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

The Microsoft Launcher for Android now lets you track your kids’ whereabouts

The Microsoft Launcher for Android now lets you track your kids’ whereabouts

Microsoft is launching an update to its Android launcher today that gives parents the ability to track their kids’ location. This is one out of a number of parent- and kid-focused announcements the company made today. Others include the ability to block sites in Microsoft Edge on Android and the launch of MSN Kids, a new curated news website for children.

At the core of these new features are Microsoft’s family group settings that already allowed you to do things like track a child’s activity on Windows 10 and Xbox One devices or limit screen time in general.

“As a mother to a young and curious daughter, I deeply understand the need for tools to help balance the use of technology in the home as well as out of the home,” writes Shilpa Ranganathan, the General Manager of Microsoft’s Mobile Experiences group, in today’s announcement. “It’s especially near and dear to me as leader of a team building experiences for mobile devices. We emphasize the idea of transparency as a guiding principle for these new experiences.”

The new tracking tool is rolling out with today’s update of the Microsoft Launcher for Android and will put the latest known location of your kids right in its personalized news feed.

I’m not sure how useful blocking access to sites in Edge for Android really is, but if you manage to lock your kids out from Chrome or any other pre-installed browser — and block them from downloading them — then I guess this could work.

As for MSN Kids, Microsoft notes that the site will curate information from trusted sources, including Time for Kids, Popular Science, Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic, and USA TODAY. It’s worth noting that there is no sponsored content or advertising on the site.

 

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

HoloLens acts as eyes for blind users and guides them with audio prompts

HoloLens acts as eyes for blind users and guides them with audio prompts
Microsoft’s HoloLens has an impressive ability to quickly sense its surroundings, but limiting it to displaying emails or game characters on them would show a lack of creativity. New research shows that it works quite well as a visual prosthesis for the vision impaired, not relaying actual visual data but guiding them in real time with audio cues and instructions.
The researchers, from Caltech and University of Southern California, first argue that restoring vision is at present simply not a realistic goal, but that replacing the perception portion of vision isn’t necessary to replicate the practical portion. After all, if you can tell where a chair is, you don’t need to see it to avoid it, right?
Crunching visual data and producing a map of high-level features like walls, obstacles and doors is one of the core capabilities of the HoloLens, so the team decided to let it do its thing and recreate the environment for the user from these extracted features.
They designed the system around sound, naturally. Every major object and feature can tell the user where it is, either via voice or sound. Walls, for instance, hiss (presumably a white noise, not a snake hiss) as the user approaches them. And the user can scan the scene, with objects announcing themselves from left to right from the direction in which they are located. A single object can be selected and will repeat its callout to help the user find it.
That’s all well for stationary tasks like finding your cane or the couch in a friend’s house. But the system also works in motion.
The team recruited seven blind people to test it out. They were given a brief intro but no training, and then asked to accomplish a variety of tasks. The users could reliably locate and point to objects from audio cues, and were able to find a chair in a room in a fraction of the time they normally would, and avoid obstacles easily as well.
This render shows the actual paths taken by the users in the navigation tests
Then they were tasked with navigating from the entrance of a building to a room on the second floor by following the headset’s instructions. A “virtual guide” repeatedly says “follow me” from an apparent distance of a few feet ahead, while also warning when stairs were coming, where handrails were and when the user had gone off course.
All seven users got to their destinations on the first try, and much more quickly than if they had had to proceed normally with no navigation. One subject, the paper notes, said “That was fun! When can I get one?”
Microsoft actually looked into something like this years ago, but the hardware just wasn’t there — HoloLens changes that. Even though it is clearly intended for use by sighted people, its capabilities naturally fill the requirements for a visual prosthesis like the one described here.
Interestingly, the researchers point out that this type of system was also predicted more than 30 years ago, long before they were even close to possible:
“I strongly believe that we should take a more sophisticated approach, utilizing the power of artificial intelligence for processing large amounts of detailed visual information in order to substitute for the missing functions of the eye and much of the visual pre-processing performed by the brain,” wrote the clearly far-sighted C.C. Collins way back in 1985.
The potential for a system like this is huge, but this is just a prototype. As systems like HoloLens get lighter and more powerful, they’ll go from lab-bound oddities to everyday items — one can imagine the front desk at a hotel or mall stocking a few to give to vision-impaired folks who need to find their room or a certain store.
“By this point we expect that the reader already has proposals in mind for enhancing the cognitive prosthesis,” they write. “A hardware/software platform is now available to rapidly implement those ideas and test them with human subjects. We hope that this will inspire developments to enhance perception for both blind and sighted people, using augmented auditory reality to communicate things that we cannot see.”

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design
Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.
The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.
It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.
I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.
I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Microsoft announces the Surface Hub 2

Microsoft announces the Surface Hub 2
Do you remember the Surface Hub? Chances are you forgot it even existed. And yet, Microsoft just announced a second version of the Surface Hub. The company hasn’t shared any specifications or price, but it won’t be available before 2019 — selected customers will test the Surface Hub 2 starting this year.
The Surface Hub was a crazy expensive digital whiteboard that could handle anything from video conferences to document collaboration. Microsoft says that there are 5,000 companies using Surface Hubs, including half of Fortune 100 companies.
It’s unclear if each company has bought one Surface Hub or a thousand. But it seems like there was enough interest to work on a second version. At heart, it’s still a gigantic touchscreen-enabled display. It runs Windows 10 and supports the Surface Pen.
Compared to the previous version, Microsoft has drastically reduced the bezels. It looks like a modern TV now, but with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Surprisingly, the video camera is now gone from the main device. You’ll need to plug a webcam above the display to start video conferences.
The most interesting part is the concept video. You can see a device with fluid use cases. You can hook it to a wall, you can put it on a rolling case, you can create a wall of Surface Hubs.

Users log in by putting their finger on the fingerprint sensor. This way, you can find all your documents and data and accept calls from your account.
Microsoft is trying to push the needle when it comes to computers. This is an innovative form factor that could fit well in your company’s workflow. It’s interesting to see that the company isn’t standing still. The Mac hasn’t drastically evolved while Microsoft still has bold ideas to share.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Without its own phone OS, Microsoft now focuses on its Android Launcher and new ‘Your Phone’ experience

Without its own phone OS, Microsoft now focuses on its Android Launcher and new ‘Your Phone’ experience

Microsoft may have retreated from the smartphone operating system wars but that doesn’t mean it has given up on trying to get a foothold on other platforms. Today, at its Build developer conference, the company announced three new services that bring its overall cross-platform strategy into focus.

On Android, the company’s Trojan Horse has long been the Microsoft Launcher, which is getting support for the Windows Timeline feature. In addition to that, Microsoft also today announced the new “Your Phone” experience that lets Windows Users answer text messages right from their desktops, share photos from their phones and see and respond to notifications (though that name, we understand, is not final and may still change). The other cornerstone of this approach is the Edge browser, which will soon become the home of Timeline on iOS, where Microsoft can’t offer a launcher-like experience.

There are a couple of things to unpack here. Central to the overall strategy is Timeline, a new feature that launched with the latest Windows 10 update and that allows users to see what they last worked on and which sites they recently browsed and then move between devices to pick up where they left off. For Timeline to fulfill its promise, developers have to support it and as of now, it’s mostly Microsoft’s own apps that will show up in the Timeline, making it only marginally interesting. Given enough surfaces to highlight this feature, though, developers will likely want to implement it — and since doing so doesn’t take a ton of work, chances are quite a few third-party applications will soon support it.

On Android, the Microsoft Launcher will soon support Timeline for cross-device application launching. This means that if you are working on a document in Word on your desktop, you’ll see that document in your Timeline on Android and you’ll be able to continue working on it in the Word Android app with a single tap.

Kevin Gallo, Microsoft’s head of the Windows developer platform, tells me that if you don’t have the right app installed yet, the Launcher will help you find it in the Google Play store.

With this update, Microsoft is also giving enterprises more reasons to install the Launcher. IT admins can now manage the Launcher and control what applications show up there.

On iOS, Microsoft’s home for the Timeline will be the Edge browser. I’d be surprised if Microsoft didn’t decide to launch a stand-alone Timeline app at some point in the future. It probably wants to encourage more use of Edge on iOS right now, but in the long run, I’m not sure that’s the right strategy.

The new Your Phone service is another part of the strategy (though outside of Timeline) and its focus is on both consumers and business users (though there is often no clear line between those anyway). This new feature will start rolling out in the Windows Insider Program soon and it’ll basically replicate some of the functionality that you may be familiar with from apps like Pushbullet. Besides mirroring notifications and allowing you to respond to text messages, it’ll also allow you to move photos between your phone and Windows 10 machines. Oddly, Microsoft doesn’t mention other file types in its materials, though it’ll likely support those, too.

Going forward, we’ll likely see Microsoft embrace a wider range of these experiences as it looks to extend its reach into third-party platforms like Android.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch