Plenty to like in Project Spartan

Project Spartan

Will Microsoft’s Internet Explorer see the sunset later this year?

It’s certainly not my browser of choice. Indeed, I don’t use it at all, preferring Google Chrome on the desktop and mobile and, lately, experimenting with Vivaldi, an impressive new browser that’s based on Google Chromium code.

Since it first appeared in 1995, Internet Explorer has come with the Windows operating system. Unless you manually install an alternative, that’s what you end up with. In Europe until recently, Microsoft was forced by EU law to offer users across the EU a choice of browser on first running Windows.

All this may become just a Windows-and-browser history footnote with Windows 10 – the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, successor to Windows 8.1, and currently in pre-release public beta – and Project Spartan, a new browser that will come with the new OS and will be the successor to Internet Explorer.

Currently, you can only get Spartan if you’re a member of the Windows Insider testing programme and install the latest build 10049 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview (as the test version is known), released to testers last week.

I’ve been part of the Insider programme for the past six months or so, and was able to install build 10049 this weekend and so get a glimpse of Spartan.

First impressions are always key:

  • Pleasing interface, a very attractive contemporary look to it.
  • Write or type notes directly on a web page, and optionally save them. If you use Spartan on a tablet or other device with a touch screen (and stylus) you write; on a non-touch-screen device – like the Dell desktop PC I’m running Windows 10 on in its own disk partition – you type.
  • Save web pages to a reading list, not just as the traditional favourites bookmarks: a different content organization (and sharing) method.
  • It loads fast and gets content from the web fast. Probably depends on internet connectivity speed for some of that.
  • Impressively quick search-term prediction functionality with the Bing search engine. If this is consistently fast and accurate – getting you what you want and quickly – then I would very likely use it more, maybe even instead of Google search.
  • A reading view sans all the clutter of menu bars, etc. Think of the Kindle.
  • Ask Cortana, voice-activated spoken search. Haven’t tried that yet.

And there’s more, too, that I haven’t looked at yet either. Experimentation to come.

For a beta software product, it’s very advanced and polished, much like the Windows 10 Preview itself.

It’s not entirely ready yet, though, as I discovered when I tried to visit my Google+ page in Spartan.

"Your browser is no longer supported"

At least it gave me an opportunity to try out the Web Note functionality by typing a note directly on the web page as you can see.

I imagine such errors will be addressed before too long. Or that Google does read the memo.

In summary, I think Spartan resets the bar for a contemporary web browser that works well across all platforms, ie, desktop and mobile, and gives you a great experience. But others such as Vivaldi are challenging that bar, not to mention what we’ll no doubt see in upcoming versions of Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It’s no guarantee that Spartan will be the browser of choice for a Windows 10 user. Not to mention users in enterprises where Internet Explorer is the king of the common standard imposed on users.

Still, if you are trying out Windows 10, you’ll like Spartan. But will you love it?

Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch – some initial impressions

Samsung Gear 2 Neo home screenLast month, I bought a Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch. It’s been on my wrist every day over the past few weeks, replacing my usual traditional watch that tells the time and shows me the date.

Of course, a digital smartwatch can do a lot more than just that, one of the reasons why people buy them.

You want to check your heartbeat? Count how many steps you take walking, or running or hiking? Track your sleeping time? The Gear 2 Neo does all of that and more. I’d argue, though, that dedicated fitness devices such as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up do that much better and in greater depth – that’s what they do.

So if such health-focused activity-tracking uses are of primary importance to you, a smartwatch like the Gear 2 wouldn’t be your best choice.

But if you want to do things such as receive notifications of messages from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer and more; receive texts from your contacts on WhatsApp, Hangouts or via standard SMS; get reminders from your calendar on upcoming appointments; read email from your Gmail or corporate email accounts; or receive (and make) phone calls from your wrist, then a Gear 2 Neo might be right up your street.

And, as I use a Samsung smartphone – a Galaxy S4 at the moment – the fact that this smartwatch is geared  to work seamlessly with 17 supported Samsung smartphone models including the S4 was a big selling point.

So that’s what I want today from a smartwatch.

All of the above was the primary reason why I went for a Gear 2 Neo rather than any other comparable smartwatch currently on the market, many of which will also do some or all these things with other brands of smartphones: iPhones as well as Android-based devices.

In my view, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo is at the most favourable price point for what you get with your device, better than anything comparable I looked at.

You use a Gear 2 Neo in conjunction with your Samsung smartphone and the Gear Manager app you install on your phone. The first thing you do is pair your two devices via Bluetooth, and you’re set – from that point on you’ll get all the notifications you want on your Neo, from any of your installed apps, once you’ve set them up with the Gear Manager on your smartphone.

Samsung Gear ManagerManage Notifications

As long as your two devices are within range of each other, you won’t need to whip out your phone just to see a notification. It’s a very handy feature, possibly more so than you first realize.

One thing I find really appealing are the extensive ways in which you can customize your Gear 2 Neo, from the obvious and visual (wallpapers or coloured backgrounds) to the useful (watch styles and faces), and a great deal more, from how you’re notified and by which apps, to privacy locking and finding your Neo using your smartphone.

WallpapersClocks

I’ve experimented a bit with the aesthetics! At the moment, my Neo screen has a November the fifth effect as the wallpaper. I expect to change that in the next week or so, once I’ve found a good alternative (a good resource for Gear 2 wallpapers is Tizen Experts website).

I’m only scratching the surface of the Gear 2 Neo at the moment, not yet having explored in depth the apps that come with the device – some of which are tuned to Samsung smartphones, eg, S Voice and Voice Memo – never mind what’s in the Samsung App Store. And there is a surprisingly large quantity of apps in that store.

All that’s yet to come. Meanwhile, a handful of quick impressions:

  • Battery life is excellent in my experience, at least two days between charges, sometimes three days. Much depends on how you use it, of course, but this is my experience by and large. Only once did I use up all the juice in one day when I was doing a huge amount with the device including making and receiving quite a few phone calls and playing around with the various screens and options. But for typical usage, I’d say you can expect about two days on a single battery charge.
  • The way you charge the battery is via a little clip-on charge pack that fits on the back of the device. It’s small and very light = very easy to lose; I’m taking special note of where I put it. You can’t just plug your device in to a power source as you do with your smartphone – the only way to connect a USB cable is via the clip-on pack, and it’s the only way to charge your Neo.
  • The huge battery hit is on your paired smartphone because of the Bluetooth connectivity. In a typical day, I need to charge the phone during the day and again at the end of the day (where, usually, it’s only once at the end of the day when I charge it). Much depends on what you use your smartphone for and how you use it, as well as how long or how frequently you connect to your Neo via Bluetooth. Being permanently connected, with Bluetooth running all the time, is a nice convenience but maybe not really essential. So short battery life isn’t a device issue, it’s a battery issue – and extending battery life is undoubtedly one of the next key development frontiers to cross with battery technologies for mobile and wearable devices.
  • Usability as a device paired with a Samsung smartphone is excellent where the two devices work hand in glove, pretty seamlessly from my experience so far. If you think about how you use a smartphone where some of your time is spent just looking at it to see notifications, with limited interactions, then a smartwatch surely is a more convenient way to do that especially in some situations, eg, in a meeting, on a bus or train, etc, where a gentle vibration alerts you that a notification is coming, and you can give a discreet glance at your wrist.
  • The Gear 2 range including the Neo run the Tizen operating system, not Android. From my experience, that’s not an issue at all as Linux-based Tizen is actively supported by many mainstream manufacturers (including Samsung) and has a growing developer environment with more apps coming all the time, with plenty of incentives for developers.

The smartwatch market is getting most interesting now. Samsung just launched its Gear S in the US, an advanced-level smartwatch and health/fitness tracker with built-in cellular communications functionality – no paired smartphone required; Apple’s much-anticipated Apple Watch is reportedly coming in Spring 2015; more devices within Google’s Android Wear framework are coming soon; and news keeps popping up of more brands releasing their own smartwatches.

There are also developments with useful things you can do with your smartwatch. For instance, I look forward to flying with an airline where I can show my boarding pass on my Gear 2 Neo, as you can do with Iberia – far easier than grappling with a bit of paper or a smartphone along with all your hand baggage when you board.

And in the workplace, think how useful it would be to get notifications of events from your ERP system, such as the working proof of concept from enterprise software vendor IFS (a client) that they developed to deliver notifications from their IFS Applications software to the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

This is just the start. So I’m happy to be in a good place to learn right now with a Gear 2 Neo.

More possibilities with extended-time live video from Google+

Live Hangouts On Air

Wow – now you can do a Google Hangout On Air (a live video broadcast) for up to 8 hours!

That’s a huge amount of additional time from the previous 1-hour-maximum you had. And remember: up to 8 hours means just that – you don’t have to do 8 whole hours.

Oh what possibilities! Here are just 4:

  1. A live idea-a-thon to flesh out thinking and ideas for brand engagement via live participation with brand owners, customers and fans on the social web.
  2. Live segments over a set period with different people talking about different aspects of a topic.
  3. Live broadcast everything in a one-day conference or other event.
  4. Be very creative and experiment with your movie idea via “live TV over the web”.

Plus you get a recording of everything you do that gets published on your YouTube channel, and which you can edit.

How can you see opportunities?

Reshared post from +Tom Batkin

8 hours Rolled out!

You will see a Notification box above the start broadcast button in the green room

Hopefully you will not look as serious as I do in this selfie…..Note to self , smile next time

Big thanks to +Dawn R Nocera for letting me know where the notification was located

#hangouts   #hangoutsonair   #TheYearOfThePlus

cc +Ronnie Bincer ?

(Via Krishna De)

Is a (search) picture worth a thousand words?

Jelly questionI’ve been having some fun this morning with Jelly.

Jelly is a new mobile search service announced yesterday that works via apps for Android and iOS. The company was co-founded by Biz Stone, one of the original founders of Twitter.

So what is Jelly?

In a nutshell, it’s an app you use to ask a question about something, such as the one about Starbucks mugs you see in the screenshot, where you show a photo of a mug you take with your phone’s camera.

You ask the question of those in your social networks – the app currently lets you sync with Twitter or Facebook – and anyone who sees the question can offer an answer. You can quickly give thanks to those who answer, and share the Q&A publicly on the web via Twitter or Facebook.

Jelly: answer

The app has some simple editing capabilities for the photos you take: you can crop them, for instance, or add lines and circles with your finger to emphasise or highlight an aspect of your image.

Jelly has certainly captured some imaginations if my experience earlier today is any indicator. Once I’d installed the app, synced it with Twitter, and asked my first question, interactions started happening at quite a pace as these reduced-size screenshots from my Galaxy S4 suggest.

Jelly - questionJelly - answers

It reminds me a bit of Quora, the text-based Q&A service on the web where you ask questions and get replies from the crowd. Jelly is mobile and uses pictures.

The service has just gone public and the Android app I used is clearly a version 1 in terms of features and what you can do with it. The questions come as a firehose – I can see no means right now of filtering who you can see, something I would imagine would come in a later version, along with other features, based on user feedback.

The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is quite apt for Jelly. Snap a pic on your phone, add a short question, and hit ‘send.’ No need for a thousand words!

There are so many instances of a question forming in your mind where typing it out often isn’t easy (or even practical tapping on the screen of a mobile device) as you’re not quite sure what the actual question is. Showing a picture makes it very easy to frame the question.

Take my example of the USB connector I mentioned earlier – far easier to show a photo of it and ask what it is then to try and describe the connector and ask what it is.

Imagine the possibilities also for business. For instance, a visual gallery about a product showing common questions with the answers provided by users, fans, anyone who has an answer. Hashtags will be key here. I imagine things like an API will come to enable more sharing opportunities of the content resulting from all those photo Q&As.

I think Jelly is a neat offering and I’ll continue experimenting with it. Try it and see for yourself what Jelly is all about.

(Via TechCrunch)

Get used to “Ok Google”

sayokgoogle

Earlier this year, Google announced a new feature for search – conduct a search with your voice in the Chrome browser.

To conduct a conversational search, you’d fire up Google Search; if you saw a little microphone symbol in the search box, you could click on it to activate the function, and then speak your search phrase in conversational English (or any of the other supported languages).

When I tried it in May, I thought it was a bold step by Google in making everything easier in how you interact with your computer for conducting a routine task like a search.

Google has now taken this to another level by doing away with the need to click anything – now, you just talk – via an extension for Chrome called Google Voice Hotword that works on Chrome versions for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Once you’ve installed it, you’ll be able to do everything re your search just by speaking – without clicking anything. All you do is give the extension permission to use your microphone. You do that once only. And you can revoke permission any time you want to.

How easy is it to do a Google Voice search? Take a look:

At the moment, this cool feature works only on google.com not any other geographic search location. I tried it at google.co.uk – no, it didn’t work. And it works only in English for now.

There’s a little more information in Google’s concise announcement on Google+ with a simple video. And here’s another video, one I did earlier: just a straight search for a news story.

Saying “Ok Google” to initiate an action is similar to what you do with Google Glass to record a video, do a search, take a picture, ask a question, etc. With that device, you say “Ok Glass.”

I can see “Ok Google” becoming the default for interacting with Google, via whatever device. It’s much more to do with what you want to do rather than the device you’re using to do it.

And it’s very easy to get used to.

Related posts:

Google Quickoffice just upset the Microsoft Office mobile cart

The news from Google that they have released Quickoffice, their Microsoft Office competitor, for free immediately gave me my headline for this post.

[…] With Quickoffice, you can edit Microsoft® Office documents across your devices, giving you the freedom to work with anyone no matter what hardware or software they’re using. Quickoffice also integrates seamlessly with Google Drive storage so you can safely access your files from anywhere.

Not everyone agrees with my cart metaphor.

On Twitter, for instance, Stuart Bruce says “However, just [the] ability to edit isn’t [the] same as actual Office app. I’ll compare Quickoffice on Android tablet v Office on Surface.”

QuickofficeAgreed, Stuart. But all I really want is the ability to, say, edit a PowerPoint presentation I made on my Windows computer that I’m about to use at an event when all I have is my Android tablet. ‘Edit with confidence’ is the key phrase.

From a quick use-tour of Quickoffice last night on the tablet and an Android smartphone, I have the confidence that a) formatting is good and b) the file I save in Quickoffice still opens fine in PowerPoint itself.

Of course, much will depend on the complexity of the deck, eg, fonts, animations, transitions, etc. Probably a similar risk to opening a PowerPoint deck in Open Office – the simpler the original file, the higher the confidence.

On Google+, James Cridland says, “But I can create and edit files that are readable with Microsoft Office with Google Drive, can’t I? Confusing.”

Agreed, James, a bit. I would expect community clarity on that point soon.

I think Microsoft missed a huge opportunity here to ensure the continuity of their major software platform apart from Windows itself on mobile that is at the heart of the post-PC era.

Imagine if they had developed Microsoft Office for mobile and given it away for free. I’d be right there to grab it as everything I do on the desktop is with Office software. I don’t want to switch to, say, Google Docs; a version of Office that I can use across my mobile devices as well would almost certainly keep me in Microsoft’s camp for years to come.

Quickoffice is available for Android and iOS (don’t expect a version for Windows Phone any time soon) – effectively covering the majority of mobile devices.

And did I mention it’s free?

(First posted on Google+; story via The Next Web)