7 Days: A week of new Windows Phones, old games, Sonytastrophes and virtual burgers

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.

With Christmas less than a fortnight away, this time of year is traditionally when the mad rush of news gradually begins to slow down for the holidays. But there’s still been plenty of exciting news this week, so let’s get right on with our look back at highlights from the last seven days.

Image: Lenovo

Lenovo didn’t have the best of weeks, as it announced a voluntary global recall of a power cord sold with 73 of its notebook models, following 15 incidents involving the cord overheating, sparking, melting or burning. Over half a million laptops are affected in North America alone, so as you can probably imagine, the worldwide scale of the recall will be much, much larger.

It wasn’t a great week for The Pirate Bay either. Swedish police raided a location in Stockholm housing servers that had been used to run the file-sharing site, which went offline following the raid. However, The Pirate Bay hasn’t completely vanished from the web – the site has reappeared at a new Costa Rican domain, and various other proxy sites also remain active.

Image: Bloomberg

Sony’s week sucked too, as the fallout continued to spread following the recent hack of systems at the company’s movie-making division, Sony Pictures. On Tuesday, contact details and personal aliases of stars such as Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Daniel Craig and Jessica Alba were leaked.

Two days later, hacking group ‘Guardians of Peace’ demanded that the Sony Pictures movie The Interview - which depicts an American assassination plot against North Korea leader Kim Jong-un - be cancelled, threatening further action if the company pushes ahead with its plans to release the film. However, the same group also denied sending threatening emails to Sony employees last weekend.

If that wasn’t bad enough, another hacker group known as ‘Lizard Squad’ claimed responsibility for bringing down Sony’s PlayStation Network on Monday. If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because the same group took credit for knocking Microsoft’s Xbox Live network offline twice last week.

There was one bit of good news for Sony this week though. The company confirmed that its PlayStation 4 will go on sale in China on January 11. That’s over three months after Microsoft launched the Xbox One there, but the PS4 will undercut the Xbone considerably, with a launch price 22% lower than that of Microsoft’s console.

But after months of being consistently outsold by its rival, the Xbox One is fighting back, and hard. Data from independent market analysts NPD revealed that Microsoft sold 1.2 million units in the US in November, making it the top-selling console of the month, finally beating the PS4.

If you’ve picked up the utterly bonkers Sunset Overdrive for the Xbox One, get ready for even more action. On December 23, a major DLC pack called ‘The Mystery of the Mooil Rig’ will be released, adding an entirely new area to the gameplay area, along with new weapons, moves and challenges.

Be sure to check out our review of Sunset Overdrive if you haven’t already done so!

Image: mkmkd

Xbox One owners (Xboners?) have another little treat to look forward to on the customization front, following the recent introduction of custom backgrounds to the Dashboard. An eagle-eyed viewer who was watching a gaming stream from Major Nelson (aka Microsoft’s Larry Hyrb) spotted that the Major’s Xbox One features translucent Live Tiles on the Dashboard, so it seems likely that this feature will be making its way to end users in the not-too-distant future.

One of the many, many improvements that Microsoft delivered to its Xbox One this year was playback support for MKV files in the console’s Media Player app. On Tuesday, Microsoft added MKV support to its Xbox Video app on Windows 8.1 as well.

Microsoft is offering a special festive treat to Xbox Music users who have installed its Music Deals app. Through the ‘Holiday Freebies’ section, users can now download 100 albums absolutely free, including artists such as Eminem, Jack Johnson, Chvrches, Dr Dre and Zedd. The promotion ends on December 15 though, so don’t waste any time getting your paws on all that free music!

Another impressive deal is also available from Microsoft at the moment, although you’ll have to go to one of its retail stores to grab it. The Work & Play Bundle – which includes a year of Office 365 Home, Skype Unlimited World + Wi-Fi, Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Music Pass – usually costs $199, but is currently on sale in Microsoft Stores for just $149.

And if that’s not enough, Microsoft’s 12 Days of Deals promotion returned this year, with a new deal running every day. There have been some pretty tasty discounts available so far, and there’s still a few days to go in the promo, with more deals on the way.

Microsoft confirmed this week that it aims to offer an upgrade path from the Windows 10 preview to the final RTM build when it’s made available next year. That said, the company’s Gabriel Aul said it was Microsoft’s “intent” to make that happen, but that’s no guarantee that it will.

As the company continues to develop Windows 10, speculation continues to swirl over how much the OS will cost when it’s released. Microsoft is remaining tight-lipped about that for now, but its chief operating officer, Kevin Turner, said this week that details of its business model for Windows 10 are likely to be revealed in the first half of 2015.

We’ll get our first clear look at what Microsoft has in store for consumers in Windows 10 at an event on January 21, and Neowin will be there to bring you all the exciting details. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, will be at the event too, discussing the future of gaming on Windows.

Image: Dovetail Games

Before then, though, Windows gamers will get to enjoy a blast from the past, with the return of Microsoft Flight Simulator. The sim has been resurrected by third-party dev house Dovetail Games, which has licensed the entire franchise from Microsoft, and will launch Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition “for a spectacular introductory price” on December 18. New original games and add-on packs will arrive next year.

Microsoft updated its Surface Hub app on Tuesday, adding the ability for Surface Pro 3 owners to deactivate the hardware Windows button on the device’s bezel. Some users had previously complained that they were inadvertently touching the button and bringing up the Start screen while drawing or writing on the device with the Surface Pen.

Minecraft made its long-awaited debut on Windows Phone this week, just a few months after Microsoft bought the game’s developer, Mojang. The game is available now for $6.99.

That wasn’t the only high-profile launch on Windows Phone this week, though – Candy Crush Saga also launched on Microsoft’s mobile OS, over two years after arriving on iOS and Android.

Cortana has been picking up all sorts of new skills and tricks in recent months, and the latest addition to her repertoire may be a little gimmicky, but it’s still rather fun. With new support added to the Domino’s app in the UK and Ireland, Cortana can now help you to order a pizza.

The most popular Windows Phone of all time is currently the most affordable Windows Phone of all time too. The Lumia 520 is now available for just $29 off-contract – an amazing price for an incredibly capable smartphone.

Image: CNBeta

More images surfaced on Thursday of the ‘McLaren’ Windows Phone flagship that never came to market. The device was developed with unique hardware that would have supported touch and gesture experiences not available on other handsets, but its development was abandoned earlier this year.

That said, elements of the ‘MixView’ UI being developed for McLaren – including ‘exploding Live Tiles’ – are expected to feature in Windows 10 for phones next year.

From a phone that we won’t see on sale to phones that we might… Acer is reportedly preparing to launch a range of new Windows Phones in 2015, almost four years after ditching the platform, following the launch of its feeble W4 handset in 2011. Earlier this year, an Acer executive had said the company wouldn’t “take the risk” on Windows Phone until its apps and market share improved.

HTC is said to be lining up two Windows Phone flagships for launch in 2015 too. As with HTC’s One M8 for Windows, the new handsets will reportedly be Windows Phone variants of the company’s new Android range-toppers.

As HTC puts Windows Phone onto its Android handsets, Microsoft is bringing its Windows apps to Android and iOS. This week, the company launched its suite of MSN apps on these rival platforms – much to the annoyance of some die-hard Microsoft fans, who get very cross when MS does anything on other platforms.

Google confirmed on Thursday that its Nexus 5 handset is no longer in production, so if the new (and much pricier) Nexus 6 isn’t quite your cup of tea, it’s not too late to get its slightly smaller brother – but with stocks dwindling, don’t wait too long.

Image: Beaumont Enterprise

We end our look back on the last seven days with news from the US of A, where McDonald’s is preparing to infuse its restaurants with a serving of technology. By next year, 2,000 of its 14,000 locations across the States will be equipped with in-store tablets loaded with a ‘Create Your Taste’ app that lets users design their own burgers – choosing the type of bread, cheese, toppings and sauces that they want – before staff then prepare and cook it.

All this new-fangled technology is exciting, but the real challenge for McDonald’s, of course, will be ensuring that every burger continues to look like it’s been dropped and stepped on at least twice before serving it to the customer.


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