Microsoft integrates Azure websites with hybrid cloud

Microsoft has announced the integration of Azure websites with Azure virtual networks, including access to on-premise resources if you have a site-to-site VPN.

The Virtual Network feature grants your website access to resources running your VNET that includes being able to access web services or databases running on your Azure Virtual Machines. If your VNET is connected to your on premise network with Site to Site VPN, then your Azure Website will now be able to access on premise systems through the Azure Websites Virtual Network feature.

Azure websites let you deploy web applications running on IIS (Microsoft’s web server) hosted in Microsoft’s cloud. The application platform can be framework can be ASP.NET, Java, PHP, Node.js or Python. There are Free, Shared and Basic tiers which are mainly for prototyping, and a Standard tier which has auto-scaling features, managed through Microsoft’s web portal:


The development tool is Visual Studio, which now has strong integration with Azure.

Integration with virtual networks is a significant feature. You could now host what is in effect an intranet application on Azure if it is convenient. If it is only used in working hours, say, or mainly used in the first couple of hours in the morning, you could scale it accordingly.

Have a look at that web configuration page above, and compare it with the intricacies of System Center. It is a huge difference and shows that some parts of Microsoft have learned that usability matters, even for systems aimed at IT professionals.

Windows “9”: forget the Start menu, consider the apps

This week has seen multiple leaks of early builds of the next version of Windows – sometimes called Windows 9 or “Threshold” – showing Microsoft’s continuing inability to persuade all of its partners to keep secrets.

It seems to me that the leaks are likely to be genuine, though the usual health warnings apply. I also expect that Microsoft is deliberately holding back from releasing final UI designs, in part because they are likely to leak, so you should not read too much into the appearance.

The headline new features are a revamped Start menu which appears in the old position on the desktop, rather than on a separate screen; and the ability to run several desktops at once, as a way of organising your work.

No doubt the new Start menu will feel more comfortable for Windows 7 users, though for myself I am now used to the full-screen version and it is no big deal.

I am more interested in what is happening with Windows Store apps (also known as Metro or Windows Runtime apps). These are significant because it is this kind of app that you can easily port to Windows Phone using a Visual Studio Universal App project.

We saw these apps running in desktop windows, in a preview at the Build developer conference earlier this year. The leaked build seems also to have this feature. Check out the video here. Here is Calculator running on the desktop:


This is the Metro app, not the old desktop calculator. Here it is in Windows 8.1:


Note a big difference though: in Windows 8.1 you can get a window bar to appear along the top, but in Windows 9 there is also a maximize widget at top right of the window (in Windows, this doubles as a “restore down” button when the windows is already maximized).

Later in the video, we see this in operation. The user starts the Xbox Video app full screen:


and then hits the “restore down” button:


This is therefore the bridge between the “Metro” and desktop environments. Hit that button, and the full-screen experience becomes a windowed app on the desktop.

In another leaked image, the Charms menu options (a right-edge menu in Windows 8.x) becomes a drop-down window menu, summoned by clicking in the right-hand upper corner. Users often find the Charms menu awkward with mouse and keyboard (I still do) so this will be a more convenient alternative.

Now, although Windows experts can easily see the difference between a Metro app and a desktop app, I doubt that the average user will care. All they will note is that this kind of app requires Windows 8 or 9 to run.

Although this is a diminished target for developers, who may still prefer to write desktop apps that target Windows 7 (or XP) and higher, my guess is that this new UI will make Windows Runtime apps more visible and acceptable for users who live primarily in the desktop – which is most Windows users.

If Microsoft can increase the momentum behind this style of apps, then their benefits will be more apparent too: easy install and uninstall via the Store, low malware risk, and a UI that works well on tablets as well as with mouse and keyboard. This in turn would make more sense of the small Windows tablets from the likes of Toshiba, HP and Lenovo which we recently saw at IFA in Berlin.

There would be a knock-on benefit for Windows Phone, too, thanks to relatively easy porting between the two platforms.

What do you think – is desktop integration enough to rescue the Windows 8 app platform?

Book review: Professional ASP.NET MVC 5. Is this the way to learn ASP.NET MVC?

This book caught my eye because while I like ASP.NET MVC, Microsoft’s modern web application framework, it seems to be badly documented. Even the word “badly” is not quite right; there is lots of documentation, some of high quality, but finding your way around it is challenging, thanks to the many different pieces involved. When I completed an ASP.NET MVC project recently, I found it frustrating thanks to over-reliance on sample projects (hey, here is a an application we did that works, see if you can figure out how we did it), many out of date articles relating to old versions; and the opposite, posts and samples which include preview software that does not seem wise to use in production.


In my experience ASP.NET MVC is both cleaner and faster than ASP.NET Web Forms, the older .NET web framework, but there is more to learn before you can go ahead and write an application.

Professional ASP.NET MVC 5 gives you nearly 600 pages on the subject. It is aimed at a broad readership: the introduction states:

Professional ASP.NET MVC 5 is designed to teach ASP.NET MVC, from a beginner level through advanced topics.

Perhaps that is too broad, though the idea is that the first six chapters (about 150 pages) cover the basics, and that the later chapters are more advanced, so if you are not a beginner you can start at chapter 7.

The main author is Jon Galloway who is a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft. The other authors are Brad Wilson, formerly at Microsoft and now at CenturyLink Cloud; K Scott Allen at OdeToCode, David Matson who is on the ASP.NET MVC team at Microsoft, and Phil Haack formerly at Microsoft and now at GitHub. I get the impression that Haack wrote several chapters in an earlier edition of the book, but did not work directly on this one; Galloway brought his chapters up to date.

Be in no doubt: there are plenty of well-informed ASP.NET MVC people on this team.

The earlier part of the book uses a sample Music Store application, a version of which is publicly available here. You can also download a tutorial, based on the sample, written by Galloway. The public tutorial however dates from 2011 and is based on ASP.NET MVC 3 and Visual Studio 2010. The book uses Visual Studio 2013.

Chapters 1 to 6, the beginner section, do a decent job of talking you through how to build a first application. There are chapters on Controllers, Views, Models, Forms and HTML Helpers, and finally Data Annotations and Validation. It’s a good basic introduction but if you are like me you will come out with many questions, like what is an ActionResult (the type of most Controller methods)? You have to wait until chapter 16 for a full description.

Chapter 7 is on Membership, Authorization and Security. That is too much for one chapter. It is mostly on security, and inadequate on membership. One of my disappointments with this book is that Azure Active Directory hardly gets a mention; yet to my mind integration of web applications with Office 365 (which uses Azure AD) is a huge feature for Microsoft.

On security though, this is a useful chapter, with handy coverage of Cross-Site Request Forgery and other common vulnerabilities.

Next comes a chapter on AJAX with a little bit on JQuery, client-side validation, and Ajax ActionLinks. Here is the dilemma though. Does it make sense to cover JQuery in detail, when this very popular open source library is widely documented elsewhere? On the other hand, does it make sense not to cover JQuery in detail, when it is usually a vital part of your ASP.NET MVC application?

I would add that this title is poor on design aspects of a web application. That said, I was not expecting much on the design side; but what would help would be coverage of how to work with designers: what is safe to hand over to designers, and how does a typical designer/developer workflow play out with ASP.NET MVC?

I would also like to see more coverage of how to work with Bootstrap, the CSS framework which is integrated with ASP.NET MVC 5 in Visual Studio. I found it a challenge, for example, to discover the best way to change the default fonts and colours used, which is rather basic.

Chapter 9 is on routing, dry but essential background. Chapter 10 on NuGet, the Visual Studio package manager, and a good chapter given how important NuGet now is for most Visual Studio work.

Incidentally, many of the samples for the book can be installed via NuGet. It’s not completely obvious how to do this. I found the best way is to go to and search for Wrox.ProMvc5 – here is the link to the search results. This lists all the packages available; note the package names. Then open the Nuget package manager console and type:

install-package [packagename]

to get the sample.

Chapter 11 is a too-brief chapter on the Web API. I would like to see more on this, maybe even walking through a complete application with clients for say, Windows Phone and a web application – though the following chapter does present a client example using AngularJS.

Chapter 13 is a somewhat theoretical look at dependency injection and inversion of control; handy as Microsoft developers talk a lot about this.

Next comes a very brief introduction to unit testing, intended I think only as a starting point.

For me, the the next two chapters are the most valuable. Chapter 15 concerns extending MVC: you learn about extending models with value providers and model binders; validating models; writing HTML helpers and Razor (the view engine in ASP.NET MVC) helpers; authentication filters and authorization filters. Chapter 16 on advanced topics looks in more detail at Razor, routing, templates, ActionResult and a few other things.

Finally, we get a look at how the application was put together, and an appendix covering some miscellaneous details like what is new in ASP.NET MVC 5.1.


I find this one hard to summarise. There is too much missing to give this an unreserved recommendation. I would like more on topics including ASP.NET Identity, Azure AD integration, Entity Framework, Bootstrap, and more. Trying to cover every developer from beginner to advanced is too much; removing some of the introductory material would have left more room for the more interesting sections. The book is also rather weighted towards theory rather than hands-on coding. At some points it felt more like an explanation from the ASP.NET MVC team on “why we did it this way”, than a developer tutorial.

That said, having those insights from the team is valuable in itself. As someone who has only recently engaged with ASP.NET MVC in a real application, I did find the book useful and will come back to some of those explanations in future.

Looking at what else is available, it seems to me that there is a shortage of books on this subject and that a “what you need to know” title aimed at professional developers would be widely welcomed. It would pay Microsoft to sponsor it, since my sense is that some developers stick with ASP.NET Web Forms not because it is better, but because it is more approachable.


Microsoft introduces a new 2D graphics API for the Windows Runtime

Microsoft has announced Win2D, a Windows Runtime API that wraps Direct2D (part of DirectX), for accelerated graphics in Windows Store apps.

The new API is described here and you can download the current binary here. It is in its early stages, but already supports basic drawing, bitmap loading, some image effects, and a vector and matrix math library. Here is some sample code:

void canvasControl_Draw(CanvasControl sender, CanvasDrawEventArgs args)
args.DrawingSession.DrawEllipse(190, 125, 140, 40, Colors.Black, 6);
args.DrawingSession.DrawText("Hello, world!", 100, 100, Colors.Yellow);

Although this hardly looks exciting, it is important because it enables accelerated custom drawing from languages other than C++, and without needing to learn Direct2D itself. It will be easier to make rich custom controls, or casual 2D games.

That said, there are already alternative C# wrappers for DirectX in Windows Runtime apps, such as SharpDX.

Some of the comments on the MSDN post are sceptical:

Managed DirectX and XNA were however cancelled despite the frustration from the community which in response created open source alternatives to save the projects and customers that had invested in technology Microsoft introduced.

I understand that the future is "uncertain", but is this technology something that we should dare invest in or will it see the same fate as it’s earlier incarnations?

Microsoft’s Shawn Hargreaves assures:

Win2D is absolutely not a side project or some kind of stop gap that will later be replaced by anything different.

The target here is universal apps, so not just Windows Store apps but also Windows Phone. Despite the hesitant reception for the Windows Runtime in Windows 8, it looks as if Microsoft is still committed to the platform and that it will remain centre stage in Windows vNext.

IFA 2014 report: Wearables, Windows 8 and Phone, Android TV, Amazon FireTV, lots of phones, Spotify Connect

I am just back from IFA 2014 in Berlin, perhaps the nearest European equivalent to CES in Las Vegas though smaller, less frenetic, and benefiting from the pleasant environment of Berlin in early autumn in place of Vegas glitz.


On the eve of a major Apple event, IFA 2014 was a chance for the non-Apple tech world to impress. That said, neither Google nor Microsoft bothers to exhibit at IFA; they rely on partners to show off the products which use their stuff. The biggest exhibitor from what I could tell was Samsung, or possibly Sony which also had a huge presence.

Google subsidiary Nest did not have a stand either, though co-founder and VP of engineering Matt Rogers did give a keynote, in place of CEO Tony Fadell who is recovering from an accident. It was an odd keynote, with little new content other than the announcement of Nest device availability in Belgium, France, Ireland and the Netherlands (they are already in the US, Canada and the UK).

The Nest keynote was memorable though for this remark:

We know neighbours have to earn your trust. We should too. Buying a Nest device is a lot like trusting us with a set of keys.

A smart thermostat or smoke alarm is like a set of keys? Not really. I may be reading too much into this, but what if Nest were to move into home security? How about a security system that recognized you? Might Nest/Google one day literally have the power to unlock your door?

My main interests at IFA are computing, mobile and audio; but I also slipped into the Siemens-Electrogeräte press conference, showing off smart ovens and coffee machines. It was worth it to hear General Manager Roland Hagenbucher explain that “Home is where your app is”, describing new app control and monitoring for Siemens smart kitchens. The question: if we need an app to turn on the oven, what are the implications for mobile operating systems?

The answer is that if the apps you need are not available for a particular mobile device, it is a significant barrier to adoption. This is the difficulty for Windows Phone, for which Microsoft held a press event in Berlin last week, launching three new phones, the mid-range Lumia 830 and budget 730 (Dual Sim) and 735. Microsoft also presented an OS update code-named “Denim”, also known as Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1. Key features include a new, faster camera app; voice activation for Cortana (just say “Hey Cortana”); and the ability to organise app tiles into folders. Oh, and not forgetting the Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD-10 – the little device with the long name.


The devices look decent and there are some good things in Windows Phone; the OS itself is smooth, the Cortana digital assistance has exceeded my expectations, the prices are reasonable, and there are thoughtful touches like the detachable NFC connection coaster on the HD-10. All it lacks is momentum, and achieving that under the shadows of Android and Apple is a huge challenge.

That said, I spoke to Dan Dery, VP and CMO at Alcatel OneTouch, who told me of the company’s plans for Windows Phone OS tablets. Which is all very well, but raises questions about the flood of new Windows 8 tablets, in sizes as small as the 7” Encore Mini from Toshiba, on show at IFA.

Intel showed off its new Pentium M CPU, based on the Broadwell architecture, optimized for low power (4.5w), small size (14nm processor) and cool (no fan). In a keynote Intel also talked up the drive for wireless computing, one facet of which is the Rezence Alliance for Wireless Power. Rezence has some powerful names on its members list, including Asus, Broadcom, Canon, Dell, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Samsung and Sony. Then again, many of those companies are also members of the rival Wireless Power Consortium which backs the Qi standard, used by Nokia/Microsoft. However, in the wireless power wars I would not bet against Intel (let’s see which way Apple jumps with the iWatch).

There were countless new Android phone launches at IFA. The challenge here is differentiation; every company says its devices are innovative, but few really are. What you get for your money is constantly improving though; I cannot remember handling any smartphones that seemed really poor, which was not the case a couple of years back.

Amazon launched its FireTV video streamer in Europe; I had a brief hands-on and wrote a piece for Guardian Technology. I liked it; it is well-designed for a specific purpose, searching for and streaming a video from Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service. It does also run apps and games (there is an optional games controller) but what will sell it, for those that give it a chance, is voice search through the Bluetooth-connected remote. I veer towards sceptical when it comes to voice search, but this is a perfect use case: pick up the remote and speak into it, rather than wrestling with a living room keyboard or pecking out letters with an on-screen keyboard. With Amazon it is all about the subscription though; the aim of FireTV is to get you hooked on Prime (fast delivery as well as instant video). It is less attractive if you prefer an alternative service, though it is a good specification for the price.

Wearables were everywhere at IFA and it seemed every press conference included a watch or fitness tracker announcement (or both) – many Android, but Alcatel OneTouch made the point that its watch was lower power and faster because it does not use Android.





Alcatel OneTouch:




and so on. There does seem to be a lot of “because we can” in these devices, though some use cases do make sense, such as rejecting a call by tapping your wrist, or getting notifications. Is that worth a device which needs charging once a week (my watch has a 10 year battery life)? How much do we really want to track our fitness, and what do we do when health insurance companies get hold of this data and only want to insure the best risks?

Philips showed off its Android TV:


While bundling Android into a TV set may seem to make sense, the problem is that you will probably want to keep the TV long after the Android part has gone out of date. Another problem – well, spot the background message at the top of this screen:


Yes, it says AntiVirus Security – FREE. Just what you always wanted in your TV.

I also took a good look/listen at the audio on display. I will post separately on Gadget Writing; but the most significant thing I spotted (ha!) is the advent of Spotify Connect (this is from Yamaha).


The idea is that with a Spotify subscription along with Spotify Connect devices (each device must be Spotify Connect certified) you can choose what to play and where from your Spotify app, and enjoy smart features like your playlist continuing unbroken when you move from kitchen to living room to car. No chance versus Apple/Beats you might think; but look how far Spotify has come, thriving as Apple clung too long to its file download model (see here for why files are over).

Alcatel OneTouch on plans for Windows Phone OS tablets

At IFA in Berlin, I spoke to Dan Dery, VP and CMO at Alcatel OneTouch, who told me of the company’s plans for Windows Phone OS tablets. Alcatel OneTouch is part of TCL Corporation, a Chinese global electronics company, though for historical reasons (a 2004 joint venture between TCL and the French company Alcatel-Lucent) it has strong links with France; Dery’s first language is French.


Alcatel was at IFA to launch new Android devices, primarily the Hero 2 smartphone and the Hero 8 tablet, but Dery particularly caught my interest when he started talking about future plans for tablets running the Windows Phone OS 8.2 (the current version of Windows Phone is 8.1).

Note that I am reporting on my press briefing with Alcatel; I have not heard anything from Microsoft about Windows Phone 8.2.

“Rumour has it that the Windows Phone is going to be available on tablet kind-of form factor on ARM chipset, and we are going to be first in doing that. For example we are developing a 10 inch tablet which has this Magic Flip technology for the keypad with trackpad.”

Magic Flip is Alcatel’s brand name for smart magnetic covers which fold back as stands and which are able to show notifications, so it sounds like Alcatel has something Surface-like in mind here. The cost will be similar to Android he implied – my guess is that Microsoft will charge little or nothing for the use of Windows in this context – and the devices will have LTE, so we are talking about connected devices.

But why will the market want an Windows Phone tablet, I asked?

“Compared to Android there is still a big advantage with the presence and natural integration of Office. To be fair, you start having it on iOS. It’s available, but integrated, that is probably a different thing. The simple fact, for most of the users who are interested in that kind of use case, to receive an email which has an attachment, to click the attachment, to open it, edit it, and resend it, that’s almost impossible today unless you are going into the Microsoft environment. That’s the standard for 20 or 30 years in the market, you are not going to change it overnight.

“There is a big advantage in Microsoft because they are probably the most advanced in driving an integrated solution between computer, tablet and smartphone. Everybody is going in that direction, but Android is probably not the easiest one for that.”

Today, something like full Office is available on Windows RT (as found in Surface RT), but not on Windows Phone, which has cut-down viewers and editors for Office documents. The implication is that Windows Phone OS for tablets will have something more fully featured.

I asked Dery if the Windows Phone OS is more efficient than Android on a low-end device, from Alcatel’s experience with prototypes.

“It is the case. It was not a few months ago. There is a big advantage which is the memory footprint. This OS is meant to run with rather low memory, which is not the case in Android. You have far less overhead the day you switch on your device. Android is fantastic but in some countries, the day you switch it on you download a size of apps and services which obviously has a toll on the memory footprint, on the processing capability. That’s less the case on Windows Phone.

“I think they have been doing a pretty good job on eye-candy, on the UI, where even with a low GPU you can have elasticity features, and all that. So there are some benefits.

“So you can ask, if you are telling me this is so good, why haven’t you been shipping Windows Phone 8 for a year and a half?” said Dery. Apparently the company’s researchers have been uncertain whether the success of entry-level Windows Phones is because of the OS, or because of the Nokia brand. The company seems to have experimented with ideas or prototypes, but “each time we came up with a solution, and each time we have been told, maybe this works because it is Nokia. That is still today the big question mark. Is Windows Phone working in entry [level], is it Nokia with decent smartphones in entry making it happen? Nobody has the answer to that question.”

Dery is convinced that Microsoft’s appeal is for the mass market, not at the high end. “In essence it is a mass market thing. Playing it super high end, was more challenging,” he says.

Note that pre-announced plans can change. We should learn more soon.

Another go at Windows 8 from Microsoft’s hardware partners but strategy puzzles remain

I am at the IFA consumer electronics event in Berlin, and have been struck by the number of new Windows 8 tablets on display. Some are hybrid laptop/tablet affairs, but there are also small tablets at keen prices (less than $199) which look superficially similar to Android tablets.


Under the covers though, they could not be more different. Android, like it or loath it, is well designed for tablets and low-maintenance for the user. Windows 8 on the other hand is a PC operating system with a split personality: apps that run in the don’t-call-it-Metro environment (Windows Store apps) and which work well with touch; and desktop applications most of which are hard to operate with touch.

Today’s PCs should also be low-maintenance; but they are vulnerable to badly behaved applications or even malware, applications that insist on installing themselves at start-up executables; applications that hijack file associations and cause confusion, and so on. Users have to understand the Windows Control Panel or burrow around in utilities like Task Manager and System Configuration (msconfig) to fix problems.

Microsoft foresaw this when Windows 8 was launched, and created a safer version of the operating system called Windows RT. It is perhaps not quite as low maintenance as Android, but since you cannot install desktop applications, all apps are sandboxed and can be easily installed or removed. Windows RT runs on ARM chipsets.

Unfortunately Windows RT was a flop, thanks to its confusing name and a lack of compelling apps in the Windows Store. Users seemed to be demanding “full Windows”, running on Intel chipsets, so that any Windows software can be installed.

There is no inherent reason, as far as I am aware, why x86 Windows cannot be locked down in the same way as Windows RT; this was a decision Microsoft made to differentiate the two. However they are not locked down, and therefore just as vulnerable and complex as any other PC.

The optimistic view is that the new wave of tablets will stimulate Windows Store app development and revive Windows 8. A Toshiba representative assured me that updates Microsoft made in Windows 8.1 had increased user acceptance of the new user interface.

I will not believe this though until we see Windows 8 tablets flying off the shelves in the same way as Android tablets or iPads; and further, I do not expect this to happen. Nor am I sure that they will be good for non-expert users; if they are like most PCs (and they are), they will get gradually slower and less usable as stuff (often unwanted) gets installed; Java, Ask Toolbar, Google Chrome and Toolbar, Silverlight, Flash, Adobe AIR and all the rest.

The current wave of tablets also makes me wonder what is the long-term thinking. With the near-demise of Windows RT, my expectation is that some future iteration of Windows Phone designed for larger displays will take its place, hopefully with full Windows Runtime compatibility or at least easy porting.

However, Windows 9 “Threshold” is also on the way. Are we going to end up with Windows 9 x86 tablets in form factors such as 7” and 8” tablets, as well as Windows Phone OS tablets in similar sizes? Or will Microsoft remove the desktop and lock down the OS in Windows 9 for phones and small tablets, to make it more like Windows RT, and call it Windows Phone 9?

CEO Satya Nadella speaks of “One Windows” but we are not close to it yet, and the developer story still seems uncertain to me. The one sure point is that Microsoft will use the Universal App concept to assist developers in targeting multiple Windows platforms (and perhaps even iOS and Android via Xamarin integration). The question though: what will those multiple Windows platforms look like a year or two from now?

The Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD10: silly name, nice product

How many committees does it take to come up with a name like Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD10? Who knows, but the product is a nice one. It lets you project from your phone to any TV with an HDMI input, using the Miracast standard.


Data is transferred to the device via Wi-Fi. You make the connection by tapping your phone on the separate coaster-like plate, which triggers the connection using NFC (Near Field Communication). The coaster talks to the device using Bluetooth.

The neat thing about this arrangement is that the main HD10 device will be close to your TV; it might even plug in at the back, out of sight. The coaster on the other hand can be on a table near your sitting position. You can come into the room, tap the coaster, and then view your photos and videos on the big screen in 1080p HD video quality.

At least, that is the idea as I understand it. Usability is key with this type of gadget, otherwise they do not get used, and this might just have it right.

The coaster thing can also be stacked on the main device as you can see from my blurry picture:


Concerning the name, all your worst fears about Microsoft taking over Nokia have been confirmed. Concerning the device though, all is well. I suppose that is the right way round, but it is really so hard?

Price is $79 / 79€ with availability promised for later this month.

Microsoft’s glowing Lumia wireless charge pad can show alerts, but we get too many

Today Microsoft/Nokia made a number of announcements alongside the IFA show in Berlin, including a new wireless charging pad for its Lumia phones. Here is the new Lumia 830 while wireless charging.


The new pad glows, with the cool feature being that the phone can send alerts to the pad which cause it to flash. This means that if your phone is charging on a table at home, you can see when there is an alert and pick up the phone to check it out.

What can send an alert? I was told that anything which can appear in the slide-down notification area in Windows Phone 8.1 can also send an alert to the pad, though the user can customise which ones are enabled.

The concept is good, but the difficulty is that we receive so many alerts (most of little real importance) that the pad will be constantly flashing, unless you manage to filter it down things that actually matter; maybe missed calls, voice messages and texts?

Curating an app store: does Apple have it right?

No matter how much market share Android grabs: it is Apple’s App Store that started this app thing rolling. Never forget that OS vendors and phone operators tried to push app stores before Apple came in, but fragmentation, horrible user interaction design, billing issues and perplexing compatibility problems made them a dead loss for most users. Today, Apple’s mobile platform remains the most important one in many sectors.

The trade off with app stores is that you give up freedom of choice (install anything you want from anywhere) in return for a safer and better experience; software installation nasties like runtime dependencies, malware or fake download apps do not exist. At least, that is how it is meant to be, which is why some are so disappointed by Microsoft’s store.

Now Apple has offered us some limited insight into its own curation practice. It has published the top ten reasons for App rejections for the last week in August.

Aside from the generic “more information needed,” the top reason is bugs, and the next two are non-compliance with the developer terms (could mean anything) and user interfaces that are poor or too complex.

Close behind it is another key one:

Apps that contain false, fraudulent or misleading representations or use names or icons similar to other Apps will be rejected

which accounts for the main complaint about some apps that make it into Microsoft’s store.

What Apple does not tell us is the proportion of apps that are approved, either first time, or after one or two revisions.

There is little to argue about in Apple’s list of reasons to reject, except this one:

If your app doesn’t offer much functionality or content, or only applies to a small niche market, it may not be approved.

Apps without content are fair game, but why should small niche markets not be served? It does not bother me if a great app for jellyfish spotters makes it into the store.

The other factor here is that if an app store has enough high quality apps then the bad ones will be hardly visible, other than in search results. Store curation is about presentation as well as content.

Is Apple getting it right? I am not hearing much shouting from developers about the arbitrary or unknown reasons why their app was rejected, which suggests that it is, but it may be I am not listening intently enough.