Category Archives: Platforms

Smart phones, BYOD, MDM and enterprise user challenges


Enterprise communication and collaboration for many years has been an exclusive Blackberry market, and though Nokia did try with Symbian powered E-series, they could not make much in-road into the enterprise.  However how people use phones and the type of phones we use has changed drastically after the advent of iPhone/IPad era, and then the old bastions of Blackberry and Nokia have been brought to their knees when Google joined the fun with the Android Mobile OS.

Recently at work I was handed a small assignment to assist in defining the smartphone platforms to be supported as the organization stepped out from the Blackberry era (finally), and to see how popular MDM solutions in the market supported phone management considering the growing trend of BYOD.

While smartphones and apps may have been new innovation to the consumers in North America until Steve Jobs brainwashed all with the IPhone, North American enterprises already had PDAs crowding this space.  But outside North America smart phone platforms specially in the likes of Symbian led by Nokia were booming with rich apps for both consumers and enterprises. However with the iPhone and the masses of phones powered by Android, backed by social media crazy users, the phone (and tablets, phablets, etc.) have become the leading device employees spend time consuming content worldwide.

Duh, Why company provided smartphones for the masses?

Once may ponder why this is even a question, but surprisingly when it comes to providing company funded devices, beyond the senior leadership, the cost between feature phones and even a low end smartphone from a reputed vendor are huge in markets outside Europe/US/China, etc.  Hence senior leadership even in today’s terms question what is the benefit and ROI that the organization gets specially if there are no official mobile strategy or mobile applications that are deployed.  Wonder why, a few things that come to my mind Sarcastic smile

  1. How many times do you drop the company provided blackberry/feature phone? The feature phone you get maybe basic but its reliable and rugged, but cheap smart phones have a very dubious background when it comes to reliability and long term use.
  2. Other than email, does your phone support any other organizational use applications?
  3. Do you need your phone to last a whole day of use without recharging?
  4. Does your company have any mobile apps/mobile compliant web applications that you can use right now on your mobile?
  5. Do you ever log into your company VPN through your mobile and use any web-based or mobile apps on your device?  For that matter are you allowed to log in via the VPN (= VPN licenses)
  6. You most probably will be limiting your personal use of your current company provided phone because of its poor in web, gaming and social capabilities, with a smartphone will you spend more “official” time on personal activities now that your phone can do more cooler things?
  7. You may have a small data package, and corporate mail access maybe through your blackberry capabilities, will you demand more data when you smartphone capabilities and habits start consuming far greater data?

These are testing questions, since at the end is the organization investing on something that has poor returns, and may even reduce your productivity and commitment towards the organization? 

Other costs in addition to the phone to an organization

The questions I posted before, clearly highlight that for an organization its not just the cost of the smart phone, there maybe a need to include a lot more that is the true cost of providing expensive smart phones.

  • a better data package
  • purchase VPN licenses
  • purchase MDM (Mobile Device Management) licenses
  • purchase new blackberry licenses
  • purchase client licenses (CALs) for any applications they need to expose, etc.
  • custom development costs and new app/server costs as the enterprise may need to upgrade its applications to enable the end users to benefit from the smartphone and provide real ROI to the organization (Many company web apps may have been developed purely with the desktop in mind, and may have Adobe Flash/Microsoft Silverlight/Microsoft Active X technologies applied which are not likely to work on your mobile device)

So are there any benefits from providing a smartphone to enterprise user?

So why should an enterprise invest, are there actual benefits?  Some benefits maybe immediate, while some others needs to be considered as a strategic and longer term in benefits.

  • The (smart) phone is a device that is with the employee most of the times, the more capable the device, the better the ability to be productive on the device and respond or act with urgency rather than wait and come back to one’s desktop/laptop
  • Be the platform for pushing native or wrapper (Hybrid) applications for specialized corporate requirements. If your organizations has them already, its about opening it for a larger group assuming compatibility has been tested with the mobile devices certified by the organization
  • Powerful email app that provides near desktop level of capabilities specially in the email viewing aspect (in addition to improved readability, it also allows viewing of embedded files, etc.). This means you can push emails with rich embedded and attached contents
  • Powerful browser that supports mobile and desktop mode with excellent JavaScript/HTML5 support.  This will result in improved browsing experiences, providing good support for any web based corporate implementations to execute with good performance and near desktop usability
  • Lync, Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime and other video conferencing solution support.  Improved front video and large high res displays facilitate high quality video conference capability supported by new 4G high speed data capabilities on the phone
  • Support for powerful corporate and customer friendly enterprise (and social) messaging platforms (BBM, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, etc.)
  • Large high resolution displays provide the user with “more to see” along with powerful client apps for viewing rich content (PDF, Microsoft Office formats, video)
  • High level of control through integration with an MDM solution for security and control of devices

Modern OS and enterprise compliance

While users may have a multitude of apps on their smart phones, when it comes to enterprise usage, you can boil it down to some key areas a standard capabilities beyond what maybe offered through custom business apps, which included,

  1. Secure connection to the enterprise Intranet via VPN
  2. Solid and secure email client with desktop level of capabilities
  3. Desktop equivalent browsing capabilities
  4. Microsoft Office editing and viewing applications, with good or 100% compliance in office compatibility
  5. Native support for enterprise favored communication platforms
  6. Support and compliance for enterprise favored collaboration and portal platforms

However modern users are not happy with only restricting themselves with enterprise communication platforms, specially when these do no support communication with external clients.   Here we see end users opting to use social media communication platforms risking security, mainly since end users perceive that there are no solutions that can enable them to achieve them same.

Modern OS capabilities – Enterprise perspective

A very simple table to list the key platform capabilities, and app support an enterprise user may require in their smartphone, your comments are most welcome.

  Apple Google Microsoft Blackberry
OS iOS Android Windows Phone 8 BB OS 10
Current Version 7.x 4.4.x 8.1 10.x
Native Calendar Very Good Very Good Good Very Good
Native Email Very Good Very Good Good Very Good
Native Browser capabilities Good Very Good Average Good
App/Device Backup Cloud + Local (ITunes) Cloud + Apps Cloud Local (BBLink)
Other OS built-in No No No Yes (Android 4.2)
Checkpoint VPN Mobile App Mobile App Only in WP 8.1 Internal VPN client
Lync 2013 Yes Yes Yes Sideload APK, other stores
BB Enterprise IM
BBM Yes Yes No Yes
Viber Yes Yes Yes Side load APK, Amazon
WhatsApp Yes Yes Yes Yes
Facebook Yes Yes Yes Yes
Google Hangouts No Yes No No
Skype Yes Yes Yes Yes
Skype Video Yes Yes Yes Yes
Native Browser Safari Chrome IE 10/11 BB Browser
Chrome Yes Yes No No
Firefox No Yes No Sideload APK
Opera Mobile Yes Yes No No
Opera Mini Yes Yes No Side load APK, Amazon
OneNote Yes Yes Yes No
Microsoft Office Mobile Free* Free* Free No
Office compatible editor apps Purchase* Free* No Free (Docs to Go)
Portable Hotspot Yes Yes Yes Yes
USB tethering No Yes No Yes
Mass storage mode No Yes Yes No
LinkedIn Yes Yes Yes Yes
Official SharePoint Mobile Compatibility Safari Android Browser IE Mobile No

Blackberry BB10 devices have the unique proposition that since the 10.2 update, they are able to directly install and run android APK files, since the Android 4.2.2 runtime has been licensed by Blackberry.  However Blackberry does list any Android apps directly, however it seems some of the apps that made it into the BB10 such as Skype are Android ports rather than native apps which harnessed these capabilities.  There are many informal work around which include installing the APK of the third party app store apps, installing the Amazon app store app, which maybe far to complicated for normal end users.

Windows Phone 8 is a evolving platform, and the early releases were very poor in some basic smart phone capabilities though the OS is very simple and nice to use.  However with the most recent 8.1 release, a lot of features that an enterprise user will require has been introduced or improved including a powerful calendar app (the one in Windows 8.0 was horrible), VPN support (yes shocking that it was missing!), improved notification capabilities, improved Browser (IE11, though alternative options are missing), etc.

Enterprise collaboration

From an enterprise collaboration point, SharePoint is the only one listed in the comparison, but SharePoint is just one of the platforms in today’s enterprise collaboration needs. SharePoint support for non IE platforms have been poor with SharePoint 2010, but has improved with the newer release (SharePoint 2013).  However Microsoft uses ActiveX controls to allow desktop like use via the IE browser, and this means you don’t get that same usability when it comes to consuming SharePoint on a mobile device (and for that matter any non IE browser on your desktop, or on a non Windows platform!).

However most web-based collaboration platforms “should” run fine in modern smartphone browsers, but again “should” is the word.  You may find that,

  1. The collaboration portal may require you run them in “Desktop compatibility mode” rather than mobile to use them properly. 
  2. The platform internally maybe using third party components which fail to work properly on the mobile browser on your device
  3. Modern mobile browsers vendors are having a raging war to be the “Fastest” has resulted in them focusing on benchmark tool tweaking than true compatibility with standards and performance.  This means while your collaboration portal may be properly engineered, this tweaks may cause the portal not to work fine on your mobile browser
  4. Layout, “Data intensity” and “Heavy nature” of the solution.  The solution maybe geared with heavy data use, and pages with complicated and large amount of content, which may pose a challenge to your mobile browser both in the screen area

Why an MDM (Mobile Device Management) solution?

Many enterprise users would be familiar with how the organization imposes restrictions specially on what you can do your laptop and workstation.  Controls include the type of password, the ability to install/uninstall programs, features of the operating system exposed to end users, etc.

The growth of the mobile as tool that allows you to access and run applications that you usually did on your workstations would thus require the same or even greater level of security is not a surprise.   The MDM tools provide this capability, and the capability differs depending on the tool.  However common capabilities include,

  1. Ability to erase the phone remotely (level of granularity may differ on what is erased)
  2. Enforce a password / lock policy on to your device
  3. Deploy corporate applications on to your mobile device

Newer solutions geared specifically for smart phone platforms are now providing capability to align with the growing BYOD challenges, of controlling enterprise apps and data from user’s personal apps and data.  However such tools are currently limited on platform supports as this has become a key marketing criteria for smartphone manufacturers.

MDM solutions include Microsoft System Center/Intune, Blackberry Enterprise Service, Samsung Knox EMM, Airwatch, Fibrelink MASS360, MobileIron, Meraki Mobile Solution, etc.

BYOD and its impact to the enterprise

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is not something new, as many of us would have taken a second phone in addition to the company provided phone.  However with BYOD, the entire concept of a company provided phone is vanishing as employees are bring their own devices, which are hooked into the enterprise. This poses threats as well as challenges to the enterprise IT teams, in that

  • How do you separate the personal data and apps from enterprise apps
  • How do you implement and enforce company policies such as password/lock policy without interfering with the employees customizations
  • How do you erase data without erasing the employees favorite games, and apps when they leave?
  • How do you ensure the employees personal apps do not have access to the enterprise data

Summary

The article to me scratches the surface of these topics, since its based on the high level research done.   Comments from any one who has been more deeply involved would be great !

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Blackberry Z10 hardware: Not all versions have the same hardware!


While the BB market has been declining rather fast, specially among the enterprise users, I felt i had to try out the Z10 and see what new OS and hardware was capable of, since the Z10 and the new BB10 platform has shown good promise, but to many this maybe a year too late in entering the market.

Hardware

The previous Blackberry units very much like the Nokia smart phones running Symbian and Windows 7.x ran rather outdated hardware due to the fact that the operating systems they ran were not supporting modern multi-core hardware, let alone the capabilities of the single-core hardware.

However with BB10 and the Z10 (and now with the Q10 and Q5) Blackberry like Windows Phone 8 has leveraged far more modern and capable hardware.  The hardware in the Z10 maybe modern, but the Snapdragon S4 Plus now is a mid range processor/GPU in the Android space which are now running powerful quad-core and octa-core units.  While Apple may feature a dual-core processor on their current units, and Apple’s strategy of putting very powerful graphics (which is still a match even for the latest Android units) makes the Apple units more potent than the Z10 hardware.

Yet its unfair to compared a platform by the hardware specification alone, since with WP8 we saw the same hardware provide super smooth performance that an Android device fails to achieved. Similarly the Z10 with the new BB10 platform while having its peculiarities offers great multi-tasking, and smooth functioning, and the web browsing performance is very much in tag with the Android quad-core units. 

Not all hardware is the same, Asia and Middle East phones have older Texas Instrument processor

With BB having only a  limited set of models (but compared to Apple one might say they have a wide variety!) i expected that all Z10 units to be the same with possible differences in the antennas for regional support.  However to my surprise this was not the case.  The antenna support for different 2G/3G and LTE was expected, but what i did not expect was that the actual running hardware to differ.

Seemingly BB decided that LTE was not for the Asia and Middle East market phones, and thus decided to eliminate LTE support on this phone, and also by making this decision opted for a totally different chipset for phones of this market.

Model No Processor and GPU 2G Bands 3G Bands LTE Bands
STL100-1

RFG81UW

Dual-Core TI OMAP 4470 1.5Ghz  + Imagination GPU PowerVR SGX 544

GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900

HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100

Unsupported
STL100-2

RFH121LW

Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 (Krait) + Adreno 225 GPU

Same as STL100-1

HSDPA 850 / 900 / 2100

LTE 3, 7, 8, 20 (800 / 900 / 1800 / 2600)

STL100-3

RFK121LW

Same as STL100-2 Same as STL100-1

HSDPA 800 / 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100

LTE 2, 5, 4, 17 (700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900)

STL100-3

RFF91LW

Same as STL100-2 Same as STL100-1

HSDPA 800 / 850 / 1900 / 2100

LTE 2, 5, 4, 17 (700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900)

STL100-4

RFA91LW

Same as STL100-2

CDMA 800 / 1900

HSDPA 900 / 2100

LTE Band-13 (LTE 700 MHz )

The key change as you can see with the ST100-1 is that it uses an older TI OMAP processor.   Whilst the processor maybe old, the performance of this processor is still very good but in performance test run by users owning both the models, the browsing performance is significantly different with the Qualcomm S4 Plus unit performing nearly 1.5-2x times better.

The other advantage the Qualcomm unit has is that its made with a new fabrication process (28nm) compared to the TI OMAP unit (45nm) which should mean it should run cooler and possibly have an advantage on the battery usage when on 2G and 3G mode (LTE mode is known to be a power hog).

When you compare the GPU the difference is less obvious as the PowerVR 544 GPU can be more powerful if its the multi-core version (which is what the Apple IPhone uses) compared to the Qualcomm Adreno 225 unit.  However if its a single core PowerVR 544, then the Adreno 225 GPU will be far superior. 

The edge the PowerVR will have is that the older PlayBook device also ran a TI OMAP + PowerVR combination, but with sales bending greater to the Adreno based Z10, will new games be targeting the Qualcomm units?

The impact of this hardware change is also being felt on updates, with the Z10 sales being greater in volume in the US and European markets, the STL 2/3/4 models get more frequent updates than the STL 1. 

With the antenna differences marginal its is very weird why Blackberry opted for a two model approach (and they have done the same with the Q10 as well).

I found an STL100-2 with great difficulty as most phones in my country were STL100-1, or units brought from USA and Canada which meant the LTE would not work (we use LTE 1800Mhz).

Some useful links:

Firmware Upgrades

Make sure you have the correct OS to leverage the hardware and app market

When i got the unit it ran a 10.0.9 version of BB10, and since i did not have LTE compatible SIM i disregarded this to be simply because my SIM not supporting.  However i faced a problem that i could not install Skype (beta) which was released on BB World recently as it required the platform to be 10.1.x. 

I promptly tried the OTA (Over the Air = phone upgrade) which surprisingly said there were no updates.  This worried me, and the initial forums i read said i should update this with a leaked ROM.  I was on the verge of downloading a 920MB size download running 10.1.2xxx when another forum indicated that i should backup my phone,and try the update using BBLink.

The advise was good, as it prompted me with the availability of a new update of the 10.1.x range.  The update was large, around 1GB in download and the phone was updated to 10.1.1720, which was far from the latest but still better than what i had.

The good “side effect” of this update was that it now lists 4G as an option in the connection, even though my SIM is still not an LTE compatible.  It seems BB enables the settings based on the provider, and these updates come along with new firmware.  The evil “side effect”  of this update was a bug where the text message app no longer is able to match SMS received with the contacts which is driving me crazy!

Why Blackberry can’t provide small patches as done by Android, Apple, Microsoft for their platforms is a concern, as downloading 1GB each time to me is crazy! 

Your firmware upgrade depends on your SIM, not where your phone originated from

Many things to learn is what i have gathered with my first time move to a Blackberry devices.  My reading as i got to know the phone also found that your update depends on your SIM on the phone rather than what market your phone was made for.

For example though the phone i got was from European origin, since i have a Dialog SIM from Sri Lanka, the update i get will be based the approved firmware and features for Dialog.  It seems if you have an deactivated SIM, the update will still come based on the provider of the SIM if you are updating via a PC using BBLink.  A workaround suggested for getting updates that are not available from your providers is to get an old SIM from another provider from Europe or US so that you can get new updates faster.

The BB10 Operating System

>coming soon 🙂

Windows 8 phone: Promising but still raw and app store in its early days


I had wanted to try out the Nokia Lumia 800 as many who owned it spoke in praise on who smooth and slick the interface was, and this was truly credible considering similar single core equipped Snapdragon S1/S2  Android phones were stuttering in comparison.  However Microsoft dropped the bombshell by stating that none of the WP7 devices going to be upgraded to WP8, since they had said a higher bar for the minimum spec.

While the users of WP7 would have been very frustrated, the launch of the WP8 devices saw some great designs specially from Nokia, with HTC being a bit conservative compared to their Android offerings. The operating system brought many good opinions, but how does it stack up on every day use.

My experiences of WP8 are based on using the Nokia 620 and the 920, that provided me an idea of how it runs in base hardware, and somewhat higher spec hardware.

Touch and general OS navigation

The operating system has lived up to its smooth origins seen in WP7, and definitely had many Android users says how smooth the interface was.  Even Apple users commented positively on this, indicating Microsoft has got something right and not messed it up with the newer WP8.

Physical buttons

The phones currently have 3 physical buttons which seem to have the following capabilities.

  1. Windows button. Which takes you to the new desktop which features the tiles
  2. Back button.  Pressing this while in app takes you back within the app, and if you click the Windows button and then press this it recycles through existing apps and you can keep on pressing this to finally hasten the process of closing the app. If you keep holding this button it will show you the current running apps and you can manually select an app to get to it rather than having to recycle through.
  3. Search button, to bring the Bing search, to me this is of very little value.

Closing or selecting a running app

One feature that takes a while to get used to , and i feel is still lacking is the fact that you can’t actually close an directly.  The famous minimize, maximize and close buttons we are familiar with Windows are not there which is good as it goes with the other mobile platforms, but unlike with Apple or Android you have no way to kill an app.  Microsoft says WP8 being a true multi-tasking operating system compared to iOS and Android, is capable handling applications in similar lines to the JVM concept of Java, but if you really need to close an application this could have been easy achieved.

For instance if you hold the back button for a while it shows the current running applications similar to the what Android and iOS do, but you can swipe or press on a cross to close the app, but this to me is something that can be done easily and i wonder if its any patent that is holding back Microsoft from implementing this basic feature.

The desktop or as MS calls it Live Tiles

The desktops and widgets in Android, was not something that Google invented since these was possible with the Great Symbian operating system.  Apple looked simple without it but seems the market is now shouting for something similar even from Apple, and they are supposed to deliver something different for the first time in iOS wit version 7 to support this.

Microsoft answer with Windows Phone has been live tiles, and while it has been unique and effective, to me the multiple desktops concept of Android and Symbian is more efficient when you have loads of stuff that you want to access, where a single scrolling desktop becomes limiting.

Fonts and scaling

The fonts in WP8 like WP7 are clear and sharp but sadly they are a bit too large for me. The smallest size is rather to clunky, and due to this in places like Live Tiles, the Calendar you see only a little information.  However the ability to scale further seems limited, and hopefully Microsoft can provide a fix for this in the upcoming patch.

Resolution Support

With WP8 Microsoft also brought the ability to support higher resolutions since WP7 was limited to 800×480.  The budget WP8 phones such as Lumia still have this resolution, but the higher end phones support 720P with 1280×800 screens.  This resolution competed with the 2012 line of Androids and Apple, but with 2013 bring Full HD resolution to Android phones the market has moved on.  Microsoft is due to provide the patch that will support enhanced resolutions as newer phones are due to release with Full HD screens during the later part of 2013.

Hopefully this means support for better use of the resolution will also come, since at present there is no split view even for emails, which i find in Android which improves navigation and gives near Windows desktop usability.

Phone and contact features, good but still not good as Android

WP8 has very good usability and coverage on basic call features of a phone with easy dialing with its simple uncluttered interface.

  • Phonebook loads fast, and the search is fast and easy.
  • You can pin to start any contact, making your favorites easy to call
  • Adding a call to an existing call (for conference features) is easy but has a major limitation, it only allows you to add from the history, you cannot access the phonebook, OUCH
  • Speakerphone is easy to switch, but the touch can be too sensitive, one has to be a bit delicate in pressing the button
  • The default keyboard is quite effective in word correction and nice to type on, far better than many native keyboards on Android devices, but still not as effective as SwiftKey that i normally use with my android devices.  Third party keyboards are not available in the store, and i am not sure if such is possible with the nature of the OS.

I find the favorites and group feature useful and familiar which i used with Symbian and found in Android as well.  This allowed me to group people and access them without having to go to the search feature.  While the pin to start can achieve some sort of favorite concept, having this in the contacts search is a must have when the screen sizes are still comparatively limited.

Messaging, good but seems no one spoke to real users

  • The basic messaging features are covered well, but seems to be more favoring MMS, with the conversation thread feature a MMS only capability.
  • One big limitation that i had was with adding of contacts to a message.  White you can type part of the name, it seems to limit the names.  For example i had my contacts synchronized from Google, and any contact who had numbers as “other” type were not listed, and you had to and select the “+” and search and add the number, which was very annoying
  • The backup of texts to the cloud is there, but the backed up messages are not readable. Meaning unlike some third party SMS backup tools for Android which creates a new flag (=folder) in your Google account to keep your messages (hence you can search or read them through Google mail), the  contents of the message backup is not visible on your skydrive storage, and seems to be a hidden store that only WP8 can retrieve, so while its useful its lacking the full usability i would want from this backup feature.

Calendar features, severely lacking

The calendar features sadly to me are rather lacking which is very astonishing for me.  Microsoft with such a strong background on the desktop with Outlook has failed here in great style, though the interface in general is nice. Even feature phones (aka non-smartphones) have much better calendar implementations.

  • Month calendar view is MISSING.  Not only is it missing, but the Microsoft developers have CHEATED. If you go to the month view, it does show a view, but its not readable. If you take a screen snapshot and then check it out on a computer you will see that it has some “test data”, which may explain why they have purposefully made the font not readable.  This to me is inexcusable.
  • The current views implemented “agenda”, “to-do” are rather skimpy and minimalist.
  • Live tiles for calendars are supported but only one event can be shown. Supposedly the next release will allow you to see 3, but stills that very limiting, and currently its downright useless

File Explorer, nope never heard of that

After being a Symbian user for many years and then an Android user, a file manager to me is like a must have.  This applies to my Windows desktop usage as well.  With Apple i found this “securing the content” and lacking a file manager a major hurdle, as i could not open a file with the application i wanted.  Well i expected that WP8 will be more like Windows, though WP7 was more like Apple.

Well i was in for a big disappointment, there is no file manager in WP8, and you are unlikely to get one is the general talk.  Hence if you want to manage your files you have to do it via a PC.  However the only good side with WP8 is that you can connect it and manage your files from your File Explorer without needing the Zune app which was what you had to do with WP7, so some positive changes and shifts from the Apple like way, but still not good enough for me.

Synchronization and storage support

The big change with WP8 compared to the WP7 is the MTP mode support.  With WP7 it was just like iTunes in some ways that you had to convert content to copy, and that was it.  Further  with WP7 you had on support for MicroSD cards.

With WP8 you just connect the device (as you would do with an Android device) and it loads as a MTP compatible storage. You can copy and restructure the unrestricted contents through Windows explorer.  If the device had a Micro SD this is also visible and accessible making content transfer easy and simple.  This is a definitely a big positive for WP8 compared to Apple and allows it to compete into the Android space, since the Zune feature very much like iTunes has been seen as a limitation for many where content is normally not purchased from online stores, but rather from local sources.

However with the fact that for many apps seems incapable of accessing files copied into the device, and only able to list apps downloaded this advantage seems to be only valid for video and music, which i think is a big limitation which i hope Microsoft will remove by providing app developers better APIs that expose such contents.

Browsing

WP8 ships with an IE10 based mobile browser that is major overhaul compared to the older IE versions on the WP7 phones.  IE10 on WP8 is quite smooth and fast, but definitely plays second fiddle to the Android flagships and the Apple on the browser speeds.

However third party browsers are still lacking with the UC Browser the only major alternative.  I tried this out and while it was fast, it seems to have memory issues in its present state.

Major alternatives such as Firefox and Opera are still not available, and the chance of Chrome coming to WP8 will only occur if WP8 turns out to be major player in the mobile market, currently with under 3% of the market i don’t see Google paying too much interest.

Music and Video Playback

This is handled mainly by the players provided by the phone manufacturer based on the standard player.  The player from Nokia does a commendable job, but i am sure you will find a video format or two not supported.

However no strong alternatives are available on the store on this area as yet. VLC is supposedly working on an RT based version, but with the challenges adobe has faced putting out a PDF reader due to limited RT libraries available for the WP8 compared to the RT on the tab may also impact VLC in putting out a player quickly.

Camera

The generic camera app has evolved so says Microsoft, but to me the interface is still very primitive.  While the ability to see pictures taken is now on the interface, and some key options such as flash can be selected, the rest are still text options and there is no provision to select them and add to the interface.  However the ability to add new lens, which allows third party developers to integrate their features directly into the stock camera app is cool and something very innovative.

Why mobile camera manufactures and platform builders can’t learn from digital camera interfaces continues to baffle me, but Samsung and HTC seem to be getting there slowly.

Microsoft Office support

The major selling point of WP8 is that it ships with a free version of Office that has Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note. Windows RT tablet devices do not come with a free version of Office, and you have to purchase it.

While the other three are full fledged applications with some limitations, OneNote for WP8 and for RT is a very limited version compared to what you have with Windows 8 desktop!

With OneNote for WP8 you can only do the following,

  1. Enter a text type note
  2. Enter a checklist type note

Even basic features such as indenting a list item are only possible with the options menu with no easy tool bar, and features such as emoticon support for list items, drawing, etc are completely missing.

PDF and E-book support

While one now takes PDF and E-book support for granted, think again when it comes to WP8.

  • PDF is supported only via the Microsoft PDF Reader, which can only support reading PDF files downloaded.  Files copied to the internal storage, or files in the SD card are not listed, and hence you cannot open them.  Useless.
  • Native support for EPUB or MOB file formats are missing.  While there are third party apps for this, they all require you to download, and they cannot access the internal storage or SD card. Which means files you copy or have with you cannot be opened.  Massive failure for WP8 once again.

Games

I am not commenting here, since i have not tried them out.  However going through the store, most apps have the TRY option which is nice, but on the whole the number of popular titles are very minimal, and its very very early days for WP8 at present.

Many thought that with the common platform Microsoft so heavily spoke of, including me a person with .NET development background it was sad to hear that when it comes to developing hard core applications the RT libraries for mobile and tablets (do note that tablet version is also feature in the normal full Windows 8 machines), the common part is rather limiting is the general opinion, i intend to do a bit more research here to update the situation.  But if this is true, just because a game is available for RT for tab and desktops means, its going to be easily available for the WP8 version is not a fair assumption.

FM radio support

WP8 does NOT support radio features at present.  However support for this is due with the 8.1 patch that Microsoft is supposed to deliver soon.  Phone manufacturers such as Nokia seem to be aware of this, and current devices such as the 620 and 920 are supposedly having the radio hardware, and this will be accessible once the radio features are made available with the 8.1 update from Microsoft.

Microsoft App Store

I have already spoken on the app store in line with general phone features, but from the common stack here is a quick review.  My general opinions is while there is around 20-30% who will by many different apps including games, many smart phone users by it mainly for limited use, and need only a core stack of use for general usages.

App WP8 Android iOS
Skype Native Native Native
Twitter Native Limited features Native Native
WhatsApp Native Limited Native Native
FaceBook OS built in, Limited Native Native
Google Maps Native via Nokia Maps Native Native
Stock Browser IE10 Chrome Safari
Chrome Not available Stock, Native Native Limited
YouTube Not available Stock, Native Stock, Native
Office Stock, Native, Free Third Party, Limited Third Party, Limited
PDF Support Native App, Limited Adobe, and many other Native Native + Third Party
Viber Native, Limited Native Native

Conclusion

I really like the smooth interface of WP8, and the fact that it offers more freedom that what i found with iOS/ITunes.  Its like something in between Android and iOS and Microsoft has a sound platform here.  But sadly Microsoft seems to be not understanding their user base, or are talking to the wrong user base as evident by the simple mistakes they have in the phone, calendar and other areas that i spoke of.

Its just not the app store that matters, and Microsoft needs to understand that, before the app store you also need to get the basic phone capabilities sorted, and that is something i feel Microsoft has not understood.

I will continue to use a WP8 phone as a backup device hoping that MS will improve it fast and get it where it should be, but right now progress is very slow, and MS is not getting the basics sorted as seen with the Portico release. Reluctantly i will have to shift back to an Android as my main phone.