Not that anyone who has any influence will see this – although I have to admit that I was surprised by the amount of traffic that my last post about Windows Phone 8.1 has received – but as this is my primary public forum (such as it is), I thought I’d share some suggestions for improvements and enhancements for the two pieces of technology I’ve been living and working with for the past few weeks: Windows Phone 8.1, and the Surface Pro 2.
Windows Phone 8.1:
I’m starting with WP 8.1 simply because, as it exists right now, it’s actually pre-release software, and as such, there is room for Microsoft to make some improvements before the product is officially released, though, again, as a person who is completely lacking any sort of influence and lacking an audience of people who have influence, I doubt that anything I write will even be seen, let alone implemented.
Beyond that, some of my suggestions pertain to Cortana, and as much of what Cortana does takes place in the cloud, rather than client-side, there is the possibility for a more rapid turnaround when it comes to adding or changing features.
So let’s start with Cortana.
Functional Reminders – By this I mean reminders that are not for me, but rather are for Cortana herself. As an example, I can tell Cortana, “Turn off WiFi,” and she’ll do it. Conversely, I can then tell her, “Turn on WiFi,” and she’ll turn it on. Combining this capability with reminders – particularly the location-based reminders – would be a particularly useful function.
In the interest of conserving battery life, I typically turn off WiFi when I’m out and about, where my regular 4G or LTE – I have unlimited data – is usually sufficient for my needs, and I don’t have a need to connect to random WiFi hotspots. However, I usually turn it back on when I get home, where a constant WiFi connection is available (as is a steady source of power for recharging). So in this use case, I would turn off WiFi when I leave the house, then set a reminder for Cortana to turn it back on when I get home.
I tried this to see if it was available. It’s not; when I said, “Turn on WiFi when I get home,” she simply set a reminder for me to turn it on, which popped up when I got home.
I believe she does have this capability to some extent. You can, for example, tell her to Check In (via the appropriate app, like Facebook or Foursquare) when you get to a specified location, but I don’t do check ins, so I’m not sure if I’m right about that. Either way, it would be an incredibly useful capability if it were extended to a wide array of functions.
(And for what it’s worth, you can set WiFi to turn itself back on after a specified interval.)
Natural Language Improvements – Improvements in this area are bound to be forthcoming anyway, but speaking of reminders, when I ask Cortana to create a reminder for me, I have to do so in a slightly unnatural fashion. For example, if I were a different Jon, namely the one from the comic Sex Criminals, which is a great comic, by the way, I might want to set a reminder to drop a deuce in my boss’s potted plant at noon. So if I, as the other Jon, said, “Remind me to drop a deuce in Mr. Shankworth’s plant at noon,” Cortana would respond with, “Okay, I’ll remind you ‘To drop a deuce in Mr. Shankworth’s plant at noon.’ Is that right?”
(Note: She doesn’t have enough of a personality to ask, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”)
That is to say that the reminder on your Calendar would be titled, “To drop a deuce in Mr. Shankworth’s plant.” She knows enough to figure out that “at noon” is the when, but not enough to drop the “To.”
So to get it formatted without the “To,” I would have to say it like this: “Remind me: Drop a deuce…”
Similarly, saying, “Remind me that I need to to stop dropping a deuce in Mr. Shanksworth’s plant” would create a reminder that contains everything after “Remind me.” It’s not a huge deal, but it would add to the sense of familiarity and make talking to Cortana feel a bit more natural if she could figure out that when you say, “Remind me to buy toilet paper next time I’m at the store,” she would just create a reminder titled “Buy toilet paper.” She’s already smart enough to know that “next time I’m at the store” defines the time and place, so I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to get her to pare out the extraneous relative pronouns and whatnot when writing the reminder to Calendar.
Lack of Interests – Cortana can keep track of the things you’re interested in using her Notebook, through observing your usage patterns and through direct input, which is great. However, I’d like to see it go a step further and make it possible for you to let Cortana know not only what you like, but also what you hate.
For example, she knows that I’m not interested in sports, in that it was not something I checked off as an interest, which means that she won’t deliver me any sort of sports news or scores or whatever. However, she doesn’t know that my feelings go beyond merely lacking an active interest, and that I don’t want to see anything relating to sports.
I mean, I don’t care who wins any game. At all. Ever. But certain sporting events tend to spill out beyond the limits of their boundaries and fall into the general category of “news,” which means that I’ll still end up seeing headlines about such-and-such sportsball team winning the big sportsball tournament.
I’d like to avoid that by being able to specify with a certain amount of granularity what types of “news” stories I don’t want to see. I’d also like to have more control over the news sources.
Of course, an anti-sports position is peculiar to me, but I think most people have topics they don’t want to hear about while still having an interest in the more general category under which those topics fall. You might, for example, have an interest in entertainment news, but no interest in, say, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashians, or whoever.
Action Center – On the non-Cortana front, I’ve been somewhat disappointed in the Action/Notification Center. It’s been pretty hit-or-miss – mostly miss – when it comes to notifying me about activities on Facebook. The other issue with Facebook notifications – and this may be a problem with the FB app itself and/or the way it’s designed, though the same may be true of the sporadic nature of receiving notifications – is that if, say, I get a notification that someone commented on my status, I’ll click on it, the FB app will launch, and it will take me to the applicable status, but the comments are collapsed, so I have to make an additional click to see what the comment was. So much less efficient than the old way.
Additionally, it would be nice to be able to actually manage the notifications right there. For example, if I’m notified of an e-mail, I’d like to be able to just delete it right there without having to go into the actual Mail app.
Ultimately, though, what really needs to be done is for MS to implement the interactive live tiles that are being tested by Microsoft Research, as the overall experience needs to be a bit more seamless, as it was/is in WP 8, while still adding in the ability to add functionality via the more rapidly deployed app updates as opposed to core OS updates.
Extra-Large Tiles – Windows 8.1 has them, so why not Windows Phone 8.1?
Calendar – This is much improved in WP 8.1, but while the week view is appreciated, why did adding that necessitate eliminating the Agenda view? Yes, it’s sort of there in the week view, but there’s no reason it can’t exist separately.
Also, add the ability to display more than one appointment on the live tile.
Surface Pro 2:
Some of these fall into the category of Windows 8.1 suggestions, but they’re things that have really stood out for me while using the Surface Pro 2, so…
Custom Gestures – There are apps that will allow you to create your own custom gestures, but this needs to be baked in.
Independent Scaling/Display Controls – And here I’m not talking about whatever it is that’s being called independent scaling, but true, honest-to-Glob independent scaling, whereby a user can invoke separate controls for each display. I right-click on the external monitor and bring up Screen Resolution, and I’m presented with controls that will only apply to the external monitor. So I can set my scaling to 100%. Meanwhile, I do the same on the Surface Pro, and boom, I can set the scaling there to 150%.
Saved Docking Preferences – When in its docking station – or otherwise connected to an external display – it should remember how you had things set up the last time you were docked. (Assuming this isn’t your first time docking it).
I put the Surface Pro in its docking station. It remembers that I want the scaling on the external monitor set to 100%. It also remembers that I want all of the icons and shortcuts on my desktop to display on the external monitor, and that I want all x86 applications/control panels to open on the external monitor, without me having to set the external monitor as my primary display.
Then I undock, and everything automatically moves back over the Surface Pro.
Also: fix the damn mouse problem. Having to undock and re-dock the Surface Pro to get the mouse cursor to stop being invisible is a nuisance.
I’m sure that if took the time to think about it there are a lot more suggestions I could make – particularly on Windows Phone 8.1 – and I do have some ideas around the way some things ought to work and the potential for better integrating MS devices and services into the average person’s life, but many of them would require a lot of development from companies other than MS and are likely things that are part of Redmond’s vision anyway, but these are the main ones that have been on my mind.
Of course, while I’m tilting at windmills…
Adobe: Make your Creative Suite more touch-friendly. In Manga Studio 5, I can pan, zoom, and rotate the image using touch. in Photoshop or Illustrator? Not so much.
On the other hand, despite responding well to touch, the overall interface itself in Manga Studio isn’t especially touch-friendly either. So that’s something to be worked on in both worlds.
Which isn’t to say that you have to make “modern,” Windows Store-style touch apps, but Photoshop/Creative Suite and Manga Studio have different default workspace options to choose from, so why not add in a touch-based option?
Also, Adobe, admit that there’s a problem with lag when it comes to certain brushes in Photoshop and fix it rather than trying to blame it on some mysterious “something” that your legions of users must all somehow have on their disparate computers that are running on an assortment of operating systems.