7 Days is a weekly round-up of the Editors' picks of what's been happening in the world of technology - written with a dash of humor, a hint of exasperation, and an endless supply of (Irish) coffee.
From rumored devices to falling prices, and all sorts of official announcements, this week has been packed full of news and updates from across the tech world. But don’t worry if you think you might have missed something, for 7 Days is here once more to bring you up to speed.
We begin this week with some news that you might like enough to give it the thumbs-up (or even a ‘wow’…) on Facebook. The social network is finally – after much speculation – preparing to allow users to do more than just ‘like’ content, with new Reactions set to begin rolling out in the coming weeks, including ‘haha’ and ‘angry’, among others.
Music streaming service Spotify is finally launching its video service, starting in a handful of countries. It’s not entirely clear what the long-term strategy is for the service, but for now, it will offer a limited selection of video content from a range of partners, including the BBC, Comedy Central, ESPN and Vice Media.
BT, the UK’s largest provider of broadband and fixed-line telephony, has completed its £12.5 billion acquisition of EE, the country’s biggest mobile network. The takeover creates a true ‘quad-play’ giant, offering not just home and business broadband and landline phone connections, but also a major TV platform and mobile services.
Over in the United States, health insurance provider Centene Corporation admitted that it has lost several hard drives containing the personal information of almost one million customers.
Earlier this month, following serious financial difficulties, Finnish company Jolla admitted that it would not be able to ship units of its long-awaited Tablet to everyone who pre-ordered it, or who backed its crowdfunding campaign to launch the device.
This week, Jolla said that it would ship the last 540 units that it has, but to the thousands of other people awaiting a Tablet, it can only offer them half of their refund sometime this quarter, and the rest in 2017 – albeit with the caveat “our financial situation permitting”. One does have to wonder if the company will be around long enough to make good on that commitment.
Independent industry analysts IDC published their breakdown of global smartphone shipments in 2015, showing sizeable year-on-year (YoY) growth of 14% for market leader Samsung. The biggest winners, though, were Huawei and Lenovo with massive YoY increases of 37% and 43.6% respectively.
OnePlus announced that the X, its newest handset, can now be purchased invite-free. However, OnePlus is also increasing the cost of the Power Bank, its 10,000mAh mobile battery pack, after selling every unit at a loss since its launch last March.
BlackBerry’s new Android flagship, the Priv, went on sale on T-Mobile US this week, following its launch on AT&T last year.
BlackBerry also launched the Priv in India, although you’ve got to wonder what the company was smoking when it set pricing for the device there. At Rs.62,999 INR (around $925 USD), the device costs considerably more than Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy S6 edge+, and over 25% more than Microsoft’s newest Lumia 950 XL flagship.
Details emerged this week of HTC’s newest flagship, developed under the codename ‘Perfume’, but likely to go on sale as the ‘One M10’, including highlights of some of its key specs.
Google has agreed to pay $180 million in taxes to the British government, after reaching a deal with tax authorities there. However, the deal has been widely criticized for effectively allowing Google to pay far less tax than it’s believed to owe.
Microsoft opened pre-orders for its new Surface Book in the UK earlier this month, and this week, it launched a new deal, offering up to £400 cashback when buyers trade in their older devices. However, as with similar deals from many manufacturers, Microsoft’s trade-in offers are, quite simply, appalling.
Trade in any Intel Core i7 Windows laptop, and you’ll get no more than £175 back, even if it’s only a few weeks old and you paid £2,000 for it. Even Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 3 with Core i7 processor will get you a maximum of £375 cashback, despite the fact that you could probably get around £600-£700 for it on eBay.
In the US, Microsoft is offering $100 off its 128GB Surface 3 models – the second time it’s offered money off those devices in just one week, and its third promotional deal on the Surface 3 this month.
Microsoft rolled out its first firmware update of the year for the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, bringing a range of improvements to its newest devices. However, the update still hasn’t fixed one of their most frustrating issues: both devices shipped with a known issue preventing them from properly entering a ‘sleep’ state, resulting in high battery drain even when not in use.
The issue was among several for which Microsoft apologized last month to buyers of its new Surface devices – which cost up to $3,199 – but on Friday, the company said it was still “working to address those as quickly as possible”.
Last weekend, there was a brief flare-up of controversy as it appeared that Microsoft’s Surface tablets had suffered a technical failure during the Patriots v Broncos game – but it quickly emerged that a networking issue, and not the tablets themselves, were to blame. Microsoft later clarified things further, pointing out that its tablets had “not experienced a single failure in the two years they’ve been used on the NFL sidelines”.
Last week, Microsoft announced a major global recall of power cords sold with many of its Surface Pro devices over the last few years. This week, it was Apple’s turn, as it announced a voluntary recall of AC wall plug adapters sold with Macs, some iOS devices, and its World Travel Adapter Kit, in several markets between 2003 and 2015.
Apple reported its latest financial results on Tuesday for the first quarter of its 2016 fiscal year, which included the all-important holiday shopping season. The company basked in the glory of record revenues and record profits, but it wasn’t all good news.
There was almost no year-over-year (YoY) growth for its iPhone sales, and Mac sales were down both YoY (-4%) and compared with the previous quarter (-7%). The really bad news, though, was for the iPad line, which plummeted by 25% compared with the same quarter last year.
Microsoft also published its latest quarterly results, reporting $5 billion of net income on $23.8 billion of revenue. There was plenty of good news in its results, including a massive 70% rise in Office 365 revenue, and explosive YoY growth of 140% in Azure, along with sizeable increases in Xbox Live subscriptions and Surface revenue.
However, it was a disastrous quarter for Microsoft’s mobile efforts. Phone revenues dropped by a staggering 49%, and Lumia shipments collapsed, falling by 57% YoY, down from 10.5 million a year ago to just 4.5 million last quarter.
Meanwhile, a major Microsoft partner has had enough of the continued decline in Windows mobile market share.
When Microsoft originally revealed its launch plans for Windows 10 last year, it celebrated its partnership with Chinese multimedia giant Tencent in its announcement (including the video above), saying that the two companies would ‘do great things’ together. Part of that collaboration was the promise of a Universal app for Tencent’s QQ instant messaging platform – which has over 800 million users – for Windows 10 PCs and phones.
But this week, Tencent said it was abandoning development of the QQ app for Windows 10 devices, specifically citing the fact that Windows Phone users are continuing to ditch the OS for rival platforms, adding that it “didn’t notice that Microsoft is showing any effort to retain them.”
Windows 10 Mobile is now on 9.5% of active Windows handsets, despite the fact that Microsoft has repeatedly delayed its rollout of the OS to existing devices. The latest increase in Windows 10 Mobile usage is the smallest so far, even though Microsoft has already launched its latest handsets with the new OS pre-installed.
One of those devices is the entry-level Lumia 550, and this week, new firmware for that handset appeared on Microsoft’s Windows Device Recovery Tool, although it’s not yet rolling out as an over-the-air update.
Microsoft’s next smartphone, the Lumia 650, hasn’t been officially announced yet, but pre-orders were (briefly) available for the device from a UK retailer, priced at £199 – twice the cost of the Lumia 550, despite the two handsets apparently sharing very similar specs.
The 650 is believed to be the last Lumia handset ever, as Microsoft is reportedly refocusing its mobile efforts around the rumored high-end ‘Surface phone’ expected later this year. Microsoft is said to have confirmed this to some of its industry partners earlier this week.
Microsoft’s entry-level smartphone, the Lumia 435, is now even more affordable in the UK, where it’s currently available for just £39.95 on new pay-as-you-go plans.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has slashed the cost of its supersized Lumia 640 XL by 27% in the UK, bringing it down from £219 to £159.99. Notably, this isn’t a short-term offer; the company says that it will stay at that price until June 30, or “while supplies last”.
A five-month price cut appears to be a pretty strong indication that Microsoft is clearing out stocks of the device, just nine months after it first went on sale in the UK.
Also in the UK, you can currently pick up the Linx 7 Windows tablet for just £49.99, which includes a free one-year Office 365 Personal subscription worth £59.99. Despite its tiny price tag and modest specs, the Linx 7 was one of our favorite devices of last year.
Chinese manufacturer Chuwi launched two low-cost Windows 10 tablets this week. The Hi8 Pro has an 8-inch IPS LCD with 1920x1200px resolution, and an Intel Atom (Cherry Trail) processor with 2GB RAM, along with some other handy features, including HDMI-out, WiDi support and a USB Type-C port, and is priced from just $102.
The larger Hi12 has a 12-inch display with 2160x1440px – identical in size and resolution to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3. It also has 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, two full-size USB (Type-A) ports, a microUSB port, HDMI-out and more, for $299.
A few weeks after releasing its new Power BI app on Windows 10 Mobile, the PC version of the app made its way to the Windows Store on Tuesday.
A researcher discovered that the private browsing mode in Microsoft’s Edge browser in Windows 10 may not be as private as you thought. It was revealed that, even when using InPrivate mode, users’ full browsing histories were being stored on their devices.
On Monday, Microsoft announced new features coming to Cortana on Windows 10, which have already begun rolling out to those on the Windows Insider Program.
The company released a new Windows 10 cumulative update for non-Insider PCs on Wednesday, bumping up the build number to 10586.71.
It also rolled out a new Insider Preview build for PCs, with a big jump in build numbers from the previous release, 11102, to the latest version, build 14251. Microsoft’s Gabe Aul explained that numerical leap, and also highlighted some of the fixes and known issues in that release.
However, Gabe also said that upcoming Windows 10 Mobile Insider Previews – presumably the first ones to originate from the Redstone development branch – will only be made available to Microsoft’s newest handsets initially, before later rolling out to other devices.
Microsoft has made it easier for all users of Windows 10 Mobile Insider Previews to install new firmware updates when they become available. Previously, preview users wishing to upgrade their handsets' firmware were faced with a long-winded process that included wiping their devices completely.
A ‘Configuration Update’ was released for devices running Windows 10 Mobile Insider Previews on the Fast ring on Friday. While this update includes no new features, it does make some under-the-hood changes to prepare devices for future updates.
Microsoft’s ‘Garage’ experimental development division – through which employees work on new projects using company resources, but in their own time – released a new app for iOS this week. News Pro is a news aggregator app, powered by Bing, that can gather information from across the web based on topics selected by the user, promising ‘hyper-relevant news for your work’.
Microsoft has delivered its predictions for the winners of the upcoming caucuses and primaries in the US presidential race. The company is using its Bing prediction engine and machine-learning models to attempt to predict who will win at each stage of the 2016 elections.
The Microsoft Store has slashed prices on all retail editions of Halo 5: Guardians in the UK. Even the coveted Limited Collector’s Edition – which is usually priced at £199.99, and comes with a range of extra content and items, including a commemorative statue of Master Chief and Spartan Locke – is part of the promotion, seeing its price cut by 50% to just £99.99.
On its quarterly earnings call this week, EA’s chief financial officer said that the company estimates that a total of 55 million of the latest-generation consoles have been sold so far. Since we know that Sony has sold 35.9 million PlayStation 4s, that suggests that Microsoft has sold around 19 million Xbox Ones, which would indicate that the PS4 has outsold it almost two-to-one.
But we end this week with yet another instance of a kid racking up an enormous bill on in-game purchases using a parent’s credit card. Over the holiday season, Lance Perkins’ son spent an astonishing $8,206.43 on content for FIFA games on his Xbox One.
Microsoft ultimately refunded the amount in full, but unsurprisingly, and despite his gratitude to the company, Perkins declared that there “will never be another Xbox system – or any gaming system – in my home”.
That kid is gonna be so grounded…
Before we wrap things up for another week, let me just encourage you to check out some of the devices we’ve reviewed for you, along with an important reminder.
First up, editor Steven Johns took a long, hard look at the Xiaomi Mi Band 1S wearable device. The first-gen Mi Band was a winner in his book, and scored very highly in his review last year. The new version? Not so much.
Described by Steven as taking ‘one step forward, two steps back’, the Mi Band 1S didn’t fare very well in his review at all – be sure to check it out.
News reporter Shreyas Gandhe put the Oukitel K4000 Pro to the test too. The affordable Android handset features a generous 4600mAh battery, and thanks to its rock-solid build quality, impressive battery life and decent performance, there’s certainly plenty to like about it – but as he explained in the review, it’s far from perfect.
And finally, an important reminder that this weekend is your last opportunity to hold on to 15GB of free OneDrive storage, and the 15GB camera roll bonus, before Microsoft reduces its free storage allowances in the coming days. Don’t miss out!
The week ahead
Microsoft’s new Lumia 650 was reportedly due to be announced on Monday, but Windows Central reports that those plans have been delayed by a couple of weeks.
We know that Microsoft is planning to begin upgrading existing Windows Phone 8.1 devices to Windows 10 Mobile at some point in February. There's a possibility that it could begin that process next week, but we've heard that it's more likely to happen towards the middle of the month.
However, we are still expecting a new Windows 10 Mobile Insider Preview to roll out in the next few days. Indeed, as mentioned in 7 Days last weekend, and later reported elsewhere, we understand that Microsoft had been planning to release Mobile preview build 10586.71 sometime this week – but for whatever reason, it didn’t materialize.
Anyway, along with the usual mix of official news, juicy rumors, and intriguing insights, the week ahead should be as exciting as ever!
There’s plenty more stuff to read across the site – including loads of interesting discussions over on our forums. From all of us on the Neowin team, have a great weekend!