TIME Video Games

The Surprising Reasons People Buy the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or Wii U

Sony Launches PlayStation 4 In Japan As Console Retakes U.S. Retail Lead Over Microsoft's Xbox One
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The first customer to purchase the PlayStation 4 (PS4) video game console holds the box at the launch of the PS4 console at the Sony showroom in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.

New data offers a few head-scratching reasons why consumers buy

Infometrics guru Nielsen just published the results of an inquiry into why people are buying the latest game systems from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The results are surprising in part.

Consider the following chart, which breaks the decision-making variables impacting each system into “factors” ranked by survey respondents:

Nielsen

The chart’s results are weirder than they appear at first. Take resolution, the number of horizontal by vertical lines output as video signal, and constitutive of the number of pixels onscreen. Several first-wave, multi-platform games ran at higher resolution on the PlayStation 4 than the Xbox One, owing, everyone in the media’s assumed based on anecdotal developer chitchat, to disparity between the two systems’ processing power.

The presumption is that slight visual differences shouldn’t matter, that you’re just being slavish to detail if you’re obsessed with subtle pixel differentiation. Yet there it is, the topmost reason for buyers of Sony’s console.

And what’s “Blu-ray Player” doing as PS4 factor number two? The Xbox One’s just as capable a Blu-ray system. Is this telling us something about a Microsoft messaging failure? Or wait—isn’t packaged media all but dead? Whether people are really watching scads of Blu-rays on their PS4s or this is just the psychological “want the option” factor is unclear.

“Game Library” is another head-scratcher. The Xbox One’s library is just as big and just as critically acclaimed as the PlayStation 4’s, while neither system offers native backward compatibility. Is this indication of a preference for the kinds of exclusives Sony’s system offers? And looking across the way at Nintendo, what’s the difference between “Game Library” (PS4) and “Exclusive Games/Content” (Wii U)?

I’m also a little confused about “Brand,” which tops the Xbox One’s factor column. Sony’s PlayStation-as-brand is, judging by platform sales across all systems, far better known than Microsoft’s Xbox—unless it’s more a Microsoft versus Sony (than PlayStation versus Xbox) thing.

And what does “Innovative Features” refer to? Xbox One Kinect, a peripheral the company yanked from the system before its first anniversary? SmartGlass integration? The bifurcated operating system (and Metro-styled interface)? Or the list of features the company wound up retracting in the wake of controversy over player privacy and digital rights management?

What this more likely confirms is that perception remains nine-tenths ownership.

TIME Social Networking

Microsoft’s New App Will Help You Stalk Your Friends

Microsoft

Location markers show who's around the corner in real time

Microsoft is reportedly working on a new app that can track the locations of your friends and family, displaying their movements across a map in real-time.

An early version of People Sense, which was unveiled by the Spanish-language news site Microsoft Place, overlays a select group of friends onto Bing Maps. The app mirrors the layout of Apple’s Find My Friends, which displays friends as roving markers inching through the streets.

But People Sense adds a number of features that makes communication a bit more seamless — tapping one of the markers will give the user options to message, call or pull up driving directions to the person of interest.

No release date has been set for People Sense, which is still under the development name “Buddy Aware.” A video review of the app, provided by Microsoft Place, shows an already robust set of features at work:

Read next: Madonna’s Most Memorable Social Media Moments

TIME Companies

This Is Microsoft’s New Plan to Invade Your Smartphone

Satya Nadella Delivers Opening Keynote At Microsoft Build Conference
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

It's acquiring apps and quickly rebranding them as Microsoft products

Hardly a month passes these days where Microsoft hasn’t announced a new acquisition. In December it snapped up Acompli, a popular email app, for $200 million. Two weeks later it nabbed HockeyApp, a developer platform that shows how often a smartphone app crashes or bugs out. That was followed by the acquisition of Sunrise, a calendar app, for a rumored $100 million.

In total, Microsoft has gobbled up one to two young companies a month since November. It has all the appearances of a shopping spree.

In a way, this is just business as usual for the tech giant. Microsoft is an $86 billion-a-year enterprise. It doesn’t have to dig all that deep into its pockets to find a spare $100 million for an acquisition or two. Microsoft on average acquired 15 companies a year before 2009, according to data collected by market research firm CB Insights. That rate dropped to five a year around 2010 before picking up speed under CEO Satya Nadella, who took the reins in early 2014. If anything, Microsoft is just regaining its old appetite, which amounted to a whopping 149 acquisitions during Steve Ballmer’s 13-year tenure as the company’s previous CEO.

But what’s different about Microsoft’s latest acquisitions is the speed at which it’s turning them into new products for devices beyond those just running Microsoft’s Windows software. Microsoft has long struggled to make a dent in the mobile world, with more than nine out of 10 phones running either Android or Apple’s iOS. Nadella is now eager to make up for lost ground in mobile, and that’s meant a big change in Microsoft’s acquisition strategy.

“For a long time Microsoft’s strategy was embrace and expand, and everything was filtered through the lens of how this would advance Windows,” says Kevin Werbach, a legal studies and business ethics professor at University of Pennsylvania Wharton. But Nadella is more willing to make great apps regardless of which device is running them — he just wants Microsoft’s products in front of as many people as possible, and fast.

“Nadella is trying to reposition Microsoft into a faster moving and more nimble company,” says Werbach. “Showing that they can take an acquisition and turn it around quickly is indicative of that.”

Acompli is the best example of Microsoft’s new playbook: In a matter of weeks, Microsoft took Acompli’s popular email app and rebranded it as Outlook for iOS and Android, to rave reviews from the tech press. Before the Acompli move, Microsoft’s iOS and Android Outlook offering was nothing more than a clunky web portal disguised as an app. It’s a safe bet that Sunrise and similar acquisitions will reappear as Microsoft-branded offerings just as quickly.

Microsoft’s initial success with Outlook is a good omen for a company which many wrote off as having missed the boat on mobile. Its challenge moving forward will be ensuring that its apps are the absolute best offering for any particular task. Right now, Microsoft is benefitting from the app economy’s volatility: It’s easy for users to ditch one email app in favor of a new, better one. But that same characteristic could spell doom for Microsoft’s efforts down the road if the company gets too complacent — witness the unprecedented growth of Slack, a barely one-year-old office messaging app that hasn’t spent a cent on advertising, and yet has grown its user base 35% since the start of the year alone, much to the chagrin of its older rivals.

“A company like Slack, I don’t think anybody’s ever seen anything like this,” says Matthew Wong a research analyst at CB Insights. “The fact that companies especially in mobile can sort of achieve growth at the rate they are doing now is just too hard for companies like Microsoft to ignore.”

Microsoft will have to keep a vigilant watch over its apps. Its acquisition team will have to make quick and gutsy calls on which apps to bring in house, and which it can build better. The wrong call could also amplify criticism of its acquisition strategy — the company took a drubbing for its 2007 purchase of aQuantive, largely regarded as a $6.2 billion flop. A few killer apps that stay on top could help silence those critics once and for all.

TIME apps

Microsoft Buys a Well-liked Calendar App

The deal marks the latest in a string of acquisitions aimed at luring mobile users back to Microsoft

Microsoft acquired a widely praised calendar app Wednesday that works across iOS and Android devices, as part of a continuing campaign to lure anyone, regardless of their device, into using Microsoft’s growing suite of mobile apps.

The deal to purchase Sunrise comes roughly two months after Microsoft acquired Acompli, an email app that was quickly repackaged as Outlook email for mobile devices. Sunrise automatically connects to the majority of third-party calendars, hoovering up events and displaying them on an interface that tech critics have praised for its dual views, one showing events over the next two weeks, the other focusing on the next three days.

But perhaps the defining feature of the app is its ability to tap information from the web, including weather forecasts, Facebook events and head shots from LinkedIn. Users can also send emails and text messages in app, eliminating the nuisance of toggling between apps to get the word out about an event.

“This is another step forward on our journey to reinvent productivity and empower every person and organization to achieve more,”Rajesh Jha, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Outlook and Office 365, said in a statement.

Whether every person and organization is willing to make the switch from their existing calendars, which come conveniently pre-installed on their devices, remains the an open question for Microsoft.

TIME the big picture

Why Microsoft’s Future Suddenly Looks Bright Again

Satya Nadella Delivers Opening Keynote At Microsoft Build Conference
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Microsoft's new leadership is fundamentally changing the company for the better

The first time I visited Microsoft in the early 1980s, it was in its then-new red brick offices in Bellevue, Washington, packing less than 50 people. You could walk down the halls and see Bill Gates plugging away at his keyboard and Paul Allen coding in a small office. In fact, I was told that I was one of the first analysts to ever visit Microsoft, as it was just gaining ground with its MS-DOS operating system thanks to IBM’s decision to use it in its first PC.

Consequently, I got to watch Microsoft grow from the beginning. It quickly became a high priority for me as an analyst, as its actions greatly impacted the growth of the PC industry. The company even asked me to advise on several different projects over the years, from its early experiments in graphical interfaces to its first steps into mobile. However, I haven’t worked on any Microsoft efforts since 2004, and now mostly watch the company from afar.

While plenty of today’s pundits write about how Microsoft missed the boat on mobile, I was concerned about Microsoft’s Windows-only focus as early as the late 1990s. By then, the market was already starting to expand well beyond PCs and moving towards a mobile future. And after the turn of the millennium, I felt then-CEO Steve Ballmer had become so Windows-centric he could no longer see the tech world expanding and splitting into different directions. As Microsoft rival Apple gained important ground in music players, smartphones and tablets, I felt Microsoft was way too Windows-focused, causing it to miss the opportunity to expand the company well beyond the Windows brand that, while still important, was keeping the company from innovating.

Apparently Microsoft’s board had similar issues with Ballmer, who early last year was succeeded by Satya Nadella. While Ballmer and I had a strong relationship and often swapped ideas over lunch, I’ve only met Nadella once, and then only briefly. But since he has taken over, I’ve seen a new Microsoft emerge.

Microsoft is now more inclusive, finally embracing the diversity driving the next wave of personal computing. The recently revealed Windows 10 is a great addition to the Windows world, fixing the sins of Window 8. And Microsoft is finally doing something I lobbied for in the early days of its mobile efforts: Making a consistent Windows interface that functions about the same no matter what kind of device it’s running on.

If what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10 isn’t a strong enough indication of how the company’s culture is changing, this might be: When I visited Microsoft last fall, a software team leader pulled out his personal iPhone to show off Microsoft apps built for iOS, like the new Outlook app. For a Microsoft employee to show off an iOS app would’ve been unthinkable under Ballmer. But Nadella is extremely realistic about making Microsoft relevant to all platforms, mining for dollars well beyond the Windows brand. That’s fantastic for Microsoft, as it’s a strategy that’s going to give them broad potential in the future.

Read next: Apple Is Still a Startup

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TIME Gadgets

Microsoft’s New Phone Charger Creates a Crazy Beautiful Light Show

Microsoft

Microsoft gives phone chargers the 'pimp my ride' treatment

Cross an ordinary phone charger with a laser show at the local planetarium, and you’ll get the idea behind Microsoft’s new wireless charging pad.

Microsoft’s Nokia DT-903 Charging Plate might have a name that’s impossible to say 10 times fast, but beneath the clunky title is a radically sleek design for a household item you’d normally want to stuff behind the couch.

The six-inch charging plate glows in one of three colors (orange, green or white) and casts a bright halo of light on the surrounding tabletop. The light is not just a hypnotic flourish — it flicks on when a phone, placed atop the pad, begins to charge. It pulses to alert users to incoming messages or to let them know that their phone is running low on battery.

Style comes at a price, however. At $60, the DT-903 is a bit more expensive than less souped-up alternatives. And while the charging feature works with any Qi-enabled phone, the system of pulsing notifications currently works with only two smartphones, the Lumia 830 and 930.

 

TIME Video Games

Is It Really Time to Abandon Sony’s PlayStation Network?

Sony, Microsoft Sony's PlayStation 4 (upper-left) and Microsoft's Xbox One (lower-right).

Is Sony's PlayStation Network as terrible as some seem to think?

It’s tempting to view online services as perennial. You probably paid money for the privilege of using them, whatever the fine print you didn’t read actually says about availability, and you expect the vast province of interlinked devices we call the Internet to operate with the continuity of running water or electricity (never mind the number of power outages I’ve endured living in southeast Michigan).

When things go south, you get mad, the friends you wanted to play with are nonplussed, grumpy cat gets even grumpier–who isn’t fuming?

Thus when something like Sony’s PlayStation Network goes kaplooey, as it did at some point on Sunday, is it any surprise we’re seeing angry, hyperbolic, message-board-like news headlines? Writers jotting off zingers like “Why trust Sony ever again?”

Why indeed. But before we aim our collective invective at Sony or its online gaming peers, it’s helpful to review the pathology. Have Sony’s PSN outages crossed the Rubicon? Is it really time to cancel your online subscription? Maybe take your business across the aisle?

When people think of the PlayStation Network as unreliable, they’re really thinking about April 2011, a monumental mess wherein PSN collapsed and stayed down for nearly a month (followed by further hacks of other Sony services and embarrassing data leaks). Hackers attempted to snatch sensitive personal data, succeeding in pilfering vast troves of essentially innocuous names and addresses. The outage length–a record 23 days–was because Sony had to rethink its entire online security apparatus.

In late August 2014, the PlayStation Network as well as Sony Online Entertainment were briefly disrupted by a denial of service attack (the group responsible reportedly tweeted a bomb threat at SOE President John Smedley as he was flying to San Diego–the plane was consequently diverted to Phoenix). Microsoft’s Xbox Live was also disrupted during this period.

In early December 2014, Sony’s PlayStation Network as well as Sony Online Entertainment were once again briefly disrupted by a denial of service attack. Microsoft’s Xbox Live was also disrupted during this period.

In late December 2014, Sony’s PlayStation Network was unavailable for several days (including Christmas), apparently the victim of a malicious traffic-related disruption. Microsoft’s Xbox Live was similarly impacted.

In early February 2015, Sony’s PlayStation Network was briefly disrupted by another denial of service attack. (Microsoft’s Xbox Live went down briefly in late January–it’s still not clear why.)

Setting aside planned maintenance outages, Sony’s PlayStation Network has thus been unavailable as a result of nefarious activity less than a dozen times. Furthermore, Microsoft’s Xbox Live, while spared the colossal (and importantly, lingering) public shaming Sony endured back in 2011, has been down nearly as often. Both companies have attempted, in various ways, to compensate users for these outages.

Cognitive distortion can make molehills into mountains. The question, given the volatility of a global network susceptible to sudden malicious traffic missiles, is whether companies like Sony and Microsoft are over-promising availability, or whether consumers–obliged, in my view, to see more shrewdly through corporate hyperbole–need to take a dimmer view of what the Internet in 2015 can deliver. Denial of service attacks in 2015 remain a problem to which no company or service is immune.

I’m not apologizing for incompetence (where indeed incompetence can be proven), I’m just suggesting we’ve been sold a bill of goods about online dependability (in our minds, anyway–the fine print says otherwise) that can’t live entirely up to its claims. Not in 2015, anyway.

Is 98 or 99% availability the end of the world? I’m not so sure, though I’d definitely like to see companies like Sony and Microsoft level with us rolling forward, perhaps implementing an if-this-then-that remuneration clause, e.g. this much outage time equals that much compensatory service. At least you’d know the parameters going in.

TIME Gadgets

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 Tablets Just Got $100 Cheaper

The move comes as sales of the tablet surged past the $1 billion mark

Microsoft has temporarily slashed $100 off of the retail price of its Surface Pro 3 tablets as sales of the 2-in-1 device, which can connect with a keyboard and double as a computer, have surged to a record high.

Prices at the Microsoft Store now range from $799 for the 64GB version to $1,849 for the 512GB model, and the deal includes a free protective sleeve with every purchase. The discount will last until April 5, 2015.

The move comes as Microsoft’s sales of the device surged past the $1 billion mark last quarter, marking a new milestone after earlier models failed to gain traction.

TIME Smartphones

Why Microsoft Would Invest in an Android Startup

The Latest Mobile Apps At The App World Multi-Platform Developer Show
Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg / Getty Images A logo for Google Inc.'s Android operating system is displayed on an advertising sign during the Apps World Multi-Platform Developer Show in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.

The potential investment hints at a larger battle to grab real estate on your phone's homescreen

Microsoft is reportedly set to invest in a startup building its own version of the Google-owned Android mobile operating system.

Microsoft will hold a minority stake in Cyanogen, which rewrites Android’s open-source code and offers it as a souped-up alternative to Google’s version of the platform, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some 50 million devices currently run Cyanogen’s Android, while CEO Kirt McMaster says his army of 9,000 volunteer programmers are reshaping the software into a superior product.

“We’re going to take Android away from Google,” McMaster told the Journal.

That raises a few intriguing question about Microsoft’s investment — such as:

Why should Microsoft care about this startup?

Google currently dominates the mobile market. Roughly 84% of the world’s phones come pre-installed with Android, according to estimates from IDC. That means a vast majority of phones come pre-packaged with Google apps. Unbox the phone, and there they are the home screen. The user can always download rival apps, but who’s going to take the time to download Microsoft’s apps when Google’s are already there?

How did Google come to dominate the home screen?

Google gives away Android’s source code for free, even to rival device manufacturers. But the giveaway comes with a few strings attached. If device makers want access to Google’s most popular apps, such as Search and the Google Play store, they have historically had to sign agreements to place those apps “immediately adjacent” to the home screen, according to signed contracts reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Cyanogen’s version of Android, however, would release device makers from those contractual obligations. That would mean if Microsoft made hardware running Cyanogen’s Android, it would be freed up to put its on apps front and center.

Can’t Microsoft just puts its apps on the phones it already makes?

Sure, but Microsoft’s Windows Phones comprise only 3% of the global market. That’s why Microsoft has recently unleashed its flagship apps for iPhone and Android phones. Apple iPhone and iMac users have already downloaded Word, Powerpoint and Excel more than 80 million times to date. Now that its apps are in a polygamous relationship with rival devices, Microsoft might want to ensure they get front and center on all devices.

Will Google let that happen?

Probably not without a fight. The whole purpose of the free Android giveaway is to route as many users as possible to its search pages, where it gets millions of eyeballs on its advertisements — and Google’s ad business, especially on mobile, is already showing weaknesses.

TIME Retail

Lego Has Unveiled a New Avengers Play Set and It Costs More Than an Xbox One

The set comes with a whopping 2,996 pieces

Lego has announced that at next month’s Toy Fair in New York City it will debut a new play set based on The Avengers movie that will retail at $349.99 — that’s $1 more than Microsoft’s Xbox One console.

The 2-ft.-long S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, seen in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier movies, comes with a whopping 2,996 pieces and includes two runways, three Quinjets (Avengers-style aircraft), several other jets, ground vehicles and 12 microfigures of The Avengers characters, Variety reports.

But it seems people are willing to shell out for the heavy price tag; Lego’s Death Star set from Star Wars is going for $400 and is currently sold out on the company’s website.

[Variety]

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