Microsoft has officially given up its vision of Xbox One as an all-in-one entertainment hub, and its executives are being shuffled accordingly. In the latest example, “Boyd Multerer -- the genius Microsoft engineer who founded Xbox Live, helped build the Xbox 360, and led the development of the three-operating-systems-in-one Xbox One platform -- announced on Twitter today that he's left Microsoft to pursue new opportunities,” The Verge reports.
Most smartwatches, to date, look a bit geeky. Withings Activite opted for a more classically elegant look; theirs is a handsome, round-faced unisex Swiss watch. The first units just started shipping. The Activite watch tracks things like steps and sleep patterns and wirelessly shares the data to a smartphone. It currently costs $450, pricier than the Apple watch or smartwatches from Sony, Samsung LG, Pebble or Motorola. Currently, it only works with an iPhone, but will be Android-compatible early next year.
Xiaomi, the fast-growing Chinese hardware company known for its low-cost smartphones, raised $1.1 billion in new funding. It’s now valued at $45 billion. The company will likely use the capital to increase sales of its smartphones in its key growth markets of India, Southeast Asia, Brazil and Mexico. In 2013, Xiaomi said it sold about 19 million phones, which it hopes will hit 40 million by year’s end.
The physical retail isn’t as easy as Apple makes it look. Just ask Samsung, which is shuttering its “Experience” store in London in light of poor sales. “Excitement and sales have apparently petered out after a strong start,” The Verge reports, referring to the launch of several Samsung Experience stores. “Now that Samsung no longer sells laptops in Europe, and with mobile sales shrinking, it's reasonable for the company to cut down on its retail costs.”
A week after offering its Stickered for Messenger app to Android users, Facebook has expanded its launch to the iOS community. “It lets you affix Facebook stickers -- basically the company's emoji -- on top of any photo you've shot, or plan to shoot,” The Verge writes of Stickered. “You don't need to be a Facebook Messenger user to actually take photos, but the app strongly points you in that direction.”
Facebook appears to be helping the Russian government silence its biggest critics. “Russian users appear to have been blocked from accessing a [Facebook] page calling for a protest in support of a prominent dissident,” The Washington Post reports. “Russian Internet regulators said Saturday that they had sent Facebook a ‘demand’ that it block access to a page calling for a demonstration in support of Alexei Navalny, the most prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
In the name of consumer safety, Microsoft just removed a number of third-party Snapchat alternatives from its Windows Phone store. “The company said that while it had ‘enjoyed some of the ways developers have tried to make Snapchat better,’ some creators had built services that would compromise the user's security,” The Verge reports, citing an official Microsoft blog post. “Snapchat has come under fire from security researchers and developers who argue that the company's security is too lax.”
Tim Cook is calling bull on the BBC’s accusations that Apple is failing to provide humane conditions for its Chinese manufacturing workers. “The BBC’s Panorama programme sent undercover reporters to Pegatron factories on the outskirts of Shanghai, where it claims to have uncovered poor treatment of workers,” The Telegraph reports. In response, Cook and his top executives insist that the report is completely misleading.
Messaging app maker Open Garden just raised $10.8 million in a Series A funding round led by August Capital. “The company recently found its footing with the launch of FireChat, an anonymous messaging app that can use mesh networking to connect you to nearby users, even when there is no other connectivity available,” TechCrunch reports. Additional investors included Firebolt Ventures, Future Perfect Ventures, Kima Ventures, Tseung Kwan Ventures and Sherpalo.
Few would deny that the future is bright for flying drones and smartphones. But, flying smartphones? Yes, they’re coming, according to futurist Zoltan Istvan. “Over the next decade, we'll see the rise of lightweight drones that fit in your pocket,” he writes in Motherboard. “In all practicality, they will be flying smartphones. I call them that because some manufactures believe drones might actually replace smartphones as the key communication device in the world. And those manufacturers plan to outfit drones with far more than camera capabilities.”