Microsoft Band gets new capabilities in preparation for Apple Watch launch

microsoft-bandTime is ticking and Apple is about to launch its hot new Apple Watch that’s been available for pre-order for a couple of weeks now. This has enticed Microsoft to push its own wearable device, Microsoft Band, and associated service Microsoft Health to new levels as competition in this space is about to get very hot.

Today Microsoft has announced a large software update for its fitness tracker and accompanying online services. As part of this update, Microsoft Band will be able to integrate with third-party cycling apps such as MapMyRide and Strava which will allow cyclists to compare their ride data with others and share routes. This feature is expected to roll out this Thursday, April 23rd.

“Customers want even more integration with additional third party fitness partners,” says Matt Barlow, a Microsoft general manager, in a statement. “We know they have existing relationships with other apps, services and devices outside of Microsoft Health and Microsoft Band, and they’re looking for new ways to integrate their data, ensuring it will all live and work together in one single spot.”

Microsoft Health smartphone app will also be available to those who don’t currently own a Microsoft Band fitness tracker, Microsoft said. By connecting to native phone sensors, Microsoft Health will be able to function, although in a more limited capacity, on Android phones, iPhones as well as Windows Phones. This exciting new capability will be available in the coming weeks as Microsoft looks to broaden the overall Microsoft Health platform and make it available to a wider audience.

Microsoft Health Web Dashboard service is getting some new features as well. The update, scheduled for April 27th will allow users to compare their exercise stats with others of similar height and weight. The update will also enable tracking and processing of additional data such as sleep recovery, fitness progress, oxygen volume used during exercise, and detailed historical stats for advanced analysis of run and workout data over time.

Source: GeekWire

Xbox One April System Update brings Party Chat improvements, What's On & more

Xbox One system update for the month of April is now rolling out to all users. This update contains improvements to party chat, addition of game hub links as well as What’s On for users in the U.S., U.S., Canada, and the UK.

Voice messaging and dedicated servers for party chat will remain in Preview mode until Microsoft fine-tunes the back-end systems.

Here is the full breakdown of what’s included in this system update:

  • Party chat improvements – Over the past few months, we’ve added additional icons and notifications within the party chat experience to help you understand your connection and microphone status. This month, party chat is being improved with troubleshooting guidance for Xbox One owners. The party app will help you get your microphone enabled and show you when privacy settings or networking issues are blocking communication with particular party members.
  • Game hub links – In February, we introduced game hubs where you can be the first to get news on upcoming updates, featured game clips, behind the scenes content and more. With this update, you can more easily discover game hub content from activity feed items. You’ll see activity feed items when any of your friends follow a game, and you’ll also be able to get back to a game’s hub from activity feed posts related to the game – including feed items about the game’s achievements, game clips and screenshots. Finally, we’ve added a link to game hubs from the game’s page in the achievements app.
  • Achievement notifications – Achievement notifications today display the achievement name and the gamerscore you just earned. With tonight’s update, you’ll also see the achievement’s description in the notification so you know what you did to earn this achievement without having to open the achievements app.  Based on feedback from preview program members, we increased the time that an achievement notification is displayed and we also made some performance improvements to make loading the achievements app from a notification faster.
  • What’s On – The What’s On area is now available for Xbox One users in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. In it, you’ll find links to popular videos, games, movies, TV shows, game broadcasts and clips, along with Trending TV shows if you have configured OneGuide for your Xbox One console.

Source: Xbox Wire

Microsoft releases two Halo 5: Guardians trailers, game to be released October 27, 2015 #HUNTtheTRUTH

halo-guardians-spartan-lockeMicrosoft has recently published two very interesting trailers, with alternate endings for the upcoming Xbox One shooter game Halo 5: Guardians. The trailers are latest in 343 Industries’ viral marketing push for the game, called “#HUNTtheTRUTH”.

In the first trailer, we see Spartan Locke roaming around in a destroyed city talking about how Master Chief betrayed the human race. Near the end of the clip, Locke finds Master Chief, wounded on the ground in front of a large statue of himself. Locke is getting ready to execute Master Chief and as he points the gun towards him says sarcastically, “all hail the conquering hero, the one who’s supposed to save us all, but now I must save us…from you.”

The second trailer, shows an alternate ending to the story where the roles have reversed and Master Chief roams the ruins of the large city and finds Spartan Locke wounded on the ground, in front his statue. The clip ends with Master Chief preparing his gun to finish off Locke as he says “you’ve completed your mission, Spartan Locke, mine is just beginning.”

Both trailers confirm the much-anticipated game will be released on October 27, 2015.

Trailer #1

Trailer #2

Source: Microsoft/YouTube

Xbox One April Update (Preview) – Cross-platform voice messages, Party Chat improvements

Microsoft is now releasing the second wave of the April Xbox One system update to the Preview program participants. This update is in addition to the Party chat improvements, Game hub links, and updates to the Achievement notifications that rolled out on March 20th as part of the initial April update push.

The second update brings voice messages, dedicated servers for party chat and “What’s on” feature is being expanded to UK and Canada. Below is the list of updates that are now available to the Xbox One Preview members.

Today’s update/2nd wave:

Voice messages – Xbox One preview program members will be able to compose and playback voice messages in the messages app when snapped on Xbox One. Quickly and easily record audio to send to your friends or others through your snapped messages app accessed through a simple quick double tap of the Xbox button. Additionally, voice messages can be exchanged between Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles.

Dedicated servers for party chat – We’re enhancing party chat with dedicated chat relay servers that will enable Xbox One owners that may have historically had NAT issues to party chat more reliably. Parties where players are unable to form direct peer-to-peer connections for party chat will automatically leverage dedicated server infrastructure to relay traffic. This service is only enabled for parties where one or more members are previewing the April system update.

What’s On – The Xbox engineering team is continuing to experiment with the What’s On area, which highlights popular videos, movies, TV shows and game broadcasts. We’re continuing to test different experiences for preview members in the U.S. and this month, the preview of this feature is being expanded to Canada and the UK as well.

March 20th update/1st wave:

Party chat improvements – Party chat is being improved with troubleshooting guidance for Xbox One owners. The Party App will help you get your microphone enabled and show you when privacy settings or networking issues are blocking communication with particular party members.

Game hub links – Members can more easily discover game hub content from activity feed items. You’ll see activity feed items when any of your friends follow a game, and you’ll also be able to get back to a game’s hub from activity feed posts related to the game – including feed items about the game’s achievements, game clips and screenshots. Finally, we’ve added a link to game hubs from the game’s page in the achievements app.

Achievement notifications – With this preview release, you’ll also see the achievement’s description in the notification so you know what you did to earn this achievement without having to open the achievements app. If you do choose to open up the notification to see the achievement details, we’ve also made some performance improvements to make loading the achievements app from a notification faster.

Source: Major Nelson

Microsoft's apps to come pre-installed on select Samsung Android tablets this year

microsoft-headquartersSamsung and Microsoft have announced the expansion of their previously-reported global partnership that will see more of Microsoft apps loaded out of the box on Samsung’s upcoming Android devices.

Today we have learned that a select number of Samsung tablets, which are scheduled to ship in the first half of this year, will come with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype pre-installed. Although we don’t have the details on release dates or which Samsung tablets are included in this deal, it’s sure great to see that Microsoft and Samsung’s relationship is flourishing now that the two companies have settled their legal dispute over unpaid royalties.

Microsoft is thrilled to partner up with Samsung. “Great things happen when you converge services and devices,” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development, Microsoft. “Our partnership with Samsung is emblematic of our efforts to bring the best of Microsoft’s productivity services to everyone, on every device – so people can be productive wherever, however and whenever they want.”

This is in addition to the deal between the two tech companies reached to bring Microsoft’s OneNote, Skype and OneDrive apps pre-installed on Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. As part of this deal, Microsoft will throw an extra 100GB of free cloud storage for two years to these users through Microsoft OneDrive.

Samsung is just as excited to offer their large user-base with the best productivity services available. “Our goal is to meet the ever-evolving needs of both consumers and business customers and give them more power to discover new mobile experiences.” said SangChul Lee, executive vice president of the Strategic Marketing Office, IT & Mobile Division at Samsung Electronics. “We believe our suite of premium mobile products coupled with Microsoft’s productivity services will offer users the mobility they need in both their personal and business life.”

Source: Samsung

Chase has dropped support for their Windows Phone banking app

chase-bank-discontinueBack in January, the large US bank announced they are removing their app from the Windows Phone store, however, the company said the app’s current users would still be able to use the app “until further notice”.

Well, it appears that today is the day many thought wouldn’t really come. J.P. Morgan Chase has officially discontinued supporting their Windows Phone banking app.

Those who try to use the app will now be greeted with a message that as of today the Windows Phone app is no longer supported. The notice also encourages users to visit mobile web site in order to use Chase’s banking services on the go. Chase also notes that QuickDeposit option is not available through their mobile web site and that clients wishing to deposit their checks should do so at their local ATM or branch.

To add insult to injury, some Windows Phone users have reported there are “identification code” issues with the Chase mobile web site and they had to log in through the bank’s desktop web site. Bank of America, who also recently dropped support for Windows Phone, has been having similar mobile web site issues as Chase.

This is certainly not good news for Microsoft as having major US banks on board is crucial for the mobile platform’s growth. We hope with the release of Windows 10 this summer it will encourage Chase, BofA and other big banks to reconsider their stance on Windows Phone as developing and maintaining one Universal app for all Windows-based devices will make a lot more sense.

Via: WindowsCentral, Screenshot via WindowsCentral

Microsoft to offer free Windows 10 upgrades even for pirated Windows versions

Win10_Windows_StartScreen1_PrintIn a blockbuster announcement, Microsoft has revealed it will give free Windows 10 upgrades to all Windows 7 and 8/8.1 users regardless if they are running genuine or pirated copies of the operating system.

This strategy is important for Microsoft as they’re looking to launch Windows 10 in 190 countries this summer, including China. The software giant wants to make a big push into the Chinese market with its upcoming operating system, the only problem is – more than 70% of the Windows copies used in that country are illegal. So Microsoft figured – if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

Terry Myerson, who heads Microsoft’s Operating Systems unit, made the announcement at the WinHEC conference in Shenzhen, China.

“We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10,” he said in a telephone interview with Reuters. The plan is to “re-engage” with the hundreds of millions of users of Windows in China, he said, without elaboration.

As Microsoft is looking to switch monetization strategy for Windows 10 and increase its market share for PCs, Tablets and Smartphones running their OS, having high adoption rates in all major markets will be the key to their success.

China is a very important market for Microsoft and by giving the new OS for free to everyone, Microsoft will greatly benefit in the long run as pirated users all of a sudden become legitimate license-holders.

Source: Reuters

Lumia Denim update is rolling out to Lumia 830 owners in Canada

lumia 830The major firmware update to Lumia devices, called Lumia Denim, has been rolling out world-wide to many phones and carriers for a couple of months now. Although Microsoft has promised to deliver the update to eligible devices in all markets by the end of February, many North American Lumia owners are still patently waiting.

According to WindowsCentral, Lumia 830 owners in Canada are widely reporting that they are now able to download and install Lumia Denim on their devices. Reports indicate the update is available for the device on all major carriers including Rogers and Bell.

The update brings OS version number to 8.10.14234.375 and the firmware version number is 02040.00021.15063.02001.

Microsoft hasn’t announced they are pushing the update to Lumia 830 in Canada but we expect to get the official confirmation shortly. It is worth noting that Lumia 830 owners in the U.S. are still waiting for their Denim update, perhaps this is a precursor to the massive U.S. roll-out to the popular Windows Phone.

Lumia Denim brings some major improvements to the Windows Phone 8.1 OS including “Hey Cortana” feature as well as enhancements to the Lumia Camera app experience  HDR, Dynamic flash and much more.

Microsoft Band now selling at Best Buy, Target & Amazon in US; UK expansion & pre-orders announced

MSBand_Group_Bike_Mapping_RGB-640x357Up until now Microsoft Band was only available at Microsoft’s retail locations. Since the smart fitness tracker launched in November, its supply has been extremely limited with many Microsoft stores quickly running out of stock as soon as new shipments arrived, especially in the more-popular sizes.

Now it appears that Microsoft is ready to mass-produce the popular gadget as the company has just announced that as of today the Band will be sold at Best Buy, Target and Amazon in the U.S. The Microsoft Store (brick and mortar locations as well as will, as of today, start receiving much larger and more frequent shipments of the wearable units. The price of the Band will remain at $199 for now.

Additionally, Microsoft Band is for the first time since launch becoming available for sale outside of the U.S. borders. As of today, it is available for pre-order in the U.K. through Amazon, Curry’s PC World, Dixons Travel, Harrods, and O2. The wearable will cost £169.99 (ERP) and the device will ship on April 15th.

Entrance into the U.K. market marks the beginning of what Microsoft expects to be the first of many non-U.S. markets to get the Band.

“We are excited to expand to an additional market, and to incorporate the feedback of more customers into our future product and service updates.” – Microsoft Corporate Blogs

This is truly exciting news for many who have wanted to get their hands on the fitness tracker but couldn’t because of supply issues in the U.S. or because of the lack of availability outside of U.S. Microsoft is positioning itself well just in time to compete with Apple in the wearable tech space.

Source: Microsoft Blog

Cortana may be heading to iOS & Android devices

cortanaMicrosoft’s personal assistant Cortana may no longer be exclusive to the Windows ecosystem. Cortana is currently only available on Windows Phone and the upcoming Windows 10 OS, but according to a Reuters report, Microsoft now plans to extend Cortana’s availability to iOS and Android devices.

The project to bring Cortana to other platforms is internally called “Einstein” and we’re hearing the popular assistant will come to iOS and Android as an advanced standalone app, available for phones as well as tablets.

“This kind of technology, which can read and understand email, will play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana, which we are working on now for the fall time frame,” said Eric Horvitz from Microsoft Research.

Over the last year, Microsoft has invested a lot into Cortana’s artificial intelligence capabilities and although many die-hard Microsoft fans will be disappointed that Cortana will no longer be exclusive to the Windows platform, having a wider audience for the assistant will greatly benefit Microsoft and the capabilities of Cortana.

Cortana is already deeply woven into Windows Phone, but this fall, Microsoft will be integrating Cortana deeply into Windows 10 and we expect that the personal assistant will also make its way to the Xbox One.  The power of multiple device types using the same personal assistant can create a very powerful experience as they communicate with one another.  If implemented correctly, the experience could offer something very unique and potentially game-changing.

This is yet another example of the CEO Satya Nadella’s push to sell Microsoft services on non-Windows platforms and devices as part of the mobile-first, cloud-first strategy.  A perfect example of what Nadella is striving to achieve is what Skype has become.   Skype is a truly universal tool that works across any device type and has practically become the industry standard in that particular market, and it’s expected to further solidify its position with the up and coming Skype Translator.

Microsoft’s aim is to create the same experience with Cortana, and have a truly cross-platform personal assistant that could work with any device in the hopes of becoming a universal standard as well.  With Windows 10 being a free upgrade to Windows 7 and 8.1 users, it’s expected to have a significant market penetration when it hits the market.

With Windows being regarded as a monopoly in the desktop computing market, it’s no question that hundreds of millions of people will have their first interaction with Cortana.  Those users however, are most likely using iOS and Android on their smartphones and tablets, and would surely benefit in having Cortana extend her assistance on these devices which could potentially sway users from the likes of Siri and Google Now.

Source: Reuters