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.

CORTANA NOTEBOOK IS MICROSOFT’S PRIVACY CONTROL

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.

full story: http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/20/5430188/microsoft-cortana-personal-digital-assistant-windows-phone-8-1

 

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.

full story: http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/2/5372662/windows-8-1-update-1-leaks-ahead-of-release

 

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.

Conclusion

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.

full story: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2014/01/21/here-are-24-countries-where-windows-phone-outsells-the-iphone-and-why-it-does/

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.

by 

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.

full story: http://news.cnet.com/8300-5_3-0.html?keyword=surface+pro+2

Path launches for Windows Phone as a public beta

By 

Path-645x250

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.

full story: http://thenextweb.com/apps/2014/01/17/path-launches-windows-phone-public-beta/#!sFTxC

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.

BUILD 2014 WILL SET THE VISION FOR WINDOWS 9

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.

SOURCE WINSUPERSITE

full story: http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/11/5298798/windows-9-release-date-april-2015-rumor

Sony confirms Windows Phone talks with Microsoft

by 

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.”

full story: http://gigaom.com/2014/01/10/sony-confirms-windows-phone-talks-with-microsoft/