Microsoft exec: Android is vulnerable and Windows 10 will help us steal its users

Lumia
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After two years of trying to reboot its mobile efforts, there’s no real way to spin Microsoft’s current position. The latest numbers show that Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS control 96.3 percent of the market.

Game over, right? Well, at Barcelona Mobile World Congress this week, Microsoft remains as convinced as ever that it can claw its way back into relevancy. The company unveiled the new Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL today.

Rather than unveiling new flagship phones at MWC, Microsoft decided to wait to show off new high-end phones when Windows 10 lands later this year.

Instead, the new Lumias are aimed at first-time smartphone buyers and emerging markets. And in mays, Microsoft believes these two targets are more critical to its comeback efforts than seducing gadget geeks with high-end phones. (Though it wants to do that, also).

In an interview at MWC, Chris Weber, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of mobile device sales, said the company believes one of its biggest opportunities at the moment is going after Android users.

Weber said Microsoft’s research indicates users of Android, which powers many of the low-cost smartphones in emerging markets, are far less loyal than Apple users. The complaints Microsoft says it hears are many of the same ones that Apple likes to point out. Devices are widely fragmented between different versions of Android. Apps work better on some versions of Android, and some form factors, than others. And then there are security issues.

The first step in attacking those markets and Android phones is cost. The new phones will be priced around $155 for the Lumia 640 and $211 for the Lumia 640 XL. Weber said the cost for the phablet is roughly one-third less than the previous version.

Weber notes that a lot of the engineering and design of the new phones are aimed at retaining performance, and increasing it where possible, while driving down costs. It also helps, he said, that the company still manufactures many of its own devices.

“We need to continue to push price points even lower,” he said. “But it’s not so we can say we have the lowest prices. I want to position us as the best value. These are still no-compromise devices.”

Increasing that sense of value is why Microsoft also said the new phones would come with one-year subscriptions to Office 365 Personal, its suite of productivity applications, 1TB of OneDrive storage for free, and 60 free minutes of Skype calling.

Weber also said that Windows 10 will provide a boost. Windows 10 promises to deliver a common set of APIs that will let developers write apps that run across all Windows devices and screen sizes. The new Lumia phones will be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10.

If that strategy takes hold, Weber believes the company can start to build a critical mass of devices and users, and that will in turn continue to make the Windows 10 platform more attractive to developers. And, of course, Microsoft would be more than happy to persuade some of these new users to upgrade to those pricier flagship phones eventually.

Weber, as you’d expect, remains optimistic that Microsoft’s mobile story is about to get a another fresh start.

“Sure, I see these marketshare numbers,” he said. “And all I see is opportunity.”

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Microsoft introduces new Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL phones

Microsoft's new line of Lumia 640 XL phones.
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BARCELONA, Spain — Microsoft introduced a couple of new mid-market Windows phones here in Spain today: the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL.

The phones ship with Windows Phone 8.1, but can be upgraded to the Windows 10 OS when it becomes available later this year. Microsoft demonstrated the features of Windows 10 publicly for the first time here in Barcelona.

The new phones are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor — a quad-core CPU running at 1.2GHz. They also offer plenty of onboard memory — 1GB.

The Lumia 640’s display is 5 inches, while the 640 XL’s is 5.7 inches. The 640 has a 2500 mAh battery, and the XL has a larger 3000 mAh battery.

The Lumia 640 has a 8-megapixel rear camera, while the XL’s rear camera is a 13-megapixel Zeiss optics lens.

Both the new phones have LTE radios inside, and dual-SIM models are available, Microsoft said.

Windows 10 will add new universal apps like Office, Mail and Calendar, and Photos, as well as Skype messaging to Microsoft phones. The new OS will also offer a newly designed web browser and broader use of the Cortana personal assistant.

Microsoft's Lumia 640 line.

Above: Microsoft’s Lumia 640 line.

Image Credit: Microsoft

The Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL also come with a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which includes the Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote productivity apps. The phones also come with 1TB of OneDrive storage and 60 free minutes of Skype calling (worldwide, unlimited, with exceptions).

The Lumia 640 XL will begin rolling out globally in March, in matte cyan, orange, white, and black, and glossy white colors.

The Lumia 640 comes out in April and will be available in glossy cyan, orange, and white colors, as well as matte black.

Both the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL will be available in single-SIM and dual-SIM LTE/3G variants.

The price of the phones will vary by operator, Microsoft says, but the Lumia 640 should be around $155 for the 3G model and $177 for the LTE model. The Lumia 640 XL will be around $211 for 3G and $245 for LTE.

Other stuff

Microsoft also announced a new universal foldable keyboard, which works with iPads, iPhones, Android devices, and Windows tablets.

The company, along with AT&T, also announced the AT&T Mobile Office Suite — a cloud-based, mobile collaboration apps and services suite for small- to medium-size businesses.

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IDC: Android and iOS accounted for 96.3% of global smartphone shipments in Q4 2014 and the whole year

Android instead of iOS

Android and iOS accounted for 96.3 percent of all smartphone shipments in Q4 2014, and coincidentally, 96.3 percent for all of last year as well. That means the duopoly grew 0.6 percentage points compared to the same period last year (95.7 percent in Q4 2013) and 2.5 percentage points on an annual basis (93.8 percent in 2013).

The latest figures come from IDC, which puts together these estimates every quarter. Here is the breakdown for the full year:

Table of smartphone shipment data for 2014

Above: Volume units are in millions.

Google’s mobile operating system remained the clear leader in 2014, pushing past the 1 billion unit mark for the first time. This was a significant milestone in itself, but also because it meant that total Android volumes in 2014 beat total smartphone shipments in 2013. Samsung retained the leadership position “by a wide margin,” shipping more than the next five vendors combined, but its total volumes for the year remained essentially flat as Asian vendors (including Huawei, Lenovo and its subsidiary Motorola, LG Electronics, Xiaomi, and ZTE) took up the task of fueling growth for Android.

Apple’s mobile operating system, meanwhile, saw its market share decline slightly “even as volumes reached a new record and grew at nearly the same pace as the overall smartphone market,” IDC said. Strong demand for Apple’s new and larger iPhones as well as “the reception they had within key markets” kept the company going strong.

The remaining scraps were left to Microsoft and BlackBerry. Remember: There’s only 3.7 percent to fight over.

Windows Phone had the smallest year-over-year increase among the leading operating systems, growing just 4.2 percent. Not only was this “well below the overall market,” but it’s a stark contrast to 2013, when the OS posted the largest increase for both the quarter and the year. With the acquisition of Nokia completed in the spring of 2014, Microsoft relied on entry-level Lumia devices to maintain its position in the market, as well as partners HTC and Samsung in the high end of the market. That said, even if Windows 10 can turn the ship around, that’s unlikely to happen in 2015.

Believe it or not, BlackBerry did worse. It posted the only year-over-year decline among the leading operating systems, falling 69.8 percent from 2013 levels. If the BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Classic do indeed ship the 10 million units in 2015 that chief executive John Chen estimates, however, the company will see growth again.

The same question keeps coming up every year: How long will the Android and iOS duopoly last? We suspect it may have peaked in 2014, but it’s naturally too early to say for certain.

Android outpaced the overall smartphone market in all of 2014, while iOS beat the market in Q4 2014. Those are trends that are very hard to break, though it won’t just be Microsoft and BlackBerry trying this year: Mozilla (with Firefox OS) and Samsung (with Tizen) will be doing their best to make sure the 96.3 percent figure doesn’t go higher.

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Microsoft updates OneNote with OCR support across all platforms, iPad app gets handwriting support

onenote_ipad

Microsoft today updated its OneNote note-taking service with optical character recognition (OCR) support across all platforms. The company also released a new version of its iPad app, adding handwriting and drawing support, which you can download now directly from Apple’s App Store.

OCR support

Until today, OneNote only supported OCR in the Windows desktop app, which just last week became completely free. OCR support essentially means users can search for text within images (inserted photos, PDFs, or screenshots), whether they’re of a to-do list, shopping list, receipt, recipe, menu, or anything else with typed text.

Today’s update means text within any image inserted into a notebook saved on OneDrive will be searchable in OneNote on all PCs, phones, tablets, and even OneNote Online. Best of all, you don’t even have to update your OneNote app, Eran Megiddo, Microsoft’s general manager for OneNote, confirmed with VentureBeat.

Whether you’re using OneNote for Windows, Windows Phone, Android phones and tablets, iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you’ve just gained a new feature without doing anything. This is possible because Microsoft has essentially moved its OCR technology from the Windows app to the cloud, Megiddo explained.

To try the feature out, just add a picture that contains text to any OneNote notebook saved on OneDrive. The service will automatically process the images when you upload them; all you have to do is wait and they will show up in search results after “about five minutes.”

OneNote currently recognizes printed text in 21 languages: Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. If yours isn’t there, don’t worry; Microsoft is “continuously adding support for more” languages.

Handwriting support for iPad

Until today, OneNote handwriting and drawing was available on Windows PCs, Windows tablets, and Android tablets. With the iPad gaining the feature, all tablets that can run OneNote (or as Microsoft puts it, “all of the most popular tablets”) can now handle digital ink.

onenote_four_colors

To pen notes or draw something in the iPad app, tap the new Draw tab on the Ribbon, and select a pen, marker, or highlighter. From there, write, sketch, or doodle as you please.

Microsoft says it has learned a lot since 2003, when it added inking to OneNote for Windows. OneNote for iPad reflects the company’s observations from studying and understanding how people use digital pens.

palm_rejection

OneNote for iPad offers four classic pen colors (black, blue, green, and red) front-and-center, but you can tap the color wheel to display 20 more. The app also now offers an endless digital canvas: you’ll never run out of space as it automatically expands pages as you type or write.

You can use two fingers to scroll the page, as well as pinch to zoom in on small details and zoom out to get the big picture. If you’re using a stylus, you don’t have to worry about resting your hand on the screen: OneNote for iPad detects your palm and ignores it (to set this up, tap Palm Rejection on the Ribbon, and choose the image that most closely resembles how you normally hold a pen). Microsoft claims this works “with any stylus whether you’re left-handed or right-handed.”

What’s next

Microsoft says OCR support will be expanded to images from your older notes “in the coming months.” Handwriting is still not available on smartphones, but that feature is also on its way, Megiddo told us.








PS4 will outsell the Xbox One by 40% over the next 4 years, analyst bets

The Microsoft Xbox One and the Sony PlayStation 4.

The odds-makers have Sony pulling out a win in the latest console war.

The PlayStation 4 will outsell the Xbox One by 40 percent by 2019, according to industry-intelligence firm Strategy Analytics. The data company explains that Sony is “on a path to reproduce the success of the PlayStation 2.” Sony has already sold 18.5 million PS4s through the system’s first 14 months. By 2019, Strategy Analytics predicts Sony will have sold 80 million PS4s — though another researcher says that this isn’t the most important piece of data here. That is well ahead of its prediction of 57 million Xbox Ones by that same year. Console gaming is an industry that is worth more than $30 billion worldwide, and Sony is on track to capture the biggest piece of that.

Strategy Analytics

“Strong Year One shipments and a quickly growing installed base for PS4 and Xbox One are proving that game consoles are still an essential part of the ecosystem,” Strategy Analytics digital media strategies service director Michael Goodman said.

The researcher explains that new delivery methods for high-end gaming, like cloud streaming, probably won’t take away from traditional consoles. Instead, Goodman sees a situation where that kind of service will add value to the existing boxes — like with PlayStation Now on the PS4.

Fellow Strategy Analytics researcher, senior analyst for connected home devices Eric Smith, echoed Goodman’s take.

“Despite reports to the contrary, the game console market is not dead,” said Smith. “Core gamers have moved faster to this current generation than in any previous generation. The main difference in this generation is that casual gamers who bought a Wii are remaining largely on the side lines as free-to-play casual games and mid-core games on tablets and smartphones have captured this segment of consumers.”

While the casual crowd has abandoned this boxes, Strategy Analytics sees both the Xbox One and PS4 achieving success at least equal to (and probably greater for the PS4) than their immediate predecessors, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

The Wii U, however, is suffering the hardest from the abandonment of casual gamers. By 2019, Strategy Analytics does not believe Nintendo’s system will have even sold more than 20 million units. It has only sold around 9 million so far, and the Wii U is unlikely to see a significant jump in sales in the future.

In response to this data, Newzoo chief executive officer Peter Warman wasn’t fully in agreement.

“Personally, I am not convinced that PS4 will continue its lead over Xbox One,” Warman told GamesBeat. “I believe the Xbox 360 had and has a stronger offering for people who are not ready yet to migrate to Xbox One.”

Instead, Warman thinks each console will reach lifetime unit sales of around 80 million — but he also notes that this isn’t even the most important thing to measure when it comes to consoles.

“Unit sales is a deceptive metric,” said Warman. “The average gamer-per console is 1.77 for Xbox 360 and Xbox One combined and it is 1.73 for PS3 and PS4 combined in the U.S. As consoles mature in terms of businesss models and openness for consumers and developers, it becomes increasingly important to know who and how many consumers you entertain, each with their own account and wallet. Metrics such as monthly active gamers, daily active gamers, conversion rate and lifetime value will become commonplace for console developers and publishers.”

He thinks the first console manufacturer to fully embrace the openness of a platform like PC or mobile will “jump ahead.”

“Unit sales analysis is interesting because it involves a lot of money but from a forward looking market-trend perspective — or even a consumer perspective — it tells close to nothing,” said Warman.

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Microsoft introduces Azure HDInsight on Linux, continuing its open-source love affair

Satya Nadella, Microsoft's chief executive, speaks at a company cloud event in San Francisco in October 2014.
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Microsoft is giving programmers more options when it comes to deploying its version of the open-source Hadoop big data software on the Microsoft Azure public cloud. Specifically, it will become possible to set up the HDInsight Hadoop service on Azure on top of servers running the Ubuntu Linux operating system, not just Windows, Microsoft announced today.

“Today, we are announcing that customers can run HDInsight on Ubuntu Linux clusters, in addition to Windows, with simple deployment, a managed service level agreement and full technical support,” T. K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, corporate vice president of data platform at Microsoft, and Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president for machine learning at the company, wrote in a blog post. “This is particularly compelling for people that already use Hadoop on Linux on-premises, because they can use the common Linux tools, documentation, and templates and extend their deployment to Azure with hybrid cloud connections.”

This marks yet another embrace of open-source technology on the part of Microsoft. For years Microsoft was opposed to certain open-source tools, including Linux in particular. (Microsoft cofounder and former chief executive Bill Gates once chose the word “cancer” to describe the operating system, which competes with Windows.) But in the past year, especially since Satya Nadella became Microsoft’s chief executive, the company has taken several steps demonstrating a commitment to the open-source development model or its own tools and open-source tools assembled outside of Microsoft.

Recent open-source moves from Microsoft include the commitment to open-sourcing parts of Microsoft’s .NET framework, its partnership with Linux container startup Docker, and its recent acquisition of Revolution Analytics. Oh, and don’t forget about open-sourcing MS-DOS.

Last year Nadella made a point of telling reporters at a press event that “Microsoft loves Linux,” adding that “20 percent of Azure is already Linux.” So it’s clear Microsoft understands that developers like and use Linux for cloud development. Today’s news suggests that the company has come to recognize that Linux is a respectable building block for Hadoop clusters in the cloud, too.

HDInsight first became available on Azure in 2013. Ubuntu Linux support is available in a preview, according to today’s blog post.

Microsoft also said today that the Storm open-source stream-processing system is now available for anyone to use inside HDInsight on Azure. Microsoft announced a preview of that feature in October.

Finally, the Azure Machine Learning service Microsoft unveiled last year is now generally available as well, Rengarajan and Sirosh wrote in the blog post.

 
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Xbox Live down for many on Xbox One and Xbox 360

Gamers are having a tough time getting online with Xbox Live.

The Xbox’s gaming service is giving a number of gamers trouble tonight.

A plethora of gamers have taken to social media to report that they are experiencing issues with Xbox Live. Players on Xbox One and Xbox 360 are having issues signing into the online service, which is preventing them from playing online multiplayer in games like Battlefield 4. The outage is also preventing people from signing into third-party servers necessary to get into certain single-player games like Dragon Age: Inquisition.

We’ve asked Microsoft for an update. The company posted a notice that the Xbox 360 was having issues to the Xbox Live status page about an hour ago, but now those problems have seemingly spread to Xbox One as well.

“Hi Xbox members, are you having difficulties signing in to Xbox Live? Our team is investigating this right now,” reads the Xbox status page. “Thanks for your patience while we get this figured out.”

In addition to the Xbox Live outage, publisher Electronic Arts noted that its servers were also having problems. So even if you do get online, you may have difficult time getting into games like Peggle 2 or Battlefield.

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Outlook for Android and iOS gets PIN lock, faster remote wipe, IMAP support, and more

microsoft_outlook

Less than a month after releasing Outlook for Android and iOS, Microsoft today updated the app with new features and improvements. You can download the new version now directly from Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

First up, Microsoft has added PIN lock support. This means Outlook now implements password enforcement using Exchange ActiveSync — if your company email policy states that devices require a password in order to sync email, Outlook will enforce this at the device level.

More to follow

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