Improving Windows 10 Continuum

Despite being disparaged by practically everyone, Microsoft’s Windows 8 has left a mark on the personal computing landscape by creating a new product category, the 2-in-1. A 2-in-1 tablet (or laptop) looks like a laptop computer, but you can separate the monitor from the keyboard.

Key to 2-in-1s is that the “guts” of the computer (processor, memory, and storage) and battery co-exist with the monitor so that it can function as a standalone tablet. The keyboard portion has no intelligence, and therefore you see very thin keyboards like Microsoft’s Type Cover for the Surface and more traditional looking keyboards like the one with the ASUS Transformer book.

I think computer manufacturers came up with 2-in-1s because they recognized that users expect computers running Windows to have a keyboard. Further, because there were so few Modern UI apps, users are most likely going to run “full” Windows desktop apps that require keyboards and a mouse or trackpad.

Continuum is a feature in Windows 10 that appears targeted at the dual-personality of 2-in-1 computers. The idea is that when a keyboard is attached to a 2-in-1, a user will want Windows to run in desktop mode, so Continuum automatically switches to desktop mode when you attach a keyboard. Desktop mode, as shown to the right, is the traditional Windows desktop with re-sizable windows and the new Windows 10 start menu.

Conversely, if you detach the tablet from the keyboard, Continuum assumes you want to run Windows in tablet mode, and so it automatically switches to tablet mode. Tablet mode displays a start screen, as shown to the left, and apps display maximized or full screen.

Continuum works as advertised on my Surface 3. When I detach the tablet from the Type Cover, Windows automatically switches to tablet mode. When I attach the tablet to the Type Cover, Windows automatically switches to desktop mode. I can manually switch between modes by tapping a button at the bottom of the Action Center.

I also use the Surface 3 with a Logitech K480 bluetooth keyboard, and the first time I connected the K480 to the Surface 3 I expected Windows to switch to desktop mode, but it did not. Apparently Continuum knows nothing of bluetooth devices. Why should a bluetooth keyboard be any different than a physically attached keyboard? If I connect a bluetooth mouse to a Windows tablet, isn’t that the surest sign that I plan to use it and will not use touch and therefore prefer desktop mode?

My recommendation to Microsoft is to make Continuum work like the Trusted Devices feature of Android 5.x, “Lollipop.” Trusted devices monitors bluetooth and when it detects that the phone has been paired with a new bluetooth device, it asks whether the user wants to treat it as a trusted device. If you select Yes, every time you connect that device to the phone and then enter your PIN or password, the device will by-pass that lock screen as long as the device remains attached.

I think Continuum ought to monitor for new bluetooth pairs, and when a new keyboard or mouse is attached ask the user whether they want to use Windows in desktop or tablet mode. Doing so will enable the user to tailor how they use Windows whenever a mouse or keyboard is attached, regardless of how it is attached.

Windows has long supported the use of bluetooth keyboard and mice, and people have been using bluetooth keyboards with tablets almost as long as there has been tablets. Continuum ought to support whatever keyboard options that a user choose to buy and not be biased towards 2-in-1s. After all, the Type Cover is not bundled with the Surface and a user may prefer a lower-priced bluetooth keyboard.

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Me and My Moto 360 – What do I dislike?

In a previous article I wrote at length about what I like about my Moto 360. I said in that article that I am happy with my Moto 360 and wear it every day. While I am able to list several reasons for using the Moto 360, there are a few things I wish were better: battery life and apps.

Managing battery life

My biggest beef with the Moto 360 has been battery life, however some changes have recently lead to a significant improvement. The bottom line is that a smartwatch must have at least 16 hours of battery life to get one from when they wake up until they return to bed.

It is not as easy to recharge a smartwatch as a smartphone, you have to take the watch off and then plug it in or place it on a charger, rather than simply plug in a cable as you do with a smartphone. Consequently, there is less notion of “topping off” a smartwatch battery and that means it must get through an entire day.

My early experiences with the Moto 360 were wildly different battery life results. One day I had the battery drain in as fast as four hours, the very next day I would get 14 hours, without really doing anything more than restarting the watch.

I wrote earlier of how I like to change watch faces, and I have learned that some faces can significantly drain battery life. Faces that display multiple things like the weather, watch battery life, and phone battery life might drain the battery faster than a face that just displays the date and time.

I posted several messages on Google+ seeking advice about what to do and got many suggestions ranging from re-establishing the connection to the Moto X to not using certain features and sticking with the “stock” faces that Motorola provides. When you pay nearly two hundred dollars for a device you don’t want to limit yourself by not using all its features simply to be able to use the watch throughout the day.

Bottom line is that Google and watch manufacturers have to make long battery life a primary objective for every new release of Android Wear and for every new watch. Fortunately, three recent changes have lead to significant improvement in battery life with my Moto 360, two of the changes came from something I did and one came from an upgrade to Android Wear.

What I Did To Improve Battery Life

The first thing I did was remove Google Fit, which is Google’s fitness monitoring app for Android phones and watches. Google Fit does a decent job of determining whether you are walking, running, or climbing stairs. I really like how the smartphone app displays your steps and progress, and I really wanted to keep using it, but many people were reporting that Google Fit caused a huge watch battery life drain.

After I uninstalled Google Fit from my phone, which it seems you have to do to get Fit to stop running on the watch, there was a noticeable improvement in battery life on the Moto 360. My guess is that the watch app is constantly sending information back to the phone so that it isn’t lost, and that may be causing the battery drain. Hopefully Google finds a way for Fit to not have such a huge hit on battery. In the mean time, I am using Moto Body to track steps on the Moto 360.

The next improvement came courtesy of Motorola when they finally pushed version 5.1.1. of Android Wear to my Moto 360. I don’t have any hard evidence that the upgrade to Android Wear has provided a big improvement, but it feels to me that it has and therefore I choose to give Motorola some credit with improving battery life.

Finally, due to issues I was having with my Moto X, I completely wiped and re-built both my smartphone and the watch. In this case I think the issue had to do with how Bluetooth functions as for now I see bluetooth connections being much more stable between the Moto X and a variety of devices, including the Moto 360.

Lack of apps

Smartwatch apps are challenging to develop. You are limited by very tiny screens and a few forms of input, so developers have a challenge in creating something useful. Consequently, there are few Android Wear apps available and many them have little value to me, but fortunately I find the built-in features of Android Wear provide enough value that I continue wearing my Moto 360.

Most of the watch apps that are available act as an extension to an app you have on your smartphone. For example, the Google Keep watch app displays all the notes you have in Google Keep on your smartphone. If you create a checklist, such as a shopping list, you can display and check off the items on that list on the watch, and that gets updated on the phone.

Google recently added the ability for apps to remain on the display, similar to how watch faces display. In previous versions of Android Wear all apps “closed” and were replaced by the watch face after a period of time, which made it cumbersome working with checklists in Keep. Now Keep stays on the display until you swipe it off, making it possible for you to continually see your shopping list as you are in the grocery store.

Most of the apps, like Foursquare and Glympse, that are on my watch came as part of the app on my phone, I didn’t seek them out. One app that I did specifically install is designed specifically for watches and is called Wear Battery Stats.

You can always see the percent of battery life left on your watch by swiping down on the watch face, however it can be challenging to translate a percentage into how many hours of battery life is left.

Wear Battery Stats displays a graph on your watch showing how fast the battery is being drained and will tell you in how many hours the battery will be empty. The information is also sent to your phone, where you can see a history of how the watch battery has drained over the last five days, which can be helpful in troubleshooting battery life issues. I recommend that everyone with an Android Wear watch install this free app.

The other app I use is IF, which is the app version of the Internet service IFTTT.com. I use the IFTTT.com service to integrate a number of different Internet services. You can create recipes that work with Android Wear, for example, I have recipes to turn the Phillips Hue lights in my house on and off, and I can trigger those recipes by tapping a button on my watch. I’ve also created recipes to quickly send “canned” text messages to my wife, like telling her I am on my way home.

Aside from Wear Battery Stats and IF, I don’t use the other apps on my watch very much. I do keep my eye out for new apps, for example, I really hope a version of MLB At Bat that will provide “near real time” updates of baseball scores will become available. Google Now only updates baseball scores after a few innings, but fortunately I can see scoring notifications from MLB At Bat on the watch.

Right now, one has to hunt to find truly useful watch apps, but fortunately, I think most people will be happy with just a few really good ones. All you might need is one really good reason to keep wearing a smartwatch. I see smartwatches as an accessory to my phone, therefore I find having quick access to notifications, text messages and email pretty useful.

Battery technology is a challenge for every mobile platform, we all desire devices that can go for days before having to be plugged in. One way that smartphone manufacturers have improved battery life is buy selling larger phones that can have larger batteries, but this won’t be an option for watches.

I am not going to wear a watch that is larger than the Moto 360, in fact if anything I want my watch to be smaller. Consequently, battery life is always going to be the great challenge for all smartwatch makers. I am looking forward to seeing how Google and companies like Motorola improve the battery life of smartwatches in the future.

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Weird Phone Behavior

I just had the strangest experience with my Moto X. Last night I was not able to get to the passcode screen on my phone. I would slide the unlock button down and end up at a blank screen. Same thing happened when I pressed the power button, and there was nothing it seemed I could do to fix the problem.

First, I tried rebooting the phone in safe mode, thinking the problem had to do with an IFTTT recipe I had created to change the wallpaper based on an Instagram hashtag. My theory was that there were so many notifications coming into my phone, it was giving Active Display fits.

The IFTTT rule may have been the problem, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that rebooting in safe mode did no good. In fact, it was worse, all I got was a blank screen with the Safe Mode label shown at the bottom left.

My next step was to wipe the cache partition. Turns out that the instructions that Motorola provides for wiping the cache partition is incorrect for those with Lollipop installed on their Moto X. If you have Lollipop on your Moto X then step 5 in the instructions is wrong, instead press the Power button for 2-3 seconds and then press Volume Up.

Alas, wiping the cache partition also did not fix my problem last night. At this point I did not know what to do, so I posted a query on Motorola’s forum (which still hasn’t been responded to) charged up the phone and went to bed resolved that today I would have to completely wipe the phone with a factory reset.

To my surprise, it seems that what I needed to do was leave the phone alone for several hours. When I got up this morning and turned the phone on, it successfully booted up and provided the passcode screen so I could enter my PIN. I have not wiped the phone, but I have found that the cache partition wipe did happen as I have had to log back in to all the services I’ve been using on the phone. I’ve also managed to lose two home screens in the process, but in general the phone seems to be working as expected.

A full factory wipe may still be in the future for my Moto X, but for the moment I am just happy to have my phone operating.

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Me And My Moto 360 – What do I like?

I’ve been wearing a Moto 360 for a little over six months, so I thought now would be a good time to share some of my experience with using this Android Wear smartwatch. I’ll be writing about the Moto 360 because it is the watch that I own, but what I am writing about applies to all Android Wear watches. Android Wear is very much a work in progress, and as you will see, my experience reinforces this fact.

I started to write one article about what I like and dislike about the Moto 360, but that quickly grew too large so I decided to break the article into two parts, one about what I like and the other about what I dislike. In this first article I will explain six things that I like most about the Moto 360.

Voice support

Compared to smartphones, smartwatches have small screens that will only get smaller over time. The ability to precisely touch buttons or icons on the screen is only going to get more difficult, and therefore voice support is important. My ability to speak commands to my watch is one thing I like most about the Moto 360.

To set a timer I say, “Ok Google, set timer for 10 minutes” and a timer is set on the watch for 10 minutes and begins running. To set an alarm I say, “Ok Google, set an alarm for 3 PM.” To find out the the outside temperature I say, “Ok Google, what is the temperature outside?” and a card displays with the current outside temperature.

When someone sends me a text message or email, I can browse the message and dictate a reply that is translated to text and sent as a reply. Speech to text does require an Internet connection, provided either via phone or a WiFi network, but I find it works pretty well.

One surprising aspect of the Moto 360 is that it does not have a speaker, so you will not hear the Google Android speak back the answer to my question about the temperature like you do with Android smartphones. Consequently, you cannot use an Android Wear smartwatch as a phone, such as you might have seen in those old Dick Tracy comics. Some may find the lack of audio as a deficiency, but I could take it or leave it.

Glance-able information

My first experience with notifications, now common on all smartphones, is with the Fossil Abacus SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) watch back in 2004. SPOT was a data protocol developed by Microsoft that used the FM radio band for wireless communication. Microsoft pushed snippets of information, things like sports scores, stock quotes, and news headlines, from the MSN service to the watch.

I really liked having this information pushed to me throughout the day, and bear in mind this was several years before the smartphone notifications we are familiar with today were first introduced.

All notifications that appear on my smartphone can appear on my Moto 360, which allows me to glance at that information without having to take out my phone. I can specify which notifications I want to see so that I am not constantly feeling a buzzing on my wrist. To close a notification, I simply swipe it away to the right and it is removed from my Moto 360 and my smartphone.

Watch faces

What I like most about Android is how I can personalize it with wallpapers, widgets, icons, and folders. It is no surprise then, that I really like the ability to change watch faces on my phone.

The Moto 360 ships with several different watch faces, each that you can customize either by changing backgrounds or adding items like the date. One Moto 360 face has two little clocks that you can set to different time zones, which I find helpful when working with colleagues outside the United States. I’ve customized another face with a picture of the Wrigley Field scoreboard, and I like to switch to that face while watching the Chicago Cubs.

An ever growing number of watch faces are available on Google Play either for free or for a small amount. I use an app called Watchmaker that one can use to create a watch face, and there is a huge library of free faces at Facerepro.com. Every week or so I browse the Facerepro site for new faces that I download to my Moto X and then transfer to the Moto 360 as I wish.

Wireless charging

The Moto 360 is the first device I have ever owned that charges wirelessly, and it is wonderful. Each night I simply place the Moto 360 in its charging cradle, with no fiddling to open a cover on the watch and attach a cable.

It may be a factor of how small the battery is in the Moto 360, but it recharges pretty quickly. In a little over an hour my Moto 360 is completely recharged. Motorola had the good sense to use the Qi charging standard, so you can place it on all sorts of charging pads.

If only the Moto X supported Qi charging.

IFTTT

By now you may have noticed that I have yet to write anything about apps. I think it is fair so say that Android Wear lags in apps, not too unlike how Android initially did in comparison to iOS.

Part of the problem may be that it takes effort to design a useful smartwatch app. You can’t simply port a smartphone app to the watch, it takes some thought to design an app that has functions you actually will use on a watch.

An app that I think does this well, is IF, which is the app version of the If This Then That (IFTTT) Internet service. You can use IFTTT to integrate different Internet services, apps, and devices. Think of it as, IF something happens THEN do something, for example IF the time is 9 AM THEN turn on the Hue light in my home office.

For Android Wear the trigger, or the “IF” part of the equation, is pretty simple, it’s basically when you tap a button on the screen. In my case I have options for turning the Philips Hue lights in my house on or off. I also have a simple IF trigger on my watch to send a text message to my wife to tell her I am on my way home.

The best thing about IFTTT is that it provides a way to add functionality to your watch or phone without having to wait for a developer to write an app. IF is by far the most used app on my Moto 360.

Integration with Moto X

The final item is the integration between the Moto 360 and my smartphone, a Moto X. I configure all my smartphones with a password to provide a level of security should it be lost or stolen, however if I am frequently accessing my phone having to constantly enter the password can be a pain. The Moto 360’s ability to be a trusted device alleviates having to constantly enter the password on my phone.

Trusted device is a feature first introduced by Motorola and originally unique to the Moto X and Verizon Droids, but Google has since incorporated it into Android 5.0 (Lollipop) so that this feature can be available forĀ all Android phones and tablets.

Whenever you bluetooth pair a device with an Android phone you will be asked whether you want to set up that device as a trusted device, meaning that as long as the device is connected to the phone you will not have to enter the password. Using a watch to provide this type of authentication makes a lot of sense.

Another way that the Moto 360 integrates with my phone is with notifications, when I swipe a notification away on the watch it is also cleared away from my phone, which only makes sense since I don’t need to see it twice.

I see integration, not just with phones, but with tablets, computers, and more, as key to answering the question of why would one want to buy a smartwatch. Size limitations are going to limit how much functionality a smartwatch is going to provide on its own, but if the watch can communicate with objects around me, that is a whole additional level of functionality that I think many may find appealing.

For example, today I have to use the IF app and select an option on the watch’s screen in order to use my Moto 360 to turn on my Hue lights. What if, instead, the Moto 360 were able to communicate directly with the lights so that when I came within range of the room the lights automatically turn on?

The key to this type of integration lies in the services that a device communicates with, and this is an area where I see Google having an advantage they have yet to fully exploit. Perhaps the best reason for owning an Android Wear watch is to experience the leading edge of wearable technology being developed by one of the world’s leading services companies. I look forward to seeing where Google takes Android Wear in the future.

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Use A Keyboard With Your Tablet To Increase Productivity

If you use a tablet at work, you probably fall into one of two camps, either you use a portable keyboard case in which you carry the tablet, or you use the tablet without a keyboard and use it for referencing information. You enjoy the portability of the tablet and the ability to be productive as you move between appointments, but when you get back to your desk the tablet most likely goes unused until the next time you leave your desk.

I’ve recently found a way to increase my productivity by using my tablet while sitting at my desk, and the key component is the Logitech K480 keyboard. Each morning when I get to work I drop my Nexus 9 in a slot on the K480, placing it right below my computer monitor and in a position where I can easily see what is on the tablet. The K480 connects via bluetooth to my notebook and tablet computers and I can easily switch the keyboard between the two, making it easy to quickly enter text on the tablet.

During the day I keep my to-do list displayed on my Nexus 9, which helps me keep focused on the tasks I need to complete. If I am attending an online meeting or watching a webinar on the computer monitor, I can easily take notes using Evernote on the tablet. In short, what I find is that once you have a way to easily use a physical keyboard with a tablet you will find ways in which it can make you more productive.

The Logitech K480 is just under twelve inches wide, eight inches tall and weighs just under two pounds, so it is designed to sit on a desk rather than be carried around, although I find it fits easily in a computer bag. The physical dimensions put the keyboard on par in size with most notebook computer keyboards. In fact, the keys are the same size as on my notebook and are spaced far enough apart that I can type comfortably.

In addition to a full compliment of QWERTY keys and a number row, there is a row of function keys at the top that are programmed to perform many common tablet functions. For example, the F1 key is also the Android home button and the F2 key is the Android app switcher.

The K480 supports bluetooth connections with Android tablets and smartphones, iOS tablets and smartphones, along with computers running Windows, Mac OS, or Chrome OS. What makes the K480 different from other bluetooth keyboards is that you can configure it to connect to up to three different devices and easily switch between the three.

To switch between what device the keyboard connects to you move a dial, located at the top left of the keyboard, between three different positions. For example, the first device my K480 connects to is my notebook computer, the second device is the Nexus 9, and I simply switch the dial between the two positions as I move from computer to tablet.

A slot located along the top of the K480 provides a place to set a tablet in landscape, or if you prefer, there is enough space for a tablet and smartphone in portrait orientation. The slot positions tablets at a perfect viewing angle to be seen while typing.

At a cost of $49, the Logitech K480 is not the cheapest tablet keyboard on the market, but it is cheaper than the Microsoft Universal keyboard that also connects to multiple devices and costs $64. If you are looking for bluetooth keyboard to use with a computer, and you use a tablet and smartphone, I think you will be pleased with the functionality that the K480 provides and therefore recommend it for your consideration.

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