Tip o’ the Week #253 – Using Cortana in the Car

clip_image001There are many cool things that Cortana can do, which make using Windows Phone 8.1 a pleasure. Try asking the following, if you have Cortana enabled:

  • “Find the best nearby restaurants”, then
  • “Which are open now?” …
  • “Traffic to the 3rd one” …
  • “Drive there”

After each command, following commands will work in context with the results from the previous one – though it might take a bit of practice to figure out what you can say, and what is going to reliably be interpreted by Cortana. If you say something she doesn’t understand (maybe she’ll start playing some music or call some random number instead, mishearing “Drive” for “Play” or “Call”) then you’ll lose context and will need to start from the beginning.

One smart function, though, is when you want to use Cortana in your car. The specific UI will vary greatly depending on what car you have, but the important thing is that it may possible to use the car’s own functionality to get at Cortana’s smarts (which will be better than whatever is installed in the car, almost certainly).

Assuming you have Bluetooth handsfree functionality installed, you may have the option of pressing a steering-wheel button to interact with the phone – generally relying on the car systems to recognise names as you read them out, and searching a list of contacts either manually-entered or possibly sync’ed from your phone. Be careful not to faff about with your handset whilst driving – you may be breaking the law. Even in (some) parts of the US.

clip_image003If your car has the ability to see your phone’s directory or phone book, then you should see a contact show up in the list (when viewed in the car – it doesn’t actually appear as a contact on the phone itself), called Cortana.

You may be able to set favourites on your car so that when you press a button, it will dial a particular contact or number – or maybe your car’s Bluetooth setup has enough capability that it will be able to recognise a “call Cortana” voice command.

Even if the car has a less advanced system, it’s generally possible to have a short dial or some other kind of saved contact that’s manually added. If you create a contact in your car’s directory with the number 555-555-9876 and try to call it using the car’s UI, then you’ll see Cortana spring to life – in other words, the phone won’t actually dial that number, it will activate Cortana and will use the Bluetooth functionality in the car to be the mic and speakers for the phone. Don’t worry that it looks like a US phone number – it works on international handsets too.

If you type that number into your phone, then it will attempt to dial – but if you call that number using the car (either by adding a contact or just by entering the number) then you’ll see if the car wins Cortana’s favours or not

Tip o’ the Week #252 – Web browsing on WP8.1

clip_image001Many of us will be familiar with using the web browser on our phones – unkindly, one might say that it’s partly due to the fact that Windows Phone users sometimes don’t have a choice, whereas iOS and Android devices might be redirected to install some native app rather than using a browser to view the content.

The upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1 may have slipped by without you noticing every single aspect of it, one such being the fact that the mobile browser used in Windows Phone is IE11. Not, it is said, just IE for the phone that happens to be the same number as the desktop version, but a richly-featured modern browser which shares a lot of functionality with its big brother.


clip_image003Reading View is one particularly neat usability feature, which changes the way the browser displays pages (and is indicated as available by the same book icon as the Metro modern IE browser on Windows 8.1). Tap the little book and the content on the mobile browser goes full–screen and can also be set to show a particular size of font or background colour too – check the Advanced Settings (found by tapping the ellipsis on the bottom right, then settings and then the advanced settings button at the bottom).

Phone IE11 also gives you more control over privacy settings, so you can turn on the equivalent of the desktop InPrivate settings (like choosing whether sites can track you, put stuff on your device, use cookies etc etc). There’s no “new InPrivate tab” function though, it’s a setting that applies to all browser sessions. See here for more details on privacy settings.

Windows Phone 8.1 also promises to make your life easier by synchronising IE data between your phone and your PC – remembering URLs you’ve visited, usernames you’ve used and more.

However you use it, the browser in Windows Phone 8.1 is now fast, safe, really functional and is a mostly a joy to use. So not being forced to install some ghastly local app for every site you want to visit, maybe isn’t such a hardship after all.

Tip o’ the Week #251 – Toasting a new email message

You got a new email – hurray! Back in the early days of using email, it was expected practice for your email program to play you a little fanfare, pop up a message box to tell you that you’ve got mail, put an envelope in your system tray etc.

In the last decade, nobody in most companies needed to know they got a new mail. We all get far too much of it, and yet most email programs notify you by default. Stop that, it’s silly.

The inspirational Prof Randy Pausch advised switching this off: he delivered a great talk on Time Management, and watching it is a better way of spending 90 minutes than pretty much any other productivity-enhancing measure. Children of the 1970s and 80s in the UK will remember Why Don’t You?, with its somewhat perverse advice to “switch off your television set”.

Well, stop reading this email now and go and watch Randy’s Time Management video (same link as above you click junkies).

Still here? If you’ve never heard of Randy, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006 and sadly succumbed less than 2 years later. In the interim, he delivered “The Last Lecture”, an awesome (and we’re not talking Microsoftie, “hey, that was super-awesome!” kind of awesome, more the laughing-out-loud, tears-welling-up and rapt-attention kind) lecture on achieving his childhood dreams. Make time to watch The Last Lecture video if there’s only one video you watch this weekend.

 Anyway, this tip reprises the topic of the very first tip of the week – but this time instead of switching off a pop-up in Outlook, it’s about disabling the “toast” that appears in the top right of the Windows 8 screen to tell you that you’ve got new mail.

In Outlook 2013, go into File | Options | Mail and look under the Message arrival section then un-check the Display a Desktop Alert option.

It’s possible to disable all “toast” notifications in Windows 8, but that’s something of a lumphammer to crack a pine nut. If you want to do it, see here… otherwise, it’s best to control things within individual applications. Within the same menu, you can selectively toggle each app’s notifications setting.

If you’ve configured the Windows 8.1 Mail app to connect to your company email, then you might have the weird experience of seeing an incoming toast from both Outlook (represented as the upper one in the screenshot above, with the fizzog of the sender as represented in the GAL) and within the Win8 Mail app, shown by the different toast below (and possibly a different picture, depending on how the sender is represented in your contacts).

 To disable the toast from the Mail app, go into the app itseld and bring up the Charms (press WindowsKey+C or swipe from the right if you have a touchscreen, or put your mouse in the top right of the screen). Now select the Settings charm, then Accounts, then go into the account you have set up to your corporate emai (since you can set notifications differently per-account).

The “Show email notifications” dropdown allows you to select that you want to allow all email to notify you (bad) or perhaps only to show you mail from your Favourites, as defined in the People app.

Or, of course, to switch off altogether.

Tip o’ the Week #250 – Xbox One updates

It’s been a busy few weeks and months for Xbox Oneclip_image002, as it approaches its first birthday. The console started shipping a little while back in a new, Kinect-less (dis-Kinected?) package (even if some thought that was a bad move), and there have been a few software updates to as well as numerous announcements from Microsoft and from app partners.

clip_image004The October update which rolled out in the middle of the month was quite a big change to how some of the fundamentals of the console work – like Snap, which got a whole lot more useful by being easier to manipulate.

Try saying, “Xbox Snap” (don’t try this on a Kinect-free setup or you’ll feel a bit silly) then say the name of the application you’d like to snap to the side (eg Music). You can say Xbox Switch to flick between the snapped application and the main app (the game, TV, video etc) and Xbox Unsnap when you’re all done and want to go back to full screen on the main app.

For more details on the October release, see Major Nelson’s post, here.

You can check you have the October update easily, as it adds a new clip_image006“Friends” section to the home screen.

There’s also been some coverage of what’s coming in November (deeper Twitter integration, so you can chat with friends whilst watching The Apprentice), amongst other things. See more here.

There’s also been the announcement of the release of the Xbox One Digital TV Tuner, due in select European countries any day now. The Tuner allows the Xbox to receive DVB-T signals (SD and HD, where available), integrates with the OneGuide functionality and delivers DVR-type functionality allowing you to pause live TV, watch TV on demand etc. There are also a bunch of updates to the SmartGlass software for mobile devices which will allow you to stream live TV off the Xbox tuner and watch on the device, even if the Xbox is being used for watching video on demand or playing games. See more here.

There’s even been some talk over what will and won’t be in the Xbox One’s December update, too.

3rd party apps have been coming thick and fast for the Xbox One, depending on where you live – there’s Vine as well as a bunch of Major League sports apps and VH1, all recently released in the US, MyVideo & Watchever (in Germany), Ludo (France) and many others. To see the apps list in your region (other than looking on the console), check here.

Tip o’ the Week #249 – Sync your Desktop

clip_image001This week’s tip comes as a direct result of a conversation had over a glass of wine and a plate of food, with Content & Code’s supremo, Tim Wallis.

Most of us who’ve been using PCs for years will have picked up or held onto habits that are probably not ideal, at least not as the designers of the latest software might have in mind – but as the customer is always right, if we want to be backward, then the system should accommodate that, right?


Windows users of old: at which point did you finally accept the default, and stop disabling the Hide extensions for known file types setting in Windows Explorer? Let hidden files stay that way? Or do you still switch these options on?
Are you holding on too tight?

And do you still think of directories or have you embraced folders? Do you still want a D: drive to put all your data on?

Well, many of us will habitually drop stuff onto the Windows desktop because it’s generally easy to find (press WindowsKey-D and, tada!, there it is) – though it’s always possible to go over the top.

If you want to drag an attachment from Outlook and upload it to a SharePoint site, for example – you’ll need to copy the file to somewhere on your PC and then upload from there. And the desktop can be just the simplest way to do that (press WindowsKey and left or right arrow key to snap Outlook to the side, potentially exposing the desktop beneath… a perfect target for dragging & dropping files onto).

Syncety Sync

What Tim was musing over, however, was the scenario when you have multiple PCs and you drop a document (or folder full of them) onto the desktop – wouldn’t it be nice if OneDrive could replicate the desktop onto the other machine(s)? Windows 8 makes it easy to roam lots of settings (the Start menu layout, the desktop backdrop etc) between machines, but it doesn’t sync the actual contents of the desktop out of the box.

Worry not: it’s possible. Firstly, you need the OneDrive software on every PC (it’s installed by default on Windows 8.1, including Surface RT), then you’ll re-point the Desktop to a location that OneDrive can sync.

To set up sync, for the purposes of just backing up one PC or for sharing the same desktop content with several:

  • clip_image004Find the OneDrive logo in the Windows System Tray Notification Area
    (NB: if you have OneDrive for Business installed, you’ll want to make sure you pick the white consumer OneDrive icon, rather than the blue business one…)
  • clip_image006Right-click the icon, then open the OneDrive folder using Explorer, right-click in the resulting window and create a folder where you want the Desktop contents to be. It might help to copy the location of that folder to the clipboard, for use shortly…
  • Hold the SHIFT key, and then right-click on your new folder– and use the phenomenally handy Copy as path option that only appears when you hold down SHIFT.
  • clip_image007Now, in the same Explorer window, scroll down in the folder list to see the This PC section and right-click on Desktop, then Properties, then look to the Location tab.
  • Now click the Move button, paste the contents of the clipboard (the path to the folder you created in OneDrive) into the dialog that pops up, Select Folder then confirm that you’d like to move the contents of the desktop across.


Now, any folders or files you drop on the desktop will synchronise to other PCs if you repeat the same process as above. If you have lots of folders full of stuff, you’ll need to wait a little, while OneDrive syncs them for you. Right-click on the OneDrive icon in your system tray again, and click Sync if you’d like to see the status.

Tip o’ the Week #248 – Sense the WiFi

clip_image002Sense the network: Use the Force.

One of the cool new features in Windows Phone 8.1 is “WiFi Sense” –  it’s enabled by default and, in a nutshell, is used to let other people access WiFi networks you already know about, without them having to type in the network password. It also lets you connect to known open networks or secured ones shared by your friends.

If you connect to a network and put in a password, and you’ve allowed WiFi Sense to do so, then your contacts of a given type (who also have WP8.1), will be able to connect to that same WiFi network without needing to know the password. The actual passcode itself is not shared with the contact directly, but it is sent to their phone in a hashed way that means it can be presented to the network for access, without their phone even knowing what the password is. If you’ve only just shared your home network, it could take a couple of days for it to percolate through the WiFi Sense system and show up on your friends’ phones, so take it easy and give it some time.

clip_image004In practice, this means that if you set a password on your home WiFi, your pals who have WP8.1 will be able to use your home network without clip_image006needing your password (or, in fact, your permission – they’re your friends, after all…). If you live in an apartment block in the city, you might want to be careful about this as you could well have neighbours you know leeching on your broadband, but if you live in a more rural location then perhaps you can trust that the only people within range of your network will be those that you invite onto your property.

The benefit of having WiFi Sense turned on is that your phone will automatically connect to known networks, and use them instead of racking up bandwidth charges on your phone bill (especially handy when travelleing).

The service not only lets you connect to networks enabled by your friends, but open networks are shared by everyone with WiFi Sense switched on (via a crowdsourcing arrangement), and are connected to automatically, accepting T&Cs, providing details like your name & phone number etc. As it happens, the phone comes with a usefully vague set of default information (check it out by going into WiFi settings / WiFi Sense / edit info).

WiFi Sense is available in most countries – for more details or to see more info on how it works, check out the WiFi Sense FAQ.