Microsoft Releases Windows 10 S in Response to Chrome OS Challenge

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Microsoft has promised stability and security to users as it launched Windows 10 S, a stripped down operating system (OS), to ward off the increasing threat posed by Google Chrome OS.

The new software is intended as an education tool and the company showed in a demo that the device can accept user logins in around 15 seconds. However, one drawback to Windows 10 S is that users will only be able to install apps downloaded from the Windows Store. This means that executable programs won’t be recognized unless they are listed by Microsoft.

“Everything that runs on Windows 10 S is downloaded from the Windows Store,” Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Windows chief, saidFor those who are worried about being stuck with Microsoft Edge, Myerson clarified that “Windows 10 S will run any browser in the Windows Store,” provided that Chrome or Firefox is listed.

This was the same model adopted by Microsoft on its controversial RT-operated tablets. The software giant stopped production in February 2015 after suffering a paltry reception. PC manufacturers also refused to carry the OS due to restrictions on API access.

Running only native apps to the Universal Windows Program, the Windows 10 S is touted to have a longer battery life. Another advantage for schools is that vulnerabilities in their PCs and IT systems have been eliminated.

While Windows is still the preferred option for PCs and tablets (there are 1.25 billion computers running a version of Windows today), Chrome is quickly creeping up on Microsoft. This would have been unthinkable eight years ago when Chrome OS was first announced.

However, Google invested in improving the performance, speed, and stability of their OS and schools have started to take notice. They then started purchasing Chromebooks, putting a dent in Windows’ dominance of the market. In fact, by May of last year, Chrome-based devices have outsold the Mac for the very first time.

Prices for PCs running Windows 10 S will start at $189. There’s also an upgrade option for schools, which need more functionality. They can opt to upgrade to Windows Pro without any additional costs. Home users, however, will have to pay $50 for that option.

Along with the purchase of Windows 10 S, schools will also receive free access to Minecraft Education Edition for one year in addition to Office 365 for Education with Microsoft Teams.

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May 6th 2017 Technology

Apple Patent Hints at Plan to Use Wifi Routers for Wireless Charging

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Hoping to get an edge over their competition, Apple Inc. is developing technology that will allow users to charge their phones via wireless routers.

The Cupertino-based tech giant has been granted a patent filing by the U.S. Patent and Trademark, according to documents publicly revealed on Thursday.

According to a recent report, the “Wireless Charging and Communication Systems With Dual-Frequency Patch Antennas” technology will make it possible for people to replenish the battery life of their devices using Wi-Fi.One of the many challenges of wireless charging is the limited range of Wi-Fi. But Apple suggested the use of dual mode circuitry and “dual-frequency patch antennas.” If the company manages to realize the dream, it can make use of Wi-Fi routers (both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) through a cellular frequency link somewhere between 700 MHz and 2700 MHz using a transmitter and receiver.

The concept of latching on to wireless routers to charge devices is not new, as small gadgets, like smartwatches for instance, have been proven to be charged using a Wi-Fi connection. However, this would be the first time that something as ambitious as charging a more powerful mobile phone is being pursued. It would also have greater impact on the future of charging devices, taking mobility to another level.

Apple already has existing technology in its AirPort Extreme routers that use “beamforming antennas” in order to scour and latch on to a signal. While AirPort promises to amplify the user’s internet speed, the technology itself can be used to search for nearby Wi-Fi networks to charge a cellular phone.

For now,  Apple remains mum about its intentions regarding the patent, but chances are consumers can expect to see an overhaul in how we power our electronic devices in the coming years.

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May 3rd 2017 apple, iphone, Technology

Milliseconds Are Critical for Online Retailers

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It goes without saying that website performance is crucial to online retailers for maintaining customer engagement and completing online transactions. Any delays of content delivery or slow load times will certainly impact online revenue. But as Akamia’s recent State of Online Retail Performance report shows, seconds…even milliseconds, matter.

The data, gathered by SOASTA (now part of Akamai), represents one month’s worth of anonymous user data from top online retailers, equating to approximately 10 billion user visits. The team applied data analytics to generate insights into the intersection of IT, business, and user experience metrics.

The report explores the “magic number” for page load times and the impact of one-second performance improvements – or slowdowns – on conversion and bounce rates, as well as impact of performance on session length.

Findings include:

A 100-millisecond delay in website load time can hurt conversion rates by 7 percent A two-second delay in web page load time increase bounce rates by 103 percent

Half of consumers browse for products and services on their smartphones, while only one in five complete purchases using those phones.

Bounce rates were highest for mobile phone shoppers, while tablet shoppers had the lowest bounce rate.

“Results from our State of Online Retail Performance report have shown that user experience is critical to e-commerce success, and things aren’t getting any easier,” said Ash Kulkarni, senior vice president and general manager, Web Experience Division, Akamai. “Customers have extremely short attention spans, and degradations in website performance – no matter how small – can cause consumers to go elsewhere in an instant. Sharing our findings about performance gives online merchants the actionable data they need to stay competitive.”

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May 3rd 2017 Technology

Google Assistant SDK Announced

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Google today announced the release of the Google Assistant SDK. The SDK will allow developers to include Google Assistant interactions in their hardware prototypes.

The Google Developers Blog says, “The Google Assistant SDK includes a gRPC API, a Python open source client that handles authentication and access to the API, samples and documentation. The SDK allows you to capture a spoken query, for example “what’s on my calendar”, pass that up to the Google Assistant service and receive an audio response. And while it’s ideal for prototyping on Raspberry Pi devices, it also adds support for many other platforms.

To get started, visit the Google Assistant SDK website for developers, download the SDK, and start building. In addition, Wayne Piekarski from our Developer Relations team has a video introducing the Google Assistant SDK, below.”

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April 28th 2017 Technology

Microsoft and LinkedIn Ready to Challenge Salesforce CRM

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Since Microsoft’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn three days after Christmas 2016, little has been heard from what would be Microsoft Dynamic’s bold upgrade to the CRM industry. But the picture has become much more clear since Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently gave Reuters the details of upgrades to its sales software that integrates data from LinkedIn.

As Reuters describes: The new features will comb through a salesperson’s email, calendar and LinkedIn relationships to help gauge how warm their relationship is with a potential customer. The system will recommend ways to save an at-risk deal, like calling in a co-worker who is connected to the potential customer on LinkedIn.

The enhancements, which will be available this summer, will require Microsoft Dynamics customers to also be LinkedIn customers.

Microsoft is a small player in sales software. According to research firm Gartner, the company ranks fourth – far behind Salesforce.com and other rivals Oracle Corp and SAP – with just 4.3% of the market in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Nadella, long known as a champion for the democratization of artificial intelligence (AI), said it would be a key component to Dynamics: “I want to be able to democratize AI so that any customer using these products is able to, in fact, take their own data and load it into AI for themselves.”

Microsoft’s “third cloud” is Nadella’s term for Dynamics which caters to the fields such as sales and finance. With Office 365 (work productivity and flow, email, etc.) and Azure (computing and databases) as the first two clouds, Nadella all Microsoft products utilizing a common set of business data that can be mined for new insights with artificial intelligence

“I think that’s the only way to long-term change this game, because if all we did was replace somebody else’s (sales), or (finance) application, that’s of no value, quite frankly,” he told Reuters.

With this news, it’s no surprise that Linked also announced both a new ad targeting platform (Matched Audiences) and that LinkedIn now has 500 million users.

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April 26th 2017 Technology

Shopify Sees Future of eCommerce in Retail

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“Retail is not the same. Shopify is enabling merchants to do everything, from anywhere.”
– Lynsey Thorton, Shopify Director of User Experience Design at Unite 2017 Conference

Shopify’s newest product announcement by Satish Kanwar, VP of Product, can be described as their certainty of eCommerce and retail becoming one. The Chip & Swipe Reader will boost in-person selling for the eCommerce platform’s over 375,000 partner shopping sites:

“Our product philosophy has always been to provide what most merchants need most of the time, and really rely on our partners and our ecosystem for everything else,” Kanwar explained to Inc. “Over the years of POS growing [since 2013], it became obvious that the credit-card reader was something that everyone needed, all of the time, to get started in retail.” The new device will have no up-front cost, and is available exclusively to users who process transactions through Shopify Payments.

“Looking forward, all small businesses are thinking multi-channel first. If someone is opening a store, whether online or retail, they’re fundamentally thinking about the combined strategy,” Kanwar said. “If I’m opening a retail store, I’m naturally now thinking about how I’m going to be promoting those products online. And if I’m opening an online store, I’m thinking about how I’m going to expand my business over time.”

By contrast, Shopify envisions a future in which “retail” and “ecommerce” aren’t separate endeavors at all reports Inc. “Looking forward, all small businesses are thinking multi-channel first. If someone is opening a store, whether online or retail, they’re fundamentally thinking about the combined strategy,” Kanwar said. “If I’m opening a retail store, I’m naturally now thinking about how I’m going to be promoting those products online. And if I’m opening an online store, I’m thinking about how I’m going to expand my business over time.”

He added, “We most certainly do see, and are excited to invite, businesses that are starting retail-first, because we believe they need an online strategy at the same time. And what Shopify does is give them both out of the box.”

“One of the overall messages we’re trying to push is that Shopify is getting serious about hardware,” said Shopify Prduct Manager David Seal to BetaKit. “We’re bridging the gap from being just a software company to also doing hardware, and we’re very much becoming a technology company. If you look at Google and Apple, who specialize in hardware and software, that’s where we’re headed too.”

Seal told BetaKit that part of the chip and card reader’s value add is that it deeply integrates with a merchant’s Shopify store, and supports over-the-air updates. Most brick-and-mortar merchants have ambitions to sell online eventually, and Shopify’s opportunity is in servicing both segments at a scale that other competitors may not reach. While merchants tend to think first about Square as a payment option, Shopify hopes that this will get more merchants identifying Shopify with payments.

Shopify also sees the device as a way for Shopify Shop owners to easily do business on the go, including pop-stores, city and farmers markets, events, etc.

All in all, it should be a great avenue for retailers and eTailers. Entrepreneurs are continaully looking to maximize every sales channel in today’s ever moving, omni-channel culture. And Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke told the Unite 2017 audience just prior to the product announcement that he’s definitely on it:

The wireless, pocket sized Chip & Swipe Reader will begin shipping in June and can be tried out on a 14-day trial.

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April 22nd 2017 Technology

Highlights from Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference

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At this year’s Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference in San Jose California, the company announced their short and long term plans. The announcements ranged from updates to existing offerings in the short term and long term plans bordering on science fiction.

Facebook Wants to Read Your Mind

In a surprising announcement, Regina Dugan told the F8 audience about a project with two goals, typing with your brain and hearing with your skin. In a Facebook Post Dugan says, “Over the next 2 years, we will be building systems that demonstrate the capability to type at 100 wpm by decoding neural activity devoted to speech… We also described a system that may one day allow you to hear through your skin.”

360-degree cameras

Wednesday’s keynote from CTO Mark Schroepfer announced the second generation of its Surround 360 camera design. The Street reports, “The new cameras are called the x24, featuring 24 cameras on an orb, and the smaller x6, which features six cameras on an orb. Unlike the original Surround 360 camera announced at last year’s F8 event, these cameras use six degrees of freedom (SDOF) to allow a VR headset wearer to move around in about a meter and a half of space to observe an object closer or to simply walk around a space. This effect allows users to feel more immersed in a scene. In addition, while last year’s camera became an open-source project on GitHub, Facebook is planning to work with partners to manufacture the x6 and x24 to bring them to market later this year.”

Beam the Internet from helicopter

CNN Tech reports: “Facebook said it’s created something called a Tether-tenna, a small helicopter connected to an internet cable and a power source. In an emergency, the Tether-tenna would connect to an existing piece of fiber line and fly above the ground, becoming a tower that people can use to get online

This disaster zone tech is still a long-term plan. But Facebook says it could eventually be deployed for months at a time, providing connectivity while a community rebuilds itself.”

Updates to Workplace by Facebook

TechCrunch reports: “Facebook announced updates to its Workplace by Facebook team communications tool, including a slew of new partnerships and new bot integrations, which all show a product that’s maturing to meet the needs of larger enterprise customers.”

Updates to Facebook Analytics

Facebook’s VP of Partnerships, Ime Archibong, announced updates to Facebook Analytics as well as Facebook Login and Account Kit during his F8 keynote address. TechCrunch: “Analytics is getting greater customizability and a machine learning boost while Login and Account Kit are benefiting from additional transparency and accessibility.”

Facebook Spaces Announcement | F8 in Under 10 Minutes from Engadget:

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April 21st 2017 News, Social Media, Technology

IBM Puts Watson into the Hands of Marketers

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IBM has announced new cognitive capabilities for IBM Watson Marketing Insights, IBM’s cloud-based marketing and customer analytics platform that uses the Watson’s artificial intelligence computer system to better examine and predict customer behavior.

Audience insights is a cognitive feature that reveals key predictors in customer data based on their interactions with the brand across channels including email, digital, social media and in-store, as well as customer attributes. This data is continuously updated, revealing new audience profiles and customer segments as the relative importance of their behavior predictors changes.

These insights are delivered to the marketing team via a visual dashboard that includes details of the context and reasoning behind the findings. With this information marketers can proactively target campaigns designed specifically to engage this group with a relevant offer and retain their loyalty.

“We understand that a customer’s journey has many touch points, and our clients want to make this journey seamless,” said Maria Winans, Chief Marketing Officer, IBM Watson Customer Engagement. “While every customer is different, they all have one thing in common- they are interacting with brands across multiple channels. With these new cognitive capabilities, we give marketers the audience insights they need to strengthen customer engagement and deliver better performing campaigns.”

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April 19th 2017 Technology

Crunch Report | Jeff Bezos Sells $1B in Amazon Stock Annually to Fund Blue Origin

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The Kriesel high-performance electric converted Porsche, Jeff Bezos sells $1 billion in stock annually to fund Blue Origin, Hyperloop One completes Vegas test track and 23andMe can now let you know if you have the genes for Parkinson’s. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

April 7th 2017 News, Technology

Microsoft Maluuba teaches management 101 to machines in its first paper since being acquired

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 In mid-January, the ongoing race for AI put Montreal-based Maluuba on our radar. Microsoft acquired the startup and its team of researchers to build better machine intelligence tools for analyzing unstructured text to enable more natural human computer interaction — think bots that can actually respond with reasonable intelligence to a text you send. The team dropped its first paper… Read More

April 7th 2017 Technology