Tablet Edition of PowerPoint & The Future of Presentations

I’ve been slacking in my Microsoft patent coverage and a weekend of nothing interesting made me go back to the bookmarked applications. I tweeted about this when I came across it and believe that it is indeed the obvious future of boardroom presentations. Controlling PowerPoint or Keynote with phones is passé given that we could simply navigate through presentations with voice or gestures. A Kinect hack already exists leveraging the Xbox Kinect with a Windows PC allowing you to control presentation Minority Report style. Now, Microsoft has patented an implementation which signals addition of this in PowerPoint natively or through a plugin. Microsoft has applied for more than one patents on making presentations a lot more interactive. Manipulating visualizations with (finger) touch and hands-free (Kinect) control of presentations are explained. The two patent applications don’t complement each other but cater to different use cases.

The first application explains how a user can choose data and intuitively turn into charts using touch. The application further highlights ability to change graph types used to represent the data. The claims put into perspective how Microsoft sees presentations being done on a tablet (10Windows 8 touch screen device). The user will be able to circle a bar graph with his pointer finger and the damn thing will turn into a pie chart that’s pretty wicked. Move your finger over a bar graph and turn it into a line chart! One of the images shows circling a single bar on the chart and a pop-up with statistics about the particular bar shows up.

graphs-01

graphs-02

Windows 8 and Office on a tablet now sound a lot more exciting, right?

The second application is simply Kinect’s gesture brought into PowerPoint. While it seems straightforward, the applications details an implementation where the people in the room will be tagged as:

  • Primary user
  • Secondary user
  • Observer

The point in tagging users in the room is to allow collaboration. Some excerpts from the patent:

The gestures may control a variety of aspects of the gesture-based system. The gestures may control anything display on a screen, such as adding words to a document, scrolling down, or paging through a document, spanning a column in a spreadsheet, pivoting or rotating a three-dimensional figure, zoom in or out, or the like.

Any computing environment networked in the same gesture-based system may therefore process captured data from any number of capture devices also networked in the gesture-based system.

The gestures may incorporate audio commands or audio commands may supplement the user’s gestures. For example, the user may gesture to add a bullet to a document and then speak words that are then added to the document, following the bullet point. The system may recognize the combination of the gesture to add a bullet and the audio as a control to add the bullet and then write the spoken words to follow the bullet.

gesture

The application refers to an older patent I came across where a user’s customized gestures will be stored and available over a network thereby enabling a user to feel comfortable while interacting with the system.

Patent 1

Patent 2

Microsoft’s Secret Dual-Screen Phone Concept

For those who’ve been following  Microsoft  closely might recollect the translucent dual screen phone shown in the  awe-inspiring  Office Labs Vision 2019 video. Last year I came across a patent application where Microsoft described the concept . In another application I found months before the details on the phone shown in the Office Labs video showed a dual screen translucent remote that showed buttons based on which side was facing upwards.

These two patents bring me to a new application on dual screen phones. While I’m not optimistic that we will be seeing this particular hardware anytime soon, especially from Microsoft, it shows how a translucent dual screen phone with one side being able to change buttons dynamically can take us into the future. This application shows  possibilities  similar to the one presented by the one shown by Office Labs.

Here are some images from the patent application:

Having springs and hinges in a phone isn’t the best hardware design. Too many moving parts, screens and keyboards go loose & the phones are heavy.

Patent

11 Neat Features In Windows Phone 7 Mango

Steve Ballmer announced that Mango will have over 500 new features and we’ve seen quite a few of those. Having played around with Windows Phone 7 Mango for more than 24 hours I’ve found the beta release to be stable and pretty functional. There have been lengthy reviews of the update and I won’t be getting into that. I will however share a list of my top additions (or tweaks) in the upcoming update. Here are 11 that complement the features linked above:

Call Log (History):

I stumbled on this when I was at a bar and looking at a friend’s profile only to realize that I hadn’t seen such a comprehensive (and clean) log of contact activity. Divided by weeks, the log displays SMS, email and call activity with ability to see more activity with synced email accounts like Google or Outlook.

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Conversation View

My inbox used to be filled with 20+ emails when I turned my data connection ON and it used to be annoying to manual delete each email in a thread I am not interested in. Not anymore. Threaded mail or conversation view is a feature I would like to thank the overlords in Redmond for.

PS: Linked Inboxes isn’t in my list since I’ve got only three mailboxes that I follow.

Battery Saver

Windows Phone 7 did not show a lot of statistics and it felt incomplete. In Mango, Microsoft has introduced a new feature that shows you how long (time) your battery will last and also an option to initiate a battery saver mode when the battery is low. The battery saver mode turns the following services off:

  • Push Email
  • WiFi
  • Background Applications

The well thought-out tweak under Battery Saver is the control allowing us to initiate battery saver whenever we want to till the phone is connected to a power source. While I am not sure what is battery low but I guess when remaining life is around 20%.

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Switch between SMS and Facebook chat

It is one those attention to detail features that as users we want. All text conversation threads with friends now have an icon at the bottom that allows us to quickly switch between SMS or IM. If the user is listed as online we can have a IM conversation. Unfortunately, we can’t send a private Facebook message if the user is offline. Nevertheless, the seamless switching between Facebook chat & SMS is fun!

IM-switch IM-switch2

Facebook Notifications

As I wrote earlier, with Mango the Me tile has become a lot more useful. The tile allows users to set their IM status, update their social status and check in using Facebook Places. The tile also lists Facebook notifications, coupled with push notifications introduced in the Facebook app, being able to glance at the latest notifications within the phone is handy.

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Bing Local Scout & Music Search

Apps like Foursquare (Explore) and Yelp are quite handy to know what’s happening around your location but with Mango, Microsoft has built this functionality into Bing. In a feature named Scout, Bing lists the following:

  • Restaurants
  • Shopping locations
  • Local activates
  • Highlights

I will be doing a more detailed look into Scout in the coming days.

The other addition to Bing on WP7 is a Shazam-killer. A few weeks back, Shazam introduced a paid version of their popular music search app for WP7 and crippled the free version. As a user I was annoyed, not anymore. Microsoft has introduced Shazam-like feature in Bing and it works splendidly well! With Bing’s music search, a user can directly buy identified song from the Zune marketplace or go through his scanned music history later.

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Facebook Events Integration

Windows Phone 7 syncs calendars from all email accounts but for all the Facebook integration, it did not sync Facebook Events. This changed in Mango. While I am not a heavy user of Facebook events, the reason I find this feature pretty damn cool is because now I can see all my Facebook friends’ birthdays as calendar entries on the phone.

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Background Tasks

As a Windows users, the Task Manager is a feature I love. I like to know what processes are running in the background and what is the resource usage like. With Multitasking being introduced in Mango, a Task Manager to know the tasks running in the background and probably kill them if needed is crucial. While I haven’t been able to test it as yet, since there are no apps currently in the marketplace that can run in background, I’ve added this as a worth mentioning addition.

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Now Playing Lock Screen

Till NoDo, the lock screen showed the wallpaper with notifications about new messages and calendar entries. To control the currently playing songs one had to press the volume buttons. In Mango however, the lock screen turns into a whole new level of awesome. If there is album art for the currently playing artist, the lock screen wallpaper will be replaced with gorgeous images from Zune with big play/pause control buttons.

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Share Links from IE to Social Networks

In iOS 5, Apple has introduced deeper Twitter integration with users being able to tweet images and links from within the Safari and camera roll. You will be able to do it in Windows Phone 7 too. As of now, you can share links on LinkedIn, Facebook and Windows Live. With the expected Twitter integration I expect Twitter being added to the social networks.

PS: I would like to see this Social Networks share option under Pictures and even in the marketplace.

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Autofix Pictures

In NoDo, options under images showed an entry called Extras that allowed third party apps to list themselves for interaction with the images. I was able to open an image in Thumba Photo Editor and edit the image or tweet the picture using the TwitPic app, in Mango this option isn’t there (I assume it’ll be back). Meanwhile, a new option has been  introduced under image menu called Auto-Fix. This is a quick image editing option that applies certain basic fixes to the image such as hue, saturation etc. It does seem to work; before/after images below:

before after

Unfortunately, the edited image isn’t stored as a separate image, so once fixed there’s no undo.

Next time I’m in Redmond I would like to take the guys behind these features for a drink, they’ve made Mango pretty damn useful to me.

Sneak Peek At Facebook’s Upcoming UI

Facebook is expected to make some “awesome” announcements soon. While not a lot is known about what Mark Zuckerberg and team will unveil, news doing rounds is a new iPad app and music service. Browsing through Facebook a couple of minutes ago I came across what seems to be a new update to Facebook’s interface.

The chat box on the right now is extended to the top of the screen with the upper half being a real time update firehose. Links, likes, comments, all your friends’ activities are keep showing as they happen. The second of the sidebar is the chat box. The friend list at the left bottom has been removed and I find it funny since right now I can only see around 9 friends listed in the chat box, at any given time of the day there are more 30 friends online for me to chat with. Here’s the screenshot:

(The box in the upper right corner is a scroll bar.)

The new Gmail and Google+ UI looks refreshing but  I’m not sold on Google+ just yet.

Sea Ray Might Explain Nokia & Microsoft’s Special Relationship

When Stephen Elop demonstrated the Nokia N9, I was excited. That hardware powered by Windows Phone 7 would’ve been a great product, lo and behold, in a staged/controlled/uncontrolled/accidental leak we now have a modified Nokia N9 running Windows Phone 7 as a product.

The N9 has been modified by adding a dedicated camera button on the side and the positioning of the flash. Nokia N9 has a front camera and supports NFC. Both these features are part of Android and the iPhone but missing from Windows Phone 7 devices. Stephen Elop has been talking about a special relationship between Microsoft & Nokia with Nokia being able to offer differentiating options. Elop was clear that Nokia’s first WP7 devices will be running Mango.

The video doing rounds doesn’t show the full device and there is significant space next to the front camera for the 3 WP7 buttons. NFC based devices from Nokia could be a compelling feature in Nokia’s handsets.

A front camera and NFC support along with all that Mango is already known to add, Microsoft won’t be playing catch-up any more.

Some Thoughts On Bitcoin And Why I’m Staying Away

Over the past few weeks I’ve been hearing a lot about a new virtual currency called Bitcoin. It is considered to be the future of money, if not now, sometime in the foreseeable future. Stephen Chapman has done an excellent introductory article explaining what Bitcoin is. I’ll try to do a summary:

  • Bitcoin is virtual, no hard cash
  • There is no central authority
  • Total amount of Bitcoin currency is $21Million
  • Bitcoin has a stock exchange like conversion where the worth of a Bitcoin in terms of $ keeps fluctuating
  • Users can buy goods (from the offline world) with Bitcoins and also use it as a barter system commodity
  • Bitcoin is open source and has a sophisticated algorithm
  • Users install the Bitcoin software on powerful computers to mine Bitcoins (compute the algo)
  • A laptop can take upto 5 years or more to complete one cycle of mining – that’s 20 Bitcoins

That’s a brief overview of Bitcoin, to get a better grasp you should read the article I’ve linked above. As an enthusiast and early adopter I find Bitcoin intriguing and as someone who liked PayPal before the governments decided to limit the service, Bitcoin sounds interesting. Unfortunately, as I read more about Bitcoin I’ve become more  sceptical  about the service. Here’s why:

  • You lose control of your PC, you lose your Bitcoins
  • People with powerful PCs will have more Bitcoins and the service has a huge first-mover advantage
  • Bitcoin index is volatile

My biggest concern is the first point. One of the engineers associated with Bitcoin says you can lose money from a bank too, but here’s the thing… if I keep my money in a bank, the bank is liable for security. Not me. Even if you don’t lose physical access to the PC, for a trojan to access your Bitcoin wallet and take your Bitcoins, it’s possible. Strong passwords is a practice but in a service like Bitcoin who do you go to since there is no central authority? I can call my banks if I realize someone hacked into my account or stole my credit card.

If I have multiple PCs with multiple GPUs to mine for Bitcoins, I’ll have to be rich with real cash to buy such computing power. This probably the only light at the end of the tunnel, even if Bitcoin tanks and you lose your Bitcoins, you still have your hardware. I believe this nerd excitement is getting Bitcoin the attention it has right now.

Like any currency conversion, Bitcoin’s value keeps fluctuating but my hesitation is due to Bitcoin being a secondary index. In case the dollar sees major fluctuation due to any reason, Bitcoin is affected. In a way, there’s a new scale added that can impact my wealth. This volatility was evident when Bitcoin’s value tanked on reports of Mt.Gox – a Bitcoin exchange, being hacked.

From what I understand, the number of Bitcoins will remain the same after a point which in turn increases their exclusivity. This exclusivity bothers me. It reminds me of the Tulip Mania of 1600 where the prices of Tulip bulbs  sky-rocketed  due to people’s craze for Tulips and then suddenly crashed for a variety of reason. This is regarded as among the first economic bubbles.

A thread on the Bitcoin forums highlights some more flaws in Bitcoin’s model.

I am probably a little more sceptical when it comes to money, I don’t have a lot. Bitcoin’s model as of now does not make me comfortable and I believe it is not ready to be used widely. PayPal offered money transaction with banks not being involved, it was easier and simpler for me as a user. I had more control over my money and there were transaction flexibilities. I’d rather have governments giving PayPal a break over Bitcoin.

Microsoft Gets Serious About Consumer Cloud Services, Buys Skydrive.com

While most of the coverage around iCloud has been how Microsoft is slow in reacting and has lost another race, not a lot of pundits point out the fact that Microsoft has been offering most of the iCloud features for a fairly long time. Microsoft introduced SkyDrive a few years ago and over time the service has become the backbone for Microsoft’s consumer cloud services.

Till yesterday, SkyDrive was a sub domain under Live.com (skydrive.live.com) and skydrive.com was owned by an auto company. WhoIs records show that the record was last updated on the May 11, 2011 and now skydrive.com redirects to a Live user’s SkyDrive account. SkyDrive’s integration with Windows Phone 7 in the upcoming Mango update will include:

  • Uploading videos from the phone to SkyDrive
  • Documents stored on SkyDrive will be listed in the Office hub
  • Search SkyDrive
  • Sharing images stored on SkyDrive via email or text

SkyDrive and Live Mesh are two of Microsoft’s best product names in my opinion. SkyDrive’s importance in Microsoft’s consumer cloud  strategy  became evident when the new logo was unveiled and Microsoft integrated Office Live in to SkyDrive. It was intriguing as to why Microsoft had not purchased the domain. Looks like Apple’s iCloud made Microsoft shell out the cash!

Update: A little more searching and digging led me to a huge list shared by the Frager Factor, the list includes region specific SkyDrive domains, possible miss-typed redirects and even WindowsLiveDrive domains (.com,.net and .org). Here are some of the domains:

  • windowslivedrive.com
  • windowslivedrive.mobi
  • windowslivedrive.net
  • windowslivedrive.org
  • windowslivemedia.com
  • skydrivefolders.com
  • skydrivespace.com
  • skydrivestorage.com
  • skydrivesync.com
  • msnskydrive.com
  • skrdrive.com
  • skudrive.com
  • skydirve.com
  • skydriv.com
  • windowslivevoice.com

NUAds: Microsoft’s Interactive Ad Platform For Xbox Kinect

Advertisements are a major source for revenues and one would expect ads to evolve with the platform they are being served on. Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect is about body gestures and voice, like iOS is about touch. For iOS, Apple introduced iAds, an advertising platform for app developers to create apps that offer an interactive and beautiful experience for the user. Similarly, Microsoft seems to be planning their own advertising platform for the Xbox that will leverage Kinect’s capabilities.

Called NUAds, which I assume could mean Natural User Ads (NUI or Natural User Interface is something Microsoft has been talking about for quite a while.) A recent trademark application filed by Microsoft explains what NUAds is:

Advertising services, namely, promoting and marketing the goods and services of others through online interactive video games by enabling consumers to interact with third-party advertising content through voice or body gestures via computer game console and sensor devices

As the description explains, NUAds will be in-game advertisements where the user can interact with the products or features being advertised using Kinect’s body tracking and voice control. Even though a lot of us don’t like ads interrupting  our activities, adding gesture control could change the experience.

Microsoft will be having some policies on how game publishers will be using NUAds and we shall share more information as we get it.

This is the future of advertisements, Minority Report style.

Xbox 360 To Store Saved Games On The Cloud

A lot was showed during Microsoft’s E3 keynote and as it turns out, some of it was left out too. Director of Programming in the Xbox team, Larry Hryb shared on his blog two features to be introduced in Xbox that weren’t talked about on stage at E3. One feature is about adding social to gaming and the other is making it easier for gamers to access their data.

Cloud Storage

Xbox 360 will be storing saved games on the cloud making it easier for a gamer to continue his game when he is not on his console. The fine print on the service is unclear but I would assume that this will be part of the Xbox LIVE Diamond or Gold subscription. It could even be free for all users. Currently, users have to save their data on the Xbox HDD or a portable drive, with cloud storage, the need for physical storage has been reduced.

Cloud storage will allow users to sync their Xbox profile including  Microsoft Points, achievements and friends.

Beacons

A new social element added to the Xbox 360 gaming experience makes it easier for gamers to tell their friends what game they would like play. Larry explains Beacons as:

Beacons are a way to tell your Xbox LIVE and Facebook friends that you want to play a game on Xbox LIVE. By setting a Beacon, you tell Xbox LIVE what you want to play. Then, Xbox LIVE lets you know when friends are playing or want to play the same game. With Beacons, no matter what you’re currently doing on Xbox LIVE your friends know that it’s ok to ask you to play your Beaconed games.

via GeekWire

Xbox 360 To Get Voice Control, Bing, YouTube, Tiles & Live TV

At their E3 keynote, Microsoft introduced a major update to the Xbox 360 dashboard. The update includes a new interface and deeper Kinect integration.

Metro UI

The dashboard now looks a lot more like Zune with tiles and navigation categories at the top. The Metro UI is now part of Windows 8 (tablet), Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox. The live tiles are updated with relevant information.

Bing

Microsoft’ s decision engine is slowly becoming an integral part of the company’s product portfolio. Bing is an important feature in Windows phone 7 and today  Microsoft  integrated Bing’s search capabilities in Xbox 360. The Bing interface on the Xbox is elegant and coupled with voice control, searching your catalog and the Internet looks fun.

With Bing, a user can search within apps like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Xbox  LIVE  Marketplace to find relevant entertainment content.

Voice Control

With Kinect integration, Microsoft has now enabled voice control throughout the Xbox. Voice commands can be used with Bing to search within apps for content.

Live TV and YouTube

Microsoft has promised subscription based TV services starting this fall in the US. Currently,  Microsoft  has partnered with Sky TV in the UK, FoxTel in Australia and Canal+ in France for live television in the respective countries. In addition to subscription based local TV content, Microsoft will be streaming martial fights under Ultimate Fighting Championship and feature some exclusive UFC videos.

Microsoft has been able to strike a deal with Google to bring YouTube to the Xbox 360. This allows users to access the huge  repertoire  of videos on the website using voice control in their living room. Looks like Google just lost a reason to sell Google TVs.

Miscellaneous

As spotted by Tom Warren, the dashboard update has an apps section with Marketplace. The apps are the currently available third party services integrated in Xbox. As the people at This Is My Next noticed, live TV has a tile named My DVR.

Images courtesy This Is My Next and Microsoft PR