Category Archives: Microsoft

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.

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.

Microsoft Loses Word Patent Battle

The Canadian company i4i has won its patent battle against software giant, Microsoft. On Thursday, the US Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions stating that Microsoft Word is an infringing product and has ordered Microsoft to pay over $290m in damages to i4i.

Steve Ballmer

In 2007, i4i filed a case against Microsoft, claiming that the Word applications violated patent rights it held to Custom XML technology. And in December 2009, the US Courts found Microsoft guilty and ordered Microsoft to pay over $290 million in damages to i4i and directed Microsoft to stop selling versions of Word from January 2010.

Though Microsoft stopped selling versions of Word as per courts’ orders, it challenged the verdict and appealed in the US Supreme Court in August 2010, stating that a jury should determine a patent’s validity by a “preponderance evidence” instead of “clear and convincing evidence” standard instructed by the judge.

However, the Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions. Microsoft said it wanted a new trial, but the justices ruled against Microsoft.

Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, said: “Microsoft tried to gut the value of patents by introducing a lower standard for invalidating patents. It is now 100% clear that you can only invalidate a patent based on ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.”

Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz stated: “While the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we will continue to advocate for changes to the law that will prevent abuse of the patent system and protect inventors who hold patents representing true innovation,”

The patent No. 5,787,449, issued in July 1998

[via]

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

[Video] Metro Windows 8 User Interface Demonstrated By Microsoft

While Sinofsky is talking at D9, Microsoft’s PR is back to doing what they do best – show new stuff while it is being announced to distract and kill the buzz. Here’s a Microsoft engineer demonstrating the Zune/WP7 inspired tiled interface known as Metro.

The interface is fluid, shows a weather app and Microsoft calls switching between apps as “Snap” (it’s like the snap in Windows 7 but works with fingers.) Microsoft has disabled embedding for some weird reason but here’s the video:

Windows App Store Official

We’ve known about Microsoft planning a Windows App Store to distribute desktop apps. The rumors began before Apple announced their App Store for Mac. The Windows App Store is expected to debut with Windows 8 and at the currently ongoing Sinfosky interview at the annual All Things D  conference, an image shared by This Is My Next has confirmed the Store and the icon.

This is the first time Microsoft is showing their metro based Windows 8 interface to the public:

Microsoft has already applied to trademark the icon. Here’s the trademark image:

More details on Windows 8 will follow.

Update:

Here’s a higher resolution image of the Metro based Windows 8 (for tablet) interface (Courtesy ATD):

Connector Design Hints At New Mobile Device From Microsoft?

The rumors about an Xbox branded mobile entertainment device as successor to the Zune HD while competing with Apple’s iPod and Sony’s Playstation are growing. A month ago I spotted Microsoft filing for three trademarks:

  • Fusion Vault
  • Fusion Sentient
  • Fusion Genesis

These three trademarks had computer game software as their description. Microsoft enthusiasts have found that Microsoft owns the domain name XboxFusion.com which has led many to believe that Microsoft might be either announcing:

  • Xbox Fusion as their new portable device, or
  • Xbox Fusion will be the  amalgamation of Zune services and Xbox LIVE.

In my opinion, Fusion is most likely a game. As excited I would be to see Microsoft announce a new mobile entertainment device before Apple announcing their next iPod line up, I am sceptical. However, my patent findings show a new connector design from Microsoft. The connector looks different from what the Zune HD has and was filed in May 2010, indicating that it is a recent design. Here’s a comparison of the new connector and the Zune HD connector:

 

Zune HD connector (image courtesy eforbuy.com)

The size of the male and female ports leads me to believe that the connector is meant for mobile device. Maybe we will see a new mobile entertainment device from Microsoft called Xbox Fusion with three exclusive game titles called Vault, Genesis and Sentient?

 

[Images] Microsoft Did Plan A Zune Nano

There is a lot of talk about the fact that Microsoft is not talking a lot about Zune these days. Rumors that Microsoft will be phasing out the brand started a while back and off late have been  strengthened by more rumors that Zune will be merged with Xbox LIVE and Windows Live. Microsoft has, on more than one  occasion, said that Windows Phone 7 is their new Zune. The company has not introduced a new iteration to the Zune HD even though ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reported that Microsoft was internally working on a Zune HD2.

Going through some patent documents, I came across a design patent for what looks like Microsoft’s competitor to the iPod Nano:

Unfortunately, I don’t think we will be seeing another Zune player.

Windows Phone 7 Mango Facebook Check In Integration

At Microsoft’s VIP event for the press several consumer focused features in the upcoming mango update were demonstrated. The event had representatives from the company with prototype devices running the unfinished update on display. The Facebook integration in Windows Phone has been one of the praised features of the phone and with Mango, the integration will include ability to check in using Facebook Places.

The Me tile in the current build of WP7 allows you to update your Facebook & Windows Live status and read your previous updates. In Mango, the tile will be a lot more useful by allowing the user to change their IM (Facebook chat & Windows Live Messenger) status, update their social network status (Facebook & Windows Live) and check in into Facebook Places.

As of now, Twitter integration will be limited to the People Hub, allowing users to read Twitter updates shared by contacts. One of the representatives at the event suggested that Twitter will come back into Windows Live which might allow us to update our Twitter messages from the Me tile too.

Here’s the screenshot of the Me tile in Mango:

Intel Chief Spills Windows 8 Details. Confirms Speculations

Just when the Windows 8 news started to dry up, Intel Software chief Renee James speaking to Bloomberg’s Dina Bass has provided us details to what Microsoft is planning. Quite a while back I had speculated that the two interfaces strategy Microsoft is planning, is a tablet play and keeps the desktop and tablet aligned, yet different.

Renee James has confirmed the following:

  • Microsoft planning multiple versions of next Windows OS
  • there will be a Windows 8 version optimized for tablet/mobile that will come in x86 and ARM versions.
  • there are 4 versions of Windows 8 for ARM chips. ARM Windows won’t run legacy apps but x86 will

The strategy ensures that all versions of Windows 8 have a different USP. Point 2 and 3 point that, Windows 8 ARM will be optimized for tablets but won’t be able to run legacy apps, at the same time there will be a x86 version that will be able to run them. My second speculation was that enterprise is one of the reasons why Microsoft wants to have Windows on tablets, for legacy support.

With this strategy, Microsoft has the enterprise and consumer market covered with Windows 8. Master stroke, Microsoft.

Source: @dinabass (1), (2), (3)

(Feature Round-up) Windows Phone 7 Mango: As Delicious As The Fruit

If with Windows Phone 7, people were skeptical about Microsoft’s long term plans for the mobile market, the Nokia and Skype deals prove Microsoft’s commitment. Everyone I show my Windows Phone 7 device to, seems to love it. A few concerns are raised but the first impression is positive. For all the flack the team has been getting regarding the missing features, there is no doubt that they are working their butts off. The next major upgrade to the platform called Mango is making news since it makes the phone an integral part of daily computing. There are a ton of new features that will allow the platform to compete with Android and iOS on features.

Here’s a list of features in addition to Twitter and Kinect Integration, IE9 (with HTML5) and Multitasking that we know are coming as part of the Mango update:

Tweaks:

  • Toggle Camera shutter sound off/on

The camera shutter sound wouldn’t turn off even if the phone was turned to silent which was a real annoyance for me. With a clear toggle switch, I can now have some fun.

camera-sound-off

  • Bing Maps rotating with direction

Coupled with Turn by Turn navigation and Nokia’s NavTeq technology, Bing Maps will definitely become a USP for the phone. In Mango, we will be allowed to choose whether the Maps rotate as we move or always point North.

maps-north-direction

  • Voice to text for Messaging

Microsoft’s TellMe service that powers voice to text on the phone will be extended to reciting messages to the phone.

voice-to-text

Consumer Features:

  • Windows Live and Facebook Chat under Messaging

The lack of an app for Windows Live Messenger was puzzling more so because Microsoft got a third party developer to release what was called as the official app. Enthusiasts hoped Microsoft would integrate the online chat client in the Messaging app and that seems to be the reason why there was no app. In Mango, WP7 Messaging app will have integration with Windows Live and Facebook chat. When considered with Skype integration, Microsoft will now have good leverage against carriers.

facebook-wlm-chat

  • Group Messaging

The ability to group users together and interacting will be added in Mango, whether this will extend to Facebook and Windows Live contacts with one contact being on WLM and the other on Facebook remains to be seen.

group-messaging

  • Now Playing Artist Album Art as Lock Screen

Imagining the album arts on the lock screen of m Samsung’s AMOLED screen make me want to have Mango now!

album-art-lockscreen

  • Zune Smart DJ support

Apple has Genius, Zune has Smart DJ. Smart DJ uses an algorithm to choose what songs will be played next and when used with Zune Pass, you get to listen to songs similar to your tastes but not in your collection, on your phone.

smart-dj

  • SkyDrive Integration in Office Hub

As a Skydrive user, having to download my documents using the browser seems too much work and frustrating since SkyDrive is Microsoft’s product. With Mango, the Office Hub will list SkyDrive as an option to browse Office documents making our lives a lot more convenient.

office-hub

  • Bing Audio for music detection

Shazam, you have competition.

bing1 bing2-shazam-01

bing2-shazam-02 bing2-shazam-03

  • Turn by Turn Navigation

The AT&T Navigation application works quite well but there are two problems with it:

  1. It belongs to AT&T
  2. You have to subscribe to it

In Mango, Microsoft will add Turn by Turn navigation into Bing Maps much like in Android. Microsoft partnership with Nokia will be playing a crucial role in this feature.

maps-turn-by-turn

  • Bing Vision (search using camera)

An exciting feature that will allow you to point your camera at QR codes, Microsoft Tag, Books, CDs and DVDs and search using Bing. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) will be implemented for this and hopefully third party developers will be able to use OCR for their apps.

bing-bar-codes-qr-codes

Enterprise Features:

  • Office 365 integration under Office Hub

Like SkyDrive for consumers, Microsoft’s suite of online productivity Office 365 will be making its way into the Office Hub along with Sharepoint.

  • Lync Messaging Client

Part of the Office 365 suite, a Lync app will be available in WP7 marketplace for download.

lync

  • Conversation view in Outlook

Like the Outlook desktop client, conversation view will be added to the Outlook email client on the phone.

outlook-conversation outlook-thread

  • Pin Outlook folders

The ability to pin particular folders in Outlook will make navigating through emails easier.

With all these features, there is no word on Microsoft’s answer to FaceTime but the Skype announcement said a client for Windows Phone is expected soon. Microsoft will be having a Windows Phone 7 event on the 24th, we should see more details about the phones and platform then.

Sources: WinSuperSite, Windows Phone Dev Podcast (1) & (2), Windows Team Blog, Mango Image

Microsoft Engineers Set WP7 App Coding Benchmarks Pretty High

Windows Phone 7 right now has close to 16,200 applications in the marketplace. According to mobile apps watcher Distimo, at the current growth rate, the WP7 marketplace will have more apps than BlackBerry and Nokia’s app stores in less than a year of launch. When WP7 launched, it came with apps that early adotpers would ask for, namely:

  • Foursquare
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

These apps were borderline decent with basic functions. The first version of Facebook did not have Places, Foursquare’s app was not updated to include Foursquare 3.0 features. However, developers within Microsoft who used these services and  realized  that the development platform for WP7 could implement the missing features took matters in their own hands. As a result we have two beautiful apps that leverage WP7 and the service APIs for feature-rich apps.

Rowi (Twitter client):

Developed by @HumanCompiler and @heskew, Rowi has a paid and free version. The free version is better than the official WP7 twitter app, it has ads though. The paid version ($2.99) includes  push notifications, linked images in tweet and live tile  notifications.

The subtle features in the app are what I love the most. If your WP7 has the dark theme, the starting animation for the app fades into black from white or vice versa if the phone’s theme is white. The app uses the accent color for the tile, twitter handles and the nice upward pointing arrow to show availability of new tweets.

Earlier this week Rowi and the MetroTwit team announced that they will be offering a cloud based sync between the two applications. MetroTwit is a popular Windows PC twitter client that’s designed based on the Metro principles.


(Free)

4th & Mayor (Foursquare client):

A few days back the official Foursquare client for WP7 was removed and users were redirected to @jeffwilcox’s 4th & Mayor. A stamp of validation for the app that it is indeed the best Foursquare client for WP7 as of now. The first run for the application has a gorgeous animation which disappointingly can’t be revisited. The application has all features available in the official Foursquare iPhone application including:

  • Uploading venue photos
  • Explore
  • Specials
  • Commenting on check ins
  • Adding tips

 

The  developers  for both apps have done an amazing job on designing around the Metro theme, showcased the developer tools capabilities and made use of WP7 capabilities. Hoepfully, more developers work on coming up with applications equally good.

PS: Websites for both these applications are well designed as well.

WP7 Sent To The Cloud, Then Sends Data To Microsoft’s Cloud

A UK based start up company – Segoz, part of the Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft (ASTRA) group decided to send a Windows Phone 7 device into the Stratosphere to gather data useful for research.

A custom application on the phone gathered location data using GPS and using GSM network transmitted this to Windows Azure. The setup allowed scientists to predict trajectories for different pay loads and helium gas in the balloon.  An excerpt from the project’s description page explains the project:

The Windows Azure workers are used to calculate predicted landing sites,  based on factors such as  payload weight and atmospheric conditions,  for various helium quantities.   Once a landing site has been chosen and the flight commenced, the Azure workers update the predicted trajectory based on updated location information  received from  a Windows Phone 7 device within the payload. The latest predicted landing sites are automatically sent out to the balloon followers.

The device was sent as high as a Concorde flight, which according to Wikipedia is 60,039 ft and survived the atmospheric conditions. Based on the image, the device is either the HTC Mozart or the Trophy. Here’s a video on the experiment:

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