When Kinect for Xbox 360 launched in November 2010, it changed the way gamers interacted with their Xbox consoles and games just like Nintendo did with the Wii. Since its release, Kinect owners have taken the power into their own hands by hacking the motion-sensing peripheral to make it function in all kinds of ways. Microsoft quickly took notice and announced in the fall that they would release an SDK to allow for more innovation with Kinect. Microsoft shares its plan in a blog post:
With Kinect for Windows, we are investing in creating a platform that is optimized for scenarios beyond the living room, and delivering new software features on an ongoing basis… In addition to support for Windows 7 and the Windows 8 developer preview (desktop apps only), Kinect for Windows will also support gesture and voice on Windows Embedded-based devices and will enhance how data is captured and accessed within intelligent systems across manufacturing, retail and many more industries. We are building the Kinect for Windows platform in a way that will allow other companies to integrate Kinect into their offerings and we have invested in an approach that allows them to develop in ways that are dependable and scalable.
Kinect for Windows hardware will be made available on February 1 in twelve countries (United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK )and will sell for $249.99 in “limited quantities at first.” The accompanying SDK and developer tools will be free. Preorder today at Amazon and let your imagination run wild.
This week at its developer-focused BUILD conference in Los Angeles, Microsoft previewed Windows 8 in all its Metro glory and offered up new juicy details surrounding the upcoming sleek OS. Methinks they can be best presented in easily digestible bullet point format.
- Windows 8 doesn’t require the latest and greatest and most powerful computer guts to run well. At the conference Microsoft’s President of Windows Steven Sinofsky (above) showed off a Lenevo S10 running Win8 without hiccup. The S10 is an ancient netbook released in 2008 with a single core 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM, mind you.
- Sinofsky also showed off not-yet-released ultra thin-and-light notebooks running Win8 smoothly. These “ultrabooks” of the future will have no problem powering the OS.
- Win8 will come baked with NFC support. Microsoft demoed a tap-to-share feature whereby users can physically tap a tablet running Win8 to another compatible device and share information between the two devices. Just like HP’s “touch-t0-share” functionality between the TouchPad and other WebOS devices.
- Xbox Live is coming to Windows. The company promises that this new service will bring the console’s games, music, movies, and TV shows to Win8 devices. (Click here to watch a demo)
- The Windows Store (Microsoft’s version of Apple’s Mac App Store) will sell both Metro-style and conventional Windows apps.
- Metro apps can communicate with one another so long as the developer builds that functionality in. Microsoft offers this example: “You can easily select and email photos from different places, such as Facebook, Flickr or on your hard drive.”
- Windows SkyDrive support allows users to access content in the cloud across various Win8 devices with a Microsoft account.
- The company has given a name to the pane that houses Search, Share, Start, Connect, and Settings. A swipe from the right brings up those aforementioned “Charms.”
- The new OS will offer three different ways of logging into your account: password, PIN, or picture password. That last one is definitely the most innovative; you can select a picture from your collection and you will be asked to setup three touch points. When you go to login simply touch the predetermined points and you’re in!
- Expect much, much faster bootup times. Depending on the type of hardware, going from completely off to the login screen could take as short as 3-5 seconds.
- The ability to refresh and reset the OS from scratch is a new feature. If for any reason your system becomes corrupted due to, say, a virus you can wipe it out but keep all your settings in tact with a feature called Refresh. If things get really bad or you’re just looking to start anew again, Reset makes it easy to restore your OS to its original factory settings.
- Last but certainly not least I want to talk about the core of Windows 8. Microsoft continues to reiterate that the new Metro UI and its Live Tile apps is not a skin on top of the classic Windows 7-esque desktop. At the conference the company demoed how users will easily be able to switch back and forth between the new UI and what Windows enthusiasts are used to. Think of it like this. The traditional Windows desktop with Start menu and Quick Launch bar lives next to (not underneath or above) the new UI. To access it users will tap or click the “Desktop” square that lives among the apps that make up the Metro UI. Want to download and engage with new HTML5-based apps? Stay inside Metro. Need to pull up a spreadsheet in Excel? You’re probably going to want to switch into the classic Windows mode. Let’s hope that Microsoft eventually ports their Office suite to Metro like Apple built an iOS version of iWork. Once that happens, your eagerness to return to the dark ages will quickly begin to dwindle. Microsoft is firm in its belief that Metro is the future for their PCs and smartphones; don’t be surprised if one day they completely phase out the Windows interface of yesteryear.
- Update: Microsoft has announced that the Internet Explorer 10 running in Metro will not support any plug-ins. And that includes Flash. But why? Because they claim it “improves battery life as well as security, reliability, and privacy for consumers.” Don’t fret, though; IE10 running in the classic Windows app will support plug-ins as usual. Though Flash maker Adobe says they are ready and willing to “drive innovation in HTML5,” they will also be working hard to enable Flash-based apps in Metro via Adobe AIR.
Windows 8 is expected to release in 2012. But what if I told you there’s a way to get your hands on Windows 8 right now? The Windows Developer Preview is out now! So for all you app-makers out there excited to start building apps for the Metro interface, don’t wait another minute and click that link. And for those of you who are interested in learning more about Microsoft’s next big thing, check out the Windows unveiled article posted back in June. Microsoft’s plan to integrate Windows 8 across all kinds of devices (desktops, laptops, ultrabooks, and tablets running x86 and efficient ARM processors) is discussed in more detail there and after the break in PR form.
Yesterday and today Google hosted its renowned developer’s conference dubbed Google I/O 2011. Literally thousands of developers flocked to San Fransisco’s Moscone Center to find out what Google’s been cooking up on their end. This year’s event proved to be leaps and bounds more exciting than last year’s conference. Google introduced their new cloud-based music service called Music Beta; they unveiled Ice Cream Sandwich, the next version of Android that promises to bridge the gap between Gingerbread and Honeycomb; Android is going into the home automation business with Google’s impressive initiative Android@Home; Chrome OS is finally ready for the big leagues–Samsung and Acer are prepping Chromebooks for mass consumption; and Angry Birds has landed in the browser!
So much to discuss–it’s all a hop, skip and a jump after the break. (Click here for more…)
This week Google held a brief Android-themed event where they highlighted elements of the tablet-specific Honeycomb UI, introduced the Android Market Web Store, and previewed Android Market in-app purchasing. Hop after the break for all the details. (Click here for more…)
Today Sony hosted PlayStation Meeting 2011 in Japan, and there they announced the successor to the PSP (codenamed NGP) and provided details on how they plan to expand the PlayStation brand to Android devices.
Let’s start with what you’ve been waiting oh-so-long for. The oft-rumored PSP2 has finally been unveiled. But don’t call it that; Sony has branded the new device “Next Generation Portable” or NGP for short. Though at first glance the NGP aesthetically appears similar to its predecessor, additional control options and the spec sheet will blow your mind. The NGP packs a 5-inch 960×544 OLED capacitive multitouch display (OLED screen technology allows for great viewing angles, and the screen resolution is 4x greater than the PSP’s), a powerful quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor, a quad-core Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU, dual analog sticks (as opposed to the PSP’s single analog nub), front and rear-facing cameras, built-in GPS, WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth, microphone, stereo speakers, the same Six-axis motion sensing system that’s featured in the PlayStation Move controller (three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer), and there’s a three-axis electronic compass. Buttons-wise, you’ll find the usual suspects: the D-Pad, action buttons (triangle, circle, cross, square), left and right shoulder buttons, start, select, volume, power and PS buttons. And I’ve managed to save the coolest new input implementation for last. The NGP packs a rear-mounted multitouch pad; it’s the same size as the front-facing OLED display, so the location of your finger is mapped directly to the game screen. This new kind of input allows for “touch, grab, trace, push and pull” finger gestures and will open up a whole new world of gaming opportunities for developers. All of this is stuffed inside a “Super Oval Design” form factor that is, again, similar to the PSP (there is no slide-up mechanism as featured in the PSP Go). (Click here for more…)
Since its North American release date on November 4, Microsoft’s Kinect controller-free motion accessory has proved to be a boon for the open source community. Over the last month or so I’ve collated the most intriguing Kinect hacks and today is the day I’ve decided to let them live free inside this post. Tinkerers are constantly throwing up their latest creations online, so expect Kinect, hacked to become an ongoing series.
First up we have Yankeyan‘s Super Mario Bros. Kinect hack. Using OpenKinect drivers and NES emulation he’s figured out how to make the plumber’s on-screen movements mimic his physical jumps and arm flails. It doesn’t match up perfectly, but that doesn’t make the hack any less impressive.
Now go on, hop after the break to browse oodles of Kinect hack videos; I promise they are all super inventive! (Click here for more…)
Today Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg hosted a “mobile event” at Facebook HQ in California. Almost immediately Zuckerberg shot down rumors of a Facebook cell phone–rats! What they really called the press event for was to express their interest in “making mobile more social.” Let’s breakdown the new Facebook app enhancements.
(1) Single sign on. This makes logging into your FB account in multiple apps a snap, as long as the developer incorporates the FB single sign on API inside their app. Here’s how it works: Once you log into the FB app on your phone, you can then log in to any other app that supports single sign on without typing in your username and password. No more tedious typing, no more worrying about forgetting your password. The following Android apps support single sign on today: Flixster, Groupon, Loopt, SCVNGR, Yelp, and Zynga Poker. These updated apps will make their way to the iPhone “soon.” And loads more are on the way. (video demonstration)
(2) Location APIs. This one is directed towards the developer community, but it will result in significant upgrades for users. Today Facebook has opened up all three location APIs for developers: read where your friends are; write and publish check-ins; search for relevant places. Up until now, mobile users could only see in the news feed people checking into locations using Places only. Now that developers have access to the location APIs, they can make their apps support Facebook location notifications. For example, now you can check into a location using Foursquare, Loopt, or Yelp (and many others) and this information will show up on your mobile and desktop news feed. In other words, Places can now be integrated into third party apps so users can see and interact with their FB friends within other apps.
(3) Deals platform. Facebook has teamed up with many local businesses to provide users with a new “deals platform.” Here’s how it works. With Places users can sign in to locations (ie. a restuarant) and share where you are with friends and see which of your friends might be nearby. The updated version of Places incorporates deals notifications. Local business will be able to offer users deals when you check in to their place using FB on your phone. Now when you search for nearby places a yellow icon will appear next to those places that are offering deals. Click the yellow icon to view the deal, check in to Places to claim it, and then show it to the cashier to receive your discount. Note that these deals run on the merchant side, not Facebook. There are four type of deals: “individual deals for a discount, free merchandise or other reward; friend deals where you and your friends claim an offer together; loyalty deals for being a frequent visitor to a place; and charity deals where businesses pledge to donate to a cause when you check in. Business like Chipotle, Gap, and McDonald’s are already supporting the deals platform. Click here to view the current list supporters. Deals works on the Facebook for iPhone app and at touch.facebook.com on other mobile devices. (video demonstration)
In addition to these three major announcements, Zuckerberg also set aside time to discuss software updates to the Android and iPhone version of the Facebook app. The Android 1.4 update brings Places and Groups to the app and a refresh to the notifications application. Facebook says, “Clicking on a notification now won’t send you off to the browser. Instead, as long as that notification has an appropriate destination within the application itself, you will be taken there.” Score! The iPhone 3.3 update brings Deals and Groups to the app, along with a starred friends list in Places and a new Photos composer. Both free updates are available to download right now.
This week thousands of developers gathered at Google I/O 2010 in San Fransisco to find out what Google’s got up their sleeve for the next year (and beyond) and how their contributions can make things better for the end user. At this year’s event Google introduced a new video standard, demoed their latest software revision of Android, and pulled the veil off their latest foray into a whole new market–television.
WebM: Flash, HTML5, h.264–these are all video codecs that power different types of video players on the Internet. WebM is a new video codec developed by Google. The plan for the WebM format is to make it open-source and royalty-free from the get-go. WebM is packaged into three parts: VP8, a high-quality video codec under a royalty-free license; Vorbis, an already open source and broadly implemented audio codec; and a container format based on a subset of the Matroska media container. According to Google, “VP8’s efficient bandwidth usage will mean lower serving costs for content publishers and high quality video for end-users. The codec’s relative simplicity makes it easy to integrate into existing environments and requires less manual tuning to produce high quality results.” So far, the following companies are backing the new WebM standard in their browsers: Google (duh), Mozilla, Opera, and Adobe. (Mozilla already updated their Firefox to support it, Opera says their browsers will support it “soon”, Adobe will inject VP8 support into Flash too, and Chrome support comes on on May 24.) Google will also implement it in the YouTube player (HTML5 & WebM, sittin’ in a tree…). WebM also has a list of hardware supporters including AMD, ARM, Broadcom, NVIDIA, Skype, and T.I. But the big question is if Microsoft and Apple will adopt it. At this point, there’s no word if Apple will jump on the bandwagon (big surprise there), and Microsoft has stated it will support WebM in Internet Explorer 9 (but users will be required to install the VP8 codec themselves). If there’s any tech company out there who can develop and push out a new open source video codec it’s Google. With the on-going battle for dominance between the aging Flash and up-and-coming HTML5, it will certainly be interesting to see if Google can emerge out victorious with WebM.
Since its inception Twitter (the company) ran its website at www.twitter.com and left Twitter applications for desktop and mobile clients to third party developers. On Friday Twitter announced a significant change in its overall game plan. Twitter is no longer taking a backseat to developers when it comes to running Twitter in applications outside the main Twitter website. Twitter has aquired Atebits, the company behind one of the most popular Twitter clients for Mac desktops and iPhones, Tweetie. Loren Brichter, the man behind Atebits, is part of the deal and will become a vital member of Twitter, helping the company retool the app for the iPhone, other mobile devices, and eventually the iPad. Twitter’s reasoning behind the move: “People are looking for an app from Twitter, and they’re not finding one. So, they get confused and give up. It’s important that we optimize for user benefit and create an awesome experience.” Tweetie will be renamed Twitter for iPhone and its price tag will fall from $2.99 to free. A release date was not disclosed.
So what do we think about this? It’s great! Now there’s going to be an “official” Twitter app that all iPhone (and other mobile device) users can download and share similar experiences with. If you’re new to Twitter, this will likely be the go-to app. If you’ve been part of the community for some time, third party Twitter apps aren’t going anywhere, so dipping your toe into different user experiences will always be an option. What this merger of sorts does is give Twitter a major boost against naysayers who believe Twitter is a fragmented service with too many varying apps for it. Now the company can say there’s a streamlined Twitter experience waiting for those who want to take that route. It’s a win-win for all of us.
Today Apple unveiled the developer preview of iPhone OS 4, the next major release of the iPhone operating system. OS 4 includes over 1500 new APIs for developers and over 100 new user features. Of these new features, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Senior VP of iPhone Software Scott Forstall talked about seven “tentpole” features. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
1. Multitasking: Apple has finally figured out a way to implement multitasking for third-party apps that preserves battery life and overall performance of the iPhone. The user interface for multitasking is simple. When you are inside an app, just double tap the home button to raise the window and reveal a new dock at the bottom of the screen. This dock houses all of your running apps, and you can jump in and out of them by clicking on them. When asked about how to close applications, Forstall replied, “You don’t have to. The user just uses things and doesn’t ever have to worry about it.” Though that sounds nice and cheery, there actually is a way to close out of an app if you are not using it. Tap and hold an app in the multitask dock and tap the minus button that appears; this confirms the app is now closed. Seven multitasking services were detailed:
Background audio – Now you can listen to third-party music players in the background just like you could with iPod. At the keynote, Pandora was demoed and worked without a hitch. While listening to your custom playlist in Pandora you can jump into Safari to browse a site or jump into Mail to check your inbox for new messages. Also, if you are in the lock screen you can double tap the home button and use the audio buttons to control Pandora.
VoIP – Now you can receive and hold onto VoIP conversations even if you jump out of the VoIP third-party app. At the keynote, Skype was demoed. Once a call is initiated, you can leave the app and jump into another without losing the call. A double-high status bar appears at the top of the screen that shows your still on the call. Also, you can still receive Skype calls even if you are in the lock screen; a notification bubble alerts an incoming call.
Background location – Apple says there are two classes of applications that like to use your location in the background: turn-by-turn direction apps (like TomTom) and social networking apps (like Loopt). With an app like TomTom becoming location-aware in the background, now you can leave the app and still receive turn-by-turn directions. For example, you can set and begin your route, jump into iPod to select a song, and TomTom will still read aloud the directions using GPS. Turn-by-turn direction apps are fairly power intensive apps, but most users have them running in the car when their device is connected to a power source. An app like Loopt, which is used more often when an external power source is not charging the device, will use cell towers rather than GPS to find your location. Privacy concerns are also addressed. Today, whenever an app wants to use location services, a notification bubble asks you to approve the service. In OS 4, a new status icon (shaped like an arrow) will appear in the status bar at the top of the screen to inform you exactly when an app is tracking your location. In the settings menu you can enable or disable location services per app. Also, an icon will appear next to the app name in the settings menu if that app has tried to access location services within the last 24 hours.
Push notifications – We already know all about Apple’s Push Notification service. A third-party sets up a server, they send their notification to Apple’s Push Notification server, then Apple sends it to the phone. Building on push notifications is a new service called…
Local notifications – These are just like push notifications except you do not need a server. The notifications can come right from the phone. For example, a TV Guide app can alert you to the premiere of a new TV program you wanted to be reminded of, and all this can be done right on the phone instead of going through back-end servers.
Task completion – This service works just like Xbox’s Active Downloads feature. Say you are uploading photos to your Flickr account. Today if you were to exit the Flickr app, the upload would stop immediately. With OS 4, if you leave the app the photos will continue to upload in the background.
Fast app switching – This is what allows an app to pause and save its state in the background when you leave it for another app. When you return to it, the app will resume exactly where you left off. So if you are playing a game of Tap Tap Revenge and decide to check your missed calls, when you return to the game it will start right where you left off. All this is done without using any CPU power. (Click here for more…)
This past week Microsoft revealed more details surrounding its brand new mobile phone platform, Windows Phone 7 Series. During their WP7S launch event last month, Microsoft showed off all the UI basics and promised more information to come this month at their annual conference held for developers and web designers called MIX. And boy did they deliver. MIX’10 proved to be a highly informative conference, focusing on how developers will get their applications onto WP7S devices.
Technical details. Third-party developers will have access to XNA and Silverlight tools to create applications for WP7S devices. Microsoft is offering free dev tools, providing Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone and Expression Blend for Windows Phone, to get things started. In addition to these programs, developers also have access to many services like Microsoft Location Service, allowing devs to make their apps location-aware, and Microsoft’s Notification Service, a push notification system much akin to Apple’s that allows devs to send notifications to users of their apps, regardless of the app being open. Notifications slide down in a tray at the top of the screen (less obtrusive than Apple’s pop up way of doing it). Other prominent services that devs are given include multitouch, accelerometer, and camera & microphone support. If you are a developer or know someone who is a developer, Microsoft is offering free beta versions of the dev tools today at developer.windowsphone.com.
Where will all the apps be sold, you ask? In the Windows Phone Marketplace, of course! Just like the rest of the hubs, the Marketplace hub will be “panoramic,” meaning menus are opened with left and right slide gestures. Microsoft is encouraging all developers to create trial versions of their full apps. The Marketplace supports credit card purchases, operator billing, and ad-supported content. Purchased apps can be pinned to the user’s home screen for easy access. Finally, the revunue split: 70% goes to the publisher, 30% to Microsoft.
Marketplace partners. Microsoft announced the first slew of app partners and they include exciting picks like Pandora, Sling, Shazam, EA Mobile, Namco, Foursquare, and the Associated Press. Look after the break for a full listing of all partners. A majority of the demos show that at least this initial batch of apps will deeply integrate with the WP7S look and feel (think panoramic views and shiny, sleek interfaces). Many of them show off 3D animations, incorporate images and video, and they can reach into your local content (like a photo editing app opening up a picture you took). The most interesting app demo came from Netflix. They demoed a prototype app that supports Watch Instantly, allowing a subscriber to browse and watch their Netflix collection on the go. Unfortunately this was being pushed as a concept, and we likely won’t see anything like it for some time. Another exciting app demo showed off the gaming capabilities of WP7S devices. The Harvest is a 3D Xbox Live-supported title that excited developers with its gorgeous graphics, destructable environments, and Xbox Live in-game leaderboard, gamerscore, and acheivement support. Look in the gallery below for screenshots from some apps.
Lingering questions are answered.
Multitasking: WP7S will not support true multitasking. Microsoft’s first-party applications will run in the background when exited, but third-party apps will remain in a suspended state until the device needs additional resources. For example, Microsoft apps like Internet Explorer and the Zune music player will run in the background, but other apps like Yelp will be forced to quit when not in direct use at any point without notification when you start opening other apps and the device needs to access more resources. This “intelligent app management” is also purportedly found in Google’s Android OS.
Copy & paste: Following in the footsteps of its big competitor, WP7S will not support the copy & paste function at launch. Apparently this was a conscious decision made by Microsoft; they believe cell phone users do not use this function very often. Instead, Wp7S devices will use a data detection service that recognizes text input like phone numbers and addresses. Hopefully they won’t take as long as Apple did with bringing clipboard functionality to its mobile OS.
What’s contoso?: Contoso is the placeholder name Microsoft added to the Marketplace UI, and now we know its purpose for being there. Microsoft has alloted a space in the Marketplace for phone carriers to put their own branded store. So this is a separate place where Verizon Wireless can sell their content to users, for instance.
Hardware minimum requirements: capacitive touch; A-GPS, accelerometer, compass, light and proximity sensors; 5 megapixel camera with flash and an independent camera button; 256MB RAM, 8GB Flash; DirectX 9 & codec acceleration; an ARMv7 Cortex/Scorpion CPU; and Back, Start, and Search face buttons. Initially Microsoft will require all handsets to boast a 800 x 480 (WVGA) resolution screen. An update will allow for 320 x 480 (HVGA) screens at a later undisclosed date.
Exsisting WP7S devices: At Mobile World Congress, we were introduced to the Asus model. At MIX, two new devices were unveiled–a Samsung slate and LG slider (the first with a keyboard).
All in all, MIX’10 was a huge invitational for all developers and Microsoft welcomed them with open arms. Microsoft is making it extremely easy for developers to jump into Windows Phone 7 Series by offering free dev tools. With their stringent hardware minumim requirements and terriffic initial batch of app partners, the apps out of the gate should look great and function well. With graphics-intensive games like The Harvest linking Xbox Live to cell phones, Microsoft could very well raise the bar for mobile gaming, giving the App Store and its growing number of sub-par games (and even the likes of DS and PSP) a tremble in their boots. I am really digging Microsoft’s start-from-the-ground-up mentality and I am excited to see what developers can do with their brand new mobile platform. However, as many have pointed out, Microsoft is stuck in a classic case of Catch-22: Microsoft wants customers to choose WP7S phones and developers to write programs for them. But developers won’t bother pushing their apps into the Windows Phone Marketplace if customers aren’t attracted to WP7S phones, and customers won’t purchase WP7S phones if they don’t offer a wide-ranging marketplace of apps! Microsoft still has more work to do. Priority number one? Come up with a good marketing campaign.
When the iPad was announced, Steve Jobs hinted that app developers would have the option to port their apps as they are from the App Store (aka do nothing) or they could rebuild their apps to support and take advantage of the large screen, faster processor speeds, and better graphics. Comic book app maker Panelfly is going to do just that. Panelfly, along with developer team SugarCube, plan on reinventing the way comics are purchased and read with a new comics app made specifically for the iPad. Here’s how the app works on the iPhone: You download the Panelfly app from the App Store for free and you add comic books to your library with in-app purchases. According to Stephen Lynch, CTO and designer at Panelfly, the iPad version will experiment with different purchasing models (subscription-based possibly?) and also commented that the app UI will be very reminiscent of Apple’s native UI, and that’s a good thing. Though he couldn’t spill the beans on pricing and go into much detail about the UI, at least we have these images to glaze over until the app likely releases alongside the iPad in late March. If developers follow in Panelfly’s footsteps the iPad will quickly generate a whole new market for app devs and will certainly make the iPad a desirable product.