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Main article: Microsoft windows

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Here is the first stable release of Microsoft’s new Edge browser

20:00 | 15 January

Right on schedule, Microsoft today released the first stable version of its new Chromium-based Edge browser, just over a year after it first announced that it would stop developing its own browser engine and go with what has, for better or worse, become the industry standard.

You can now download the stable version for Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as macOS, directly. If you are on Windows 10, you can also wait for the automatic update to kick in, but that may take a while.

Since all of the development has happened in the open, with various pre-release channels, there are no surprises in this release. Some of the most interesting forward-looking features like Collections, Microsoft’s new take on bookmarking, are still only available in the more experimental pre-release channels. That will quickly change, though, since Edge is now on a six-week release cycle.

As I’ve said throughout the development cycle, Edge is a competent Chrome challenger and I have no hesitations to recommend it to anybody who is looking for a browser alternative. It’s still missing a few features, most importantly the ability to sync your browser history and extensions between devices. I’ve never found that to be much of a roadblock to using Edge as my main browser, but your mileage may vary.

Like all modern browsers, Edge features various options for protecting you from online trackers, support for extensions (both from the Chrome Web Store and Microsoft’s own extension repository), reader mode, the ability to switch profiles and pretty much everything else you would expect.

What it doesn’t have yet is a killer feature or something that really makes it stand out from the rest. While Microsoft seems quite excited about Collections, I admit that it’s not something I’ve found all that useful for my own workflow. But the team now has a stable platform in place to start innovating on, so we’ll likely see a stronger focus on new features going forward.

With Firefox going through its own renaissance, the Edge team may have trouble convincing people that they should switch back to a Microsoft browser, no matter how good it is. For most users, switching browsers isn’t a casual thing, after all.

Either way, if you were hesitant to try out the new Edge, now it the time to give it a shot. The easiest way to do so is to download the update directly. If you’re on Windows 10, the new Edge will replace the old Edge over time through the usual Windows OS update channel, but Microsoft is making this a very gradual rollout that it expects to last several months (and once it’s installed, it will update independently, outside of the Windows Update system).

Enterprise users get a choice for how and when they want to make the move, of course, which Microsoft detailed here and here.

 


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Kid-focused STEM device startup Kano sees layoffs as it puts Disney e-device on ice

18:18 | 16 December

London-based STEM device maker Kano has confirmed it’s cutting a number of jobs which it claims is part of a restructuring effort to shift focus to “educational computing”.

The job cuts — from 65 to 50 staff — were reported earlier by The Telegraph. Kano founder Alex Stein confirmed in a call with TechCrunch that Kano will have 50 staff going into next year. Although he said the kid-focused learn to code device business is also adding jobs in engineering and design, as well as eliminating other roles as it shifts focus.

He also suggested some of the cuts are seasonal and cyclical — related to getting through the holiday season.

Per Stein, jobs are being taking out as the company moves from building atop the Raspberry Pi platform — where it started, back in 2013, with its crowdfunded DIY computer — to a Windows-based learning platform.

Other factors he pointed to in relation to the layoffs include a new manufacturing setup in China, with a “simpler, larger contract manufacturer”; fewer physical retail outlets to support, with Kano leaning more on Amazon (which he said is “cheaper to support”); fewer dependencies on large partners and agencies, with Stein claiming 18% of US parents with kids aged 6-12 are now familiar with the brand, reducing its marketing overhead; and a desire to shrink the number of corporate managers vs makers on its books as “we’ve seen a stronger response to our first-party Kano products — Computer Kit, Pixel Kit, Motion Sensor Kit — than expected this year”.

“We have brought on some roles that are more focused on this new platform [Kano PC], and some roles that were focused on the Raspberry Pi are no longer with us,” he also told TechCrunch.

Kano unveiled its first Windows-based PC this fall. The 11.6-inch touch-enabled, Intel Atom-powered computer costs $300 — which puts it in the ballpark price-range of Google’s Chromebook.

The tech giant has maintained a steady focus on the educational computing market — putting a competitive squeeze on smaller players like Kano who are trying to carve out a business selling their own brand of STEM-focused hardware. Against the Google Goliath, Stein touts factors such as relative repairability and attention to computing performance for the Kano PC (which he claims is “on a par with the Surface Go”), in addition to having now thrown its lot in with rival giant, Microsoft.

“The more and more we got into school environments the more and more we were in conversations with major North American distributors to schools, the more we saw that people wanted that ‘DIY’… product design, they wanted the hackability and extensibility of the kit, they wanted the tools to be open source and manipulable but they also wanted to be able to run Photoshop and to run Class Dashboard and to run Microsoft Office. And so that was when we struck the partnership with Microsoft,” said Stein.

“The Windows computing is packed with content and curriculum for teachers and an integration with Microsoft Teams which requires a different sort of development capability,” he added.

“The roles we’re adding are around subscription, they’re around the computer, building new applications and tools for the computer and continuing to enrich the number of projects that are available for our members now — so we’re doing things like allowing people to connect the sensors in their wands to household IoT device. We’re introducing, over the Christmas period, a new collaborative drawing app.”

According to Stein, Kano is “already seeing demand for 60,000 units in this next calendar year” for its Windows-based PC — which he said is “well beyond what we expect… given the price-point.

Although he did not put a figure on exact sales to date of the Kano PC.

He also confirmed Kano will be dialling back the range of products it offers next year.

It recently emerged that an own-brand camera device, which Kano first trailed back in 2016, will not now be shipping. Stein also told us that another co-branded Disney product they’d been planning for 2020 is being “put back” — with no new date for release as yet.

Stein denied sales have been lacklustre — claiming the current Star Wars and Frozen e-products have “done enough for us”. (While a co-branded Harry Potter e-wand is selling faster than expected, per Stein, who said they had expected to have stock until March but are “selling out”.)

“The reorganization we’ve done has nothing to do with growth and users,” he told us. “We are on track to sell through more units as well as products at a higher average selling price this fiscal year. We’re selling out of Wands when we expected to have stock all the way to March. We have more pre-launch demand for the Kano PC than anything we’ve ever done.”

Of the additional co-branded Disney e-product which is being delayed — and may not now launch at all next year, Stein told us: “The fact is we’re in negotiations with Disney around this — and around the timing of it. Given that we’re not certain we’re going to be doing it in 2020 some of the contractor roles in particular that we brought on to do the licensing sign off pieces, to develop some of the content around those brands, some of the apparatus set up to manage those partnerships — we don’t need any more.”

“We introduced three new hardware SKUs this year. I don’t think we’ll do three new hardware SKUs next year,” he added, confirming the intention is to trim the number of device launches in 2020 to focus on the Kano PC.

One source we spoke to suggested Kano is considering sunsetting its partner strategy entirely. However Stein did not go that far in his comments to us.

“We’ve been riding a certain bear for a few years. We’re jumping to a new bear. That’s always going to create a bit of exhilaration. But I think this is a place of real promise,” was how he couched the pivot.

“I think what Kano does better than anyone else in the world is crafting an experience around technology that opens up its attributes to a wider audience,” Stein also said when asked whether hardware or software will be its main focus going forward. “The hardware element is crucial and beautiful and we make some of the world’s most interesting dynamic physical products. It’s an often told story that hardware’s very hard and is brutal — and yeah, because you get it right you change the fabric of society.

“It’s hard for me to draw a line between hardware and software for the business because we’ve always been asked that and seven years into the business we’ve found the greatest things that people do with the products… it’s always when there’s a combination of the two. So we’re proud that we’re good at combining the two and we’re going to continue to do it.”

The STEM device space has been going through bumpy times in recent years as early hype and investment has failed to translate into sustained revenues at every twist and turn.

The category is certainly filled with challenges — from low barrier to entry leading to plentiful (if varied quality) competition, to the demands of building safe, robust and appealing products for (fickle) kids that tightly and reliably integrate hardware and software, to checking all the relevant boxes and processes to win over teachers and support schools’ curriculum requirements that’s essential for selling direct to the education market.

Given so many demands on STEM device makers it’s not surprising this year has seen a number of these startups exiting to other players and/or larger electronics makers — such as Sphero picking up littleBits.

A couple of years ago Sphero went through its own pivot out of selling co-branded Disney ‘learn to code’ gizmos to zoom in on the education space.

While another UK-based STEM device maker — pi-top — has also been through several rounds of layoffs recently, apparently as part of its own pivot to the US edtech market.

More consolidation in the category seems highly likely. And given the new relationship between Kano and Microsoft joining Redmond via acquisition may be the obvious end point for the startup.

Per the Telegraph’s report, Kano is in the process of looking to raise more funding. However Stein did not comment when asked to confirm the company’s funding situation.

The startup last reported a raise just over two years ago — when it closed a $28M Series B round led by Thames Trust and Breyer Capital. Index Ventures, the Stanford Engineering Venture Fund, LocalGlobe, Marc Benioff, John Makinson, Collaborative Fund, Triple Point Capital, and Barclays also participated.

TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden contributed to this report 

 


0

Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s next-gen console, arriving late-2020

14:10 | 13 December

If you didn’t watch last night’s Game Awards, you may of missed it. But Xbox Series X is the company’s  next generation console, and will be arriving in late 2020. Thankfully, Microsoft has kindly catalogued all of the images, media and even a little information online. Oh, and we’ll almost certainly be hearing a LOT more about the Xbox Series X before it arrives holidays 2020.

Xbox Head Phil Spencer has a pretty long break down over on the the official blog. But let’s start with the obvious here. The Series X looks…different. Surely the meme makers are already working overtime on this one, but to my mind, it looks a more traditional PC or maybe even a router.

It’s tall (around three times as tall as its predecessor), it’s rectangular, it’s black. It’s fairly minimalist. A lot of people seem to be comparing it to a refrigerator, which, fine. Honestly, I think it’s got that working for it. Surely plenty of people are looking for something that more seamlessly blends in with its surroundings.

The last few generations have found consoles transforming from specialty items into catchall media players, and there’s something to be said for a product that can sit on your shelf, largely undetected. Notably, the blocky design means that the console can be oriented either vertically or horizontally, depending on your spacing needs.

The latest version of the Xbox Wireless Controller arrives alongside the new system, because, well, you’re going to need something to control it with. It’s a bit smaller than the previous version, “refined to accommodate an even wider range of people,” per Spencer.

The buttons are largely in tact, with the addition of a Share button for taking screenshots and game clips. The new controllers ship with the system and will be capable with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 systems.

Speaking of older systems, the Series X is set up to support backward compatibility for all older systems, along with Xbox One accessories. Per Spencer,

Building on our compatibility promise, with Xbox Series X we’re also investing in consumer-friendly pathways to game ownership across generations.

Leading the way with our first-party titles including Halo Infinite in 2020, we’re committed to ensuring that games from Xbox Game Studios support cross-generation entitlements and that your Achievements and game saves are shared across devices.

Spec information is still pretty light for this first pass, but Spencer promises 4K playback at 60FPS (with potentially up to 120FPS) and support for both Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and 8K capability.

Powered by our custom-designed processor leveraging the latest Zen 2 and next generation RDNA architecture from our partners at AMD, Xbox Series X will deliver hardware accelerated ray tracing and a new level of performance never before seen in a console. Additionally, our patented Variable Rate Shading (VRS) technology will allow developers to get even more out of the Xbox Series X GPU and our next-generation SSD will virtually eliminate load times and bring players into their gaming worlds faster than ever before.

The Series X will also, naturally, have an eye on cloud gaming, in addition to native hardware. Tonight’s unveil also featured a sneak preview of the upcoming Ninja Theory title, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

 


0

Mozilla launches the next phase of its Firefox Private Network VPN beta

17:00 | 3 December

Mozilla today announced that its Firefox Private Network (FPN), which lets you encrypt your Firefox connections, is now in an extended beta after a few months of relatively limited testing in the Firefox Test Pilot program. This beta, however, is only available to users in the U.S. and the free service is restricted to 12 hours of encrypted surfing on Firefox’s desktop version for the time being. You’ll also need a Firefox account to use the extension.

What’s maybe even more interesting, though, is that Mozilla is also working on a more fully-featured device-level VPN service that will encrypt all of your Internet surfing and app usage across your Windows 10 devices (with other platforms coming, too). This new service is now accepting invitations.

The introductory price will be $4.99 per month, making this the first service that Mozilla is directly charging users for. Those prices will likely change, though, as Mozilla learns what users are willing to pay and as it evolves the service. Given that running a VPN is costly, it definitely makes sense that the organization can’t offer it for free.

Also new today is an update to Firefox Preview, the group’s next-gen mobile browser based on its own GeckoView engine, as well as picture-in-picture support for all video sites in Firefox desktop. Firefox Preview is the publicly available test version of a new iteration of Firefox for Android. The highlight here is that Firefox Preview will now get enhanced tracking protection, similar to its desktop brethren, in addition to other new features like a new search widget for the Android home screen and a revamped Send tab for sending tabs or collections of tabs to other devices.

.

 

 


0

Equity Dive: Poshmark’s origin story with co-founder & CEO Manish Chandra

17:00 | 22 November

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We have something a bit different for you this week. Equity co-host Kate Clark recently sat down with Manish Chandra, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Poshmark, and one of his earliest investors, NFX managing partner James Currier.

If you haven’t heard of Poshmark, it’s an online platform for buying and selling clothes. Basically, it’s the thrift shop of the 21st century. We asked Chandra how he and co-founders Tracy Sun, Gautam Golwala and Chetan Pungaliya cooked up the idea for Poshmark, what bumps they faced along the way, how they raised venture capital and, of course, what details of their upcoming initial public offering he could share with us. Meanwhile, Currier dished about the company’s early days, when the Poshmark team worked hard on the floor of Currier’s office.

Unfortunately, neither Chandra or Currier were willing to share deets about Poshmark’s IPO, reportedly expected soon. But they both shared interesting insights into building a successful venture-backed company, battling competition and putting your best foot forward.

Glad you guys came back for another episode, we’ll see you soon.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 


0

Brave launches version 1.0 of its privacy-focused browser

19:00 | 13 November

Brave, the company co-founded by ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after his ouster from the organization in 2014, today launched version 1.0 of its browser for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. In a browser market where users are spoiled for choice, Brave is positioning itself as a fast option that preserves users’ privacy with strong default settings, as well as a crypto currency-centric private ads and payment platform that allows users to reward content creators.

As the company announced last month, it now has about 8 million daily users. Its Brave Rewards program, which requires opt-in from users and publishers, currently has about 300,000 publishers on board. Most of these are users with small followings on YouTube and Twitter, but large publishers like Wikipedia, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate and the LA Times are also part of the ecosystem. Using this system, which not every publisher is going to like, the browser replaces the ads on a publisher’s site with its own, based on the user’s browsing habits. Users then receive 70 percent of what the advertisers spend on ads, while Brave keeps 30 percent.

As users view these ads, they start earning Basic Attention Tokens (BAT), Brave’s cryptocurrency, which they can keep or give to publishers. In its early days, Brave actually started with Bitcoin as the currency for this, but as Eich noted, that quickly became too expensive (and since the price was going up, users wanted to hold on to the Bitcoin instead of donating it).

Brave also comes with a built-in ad blocker that is probably among the most effective in the industry, as well as extensive anti-tracking features. “Everybody’s bothered by the sense of being tracked and bothered by bad ads,” Eich told me. “But I think ad aesthetics are not the problem. It’s the tracking and the cost of tracking which is multifarious. There’s page load time, running the radio to load the tracking scripts that load the other scripts that load the scripts that load the ads, that drains your battery, too.” Eich argues that with Brave, the team found a way to tie this all together with anti-tracking technology and an approach to ad blocking that goes beyond the industry-standard blocklists and also uses machine learning to identify additional rules for blocking.

For those users that really want to be anonymous on the web, Brave also features a private browsing mode, just like every other browser, but with the added twist that you can also open a private session through the Tor network, which will make it very hard for most companies to identify you.

At its core, Brave is simply a fast, extensible Chromium-based browser. That’s also what the company believes will sell it to users. “The way you get users, […] I think speed is the first one that works across the largest number of users. But you can’t just leave it at speed. You want to have all your benefits tied up in a pretty knot and that’s what we have done,” he said. For Brave, speed and ad/tracking protection are obviously interconnected, and all the other benefits accrue from that.

Looking beyond version 1.0, the Brave team plans to implement better sync, with support for tab and history syncing, for example. Brave also aims to make participating in Brave Rewards an experience with much lower friction for the user. In the early days, before it was on Android, the opt-in rate was around 40 percent, Eich told me, and the team wants to get it back to that.

If you want to give Brave a try, you can download it here.

 


0

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 starts shipping

16:00 | 7 November

Earlier this year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the second generation of its HoloLens augmented reality visor. Today, the $3,500 HoloLens 2 is going on sale in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order.

Ahead of the launch, I got to spend some time with the latest model, after a brief demo in Barcelona earlier this year. Users will immediately notice the larger field of view, which still doesn’t cover your full field of view, but offers a far better experience compared to the first version (where you often felt like you were looking at the virtual objects through a stamp-sized window).

The team also greatly enhanced the overall feel of wearing the device. It’s not light, at 1.3 pounds, but with the front visor that flips up and the new mounting system that is far more comfortable.

In regular use, existing users will also immediately notice the new gestures for opening up the Start menu (this is Windows 10, after all). Instead of a ‘bloom’ gesture, which often resulted in false positives, you now simply tap on the palm of your hand, where a Microsoft logo now appears when you look at it.

Eye tracking, too, has been greatly improved and works well, even over large distances, and the new machine learning model also does a far better job at tracking all of your fingers. All of this is powered by a lot of custom hardware, including Microsoft’s second-generation ‘holographic processing unit.’

Microsoft has also enhanced some of the cloud tools it built for HoloLens, including Azure Spatial Anchors that allow for persistent holograms in a given space that anybody else who is using a holographic app can then see in the same spot.

Taken together, all of the changes result in a more comfortable and smarter device, with reduced latencies when you look at the various objects around you and interact with them.

 


0

Microsoft has big plans for its new Edge browser

21:30 | 6 November

Microsoft is setting itself some high goals for its new Chromium-based Edge browser. As Chuck Friedman, the corporate vice president for Edge told me, he wants Edge to hit one billion users — a number that would start to rival Chrome’s numbers. First, though, Friedman’s team has to get version 1.0 of Edge out to users in January.

It’s no secret that Microsoft went to Chromium out of a bit of desperation. Indeed, Friedman, who joined the team about two years ago, called it an “existential crisis,” brought about by questions about why users would even want to use the old Edge. “When I got brought in, we almost had this existential crisis of, okay, what do we want to do? There was sort of this moment of like, why Edge? Why would users choose that? Were we delivering on meaningful problems?” At the time, he didn’t really have an answer to those questions, so the team went back to the basics to figure out what value Microsoft specifically could deliver in the browser space — and whether there was even a role for Edge going forward.

Microsoft's new Edge logoThe fact that Friedman ran the program management team for the Windows 10 user experience — trying to overcome the missteps of Windows 8 — before running the Edge product team also clearly shows how important a product this is for Microsoft.

Friedman argues that there’s plenty of work left to do in the browser space. “There’s an emerging new set of problems that felt like they had legs,” he told me. “And then it wasn’t about solving the problems of the last five years, it was about solving the problems of the next five.” To do so, the team had to move past the original Edge’s issues with compatibility — while still acknowledging that at least in the work environment, the browser still had to be compatible with the legacy web.

Clearly, privacy is top of mind for anybody in the web browser business, Microsoft included. Friedman noted that while people were generally aware of the privacy issues that come with surfing the web, they didn’t have the tools to protect themselves. “We sort of reached this point where we recognize the promise of the web, open access to all the world’s information, feels great, but the price of all of your information as part of that body wasn’t OK,” Friedman said. And so that, too, became a focus for the team, but looking at all of these issues together — combined with an additional focus on security — the Edge team then looked at how all of this fits in with the entire Microsoft suite. “It’s not just about the operating system. It’s not just about search. But it’s actually about the full M365, the combination of the operating system, plus security, plus the productivity tools.”

But Friedman also echoed something I’ve heard from Google’s Chrome team, and that is that the web today heavily depends on an advertising model that, at least for the time being, is the main income source for most of the companies that are publishing on the web. That can be a hard balance to strike. The way Microsoft is approaching this is by focusing on transparency. “The user should know where their data is and they don’t know what the data is and how it’s being used,” he explained. So users should have the ability to know how their data is being used and have control over it.

“There are those in our industry that think we absolutely should go to a point of extreme privacy and control. And I think there is a small set of users who prefer that. I also think that there’s a certain element of that that breaks the web. And I think that it has the potential to undermine the ability for publications to be able to monetize in a way that is reasonable.” He also argues that for users, about half prefer targeted ads versus non-targeted ads — but what makes them uncomfortable is to not have control over it.

In its browser, Microsoft defaults to blocking third-party cookies. To do so, it uses the same whitelist as Mozilla, but it also regularly updates this list when a site can demonstrate that it gives users the ability to delete their data — and with that, it hopes to encourage a wider range of players in the advertising industry to offer users these controls.

Edge, however is also very much a tool for business users, and so the team also started looking at how it could improve overall productivity in the browser for these users as well as consumers. That, for example, is where the idea of Collections came from, Microsoft’s take on what’s something of a hybrid between bookmarks, scratch pads and reading lists, which aren’t yet ready for a wider roll-out, but which are available behind a flag in the more experimental canary builds of Edge.

But the team also found that users often copy and paste content from Edge to Office products — so expect the company to do more in this area going forward. “We do a better job of integrating around collaboration with Microsoft Office properties who all have great web experiences. But, frankly, we need to meet them partway and help them do more. I’m excited for an opportunity of almost a relaunch of the Office web properties with the browser. There’s more innovative work we can do there.”

Another area the team is looking at is tab management. “Tab chaos is an interesting problem. It still exists. I don’t think anybody’s done a great job at solving it,” Friedman said. What exactly that will look like, though, remains to be seen.

One thing we won’t see right away, though, is an integration with Cortana. That’s part of the current pre-Chromium version of Edge, but it’s something Friedman doesn’t seem quite ready to bring to the new version yet. To be useful in the browser, he argues, a personal assistant has to be right most of the time. But what that will look like in the new Edge remains to be seen. He thinks there’s potential there, but what a real-world implementation would look like isn’t clear yet.

Once version 1.0 ships, the team plans to launch about two or three major new features in the browser every year, with Collections likely being the first.

Friedman also acknowledged that there are still lots of users who use Edge currently. There are about 150 million of those. And they use Edge because it’s the browser that comes with Windows. These “low-confidence users,” as Friedman described them, aren’t all that likely to download a different browser if the new Edge is too radical a departure. Instead, they’ll go out and buy a different device, like an iPad, that they view as a simpler experience.

But for more experienced users, Microsoft is obviously setting up Edge as an alternative to Chrome. The team is trying to provide them a relatively friction-less pathway to switch. Finding that balance is tricky, but Friedman thinks it’s possible, in part thanks to his work on Windows.

“My last gig was working on Win 10. I ran the product team for the core user experience for Windows 10. Sort of inherited the Windows 7 and 8 code base and said: Okay, how do we bring those users together in a way that ends up making both of them feel good about the product. It was a similarly interesting challenge, where you have […] to have true empathy for users that come from a lot of different spaces.”

 


0

The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a truly great game controller

18:37 | 5 November

Microsoft’s original Xbox Elite controller was a major step-up for gamers, with customizable buttons, changeable physical controls and adjustable sensitivity for serious personalization. The new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 has just landed, and it offers similar features, but with new and improved features that add even more customization options, along with key hardware improvements that take what was one of the best gaming controllers available, and make it that much better.

USB-C

This might seem like a weird place to start, but the fact that the new Xbox Elite 2 comes with USB-C for charging and wired connections is actually a big deal, especially given that just about every other gadget in our lives has moved on to adapting this standard. Micro USB is looking decidedly long in the tooth, and if you’re like me, one of the only reasons you still have those cables around at all is to charging your game controllers.

In the box, you get a braided USB-A to USB-C charging cable, which is plenty long enough to reach from your console to your couch at nine feet. Of course, you can also use your phone, tablet, MacBook or any other USB-C charger and cable combo to power up the Elite 2, which is why it’s such a nice upgrade.

This is big for one other key reason: Apple recently added Xbox controller compatibility to its iPad lineup, which also charges via USB-C. That’s what makes this the perfect controller for anyone looking to turn their tablets into a portable gaming powerhouse, since it reduces the amount of kit you need to pack when you want to grab the controller and have a good option for digging into some iPad gaming.

Adjustable everything

Probably the main reason to own the Elite 2 is that it offers amazing customization options. New to this generation, you can even adjust the resistance of the thumbsticks, which is immensely useful if you’re a frequent player of first-person shooter (FPS) games, for instance. This lets you tune the sensitivity of the sticks to help ensure you’re able to find the right balance of sensitivity vs. resistance for accurate aiming, and it should help pros and enthusiasts make the most of their own individual play style.

The shoulder triggers also now have even shorter hair trigger locks, which mean you can fire quicker with shorter squeezes in-game. And in the case, you’ll find other thumbsticks that you can swap out for the ones that are pre-installed, as well as a d-pad you can use to place the multi-directional pad.

On top of the hardware customization, you can also tweak everything about the controller in software on Windows 10 and Xbox One, using Microsoft’s Accessories app. You can even assign a button to act as a ‘Shift’ key to provide even more custom options, so that you can set up key combos to run even more inputs. Once you find a configuration you like, you can save it as a profile to the controller and switch quickly between them using a physical button on the controller’s front face.

Even if you’re not a hardcore multiplayer competitive gamer, these customization options can come in handy. I often use profiles that assign thumbstick clicks to the rear paddle buttons, for instance, which makes playing a lot of single-player games much more comfortable, especially during long sessions.

Dock and case included

The Xbox Elite 2 includes a travel case, just like the first generation, but this iteration is improved, too. It has a removable charging dock, which is a quality accessory in its own right. The dock offers pass-through charging even while the controller is inside the case, too, thanks to a USB-C cut-through that you can also seal with a rubberized flap when it’s not in use.

In addition to housing the charger and controller, the case can hold the additional sticks and D-pad, as well as the paddles when those aren’t in use. It’s got a mesh pocket for holding charging cables and other small accessories, and the exterior is a molded hard plastic wrapped in fabric that feels super durable, and yet doesn’t take up much more room than the controller itself when packed in a bag.

The case is actually a huge help in justifying that $179.99 price tag, since all of this would be a significant premium as an after-market add-on accessory for a standard controller.

Bottom line

Microsoft took its time with a successor to the original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and while at first glance you might think that not much has changed, there’s actually a lot of significant improvements here. The controller’s look and feel also feel better, with more satisfying button, pad and the stick response, and a better grip thanks to the new semi-textured finish on the front of the controller.

[gallery ids="1908338,1908336,1908334,1908333"]

USB-C and more customization options might be good enough reason even for existing Elite Controller owners to upgrade, but anyone on the fence about getting an Elite to begin with should definitely find this a very worthwhile upgrade over a standard Xbox One controller.

 


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Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

17:00 | 4 November

Only a few years ago, Microsoft hoped that Cortana could become a viable competitor to the Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri . Over time, as Cortana failed to make a dent in the marketplace (do you ever remember that Cortana is built into your Windows 10 machine?), the company’s ambitions shrunk a bit. Today, Microsoft wants Cortana to be your personal productivity assistant — and to be fair, given the overall Microsoft ecosystem, Cortana may be better suited to that than to tell you about the weather.

At its Ignite conference, Microsoft today announced a number of new features that help Cortana to become even more useful in your day-to-day work, all of which fit into the company’s overall vision of AI as a tool that is helpful and augments human intelligence.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 3.25.48 PM

The first of these is a new feature in Outlook for iOS that uses Microsoft text-to-speech features to read your emails to you (using both a male and female voice). Cortana can also now help you schedule meetings and coordinate participants, something the company first demoed at previous conferences.

Starting next month, Cortana will also be able to send you a daily email that summarizes all of your meetings, presents you with relevant documents and reminders to “follow up on commitments you’ve made in email.” This last part, especially, should be interesting as it seems to go beyond the basic (and annoying) nudges to reply to emails in Google’s Gmail.

2019 11 01 0914

 


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