Posey's Tips & Tricks

Windows Phones Are Everywhere!

Here's a look at some of the extreme environments that Microsoft's mobile devices are being put to the test.

It's no big secret that in the United States Windows Phone users are in a clear minority. The market is dominated by iPhone and Android devices  --  at least for now. Recently however, I went on a Caribbean cruise with my wife and had a bit of a revelation. While onboard we saw a surprising number of people using Windows Phones.

My wife made the off-handed comment, "wow, Windows Phones are everywhere." Although I agreed with her, I didn't really put any more thought into her comment until later that night when I had some down time. I began to ponder the question of whether or not Windows Phones really are "everywhere."

Microsoft is a global company and Windows phones are sold in a number of different countries around the world. In a number of foreign markets Windows Phones even outsell iPhone and Android devices. 

Of course globalization is nice, but the vast majority of Windows Phone users probably use their phones for really routine, mundane sorts of things. For example, I seem to recall a Windows Phone being used at a wedding recently.

For Windows Phones to really be "everywhere," they would have to be used in some really outlandish places and possibly for some really creative purposes. I have used my own Windows Phone in some really off the beaten path kinds of places, but I began to wonder if there were others who also include Windows Phone in their adventures.

I didn't have to wait long to find out. When I returned home from my trip I saw a story on the official Windows Phone Blog about a corporate IT manager in Switzerland named Martin Hammerli who had decided to make his Windows Phone fly. To do so, he attached a Nokia Lumina 1020 to an RC helicopter and used the phone as a camera. Although there are easier ways to perform aerial photography from an RC aircraft, Hammerli ended up with some stunning photos from his phone.

Obviously flying on an RC aircraft is a pretty creative use for a Windows Phone, but I wondered what other sorts of adventures Windows Phones had been a part of. In my quest to find out, I spoke to a number of different people including polar adventurer Eric Larsen.

Larsen is headed to the geographic North Pole on an expedition called Last North. The goal of this particular expedition is to break the unsupported speed record for a North Pole expedition. Right now the record for an unsupported expedition is 49 days.

The expedition requires Eric and his team to transport all of their gear on 350-pound sleds across the frozen Arctic Ocean in an effort to reach the North Pole. Eric told me that one of the most challenging things about the expedition is that the ice is constantly moving to the south, which makes progress slower than it would be if the ice were stationary. The constantly moving ice also makes it impossible to follow a previous route. Every expedition to the North Pole uses a unique route.

Of course I just couldn't resist asking Eric why he had chosen to bring a Windows Phone along on this expedition. After all, there aren't many cell towers at the North Pole.

Eric explained to me that when you are performing an unsupported expedition (which mean that supplies are not delivered to you, you carry everything with you), everything that you bring needs to be lightweight, durable, multipurpose and essential. The Nokia 1020 had the form factor that Eric was looking for, and it takes really good photos and videos. Eric also said that since the expedition is two months long that boredom can be an issue, and that it's nice to be able to use the phone to listen to music and podcasts.

So how does Eric plan to keep the phone charged during the expedition? Because the expedition is taking place during the winter, it will be dark for all but a few hours each day. As such, Eric plans to initially use lithium AA batteries and an inverter for charging. Later in the expedition when the days get longer, he plans to use a solar charger.

While I was talking to Eric, I asked him if he had done any other expeditions and whether or not his Windows Phone was involved. Eric explained that he had been on two prior expeditions to the North Pole, including the first-ever summer expedition. He has also made multiple trips to Antarctica and even summited Mount Everest. Unfortunately, Windows Phones were not a part of any of those expeditions because the technology had not yet matured to the point that the phone would have made a significant contribution to the journey. Eric did, however, use his Windows Phone at Lake Winnipeg in Canada while training for the North Pole expedition. In doing so, he and the phone endured temperatures of -30 degrees.

So what about my own adventures with Windows Phone? Although my "polar" adventures pale in comparison to those of Eric Larsen,  I have taken my Windows Phone to the Juneau Ice Fields and to Antarctica. I just happened to be working on a book about Windows Phone during both of those trips, so it gave me the opportunity to see how well my Windows Phone device held up to the cold. At the time, I was testing a Windows Phone 7 device with a liquid-crystal display. I thought for sure that the display would probably freeze up in the cold, but it never did.

Although my Windows Phone 7 device got taken to some really cold places, my Windows Phone 8 device has endured extreme heat. On two separate occasions I took my Windows Phone 8 device with me while hiking live volcanos, first in Guatemala  and then in Hawaii. Obviously I never tried to see how close I could get my phone to the lava before it melted, but I did take several pictures with my phone while I was within a foot or two of the lava.

Without a doubt the coolest adventure on which I have taken my Windows Phone was a zero-gravity flight on the vomit comet. Not only did my phone float around weightless, but it played a major role in documenting the experience.  At the suggestion of a close friend, I made a documentary style video of my experience and all but one of the "video selfies" were recorded with my phone. Furthermore, I recorded all of the voiceover narration with my Windows Phone.

Between my own adventures and those of others that I have talked to, I think that it's pretty safe to say that Windows Phones have been to some really exotic places and have been used for purposes that their engineers probably never envisioned. Personally, I think that RC helicopter flights, polar expeditions, and "space tourism" are just the beginning. It's going to be really interesting to see where else Windows Phones go in the future.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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