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Windows 10 hits 500 million active devices

Windows 10’s install base is still growing steadily. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced today that the OS now has 500 million monthly active devices, up from 400 million last September. That’s significant progress, though it’s still much slower than Windows 10’s growth when Microsoft was offering free upgrades for older machines. The company points to its push to unify its platforms under Windows 10, as well as “strong pickup” among businesses as a big reason for its progress so far.

Still, it’s clear that Microsoft saw the slowdown coming. While it originally planned to have a billion Windows 10 installs by 2018, it later revised that projection to sometime after next year. One thing’s clear, if Microsoft wants to reach that goal soon, it’ll need to figure out a way to bring the OS to even more devices. The company won’t be able to stall its mobile strategy for much longer.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from Microsoft’s Build 2017.


HP and Intel are building Cortana-powered devices

HP and Intel are both working on connected-home devices that run on Microsoft’s Cortana platform. Microsoft announced the devices as part of its Build 2017 conference this morning, but didn’t provide details about form, function or release window.

The gadgets from HP and Intel follow this week’s announcement of Invoke (GIF below), the first-ever third-party Cortana device. The connected speaker comes from Harman Kardon and it can “favorite music, manage calendars and activities, set reminders, check traffic, deliver the latest news and much more.”

The Invoke and other Cortana-run devices will encroach on a hot IoT market currently dominated by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

In another move meant to bolster Microsoft’s entrance in the connected-home game, the Cortana Skills Kit is now live in public preview in the US. This allows developers to create Cortana-powered apps and programs across Android, iOS, Windows 10 and the Invoke.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from Microsoft’s Build 2017.


Self-driving cars make me nauseous

One of the major benefits of our self-driving future is just how much more gosh-darn productive we’re all going to be. Instead of wasting brain power driving our cars to work, we’ll sit back and let the ride do it for us. Suddenly, that time can be harnessed for our leisure or, more likely, to cram even more work into our days. But what will happen to all the people like me, who get sick at the thought of sitting in a car?

I’m not much of a car guy, because when I think about cars, my overriding memory is vomiting on the side of the highway. That smell of an overwarm car interior, heated by the air blowers turned up too high, makes me retch even to this day. In fact, even now, I can only avoid travel sickness by driving myself, with the aircon turned down low while chewing strong, mint-flavored gum.

So there’s a slightly selfish motive in visiting Ansible Motion, an automotive engineering company that claims to have the world’s most accurate car simulator. Most sims are built to train drivers, or for fun, but this one is intended for car designers to help them build new cars. Engineers can sketch out a new vehicle, plug the vital statistics into Ansible’s platform and test drive it straight away.

Ansible Motion is based at the Hethel Engineering Center, a European Union-funded startup incubator on the outskirts of Norwich, England. Even for a non-petrolhead like myself, I’m aware that I’m standing hallowed ground. If you step out of this building and walk across a neighboring field for five minutes, you’ll stumble across the anonymous-looking headquarters of Lotus Cars.

The $3.8 million simulator is no substitute for real-world testing, but it can help designers avoid costly mistakes. Engineers traditionally had to wait until a prototype was built before knowing if they’d spent years creating a design that’s flawed. Ansible’s simulator is apparently so accurate that mistakes can be spotted and fixed before a single piece of metal is welded.

A fortunate side effect of Ansible Motion’s unprecedented fidelity is that it can also be used to examine car sickness. In the near future, it’ll be the testbed for an extensive research project at an as-yet unnamed British university into mitigating the issue. But before those experiments began, I got to see if this simulator really was good enough to induce sickness.

The simulator itself has six axes of motion, thanks to three platforms that are essentially stacked one on top of each other. Perched on top of that is the “car,” a crudely-drawn cockpit that’s shaped like a black wedge; a stealth fighter built by hobbyists. Inside the clamshell hatch is a pair of bucket racing seats, a steering wheel connected to a fierce-looking motor and a simple dashboard. Oh, and the whole thing is lined with the same automotive fabric that I remember from my youth.

A 240-degree screen, wrapped almost all the way around the cockpit dominates the room. Five projectors are mounted in the ceiling above, while hidden behind the screen is the rack of five servers that run the show. Once I’ve clambered in and strapped myself down, I’m asked to wear a pair of AKG headphones with a boom microphone. It’s here that I’ll be speaking to the control room and listening to binaurally-recorded sound that helps replicate the experience of driving.

Before we begin, the simulator powers up and I can, suddenly, feel the rumble of an idling engine below me. Then, the display loads and I’m able to control a generic rear-wheel drive vehicle around a custom-designed racing circuit. The graphics aren’t much better than a older iteration of Gran Turismo, but that’s not the issue, really. They’re realistic enough to trick your eye and no more, and it does the job pretty well.

After a few laps of competent, yet slow, roaming around the track that’ll be familiar to any 80 year old dad, I’m told the self-driving component will soon kick in. There’s a countdown, and I let go of the steering wheel to let the simulator drive me around the track on its own. The system is quick, but conservative, but manages to go faster around the track than I’d managed.

It wasn’t long, however, before the stale air inside the cabin began to get to me, and the cloth lining began to get warm. I’d planned, at some point, to start pulling out my phone and living the dream of our self-driving future. But it clearly wasn’t going to happen, because I was already starting to feel nauseous.

It was ridiculous to admit it, given that I was sat almost perfectly still in a two-story garage in Hethel. We switched back and forth a few times, me taking the wheel in an attempt to cool down my nausea before returning control to the car. But every time I let the autonomous system take over, that all-too familiar sense of discomfort returned.

Getting sick in a simulator isn’t a rare problem, however, it even has a name: Simulator Adaptation Syndrome. Companies like Ansible are leaning into the concept to create systems that will purposely trigger sickness. After all, it’s only after researchers know how something is caused, that will we be able to properly mitigate against it. That gives me hope that someone, somewhere, isn’t too far away from developing a solution that means I won’t need to buy a bucket.

Of course, one random travel sick guy isn’t going to affect our self-driving future, or is it?. You see, there may be plenty of people who don’t realize that they are terrible passengers because they always drive — for now, at least. A 2015 study out of the University of Michigan suggests that motion sickness symptoms are going to spike when people start letting vehicles take over.

Motion sickness is, essentially, caused by a disconnect between what your body and your brain perceive. Your eyes may know that you are moving, but your vestibular system — which governs balance — does not. Around a third of the participants in the Michigan study said that they plan to kick back and read, text, play games or watch movies. All things that will affect the vestibular balance in your brain, triggering nausea or vomiting.

The study suggests that car manufacturers do what they can to reduce the effects of motion sickness. Proposed solutions include making wind shields bigger and wider, overlaying graphics only onto the front window and not installing swiveling seats.

I wonder if there’s going to be a shock when all of these people start getting sick after their first trip inside a self-driving car. We may believe, or hope, that an autonomous vehicle will magically eliminate the issues that have dogged passengers for a century. But a self-driving car is still a /car/, and unless things change,many of us are still going to get sick in it.


Microsoft takes aim at Alexa with Cortana Skills Kit

Amazon’s Alexa is miles ahead of rivals like Microsoft and Google with its “skills” — around 10,000 mini-apps that let you use your voice to control your lights or music, order an Uber, learn first aid and more. To help close that gap, Microsoft has finally launched the Cortana Skills Kit in a public preview, allowing developers to build new skills or convert them from Alexa or Microsoft’s new Bot Framework.

Developers will be able to use the kit to build skills and publish them to a new Cortana channel on its Bot Framework. Right now, the skills will work on Cortana for Windows 10, Android, iOS and the recently announced Cortana-enabled Harman Kardon Invoke speaker.

A key piece of Microsoft’s Cortana strategy is Echo-like hardware, but it hasn’t revealed its own device (yet). Instead, the first Echo-like device is from a third-party supplier, Harman Kardon, with the Invoke. At the Build conference today, HP also said it would build Cortana-specific devices, and Intel revealed that it would develop reference designs for the AI assistant.

Microsoft has been testing the Cortana Skills Kit in a private beta with select developers to work out the kinks. So far, early partners include Expedia, Capital One and handyman outfit TalkLocal. However, that list should grow rapidly — today at its Build conference, its holding a training session, showing developers how to design, build, test and publish Skills using the Azure Bot Framework. Other sessions will follow over the next two days on building voice-centric experiences and business-oriented apps.

In a demo during build, Microsoft’s Laura Jones showed that developers can create Cortana skills across various platforms, including PCs, Harman Kardon’s Invoke, your car’s infotainment system or mobile devices. For instance, you can tell Cortana to enter a business meeting appointment at home, and once on the road, it can inform you about an accident that will make you late and notify attendees. “Because Cortana is aware of the device I’m on, she can provide me with contextually-aware responses,” says Jones.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from Microsoft’s Build 2017.


Icon A5 plane crash kills two, including its lead designer

A fatal crash has left the amphibious Icon A5 personal aircraft’s fate mired in uncertainty. Lead engineer Jon Karkow and coworker Cagri Sever were killed in the accident outside of Icon’s Vacaville, California training facility, AVweb reports. Karkow was piloting the aircraft at the time and the pair had been airborne for around 20 minutes.

The crash may be the result of a “steep vertical descent,” according to Wired. Given that the A5 was designed to make flying easier, the crash is all the more curious. Especially, like Wired notes, when Karkow had flown more aggressive and challenging craft in his time at Scaled Composites. Before joining Icon, Karkow helped design Virgin Atlantic’s GlobalFlyer and SpaceShip Two.

An investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board is underway. Coupled with layoffs and a recent scaling back in delivery estimates for the aircraft with foldable wings, how Icon and the A5 fare from here isn’t clear.

Via: Wired

Source: AVweb


Sprint will launch its 5G network in late 2019

Sprint isn’t going to sit by the wayside while AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon make a fuss over their 5G wireless plans. The carrier has revealed that it’s working with its parent company SoftBank and Qualcomm to launch its 5G network in late 2019. Details are scant at this point (it’s over 2 years away, after all), but Sprint expects to use its existing 2.5GHz airwaves for the ultra-fast cellular link.

The timing is competitive, though not spectacular. AT&T is hoping to launch 5G as soon as late 2018, while T-Mobile would still be in mid-rollout when Sprint arrives. However, the news leaves more than a few questions. How soon will 5G be available nationwide? What happens to Sprint’s existing networks? Those are important — 5G won’t matter much if it takes a long time to reach your neighborhood, and it won’t be easy if Sprint has to repurpose parts of its 4G network to jump to 5G.

Sprint does have good reason to hurry, though, as its rivals aren’t standing still. Verizon, Cisco and Samsung just started the first multi-company 5G trial in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They’re relying on Verizon’s preliminary 5G spec (a standard is still a long ways off), but this proves that tech from a range of providers can work smoothly together in real-world conditions. In other words, Verizon’s 5G network testing this spring is likely on track. Sprint won’t necessarily be that far behind, but it hasn’t even confirmed testing plans yet — it’s hard to know whether or not its 2019 goal is realistic.

Source: Sprint


Childish Gambino’s latest vinyl release comes with a VR headset

Say what you will about the vinyl resurgence, but artists keep turning to the ancient media format to try out high-tech tricks. The latest in that trend is Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover, Pitchfork notes. When his Awaken, My Love! album from late last year lands at your local record store (or, more likely, an online retailer) on May 19th, it’ll come packed with a cardboard VR headset and an app that gives access to live performances recorded in 360-degrees from Glover’s “PHAROS Experience.” Next week in London, you could even attend a VR screening party for the record if you’re so inclined.

The Motown-esque album doesn’t come cheap, however. Its twin 45 RPM LPs, glow-in-the-dark cover art and other accoutrements will set you back somewhere around $60 depending on where you buy it.

Most recently, rap duo Run the Jewels released Run the Jewels 3 with an augmented reality component for not only the vinyl version of the record, but all of the group’s merchandise. RTJ also toyed with virtual reality in their 360-degree video for the single “Crown.”

And for plain old engineering wizardry, look no further than Jack White’s Lazaretto record. That Ultra LP features vinyl-only hidden tracks under each side’s label, with one playing at 45 RPM and the other 78 RPM. That’s in addition to locked groove songs on each side in and a number of other special features.

Meanwhile, the high-tech physical format that sought to replace vinyl in the ’80s (the compact disc) continues its death spiral seemingly everywhere outside of Japan. For a preview of what your $60 will get you from Awaken, My Love!, check out the 360-degree video for album opener and lead single “Me and Your Mama” below.

Via: Pitchfork

Source: Awaken My Love


iPhone Remained World’s Most Popular Smartphone Last Quarter

iPhone remained the world’s most popular smartphone by a significant margin last quarter, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were the two most popular models specifically, with an estimated 21.5 million and 17.4 million shipments respectively.

Chinese brand OPPO’s flagship R9 smartphone trailed in third with an estimated 8.9 million shipments, while Samsung’s mid-range Galaxy J3 and J5 rounded off the top five with an estimated 6.1 million and 5 million shipments respectively. Other brands combined for an estimated 294.4 million smartphone shipments.

Apple reported that it sold 50.8 million iPhones last quarter, but it does not break out sales on a model-by-model basis.

Strategy Analytics’ estimates suggest the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus accounted for roughly 76.5 percent of Apple’s smartphone sales last quarter, with the remaining 23.5 percent of sales derived from older models. The data also suggests a 55/45 percent sales split for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus respectively.

In late January, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the iPhone 7 Plus is the most popular Plus-sized iPhone that Apple has ever sold, topping both the iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone 6 Plus. Last week, he added that Apple significantly underestimated iPhone 7 Plus demand, resulting in a shortage of the device for several months.

iPhone was the world’s most popular smartphone last year as well, according to research firm IHS Markit.

Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tag: Strategy Analytics
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Sprint Partners With Qualcomm and SoftBank to Launch Wide-Scale 5G Network By End of 2019

Sprint today announced plans to develop and deploy a wide-scale 2.5GHz 5G network in partnership with Qualcomm and SoftBank, with the intent to provide the service and products compatible with it to customers in “late 2019.”

Sprint’s 5G network is said to use the New Radio standard developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, a group of telecommunications organizations that oversee the development and maintenance of major communication networks.

Otherwise, Sprint’s press release today is notably sparse on details.

Qualcomm Technologies, SoftBank and Sprint have jointly agreed to develop technologies for 5G, including the 3GPP New Radio (NR) standard in Band 41 (2.5GHz) for accelerated wide-scale 5G deployments.

The companies plan to provide commercial services and devices in late 2019. Additional details will be provided by the companies.

Like previous advances in network technology, 5G will grant users faster data speeds and lower latency on smartphones and other cellular-enabled devices. Other companies — including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile — have announced plans and tests for 5G networks, but the advanced technology isn’t expected to become a reality until after 3GPP establishes the initial standards for 5G.

After the standards are developed (which will be a focus of 3GPP’s work in the second half of 2017), and after carriers finish testing and launch support for the advanced 5G network infrastructure, it’ll take some additional time for Apple to create and debut an iPhone that could connect to 5G. For these reasons, widespread commercial adoption of 5G is still estimated for 2020 or later.

Tag: Sprint
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Microsoft Officially Launches ‘Visual Studio for Mac’ With Cross-Platform App Coding

After spending months in preview, Microsoft today is officially launching its Visual Studio coding platform for the Mac (via VentureBeat). Visual Studio allows developers to code applications using Microsoft’s integrated development environment (IDE) on Apple’s macOS platform, which they can sync across both Windows and Mac devices.

Thanks to integration with Xamarin, a cross-platform software development company that Microsoft acquired last year, Visual Studio encourages macOS and iOS developers “to use Microsoft’s development tools, since they will no longer need a Windows computer or virtual machine to do so.” Xamarin is expected to eventually close for good following a full integration into Microsoft.

“Developers get a great IDE and a single environment to not only work on end-to-end solutions — from mobile and web apps to games — but also to integrate with and deploy to Azure,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise group, said in a statement. “Whether you use C#, F#, .NET Core, ASP.NET Core, Xamarin or Unity, you’ll get a best-in-class development environment, natively designed for the Mac.”

Visual Studio has been designed natively for macOS, according to Microsoft, letting developers manage their code hosted by any provider, including GitHub and Visual Studio Team Services. Developers can build, connect, and tune native mobile apps for iOS, macOS, and Android while also having the ability to create web applications thanks to support for ASP.NET Core. In terms of programming languages, the C# and F# languages are supported.

There are three different versions of Visual Studio for Mac that users can download, including Visual Studio Community, Visual Studio Professional, and Visual Studio Enterprise. Microsoft markets Community as its free, but “fully-featured,” IDE for students and individual developers. Professional targets small teams with subscription benefits, while more “demanding” users and projects with larger scale are suggested to look into Enterprise.

For its cloud subscriptions, there are yearly and monthly options available to users interested in the higher-tier Visual Studio plans. An annual subscription to Visual Studio Professional costs $539/year while a monthly subscription costs $45/month. For Visual Studio Enterprise, users will pay $2,999/year or $250/month. Subscribers will be able to earn small credits back each month for the yearly tiers, contingent on their use of different Azure services.

For a detailed breakdown of the differences between each Visual Studio subscription, including individual licenses, check out the app’s new website.

Tag: Microsoft
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