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Posts tagged ‘Microsoft’


Join the perfect match in ‘Halo 5’ with the custom game browser

Today’s update to Halo 5: Guardians adds a long-requested feature to Xbox One and Windows 10: a custom games browser. The new browser allows players to search for in-progress games from the main menu, customizing search parameters by specific maps, modes or players. It’s been a long time coming, considering Halo 5 debuted in October 2015.

“This Custom Games Browser is something the team has wanted to add for a long time for the community, but we needed the Content Browser and the search engine that powers it up and running first,” 343 UX Design Lead Vincent Hui says in a blog post. “Thanks for being patient.”

Today’s update also adds an Observer mode, and it enables the Forge map editing tool and Arena multiplayer mode in Windows 10, though the desktop version still doesn’t include matchmaking. Get the full details in both of 343’s blog posts, here and here.

Source: Halo Waypoint


Microsoft’s Cortana gets a simpler look on iOS and Android

Every major technology company is obsessed with voice control right now. From Amazon’s Alexa speakers to Google’s new Pixel phones — almost everything has an assistant which you can strike a conversation with. Not wanting to be left out, Microsoft is still hard at work on Cortana for Windows 10 and various mobile operating systems. Today, the company has announced a “fresh” and “simplified look” for the iOS and Android apps which lean heavily on the color purple. The apps are faster than before, and a new Quick Actions section puts your most common requests front and center, such as reminders, meetings and weather summaries.

The new-look Cortana app is available on Android today, ahead of an iOS update “in the coming weeks.” The big makeover is also the first time that both apps have been available in the United Kingdom. Quite why it’s taken so long to cross the pond isn’t clear — the apps have been available in the US for a year now — but they’re welcome arrivals all the same. If you’re fed up with Siri, or haven’t made friends with the Google Assistant yet, they could be worth digging into. Especially if your main laptop or PC is running Windows 10. Microsoft is pushing out plenty of updates over there too.

Source: Microsoft (Blog Post)


The Morning After: Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hey, good morning! Last night, Nintendo showed off the Switch and its debut mobile Super Mario game, Microsoft laid down some big plans for 2017 and 10,000 Sprint stores are turning into PokéStops.

Nintendo successfully built a “Mario” title that makes perfect sense on a phonePreview: “Super Mario Run”


We’ve played Nintendo’s first real smartphone game (and so can you — starting today a demo is available at your local Apple Store) and can confirm: it’s just as much fun as everyone hoped it would be. We’ve played Nintendo’s first real smartphone game (and so can you — starting today a demo is available at your local Apple Store) and can confirm: it’s just as much fun as everyone hoped it would be. “Super Mario Run” integrates the character’s traditional gameplay into an auto-runner format, as players tap the screen to make him jump, hover or wall-jump through the levels. Once that’s mastered, the Toad Rally multiplayer system adds a surprising level of depth. Interested? The $9.99 game arrives on iOS December 15th (Android next year), and as Reggie Fils-Aime explains, it’s just the beginning.

It’s going to be an interesting year
Microsoft’s big plans for VR, AR and Windows 10 on ARM


Microsoft’s plans for 2017 are coming into focus, and they’re going to involve using the words “mixed reality” repeatedly. First, it’s released recommended PC specs for using those $300 Windows VR headsets on the way from Dell, HP and Lenovo. There’s also a Project Evo in the works with Intel to deliver systems ready for 4K gaming, Windows Hello and smooth mixed-reality experiences like HoloLens.

Finally, it’s readying a version of Windows 10 that runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile CPUs. Don’t think of this as another stripped-down Windows RT effort however — it’s a full OS, capable of running both legacy x86 Windows programs and newer universal apps. The first PCs using it could be on their way as soon as next year.

Finally, a reason to go to a phone store.
Sprint stores are turning into PokéStops and Gyms


10,000 locations are being added to the US’ Pokemon Go world — and they’re all Sprint stores. It’s the country’s first sponsored location deal, and it’s unlikely to be the last. Don’t forget: new Pokemon are coming.

Now we just need a device with it built-in
Bluetooth 5 is faster, longer-ranged and (almost) here

Bluetooth version 5’s specifications have been cemented, clearing the way for device makers to use it in everything from phones and wearables to smart home equipment. It’s a huge upgrade to the version before it, and should ensure future Bluetooth headphones don’t choke on signal fumes. Useful at a time when all the headphone jacks are disappearing from our phones.

Like iMessages but with no obligatory iPhone
T-Mobile Digits brings calls and texts to all your devices

The Uncarrier’s new Digits program lets you add multiple numbers to your phone, and then use them across all your devices. Those who join the trial will need to have at least Android 5.0 or iOS 9 installed on their phones, and/or Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome on their Macs or PCs, but then your texts and calls will work across all said compatible devices.

It’s selling faster than the PS3 did.
Sony has sold 50 millions PS4s and PS4 Pros


Console gaming continues to power on. Combining PS4, PS4 Pro and the new slim version console sales, Sony has sold 50 million consoles in just over three years. In comparison, it took the company over four years to hit the same milestone with the PS3.

But wait, there’s more…

  • Nintendo’s Switch might play GameCube games
  • Rumor: Apple is in talks to offer movie rentals two weeks after they debut in theaters
  • Technology is coming for your retail jobs
  • BBC tests 4K iPlayer with ‘Planet Earth II’

Windows 10 preview lets Cortana play music, turn off your PC

Cortana is the star of a big new Windows 10 Insider Preview build. Microsoft says that voice control of your PC was one its “top requests,” so the latest update now lets you shutdown, restart, lock or sleep your system using the voice assistant. You can also use natural language to play music on two apps (iHeartRadio and TuneIn) by saying “Play Drake on iHeartRadio,” for instance. Once the music starts, you can use your voice to control playback and volume.

If you request a song or genre without specifying the app, it’ll remember the last one you used and play it from that. It also lets you find a track name from any music app by saying, “hey Cortana, what song is playing?” Finally, when you say, “hey Cortana,” from an unlocked PC that’s been idle for over 10 seconds, the app will load in a new full-screen mode, showing information like the weather.

The update also includes support for 19 more games in full-screen mode with the Windows Game Bar (including Battlefield 1, Fallout 4 and Dark Souls III). You’ll also get new Windows Ink features, additional Edge extensions, a new Windows Defender dashboard, updated Narrator features, more Windows Update options and new rendering tech for Universal Windows (UWP) apps. In other words, it’s a pretty big update — check the Windows Blog for more information, or, if you’re on the Insider track, you can now get it directly. As usual, beware of the release’s beta nature and the bugs that entails.

Source: Microsoft


Microsoft has big plans for VR and AR in 2017

Ever since Microsoft announced earlier this year that it would be opening up its Windows Holographic platform to other device makers, the company has been an intriguing presence in the world of virtual and augmented reality (or “mixed reality,” as it’s fond of saying). After all, Microsoft could offer some healthy competition to the likes of Oculus and HTC, which launched their own VR headsets and platforms this year. Today at the WinHEC conference in Shenzen, the company is finally giving us a clearer sense of how it plans to bring mixed reality to more consumers.

For one, it’s finally revealing the official system specifications you’ll need to run the $300 Windows 10 VR headsets, which will be built by the likes of Dell, HP and Lenovo. At a minimum, you’ll need an Intel Core i5 CPU with Hyperthreading, 8GB of RAM, USB 3.0, HDMI or DisplayPort connections that support at least 2,880 by 1,440 resolutions at 90 Hz, and an Intel HD Graphics 620 chipset or a DirectX 12-compatible graphics card.

That’s mostly on par with the specs hinted at by the “Windows Holographic Test Run” app last month, though notably that listed 4GB of RAM as a minimum requirement. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have similar requirements, but they demand mid-range GPUs (and curiously 4GB less RAM than Microsoft). Microsoft will also make dev kits for the Windows Holographics headsets available at the Game Developers Conference in February.

Alex Kipman, the creator of HoloLens, describes the $300 headsets as “mid-range” devices that’ll detect six degrees of motion, a similar experience to what you get with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. As for truly high-end VR experiences, Microsoft also announced a partnership with the Chinese headset maker 3Glasses, which will offer Windows Holographic on its S1 device in the first half of next year. The S1 looks similar to the Rift and Vive, but it sports two independent 2K display panels and a faster 120Hz refresh rate. Technically, that means it should deliver a smoother and sharper VR experience than the competition, but of course other factors also weigh in heavily in VR, especially ergonomics.

As for HoloLens itself, Kipman says Microsoft is working on making it available in China. The company has just submitted the headset for government approval, and he has “every expectation” that Chinese consumers will be able to get their hands on it in the first half of 2017. Perhaps more interesting than the HoloLens itself, though, is seeing how other companies remix the technology in different ways. Back in June, Microsoft’s Windows and Devices group head Terry Myerson told us a consumer version of HoloLens “may come from us, or it may come from a partner, and either way that’s fantastic.”

Microsoft and Intel are also partnering on “Project Evo,” an initiative to bring together their many PC offerings to deliver systems that will support things like 4K gaming, far-field microphones, smooth mixed-reality experiences and security features like Windows Hello. It all sounds pretty amorphous — haven’t they been trying to build these things into PCs for a while? — but hopefully it could lead to more fully featured PCs of all shapes and sizes. Most intriguingly, Intel also plans to have its integrated HD Graphics chipsets supporting mixed reality by the end of next year, according to its consumer head Navin Shenoy. That means we could see mid-range VR-ready laptops sometime in 2017.


Windows 10 is coming to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile chips

Microsoft’s first attempt at bringing Windows to ARM-powered machines was, shall we say, not a good idea. But perhaps the second time’s the charm. Microsoft and Qualcomm just announced that Windows 10 is coming to the next generation of Snapdragon mobile processors. And to be clear, they’re referring to the full version of the OS, with support for legacy Win32 software and universal Windows apps. It won’t be a stripped-down affair like Windows RT.

Both companies are being vague about specifics, but in short you can expect Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 devices to be incredibly light and power efficient. And since those chips typically appear in mobile devices, they also have the added benefit of packing in cellular radios. As for availability, Qualcomm says the first Windows 10 Snapdragon PCs could arrive “as early as next year.” Perhaps they’re just hedging their bets, but the cynic in me thinks that really means we won’t see them until 2018.


Tech giants band together to fight terrorist content online

Some of the biggest names in tech have concocted a plan to combat the spread of terrorist content online together. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Alphabet-owned YouTube are creating a shared database of “hashes” for any terror-related content they remove from their services. Hashes are unique code identifiers associated with each photo and video that computers can use for identification. For instance, if Facebook spots a new recruitment or (heaven forbid) beheading video on its website, the social network will give it a hash before and upload it to the database. The websites won’t automatically purge photos and videos in the database, though — each service will still review and remove them on their own.

According to The Wall Street Journal, this partnership was a direct result of the companies’ regular meetings with European Union officials. European authorities have been putting the pressure on internet companies to do something to curb the spread of terrorist propaganda, since extremists have been using their platforms to spread their message. Twitter, for one, had to shut down hundreds of thousands of accounts associated with ISIS and other extremist groups this past year.

The other companies are pretty experienced in fighting off terror content, as well. Microsoft started auto-purging them from Xbox Live, Outlook Docs and its other services in May this year. In June, Reuters reported that YouTube and Facebook, among other internet companies, were using automated systems to find and remove terror-related images and videos. They reportedly uploaded their finds to a shared database, as well, though it’s unclear whether that earlier experimental effort is associated with this collaboration. WSJ says the four companies will begin sharing their hashes next year and are open to welcoming new additions to the group in the future.

Source: Twitter, Facebook


Microsoft’s second try at social chat bots arrives in Kik

Microsoft’s first foray into social chat bots didn’t go so well given that propensity for racist diatribes. It’s giving the concept another try, however, and this time it promises to be more successful. Twitter user Tom Hounsell has noticed the existence of Zo, a Microsoft chat bot currently being tested in the messaging app Kik. Effectively, Zo looks like an English-language version of Microsoft’s existing Chinese bot, Xiaoce. After briefly gauging your personality, it’ll participate in conversations like an overexcited teenager. The bot is far from perfect, but that’s what’s testing is for, isn’t it?

Notably, the bot steers clear of topics that could land it in the headlines, like you saw with Tay. Ask Zo about politics or Hitler, for example, and it will not-so-subtly try to guide you away from the subject. It’s also uncannily knowledgeable about Microsoft products, and will profess to being a Windows phone fan.

Kik is an unusual proving ground for Microsoft — you’d expect it to try the bot on Skype or a very large third-party service like WhatsApp. A mid-sized service like Kik makes sense, mind you. It limits testers to those who are genuinely interested in what Zo can do (you can request an invitation if you’d like to try), and reduces the chances that gaffes will reflect badly on Microsoft. If Zo branches out to other platforms, it’ll likely happen only after the crew in Redmond is confident that its bot will behave.

Via: MSPowerUser, The Verge

Source: Zo, Tom Hounsell (Twitter)


The 11 best tech gifts for workaholics

We’re not saying you want to enable them (OK, maybe we are), but you definitely know someone who works too much. They chip away at their to-do lists on weekends. They are probably even going to slip away at some point during the holidays to check work email. If that’s the lifestyle they’ve chosen, embrace it by picking gifts that can either live at their desk, or come with them while they’re trying to get work done on the road. Our list includes everything from a comfy desk chair to a wireless charging desk lamp to our favorite laptop and desktop keyboard. You might not be able to persuade them to change their rigid habits, but at least you can make them more comfortable while they toil away.

For our full list of recommendations in all categories, don’t forget to stop by our main Holiday Gift Guide hub.


EU to tech industry: Remove hate speech faster or we’ll make you

Despite agreeing to crack down on the spread of hate speech across their networks earlier this year, four of the world’s biggest technology companies aren’t delivering on their promises, Reuters reports. A review conducted by EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova found that Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft failed to flag and remove offensive content within 24 hours, with less than half of cases being responded to in that timeframe. If they don’t improve their response times, new legislation could be introduced to force them to do so.

“In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours,” a Commission official told Reuters. “After 48 hours the figure is more than 80 percent. This shows that the target can realistically be achieved, but this will need much stronger efforts by the IT companies.”

In May, Facebook, Twitter, Google (specifically YouTube) and Microsoft signed a voluntary code of conduct that would standardize the way users report hate speech and allow law enforcement agencies to act swiftly on harmful content. This included the removal of such content within 24 hours. They also committed to support educational programs and promote “independent counter-narratives” to hateful messages.

According to the Financial Times, the report found that (unsurprisingly) Twitter was slowest to respond while YouTube was fastest. Jourová didn’t single out Twitter, though, choosing to direct her ire at all of the companies involved: “If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months,” she told the paper on Sunday.

Justice ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss the report on Thursday. Also on the agenda will be a discussion on how the companies are tackling “terrorist propaganda” and what evidence they can provide to help make convictions.

Source: Reuters, Financial Times

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