No cameras or computers on upcoming trip

We have an upcoming 10-day vacation to places we have never visited before and I have made the decision to not carry any cameras or computers. While this may be ok for some of you out there it is a big deal for us.

Of course, I mean “camera” and “computer” in their traditional sense of the words as in a point-and-shoot or DSLR camera or a laptop (Windows or Mac). I am going to use my Lumia 920 (and iPhone 5s to a certain extent) as my camera, and am planning to carry my iPad 2 and Dell Venue 8 Pro as my computer.

We are going with another family and they are planning to bring their DSLR, so we will see how many pictures end up having a huge difference in quality.

The surprising aspect of this is that I didn’t even think twice before making the decision about the camera. I am not 100% convinced of the PC, but I do believe it makes sense to leave it behind.

Wish me luck!

My weekend with (Samsung) Android

I have been wanting to test drive Android for some time now. I had briefly thought of buying a Nexus 7 to experience Android as an OS and the Android as an ecosystem in general. For whatever reason, the actual purchase did not happen. Earlier this week, an opportunity presented itself, where a friend was able to loan me his brand new Samsung Galaxy S4 Active device on Thursday and I could put the device through its paces over the weekend.

And I did. The experience wasn’t exactly smooth and the “getting acquainted” period ended up being longer than I expected. After much frustration, I realized Android as I experienced (via the Galaxy device and Samsung’s flavor of Android) is most definitely not for me. Some things that I liked and would love to see implemented in iOS and Windows Phone, but many things that are baffling and plain annoying in Android for me to seriously consider it as a daily driver.

What is there to like

Actionable notifications

I love that I could reply to a tweet directly from the notification center. It doesn’t compose the tweet (like maybe the Me tile lets you do in Windows Phone) but it opens the Twitter app directly in the reply window so you can reply and be done with that notification. Rumors are that such a feature is coming to Windows Phone 8.1, and I would love to see something similar in iOS.

Widgets

If you know me and/or have read some of my thoughts on mobile platforms, you know that I love Windows Phone’s live tiles. These tiles provide information at a glance for things that you only need to glance at, like top news or the next calendar appointment or the current weather. Widgets in Android do something similar and are very useful in providing snippets of information. I like that, and do miss it in my iPhone.

Screen size

After using a larger screen with Windows Phones for the past few years, I thought the iPhone’s screen size would seem small. It surprisingly has not felt like that. So, using the larger screen on the S4 felt good but only for a bit. You will see the same exact bullet point listed under what I didn’t like :-)

Choice

It is quite amazing that I can install multiple app stores on the device. I mean, it already comes with two – Google Play and Samsung App Store – but I was also able to install the Amazon Appstore and get some apps from there. There was an increasing sense as I used the phone that Android seems very much like Windows on the desktop from the previous era, and this “choice” is just another example of that. Just like screen size though, you will see Choice listed under things I didn’t like.

So much not to like

OOBE

The out of the box experience, which was mostly how I experienced Android in the past (and didn’t like at all), made me feel like I am doing something wrong for not “getting” it. I simply didn’t understand where to start in terms of using the phone. Swiping to unlock was clear, and tapping the phone icon to make a call was clear. But why are there 4 home pages where one of them is to the left of the one marked with the “home” icon? How to create a new page or modify an existing page? Maddening.

Crapware

There were so many apps that came pre-loaded with the device! The worse part is that most of these bundled apps cannot be uninstalled, they can only be disabled. And because of how the home screen works, “removing” from the home screen does nothing besides deleting *that* shortcut (more on that later) from that home screen.

User experience

Not only was it confusing out of the box, the entire user experience is full of inconsistencies and confusion. These are too numerous to list but some that I remembered:

  • You can create shortcuts to apps on home screens. That makes sense, but you can create multiple shortcuts of the same app on the same home screen, and even in the same folder on that home screen. There is no difference between an app icon and a shortcut, which means when there are multiple shortcuts to the same app on the same screen, you have no idea why.
  • For the longest time I had no idea how to disable icons that show up in the system bar at the top of the device. I did not want my email notification in the system bar but despite going into the email app (GMail app, in this case), I wasn’t able to find the setting to turn that off, nor was there anything under the main settings. Later, by accident, I realized that the first physical button triggers a menu and when I went into GMail app and triggered the menu, I was able to get to settings and uncheck the notification setting.
  • Why the heck do apps have a settings screen in-app and also trigger another set of settings via the button? The afore-mentioned GMail app is one big example of this nonsensical user experience, so we can’t even blame “Android developers” as a collective. This is Google’s own developers creating confusion within their prime app by having some settings exposed via app and some via the button.
  • I noticed that the lock screen showed a few app icons on the bottom that I could launch directly from the lock screen, but I simply couldn’t find where to change that list. Help from the web seemed to suggest it was under Lock Screen settings but I just couldn’t find it. Later, I realized I had to change the first setting (lock screen swipe) before I could edit that setting. If I had a PIN to unlock, I couldn’t even see how to edit it but it was there by default. This one took a long time to figure out and involved removing my work Exchange account because that mandated a PIN to unlock. This item really frustrated me, more because it was so hard to figure out rather than the actual utility of being able to edit the list of apps.
  • Speaking of work Exchange account, when I set it up, I was asked to enable encryption. I understand what that means and why they need it, so I went ahead and agreed to that step. I was asked to set up a password which confused me because I already have a PIN enabled for the device. Regardless, I went ahead with it because I did not have a choice. After the process completed, I realized I ended up having to enter that password upon boot, and then enter my PIN to unlock the device. Both iOS and Windows Phone encrypt the whole device by default and keep the user out of this messy issue. I understand technically what they are doing in Android (encrypting only part of the device that needs to be encrypted for Exchange use), but for a common user, this is a hot mess.

Large screen

While a large screen felt good going from the iPhone’s screen, it turns out there are more downsides to it than I had imagined. See, I got used to the one-handed use that is possible with the iPhone’s size which I simply wasn’t able to do with this device.

Choice

While it is cool (and amazing, really) that I can have multiple app stores on the device, the choice expands to all kinds of apps including keyboard replacements. But this choice is actually a huge problem for a first-time user because out of the box, there are multiple apps for Photos, Videos, Music, Messaging, etc. Samsung has duplicated most of the Google apps for these utility apps but Google itself has duplicated what comes with Android like Chrome and “Internet” browser, Hangouts and Messaging, GMail and Email, etc. I would think it would be a much, much better experience if there were a default app associated with each action at the least, but it would be even better if all add on apps are installed by user upon some sort of a prompt after the device is set up. The choice, in short, is overwhelming.

Wrapping up

The device is good but not great. I really prefer the flat edges of the iPhone vs the slightly rounded edges of this device or the even more rounded edges of my Lumia 920. The flatter edges make it much easier to hold the device. The operating system has all the power of what is expected of a modern smartphone operating system, but like Windows XP that was installed on PCs, the OS is full of stuff that a user should not be seeing and the device is loaded with crapware that is seriously unnecessary.

Of course I cannot deny the millions of devices that Samsung has sold and even more so, the billion devices that have apparently been activated with Android, but I can say one thing: Android does not seem like it is something I would enjoy using as a direct consumer of the system. If my next music player has Android built in, and that gets exposed with their iOS app, I don’t care, but I don’t think I have the tolerance or the patience to “work with” Android as it stands today. Now I can at least say this definitively, having experienced the same on (one of) the most popular Android devices.

ps: I realized after the experiment that I did not even care which version of the operating system was installed on the device

Weekend project complete – move from Office 365 to Outlook.com

As you may or may not be aware, my personal email (with “vanity” domain) is hosted on Office 365. Yes, that business service which charges $6/month for Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online. I have had it since they launched the small business and professionals plan.

Since then, Hotmail has gone from being the dull and boring email service no one wants to be associated with, to a beautiful and modern Outlook.com. While Hotmail always provided the ability to use custom domains, I never thought of using that option because it was not a great email service. For example, there was no easy way to connect to it from a desktop email client unless you use Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail. Outlook added a Hotmail Connector but it always felt like a hack. And of course, there’s mobile.

With Outlook.com, what’s nice is that it supports Exchange Active Sync out of the box. No connectors needed. No jumping through hoops. 2-way sync, push support and all that jazz. For free. I have been tempted to move my domain email to this combination except that my mailbox is fairly huge (5GB) and I was not sure if I will be able to move the entire thing and I was not even sure how long it would take.

So I did some quick experiments with my existing Hotmail account and realized that via IMAP, I am able to move my emails fairly quickly over Comcast’s speedy internet connection (and maybe a much better back-end on Outlook.com?). So, I decided to take the plunge and make the move.

I disconnected my email account from my domain on Office 365, “removed” the domain from Office 365′s management, added the same to Live Domains and set up my account there. With some small glitches here and there (my email was an alias on my existing Hotmail account, so I wasn’t able to add it as a new domain email account until I removed the alias), I was up and running with my new setup.

I used Outlook 2013 to connect to my Office 365 account (via normal “Exchange” connectivity) and Outlook.com account (via IMAP). I started moving emails by folders and realized most of the messages were showing up on the web fairly quickly. Except for two very large folders, I was done in a couple of hours. The large folders took a bit longer but not terribly so. Overnight, I was actually surprised that I was done with the email part. What remained was calendar and contacts, both of which created much pain.

I took it for granted that calendar can be moved as easily as email but I was in for an unpleasant surprise when I realized I was connected to Outlook.com via IMAP. That means, no calendar support. I saved the Office 365 calendar as an ics file (was not under “export” but under “save as” in Outlook 2013 – go figure) and imported it from the web. That was easy, except that the “save as ics” step did not save every single event! There was no obvious pattern in what was saved and what was omitted.

Another idea struck me: why not connect to Outlook.com via EAS in Outlook 2013 and then copy all calendar events from one account to the other? Great idea, except there is a massive bug in Outlook 2013′s EAS implementation which does not sync events if you mass-copy them on a calendar. If I did all 350-odd events one-by-one, it would have worked. But I was not in a mood to do that. So the workaround was to simulate an edit across all the events and that is easily achieved with marking them all as a new category. That seemed to trigger a forced sync and I started seeing the events show up on the web. What seemed to be missing was events that I had marked as private, or at least some of those private events. Again, the EAS bug comes to bite me because even after marking them all as normal sensitivity, I could not simulate a sync. At this point I kinda gave up on the sync and re-saved the calendar as ics and imported it from the web. Then, a sync happened that showed up in Outlook 2013. For all the stuff that was not correctly sync-ed, including some recurring events that ended up showing as one-time, I manually went to the web and added/updated. :-(

As for contacts, I moved to Outlook.com as my “single source of truth” for contacts long time ago. I have been pretty happy with the arrangement especially because most of the contact manipulation (adding/updating/deleting) happens on mobile devices and with EAS, I am seconds away from always being up-to-date. Additionally, I have linked my Microsoft account to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and as a result, I have the “master” address book under People on my Outlook.com account. However, there is no way for me to link that account with the new account I created. No sharing, no linking, no sync-ing, and that’s a pity. I was hoping that just like I link a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account with Microsoft account, I could another Microsoft account too. Not to be. So I went for the next best option, which was to export and import. I could export my Outlook.com contacts as a csv but shockingly, when I tried to import, I got a generic error that seemed to indicate that there are some special characters in some phone or email fields somewhere in that csv file. No partial import, no specific error on specific records, nothing. An all or nothing which to me ended up with nothing. In the end, I had to go back to Outlook 2013 and with EAS, I was able to copy contacts from one account to the other.

Despite those multiple hiccups, I am glad to say I am done with the migration much sooner than I thought I would be and most importantly, there were no issues with the email migration. I was afraid of duplicates and missed emails neither of which happened.

I will monitor for a few days after which I am going to cancel my Office 365 paid account but a practical limitation I am facing now is that at work where I prefer to keep personal email limited to a tab in a browser, I won’t be able to see my current Hotmail account and the new custom domain account in a single browser window. With Office 365 account, I was able to because they don’t share the cookie, I suppose, but with both the accounts now running off Outlook.com back-end, I am unable to. It is a pain to have two browser windows open, one of which is an InPrivate window, but I am sure it is something I can get used to over time.

And to finish off, can I just say that Microsoft has made a big mistake calling their webmail service Outlook.com which is very close to their email client Outlook. Searching for solutions to the various problems I had almost invariably landed me on help pages for Outlook the program vs Outlook.com the service. It was quite frustrating. :-(

Backing up

Just read this post on Medium about backing up your data and I thought the setup was very similar to mine, so I felt like writing one to talk about my own.

My setup consists of:

An HP Proliant Microserver N36L which is a fantastic form factor for this purpose. Over time, I did add a graphics card to it so that I can get HDMI out to connect it to an external monitor for those times when I need to upgrade something that I cannot do over remote desktop, like when I moved from Windows Home Server 2011 to Windows 8 and then to Windows 8.1

The server is also great because in that compact form factor, it still allows for 4 hard drives. I had bought two 1TB hard drives and had let Windows Home Server run them in mirror mode. After I moved to Windows 8, I manually implemented that feature via File History. Not technically the same, but works for me in terms of keeping a copy of my data on a second hard drive in case it fails. Windows 8 also provides me the capability to restore to factory settings or to restore to a pre-determined point, in case I need to.

Since I have enough space on my hard drives, I haven’t deployed my other USB drives. Also, since this setup is in our closet, I also don’t want my wife to one day throw it all out of there :-) It would be nice to use Storage Spaces and make use of all my USB drives as a single shared pool of storage. After all, the server does provide a ton of USB ports on front and back.

I do not need VNC because I use the excellent Remote Desktop which now is available on iOS (and Mac and Android too but at this time I don’t have those devices).

Instead of Dropbox, I use SkyDrive for all types of file sync from and to multiple devices. Like Remote Desktop, the SkyDrive app exists on all the devices I use, and works quite well for me. In addition, on my home network, I have set up a HomeGroup and in Windows, I have set up all Libraries to point to the server’s respective locations (Documents, Photos, Music, Videos, etc.) and made that the default save location. That way, the need to sync is reduced when I am on the home network. Pictures from phones are backed up to SkyDrive from my iPhone as well as my Lumia automatically and show up on the server because of the SkyDrive app.

Finally, the best part: Crashplan automatic cloud backup running on the server, which is set to never sleep. In this way, I have multiple versions of all the files on the server, always backing up automatically to the cloud. I have been able to restore my backed up files on different PCs as and when I have needed to. It does not provide bare metal restore but I don’t need it because of the excellent Reset/Refresh features introduced in Windows 8. In fact, if I wanted to, I could even use Crashplan to do USB backups (it uses multiple “destinations” so cloud is the only destination I am using currently but there is no extra cost to add local USB as a destination).

One issue I have noticed and it comes as a result of using the server not just as a backup machine but also as a media server, is that videos take a long time to stream to tablets or TV. I suspect it is because the processor is quite old and slow and it is the server that is doing the CPU-intensive stuff so it ends up choking a bit. I also suspect the hard drives are a bottleneck as well in such cases. I don’t think I want to invest much into this setup at this point but I would love to see a modern version of this form factor. I haven’t found it yet. Most of the small form factor cases today skip the hard drive expansion slots and as a result make me afraid of losing the low-cost, big-sized storage capacity.

But that’s a separate story. I am just happy I have been able to get to a point where I don’t have to worry about losing my digital memories as well as important papers and hard work from my past several years. Huge thanks to Crashplan for making this happen via their inexpensive and unlimited backup service.

My Amazon order history

In light of the recent rumors about Amazon potentially increasing Amazon Prime fees from $80/yr to maybe up to $120/yr, I went into my order history at amazon.com. My first instinct when I heard the rumor was to unsubscribe (or more correctly, not renew) but upon further review, it looks like I should be fine even with the $40 increase, based on my consumption of amazon “stuff”: orders placed there, amazon video, amazon kindle “free” ebook every month.

But since I was there, I thought I’d do something with my order history, so here it is:

 

Some points to note:

  • The order counts in 2012 and 2013 are “off” because we moved to India in late-2012 and moved back late-2013.
  • Looks like I went crazy with amazonmp3 when it first launched :-)
  • As you can see, if we continue at around 40 orders a year, a $40/yr increase means adding $1 to shipping costs and that is not even including the benefits we get via video and books. Maybe those bean counters at amazon did their homework :-)

8″ Windows tablet

I recently purchased a Dell Venue 8 Pro, an 8″ Windows 8.1 tablet running on Intel Atom chip. I bought the 64GB version because I knew my app count (and size) would be high so it would be better to be n the safer side when it comes to storage. Besides, Amazon had a great deal on it, where I got it for $329 instead of the regular price of $399.

I kept the box because I was not sure if I needed another tablet (I have two iPads), or another Windows 8.1 touch device (I have a 27″ Lenovo A720 all in one). Surprisingly, I am loving the device and won’t be returning it. The following are just some of the reasons this is a great device *for me*:

  • Form factor: This thing is thin and light! I am talking in absolute terms, not comparing it to say, an iPad mini or a Nexus or a Kindle Fire. I can absolutely hold it in one hand for a long period of time. I was not able to do it with my iPad nor my Surface RT, despite both being relatively light.
  • Screen size and clarity: I feel 8″ screen is great for all my consumption activities and feel it is way better than my phone for quick Office/Excel work. I don’t care about the actual resolution, but what I see is pretty darn clear. There was an initial auto-dimming issue which was fixed by Dell via a firmware update.
  • Windows ecosystem: One may ask why I didn’t go for an iPad mini in the first place. The issue is that my home setup is based on Windows. I have a Windows PC (used to run Windows Home Server 2011, now runs Windows 8.1) in the closet with a large hard drive that has all our music, video, photos, documents, etc. This PC is also a part of a HomeGroup which enables it to share all that content easily with other devices in the HomeGroup. With an iPad, I would have to move the files to the cloud, or find some apps which can somehow read data off the network, or maybe trick iTunes into reading all those files as part of its Library. None of those seemed to be as elegant as simply adding a device to the HomeGroup. With my Dell, I have zero issues browsing our entire photo library or even more fun, watching some random old home videos of our kids.
  • User profiles: I didn’t do this until a few days ago, but I decided to add my kids accounts to the device because I realized my “games” area on the Start Screen was exploding in size and I wasn’t using any of them. I created two child accounts and added all the apps/games that they would care about on their Start Screen. They love logging in with their own Picture Password and their own game progress, achievements, etc. This is simply not possible, but highly desirable on an iPad.
  • Win32 fallback: I have not had to jump into the “old” Windows on this device much. Recently though, I wanted to play a DVD (ripped as an ISO, stored on my home “server”) but I couldn’t. Tried a few apps that promised that functionality but they couldn’t do it. Ultimately, I gave in and installed the ever reliable VLC player. I know they are working to bring it in a Windows Store app, but until then, the only option is to use their Win32 application. It worked flawlessly (no surprise) and I was able to stream the video on my device in seconds! Really handy to have that fallback, although the counter point could be the poor ecosystem that does not fill the gap. I believe the issue is DVD playback involves royalties which is perhaps one of the motivations Microsoft had in removing that feature from core Windows 8, and making it part of a “pro pack” on top of Windows 8 Pro which then includes Windows Media Center as well.
  • Office: Sure, this is not a touch-friendly version, and sure, it is dorky to use Excel on a small device but for quick updates like one or two entries on a common budget file my wife and I share, it is great to have a full version of Office connected to SkyDrive.
Bottom line, this device is actually so useful to me, I have used my iPad even lesser in the past few weeks than before. It also helps that Brandon Paddock (@BrandonLive on twitter) is actively iterating on his Metro twitter app Tweetium. It is a really nice app that works well in Metro, and more so, in portrait mode which is how I use this device most of the time. The official app is decent but Tweetium is way friendlier. Awaiting notifications support :-)
 
I admit, this may not be the device for everyone, much less everyone in the Windows ecosystem, but boy, at $250 or so, it is very close to a no-brainer.
 
Highly recommended.

Looking forward to 2014. Cannot wait!

I am not one of those who care for specific days in the year. You know, birthdays, anniversaries, Fathers’ Day, Thanksgiving, etc. I believe that most of these days are artificial milestones and should instead be observed daily. For example, why give thanks to others on one day? Why remember Dad on one day?

Similarly, the end of a calendar year (be it Gregorian or Hindu) does not mean much to me. I celebrate it because that is one way to spend the holidays with friends and family. At the same time, I do not resolve to do or not to do things as part of the New Year. I resolve when I realize I need to start or stop doing things.

However, I am writing this post because 2013 has been a very odd year. It is one that I would like to end and only if for symbolism, I cannot wait for 2014 to be here so that emotionally and superstitiously, I can start afresh. There have been some ups and many downs in 2013 in my life and here’s hoping for a more stable, mostly up 2014!

Life-changing stuff

2013 saw us moving back from Bangalore, India to the Bay Area. It was obviously not an easy decision, and the relocation and the re-relocation set us back (so to speak) by a year or more. Kids were unsettled most of the 15 or so months, my wife and I were unsettled for longer and in general, a lot of things ended up being in flux most of the year. This is not including the huge financial hit we took in moving ourselves back. One-way flights back for the family, moving expenses, re-buying 2 cars, down payments, lease breakage fees in India, etc.

Hoping 2014 is much more stable from a family perspective. Kids are getting older and we need to focus on them way more than we have been able to in the past one and a half years.

Family health and loss

I’ll start with the worst: I lost my uncle absolutely unexpectedly. He was in his mid-70s and outside of some minor issues, absolutely healthy. More importantly, he was the rock in my aunt’s life and an absolutely selfless caregiver to my nephew and niece as they were growing up. He will be missed and it is one of the big reasons 2013 sucked for me.

My wife fell sick and started losing vision. She ultimately underwent a brain surgery. That one month period in the summer was perhaps the most trying for us. She was helpless (pain medication didn’t seem to work at all), I was helpless and the kids were clueless. Luckily, we reacted in time although it was quite a scary period. All’s well that ends well, I guess, but another shaky moment of 2013.

My mom underwent a knee replacement. After a couple of years of terrible pain in her knee, she was forced to undergo replacement. She is ok now but at her age, any surgery is a risk especially considering she has had a major heart attack in the past. Again, all’s well that ends well, but worrisome for all while she went through pre-op tests and the surgery itself.

An aunt has started showing signs of speech loss. Hard to explain and I won’t go into detail but she has been one of my closest aunts and she has been a bundle of energy all through her life and it is really, really sad to see her get into a shell because she is subconsciously afraid of goofing up as she speaks.

The wife of the uncle who passed away has had to push her own knee surgery multiple times because of some or the other issue that comes up before the surgery in the pre-op testing. She is in terrible pain and she definitely deserves better than suffering through the pain. Let’s hope 2014 changes that.

Some good things too

It was not all bad. We did complete the experience of living closer to our families and even though the end result was that we moved back, the learning was valuable. The experience was worth the effort, mostly because now we won’t regret not giving it a shot when we had a chance to. I thank my previous employer for giving me the chance to move back while keeping my job.

As part of the relocation back, I was in some ways forced to look at other opportunities and I am glad I took the one that I ended up taking. This is a good thing because I have a feeling I would have got too comfortable in my previous job if I had no motivation to look elsewhere.

My kids, especially my younger one, transformed quite a bit when he was in India. I am not sure if it was a natural transformation at his age, but the kid who left the US and the kid who re-entered the US are night and day apart. Most of the friends and family we met after returning back have expressed a pleasant surprise in seeing him be more bold, more mischievous, and in general more extroverted than he was before. I take that as a huge plus.

Looking forward to 2014

I am an optimist by nature. I am hoping 2014 sees us settle down a bit, and prosper as a result. I am certainly hoping my aunts get better and that we don’t see the kind of issues we saw in 2013.

And while I don’t resolve to do something just because the year rolls over to a new one, I do have one that I want to put it out in public. No, it is not fitness-related (although I do want to work on that), it is that I end up reading books at least for 20% of the time I spend on twitter. I fear that being engaged on twitter and using it as a primary source of news and information, there is a tendency to over-use it even if it is in the form of “consumption of news”. I just want to enforce a way for me to spend some of that time away from the info-snacking and get reading some “longform” stuff like books. Wish me the best on that :-)

Wishing you all a Happy 2014, and thanks for reading!

Quick updates on my new iPhone

If you haven’t read why, here’s an explanation why I recently bought a new iPhone. Having spent about a week with it, here are my quick updates on the whole package:

  • For a company that prides itself in top-notch quality, I have seen quite a few spontaneous reboots on my phone. This will most likely be fixed soon, and for that I will be thankful as compared to Windows Phone updates, but the fact that there are some pretty severe crashes tells me something’s not right somewhere.
  • I am still getting used to the Notification Center. I like it a lot but I am trying to optimize the use of it. Together with some apps that can provide their own notification sounds (like WhatsApp does), I feel one of my bigger complaints with Windows Phone is addressed nicely. Toasts (“banners” in iOS) could be captured in Notification Center so I can always go back and look at what I may have missed. One issue though, some notifications from Facebook app do not get registered in the Notification Center but some others do. I suspect it is a Facebook bug, but it doesn’t do away with the problem I have.
  • I am glad I am finally able to connect to my work WiFi :-)
  • I am loving TouchID to unlock my phone and to make new purchases. However, it seems like restoring apps previously bought using iTunes password don’t work with TouchID so that is annoying.
  • I am taking a lot of slo-mo videos although that could be only because it is a novelty. However, the huge downside there is that when I share the video via WhatsApp or upload it to SkyDrive, it does not maintain the slo-mo. That’s a bummer. I wonder what is the reason, but in the end, I am left wondering how I can easily share with non-iPhone friends and family.

As for my fears of missing key functionality as I move from Windows Phone:

  • People Hub: Yes, absolutely miss it. My current workaround? Create a private twitter list with all those who I had pinned to my Start Screen, and separately, mark as “Close Friends” in Facebook all whom I had pinned to Start Screen. With Close Friends, I get notification for every post they make, which is somewhat of a compromise to achieve what I could so easily achieve with People Hub.
  • Haven’t missed secondary tiles or camera yet, but have sorely missed the auto-upload of photos AND videos as well as wireless sync/download of photos and videos off the phone to PC. I cannot believe there is no elegant (read: native) solution to offload photos and videos from phone to PC. I know there is PhotoStream that sends photos to the cloud, but it doesn’t send videos. Also, there is iTunes Wi-Fi syncing, but it is only one-way from the PC to the phone. I tried Dropbox, Loom and Amazon Cloud Photos but none are as hands-free/worry-free as Windows Phone’s native auto-upload and wireless sync features. I really, really hope PhotoStream gets video support soon, even if it needs to detect Wi-Fi so it does not take away valuable cellular broadband bandwidth. More importantly, I cannot wait for wireless sync to PC so I don’t have to remember to connect my phone to the PC every now and then.

I will try to update more as I have more solid thoughts/feedback about my experience.

I just ordered the iPhone 5s

If you know me or follow me, you will know I am a big, big fan of Windows Phone. I bought a Windows Phone 7 device as soon as I was able to (2-year contract was not up until Thanksgiving that year) and have made the move from that Samsung Focus to a Nokia Lumia 800, to my current Nokia Lumia 920.

I love Windows Phone 8 and had written not so long ago about how I do not intend to be swayed by iOS despite some holes I saw in Windows Phone operating system.

Yet, I ordered the iPhone 5s. (I went with Space Grey, 32GB in case you care.) There are several reasons for doing so, and in no particular order, these are:

  • Notification Center: Windows Phone 8, and especially hardware like Lumia 920 have come a long way from the initial Windows Phone 7. Notably, they have really improved the reliability of push notifications and I have many apps that send me toast notifications. Invariably, I find myself hearing a notification from the phone and not realizing what it was for by the time I pick it up from across the room. Could it have been an ESPN score alert, or a News360 breaking news alert? If it is a WhatsApp message, I know the live tile gets updated, but what if the tile already had a non-zero number? Was it a Twitter mention or a WhatsApp message then? See the issue? With Notification Center, I know those toast notifications get stored and I can always go back and see what happened while I was away. I really miss it now that I have so many apps sending me toasts and since all notifications except text message, email and voice mail have the same sound.
  • Enterprise features: My new office has wifi everywhere on campus, but they use Microsoft Protect EAP (PEAP) for network authentication, which I couldn’t get to work on my Lumia. As I understand, it is not supported by Windows Phone 8 and is not available in GDR2 either. Similarly, our company uses VPN and I do need it occasionally and even though it is not a deal-breaker, I know that with iOS, I at least have the capability to use it.
  • Updates (lack thereof): Speaking of GDR2, I haven’t received the update on my AT&T Lumia 920 yet. I know there are some features I really want to have on my phone that are included in GDR2 and Amber, the associated Nokia firmware. It is an extreme pain to have to keep checking for updates daily and realizing that it is outside of Nokia, Microsoft or your control. AT&T really has no incentive to push the update out. I was really hoping Microsoft changes this with Windows Phone 8 and the “Windows 8 underneath”. Sadly, it hasn’t happened, and I don’t expect that to change.
  • iPhone hardware: I like the idea of TouchID, especially for buying apps. I also like that they have the motion co-processor M7 which will enable a new category of apps and look forward to being on the leading edge rather than patiently waiting for those apps to make it to Windows Phone a year or two later. Even though I dislike the fact that the iPhone is tall and narrow, I like that it actually has flat edges and not rounded edges like my Lumia. I find that the flat edges help me hold the phone much better than the rounded edges do. Finally, I really dislike the capacitive buttons which create mistaken taps all the time, especially when handing the phone to someone else for taking a picture. The simplicity of a physical, single home button is sorely missed.
  • Family/Friends: Most of my immediate family (dad, brother, his wife, his two kids), friends and cousins are iPhone users. Needless to say, it would be great if I could iMessage with them and FaceTime with them for free. I know there is WhatsApp and we use that a lot, and I know there is Skype and it is quite pain-free to setup and use, but I have to admit, they end up using “SMS” without knowing it is iMessage and FaceTime because it is in the contact card. I think it is about time I gave up convincing them to be platform-agnostic and just join them.
  • Windows Phone direction towards low-end: A disturbing (to me, as an enthusiast) trend I am noticing is that Windows Phone is being adopted in large volumes by first-time smartphone users and/or users very sensitive to price. Hence, the popularity of Lumua 520/521. I am afraid Windows Phone engineering team may switch priorities and assume that the current feature set is ok for that user base and the need to focus on the high-end is not as severe. Well, I wouldn’t blame them. They need market share at the moment, and the way forward for them in that regard is via the low-end. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me. If that were the case, I would have been happily using my Samsung Focus or even iPhone 3GS that preceded it. Let’s hope that is not true and we see some high-end innovation come to the OS quickly. I am not talking about the one hardware device that is truly innovative, the Lumia 1020, where Windows Phone OS had to be modified. I am talking Notification Center, and Google Now-like features that leapfrog the competition.
  • Waiting game: I absolutely love Windows Phone. I have waited patiently since Windows Phone 7 first launched, for the “next” release that would fix many things/everything. Even though Windows Phone 8 broke away from Windows Phone 7 in a way that my purchases of WP7 devices became sunk costs, I stuck around. I even bought a Lumia 920 off-contract, with a premium no less, importing it from the UK when it wasn’t available in India (where I was living when it launched). Yet, the “Early adopter and enthusiast program” which was publicly announced on stage at the time of Windows Phone 8 platform event in June 2012 is nowhere to be found. As a loyal customer and supporter of the platform, I feel cheated in multiple ways.

What I know I will miss 100% are some of the key features that I really love in Windows Phone 8 and my Lumia 920:

  • People Hub: I have a few groups of folks pinned to my start screen and I cannot express how useful I find that feature to be. I am able to see my closest family’s, friends’ and cousins’ updates across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all in one place. I would ordinarily not see those updates, most likely, and I do need a plan to handle that in iOS. Maybe create some specific lists and somehow see if I can get notified? I don’t know.
  • Live tiles/Secondary tiles: Many don’t like the flipping live tiles, but I happen to *love* them. In some cases like the People Hub, the flipping may be excessive and in others like the Music+Videos tile, it should have been there while it is not, but in general, I like apps that have live tiles for a quick overview of whatever that app does. Weather, stocks, news, People, calendar, etc. are prime examples. In addition to just the live tiles, I like the concept of secondary tiles where I can actually pin sections of apps to the start screen to get even more granular info. For example, in the Bing Finance app I have some specific companies pinned. In Pandora, I have a few of my stations pinned.
  • Camera, especially low light: I have seen some of the 5s vs 92x vs 1020 photo shootouts and while the 1020 is a clear winner, 92x is very close to the 5s. Except in low-light, where even though the 5s does a good job and especially over the 5, the 92x produces better images. I will miss that.

Having said all of the above, it will be hard for me to switch 100% over to iOS. I do intend to use my 5s close to 50-50 with the 920. I may even take the 920 out when we have dinner plans at restaurants and so on because the low light pics with the Lumia are apparently superior.

Finally, to those whom I recommended Windows Phone, please note that I still stand by the recommendation. I don’t recommend WP blindly to all, so if I told you WP is best for you, I do mean it is.

My impressions soon after using the iPhone 5s.

Welcome back and other discussions

It’s been about a month since we returned back. Over the course of the past 3 weeks or so, we have met several friends and I have met some ex-colleagues, in person and on phone/IM/FB chat.

The conversation typically goes like this: “Oh, you are back? Wow, welcome back. What happened? What didn’t work?”

Given that we learned a lot, my instant reaction is to go over the details on how things were just not working out for any of us. With some friends whom we meet over drinks and dinner (where we have time to discuss), I in fact do go into the details. With others, I have to resort to a generic “lots of stuff, we should meet up and talk about it”. My concern is that I don’t want to convey that it was a snap decision; there was a lot of thought given to the various options we had and it was not an easy decision to move back.

For some of the folks asking the question, there is a deeper thought process — they want to move to India at some point. If I know that, I feel like I should give them a list of tips and tricks and do’s and don’t’s. I feel like giving them some heads up to the stuff that we didn’t know of, and also convey that despite knowing what’s going to come one simply cannot fathom what’s coming until they go through the experience themselves.

I suspect this will continue for some time, until we meet up with most of our first-level contacts, and until then, we will re-live all our pain points over and over again :-)