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Cortana is Window’s Phone’s Hero Feature!
Cortana, unlike Siri and Google Now, due to the runaway success and current pop culture appeal of the Halo franchise of which “she” is a part, is a smartphone feature with the potential ability to be the selling point for millions of devices!

Cortana: “Her Story Continues With You” – Prelude

Halo’s Cortana is the popular AI Assistant to Master Chief from the highly successful Halo gaming franchise which is set 500 years in the future. This franchise spans 15 years, several games, novels, collectible’s, digital films and an upcoming Show Time TV series produced by Stephen Spielberg.

Cortana couple 2

My wife and I sporting our Cortana T-Shirts. Microsoft’s Cortana has a pop culture identity, unlike Siri and Google, that transcends the Windows Phone platform of which “she” is currently a part. When is the last time you saw a Siri or Google Now T-Shirt?

My cortanaI wrote  an earlier piece called “The “Halo Effect” – Halo Destiny: Cortana, Her Story Continues With You” – in which I share how Cortana’s back story as part of a HIGHLY popular video game franchise that spans nearly 15 years, which has spawned several sequels, a number of novels by best selling authors, collectibles, web-based films, a professional digital series to be released this Fall with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a ShowTime TV Show called simply Halo: The TV Show produced by Stephen Spielberg and yet another sequel in the franchise, Halo 5, makes the “character”, Cortana, a pop culture icon.

    Halo TV Series Announcement  

“She’s” very popular boasting 10s of millions of Halo fans, as a result of her position as an essential assistant in the very involved Halo games. Beyond the games she is part of the enduring works released to the general culture through novels, collectibles and media as well as the soon to debut 2015 ShowTime TV series. No other digital assistant has that degree of pop culture identity independent of the platform of which it is a part.

Microsoft has an incredible hero feature with Cortana which has not only proven to be popular but with her Bing and neural network based foundations she has proven to be, within the 3 months since her debut as a beta via the Developers Preview, a very capable and useful assistant with capabilities surpassing her”older” rivals. People based reminders, where a reminder can be generated specific to an individual are unique to Cortana and the Windows Phone OS of which she is a part. This function of course is in addition to the standard and useful time and location based reminders. Her neural network base which enables her to learn and to offer proactive information sets her well ahead of Siri(Apple has recently invested in neural network technology). Her predictive tech capabilities put her in league with GoogleNow. Yet the addition of her very personal “personality” and the privacy controlling Notebook function sets her ahead of even Google’s capable assistant.

The fact that she will be on EVERY Windows Phone 8 device, because Windows Phone 8 is optimized for low end hardware, gives her a ubiquity her rivals can’t replicate to this point. Yes, Cortana can sell phones. Microsoft just needs to tell the story.


The “Halo Effect” – Halo Destiny: Cortana, Her Story Continues With You




The Windows Phone Cortana interface. “She” can be interacted with via Voice OR text unlike Siri and Google now which are restricted to voice interaction.



‘Twas the night before //Build/ and and all in thier beds, Microsoft fans eye’s were turned toward the web, Awaiting announcements, and great, big reveals, concerning Window’s Phone, XBox and things that might steal/ the show you know like Cortana and things – Like Microsoft’s platform for the Internet of Things, it looks to be good, it looks to be grand, especially since 8.1 will soon be in hand, April 10th, can’t wait ’till it hit’s the scene, but ’til then, hit a link and lets watch the live stream!

Well here we are folks. It is now only hours before Microsoft takes the wraps off of some of those tantalizing goodies users have been eagerly anticipating. //Build/, Microsofts Developers Conference, has become a forum where not only eager Microsoft developers wait with bated breath for the Redmond companies new and exciting developers tools, but also the stage to which millions of Microsoft, Windows, XBox and those ever faithful, persistently diligent Windows Phone enthusiasts, look for revelations regarding major developments and innovation regarding thier beloved platforms.

Build 2014 is surrounded with a special air of excitement because it is here where the vast overhaul to Microsoft’s innovative, Live Tile based, unique mobile UI, Windows Phone, will yield the floor to it’s vastly improved, feature rich, competitive and robust worthy successor Windows Phone 8.1. The incremental “.1” vastly understates the enormous leap forward Microsoft has made with this OS in regards to the modifications, improvements and added features. After viewing the deluge of leaked features, screenshot and videos since the release of the SDK several weeks ago, Windows Phone 9 seems a more fitting label. Check out my post Windows Phone 8.1- Building Toward Build for more details on those leaks.

Yes we are all excited about what Microsoft has to share regarding Windows Phone 8.1. Indeed Cortana’s debut can’t come too soon. Yet let us not forget that Microsoft’s Build Developers Conference is the companies platform to introduce a myriad of tools reflective of the companies broad strategy to offer services and solutions across a wide array of areas that advances Microsoft’s platform within the industry. It’s worth noting for all of the Windows Phones fans out there, that though many of the workshops are not directly associated with Windows Phone (indeed some are), they are addressing the larger ecosystem in which Windows Phone exists. Under the One Microsoft vision, cohesion and coordinated development across the various disciplines is critical to Microsoft’s continued success, growth and innovation in this dynamic and ever shifting industry.

Take a look at the following list of workshops those fortunate developers, news folk and enthusiasts who will be attending will get to partake in. Can you see how these developers workshops are bringing Microsoft technologies and devices and services together? How do you think Windows Phone fit’s into Microsoft’s larger vision? Do you have any concerns that Microsoft’s direction or efforts may not be enough to keep the company competitive in the face of other tech giants like Apple, Google and Samsung?

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share your observations in comments.

Also, don’t miss the live stream here!

BUILD 2014 Workshops
The Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA April 2 – 4, 2014

“Developers can create new experiences to reach hundreds of millions of devices on people’s desks, in their pockets and in their living rooms are only a click away. Join us at Build for an unprecedented learning opportunity for developers building on the Microsoft platform.”






Who says that lighting doesn’t strike twice? Well today Microsoft proves such naysayers wrong by launching their second store in the state of CT.  Adding to their already established Danbury, CT store the Redmond based company has grown it’s approximately year old kiosk that previously occupied the lower level of the Westfarms Mall in Famington, CT into a full fledged, gadget filled sibling to it’s older Danbury based brother. The familiar monitor lined walls surround customers as they peruse all of Microsoft’s latest Windows powered laptops, hybrids, tablets, XBoxes and Windows Phones(which will be receiving a massive OS update this Spring). I stopped by the Grand Opening Event today to snag some pictures and videos. The store was packed, the energy high, the staff upbeat and engaging and the customers….well check out some of the pics and vids for yourselves.



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The Experience

The store looks great and the staff seem genuinely excited about their new digs. They were actually also advertising another huge event coming up on March 10th, 2014. The store will be hosting a midnight extravaganza for the highly anticipated XBOX title Titanfall.  If you’re in the area and want some more of that Microsoft goodness I’m sure you will be welcomed with open arms. You might even walk away with an unexpected goody or two.

Location, Location, Location
Microsoft has planted two feet firmly in CT with these two locations one on the westward end toward NY and now this Farmington location located snug against the state’s capital toward the middle of the state.

This new location, due to it’s central positioning in the state will make Microsoft’s wares more accessible to the denizens of the state hailing from every corner. Granted some will have a greater haul than others but it certainly beats traversing the length of the state while looking to satisfy ones Windows Phone or Surface thirst. One must also venture to think that Microsoft’s deliberate choice of a location so nigh the states central government and business hub, Hartford, our states capital is laden with some deeper strategic motives.

An ability to influence, via their community outreach positions(a recent job post), schools and businesses as well as government establishments, I am certain is a key strategy to this stores location. Making the surrounding community aware of what the company offers and the benefits it’s tools add to various establishments and business entities are components of that recent job post.

Additionally Connecticut is home to some of America’s most affluent citizens making our humble little state one of the richest in the union. Microsoft is wise to dangle thier colorful, yet powerful gadgets before a populace able to afford thier higher end products as they continue to drive costs down through innovation, partnerships and business decisions such as thier lowering of licensing fees, that make more and more of thier devices more competitive on the lower end where Android thrives.

Look at Me Now

This launch was huge. People waited in extensive lines  sleeping over night to be part of the extravaganza. The company commendared the entire face of the entrance to the Mall claiming this territory as their own.  My excitement was so high, the pomp so splendid, that it was like driving up to an amusement park. Microsoft, once a stodgy old business entity has been mocked by Apple in commercials which quite frankly, more than Microsoft might want to admit, did accurately reflect what Microsoft used to look like.

The images above in which one can behold a splash of vibrant colors adorning Microsoft staff and merchandise, loud music (though not my flavor) that excites staff and customers; and walls composed of a cascade of television monitors that are alive with dynamic images of Microsoft’s products and services are the new image of Microsoft. This is the image that the Redmond company is extending to the masses reaching for the hearts and minds of the consumers.

Make no mistake, Microsoft is still fully committed to it’s core strength, the enterprise, but the devices and services giant realizes that with the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend that is influencing IT,  that the devices that consumers choose to buy for themselves are becoming the devices that they are also using for work. The consumer space is where giants like Apple, Samsung and Google have had greatest success and through which they are making inroads on Microsoft’s turf, the enterprise. The consumer space is also how these Microsoft competitors have established themselves as the market leaders in the mobile arena. Yes they are titans. But with launches like today’s launch of the Farmington Store here in CT, the message from Microsoft is clear. The gauntlet is thrown. I think they are ready to see some Titans fall.

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In the beginning, no sorry not that far back. Beginning around (3)three weeks ago (that’s more like it) the web was inundated with persistent coverage of Windows Phone 8.1 courtesy of leakers who were given the privilege to take the 8.1 SDK for a spin.

Things have died down a bit, what with MWC, the Nokia X announcement, Samsung’s debut of the Galaxy S5, Gear 2 and Neo(using Tizen nonetheless) and thier surprise offering of what will likely be quite affordable fit bands.

There’s plenty of news out there covering the competition as expected. Microsoft’s release of the SDK, two months before their April debut of Windows Phone 8.1 update, was likely intended to preempt the conversation, whet our appetites if you will, before all of the MWC stuff started rolling out.

I think it worked. The list of features included in the SDK that we have had the opportunity to see is extensive. Even still, I think we are all left with the sense that it’s not over. Like all good performances we have been left wanting more. And by pre-empting the conversation, giving us just enough to get excited about, enough to have confidence in what Microsoft is bringing to the table, yet withholding just enough to keep us looking toward Microsoft, building our anticipation for Build, Microsoft has played it smart.

What else might Microsoft have up thier sleeves? Will the full reveal of Cortana be the showstopper?What are you hoping to see? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Before you head off to comments please first peruse this perfectly plump power packed list of phone perfecting features provided by those hardworking Windows Phone fans over at WPCentral. Yeah they did the foot work compiling this list. Check it it out, and don’t forget to hit the comments with what you may still be hoping to see revealed at BUILD come April. Me, I’m hoping Cortana is a grand slam!

Brace yourselves because this list is packed.



Action Center
•Notification center – Alerts, non-Toast notifications, update history, more
•Quick-access to customized actions, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Plane mode, etc.


Consumer features
•20 Notifications per app
•Persistent notifications for 7 days (or shorter)
•Users can “chase” (tap) a notification
•Users can remove a notification
•Users can remove a group of notifications
•Users can remove all notifications
•Action Center is only available on phones

Action Center Management APIs
•Manage app notifications
•Developers can remove one or many notifications
•Developers can tag and group notifications
•Developers can replace a notification with a new one
•Developers can set an expiration on notifications
•Developers can send “Ghost Toast” notifications

Apps + Store
•Apps can capture audio/video from themselves; be limited for copyright concerns
•App and Game data stored on SD cards
•Apps on SD Cards are only allowed from ONE originating phone. If it detects that apps from another phone are installed on the SD Card, then it will ask to delete those first
•App Suggestions by location
•Backup of App + Game data to OneDrive (if developer enabled)
•Facebook app comes with OS, updates independently, hooks into OS
•Filter through installed apps by usage/install date
•Manual Update checks
•Option to update store apps automatically
•Option to update store apps when only on Wi-Fi
•Single sign-in for apps (like on Windows 8) with Microsoft Account; sign in will persist across devices + apps with permissions prompt

•Google calendar support, with multiple calendars
•Weather in calendar
•Week view in calendar

(Keep going there’s more.)

•Burst camera mode, including auto-deletion of bursts
•New layout

•Bing smart search (similar search system as Windows 8.1)
•Podcast app powered by Bing, full featured

•Internet Explorer 11
•IE 11 to save and remember your password for websites
•JavaScript and HTML for app development
•Upload files through Internet Explorer 11
•Tabs now show up individually in multi-task window
•WebGL and Normal mapping support
•YouTube Player including HTML5 video support

(Still going.)

•Background tasks: Bluetooth signal strength, Chat message notification, Device connection change, Device use trigger, Gatt characteristic notification, Location, Push notification, Rfcomm connection, System event, Timer
•XAP replaced by APPX
•​​Audio/video transcoding that’s hardware accelerated
•New dev tools including: SemanticZoom, DatePicker, TimePicker
•Actionable notifications for apps
•Silent/ghost notifications for apps

•Encrypted and signed e-mail support
•New Email sync options with accordance to usage patterns (i.e. If you get a lot of mail on particular days and if you don’t check mail every day).
•Option to always download emails and pictures within them

(Still hanging in there?)

Enterprise and Office
•Enterprise enrolled phones can have their passwords changed and remotely locked
•Password protected Office document support
•Office Lens support for scanning documents with camera, import into Office with OCR
•Rebranding of SkyDrive to OneDrive
•VPN support built in
•S/MIME to sign and encrypt email
•Access to corporate resources behind the firewall with app aware
•Auto-triggered VPN
•Certificate management to enroll, update and revoke certificates for user authentication
•Enhanced MDM policies to lock down functionality on the phone for more enterprise control, in addition to richer application management such as allowing or denying the installing of certain apps.
•Enterprise Wi-Fi support with EAP-TLS

General User Experience Changes
•Start screen backgrounds
•Back button no longer closes apps, instead it suspends them
•Double-Tap to unlock your phone (Feature from Lumia devices on Amber Update and newer)
•Double Tap to Power Off
•Favorite photos by tapping a heart icon
•File picker
•Kid’s Corner – Password won’t be displayed (bug fix)
•Live Tiles – mark as red by swiping from the left over the Tile
•Live Tiles – Three column support (maybe)
•Navigation bar for phones without physical keys on the front
•Notification if charger isn’t of adequate power
•Quiet Hours – Disable notifications during pre-selected timeframe
•Screenshot button combination is now Power + Volume Up
•Search button will be the new way to open Speech (aka ‘Cortana’)
•Separate volume controls for ringtones/notifications and music/media
•Set default Voice Navigation app for the OS
•Swipe down to close apps in multitasking view
•Voice Narrator for Accessibility

(Nope…Not there yet!)

•General keyboard enhancements, show emoji when typing
•Swipe keyboard option – “Write, when I swipe through letters”.

•Audio/video transcoding, Hardware accelerated
•Media editing:  audio and video; Audio effects, video effects; Slow motion video
•Xbox Music and Xbox Video as standalone apps instead of the Music + Video Hub (allowing more updates to be pushed)

•Change default SMS app. You can also change which SMS app will show notifications.
•Mute Thread – Optionally silence text threads, no longer receive notifications or Live Tile updates

(I told you it was packed!)

Phone + Contacts
•Contact list sorting of those with phone numbers
•Call duration (press and hold reveals a “details” menu in call history)
•In-call speech commands. You’ll be able to say “Call XXXXXX”.
•Inner Circle of contacts. Up to 40 contacts can be in the inner circle.
•Operators can also install certain applications once a SIM card is detected

•Battery Power Sense – App to monitor which apps draw the most power
•Battery Saver (under Battery Sense) will have an app exclusion list
•Data Sense – Operators can now control Data Sense limits remotely
•Wi-Fi Sense – Sharing secured WI-Fi Networks with contacts if they have Wi-Fi Sense. They don’t get to see the shared password though
•Wi-Fi can auto re-enable after a set duration of time
•Wi-Fi Direct


•Bluetooth 4.0 LE
•Chkdsk for SD cards to ensure card health
•Geofence monitoring support. Geofence is a boundary around a place of interest to you. Location services can monitor geofences to tell your apps when you’re entering and leaving them. This would be really good for IFTTT
•Miracast, PlayTo, mirror and project via wireless display or USB-out
•Mouse and keyboard support (HID)
•Stereoscopic 3D support
•The phone will have to update to the latest version before you can restore it to factory settings
•Trusted app list for NFC that will remove the need for asking whether you want to open a particular app
•Virtual SmartCard support
•Wallet supports tickets and membership cards
•Windows Phone 8.1 apps won’t run on 8.0 devices until they upgrade

Wheew…Yeah that’s a lot. Give us your feedback.

This is just a quick post to gauge the feelings of the Windows Phone Community regarding certain changes that may be coming to Windows Phone in the 8.1 overhaul. I must first state that I am very excited about the vast majority of the updates, modifications and additions that have thus far been leaked. The scope and breadth of what Microsoft is bringing to the platform is both welcome and impressive. By this time we have all peeped the leaks so I need not enumerate them here. But a few mentions such as the Notification/ Action Center, SD Card app install, camera improvements like burst mode, file manager via OneDrive, more efficient app arrangement in the app list are just a small fraction of the deluge of improvements Microsoft is bringing to the table. The list literally goes on and on. The additions we’ve seen to the platform thus far are tremendous; and there’s more yet to be seen. I am eagerly awaiting those updates that have yet to be announced. And we have yet to meet Cortana! You can rest assured that I will be updating at least one of my devices as soon as the update is released via the developers preview.

With all this said I must also share my area’s of disappointment with what has been shared regarding the WP 8.1 update. Granted we have yet to see the final release but some upcoming potential changes, from my perspective, look disappointing.

Social Network Integration

I am very disappointed with the disintegration of what I see as features that define the Windows Phone identity. Deep Facebook integration in the Peoples Hub, multi-share abilities, Social network photos integration in the Photos Hub, and FB Chat integration are some examples of what may be lost in this comprehensive and impressive update. Many of these features were used by Microsoft themselves to market the Windows Phone platform. Ben the PC Guys’ Window Phone Challenges come to mind. I myself personally used these distinctive features to promote the platform. I wonder how many in the Windows Phone community have also embraced these features as distinctively Windows Phone and found them identifying and useful features of the platform.

A Letter To Microsoft
“I am a big Windows Phone and Microsoft fan/enthusiast. I currently utilize both the Lumia 1020 and 1520. I utilize social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as my personal blog to promote Windows Phone and MS products almost daily. The social network integration of WP has been one of my favorite features; one I use daily(People Hub FB integration and sharing posts to multiple social networks via the ME tile for example). The social network aspects are features I demo most to others as a means to promote the OS. I have been successful in influencing 9 people within my immediate circle of friends and family to buy a Windows Phone. I am looking forward to WP8.1 and am excited about the many additions coming to the platform. I must admit however that I am very disappointed that some of my most used, most touted, and differentiating features in regards to social network integration are apparently being removed. I feel that though the update is bringing a massive improvement to the OS a unique part of the identity of the Windows Phone OS is being lost, and that in losing the deep social network integration and sharing capabilities it is becoming more like iOS and Android in it’s app dependence where once the OS comprehensively handled social networking. That’s not to say a separate app has no place, but in line with Microsoft’s glance and go, and ease of use Windows Phone message, the ability to do many functions via OS level integration(i.e. post to a FB wall in People Hub, comment on/view status updates, /comment on pictures uploaded, FB chat, update multiple statuses simultaneously) is what made Windows Phone different, and in my humble opinion better than iOS and Android. There is no need to jump in and out of apps to do certain things. If Microsoft can hear the voice of a user. Please hear my voice. Windows Phone is awesome. I tell people this almost daily. People often know what I’m going to talk about at some point during a gathering. Or post about on FB and Twitter. Windows Phone! Please know that we the users know that you have created an awesome product that stands out from the competition. I ask that you not, if at all possible, allow Windows Phone to lose it’s distinction regarding social network integration as you make awesome even better. Thank You  JLWard”

What Do You Think?

I applaud Microsoft and the Windows Phone Team for making the best mobile platform even better.
I know we have yet to see what the final version will be and our(my) response may be premature. But it does seem clear that the writing is on the wall regarding some core functionality of the Windows Phone experience. What do you guys think? Should we, (those that have supported and promoted Microsoft’s mobile vision), share with Microsoft and the Windows Phone Team (who have done a great job with this update) how important we feel core features that have made Windows Phone distinct are to the users of the platform? Sound off in comments.