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Nokia’s VR camera gets a $15,000 discount

Nokia’s trolley-dash approach to business means that it now makes health gadgets and professional-level VR cameras. The latter arm sells one product, a $60,000 VR camera called Ozo which is bought by studios like Disney and UEFA. In order to gee-up demand and to celebrate launching in China, Nokia is now hacking $15,000 off the asking price for the gear. The first customer to grab the unit in the middle kingdom is LeVR, the surprisingly-named VR arm of Chinese superconglomerate LeEco. From this we can take one of two things: either Nokia overpriced the hardware, or it’s so staggeringly popular that everyone (in the industry) wants one.

Source: Nokia


Microsoft is laying off 2,850 more workers

Microsoft is cutting an additional 2,850 jobs on top of 1,850 announced in May 2016, meaning it has laid off over 10 percent of its workforce in the last two years. Most are ex-Nokia employees from its mobile hardware division, it said in its annual SEC filing. That means Microsoft has almost nothing left of its $7.2 billion Nokia acquisition, originally intended to make it a smartphone hardware player. The software giant has already notified 900 of the employees and will complete the remaining layoffs by mid-2017.

Microsoft’s mobile phone plans are a big question mark, as sales are in a free fall. The only ray of hope for Windows Phone fans (if there are any left) is that Microsoft hinted last year that it needs to make a mobile device as good as the Surface line. A “Surface Phone,” however, is still nothing more than a rumor and if it does come along, would likely be aimed at Microsoft’s core business market and not consumers. With layoffs now totaling 12,100 in two years, however, Microsoft seems to want nothing to do with building smartphones.

Via: Gizmodo

Source: SEC filing


Withings’ latest scale can gauge your cardiovascular health

Nokia recently bought Withings for $191 million and immediately put it in charge of its entire digital health business. The Finnish company may have been persuaded in part by the Body Cardio, Withings’ new flagship scale that launched today. On top of measuring your body mass index (BMI) and composition, it can judge your cardiovascular health by measuring how quickly blood pumps through your body. “It’s the most advanced product we’ve ever made and the product that most represents Withings’ DNA,” co-founder Eric Carreel tells Engadget.

I had a look at the Body Cardio at Withings’ French headquarters, and the minimalist, Apple-esque design (created in conjunction with Paris design studio Elium), is certainly striking. The scale is just 0.7 inches (18 mm) thick, and has a flat base with no feet. That allows it to work on any surface, whether it be a carpet or hardwood floor. You only need to charge the internal battery every year or so, and using it is a simple matter of standing on the scale.

From there, you can read your stats off the accompanying smartphone app or on the scale directly. As before, you can see — and track over time — your weight, BMI, body composition (including fat, muscle, water and bone mass), and standing heart rate. The key new measurement, however, is the “pulse wave velocity” (PVW), or speed at which blood circulates in your body.

Withings says the pulse wave velocity gives you a snapshot of your heart health. If you have an overly fast PVW and therefore “stiff” arteries, it means you could be at risk for hypertension or cardiovascular incidents. If your blood flow speed is slower, it generally indicates more flexible arteries and good health.

So how can a scale discern all that just from your feet? It measures a very subtle change in weight that happens when you’re aortic valve opens, according to the company. The scale also has embedded electrodes, allowing it deduce when the blood arrives to your feet. By measuring the time it takes for the blood to go from your heart to your feet, and knowing your height, it can calculate the PVW.

While the scale doesn’t measure your blood pressure per se, Carreel says the PVW is a better gauge of heart health. “This blood velocity measurement normally requires an expensive device [called a sphygmometer) that only cardiologists usually have, and now it’s available to anyone as a household device.” Withings says the BodyCardio scale measurements provide a “good correlation” with medical-grade sphygmometers based on testing at two French hospitals. (The company says it will release the results of its study on Friday at the European Society of Hypertension’s Paris meetup.)

As a result, Carreel believes the scale goes beyond personal fitness monitoring and into medical health territory. “Simply by standing on the scale every morning, I can track the evolution and the average value of my PVW, which is going to represent in the long-term, my cardiovascular health. So [the product can] detect these signs and warn me of any health risk, and advise me to see a doctor if necessary.”

In addition, Withings will anonymously collect health data from users (provided they consent) to refine its data analysis. It will then share it with researchers, hospitals and cardiologists to see how PVW influences cardiovascular risk factors on a large scale. “We seek to understand all of the factors that influence the changes in arterial rigidity and blood flow speed (PVW), whether they be nutrition or whatever. So the question is, how can we positively influence these factors?”

Such data and research will no doubt form a big part of Nokia’s newborn health business. As with Apple’s HealthKit, the idea is to get data from millions of users into the hands of doctors and researchers, who can see how it relates to future health problems. That means you’ll theoretically get, on top of the usual fitness stats like heartbeat and body fat composition, something more valuable as you age: A decent idea as to whether you’re at risk for serious cardiovascular problems.

The Body Cardio is now available at Apple and Withings stores in black and white for $180, and will arrive to other retailers by July 7th. A cheaper version without the PVW measurement, the Body, is available at a variety of retailers for $130.


Microsoft Lays Off Nokia Employees, Exits Consumer Phone Business

Microsoft has laid off hundreds of employees tied to its smartphone business, as the company finally exits the consumer phone market and attempts to streamline its worldwide mobile division (via The Verge).

The move will impact up to 1,850 jobs worldwide, said Microsoft’s head of Windows and devices Terry Myerson, while up to 1,350 of the positions will be in Finland. The cuts are expected to be completed by the year’s end.

The move signals the final nail in the coffin for Microsoft’s Nokia business, which the company acquired under former CEO Steve Ballmer’s management for $7.2 billion in 2014. Today’s announcement will see $950 million written off, adding to the $7.6 billion the company wrote off last year when it cut 7,800 jobs to refocus its Windows Phone plans.

Microsoft is now shorn of almost all of its 25,000 former Nokia employees, and will only retain a small number in R&D roles. Last week, the company announced it was selling off its feature phone business to FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Foxconn, for $350 million.

All indications point to an end of Microsoft’s Lumia phones and a focus on a single Surface phone, with Myerson promising “great new devices” in an internal memo to employees, although he withheld any specific timeframe. The immediate focus for Microsoft and its new CEO, Satya Nadella, is more likely to remain on bringing the company’s software and services to iOS and Android devices, rather than risk another consumer phone failure anytime soon.

Microsoft has been scaling back its consumer phone ambitions ever since its ill-fated Nokia mobile acquisition two years ago. Nokia meanwhile has shown far loftier ambitions, last month announcing its acquisition of French health tracking company Withings for an estimated $192 million, as it seeks to expand into the consumer electronics market while maintaining its networking and commercial VR business.

Tags: Microsoft, Windows Phone, Nokia
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Microsoft kills what’s left of the old Nokia

Last week, Microsoft sold off what remained of Nokia’s feature phone business while Windows Phone’s market share slid below a single percent. Now, the company has taken what’s clearly the last step in correcting Steve Ballmer’s decision to purchase the mobile world’s former number one. The Verge has secured an internal memo from Microsoft’s Terry Myerson saying that the company will cull 1,850 jobs, 1,350 of which are in Finland. The company has also recorded a $950 million impairment and restructuring charge on its balance sheet, of which $200 million will be severance payouts to those employees.

The job cuts are, essentially, rinsing the company of almost all of its obligations towards the smoldering remains of Nokia. Microsoft went to pains to state that the firm’s Finnish sales vision are protected, with the cuts entirely focused on Microsoft Mobile Oy. As CEO Satya Nadella says, the company is focusing its phone efforts where it has “differentiation — with enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability.”

When Microsoft sold off its feature phone business, it put out a weirdly-worded statement that only affirmed a commitment to “support” Windows Phone devices. The implication being that it was done actually building handsets itself, and will instead let third parties like Acer, HP and VAIO take over. Alternatively, it’s rumored that Lumia as a brand is done, and the company will instead build a mobile device from its more successful Surface division.

“This in fact describes what we are doing (we’re scaling back, but we’re not out!), but at the same time I don’t love it because it lacks the emotional impact of this decision.”

Recode has published a copy of the internal memo, in which Terry Myerson explains that the company is scaling back, but is refusing to abandon mobile altogether. He also mentions that Microsoft will continue to “develop great new devices,” although that’s no indication that it’ll manufacture them off its own back. A bigger part of the firm’s focus, however, will be to “embrace other mobile platforms with our productivity services,” or getting its apps and services available on Android and iOS devices.

Via: The Verge

Source: Microsoft, Recode


Nokia will return to mobile with Android phones and tablets

The Nokia brand will return to the smartphone market. Just as Microsoft announced it’s offloading Nokia’s old feature phone business to a Foxconn subsidiary and a mysterious Finnish company called HMD Global Oy, Nokia has revealed that HMD is also acquiring the relevant rights to use the Nokia name on smartphones and and tablets for the next ten years. That means we’ll start seeing “Nokia-branded” phones and tablets very soon. And they’ll be running Android.

We don’t know a lot about HMD yet, but Arto Nummela, currently a Microsoft mobile executive, will leave the company to be HMD’s CEO when the deal closes. Before joining Microsoft Nummela worked at Nokia for over a decade. Florian Seiche, another Microsoft mobile executive with a Nokia past, will join HMD as president. If the pair’s involvement is anything to go by, it seems that HMD will feature some faces familiar to those that followed Nokia in its heyday.

HMD says it’ll invest $500 million over the next three years to develop and promote products. This money will come both from investors and from profits from the newly-acquired feature phone business. Nokia’s involvement in the new devices will be very limited. It’ll take a place on HMD’s board, and set “mandatory brand requirements and performance related provisions.” That essentially means it’s going to make sure that HMD isn’t dragging its name through the mud by releasing awful devices.

Although FIH Mobile — the Foxconn subsidiary that bought a share of Nokia/Microsoft’s feature phone business — isn’t involved in this rights deal, it will be the manufacturer of the new HMD smartphones and tablets. It seems as though HMD will be selling and marketing the devices, while FIH will be doing the manufacturing. Of course, the pair will have access to Nokia’s vast arsenal of mobile patents through the agreement.

The various deals required to make all this happen are expected to close before the end of the year. There’s no firm timeline for when we’ll see Nokia-branded smartphones and tablets, and no information on what flavor of Android they’ll be running.

Source: Nokia


Microsoft sells Nokia’s feature phone business to Foxconn

Microsoft has signed a deal with a subsidiary of Foxconn to sell what used to be Nokia’s old feature phone business. The outfit, that still produces low-end handsets like the 222 and 230, has been sold to FIH Mobile for $350 million. It’ll now come under the control of the manufacturing giant that produces (pretty much) every device you can think of. Microsoft is also handing over a manufacturing plant in Hanoi, Vietnam, as part of the deal. In addition, 4,500 employees responsible for producing the devices will be given the opportunity to join the Foxconn family.

If Microsoft wanted to convince people that it had any ambitions in the handset world, the news today does a terrible job. The company claims that it will continue to “support” Windows 10 Mobile and devices like the Lumia 950, but makes no mention of building more. There is a line to say that the outfit will “support” partners like Acer, Alcatel, HP, Trinity and VAIO. Otherwise, it looks like Satya Nadella believes that his predecessor’s grand push into the smartphone wars was a mistake. After all, the company’s most recent round of financials revealed that Lumia sales have fallen through the floor.

Via: Verge

Source: Microsoft (PRNewswire)


Some Euro 2016 soccer games will be shot in virtual reality

The Union of European Football Association, more commonly known as UEFA, has revealed that it will be filming matches in virtual reality at the Euro 2016 Finals. The tournament, which takes places in France starting June 10th, brings together the best 24 teams from Europe — including England, Germany, Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. According to The Daily Mirror, UEFA is going to use dozens of Nokia’s $60,000 OZO cameras to capture 360-degree video inside stadiums, although it’s unclear what the organization plans to do with the footage.

One option UEFA’s considering, the British publication reports, is having a YouTube channel where fans can watch some of the content shot at the tournament. Unfortunately, nothing is set in stone right now. “It’s UEFA’s goal that one day the watching fan will be able to watch a match through immersive virtual reality,” Bernard Ross, head of UEFA TV, said to The Daily Mirror about the technology. He added that the goal is for people to “experience the game as if they are there in the stadium.”

Football as a sport, guided by its governing body FIFA, hasn’t been the fastest to adopt emerging technologies. It took years for FIFA to approve the use of goal-line tech, and to this day not every league around the world has implemented it. Still, the Euro 2016 is set to become the first major soccer tournament to employ virtual reality in abundance, after a brief test during the recently settled Champions League semifinals.

Let’s hope UEFA doesn’t disappoint and shares its VR creations with everyone on the internet.

Source: The Daily Mirror


Nokia, Samsung settlement reached over patent licenses


Nokia announced today that an agreement with Samsung, pursuant to a binding arbitration process, was reached regarding compensation due to Nokia for a variety of patents being utilized by Samsung. The settlement is expected to yield Nokia approximately $200 million euros annually. Including some funds to be paid for previous periods while the case was underway, Nokia anticipates receiving slightly more than 1.0 billion euros for Samsung’s use of the patent portfolio. Despite the positive impact on Nokia’s bottom line, investors do not seem happy and were expecting a larger settlement.

The case was being heard before the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce. Both Samsung and Nokia had previously agreed to live with the results of the arbitration process. The compensation being looked at commenced on January 1, 2014 and is expected to last through the end of 2018 when the companies will have to negotiate a new deal.

Nokia currently has a similar dispute ongoing with LG Electronics and a new contract with Apple will need to be negotiated in the new few years. Nokia was once “the” brand in mobile phones, but fell by the wayside with the rise of smartphones. However, their technology is still ubiquitous as seen by the number of manufacturers that license patents from Nokia.

source: Nokia, Reuters

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Nokia CEO talks Ozo and the company’s big VR bet

“We had some projects in augmented reality. We had projects in the camera. We had projects in head-mounted displays,” says Nokia CEO Ramzi Haidamus, speaking to Engadget at the Sundance Film Festival about the company’s virtual reality pivot. “We had projects all over the ecosystem, so to speak. And it was a combination of: How good are we technically? How well are we protected from an IP perspective? And finally, where is the area where we’re going to get the biggest advantage from the time to market?”

Haidamus soon realized that, rather than compete with the likes of Oculus, Sony and HTC for the crowded VR headset market, Nokia could plug a hole in the production process and reinvent itself. “The HMD I saw was actually pretty good, but I felt like there was so much competition that was going to happen in the marketplace,” he says.

By offering Ozo, a camera that combines live streaming, live monitoring, automatic stitching (a process used to blend the separate camera feeds) and 3D audio and video, Nokia could alleviate the headaches and obstacles faced by early VR filmmakers. And, more crucially, establish Ozo as the go-to VR production solution and itself as a market leader.

“It was a no-brainer to go after the camera versus the head-mounted displays, which are going to be quite commoditized pretty soon,” Haidamus says of the decision to go all in on Ozo.

Nokia’s days of mobile phone domination are long gone — that sizable (and formerly lucrative) piece of the company pie was sold to Microsoft for $7 billion in the spring of 2014. Today, with Haidamus at the helm, the company’s focused on a reinvigoration of its brand that’s one part licensing business and one part gamble on the coming future of virtual reality under its TECH banner.

With Ozo, its $60,000 production-ready VR camera, Nokia’s poised to become a big player in that burgeoning market. Already, the company’s differentiated itself within the relatively small field by offering a solution to a problem that’s plagued creators of VR content: You can watch live playback using a head-mounted display like the Oculus Rift. “Ozo brings you the ability to do a live monitoring of live action on set,” says Haidamus of the feature he believes filmmakers most want. Previously, directors using other VR recording solutions would have to wait until the post-production process to view the finished, “stitched” end product.

“It was a no-brainer to go after the camera versus the head-mounted displays,” says Haidamus.

Using a combination of eight lenses, which each capture video in 2K x 2K resolution, and eight microphones, Ozo can record an accurate replication of the “sound sphere” of a 360-degree environment. The camera also has the capability of incorporating object-based audio into its ambient mix using RF tags and mics placed on nearby people during the filming process. And all of this comes together in a lightweight (less than 10 pounds), futuristic package that looks like what you’d expect from a VR camera. It can even be mounted on a drone.

“The unit itself is about the average size of the human head,” says Haidamus.

To further streamline the production process, Nokia has made Ozo’s file storage convenient by housing a 500GB SSD alongside the battery in an oblong, removable cartridge. That allows filmmakers to record up to 45 minutes of VR playback and also hot-swap cartridges so filming can continue uninterrupted.

Since it’s still early days for VR — most players in the industry refer to 2016 as ‘Year One’ — the community is quite tight-knit. And that closeness has led to collaboration. Haidamus says that Nokia’s been working closely with 20th Century Fox, a studio that’s been very aggressive in the VR space, on development of the camera. There are also a number of partnerships in the works, though Haidamus isn’t ready to divulge details on them just yet. But he points to early experiments with the NBA, where Ozo was placed courtside at an LA Lakers game, as well as a live stream of a concert performed on the roof of Capitol Records as proof of the camera’s potential.

“If you are an artist and you want to create that connection between the viewer and your story,” says Haidamus, “Ozo is like the amazing creator of empathy, because we put you right there in the middle of that scene.”

It’s clear from speaking with Haidamus that the Nokia of today is not the Nokia many have come to know, love and disregard over the years. Whereas the Finnish company once was caught off-guard by innovation happening in the mobile space it helped to create and govern, now it’s at the forefront of a cultural sea change in entertainment.

“Knowing where the market was going,” says Haidamus, “knowing we’re early but not too early, puts us exactly in terms of perfect timing to catch a … technology that’s disrupting an existing market.”

[Image credits: Nokia]


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