Tag Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft Sends Rep Out to Personally Dis the iPhone, Android


It’s the classic source of angst for a marketer: If only people could actually see how good this product is, then they’d understand.

For Microsoft, it must be especially frustrating. The company feels there are features to Windows Phone 8 that are so good that any reasonable person would swap their iPhone or Android if they just saw Microsoft’s phone up close and personal.

That’s the apparent impetus behind a new round of videos featuring Ben “The PC Guy” Rudolph. The videos show Rudolph meeting strangers and then talking up superior features of the Win 8 Phone. In the video above, he interrupts a couple’s dinner to show them how much better the Nokia Lumia 920 is versus the iPhone. In the video below, he challenges a woman to a text-off with her HTC phone and wins handily. After each instance, he gives the participants the Lumia 920.

Microsoft is reaching into its old playbook for this variation of the Pepsi Challenge. In February, the company dispatched Rudolph for the same mission with the Windows Phone. That program, “Smoked By Windows Phone,” hit a snag when a participant in a challenge claimed it was rigged. (Rudolph later apologized.)

Before that, in 2009, Microsoft ran an ad campaign called “Laptop Hunters” that featured putative real consumers saving money by buying Windows-based PCs rather than Apple’s comparable but pricier models. Microsoft also promoted its Zune MP3 player by taking potshots at the iPod that year.

It’s unclear whether the tactic will work this time around. However, if Microsoft was somehow able to clone Rudolph and have him run the same comparison with the tens of millions of people who own iPhones and Android devices, it might just do the trick.

BONUS: Nokia Lumia 920: A Big Phone With a Killer Camera [REVIEW]

Virtual Reality Remote Controlled Robot Avatar Brushes Cat

After much sweat and toil,  has finally unveiled his complete project. Using a Microsoft Kinect, a Nintendo Wii, a treadmill, and computers, he created a quasi virtual reality remote control robot avatar. To test his project, he successfully brushes a kitty in another room with only virtual reality control.  


Read more: http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2012/01/04/virtual-reality-remote-controlled-robot-avatar-brushes-cat/

Microsoft May Be Making a Smartphone for China


The latest reports from Asia have resurrected a popular rumor: that Microsoft is planning to launch its own Windows Phone smartphone and initially sell it in China, where smartphone use is exploding. However, with a delicate ecosystem of hardware partners to balance, and huge competition in China, it could be an uphill task for the software giant.

Ever since Microsoft announced its landmark Windows Phone agreement with Nokia, there have been mutterings that the company is thinking about producing its own smartphone. Earlier this month came the clearest sign yet, when the Wall Street Journal quoted officials at Microsoft parts suppliers in Asia as saying that testing had already begun.

Add to this the recent launch of the Microsoft Surface tablet—which showcases the touch-screen capabilities of Windows 8 and RT operating systems—and CEO Steve Ballmer’s recent speculation that the Redmond, Washington–based firm would “obviously” make more hardware, and the case becomes even more compelling.

China is likely to be a key battleground for smartphone makers. IDC recently pegged it as the world’s largest smartphone market, and, unlike the U.S. market, it is still growing. Canalys stats put Q2 shipments at 27% of the world’s total, ahead of the U.S. at 16%. China and Asia have for some years also led in smartphone production—which accounts for Microsoft’s reported testing of the new phone with Asian suppliers.

A low-cost, high-spec smartphone from Microsoft could be popular in China. But the success of such a device will likely depend on how well the American giant partners with local firms to tailor a device for the domestic market.

Microsoft has already failed with a previous smartphone launch, the ill-fated Kin, and its only hardware success to date has been Xbox. Nonetheless, Ovum analyst Tony Cripps argues that it’s quite possible Microsoft is taking the same strategy with the smartphone that it took with its recently launched Surface tablet. “While there were risks involved, Microsoft created Surface, and it made sense to do so. Why not do it again?” he says. “It’s about staying relevant.”

However, IDC analyst Melissa Chau cautions that Redmond could find its options limited by the need to avoid upsetting existing hardware partners, just as Google’s options with its Android-based Motorola phones have been limited. Partners including Acer were somewhat hostile to its Surface launch, and Microsoft cannot afford to alienate the Windows Phone partner ecosystem.

Chau argues that Microsoft‘s testing of the device might be aimed not at a product release but at showing partners the direction it envisions for Windows Phone devices. It’s also possible the device could be kept in reserve as a ”Plan B” in case Nokia’s hardware offerings fail to capture the popular imagination and drive the platform forward, she says.

In any case, Microsoft’s biggest problem is Android. IDC’s preliminary Q3 stats put Android shipments for the period at a record-breaking 136 million units, 75% of all smartphones. Apple’s iOS came in second with 26 million units (14.9%), and Windows Phone shipments totalled 3.6 million units and just 2% of the market. It’s still early days for Microsoft, but with HTC and Samsung both more committed to Android than Windows Phone, only Nokia is left to blaze the trail. Android also has a 77% share of China’s smartphone market, according to Beijing-based analyst Analysys International.

Chau explains that China has the “fastest adoption of high-end specs at cheaper prices.” The most popular devices are slick quad core devices with screen sizes around the 13 cm mark. In the past six months alone, we’ve seen the launch of Huawei’s 11 cm Honor II, at 1,888 yuan ($305); the Xiaomi Phone 2 at 1,999 yuan ($310); ZTE’s U950 at 999 yuan ($160); and Meizu’s MX 4-core, which now retails at 2,399 yuan ($380). “They’re not innovating, but there’s an appetite for this type of hardware we don’t see in other countries,” she explains.

Local handset makers—both big brands and the huge number of smaller, low-margin “white box” producers—are also targeting the sub-1,000 yuan ($160) market with gusto, aware that the huge installed base of feature-phone users in countries like China and India will soon be looking to upgrade to a smartphone.

Canalys reckons that by 2015 almost half of Chinese smartphones will be handsets under $200. The Lenovo A65 recently came down from around 1,000 yuan ($160) in Q4 2011 to around 700 yuan ($112) in the first quarter of this year, for example.

What these handsets and more high-end devices have in common, in China at least, is that the user interface and services preloaded onto them are localized for the Chinese market. When it comes to Web services, the Chinese government’s rigorous approach to online censorship has meant that some sites Western users take for granted, like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube, are virtually pointless to have on a smartphone.

Chinese users need Youku instead of YouTube, Sina Weibo instead of Twitter, RenRen instead of Facebook and Taobao instead of eBay—and Baidu, not Google, is favored by around 80% of the search market, even on Android devices.

Some Chinese handset makers, Web companies, and mobile operators have gone a step further and built their own mobile operating systems, although success has been limited so far. Baidu (with its Yi platform), e-commerce giant Alibaba (Aliyun), Xiaomi (MIUI), and others hope that their operating systems will drive more users to their services and “build fences and drive stakes into the ground” in the country’s fast-growing mobile market, according to a recent IDC report.

Although big names including Motorola, Huawei, HTC and Samsung have plants in countries such as Vietnam, India and Malaysia, and while Foxconn recently unveiled plans for a huge factory in Indonesia, the majority of smartphone production remains in China. Most of the big Taiwanese companies, including Foxconn, Pegatron, Wistron and Compal, have plants producing for most of the world’s biggest tech brands, including Apple, HP, Samsung, Dell, Nokia and, of course, Microsoft.

Thanks to government subsidies, low wages, good infrastructure and, most important, a centralized supply chain, China remains the No. 1 location for smartphone manufacturing, with the focus having spread from the historical center of the tech world, in the Pearl River Delta around Shenzhen, to new hubs in Chengdu, Chongqing, Henan province, and elsewhere as more local governments offer financial incentives.

In the end, whatever Microsoft’s plans are in the smartphone space, it and every other Western tech giant needs to get used to a new reality—if you want to succeed in the 21st-century global smartphone market, you need to pivot towards Asia.

Image courtesy of Flickr, okalkavan

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/13/microsoft-smartphone-china/

Microsoft Tests Game-Changing Stylus


stylus-touchscreen-600Microsoft is testing a stylus that could, after a software upgrade, interact with almost any existing display or device. Researchers at the company’s Silicon Valley site designed the stylus to positive internal reviews and are waiting to hear if the company will continue its development.

While styluses are available that work with any touch-screen device, such as an iPad or iPhone, they are relatively inaccurate. True stylus support requires an extra layer of sensors built into a device’s display, which adds costs. If the new Microsoft stylus concept were to become available, it would allow precise stylus use on any display, even on those that aren’t already touch-sensitive.

The debut of the iPhone and other multi-touch phones and tablets in recent years caused a shift away from stylus input, which became associated with outdated mobile devices, such as the Palm Pilot. More recently, though, several phones have launched with stylus input (see “Review: Galaxy Note“), stylus accessories for the iPad have become popular, and Microsoft has unveiled a future tablet designed around stylus input. The company has also just launched a new version of Windows and of its Office productivity suite with design changes suited to stylus as well as touch input.

Andreas Nowatzyk and colleague Anoop Gupta hit upon the idea of using the grid of pixels that make up a digital display as a navigational system for their backwards-compatible stylus. In their design, a small camera inside the stylus looks down at the display and counts off pixels as they pass by to track its movement. That is fed back to the device via a wireless link, much as a wireless mouse reports its motion to a computer. The way the stylus tracks its motion is similar to the way “smart pens” such as the LiveScribe, a device for aiding note-taking, use a camera to track dots on special paper (see “Taking Apart the LiveScribe Pulse“).

The new Microsoft design has the camera looking out of the side of the stylus body at an angle, so it views the display aslant. That lets it infer the angle it is being held at based on how different pixels are in and out of focus.

However, for the stylus to work, it also needs to know precisely where on the screen it is at any time. The Microsoft researchers’ solution was to have the related software “massage” the color of the blue pixels in a display so that their pattern of brightness encodes their position; the stylus then knows where it is. “Blue is chosen because the human eye doesn’t have many blue cones in the fovea,” the area of the retina used for our central vision, says Nowatzyk.

In his design, the stylus needs to note the average brightness of around five groups of four pixels to learn exactly where it is. It can constantly report that back to the computer, which can update its display and react appropriately. Matched images of a Windows desktop with and without that tweaking of blue pixels shows that it isn’t noticeable. The software needed to alter a device’s blue pixels to include the location signal could be bundled with its driver, says Nowatzyk.

The design Nowatzyk and colleagues sketched out should be workable on stand-alone and mobile displays, he says, even very high resolution ones on tablets and phones.

However, researchers would need a new type of image sensor to actually test prototypes. A good quality wireless mouse now uses a compact image sensor with a resolution of 30 by 30 pixels. To work, the new stylus design would require one with a resolution of 512 by 512 pixels to see the details as small as a tenth of a millimeter and to capture images at a relatively high rate to track motion smoothly. “The next step [in development] requires making that chip,” says Nowatzyk. “It’s currently being looked at in other groups inside Microsoft.” He says no decision has yet been made on whether to develop the design into a product or not.

Nowatzyk and colleagues have built a working prototype of a different stylus design, albeit one that would be usable only with devices with special hardware. They added four radio antennae to the frame of a regular LCD display that allow it to be used with a stylus with coils of wire in. The coils distort the radio beacons from the antennae, giving multiple sources of feedback that can be used to track the location and motion of the stylus in three dimensions.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, adaszku

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/18/microsoft-stylus/

This Is How Microsoft’s Kinect Actually Works


In 2010, Microsoft unveiled a new Xbox 360 accessory it said would change the way gamers played. The Kinect was the first motion controlled gaming system that didn’t require a controller, instead allowing players to use their whole body to move the game.

While the Nintendo Wii popularized motion controls with its innovative Wii Remotes in 2006, Microsoft planned to take it a step further with the Kinect, originally dubbed Project Natal. The Kinect uses a complicated system of sensors, lasers and cameras to reflect a player’s gestures and actions on screen.

If you’ve ever played a Kinect, that first interaction seems so futuristic. Using your hand as the controller, swinging an imaginary light saber or trying to copy the dance moves of Justin Bieber are just some of the ways the Kinect allows us to play. But how does it work?

A Complicated Camera Setup

If you look at the Kinect, you’ll see that it has three lens areas. These help the Kinect “see” the room you play in. First, there is a regular RGB camera. It simply acts like a basic webcam, and records the room. The Kinect uses this camera any time it displays your image in the game, or for other functions like video chat. According to Microsoft documentation, it captures images around normal video speeds of 30 frames per second, and projects at a 640×480 resolution.

The more complicated camera relies on infrared light to work. One of the lenses on the Kinect is actually an IR emitter, which bathes the play space in light the camera can pick up. Don’t worry; infrared light waves are a totally safe type of radiation. The camera sees these waves as they bounce off people and objects in the room; the brighter the light, the closer the object is. Objects too close to the camera become a little too bright and hard to distinguish, which is why players have to stand more than four feet away from the Kinect sensor bar.

Before, gestural control systems like the Wii were based on the time of flight — how long something takes to return after bouncing off objects in the room. The camera in the Kinect encodes information in that light as it goes out, then measures that degradation over time with the sensor in the Kinect’s Infrared camera.

Smart Software

The data fed in by the camera is instantly processed by some really smart software. It identifies shapes that could be human by heads and limbs, so your Kinect doesn’t think your armchair or your cat are the ones trying to play Dance Central. This software already understands how a human body can move, so it knows your head can’t turn 360 degrees on your neck, and it captures movement through more than 48 points of articulation.

The Kinect software has been programmed with more than 200 possible poses, so it has an idea of where your body is probably going to go, too. This is especially important in two-player games where one player might move in front of the other, or a piece of low furniture might block the camera’s view of your legs. The Kinect software then pairs with the game software to see what pose you are supposed to be creating to do a certain task.

Some of the frustrations people can experience with Kinect games happen here, often because while they may be performing the right action, the camera doesn’t match it to what the game wants, or the game has a very specific parameter of what is correct.

Voice Commands

The Kinect’s other much touted feature is its ability to recognize voice commands. The Kinect has four microphones in its sensor bar to pick up players’ voices, all pointed down to pick up soundwaves more effectively. This large amount of audio equipment allows the Kinect to hear people even when they are several feet away.

Voice commands require calibration so the Kinect knows the general audio levels of your living room. If you ever rearrange your furniture or add carpet, you’ll have to recalibrate because sound bounces around the room differently.

The Kinect still has its flaws, but as the first peripheral to offer motion controls without a controller as well as sophisticated voice controls for gaming, it’s the first step into a new realm for video games. Microsoft has also made the API available to the public, opening larger possibilities up to any developer who wants to explore motion controls.

BONUS: 7 Awesome Kinect Concepts

Nerds Make Real Working Gmail Motion

For fun, Google made an April Fools video about their new (fake) application called Gmail Motion. Basically, using motion sensing to operate email. It was all fun and games, until the nerds at University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies saw the video and made their own functioning Gmail Motion. I think job offerings are in order Google.

Read more: http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2011/04/02/nerds-make-real-working-gmail-motion/

Microsoft’s New Logo: Top Brand Designers Weigh In



Microsoft unveiled a brand-new company logo Thursday morning, and graphic designers have given it a split vote.

While some believe the company has a winner with the new logo’s simple, square design, others say it’s too boring. (You can have your say in the poll at the end of this article.)

Sagi Haviv, who designed logos for the Library of Congress and Armani Exchange, thinks the logo simply isn’t distinctive enough. By opting for a simple array of four colored squares, Haviv says Microsoft missed a big opportunity.

“Because they’re so big they’re in a position to do something great,” he says. “And this unfortunately is not something great. And it’s because it’s a bit too generic.”

Simple vs. Distinctive

As Haviv explains, logo designers constantly struggle to create imagery that’s both simple and distinctive. Too much of one often means not enough of the other. In Microsoft’s case, he says it veers that while the new logo is definitely simple, it fails the distinctiveness test.

“It needs to be unusual enough to persist in the mind. Those four squares — it’s very inert. It just sits there. It has no motion, no tension — it’s not dynamic in any way.”

Although Haviv thinks Microsoft missed the mark with its new company logo, he has much more praise for the Windows 8 logo, which still has the standard “four panes” that are common in Microsoft logos, but has them skewed to imply perspective.

“That is fabulous. Because that is distinctive. It’s still just as simple, but it burns in the mind. It doesn’t look familiar. It will stay with you.”

Thinking Somewhat Different

old-Microsoft-LogoJames Coulson, a designer who helped design the logo for the Syfy network with Proud Creative, has a different take (disclosure: I worked with Coulson at Syfy’s DVICE). He thinks Microsoft nailed it.

“I think it’s really good,” Coulson says, “It’s a very logical progression. It’s more friendly.”

Coulson thinks the new logo embodies the “new” Microsoft, especially with how the company’s rivalry with Apple — the traditional “design leader” among tech companies — is perceived.

“For a long time I felt Microsoft is the evildoer and Apple could do no [wrong], but I actually think the tables are turning. I was blown away by the Windows Phone interface. Microsoft looks like it’s becoming the innovator.

“High technology should be invisible, its the information that matters. I think Microsoft is getting closer to this, and I think thats what the new logo embodies.”

Windows Baggage

Andrew Kim is a graphic designer who actually worked up an complete update in Microsoft’s branding and messaging for his site, Minimally Minimal. He has mixed feelings about the new logo.

“I think the simplification is a step in the right direction, but the big problem is that it has the Windows logo in it. I don’t think that’s forward-looking because the Windows brand has baggage.”

Ultimately, the logo is a just a detail in Microsoft’s bid to re-invent itself with Windows 8, which is due to hit store shelves on Oct. 26. The company is large, influential and known to almost everyone. The logo doesn’t necessarily have to be that distinctive, because the brand already is.

“The rules are a little different for a huge entity like this,” says Haviv. “Look at Google — they change their logo every day and it works for them.”

What your take on Microsoft’s logo? Vote in our poll below, and give us your take in the comments.

What Do You Think of Microsoft’s New Logo?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/23/microsoft-new-logo-commentary/