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30
Mar

Google’s new VR view lets you easily add 360 degree images to websites and apps


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Google just made it a whole lot easier to show off VR photos on just about everything.

Anyone who has successfully taken a 360 degree photo with Google’s Cardboard Camera app or any of the 360 degree cameras that are available to purchase today know that the act of capturing these photos and video is a lot of fun. Where the fun seems to stop is when you want to share those photos. The recipient either needs the app installed that can view the photo, or you have to pass your phone over so the photo can be fully appreciated. To address this sharing problem, Google has implemented multiple methods for sharing 360 degree photos both in apps and all modern browsers.

Starting very soon, sharing VR photos is going to be something just about everyone can appreciate.

Google’s calling this new photo option VR View, and as the name suggests it lets you click a button in your browser or tap a photo in an app and be taken to a photo that is happening all around you. The combination of an update to the Google Cardboard SDK and an open-source JavaScript solution for browsers means VR view can be implemented with relative ease on just about anything.

Out of the box, VR View supports photos taken with Cardboard Camera and Ricoh Theta cameras natively. Anything else is going to require some adjustment on behalf of the developers responsible for those cameras. Since the JavaScript embed option is open sourced, any manufacturer can adopt this software to suit the images taken by their cameras.

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30
Mar

Android Wear could learn a few things from Samsung’s Gear S2


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Smartwatches are constantly improving. But Android Wear could stand to borrow a little from Samsung.

Android Wear does a lot of things right. As a wearable platform, it’s easily the more feature-complete and functional of those currently available. Being the best wrist-mounted notification dumpster isn’t enough, though, and there are some key ways for Android Wear to improve.

It turns out a fantastic place to look for some improvements to this platform is the Samsung Gear S2. Samsung’s smartwatch is a massive departure from what had previously been available under this brand, and many of the things this watch does right should be paid attention to.

Here’s what we’re talking about.

Hardware navigation options

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Google’s user interface is built on touch, voice, and gestures. Touch control generally works well enough, but the limited screen size means your finger is frequently in the way of the things you’re trying to see. Voice control works if you’re in a place that makes sense to talk to your wrist — which isn’t most places. Gestures are relatively new, and still fairly limited. Also, shaking your arm around in public can be a little odd.

Samsung’s use of a scroll wheel around the display makes navigating the UI and messages a breeze. A scroll wheel may not be appropriate on every Android Wear watch, but the idea of a hardware navigation option is something that could make using Android Wear a lot more interesting. Scrolling through messages, zooming in and out on maps, and discrete navigation would all be made easier through a physical connection to the UI.

Multiple vibration patterns

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Every smartwatch has a vibration motor in it to let you know when a message comes in, but few use them as well as the Samsung Gear S2. There are different vibration patterns for the different kinds of notifications you get, and more impactful ticks from the sensors when you reach the end of a menu through the scroll wheel. These dynamic changes in vibration are significant, and make a big difference when you’re using the watch every day.

It’s the difference between looking down at your wrist every time there’s a buzz because you feel like you have to, and knowing what messages can be looked at later. Smartwatches are supposed to be all about notification control, and this this something Android Wear doesn’t do quite as well as it could.

Better notifications

Notifications on your wrist are tricky, and it’s the kind of thing that you either demand control over, or sit back and enjoy the flow on your wrist.

The first thing you do when pairing the Gear S2 to the Galaxy S7 is a walkthrough of which notifications are passed on from the phone to the watch. You can quickly toggle obvious things off, and make it possible to only get the messages you want. Android Wear lacks this up-front setup, but it offers a similar set of tools if you go looking for them. It’s personal preference to have one setup or the other, but the notifications themselves are also noticeably better on the Gear S2.

Android Wear takes the notifications from your phone and presents them as cards for you to flick around and expand as necessary. It’s great for a quick triage of multiple emails, but for expanding a long text email or messages in a busy chat there are limits to this design. Samsung’s layout makes it easy to jump through long messages and easily separates the individual notifications so you don’t accidentally dismiss something.

When it comes to information density, Android Wear has it nailed. When it comes to ease of use, Samsung’s setup is better.

Control over the app list

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Google’s app list for Android Wear is alphabetical, with exception of two frequently used apps that float to the top of the list. It’s a single list that you scroll downward through, which means the things at the bottom of the list frequently take multiple swipes to get to. This is less of a problem if you only have a few apps installed, but since Android Wear automatically pulls in watch counterparts from the apps on your phone this isn’t as easy to control as it seems.

The Samsung experience is different in several ways, but the most important one is the ability to control where apps live so you can access frequently used apps whenever you want. Arranging those icons is a little clumsy, but the end result is noticeably better than what we see on Android Wear.

More complete watch complications

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Android Wear has no shortage of watch faces, but volume doesn’t necessarily equal quality. Google’s default watch faces, the ones that come with every Android Wear watch, don’t do much to integrate the rest of the watch into the face. There are separate watch faces for things like Google Fit in Android Wear, but nothing that allows for integration with other apps on the watch.

Samsung’s “complications” are a significant step forward on this setup. The design of several default watch faces make it possible to drop in widgets from many different apps on the watch. You can add in a battery meter, step counter, app shortcuts, weather, and so much more. It’s a deeply personalized series of watch faces, and something that is only available in limited capacity across a series of third-party apps. Motorola has offered something similar with some of their included watch faces, but they are limited to developers that work with Motorola for those watches.

How do you think Android Wear should continue to improve?

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Samsung still has a long way to go to make the Gear S2 as functional as your average Android Wear watch, but the implementation of a bunch of their features shows promise. It’s clear Google and Samsung are both looking at watches as a platform for connected and standalone notification systems, and with that comes a lot of unique challenges. What we know for sure is things are going to keep improving for both platforms, which is great.

While we wait for what happens next, share what you’d like to see next from Android Wear or the Gear S2 in the comments.

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30
Mar

New Cortana features include tracking notifications across Android phones


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During today’s Build 2016 keynote address, Microsoft showed off some upcoming features coming to the Cortana digital assistant. One of them will allow it to track notifications across devices, including from Android phones.

In addition to tracking notifications, Cortana will also be able to respond to SMS messages from PC to Android. Many more additional Cortana features will be added to Windows 10 as part of its upcoming Anniversary update that will be released by Microsoft this summer. Stay tuned as we will have more news from the Build 2016 keynote throughout the day.

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30
Mar

Microsoft shows off Xamarin tools to write apps for Windows, iOS and Android


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During today’s Build 2016 keynote address, Microsoft showed off an example of how developers can make apps with Xamarin’s tools. They allow app makers to create software with shared code that can run on Windows, iOS and Android platforms. Microsoft acquired Xamarin just a few weeks before Build 2016.

The example shown at the keynote featured the Windows 10 UWP Microsoft Health app that was first built in Visual Studio. The Xamarin tools can create a layer over C#, which allows for “reverse porting” the app to iOS and Android. That allows developers to make a cross-platform app completely in Visual Studio, with the exception of the app’s user interface.

Stay tuned as we will have more news from the Build 2016 keynote throughout the day.

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30
Mar

Microsoft bots want to empower our digital future


Microsoft believes that intelligent bots and personal digital assistants will allow us to do more things in the future and is looking to integrate them at the core of Microsoft’s services going forward. 

“It is not man vs machine, it is man with machine,” explained Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during the Microsoft Build 2016 keynote. 

Creating a new “Microsoft Bot framework” for developers to be able to add bots to any part of the Windows universe, Microsoft is hoping that companies will build bots for it to help users to get more from Microsoft devices. 

Using Cortana at the heart of the experience, the company demoed a new version of Skype at its developer conference that will use a number of bots to help you get things done. 

It will be one of the first apps from Microsoft to get intelligent bots that are designed to aid users by giving them more information. 

In the demo, Lilian Rincon, a senior exec at Skype, showed how Cortana was able to see that she had an upcoming conference and suggest a hotel that she regularly stays at, before calling in a Westin Hotel bot to help book the room. The Westin Hotel bot was then able to book a room by seeing that she was already having a conversation about the room already with Cortana.

The new bot feature will be available in all versions of the Skype app today for people to try out.

Other examples for bots include a Domino’s Pizza bot that would automatically order you a pizza when you ask it to, or a bot that will be able to tell you what objects are in a picture.  

The idea is for these bots to be able to understand natural language, so rather than having to use specific commands, the bot can interpret the words used, identifying things like times, people and locations, to take appropriate actions. That sort of intelligence is something that we already see in Cortana, Google and Siri, but Microsoft wants to push these services in new directions.

Microsoft isn’t the first company to use bots to help you get things done, but is the first to approach the bot world on such a large scale. 

Communications tool Slack, that is challenging Skype in the workplace, has offered “intelligent” bots for some time allowing you to integrate other services into the chat windows.

Microsoft has said that the framework will be open and that bots will work with “conversation canvases” like Slack. 

30
Mar

Cortana will soon make suggestions throughout your day


Cortana has come a long way since it debuted nearly two years ago. As time goes by, Microsoft’s virtual assistant keeps getting smarter, with features like helping you scan emails to keep track of deadlines. It’s also expanded its reach to Android and iOS, the two most popular mobile platforms in the world. Now, via the upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Cortana will start making proactive suggestions to help you throughout your day.

For example, it can offer to order lunch or arrange a taxi pick-up for you, using information from personal calendars. Cortana’s also going to be able to automatically add receipts to your expense reports, as well as use a combination of geolocation and historical data to bring up details about the places you’ve been to in the past. Marcus Ash, a member of Microsoft’s Cortana team, demoed this during the Build 2016 keynote by asking the virtual assistant: “What toy store did I go to last year at Build?”

Cortana will be available on your lockscreen, too, letting you access its features without having to unlock your desktop or laptop. And now Microsoft’s making it easy to find apps that work well with its smart assistant, thanks to a section in the Windows Store dubbed Cortana Collection.

Developing…

Get all the news from today’s Microsoft Build keynote right here, and follow along with our liveblog!

30
Mar

Microsoft’s AI strategy is more than just Cortana


With the Tay fiasco fresh in our minds, Microsoft has unveiled its “conversations as a platform” strategy at its annual developer conference Build to get devs to create AI bots that work with Cortana. The idea is to make it easy to do things like shop, order services, look up your flight or schedule meetings by just chatting with the virtual assistant.

CEO Satya Nadella said, “it’s about taking the power of human language and applying it more pervasively to all of our computing.” He continued that Microsoft needs to infuse intelligence into its products and services.”

He pointed out that the platform will be composed of three factors: Humans that actually have the conversations, the digital personal assistant like Cortana and the bots that are the new applications. Nadella said that all of three of these interact in a variety of ways. for example, Cortana will not only listen to you, but could also chat with the bots on your behalf to offer up context-based suggestions.

It won’t be corralled in the Window’s world. “It has to be about you, not a single device. That’s how we’re building out Cortana,” Nadella said. The personal assistant will work on and evolve on iOS and Android as well as Windows.

During a demo Lillian Rincon, principal group manager Skype showed off Cortana booking a trip based upon the context of an earlier conversation and Rincon’s earlier trips. It even surfaced her friend in the area to hang out with. All of this was done seamlessly during a conversation.

The Skype beta with AI integration if available today.

Microsoft announced the Bot Frame to get developers working with Cortana and Skype, Slack and other messaging systems. “We want every developer to build experts for Cortana. We all developers to build bots,” Nadella said onstage.

Blind Microsoft developer Saquib Sheikh built an app that tells him what’s going on around him. The app can general the age and gender of those around him, identify objects and read text outloud. It’s impressive and shows off the possibilities available from AI beyond just ordering a pizza.

The new framework and other developer tools are available today.

Tech companies have been aggressively pursuing AI. Google’s DeepMind battled a Go world champion, while Facebook’s M (in limited release) helped folks shop and book flights. Microsoft has been working on artificial intelligence for years, now it’s hoping developers will come along for the ride.

Developing

Get all the news from today’s Microsoft Build keynote right here, and follow along with our liveblog!

30
Mar

Skype gets HoloLens support and help from Cortana


Microsoft isn’t just content to work on a universal Skype app — it has much bigger plans in store. It’s developing a version of Skype for HoloLens that, as you’d expect, lets you chat and collaborate with friends using the augmented reality headset. Its exact functionality isn’t clear yet, but the allure is clear: you can hold a hands-free video chat while you’re walking around the room. Needless to say, that’s helpful if you’re working on a group project or have your hands full with other tasks. Don’t worry if you can’t drop $3,000 on a HoloLens unit to try it out, though, as there’s plenty coming for regular users.

The team is bringing artificial intelligence to Skype in a big way. You’ll have access to the Cortana personal assistant on Android, iOS and Windows, to begin with. It’s much like Facebook’s M and other conversational helpers: you can ask her to send directions, order food, or even connect to other bots (such as, say, customer service). Support for chat bots is being woven into Skype itself, on that note, so companies can serve you through AI messaging when it’s convenient. You should have access to bots in Skype today, and there’s a bot developer kit to help programmers get started.

Get all the news from today’s Microsoft Build keynote right here!

30
Mar

Free Windows 10 Anniversary Update coming summer


Microsoft has announced it will be releasing an “Anniversary Update” this summer bringing a number of new features to Windows 10 giving new life to the operating system just 8 months after it was first released. 

Boasting over 270 millions users using over 500 difference device designs, Microsoft has promised a number of new features for the new update that was previously dubbed Redstone, but used it’s Build developer conference in San Francisco to highlight Windows Ink, it’s in built software for the Pen found on the Surface 4. 

Windows 10 will now get a dedicated ink apps workspace accessible from the desktop or lock screen that will let you get to your “pen friendly” apps quickly.

The main focus of the new features will try and better integrate the pen with everyday use of the device including your fingers. 

That includes everything from using the pen with a ruler controlled by multi-touch, as well as, being able to use it on a map in Bing to determine distances for example. 

Giving more power to the pen, a number of apps across the platform will also get new Windows Ink tools and capabilities including users now being able to edit documents in Word by crossing things out with Windows Ink. 

The company also confirmed that Windows Hello that will allow users to unlock devices, apps, and protected sites on Microsoft Edge without a password using their fingerprint as well as suggesting that Cortana would get more features in the new update. 

The Anniversary Update will also be rolling out to Xbox One bringing a universal store, Cortana to the Xbox One, and much requested features, according to Microsoft, like background music on the console. Microsoft says that more details will come at E3 in June. 

The update will be free to all Windows 10 users later this year. 

30
Mar

Cortana is coming to Xbox One, as is background music


Microsoft has taken to the stage at Build 2016, revealing some detail about what to expect in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update and the future for Xbox One. 

There’s a collection of enhancements coming to the Xbox, and while Microsoft spent a fair amount of time talking about the addition of a dev mode to the Xbox One, the mention of Cortana on Xbox was a passing reference. 

Cortana on Xbox One isn’t actually new. It was hidden in a preview late in 2015 and discovered by gamers, but it now looks as though Microsoft is ready to bring the feature to the Xbox One. 

Microsoft described Cortana as a “personal gaming assistant”, able to help you find new games, challenges and to provide tips and tricks.

Little else was said about Cortana, but it appears to part of the Anniversary Update heading to Windows 10 in the summer.

There was also talk of bringing other features, including background music and a single unified store, although no more was revealed.

Microsoft has promised that more features will be announced at E3 in June.

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