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 to announce a successor to the Surface 2 very soon (details here)

microsoft-surface-2-vp-panos-panayMicrosoft has been quiet about the successor to the Surface 2 and many have speculated that the software giant will most likely focus on the successful Surface Pro series in the meantime. However, a report by WinBeta claims that Microsoft has plans to release a Surface device aimed at a lower price point but one that is much more than a successor to the Surface 2, while not being  in the same league as the Surface Pro 3.

The reason why it would be much more than a successor to the Surface 2 which ran Windows RT, is that this time it’ll run a full-blown version of Windows 8.1, which will be upgradable to Windows 10 as it’s released to the market. It’ll be fanless but will have lower spec’d CPU than the Surface Pro 3, which will either be an Intel Atom or the Intel Core M (the latter is used in the new MacBook revealed at Apple’s Spring Forward event and is starting to become a popular choice for ultra-portables.)

WinBeta reports that Microsoft is expected to announce this new Surface device sometime before or at their annual Build developer conference in late April and the company will not be labeling it as a Pro device.

Surface Pro 3 has been a very successful product for Microsoft, both with businesses and consumers, and has single-handily changed the perception of Microsoft as a hardware company. It’s also earned Microsoft a lot of of respect in the industry with such a feat of engineering, and we’ve seen many hardware vendors trying to duplicate the Surface Pro 3’s success.

However, the Surface Pro 3 is a very expensive device, and this limits it to a niche audience. If Microsoft comes in with a cheaper Surface device – presumably with a 10-12 inch screen, and one that runs a full-blown version of Windows 8.1, they’ll automatically open themselves up to a much wider audience. This new lower spec’d Surface can be a hit amongst students and people not willing to drop $1,000 on a laptop, while retaining the iconic design and build quality associated with the Surface line of devices.

This will be a tremendous year for Microsoft in both the hardware and software space, with Windows 10, a slew of Windows Phones, new Surface models (both Pro and non-pro), the new Surface Hub and HoloLens, this makes it the biggest product year in the history of the company.

Source: WinBeta

Dell and another 10 OEMs will also pre-install Microsoft apps on their Android devices

microsoft-headquartersIn addition to the announcement of select future Samsung Android tablets being pre-installed with Microsoft software such the Office apps, OneDrive, OneNote and Skype, there seems to be many more manufactures taking part in this venture.

Microsoft has officially announced that Dell along with an additional 10 OEMs will also be bundling the same apps on their Android products later in 2015. Although Microsoft or its OEMs haven’t disclosed exactly what type of Android devices these apps will be pre-installed on, or how this deal came to be, it’s definitely an aggressive move on Microsoft’s part to ensure that it’s services reach more potential customers.

Earlier today, we announced an expanded global partnership with Samsung to deliver Microsoft mobile productivity services to both consumer and business customers. Building on that news, I’m pleased to share that we’ve also expanded strategic agreements with leading global OEM Dell, and regional OEMs including TrekStor of Germany, JP Sa Couto of Portugal, Datamatic of Italy, DEXP of Russia, Hipstreet of Canada, QMobile of Pakistan, Tecno of Africa, and Casper of Turkey, as well as top original device manufacturer Pegatron. These 11 hardware partners will pre-install Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype on Android devices coming to market later this year.

For OEMs, these deals will increase the value of and enrich people’s experiences on Android devices. Original device manufacturers are important because they extend Microsoft services to the ecosystem. More specifically, they help to reach a greater number of other device manufacturers, resulting in even more choice for customers around the world. And for Microsoft, this is part of the company’s mobile-first, cloud-first vision.  It is addressing consumer demand for top services by making them already available on a device, instead of requiring consumers to download them separately.

Microsoft is set for a very aggressive year when it comes to their product offerings.  Not only will Windows 10 be available on an unprecedented amount of devices and cost nothing for about 900 million users, but the software giant is doing everything possible to ensure that its services thrive on competing platforms.  Not to mention the launch of HoloLens later this year which has tremendous potential and can possibly change the face of the company almost instantly.

Source: Microsoft

Windows 10 for phones will support NFC payments similar to Apple Pay

windows-10-for-phones-video-demoDuring the WinHEC 2015 conference in China, Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 for Phones will get a wireless payment NFC-enabled system that will work similar to how Apple Pay does.

This will be achieved with a technology called Host Card Emulation (HCE).  HCE allows for the transmission of payment related information from a device to an NFC-enabled terminal designed for the recital of wireless payments.  HCE is currently available on Android 4.4 KitKat and above, and Microsoft wants to ensure that its mobile users also have this capability.  In a slide presented below, Microsoft lists Visa, MasterCard and AMEX as payment solutions.

windows phone nfc paymentsThis type of payment solution is about to become much more widely used in the near future, and perhaps the main reason is due to the fact that Apple has entered this market with Apple Pay. During Apple’s “Spring Forward” event, the Cupertino giant announced that over 700,000 locations will support Apple Pay, which in turn will benefit Android users, and users running Windows 10 on their smartphones as retailers finally embrace this technology.

Microsoft’s Build 2015 conference will surely be the most exciting one to watch, and we expect that the firm will fully unveil the curtains on mobile payments and Windows 10 phones.

Source: Channel 9

Microsoft officially releases developer tools for the Windows 10 Technical Preview

windows-10-family1Microsoft has just released the developer tools (SDK) for the Windows 10 Technical Preview for Windows Insiders. As of today, developers can start building Universal Windows 10 apps.

This is the first version of the SDK and it will continually be updated as the development of Windows 10 continues towards RTM.  Here are the key aspects in this preview release.

  • Adaptive UX: Windows 10 provides the ability to use a single UI that can adapt from small to large screens. For developers with an existing Windows 8.1 app, you can quickly try this one out by (a) removing one of your UI projects (and going from three Visual Studio projects to one!) and (b) add the improved ViewStateManager to control how your UI adapts at runtime.
  • User controls: A number of our Windows 10 UI controls will determine, at runtime, how the customer is interacting with your app and render the appropriate user experience (e.g. on a laptop with a touch-screen, an app fly-out control will provide larger touch-targets if tapped with touch, as opposed to clicked with a mouse).
  • API contracts: With Windows 10, you can directly verify if a Windows feature is available rather than inferring based on the operating system version. This empowers you to start checking, at runtime, if a Windows feature is available on the device before you call a related API. A good API contract for you to try out in your code to see this in action is HardwareButtons, which is present on phones (via the Mobile Extensions SDK), and thus available on the phone and mobile emulator but not available on the desktop. We believe that API contracts and the extension SDKs will allow you to adapt your code at runtime to deliver user experiences that feel right on the device it’s being run on.
  • Visual Studio Tooling improvements: As you experiment with the new developer tools, there are a number of improvements you’ll want to check out. For more details on this topic, I’d highly recommend you review the today’s post by S. Somasegar: Tools for Windows 10 Technical Preview.

This is a critical step for Microsoft as it gives developers the ability to target the entire Windows ecosystem of devices with Universal apps. This is vital in order to ensure that the Windows App Store thrives and effectively competes with iOS and Android in the future.

For more information regarding this release, check out the Windows Blog

Download: Tools for Windows 10 Technical Preview or ISO

Download: Visual Studio CTP6

 

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 http://m.chase.com 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's future vision of Skype has a wow effect [Video]

skype future

Microsoft launched its preview of Skype for Business just a few days ago, and although Skype has practically become a world standard in video communication, Microsoft wants to take things much further.

The Skype of today is just the beginning of what is set to be a powerful piece of software that not only breaks language barriers, but aims to have presence in even more places and devices in a much more profound way while being cross-platform compatible.

Microsoft sees Skype as an all-around communication tool that will be home to real-time annotations between users, and a much more compelling collaboration experience between users, all while breaking the language barrier.

Microsoft has demonstrated the power of Skype when used with HoloLens, with the use of Holograms and real-time holographic annotations. The newly announced Surface Hub, a giant 84” touchscreen display is another prime example of how Skype will push collaboration and meetings to a new level.

Although these examples are forward-leaning, Microsoft sees a future that is much more profound.  Microsoft has released a video of how they see Skype evolving in their vision of the future. This video really gives you that wow effect, and not because it’s so futuristic, but because the future portrayed in the video doesn’t seem too distant when observing how rapidly Microsoft is evolving Skype.

Microsoft sheds some light on Windows 10 for the Internet of Things in new video

One of the main strengths of Windows 10 is that it will run on embedded devices, or what Microsoft likes to call the “Internet of things”. This is a market of tremendous potential as automation will play a significant role in our lives going forward. Microsoft is determined to play profound role in this market and are predicting that Windows 10 will be installed on over 25 billion of these devices by 2020.

Here is what Microsoft had to say about Windows 10 on IOT devices:

Windows 10 will offer versions of Windows for a diverse set of IOT devices, ranging from powerful devices like ATMs and ultrasound machines, to resource constrained devices like gateways. Through key partnerships with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Intel, Qualcomm and others, we will provide great options for commercial devices builders, hobbyists and students.

This is one particular area that has been largely overlooked and one that Microsoft hasn’t shed much light on, but in the video Microsoft provided, one can get a good understanding of the tremendous scale of this market.

Microsoft will be offering Windows 10 on IOT devices for free, and we except the Redmond giant to shed some more light on this matter at Build this April.

Source: Channel 9

Microsoft plans to significantly speed up the update process on Windows Phone with "Project Milkyway"

windows-phone-8_1-update1During the WinHec conference today Microsoft unveiled its plans to make updates delivered to its phones at a much faster pace with “Project Milkyway”.

Currently, updating Windows Phones is a very slow process, and in many cases it can take months for devices to get updated, and with Project Milkyway Microsoft plans to bring the wait down to 4-6 weeks of release.

project milkyway1 project milkyway2In the slide above, Microsoft outlines the procedure on how this is set to happen, and it depicts various steps that would be taken to get new updates rolled out to Windows phones.  Some of these steps include several carrier-related approvals which makes things a little skeptical since they seem to be the ones slowing things down dramatically, but at least Microsoft has a plan which makes things encouraging.

Source: Channel 9 via Windows Central (images by Windows Central)