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Kid-focused STEM device startup Kano sees layoffs as it puts Disney e-device on ice

Posted by | Amazon, Barclays, China, Collaborative Fund, computing, Disney, Education, Europe, Gadgets, Google, hardware, harry potter, Intel, Kano, London, Marc Benioff, Microsoft, microsoft windows, TC, United States | No Comments

London-based STEM device maker Kano has confirmed it’s cutting a number of jobs which it claims is part of a restructuring effort to shift focus to “educational computing”.

The job cuts — from 65 to 50 staff — were reported earlier by The Telegraph. Kano founder Alex Stein confirmed in a call with TechCrunch that Kano will have 50 staff going into next year. Although he said the kid-focused learn to code device business is also adding jobs in engineering and design, as well as eliminating other roles as it shifts focus.

He also suggested some of the cuts are seasonal and cyclical — related to getting through the holiday season.

Per Stein, jobs are being taking out as the company moves from building atop the Raspberry Pi platform — where it started, back in 2013, with its crowdfunded DIY computer — to a Windows-based learning platform.

Other factors he pointed to in relation to the layoffs include a new manufacturing setup in China, with a “simpler, larger contract manufacturer”; fewer physical retail outlets to support, with Kano leaning more on Amazon (which he said is “cheaper to support”); fewer dependencies on large partners and agencies, with Stein claiming 18% of US parents with kids aged 6-12 are now familiar with the brand, reducing its marketing overhead; and a desire to shrink the number of corporate managers vs makers on its books as “we’ve seen a stronger response to our first-party Kano products — Computer Kit, Pixel Kit, Motion Sensor Kit — than expected this year”.

“We have brought on some roles that are more focused on this new platform [Kano PC], and some roles that were focused on the Raspberry Pi are no longer with us,” he also told TechCrunch.

Kano unveiled its first Windows-based PC this fall. The 11.6-inch touch-enabled, Intel Atom-powered computer costs $300 — which puts it in the ballpark price-range of Google’s Chromebook.

The tech giant has maintained a steady focus on the educational computing market — putting a competitive squeeze on smaller players like Kano who are trying to carve out a business selling their own brand of STEM-focused hardware. Against the Google Goliath, Stein touts factors such as relative repairability and attention to computing performance for the Kano PC (which he claims is “on a par with the Surface Go”), in addition to having now thrown its lot in with rival giant, Microsoft.

“The more and more we got into school environments the more and more we were in conversations with major North American distributors to schools, the more we saw that people wanted that ‘DIY’… product design, they wanted the hackability and extensibility of the kit, they wanted the tools to be open source and manipulable but they also wanted to be able to run Photoshop and to run Class Dashboard and to run Microsoft Office. And so that was when we struck the partnership with Microsoft,” said Stein.

“The Windows computing is packed with content and curriculum for teachers and an integration with Microsoft Teams which requires a different sort of development capability,” he added.

“The roles we’re adding are around subscription, they’re around the computer, building new applications and tools for the computer and continuing to enrich the number of projects that are available for our members now — so we’re doing things like allowing people to connect the sensors in their wands to household IoT device. We’re introducing, over the Christmas period, a new collaborative drawing app.”

According to Stein, Kano is “already seeing demand for 60,000 units in this next calendar year” for its Windows-based PC — which he said is “well beyond what we expect… given the price-point.

Although he did not put a figure on exact sales to date of the Kano PC.

He also confirmed Kano will be dialling back the range of products it offers next year.

It recently emerged that an own-brand camera device, which Kano first trailed back in 2016, will not now be shipping. Stein also told us that another co-branded Disney product they’d been planning for 2020 is being “put back” — with no new date for release as yet.

Stein denied sales have been lacklustre — claiming the current Star Wars and Frozen e-products have “done enough for us”. (While a co-branded Harry Potter e-wand is selling faster than expected, per Stein, who said they had expected to have stock until March but are “selling out”.)

“The reorganization we’ve done has nothing to do with growth and users,” he told us. “We are on track to sell through more units as well as products at a higher average selling price this fiscal year. We’re selling out of Wands when we expected to have stock all the way to March. We have more pre-launch demand for the Kano PC than anything we’ve ever done.”

Of the additional co-branded Disney e-product which is being delayed — and may not now launch at all next year, Stein told us: “The fact is we’re in negotiations with Disney around this — and around the timing of it. Given that we’re not certain we’re going to be doing it in 2020 some of the contractor roles in particular that we brought on to do the licensing sign off pieces, to develop some of the content around those brands, some of the apparatus set up to manage those partnerships — we don’t need any more.”

“We introduced three new hardware SKUs this year. I don’t think we’ll do three new hardware SKUs next year,” he added, confirming the intention is to trim the number of device launches in 2020 to focus on the Kano PC.

One source we spoke to suggested Kano is considering sunsetting its partner strategy entirely. However Stein did not go that far in his comments to us.

“We’ve been riding a certain bear for a few years. We’re jumping to a new bear. That’s always going to create a bit of exhilaration. But I think this is a place of real promise,” was how he couched the pivot.

“I think what Kano does better than anyone else in the world is crafting an experience around technology that opens up its attributes to a wider audience,” Stein also said when asked whether hardware or software will be its main focus going forward. “The hardware element is crucial and beautiful and we make some of the world’s most interesting dynamic physical products. It’s an often told story that hardware’s very hard and is brutal — and yeah, because you get it right you change the fabric of society.

“It’s hard for me to draw a line between hardware and software for the business because we’ve always been asked that and seven years into the business we’ve found the greatest things that people do with the products… it’s always when there’s a combination of the two. So we’re proud that we’re good at combining the two and we’re going to continue to do it.”

The STEM device space has been going through bumpy times in recent years as early hype and investment has failed to translate into sustained revenues at every twist and turn.

The category is certainly filled with challenges — from low barrier to entry leading to plentiful (if varied quality) competition, to the demands of building safe, robust and appealing products for (fickle) kids that tightly and reliably integrate hardware and software, to checking all the relevant boxes and processes to win over teachers and support schools’ curriculum requirements that’s essential for selling direct to the education market.

Given so many demands on STEM device makers it’s not surprising this year has seen a number of these startups exiting to other players and/or larger electronics makers — such as Sphero picking up littleBits.

A couple of years ago Sphero went through its own pivot out of selling co-branded Disney ‘learn to code’ gizmos to zoom in on the education space.

While another UK-based STEM device maker — pi-top — has also been through several rounds of layoffs recently, apparently as part of its own pivot to the US edtech market.

More consolidation in the category seems highly likely. And given the new relationship between Kano and Microsoft joining Redmond via acquisition may be the obvious end point for the startup.

Per the Telegraph’s report, Kano is in the process of looking to raise more funding. However Stein did not comment when asked to confirm the company’s funding situation.

The startup last reported a raise just over two years ago — when it closed a $28M Series B round led by Thames Trust and Breyer Capital. Index Ventures, the Stanford Engineering Venture Fund, LocalGlobe, Marc Benioff, John Makinson, Collaborative Fund, Triple Point Capital, and Barclays also participated.

TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden contributed to this report 

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Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s next-gen console, arriving late-2020

Posted by | amd, Gaming, hardware, Microsoft, microsoft windows, phil spencer, TC, video gaming, xbox, xbox 360, xbox live | No Comments

If you didn’t watch last night’s Game Awards, you may have missed it. But Xbox Series X is the company’s  next-generation console, and will be arriving in late 2020. Thankfully, Microsoft has kindly cataloged all of the images, media and even a little information online. Oh, and we’ll almost certainly be hearing a LOT more about the Xbox Series X before it arrives for the holidays in 2020.

Xbox head Phil Spencer has a pretty long breakdown over on the the official blog. But let’s start with the obvious here. The Series X looks…different. Surely the meme makers are already working overtime on this one, but to my mind, it looks like a more traditional PC or maybe even a router.

It’s tall (around three times as tall as its predecessor), it’s rectangular, it’s black. It’s fairly minimalist. A lot of people seem to be comparing it to a refrigerator, which is fine. Honestly, I think it’s got that working for it. Surely plenty of people are looking for something that more seamlessly blends in with its surroundings.

The last few generations have found consoles transforming from specialty items into catch-all media players, and there’s something to be said for a product that can sit on your shelf, largely undetected. Notably, the blocky design means that the console can be oriented either vertically or horizontally, depending on your spacing needs.

The latest version of the Xbox Wireless Controller arrives alongside the new system, because, well, you’re going to need something to control it with. It’s a bit smaller than the previous version, “refined to accommodate an even wider range of people,” per Spencer.

The buttons are largely intact, with the addition of a Share button for taking screenshots and game clips. The new controllers ship with the system and will be compatible with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 systems.

Speaking of older systems, the Series X is set up to support backward compatibility for all older systems, along with Xbox One accessories. Per Spencer:

Building on our compatibility promise, with Xbox Series X we’re also investing in consumer-friendly pathways to game ownership across generations.

Leading the way with our first-party titles including Halo Infinite in 2020, we’re committed to ensuring that games from Xbox Game Studios support cross-generation entitlements and that your Achievements and game saves are shared across devices.

Spec information is still pretty light for this first pass, but Spencer promises 4K playback at 60FPS (with potentially up to 120FPS) and support for both Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and 8K capability:

Powered by our custom-designed processor leveraging the latest Zen 2 and next generation RDNA architecture from our partners at AMD, Xbox Series X will deliver hardware accelerated ray tracing and a new level of performance never before seen in a console. Additionally, our patented Variable Rate Shading (VRS) technology will allow developers to get even more out of the Xbox Series X GPU and our next-generation SSD will virtually eliminate load times and bring players into their gaming worlds faster than ever before.

The Series X will also, naturally, have an eye on cloud gaming, in addition to native hardware. Tonight’s unveil also featured a sneak preview of the upcoming Ninja Theory title, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

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Brave launches version 1.0 of its privacy-focused browser

Posted by | Android, brave, Brendan Eich, Firefox, free software, google-chrome, linux, microsoft windows, Mozilla, online advertising, privacy, Software, Startups, TC, Web browsers | No Comments

Brave, the company co-founded by ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after his ouster from the organization in 2014, today launched version 1.0 of its browser for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. In a browser market where users are spoiled for choice, Brave is positioning itself as a fast option that preserves users’ privacy with strong default settings, as well as a crypto currency-centric private ads and payment platform that allows users to reward content creators.

As the company announced last month, it now has about 8 million monthly active users. Its Brave Rewards program, which requires opt-in from users and publishers, currently has about 300,000 publishers on board. Most of these are users with small followings on YouTube and Twitter, but large publishers like Wikipedia, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate and the LA Times are also part of the ecosystem. Using this system, which not every publisher is going to like, the browser will show a small number of ads as a notification in a separate private ad tab, based on the user’s browsing habits. Users then receive 70% of what the advertisers spend on ads, while Brave keeps 30%.

As users view these ads, they start earning Basic Attention Tokens (BAT), Brave’s cryptocurrency, which they can keep or give to publishers. In its early days, Brave actually started with Bitcoin as the currency for this, but as Eich noted, that quickly became too expensive (and because the price was going up, users wanted to hold on to the Bitcoin instead of donating it).

Brave also comes with a built-in ad blocker that is probably among the most effective in the industry, as well as extensive anti-tracking features. “Everybody’s bothered by the sense of being tracked and bothered by bad ads,” Eich told me. “But I think ad aesthetics are not the problem. It’s the tracking and the cost of tracking which is multifarious. There’s page load time, running the radio to load the tracking scripts that load the other scripts that load the scripts that load the ads, that drains your battery, too.” Eich argues that with Brave, the team found a way to tie this all together with anti-tracking technology and an approach to ad blocking that goes beyond the industry-standard blocklists and also uses machine learning to identify additional rules for blocking.

For those users that really want to be anonymous on the web, Brave also features a private browsing mode, just like every other browser, but with the added twist that you can also open a private session through the Tor network, which will make it very hard for most companies to identify you.

At its core, Brave is simply a fast, extensible Chromium-based browser. That’s also what the company believes will sell it to users. “The way you get users, […] I think speed is the first one that works across the largest number of users. But you can’t just leave it at speed. You want to have all your benefits tied up in a pretty knot and that’s what we have done,” he said. For Brave, speed and ad/tracking protection are obviously interconnected, and all the other benefits accrue from that.

Looking beyond version 1.0, the Brave team plans to implement better sync, with support for tab and history syncing, for example. Brave also aims to make participating in Brave Rewards an experience with much lower friction for the user. In the early days, before it was on Android, the opt-in rate was around 40%, Eich told me, and the team wants to get it back to that.

If you want to give Brave a try, you can download it here.

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The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

Posted by | Android, Assistant, AWS, Bing, chromium, cloud computing, cloud infrastructure, computing, Cortana, Developer, Enterprise, GitHub, Google, google cloud, linux, machine learning, Microsoft, Microsoft Ignite 2019, microsoft windows, San Francisco, Satya Nadella, TC, voice assistant, Windows 10, Windows Phone | No Comments

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

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Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

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You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.

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Logitech’s MX Master 3 mouse and MX Keys keyboard should be your setup of choice

Posted by | Android, Apple, apple keyboard, Bluetooth, Computer Mouse, controller, Gadgets, hardware, linux, Logitech, Microsoft, microsoft windows, operating systems, Reviews, TC, usb | No Comments

Logitech recently introduced a new mouse and keyboard, the MX Master 3 ($99.99) and MX Keys ($99.99) respectively. Both devices borrow a lot from other, older hardware in Logitech’s lineup — but they build on what the company has gotten really right with input devices, and add some great new features to make these easily the best option out there when it comes to this category of peripherals.

Logitech MX Keys

This new keyboard from Logitech inherits a lot from the company’s previous top-of-the-line keyboard aimed at creatives, the Logitech Craft keyboard. It looks and feels a lot like the premium Craft — minus the dial that Logitech placed at the top of that keyboard, which worked with companion software to offer a variety of different controls for a number of different applications.

The Craft’s dial was always a bit of a curiosity, and while probably extremely useful for certain creative workflows, where having a tactile dial control makes a lot of sense (for scrubbing a video timeline during editing, for instance), in general the average user probably isn’t going to need or use it much.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 5The MX Keys doesn’t have the Craft’s dial, and it takes up less space on your desk as a result. It also costs $70 less than the Craft, which is probably something most people would rather have than the unique controller. The MX Keys still have excellent key travel and typing feel, like its bigger sibling, and it also has smart backlighting that turns on automatically when your hand approaches the keys — and which you can adjust or turn off to suit your preference (and extend battery life).

MX Keys has a built-in battery that charges via USB-C, and provides up to 10 days of use on a full charge when using the backlight, or up to five months if you disable the backlight entirely. For connectivity, you get both Bluetooth and Logitech’s USB receiver, which also can connect to other Logitech devices like the MX Master series of mice.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 3The keyboard can connect to up to three devices at once, with dedicated buttons to switch between them. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS out of the box, and has multi-marked keys to make it easier to transition between operating systems. Plus, when you’re using the MX Keys in tandem with the MX Master 3 or other Logitech mice that support its Flow software, you can transition seamlessly between computers and even operating systems, for doing things like copying and pasting files.

AT $99.99, the MX Keys feels like an incredible value, as it offers very premium-feeling hardware in an attractive package, with a suite of features that’s hard to match in a keyboard from anyone else — including first-party peripherals from Microsoft and Apple .

Logitech MX Master 3

When it comes to mice, there are few companies that can match Logitech’s reputation or record. The MX Master series in particular has won plenty of fans — and for good reason.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 9The MX Master 3 doesn’t re-invent the wheel — except that it literally does, in the case of the scroll wheel. Logitech has introduced a new-school wheel with “MagSpeed” technology that switches automatically between fluid scrolling and more fine-grained, pixel-precise control. The company claims the new design is 90% faster and 87% more precise than its previous scroll wheel, which is pretty much an impossible claim to verify through standard use. That said, it does feel like a better overall scrolling experience, and the claim that it’s now “ultra quiet” is easy to confirm.

Logitech has also tweaked the shape of the mouse, with a new silhouette it says is better suited to matching the shape of your palm. That new shape is complimented with a new thumb scroll wheel, which has always been a stellar feature of the Master series and which, again, does feel better in actual use, though it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly why. Regardless, it feels better than the Master 2S, and that’s all that really matters.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 10In terms of tracking, Logitech’s Darkfield technology is here to provide effective tracking on virtually all surfaces. It tracks at 4,000 DPI, which is industry-leading for accuracy, and you can adjust sensitivity, scroll direction and other features in Logitech’s desktop software. The MX Master 3 also supports up to three devices at once, and works with Flow to copy and past between different operating systems.

One of the most noteworthy changes on the MX Master 3 is that it gains USB-C for charging, replacing Micro USB, which is fantastic news for owners of modern Macs who want to simplify their cable lives and just stick with one standard where possible. Because that matches up with the USB-C used on the MX Keys, that means you can just use one cable for charging both when needed. The MX Master 3 gets up to 70 days on a full charge, and you can gain three hours of use from a fully exhausted battery with just one minute of charging.

Logitech MX Keys MX Master 3 7Bottom line

Logitech has long been a leader in keyboard and mice for very good reason, and the company’s ability to iterate on its existing successes with improvements that are smart and make sense is impressive. The MX Keys is probably the best keyboard within its price range that you can get right now — and better than a lot of more premium-priced hardware. The MX Master 3 is without a doubt the only mouse I’d recommend for most people, especially now that it offers USB-C charging alongside its terrific feature set. Combined, they’re a powerful desktop pair for work, creative and general use.

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Microsoft adds per-app time limits to its parental controls

Posted by | Apps, children, digital wellbeing, family, Gaming, kids, Microsoft, Microsoft Launcher, microsoft windows, Mobile, parental controls, parents, screen time, Windows 10, xbox | No Comments

Microsoft is following Apple and Google’s lead with today’s launch of per-app and per-game time limits in its parental control software. Already, the company allows parents to limit screen time across Windows 10, Xbox One and Android via the Microsoft Launcher. However, it hadn’t yet allowed parents to limit the amount of time a child could spend in a specific app or game, as its competitors do.

Instead, its existing controls allowed parents only to dole out a set amount of hours of screen time. Parents could choose to either leave the time up to the kids to manage, or limit it at the device level — like, only allowing one hour of Xbox time but permitting more screen time on the PC, for example.

However, the current trend in screen time management is not to approach all screen time as unproductive and unhealthy. Instead, it’s about configuring limits on the more addictive apps and games that eat up increasing amounts of children’s time, while permitting educational tools to have fewer limits.

For older kids and teens, social media apps like TikTok or Instagram could be the culprit, while younger kids may just be spending too much time “hanging out” in virtual worlds like Roblox and Fortnite. Problems on this front have gotten pretty bad. Mobile games are under fire for using gambling tactics like loot boxes to engage children. And Fortnite is now the subject of a lawsuit that claims that, in part, the game’s addictive nature is due to its use slot machine-like mechanics and variable reward systems, which manipulate children’s brains.

Without being able to limit these apps directly, kids may end up using all of their allotted screen time on just the one app or game they’re obsessed with at the moment.

Apple had already allowed per-app time limits with the launch of its screen time controls in iOS 12. And Google more recently updated its own Family Link software, now preinstalled on new Android devices, to include a similar feature.

With today’s update, Microsoft is now on board, too.

microsoft per app time limits

The new app and game limits parents set will apply across Windows 10, Xbox and Android devices running Microsoft Launcher. In other words, kids can’t get more game time just by switching devices.

The controls also allow parents to offer more screen time on certain days — like weekends, for instance — than others.

To use this feature, parents will need to create a family group and make Microsoft accounts for all the kids.

Once enabled, kids will get a warning about their screen time 15 minutes before the limit is reached, and then again at five minutes. Because kids will often beg for a few more minutes, Microsoft made it easy for parents to grant or deny more time via email or via a Microsoft Launcher notification on their own Android phone.

The per-app time limits are launching today in preview within Microsoft’s existing family settings.

“Ultimately, our goal is for the app and game limits feature to provide flexible and customizable tools to meet each family’s unique needs,” the company explains in an announcement. “You as parents know what’s best for your children — no technology can ever replace that — but we’re hoping these tools can help you to strike the right balance,” it says.

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Microsoft launches the ARM-based Surface Pro X

Posted by | artificial intelligence, asus, computers, Gadgets, hardware, Microsoft, microsoft surface, Microsoft Surface Event 2019, microsoft windows, Qualcomm, system on a chip, TC, Windows 10 | No Comments

At its annual Surface hardware event, Microsoft today announced the long-rumored ARM-based Surface, the first time Microsoft itself has launched a device with an ARM-based processor inside. The 13-inch device will use Microsoft’s own custom SQ1 chip, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and an AI accelerator, making it the first Surface with an integrated AI engine. Microsoft and Qualcomm also worked on building custom-designed GPU cores for the Pro X, which will run Microsoft’s version of Windows 10 for ARM.

The Pro X will be available on November 5, starting at $999, and is now available for pre-order.

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Microsoft started its flirtation with ARM-based devices a few years ago and that work culminated in the launch of a number of ARM-powered devices from HP, Asus and others, promising all-day battery life, the ability to still run almost every Windows application and performance comparable to a lower-end Intel chip. To do this, Microsoft is using a binary translator that converts X86 instructions into ARM64 as necessary, while still compiling almost all of the native Windows 10 libraries for the ARM architecture.

Screen Shot 2019 10 02 at 7.43.20 AM

Like Microsoft’s other new Surface devices, the 13-inch ARM-based Pro X will feature USB-C ports and LTE connectivity. The screen features a 1400:1 contrast ratio and a 2880×1920 resolution and can be extended to a 4K screen. At its thinnest point, the Pro X is 5.3mm thin and weighs 1.68 pounds. There’s also a removable hard-drive, a first for the Surface line.

Together with Qualcomm, Microsoft designed its own custom processor for this (the SQ1). Microsoft also stressed the work the team did on building an AI engine into the chipset.

Microsoft also launched a new, slimmer Surface pen for the Pro X, which will feature its own storage space on the new Type Cover for the device.

It’s no secret that ARM itself has worked hard to bring its chip design to laptops, desktops and servers. With every new generation of its design, the company talks about how it wants to get more of its chips into these machines, especially now that their performance is often more than adequate for many use cases. With this Microsoft partnership, it’s definitely getting a bit closer to this.

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Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 7 finally has USB-C, ships on October 22

Posted by | artist, computing, Gadgets, hardware, Laptop, Microsoft, microsoft surface, Microsoft Surface Event 2019, microsoft windows, smartphone, Surface, surface book, surface pro, tablet computer, TC, technology | No Comments

Today at its special hardware event, Microsoft unveiled the new Surface Pro 7. The new Surface Pro finally brings USB-C to the convertible laptop category of Microsoft hardware, which will be a welcome addition for fans who’ve been waiting for the company to adopt this now-prevalent connection technology.

The latest-generation Surface Pro starts at $749, pre-orders start today and it’s available on October 22.

Like its predecessors, the Surface consists of a 12-inch tablet component with a folding kickstand for adjustable angle viewing. There’s also a detachable keyboard cover accessory, and a Surface Pen stylus that allows for writing, drawing, note taking and more.

The Surface Pro also features “studio mics,” a new microphone array built into the new Surface Laptop.

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“Studio mics are optimized for your voice, their place perfectly tuned, so that we capture what’s coming from your mouth rather than all the background sounds around you,” said Robin Seiler, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Devices who presented the new device onstage at the event. They’ll also be used for Microsoft’s Your Phone app, which is a recently released Windows feature that connects your smartphone to your computer for calls, messaging and more.

Surface Pro is the most popular two-in-one on the market, according to Microsoft, with more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies purchasing Surface devices, according to Seiler.

Microsoft emphasized the creative potential of the Surface Pro in a video featuring an artist named Connie using the Pen for digital painting, and Seiler showed off the productivity angle via a live demo of various features of Office on the two-in-one.

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The Google Assistant can now control your Xbox One

Posted by | Amazon, Android, artificial intelligence, Cortana, Gaming, Google, Google Assistant, Microsoft, microsoft windows, operating systems, smartphones, TC, Windows 10, Windows Phone, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

It wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft was betting heavily on its Cortana digital assistant. That’s a bet that didn’t pay off. But because this is the new Microsoft, the company is instead betting on integrating its products with those services that its users do actually use. Today, the company announced that you will now be able to control your Xbox One from the Google Assistant. For now, this feature is in beta, but you can expect a full launch later this fall.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean the Google Assistant is now available on your Xbox One and you can’t ask it for the weather. What it does mean is that you’ll be able to ask the Assistant to launch games on the Xbox, pause them, turn up the volume, etc. (Hey Google, turn off Xbox.”).

You can find a full list of supported commands here.

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This will work with virtually every Assistant-enabled device, including your iOS and Android phones. To get started, set up the Xbox like any other third-party Assistant device in the Google Home app on Android or iOS — and that’s essentially what the Xbox One then becomes in the Assistant ecosystem: just another device you can control with it.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft, which has basically given up on Cortana for the consumer market, is also working with Amazon to bring Alexa to your PC. Microsoft doesn’t really care what you use to control your Microsoft devices, as long as you use a Microsoft or Windows 10 device. Now it’s probably just a matter of time before you can control your PC with the Assistant — or even get full Assistant support in Windows 10.

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Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing

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Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray-tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, as that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware — including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (i.e. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it canceled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia, meanwhile, is showing off at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

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