7 Days: A week of Microsoft's mobile vow, bad Apple, and weather to upgrade to Windows 10

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.

It’s been another thrilling week across the tech world, filled with all sorts of official news, intriguing developments, and one or two surprises. As ever, 7 Days is here to bring you up to speed with what's been happening - so sit back, relax and enjoy our latest journey through the week's top tech news.

We begin this week with media giant Comcast, which announced on Thursday that it is buying DreamWorks Animation - the studio behind many popular movie franchises, such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar, in a deal worth $3.8 billion.

Google, Uber, Ford, Volvo and Lyft have formed a lobbying and advocacy group in an effort to speed up regulation and adoption of self-driving cars on US roads.

Tesla founder Elon Musk claimed this week that the self-driving 'Autopilot' feature in his company's cars reduces the probability of having an accident by 50%. "Even with this early version" of Autopilot, he said, "it's almost twice as good as a person."

Canonical announced the launch of the first flagship-class Ubuntu phone this week. Over two months after pre-orders opened for the the high-end Meizu PRO 5 Ubuntu Edition, the device is now available to buy, priced at $369.99.

Despite selling its devices and services business to Microsoft two years ago, Nokia is certainly interested in new devices - from its unusual OZO 'professional VR' camera, to licensing its brand for use on an Android tablet. This week, Nokia announced its purchase of Withings for $191 million, allowing it push into the market for Internet of Things devices and health wearables.

Google unveiled a new addition to its Android Wear ecosystem on Tuesday, with the launch of its 'MODE' interchangeable watch bands. Offered in "a rainbow of colors", and in leather and silicon options, prices for the 'snap-and-swap' bands start at $49.95.

Image via 'InauspiciousPagan' (Reddit)

Google is preparing to offer "over a million apps and games on Google Play to install and use on your Chromebook", and we're likely to find out more at its I/O developer conference next month.

HP unveiled its new Chromebook 13 this week, featuring metallic bodywork, sixth-generation (Skylake) Intel Core m processors, up to 16GB of RAM, a 13.3-inch display with 3200x1800px resolution, and two USB Type-C ports. Despite its premium design and high-end features, prices start from as little as $499.

After the European Commission recently revealed its findings that Google had "abused its dominant position" with Android in the EU mobile market, it seems that the Federal Trade Commission is now looking more closely at possible Android antitrust concerns in the US.

Image via BlogSpot

Google is also facing further issues in the EU, as Getty Images - one of the world's largest providers of stock images - has filed a complaint against the company with the European Commission, alleging that Google Images encourages the use of its licensed photos and graphics without payment.

After recently launching its '10' flagship, HTC unveiled its latest Android device this week: the One S9. The handset's design is a curious mash-up of its One A9 and One M9, but its specs won't be as high-end as either of those devices.

HTC has reportedly been chosen as Google's partner for its two new Nexus devices, known internally as 'M1' and 'S1'. The two devices - which are apparently also known as 'Marlin' and 'Sailfish' - are expected to launch later this year with Android N (7.0) onboard.

Meanwhile, it looks like HTC's Nexus 9 tablet - which it originally launched in 2014 - has finally reached the end of its retail life. The device is no longer available to purchase on the Google Store.

Just 4.6% of active Android devices are currently running the latest version of the OS - but it's been slowly making its way to more devices in recent days.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow rolled out this week to Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 in Germany...

...and to the Galaxy S5 in Germany as well. The S5 also got its first taste of that sweet Marshmallow goodness in Italy this week.

Sony has been expanding availability of its Marshmallow update too, adding its Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact to the list of eligible devices.

Motorola announced the 'full deployment' of its Marshmallow update for the Droid Turbo 2 on Verizon, almost two months after the rollout originally began for that device.

AT&T and T-Mobile began their Marshmallow upgrades for the LG G3 as well - but curiously, both carriers have only released the original Android 6.0 version, rather than the newer 6.0.1. Adding insult to injury, the update isn't even rolling out with the latest Android security patches.

Google originally released Android 6.0 Marshmallow in October, but on Tuesday, BlackBerry finally announced availability of the upgrade for its one and only Android handset, the Priv.

Unbelievably, BlackBerry described itself as "an early Marshmallow adopter". It would be remiss of me not to point out that that claim is, of course, complete and utter crap.

No, BlackBerry, you're not an early adopter. LG was an early adopter when it began upgrading its G4 in October. Even HTC was an early adopter when it started rolling out the update to its One M9 at the end of last year. But given that the Priv launched with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop after Marshmallow had already been released, claiming to be an early adopter by rolling out the update over six months later is just willfully misleading.

Original handset image via BerryLink

Images of two more BlackBerry Android handsets emerged this week. Unlike the Priv - which features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard - one of the new devices will feature a fixed keyboard below the display, while the other will only have a touchscreen. The images also revealed some changes to BlackBerry's branding.

How much would you pay for a device offering "the most advanced technology available" with "almost military-grade security"? Sirin Labs is launching a new Android handset next month promising "tomorrow's technology, today", priced close to $20,000.

All Android devices can now get Microsoft Exchange support in Gmail, after Google updated its app earlier this week. Exchange support in Gmail on Android was previously limited only to Nexus devices.

On Monday, Microsoft released its new Word Flow keyboard for iOS devices - but while it's no longer restricted to those on its closed beta, it remains available only in the US for now.

Be sure to check out our hands-on video with Word Flow for iOS.

Apple released iOS 9.3.2 beta 3 for developers on Tuesday, followed a day later by its third beta releases of OS X 10.11.5 and tvOS 9.2.1.

On Wednesday, a body was found in a conference room at Apple's Cupertino headquarters. Early reports suggested that an individual had been found with a gunshot wound to the head, but that has not been officially confirmed.

Santa Clara Sheriff's Office told Neowin that the deceased person was a male, and that there was no foul play involved, nor any crime committed.

In a statement, Apple said that it was "heartbroken by the tragic loss of a young and talented coworker".

Apple published its latest quarterly earnings report this week, and to put it simply, it's been a pretty bad few months for the company.

Revenue was down 13% year-over-year; net income was down 23%; iPhone sales fell by 16%; iPad sales dropped 19%; and even Mac sales suffered a notable drop, sliding by 12%. Apple also forecast another drop in revenues for this current quarter.

Don't weep too many tears for Apple though - its cash pile has now grown to $233 billion.

Last week, Microsoft published its quarterly results, revealing that it had sold just 2.3 million Lumia Windows Phones, a catastrophic fall of 73% year-over-year, and 49% less than the previous quarter. Given that Lumia devices still account for 97% of active Windows handsets - indicating negligible sales among all of Microsoft's other phone partners over the last two years - concerns have continued to grow over the future of the company's mobile efforts.

This led Microsoft's Terry Myerson to send an internal memo - which was leaked earlier this week - to "reconfirm our commitment to Windows 10 Mobile", and the company's "intention to support the platform for many years".

Interestingly, Myerson's memo included a reference to supporting "Windows 10 on mobile devices with small screen [sic] running ARM processors". The significance of that phrasing has only become clear more recently, after Intel confirmed that it has cancelled future Atom processor projects, codenamed 'Broxton' and 'SoFIA', effectively giving up on smartphones, and massively scaling back its tablet ambitions.

This also means that Microsoft's rumored 'Surface phone' - if it ever appears - will not run an Intel x86 processor.

Image via PhoneDesigner (Facebook)

A report earlier this week claimed that the Surface Phone is still a year away, and will arrive in April 2017 with the Windows 10 Redstone 2 update. It was also claimed that there will be a third Redstone update, despite earlier reports indicating that there would be just two.

The latest stats from AdDuplex show that Windows 10 Mobile usage continues to increase within the Windows ecosystem - but not all of those users ditching earlier versions of the OS have upgraded to the newest release.

And after more than two years as the most popular Windows phone in the world, the Nokia Lumia 520 was finally dethroned, replaced by Microsoft's Lumia 535.

More companies are continuing to launch new handsets running Windows 10 Mobile. One such device, in development by Chinese manufacturer Keyever, is something of a blast from the past, with a decidedly old-school form factor featuring a 3.5-inch display and a classic T9 alphanumeric keypad.

Acer's new entry-level Windows 10 Mobile handset, the Liquid M330, went on sale in the US, priced at $99 SIM-free and unlocked.

Microsoft did a pretty sloppy job with its store listing for the M330, showing it with a screenshot indicating support for Windows Hello biometric authentication (which it doesn't have), listing its OS as 'Windows Phone 10' (rather than the correct 'Windows 10 Mobile') and promising 30GB of free OneDrive storage (despite having already discontinued that offer for new customers).

VAIO unveiled the Phone Biz back in February, and now the high-end Windows 10 Mobile handset is available to buy - although it's priced 18% higher than the company originally announced.

New photos emerged this week of McLaren, the Nokia Windows Phone flagship that was destined to replace the mighty Lumia 1020, but which was cancelled before its release. The device featured a novel 'touch-free' interface, and was rumored to have an upgraded 50-megapixel camera.

The Lumia 950 and 950 XL eventually launched as Microsoft's newest flagships, but like its other Windows handsets, it seems sales of both devices have been well below expectations. In an effort to shift some stock, Microsoft launched an extraordinary promotional deal, briefly offering a free Lumia 950 with purchases of the Lumia 950 XL in the US and Canada.

UK buyers hoping for a similarly generous deal were out of luck, though. Instead, Microsoft UK is offering just £40 off the Lumia 950's £399.99 price when buying the handset with one of its Surface devices.

Microsoft UK seems to have a very strange idea of what a 'special offer' is. After running three promotional deals on its Band 2 in just four weeks, the company has now launched a 25% discount on the wearable device in a 'special offer' that will last for over two months.

And in another offer, also lasting two months, the company has slashed 40% off the price of its Surface 3 Docking Station.

Still, it's worth noting that neither of these deals matches the absurdity of the Lumia 640 XL discount that Microsoft UK started in January - when that 'special offer' ends in June, it will have been running for more than five months.

In what way are these offers 'special' when Microsoft offers them so frequently, and for so long?

When Microsoft launched Windows 10 last year, it offered no upgrade path for its Windows RT devices to the new OS. But one developer is hoping to offer a new lease on life for the very first Windows RT device, Microsoft's own Surface RT, with an unofficial Windows 10 Mobile ROM.

Microsoft rolled out its latest Windows 10 Insider Preview, build 14332, on the Fast ring on Tuesday. The new build includes a small range of new features, but also comes with various fixed and known issues, both for PCs and for phones.

Get a closer look at Windows 10 Mobile Insider Preview build 14332 in our hands-on video.

Microsoft also released a new SDK Preview for the Windows 10 Anniversary Update on Thursday.

Coinciding with the rollout of Windows 10 build 14332, Microsoft also launched its inaugural Anniversary Update 'Bug Bash' with Windows Insiders, including quests to help the company squash those remaining bugs in the OS.

And for those not on the Insider Program, Microsoft released Windows 10 cumulative updates for PCs (build 10586.240) and phones (10586.242) on Thursday.

Microsoft announced changes to Cortana on Thursday too, disabling the ability to use its digital assistant with third-party browsers and search engines on Windows 10. Cortana will now only work on Microsoft's OS with its own Edge browser and Bing search engine.

Microsoft said this week that it has so far upgraded 175 million users to its new Outlook.com experience, out of a total of more than 400 million. It added that it expects "the vast majority" of users to be upgraded by the end of this summer.

Microsoft also announced the start of its Skype for Business for Mac Public Preview, and outlined the roadmap leading to its planned launch in Q3. The new Skype client will eventually replace the ageing Lync for Mac 2011 client on OS X.

After Microsoft abandoned OneDrive placeholders - allowing users to view all of their cloud-stored files in one place on each device, including those not stored locally - rumors have persisted that the company is planning to reintroduce them in a future Windows 10 update.

Microsoft still hasn't officially confirmed those plans, but on Tuesday, it was beaten to it by Dropbox, which announced that it is introducing placeholders on its clients across all devices.

Your move, Microsoft.

After a version of its site appeared online a bit earlier than planned on Thursday, Microsoft officially announced Flow on Friday.

The new service is similar in functionality to IFTTT, allowing users to "mash-up two or more services" to automate workflow and simplify routine tasks using web services. Unlike IFTTT, though, Flow is aimed primarily at organizations rather than consumers.

Microsoft is researching the use of synthetic DNA for data storage. The company is purchasing ten million DNA oligoneucleotides from Twist Bioscience, which pointed out that DNA "has a known shelf life of several thousand years, offers a permanent storage format, and can be read for continuously decreasing costs."

British mobile network operator giffgaff is working on a new Universal Windows Platform app that will be available across Windows 10 devices. Speaking exclusively with Neowin, the carrier shared images of the new app and discussed some aspects of its development with us.

Facebook launched its new suite of Windows 10 apps on Thursday. The new Facebook and Messenger apps are available now on PCs, while the new Instagram app has officially launched on Windows 10 Mobile.

Facebook announced its latest quarterly earnings this week too, exceeding analysts' expectations, and reporting huge growth in mobile ad revenue and a further rise in user numbers.

Sony latest financial report - through to the end of its 2015 fiscal year - saw the company book a healthy profit, with solid performance in many of its business units. Notably, the company also reported a considerable increase in PlayStation 4 sales: 17.7 million were sold last year, compared with 14.8 million in its 2014 fiscal year.

Interesting clues popped up this week, hinting at the possibility of a remastered version of the classic Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which could arrive alongside the upcoming Infinite Warfare release.

Oculus announced on Wednesday that Minecraft is now available for the Gear VR headset, which it co-developed with Samsung.

Steam is best known as Valve's gaming platform - but on Monday, it took a big step towards becoming a major hub for general entertainment too. Steam signed a deal with entertainment giant Lionsgate, to offer over 100 movies for rental - including major franchises such as The Hunger Games, Saw, Twilight and Divergent - promising that more titles will continue to be added.

And in a separate development, Steam is now accepting bitcoin payments too.

Nintendo recently insisted that it has no plans to end production of its Wii U - but its days are surely numbered. The company confirmed this week that its next-generation 'NX' console will launch in March 2017, which doesn't bode well for the Wii U's future.

Microsoft is rumored to be preparing new hardware announcements at the E3 2016 gaming expo in a few weeks' time.

In the meantime, feast your eyes upon this beauty: a special edition Iron Man Xbox One, 'designed by Tony Stark' and Stark Industries.

One can't help but marvel at the brilliant insanity of some developers. Witness the wonderful silliness - and the splendid technical achievement - of one developer's success in running Windows 95 on the Apple Watch.

But we end this week with news from KCCI channel 8, a CBS affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, whose weather report on Wednesday morning was rudely interrupted by one of Microsoft's oh-so-delightful 'Get Windows 10' upgrade prompts.

There's no getting away from them!

Bonus content

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

Christopher White headed to LV-426 to try out the new Aliens vs. Pinball pack for Pinball FX2, and had rather a lot of fun in the process, although the gameplay was a bit less challenging than he would have liked.

Rich Woods put Google's Project Fi wireless service to the test on a Nexus 5X, along with Apple's iPhone 6s Plus, and various Windows phones.

Rich also shared a comparison of the iPhone 6s Plus with HTC's new flagship, the 10 - and struggled to declare a winner between them.

And a year after its release, Rich took a closer look at the Apple Watch too, declaring that "it's not very different from day one".


We're giving away the Aliens vs Pinball pack for Pinball FX2 on Windows 10! Head over to this article to find out more!

The week ahead

BlackBerry will begin rolling out its Android 6.0 Marshmallow update for its Priv on US carriers from Tuesday, May 3.

We should also get Google's latest official figures showing the proportion of active devices running each version of its Android OS next week. At last count, just 4.6% of Android devices were on Marshmallow.

Microsoft has been rolling out new Windows 10 Insider Preview builds at an incredible pace lately, so there's a good chance we may see a new build arrive in the next few days.

And given Microsoft's penchant for offering discounts on its devices, it seems like a safe bet that there'll be yet more deals on the way...

Stay tuned to Neowin for more official news, juicy rumors, and intriguing insights in the week ahead – it should be another exciting one across the tech world!

For now, though, there’s plenty more 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!

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