Tip o’ the Week #238 – quiet hours on Windows Phone 8.1

clip_image002The time of year has rolled around where many of us are travelling – maybe time for a last, late Summer Holiday. Now, if you take your phone on vacation, you’ll know how important it is not to have colleagues phoning you up in the middle of the night to ask where you are.

Even if you’re not on holiday but you’re in a different time zone, it’s uniquely annoying when trying to deal with jet lag, that people phone you at 9am where they are, when that’s 4am in your locale – especially if you forget to turn your phone off. Even if you switch to silent mode, the blast of light from the phone screen in your darkened hotel room could be enough to wake you up…

ToW #209 covered an addition to Windows 8.1 that lets you set a time window for the machine to stop making noises at you.

Well, here’s another reason to upgrade your handset to Windows Phone 8.1 – as well as giving us sassy Cortana for searching and providing us with information we didn’t know we needed, The Blue One also has the capability to not just silence the phone at set times but to allow certain people to manage to breakthrough. Far out.

The options are all pretty self-explanatory; the inner circle settings will suggest contacts you might want to add, though it’s worth steadying the hand on adding too many.

Whenever quiet hours is active, the phone will not ring, and there will be no notifications (i.e. no switching the screen on, showing notification dialogs, or making any sound). Calls go straight to voice mail – just as if the phone is switched off. Text messages arrive silently and if you set it up, the texter gets told you’re busy and won’t be texting back.

If someone on your inner circle calls, then it will ring – ditto texting – and if you have the Alarm app set to wake you up then it too will do its thing, scientifically designed soundscape and all. The quiet hours setting will only show up on your phone if you have Cortana enabled, and is also off by default.

For those readers outside of the US, enabling Cortana either means switching the phone (after upgrading to WP8.1) to being English US language & locale, or else waiting until Cortana is localised and arrives on the phone naturally – it’s being reported that UK, China and India (with variants for Australia and Canada too) will get their own Cortana versions in the first update to Windows Phone 8.1, which should be out in the wild “soon” . Developer versions are now available.

However you get her in your life, Cortana is going to be a killer app for Windows Phone 8.1 and beyond, and quiet hours/inner circles is just one of the key components.

Tip o’ the Week #236 – Lumia Cyan on the way

Nokia took to packaging updates for Windows Phone and clip_image002referring to them by a code name – Lumia “Black” being the last biggie for Windows Phone 8. The packages are a combination of operating system upgrades (that will be made available to all handset manufacturers) along with Nokia-specific upgrades, which may improve the way their handsets function, either in general or somtimes specific to the new OS version.

The much-awaited upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1 is now rolling out for Nokia users, combined with an array of tweaks, and is going under the name of Lumia Cyan.

clip_image003Cyan isn’t a colour that the Man on the Clapham Omnibus is likely to have knowingly encountered, but Speccy geeks of all ages may have come across it either on their computer or as part of a CMYK printing process. Mixing colours to create other shades is as old as cave painting, but in the modern world there are essentially two processes – adding colours together in light (assuming you start in darkness), you could project blue, green and red in varying combinations to make all colours (where R+G+B is white), and in printing or dyeing colours and where the starting point is white, then the process of mixing a different set of primary colours – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black – has the effect of absorbing light to leave the desired colour behind.

Anyway, for more information on the mondo-update that’s jazzing up the Lumia WP8 range, see  Nokia’s Lumia Cyan website for more detail. The site also lets you check the global availability of Cyan (see here for Europe, then click on the main body of the page and press the END key to jump to the bottom if you’re a UK user), since it is rolling out by country, by handset model and by mobile carrier.

If your country/handset/carrier combo shows up as “Under Testing”, hold tight – it may take a few weeks to complete the process and make the update available for everyone. Check for updates by going into the phone settings | system | phone update.

UK users: you may need to wait for the first update to WP8.1 in order for Cortana to show up, unless you want to set your phone to be a US region handset. Or install the GDR1 preview by using the Preview for Developers program.

Tip o’ the Week #229 – Cortana, let’s rock!

(Another slightly out-of sequence tip as this could be more timely now than in a few weeks)

clip_image001One of the most written-about and eagerly-awaited features in the soon-to-appear Windows Phone 8.1, is Cortana – the “digital assistant”, named after the character in the Halo games.

If you’re desperate to get hold of the developer preview of WP8.1 – bearing in mind it is still a preview, and there’s no going back once you’ve installed it – then there’s still time. The preview did receive an update which made the battery life a bit better, so if that’s the reason you’ve been holding off, then maybe it’s time to dive in. Paul Thurrot detailed how to install 8.1 preview here, and if you are not US based and want to enable Cortana, then you’ll need to fool your phone into pretending to be Septic.

The general feedback on the 8.1 preview has been very positive, though in some quarters, it’s a step back from the Hubs strategy that Windows Phone pioneered, in favour of more monolithic apps – it seems that’s more in line with what users expect. Also, there are some features which draw a parallel with Android – like the notifications that show when you swipe down from the top of the screen.

It’s a fun exercise to play around with the voice input on Cortana – ask her how old she is, where she comes from, who’s her daddy, what she’s wearing (warning: best not do these in public in case you get deservedly funny looks) and you’ll get some amusing answers. Ask her what she thinks of Steve Ballmer, whether she likes Google, or if she’s better than Siri… How we laughed! Still, there are a whole load of useful things you can ask Cortana – a non-exhaustive list appears here. clip_image002

There’s some nice reminder type functionality in there – like “next time Alistair calls, remind me to ask him about what the agenda is for sync week”. Sure enough, next time that person rings you, there will be a small text splash on the incoming call notification, reminding you of whatever it was. clip_image004

There are some less visible but even more awesome Cortana features behind the scenes, though – and some of them you’ll only discover by accident and by using the phone. Here’s just one example – Cortana, your pocket PA, can keep an eye on your calendar and prompt you when appropriate. Here’s an email, for example, where the phone has spotted various terms that correspond to dates and times, and has automatically hotlinked them… tapping on one of these links will offer to set an appointment, in context – so the “how about 4pm” link already knows that the day in question is the next Friday. Very smart indeed.clip_image006

Cortana will also make sure that you’ve got time to drive to your next appointment, if she can recognise an address in your calendar, and can even learn your routine too (e.g. if you visit the same place regularly during the working day, then the settings page will ask you “Is this your work place?”, and if you tend to return to the same place in the evening, she’ll ask if that’s your home).

clip_image007All of this could be seen as a bit creepy but remember that you can always switch any of it off, and that Cortana is using technology pioneered by the Bing search engine to build a model of your world, so she can help you without you always needing to ask, and she’ll never tell you that it looks like you’re writing a letter. Ask her “Do you like Clippy?” if you’re in any doubt.

Sadly, the subject line of this ToW doesn’t quite work – “Cortana, let’s rock!” merely results in a Bing search for the term. However, “Cortana, play some rock!” gets the response “Queuing up your Rock Music”. If you have any jazz music on the phone, that would be lined up instead. Nice.