7 Days: A week of Windows Phone updates, Surface mini exclusives and Appletastrophes

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.


Well, that was quite a week. We’ve had the usual mix of new products being launched, updates to existing ones, and plenty of rumors and hearsay about what’s on the way. But these past seven days have also been rich with revelations, surprising announcements and even a bit of scandal and outrage.

The week got off to a pretty good start for Apple, as it was crowned the ‘coolest’ brand in the United Kingdom for the third year in a row. To no-one’s surprise, the company announced on the same day that it had sold record numbers of its latest iPhones, the 6 and 6 Plus, with more than 10 million units flying off shelves in its first weekend on sale.

But on the following day, things started to unravel a bit as complaints emerged from a small number of customers that their iPhone 6 Plus handsets (the larger 5.5-inch model) were ‘bending’ without significant stress being applied. We sounded a note of caution in our original report on what quickly became known as ‘Bentgate’ or ‘Bendgate’, pointing out that the number of users reporting this issue was quite small, especially against the backdrop of such massive sales volumes.

It seems that we were right to do so, as Apple clarified on Thursday that just nine (yes, 9) customers had reported this problem.

But that wasn’t Apple’s only bit of bad news this week. The company rolled out iOS 8.0.1 – the first update to its mobile OS – which was intended to fix various bugs and issues. Unfortunately, the rollout was something of a disaster, as users around the world quickly reported that the update had broken Touch ID on their iPhone 6 and 6 Plus handsets, and – far worse – had crippled the devices’ cellular connectivity. Apple subsequently pulled the update, before hastily rolling out iOS 8.0.2.

Still, despite the PR headaches for the company from these incidents, it seems unlikely that Apple will suffer in the long term, since the company has weathered plenty of other screw-ups in the past with similarly tortured names, from ‘Antennagate’ to ‘Mapsgate’.

There was bad news for customers in the UK who had pre-ordered their iPhone 6 from Phones 4u – one of the country’s largest independent device retailers, which collapsed into administration last week. The company had initially said that customers could expect a full refund, but on Friday, the administrators, PwC, wrote to them – in an email which, brilliantly, exposed all of the recipients’ email addresses – saying that this would not be the case after all.

The most popular article among some of our more fap-happy readers on Neowin this week was the news that yet more photos of naked celebrities had been published, in what appears to be a second wave of leaks from the same incident in which Apple iCloud accounts were hacked earlier this month.

But celebrity bits and bobs aside, the biggest story of the week for us was a world exclusive scoop from Neowin’s Senior News Editor for the Americas, Brad Sams.

He got hands-on time with the Surface mini, Microsoft’s small tablet which was cancelled at the last minute earlier this year, revealing details that no other publication had managed to uncover. Brad went on to publish an ‘obituary’ for the device, including the story of why it was eventually canned, and why it’s unlikely to be released – at least in its present form.

Brad also published insights this week into how Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant will bring Windows 9 (or whatever Microsoft ends up calling it), Bing and Windows Phone closer together, creating a more compelling and unified experience for users.

We’ll get an official glimpse at the next major version of Windows on Tuesday when the company shows off some of its headline features for enterprise customers – but it may be a couple more weeks until the anticipated Technical Preview is released to users.

Windows Phone users have been enjoying the Preview for Developers program for some time now, of course, and this week, Microsoft rolled out a new update for Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, which included various fixes and improvements, and – for the first time – support for HTC devices.

Microsoft also delivered more good news for Lumia owners on the preview program, confirming that it was ramping up availability of its Cyan firmware update for these users, with over a hundred device/carrier combinations being added this week alone.

Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 began rolling out to the Lumia 930 this week, for users not enrolled in the preview program. Among other improvements and new features, the update will bring Cortana support to owners of this device in China and the UK for the first time. That update doesn’t include the latest Lumia Denim firmware, however, which will be pushed to the first devices next month.

Microsoft’s Lumia 730, 735 and 830 will be the very first handsets to launch with Denim pre-installed. The company announced on Monday that its Lumia 735 4G handset – perfect for the selfie-obsessed, thanks to its impressive front-facing camera – will be available to buy in the UK on October 2, with no upfront cost on two-year contracts costing around £19.99 a month.

There was more good news on the Microsoft front for Brits this week, as the company quietly reduced the price of the entry-level Kinect-less Xbox One by £20 to £329.99. The price cut means that the Xbox One is now cheaper than Sony’s PlayStation 4 there for the first time.

But over in China, the Xbox One had a slightly turbulent week. Just two days before the console was supposed to be launched, Microsoft announced that it had suspended its plans, saying that it was “going to need a bit more time”, but offering no firm indication of when the console would eventually go on sale.

Thankfully, for Xbox fans in China, Microsoft confirmed on Tuesday that the console will be available to purchase from September 29 – just six days after the original scheduled launch date.

Microsoft also announced its Chromecast-style streaming device on Tuesday, which has the painfully dull name of the ‘Wireless Display Adapter’. Priced at $60, the Miracast dongle can be pre-ordered in the United States and Canada now, and will be available in October.  

Samsung confirmed this week that it is giving up on the laptop market in Europe, and will be withdrawing both its Windows notebooks and Chromebooks from sale there. The company said that it would continue selling these systems in other markets, and hinted at the possibility that they could still return to Europe in the future. Don’t hold your breath though.

Samsung is increasingly focusing on its tablets and handsets over ‘traditional’ form factors for computing, and given the massive success that it has enjoyed in dominating the Android ecosystem – which itself makes up 80% of smartphone sales around the world – that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Its new Galaxy Note 4 will be going on sale shortly, and in the next five weeks, Samsung will be rolling it out to 140 markets across the globe – a staggering pace of deployment.

However, the company’s oddball Galaxy Note Edge – featuring a unique display that curves around one side of the handset’s body – is destined to be a niche ‘limited edition device’ that will be sold in far fewer numbers and at a much higher price.

Samsung has still not announced how much the handset will cost, but information revealed by a China Mobile employee, and via retailers that have begun accepting pre-orders, suggests that it will be much, much pricier than the $699 Note 4, with which it shares many of its specs.

Those with more modest budgets will no doubt be relieved to see that the choice of capable smartphones at low prices continues to grow. This week, India’s Karbonn Mobiles launched its first Windows Phone, the Titanium Wind W4, for under $100, joining an increasingly diverse list of manufacturers that have joined the platform.

Another W4 was unveiled this week too, although this one isn’t a Windows Phone, but rather a Windows tablet – and it could well be the most affordable such device ever. The PiPO W4 runs Windows 8.1 and features an 8-inch 1280x800px display, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage and a 4500mAh battery, and is priced at just 499 CNY ($81 USD). The device remains a ‘concept’ officially, but the company says that it is working with Intel to bring it to market.

It’s quite exciting to see Windows devices starting to become available at such low prices, although we can’t help but giggle just a little bit at the ‘PiPO’ name.

The Bing name is on the way out for Microsoft’s suite of Windows and Windows Phone apps, such as News, Weather and Travel, among others. This week, the company began pushing notifications to users on Windows Phone, alerting them that the Bing Finance app will shortly become ‘MSN Money’, and it seems that all of its apps will face similar rebrands next week.

Also on the Windows Phone front, a Nokia executive said in an interview this week that the company is “winding down” its HERE Maps app development on the OS, as it plans to focus its efforts more heavily on the much larger iOS and Android.

Nokia later 'clarified' its position, which led some observers to declare that the original reports of the company ‘abandoning’ Windows Phone were completely wrong. The thing is, no-one said anything about Nokia turning its back on Windows Phone completely – indeed, the executive in question, Sean Fernback, made it quite clear in the interview that Nokia was reducing its commitment to its Windows Phone app development, but not killing off its presence on the OS completely.

And of course, Microsoft continues to license HERE Maps data for its own services, so there was never any question of the service disappearing from Windows Phone – just of Nokia’s reducing its efforts in developing its own app for Windows Phone. This important distinction was apparently overlooked by some.

We end our look back at the last seven days where we started – on those bendy iPhones. The final words on the matter – for this week at least – go to the wonderful Conan O’Brien. Enjoy.

Image credits: 2) MacRumors forums; 4) Phones 4u store sign image via JuliusKielaitis / Shutterstock; 5) moviepilot.com; 10, 11 and 13) Microsoft; 14-16) Samsung; 17) Karbonn Mobiles / Amazon India; 18) PiPO; 19) WPCentral

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