Skype Translator, the near real-time translation feature in Skype, which was announced in May and for which the preview sign up started in November of 2014, is now available. Those who signed up for the preview back in November, and those who are on Windows 8.1 (or Windows 10 Technical Preview), can now voice and video chat in English and Spanish in close to real time.
In addition to the voice translation between English and Spanish, more than 40 languages are available for IM conversations. A sample video provided by Skype:
Per Microsoft, this is a project that has been over ten years in the making:
Skype Translator is a great example of the benefit of Microsoft’s investment in research. We’ve invested in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for more than a decade, and now they’re emerging as important components in this more personal computing era. Skype Translator is the most recent and visible example.
On the Skype Garage blog, they explain how the Skype Translator technology works, simplistically:
It is interesting that the blog states how Microsoft has learnt colloquial language usage by being the translation service for social media sites like Facebook. It is clear that whatever deal Microsoft made with Facebook and Twitter to supply the translation services on those sites, was not just to be the translation service, but also to learn from the data and improve other products in their portfolio and fine tune products like Skype Translator.
Another nuance mentioned in the blog post is that the translation appears almost as a third person because based on research, they know customers “who are used to speaking through a human interpreter are quickly at ease with the situation”.
Although there will be kinks in the service, this is a bold new product that can truly help break barriers in communication around the world. Also, given that the service relies on machine learning which in turn gets better as there appears more data to work with, Microsoft and Skype urges everyone to try the service and provide feedback.
As 2014 winds down, Windows Phone is at a crucial stage in its lifecycle. Again. Earlier in 2014, Microsoft closed the acquisition of Nokia’s hardware division and Windows 10 was launched in a Technical Preview form. Nokia’s acquisition, combined with the upcoming Windows 10-based version of the phone operating system, has perhaps resulted in a slight pause in release of true flagship devices that can compete with the latest versions of competing platforms, the iPhone and Android/Nexus lineup.
So, as we look forward to the early 2014 look at the combined Windows RT and Windows Phone OS based on Windows 10, what can Microsoft do to preserve and grow its share, both market share as well as mind share? Recently, some prominent writers have written in detail about why they are no longer using Windows Phone as their primary device. Key takeaways there were lack of proper support of the platform by the largest mobile network in the US, Verizon Wireless, as well as lack of key apps on the platform. Apps that include the likes of Slack, Trello, Snapchat, Tinder, etc.
I have my own reasons why I switched to using iPhone 5s as my primary device last year. I know Windows Phone 8.1 added Notification Center but many of the problems are still valid issues for those who care about top-end Windows Phone experience. For example, adding Action Center to store all notifications is a great start, but in order to take action on those notifications, you have to tap it which opens the app, and then you take action within the app. Android, and now even iOS to a certain extent, have actionable notifications and those need to be implemented on Windows Phone.
The broader issue with Windows Phone is that for the third year in a row, enthusiasts are made to wait for “the next version” for feature parity with iOS and Android. Meanwhile those two platforms, due to the incredible ecosystem which creates a great virtuous cycle, have implemented next-generation features that move the goal posts for Windows Phone. Also, this wait for the next version of Windows Phone only takes care of part of the problem plaguing the platform; app developers are still not flocking to the platform because in the US, where most of the innovative apps have been created in the recent past, Windows Phone is still languishing around the 3% market share. Forget Windows Phone, even choosing Android as the second platform to be supported by small developers, is hard (although that Android situation is changing slowly).
Here are some things to look forward to as yet another chapter opens for Windows phone (yes, the “p” is lower case, because rumors suggest that Windows Phone operating system will be merged with Windows RT and just called Windows 10):
There’s a lot of hope for Windows 10’s ARM-based OS version, the merger of Windows RT and Windows Phone. How will apps built for Windows Phone work on Windows 10? What about additional features in the OS which will create an unforeseen appetite both on the consumer side as well as on the developer side? Cortana has rightly won accolades for how well she works, but it has not moved the needle much for device sales. Granted, it is not fully launched yet, but still. Also, what else can Windows 10 do that iOS and Android don’t do, and more importantly, can Microsoft find something that Windows 10 can do which iOS and Android *won’t* be able to do?
One of the issues I had with Windows Phone when I got my iPhone 5s was the increased (and justifiable) focus by Microsoft on the lower end. They see their best market potential in markets which haven’t achieved smartphone saturation yet. In those markets, Microsoft has been able to sell their entry-level devices quite well. So Microsoft making “affordable flagship” a term for mid-range devices with some high-end specifications is completely understandable.
However, many customers in the developed markets would love to get a true high-end phone that competes well with the flagship iPhone and Android devices. The Lumia 1020, for example, has no successor yet. Yes, the Lumia 1520 is a great phone but there needs to be a non-phablet version of that device to make it appealing to the larger customer base.
Yes, Microsoft did create a bypass of sorts by making it possible for any “developer” to get direct updates of the software from Microsoft. Pretty much anyone can sign up to be a “developer” by signing into App Studio online, thereby making sure any enthusiast who cares about latest OS versions, will get it directly from Microsoft. That has helped reduce the angst among the enthusiasts but it is only one part of the updates customers need; firmware that makes devices work better, is delivered by the OEMs and via the carriers. Carriers have no real urgency to complete (or in some cases, even start!) testing and delivering the firmware to Windows Phone devices.
Could Microsoft come up with a way to deliver even more firmware directly? I mean, Windows on PCs get all updates delivered directly, and if Windows 10’s mobile version is going to be like “big Windows”, then I am optimistic that most of the updates could be delivered directly by Microsoft. Having said that, could Microsoft find a way, Windows 10 or otherwise, to deliver it without the need for the device to be a developer device?
This is a really tough nut for Microsoft to crack. Much of the mind share these days is delivery via the Microsoft-averse tech blogosphere which has settled down on Apple and Google as being the only two players worth caring about. In order to win them over, Microsoft has to climb a virtually impossible mountain but as we have seen in the enterprise/cloud space, it is not impossible. A few crucial strategic moves on the Azure/Visual Studio side have made Microsoft somewhat of a darling in the same tech press, and Microsoft has to find a similar set of moves to make on the consumer side in order to increase their mind share. I say this because even Windows Phone 8.1 is an excellent operating system and there is a lot to love there, but if the writers who write at prominent tech blogs don’t care to use it, and worse, dismiss it, it does not help. I am not sure what those strategic moves could be, but Microsoft does need to make those moves so that the tech press actually cares about writing about Windows devices.
I am optimistic about Windows 10. I like the fact that there will be one OS for phones and tablets and I look forward to seeing some of the well-established Windows Phone apps get upgraded to be Universal and work on small tablets as well. But most importantly, I want to see how Microsoft expands Windows 10 to work as one OS across phones, tablets and PCs. There are many interesting applications of having one OS work across devices of all form factors and I am curious to see how today’s excellent phone applications work on my Windows tablets. On the phone side, I am looking forward to some nice high-end devices and some marquee apps releasing their Universal versions soon.
Here’s looking forward to another exciting year for Microsoft and Windows!
Office Online, specifically Word Online, has a new feature which is rolling out now, which features tight integration with Bing. This new feature, announced on December 10, is called Insights for Office.
If you remember “Research” pane in earlier versions of Office, this may be familiar. Of course, Insights for Office is supposedly much more powerful because it is very contextual, and utilizes Bing to provide the best possible way to surface web content right inside Word.
The way it works is this: as you write something in Word Online, you can start searching for a word or phrase within the text (by right-clicking) and Bing’s various results are shown in a nice panel. You can see results from Bing Snapshot, Wikipedia, Bing Image Search, Oxford Dictionary, and the whole web. You can avoid switching windows in order to run the searches in a separate tab/window of the browser and instead, see the content right beside your text, thereby reducing workflow disruption.
Insights for Office will also be triggered through the TellMe search box since that is the other obvious place where someone may enter content-related queries.
Bing indexes and stores entity data from around the web representing real world people, places and things. Insights for Office utilizes Bing’s ability to index the world’s knowledge and our machine learned relevance models to semantically understand the most important content in a user’s document and then return the most relevant results. This capability is derived largely from patterns of text analysis developed in collaboration with Microsoft Research. The results deliver the most relevant web links, images, etc. for a given request in the form of entity cards – a quick overview of the most important attributes (description, date of birth, etc.) about a real world person, place or thing. In many cases, the entity card may provide enough information for the user’s query intent to be fulfilled without requiring any additional exploration.
This is yet another integration of Bing into a Microsoft product, further confirming that Bing cannot be spun off from Microsoft, if that thought is still in some investors’ minds. The tight coupling of Bing into a variety of other Microsoft products like Sway, Xbox, Cortana personal digital assistant, etc. solidify Microsoft’s positioning of Bing as a platform rather than a search engine.
In a surprise move, Microsoft has quietly started accepting Bitcoin as a way to add funds to your account which can be used to purchase digital content like apps, movies, TV shows, games, etc. from Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox Games, Xbox Music and Xbox Video stores.
Motorola finally launched the much-awaited Google Nexus 6 smartphone in India at the Great Online Shopping Festival (GOSF) 2014. It is the first smartphone which runs on the latest Android 5.0 (Lollipop) Operating System. This handset comes with a 6 inch Quad HD display, 2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, 13 megapixel rear camera with dual LED ring flash and 4K UHD video recording capabilities, 3 GB RAM and much more.
Google Nexus 6 comes with a price tag of INR 43,999 for the 32 GB variant and INR 48,999 for the 64 GB variant. This handset is exclusively available at Flipkart in Midnight Blue and Cloud White colors. Nexus 6 owners in India will get 3 month subscription of Flipkart First and pre-selected Flipkart eBooks worth Rs 2100 for free. You can even exchange your old smartphone and get up to INR 10,000 discount while purchasing this device.
“We are humbled by the response we received in India for Moto X. And today, we are delighted to announce the launch of Nexus 6 in India with gosf.in. The Nexus 6 brings with it Better multitasking capabilities, Helpful notifications and Beautiful design enhancing the user experience and style quotient. We are confident that the Indian consumer will enjoy our latest offering.”
– Amit Boni, General Manager, Motorola India
Google Nexus 6 Specifications:
5.96 inch AMOLED display
1440 x 2560 pixels resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
2.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 with quad-core CPU
Acer has recently launched the Liquid Jade and Liquid E700 mid-range smartphones in India. Acer Liquid Jade features a 5 inch HD display with IPS and Zero Air Gap technologies, 13 megapixel rear camera, 1.3 GHz Quad Core processor, 2 GB RAM and 16 GB internal memory. On the other hand, Acer Liquid E700 packs a 5 inch HD display, 8 megapixel rear camera, 2 GB RAM and 16 GB internal memory.
Both the handsets run on the Android 4.4 (KitKat) Operating System. Acer Liquid E700 is equipped with a 3500 mAh battery which provides up to 24 hours of talk time, 60 hours of standby time, 12 hours of video viewing and 100 hours of music playback. This handset comes with a price-tag of INR 11,999, while the Liquid Jade is available for INR 16,999. Both the devices are exclusively available at Snapdeal in India.
“At Acer we are conscious of the world getting faster and demanding more from life in every way.Their dependence on technology is growing and so we want to make their lives simpler and enriching. Therefore, while the Liquid Jade appeals to the elegant, beauty conscious and highly social user, the Liquid E700 is more suited to the upbeat business traveller who demands to remain connected round the clock. Its ‘always on’ capability helps users to multi-task between work and entertainment. All this comes sealed with the promise of quality from the Acer brand name.”
– Allen Burnes, Vice President Smart Phones Business, Acer Group
Micromax has launched numerous smartphones in the past with a 5 megapixel front-facing camera and 13 megapixel rear camera. However, the company went a step further with its recently launched selfie smartphone. The Micromax Canvas Selfie packs a 13 megapixel front-facing selfie camera and a 13 megapixel rear camera, similar to the previously launched HTC Desire Eye.
It comes with a 4.7 inch HD display, 1.7 GHz tru-octacore processor, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal memory and much more. This handset runs on the older Android 4.4 (KitKat) Operating System. The company has not revealed any plans regarding the future updates. Micromax Canvas Selfie will be available in Mystic Blue and Angelic White colors from the second week of January. The price of this device is still a mystery!
“At Micromax, customer centricity has always been at the core of developing products. With over a million selfies being taken every day, out of which 40% claim to re-touch them, we have created a perfect blend of hardware and software to give you that perfect selfie. The Canvas Selfie is an ideal smartphone for the selfie-obsessed users delivering fantastic images and equipping them with great beauty editing tools to look glamourous always.”
– Mr. Vineet Taneja, Chief Executive Officer, Micromax
In October of this year, Microsoft released the Music Deals apps for Windows 8.x and Windows Phone 8.1 but not with much fanfare. As it turns out, this app is a treasure trove of free and inexpensive music.
The way this app works is, there is a time-limited set of promotional deals for various types of music. Typically, there is one popular single listed very inexpensively ($0.99) and then there are three sets of themes for free or inexpensive albums. All of these promotions run for a variety of time periods, ranging from a week to fifteen days.
For example, last week there was a sale for fifty boxed sets, each at $2 only. These boxed sets typically sell for anywhere from $15 to sometimes even over $100, so these were fantastic steals. Last week also saw fifty free albums, all by popular artists.
This week the promotions continue and the discounted albums are popular rock albums and popular soundtracks, and the free albums include albums by artists like Ellie Goulding, ABBA, Imagine Dragons, etc.
The way this works is the Music Deals listing opens up the album in the Xbox Music app (or simply, Music app) on Windows or Windows Phone, and the discounted price is shown. Once you click on buy (or “get it free” when the album is free), depending on your settings, the music will start downloading or be marked as owned and available in the cloud for your use anytime in the future.
The beauty of this setup is that the music content is DRM-free and can be played on any device or software. So you don’t have to feel compelled to use Windows and Windows Phone’s music apps, you can use iTunes or pretty much any other software to play these tunes.
I am unclear what is the end game for Microsoft here. I know it will increase usage of the Music app, and maybe create more Microsoft accounts which can then be used to upsell premium services like paid storage or Office 365, but those seem like poor returns for the potential cost of the discounted music.
Regardless, this is a great deal for consumers and you should absolutely take advantage of these deals. Get the Music Deals apps here: Windows and Windows Phone.
One Plus has finally launched its popular One Plus One smartphone in India. This handset is exclusively available on Amazon for those who has received an invite. One Plus One packs a 5.5-inch Full HD display, 2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 13 megapixel rear camera, 4G LTE Connectivity and more. It runs on the Android 4.4 (KitKat) based CyanogenMod 11S.
Similar to its global invite system, Indian user will need an India-specific invite to purchase this device. To get an invite, you will need to participate in the contests and promotional events hosted on the company’s forums or social media channels as well as by Amazon.in. You can also ask someone who has bought a OnePlus phone for an invite. To learn more, head over to this page. One Plus One comes with a price-tag of INR 21,999.
Intex Technologies recently launched yet another Android powered smartphone in the Indian market. The Intex Aqua Power features a 5 inch IPS display, 1.4 GHz octa-core processor, 8 megapixel rear camera, 1 GB RAM and much more. Apart from that, this handset packs a beefy 4000 mAh battery that gives you 18 hours of talk time while using 3G and 30 hours of talk time on 2G.
Intex Aqua Power comes with a price-tag of INR 8,444. This handset is available in White, Black, Blue and Grey colors. Intex hads pre-loaded the Hungama app on this device, which allows you to access 30 days of unlimited audio and video from its vast catalog library. Check out the complete specs below.
“At Intex, it is our effort to constantly understand and deliver on customer expectations and we feel that the Aqua Power with its extensive battery life and powerful Octa-Core processor will cater to our consumers’ needs in a far more effective manner. We hope to address these concerns with this smartphone that will guarantee long hours of talk time along with a smooth and fast interface. We look forward to our users experiencing a state of the art smartphone.”
– Sanjay Kumar Kalirona, Mobile Business Head, Intex Technologies
Intex Power Aqua Specifications:
5 inch full laminated IPS display
854 x 480 pixels resolution
1.4 GHz Octa-Core processor
Android 4.4.2 Kitkat OS (Upgradable to Android 5.0)
Lava and Celkon recently launched their first Windows powered smartphone in India. The Lava Iris Win1 packs a 4 inch WVGA display, 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor, 1 GB RAM and a 5 megapixel camera while the Celkon Win 400 comes with a 4 inch WVGA display, 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor, 512 MB RAM and a 5 megapixel camera. Both the devices runs on the latest Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System. Lava Iris Win1 comes with a Flip Cover and screen guard inside the box along with other standard accessories like charger, Earphone, USB Cable and user manual. This handset will be exclusively available at Flipkart for just INR 4,999 from December 4. On the other hand, Celkon Win 400 is the cheapest Windows powered smartphone which comes with a price-tag of just INR 4,979. These handsets will compete with Micromax’s previously launched Canvas Win W092 smartphone in the Indian market.
“At LAVA we always endeavor to provide our consumers with best possible choices in terms of design, features, apps, services and now platforms as well. We are pleased to add Iris Win1 – Windows powered device in our smartphone portfolio for consumers who are looking for Windows platform.” – Mr. Navin Chawla, Vice President and Head-Product, LAVA International Limited
“We are happy to announce our association with Microsoft and Qualcomm, a new milestone for Celkon. We have many more exciting offerings lined up in the coming year as well which will stand true to our proposition of being innovative and yet, affordable.” – Y Guru, Chairman and MD Celkon Mobiles
Microsoft finally launched the new Lumia 535 in India. This handset is the successor of the popular Lumia 530 smartphone and it is the first Lumia device to sport the Microsoft branding. Microsoft Lumia 535 is known for its ‘5x5x5′ proposition, which basically means that the device features a 5 inch qHD screen, 5 megapixel rear camera and a 5 megapixel wide angle front-facing selfie camera.
It runs on the Windows Phone 8.1 OS with Lumia Denim update. Lumia 535 comes with a price-tag of just INR 9,199 and it will go on sale from November 28 in India. This handset will be available in Cyan, Bright Green, Bright Orange, Dark Grey, White and Black colors.
Microsoft offers 15 GB of free OneDrive cloud storage with this device. Apart from that, Lumia 535 owners will get free recharge worth INR 150 for 4 months on Paytm, BoxTV subscription for 2 months and Flipkart eBooks worth INR 1500. Vodafone subscribers will get 500 MB free 2G or 3G data for two months. Check out the complete specs and hands-on pics after the break.
Microsoft Lumia 535 Specifications:
5 inch qHD Display
960 x 540 pixels resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor
Windows Phone 8.1 Operating System with Lumia Denim