Microsoft Weekly: Surface matching, playtime catching, Windows watching

Beyond the usual assortment of games and Windows 10-related news, a few more details about Andromeda were unearthed these past seven days. You can find all of that and a tad extra below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of June 23-29.

Surface matching

The unicorn-like Surface Phone has been rumored – or hoped – to be in the works for years now. Nevertheless, at some point this year, the device is apparently going to shop up, and here’s what else we know about it.

From the varied leaks and reports and everything in-between, we’re aware of the Andromeda code-name, its dual-screen design, and that it’ll definitely come to life as a Surface device. A cheeky little tweet from Microsoft’s CVP of Devices, Panos Panay, contained a hint at Andromeda, given the layout of the picture shared (two pictures, separated by a hinge). And while we’re on the subject, some new Windows APIs spilled the beans on the fact that Microsoft is working on devices with 360-degree hinges. These APIs have been shown to support five hinge states (closed, convex, flat, concave, and full) and could very well be related to Microsoft’s upcoming Courier-like gadget.

The Surface Phone may perhaps be a misnomer – even though we know Andromeda will be capable of making phone calls -, but it is known beyond a doubt that it’ll be portable. In fact, a few leaked emails specifically refer to it as ‘pocketable’, and a device which blurs the line between mobile devices and PCs. The “new and disruptive” gadget seems to be on track to be unveiled this year.

Sticking to the Surface family for a tad longer, Microsoft has released a new round of firmware updates for Surface Pro, Laptop, and Book 2, though said updates might not show up for everyone at the same time. And in case the ports on these devices aren’t quite what you’re looking for, the USB-C adapter is available to purchase, as rumored at the top of the week. It’s not cheap however, coming in at $79.99.

Finally, remaining in the hardware section of Microsoft’s efforts, a new patent has been unearthed, which unveils some welcome changes to the HoloLens. Specifically, the mail-slot FOV will apparently be much improved, the patent suggesting an effective doubling of the field of view is possible. If that’s the case, it would solve one of the first-gen AR headset’s biggest problems.

Playtime catching

Games took a bit more of a back seat this week, though some interesting tidbits did get unveiled.

For those eager to play the latest Platinum title, NieR: Automata on their Xbox, there’s some good news: the Become as Gods Edition is available now, and brings with it a number of customization items, Xbox One X enhancements and of course, some DLC. It can be had now for $49.99 via the Microsoft Store, but there are no plans currently for a physical version.

Something which was already on the console – given that it’s a first-party title – is Sea of Thieves. The 1.1.4 update continues the (somewhat) uninterrupted string of post-launch fixes. Some issues have been addressed, performance has been improved, and gameplay tweaked. A new Gunpowder Skeletons event is available too.

The now first-party dev house Undead Labs has unveiled the Independence Pack DLC for its second State of Decay title, in honor of crossing the three million player mark. New weapons, vehicles, and of course some fireworks are part of this, since it’s obviously Fourth of July–themed. The $4.99 pack is available now, and Game Pass subscribers get 10% knocked off the price.

Speaking of, the ‘Netflix for games’ service is adding a good few titles to its lineup in July. Starting on the first of the month with Human Fall Flat, Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Shadow Complex Remastered, Abzu, Zombie Army Trilogy, DiRT 4, and continuing with Bomber Crew on July 10 and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 on July 11.

The last bit of gaming news concerns Games with Gold. Those who have an Xbox Live Gold subscription will be able to get four new games for free in July, targeting the latest two Xbox generations. On the Xbox One you can get Assault Android Cactus between July 1-31 and Death Squared between July 16-August 15. If you’re on the Xbox 360, you can get Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown 2 between July 1-15, and Splinter Cell: Conviction between July 16-31. Thanks to Backward Compatibility, the latter two are also available to get on the Xbox One.

Windows watching

Having a gander at the various things happening within Microsoft this past week, you couldn’t have missed the appearance of a couple updates both for Insider and non-Insider folk.

First in the spotlight is the April 2018 Update, which got its very own fix, after being absent the week prior. KB4284848 is what you should be looking for, which bumps the build version up to 17134.137, and contains a number of fixes for video and app-related issues, as well as some Remote Desktop problems. Thankfully, there are no known issues.

On the Insider side of fence, build 17704 showed up and brought possibly one of the biggest feature updates in the recent history of the Program. Edge got a new icon for the beta version and its PDFs, a redesigned settings menu, better Fluent Design integration, toolbar customizability, media autoplay control, and more. Skype, Narrator, Typing Insights, and fonts, all got improvements, with Microsoft even throwing in a Font Maker app, which lets you create your own font. Given the magnitude of the update, some issues are to be expected and indeed they exist – mainly coupled with Narrator, language installation, and Ease of Access -, but there’s also a massive assortment of fixes for bugs in Cortana, Outlook 2016, Game bar, Bluetooth, File Explorer, Task view and much, much more.

And since Insiders are in the program to test things, some of them may be lucky enough to see that inking support is available in the Mail app on Windows 10. Keep in mind that this is version 16005.10228.20091.0 of the application, which adds a new “Draw” tab in the composer. As previously stated, this is available only to some Insiders, with no timeline for a wider rollout.

You may not get the feature above, but if you’re in the Fast ring, you might see the new design for Microsoft’s News app. The refreshed and recently rebranded service was made available on iOS and Android, with some Fast ring users on Windows 10 also getting a glimpse of it. Again, there’s no hint of when a wider rollout will commence.

The Fast ring

  • Microsoft has introduced Known Folder Move to OneDrive, a feature which allows you to move local PC folders to the cloud service.
  • The tech giant’s facial recognition solution has now learned how to better recognize gender across skin tones.

Hot corner

Hot corner is a section of The Fast Ring dedicated to highlighting five Microsoft-related stories that haven’t been covered over here, but might be of interest.

  • The Page Diagnostics Tool for SharePoint (Chrome extension) is now available.
  • Microsoft and DEWA have partnered to bring quantum computing solutions to Dubai’s energy optimization efforts.
  • InMobi and Microsoft have decided to collaborate in order to bring improved, cloud-based enterprise platforms for marketers.
  • New demos for PowerApps are now available in the Business Apps Resource Center.
  • The Redmond giant has provided a temporary workaround for the low battery warning on Surface Pro devices that are part of a Skype Room Systems v2 device lineup.

Logging off

When it comes to the success of an OS’s rollout, an important factor is market share, specifically the increase in said market share over a certain period of time. One third-party source pegs the latest Windows 10 update as quite a success in that regard.

According to AdDuplex, the April 2018 Update (or version 1803 if you may) is reportedly installed on no less than 78% of all eligible Windows 10 devices. No doubt, this is a rather big jump compared to last month’s 50% stat.

As third-party statistics sometimes differ not just between one company and another, but also between said third-party and Microsoft itself, it might be best to take these numbers with a grain of salt. However, if the percentage is indeed accurate, it would make the April 2018 Update’s rollout the fastest in Windows 10’s history.

Missed any of the previous columns? Click here to catch up.

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