XBOX ONE: Can Microsoft Own the Living Room?

On May 21, Microsoft revealed the next generation of their gaming-cum-entertainment console, Xbox. Dubbed XBOX ONE, officials made it a point to talk up the non-gaming aspects of the new console as much as, if not more than, the gaming aspects. Given that the reveal event was limited to an hour, and that this is a console that has not been updated for years, there were many questions raised than answers provided.

Some of the key questions, at least among the tech media revolve around the gaming aspects of the console, and whether it or the upcoming console from Sony, the Playstation 4 (PS4) would be the better device for gamers. The other aspect that has been questioned a lot is the live TV feature revealed by Microsoft. Eyebrows were raised when everyone realized that the live TV feature would be provided via HDMI input and IR blaster as opposed to TV tuners or cable cards.

This is typical of tech media nowadays. For whatever reason, they make anything that Microsoft does seem silly. Here’s my take on what the Xbox One represents for Microsoft and how some of the things that are in the console may make sense.

First, this was the first of many events where the Xbox team will talk about the various aspects of the console. Naturally, since there is so much information to disseminate, it would be too much to do all at once and in a reasonable amount of time. Remember how the Sony event went on for hours because they went into too much detail at a “launch” event? I think, Microsoft learned the lesson and kept it short and left it simply as a reveal event without going into too much (or any) detail with regard to the developer story, the policy for used games, etc. There are at least two known events in June where they will get a chance to talk about the Xbox One as well as Xbox 360: the E3 expo in early June, and the Microsoft developer conference, BUILD, in late June. The timing of the reveal event absolutely makes sense given that they can follow up on the story within weeks of the reveal.

As for gaming aspects, Microsoft did talk about the specs of the console which are a significant upgrade over the Xbox 360. They also talked about how the three OSes in the console work in a way to make it possible to instantly switch between apps and games without having to wait for the game to reload. Some have rightly pointed out that by pure specs, the Xbox One is inferior to the PS4. However, as we know, there is no point in having a higher spec gadget where the software or content cannot or does not take advantage of the higher spec. For example, the iPad with Retina Display had an issue when it shipped, where many of the popular apps were not Retina-ready and looked worse than they looked on the non-Retina iPads. So, we will have to wait and see how much better the graphics look on the PS4 before concluding that it is “better” than the Xbox One.

As for the games themselves, they showed some of the exclusives that are coming to Xbox One from large development shops like EA. Naturally, E3 is the more appropriate venue to talk more about the games that will be coming to the console when it launches, both from large shops as well as indie developers. Also, BUILD is the best venue to discuss the developer story, especially how Xbox plans to accommodate indie developers especially if the “guts” of the console are based on Windows 8. Can a developer, for example, build an app or a game for Windows 8 tablet and with minor modifications (like maybe Kinect support), publish it to the “Xbox Store”? I am of course making the assumption that there will be an Xbox Store, which has not been confirmed by Microsoft but again, between E3 and BUILD we should know for sure.

Now, regarding live TV and wasted resources (hardware and software) to support it via a combination of HDMI passthrough and IR blaster. The argument made is that these methods are backward and it was tried by Google TV and did not succeed at all. Let me just say that Google TV, among many other flaws, did not support voice like Xbox One is supposed to support. The demo at the reveal event showed how you could simply talk to the Xbox and switch from playing a game to watching a channel or a show just by voice. Google TV had a clunky remote that was really hard to use and perhaps the failure of Google TV was not the IR blaster as maybe the user experience itself.

Coming to the choice they made by not including TV tuners or cable cards, the same pundits complaining about these are also claiming that more and more entertainment is viewed without cable. There is evidence that at least in the US, many households are “cutting the cord” and living without cable. These households have not stopped watching TV, they just use services like Netflix, hulu, etc. to consume their content. If that is the case, and knowing that the Xbox console is built for at least a 7-10 years lifecycle, what is the point in supporting a dying technology? Why should the Xbox have the incremental cost bundled into it now, knowing that in maybe 3 years most of the content won’t be consumed via the cable box? The Xbox One has done the right thing by providing the equivalent of a USB dongle for floppy drives when floppy drives were eliminated from laptops. The HDMI-in and IR blaster will help transition away from the cable box. Even though they have to plan for the future, they still have to support the present and that’s what these ports allow them to do. The only issue I see so far, and we don’t know everything about it in detail yet, is the lack of a DVR in the console itself. That too could be a non-issue if the voice commands could bring up the DVR content from the cable box too.

The Xbox 360 has sold 76 million consoles in its lifetime so far, but I am sure Microsoft wants that to expand dramatically. Why wouldn’t they expect to have one in each household? In order to appeal to “non-gaming households”, Microsoft will have to make the console appealing to the casual gamers and non-gamers via their entertainment story as well as the ecosystem story. There is, after all, a potential to see apps written for Windows Phone that may work on Windows 8 and Xbox One (with code modifications to suit each device appropriately, of course). Pure gaming console market is surely on the decline, so targeting just the gamers by simply making the most powerful console on the market would be a waste of R&D resources. Instead, by making it reasonably competitive with the PS4 for gaming, and dramatically improving the other experiences like live TV, snapping two apps, Skype video conferencing in HD, completely overhauled Kinect with wide-angle 1080P camera that can see in the dark, exclusive partnership with the NFL, etc., Microsoft has a shot at becoming a permanent fixture in the living room.

Personally speaking, I am at best a casual gamer. I liked what I have seen so far. I do want to know how they are going to fit the developer pieces together and what are the chances of seeing a spurt in apps as well as the integration within the Windows ecosystem. By the end of June, I will know enough to decide if I am going to buy the console right away or not.

Are you excited about Xbox One? Sound off in the comments!

Skydrive Updates: Timeline View, Faster Uploads, Thumbnails

On May 13, Omar Shahine announced a collection of updates to SkyDrive on the Inside SkyDrive blog.

The most visible update is of course a new view of your SkyDrive content — Timeline View for photos. With this view, which was going to be rolled out over 48 hours, you can see all your photos across all folders and sub-folders in a timeline view. This is very handy because you may have created many photo albums and if you are looking for a certain picture from a certain time in the past, now it is really easy to click through to find the said picture.

SkyDrive Timeline View
SkyDrive Timeline View

The timeline view allows you to see a general timeline listing and then, by clicking on a month name you can quickly browse through the various months where there are pics in your SkyDrive collection. Clicking on a month name will show all the photos with a timestamp of that month.

SkyDrive Timeline View - Month
SkyDrive Timeline View – Month


In addition, Microsoft also announced that they have improved the performance of the SkyDrive desktop application. They claim, per their internal tests, that the upload times are now 2-3x faster than before.

Another minor update was made to the thumbnail layout in SkyDrive, and also, new support now for PowerPoint and Word files.

SkyDrive Thumbnail Layout
SkyDrive Thumbnail Layout


Finally, related to SkyDrive, earlier they announced that from Windows Phones, the auto-uploading of full-resolution pictures and videos is now going to be possible in all markets and not just the US. It is quite astounding actually, that the auto-upload was not yet in place for most of the world. Anyway, it is better late than never.

It is very clear that the teams are on a rapid release schedule of some sort because we have seen consistent updates from them over the past several months. Now that the transition from hotmail to is complete, I am hoping we will see some key missing features (music support on SkyDrive, video support in the timeline view, etc.) also implemented in short time.

What do you think of the SkyDrive updates?


#XboxReveal: Next Xbox Coming on May 21

As was rumored, Microsoft announced an event on their campus scheduled for May 21, where they promise to talk about the next generation of the Xbox. Larry Hyrb, more popularly known as Xbox LIVE’s Major Nelson, announced the event on his blog.


Timing-wise, it works out very well for Microsoft. They can reveal the console and its capabilities along with the story of how it ties into the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem, especially around Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 in May. This reveal is then followed up 19 days later by the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) where Microsoft traditionally has had a major presence and a big keynote. This is where they show off the games that would accompany the launch, which is widely expected to by this Holiday season.

Finally, at the end of June comes //build, Microsoft’s developer conference where they could tell a deeper story to the rest of the developers (besides the launch partners, which are expected to be big game developer houses) and put the developer pieces together for not just game developers but perhaps all developers. If the rumors are true and the next Xbox is really “Windows 8 Inside”, there could be a lot of possibilities for all kinds of applications to be made available on the large screen. Combined with the power of the next version of Kinect, developers would have a great way to take their code from a Windows Phone 8 app or a Windows 8 app and tweak it for use on a large screen with gestures, voice and indirect touch via SmartGlass.

As for the #XboxReveal event itself, some of the media has been invited to the Xbox campus, but Microsoft is also live streaming the event on, on Xbox LIVE on the console itself and on SpikeTV in the US and Canada. The event is on Tuesday, May 21st at 1pmET/10amPT/1700GMT.

As for the rumors, there have been a ton of them already about the specs of the console and the architecture. Much like Sony’s PS4, the Xbox is believed to be running on AMD architecture. Additionally, a more precise version of Kinect is expected to be on-board. There were initially rumors of an entertainment-only version of the console, to align with Apple TV, Roku and others, but recent updates suggest that it may have been postponed for now.

Among the unknowns of course are what the console looks like (there have been no leaks of the renders), the pricing and of course whether the current Xbox 360 would be kept in the market and if so, at what price.

I am excited about this, but not so much for the gaming on next generation hardware. I am more interested in the non-gaming parts of the next Xbox. How about you?

Use Android? Get the Latest App Update

Android users rejoice, especially if you also use Microsoft announced on April 16 via their Outlook Blog that they have updated their Android app for The update is not an incremental update by any stretch of imagination. It is a complete overhaul, and it looks beautiful. Android app Android app


As you can see above, the first thing that you notice is the overhaul of the user interface. The look is now distinctively “Metro”, looking very much like the Windows Phone and Windows 8 mail apps as also on the web.

Besides the visual changes, some new features were also added to the app. Conversation view for messages is now introduced in the app. In addition, there is also a “mark as junk” label which, I am surprised was left out all this time. Finally, the app now allows for viewing messages by read/unread status and provides the ability to view only flagged messages. Android app contetxtual menu Android app contetxtual menu


It is worth noting that despite Android “supporting” Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol, Microsoft were forced to build their own app for because, as per Microsoft, different versions of Android have different implementations of EAS. In order to provide a consistent experience across devices, it was felt necessary to build a separate app. This seems to fall in line with how Android works, given that their email client is not stellar, and how Google itself has chosen to build a GMail app for its own service.

If you use Hotmail/ and have an Android device, this is a must-have. Download it here.


Images from the Office Blogs. Calendar Finally Gets a Coat of Metro

If you have been using Hotmail/ for email, you would have noticed that the email, contacts and SkyDrive interfaces are all uniform, designed along the Metro principles of letting the content stand out and moving all unnecessary chrome and controls out of the way. One service which was still bearing the old Hotmail/Live look was the Calendar.

The Calendar was left in the old format for some strange reason even after left preview and became “production” recently. One of the early comments made by Microsoft about Calendar was that they observed that most people use the Calendar on mobile devices or via desktop applications and not the website, and hence they prioritized the Calendar update lower.

However, for those who got used to using the web interface (partly because it is so beautiful and functional), started feeling the eyesore that was Calendar. Until April 2.

Over on Office Blogs, David Dennis announced the new Calendar was finally available at Some of the salient features of the new Calendar are:

  • The fresh/modern/Metro design. Finally in line with the email, contacts and storage services.
  • Easier navigation and usage. The web app works much like a desktop application with drag across time periods to create an event, incorporating tasks within the same page as calendar, clicking to add/edit events, etc.
  • If you connect your Microsoft account to Skype, LinkedIn and Facebook, you will automatically see birthdays (and other events) from those services in your calendar.
  • Granular (but easy to use) privacy controls for sharing calendars and parts of calendars.
  • Shared calendars with change notifications, enabling scenarios where parents share calendars and get notified when one or the other changes/adds events. Metro Calendar Metro Calendar

Overall, this is a much-needed and highly delayed change which finally makes the “Windows Services” consisting of email, Calendar, People and SkyDrive appear like a suite of services made by the same company.

There are still some features available in other services like Google Calendar that are missing from Calendar, but here’s hoping that with this “big” update out of the way, the Calendar team will get more resources to focus on adding functionality to the Calendar, and enhancing how it interacts with the rest of the products in the Microsoft portfolio like Bing.

Do you use Hotmail Calendar? Have you been upgraded to the new version? What are your thoughts?


Image courtesy Office Blogs.

Skydrive App Update on iOS Finally Live

On April 3, Mike Torres announced on Windows Blogs that the SkyDrive app for iOS was updated to v3.0 and was available in the iTunes store.

Some of the changes and additions in this update are:

  • Support for iPhone 5 and iPad Mini
  • Updated app icons and user experience
  • Works better with your photos:
    • Download full resolution photos to your iPhone or iPad
    • Control the size of photos you upload and download
    • Photo metadata is retained when you upload to SkyDrive
  • Opening and saving files to SkyDrive works better with other apps on your iOS devices
  • Many other small changes, bug fixes and performance improvements
SkyDrive on iPhone 5
SkyDrive on iPhone 5

Given that the last update to the app was about a year ago, this news is very welcome for those who use SkyDrive.

What was not mentioned in the change log was that the option to buy additional storage on SkyDrive has been removed. This is because as per Apple’s App Store policies, if any app provides such functionality or even a link to their own site, the company has to pay 30% fee to Apple.

In fact, it is widely believed that the app was held back from being released because the negotiations between Microsoft and Apple were not going anywhere. Microsoft was trying to convince Apple that this is a special case and they should not be charged the 30% fee for the functionality. Clearly, Apple did not budge and Microsoft had to remove the link.

However, the silver lining here is now that Microsoft has published the SkyDrive app, we may not be too far away from Office on iOS making its appearance. The generally believed theory among those who watch Microsoft is that Office on iOS (specifically, iPad) is going to be free apps with read-only functionality unless a user has a Office 365 subscription. If they sign in with their Microsoft account tied to the subscription, they will be able to edit the Office files on iPhone and iPad. Given how important the “real” Office is for consumers and enterprises alike, it is natural that Microsoft would not want to pay 30% of the entire Office 365 subscription fee to Apple. Here’s hoping there was a good deal worked out between Cupertino and Redmond so end users like us can finally see Word, Excel, PowerPoint (and wishfully thinking, Outlook) on the iPad.

Do you use SkyDrive? Do you use it on iPhone/iPad? What do you think of the latest update? Let me know!


Image courtesy Microsoft from the Windows Blogs is out of Preview, Said to Have 60 Million Users

In a blog post (and in interviews), Microsoft announced on February 18th that their new webmail service is coming out of preview. Microsoft claims has 60 million users, which makes it the fastest growing service.

In an interview with The Verge, Dharmesh Mehta, Senior Director of said that about a third of users came from GMail. While this number does not include true switchers, it does show that the service did pique the interest of many GMail users. The real success of the service will be determined by how it is able to retain those users who came from GMail, as well as of course attracting users from other services.

Another point made by Mehta was that all the time while was in preview, they were focused on scaling and tuning the performance so that they can handle the loads which would inevitably come when they start migrating existing Hotmail users over to the new service. This is going to start from the 19th and after sending emails and alerting the users, at some point the migration will happen automatically. Microsoft expects this process to complete by the end of summer.

Now that they are out of preview, Mehta said that they will focus on enhancing the features of the service. I look forward to some of the missing pieces in the service like:

  • Calendar: The beautiful interface (inspired by Metro design principles, and made for touch-friendly devices) extends from email, to contacts (People) to SkyDrive. The one service which has not seen the new coat of paint is Calendar and boy does it stick out like a sore thumb. The calendar needs to be updated quickly.
  • 2-factor authentication: When launched in preview mode, the team did some interviews and even a Reddit Ask Me Anything. When asked about 2-factor authentication like GMail and many other services use, the Outlook team said they don’t have it because most normal users don’t use 2-factor authentication because it makes sign in too complex. Instead, they claimed, they have a one-time password that gets sent via SMS, to use when accessing the service at an unknown PC. I don’t think that is a great substitute for 2-factor authentication. If Microsoft feels it is too complex, they should have an equivalent solution so that hackers cannot easily hack into email accounts.
  • Logged in activity: Continuing with the security trend, GMail also offers a nice snippet of IP addresses which are logged in to the GMail account at any given time, with the feature to remotely log any of those connections out. There is no such feature in Another very nice feature available in GMail is a notification upon login that there was activity from places like China on the GMail account, potentially signalling an impending hacking attack. These days, it is better to have such measures in place than regret a hacking later, so it would be very nice if can adopt some of these security features in the service.
  • Spam filtering: While’s spam filter is great, I am not a big fan of blocking senders to mark an email as spam. This is especially true when there is a limit on how many senders can be in the blocked sender list. Instead, a message should be marked as spam and the anti-spam engine can then make an intelligent guess about the sender *and* the content of the message for future use. Similarly, moving a message to the Junk folder should trigger the same action as marking a message as Junk does, and that is not happening today.
  • Mobile apps – “Send email as”: What I love about among many other things, is the ability to collect emails from multiple accounts and use it as the only email service. On the web, I am able to decide which of the email addresses I want to use to send messages from, but that is not true with mobile apps. Even on Windows Phone, the email app is unable to send a message from a sender which is different from my account. Hence, when I want to send a message from my GMail address via my phone, I am unable to. I know part of this problem lies with the Windows Phone team, but since and Windows Phone are both from the same “team”, I as a user of both those services should expect things to just work. They don’t.

Let’s see how quickly these (and other) features get included in the service. I am looking forward to the massive marketing campaign for the service that is about the start soon. Unlike the negative Scroogled campaign, this one seems to target all the things that are great about, which is always a nice way to get your message out. See some of the upcoming ads below.

This one talks about Sweep feature:

This one is “Get Going”:

Microsoft’s Surface Pro “Sold Out”

Microsoft made its new member of the Surface family, Surface Windows 8 Pro, available for sale starting February 9, 2013. The Surface Pro, as I would like to call it, is being sold via Microsoft’s online store, their few retail stores and Best Buy and Staples retail stores.

Within hours, news started rolling in of the 128GB model going “out of stock”. The 64GB was available in most places, but the higher-end model was showing no stock at most of the retailers.

What does it mean? Unfortunately, besides the simple math of demand being more than the supply, nothing. The supply was not enough to keep up with the demand, which for a robust manufacturing organization means a supply chain disaster. How can a company botch supply on launch day? It is the one day the company gets to be in the press more than any other day, at least from that product’s standpoint, and they are unable to fulfil demand.

However, despite their keyboards and mice, as well as their Xbox and now Surface RT, I don’t consider Microsoft a “robust manufacturing company”. Also, the Surface Pro is not a run-of-the-mill product, or an iteration of an existing product. It has a complex screen and specialized materials. There very well could be issues in larger scale manufacturing of those components. In fact, after promising that the Surface Pro would be released about 90 days after the Surface RT, Microsoft ended up releasing the former about 2 weeks later. That hints at a possible issue (or a set of issues) they may have faced during the manufacturing.

There were also anecdotes from individuals going to or calling retail stores in their area and finding out that the stock at these stores was in many cases in single digits. While those are still anecdotes, it is worthwhile to remember that the stock is ordered by the store, and not by Microsoft. Regardless, the customer experience ended up being bad because they could not buy the product they wanted to.

However, not all is lost as long as Microsoft can ramp up quickly. If they replenish stocks quick enough and take advantage of the momentum they have unexpectedly received, it may end up working in their favour. These enthusiastic customers will show off their shiny new toy to their friends and family and perhaps create a few more customers out of them.

Here is where Microsoft will have to learn what Apple has mastered — pre-production capital expenses to fulfil the demand expected at launch, accurately predicting launch day demand, and most importantly, making sure more markets are served at launch and soon after, than the previous launches.

In some ways, this situation is better than the opposite situation, which is Microsoft and its retail partners stock a ton of units and no one wants to buy them. At least at this point it does seem like there is unmet demand for the product. It is for Microsoft to ramp up and ensure that their next Surface family member has even better launch day balance between supply and demand.