As Samsung recently released the new Galaxy Note 10 premium phone (some versions later than the now infamous Note 7 with battery issues), one prominent new feature may have inadvertently caused a headline during the last week. “Microsoft’s Your Phone App is Down” might have made some readers question, what is Your Phone anyway? (It’s back up now, btw).
Your Phone is a PC and companion iOS or Android app that lets the user of both device sync data and other experiences between them. Initially focussed on photo sharing, it grew to encompass other areas like allowing you to view and reply to text messages on your phone, using the PC’s screen & keyboard instead, thus avoiding any embarrassing auto-correct moments.
The photo sync between phone and PC is more real-time than synching via OneDrive or similar, and it’s a bit more usable for many. But since the May 2019 update to Windows 10, there have been a load of other changes to Your Phone.
It’s possible to share notifications from mobile apps – so you could see Android notifications shown on your PC, too – the goal being that in time, you’d be able to view and respond to them on your computer. If you set it up, do so carefully – you don’t want to be getting notifications on your PC that your phone has sent, for stuff that the PC is already notifying you for… like Outlook, or Teams. Otherwise, you’ll be getting a blizzard of notifications to the point of ignoring them all.
Finally, if you have a Samsung device on the extensive list of currently one, you can share your screen between phone and PC. The plan is, this would allow you to fully operate your phone – including making and taking calls – from your PC, and it’s likely that this will end up growing to other Samsungs and to other manufacturers.
There was a time when nefarious sorts could fire up their mobile in a busy place and send unsolicited messages to any hapless punter not smart enough to switch their own phone to not receive unsolicited Bluetooth connections – a process known as Bluejacking.
Mostly harmless, it was a way of making people take their own phones out of their pocket and look around in a puzzled fashion over what was happening – useful entertainment in a boring theatre or a packed train carriage. Mobile platforms stopped leaving these things on by default – booo – but it’s probably for the best.
Still, the more modern way of dishing out business cards – LinkedIn – has another way to harness the same basic technology for good. ToW #461 discussed the QR-code method of sharing a LinkedIn profile with someone, and it’s a great way of doing it 1:1, by pointing a camera at someone else’s phone to make the connection with them.
But there is another way that is perhaps more useful when dealing with several people at once – a networking meeting with people you don’t know, or a business gathering where you might be communing with several new people at one time. Or a party. If you’re at a pretty sad party.
If you start the LinkedIn app on your phone and tap the My Network icon on the bottom toolbar, you’ll see the Find nearby option, which allows you to see anyone else in the vicinity who has similarly switched on the same feature. On enabling, you may need to turn on Bluetooth and then separately allow the sharing of data, and of the LinkedIn app to use it.
You’ll see a list of who’s in the vicinity and with a single tap, can connect with them on LinkedIn. Make sure you remember to turn it off again, in case you inadvertently show up on some unknown ne’er-do-well’s phone, as the Nearby functionality can continue even when you leave that page.
But it you’re careful, it’s a great way to mutually share contacts with a group of people. See more here.
Optical Character Recognition is one of those technologies which has gone from being just-about-possible at great expense and hassle, to so mainstream that people just assume it will work flawlessly, all in a relatively few years. Numerous companies offer OCR services or addins to line-of-business systems which help to prepare printed data for easier consumption – scanning invoices for example.
Consumers tend to use OCR in other ways; combined with language translation, you can point your phone at a foreign menu or sign and it may be able to help you understand. In OneNote, if you have captured an image (maybe through the clipper addin from your browser), then it can extract the text from that picture – not always perfectly, and not necessarily well-formatted, but it’s probably quicker than re-typing everything.
A recent addition to the iOS version of Excel is the ability to scan a table of printed data and use OCR plus a bit of tweaking, to import the data into the spreadsheet. See more here. The same functionality was first made available on Android a couple of months earlier …
Start with the grid capture icon on the toolbar of a new spreadsheet, and then use the camera to highlight the area of a document that you’re interested in – the UI will be familiar to anyone who uses Office Lens, as the same anti-skewing technology is used to prepare the “document” for importing.
Then the OCR goes to work and tries to lay out the data as closely as possible to its source – obviously, your accuracy will be improved by having a well-lit and clear original document, and you’ll get to tweak the contents in context of seeing the OCR’d data and the scan at the same time, before committing to insert it.
Edinburghers will know of the term, “Gardyloo” – perhaps a corruption of a French warning that “water” was about to need avoiding, like dodging the gutters in Blackadder. As well as regarding the loos, it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure your source of news is clean and fresh. Not fake.
A startup called NewsGuard hit the, er, news recently, after launching a service that uses real journalists to assesses sources of news, and scores them on various criteria on how they source, handle and attribute the stories they report.
The Mobile version of Edge browser was updated in January 2019, to include the NewsGuard plugin (though it wasn’t enabled by default), and at the time it was widely reported that their vetting had decided the UK’s Daily Mail, a popular newspaper and at one time the largest newspaper website in the world, was not to be trusted. (Screenshots above & right were taken on 24 Jan 2019).
More people probably read about the warning that was gleefully propagated by the Mail’s competitors, than there are actual users of the Edge mobile browser itself (if you use Edge on your PC, give it a try on your phone – it’s really rather good).
If you’d like to add the NewsGuard addin to the Edge browser on your PC, go to the Settings menu (…) on the top right of the Edge toolbar, and look under Extensions – then find NewsGuard in the Store to add it to the browser from there.
NewsGuard has since worked with the Daily Mail and decided that it’s not quite as bad as all that, so has backtracked and removed the klaxon warning.
It’s still not giving a completely clean bill of health – see the “nutrition label” – but the feedback NewsGuard has shared with some other news websites may well help to improve the quality of their output.
Teams is more than just a replacement for Skype for Business on your PC, it’s also a consummate mobile app that functionally eclipses its predecessor in many ways, and even its desktop sibling in some. If you haven’t installed the Teams mobile app on your phone, go and get it (and other Office apps) for Googly Devices or Fruity Phones. The remaining Windows Phone users can follow the setup link here, though be prepared for disappointment.
The “Calls” tab on the mobile version on the app is more usable in some senses than Calls on the PC version of Teams is, since it exposes phone numbers more easily. On the desktop Teams app, if you want to use the service to call an existing contact via the POTS, the actual phone number you use can at times be somewhat obscured.
On the PC app, for example, if you look at History, you’ll often seen a list of people but it’s not clear which number they called from (or you called them on), and you’ll need to use the Contacts list within Calls to be able to direct a new call to a specific number.
In the Teams mobile app, if you look at the Calls tab, under History, tap on a line and then the card to the right side of the list of icons, you’ll get a contact card and the ability to respond back – using Teams – to any one of the listed phone numbers.
Finally, one of the great new functions in Teams mobile is the building-in of Org Chart functions, so you can browse the global address list hierarchy while on the move (assuming such info is populated in the directory).
Just search for a contact’s name, and their organisational tree is only a tap away.
For more tips on using Teams Mobile, see here.
If you’re an Instagram fan, you’ll no doubt be quite used to posting, browsing, liking and hashtagging everything in sight, using your phone. If you like editing photos on your PC, however, there’s no simple way to upload pics to post as Instagram photos.
Instagram continually toys with their UI and the capabilities of the app – not always to great acclaim – and also offers a browser experience that lets you find and interact with content, but not upload it yourself. Various third parties offer other tools that integrate with Instagram – like the Top Nine meme that celebs were posting, showing their best pics of 2018.
The Instagram Windows 10 app does give the option to upload photos by clicking or tapping the + icon in the toolbar along the bottom, but it can occasionally be a bit slow, and it only lets you choose photos from your camera roll folder.
The Instagram app sometimes goes a little berserk, too.
There is a technique to use your PC to upload anything to Instagram, though, and it involves fooling the web site into thinking you’re on a mobile device rather than a PC. Start by signing into www.instagram.com using your existing Instagram or FB credentials. You’ll see a particular UI with no + button in sight.
Assuming you’re on Edge browser, press F12 to go into Developer Tools mode (or if you’re using a keyboard that’s a pain to get to function keys, click on the ellipsis on the top right to bring up the menu, choose More Tools, Developer Tools).
When you see the Dev Tools pane appear, go to Emulation.
Now choose a device or set a browser profile that will tell the Instagram site that you’re using a phone… even a defunct one (at least while Instagram supports that profile – someday, you may need to tweak the other settings).
And bingo; click on the ickle + icon on the bottom and you’ll get a regular Windows Explorer file dialog box that can be used to select and upload a photo from anywhere you like.
Chrome domes can do a similar thing, using Developer Tools (menu – More tools – Developer tools, or press CTRL+SHIFT+I) and then toggle a device toolbar that lets you test the page as if it was running on a different device.
Strangely, Windows Phone doesn’t appear as one of the default options, but you can, if you want, add a Nokia 520 back in.
Lots of professional types rely on LinkedIn – sales professionals, recruitment professionals, people looking for business – it’s a great platform. There’s a load of advice out there on how to compose your profile properly (as it’s really a modern version of your CV or resumé), even down to how to pose for the best photo (one school of thought says since LinkedIn shows your mugshot on the left of the page, then you should face to the right, so it doesn’t look like you’re turning away from your own page…)
Philosophically, you have a decision to make on whether or not you accept unsolicited requests. On one hand, why not accept a request from someone who has looked you up and may one day be a useful contact; on the other, why clutter your network with people you don’t know and maybe have never even met?
Also, should you clean and prune your contact list? Got some free time over Christmas and can’t face another mince pie…? Why not go through your LinkedIn network and if you can’t remember the last time you met that person, delete them… Season of goodwill and all that.
Here’s a tip that may make your life a little easier when you do meet someone and want to exchange professional details – at a cocktail party, for example. Instead of the 20th century method of giving out little bits of dead tree with rapidly out-of-date contact info/job titles etc, swap contacts using LinkedIn but in real time rather than after the meeting.
First, make sure you have the latest version of the LinkedIn mobile app and that you have it set up with your login. Now, if you look at the top of the LinkedIn home screen, you’ll see a strange little symbol on the right-hand edge of the search box – this is supposed to look like a QR code.
If you flick to the “My Code” tab, LinkedIn will show you the QR code that it has generated just for you, along with options to export and save the code for use elsewhere (like put it on your business card… oh, wait…)
So, the ideal workflow is that if you want to exchange a connection with someone quickly, then one of you goes into My Code, the other into Scan, and the rest is a matter of waving your phone over theirs and hitting the connect button. Not exactly rocket science, is it?
Microsoft fangrlz and fanbois, shed a tear for the Windows Phone platform, which relaunched with some fanfare just over 8 years ago as “Windows Phone 7 Series” (recalling the Microsoft redesigns the iPod packaging spoof?). The original idea with the new platform was that you didn’t need to jump in and out of apps all the time, since apps surfaced their info on the home screen and to a series of Hubs. Check out the original 2010 advert that painted the vision (fairly) clearly…
The hastily-renamed Windows Phone 7 showed up in November 2010, and came with a comparatively lavish marketing budget, bring some quite edgy and memorable adverts – like the Season of the Witch, or Really? (try not to boke at the scene where the guy drops his phone…)
A year later, and almost 7 years ago to this day, Canadian DJ and electro-music producer Deadmau5 played an amazing light show in London to celebrate the launch of the first Nokia Lumia phone; the fact that his track “Bad Selection” was the one that showcased what the phone looked like did raise a snigger at the time. He was back a year later with another event to celebrate the launch of the Lumia 820 with Windows Phone 8.
Now that Windows Phone has been in the ground for more than a year, it’s worth celebrating its somewhat spiritual successor – the Microsoft Launcher for Android (see ToWs passim, #345 and #438). One of the upsides of the Android platform is the fact you can effectively re-write the main UI, and most phone manufacturers ship their own variants of common apps (like Contacts, Phone, Messaging etc), so it’s ripe for customizing.
The Launcher brings some of the design elements of Windows Phone to Android, while building in great new ideas – like the swipe right to the “Glance” screen, Bing visual search, Timeline integration with Windows PCs and more.
The Microsoft Launcher has had more than 10 million downloads and has a rating of 4.6 / 5, with over 750,000 reviews – and it’s recognised by many commentators as one of the best Android launchers, even in such a crowded market.
If you’re up for trying out a new release, sign up to be a tester for the Microsoft Launcher Beta – currently offering a major update (5.1) that includes better Cortana functionality, To-Do and Sticky Notes synch from PCs and more. See details here. Join the community here (Google+ is still a thing – who knew?)
The beta even has a new “Screen time” function that promises to tell you how often and how long you use the phone, and with which apps. Google has shipped a “Digital Wellbeing” feature for its latest Android release (v9 aka Android “Pie”), but many phones won’t get that release for ages, if at all. Microsoft Launcher works on Android 4.2 and later.
Progressive Web Apps were covered some months ago in ToW 426, and are seen by many as the next generation of mobile apps. They provide a handy way of meeting the needs of a website suitable for mobile browsers as well as a way of delivering an app-like experience to multiple devices of varying sizes, without needing the developers to target specific platforms individually.
Microsoft published a bunch of 3rd party PWA apps directly into the Microsoft Store (eg start with SkyScanner then click on “Microsoft Store” when opened with the Store app itself rather than the web UI), though there haven’t been any new ones for a while.
Google is also throwing its weight behind PWAs – so much so, that version 70 of the Chrome browser has support for PWAs that can be installed to look like a desktop app on Windows, so when the PWA is running it hides the browser UI and is launched from either within Chrome directly, or from the traditional Windows app UI.
When installed, eg https://app.ft.com, via the Chrome browser, the PWA behaves a lot like a desktop app – it can be found by typing its name on the Start menu, and can be quickly pinned to the Start menu or taskbar.
That said, Edge browser users can treat pretty much any website in that way – if you browse to a PWA or simple page you like, as well as adding it to favourites/toolbars etc, you can pin it to your taskbar or start menu by going to the settings menu in the top right. Otherwise, when opening PWAs in Edge they look and behave the same as in other ways, though the Edge toolbar remains.
If you’re an Android user, and a Windows Insider, then you can get a preview version of the Your Phone app for the PC; after starting the app on the PC, it will ask for your mobile number and text you a link to download an updated version of the Microsoft Apps app (ya falla?). Download the update, sign in as appropriate, and suddenly your photos on the phone will start appearing in near real-time on your PC.
The Your Phone app actually uses a Wi-Fi connection on the phone to sync content with the PC – they don’t need to be on the same network but they do need to be able to talk to the back end service that coordinates things. For now, it just does photos (and only on Android), but in time, more services will be added. See more details here. And here.
The photo sharing capability is pretty cool – if you ever find yourself taking a photo on your phone and then immediately wanting to use it on your PC, then your alternatives are either to wait for OneDrive to sync your new pic from phone to cloud (and then back down to your PC)… or plug the phone in on a USB cable and root about in its file system to find the photo. Or the worst, but probably most used: you email the photo from your phone, to yourself…