7 Days: A week of Xbox excitement, waiting for Redstone, and the Oculus-Apple rift

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.

You may have been expecting a much quieter week after all the excitement of last month's Mobile World Congress – but how wrong you would have been. Once again, there’s been all sorts of intriguing developments, spicy rumors and official info to get through – but worry not, for 7 Days is here again to bring you up to speed on what’s been happening this week.

We begin this week in Mountain View, California, where it emerged that one of Google’s self-driving cars was involved in a collision with a bus last month. While it wasn’t the first time that one of the company’s autonomous vehicles got into an accident on public roads, it appears this may be the first incident in which a Google car was at fault.

Google’s hometown of Mountain View will host the company’s annual I/O developer conference this year, and it’s now kicked off its countdown to the event, which will take place on May 18 to 20. Those hoping to purchase a $900 ticket will be able to register their interest during a three-day period next week.

Pebble announced a permanent price cut on its wearable devices, slashing prices by 30% in Europe, and by $50 in the US and other markets.

Amazon unveiled two new devices powered by its Alexa voice assistant on Thursday – the $89.99 Echo Dot; and the $129.99 Tap – each with slightly different capabilities.

It emerged this week that Amazon had removed encryption support in Fire OS 5, the latest version of its Android-based operating system installed on its Fire HD 6 tablet - a decision that sparked outrage among many of its customers. Amazon has since had a change of heart, though, and says it will bring back encryption support in a future Fire OS update.

Over in the UK, Amazon issued a voluntary recall of power adapters sold with its low-cost Fire 7” and Fire Kids Edition 7” tablets, due to the possibility that “the adapter assembly may detach and create a risk of electrical shock”.

The UK government says it will introduce legislation “as soon as practicable” to close a ‘loophole’ that allows people to watch BBC content on iPlayer without paying for a television licence. The law currently requires anyone who watches live TV in the UK, on any channel, to have a licence, but no such obligation yet exists for those who exclusively watch TV shows on-demand.

The Raspberry Pi 3 – the latest version of the hugely popular British micro-computer – went on sale on Monday, featuring a wide range of improvements, including an upgraded processor, integrated 802.11n wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.1, priced at $35.

Coinciding with its release, Microsoft announced availability of a new build of Windows 10 IoT Core Insider Preview designed to support the device.

WhatsApp is phasing out its support for older operating systems, including Windows Phone 7.x, Android 2.1/2.2, Nokia Series 40/60 and BlackBerry OS. Perhaps surprisingly, its decision to ditch support for BlackBerry applies not only to older BB OS 7 devices, but also the newest BlackBerry 10 platform.

Separately, WhatsApp delivered an update for newer iOS and Android devices bringing support for file sharing, although there’s no sign of this support yet on Windows handsets.

If you’re an iOS or Android user, you may well be familiar with SwiftKey, whose virtual keyboards, powered by ‘artificial intelligence’ and machine learning models, are currently in use on over 300 million devices. On Tuesday, a Microsoft representative dropped us a line to let us know that the company’s acquisition of SwiftKey – a deal rumored to be worth around $250 million – had been completed.

Samsung has deservedly earned itself a reputation for being terrible at updating its Android devices – but Sony isn’t much better. Five months after Android 6.0 Marshmallow was released, the company had updated almost none of its Xperia devices to the newest version of the OS. But it looks like that’s finally changing, as Sony announced the start of its Marshmallow rollout in Japan for the Xperia Z5 series, and several devices are in line to be upgraded in the UK next week too.

Image via Engadget

Chinese manufacturer Vivo unveiled its new range-topping Android handsets this week, with the range-topping Xplay5 Elite featuring some mighty specs, including a Snapdragon 820 processor, 128GB of storage, and an astonishing 6GB of RAM. It also features a Samsung Galaxy edge-style dual-curved Super AMOLED screen with Quad HD resolution.

Image via VentureBeat

Photos and detailed specs of Huawei’s new high-end P9 handsets emerged this week. The flagship model is expected to feature some pretty tasty specs, including a Kirin 955 SoC, 4GB RAM, up to 128GB of storage, and dual 12MP cameras and optics developed by German imaging specialists Leica.

While many of its biggest rivals showed off their new flagship phones at Mobile World Congress last month, HTC’s successor to last year’s One M9 still hasn’t made an official appearance, although the company has been generating buzz around the device with its ‘#powerof10’ teasers, including a video that it published earlier this week.

It seems the new Android flagship won’t be called the One M10 as expected; instead, it’s believed to be called, simply, the ‘HTC 10’ – but don’t expect a Windows 10 Mobile version of the device to appear.

Image via @evleaks

The HTC 10 also made an appearance in leaked photos and renders on Friday, clearly showing its new design.

Gaming platform Steam published its latest monthly hardware survey, revealing that Windows 10 usage there continues to grow, with over 35% of its gamers now using Microsoft’s latest OS – but it looks like it may take a few more months for it to overtake Windows 7 as the most-used OS on the platform.

We’ve known for some time that the next major update cycle for Windows 10 – developed under the codename ‘Redstone’ – would make its way to users in two waves, and it was widely believed that both the RS1 and RS2 updates would arrive this year.

However, while the first update apparently remains on track for release in June, Microsoft has reportedly ‘pushed back’ the second Redstone update until Spring 2017, which would mean a lengthy wait for some new features in the OS.

One feature that’s expected to arrive much sooner than next year was revealed on Wednesday. While Cortana can currently notify you on your PC if you get a missed call on your phone, it seems Microsoft is preparing to expand on this functionality further, by allowing the digital assistant to also share app notifications and text messages from your phone to your PC, and even to alert you on your computer when your phone has a low battery.

Microsoft added new language/region support, along with the ability to ‘remember’ important information for you, to Cortana in its latest Windows 10 Insider Preview for PCs, which it rolled out to the Fast ring on Friday. The new release from the Redstone development branch, build 14279, also includes an updated logon experience, but there are various known issues too, along with some issues that have been fixed.

Take a closer look at Windows 10 Insider Preview build 14279 in our hands-on video.

On Tuesday, Microsoft also delivered a cumulative update for non-Insider PCs. The update bumped up the OS build number to 10586.122, bringing a huge list of improvements across the board, including to the Start menu, startup and shutdown, hibernation, Edge, File Explorer, Cortana, Windows Store, printing, fonts, Miracast, Windows Hello, AppLocker, and lots more.

On Wednesday, Microsoft released Windows 10 Mobile build 10586.122 to Insiders on the Slow and Release Preview rings. The new preview is available for all devices supported on the Insider Program, along with four new handsets that Microsoft added this week – but those currently enrolled on the Fast ring will need to temporarily switch to the Slow or RP rings to be able to install it.

Microsoft also announced improvements on Wednesday to allow Insiders to easily install the latest firmware updates for their Windows handsets. Previously, users on the Insider Program would have to roll back to their original OS installation to be able to install new firmware, wiping their data in the process.

Yet another week has passed with no sign of the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade for older Windows Phone 8.1 devices. One major European carrier now says that it will begin upgrading devices next week – but we’ve been down this road before, so don’t be too shocked if the update doesn’t appear as promised.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, which builds on Windows 10’s integrated security features with cloud-based analytics and intelligence, to help enterprises “detect, investigate and respond to advanced attacks on their networks.”

Microsoft opened pre-orders for developers approved to purchase its $3,000 HoloLens Developer Edition headset this week. It also revealed full specs for the untethered augmented reality headset, as well as disclosing that users should expect around two to three hours of battery life from the device.

One can’t help but wonder sometimes why Microsoft doesn’t simply introduce permanent price cuts on some of its hardware, rather than running near-constant ‘special offers’ on its devices. This surely leaves some potential buyers with the impression that the devices are simply overpriced, since they apparently can't be sold without such regular discounts.

In the UK, just one day after ending a three-week £30-off deal on its Band 2, Microsoft began offering a £50 discount on the wearable device in yet another ‘special offer’ – its third in four weeks – which will continue until the end of March.

A couple of weeks after telling Neowin at its Surface Book UK launch, and again at Mobile World Congress, that its Surface Pro 4 Type Cover with Fingerprint ID would not be sold outside of the US, Microsoft opened international pre-orders for the keyboard in 26 markets around the world on Tuesday.

If you’re on the lookout for a thin and light Windows 10 notebook that won’t break the bank, you might want to consider the Onda oBook 12. Priced at just $369.99, it features a 12.2-inch IPS LCD with 1920x1200 resolution, Intel Cherry Trail processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage.

Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, said this week that the company will add support for its Rift virtual reality headset on Mac ‘if Apple ever releases a good computer’.

Sony announced that its new PlayStation 4 Remote Play feature for PC and Mac will be available in the beta release of its latest 3.50 MUSASHI update, which will also bring a range of other new features and improvements.

Sony also confirmed that its PlayStation TV has been discontinued in the US and Europe, just over a year after it first went on sale there.

Tim Sweeney – co-founder of Epic Games, best known for its Unreal Engine and the hugely popular Gears of War series – launched a scathing attack against Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform for apps and games this week, referring to it as a “fiasco” and calling the company’s strategy “an embarrassment”. Sweeney said that Microsoft is trying to create a walled garden by monopolizing the distribution of apps and games through its Windows Store, saying: “We must fight it.”

Microsoft announced a wide range of new features available to Xbox One Preview members, along with additions and improvements on the way to its Xbox app (beta) on Windows 10.

More excitingly, Microsoft’s Xbox head, Phil Spencer, discussed how the company is considering making improvements to its Xbox hardware, with smaller and more regular hardware improvements to its consoles, rather than simply releasing an entirely new console generation every few years.


Xbox Spring Showcase

On February 25, Neowin joined Microsoft at a special Xbox media event in San Francisco, where we got a look at some of the gaming goodness on the way.

Our reporter, Camden Krupala, got to try out Minecraft on the Oculus Rift VR headset – check out his video experience of getting to grips with the controls, and finding out just how immersive the blocky virtual world could quickly become.

Camden also got to test drive the magnificent Porsche 918 Spyder in a stunning Forza 6 driving simulator powered by three Xbox Ones – an experience that left him slightly shaken after crashing the $845,000 supercar…

He also got some hands-on time with the hugely-anticipated Quantum Break, coming soon to Xbox One and Windows 10, and came away very impressed by the stunning visuals, intuitive gameplay and engaging storyline.

There’s plenty more content to enjoy from the Xbox Spring Showcase event, so be sure to take a look through it all to find out more about some of the great games coming to Xbox this year.


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.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 has outsold the Xbox One by a huge margin, and that’s surely a big part of why Microsoft no longer discusses sales numbers of its consoles. But as Camden discussed in an editorial following the Xbox Spring Showcase event, Microsoft believes that hardware sales alone are nowhere near as important as the key metric of 'monthly active users'.

As far as Microsoft is concerned, user engagement is a much better way to gauge the success of its platform than raw sales data – but does the way the company reports its Xbox numbers really matter?

Microsoft has massively expanded its cross-platform software portfolio in recent years – indeed, it seems to release new apps for rival operating systems every week or two. Neowin’s senior news editor for North America, Rich Woods, took a closer look at Microsoft’s software on Android in a video overview that’s definitely worth checking out.

Rich also published his impressions of the Lumia 550, Microsoft’s latest entry-level Windows 10 Mobile device. If you’ve been thinking of buying the low-cost handset – which retails for $139 in the US – make sure you watch the video ahead of his full, detailed review.


The week ahead

Last November, Microsoft said it would begin upgrading Windows Phone 8.1 devices to Windows 10 Mobile in December. In December, it said “early next year”. In January, various carriers believed that the OS would be ready to roll, but then Microsoft told its partners that it had delayed its release until February. Microsoft Mexico revealed that the upgrades would start on February 29 – a date that was confirmed to us, off the record, by several sources at Microsoft and its partners.

But now, here we are in early March, still waiting for Microsoft to start the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade. One European carrier said that the updates will finally begin next week, but given how many dates have been and gone with no sign of the update - and how badly Microsoft has handled its communications surrounding the upgrade - it’s probably best not to get your hopes up.

We had been expecting Google to publish its latest monthly platform stats this week, revealing the proportion of devices running each version of its Android OS. Since those figures didn't appear, it's a safe bet to expect them in the week ahead instead.

And don’t forget that Google will be opening registration on Tuesday for those wishing to attend its I/O developer conference. The registration window will remain open until Thursday, but as the company will be selecting attendees at random, you don’t need to worry about being among the first to sign up.

Along with the usual mix of official news, juicy rumors, and intriguing insights, it should be another exciting week!

As ever, 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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