Apple has Siri, and Microsoft is about to get Cortana

By Tom Warren

Windows Phone Cortana

Microsoft has been in a state of “shut up and ship” with Windows Phone for more than a year now. While the company has released a few minor updates to Windows Phone 8, its feature set hasn’t changed significantly from when Microsoft first introduced the mobile OS in October 2012. The software giant refuses to discuss or acknowledge an upcoming update, Windows Phone 8.1, but a recent software development kit leak has highlighted the huge number of feature changes that will arrive in the coming months and put Windows Phone more on par with iOS and Android. One of the main feature additions is Cortana, a personal digital assistant named after Microsoft’s Halo game series.

Cortana first emerged after a Microsoft employee lost a phone running Windows Phone 8.1 last year. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s Windows Phone work have revealed to The Verge that Cortana will replace the built-in Bing search feature, which is currently launched through a dedicated hardware key, and acts as a digital assistant with a mix of Siri and Google Now functionality. We’re told that Cortana will take the form of a circular animated icon with the hue of your selected Windows Phone accent color, and will have a personality not dissimilar from Apple’s Siri. Cortana will animate when it’s speaking or thinking, and bounce around or frown with “emotion” depending on the queries involved. Cortana will be backed by data from services like Bing, Foursquare, and others to give it some of the contextual power of Google Now.


Central to Microsoft’s vision for Cortana is a Notebook feature that will allow Windows Phone users to control exactly what information is shared with the digital assistant. Notebook will allow the Cortana digital assistant to access information such as location data, behaviors, personal information, reminders, and contact information. We’re told it’s designed as a privacy feature to ensure Cortana doesn’t freely access information without a level of user control. While Cortana will learn things about users, it won’t store them in the Notebook without asking you, and any information that’s stored can be edited or deleted. Cortana will then use this information to provide answers to search queries by voice or text, and provide suggestions, alerts, and reminders. Cortana could greet you by name and ask if you need help or answer questions, much like Siri.

Through search queries and just general phone usage, Cortana will learn more about a user and offer to store personal data like home and work locations and general interests in its Notebook. Cortana will also react to messages or emails that contain phrases like “let’s meet tomorrow at 8PM” and ask if you’d like to set up reminders or calendar entries. Cortana can also provide guidance on weather, stocks, directions, appointments, and music that’s contextual based on location and other data. As Cortana is a digital assistant, it will also be able to manage a do-not-disturb feature, similar to iOS, that’s designed to mute notifications. An “inner circle” of contacts will allow Cortana to manage notifications and phone calls during “quiet hours” when notifications are muted.

Although the initial Cortana digital assistant that will ship in Windows Phone 8.1 will have a lot of capabilities, Microsoft will need to extend it to third-party apps and its Windows and Xbox devices to improve its functionality in the future. The real test of Cortana will be how well it works with voice commands and its ability to understand natural phrases and questions. Microsoft’s recent voice work with Xbox One is impressive, but it also requires that you follow a strict pattern of commands for it to work successfully. Microsoft will have to ensure Cortana is at least as good as Siri for the company to position this as a full personal digital assistant.

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Windows 8.1 Update 1 leaks on the web ahead of its March release

By Tom Warren

Gallery Photo: Windows 8.1 Update 1 screenshots

Microsoft’s first update to Windows 8.1 has leaked today on various file sharing websites ahead of its March debut. The early build includes a number of changes that Microsoft is making to improve the keyboard and mouse experience in Windows 8.1. The most obvious change is a new title bar for Microsoft’s Windows 8-style apps, allowing you to close, minimize, and snap apps side-by-side with a mouse. It occupies a small amount of space at the top of all “Metro” apps, and it appears to be included as more of a helpful option for mouse users to quickly navigate apps.

Similar improvements have also been made to the Start Screen, where right clicking on Live Tiles now produces a context menu with options to resize, unpin, and more. Microsoft is also bringing the search button and a shutdown option straight onto the Windows 8.1 Start Screen with update 1. Search simply brings you to the regular sidebar interface, while the shutdown option provides a simple drop-down list for restart, shutdown, and sleep. Both options are what you’d expect, but there’s still no sign of the time and date being drawn directly onto the Start Screen or within the new tile bar for “Metro” apps.

Elsewhere, Microsoft has added a control panel link into its PC settings section, and the company is also making some minor desktop tweaks. A new option in the desktop taskbar settings lets you show Store apps in the taskbar. It simply lists all Metro apps and provides the usual window preview when you hover over the apps. Interestingly, if you activate a Metro app from the desktop then the taskbar remains on top of the app until you start interacting with it. It’s not clear if this is by design or a bug, but you can’t activate the taskbar by hovering at the bottom of a Metro app.

There’s no other significant changes in Update 1, and the version that has leaked was compiled around three weeks ago on January 14th. Microsoft is expected to release the final version of Windows 8.1 Update 1 on March 11th, ahead of the company’s Build developers conference in April.

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Here Are 24 Countries Where Windows Phone Outsells The iPhone (And Why It Does)

by Gordon Kelly

Statistics may say Windows 8 is a flop but, contrary to popular opinion, Windows Phone is far from down and out in the battle for our mobile affections. In fact in many parts of the world sales are rocketing past the iPhone.

This month Microsoft MSFT -0.57% broke these areas down country by country and confirmed exactly where Windows Phone is specifically outselling the iPhone. The list reads as follows:

Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Ecuador, Finland, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

Interestingly in 14 of these markets – Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, India, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Vietnam – Windows Phone has taken second place in the sector, stepping past former strongholds for BlackBerry and Symbian which had also previously edged out iOS.

TMobile Lumia 521

Furthermore, the context for this data is solid. It comes from global smartphone sales in Q3 2013 byindependent market analyst IDC, which also points out Microsoft only led iPhone sales in seven countries in Q3 2012. Sales are also up 156 percent during the last 12 months, triple Android’s annual growth and 6x that of iOS.

But there are significant caveats.

• 156 percent is easier to achieve on a younger platform with a smaller market share
• Italy and Finland aside, Windows Phone is primarily growing is poorer nations where the iPhone is prohibitively expensive
• Q3 is typically a slow period for Apple AAPL +0.46% with sales dipping ahead of expected iPhone refreshes
• iPhone sales boom over the Christmas period and Q4 figures have yet to be announced
• Windows Phone sales are most in the low end with the Lumia 5210 (top) and 520 accounting for 42.4 percent of all shipments
• Nokia accounts for 93.2 percent of all Windows Phone handset sales highlighting little traction or interest from companies where Microsoft does not have control

As such, it is possible for cynics to argue Windows Phone is gaining in markets where the iPhone doesn’t compete and making little headway where it does. Except this isn’t true either.

Windows Phone Is Fast Becoming A Hit In Europe

ComTech-des13-dataClick to enlarge

supporting release for researcher Kantar in December (figures right) points out that Europe as a whole is quickly warming to Windows Phone at the expense of iOS. Across the ‘EU5’ (Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain) iOS market share fell 5 percent over the last 12 months to 15.8 percent while Windows Phone has leapt from 4.8 percent to 10.2 percent (Android grew from 64.5 percent to 70.9 percent).

Most marked is the aforementioned Italy, where a 12.8 percent market shift in 12 months now sees Windows Phone lead iOS 16.1 percent to iOS on 10.1 percent, but there is also Spain where both platforms are tied on 4.3 percent (though Android has a massive 90.1 percent). France also sees an 11 percent shift between Windows Phone and iOS in the last year with the former now at 12.5 percent versus the latter’s 15.9 percent.

Britain remains iOS’s biggest ally in Europe where its market share of 28.7 percent is nearly triple Windows Phone’s 11.9 percent, though that still represents an 11.3 percent shift over the last 12 months in Microsoft’s favor.

As such, only two nations really remain iOS fortresses: the US, where iOS dominates Windows Phone 40.8 to 4.8 percent, and Japan where iOS rules all the platforms with 61.1 percent of the market.


So what can we make of this? In short that generalists on both sides are talking nonsense. Windows Phone is still struggling to shift higher end devices, but clear traction is not restricted to developing countries. Developed countries, particularly in Europe where iOS has previously been dominant, are showing strong shifts towards Windows Phone.

Should Apple care? Perhaps not. In only shipping two relatively expensive models with high margins it still dominates the earnings across all platforms (including Android) but this will cause it to lose market share. Should it enter the low end, Apple arguably only risks cannibalizing its own sales and profit margins.

But make no mistake, Windows Phone is no joke. Its force may not be felt in the US but it is growing fast and winning friends around the rest of the world. Yes, much of this may be in the low end, but that has never been a bad gateway to more premium products long term.

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Firmware fix rolls out to Microsoft Surface Pro 2 users

Microsoft update will fix problems introduced by a faulty December 2013 update to the company’s newest Intel-based tablets.


Microsoft has begun rolling out at least part of an awaited firmware update for its second-generation Surface Pro 2 tablets. The fix is designed to resolve caused by a faulty December 2013 update to Microsoft’s newest Intel-based tablets. The company offered the following statement to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley:

 This weekend we released an update that addresses the unexpected wake and battery drain behavior experienced by a small number of Surface Pro 2 customers who installed the December Windows Update. This should have no impact on users already running the October Windows Update. We’re working hard to address the remaining Surface Pro 2 items from the December Windows Update.

You can read the full story here.

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Path launches for Windows Phone as a public beta



Path today quietly launched an app for Windows Phone, but there’s a small catch: it’s a public beta. Nevertheless, the social network has arrived on Microsoft’s mobile platform and you can grab the app now directly from theWindows Phone Store.

While Path doesn’t have an announcement regarding the release, the app’s description emphasizes that this is the same experience Path’s users have come to expect on other platforms: complete control over what you share and who you share it with. Best of all, it’s ad-free.

Update at 12:05PM EST: Path has now posted an official announcement regarding the beta launch, noting that “Windows Phone 8 has been our most requested platform.” It also noted the app was built in collaboration with a joint team from Nokia and Microsoft.

path windows phone beta Path launches for Windows Phone as a public beta

The beta app has the following features:

  • Your personal life – Journal your thoughts, your sleep, and your check-ins.
  • Beautiful sharing – Capture photos and videos, and apply some of the best filters and editing tools to your photos.
  • Feel the love – Friends and family can react with smiles, laughs, gasps, loves, comments and more.
  • Cross-posting – Be everywhere you want to be by posting any Path moment to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare.
  • Private Sharing – Choose to share any Path moment privately with one or more friends.
  • Create an Inner Circle by selecting a group of friends to easily share moments with. Filter your feed to see only moments from your Inner Circle. And change your settings to only receive notifications from your Inner Circle.

We can thus expect that the first stable release will include at least the above. Path says future versions of the app will include media moments (movies, books & music), the Shop, and Messaging.

The fact Path was coming to Windows Phone was first confirmed back in July. The announcement was made during the Lumia 1020 event in New York, where Vine, Flipboard, and Hipstamatic all revealed they were doing the same.

Vine and Hipstamatic have since arrived (not to mention Instagram), but Flipboard is still on its way, and now Path is halfway there. Until now, Path has only been available as a private beta.

Unfortunately, there’s still no news regarding when Path plans to have a stable release ready for Windows Phone. We’ve contacted the company and will update this post if we learn more.

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Microsoft reportedly planning Windows 9 release in April 2015

By Tom Warren

Windows Blue stock

Microsoft is currently working on an “Update 1″ for Windows 8.1, but the company has bigger plans for the future of Windows as part of a “Threshold” wave of updates. Windows watcher Paul Thurrott reports that the company’s Threshold plans will involve a release of Windows 9 around April 2015. Microsoft will allegedly unveil its vision for Windows 9 at the company’s Build 2014 developer conference in April, with a release planned for a year later.

It appears that Microsoft is currently planning to use the Windows 9 branding and vision as a way to move away from some of the criticisms of the Windows 8 operating system. It’s not immediately clear what type of changes will be made to Windows 9, but “Metro 2.0″ inside the new OS will reportedly include a major focus on improving Microsoft’s new app world and tiles. Previous rumors have suggested Microsoft is planning to separate out its Windows 8-style (“Metro”) apps to allow them to float and run in separate windows on the traditional desktop. The Verge understands Microsoft is also planning a Start menu return for Windows 9, but that the company may deliver this early in a second “Update 2″ for Windows 8.1 later this year.


Microsoft will reportedly use three major milestone development points for Windows 9, but it’s not clear how many of them will be released to the public during the development period. The software maker is currently in the final planning stages for Windows 9 and work is expected to begin after the Build 2014 developer conference in April. It sounds like Microsoft will use Build 2014 as a launch point for its vision of Windows 9, detailing some of the planned changes in an attempt to generate excitement around the company’s future plans.

Windows certainly needs excitement, Windows 8-style apps, and innovation if Microsoft is to succeed with its vision of a hybrid tablet and desktop operating system. If Microsoft manages to pull off a Windows 9 release with significant improvements over Windows 8 then that may relegate Windows 8 to a Vista-like release in the minds of consumers. The company clearly isn’t confident with any continued use of the Windows 8 brand in the same way that Apple does with its OS X point releases. While there will be further tweaks to Windows 8.1 shortly, Windows 9 looks to be the next major release.


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Sony confirms Windows Phone talks with Microsoft


Xperia Z1F group

photo: Sony

Summary: The company says it doesn’t want to be “a single OS manufacturer.”

Like many smartphone manufacturers, Sony has been dedicated to just one platform, and that’s Google’s Android. But the company might be looking to branch out, and has confirmed to TechRadar that it is in talks with Microsoft about using its Windows Phone OS.

Pierre Perron, head of Sony Mobile Europe, explained: “We are continuing our discussions with other partners, including Microsoft, as part of our partnership with this company on the broader Sony spectrum…One thing is using the platform [Windows Phone] itself, and another is ‘what can we deliver on top of it’?”

Unlike Google’s free, open-source Android OS, Microsoft requires a licensing fee for the use of Windows Phone. There’s also much less opportunity to tinker with and modify the OS outside of preinstalled apps. At the same time, Perron realizes a more diverse platform lineup could be a smart business move for Sony.

“We enjoy very much a good collaboration with Google, we’ve been working with them for a long time and have a level of maturity with that discussion, that’s good. But at the same time, Google has a relationship with direct competitors.”

So while Google is easy to work with, Perron realizes just how many other manufacturers are making Android phones, and how crowded the market is. He didn’t confirm whether any Windows Phone devices are in the pipeline, saying only that the company’s talks with Microsoft are still tentative at this point.

Still, Perron added, “We don’t want to be a single OS manufacturer, I don’t think it’s a viable position in the long term.”

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Can I upgrade my old Pentium 4 PCs to a new Windows?

Windows XP will no longer be supported from April. Andy Roberts’ family is still using two decade-old Windows XP machines and he wants to know what to do with them


I’ve just found out about, and am incensed at, Microsoft’s decision to stop supporting Windows XP with security updates from April 8, 2014. What about the thousands of people who still happily use XP? I have two PCs that my family uses on a daily basis.

These are:
(1) Dell Dimension 4800 (circa 2002) with a 2.66GHz Pentium 4, 2.5GB of memory, 70GB hard disk. Had this since new. The original screen and video driver failed. I added RAM and an external 500GB hard drive.
(2) HP Compaq Presario SR1000 (circa 2004) with a 3.4GHz Pentium 4, 2GB of memory and 250GB hard disk. I just inherited this family hand-me-down and added RAM. It refused to work with two new 1GB DIMMs alongside the two existing 512MB DIMMs so had to take them out, but I could add two more 1GB RAMs.

It appears that I may be able to upgrade both PCs from Windows XP, but to what? Windows 7 or 8? Will this completely kill performance, as I assume Windows 7 and 8 are more resource hungry than XP!
Andy Roberts

Windows XP support is ending as part of Microsoft’s standard software lifecycle, and Microsoft has stepped up its warnings over the past year. But I don’t think you should be incensed, because you’ve had a very good deal. Dell and HP probably paid Microsoft about $45 each for these copies of XP, and if they bundled crapware with the operating system, you paid somewhat less. In return, you have had 10 or 12 years’ use, three major updates — Service Pack 1 (in 2002), SP2 (2004) and SP3 (2008) — plus new browsers and other free programs such as the Windows Live Suite. However, in the 12 years since you bought your Dell, you haven’t paid Microsoft a penny, so threatening to withdraw your custom isn’t going to cut much ice.

I’ll be amazed if any other operating system that came out around the same time as XP — Mac OS X 10.1 (Puma), IBM OS/2 4.52, Novell NetWare 6.0 etc — still gets free support. Apple has not only shipped eight versions of Mac OS X since then, it has dumped PowerPC for Intel chips. The Ubuntu version of Linux hadn’t even been launched: it first appeared three years after XP.

Of course, Microsoft has also released new operating systems since 2001, with cut-price deals to tempt people to upgrade to Windows Vista in 2006 and Windows 7 in 2009. The best deal came when Windows 8 was launched in 2012: Microsoft offered an upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99 or £25, discounted from $199.99 or £189.99. Indeed, you can still get the Windows 8 Pro Upgrade Edition from for £66.99, which isn’t a bad deal if you can run it. The upgrade from 8.0 to 8.1 is free.

Upgrades bring benefits

The rational way to approach computer hardware purchases is to amortize the cost over its expected lifespan, which is typically from three to five years. After five years, components become outdated and increasingly prone to failure, starting with the battery on the motherboard and then the hard drive. For companies, the increased cost of maintenance is generally much higher than the cost of buying new PCs. Deferring inevitable upgrades makes even less sense if you benefit financially from using a newer operating system. When upgrading from XP, this includes much greater stability and reliability, faster and smoother operation, boot time savings and greatly increased security.

Some of these benefits come from switching from 32-bit XP to 64-bit Windows 7 or Windows 8 with access to more memory. However, although it’s not optimal, Windows 8 will run on 1GHz processors with only 2GB. I haven’t upgraded a PC from XP to Windows 8 myself, but a PC that runs XP reasonably well should run Windows 8.1 at least as well, and possibly better.

A quick search finds a blog post by Troy Hunt. He installed Windows 8 on a 7-year-old Lenovo ThinkPad T60 laptop with a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor and 1GB of RAM, and as you can see from side-by-side comparisons in his YouTube video, Windows 8 outperforms XP. The main problem is that he couldn’t install 64-bit Windows 8, and had to install the 32-bit version instead.

Upgrading Windows

Unfortunately, Windows 7 and Windows 8 are not guaranteed to run on old PCs, because of their hardware limitations. In particular, Windows 8 needs support for Intel’s PAE/NX/SSE2 features — Physical Address Extension (PAE) mode, No-eXecute (NX), and Streaming SIMD Extensions 2 (SSE2) — plus Data Execution Prevention (DEP) in the BIOS, plus WDDM graphics drivers. Download the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant, which will check both hardware and software for compatibility. For further advice, see the Update to Windows 8.1: FAQ.

People have run Windows 8 on even slower processors, such as the 733MHz Intel Pentium III (Coppermine), which supports PAE. Sadly, I reckon Windows 8 not run on your Dell Dimension, because PAE support wasn’t added to the Pentium 4 line until the start of 2004. I am almost certain it will not run on your Compaq Presario SR1000, because Intel’s Ark says its Pentium 4-550 doesn’t have “Trusted Execution Technology”.

To get Windows 8 running, you would need to change the motherboard and perhaps install a new graphics card. You should also change the hard drives, which are beyond the age at which I’d expect them to fail. In other words, it would be much better to get one or two new or second hand PCs either from or one of the recycling groups, or even a skip. (Sorry!) Almost any desktop from 2007/8 or later would do. As long as it runs Vista SP1 or better, it will be a big improvement on XP. (I still run a Vista SP1 machine and it’s rock solid. It’s far a better operating system than the ignoranti claim.)

Three alternatives

That leaves you with three alternatives for your current PCs: keep using XP, install Linux, or recycle them.

Windows XP won’t suddenly stop working in April, but many people think it will come under attack. Malware writers will look at the security holes that get patched in supported versions of Windows and know that they are not patched in unsupported XP. That will make XP systems easy targets, but if you run Google Chrome (not IE8) and do plenty of anti-virus checking, you might survive. Whether the rest of your family will be able to maintain the requisite level of alertness is another matter. You could try making them use restricted or guest accounts.

Installing Linux is an obvious solution, as long as you don’t have any vital Windows programs (which you may need to read your data) or games. However, you and your family will have to do some relearning, which takes time, and you will have to cope when Linux goes wrong, which it does. Since recent versions of Linux require recent PCs, and the latest KDE and Gnome desktops consume lots of memory. I suggest installingLubuntu, the lightweight version of Ubuntu, which has a lightweight LXDEdesktop that more-or-less copies pre-XP versions Windows.

New versions of Ubuntu come out every six months and rapidly become unsupported, so go for Lubuntu 14.04 LTS: the first Lubuntu with Long Term Support. This doesn’t mean 10 years, but at least LTS has now been extended to five years. It should be out in April. An alternative isXubutnu 14.04 LTS with the Xfce desktop.

But really, you should recycle at least one of your XP machines and buy something newer. When the Pentium 4 came out, it was all about raw speed, but times have changed. Intel junked the Pentium 4 architecture and started on a new course where cool running and “performance per Watt” are more important. A modern 1.5GHz Intel processor will not only run a lot faster, it will do it without consuming so much expensive electricity.

Although Lubuntu will keep your old PCs in service, they won’t last forever. Perhaps you should start putting £2 a week in a jar. After four years, you’ll have enough to buy a decent PC. If you’d started in 2002, you’d have £1,248 to buy two really good ones.

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Yahoo Girds Its Loins For The Battle Over Your Home Screen

by  (@panzer)

The home screen as it stands cannot last. In reality, what we’re looking at is the end times for the traditional grid of icons that we’ve become so familiar with since the iPhone was introduced in 2007.

There is simply too much context available via the sensors, camera, radios and other inputs we carry around in our pockets not to take advantage of it.

The icon grid design was used in many early smartphones running Palm and Symbian and Windows Mobile. But the iPhone really launched that design into the public consciousness and then Google cemented it with the launch of the first touch screen Android device. I’m not here to argue about firsts, but Apple was essentially responsible for making the grid the ‘standard’ in the eyes of a lot of people — both iPhone users and people who picked up other smartphones running on other operating systems.

But, seven years later, the choices made by Apple to honor the grid demand re-examination. The thought process is relatively simple to disassemble. The grid had been used by other smartphone makers and even Apple’s Newton. It was simple, easy to understand and friendly to people who were being introduced to multitouch — which was for most people a brand new way to interact with touch screens. This was the same process which led it to utilize real-world allegories like bookshelves, page curls and ‘buttony’ buttons.

But that home screen belongs to a bygone era. We’re acclimated now and any new users of smartphones have the collective installed user base to help them along.

Now is the time that the home screen begins to take advantage of the thing that we’re going to be hearing an absolute junk ton about in 2014: context.

I have a ton more thoughts about why 2014 will be the ‘year of context’ for mobile software and hardware, but for our purposes it’s enough to point at a few recent trends. Among those are Google Now, Apple’s ‘Today’ section in Notification Center, Facebook Home, Cyanogen Mod and home screen customization companies like and, yes, Aviate.

These various products are all efforts to leverage the contextual signals that our mobile sensor platforms are able to collect and transmit. Where we are, who we are, what our intent is, what our environment looks and sounds like and what we do when we’re there. That context can be used to customize the way that our devices look, feel and work based on our own personal signals.

At this point, a home screen that customizes itself to you, personally, feels as inevitable as a well-worn pair of shoes.

TechCrunch columnist MG Siegler noted a symptom of this recently. The ‘first app you open’ in the morning is becoming more important real-estate than your home screen. In reality the first app you open when you turn on your iPhone is ’springboard’, the home screen. But up to this point it has remained relatively static, with only a couple of minor nods to active icons like the clock and calendar.

Android home screens have always been more malleable, allowing for personalization and customization on a deeper level. Which is why some people really like Android.

But this isn’t just about customization, it’s about reaction and organization on a contextual basis. Which brings us back to Yahoo’s recent acquisition, Aviate.


Aviate is a home screen replacement for Android that interprets signals from you, the user, to present you with the apps, content and alerts you want right when you need them or even before. It groups apps into automated collections. This makes the home screen simple and clean.

It also has elements of app discovery, says Aviate’s Mark Daiss. Aviate will look at the apps that you have and use the most and suggest more like it. The goal for the first run at Aviate was to cover roughly ’80%’ of a user’s day, says Daiss. That includes the major components like getting up, traveling, working and going to bed. From here on out it will be about fleshing out the moments in between.

Daiss credits Facebook Home for creating an awareness of what a launcher was and how a customized home screen could change the experience. Despite the fact that Home didn’t exactly turn out well, Daiss notes that other efforts like GoLauncher have seen success, with that offering currently clocking in at over 100 million installs on Google Play.

One of the reasons I believe Facebook Home’s initial try failed was that it was too insular. Even the most dedicated Facebook user needs more than just one network’s worth of information. That’s why I was curious about Yahoo’s plans for Aviate.

Yahoo SVP of Mobile and Emerging Products Adam Cahan says that the company isn’t interested in turning Aviate into some sort of ‘all Yahoo apps’ portal. For now, it will expand the beta program and get more users checking it out. “Think of this as an extension of [Yahoo] Search,” Cahan says. 6.Location

The extension of search metaphor is an apt one, as contextually aware home screens will be all about using anticipatory ‘searching’ through our apps, habits and use cases to provide us with better experiences. Aviate will now be able to tap deeply into Yahoo data like search, weather, maps and more to inform contextual experiences. But, Daiss is careful to note, Aviate will still choose the best, most definitive data source possible — even if that’s not from Yahoo. With the best data comes the best experiences.

Daiss lays down the core components of what he feels a contextual computing experience are. First, it needs the right input signals, then it needs the information that’s pertinent to the situation and then it has to provide the right user experience.

Part of what they’ve discovered at Aviate is that this experience often involves offering information and context from inside the apps right out on the home screen. But this isn’t a one-shot widget, this is a continuously personalized experience.

One of Aviate’s more popular features is a ‘swipe down’ screen that can offer you context from inside various apps at any given moment. Swipe down at a restaurant and you might get information about what’s good to eat there from Foursquare or Yelp. Swipe down at home and you’ll get alarm settings, a do not disturb toggle and a schedule of meetings.

If you’re an iOS user and this is sounding familiar, yes, this is why Apple acquired Cue. Because its swipe down ‘today’ section has the seeds of this kind of contextual computing, but it needs a lot of water and care to grow. Control Center and Notification Center need to grow up, quickly. (It’s also, I feel, one of the major reasons Apple changed its design so drastically with iOS 7 — it needed a more flexible framework to build within.)

Aviate and other intent-based home screens are champing at the bit to offer people a better experience. And Google Now has an immense amount of head start simply by virtue of the enormous amount of data it has from its users.

Unfortunately, once you start talking about how much these intent-based systems know about us and can anticipate our needs, the spectre of the NSA and government spying programs rears its head. Yahoo, Google and Apple were all targeted for data collection and that’s unlikely to go away. There are some incredibly complex and sticky moral quandaries headed our way with this new contex-heavy world, but that’s probably a discussion best handled in a focused chat about the trend.

For now, we have Yahoo acquiring Aviate in order to make sure that it has a hand in this new world of context-based software. It has the resources to juice the back end with user data, and it’s going to be a big platform for Aviate as a (relatively) agnostic prototype of the custom home screen. And if it’s turning and burning as much as it appears to be on mobile, Yahoo is very interested in how this battle for the home screen turns out.

What’s intriguing about this is that it’s very much a ‘technology company’ move. So much of the confusion about Yahoo and its new direction — I feel — has been rooted in the inability by some to come to grips with the fact that Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer is comfortable thinking of the company as both, and so are her new lieutenants. Yahoo has an enormous amount to prove still. No amount of hot young talent Botox is going to magically turn the company around.

But I don’t find the company’s investments in technology confusing. In this new contextual computing age, if you’re a media company not investing in your own technology, you’re probably not being…anticipatory enough.

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Windows 8.1 update images pop up online

One Web site claims the spring update to Windows 8.1 won’t just be a traditional service pack.


Windows 8.1 in its current incarnation.

Windows 8.1 in its current incarnation.
(Credit: Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET)

An update to Windows 8.1 reportedly planned for the spring is now showing off online via a series of leaked screenshots.

Served up by Russian Web site Wzor, the images show the same internal version numbercurrently found in Windows 8.1 Pro (version 6.3.9600) but the full build number is intentionally blanked out. Assuming the images are accurate, that means the update won’t carry with it Windows 8.2. But it won’t be a simple service pack or collection of security updates, at least according to Wzor.

Instead, the update is being dubbed a new and updated RTM (release-to-manufacturing) release of Windows 8.1, although Wzor’s screenshots don’t reveal anything different from the current version. The final build will be available around March, Wzor claims, and then launch publicly on April 1 as a free upgrade to Windows 8.1 users. The update would reportedly be available through the standard Windows Update service and as a standalone installation package.

The new build itself has not been fully leaked online, according to Wzor. However, it will enter wider distribution after January 14, at which time the full build may surface. The public rollout of the update is being geared to coincide with Microsoft’s Build 2014 conference, which will run from April 2 to 4. That timeframe gibes with information provided last year to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley claiming that Microsoft will release a spring 2014 update to Windows 8.1.

(Via Neowin)

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