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Microsoft Wallet Gains Tap-to-Pay Functionality

Jun 21, 2016, 1:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today updated its Microsoft Wallet app and gave Lumia smartphone owners the ability to make mobile payments at supporting retailers. Windows Mobile has long included a Wallet app, but until today it was reserved for loyalty cards and other retail programs. Now, people can add their credit or debit card to Microsoft Wallet and use the app for tap-and-go purchases. The app is available to the Lumia 950, 950 XL, and 650, and requires Windows Insider build 14360 or higher. The Windows Insider program is free to join and distributes pre-release versions of Windows 10 Mobile that are still in development. Microsoft says the tap-to-pay feature will be expanded to all users running stock builds of Windows 10 Mobile later this summer. Both MasterCard and Visa support Microsoft Wallet, along with financial institutions including Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, People's United Bank, Fifth Third Bank, US Bank, and others. Microsoft says mobile payments should work at any retail terminal that accepts contactless payments. Microsoft Wallet is free to download from the Windows Store.


Microsoft Picks Up Wand to Boost Bots

Jun 16, 2016, 1:05 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said it has acquired Wand Labs, a company that combines human language with machine intelligence. Microsoft said it plans to add Wand Labs' talent to its Bing, Microsoft Azure, Office 365, and Windows platforms. "The Wand team's expertise around semantic ontologies, services mapping, third-party developer integration, and conversational interfaces make them a great fit ... especially with the work we're doing in the area of intelligent agents and chat bots," said David Ku, corporate vice president, Information Platform Group. Wand Labs was founded in 2013 by Vishal Sharma. The acquisition fits the roadmap unveiled earlier this year by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, which will focus on the "conversation as a platform."


Samsung to Buy Cloud Company Joyent

Jun 16, 2016, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today said it has agreed to acquire Joyent, a U.S.-based cloud services provider. Samsung will use Joyent's assets to support various products, including mobile devices, internet of things, and its own cloud-based software. Samsung's competitors, such as Apple and Microsoft, offer cloud services like iCloud and OneDrive to help tie together their respective ecosystems. Joyent will help Samsung fill that gap in its online services. Joyent will continue to operate as a standalone company and will retain its current client base. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions.


Microsoft to Buy LinkedIn for $26.2 Billion

Jun 13, 2016, 7:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said it has agreed to acquire LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. LinkedIn is well known as a professional networking and employment resource for companies and job seekers alike. Under the terms of the deal, LinkedIn will retain is brand, culture, and management team, and it will be operated as a separate company. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner will report directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. The transaction has been approved by the boards of both companies, but still has to win approval from shareholders. Microsoft and LinkedIn expect the deal, which will require regulatory review, to close before the end of 2016.


Verizon to Delete Its Paid Visual Voicemail Service

Jun 8, 2016, 9:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless said it will discontinue its $2.99 Visual Voicemail service come July 8. All customers who use the Visual Voicemail app will be transitioned to Verizon's free, basic voicemail service. Verizon says customers won't lose their existing voicemails, but may need to make room in their voicemail inbox, as well as reset their voicemail greeting. The list of phones impacted by the change is significant, including old and new models from BlackBerry, Casio, HTC, Kyocera, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Pantech, and Samsung. Verizon did not say why it is discontinuing the Visual Voicemail service.


Skype Debuts Mojis and Emoticons of Professional Women

Jun 2, 2016, 11:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today added more women to Skype's supported set of mojis and emoticons. The new moji specifically depict women in a greater variety of professional roles, such as scientist, athlete, teacher, and director. Microsoft hopes the expanded moji selection will help people convey more meaningful messages to one another. People who have the latest version of Skype installed on their Android, iOS, or Windows smartphone will see the updated emoticon picker tab beginning later today.


Xiaomi to Load Microsoft Apps On Its Android Phones

Jun 1, 2016, 7:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft and Xiaomi have forged a partnership concerning mobile apps and patents that should benefit both parties. Xiaomi has agreed to install Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Skype on a collection of its Android-powered smartphones and tablets in China, India, and other regions. Xiaomi is targeting September to install the apps on devices including the Mi 5, Mi Max, Mi 4s, Redmi Note 3, and Redmi 3. The deal also includes a cross-license and patent transfer agreement that will see Xiaomi gain some 1,500 patents from Microsoft. Microsoft benefits by exposing its apps and services to Chinese, Indian, and other consumers. The companies say the agreement marks the beginning of a long-term relationship between the two.


Microsoft to Cut 1,850 Smartphone Workers

May 25, 2016, 7:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said it plans to further streamline its smartphone business, an action that includes job cuts and restructuring charges. The company plans to cut 1,350 jobs from its facilities in Finland, as well as another 500 jobs globally. The company expects to take a charge of about $950 million, of which $200 million will be used for severance packages. "We are focusing our phone efforts where we have differentiation — with enterprises that value security, manageability, and our Continuum capability, and consumers who value the same," said Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO. "We will continue to innovate across devices and on our cloud services across all mobile platforms." Microsoft says it expects to complete most job cuts by the end of this year and all cuts by July 2017. Sales of Windows 10 Mobile phones began in late 2015, but the platform has lost more ground since then, accounting for just 1% of smartphone sales during the first quarter, according to Gartner. Microsoft recently sold its feature phone business to a Foxconn subsidiary, and Nokia recently gave that same subsidiary the rights to use its brand on mobile devices. This paves the way for Nokia to make a return, of sorts, to the mobile phone business.


AT&T Adds More Phones to Extended BOGO Promo

May 20, 2016, 10:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today added a handful of new handsets to a buy one, get one free offer the carrier has had in place since February. The extended BOGO promotion now applies to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, the Microsoft Lumia 950, the HTC One A9, and the Kyocera DuraForce. The other handsets already included in the offer are the Apple iPhone 6s, 6s Plus; Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, S6 Active, and Note 5; and LG G5 and V10. The offer lets new and existing customers buy one phone at full price and receive a second one for free. The two handsets must come from the same manufacturer. AT&T says both phones must be purchased via its AT&T Next installment plan. The first phone can be a new line or an upgrade, but the second phone must be a new line purchased with an AT&T Next 24 plan (req's 30 payments). Both phones must be added to a qualified plan, such as Mobile Share Value, which starts at $70 for two lines. Customers will need to pay sales tax on the two phones at the time of purchase and may need to make several monthly payments on both before AT&T credits up to $650 for the second phone spread out over the 30 months. The offer is available through June 30.


Nokia-Branded Phones to Make a Comeback

May 18, 2016, 9:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia and Microsoft today put in motion a series of deals that will eventually lead to Nokia-branded handsets returning to the market. Microsoft has agreed to sell its feature phone business to FIH Mobile Limited, a subsidiary of Foxconn, for about $350 million. The deal will include the transfer of select assets, such as manufacturing facilities and about 4,500 employees. At the same time, Nokia has agree to license its brand to Finland-based HMD global Oy, which has partnered with FIH Mobile to make smartphones and tablets. HMD expects to spend $500 million over the next few years to increase its ability to make and market mobile devices. Nokia said in addition to branding rights, it will supply HMD with cellular standard essential patent licenses in return for loyalty payments. Nokia itself will not invest in HMD. FIH Mobile's parent company, Foxconn, manufacturers the iPhone for Apple.


Sunrise Calendar to Fold Into Outlook

May 11, 2016, 12:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft plans to discontinue the Sunrise calendar application it offers to the Android and iOS platforms. Microsoft acquired the team behind Sunrise last year. Sunrise will be removed from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store within a few days and will cease working entirely on August 31. The Sunrise team is now working to bring Sunrise's best features to the Outlook email/calendar app for Android and iOS.


Microsoft Pulls WiFi Sense from Windows 10

May 11, 2016, 7:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has decided to remove the WiFi Sense feature from all versions of Windows 10, including mobile devices and PCs. The feature was pulled from the most recent preview build of Windows 10 for PCs; it will be pulled from phones, too. WiFi Sense allowed people to share their WiFi logins with social network connections, as well as connect to public WiFi networks with less hassle. "The cost of updating the code to keep this feature working combined with low usage and low demand made this not worth further investment," explained Microsoft. Microsoft said people who leave WiFi Sense running on their phones will still be able to connect to open WiFi hotspots that are already in Microsoft's shared database. Microsoft recently released a new preview build of Windows 10 for handsets. Build 14332 mostly targets bugs and makes refinements to the user interface of select apps. The next preview build for phones will likely strip out WiFi Sense.


FCC, FTC Query Carriers and Phone Makers Over Security

May 9, 2016, 12:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC and FTC today asked carriers and phone manufacturers how they handle security updates for their devices. The FCC sent letters to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and other carriers, while the FTC queried Apple, Blackberry, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, and Samsung. In particular, the agencies want to know: the factors carriers/OEMs consider in deciding whether to patch a vulnerability on a particular phone; data on the specific phones sold in the U.S. since August 2013; the vulnerabilities that have affected those devices; and whether and when the company patched such vulnerabilities. The government said the line of inquiry is to help it further understand how these companies do or do not protect consumers. "Consumers may be left unprotected, for long periods of time or even indefinitely, by any delays in patching vulnerabilities once they are discovered," said the FCC. "To date, operating system providers, original equipment manufacturers, and mobile service providers have responded to address vulnerabilities as they arise. There are, however, significant delays in delivering patches to actual devices — and that older devices may never be patched." Google provides monthly security updates to Nexus-branded Android devices, but individual phone makers lag badly. Apple provides occasional updates.


Microsoft Testing Advanced Pre-Touch Sensing On Phones

May 6, 2016, 8:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft recently demonstrated new touchscreen technology that can anticipate users' actions and call up different controls, options, or menus to suit the current task. Pre-touch sensing helps the phone determine how the user is gripping the phone, as well as where the user's fingers are approaching the display. Using these cues, the device is able to provide adaptive user interfaces that are specific to the context of how the phone is being held and used. In a video, Ken Hinckley, principal researcher at Microsoft, shows how users can access video controls that vary depending on if the phone is being held in one or both hands. Pre-touch sensing can also help better differentiate between flicking gestures, selecting text, and highlighting content. The technology is in a developmental stage and Microsoft hasn't said if or when it may bring pre-touch sensing to consumer devices.


Bing for iPhone Let's You Search via Pictures

May 3, 2016, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has updated its Bing search application for the iPhone and added the ability to search for images captured by the camera. The tool, similar to Google Goggles, lets users take a picture and then use the picture to perform a search. Bing will examine the image and return results that include more pictures of the same thing, as well as information about it. The updated search app can now also provide alerts about movie availability, and help find bus routes and schedules. Microsoft took time to improve the app's launch time, too, and stomped out several bugs. Bing search for the iPhone is free to download from the iTunes App Store.


Acer Liquid M330 Runs Windows 10 for $100

Apr 27, 2016, 7:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft recently added the Acer Liquid M330, a low-cost handset running Windows 10 Mobile, to its U.S. web store. The M330 includes a 4.5-inch screen with 854 by 480 resolution and is powered by a Snapdragon 210 processor with 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, and support for 64 GB memory cards. The phone has two 5-megapixel cameras. The rear-facing camera includes autofocus and a flash, while the front-facing camera is fixed focus. It includes a standard batch of radios, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi, and limited LTE support including bands 2, 4, 7, and 12. This makes it somewhat compatible with the 4G networks operated by AT&T and T-Mobile. The M330 supports two SIM cards. The phone is available directly from Microsoft for $99.99 It is sold unlocked.


Gmail for Android Gains Microsoft Exchange Support

Apr 25, 2016, 12:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Apr 25, 2016, 1:40 PM

Google today said the global Android Gmail app is set to add support for Microsoft Exchange. "Whether you're on Google Apps or Exchange, you can use the Gmail app on any Android device to send and receive mail," said Google in a blog post. Gmail will also be able to support Exchange-based calendars. Gmail has long supported the IMAP and POP email protocols, including Microsoft's Outlook and Hotmail services. Google added Exchange to Gmail back in November 2014, but only Nexus handsets running Lollipop had access to the feature. Providing Exchange support to all Android users is a big win for businesses that rely on Microsoft's email management product. Google says the updated app will be made available from the Google Play Store over the next few days.


Microsoft Rolls Out Lumia 950 BOGO Offer

Apr 25, 2016, 12:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft is looking to clear inventory of the Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 950 smartphones, which means consumers can buy one at full price and get the second one for free. The deal is available via Microsoft's U.S. web store. Specifically, people who purchase the 950 XL at $649 will receive a Lumia 950, valued at $549, for free. Both devices are being sold unlocked with support for GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile. The promotion is available while supplies last through May 2. Microsoft reported shipments of about 2.3 million Lumia phones in its most recent financial documents, which represents a steep drop from the 8.6 million it shipped in the year-ago period. The company admitted it is sitting on a lot of excess inventory of its flagship Windows 10 Mobile devices. Moreover, the company expects "year over year revenue declines to deepen as we work through our Lumia channel position." Cricket Wireless is expected to launch Microsoft's mid-range model, the Lumia 650, early next month. Microsoft has recently pushed a significant update to its Windows 10 Mobile platform and updated core apps such as email, Groove Music, and the Edge browser.


Microsoft Sending Invites for Word Flow Keyboard

Apr 25, 2016, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has begun inviting people who registered to test its Word Flow keyboard to download the app from the iTunes App Store. Microsoft had been testing the alternate keyboard in a closed beta, but started accepting signups earlier this month. One the iPhone, Word Flow will support custom backgrounds, one-handed typing, and swiping gestures to spell words. The keyboard was developed by Microsoft's Garage unit, which heads up projects for Android and iOS. Word Flow for the iPhone only supports English at launch. It is free to download and use.


Google and Microsoft Make Nice, Drop Regulatory Complaints

Apr 22, 2016, 12:48 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft and Alphabet, parent company of Google, have agreed to cease all ongoing regulatory fights between them. Microsoft has complained to US and European Union antitrust regulators often and loudly with respect to Google's search practices and other behaviors. Microsoft said it has changed its legal priorities and would rather compete against Microsoft in the open market for business and for customers. Google said the change in legal strategy is partly due to the firms' dismissal last year of patent lawsuits. "Our companies compete vigorously, but we want to do so on the merits of our products, not in legal proceedings," said Google. Rather than file complaints with governmental bodies, Microsoft and Google will reach out to one another directly if business-related problems arise.


Cricket to Sell Microsoft Lumia 650 Starting May 6

Apr 20, 2016, 9:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Apr 20, 2016, 4:12 PM

Cricket Wireless today announced plans to sell the Microsoft Lumia 650. The prepaid carrier will offer the phone beginning May 6 for $130. The phone runs Windows 10 Mobile and features a metal-frame design with a 5-inch HD OLED display, 8-megapixel camera, memory card slot, and removable battery. Cricket says people who switch from another carrier will be eligible for a $50 bill credit. T-Mobile customers who switch to Cricket will be eligible for a $100 bill credit. Cricket's prepaid plans start at $40 per month.


Microsoft Beta Testing Word Flow Keyboard for iPhone

Apr 15, 2016, 7:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft is one step closer to releasing its Word Flow keyboard to the iPhone. The company is testing the keyboard in a closed beta, but is now allowing consumers to request invitations. Microsoft first announced plans to release the keyboard back in January. One the iPhone, it will support custom backgrounds, one-handed typing, and swiping gestures to spell words. The keyboard is being developed by Microsoft's Garage than, which heads up projects for Android and iOS. Microsoft didn't say when invitations for the keyboard will go out.


Microsoft Releases Hub Keyboard App for iPhone

Apr 8, 2016, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft's Garage team has made a productivity-minded keyboard available to Apple's iOS devices. The keyboard, says Microsoft, works in tandem with an Office 365 account for tapping into OneDrive, Office, and other Microsoft account information. Microsoft suggests users toggle between the standard iOS keyboard and Hub Keyboard when needed, using Hub to grab and share URLs of Office documents or contact details from the phone or associated Office 365 account. It also has an enhanced copy-paste function for doing text between apps, documents, and files. The Hub Keyboard is first available in English for the U.S. and will expand to more languages and countries over time. Microsoft's Garage team focuses on creating apps for Android and iOS devices. It released Hub to the Android platform in February. The app is free to download.


Microsoft Brings Facebook Calendar to Outlook Apps

Apr 7, 2016, 10:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said an update to Outlook for Android and iOS will allow users to add calendars from Facebook, Evernote, and Wunderlist. The integration supports events, notes, and reminders. Individual calendars can be color-coded for easy visibility. The features comes from the Sunrise email service, which Microsoft purchased last year. Microsoft believes integrating more calendars with Outlook will help people better plan their work and personal lives. Outlook for Android and iOS are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.


Microsoft Now Selling the Lumia 650

Apr 1, 2016, 10:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has made the Lumia 650 available for purchase from its U.S. web site. The phone runs Windows 10 Mobile and features a metal-frame design with a 5-inch HD OLED display, 8-megapixel camera, memory card slot, and removable battery. Microsoft is selling the phone unlocked for $199. It is compatible with the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile.


Microsoft Brings the Power of Cortana and Bots to Skype

Mar 30, 2016, 1:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft is giving Skype a boost of intelligence thanks to Cortana and Skype Bots. With Cortana integration, Skype users will be able to do things such as manage their calendar and contacts without leaving the Skype app. Cortana will also be able to interact with bots, which Microsoft said will allow people to perform tasks such as book hotels and order pizza by conversing with the app itself. Bots are available in preview form within the messaging part of Skype, but will eventually be added to audio and video calling, too. A new version of Skype for Android, iOS, and Windows enables the bots. Companies will be able to create their own bots for Skype via Microsoft's developer program. People will be able to add the bots they want to their contact list. Microsoft revealed the bots are part of its larger vision for voice-activated computing.


Microsoft Revises Its Skype Strategy

Mar 24, 2016, 2:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today charted a new course for its Skype platform as realized on mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and PCs. Late last year, Microsoft announced its intent to offer a universal app for PCs and tablets, with separate apps targeting Windows 10 smartphones. After digesting feedback over the last few months, Microsoft has had a change of heart and will offer a universal app for all platforms. This will let people invested in the Windows ecosystem enjoy the same experience across different form factors. However, the company still intends to offer the separate mobile apps for calling, messaging, and video because it says phone users often prefer task-based apps. Microsoft will release the universal Skype app for Windows 10 PCs soon, with a version for phones to follow later.


Latest Windows 10 Preview Targets Browser and Maps

Mar 18, 2016, 7:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has made a new build of Windows 10 available to mobile phones and PCs alike. Build 14291 makes significant changes to several important features. First, the Edge browser now supports extensions. Though this feature is limited to PCs, it makes the browser more competitive with Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari. The Edge browser also makes it possible to pin tabs within the app to anchor specific web pages, and adds more options when copying and pasting URLs. This Windows 10 update also heralds big improvements to the Windows Maps app for handsets and PCs. Maps is now more consistent between phones and PCs, and has a lightweight user interface. Some of the features added to Maps include one-tap access to search and directions, Cortana turn-by-turn directions, and quick access to cities rendered in 3D. Microsoft says the new Maps lets users view multiple searches and directions at the same time, minimize search results and directions during navigation, and see labels more clearly. Turn-by-turn navigation is easier to understand at a glance, and now supports landscape orientation. There are a number of other changes to the platform, such as a revised alarm clock app, support for various Japanese text entry modes, and the addition of the Feedback Hub for Windows Insiders to share their thoughts about Windows 10. This build is available to Windows Insiders in the Fast Ring for the Lumia 550, 650, 950, 950 XL, Xiaomi Mi4, and Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL. Microsoft says these devices are on deck for more previews in the weeks ahead.


Windows 10 Mobile Arrives for Some Older Handsets

Mar 17, 2016, 11:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 20, 2016, 10:12 AM

Microsoft has begun making Windows 10 Mobile available to older smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft first expected to release the platform in November or December of last year, but pushed the update to the first quarter. The new operating system is available to the Lumia 430, 435, 532, 535, 540, 635, 640, 640 XL, 730/735, 830, 930, and 1520. Owners of these phones must first download the Upgrade Advisor app from the Windows Store and accept the terms and conditions of the upgrade. Once this proactive step is taken, the phone is prepared for Windows 10 and Microsoft will deliver it as an over-the-air update. Microsoft hasn't said if handsets other than this initial batch will be able to install Windows 10 Mobile. There are some significant omissions, such as the Lumia 520, 920, 1020, 1320, HTC One M8 for Windows, and the Lumia Icon. The refreshed platform makes improvements to Cortana and Office, and puts the mobile experience in line with Windows 10 desktop machines.


Twitter for Windows 10 Overhauled for Mobile and PCs

Mar 16, 2016, 10:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter for Microsoft's Windows 10 platform has been given a significant update, putting it more in line with the apps available to Android and iOS devices. For example, Twitter now includes the Moments tab for summaries of current events and support for inserting GIFs into tweets. It also adds muting and group chat. As a universal app, these features are available to Windows 10 phones, tablets, and PCs. Twitter is free to download from the Windows Store


Here Maps to Ditch Windows Platforms

Mar 15, 2016, 10:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Here Maps today said it is dropping support for Windows 10 and Windows Phone. The company plans to pull all Here-branded mobile apps from the Windows Store by March 29, as the apps will cease working on handsets by June 30. "We made the Here apps compatible with Windows 10 by using a workaround that will no longer be effective after June 30," explained Here's Pino Bonetti in a blog post. "To continue offering the Here apps for Windows 10 would require us to redevelop the apps from the ground up, a scenario that led to the business decision to remove our apps from the Windows 10 store." This means Here Maps will no longer be available to Windows 10-based smartphones, tablets, and PCs; instead, Here says Windows 10 devices will need to use the Microsoft Maps product. Microsoft Maps relies on Here's mapping data, but doesn't have the robust feature set of the Here Maps apps. Phones running Windows Phone 8/8.1 will still be able to use Here Maps on their devices, but Here will limit any future updates to critical bug fixes. Here Maps, Nokia's former mapping division, is now owned by a consortium of German auto makers including Audi, BMW, and Daimler. The consortium plans to focus efforts on other platforms, including Android and iOS.


Skype for Web Now Supports Calling Mobile Phones

Mar 14, 2016, 10:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has improved the browser-based version of Skype with new several tools. To start, users can now call mobile phones and landlines from the web, including international numbers (Skype credit required). The web client also gains the ability to view YouTube videos directly in message threads, rather than force users to open a separate window. YouTube support includes standard playback controls, such as volume and play/pause. Skype for web makes it easier to invite non-Skype users to join conversations with an improved sharing tool, and new notifications mean web users won't miss incoming messages or calls when signed in. Skype for the web is free to use and is compatible with mobile Skype apps, such as those for Android, iOS, and Windows machines.


Microsoft Tweaks Phone and Email Apps In Newest Win10 Build

Mar 10, 2016, 1:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today made Windows 10 Techincal Preview Build 14283 available to Windows Insiders in the fast ring. This build of Windows 10 Mobile makes changes to several core communications apps, including the phone and Outlook Mail. In the phone, for example, Microsoft added missed call and voicemail waiting indicators to the tabs to make spotting them easier. Outlook Mail now allows users to turn off the message preview text in the message list, which adds a bit of privacy. Users can also more swiftly dump junk from their inbox. Outlook's calendar tool can now be used to send alerts, such as "I'll be late" to other meeting attendees. Microsoft is preparing to merge the Windows Feedback app and Insiders Hub into the Feedback Hub to streamline user feedback tools. Build 14283 also resolves a lot of bugs. This Windows 10 Mobile Techincal Preview is available to the Lumia 950, 950 XL, 650, and 550.


Skype Brings Messaging to Office and OneDrive Online

Mar 7, 2016, 12:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today expanded Skype's calling and messaging functions to the online versions of Office and OneDrive. People will be able to initiate Skype conversations when using the web-based Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and OneDrive apps. Microsoft imagines the feature will be useful for people who need to collaborate on files in real time. Microsoft recently gave these same tools to the mobile versions of Office and OneDrive. Skype, Office, and OneDrive are free for Android, iOS, and Windows, but some Office functions require a subscription to Office 365.


ZTE Runs Afoul of Commerce Dept., Facing Export Ban

Mar 6, 2016, 9:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE has allegedly violated export rules to Iran and the U.S. Department of Commerce is prepared to restrict what American-made components ZTE is allowed to acquire. The Commerce Department says ZTE "planned and organized a scheme to establish, control, and use a series of 'detached' companies to illicitly re-export controlled items to Iran in violation of U.S. export control laws." Internal documents seen by Reuters suggest ZTE did in fact consider such tactics to get around the ban. Setting up shell companies, explained ZTE in one document, would make it "harder for the U.S. government to trace it or investigate the real flow of the controlled commodities." The company recognized that its behavior put it at risk. Some of the products in question came from Microsoft, Oracle, Dell, and IBM, all of which claim they had no knowledge of ZTE's plans to ship their gear to Iran. The U.S. has long banned the export of certain products — including telecommunications gear — to Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba. The Commerce Department's restrictions will require all ZTE's suppliers to apply for an export license to ship U.S. products to ZTE. Beginning Tuesday, those applications will be generally be denied. ZTE's export practices have been under investigation since 2012. What's not clear is if or how the Commerce Department's actions, which chiefly target ZTE's telecommunications gear, will impact the company's handset business. ZTE sells handsets directly online to consumers, as well as through partnerships with U.S. carriers.


SoundHound Releases Hound Voice Assistant to Compete with Siri, Cortana, Google Now

Mar 3, 2016, 8:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

SoundHound has made a voice assistant of its own available to Android and iOS devices in the hopes of providing an alternate to Google-, Apple-, and Microsoft-made assistants. Hound works similarly to Google Now, Siri, and Cortana in that it listens to natural language voice requests and performs select actions in response. It can be used hands-free by stating the "Ok, Hound" catchphrase. Users can ask about the weather, search for local restaurants and their Yelp ratings, plan routes between points, seek out hotel rooms, hail Uber rides, make phone calls and send messages, perform general web searches, and even ask for mathematical calculations. SoundHound claims Hound is able to handle specific requests, such as "Show hotels in Seattle that are pet-friendly, have a gym, and cost less than $275", as well as follow-up questions. Hound is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.


Microsoft Makes Latest Win 10 Build Available to More Phones

Mar 2, 2016, 1:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today released Windows 10 Mobile build 10586.122 to Windows Insiders in the Slow and Release Preview rings. Microsoft made the same build available to Fast Ring Insiders last week. It mostly fixes bugs.


WhatsApp Ending Support for Blackberry and Symbian OSes

Feb 28, 2016, 11:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

WhatsApp plans to cease supporting a handful of older mobile operating systems by the end of the year. WhatsApp will stop working on devices running Android 2.1 and 2.2; all BlackBerry OSes, including BlackBerry 10; Nokia's S40 and Symbian S60 platforms; and Windows Phone 7.1. "While these mobile devices have been an important part of our story, they don't offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app's features in the future," explained WhatsApp in a blog post. WhatsApp suggests people relying on devices that run this operating systems upgrade to newer hardware if they wish to continue using WhatsApp. Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $16 billion. Facebook says WhatsApp has more than 1 billion users worldwide.


Microsoft, Google, Facebook Back Apple

Feb 25, 2016, 4:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

More tech companies are backing Apple's position in the locked phone case against the FBI. Google and Facebook have said they'll file motions in support of Apple with the court, while Microsoft said it will file an amicus brief with the U.S. Department of Justice. Apple is refusing to help the FBI unlock a phone owned by the terrorist in the San Bernardino shootings. Apple believes doing so will put all iPhone owners at risk. A court has ordered Apple to unlock the device. The matter will reach court on March 1.


Microsoft Bags Windows Bridge for Android Apps

Feb 25, 2016, 4:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today provided an update on the tools it offers to developers and said it has canceled plans the Windows Bridge for Android (project Astoria). The Bridge was meant to help Android developers re-use their code and port their apps to Windows. Microsoft released the Windows Bridge for iOS last summer and keep that Bridge up and running based on the positive feedback it has received from developers. Microsoft also announced that it has purchased a company called Xamarin. Xamarin offers tools to developers so they can build mobile apps using C# and deliver native mobile apps to all major devices, including iOS, Android, and Windows. The Xamarin acquisition will help make up for, in part, the loss of the Windows Bridge for Android, as it lets developers use .NET and C# along with a full set of APIs for each platform. Microsoft believes it now has a more robust set of tools for developers to use to write apps not only for the Universal Windows Program, but also for Android and iOS.


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