Microsoft shuts down Xbox Entertainment Studios →

I was curious to see what this division could do back in April. Six series were reported to be in the line-up. The shut-down does not impact them, but we won’t see anything else from the studio. This is part of the 18,000 job cuts plan announced today.

Re/code has several details:

Xbox Entertainment Studios fit with Microsoft’s plan to dominate the living room through its game console. But the unit has struggled to deliver on its promise.

Sources paint a picture of a disorganized studio that struggled to close deals and lacked a fully fleshed-out business model. This inability to execute has turned off potential studio partners, they say, complicating the process of securing premium content.

Because of slow Xbox One sales, the studio probably did not seem like a good idea anymore:

Microsoft has moved away from positioning the Xbox One as an all-in-one entertainment system — a message that appeared to alienate gamers who are the most likely first buyers of a new game system. At this year’s E3 game industry trade show in Los Angeles, it was all about the games.

Yes, you buy a gaming console to play games. It’s nice if you can stream TV or buy/rent other content, but you bought the console because it can play good games otherwise you would have bought an Apple TV.

Microsoft will focus solely on Windows Phone. No more Nokia feature-phones →

The Verge:

Nokia might have been famous for its feature phones, but Microsoft is planning to wind that business down over the course of the next 18 months. In an internal memo sent to Microsoft employees, Jo Harlow, who heads up the phone business under Microsoft devices, reveals the focus is very much on Windows Phone. Development and investment for Asha, Series 40, and Nokia X handsets will shift to what is described as “maintenance mode,” and services to support existing devices will be shut down over the next 18 months. “This means there will be no new features or updates to services on any mobile phones platform as a result of these plans,” says Harlow, in the internal memo seen by The Verge.

Every mobile phone is eventually going to be a smartphone so it makes sense to get rid of feature phones. Microsoft will be able to focus on one mobile operating system from now on. Good decision!

Microsoft announces 18,000 job cuts →

Re/code:

Some 12,500 of the cuts are coming from the Nokia Devices and Services unit — roughly half that unit’s workforce. The company said it expects pre-tax charges over the next four quarters of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion for severance and other costs.

The cuts are just the latest acknowledgement by Microsoft and new CEO Satya Nadella that the company is committed to making tough decisions to improve its position in the technology landscape.

It’s a lot of jobs, but it is not shocking given the Nokia deal.

Nadella also expressed the need to simplify Microsoft’s organisation in his memo:

First, we will simplify the way we work to drive greater accountability, become more agile and move faster. As part of modernizing our engineering processes the expectations we have from each of our disciplines will change. In addition, we plan to have fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making. This includes flattening organizations and increasing the span of control of people managers.

He needs to shake things up. Hopefully, this reorganisation will help Microsoft to move a little faster.

US military studied how to influence Twitter users in Darpa-funded research →

The Guardian:

The activities of users of Twitter and other social media services were recorded and analysed as part of a major project funded by the US military, in a program that covers ground similar to Facebook’s controversial experiment into how to control emotions by manipulating news feeds.

Research funded directly or indirectly by the US Department of Defense’s military research department, known as Darpa, has involved users of some of the internet’s largest destinations, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Kickstarter, for studies of social connections and how messages spread.

It should not surprise us that social media is heavily researched. It is exactly like research on our brain’s perception of body language, voice tone, eye contact, the speaker’s proximity and so on. Other research topics include our perception within groups and how it affects our emotions or decisions. I do not hear many rebel against these. They are however used by politicians to convince us or to give us a sense of confidence, same for advertisers. HR managers resort to them during job interviews to gauge certain aspects of our personalities too. It would be a shame to leave social media out of research and forgo a possibility to understand ourselves better.

It seems also natural for governments to study how misinformation spreads, how others use social media to spread their message, etc. It looks a lot like the traditional work of a Minister of Defence.

I think what shocks people is realising that algorithms are not as neutral as they thought, that they can be factored to display a certain reality and that these studies can now use real-world information instead of recreating representative study groups.

Hands-on with the Amazon Fire Phone: Dynamic Perspective →

The Verge:

Amazon has baked in some power-user tricks, though. A swipe in from the left or right brings in various panes depending on your context. In email it gives you basic navigation and also a list of all your recent attachments. On the homescreen you get universal navigation and weather. All of these also come in with a quick tilt gesture, though to be honest we found it easier just to swipe. That should be a little worrisome for Amazon — one of the core features of the phone felt kind of unnecessary.

The same could be said for some of the other Dynamic Perspective features. Tilting a map to bring up labels or peek at the edge is a neat demo. But in real use it turns out that when you have a phone in your hands, you happen to have fingers that are right there and ready to be used to do stuff on your phone. The lockscreen stuff is super neat — a poker table where the time is literally printed on the felt was particularly fun to shift around — but after a couple of minutes it’s hard to see what the functional advantage is here. On the other hand, we’re excited to see what game developers can do here. 3D gaming on phones was a (well-deserved) bust, but this perspective stuff could be less annoying and inspire new ways of doing things in a game.

It looks really impressive and fun in The Verge’s video, but, from what I can read, the big question is whether this is useful compared to using fingers.

Definitely more interesting for games.

Amazon’s new Fire Phone →

The Verge:

The Fire Phone is designed for Amazon’s “most engaged customers,” Bezos said, and it shows. Like Amazon’s other devices in the Kindle family, the Fire Phone’s plain-looking body and sharp screen hide some decent — if not quite industry-leading — computing hardware. But it’s in the mix of the phone’s hardware and software that Amazon tries to stand apart, offering subtle 3D effects, unique gestures for using the phone, and gallons of Amazon-branded video and music features that work with its other devices. Starting at $199.99 on AT&T with a free year of Prime membership, it’s clear that Amazon wants the Fire Phone to rise to the top of an already crowded sea of competitors.

Let’s wait for the reviews to see wether it’s a good phone or not. I’m not part of Amazon’s “most engaged customers” so I don’t get much excitement from this release.

I’m curious though to hear more about the head-tracking technology and the Dynamic Perspective feature, especially its effects on battery life.

See a fashion icon take on Google Glass →

The Verge:

Just a few blocks from Google’s New York offices, the company held an event today that marked the launch of a partnership with fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg. Partnership rumors have been floating around the still-young Glass brand since its inception, and there’s a reason: Google considers this an important step in expanding the reach of the product, which has seen its fair share of detractors. Von Furstenberg herself is no stranger to the tech after using Glass at a runway event in 2012, and she was seen at today’s event wearing many of the new designs throughout the afternoon while she maneuvered through the crowd.

It’s easy to see what Goole is trying to do with these partnerships. They want celebrities and fashion icons to endorse Glass in order to lift the general public’s negative perception regarding the product.
I am curious to see if they will succeed, because I don’t see it happening.

It is an intersting gadget, I agree, but nothing I would want to wear on my face everyday. It looks intrusive in itself, but what is even more repellent to me is that I would feel like an idiot wearing these glasses.

Maybe, I’ll be proven wrong.

The Verge has many photos of the event on their website.

The economics of “everyone’s private driver” →

felixsalmon about Uber-like services:

Companies like Uber and Airbnb turn goods into services: they take resources like cars and housing which are often idle, and monetize them. Most cars spend most of their time just parked, taking up space and performing no useful function. If we could all drive the same number of aggregate miles but with a substantial reduction in the number of cars on the road, that would benefit everybody. That’s the promise of Uber, and Lyft, and even of Zipcar: they’re freeing up space on the streets by making it less necessary for people to own their own rarely-driven vehicles. And at the same time, people who do own their own vehicles can turn them from liabilities into assets.

I encourage you to read his analysis of Uber drivers’ revenues. They seem to make a good living.

Step inside Elon Musk’s incredible new space machine →

The Verge:

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has had plenty of memorable milestones, not the least of which came in 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft become the first commercial vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. Of course, that was just the beginning for SpaceX — Musk is nothing if not ambitious — and the company’s next goal is to tackle manned space flight.

Last night at its Hawthorne, California headquarters, SpaceX unveiled its newest capsule, the Dragon V2.

SpaceX Dragon V2

Man, Elon Musk is incredibly ambitious.

NOMOS Glashütte – Look over the watchmakers’ shoulders →

Precision.

The Man Behind The Mountain →

Beautiful.

More info on the OpenSSL bug →

Timothy B. Lee for Vox:

Here’s how it works: the SSL standard includes a heartbeat option, which allows a computer at one end of an SSL connection to send a short message to verify that the other computer is still online and get a response back. Researchers found that it’s possible to send a cleverly formed, malicious heartbeat message that tricks the computer at the other end into divulging secret information. Specifically, a vulnerable computer can be tricked into transmitting the contents of the server’s memory, known as RAM.

Useful to note that patching the servers is not enough, companies need to reissue all the private keys in order to solve the problem. An attacker could have gain access to those and still use them to steal information once the servers are patched.

Critical crypto bug found in OpenSSL →

ArsTechnica:

Researchers have discovered an extremely critical defect in the cryptographic software library an estimated two-thirds of Web servers use to identify themselves to end users and prevent the eavesdropping of passwords, banking credentials, and other sensitive data.

[…]

The researchers, who work at Google and software security firm Codenomicon, said even after vulnerable websites install the OpenSSL patch, they may still remain vulnerable to attacks. The risk stems from the possibility that attackers already exploited the vulnerability to recover the private key of the digital certificate, passwords used to administer the sites, or authentication cookies and similar credentials used to validate users to restricted parts of a website. Fully recovering from the two-year-long vulnerability may also require revoking any exposed keys, reissuing new keys, and invalidating all session keys and session cookies.

Fuck.

Microsoft will produce its own TV shows for its XBOX service and test interactive ways to watch TV →

Bloomberg reports that six series are in the line-up:

Microsoft Corp. is going Hollywood with a cast including comedians Sarah Silverman and Seth Green, aspiring World Cup players and eerily human robots.

All are involved in shows that Microsoft’s new Xbox television studio plans to roll out globally starting in June. Helmed by former CBS Corp. honcho Nancy Tellem, who Microsoft hired 19 months ago to build a TV powerhouse from the ground up, the studio now has six series lined up — including a science-fiction thriller called “Humans” about humanoid robot workers — and more than a dozen projects in development.

The TV shows are targeted at the current audience of XBOX owners, Tellem said:

“We aren’t trying to find something that’s going to be accepted by the largest common denominator, which is what a lot of people in the business look for,” she said. “We’re focused on what we feel our audience on our platform wants.”

Every show will be interactive:

The company is taking the unusual step of only greenlighting shows that can be combined with the interactive components to encourage users to engage across consoles, phones and tablets. By hiring a team of young Hollywood executives and pairing them with software engineers, Microsoft wants to finally crack a code that the entertainment and game industries have had trouble doing alone.

Curious to see what these interactive programs are going to look like.

‘Android ‘started over’ the day the iPhone was announced’ →

The Atlantic has an excerpt from ‘Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution’ by Fred Vogelstein. The Verge sums up:

Already in intensive development for two years by 2007, Android was Google’s vision for a mobile operating system of the future. Still, in spite of all the work that had already gone into it, the Mountain View company was sure it couldn’t carry on along the trajectory it’d been following — the earliest Android devices looked very much like Googlified BlackBerrys — and had to alter its plans to compete with the iPhone’s new touch-centric interface. A book excerpt in The Atlantic cites Andy Rubin, who led the early development of Android, as saying “I guess we’re not going to ship that phone,” in reference to the Sooner project Google was initially planning to reveal to the world.

Finally, the hypocrisy can stop. Google did follow Apple. At least, they realized it was the right path.

Square introduces Square Cash →

The Verge:

To use Square Cash, all you do is compose an email to a friend, type the amount you way to pay in the subject title, and cc cash@square.com. If it’s your first time using the service, you’re directed to Square’s website where you type in your debit card number — and you’re done. There are no accounts to create, apps to download, friends to add, surcharges to pay, or bank account numbers to look up.

That simple.

I wish this was available in France. It would free my group of friends from recurring problems and discussions about money.

Samsung announces the Galaxy Gear, a smartwatch →

The Verge:

There are a couple of significant downsides that temper my enthusiasm for the new Gear. First and foremost is the speed and intuitiveness of the user interface — or rather, the lack thereof. There’s a tangible lag to anything you do with the Gear, while the swipe gestures are hard to figure out and do different things depending on where you are in the menus.

Add to that a bad speaker, short battery life and a price at $299, what’s incredibly great?

I get that it’s the first release and that it is going to get better over time, but it certainly looks like something rushed out in case Apple comes out with a watch too.

Expecting the Unexpected From Jeff Bezos →

The NT Times has gathered many bits of information about Jeff Bezos, Amazon and what Bezos might do with The Washington Post. Among very interesting bits about his personality, testimonies from early employees, there is a description of Amazon’s current business model. Nothing new really, but a good reminder that Amazon’s goal is not profitability for the moment:

Though indisputably one of the great marvels of the age, Amazon is a curious beast that offers few obvious lessons for how a newspaper like The Post might become profitable. Financial writers have noted that Apple makes more than twice as much money in a quarter than Amazon earned during the last decade. Last quarter, Amazon had a net loss of $7 million. But Wall Street loves Amazon anyway, despite its slim margins.

Amazon tends to give its profits directly to its customers. It sells to them at a discount, will often ship free and, if a customer wants to return an item, will refund the money before even receiving the return.

Sometimes it will even do more. Say you buy a book, and then decide it’s not for you. You tell Amazon you are returning it. You might get a message like this: “Keep this item and receive a refund! It’s on us!”

That’s a sure way to win friends and lose money. But Wall Street believes that the company will someday monetize tens of millions of customers — in other words, make a real profit each time it sells them something. Maybe next year. Or the year after. From the very beginning, Mr. Bezos has made Amazon an investment story about the company’s potential rather than its reality.

Jobs, Reviewed by Steve Wozniak →

Steve Wozniack actually commented on Gizmodo’s ‘Jobs’ review. His comment has been republished by the site as an article:

I saw Jobs tonight. I thought the acting throughout was good. I was attentive and entertained but not greatly enough to recommend the movie. One friend who is in the movie said he didn’t want to watch fiction so he wasn’t interested in seeing it.

I suspect a lot of what was wrong with the film came from Ashton’s own image of Jobs. Ashton made some disingenuous and wrong statements about me recently (including my supposedly having said that the ‘movie’ was bad, which was probably Ashton believing pop press headlines) and that I didn’t like the movie because I’m paid to consult on another one. These are examples of Ashton still being in character. Either film would have paid me to consult, but the Jobs one already had a script written. I can’t take that creative leadership from someone else. And I was turned off by the Jobs script. But I still hoped for a great movie.

I still can’t decide if I’ll go or not. The film could be a good entertainment as long as I don’t expect the script to stick to reality.

Small Empires 002: Rap Genius →

For The Verge, Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of Reddit) visits New York City start-ups. He met in the second episode with RapGenius‘s founders. A 20-minute video well worth watching.

Not a big fan of the founders’ style and attitude though, but I love how simple their idea is and how well it is executed. I use the website daily, not to annotate, but to understand rap lyrics. A true goldmine.