TIME Computers

(Not Very) Bold Prediction: $200 Laptops Aplenty for the Holidays

Inside a Best Buy Store Ahead of Earnings
Customers look at laptop computers at a Best Buy store. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images

For years — years! — we’ve been waiting for the $200 laptop.

Sure, laptops dip down to the $200 during super sales like Black Friday. And snagging a $179 Chromebook — Chromebooks are laptops too, you know — is now a relatively easy feat to achieve. Remember netbooks? Those things were known to flirt with the $200 price point toward the end of their collective lifespan, occasionally breaking through it entirely.

But the holidays this year will look different. Instead of searching, waiting, hoping — stampeding! — for a $200 computer, you’ll actually have a fair amount to choose from, and they’ll likely be in stock and regularly priced around $200 or less.

Over at GigaOM, Kevin Tofel passes along news of the so-called HP Stream 14, which was supposedly leaked to German blog Mobile Geeks. The Stream is apparently a 14-inch Windows laptop with very Chromebook-like innards that comes with 100 gigabytes of storage for two years, just like Chromebooks.

Microsoft doesn’t want to see Chromebooks continue to erode its share of low-end laptop sales. That’s straight from the horse’s mouth: As the Verge reports, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner recently said, “We’ve got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone.”

If that sounds aggressive, get this: Turner alluded to 7- and 8-inch models in this HP Stream line going for around $100 during the holidays. Aggressive indeed.

While ever-falling component costs lead to cheaper and cheaper computers, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the licensing fee Microsoft charges hardware makers to use Windows on their machines has reportedly dropped exponentially for systems in the sub-$250 price range. It apparently dropped from $50 down to just $15, which of course paves the way for lower retail prices as well.

It’s the perfect storm: Chromebooks are popular low-end machines, and Microsoft wants to stem the tide. These aren’t going to be the most powerful computers in the history of computing, but if you’re looking for something that can handle simple tasks like email and web surfing on the cheap, you’ll have plenty of options later this year.

Vintage Computer Ads

TIME Video Games

Reddit Comes to Xbox One First with ReddX App

It may not be the first reddit app you can browse on a TV, but it is the first one you can access through a dedicated games console.

I’m not sure a big-screen TV’s the most natural home for a glorified bulletin board, but if you’ve always wanted to browse vast fields of reddit text on your TV, Microsoft has just the thing for you: an app called ReddX for the Xbox One (as well as Xbox SmartGlass), which it describes as “the first reddit app for the TV.”

You’re going to wind up in a semantic debate with the “first for TV” thing, since not all consoles connect to TVs, and we’ve been able to screen-share whole libraries of reddit apps from mobile devices for ages. But this is the first I’m aware of someone designing a reddit app specifically for a games console, so give Microsoft props for getting out in front of that.

ReddX, available today, lets U.S. and Canadian Xbox One owners browse or zoom in on text, images and videos, as well as tap to upvote, downvote, or comment on threads, just as you can through a browser. You can optionally save images you like to your profile, or make it the ReddX app’s background. And in addition to the Xbox One controller (with or without text keypad), ReddX will take input from the Xbox One media remote as well as Xbox SmartGlass via a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Microsoft says the app can be snapped to your TV’s side while you game if you want to keep tabs on a thread, allowing you to “interact with each other in similar ways to the reddit.com experience.” That’s probably the most interesting thing about ReddX: the keeping reddit up while you’re doing something else part, a migrational Windows 7-original feature that feels even smarter on a game console.

The least interesting (but slightly amusing) thing: unlocking “media achievements named after some of the Internet’s favorite memes.” I have no idea if any of these are real, but someone’s purportedly taken screenshots of some of them.

And the first reddit thread ever created with a games console? Right this way.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft’s Xbox Tomb Raider Deal Is a Timed Exclusive After All

Xbox boss Phil Spencer won't say how long the timed exclusive lasts, only that it's not "in perpetuity."

I wondered why in the world a platform-agnostic studio like Crystal Dynamics would turn its beloved-once-more Tomb Raider franchise over to a single platform after a string of successes across multiple ones. The news out of Gamescom yesterday was that the studio would bring Rise of the Tomb Raider, its sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider, to the Xbox One exclusively. There was no mention in the presentation of it being a timed exclusive.

Crystal Dynamics’ head of product development Darrell Gallagher said the game was “coming holiday 2015, exclusively to Xbox.” The devil’s in those two words, “holiday 2015,” it seems.

According to Eurogamer, who asked the obvious question of Xbox honcho Phil Spencer at the show, Spencer — and let’s give him credit for being willing to say this much so soon — says the exclusivity deal isn’t forever.

“When people want me to say, can you tell us when or if it’s coming to other platforms, it’s not my job,” Spencer told Eurogamer. “My job is not to talk about games I don’t own.”

And he’s sympathetic to the competition.

“I get the reaction I see,” he continues. “If I’m a PlayStation person all of a sudden I feel like, the franchise has gone.” But Spencer lays concerns he bought or somehow controls Crystal Dynamics to rest, confirming Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t Microsoft’s forever, and that he doesn’t “own [the studio] building Tomb Raider on other platforms.”

When pressed, Spencer wouldn’t say how long the deal lasts (naturally), adding only that Microsoft has Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox 360 and Xbox One for holiday 2015. “What they do with the franchise in the long run is not mine,” he says. “I don’t control it. So all I can talk about is the deal I have. I don’t know where else Tomb Raider goes.”

TIME technology

These Vintage Computer Ads Show We’ve Come a Long, Long Way

These ads from the 70's and 80's remind us of a time when computers came in briefcases and cost "Under $18,000!"

TIME Video Games

Sony Says 10 Million PlayStation 4 Game Consoles Have Been Sold Worldwide

Sony confirmed the PlayStation 4's latest sales figures during its Gamescom 2014 press conference in Cologne, Germany.

At Gamescom 2014, Sony announced that it’s sold more than 10 million PlayStation game consoles worldwide since the system launched in November 2013. And that would be 10 million plucked off shelves by consumers, not just shipped to stores.

The last time the console majors rolled out unit sales specifics (around the end of March), Sony said it had sold through some 7 million PS4s, Nintendo that it had sold through just over 6 million Wii Us, with Microsoft bringing up the rear at around 5 million Xbox Ones shipped to stores. Microsoft said in July that with the Xbox One’s price drop from $499 to $399 and removal of Kinect in early June, Xbox One sales had more than doubled, but it was unclear then (as now) what the actual figures were.

TIME Innovation

Microsoft Fixes Shaky Time-lapse Videos with Hyperlapse Technology

Not unlike the elderly, time-lapse videos can be boring and shaky.

Microsoft has cobbled together technology that can smooth out the jittery, choppy first-person video footage you’d normally see captured and sped up from the likes of a wearable GoPro camera.

The feature is called Hyperlapse and it’s being demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH media conference in Vancouver on Tuesday. I could sit here and try to explain in words how it all works and how the end result looks, but you and I both know that I’m going to drop a video into the middle of this post riiight… abooout… here:

Couple thoughts: A) It looks pretty great and B) I need to do more outdoor activities. These guys are rock climbing and riding bikes in their spare time. I just binge-watched a bunch of Love It or List It Too episodes that I’ve already seen before.

There’s a great money-quote from Microsoft’s blog post on the project as well:

Standard video stabilization crops out the pixels on the periphery to create consistent frame-to-frame smoothness. But when applied to greatly sped up video, it fails to compensate for the wildly shaking motion.

Hyperlapse reconstructs how a camera moves throughout a video, as well as its distance and angle in relation to what’s happening in each frame. Then it plots out a smoother camera path and stitches pixels from multiple video frames to rebuild the scene and expand the field of view.

Put another way, it’s akin to the human brain’s ability to fill in blind spots by “hallucinating” on the person’s behalf.

See? You learn about the technology and then you’re rewarded with some hallucination.

As for when people like you and me might be able to get our hands on this Hyperlapse technology in order to cut together our own sweet time-lapse videos — imagine watching me watch 10 hours of Love It or List It Too in amazing Hyperlapse — the researchers say they’ve managed to streamline the rendering process so that it can be done on a single computer. There’s no hard-and-fast timeframe for its release, though the researchers say the goal is to “eventually” release it to the public.

[TechCrunch]

TIME Advertising

Microsoft Gets Revenge for Those Old ‘Mac vs. PC’ Ads

Cortana vs. Siri, round one: Fight!

+ READ ARTICLE

Correction applied Tuesday, July 29

One of Apple’s first effective assaults on Microsoft’s tech empire was the Mac vs. PC ad campaign, which cast Windows computers as devices for schlubby nerds and Macs as tools for cool creatives. The battlefield has now shifted from desktops to smartphones, but Microsoft is taking a cue from Apple’s old campaign with a put-down ad of its own.

In a new pitch for Cortana, Microsoft’s digital personal assistant, the company pits a Windows Phone boasting the software against an iPhone with Siri. As Cortana effortlessly answers a user’s questions, Siri fumbles its responses and is eventually forced to admit, “Now that is a smart phone.”

The ad, which features a Lumia 635 Windows Phone, mainly shows off Cortana’s contextualization abilities. The assistant can use geofences to issue reminders when users arrive at a specific location or automatically serve up messages when a specific person calls. Some reviewers have still found Siri to be a more helpful assistant overall, so it’s likely this new version of “Mac vs. PC” will continue to be hotly debated.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the feature set of Siri. The software does use geofencing to set location-based reminders.

 

TIME Smartphones

Microsoft Windows Phone Ad Pokes Fun at Siri

+ READ ARTICLE

Apple’s Siri virtual assistant seems equal parts nervous and impressed in the above video, as Microsoft’s new-ish Cortana virtual assistant breezes through a list of date- and location-based reminders before informing her owner that he’d better hop in the car so he can beat the traffic. Frequent Google users might be quick to point out that Google Now can perform similar feats, though this beef is between Microsoft and Apple.

The ad is reminiscent of Microsoft’s previous Surface Tablet versus iPad ads, though perhaps somewhat buried in this newest one is that the Windows Phone handset being used — the Nokia Lumia 635 — cost $129 without a wireless contract. The iPhone 5s shown in the ad costs $649 contract-free from Apple, for comparison.

Still, showing off virtual assistants makes for a futuristic demo, regardless of how often people in the real world actual leverage the features shown in the ad. Microsoft has infused the latest version of Windows Phone with a bunch of other neat tricks, too, so maybe it’ll show some of them off in future ads as well.

[The Verge]

TIME China

Next Up, Microsoft. McDonald’s, Apple, Starbucks, Already Know China’s Wrath

A visitor walks past a Microsoft booth at a computer software expo in Beijing
A visitor walks past a Microsoft booth at a computer software expo in Beijing, June 2, 2010. China Daily—Reuters

Beijing appears to be reciprocating Washington's mistrust of Chinese firms

Is no famous foreign brand safe in China? On July 28, four Microsoft offices across China received an alarming set of unscheduled visitors: Chinese government investigators who appeared to be looking into whether the American software firm had violated Beijing’s controversial anti-trust laws, according to Chinese media. A few days before, it was McDonald’s and KFC’s turn in the spotlight. The U.S. fast-food companies’ supply chains were roiled when one of their major meat suppliers in China was accused of using expired meat. In May, the Western pharmaceutical industry came under scrutiny when GlaxoSmithKline was charged with running an extensive network of corruption in China to push their drugs into the market.

Foreign coffee and cars have also been targeted, with Chinese state media launching shaming campaigns against Starbucks and Jaguar for setting higher prices in China than in much of the West. Official Chinese press have even accused U.S. tech firms like Cisco of possibly being coopted by U.S. intelligence agencies intent on tracking Chinese customers.

Not even Apple — which assembles most of its gadgets in China through subcontractors and counts on voracious Chinese demand for its high-end products — is safe from the mud-slinging. On July 28, China’s official Xinhua news agency referred to “Apple’s immorality” in selling devices through which consumers’ personal data could potentially be mined. Earlier this month, state broadcaster CCTV had deemed the iPhone a conceivable “national security concern” for China.

Nor is this the first time this year that Microsoft has been fingered in China. In May, Beijing began forbidding central-government purchases of the company’s newest Windows 8 computer software because of potential security concerns. As for the Monday surprise visits by officials from the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, Microsoft isn’t saying much. Beyond a standard issuance from a company spokesperson — “We aim to build products that deliver the features, security and reliability customers expect, and we will address any concerns the government may have” — the American software giant declined to comment further to TIME, citing the “ongoing and sensitive nature of this situation.”

The pace does feel like it has quickened in terms of foreign firms being accused by Chinese officialdom of a slew of misdeeds: monopolistic behavior such as price-fixing, cavalier treatment of Chinese consumers and general financial misconduct. Still, some Chinese analysts contend that plenty of domestic firms are being pursued by local regulators, too. Certainly, Chinese consumer confidence has waned recently, with a steady supply of exposés of shoddy, unsafe or fake products. One local survey found that 80% of more than 3,000 people polled considered China’s food safety wanting.

Mao Qiying, an IT analyst with a large following on Chinese social media, also contends that Chinese tech firms like Huawei and ZTE have a tough time entering the U.S. market because of Washington’s concerns that these Chinese firms could be coerced into doing Beijing’s bidding. “The Chinese government,” Mao says, “is more lenient towards Western tech giants compared with the American government’s attitude toward Chinese tech companies.” In May, the U.S. charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American computer networks from across the Pacific Ocean.

Chinese officials have accused the U.S. of national-security hypocrisy in the post-Edward Snowden era. As for the Chinese consumers themselves, even Xinhua, which on Monday linked tech companies like Apple to a “U.S. surveillance addiction,” conceded that commonly used anti-virus software employs similar technology to the tracking systems in Apple devices. Fears over an American invasion of Chinese privacy haven’t dampened iPhone sales in China either. Last quarter, Apple enjoyed a 28% hike in greater China revenues.

Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, some users were scathing of Beijing’s attempts to censure foreigners for potential antitrust violations. On July 28, China announced that by the end of 2013, the nation boasted 155,000 state-owned enterprises with total assets amounting to $17 trillion. “Will anyone investigate the government’s monopoly on the water, power or petroleum industry?” wrote one microblog wag.

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME Video Games

Watch the First Trailer for Halo: Nightfall

+ READ ARTICLE

Microsoft released the first trailer for its upcoming live-action digital series Halo: Nightfall.

The series, which is being executive produced by Ridley Scott, will feature a new character named Jameson Locke, who is an agent for the secretive Office of Naval Intelligence. The series will be bundled with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a compilation of past Halo games that launches this November.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles

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