The Annoying Rise of Scam & Robocalls

Special Report: Have you noticed more & more robocalls or out & out spam phone calls making it to your mobile device? If you have – you are not alone. This has been getting on my nerves for a while now so I looked into just what was going on and why – these annoying calls are becoming more frequent.

An estimated 2.5 billion automated calls are being made each month, according to YouMail, which offers a robocall-blocking app. Three quarters of wireless customers feel like the number of unwanted calls has increased over the past year, and the calls cost Americans an estimated $350 million each year, according to Consumers Union.

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There is some good news. The FCC has reported that it wants to crack down on unwanted robocalls and the federal agency looking at ways to help us block them. It’s also been stepping up enforcement of illegal robocalls. Last week, the agency voted to fine a New Mexico-based company $2.88 million for making unlawful robocalls. And last month, the FCC fined a Florida resident $120 million for allegedly making almost 100 million illegal robocalls in a three-month period.

However ridding the world of robocalls entirely is tricky because some legitimate communications are made using automated call technology. That includes weather alerts and messages from schools, public utilities and political organizations. Phone companies don’t want to block legitimate calls that consumers may want to receive.

Here’s what you need to know to understand what’s going on with robocalls.

Annoying Calls Explained

Telemarketing tech that uses automated dialers to make so-called robocalls is pretty simple and inexpensive to set up and run. All you need is a computer connected to a modem and a program that selects and dials numbers from a database. Other features can be added too, such as recording calls or detecting when a person has answered.

Because the cost of making these calls has pretty much come down to zero and it’s possible to make the calls from offshore — where they’re harder to trace and crack down on — it’s become an easy and attractive method for scammers.

Why Are We Getting These Calls?

There are a few reasons.

  • You may have actually given your consent to a company to make these calls. And maybe you didn’t know you’d done so.
  • Your phone number has been reassigned and the previous person who had that number had consented to getting marketing calls and the company calling you hasn’t updated its list. (The FCC is currently considering a proposal to fix this issue. I’ll explain what they’re doing below.)
  • The people calling you are scammers and they don’t care about the law. This is probably the most likely answer to this question.
We May Have Done This To Ourselves!

If you have ever checked a box when signing up for a service, website or at a retailer asking if they can market directly to you, you may have given consent to receive marketing calls. Always double chec

FCC’s Recent Robocall Action Explained

Last week, the commission voted on two items related to ridding the world of unwanted robocalls.

First, it voted to evaluate a system that would let phone companies check if a number calling you is legit. This call authentication system could help improve third-party apps that allow consumers to block unwanted calls and allow phone companies to offer call blocking as a service.

The second thing it voted on was a proposal to consider how to prevent unwanted calls after a number has been reassigned to a different customer. Currently, legitimate companies that make telemarketing calls have no way of knowing if a phone number has been reassigned. This means customers who haven’t given consent for marketing calls are getting them. It also means that legitimate companies making these calls to customers who don’t want the calls are in violation of the law and are subject to stiff penalties.

To help resolve this issue, the FCC is considering whether wireless companies should be required to report when numbers have been reassigned so a database can be created. Companies could access the database so they aren’t calling numbers that have been reassigned to a new customer.

What We Can Do Now?

Ask your phone company to offer robocall-blocking technology — most of them offer some form of protection, although a few will charge you a fee.

If you use a robocall-blocking app or your carrier provides technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others. I have been using the truecaller” app for a few months now which has seemed to help quite a bit in respect to identifying robo & spam calls.  With this app, your phone still rings, however the caller identification reports the callers as “spam caller” which at least helps you avoid answering one of these calls. Check out truecaller here.

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Don’t pick up the phone when someone from an unknown or suspicious number is calling you. This is often how scammers know it’s a legit number to target and they may sell your number to other telemarketers and scammers.

File a complaint with the FCC or the FTC. The FCC can issue warning citations and impose fines against companies violating or suspected of violating the do-not-call rules. But it doesn’t award individual damages. The FTC can file lawsuits against companies or individuals violating its rules.

Consider filing a lawsuit, if you can find out who is making the calls. Companies are “strictly” liable for unwanted robocalls made without explicit written consent. And since damages start at a minimum of $500 per unwanted robocall, the penalties can add up.

Forward spam text messages sent from a phone number to 7726 (or SPAM). This free text exchange with the wireless carrier reports the spam number and you’ll receive a response from the carrier thanking you for reporting the spam.

If you need more information, check out the FCC’s website here.

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A Look @ Microsoft’s Outlook App

I have been recommending the Outlook mail app for iOS and Android for almost 2 years now. I have also written about it several times. During the past several months Microsoft has updated their mail app and has made it even better.

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Why Outlook?

Outlook’s design is very clean & unique.

Outlook has 5 icons across the bottom: Mail, Calendars, Files, People, and Settings. The way it’s laid out makes it feel like a complete communications – file management ecosystem. You are only one tap away from getting what you need. It uses a light theme with black and blue text throughout. Usually I prefer darker themes, but I feel like the design is here is very easy on the eyes. I don’t ever feel like the UI user interface) is distracting; it melts away and allows me to focus on what I need to see.

From a usability perspective, Outlook really shines. It provides me with just enough options to make it my own, but not so many that I am overwhelmed or spend time tinkering.

Outlook calendar

I love the built-in calendar function. I like being able to see email and my schedule in one app. The compose screen is simple to use as well. It allows me to change which account I am sending from, add files, photos, send calendar invites, or see my calendar availability.

One important aspect of all third-party email apps is which types of email services it supports. Outlook supports Office 365, Outlook.com, Exchange, Yahoo, iCloud, Google, and IMAP. (POP3 isn’t supported, so if you require it, you need to look elsewhere.)

Outlook supported email accounts

Outlook has support for iPhones with 3D Touch features. From the 3D Touch menu, you can hop right to your calendar, create a new event, or start a new email. I find myself using the View Calendar function frequently. A Notification Center widget and watchOS app are included as well.

Outlook supports push notifications for new emails, or just “important ones” with a feature Outlook calls Focused Inbox.

Focused Inbox sorts your email so you see the important ones first. It does this by considering past emails from a particular sender and your address book. You can also reclassify emails as you go in order to help train it. The calendar feature can also notify you of upcoming appointments as well as send short emails letting the people in your meeting know you are running late.

The snooze/delay function of email was made popular by Mailbox, but has since become adopted by a handful of other apps. Outlook offers a feature that allows you to control which folder your snoozed emails are stored. Your options for snoozing are in a few hours, this evening, tomorrow morning, or a custom time. Outlook doesn’t offer the ability to customize these times, and I’d like to see that added in the future.

Like I mentioned earlier, I like the fact that Outlook has a built-in calendar. It also has native support for a number of file systems. It includes OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. While this isn’t as important for attaching files (due to document providers), it does offer some advantages. There is a file screen that shows your most recent files for cloud document apps, as well as making saving attachments faster.

A recent update added third-party app integration through “add-ins.” Add-ins let you turn any email into a Trello card, save a message to Evernote, insert a GIF, translate messages, and more. These are currently only available to users with Office 365 email addresses, however.

You do not need to settle for the built-in mail apps on your iOS or Android smartphone. If you decide to take the time to explore other options, I definitely recommend starting with Microsoft’s Outlook app,

 

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Goodbye Windows Phone

Microsoft has officially pulled the plug on Windows Phone, having ended all support for Windows Phone 8.1.

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I have written about Windows Phone many times and for about 2 years I was a kind of happy Windows Phone user. The vision Microsoft had for their smartphone in many ways was unique and innovative. Also the idea of only two platforms for mobile users has also bothered me. The choice should include, at least a third option after Apple & Android. For a few years Microsoft was that third option.

Sadly Windows Phone is now officially dead.

Goodbye Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft ended support for Windows Phone 8.1 on July 11, 2017. Windows Phone 8.1 shared this death date with a host of other older and obscure products no one cares about, including Microsoft Identity Lifecycle Manager 2007, Microsoft ProClarity Analytics Server 6.3, and Microsoft Visual SourceSafe 2005 Standard Edition. None of which anyone has ever even heard of.

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In layman’s terms Microsoft ending support for Windows Phone 8.1 means there will be “no new security updates, non-security updates, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates”. Which means you’re on your own, even if something goes badly wrong.

While it’s now official, many declared Windows Phone dead a couple of years ago. Which is unfortunate as most of the Microsoft-powered smartphones in the wild are still running Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, or Windows Phone 8.1. None of which are supported any longer.

So, Windows Phone is dead, long live Windows 10 Mobile, perhaps?

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Me & my Windows Phone – in happier days.

Unfortunately even Windows 10 Mobile only boasts a incredibly minimal share of the mobile market. So Microsoft’s previous attempt at overcoming the might of Android and iOS is over, and its last remaining attempt is on life support.

For nostalgia purposes only you can check out my many Windows Phone articles here.

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App Spotlight – Outlook for iOS

Although I gave up on Microsoft’s Windows Phone a couple of years ago I still have plenty of good memories of me and my nifty Windows Phone. In fact if you are in a nostalgic mood you can browse my Windows Phone articles here.

All is not lost for Microsoft in the smartphone world. Even though I gave into Apple empire for both myself personally and my organization all is not lost. That’s because Microsoft has been publishing apps at an amazing rate during the past two years and many of them are simply top notch.

One of my favorite Microsoft Apps is “Outlook”. Why do I recommend trashing Apple’s default mail app and installing Outlook?

Phones with Outlook app.

Innovation and Consolidation 

The Microsoft Outlook app is a mobile productivity powerhouse, bringing your email, attachments, contacts and calendars into easy reach. Outlook’s built-in analytic engine automatically surfaces important email (across multiple accounts) based on your communications, and quick swipe controls allow you to easily triage your email. It’s a great mobile email app, and works with Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and iCloud email accounts.

Also included with Outlook is your calendar, files (OneDrive, Box, Dropbox & Google Drive) and contacts. If you are using Apple’s default apps you have separate programs for each of these. With Outlook – you have one app to control them all.

Of course if you rely on Microsoft Outlook on your desktop this is the perfect companion app on your smartphone or mobile device.

You can learn more about Microsoft’s Outlook app here.

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Our Adware Battle Continues

Over the past couple years, we have focused much attention on Ransomware, and that’s for good reason. However old threats are still here to make our digital lives miserable as well. One of the oldest surviving threats we continue to deal with is adware.

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Adware Today

There’s no denying that adware is a big problem. In fact 2016 saw a huge spike in Mac OS malware, mostly due to bundled adware. Google has tried tackling this problem by kicking known adware distributors out of the Play Store.

Google is perhaps the most aggressive trying to battle adware today because Android especially has seen a great deal of adware in recent years.

Earlier this year, a number of Android phones were discovered to have been infected with powerful adware. The “infection” took place somewhere between the factory, and the business that ordered them. That means some Android phones were purchased with adware pre-installed!

Avoid Download Portals

Desktops also continue to be targeted. One of the popular ways of infecting desktop PCs are through download portals. Many people continue to unwittingly use download portals that bundle adware and other unwanted programs with legitimate apps that people are looking for.

Unfortunately, these download portals show up at the top of search results and trick searchers into thinking they’re getting the best version of the app. When you are looking for a specific app take the time to go directly to the software provider’s website. If you do not – and you simply click on the first link in the search results you may be using a download portal which usually will give you a boatload of unwanted apps, in addition to the one you actually wanted.

* Yes – I know I used the words “download portals” five times in this section. That’s because I want you to remember what they are – so you can avoid them.

Keeping Alert for Adware

As with any other type of malware, the best way to deal with adware is to be aware if them – and what they are. Here are four things to watch out for.

If Ads Abound on Your PC – Don’t Panic But You Do Need to Act

If you’ve been infected with adware, you’re going to be seeing a lot of ads. Pop-ups, in-app ads, browser takeovers, and all sorts of other annoying behaviors might happen.

Different types of adware behave differently.

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Image Credit: Fireofheart via Shutterstock

However one thing that they all have in common is that they will show you a huge number of ads. You’ll notice more ads, more insistent and pervasive ads, and ads outside of the locations where you usually see them. If you’ve been seeing any of this stuff, download anti-adware software right away.

Just don’t get it from…

Third-Party App Stores

If you stick to Apple’s App Store, the Google Play Store, the Chrome Store, and other first-party, controlled app stores, you will be much safer than if you use third-party options.

The same rule for desktop and laptop software applies. Unless the app isn’t available from the Windows or Mac app stores — and you can’t find it on the developer’s website — avoid third party software download sites.

Watch for the Warnings

Believe it or not, you will often be warned right before you download adware. It’s those small print terms and conditions that often go ignored. Take the time to read them if you really – really want that free app. There’s a good chance that they contain something useful. They’ll often tell you that you’ll be getting something else in addition to the software you’re looking for.

No matter where you’re getting an app, make sure to at least browse the terms and conditions first. You just might save yourself the hassle of trying to deal with the problem later.

Avoid Free Versions of Software

If you found a place to download Microsoft Office for free, run the other way. You’re not going to get high-end, fully featured apps without paying. Someone might be offering it, but they’re probably offering a few other things that they aren’t telling you about, very likely adware – or worse.

Even apps that are normally free often carry some sort of adware. Ironically a number of illegitimate anti-virus apps have been discovered to come bundled with malware.

Always be very careful about where you get your software.

What to Do If You’ve Been Infected

Here are some warning signs to watch out for.

Have you noticed a lot more pop-ups than usual lately? Or advertisements that you can’t close? If you see a new toolbar (these are very popular), a new default search engine (also a common symptom), new programs that you don’t remember installing, or new bookmarks in your browser, you are then more likely infected with adware.

Do your best not to interact with any of these ads, as that may make the problem worse. Close — force close, if you need to — those apps and download an anti-adware application as soon as possible. Here are three choices that will help you rid your computer of adware for free.

Malwarebytes AdwCleaner (Windows)

With one of the best reputations in the game, Malwarebytes is a company you can trust to clean up your computer. Its AdwCleaner software specifically targets adware and browser hijackers, as well as “potentially unwanted programs,” which could include toolbars and other questionable downloads.

AdwCleaner is free, and all you have to do is download it and run it. It doesn’t get much easier.

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition (Windows)

Another company with a great reputation, BitDefender is at the forefront of anti-malware tech. This lightweight antivirus app protects you from all sorts of mayhem, including adware and spyware. It also packs anti-phishing and anti-fraud features for additional protection.

While you get more features out of the paid version of this app, the free option is still a great way to go.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (Mac)

While some of anti-adware software out there only works on Windows computer, Malwarebytes’ anti-malware software will protect your Mac from attacks. This extremely lightweight client is great even if your Mac is starting to get old and slow down.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Macs don’t get adware. They do. So download this now.

And if you’re looking for mobile anti-adware apps, check out Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware. It’s free on the Play Store.

Be Proactive Against Adware

As with any type of malware, the best way to deal with adware is to not get infected in the first place. Make sure you have an up-do-date antivirus solution running on your computer, watch out for suspicious-looking sites, and remember that the best things in life aren’t free. Especially when it comes to software.

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Podcasts 101

One of the best innovations to arrive with mobile technology has been the emergence of Podcasts. I have been listening to podcasts for many years now and I am always surprised at just how few people really are aware of what these are.

I wanted to take some time to share with all of you, my dedicated readers just what podcasts are and how they can really help you learn more and immerse yourself in the topics you enjoy.

If you live in our new technological era and you’ve been online, then you must know something about podcasts. It’s not just me. Podcasts are becoming very popular. According to a study performed in 2014 by Edison Research, 39 million Americans listen to podcasts every month. These figures have most surely increased since then, especially considering the fact that almost all podcasts are available for free.

What Are Podcasts Anyway?

Podcasts are a direct result of the new technological development and have been around for a while. So, a podcast is a downloadable/ streamable file that contains the recording of a discussion/show. Usually podcasts can be listened to so they come in MP3 format, but they can also be videos. In terms of content, everyone can find something interesting; people who make them cover every imaginable topic and then some more.

If you want a comparison, a podcast usually sounds like a radio show. The creator invites several guests and they discuss a certain topic. Some podcasts also allow interactive interactions with listeners like direct conversations, comments, etc. One of the most important features of a podcast is its serial characteristic – just like a radio show, the podcast can have daily/weekly/monthly series.

Who Are the Podcasters?

Celebrities, comedians, scientists, blogger, regular people, and the list could go on. Actually, everyone with a decent smartphone and an online connection can create their own podcast.

Finding Podcasts

While many radio celebrities or comedians launched their career with a podcast, not everyone has something interesting to say. So how do you find the best podcasts?

Well, podcasts are usually listened on-the-go (while driving, walking, working out etc.) So, both Android and Apple devices have access to apps specially created to bring podcasts to you. Simply browse and try until you find interesting topics and people.

My Podcast app, Overcast. With a Podcast App on your SmartPhone your mind will expand as you are exposed to topics of all kinds.

My Favorite Podcast Apps

iPhone Users – Overcast offers a great combination of clean design, powerful audio and podcast management features. Overcast deftly handles episode playbacks and downloads, sends notifications of new episodes, and can play offline or through streaming if you need to save some space; plus it has some nice audio features. Voice Boost normalizes the sound levels of speech, automatically raising quiet voices and lowering loud ones. Smart Speed automatically cuts away at gaps and silence in the podcast, speeding up play without distorting audio. The most recent update adds interface enhancements, an iOS 10 widget and a new action tray that makes it easier to manage episodes of your favorite podcasts.

Android Users – Pocket Casts (Android, iOS) neatly combines style and function with an attractive design that showcases subscribed podcasts in tile format. Tap on a square to bring up an episode list and download options. A smart playlisting feature helps you sort and categorize your downloaded content for easy listening. Pocket Casts also includes video podcast support, auto-downloading and automatic cleanup of downloaded episodes to save storage space. Other helpful playback features include quick skip forward and back buttons with configurable time intervals, and a sleep timer. What may be its most important feature is its cross-platform nature that allows it to sync between devices and OS’s, which is great if you’ve got an iOS and Android device.

So there you go – if you were unaware of podcasts are did not think that taking the time to learn about them was just not worth it.

Give it a try – your mind will thank you.

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Finding Shelter with Facebook

Facebook is leveraging its power as the world’s biggest social network to help people find food, shelter and transportation during or after major emergency.

Called Community Help, the feature becomes available after a Safety Check is activated. Once that happens, you can tap on the “Go to Safety Check” banner that appears atop your screen, and then select either ‘Find Help’ or “Give Help.’

From there, you can select the type of help you need from categories like food, transportation, water, shelter, baby supplies, pet supplies and more. You’ll then see a list of people offering that kind of aid, as well as their rough location, and can initiate a direct message conversation to get the help you need.

Facebook reports that Community Help was inspired by people already trying to provide aid during a crisis. The new feature simply makes it easier for helpers and victims to communicate with each other.

Safety Check has been under scrutiny at times due to both false alarms and times it should have activated but was not. Community Help will likely fall under similar scrutiny should someone try to abuse the system.

Nonetheless, Facebook has been working to expand access to Safety check to a greater number of communities, and Community Help is a legitimate step forward towards making it a lot more useful during an emergency.

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iOS 10.2 Arrives Today

The long wait for iOS 10.2 is finally over. After weeks of beta testing, Apple made the big iOS 10.2 update available to the public this morning, adding a host of new features that make the iPhone and iPad better than ever. I can say I have been using the beta of iOS 10.2 for several weeks now and it it a nice upgrade, bringing a couple new features, new emojis and of course the usual bug fixes.

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 Included in the new goodies are a fresh batch of emoji, a new SOS feature, Apple’s new TV app and much more.
Downloading the Update

To download iOS 10.2, go to Settings >> General >> Software Update. The 1.82GB update can then be downloaded and installed over the air. You can also update your device via iTunes.

What’s New is iOS 10.2?

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus users get a couple of new wallpapers in the new update. There are also more than 100 new emoji, including new characters for shrug, avocado, gorilla, shark and bacon.

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New wallpaper arrives with iOS 10.2

OS 10.2’s biggest new feature is probably the new TV app. Apple is hoping to create a unified experience where users’ subscribed and purchased video content gets grouped together in one app. With the new TV app, you can watch a show on your Apple TV and then pick it up later on your iPhone or iPad.

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New Emojis!

iOS 10.2 also brings hundreds of new highly anticipated emojis to iPhone and iPad. More diverse characters, new professions, expressions like face palm, shrug and fingers crossed, and new emoji representing sports, food, animals and more, can be shared today right from within Messages, the most frequently used app in iOS.

Improved Security – Faster Backups and More

Today’s iOS update also improves security by making backups nearly 1,000 times safer. You’ll get new Message effects called “Celebrate” and “Send with love” as well.

A number of bug fixes and performance enhancements improve stock Apple apps like Mail, News, Music and Photos.

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Samsung to Send Death Beam to It’s Troubled Note 7

If you are still using Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 – listen up.

Here is some unprecedented news. Samsung is literately putting a dagger in it’s troubled Galaxy Note 7.

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Samsung reported that it is executing its final solution to bring the saga of the Galaxy Note 7 to an end. The plan is to kill all of the Galaxy Note 7 devices remaining in use on December 19th, and all that’s required to make that happen is a simple software update.

The Galaxy Note 7 was released on August 19. By September, Samsung had recalled the first batch of handsets after dozens overheated. The Galaxy Note 7 handsets that had been handed out as replacements to the first batch were then found to have the exact same problem. So Samsung recalled the Galaxy Note 7, and requested that owners return their handsets for a refund or a replacement.

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A burned & damaged Galaxy Note 7

The problem here is that not everyone has turned their devices in. According to Samsung, 93 percent of Galaxy Note 7 owners in the U.S. complied with the recall. However, while 93 percent is an impressive figure, it means there are still over 100,000 devices unaccounted for. And Samsung cannot simply sit back and wait for them to explode in people’s faces.

So, to bring this whole sorry saga to an end once and for all, Samsung is bricking the Galaxy Note 7 devices still in use in the United States. It will accomplish this by issuing a software update on December 19. This update will “prevent Galaxy Note 7 devices from charging and will eliminate their ability to work as mobile devices”. Death by software update.

Verizon is refusing to issue the update over the holidays. Therefore anyone still using a Verizon Galaxy Note 7 has at least secured a stay of execution until after the new year. Everyone else should prepare for the end.

So there you go. The Galaxy Note 7 will almost certainly win “worst tech of 2016” on most lists and Samsung needs to move on from this disaster.

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Microsoft’s Vision to Evolve Your Smartphone Edges Closer

From the outset, Windows 10 has promised to be the operating system for all devices and I mean all devices. This vision includes smartphones. Imagine. Running the very same applications on your smartphone that you are running on your desktop PC. This is the reason I had stuck with a Windows Phone so long before giving into Apple two years ago.

Now this dream of your applications running on all of your devices is getting one step closer with Windows 10.

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Is the day arriving when our smartphones really our fully functional computers? Microsoft is close to making this a reality.

At its WinHEC event yesterday in Shenzen, Microsoft announced that desktop apps are coming to ARM processors. This is important because it is through a partnership with Qualcomm that ARM processors that run almost all of our smartphones.

This is a big deal. These aren’t just the touch-friendly Windows Universal Apps; they’re full-fledged productivity program. It means a full version of Office. It means Photoshop CC. It means Windows 10 games. And according to Microsoft, developers won’t have to change anything about the apps themselves to make them work.

Though Microsoft and Qualcomm are using an emulation process, this clip shows Windows 10 running quite smoothly on a nearly year-old Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 with 4 GB of RAM – in other words, early 2016 smartphone specs:

Will This Save the Windows Phone?

To do so Microsoft is going to have to push the Universal Windows Platform first and foremost. UWP apps are generally more power-efficient, touch-friendly, and scalable than legacy x86 software. Running x86 apps will likely almost surely require docking your phone and take a big toll on your battery.

But slowly, Microsoft’s ultimate vision for Windows 10 as an OS for all hardware is starting to come together. Building on concepts like the HP Elite x3, it’s not hard to imagine future Windows 10 devices simply being smartphones you can dock into a laptop or desktop setup when you need to do ‘real’ work.

Microsoft says these ARM-powered devices – which it seems to be calling cellular PCs now – will arrive ‘as early as next year.’ Maybe that ever-rumored Surface Phone stands a chance after all.

I am holding out hope that this innovation not only saves the Windows Phone but helps the smartphone evolve into something more then it is.

 

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