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.
Remember the time when talking to a computer seemed like science fiction?
If you’re an Amazon Echo or Sonos One* user, you’ll already be familiar with barking orders at an inanimate object. If you’re tired of shouting ALEXA… ALEXA!!!, then you can even change the “Wake Word” on the Amazon devices – but not yet others – so you can say other things instead. Handy if your daughter or your dog is called Alexa.
In the Alexa app on your phone, go to Settings, look under the list of devices and if you select an Echo device of some sort, then you’ll find a Wake Word option fairly far down the list. This lets you choose something else, though not yet at the level when you could make up your own wake word…
Anyway, who can pass up the opportunity to pretend to be Mr Scott?
Anyway, recent announcements saw the preview of Cortana joining hands with Alexa and allowing access both from Windows 10 PCs to (some) Alexa functionality, and US-based Amazon users can access Cortana stuff through Alexa-enabled devices.
On your PC, you may need to check your Cortana settings (just press WindowsKey and start typing Cortana to see the settings) to either enable the Hey Cortana key phrase, or press WindowsKey+C as a shortcut, then speak.
Voice-searching on the PC using Cortana can be a pretty handy thing to do, as there are plenty of phrases that will give you a direct response rather than take you to a website. It’s quicker to press the WindowsKey+C option than to say “Hey Cortana”, and you could ask stuff like M-S-F-T, what’s the time in New York, what’s the news, what’s the weather, convert pound to dollar and so on.
You’ll also need to grant permission to share info between the two services, and now be able to do things like add items to your Amazon shopping list from within the Cortana UI, or in the reverse, query your Office 365 calendar from your Echo smart speaker.
YMMV at the moment, but it’ll surely get more integrated in time. Right now, you can’t stream music through Alexa to the PC (or, it seems, control smart home devices that work through Alexa, though that could be a regional thing for the moment) – and if you’ve a UK-based Amazon account, you can’t add the Cortana Skill to your Alexa account, so there’s no option of querying Cortana from the Echo, yet. US users can, though.
Still, Normal People don’t have electronics listening to everything they say… so what if a few nerds need to put up with some temporary friction from having two competing assistants try to work together? Click-Over-bzzzt.
Both the Windows/Microsoft Store app marketplace and the kinds of apps it contains have had a number of generations, from phone apps (designed for Windows Phone), through Windows 8’s so-called “Metro” apps, to the later Universal Windows Platform apps ushered in by the Windows 10 platform. The goal of UWPs is to allow a single code-base to run on multiple Windows 10 based environments, such as tablet/PC, phone, HoloLens and Xbox One.
The inconvenient truth with the UWP model is that, for most people, apps are used primarily on their phone and on smaller tablet devices. With the demise of Windows Phone, and the tablet market consisting largely of cheap Android tabs, expensive iPads, and Windows “2 in 1” detachables rather than straight-up Windows 10 tablets, there are arguably few compelling reasons for app developers to support UWPs, unless they feel a particular need to also target relatively niche devices like HoloLens, Surface Hub and Xbox.
Devs could turn to an app framework like Xamarin, which would let them support multiple device types and OSes, generating UWP apps alongside their Android and iOS counterparts.
When the vast majority of their addressable market is someone sitting in front of a PC, not a phone, if you’re an app developer who already supports Windows, then it might be easier to wrap your existing PC app using the Desktop Bridge, allowing for distribution through the Store but without needing to completely rewrite the app as a UWP one, as both Spotify and Amazon Music have shown.
One tell-tale of an app that’s probably been packaged with the Desktop Bridge, is that if you look at it in the Store, you’ll see that it’s available on PC only.
In a nutshell, PWAs are web sites built to behave more like dedicated mobile apps, with features like caching, notifications & more, so a mobile version of an existing web site could obviate the need for building an app as well. Developers could build a specific app for the remaining mobile platforms (natively, or with frameworks like Xamarin or – check out this excellent intro – Google’s Flutter), alternatively they just put their efforts into a PWA, which can run on any modern browser, mobile or otherwise. There’s a lot of love for PWAs in some quarters of the mobile developer world.
As highlighted by Windows Central, PWAs are now appearing in the Microsoft Store, potentially giving top tier app developers a way of supporting Windows, even if they haven’t decided to specifically build a dedicated Windows app.
To quickly find the list of all Microsoft-published apps, start with Skyscanner, and you’ll see the publisher is “Microsoft Store” itself – scroll down to the Additional information, click on that link and you’ll find the others that have been published at the same time. Or search the web.
Of course, publishers may well choose to proactively put their own apps into the Store, or if they publish PWAs elsewhere, then the best of them may get hoovered up and added to the Microsoft Store on their behalf.
Resident Microsoft Paddingtonites or visitors, may be familiar with the cubist stools used in some areas but might not instantly recognise the SwiftKey logo on the seats themselves.
SwiftKey is a replacement software keyboard for iOS or Android devices, which supports a variety of auto-complete and swiping functions – and it has just had the biggest upgrade since Microsoft acquired SwiftKey back in 2016. The SwiftKey keyboard app implements a technology similar to the pioneering Word Flow – not the Word Flow app for iOS that SwiftKey has basically replaced, but the swipey writing technology which was part of the dearly departed Windows Phone 8.1.
SwiftKey, if you haven’t used it before, aims to be smarter at predicting what you’re trying to say when you swipe a word or peck at the on-screen keys. If you allow it, you can sign in using your Microsoft Account and it will use your Sent Items in Outlook.com mail to look for phrases or words that you routinely use. It’ll also show you some stats based on how much help you’ve received, what your own accuracy is etc. Interesting.
The upgrade to SwiftKey introduces some updated design elements and cool new functionality, most notably a toolbar accessed via the little “+” symbol to the left of the auto-complete suggestions, which provides easy access to emojis, GIFs and other business essentials. More here.
One attribute of your phone is that it tends to be with you all the time, so it makes a great place to store information that you want to get access to when you’re out and about – the details of your car insurer, the password for your online banking site, your frequent flyer numbers etc. The long-established iLium Software has offered eWallet for years on a variety of Windows Mobile systems and PCs. There’s a Windows PC desktop version, and a Windows 8 Modern App version, as well as the various fruit and malware-ridden-Googly-device versions.
iLium’s current offering on Windows Phone isn’t very well organised – the main eWallet app (which is quite complex) is only on iOS and Android, but there’s also a simpler (though still very flexible and powerful) application called eWalletGO! The Windows Phone version isn’t quite as capable as some of the others, but it’s still a decent app and it’s so useful to be worth persevering with.
The model is simple – you can have a Windows PC (or Mac) version of the app, and a corresponding mobile version too. You create your single wallet (there’s no File menu or anything) and can backup and restore to/from online services DropBox and Google Docs.
So to get the wallet on your phone, you either create it in situ or else build it on your PC and perform a backup (to DropBox) and then restore it down to the phone – a faff, but one that can be done fairly quickly and since the wallet probably doesn’t change much once established, it’s not too hard.
If you buy the Windows PC version (well worth a few quid investment) and want to sync its data between machines, there’s a simpler way than using backup/restore to keep it up to date on multiple PCs… well, it’s simpler once you have it set up…
The eWalletGO! application stores its data in your user profile folder – after installing, just run the app for the first time and create a dummy wallet, press WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog, then paste %userprofile%\appdata\Roaming\Ilium Software into the box and hit enter. You should see an eWalletGO folder….
Sync application data between PCs using SkyDrive
Now, if you want to sync this to SkyDrive, simply carry out the following…
- install the SkyDrive desktop application (here, if you haven’t got it already) and copy the eWalletGO folder above into the SkyDrive folder that is Synced to your PC (by default, %userprofile%\SkyDrive). Once it’s copied, we need to fool the eWalletGO app into thinking it’s accessing its own folder, and instead redirect it to SkyDrive.
- Let’s say that you’ve dropped the eWalletGO folder into the root of your SkyDrive folder… (ie %userprofile%\SkyDrive\eWalletGO), now go back to %userprofile%\appdata\Roaming\Ilium Software and delete the eWalletGO folder
- Fire up a command prompt with administrative privileges (press WindowsKey, simply type cmd, then CTRL+SHIFT+Enter) and then click on Yes to approve the use of admin privileges
- Now we need to create a symbolic link – it’s basically a special folder within the Windows file system which redirects from one place to another – ie if an app thinks it’s accessing c:\foo\whatever, then “whatever” could be a symbolic link to c:\foo\bar.
So, when you have your admin cmd prompt up and running, copy this following command to the clipboard and paste it into your command window …
mklink /D "%userprofile%\appdata\roaming\ilium software\eWalletGO" %userprofile%\skydrive\ewalletgo
(modify the \skydrive\ewalletgo as appropriate to point to your real location of your eWallet folder if it’s not in the root of your SkyDrive storage… and put quotes (“) around that section if your location has any spaces in it)
Now, if you fire up the ewalletGO app and make a change, then exit, you should see the ewalletgo.wlt file in your SkyDrive location has been updated – proof that not only do you have an automatic backup of the important data, but that if you repeat the exercise above on PC #2 (apart from the first step that copies the eWalletGO folder into SkyDrive, since it’s already there), you have an automatic replica of your data onto multiple machines, even though the application doesn’t realise it.
This technique can potentially be applied to any application that doesn’t realise it can replicate its data to the cloud – or in the case of eWalletGO, that it can copy data to the cloud, but just does it to the wrong cloud.
At a recent “Love It” internal event hosted in Microsoft UK’s Reading campus, a whole series of tips and tricks were shared amongst other Microsofties. Did you know, for example, that with an application called ZipApp (www.zipapp.co.uk – check it out), you can build a Windows 8 app in a few minutes without writing any code?
DPE’er Andy Robb said, “Yesterday I helped a couple of people create a dummy app for their customer complete with logo, draft content, a couple of social feeds, in about 30 mins… Customer walks in, sees their app on the Start menu, has a play on a touch device and they ‘get it’ better than any pitch deck could do.“ … BOOM!
Phone gurus Jon Lickiss and Natasha Joseph presented a great session on Windows Phone, with a slew of great tips and apps that they recommend – they’ve promised to write up the session so we may feature it here in future. In the meantime, here are 3 of the tips to get cracking:
Nokia has released mapping software available to any Windows Phone 8 user, which they called Here Maps. The great thing about Here Maps is that you can download the content offline, so they can be used on the tube (say) or when abroad, without racking up career-ending roaming charges.
The downloaded maps data is shared between Here Maps and Here Drive, the new name for the sat nav software that’s free (in beta) for any Windows Phone 8, as well as Nokia Lumias. If you’re on a non-Nokia device, Here Drive only allows access to the maps where the phone’s SIM is registered, but if you’ve a Lumia then you can use maps all over the world,, still get turn/turn navigation.
Here Maps also has a feature analogous to Bing Maps’ own capability to show details of what’s inside buildings – like shopping centres. Here’s a pic of the Oracle centre in Reading, as seen by Here Maps…
Where are you…?
If you’re arranging to meet up and want to tell your friends your current 10-20, you could text them a description – or try this neat function that was new in WP8. Go into the Messaging (ie text) app, start a new text message, then tap on the paperclip icon normally used to attach something – select “my location” to insert a Bing Maps link to your current whereabouts. See here.
A quick and simple way to capture the screen of a Windows Phone. To snap the contents of the phone screen, press the Windows logo on the bottom of the phone then quickly press the power/standby button. It may take a little practice to get the timing right, but once you’ve figured it out, you’ll see the results in the Screenshots folder within the Photos app.
To get them to your PC for further use, it’s probably easiest to just go into the folder, view the picture then Share it via email or NFC, if your new PC supports it…
Recruiter Nick Papé recommended this week’s topic. Escalation Engineer with spare time on his hands Ben Phillips wrote a cracking Windows 8 app to inspire Nick, and UC overlord Steve Tassell had this to say about it:
“The app is another step in the consortium providing practical advice and guidance which our growing community so dearly crave. This is also an important vehicle in helping us promote the second annual Anywhere Working week which is running again from 18th-22nd March. There are many activities planned for the week but, I want to highlight to you the roadshows running all week. We are planning an ambitious tour of the country taking our Office hub experience nationally. In Partnership with local authorities, we are providing a networking opportunity, technology experience and Ignite-style sessions from businesses and experts already working flexibly. You can find more details and means to register here.“
Of course, Nick and Steve are both very keen to stress the possibilities of remote working using Lync – every “snow day” is another day to celebrate and sell the technology benefits, in other words. Well, news reached us of a looming collaboration between Skype and Lync, and the promise of some groovy new Lync 2013 mobile clients, due in the coming months.