This may be why the Pebble isn’t supported on Windows Phone

Earlier this week, I noted an internal Microsoft Windows Phone app that works with the Pebble smartwatch. Now a detailed report from Windows Central adds more background about the reason for the app and why Pebble itself isn’t working on adding Windows Phone support to its smartwatch.

As you might expect, the core issue isn’t a technical one, as Windows Phone 8.1 supports Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. Instead, it appears to be a political problem even though Pebble itself may not want to devote effort to Windows Phone and it’s relatively low marketshare.

pebble notifications wp

Microsoft reportedly worked hard with Pebble to show how its smartphones could support the watch, even building a full app — likely the internal one we spotted this week — to help move the relationship forward. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be much of a relationship because Pebble’s founder and CEO, Eric Migicovsky isn’t interested in one. From the Windows Central report:

“Despite Microsoft’s attempts to win over Pebble, Migicovsky is reportedly not a fan of the company nor their mobile operating system. The young entrepreneur reportedly nixed any partnership.

Growing up in a world where Google and Apple have dominated the mobile scene, this perception that Microsoft is old and out of touch is seemingly more frequent these days. Particularly with those under 30 (see Snapchat’sEvan Spiegel for a similar attitude). Even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was unable to persuade him personally.”

After Windows Central published its post, Migicovsky took to Twitter refuting it, saying he has’t spent much time with Microsoft’s CEO and that the rest of the story is also inaccurate:

In a related development, the Pebble team participated in a Reddit “ask me anything” session on Wednesday to discuss the new Pebble Time watch and the company acknowledged third-party Windows Phone app support, reiterating it does not have a Windows Phone app of it own. There wasn’t any mention of even considering it, even though various other feature requests got a general “we’ll think about it” answer.

If the Windows Central report is even partially correct, it’s a shame because it sounds as if Microsoft was willing to do all of the app development on Pebble’s behalf for its watch. And why not, when it would make Microsoft’s handsets a little more appealing, particularly to those who also own or want a Pebble.

pebble action

In that case, Pebble itself has nothing to lose, but of course the devil’s in the details: Perhaps there’s more to this story than just a CEO’s alleged dislike of a company. My hope is that whatever issues remain, they’re worked out. At the end of the day, it’s consumer choice that’s suffering here in both the phone and smartwatch products.

Windows Phone left out as Google Wallet swallows Softcard

Google purchased Softcard earlier this week, and today it posted a support page about what to expect from the mobile wallet service in the future as it shuts down. No surprises here: Android users should download Google Wallet, which is replacing Softcard. But for users of the Windows Phone Softcard app, there is no NFC payment alternative.

From the FAQ:

What about Softcard for Windows?
The Softcard for Windows Phone app will also be terminated. A specific termination date will be provided soon.

Softcard for Windows Phone, we hardly knew you. The app first launched on Microsoft mobile devices last fall for AT&T and Verizon subscribers, and allows users with NFC-equipped Windows Phones to make contactless payments at certain stores and restaurants, including McDonalds. Because Windows Phones aren’t equipped with fingerprint readers yet, users have to enter a PIN to unlock the digital wallet.

softcard windows phone

When Softcard exits the Windows Phone store, it leaves the platform without a NFC-enabled payments app. Microsoft Wallet can theoretically make NFC payments, but its acceptance has been slow, possibly due to resistance from the carriers (who were committed to Softcard.) Android devices can download Google Wallet, obviously, and Apple’s iPhones have Apple Pay. The Softcard FAQ doesn’t mention Softcard on iPhone, but the plans to enable Softcard on the iPhone using an “integrated secure SIM-based hardware solution” (an NFC-enabled iPhone sleeve) are probably on the back-burner, too.

The decision to pull the Windows Phone Softcard app might not be a snub intended to hurt Windows Phone. It’s possible that Google has simply decided that the relatively few Windows Phone users weren’t worth the extra resources to support the platform. Plus, Google Wallet could end up going cross-platform in the future. But it’s still an example of how Microsoft’s inability to gain traction with its mobile operating system is closing doors for its users, as well as for Microsoft itself in the rapidly heating-up mobile payments market.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNXc-fvIItw

 

Microsoft is working on Pebble support for Windows Phone

This week’s Kickstarter darling, the Pebble Time smartwatch, has much to offer — if you use an iPhone or Android handset, that is. Pebble doesn’t officially support Windows Phone, and although a Microsoft employee was tinkering to fix that last year, it hasn’t happened yet. Based on an app in the Windows Phone store, however, that may be changing.

WMPowerUser noticed the app for Windows Phone 8.1 devices, which is an internal [company]Microsoft[/company] test build of something called Pebble Notifications. The app description spills the beans and even includes a link for notes:

Pebble application for Windows Phone. This is an internal test application to get feedback on Accessory Ecosystem Support feature in WP Blue GDR1. Fore mode details refer to https://www.yammer.com/microsoft.com/notes/1362520

I don’t have access to read the notes or to install the app. Yes, I tried.

pebble notifications wp

Clearly, this is for Microsoft testing only at the moment, but based on the screen shots, the app looks as if it would be very handy if you wanted to use a Pebble smartwatch with a Windows Phone.

There’s no guarantee that Microsoft will ever publicly release the software, of course. But if it wants to make Windows Phone more attractive to potential buyers, it would make sense for the company to get its platform working with as many third-party devices and services as possible, even if it has to do the software work on its own.

While Microsoft could simply be using the Pebble to test Windows Phone notifications over Bluetooth, it strikes me as odd in one sense.

The Microsoft Band already supports notifications (and more) with Windows Phone. Why bother testing with the Pebble if you have your own hardware to work with? Even odder is that the test app for Pebble Notifications was updated within the past week. That suggests to me that Microsoft may release this app in the future, but of course, only Microsoft knows at this point.

Microsoft improves its Band and launches Health website

Microsoft’s health tracking device is getting its first big update since launching in October. CNET says the Microsoft Band now has an activity tile specifically for cycling and a small keyboard for responding to messages from your wrist. The company also debuted data on its Microsoft Health website, a dashboard for viewing activities tracked by the Band, and a developer SDK preview for the device.

Microsoft Band steps

If you’ve used any major activity tracking services online before, the new Health site will look familiar. It takes the data from your Band, which is synchronized to [company]Microsoft[/company] servers, and shows a nice graphical view of your exercise. Here’s an example of a run where I wore the Band, and it tracked my heart rate as well as my route, pace, distance and time.

microsoft band run graph

 

Clicking between the three icons at the top — the runner, heart and mountains — shows different data: Pace and distance, for example, or elevation. All of this information is already available on the companion smartphone app but it’s nice to have a view available in the browser. I don’t see a way to export the data, unfortunately. However, Microsoft says the Band does integrate with MapMyFitness.

Also new to the Band itself is a cycling tile, which offers the same types of data tracking as running but, of course, ties that data to bike rides. And cyclists will get the option of using workouts specific to their activity; the Band already has downloadable workouts for other exercises.

Microsoft Band tiles

Lastly, the Band is getting a way to better respond to incoming messages from a Windows powered smartphone: A virtual keyboard and voice replies. The little keyboard is based on Microsoft’s Word Flow technology used on its Windows Phone handsets, so word prediction and swiping out characters is included.

For those that prefer to use their voice or find the Band’s screen a bit too small to type on, dictated responses are available as well. This, too, is a Windows Phone 8.1 feature only though since it relies on Cortana; if you’re using the Microsoft Band with an [company]Apple[/company] iPhone or [company]Google[/company] Android handset, you won’t be able to reply with spoken responses.

Microsoft’s Rooms doesn’t make the cross-platform cut

As Microsoft readies a more universal Windows 10 for computers, tablets and phones, some pruning seems to be in order. One of the unique Windows Phone features getting dropped, according to All About Windows Phone, is Rooms, the app that gave families and friends a private place for chats, photo sharing and calendar coordination.

microsoft rooms

Microsoft’s support page for Rooms explains that the door will be shut once you upgrade your handset to Windows 10 and that official support for Rooms is ending March 15.

I can understand paring back on functions that probably didn’t have a high return; after all, Rooms doesn’t provide much value if one person the family uses a Windows Phone and everyone else uses an [company]Apple[/company] iPhone or an Android handset. Given Microsoft’s big push to get its apps and services on competing mobile platforms, though, I wish it had given Rooms a chance on iOS and Android.

Sure, there are plenty of other sharing and collaboration apps that replicate the core functions of Rooms. You could use SMS or any number of messaging apps, for example, for group texts and such. Shared calendars work well to coordinate schedules as well; everyone in my family has their own [company]Google[/company] calendar but we share access to keep track of who is going where, when. And the same goes for photos: [company]Facebook[/company], Instagram and other services work fine for those.

The thing is: All of these options are disparate and filled with information from so many other people. Rooms cut through all of that extraneous noise when you wanted to focus solely on what just a few very important people are doing by inviting them to a room.

Again, I see why Microsoft is letting Rooms go; I just wonder how much effort it would have taken to bring the unique, useful app to other platforms. Clearly, it was too much in Microsoft’s eyes.

First look at Windows 10 on phones: Clean, elegant and promising

Microsoft promised a preview version of Windows 10 for phones would arrive before the end of February and it delivered on that promise earlier this week. If you’ve signed up for the Windows Insider program and have a currently supported phone, you can install Windows 10 on your handset. I’m not sure I’d do that if I were you, though.

That’s not a knock against Microsoft at all. It’s more of a disclaimer — one that Microsoft makes as well — that the software is just a preview and the final release will certainly have improvements and features that aren’t here yet. If I used Windows Phone as my primary device, I’d heed the company’s warning. But I’m a risk taker and I have a loaner phone from Microsoft, so I installed Windows 10 on a Lumia 830 yesterday. I haven’t used the software for long but I like the direction Windows 10 is headed in so far.

Right off the bat, the biggest visual improvement, in my opinion, is the revamped Settings app. Gone is the relatively unorganized endless list of options. In its place is a well-designed interface with clear setting groupings and high-information density. Microsoft still needs to do some work, though: Some groupings use this new look while others are still pre-Windows 10.

Windows 10 settings

The one-touch settings in the pull-down notification shade are expandable as well. You still get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen rotation and a button for the Settings app (or whatever Quick Actions you personally choose), but now you can tap an Expand dropdown button for additional settings buttons.

Windows 10 settings pull down

And while we’re on this screen, the notifications themselves are easier to work with. Instead of dismissing all of the notifications tied to a single app, you can dismiss individual notifications within an app. Here’s an example with email.

Windows 10 notification dismiss

I see that some notifications have expansion options, presumably for some additional actions — think replay and delete in email, for example — but such options aren’t there yet. Incoming text notifications now support inline responses as well, either by voice or keyboard. I believe that Microsoft will add similar interactions for other notifications so that you can take action or respond without leaving the app you’re currently using.

I noticed a new microphone icon on the software keyboard in Windows 10 as well; it sits above the keyboard, next to where word suggestions appear. Tap the microphone and Windows 10 will transcribe your spoken word, complete with punctuation if you add it; I said “comma” in the test below and it worked fine, even adding the period on its own. In hindsight, I probably should have said “semi-colon” though.

Windows 10 speech input

I’ve long thought that Microsoft’s native keyboard was one of the best by comparison to iOS and Android and the addition of the voice transcription will only make it better for some. An interesting addition to the keyboard is a little four-way software button at the bottom left: Press and hold to activate it. You can use it like a virtual directional pad for improved cursor movement.

Windows 10 phone d-pad

Also new to Windows 10 for phones is a native File Explorer application. It looks clean and I love that it works in landscape mode as well as portrait. You can create new folders, get the property information of an object, move files and more.

Windows 10 phone File Explorer

I don’t see any link here to Microsoft OneDrive and don’t know if there will ever be one, but I’d like to see it at some point. Yes, the OneDrive app comes with Windows on phones; it just seems like an obvious way to blend local and cloud files in one place to me.

Speaking of OneDrive, Microsoft Windows 10 brings a new Photos app that does what I want the File Explorer to do: Shows local and cloud-stored photos all in one place. The OneDrive photos don’t have to appear; I found a slider to disable that feature. The app will group pics into Collections, Albums and Folders automatically but in this preview version I’m using, the latter two functions aren’t yet working.

Windows 10 phone Photos

Microsoft says that many anticipated features and functions aren’t yet in the preview version. So I haven’t seen the new Mail and Calendar universal apps, for example, nor the changes to Office or integration between text messaging and Skype. And I have seen some glitchy behavior here and there. But that’s to be expected.

Windows 10 preview is clearly a work in progress. And it is progress: Building upon many of the Windows 8.1 aspects I like with a more modern, clean and universal take on mobile computing. Microsoft still has a bunch of work to do here, but I think it’s on the right track with Windows 10 on phones so far.

I expect the software to get frequent updates so I won’t be writing about all of them. However, I’ll revisit the software here with new posts when it makes sense do to so based on Microsoft’s progress. In the meantime, I’m happy to answer any questions about the software for those who don’t have a supported handset or don’t want to install the beta software.

You can try out a beta version of Windows 10 on your phone now

It’s here: Windows 10 for phones is ready for the public to preview. Microsoft announced that it was pushing the beta OS to intrepid testers through its Windows Insider program on Thursday.

To download the new technical preview, you’ll need to grab it through the Windows Insider app after signing up for the Windows Insider preview program. You’ll also need an eligible Windows Phone. Once you’re signed up, you’ll receive new builds as over-the-air updates. Here’s the full list from Microsoft:

  • Lumia 630
  • Lumia 635
  • Lumia 636
  • Lumia 638
  • Lumia 730
  • Lumia 830

You might notice that this list of devices does not include many of the high-end devices that run Windows Phone, including the 900 series and HTC’s One M8 with Windows Phone.

Update 2:30 ET: Good luck if you’re trying to install the update. Many power users and Microsoft journalists are furiously complaining on Twitter that even devices that are supported may not be able to pull down the update, as well as various other installation issues. If you’re having trouble getting the update to show up, try reinstalling the Windows Insider app. Our own Kevin Tofel has successfully installed the preview on a Lumia 830, but he reports that it’s a slow process.

However, a French language page briefly listed HTC’s Windows Phones as among the devices can grab the preview, so availability might differ by country in the future.

The Technical Preview is a close cousin to the version of Windows 10 for phones that Microsoft previewed at its big consumer-oriented summit last month. Bigger changes expected for Windows 10 on mobile devices include a revamped notification center that syncs with desktops running Windows 10, Skype integration with the its text messaging app and Microsoft’s new Spartan browser, although some of Microsoft’s promised features (like the new browser) might not be available in this build. There should also be a host of subtle interface tweaks that should improve the user experience. Here’s a Microsoft blog post about what to look for in the technical preview.

The Windows 10 technical preview for desktops has been available through Windows Insider since last fall.

Keep in mind that you probably shouldn’t install this on your main phone. It’s a very early beta version and there’s sure to be bugs. So get your spare Lumias out and charged — Microsoft appreciates your willingness to test its pre-release software:

Lumia Icon skips Lumia Cyan, gets Lumia Denim software

Verizon customers with a Lumia Icon phone should have a software update waiting for them. No, it’s not the Lumia Cyan software that’s long overdue; it’s Lumia Denim, which will bring the Icon up to par with the rest of the Lumia line running Windows Phone 8.1. That means the phone gets the Lumia Camera app with Rich Capture and 4k video recording, plus Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant; Live Folders; consumer VPN support and more. Microsoft says you’ll need to have at least 1GB of free storage space to upgrade so you’ll want to check on that before attempting the installation.

Will your Windows Phone get Windows 10? It depends

When Microsoft introduced Windows 10 for phones last month, the on-stage message was that all Windows Phone 8.1 devices would get the upgrade. Now we may have to define the word “upgrade” because there’s a little bit of hedging going on — particularly for handsets with only 512 MB of RAM, which just happens to be the amount in the Lumia 520, the best-selling Windows Phone so far.

lumia 520

Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore shared some information on the situation over the weekend on Twitter, which The Verge highlighted on Monday:

I’m sure Belfiore’s tweet is genuine: [company]Microsoft[/company] certainly wants Windows 10 on all of the phones already running its software; that strategy is integral for a unified Windows platform across devices. And back in November, the word was that all Lumia handsets actually would run Windows 10. But ambition, hope and dreams are just those. It’s possible that Microsoft can’t meet the goal due to hardware constraints, or perhaps it could and won’t because running Windows 10 on certain hardware configurations might not provide an optimal experience.

When push comes to shove, I think Microsoft will end up dealing with older phones with limited memory in the same way it will deal with Windows RT devices: Provide an custom-tailored update that is called Windows 10 but does not include every feature.

That’s surely better than the Windows Phone 7.8 debacle, where phones were left behind and couldn’t be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. But it could leave some handset owners with a sour taste if they backed Microsoft’s mobile strategy only to end up missing some of the latest and greatest features. My Lumia 520 and I will be waiting to see how this shakes out.

Report: Microsoft bought calendar app Sunrise for $100M

Microsoft’s been buying up mobile app startups recently to go along with CEO Satya Nadella’s “mobile-first, mobile everywhere” mantra, and its latest purchase is calendar maker Sunrise for “north of $100 million,” according to TechCrunch.

Sunrise is a delightful calendar app to use, and it integrates with Google Calendar, iCloud, and Microsoft Exchange as well as apps like Evernote, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Github to fill out events with more information than other calendar apps. One of Sunrise’s main strengths is that it’s available on many platforms, including iOS, Android, Mac, and Chrome. Given Microsoft’s new cross-platform focus, it’s absolutely possible that those apps will continue to be developed, although I wouldn’t blame Sunrise users for being nervous.

sunrise_screens02

In November, Microsoft bought email app Acompli for $200 million. It eventually became the core of a new Outlook app for iOS and Android, which has received rave reviews and strong downloads so far since its release last week. In the press release announcing that deal, Microsoft VP Rajesh Jha in charge of Outlook wrote, “Our goal is to deliver fantastic cross-platform apps that support the variety of email services people use today and help them accomplish more.”

Our Mark Crump wrote in his hands-on with Outlook for iOS that while the app “looks fantastic,” his “main complaints so far are limited to the calendar.” The calendar part of Outlook for mobile seems like an afterthought; it has a limited number of views, and it doesn’t even support a month view.

It would make sense that Microsoft has eyes to integrate Sunrise’s calendaring tools into Outlook in the same way it used Acompli to jumpstart the email side of the mobile app. Unfortunately, after Microsoft purchased it, Acompli was removed from both the Google Play and iOS app stores. Microsoft may be planning to sunset Sunrise, too.