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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More Troubles for Windows Phone Emerge

This news saddens me on a technology level. If you are a dedicated reader of this fine blog you will recall that many times in the past I have praised the merits of Microsoft’s Windows Phone. Although I abandoned my Windows Phone about a year ago I had hoped it would bounce back and actually gain a little market share. Recently it has been indicated that Microsoft was providing a development tool to Android developers so that they could easily port (move) their apps over to the Windows Phone ecosystem. Sadly this has apparently been delayed and now it appears Windows Phone is in very serious danger of becoming extinct leaving users with only 2 choices.

Windows phone shipments took a nose-dive in the third quarter, plummeting 35% from the same period in 2014, researcher Gartner said today.

To make this turn of events even worse, by comparison, total global smartphone shipments climbed 15% in the third quarter.

Of the 353 million smartphones shipped in the September quarter worldwide, less than 6 million were powered by Microsoft’s Windows, making Windows’ share 1.7%, Gartner estimated, down from 3% in the same quarter of 2014.

he September quarter was the first full period since Microsoft announced a major retrenchment of its smartphone business and the strategy that had guided it. In July, even though it had written off billions former CEO Steve Ballmer sunk into acquiring Nokia’s handset business the year before, Microsoft said it would continue to manufacture devices and push other OEMs to use Windows.

CEO Satya Nadella repudiated Ballmer’s plans, but he denied that the company was exiting the business. Instead, he spelled out a strategy that would tightly focus on Windows loyalists, value-oriented consumers, and business workers.

From all evidence, that’s not worked.

windows' share of all smartphone shipments

Some in the technology industry, including this blogger believe that there is still a place for Windows phones, even with Microsoft’s downsized goals. For example enterprises are better suited to Windows 10 Mobile and Microsoft’s revamped strategy then either iOS or Android.

Enterprises and government for example want to actually support Windows 10 across all devices. Microsoft’s ideal customer is a professional already deep in the Windows ecosystem, having invested, say, in a Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book, or companies that are strictly Windows-only shops.

That’s not much of a market but these markets could save Windows Phone. I for one hope that this happens.

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Hope for Windows Phone?

Earlier this week I reported that Microsoft wrote down $7.6 billion of its investment in Nokia and again reorganized. This move has made anyone who loves Windows Phone very nervous. Is it the end of Windows Phone? Well not so fast is seems.

It appears that Microsoft’s smartphones will follow the trailblazing of the more successful Surface tablet line, which after two years with little return hit its stride in 2014 with the debut of the Surface Pro 3. “We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family,” CEO Satya Nadella told employees in an all-hands this email this past Wednesday.

This basically means that the Lumia line will be relegated to a peripheral position, the spot the Surface Pro 3 now enjoys in comparison to the broader personal computing device market and best exemplified in smartphones by Google’s “hero” Nexus handsets.

“Microsoft will have something very similar to where the Surface line is now,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in a Friday interview. “The idea will be to create inspiring hardware that motivates their ecosystem. They’ll go after the ‘halo’ effect.”

The good news here is that Windows phones will not disappear just yet. “I am committed to our first-party devices including phones,” asserted Nadella, showing that, at least for now, Microsoft won’t scrub Windows smartphones from its portfolio.

The reality, however, is not so happy for us Windows Phone fans. Even with billions of dollars invested into mobile, Windows has powered only 2.7% of the handsets shipped worldwide last year which is actually down from 3.3% in 2013.

There is hope that by refocusing their smartphone business model and taking control of the hardware, just like with the Surface tablet line that Windows Phone can find a little niche and survive. However I am sadly not very confident here,.

 

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Windows Phone’s Shrinking Presence?

This story makes me very sad. If you know me at all you are well aware I am a big fan of Windows Phone. The interface and overall performance of Windows Phones are excellent. However Microsoft was late getting into the mobile world and by the time Microsoft started taking mobile seriously Android and Apple had already taken control of the market. Try as Microsoft may, their smartphone is destined for a very distant third place in smartphone market share, barely crossing the 5% line in the U.S market.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Now arrives the news that Microsoft is scaling down its mobile phone activities, writing off the entire value of the former Nokia smartphone business it bought last year and laying off almost one-third of that business’ staff.

The company will no longer try to build a standalone phone business, but instead plans to build a Windows ecosystem that includes its own devices, CEO Satya Nadella told staff in an email announcing the changes.

Up to 7,800 jobs will be cut, most of them in the phone business. The cuts come in addition to 18,000 layoffs announced last year: Those cuts included around half of the 25,000 staff who joined Microsoft from Nokia.

The layoffs should happen by year end, Microsoft said, adding that it would provide more information about the impairment charge in its fourth-quarter earnings announcement on July 21.

I still hold out hope that somehow Windows Phone survives and becomes at least a legitimate option. A world of Androids and Apples is not very appealing to me and is already getting boring.

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Cortana Set to Arrive on iOS and Android

One of the things I miss very much about having and using a Windows Phone is Cortana. Boy was she special. Cortana is much like Siri but she actually works for you. I really – really miss her but is looks like Cortana is going cross platform.

This is because today Microsoft made official what had been rumored two months ago: It will release Android and iOS mobile apps that feature Cortana, Microsoft’s intelligent assistant.

“It all starts with the big picture,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, argued in a Tuesday interview. “Microsoft wants to provide a connected experience with all a customer’s devices. Windows is nowhere in phone, nowhere in tablets, so they have to provide an experience that [crosses] these platform lines.”

The Android app will debut next month, and the iOS version later this year, Joe Belfiore, who leads Windows design at Microsoft, said in a blog post.

The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. Those things Cortana will do on rival platforms include reminder notifications, notebook syncing and flight tracking. The apps will not feature Cortana’s voice-activated functionality, as in, “Hey, Cortana” which is kind of a bummer.

By offering Cortana, even in a stripped-functionality form, and native Android and iOS apps for other services, Microsoft is executing on its stated “cloud-first, mobile-first” strategy. Along with other major moves.

Saving Windows Phone with Phone Companion?

Also today, Microsoft revealed that Windows 10 for desktops will come with a “Phone Companion” app that will promote not only Cortana, but other Microsoft services and their necessary Android and iOS apps.

Phone Companion will walk Android and iOS device owners through the steps of acquiring apps such as Cortana, Office, OneDrive OneNote, Outlook and Skype, and if available, set up data synchronization between Windows 10 and non-Windows smartphones or tablets. Photos taken on an iPhone, for example, will sync with the Photos app on Windows 10, while music stored on OneDrive will be playable on an Android or iOS device.

“Phone Companion will reportedly help you connect your Windows PC to whatever phone you own — whether it’s a Windows phone, Android phone, or iPhone,” Microsoft Promised.

Microsoft did not set specific release dates for either the Android or iOS Cortana apps, but said that Phone Companion would be bundled with a Windows 10 preview build expected to go public “in a few weeks.”

Windows 10 is to launch this summer.

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Hope for Windows Phone?

I must admit this, and I know I have, many times, right here for you my dedicated readers.

I really – really miss my Windows Phone. I am using a iPhone 6 right know and it bothers me. in a big way. I use it for one reason only. Sadly It literally has all of the apps I need for my job and one very important app my wife says I need, Disney Experience. I am left scratching my head wondering why Microsoft cannot figure the whole app thing out. It’s not that hard. People wants apps, and they usually choose their smartphone exclusively on the availability of the apps they want. Maybe Microsoft is starting to get it. Just maybe.

Have no doubt. Windows Phone I do miss yo… badly. Microsoft, listen to me closely, there is no doubt your operating system is superior to both iOS and Android. However please figure out the who app problem before it’s too late.

Maybe there is some hope as this article suggests.

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Me and my Windows Phone. I really do miss you being there for me, as my primary phone.

Is this more false hope? I am not sure but it looks like developers of iOS and Android apps will soon be able to bring their apps and games to Windows 10, Microsoft’s next operating system that’s designed to run on Windows Phone, laptops and other devices, the company announced at its Build developer conference this week. Windows 10 is expected to arive sometime this summer, but phones running Windows 10 are not expected until a later in 2015.

Four new software development toolkits will allow developers to bring their code for iOS, Android, the Web, .NET, and Win32 to the Windows Store with “minimal code modifications” Microsoft promised.

Developers will start with a code base, such as Android or iOS, and integrate that with the Universal Windows Platform capability, then distribute the new app through the Windows Store.

The four new toolkits will enable code already built on websites with .NET and Win32, with Android Java/C++ and with iOS Objective C, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson, vice president of operating systems, said in a blog.

As an example of this, Adobe will bring its Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements apps to the Windows Store by using the new toolkit for Win32 apps, Myerson said. Today, there are 16 million Win32 apps, and Microsoft is looking forward to having them grow their distribution by coming to the Windows Store, he added.

In another example, the Candy Crush Saga game was ported to Windows Phone with “very few code modifications” to its original Objective C code with the Objective C toolkit, he said. The Universal Windows Platform will also enable apps to become holograms.

Having the relatively easy capability to convert iOS apps, and especially Android apps to Windows Phone, could help Microsoft, but even this new ability will take some time and I am not sure, but I fear Microsoft is out of time when it comes to improving smartphone adoption.

I am crossing my fingers for Microsoft, because as I have said…. I really – really miss my Windows Phone.

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Report from Microsoft’s Build 2015

Today was day 1 at Microsoft’s Build 2015 and that means a lot of Windows 10 news. So what did Microsoft want us to know and what are they excited about? Well enough with the Microsoft rumors and lets move on to actually what Microsoft announced today.

 

WINDOWS 10

 

Screen Shot 2015 04 29 at 5.38.18 pm 730x367 Everything Microsoft announced at Build Developer Conference 2015: Day 1

The first announcement about Windows 10: The Windows Store is getting its own carrier billing service across 90 mobile operators to make it easier for customers to purchase apps, and developers to sell apps, without requiring a credit card. This will be available for all Windows 10 devices.

Run Universal Windows apps on Your Desktop

 

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Microsoft demoed what it’s like to run Windows apps on a PC – or what it bills as “universal apps.” Even after the user closes the app on their desktop, they can still opt to receive notifications on the lower right corner to allow the app to run across all their devices.

Android and iOS apps arrive on Windows 10!

There were rumors earlier this week that Windows will somehow allow Android apps to run on its platform. Today Microsoft clarified the rumor by announcing that developers not only can port their Android app codes to Windows 10, but also iOS apps. This is big news!

This will certainly reduce the friction for developers hoping to expand their app offering to Windows 10 without requiring a whole lot of effort. The apps will port over on Windows as universal apps so you can use them on Windows 10 desktops as well.

 

ioS objective C Build 730x406 Everything Microsoft announced at Build Developer Conference 2015: Day 1

 

Spartan Browser Gets an Official Name: Microsoft Edge

Project Spartan is officially no more: Microsoft unveiled an official name for the browser at Build – the Microsoft Edge. It can not be underestimated how much Microsoft hopes that this one competed with Google’s Chrome browser.

 

ms edge 730x371 Everything Microsoft announced at Build Developer Conference 2015: Day 1

Microsoft’s new browser will have note-taking and sharing features built-in, as well a new tab page and Web extension support.

 

Windows 10 Continuum for Windows Phone

Fully backing its promise to make its service and devices as universal as possible, Microsoft also announced that Windows 10 phones can be used as a full computer.

It make sense, really. Since Windows apps are universal anyway, Windows 10 continuum allows users to connect their devices via an HDMI cord to see their phone in full screen.

 

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In a demo, Joe Belfiore, Microsoft Corporate Vice President at Operating Systems Group, showed off PowerPoint from a Windows 10 phone on a desktop. Although the look and feel is very much like a native desktop app, it’s all running via a Windows 10 smartphone, and can even pull in photos from the camera roll to insert into slides.

 

Windows Holographic Demo

Remember Microsoft’s foray into virtual reality last year? That division of MS is still at it with today’s showcase of Windows Holographic.

 

windows holographic 730x401 Everything Microsoft announced at Build Developer Conference 2015: Day 1

While nothing particularly new was announced in this section, Microsoft didshow off its development to make the HoloLens VR headset compatible with browsers, allowing wearers to walk around and resize Windows 10 app screens and interact with them through the holographic computing technology. You can also use voice command to make browsers follow you around… if you want that.

Microsoft also demonstrated the use of HoloLens from a medical education perspective, and brought a student on stage to show how she can use the VR headset to study the human anatomy. She does so by examining the human body from various layers and zooming into specific bones and organs.

 

hololens anatomy 730x403 Everything Microsoft announced at Build Developer Conference 2015: Day 1

 

And that wraps up the big news from Microsoft’s Build 2015, Day 1! Well done Microsoft. Some very good stuff here.

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The State of Windows Phone

Windows-Phone-8-Update-3I love Windows Phone. I really do. I have used a Windows phone exclusively twice in the past three years. Once I lasted an entire 12 months. But there are real problems facing Microsoft in respect to their presence in the smartphone market.

For me personally there are many apps I need to have to simply get my job done. Almost none of them are available on Windows Phone and that really bothers me. If not for this I would be using a Windows Phone still today. But sadly this is not the case.

The time has arrived for a Windows Phone reality check and to simply accept the fact that Windows Phone will always be the third wheel in the mobile smartphone arena with Android and iOS unless something drastically changes.

In some areas of the world Windows Phone, especially Microsoft Lumia devices, are doing very well and in some situations actually surpassing these other two platforms. The main reason for that however is not the Microsoft high end devices but the steady stream of low end budget Lumia’s that are hitting those markets.

Over the last few months we have seen regular news about apps and developers pulling their wares from Windows Phone. In some cases companies have abandoned the Windows Phone platform all together after making very public statements beforehand supporting the platform.

Then you have the ridiculously low amount of apps available on Windows phone. However the app shortage is not the only problem facing the Windows Phone platform.

On one hand we have seen some top tier companies bring their apps and services to the Windows platform however, it is usually that first release that remains in the store for months on end with no updates or improvements. In the meantime their iOS and Android counterparts receive regular updates and new features.

I could go on and find a huge list of examples of apps coming to Windows Phone and rarely being updated. There are also plenty of examples of iOS and Android versions of apps being feature rich compared to Windows Phone versions even though there are no limitations on Windows Phone that would keep them from performing those same functions.

We have even seen this from Microsoft, who has gone all in on their cross platform push for their services, when iOS and Android apps enjoy significant updates before their own platforms do This even goes for the Microsoft Office apps which are actually superior on iOS then on Windows Phone.

The issue is that developers are not putting their time into Windows Phone because their time is money and there is simply not the same level of money and opportunity compared to that with iOS and Android. If this simple fact does not change Windows Phone is surely doomed or at the very least will always be subjugated to the smartphone basement.

If you know me you know that me you know that I really enjoy Windows Phone and the platform in many waysifar superior then what iOS and Android bring to the table. I want it to continue existing but the reality is that may mean always playing from behind and accepting that some apps will come to the platform, some will not and some may get pulled.

It is obvious that Microsoft is focusing on where the market is for the devices and services. That is why we are seeing all the new handsets hit overseas areas first instead of the US. They are making a business decision to go where the demand is just like all the other big companies and services are for their own apps.

This new reality is about knowing and understanding what the deal is and to deny where Windows Phone stands these days is simply avoiding that reality. Windows Phone fans,of which I count myself do not like hearing this but that also does not change reality.

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Confessions of A Windows Phone User

First and before I start you must understand I really truly love Windows Phone*. For about half of the time during the past 4 years I have been an enthusiastic Windows Phone user. However recently I switched back, holding my nose all the way to an iPhone. Why would I do this you ask? My short answer is that I am making this change to hopefully send Microsoft a message about what they must do if they ever want to reach double digit smartphone market share in the United States.

* Throughout this article I refer to Windows Phone, although Microsoft has recently announced the re-branding to “Microsoft Phone”. As to not confuse my dedicated readers I continue to use “Windows Phone” for the purposes of this post.

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I am taking a deep breath as I write this. I am so upset by this because I truly believe that Microsoft sports by far a superior UI (user interface) and offers a first rate experience when it comes to user customization and Microsoft Office integration. Unfortunately there are two converging events occurring today that have forced me to make this sad change and I bet many others will follow. If this continues to occur, there will be a slow march to mediocrity in the smartphone world in store for Microsoft.

What are these two events which have converged to cause this change of heart for me? Well here is how I see it.

Converging Events Conspire Against Windows Phone

Event #1

The first event is the continued lack of app development in Microsoft’s smartphone realm. The continued lack of apps truly astonishes me. I have waited and hoped for the past 4 years that this situation would improve and although there has been some improvement it has been ridiculously slow and not remotely enough development in the app field for the majority of smartphone users. Why Microsoft does not get the importance of this situation I simply have no idea. People generally use their smartphones as quasi tablets today and as these smartphones grow in size this situation surrounding how people use their smartphones, and what they expect from them is only going to increase.  The lack of apps is like an anchor dragging the amazing Windows Phone down to the bottom of the smartphone seabed.

Event #2

The second event that is occurring surrounds Microsoft as well. During the past year Microsoft has been successfully pursuing their new business model of being a “Software and Services” company first. As a result their software prized possession of Microsoft Office has been developed and released to positive reviews across the board of smartphones including Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone. Microsoft’s other products, Office 365 and OneDrive have also been made available across platform. As a result, even for Microsoft dwellers the need to stay with Windows Phone is minimized.

More Troubles

These two situations (or events) are really causing Microsoft some issues with further developing and expanding their smartphone line. Although not as important as the two situations I have talked about here Microsoft after purchasing Nokia really only has one other smartphone provider which is HTC and even there other than the amazing HTC One M8 the choices for high end smartphone users is minimal here as well.

What Can Microsoft Do to Save Their Amazing Smartphones?

It really comes down to this. Apps. Microsoft must do whatever is necessary to get a handle on this problem and quickly. For each month that rolls by Microsoft is falling further behind in the smartphone dominated world.

Goodbye Windows Phone. May we meet again in a better place where Apps dance freely in the Microsoft Store.

Goodbye Windows Phone. May we meet again in a better place where Apps dance freely in the Microsoft Store.

What would I do? Well I have suggested this many times but it seems I just do not have Microsoft’s ear these days. The first thing I would do is identify the most popular 50 apps worldwide and then either pay the companies to develop apps for Windows Phone or develop the apps, in partnership for those companies. Now I fully understand that for the most part this is now how apps are developed, Android and Apple do not need to do this, however Microsoft was so late to the game this may be their only hope for smartphone survival. There is an old but true saying that goes like this. “Desperate times call for desperate measures”.

Although it is true that many of the functions of apps can be completed with the internet browser on Windows Phone the task can be both clunky and slow. These two results are a smartphone killer.

Even for me a Windows Phone junkie there are simply many apps that could help me professionally that are simply not available to me, unless I switch to Andoid or iOS, which quite frankly I recently did.

Offer Incentives to Small App Developers

There must also be incentives for small app developers to invest the time and resources in Windows Phone. I have seen this a couple of times in the past few years. As a CIO for a local government I have been involved in a couple of projects that involved app development for smartphones and only once in three occurrences was a Windows Phone App even a possibility. And in the case where a Windows App was offered it was inferior to the Android and iOS offerings.

I am stunned by Microsoft’s continued problem and lack of movement with Windows Phone and its poor relationship with app developers. Microsoft recently has gotten many things right. Office 365 for Business and Home Users, OneDrive’s unlimited storage and the Surface Pro 3 are all signs of a company heading in the right direction, however I am left scratching my head wondering what’s in store for what could be the best smartphone on the market.

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Sunday Ticket Arrives on Windows Phone

Microsoft's Surface Tablets will be on all sidelines this year.

Microsoft’s Surface Tablets will be on all sidelines this NFL season.

One of the reasons I had been hesitant on switching back to Windows Phone was the absence of Directv’s NFL Sunday Ticket App. This aside I still made the switch anyway. In the back of my mind however I was confident that this app would soon appear on Windows Phone as a side result of Microsoft’s recent deal with the NFL to provide Surface tablets to all of the teams for their sidelines.

Well one week before the start of the 2014 NFL season the DirectTV NFL Sunday Ticket app hit the Windows Store for Windows Phone and Windows 8. Of course you will still  need an NFL Sunday Ticket subscription (which I have had one since 1996) in order to access live games on your phone or tablet but I am sure everyone knows that by now.

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Microsoft is an official sponsor of the NFL and this season coaches and players are using customized Surface tablets on the sideline. DirectTV has them covered, releasing a NFL Sunday Ticket app for Windows 8.1 and RT (tablets) as well. Another new app from the NFL, NFL Now, which streams archival footage and game highlights, is also available on Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

Windows Phone users on Verizon can access local NFL games on the NFL Mobile app, which is also a change for this year, although it might require additional monthly subscription fees depending on your plan.

Windows Phone still does not have the sheer number of apps as the Google or Apple stores but slowly Microsoft has been adding apps users find essential. Of course you can find the Sunday Tickey app on your iOS and Android devices.

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