It’s been a week of ups and downs across the tech world, with exciting revelations and juicy rumors, but also some shocking announcements. If you’ve struggled to keep with all that’s happened, we know how you feel – but fear not, for 7 Days is here once again to guide you through the week’s top tech news.
We begin this week in the US, where T-Mobile announced its new ‘Mobile Without Borders’ initiative, dropping roaming charges for visitors to Canada and Mexico – the latest example of T-Mo’s customer-focused ‘Uncarrier’ efforts.
Over in the UK, the BBC unveiled its new Micro Bit, a tiny computer that will be given free to children across the country to help them to learn how to code. Developed in partnership with Microsoft, ARM, Samsung and other tech giants, the Micro Bit follows in the footsteps of the BBC Micro, the highly-regarded microcomputer that helped make computers a familiar sight in UK classrooms in the 1980s.
Microsoft is now giving away 12-month subscriptions to the EA Access gaming service with its Xbox One in the UK. That deal isn’t yet available in the United States, but Microsoft is now selling EA Access subscriptions on its US store.
Microsoft also released its latest Xbox One update, preparing the console for Windows 10 game streaming, and new backward compatibility support for Xbox 360 games.
The company delivered a significant update to its Xbox Music app on iOS and Android too, with a range of improvements, including the addition of support for music streaming from OneDrive.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently stated that the company is facing some ‘tough choices’ in its near future, and it was widely believed that its Xbox Music service might be facing the chop. However, on Monday, Microsoft announced that it is relaunching the service with a new name: Groove.
Microsoft explained the thinking behind the new name, and also confirmed that it has dropped the Xbox brand from its video service, which is now named ‘Movies & TV’. (Of course, it's worth noting that separating these services from existing Microsoft branding would, theoretically, also make them easier to sell off in the future.)
But as Neowin editor Anthony Tosie explained this week, a rebrand can’t hide the fact that these apps still aren't very good.
But while Microsoft’s entertainment services escaped the swing of its axe, its phone division wasn’t so fortunate. The company announced a major ‘restructuring’ of its phone hardware business on Wednesday, taking a $7.6 billion write-down on assets related to its $7.2 billion Nokia acquisition last year. It also revealed that 7,800 jobs will be cut from its workforce.
Microsoft also revealed that it will now focus its smartphone efforts on three key market segments, and it later emerged that the company plans to release no more than six new phones per year. Given that it’s released seven new phones in the last eight months, and all of them have been aimed at the low end of the market, it certainly seems that Microsoft could do with focusing its product range a bit.
Further cuts were announced on Friday, as Microsoft revealed that its MSN Food & Drink, MSN Health & Fitness, MSN Travel and Photosynth apps are all being discontinued.
With the devastating cuts to its mobile division, a huge reduction in its handset range, and the scaling back of its first-party apps, some people are questioning whether Microsoft is truly committed to the smartphone market. In our latest poll this week, we asked if you intend to buy a Windows 10 Mobile phone given these recent developments – be sure to cast your vote and have your say!
Given the extent of Microsoft’s mobile restructuring, it would be easy to dismiss the company’s Windows 10 Mobile efforts as all but irrelevant. But on Friday, I explained how Microsoft’s new mobile OS lays the foundations a truly ‘mobile-first’ future, potentially helping the smartphone to become a far more versatile device – perhaps one day even replacing PCs and consoles.
It seems that one of Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile phones may include a feature that will surely appeal to the selfie-obsessed. According to semi-retired leaker @evleaks, an upcoming Lumia device will include a front-facing camera flash.
It also looks like Microsoft is planning to launch a range of new mobile accessories, including updated versions of the Treasure Tag NFC tracker and MD-12 wireless speaker, along with a new mobile dock for Windows 10 phones, codenamed ‘Munchkin’.
Windows 10 Mobile is still months away from its launch, but its development continues to proceed with the help of those on its Windows Insider program. Mobile Insider Preview build 10149 made its way to those on the Slow ring earlier this week.
But on Friday, Microsoft rolled out a new Windows 10 Mobile preview, build 10166, to the Fast ring, promising significant “improvements to core quality” in this latest update.
The launch of Windows 10 for PCs is now less than three weeks away, but Microsoft is continuing to make improvements to the OS. On Monday, build 10162 was released to the Slow ring.
On the same day, Microsoft promised that it would release another new build later in the week, and on Thursday, it did:
- Windows 10 Insider Preview build 10166 rolls out to the Fast ring
- Gallery: Build 10166
- Microsoft Wi-Fi goes live in the new build
- Windows 10 SDK Preview build 10166 now available
That official release was followed on Friday by the emphatically unofficial leak of build 10176.
On Monday, we got confirmation from reliable sources that Microsoft planned to sign off on its Windows 10 code this week, finally reaching the all-important RTM milestone ahead of its launch later this month. However, a few days later, it emerged that the company’s planned July 9 deadline for RTM had slipped, and it now intends to finalize Windows 10’s code by next week instead.
Mozilla revealed this week that it’s working on a version of its Firefox browser for Windows 10, and said that it’s coming “soon”. Maybe they’ll surprise us and make good on that promise – but don’t hold your breath.
Let’s not forget that Mozilla originally announced a Windows 8 version of Firefox in February 2012. It took them two years to finally release that product, only to then abandon its development a few weeks later.
Microsoft unveiled a new version of Bing Maps on Monday, a few days after announcing that it will no longer collect its own mapping data for the service. Featuring a redesigned interface, the new Bing Maps Preview is available to try out now.
While most people agree that Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset is an impressive piece of kit, the company has attracted some criticism for not doing a better job of communicating how limited the headset’s field of view actually is. HoloLens demos have so far given the impression that the experience is completely immersive, encompassing your full range of vision, including the peripheral areas, when the reality is far more limited than that.
But this week, Microsoft released a video which more realistically demonstrates the actual field of view that HoloLens offers.
The company also rolled out a new SDK for its Band wearable device, opening up data to developers, and introducing new ‘Band Web Tiles’. This new feature can be used to deliver ‘glanceable’ information, pulled from the web, and displayed on the device’s tiny screen.
Another major product that emerged from its preview phase this week was Office 2016 for Mac. The full official release of Microsoft’s new productivity suite is now available for Apple’s OS X in 139 countries and 16 languages. However, only Office 365 subscribers can get it now – those who prefer to pay outright for the product suite, rather than by subscription, will have to wait until September.
Before we wrap things up, check out two of our latest articles, in which we shared five things we love about Lumia Windows Phones, and five things we hate about them. Let us know what you think, and if you have any suggestions of your own!
And finally, make sure you tune in to The Redmond Report, our new weekly podcast where the week’s Microsoft news all comes together and finally makes sense. This week, Neowin’s Brad Sams considers Windows 10 RTM, the Surface Pro 4, what’s happening with Windows Phone, and more!
These articles are brought to you in partnership with Neowin.