Utkarsh Prateek Blog

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Le Taureau Brass Wall Hook — May 14, 2014

Le Taureau Brass Wall Hook

Le Taureau is a wall hook made of solid brass. It is approximately 3” by 2.5” and a hefty 1/8” thick. It is attached to the wall with included solid brass screws.

BRASS

Brass is a noble material that will develop patina with time. The patina will give each Taureau its unique character and slightly darken its appearance.

It can also be polished for an understated lighter gold appearance.

Le Taureau is made of solid brass so you do not need to worry about the finish getting damaged or peeling off. It will outlast you. Seriously.

STRONG AS A BULL

We chose a thick material to ensure it will last decades and can hold heavy loads. If your wall can handle it, so can Le Taureau. Exactly the type of behavior you would expect from a bull.

VERSATILE

Install it anywhere in minutes with the included solid brass screws. You can screw it into walls, doors, furniture, cupboards…

Le Taureau’s low profile (a tad over ½”), compact size and simple design make it the ideal hook for the kitchen, office, bathroom, bedroom, hallway or garage.

You can hang shirts, hats, keys, tools, pictures, etc…

The only limit is your imagination.

THE HERD

Le Taureau works great in herds of 3 or more bulls.

To pledge for more than one Taureau, simply multiply your pledge by the number of Taureaux you want.

How to take screenshot on Windows Phone 8.1? —

How to take screenshot on Windows Phone 8.1?

Taking a screenshot can be of tremendous help when trying to troubleshoot an issue, show off your tile layout, or mock a random post on Facebook. With Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft has made the screenshot process simple and fast.

To take a screenshot on a Windows Phone device running 8.1, press the power button and volume-up key at the same time. If you’re having trouble getting the timing just right, hold in the volume-up key, then press the power button. I found this alternative method to work for me without issue.

Your device will instantly take a screenshot, alerting you it was successful with a shutter sound, and save it to a specific screenshot album in your Photos hub. From there, you can share, edit, delete, or do whatever you’d like with the captured screen.

For those waiting for the 8.1 update, you can take a screenshot by pressing the start and power buttons at the same time. Unsure when you’re going to see the update? Dan Graziano breaks it all down for you in this post.

There’s plenty of new features in Windows Phone 8.1; this post details 11 of them.

Outlook.com adds advanced email rules, in-line replies and revamped chat options —

Outlook.com adds advanced email rules, in-line replies and revamped chat options

Microsoft’s Outlook.com webmail service will soon include a new Advanced Rules feature for granular message filtering, as well as a streamlined chat experience, among other new features.

Announced in a blog post, Microsoft said the Advanced Rules option gives users more control over how messages are sorted on arrival, filed, or bounced back to the top of your inbox. As well as providing support for multi-action, multi-condition rules, Advanced Rules can also be used to combine your existing rules together.

OutlookAdvancedRules 730x345 Outlook.com adds advanced email rules, in line replies and revamped chat options

Microsoft also said it had revamped some of the chat options within Outlook.com to make it easier for users to find conversations and contacts, and to switch between clients mid-chat and continue on another device or service.

Chat switch body 730x407 Outlook.com adds advanced email rules, in line replies and revamped chat options

Also new in the update is the addition of an Undo option, which steps back through the last action you performed, so if you deleted or miscategorized a mail by mistake, you can rectify it easily. Rounding off the list of updates is the option to view and send in-line replies, thereby saving you precious time jumping about between emails.

Microsoft said all the new features will start rolling out today but will make their way to all in “the next few weeks”.

➤ Outlook.com introduces the most sophisticated rules in webmail [Microsoft Office Blog]

Facebook buy India based app startup Little Eye Labs [Update] — January 8, 2014

Facebook buy India based app startup Little Eye Labs [Update]

Just over a month after the rumors, Facebook has made the acquisition as a post on Little Eye Lab’s blog and an email from Facebook representatives both confirm. No price has been revealed, but we understand it is $10-$15 million in value.

“Current customers of Little Eye will receive further information on plans to offer a free version of Little Eye until June 30, 2014,” the Bangalore-based company explains.

The startup’s entire team will move to Facebook HQ in the US, so this deal will not mirror the acquisition of Onavo, which Facebook is using to create its first office in Israel.

Original article continues as below…

Facebook is reportedly closing in on its first acquisition in India, according to local reports that link the social networking giant to Little Eye Labs, a Bangalore-based company that produces a mobile app crash testing service.

Business Standard reports that Facebook “is in talks” to acquire the startup, which graduated the first GSF India accelerator program last year, with a deal expected to be sealed within a few weeks. No price has been reported, however.

Little Eye Labs is founded by ex-IBM and Apple employees and is a testing service like Crashalytics, the company Twitter acquired earlier this year, but it is expressly aimed at gauging mobile apps performance before they are released to the public.

Facebook acquired Israeli app analytics firm Onavo in October, and, as a company with multiple applications available for iOS and Android, there are plenty of reasons Little Eye might have caught admiring glances from Facebook.

Any deal would not only mark Facebook’s first acquisition in India, but would be a breakthrough for the Indian tech community and a proof point for founder Rajesh Sawhney’s belief that India can provide world-class technology and services.

Facebook reportedly offered no comment in response to a request from Business Standard. We’ve contacted Facebook and Little Eye Labs and will update this post with any comment we’re given.

In Messenger, Facebook finally has a chat app to compete with WhatsApp and others — December 16, 2013

In Messenger, Facebook finally has a chat app to compete with WhatsApp and others

Image-based messaging is in vogue right now. Snapchat just raised a further $50 million to scale its rapidly-growing business, Twitter added support for photos to Direct Messages — the first update to its private messaging service for god-knows-how-long — and Facebook-owned Instagram unveiled Direct, a photo-centric private messaging feature, last week.

With Instagram Direct, Facebook looks to be focused on creating a competitor to Snapchat — which it reportedly tried to buy for $3 billion last month — but we shouldn’t forget the progress it is making in the text-based chat app space withFacebook Messenger.

Last week, the company made a subtle, but interesting, update to the two-year-old app with the introduction of a feature that allows users to access contacts’ Timelines and make free calls simply by pressing on their friend’s avatar.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the app since it got a raft of changes last month, and it finally seems like Facebook is putting the right elements into Messenger to ramp it into a serious contender to WhatsApp, the market leader with 350 million active users, and the bevvy of other messaging apps that rival the social network for attention on mobile.

BXKcuWjCUAAitd  In Messenger, Facebook finally has a chat app to compete with WhatsApp and others

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum announced the company’s latest user milestone at Nokia World in October [Image via @poderpda]

Facebook Messenger developing

The messaging race is far from over and, though Facebook entered it comparatively late and branched out from social networking, many of the cards are still stacked in its favor. Facebook has an active userbase of more than 1.2 billion to lean on, although it has felt the squeeze from young upstarts lately: particularly in the US, where the use of Snapchat and Kik has risen among young people, the same demographic that Facebook admits is spending less time on its service.

Messaging has become the killer app on mobile as smartphone adoption has grown. Kik, for example, hit 100 million signups last week, thereby tripling its user number in just a year — Facebook is well aware of the potential benefits of a slimlined version of its social network, and has been working hard on that sinceacquiring Beluga in 2011.

Messenger is already performing well, but it has the potential to go beyond that. Over the past year, Facebook has added free calls and stickers to Messenger — two features that follow the lead of popular Asian chat apps like Line, Kakao Talk and WeChat — but its most significant changes came in November. The company integrated phone number-based messaging to the app to foster greater communication but, more importantly, it added a bunch of new, real-time statuses to show users if their friends are online, and whether they are also using Messenger or a regular Facebook client.

This update brought the benefits of real-time to Facebook’s huge user base — the latter of which is arguably its biggest strength, and weakness. Suddenly, I can see if my friend is available to chat — something which most chat apps don’t offer.

fbm1 horz 520x454 In Messenger, Facebook finally has a chat app to compete with WhatsApp and others

Likewise, Facebook also hooked Messenger for iOS and Android into its regular Facebook app for both platforms. If you have Messenger on your phone, then the ‘Messaging’ icon on the Facebook app becomes a link to Messenger, which opens when selected.

This helps get more footfall to Messenger and combined with another new addition – a button allowing Messenger users to invite Facebook friends not already using the app to download it — Facebook Messenger saw a significant spike in downloads, as data from Appsfire shows:

fb msg 520x2796 In Messenger, Facebook finally has a chat app to compete with WhatsApp and others

Content push still to come

Facebook has made some useful additions to Messenger but the app is still lacking content, an area where the company could leverage its connections with developers to create a introduce compelling service that attracts the interest of disengaged users and those who spend more time in other chat apps.

line games 520x780 In Messenger, Facebook finally has a chat app to compete with WhatsApp and othersBy content I mean games and other ‘connected’ apps. To date, messenger games have performed well in Asia — Line games have seen over 200 million downloads, WeChat has managed 570 million downloads in China alone, andKakao’s run rate for 2013 is over $620 million — but messaging games are relatively untested in the US and Europe.

Kik and Tango are two apps with large US userbases that have embraced games, and with some success: Kik partner Koa.la nabbed 1 million downloads for its Costume Party game in under a day.

Facebook has already run trials with mobile game developers, and introducing the option to connect games to its mobile service is entirely logical given the successes that Asian rivals have seen, and the success that Facebook found with social gaming on the desktop.

The question for Facebook — which also applies to Line and other Asian messengers eyeing the US — is whether North American and European chat app users will welcome the more complicated messaging experience that comes when you hook mobile games up to messenger social graphs?

Looking at the success of Kik and rapidly accelerating ‘messenger arms race’ being played out by big companies, the answer seems more a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if.’

Given that WhatsApp is not focused on games, and hit Asian chat apps are still to establish themselves in the West — this is an area where Facebook could really dominate if it plays it cards right. You can bet that the company is already preparing itself to make a move when it believes that the time is right.

line games1 In Messenger, Facebook finally has a chat app to compete with WhatsApp and others

That said, the biggest issue for Facebook is perception at this point. With mums, dads, grandmas and granddads using Facebook, apps like Snapchat and Kik are proving more popular for US youngsters who want their own space, while WeChat, Line and WhatsApp are enjoying great momentum in other global markets.

With most people in developed (and developing) markets already on Facebook, distribution is the blessing and curse that Facebook needs to leverage if it is to out-muscle WhatsApp and co. Since the app itself is working pretty well, the difference may come down to content, and gaming in particular.

Use Google Now to Get Reminders for Events, Times, and Places —

Use Google Now to Get Reminders for Events, Times, and Places

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Google Now’s Reminders feature is powerful. You can set reminders for specific times, events like TV shows, and even have reminders go off when you visit specific locations. Time-based reminders can be recurring, popping up on a schedule.

These features are all available in Google Now for Android as well as the Google search app on iPhone and iPad. Reminders sync between your devices and should hopefully be available on the desktop when Chrome gains Google Now integration.

Set Your Own Reminders

Google Now allows you to quickly set reminders. You can tell Google Now to remind you about something later in the day or even months from now. These reminders occupy a space somewhere between alarms and calendar events. When it’s time for the reminder, you’ll get a notification pop-up.

To set a reminder, just open Google Now, say “Okay Google” and say something like “remind me to feed the dog tonight.” You can customize the reminder when it pops up. If you don’t want to speak, you can also type in “remind me” and tap Enter to bring up the reminder entry field. You can also set recurring reminders, like “remind me to take out the garbage every wednesday night.”

google-now-reminder-android

You can also do this from your browser. On the Google website, perform a search for “remind me” and the form will pop up. You can also set a more specific reminder by typing the same sort of “remind me to [do something] at [time]” phrase into the Google website.

google-now-remind-me-website

Subscribe to Event Reminders

Google Now can also remind you before certain events occur. For example, let’s say you really like watching Game of Thrones and don’t want to miss an upcoming episode. Just perform a search for Game of Thrones on Google and click the Remind me button. Google will inform you when a new episode airs so you won’t have to keep track of it on your own.

google-now-tv-show-reminders

This also works with other events, like holidays. For example, Google Now can inform you before a holiday occurs, if you like. It can also keep you update with news about your favorite musical artists in the same way — search for them and click the Keep me updated button. In the future, Google Now will hopefully offer many other types of event reminders.

google-now-holiday-reminder

Note that TV show, holiday, and artist reminders currently seem limited to Google.com. If you live outside the US, you can probably access them by visiting Google.com — visit your country-specific Google homepage and click Google.com at the bottom to access Google.com and search there.

Create Reminders For Places

Google also allows you to create reminders for places using geofencing. Google Now already tracks your location so it can display useful location-specific information, like the optimal route you should take to drive home and or the schedule for a bus stop you’re standing near.

Using this feature, you can set reminders for specific places. When you arrive at the place, Google Now will ping you with a reminder. For example, you can set a reminder to buy milk when you arrive at the grocery store you typically shop at. If you want to do something — or just remember something — the next time you arrive at a specific place, all you have to do is set a reminder for it. This is easy — when creating a reminder the normal way, just select “Where” and enter a place instead of selecting “When” and entering a time.

This also works with a search — just search “remind me to [do something] at [location]“. The reminder will appear when you get to the location. Google Now is smart enough to guess a nearby location, so if you say “remind me to buy milk at [grocery store chain]“, Google Now will use the closest location for that specific grocery store.

google-now-location-reminders

Manage Reminders

To manage your reminders on Android, open Google Now and tap the hand-with-ribbon icon at the bottom-left corner. On Apple iOS, tap the menu button that looks like a … and tap Reminders instead. You’ll see all your upcoming and ongoing reminders and you can choose to remove them, if you like.


If you’re using the Google Experience Launcher for Android, you can also just say “Okay Google” at your home screen to set a reminder using voice commands or get to Google Now with a quick swipe to the left.

iOS Has App Permissions, Too: And They’re Arguably Better Than Android’s —

iOS Has App Permissions, Too: And They’re Arguably Better Than Android’s

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Android has a permissions system for individual apps, but so do iPhones and iPads. Android gives you a single prompt when you install an app, but iOS allows you to make more decisions.

Many geeks have long believed that Android’s permission system is an advantage over the lack of one on iOS. This may be shocking to suggest for many Android geeks, but iOS’ permission system is arguably much more practical.

Update: Google removed the AppOps feature from Android 4.4.2 after this article was written, claiming it was accidentally released. This means the Android app permission situation is now even worse than portrayed below.

The Problem With Android Permissions

Before we can fully appreciate how app permissions work differently on iPhones and iPads, let’s take a quick look at how they work on Android. When you install an app from Google Play (or anywhere else), you’ll see a list of permissions the app requires. Apps must declare permission to do everything from access the Internet to read USB storage, all the way up to accessing your phone call status and GPS location data.

If you’re someone who actually pays attention, you can view this list of permissions at install time. But it’s a take-it-or-leave-it decision. You can choose to install the app and accept the permissions or refuse to install the app and deny the permissions.

angry-birds-android-too-many-permissions

If you’re an average Android user, there’s a good chance you don’t even pay much attention to permissions. You’ve probably been trained that apps will request all sorts of permissions, including “location” permissions in free games for advertising-targeting purposes. If you want to use the app, you’ll end up installing it.

This is the only permission decision most users ever get to make. On Android 4.3 and later, it’s now possible to manage app permissions with settings built into the system with the new AppOps panel, but these settings are hidden and will never be found by most people. You also have to make a more active decision, seeking out the control panel to manage permissions after installing the app.

disable-app-permission-on-android

How iOS Permissions Work

App permissions on iPhone and iPad function differently. When installing an app, you’re not making any choices about permissions. You are choosing to allow certain basic permissions — every app you install has some baseline permissions, like the ability to access the Internet. At install time, you’re just installing the app — not granting it any special permissions like access to your GPS or contacts.

ios-app-install

To use certain permissions — specifically, to access your Location Services (GPS), Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Photos, Bluetooth, Microphone, Motion Activity, Twitter account, or Facebook account — the app requests the permission when it needs to use it. For example, when you install Google Maps or another mapping app, it will show a pop-up asking to view your location when you first use its mapping features. If an app needs your contacts for a certain feature, you’ll only see a contacts permission prompt when you first use that specific feature.

It’s easier to understand why an app wants the permissions and what it’s using it for.

ios-permission-prompt

What’s more, you have more than one option here. You can deny a permission request — saying “no, I don’t trust this app to access my contacts or GPS location” — and continue using the app anyway. You can enable some permissions but not others.

On Android, normal users can choose to allow all permissions at install time or just not use the app. On iOS, normal users can manage and understand permissions much more easily.

You can also go into the iOS Settings screen and tap Privacy to view these categories of permissions.

ios-privacy-permissions-list

Tap a category to view which installed apps have access to a permission and optionally revoke them. This is essentially iOS’ version of the AppOps screen on Android, but it’s visible to average users instead of hidden for geeks only.

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This system forces app developers to justify the permissions they require. On iOS, users would deny access to Angry Birds if it suddenly asked to read their GPS location. On Android, many users probably don’t even realize they’re allowing this.

Where Android Still Wins

Of course, Android’s permission system still has its advantages. If you’re a geek, you can get more fine-grained permission control via AppOps. Android also forces apps to declare more permissions, so you can see whether an app can access the Internet or not. Android also offers permissions that aren’t available on iOS, allowing apps to do more things.

But, while Android is still flexible and powerful in many ways, it stumbles when it comes to the real world. Normal users who just want to play mobile games without having their contacts harvested and locations collected have much more control on iOS.

There’s just no reason why Android’s permission system should be so “take-it-or-leave it” unless you know about a secret settings screen. The web works like iOS — if a website wants to access your location, it has to ask. If it wants to access your microphone or webcam, it has to ask. You can choose to allow or deny any of these permissions and still continue using the website. It should work like this on Android, too.


Hopefully, Google will continue developing AppOps and make it available to normal Android users. For now, it’s just not true to say that Android has app permissions while iOS doesn’t — both operating systems have permission systems. And Apple’s solution is probably better for most people.

How to Install Applications On a Mac: Everything You Need to Know —

How to Install Applications On a Mac: Everything You Need to Know

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Installing software on a Mac is  different from installing software on Windows. There isn’t just one way to install applications on a Mac, either — there are several different ways, depending on the application you want to install.

New Mac users will likely find themselves asking a number of questions: Why isn’t every application on the Mac App Store? What is a DMG file, and why do I have to drag-and-drop the app’s icon after opening it?

Mac App Store

Recent versions of OS X include the Mac App Store, inspired by the iPhone and iPad App Store. Just open the App Store application included with your Mac and you can search for and install apps. Apps automatically update through here, just as they do on iPhone and iPad. For example, Apple’s iWork apps and even new versions of OS X arrive through the Mac App Store. Any apps you purchase from here are also tied to your Apple ID, so you can install them on your other Macs.

The Mac App Store sounds great, and can be very convenient. However, one of the first things you’ll probably learn as a new Mac user trying to install software is that not all the apps you want are available in the Mac App Store.

mac-app-store

This can be for a variety of reasons. For example, the Mac App Store sandboxes apps distributed through it, placing limitations on them similar to the ones in place on iOS. This helps protect users, but makes certain types of software impossible. For example, the Twitter app is available through the Mac App Store — it doesn’t need to do anything too powerful. However, any sort of application that needs access to the entire file system wouldn’t be allowed in the Mac App Store.

Given the limitations, many developers still distribute their apps outside the Mac App Store.

DMG Files

Visit a Mac application’s website to directly download the application from the developer and you’ll probably get a DMG file. This is how Mac applications have traditionally been distributed.

A DMG file is a disk image, which is sort of like an archive file. When you download one, you can double-click it to “mount” it, allowing you to extract the application from inside it.

For example, let’s say you wanted to install Google Chrome on your Mac. You’d visit Google’s Chrome download page and download the file — it would be a DMG file. You’d then double-click the DMG file and a window would appear with the Application and a link to your Applications folder.

install-dmg-file

If you look closely, you’ll see that the DMG file is mounted under Devices in the finder. The window with the the application icon is basically just a Finder (file browser) window that contains several things — the application file (here, Google Chrome), a link to the Applications folder on your computer, and some sort of background image that tells you to drag and drop the icon.

Here, you’d simply drag the application icon to the Applications folder. This copies the application from inside the DMG file to the Applications folder on your computer. This doesn’t happen automatically because the DMG file is just a disk image; it doesn’t have permission to install an app on your computer. You must choose to do that yourself.

install-app-from-dmg-file

After the app is dragged to your Applications folder, you can run it normally — from the Finder, Launchpad, Spotlight, dock, or anything else. The first time you open a downloaded application, you’ll see a warning. Agree to open the file and you won’t see the warning again.

mac-application-downloaded-from-the-internet-warning

After the app is installed, you don’t need the DMG file anymore. You can “eject” the disk image by clicking the Eject button under Devices in the finder or Command-clicking its desktop icon and selecting Eject. You can then delete the DMG file by moving it to the Trash.

eject-dmg-file

Application Files

Some developers may not use DMG files. You may end up downloading an Application file itself. In this case, you can drag-and-drop the application file from your Downloads folder to the Applications folder. It will then be installed just like an app that was distributed in a DMG file.

You don’t actually have to install apps to your Applications folder. In fact, you can just place an app in any folder and double-click the application to launch it. Applications are traditionally stored in the Applications folder so they’re organized and located in a single place.

mac-drag-downloaded-application-to-applications-folder

Archives

Some apps are distributed in archive files with file extensions like .tar.gz or .tbz. To extract the archive file, simply double-click it. The Archive Utility will automatically extract the contents of the archive to the current folder.

You’ll then get an application file you can drag and drop to your Applications folder.

mac-extract-application-archive

Installers

Some applications, including Microsoft Office, have Windows-like installers. For example, if you want to install the Google Voice and Video plug-in so you can make calls from Gmail and participate in Google Hangouts, you’ll first need to open a DMG file and then double-click the installer, which is a PKG file.

The installer can do additional things that can’t be accomplished just with drag and drop, such as installing system services and placing files elsewhere on the system.

mac-install-pkg-file-installer

Gatekeeper

When downloading an app from outside the Mac App Store, the app must be signed by an “identified developer” before it will run — at least by default. This helps protect average users from running a potentially malicious application. This application-signing feature is known as Gatekeeper.

You may run a downloaded application and see a warning saying the application “is damaged and shouldn’t be opened.” Your Mac will say “you should move it to the trash.” This is likely because the application wasn’t signed by its developer, but could also be because a signed application file was tampered with or corrupted during a download process.

mac-gatekeeper-damaged-move-to-trash

If you’re a normal Mac user and aren’t sure why you’re seeing this warning, you’ll probably want to stop here. However, if you know what you’re doing and need to run an application that you trust — but the developer hasn’t signed — you can disable this protection.

To disable Gatekeeper, open the System Preferences window — click the Apple icon at the top-left corner of your screen or click the System Preferences icon on your dock — and click the Security & Privacy icon. Click the lock icon, enter your password, and set the “Allow apps downloaded from” option to “Anywhere.” This will reduce your security as it allows unsigned apps to run, so be sure you know what you’re doing if you use this option.

mac-disable-gatekeeper


These different ways of installing software built up over time. The Mac App Store is new, and its limitations prevent it from being used for every Mac application. Gatekeeper has only been around for a few years, too. DMG files are a traditional way of distribution applications, but aren’t required. For some things, installer PKG files are required.

Windows Phone apps: The state of play —

Windows Phone apps: The state of play

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It may have some way to go, but Windows Phone is making small strides in some key markets as it looks to chip away at the dominance of iOS and Android.

Recent figures suggest Windows Phone 7 and 8 constitute more than 10% of UK smartphone sales, while across other major European markets Windows Phone 8 represents around 1 in 10 of all smartphone sales. Some data even suggests itovertook iOS in Italy between July and September.

However significant this data prove in the long term remains to be seen, but a lot of change is afoot at Microsoft: Ballmer is making way for a new CEO, while it also snapped up Nokia’s Devices and Services division. Possibly one large throw of the dice for Windows Phone, guided by a new visionary.

It’s worth stopping and taking a look at the health of the Windows Phone platform as thing stand, given there has been a lot of activity over the past month in terms of apps.

We’ve previously argued that Windows Phone’s big problem isn’t a lack of apps – it’s merely opinion-formers perpetuating a myth that native apps are pivotal to a mobile platform, and this filters down through to those looking to buy a shiny new phone. Except many, if not most, of the consumer market would get by absolutely fine with a good browser, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Instagram, Angry Birds and maybe one or two others.

However, a lack of native apps is a problem for some, and Microsoft has been working its butt off to lure the big-name brands on board. In the last month alone we’ve seen a slew of hit apps finally arrive on Windows Phone 8 –InstagramVineWaze and Mint.com, to name just a few.

But launching an app is one thing – you can simply pay someone to replicate the app for Windows Phone, stick it online for anyone to download and, well, voila. But maintaining the app and ensuring it’s up to scratch with its counterparts on iOS and Android is another thing altogether. It’s just as important.

So we thought we’d give you a quick snapshot of the current state of play, looking at whether ‘having an app’ in the Windows Phone Store aligns with ‘having a great, fully-featured up-to-date app’ in the Windows Phone Store. You may actually be surprised as to how many of the biggies are already on Windows Phone.

What better place to start than with the recently launched ones?

Instagram

Instagram took around 18 months to hit Android after launching on iOS, and it took about the same time again to finally arrive on Windows Phone.

Instagram for Windows Phone remains a beta product for now, and only caters for photos – so you can’t do fancy things with video for the time-being. Plus, it doesn’t let you take a photo in-app, it guides you temporarily out of the app and into the main camera application to take your photo, then takes you back to Instagram. Not a big deal really, but a quirky deviation from what we’ve come to expect from the other Instagram apps.

inst 220x366 Windows Phone apps: The state of play    insta 220x366 Windows Phone apps: The state of play

Just this week, the Facebook-owned service got a big new update for iOS and Android called Instagram Direct, which lets you share photos and videos privately with set individuals and groups. But there’s no word yet on this feature hitting Windows Phone.

So less than a month after launch, Instagram for Windows Phone is already playing catch-up to a degree, but it is just a Beta product for now,  and an official Instagram app is better than no official Instagram app, right? If you’re still not entirely happy, you can also check out 6tag.

It’s too early to know for sure how swiftly Instagram for Windows Phone will receive bug-fixes and platform updates, so the jury’s still out on this one.

➤ Instagram | Windows Phone

Vine

Yes. Vine for Windows Phone. Happy days, right?

Twitter’s GIF-like looping video app has proven to be a major hit since itlaunched first on iOS back in January, so there’s no reason why it wouldn’t on Windows Phone too. Indeed, the app is pretty much fully-featured and based on our tests, it works absolutely great.

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There haven’t been any major tweaks or updates since launch, but that was only a month ago. So far so good, and definitely better late than never.

➤ Vine | Windows Phone

Waze

Google acquired community-powered mapping and navigation startup Waze a few months back, so this launch (which arrived at the same time as Instagram) perhaps held a little extra significance.

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So far so good though, the Waze Windows Phone app is pretty much fully-featured and, as with Vine and Instagram, it’s perhaps too early to judge whether or not this app will suffer at the hands of delayed updates and omitted features.

➤ Waze | Windows Phone

Mint.com

Though it is a US-only service, Mint.com has long-proven its worth as a personal finance service on other platforms. So its recent arrival for Windows Phone was certainly welcome.

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At launch, which also saw the service arrive as a native Windows 8 app, Vince Maniago, Group Product Manager for Mint, said that their goal was to be at “feature-parity” from the start, with thousands of beta testers giving the app a thorough road test en-route to launch.

Good work. So far.

➤ Mint.com | Windows Phone

Angry Birds Go

While we knew it was coming, Rovio finally launched its Mario Kart-style Angry Birds racing game a few days back, hitting Windows Phone, Android, iOS, AND BlackBerry in one fell swoop.

ab Windows Phone apps: The state of playThe Angry Birds franchise is really growing arms and legs now, and based on our initial tinkerings with this game on Microsoft’s mobile platform, it should have another hit on its hands. Here’s hoping it maintains parity with other operating systems.

As with this free-to-play game on the other systems, you’re best password-protecting this baby, as your kid could run up a fairly hefty bill through in-app purchases.

➤ Angry Birds Go | Windows Phone

Blippar

Blippar may not be as instantly recognizable as the Instagrams and Vines of the world, but the UK-headquartered company has been filling a sizable niche over the past few years, as an augmented reality app for brands to engage with consumers. Point your phone at a product, and unlock new content – boom.

We were there right at the very beginning, so it’s good seeing it finally arrive on Windows Phone.

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There are a few features missing from the Windows Phone app, for example social sharing and the catalog UI which lets you discover more live ‘blipps’. But we’re told they’ll be added shortly.

➤ Blippar | Windows Phone

So that’s some of the recently launched apps, now let’s take a look at some of the other big-name applications that have been on Windows Phone for a while already. This should give us a better idea as to how reliable the app ecosystem really is beyond the initial launch.

Skype

Microsoft owns Skype, so Skype must be absolutely top-notch on Windows Phone, right? You would think so. But alas, the computing giant has sometimes been slow to roll out new features to its own platforms.

Remember when Skype received a neat new video-messaging feature on Mac, iPhone and Android earlier this year? Yup, no Windows or Windows Phone love at first – it took until September for this feature to arrive on Windows Phone.

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Both the iOS and Android incarnations have received updates in the last couple of weeks, with ‘general fixes and improvements’ in there. Skype for Windows Phone was last updated in early October.

However, Skype for Windows Phone works perfectly well, and the feature-set is largely identical across the various platforms, though there are navigational nuances that vary by OS. Plus, you do encounter little annoyances from time to time – for example, you can’t remove contacts from within the Windows Phone app as you can on Android or iOS.

➤ Skype | Windows Phone

Twitter

Twitter for Windows Phone is typically behind on getting the updates that are rolled out to its mobile brethren, but that’s not always a bad thing.

While the iOS and Android apps are gaining more tabs and features, shifting (unwanted?) sections front-and-center (yes, we’re talking to you ‘Discover’ and ‘Activity’), the Windows Phone version remains a simple and beautiful thing. No clutter.

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But given we’re talking here about speed of updates rather than interface preferences which are entirely subjective, Twitter could be better. For example, while iOS and Android was enabled with photos in direct messages this week, Windows Phone is still waiting.

However, the key point here is that Twitter for Windows Phone is great, it’s perfectly usable for the average social media nut and it’s certainly enough to tempt any would-be Android/iOS defector on board.

➤ Twitter | Windows Phone

WhatsApp

Broadly speaking, WhatsApp’s perennially popular group messenger app is up to scratch with its mobile counterparts, and it’s certainly good enough to notdeter fans of the service from signing up to Windows Phone. However, it can be a little buggy from time-to-time, closing unexpectedly and so on.

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But WhatsApp released its last update just a few weeks back, and there has been reasonably regular rolls outs for bug fixes. Plus the company often launches new features on all platforms simultaneously – as we saw with the push-to-talk voice messaging update back in August.

➤ WhatsApp | Windows Phone

Amazon Mobile

With its sticky fingers in just about every retail orifice, Amazon is a lynchpin of e-commerce. So you’ll be pleased to know that the Amazon app is good, receives fairly regular updates and is generally on a par with its counterparts in terms of features.

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Not a lot more to say really, it works as described.

➤ Amazon Mobile | Windows Phone

Amazon Kindle

While a dedicated e-reader is certainly more enjoyable than an app, being able to access all your synced, cloud-stored books from your mobile phone can come in handy. And Amazon Kindle for Windows Phone works pretty much flawlessly.

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The app received its last update just a couple of weeks back, reeling in a new book-progress feature for Live Tiles and a number of other fixes and features. It’s a shame there isn’t a Kobo app for Windows Phone too.

➤ Amazon Kindle | Windows Phone

TuneIn Radio

TuneIn has emerged as one of the top radio-based apps for mobile and the Web, and thankfully it’s available on Windows Phone too.

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The TuneIn app for Windows Phone works flawlessly, lets you sign-in to access all your saved stations and generally performs as you expect.

Moreover, it received a reasonably big update just a couple of months back, featuring a nice new UI and support for 512MB devices – so lower-end Lumia devices can once again access the service.

A really great app.

➤ TuneIn Radio | Windows Phone

Shazam

Shazam officially unveiled its music tagging app for Windows Phone 8 earlier this year and it’s a goodie – but is slightly different to the other mobile versions.

While the iOS and Android incarnations link through to the likes of Spotify, Rdio, and iTunes, the Windows Phone version guides users towards Xbox Music or, if you’re using a Nokia handset, Nokia Music. YouTube integration is also included.

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Another nice touch that sets this apart from other platforms, is the ability to add a Shazam button to the Live Tiles – so basically you can tag tracks directly from your home-screen without having to pre-load the app.

It has also received fairly regular updates since launch back in April.

➤ Shazam | Windows Phone

Spotify

This perhaps could be a deal-breaker for some. Generally speaking, Spotify for Windows Phone works, and it works well…if you have a Premium account.

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Earlier this week, Android and iOS users welcomed the news that free, ad-supported streaming was arriving on the scene. Windows Phone users received no such news, meaning that to use this app you must be on a ten-bucks-a-month subscription.

Moreover, the Spotify app hasn’t had much in the way of updates of late, with the last refresh happening way back in July. There are some big features missing too – including Spotify Radio.

To summarize, Spotify for Windows Phone works fine, but it’ll need some serious updates soon and really needs free streaming to be brought into line with other platforms.

➤ Spotify | Windows Phone

Netflix

Netflix has done a good job of making itself cross-platform, and with Windows Phone we have another decent app from the video-streaming company.

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Netflix optimized the app for Windows Phone earlier this year, and feature-wise it’s pretty much in line with iOS and Android, though a glaring omission is support for different user profiles. But it has had a handful of updates this year, including tweaks and bug fixes.

➤ Netflix | Windows Phone

Evernote

Evernote will rank as one of the more ‘essential’ apps for many mobile users, and the Windows Phone version doesn’t disappoint.

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Back in August, Evernote finally optimized the app for Windows Phone 8, and received a new camera, speech-to-text, smart titles, among other updates. It’s also received a few fixes and minor updates since then.However, there’s still noSkitch for Windows Phone, which is a shame.

➤ Evernote | Windows Phone

eBay

As with the likes of Amazon, eBay is an e-commerce stalwart and one of the oldest Internet brands. But alas, its Windows Phone app leaves a lot to be desired.

Yes, it’s functional and lets you bid, buy and sell items, but the interface is fairly awful. Why it’s gone for an all-black affair, when white is its norm, is a mystery. And red text against a black background for alerts is, well, difficult to decipher.

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General usability isn’t good and it seems this has been cobbled together by an intern. Using this after having become accustomed to the Android and iOS incarnation feels like a massive step back. But it works, which is something.

➤ eBay | Windows Phone

PayPal

PayPal is a different story to the eBay app – it looks like it has been professionally designed for starters. You can send and request money, view your transactions and more.

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It has most of the functionality you’d hope for, but you can’t withdraw funds through the app which will be a deal-breaker for many. And it hasn’t receivedany updates for nine months – its iOS and Android brethren are regularly given tweaks, bug-fixes and updates.

➤ PayPal | Windows Phone

LinkedIn

Generally speaking, LinkedIn’s Windows Phone app offers a solid interpretation of its social network, and it looks and feels decidedly different to the iOS and Android version.

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The app adopts a familiar Windows Phone-centric tile-based interface, with ‘LinkedIn Today’, ‘Groups’, ‘Inbox’ and more having their own dedicated space.

LinkedIn for Windows Phone received its first update in a while just a couple of days ago, and now lets you add and edit your profile picture, link up with potential contacts based on those in your address book, and see who’s viewed your profile more easily. However, you still can’t edit your main profile, which is a bummer.

Still, it’s a decent effort, even if it does lack the depth of features available on other platforms.

➤ LinkedIn | Windows Phone

Tumblr

Tumblr finally arrived for Windows Phone back in April, which was a relief – we were starting to think it would never happen. And maybe that’s what made Yahoo finally consider it a serious acquisition candidate (joking).

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The app is functional on a basic level, but it is missing some key features. For example, it only seems to let you upload a single photograph for a new blog post, and you can’t do much networking to speak of – there’s no way to view accounts you’re following, or see who’s following you. You can’t read messages either, or download images to your device.

If all you want to do is post a quick blog post, it’s fine. But the overall experience could be better.

➤ Tumblr | Windows Phone

WordPress

If WordPress is your mobile CMS of choice, well, you’re reasonably well covered on Windows Phone. You can add new posts, view your stats, add a new page to your site, fiddle with your blog settings and manage comments.

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Certainly, it’s been beautifully designed and it will suffice for most people. But it can be fiddly adding media files to a new post, and you can’t view your top post and pages, or view by country in the Stats.

Plus, Automattic seems to lean towards Android and iOS when considering rolling out updates and bug fixes. The Windows Phone version hasn’t been given any love now for the best part of six months.

➤ WordPress | Windows Phone

Foursquare

A big Foursquare app update is a rare thing, but it does seem to roll out tweaks and bug-fixes every few months or so – so it’s not ignored.

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The app itself lets you do many things, and it probably won’t disappoint the casual user. But for hardcore Foursquare aficionados, there are missing features – for example you’re not able to tag friends from Foursquare or Facebook when you check-in somewhere.

However, the app is completely usable and shouldn’t irk too many people.

➤ Foursquare | Windows Phone

Runtastic

There’s no shortage of GPS fitness-tracking apps for iOS and Android, but there’s not quite so many available for Windows Phone.

RunKeeper dropped support for the Windows mobile platform last year, though founder Jason Jacobs tells us he’s open to being on any platform with mass appeal and hasn’t ruled out establishing a presence there again in the future. For now, Endomondo and Runtastic definitely save the day with a couple of splendid Windows Phone apps.

I’m going to single out Runtastic here, simply because it’s what I use most often and, well, it is a very popular fitness-tracking app. The free version for Windows Phone is fantastic, but lacks music integration – so you can’t access your tunes directly from within the app. The $1.99 Pro version brings this though, as well as route-planning, voice feedback and live tracking.

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One particularly annoying omission is that it doesn’t seem to be able to access your activity history if you’ve been using the app on another device. None of my runs and cycles for the past 2 or so years show up here. It’s basically a blank slate.

However, there are some Windows Phone-specific features such as Nokia Music integration, as well as a Live Tile that displays your monthly statistics.

All-in-all it’s a good app that’s regularly updated and quite well loved.

➤ Runtastic | Windows Phone

Google Search

Many of Google’s flagship services are missing from Windows Phone, but you’ll be pleased to know that a fairly full-featured search app is available.

It has voice search, location-based search to automatically surface things near where you are, and auto-complete. And you can sign-in to your Google account through the app too, which basically gives you access to other Google services through the browser without needing to sign in again – including Gmail and YouTube.

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For those reliant on Google’s services on their mobile, this app does a reasonable job of side-stepping the need for native apps. But it’s far from perfect, and you will miss a lot if you jump over from another platform – the Gmail experience here is pretty shoddy once you’re used to the Android or iOS app.

However, Google does give this app some attention, and it works well. It’s better than a kick in the teeth, right?

➤ Google Search | Windows Phone

IMDb

Amazon-owned IMDb is a pretty indispensable service for movie-lovers. The Android version is fantastic, the Windows Phone version is…good enough.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated in 18 months, and it seems like it’s pretty much been forgotten about. However, it’s still plugged into the gargantuan movie database, and it will serve you reasonably well.

The colors seem just a little bit garish to me though – I’m not sure if it’s the shade or the brightness or what. But you can drill down on everyone involved in a movie, and go off on tangents the more you click.

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The one major drawback for me, however, is the lack of accounts – you cannot sign in and access your history, watchlist, or reviews. As such, you can’t writereviews either.

So it’s not great, but it’s not awful either. I hope someone at Amazon and IMDb remembers this app exists and gives it a massive lick of paint and some fresh features soon.

➤ IMDb | Windows Phone

Facebook

If you were thinking we’d forgotten about Facebook, well, we haven’t. There is an app, it’s just that Microsoft has had to build the thing itself, given Zuck & Co. clearly don’t see too much value in it. So this isn’t an official app per se, but we’re including it anyway because it’s built by the folk behind the mobile platform it appears on. That’s close enough.

The general design and layout is generally faithful to the iOS and Android app, and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting to grips with it. You can upload photos, check-in, browse your feed, see what’s happening nearby, and view events.

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As of a very recent update, you can also now unfriend folk and unlike things you’ve previously chosen to ‘like’.

Indeed, for most people, Microsoft’s effort will be more than enough. But for those who only ever access the Internet on their phone, there are some key omissions. For example, you can’t edit your profile, and you can’t tag people in photographs. Also, it can be a little slow at times.

Overall, it gets pass marks though and will be good enough for most people.

➤ Facebook | Windows Phone

YouTube

This is another annoying one. Given that Google’s attention lies elsewhere,YouTube arrived on the scene via Microsoft’s own developers…but due to aseries of squabbles involving a violation of terms and conditions, Google blocked access to the app for a while.

As of October, Microsoft reverted its YouTube Windows Phone app former state – which is basically a shortcut to a mobile Web version of the service. While it did end Google’s eight-week block, the existing ‘app’ isn’t really any different to what you could already access via the Google search app or good ol’ Internet Explorer.

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Videos do play, you can sign-in to your account, post comments and so on. But it lacks the finesse and full-functionality of the native apps available for iOS and Android. This isn’t even really an app.

➤ YouTube | Windows Phone

Windows Phone does have a decent selection of the big apps available, and for the most part they’re all pretty good and receive regular updates, even if they lack some of the features of their iOS and Android counterparts.

There are also many, many more little ditties, from calculators to flight search engines, so there’s plenty to tempt would-be defectors onto the platform if native apps is what they want – but there are still some big ones missing.

Here’s a look at some of these.

Missing in action

For many, the lack of a fully-integrated Google experience, replete with native apps, is a deal-breaker in itself.

There’s no Google Maps, but there is the home-grown Maps and Here Maps; and while there’s no official Gmail app, there is a decent third-party effort. You used to be able to set up native Google Sync support with Windows Phone, but as of January this year it’s now restricted to Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government customers only. There’s also no Chrome or Firefox browsers available, but the baked-in Internet Explorer app is good.

They’ve been promised and should be arriving soon, but there’s still no sign of Path or Flipboard. Dropbox is missing too which will disappoint many, and there’s no SoundCloud, Yahoo Mail, Airbnb, Snapchat, Uber, Hailo, Wikipedia (there is a decent third-party one), Pinterest, Pocket or Any.do.

Some real biggies missing in there, so there’s still some work to be done.

The Windows Phone appeal

Some smaller companies see Windows Phone as a viable platform, while some with masses of cash don’t – just look at Google and Facebook. I thought I’d ask a couple of the startups that have native Windows Phone apps why they made the move, and what kind of treatment they’ll give it moving forward.

As we noted earlier, Blippar took its augmented reality app to Windows Phone last month, around two years after its product first launched. So what was the tipping point here – why now for Windows Phone?

“From the start our intention was to launch across all platforms, so we always had an eye on Windows Phone,” explains Rish Mitra, CEO and co-founder of Blippar. “Having received a few requests from clients to have the app available on that platform, we decided to give it the final push and release it. Lately, the share of voice on Twitter has gone up too, with users demanding a Windows Phone version of popular apps.”

So will Blippar for Windows Phone now be given equal priority to the iOS and Android app?

“Most of our users are on iOS and Android, therefore they are given a higher priority,” adds Mitra. “Having said that, we have built our platform in a scalable way with a unified codebase which leads to minimum impact in change management of features. The UI layer is unique to Windows and required separate work and is marginally behind the mothership product.”

However, Blippar does have a dedicated in-house team working on Windows Phone which is a good sign – often if an app is outsourced to an agency or third-party developer, this doesn’t bode well for future updates.

“It’s (Windows Phone is) a clear ‘number three’ player in the market, and doing well in emerging economies where Nokia is still dominant,” continues Rish. “All I can say right now is that it’s not make or break for any business model, but a source for acquiring content-hungry Windows Phone users. Their vision (Microsoft’s) to unify and create a consistent experience across all platforms might help them become a stronger force. We plan to support Windows Phone indefinitely from where we see it today.”

With tens of millions of downloads across all platforms since its launch in 2009, Runtastic has become something of a behemoth in the fitness-tracking space. It’s actually had a Windows Phone app since early 2011, and has generally given it regular updates, even though less than 5% of its total users access the app.

“To be honest, we recognized this (a need to be on Windows Phone) very early on,” says Florian Gschwandtner, CEO & co-founder of Runtastic. “We’d like to offer our users the same exceptional experience on each platform and it doesn’t matter whether they’re a Windows Phone, Android or iPhone user.”

And what about priority and parity of features across all platforms?

“We try to offer a similar feature set across all platforms, but sometimes it’s not entirely possible due to technical obstacles like Bluetooth Smart support,” continues Gschwandtner. “Furthermore, we’re trying to implement special features, specific and unique to each platform. For example, this past year we did a Nokia Music integration exclusively for Windows Phone.”

As with Blippar, Runtastic has a dedicated in-house team of developers, which I guess is to be expected given it’s been catering for the platform for nearly three years.

Runtastic actually has a slew of other fitness-related apps – such as ones for homebodies and one that focuses on getting you a six-pack. With that in mind, Gschwandtner says we can expect a release of several new apps from Runtastic on Microsoft’s mobile platform in the new year.

“We experienced growth on Windows Phone within the past year, and we definitely believe in the platform for the future,” he says. “In January, we’re already planning to release several new apps for Windows Phone.”

The future of Windows Phone

Hearing upbeat comments such as this certainly gives a lot of hope for Windows Phone. Sure, there still isn’t the level of support for native apps that many would like (though I still insist a lack of native apps isn’t the major problem), but there is enough going on to suggest there’s much more to come. And these kinds of things tend to snowball – the more activity there is, the more buzz is created, the more people get excited about this third platform, and things accelerate.

The next year or two will be crucial for Windows Phone. With the might of Microsoft behind it, which will have now have full control of Nokia’s hardware moving forward – including the impressive line of Lumia handsets – it’ll be interesting to see how much market share it can garner.

Two ways to access Custom Google Maps on the Web — December 14, 2013

Two ways to access Custom Google Maps on the Web

google map

 

When Google starting offering a new version of Maps on the Web, many users thought it would deliver improvements on the current site. Unfortunately, many of the beloved features, like Custom Maps and multidestination directions, disappeared.

Back in July, the new interface became available to everyone who wanted to switch. But for those of us with custom maps, we weren’t having any part of that new and featureless version! Fortunately, Google has been slowly rolling out some of the Classic Maps features you know and love, and now better access to Custom Maps is finally here.

Here are two ways to access your maps:

Note: You will need to be logged in to Google services and using the new version of Google Maps to see your maps.

First method: Head to http://maps.google.com in your Web browser and click the search bar. Recent searches — as well as preset addresses like Home or Work — will appear. At the bottom, there will be a choice labeled “My custom maps.” You can choose from one of the maps displayed in the list, or you can click “See all of my custom maps.”

 

Second method: This is probably faster, but requires you to go to a different Google site — Maps Engine. Point your Web browser to https://mapsengine.google.com/map/. Next, click Open a map, and choose your map from one of the categories. It’s most likely that your maps will be listed under the Classic category on the left.

Both methods will ultimately lead you here:

What do you think of the new Google Maps on the Web? What features from the old version are you missing the most?

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