Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.
The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.
It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.
I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.
I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

A $400 Microsoft Surface may be on the way

Microsoft’s always taken a premium approach to its Surface line, showing users what its operating system can do when run on top of the line hardware. It’s a model that makes sense for a company with so many ties to third-party hardware manufacturers. But the line that’s been so focused on the high-end needs of “creative professionals” may be getting a budget addition in the near future.
According to a new report from Bloomberg, Microsoft is eyeing the end of the year to release a $400 version of the Surface designed to compete more directly with Apple’s ubiquitous tablet. Of course, many have tried and largely failed to take on the iPad — including Microsoft itself.
The company launched the Surface RT half a decade ago, without making much of a splash. These days, the tablet herd has thinned a bit, and Microsoft has established itself as a maker of premium first-party hardware.
The new device is said to sport a 10-inch screen, putting it in direct competition with Apple’s lower-priced iPad. At $400, Microsoft’s entry would run $70 more than the budget iPad’s starting price, but would still run considerably less than the $799 Surface Pro. And this being Microsoft, there are expected to be multiple SKUs. The devices reportedly won’t ship with a keyboard cover — one of the Surface’s biggest selling points — though they’ll all sport a kickstand and feature a USB C port for charging.
Microsoft, naturally, won’t respond to queries about the device, which is reportedly set for a release in the second half of this year. Given the company’s recent push with Windows 10S, the product could certainly make sense as part of the company’s push into low priced devices for the education market.

A $400 Microsoft Surface may be on the way

Music payments startup Exactuals debuts R.AI, a ‘Palantir for music royalties’

Exactuals, a software service offering payments management for the music industry, is debuting R.AI, a new tool that it’s dubbed the “Palantir for music.” It’s a service that can track songwriting information and rights across different platforms to ensure attribution for music distributors.
As companies like Apple and Spotify demand better information from labels about the songs they’re pushing to streaming services, companies are scrambling to clean up their data and provide proper attribution.
According to Exactuals, that’s where the R.AI service comes in.
The company is tracking 59 million songs for their “Interested Party Identifiers” (IPIs), International Standard Work Codes (ISWCs) and International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) — all of which are vital to ensuring that songwriters and musicians are properly paid for their work every time a song is streamed, downloaded, covered or viewed on a distribution platform.
Chris McMurtry, the head of music product at Exactuals, explained it like this: In the music business, songwriters have the equivalent of a social security number, which is attached to any song they write so they can receive credit and payment. That’s the ISI. Performers of songs have their own identifier, which is the ISWC. Then the song itself gets its own code, called the ISRC which is used to track a song as it’s performed by other artists through various covers, samples and remixes.
“There’s only one ISWC, but there might be 300 ISRCs,” says Exactuals chief executive, Mike Hurst.
Publishing technology companies will pay writers and performers based on these identifiers, but they’re struggling to identify and track all of the 700,000 disparate places where the data could be, says McMurtry. Hence the need for R.AI.
The technology is “an open API based on machine learning that matches disparate data sources to clean and enhance it so rights holders can get paid and attribution happens,” says McMurry.
For publishers, Exactuals argues that R.AI is the best way to track rights across a huge catalog of music, and for labels it’s an easy way to provide services like Apple and Spotify with the information they’re now demanding, Hurst said.

Music payments startup Exactuals debuts R.AI, a ‘Palantir for music royalties’

Microsoft announces the Surface Hub 2

Do you remember the Surface Hub? Chances are you forgot it even existed. And yet, Microsoft just announced a second version of the Surface Hub. The company hasn’t shared any specifications or price, but it won’t be available before 2019 — selected customers will test the Surface Hub 2 starting this year.
The Surface Hub was a crazy expensive digital whiteboard that could handle anything from video conferences to document collaboration. Microsoft says that there are 5,000 companies using Surface Hubs, including half of Fortune 100 companies.
It’s unclear if each company has bought one Surface Hub or a thousand. But it seems like there was enough interest to work on a second version. At heart, it’s still a gigantic touchscreen-enabled display. It runs Windows 10 and supports the Surface Pen.
Compared to the previous version, Microsoft has drastically reduced the bezels. It looks like a modern TV now, but with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Surprisingly, the video camera is now gone from the main device. You’ll need to plug a webcam above the display to start video conferences.
The most interesting part is the concept video. You can see a device with fluid use cases. You can hook it to a wall, you can put it on a rolling case, you can create a wall of Surface Hubs.

Users log in by putting their finger on the fingerprint sensor. This way, you can find all your documents and data and accept calls from your account.
Microsoft is trying to push the needle when it comes to computers. This is an innovative form factor that could fit well in your company’s workflow. It’s interesting to see that the company isn’t standing still. The Mac hasn’t drastically evolved while Microsoft still has bold ideas to share.

Microsoft announces the Surface Hub 2

The UK and USA need to extend their “special relationship” to technology development

Matt Hancock
Contributor

Share on Twitter

Matt Hancock is the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and a Member of Parliament for West Suffolk.

The UK and the USA have always had an enduring bond, with diplomatic, cultural and economic ties that have remained firm for centuries.
We live in an era of profound change, and are living with technologies set to change things ever faster. If Britain and America work together to develop these technologies for the good of mankind, in a way that is open and free, yet also safe and good for our citizens, we can maintain the global lead our nations have enjoyed in the fields of innovation.
Over past months we have seen some very significant strides forward in this business relationship. All of the biggest US companies have made decisions to invest in the UK. Apple is developing a new HQ in the iconic Battersea Power Station, close to the new US embassy, while Google is building a billion dollar new HQ in the increasingly fashionable King’s Cross. Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft are all extending their operations, and a multitude of smaller US firms are basing their international headquarters in London.
They are all coming here because as we prepare to leave the EU we are building a forward looking Britain that is open to the wider world, and tech is at the heart of this.
Similarly, there have been major expansions or new investment from British firms into the US. Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer, supports more than 9,000 jobs in the USA and have recently opened their new multimillion-dollar corporate North America HQ in New Jersey.  iProov, a leading British provider of biometric facial verification technology, became the first international company to be awarded a contract from the US Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program last month.

We want to work with our global partners – to share expertise, and encourage investment – as we harness technology for the wider good. And that of course includes our old friend and closest ally, the USA.
We have a great deal to offer.
The UK was recently ranked the most AI ready nation among all the OECD countries. In the past three years, new AI start-ups have been created in the UK on an almost weekly basis.
Recently, UK government and industry together committed over $1 billion to support our AI sector, much of which will go towards entrepreneurs. Funding has been set aside to create a nationwide network of tech incubators, that we’re calling “Tech Nation”, which will support new AI businesses as they get off the ground.
We are also excited by — and I am a firm advocate for — the development of blockchain and similar technologies. The UK is leading the way in many areas where blockchain has the potential to be used, such as Fintech. There are now more people working in UK Fintech than in New York or in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia combined.
And we are eminent in the development of immersive technologies, like Augmented and Virtual Reality, which look set to radically improve many areas of life in coming years, with applications as varied as flight simulation and surgical training techniques.
There is so much to be gained from close collaboration between our two countries on these new technologies and from sharing our expertise.

Together, we can reap the economic benefits of stealing an early lead in their development. We estimate that AI, for example, if widely adopted, could add $33 billion to the UK economy. But, perhaps most importantly, we can also work together to build a strong regulatory and ethical frameworks for their wider application.
It is the role of governments across the world, the UK and US included, to set frameworks for these decentralised, cross border systems so we can manage their use in a safe and effective way.
Our aim should be to harness the power and capability of technology but always for the benefit of, and in service to the populace.
We in the UK are avowedly pro-tech, always seeking to put its power in the hands of our citizens.
We have all learned valuable lessons from the recent scandals regarding data use, most recently around Facebook’s use of data.
We want to build a system that protects and cherishes the freedom of the Internet while protecting the rights of individuals, and their property, including intellectual property.
We want to see freedom in a framework; where our tech entrepreneurs have the space to innovate, knowing they do so with full public trust. Trust underpins a strong economy, and trust in data underpins a strong digital economy.
So in the UK we are developing a Digital Charter, to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice. Our starting point is that what is unacceptable offline should not be tolerated in the online world. That includes how tech companies treat private citizens and use their data, as well as how people treat each other online.
Important changes like these cannot be agreed by one country alone. It is more important than ever that we work together and find common ground so we can make sure that tech continues to change the world for the better. Based on our mutual love of freedom and individual rights Britain and America have through history risen to challenges together. I firmly believe working together we can build that brighter future.

The UK and USA need to extend their “special relationship” to technology development

Microsoft’s Snip Insights puts A.I. technology into a screenshot-taking tool

A team of Microsoft interns have thought up a new way to put A.I. technology to work – in a screenshot snipping tool. Microsoft today is launching their project, Snip Insights, a Windows desktop app that lets you retrieve intelligent insights – or even turn a scan of a textbook or report into an editable document – when you take a screenshot on your PC.
The team’s manager challenged the interns to think up a way to integrate A.I. into a widely used tool, used by millions.
They decided to try a screenshotting tool, like the Windows Snipping Tool or Snip, a previous project from Microsoft’s internal incubator, Microsoft Garage. The team went with the latter, because it would be easier to release as an independent app.
Their new tool leverages Cloud AI services in order to do more with screenshots – like convert images to translated text, automatically detect and tag image content, and more.
For example, you could screenshot a photo of a great pair of shoes you saw on a friend’s Facebook page, and the tool could search the web to help you find where to buy them. (This part of its functionality is similar to what’s already offered today by Pinterest). 
The tool can also take a scanned image of a document, and turn a screenshot of that into editable text.
And it can identify famous people, places or landmarks in the images you capture with a screenshot.
Although it’s a relatively narrow use case for A.I., the Snip Insights tool is an interesting example of how A.I. technology can be integrated into everyday productivity tools – and the potential that lies ahead as A.I. becomes a part of even simple pieces of software.
The tool is being released as Microsoft Garage project, but it’s open-sourced.
The Snip Insights GitHub repository will be maintained by the Cloud AI team going forward.

Microsoft’s Snip Insights puts A.I. technology into a screenshot-taking tool

After buying Flipkart, Walmart seeks allies to join its fight against Amazon in India

The rumors are true: Walmart has bought a controlling stake in India’s Flipkart. This isn’t a straight-up acquisition, however, because, rather than going it alone, the U.S. retailer is enlisting strategic allies as it takes its fight to Amazon in a new region.
Walmart has an existing offline retail business in India, but enter the online space puts it up against Amazon, which has made massive strides since entering India in 2012.
That perhaps calls for something special, which is one reason why Walmart is buying just 77 percent of Flipkart and leaving space for others with expertise to come join.
Walmart confirmed that “some” existing investors will retain their stakes, including Tencent — the $500 billion Chinese giant — and Tiger Global, both of which have board sets, and Microsoft, which was part of a $1.4 billion investment last year. Added to that, Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal has committed to stay retain his shares, although there’s no word on fellow co-founder Sachin Bansal who had been tipped to move on.
Beyond those three strategic Flipkart backers, Walmart said it is in ongoing discussions with “with additional potential investors who may join the round.”
Google is one who has been linked with a deal but you can imagine that Walmart — very much a physical retail specialist — will be looking to tap the world of tech and Asian partners to help gain an advantage over Amazon, which is broadly thought to have closed the gap on Flipkart in recent years.
Walmart is indicating that the new backers will buy a part of its equity if they invest, but it said it will “retain clear majority ownership” regardless of who joins.
“One of the things that was important to us here was having partners alongside us as well. So having Tencent, Microsoft and Tiger Global who are already investors in this business is really powerful in terms of the model that we’re creating,” Judith McKenna, Walmart COO, said on a call with investors following today’s announcement.
“[Flipkart] will be run through an independent board who will have some Walmart representation. We think that structure will best keep the entrepreneurial side of this business and guide it strategically, too,” McKenna added.
Walmart declined to give a timeline on when it might have news about the prospective investors.
Despite that, a number of investors have exited entirely with impressive returns, including SoftBank — which sunk a then-Indian record investment into Flipkart via its Vision Fund last year — Naspers and eBay.
In the more immediate future, Walmart is putting $2 billion of fresh capital into the business which Flipkart will be able to spend on growth and existing strategies.
Interestingly, too, Walmart is open to allowing Flipkart to IPO as a listed subsidiary in the future. That would help maintain incentives for employees and fulfill the ambition of management, McKenna said.

After buying Flipkart, Walmart seeks allies to join its fight against Amazon in India

Microsoft is looking to entice app developers with a better store revenue split

In the fractured, spammy world that is consumer PC software downloads, Microsoft is looking to make their Microsoft Store a more central hub but they need the help (and enthusiasm) of developers. In a major showing of good will, Microsoft is changing up their revenue sharing structure to give developers a bigger cut.
Developers of consumer apps (not including games) for PC, Windows Mixed Reality, Windows Phone or Surface Hub will now receive 85 percent of revenue from downloads — as opposed to 70 percent — when the app is tracked down through the Microsoft Store.
What’s more interesting is that Microsoft is bumping this figure up to 95 percent when the app is deep-linked externally from somewhere like the app developer’s site.
While Apple and Google both structure their revenue sharing models based on how long a user is engaging with an app, even after 12 months of usage, the 85/15 model that both of these platforms operate at only matches Microsoft’s new standard model, but Microsoft’s 95/5 split is far and away the best deal among major app stores.
These same revenue splits will attach to any subscriptions that users get from the app in the future. This new revenue share structure will go into effect later this year.

Microsoft is looking to entice app developers with a better store revenue split

Microsoft and Red Hat now offer a jointly managed OpenShift service on Azure

Microsoft and Red Hat are deepening their existing alliance around cloud computing. The two companies will now offer a managed version of OpenShift, Red Hat’s container application platform, on Microsoft Azure. This service will be jointly developed and managed by Microsoft and Red Hat and will be integrated into the overall Azure experience.
Red Hat OpenShift on Azure is meant to make it easier for enterprises to create hybrid container solutions that can span their on-premise networks and the cloud. That’ll give these companies the flexibility to move workloads around as needed and will give those companies that have bet on OpenShift the option to move their workloads close to the rest of Azure’s managed services like Cosmos DB or Microsoft’s suite of machine learning tools.
Microsoft’s Brendan Burns, one of the co-creators of Kubernetes, told me that the companies decided that this shouldn’t just be a service that runs on top of Azure and consumes the Azure APIs. Instead, the companies made the decision to build a native integration of OpenShift into Azure — and specifically the Azure Portal. “This is a first in class fully enterprise-supported application platform for containers,” he said. “This is going to be an experience where enterprises can have all the experience and support they expect.”
Red Hat VP for business development and architecture Mike Ferris echoed this and added that his company is seeing a lot of demand for managed services around containers.

Microsoft and Red Hat now offer a jointly managed OpenShift service on Azure

Microsoft Pay comes to Outlook, integrating Stripe, Braintree, Sage, Wave and more

Microsoft Pay — Microsoft’s answer to Android Pay and Apple Pay that was originally launched in 2016 as Microsoft Wallet — is getting a little more useful today. At Build, Microsoft announced that it will be integrating its digital wallet service into Outlook. This means that, for the first time, when a company sends you an invoice in an email, and you are using Outlook to read it, you can pay that bill directly, without needing to leave Outlook and open a different app or service. Instead, a panel that will open to the right of the main one by way of Microsoft’s Adaptive Cards.
As it launches — Microsoft says it will come first to a limited number of Outlook.com users over the next few weeks, and then more broadly over the next few months — it said that Stripe (using Stripe Connect) and Braintree will be among the payment processors powering the service, and Zuora, FreshBooks, Intuit, Invoice2Go, Sage, Wave, and Xero will be among the billing and invoicing services that will initially be using the feature. In other words, businesses using a combination of these will be able to offer Outlook-using customers the ability to use the feature.
The integration of Microsoft Pay into Outlook is part of a bigger shift that Microsoft is making to try to reduce some of the friction in its services by way of Adaptive Cards and other integration-friendly developer mechanics. The company effectively has capabilities covering many different aspects of computing and what the average user might want to do on a screen or in an app, and so it is building (and promoting to developers) more connective bridges to use Microsoft services rather than someone else’s.
Payments in Outlook is a prime example of that: Microsoft is not a bill payment service and is not a bill payment agent — so its partners are the ones making transaction commissions when the invoice is paid there — but offering this convenience to users makes Outlook itself more sticky and more useful overall to people. Down the line, it will help lock users into the Microsoft ecosystem more tightly — just as Android Pay or Apple Pay do the same for those respective platforms. But in that regard, this is also table stakes: conveniences like these have quickly moved from “nice to have” to “why didn’t Outlook have this before?”
For businesses, the sweetener is that they might just get paid that much faster, simply more making the process of paying something easier.

“Stripe’s goal is to increase the GDP of the internet, which we do by providing the tools and infrastructure that make it easier to transact online from anywhere in the world,” said Richard Alfonsi, head of global revenue and growth, Stripe, in a statement. “We’re excited to work closely with Microsoft to power payments in Outlook, allowing anyone receiving an email invoice or bill in Outlook to immediately take action and pay that invoice with a few simple clicks. By removing the friction and time needed to complete a payment, Stripe and Microsoft can help businesses around the world reduce missed or late payments, ultimately increasing their revenue.”
Alongside the Outlook news, Stripe announced that it is also now supporting Microsoft Pay so that businesses that use Stripe in other apps can now offer this as an option to users who are using Microsoft Pay, to avoid inputting card details multiple times. (Stripe already offered support for Apple Pay, Android Pay and Alipay, among others.)
“Our partnership with Stripe opens up new opportunities for developers to monetize on Microsoft platforms” said Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development, Microsoft, in a statement. “Starting with payments in Outlook, anyone using Stripe on our platforms can now accept payments with minimal effort, creating a more powerful experience for both our partners and our customers.”

Microsoft Pay comes to Outlook, integrating Stripe, Braintree, Sage, Wave and more