Category Archives: Tech

Why so little love for the Lumia?

September 5th has come and gone. We’ve seen the announcement of Nokia’s Lumia 820 and 920, how PureView technology doesn’t quite mean what we thought it would mean, and yet there’s a hollow feeling that seems to be pretty common amongst tech writers. With pretty freaking rad devices being announced, why was there so little love for the new Lumias?

Even bestowed with this bit of beauty, bloggers balked. via nokia.com

The problem may have been our expectations. We’ve been trained by Apple’s fantastic keynotes to have a certain level of excitement going into an event, and to watch for the following things:

1)      Specific user-facing features.

2)      New software demos.

3)      New hardware announcements.

4)      Launch dates.

5)      “Oh, and just one more thing.”

The problem with the Nokia/Microsoft event, accepting that we all have these expectations at some level, was twofold.

One, it lacked anything substantive from Microsoft. We saw hardly anything of the new Windows Phone 8 OS. We’ve seen little of it beyond the developer preview they had ages ago. That is where the big sell is and should be for this generation. We need to see what the software can do.

And two, Nokia failed to hit many of the marks that we expect in the post-iPhone age. Features that were expected – LTE, NFC, PureView – were announced, but there were few surprises (wireless charging is fun, but not a game-changer, and the gorgeous new display has competition from the iPhone and HTC’s One line). There was almost nothing announced software-wise beyond Nokia’s apps. We got new hardware, but there were no launch dates beyond “Q4 2012.” And there was no real punchy endnote.

It’s not that the Lumias 820 and 920 are going to be bad devices – in fact, I’m already starting to conceive a budget for a new phone in the new year, and it’s probably going to be the Lumia 920 (with all the colourful polycarbonate wireless charging backs I can carry from the store, a charging pad, and those rad Nokia/JBL NFC/BlueTooth/wireless charging speakers). It’s that we still don’t know enough about themto get properly excited. We don’t know when we can hold them, or exactly what they’ll do when they’re in our hands.

This is becoming something of a trend with Microsoft and their partners. Tease us and leave us. Give us just the barest taste of something awesome and then hold out on us. Vanish for months and then get us riled up again, just to slip away when we can’t wait any longer, asking us to wait just a little while longer. It happened the first time Nokia announced the Lumia line, and it happened not too long ago with Surface.

It’s time that a lesson was learned at Redmond. That hard-to-get ploy might work occasionally in dating, but a successful relationship is one in which you make a concerted effort to deliver what you promise on and to keep delivering, day in, day out, and to keep upping the ante.

Eventually, I worry that it might not be enough to love Windows Phone. The day-to-day relationship has to work too. And right now I’m banking way too much on future potential, despite my fanboyism.

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To Gamers, and Those Who Love Them: Be Better.

Trigger warning, in advance, for discussions of and links to documentation of rape culture, threats of sexual violence, death threats

There has been a fairly intense – debate? Argument? – happening on Twitter and across blogs for the last few days regarding sexism, misogyny, violence against women, online conduct, and gaming culture. Maybe you’ve seen it; Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist pop culture media critic, launched a Kickstarter to fund a series examining the depictions of women in games. Tropes v. Women in Video Games has already been fully funded, with nearly $159,000 donated by nearly 7,000 backers. This is my first exposure to Feminist Frequency and Sarkeesian’s work, but I’m looking forward to what’s shaping up to be an insightful project.

Anyway, instead of supporting this project across the board, cisgendered male gamers came out in force to do what cisgendered male gamers seem to do best these days: stand up in support of rape culture.

In short, Sarkeesian’s Wikipedia page was vandalized, she received thousands of comments on her YouTube channel, received harassing images depicting her being sexually assaulted. Tweets, messages, etc. They all contained a common thread: boys disagree with her project, and are attacking her very specifically as a woman about it. Sarkeesian’s opponents tapped into an upsetting set of norms – rape culture, and the allowance of violence against women – to threaten and silence her.

I thought this would get to its most disgusting with the development and release online of a game called Beat Up Anna Sarkeesian, which is exactly what it sounds likes. Players could click a photograph of Sarkeesian, and damage would appear – split lips, black eyes, bloodied nose.

A Toronto-based blogger, Steph Guthrie, took the game’s creator to task on the internet. She publicly called out Ben Spurr for his misogyny and for promoting violence and threats against Sarkeesian. The internet turned on him, tracked down his Steam profile, and generally rallied to the cause – but, almost immediately, things went south. Guthrie was attacked on Twitter with escalating vigour, culminating in a death threat.

Here’s where I find it difficult to discuss. What is there to say that hasn’t been said? The deniers of any kind of rape/misogyny culture in gaming still have their heads in the sand, even while they’re proving that there is a problem. The fact that there is a need for this conversation shows that there is something seriously wrong with gaming culture – which is an ugly, introverted, adolescent mirror for broader cultural issues. So how do we solve this problem?

Parents.

Teachers.

Parents: you need to play games with your kids. You need to be able to understand what they are consuming, and you need to be able to monitor, to an extent, their interactions and what they’re being exposed to while gaming. And more than that, you need to be able to discuss it intelligently with them. Whether it’s sexist depictions, gender-motivated violence, or coupling sex with violence.

What’s needed more is that you game with them while they’re playing online. Even if you’re being attentive to ESRB ratings (which are frequently inaccurate anyway) to ensure age-appropriate content, there’s a frequent disclaimer: online experience not rated. That’s because the moment you log into XBox Live (which deserves note for its rampant harassment), or any online game, you’re at the mercy of other players.

Online gaming is an echo chamber. Any relatively small community is. And the sexism and homophobia in online communities gets amplified to the point that threats of murder, rape and other sexual violence are not only accepted but encouraged. So, again, parents: game with your kids. Be present in the room, have the console in a central location, and insist on speakers instead of a headset. And be bold enough to address what you see and hear with your kids.

And, teachers: don’t be afraid to look at this stuff. Sexism and racism and homophobia don’t just exist in novels that have gone mouldy from being stuffed in a book closet all summer. They exist in today’s most popular form of entertainment media, too. Draw your parallels, talk about it in class, and don’t let it drop.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.

-Trevor


Windows Phone Apollo: Should You Be Mad?

Hot on the heels of my excitement over the video of a Microsoft evangelist telling a Portugese tech site that all Windows Phone devices will get the next big update, Apollo, The Verge has reported that an anonymous source close to the company has quashed that hope, saying that no existing Windows Phones will get the next big update.

Funnily enough, even though I use and love Windows Phone, I wasn’t too heartbroken with the news. After all, it’s been up in the air as to whether or not  current devices will get the Windows Phone 8 Apollo update for some time. But I’m a special case–I got in on the NoDo revision, on first-generation hardware. My phone’s time will be up by the time Apollo drops. This got me thinking, though–who should be upset if Apollo doesn’t hit current hardware?

Mad: OEMs

That’s right–any of the hardware partners with second-gen hardware on or coming to the market. That means HTC and Nokia, with gorgeous devices like the Titan II and Lumia 900. Rumours like this one are going to bite their sales, and maybe even provoke dropping the devices–look at the Verge article’s comments and see, anecdotally, how many Lumia 900 owners are considering returns.

If Microsoft isn’t going to support second-gen hardware, or if there’s continuing doubt about it, expect a nosedive in sales (such as they are). A two-year contract on last year’s OS is going to put off consumers, which means OEMs will likely start drifting back towards other OSes.

What does that mean for Nokia? It means, certainly, that their efforts with the platform have come too little, too late. The Lumia line is great, but as many have said, should have been out a year ago. They were late to market and now their flagship 900 is probably going to see trouble moving units.

Mad: Lumia 900 Owners

Buying a second-gen Windows Phone built by Microsoft’s hardware sweetheart seems like a pretty sure bet to see it supported through the next major revision. If I had one, I’d be feeling pretty unsure of my purchase right now. That said–will Windows Phone Mango continue to suit your needs through your next upgrade cycle? If you can wait a year or two until your next upgrade, then congratulations–you got a gorgeous phone that looks like it’ll be forward-compatible with most Windows Phone 8 apps. If not, then, sorry. You do deserve to be upset.

Not Mad: Me, and Probably You Too

Look, everyone with first-gen hardware. It’s been floating around that we’d get two software updates for Windows Phone devices. If you got in right at launch, or with NoDo like I did, then we really have nothing to complain about. If you got in on a launch or first-gen device, you’ve gotten NoDo, Mango, and will get Tango some time this quarter (presumably). I’m pretty sure that’s three updates. That’s the same number of big OS updates that the original iPhone got before it stopped being supported. Ditto iPhone 3G. You’d be buying a new phone to run the new software on any platform.

I believe that consumer expectation is the problem, frankly, but it stems from MS’ walled-garden approach to Windows Phone. With a tightly controlled hardware spec and user experience, we expected that with so much control there’d be a  plan for our devices to continue to be updated. As stated, first-gen users have nothing to complain about. Second-gen device owners, despite their phones’ faster processors, still might be expecting too much upgradeability from the limited hardware spec.

Conclusion

Maybe that’s what all this comes down to. Windows Phone users have made it a kind of mantra–look at what our OS can do with so little under the hood! It’s like racing a VW Golf against a Lamborghini and just about tying. But we’re not going to tie forever. Eventually there’s going to be next year’s Lambo and it’s going to have more horsepower, more torque, be a little faster off the line, and, frankly, we’ll still be driving a Golf, one that drives almost exactly the same as last year’s model.

I think that while Microsoft’s silence on the matter doesn’t bode well for current devices’ update path, consumers need to take a breath and wait until it’s confirmed one way or another. If you’re really concerned about whether or not that sexy Titan II or Lumia 900 will be upgraded, then hold off on buying it until the story is confirmed.

The amount we don’t yet know about this could just about fill the Grand Canyon, folks. Let’s see what happens over the next few days.

Paddle your own canoe,

Trevor


Windows 8 Apps Wrapup: Reader, Skydrive, and Internet Explorer

It’s the last day of the Great Metro App Roundup, and we’ve got two of the biggest new apps to go!

Reader

This… this is not one of the biggest two apps today. This document and PDF viewer is, like many of the preview apps, totally functional. But I’m not sold. It’ll very obviously work better in touch mode, and it’s much peppier than Acrobat for loading and viewing PDFs, but the granular control over printing isn’t in place yet; it’s even missing things like being able to print single pages.

Skydrive

The built-in Skydrive app offers basic file management, which is acceptable if you use it just as a locker service, but lacks a function I really want from Skydrive: Office.

Being able to edit my documents on the go, from my phone or another computer, is a feature I really enjoy. The Office Web App is totally functional and I like that option. This highlights something that’s missing from Windows at this point, but, I believe, is going to be remedied in the future. I am of the understanding that Windows 8 will ship with a version of Office that works natively with Skydrive for cloud storage;  this is perfect. Once Office web apps fall in line for easier document sharing, this’ll be a killer feature.

PS: the photo of a button? My sister made it. It says I love hope something eats you. My sister is awesome.

Internet Explorer Metro

Here’s my love letter. I’ve been really critical thus far, but I cannot overstate the impact that Metro IE has had on my perception of what the web is.

Look at that screenshot. There hasn’t been any cropping done. That’s just what it looks like. There’s no anything! All the browser controls are hidden behind the page in the right-click menu. And what this does is turn any well-designed web site into a tight app-like experience. The content is allowed to be front-and-centre rather than being subject to the structure of the application.

Right-clicking brings up the tabs and controls. Otherwise, they hide and allow the content to be front-and-centre.

And it’s fast. Holy crap, it’s fast. I did some informal speed tests between it, Chrome, and Firefox, and IE beat the pants off both of them.

It also has a pretty Metro-styled “New Tab” screen.

Two things bother me about it, though. One: It’s a different app than desktop IE rather than a just different UI over the same program. That means that if you’re browsing in Metro and switch to desktop, your open tabs and windows don’t carry over.

It also means compatibility issues. Metro IE doesn’t support Flash, even on x86. That means no streaming video on most websites, including Facebook video, no multi-file upload dialog on WordPress, even some YouTube videos have issues.

I get the decision not to support Flash on ARM-based systems. There are legitimate performance concerns (especially on lower-end ARM hardware). But I’m on a proper computer, with the horsepower to run full-screen streaming flash video, and I want to do that thing. HTML5 isn’t here yet, not in the way Apple and Microsoft want it to be, and in the meantime I still want Flash support in my browser. If there was Flash support in Metro IE, it’d be my primary browser in a heartbeat.

All that said, other than for those tasks where I want Flash support, I’m thrilled by Metro IE. It’s phenomenally quick and has, literally, made me reconsider how I want to use web browsers. The lack of browser chrome on any given page, even at the top of the page, is great. And I can’t wait to see how it improves with the addition of new charms and improved notifications.

The Share charm currently only supports Mail, but it’s still a quick and awesome way to share content.

Formatting in the Share email makes sending links to people less aggravating and much cleaner.

That’s it on Windows 8 for now, folks. I’m continuing to use it and enjoy; there has been an update recently to Mail that has smoothed over some performance jenk and I imagine things will continue to trend towards awesome. Windows 8 is looking like it’s going to be another Windows 7–that is, an incredibly stable beta, lots of engagement with the community, and it’ll deliver an awesome product.

The apps are going to make or break it, of course. You’ll notice no official Facebook or Twitter apps in my review; that’s because there are none. But there’s been a pretty solid standard set by Microsoft with their built-in apps, and I’ll keep posting as things change and evolve.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals,

Trevor