Tag Archives: Windows

The Nokia Lumia 1020 FAQ for Windows 10 Mobile

[Of course, the feature here has been based on the latest build 10149 of the OS – it’s possible that some things will change before the final release. Just sayin’….!]

Lumia 1020 camera island

What camera applications come with Windows 10 Mobile?

It depends on which device you have – it seems that the ‘Nokia’-branded phones above a certain specification will retain ‘Lumia Camera’ (in fact, in the current build it’s still called ‘Nokia Camera’ initially, until it’s replaced in the Store with the new name), as well as ‘Camera’, a clear derivative of Lumia Camera 5.x but adapted for as wide a device pool as possible. Lumia Camera contains extra ‘smarts’ that know how to handle the extra microphones and optics in some models. 

However, Lumia Camera for Windows 10 Mobile ends up as v4.9.4.1, i.e. exactly the same as you’re currently using under Windows Phone 8.1. So it seems as though you can carry on as before – nothing need change. 

Interestingly, (Windows) Camera gives its version number as v5.38.2004.0, indicating an evolution of Lumia Camera 5 (still on v5.0.2.51 on the Lumia 930 etc.), though it’s clever enough to handle each device on its own merits in terms of ‘Rich Capture’ – the 1020’s mechanical shutter and slow capture mean that this feature simply wouldn’t work – and so it’s not offered.

So I can carry on using ‘Dual Capture’, PureView zooming, ‘Reframing’, and shooting RAW?

Absolutely. Your default camera is set to Lumia Camera (v4) still, and all the same options are there in the interface, settings, and even the hooks from Windows 10 Photos into Lumia Creative Studio (which hasn’t changed). Ditto shooting RAW (.DNG) files and sucking them out via cable with Windows Explorer, Nokia Photo Transfer or similar.

It’s business as usual!

What happens if I use (Windows) Camera instead? Is snapping much faster?

This (Camera) does start fractionally quicker, though it’s still three seconds before the viewfinder is fully live, so there’s no significant gain. And, probably due to debug code still in place, there’s a noticeable shutter lag at present on the Lumia 1020. PLUS, it always capture at the maximum resolution of the sensor – and I suspect that you don’t really want to be snapping 10MB 34MP images all day long, so you can discount this application for the 1020.

The big misconception was that a next generation camera application would somehow speed up the 1020 camera dramatically, but (short of a low resolution scrape of the sensor) the bottleneck is still grabbing 38MP worth of data and then saving it. So you’ll have to live with the 1020’s (lack of) speed and, as usual, console yourself with quality!

1Shot

1Shot in action, just zoom to whatever resolution you want, it’s a lossless way of working and rather interesting!

Will Lumia Camera stay available throughout the 1020’s life and Windows 10 Mobile?

Admittedly this app has disappeared a few times in the past year in the Store for some devices, but these have only been temporary lapses – there’s no reason to suspect that it needs to be withdrawn for any reason in the long term. And even if it did (get withdrawn), ‘Nokia Camera’ is still part of the firmware builds provisioned for the 1020, so you’d always have this to fall back on, with much the same functionality.

And even if the above wasn’t enough for you, other third party camera applications continue to work well under Windows 10 Mobile – I’ve been testing 1Shot and ProShot, but I’m sure the multitude of (less serious) camera apps will work fine too.

ProShot

ProShot in action, here set to capture at 12MP, one of its many modes….

What about video capture? And what’s all this about ‘Digital Stabilisation’?

There’s an odd setting in the simplified pane in (Windows) Camera for Windows 10 Mobile – a toggle for ‘digital stabilisation’. Which seems somewhat unnecessary given the massive, famous ball-bearing OIS integrated into the 1020 camera. My guess is that this is intended to help on the budget smartphones which lack OIS and that it should be hidden when the application is run on more capable devices.

Windows Camera

Some of the few settings in (Windows) Camera…

However, never one to rely on a guess when I could be testing it for real, I pointed my test 1020 out the window and ‘zoomed’ in on detail in a house about 200m away, looking at the stability under both applications:

From what I see above, the ‘digital stabilisation’ setting does nothing whatsoever on the 1020 – which is what I’d want, since OIS is going to be superior and you wouldn’t want two stabilisation systems ‘fighting each other’… Phew!

Other factors

So the bottom line for imaging is that nothing will really change. Of course, Windows 10 Mobile as an interface and OS has improvements galore, but mainly for the higher resolution screened phones and the newer chipsets. On the Lumia 1020, the OS is a bit of a ‘curate’s egg’ at the moment – but I suspect that optimisations for the 720p and 768p screens (and lower) are next on Microsoft’s agenda, so I’ll keep this 1020 up to date and report back.

There are no major showstoppers to anyone else upgrading to the Windows 10 Mobile Insider build on the 1020, but equally there’s little reason to do so in the first place. If I were you I’d wait for the official over-the-air ‘preserving all your apps and settings’ update in September or October.

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All About Windows Phone

Alcatel Pop 2 the first 64-bit Windows Phone

Published by at 14:49 UTC, September 9th 2014

Seen at IFA, the Alcatel Pop 2 is a Windows Phone 8.1 version of the Android handset of the same name, with 4.5″ 854×480 resolution screen and 1GB of RAM. Crucially, it comes with the Snapdragon 410 processor, making it 64-bit (and not 32-bit). Other specs are modest, with 8GB storage plus microSD, and a ‘4MP’ camera (an odd figure!). LTE is present though, plus the Pop 2 is quoted at only 119 Euros, making it rather good value.

WMPU broke the news:

Pop 2

To the benefit of the Windows Phone, this means the device comes with 1 GB RAM as standard, despite only having a 4.5 inch FWVGA screen, and the latest Snapdragon 410 processor running at 1.2 Ghz, which in fact means it is the first Windows Phone with a 64 bit processor and the Adreno 306 GPU.

The device otherwise features 8GB storage, a 4 megapixel rear camera with LED flash, VGA front camera, 2000 mAh battery and most importantly LTE support, which for the 119 Euro price point makes it a steal over the Nokia Lumia 635, which is 40 euro more expensive.

The handset is 9.9mm thick and weighs 147g and will be available in white, blue, purple, green, red and yellow. It will also be available in Dual-SIM.

The Android version has capacitive controls in that large bottom bezel and it seems that the Windows Phone version simply omits these – with the on-screen controls now, the device looks a bit unbalanced. Given that the (right number of) capacitive control spots were already in place, could they not have been re-used, changing the functions/assignments as needed?

All a little odd, plus it’s unknown at this point quite what difference a 64 bit processor will make to Windows Phone, especially down at this low end of the spectrum.

There’s a video demo, too, by Drwindows.de and in German:

Source / Credit: WMPU

Filed: > >

Platforms: Windows Phone 8
Categories: Link of Interest, Hardware
 

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All About Windows Phone

Alcatel Pop 2 the first 64-bit Windows Phone

Published by at 14:49 UTC, September 9th 2014

Seen at IFA, the Alcatel Pop 2 is a Windows Phone 8.1 version of the Android handset of the same name, with 4.5″ 854×480 resolution screen and 1GB of RAM. Crucially, it comes with the Snapdragon 410 processor, making it 64-bit (and not 32-bit). Other specs are modest, with 8GB storage plus microSD, and a ‘4MP’ camera (an odd figure!). LTE is present though, plus the Pop 2 is quoted at only 119 Euros, making it rather good value.

WMPU broke the news:

Pop 2

To the benefit of the Windows Phone, this means the device comes with 1 GB RAM as standard, despite only having a 4.5 inch FWVGA screen, and the latest Snapdragon 410 processor running at 1.2 Ghz, which in fact means it is the first Windows Phone with a 64 bit processor and the Adreno 306 GPU.

The device otherwise features 8GB storage, a 4 megapixel rear camera with LED flash, VGA front camera, 2000 mAh battery and most importantly LTE support, which for the 119 Euro price point makes it a steal over the Nokia Lumia 635, which is 40 euro more expensive.

The handset is 9.9mm thick and weighs 147g and will be available in white, blue, purple, green, red and yellow. It will also be available in Dual-SIM.

The Android version has capacitive controls in that large bottom bezel and it seems that the Windows Phone version simply omits these – with the on-screen controls now, the device looks a bit unbalanced. Given that the (right number of) capacitive control spots were already in place, could they not have been re-used, changing the functions/assignments as needed?

All a little odd, plus it’s unknown at this point quite what difference a 64 bit processor will make to Windows Phone, especially down at this low end of the spectrum.

There’s a video demo, too, by Drwindows.de and in German:

Source / Credit: WMPU

Filed: > >

Platforms: Windows Phone 8
Categories: Link of Interest, Hardware
 

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All About Windows Phone

Polaroid gets in on the Windows Phone 8.1 act…

Published by at 8:37 UTC, September 9th 2014

Shrouded in either mystery or (more likely) obscurity, Polaroid (yes, the camera and film company) appears to have launched yet another low cost OEM Windows Phone 8.1 smartphone. Dubbed the WinPro 5.0, the specifications are fairly familiar, being based on the existing Microsoft/Qualcomm reference design for Windows Phone 8.1. Is there a special imaging focus, given the name? Nope. But the more the merrier, eh?

From the WinTouch site (in German, here machine translated):

Somewhat hidden on the IFA, we were able to discover a small stand of Polaroid and consult the somewhat grumpy representative also for their Windows Phone. Yes, actually we discovered they do a Windows Phone smartphone:

Polaroid WinPro 5

Since the smartphone in its system info doesn’t give much away and called itself “JSRTECH I7B” we dig a little more. Specifications shall be as follows:

  • Name: WinPro 5.0
  • 8 GB of memory
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 MP main camera
  • 2 MP front camera
  • 1.3 Ghz Quad Core processor (doubtful)
  • 2400 mAh battery
  • Dual Sim Function
  • 5 inch IPS display with 1280 x 720 pixel resolution

As to availability, it’s next month (October 2014). Priced to cost less than 200 €. 

Although patently built to a price and with unremarkable screen (judging from the video and images), the combination of those baseline specs and Windows Phone 8.1 should nevertheless produce something that’s very usable. It’ll come down to fit and finish, to how good or bad the screen, camera and speaker are, and of course to street price in the developing markets it’s aimed at.

Polaroid WinPro 5

Source / Credit: WinTouch

Filed: > >

Platforms: Windows Phone 8
Categories: Hardware
 

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All About Windows Phone

Skype, the biggest villain on 2012/2013 Windows Phones

Published by at 14:12 UTC, September 7th 2014

One of the biggest bug-bears on Windows Phone in recent times, for me, has been the performance of Skype, especially in light of the emphasis on the application in hardware launches, e.g. for the Lumia 730/735 here. The issue is that, when returning to Skype on anything but the newer 2014 Windows Phones, even if we only just let the screen timeout and unlock it again, or even if we use the multitasking carousel, we still see completely unnecessary ‘resuming….’ dots, as shown in the video below.

First, some video proof. This shows the high end Lumia 1520 and the low end 630, both with ‘modern’ Snapdragon chipsets and hardware ‘families’, plus the Lumia 1020 and 920, both with the older Snapdragon S4 powering things, all running Windows Phone 8.1. Why do I mention the processors? You’ll see.

Having started up each phone from scratch and then loaded up Skype, I then:

  1. switched away to the Windows Phone Store
  2. locked the screen
  3. unlocked it again
  4. used the multitasking carousel to switch back (resume) Skype.

In the latter case, I do it a pair of devices at a time, for clarity and practicality reasons.

Notice the difference? It seems that Skype resumes immediately and perfectly on any device with a 2014 chipset and skips back into having to effectively reload from scratch on anything older. In the video above, the delay was only a couple of seconds every time, but I’ve seen delays as long as 10 seconds in cases where Skype hadn’t been used for a few hours, on my 920 and 1020.

The very fact that Microsoft is promoting Skype as a hero function in new device launches, lead me to suspect that the company isn’t testing it on enough handsets. A phenomenon through the whole computing world since the dawn of time is that programmers tend to code and test on cutting edge monster PCs and then wonder why regular users with far less capable gear complain about application speed. The same seems to be happening here – it’s clear that the Skype coders at Microsoft are testing on the 1520, Icon, 930, and the brand new 730 and 830 prototypes. Even the new low end 630. But I doubt whether any of them have tried using Skype recently on a Snapdragon S4-powered Lumia from 2013, otherwise this issue would have surely been picked up sooner in every day, real world use.

I’d love one of the Skype team to get back to us with an official comment. Is there a technical reason why Windows Phone applications can’t resume in quite the same way under the Snapdragon S4 and its hardware family? Comments welcome if you can shed any light on this.

In the meantime, those of us struggling along with Skype on a Lumia 1020, 920, 925, 820, 720, 620 or 520 (etc. – so the vast majority of the Windows Phone installed base) will just have to wait. Multiple times a day.

… Resuming… … …

PS. Are there any other Windows Phone applications which you find almost as frustrating in terms of resumption speed? I’d hazard a guess that Twitter might be a candidate too?

Filed: > >

Platforms: Windows Phone 8
Categories: How To, Software
 

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All About Windows Phone

Classic calculators refreshed in utility upgrade for Windows Phone

Published by at 12:28 UTC, September 3rd 2014

Previously ‘Casio’ and then ‘Nokia Scientific’, as prefixes, this utility has now settled on, simply, ‘Classic Calculator’ for its big new version 1.2. If, like me, you had an affinity for a specific calculator that got you through school, then take a look below and see if this rings any bells. And all on your Windows Phone.

From the current Store description:

Powerful simulator of the classic calculators for Nokia and Windows Phone terminals. With advanced features and very easy to use.

* Percentages
* Memories
* Trig functions in degrees, radians or grads
* Scientific.
* Skins
* Sounds
* Vibration

And, in case you’d been following this application through previous iterations, here’s what’s new:

  • Added a free calc version.
  • Key sound selection
  • New window with new changes info
  • Min key is fixed
  • Key sound is now on press tap
  • Added copy to clipboard

The end result is rather spooky to see on your phone screen, especially given the form factor similarities between these calculators and modern portrait-mode smartphones. 

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

The graphical maps/skins are impressive, and 99% of functions just… work, as on the original devices.

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

On the menu are links to all the other calculators and skins; (right) Hello Kitty, anyone?

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

Something basic and office-like, and something deliberately ‘cheap and Chinese'(!)

The developer does say that there’s still work to do, namely:

  • implement arithmetic precedence operators
  • fix grades button
  • fix parenthesis button
  • support for new screen resolutions
  • add new modes/skins

A terrific work in progress and a jolly useful trip down memory lane. You can grab Classic Calculator in the Store here.

Source / Credit: Windows Phone Store

Filed: > >

Platforms: Windows Phone 8
Categories: Apps
 

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All About Windows Phone

Classic calculators refreshed in utility upgrade for Windows Phone

Published by at 12:28 UTC, September 3rd 2014

Previously ‘Casio’ and then ‘Nokia Scientific’, as prefixes, this utility has now settled on, simply, ‘Classic Calculator’ for its big new version 1.2. If, like me, you had an affinity for a specific calculator that got you through school, then take a look below and see if this rings any bells. And all on your Windows Phone.

From the current Store description:

Powerful simulator of the classic calculators for Nokia and Windows Phone terminals. With advanced features and very easy to use.

* Percentages
* Memories
* Trig functions in degrees, radians or grads
* Scientific.
* Skins
* Sounds
* Vibration

And, in case you’d been following this application through previous iterations, here’s what’s new:

  • Added a free calc version.
  • Key sound selection
  • New window with new changes info
  • Min key is fixed
  • Key sound is now on press tap
  • Added copy to clipboard

The end result is rather spooky to see on your phone screen, especially given the form factor similarities between these calculators and modern portrait-mode smartphones. 

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

The graphical maps/skins are impressive, and 99% of functions just… work, as on the original devices.

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

On the menu are links to all the other calculators and skins; (right) Hello Kitty, anyone?

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

Something basic and office-like, and something deliberately ‘cheap and Chinese'(!)

The developer does say that there’s still work to do, namely:

  • implement arithmetic precedence operators
  • fix grades button
  • fix parenthesis button
  • support for new screen resolutions
  • add new modes/skins

A terrific work in progress and a jolly useful trip down memory lane. You can grab Classic Calculator in the Store here.

Source / Credit: Windows Phone Store

Filed: > >

Platforms: Windows Phone 8
Categories: Apps
 

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All About Windows Phone

Classic calculators refreshed in utility upgrade for Windows Phone

Published by at 12:28 UTC, September 3rd 2014

Previously ‘Casio’ and then ‘Nokia Scientific’, as prefixes, this utility has now settled on, simply, ‘Classic Calculator’ for its big new version 1.2. If, like me, you had an affinity for a specific calculator that got you through school, then take a look below and see if this rings any bells. And all on your Windows Phone.

From the current Store description:

Powerful simulator of the classic calculators for Nokia and Windows Phone terminals. With advanced features and very easy to use.

* Percentages
* Memories
* Trig functions in degrees, radians or grads
* Scientific.
* Skins
* Sounds
* Vibration

And, in case you’d been following this application through previous iterations, here’s what’s new:

  • Added a free calc version.
  • Key sound selection
  • New window with new changes info
  • Min key is fixed
  • Key sound is now on press tap
  • Added copy to clipboard

The end result is rather spooky to see on your phone screen, especially given the form factor similarities between these calculators and modern portrait-mode smartphones. 

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

The graphical maps/skins are impressive, and 99% of functions just… work, as on the original devices.

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

On the menu are links to all the other calculators and skins; (right) Hello Kitty, anyone?

Screenshot, Classic CalculatorScreenshot, Classic Calculator

Something basic and office-like, and something deliberately ‘cheap and Chinese'(!)

The developer does say that there’s still work to do, namely:

  • implement arithmetic precedence operators
  • fix grades button
  • fix parenthesis button
  • support for new screen resolutions
  • add new modes/skins

A terrific work in progress and a jolly useful trip down memory lane. You can grab Classic Calculator in the Store here.

Source / Credit: Windows Phone Store

Filed: > >

Platforms: Windows Phone 8
Categories: Apps
 

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All About Windows Phone

Windows Phone 8.1 apps/multitasking FAQ

Published by at 15:50 UTC, September 2nd 2014

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it seems, and my attempt at simplifying the situation in terms of applications and Windows Phone 8.1 multitasking/optimisation was rightly picked at by a number of developers, who live and breathe this stuff. So I got in touch with one of them, Sarah Fegert, and asked some of the more pertinent FAQ-style questions….

[My questions to Sarah, obviously, are in bold]

I gather there’s no one single ‘type’ of Windows Phone application – how many ways are there to develop for the platform?

SarahQuite a few! Most Windows Phone 7 and 8 apps were developed using a framework called “Silverlight”. What Microsoft has been doing over the last years is gradually converge the development tools and app types of Windows RT and Windows Phone into a single one. These new apps are called “Store” apps, and allow developers to write apps that run on both Windows and Windows Phone.

But to keep developers with existing apps happy, Microsoft also introduced “Silverlight 8.1”, essentially a turbocharged Silverlight, allowing existing Windows Phone apps to use most of the new features in Windows Phone 8.1.

What difference has it made for developers having Windows Phone 8.1 arrive? And, overall, is it an improvement (for developers)?

8.1 has been an incredible step forward. Windows Phone 8.0 was very restricted in what developers could do. Just one example: Most fitness trackers and smart gadgets use a technique called Bluetooth Smart to connect with your phone with minimal battery drain. Bluetooth Smart wasn’t available in Windows Phone 8, even though iOS and Android had it for years. So, Windows Phone 8.1 introduced a number of features that developers had demanded for a long time – features that often were available on competing platforms. Many of the new apps we’ve been seeing over the last weeks (FitBit, Hotel Tonight, Files, etc.) are a direct result of giving developers these tools.

My recent piece bemoaning imperfect application resumption got people talking. These being multi-GHz devices, what’s stopping every application from being quick to start and/or resume? What showstoppers are in the way?

The fundamental constraint is memory (RAM). To load an app and render the UI, the operating system needs to allocate some memory for the app, typically between 50-100 MB. When you leave an app (but don’t close it), the app stops doing anything, but remains in memory, and as long as it remains in memory, it resumes instantly when you switch back to it. What happens when you use too many apps is that the operating system would eventually run out of memory, and to prevent that from happening, it selects one or more of the suspended apps and shuts them down, freeing memory. This process is usually called tombstoning on Windows Phone. Now, obviously, tombstoned apps aren’t in memory anymore – so next time you switch back to them, the OS needs to reload the app and restore the previous state. When that happens, the user sees the dreaded “resuming…” screen. There is not really much that developers can do to prevent this from happening.

Even on the 2GB Lumia 1020, 1520, Icon and 930, just as many apps seem to end up being ‘resumed’ as on the lower RAM devices. Is Windows Phone 8.1 perhaps not using all the RAM efficiently? Is there some kind of ‘no go’ area, reserved for system or imaging use?
There are a few things to consider here actually. Firstly, because these devices have  much higher screen-resolutions, apps require more RAM. The exact factor varies between apps, but, for example, rendering a full-screen, full-resolution image on a 1520 uses 6x as much RAM as rendering a full-screen, full-resolution image on the 630. Secondly, as you say, some of the memory is reserved for system use. Thirdly, the performance of the storage (internal or SD card) may also affect how long an app takes to resume. 

Subjectively, I see less resuming screens on my 1520 than on other devices – and seeing how fluid the user experience is on my 630, Microsoft has done an excellent job optimizing resource usage, in particular if you look at how badly Android runs on low-end devices.

On these quad core multi-GHz devices, why does resuming (reloading from tombstoned state) take so long? I’d have thought reloading a (say) 50MB footprint app from internal flash memory would take well under a second, yet some apps (Skype, Twitter) seem to take much, much longer. Is this the fault of the apps or current limitations in the OS?
How fast apps resume would mostly depend on the specs of the phone. When apps are at fault, it’s usually down to not rendering a screen to the user until they’ve loaded some data from the internet or local storage. Developers can use a number of solutions to avoid this problem.

Anecdotally, I’ve never ever had Twitter ‘resuming’ for more than one second, from a Lumia 520 all the way to a 1520. Usually it’s less than half a second. I wonder if there’s a bug somewhere…)

Do Microsoft’s own applications have any special privileges, or are they in the same boat as third party apps?

They certainly do – the operating system decides which app gets shut down when the phone is low on memory. Since users are very likely to use the Start Screen or the Email app, the operating system would typically try to shut down other apps first.

AppCauldronBy the way, this is another area where the update to Windows Phone 8.1 really changed things. Apps used to have a fixed amount of RAM allocated – typically 150 MB – even if the app used only a fraction of that. Now, the memory allocated is much closer to what the app actually uses. In theory, this should improve multitasking. For example, on Windows Phone 8.0 when our users took a picture during their run on a low memory device, Track Runner would be tombstoned and the run interrupted. This is no longer an issue with the new memory allocation of WP 8.1.  

What’s your view on transitions? Do you think Microsoft should offer a way to disable them, to speed up the WP UI?

Microsoft says that transitions don’t slow down the UI, and this matches my personal experience. Within the app, transitions are optional but they make up much of the Windows Phone feel, so apps without transitions feel rather alien to the platform.

_________________

Many thanks to Sarah Fegert, one of the co-founders of The App Cauldron, Inc, the development team behind the award-winning WP-exclusive running app Track Runner.

PS. I’d add one huge tip, borne of experience. Even on Windows Phone 8.1, it’s still often much faster and smoother to use the multitasking carousel (long press ‘back’) than to tap on a live tile or on an application in the main app list. Accessing via the view in the carousel seems to bring up the application exactly as-is (as long as it’s still in RAM), while even with all the ‘fast resume’ code in the app and under 8.1, there’s usually some resuming or reloading behaviour if you go via a tile or icon. 

Comments?

Filed: > >

Platforms: General, Windows Phone 8
Categories: How To, Comment, Develop
 

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All About Windows Phone

Windows Phone 8.1 apps/multitasking FAQ

Published by at 15:50 UTC, September 2nd 2014

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it seems, and my attempt at simplifying the situation in terms of applications and Windows Phone 8.1 multitasking/optimisation was rightly picked at by a number of developers, who live and breathe this stuff. So I got in touch with one of them, Sarah Fegert, and asked some of the more pertinent FAQ-style questions….

[My questions to Sarah, obviously, are in bold]

I gather there’s no one single ‘type’ of Windows Phone application – how many ways are there to develop for the platform?

SarahQuite a few! Most Windows Phone 7 and 8 apps were developed using a framework called “Silverlight”. What Microsoft has been doing over the last years is gradually converge the development tools and app types of Windows RT and Windows Phone into a single one. These new apps are called “Store” apps, and allow developers to write apps that run on both Windows and Windows Phone.

But to keep developers with existing apps happy, Microsoft also introduced “Silverlight 8.1”, essentially a turbocharged Silverlight, allowing existing Windows Phone apps to use most of the new features in Windows Phone 8.1.

What difference has it made for developers having Windows Phone 8.1 arrive? And, overall, is it an improvement (for developers)?

8.1 has been an incredible step forward. Windows Phone 8.0 was very restricted in what developers could do. Just one example: Most fitness trackers and smart gadgets use a technique called Bluetooth Smart to connect with your phone with minimal battery drain. Bluetooth Smart wasn’t available in Windows Phone 8, even though iOS and Android had it for years. So, Windows Phone 8.1 introduced a number of features that developers had demanded for a long time – features that often were available on competing platforms. Many of the new apps we’ve been seeing over the last weeks (FitBit, Hotel Tonight, Files, etc.) are a direct result of giving developers these tools.

My recent piece bemoaning imperfect application resumption got people talking. These being multi-GHz devices, what’s stopping every application from being quick to start and/or resume? What showstoppers are in the way?

The fundamental constraint is memory (RAM). To load an app and render the UI, the operating system needs to allocate some memory for the app, typically between 50-100 MB. When you leave an app (but don’t close it), the app stops doing anything, but remains in memory, and as long as it remains in memory, it resumes instantly when you switch back to it. What happens when you use too many apps is that the operating system would eventually run out of memory, and to prevent that from happening, it selects one or more of the suspended apps and shuts them down, freeing memory. This process is usually called tombstoning on Windows Phone. Now, obviously, tombstoned apps aren’t in memory anymore – so next time you switch back to them, the OS needs to reload the app and restore the previous state. When that happens, the user sees the dreaded “resuming…” screen. There is not really much that developers can do to prevent this from happening.

Even on the 2GB Lumia 1020, 1520, Icon and 930, just as many apps seem to end up being ‘resumed’ as on the lower RAM devices. Is Windows Phone 8.1 perhaps not using all the RAM efficiently? Is there some kind of ‘no go’ area, reserved for system or imaging use?
There are a few things to consider here actually. Firstly, because these devices have  much higher screen-resolutions, apps require more RAM. The exact factor varies between apps, but, for example, rendering a full-screen, full-resolution image on a 1520 uses 6x as much RAM as rendering a full-screen, full-resolution image on the 630. Secondly, as you say, some of the memory is reserved for system use. Thirdly, the performance of the storage (internal or SD card) may also affect how long an app takes to resume. 

Subjectively, I see less resuming screens on my 1520 than on other devices – and seeing how fluid the user experience is on my 630, Microsoft has done an excellent job optimizing resource usage, in particular if you look at how badly Android runs on low-end devices.

On these quad core multi-GHz devices, why does resuming (reloading from tombstoned state) take so long? I’d have thought reloading a (say) 50MB footprint app from internal flash memory would take well under a second, yet some apps (Skype, Twitter) seem to take much, much longer. Is this the fault of the apps or current limitations in the OS?
How fast apps resume would mostly depend on the specs of the phone. When apps are at fault, it’s usually down to not rendering a screen to the user until they’ve loaded some data from the internet or local storage. Developers can use a number of solutions to avoid this problem.

Anecdotally, I’ve never ever had Twitter ‘resuming’ for more than one second, from a Lumia 520 all the way to a 1520. Usually it’s less than half a second. I wonder if there’s a bug somewhere…)

Do Microsoft’s own applications have any special privileges, or are they in the same boat as third party apps?

They certainly do – the operating system decides which app gets shut down when the phone is low on memory. Since users are very likely to use the Start Screen or the Email app, the operating system would typically try to shut down other apps first.

AppCauldronBy the way, this is another area where the update to Windows Phone 8.1 really changed things. Apps used to have a fixed amount of RAM allocated – typically 150 MB – even if the app used only a fraction of that. Now, the memory allocated is much closer to what the app actually uses. In theory, this should improve multitasking. For example, on Windows Phone 8.0 when our users took a picture during their run on a low memory device, Track Runner would be tombstoned and the run interrupted. This is no longer an issue with the new memory allocation of WP 8.1.  

What’s your view on transitions? Do you think Microsoft should offer a way to disable them, to speed up the WP UI?

Microsoft says that transitions don’t slow down the UI, and this matches my personal experience. Within the app, transitions are optional but they make up much of the Windows Phone feel, so apps without transitions feel rather alien to the platform.

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Many thanks to Sarah Fegert, one of the co-founders of The App Cauldron, Inc, the development team behind the award-winning WP-exclusive running app Track Runner.

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Platforms: General, Windows Phone 8
Categories: How To, Comment, Develop
 

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