Cortana Adds NFL Predictions

Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant introduced in Windows Phone 8.1, has had the ability to predict outcomes of some events. Most recently, she did a near-perfect job of predicting World Cup results.

In an announcement on September 3, Microsoft says they have added NFL to the list of events that Cortana can predict. The American football season starts on September 4, so it is timely. In order to use this feature, just ask Cortana: “Who will win, team A or team B?”

Cortana’s prediction feature is based on Bing’s prediction engine. Bing on the desktop has enabled such predictions for reality shows on TV like the singing competition The Voice before.

Microsoft has earlier explained how Bing Predicts works, and how it is able to predict with a high level of accuracy. It is natural that they use all the signals and the data they have, to take it to one of the most popular sporting events in the American calendar.

For NFL predictions, Walter Sun from the Bing Predicts team says:

For pro football, we model the respective strengths of the teams by examining outcomes from previous seasons including wins, losses, and the very rare tie outcome (two games since 2009), factoring in margin of victories, location of contest, playing surface and roof cover (or lack thereof), weather and temperature conditions, scoring by quarters, and multiple offensive and defensive statistics.  In addition to this prior model, we identify fans on Web and Social sites and track their sentiment to understand the aggregate wisdom of this expressive crowd.  This introduces data which statistics alone cannot capture, providing real-time adjustments which surprisingly can capture injury news and other substantive factors in win probabilities.

I understand these things are more fun than useful, and I am not sure anyone who gambles will rely on this to make any bets, but it is good to see Microsoft showing off their machine learning prowess through normal use cases like predictions of NFL games.

NFL Predictions in Cortana
NFL Predictions in Cortana

If you are on Windows Phone 8.1, you can start asking right away. The beauty of most of Cortana’s features is that they are all web services-enabled, which means it does not require any client or app updates. Once Microsoft turns that feature on from the server side, it is available for everyone to use.

Let us know how you like the feature in the comments below!

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!

Watch NFL Draft 2012 Online Live

It is only a few more days before the start of the draft of America’s favorite sport. The NFL Draft 2012 is all set to begin on Thursday April, 26th at the Radio City Hall in New York. The first round of NFL Draft 2012 will begin at 7:30PM Eastern time, the second and third round will be held on April 27 and rounds four to seven will be held on April 28.

This year’s draft will be pretty interesting considering that there is a lot of talent available and the teams might try to trade up to get their requirements fulfilled. Draft trades are pretty tricky and can happen as late as the last minute of drafting. Expect a lot of teams to switch positions before the draft begins.

It is a foregone conclusion that this years first round pick will be Andrew Luck who will be picked by Indianapolis Colts followed by Robert Griffin III who will go to Washington Redskins. Other than the first two picks, expect a lot of suspense for the other spots.

The NFL Draft will be aired on the NFL Network and ESPN on TV. However, if you are not near a television you can easily catch up on all the live NFL Draft 2012 action on the internet on your computer or mobile phone.

If you want to watch the NFL Draft 2012 Live online, you can visit the official NFL website at http://www.nfl.com/draft/2012/live. Additionally, you can also catch up the action on ESPN’s official website at http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/draft/live.

Hopefully, this years draft will be pretty exciting. We’ll try and add more sources to watch the NFL Draft 2012 online live once we come across them.

Twitter Partners With Visa and NFL for Super Bowl XLV

Super Bowl XIV is less then two weeks away and it is definitely going to be a very exciting game, except for me because my favorite team New York Jets couldn’t make it to the Super Bowl two years in a row.

Super Bowl XLV

Nevertheless, the Super Bowl XLV game between Pittsburg Steelers and Green Bay Packers is definitely going to be a blast. Though you can follow all the updates on your TV and also on NFL.com, it would be more interesting to share insights with your friends too. To help you out with enjoying the Super Bowl XLV game with friends, is partnering with Visa and NFL to bring you closer to the conversations around the game.

Starting this morning, fans can visit www.nfl.com/visa to Go Inside Super Bowl XLV With Visa,a one-stop shop where they can experience Super Bowl XLV in real-time and see interesting Tweets from players, media, NFL personnel, fans and more.

Twitter also claims to have about one-third of all the players who were part of the playoffs this year. You can find and follow most of the NFL players at https://twitter.com/#!/twitter/nfl-playoffs. You can also follow the Steelers team at @steelers and Packers team @packers on Twitter.

According to Twitter, during last years Super Bowl, 40% of the tweets were related to the game while it was in progress and almost 50% were related to it after the game was over. Last year also saw a lot of tweets for the FIFA World Cup 2010. So will this year be any different? Let’s hope and see.

Right now there are no official hashtags for Super Bowl XLV, but it might be #superbowl or #superbowlxlv or even #SB45. Have fun following the Super Bowl XLV with your friends on Twitter.

EA Announces Alice: Madness Returns, Reckoning, Sims 3 Expansion Pack, Shank and More

Looks like it has been a pretty busy day at EA with them launching 6 new games today. EA today announced 6 new games including Alice: Madness Returns, Expansion Pack to Sims 3, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Active NFL Training Camp among others.

Alice: Madness Returns

Alice Madness Returns

Gaming visionary American McGee returns to Wonderland as EA and Spicy Horse Games announce Alice: Madness Returns, the dark and deranged sequel to the year 2000 PC hit, American McGee’s Alice. Designed with the same dark style of the original, but now featuring entirely new visuals, story and game design, Alice: Madness Returns is a fun and addictive action adventure set to release on PC, the PlayStation 3 computer entertainment system and the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system. Alice: Madness Returns will be available in 2010 for the PC platform, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 users.

EA And Klei Entertainment: Shank

Shank

EA and award-winning independent development studio Klei Entertainment announced today that the highly anticipated downloadable action game, Shank, will be available for download on August 24 for PlayStation Network and August 25 for Xbox LIVE Arcade. Shank blends classic side-scrolling action game play and unique stylized 2D art direction with a revenge story penned by award-winning game writer Marianne Krawczyk. The game was recently nominated for multiple Best of awards, including Best Action Gamefrom IGN.com and Best Downloadable Gamefrom GameTrailers.com.

Shank will be available for download beginning August 24, 2010 on the PlayStation Network for $14.99, and August 25, 2010 on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points. More on the game at http://www.ea.com/games/shank

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a game in partnership between EA and 38 Studios, LLC. Reckoning is an epic, open-world role-playing game set in Amalur, a mysterious and magical new fantasy world created by New York Times best-selling author R. A. Salvatore. Reckoning will be available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC platform. Reckoning will be available for sale starting July 22. Fore more information visit http://www.reckoningthegame.com/.

The Sims 3 Late Night Expansion Pack

Sims 3 Expansion Pack

EA also announced an expansion pack for the popular Sims 3 label. The Sims 3 Late Night Expansion Pack gives players VIP treatment in a dynamic urban setting filled with high rise homes, parties, celebrities, bars and even vampires. Sims 3 expansion pack is still in development and will be released worldwide this fall starting October 26, 2010. Buy Sims 3 from Amazon.

EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp

EA Sports Active

EA and EA Sports also announced a new Football-based training program called Active NFL Training Camp for the Wii that put users right into the football drills and conditioning workouts of an NFL training camp. Active NFL Training Camp is still in development phase and will be sold for $99.95. Buy EA Sports Active from Amazon.

This definitely looks like a huge summer full of games for gaming folks who can get their hands full with these titles and several others which will be coming up in the summer and fall of 2010.

Watch Super Bowl XLIV (44) 2010 Online

If you watch American Football, you must obviously have heard about the Super Bowl. Yes, I am talking about the championship game of the National Football League (NFL) since 1967 also known as Super Bowl, this year is Super Bowl XLIV (44).

Super Bowl XLIV (44) 2010

This year’s game will pit the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Indianapolis Colts against the National Football Conference (NFC) winner New Orleans Saints against each other in what has always been America’s favorite Super Bowl Sunday, this 7th of February, 2010; kick-off at 6:30PM EST at the Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Florida. Since the game’s glittering status, it has become the time when companies shoot their most expensive advertisements and air it during the commercials’ time. The half-time has also attracted live shows from the likes of Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera and a number of others. The 2009 season’s Super Bowl will feature rock band The Who as the half-time ceremony performers.

Colts saints

The Indianapolis Colts enter the Super Bowl with a record of 14-2, while the New Orleans Saints will play with a record of 13-3. Though this may seem like the Colts have an edge over the Saints, only time will tell on Super Bowl Sunday when the match is relayed live over many broadcasts, especially CBS and BBC-Sport.

The game definitely be a high scoring one, with both the Quarterbacks in good form. Peyton Manning for the Colts will definitely play a huge role in the finale, but don’t write off the Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

The CBS live coverage will broadcast the entire game including the pre-game performance by Carrie Underwood and Queen Latifah and the half-time performance of The Who, along with the rest of the game live online. BBC Sport will also cover this exciting finale of the 2009 season of the NFL.

So what are you waiting for? You will not miss this game even if you are away from the house. Just log in to the nearest wifi signal and watch Super Bowl XLIV!