Microsoft confirms it acquired iOS music app Groove

The Groove app on iOS.

Microsoft today confirmed that it did in fact acquire Groove music app that was available on iOS from the startup Zikera. The news comes several months after Microsoft somewhat mysteriously changed the name of the Xbox Music app to Groove.

“Microsoft acquired Zikera’s Groove music app. We have nothing more to share,” a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

In a Medium post today the Zikera team revealed some detail about the acquisition, acknowledging that the iOS app is no longer available, but did not say when the deal happened.

“Our journey started back in the days of the iPod,” the team wrote. “While it was a thing of beauty, we still struggled to choose what to play from our beloved music collection. From that instant, we envisioned a music player so intelligent that learns our tastes and habits in order to play the right music at the right time. Then Groove was born, and you made it a success. We are incredibly proud to have delighted you with a rich mobile experience and countless hours of music bliss through the tens of millions of personalized playlists we generated.”

Groove came up with personalized playlists using machine learning. “Since no one has the same taste in music, Groove learns listening habits to bring favorite artists back into rotation and concoct playlists completely personalized for the listener,” Zikera explained in a 2013 statement. An integration with YouTube content was available.

The Zikera team members’ LinkedIn profiles mention that 1.5 million users downloaded the Groove app from Apple’s App Store.

Zikera was founded in 2009 and based in the Canadian city of Montreal.

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Microsoft starts publicly sharing Windows 10 release notes

Windows 10

Microsoft today launched a dedicated page for keeping track of Windows 10’s release notes. To see the latest features, improvements, and changes the company has pushed, you can now just visit Windows 10 update history.

“After listening to feedback regarding the level of disclosure for Windows 10 updates, we decided to implement a new system for communicating updates to the operating system,” a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. “Today we are rolling out the Windows 10 update history site, a hub for the release notes that will accompany each update and serve as a historical record of prior release notes.”

The “feedback” that Microsoft refers to basically amounts to complaints from Windows 10 users who wanted to know more about what the company was pushing to their devices. Going forward, each update will list a summary of important product developments with links to more details.


Because Windows 10 updates are cumulative, you may need to scroll quite a bit to find exactly when something changed. For now though, Microsoft lists just two updates (also released today, as part of Microsoft’s monthly patch Tuesday cycle) as there are two Windows 10 branches:

The July initial launch branch (build 10240), and the November update branch (build 10586). We introduced new operating system features in November after having previewed, or “flighted”, them with our Windows Insiders between July and November. Most customers have already been moved automatically from the July branch to the November branch. Windows 10 Professional, Enterprise, and Education edition customers can defer the update to the November branch and stay on the July feature set longer — as long as 10 years for some Enterprise customers.

Windows 10 is a service. As we wrote in our deep dive on how Microsoft is still building Windows 10, this means Windows Insiders are getting new builds even though the operating system launched in July 2015.

But while a steady of stream of updates is always welcome, it’s about time that Microsoft actually shares what’s inside. Detailed release notes should have been available from the start, so we’re happy they’re finally here.

Microsoft And GoPro Sign Patent Licensing Deal For File Storage Technology

6192265280_77ce225796_o Microsoft, though its Microsoft Licensing LLC, and GoPro today announced that they have signed a collaborative patent licensing deal for “certain file storage and other system technologies.” “This agreement with GoPro shows the incredible breadth of technology sharing enabled through patent transactions,” said Nick Psyhogeos, president of Microsoft Technology Licensing,… Read More

Microsoft, Nokia, and the burning platform: a final look at the failed Windows Phone alliance


When Microsoft acquired Nokia’s Devices and Services division in late 2013 and began integrating the storied Lumia brand into its offerings, it was hailed by Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer as “a bold step into the future — a win-win for employees, shareholders, and consumers of both companies.” Since then, Microsoft has folded much of its $7.5 billion acquisition into other divisions of the company, laid off thousands of former Nokia employees, slashed its output of smartphones per year, and eventually wrote off the entire purchase in a $7.6 billion impairment charge. Fast forward to early 2016, when we will soon see a quiet launch of what’s widely believed to be the final Microsoft Lumia-branded handset, the Lumia 650.

(According to Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott, what remains of the Lumia division has been shifted over to the Surface team, but the eventual branding of their final products is unknown.)

It’s easy enough, with the benefit of hindsight, to lament that many of these billion-dollar acquisitions end up failing to deliver shareholder value or operational synergy. But unlike other failed mergers — and despite Ballmer’s rosy assessment of the situation — this was a corporate coupling that many observers correctly predicted would fail. Rather than being done to achieve some shared vision, at the time both Nokia and Microsoft were backed into a corner and saw the other as their only potential savior.

Why did this happen? Both companies could have avoided such a point of desperation — but once Microsoft and Nokia tied their fates together in a wide-ranging 2011 partnership, failure was all but inevitable. How these two stalwarts developed an ultimately fatal codependency offers yet another cautionary tale about billion-dollar corporate mergers. As in life, there are no sure things.


A Trojan horse?

Some critics have likened former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop to the mythological Trojan horse, in the aftermath of Nokia’s failed efforts to employ Windows Phone (and only Windows Phone) to boost sales. After all, Elop was a Microsoft executive from 2008 through 2010 before taking over the helm at Nokia, and his relationships there very likely paved the way for Nokia’s big gamble on a platform with tepid market share.

Make no mistake: Despite Nokia’s then-declining market share, it was Microsoft that was, strategically, in the relatively worse position. Windows Phone was not performing nearly as well as it had hoped, and the conventional wisdom stated that a tie-up with a popular handset maker could give it the necessary cachet, and jump-start, that it so desperately needed.

As it turned out, a situation more akin to the opposite of that conventional wisdom is how things actually transpired.

Even though Windows Phone is a well-regarded operating system, it faced a chicken-or-egg conundrum when it came to apps. Developers don’t want to devote resources to a platform without a significant user base, but consumers don’t want to invest in devices until they can offer a minimum threshold of popular applications.

Nokia got stuck in the middle of this tug-of-war. The Finnish handset manufacturer, under Elop’s leadership, adopted Windows Phone but soon proved unable to sell enough devices to convince app developers to contribute to the Windows Phone platform. Eventually Nokia itself became a victim of the apps tug-of-war.

As Nokia’s fortunes fell and Microsoft grew more anxious about Windows Phone, a tie-up took on urgency. Nokia had one foot out the door, tentatively exploring entry-level Android-powered phones in a bid to stay afloat after bleeding cash for several years in a row.


Microsoft needed its only major hardware partner to stay faithful if it hoped to remain in the mobile platform business, and was willing to pay $7.5 billion for fidelity. Almost overnight, Steve Ballmer became the white knight Nokia needed. But there was more to the deal. One unusual aspect to the arrangement: Instead of Nokia waving goodbye to its division, CEO Elop moved over as well, returning full circle to his former employer as the new chief of Microsoft Devices.

The burning platform

In 2011, market share of Android surpassed that of Nokia’s Symbian OS, despite being launched just two years earlier. During that same time frame, Apple enjoyed explosive growth of its iPhone OS, whose 2007 introduction roiled an industry caught off-guard by its arrival.

Nokia was slow to react to the newfound competition. In his now infamous “Burning Platform” speech, delivered to employees just prior to announcing the Microsoft partnership in early February 2011, Elop acknowledged that the company’s traditional strategy of competing device-to-device at various price points had failed.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications, and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyze, or join an ecosystem.

Elop’s chosen ecosystem was, of course, Windows Phone. Nokia launched its first two handsets — the Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 — in late October 2011, nearly a year after adopting the platform. Microsoft, too, had forced its fans to wait 8 months (February to October 2010) between announcing Windows Phone 7 and the release of the first wave of compatible devices.


Both gaps would prove to be problematic, especially for Microsoft, due to the fact that Windows Phone apps would not be compatible with the Windows Mobile handsets that it had been promoting up to that point. Perhaps the shift from a handset way of thinking to a broader ecosystem model was a larger undertaking than both companies anticipated.

The road not taken

So, might things have turned out differently for Nokia if it had picked another route? Windows Phone was far from its only option, of course. Android should have been an obvious candidate. Nokia, at the time, was familiar with the operating system. Android would eventually power its short-lived line of Nokia X devices.

However, there were other possible directions. MeeGo, a homegrown Nokia OS that made it to retail on a single phone — the N9 — would have been the fan favorite. However, despite generally positive reviews in the press and from owners, its release after the “Burning Platform” inflection point relegated it to being merely a curiosity. And Symbian Series 60, which had powered the vast majority of the company’s smartphones, had virtually no market share in the U.S. — by that point considered a critical mobile market for the company.

So, let’s assume that instead of Windows Phone, Nokia had become an Android partner instead. It’s far from given that adopting the Android OS alone could have righted the ship; after all, many Android OEMs — and there are a lot of them — struggle to make a profit as commoditization overtakes the industry. Still, I have to believe that they could have sold more Android handsets than they did Windows Phones. How many more is unknown, but simply going by the market share that each platform has had over the past five years, I suspect it would have been a pretty healthy increase.


In the end, Nokia hoped that Windows Phone would make it stand out in a sea of Android and iOS devices — and it did, but not in the fashion it had wanted. Instead, Nokia customers watched their once-mighty brand slowly fade into irrelevance, eventually getting consumed by its ill-chosen partner.

The mobile landscape is littered with manufacturers who lost their way, from Palm to BlackBerry to HTC to Danger. No company is too big to fail, and those that react too slowly to shifts in tastes and preferences can quickly find themselves struggling to catch up. Often, the only path forward requires choosing from a set of unpalatable options. Thanks in part to Stephen Elop’s Rolodex, Nokia’s storied handset division wound up in the arms of Microsoft, a fatal embrace.

comScore: Apple ends 2015 with 42.9% of U.S. smartphone share, Samsung at 28.4%; BlackBerry OS falls under 1%


Apple’s dominance as the top smartphone maker in the U.S. continued throughout last year, growing slightly from 41.6 percent in December 2014 to 42.9 percent of the pie at the end of 2015. Samsung meanwhile slipped a bit, from 29.7 percent in December 2014 to 28.4 percent in December 2015. Rounding out the top five were LG (up), Motorola (flat), and HTC (down).

In the mobile OS wars, Google’s Android kept the U.S. crown with 53.3 percent, moving up 0.2 percentage points year over year, while Apple held second with iOS, also moving up the same 1.3 percentage points as a smartphone maker. Microsoft’s Windows Phone dropped 0.5 points to 2.9 while BlackBerry OS halved its share from 1.8 percent to 0.9 percent.

The latest data comes from comScore, which estimates 197.4 million Americans owned smartphones (79.3 percent mobile market penetration) during Q4 2015. Here is how the top five smartphone makers fared last quarter:


Over the last three months of the year, Apple lost share while Samsung capitalized. As we already mentioned though, Apple actually fared better when looking across the whole year. Everyone else in the U.S. market is still very far behind, though LG almost managed to hit double digits. The bigger changes will likely come when the January figures arrive, as that’s when the impact of holiday sales will become apparent.

On the software side, Google ended 2015 very strongly. In December, Android was the undisputed winner once again while Apple’s iOS held on to second without issue:


While Microsoft’s Windows Phone fails to gain traction but it’s BlackBerry that has managed to hit a new low. BlackBerry OS fell below 1 percent, a low it hasn’t seen for decades in the U.S. Given its Android ambitions, this is hardly surprising.

At the end of 2014, the Android-iOS duopoly in the U.S. hit 94.7 percent market share. At the end of 2015, it had hit 96.2 percent. We expected that something would give, but Windows 10 Mobile was the only real hope, and it has been plagued with delay after delay, among other issues. Right now at least, it doesn’t look like 2016 will break Apple and Google’s mobile stranglehold.

DigitalOcean offers Y Combinator startups $250K in cloud credits

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 3.27.46 PM

DigitalOcean wants to gain more share of the startup market for its cloud infrastructure. The company announced today that it will be offering $250,000 in credits to all of Y Combinator’s startups. The move is good for developers because it gives them more options on which to build their products and puts DigitalOcean in direct competition with Microsoft.

A Techstars-backed company, DigitalOcean is known for providing what it calls “simple cloud hosting, built for developers.” It claims to allow you to deploy an SSD cloud server in as fast as 55 seconds. Developers can pay based on how much memory, processing power, storage, and data they’re going to need. Plans currently start at $5 per month and go all the way to $80 per month.

This promotion comes just less than a year after Microsoft offered $500,000 in Azure credits to Y Combinator startups, which included three years of Office 365 application usage, access to Microsoft’s developer staff, a free year of Cloudflare services, and free DataStax enterprise services. This isn’t the first time that DigitalOcean has done a promotion like this as it regularly does these campaigns to entice individual developers to check out its offering.

But DigitalOcean and Microsoft aren’t alone in their pursuit of developers, and Y Combinator certainly is a good place to find them. Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services are also competing for a startup’s data hosting and have even offered their own credit promotions of $100,000 and $15,000, respectively. By targeting accelerators and programs like Y Combinator, DigitalOcean, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon can reach startups in the early years and get them hooked, which in turn could help to improve the services of these cloud platforms.

Y Combinator president Sam Altman described DigitalOcean’s deal as saying “lots of YC founders are already huge fans of DigitalOcean.”

DigitalOcean has raised $83 million in funding.

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Microsoft launches Azure IoT Hub service out of public preview on February 4

Microsoft Azure.

Microsoft today announced that its Azure IoT Hub — a cloud service for registering, managing, and communicating with Internet-connected devices — will become generally available tomorrow, February 4.

Azure IoT Hub is a big part of Azure IoT Suite, a bundle of products that can be used to build and run applications that integrate with connected devices. And because of that the release of Azure IoT Hub is a big deal for the Internet of Things (IoT) strategy for Microsoft as a whole. Azure IoT Hub became available in public preview in October, but the service was not included in the launch of the Azure IoT Suite.

“IoT Hub is the bridge between customers’ devices and their solutions in the cloud, allowing them to store, analyze and act on that data in real time,” Sam George, partner director for Azure IoT at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post today. George notes that the service can be hooked up to other Azure services, such as Azure Machine Learning and Azure Stream Analytics.

The announcement of general availability for the service comes on the same day that Cisco announced that it’s acquiring Jasper Technologies, a company with a cloud service for IoT devices, for a sum of $1.4 billion. But Cisco, even with its burgeoning Intercloud, is known less as a public cloud provider and more of a data center hardware provider.

In the cloud infrastructure market, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is No. 1, and it released its AWS IoT service out of beta in December. Google Cloud Platform does not have a dedicated IoT service.

Microsoft releases new Windows 10 preview for PCs and ninja monkey wallpapers


Microsoft today released a new Windows 10 preview for PCs, the fourth build of 2016. The release doesn’t include any new features, once again, but the company did give testers a bunch of ninja monkey wallpapers isntead.

Windows 10 is a service. As we wrote in our deep dive on how Microsoft is still building Windows 10, this means Windows Insiders are getting new builds even though the operating system launched in July 2015.

Like the last few builds before it, this build is more about laying the foundation for upcoming features. As such, it includes the following bug fixes:

  • The issue of periodic app crashes or other memory related app errors due to a memory management change has been resolved (including with the Git client for Windows)
  • The Connect button now shows up again in Action Center
  • F12 Developer Tools will now load correctly Microsoft Edge
  • An issue where suggested apps were being shown on the Start menu even though “Occasionally show suggestions in Start” was turned off under Settings > Personalization > Start
  • An issue where if you try to change the Lock screen picture with “Get fun facts, tips, tricks and more on your lock screen” turned on it will revert back to the default.
  • An issue where the positions of desktop icons get jumbled up after switching DPI settings from 100% to 150% or 175%
  • An issue where pasting files into a new .zip file (compressed folder) in File Explorer by either right-clicking or Control-V would not work

That said, this build still has other known issues:

  • You might see a WSClient.dll error dialog after logging in, just like in the last build. The workaround is to run the following in Command Prompt with administrative rights: schtasks /delete /TN “MicrosoftWindowsWSWSRefreshBannedAppsListTask” /F
  • If you choose “Reset This PC” under Settings > Update & Security > Recovery – your PC will be in an unusable state and you will need to reinstall Windows (though you can still rollback to the previous build)
  • The front-facing camera is unusable on PCs with Intel RealSense resulting in being unable to use Windows Hello or any other apps that utilize the front-facing camera
  • After logging into your PC, you may hit a UI issue in which Airplane Mode will incorrectly show as “on” even though your PC’s Wi-Fi is powered on (the UI essentially does not wait long enough for the device’s physical radios to power on before reporting the current state), but you can just toggle Airplane Mode as a workaround

Today’s update bumps the Windows 10 build number from 14251, made available to testers on January 27, to build 14257.

The update should arrive overnight for testers (your PC has to be plugged in, and be on or sleeping). If you’re OK with the above known issues and want to get build 14257 now, head to PC Settings, select “Update and recovery,” then “Preview builds,” and click the “Check Now” button.

Microsoft promised to release new builds to testers more frequently in 2016, and so far it has delivered four builds in just three weeks. Gabe Aul, Microsoft’s vice president of the Engineering Systems team, explains:

Also, the increased pace of the Fast ring (You’ll note that this build is only 6 revs newer than the last build we sent to the Fast ring) means that there will be fewer big changes between builds as opposed to this time last year when builds were about 30 days apart. There is a ton of coding work going on, but I want to set your expectations on how it will show up for you at our increased Fast ring pace.

The pace will likely slow down as new features start to trickle in, but it may also not. Either way, testers will welcome it, even if they don’t like the lack of significant changes.

To appease them, Microsoft is offering new images and wallpapers in the spirit of ninja cat. In celebration of the Year of the Monkey, you can now download the Ninja Monkey pack.

Microsoft details Edge features coming in 2016: Extensions, accessibility, performance, and Web standards


Microsoft today shared details about some of the features it is working on for its Edge browser this year. The news focuses on developers, but a lot of what was unveiled also naturally trickles down to the user.

Because this is a developer update, Microsoft naturally talks about EdgeHTML, the browser’s rendering engine. Edge and EdgeHTML have separate version numbers and are built by separate teams that work closely together.

Microsoft says it has five priorities for this year, which developers should see all of Edge’s product focus and standards body engagements revolve around. The company only discussed the first four in depth today:

  • Deliver a modern extension platform powered by web technologies and the Windows Store
  • Empower all Microsoft Edge customers through accessibility and inclusive design
  • Continue to reinforce Microsoft Edge fundamentals; security, performance and efficiency
  • Build thoughtfully for the future of the web
  • Embrace more channels for community feedback and participation

Microsoft already promised that Edge is getting extensions. In fact, extensions were supposed to arrive by the end of 2015 but were instead delayed to bla.

Unlike Internet Explorer’s native add-ons, Edge’s extension platform is powered by web technologies. All extensions will be vetted, delivered, and managed through the Windows Store. Unfortunately, Microsoft still doesn’t have a date for when extension support will debut, promising only to share “early examples soon” via the Windows Insider Program.

In terms of accessibility features, Microsoft has begun development on major improvements focused on the following goals:

  • Modernize the accessibility system to support HTML5 and CSS3 on Windows 10
  • Enable HTML and Core Accessibility API mappings
  • Provide Accessible Name and Description computation and API mappings
  • Add accessible HTML5 controls and new semantic elements
  • Improve high contrast support
  • Modernize caret browsing and new input modalities
  • Improve visual impairment readability, focus, and selection
  • Deliver developer tools for building and testing accessible sites
  • Longer term investments like the Web Speech API and script-based accessibility

In addition to using telemetry and feedback to identify the top reliability and performance bugs, Microsoft laid out some details for what it considers to be the browser’s fundamentals. Specifically, the company plans to focus on the following in 2016:

  • Lead the industry in JavaScript benchmark performance
  • Advance product security across multiple dimensions
  • Enhance keyboard scrolling performance and interactivity
  • Isolate Adobe Flash into a separate process and pause unnecessary content
  • Continue to push the GPU boundaries through native Windows graphics
  • Improve background tab suspension, timers, and processing

Next up, Microsoft talked about what developers really care about: Web standards. As the company likes to often point out: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript consist of more than 300 W3C specifications from over 400 member organizations, and no browser implements every one of them. More than a third aren’t implemented by any of the most popular browsers.


By examining the standards spec stability and maturity, requests with real-world scenarios from its partners and web developer community, and data collected via the Bing crawler from hundreds of millions of websites, Microsoft has started development on the following technologies:

Microsoft also shared three new standards the company expects to mature this year: FIDO 2.0 proposals are going to W3C in November (being able to use Windows Hello to log into websites), W3C’s Web Payments Working Group is considering different proposals for an API to allow integrated payments using services hosted by the browser, and ECMA’s TC39 committee is developing features for ECMAScript 2016.

Lastly, Microsoft said it plans to expand the ways it communicates with the web community but didn’t reveal anything aside from saying it has “exciting projects in the works that will make it easier for developers to share and track interoperability issues, and access more of the data we use to make decisions about which web technologies we’ll support and when.

Congratulations to the SwiftKey team on its acquisition by Microsoft

From left, SwiftKey founders Jon Reynolds (CEO) and Ben Medlock (CTO)

Congratulations to cofounders Ben Medlock and Jon Reynolds, and the entire SwiftKey team — makers of the world’s smartest mobile keyboard application — on their acquisition by Microsoft.

Rise of AI and natural language processing in software

SwiftKey represents a new wave of mobile-first, artificial intelligence-enabled productivity software that will affect nearly every incumbent in the field. We’re still in the early days of NLP and predictive analytics technology, moving from one-off use cases to becoming embedded deeply in the workflow. At Accel, we are big believers in this transformation, investing in individual productivity categories such as SwiftKey as well as AI-led enterprise applications such as RelateIQ (acquired by Salesforce), Lookout, and Origami Logic.

SwiftKey’s beginnings

The product that so many people enjoy today was years in the making. Jon and Ben founded SwiftKey in 2008 after meeting at Cambridge University, and the two set out to enhance interactions between people and technology. Touchscreen smartphones were still in their early days, and Jon and Ben rightly predicted the explosion of the category.

swiftkey gifThe key insight was that building a better keyboard was not only about how to lay out the keys or arrange the characters. Instead, it was to build software that understands how people use language to make more natural predictions about what one is planning to type. They were among the first to pair leading-edge predictive analytics and NLP with a killer keyboard app for mobile devices.

The more you use this software, the more it learns and customizes to your unique behaviors. SwiftKey’s algorithms, for example, predict what you are trying to type, and what you want to type next.

The first 250 million and growing

SwiftKey engineers Stephen Spencer and Joe Osborne in Professor Stephen Hawking’s Cambridge office

Above: SwiftKey engineers Stephen Spencer and Joe Osborne in Professor Stephen Hawking’s Cambridge office

Image Credit: SwiftKey

SwiftKey shipped its first smart keyboard in 2010 and never looked back, racking up awards, becoming the top paid Android App in the Google Play store for multiple years, partnering with the likes of Stephen Hawking, launching a symbol-based communication app for nonverbal users, and much more. Five years later, SwiftKey technology has shipped in more than 250 million mobile phones and continues to accelerate.

And the company’s United Kingdom roots, grounded in research from Cambridge University, are yet another example of how great entrepreneurs like Jon and Ben are now creating world-class software companies all over the world, far beyond Silicon Valley.

With Microsoft’s renewed focus on mobile productivity, we’re excited to see the combination of Microsoft’s deep heritage and market position with SwiftKey’s mobile technology as part of this acquisition. We look forward to seeing the technology expand from the hundreds of millions to billions of users in the years to come.

Thank you, and congratulations again to cofounders Jon and Ben, and the entire SwiftKey team.

(Congratulations as well to early Swiftkey investors Jo Oliver of Octopus and Martin Mignot of Index!)

Rich Wong is general partner at Accel Partners. He is an investor or director of Atlassian (TEAM), Checkr, MoLabs, Neumob, Osmo, Rovio, Swiftkey, SunRun (RUN), Tune; previously Airwatch, Admob, MoPub, Parature, and Dealer.

Originally published on Medium.