Microsoft's retail stores are planning midnight launch parties for the release of the highly anticipated video game "Titanfall" next week.
Most Microsoft Stores, including the ones in University Village and Bellevue Square, will be hosting events that start at 9 p.m. Monday.
The parties will include food, prizes and giveaways. The first 25 people in line will receive Xbox Live Gold 12-month subscriptions, and the first 50 will receive Titanfall t-shirts.
[Update 3/7: Microsoft, which has partnerships with the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL, says Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will be appearing at the U. Village and Bellevue Square stores sometime during the evening. Sherman is expected to appear at each of the stores sometime between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. to take pictures with customers and play "Titanfall."]
Those pre-ordering the game before Monday from either the online or a brick-and-mortar Microsoft Store can get a $10 Xbox digital gift card. (There's also a Titanfall bundle for $500 that includes the console, game and a month of Xbox Live Gold membership.)
"Titanfall," from Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment, is launching exclusively on Tuesday on Xbox One and Windows PCs. The Xbox 360 version launches on March 25.
Microsoft is counting on the game to boost sales of its Xbox One console, which launched November 22. Though it sold well through the holiday season, it fell behind sales of Sony’s PlayStation 4 (which costs $100 less than the Xbox One) by about 2-to-1 in January, according to NPD Group.
Microsoft published today its most recent report on the numbers of requests and orders it receives from law enforcement agencies.
For the second half of 2013, Microsoft received 35,083 requests from law enforcement agencies, potentially impacting 58,676 accounts, the company said a blog post written by John Frank, deputy general counsel.
The Law Enforcement Requests Report, which covers the period from July to December 2013, presents very broad figures on how many requests it received from law enforcement agencies worldwide and how Microsoft responded to them.
It does not include information on the number of national security orders the company received. The U.S. government had previously forbidden tech companies including Microsoft to disclose such information. But after the companies sued, the government allowed the companies to publish the number of national security orders and requests they receive, and the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests. Microsoft released that data on Feb. 3.
This Law Enforcement Requests Report is the third that Microsoft has published.
Microsoft said in this most recent report that of the law-enforcement requests it received, 76 percent resulted in disclosure of "non-content data" (such as user name, billing address or IP history), while no data was disclosed in 21 percent. Of the requests, 2.32 percent resulted in disclosure of content data, with more than 80 percent of those requests coming from U.S. agencies.
Microsoft recently released an ad that has been generating some buzz -- but likely not for the reasons Microsoft intended.
The ad, called "Honestly: Wedding Planner," features a woman talking about why she chose a Windows all-in-one PC with a touchscreen, rather than a Mac, and how she and her friends/bridesmaids use it to plan her upcoming wedding.
However, some commenters, in response to those articles decrying the ad, have defended it as marketing designed to target certain women in a specific demographic. Some also pointed out that Microsoft has produced other ads in the series with less stereotypically traditional portrayals of women.
They're part of a series of ads Microsoft launched last year called "Honestly," in which the people featured talk to the camera about why they chose Microsoft products.
The song featured in all those ads, by the way, is Sara Bareilles' "Brave," which features the lyrics: "Honestly, I want to see you be brave." We're not sure what, exactly, Microsoft is trying to say by featuring that wording: That it's brave to use Microsoft products? That using those products empowers people to be braver?
The song was also featured in a "Celebrating the Heroic Women of 2013" video from Microsoft that received a far warmer welcome in the blogosphere than the "Wedding Planner" ad.
Research firm IDC is projecting a growth rate of 19.4 percent for tablets (including 2-in-1 devices) in 2014 -- down from the 51.6 percent growth rate in 2013.
Its 2014 forecast -- that 260.9 million units will be shipped worldwide this year -- is down 3.6 precent from its previous projection.
"After years of strong growth, we expect the white-box tablet market to slow in 2014 as consumers move to higher-end devices that work better and last longer," Tom Mainelli, an IDC analyst, said in a news release. "In mature markets, where many buyers have purchased higher-end products from market leaders, consumers are deciding that their current tablets are good enough for the way they use them. Few are feeling compelled to upgrade the same way they did in years past, and that's having an impact on growth rates."
Though that would seem to not bode well for Microsoft, which has been late to the tablet market, IDC actually has a fairly good projection for Microsoft. Even as consumer demand for tablets and 2-in-1 devices drop, the demand from businesses should rise -- a development that IDC says is likely to benefit Microsoft eventually.
"The choice of operating system will be a key differentiating factor when it comes to success in the commercial segment," Jiteseh Ubrani, an IDC analyst said in the news release. "Though Android and iOS will remain dominant, we expect Windows-based devices to capture more than a quarter of the market as its benefits become apparent thanks to growing adoption of 2-in-1s."
Here's IDC's chart with its forecast of commercial vs consumer shipments:
Last year marked the biggest decline in PC shipments, and this year, shipments are also expected to fall, according to research firm IDC.
In findings released this week, IDC said it expects worldwide PC shipments to fall by 6.1 percent in 2014.
"Emerging markets used to be a core driver of the PC market, as rising penetration among large populations boosted overall growth," Loren Loverde, an IDC vice president, said in a news release. "At the moment, however, we're seeing emerging regions more affected by a weak economic environment as well as significant shifts in technology buying priorities. We do expect these regions to recover in the medium term and perform better than mature regions, but growth is expected to stabilize near zero percent, rather than driving increasing volumes as we saw in the past."
Here's IDC's chart:
Qi Lu, head of Microsoft's Applications and Services division (Office, Bing, Skype, etc), is speaking this morning at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. (A webcast of the Q&A; is being streamed here.)
When asked about his impressions of new CEO Satya Nadella, Lu said that he's had the opportunity to work with Nadella closely in a number of capacities. (We hear he was Nadella's mentor for a time.)
"I hold very, very high regard for Satya," Lu said. "Satya has already hit the ground running, driving a lot of focus forward."
Lu said Nadella was driving clarity, focusing the "devices and services" strategy already in place at Microsoft on "high value services."
Lu sidestepped a question on when Office might be arriving for iPad. (A recent ZDNet report said it might be coming "sooner than many think" -- perhaps even ahead of the touch-first version of Office that Microsoft is developing.)
Lu said Microsoft considers two main factors when deciding what to ship when: Whether there's genuine customer need and whether it makes economic sense for Microsoft.
"We have been working on a touch-first version of those core apps (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.)," he said. "We're going to make those apps available for Windows devices and non-Windows devices. But exactly what timetables and when and how, we have to go back to those two factors."
Newly appointed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, along with Bill Gates, were among those initially opposed to former CEO Steve Ballmer's proposal to acquire Nokia's handset business, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report today looking behind the scenes at what led to the eventual $7.2 billion acquisition.
Ballmer, who was then facing concerns from the board about the company's direction and his leadership, pushed for the acquisition. According to the report:
Several directors and co-founder and then-Chairman Bill Gates -- Ballmer’s longtime friend and advocate -- initially balked at the move into making smartphones, according to people familiar with the situation. So, at first, did Nadella, signaling his position in a straw poll to gauge executives’ reaction to the deal. Nadella later changed his mind.
“Nokia brings mobile-first depth across hardware, software, design, global supply chain expertise and deep understanding and connections across the mobile market,” Nadella said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “This is the right move for Microsoft.”
For more than a decade, directors gave Ballmer what he wanted. Then two outsiders who joined the board in the first half of 2012 -- Thompson, a former Symantec Corp. CEO, and Steve Luczo, CEO of Seagate Technology Plc -- teamed with others to challenge him.
Microsoft is starting to roll out tonight its second major update to Xbox One -- an update that comes just ahead of the launch of "Titanfall" next week.
The update, which is intended to address criticisms and feedback received since the console launched in November, includes being able to get to your friends list faster; having party chat on by default; the ability to chat with friends playing different games; a simpler way to invite friends to game in multiplayer titles; and the ability to see a list of Xbox Live members you've recently played with.
In addition, "we know external hard drive storage is another big one on your list. It’s on our list too. We’re working on that for a future update and will keep you posted," said Marc Whitten, chief product officer for Xbox One, in a blog post.
Whitten wrote that he considers the update rolling out today to Xbox Live on Xbox One will result in "playing games like 'Titanfall' on the best multiplayer service on the planet."
Clearly, Microsoft is counting on "Titanfall" to goose sales of Xbox One.
Though the console sold briskly through the holiday season, it fell behind sales of Sony's PlayStation 4 by about 2-to-1 in January, according to NPD Group.
For 2013, Microsoft had said that it sold 3 million Xbox One consoles, while Sony said it sold 4.2 million PlayStation 4 units.
The highly anticipated "Titanfall," from Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment, launches on March 11 in an exclusive to Xbox One (and for PC downloads and via physical discs), and on March 25 to Xbox 360.
Out: Tony Bates and Tami Reller.
Remaining in and taking on new roles: Chris Capossela, Mark Penn and Eric Rudder.
That's according to reports from Bloomberg and online publication Re/code which say Tony Bates, Microsoft's executive vice president of business development and evangelism, is leaving the company. Bates' role will be filled by Eric Rudder, currently head of advanced strategy for Microsoft, according to the Bloomberg report, which cites unnamed people familiar with the changes.
Bates, former CEO of Skype, had reportedly been a candidate for the Microsoft CEO position. He was passed over for that job in favor of fellow Microsoft executive Satya Nadella, who was appointed to the role last month.
After Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011, Bates became president of the Skype division within Microsoft. Prior to that, he had been a senior vice president with Cisco.
Also leaving the company is Tami Reller, executive vice president of marketing, who had been in an "uncomfortable and, increasingly, untenable" partnership with Mark Penn, executive vice president of advertising and strategy, according to Re/code.
Microsoft marketing exec Chris Capossela will take over Reller's marketing duties, as well as heading advertising, currently overseen by Executive Vice President Mark Penn. Penn takes on the new role of chief strategy officer, according to Re/code, which cited anonymous sources.
Reller, a member of Microsoft's Senior Leadership Team, is a 13-year Microsoft veteran and had been one of the top-ranking women at the company.
She served as chief financial officer of several Microsoft groups, including the Windows division. She had been chief financial officer of Great Plains Software when that company was acquired by Microsoft in 2001.
Also leaving the ranks of the top leadership, it was announced Friday, will be Executive Vice President Julie Larson-Green, who currently heads the company's hardware division. Reller and Larson-Green had led the Windows division for several months after the departure of former Windows head Steven Sinofsky in 2012.
It had been announced last September, when Microsoft revealed it was acquiring Nokia, that then-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop would be taking over Microsoft's hardware division once the deal was finalized, with Larson-Green reporting to him at that point. Last Friday, Microsoft announced that Larson-Green would be moving over to a new group leading user interaction experiences for applications and services including Office and Bing.
That would leave CFO Amy Hood and Human Resources head Lisa Brummel as the only women on Microsoft's senior leadership team.
[Update: Here's the story, running in the print edition of The Seattle Times March 4, 2014, on the leadership changes.]
Microsoft has shared an internal email sent by newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella on the leadership shuffle reported on earlier, in which Mark Penn becomes chief strategist at Microsoft and execs Tony Bates and Tami Reller are out.
Here's the email:
From: Satya Nadella
Sent: Monday, March 3, 2014
Subject: Leadership Update
In the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many of you – in person, on Yammer, and in groups in Redmond as well as in our Boston and Northern California offices. (Thank you for all the questions and please keep the input coming!) I’ve also been able to get on the road meeting with customers and investors, which has been really helpful as well.
One of my consistent themes has been a point I made in my original mail – we all need to do our best work, have broad impact and find real meaning in the work we do. Coming together as teams fuels this on a day-to-day basis. And having the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) set both pace and example means a lot to me.
I have discussed this point in various forms with the SLT and have asked for their “all in” commitment as we embark on the next chapter for the company. We need to drive clarity, alignment and intensity across all our work. With that as a backdrop, I want to share a set of changes to the leadership team:
Tony Bates has decided this is the right time for him to look for his next opportunity. Tony came to the company via the Skype acquisition, where he was CEO of Skype, and did a great job of successfully landing that team and continuing to build the service in a high impact way. He also stepped up to the new opportunity of leading the Business Development and Evangelism team over the past eight months. I’ve appreciated Tony’s insights and perspective, and wish him well in his journey. I know he is just a Skype call or message away. Eric Rudder will serve as interim leader responsible for Business Development and Evangelism, while continuing in his role on Advanced Technology.
I have decided we need a single leader running marketing for the company, and have asked Chris Capossela to take on this role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer, reporting to me. I have talked about the premium we need to place on getting very, very focused on things that we can uniquely do. How we articulate our value, how we market our message, how we deliver that value to customers through our advertising and other channels, all have to tie into an overarching strategy. Chris brings a wealth of experience to this need, serving in senior leadership roles across the marketing function for many years. He is a strong organizational leader, and the work he has done with retailers, operators and OEMs on a global basis gives him real visibility and insight into how consumers are buying and using our products. He has been at the center of our devices and services transformation in SMSG as the worldwide leader of the Consumer Channels Group (CCG), starting with the formation and building of CCG, to overseeing the launch of numerous consumer products from Windows 8/8.1, Surface and Xbox One. Chris will be promoted to EVP and join the SLT as a part of his new role and will remain as acting lead for CCG until his replacement is named.
This change in marketing structure provides an opportunity for Mark Penn to play a new leadership role at the company as EVP, Chief Strategy Officer. Mark brings a blend of data analysis and creativity that has led to new ways of working and strong market outcomes such as the “Honestly” campaign and the Super Bowl ad, both of which were widely cited as examples of high impact advertising across the industry. His focus on using data to quickly evaluate and evolve our campaigns has driven new insights and understanding. Mark and his team also will continue to provide input in the area of competitive research and analysis. I am looking forward to applying Mark’s unique skill set across a broader set of challenges facing the company, from new product ideas to helping shape the overall areas of strategic investment. He will be a member of and an advisor to the SLT and will continue to report to me.
Tami Reller agrees with the go-forward approach of a single marketing leader and will support Chris through his transition into his new role. She will then take time off and pursue other interests outside the company. Tami’s contributions to Microsoft are significant; she’s held multiple CFO jobs across the company, for Microsoft Dynamics, the Product and Services Division and Windows. She led marketing, finance and business strategy for Windows including Surface and partner devices. Over the past eight months, she’s led the Marketing Group, bringing many distinct teams together to form a cohesive organization. I have had the good fortune of working with Tami ever since she joined Microsoft and have valued her contributions and look forward to seeing what she does next.
Lastly, I wanted to share a final thought from a book I recently finished about the University of Washington rowing team that won the Olympics in 1936 that was written by Daniel James Brown, who worked at Microsoft for over a decade. It’s a great story of how commitment, determination, and optimism among groups can create history. There is a very evocative description in the book about a team of rowers working together at the highest level – he calls it “the swing of the boat”:
“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called ‘swing.’ It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others….Poetry, that’s what a good swing looks like.”
As a company, as a leadership team, as individuals, that is our goal – to find our swing. As an SLT and across the company we are on our way.
Microsoft's annual SharePoint conference begins today in Las Vegas, with former President Bill Clinton scheduled to deliver the opening keynote to about 10,000 attendees.
(The keynote, starting at 8:30 a.m., is being streamed here.)
At the conference, the company is expected to announce some of the new things it's working on. Among those things:
- An application (codenamed "Oslo") that uses machine learning to show users of Office 365 across SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, Yammer and Office the content deemed most relevant and important to the individual user. (For instance, it might show the email messages deemed most important, rather than just showing them in the order they arrive in the user's inbox.
- A new feature called "Groups" that allows users to create groups -- such as a project team -- that carries across Yammer conversations, Exchange email and calendars, and SharePoint team sites.
- An ability -- dubbed "Inline Social" -- to have social conversations inside documents stored in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business.
- The Office 365 Video Portal to allow businesses to upload, store and discover videos securely.
Microsoft also released today Office 365 SDKs for Windows 8 and Android for developers to build mobile productivity solutions.
John Thompson, Microsoft's new board chairman, believes the company culture needs to change, especially in response to the declining role of Windows in computing.
"I would argue that there are some attributes to Microsoft today that do look vaguely like IBM circa 1990," Thompson said in an interview with Fortune magazine. "The Windows monopoly is in fact under attack, and therefore we're going to have to change or think differently about the management systems and the associated culture of the company as time goes on."
Not that any culture change is likely to happen quickly. "You don't change a company's culture overnight. It's more about the subtle influences and the consistency and predictability of those influences that over time drives that subtle behavior change that we call culture," Thompson said in the interview.
Thompson likened the situation to when IBM realized its monopoly had run out and that the company would have to compete with more agile companies. Lou Gerstner, who became IBM CEO in 1993, brought about the needed change in culture and pace, Thompson said.
Thompson became chairman of Microsoft's board earlier this month after Bill Gates stepped down from the role to become technology advisor to newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella.
Nadella was named Microsoft CEO on Feb. 4, about six months after former CEO Steve Ballmer announced that he would be retiring.
Thompson had some choice words, too, about Microsoft's extended search for a CEO -- he headed the search committee -- and how public it became. A number of high-profile candidates, including Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Qualcomm CEO-elect Steve Mollenkopf and Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg, as well as dark-horse candidates, were reportedly on the short list.
"Candidly, I would have to say a very large percentage of the stuff that got written was just stuff," Thompson said in the Fortune interview. "As stories evolved or emerged or ebbed and flowed I never really expected to have -- for it to have the public profile that it did -- and I certainly never myself expected to have the public profile that I did. ... Somehow the world got this view that I was bigger than life. I was doing my job just like the other directors who were a part of the committee. Yes, I was the chairman of the committee, but the characterization of me as this, you know, person who had this flame being fanned to create this pervasive view of who I was and what I was doing and all that, that's just not true."
Xbox One will soon be Twitchier than the PlayStation 4.
The popular video game broadcasting service Twitch is bringing a slew of fresh features to Microsoft's newest console. An update next month will add the ability to live stream video games, join in on games with broadcasters, initiate game broadcasts with voice commands, archive game clips and watch Twitch streams broadcast from any device, including the PS4.
Previously, Xbox One users could only spectate Twitch streams and record game clips with the system's Upload app.
"It's complete integration," said Emmett Shear, co-founder and CEO of Twitch. "It's exciting because we've never had the ability to broadcast from a console like this with such a deep level of integration. The concept of being able to join a broadcasters' party is really cool, and it's another step in the direction of interacting more closely with broadcasters."
The updated Twitch app will also include Twitch's chat features and the ability for users to broadcast from their living rooms with Xbox One's camera-based Kinect system. It's scheduled to launch alongside the March 11 debut of "Titanfall," the much-anticipated man-versus-machine shooter being released exclusively for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
It's good news for Xbox One players, but what took so long?
The update is coming months after Microsoft Corp. rival Sony Corp. included Twitch streaming capabilities when it launched its PlayStation 4 ahead of the Xbox One last November. However, the PS4 version of Twitch -- which Shear noted was crafted by Sony, not Twitch -- only permits PS4 users to spectate other PS4s and doesn't allow them to easily connect.
"That's a very certain type of experience," said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft's vice president of marketing and strategy for Xbox. "For us, we thought that was too limiting for what our fans would want. Our fans really want the full next-gen service, so that's why we decided to take our time, do it right and have it come out in this fashion."
Twitch, which features one million live broadcasters and 45 million viewers a month, has become an ESPN for gamers. The service's live and recorded broadcasts include such content as comically narrated clips of games, matches from seasoned e-sports athletes, "speed runs" -- clips of players plowing through games -- and streams of everyday gamers playing online.
"This will open up the social aspect of Xbox One in a new way," Mehdi said. "The community of Twitch is huge, and this allows us to type into that, and frankly do something that's never been done before on consoles. You'll be able to broadcast to any device and consume anyone's broadcast from any device. It's a console experience unique to the Xbox One."
Microsoft and Sony have both billed their latest consoles as more social and interactive machines with no technological barriers to sharing live game footage because the PS4 and Xbox One, which respectively sold 4.2 and 3 million units worldwide last year, don't require additional technology like video capture hardware to stream content. It's built in.
Twitch said last month that 20 percent of its broadcasts between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3 were from PS4 owners and that more than 1.7 million streams have been broadcast through PS4 since the console's Nov. 15 launch. Shear said he hopes the new capabilities of Twitch's app Xbox One will eventually come to other devices, including the PS4.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang .
Julie Larson-Green, currently head of Microsoft's hardware division, will be leaving that role to take on a new job working to unify the user experience across Microsoft products such as Office, Skype, Lync and Bing.
In her new role, Larson-Green will be leading a team within Microsoft's Application and Services group called "My Life & Work," and serving as chief experience officer.
It will be her third role in the company in less than a year.
Larson-Green had been one of two leaders of the Windows division at Microsoft after former Windows head Steven Sinofsky left in late 2012.
Then, in the companywide reorganization that began last July, Larson-Green was named executive vice president of the Devices and Services group, leading the division responsible for developing Microsoft hardware, including Xbox, Surface, and accessories. She also oversees Microsoft Studios, including the development of games, entertainment and interactive experiences.
As an executive vice president, she is part of Microsoft's senior leadership team -- the company's top echelon.
But Larson-Green was essentially demoted when it was announced in September that Microsoft would be acquiring Nokia and that, once that deal closes, former Microsoft exec and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop would be returning to Microsoft to head the Devices and Services group.
Larson-Green would then be reporting to Elop, losing her executive vice president title and her place on the senior leadership team.
So her move to the Applications and Services group, which will take place after the Nokia-Microsoft deal closes and Elop makes his expected transition in to Microsoft, will essentially be a lateral move. In her new role, Larson-Green will be reporting to executive vice president Qi Lu. (The Application and Services group includes Office, Office 365, SharePoint, Exchange, Yammer, Lync, Skype, Bing, Bing Apps, MSN and the Advertising platforms and business group.)
Here is the memo she sent to some Microsoft employees:
As you will read in the notes below from Qi and Satya, I’ve accepted a new challenge, leading the My Life & Work team in ASG and serving as the Chief Experience Officer (CXO). As hard as it is for me to leave Devices & Studios, I’m thrilled about this opportunity. In working with company leaders this year to establish our One Microsoft vision and plan, I thought about ways I could have impact on helping Microsoft prepare for the future and innovate. My discussions with Satya and Qi made clear this is a critical space to drive new thinking and an essential way to help the shape the company’s direction. I’m looking forward to developing the Digital Life & Digital Work Experience Substrate that powers modern digital experiences regardless of device, as well as working across ASG to strengthen customer experiences.
I want to thank each and every one of you for welcoming me and supporting me as the leader of Devices & Studios over the past 7 months. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished during such a short timeframe. We launched Xbox One, Surface 2 & Pro 2, blockbuster games like Forza and Ryse, a brand new Xbox Music and Video service, PPI, and some amazing unannounced innovations just to name a few – incredibly impressive!
Our opportunity to grow as a world-class devices and experiences company is greater than ever, and I have every belief that as One Microsoft we’re on the right path. The addition of Nokia Devices & Services into the DnS family will add tremendous scale, talent and opportunity for our future.
I’ll remain in role leading the DnS organization in the interim until the Nokia deal closes and Stephen Elop makes his transition to Microsoft. We’ve been meeting regularly throughout and are making a lot of progress, ensuring our teams are ready for the Day 1 close and beyond.
You are all in great hands with Stephen and already we’ve shared a lot with him and his LT from Nokia regarding all of the fantastic people, teams and products in DnS. I also know many of you are looking forward to welcoming the Nokia team and working more closely with them.
As I look to the future, I’m reminded of a favorite Chinese proverb: “To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”
I encourage you all to stay focused on the journey and opportunities ahead, and know that I’ll be there in step with you as we launch the next chapter of Microsoft.
[This post has been updated to include comment from Microsoft]
Nokia, whose phone business is soon to become part of Microsoft, introduced its first Android-based smartphone today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The Nokia X line of phones -- which include the Nokia X, Nokia X+ and Nokia XL -- is based on Google's Android operating system, meaning the phones will run Android apps and that it should be relatively easy for developers to port their Android apps to the Nokia Store.
But the phones will also take users to Microsoft's cloud -- not Google's -- and will include Microsoft services including Skype, OneDrive and Outlook.com, as well as Nokia services such as HereMaps and MixRadio.
The move can be seen as targeting two key weaknesses in Nokia's and Microsoft's 3-year-old Windows Phone partnership: comparative lack of apps and the ability to sell cheaper smartphones in emerging markets
Nokia had made a huge bet in 2011 to use Windows Phone as its primary smartphone operating system.
But while Nokia's line of Lumia Windows Phones played a key role in boosting Microsoft's (still tiny) smartphone market share, the partnership was not as beneficial to Nokia. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, the company saw sales in its handset division slide 29 percent from a year ago.
So Nokia is focusing on creating smartphones that cost less than 100 Euros (about $137) and that will appeal in growth markets -- "a massive opportunity for us," said Stephen Elop, executive vice president of Nokia's Devices and Services group, who spoke at Nokia's press conference at Mobile World Congress. (The webcast of the press conference is here.)
Elop, a former Microsoft executive who left to become Nokia CEO, will be returning to run Microsoft's hardware division once Microsoft's deal to acquire Nokia's handset business closes.
All of the Nokia X phones will be "available widely around the world starting in growth markets," Elop said.
The Nokia X, available immediately, will sell for 89 Euros; the X+, available in the second quarter, will sell for 99 Euros; and the XL, also available in the second quarter, will sell for 109 Euros.
Elop said the Lumia line of Windows Phone will continue to be the flagship line of smartphones, while the Nokia X line will be priced below the Lumias and be targeted toward growth markets. Nokia's Asha line, and the new Nokia 220, is geared toward even lower price points.
Even as Elop introduced a Nokia phone based on a platform created by Microsoft's archrival Google, he also tried to have it both ways.
The Nokia X line provides a gate to Microsoft, he said.
"We are deliberately using Android Open Source Project without Google cloud," Elop said. "This assures a high degree of Android app compability while introducing the next billion people to Microsoft.
Shortly after the conclusion of Nokia's press conference, Microsoft posted a statement from spokesman Frank Shaw that said, in part:
First, our transaction with Nokia has not yet closed. Today, we operate as two independent companies as required by antitrust law, and we will until the acquisition is complete. The anticipated close timeframe for the acquisition remains end of the first quarter of 2014.
Second, we’re pleased to see Microsoft services like Skype, OneDrive and Outlook.com being introduced on these devices. This provides the opportunity to bring millions of people, particularly in growth markets, into the Microsoft family. ...
Finally, our primary smartphone strategy remains Windows Phone, and our core device platform for developers is the Windows platform.
Microsoft announced Sunday at Mobile World Congress a series of moves that it hopes will increase the popularity of Windows 8/8.1 and Windows Phone.
Windows 8, which Microsoft launched in late 2012, was a radical overhaul of Windows' user interface design, mashing into one operating system both the traditional desktop user interface and a new tile-based user interface designed to work well on touch devices.
The problem was many users of traditional mouse-and-keyboard -- i.e. non-touch -- devices found Windows 8 annoying to use.
A new update coming this spring for Windows 8.1 is designed to make the platform friendlier for those using non-touch devices.
Among the features coming in the update:
- Search control, a power button and settings will be added to the Start screen.
- Right clicking on a tile will bring up a context menu, rather than the app bar that comes up at the bottom of the screen in touch devices.
- When Windows Store apps are open, a title bar on top with a close button will display so users will know how to exit those apps.
"We love touch," Joe Belfiore, who works on the Windows phone, tablet and PC platforms, said in a video posted on the Windows Phone Blog. "But we think we can improve the situation for all those mouse-and-keyboard users."
Belfiore also said the company is also bringing its hardware requirements down to allow its manufacturing partners to build lower-cost devices. The upcoming Windows 8.1 update will enable partners to build devices with just 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB storage, he said.
(Along the lines of allowing manufacturers to produce lower-cost devices, Microsoft is reportedly reducing the price of Windows 8.1 by 70 percent -- charging $15 instead of $50 -- for makers of devices that sell for less than $250, according to a Bloomberg report.)
Belfiore also announced Sunday several new hardware partners for Windows Phone, including Lenovo, LG, ZTE, Foxconn, Gionee, JSR, Karbonn, Lava (Xolo), and Longcheer. (HTC, Huawei, Nokia and Samsung are already Windows Phone partners.)
Microsoft is on a re-branding roll.
After yesterday's rollout of OneDrive to replace the name of SkyDrive, comes today's rebranding of Office Web Apps as Office Online.
Why change the name of Microsoft's browser-based version of Office that users can access for free online?
The Office folks say (in a blog post):
We ’re renaming Office Web Apps to Office Online so you know where to find our free online experience. We heard from customers that the inclusion of Apps in our name was confusing. Are they something I install? Do I go to an app store to get them? No, to use them all you need is a web browser. Ah! You say. So it’s like Office, online. Yes, exactly. Office Online.
Office Online can be found at Office.com.
Last month, Microsoft announced it had chosen the name "OneDrive" to replace "SkyDrive" as the brand for its personal cloud storage service.
Today, Microsoft started rolling out that new brand name out to the SkyDrive/OneDrive website; mobile apps on Windows Phone, Android and iOS; Windows 8, 7 and Vista; and Xbox. The update should be coming soon to Mac OS X as well.
Ironically, the two places where the OneDrive branding will take a bit longer to update are Windows 8.1 and Office on Windows 8.1. Because SkyDrive has been built so deeply into those systems, the OneDrive branding will have to come as part of updates for Windows 8.1 and Office, said Angus Logan, a marketing manager for OneDrive.
OneDrive (and OneDrive for Business) will operate the same way that SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro currently do, though Microsoft has added some new features just in time for the name change.
Some of the new features include: automatic camera roll backup for Android phones, connectivity between Office on Android and OneDrive for Android, the ability to pin folders from OneDrive to the start screen as a live tile on Windows Phones, the ability to share a photo or group of photos directly from OneDrive to Facebook, and the ability for videos on OneDrive that you share to adapt to your recipient's Internet speed so that less buffering is needed.
OneDrive, like SkyDrive before it, comes with 7 GB of free storage. An additional 3 GB is automatically added if you have a OneDrive app on a mobile device, take a photo and it goes into your camera roll using OneDrive. Those who refer friends can get an additional 500 MB -- up to 5 GB -- for each friend who accepts the invitation. Microsoft is also doing a promo today where the first 100,000 people who access their OneDrive account will get an additional 100 GB of storage for a year. (If you're one of the 100,000 you'll get a notice saying so.)
Microsoft had agreed to change SkyDrive's name after reaching a settlement last year with British Sky Broadcasting Group, which had contended that Microsoft’s use of the name “SkyDrive” infringed on the British company’s “Sky” trademark.
Microsoft employees, who traditionally have given millions each year to charities, broke their record last year by raising $113 million for 19,123 nonprofits worldwide.
That dollar amount includes the employees' cash donations, and contributions from the company to match employees' cash donations and volunteer hours. (The company matches cash donations and volunteer hours at $17 an hour, up to $15,000 annually for each employee.)
Last year, more than 7,400 employees volunteered some 460,000 hours at nonprofits, according a blog post by Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel.
Of that $113 million, $59 million went to 4,858 nonprofits in Washington state, including the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children's Hospital Foundation and United Way of King County. Microsoft's employees, along with the company match program, have contributed almost $600 million to Washington nonprofits over the course of the Microsoft Employee Giving Program's 30-some years, Smith wrote.
Overall, the employee giving program has raised more than $1 billion for nonprofits worldwide.
Microsoft and DocuSign have partnered up to bring the ability for users to sign and submit documents directly within Office 365, rather than having to rely on print-outs, pen and paper, scanning or faxing.
The partnership, announced Monday, has yielded eSignature apps built on the Office 365 platform and that are integrated within Outlook, Word, SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server 2013. The apps will be available in the Office Store by early March.
Among other things, the partnership means that corporations' Office 365 and SharePoint administrators will be able to add DocuSign apps for all users directly from their administration consoles, and that DocuSigned documents are automatically stored in OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) for Business.