Today was quite an exciting day for me and my relationship with Microsoft, the company behind the Windows Operating System and The well known MS Office Software. This afternoon I was involved in a Lync meeting with a few of the people in the Academic Audience team learning about what I would be doing when I go to work for Microsoft for a week at the O2 Arena at an event called Campus Party.
an annual week long, 24-hours-a-day technology festival where thousands of “Campuseros” (hackers, developers, gamers and technophiles), equipped with laptops, camp on-site and immerse themselves in a truly unique environment.
Recognized as the biggest electronic entertainment event in the world, Campus Party unites the brightest young minds in technology and science under the idea that “the Internet is not a network of computers, it’s a network of people.”
The festival features over 500 hours of talks, debates, workshops, competitions and hackathons related to science, innovation, digital entertainment and creativity. Additionally, hundreds of hours of ad-hoc events are planned by participants and continue throughout the night.
Me and a few other Microsoft Student Partners, as well as some others from the University of Hull will be promoting development on the Windows Phone and Windows 8 platforms, we even get our own Microsoft Shirts, which are bound to be fashionable ;). I look forward to it, its going to be a lot of fun and a great way to meet a lot of interesting people.
Later in the afternoon Phil Cross asked me if he could feature my latest blog post about QuickSync on the Microsoft UK Students Blog feed, I was of course happy to let him! He prefaced it with this nice message:
Danny Brown from Hull is one of our MSPs and has worked with us to help promote Tech and gives invaluable “constructive” feedback on stuff we do. He’s written some apps and also worked with us on a project to build an incentives website and back end working quickly! I’d like to share that site but it’s been taken down as the incentive isn’t running any more. Anyway, he has started talking about his new venture and I thought it might inspire other students and startups to see what’s possible with skill, commitment and a certain amount of dedication. Oh and I imagine there were a few pints of Guinness involved as well!
Here it is and connect with him via his blog or LinkedIn.
which I thought was nice, he also took the time to tweet about it saying:
Way to go Danny @DanTonyBrown – great work – its inspiring to see students start their own ventures! http://t.co/W0q06g3IrS
Yesterday I received an email from Phil Cross, Academic Audience Manager at Microsoft, welcoming me to the Microsoft Student Partner scheme – which I applied to be part of a few weeks ago. But what is a Microsoft Student partner?
Blake Pender from the Microsoft UK Students Group explained it well:
The main responsibilities of an MSP are to act as a liaison between the University and Microsoft and to evangelise technology (specifically, Microsoft technologies) and to encourage and inspire students from a technological background, by method of technical demonstrations and presentations.
Essentially I’m supposed to get people in the University more interested in Technology, especially those from Microsoft. I’ll also be expected to keep up to date with the latest Microsoft technologies myself , be an active part of the online community — including monthly VoIP calls on Microsoft Lync with other MSPs and The Academic Audience Team — and liaise between Microsoft and Hull’s Department of Computer Science if need be. 🙂
In return I get access to a full MSDN subscription giving me access to over £2000 of Microsoft Products for free, as well as a chance to network with my fellow MVPs and of course attend Microsoft sponsored events. It will also look good on my CV. I look forward to joining the other 45 MVPs around the country and getting as involved with the community as possible.
Today I recieved an Email from Phil Cross congratulating me on being “selected as a Top Apps winner” in the Microsoft UK Students Student Incentive Program.
Here is an overview of what the incentive scheme consisted of:
We know you love the way Windows Phone puts People First. Do you want to win one? Course you do!
We have put together a competition for those people who like writing apps for mobile devices. With our latest programme, only available to students aged 16 or over in the UK, we want to encourage you to write an app and submit it into the Marketplace.
For EVERY app you write, during the periods of the competition, (see the detailed terms and conditions here) you’ll have a chance to win one of 100 Nokia Lumia Windows Phones. We also want to reward those who write top quality apps so we are complimenting the random prize draw with a judged competition, the top prize being a trip to our offices to spend a day honing your skills and your apps with our deep technical experts.
I didn’t win the in random monthly draw, but I did win for writing a “top quality app” — this means I get to go to the Microsoft Technology Centre in Reading for a day to spend time with the experts improving my applications in the store! Definitely something for the CV and a chance to improve my products and brand image! Microsoft are even paying my travel expenses!
I’d like to thank Phil Cross and everyone at Microsoft for giving me another great oppertunity, especially so soon after the last one.
Monday afternoon I made the long, though surprisingly fast journey down to London from Hull. Not only was it fast, but it was actually enjoyable as it was a nice day and travelling with First Hull Trains means you don’t have to make any changes, which is usually a hassle, and you get free wi-fi the whole way without any need for a credit card. All good stuff.
I then stayed the night in Bayswater, near Paddington at a cosy 3 star hotel. I say cosy but frankly I was glad I was only spending the one night there. 😛
Tuesday morning I got up bright and early for the 10am start, unfortunately the Circle line, which I needed to get from bayswater to Kings Cross St. Pancreas as part of my journey to the conference, was suspended. This caused severe delays, including to me and meant I was a tad late, fortunately I didn’t miss anything though and made it just on time.
The conference itself was held at LSO St. Lukes near Old Street tube station. What I didn’t realise was
1) LSO stands for London Symphony Orchestra and
2) I was looking for a church rather than a conference or office building. Yes, that’s right a tech conference about state of the art technology was held in an old church. 😛
The venue was beautiful inside and out, the outside was traditional and the inside was a stark contrast being ultra modern.
Upon entry I checked in and was given a lanyard with my name on, to allow me to freely enter and exit the building through the day. I thought it was quite nicely designed — almost metro style with the extra-light fonts and coloured squares, which being a Windows Phone Developer I thought was pretty cool.
Peter Gregson – Playing the Cello Game
As soon as I’d done checking in Peter Gregson was ready to take the stage with his interesting session on using technology in Music. In response to how the performer plays — no matter what instrument — his application goPlay can provide changes which would normally be achieved using a set of pedals.
Being a non-musician I wasn’t 100% sure of the advantages of the application, I must admit. However, I did enjoy watching peter play the cello, which was incredibly beautiful and an instrument I haven’t seen played before.
Christian Heilmann – Moving your App-Mind to the Web
After a 15 minute break to get drinks and a sandwich after Peters session Christian provided what was one of my favourite sessions of the day. Christian is the Principal Developer Evangelist of the Mozilla Developer Network, and spoke about how he felt that using HTML5 and the open web we could replace the need for mobile apps, such as those on Google Play and the iTunes App Store with interactive mobile web apps that work on all devices.
Christian made the point that the HTML5 specification has alternatives for a lot of native APIs which native applications enjoy using and often say web apps don’t have, such as geolocation and access to devices cameras, however a lot of these have not been implemented fully in mobile browsers — possibly to protect the revenue the application marketplace owners make. One particularly weird case is that Apple have full OpenGL support in their Safari Mobile Browser however you can only use it if you’re accessing the web page from an in-app web browser control. Is this an attempt by Apple to stop interactive 3D applications and games on the open web and restrict games on the iOS platform to their Marketplace? Who knows.
The session was delivered in a humorous way, and I agreed with a lot of what Christian said. The idea of write once, run everywhere on all mobile platforms is a great one, but one I feel wont happen for a long time. Too many companies have too much invested in their app stores, both money and resources.
One particular quote that has stayed in my mind is “A few years ago Furbies were awesome. They were cool new technology and delighted kids all over. Now they are forgotten and just look stupid and creepy. The apps of today will have the same fate – as they are not build to change but to sell. The best performing apps are targeted at kids and have an attention span half-life of a few months.” It puts an interesting spin on what is a good app, one I hadn’t thought of before.
You can read more about Christian and view the slides he showed at Reasons to be Appy on his website.
Andrew Spooner – We, Human
After another break Andrew Spooner from Microsoft took the stage to talk about how we should be creating applications which provide a great user experience to the people using them — and how the idea of making a simple, effective user experience for people… not just computer scientists lead to the creation of the Metro User Interface Design Language.
One thing I must say is that Andrews slides were the most beautiful and well made I’ve ever seen, I was genuinely impressed by a PowerPoint presentation! The presentation itself followed metro design rules and featured the same colours and icons as the Windows Phone 7 OS and the upcoming Windows 8 Desktop OS.
Andrew made the point that the user experiance, not the exact computation going on was what was important to the user, which reminded me of my own blog post “UX, not Specs”
Remy Sharp – Mobile Debugging
After an hours lunch it was Remy’s turn to take the stage and talk about different methods of debugging mobile web applications over all the operating systems and browsers available to users, which until recently has involved the time consuming task of downloading every browser on every operating system and checking for faults.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was looking forward to seeing Remys session as he was one of the people whos websites taught me html and web development and got me into programming, so it was really great to see him talk about something he is obviously passionate about.
I’ve been thinking about improving the mobile experience on Worldwide Lighthouses and having to debug on multiple platforms — each with multiple browsers and OS versions — could have been a pain. Remy’s methods don’t allow for desktop type debugging, that’s the holy grail, but it brings us a step closer.
Ultimately, Remy concluded, we can only have desktop level debugging on Mobile OS’s with the help of the browser vendors and we should pressure them into improving their tools!
You can read more about Remy’s methods for mobile debugging from the man himself here.
Tim Ahrens – New Font Technologies for New Media
I like developing for Windows Phone, one of the reasons I like this is because I like the style of the applications, and one of the reasons I like the style of the applications is the use of fonts like Segoe WP. I like fonts, they can make or break a design as any graphic design student would tell you, but to be honest I know nothing about fonts — or I didn’t before Tim Ahrens session, which was absolutely fascinating.
Tim spoke about everything from how fonts actually work in the browser — detailing the differences between the new woff format, the older true type format and the internet explorer only eot format — to the differences in rendering on screen using black and white, greyscale, cleartype and Microsoft’s new DirectWrite.
I honestly never realised how much effort goes into designing and developing a font for use on screen or in print media, I’m astounded. Fonts are one of those things I’d always just taken for granted but they’re weeks, if not months, worth of work each. This session taught me a lot.
James Alliban & Keiichi Matsuda – Cell – Revealing the Digital Aura
James and Keiichi are both artists rather than programmers, but they made an awesome interactive art installation using Microsoft’s Kinect called Cell, you can view a video of it on YouTube.
The duo spoke alot about working in a team and collaborating on such a big project, and some of the technical aspects of the installation itself, but to me the most interesting part of their talk was about what they call the “Digital Aura”. A digital aura is a persons online presence — both the obvious stuff like their Twitter and Facebook accounts and the less obvious stuff like comments they’ve left on blogs or reviews they’ve written or check ins on Foursquare.
A lot of the digital aura is good stuff, connections with potential employers, connections with friends, a place to make your point and say what you think, but there can be some bad stuff, which is where “identity curation” comes in. Identity curation is the process of deleting or hiding the negative things about you on the internet and highlighting the good.
Everyone does it to a greater or lesser extend, whether its untagging a photo of yourself on Facebook or using a web app like Delete My Tweets to remove all your previous messages on twitter, as I did recently (before making my twitter public for #r2bappy)
Mark Boulton – Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass
The beginning of Marks session was interesting, a first class quote from him which I tweeted was:
I take pictures of taps in public toilets. I’m THAT guy.
His point was that we need to think about things as real, and genuine and truthful. Those taps in McDonalds restaurants that pretend to be made of marble are “Liars” and that annoys mark. Having application on computer screens, which are digital, trying hard to be like real items is lying too, one example Mark picked out was the Leather Bound calendar application in OSX. Its fake, its digital, why is it trying to be real?
Mark called the idea of having things being “authentically digital” Digital Patina, and called the Metro Design Style out for being good at it.
Some of the things Mark spoke about were actually at odds with what I was taught at university this simester, which got me thinking. Application user interface design is like any other creative form, subjective. Whereas my lecturer thought that designing things to be like real like items — for example the recycle bin in windows — was a great idea because it allowed people to learn about computers faster, Mark thought the same idea treated the user as if they were thick and according to him
Thats not a good way to start designing a user interface – thinking your users are thick. Its offensive.
Seb Lee Delisle – PixelPhones
The last session I saw — due to having to leave one session early to catch my train — was a more light hearted one. Seb wants to set the world record for the biggest display made entirely of mobile phones, unfortunately he has been denied it for using audiences phones rather than a set laid down on a table, but what he can do is in my eyes more impressive.
Seb explains PixelPhones as a
crazy project where I turn each phone in the audience into pixels in a large display. It runs in your phone browser so you don’t need to install an app
Live in front of us PixelPhones connected to over 100 devices using two Apple Airport Extreme Basestations and allowed seb to make an animation using the audience and play a game of nyan catch, videoed at another conference here — its crazy stuff.
For an in-depth explination of how it all works you can check out Sebs website here.
For now that is all, I’d like to thank Phil Cross from the Microsoft UK Student Developer Group and Abhilaksh Lalwani, also from the group, for being good company all day!
Today I booked up my train ticket and hotel reservation for my first ever Tech conference, Reasons To Be Appy — which by the way is a name that I cannot decide if its brilliant…or not?
It started when Phil Cross, Academic Audience Manager at Microsoft, posted in the Microsoft UK Students Developer group asking if anyone wanted some free tickets, in return he asked
For you to blog about the event, post stuff on your facebook page, the UK Student page, we will link to your blog and for you use relevant #tags to tweet about it. Maybe a target of a couple of tweets per session? Basically so the organisers and MS can see you being active!
This seemed like a good deal and I emailed Phil asking if I could go, and he replied saying I could!
In particular I’m looking forward to a talk by Remy Sharp — who’s work helped me get into web development, especially through his role as curator on HTML5Doctor.com.
Also of interest to me are talks by Christian Heilmann, who works at Mozilla and Andrew Spooner who works at Microsoft, most recently on “applications for Windows 8 and Windows Phone and explorations into Natural User Interfaces.” — all of which sounds interesting.
After writing my previous blog post on the topic of “UX not Specs” I posted a link to it on the “Microsoft UK Students Developer Group” — A facebook resource set up by Microsoft exclusively for students who have submitted apps on App Hub for Windows Phone or XBOX — in order to try and get some opinions on both the topic and my writing. I was very pleased with the responses I got. Due to the fact they were posted on Facebook I was a bit annoyed that some day I might no longer have access to them, so I thought it would be nice to write them up in this blog post and respond to a few of the comments made. 🙂
Phil Cross – Academic Audience Manager at Microsoft said:
Couple of typos in it Danny but it reads well (and a good photo). I like the way it starts, grabs your attention and then moves onto the commentary
After seeing this I went ahead and fixed the typos, it turns out Google Chrome hadn’t been catching all my typo’s whilst writing up the blog post on the WordPress website, but Microsoft Word did when I pasted the blog into the program. In future I think I’ll write my blogs in MS Word and then copy them to wordpress in order to reduce typos as much as possible. I appreciated the comment about my writing style, that’s what I was trying to achieve 🙂
Richard Walters – Developer of Calculator² and a PhD Physics student at Oxford University said:
Good article and I completely agree with you, quad core is currently completely unnecessary for a phone (I say currently because who knows how we’ll be using phones/tablets in 10 years time). The interesting question is why your friend, and a large proportion of the consumer market in general, go for Specs not UX.
Specs not UX is certainly one reason for Windows Phone not taking off as well we’d all like, although it looks like Microsoft are addressing this with Windows Phone 8. My impression is that the initial purchasers of any new gadget are technology ‘geeks’. For much of this audience, but not all, specs will matter because they’re doing things with the device which makes use of the improved/newer features. These are then the people who will review, blog, and create a buzz about a product so that the masses hear about it. Average Joe hears that there’s this new product with lots of new, fancy features and wants one, even though he’ll hardly use any of them. Even if he can’t afford the top of the range, he’ll go for the same brand because it’s associated with the best. In the technology World, specs means cool, and cool sells.
Of course, the other issue with specs for phones is that they are used above UX to sell the devices. In every phone shop or website the specs are listed with a device and are used to compare them. Why should I go for the Lumia 800 above the Galaxy S2 when the S2 has dual not single core? Dual core is better right? Unfortunately it’s similar with the number of apps. 70,000 vs 500,000 is a huge difference and used all over the place to compare WP7 to Android/iPhone, and that’s what Average Joe sees (although Windows Phone is still behind in the quality debate too with the lack of top apps from third parties).
Admirably, Microsoft went for UX not Specs and concentrated on building an operating system that works well on low-end devices and is developer-friendly. In the long-run I believe Windows Phone will succeed because of this, while high end devices will also appear to help with the specs factor. It’ll also be interesting to see how Nokia’s Beautifully Different campaign will work, because I think it’s a very good strategy. As much as I like the Smoked by Windows Phone campaign, I don’t believe it will work as well because (I hope this doesn’t sound too horrible) logic doesn’t apply to the masses, who will certainly go for cool over better.
I hope that didn’t sound too condescending. I guess what I was driving at is that many consumers don’t make informed decisions about their purchases, often because this takes time (for research, etc.) that many people simply don’t have. Consumers can then be swayed by brands, marketing, peers’ opinions, etc. With phones, a spec sheet is a way to make the most informed decision possible in a short period of time.
Richard seems to be on the same wavelength as me and I agree with a lot of what he has to say, a user experience is a wholly subjective thing – manufacturers can’t write down hard data on user experience, it simply doesn’t exist, they can however show you hard data on specifications and — frankly — most modern smartphones have better specs on paper then even the most high end Windows Phone 7 device. That specificationis what people can compare with other devices and therefore that is, in the end, what makes a customers decision on which phone to buy.
Michael Hough had an opposing opinion and explained how quad core processors are not always necessarily running all 4 cores and therefore can be more power efficient than you would expect:
Your major point seems to be that quad core processors aren’t necessary, and more importantly that Tegra 3 has less battery life. I contest that. I have the Tegra 3 processor in question on my Asus Transformer Prime, and my experience is that I have around the same battery life as a dual-core iPad 2, twice as much as the (also dual core) OG Transformer. Tegra 3 has a power-saving core that means that the 4 cores are only used for taxing activities such as “console-quality gaming”.
Your opinion of quad cores not being necessary is slightly flawed, because it’s based on experience of using a Windows Phone alone. Because Windows Phones are all essentially the same (800×480 display, 1.4ghz cpu, 512mb RAM), developers know the limits of the system. With the Tegra 3 and the (dual core but still ridiculously powerful) Snapdragon S4 on Android, and the (again, dual) A5X processor on iOS, app developers have much more processing power to play with, allowing games and media to contain significantly more detail.
Personally, being an owner of the Nokia Lumia and a dated HTC Desire, I’m struggling to decide between the two. A big down side of WP7 for me is that all my paid apps are on Android, but this isn’t a huge problem. What is, from a user experience standpoint, is that Windows Phone lacks apps that I use every day – a train finder that covers my area, or a decent free sat-nav app, for example, both of which are available on Android.
Quite frankly, it’s a shame I’ll have hit my upgrade on my Desire before Windows Phone Tango comes out. I think that will fix a number of the issues I have with the system, but I’ll probably be using an Android as my daily driver by then. Although I’ll keep developing for both platforms, of course.
John Nolan who is studying Computing: Application Development at Edge Hill University chimed in with some important insights into WP as a platform and refuted some of the points made by Michael:
Your article does raise a nice point on battery life, but then crucially to your point comparing with WP, WP as an OS does not support multiple cores, not that it needs it, even if it did – the OS does not support it. I would also like to address Michael, I completely disagree with your argument that all WP are the same, they are not, they do however have the same minimum requirements so the basic experience from the products over point of view is the same. You also said that the OS lacks a free Sat Nav application, well you said you owned a Lumia 800 and funny enough I spent an hour in Halfords today and found that Nokia Drive outperformed many Nuvi’s and Navmans, Tom Tom struggled too finding and building routes.
Anyway back to my main point – we all came from a generation of phones we class as “dumb phones” when in fact I class it as a phone – it did do phone calls right? I mean that’s all they were supposed to do, we had text and some games with a little customization of the OS, but at the end of the day we charged that “dumb phone” once a week. I now have to charge my phone daily, sometimes I get a day and a half out of it but my new habit at night is to put my phone on charge.
I welcome any design that becomes more efficient whilst either maintaining performance or even increase it. So the likes of Android and iOS who support such hardware is completely outrageous waste of energy and a poor solution to their bigger problem and that is the OS lacks efficiency with tasks, something I have not come across on my Omnia 7 or my Lumia 800. Microsoft are on the right route, they put a real threat out to Android and iOS with their OS and the only way they could respond is to make the UX worse by decreasing the functionality period of a device to compensate its lack of performance compared to their competitors.
Whats really funny is that this is a complete repeat of the GHz race, we should all know by now that bigger and higher numbers does not always mean better, I remember the days my AMD Hammer Core running at 2.1 GHz smashed everything Intel had who claimed their sales through the lack of information the public had on how their products actually worked. I think its important that we all educate the people on why this OS is better and why we like it so much compared to the competitors, no we dont have dual, quad or octo cores, no we dont have silly resolutions but we do have a functional platform that is designed to make the everyday task a little easier whilst keeping us connected to our social networks which is currently driving the world.
Finally Jack Betts who is studying at Glamorgan University said:
You raise an interesting point that Quad cores are not useful in a mobile phone and i agree with you. However you seem to lose track of your argument and only focus on battery life. What about battery to processing power ratios?
What about the scenario in which a single core take 100secs to complete a task and a quad core takes 25secs, would the quad core use more power than single ?
You then bring in Windows phone at the end to cover user experience. I agree the windows phone operating system is a joy to use and is great for developing for (apart from 3D XNA games then i have some ranting to do) . However you completely neglect apple who are mostly about the user experience.
User experience also covers personalisation and the windows phone is very strict about what you can and cannot change. Control is also about user experience and Windows Phone 7 takes a lot of control away from the user, some times this is good sometimes this is bad.
Battery life, you are right about the usage time of a smartphone being about a day and they do take a while to charge however its not just about the battery hardware that affects battery life. Battery technology hasn’t changed in years, we are still operating on chemicals to produce an electrical current. It will be a long long time until a new power source comes to the consumer market so i believe that concluding that “we need to wait for better batteries” is poor.
A better angle to look into is how Mobile Operating systems take measures to preserve battery life and proposing new/updated methods on battery conservation.
“UX not specs” however is a brilliant concept and i do think you should develop it further into a full paper.
In some ways this comment provided the most food for thought. 🙂 In answer to his second point I don’t think that any quad core processor is exactly 4 times more efficient than a similar single core processor, controlling multiple threads on multiple cores takes quite a bit of overhead and many applications themselves are not actually developed in a way to fully utilise multi-core architectures, this is still true today on Windows, which has had multi-core support for years.
He is also right that I neglected Apple in the post, and again he is right that Apple are famed for their user experience. I must say this is one thing I really admire about the company and the software they produce, they can make relatively complex tasks simple and easy to understand and use even for the least technologically inclined among us, however in my somewhat biased opinion I would say that Microsoft are doing an even better job (perhaps even inspired by Apple) than Apple themselves at the moment with Windows Phone 7 and indeed even Windows RT (A.K.A Windows on ARM for Tablets)
The idea that Battery’s aren’t keeping up with the rest of technology seems to be an unfortunate fact of life. 😦 I’m hoping we will make progress on this in the near future but if not Jack is right, we need to look into how we can make our software more efficient at saving power. Some android devices provide an application which can be used to see how much of the battery each application/piece of hardware is taking and it always seems to me that Wi-Fi and the screen take the most power.
Microsoft have aimed to reduce this in Windows Phone by turning off Wi-Fi when the phone is locked, so you don’t waste power connected to a network when you’re not using it, and dimming the display if you have a white background. This is because white takes the most power to display on AMOLED screens. Another interesting thing Microsoft have done regards battery power is to make the default background black — this is because on modern AMOLED screens the display literally turns off in the areas that are black and this saves a lot of power.
This post has become pretty big now so I’ll leave it here. If you have anything else to say please whack your ideas in the comments section below. Thanks to all my commenters on Facebook.
Phil Cross from the Microsoft UK Student Developer Group, of which I am a member, recently posted a link to quite a cool web app. The app is called the OMT Toolkit and is provided by Nokia to make ads and banners to promote both your application and Nokia’s Windows Phones, you can see an example of which on DanTonyBrown.com in the above screenshot.
The app allows you to select your app from the Windows Phone Online Marketplace using a URL Picker, once you’ve done this you can choose the colour of the banner as well as the model and colour of the phone that is shown, in my example is a Cyan Nokia Lumia 800. What is quite cool is that the application automatically fills in the name of your app onto the banner and places the icon of your app on the start screen of the phone.