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.
If you’ve been struggling to keep up with all the exciting news that’s emerged over the last seven days, we know how you feel – it’s been quite a week. From new device launches to complaints about old ones, and the launch of the new version of Windows, it’s been another seven days packed full of exciting details, new announcements and more than a few moments that raised an eyebrow.
On Monday, Microsoft was finally able to launch its Xbox One in China, after a short and unexplained delay caused it to miss its original launch date of September 23. However, the Xbox One goes on sale in China with just ten ‘non-violent’ games available to buy – a consequence of the Chinese government’s requirement that it approve all console games that can be purchased – and the console will cost considerably more there than in most other markets.
Nonetheless, Microsoft sold around 100,000 consoles in China in its first two days on sale. The government has given its pre-approval for 5,000,000 sales of Xbox Ones in China, so Microsoft still has plenty more work to do to reach that limit.
Microsoft will be launching another device there later this month – the Lumia 830, which the company calls the first ‘affordable flagship’. The 830 features a 5-inch HD (1280x720px) display, quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 and a 10MP PureView camera with ZEISS optics and optical image stabilization.
It is also one of the first devices to come pre-installed with the most up-to-date version of the OS, Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, along with the latest Microsoft firmware, Lumia Denim. It will go on sale in China on October 13, priced at 2399 CNY (around $390 USD).
The 830 has already gone on sale in the United Kingdom, where it can be purchased ‘free’ – or with no upfront cost – on 24-month contracts from around £24.99 a month.
Also in the UK, Microsoft has just launched its new Lumia 735, the 4G version of the Lumia 730, which is popularly referred to as the company’s ‘selfie phone’, thanks to its high-resolution 5MP wide-angle front-facing camera. The device also comes with a quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400, 4.7-inch HD OLED screen, NFC and a 6.7MP rear camera. It’s now available to buy in the UK from around £199 off-contract.
Over in the US, Microsoft’s most affordable Windows Phone ever will soon be available for the first time. This week, T-Mobile announced that it will launch the Lumia 530 on its network on October 15, priced at $79.20 off-contract.
However, on the same day, Cricket Wireless rather rained on T-Mobile’s parade by announcing that it too will offer the Lumia 530 on October 5, and that it will in fact be dramatically cheaper – around 37% less – than on T-Mo. Cricket will sell the device for just $49.99 with no annual service contract. Not bad, Cricket. Not bad at all.
There were no new device launches this week among the many hardware partners that Microsoft has recently signed up to Windows Phone. We recently counted over two dozen companies that will soon be launching – or who have already launched – Windows Phones for the first time. When Microsoft dropped its OS licensing fees for small Windows devices earlier this year, it opened the floodgates to a large wave of interest from device brands keen to dip their toes into the Microsoft ecosystem.
Microsoft’s Terry Myerson pointed out this week that, if you include not just those brands that are releasing new Windows Phones, but also those companies that are launching new Windows tablets for the first time, it has succeeded in attracting 50 new hardware partners this year. There’s no doubting that’s quite an achievement.
Microsoft launched its first self-branded phone charger this week in the latest step of its slow and not-terribly-subtle phasing out of the Nokia brand from its devices, which the company has still not publicly acknowledged.
The Microsoft Portable Power features a 6000mAh battery and looks essentially like what you would expect a Nokia portable battery pack to look like, but with the Nokia logo replaced with that of Microsoft – but it’s not limited to working only with its Lumia phones; the Portable Power will share its juice with any device that has a microUSB charging port.
But while Microsoft is continuing to release its own devices, the company is bringing in huge amounts of money from devices it doesn’t even make. It emerged this week that Samsung paid patent royalties to Microsoft of over $1bn in 2013 – this means that Microsoft got around $3.21 for every single Android device that Samsung sold.
Even for a company as large as Samsung, paying that kind of money out for patents has got to hurt. But Samsung had a headache of a different kind to deal with this week, as the company faced complaints from some buyers of its latest flagship, the Galaxy Note 4.
On some of the devices sold in the company’s home market of South Korea, buyers had noticed large gaps in the construction at one edge, between the glass on the front of the handset and the frame that runs around its edge. The issue reportedly affects different edges on different handsets – sometimes the gap is at the top or bottom; in other cases, to the left or right of the display – but the gap is usually wide enough to slip in a business card or a couple of sheets of paper.
Samsung’s response was largely dismissive of the issue, claiming that it’s all perfectly normal.
Apple had its own PR headaches to deal with this week too. Apple’s German PR team revoked a popular tech magazine’s privileges with the company, after the magazine performed its own tests related to the Bentgate/Bendgate saga, in which the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were said to be ‘bending’ under limited pressure.
The move by Apple’s PR division to essentially ‘blacklist’ the publication was seen by many to be vindictive and petty, especially in light of recent revelations about how Apple attempts to control and manipulate the media.
Over in Mexico, Microsoft has a few problems of its own to handle, after a court there ordered Nokia Mexico to pay damages to customers who had purchased faulty handsets from the company, in a case that was first raised in early 2010.
Nokia has said that that's Microsoft’s problem now – after it sold its devices and services business to the company earlier this year – but Microsoft says that Nokia already paid damages under a separate court order made in October 2013. Adding to the confusion, the Mexican federal consumer protection agency, Profeco, claims that customers can continue to register for compensation even after the most recent court order, which would leave the door wide open for further damages payouts, but Microsoft insists the deadline expired some time ago.
The OnePlus Two has been confirmed by the company to be on its roadmap, but it won’t be arriving for a while. OnePlus said that it’s unlikely to arrive until mid-2015, and it has also admitted that it is considering making the next version smaller than its current 5.5-inch handset.
HP launched a bunch of ultra-affordable Windows devices this week, including the Stream 7 tablet, which costs just $100. A slightly larger tablet and several small notebooks complete the new range of devices, including the Stream 13 laptop for only $230.
HP is just the latest in a wide range of companies that has been rolling out Windows devices at extremely low price points, as the 'race to the bottom' of the market intensifies, to attempt to capture a new wave of consumers eager to get devices at more affordable - or perhaps more 'disposable' - prices.
ASUS is also chasing some low-cost action with the launch of its new VivoMini PC, a barebones device in a small form factor. It features an Intel Celeron CPU, four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and DisplayPort, among other things, but its spec list is short.
Priced at just $149, it can run Windows or Linux, and it could well make an excellent low-cost living room PC.
Over in the UK, Google Glass has been rolled out to customer service representatives at Edinburgh Airport, who are using it in a trial to explore how technology can be used to quickly find information to help passengers with their needs. Staff will be able to find flight updates on their headsets, as well being able to translate words to help break through the language barrier with international visitors.
Glass was used in a trial by Virgin Atlantic Airways earlier this year, and the potential of the device is being explored by a wide range of industries and stores.
Microsoft announced this week that it will soon open a ‘flagship store’ in New York City, in an area of Manhattan filled with stores from prestigious and high-profile brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Prada and Rolex. Five years in the planning, it will be “much more than just a Microsoft Store”, including an “experiential space” for customers to do more than just browsing products on shelves.
Microsoft also completed the transition of its Bing apps to MSN branding this week, which included a name change for Bing Finance to ‘MSN Money’. The apps on Windows Phone were first to change, but they were quickly followed by their counterparts on Windows 8.1.
But, of course, the biggest news of the week was the official announcement of the new version of Windows, in which Microsoft took two steps forward, and one step back.
We were all ready to publish a pre-written article on the announcement, expecting – like pretty much everyone else – that it would be called ‘Windows 9’. But Microsoft sent us scrambling to make last-minute changes when it revealed that the name of its new OS would actually skip a number entirely, jumping up to Windows 10 instead.
Of course, the biggest news (for some) of the new OS is that the 'traditional' Start menu has returned - a return to the Windows of yesteryear - although Microsoft is still stuffing Start screen-style Live Tiles into it. Modern apps can now run in actual windows on the classic-style Desktop - a result of feedback from consumers who disliked the inflexibility of the side-by-side view of these apps.
Among the improvements being made is a more ‘intelligent’ approach to dealing with touch and non-touch devices. Windows is optimized on touch-only tablets, or devices without a keyboard attached, to work best with finger inputs. But when a keyboard is present, or on non-touch devices, the OS can be geared almost entirely towards a mouse and keyboard experience, with touch being available to 'extend' the experience naturally.
Microsoft admitted this week that it “didn’t quite get it right” when it came to its focus on touch in Windows 8, but says that touch-based interactions are still an integral and important part of its new operating system.
The company made Windows 10 available as a Technical Preview for early adopters, developers, enthusiasts and others keen to explore what it has to offer. A preview has also been released for Windows Server and System Center.
The full and final version of Windows 10 won’t arrive until mid-2015, but the preview will continue to be updated, and a further version – perhaps called the Consumer Preview – is expected to introduce more new features early next year. The Technical Preview is set to expire on April 15, 2015, but the Consumer Preview should arrive before then.
We’ve published a lot of news on Windows 10 this week – far more than we could easily condense into this weekly summary – so be sure to check out all of the developments about the new OS here.
News emerged this week that Tetris – yes, Tetris – is being made into an “epic sci-fi movie”. We’ll spare you the jokes about its creators hoping for a ‘block-buster’ success, and move on.
We end this week almost where we started – back with Microsoft’s Lumia devices. The company had a bit of fun with the UK rollout of its Lumia 830, hosting the launch event at the 'Destination Star Trek' convention in London on Friday.
Coinciding with this, Microsoft UK asked the Cortana team to add a few Star Trek-themed goodies to its personal digital assistant on Windows Phone 8.1, teaching her to speak Klingon and getting her to do a (very bad) Scotty impersonation.
Microsoft encouraged the best and brightest of the UK tech press to test out the review units of the Lumia 830 that they had provided, and to enjoy a walk around the convention while putting its camera to the test. Before I’d even got my Lumia 830 set up, this happened:
Resistance is futile, apparently.
…and finally: don’t forget that we’re giving away an Amazon Fire TV, in a contest exclusively for registered members of Neowin. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is leave a comment on the contest article telling us what your favorite thing about Amazon is.
Of course, we encourage you to get a full Neowin subscription, but even if you don’t subscribe, you don’t have to pay to be a member on our forums or to comment on the site. So if you haven’t done so already, be sure to register, leave a comment on the contest page and you never know – you might just win the prize!
Image credits: 2-4) Microsoft; 5) Blu; 6) Microsoft; 7) Original gavel image via Brian Turner / Flickr; 8) Samsung; 9) MacRumors Forums; 10) Microsoft; 12) HP; 13) liliputing; 14) The Scotsman; 15) Google Maps; 16) @rodtrent; 18) Microsoft; 19) Wikipedia (CountingPine / © Nintendo/Bullet Proof Software)