Windows 9 Wishlist: Setup, The Start Screen, Lock Screen, and the Desktop

Windows 9 is going to be coming in 2015, and it should be the “Windows 7” to Windows 8’s “Vista” moment.  This most recent version of Windows 8 has been slow to acceptance by many mainstream computer users, likely due to the very new and very different interface that you cannot avoid.  To help the process along, I will make a series of posts focusing on one specific area of Windows that I believe can and should be improved in the next version of Windows.  Hopefully, Microsoft will take some of these ideas to heart and implement them in the next version of Windows.

Setup

During Setup, Windows takes an inventory of which hardware you’re using, so it knows which drivers to install.  This is the time for Windows to present an option to the user: Desktop or Metro interface.

Concept of choice between Metro or Desktop

Concept of choice between Metro or Desktop

If it detects an actual keyboard, mouse, and no touchscreen, select ‘desktop’ by default.  If it detects a touch screen, select ‘Metro’ by default.  But in either case, note on the screen that you can change this in settings later, perhaps under “Default Windows Experience” somewhere in Control Panel (and yes, rename ‘Settings’ back to ‘Control Panel.’  I like continuity.).

Later, when you’re using Windows, you can press Start, Control Panel, Interface, and select “use Metro interface as default” or “use Desktop interface as default.”  Either way, if you choose one, you do not see the other at all.  Say you choose desktop.  If you press Start, the Start Menu appears as it always has.  No change.  With that, you make this computer immediately usable to the millions of computer users, several hundred of which I provide technical support to, who are incredibly technically illiterate.

Start Screen

The proposed update for Windows 8.1 Update 1’s start screen:

New Windows 8.1 Update 1 start screen. A bit cluttered with two new charms on the screen.

New Windows 8.1 Update 1 start screen. A bit cluttered with two new charms on the screen.

This is the proposed screen.  I have a different proposal:

How easy is this?  You have the date, time, day of the week, as well as the sleep, shut down, and restart options, all right there within 2 taps.

How easy is this? You have the date, time, day of the week, as well as the sleep, shut down, and restart options, all right there within 2 taps.

Pardon the crudeness of my diagram, as Doc Brown would say.  You don’t need a new power charm.  Just use the account picture, which currently gives you 3 options: change account picture, lock, and sign out.  I would add the Power Options there: Sleep, Shut Down, Restart.  This answers the very common complaint of the Power options being hidden and people not knowing how to shut down their new Windows 8 computer via the start screen.  If you want, add the normal icons for this in Metro style too (download this, it’s in the Other folder).

To improve the user’s control over Metro, I would allow the user to tap/hold sleep, shut down, and restart and pin those to Start also so you then only need one tap (with a confirm screen to guard against accidental presses).

As for my additions to the Metro start screen, I add battery, wifi signal strength, the time, and date.  This way you don’t need to constantly swipe in from the right to get that information.  It would be available at-a-glance. The iPad already does this.  Tap the battery icon to see the current Power Plan on your tablet/laptop and change if you wish, or open the Control Panel to change settings.  Tap the Wi-Fi icon to change the network you’re on, or turn off wifi.

Those are functional, useful additions for users, which are very easy to add.  The final functional improvement here would be to make the top edge of the screen the swipe-down for the notification center (like swipe up gives the All Apps screen).  That’s the only start screen edge that’s unused where this could easily be added.  Such a notification center would not need to hold quick settings in Windows 8, since the right-side already has the settings charm.

This notification center would include actionable notifications so you can see if you missed anything, or dismiss en masse, and be snappable so you can keep working while notifications come in.

Edit: Regarding tiles from the Start Screen, currently you can have 2 small, then a medium tile.  But try putting a small tile, then a medium tile directly under it.  You can’t.  Windows leaves a blank small-tile-sized space between a small tile and medium tile.  On Windows Phone 8, you can put a small, then medium tile directly underneath it, no space.  I think it would be nice to have the same consistency in Windows 9.  Also, try placing two medium tiles directly underneath one another.  You can’t.  The system tries to put two medium tiles next to each other before it will let you put one underneath the first tile.  I believe Windows 9 should allow you to put a medium underneath a medium tile.  Lastly, if you pin favorites to the Start Screen, often times, they have no icon other than the Internet Explorer in a colored tile.  I then open the website, and the icon is present in the IE tab.  That looks a bit inconsistent.

Regarding Snap, currently, if you have a snapped app on one side, and you close the main app, it displays a blank screen on half the screen.  If you tap that half, the entire thing reverts to the start screen.  I would suggest that the start screen appear here instead of the blank so you can choose a new app or make the snapped app full screen.  The current behavior you can replicate on any machine, and it looks just plain odd.

For the background, I would add two things: DreamScene’s motion backgrounds in addition to more motion backgrounds like we have now, and parallaxing.

First, the motion backgrounds. I would add backgrounds like Vista had, with the waterfall, a star back ground, Earth from space, and so on.  Imagine having a starscape slowly evolving on the background, and when you swipe right, or down to the all-apps section, that it moves up, or moves left/right in parallax with your movement.  THAT would be amazing.  The Zune HD had parallax, and the new iOS7 has parallax, meaning, that if you were to shift the device left or right, up or down, the icons/text appear to float above the background, giving it a three-dimensional appearance.  Not functional, sure, but it would be great eye-candy.  We already have simple motion backgrounds like the ‘fire dragon’ background, which rotates from top-right to bottom left as you scroll right.  Imagine a real Dreamscene that scrolls right, or something like the parallax multi-level backgrounds we saw in Super Nintendo games like Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country.  Something like Android has now.

And if we added a swipe-down notification center, wouldn’t it be great to see a three-level background that shifts when you go up or down, and swipe left/right?  Imagine a meadow with flowing grass, a cloud scene above with actual rolling clouds, and swipe down to see an underground scene.

Remember the fish tank screensaver that looked realistic?  Imagine that, where the fish react to the tiles moving.  Or a pond background, where the tiles appear to make the water ripple, and when you slide the tiles back and forth, or move the mouse pointer around the screen, the water sloshes about. Or even a city-scape where the skyscrapers move as you scroll left to right.  Not useful, but nice eye candy.

A final now on parallax and moving backgrounds.  I use Image Composite Editor from Microsoft to make large panoramas.  I mean images that are 10445×2247 pixels.  Serious panoramas.  What I would really enjoy seeing: a background that scrolls along with your start screen.  Android has had this since the G1 in 2008.  Add this in Windows 8.

Lock Screen

From the Lock Screen, I would propose something similar to iOS’s innovation in this, adding pivots to the lock screen.  Swipe from the left, get a calendar and task screen.  Swipe from the right, get notifications which are actionable.  And, in keeping with the Start Screen advanced background, when you swipe, the background moves with parallax (imagine that, but with the stars moving as you scroll left, right, up, or down).

Desktop

My concept for Windows 9 would have the existing Windows 8 desktop, but two important changes and a few small ones: restore the Windows 7 Start Menu, Show Desktop button, and Aero glass interface to start.

If you choose “Desktop” as your interface, or it detects you have a keyboard and mouse, it will ask if you want to switch to the desktop (which you can dismiss this time or permanently).  On the desktop, press the Start button.  You get the Start Menu.  That’s it. You NEVER see the start screen again unless you activate it again.  If you have any Metro apps installed, they will also appear in your Start Menu, you can pin them to the taskbar, they can be windowed, and have jumplists.  Their Live Tile functionality is disabled, necessarily by the desktop, but they’re usable.

I would also return widgets to the desktop, but have the widgets provided by your Live Tiles.  Have the Weather Live Tile on the desktop, acting as a widget, with the controls to the right as you see now in Windows 7.  So yes, Live Tiles are disabled, but still operate as Widgets.

On the taskbar, have multiple desktops available with a simple button with live preview before switching.  Separate desktops would have separate icons and backgrounds, as expected.  The Share Charm would be added in the right-click menu so you can share anything in the OS like you can now with the Metro interface, but from the desktop.  If I right-click, then Share, I should have an option to share a file via e-mail; if I right-click/share from IE’s address bar, it would have the option to share a URL to Facebook or Twitter.  This is a useful integration of the Social Networks into the desktop.

New Gestures

When on the desktop, there is no real active application.  I propose adding the ‘pinch’ gesture to maneuver amongst active desktop applications, giving us a similar Alt-Tab interface.  If you choose the Metro interface, this will also work for you as well.

Metro and the Desktop

There is evidence that the Metro apps will work in the desktop and can be pinned to the desktop, which is a good start.  I would propose, like this image below, to have windowed Metro Apps with maximize/exit buttons and the dotted right corner for resizing, like any other regular Windows application, if you choose to use the Desktop as the default environment.

Metro apps on the desktop with regular maximize and exit buttons.

Metro apps on the desktop with regular maximize and exit buttons.

The only other addition to this mockup I would make would be possibly a “Live Tile” button to revert the Metro App to a live tile widget on the desktop so that it stays open and notifying you, but out of the way.

Conclusion

This is the first in a series on Windows 9 and what it can do to improve on Windows 7 and 8.1 to make it a truly useful and desired upgrade from Windows 8.  There are plenty of new and great ideas to make the computer a great experience and still not leave any user behind.  Just don’t force an interface on someone when they don’t want the interface.  Leave a comment below if you see any features you would like to add to the desktop, start screen, or lock screen.

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Windows 8.2 – What I would like to see

Introduction

Windows 8 has been released in what they call a final state, but even with that, there are many things that can be changed and added to make this OS feel more finished and polished than it is right now.  I’ve been living with the OS for nearly 8 months, and I’m already feeling the pain, and missing Windows 7.  From what I’ve read of the upcoming Windows 8.1, it looks like it will ease this pain somewhat with some very sensible upgrades to the operating system.  Even with the named upgrades, I do believe that there are still a number of areas where it can be improved to achieve parity or move ahead of the competition.

Windows RT/8

If you’re using Windows 8 right now, the main screen that Microsoft wants us to use is the Start screen.  That’s nice, but there’s no date/time, battery, wireless/internet connection icon, or volume indicator, as we get on the Windows 7 desktop or for that matter, the Windows 8 desktop.  This shouldn’t be terribly difficult to add, and place right next to our account pictures.  That would add to the ‘glance-and-go’ ability of this OS, which is the direction Microsoft says they want to go, whereas now, I have to swipe the charms in to get the time/date overlay.

Current start screen, where you have to swipe in from the right to get the date/time, battery, and Wi-Fi indicators.

In addition, tapping the account menu and getting a ‘sleep’, ‘shut down’, and ‘restart’ option to show there in addition to what shows now, instead of hiding it in the charms > settings > power.  That would solve the complaint of power users. (Please excuse the poor MS Paint Copy/Paste job here):

How easy is this?  You have the date, time, day of the week, as well as the sleep, shut down, and restart options, all right there within 2 taps.

How easy is this? You have the date, time, day of the week, as well as the sleep, shut down, and restart options, all right there within 2 taps.

Paul Thurrott’s version of the account menu with multiple users for quick account switch as well.

Paul Thurrot mentioned another useful ability: to pin the start screen itself, while using the desktop.  This makes perfect sense, for power users and regular users.  We get our Live Tiles, while also being able to launch programs easily.

A useful feature would be to snap the start screen to one side while using the Desktop.

Mr. Thurrott also mentioned adding in-place tile folders similar to how iOS has folders that open and collapse in-place on iOS.  I would agree with this, as it could allow you to clean up clutter on the Start Screen, and organize a group of programs or even files together for easy access from here.  There was a concept of this a while back on YouTube, and I could imagine this working in a similar way.

Additionally, it would be great to add ‘Print’ to the app bars of Microsoft’s apps so I don’t have to swipe to charms > devices > printer > print > OK.  Twenty years of Windows have had a print button right there, one click.  Why do we suddenly need to swipe all over the place in the name of simplistic interfaces? Or better than 2 clicks, have it be a setting that the print button is either a 1-click print, print preview, or offers the choice.  Better than digging through a menu, right?

A simple addition of a print icon.

A simple addition of a print icon.

When on an app, and you have a 1/3 app and another app open 2/3 of the screen, swipe to full-screen the app.  You’ll see how it just snaps over.  It would look more fluid if the app pulled over to full screen, in a form of animation instead of just popping there.  Try it out and you’ll see what I mean.  Truthfully, a 1/2 screen view is more useful to me since I do quite a bit of document side-by-side.  This is something that is reported to be fixed in the new Windows 8.1, which is good to hear.  Does the transition look better?  And if you close a 2/3 app, does that part of the screen remain blank or will the start screen fill in that gap, or will the 1/3 app fill the entire screen?

Another useful tool from Windows Phone is voice control, either built-in or the Ask Ziggy app.  Reminiscent of the TellMe advertisement, this is something that should be built-in for Windows 8 so that it can recognize your commands by voice as well as touch.

When in any app provided from MS, I would like to have the option to pin the app bars onto the screen. Mr. Thurott suggests this as well, explaining that hiding these means that most apps hide important functionality.  I would say it makes the apps look either non-functional or broken, a mystery to people like my parents, and is easily fixed by adding a ‘pin’ button, or even better, pinning app bars to the screen permanently.

Just add ‘pin’ to all app bars, and have it turned on by default for all those currently using Windows 7 to be able to get used to the new system. If they decide, let them chose to unpin app bars.

Having to swipe all the time is irritating, and my parents, who are in their 60s, don’t understand why they can’t see the app bars, and now regret having bought new computers with Windows 8.  On Surface, closing applications is also a bit iffy.  It would be nice to have this behavior improved, and have a close button added to all apps.  I understand Microsoft wants you to drag the app down to close, but on a non-touchscreen that’s more mouse movement then simply clicking the X; if I could just tap the X to close an app rather than drag it down, that would be a big improvement in my eyes, and again, my parents don’t want to drag down an app when they can just click X to close on regular desktop apps.

A behavior that would help Surface and Windows 8 be more useful would be taken from Windows Phone 7/8.  In Windows Phone, you turn on the screen while listening to music, and playback controls are there on the Lock Screen.  That’s not currently the case for Windows 8/RT and would be an incredibly useful feature.

For any app I purchase, I would like the option to send feedback to the app’s author, above and beyond the ‘rate and review’ option already there.  That would be a great way to give feedback to the author for customer questions and feature requests.

For Surface itself, it needs GPS so we can make the Maps app more useful and geotag pictures, and make use of Local Scout.  In addition, a 5 MP or better rear camera and 1.2 or 2 MP front-facing camera would make it more useful for pictures.  NFC should be included on all future models as well.

One feature that still doesn’t exist is the ability to use my own wallpaper on the Start Screen.  This is being corrected in Windows 8.1, but there are a few add-ons to this that I would like to see.  I make large panoramas using Image Composite Editor (from Microsoft), so hopefully those images would be usable here.  What I would like to see in addition is a bit of eye-candy in relation to this.  We’ve seen the iOS7 parallax shifting, where if you tilt your device, the wallpaper seems to move slightly as the device does.  Zune HD did this as well, and I think it would be a very nice little touch to add to Windows 8.2 as well.  To go a step further, I would like to see parallax scrolling added on the background.  You saw this way back in Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country, where three or four layers of background were used to simulate motion on the screen, and I believe Microsoft could come up with some special backgrounds that could replicate this effect.

Motion backgrounds are apparently coming to the Start Screen, and I would hope to see the ability to create and add more, similar to what we had in Vista, with the pond and rippling water, and even some backgrounds like you can find on YouTube, both on the Start Screen, the desktop background, and the Lock screen.  The lock screen will apparently be some kind of photo collage, which is nice.  How about an image of a rippling pond?  Or take the motion images created in everyone’s Nokia Lumia devices and set those as backgrounds?

Something else pointed out in Paul Thurrott’s blog is the state of Play To with Windows 8, which is a sad thing to talk about.  I would have expected with Windows 8’s focus on simplicity and “just working” that I could just play to any device, or write a program to play to any device or have another Windows 8 computer play to mine.  That would make sense, so long as it’s a licensed copy of Windows 8, or a device that’s marketed as Play To.  Not so for Windows 8.  Microsoft has made it so only certified Play To devices work in Windows 8, and there’s apparently only 1 at the moment from Western Digital.  As a commenter on that post notes, this needs to change.  He posits the ability to simply attach network storage to your home network, and then have that show within Windows 8 as a source automatically based on type (music, video, etc), and even a Surface TV unit that would simply use Windows RT, and work with an eHome remote of any type (X-Box remote, WMC remote, etc.) to control media.  With such a device drawing from Network Attached Storage, you have a potentially limitless source of media for a Surface TV, as well as having a built-in tuner (OTA, CableCard and DLNA DTCP) for what could be a killer set-top box.  Whether such a thing happens is another story, but it would be amazing.

Internet Explorer Metro version

I continually find myself asking “where’s the print button? ” or “where is the favorites menu?” and “where is the history?” when using this.  I would like icons added to the address bar so I can access them more easily, not hidden in the settings menu where most users would not think to look.  In addition, the option to pin the address bar to the screen so I don’t have to continually swipe up to get to it would be great.  This confuses older people who are not technically-savvy, like my own father, who has taken to using my mother’s Windows 7 laptop because he can see the app bar in IE consistently, and it has a close button.

Additionally, how do I see what I’ve downloaded in the Metro interface?  I see no way to see my list of downloads, nor do I have the ability to see the progress of multiple downloads, or tap on them to open individually.  When a download finishes, I see “Your download has completed” but I can’t see which download completed.  Why?

Also, where are RSS feeds in this version of IE?  And why is there no built-in RSS App beyond the News app?

Another annoyance is web advertisements.  I muted the surface by pressing volume down until the display showed zero.  THEN, a web ad popped up at the original volume.  Why?  If I turned the system volume down, why do I still hear ads?

Animations in the OS as a whole and in apps

Take a second to view the Live Labs Pivot video.  When viewing information in Metro apps, wouldn’t this make sense as an animated way to view collections of data, such as books, magazines, comics, movies, TV shows, music, music videos, pictures, and especially tagged pictures of friends (by place, date, topic, and person)?  One person even used Pivot to sort/view his Facebook friends.  Why not add that into the official Facebook app, or to the Contacts/People app?

Apps go Pro

Mr. Thurott writes up an entire article on how Metro apps are currently simplistic and don’t offer much in the way of functionality, like the Photos app, which offers only viewing, and no simple editing functionality.  I would make a very easy and reasonable request of Microsoft: Anything a desktop app can do on Windows 7, the Metro app in Windows 8 should be able to do, and more.  The picture viewer can launch Windows Live Photo Gallery, where you can geotag, people tag, add regular tags (which aid in searching for those same pictures later), and do editing and cropping.  In Metro? Not a chance.

Every feature found in Windows Live’s series of Apps should be ported into the Metro apps.  That’s not a difficult idea to grasp, and is not an unreasonable request from regular users.  Just because I use a tablet doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to geotag a picture, add filters, crop & rotate, blog in Win-Live Writer, or edit movies using a simple timeline like Movie Maker used to have before its update (which still makes no sense).

Bing

The biggest omission so far is the lack of Local Scout.  This was surprising and is sorely missed from my Windows Phone.  How about Bing Vision?  And what about the new Bing Features added to Windows Phone 8, like movie times, sport scores, and such?  Can we save favorite places and see similar, or see places our friends liked or checked in?

Calendar

There should be an option to pin the application bar so I don’t have to swipe up so much.  In addition, semantic zoom would be useful so that I can zoom out and tap another month, or zoom out again to choose another year, or again to choose a decade.  This is already possible in the Windows 7 desktop.  In addition, some birthdays appear on the wrong day on the calendar – showing a day earlier than they should.

Desktop

I know Microsoft wants us to use the new Start Screen, but for veterans, the option to boot to the desktop, and perhaps snap the start screen to the left of the desktop would make great feature enhancements, and ease the transition to the “Modern UI.” This is reported to be fixed in Windows 8.1, which is good to hear.

Currently, the Start Screen cannot be snapped.  If I have an app snapped on the side, and close my main app, that 2/3 remains blank and blue, and doesn’t show the Start screen like I would expect it to.  It just looks odd, and unfinished.  This “feature” in action:

When viewing two apps in snapped view, the system works as expected.
When viewing two apps in snapped view, the system works as expected.
Having closed the 'main' app, by swiping down, the majority of the screen is now blank, showing nothing.
Having closed the ‘main’ app, by swiping down, the majority of the screen is now blank, showing nothing.  Why?

Hub Integration

The picture hub is more integrated with Windows Phone, and now with Windows 8/RT, there are the beginnings of that same integration in the desktop, but the implementation seems to be only partly there.

There is a photo app in the desktop, but it could give me a friend feed to see what pictures my friends are posting where, similar to on the phone, and give the opportunity to like, comment, and share those posts.  Given the larger size of the desktop / tablet over the phone, another good idea would be to see a timeline view of your pictures, so you can see them in order of when you took them, possibly using the Pivot View from Live Labs as the viewing metaphor.

Also, a map view for any pictures I have that are geotagged would also be great, so I can see where I took which picture (similar to Facebook’s Maps view), and finally, a ‘breadcrumb’ view or a ‘journey’ view, showing me in time when/where I took which picture, so if I went to England, show me on the map at Heathrow, the Tower of London, the Museum, Buckingham Palace, moving around using Bing Maps, integrated into the shell of the OS.

People tags should allow me to sort by who’s in which picture, and pictures of people should show in the People hub under each person’s profile/card, and on the Bing Map of my friends – that would be a great way to discover ‘hey, my friend from school also went to London!’  When I’m viewing my pictures on a map, show me something like “14 friends have also visited the Tower of London” and show me those pictures also.  I could then comment on those pictures, and ‘like’ them.  The Windows Live Photo Gallery had people tagging, which is lacking currently in Windows 8 / RT.

The Music hub within Windows should be inspired by at a minimum, or at best, replaced by Zune, as I describe later in this article.  I don’t see a need to separate out music and videos like was done.  Since they are hubs now, though, I would say that social feeds should be integrated into both apps if they remain separate, or even if they are combined in the future, so that we can see what friends are watching or listening to, and then like/comment/share that, and also be able to tap on it to go into the Store to purchase that media.

Internet Explorer

How do I view my favorites or history, or clear them out?  I can’t do that unless I go to the Desktop, or open a new tab, and THEN I see my favorites.  There needs to be a button on the metro version of IE for favorites and for history.  How do I subscribe to RSS Feeds, much less read them?  How do I print?  How do I view downloads?

Additionally, IE Metro seems to experience a number of crashes and odd behavior on certain common websites which will crash the program that don’t affect the desktop version.

Libraries

A useful metaphor on the desktop that could be extended is the use of libraries.  There are music, picture, document, and video libraries in Windows 7, but I believe Windows 8 and beyond would benefit from having: podcasts, audiobooks, television, movies, and music videos as libraries.  If I purchase TV shows from the X-Box Video Store, they would get saved into the television library.  A video file I place in there myself would be assumed by the X-Box Video application to be a TV show, and would be found there by default.  Likewise items I place in movies, music videos, or podcasts.  This makes sense, and makes organization beneficial for the user.  Unfortunately, Windows 8.1 seems to be removing this useful organizational tool.  I would suggest not removing it at all, and creating an actual Library app so I can view my libraries in the metro interface, and see all my own TV shows (or files I’ve marked and tagged as TV shows) organized common-sense (as in, if I have 3 videos from Smallville, I would see “Smallville” as a DVD cover, not a square, tap that icon, and then be presented with 1 season DVD cover, tap that, then be presented with 3 square icons representing the 3 episodes I have), and allow me the opportunity to tag video files, music files, documents, and picture files with metadata to aid sorting.

Lock Screen Backgrounds

Now in Windows 8.1, we can have our device act like a live picture frame, pulling in our pictures from various sources.  Can we determine specifically which sources, or is it everything?  It would be a bit embarrassing for pictures of an old girlfriend to show up when you’re with your current girlfriend, fiancée, or wife, that’s for sure.  Does the device have situational or locational awareness?  Imagine being able to choose pictures based on location, so if you’re in Paris, show only your pictures you took in Paris, or if you’re in the mountains of North Carolina, only seeing those pictures in rotation.  The device could also be set to show only pictures taken on today (so June 5th pictures would show on June 5th, June 6th on June 6th, and so on), or only pictures tagged with certain people (showing all pictures of just you, you and your wife/husband, just your kids, just your friends, etc.).  Another option for the Lock Screen, would be similar to how the Zune screensaver worked, with its different sized album covers that routinely flipped over to change to new album covers.  Here, have different-sized pictures you took flip over at certain intervals, showing you new pictures you may have forgotten you took.

Additionally, since we can have motion Start Screen backgrounds, why not motion backgrounds on the lock screen?  Imagine this Earth scene from space as a lock screen.  Or motion pictures from Nokia’s Lumias.

Mail

How do I download all attachments at once?  It looks now that I have to do this one at a time.  Imagine having 20 pictures from your brother’s vacation to download…that’ll take a good while!  In addition, it doesn’t appear that I can create Junk Mail or ‘move to folder’ rules, which I would expect by tap+hold or selecting the message itself.  Maybe when Outlook RT is released?

Maps

There can be room for improvement here.  How about bringing in my Bing Scrapbook containing all my check-ins from Facebook (which mysteriously stopped working when I moved from WinPhone 7 to WinPhone 8)?  From the start screen of the maps, we need a way to store our own ‘places’ – places we’ve been, places we want to go.  Anywhere I’ve checked in on Facebook should be available in maps, and even better would be to mark down places I’ve been (and when) without making it public to everyone via Facebook.  Also, any places I’ve been that match pictures in my picture library, should show an indicator “12 pictures taken here” so I can see “Oh, wait, I did eat at Hard Rock in London!” back when I was in town there.

Another great idea here would be to have a list of places and have this app check them off my list as I visit them, or offer to check them off the list of places I want to visit.  After that, the option to view statistics of “which states have I seen?” “which cities have I seen?” and “which countries have I seen?” would be a great thing.

If I tap-hold, I would like to see ‘What’s Here?’ like on the website, with the option to get directions and save it to my places.  Again, the option to pin the menu so it doesn’t disappear would be great.

When ‘finding’ a place, it should auto-correct to show local businesses near me, and for the results, offer to save those places so I can get back to them easily at a later time.  The search results box in the upper left corner should also have a ‘clear search’ button.  That would make more sense than swiping up and clicking ‘clear map.’  One tap instead of swipe-tap.  Much more efficient.

In addition, pictures I took anywhere with geotags and without should be viewable on the map where I took them, with the option to geotag more pictures onto the map, along with tagging people in the pictures on the map, viewing my places in a timeline so I can see in order, where I’ve been.

How do I have the app show me where restaurants, shopping, museums, hotels/motels, churches, parks, etc are?  I see no option to just show me where the shops, restaurants, and other places are so I can get a feel for a place, especially on a trip.  Just add a menu item for “show…” with checkboxes for restaurants, churches, hotels/motels, etc. so that I can see little icon indicators so I know where certain types of places are.

Another useful feature would be to grab a few places together and save them as a ‘trip’ and have maps plot the shortest route between them, suggest a starting place, and offer me restaurants nearby within a price range, cuisine type, noting their hours as well, along with hotels/motels within a price range and rating.  It would note when I want to leave and return from the trip, and also factor in average travel time, as well as offer other sights to see based on type (museum, park, etc) and price (free only, cheap, etc) so I can maximize my vacations.  Wouldn’t this make you want to use the Maps app?  Also, where is Local Scout from Windows Phone?  That would be useful for Win8RT.

In addition, tap+hold should have an option “what’s here?” to find out what’s there, and an option to pin the menu onto the screen so I don’t have to keep swiping up to get it back.

Marketplace

When downloading updates to any application, how do I know what changed?  Where is the changelog for all these updates?  Additionally, how many times do I need to tap on “try again” to get it to recognize that I tapped it?  And updates?  When selecting multiple apps for update, why not show the information button so I can see a collated list of what changed per app?

In this revision of the store, you can simply swipe over or tap to see any of the details for apps.  This is one possible way to do this.

In this revision of the store, you can simply swipe over or tap to see any of the details for apps. This is one possible way to do this.

Media Playback

One user has complained that it seems Windows 8 cannot have apps read files from Network Attached Storage, which would remove a huge capability from media playback apps to have a leg up on the competition.  Additionally, any media app should have the ability to set a ‘file watcher’ to watch for new files or changed files to update the app’s databases.

I would echo the users’ comments here, as they make sense and would be a great idea.  Create a Surface TV to access HomeGroup media running Windows RT with as many built-in codecs as they can stuff into it.  VLC Media player is free and can play any file you throw at it.  If they can do that, so can Microsoft.  Surface TV would play files with multiple audio tracks and multiple embedded and separate subtitle files, and work with an eHome-compatible remote control.  In addition, a Surface Cube ‘headless server’ would be created, just like Windows Home Server was.  It would have slots for hard drives to be simply plugged in and ready to use for media storage so that it’s expandable as your needs change.  You could purchase your own OTA, CableCard and DLNA DTCP tuners for it at around $50 a piece so you could record as many live shows as you have cards.  This Cube would download guide data automatically for you, and allow live TV recording.  Microsoft would then recode Windows Media Center to run as a metro app for Windows RT to provide the big-screen interface for live TV and TV guide apps with recording scheduling that will auto-detect a ‘Surface Cube’ and just ask for a ZIP code and TV provider to download guide data.  Surface TV would be completely plug-and-play: all you do is plug it in, attach network cable, sign in with your MS Account, and you’re done.  It would be a complete media solution with Windows RT, full DVR functionality like Windows Media Center has provided for years, with remote control functionality.  This would head off Apple TV at the pass.  Even better would be to allow TV manufacturers who meet a certain set of specifications to integrate with the exact same interface, so that TV manufacturers become part of the Surface family, accessing the Cube, and accessing X-Box Music/Video so all your movies, TV shows, pictures, and music are just there.  With that stroke, Apple TV won’t have a chance.  The X-Box One is touted to have Live TV abilities, but in reality, they are nothing like this and it would be misleading to market is as such.

Messaging

This client is pretty spartan, and could use some work.  Again, the option to pin the app bar onto the screen for those who want it would be very welcome.  I’m tired of constantly swiping to get those options to show.

The desktop version of this app has a lot more options available that are missing here, including video/voice chat, file attachments, web sharing, video messages, and starting games with friends are missing and restoring those options would be very welcome.  Also, how do I view or archive my older messages?  If I’ve IM’ed a person 2 years ago, does this app archive that so that I can see those messages?

Microsoft Account

I created a Live account using a non-Microsoft e-mail, and I also have an outlook.com e-mail address.  I would like to have the ability to merge the two accounts together, and have the outlook.com e-mail serve as my main e-mail address for my account.  Currently, there does not appear any way to do this.

Multi-Monitor Support

According to one user on Paul Thurrott’s blog, you cannot have one Metro app per screen in Windows 8, which makes no sense.  What is technically preventing this?  Nothing.  Why should I not be able to have a main app and a 1/3 ‘snapped’ app on both monitors I use?  Or if I have three or four monitors on my desktop, why shouldn’t I be able to have 4 apps and 4 ‘snapped’ apps up at once?  I can do this on Windows 7 with normal desktop apps.  There’s no need for any limitations if this is indeed the case, on a desktop.  Windows 8.1 does improve this situation a bit allowing multiple apps on a single monitor, and allowing the desktop on either monitor and the start screen on either.

News

This app has potential, but it did crash my surface to the point of forcing me to re-boot the system.  I would like to see the option to add news in foreign languages, as I speak more than just English.  I would like to add welt.de to my feeds, but I can’t see a way to do that.  What about the RSS Feeds from other websites around the world?  There’s no way to subscribe to them.  I would expect that if I’m visiting the Guardian UK website, and there are RSS Feeds available, that IE Metro would offer to show me that, make it easy to subscribe and view those feeds in the News App.

Partners

One thing the iPhone and Android ecosystems have, but Windows doesn’t, is fitness partners.  You have Nike+, and now this new wristband (Amiigo) to track exercise that automatically synchronizes with your phone to track your exercise routine, calories burned, and lets you compete with your friends.  Microsoft should absolutely bring in the fitness crowd with some kind of sponsored fitness accessory for the Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Play To features

If what has been said at Paul Thurrott’s blog is true, then Play To has been crippled in Windows 8 so that you can only play to certified devices, of which there is only 1…from Western Digital.  Nothing against them, but if you want to make Play To truly functional then it should be opened up to app developers so that if I write an app with a Play To Contract, then my app can play to the X-Box, with any transcoding handled by the X-Box or operating system.  My app would also be a valid Play To target, so that if I have a set-top PC under my TV, and a Surface Tablet, I can have my app on Surface play to my app on the set-top PC so I can watch that movie I purchased from Zune on the TV in full HD.  This just makes sense.

Relaying what the blog poster indicated, it would be a big improvement to make any Windows 8 computer a valid Play To and DLNA target and source for media playback.  Then, add in more built-in codec support (Bitstreaming of TrueHD, DTS or DTS-Master audio; MKV, MPEG2 (without WMC pack), Ogg, Mov, DVD, Blu-Ray, and so on) without any intervention on the part of the user.  With the price of Windows 8, there’s no reason some of that couldn’t go to paying for the licenses of any codec requiring it.  Additionally, add built-in support for subtitles and multiple audio tracks for any video file that supports it, and ISO files being valid media sources.  I’ve backed up my DVDs to prevent scratching from repeated playback, and I don’t see why my movies shouldn’t show up in X-Box Video or any other app that plays videos.

People

How exactly do I enable people live tiles?  I still can’t figure this out, because it says they’re turned on on Surface, but the tiles are static as a regular icon.  On Windows Phone, if you pin a person to the Start Screen, their tiles animate with status updates and mail/IM/text/call notifications.  In Windows 8 – nothing.  Also, how do I make sure my photos can be shared with the People App?  My own brother’s photos don’t show up there.

How do I add birthdays and anniversaries?  There is no field for either of them, whereas Outlook 2013 allows you to add that information, as does People on Windows Phone 8.  So, why the omission?

For ‘significant other’ I would recommend and suggest that if that person exists in my contacts / people hub, it should link directly to that person’s profile.  In addition, it would be great to add places for spouse, father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, and children, linking to those people’s profiles if they exist.

Another oddity is any information I’ve added on my Windows Phone does not automatically synch to the People on Outlook.com nor on Windows 8’s people hub.  I’ve got missing birthdays, and missing groups amongst all 3, when they should all be completely synchronized.

The people hub should look more like this:

Here you see pivots at top, working like every other concept.  You swipe or tap, and they show you where you are in the Hub and let you easily switch between functional areas of the system.

Here you see pivots at top, working like every other concept. You swipe or tap, and they show you where you are in the Hub and let you easily switch between functional areas of the system.

The pivots up top make more sense, in that in one simple glance, I know that I will be able to see me, the what’s new feed, favorite people, and all contacts, just like on Windows Phone.  Currently it’s just a 5-foot panoramic app that’s an utter mystery what I might find to my right.  Why?  I have no idea who decided that was a good idea.  Adding pivots would clarify that omission.

Pictures

How can I see my pictures on a map if already geo-tagged, or geo-tag them if not already?  How do I tag friends in pictures?  Neither of these features are available.  When I plug in a USB drive, does Photos open, and offer to import pictures into an album with its own folder like iPhotos does for Mac users already, and also upload to Skydrive as a backup?  No.

Can I see all the people I’ve tagged in the app and have it pull up all that person’s pictures? No.  Can I have it upload to Facebook an entire album in full resolution? No.  What about simple photo correction like Windows Live Photo Gallery?  No. Can I view all my pictures on a timeline of when I took them? No.

As for geotagging, I do mean more than just the city/state it was taken.  I mean to say that if you know you took a picture at the foot of the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, you should be able to tag it exactly there, not just to “Lincoln Memorial” if you so choose.

Currently you can geotag pictures in Windows Live with a City/State combination for organizational purposes.

Currently you can geotag pictures in Windows Live with a City/State combination for organizational purposes.  You cannot do this in the Photo App.

To bring in the Semantic Zoom ability, I would reference the iOS7 Photos Collections, where if you zoom out you can see your pictures sorted by date, and zoom out more, by collections like ‘Paris’ or ‘London.’

iOS7 version of Collections, showing location information being a basis for sorting. Why again does Windows 8’s Photo app not do this already?

Here is my concept for an updated photo app for Windows 8.  You’ll notice that the background is different than the obscure wheel thing that comes by default.  I imagine the background should be a live background whose rotation you can determine (every 30 seconds, every day, every app launch, etc.) and the source (all pictures, specific places, places where I am now, etc.).  This first pivot is for ‘people.’  Any people tags in your pictures (FB, Twitter, on your PC, Skydrive) are collected together.  Any untagged pictures that might have people in them, you can choose to tag them, much like the current Windows Live Photo Gallery.

If you have tagged people in your pictures, then this pivot would sort your pictures from all sources by the people in them.  All pictures of your brother would show under his tile here, which is a live tile that flips, slides, and fades across random pictures from his collection.

If you have tagged people in your pictures, then this pivot would sort your pictures from all sources by the people in them. All pictures of your brother would show under his tile here, which is a live tile that flips, slides, and fades across random pictures from his collection.

The Collections pivot shows your pictures you’ve put together into a collection to share with friends and family.  You can create them in a number of ways, including rules, such as “All pictures in France” or “All pictures from Winter Retreat 08 folder,” to “All pictures with me and my brother from 2008.”  The pictures are hosted on Skydrive, and you can set sharing so that friends and family can view them on their Windows 8-based computers, like, share, and comment on pictures all from the comfort of their Photo apps too.

Collections of pictures you put together that you can share with people via Skydrive.  You or your friends comment, share, like pictures.

Collections of pictures you put together that you can share with people via Skydrive. You or your friends comment, share, like pictures.

The Places pivot organizes your pictures based on the geotag information in the pictures themselves, much like iOS7 does currently.  You can also choose to geotag pictures yourself, but this would theoretically be much more advanced than the simplistic Windows Live Photo Gallery version of “Atlanta, GA” instead of something more accurate like “World of Coke, Atlanta, GA.”  When you tap into a place, such as Hamburg, you will see pivots for All, and Locations, so it will recognize things like “City Hall,” “Hard Rock Café,” and “Hamburg Museum” as separate locations within the city.

This gathers your geotagged pictures together so you can see your places you've visited.  The app bar containts a button 'view on a map' so that you can see all your pictures on a map, choose to view them in a timeline (using date taken), or see them in a pseudo-street view with the map zooming in/out at each point in a form of a slide show.

This gathers your geotagged pictures together so you can see your places you’ve visited. The app bar containts a button ‘view on a map’ so that you can see all your pictures on a map, choose to view them in a timeline (using date taken), or see them in a pseudo-street view with the map zooming in/out at each point in a form of a slide show.

The Trips pivot would be similar to the Journal you can create in iPhoto today.  You can collect pictures, weather snippets, place cards (locations of businesses you visited with notes on what you ate or saw), notes from each day, maps of where you went, and so on, in one place, on your Skydrive, which you can share with friends and family, which would show on their Photo Apps as well, so they can like, share, comment on your pictures as well.

This view is for trips you've taken that you want to share with friends.  You put pictures in here, tag friends and places, add in other info, such as the weather, places you visited, and it'll show up online in Skydrive in a Journal-like fashion so your family and friends can see all you did on your trip.

This view is for trips you’ve taken that you want to share with friends. You put pictures in here, tag friends and places, add in other info, such as the weather, places you visited, and it’ll show up online in Skydrive in a Journal-like fashion so your family and friends can see all you did on your trip.

It would be incredibly easy for the Pictures App to show me all my pictures, and include pivots for ‘date,’ ‘people,’ ‘places,’ ‘tags,’ ‘trips,’ and ‘collections.’  That way I can see my pictures grouped by date, people in them, places I took them, and by the tags I added myself.  This makes a lot of sense, and would require the additional ability for us to tap+hold and add tags to pictures if we haven’t already.  When viewing pictures, also add a button to the app bar for ‘properties’ so I can view and edit them, like on the desktop.  I would also make the back arrow permanent so I don’t have to swipe, then tap back.  One less step.

For geotagging, one possible option:

When geotagging, have auto-complete suggest places that you can tap on, and show a mini-map to confirm the place.  If one of several pictures has a map, show that as a suggested place.  This is much more accurate than the current Windows Live Photo Gallery which only allows City and State instead of an exact place.

When geotagging, have auto-complete suggest places that you can tap on, and show a mini-map to confirm the place. If one of several pictures has a map, show that as a suggested place. This is much more accurate than the current Windows Live Photo Gallery which only allows City and State instead of an exact place.

From what I’ve seen online, this app will be updated this year, but I don’t believe my requests are too much for a company that owns a mapping solution and provides picture software with these abilities (Windows Live Photo Gallery).

This is what Facebook currently does with your pictures, placing them on a map, so you can see how many pictures were tagged where.

Here you can see an overview of how many pictures were taken where.

Here you can see an overview of how many pictures were taken where.

And when you zoom in, such as to Berlin, you will see this:

Geotagged pictures in Facebook for the city of Berlin.  Why can't we see this in Pictures or in Maps?

Geotagged pictures in Facebook for the city of Berlin. Why can’t we see this in Pictures or in Maps?

Is this hard to do in Windows 8.1 or even 8.2?  This would be a great feature, not to mention an obvious feature.  Imagine being able to create a picture map, and clicking ‘play’ and going through your vacation pictures with a map showing where they were taken, day by day, perhaps even with map zoom-in-zoom-out in-between, or a map that moves on the side, while the screen shows your pictures front and center.  Or even better, a Group Scrapbook, following on the new groups feature from Windows Phone, where you and your friends can post your pictures to a group scrapbook (expanding on the Bing Scrapbook, and updating it to work with Windows Phone 8), where all of you can share your check-ins, pictures, and further, post reviews of restaurants, and even little comments on what you did.  You could then package this scrapbook and share it with family and friends, appearing under “Trips” in the hub.  With X-Box 360/One, you could then use the TV as a second screen, and replay your vacation for your family on the TV, going through day-by-day what you did on vacation.  If you took panoramas or photosynth 3D panoramic pictures, those would also be viewable in the playback.

Programming for Windows 8

The blog mentioned before states that you cannot program a Windows 8 app to accept input from a remote control.  If true, then this is a sad state of affairs for Windows, and would prevent a number of novel media playback apps from being as fully functional as they could otherwise be.  I for one would love to create a metro app that accepts remote control input to navigate the screen.  Imagine creating a set-top PC, opening this app, and using a remote control to navigate your purchased TV shows and movies, and music from the comfort of your living room.  You can then navigate to your pictures and show off your vacation pictures to guests from your couch…with a remote.  That is what I would pay for as included functionality in Windows 8 (Media Center, anyone?).  Unfortunately Media Center, the ideal place for this, is being deprecated in this release.  It deserves a massive upgrade, such as support for mkv, mpg2, embedded subtitles, multiple audio tracks, ogg formats, metadata editing and storage, podcast support, and content purchase.

Search Improvements

The current experience is pretty spartan:

This is ok, but can be improved.  Compare the Windows 7 Start Menu search:

As Joel Hodgson used to say on MST3K, “Do what I do: combine them.”  Like so:

This shows being able to search everything you have, plus whatever you might've purchased online via XBM/XBV.

This shows being able to search everything you have, plus whatever you might’ve purchased online via XBM/XBV.

And swipe over to TV Shows to see:

If you've purchased TV Shows in the past, then why not be able to search for them as well?

If you’ve purchased TV Shows in the past, then why not be able to search for them as well?

Wouldn’t you think this makes much more organizational sense than what we have now?

This is the coming search experience in Windows 8.1:

This is context aware, so it knows when you’re searching for a person, movie, etc.  This is nice, but there aren’t any pivots at the top to switch between categories, as in my concept, so when you’re looking at the main screen above, how do you know that “related searches” even exists?  Or if you searched for ‘Marilyn Monroe’ like their examples in the videos released, how do you know if there’s music, movies, TV, etc in there when they’re off the screen?  Just add search pivots, and that problem is solved.

Example Windows 8.1 Search. How do I know what’s all the way to the right? How do I know it exists? If you added pivots to the top for the categories of results, maybe people like my father, who is not tech-savvy, would know that there are also TV Shows, Movies, music, and pictures with Ms. Monroe in them. As is, this is better than current, but still not as user-friendly as could be.

Skype

I’ve attempted to use Skype on Windows RT, and it seems incredibly hit and miss.  Windows Live Messenger was MUCH better at video calling.  For some reason, wi-fi calling to an iPhone on Verizon just results in a lot of frustration.  If you use Skype, it should just work.  I should be able to go to my People Hub, tab a button “Video Call” and have it open a video call window, not spend 30 seconds opening the Skype app and logging me in, then starting the call.  This experience needs to be improved a great deal before this can be recommended for people to use it regularly.

Since Skype is replacing Live Messenger soon, a few Live Messenger features I’ve come to enjoy and expect from an instant messaging client: importing custom emoticons at will, rich text formatting (bold/italic/underline, using any fancy fonts installed on my machine, colors), sharing youtube videos in-line with my IMs, sharing files with my friends through IM, remote desktop to view a friend’s desktop and control it with their permission, saving my messaging history to a local file on my computer, and playing games through the IM client.  Without these features, I will not be using Skype for IM.  I’ll likely just text and e-mail again.

Social Integration

Microsoft’s Socl network should be integrated into People and the rest of the Operating System to encourage adoption.  Facebook and Twitter require a dedicated app, not just pinning the website.  Posting albums from X-Box Music to Facebook should work just like on the Zune HD, where the album art is posted, with the album, artist, and song title, and a link back to the Zune Marketplace.  If you listen to songs, albums, artists, or playlists, you should be able to post that to one or more social networks so that people can like/comment and view/stream/download the item in question from the People Hub, or from Facebook itself.  A Media tab should be integrated into the People Hub profile to display music and videos listened to that match something within the Marketplace so you can share, like, and comment on them.

Store (for Books, Comics, Magazines, and Newspapers)

Apple has their iBook app which puts in the ability to have newspaper and magazine subscriptions in the tablet.  Microsoft can do this and better in a single app.  Just sign up for electronic subscriptions to your favorite comics, magazines, and newspapers, and now with Nook being bought by Microsoft, books also.  Every time a book series, like Percy Jackson, has a new release, you would get a notification, giving you the opportunity to purchase the new book, or your favorite author, say, Dan Brown or someone else, has a new book out.  When a new issue of your favorite comic comes out, if you don’t have a subscription, you can check it out and see if you want to buy it, perhaps with a 1-/2- page preview.  Likewise with newspapers and magazines.  You can browse through, buy individual issues, or get subscriptions delivered electronically, with notifications telling you of new issues, or special editions.  This would be a driver of sales to the Windows 8 platform.  Include here textbooks, so you can have interactive textbooks, and with Surface Pro, you can write notes in your texts also.

Additionally, you could mark down books you’ve bought before, along with comics you bought, and magazines, so you can let the system start predicting comics, books, and magazines you might like based on what you’ve bought in the past, and allow you to share your ‘collection’ with friends so they can like/comment, and you can see ‘4 friends have read this book also.  See what else you might like based on this book.’  A sensible extension of the Windows Store I would think.

Store (for Books)

Given the rise in e-Books, along with electronic magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and textbooks, it would be great to have a built-in Windows 8 bookstore, perhaps a partnership with Amazon for deeper OS integration, so that I could subscribe to my favorite newspapers, magazines, and comics, and have a live-tile notice of when new issues arrive.  Additionally, your audiobooks could appear in the e-Book app as well.  To make it even more personal, a social feed could be added like the People and Pictures hubs in Windows Phone, so I can see when friends have started reading or finished books, and I can like/comment on those books to get recommendations, and if I like the book, tap the book cover to go purchase it myself from Kindle or the e-Book marketplace.  If privacy concerns are warranted, the user can have a Facebook button to decide to post to FB that they’re reading something.

An additional feature for this more integrated bookstore would be to include a “Zune-iversity” or “X-Box U” section for educational books, textbooks, and podcasts, so that teachers can post their textbooks, students can purchase them at a discount to the print version, and include much richer content than a plain book could have.

Store (for Music, TV Shows, and Movies)

The X-Box Music and Video apps should be recombined and renamed to Zune.  It was much easier that way.  But, barring that, the purchase experience for Music should include the ability to see what friends are listening to through XBM so that I can get recommendations, and recommendations based on stuff in my current collection.  Picks in Zune did this already, but I don’t see that currently in XBM.  The same goes for TV Shows and Movies.  How can I see recommendations for me, based on my collections, based on what people bought who bought a particular movie, or based on what my friends are watching?  Why not show me, based on me looking at “Supernatural” for example, that “18 friends have watched this series” or “23 people who watched Supernatural also like Smallville and Charmed” or something to that effect?  Additionally, we should have the option to request shows so that if we search and don’t see a show, like “Get Smart” or “Star Trek: Voyager” or “Viper” then we can request those shows, and see how many requests those shows have gotten to be added to the marketplace.

Visually, I would prefer to see my albums as square tiles, while my TV shows and Movies should be vertical rectangles that look like DVD covers.  That’s how we’re used to seeing them in real life, so the digital should reflect that as well.

Store (for Apps)

For the app itself, I would like to see pivots at top that swipe as they do on the Zune HD, where you could logically tell where you were, and where else you could go by the pivots up top.  It would make the entire store more discoverable rather than just one large panorama.

Here you can see the pivots up top, with a dropdown next to store to jump directly to any point in the store simply.

Here you can see the pivots up top, with a dropdown next to store to jump directly to any point in the store simply.

Here you can see that if you swipe the Surface Picks pivot to the left, or tap it, the entire row of pivots will shift over.  This mimics the Zune HD behavior when browsing music or videos, and looks more appealing and informative than not showing all the pivots available.

Here you can see that if you swipe the Surface Picks pivot to the left, or tap it, the entire row of pivots will shift over. This mimics the Zune HD behavior when browsing music or videos, and looks more appealing and informative than not showing all the pivots available.

Additionally, Paul Thurott makes a good point that Semantic Zoom should be improved in the Windows 8 store, something like this:

Travel

This is a nice app showing me lots of destinations with blurbs about them, but it’s not easily discoverable what the point of it is.  How about adding some pivots so that I can see what I can do?

After adding pivots, I still get the nice image, but I can see at a glance which options there are in the app.  How hard was that?

After adding pivots, I still get the nice image, but I can see at a glance which options there are in the app. How hard was that?

The search flights, search hotels options should be front page, and again, the option to pin the app bars to the screen so that I can always see them would be great.  This would be a place where Local Scout could integrate to show me restaurants, sites, and local events to make the most of my trip.

For this app, it would be great to be able to enter a timeframe, say Nov 4-10, and a few destinations, and have the app find the shortest route, recommend a few places to stay, and have the option to see restaurants (filtered by ‘chain,’ ‘local only,’ ‘cheapest,’ etc.) and sights (‘free’ ‘cheap’ etc.) that might be of interest so that I can make the most of my trip.  Then have it calculate the cost for me so that I can see what the trip will run, my travel times between destinations, and how much time I’ll have at each place.

The summary of your planned trip.  It shows where you're planning on going, when, your budget, where you stay, with whom you're going.  When you're done, if you take any pictures, they're automatically uploaded to your skydrive in a trip folder, such as "Vacation 2013" and automatically shared with the people you went with.  How simple is that?

Trip Planner page.  You can add destinations, a budget, route type, lodging, conveyance, date range, and people you travel with.  The app would also offer to send the trip to those people’s Windows 8 PCs so they can see the same information and make any edits as well.

The summary of your planned trip. It shows where you're planning on going, when, your budget, where you stay, with whom you're going. When you're done, if you take any pictures, they're automatically uploaded to your skydrive in a trip folder, such as "Vacation 2013" and automatically shared with the people you went with. How simple is that?

The summary of your planned trip, with a background taken from your main destination, which here is Atlanta, GA. It shows where you’re planning on going, when, your budget, where you stay, with whom you’re going. When you’re done, if you take any pictures, they’re automatically uploaded to your skydrive in a trip folder, such as “Vacation 2013” and automatically shared with the people you went with. How simple is that?

When finished planning, you see the overall trip route mini-map, and a map underneath of the sites you will see in each city.

When finished planning, you see the overall trip route mini-map, and a map underneath of the sites you will see in each city.

When I finish, it should also allow me to save that trip, along with any pictures I mark as having been taken on that vacation and check-ins, into a Skydrive folder so that I can send the vacation to friends and family, and they can virtually walk through the vacation I took.  That would make for a great app experience.

Addendum: Now that I’ve looked, I can see the Frommer’s content, but it’s far to the right, where no one would find it.  This needs to be front page so I can see attractions, nightlife, shopping, etc. from the front page, not 5 swipes to the right as it currently is.  The ability to get reservations from within the app for hotels, flights, restaurants, and purchasing tickets for any museums or tours would be a great feature for this app.  Again, adding pivots to the top of this app would aid in discoverability, rather than the spartan and non-discoverable interface it has today.

Viewing the hotels, it would be great to click on the neighborhood and have it bring up a map so I can see where it is, and what’s nearby regarding restaurants, museums, churches, etc.

Windows Phone 8

If you have a Windows Phone 8 device, the sync software for Windows 8/RT is the most worthless piece of code in existence for it.  There’s no way around that.  Zune had wireless (wi-fi) synchronizing of playlists so that if the playlist changed, your playlist on the phone was always up to date without you ever having to do anything.  There are no conversion options to save mobile storage space (like Zune had).  Seriously, you have to go back to Windows Media Player from 2009 to set up a sync relationship for this.  How do you think that looks to a current Apple or Android user, Microsoft?  Do you think that this will make that person want to switch?  And with the “other storage” on the phone taking up several gigabytes on a 16 GB, why is there no option to see what’s taking up how much space, and to delete file by file, or app by app?

Windows Update

I am going to have to agree a bit with this article from ZDNet concerning Windows Update.  It’s time Windows Update got some feature improvements.  This article shows one glaring problem: I actually have to save what I don’t want to lose manually.  The technology is already here to auto-incrementally save my documents so I don’t need to do it myself.  OS X does this in its most current iteration, so I don’t think it would be that difficult to do it in Windows.

X-Box Music and Video

If you’ve used X-Box Music or Video, you will know what I’m talking about.  They are incredibly and sorely lacking in features and their user interfaces are way too focused on the marketplace over my collection, and the way they arrange items is very wasteful of limited screen real estate.
Compare this (TV Library Media Center Plugin):

JackLuminous’ TV Library plugin for Windows 7 Media Center
X-Box Video purchased TV Series listed by season

You can see in the first, how JackLuminous’ TV Library plugin for Windows 7 Media Center makes much more efficient use of space than X-Box Video does on your Surface Tablet.  It uses DVD covers to tell you which show is which, and this makes perfect sense.  It also has pivots so you can resort your shows the way you want to – by title, genre, airdate, decade, rating, person (actors), and favorites.  Why doesn’t X-Box video do the same?  How about showing us JUST the DVD covers, and have a tap-hold right-click menu to ‘play series’, ‘edit metadata’, and ‘explore series’ and have the default tap be ‘explore series’ to view the series detail page?  Wouldn’t that make sense?  Instead of using pivots, X-Box Video (XBV) makes us swipe over and over to the right, whereas Windows 7 Media Center gives us pivots.  Tap, done.  Zune HD even had this one better.  You tap or swipe and all your media was resorted, like pages.  Zune on desktop did this for sorting TV shows and Movies from each other.  So why doesn’t XBV do this same thing?
When you want to see the seasons, you tap into the series to see them:

TV Library season view

To get to something remotely sensible in Video, you have to tap “Explore Series” to get a pop-up, then you have to click View Seasons to get into the TV show page, then swipe to the right to even get to the seasons, at which point the episodes within that season still show in a pop-up.

Explore a series from the Collection screen
X-Box video’s view of a series page. No seasons, just a huge image

This takes too long to get to.  Two taps whereas JackLuminous figured out how to do this with one tap.  Come on, X-box video, you’re better than that.

X-Box Video Series List of Seasons

The above two views can be combined to stop wasting space.  Have the graphical background from the season page, seasons listed right, tap to expand to a season page listing out all the episodes like Media Center’s TV Library plug-in.  Much more logical than the current layout.  Plex figured this out.  Zune Desktop figured this out.  One single page makes more sense than forcing me to continually swipe to the right to see my own TV shows I purchased on such a dull, gray, lifeless background.

Season view of episodes, still a pop-up, still tiny.

You can see here that the list of episodes comes up in a tiny little popup, where I can’t see all the episodes, or at least more than just a few at a time.  Even worse, my own videos that I spent time in categorizing in Zune cannot be categorized in X-Box Video.  But compare the TV Library view of episodes:

TV Library episode view, more graphical, and better use of screen space.

Much more graphical, with a nice background, episode synopsis, title, airdate, and thumbnail.  X-Box video can keep the list, but how about a list if episodes to the right, with airdate, run-time, and a synopsis along the bottom and a graphical background for the season?  This kind of metadata is readily available at thetvdb.com, so this isn’t too terribly difficult to do.  This interface would work in the “Modern UI” style exactly as it is, or you can even have seasons as pivots, scrolling up on each ‘page’ to see that season’s episodes, then pivot right to see season 2, 3, and so on.  How much more sense does that make, and ease of discovery over X-Box video’s current design decisions?

What JackLuminous does that would be useful in X-Box Video would be to have the TV Shows sortable with pivots for title, genre, year, airdate, and cast.  That way, I can see what aired today in my library, along with what sci-fi shows I have, or what shows David Boreanaz has been in that I own or are available on the X-Box store.

Now, about Movies.  When you look in X-Box Video:

Movie Library in X-Box video. Notice the wasted space to the right of all the DVD covers.

Now, check out the same thing in Media Center:

Movie Library in Windows 7 Media Center. Larger, more graphical, better use of space.

Media Center has this much better with pivots at the top so you can resort your way, and tap to view details about the movie you select.  X-Box Video would do well to copy this interface.  How about this: show a grid of movies like Win7 Media Center, tap to view the detail view, where you see the widescreen graphic movie poster from the movie, synopsis right, cast and crew pivots also, and a play button to start the film, and an ‘add to playlist’ option as well.  Take a queue from Zune’s Marketplace view of movies for this.

Movie collection with pivots like Media Center to make it easy to resort your movies.

Movie collection with pivots like Media Center to make it easy to resort your movies.

Check the above theoretical X-Box Video Movie collection.  Wouldn’t this be easier to navigate?  Doesn’t this make better use of screen space?  Am I the only person to think about this?  I would stretch this interface a little more, and allow multi-select for movie marathons.  Everyone does it.

Moving to the next, X-Box Music.  Again, the Marketplace is given center stage, when I don’t really care.  I want MY MUSIC FIRST.  Not a setting change, by default.

X-Box Music halfway between my music and the now playing main screen. Note the wasted space next to the albums for text. Why?

Why can’t X-Box Music show just the album covers and just have pop-up Live-Tile text for the album title?  That would save space.  Make the albums 500×500 or 400×400 so they’re large enough for tap targets and titles.

Now when looking at my music:

X-Box Music Collection. Notice the wasted space, and how long it would take to get to “The Who” or “Third Day” without jumplists.  The album covers are tiny, and don’t make use of the nice artwork the artists put there, whereas Media Center:
Music Library in Media Center. Notice how it looks more graphical, and does not waste space to the right of the album covers.

Three albums high, much more efficient use of space.  Tap and you get the album pop-up.  Pivot to artist and you get an artist page with albums on the front page.  Not with X-Box Music.  You again have to tap “explore artist” then swipe far far to the right to get close to your albums.  Again, a cue from Media Center would be very useful for X-Box Music.  Or take my suggestion for Video, and do this: make the front page contain all the albums (like Zune), show ALL ALBUMS so you can scroll through without having to tap ‘view all albums’ – that should be allowable by default.  You would do well to take your visual cues from the Zune software and Zune HD here, X-Box team.

Artist view that's graphical, not gray, and contains pivots like Zune.

Artist view that’s graphical, not gray, and contains pivots like Zune.  This solves the problems of the current XBM artist view.

From the blog post on Paul Thurrott’s site, I can’t verify this since I have a Zune subscription, but apparently the app displays ads while playing your own music, and stops every hour to ask you if you’re still there, even while typing, a prompt that will only stop if you subscribe.  Again, I can’t verify this, but if this is true, why would anyone in his or her right mind think this is a good design decision to nag a paid customer of your operating system just to play his own music?  Windows Media Player never did this.  It just played.  Zune never did this.  It just played.  So why would X-Box Music do this?

Additionally, where are podcasts?  I see no way to view them or add new ones or subscribe, nor do I see any way to separate out my audiobooks, which now take up space inside my music collection.  That’s sloppy handling, and should certainly be corrected.

If you decide to purchase a Windows Phone 8, XBM and XBV don’t really do much for you, as Zune once did.  You cannot set a playlist to synch with the phone so that whenever the playlist changes on the computer, it synchronizes automatically with the phone without your intervention.  Zune did that.  XBM doesn’t.  Zune even had Wi-Fi sync with the WP7 devices, something that oddly, WP8 and XBM cannot manage to do.  This is pretty poor coding to lose such an ability.  Windows Media Player can set auto-playlists based on certain criteria, as shown here, but for some reason, X-Box Music can’t do that exact same thing.  Why must we lose functionality as we “progress” up an operating system?

Microsoft, you really really need to make music sync and library management a priority (amongst the other things listed in this post), so that choosing your ecosystem over Apple will make the transition easy and painless and make current users utterly happy, and Apple users question why they ever went Apple in the first place.

Aside from the usability, how about TV Shows?  There’s no way to have a season pass to a show automatically download a file to your Surface so that it’s ready for you when you open the app, no way to set a notification to say “You have 3 new episodes ready to watch” and go see which shows just downloaded for you.  The main screen of this app should allow you to set it to show your collection first, with a set notification to see the new shows since you last opened the app, and then a link to the marketplace to see what else is new.  Additionally, there is no way to ‘follow’ a show or ‘request’ a show to indicate to Microsoft that that one show you like, say, “Get Smart” or “Star Trek” or something else, is something you would like to see and would purchase.

When purchasing in XBV, there is no way to set the download to always occur in SD or HD, and takes 3 or 4 screens to complete, which takes too long in my opinion.

The Television Store doesn’t have any alphabetical list of all TV shows.  I don’t know the genre of some TV shows, and having an alphabetical list makes more sense to me than going through 15 genres, which are also not alphabetized, to find the one show I want.  Is it seriously that difficult to alphabetize your wares?  And release date is not terribly useful, in my opinion.  What about airdate?  If I’m looking for 80’s cartoons, why not show the series by genre (animation) and then by airdate?  That way I can get shows from around the same timeframe and see possibly related items; speaking of that, why not show ‘people who bought this series also purchased xyz’ on a TV series page?

There’s no easy way to return to my collection’s home screen overview.  I have to keep pressing back, which often times looks incredibly unresponsive.  Media Center had a persistent home button on it.  Also, posting to Facebook what I’m listening to is a bit difficult.  From the Now Playing screen, if I do Share > Facebook, it shares the Artist I’m listening to, not the song.  I would assume that I am sharing the song I’m listening to first off, and second, if not that, I would like the option to also share the album, artist, and playlist I’m listening to so that my friends can see the music as well.  Doesn’t that make sense?  Also, why does the share function send a generic graphic to Facebook instead of the album art for that specific MP3?

For those who have large collections, such as myself, if I happen to move my music from one hard drive to a completely new hard drive, Zune never understood this, and I had to manually delete the old entries from the library and manually re-add them, and manually recreate every single playlist.  Windows Media Player at the least would offer to remove items no longer found from the library.  X-Box music from what I’ve seen, continues the behavior of Zune and does not know that you’ve moved your music, refused to play, and refuses to scan your hard drive to find your music after you’ve moved it, and if you re-add your music back, it won’t recognize that it’s the same file and remove the duplicate entry and update your playlists with the same file’s new location.  This would be a very welcome feature for those of us who add larger hard drives to our computers as time goes on and we acquire more digital files.

Another sticking point is when opening a file from the Desktop (since managing a library in X-Box music is utterly impossible, especially given the utter lack of podcast support for some mysterious reason), and I turn off the screen, after a while, the volume-based play controls and the play controls on X-Box music turn unresponsive and do not actually pause the music or podcast I’m listening to.  Zune didn’t have this problem.  Windows Media Player didn’t have this problem.  But X-Box Music does.  X-Box Music is not ready for mainstream use.  Will this get updated in Windows 8.1 or before?

For the 1/3 snapped view for X-Box Music, it should ideally look just like the Zune HD’s home screen did, and when playing, just like the Zune HD’s now playing screen.  That way, I can swipe through album covers, tap the song list to get to the list of songs, play/pause easily, and just play all My Music by pressing the nice play button sitting next to music.  How easy would that be?

This would be a great way to fashion the snap view of XBM while playing music.

This would be a great way to fashion the snap view of XBM while playing music. (Not my music, btw).

This is a (fair) version of how it could look:

The changes I would make while pinned would be to show the song list as it does on Zune HD, and show the album art, which I can swipe left/right to change tracks.

The changes I would make while pinned would be to show the song list as it does on Zune HD, and show the album art, which I can swipe left/right to change tracks.

This is how the music app should operate when not playing music.  Simple and elegant and useful.

This is how the music app should operate when not playing music. Simple and elegant and useful.

Here’s my version of this, with a slightly more colorful background, inspired by the Zune now playing screen:

A version based on Zune, so that I can see music, TV, movies, pictures, podcasts, and Smart DJ/Radio in one interface.

A version based on Zune, so that I can see music, TV, movies, pictures, podcasts, and Smart DJ/Radio in one interface.  The albums in the background shift and change based on album art in my own collection, just like Zune currently does.

From Now Playing, the song list should just appear on the right-hand side like it already does in Zune and on X-Box.  I shouldn’t have to tap to get it to appear.  That’s extra work I shouldn’t have to do.

This is how the Zune Now Playing appears on the PC.  Very nice, and the colors subtly shift across the screen while album covers rotate occasionally.

This is how the Zune Now Playing appears on the PC. Very nice, and the colors subtly shift across the screen while album covers rotate occasionally.

Again I ask: Who allowed this and X-Box Video to be released in such unfinished states?

Other Things

How do I subscribe to RSS feeds?  I see no way to do this built in to the OS.  This would be a great news reader and showcase for live tiles, as well as showing off synchronization of the feeds between my phone, PC, and tablet.  I know we can subscribe in the News App, but a number of RSS feeds aren’t ‘news’ but rather entertainment or just serialized stories.

Where are the Facebook and Twitter applications?  If/when they do arrive, I would hope they’re based on the Metro versions from Windows Phone currently, and not the Beta app that’s essentially the iPhone version, with no Metro influences in it.

Where can I purchase audiobooks from X-Box Music?  And can we get a built-in magazine, newspaper, comic book subscription app from Microsoft, with deals from publishers so that I can get my NY Times, Florida Times Union, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, Scientific American, Discover, Game Pro, Electronic Gaming Monthly, X-Men, Batman, etc. all in one app?  This would be a great place for live tiles to show me how many new issues I have of a comic or magazine.  But, then again, if this app were created by the same people who created X-Box Music and X-Box Video, I’m not sure I’d want it.

I can continue listing how I would change and improve Windows 8, but I think you get the idea.  Make more options available on the screen, pin the app bars, and use pivots more in addition to the panoramas, so that we actually know what is available in the apps.

Concluding this short post, I would say that Microsoft needs to update all the apps and Windows RT to make sure that its core features and app features are at the very least on par with what is found NOW on the iPad 4/iOS7 to compete reasonably with that product, and to succeed in the marketplace and take marketshare from Apple and Google, Microsoft will need to innovate RAPIDLY with this OS and their apps, provide well constructed first and third party apps, and keep pace with the changes the competition makes so that it doesn’t fall behind.  The question is, will Surface, Windows RT, and Windows 8 and their apps be a Zune, or will they be an X-Box / Windows 7 story?

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Windows 8.1 – It’s getting there

This post will describe some of the features that Windows 8.1 has and what I believe to be useful or otherwise helpful additions to add to the next release of Windows, in addition to my prior post on the topic.  What we have seen so far, including the new Start button, more personalization, and more business-friendly options, should be the beginning of more rapid feature enhancements by Microsoft.  By “rapid” I mean on the course of every 3 months or every 6 months, not once a year.  The competition is changing rapidly, and Microsoft needs to do the same.

Book, Comic, Magazine, and Newspaper Notifications

Apple has their iBook app which puts in the ability to have newspaper and magazine subscriptions in the tablet.  Microsoft can do this and better in a single app.  Just sign up for electronic subscriptions to your favorite comics, magazines, and newspapers, and now with Nook being bought by Microsoft, books also.  Every time a book series, like Percy Jackson, has a new release, you would get a notification, giving you the opportunity to purchase the new book, or your favorite author, say, Dan Brown or someone else, has a new book out.  When a new issue of your favorite comic comes out, if you don’t have a subscription, you can check it out and see if you want to buy it, perhaps with a 1-/2- page preview.  Likewise with newspapers and magazines.  You can browse through, buy individual issues, or get subscriptions delivered electronically, with notifications telling you of new issues, or special editions.  This would be a driver of sales to the Windows 8 platform.  Include here textbooks, so you can have interactive textbooks, and with Surface Pro, you can write notes in your texts also.

Additionally, you can mark down books you’ve bought before, along with comics you bought, and magazines, so you can let the system start predicting comics, books, and magazines you might like based on what you’ve bought in the past.

Lock Screen Backgrounds

Now we can have our device act like a live picture frame, pulling in our pictures from various sources.  Can we determine specifically which sources, or is it everything?  It would be a bit embarrassing for pictures of an old girlfriend to show up when you’re with your current girlfriend, fiancée, or wife, that’s for sure.  Does the device have situational or locational awareness?  Imagine being able to choose pictures based on location, so if you’re in Paris, show only your pictures you took in Paris, or if you’re in the mountains of North Carolina, only seeing those pictures in rotation.  The device could also be set to show only pictures taken on today (so June 5th pictures would show on June 5th, June 6th on June 6th, and so on), or only pictures tagged with certain people (showing all pictures of just you, you and your wife/husband, just your kids, just your friends, etc.).  Another option for the Lock Screen, would be similar to how the Zune screensaver worked, with its different sized album covers that routinely flipped over to change to new album covers.  Here, have different-sized pictures you took flip over at certain intervals, showing you new pictures you may have forgotten you took.

Additionally, since we can have motion Start Screen backgrounds, why not motion backgrounds on the lock screen?  Imagine this Earth scene from space as a lock screen.

Movie and TV Notifications

There’s already an MSN Movies app on Windows Phone, and there should be one for Windows 8 also, so that you can mark upcoming movies with a ‘notify me when this movie comes out near me.’  That way, if you had signed up for notifications on ‘Man of Steel,’ then you would get a notification this week (June 10) that the movie’s coming out Friday, and On Thursday/Friday, links to buy tickets and a notification that the movie is out.  How much sense is that?  There are lots of movies you see that might be interesting that you miss out on, but with this, you would be reminded of those movies that you thought you might want to see.  Even better, mark down movies you’ve seen in this app, along with favorite actors and directors, and you can get notifications for those actors’ and directors’ next movies, along with predictive recommendations of movies you might like based on ones you’ve seen or own.

For the tie-in, when a movie you marked for notification comes out for purchase on X-Box Video (which should just be renamed back to Zune for simplicity’s sake), you get notified, and the notification takes you into XBV’s product page for that movie so you can rent or buy it, right there.  Simplicity, smart device, and help driving sales.

The same would apply for TV Shows, which you could mark either straight in XBV or in MSN TV.  You mark down shows you’ve seen that are in the catalog, and those that aren’t (same with movies), so that (1) you can get notified when new episodes are available for purchase, and (2) you can get notified when a show you liked is available for purchase.  That way, you don’t have to keep hunting every month to find out if the new season of Once Upon a Time or that season of Get Smart or Star Trek is available.  The app just pushes a notice out to you.

Music Notifications

There should be an option in X-Box Music to ‘follow’ artists and get notifications when they release a new album or single, as well as new concert dates nearby.  That way you don’t miss your favorite bands and their newest work.

Based on listening habits, Zune had Picks for you to discover new music, along with MixView.  This feature should carry over back into XBM.

Podcast Support

X-Box Music should include Podcast support, which Zune already does admirably, and was inexplicably dropped by whomever mis-programmed X-Box Music.  That software is a gray mess of emptiness and wasted space.  But it should fill some of that space with Podcasts, simply porting over the already excellent Zune podcast interface, and letting me get notifications when a Podcast has a new episode available.

Reading List

This is coming to Windows 8.1, allowing you to share web stories to a list you can read later.  What would be great would be sharing your reading list with your friends so that you can see what your friends are reading, within a specific ‘reading list’ app.  That way, I can scroll through and see that my brother added 5 new articles to his reading list, and two of those I thought were interesting, and the app would allow me to mark those as ‘liked’ or ‘interesting.’  This would be private and peer-to-peer, and not through Facebook, requiring explicit sharing, so you don’t have to worry about some people you don’t know seeing your reading list, like can happen on Facebook.

Search Results

The new Bing search results are nice, but panoramas having that little side-bit are not a big enough hint for older people or even me, someone relatively tech-savvy.  I won’t find something that’s tucked three virtual feet to the right in the search results, just like I didn’t find it in X-Box Music, which is a very poorly designed interface in comparison to Zune.  My response to the video Microsoft released about this feature is to add pivots to the top of the screen, so that you can see the kinds of search results that your query produced.  Using their example of Marilyn Monroe, you’d see the pivots: bio web movies music images related searches.  These would be persistent on top, and would rotate like the categories in X-Box Music on Windows Phone do when you swipe left or right.  You would be able to view the ‘bio’ pivot, and tap music to have that portion of results slide in, rotating bio to the left, just like you see on your phone, as a visual indicator that your search result focus has shifted.  It’s a little thing, but a visual indicator that would be helpful for older users to understand where they are in the system and that there are more options available than what they see.

Start Screen

When you have a pinned app on one side, a main app on the other, and you press the Start Button, the Start Screen takes over the entire screen, instead of just the area of the main app, causing your pinned app to stop doing what it was doing.  If you pin music or podcasts, then you have to go through restarting and repinning the app.  This would be much easier if the start screen would just take the 2/3 section of the screen.

It’s not a functional feature, but it would be nice to have parallax shifting and parallax scrolling on the Start screen.  The iOS7 has the first, but not the latter.  Parallax shifting makes it look like your icons are floating above the background you tilt the device, something that would add a bit of depth to the flatness that is Windows 8.  Adding in Parallax Scrolling would be even better, so that as you move the background, it appears to shift just like when you watch the countryside scroll by in a car ride, or when you played Super Mario World on SNES and had multiple layers of background scrolling past.  If you allow 3D background images, you could achieve the former, while the latter might require special software.

While I understand its purpose, it would be nice to have the small tiles on the bottom of the start screen to show active applications, so I can easily see which apps are active, or at least the ability to toggle such an option.

Start Screen Backgrounds

Now you can add moving backgrounds, where the demo video shows us a dragon tail moving as you swipe left and right on the Start Screen.  Even better, would be panoramic pictures with parallax scrolling.  Remember Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, and the first time you saw them, there were three or five backgrounds scrolling along as you travelled the level?  That was amazing for the time, and something similar would be likewise amazing for the Start screen as well, in addition to just using our own panoramas (I have several through Photosynth that are between 15 and 25 MB in size and some up to 20,000px wide).  Seeing a panoramic mountain view while scrolling through your start screen would be impressive to say the least.  Finally, remember the motion backgrounds from Windows Vista?  They had waterfalls, ponds with rippling water, or even something like this ‘Dreamscene‘, Earth, or this Fire bloom on Youtube.  Add that to the start screen and even the Desktop.

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Windows Phone (After-) Blue

We’ve gotten some nice updates from Microsoft regarding hints of what’s to come in Windows Phone Blue, notably a notification center (even though it can reasonably be argued it’s unnecessary) and 1080p handsets.  Now that the new Android and iOS7 updates have been announced, I would like to add my 2c to the discussion as to what I would like to see added to Windows Phone, after Blue.

(Please see my past article for other updates I would like to see added to Windows Phone)

For Hardware, the changes I would make would be: make 32GB the absolute minimum amount of storage available for anyone, unless it’s a cheap phone, like the Lumia 520.  Above that 32GB should be standard, not 16GB, as well as micro-SD cards for all phones.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to add them to our phones nowadays.

Calendar

If you look at it portrait, you see the day; if you turn it landscape, you see the week, automatically.  I’ve heard this is going to be added in, but it can’t come soon enough.

Car Integration

Apple is doing this, because they have enough Fanboys out there to warrant it.  Microsoft already partners with Ford with Synch, and I’m sure it could try to get Honda and Toyota in there also, to introduce meaningful car integration for playing music, voice control of radio, GPS, calling, have your texts and e-mails read to you while you drive, hands-free.  This would integrate with the voice operated assistant Microsoft featured a while back on YouTube.

Lock Screen

Add a parallax tracking so the background image can appear to shift with the phone.  This is arguably trivial, but it can add depth and third dimensionality to the lock screen, especially since WP8 doesn’t have start screen wallpapers.

Weather apps for the lock screen would have motion backgrounds so you can see your weather animating in a small 10-15 second loop, with live updates (not static) of temperatures and conditions.  This would be similar to the old motion backgrounds on Vista.

If you have actual notifications, you can swipe through them on the lock screen without unlocking.  You can even pull down the notification to respond from lock.  This would be mildly similar to iOS7, wherein you can choose your lock screen style: WP8, Today, or Notifications.  WP8 is the current minimalist style; Today would replicate the old Windows Mobile today screen, which a number of users miss and find useful to have the day’s appointments that they can flip through; Notifications would show you all missed notifications, including calls, texts, and e-mails.  You would be able to swipe through from left to right to change your lock screen style, with your last chosen lock screen persistent between locks.

Music

In the app, please just add ‘picks’ from the Zune desktop software, which is infinitely better than X-Box Music to this day.  The spotlight shows me nothing I like, and I can’t tell what the next swipe over is.  It would be nice to also be able to rate spotlights using the Zune heart/broken heart so I don’t have to look at music I don’t like ever again (Sorry Megadeth).  I would like to see a “Top 20” playlist in each genre, which I can download to my phone and play, in addition to having full playlist creation, editing, resorting ability.

Since we can stream music from X-Box Music, why not allow the creation of ‘stations’ based on an artist or three, to seed it, and we can save and pin it to the start screen.  Have a few presets, like a ‘Favorites’ based on music I frequently listen to, ‘Top Genres’ for the two or three genres I listen to most, ‘top artists,’ and so on.  The Smart DJ would be great to use for this, and even share this to Facebook or with a friend over Text, so that you can use cross-advertising to bring in new users.  On these stations, if we like what’s playing, we can tap the heart icon to favorite, or tap again (broken heart) to unfavorite, so it can learn which songs/artists we like, and we can find more music that’s more our style.

Photos

Since our pictures are geotagged, it would make sense to organize those pictures based on the subject matter, as well as allowing us to tag them with people and places.  Additionally, group them based on subject matter, so if I’m in Paris again, group all my Paris pictures together, and in that group, my Eiffel Tower, Versailles Palace, etc, together.  Perhaps a swipe to one side, and it’s grouped by people, and I can see all my pictures with my brother together, and my dad in another spot.  If iOS7 can do this, there’s no reason Windows Phone 8 can’t.

Currently, if you go into albums, there are pivots for people, favorites, albums, and date.  Albums reflects our Skydrive and Facebook albums; date for date taken; people shows us all available pictures of that person.  I would propose adding places, with tiles for any particular places you’ve been, so that you can check out all your pictures from London to reminisce, or perhaps show a friend who’s going there later.  Additionally, from this ‘places’ collection, you could share that place album with one or more friends so they can all see where you’ve been.  People could be improved here as well so that you could limit to just your pictures of your friends, if you have any.

Quick Settings

Pin to the quick settings the ones you use most (airplane mode, wifi, bluetooth, mute, brightness, flashlight, etc.) with a simple pull-down from the top of the screen.  Additionally, there should be a setting page to say which individual settings you pin onto this pull down.

Search

Restore the search button to contextual searching within specific apps.  This makes more sense than always taking us to Bing.  I cannot tell you how frustrating that is to accidentally tap those touch-sensitive buttons in the middle of a game.  In a game, just disable search.  Have a long-tap activate Bing search instead, just like a long tap of Start activates the voice command.

Within search, add local files, e-mails, texts, along with web, local, media, shopping results, but also include Wikipedia as well, which can be very helpful, along with Wolfram Alpha for common simple, factual questions (What’s the atomic weight of cobalt?, for example).

Settings

This should be alphabetized.  No question about it.

The next upgrade would be in Storage to tell us how much each app takes up on the phone so we can delete apps that take up too much space (also sorting by name and size would be helpful here), and an easy way to clear the “other” storage space which is currently eating up over 6 GB of my measly 16GB of unexpandable memory.

Sharing

NFC is nice, and we all have it now on our phones.  But it would be even better if our share interface would simply show us contacts near us, and we can just tap on that person’s picture/name to share something with them.  The iOS7 AirDrop is a good example of this sharing made easy.  This kind of sharing should be across the entire OS: share websites, music, videos, coupons, playlists, apps to friends, without resorting to going to the entire contact list.  Show me explicitly “friends near me,” “contacts,” and “everyone near me” so I can share more easily.  This isn’t difficult to think up.  Apple did it.

Start Screen

Swipe from the left edge to get the notification center.  There’s no need to make another live tile that can get lost in the sea of live tiles.  If you get new notifications, a slight bright glow can emanate every time you get a new one from the left so there’s a visual indicator of a new notification.

Also, add new animations for  Live Tiles to increase visual interest.  How about a 3D-cube turn from the top/bottom/left/right?  Not terribly difficult.  Or if you’ve been to Regal Cinemas, they have a multi-tile swipe effect before movies start.  That shouldn’t be hard for a single tile.  Two of what could be many ideas for new transitions.

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Surface TV

There are rumblings that Apple is working on an iTV (a name I used back 2005 during an MBA presentation, but I digress), and there are those who are calling for Apple to run their lives.  It is my belief that it is in Microsoft’s best interests to get ahead of this and put something out there that is unique, useful, and user-friendly before Apple does, or soon after, if they’re slow, before it becomes another market that Apple seals off from Microsoft (after phones, tablets, and MP3 Players).  Microsoft needs to be more agile, more complete in execution (X-Box Music/Video are abysmal failures in interface design, to be honest.  Put pivots in there so I actually know that there’s music to be heard.), and more thoughtful in feature-sets.  I will illustrate my point.

Surface TV Concept 1: Full-TV Set

This would be a more integrated solution than a mere set-top box, but with Smart TVs becoming more commonplace, this might be a sensible solution.  I would envision Microsoft creating perhaps 3 or 4 TV models: 42″, 55″, 70″, and 80″, each with 1920×1080 resolution, or, UHD resolution of 3840 × 2160.  The latter would be wiser for future-proofing the sets, with backlit LED LCD instead of edge-lit.

The TV sets should at least have 3 HDMI 1.4 inputs for the 42″ model, 4 on the 55″, and 5-7 on the larger versions.  People have multiple devices, and it’s smart to be prepared for them using them and wanting to use them.

Basic Features

It would be very simple in interface design.  I see no need to abandon the use of Live Tiles, but the background on the TV would be either black, or use the main user’s photos in a slide-show or static mode to be the background to help prevent burn-in.  In the event of loss of internet connection, the device will not stop working, but will update to show the lack of connection and let the user know only local content is available.  At no time should an internet connection become an excuse for the system to stop working.

Any computer on the Homegroup which has shared folders would be available source content for the Surface TV, so you could have 1 computer, or 10 computers.  All you have to do is enter your Homegroup information and your pictures, videos, music, and podcasts become available sources for media for the TV.  The TV will ask you to create (or just do it itself) two to four new Libraries on your computers: Movies, TV, Music Videos, and Audiobooks, so that if you want to watch TV shows, it will know that whatever is in the TV Library is a TV show.  TV Shows you purchase would automatically be sorted in series folders, then season folders (Walking Dead for example: c:\TV Shows\Walking Dead\Season 1\Walking Dead – S01E01.wmv).

From the main screen, you would have Live Tiles for the following: Live TV, Movie Library, TV Library, Podcasts, Music Library, Games, Weather, News, Travel, Movie Listings, TV Guide, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, ViMeo, Kindle, ESPN, NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL.  A Windows Store tile would let you download additional TV-specific apps, and also games you can load on the TV too.  You see all the tiles on one screen.  While watching TV, you can click the Start button, and a small row of tiles show at the bottom (or top) of the screen, so you can watch TV while navigating your menus.

Content from online sources would be controlled with a 4-digit PIN if you choose, based on rating, along with local content that could be matched to the X-Box Music/Video library.  Any video files you purchased or have saved locally would be matched to the X-Box Video marketplace so that the system knows that what you renamed to IM2.wmv is really the movie Iron Man 2, for example.

Formats supported would include at least: MP3, MP4, M4V, WAV, WMA (in all iterations), WMV (in all iterations), OGG, H.264, MKV, AAC, AIFF, MPEG, MPG, MPEG2.  The device would support multiple audio tracks in a file, and embedded subtitles in a file.  Users can write plug-ins for the Surface TV if they want, that would be available in the Windows Store, in a section that only appears on the TV itself.

You could pair the TV with a keyboard and mouse, an eHome remote, or just use voice and motion control.  If paired with a keyboard, drill-down searching would be enabled if you just start typing on it.  If you wanted to watch Doctor Who, for example, “The Sontaran Strategem,” you would just start typing “sonta” and it would automatically filter down to all series, episodes, movies, music, podcasts, and audiobooks containing that phrase.  Finding things would be that easy.  If you use the remote, T9 correction would be enabled, like Smart Dialing on your old Windows Mobile phones.

Interfaces

The Music interface will appear like Windows Media Center, a huge wall of album covers, with album-specific information displayed over that wall when you select an album.  You would see pivots at top for title, artist, genre, year, and composer so you can re-arrange your albums accordingly.  Each category would show “pages” – by title, all A-albums show up on the screen, and slightly to the right, you can see the hint of albums starting with B.  Organize by Artist, the same thing would be seen.  Organize by year, and you’d see the albums released in 1985, to the right, 1986, and so on (with the option to group by decade).

When sorted by artist, you would view an artist page, similar to that from Zune’s desktop software (as opposed to X-Box Music, which has too much wasted space).  You see all the albums on the bottom and you can create playlists here if you want, or just listen to music, or, using the pivots, view music videos by the artist, or see friends who like this artist.  You can share this artist to Facebook/Twitter if you want, share the now playing song or playlist, or even the album playing.  The MixView from Zune would also appear here as well, so that you can see which artists are similar to the band you’re listening to, and which artists influenced them, so that you can discover new music.  SmartDJ playlists would also be present.  Additionally, you can see local events related to this artist, and new concerts where the artist is playing near you, with links to purchase tickets to see the concert.

While playing music, the Zune screensaver effect would be used with rotating album covers and color overlays, with floating/flying text of the artist playing with artist artwork scrolling across the screen.

When viewing an artist, you can see the music videos that artist released, and watch them from the artist page, like Zune could do.  You could even do a Smart DJ music video list when you have friends over so that it would pick out music videos from local and online content that match the song you use to ‘seed’ the playlist.  How useful would that be?

With Kinect built-in, you could ask the TV: “TV, show me the popular rock music from Canada” and it will give you the top 10 or top 20 rock genre music from Canada as a playlist ready for you to listen to.  This kind of feature was demonstrated in the Microsoft “Home of the Future” video on Youtube.

When viewing TV Shows, it would start a hub showing new TV shows, upcoming, and recommended shows based on past viewing and purchases, both shows on live TV as well as those available on X-Box Video.  You can choose to just view a list of your TV Shows instead of the hub if you wish, and you can choose to view only local content or local+online in your TV Show listing and TV Hub. The TV Show Hub would have a list to the left for genres and networks so you can view and purchase/rent shows from there; integration with Hulu and Netflix would appear so that you can view the show in Netflix or Hulu if you have those accounts set up.  There would be no intermediate screens here – you click the ‘view in netflix’ button and that specific episode simply starts playing.  That’s it.

The TV Hub would also have a social feed either as a crawl at the bottom or on the right-most side like in Facebook, where you can see what friends are watching, liking, commenting on, or you can see what’s new in the Marketplace, based on things you’ve watched, liked, or wishlisted before.

The TV show list would have pivots at the top of the screen for ‘series’ ‘genre’ ‘year’ ‘rating’ ‘people’ ‘friends’ and ‘new’.  The Friends pivot lets you view your friends’ TV show collections to get ideas of what to watch, to comment on their shows, and to ‘like’ the shows they’ve seen (series as a whole, or specific episodes).  The new pivot shows you the newest and unviewed shows you have.  Series would sort by series, with each letter on a separate on-screen ‘page’ in keeping with the Metro style of ‘peeking’ at the next letter to the right.  You scroll up and down to keep viewing the letter A, swipe right to see B, and so on.  Genre organizes series by genre, so ‘Action’ would be first, then ‘Adventure’, and so on.  All shows that are ‘action’ shows would be on the first page, then all adventure shows on the next.  Year would organize shows by year of release, so Star Trek would be 1966, and Doctor Who would be 1963 and 2005 for the new series, for example.  Rating would group by the TV ratings, so that if you wish you can lock out via parental controls certain TV shows based on rating or content (alcohol use, language, etc).  So if you want your kids to watch something, you could set the TV page to only TV-G and genre to animated so they don’t accidentally start watching something like Game of Thrones or NCIS.

Your TV Library will give you little pop-on numbers showing new episodes that were recorded or downloaded from X-Box Video.  Swipe left from ‘series’ and you’d see ‘new’ showing only unviewed episodes, and ‘upcoming’ to show you upcoming episodes, and if you choose, recommended episodes or shows based on your viewing habits.

The Movie Hub would show you genres down the left and studios, and the main page would show you new releases, upcoming movies in theaters, most watched movies by rental/purchase, and a social feed of what your friends are watching/liking/commenting on.  You can disable the hub and only show your local library, local+online for streaming library, or local+suggestions which would include recommendations based on what you bought, rented, and liked around your friends’ lists or on the X-Box Video library.  The interface would be more like Zune than X-Box Video, since XBV’s interface is currently clunky and not very intuitive.

Viewing lists of movies would include pivots at the top for title, genre, year, rating, recommendations, and people.  Title would be like TV Shows, showing the titles alphabetically for your movies; genre, year, and rating work as you would expect them to work.  Recommendations would show you new in the marketplace for rental, purchase, and new in theaters based on movies you’ve purchased, rented, liked, or marked as ones you’ve seen in theaters.  The Surface TV would note which movies you marked as ‘seen’ in theaters to base recommendations for future movies, which can be improved if you mark such movies as “like” or “Didn’t like.”  Again, parental controls can help you limit what you allow your kids to see so they only see G-rated films and specific films you allow them to watch.

The Movie Hub would connect to online lists of movies, so that you can mark which movies you want to see, such as Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Riddick.  The upcoming list would show by week what’s coming up, and highlight what it thinks you might like (and why).  The week of, you would be reminded on the in-device calendar, and have the option to purchase tickets online for that movie.  The day of, you would get a toast notification on your Windows Phone that the movie is released and you can go see it in theaters.  You could also invite friends to see a movie, and they can accept, propose a different time, and decline invites.  Invites will also show you any conflicting appointments, and suggest friends who might also like to see this movie with you as well.

The Podcast Hub would show you your subscribed podcasts, let you watch listen anywhere and pick up where you left off.  You could even enter a few interests, such as ‘technology,’ ‘languages,’ ‘Swedish language podcasts,’ and ‘gardening’ and it would suggest podcasts for you to subscribe.  Audiobooks as a hub would show you purchased audiobooks along with books available to purchase, based on actual books you’ve bought in the past.  With this, you could leave the TV running while cooking or re-arranging the den, or just playing cards, and listen to your books at the same time.

The Travel Hub would let you plan vacations, setting a series of destinations, and pulling in recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and sites, based on the sites your friends on Facebook have visited, and if you don’t use Facebook, you get that information directly from friends’ Microsoft accounts and Bing Scrapbook feature.  You set several places you want to see, such as Boston, Plymouth, and Newport RI, and a few things you want to see, such as The Breakers, Cheers, Plymouth Plantation, and the Boston Museum.  Then it’ll suggest places to eat near those, other sites in those cities to see, such as Plymouth Rock, and keep a running total of the cost of the trip for you.  You would set how you want to get there – air, car, train, and it would look for airplane tickets near your departure date, by car it would estimate mileage and stop points for gas, and train the nearest train depot.

The News Hub would pull in news from various sources, and give priority to sources you enter, while also prioritizing news topics you want to hear about, such as “Apple” or “Microsoft” or “Congress.”  This would operate pretty much like the News App on Windows 8.

The Killer Features

The killer feature I would envision for a Surface TV would be Kinect being built in to the set, allowing for motion tracking, motion control, and voice control of the TV right from the start.  This would let you control the TV and all media functions right from the comfort of your couch without needing a remote.  You would just say “TV, play ‘the Patriot’ on Blu-Ray” and it would turn on your Blu-Ray player, set the TV to that input, and you’re ready to go.  Say “TV, play ‘Star Trek’ from 2009” and if you bought that on Zune/X-Box Video, it would just start playing.  You wouldn’t need to open anything or change settings.  The TV would just do it.  Tell it “TV, play some oldies from the 60’s” and it would create a playlist from your music library, then from the X-Box Music library, which would pre-queue so there’s no pausing between songs.

The second would be SmartGlass on your Surface tablet or other Windows Tablets.  This would allow you to control the action on the screen using your tablet, or get more information on the tablet screen based on the movie you’re watching, or the TV show you’re viewing.  If a particular actor comes on screen, the SmartGlass screen could show actor and character information particular to that episode, for example.

The third would be video chat using the built-in Kinect, and the fourth would be simultaneous watching of media together, so you and a friend miles away can view a photo slideshow with you narrating, a movie together, or a TV show.  Distance would be not so bad this way.

Fifthly, based on the Microsoft Home of the Future, you would have the device recognize things in a scene, so if you paused on a scene where the main thing was a VW bug and a can of Coke, it would recognize those items in the scene and offer to search for those online for purchase, or a shirt or backpack.  If there’s a restaurant on the screen, it will bring up a search term for that restaurant, and you can put that on a travel itinerary if you’re taking a vacation to New York, for example, to go to that restaurant when you visit.

Surface TV Concept 2: Set-Top Box

This is a less-integrated version of the system, but still useful for older TVs.  It would be everything above, but in a set-top box with a blu-Ray drive, SD-card slot, ethernet port, and HDMI 1.4 out to the TV, and a Kinect on top.

Conclusion

Either way they do this, Microsoft would be well served and completely integrated with all their other services.  Apple is already shown that they can integrate their services and just make it work, without much, if any, user hassle regarding access rights (X-Box Video on Windows Phone 8?, X-Box video in general?), or having unavailable content (try getting Get Smart, the TV Show, or any Star Trek series on X-Box Video).  The question is, can Microsoft create a set-top box or TV Set itself that will be so tightly integrated, easy to use, and intuitive, that people will willingly choose it over Apple?

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Windows Phone 8.5 (updated)

Windows Phone 8 has just been released, and it has quite a number of changes and enhancements, a number of which answer a host of customer requests and bring feature parity with quite a few areas of the phone.  Even with the addition of NFC, micro-SD, and other changes, there are still places where this phone system can use improvement and some features can be brought back from past iterations of the phone.

Hardware

Most of the phones coming out now are well designed, with specifications that are worth the wait, but certain things, like the buttons on the 8X or the Lumia 810/820/822 are either difficult to find or difficult to press.  A few suggestions overall for the Windows Phone 8.5 Hardware:
-micro-SD should be required on ALL phones, regardless of form or built-in memory.  It is not enough to have 16GB today, and the HTC 8X is stuck at this paltry amount.  The Lumia 920 has 32GB, which is good, but imagine having a 64GB micro-SD for a 96GB phone.
-resolution: only 1280×768 should be allowed going forward.  If you wish to have an entry level phone for emerging markets only, give them the 800×480 phones.
-memory: only 32GB or 64GB with micro-SD cards required.  A 16 GB phone but only in emerging markets
-front-facing camera of at least 1 MP
-use Sony or other RGBW sensors to capture more light.
HDR movie mode to allow more light and better scene capture when filming video
-individual physical buttons in place of capacitive.
-gyroscope, compass, accelerometer, barometer
-HD Radio (feature parity with Zune HD)
-Zune-style dock connector in place of mini-USB.  This would allow 3rd party docks and accessories to flourish, like alarm docks, stereo speaker docks, TV output docks, and more.
-MS provided “Windows Phone Originals” to allow custom graphics and text to be etched onto the phone, along with custom colors, much like Zune Originals did.

Apps

While there are over 100,000 applications in the Windows Phone Store, there are a few, such as Instagram, which could and should be ported over, especially with integration into the Lenses feature.  The Zune HD apps Audiosurf Tilt and Music Quiz should be brought over also, both were incredibly fun on the Zune HD.

Since it’s about apps, just add the X to close an app from the task switcher so that people will stop asking for it.

Backup, Restore, and Moving from Phone to Phone

Lots of original Windows Phone users will be upgrading to the newer LTE Windows Phones, and new users coming over will need and expect this feature from a modern phone.  Users of existing Windows Phones have texts, people (linked together), groups, installed applications (free, paid), app settings, game saves and achievements, phone history, recent people list, contact history for all contacts (texts, IMs, phone calls), IE Favorites, and full-resolution photos taken on the phone.

Application re-installation should be automatic, as should all of the above, the moment you log in to your Microsoft Account on the phone.  This would really delight all users of Windows Phones.  Currently, you have to go to windowsphone.com, and manually re-install everything one-by-one.  If not automatic, one button on the website should install everything back.  Additionally, there is no backup for your start screen, so you will have to manually re-set and re-size your tiles, and if you miss the offer to restore, there’s no setting for it anywhere in Settings to try it again.

Calendar

The calendar needs a week view, as many people have requested since 2010.  Especially in landscape mode.  The month calendar should also show some indication of which appointments are on which day, perhaps with colored bits in the days, as it currently isn’t very informative, as the competition is.

Camera

Add HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode to the default camera experience.

Desktop Software

The desktop software to access the Windows Phone 8 is utterly worthless in comparison to Zune.  The absolute best thing Microsoft can do is just to add Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone Store access into Zune and be done with it.  To be quite honest, X-Box Music and X-Box Video are both atrocious pieces of software that should never have been released to the public in the state they’re in, and deserve to be removed from every single PC on which they were installed, and immediately replaced with Zune, or Windows Media Player, both of which are far more mature and usable for people with large media collections.  Windows Media Player gives us fine-control over playlist synchronization, such as “all music by the artist Carbon Leaf, rated 3 stars or better, in the rock genre up to 1 hour in duration.”  You can’t do that with the Windows Phone 8 software.  You cannot edit metadata in the X-Box Video, which you were able to do in Zune.  As it stands, I have a huge pile of ‘video files’ on my computer that I had organized in Zune into movies, TV shows, and music videos.  I was able to actually get podcasts with Zune and synchronize them to my phone.  I cannot do that with the Windows Phone 8 software, nor X-Box Music.  For the sake of everyone who bought Windows Phone 8 – please, destroy X-Box Music and X-Box Video and replace them with a rebranded Zune software.  You don’t need to re-invent what works.  And please…put back the ‘social’ tag.  I would like to see what my friends are listening to, comment, like, and share music with them, which links them back to X-Box Music.  It’s a win-win for Microsoft.  Don’t make me have to write a program myself for basic features and functionality you actually had at one point but for some odd reason removed.

Device Features

There are now around 20 colors available for themes, not including those specific to certain manufacturers or carriers.  Another option would be for users to have the ability to create their own colors, send that theme to a friend, and have colors fade across the entire screen (so that top left starts red, and fades to blue by the time it gets down to the bottom of the screen), or even have color groups, so that work tiles are red, personal tiles are blue, and hobby tiles are green, for example.

The phone should have time and location awareness so that when I’m at work or at church, it will set itself to silent until I get out.

There seems to be a bug, or perhaps a “feature” that after I snooze the alarm too much, the phone’s volume will be turned off, and you have to reboot the phone to get sound back.

Facebook Integration

A few new features have come to Facebook, which should also come to the Windows Phone in the next version, including: check other people in with you, check in with a picture and caption.  Facebook is adding features quite regularly, and the Facebook integration should keep pace.

From the People Hub, we should be able to, when viewing ‘What’s New’ also choose to share any post we find there.  We can already retweet things, but there’s no ‘share’ function.

When checking in at a place from the Me Tile, we should be able to tag people we’re with, as well as take a picture and post it to Facebook without having to open the App.  Just by adding a button or two there, those features can be included on the interface.  Maybe even add a music icon to share which song, album, artist, or playlist I’m listening to.

When posting an article to Facebook, it looks somewhat bare in comparison to how you post from within Internet Explorer on the desktop or any other browser, which allows you to choose an image from the web page to use to post the article.  That’s what the ‘share to Facebook’ option should allow from within IE should allow, along with the ‘post a message’ from the Me Tile should do, is allow you to cycle through the images from the article to choose the one you wish to post, as well as tag people in that article share.  Surface lets you choose the image already.  You should also be able to tag contacts from statuses you post to Facebook like you can on the desktop browser version of Facebook.  It looks like Windows Phone 8 loses the “Share to Facebook” option, which is sad since that’s the most often used choice and should rightly be there.

I would also suggest the addition of the option to post pictures and articles directly to friends’ walls, under the ‘share’ option already present in the picture hub, the me tile, and the people hub.  This extends existing functionality and also means one less situation where I have to open the Facebook app which is much slower than the phone itself.

Internet Explorer

Taking a cue from Windows 8/RT, if Microsoft wishes to keep the interface minimalist, how about swipe-in interfaces?  On IE 10 on Surface, you can swipe left to go back, and swipe right to go forward.  Since IE on the phone doesn’t have a back or forward interface button, it would be a nice touch to add that feature into the browser.

Regarding swipe-in, similar to the charms bar, since the bottom is now the address bar and the refresh/stop button (by default), how about adding the find on page, tabs, favorites, history/recent, and settings in a swipe down menu from the top?  You still get the minimalist interface, but you can finally make use of the space taken from the top in the transition from Windows Phone 7 to 7.5 Mango. Or, if you add the swipe-down settings for airplane mode that users ask for, either make IE the exception to that, make a swipe-down settings bar an all-app option and airplane mode-menu only on the start screen, or make the app bar at the bottom of IE swipe from left to right, like the copy/paste icon does currently, but do it so that we can have additional buttons for tabs, favorites, and history.  Any of those 3 options would be helpful.

When going in and out of the browser, the ‘back stack’ is eliminated so that your ‘back’ history on the browser is no longer there.  If adding the back/forward swipe gestures, this would need to be fixed.  It can’t really be that difficult to maintain the back/forward history for tabs as simple links for later retrieval.  It’s done in IE when re-opening tabs as well as Firefox.

For those who enjoy reading articles later, it may be useful to add a ‘reader’ view so that we can bookmark articles to view later, minus all adds and images, similar to the iOS5 Reader feature.  Even better would be a built-in RSS reader application so that any RSS feeds I subscribe to that are viewable in Outlook or on my desktop will also show up on my phone as well.

Keyboards

You can now download keyboards into the system, which is very useful, and change your interface language.  Both are very helpful for international users.  One additional change would be for nostalgia purposes – allow the changing of the sound of keypresses.  Either to a manual typewriter, or the IBM PS/2 keyboard sound.  It might not be high on the list, but it would bring a smile to a segment of users’ faces to hear those sounds again.

Kid’s Corner

When selecting music, we need jumplists to navigate more quickly, and pivots for album, song, playlist, and artists.

Lock Screen

It would be great for the lock screen to include weather information on it in addition to the messages, calendar, etc. that it currently allows.  And not “Metro”-style weather, but actual, color, hi-resolution weather graphics like the HTC hub does now, and weather that animates like the HTC Hub does.  I myself would like a little Live Lock Screen wallpaper.  That would 1-up the competition.

One feature the iPhone gained is to unlock notifications to go directly into that app to that specific message, such as a Facebook notification.  This would be a good feature to bring into Windows Phone, perhaps by swipe down, instead of swipe-up, to bring down the notification by app (with their own pivots), and if I tap/swipe-up from that individual notification, it will then bring me into the app at that specific message.  Same functionality, but more in-line with the Windows Phone aesthetic.  The lock screen is preserved and remains uncluttered, perhaps with the use of a time-out that will pull the lock screen back up after 10 seconds or so of inactivity.

Mail

When sending mail, it would be great to be able to save music files sent via e-mail into the Music+Videos hub, and to edit the ID3 tag information for the file.  Additionally, sending files for use as ringtones and notification tones should include ‘save as…’ ringtone/notification tone options.

Maps

The mapping should have built-in turn-by-turn for all phones, not just Nokia.  That’s just an omission that hinders the entire platform.  Did you buy HTC? yes?  Well, you’re out of luck.  That’s not really fair.  Then we have to pay some $30-$60 for some mapping application that Nokia users get free.  Especially not fair since the flagship Lumia 920 is limited to AT&T, and won’t be showing on Sprint or T-Mobile.  The 820 just doesn’t cut it nowadays, sorry.

While using Bing Maps, the Streetside View should be updated so that for all major cities (population 1 million + at first, then others later) you can view the street level, much like Nokia’s Here is allowing now for Europe.

The Reviews and Ratings for both Nokia Maps and Bing Maps should be integrated so that Lumias and HTC phones will have no disruptive differences between them when an HTC user goes abroad, or a Lumia user goes to the United States.  It appears that Lumias have had “Maps” removed from them, making US maps underwhelming in comparison to HTC users, and vice versa.

With the GPS functionality, there should also be the ability to purchase additional GPS voices for our phones, so that we can get KITT, Mr. T, foreign language voices, and so on, much like we can now for standalone GPS units.

In concert with the camera, the Nokia City Lens ‘augmented reality’ function should be brought to additional phones through the Lenses – either bring the app or build that functionality in to the OS itself through Bing Vision perhaps.  It just makes sense, along with the complete internationalization of Local Scout so that I take my Windows Phone to Munich, it recommends the best restaurants and hotels, such that the Android and iPhone pale in comparison.

Windows Phone 8 allows you to toggle traffic on/off, but what would be helpful, and is currently present in Nokia’s HERE app (on iOS oddly enough) would be granular traffic alerts for accidents, construction, congestion, and other traffic issues.

Music + Videos

It’s sad this loses the Zune branding, but that’s no one’s fault but Microsoft’s for failing to actually market the product with any effort.  Aside from that, the software could use a few improvements in several areas.

The play button next to music should be restored.  Having it at the bottom is putting it in a place no one will ever think to see, and even then, they’ll wonder what it’s for.  It’s not obvious like it was when it was next to music.

I have used X-Box music matching, and now a lot of artists I don’t care about show up in my music hub and I can’t get rid of them.  Sometimes I would like to hide certain artists while on the phone.  Too much music can be overwhelming.  In fact, I try not to use the music app anymore because I can’t find what I want in there.

Audiobook support should be added into the software, with audiobooks a recognized genre that automatically gets set into this area of the app so that playing music doesn’t get interrupted with ‘chapter 14’ of Lord of the Rings or something else.  Users should be allowed to add their own mp3s marked with the genre ‘audiobooks’ into that menu item.  I have plenty of audiobooks I can’t correctly add to my Windows Phone or easily play in Windows 8/RT because this simple action is not supported currently.  In the PC software, my audiobooks seem to show up as a dozen albums rather than as one single audiobook.

Aside from Audiobooks, there should be a “Zune-iversity” added to the X-Box Music PC software that lets you find educational podcasts and video podcasts all in one place, mirrored in the Windows Phone.

The option of wider codec support would be appreciated, such as avi files, or at least the option to convert then synch those files to the phone, as well as mkv files, with support for multiple audio tracks and captions embedded in the files (to turn on or off).

When music is playing, the artist shows up on the Live Tile with animated artist names, but when paused, it goes back to the blank Music+Videos tile.  It would look much nicer if it would preserve the prior behavior and keep the last played artist showing up there.

The addition of an audio equalizer, similar to DFX on PC, with multiple environment presets would be great for audiophiles and those who would like to tweak their audio settings, adding in a bit more bass on some songs, or treble on others, giving that extra control for power users, while giving the presets for most other users.  This should be available from the button bar in Now Playing, along with an option to save Now Playing as a playlist.

The ability to delete an entire album would be greatly appreciated.  It’s tedious to delete song-by-song.  The ability to edit playlists in their entirey would be great – I would like to delete, move up/down songs on a playlist while making it on my phone.  Also, the ability to “add to new playlist” would be amazingly helpful.  I tried adding a song to a playlist, and I somehow had over 6000 songs in that playlist because it was the Now Playing list, which somehow had all the music from X-Box matching in it.  All I wanted was a new playlist, and instead I had to stop all music, find an album with only 1 song, play that, then create a playlist from that base.  That’s ridiculous in 2012 and on a Microsoft phone.  I shouldn’t have to create an entirely new playlist like that.  That’s totally backwards.  When viewing a playlist, it just has a little green ‘all’ on there – no # of songs and no runtime.

The background in Music+Videos is a very dull gray.  I enjoyed the black background that would stay the background of the last artist played.  It looked better and was much more lively.  Now…not so much.  This app is definitely a step backwards from Zune.

Radio song recognition, HD Radio, and the option to ‘add to cart’ for whichever song is currently playing is another great feature for music discovery when a user doesn’t want to listen to the loaded mp3s on his phone.  Radio receivers were removed in WP8, but I believe that HD Radio should be added back in the next iteration of Windows Phone so that we can listen to our favorite radio stations on the go, along with using radio for song discovery.

When sharing a song via Windows Phone, I found no way to share it from the Music+Video hub.  I would refer to the Zune HD Facebook App, which showed the album art, artist, album name, and song name, and it looked great.  I would highly recommend replicating this look for the Music+Videos sharing function to allow sharing to Facebook and Twitter, then on the People Hub when you click “Write on Wall,” and also on the Me Tile when you click on “Post an Update.”  This would be a great way to share the song, album, artist, or playlist you’re listening to with friends.

Regarding sharing, this was a great feature of Zune that never really got much promotion or prominence and I believe Microsoft should fix that with Windows Phone 8.  The ‘Social’ pivot should be brought over from Zune HD so that I can see what friends are listening to, either the artist, album, song, or playlist, and I could see my friends’ individual play histories, comment/like those songs, share songs directly to a friend’s X-Box account which could then show up in Music+Videos, or even better, as a pivot on the contact card.  That would be great exposure for the X-Box Music+Videos marketplace.  I should be able to share an entire playlist, album, or just send an artist recommendation to friends and have that show as a feed in my Me Tile.  Perhaps a better way to do this, would be to add a pivot in my Music+Videos hub to show me, like Pictures or People, the social feed of my friends, what they’re listening to, so that I can much more easily comment on, like, or even try out, those very same songs, publish playlists publicly, and share music, tv, and movies with friends.

Additionally, a media pivot should be added to contact cards so that I can see what music, TV, and movies a person’s been listening to through X-Box, and where I can comment/like and also tap to try out a song from X-Box, or a movie/TV show.  That would be great cross-promotion and discovery of music.

For feature parity with the former Zune HD, the Music+Videos software needs to have some additional features brought over.  On the artist page, there should be a play, plus (add to now playing), and Smart DJ button above the artist album list.  The Bio should include hyperlinks as on the Zune HD (great feature for music discovery), and a pictures pivot for artist artwork should be included also – I was able to download that and use it as wallpaper on the Zune HD, but that functionality is lost on Windows Phone 8.  Since music videos are also streamable for free, there should be a ‘videos’ pivot for the artist to see any music videos available right from our phones.  No one else would have this feature.

Additionally, the phone itself should support chapters in TV/Movies, along with subtitles and multiple language tracks, and let me see the TV and movies I’ve purchased but not downloaded in my TV/Movies pivots, for streaming to my device.  Tap, and it starts to stream to the phone so I can watch my shows and movies any time.  That would be a great feature, made even better if it were to include chapter support, multiple audio tracks, and subtitles.  A good guide for this would be Paramount’s ‘enhanced movie apps’ with the addition of multiple audio, subtitles, and chapters.  If MS would release movies in this format for the Zune / Windows Phone, that would give them a leg up on the competition.  No other phones would have this feature either, and this is currently possible with Music, so why not videos also?

On the genre pivot, it’s cosmetic, but I liked seeing mini-album-art under the genre, as it gave me a visual clue what was in that genre.  Similarly, under artists, the same mini-album-art should also be present to see visually how many albums you have, and which ones.  This add visual appeal to the Music+Videos app on Windows Phone, carried over from Zune.

On the album page, it would be nice to see an “add to now playing” plus icon and a “send to” mail icon so I can share an album with my friends on Windows Phones with Zune tags.  On the Video page, it would be nice to tap the icon to play all videos of a TV show, or tap the text to see a list of TV shows therein.

On the video page, it would be nice to have a play icon on the TV series grouping to play all episodes of a TV show.  Since moving to Windows Phone 8, being forced to use the Windows Phone 8 synchronization software, all those videos I spent long hours tagging with metadata in Zune were wasted, and I have no TV Shows, according to my new Windows Phone 8 device.

In the Store, it would be nice to have a pivot for ‘recommended’ for those albums and artists recommended to me based on what I’m listening to or have listened to, and my favorite artists.

Gapless playback should be added to the device when playing audio, and when a user clicks on ‘store’ in Music+Videos, it should take the user to the music store, not the general store.  This would save the user several taps, making the navigation more intuitive for the user.

Aside from this, there should be a tap+hold option to “add to playlist” so I can add any song, on phone or in the marketplace, to a given playlist on the phone, and if it’s not already on my phone, download it and put it on the playlist.  Building playlists should be an option on the phone, with a simple tap+hold option.  All I can do now is “Add to Now Playing.”  Perhaps an option after tapping “music” should be a button bar to ‘create new playlist.’  A button bar shows up in Songs, so why not in the pivot for playlists?

Apps like Spotify and Pandora are nice, but Music+Videos can do much better with Smart DJ.  Since we have channels on the Zune PC software, I would also like to see ‘channels’ on the phone based on an artist, set of songs, or set of albums, and have Music+Videos Smart DJ pick similar artists for me to create a channel that auto-updates with content as its released.  For example, if I seed a channel with REM, then it would pull in the B-52’s, Talking Heads, etc.  If I seed a channel with three Christian songs, the channel will pull in songs similar to those, continually updating so that as new albums are released, the channel updates.

This could act as an enhanced Smart DJ playlist, where you can pull in more artists as you play dynamically.  Perhaps some kind of graphic panels of the albums on your channel could show up as a large 2-D pane, that you scroll up, down, left, and right in, discovering new artists and albums in the view.

Auto Playlists, like Windows Media Player can do, would be an amazing addition (such as ‘new songs added within last 6 months in genres Rock, Pop’) so that I can have always fresh playlists on my phone and synchronized with the cloud.

In the Music+Videos Marketplace, it’s nice, but I would like to see “picks” like I see on the Zune PC software, so I can see artists, channels, songs, albums recommended for me based on my listening habits, and also see like-minded users I can ‘friend,’ see his/her Music+Videos history, friend list, and send messages through X-Box like I was able to do with Zune Social. I would also like to have the tap+hold option for marketplace albums to ‘add to now playing’ or ‘download.’  Currently, I have to open the album to download.

Searching the Music Store can be improved.  When I search for Johnny Cash, for example, it’s a jumble of artists, albums, playlists, and songs.  There should be separate pivots for each so I can narrow down what I’m looking for, be it the artist, or a song with his name in it, or whatever else.

Notification Center

Since everyone is clamoring for its inclusion, beyond what is currently available for notifications in Windows Phone 8, I have a suggestion for its implementation which would be simple and intuitive: instead of pull up to unlock, have pull down on the lock screen open the notifications, where a swipe right dismisses, and either swipe left or tap/swipe up to enter the app at that specific notification (such as a specific Facebook comment, or Twitter notice, etc.).  This would implement a feature the iPhone currently has, whereby users can unlock the entire phone, or unlock at a notification to automatically enter that app at that specific notification.  Currently, only toast notifications seem to do this in WP8, but if you miss a notification, there’s no getting it back.

When the screen is unlocked, utilize a similar motif from Windows 8/RT: swipe in from a side, or even the top to get the notification center.  For the sake of variety on WP8, I would tend for swiping left to see all notifications, perhaps include a five-day weather forecast from my chosen weather provider, and all my apps’ notifications in one place, so that if I missed the toast notification 5 hours ago, I can still see it here.  Swiping from the top in this case, could then be reserved for settings you need most commonly, such as airplane mode, brightness, etc.

Perhaps similarly arranged to the Blackberry Hub from Blackberry 10:

BlackBerry-Hub[1]

That requires a swipe gesture from the left-hand screen edge, recalling Windows 8’s edge gestures.  My idea of a notification center would be more like Nokia’s concept, but using the already available account logos for a little bit of graphical spicing up the page:

ncscreenshot concept 1  ncscreenshot concept 2 ncscreenshot concept 2

My second and third concepts borrow the pivots from the Zune HD/X-Box Music hub, showing the number of notices in 3 categories: social, texts, and mail.  Social holds all social network messages, texts all messaging (Facebook, Skype, text) apps, and mail all mail apps.  It would also be slightly graphical with the network logos, and contact pictures to avoid being a bare text-only screen.  If you tap on any social network notification, it will go directly to that app, to that specific message, just like the lock screen notification center would do for you.  I believe this would satisfy those wanting a notification center while keeping in the Windows Phone aesthetic.

People

Bringing over a feature from Zune HD, the Social pivot, should here be called “Media” so that I can see what friends are listening to through X-Box, be it an artist, album, song, or playlists, or even a TV Show, Series, Movie, or music video.  Zune Social should carry over into Windows Phone, including a menu item to see Zune-specific messages of artists, songs, and playlists from Friends, and letting us see friends’ profiles and songs, artists, playlists they’ve created / listened to, enabling more Music Discovery on the phone, within the Music+Videos hub.  It was a great concept on Zune HD, and should absolutely carry over to Windows Phone.  This would enable more friends to discover music, trade songs, and possibly even share music videos, tv, and movies.  I would say on each Music+Videos card, carry over Recent, Favorites, Top Artists, and add TV, Music, and Movies.  This would let friends see and recommend TV shows and movies to their friends, with links to download that show/movie from within Music+Videos.  More discovery this way can mean more profit for Microsoft.  Nothing wrong with that.

More for the PC software, but we should also have the option to favorite TV shows and Movies, and when viewing a trailer, tag it to be notified when it’s available in the Music or Video Store for purchase.  I would like to favorite TV shows so that, for a show such as Get Smart, or Star Trek, if the people who run the X-Box Store see a demand for a show, they can then know which shows to add to the marketplace sooner rather than later and drive more purchases.

A feature added to the iPhone in the last hardware revision was the “Find My Friends” feature and app, so that you could see where your friends are and share your location with them.  For my parents, brothers, and sisters, I should have the option to always share my location with them in case they need to contact me or find me, perhaps as a button on the app bar “find friend.”

Another feature that would be useful for this app would be a spouse field, children fields, sibling fields, and parent fields, so that if I tap my wife’s contact card, and I remember “I need to call my mother-in-law” I don’t have to back out, go to People, then search for her, I could just tap the “mother” field and see my wife’s mother’s contact info to call her.  It would save time and make it easier to see the relationships between people.  This feature should also carry over into the desktop app People.

One last thing for People would be the inclusion of setting individual notification tones for people as well as groups, so that if I wanted to, I could tell my family is texting me because the Family group notification tone is set to a foghorn or something, or that my brother is texting because that notification tone is set to ‘manah manah’ from the Muppets, and so forth.  The iPhone can do this now, so why can’t we have custom notification tones for texts, e-mails, etc.?

Personalized Updates

Google has released its service called “Google Now” which has some interesting features too it.  You can get movie recommendations and buy movie tickets, have the phone tell you when you need to leave to catch the movie and automatically pull up the tickets on your phone when you get there; it can display the traffic on the way to work; gives you the weather on your way and at your destination; sports scores for your favorite teams, live; package alerts for things you ordered; suggest places to visit when traveling; flight alerts; auto currency, time zone, and translations while traveling in a foreign country; and more is promised.

This is a feature that will help Android leap past the iPhone and entrench its own users, and it unfortunately makes Windows Phone look a bit less advanced in how it handles data on your phone, with which it does little to nothing predictive.  This is the promise of live tiles, and what it’s supposed to do for us without us having to dive into apps all over the place – glance and go.

I have two alternative proposals for Windows Phone, which could make it easy to add exactly the same feature set.  Let’s say you set your work address and time.  Your phone shows on the lock screen a live map with traffic updates without you needing to tell it to do so, with estimated travel time and a voice alert “you should leave within the next 10 minutes to get to work on time.  It will take 25 minutes to get there.”  If the phone is locked, a long press of the start button could initiate this mode.  You could also swipe the locked screen like Blackberry 10 can do, but that might be a bit derivative.

On the lock screen, with a swipe-animation or fade-animation, show me a quick little blurb about my favorite sports teams, say the Jaguars or the Patriots, and if they’re playing today, show me something like:

sports updates movie updatesflight information update

You could swipe left/right to cycle through the cards.  Go to your Microsoft account, and enter a few bits of information such as work address, favorite books, tv shows, and movies, and it can start recommending to you based on those, including stuff you bought from Zune or X-Box Music/Video:

upcoming movie updates upcoming tv updates upcoming tv updates 2

The phone would recommend Iron Man 3 because you bought Iron Man 1 and 2 on X-Box video (or rented them), or because you bought tickets to the others using Fandango or Movietickets.com, or because you posted on Facebook about the movie recently, or even because you put it on your Microsoft Account that you like Marvel movies.  Big Bang Theory would show up if you bought it, liked its Facebook page, or explicitly said on your Microsoft Account it was one of your favorite shows.  Likewise, Doctor Who.  If you like the Facebook page, bought or rented the show on X-Box Video, or even watched it on Netflix, the phone would aggregate that and put it here for you to let you know it’s coming up.  It would even show you the channel and time it airs if you tell the phone which TV provider you use.

When you show up at the movie theater, the phone knows which theater you meant to go to, and using GPS, when you get there, auto displays a QR code the theater can scan as your ticket:

I would propose a Bing app for movies and TV shows that lets you favorite shows you have watched and do watch now, and would be interested in seeing later on.  For example, I tell this app I watched the original Star Trek, then it would later recommend to me Star Trek: Into Darkness and provide links to purchase tickets, view the trailer, and see news stories about the movie.  I could mark the movie “interested” at which time the app would remind me the week of release, and give me a live tile link to purchase tickets.  I could mark that I liked He-Man when I was a kid, then an update would notify me when the DVD is coming out and give me the opportunity to purchase it.  If I mark down that I like Doctor Who, it would show me updates to purchase officially licensed merchandise like mugs, toys, and replicas (merchandise offers would be separately enabled, disabled by default).  Knowing which movies, tv shows, and music a person likes would be great for advertisers, and for media companies so that BBC knows there are 5 million Windows Phone users who watch Doctor Who, and that could encourage them to write an app for Windows Phone about Doctor Who; having Paramount know that 4.5 million Windows Phone users in the US, Canada, and Germany would let them know to write an app in French, Spanish, German, and English about Star Trek, and that they should put Star Trek in all its forms onto X-Box Music and Video for purchase, so they can make more money.  It works for everyone.

weather updates

If there’s a random weather event, like a thunderstorm, the screen will update and let you know you should leave early to get to work if there’s traffic congestion.

When travelling and you arrived at the airport, the phone could then show you your rental car info if you rented a car, and once you get the car, update to show you where your hotel is and the ETA.  If you created a ‘vacation plan’ in Bing Travel, then that would be completely available on the phone and show you the sites you selected , distance, ETA, and price, if any.  All that from the lock screen, if you choose, or from the Live Tile for Bing Travel (this would need to be ported to Windows Phone, of course).  Do this, and your Windows Phone becomes an indispensable travel companion.

When you’re near a place that’s a photo hotspot, say the Eiffel Tower, or Broadway, or the Capitol, or the Alamo, the phone would let you know X number of people took pictures here based on geotagged pictures uploaded to Skydrive.  If you walk into a restaurant it offers to display the menu card in Local Scout, using the GPS to know you’re in Luigi’s Pizzeria, and not Sakura Japanese Steakhouse next door.  If you have set a few stocks that you own in Bing Finance, that will show up on your phone in the update rotation every 15 minutes or so.  If you’re in the subway, the phone’s lock screen will show you ETA till the train comes, which lines are near you, and if you’re in the train, ETA to destination (if you set one using Bing Travel, for example, or are looking for directions and asked the phone to show you where to go).  If there’s breaking news, like a State of the Union or something international happened, and you selected for news alerts to show, then the phone would put that into the update rotation.  If you have Nike+ as an app, it would be integrated so that even on the lockscreen you see distance, time, calories burned.

Outlook.com already has a folder for “shipping updates” so the ability Google Now enjoys with showing your shipping updates would be incredibly easy to add to Windows Phone’s lock screen.

If I purchased tickets to the Nutcracker for me and my girlfriend last year, it should remember that and suggest other musical events, perhaps Carmina Burana, Handel’s Messiah, or Mary Poppins perhaps.

From James Kendrick’s article on ZDNet:

“If I receive a communication of any kind (email, TXT, Facebook message, Twitter DM, etc.) from my buddy Matt Miller stating he’s “coming to Houston next Thursday. We should have dinner”, my phone should interpret this and offer to set up an event in my calendar for this. Better, it should also remind me that Matt likes a certain restaurant in Houston (from past visits), and offer to make a reservation. It could even fire up a reply in the proper app notifying Matt that we’re on. This sort of stuff can help me out a great deal, and without any effort on my part.”

How much sense does this make?  Let’s say you get a communication for a meeting across town, Mr. Kendrick explains:

“My phone always knows where I am due to geolocation, and that can be leveraged to help me. If I get a phone call asking for a meeting across town at a certain time, when I enter it into my schedule on the phone it should warn me if the distance between the existing meeting before or after this one makes it unlikely I can make it. This could save me embarrassment by suggesting I offer a slightly adjusted meeting time for the new event.”

A businessman’s dream phone would do this for them.

The second alternative would be a live tile that opens to a hub, with pivots for each update type you activated in settings.  There would be a weather pivot, movies, TV, stocks, shipping updates, travel, hotspots, and so on.  The tile itself would update frequently to show you your updates without intervention, with every other card flip being the date/time and weather, since the time always disappears if we don’t tap the top of the screen.  This would be less an obvious change, and might be a bit more work for the user to discover.  Perhaps adding the hub by default as the top tile would be helpful.

Each of these update types would show in the settings panel for “Personalized Updates” so you can opt in or out of them at your choice, so you aren’t inundated with information, and you can keep your lockscreen as clean, or as personalized, as you want it to be.  The competition is obviously not standing still with their phones.  Microsoft needs to pick up the pace.  Just view James Kendrick’s article from ZDNet and

Phone

Windows Mobile had a smart dialing feature.  Start typing 326, and it would bring up all phone numbers containing 326 as well as all possible names you could form from that, so any Daniels or Dans would show up in that list, making it quick and easy to tap out friends’ names on your phone.  Today, Windows Phone 8 cannot do that, and is forced to tap the phonebook to go to people, then tap a letter, then find your contact or search and type a few extra letters.  Extra work that would be unnecessary with Smart Dialing.

Another feature that would be useful is to pin the dialer to the start menu.  A lot of the time I just want to dial the number, not see my call history, then tap the numberpad button.  That’s two taps that could be made into one tap.  Or, you could make the phone app always open to the dialer, and add a button for history to go to the old history page.

Speaking of history, the current history melds together incoming, outgoing, and missed calls.  It would be much easier to separate those all out into separate pivots so that I can see all incoming calls and search for that call that came in two days ago that I need to find the number for.  Much better.  In addition, call duration should be added, as it was a feature in Windows Mobile, and currently a feature in Android/iPhone.  How hard would that be?

Finally, the ability to block certain numbers from calling or texting you would be great for the spam texts and telemarketers that sometimes come in on your phone, or just blocking certain people from contacting you period.

Phone.Live.Com

This site should be more useful for Windows Phone users.  All texts sent/received from my device should be backed up here, along with sent mails, saved pictures, and all apps (free and purchased).  In the event I need to do a full restoration of my phone, this would let me do so without losing anything at all.  Adding the Kin Studio timeline view would be another nice way to spruce up the page.  With Windows Live dying down and being moved into other places, the name might change, but the features available through the web page should not.

Photosynth

There is currently a great Photosynth app available for iOS, but there has been none as of yet for Windows Phone.  Rather than a separate app, this functionality should be completely be built into the phone’s camera so I can switch between a photo, panorama, and a photosynth, and upload those to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or wherever else I have a linked account.  For some reason, Photosynth is currently unavailable on WP8.  It would be a great showcase app or better, integrated function of the phone.

Screenshare

Blackberry 10 has been released with several new features, one of which is screen sharing while you are on a video call.  This can be simply added via a button on Skype, and could be a useful idea.

SD Cards

The microSD cards should be required on all phones, even unibody like the Lumia 920 or the HTC 8X.  Especially if OEMs insist upon limiting us to 16GB on the phone, which is ridiculous in this day and age.

Search

When performing a product search, there should be deeper integration with the Amazon app so that if you tap on the Amazon price listing, it will take you to that product page within the Amazon app instead of to that page within Internet Explorer.

Continuing on search, when I’m in the mail app, I want to search, my first instinct is to use the search button, but I can’t.  It goes to Bing.  When in Internet Explorer, I want to find on page, which is buried in the page.  When in messaging, I want to search my messages, but I can’t since the search button goes to Bing, and so on.  I would propose making the search button default to searching the currently active app if it supports it, otherwise give a message saying “there is no searchable content in this app, or it has no search feature.  Please contact the app developer to request this,” and have a long-press of the search button take you to Bing as today.

Bing search should be the default on the start screen though, and should also search locally on the phone for texts, e-mails, and contacts like Android/iPhone can currently do.

Settings

It would be great to have the option to pin individual settings to the start menu for quicker access, such as brightness, NFC, Airplane Mode, etc.  Better still would be the option to swipe down from the top while in the Start screen to have airplane mode, wi-fi, and NFC there for easy on/off.

For music, there should be a setting available in Settings as well as within the Music+Videos app for a music equalizer with multiple presets as well as customizable presets to emphasize bass, treble, and balance.  Even better would be if the phones could simulate 5.1 sound when users have headphones on.

Settings as a phone should be alphabetized.  It’s too difficult to find things in the haphazard arrangement they currently have.

SkyDrive

There should be a much more accurate way to geotag pictures uploaded to SkyDrive.  We can currently tag, but that’s about it.  There is utterly no way to geotag in Skydrive, and the Pro Phototools is a nightmare to figure out to use.  I have dozens of photos in Skydrive taken with a camera without GPS, and at the moment, there’s no ability to geotag them with the precise location (Friendly’s on International Drive in Orlando, for example.  The best I can do is “Orlando, FL” in the current Live Photo Gallery App.  That’s pitiful in 2012).

Skype

This is worthless as a video chat service.  I cannot connect to my girlfriend through Skype on her iPhone with my Windows Phone 8.  Every single time, it’s refused.  The same on Surface RT.  The only way is for her to do some ‘jiggery pokery’ on her end and somehow it works.  This is an utter failure for Skype.  It should ‘just work’ like my girlfriend says Facetime does.  How can I convince her to switch to Windows Phone 8 when parts like Skype seem so broken?

Additionally, Skype needs to support all the features we use from Windows Live Messenger: Remote desktop to view a friend’s desktop and control it, file sharing for collaboration purposes, simultaneous video viewing (I share Youtube videos with friends a lot and this is a big feature for us), custom fonts (size, color, formatting, font), custom emoticons and importing emoticons, and exporting chat history to a local file.  Without these I will not be using the Desktop / Metro app of Skype at all.

Synchronization

All my favorites from my Windows 8 PC should synchronize to the phone.  I have Surface, and those favorites are not carried over to the Windows Phone 8.

If I download a song from X-Box Music on my phone, how simple would it be that that song is downloaded for me automatically to my Windows 8 PC?  Or if I take lots of pictures with my phone, once I’m on my home wireless network, upload those automatically to my home PC.  Skydrive is nice, but people like storing files locally too.  If I create a playlist on my PC, why not have the option to automatically synchronize that to my phone so if I change the playlist on the PC, that same playlist is auto-updated on the phone, or how about the ability to create an Auto-Playlist like in Windows Media Player (such as: all songs in the last 2 months, less than 4 minutes, in the genre Oldies, with a playlist length of 90 minutes) that will always refresh itself so I never grow tired of that playlist?

Another nice way to synchronize content would be by adding a “Send to My PC” when you’re browsing the web and want to read an article later, send it to your home computer to read later, and it will be there ready to read in a tab on IE.

TellMe / Voice Control

Based on the TellMe video posted a while back on Youtube, created by Microsoft, work to get this into Windows Phone, X-Box, and Windows as quickly as possible.  This would eliminate the competition’s current advantage in this area – context-aware voice search.

If I ask “What’s the weather like in Georgia?” the phone should be just as able to decipher what I meant as well as “Georgia Weather” (which actually turns up a 5-day and current forecast) – that is what the competition can do currently with ‘beta’ software.  Windows Phone should step up its game here, and fast.

Video Calling

Video calling should be as easy as using Facetime for iPhone.  Currently, that solution seems to be Skype.  But Windows Live Messenger, even though it’s being retired in 2013, made this incredibly easy, much more so than Skype, and with far more reliability.  There should be a simple button to video call someone on Windows Phone, no fuss, from within the contact card.  Just a button to initate a video call.

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What Windows 8 and RT Still Need to be Ready for Primetime

Introduction

Windows 8 has been released in what they call a final state, but even with that, there are many things that can be changed and added to make this OS feel more finished and polished than it is right now.  I’ve been living with the OS for nearly a week, and I’m already feeling the pain, and missing Windows 7.

Windows RT/8

If you’re using Windows 8 right now, the main screen that Microsoft wants us to use is the Start screen.  That’s nice, but there’s no date/time, battery, wireless/internet connection icon, or volume indicator, as we get on the Windows 7 desktop or for that matter, the Windows 8 desktop.  This shouldn’t be terribly difficult to add, and place right next to our account pictures.  That would add to the ‘glance-and-go’ ability of this OS, which is the direction Microsoft says they want to go, whereas now, I have to swipe the charms in to get the time/date overlay.  In addition, tapping the account menu and getting a ‘sleep’, ‘shut down’, and ‘restart’ option to show there in addition to what shows now, instead of hiding it in the charms > settings > power.  That would solve the complaint of power users.  Additionally, it would be great to add ‘Print’ to the app bars of Microsoft’s apps so I don’t have to swipe to charms > devices > printer > print > OK.  Twenty years of Windows have had a print button right there, one click.  Why do we suddenly need to swipe all over the place in the name of simplistic interfaces?

When on an app, and you have a 1/3 app and another app open 2/3 of the screen, swipe to full-screen the app.  You’ll see how it just snaps over.  It would look more fluid if the app pulled over to full screen, in a form of animation instead of just popping there.  Try it out and you’ll see what I mean.  Truthfully, a 1/2 screen view is more useful to me since I do quite a bit of document side-by-side.

Another useful tool from Windows Phone is voice control, either built-in or the Ask Ziggy app.  Reminiscent of the TellMe advertisement, this is something that should be built-in for Windows 8 so that it can recognize your commands by voice as well as touch.

When in any app provided from MS, I would like to have the option to pin the app bars onto the screen.  Having to swipe all the time is irritating, and my parents, who are in their 60s, don’t understand why they can’t see the app bars, and now regret having bought new computers with Windows 8.  On Surface, closing applications is also a bit iffy.  It would be nice to have this behavior improved, and have a close button added to all apps.  I understand Microsoft wants you to drag the app down to close, but on a non-touchscreen that’s more mouse movement then simply clicking the X; if I could just tap the X to close an app rather than drag it down, that would be a big improvement in my eyes, and again, my parents don’t want to drag down an app when they can just click X to close on regular desktop apps.  Also, the built-in News app crashed my Surface tablet.

A behavior that would help Surface and Windows 8 be more useful would be taken from Windows Phone 7/8.  In Windows Phone, you turn on the screen while listening to music, and playback controls are there on the Lock Screen.  That’s not currently the case for Windows 8/RT and would be an incredibly useful feature.

For any app I purchase, I would like the option to send feedback to the app’s author, above and beyond the ‘rate and review’ option already there.  That would be a great way to give feedback to the author for customer questions and feature requests.

For Surface itself, it needs GPS so we can make the Maps app more useful and geotag pictures, and make use of Local Scout.  In addition, a 5 MP or better rear camera and 1.2 or 2 MP front-facing camera would make it more useful for pictures.  NFC should be included on all future models as well.

One feature that still doesn’t exist is the ability to use my own wallpaper on the Start Screen.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to upload my own wallpaper, especially if I’ve used Image Composite Editor to create a large-size panorama.  On Windows Phone, if you create a lock screen, it contains a box showing where the wallpaper dimensions are, and you can resize the picture within that limit to fit the screen size.  All you have to do is the exact same thing for Windows 8/RT, and there you have a custom Start Screen wallpaper.  I’m surprised Microsoft didn’t think of this themselves.

Something else pointed out in Paul Thurrott’s blog is the state of Play To with Windows 8, which is a sad thing to talk about.  I would have expected with Windows 8’s focus on simplicity and “just working” that I could just play to any device, or write a program to play to any device or have another Windows 8 computer play to mine.  That would make sense, so long as it’s a licensed copy of Windows 8, or a device that’s marketed as Play To.  Not so for Windows 8.  Microsoft has made it so only certified Play To devices work in Windows 8, and there’s apparently only 1 at the moment from Western Digital.  As a commenter on that post notes, this needs to change.  He posits the ability to simply attach network storage to your home network, and then have that show within Windows 8 as a source automatically based on type (music, video, etc), and even a Surface TV unit that would simply use Windows RT, and work with an eHome remote of any type (X-Box remote, WMC remote, etc.) to control media.  With such a device drawing from Network Attached Storage, you have a potentially limitless source of media for a Surface TV, as well as having a built-in tuner (OTA, CableCard and DLNA DTCP) for what could be a killer set-top box.  Whether such a thing happens is another story, but it would be amazing.

Internet Explorer Metro version

I continually find myself asking “where’s the print button? ” or “where is the favorites menu?” and “where is the history?” when using this.  I would like icons added to the address bar so I can access them more easily.  In addition, the option to pin the address bar to the screen so I don’t have to continually swipe up to get to it would be great.  This confuses older people who are not technically-savvy, like my own father, who has taken to using my mother’s Windows 7 laptop because he can see the app bar in IE consistently, and it has a close button.

Additionally, how do I see what I’ve downloaded in the Metro interface?  I see no way to see my list of downloads, nor do I have the ability to see the progress of multiple downloads, or tap on them to open individually.  When a download finishes, I see “Your download has completed” but I can’t see which download completed.  Why?

Also, where are RSS feeds in this version of IE?  And why is there no built-in RSS App beyond the News app?

Another annoyance is web advertisements.  I muted the surface by pressing volume down until the display showed zero.  THEN, a web ad popped up at the original volume.  Why?  If I turned the system volume down, why do I still hear ads?

Bing

The biggest omission so far is the lack of Local Scout.  This was surprising and is sorely missed from my Windows Phone.  How about Bing Vision?  And what about the new Bing Features added to Windows Phone 8, like movie times, sport scores, and such?

Calendar

There should be an option to pin the application bar so I don’t have to swipe up so much.  In addition, semantic zoom would be useful so that I can zoom out and tap another month, or zoom out again to choose another year, or again to choose a decade.  This is already possible in the Windows 7 desktop.  In addition, some birthdays appear on the wrong day on the calendar – showing a day earlier than they should.

Desktop

I know Microsoft wants us to use the new Start Screen, but for veterans, the option to boot to the desktop, and perhaps snap the start screen to the left of the desktop would make great feature enhancements, and ease the transition to the “Modern UI.”  Currently, the Start Screen cannot be snapped.  If I have an app snapped on the side, and close my main app, that 2/3 remains blank and blue, and doesn’t show the Start screen like I would expect it to.  It just looks odd, and unfinished.  This “feature” in action:

When viewing two apps in snapped view, the system works as expected.

When viewing two apps in snapped view, the system works as expected.

Having closed the 'main' app, by swiping down, the majority of the screen is now blank, showing nothing.

Having closed the ‘main’ app, by swiping down, the majority of the screen is now blank, showing nothing.  Why?

Hub Integration

The picture hub is more integrated with Windows Phone, and now with Windows 8/RT, there are the beginnings of that same integration in the desktop, but the implementation seems to be only partly there.

There is a photo app in the desktop, but it could give me a friend feed to see what pictures my friends are posting where, similar to on the phone, and give the opportunity to like, comment, and share those posts.  Given the larger size of the desktop / tablet over the phone, another good idea would be to see a timeline view of your pictures, so you can see them in order of when you took them, possibly using the Pivot View from Live Labs as the viewing metaphor.  Also, a map view for any pictures I have that are geotagged would also be great, so I can see where I took which picture (similar to Facebook’s Maps view), and finally, a ‘breadcrumb’ view or a ‘journey’ view, showing me in time when/where I took which picture, so if I went to England, show me on the map at Heathrow, the Tower of London, the Museum, Buckingham Palace, moving around using Bing Maps, integrated into the shell of the OS.   People tags should allow me to sort by who’s in which picture, and pictures of people should show in the People hub under each person’s profile/card, and on the Bing Map of my friends – that would be a great way to discover ‘hey, my friend from school also went to London!’  I could then comment on those pictures, and ‘like’ them.  The Windows Live Photo Gallery had people tagging, which is lacking currently in Windows 8 / RT.

The Music hub within Windows should be inspired by at a minimum, or at best, replaced by Zune, as I describe later in this article.  I don’t see a need to separate out music and videos like was done.  Since they are hubs now, though, I would say that social feeds should be integrated into both apps if they remain separate, or even if they are combined in the future, so that we can see what friends are watching or listening to, and then like/comment/share that, and also be able to tap on it to go into the Store to purchase that media.

Internet Explorer

How do I view my favorites or history, or clear them out?  I can’t do that unless I go to the Desktop, or open a new tab, and THEN I see my favorites.  There needs to be a button on the metro version of IE for favorites and for history.  How do I subscribe to RSS Feeds, much less read them?

Additionally, IE Metro seems to experience a number of crashes and odd behavior on certain websites which will crash the program that don’t affect the desktop version.

Libraries

A useful metaphor on the desktop that could be extended is the use of libraries.  There are music, picture, document, and video libraries in Windows 7, but I believe Windows 8 and beyond would benefit from having: podcasts, audiobooks, television, movies, and music videos as libraries.  If I purchase TV shows from the X-Box Video Store, they would get saved into the television library.  A video file I place in there myself would be assumed by the X-Box Video application to be a TV show, and would be found there by default.  Likewise items I place in movies, music videos, or podcasts.  This makes sense, and makes organization beneficial for the user.

Mail

How do I download all attachments at once?  It looks now that I have to do this one at a time.  In addition, it doesn’t appear that I can create Junk Mail or ‘move to folder’ rules, which I would expect by tap+hold or selecting the message itself.

Maps

There can be room for improvement here.  How about bringing in my Bing Scrapbook containing all my check-ins from Facebook?  From the start screen of the maps, we need a way to store our own ‘places’ – places we’ve been, places we want to go.  Anywhere I’ve checked in on Facebook should be available in maps, and even better would be to mark down places I’ve been (and when) without making it public to everyone.

Another great idea here would be to have a list of places and have this app check them off my list as I visit them, or offer to check them off the list of places I want to visit.  After that, the option to view statistics of “which states have I seen?” “which cities have I seen?” and “which countries have I seen?” would be a great thing.

If I tap-hold, I would like to see ‘What’s Here?’ like on the website, with the option to get directions and save it to my places.  Again, the option to pin the menu so it doesn’t disappear would be great.

When ‘finding’ a place, it should auto-correct to show local businesses near me, and for the results, offer to save those places so I can get back to them easily at a later time.  The search results box in the upper left corner should also have a ‘clear search’ button.  That would make more sense than swiping up and clicking ‘clear map.’  One tap instead of swipe-tap.  Much more efficient.

In addition, pictures I took anywhere with geotags and without should be viewable on the map where I took them, with the option to geotag more pictures onto the map, along with tagging people in the pictures on the map, viewing my places in a timeline so I can see in order, where I’ve been.

How do I have the app show me where restaurants, shopping, museums, hotels/motels, churches, parks, etc are?  I see no option to just show me where the shops, restaurants, and other places are so I can get a feel for a place, especially on a trip.  Just add a menu item for “show…” with checkboxes for restaurants, churches, hotels/motels, etc.

Another useful feature would be to grab a few places together and save them as a ‘trip’ and have maps plot the shortest route between them, suggest a starting place, and offer me restaurants nearby within a price range, cuisine type, noting their hours as well, along with hotels/motels within a price range and rating.  It would note when I want to leave and return from the trip, and also factor in average travel time, as well as offer other sights to see based on type (museum, park, etc) and price (free only, cheap, etc) so I can maximize my vacations.  Wouldn’t this make you want to use the Maps app?  Also, where is Local Scout from Windows Phone?  That would be useful for Win8RT.

In addition, tap+hold should have an option “what’s here?” to find out what’s there, and an option to pin the menu onto the screen so I don’t have to keep swiping up to get it back.

Marketplace

When downloading updates to any application, how do I know what changed?  Where is the changelog for all these updates?  Additionally, how many times do I need to tap on “try again” to get it to recognize that I tapped it?  And updates?

Media Playback

One user has complained that it seems Windows 8 cannot have apps read files from Network Attached Storage, which would remove a huge capability from media playback apps to have a leg up on the competition.  Additionally, any media app should have the ability to set a ‘file watcher’ to watch for new files or changed files to update the app’s databases.

I would echo the users’ comments here, as they make sense and would be a great idea.  Create a Surface TV to access HomeGroup media running Windows RT with as many built-in codecs as they can stuff into it.  VLC Media player is free and can play any file you throw at it.  If they can do that, so can Microsoft.  Surface TV would play files with multiple audio tracks and multiple embedded and separate subtitle files, and work with an eHome-compatible remote control.  In addition, a Surface Cube ‘headless server’ would be created, just like Windows Home Server was.  It would have slots for hard drives to be simply plugged in and ready to use for media storage so that it’s expandable as your needs change.  You could purchase your own OTA, CableCard and DLNA DTCP tuners for it at around $50 a piece so you could record as many live shows as you have cards.  This Cube would download guide data automatically for you, and allow live TV recording.  Microsoft would then recode Windows Media Center to run as a metro app for Windows RT to provide the big-screen interface for live TV and TV guide apps with recording scheduling that will auto-detect a ‘Surface Cube’ and just ask for a ZIP code and TV provider to download guide data.  Surface TV would be completely plug-and-play: all you do is plug it in, attach network cable, sign in with your MS Account, and you’re done.  It would be a complete media solution with Windows RT, full DVR functionality like Windows Media Center has provided for years, with remote control functionality.  This would head off Apple TV at the pass.  Even better would be to allow TV manufacturers who meet a certain set of specifications to integrate with the exact same interface, so that TV manufacturers become part of the Surface family, accessing the Cube, and accessing X-Box Music/Video so all your movies, TV shows, pictures, and music are just there.  With that stroke, Apple TV won’t have a chance.

Messaging

This client is pretty spartan, and could use some work.  Again, the option to pin the app bar onto the screen for those who want it would be very welcome.  I’m tired of constantly swiping to get those options to show.

The desktop version of this app has a lot more options available that are missing here, including video/voice chat, file attachments, web sharing, video messages, and starting games with friends are missing and restoring those options would be very welcome.  Also, how do I view or archive my older messages?  If I’ve IM’ed a person 2 years ago, does this app archive that so that I can see those messages?

Microsoft Account

I created a Live account using a non-Microsoft e-mail, and I also have an outlook.com e-mail address.  I would like to have the ability to merge the two accounts together, and have the outlook.com e-mail serve as my main e-mail address for my account.  Currently, there does not appear any way to do this.

Multi-Monitor Support

According to one user on Paul Thurrott’s blog, you cannot have one Metro app per screen in Windows 8, which makes no sense.  What is technically preventing this?  Nothing.  Why should I not be able to have a main app and a 1/3 ‘snapped’ app on both monitors I use?  Or if I have three or four monitors on my desktop, why shouldn’t I be able to have 4 apps and 4 ‘snapped’ apps up at once?  I can do this on Windows 7 with normal desktop apps.  There’s no need for any limitations if this is indeed the case, on a desktop.

News

This app has potential, but it did crash my surface to the point of forcing me to re-boot the system.  I would like to see the option to add news in foreign languages, as I speak more than just English.  I would like to add welt.de to my feeds, but I can’t see a way to do that.  What about the RSS Feeds from other websites around the world?  There’s no way to subscribe to them.

Partners

One thing the iPhone and Android ecosystems have, but Windows doesn’t, is fitness partners.  You have Nike+, and now this new wristband (Amiigo) to track exercise that automatically synchronizes with your phone to track your exercise routine, calories burned, and lets you compete with your friends.  Microsoft should absolutely bring in the fitness crowd with some kind of sponsored fitness accessory for the Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Play To features

If what has been said at Paul Thurrott’s blog is true, then Play To has been crippled in Windows 8 so that you can only play to certified devices, of which there is only 1…from Western Digital.  Nothing against them, but if you want to make Play To truly functional then it should be opened up to app developers so that if I write an app with a Play To Contract, then my app can play to the X-Box, with any transcoding handled by the X-Box or operating system.  My app would also be a valid Play To target, so that if I have a set-top PC under my TV, and a Surface Tablet, I can have my app on Surface play to my app on the set-top PC so I can watch that movie I purchased from Zune on the TV in full HD.  This just makes sense.

Relaying what the blog poster indicated, it would be a big improvement to make any Windows 8 computer a valid Play To and DLNA target and source for media playback.  Then, add in more built-in codec support (Bitstreaming of TrueHD, DTS or DTS-Master audio; MKV, MPEG2 (without WMC pack), Ogg, Mov, DVD, Blu-Ray, and so on) without any intervention on the part of the user.  With the price of Windows 8, there’s no reason some of that couldn’t go to paying for the licenses of any codec requiring it.  Additionally, add built-in support for subtitles and multiple audio tracks for any video file that supports it, and ISO files being valid media sources.  I’ve backed up my DVDs to prevent scratching from repeated playback, and I don’t see why my movies shouldn’t show up in X-Box Video or any other app that plays videos.

People

How exactly do I enable people live tiles?  I still can’t figure this out.  On Windows Phone, if you pin a person to the Start Screen, their tiles animate with status updates and mail/IM/text/call notifications.  In Windows 8 – nothing.  Also, how do I make sure my photos can be shared with the People App?  My own brother’s photos don’t show up there.

How do I add birthdays and anniversaries?  There is no field for either of them, whereas Outlook 2013 allows you to add that information, as does People on Windows Phone 8.  So, why the omission?

For ‘significant other’ I would recommend and suggest that if that person exists in my contacts / people hub, it should link directly to that person’s profile.  In addition, it would be great to add places for father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, and children, linking to those people’s profiles if they exist.

Another oddity is any information I’ve added on my Windows Phone does not automatically synch to the People on Outlook.com nor on Windows 8’s people hub.  I’ve got missing birthdays, and missing groups amongst all 3, when they should all be completely synchronized.

Pictures

How can I see my pictures on a map if already geo-tagged, or geo-tag them if not already?  How do I tag friends in pictures?  Neither of these features are available.  When I plug in a USB drive, does Photos open, and offer to import pictures into an album with its own folder like iPhotos does for Mac users already, and also upload to Skydrive as a backup?  No.

Can I see all the people I’ve tagged in the app and have it pull up all that person’s pictures? No.  Can I have it upload to Facebook an entire album in full resolution? No.  What about simple photo correction like Windows Live Photo Gallery?  No. Can I view all my pictures on a timeline of when I took them? No.

As for geotagging, I do mean more than just the city/state it was taken.  I mean to say that if you know you took a picture at the foot of the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, you should be able to tag it exactly there, not just to “Lincoln Memorial” if you so choose.

Again, this app is woefully underpowered and is not ready for primetime, nor power users.

Programming for Windows 8

The blog mentioned before states that you cannot program a Windows 8 app to accept input from a remote control.  If true, then this is a sad state of affairs for Windows, and would prevent a number of novel media playback apps from being as fully functional as they could otherwise be.  I for one would love to create a metro app that accepts remote control input to navigate the screen.  Imagine creating a set-top PC, opening this app, and using a remote control to navigate your purchased TV shows and movies, and music from the comfort of your living room.  You can then navigate to your pictures and show off your vacation pictures to guests from your couch…with a remote.  That is what I would pay for as included functionality in Windows 8 (Media Center, anyone?).  Unfortunately Media Center, the ideal place for this, is being deprecated in this release.  It deserves a massive upgrade, such as support for mkv, mpg2, embedded subtitles, multiple audio tracks, ogg formats, metadata editing and storage, podcast support, and content purchase.

Skype

I’ve attempted to use Skype on Windows RT, and it seems incredibly hit and miss.  Windows Live Messenger was MUCH better at video calling.  For some reason, wi-fi calling to an iPhone on Verizon just results in a lot of frustration.  If you use Skype, it should just work.  I should be able to go to my People Hub, tab a button “Video Call” and have it open a video call window, not spend 30 seconds opening the Skype app and logging me in, then starting the call.  This experience needs to be improved a great deal before this can be recommended for people to use it regularly.

Since Skype is replacing Live Messenger soon, a few Live Messenger features I’ve come to enjoy and expect from an instant messaging client: importing custom emoticons at will, rich text formatting (bold/italic/underline, using any fancy fonts installed on my machine, colors), sharing youtube videos in-line with my IMs, sharing files with my friends through IM, remote desktop to view a friend’s desktop and control it with their permission, saving my messaging history to a local file on my computer, and playing games through the IM client.  Without these features, I will not be using Skype for IM.  I’ll likely just text and e-mail again.

Social Integration

Microsoft’s Socl network should be integrated into People and the rest of the Operating System to encourage adoption.  Facebook and Twitter require a dedicated app, not just pinning the website.  Posting albums from X-Box Music to Facebook should work just like on the Zune HD, where the album art is posted, with the album, artist, and song title, and a link back to the Zune Marketplace.  If you listen to songs, albums, artists, or playlists, you should be able to post that to one or more social networks so that people can like/comment and view/stream/download the item in question from the People Hub, or from Facebook itself.  A Media tab must be integrated into the People Hub profile to display music and videos listened to that match something within the Marketplace so you can share, like, and comment on them.

Store (for Music and Video)

Given the rise in e-Books, along with electronic magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and textbooks, it would be great to have a built-in Windows 8 bookstore, perhaps a partnership with Amazon for deeper OS integration, so that I could subscribe to my favorite newspapers, magazines, and comics, and have a live-tile notice of when new issues arrive.  Additionally, your audiobooks could appear in the e-Book app as well.  To make it even more personal, a social feed could be added like the People and Pictures hubs in Windows Phone, so I can see when friends have started reading or finished books, and I can like/comment on those books to get recommendations, and if I like the book, tap the book cover to go purchase it myself from Kindle or the e-Book marketplace.  If privacy concerns are warranted, the user can have a Facebook button to decide to post to FB that they’re reading something.

An additional feature for this more integrated bookstore would be to include a “Zune-iversity” or “X-Box U” section for educational books, textboooks, and podcasts, so that teachers can post their textbooks, students can purchase them at a discount to the print version, and include much richer content than a plain book could have.

Travel

This is a nice app showing me lots of destinations with blurbs about them, but it’s not easily discoverable what the point of it is.

The search flights, search hotels options should be front page, and again, the option to pin the app bars to the screen so that I can always see them would be great.  This would be a place where Local Scout could integrate to show me restaurants, sites, and local events to make the most of my trip.

For this app, it would be great to be able to enter a timeframe, say Nov 4-10, and a few destinations, and have the app find the shortest route, recommend a few places to stay, and have the option to see restaurants (filtered by ‘chain,’ ‘local only,’ ‘cheapest,’ etc.) and sights (‘free’ ‘cheap’ etc.) that might be of interest so that I can make the most of my trip.  Then have it calculate the cost for me so that I can see what the trip will run, my travel times between destinations, and how much time I’ll have at each place.

When I finish, it should also allow me to save that trip, along with any pictures I mark as having been taken on that vacation and check-ins, into a Skydrive folder so that I can send the vacation to friends and family, and they can virtually walk through the vacation I took.  That would make for a great app experience.

Addendum: Now that I’ve looked, I can see the Frommer’s content, but it’s far to the right, where no one would find it.  This needs to be front page so I can see attractions, nightlife, shopping, etc. from the front page, not 5 swipes to the right as it currently is.  The ability to get reservations from within the app for hotels, flights, restaurants, and purchasing tickets for any museums or tours would be a great feature for this app.

Viewing the hotels, it would be great to click on the neighborhood and have it bring up a map so I can see where it is, and what’s nearby regarding restaurants, museums, churches, etc.

Windows Phone 8

If you have a Windows Phone 8 device, the sync software for Windows 8/RT is the most worthless piece of code in existence for it.  There’s no way around that.  Zune had wireless (wi-fi) synchronizing of playlists so that if the playlist changed, your playlist on the phone was always up to date without you ever having to do anything.  There are no conversion options to save mobile storage space (like Zune had).  Seriously, you have to go back to Windows Media Player from 2009 to set up a sync relationship for this.  How do you think that looks to a current Apple or Android user, Microsoft?  Do you think that this will make that person want to switch?

Windows Update

I am going to have to agree a bit with this article from ZDNet concerning Windows Update.  It’s time Windows Update got some feature improvements.  This article shows one glaring problem: I actually have to save what I don’t want to lose manually.  The technology is already here to auto-incrementally save my documents so I don’t need to do it myself.  OS X does this in its most current iteration, so I don’t think it would be that difficult to do it in Windows.

X-Box Music and Video

If you’ve used X-Box Music or Video, you will know what I’m talking about.  They are incredibly and sorely lacking in features and their user interfaces are way too focused on the marketplace over my collection, and the way they arrange items is very wasteful of limited screen real estate.
Compare this (TV Library Media Center Plugin):

JackLuminous’ TV Library plugin for Windows 7 Media Center
X-Box Video purchased TV Series listed by season

You can see in the first, how JackLuminous’ TV Library plugin for Windows 7 Media Center makes much more efficient use of space than X-Box Video does on your Surface Tablet.  It uses DVD covers to tell you which show is which, and this makes perfect sense.  It also has pivots so you can resort your shows the way you want to – by title, genre, airdate, decade, rating, person (actors), and favorites.  Why doesn’t X-Box video do the same?  How about showing us JUST the DVD covers, and have a tap-hold right-click menu to ‘play series’, ‘edit metadata’, and ‘explore series’ and have the default tap be ‘explore series’ to view the series detail page?  Wouldn’t that make sense?  Instead of using pivots, X-Box Video (XBV) makes us swipe over and over to the right, whereas Windows 7 Media Center gives us pivots.  Tap, done.  Zune HD even had this one better.  You tap or swipe and all your media was resorted, like pages.  Zune on desktop did this for sorting TV shows and Movies from each other.  So why doesn’t XBV do this same thing?
When you want to see the seasons, you tap into the series to see them:

TV Library season view

To get to something remotely sensible in Video, you have to tap “Explore Series” to get a pop-up, then you have to click View Seasons to get into the TV show page, then swipe to the right to even get to the seasons, at which point the episodes within that season still show in a pop-up.

Explore a series from the Collection screen
X-Box video’s view of a series page. No seasons, just a huge image

This takes too long to get to.  Two taps whereas JackLuminous figured out how to do this with one tap.  Come on, X-box video, you’re better than that.

X-Box Video Series List of Seasons

The above two views can be combined to stop wasting space.  Have the graphical background from the season page, seasons listed right, tap to expand to a season page listing out all the episodes like Media Center’s TV Library plug-in.  Much more logical than the current layout.  Plex figured this out.  Zune Desktop figured this out.  One single page makes more sense than forcing me to continually swipe to the right to see my own TV shows I purchased.

Season view of episodes, still a pop-up

You can see here that the list of episodes comes up in a tiny little popup, where I can’t see all the episodes, or at least more than just a few at a time.  Even worse, my own videos that I spent time in categorizing in Zune cannot be categorized in X-Box Video.  But compare the TV Library view of episodes:

TV Library episode view, more graphical, and better use of screen space.

Much more graphical, with a nice background, episode synopsis, title, airdate, and thumbnail.  X-Box video can keep the list, but how about a list if episodes to the right, with airdate, run-time, and a synopsis along the bottom and a graphical background for the season?  This kind of metadata is readily available at thetvdb.com, so this isn’t too terribly difficult to do.  This interface would work in the “Modern UI” style exactly as it is, or you can even have seasons as pivots, scrolling up on each ‘page’ to see that season’s episodes, then pivot right to see season 2, 3, and so on.  How much more sense does that make, and ease of discovery over X-Box video’s current design decisions?

What JackLuminous does that would be useful in X-Box Video would be to have the TV Shows sortable with pivots for title, genre, year, airdate, and cast.  That way, I can see what aired today in my library, along with what sci-fi shows I have, or what shows David Boreanaz has been in that I own or are available on the X-Box store.

Now, about Movies.  When you look in X-Box Video:

Movie Library in X-Box video. Notice the wasted space to the right of all the DVD covers.

Now, check out the same thing in Media Center:

Movie Library in Windows 7 Media Center. Larger, more graphical, better use of space.

Media Center has this much better with pivots at the top so you can resort your way, and tap to view details about the movie you select.  X-Box Video would do well to copy this interface.  How about this: show a grid of movies like Win7 Media Center, tap to view the detail view, where you see the widescreen graphic movie poster from the movie, synopsis right, cast and crew pivots also, and a play button to start the film, and an ‘add to playlist’ option as well.  Take a queue from Zune’s Marketplace view of movies for this.

Moving to the next, X-Box Music.  Again, the Marketplace is given center stage, when I don’t really care.  I want MY MUSIC FIRST.  Not a setting change, by default.

X-Box Music halfway between my music and the now playing main screen. Note the wasted space next to the albums for text. Why?

Why can’t X-Box Music show just the album covers and just have pop-up Live-Tile text for the album title?  That would save space.  Make the albums 500×500 or 400×400 so they’re large enough for tap targets and titles.

Now when looking at my music:

X-Box Music Collection. Notice the wasted space, and how long it would take to get to “The Who” or “Third Day” without jumplists.  The album covers are tiny, and don’t make use of the nice artwork the artists put there, whereas Media Center:
Music Library in Media Center. Notice how it looks more graphical, and does not waste space to the right of the album covers.

Three albums high, much more efficient use of space.  Tap and you get the album pop-up.  Pivot to artist and you get an artist page with albums on the front page.  Not with X-Box Music.  You again have to tap “explore artist” then swipe far far to the right to get close to your albums.  Again, a cue from Media Center would be very useful for X-Box Music.  Or take my suggestion for Video, and do this: make the front page contain all the albums (like Zune), show ALL ALBUMS so you can scroll through without having to tap ‘view all albums’ – that should be allowable by default.  You would do well to take your visual cues from the Zune software and Zune HD here, X-Box team.

From the blog post on Paul Thurrott’s site, I can’t verify this since I have a Zune subscription, but apparently the app displays ads while playing your own music, and stops every hour to ask you if you’re still there, even while typing, a prompt that will only stop if you subscribe.  Again, I can’t verify this, but if this is true, why would anyone in his or her right mind think this is a good design decision to nag a paid customer of your operating system just to play his own music?  Windows Media Player never did this.  It just played.  Zune never did this.  It just played.  So why would X-Box Music do this?

Additionally, where are podcasts?  I see no way to view them or add new ones or subscribe, nor do I see any way to separate out my audiobooks, which now take up space inside my music collection.  That’s sloppy handling, and should certainly be corrected.

If you decide to purchase a Windows Phone 8, XBM and XBV don’t really do much for you, as Zune once did.  You cannot set a playlist to synch with the phone so that whenever the playlist changes on the computer, it synchronizes automatically with the phone without your intervention.  Zune did that.  XBM doesn’t.  Zune even had Wi-Fi sync with the WP7 devices, something that oddly, WP8 and XBM cannot manage to do.  This is pretty poor coding to lose such an ability.  Windows Media Player can set auto-playlists based on certain criteria, as shown here, but for some reason, X-Box Music can’t do that exact same thing.  Why must we lose functionality as we “progress” up an operating system?

Microsoft, you really really need to make music sync and library management a priority (amongst the other things listed in this post), so that choosing your ecosystem over Apple will make the transition easy and painless and make current users utterly happy, and Apple users question why they ever went Apple in the first place.

Aside from the usability, how about TV Shows?  There’s no way to have a season pass to a show automatically download a file to your Surface so that it’s ready for you when you open the app, no way to set a notification to say “You have 3 new episodes ready to watch” and go see which shows just downloaded for you.  The main screen of this app should allow you to set it to show your collection first, with a set notification to see the new shows since you last opened the app, and then a link to the marketplace to see what else is new.  Additionally, there is no way to ‘follow’ a show or ‘request’ a show to indicate to Microsoft that that one show you like, say, “Get Smart” or “Star Trek” or something else, is something you would like to see and would purchase.

When purchasing in XBV, there is no way to set the download to always occur in SD or HD, and takes 3 or 4 screens to complete, which takes too long in my opinion.

The Television Store doesn’t have any alphabetical list of all TV shows.  I don’t know the genre of some TV shows, and having an alphabetical list makes more sense to me than going through 15 genres, which are also not alphabetized, to find the one show I want.  Is it seriously that difficult to alphabetize your wares?  And release date is not terribly useful, in my opinion.  What about airdate?  If I’m looking for 80’s cartoons, why not show the series by genre (animation) and then by airdate?  That way I can get shows from around the same timeframe and see possibly related items; speaking of that, why not show ‘people who bought this series also purchased xyz’ on a TV series page?

There’s no easy way to return to my collection’s home screen overview.  I have to keep pressing back, which often times looks incredibly unresponsive.  Media Center had a persistent home button on it.  Also, posting to Facebook what I’m listening to is a bit difficult.  From the Now Playing screen, if I do Share > Facebook, it shares the Artist I’m listening to, not the song.  I would assume that I am sharing the song I’m listening to first off, and second, if not that, I would like the option to also share the album, artist, and playlist I’m listening to so that my friends can see the music as well.  Doesn’t that make sense?  Also, why does the share function send a generic graphic to Facebook instead of the album art for that specific MP3?

For those who have large collections, such as myself, if I happen to move my music from one hard drive to a completely new hard drive, Zune never understood this, and I had to manually delete the old entries from the library and manually re-add them, and manually recreate every single playlist.  Windows Media Player at the least would offer to remove items no longer found from the library.  X-Box music from what I’ve seen, continues the behavior of Zune and does not know that you’ve moved your music, refused to play, and refuses to scan your hard drive to find your music after you’ve moved it.  This would be a very welcome feature for those of us who add larger hard drives to our computers as time goes on and we acquire more digital files.

Another sticking point is when opening a file from the Desktop (since managing a library in X-Box music is utterly impossible, especially given the utter lack of podcast support for some mysterious reason), and I turn off the screen, after a while, the volume-based play controls and the play controls on X-Box music turn unresponsive and do not actually pause the music or podcast I’m listening to.  Zune didn’t have this problem.  Windows Media Player didn’t have this problem.  But X-Box Music does.  X-Box Music is not ready for mainstream use.

For the 1/3 snapped view for X-Box Music, it should ideally look just like the Zune HD’s home screen did, and when playing, just like the Zune HD’s now playing screen.  That way, I can swipe through album covers, tap the song list to get to the list of songs, play/pause easily, and just play all My Music by pressing the nice play button sitting next to music.  How easy would that be?

From Now Playing, the song list should just appear on the right-hand side like it already does in Zune and on X-Box.  I shouldn’t have to tap to get it to appear.  That’s extra work I shouldn’t have to do.  Again I ask: Who allowed this and X-Box Video to be released in such unfinished states?

Other Things

How do I subscribe to RSS feeds?  I see no way to do this built in to the OS.  This would be a great news reader and showcase for live tiles, as well as showing off synchronization of the feeds between my phone, PC, and tablet.

Where are the Facebook and Twitter applications?

Where can I purchase audiobooks from X-Box Music?  And can we get a built-in magazine, newspaper, comic book subscription app from Microsoft, with deals from publishers so that I can get my NY Times, Florida Times Union, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, Scientific American, Discover, Game Pro, Electronic Gaming Monthly, X-Men, Batman, etc. all in one app?  This would be a great place for live tiles to show me how many new issues I have of a comic or magazine.  But, then again, if this app were created by the same people who created X-Box Music and X-Box Video, I’m not sure I’d want it.

Concluding this short post, I would say that Microsoft needs to update all the apps and Windows RT to make sure that its core features and app features are at the very least on par with what is found NOW on the iPad 4 to compete reasonably with that product, and to succeed in the marketplace and take marketshare from Apple and Google, Microsoft will need to innovate RAPIDLY with this OS and their apps, provide well constructed first and third party apps, and keep pace with the changes the competition makes so that it doesn’t fall behind.  The question is, will Surface, Windows RT, and Windows 8 and their apps be a Zune, or will they be an X-Box / Windows 7 story?

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