Microsoft Unveils Amazing Changes coming to Windows

Microsoft's Story Remix

Microsoft unveiled in its second day Keynote for the #MSBuild conference so many new amazing Windows features, it’s almost hard to know where to start!

They started with explaining how they are moving to expand stylus support system wide to the operating system which is pretty cool for us Tablet users (FYI, the Chuwi tablet I stock supports stylus and Windows). Not only this, they intend to expand stylus support beyond the screen, into Mixed Reality!

And then they also explained the new Design/Look of Windows 10 called “fluent design”, which features rich animations, depth, and translucency and frankly looks amazing.

But this is where it gets viral level. They have a new video editing app, “Story Remix”, that automatically takes the best moments of any video and compiles it, adds a soundtrack. It uses artificial intelligence and 3D tracking, so not only does it do the heavy lifting, but you can add 3D effects and writing to your videos (So your soccer ball turns into a fireball, or you get chased by a dinosaur). So the things movie makers have been doing for years suddenly will become accessible to anyone.

Not only this, but using MS Graph, Windows PCs will now support a new “timeline” feature, which remembers all your apps, tasks, what things you do on your computer, and allows you to seamlessly continue those tasks on _any_ device (Windows 10 mobile, iOS or Android). So you can start reading an article on your phone, finish on your tablet or edit a document on your PC, and finish it on your phone! Using liquid computing MS services are now going to be your portal to working seamlessly between devices.

In addition to this Onedrive will now support a feature called “on demand” files, which basically allows you to treat cloud files, as if they are local, share files with others, again across devices. Bringing the cloud, essentially closer to user.

Lastly, they announced both a new 3d tracking controller for mixed reality, and two cheaper Mixed Reality headsets from partner OEMs (A term they are promoting to replace AR/VR), coming in as cheap as 399 USD (Much cheaper than any that exist like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive). This is going to really bring along virtual reality, in terms of accessibility to the average person.

Yesterday they also made announcements about Cortana and Artificial Intelligence. They are expanding Cortana’s “skills” so that any developer can write new capabilities for her. There is a preview of this available to US citizens, where they can also get news, weather, order a pizza and more. Developers will also get access to a range of AI and machine learning APIs to add visual, audio and other Artificial intelligence to their apps. And yesterday they also demoed the new smart home device the “Invoke”

Cortana moves from the PC

It was an amazing keynote speech, and I suggest you check out some of the videos demoing these technologies, because Microsoft is fundamentally changing computing with its new focus on creation, seamless computing across devices, AR/VR and Artificial intelligence. With 500 million users already, the future of Windows is very bright.

Fuschia: Googles Windows 10 competitor? 

Google has been developing a new OS designed to run on “modern phones and modern personal computers”. It recently unveiled some of the UI, still a work in progress, that operates like a traditional desktop OS with Windows, mixed with a mobile OS, using Google’s material design. Which seems very much like a hybrid OS in the vein of Windows 10.

Fuschia is also a real-time multi-tasking environment, unlike Android, and like Windows 10. Fuschia is built using a custom kernel called “Magenta”, rather than the Linux base of Android and ChromeOS. Entire sections of the UI are devoted to google search and suggestions, putting an emphasis on Google’s advertising based profit model. It also features a new universal app platform, that might be able to run cross platform.

We don’t yet have any official announcement on whether this will replace Android and ChromeOS, but we do know that this is a product intended for release. Looking at the design, and considering that Google has long wanted to move into the desktop space, it seems most likely that this is indeed intended to be a Windows 10 competitor, and that if successful it might replace ChromeOS and Android entirely.

Users have long speculated when the other two tech giants, Apple and Google might develop hybrid OSes. Apple has indicated that as an eventual and distant plan, but they are classically very tight lipped on any new projects. Google here, seems to be taking the same approach. Apple obviously has clear advantage in a new hybrid OS having success in both the desktop and mobile arena’s, although how those two systems can be dovetailed is probably a very complicated business – OSX runs on x86/x64 and iOS on ARM. They are wildly different systems iOS and OSX. Microsoft has the time based lead on both having it’s UWP platform for numerous scaling/adaptive apps, and being first to market, but Google will no doubt bring to bear its Android app platform via some kind of Android runtime.

Like Win32 programs these face a scaling problem – they are suited to touch and a small screen, not mouse and keyboard.  Whether it’s big screen apps being too busy for the small screen, or small screen apps being too simple for the big screen – scaling is the problem hybridization is intended to solve, and in some ways for any company it’s essentially starting from scratch. Apps are only starting to be developed that way for Windows 10.

With growth in smartphones (outside of budget sectors) winding down everyone is looking for the next big thing. Whilst Amazon fights for the voice space, MS releasing its Cortana skill SDK advancements soon, its work on Hololens, Facebooks secret investments in VR, AND rumors of Apple’s secret AR project – Like the race in IoT, virtual reality, augmented reality, and personal assistants, with the Hybrid OS; the fight is very much on for the future.

App spotlight

Okay so I wanted to introduce you guys all to a few handy apps I’ve discovered recently.

Android: Microsoft To-Do

To-Do is Microsoft’s simplified version of Wunderlist. It helps you organise your day, and most important syncs between computer and your phone, so that you can organise your lists quickly and easily via pc. You can also use it as a note taking system, and its free.

Android: Runtasty

Runtasty is a health recipe app by the developers of the excellent fitness app, Runtastic. It features filters for various forms of diets, like low carb, or vegan, and also particular circumstances like post workout, or low calorie. It’s free with in-app purchases

Windows: Hand Off

I discovered Hand Off recently, and I think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. You install this app on all your windows devices, and you can use it to share anything via the share icon, with your other computers. So find an app or a web page on your tablet or phone, and want to work with it on your desktop or Xbox click the share icon and boom it’s where you want it to be. You can hand over maps, or songs on groove, and even make phone calls on your phone, via your PC. Very nice. It’s a cheap paid app, but totally 100% worth every penny

Great Web Apps You Should Know About

Occasionally you’ll hear people talk about web apps. Applications or “Apps” that are served from online web addresses.

But if you web search you will find mostly business focused lists, that aren’t much help to the average user. The advantage of these Apps, is you can use them wherever you are, on someone else’s PC, on an OS that doesn’t have them as local apps, via a ChromeBook, or just in the browser if you are a browser kina gay/gal. You’ll need an html5 compatible browser to take advantage.

They run faster than web pages, and have nice scaling UIs that work well with touch. On to the list!

Outlook

Not only a popular email program, but also has an inbuilt calendar that syncs nicely across devices.

Onedrive

Microsoft’s cloud storage solution. Has the advantage of fully syncing files offline on supported devices.

Gmail

One of the most popular email programs these days, even used in schools and by businesses.

Pintrest

Pinning and sharing has become quite a little trend. Pinterest lets you pin pictures and articles like a notice board.

Dropbox

One of the most popular cloud storage solutions.

Google Maps

The quintessential map program. Contains within it, street view and Google earth 3D representations.

YouTube

The unquestionable king of video sharing sites.

Google Drive

A fairly popular cloud storage solution, with links to Google pictures. Often a go to, for android users.

Soundcloud

License free, and often free to download music, from established and upcoming artists, streamed to your device.

Tumblr

Ever popular picture sharing social network.

MS Office Online

The standard in online office software.

Aviary

One of the best photo filter programs I have used on any platform. Makes those pictures look beautiful

Mint

Manage your finances anywhere.

Flickr

A popular photo management and sharing site.

Feedly

A RSS feed reading app to collate news and articles for your reading pleasure.

Spotify

One of the standards in audio music streaming services

Hulu

Free to air TV streaming service

 

The conversation revolution: Windows’ Cortana to get a lot smarter

Windows 10's Cortana
In April last year, Microsoft’s CEO Nadella Satya announced the companies new strategy of “Conversation as a platform”, tying together the then new Microsoft bot framework and Cortana.
 Chatbot army
This framework has been immensely popular tens of thousands of developers. More recently Microsoft has told us this integration is quite close.  And that’s the reason for this blog article – I believe both Microsoft’s smart home device, and their updated version of Cortana are due at the end of 2017, with the Redstone 3 update.
According to them, in a more recent announcement: Cortana will be able to use Alexa skills and Microsoft frame work bots “dynamically and contextually”. 
Cortana skills
Anything Alexa can do, Cortana can do, and more.
So what does this actually mean?
Simply put these “skills” are like an app ecosystem for conversation. “Apps” for voice.
So pretty soon, you’ll be able to order a taxi, book a hotel, send a text message, make a call, play games and get directions – all with voice only.  Imagination is really the limit. Hands free powerful control of your phone, computer, smart home or other device with our favourite Sassy Assistant.
And this could change the current landscape of touch only apps quite radically, moving everything to a greater reliance on voice rather than touch.
Time of course, will tell, but if Microsoft’s announcements are anything to go by, we are very close to the “conversation revolution”.

Xiaomi Mi Band 2 Review: Best cheap smartband period

Xiaomi Mi Band 2 Smart Band

As promised, a quick little review on the Xiaomi Mi Band 2. This snazzy little smart band is significantly cheaper than any of the well known competition, and while its software is relatively simple, the design is solid. It’s at least shower/rain waterproof, and has quite a long battery life (More than a week by my estimation without Bluetooth discovery on).

The device itself tells time, measures heart rate pretty accurately (if you hold still, like all these devices), and counts steps.

The Mi Fit app does most of the stuff you’ll find useful, syncing this data to your phone, changing the device settings, and giving you alerts for apps, messages and phone calls. I’m not sure I found the app/text message notification that useful, as I usually notice my phone give such notifications anyway, You can get a third party app that gives content (such as the actual text of the message), do continuous heartrate monitoring and more, expanding the usefulness of the band.

or heartrate, a spot check here and there lets me know what my resting heart rate is (a measure of fitness), and the rate my heart gets up to during exercise (which is helpful for endurance training, or fat burning).

Unfortunately the step counter does not let you change stride length. Mine is particularly long, so I found on a long walk, it would miss 20% of the total distance next to the “Runkeeper” app, which uses GPS (but isn’t nearly as convenient to use). In future I’ll just bump whatever I see up 20%.

It has lift to view, and shake to toggle, and its capacitive touch button is stylish and responsive.

Mi Fit does also sync with Google Fit, and in addition it has in built features for Xiaomi’s smart watches, and smart scales. I’d guess as a package, with the scales and the smart band or watch it’s pretty useful for tracking progress and health. The scales can estimate body fat percentage as well (only a rough estimate but still useful).

The downside here is that virtually no bands can measure strength training. The Samsung watches have a third party app that can measure exercise reps, but that’s literally the only one I know of. Fortunately because I do high intensity, I’m more concerned with total time, total weight, and my heart rate during exercise, so counting reps wouldn’t be that useful.

The Mi Fit app does have a running section, as I haven’t started running, I haven’t trialled it. It seems to track heart rate during a run. Combined with something like Runkeeper for pace, it might be quite useful.

Overall for the price, you simply cannot beat it. The hardware design won an award, and there’s a host of third party straps in different colours, and metal, leather etc. It has all the basic features of any smart band, and because the app also incorporates Google Fit syncing, and other smart gear like scales it’s actually ahead of the pack in many regards – there are high end fitness bands that do neither. Xiaomi continues to impress.

What is new in the Windows Creators update and how do you get it?

Windows HoloLens 3D

So I got the update early by running the update assistant. You can find that here.

A lot of the tablets on sale in our store and Windows and Android tablets. So I like to keep my readers abreast of both. Looking around, this is not a minor update!

There are a lot of notable changes. For example -It seems to me like they plan to merge windows 10 mobile into Windows 10 proper, because there are options like mobile hotspot, SMS/MMS options and so on. I think that’s hopeful for windows mobile users, who essentially have a stripped down version of the OS.

The settings section includes a lot more options. There’s a hugely expanded privacy section, which will be a welcome addition for those who have complained about data mining in the modern age. There’s a cool thing too, which doesn’t sound as cool as it is, playable ads. What this actually is, is a way of demoing paid apps and games without downloading or playing for them, using a sort of streaming preview. So you can try before you buy. Which is pretty cool for those that like me that prefer paid apps and games to freemium ones.

There’s an option to lock down win32 applications, so they can only be installed from the windows store. I imagine this would be useful for enterprise/business environments, and also might encourage more people to put their programs in the windows store (Which would be easier than the multiple stores windows users have to deal with now).

There’s a neat little option called nightlight that lowers the blue light in the screen display, which interferes with the natural production of melatonin, the thing that makes us tired at night. Previously I’d used “F.lux” for this, but its great to have this baked into Windows.

Microsoft is really pushing its 3D angle, integrating 3D content into paint, PowerPoint, and working with hardware partners to make VR cheaper. I think this is a bit of work in progress, as we don’t have those cheap VR devices yet, but I expect when all the work is done it will be a huge step up from google cardboard, especially being baked into the OS.

Of course I mentioned, the very important to tablets, feature of game mode, that lets you squeeze at least a few extra frames per second out of games. I’ve seen some demo’s for this, and there is no doubt in my mind this will be a real game changer for tablets, even if you only get 4 more frames a second, even bit counts at this level. It also lets you record, share, and stream game content.

Very useful feature is the ability to pin people to your taskbar, where you can directly drag and drop files and links to them. Very useful for workflow.

They have added full pen support for Edge, and Word, the “Ink” software allowing people to scribble and share notes they have added to web pages and documents. Which is both great for enterprise, and for home users.

The Edge browser has received some major updates. The ability to save tabs into collections for later, and a preview pane to view previews of your tabs, as well as some optimisation so the lightweight browser runs faster. I’ve been using this browser myself recently, you can’t really beat the UI where you can get downloads, history, bookmarks all from the same place.

There is probably a lot more I haven’t covered, I’ve only had the update for a few hours now but it surprises me just how many new features there are. Microsoft are working hard to build us the OS of the future.

Windows Creators Edition 3D

General News and Updates

This blog is more of a micro update than an article. I’m getting in the FNF iFive 4S, and the Teclast x98 Plus, both very solid modern tablets. I know my customers often prefer 9.7 inch tablets, despite the growth in hybrid devices. I use one myself, with windows, and it’s a pretty great form factor. So is the eight inch, ideal for one handed use. We really do our best at Tap That to provide the best quality cheaper tablets. This is important, because when it comes to less well known brands, people want to have trust in the products. You can get some fairly bland and even completely unreliable offers from big box stores, and still pay too much for them.

I’m getting myself one of those Xiaomi Mi Band 2 fitness bands. Winner of the Red Dot design award. And I’ll write here about my experience with that. Xiaomi are known for making premium technology affordable, and as a bit of a fitness junky, I’ll be giving this the full spin! I’ll let you all know what my experience is, a week or two down the track.

Recently the Microsoft Surface took the crown from Apple, in the JD Power customer satisfaction survey, something Apple has been quite proud of for years. As the product is popular with early tech adopting millennial, and Windows is the biggest growth segment of the tablet market, as I have expected for some time, I think we are seeing a shift in the tablet market towards Windows. Both iOS and Android have seen declines.
Speaking of Windows on tablets – the Creators update comes this month, and with its updates to gaming performance, I am expecting to play Trine 2 touch only at even higher graphical settings. Really quite looking forward to seeing what the Creators update has to offer in general.
The BlackBerry community is waiting with baited breath for the release of the android device KEYone, and although I’m skeptical they can get a foothold at that price point, it will be interesting to see how blackberry fairs given the company has been so on the brink. New manufacturer TCL is the license holder for Alcatel and they have had decent success with some great smart phones.
Xiaomi is now the most preferred smart phone in India, a market they were trying to capture.

 

Best 10 Android Games for Tablets

Whilst on a smaller device like a phone you might want casual games that are relatively simple, sometimes on a tablet you want that little bit extra. Here’s ten solid Android games for Tablets.

1. This War of Mine

Games for Android Tablets

This isn’t your typical game. It’s critically acclaimed game play is based around a group of besieged adults and children coping with basic matters of life. It’s harrowing atmosphere and beautiful illustration style graphics are definitely best enjoyed on a tablet.

2. Limbo

Limbo is beautiful on a big screen

This beautiful platform puzzler plays better on a tablet than a phone. It’s probably one of the most well received Android games there is. Play the demo here.

3. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition

A Tablet is a must for this Android game

Here’s a great game that really doesn’t play well unless you have a big screen. It’s terrible on a smartphone. This is regarded as THE singular best CRPG of all time. Period. It’s got compelling storylines, interesting NPC characters, and is well beyond the depth you find in most Android RPGs. It’s a must play.

4. Star Wars: Knights of the Old republic

Star Wars is far too immersive not to play on a Tablet

One of the most highly regarded 3D third person RPGs in history. This is an engaging story and some truly difficult battles at the end. Like Baldur’s Gate EE, I played the heck out of this game. It’s also like a whole new take on the Star Wars Franchise.

5. GTA: San Andreas

One of the Best Android Games there is

Like many of the others here, far too decent looking, and deep in game play to be played on a phone. The Classic GTA third person sandbox shooter/driver, that is still very popular on all platforms. I like to ride motorbikes off cliffs. What about you?

6. The Room 3

The original Android puzzler

Essentially an “escape the room” puzzler, these beautiful games really do engage the brain, and look stunning on a tablet. Packed with logic puzzles, riddles, hidden objects -you’ll be captivated by the room series.

7. XCOM: Enemy Within

The game is not really playable without a Tablet

Like a lot of great games on Android, this one is a Windows port. It doesn’t play too well on a phone, but plays great on a tablet. Hours of strategic RPG combat game play fun are to be had with this AAA title.

Bard’s Tale

The Windows port is serious fun.

It’s a classic third person top down RPG, with a dash of humour. It’s deep story wise, nice looking, and has console like touch controls. If you’ve played a lot of RPGs you’ll find this RPG fantasy satire especially amusing.

9. Leo’s Fortune

Leo's Fortune is one of the best platformers on Android or Windows

Okay so maybe you don’t want intensely engaging all the time? Leo’s fortune is an attractive puzzle platformer that is a delightful time waster. And why waste graphics like this on a smartphone?

 10. Machinarium

This game will reall fustrate on a small screem. Play it on a tablet, you'll be much happier

This beautiful hand rendered puzzler will engage you with its puzzles and its unique atmosphere. Its modelled after the old “point and click” genre, although that doesn’t really fit with a touch screen 😛 The game is very intricate, and visual and it is perfect for a tablet.

 

Top Five Android Apps for New Zealanders

Beaitful New Zealand

Kiwi? Planning on heading outdoors? Here’s some lesser known apps that will enhance your trip.

1. CamperMate

Amazing app that details all sorts of local detail about places across NZ. If you’re planning a road trip or going camping this gives you the locations of supermarkets, toilets, free Wi-Fi, campgrounds, hostels and more. A lot of data here!

2. NZ Tides

Very bare bones, but all the info you need for swimming, fishing, and boating along our beautiful coastline in terms of accurate tide times.

3. NZ’s Great Walks

Covers a great deal of detail about the larger walks across NZ. Doesn’t cover all the little tracks. But for the big ones, there’s plenty of details on routes, history and so on. Very well put together app.

4. SwellMap

Bit of a clunky interface but gives great swell information for surfers across NZ. 7 day forecasts based on the latest info.

5. MetService Snow Weather

There are a few of these MetService apps so I won’t link them all. The Snow weather app gives you 7 day forecasts of all NZ’s ski fields.