Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, has been a controversial project since its debut. The need for the framework has been clear: the payloads of mobile pages can be just insane, what with layers and layers of images, JavaScript, ad networks, and more slowing down page rendering time and costing users serious bandwidth on metered plans.

Yet, the framework has been aggressively foisted on the community by Google, which has backed the project not just with technical talent, but also by making algorithmic changes to its search results that have essentially mandated that pages comply with the AMP project’s terms — or else lose their ranking on mobile searches.

Even more controversially, as part of making pages faster, the AMP project uses caches of pages on CDNs — which are hosted by Google (and also Cloudflare now). That meant that Google’s search results would direct a user to an AMP page hosted by Google, effectively cutting out the owner of the content in the process.

The project has been led by Malte Ubl, a senior staff engineer working on Google’s Javascript infrastructure projects, who has until now held effective unilateral control over the project.

In the wake of all of this criticism, the AMP project announced today that it would reform its governance, replacing Ubl as the exclusive tech lead with a technical steering committee comprised of companies invested in the success in the project. Notably, the project’s intention has an “…end goal of not having any company sit on more than a third of the seats.” In addition, the project will create an advisory board and working groups to shepherd the project’s work.

The project is also expected to move to a foundation in the future. These days, there are a number of places such a project could potentially reside, including the Apache Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

While the project has clearly had its detractors, the performance improvements that AMP has been fighting for are certainly meritorious. With this more open governance model, the project may get deeper support from other browser makers like Apple, Mozilla, and Microsoft, as well as the broader open source community.

And while Google has certainly been the major force behind the project, it has also been popular among open source software developers. Since the project’s launch, there have been 710 contributors to the project according to its statistics, and the project (attempting to empathize its non-Google monopoly) notes that more than three-quarters of those contributors don’t work at Google.

Nonetheless, more transparency and community involvement should help to accelerate Accelerated Mobile Pages. The project will host its contributor summit next week at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, where these governance changes as well as the technical and design roadmaps for the project will be top of mind for attendees.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

The Xbox Adaptive Controller goes on sale today and is also now part of the V&A museum’s collection

The Xbox Adaptive Controller goes on sale today and is also now part of the V&A museum’s collection
In an important move for inclusion in the gaming community, the Xbox Adaptive Controller, created for gamers with mobility issues, is now on sale. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) also announced today that it has acquired the Xbox Adaptive Controller for display in its Rapid Response gallery dedicated to current events and pop culture.
First introduced in May, the Xbox Adaptive Controller can now be purchased online for $99.99. To create the controller, Microsoft collaborated with gamers with disabilities and limited mobility, as well as partners from several organizations, including the AbleGamers Charity, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Special Effect and Warfighter Engaged.
According to Microsoft, the Xbox Adaptive Controller project first took root in 2014 when one of its engineers spotted a custom gaming controller made by Warfighter Engaged, a non-profit that provides gaming devices for wounded and disabled veterans. During several of Microsoft’s hackathons, teams of employees began working on gaming devices for people with limited mobility, which in turn gave momentum to the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
In its announcement, the V&A said it added the Xbox Adaptive Controller to its collection because “as the first adaptive controller designed and manufactured at large-scale by a leading technology company, it represents a landmark moment in videogame play, and demonstrates how design can be harnessed to encourage inclusively and access.”
The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large buttons that can be programmed to fit its user’s needs, as well as 19 jacks and two USB ports that are spread out in a single line on the back of the device to make them easier to access. Symbols embossed along the back of the controller’s top help identify ports so gamers don’t have to turn it around or lift it up to find the one they need, while grooves serve as guidelines to help them plug in devices. Based on gamer feedback, Microsoft moved controls including the D Pad to the side of the device and put the A and B buttons closer together, so users can easily move between them with one hand.
The controller slopes down toward the front, enabling gamers to slide their hands onto it without having to lift them (and also makes it easier to control with feet) and has rounded edges to reduce the change of injury if it’s dropped on a foot. The Xbox Adaptive Controller was designed to rest comfortably in laps and also has three threaded inserts so it can be mounted with hardware to wheelchairs, lap boards or desks.
In terms of visual design, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is sleek and unobtrusive, since Microsoft heard from many gamers with limited mobility that they dislike using adaptive devices because they often look like toys. The company’s attention to detail also extends into the controller’s packaging, which is very easy to unbox because gamers told Microsoft that they are often forced to open boxes and other product packages with their teeth.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Skype rolls back its redesign by ditching stories, squiggles and over-the-top color

Skype rolls back its redesign by ditching stories, squiggles and over-the-top color

Just over a year after Skype introduced a colorful, Snapchat-inspired makeover which included its own version of “stories,” the company says it’s now going to refocus on simplicity – and it’s ditching stories along the way. The redesign had been met with a lot of backlash. Skype had clearly wanted to appeal to a more youthful demographic with its update, but in doing so, it cluttered the user experience with features no one had asked for or needed.

One of these was “Highlights,” a feature that was very much Skype’s own take on Snapchat’s or Instagram’s Stories. With Highlights, Skype users were able to swipe up to pull up their smartphone’s camera, then snap a photo or record a video that could be decorated with typed or handwritten text, as well as with Skype’s own set of stickers. This could then be shared with individual Skype users, groups, or posted to the Highlights section of the app.

Above: Skype on mobile

The company had argued at the time that the rise of stories across social media meant it was something that all social apps would adopt. And because it was the way people were used to interacting now, Skype needed to include the feature in its own app, too.

But stories, as it turns out, may not be as ubiquitous or as in-demand as a “news feed” interface – there are places it makes sense, and those where it does not. Skype is the latter.

In its announcement, Microsoft admitted that the changes it had introduced weren’t working.

“Calling became harder to execute and Highlights didn’t resonate with a majority of users,” wrote Peter Skillman, Director of Design for Skype and Outlook.

Instead, the app is introducing a simpler navigation model where there are now just three buttons at the bottom of the mobile app – Chats, Calls, and Contacts. Highlights and Capture are both gone. (If you actually used Highlights, you have until September 30 to download them to save them before the feature is removed).

There were already some hints Microsoft was planning to dial back its design changes. It recently announced it was keeping Skype Classic (Skype 7) around for an extended period of time, after its plans to shut the app down was met with overwhelming user outcry. It said then that it would gather more feedback to find out what it is that people wanted before forcing the upgrade to Skype 8.0.

With the new desktop version of Skype, the company now says it’s moving the Chats, Calls, Contacts, and Notifications to the top left of the window to make it easier for long-time Skype users to understand.

Skype also toned down its over-the-top use of color in the app and introduced a Skype “Classic” blue theme adjusted for contrast and readability. It yanked out some of its goofier decorative elements, as well, like the notifications with a squiggle shape cut out, which it admits “weren’t core to getting things done.” (Ya think?)

Below: Squiggles 

While it’s good that Skype is now listening to users – it says it’s testing new prototypes across global markets and it launched a UserVoice site – it’s concerning that it had not done enough listening beforehand. If it had, it wouldn’t have released a version of its app that bombed.

Skype should embrace its “classic” status, and not feel the need to play catch-up with teen chat apps like Snapchat, or social media trends like stories. People use Skype to get things done – calling faraway friends, placing work calls, and even recording podcasts. Being a simple and stable voice and video calling app is one that can retain loyal users over time, and attract those who need to communicate across platforms without all the fluff found elsewhere.

The latest design is available in Skype version (8.29) for Android, iOS, OS X, Linux, and Windows 7, 8 & 8.1 operating systems.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Microsoft no longer taking new enrollments for its Surface Plus financing program

Microsoft no longer taking new enrollments for its Surface Plus financing program
Microsoft has quietly ended its Surface Plus financing program about a year after it launched. In a message on its site, the company said it stopped taking new enrollments on August 31 “after much thought and consideration.” The change does not affect existing customers, however, who will still be covered by their current financing plans.
Financed by Klarna, a Stockholm-headquartered online financial services provider, the Surface Plus financing program launched in August 2017. It targeted students and other people who wanted an affordable way to own a Surface device, allowing them to spread payments over 24 months. The Surface Plus plan also enabled customers to upgrade to the latest device after 18 months, as long as they returned their previous device in good working condition.
In a FAQ, Microsoft said existing customers will still be able to upgrade their Surface under the plan’s terms. The program’s end also does not affect existing warranty plans.
Microsoft’s Surface Plus for Business payment plans launched around the same time as the Surface Plus program and it looks like it will continue. TechCrunch has contacted Microsoft for more information.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Microsoft is about to announce Xbox All Access subscription

Microsoft is about to announce Xbox All Access subscription
Microsoft published a news item announcing Xbox All Access on the Xbox blog and then unpublished it. But multiple news outlets spotted the article before Microsoft could take the post down. So now that the cat is out of the bag, it looks like Microsoft’s new hardware and software subscription is real. (Update: Microsoft has published the announcement for real.)
There have been rumors over the past few weeks that Microsoft was planning to announce a new subscription. Today’s announcement lines up with those rumors. Microsoft is launching Xbox All Access in the U.S., which includes a console, Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass.
You get to choose between an Xbox One S for $22 per month or an Xbox One X for $35 per month. After paying for 24 months, the subscription stops and the console is yours. You can then choose to keep paying for Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass or you can cancel your subscriptions — it’s your console after all.
So let’s do the math. You can currently buy an Xbox One S for around $299. Xbox Live Gold lets you play multiplayer games and access free games for $60 per year. The Xbox Game Pass lets you download and play games from a library of 100+ games for $9.99 per month — it’s a sort of Spotify for video games.
If you buy a console and subscribe for two years, you’ll end up paying around $659. An Xbox All Access subscription lets you save around $130. If you already planned on subscribing to those two services, it sounds like a good deal. If you didn’t really care about Xbox Game Pass, you’ll end up paying more than buying a console the normal way.
The Xbox One X currently costs around $499. If you add two years of Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass, the bottom line is $859. Two years of Xbox All Access with the Xbox One X costs $840. So it’s not that good a deal if you’re interested in the Xbox One X.
With this new offering, Microsoft shows that it wants to shift its gaming strategy to subscriptions. Buying a console every few years isn’t as lucrative as buying an all-in-one Xbox subscription. Subscriptions increase customer loyalty and create predictable recurring revenue.
More importantly, gaming consoles won’t stick around forever. At some point, games will run on expensive servers in the cloud and you’ll subscribe to a service. Rumor has it that Microsoft is already getting ready to launch a low-powered system to stream games from the cloud. This is what Microsoft is thinking about with Xbox All Access.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. While many companies already let you download your information, that’s not very helpful if you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere — whether you want to evacuate a social network you hate, back up your data somewhere different, or bring your digital identity along when you try a new app. The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work.

Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services. The DTP could potentially offer a solution to a major problem with social networks I detailed in April: you can’t find your friends from one app on another. We’ve asked Facebook for details on if and how you’ll be able to transfer your social connections and friends’ contact info which it’s historically hoarded.

From porting playlists in music streaming services to health data from fitness trackers to our reams of photos and videos, the DTP could be a boon for startups. Incumbent tech giants maintain a huge advantage in popularizing new functionality because they instantly interoperate with a user’s existing data rather than making them start from scratch. Even if a social networking startup builds a better location sharing feature, personalized avatar, or payment system, it might be a lot easier to use Facebook’s clone of it because that’s where your profile, friends, and photos live.

If the DTP gains industry-wide momentum and its founding partners cooperate in good faith rather than at some bare minimum level of involvement, it could lower the barrier for people to experiment with new apps. Meanwhile, the tech giants could argue that the government shouldn’t step in to regulate them or break them up because DTP means users are free to choose whichever app best competes for their data and attention.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Microsoft to launch new Xbox hardware next month

Microsoft to launch new Xbox hardware next month
Microsoft is teasing new Xbox hardware and accessories will launch at Gamescom in Germany next month. Details are limited. The word comes from a Microsoft blog post about the event in which it lists the date and time of the August 21 event, which will feature “lots of news, all-new Xbox hardware and accessories, and features on upcoming titles.”
Don’t expect the successor to the Xbox One, though.
There are several options here and most signs point to a new Xbox Elite controller. Rumors have been swirling that the updated controller will feature USB-C charging, Windows 10 compatibility and updated mechanisms for the triggers and buttons. The timing is right, too. If announced in the middle of August, Microsoft will have plenty of time to get the expensive controller into retail stores for the holiday season.
Microsoft just released the 4K Xbox One X last year. This model is still competitive with the latest PlayStation 4. A lower price, or a redesigned low-end Xbox One S, could also be on tap.
Whatever is announced on August 21 at Gamescom, we’ll pass along the word.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Slack wants to make search a little easier with search filters

Slack wants to make search a little easier with search filters

Slack’s search functions are getting another little quality-of-life update today with the introduction of filters, which aims to make search a little more granular to find the right answers.

The company also says searches are going to be more personalized. All of this is an attempt to get to the right files or conversations quickly as Slack — a simple collection of group chats and channels that can get out of hand very fast — something a little more palatable. As companies get bigger and bigger, the sheer amount of information that ends up in it will grow faster and faster. That means that the right information will generally be more difficult to access, and if Slack is going to stick to its roots as a simple internal communications product, it’s going to have to lean on improvements under the hood and small changes in front of users. The company says search is now 70 percent faster on the back end.

Users in Slack will now be able to filter search results by channels and also the kinds of results they are looking for, like files. You can go a little more granular than that, but that’s the general gist of it, as Slack tries to limit the changes to what’s happening in front of users. Slack threads, for example, were in development for more than a year before the company finally rolled out the long-awaited feature. (Whether that feature successfully changed things for the better is still not known.)

Slack now has around 8 million daily active users, with 3 million paid users, and is still clearly pretty popular with smaller companies that are looking for something simpler than the more robust — and complex — communications tools on the market. But there are startups trying to pick away at other parts of the employee communications channels, like Slite, which aims to be a simpler notes tool in the same vein as Slack but for different parts of the employee experience. And there are other larger companies looking to tap the demand for these kinds of simpler tools, like Atlassian’s Stride and Microsoft’s Teams.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Light is building a smartphone with five to nine cameras

Light is building a smartphone with five to nine cameras
Light, the company behind the wild L16 camera, is building a smartphone equipped with multiple cameras. According to The Washington Post, the company is prototyping a smartphone with five to nine cameras that’s capable of capturing a 64 megapixel shot.
The entire package is not much thicker than an iPhone X, the Post reports. The additional sensors are said to increase the phone’s low-light performance and depth effects and uses internal processing to stick the image together.
This is the logical end-point for Light. The company introduced the $1,950 L16 camera back in 2015 and starting shipping it in 2017. The camera uses 16 lenses to capture 52 megapixel imagery. The results are impressive, especially when the size of the camera is considered. It’s truly pocketable. Yet in the end, consumers want the convenience of a phone with the power of a dedicated camera.
Light is not alone in building a super cameraphone. Camera maker RED is nearing the release of its smartphone that rocks a modular lens system and can be used as a viewfinder for RED’s cinema cameras. Huawei also just released the P21 Pro that uses three lenses to give the user the best possible option for color, monochrome and zoom. Years ago, Nokia played with high megapixel phones, stuffing a 41 MP sensor in the Lumia 1020 and PureView 808.
Unfortunately, additional details about the Light phone are unavailable. It’s unclear when this phone will be released. We reached out to Light for comment and will update this report with its response.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Rumored full mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One could change the gaming landscape

Rumored full mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One could change the gaming landscape
Microsoft may be readying a new weapon that could shift the balance in the interminable console wars: the mouse. Wait, you say, didn’t they promise that years ago, and aren’t there peripherals already available? Kind of. But going whole hog into PC-style controls allows Microsoft to create powerful synergies with Windows, performing a flanking maneuver against arch-rival Sony.
Mouse and keyboard is, of course, the control method of choice for many games on PC, but it has remained elusive on consoles. Some fancy accessories have made it possible to do it, and years ago Microsoft said it would be adding mouse support to games on its console, but the feature has in practice proved frustratingly limited. More on-screen pointing has been done with Wiimotes by far.
Windows Central got hold of an internal presentation ostensibly from Microsoft that details what could be a full-court press on the mouse and keyboard front, which is one the company is uniquely suited to attempt.
In fact, you may very rightly wonder why it hasn’t been attempted before now. The trouble isn’t implementing it but the changes that have to be made downstream of that implementation.
One of these things? Why not?
For one thing, hardly any games will support the control method out of the box. They’ve all been made with very specific hardware in mind, and it’s nontrivial to add a pointer to menus, change relative camera movement to absolute movement and so on.
And for another, mouse and keyboard is simply a superior form of input for some games. Certainly for the likes of real-time strategy and simulations, which involve a lot of menus and precise clicking — which accounts for the relative lack of those on consoles. But more importantly in the gaming economy, first-person shooters are massively dominated by mouse users.
That may sound sort of like a gauntlet thrown to the ground between PC and console players, but this argument has played out before many times and the mouse and keyboard players always come out on top, often by embarrassing margins.
Usually that doesn’t present a big problem, since, for example, competitive Call of Duty leagues are pretty much all on console. You just don’t have match-ups between mice and controllers.
That’s starting to change, however, with the introduction of major cross-platform games like Fortnite. When you have Xbox, Switch and PC players all on the same server, the latter arguably has a huge advantage for a number of reasons.
You don’t bring an analog stick to a sniper fight.
And on the other hand, the Xbox One is lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in sales and in attractive exclusives. A fresh play that expands the Xbone into a growing niche — say, pro and competitive gaming — would be a huge boon just about now.
That’s why the document Windows Central received makes so much sense. The presentation suggests that all Windows-compatible USB mice and keyboards will work with Xbox One, including wireless ones that work via dongle. That would change the game considerably, so to speak.
The devices would have to report themselves and be monitored, of course: It wouldn’t do for a game to think it’s receiving controller input but instead getting mouse input. And that leaves the door open to cheating and so on, as well. So device IDs and such will be carefully monitored.
Whether and how to implement mouse and keyboard controls will still be left entirely to the developer, the slides note, which of course leaves us with the same problems as before. But what allowing any mouse to be used does, combined with a huge amount of players doing so on a major property like Fortnite, is create a sort of critical mass.
Right now the handful of players with custom, expensive setups to mouse around in a handful of games just isn’t enough for developers to dedicate significant resources to accommodating them. But say a few hundred thousand people decide to connect their spare peripherals to the console? All of a sudden that’s an addressable market — it provides a competitive advantage to be the developer who supports it.
Mouse support may also provide the bridge that enables the longstanding Microsoft fantasy of merging its Xbox and Windows ecosystems at least in part. It unifies the experience, allows for improved library sharing, and generally shifts the Xbox One from a dedicated console to essentially a standardized low-cost, high-performance gaming PC.
This may have the further effect of helping put pressure on Valve and its Steam store, which dominates the PC gaming world to the point of near monopoly. Being able to play on Xbox or Windows, share achievements and save games, have gameplay parity and so on — this is the kind of compelling multi-platform experience Microsoft has been flirting with for years.
Imagine that: a Microsoft ecosystem that spans PCs and consoles, embraces competitive gaming at all levels and is easy and simple to set up. Sony would have little recourse, having no desktop business to leverage, and Valve’s own attempts to cross the console divide have been largely abortive. In a way it seems like Microsoft is poised for a critical hit — if only it manages to take advantage of it.
Will this just be the latest chapter in the long story of failed mouse support by consoles? Or is Microsoft laying the groundwork for a major change to how it approaches the gaming world? We didn’t see anything at E3 this year, so the answer isn’t forthcoming, but Microsoft may be spurred by this leak (assuming it’s genuine) to publicize the program a bit more and speak in more concrete terms how this potential shift would take place.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch