7 Days: A week of Galaxy insights, Insider delights, and Microsoft up in the cloud

7 Days is a weekly roundup 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.

It’s been another busy week across the tech world, with all sorts of official announcements, exciting leaks and intriguing insights. As ever, 7 Days is here to make sure you know what’s been going on, walking you through the week’s biggest developments.

Our journey starts this week on a note of caution, as HP announced the expansion of a voluntary worldwide recall of laptop batteries that began last year, due to their "potential to overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard".

The CEO of Vivaldi picked a fight with Microsoft, calling on the company to "do the right thing" with its Edge browser, claiming that Windows 10 makes it too difficult for users to change - and keep - their default web browser.

Microsoft was handed a victory by the US Court of Appeals in its ongoing fight over access by government agencies to its users' emails and data stored overseas.

The company also said this week that it's currently spending over $1 billion a year on cybersecurity research and development to protect its customers' data, but admitted that "that spending has to go up".

It also announced details of the new Windows Defender Security Center, which will launch with the Windows 10 Creators Update in April, and is intended to make it easier for users to manage security on their devices.

Meanwhile, a former Mozilla engineer advised users that Windows Defender is all they need to protect their devices against virus threats, attacking third-party antivirus software vendors for "poisoning the software ecosystem [with] their invasive and poorly-implemented code".

Microsoft created a new role in its Senior Leadership Team - that of Chief Technology Officer - appointing senior LinkedIn engineering executive Kevin Scott to the position.

Earlier in the week, LinkedIn - which was acquired by Microsoft in a $26.2 billion deal last year - launched an upgraded desktop user experience.

After revealing its plans in September to bring Focused Inbox - its email prioritizing feature - to the Outlook Mail app on Windows 10, Microsoft is finally preparing to introduce that feature to Windows 10 devices from next month.

And almost two years after announcing its 'new' Outlook.com experience in May 2015, Microsoft said this week that it's now upgraded 99.9% of users. It had previously promised to complete the migration by the end of last summer "at the latest".

It also introduced new email security features to Office 365, adding URL Detonation and Dynamic Delivery.

After announcing the Office Insider Program for iPhone and iPad two weeks ago, Microsoft released its first Insider Preview to the iOS Fast ring on Tuesday.

New features were released for OneDrive for Business too, including a new standalone client for Mac, and improved syncing capabilities.

The BETT conference in London, which focuses on IT in education, was the venue for several major announcements this week, including that of Microsoft's Intune for Education suite. The flexible device and software management tools are designed to make it easier for teachers, schools and administrators to get up and running "in a matter of minutes".

Microsoft highlighted a range of ultra-low-cost new Windows 10 PCs designed for the education sector, priced as low as $189, some of which have touchscreens and support for Windows Ink. It claimed that they "offer the power, performance and security schools need at the same price as Chromebooks, with none of the compromises."

Dell made sure to cover both bases with its announcement at BETT, unveiling both new Chromebook and Windows 10 laptops designed for students.

And not content to let Microsoft hog the limelight, Google made its own education-focused announcement, showing off new Chromebooks for schools and universities, some of which also include touchscreens and stylus support.

When Microsoft unveiled its Surface Pro 4 tablet, it highlighted the Surface Pen as an integral part of the device's appeal. But on Monday, fifteen months after its announcement, it began selling the Pro 4 without the Pen for the first time.

Curiously, on Tuesday, Microsoft's latest Surface Pro 4 firmware update release notes hinted at an "upcoming product release".

Microsoft revealed that it's sold "thousands" of its HoloLens mixed reality headsets so far, which is pretty much what we expected. Intriguingly, a HoloLens executive also hinted at "future versions" of the device on the company's roadmap.

The latest data from StatCounter indicates that Windows 10 usage has surpassed that of Windows 7 in North America and Oceania.

Microsoft is preparing for its next monthly cumulative update for the Windows 10 Current Branch, having rolled out build 14393.726 to the Release Preview ring on Tuesday. A list of fixes in that update can be found here.

On Friday, Microsoft released Windows 10 build 15019 for PCs, its latest Insider Preview for the upcoming Creators Update. The new build brings a range of new features, with a particular focus on enhancements for gamers, including the much-anticipated new Game Mode.

However, while there are plenty of bug fixes and other improvements, there are also some very significant known issues to be aware of before you install. If you have problems installing build 15019, you can find a potential workaround here.

Details recently emerged of Microsoft's plans to build a 'Composable Shell' that can scale and adapt a single version of Windows 10 to any type of device.

On Thursday, a new report revealed that Microsoft is also working on 'Cloud Shell', described as a "lightweight version of Windows designed for the modern computing world", raising some intriguing possibilities.

On Monday, Microsoft began a further round of job cuts, as part of previously-announced plans to remove 2,850 positions. Bryan Roper - who won many fans in the Microsoft community, with the passion and enthusiasm of his product demos - was among those to lose their jobs.

That wave of layoffs came just a few days before Microsoft published its latest earnings report, revealing details of another strong quarter for its Cloud and Office businesses, helping it to amass net income of $6.5 billion on revenue of $26.1 billion (non-GAAP), beating Wall Street expectations.

Its gaming revenue dipped slightly, while Surface revenue fell by 2% year-over-year - but that's a far better result than it might seem, given that Surface 3 sales ended last year, and the Surface Book and Pro 4 were over a year old for much of the quarter.

Meanwhile, the sad, slow demise of Microsoft's Windows phones dragged on for another quarter. Two years earlier, Microsoft's phone hardware revenue totalled $2.28 billion; last quarter, it had fallen to just $200 million.

AT&T ended sales of all new Lumia Windows phones on Friday. The carrier is now only offering 'Certified Like-New' refurbished models of the Lumia 950 and 640 XL.

No, this isn't the new photo that WhartonBrooks teased

Remember WhartonBrooks? Five months ago, the company announced that it was making a Windows phone, promising that it "will be the most disruptive [device] since the advent of the smartphone in 2000", and claiming that its products and services "will radically change the mobile computing industry".

In September, it suddenly postponed a public event, before revealing in October that its device had been delayed due to 'regulatory hurdles'. Last Sunday, it posted an unrevealing teaser photo of the new handset - but the 'revolutionary' nature of this transformational device remains unclear.

There was bad news this week for owners of Acer's Windows 10 Mobile flagship, the Liquid Jade Primo. Five months after Microsoft released the Anniversary Update for its mobile OS, Acer said that the handset won't get the update, blaming "instability of the operating system".

That's strange, given that other manufacturers have been able to upgrade their Windows 10 Mobile devices to the Anniversary Update in recent months.

A larger version of this image can be found here | Image via VentureBeat

As Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile platform continues to struggle, one of its key features is expected to appear on Samsung's next Android flagship. Numerous major details about the new Galaxy S8 were published this week, along with the first photo of the device.

An optional dock will enable a PC-style desktop mode called 'DeX' - just like Continuum in Windows 10 Mobile - while the S8 will be offered in two sizes, each with larger displays... and higher prices than their predecessors.

Samsung finally announced details of its investigation into the fires that plagued its defunct Galaxy Note7 handset - and to the surprise of no-one, it confirmed that battery issues were to blame.

But despite the high-profile fiasco surrounding that device, and Samsung's approach to handling it, the company won't be retiring the Note brand. Samsung's mobile chief said that a new Galaxy Note8 is coming, and it will be "better, safer and very innovative".

And while the Note7 saga undoubtedly had a serious financial impact on Samsung, the company still reported a substantial profit for the last quarter.

Samsung's new Galaxy S8 is expected to use Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 835 - but the company has reportedly bought such great quantities of those chips that supplies for other devices, including the new LG G6 flagship are virtually non-existent.

The first image of the G6 appeared this week - and it looks rather sleek.

More Android handsets continue to be upgraded to recent versions of the OS - but the rollout hasn't been entirely trouble-free for some manufacturers:

HTC unveiled its U Ultra flagship earlier this month, with a Snapdragon 821 SoC, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and Gorilla Glass 5 for $749. But a 'special edition' model with 128GB storage and sapphire glass is due to launch next month, priced around $900.

Bizarrely, HTC also confirmed that "another flagship" will be launched when "the next flagship CPU comes", presumably referring to the Snapdragon 835.

Images via Weibo

Earlier in the week, new photos emerged of HTC's long-delayed Android Wear smartwatch, codenamed 'Halfbeak'. But HTC later revealed that it had cancelled that device and has no immediate plans to launch any smartwatches.

On Tuesday, Google released its fifth and final Android Wear 2.0 Developer Preview, adding support for iOS devices. It announced the delay of the 2.0 update back in September, but it's finally due to roll out next month.

Android is no stranger to security problems, and details of fresh concerns surfaced this week.

Researchers found a way to crack the pattern lock on the Android lock screen by using software to analyze users' inputs without even seeing the screen itself.

Of far greater concern was that a camera app approved to the Google Play Store contained 'HummingBad' malware, and was downloaded from the store "several million times".

Eight months after announcing Android Instant Apps at its Google I/O 2016 developer conference, Google has finally begun live-testing of the new feature, which allows users to run apps without installing them on their devices.

Google also announced details this week of its next I/O developer conference in May.

Like Microsoft, Google's parent company, Alphabet, published its latest financial results on Thursday, reporting $6.6 billion of net income on $26 billion of revenue. 99% of that revenue came from Google.

On Monday, Google finally updated its Voice service after years of neglect. "It's been several years since we've made significant updates to the Google Voice apps," the company admitted, "and by several, we mean around five".

Still, better late than never.

Following the collapse of Cyanogen, Inc. last year, Lineage OS rose from the ashes of the Android-based CyanogenMod fork. The first Lineage OS builds arrived for a range of devices this week, with preview build support announced for further devices.

ZTE's new crowd-funded, crowd-developed flagship phone turned out to be an underwhelming, and somewhat ordinary, mid-range Android handset. The Kickstarter campaign since its unveiling has been a disaster, with furious customers continuing to voice their frustrations and disappointments over the project. ZTE acknowledged its 'mistake' this week.

On Monday, Apple released iOS 10.2.1, macOS 10.12.3 Sierra, watchOS 3.1.3, and tvOS 10.1.1, bringing various bug fixes and stability improvements.

On Tuesday, it released its first betas of iOS 10.3, macOS 10.12.4 and tvOS 10.2, with a range of new features. Significantly, iOS 10.3 also updates devices' file systems from HFS+ to APFS.

Apple revealed that its next watchOS update, version 3.2, will include a new Theater Mode, to stop your Watch from lighting up like a beacon when you get a notification while in a movie theater.

Apple also joined the Partnership on AI, a group of companies - including Microsoft, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, and IBM - that joined together to establish best practice and sound ethical foundations for the development of artificial intelligence.

It looks like Asus wants a piece of the Raspberry Pi action, releasing a similar micro-PC this week, called 'Tinker'.

The KDE-branded Slimbook - an ultra-thin notebook that comes with Linux - was unveiled, priced from €729 EUR (around $780 USD).

Pioneer revealed the first ever 4K / Ultra HD Blu-ray drives for desktop PCs.

After introducing the ability to download movies and TV shows for offline viewing in November, Netflix is now allowing Android users to store those downloads on microSD cards.

AT&T announced a new $10 International Day Pass, offering unlimited talk and texts to its customers while travelling in over 100 countries, including use of their data plan while abroad.

Sprint announced its acquisition of a 33% in music streaming service Tidal, promising "exclusive content that will only be available to current and new Sprint customers".

But Verizon's planned $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo has been delayed, as the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has opened an investigation related to two massive Yahoo data breaches last year.

Acer agreed to a $115,000 settlement after personal data, including credit card details, of over 35,000 customers was taken from its website last year. The New York Attorney General's office severely criticized the company, finding that its website "contained numerous vulnerabilities", and that customer data was "not protected by Acer for almost a full calendar year."

In Australia, authorities are preparing to fully replace the use of passports at its borders with biometric authentication, including facial, iris and fingerprint recognition systems.

Our odyssey around the tech world this week is nearing its end, but before we jump into the latest gaming news, I must share one glorious bit of news for Star Trek fans. Amazon has now added a new 'wake word' to activate its Alexa devices, enabling users to engage their devices simply by saying "Computer".

Now, let's set a course for the gaming world at maximum warp.


Game on

Mass Effect: Andromeda will be released in March - but the game's publisher will be offering ten hours of early access to the new title for Xbox One and PC gamers ahead of its launch.

Microsoft announced that it's bringing a new cross-play feature to Gears of War 4 on the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs.

Microsoft added Alice: Madness Returns and two more titles to its list of Xbox 360 games playable on the Xbox One and One S.

New Xbox One S bundles with Halo Wars 2 and Forza Horizon 3 were revealed this week.

And it looks like Xbox One and One S gamers will soon get the ability to add customer Gamerpics in an upcoming update.

But perhaps the most exciting news for Xbox One and One S owners was the arrival of the first Insider Preview for the upcoming Creators Update, which will bring a wide range of new features and other improvements to the consoles.

Among other changes, it will bring the removal of the 'Snap' window feature from the user interface.

A further Insider Preview build was released to the Alpha ring on Thursday; you can find out about the four Xbox Insider Program rings here.


Bonus content

Before we wrap things up for another week, let me first highlight a couple of extra bits around the site that I hope you’ll enjoy reading.

Rich Woods took a hands-on look at the first Windows 10 Creators Update preview for the Xbox One, including a video showing some of the latest improvements in action.

And Timi Cantisano published his review of the forgettably named Aukey PB-Y3, a 30,000mAh portable charger with Quick Charge 3.0 support and USB Type-C. If you're looking for a mobile power pack, that's definitely worth a look!


Stay tuned to Neowin in the days ahead for what’s sure to be another exciting week, filled with more news, all sorts of updates, and lots of juicy rumors from around the world of technology.

For now, though, there’s lots more to read across the site – including all sorts of interesting discussions over on our forums.

From all of us
on the Neowin team,
have a great weekend...

and a very Happy Chinese New Year
to everyone celebrating the start of the Year of the Rooster!

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