Microsoft this week rolled out an update to its Bing search engine that lets people perform searches based on things they see in the real world. The visual search function works similarly to Google Lens. Bing users can take a snapshot of a landmark, or plant, or animal and then search based on the image. Microsoft says it will identify the object and provide information about it along with links to learn more. Microsoft says the app also allows people to shop from image searches if they wish. The new visual search function is available within the Bing search app on Android and iOS, as well as via the Edge browser on Android. Visual search will reach the Edge browser on iOS in the weeks ahead.
New emoji are coming to a phone near you, eventually. Unicode 11.0, which was finalized in February, will be released on June 5, according to Emojipedia. Some of the new options will let men and women emoji select from various hair styles (including red-haired and bald), while new hero and villain styles support new gender and skin tone options. There are new colors available for leg, foot, bone, and tooth emoji; new animals such as badgers, swans, peacocks, and llamas; new food such as mangos, leafy greens, and moon cakes; and many new places, activities, games, objects, and symbols. Support for Unicode 11.0 will be gradual. For example, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft are expected to adopt Unicode 11.0 between June and August, while Google and Apple likely won't add Unicode 11.0 to Android and iOS, respectively, until September or October. Phone makers such as Samsung may not adopt Unicode 11.0 until January or February of next year.
Microsoft says Android and iOS users of its Groove Music mobile apps will soon need to find another way to listen to their tunes. "We're notifying customers that on December 1, 2018, the Groove Music iOS and Android apps will also be retired and, effective June 1, are no longer available for download," said Microsoft in a statement provided to The Verge. Though Microsoft retired the Groove Music streaming service last year, it kept the app up and running so people could access their music. Microsoft indicated that users' music files stored in OneDrive will still be accessible, but not via the Groove Music app.
Microsoft today introduced new tools for parents that can help them manage their kids' use of mobile devices. The Microsoft Launcher for Android phones now includes location history so parents can see their children's last known location with a time stamp. The Launcher also gains the ability to let parents view app activity. Parents can see which apps are accessed at what time and for how long they are used. The Microsoft Edge browser for Android devices now gives parents the ability to allow or block web sites. Parents will have to set up a family group in order to control these tools. Microsoft says parents can also check usage on Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One consoles. The updates to Microsoft Launcher and the Edge browser will begin rolling out today.
Microsoft today announced several new mobile initiatives that pair its own Windows platform with Android and iOS devices. First is a new tool, tentatively called Your Phone, that connects Android and iOS devices with a Windows 10 PC in order to access text messages, photos, and notifications. People will be able to perform actions such as drag-and-drop photos from their phone directly to their PC. Microsoft said this will be available via the Windows Insider Program for testing in the near future. Microsoft has also updated its Microsoft Launcher app for Android devices, specifically with business customers in mind. Launcher will fall under full control of the IT department and will support business applications via Microsoft InTune. Businesses will be able to use the Launcher to control which apps are made available to employees. Last, the new Timeline tool helps people move their work flow from one device to another seamlessly. In other words, employees working in Word on their Android device will be able to pick up where they left off on a Windows 10 PC. Timeline will be available via the Microsoft Launcher on Android phones and through the Microsoft Edge browser on the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft said all these tools and features will be available in the near future.
Microsoft today said its Microsoft Translator application can now function when offline. End users will need to download free AI-powered packs for the language of their choice ahead of time. Once downloaded, the Translator is able to take advantage of Microsoft's neural translation technology without a network connection. The AI-powered offline language packs are available to Microsoft Translator for Android, iOS, and Amazon Fire devices. Beyond the end-user features, Microsoft is allowing developers to integrate online and offline AI-based text translations into their own apps. This would let, for example, camera applications translate text in real time even with the phone is offline. Developers can find the new tools on Microsoft's developer web site. Microsoft Translator is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and Amazon Appstore.
BlackBerry and Microsoft announced a new partnership that will see the two deliver mobile software and services to businesses customers. A new solution, called BlackBerry Bridge, lets business users access Microsoft mobile apps from within BackBerry Dynamics. This means corporate employees will have the same experience opening, editing, and saving Microsoft Office documents on any Android or iOS device. It gives mobile workers a secure way to access their files that are immediately backed up in Microsoft's cloud. Microsoft says the partnership also brings new powers to the IT department, which will better be able to secure company data and maintain privacy while remaining compliant with regulatory statutes. In order to make this work, the companies have integrated BlackBerry UEM Cloud, Workspaces, Dynamics, and AtHoc into the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Microsoft and BlackBerry didn't specify how quickly these new services will be available to their customers.
Microsoft has added the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ to its online store. The devices are pre-configured with Microsoft apps and services. "A Microsoft customization is applied to the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Microsoft Edition when the devices are unboxed and connected to WiFi," explained Microsoft. When users first boot the device, they will be prompted to download Microsoft apps such as Office, Outlook, OneDrive, Cortana, and Microsoft's launcher for Android. Other than the software, the specs and features of the S9 and S9+ are unchanged from other versions of the phone. When purchased from Microsoft, the S9 and S9+ are unlocked. The S9 costs $720 and the S9+ costs $840.
Microsoft recently released an updated version of Skype for Android meant for older smartphones. Specifically, this down-tuned variant of Skype is intended for Android devices running 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich to 5.1 Lollipop. Microsoft says Skype for these phones uses less memory and less storage, allowing the app to run faster while also improving audio and video quality even in challenging network conditions. Microsoft is rolling out this update worldwide over the next few weeks. Those who want to download the app immediately can do so via the Skype Insiders Program. Skype is free from the Google Play Store.
The current state of mobile device security patches is lacking, according to a new report issued today by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC studied how Apple, BlackBerry, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, and Samsung support their devices over time. "Our report found significant differences in how the industry deploys security updates and that more needs to be done to make it easier for consumers to ensure their devices are secure," said Acting Director Tom Pahl. The agency notes that many devices are updated infrequently, if at all, and that manufacturers often fail to deliver on promises. It wants phone makers and carriers to improve the situation. The agency suggested each does a better job of explaining mobile device security to consumers (i.e., make it clear to them that the updates are important and worth installing). The FTC also recommended that phone makers consider issuing security patches as stand-alone updates, rather than bundled with general OS upgrades. The FTC noted that companies that make their own operating system, in this case, Apple and Google, are often better at providing timely updates for a longer period of time. The FTC is calling for members of the mobile industry to find a way to bring clarity to consumers and more rapid security updates.
Intel today announced a range of efforts in the 5G space, including its timeline for bringing new Intel-powered 5G devices to market. The company says it has been developing 5G technology for some now, including virtualized network functionality and software defined networks. It is relying on the 3GPP 5G NR spec and is working with vendors and partners to create an ecosystem of products to support 5G as it rolls out. One of the primary pieces of the 5G puzzle is Intel's recently announced Xeon D-2100 system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor. It can handle intensive compute and network workloads demanded by 5G at the network edge. Further, Intel has partnered with China's Unigroup Spreadtrum and will pair a Spreadtrum processor with its own XMM 8000 5G modem. Intel expects to see phones packing the combined Spreadtrum/Intel SoC during the second half of 2019. PCs with embedded 5G are on the horizon, too. PC makers Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft all plan to enable their mobile computers to support 5G connections with the Intel XMM 8060 modem. Intel and its partners will have some concepts on display at the forthcoming Mobile World Congress trade show. They also expect to bring these concepts to market during the second half of 2019.
Microsoft says devices running Windows Phone 7.5 and 8.0 have reached end-of-life status and will no longer be supported. Beginning February 20, Microsoft will turn off push notification services for Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8.0. This means devices running those platforms will no longer receive notifications, will not receive live tile updates, and will not be able to use Find My Phone to locate the device. Microsoft says Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile remain fully supported for the time being. Devices running Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8.0 were originally sold in the 2011 and 2012 timeframe.
Microsoft's garage team has released a new application that lets Android and iOS users easily transfer photos from their phone to their Windows 10 PC. Photos Companion works in coordination with the Microsoft Photos app on Windows 10 PCs. As long as the iPhone or Android device is on the same network as the PC, users can transfer photos and videos directly from the phone to the computer over WiFi. The app makes use of a QR code in Microsoft Photos on the PC that users scan with the Photos Companion app to initiate the transfer. Photos Companion is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google today improved Google Drive's compatibility with Microsoft Office documents. Drive users can now comment directly on more file types, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDFs, and images without first converting them to Docs, Sheets, or Slides. The commenting system for Office documents functions much the same as it already does for Google Docs. Google explained that the Drive preview pane lets people "comment, assign tasks, or mention coworkers and the people you work can reply back, even if they’re not using G Suite." Google continues to offer its Drive plug-in for Outlook to make it easier to insert files stored in Drive to an Outlook email or vice versa. As always, Drive users can fully convert Office documents to Docs, Sheets, or Slides if they wish. Google said the new Office integration is coming to all users over the next few weeks.
Qualcomm's Smart Audio Platform now supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana. The idea is to make it easier for hardware makers to add voice assistant features to their devices, such as smart speakers and other smart home gear. The platform will reduce the time and development cost to bring such functions to various designs for in-home use. In addition to Google Assistant, the Smart Audio Platform includes support for Android Things, Google Cast for audio. and other Google services. "The integrated platform is designed to bring together a unique combination of processing capability, connectivity options, voice user interfaces and premium audio technologies to help meet increasing consumer demand for comprehensively featured, highly intuitive smart speakers," said Qualcomm. The Smart Audio Platform is powered by a quad-core ARM A53 processor and includes Qualcomm's Hexagon Audio DSP, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy with aptX and aptX HD, audio playback for various codecs, far-field microphones, beam forming, echo cancellation, and noise suppression. The Qualcomm Smart Audio Platform with support for Amazon Alexa is already in production, while the Smart Audio Platform for Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana is expected to be generally available in the first half of 2018.
Qualcomm today announced the Low Power Bluetooth SoC QCC5100 Series module for wearables and hearables. The SoC is meant to empower small form factor hardware by reducing power requirements and adding advanced features at the same time. The module runs on a dual-core, 32-bit processor with Qualcomm's Kalimba DSP Audio subsystem. It supports high-fidelity music and call playback with aptX, aptX HD, Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo (for fully wireless earbuds), and enhanced active noise cancellation. Moreover, it bakes in support for voice assistant services from Amazon (Alexa), Google (Assistant), and Microsoft (Cortana) with low-power wake word detection. Other specs include Bluetooth 5.0 and 2 Mbps Bluetooth Low Energy support, embedded memory and storage for music, integrated amplifier, and developer tools for hardware makers to put to work in their designs. Qualcomm claims the SoC is very efficient, reducing power consumption by 65% for voice calls and music streaming. Qualcomm expects designs based on the QCC5100 Series will reach the market during the first half of the year.
The Internet Association plans to fight the FCC's attempt to repeal net neutrality. The FCC this week published the final version of its Report & Order to sack the Obama-era laws that govern the internet. The FCC seeks to reclassify broadband internet under Title I of the Communications Act as a private service, rather than as a utility under Title II. The FCC also plans to ditch the bright-line rules that prohibit throttling, blocking, and prioritization. In response, the Internet Association said, "The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers. This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet. IA intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against this order and, along with our member companies, will continue our push to restore strong, enforceable net neutrality protections through a legislative solution." Members of IA include internet giants Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify, eBay, Twitter, Pandora, PayPal, and others.
Microsoft today updated its Pix camera application or iOS devices and added several new and fun tools. First up is a function called Photosynth, which lets iPhone owners create much wider and taller panorama photos. It provides faster and smoother capture, and uses Pix's auto-enhancement capabilities to improve white balance, tone, and focus in real time. Microsoft ways the tool borrows code from its old stand-alone Photosynth app. The second tool is called Pix Comix and will automatically create comic book-style collages from video clips. Microsoft says its algorithms can identify and assemble the most interesting frames in any given video to paste together a comic strip. Pix Comix specifically seeks out three frames that offer sharp focus, open eyes, and interesting composition. People can then add speech bubbles, as well as rotate and arrange the comic strip to suit their preferences. Microsoft Pix for the iPhone is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Microsoft today said its Edge browser for Android and iOS has exited preview and is now available as a final, public application. Microsoft Edge for mobile devices ports over popular desktop features, include Favorites, Reading List, New Tab Page, and Reading View. It can sync bookmarks and browser history with the desktop and includes a built-in QR code reader. This final version of the app adds Roaming Passwords, which allow you to save passwords on one device and sync them to others, such as from a phone to a PC and vice versa. The browser also gains a dark theme. Microsoft Edge is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Skype has updated its mobile app with new tools for customizing pictures similar to Instagram and Snapchat. The photo effects include face stickers, captions, celebrity lookalikes, location and weather, and face swaps for adding a dash of whimsy to shared images. A "magic wand" button appears on the screen after users snap a photo and provides access to the effects tools. Photos can then be shared with friends and family via chat or highlights. Microsoft says the sticker selections will change over time, especially as holidays come and go. The new version of Skype is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Microsoft today ported its Cortana personal assistant to its Skype chatting application, providing people with access to information without forcing them to leave Skype. Microsoft says Cortana in Skype can suggest useful information based on chat contents, suggest smart replies, manage schedules and/or reminders, and more. Beyond the proactive assistant duties, Cortana exists as a Skype contact with which users can have "conversations" to check movie times, the weather, flight status, stock quotes, and restaurant recommendations. Microsoft says it is rolling out Cortana to Skype users in the U.S. gradually beginning today. The personal assistant is available to the Android and iOS versions of Skype. Microsoft today also updated its Outlook mobile email and calendar app for Android and iOS devices with much wider support for varied calendar actions. For example, Android and iOS users will now be able to view and edit shared Office 365 or Outlook.com calendars; manage someone else’s calendar at work; connect your Meetup account to Outlook; and more easily manage events from mobile devices. Outlook for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore on Sunday explained in a series of Tweets that the company is no longer creating new software or hardware for its Windows Mobile platform. Belfiore was responding directly to questions posed by fans when he said, "Many companies still deploy [Windows Phone] to their employees and we will support them! Of course we'll continue to support the platform ... bug fixes, security updates, etc. But building new features/[hardware] aren't the focus," Belfiore admitted that he, like Microsoft founder and former CEO Bill Gates, has switched to Android. "As an individual end-user, I switched platforms for the app/hw diversity." The questions put to Belfiore arose due to Microsoft's recent move to expand its Edge browser to to iOS. The browser is in beta mode via the App Store. Microsoft has focused much of its mobile app efforts on the Android and iOS platforms in recent years with its Office productivity suite, Skype communications tool, Android Launcher, OneDrive, and more. In the end, apps became the problem for Windows 10. "We have tried very hard to incent app [developers]. Paid money ... wrote apps for them ... but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest," wrote Belfiore. With no real selection of apps, Windows Mobile didn't have much of a chance against the Android and iOS platforms, which each offers more than one billion apps available to end users.
Microsoft today made a beta version of its Edge browser available to Android and iOS devices. The beta, available to registered Windows Insiders, requires users to initiate the signup process through a Windows 10 PC. Edge for mobile devices ports over popular desktop features, include Favorites, Reading List, New Tab Page, and Reading View. It can sync bookmarks and browser history with the desktop and includes a built-in QR code reader. It's only available to U.S. beta testers in English for now. Microsoft today also released a new launcher for Android handsets. The launcher replaces the native home screen on Android devices in favor of Microsoft's. It includes Windows 10 features such as favorites, recent photos, documents, and more. Before today, the Microsoft Launcher for Android was in beta status via the Microsoft Garage. It is now available for download through the Google Play Store.
Microsoft today announced changes to its music offering for Windows devices that will see it transition from its own Groove Music service to Spotify. According to Microsoft, the Groove Music media player application will continue to work for playing back owned music on Windows devices, but it will no longer offer the option to stream, purchase, or download music after December 31. Microsoft says all Groove Music Pass customers can easily transition their curated playlists and libraries to Spotify. The newest Groove Music app for Windows devices will encourage customers to initiate the transition from Groove to Spotify. Spotify is one of the world's largest music streaming services and has more than 30 million tracks available for on/offline listening. Some Groove Music Pass customers may quality for a free 60-day trial of Spotify Premium, which normally costs $10 per month.
Apple has released iOS 11.0.1 a week after that platform's first public debut in a move to stamp out early bugs. The new operating system is rife with small glitches and Apple says this release helps smooth some of them over on the iPhone and iPad. According to Ars Technica, one of the most significant bugs repaired in the patch impacted email syncing from certain Microsoft Exchange-based email services. iOS 11.0.1 is free to download from Apple.
Apple today changed its Siri voice assistant to use Google for web searches instead of Microsoft's Bing. The change affects direct requests to search the web, as well as default results when Siri cannot return a more specific, intelligent answer or action. Apple says the switch is intended to make web search more consistent, as Google is already the default within Apple's Safari web browser in phones. Bing will still power Siri's image search function. The change takes effect today.
Microsoft today updated its Outlook email application for Android devices and gave the app the ability to support add-ins. Microsoft says add-ins let Outlook users do more with their email thanks to powers enabled by third-party applications. For example, adds-ins will negate the need to leave Outlook to perform certain tasks, such as translate text, insert GIFs, or save items for safekeeping. Some of the launch partners include Evernote, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Translator, Nimble, OnePlaceMail, Outlook Customer Manager, Smartsheet, and Trello. More are on the way. Microsoft says add-ins are available when reading or composing and replying to emails. Microsoft Outlook for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store. Add-ins were added to Outlook for iOS earlier this year. Microsoft said it will be bringing add-ins to Gmail customers on iOS and Android soon.
Microsoft and Amazon today announced a new partnership that will allow Windows 10 users to access Alexa via Cortana, and Echo users to access Cortana via Alexa. The tie-up lets people use one personal assistant to open the other. For example, people who own Windows 10 PCs will be able to say "Hey Cortana, open Alexa" and then speak queries to Alexa through their PC. Conversely, people who own an Amazon Echo device will be able to say "Alexa, open Cortana" to set reminders, check appointments, and make other requests of Cortana. Microsoft says this capability is available to Windows 10 PCs first, but it will come to Android and iOS devices later this year.
Apple and a handful of technology companies are asking the Supreme Court to carefully consider the potential adverse outcomes if law enforcement is given warrantless access to personal information, such as location data. The companies filed a brief with the Supreme Court, which will soon hear a case about how law enforcement gleaned a suspect's location by taking the data from a third party without a warrant. The case, and the companies' collective opinion, hinges on the third-party doctrine, which has been in place since a 1979 case. The corporations that signed the brief together collect, transmit, and hold terabytes of data and meta-data generated by their customers' use of their services. If the Supreme Court decides data held by third-parties should still be up for grabs, the corporations may have to provide it whenever law enforcement asks. They feel this violates the spirit of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees certain expectations of privacy, and could in turn convince people to use their online services less. "This transmission of data will only grow as digital technologies continue to develop and become more integrated into our lives. Because the data that is transmitted can reveal a wealth of detail about people’s personal lives, however, users of digital technologies reasonably expect to retain significant privacy in that data," argued the companies. "Fourth Amendment doctrine must adapt to this new reality." The signees include Airbnb, Apple, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nest, Oath, Snap, Twitter, and Verizon. The companies filed the brief through the ACLU, which is participating in the upcoming case.
Microsoft today said the latest version of Skype for Android and iOS devices makes it possible to send funds to other Skype users via PayPal. Users will be able to send money through PayPal without leaving the Skype app. The sender will need the new version of Skype to send PayPal funds, but the recipient can accept funds from older versions of Skype. Both the sender and the receiver, however, will need a PayPal account in order to fund and accept the money. If the recipient does not have a PayPal account, they'll be prompted to create one in order to access the funds. The service is available in the U.S. and 21 other countries, and supports the ability to send funds in various currencies. The new version of Skype is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google this week updated Google Calendar so that it interacts more fully with Microsoft Exchange Server. Specifically, Google Calendar now supports real-time free / busy lookups between Google and Microsoft servers within businesses. This means people will be able to search for common meeting times with colleagues and collaborators even if they use different email and calendar systems. Google says this has been a top request from users. This change targets Google's G Suite, which is the business-grade version of Google Calendar. It requires IT admins to configure it properly, so it is not meant for consumers at this time. Google didn't say if or when the same functionality will be made available to free users. The improved hybrid G Suite / Microsoft Exchange integration is coming to both mobile and the web over the days ahead.
Microsoft recently withdrew its WordFlow keyboard application from the iTunes App Store. WordFlow was one of many Microsoft Garage projects, which are chiefly apps that target Android and iOS devices. WordFlow for iOS was a version of Microsoft's capable swipe-style keyboard that was originally found on Windows Phone. On its own web site, Microsoft calls the WordFlow experiment "complete" and suggests people download SwiftKey instead. "The SwiftKey product team is frequently building and evaluating new features for SwiftKey and shipping updates," said the WordFlow team. Microsoft bought SwiftKey in February 2016.
The USB 3.0 Promoter Group this week released the spec for USB 3.2, which has the potential to boost speeds through cables. Specifically, USB 3.2 takes advantage of the multi-lane operation that has been built into existing USB Type-C cables. Now, as long as both devices support USB 3.2, end users should see data transfer speeds double. The Promoter Group says the spec allows for up to two lanes of 5 Gbps or two lanes of 10 Gbps operation. The spec makes use of the existing SuperSpeed USB physical layer, but makes minor updates to the hub specification to address increased speeds in addition to transitions between single- and two-lane operation. The USB 3.2 specification is available to developers only at this time. The USB 3.0 Promoter Group expects to release the final version of the spec in September. Devices with support for USB 3.2 will likely not appear in the market before 2018. It's unclear if or how USB 3.2 might be used with mobile devices. Some of the companies in the USB 3.0 Promoter Group include Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft, ST Microelectronics, and Texas Instruments.
Adobe today said it will stop updating and distributing the Flash player in 2020. The web plugin is widely used across the web to power experiences such as video and gaming. Adobe says new, open standards such as HTML5 and WebGL have already begun to replace Flash in web browsers. Adobe is working with partners including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla to help with the end-of-life process. Adobe will update and patch Flash up until the end-of-life moment arrives in order to ensure users are protected. It is already encouraging content creators to adopt the new open standards ahead of the change. Flash was once a flashpoint in the mobile space after Apple debuted the iPhone. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously penned a blog post entitled "Thoughts on Flash" in which he explained Apple's reasons for not supporting Flash within iOS. It was a major point of contention, as it prevented the iPhone from accessing some web content. Apple is now helping Adobe with the transition away from Flash.
Microsoft has released an overhauled build of its Outlook mobile email application for both the Android and iOS platforms. The update targets several specific functions of the app to smooth over performance. For example, the new app makes it much simpler to switch between email accounts or folders within email accounts thanks to a redesigned nav bar. The help and settings tools are surfaced higher up within the app so they can be reached more easily. Microsoft also targeted threaded conversations. The app now shows more of the conversation at once, with clearer borders between messages. Outlook will automatically open the first unread message in a thread, while still allowing people to open other messages in the conversation. Replying to everyone in a thread should be easier, too, thanks to a quick reply function built into the app. Last, Microsoft plans to add a universal search bar to Outlook that can be used to find names, addresses, emails, and more. While the first two features are reaching Android and iOS this week, the search tool will be added at a later date. Outlook is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Microsoft has totally re-envisioned its Skype messaging application and, in the process, made it more like Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. To start, Skype offers more personalization. For example, users can tweak colors and more easily add animated emoji and reaction icons to conversations. The app now supports what Microsoft calls a Highlight Reel, which is a Snapchat Stories-like compilation of videos and photos. Microsoft says people can create Highlights by accessing the in-app camera, or by pulling in content from their phone's photo gallery. People can then react to Highlights or use them as a starting point for a new conversation thread. Bots are headed to Skype, too, via the new Find tab that's built into the app. Users can take advantage of the bot-enabled search tool to find concert tickets, see what's trending across social networks, and more. Microsoft expects third-party developers (businesses and brands) to create their own add-ins and bots for Skype over time. Skype still supports one-on-one and group conversations, video calls, audio calls, and other legacy features. Microsoft says the new Skype will reach Android devices over the next few weeks with the iPhone to follow in a month or so, and Mac and Windows desktops to follow later this year.
Microsoft has a new tool for Android and iOS device owners to use when signing into Microsoft accounts. The phone sign-in functionality relies on the Microsoft Authenticator. People can add their Microsoft account to either the Android or iOS version of the Microsoft Authenticator mobile app. Then, when signing into a new Microsoft app, people will only have to put in their username. The Authenticator will pop up a notification on users' phones that, once approved, unlocks access to the new app. "This process is easier than standard two-step verification and significantly more secure than only a password, which can be forgotten, phished, or compromised," said Microsoft in a blog post. Microsoft Authenticator is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Microsoft will sell the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ in its brick-and-mortar retail stores beginning April 21, reports ZDNet. Microsoft will customize the S8 and S8+ by adding a number of its own apps and services, though Microsoft declined to state exactly which ones. Likely contenders include OneDrive Cortana, Outlook, and MSOffice. "The new device customization is an example of bringing together Microsoft applications on more devices so customers can work, play and connect from their pockets," said Microsoft in a statement provided to ZDNet. Microsoft has preinstalled its software on Samsung handsets in the past. Microsoft will charge the same $750 and $850 retail prices for the S8 and S8+, respectively, as Samsung and other retailers. Microsoft did not say if the customized phones will be sold unlocked.
Samsung today announced DeX, a desktop accessory for the Galaxy S8 and S8+ that allows them to function as computers when attached to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. DeX is similar in concept to Microsoft's Continuum product. For the S8 and S8+, the DeX includes HDMI, USB, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and cooling functions. The software relies on features baked into Nougat to help scale the Android user interface for desktop screens. It supports full multitasking with moveable windows and runs most standard Android apps. Phone apps, text messaging, and other essential mobile communications will all function normally. DeX and the S8/S8+ support Microsoft Office, with Adobe Lightroom and PhotoShop Express coming soon. A special Samsung browser provides a full desktop internet experience. Pricing and availability of the DeX are to be announced at a later date.
Microsoft today made it possible for Android device owners to access and use Cortana above the lock screen on their smartphones. Microsoft has been testing the feature since earlier this year and is now rolling it out to all users. People can swipe on the lock screen to see Cortana's basic information screen as well as ask Cortana questions, set reminders, and view their calendar appointments. These features are all usable without requiring people to unlock their devices. Microsoft also improved Cortana home on Android, which now includes more glanceable information about daily schedules, commute times, reminders, as well as shortcuts to creating reminders and calendar items. Last, Microsoft is making Cortana available to Android and iOS devices in Australia. The new version of Cortana with lock screen access for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.