Viaero Wireless testing LTE service after Verizon rolls out XLTE in rural markets.

Employees at the regional carrier Viaero Wireless have confirmed to me that the network is either currently testing or soon will be testing LTE service, initially in the Colorado market.

I had previously speculated that the carrier might make such a move after moving to kill unlimited data, but ultimately dismissed it. However, with Verizon already nearing completion of its XLTE rollout, (XLTE is essentially LTE using separate frequencies for uplink and downlink), Viaero had everything to lose and nothing to gain by remaining on an outdated system. After all, Viaero only complete the move from 2G to 4G last year. For perspective, AT&T was already implementing 4G when the iPhone 3GS was launched around 6 years again, and Android and Windows Phone flagships were supporting LTE more often than not by 2012, with Apple waiting until the iPhone 5 to add an LTE radio to its fruit phones.

Viaero will likely add LTE service to cities and large towns first, to alleviate congestion of the 4G GSM network in those areas, and then upgrade its other towers afterwards.

Of course, there is a catch to this news. Not every device sold by the carrier supports LTE; just eight of the smartphones sold by the carrier have LTE radios, leaving a majority of their current offerings, and customers, on 4G.

And then there’s this to consider: Once unlimited data is gone, you’ll have a much faster connection on your phone to make up for it, therefore you’re much more likely to purchase data in 1GB increments as you chew through your allotted data.

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Viaero Wireless testing LTE service after Verizon rolls out XLTE in rural markets.

Google and Pebble troll Windows Phone users.

CaptureIf you use a Windows Phone, you were trolled today. Twice.

Imagine, if you will, Microsoft suddenly yanking Minecraft from Google’s Play Store. They offer no public explanation, the apps are just gone and there’s no refund either. It’s a $10 app! This would be Microsoft saying, “Fuck you too, Google.”

Okay, this isn’t going to happen, ever. But something similar it is about to happen on the Windows Phone Store, with Google playing the role of the dick waving lunatic.

softcard

Google hates Microsoft. They hate Windows Phone even more. Their refusal to allow Microsoft to make an official Youtube app, and refusing the write one themselves, is the finest example of this. They don’t mind trolling Windows Phone users.

This week, Google, realizing that Apple Pay is a threat, bought the “technology” behind Softcard, an NFC wallet app for Android and Windows Phone, which only debuted in late 2014. Google is wasting no time rolling that infrastructure into its existing Wallet app, which is available on both Android and iOS. Softcard, as a company, still exists, but just what it’s doing is anyones guess at this point.

It was revealed today, as part of that sell off, that Softcard will be removing its app from the Windows Phone Store and also from the Play Store, because the best of the app and its backend are being merged into Google Wallet. This isn’t an issue for Android users, as carriers will now stop blocking Google Wallet as part of the deal, and the iOS app will benefit from these new additions as well.

On the Windows side however, this is a major middle finger. Getting the Softcard app already involved several hurdles. You have to have an Enhanced SIM. You also need a third-party app installed on the phone to act as the NFC wallet.

Microsoft’s native Wallet app has technically supported NFC payments since the launch of Windows Phone 8 in 2012, but it’s never been implemented because Microsoft saw the carriers blocking Google Wallet when it appeared on the scene. Microsoft opted to wait for Softcard, which didn’t arrive until late 2014.

In fact, other NFC wallet apps, like Google Wallet, Apple Pay, and CurrentC could function on Windows Phone, but those apps are not coming. Softcard, made by the carriers, was the only option for American users.

Once the Softcard app is gone, Windows Phone users will once again be without an NFC wallet solution. They won’t be tapping to pay for the foreseeable future. With the success of Apple Pay, perhaps Microsoft will just raise its middle finger to the carriers on this one and build out its existing Wallet app to support NFC. We can only hope.

Pebble

But, the trolling didn’t stop there. Several people, myself included, reported that a Pebble app may be coming to Windows Phone. This was hours before the Softcard announcement, so technically, Pebble got the first and last lulz of the day.

Shortly after the Softcard announcement, Daniel Rubino published a bombshell of a story on Windows Central. It’s really a must read. He reported that Microsoft wrote an app for Pebble, with Pebble’s blessing. Not just an app, but they wanted to partner with Pebble just like they have recently done with Fitbit. There are Fitbit bands in every Microsoft Store, on their webstore, and Fitbit bands are even being given away with Lumia phones.

Imagine the surge in publicity the already moderately known Pebble would get. Their watches would be on TV, at AT&T, in Microsoft’s stores.

Microsoft was even offering to update and maintain the Pebble app, on their own dime, like they already do for Facebook’s app on Windows Phone. Mark Zuckerberg likes Microsoft though. He likes them a lot. Microsoft even invested an obscene amount of money into Facebook back when it was basically just another wouldbe Myspace killer. Facebook had no qualms with Microsoft doing as they wished with the Facebook app on Windows Phone.CaptureSo, Pebble was going to get the Fitbit and the Facebook treatment from Microsoft. How could they say no? All Microsoft wanted some preferential treatment, so maybe some Pebble updates and apps arrive on Windows Phone first. No big deal.

Pebble said no. Pebble said no even when Microsoft’s own CEO asked Pebble’s CEO, Eric Migicovsky, to enter into this partnership. Eric Migicovsky does not like Microsoft, but he does believe that there must be three smartwatch platforms.

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Minecraft creator, Notch, and Steve Jobs, made it cool to hate Microsoft, and now some people are all too happy to stick it to the software giant.

Microsoft poured thousands of dollars into the Pebble endeavour, only to walk in on Pebble dick riding Apple and Google.

And it’s only safe to assume that Microsoft went through similar hoops to woo Snapchat onto the platform, only the catch Snapchat in the act of dick riding too. At least Nokia was able to drag Vine and a beta version of Instagram to the maligned OS.

Need some salve? Ello, that plucky upstart that had everyone talking last September, has expressed interest in making a Windows Phone app. Yeah, I just trolled some of you, sorry.

More trolling.

Oh yes, there’s more. Several media outlets, including Yahoo! have been loudly pounding the nails into the Windows Phone coffin over the last two days, and some even have latched onto Windows 10, declaring the mobile version of the OS dead on arrival, even though it’s hardly a beta yet. Windows Phone just can’t catch a break. Not from the media, and not from dick riding CEOs. And standing between Microsoft and the hail of bullets? Windows Phone users.

Google and Pebble troll Windows Phone users.

Could Cortana come to CyanogenMod?

Cortana reminds me to not burn a pizza in the oven.
Cortana thoughtfully reminds me to not burn the pizza in the oven.

News broke earlier this month that CyanogenMod has met with Microsoft, seeking an investment to further their vision of an Android totally devoid of Google services, installed by OEM on devices. $70 million is the figure I’ve seen reported. But, with Microsoft itself developing a plethora of Android apps, including a lockscreen, why wouldn’t they attach a rider to their investment, insisting that their apps and services be on the platform? It makes a lot of sense.

So, let’s say Office, Outlook, OneDrive, and Skype are installed by default, or maybe they are placed prominently in the app store. I know, it’s not as exciting now as it would have been in 2013, so, let’s hit pause.

When Microsoft unveiled Cortana while showing off Windows Phone 8.1, they hinted that she might arrive on other platforms too. And arrive she has. She made her PC debut in January, on the Windows 10 Technical Preview. We can safely assume she will also touchdown on the Xbox One later this year, perhaps in October or November. Sony has nothing like Cortana in its stable, so this will serve to further differentiate the two consoles.

Microsoft has also never precluded iOS or Android. iOS wouldn’t make much sense, because she would be a second class citizen; an app to be launched, a better Bing app. Android would allow her to be almost a first class citizen however. If Google allowed a Cortana app to be included in the Play Store however, she likely wouldn’t be able to totally replace Google Now, thus she’d have a quasi-Cortana experience. She could toggle your wifi, send an email, set reminders, and maybe even add and remove things from Google Calendar, but you won’t be invoking her by saying “Hey, Cortana” nor will she integrate fully with the OS. She also won’t be automatically reminding you to pick up the dry cleaning next time you are near the laundry service.

Okay, unpause that CyanogenMod story now, because this is where both threads cross; Microsoft could build a Cortana experience which replicates the experience on its own platforms for CyanogenMod.

Google Now could be completely replaced by Cortana in CyanogenMod, because the goal of the CyanogenMod team is to make a better Android. An Android which has rid itself of Google’s multiple apps and services. Microsoft has already shown that it’s more than willing to build apps for Android, so this really is not far fetched. And with Cyanogen holding out the hat, Microsoft can probably get away with insisting that Bing is the default search engine, Outlook the default mail app, and Cortana be baked into the OS, ready to be enabled by the user, as it is on Windows Phone. I could even see a small team at Microsoft being devoted to just that.

So, when do I think this could materialize? I would guess that after Windows 10 is a year old, Microsoft would feel comfortable bringing Cortana to third-party platforms like CyanogenMod, which pose no real threat to their handset business for now. Perhaps we will hear news of this sooner, but I don’t think Microsoft wants to announce that Cortana is on CyanogenMod before the first Windows 10 commercials hit the airwaves.

Could Cortana come to CyanogenMod?

Microsoft, for the love of all things holy, please add an NFC wallet to Windows 10!

NFC wallets on mobile devices can hold your credit cards, debit cards, transit passes, loyalty cards, and other items as well. They are pretty handy, assuming there is an NFC terminal present when you make a transaction, and of course have an NFC enabled phone.

The NFC wallet was unleashed to the masses with Google Wallet in 2011. Initially just an NFC wallet which contained debit and credit cards, it expanded into a payment service shortly after.

Apple appeared to be late to the game, making their own NFC wallet, Apple Pay, public in 2014. The Apple approach is more secure than Google’s, generating single use codes for transactions. Apple Pay debuted both as an NFC wallet and a payment service.

Microsoft on the other hand has left the implementation of an NFC wallet up to individual carriers. There has been an app called Wallet in the OS since Windows Phone 8, but it’s just that – a wallet used for Store and in app purchases. It also has some Apple Passbook compatibility, though I am unfamiliar with the full extent of this functionality.

Under the NFC settings on Windows Phone, there’s a toggle for turning NFC on or off, and another toggle for NFC payments, with a disclaimer that an Enhanced SIM is required to use this feature. A third party app, SoftCard, is required to act as an NFC wallet, further complicating and hobbling this feature.

I live in a rural area, and I use a regional carrier. An Enhanced SIM is impossible for me to obtain from my carrier, and the carrier only recently completed its upgrade to “4G” (enhanced 3G) and has no plans for LTE, let alone VoLTE which also requires an Enhanced SIM. I have a feeling that most of Microsoft’s target markets, developing nations, are in a boat not too different from my own, so only a small subset of Windows Phone users even have a chance to use SoftCard, or a similar app.

A good friend of mine is fortunate enough to have SoftCard and an Enhanced SIM too, in a Lumia 925. However, he has not been able to make it work properly for a single purchase. That experience, in addition to the extended wait for the Lumia Denim update, helped prod him over to iOS this month.

I have tweeted to a few Microsoft employees and the Lumia US handle as well for comment about the possibility of adding a native NFC wallet to Windows Phone or Windows 10 on phones, but have not received a response.

With Apple Pay now being okayed for National Park admission fees and the depositing of Social Security benefits, I hope Microsoft sits up and takes notice of the NFC wallet phenomena soon, or I too might be migrating to an iPhone.

Microsoft, for the love of all things holy, please add an NFC wallet to Windows 10!

Those rounded toggles in Cortana are likely going systemwide in Windows 10.

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The “new” rounded toggles in Cortana’s settings, with the Xbox app settings open in the background.

You likely know what the toggle switches look like on Windows Phone and in Windows 8.x – They are squared sliders, matching the Modern interface nicely. In Cortana on the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview, many people noticed that the service uses different toggles; ones which are rounded. Initially, I didn’t spot them anywhere else in the OS and wrote them off as a designer just trying something new, something that would go away in the next build.

For a comparison of the old style and the new style, below is a screenshot of the Settings app, which still uses the old style, and above are Cortana’s settings and the settings of the Xbox app as well.

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The “old” squared style toggle switches.

Since this new toggle design has made an appearance in the Xbox app, I think it’s safe to assume that this design will migrate out to the rest of the OS, and on the phone side as well. It really makes sense, when you factor in the wireframe icon styling which is apparent here and there on both the phone and PC versions on the Windows 10 Preview.

Those rounded toggles in Cortana are likely going systemwide in Windows 10.

History of bungled updates and dropped features for Windows Phone as Windows 10 nears

Lumia Camera on Lumia Denim.
Lumia Camera on Lumia Denim.

Microsoft, its OEM partners, and carriers have a history of stiffing Windows Phone users.

Overly eager to please carriers, Microsoft remains largely hands off with the delivery of updates, while carriers show little to no interest in delivering said updates.

Abandoning devices when updates ship, removing features from the OS and hardware, and leaving NFC wallets completely in the hands of carriers who have no interest in Windows Phone. Maybe this is starting to change, however.

Verizon has done something unusual. It actually is very out of character for them – they released an update provided by Microsoft for the Lumia Icon. This was supposed to occur in January, but better late than never, right? Last year, in December, Verizon also pushed the Denim update to two older Lumia handsets. Verizon did not bother issuing the Cyan update however, so other Lumias were left stagnating on the Black firmware.

AT&T has usually lead the pack in the US when it comes to delivering updates to devices running Microsoft’s operating system, albeit not in a timely fashion, but as of yet, not a single device on AT&T has been updated to Denim. In a recent tweet, AT&T said they’d push the update “soon” but that could mean tomorrow or April. And of course, AT&T has demanded custom versions of Lumia phones, halving storage and stripping out Qi wireless charging.

Verizon remains the only US carrier to have pushed the Denim update to Lumia devices. T-Mobile has only committed to applying the update to the 521 and newer devices, leaving the HTC 8X, which debuted with the 920, on Windows Phone 8. (Lumia Denim only applies to Nokia and Microsoft made devices by the way – it’s a firmware update bundled with an OS update.)

Meanwhile, there has been much speculation that Microsoft will launch the beta testing program for Windows 10 on phones this week, perhaps on Friday.

Lumia Denim is of course not required for devices to run the newer OS – indeed, many Windows Phone users have been marooned on Lumia Amber, or Windows Phone 8 after their device was abandoned by their carrier or phone manufacture, leaving them at the mercy of the Preview for Developers program for OS updates – however, should the Denim update ship after Windows 10 Preview, those devices may have to be flashed via the Lumia Recovery app to grab the newest firmware, forcing users to load the Preview onto their device again, assuming they want the device enhancements, of course.

I happen to want the camera enhancements very badly, and I also would like to be able to use Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 on my 1520. I even bought a new charger in preparation for Denim.

Microsoft is not going to be shipping Denim alongside the Preview – by stating that Denim is not needed for it, they have left the delivery of Denim totally in the hands of the carriers. While it’ll be great to be testing out a new OS, it will suck to not have 4k recording and a better Glance Screen.

I hope Microsoft stops letting the carriers hold users hostage based either on sales numbers or lack of interest on their part for Microsoft’s OS. Apple issues all OS updates directly to their devices, without any input from carriers. If Apple says iOS 9 ships on June 30th, that is when it ships, even if AT&T raises hell. Why can’t Microsoft be more like that?

Apple Pay was not blocked for any carriers either, and they are powerless to remove it. Google’s OEMs on the other hand have allowed carriers to strip out Google Wallet and Microsoft went even further, bending over backwards to leave NFC wallets completely in the hands of the carriers, which I might add have only recently begun to materialize, and SoftCard is horribly buggy, in addition to requiring a special SIM card. It’s 2015, so why can’t I use my Lumia to pay for my coffee? I used my Nexus 7 to pay for my coffee in 2012!

With all of this in mind, I am left to wonder just when the RTM version of Windows 10 will arrive on phones, and whether devices like the Lumia 620 will even see it, due to some carriers opting to leave it on Amber thus far. Will there even be an NFC wallet in the OS? I am hopeful that Microsoft will take steps to correct some of the wrongs that have been inflicted by the carriers, and also by their eagerness to please the carriers.

We will likely find out much more in the coming months.

History of bungled updates and dropped features for Windows Phone as Windows 10 nears

No, there will not be a Windows 10 flagship phone launching in May.

I decided to burst some bubbles, because I noticed some stories popping up on the interwebs today claiming Microsoft will launch a new flagship Lumia phone running Windows 10, either in March or May. No, calm down, it’s not true.

The OS is just being geared up for a Technical Preview launch, which is supposed to happen this month, and I am hopeful that Lumia Denim ships from American carriers before that date. Given that the OS is not even available to public testers, and that all other versions of Windows 10 remain unfinished, it’s safe to say that someone is either just craving page hits, or is conflating reports of a new Lumia flagship with the new OS.

Various outlets and blogs have already reported that the next Lumia flagship will be rocking a Snapdragon 810 SoC, which is a wise choice since existing phones cannot support DirectX 12 unless Microsoft is able to implement a Feature Level of the new API on DirectX 9 class hardware. This new SoC will feature eight 64 bit cores, passive listening support for Shazam and other music/television identification apps, 4k support, an Adreno 430 GPU, and other enhancements over existing hardware.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that Microsoft will put a 64 bit OS on phones which support them, but they have not said so themselves.

So, before I veer too far from the subject at hand, will Microsoft will launching a flagship Lumia this spring? I doubt it. Microsoft has confirmed that they will indeed be launching flagship phones this year, and I certainly hope they have some standout features, but I don’t think they will debut such a device before July, based on past devices. Also, if said device features special hardware, such as a fingerprint scanner, the current phone OS from Microsoft doesn’t support them, so why show off the hardware so far ahead of the RTM of Windows 10?

No, there will not be a Windows 10 flagship phone launching in May.