Here’s What You Need To Know From Microsoft’s $26B Quarter

Here’s What You Need To Know From Microsoft’s $26B Quarter
Microsoft reported its fiscal second-quarter financial performance today, laid out its forecasts for its future performance and took questions from a number of analyst. It was a flurry of data, so let’s take a moment and dig through the big points that matter.

The Bigger Picture

Microsoft met the street’s financial expectations: The company’s $26.5 billion in revenue and $0.71 in earnings per share were in-line. Its profit declined from the year-ago period, but that was expected due to prior one-time benefits, and the current fiscally deleterious impact of the company’s phone assets that didn’t exist in the year-ago quarter.
The company is down more than 4 percent in after-hours trading, drifting down further as time has passed. The company’s earnings call, which can sometimes reassure investors, did not. That’s likely due to the fact that Microsoft indicated on the call that it now expects to grow a mere 4 or 5 percent during its current fiscal year.
What is driving that limp growth? The company cited that it expects 4 points of revenue drag due to foreign-exchange-related issues alone moving forward. That, coupled with macro conditions that are weak in some markets, including Japan, and the prior impact of the XP end-of-life bump that has ended, are causing Microsoft’s top-line expansion to slow.
So was it all bad? Not at all. Microsoft’s hardware had a good quarter.

Hardware

Hardware had what was generally its best quarter for Microsoft yet — Surface had record revenue, and a record number of Lumia Windows Phone handsets shipped. Phone revenue fell on a sequential quarter basis to $2.3 billion from $2.6 billion. Surface revenue grew on a sequential basis to $1.1 billion, from just over $900 million the preceding quarter.
But those growth rates on a sequential quarter basis are only so large, and they include the traditional calendar fourth-quarter sales bump. I say that to put a touch of caution into your mental model going forward.
Microsoft noted on its call that the Surface Pro 3 is currently outselling its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, by a factor of 3 to 1.
The company also shared that it has yanked $1 billion in cost out of phone, as promised. That should lower short-term earnings pressure from the group. The company promised more savings in time.
Xbox managed to get 6.6 million consoles out, down from the year-ago quarter, and Microsoft didn’t break down how many Xbox One devices were sold in that figure. The company did note that the Xbox One was the best-selling console in the United States during the holidays.
Cloud
Consumer Office 365 revenues, search advertising revenue, and commercial cloud all had decent quarters.
Consumer Office 365 picked up 2.2 million net new subscribers, putting it at 9.2 million at the end of the quarter. Simple math: 9.2 million x $10 per month x 12 months = $1.1 billion in recurring SaaS revenue, not accounting for account churn or positive or negative dollar churn.
Commercial cloud revenue notched what Microsoft described on the call as its sixth consecutive quarter of three-figure growth, meaning that every quarter in the last six has seen that revenue category more than double from its year-ago total. The law of large numbers will make the streak an increasingly difficult challenge.
Commercial cloud revenue is now on a $5.5 billion run rate, up $1.1 billion in two quarters. That, stacked with the billion from Consumer Office 365, makes Microsoft’s cloud top-line a nearly $7 billion business for the company, depending greatly on how you measure, of course.
Finally in the cloud category, Bing grew its advertising revenues 23 percent from the year prior.

Windows

Windows had a difficult quarter, due in part to the fact that its year-ago period had a number of sweeteners and lucky boosts. Windows XP lost support, and some Windows 8 revenues that had been accreted and stored became material. Try and beat that without help.
Microsoft noted that it now has more than 2 million people testing its Windows 10 operating system, up from 1.7 million 5 days ago.
In response to a question concerning how cheaper and free versions of Windows will be monetized, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained on the company’s call that it would depend on a mix of services revenue, and sales — the Windows Store, Bing, Xbox Live, and so forth.
The company also noted that it allowed for lower revenue per Windows license for low-cost devices on purpose. This had the effect, according to CFO Amy Hood, of driving “meaningful platform growth.”
More devices sold now means more devices that will upgrade to Windows 10 for free, thus creating a better user pool for developers to sell into.
Microsoft noted that it expects the forex issues it is dealing with, stemming from the strengthening dollar, and the macroeconomic drag that it is experiencing will persist for the rest of its fiscal year. That implies that other multinational technology firms could see clipped growth rates in dollars, if not unit terms, this year, either fiscal or calendar.
Summing all the above, the company’s cloud push is still putting points on the board, as are its hardware projects. So the “devices and services” bit is still in play. But with limited growth projected, a seasonal downturn in device sales likely in the current quarter, and falling “transactional” Office revenues which are better offset in the long-term by recurring SaaS Office fees, Microsoft will have to bust hump to meet street expectations for the next few quarters.

Amazon WorkMail Takes On Microsoft And Google For Enterprise Email And Calendars

Amazon WorkMail Takes On Microsoft And Google For Enterprise Email And Calendars
Amazon has a new product called WorkMail debuting today (via Forbes), which is an email and calendaring service that aims to provide those tools for corporate customers. The tech is based on Amazon Web Services, and aims to best the reigning champs (which include Microsoft, and to a lesser extent, Google) in terms of ease of use and security.
The WorkMail product is compatible with existing client software like Outlook, and as such it could be easier to substitute for legacy Exchange email service offerings in place at many big corporate institutions provided by Microsoft. WorkMail is also encrypted once they’re sent, according to the Wall Street Journal, and then decrypted via a company-controlled key at the other end of the tunnel when received by the intended target. Emails are stored on Amazon servers located in geographic areas designed by its clients, marking another security feature that may be especially appealing to European customers post-NSA revelations.
Amazon’s pricing for WorkMail works out to about $4 per inbox, which is in line with the competition, but so far it doesn’t look like Amazon is offering up any additional features like access to the kinds of office document production software suites that Google and Microsoft offer.
AWS branching out to business that focuses more on the end-user and less on providing back-end solutions is interesting, but Amazon still seems to be positioning this as primarily a layer once removed from the person doing the actual email; it’s something to swap out for Exchange, leaving the interface software (Outlook on the desktop, or native mail clients on mobile) intact. WorkMail also offers a “feature-rich” web-based client for access without any special software.
Amazon intends to launch this in Q2 of 2015 at this point, and will also offer deals that incorporate its recently launched WorkDocs (formerly Zocalo) AWS-powered cloud-based enterprise storage. The $4 plan comes with a 50GB inbox limit, while just $2 extra per user per month will add a 200GB Zocalo file storage block on top of that. A preview is available now for those wanting to sign up for an early look.
The ambitions of AWS clearly go beyond the cloud computing back-end, and Amazon might view WorkMail as a way to gain more general recognition for its services line of business.

Investors Throw Datadog A $31M Bone

Investors Throw Datadog A $31M Bone
Datadog, a cloud service that helps customers monitor infrastructure and software, whether all in the cloud or a hybrid on-premises-cloud environment, announced $31M in Series C funding today.
The round was led by Index Ventures with help from RTP Ventures, Openview Partners and what they referred to as “other equity holders.” Index helped fund the Series B round last February, and RTP has been involved since seed funding in April, 2011.
The $31M brings the total raised to $53.4M.
Datadog, which launched in 2011 and produced its first product in 2013, provides a dashboard of data about any cloud services that can plug into the system. It can work with several popular services such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Compute Engine.
CEO and co-founder Olivier Pomel, says they work with clients to expose the information that’s most important to them based on each customer’s priorities. He explained that his company’s roughly 1,000 customers range from smaller organizations to companies monitoring tens of thousands of instances and they need to be able to scale for the largest company.
He says while some customers are all cloud, he has seen many who are in transition and Pomel says that this hybrid state is growing more common all the time, at a much more accelerated rate than he had anticipated.
What’s more, there are new technologies like Docker and CoreOS coming all the time and his company needs to be able to help developers and operations manage this changing environment.
That’s where the new money comes in. In addition to ramping up sales and marketing as you would expect, the company is also looking to beef up its research and development, and is hoping to add new services to the dashboard over the next year to increase the number it can monitor.
As that happens, Pomel says, they want to layer on more sophisticated analytics on top of the data the service is collecting. “As customers mature on our platform, they can do more sophisticated treatment of data,” he explained. That could allow them to start looking at things like predictive analytics and anomaly detection.
Since there is so much data, Pomel says they aggregate the information and present it in a way that makes sense to the customer. As they collect all of this data, they are building a detailed record of activity across the network and in the cloud. Pomel says customers could also use this data to do forensic investigation into issues that might have cropped up around performance. Armed with this knowledge, they can take steps to prevent slow-downs or outages in the future.
Datadog plans to triple its current 75 employee work force over the next year, something it already achieved over the last year, growing from just 25 employees at the start of 2014.
The company’s headquarters are in New York City with a sales office in Boston.

Huddle Co-Founder Alastair Mitchell Steps Down As CEO, Morten Brogger Steps In

Huddle Co-Founder Alastair Mitchell Steps Down As CEO, Morten Brogger Steps In
On the heels of a $51 million round of funding, cloud collaboration company Huddle today announced a changing of the guard to lead the company to its next stage. Co-founder Alastair Mitchell is stepping down from his role as CEO and assuming a new position as president and CMO. Taking his place is Morten Brogger, a veteran exec whose past roles included CEO of Mach, which he helped sell to Syniverse for $715 million in 2013.
The fact that Brogger has experience with an enterprise exit is no surprise: this is effectively a large part of what he has been brought in to do at Huddle.
When Huddle announced its $51 million growth round last month, it was valued at between $250 million and $300 million. But while there is always the possibility of going public — especially in light of the strong debut from its enterprise cloud services peer, Box — from what we understand the company has also been close but never close enough to possible sales. Potential suitors have included Microsoft and Dropbox, apparently not at the right terms.
For its part, Huddle has been a strong but less flashy competitor in the wider world of enterprise, cloud-based collaboration services. Founded in London, UK, it operates with a dual headquarters, with second co-founder Andy McLoughlin serving as the EVP of strategy and based in San Francisco.
It’s had especially strong traction in certain sectors of the market like government services and large enterprises on both sides of the pond, and says that 80 percent of Fortune 500 and 80 percent of UK government departments, as well as companies such as Kia Motors, Williams Lea, Driscoll’s, Unilever and P&G, are all customers.
But, as a sign of where Huddle sees its business growth and strategic relationships, Brogger will also be basing himself out west. (Mitchell originally did not, but relocated there in 2012.)
Mitchell says that the decision to step down as CEO came straight from himself. “It was my idea and decision,” he said in an interview. “I discussed it with the board and we all felt it was the right move. We are a big business and want to become a very big business.”
He cited Google among the other companies where founders have turned to non-founders to lead their businesses through these growth periods. Whether that might mean that Mitchell or McLoughlin would eventually take the reins down the road (as Page has done at Google from Schmidt) is not clear.
For now, Mitchell sounds positive: “I’m going to be more busy than anything. It’s a good journey.”
Brogger, who also has the advantage of experience with corporate clients in Europe, says he will focus on adding more customised and bespoke services to Huddle’s platform, which was once very unique for how it let users access and share files in the cloud — but is now a much more common feature with similar offerings from Microsoft and many others.
“Rather than focus on simple file synchronization and sharing, which is now a low value commodity, Huddle has differentiated itself by focusing on collaboration and solving the real issue faced by enterprises: working together effectively,” he said in a statement. “This stands Huddle in good stead for the years ahead and I’m keen to take the helm as we accelerate our growth and become the undisputed cloud collaboration leader. We, as well as our customers, are facing an exciting future.”

Metromile Launches Uber Car Insurance Where Drivers Only Pay For Personal Miles

Metromile Launches Uber Car Insurance Where Drivers Only Pay For Personal Miles
Uber covers drivers with $1 million of insurance when they’re on the job, but they still have to buy personal car insurance even if they hardly drive off-the-job. But now, Metromile and Uber have developed a seamless personal/commercial per-mile car insurance plan for Uber drivers that uses a cellular gadget that plugs into their vehicle’s diagnostic port. It connects with Uber to recognize when drivers are working and are covered by Uber’s insurance so it only charges them for miles they drive for personal use.
Metromile and Uber’s partnership could drastically reduce car insurance prices for drivers who mostly drive professionally. Originally, the insurance will be available in California, Washington, and Illinois, and drivers can sign up here.
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Metromile originally launched its consumer-focused per-mile car insurance in 2013 to help low-mileage drivers pay a more appropriate rate. Its device plugs into cars’ OBD-II port, allowing it to track mileage, car trouble, location, and more. Metromile’s companion app can help drivers remember where they parked, avoid street cleaning tickets, optimize their fuel efficiency, and know when to commute for the lightest traffic.
Normal car insurance overcharges people who don’t drive much because it can’t tell how many miles they log. They pay too much, while people with long commutes that drive hours a day and are exposed to a lot of risk on the road underpay.
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Metromile’s device plugs into cars’ dashboards and tracks mileage to allow for per-mile car insurance
Metromile’s device lets drivers prove they drive fewer miles than average, and lets them pay less since they’re less likely to get in an accident. It white-labels a major insurance provider to provide the same reliable backing as a traditional insurance plan.
I suspected Uber and Metromile would team up, but I figured it’d be to help passengers who own a car but rarely drive it because taking Ubers around the city is more convenient. That’s my situation. Uber could promote Metromile as a way to ease people towards ditching car ownership entirely.
Metromile probably won’t save much money for Uber drivers who only take passengers on the side. But for those who’ve made Uber their primary job and just need coverage when they’re not working, Metromile could lower insurance costs so drivers can keep more of what Uber pays out.

New DJI Drone Firmware Will Prevent White House Joy Rides, Border Drug Runs

New DJI Drone Firmware Will Prevent White House Joy Rides, Border Drug Runs
Popular consumer drone-maker DJI is using firmware to fight some potential abuses of its hobbyist hardware, with an update that will prevent its Phantom 2-series drones from being able to fly onto the White House lawn, or carry drugs across country borders. This ones after an unauthorized drone made its way to an ignominious end on the White House land earlier this week, and after a drone packed with meth crashed trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico last week.
The firmware update (via TheNextWeb) essentially just puts geographic restrictions in place that act as “no-fly zones,” adding a virtual barrier extending 25 kilometers from downtown DC in all directions and effectively blocking either take-off or even flying entry by a drone. National borders are included too, to try to prevent DJI drones from being used for the kind of drug smuggling operation described above.
There are also 10,000 new airports added to the Phantom firmware’s no-fly list, which should prevent the consumer gadgets from getting in the way of air traffic and generally causing problems.
The primary concern of drone-makers and others invested in making autonomous vehicles a viable consumer and commercial business should be addressing these kinds of perceived threats as soon as they arise. Ones drones are perceived as a credible threat to public safety, complete with examples people can point to back up their claims, it will be much harder to convince legislators to regulate in favor of broader use.

CES 2015: The Automaton Rolls On

CES 2015: The Automaton Rolls On
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show was typical in one key regard: The best insights to be had at the event are those that appear when you look at its overall composition, rather than at any single announcement or product unveiling. For CES 2015, one theme in particular struck me as especially important, made more so because of it considerable progression over the past few years of the event: Automation.
Robots are nothing new for CES, but this year marked what felt like a turning point for bringing automation to a wider range of device categories, making ‘robots’ a reality across a range of verticals. There were automated gadgets for maintaining plant health, drones that could fly in flocks and offer up comprehensive imaging for agricultural use, sensors that could tie into more simplistic smart gadgets for advanced smart home design and more.


Toshiba showed off a humanoid, mostly realistic robotic hostess, and Intel and iRobot teamed up to show off autonomous telepresence bots and talked long-term plans for a robotic butler. Maybe most impressive were the advances in car automation, however, with virtually every auto maker who had any kind of presence at the show offering a glimpse into some kind of intelligent, driver-free technology, from parking to advanced object recognition.


One of the better examples of what kind of changes have taken place over the past four years of CES was the Audi exhibit showing four generations of driver-assist automated car tech. Audi brought four cars to the show, ranging in model year from 2009 to 2014, each characterizing a different kind of advance in technical advancement. The cars were a great practical example of what’s being made possible by developments like Nvidia’s Tegra X1, which is roughly equivalent to a room-sized supercomputer from a decade ago in terms of raw computing power, and which is available in a paired, two-processor configuration for carmakers starting this year in an extremely portable package that can easily fit behind the infotainment console of any standard vehicle.

Automation is driving forward at a rapid pace because of the improvements both in processors, and in the availability, cost and prevalence of sensors that can feed said processors data. Devices and software have become more robot-ready out of the box, and supported by cloud-based computing that is likewise better than ever at processing huge amounts of data and working with local pocket-sized supercomputers in a reciprocal relationship of machine learning, even the word “automation” means something entirely different from it did at CES just two years ago.
Robots have long been one of the more visible themes of CES, but they’ve gone from being eccentric sideshows and eccentricities with exotic designs and even more exotic price tags, to practical innovations that span the full breadth of the CES show floor. Automation is a natural endpoint for most computing and tech products, of course, but it’s very interesting to begin to see products match up with promise.

Boy Is Presented 3D-Printed Storm Trooper Prosthetic From The 501st, Vader’s Own Legion

Boy Is Presented 3D-Printed Storm Trooper Prosthetic From The 501st, Vader’s Own Legion
In part infinity in our continuing series of heart-warming 3D-printing events, we present Liam and his amazing 3D-printed Clone Trooper arm. A cool dude named John Peterson printed the arm for Liam after learning about E-Nable, a group of volunteers who print arms and hands for kids. Liam’s arm, for example, is a RIT model that works with kids with an elbow but no forearm. Peterson built the arm in iconic black and white and presented it to him alongside the 501st Legion, a group of Star Wars enthusiasts who do good while wearing movie-perfect Storm Trooper gear.
It’s nerd umami, really: 3D printing, Storm Troopers, cool makers, and little kids coming together for a taste sensation of feel-good amazingness and really nice 3D work. Peterson presented the arm to Liam after a movie in Augusta, GA while flanked by members of the Augusta branch of the 501st. Liam also received a helmet and certificate but, more important, he was able to use his arm to pick up cups and utensils for the first time. In fact, he stopped wearing a prosthetic because the “official” child prosthetics are essentially dead weight. The RIT arm, which takes a few hours to print, can be updated as he grows and is surprisingly usable and sturdy.
So next time someone tells you 3D printing is useless, point them to Liam and his Storm Trooper arm. And then put them into Detention Block AA-23 where Vader’s interrogation droid will help them understand just what the Force has to say about doubters.
via chronicle

The Apple Watch Shows Up In The iOS 8.2 Beta Bluetooth Menu

The Apple Watch Shows Up In The iOS 8.2 Beta Bluetooth Menu
Apple has a new beta for iOS 8.2 out today, and the software contains a hint that suggests it could launch publicly alongside the Apple Watch. The mention of the Apple Watch is found in the Bluetooth menu, according to 9to5Mac, where a message at the bottom of the devices list directs users to head to a dedicated Apple Watch app in order to pair their new wearable with their smartphone.
The Apple Watch notice is a strong indicator that the wearable will launch soon, since this is the fourth beta for iOS 8.2, and previous reports suggest we’ll see a March debut window for Apple Watch consumer sales. Apple has already announced the Apple Watch, and referred to an Apple Watch dedicated app, but as of yet there’s no official timeline for its release beyond that it’s coming sometime early this year.
The link contained in the Bluetooth menu in iOS 8.2 that points to the Apple Watch app doesn’t actually do anything just yet, as the app itself isn’t currently available in the App Store. The feature indicates that Apple wants to make it as easy as possible to pair the wearable with their phones, however, and to provide a dedicated onboarding experience which will presumably include setup and configuration tutorials within the Watch app itself.
Apple’s new wearable will be prices starting at $349 when it does become available, and a March timeframe makes sense in terms of giving Apple more to launch throughout the year, rather than bunching all new devices in fall when the iPad, iPhone and multiple Macs are currently refreshed.

Teddy The Guardian, The Protective Plushie, Gets $400K In Seed Investment

Teddy The Guardian, The Protective Plushie, Gets $400K In Seed Investment
Teddy The Guardian, The Protective Plushie, Gets $400K In Seed InvestmentTeddy the Guardian, unlike his animatronic cousin, Teddy Ruxpin, will not terrify your children. Teddy is actually a vital signs sensor that allows parents to check a child’s temperature and heart rate with a single tap of the bear’s paw. Because it’s also a beloved toy, the child won’t be frightened and doctors and parents can see the results inside a mobile app in real time.
Based in Zagreb, Croatia, the company is building and selling their handmade teddies for $499. They are also currently donating bears to hospitals in Europe to help doctors and nurses take vitals without intrusive instruments.
The company, founded by Josipa Majic and Ana Burica, has raised $400,000 from London-based investors. “We kept it low since we are cash positive and wanted to keep it within existing angel network in London,” said Majic.
Why does the world need a teddy bear that can sense your heart rate? For a number of reasons. “The idea behind disguising medical tech in a lovable toy is to provide parents with more accurate, consistent and reliable data points that will give a meaningful and complete insight in the child’s health condition,” said Majic. This means that readings can be regular and careful without frightening or harassing the child and it allows parents to take data from infants without sticking things into their mouths – or other orifices. While folks with kids who are well might not see the pressing need, this would work wonderfully in a hospital ward or with a child with a chronic illness.
We met with Majic and a finished teddy at CES and, in short, it looks like a safe and cozy teddy bear with a little camera in its paw. It’s definitely not rocket science. However, if it helps even one kid, however, it could be worth its weight in rainbows, dreams, and fluffy filling.
 

Ten One Design Mountie Review: Your Mobile Workstation, Upgraded

Ten One Design Mountie Review: Your Mobile Workstation, Upgraded
The first week of 2015 was CES for me, which meant working out of a suitcase in a bizarre fantasy land hewn from hard desert rock, grit and little else. My home office is a veritable oasis of displays and screen real estate, while my mobile CES office most definitely is not. Luckily, this year, I had a review unit of the Ten One Design Mountie on hand, and it made a big difference in my workflow, and drew compliments and envious stares from the legion of tech bloggers also in attendance at the show.
Ten One’s diminutive accessory was small enough that it slipped easily into my carry-on laptop bag, and the various inserts for different types of devices were also easy to pack. Out of the box, the mountie was set up to fit an iPad Air or Air 2 on one side, and a MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro on the other – the rubber pads it uses can be easily swapped out with the set provided, however, letting you clip any number of gadget to another. Fit can be adjusted using included pads, too, ensuring that even gadgets beyond Apple’s stable will work.
 
Thanks to the Duet app for iOS devices, however, the best combo is an iPad paired with a MacBook, because you can extend your notebook’s desktop without any lag or sacrifice in content resolution. And with the Mountie, your iPad becomes a natural desktop extension that can house a Twitter feed, a messaging app, or any other supplemental software without taking up valuable real estate on your main screen.
The Mountie is better than a lot of other solutions thanks to its simple single-clip tightening, and because it has a durable, long plastic spine that affords a high degree of stability regardless of what size screen you’re using it with. It also attacks securely, leaving no concerns about your devices accidentally falling off, and also without marking up the finishes of your gadgets’ surfaces.
Of course, you don’t have to be using Duet to make the Mountie useful – it’s just as handy running native, separate mobile apps alongside your primary display, including music software like Rdio or reading apps like Amazon. But for mobile workers looking for a way to get some of the benefits of multi-screen setups on the road, without having to actually lug a Thunderbolt display around everywhere.
For $25, it’s hard to find an iOS or Mac accessory that provides better bang for its buck. After proving itself in the tortured forge of CES, the Ten One Design Mountie has earned a permanent place in my mobile gear set, that’s for sure.

NEEO Is A Universal Smart Home Remote That Recognizes Your Hand

NEEO Is A Universal Smart Home Remote That Recognizes Your Hand
The smart home needs a remote, and one startup debuting on Kickstarter today thinks the smartphone isn’t necessarily the best option of that. NEEO is a dedicated device that includes a remote, as well as a brain to centralize control of your home, including your home theater equipment as well as connected gadgets like the Nest, Philips Hue and more.
NEEO is a Cupertino-based startup with a co-founding team that shares over 25 years of experience in the home automation sector between them. CEO Raphael Oberholzer is an electronics engineer with experience at Bang & Olufsen and Smart Home SA, a Swiss firm specializing in high end smart home system installation.
b5dedc0d20e789ce089e2353531027f1_largeOberholzer and his team found that there wasn’t much out there over the past few years in terms of smart remote innovation, and they wanted to produce a dedicated device that was designed to fit in with today’s tech and power innovations. The Logitech Harmony line of remotes has recently taken on smart home gadgets, and so will stand as a direct competitor to the NEEO, but this startup crew has designed a lot of features into NEEO that are not present in the Harmony lineup.
The NEEO has hand recognition, for instance, as well as a battery that runs of multiple months without a charge. A locator feature will make it beep when you activate it via an app on your smartphone, and it supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 6LowPAN, ZigBee, Z-Wave and Thread out of the box. The IR blasters built-into the hub cover a 360-degree range, and it has a learning mode for teaching it the IR codes of any gadget it doesn’t already support.
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NEEO’s coolest feature might be that it is designed to anticipate your needs, using the hand recognition tech to provide you with favourites, playlists and other content on a 291 ppi 480×800 3.2-inch touchscreen based on identifying factors in your palm. It’ll support multiple profiles, and offer a guest mode for unrecognized hands, too. There’s even a companion app you can use on your smartphone along with the dedicated hardware.
The NEEO ships with a database of over 30,000 gadgets in its library for easy setup, and early bird backers can pick one up starting at $148 with pledges today. The team is lining up distribution of Kickstarter units in different batches, with the earliest batch shipping this April. That may seem ambitious, but functional prototype design has been finalized, and the purpose of the crowdfunding drive is just to make the last push to full-scale production.
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Dedicated smart remotes definitely lag their software counterparts in some regards, but smartphone apps aren’t a satisfying solution on their own, either. NEEO looks very promising in concept, so here’s hoping they nail the execution, too.

Withings Activité Pop Activity Tracking Watch Review

Withings Activité Pop Activity Tracking Watch Review
Withings Activité Pop Activity Tracking Watch ReviewThe Withings Activité is among the best-designed activity trackers to ever come to market, and now Withings is back with the Activité Pop, a version that costs $300 less, while offering the same features as its pricier counterpart.
The $150 Pop is simply the best dedicated activity tracker that one can buy right now. For the simple reason that unlike the rest, it won’t just be shoved in a drawer and forgotten months, or even weeks after purchase.

Basics

  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • iPhone (4s or up) or iPod touch (5th gen or up) required, with Android coming soon
  • Eight months of battery via CR2025 button cell
  • 36.3mm face
  • 100ft depth water resistance
  • Auto-detects running; swimming coming soon
  • MSRP: $150
  • Product info page
Pros
  • Great price
  • Great style
Cons
  • Lacks advanced tracking features

Design

 
The Activité Pop is not quite as premium as the Activité upon which its design as based, feeling a tad lighter and cheaper, with a domed mineral glass that seems to offers less visual clarity than the sapphire crystal on the full-priced Activité. The face details are also slightly less refined, but beyond that, the Pop retains the good looks of the Activité and in fact, may even be more appealing to some, with its colorful options and scratch-resistant matte PVD coating.
The unit we reviewed comes in black, with a black silicone strap, but other strap options are available (and the watch is compatible with the leather straps that work with the original Activité, too). It’s also available in a bright blue, and in a beige-like ‘sand’ tone, with a variety of contrasting wristband options going on sale later to offer ample customizability.
In short, the Pop pops, and like the Activité before it, it also draws plenty of looks and compliments from observers. These devices are the first fitness trackers I’ve worn that have garnered that kind of response, and they impress in a way that is surprisingly non-polarizing – reaction is almost always positive, which is more than I can say for any other trackers whose designs are intended to be provocative.

Features

Withings has brought all the features of the Activité over to the Pop, including step tracking, run detection, planned swimming tracking and sleep monitoring. The activity tracking happens via a small sub-dial on the watch face, which shows your progress towards a step goal from the app as a percentage of the total.
Other features include automatic syncing to the time zone of your smartphone, once you open the Withings app on your device. It’s a great feature if you travel frequently, and even if you don’t, it also takes away the annoyance of having to change your watch to keep up with daylight savings time. Finally, gentle vibration alarms will alert you when you hit your step goal, or help you wake up in the morning in a way that won’t also alert your sleep partner. The vibration alert is very gentle, however: I didn’t feel it during my use of the Pop throughout CES, even though I hit my target most days.

Performance

The Activité Pop is the best activity tracker you can buy right now, and there’s a simple reason for that: Its simplicity. The watch counts your steps, and offers ambient switching to running when you need it. It monitors sleep in a basic way, and that’s about all. But that’s all a device like this needs to do.
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Activity trackers aren’t about turning ordinary folks into Olympic athletes, they’re about motivating people to live a healthier lifestyle. Most manufacturers miss the point of what makes these devices effective, and add in a bunch of overwrought features that ultimately aren’t all that useful. Non-continuous heart rate monitoring, for instance, or smartwatch notifications, or any number of other stupid, “differentiating” factors.
Withings offers just what it needs to, and also gets right another factor that might be most important: battery. The Pop can last for up to eight months on its single watch cell battery, and that’s about two months longer than even the most dedicated activity tracker users actually employ their devices. The fact is that when most tracker run out of juice, people don’t bother recharging them, especially once they’ve had to do so 30 times in almost as many days. A Withings Pop battery burnout will be an event, not a chore you have to get used to, and that may be its most attractive feature.
It’s also just a good-looking watch, and the people most likely to want to wear something on their wrists all day are those that are already okay with doing exactly that with a standard timepiece. You have to sell people on the basic idea of a watch before you can sell them a smart wristband or smartwatch, and then convince those who like the idea of a watch that they’d actually prefer something generally uglier, so Withings has eliminated half of its heavy lifting with this design.

Bottom Line

The Withings Activité Pop is the device you should be looking at if you want an activity tracker. Those with more demanding needs are better-served by always-on heartrate monitors and dedicated fitness GPS watches, and anything in between is pretty much worthless feature creep. The wearables market has long seemed like a space struggling with its own identity, and Withings may be the first company to have found a formula suitable for the general buying public, especially when it comes to activity tracking in particular.

Elon Musk Talks Seattle Satellites For Mars, Teases Model X Autonomy Features

Elon Musk Talks Seattle Satellites For Mars, Teases Model X Autonomy Features
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk held a press conference today at SpaceX HQ (via Bloomberg) to discuss a number of his company’s upcoming initiatives, including a new engineering office in Seattle, as well as next-generation autonomous driving features for Tesla, and the progress of SpaceX’s reusable rocket program, in light of a near-successful recapture of the stage 1 rocket during this week’s Dragon launch.
Musk mostly retread old territory, talking about the new satellite engineering facility in Seattle (which is actually dedicated to satellite development, in addition to actually being a satellite office, yuk yuk) and how it will pave the way for Musk’s ultimate goal of colonizing Mars within his lifetime. The ambitious CEO has discussed Mars colonization in the past, first in October as a viable option for preserving the future of humanity. He’s also promised more recently to reveal more details of his colonization plan this year, of which SpaceX’s satellite plans act as one small part.
Other topics up for discussion at the event included Tesla’s sales goals: The electric car-maker wants to ship 100,000 vehicles per year, which is a steep incline from its 33,000 shipping total for all of 2014. That was limited by its ability to produce enough vehicles to meet demand, however, and Musk said that plans to ship the SUV format Model X in the third quarter of this year, as previously announced.
The Model X won’t just be news because it will offer the convenience factors of a larger vehicle, but because it will be different in other regards from what’s come before. Musk said that it will feature “a whole bunch of things […] that have not been revealed,” according to Bloomberg, and that it will have autonomous driving features that are “a step beyond” what we’ve already seen from the company in that area. Musk has previously stated that Tesla will lead the market in autonomous driving, offering something akin to “autopilot” for its cars before anyone else does so in consumer models.
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The SpaceX CEO also discussed the recent landing attempt for the first stage rocket that helped propel Dragon to its fifth resupply mission for the International Space Station. The rocket nearly succeeded in touching down for a landing aboard a SpaceX autonomous seafaring spaceport barge, but ran out of hydraulic fluid and landed hard instead, damaging the platform. Musk says that in around three weeks time, they’ll have a “decent chance” to pull it off without incident.
I honestly just paused after re-reading that last paragraph and thought “I can’t believe I’m living in a time where I’m able to write that sentence, and not in a fictional context.” That is all.

The PC Market Stabilizes

The PC Market Stabilizes
Is the PC market growing or shrinking? It depends on who you ask. As TechCrunch wrote yesterday, tracking firm Gartner reports that PC sales were up 1 percent globally in the final quarter of 2014. However, IDC, another company that keeps tabs on the sales of electronics, noted a 2.4 percent decline.
I highlight both numbers as they are essentially a wash — Gartner claims 83.75 million shipped PCs in the period, while IDC thinks it was 80.72 million. What could be causing the slight difference? The two firms have different methods for computing just what a PC is, which could explain the entire differential.
Here’s IDC:
PCs include Desktops, Portables, Ultraslim Notebooks, Chromebooks, and Workstations and do not include handhelds, x86 Servers and Tablets (i.e. iPad, or Tablets with detachable keyboards running either Windows or Android). Data for all vendors are reported for calendar periods.
And here is Gartner:
Notes: Data includes desk-based PCs, notebook PCs, premium ultramobiles and all Windows-based tablets. It excludes Chromebooks and other non-Windows-based tablets. All data is estimated based on a preliminary study. Final estimates will be subject to change
Interestingly, Gartner, which appears to have a stricter definition of what counts as a PC, reported the higher figure.
Regardless of how you slice up the fat, the PC market is putting up some numbers that should help a few companies breathe more easily. 2013 was a massacre for PCs, and 2014 wasn’t that much better.
PCs had a mixed second quarter in 2014, with data showing either a 0.1 percent gain, or a mild decline. The end of support for Windows XP was widely thought to be the cause of that shift. But, taken in keeping with the last quarter of 2014, based on the data we have now, it appears that in half of last year, the PC market was either roughly flat, or perhaps expanding.
I’ll apologize with a quote:
I don’t quite know how to phrase this, but once the PC market stops shrinking (again, we’re leaning on trends and predictions), the idea of a post-PC world itself ends. In fact, we need a new term. Call it the co-PC world, in which tablets and smartphones are equal in weight and importance to the PC.
As I’ve written before, there is a muddle afoot in all of this. Operating systems are breaking down their own walls and spreading tentacles across device classes. This means that if we compare the traditional PC market to tablets, say, we are pitting one group of Windows devices against another. That won’t do, obviously, for comparison’s sake.
And, as other operating systems — Android, in this case — move up the device size chart (from phone, to tablet, to PC) we are going to have a more diverse PC market in general, further undercutting its performance as indicative of the health of WinTel, as we have for so long deemed it.
So, fuck 2013 is what I’m saying, from the PC market’s perspective. It was awful. But shrinking 10% from massive scale still leaves massive scale.
We need to keep close eyes on continuing declines in PC sales, but inside the next 8 quarters we could see a positive year-over-year period for PC sales. Something to think about.
Fuck 2013, indeed. Happily for the constituent members of the PC industry, things are getting better.
I think that I was wrong to describe PCs as “equal in weight and importance to the PC,” because while I myself remain lashed to my various laptops and desktop machines, it seems that my colleagues and friends are more mobile than ever. You can pick which device class is ascendant, but at a minimum, the idea of parity is likely simplistic.
Windows 10 is just around the corner, generationally speaking. If the PC market can stabilize in the era of Windows 8, could it grow, even slightly, in the Windows 10 era?
Perhaps.

Apple Patents A Wireless Action Camera And Wrist-Based Remote

Apple Patents A Wireless Action Camera And Wrist-Based Remote
Apple has been awarded a patent by the USPTO based on IP it acquired from Kodak in a deal from 2013, which details a remote digital camera system that can be controlled from a smartwatch (Apple Watch fantasists should note that this patent was originally created in 2012). The Apple patent specifically seeks to address flaws identified in the design of competitors including the GoPro HD Hero2 cameras, which it claims are susceptible to movement based on wind resistance that affects final image output.
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The Apple patent, which includes images that still bear Kodak’s branding on technical drawings representing the system it describes, describes a system with multiple camera sensors to cover multiple angles, and to provide coverage in multiple directions. The camera also includes multiple threaded mounting points, which can be used with tripods and other accessories, to help ensure that it can be used both handheld by a user like a normal camera, and mounted in any number of configurations on different devices, like cars, handlebars, jibs, and more.
Apple’s patent aims to differentiate itself from the crowd by offering users a range of choices as to how to shoot with the device, including remotely via a wrist-mounted control device that communicates wirelessly with the camera gadget, and which can provide it with updated information in real-time. The remote also features a low-power mode for stand operation while conserving battery.
Publication of the patent has apparently led to a decline in GoPro stock today, as noted by CNN Money, but investors can probably relax: Apple patents a lot of tech, and hardly any of it ever makes it to market as consumer products. An action camera, which appears to double as a rugged point-and-shoot, seems about as likely a product to come out of Apple as a head-mounted Google Glass competitor in the near future – which is to say it isn’t likely at all.
It’s also key to note that this patent application leans heavily on existing Kodak IP. It’s in Apple’s interest to make use of the products of that property acquisition, even if it doesn’t intend to ship anything based on the patents involved in the near future.

Why Is Apple Going To Have A Better Time Launching A Wearable?

Why Is Apple Going To Have A Better Time Launching A Wearable?
At some point in the next few months (“Early 2015″ can’t push much past March, can it?), Apple will release its Watch, likely defining the high end of the wearable category.
The Apple Watch is, in hindsight, exactly what Apple would make when entering a new category: a general purpose computer trimmed down to the essentials needed for its particular form factor. It shares its industrial design with its bigger cousins in your pocket, likely shares the same underlying UNIX operating system, and starting this year will even have its own native apps.
Analysts think that it’s going to sell somewhere in the range of 30 million units in its first 12 months — nowhere close to the range of the iPhone or iPad today but still incredibly impressive for the wearable category overall.
Analyst predictions of Apple sales can always be taken with a grain of salt, but especially so in the wearables category, where no one really knows anything yet anyway.
We only bother looking at analyst predictions because they are a reflection of broader expectations for how the Apple Watch will do. Despite launching well after Android Wear and Samsung’s very early attempts at making smart watches, consumers and Wall Street alike seem to be looking at the Apple Watch to set the tone for the wearables market in the same way that the iPhone and iPad did for smartphones and tablets, respectively.
Why the expected success, in the face of competition whose devices offer roughly the same functions?
If you take a look through the Watch Kit Apple released to developers back in November, the apps iOS developers can make for the Watch today are not far off from what’s available on the Android side of things. At launch, there’s going to be a lot of actionable notifications and functions that work in unison with apps on your phone.
So why does everyone think the Apple Watch is going to do so well compared to the current slate of smart watches available on the market?
First, there is a matter of momentum. Apple has spent a lot of time capturing a market, teaching them the benefits of their ecosystem and locking them in. A certain segment of those people will buy the Apple Watch regardless of what it may or may not do for them.
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Millions of people will buy the Apple Watch because just owning it will seem cool.
Independent analyst Neil Cybart captures that rather well in this blog post. Basically, people will project their own reasons to be interested in the Apple Watch:
Over the past few months, I’ve learned to change the way I explain Apple Watch to friends and family. Instead of starting out with a list of reasons why they may enjoy an Apple Watch, I now begin with a pretty simply explanation: Apple is making a watch with customizable faces and bands. I then let that person respond, and depending on their answer, I mention how Apple Watch can serve as a communication device, a health and fitness tracker, or a mobile payment facilitator.  As a result, I now get a much more open response from people that want to see and learn more about Apple Watch. That is how Apple will sell Apple Watch.
Going beyond that simple assumption, Apple is the best in the business at creating narratives around the products they sell. Of course, Google did a fine job of bringing in developers to come up with use cases for Android Wear when it debuted at Google I/O: “Too drunk to order a Lyft from your phone? Yell at your wrist instead!”
In fact, there was quite a bit of overlap in functionality between what Google showed off with partners on that day and the apps Apple presented on stage last September.
But Apple has proven with every “new” product category introduction that it knows which features a lot of people will need to justify a purchase. With the iPhone, it was a phone, iPod, and internet device. With the iPad, it had made a powerful computer that could handle productivity software but also provided a better book-reading/movie-watching experience than any single-user device before it.
Even though several Android manufacturers beat Apple to market with tablets between the iPhone and iPad launches, Apple thrashed (and continues to dominate) the category in profitability. That ownership (regardless of its long-term future) started with filling basic needs that would make their devices compelling.
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The Apple Watch opens up Apple Pay to those without the latest iPhones.
There’s reason to believe that Apple will do the same when it officially launches its Watch. TechCrunch has heard from several sources that Apple has brought in developers of apps that “obviously” need to be on the platform.
Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are being courted in order to make sure their apps are up to snuff for launch. We’ve also heard that Apple has been reaching out to smaller developers it likes, requesting video demos of apps running in the Apple Watch simulator. Some of these will likely end up as key part’s of Apple’s narrative just as Pixelmator was featured so prominently in the debut of the new iPad Air 2, setting the tone for Apple’s new ads.
All of that is to say Apple will have a reason ready for consumers to buy their fancy new watches as soon as they’re made: a decent suite of launch apps.
From there, its success is essentially limited by whether or not it’s cool enough to significantly expand the size of the smart watch market. As Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin wrote last week, there are two obvious outcomes for the Apple Watch: it either completely owns the space like its spiritual successor, the iPod, or it dominates the high-end of the market while bringing in a rather small portion of market share, losing out to cheaper Android Wear devices and fitness trackers going for much less.
Why isn’t there a third option, where the Apple Watch is a total dud? Well, that’s still a possibility if the wearable category as a whole is something that every company thinks is a good idea but really no one wants. I don’t think that’s the case.
In addition to the advantages above, Apple also has the fact that it will probably be the only viable truly premium option in town. It’s going to have a solid-freaking-gold option, for goodness’ sake.
As blogger Matt Richman wrote last week, there’s no way Apple will open up the functionality that will make the Apple Watch so attractive (the connection to the iPhone at the operating system level) to anything but its own Watch. Actual luxury-watch makers will have to rely on Android Wear if they want to compete, which will only work with Android phones… which wealthy people, as a category, don’t buy. If there’s even a bit of a smart watch market, Apple will assuredly take the high end of it.

Apple Watch Companion App Features Said To Include Activity Reminders, Phone Unlock

Apple Watch Companion App Features Said To Include Activity Reminders, Phone Unlock
A new leak of details from within the upcoming companion app for the Apple Watch claims to show some unannounced features we can expect from the wearable when it arrives sometime early this year. The dump of the app’s settings screens from 9to5Mac show panels that let users tweak how it handles Activity, Accessibility, Messages, Motion and Fitness and more on the watch, with plenty of customization options available to let Apple Watch owners finely tweak what gets reported on their device, and how.
The trove of information shows that users will be able to set a Monogram for their watch face, which is a customizable set of initials between one and four characters, as well as customize the city appreciations used in the World Clock ‘complication.’ Complication is used throughout to describe different watch features, and the word is borrowed from the term used in actual watchmaking to describe different abilities separate from basic time-keeping, including power reserve meters, world timers, chronographs and more.
Other complications include a stock monitor you can add to the watch face, which can be drawn from the stocks you track on your phone, and which can show either the current price, price or percentage change, or market cap with live updates throughout the day.
Messages can be set to take the settings from your phone, or customized in how they appear specifically on your Watch separate from your device, including things like sending Read receipts to your contacts. You can set whether the watch will respond with recorded voice or transcribed dictation when you answer messages, too.
 
Passcode locking will enable Apple Pay, but an extra element of requiring your to both put the Watch on your wrist and then enter the code will help make its use as secure as when you’re handling it with Touch ID on the phone: If you remove the Apple Watch, it’ll disable Apple Pay until you put it back on again and re-enter your credentials. A similar feature will see users able to unlock their Watch simply by unlocking their iPhone connected to the wearable, but only when the Watch can verify it’s attached to your person, which again should help prevent unauthorized access.
The Companion app also appears to offer activity reminders that will let users set notices to be sent if you stand for the first 50 minutes of any given hour (standing regularly throughout the day is said to promote health according to many medial professionals), and you can set goals and receive activity updates throughout the day, depending on your preference, with updates available every 4, 6 or 8 hours. Heart rate tracking can combine with step counting to monitor calorie burn, if a user enables that feature.
The entire dump at 9to5Mac reveals even more granular details about Apple’s companion app for the Watch, but in general you’ll see they pretty much match up with many of the settings already found on your iPhone or iPad. The key ingredient here is that Apple seems to want to make sure that users have full control over what their Apple Watch shows them, independent of their iPhone – while also giving them an easy way to port over preferences should they choose to be less hands-on.
Apple’s strategy with the Apple Watch appears to hinge on providing users with a good deal of customization when it comes to hardware, so this could be seen as the software equivalent of that strategy. The ink is hardly dry when it comes to Apple Watch details, however, and we still have to get official confirmation from Apple on what’s coming on the software side, so stay tuned for more as we approach the rumoured launch window of March.