Sunday, 5 April 2015

Microsoft phones still a pain in the apps

Microsoft once was a heavy-hitter in the mobile phone market. But that was years ago, before phones became smart and Apple and Android conquered the market. Today, Microsoft finds itself on the outside looking in, which is ironic because windows are for looking out.
There’s nothing wrong with the operating software Microsoft has come up with for Windows phones. Windows Phone 8.1 has a nice look and feel to it and is fast. It has its own version of Siri, called Cortana, and integrates well with other Microsoft products through OneDrive, its cloud service.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has fallen so far behind that, if there were a racehorse named Windows Phone, it would be 40 lengths behind coming into the homestretch. According to research firm IDC, Windows phones claimed just 2.7 percent of the mobile market worldwide last year (compared with 81.5 percent for Android and 14.8 for Apple). Moreover, Microsoft lost about half a percent of market share in 2014, despite closing its acquisition of Nokia about a year ago.
The problem for Microsoft is not technology, it’s apps. Or rather, lack of them. The Windows Store resembles a mom-and-pop drugstore after Walmart and Target move into the neighborhood. Want a few really good browsers to choose from? Forget it. Keyboards? No way. And don’t even think about Google Maps or YouTube.
Microsoft is hoping to change the dynamic with Windows 10, due out this year. The operating system supposedly will run on all platforms, regardless of screen size. That means an application developed for Windows PCs also will work on Microsoft tablets and phones — and vice versa.
But how does that help Microsoft? Nobody is writing applications for PCs anymore, and most mobile apps for iOS and Android can run both on tablets and phones. By making its Surface tablets and Windows phones cross-compatible, Microsoft would just be catching up — a move unlikely to dramatically spur further app development for Windows.
Microsoft also is hoping to get other phone makers to adopt Windows 10 so it doesn’t have to rely so heavily on Lumia (the new brand name for Nokia phones). But again, until there are more quality apps, that probably won’t happen.
Q: At the end of this month we are going to France for a week. Is there a cost-effective way to use a Verizon iPhone 5C for driving directions while we’re there?
A: You are so lucky. Starting with the iPhone 5, Verizon left the SIM slots unlocked so the phones can be used internationally. All you need is a prepaid SIM card (your iPhone takes a Nano SIM) from a French wireless carrier. You can wait until you get there and buy one at any wireless store (even at the airport), but the smart move is to get one shipped to you now so that you don’t have to deal with the hassle at the start of your vacation.
Orange, the biggest wireless company in France, offers its Orange Holiday SIM card for $58 (at www.store.orange.com/us). It includes voice and texting time and 1 gigabyte of data — which should suffice, since online GPS mapping services don’t use much data (although GPS is a battery hog). The Orange card also comes with access to Orange Maps, although either Apple Maps or Google Maps may be a better choice.
All that said, it’s easier — and just a little more expensive — to forgo the SIM card and opt instead for GPS in your rental car. Big rental companies charge about $10 a day for in-dash GPS, which includes maps, loads of preset destinations, and turn-by-turn voice navigation in English. Plus, they’ll work in areas where your phone may not get a decent signal.
Q: Whatever happened to the Do Not Call list? I get all kinds of unwanted calls on both my land line and my cell.
A: The Do Not Call Registry, which you can sign up for at www.donotcall.gov, is a joke. The Federal Trade Commission, which administers the registry, states that “Most telemarketers should not call your number once it has been on the registry for 31 days. If they do, you can file a complaint at this website.” I won’t even dignify that with a snide comment.
Your only realistic option is to block offending numbers, but keep in mind that many big direct marketers use multiple phone numbers and/or change them frequently to avoid getting blocked. Also, Do Not Call doesn’t apply to nonprofit organizations or companies with which you’ve done business in the past.