Microsoft Corporation, headquartered in Redmond, Washington is probably almost as well globally recognised as Coca Cola. It should be – it has been responsible for such a wide range of products and services related to computing, that it was pretty much powering the world’s computing needs!
The company was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen on April 4, 1975.
Microsoft is the world’s largest software maker measured by revenues. It is also one of the world’s most valuable companies.
Microsoft is market dominant in both the PC Operating System and Office Suite markets (the latter as ‘Microsoft Office’). The company also produces a wide range of other software for desktops and servers, and is active in areas including internet search (with Bing), the video game industry (with the Xbox consoles), the digital services market (through MSN), and smartphones (via the Windows Phone OS).
On 3rd September, 2013 Microsoft Corporation announced it’s purchase of practically all of Nokia’s Devices & Services business, along with licensing Nokia’s patents and use Nokia’s HERE mapping services.
With this transaction fructifying, Microsoft Corp is expected to start making it’s own Windows Phone devices and thus not be dependent on third party manufacturers to make push forward with the Windows Phone OS.
Made For India: Microsoft Skype Lite Gets Aadhaar Integration
Microsoft’s Skype Lite recently received an update, the main calling card of which its integration with Aadhaar. The intent seems to be to enable Skype’s users verify each other’s identities in the virtual world and to make interactions be more secure.
For the benefit of our international readers, Aadhaar is an individual identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It serves as a proof of identity anywhere in the country, akin to the Social Security Number in the U.S.
“Aadhaar is considered to be the world’s largest national identification number project and allows users in India to communicate with government, business, and others with a higher level of trust and lower potential for fraud. With the latest version of Skype Lite, Aadhaar integration can be used to verify user identities online, helping them communicate more securely with others“, the company shared in a statement.
Skype Lite, as the name suggests, is a “light” version of the prominent video calling application. The custom-build for India also includes an advanced algorithm that is optimised to consume less Internet Data during video communication. The functionality is particularly important as a considerable portion of the users rely on Mobile Data to access the application; and where mobile coverage quality is not yet a fully reliable.
Available only for Android users currently, the app has seen close to five million downloads on the Google Play Store in just four months since its launch in February 2017,
The integration with Aadhaar comes as a bid to enhance the security on the app and is perhaps an implied nod in the direction of payment-integration within Skype in the future.
To confirm a user’s identity using Aadhaar, you need to click on “Verify Aadhaar Identity“, enter your 12-digit Aadhaar number and then authenticate with a one-time password sent via an SMS. Once your identity has been validated, you can choose to share pre-selected Aadhaar information with the other person, to assure them of your identity.
For example, you may wish to make a Skype Lite call to an important business client or government representative. By using Aadhaar, both parties can verify their identity at the beginning of the call to prevent impersonation fraud, allowing people to conduct business via digital means with more trust.
Microsoft has also assured users that it does not save or pry into your Aadhaar information shared by the users, stating that all such personal information, quite like your conversation, is encrypted.
In addition to the Aadhaar integration, the app comes with other India-centric features:
From the looks of it, Microsoft is leaning into the Indian market with a purpose, and customizing their offerings to become attractive to Indians by responding to their implicitly psychological and usability demands. This is a move that might help Microsoft gain some much-needed traction in India. Their computer software is used widely, however in pirated versions, so even though they are a household name in the country, they don’t quite get to take the popularity to the bank. They might, now.
Meet Cortica: An Israeli AI Company That's Teaching Machines To Observe And Reason, Like Humans Do
The human brain processes all information via electrical impulses. You knew that, right? Well, that is exactly what inspired Igal Raichelgauz, CEO of Cortica, an Israel-based Artificial Intelligence startup. He saw the human brain as an electrical circuit and set out to replicate that circuitry to create an AI-based capability that would endow machines with a similar skill set.
Cortica wanted their AI to have a sight sense on par with that of humans.
And we do indeed have an astonishingly complex sight system – everything you see with your eyes, open receptors in your eyes convert to electrical signals. All that information is transferred by those signals, to a part of your brain which sorts and analyzes the color, depth, shape, and size of all those objects. This data is then received by the cortex – the part that most interests Cortica.
Remember poststructuralism? For those of you who need help with that preface, you only know a table as a table because you see it in relation to a chair. If the chair didn’t exist, how would you know what a table is, what it’s used for?
Something similar happens in your visual cortex. It classifies all the objects you see into different categories by assessing them in relation to all the objects you’ve ever come across.
That’s how you know what you just saw was a bird, or a bottle, or your friend, or anything else.
Sure, you know how little time it takes for our brain to perform the entire process since you experience it every waking moment of your life, but have you ever stopped to wonder, to revel or to acknowledge the sheer speed and processing power behind it?
You know what you saw the moment you saw it. Cortica believes it has reverse engineered this process, replicated the biological visual cortex of humans.
Guess how they achieved that?
They worked on a piece of rat brain, a piece that is still living. Yup, you read that right!
The brain gave them access to the electrical interface of all the neurons contained in that tissue. They were able to understand the input-output process of the neurons. They discovered that with some modifications, a neural network could create a “conceptual signature” – without any prior training. It would be able to recognize similar objects, and differentiate them from others.
Such an AI would be able to learn by itself, much like babies do – by observation and reasoning. While we observe and learn from the world around us, it would do the same from the data available on the web.
This is Cortica’s own, unique approach to what is called ‘unsupervised learning’ within the field of artificial intelligence.
Just so you’re on the same page, there are 3 kinds of machine learning – supervised, unsupervised and semi-supervised.
Supervised learning is when you teach the AI from a pre-determined data set, so you already know the output. This is the most commonly used one.
Unsupervised learning is when you give the AI no prior training, and you tell it to solve the problem with only the necessary input. The output from such an algorithm is unknown. For instance, you want your AI to categorize certain geometrical shapes into matching groups.
If you’re using supervised learning, you would have taught the AI about circles, squares, hexagons etc. before giving it the problem. In unsupervised learning, however, you would teach your AI nothing before asking it to solve the problem. It would see the various shapes, categorize them based on similarity, and give its own label to them. This is a process much more difficult to teach an AI.
Semi-supervised learning falls between these two. The AI would have an incomplete set of reference data, and it would hazard the best possible guess based on the limited data it has, and it’s own abilities to extrapolate the data.
Now do you see the ramifications of what Cortica has achieved? Two words – it’s huge!
But Cortica isn’t completely done yet. There’s still time before the technology enters the consumer industry, but Cortica claims to have created an AI that can see and process information like humans.
So many possibilities!
Self-driving cars have already entered the marketplace. But imagine if they could actually recognize and understand what an object or obstacle ahead of them is. The car would stop by itself if it sees a pedestrian crossing the road, thus preventing many road accidents.
The might be able to recognise accidents on the road and could call for help independently.
Your smart home gadgets would revert to the settings that are specific to you when they see you approaching. An air conditioner could increase the temperature if it sees a child in the room, so they don’t get cold. The refrigerator could detect what groceries are finished up and remind you to get more.
Amazon’s grocery store in Seattle is already automated, but what if it could actually see you? That would even remove the need to even scan the app at the entrance. You could just walk right in and it would recognize you from its database, and be able to process you, and your purchases independently and accurately!
The possibilities are truly endless.
Other AI startups such as DeepMind, RealFace, and Genee have been acquired by Google, Apple, and Microsoft respectively. Would Cortica too become a target to be acquired, or would it be able to hold its own against them? Its technology certainly looks powerful enough.
The world is changing, friends. Get ready to see it differently, soon.
Updated: WhatsApp Withdrawing Support For These Devices
This might come as bad news to some WhatsApp users, but the world’s foremost messenger application, with over one billion users worldwide has decided to withdraw support for some operating systems and devices on 31st December, 2016.
What this means is that the users of these devices will no longer receive any future software updates on the App thereafter, though WhatsApp will not be blocking services to the devices. So, WhatsApp will continue to run, but won’t get any more jazzy upgrades.
Well, since you are obviously going to be curious as to which these operating systems are, here’s the list that WhatsApp has published:
This does not come as a fresh announcement as it is actually a reminder from their earlier announcement made on their blog back in February of 2016 (around the seventh anniversary of the application). The post had stated: “While these mobile devices have been an important part of our story, they don’t offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app’s features in the future. This was a tough decision for us to make, but the right one in order to give people better ways to keep in touch with friends, family, and loved ones using WhatsApp”.
The reasons stated for the withdrawal of support for these devices by the Facebook-owned company are simplified into – they believe that the messenger application and its features have grown far beyond the scope of these operating systems, which can no longer incorporate within them the latest features, in general, or those of security.
The technology over the years has obviously improved drastically, and these older operating systems, even logically speaking, would lack the capacity to withstand the changes.
The WhatsApp announcement post goes further, almost nostalgically explaining: “About 70 percent of smartphones sold at the time had operating systems offered by BlackBerry and Nokia. Mobile operating systems offered by Google, Apple and Microsoft – which account for 99.5 percent of sales today – were on less than 25 percent of mobile devices sold at the time”.
Updates to this Article:
In developing news, however, WhatsApp just launched a video calling feature on its application for all its users. Along with this new feature, it also decided to extend the support for Blackberry and Windows operating systems until July 2017, as of now.
This seems like a move planned as per the market, competing with a number of rivals such as Facebook’s own Messenger, Microsoft’s Skype, Apple’s iMessage, Google’s recently launched Duo, and independent similar applications like Viber, Line, and others.
WhatsApp has a dominant hand in the market, so, it would be wrong to state that WhatsApp is playing catch up with other applications, but what is certain is that WhatsApp is gearing up to retain its position in the market. These latest moves only serve to highlight that intent.
While WhatsApp, back in February, politely requested the users of these older operating systems (and of course, devices) to buy devices running on more recent OS before the end of the year, now, with their latest move they are extending the support for a few of these by six months.
But we don’t think they’re going to be providing any further extensions. So if you’re an avid chatter, on one of the devices on the endangered species list, we recommend you begin saving up and move out soon.
Update (on 8th June, 2017):
The six month extension that Facebook-owned Whatsapp had so zealously provided for the operating systems in concern has now come to an end. As of June 30th, the above mentioned operating systems will no longer receive support for the messenger application. The apps won’t die, they just won’t receive any more updates.
Whatsapp has been making a lot of changes to its ecosystem lately, with talk of bringing in unique features that will allow you to ‘recall’, or ‘edit’ a sent text. and with bringing in features like audio and video calls, stories, and working around the idea of a ‘status’. It is quite clear that Whatsapp is moving towards bringing in more and more features for its users in a crowded market. To keep doing that, it is important for them to invest their energy judiciously. The withdrawal of support for these operating systems is precisely that, a move towards judicious investment of energy.
Update (on June 23rd, 2017)
It seems like the end of life date for BlackBerry OS and Nokia S40 platforms has been pushed back again. WhatsApp, on their website, has reportedly confirmed the extension of its services for BlackBerry and Nokia S40 platforms till December 2017 and December 2018, respectively.
As per a report by Netherlands-based fan website WhatsAppen, WhatsApp for BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS7+ recently received an update that extends support for the platforms until December 31, 2017.
As far as support for Nokia S40 platform is concerned, the end-of-life date has been moved from December 31, 2017 to December 31, 2018.
This, however, gives a mixed message, given the extension is not being granted to Nokia Symbian S60 platform. There are very limited number of customers who use the Nokia S40 platform, but the news will be a relief to them nonetheless.
Soon You'll Be Able To Back Your Entire Computer Up To Google Drive
Google Drive is gearing up to be the answer to all your data and backup needs.
Soon, Google Drive will be able to automatically backup all the files residing in any folder on your computer that you point it to. The backup would include your computer’s desktop, files residing in your documents and all other possible locations on your computer.
This is a big change as it will mean that will no longer have to place files only in a specific ‘Drive’ folder on your computer, as you need to today.
All of this comes via an app called Backup and Sync. The app is the latest version of Google Drive for Macs and PCs, and is integrated with the Google Photos desktop loader.
From what it sounds like, this new app will replace the currently existing Google Drive app and the Google Photos backup app for computers.
The change, however, is only available to consumer users for now (those who use Google Drive for personal everyday things), and not to business users. Google is recommending that business users who have been using G Suite, for now, stick with the Google Drive for Mac/PC until the new enterprise-focused solution, Drive File Stream, is made available to them.
Drive File Stream will come with another approach altogether, which will allow users to access huge corporate data sets without taking up the equivalent space on their hard drives. The feature will definitely be something that business users will look forward to.
Once the personal version of the app goes live, users will be able to sign into the uploader via their Google Account, and then select which specific folders on their PC or Mac that they want continuously backed up to their Google Drive. It is not yet clear how much more users will be able to do with this expanded storage. The assumption is that users will be able to open and edit some common file types within Drive. It is, however, not clear that users will be able to sync those files back to the computer using the drive as an intermediary.
Another question that arises is that of the storage limit. The expanded backup will quite certainly count towards your Google storage limit too. Given that, the new app will be a quick and easy way to hit the 15 GB data storage limit that free accounts currently enjoy from Google. Users can then rent additional space from Google, which will cost them USD 2 a month for 100 GB, USD 10 for 1 TB, and USD 100 a month for 10 TB.
The new feature is definitely a smart move on Google’s part. It is a handy feature that users have been demanding from Dropbox for a while now.
Dropbox (like the Google Drive) currently required users to save files in a particular folder on their computer for them to back up. Microsoft’s OneDrive is another cloud storage service which lets users automatically back up files from their computers, but even for that users have to save the file in a particular folder, or prompt them to be saved on OneDrive while saving them in the first place.
Google’s new feature is likely to be popular with consumers looking to keep copies of their photo, video and music libraries. Given the ransomware attacks that have not faded from the memory of millions of users around the world, Google’s service might come as a relief to many.
The service was to be available from the 28th of June, but Google has postponed its release, “based on your valuable feedback, we’ve decided to delay the launch of Backup and Sync while we make improvements to the product“.
The service can be expected to be available in a few weeks’ time.
Maharashtra Showcases India's First Ideal Digital Village, Proving A Vital Point
The new Government’s push towards achieving a digital India might take some time, for a Pan India result, but that isn’t the case when it comes to its Digital Villages initiative.
Maharashtra’s Harisal village, once known for its poor Human Development Index ratings, is receiving the push it needs from the Government machinery as well as one of the world’s most successful technology companies – Microsoft.
Microsoft adopted this village as a bid to make it India’s first digital village. Not only has it provided the necessary capital, resources and tie ups for the village, but it has supported it and partnered so well with the local and state civil servants, that the project is poised to receive a national award on public services.
Harisal, which is in Amravati district of Maharashtra, has one of the highest amounts of people suffering from malnutrition. It also ranks amongst the lowest villages according to the Human Development Index especially in the parameters of education, employment and income levels. This is especially why the village was chosen and the State Government has reiterated time-and-again that if the project is successful here, then places which are far ahead of Harisal, would take lesser time to transform.
The civil servants primarily concentrated on data that they received and took actions accordingly. They made it clear while addressing the media, that increasing access to Fair Price Shops (the usually prescribed “fix”) would not necessarily deal with the issues the villagers were facing and that certainly did not improve the data on malnourishment.
On the contrary, the focus was primarily given on providing education, employment and health benefits, the issues that were pulling them back in the first place.
Details on what services were provided and how the public-private partnership enable the facilitation of a successful project are given below:
Apart from all these initiatives, the Government is also planning to establish a CDAC in the village to provide mobile units and satellite communication to establish contact with specialist doctors.
Close to 54 more villages around Harisal are poised to benefit from this tie up and adoption.
It will probably be the understatement of 2017 to say, that the village has hence seen much progress – from people having no phones, to villagers now communicating on Skype is the jump in accessibility that best showcases (and markets) the government’s digital village initiative.
More power to such initiatives, we say!
New Chefs In The Apple Health Kitchen: Diabetes Specialists
Apple has recently hired a bunch of biomedical engineers as a part of what seems to be a secret mission to fight diabetes. As initially envisioned by late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, this would be an R&D program to develop sensors to fight diabetes, by monitoring glucose levels.
While the company has for now declined to make a statement in this regard, many people supposedly familiar with the matter have come forward to share their “knowledge”.
The team is said to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, in close proximity to the Silicon Valley headquarters. While we do not know the details of the project yet, we do believe this is an adventure to create ‘breakthrough’ wearable devices that detect the disease and monitor blood-sugar levels.
The reason that this could prove to be instrumental in the field of medicine is because up until now it is impossible to monitor sugar levels without breaking through the skin. Electronic diabetes detection devices have proven to be lifesavers for the hundreds of millions of people who are affected by the ailment, but all of them require plucking through the skin to get blood, to discern the sugar level.
“There is a cemetery full of efforts to measure glucose in a non-invasive way“, said DexCom chief executive Terrance Gregg, whose firm is known for minimally invasive blood-sugar techniques. “To succeed would require several hundred million dollars or even a billion dollars“.
What Apple has is much more than that, so it may well be investing some of it to solve this biggie.
Reports state that about 30 people are working on this project now, and the project has been in folds for about five years now. Reports also state that the team has been carrying out clinical trials in San Francisco, the results of which have not been revealed yet.
In addition, they have also reportedly hired consultants to look into the rules and regulations around bringing such a product to market.
For those of you who might be a little surprised, Apple, yes, the makers of the iPhone and the iPad, also have a secret workshop that they have had running for a while now. In this R&D workshop, they have been known to work on many non-phone related products, most of which are experimental for now.
This speaks to the larger Silicon Valley trend that Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the likes have also been feeding into, through their R&D divisions. From Artificial Intelligence, to automated cars, to technology that works with medicine – they’ve got a lot going on in their backyards.
The news of the project comes at a time when the line between pharmaceuticals and technology seems to be blurring, and quite fast. While on the one hand, you have scientists detecting rare genetic disorders wth facial recognition technology, on the other you have Elon Musk’s Neuralink that plans to work on the much risky uncharted territory of the brain.
The approach most companies are taking is of combining biology, software, and hardware, to tackle chronic diseases using high-tech devices. This has led to the jump-start of a novel field of medicine called bioelectronics, and it’s gratifying to see that Apple is not the only player in the game on this one.
It was last year that another biggie came into the scene when GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. joined hands and unveiled a company aimed at making bioelectronic devices to fight illness by attaching to individual nerves. U.S. biotech firms Setpoint Medical and EnteroMedics have already shown that strides can be made with bioelectronics in treating rheumatoid arthritis and suppressing appetite in the obese. Medtronic Plc., Proteus Digital Technology, Sanofi SA, and Biogen Inc., are others that are playing in the field, trying to make a mark in this extremely interesting field.
Specifically, in the field of diabetes, Virta is a fairly new startup, which is working on tackling type 2 diabetes, to completely cure patients by remotely monitoring behavior. Livongo Health is another startup, which has recently raised about USD 52 million to launch its blood sugar monitoring product. Alphabet too is involved, via it’s subsidiary Verily who’s tried to tackle this big one with a smart contact lens that measures blood glucose levels through the eye, but that has not proven to be quite successful yet.
While we don’t know exactly what the shape of Apple’s project is, for now, yet it does seem to fit into the bigger vision of the company that Steve Jobs famously dreamed. Jobs believed Apple would one day be at the intersection of technology and biology, and making this happen would be a perfect manifestation of the same.
They are already halfway there with the Apple Watch which counts calories, and steps, takes heart rate, and other biological measures. Add this, and voila!
The 10 Best Features Of Windows 10 Creators Update
Windows 10 aims to surprise its users by its latest update announced on April, 11.
Also called Creators Update, this update provides users with new experiences that will undoubtedly be appreciated by all users, irrespective of their tech-affinity. It’s fairly apparent that Microsoft is working hard to meet the diverse requirements of it’s very large user base.
Here are the top 10 features that got me all engaged, and might cause a stir in you too:
So, there are lots of goodies and I can’t wait to get my hands on this (officially). However it’ll be a bit too premature to gauge the scale of Microsoft’s success with these changes, at the present moment – let’s wait for the penny to drop, to know if we like the sound it makes.
Microsoft Buys Deis To Boost It's Azure Cloud Service
Microsoft is buying Deis, a small company that specializes in Containers – a modern way to develop and deploy software.
What’s Microsoft going to do with this acquisition? Well that’s the question we’re going to help you answer!
Simply put, this seems to be an act of self-improvement – one that is aimed at “sponsoring one’s weakness“.
The undeniable fact is that when one thinks of cloud computing services, Microsoft’s Azure does not ring up any major recall.
Despite a lot of efforts on the part of the Silicon Valley’s biggest IT giant, towards upgrading their cloud computing services and it’s appeal, Azure hasn’t really become one of the top players. Amazon, Google and even Dropbox have held the podium for a long, long time.
So this acquisition may be one of Microsoft’s steps toward climbing that vaunted podium.
Microsoft, over the time, has bought into many renowned companies and start-ups, so as to either boost its sales or improve its efficiency. This new buy of Microsoft has got to do with the latter, i.e. increased efficiency.
Thanks to Deis’ proprietary technology, Microsoft may now be able to live up to consumers’ expectations by providing Azure with the smoothness and heightened efficiency that they (users) have come to enjoy from Microsoft’s competitors.
Well, Deis is a San Francisco based open-source tool provider that enables teams to create and manage applications on the Google-backed Kubernetes platform. The company also specializes in containers.
Containers can be considered as one unit of cloud computing, and what Google’s Kubernetes does, up until this point, is that it allows many containers to be compartmentalised – to the extent that multiple containers can be managed on a single cloud instance.
While all that jargon is prone to go over your head, all that you need to know is that it means increased efficiency for the Cloud. Deis even claims to take this one step further.
Deis has in the past, claimed that it can make it easier for companies to use Google’s Kubernetes for their own purposes. This is a management specialization which is poised to save space and increase efficiency.
Now that we know what Deis is and what they do, we shall return to our topic at hand: Microsoft buying Deis. How will it help Microsoft?
Well, for starters, the tools provided by Deis will make Azure function better with a better consumer interface. Microsoft is undoubtedly expecting (or is it, hoping) that the acquisition of Deis will help consumers to work better with Microsoft’s existing container portfolio including Linux and Windows Server Containers and Azure Container Service.
Whatever the case be, Microsoft seems to be making a strategic and planned investment here. Software containers, at this point, are pivotal and are touted as the new building blocks of cloud-based applications. Thus, they are somewhat, a necessity as small to big businesses are turning to third-party public clouds – like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services – to run their applications.
So, in a time where the market is turning to third-party clouds, being able to make them run in the most reliable and efficient manner is critical. This is Microsoft’s next step in precisely that direction.
As far as what Deis is getting out of the equation – well, they get a broader customer base.
Deis has been contributing extensively to the Helm, Workflow and Steward open source projects and intends to continue doing so. But now, working with Microsoft, the company would be able to take their service to a much wider and more heterogeneous audience.
Gabriel Monroy, the CTO of Deis said: “From our new home at Microsoft, you should expect nothing less. We will continue our contributions to Workflow, Helm, and Steward and look forward to maintaining our deep engagement with the Kubernetes community. The future of open source infrastructure at Microsoft is very bright”.
The deal was made behind closed doors and hence no financial information is available except for the name Deis was bought from the parent company, EngineYard.
The deal, however, does mark a change in Microsoft’s approach to the market. Microsoft had for years, established itself as a closed-source proprietor of software and hardly considered the open source market to be a market worth investing in. That felt almost like Microsoft was refusing to move with time.
However, Satya Nadela’s introduction into the company has changed that. From acquiring massive cloud computing exhibitors, to a time when nearly a third of all machines in Azure run Linux (the popular open-source operating system favored by many developers over Windows), it’s quite a change.
It would be interesting and important to see which way the company continues to move.
“At Microsoft, we’ve seen explosive growth in both interest and deployment of containerized workloads on Azure, and we’re committed to ensuring Azure is the best place to run them”, said Microsoft’s Executive VP for its Cloud and Enterprise Group, Scott Guthrie.
With that change of approach in mind, buying Deis is a smart move for Microsoft. “…the Deis team brings a depth of open source technology experience — furthering Microsoft’s commitments to improve developer productivity and to provide choice and flexibility for our customers everywhere”.
Samsung Creates Bendable Graphene Based Storage Chips
Bendable devices have been long time coming – with brands like Samsung, LG, Microsoft and even a little known brand, Moxi, rumoured to be readying various forms of smartphones and wearables.
Each of these brands obviously estimate that the Next Big Thing is going to be a device that can be folded or bent, to offer more utility and durability.
Now, some recent news on the matter is fanning the flames of the rumours some more. The rumour mill has it that Samsung has now developed technology to create a graphene-based storage chip.
This is an important milestone – because for a device to bend, all of it’s internals must support such adventure. Hence, each of these “internals” must be developed with that new personality in mind. And that will call for some innovative approaches and materials.
Most of us tend to think of memory as an abstract thing in most cases, not realizing that for the software on the phone to run, there needs to be a hardware component to enable the memory on which the software would run.
The current devices use what is called the flash memory, which is not made up of flexible material, and thus would not be well accommodated in a bendable device. Graphene is a flexible material and can bend as the phone bends, which makes this development key to the development of the impending bendable smartphones.
One of the most promising materials that will assist flexibility is graphene. We’d written an absolutely brilliant article explaining what graphene is, and I highly recommend you read it to fully grasp the concept.
Graphene being a strong conductor of electricity and given its bendable and flexible attributes, it is most likely to feature in the coming revolution of smartphones.
A Graphene based bendable memory chip not only provides the necessary flexibility, it also frees up some critical space for the manufacturer.
Given that its length is a mere 50 nanometers and its thickness is 8 nanometers, the chip will provide Samsung with a little bit more space to work with, and to shoehorn more battery or additional hardware.
But that’s not all! This hybrid oxide-titanium oxide memory chip only requires 5 nanoseconds to boot, write and read data. As smartphones use electricity to synthesize its processes, the graphene-based memory is ideally suited for them.
Given that Samsung has already made a strong investment in Graphene and has even been granted a patent for it, the previously-agreed partnership between Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Sungkyunkwan University is likely to bear fruit soon.
We can thus safely assume that Samsung plans to utilise this technology somewhere, sometime soon. If reports are to be given any cognisance then it is most likely that Samsung would release its first smartphone with a bendable display is 2019. Speculations have already been hinting that the smartphone is to be called Galaxy X and will most likely feature a flexible OLED display.
If this move is successful, it is bound to bring bendable devices closer to reality which might serve to be a breath of fresh air in the current market.
Meanwhile, back to our very straight and stiff devices for now! We’re crossing our fingers and hoping for Samsung’s bendable smartphones to soon be a reality!
Microsoft Surface Pro 5: Mighty But Not Too New
Back in October of 2015, Microsoft released its Surface Pro 4 tablet, which received a lot of critical acclaim for its extremely bright display, its compact physique and its efficiency. The fact that it enabled screen touch operations coupled with a stylus and a keyboard, went down well with its consumers and it became a hot favourite in the market for office-goers.
About one and a half years since its release, Microsoft is set to unveil its upgrade, the Surface Pro 5 model at a mega event, soon. However, the features on the new device might not set it very far apart from its predecessor.
If the leaks and speculations for the new tablet are to be believed, the upgrade might not live up to the trajectory of evolution that the Surface Pro 4 had triggered over the outgoing Surface Pro 3.
The ‘changes’ (if we can call the leaks that) aren’t as monumental as one would expect from a giant like Microsoft. One can only hope that Microsoft has something else up it’s sleeve, if they’re to maintain the momentum and the fan following that the Surface Pro line has been able to garner. Pro-level iPads and a new Pro tablet from Samsung, the Galaxy Tab Pro S do have a lot to challenge the Surface Pro with.
Here is what we’ve gathered about the rumoured Surface Pro 5 yet.
The display is set to be similar to the Surface Pro 4’s. That said, the resolution is set to beef up to a 4K Ultra HD resolution.
The size of the screen will most likely be close to 12.3 inches, much like its predecessor.
Why is this modernisation not enough? Well, given the rapid expansion of phones, and tablets replacing laptops, other features like 3D sensors or 3D screens would have been an upgrade to look out for.
Let’s move onto the processor. Well, this bears good news. Intel’s Kaby Lake processors will feature in this model. The processor would be a serious upgrade over the i7, which till date, impresses first time users. The Kaby Lake processors are state-of-the-art chipsets which, will surely fare much much more effortlessly, even with growth in app-requirements (that are expected to happen in 2017-18).
Moving onto the rejigs, Microsoft is looking at versions of the Surface Pro 5 which will allow mobile phones to tether and provide wireless data to the laptop. This would be a significant upgrade in the connectivity arsenal as it would address an important criticism that the Surface Pro 4 faced throughout it’s life.
Along with that, the Surface Pro’s stylus will go through a smart upgrade, as it may feature a wireless charging feature.
The memory is decent when it comes to the nature of this device. It is most likely going to offer a 16 GB RAM coupled with a 512 GB of onboard storage, which is not bad at all.
Finally, analysts recently suggested that the device would retain the Surface Connect power connector and will not move onto the USB C connector.
Here is the issue. As mentioned before, with the rate at which mobile devices are sporting upgrades, the fuss in the market for the Surface Pro 5 may be timid given the minor changes.
Considering the hype surrounding increasing larger and more competent smartphones like the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 that are doing to tablets what tablets themselves did to laptops – becoming crossover business-capable devices, it is important that these hybrid tablets like the Surface Pro 5 offer more to the consumer.
We might slowly be drifting to an age when tablets too will lose their efficiency and prestige. While the performance is surely going to improve as a result of the Kaby Lake processor, what seems to be a hindrance is that in the long run, tablets might just be used for gaming and graphical, editorial processes unless they improve on features.
X Trumps Apple In Tablet Satisfaction - Guess Who!
“iPad is the world’s most popular tablet” boasted Philip Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at the launch of 9.7 inch iPad less than two months ago.
Popular it may be, but is Apple’s iPad the most satisfactory tablet anymore?
As per the new J.D. Power study, Apple’s tablet has been relegated to second position in the sphere of customer satisfaction.
So who bagged the gold medal? Microsoft Surface.
2,238 people who have owned a tablet for less than a year were asked for their views, so as to measure their satisfaction with their tablets.
The study evaluates customer satisfaction across five major factors – Performance, Ease of Operation, Features, Styling & Design, and Cost.
Microsoft’s Surface tablets managed to grab top honours with people finding its styling and design factor to be superior to that of Apple’s iPads. Yes, you read that right!
Jony Ive must surely have seen red at that one (got the pun?)
He’s sure to be disheartened as design is one of Apple’s chief strengths. Its like Microsoft has beaten Apple on its home turf with a smashing six (pun intended).
The study also indicates that a number of Surface users are young people who are early adopters of technology – hence once they like a product, they tend to be loyal.
It’s not an easy task to push Apple from the top of any pile, least of all from that of tablets (a line that for the longest time has held iPads as synonymous to Tablets), and for Microsoft to have managed to do that, is quite a strong indicator of the character of the machine that Microsoft has created.
Microsoft must be gloating over its win and it’s new “customers-our-priority” ethos might have a lot to do with the strong performance put out by the Surface lineup. A Microsoft spokesperson put it succinctly, ”Building products that deliver the power, versatility and dependability that allows our customer to create their best work in any setting is fundamental to everything the team does”.
Apple has every right to sulk but it cannot really complain about the results. A lot of people believe Apple has not provided adequate attention to the iPad lineup, and innovation is grinding to a halt. Microsoft on the other hand, won its customers delight when it did away with the ARM-based version of Surface, and moved to Intel hearts. The move worked and Surface has been appreciated by its customers for the improved performance.
It will be interesting to see Apple does anything to change course and revitalises it next few iPads. Meanwhile, kudos to Microsoft.
Microsoft's Docs.com Website Makes Personal Information Totally Public
Microsoft – a name that we all immediately recognize and trust. This reputation has been earned by always making good on customer expectations and upholding customer interests. However, recent findings have brought to light that using Microsoft’s Docs.com service may compromise your sensitive and personal information.
I urge you to immediately ensure that you have no personal data on the website (www.docs.com).
Security researcher Kevin Beaumont was the first one to make the public aware of this worrying information. He posted a message on his Twitter account on March 25 saying, “Microsoft have a website called http://docs.com where Office 365 customers can share anything in public. It has a search function”.
Several researchers have found a lot of documents containing highly private information such as lists of passwords, social security numbers, medical records, contact details, bank account numbers, credit card details and the like, by using very simple search procedures.
It seems that the people were unaware of their documents being publicly available!
Within a few hours, the search bar from the website was removed by Microsoft. The change, however, was only temporary as the search bar is now back up. The information that was leaked out is still available on Bing and Google as it has already been catalogued by the search engines. Until the documents are removed from Docs.com itself, anyone can easily access them.
But we cannot go around believing that Microsoft is the only responsible party here. To their credit, they have always given a privacy warning to users stating that the information they are uploading will be openly accessible. The default setting for any uploaded document was public visibility, which the users did not know. In a statement to Ars Technica, a Microsoft spokesperson said:
“Docs.com lets customers showcase and share their documents with the world. As part of our commitment to protect customers, we’re taking steps to help those who may have inadvertently published documents with sensitive information. Customers can review and update their settings by logging into their account at www.docs.com.”
Now, we all know that online records are always vulnerable to hacking, and it is up to us to protect our personal information by not putting it online to the extent possible. Otherwise, you make yourself susceptible to identity theft, fraud, blackmail, and much more. So we need to be very careful with what we publish and we can all sleep a little better in the future, knowing that our privacy is intact.
If Your Toyota Understands You Better, Thank Microsoft!
Microsoft has finally admitted a bit of a defeat and one can see it finally altering its course in the arena of Connected Cars, via its new agreement with Toyota.
As per the agreement, Microsoft has decided to license a batch of its Connected Car patents to Toyota. This marks Microsoft taking a step back after their failed attempt at including Windows in cars from three years ago.
Rather than thinking of this as Microsoft eating humble pie, we at Chip-Monks actually view this as a sign of a changing Microsoft. Under Nadella, Microsoft is being a more thinking company and is not averse to changing course, if it helps Microsoft conquer barriers or set up new bloodlines… successfully.
As part of this joint endeavour, Microsoft’s new auto licensing program would provide Toyota access to navigation, entertainment, voice recognition and gesture controls.
On the Toyota side, this would enable them to take their cars to the next level of being connected – and they are a smart bunch, they are. Car makers do not understand infotainment or connectivity as well as they do automobile mechanics. So, leveraging existing world-class technology and expertise, will get Toyota over the fence faster, and indeed make their cars more integrable, than if they tried creating the infotainment package from scratch.
As far as the specifics of the deal are concerned, neither company is revealing much, including the monetary value of the deal. However, what might be key to Microsoft, may well be the fact that the agreement between the corporations is not exclusive and Microsoft can offer its technology to other automakers as well.
This is a classic Microsoft move which they played the first time back when the company was still a baby; give your tech to one, but make sure the fine print doesn’t stop you from giving it to others. Exclusivity has never been part of Microsoft’s ballgame.
What’s also noteworthy is that this is not the first time that Toyota and Microsoft have teamed up for a project. The companies have been working together on Toyota’s Data Science Center- Microsoft’s cloud computing platform is currently being used by Toyota Connected which in turn, aims to individualise customer experience. The kinship between the two, one can say, should be quite smooth then, and one that both of them will benefit from.
As far as counting the candies for Microsoft is concerned, well, this comes in tow of Microsoft’s attempts to get car companies to use its tech for their connected cars. Microsoft has been trying to swing that one properly for a while now, and one must admit, it has not been doing all that badly.
At present, Renault-Nissan uses Microsoft’s Azure platforms which include critical services like remote vehicle diagnostics. Microsoft is also working with Volvo, who use it’s Holo Lens augmented reality platform to interact with virtual parts.
Microsoft’s endeavours with Renault-Nissan and Volvo have been going much better than the one they had undertaken about three years ago – the futile efforts to emulate and create something along the lines of Apple’s CarPlay system. They’d called it the Windows In The Car concept, and that ambitious project couldn’t really be transformed into anything close to a real entertainment system.
This deal with Toyota, which we can assume would include more and more components of a connected car, would only take Microsoft’s efforts a few steps further.
As to where they are headed is concerned, to be honest, Microsoft, unlike the other Silicon Valley bigwigs Apple and Google, is not a company that would really consider making their own cars. They have always been software oriented, and have revelled in knowing that their software gives life to the world’s most advanced hardware.
That’s what they did with computers, successfully, and phones, unsuccessfully. To make their stand on this clearer, Microsoft executive, Erich Endersen stated, “Microsoft doesn’t make cars. We are working closely with today’s car companies to help them meet customer demands”.
That said, the tech giant is certainly working on increasing its sphere of influence across telematics, infotainment and other related systems in connected cars. Harman revealed not too long ago that it is working to integrate Microsoft’s Office 365 into its infotainment systems.
Nissan and BMW, too, are working on bringing Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant to their cars. With this new deal, we might see other car companies hopping onto the bandwagon soon, if all goes well.
Microsoft’s New Patent Hints At A Communication Device That Can Be Folded in Half
A patent filed back in 2015 by the tech giant Microsoft provides a telling hint of the direction that the company’s phone division might be heading towards, for a new range of mobile products in the possible future.
The patent is for –
The points above clearly shed light upon the key facets of the patent and provides significant indication as to where Microsoft wishes to devote their R&D resources.
However, Microsoft is not alone in following this direction – there already are products that have hit the market like Lenovo’s C-Plus (a bendable phone that can be worn around the wrist like a watch), or are almost ready for launch – Samsung is also scheduled to introduce a new bendable phone in the third quarter, and LG has been known to be working on bendable OLED screens for a while now.
Perhaps, the only credible difference between the intention behind Microsoft’s patent, and what has already been released in the market, is the focus on the “obscurity” of the hinges.
The patent clearly states – “In order to reduce and/or obscure the visibility of a support structure for a display panel, the present disclosure provides example display devices including curved or otherwise bent regions for directing light to a user’s eye when the user’s gaze is directed to a support structure at an edge of the display panel. In this way, when a user is viewing a region occupied by the support panel, the user may instead see light from the display panel showing the displayed objects”.
While it all seems the same, in the world of technology, even the smallest of changes can lead to tectonic shift in the field. But, what is much more important is that the intentions behind the filing of the patent are exercised upon!
The document has been filed by Timothy Large and Steven Bathiche, two Microsoft employees, who have filed other patents as well. However despite being published, no significant progresses have been made on those patents, and in some cases, have been stalled.
Similarly, thousands of patents are filed every year by resourceful companies but are not exercised upon with the same zeal. So, the expectation that rumored device would definitely be worked upon, and that a tangible product would emerge in the near future, is still a question that is begging to be answered.
Go do it, Microsoft – get ahead!
Microsoft Forges Cloud Partnership With Flipkart To Take On Amazon’s AWS
While you were sitting at home, idly passing time, munching on something, watching your favourite show on Netflix, Microsoft and Flipkart cracked a significant, symbiotic deal that would benefit both the parties involved and would also end up providing the users of Flipkart an upgraded, glitch free, smooth experience.
Recently, Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella visited India and finalised a deal with Flipkart whereby Flipkart will use Microsoft’s Azure as its exclusive cloud platform. This deal would help Microsoft penetrate the Indian market which is already rife with competition in the cloud storage arena – with Google, IBM and Amazon’s Web Services already battling it out in our superheated startup-rich ecosystem.
“Combining Microsoft’s cloud platform and AI capabilities with Flipkart’s existing services and data assets will enable Flipkart to accelerate its digital transformation in e-commerce and deliver new customer experiences”, said Nadella.
Nadella was all praise for Flipkart at the event in Bangalore. He said, he has “always been an admirer of what Flipkart has done”. He further added that companies like Flipkart have undertaken this project of starting the Second Wave of Technology entrepreneurialism in India. The first wave occurred with Infosys being instituted in the early 80’s, per Nadella.
Flipkart plans to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI), machine-learning and analytics capabilities from Azure to match it up to the likes of Cortana Intelligence Suite and Power BI, in order to tweak its data and put the same to use in advertising, merchandising, marketing and customer service.
Well this definitely sounds like a good news for all of Flipkart’s customers as the company’s adoption of Azure would elevate user experience!
Flipkart has been consistently working in this direction after it faced certain glitches during its first Big Billion Day Sale. To solve problems at their end and to ensure glitch-free experiences to it’s users, Flipkart is following in the footsteps of Facebook and Google and dealing with the same vendors to accomplish the same.
Peeyush Ranjan, Head of Engineering at Flipkart proved this, “We are building the same kind of data centres Facebook and Google have. We are working with the exact same vendors”.
“Given Microsoft’s strong reputation in cloud computing, coupled with scale and reliability, this partnership allows us to leverage our combined strength and knowledge of technology, e-commerce and markets to make online shopping more relevant and enriching,” said Flipkart’s Bansal.
This deal with Flipkart is like a link in the chain for Microsoft, as it has exhibited interest in investing in startups to push its cloud business in India, in the past also.
“The centre of entrepreneurial energy for us in India is around cloud”, said Nadella.
In fact, if recent reports are to be believed then, even Google is attracting Indian startups, considering them as safer bets to meet it’s aim of “next billion users and acqui-hires in high-tech areas”.
All this has been made possible by the kind of conducive environment that India has produced by developments like the implementation of a payment infrastructure built atop Aadhaar using cloud (NPCI) and a diagnostic application (Collaborative Digital Diagnosis System).
It is not that Microsoft Azure is being put to use by a startup like Flipkart for the first time. Quite the contrary – Azure is being increasingly adopted by a lot of startups, – in fact over 2,000 Indian startups have begun using Azure during just the last one year.
To underestimate the status of Azure as potential cloud business contender to Amazon’s Web Services would be a naivety. AWS has been around the corner since 2003 and entered the services space without a trumpet call, but it sure has been the harbinger of cloud revolution.
AWS has made it big by utilising it’s early bird advantage and has managed to bushwhack other established IT players as it enjoys much greater scale, a supremely competent support team and extreme reliability. Consequently, it enjoys a portfolio that constitutes over one third of the market, as opposed to single-digit shares for both Microsoft and Google.
India, with its booming startups seems to be a very fertile ground for public cloud services market, so much so that it is projected to grow 38% in 2017 to total USD 1.81 billion as per estimates.
Amazon also has sworn to spend USD 5 billion to build its business in India. Additionally, the company also opened its first AWS region in India (Mumbai) last year and had more than 75,000 Indian customers then.
However, it’s interesting to see how Microsoft Azure is clawing into the market, trumping its #1 rival, AWS via it’s agreement with Flipkart, and making inroads into the Indian market.
The cloud war is picking up and it seems that every company wants to put its best foot forward to acquire supremacy over others.
Google And Microsoft Agree To Help Combat Illegal Downloads
Pirated material may no longer find its place on the first pages of two leading search engines Google and Bing (from Microsoft), at least in Britain.
The two search engine giants have accepted a new Code Of Conduct proposed by Britain’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) that has been created to demote websites that stream or host pirated material.
After this the users, sure might have a hard time looking for disreputable content providers.
If statistics by Britain’s IPO are taken in consideration, around one in six internet users have access to pirated content, though the numbers are on a decline due to rise of legal streaming services.
The agreement comes after a long-drawn journey of campaigning by record labels and film studios who have constantly cited Google and Microsoft of ignoring (and perhaps festering) piracy deliberately and not intervening in the form of measures to protect copyright online.
However, Google is of the view that search engines don’t divert traffic to piracy websites.
A spokesman said: “Google has been an active partner for many years in the fight against piracy online. We remain committed to tackling this issue and look forward to further partnership with rights holders.”
The Code Of Conduct, the first of its kind in the U.K., will drive change in search result rankings such that when users try searching for content like digital books, music videos and cricket coverage, they will in all probability be directed to legit providers and not pirate sites.
It is however, important to realise that such changes will happen gradually, page rankings and their algorithms are seriously big complex, and making changes to these core logics is never taken lightly. So, while the search giants will begin their arduous tasks soon, changes are officially expected to be rolled out this summer.
Eddy Leviten, Director General at the Alliance for Intellectual Property, in this regard said, “Sometimes people will search for something and they will end up unwittingly being taken to a pirated piece of content…What we want to ensure is that the results at the top of the search engines are the genuine ones.”
It will be way too far-fetched to assume that the implementation of this code would mean complete extinction of pirating websites from search engines like Google and Bing, but what it would definitely do is that it will downgrade such portals from being visible in the search results and advance authentic distributors up in the list instead.
The Code thereby ensures that most of the traffic lands up on genuine websites and not on the illegal ones.
So how does one categorise this illegal piracy promoting websites?
Simply put, all the websites that have been served with copyright infringement notices will be in a way down-listed on the common searches on Google and Microsoft. Search engine autocomplete function would also adopt this Code, thereby removing terms or keywords that may lead to pirate websites instead of legitimate services that pay fees to copyright holders.
While the adoption of such a Code on Google and Bing is voluntary, there is a supervising body that will monitor Google and Bing’s response over the coming few months and then based on that apply stricter measures as and when required in the future.
The news has managed to garner positive reactions from a lot of influential people and publications.
Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive of BPI, which represents record labels, said the code would not be a silver bullet for copyright holders.
“We have long campaigned for search engines to do more to ensure fans are directed to legal sources for music or other entertainment. There is much work still to do to achieve this. The Code will not be a silver bullet fix, but it will mean that illegal sites are demoted more quickly from search results and that fans searching for music are more likely to find a fair site.”
Stan McCoy, of the Motion Picture Association in Europe, said “Pirate websites are currently much too easy to find via search, so we appreciate the parties’ willingness to try to improve that situation”.
“We look forward to working on this initiative alongside many other approaches to fighting online piracy, such as the Get it Right campaign that aims to help educate consumers about the many ways to enjoy film and television content legally and at the time of their choosing.”
It would be interesting to see how this code pans out in the UK and as to whether it will roll out in other countries as well or not.
Jharkhand Signs MoU With Microsoft To Leverage Cloud Technology
Jharkhand Government and Microsoft India have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to leverage Cloud technologies in order to serve up the state’s digital ambitions.
Signed at the ‘Momentum Jharkhand: Global Investors’ Summit & Trade Exhibition’, this MoU will plant the seeds of partnership that will help the state government explore various fields of work like Cloud services (applications, storage etc), Machine Learning and Mobile-based Solutions to improve citizen services and provide better facilities in the fields of education and agriculture.
Since these fields demand large infrastructural investments, this digital support will be a manna from heaven.
Jharkhand government has already been using advanced IT infrastructures to provide citizen services and driving technology-led programmes like Skill India and Digital India, however they always wanted the backing of an Operating System.
Today with the help of Microsoft, this core operational need stands poised for fruition.
The MoU will help the government access the best of Microsoft’s technology and expertise for the improvement of digital services to citizens and drive digital inclusion in the state, the Government’s release said.
It said that Microsoft has been working closely with several state governments in the country to support their digital infrastructure, enhance their citizen services and drive efficiencies in their administrative and governance operations.
People all around will be hugely benefited in their digital workload and computer-based requirements. The deal will undoubtedly be the backbone of better results and outcomes in shorter periods of time.
Nokia Marks It's Return To The Smartphones Market With A Flash Sale In China
It feels so long since we heard the name Nokia in the smartphone market. Having been acquired by Microsoft, the brand iconic Nokia, that used to once be synonymous with cellular telephony, had practically disappeared from the market.
Well, it finally has made its return with a flash sale in China.
Nokia released a new Android smartphone in China later last week, and reports say that the device sold out within seconds! They are calling it the Nokia 6, and it is the first phone to bear that name since 2014 when Microsoft took over Nokia.
Apparently over 100,000 units of the Nokia 6 were sold in the flash sale. The device, for now, is priced at priced at RMB 1,699 (~ INR 17,000).
The phone is a 5.5 inch budget phablet with average features. It has a Snapdragon 430 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage.
When you start comparing it with the rivals in the same price bracket, especially Moto G4 Plus, the phone won’t really hold much of your attention.
So, it seems like it was the brand’s iconic status that created the hype and caused stocks to sell out in a minute, rather than peoples’ preference or appreciation of a well-organised and well-endowed smartphone.
What is also worth noting that even though the phone is a Nokia phone by name, it is actually produced by HMD Global, a Finish company with the rights to use the Nokia name for its mobile devices. The licensing deal lasts for the next ten years and is ostensibly a bid by the company to capitalize on the brand familiarity and nostalgia of the Nokia name.
The phone, for now, is available only in China, but leaks have shown that HMD Global might have plans to release it in Europe soon. “The decision by HMD to launch its first Android smartphone into China is a reflection of the desire to meet the real world needs of consumers in different markets around the world … it is a strategically important market”, HMD said in a statement prior to the sale.
A word of advice for HMD Global, and Nokia – if it really wants to stay settle into this customer-driven market, it will need to be a lot more competitive.
HMD Global has already announced that it will be present at MWC 2017 in Barcelona next month. Rumours say that they might be unveiling more smartphones there, more than one, and this might include the Nokia 8, which is expected to belong to the high-end segment, featuring a Snapdragon 835 processor, 6 GB of RAM, and QHD display among others.
Google Ready To Ride The Cashless Transaction Wave In India
Three terms that all of India, and nigh almost every Indian got a crash course on in recently – demonetisation, cashless economy, and digital payment solutions; have become an intrinsic part of our new lives in the cashless economy.
December 2016, demonetization in India saw both, a lot of support and tons of criticism from the masses.
But the one industry that witnessed a hitherto unbelievable trajectory (post demonetization) is that of Digital Payment Solutions – where cash is transferred virtually, especially via mobile devices.
As digital payment becomes popular amidst users in India , there is word that Google may soon back this burgeoning technology.
In his latest statement, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai stated that the company was thinking of making such a move and that Google would work hard on offering some of its services on top of the Unified Payments Interface.
For the uninitiated, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is India’s intrepid project to make person-to-person and e-commerce transactions easier and more efficient.
The UPI is a system that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application (of any participating bank), amalgamating several banking features, uninterrupted fund routing and merchant payments under one umbrella.
UPI is built over IMPS (Immediate Payment Service), which makes the transfer of funds even easier than the new and revolutionary IMPS.
Like the IMPS, UPI’s new payment interface will still need payee details like bank name, branch, IFSC code and full name to be entered; the only relevant thing here becomes the Virtual Payment Address (VPA) which enables the user to send and receive payments.
Currently, UPI is only enabled on Android-based apps, without any information about its debut on iOS. Given the fact that Android is the most extensively used platform in India, Google’s move towards introducing a UPI-based payments solution definitely constitutes a sagacious move and is expected to relieve hassled consumers.
Already, some of the major UPI apps in usage include ICICI Pockets, Canara Banks’ ‘epower’ etc.
In fact, the Indian government has also taken steps in this direction and launched a common UPI app, called BHIM.
Talking about UPI, Pichai said in an interview, “I think it’s a bold and courageous move and it is a platform shift for the underlying economy to try and digitize how cash moves around and we are excited by it“, also adding that such moves work out “gradually”.
Currently, in India, the dissemination of bank accounts, and by extension, debit cards and credit cards remain fairly low. With UPI, the Indian government is trying to bring banking and financial services accessible for its entire population.
Another program called Aadhaar by the government seems to be an initiative to make it easier for the users to have one set of information work across abundant services.
“Maybe we will bring services from Google that will work on top of UPI which will make things work better for users in India“, Pichai said in the interview, adding, “We are working on it hard. Anything we can do to make payments easier for users in India. So we are trying to understand UPI stack, to bring some services, which will make things better for Indian users in terms of digital payments”.
This clearly implies that Indians will soon be able to enjoy Google-powered payments solution just like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay which could be either voice or biometric authentication-based.
Pichai’s comment gains perspective, when the fact that the Indian government has held talks with Google, Apple, and Microsoft to bring Aadhaar-enabled authentication system to their respective mobile operating systems is brought into the purview. Though at that time, the companies didn’t accede to the proposal.
Mr. Pichai showed his confidence in India being a global player in digital economy. “I think I am absolutely, with full certainty, convinced that India will be a global player in digital economy and it will be competitive with any country in the world in the digital economy. We have all the foundation“.
Google is also working on numerous projects like ‘Internet Saathi‘ to educate people on Internet and to get more people online, particularly in rural areas. Google was working on making its services available in as many local Indian languages as possible.
Pichai is of the view that, “English is spoken only by a small segment of the overall population. So just getting Google to work in other languages is a big focus. We have made progress today in Android, with search, we support many languages but we want to do all that better so that it works even in rural situations with the right dialects and so on”.
Google seems to have picked the right and most lucrative vein in India and is ready to make the most of this cashless era.
Is Microsoft Bringing Windows To ARM-powered Machines?
Back in December 2016, Qualcomm, one of the world’s leading computing processor manufacturing companies, and Microsoft, another one of the world’s leading tech companies, announced a collaboration.
They’re partnering up to bring Microsoft’s Windows 10 to ARM-powered machines. The ‘machines’ would be the next generation of Snapdragon’s mobile processors!
In layman terms, they’re talking about bringing full version of the Windows operating system, which would include support for all Windows software (including legacy versions) along with universal Windows apps – and not just a stripped down version like it was with Windows RT.
Before we delve further into this, let us understand what an ARM processor is.
An ARM processor is a CPU (central processing unit) based on an architecture developed by Advanced RICS Machines and is a 32 bit or 64-bit multicore processor, the kind that for now is used in your everyday advanced smart technology, say smartphones, tablets, etc.
Clearly, it’s the heart of the machine, and for it to know and understand instructions, it needs to be empowered. That empowerment and knowledge comes from the operating system. Hence if an OS is incubated/mated directly to the chip, things run faster, and can be scaled as per the growing needs of the OS itself.
The companies, for now, are being extremely vague in their statements, but we have a rough idea of what to expect nonetheless.
For starters, Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 devices can be expected to be incredible light and power efficient. We are for now talking about computing systems, like personal computers or laptops, and not the pocket devices where Snapdragon is used in the market for now.
This could quite possibly revolutionise the world of personal computing, especially after the response the Windows RT (the first version of this attempt) saw on the Microsoft’s Surface this year.
While this can quite certainly seem a little confusing right now, let me try to break it down for you.
While we’re used to the idea of a thing like WhatsApp, Uber, Google, etc, all being ‘apps’ on our phones, what we are not that used to, is the idea of running applications on our computers, mostly because we do not realise when we are doing so.
Microsoft provided the Windows RT version with their Surface lineage this year, a version that enabled a more app-based approach to computing. It was a bold attempt to force people who are used to the mouse or trackpad on their computers into the newer world of touch apps, but it was albeit a very confusing move as well. They made the fatal mistake of providing what looked like Windows but didn’t function like Windows – leaving the users frustrated at times, and disappointed at times.
Windows RT could not run traditional desktop apps either. While it did have a Desktop mode for the traditional utilities that people have gotten used to in the last almost-three decades, it actually only added to the confusion.
What they are doing now is correcting precisely this, by teaming up with Qualcomm and bringing to ARM-powered devices, a version of Windows 10 that will be able to emulate traditional desktop apps, allowing device creators to build laptops, tablets, and phones that support the millions of existing applications in the Windows world.
While a few see this as Microsoft getting tired of the Intel processor (the ones they use for their personal computers currently), other disagree. On behalf of the company, the Microsoft Windows, and Device Chief, Terry Myerson clears this: “We’re working closer with Intel than we ever have before. The collaboration is better than ever before. It’s just the case where Qualcomm does have these chips with integrated connectivity and better idle power performance which enables new devices to get built”.
Initially, we can expect a laptop to be the first device that we see of the kind in the market. It is expected to be powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, which itself is not out on the market yet, and is believed to be in development.
While Qualcomm said that Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 devices should be out in the market “next year”, meaning the year 2017, yet most critics of the market believe that the timeline would lean more towards 2018 for the devices to hit the market.
It won’t be long before the advancements in the smartphone and tablets industry force the ones making personal computers to chart newer breakthroughs.
This development also brings to the forefront, the possibility of phones that could eventually support full desktop apps. Certainly seems worth the wait!
Microsoft Kills its Fitness Band, ummm 'Band'
It seems like things have been going a little bumpy for our beloved Silicon Valley tech giant Microsoft. This week the company took down its wrist-worn fitness tracker by the name of ‘Band’ off of its website.
The product has reportedly also stopped all kinds of offline sales, and gone out of stores. This comes not too long after the death of the company’s Windows 10 phones, and the unsaid death of its Lumia smartphones division which it had bought off from Nokia a couple years ago.
The Microsoft Band is essentially a fitness tracker that integrates with Windows Phone, iOS and Android smartphones using a Bluetooth connection.
What gave it traction back then was that it could also integrate with the Windows smart assistant Cortana, something that other similar products in the market couldn’t do. The device would be connected to your smartphone via their app.
The model that went off the market right now was Band 2, the second model of the fitness tracker. The Band had initially been announced by the company in October 2014, to everyone’s surprise. There was a great deal of talk of it being the best and the most advanced fitness tracker in the market back then, but the product never really took that well off the shelves.
The Band 2 did bring a number of new features, hoping that would make it an even more impressive fitness tracker. Cortana integration was improved, for starters. The device could then estimate your VO2 Max, that is your body’s maximum capacity to use oxygen. This would benefit those who are participating in intensely aerobic sports. The product came onto the market, hoping to break some new ground, but it failed to do so.
“[T]he problems with Microsoft Band are, and were, many. Both generations of the product have suffered from endemic reliability issues, a problem that seems to dog most Microsoft hardware products, and few third parties ever supported the Band or the back-end Microsoft Health service,” said Paul Thurroott, a report on all things Microsoft.
Along with the device, it’s software development kit, which allowed people to create apps for a certain platform, has also been removed. The app that was used to run the device however remains, but with some modifications. The company seems to be hoping to turn it into a fitness tracking and everyday health app.
Microsoft did bring out a better model, the one that was currently in the market, last year, but it retained some of the flaws of its predecessor. People found the design awkward and uncomfortable, and soon the market got flooded with too many better products. In a market crowded with the likes of FitBit, Band gradually lost all the chance that it had.
The company has announced that there will be no Band 3 anytime soon (and hopefully never). The fact that the team that was responsible for the Band fitness tracker has reportedly been dissolved only adds more surety to that news.
Coming back to the pragmatism of a fitness tracker, the questions is that in a world where a great many smartwatches are available, that could do so much more, why would one go for a fitness tracker unless the latter is substantially cheaper.
The Band was priced at USD 379, while an Apple Watch (the smartwatch that currently dominates the market) starts from USD 349. A FitBit, on the other hand, starts at USD 129.
With those prices, Microsoft really did not have this factor on its side.
“We have sold through our existing Band 2 inventory and have no plans to release another Band device this year. We remain committed to supporting our Microsoft Band 2 customers through Microsoft Stores and our customer support channels and will continue to invest in the Microsoft Health platform, which is open to all hardware and apps partners across Windows, iOS, and Android devices”, stated a Microsoft statement obtained by the tech reporting website ZDNet.
The company still had managed to sound positive in the face of this splash in the face. With what seems to be going on around them right now, they would be needing a lot of it soon unless they are able to steady what for not feels like a rocking boat, at least where it comes to smart devices.
Microsoft Surface Phone May Come With Snapdragon 830
Recent leaks show that Microsoft’s hugely-awaited Surface Phone might come with Snapdragon 830, the next generation of undoubtedly one of the best- and longest-running lines of processor families in the market.
An image of the rumoured Microsoft Surface Phone has been floating around the popular Chinese website Baidu. With that image, there is content that states that the phone will feature a Snapdragon 830 processor, a processor that would be the next generation of Snapdragon 820, one of the best processors in the current market.
The processor is of course, expected to break a lot of new ground when it first makes it’s appearance. What is also noteworthy is that if the phone does feature a Snapdragon 830, it would be the first in the market to do so, since most companies are expectedly going to be using a Snapdragon 830 for flagships next year.
The post also states that the phone will have a 5.7-inch display, with a 2k resolution, and a 20 megapixel rear camera.
The image is taken in a particular angle, showcasing the screen of the device. The time and the day on the screen are easily readable, but the date isn’t. This is one of two images that were posted by an unidentified source who goes by the name DYING and is known for having a track record of authentic information. The second image shows the rear of the phone, along with the camera bump. The images also showcase the keyboard cover of the phone.
News regarding Surface Phones has been making a lot of waves lately. An addition to the Surface Pro line, the phone, if it does come out, would be the first one Microsoft would do since its fall of the Lumia line.
In last month we wrote about the idea of the phone, though we didn’t have much of device specifications to offer. For the lack of more information, we had speculations to offer.
Our idea was that the device will get a complete design overhaul, that it would be working with a stable version of Windows 10, and that they will use a new processor. Intel Atom 64-bit CPU (Apollo Lake), a Snapdragon 821, or a Snapdragon 830 were our speculations.
This was in addition to a good camera, and a USB type-C port.
The device can certainly be expected to be high-end.
The recent leaks only serve to validate our speculation, providing much of the same information. We can also expect a fingerprint sensor on the device, that would land it in the league with the other flagships in the market right now. The device is expected in three variants: 4 GB/64 GB, 6 GB/128 GB, and 8 GB/256 GB.
One of our major speculations regarding the device was that it would be aimed at a corporate audience – one that is strongly rooted in the business sector, much like the tablets were, and much like the Microsoft Office software was, the one that took Microsoft places in the first place.
Microsoft has always done well within the office-friendly domain. The facts that the image showcases a keyboard cover for the device, and that there is also the talk of a pen, only feed into this idea.
So, it’s possible that the Surface Phone would be such that it could be turned into a workstation where and whenever needed!
The rumours took more wind when Microsoft Australia accidentally posted on their Twitter account, what seems like a promotional picture of the Surface Phone.
The photo was stamped with the official Microsoft logo, and was captioned ‘New One In Surface family!’. The fact that this came through an official channel helped in sparking some form of legitimacy to the leak.
Other than this, Microsoft has stayed quiet on any chatter regarding this device.
While some speculators initially stated that the phone might be announced at the IFA 2016, in Berlin a little while ago, others believed that it might be unveiled alongside the Surface Pro 5 at the Microsoft conference in October. I would rather expect it in the market not before the first quarter of 2017 instead.
Especially in the light of the fact that there is an overblown excitement around the device, the kind that usually is seen around a new iPhone or the debacle that Samsung just bore with its new Galaxy Note7 launch just this month, Microsoft would want to be extremely sure of their device before they put it out.
There isn’t much else in the high-end market to look forward to anyway, for about the next six months.
Nokia Announces Its Return In The Market With Two Android Phones.
Just when you thought that Nokia had been KO’d out of the smartphone business, it brings out it’s “Comeback Guns”.
Nokia has gone through yet another ownership change (a lot like Motorola’s run with repetitive acquisitions) and is now owned by HMD Global, a Finnish company that since May 2016, has started to manufacture smartphones with Nokia’s brand name itself!
While rumors about new Nokia phones in the making have been in the wind for quite a while now, HMD Global is reportedly planning to launch two new Nokia smartphones that are based on Android OS and are rumoured be called Nokia 5320 in some form.
Nokia already had a smartphone named “5320” – back in 2008 there was the Nokia 5320 XpressMusic, so, the Nokia 5320 in all probability will have another name.
It is rumored to have a 2.27 GHz quad-core processor (presumably) Snapdragon 821 chipset. In a recent, secret benchmark test, the phone scored 494 points in single-core performance and 1531 points in multi-core performance; and according to the Geekbench scores, the Nokia 5320 runs on the old Android 4.4.4 KitKat OS and has 2 GB RAM.
Another model, currently called Nokia RM-1490, was also spotted recently, and surprisingly, this model has an AMD A8-5545 single-core hyperthreaded processor clocked at 500 MHz, 2 GB RAM and runs the old Android 4.4.2 KitKat OS.
This seems along the lines of being more a capable-feature phone than a smartphone.
Here’s the official line from HMD on what’s happening:
“HMD has been founded to provide a focused, independent home for a full range of Nokia-branded feature phones, smartphones, and tablets. To complete its portfolio of Nokia branding rights, HMD announced today that it has conditionally agreed to acquire from Microsoft the rights to use the Nokia brand on feature phones, and certain related design rights. The Microsoft transaction is expected to close in H2 2016. Together these agreements would make HMD the sole global licensee for all types of Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets. HMD intends to invest over USD 500 million over the next three years to support the global marketing of Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets, funded via its investors and profits from the acquired feature phone business”.
Microsoft’s Nokia “thing” ends in the second half of 2016, leaving the market wide open for new Nokia handsets.
The composition of the HMD is odd, to say the least. Nokia will not be investing any money in the project but it will receive royalties and sit on the board of HMD’s directors with quite a few of Nokia’s old top brass returning to the fold as well.
“This agreement will give HMD full operational control of sales, marketing and distribution of Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets, with exclusive access to the pre-eminent global sales and distribution network to be acquired from Microsoft by FIH, with access to FIH’s world-leading device manufacturing, supply chain and engineering capabilities, and its growing suite of proprietary mobile technologies and components”, said HMD in a press release.
What this means is simple. Nokia will return with Android phones and tablets, as well as Wearables off the back of its Withings acquisition. No doubt we’ll be hearing more about this and the future of Nokia in the coming weeks and months.
The Telegraph ominously put it: “The smartphone market, now bereft of innovation, has become ruthless, with profits difficult to come by. One suspects Nokia has missed its opportunity. We should wish it all the best, but the odds are stacked against it“.
Surface Phone May Surface Soon!
Making waves lately is the new of a Surface phone from Microsoft. An addition to the Surface Pro line, the phone – if it does come out, would be the first one Microsoft would have released since the fall of it’s Lumia line.
The smartphone market has altogether not been too kind to Microsoft. The acquisition of Nokia’s smartphone business, did not go too well for Microsoft, and they eventually wrote it off entirely.
The phones did initially take off, but they didn’t stick around in the market for long enough, mostly because Microsoft was slow in bringing out the best of breed, and people moved on to other devices.
The last we checked, Microsoft’s Windows phones accounted for less than 2.5% of the global phone market, while other operating systems like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android stand roughly at 25% and 65% share, respectively.
In such a situation then, why would Microsoft be talking about a new smartphone?!
First, to put it out straight, Microsoft has not yet confirmed anything regarding this new Surface phone. It is rather the chatter in the tech industry that leads one to believe that such a thing could exist in the near future.
Truth be told, the speculations arise more from the success that the company has enjoyed with their Surface Pro line of tablets. So industry brains are joining dots, rumours, leaks and sketchy images, to predict that Microsoft might leverage their learnings and fundamentals from the Surface Pro, and make a new play in the smartphone arena.
If such a smartphone does come into existence, then one thing can certainly be expected: a complete design overhaul from the previous phones! The Lumia line towards it’s fag end was downright boring, predictably and wholly unappetising.
The first thing we can guess is that the device would be working on a stable Windows 10, an OS that has proven its merit over versions of Windows 8. The Surface phone would be replacing Lumia 950and 950 XL from December last year.
The specs of the device are so far only rumours and strict speculations.
Some like to believe that the device would have three versions: an entry-level with 32 GB of storage and 3 GB of RAM, mid-range with 128 GB of storage and 6 GB of RAM and a larger unit with 500 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM.
While the size of the display is disputed, one can expect it to vary between the 5 to 6-inch range, and have an AMOLED screen. The processor is, again, something for which we are still looking at three options: Intel Atom 64-bit CPU (Apollo Lake), a Snapdragon 821, or a Snapdragon 830. Whichever one of these is used, however, it would be breaking some ground for sure.
We would expect it to have USB Type-C port, and a good camera, at least to stand at par with the year’s flagships. It will be a high-end device, priced over USD 600 (~ INR 40,000), certainly.
While some speculators state that the phone might be announced at the IFA 2016, in Berlin in the next few days, others believe that it might be unveiled alongside the Surface Pro 5 at the Microsoft conference in October. I would rather expect it in the market not before the first quarter of 2017 instead.
The device would be aimed at a corporate audience, one that is strongly rooted in the business sector, much like the Tablets were, and much like the Microsoft Office software was, the one that took Microsoft places in the first place.
Microsoft has always done well within the office-friendly domain, and hoping that the Surface Phone is aimed at that, we can allow ourselves to get a little excited about it. Especially in the light of the fact that there isn’t an overblown excitement, the kind that usually is seen, about the new iPhone 7, or the debacle that Samsung just bore with its new Galaxy Note7 launch just this month. There isn’t much else in the high-end market to look forward to anyway in the next six months.
There is opportunity in the market.
Despite the hostility in the market, and that of the critics, a Surface smartphone might make it big in the market. It would be coming after the stellar Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4, both of which have been widely appreciated in the market, and right before the much awaited Surface Pro 5.
If there is any device that can give Microsoft a comeback in the market, the Surface Phone would be the best bet, or so it seems for now!
Microsoft Expands SEI, Debuts Surface-As-A-Service For Enterprises
Microsoft this morning announced a new program aimed at expanding their Surface devices’ footprint in the enterprise ecosystem, dubbed “Surface as a Service”.
The initiative will allow businesses to lease Surface devices and Floor gadgets, alongside subscriptions to Office 365 and Windows 10. The company says this will allow customers to benefit from access to the latest hardware along with faster device refresh cycles.
SEI, which was introduced by Microsoft last year to enhance Windows 10 adoption will have IBM and Booz Allen Hamilton (a technology consultancy firm) join Surface Reseller Program along with existing partners, Dell and HP.
Both partners will act as Solution Integrators to deliver industry specific solutions to shared customers. While IBM will draw on their data and analytics expertise to create new industry-specific solutions for the financial services and consumer packaged goods sectors, Booz Allen Hamilton will develop scalable and more secure solutions for Governments, the Public Sector and Healthcare, said the company.
“This new offering enables flexibility of solutions, faster device refresh and ensures customers can have the latest Surface devices that evolve with the best Windows and Office have to offer”, according to Yusuf Mehdi, Corporate Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group for Microsoft.
Surface has been a growing business at Microsoft, the company also notes, having grown in the past year from generating $1 billion in revenue per year to $1 billion per quarter. The program is at first staying launched with ALSO, a Cloud Alternative Company in Europe, but Microsoft states it will develop the program worldwide.
For organizations with Floor as a Service, the gain of the membership service is that their gadgets will often get up to date with the most recent releases of Home windows 10 and Place of work 365.
The program’s start also follows the modern unveiling a Floor Membership program, which lets shoppers invest in Floor gadgets by creating lower regular monthly payments. The approach was also aimed at companies, not shoppers, and presented access to Floor E book, Floor Pro 4 and Floor three products and includes free updates when new products turned obtainable.
In addition to the membership service, and new Floor resellers, Microsoft is also adding CDW, SHI, Perception, and Zones to its Floor Multi-National Obtaining Program. That tends to make it less difficult for companies to put Floor gadgets and extras on their enterprise. It plans to make two Enterprise editions of Windows 10, E3 and E5 available on a subscription basis, starting at $7 per user per month for E3 version, while E5 is still under wraps.
This also includes low-level security mechanisms, a tool for isolating company data from users’ personal files and a biometric sign-in mechanism.
An article published in Forbes says that Microsoft would also be expanding “the Surface Multi-National Purchasing Program. CDW, Insight, SHI, and Zones have been added as resellers capable of helping multi-national companies streamline the process for adding Surface hardware to company standards lists and facilitating adoption around the world for multi-national organizations.”
The program’s launch also follows the recent unveiling a Surface Membership program, which lets consumers buy Surface devices by making low monthly payments. The plan was also aimed at businesses, not consumers, and offered access to Surface Book, Surface Pro 4 and Surface 3 models. It included free upgrades when new models became available.
Microsoft’s New Pix Camera App Brings AI To Your Photos
Microsoft’s research arm has launched a photography app for iOS users called Pix.
The magic of Pix is that it enhances the photos that the users click, on it’s own.
The app makes the photos better and augments the quality of Apple’s Live Photos ability to capture the scenes that have elements in motion in them.
This is clearly a move on Microsoft’s part to continuously push the building of applications for platforms beyond the platforms that are directly under it’s own control. And it’s also a clear plan for Microsoft to try and be relevant and contemporary on the world’s most App-energetic operating system.
Pix is for those lazy people who want a professional feel to their photos but are not really interested in making all those changes and adjustments in the contrast, brightness, frames and more themselves, to get that perfect picture.
Worry not my friend as Microsoft may have answered your prayers! The app literally has very few manually adjustable settings and uses artificial intelligence to give you best possible pictures with a single tap.
“We think that people are the most important subjects in the photographs you take”, said John Weisberg, principal program manager in the computational photography group within Microsoft’s research organization.
Microsoft Pix is specifically suited to capture pictures of people and comes with inbuilt adjustments, which enable the user to take a photo even when the scene changes within a blink of your eye. What this ensures is that the exposure of an image is always tuned to the right conditions.
When users press the shutter button, the app takes a burst of photos and then chooses the best ones for final use on the basis of analysis of traits like quality, sharpness, as well as facial traits like smiles and whether the people in the frame had their eyes open. It uses the best frame and also augments the best aspects from the other photos clicked in the background.
The app also recognises faces quickly and employs Microsoft’s Hyperlase technology to stabilize video shot clicked through the app. Microsoft Hyperlapse is already available for Android and Windows Phone users and is now available on iOS. It employs image stabilization algorithms and intelligently selects which frames to keep for optimal flow in time lapses.
That burst also powers Pix’s Live Image feature, which in turn creates a short moving picture when there’s motion in the background, like flowing water, or the leaves rustling in the wind.. Now what’s interesting here is that this enables any iPhone or iPad to click Live images, a feature that Apple has made available on recent models like iPhone6, iPhone 6S and iPhone SE.
Microsoft is pitching this feature as a way to get the best parts of Apple’s moving picture functionality without requiring a lot of storage space and getting stabilized images as a result.
Microsoft’s app places focus on people and after facial recognition adjusts aspects like brightness, contrast, white-balance etc. by itself. During dim light conditions, the app automatically enables “Denoise” mode, effectively reducing noise by using burst shots resulting in an enhanced image in real-time.
The app also features a ‘compare’ option, whereby you can compare the effects of Pix’s app and the “normal” click.
Weisberg confirms that the interface of the app is “intentionally simple”, with no modes or settings to select, helping users take better photos with a minimalist set of tools. With Pix, Microsoft intends to “bring a lot of extra value” to smartphone photography.
We agree with you Mr. Weisberg, and are waiting for this app to release for Android users also.
Using SMS For Two-Factor Authentication May Be No More
Two factor authentication is the current norm for web services. They provide that additional layer of security during online transactions that makes us feel warm and secure. However, a new draft by the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), proposes to rule out the use of Two Factor Authentication as a valid security measure.
The basis for this decision comes from the fact that text messaging is not considered as being sufficiently secure and hence may be barred as a vehicle for such communication in the future.
This may have been prompted in the wake of some incidents like the attacks on political activists in Iran, Russia and USA. They’ve demonstrated that determined hackers can sometimes hijack the SMS messages that were meant to keep the users safe in the first place.
So it seems like a wise idea to welcome a better system – the likes of smartphone based authentication apps that generate one-time codes. Services like Twitter that have yet stuck with second factor protections that depend on SMS, are taking note from the incidents around the world and are apparently switching to more secure methods.
NIST formulates national-level guidelines and rules, which are used as a yardstick by various industries and organisations. Its role in keeping the policies related to secure electronic communications updated has kept us secure for a long time. While NIST guidelines do not have the power of law, still most of major companies do follow by them.
As a parable, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) fills the same shoes in India, albeit only in telecom, and related circles.
The NIST draft reads “If the out of band verification is to be made using a SMS message on a public mobile telephone network, the verifier shall verify that the pre-registered telephone number being used is actually associated with a mobile network and not with a VoIP (or other software-based) service. It then sends the SMS message to the pre-registered telephone number. Changing the pre-registered telephone number shall not be possible without two-factor authentication at the time of the change. OOB using SMS is deprecated, and will no longer be allowed in future releases of this guidance.”
What this implies is that NIST draft wishes that companies must ensure that only trusted phone numbers are linked to a mobile network, and not a virtual number functioning through a VoIP service, as VoIP services can be compromised and tampered with.
The only intriguing and confusing part of this draft is the sentence at the end that mentions ‘Out of band [verification] using SMS is deprecated, and will no longer be allowed in future releases of this guidance.’
The term ‘out of band’ could mean a lot of things in this case, referring to a physically discrete channel, which in the lingo of telecoms is sometimes used to refer to VoIP services.
However, in security parlance, out of band could also mean logging-in on the web and receiving a verification code by phone. In the case of this draft, it seems that the reference here is to the latter, which is to say that use of SMS will be barred.
This is an indication towards the fact that Apple and others might have to bid farewell to this option.
Apple currently provides the options for two-factor authentication: a code is sent to a trusted device which could be an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac, a phone call to a trusted phone number or a code sent by SMS to a trusted phone number.
The only question that arises after this ruling is that if two-factor authentication via SMS is barred as an unviable option, then what are the valid options to uphold security of the user and the process?
Tools like Google Authenticator or an RSA token could probably act as an alternative as these work by generating a unique code that matches the one generated on a web service’s server.
This doesn’t involve communication between the two devices, thereby making the whole procedure safer than sending a text message with a one-time code to someone’s phone; however, the convenience has been compromised here and that why that it lags in popularity among users.
And as security related concerns swirl around in the smart devices world, it’s ironical that the erstwhile authority on mobile device security, BlackBerry is almost on it’s way out of the industry. Perhaps it’s decision to exit the Mobile OS market and focus on its’ Enterprise platforms (like the Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) platform) was a foresightful one, and it (BlackBerry) will be able to resurrect itself as the Phoenix that the smart devices world needs desperately.
That aside, authentication via SMS has always been there – it’s ease, convenience and universally acceptable integrations made it so preferable. It will be missed by many of us!
A 99 $ Superbook To Change Your Smartphone Into A Laptop
The idea for using your smartphone as a laptop is not a new one. What’s new is the inexpensive solution to do that.
Microsoft has been the most visible proponent of this idea in recent months; its Continuum feature allows Windows Phones to run a lightweight version of Windows 10 when plugged into a display dock.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that masses are not swayed towards buying Windows Phones.
Before Microsoft, there was Ubuntu. It struggled long and hard to gain traction with similar promises, dating back to its failed Edge project in 2013.
Before even Ubuntu, there was Motorola, with its Atrix phone that worked much the same way, but its laptop dock cost USD 500, the software you used with it was half-baked, and the phone was only “strong” by 2011’s standards. Again, few people cared as it did not seem viable.
Andromium, made its first attempt at a fully functioning phone-based workstation in 2014. Plugged into an MHL-compatible phone, it gave users the ability to connect an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. Although it had potential, backers apparently weren’t keen on a connecting various peripherals via a tangle of USB and HDMI cables, and the Andromium Dock never reached its funding goals.
Andromium took note and now has ditched all its peripherals and commenced a new project. Taking the idea of “democratization of the laptop” to a certain new level, the team at Andromium has started a crowdsourcing campaign to launch the Superbook – a USD 99 laptop dock for Android smartphones.
Aesthetically, the Superbook is a convincing Apple MacBook Air 11-inch clone. The device offers an 11.6-inch, 1366×768 LCD panel, what appears to be a full-size island-style keyboard and a large gesture-capable touchpad with a built-in battery that Andromium claims will last eight hours.
Outside of that, the Superbook is an empty shell, just waiting for you to hook up your Android phone via the USB Type-C or micro USB port.
Download the Andromium app on a device running Android 5.0 or later, connect the device using either a micro-USB or USB-C cord, and the laptop shell will power on mimicking a laptop.
Imaginatively, you’re not limited to any particular model of Android smartphone, but the company points out that the phone should have at least 1.5 GB of RAM, a dual-core chip, and Android 5.0 or higher. It also has to support the USB-OTG standard, but that shouldn’t be an issue for the vast majority of devices.
The idea, as it’s always been, is to leverage your phone’s power with a laptop’s form factor. In Andromium, buying a new phone then becomes akin to buying a new laptop. Some specs will get bumped up as stretch goals get surpassed, the USD 500,000 goal takes the battery up to 10 or more hours of use, for example.
Andromium is offering a whole bouquet of perks to get the project funded adequately.
So far, the project has raised more than USD 700,100 on Kickstarter, comfortably outdoing the initial USD 50,000 goal with 26 days remaining!
The most basic Superbook pack, which includes a Gold laptop, a USB-OTG cable and wall adapter, is at the USD 99 pledge level, but jumping to USD 159 will get you a Superbook in Blue or Gold, a universal smartphone mount for the screen-edge and a wall charger.
If everything goes to plan, shipping should start in February 2017. The Kickstarter funding for the project ends on August 20.
Ready to book yours?
Apple Is The World's Favorite Company, Yet Again
FutureBrand just announced Apple as the world’s favorite company.
FutureBrand takes a look the world’s 100 largest companies and conducts an annual survey of about 3,000 consumers and industry professionals to rank them on the basis of a range of elements such as Personality, Consistency, Trust, Innovation, Price Premium, Resource Management, etc.
After providing them attributes to rank, the respondents are then asked to place the company on the basis of personal preference that ranges from Distant and Passionate at the extreme ends of the rung, with Indifferent, Close, and Admiration in between.
With Google’s reorganization, only parent company Alphabet has made it large and was able to make it onto the top 100 shortlist and Google itself didn’t even qualify.
Last year, the FutureBrand rankings had Google, Apple, Microsoft, Walt Disney, AbbVie, Gilead Sciences, Samsung, MasterCard, Celgene, SABMiller as the top 10 rank holders.
The two most likeable feelings that respondents showed toward Apple were passion and admiration. Apple was ranked highly for its attributes like individuality, authenticity, innovation and thought-leadership.
The remainder seven positions read like this:
We spy some lesser-known names and this clearly indicates the significant role that industry professionals play in the rankings.
Both Apple and Microsoft have risen higher in the ladder as they have jumped a place from last year’s rankings to stand 1st and 2nd, with Samsung jumping four places from last year to advance ahead of tech industry giants like Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com, Inc.
When asked where the respondents saw Apple three years from now, more than 75% believed that Apple has a linear progression and they expect it would continue to do so in the future. Half of them were ready to buy Apple’s devices and many of them were ready to work for the company. These views reflect on the high regard with which Apple is seen among industry professionals.
Coming back to Alphabet, it managed to bag the 21st place in the list probably because of the lack of brand awareness as Google. It could also be for the fact that since the company is so varied (businesses range from Android OS, to Phones, to Networking, to Search Engine, to their Special projects like Loon, Jacquard, etc.) that it was difficult for the respondents to assign the attributes to it and reflected in the response that they had.
While 25% of respondents said that they felt ‘close’ to Alphabet, the rest on the other hand felt indifferent and only 20% said that they admired Alphabet, with a minority of them feeling passionate about it. The two strongest attributes associated with the company were a sense of purpose and the quality of its people.
Apple definitely is stealing the show this time at the FutureBrand Index 2016. Apple seems to be the current favorite of many as it last week it sold its billionth iPhone.
The company is close to celebrating its 10th anniversary next year with major upgrades and overhauls.
Will Microsoft Hive Off Surface 3 Tablets Come December?
It’s been little over a year since it first hit store shelves, however Microsoft’s Surface 3 will soon be pulled out from stores. The device was launched in May last year and has struggled to reach the same popularity as the superior Surface Pro 4.
Microsoft recently confirmed to ZDNet that it plans to kill the Surface 3 somewhere near December this year and added, that the inventory for the device is currently “limited.”
“Since we launched Surface 3 over a year ago, we saw strong demand and huge satisfaction amongst our customers“, said Microsoft in an official statement. “Inventory for the device is very limited right now, and thus by the end of December 2016, we will no longer be able to manufacture Surface 3 devices“.
The confirmation fairly comes hot on the heels of reports saying that stock of the Surface 3 and Band 2 devices are in short supplies in some stores in the United States.
For the uninitiated, Surface 3 is Microsoft’s offering to its customers who are in search for a budget-friendly 2-in-1 Windows tablet. Therefore, if you are in the market planning to buy the popular devices, now is the right time!
While it has been made publicly official that the production of the Surface 3 will be discontinued by December this year, we still have to wait to hear an official word from the company whether more devices in the Surface line will be introduced within the year or in the coming up 2017.
ZDNet’s – Mary Jo Foley, mentions in her report that some sources said that the company postponed the rolling out of Windows “Redstone 2” until early next year, as the firm’s officials purportedly want to unveil a “Big-Bang Surface hardware” alongside its major release of Windows 10. Foley also said that it is not clear yet if the company plans to push out new Microsoft-branded devices in spring of 2017 or if it will release the next-generation Surface Book laptops and Surface Pro tablets.
While Microsoft seems to have gone back and forth’ with regard to the introduction of Surface 3’s heir, until Microsoft’s next report nothing much can be predicted.
Originally priced at USD 499, this Atom-based tablet was unveiled in May 2015, came with Windows 8.1 operating system and can currently be upgraded to Windows 10. LTE variants of the device were also rolled out.
While reports released by Microsoft says that there’s been “strong demand and satisfaction” for Microsoft’s Surface 3, a report from Engadget believes that “it is odd and very unusual to completely wind down sales of a popular product half a year before production stops“. They also added that its Atom chip plus its limited storage could probably make it a tough sell as a replacement for laptops.
It seems more of a shock for Microsoft’s customers to come across such a major step taken by the company. It is also highly possible that the company wants to centre its attention on the manufacturing of the Surface Book and the Pro range of Surface tablets, as they seem popular to more Microsoft customers.
Nevertheless, whatever the company decides it would definitely come as a better option for its customers, as Microsoft has never failed to impress the market with its unusual take-ins and take-outs.
Till then, fingers crossed!!
Xiaomi Obtains 1,500 Patents From Microsoft: Here's Why.
Xiaomi, a Chinese brand has managed to reach the Top-5 international smartphone brands slot in just the first five years of is existence. Yet, it has been looking to expand to the United States of America for quite some time now.
The brand’s primary problem making this move into Global Super Brand terra (that US success would ensure) is that of the stiff patent regulations that the US has in place, making it impossible for Xiaomi to sell their smartphones in the US.
To overcome this impediment, and seemingly as a move to enable this expansion into the world’s prima donna country, Xiaomi, this past week, struck a deal with the American megabrand Microsoft.
Not much has been disclosed about the deal by either party yet. But, from the information available, it is said that Xiaomi is buying 1,500 patents from Microsoft in exchange for preinstalling the Microsoft Office Suite and Skype on its devices, including Xiaomi Mi 5, Mi Max, Redmi Note 3 and Mi 4S.
The monetary aspect of the deal has not been disclosed yet, but we can sure expect there to be one. It would probably be a one-off payment or one over a period of time.
This gives rise to two obvious questions: What’s in it for Xiaomi? And, what’s in it for Microsoft?
Well, the first one is easy to answer!
Xiaomi has been facing patent issues in the US and thus has not been able to bring its products to the country; it is vulnerable to intellectual property violations. For now the only presence Xiaomi has been able to establish in the US market has been of accessories, that can be bought online through the Xiaomi website.
So far, the primary market for the brand remains its home country, China, yet, the brand has seen a considerable success in Asian countries like Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Taiwan.
In the international market, it is struggling with competition from brands like Samsung, Apple, that have been around for far longer. Another brand that has been a major competitor for Xiaomi, and that just bumped Xiaomi off of the Top-5 list this quarter, is one from its own country: Huawei.
In such a predicament, Xiaomi can either now grow, or perish. To grow, the US market is essential to Xiaomi’s timeline.
With the patents from Microsoft, Xiaomi seems to be gathering ammunition to defend itself against issues of intellectual property it might face upon entering the US market.
The patents reportedly have got to with wireless communications technology and the technologies of the like, which shall help Xiaomi defend itself.
Even though this deal seems like a first substantial step, we still do not have a timeline for the company to be moving to the US. They have brought certain products to the US market, including an announcement for a US-specific Android TV, yet we can only speculate as to what more products can be expected when.
The latter question – What’s in it for Microsoft? – is a more perplexing one to answer.
China is a country that does use a lot of Microsoft software, but the catch is that most of it is usually pirated, and Microsoft does not see a dime for its products.
There is not doubt that Microsoft does not need to expand into China in terms of the software; it already has presence enough. What it now needs is to be able to make money off of it, and the deal with Xiaomi seems to be giving it precisely that.
These patents are a small fraction of the over 60,000 patents that Microsoft owns, and they say it is a regular trade move for them to give something out in return for a good deal.
Microsoft is on a move to collect royalties from electronics makers who majorly use Google’s Android operating system because they believe that the OS uses some of their technology.
This deal then, which comes right before the Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella’s visit to China, could be a step towards that.
Microsoft is also facing a continuing anti-trust investigation in China over the bundling of software, and making an ally in the country would be a good idea.
Xiaomi also recently launched a tablet that runs on Microsoft Windows operative, along with a series of connected home products, all of which goes to prove that they could certainly be good partners-to-be.
The deal thoroughly discussed now, we need to also look at the fact that patents alone won’t ensure success for Xiaomi in the US market, or in any market for that matter.
So, Xiaomi also needs a strategy.
Until now Xiaomi has depended mostly on online flash sales for the international market, especially in a country like India. This is quite similar to what the brand OnePlus has been doing. But Xiaomi would need to understand that the smartphones market now, especially the US market, is saturated; hence, quality and product range might not be enough.
Xiaomi would need to differentiate itself, to make its own space. They might want to go with an approach that combines the traditional go-to-stores along with the online sales.
Navigating the US market, is not going to be easy. Patent issues are only the tip of the iceberg, but we must acknowledge that there is scope for a company like Xiaomi to do well in the US market.
After all, it has been their goal for quite some time now.
Nokia May Be Easing Back Into The Orbit Of Smartphones
Probably furthur fuelled by Microsoft’s announcement that it will cut nearly 8,000 jobs from its smartphone division, Nokia has apparently confirmed that it will return to the mobile phone market.
Nokia has stated though, that it will commence such work only when their binding agreement with Microsoft ends, saying that “it’s complicated“.
We’d reported earlier, that Nokia had clear intentions of staying out of the mobile handset marketplace itself, but it’s experiments in the Android world lend some credence to back chatter of resurrection.
Robert Morlino, a spokesman for Nokia Technologies, said in a blog post: “It’s not surprising that today the question comes up all the time: will Nokia return to mobile devices? The answer is: it’s complicated. If and when we find a world-class partner who can take on those responsibilities, we would make an effort to work closely with them to guide the design and technology differentiation, as we did with the Nokia N1 Android tablet”.
Thus, Nokia is unlikely to release any new mobile phones any time soon, however, Morlino points to a late 2016 return.
“We will look for the right partner who can take on the heavy lifting and work closely with us to deliver a great product. As we agreed with Microsoft, the soonest that could happen is Q4 2016, so it’s safe to say Nokia won’t be back (at least in phone form) before then“, he said.
This follows earlier comments from Nokia chief Rajeev Suri, who hinted at the firm’s intentions to make a comeback in the market. Suri expanded on previous hints that the days of Nokia Mobile aren’t over during an interview with German publication Manager Magazin.
“Microsoft makes mobile phones. We would simply design them and then make the brand name available to license“, he said, expressing a desire to seek out suitable partners. These comments came as former Nokia Mobile boss Stephen Elop, who went to Microsoft to head up the Phone Division, was dethroned last week, with Microsoft OS boss Terry Myerson taking direct control of all the things in a new division called the Windows and Devices Group.
The purchase of a hardware business hasn’t gone well for Microsoft. Last week the firm announced the culling of a 7,800 roles from its Nokia division, in addition to the 18,000 Microsoft cuts already made last year.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said: “We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem including our first-party device family. In the near term, we’ll run a more effective and focused phone portfolio while retaining capability for long-term reinvention in mobility.”
Nokia also announced that it is acquiring Nakina Systems, a Canadian software company that offers unique vendor- and technology-agnostic capabilities that allow operators to monitor, control and audit security. The company hopes that this acquisition will help it bolster its security efforts.
A Very Smart Case: FlexCase
Microsoft, in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences, Upper Austria is working on this amazing new flip case which is called FlexCase. Now what makes this flip case an ‘amazing’ object is the fact that in addition to being a protective, soft and flexible flip case, the FlexCase has an e-paper display which acts as a secondary screen and accepts additional input from the user of the phone.
This e-paper is made possible by coalescing an exceedingly flexible input sensor with a 4-inch flexible e-paper display bought off the shelf. And what you get in turn is a superbly smart and elastic secondary display which also doubles up as an input board and navigation tool. Isn’t that cool?
The researchers from University of Applied Sciences, Upper Austria explained their project in the following manner, ‘FlexCase is a novel flip cover for smartphones, which brings flexible input and output capabilities to existing mobile phones. It combines an e-paper display with a pressure- and bend-sensitive input sensor to augment the capabilities of a phone. Due to the form factor, FlexCase can be easily transformed into several different configurations, each with different interaction possibilities. We can use FlexCase to perform a variety of touch, pressure, grip and bend gestures in a natural manner, much like interacting with a sheet of paper’.
The idea behind FlexCase is not altogether new, as it looks somewhat similar to the YotaPhone and the YotaPhone 2. Developed by a Russian mobile brand called Yota, these were the world’s first smartphones with two screens – an e-ink display on the back and a regular LCD screen on the front.
Anyhow, FlexCase is capable of performing a lot of tasks and is a unique and useful accessory.
The cover can be utilised as an extended visual clipboard, which makes the task of searching and typing easy. What’s more, the user can flip pages, zoom in and zoom out, rotate maps, all this by simply bending the cover backward or forward and the cover would detect the amount of pressure applied and work accordingly.
The technology behind FlexCase which makes it so special and as explained by the researchers in their paper is known as piezoelectricity.
Let’s try to simplify that jargon for you.
The word ‘piezo’ implies pressure and originates from the Greek word ‘piezein’, which implies to squeeze or to press. In the case of certain objects, electricity is generated when mechanical stress or vibrations are applied. Everyday motions are capable of generating enough energy which in turn can be converted to electricity.
The same principle goes into the working of the FlexCase where, when you bend and twist the flexible paper, those vibrations generate electricity.
Moving on, to the different configurations that are possible with the FlexCase.
There are three possible modes – “Book Mode”, “Laptop Mode” and “Backside Mode”.
With Book Mode, the secondary flexible screen remains on the left side of the smartphone. Bending the edges of the flex screen helps the user navigate through the books and flip pages very easily – the gestures used to navigate pages are transferred to the secondary screen making space on the real screen. The text is displayed in black and white. Sounds familiar eh?
Yes, the FlexCase Book Mode looks somewhat like Amazon Kindle devices.
Additionally, content can be easily copied from the phone to the flexible secondary screen and further can be attached to an email.
Here’s more – a map route displayed on the main screen of the phone can be transferred to the flex screen by simply rubbing the two screens together!
Doesn’t this sound like a magic trick? Heck no, its technology!!
The second mode, the Laptop Mode, as the name suggests puts the device on top, in landscape. The secondary display also orients into landscape mode and is used as a virtual QWERTY keypad.
In the third mode, the Backside Mode, the flexible secondary display is folded over the back of the phone and thus makes the phone a double-screened phone. This is the concept, where it resembles YotaPhone.
Doesn’t the FlexCase sound like the grand-daddy of every smartphone case you’ve ever met? It adds so much value to the phone!
Now, for the most important part – when does the FlexCase release?
To the disappointment of many, this might not be a commercial product anytime soon. It’s still a project currently under research and going through development. It is slated to be presented at the Computer-Human Interaction conference in May, 2016. The creators would undoubtedly decide on next steps basis the reactions and support received at the conference.
It’s worthwhile to note that fancy smartphone cases have failed to gain a considerable market response in the past, simply because sometimes the technology wasn’t that great and other times, the technology involved made the case more expensive than the device itself!
But with FlexCase, you never know – with Microsoft’s backing, it might just launch and set new trends going!
Microsoft Sues The U.S. Department Of Justice
While the Indian populace may have only recently heard (due to Apple’s recent tryst with the FBI in the U.S.) of the friction between Tech giants who store customers’ personal data and a government that uses its constitutional power to wrangle access to that data, however it’s not a new phenomenon.
For many years now, conscientious brands who possess customer data have tried to assume a “protector” avatar to preserve customer privacy, even if it meant going up in arms against some of the most powerful adversaries.
Microsoft, the Redmond-based tech giant has endeavoured to play guardian for its users many a time; and is doing it yet again.
Microsoft is filing a lawsuit in a federal court in Seattle against the U.S. Department of Justice citing it’s own right to inform its customer(s) when federal agencies access the user’s data.
Currently, the Justice Department pressurizes the company to prevent notifying the user whenever the authorities investigate his/her data. Microsoft terms this forceful act as unconstitutional.
“Over the past 18 months, there have been nearly 2,600 secrecy orders issued by the federal courts, silencing Microsoft from speaking about warrants and other legal process seeking Microsoft customers’ data.” When those 2,600 secrecy orders were examined, it was quite astonishing to find out that most of the orders were without a fixed end date, making it permanent, thus making the issue more critical.
All the while, Microsoft is prohibited from informing the affected customer(s). Microsoft considers this as a forced compromise in it’s loyalty to the customer.
There was a complaint filed today in a Washington District Court reading that, “Microsoft brings this case because its customers have a right to know when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails, and because Microsoft has a right to tell them. As Microsoft’s customers increasingly store their most private and sensitive information in the cloud, the government increasingly seeks and obtains secrecy orders.”
Microsoft believes that the government is misusing Section 2705(b) of the thirty year old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). It is also concerned by the absolute power in this regard while carrying out investigations and are citing parts of the law governing national security requests that have been declared unconstitutional by previous courts.
The government is trying to strengthen their stance by compelling the tech companies to walk the path they want them to. National security letters for the request of data currently don’t require a court order and can be issued by the FBI. it seems the federal agencies are using them to their benefit post the introduction of the Patriot Act in 2001, which allows the government to gain access to complete web browsing histories, the IP addresses of everyone the user has corresponded with, user’s online purchase information, and also cell-site location information, to name some of the personal data that becomes accessible.
While there are some exceptional situations when the secrecy orders are completely justified to prevent tip-offs, which may result in leaks or destruction of data, however they should be temporary and shouldn’t arise on every occasion at the whim of the governmental agencies.
While we’re going to have to wait and see how this plays out, however seeing how Apple has been a taken for several rounds in courts for their stand, one thing is clear – someone’s got the stand up for the customer and we welcome brands of conscience.
I am sure this peril exists in India too, and I live in the hope that some folks here too, stand up for the customer and protect us against unwarranted infringements of our privacy.
Homeland Security Urges Users To Uninstall QuickTime On Windows
The US Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has issued a general advisory asking Windows users to uninstall QuickTime off their computers. Before you jump to conclusions, let us assure you that there’s nothing wrong with the multimedia program! There’s no current security or malware issue.
The reason for this advisory is that it’s creator, Apple, has decided to abandon the application for Microsoft’s Windows OS and will hence no longer release security updates for the same. QuickTime for Mac OS will however continue to receive updates.
The secondary trigger for US-CERT’s came from security firm Trend Micro’s initiative “Zero Day” [as defined by Wikipedia, a Zero Day vulnerability is a hole in software that is unknown to the software vendor. This security hole is usually exploited by hackers before the vendor becomes aware and fixes it] releasing two advisories that pertain to the recent identification of two security threats for in the program’s code. Since Apple will no longer patch up vulnerabilities, the only safe option left is to uninstall Quicktime as soon as possible.
Trend Micro has also issued an advisory on their own blog; “Our TippingPoint customers have been protected against these two vulnerabilities since November 24, 2015 with filters 21918 (ZDI-CAN-3401) and 21919 (ZDI-CAN-3402). However, even with protections, ultimately the right answer is to follow Apple’s guidance and uninstall QuickTime for Windows.”
The Department of Homeland Security said “the only mitigation” is to remove the software entirely, or else risk “loss of confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data, as well as damage to system resources or business assets.”
There is a silver lining to this advisory though, “Zero Day” initiative has not identified any active security threats against the critical vulnerabilities, however that doesn’t mean that may not happen in future (especially now that the vulnerability in the OS is out for all to know!).
From what we understand, these security vulnerabilities are open-ended and will allow remote arbitrary code execution. Decrypted to a common man’s language this means that if users visit a malicious web page, anyone could gain control over your system via the innocent guise of QuickTime player. For the more technically inclined of you, it opens the possibility that the bug will allow the virus to write code outside the allocated heap buffer and the other vulnerability will take place in the stco atom (The stco atom for a track lists the offsets for the various chunks that comprise a media track and only allows for 32-bit offsets) allowing execution of invalid index, resulting in loss of valuable data and business assets.
Therefore the logical step for Apple’s QuickTime users is to follow the advice of Apple and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and uninstall the application rather than wait for any untoward experience.
As a side note: With this warning, QuickTime for Windows has now joined the league of Microsoft Windows XP and Oracle Java 6, as software that is no longer updated to fix security vulnerabilities and is now included in the Department of Homeland Security’s Alert List to shutdown.
Is Apple’s decision to kill QuickTime an indication that Apple is leaning towards a “no-support for Windows OS” policy, we’ll just have to wait and watch? It is a bit of a surprise though, given the recent bonhomie displayed during an iPad launch event just a few months ago.
While we ponder this, go get your PC booted up and the Quicktime Player uninstalled!
Microsoft Surface Phone in 2017?
In a Windows Central report, blogger Daniel Rubino claimed that Microsoft might launch a Surface Phone in 2017.
The rumour mill is abuzz with a lot of speculations regarding the date of release, the features that this phone might boast of.
Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Caspossela’s statement back in December 2015 also points out and justifies this speculation of a Surface Phone appearing on the scene. Caspossela had said, “We need more breakthrough work. With Surface, we had a bunch of early misfires, but that notion of a tablet that could replace your laptop — that notion of saying, ‘Hey, Apple wants to sell you an iPad and they want to sell you a Mac, we think there’s one device that exploits the seam between those two devices’ – we need some sort of spiritual equivalent on the phone side that doesn’t just feel like a phone for people who love Windows”.
Surface phones seem to be the “breakthrough” device that Caspossela was talking about. This seems to be one of the most clear cut official indications of a Surface Phone being on it’s way.
More ‘news’ about the Surface Phone started ricocheting across the internet during the release of the original Surface Pro tablet. Fans were eager for something akin to Windows’ desktop platform than what the then-current Windows smartphones offered.
The hardware in many early Windows phones had been good, but on the flip side, Windows Phones lacked strong third party infrastructure to compete with Android and iOS.
Now, with the Surface Phone, hopes are up again.
The release might happen in 2017, and if the reports are to be believed then this delay is because of the fact that the Surface Phone might run on Redstone 2 whose launch is also being delayed time and again.
If the leaks and reports are to be believed then this phone will sport a 5.5 inch Quad HD AMOLED display with 2560×1440 resolution. It will supposedly be powered by an Intel Atom x3 processor, have 4 GB memory, bear a microSD card slot and carry a 21 megapixel rear camera. The phone is said to pack USB Type-C connectivity and even feature liquid cooling technology.
Bear in mind, these are all possible specs. Things change. These may, too.
Keep in mind, with a new Surface Phone emerging, it is highly likely that the Microsoft Lumia series will be killed off by the company. This could be because of the simple reason that Windows 10 is still evolving and improving. Microsoft needs time to feature a comeback with a strong product that can make its presence felt in the market and for this the OEM partners definitely need some time to create new hardware.
Lumia line still holds a strong ground of about 97% at the Windows phone market. Therefore, in order to expand Microsoft’s ecosystem, Lumia will need to exit the market, and people’s consciousness.
The report on Windows Central blog cites sources from Microsoft, and claims that the Surface phone might come in three different varieties targeting three different user groups namely: Consumer, Business and Enthusiast. This, in turn, implies that each variant would be priced differently based on the basis of the user group it’s targeting. The three variants of the phone will be unique from each other in terms of software and hardware features.
If this turns out to be true, then this can be taken as materializing of the ideas that Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella had hinted at in July 2015 regarding the hardware plans for Windows:
“We plan to narrow our focus to three customer segments where we can make unique contributions and where we can differentiate through the combination of our hardware and software. We’ll bring business customers the best management, security and productivity experiences they need; value phone buyers the communications services they want; and Windows fans the flagship devices they’ll love“.
Reports from Windows Central also hint at a possible partnership between Intel and Microsoft to make x86 apps available on Surface phone. What this means in simpler English is that the smartphone comes equipped to perform all that a desktop can perform with x86 chip – which itself is definitely more powerful than the current Qualcomm Snapdragons.
The problem, however, is that while the Surface tablets harbored the square footage necessary to substitute a desktop, the 5.5 inch display a Surface Phone reportedly will have wouldn’t cut it when projecting a desktop OS.
How much of it all will see the light depend entirely on the time to come and of course on Microsoft and Panos Panay.
If the Surface Phone really does surface then all we would hope is that it follows in the footsteps of its predecessor Surface Pro, packing in a lot of utility and bringing PC features to mobile in a user friendly way. Surface Phones will also be a ray of hope for the Windows Phones as a whole.
There’s more wishful thinking – the Surface Phone, Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2 might also see light on the same platform.
Soon, Reflection-Free Photos!
Despite all the leaps, bounds and tumbles in improving photography, the one thing that it’s still debilitated by, is reflections.
Ever since the advent of the art itself, photos from across glass have been prone to the reflective surface’s propensity to have glare and reflection issues. Pictures taken through glasses of windows or cars, only have it worse.
No matter how hard you try, you click through a glass and your reflection is going to be in the picture. Sometimes the reflection is more visible than the very thing you’re trying to click.
To deal precisely with this kind of reflection, MIT’s Media Lab’s Camera Culture Group has been working to make a camera that can click clear pictures through windows.
The idea is to have a system that beams light onto whatever you want to shoot and measures the arrival times and the intensity of light reflected by objects, including glass. It sounds simple, but let me assure you, it isn’t.
The researchers earlier used an ultrafast streak camera, but had to evolve a modified device for this particular project. They used a modified version of a Xbox One’s Kinect camera, a device with a depth sensor.
However what they wanted wasn’t easy and the modification certainly wasn’t. They needed to make sure the camera beamed specific frequencies of light and to do that they needed to develop an algorithm that could separate reflections from different depths. Soon enough, they realised that they needed the big guns on this project, so they joined forces with Microsoft Research, getting the Silicon Valley giant to help them on the difficult task and to crack various inhibiting nuances.
Now, post-modification, the Kinect camera has become capable of doing something never possible earlier.
Having now developed the underlying technology it shall be interesting to see where, if anywhere at all, do MIT and Microsoft take this one. They could revolutionise the world of photography with it, or they could take their own sweet time. Regardless, they shall be making big bucks in the process.
What is quite interesting here is that instead of using a cutting edge expensive new technology that is not yet out there in the market, the MIT team used a consumer product to modify it and make it work.
Paris’ Diderot University physics professor, Laurent Daudet appreciated them for the same, saying: “everyone would think that you’d need expensive, research-grade, bulky lab equipment. This is a very elegant and inspiring line of work”.
Developing a technology for reflection free pictures has been something that has been the hot cake for a while now. Not too long ago a different team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence had teamed up with Google on something similar. Their method, however, was more complicated. It involved using different frames from a short video to separate obstructions (reflections, fences, etc.) from the actual object you want to capture.
The technology is only in its developmental stages as of now. But we can expect progress soon.
It, at least, means that the technology to perhaps give us reflection free pictures has at least arrived in the world.
Microsoft Bows To The Dragon’s Wishes
The enemy of my enemy is a friend; Microsoft seems to have learned the lesson.
Called Windows 10 Zhuangongban, or “Windows 10 Specially-provided Edition” the new Windows has been tailor-made for the Chinese government after they had raised concerns about its security.
The new Windows is a stripped down model of the flagship venture of Windows featuring reduced games and more work related features. The features will include enhanced security features as per the needs of the government.
During the 2015 World Internet Conference Wuzhen, China Electric Division and Microsoft announced the signing of the memorandum, a joint venture company. Among them, 51% stake in the company will account for China Electric Division with Microsoft holding 49%.
The primary objective of the joint venture is to lead to the introduction of “safe and controlled” operating system requirements.
Despite the changes in the software, the company has assured that it will remain at core “a consumer friendly product”.
The new software comes in the wake of the Windows XP update controversy – where the Chinese government issued statements after Microsoft refused to issue updates for Windows XP.
It is estimated that like India, China still has a major part of its government workforce still working on the now-obsolete windows XP.
The government focused on making a certain Baidu Linux based software that could cooperate with the security policies of the government, however, the venture failed due to the lack of accumulation of technology, lack of stability of the operating system, and other problems of varied degrees. This gave Microsoft an opportunity to put their foot in the door.
This move will set a precedent for the computer giant, and its predecessors who are not known for bending to the whims of the government and will also hit them on their stand on internet surveillance and security. Whether those controls will allow the users to control or at least see the level of surveillance they’re being subjected to or not hasn’t been confirmed. It seems more likely, given the partnership and the government backing, that the security features will allow the Chinese government to keep a close eye on users.
The venture is also suspect as the partner, China Electric Division, is one of the ten central direct management teams of the military industrial complex, mainly engaged in the construction of large-scale important military and civilian use of electronic information systems.
What does this move entail? What is its effect on the ground level Chinese consumers?
It is already a given that Microsoft is done with its first version of the software. It’s called Windows 10 Zhuangongban, or “Windows 10 Specially-provided Edition”. Earlier, using legal, licensed Windows software was a no-no since Edward Snowden’s revelations showed how the United States government is indeed spying on China’s government. Pirated versions of Windows, meanwhile, are hard to vouch for when it comes to quality and, especially, security.
After the release of Chinese homegrown software NeoKylin (a desktop OS China had built as a substitute for Windows) and its quick journey into obscurity, the Chinese market was in desperate need of a state back partner and Microsoft have complied.
Although after its initial humiliation, Microsoft has agreed to this venture, it will be interesting to see how it plays out in their favour.
Samsung Galaxy TabPro S: Up Against The iPad Pro And Surface 4
The newest Samsung flagship to step into the tablet game is Galaxy TabPro S. But it’s not just another tablet from the company that seems to breed new products in a hyper-active hatchery.
It’s different, in oh so many ways.
First, the TabPro S is a hybrid device – a tablet and a laptop rolled into one (a trend we’re seeing lately), with its design and features inspired from and comparable with Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4.
Second, it’s a Samsung product, with a Windows operating system. So? Well, it’s Samsung’s first ever Windows tablet, and it’s first Windows product since the Omnia M released way back in July 2012.
Coming up with the perfect Windows tablet, to beat not just the competition in the existing tablet market, but also challenge the burgeoning phablet market, has been something that a lot of companies, including Microsoft, have been aiming at for a while now.
How long is the while? Well, you’d be surprised to know that it was Microsoft that came up with the first tablet ever, yet somehow they failed to make it as big or as mind blowing as Apple’s iPad over which the world has been going gaga for years now.
But Microsoft’s been gaining ground – their latest, the Surface Pro 4 does quite a good job nonetheless. It’s got it all right – hardware, looks, capabilities and the world’s attention.
Against those odds. can Samsung beat Microsoft at its own game?
To even the odds somewhat, Samsung appears to have brought in the expertise of it’s two biggest competitors and hopes to gain leverage to get a leg over them both – Apple’s design and Microsoft’s operating system. It even seems to be highly inspired by Apple’s iPad Pro!
TabPro S is a 12 inch tablet, a little smaller than iPad Pro, and almost the same size as the Surface Pro 4. But to best them, Samsung laid it’s best display yet – the third first for the TabPro S – it is the first tablet in the world, to sport a Super AMOLED screen on a Windows 10 platform.
Going back to ‘inspiration’ – the TabPro runs on the same central processing (CPU) unit as the Surface Pro 4; Intel’s new Core M3 CPU. This particular chip from Intel enables users to glide over multiple browsing and multiple tasks simultaneously.
The TabPro S comes with 4 GB RAM and a 128 GB non-expandable memory and is priced in the neighbourhood of $900, less than both its competitors. To sweeten the deal, the TabPro S comes with a familiar keyboard cover to double as a laptop.
The TabPro S also seems a little thinner than both of its competitors and does not have the standard USB port, but only a Type C port that can be used for charging as well as data.
That’s the fourth first – the TabPro S is the first Samsung product released with the Type C port; not even the smartphones have it yet!
When asked about that, Jennifer Langan, the Samsung Director of Mobile Product Marketing said: “usually it’s the phones that get the latest and greatest features and then the tablets get them next. This is the one time where we got it backwards.”
Okay, what do we expect out of the hybrid device?
Well, to speak freely, we expect it to do double duty. On one hand we need it to be our everyday workstation for email, accessing and working on office documents; and on the other hand we expect it to give us easy tap-swipe-flick of an entertainment experience with media watching and playing games.
This is what makes it so difficult to bring an iPad alternative to the market. While the iPad Pro is not really positioned as a hybrid, but to counter it’s capabilities other manufacturers are forced to make hybrid machines, like the Lenovo Yoga series, which is a lineup of full-time-laptop-and-part-time-tablets.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro over its 4 generations has finally come considerably close.
TabPro S, however, may have struck it right, the first time around.
Should you buy it?
All said, the TabPro could be a good investment. It brings sleek design, features of an iPad Pro, and the Surface Pro 4 rolled into one with the Windows 10 workstation experience.
In terms of its Super AMOLED display, and Type-C port, along with the package-included keyboard, it has a couple more firsts that might go in its favor. The $900 price tag along with the familiarity of a Windows interface could do it good.
I’d only qualify this verdict with the sobering thought that there aren’t too many apps out there on Windows 10 just yet, and a smart device especially one with so much horsepower could get tethered to that stake for quite a while, and the racehorse may never break into a gallop.
Update: Apple's iCloud Moving To Google's Servers
In what could be called a major victory for Alphabet Inc., Apple has reportedly decided to move parts of its cloud business over from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Google, in a bid to diversify its infrastructure in data services as well as to serve a portion of its iCloud needs.
The magnitude as well as the impact of this move is significant as it is a major flag post for Google. While it currently falls behind Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure in cloud services however with its recent growth, is now becoming more of a competitor to the other two.
Google’s been vying for a bigger slice of the Cloud Services pie for a while now. AWS is the Goliath to beat, and Google’s been whittling away at AWS’ portfolio bit by bit.
Just last month, Google scored Spotify’s business – the music streaming service announced it would shift away from Amazon Web Services and move most of its services onto the Google Cloud platform.
The competition is also incensed by the fact that Dropbox moved large parts of its data from AWS to its own servers to save money and improve efficiency.
Amir Efrati from The Information first revealed the news of Apple’s possible migration. His speculation is that the change of dynamic from AWS to Google might take a year but like the current AWS-Apple alliance is unlikely to be a major income generator for Google. But it’s a key win, nonetheless.
A report from CRN last week cited sources as saying Apple recently signed on with Google ahead of its departure from AWS in a deal in the neighbourhood of USD 400-600 million.
While it’s not definitive yet if Apple will actually move its data cloud or not but an AWS spokesperson was quoted as saying “It’s kind of a puzzler to us because vendors who understand doing business with enterprises respect NDAs with their customers and don’t imply competitive defection where it doesn’t exist“.
This statement from Amazon seems to suggest that either of the involved parties in the said migration may have leaked information about the monetary aspect of the deal, with Amazon betting their horses believing it is Google.
A reduced dependence on AWS was something Apple insiders have been hinting at since the start of the year, but the alternative then being looked at was an in-house solution which would have taken around two years to complete.
During a recent investor conference call, Apple’s CFO, Luca Maestri stressed the importance of fiscally-responsible data center operations in light of a quickly expanding iCloud user base. That also suggests a viewpoint that perhaps Google is being used on a temporary basis for smoothening the transition between moving from AWS to Apple’s own servers.
The company currently has plans to build three data centers scheduled to open over the next two years, including a USD 2 billion “Global Command Center” located at the failed sapphire production plant in Mesa, Arizona, with two more facilities slated to open in Denmark and Ireland for European customers.
A contrasting viewpoint developing suggests that perhaps Apple may be looking to enhance its infrastructure capabilities and by that logic having Google cloud in addition to AWS, Azure and its own servers makes for a very marketable and shrewd move.
It’s also possible that Apple is only looking at some very specific services on the Google cloud.
Apple’s cloud strategy shift has also changed the existing paradigm in the market, since we now have two rival companies collaborating upon a major venture, in addition to how this move is influencing a range of other companies as well.
Akami, another Internet infrastructure provider, has been forced to revisit its strategy since more and more of its self-perceived customers such as Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have decided to move to in-house servers. This increase in the “do-it-yourself” efforts has led to a decrease in the revenues for Akami.
Google is hosting a major cloud event, Google Next, in San Francisco, and while there is no clarity if Google will talk about recent events or not, but if they wish to do so, then that is certainly the right platform for it.
We’ll keep our ears open and let you know what we learn.
Windows 10 Now Available For Xiaomi Mi 4 Users
Xiaomi has already created a niche for themselves as a leading Android phone manufacturer, producing intelligent smartphones at a fraction of price when compared to premium smartphone manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Apple.
Recently, they took yet another big leap, with Lin Bin, co-founder and President of Xiaomi announcing the introduction of Windows 10 OS for selected Xiaomi models, including the Xiaomi Mi 4!
This change is surprising, but also very intriguing as it will now enable users to operate Windows 10 OS on their Xiaomi phones, which have so far been exclusive to the Android platform. In fact, Xiaomi uses their own proprietary MIUI based on Android OS.
The idea behind making the Windows 10 software available on Xiaomi devices is for Microsoft to receive feedback for it to rollout their software for more Android smartphones in the future.
Microsoft could be looking at minimizing its production of smartphone handsets and want to license the Windows OS to other OEMs, replicating their success like their PC vertical.
According to the Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Windows has less than 1% market share in the Chinese market, which makes it important for Microsoft to piggyback on the already trusted manufacturers in China.
With the option for the user to revert to the Android OS at will, they have an incentive to try the Windows OS without fear or apprehension. Just in case this ‘switch-over’ does not function too well or the user is having some kind of a problem operating his/her phone on Windows OS, the option of switching back to Android will always be open.
The Xiaomi Mi 4 being pretty much similar to the Nokia Lumia 830, makes for the perfect candidate to mimic the Microsoft Lumia series and give the Windows team invaluable data on adoption, usage and performance of the Windows 10 OS versus that on an Android base.
Microsoft has made the OS available to select Xiaomi user critics, who are very active in their discussions to garner detailed feedback for the team from Redmond.
Such a move could also be to propel the Windows App Store by providing it some necessary visibility and traction with prolific Chinese users as they adopt the Windows OS on their Android devices.
With Google not being in good books with the Chinese government, this could be a chance the Microsoft has been waiting for, but they have to be quick and swift as HTC, Samsung are also promoting their home grown OS’.
The Mi 4 has not been Xiaomi’s best-selling smartphone so far, but it sure should be exciting to use the Mi 4 hardware with the Windows 10 software!
Sprightly And Kaizala, Android Business Apps From Microsoft
There’s absolutely no one in the world who can deny the impact that Microsoft has had on computing over the last three decades.
It’s not been about Windows alone.
Launched way back in 1990, Microsoft Office, with its insuperable triumvirate of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint as the three pivotal stars, has become the bedrock software for business and personal use alike. Remarkably, competition has just never been able to put out anything remotely effective or popular as Office.
Android, the most-used smartphone operating system (OS) with millions of apps, a lot of which are designed for business purposes, too, could not yield a decent challenger. Many tried. But mostly ended up mimicking the features of the MS trio, and none was able to replace the Optimus Prime of the software world.
Imagine… what if the two could be brought together – the largest software manufacturer, and the largest customer platform of current day.
That’s exactly what just happened.
With Microsoft Lumia sales having reportedly dropped and the Windows phones not being as successful in the smartphone market as Microsoft would have wanted, Microsoft seems to have changed its focus and has started including itself in smartphone users’ lives via platforms rather than just desktop operating systems.
Embedded deep in the Microsoft ecosystem, is their own projects lab. Titled Garage, it develops new ideas, technologies and platforms borne of small work-bench projects, tests them rigorously and transforms them into reality.
As the battleground shifted to mobile devices, opening up a new arena of opportunity for developers large and small, to try and establish alternatives for Office, Microsoft shifted it’s own focus to catapult some Garage projects into mainstream usage.
Microsoft recently launched two business apps Sprightly and Kaizala for Android handsets. Both are are now available on Google Play Store for free!
Sprightly is an app to help users create promotional content (flyers, brochures, catalogs etc.) for their businesses and do it really quickly.
So its like a Digital Media agency in your phone. You can describe your business’ products in a catalog, share price lists with buyers and share content on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc.
Keeping in mind that for a large part of the mobile users, their smart devices have become the primary devices when accessing or generating data for their businesses while on the move, Sprightly, the digital content creator seems to be the Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Pages app or even Canva for iPads (that hit iOS App Store some months back).
Sprightly comes from the Mobile Only Team based out of Hyderabad. Surprisingly the app is not available on the Windows store (maybe with the MS Office integration, they do not need it) and is available for Android 4.4+ on the Google Store.
The second app, Kaizala, a seemingly messaging app helps you get your work done by tracking bills, jobs, team members, sharing your own location and lots more.
On the sharing front, it focuses on making sharing easier – attachments, create and assign tasks and keep better track of them. It also lets you capture availability by requesting and sharing future dates.
The key attribute differentiating Kaizala from similar apps is the ability to engage all involved in a chat like ecosystem. The app only needs to be installed on your (and your colleagues’ mobile devices) and you’re all ready to go.
This is of course a part of Microsoft’s expansion into a planet full of Android devices, something that it has been up to quite diligently of late. It’s already swung deals to have Office and OneDrive pre-installed on some Android phones; bought out a very very nice email app called Accompli and rechristened it as Outlook (after Microsoft’s world beating desktop email application), launched a reworked Skype app.
With this slew of apps for Android devices, Microsoft is clearly working to stake dominance in the mobile device ecosystem too, like it successfully did in personal computers about two decades ago.
Yet, Android is not the only operating system whose customer base Microsoft has an eye on… It has also been delving into Apple’s iOS base, especially with Cortana – Microsoft’s very own personal assistant (that has proven to be a strategic advantage to the company ever since it was launched on Windows Phone).
We tested Cortana and found it to be mindbogglingly good, and clearly in direct competition with Apple’s Siri. While the functionality of Cortana on iOS devices is limited for now, its only a matter of time.
We all should just wait and watch where that goes.
Microsoft Buys SwiftKey
Microsoft, the software giant, just acquired a company called SwiftKey for $250 Million.
SwiftKey is a British start-up that is behind a popular multi-language capable predictive keyboard app for Android and iOS.
SwiftKey has been behind something even cooler: They’re the folks powering the computer on the chair of the worlds most prominent ALS-afflicted physicist Stephen Hawking. ALS has rendered Hawking unable to even speak, let alone control limbs or digits. SwiftKey does all the listening and typing for Hawking, through some custom codes, algorithms and technology.
SwiftKey has also been conducting research in the realm of Artificial Intelligence.
Having launched on Android (2010) and iOS (in 2014), it’s app has already been installed on over 300 million devices! This is undoubtedly an impressive resume for a startup.
Back to the acquisition, Microsoft would be taking over SwiftKey’s technology and assets along with its workforce as a part of the deal. It is reportedly expected that SwiftKey’s employees, now new Microsoft employees, would be working under the company’s Technology and Research Group, and not under its Mobile Applications Development team.
Microsoft is not the first company that had tried to buy SwiftKey in the recent years. Facebook reportedly tried to buy the company about two years ago but failed to ink the deal.
A question to ask then is what is it that SwiftKey is getting out of Microsoft deal?
As a comparatively smaller company, SwiftKey’s software would get a much wider user base through Microsoft. SwiftKey is also getting to keep its team of employees intact, which means that they would get more resources funded by Microsoft to work on. Being bought out by a much bigger company like Microsoft also ensures a kind of safety-net for a startup in the very unstable technology market anyway. SwiftKey has been successful on its own and had held their ground for long enough and this acquisition will give it the necessary fillip to hit the big PC markets too.
Why does Microsoft feel the need to buy out SwiftKey, and does it not have similar technology itself?
Microsoft already has a prized possession in it’s Word Flow Keyboard, versions of which are behind various speed texting world records. What Word Flow does is it makes texting like drawing, so instead of hitting keys on the keyboard to type letters you are drawing various shapes on your touch-screen keyboard and those shapes are used to predict the words you’re trying to write.
Word Flow is fairly new and has only been out in the market for a couple of years and Microsoft has been able to bring it to different platforms, including Android and iOS smartphones. Given Microsoft’s history, we might soon find SwiftKey’s technology applied to Microsoft’s Word Flow Keyboard. It would be similar to when Microsoft bought out Accompli and rebranded it as the mobile app for Outlook, it’s email client. After all, that is what purchasing a startup is all about: bringing in existing technology and applying it to bigger platforms, instead of pouring resources into freshly inventing it. Plug and play.
“We’ll continue to develop SwiftKey’s market-leading keyboard apps for Android and iOS as well as explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and services portfolio. Moreover, SwiftKey’s predictive technology aligns with Microsoft’s investments and ambition to develop intelligent systems that can work more on the user’s behalf and under their control,” read the official blog report from Microsoft announcing its acquisition of SwiftKey on 2nd March, 2016.
While the smarter keyboards don’t sound bad at all, what might perhaps have been another reason for Microsoft to acquire SwiftKey could be its work in artificial intelligence (AI) arena, which is an area of interest for almost all big Silicon Valley names. AI has massive prospects of growth and it will be “the” thing a few years from now.
If Microsoft did acquire SwiftKey for its AI research then it did not pay a very heavy price.
Back in 2014 Google acquired DeepMind, a London based company quite like SwiftKey for about $400M. This was followed by Apple’s acquisition of Perceptio, another similar company. Both these Silicon Valley based mega brands have been working on integrating the technology from these smaller companies into their own broader range of products and services.
Talking about bringing-in already existing technology instead of pouring in resources into freshly inventing stuff, the Silicon Valley giants are quite good at it. Some of the recent big acquisitions in the Technology world include Facebook procuring Instagram and Whatsapp, Google acquiring Motorola Mobility and Nest Labs, Microsoft bought Skype and Nokia, Yahoo bought Tumblr… and that is just a very small list.
Now that Microsoft seems to be planning to integrate Word Flow’s technology with that of SwiftKey, we can perhaps expect even better typing with even lesser effort in the near future. Maybe our phones will know our responses before we do, and maybe even help me stay out of trouble with my better half!
Facebook Using Artificial Intelligence To Help Visually Impaired Citizens
For most of us staying connected with friends and loved ones today is no big deal – all of us use Facebook, or Twitter or WhatsApp for that.
My high school buddy who now lives in another state, my friends from college, my work buddies, everyone, is at one place or another, staying in touch with each other, completely clued in on what’s happening in their lives. I know almost everything I need to, about what’s going in their lives, where they’re travelling to, who they’re with and anything else they like to share.
I, like millions others, love to see their pictures or videos; it feels so connected.
But, a close friend of mine isn’t blessed with the ability to see. She’s the most wonderful person in the world, and is everybody’s darling. And as much as we love spending time with her, she does feel cut off in some ways especially when aren’t together or if I were to post my vacation’s photos on Facebook.
Recognising this unfortunate blindspot (no pun intended, at all), and believing that staying connected shouldn’t be a ‘privilege’, Facebook is taking steps to be more inclusive towards specially abled folks.
Facebook has released a feature powered by it’s Artificial Intelligence engine, that enables visually challenged people to use Facebook to not just read the posts, but also to be able to know about the pictures shared on the platform.
The AI engine reviews the image, interprets it and then reads aloud to describe elements of picture, as best as it can.
The feature, which is currently available only in English and only on iOS, is limited to the pictures uploaded by your friends, and not other inputs in the News Feed (news sources etc.).
But Facebook is being very very cautious with this feature – photos are described by the AI using a vocabulary restricted to a hundred words. For instance, if I uploaded a picture from my trip to Goa, and that photo had a group of my friends, Facebook will give describe the picture by saying something to the effect of “the photo features five people smiling outdoors and a water body can be seen”; it would not add information about more specific elements (like about the burgers one of the friends is eating, or describe the drinks in peoples’ hands).
Facebook has intentionally applied this limitation to the vocabulary in order to not offend any any culture, tradition, race etc. Why? Well. Google learnt the hard way. Not too long ago, Google’s AI interpreted an image of an Afro-American couple as being that of two gorillas. The company had to issue an unconditional apology.
As reported by the Facebook blog, about 39 million of its users are visually challenged, and 246 million have severe sight impairments. Text reading features are already very common for a lot of devices, thus text based content is inclusive to the needs of visually challenged users. However, pictures were insurmountably out of reach.
“We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it”, Facebook said in its same post.
How does it work, though? Well, it is simple, if anything AI can be termed simple!!
A new feature Facebook has been working on for a while, it works on what is called an automatic alternative text, which scripts up a description of the photo based on advancements in object recognition technology. This feature is actually an add-on to the pre-existing Screen Read feature on different Facebook platforms.
They plan to broaden the language base and the operating systems base soon, as they say.
“While this technology is still nascent, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is an important step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos”.
Facebook’s seeing-AI comes followed with Microsoft showing off its own plans. The same week as Facebook enabled this feature on their iOS app, Microsoft showcased a similar feature in the form of a separate app. Microsoft calls it is the Seeing-AI app.
“Using a smartphone camera or a pair of camera-equipped smart glasses, the Seeing AI app can identify things in your environment — people, objects, and even emotions — to provide important context for what’s going on around you”, describes Dave Smith, of TechInsider, about the Microsoft AI.
The Microsoft Seeing-AI is still in developmental stages, and there no further word on it.
However one thing is certain, with the Microsoft AI having been showcased, it would be interesting to see who does it better: Facebook, or Microsoft, or will someone else do it better first? Should Microsoft win the race, it would be a huge shot in the arm for them, given their current struggle in the Mobile OS and Mobile Apps spaces.
This is not the first time that Facebook has shown sensitivity towards social issues and things that call for momentous effort. The company and its head Mark Zuckerberg have been known to work towards issues that demand attention and concern for a while now.
One of the major initiatives that Facebook had undertaken had been internet.org which aimed at bringing the internet to everyone in the world. “The body’s goals involve collaborating on technologies to reduce the cost of internet access; make apps that are more efficient in their data usage; and form partnerships with local operators and companies on new business models for providing internet access”, as describes Stuart Dredge from The Guardian.
The social media giant has also been known to have a long-standing commitment against cyber-bullying and has launched and carried out multiple initiatives in that record. Only a couple of months ago it launched Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI), which is an initiative against extremist speech on the internet. The company has also received great praise for its multiple anti-Ebola initiatives in African countries.
In the light of these efforts and initiatives, the advanced AI that now reads a description of pictures for the visually challenged is yet another step for Facebook.
In terms of technology, however, this might actually a huge leap.
Microsoft Is Building Its Own SIM Card
Integrated cellular connectivity is not a unique concept – it’s been spotted earlier in Apple’s iPads that carried a special Apple SIM card which allowed users to sign up with different telecom carriers without the need to replace/exchange the SIM card.
A similar concept was observed in the Xiaomi’s unique MI Roaming app that was launched for users in China, which allowed them to buy mobile data plans directly from Xiaomi.
Talk has it, that Microsoft too, is planning to release its own SIM card for Windows devices which will allow users to connect to various mobile network operators without a contract, and change the operator at will. It is believed that gradually LTE access will be made available to the users.
Clearly, this initiative is proposed by the software giant to make internet access on it’s devices, easier.
The company is also working on a “Cellular Data” app which is already published in the Windows Store, and requires a Microsoft SIM card for its functionality.
The app’s description in the Windows Store says:
The service is currently restricted to a few markets and only the local plans will be offered as of now. However, international roaming plans are expected to be introduced soon.
The software giant will be offering data plan for purchase from the Windows Store which will be linked to the user’s Microsoft account, however, the company hasn’t released any pricing details of the data plan yet.
Cortana Comes To Android And iOS Devices
Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, has been in the limelight for all the right reasons. It works well, is reliable, and to a large extent, fairly useful.
Now, it adds another capability – the ability to serve people on Android and iOS devices.
This expansion to bring it on additional platforms in addition to Windows 10, enables Microsoft to engage many more users of much larger platforms (than Windows 10 itself), and thus provides Microsoft a great opportunity to gather valuable data.
Cortana is now available for select devices running on Android, iOS and Cyanogen OS (OnePlus One device) and may soon be available on Microsoft’s Xbox.
The advantage Cortana will also enjoy by being cross-platform is that it can become seamless and you’d be able to transition between your devices – your Windows PC, your Android tablet and your iPhone (or any other such permutation). So all you search data and activities are available everywhere.
There’s another benefit – it also understands local accents from around the world and help engage appropriately (it does have an upper hand over Siri in this regard).
So, Android and iOS users (with devices running Android 4.1.2 or later and iOS devices running iOS 8 or higher, respectively) can enjoy Cortana; however with developer restrictions on Android and iOS, makes it difficult to completely integrate Cortana, which does not seem to be a problem with Cyanogen.
One glaring feature that is missing is outside of Windows 10 is the ability to engage Cortana without with the “Hey Cortana” voice command (for the Android users it is only available if you are already in the Cortana App or on the Android home screen).
The ability to maneuver settings and opening of apps will also be restricted on the Android and iOS devices.
Cortana however seems a bit more integrated with the Cyanogen OS (for the OnePlus One devices), with the handsfree “Hey Cortana” feature being active and integrated into the OS. So, Cyanogen users will be able to engage Cortana within most screens and be able to toggle settings for networks, power modes or even engage the silent mode.
The Cortana app is currently available in US and China and can be downloaded free from the respective Google Play Store and Apple’s iTunes Store in those countries.
We hear the list of compatible countries will grow shortly.
Quick Charging Coming To Windows Phones
With the amazing growth witnessed in the smartphones market, a huge amount of work, research and investment has gone into improving almost every facet of these smart devices – the processors, the RAM, screens, cameras, even the body shell – have all been upgraded on a regular basis, to meet the user demands and to improve user experience.
However, nothing substantially innovative has been achieved in the field of battery technology despite a lot of rumoured research.
Batteries, their form factor, and their longevity have all been restricted by the materials, technology and even by some regulatory restrictions. So as devices become bigger and infinitely more powerful, we’re constrained to charge them more often.
The only thing the electronics industry has really been able to offer are mild alternatives – portable battery packs and faster charging.
Qualcomm has developed Quick Charging 2.0 – which increases the charging speed by 70%! Using proprietary charging technology and equipment, Quick Charging can revitalise the battery up to 95% in just under 30 minutes.
While the 5.2-inch Lumia 950 will be powered by a 3,000 mAh battery, the 5.7-inch Lumia 950 XL will feature a 3,300 mAh battery. On paper they sound nicely muscular, however like most other smartphones, Lumia phones too have been known to run through their batteries fairly quickly.
Microsoft is already trudging up a rather large hill in trying to sell it’s devices, and it’s a tough climb. It’s not at all reassuring for them that (reports suggest that…) these devices have fared miserably in the battery tests. Possibly even failed them.
Speculations indicate that while Microsoft is working towards making it’s Windows 10 devices gobble lesser power, without compromising on the efficiency of the device. Additionally, the devices will supposedly be equipped with a USB Type-C port which will further contribute to the charging speed of the devices.
Qualcomm’s new technology may be an important ingredient in this “survival package” to help save Microsoft some blushes on the battery front – without the application of the Quick Charging technology, it might prove a problem to keep the brightness levels of the displays stable.
Quick Charge is a powerful feature and Microsoft’s decision to integrate the Quick Charging technology into its flagship devices might alleviate users’ ire on a daily basis.
Earlier, Samsung was also seen introducing its own version of Quick Charging on the Galaxy S6, which needed a dedicated wall adapter for its functioning. It is not known whether the Microsoft devices will require dedicated hardware for its “Quick Charge” feature or not.
The devices will supposedly be unveiled at an event to be held in October, where Microsoft will introduce multiple products from their stable for the world to gawk at, and will include mobile phones, tablets and the X-box.
But more importantly, the initiatives adopted by Microsoft, directed towards improving battery life, might turn out to be a boon for it, and also play guiding light for the smartphone industry as a whole.
Outcome of Project Juggernaut Alpha - Microsoft Surface Phone
Microsoft is planning to host a hardware event on October 6, focused on Windows 10 devices, where the company is expected to unveil the updated Surface Tablet, Surface Pro 4, an updated Microsoft Band, two smartphones: Lumia 950 (codenamed “Talkman”), and Lumia 950XL (codenamed “Cityman”).
What might add some real excitement though, would be the surprise announcement of Microsoft’s next flagship smartphone, that the world currently refers to as ‘Surface Phone’ (we wrote about it earlier).
Microsoft hit a rough patch with its Mobiles division, suffering huge losses after the yield from the Nokia acquisition went southwards – accounting for meager 2.6% of market share; and their spend on keeping alive the Lumia devices (the company’s only Windows-marked phones) far exceeding revenues.
The Surface Phone is expectedly an attempt by Microsoft Corporation to urgently retrieve the situation, bring home some customer sentiment and more importantly, drive sales. Microsoft sorely needs to boost its incomes from it’s smartphone venture.
They need to throw the entire kitchen, not only the sink at this crusade.
Chip-Monks believes Microsoft would’ve have incorporated some innovative features, unique style and the name-tag of their highly acclaimed Surface and Surface Pro devices to the smartphone to try and differentiate it from the Lumia series that is currently afflicted by a severe case of lack of customer attachment.
The Surface Phone specs may include:
Should the Surface Phone actually be equipped with the above specs and capabilities, it would be an amazing device and may just be able to help revive interest and check Microsoft’s declining smartphone market.
We haven’t been able to ascertain expected pricing of the smartphone, yet we do believe that the team at Microsoft is aiming to get the device into the consumers’ hands by early 2016.
We’re rooting for Microsoft. Are you?
‘Juggernaut Alpha’, The Microsoft Surface Phone To Release In 2016?
Say “computers” or “software” and more often than not, Microsoft (or Windows) comes to mind.
Such has been the impact of Microsoft, that its become a genericised trademark of sorts, for those terms.
Not so much when you say “consumer technology” though.
The American tech giant while having dominated the PC domain for almost all of recent history, has itself now witnessed firsthand, a crucial bend in the road. And its called evolution.
Starting 1974, Microsoft, under the leadership of Bill Gates, began planting their global footprint specifically in the software domain. Soon, almost every computer on the planet ran Microsoft software. Microsoft then needed to look elsewhere to grow, thus – not so long ago, Microsoft revealed its plans to get into the hardware sector – to build peripherals, game stations and even self-branded tablets.
The Microsoft Xbox and their Surface series have gained market presence, but haven’t carved out marketshare. They haven’t exactly fulfilled Microsoft’s lofty ambitions of dominance in the hardware domain. They did earn Microsoft a seat at the leading manufacturers club though.
But neither of these product lines are widespread or universal must-haves.
The best place to be in today’s age? Smartphones. Thus the Nokia buyout, in April 2014.
Microsoft Mobiles as it’s come to be called was Microsoft’s running start into a burgeoning marketplace. Somehow, despite the legacy and goodwill that came with the Nokia name, Microsoft Mobiles hasn’t been able to pull of anything meaningful so far. Except perhaps, undergoing gargantuan losses – summing up to over $8 billion, in just two years!
But then, leaders don’t become stalwarts by balking at bad news. Instead of losing hope, the company is ploughing on – still working on products and solutions in order to find a way to somehow eke out a corner in the lucratively dynamic mobile device market.
‘Juggernaut Alpha’ could be the answer.
Heartened by the positive reactions to their Surface tablets and Surface Book laptops, Microsoft is apparently working on a new product – a smartphone, codenamed Juggernaut Alpha which is speculated to be the third device to bear the Surface family name.
The Surface Phone (as some are calling it) is said to carry a 5.5-inch display of QHD resolution, and will supposedly be powered by an Intel Atom X3 64-bit processor. There are speculations of the phablet having 6 GB RAM with 200 GB internal storage; it’s of course tough to say if this is built on any hard facts, or just wishful thinking. Yet, if true, this device would lay new benchmarks in hardware specifications for smartphones.
Additionally, the Surface smartphone is said to house a powerful 21 megapixel primary camera, with Carl Zeiss technology and an 8 megapixel, wide-angle front camera making it a selfie addict’s dream come true.
Being publicised along the lines of Samsung’s Galaxy Note series, the device is expected to have a “Surface Pen” and is also said to be accompanied by the HoloLens development kit (which is another huge project currently underway at Microsoft’s labs – to enable high-definition holograms that will create all-new ways to connect and create using highly-capable, integrated devices).
The Surface Phone is expected to hit the marketplace by March 2016.
Having seen some of the events and mentions, one must admit that Microsoft is doing a very good job of titillating the tech world with calculated information-release.
We’re eager to know more, so we’ll keep this one on our radar. We’ll shout out as a the story progresses. Stay tuned for more.
Cortana Assistant Can Now Replace Google Now
Keeping the “Windows Everywhere” vision in sight, Microsoft is making continuous efforts to diversify its services and building its mobile base on the backs of Android devices, and not restricting all of its services only to Windows.
Last month, Microsoft started offering a private beta version of its Cortana assistant for the Android devices, by allowing them to select Cortana, in place of Google Now, as the default application while swiping up from the Home button on any Android device.
Microsoft is being very smart about all this – not only is it ensuring that Cortana improves with every update, they’re also spreading it’s reach, by generating a need and by influencing user habits.
Microsoft should be praised for such a smart move, which lets them take over the basic way of launching Google Now on any Android device.
With the recently developed version 126.96.36.199, the company made using Cortana even more trouble-free and ensured they offer the user an enhanced experience.
To use Cortana on Android devices all the users need to do is to press and hold the home button, which in turn will ask them to complete the action using Google Now or Cortana.
The user can select Cortana as the default digital voice assistant for their device voila, new primary digital assistant!
Microsoft’s Anannya Podder mentioned in a blog post, “Because your life is not limited to one device, neither is your digital assistant. Cortana is with you on your Windows 10 PC, tablet and phone – helping you whenever and wherever you need it. But we also know that there’s a choice of mobile devices out there, so we want help from our Windows Insiders to make sure she’s a great personal assistant on Android too“.
The beta version of the software launched in July and is currently available only in the United States and China, with Microsoft further developing the app in order to launch it worldwide.
Although Microsoft’s Cortana falls a bit short in comparison to Google Now owing to its hardware limitations, it’s wide range of features are quite impressive.
But we like this Microsoft, a lot. And Android is a big bastion to conquer – a new window to the smartphone world!
Microsoft's Next Big Salvo: The Lumia 950 Twins?
Nokia, after its unbelievably long reign over the mobile phone market, hit a sandbar, called escapism. So convinced were they of their unchallengeable position in the marketplace that they scoffed at the idea of iOS and Android ever being able to trump Symbian. And then reality struck.
The iPhone launched, and gone were plastic keys, phones that were islands unto themselves, bringing in iOS a desktop-like OS, then Android started making waves and then the App Store took birth bringing infinite device capabilities (via mountains of remarkably useful apps).
Not only did Nokia miss the smartphone boat (with the launch of the iPhone, and then Android), it even convinced itself that the iPhone and these new fangled “smartphones” were going to be damp squibs, and hence stuck to it’s flawed choice basis “market research”. The tide of time put paid to Nokia’s poor decisioning and soon Nokia was struggling to stay afloat. They failed, Nokia hit rock bottom.
Finally, they saw the light and tried to climb onto the smartphone bandwagon. Releasing their first contemporary smartphone, the Lumia 800 more than four years after the launch of the stupendously successful iPhone.
Yet, for all their mistakes, one can never ever accuse Nokia of being complacent – Nokia gave the Lumia series their best shot, releasing twenty five smartphones in less than three years. Somehow, despite some very, very good materials, configurations, designs, colour and hardware, the Lumia series never really caught the fancy of the public – loyal or otherwise. It perhaps had to do with Nokia’s undying love for Windows OS as their go-to OS for all smart devices.
Eventually, Microsoft acquired Nokia’s mobile phone division in 2013, and decided to carry the Lumia torch forward. Microsoft, created a subsidiary named Microsoft Mobiles and retained the Lumia name so as to build on the brand equity and goodwill.
And they’re now going all out to boost sales. They’re putting out some new models soon.
Microsoft has sent out invites for a media event on October 6, which is apparently focused on Windows 10 devices. We believe Microsoft’s going to unveil their long-rumoured flagships – Lumia 950 (codenamed Cityman), and Lumia 950 XL (codenamed Talkman), with both devices showcasing Windows 10 Threshold 1 update.
The rumoured specs for both the devices are quite impressive, however we have conflicting indications about the design scheme. Earlier, sources had suggested that Microsoft will implement an all-metal body, whereas newer sources now point us towards a polycarbonate body.
Looking at the rumoured specs, the smaller sized Lumia 950, is said to carry:
The Lumia 950 XL on the other hand, is said to be equipped with bigger hardware:
Both the devices will support dual-SIMs, 4G connectivity, Bluetooth 4.1, Qi wireless charging and the USB Type-C connectors.
Supposedly, both the devices will apparently use enhanced biometric technology in the form of an Iris scanner.
As leaked by a Spanish retailer, the international prices for the Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 950 are expected to be INR 56,000 and INR 50,000 respectively; thus being comparable with the price tags of the 16 GB variants of the iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone 6s respectively.
Microsoft haven’t official said anything about the launch, specs, or even looks of both the devices, so everything remains in amorphous state for now.
Here's What The Windows Store's Big Revamp Holds!
Now that the latest version of the Microsoft Windows OS has hit the market, Microsoft is looking to implement major modifications in the Windows Store, to drive user interest.
Aimed at both, their developers as well as their user base, the app marketplace has been significantly upgraded – to improve the organisation, simplify search and improve discovery of store content.
All this to engage more users and drive more consumption.
The company is also seen to be rolling out universal apps that work across both desktop and mobile platforms – clearly, a journey to unify their mobile and desktop stores.
Bernardo Zamora, the Product Manager for the Windows Apps and Store team, mentioned in a blog post, “The Store has been built from the ground up for Windows 10 providing for scalability, and the ability to support a single Store for apps, plus a wider variety of content types: apps, games, music, video, and TV (and more content types in the future)”.
It looks like Microsoft is addressing the major areas like store lists, app lists, search, a new Web Store along with ratings and reviews.
The earlier general Web Search is now reorganised with new search algorithms optimised for apps, games, movie and music. In fact, the new algorithm always prioritises the apps first.
Currently, the store lists are flooded with the already installed apps as well as recommendations; so you know, the ‘top grossing’ app list on Windows 8 has been temporarily removed. This will result in the change in ranking of apps in both store lists and search results.
The integration of Windows and Windows phone apps have also resulted in a series of changes to product description pages.
The Windows Store is totally redesigned with the inclusion of music, movies and TV shows in addition to the apps and games. In this initial launch, some of the previously existing functionalities may have been compromised, albeit, with the extension of numerous new potentials.
The customer experience is enhanced with an improved Ratings and Reviews algorithm, which prioritises helpful reviews by placing them at the top of the reviews list.
Customers can now even view the complete app list by selecting a publisher’s name on an app’s product page, which was earlier accessed by clicking the URLs pointing to the publisher’s app list in Windows Phone.
In addition, the app version, update date and relevant devices have been temporarily removed from the app description pages. Reviews can now be searched in both the Web Store and the Store app on the basis of star ratings, most helpful, newest, highest-rated and lowest-rated filters.
Better and more stringent filters have been incorporated to control obscenity and spam.
The Microsoft Developer Support seems to be fully geared up to provide assistance to the developers, with new potentials added with the Windows 10 launch.
Let’s see how this goes.
India-Launch Of Lumia 640 And 640 XL Slated For 7th April
It still feels weird referring to the Lumia series sans the “Nokia” tag… Anyway, now under the helm of Microsoft, the new Lumia 640 and 640 XL (surreptitiously similar to Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices) announced in MWC 2015 are being launched.
The devices are set to hit the Indian markets starting April 7. While these aren’t Microsoft’s first phones post-acquisition, however it sure feels like it. There’s a lot riding on them – Microsoft needs to establish itself as a manufacturer, reach the right audiences and then begin the arduous task of competing with the Big 2.
Consequently, Microsoft is definitely looking to gain some serious traction in the Indian market through the launch of the Lumia 640 and 640 XL. The phones are already on pre-order in Europe, hence this is a positive sign for Microsoft.
If Microsoft markets their mobile ecosystem smartly, they could enjoy the benefit of an in-house OS ecosystem like Apple, allowing the user a seamless integration between their mobile and computing devices.
As an example of the issues faced by splintered ecosystems, BlackBerry is already facing the heat, leading to the decline in their user base – most of whom have been opting to move to Windows.
Specifications wise, the both the Lumia 640 series are dual SIM Windows phones with 8 GB RAM.
The Lumia 640 comes with a 5 inches IPS screen while 640 XL boasts of a bigger 5.7 inch IPS LCD, with both screen sizes riding on the ClearBlack technology and being protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3.
Lumia 640 Dual SIM phone is powered with a 2500mAh battery, has a quad-core Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 400 processor running Windows 8.1 with Lumia Denim. The main camera has a f/2.2 lens with a 4X video zoom. For serious users the device allows them to link to all major email clients, communicate on Skype and work on their documents and spreadsheets using Microsoft Office right out of the box. You get a 12 month Office 365 Personal subscription as well as 30 GB storage on OneDrive built in free with the purchase of the device.
Lumia 640 XL on the other hand, comes with a 5.7 inch with a resolution of HD720 (1280 X 720). Along with all the goodies included in the Lumia 640, the 640 XL boasts of a bigger battery at 3000mAh, which allows it to have a 39 day standby. The Lumia 640 XL also has NFC, Orientation Sensor and Low Power Mode which is absent in Lumia 640.
Some other differences: We were surprised to find that the Lumia 640 XL comes with a lower aperture at f/2.0. Further, while the Lumia 640 contains up to 55% recycled materials, the 640 XL has only about 20%, making the Lumia 640 a more eco-friendly phone.
Expected Prices: The Lumia 640 is expected to be priced at about Rs. 10,000 in India while the Lumia 640 XL is expected to retail at Rs. 14,000.
BlackBerry Loses Users In The UK
BlackBerry, the Canadian smartphone maker, is continuously losing its loyal user base in the United Kingdom and could result in them having non-existent market share (amongst non-business users) in the UK by 2017. The market share has plummeted from around 8% in 2012 to a meagre 1.9% this year, according to a research from eMarketer.
According to two research firms, by the end of this year, BlackBerry’s market share in the UK is estimated to be less than one million users (outside of business users), down from the massive eight million user community in June 2012. The drop from the zenith is nothing short of debilitating and has the near-certain propensity to trigger bankruptcy, at worst.
Kantar Worldpanel, a company that deals in consumer knowledge and insights, stated that even though BlackBerry’s market data discloses that it currently has a user base of 1.4 million users in the UK, it is losing 56,000 users to other phone platforms such as Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone every month.
Dominic Sunnebo, Global Strategic Insight Director at Kantar, has predicted that is this trend continues, it is expected that fewer than a million people will use BlackBerry devices as their primary phones by around September 2015.
Another study from research firm eMarketer asserts that the current count of non-business users in the UK could be as few as 700,000, with the level likely to fall to 400,000 by 2017.
To add yet another straw to the proverbial camel’s back, Windows Phone conversely, is gaining popularity in the UK smartphone market, and has already left BlackBerry behind in terms of market share and prised out the third place in the British smartphone market.
A look at the UK’s corporate sector which was once ruled by BlackBerry, Windows devices have got the edge over BlackBerry’s hoary devices. This is being attributed to the fact that Windows devices have more productivity features than BlackBerry, are reasonably priced, and most uniquely, enable seamless integration to Windows platforms and MS Office suites at the workplace.
Perhaps another precipitous reason behind this stiff drop is BlackBerry’s in undesigned role during the London riots in the summer of 2011 – where BlackBerry Messenger was cited as the vehicle used by trouble mongers to spread chaos. Later, two consecutive blackouts left all BlackBerry users without emails, BBM and Data connections for about two days. This prompted many to explore other operating systems.
BlackBerry did not see the writing on the wall and continued to overlook the inherent inabilities and shortcomings of their ecology. They were also glacial in embracing the change in the consumer preferences, furthered by their own paucity of technology offerings to keep up with the shift.
BlackBerry faced stiff competition from its rivals with the growing popularity of Apple’s iPhone and the wide range of smartphones along with Google integration that Android offers; yet they had no response. Finally, they launch a revamped operating system (BB OS 10) as well as a few new-age handset models, in an attempt to catch up with its rivals. But the devices turned out to be a series of high-priced disastrous devices – first the PlayBook tablet followed by a touchscreen Z10 smartphone. Nothing really seems to revive BlackBerry’s fortunes, or turn the tide.
The British smartphone market at this moment seems to be governed by the Android and iOS devices with a combined 96.3% market share, after getting approval from the UK government for their devices to be used in low-level security. The UK, which used to be one of the biggest and most loyal community of BlackBerry users, with the fall in consumer base resulting in fewer sales, is building strict concerns for the company. The revenues of the company which relied highly on handset sales is declining, thus worsening its finances. With wider challenges to face in the smartphone market, BlackBerry may be planning for something big to retrieve its position in the British market, let’s wait and watch.
False Positives - Google Takes On The Fight
“False Positives”, is a term used to define the occurrence where an antivirus program identifies a legitimate file as a virus or malware.
Contrary to our belief, these occurrences are quite common in the antivirus industry, where an innocent file is identified as a predatory malware by the errant algorithm of the antivirus programs.
False positives are the reason you see a message from your antivirus programs warning you of probable malware in perfectly legitimate programs or softwares, which further renders them inoperable as the antivirus cleans (wipes) the operating files.
Software developers have been at the receiving end of bad feedback when their perfect programs and apps have been victims of false positives and thereby rendered useless or retained limited capability and thus getting inundated with customer queries.
Relying on digital signatures may not be enough as malware have cunningly used digital signatures stolen from legitimate developers.
The antivirus vendors also face the flack, as their products acquire the reputation of either slowing the processing speeds or even making the device misbehave while booting up.
To resolve this, Google has reached out to all, through their “Trusted Source’ program via a Google online scanning service VirusTotal.
VirusTotal is a free service from the Google stable, and to show their sincere intent to overcome the concerns of false positives, Google has joined hands with Microsoft.
It will be beneficial for Microsoft to add their metadata to the VirusTotal database, which will notify the developers and antivirus vendors alike of the “false positive” incidents and corrective actions can be implemented, leaving the end user satisfied with their purchases and downloads.
VirusTotal is capable of sending the data to the antivirus vendors even before the software vendors may have been notified, allowing them to make the necessary changes. Teaming with Microsoft, the team from Google has been able to negate more than 6,000 such “false positive” concerns.
Google has managed to nail the problem and roll-out an effective solution and with Microsoft joining hands on the project, we see that as one big positive step towards this initiative as big software developers will could quite effortlessly help with the identification and mitigation of false positives, leaving the field of available softwares clearer to identify and cull malware.
Cortana Gets Translation Capability
With the recent update to its digital personal assistant Cortana, Microsoft has added the instant language translational skills to it in Windows 10 for the US and Chinese regions.
The native language translation support allows the user to translate words and phrases from English and Chinese to 39 different languages with the assistance of the recently-launched Microsoft Translator. The Microsoft Translator app is also integrated into products like Microsoft Office and Skype Translator along with a handful of other Microsoft mobile apps.
Microsoft’s Cortana is improving with consumer feedback and may give Apple’s Siri or other virtual personal assistants a serious run for who is a better assistant. Unlike Apple’s Siri, Cortana works on both, the smartphones and desktops and is being touted as one of the most attractive features in the Windows 10 OS.
Cortana, in addition to the voice-controlled translation, also responds to a typed query allowing the user to seamlessly select either to utilize the translational feature. For the voice-controlled translation, the user first needs to say “Hey Cortana” followed by the words he wants to get translated, and the target language however, he may avoid typing “Hey Cortana” if he wishes to type the words or phrases instead of speaking it up. For instance, he needs to say “Hey Cortana, translate ‘Where is the nearest taxi stand’ into Spanish” however, he can simply drop ‘Hey Cortana’ while typing and write, “Translate where is the nearest taxi stand into Spanish”, instead.
For those cases when Cortana misinterprets the voice input, or doesn’t have the proper translation for the requested phrase, the users will be directed to the internet for the translation. Currently, Cortana supports the following languages: Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Klingon (pIqaD), Korean, Latvian, Malay, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Welsh.
Cortana might face stiff competition and critical comparisons from Google’s translation service which also offers real-time translation and depending upon the response in the US and Chinese market, it will expand to the other markets soon.
Microsoft Dumps Nokia - Its Official Now
With the acquisition of the Finnish giant Nokia in 2013, Microsoft had clearly announced its interest in the super-heated smartphone industry.
Subsequently, Microsoft confirmed that Nokia’s premium (and largely the only successful smartphones line from Nokia) Lumia series will be relaunched under the Microsoft brand name and thus the Nokia tag will be severed from all current and future Lumia devices.
Well, Nokia had been fairing pretty badly against its competitors from the Android and iOS worlds – its global market share being a thin red line just about touching the 2.5% mark.
Microsoft is looking to stem some of the bleeding by disassociating the troubled manufacturer’s name, and replacing it with some (hopefully) positive sentiment by attaching its own, somewhat more popular (OS) brand.
The American multinational corporation seems to be angling to hit two targets with one swing – give their ‘new’ baby a lease of life and also get a running launch into the smartphone world for the “Microsoft” and “Windows” brands.
This didn’t come as a bolt from the blue, as Microsoft had already dropped a few hints prior to officially confirming the brand shift with the official website for Nokia mobile being redirected to the new mobile website for Microsoft.
In the recent months, several applications in the Windows play store including Treasure Tag and App Social too, have been using Microsoft Mobile as the official name against the former Nokia Mobile.
In another development, Nokia had scaled down the production of phones at their Chennai plant in India, indicating, that they might be looking to shift their focus on networking, mapping and licensing businesses rather than manufacturing smartphones and tablets.
Nokia France will be the first to mark the shift from the Nokia brand to Microsoft for the Lumia devices on its Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. Nokia France on its Facebook page mentioned that, “In the coming days, you will receive a Facebook message regarding the change of name of this page”.
They also hinted that the upcoming Lumia series is well-set to take on the Microsoft brand of identification.
Microsoft disclosed its intentions to expand their mobile business with the launch of the Microsoft Lumia 535, the first Lumia smartphone not attached with the Nokia brand name. The smartphone will initially be launched in China, Hong Kong and Bangladesh and then gradually percolate to other nations.
Priced at a modest USD 110, Microsoft looks forward to occupy a prominent position in the industry esp in the developing nations, thus increasing its share of mobile devices in the global market.
As far as the Nokia brand is concerned, they will continue their mobile device business by producing mobile phones, with a very limited range of devices being launched in this category. The existing devices in the market with the Nokia brand name will however continue to roll out until they are totally replaced by the new models.
Microsoft Abandons Nokia Asha
Microsoft has been in the news for the past few days, about it’s journey in restructuring itself. In this process they have already cut jobs of around 18,000 people out of which 12,500 are from Nokia.
According to their revised market strategy, they have decided to abandon the Nokia Asha and Series 40 phones, with the Android based Nokia X becoming a Lumia product.
The head of Microsoft’s phone business, Jo Harlow said that they clearly want to focus on their Windows Phone, also stating that there will be no new features or updates to service any Mobile belonging to this particular series.
Microsoft will support all existing customers and within the next 18 months will ensure proper shutdown of the services.
Other excerpts from his email state that they plan to changeover developer efforts and investments with focus on the Windows systems all in all trying to improve the company’s financial performance, that being a major reason behind them abandoning the Nokia X, Asha and Series 40 apps.
At the end of his memo Satya Nadella also mentioned that Nokia’s Android phones would see their end soon.
Microsoft plans to focus on Windows Universal Apps and since Nokia phones ran on a broad range of operating systems the current situation was not helpful to Microsoft’s brand as the Asha operating system lacked features like use of the mobile version of Office Apps and the GPS mapping.
The company had announced the Nokia deal last year and it is very sad to see that Microsoft will not be chasing the Android market however reviewers state that this move will have an enormous prospective advantage for Redmond and Windows Phones.
An email to the company from Microsoft CEO stated that they will make Nokia X phones however they will be remade to run on Windows Phone instead of Android.
Windows Phone 8.1- Anything New?
When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.1, not long ago, it definitely turned a lot of heads. It seemed that they had finally caught up to Android and iOS. We wrote a great article when Microsoft began rolling out the update to devices a few weeks back. You should read that too!
Now that it’s in the wild, we’re here to ask the big question – has Microsoft truly achieved a feat? Is Windows Phone 8.1 really as good as people said (and wanted it to be)?
Windows Phone 8.1 brings several new things to the table, all of which were required for a while now. Not only by users, but by Windows & Nokia, in order to compete with the likes of Android and iOS.
We’ll be talking about each of these newly added features in detail, in this article.
Getting right to it, the Start screen. Windows Phone 8.1 brings a very organized and systematic approach to design your home screen, or Start screen, as the folks at Microsoft like to call it. The Start screen is the most crucial screen on your Windows Phone, really. It’s where all your tiles are positioned as per your wish. It’s your shortcut to launch any app or program in the blink of an eye.
What changes in Windows 8.1 is that you can now put more tiles on the screen. It is also possible to add a background picture/image to make your Start screen look more attractive. Swiping to the right still reveals the similar single-file list of apps that many people love and some others loathe.
But now, you can easily place pretty much anything you like from that never-ending list onto your information-rich Start screen. You have a choice of three sizes for each tile, obviously the larger the tile, the more information it can display directly on the Start screen.
Android has a similar thing going with Widgets, but it gets a little irritating when you have to swipe through multiple screens to access information as basic as News headlines, for instance.
Windows 8.1 wins? I certainly think so!
Do the phrases ‘OK Google’ or ‘Hello Siri’ seem familiar to you? These phrases are commonly used to activate personal assistants on Android and iOS respectively, namely Google Now and Siri.
Microsoft have waited long and hard before unveiling their very own Personal Assistant that goes by the name ‘Cortana‘. Cortana is now the key to using a Windows phone.
Cortana can help you with everything under the sun, from setting an alarm in the morning, to making a restaurant reservation. All of this is powered by Bing and can be accessed by a simple tap on the device’s search button.
Although Cortana requires basic customization, much like Google Now, it has definitely brought Microsoft right back in the race! With a big, big twist.
To retain trust with users, a clever Notebook feature allows you to choose what Cortana knows about you; your habits, your contacts, your interests etc. So it’s not snooping where don’t want it to go.
I’m not saying Google snoops, but it’s good to be able to see, choose and instruct a device as personal and as integral as a smartphone.
Windows 8.1 wins? Tadaa!
Moving on, there’s a new WiFi Sense app that is constantly looking for and automatically joining open WiFi networks without bothering you about it. There’s also Data Sense, which tells you how much data you’re using and lets you set a limit.
Another useful app is Storage Sense, which makes it easier to free up space or delete unnecessary files. There’s also Battery Saver, which tells you about the apps that have been killing your battery.
Finally, Microsoft’s new Word Flow keyboard lets you tap on each letter or swipe between them to type. Though this keyboard shows elements of Swype and SwiftKey, it’s something that was needed and gives Windows Phone enthusiasts something new to boast about.
Another crucial feature that took it’s time to come to the Windows platform – the Action Center.
Based on the idea of the Notification Center on Android, the Action Center lets you access your notifications and toggle key settings by simply sliding down from the top of the screen. Although, at the moment, you can’t interact with the notifications in any other way apart from opening them, that’s something that should evolve with time.
Also, ‘Quick Actions‘ can be used to toggle only a handful of settings at the moment like WiFi, Bluetooth, Brightness, Airplane mode, Internet sharing etc. A neat feature is that all the tiles on your Start screen are automatically refreshed when you access the Action Center. This makes the whole OS feel faster and more responsive. Kudos, Microsoft!
The Action Center must definitely improve with time. But it’s nice to see Microsoft realize the importance of a slide down menu, more so since something of this sort already exists on most other platforms.
Microsoft have attempted to give the likes of Apple and Google some competition, to say the least, but they are far from giving them a run for their money.
What Microsoft have brought to the table has been around for some time now.
They need something revolutionary on their side, and soon! Neither iOS nor Android have many stand-out exclusive apps but they have established themselves as the fore-runners in the business, and that’s a huge plus in an industry that’s constantly evolving.
Windows Phone 8.1 update is something that was needed for a while now, to bring the OS at par with Android and iOS. The update should be well received in the market, as far as Windows phone users are considered. But I’d say, it’s only brought Windows to the same park, but not yet given it any bragging rights or much of a reason for a swagger.
Microsoft (and even Nokia) need to do quite a few more things under the hood, with their devices and towards getting hundreds of thousands of developers pecking away, creating new, revolutionary ways to leverage the Windows USPs. So, its not a job completely done yet. There’s more to do!
Windows 8.1 Launch
Windows update is finally here, should be downloadable on 8th April 2014.
Following the tradition set by Apple last year for their Mac X OS launch, Windows 8.1 is free for the Windows 8 users, however if you are still on Windows 7, you will have to upgrade to Windows 8, which will entail a cost and then upgrade to 8.1 without incurring any cost.
Windows 8.1 comes with the “Start” feature last seen on Windows 7, however the Windows 8.1 is aimed at including the mobile devices too.
Some features from the erstwhile Windows versions are back:
1. The “Start” button is a welcome change from it going missing in Windows 8. The Windows 8.1 should be a mix of “Start” button and the interactive tiles.
2. The “X” option for closing the Apps is back, so now no more catching and swiping the app. This gesture is a comfortable option on a tablet of a handheld, however it did make us wonder “who was thinking what” when we were using a physical keyboard and mouse.
Do read our detailed hands on experience of Windows 8.1 to satisfy your curiosity and to find out what it brings to its users.
Microsoft Rolls Out Windows Phone 8.1 With Aplomb
Eighteen long months since its last major update, Microsoft has finally rolled out the highly anticipated Windows Phone 8.1 update, sending the tech community into a frenzy.
For registered developers, the update is already available for installation; however, for those who aren’t developers and cannot wait to get their hands on Microsoft’s new baby, fret not, for one can easily sign up for the Preview for Developers program to avail it.
With Windows Phone 8.1 comes the fabulous new Notification/Action Centre, arguably something that has been sorely missed by Windows users. You’re now only a swipe down away from getting all your notifications in one place!
At the same time, productivity and interactions commoners like toggling between Wi-Fi, data, Bluetooth and lock rotation are right there – making this addition an extremely useful and handy one.
Shadowing all other tweaks and additions by comparison, is Microsoft’s very own voice-activated digital assistant Cortana, ready to join the ranks of iOS’s Siri and Android’s Google Now. From what we hear, she’s imbibed the best of both predecessors, and bested them.
In addition to these, you can now type messages using swipe gestures through a fancy Microsoft-developed keyboard, set a background image for the start screen which would be essentially reflected on the live tiles thus heralding a welcome change from the current monochrome standard.
And if these weren’t enough, there’s a whole load of improvements to apps such as Skype, Calendar, Battery Saver, Wi-Fi Sense and even (finally!) separate volume panels for media and ringer/notifications and who knows what else Microsoft has in store for us!
It’s the buzz around town, and we hope Windows Phone has finally come of age.
Microsoft's Purchase Of Nokia's Phone Business Gets Chinese Approval
About a month back there were reports of concern from Samsung and Google, over the Nokia-Microsoft deal.
The tech giants had approached the Chinese regulators and the Ministry of Commerce to conduct an anti-monopoly review, specifically in regards to patents related with wireless technologies.
Nokia has received an approval from the Chinese authorities to go ahead and sell its mobile phone business to Microsoft Corp., and there have been no request for it to change its patent practices. The deal was struck for $5.4 billion euros, however the Finnish company held back its patent portfolio as they are a promising source of future growth.
After the approval coming through from the Chinese regulators, the European Commission and the US Department of Justice and other jurisdictions; the price of Nokia shares rose by 2.9%.
Microsoft now enters a new era with its first Microsoft branded Nokia advertisement and coming together will surely bring to its portfolio, family devices and services leading to loyal customers.
In today’s world, Windows Phone has gained appreciation in the market and it is the fastest growing system in the smartphone market (this could also be because they have negligible market share at the moment and any gain seems to double their market share).
According to the IDC, Windows Phones hold one of the top-three positions among smartphones.
And now with Nokia mobile phone business, they will be targeting the affordable mobile device category too.
According to the deal, Nokia will see the end of production and will be focusing on networks, mapping services and technology development and licenses.
It has been reported that two Nokia plants will not be part of the deal.
Nokia’s former Chief Executive, Stephen Elop is said to become the executive vice president of the Microsoft Devices Group which will be in charge of the Lumia smartphones and tablets, Nokia mobile phones, the Xbox hardware, Microsoft Surface (they are a series of tablets created by Microsoft) and Perceptive Pixel (PPI) products (Perceptive Pixel Inc was a company that specializes in research, development and production of multi touch interfaces).
This deal will enable them to make affordable devices running on robust OS, as they now have in their repertoire, a deeper understanding of hardware and software, thus strengthening the demand for Windows devices worldwide.
Microsoft said that with purchase of Nokia, the end-user can expect better devices.
Windows Phone 8.1 'Blue' – A Definite Improvement Over Windows 8
Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer and Windows Development Chief, Julie Larson-Green introduced the Windows 8.1 a.k.a. Windows “Blue” at the Microsoft Build Conference recently.
Build is an annual conference event that is held by Microsoft. It is aimed towards communicating with and encouraging software & web developers who use Windows, Windows Phone and Windows Azure and other Microsoft technologies.
This announcement has been the first major change to Microsoft’s mobile operating system since it was launched. The details given out at Build did not include the date of arrival for Windows Phone 8.1, however the keynote speaker did mention that an update would be sent to existing Windows Phone users within the next few months.
Making its debut as a part of Windows Phone 8.1, is Cortana a voice assistant that is powered by Bing (Microsoft’s very own web search engine, previously known as Live Search or Windows Live Search).
Cortana is Microsoft’s version of their personal assistant in Windows Phone 8.1 after Apple’s Siri and Android’s Google Now. Cortana has got its name from the artificially intelligent computer in the Halo series (a multi-billion dollar military science fiction video game franchise.)
The voice assistant will be deeply integrated into the OS and provide help on most apps and activities like sending messages, making calls, performing searches. Users will also be allowed to personalise Cortana so that it can interact with third party apps like Facebook etc. and be of further assistance to the user.
Here’s what Cortana looks like.
Cortana will go through the users emails so as to keep track of flight timings and other details like weather, news and other related help that could be relevant to the user.
This feature also has a notebook through which it keeps track of the users likes and dislikes that they have searched for, making a note of it, after seeking permission to store it for future use.
A demonstration on how to use Cortana was given at the Build using normal language and verbal commands, and it responded just like Siri, however the added feather to its cap would be that one could access Cortana with the help of a keyboard too.
In regards to its availability, since this app is still in beta phase it will first be seen in the United States and will then be introduced to the consumers in other countries like the UK and China.
Another important feature in Windows 8.1 is the Notification Centre, which is a drop down notification draw. A much needed feature, which was missing from Windows Phone OS. The Notification Centre is said to have a battery percentage meter, SIM information, customisable settings shortcut and also a list of new notifications.
Its easy to use as it is accessible from all over the user interface.
Various themes can be downloaded from the app store to customise the look of the device as per the users liking. The addition here would be that even the lock screen tile can be customised!
This version of Windows also comes with the new Internet Explorer 11, which includes new and improved features like a new reading view, password manager, synchronization across all devices and also allow “InPrivate” browsing which basically means that if you use the browser in Incognito mode the user will not be leaving a trail (again like in the iOS) as no history, temporary files will be stored by the browser.
Since this update also has keyboard input capabilities, the developers have come up with a new and improved keyboard known as the “WordFlow”.
Simply put, it is a swipe-supported keyboard. Not only that, the keyboard keeps learning about you – the more you use it the more it learns about your typing and word choice, thus improving the word-predictions it offers.
While some of these are already available on iOS and Android, but Microsoft has also ensured that it the new Windows has a few new tricks of it’s own and is not only playing catch-up here.
All existing devices currently running on (or eligible for) Windows 8 will be upgraded to Windows Phone 8.1.
The new OS has a lot to offer but it will it be able to make up for lost time when compared to it competitors (iOS and Android) is a question that is to be seen.
Google And Samsung Concerned About Microsoft/Nokia Business In China
When Microsoft acquired Nokia’s hardware business, little did they know the panic waves that it would send across the telephony world!
It’s not so much the consternation around the hardware business being sold (since Nokia’s never really gotten both feet onto the smartphone wagon), but it’s what’s left out that has people worried.
Per the deal, Microsoft is leaving most of the wireless patents under Nokia’s control.
And ailing tigers aren’t reliable. They’re hungry and mostly desperate. Leaving them the keys to the larder may not make too much sense. And that’s got other manufacturers worried.
I’d perhaps make more sense through an example. Everybody knows that Microsoft loses a ton of royalty/revenues because of the pirated copies of it’s software being freely circulated. Yet, they don’t do much about enforcing recriminations. The buyers of the pirated software though, live in fear of that enforcement, because they could lose a lot should Microsoft decide to invoke it’s rightful privileges.
Patents are granted for the companies to protect their innovations, for exactly this reason.
Nokia has one the largest and singularly most vast repository of patents related to wireless technologies. Do you know that Nokia has spent more than USD 60 billion on R&D and have nearly single-handedly built wireless technology from scratch.
Now, back to the story. Google and Samsung (who having the largest shares in the Chinese markets), have expressed deep concern to the Chinese regulators. They, and other local manufacturers have joined hands to request the Ministry of Commerce to conduct an anti-monopoly review, which essentially means that the regulators could set conditions on the Microsoft-Nokia deal to make sure that all licensing fees on the existing patents for wireless technologies are not increased.
Thus it seems a little hypocritical – the fact that this concern is lead by companies that are undisputed leaders in their own right, and own several patents of their own, and also operate near monopoly margins themselves.
Google leads in operating systems penetration (Android is owned by Google) with more than 75% market share and Samsung leads as a manufacturer in China.
Increase in license fees can however be a bit of a hiccup for manufacturers – large and small – as it will automatically hit either their bottom lines or market prices.
Smaller manufacturers who haven’t really heeded the import of patent infringement in high regard while designing and manufacturing their products, may be gravely affected if the legal team at Nokia started to cite the infringements against their patents in China.
Concerns of Microsoft getting a boost in the smartphones market was already voiced in December 2013 – Microsoft faced union trouble in the European markets, but it did manage to pull through the Nokia deal as the Commission in Europe felt that the transaction would not raise any competition concerns.
Following regulators in Europe, US and India have already cleared the deal. Russia, Turkey and Israel have followed suit and cleared the merger.
We will have to wait and watch to see if the Ministry of Commerce in China approves the deal and whether they stipulate that the company ensures no hike in patent fees, or not.
Microsoft Fixes Surface Pro 2 Battery Goof With New Firmware
January 20th brought back the composure of some very disturbed and angered Surface Pro 2 customers.
A December update on the Microsoft tablet promised various fixes such as those for backlight alterations during CPU intensive operations and delays during reboot while connected to hands-free devices. Microsoft also claimed to optimize two-finger tracking, Skype video calls and support to external hardware with this particular update.
While the promises were appeasing, the outcome definitely was not!
Within days customer feedback reported failed installations and unusual behaviour of the device, with serious battery and charging issues. In addition, there were cases of complete non-functionality of the device after initiating sleep mode and a reboot would be required.
Microsoft pulled back the update with a guarantee of releasing a rectifying update soon.
Microsoft’s PR team was quoted as saying “This weekend we released an update that addresses the unexpected wake and battery drain behavior experienced by a small number of Surface Pro 2 customers who installed the December Windows Update“.
A faulty update and then an arduous 5 week wait for another update (released in January) has created a post purchase dissonance amongst many early adopters for the Surface Pro 2.
The update is aimed at taking care of the excessive battery drainage and faulty charging detection. It also fixes the sleep mode bug, wherein earlier if the cover was placed on the device, it would turn off altogether instead of activating sleep mode.
Microsoft has indicated that the remaining bugs would be taken care of in upcoming updates giving their users a seamless experience.
New Lumia Black Update Starts Rolling Out!
If you are using a Nokia Lumia (Windows Phone 8), expect the Nokia Lumia Black update coming your way shortly.
Following the Windows Amber update, the Nokia Lumia Black update combines the launch of a host of new features and apps, improvements in imaging and also app updates from Microsoft+Nokia to make your smartphone experience even better!
Here are some of the great new features that you can look forward to with this update:
A brand new App Folders feature that makes your Lumia experience even more fluid by giving you an option to further personalize and organize your Start screen.
With App Folders you can group apps and settings into one folder (tile) on your Start screen. This is something that has been available to Apple iOS and Android users for a while; and it’s about time it came to Windows Phone!
Improvements to the Nokia Glance screen now help you track information in real time so all your important notifications are just a glance away! These could be notifications pertaining to text messages, email, Outlook, calendar and even social apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp.
The popular Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) will now be enabled across the full Windows Phone 8 Lumia range for compatible gadgets like the Adidas MiCoach accessories. This should result in a noticeably better battery life for all of you using any Bluetooth accessories on a regular basis.
In addition to the new features mentioned above some of the apps have got an upgrade as well and have improved functionality post the update.
Nokia Beamer: This app is no longer restricted to just photos! You can now beam documents, presentations… practically anything you like to a web browser on any computer or device by simply scanning a QR code on the Lumia Beamer website (https://lumiabeamer.com).
It’s coming to all of the phones with 1 GB or more of RAM .
Nokia Storyteller: This app debuted on the Nokia Lumia 1520 and Lumia 2520 late last year. It now comes to other Lumia smartphones.
The app arranges your photos for you, by date and by place, making it easier to tell the stories behind your pictures, and give extra context through the close integration of interactive maps.
Nokia Camera: The Nokia Camera app now combines Nokia Pro Camera and Smart Camera to simplify the photo-taking experience and to ensure you get the perfect shot every time. The app has been available for Lumia PureView smartphones since last year, but it’s now coming to the rest of the Windows Phone 8 Lumia range.
Nokia Refocus: This amazing app introduced a whole new dimension to photography and comes to some more of the Windows Phone 8 Lumia range. All Lumias that have 1GB or more of RAM are getting this one (head to our devices section to see your phone’s specs).
The Lumia Black update also brings a series of much-awaited enhancements from Microsoft for Lumia users. These include a Safe Driving Mode that cuts out unnecessary distractions when you’re on the road, and the ability to assign different ringtones for different contacts. Things like closing apps within the multitasking view and being able to lock the screen rotation also just became a reality!
How do you update?
The Lumia Black update has already begun rolling out now for Lumia 1020 and Lumia 925 smartphones, with other models in the range following in the coming weeks. For more information go to http://www.nokia.com/global/support/software-update/wp8-software-update/.
Do you need to keep checking online? Well, no. Your Nokia Lumia smartphone automatically checks for updates every week, and will notify you when it finds one. In case you’ve disabled this, remember to go to Settings -> Phone update and check for yourself. If Lumia Black is ready for your phone, you’ll be able to download and install it straight from that screen.
Enjoy the new stuff!
Latent Search – What Is It & Whose Going To Rule It?
It is an unarguable fact that Google dominates the world in online search – with about 70% market share, with Microsoft’s Bing lagging behind at a distant second. ‘Google it’ has been ingrained into our vocabulary (it has even been inducted into Webster’s English as a verb) and has silently replaced ‘search the internet’.
Opportunity has opened up another type of search, called the ‘Latent Search’.
Latent search occurs when the search text is typed in natural language i.e. how we normally speak (a.k.a. conversational search). Another scenario where latent search thrives is when we aren’t exactly sure if the fact or information we’re searching for even exists.
It seems we subconsciously appease Google Search by using what we perceive as ‘official’ or proper language; it is only when we can’t express ourselves with ‘formal’ or ‘precise’ terminology that we switch to natural language and hope that Google gets us by overlooking our simple English.
Let’s try and explain this with an example: If we had to search for the availability and timing of a particular movie in a theater chain.
On Google Search we’d write – ‘<movie name>, theatre’ (this was done on the basis of words being important in a search and not in the natural order, flippantly referred to ‘Cave-man English’); and hit Go.
Using Latent Search we’d probably be more relaxed and expressive – ‘is <movie name> playing in <name of theater>’ (this would be a correctly strung sentence, which is being referred to as ‘Conversational Search’).
And it seems, that Bing understands Latent Search better than Google does!
People using Siri will already be familiar with this form of native expression. Apple surrendered their earlier partnership with Google to forge new bonds with Microsoft (Bing); and this could well be one of the influencing factors for that change in steeds.
Currently Facebook also uses Bing as their search engine. Facebook has about 1.1 billion registered users with a little more than 480 million users using it daily. A study from comScore point out, that more people spent time on Facebook than they did on Google (a large portion of this time on Google was spent on YouTube).
And there’s a reason for that – people want human-sourced responses/knowledge from people they are connected to or trust, rather than iffy, impersonal (and often non-contextual) responses from a bot. Hence they turn to their friends on Facebook. And Facebook turns to Bing to enable ‘human text’.
Ditto for Siri, who could be face the same instructions/questions from humans who just prefer to be themselves and not struggle to find appropriate ‘official’ or ‘proper’ terms for everything.
Imagine if Facebook and Apple were to join hands and design their search engine(s) collaboratively; it could spell trouble for Google.
Google however has already taken preemptive steps to protect their well earned top spot by reworking their search engine algorithm, called Hummingbird – a change that allows Google to now handle conversational search queries and even searches by images.
Google has rolled this out to their users in a staggered release. If you were not inconvenienced, then it is safe to say that their rollout has been successful.
Given the shift of users and usage – from PCs to Mobile devices, a major shift in customer experience is underfoot.
Insights from the comScore strongly point in that direction too. The comScore study for the US markets points out “The number of smartphone subscribers has increased by 29% from a year ago and by 99% from two years ago”. It also quantifies that “Smartphones customers have exceeded the 125 million mark in the U.S. Further, tablets are now owned by more than 50 million people”.
Research firm, IDC predicts the PC shipments in emerging markets to grow by 0.6% in 2013, and decline in mature markets by 4%, thus spelling an overall decline.
Do read our article on Tablets vs. PCs adoption for some more insight on this shift.
With the world moving to mobile devices, Internet becoming faster and freely available, there has been a sharp increase in mobile media consumption; the search engine needs to be faster and easier to use. The consumers have since silently paved the way for latent search.
The Lumia Amber Software Update Is Here For Windows Phone 8 Users
Here is some good news for all you Lumia Windows Phone 8 users. The Lumia Amber update has began rolling out, which means that you’ll get a notification from Nokia on your phone when it’s ready to go.
The update is currently available for Nokia Lumia 920, 820, and 620 and will soon be available for Nokia Lumia 520 and 720 too.
Here are some of the added functionalities the Amber Update brings to your phone.
The Lumia Amber update improves the camera capabilities across the Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 8 range with better low-light photos, improved auto focus, enhanced noise filter and more. You will get even better shots.
You can now take a sequence of photos with Nokia Smart Camera, and then choose which story you want to tell. Choose your best shot, capture a sequence of motion, put the motion in focus, remove unwanted moving objects or select the best expressions to make great group shots. Download the Nokia Smart Camera app from the Nokia Collection – you’ll find it in the Store on your phone, after the Amber Update.
Nokia Glance Screen returns with the Lumia Amber update. With the Glance Screen, your Lumia doubles as a clock with day and night modes while keeping you up to speed on your battery status. Note that Glance Screen will not be available for Lumia 520.
Another feature, post the update is taken straight from the Samsung Touchwiz Android platform. Now you don’t need to press buttons or swipe the screen to stop your phone from ringing. After the Amber update, you can simply flip your phone over to silence it when someone is calling at an inconvenient time.
Check out this video by Nokia on the new camera features available with Amber.
Windows Phone - Slowly And Steadily Gaining Momentum
BlackBerry down, now onto Apple! Well disabling BlackBerry is one thing, but coming head to head with Apple, thats going to be one slow and long drawn out battle for Windows Phone.
But Windows Phone is clearly on the right path and is gaining momentum slowly and steadily. Ease of use, catering to all price points, and practically no OS fragmentation (kind of like iOS) is making a strong case for the conscious buyer out to buy a smartphone. The interface is clean and easy to understand, so easy, even a novice can figure how to use it in a week at most. Amazing design and build quality coupled with the best cameras in the market is a given with these devices and help tilt the scales in it’s favour.
Flexibility is also a key aspect of designing at Nokia, when it comes to the Lumia range of Windows Phones. Giving the user a choice in things like expandable memory, user replaceable batteries and back panels goes a long way in assuring customers they are creating devices that can stay around for some time to come. A welcome approach, contrary to planned obsolescence followed by some other brands. Not every user changes his device every six months and this is reassuring to users who don’t, at least at the time of sale. What actually happens in the real world is another study for another day.
But this approach in building robust, durable and easily serviceable devices makes a lot of sense to companies as well, most of which turn around their employee smartphones every other year. Windows Phone makes a great business enterprise smartphone. Designed to meet the needs of businesses large and small, Windows Phone 8 closes the gap between what organizations need and what employees want from a smartphone. Not too many customizable features and practically no DNA changing abilities like android devices make it a great smartphone for businesses and keeps the system admins smiling as well.
Many businesses are giving windows phone a serious look when they are in the market looking for enterprise solutions or even switching from their current enterprise solution provider, be it BlackBerry or even Apple. One clear advantage is that you can actually give all your employees differently priced devices, which are all running the same software platform. This cost saving factor comes with other benefits like top notch microsoft security and evergreen office solutions as well as complete integration with the windows operating system running on practically every corporate desk station and notebook. The fact that all employees are on the same system makes things really simple, when it comes to troubleshooting, things get solved faster. To summarize, getting each employee to maximize usage of his phone for work & play is an easy task, if everyone has the same user interface.
Now putting all these factors together, definitely makes a strong case for the Windows Phone that is slowly but steadily moving up up the ladder.
Slow Progress On Windows Phone Affecting Nokia
Released almost a year ago, Microsoft’s Windows 8 Phone made promises to bring something new and innovative to mobile technology.
However nine months later, it seems to have distressed Nokia, one of its leading manufacturers.
Nokia insists futuristic promises aren’t enough. Nokia moved from Symbian platform to Windows; but the move may not be as smooth as they had envisioned. For Nokia, whichever way you cut the mobile platform pie, both Symbian and Windows platforms are lagging by considerable numbers when compared to iOS and Android platforms.
Windows 8 has been competing in the market with other high-end operating systems and lately, upgrades and bug fixes seem to have reached a standstill. This has been a major drawback, setting sales down, not a good sign for an erstwhile market leader trying to hold on to their market place.
Though the last few months have shown a little progress, Microsoft has raised expectations by declaring it’s “Blue Update” (featuring VPN support, better notification center and multitasking) which will reach our handsets by early 2014.
In the immediate future, updates would include small changes such as restoration of the FM radio feature, a data compression app to increase data available for browsing on your phone (will depend on your carrier), and provisions to set a Lens app as your default camera.
User complaints are on the rise and 2014 seems too far away (when we see what the Android and iOS have in store for 2014, the Windows launch may not have all that bang).
Nokia will take things into its own hands. Relying on the “Blue Update” due next year is not an option, as it may jeopardize sales. In an interview with International Business Times, Nokia VP of App development, Bryan Biniak, said that the Finnish smartphone maker is “trying to evolve the cultural thinking [at Microsoft] to say ‘time is of the essence.”
To minimize the losses, Nokia intends to release a software update introducing the energy efficient Bluetooth 4.0. This feature would do well with the line of accessories Nokia plans to release. Rumor has it that this update will reach Lumia 520, Lumia 620, Lumia 720, Lumia 820 and Lumia 920.
To attract more users, updates from Microsoft need to be up and running in due time, or else Nokia may suffer on the Windows Phone front.
Get The Perfect Group Photo With The Nokia Smart Camera!
Nokia has an app called the Nokia Smart Camera which is undoubtedly one of the best camera apps out there.
What makes it different? Well, to begin with, the Smart Camera app includes several imaging features such as Best Shot, Change Faces, Action Shot, Motion Focus and Remove Moving Objects. But its the fundamental functionality behind the app that is its trump card. The Smart Camera shoots a sequence of continuous images out of which you can choose your best shot or apply any other feature.
Here’s an example that’ll resonate with most of you, I’m sure.
You’d agree, when you’re taking a group photo, the probability of everyone looking at the camera and smiling at the perfect time is very, very low. But with the Nokia Smart Camera, when you press the camera shutter key your smartphone captures a series of 10 photos within two and half seconds and then presents you with all the photos for you to scroll through to the Change Faces option. You’ll have 10 different photos of a person’s face, of which you can select the perfect one.
Once you’ve selected the appropriate face it gets put back in to the original photo with absolutely no ‘blending’ issues and no one with ever know the difference!
How cool is that!! Go on, get started with the app and discover a new way of improving your photos, and your memories, of course!
[R]evolution Of The Stylus
Does anyone remember the Stylus any more? No? Let me remind you – and for that, I’ll have to take you back in time.
Believe it or not, when the iPhone wasn’t around, people used to carry bulky PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) running Palm OS or Windows OS on them. While both OS’ were intended for point-and-click interactions, the screen technology (called Resistive Touch) back then didn’t really do well with finger or touch interactions. Hence, every touchscreen device had this little stick (metal or plastic) called the Stylus that was used to register inputs.
Resistive Touch technology works on the basis of contact made to the surface of the touchscreen presses it which then makes contact with another sheet placed right under it, separated by ‘microdots’. On these two sheets are horizontal and vertical lines that when pushed together, register the precise location of the touch. And in order to hit somewhere near precisely on the screen, one needed a pencil-point-sized instrument. Thus, the ever-important stylus.
The Stylus was not only the go-to tool for using your touchscreen device; it even increased the “cool” quotient of your device back then… indicative of “next-gen technology” or The Future.HTC PDA device with Stylus
However, with the debut of the Capacitive Touchscreen technology in mobile phones via Mr. Jobs’ brilliant introduction of the pathbreaking iPhone in 2007, the Stylus was suddenly redundant, and soon, forgotten.
A Capacitive Screen is basically a glass panel coated with a transparent conductive material that relies on touch-input on the surface of the screen via the finger, to trigger an electric field and register input. In simple words, it works on the principle of electric charges. Physically pressing down on the screen was no longer required. This as we all now know from personal experience, it is a much smoother and simpler experience. There’s no need to go hunting for or scrunching down on a stylus all day.
Soon resistive screens like styli, too became redundant technology and capacitive screens were incorporated into every phone, PDA, medical equipment and almost every other form of displays that we interact with nowadays.
With the onset of any new technology, people tend to dismiss all objects associated with what was ‘old’ as rubbish and move on, rather quickly. Give them some more time though, and nostalgia sets in. And remarkable as it is, old becomes fashionable again. Ah, the circle of life…
I was among the many smart phone users who had started secretly craving the Stylus after the dust from the whole touch screen razzmatazz had settled. I missed it – not that I have pudgy fingers or anything. But sometimes the curry, the wet hands and very often, the urge to peck at my phone as it lay at my work desk, instead of having to hold it in my hands (imagine that!) just belied the otherwise convenient touchscreen. I just needed distance from the screen, mainly to safeguard my sophisticated box of (silicon) chips and easily-smudged glass.
Well, the wheel rolled over and the circle was complete. Samsung came out with their Galaxy Note and its ‘S-Pen’, which sold more than 5 million units and almost all the phone-makers-of-the-world turned their collective attention back to the Stylus.
Now we’re onto the third gen of the Note series with Galaxy Note 3 and ‘S-Pen’ thrives – Samsung has optimized features on it, and on their homegrown variant of the Android OS. The number and kinds of things that the S-Pen can do has advanced significantly with the third installment of the Note series. So much so, that even though the Note III impresses customers with its size, features and capabilities, the S-Pen is the most versatile feature of the phone especially with the increased customizability of the Stylus to meet varied user needs.
However (there’s that word again), as with practically everything in the Digital Age, this super stylus requires some power to live up to all that it does. It draws that power wirelessly from the device itself (imagine that!!). Its all quite miraculous, this piece of plastic.
If you think I’m on some hyperbole trip, here are some of the most intriguing functions offered by the S-Pen:
• The Air Command feature lets you access the five most important functions from anywhere within the OS, just by clicking the S-Pen’s button while hovering over the screen,
• Displaying the contents of any app or folder when hovered over with the S-Pen.
• Drawing on the screen with the button pressed lets you clip anything that you’re reading to the clipboard; which then works beautifully with ‘S-Finder’ to help you look through all the content within your device including hand written notes (which also reminds me that the Hand Writing Recognition on this third gen Note is scarily accurate).
Other than this, the S-Pen has a lot more to offer and I believe it’s safe to say that it indeed is a very powerful tool capable of fulfilling expectations of all the creative minds out there, setting the Note III apart from all phones available in the market right now. It is commendable how Samsung has taken up the Stylus and introduced it as the mascot of their Note devices.
Samsung Galaxy Note with its dedicated Stylus [S-Pen] Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with the updated S-Pen
Other giants have also been paying attention to Samsung’s exploits with the stylus and have begun their journeys to revive the stylus with their own styles. HTC came out with its tablet devices, the Flyer and View with a dedicated Stylus each, which it called the ‘Scribe Pen’.
The stylus enabled users to do things like photo editing and drawing with pinpoint accuracy with such ease and simplicity that the Stylus (the modern stylus, of course) was back in the game.
HTC Flyer Tab with the Scribe Pen
Today, the demand for the Stylus is on the rise and there are many third party manufacturers catering to user’s needs by offering universal styli. We have styli for Apple devices too, however their limited use and cost has not made them a popular add-on for iOS devices. Yet.
However having taken a close look at the scenario today, I am not convinced that there are too many brands out there that have actually worked to harness the power of the Stylus. Most are just catching up with the Joneses, doing as they do, dancing as they dance.
With the evident popularity of the Samsung Galaxy Note and its sidekick, the S-Pen, there is a lot of potential for this simple tool to be re-incorporated with mobile devices and molded into something innovative and fresh. Opportunities are limitless, with touchscreen devices clearly being here to stay.