Windows 10 to get ‘holographic’ headset and Cortana

Microsoft has revealed that Windows 10 will bring its voice-controlled assistant Cortana to PCs.

It also unveiled a headset that it said would one day project the operating system over views of the real world.

In addition, the firm announced that the OS upgrade would be offered free of charge for devices running Windows 8, Windows 7 and Windows Phone.

The offer, which is limited to the Windows 10’s first year of release, may aid its adoption.

It marks a change in strategy from Microsoft’s previous policy of charging for major updates, and could help avoid a repeat of the relatively slow uptake of Windows 8.

One analyst suggested the firm had needed to renew interest in its ecosystem.

“Overall, we know that about only about 10% of computers are running Windows 8 and the adoption rate among companies is similar or lower,” said Frank Gillett, an analyst at the Forrester consultancy.

“Developers are not paying much attention to Windows for mass market consumer apps, and you could even argue that for enterprise software most of the energy is going into mobile apps for iPad and Android tablets.

“Windows 10 is in effect a huge invitation to software developers to write exciting, powerful applications that will draw consumers.

“My hunch is that they can succeed in getting a new generation of PC and tablet applications. The challenge is getting people interested in its phones.”

Holographic helmet

Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella said the HoloLens headset represented a “magical moment” of “category creation” that developers lived for.

The wearable tech’s augmented reality see-through lenses represent a major leap forward over Google Glass and other existing eyewear – assuming the machine lives up to its on-stage demo, in which computer-generated elements appeared in the world surrounding the wearer.

The company said that the final version of the machine would not need to be linked to other devices to work, and should be released within Windows 10’s “timeframe”.

It revealed Nasa was already working with the kit, and said the US space agency hoped to start controlling its Mars rovers with a prototype version as soon as July.

Other demos involving the machine included the wearer:

  • playing Minecraft with the video game’s graphics appearing over living room furniture
  • seeing a Skype video appear as if it was taking place on a building wall
  • creating a model of a drone, which she saw in front of her face while shaping it by moving her hands and giving voice commands

“The true innovation HoloLens delivers will be determined by developer commitment in the months and years to come,” commented Geoff Blaber from the CCS Insight consultancy.

“Windows 10 is a defining moment for Satya Nadella early in his tenure as CEO.

“The collaboration required to deliver HoloLens to market is an encouraging sign that he’s breaking down the silos that slowed innovation and stalled execution in recent years.”

Cortana on PCs

Windows 10 brings the same operating system to devices of all sizes, rather than having different ones for PCs/tablets, mobile phones and the firm’s Xbox games console.

One of the key features that consumers will be able to use on PCs from “day one” is Cortana – the voice-controlled tool previously limited to Windows Phone handsets.

  • bring up Powerpoint presentation documents
  • locate photos taken during a specific month
  • dictate and send emails
  • tell the user whether or not the weather forecast indicates they should wear a coat later
  • show where their car is parked

In addition, Mr Belfiore showed how the software could be used to respond to requests that had been typed, rather than spoken into a PC.

Windows 8 had been criticised by some for placing so much focus on touch-centric commands rather than the mouse and keyboard.

But Mr Gillett said he thought the addition of Cortana’s voice controls could prove more popular.

“Voice is a going to complement other ways of interacting with the computer not be a substitute,” he said.

“If you had to say every command instead of touching or clicking, then that would be annoying.

“But if you can quickly say to Cortana, for example, schedule lunch with my mum next Tuesday, then that is powerful.”

Browsing with Spartan

Mr Belfiore also highlighted one of the core benefits of Windows 10: a single app will run on multiple types of device, with the user interface reformatting itself to suit the machine it is running on, rather than having a different program for phones, tablets and PCs.

He showed how this meant more advanced versions of the firm’s popular Office programs Excel, Powerpoint and Word could be brought to handsets running Windows 10 than were possible under Windows Phone 8. He also demonstrated a new “universal” Photos app that collates and sorts pictures taken with different devices.

Mr Belfiore also confirmed reports that the firm’s Internet Explorer web browser was being replaced by a new program codenamed Project Spartan.

This will have Cortana built-in to allow voice commands and provide extra personalised information – such as directions to a restaurant whose website is being looked at.

The software also includes a new “noting mode”, which will let users scribble or type over a page and then share it with others.

“Project Spartan shows a new Microsoft that is not afraid to depart from legacy in order to deliver a better experience,” remarked Carolina Milanesi from Kantar Worldpanel Comtech.

The new system also introduces the ability to stream Xbox One video games from the console to any other Windows 10 PC or tablet on the same wi-fi network.

This means that users will be able to play any game in their Xbox library on another device in another room of their home if the property’s main TV is being watched by someone else.

The facility is similar to the service Sony offers for its PlayStation 4 games machine that allows it to stream titles to Xperia phones and tablets and the PlayStation TV mini-console.

Some – like voice dictation on mobile, a cloud-based music service and auto-enhance for photos – are strikingly similar to those already available on rival operating systems.

But others are genuinely innovative – quite aside from its awe-inspiring holographic ecosystem.

Gamers will appreciate making the traditional gaming experiences more social and cross-platform.

Heavy web users may be tempted by the collaboration and offline features of the Spartan web browser, as well as the deep integration of Cortana.

And the addition of this powerful natural voice assistant on the desktop is groundbreaking too.

But the case for voice interaction on PCs is not as well-proven as it is on mobile – and Cortana needs to be well executed, otherwise the tried and tested keyboard and mouse could still prove too tempting for users.

The key question: will the combination of the familiarity of past versions of Windows and an enhanced feature set be enough to tempt users to upgrade?

Offering Windows 10 free for the first year is a huge incentive to kickstart adoption.

Windows 10 is well positioned to capitalise on the resurgence of PCs.

But Microsoft is hoping for more than this: it needs the OS to provide a much-needed boost for its mobile ecosystem – and in this regard Microsoft is betting that its universal approach to coding apps will be enough to tempt users away from rivals.

Source - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30924022

Headphones As We Know Them Will Soon Become Obsolete

They’re a staple even on cutting-edge smartphones, televisions, and Hi-Fis, but the jack plug was invented back in the 19th century to route phone calls. Imagine hundreds of them being rearranged with swift dexterity by switchboard operators.

Has any technical standard ever lasted as long?

Despite the jack plug’s age, it will still come as a shock when it disappears into obsolescence. Especially to those people who have just bought an expensive pair of headphones.

The original design was a quarter inch in diameter, which is still used on electric guitars, but it shrank to 3.5mm for headphones. It is showing its age, though, and even the smaller sockets are now hindering the gradual de-thickening of mobile phones. Which is why they’ll soon be replaced.

There are basically two main ecosystems for mobile phones today: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Both of them are well on their way to ditching the 3.5mm socket altogether.

At its developer conference last year, during a talk on designing accessories for the iPad and iPhone, Apple announced it was working on headphones that connect via the Lightning port. That odd, proprietary socket that replaced the original 30-pin iPod connector now provides audio as well as power.

Philips was first to develop a pair: the Fidelio M2L. So, just when you thought Apple couldn’t be any more of a walled garden, there now exist headphones that work only on its devices.

Perhaps it was a deliberate measure by Apple to not be the first to launch such a product through its recently acquired Beats brand, to avoid the same accusations of profiteering that cropped up when it dropped 30-pin connectors for Lightning. Certainly, much of Beats’ $3 billion price tag could be recouped if every iPhone owner bought a new set of Lightning-equipped headphones.

The latest version of Google’s Android operating system, known as Lollipop, also includes support for USB audio. This is effectively the same thing as Apple’s new feature but with a universal USB plug rather than proprietary connector.

headphonesFlickr/Garry Knight

What do these features mean for audio? Unlike a traditional headphone wire, which carries the analog signals produced by a chip inside the phone, the new headphones will take digital audio and convert it to an analog signal only when it reaches the speakers next to the ear.

In theory, if you buy decent headphones, this will provide better quality: not only will that DAC (digital to analog converter) most likely be better quality, but there will be less degradation along the wire thanks to digital error correction.

It could also allow phones to be made even thinner, as the round headphone socket is increasingly the bulkiest component, in terms of width, in svelte handsets. Whether or not we really need thinner phones when customers are complaining that their handsets bend in their pockets is another matter, but it certainly makes for easy marketing.

Another benefit is that noise-canceling headphones could draw power from the phone over the wire, as Philips has already taken advantage of, eliminating the need to charge yet more batteries. There’s also the ability to have a microphone on the same cable, and all sorts of buttons to control playback. You could even have apps running on the phone that tweak settings on the headphones, adjusting bass or treble.

So the advantages are clear and numerous, but there are also downsides: how do you charge your phone and listen to music at the same time when your charger and headphones use the same socket? Not a deal-breaker, but still an issue.

Most importantly, your current and potentially new and expensive headphones will become obsolete. You could use an adapter, but that’s far from ideal and will cost you on top of your phone.

Thankfully, this isn’t going to happen tomorrow. Although there’s nothing to stop you splashing out on digital headphones now if you want to adopt early.

The iPhone, for instance, alternates between a partial refresh and a total redesign with each new model. We had the 6 and 6 Plus in September and will most likely get the refreshed “6S” this year, so it’s easy to imagine the “iPhone 7” losing its 3.5mm socket in September 2016.

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story, so we’ll have to speculate.

You’re probably more likely to retain a 3.5mm socket for longer if you use Android, as there’s a wide range of manufacturers on the platform, so you can choose the one that retains the plug longest.

The really interesting thing will be to see when manufacturers ditch the Lightning and USB ports entirely.

Wireless charging can already handle topping-up our batteries, and Bluetooth can deal with audio and peripherals. Losing the ports will also make devices sleeker and easier to waterproof.

So while it looks certain that the 3.5mm socket will become an anachronism within a couple of generations of phone, the USB and Lightning port may not be too far behind, and the headphones that you bought to replace the ones that became obsolete will also become obsolete. Such is the way of technology.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/headphones-as-we-know-them-will-soon-become-obsolete-2015-1#ixzz3Qb96ojii