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Category Archives: microsoft

Apple set to transform the world… with headphones?

beats-headphones

It has been a mostly inspirational week in technology, with a couple of tech titans showing off some truly amazing futuristic technology.

First up is Google, which on Tuesday took the wraps off its own self-built, self-driving car. While the search giant has been working on autonomous vehicles for some time, the difference with this one is that it isn’t a repurposed car with a bunch of tech strapped to it. Rather, it’s built from the ground up as a robot.

That means it has no steering wheels or pedals, just a start and stop button and a screen that shows its route.

Project director Chris Urmson outlined Google’s plans for the new vehicle in a blog post:

We’re planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls. If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years.

The company also released a vehicle showing seniors, children and even blind people going for test drives:

Not to be outdone, Microsoft also showed off some amazing technology on Tuesday evening at the inaugural Code Conference in California. The company is busy working instant translation into Skype, and appears to be having some success.

As shown during an on-stage demo, Skype vice-president Gurdeep Pall – speaking English – had a real-time conversation with another Microsoft employee, who was speaking German. The service itself translated their words into each others’ respective tongues, then read them aloud like a virtual translator.

The associated feature discusses how this sort of technology has been a long time in the making and the staggering challenges it has faced. It doesn’t work perfectly yet, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Check out the video – things get interesting around the three-minute mark.

And then there’s Apple. The company finally made its purchase of Beats official on Wednesday, announcing that it has acquired both Beats Music and Beats Electronics for a combined $3 billion.

“Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook in a statement. “That’s why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.”

To put the week in perspective: Google shows off cars that can drive blind people, Microsoft demos technology that allows people from disparate cultures to communicate with each other, and Apple buys some middling headphones and one of a logjam of music streaming services. Hmm. Okay.

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference is next week. After being shown up in the innovation department by its two biggest rivals, the pressure cooker of expectations just got a whole lot more intense.

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Posted by on May 29, 2014 in apple, Google, microsoft, music, robots, skype

 

Microsoft aiming ‘to be all things to all people’

windowsUnder new chief executive Satya Nadella, Microsoft is charging ahead with a “universal app” strategy – the idea that software developers can create an app once and then deliver it to each of the company’s devices, whether it’s PCs, tablets, phones or even Xbox consoles, without much additional work. This one-app-to-rule-them-all approach is how the company plans to overcome its disadvantage in phones and tablets, where it is way behind Apple and Google in terms of market share and total number of apps. A simplified and unified experience could indeed be the secret to luring developers away from its two rivals, both of whom run different operating systems depending on which devices they’re using.

I spoke with Windows Phone director Greg Sullivan last week at Microsoft’s annual Build conference in San Francisco about the plan and why it could work. I also sat down with Mary-Ellen Anderson from Microsoft Canada to get the local perspective. As vice-president of the developer and platform group, she’s in charge of recruiting companies and individuals to create apps for Windows devices here in the snowy north. With the company having success in securing the biggest app developers, its focus is now shifting to a more local level.

“We need to get the [apps] people care about in Canada,” Anderson said. “That’s a big, big deal for me.”

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in amazon, apple, Google, microsoft, roku

 

In which I entrust my life to Samsung’s Note Pro

note-proIf you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I’m something of an iPad Mini fanboy. I’ve written before – without a trace of hyperbole – about how the device has changed my life. I rarely surf the web or use social media on a computer anymore, opting instead for the tablet, which I also use to take notes when out on assignment. It also comes in handy for signing documents digitally, a feature that lets me live a printer-free existence. It has also, amazingly, helped me become a more patient person; I almost look forward to delays when traveling because it gives me more time to catch up on movies and books.

But there is still one problem with it, if it can really be considered as such, in that it’s still a supplemental device when I’m on the road for work purposes. While the Mini is fine for taking notes during an interview or press conference, it’s not something I really want to write a full story on. A full keyboard is still a necessity for that, so I inevitably end up toting a laptop along as well.

This issue is at the core of efforts by several tablet manufacturers to bridge the gap with hybrid devices. Microsoft took the highest-profile stab at it with the Surface Pro, a device that sought to emulate the best features of both tablets and laptops. The initial effort, however, flopped for a host of reasons – it was too heavy and too pricey and had limited battery life and app selection. The Surface Pro 2, released last fall, is an improvement, but it still suffers from many of the same problems.

Lo and behold, Samsung is now stepping into this realm with its new Galaxy Tab Pro and Galaxy Note Pro tablets, both of which are hybrid devices designed to appeal to professional power users. The Tab Pro series comes in three screen sizes: 8.4-inch, 10.1-inch and 12.1-inch, at respective (Canadian) price points of $419, $519 and $669. The Note Pro is available with only a 12.2-inch screen at $769, but it also comes with Samsung’s S-pen stylus, which accounts for the extra $100 premium over the Tab Pro. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in apple, ipad, microsoft, samsung

 

New Microsoft CEO faces daunting challenges

satya-nadellaMicrosoft is getting some positive attention for the long-awaited announcement of its new chief executive, Satya Nadella. For one, the software giant has put together a great website explaining who the new boss is, where he comes from, his values and more. It’s one of the more fulsome CEO information packages put out by a company, which is a good move given that Nadella – a 22-year Microsoft veteran who spent the last little while running its cloud and enterprises division – is a relative unknown to the world at large.

Beyond the well-done PR, Nadella is also being praised in many corners for being the right man for the job at the right time. Wired evidently had no trouble finding former colleagues to say nice things about him, with the consensus being that he’s very Bill Gates-like: a technical genius who also happens to understand the business side of things.

Moreover, he may be just the calming presence the company needs to replace the boisterous Steve Ballmer, whose loud outbursts are stuff of legend. Nadella will also have a new chairman at his side – former Symantec CEO John Thompson, who takes over for the outgoing Gates – as he tries to make Microsoft relevant again. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2014 in microsoft

 

2014: PlayStation 4 motors ahead of rivals

Will Titanfall be enough to swing momentum Microsoft's way? Probably not.

Will Titanfall be enough to swing momentum Microsoft’s way? Probably not.

The coming year is going to be a big one in video games, with the next-generation console battle kicking into full swing. Both Sony and Microsoft released their respective new machines, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, in November with Nintendo getting a head start last year with the Wii U.

There’s little doubt which company has the momentum heading into the new year. The PS4 has been outselling its main rival from Microsoft around the world – in some cases, as in Spain, it’s been by a wide margin. This, despite the Xbox One having a relatively better slate of launch games.

Without big changes, I’m expecting that momentum to continue as the PS4 looks to be the console of choice for hard-core gamers – also known as mainly young, male gamers – who are particularly sensitive to price. The Xbox One’s $499 price tag, compared to $399, is a deal breaker for this audience. Microsoft is banking on a larger audience beyond just the hard-core, but that’s the wrong bet at this point since it’s really only gamers who buy consoles early in their release. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in microsoft, nintendo, sony, valve, video games

 

The biggest tech hits and misses of 2013

Edward-Snowden

Edward Snowden: the most wanted man since Julian Assange.

So what were the biggest technology related stories in 2013? There were quite a few, but here are the 10 most important.

Selfies take over:

With the Oxford Dictionaries naming “selfie” as the word of the year in November, the self-portrait’s domination of pop culture was complete. Even U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt recently got in on the action with their own selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

Is the self-portrait, followed by its inevitable sharing on social media, a sign of society’s growing narcissism? It’s a topic that’s now being debated. Over at the Globe and Mail, Navneet Alang argues it isn’t – it’s merely the latest evolution of how people are defining their identities while communicating with each other.

I think it’s even a little more innocuous than that. Whenever I show friends or relatives vacation photos of famous monuments or gorgeous vistas, they always wonder why I’m not in them. People like to see other people in photos – it’s often what makes them interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Updated Surface tablets still don’t have a market

surface-2With Microsoft launching its second-generation Surface products and Apple announcing a refresh of its iPad line today, we might as well call this Tablet Tuesday. Yet, while Apple is certain to get the majority of the day’s headlines, it’s actually Microsoft’s products that are more interesting, mainly because they illustrate the rather decided state of the market and how difficult it’s going to be to crack.

I got to play around with the two new Surface tablets last week at an event in Toronto and I generally liked what I saw. Microsoft is bringing two new products to bear, with each apparently aimed at different markets, although both are being billed as productivity tools. The lighter and cheaper Surface 2 is the company’s main tablet competitor to the likes of the iPad or Nexus 7 while the Surface Pro 2 is the next iteration of its effort at tablet-laptop hybrids.

However, despite both devices having some neat features, upsides and improvements over their progenitors, I’m still not sure whether there’s really a market for either. I don’t think I would buy either of them for their intended purposes, if at all. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in apple, ipad, microsoft