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2012 in Review: Tech

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2012 has been a monumental year in technology. This year we’ve watched Facebook truly realize the complete “American Dream,” as it went through with an IPO that valued the social network at $90 billion in May,  lost 47 percent of its value in 94 days, and subsequently began a slow ascent back to respectability. The Internet rallied its voice and defeated major legislation across the globe, including SOPA and PIPA that attempted to regulate the Internet. Major gadgets were released, including the Nexus 7, iPad mini, Microsoft Surface and iPhone 5. Copyright and patent laws around the world were put to the test as Apple and Android OEMs embarked on a game of ‘who can file lawsuits against each other in the most countries,’ with Samsung arising as the first victim of the lawsuits to the tune of $1 billion, which of course is being appealed.

All in all, it was a very eventful year in tech. Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights.

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Mini Review: HTC Windows Phone 8X

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Mini Reviews are a new review format from Current Editorials that allows us to take a look at a selection of interesting gadgets and present you with the details you care about most in a bite-sized article.

HTC and Microsoft partnered up this year to launch the premiere Windows Phone 8 handset, the HTC Windows Phone 8X. It’s running the latest Windows Phone 8 software, and features top-notch, stand-out hardware design. Microsoft and HTC are promoting the 8X as the Windows Phone 8 handset, but can it live up to that title? And more importantly, is it worth your hard earned cash?

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Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky Out at Microsoft; Sources Say He Wanted ‘More Control at Microsoft’

Apparently, Microsoft is taking its cues from Cupertino, down to the executive changes. Following Apple’s ousting of iOS head Scott Forstall due to his frequent clashes with other senior members, Microsoft has parted ways with Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky, effective immediately. The change was first reported by AllThingsD’s Ina Fried.

Sinofsky was seen by many inside and out of Microsoft as the future of the company, but that belief has ended. Sources in Redmond say Sinofsky wanted “more control over the direction of Microsoft,” but senior executives were wary of his management style and lack of communication with the senior team, and ultimately decided to part ways immediately. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has sent a note to the team, first published by The Verge:

Over the past few months we have delivered the foundation for a new era for Microsoft. From Office to Bing to Windows Phone and Windows Azure, to Xbox and of course Windows and Surface and everything in between, we’ve unleashed a huge wave of devices and services that people and businesses love. I simply couldn’t be more proud of the effort you have all put in to get us here and to set the foundation for our future. At the Windows launch in New York, at the Windows Phone event in San Francisco, and again at the Build event on Redmond campus, I was struck that while externally many people look at these events as the finish line, they really represent the starting line of a new era.

As we enter this new era, and with the successful launch of Windows 8 and Surface behind us, Steven Sinofsky has decided to leave the company. Steven joined Microsoft in 1989 as a software development engineer and has contributed to the company in many ways from his work as a technical advisor to Bill Gates, to leading the evolution of the Microsoft Office business, to his direction and successful leadership of Windows and Windows Live as well as Surface. I am grateful for the work that Steven has delivered in his time at our company. Effective immediately, Julie Larson-Green will lead Windows engineering. She will be responsible for all product development for Windows and Windows Live, in addition to Surface. Julie has been a stalwart leader of building compelling “experiences” from her time on Internet Explorer, through the evolution of Office and most recently to the re-imagination of Windows. Her unique product and innovation perspective and proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda will serve us well as she takes on this new leadership role. All of the current Windows engineering teams will report into Julie, and Julie will report to me.

Tami Reller will lead business and marketing strategy for Windows including Surface and partner devices. She will provide broad stewardship to our PC marketing efforts while managing the line business functions for Windows. Her work on Windows since 2007 has been exemplary and her strong talents in working with internal groups and partners will also serve us well. Tami also will report to me.

We are facing a time of great opportunity. What we have accomplished over the past few years is nothing short of amazing, and I know we have more amazing in us. I am excited about our people, I am energized by our ability to change and grow, and I look forward to the success which lies ahead. Thank you for all you do, and please join me in congratulating our new leadership and celebrating all that we have accomplished so far.

Steve

The official press release from Microsoft:

REDMOND, Wash. — Nov. 12, 2012 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky will be leaving the company and that Julie Larson-Green will be promoted to lead all Windows software and hardware engineering. Tami Reller retains her roles as chief financial officer and chief marketing officer and will assume responsibility for the business of Windows. Both executives will report directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

These changes are effective immediately.

“I am grateful for the many years of work that Steven has contributed to the company,” Ballmer said. “The products and services we have delivered to the market in the past few months mark the launch of a new era at Microsoft. We’ve built an incredible foundation with new releases of Microsoft Office, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft Surface, Windows Server 2012 and ‘Halo 4,’ and great integration of services such as Bing, Skype and Xbox across all our products. To continue this success it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings.”

“It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft. I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company,” Sinofsky said.

Since 1993, Larson-Green has worked on and led some of the most successful products for Microsoft, including the user experiences for early versions of Internet Explorer, and helped drive the thinking behind the refresh of the user experience for Microsoft Office. For Windows 7 and Windows 8 she was responsible for program management, user interface design and research, as well as development of all international releases. She has a master’s degree in software engineering from Seattle University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Western Washington University. In her new role she will be responsible for all future Windows product development in addition to future hardware opportunities.

“Leading Windows engineering is an incredible challenge and opportunity, and as I looked at the technical and business skills required to continue our Windows trajectory — great communication skills, a proven ability to work across product groups, strong design, deep technical expertise, and a history of anticipating and meeting customer needs — it was clear to me that Julie is the best possible person for this job, and I’m excited to have her in this role,” Ballmer said.

Reller joined Windows in 2007 from the Microsoft Dynamics Division where she held a number of leadership positions. She began her career in technology at Great Plains Software in 1984 while still in college, and was the company’s chief financial officer at the time the company was acquired by Microsoft in 2001. She has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Minnesota State University Moorhead and an MBA from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. In her expanded role she will assume the lead in driving business and marketing strategy for Windows devices, including Surface and partner devices, in addition to her current marketing and finance responsibilities.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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Windows Phone 8 Final Features Revealed: Kid’s Corner, Rooms, Live Apps and More

Microsoft formally unveiled Windows Phone 8 today, launching an operating system Microsoft hopes will finally mount a compelling challenge to Apple’s iPhone and devices running Android. Microsoft had already shown off much of what was new in Windows Phone 8 at an event earlier this year, but they did have some new features to show off today.

The most important new announcement was a brand new lock screen, powered by what Microsoft is calling Live Apps. Live Apps can push relevant information, such as pictures, sports scores, news, or other data you might find relevant, to your lock screen. The feature doesn’t appear to be as robust as home screen widgets on Android 4.2, but Microsoft is hand displaying data with the same elegant aplomb it’s shown with the rest of the Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 user interface. It’s not a game changing feature, but it does bring Windows Phone’s glanceability to the lock screen. An updated Facebook app will be one of the first live apps in the Windows Phone Store.

Microsoft also announced that it’s expanding People Hubs to include Rooms, private groups that can share files, calendars, lists, and other information and chat in real time. Rooms will be cross platform, Microsoft showed off Rooms running on an iPhone, but no word yet on how the feature will work and which operating systems it’s going to be available on. We do know, however, that live chat will only be available between Windows Phone users.

Kid’s Corner is a new Windows Phone feature that lets parents, and other Windows Phone owners who don’t want their kids poking around where they might find more *ahem* adult content set up a place for children to use approved content. Kid’s Corner can be accessed directly from the new lock screen, and the list of approved programs can be adjusted from the Kid’s Corner app. Think of it as multiple users, lite. Like the new lock screen, it’s not nearly as powerful as multiple users in Android 4.2, but it is better than what Apple’s offers on iOS: nothing.

Also announced was Data Sense, a set of data saving tools that includes a live widget to track data usage, data compression in Internet Explorer, and the ability to automatically find and connect to Wi-Fi hotspots. Windows Phone 8 will also force applications to be a bit thriftier with data as users approach their cap. Unfortunately, Data Sense won’t work for all users right away—it requires support from carriers to work properly. Verizon Wireless will be the first to support the new feature with its upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices.

If you’re a prolific smartphone photographer, you’ll need to use Data Sense—Microsoft also announced instant photo uploads to Sky Drive. Google+ and Dropbox have brought similar features to other platforms, but neither integrates as deeply with the operating system as Sky Drive uploads on Windows Phone will.

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Windows Phone Has Over 120,000 Apps, Still Playing Catch Up

Over 120,000 apps are available for Windows Phone, Microsoft announced at a press conference today. It shows steady improvement since June, when Microsoft announced over 100,000 applications were available, but Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store still has a long way to go before it catches up with the Google Play Store’s 675,000 programs or the App Store’s 700,000 apps.

Microsoft didn’t announce how many Windows Phone applications are exclusive to specific Windows Phone devices, a problem Windows Phone users have wrestled with. Zynga, for example, just announced that Words with Friends is coming to Windows Phone—but it will only be available on Lumia devices for the first few months.

Microsoft also failed to address quality issues that have plagued Windows Phone since its launch. Some applications, including many from big name publishers, are poor ports of iOS and Android apps that have lost features or stability in the journey across platforms.

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Xbox Music: Microsoft Restarts Their Entertainment Efforts

Xbox is not only a gaming console for your living room with video streaming apps and PC integration but, it is now Microsoft’s gateway to delivering media. Just as Apple uses iTunes for distribution, so Microsoft is deploying their best known device for their new music service. On Oct. 26, they are replacing the Zune Marketplace with the new Xbox Music service. A lot of good ad-supported streaming services exist, but Microsoft says that they are inconsistent across devices. Users familiar with streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio with notice similar features adopted by Xbox Music.

So far, it looks as if Xbox music is trying to combine all of a user’s music services into one large area consisting of Xbox 360 (and future editions), Windows Phone, Windows Tablet, and PC. Xbox Music will have arguably the largest music catalog of all music services, with 30 million songs, and that the experience offers music discovery they are calling Smart DJ. Thirty million is a large number to tout compared to that of iTunes and Apple’s iTunes Match service which does veritably the same thing. Also, the service will let adopters listen free to any song on computers and tablets with the latest software (Windows 8 released Oct. 2012) and also on the Xbox gaming console. No ceiling is set for the number of tracks you can listen to, and users can also skip as many tracks as they want (unlike Spotify but could be changed over time). Cross-platform adoption, such as for iOS and Android users, will also gain access within the net year.

Microsoft’s Xbox Music service will begin appearing on the Xbox game console this week. For now though, Microsoft’s promises seem weak compared to those services such as Pandora which already work. Though, looking ahead at their platform and users who will adopt the new Windows 8, it could be the only music service they need.

Source: Microsoft, Xbox Music, IGN, NYT, AllThingsD

 

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HTC and Microsoft Announce Windows Phone 8X and 8S

HTC CEO Peter Chou and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today announced two new Windows Phones, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S. The 8X is the higher end of the two devices with a 4.3 inch 720p super LCD 2 display (most likely the same phenomenal part used on the HTC One X), NFC, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage, while the 8S is forced makes due with 512MB of RAM and a 4 inch WVGA screen. The 8X and 8S use similar dual core Snapdragon S4 processors, but the 8X’s CPU is clocked 500MHZ higher. Both phones have Beats Audio, a feature not available on HTC’s latch batch of Windows Phones, and come in a variety of colors.

Pricing and carrier availability haven’t been announced for the 8S, but HTC did let slip that it will launch in early November. The 8X will launch on “over 150 carriers in 80 countreis;” includingAT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile in the United States, a few days after Microsoft’s late October Windows Phone 8 launch.

Both the phones are incredibly well designed, and should have no trouble going head to head with Apple’s iPhone 5 or Nokia’s Lumia 920. Their rectangular shape isn’t quite as striking as the look Nokia put together for its Lumia series, but first impressions seem to indicate its more comfortable to hold. Both phones are thinner than the Lumia, and weigh about half as much.

It’s interesting that Microsoft has allowed HTC to use the Windows Phone name. Not even Nokia, which was presumed to have a closer relationship with Microsoft than other OEMs, has been allowed to use the name of the platform as the name wiof its phone. It’s almost impossible to overstate the potential power of the Windows name, which could sell a lot of HTC phones this holiday season.

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Nokia planning November 2nd Lumia 920 launch on AT&T, November launch across Europe

Nokia announced their flagship Windows Phone 8 device, the Lumia 920, earlier this week, though notably absent from the announcement was any mention of price or launch date. However, multiple reports are claiming that Nokia is targeting a November 2nd launch for the Lumia 920 on AT&T in the U.S., with a European rollout to follow later in the month.

First reported by TechRadar, and now further confirmed by The Verge, Nokia is reportedly working closely with AT&T and Microsoft to ensure they can meet the November 2nd goal. According to The Verge, AT&T is currently testing the device in their labs in preparation for launch, while Microsoft is close to finalizing Windows Phone 8, with a Release To Manufacturing (RTM) expected next week.

Meanwhile, prospective Lumia buyers in Europe can expect the phone to launch around the same time, according to an independent report from Reuters. Citing a “European telecoms operator”, Reuters reports that the Lumia 920 will hit shops across Europe during November. Operators said they expect the phone to be priced similarly to Samsung’s latest Galaxy S III.

Though Nokia managed to capture a ton of mindshare with the announcement of the Lumia 920 earlier this week, a November launch gives the company’s competitors time to capture valuable marketshare. Apple is expected to announce and launch the iPhone 5 in September, giving them a healthy head start over Nokia, while Google is expected to launch one or more new Nexus phones this fall, as well.

Sources: TechRadar, The Verge, Reuters

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