

Another thing I’ve noticed: try rotating the screen on Bing search results.  You can’t.  It’s always portrait mode.

Store

In Windows Phone, we used to have a start page like this:

The old start page gave a clear indication of updates/downloads.  What do we have now? Just a little number.

The old start page gave a clear indication of updates/downloads. What do we have now? Just a little number.

This version of the store had a clear indication of which updates we had, and which downloads were being downloaded.  For the new 8.1 store:

The 8.1 Store.  No built-in indication other than a little tiny number of any updates, in the top right.  I didn't even notice it when I first opened it.

The 8.1 Store. No built-in indication other than a little tiny number of any updates, in the top right. I didn’t even notice it when I first opened it.

I had utterly no idea where the updates were, and no idea how to see which downloads were in progress.  All we get now is a little tiny number in the top right of the screen that there are updates.  Downloads is relegated to a menu option in the app bar.  Why?  It only makes it harder to get to updates and downloads.  Just put the old home page back and leave it be.

Another bit here that was oddly done is the list of my apps.  Open the store, then click the ellipsis at the bottom, and click My Apps.  There is no sorting there that I can see.  It’s a jumble of apps and there’s no way to get to a specific app without scrolling through over 600 apps.  Why should I be forced to do that?

My proposal here is very simple: sort it alphabetically with jump list letters, and make it resortable by date installed and date purchased as options.  Everyone’s happy.

Twitter

I don’t have access to the Twitter Beta, since it was pulled, but almost every single time I post to any social network, I change my phone to landscape so I can bet the bigger on-screen keyboard.  It’s just more comfortable to use.  I’m sure I’m not alone here.  But the current Twitter app doesn’t allow switching to landscape when tweeting, and it should.

Volume Control

A number of users have requested separate media and ringer volume controls, which was implemented in Windows Phone 8.1.  Unfortunately, this implementation isn’t very intelligently thought out.  If you’re listening to music and click volume up or down in any other app, it has shown ringer up/down instead of media up/down.

My request is simple: add a setting to restore the unified volume control if you want it.  Some prefer that, others don’t.

X-Box Music

I cannot overstate how much I despise the new X-Box Music App.  How long must Windows Phone users put up with losing features with each OS update?  Cloud Synch and Playlist Creation isn’t worth losing the Music+Video (or better, Zune) Hub.  It simply isn’t.

I do not look at music, videos, and podcasts as 3 separate things.  I think: Media.  So I think: go to Zune (or Music+Videos).

We used to have this:

 

This is what we started with. Play button next to Music so we know 'if I tap that button, it plays music,' and it can play all my media in one place.

This is what we started with. Play button next to Music so we know ‘if I tap that button, it plays music,’ and it can play all my media in one place.  Even our media apps were listed here.

Unified place for all media - music, videos, and podcasts. Artist Backgrounds when playing.

Unified place for all media – music, videos, and podcasts. Artist Backgrounds when playing.

Now we have this:

Only Music in the music app.  Why the focus on apps? Hubs make WP unique.

Only Music in the music app. Why the focus on apps? Hubs make WP unique.

How can this be better to separate out my media into multiple apps?  That’s ape-ing the iOS/Android model of apps, apps, apps.

My proposal is easy: restore the Music+Videos Hub, get rid of X-Box Music.  Keep playlist creation.  Restore FM Radio functionality, and rename ‘radio’ to Smart DJ.  Add in the ability to view audiobooks just by tagging genre as ‘audiobook’, and podcasts simply by tagging  the genre as ‘podcast’.  Please, Microsoft, take a look at any Zune HD you might have lying around, and look at that interface.  That was the best media interface you’ve had in the last 5 years.  It had little touches like a very vibrant screensaver, for when playing music

In Music+Videos (Zune), I would rather see:

Music (with play icon to play a shuffled playlist of all music)
Video
Podcasts (any mp3s tagged by genre ‘podcast’.  You could also make playlists of podcasts if you wish)
Audiobooks (any mp3s tagged by genre ‘audiobook’ and organized by the subgenre tag herein, like ‘drama,’ ‘science fiction,’ ‘history,’ etc.)
Social
FM Radio
Smart DJ
Picks
Store

In the next pivot right, show New Albums; then History; then What’s New? to show what friends are listening to, watching, or sharing on FB/TW; then Apps that are related to music and videos (Spotify, Netflix, etc.).

Currently, Now Playing is a pivot within the panorama.  We lose the ability to swipe to change tracks, which every other platform has, and was a very delightful feature.  My proposal here is simply to restore Now Playing to its own screen again so we can swipe to change tracks, acting just like in the Music+Videos hub.

I would like to see the Heart Icon restored so that it can be used in Picks and with Cortana integration as well, so that if you ‘heart’ a movie, Cortana will let you know if there’s a sequel coming to theaters, blu-ray, or X-Box Video; likewise, if you ‘heart’ a band, Cortana will notify you if there’s a new album by the band for you to download.

I have detailed numerous times in numerous places online my frustrations with X-Box Music and X-Box Video, and what I think should be done to fix that situation.  Lastly, for those using Windows 7 still, I would ask that the Zune app be used for Phone Synch and backup, and app searching, and likewise in Windows 8.  The standalone Windows Phone app is actually incredibly poor in comparison to a person used to using iTunes.  How do you expect someone to move to Windows Phone when the experience has been broken more and more since 2010?

I also propose adding back Zune Social (or just Social), and put it on your Contact Cards to see what people are viewing/listening to, be they albums, artists, playlists, songs, TV, or movies.  We should be able to post our Now Playing to FB like we could on Zune HD’s Facebook with the little Zune button as well, which shows album art, and links back to X-Box Music so friends can listen/buy/download that song.  I should be able to, from now playing, just tap ‘share’ and share to FB/TW at the same time the album art, Song title, album title, and artist, so that if someone clicks on that from FB/TW, they go into X-Box Music to listen/buy that.  Reasonable, right?  Likewise, I should be able to tap+hold and share a playlist to FB, or an album, or an artist.

We also lost Wireless Synch from Zune, and never got that back.  My music is on my computer, and Zune played seldom known tracks like Innocent, by Bond, or Girl From Ipanema Goes to Greenland (Extended Mix) by the B-52’s just fine.  X-Box Music refuses to synchronize those, and when it tried to play them on the computer, it played the original track on the original album for my remixes.  Zune didn’t do that.  XBM also takes a really long time to resume and redisplay after using Jumplists.  Zune didn’t do that.  XBM should simply upload unmatched albums to OneDrive for cloud collections, at no hit to my storage space.

Finally, many people would like a graphic equalizer.  My old Creative Zen 32GB from 2007/8 had this even.  It is in there, if you know where to look: Settings > Audio > Equalizer.  Why not add this in X-Box Music as a button on the App Bar in Now Playing?

X-Box Video

Similarly to X-Box Music, the best thing is to scrap XBV and move back to Zune/Music+Videos hub.  XBV is nice that it shows me past purchased videos for streaming, but the app is just bare, stripped down, and boring.  That’s not why I bought into Windows Phone.

My proposal, like for X-Box Music, is to scrap the separate app, and fold it back into the Music+Videos Hub.  In the category ‘Store’ that I proposed, have pivots for TV, Movies, Podcasts, Audiobooks ONLY.  There you can purchase any new movies/TV shows.

I’ve cataloged my frustrations with XBM/XBV/Windows Phone Synch, and what I think should be done to fix it.

New Features

Windows Phone is also about new features in 8.1, and some seem partially implemented, unfortunately.

The Notification Center has no way to dismiss notifications individually.  You can only dismiss an entire group at once.  This should certainly be added in.

Games now appear in your app list, cluttering it up.  At the very least, give us the option either to show games in the app list, or to show only in the Games App.  I personally don’t want several dozen games showing in my app list.

A great new feature is the graphic equalizer, as Paul Thurrott mentions in his post.  I would propose adding an equalizer button in X-Box Music at the bottom of Now Playing, so you can set it easily and get back to your music in 1 press of the back button.

There is promised Cortana integration coming soon for XBM/XBV, but I had a few ideas for other areas of integration:

Have you found any new features you believe are half-implemented?  Or have some features you wish hadn’t been removed?

Check out these three users’ User Voice suggestions (first, second, third) and vote for as many as you believe should be implemented.  Only by voting them up will Microsoft listen.

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