Apple Has Siri, And Microsoft Is About To Get Cortana

Microsoft has been in a state of “shut up and ship” with Windows Phone for more than a year now. While the company has released a few minor updates to Windows Phone 8, its feature set hasn’t changed significantly from when Microsoft first introduced the mobile OS in October 2012. The software giant refuses to discuss or acknowledge an upcoming update, Windows Phone 8.1, but a recent software development kit leak has highlighted the huge number of feature changes that will arrive in the coming months and put Windows Phone more on par with iOS and Android. One of the main feature additions is Cortana, a personal digital assistant named after Microsoft’s Halo game series.

Cortana first emerged after a Microsoft employee lost a phone running Windows Phone 8.1 last year. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s Windows Phone work have revealed to The Verge that Cortana will replace the built-in Bing search feature, which is currently launched through a dedicated hardware key, and acts as a digital assistant with a mix of Siri and Google Now functionality. We’re told that Cortana will take the form of a circular animated icon with the hue of your selected Windows Phone accent color, and will have a personality not dissimilar from Apple’s Siri. Cortana will animate when it’s speaking or thinking, and bounce around or frown with “emotion” depending on the queries involved. Cortana will be backed by data from services like Bing, Foursquare, and others to give it some of the contextual power of Google Now.

Central to Microsoft’s vision for Cortana is a Notebook feature that will allow Windows Phone users to control exactly what information is shared with the digital assistant. Notebook will allow the Cortana digital assistant to access information such as location data, behaviors, personal information, reminders, and contact information. We’re told it’s designed as a privacy feature to ensure Cortana doesn’t freely access information without a level of user control. While Cortana will learn things about users, it won’t store them in the Notebook without asking you, and any information that’s stored can be edited or deleted. Cortana will then use this information to provide answers to search queries by voice or text, and provide suggestions, alerts, and reminders. Cortana could greet you by name and ask if you need help or answer questions, much like Siri.

Through search queries and just general phone usage, Cortana will learn more about a user and offer to store personal data like home and work locations and general interests in its Notebook. Cortana will also react to messages or emails that contain phrases like “let’s meet tomorrow at 8PM” and ask if you’d like to set up reminders or calendar entries. Cortana can also provide guidance on weather, stocks, directions, appointments, and music that’s contextual based on location and other data. As Cortana is a digital assistant, it will also be able to manage a do-not-disturb feature, similar to iOS, that’s designed to mute notifications. An “inner circle” of contacts will allow Cortana to manage notifications and phone calls during “quiet hours” when notifications are muted.

Although the initial Cortana digital assistant that will ship in Windows Phone 8.1 will have a lot of capabilities, Microsoft will need to extend it to third-party apps and its Windows and Xbox devices to improve its functionality in the future. The real test of Cortana will be how well it works with voice commands and its ability to understand natural phrases and questions. Microsoft’s recent voice work with Xbox One is impressive, but it also requires that you follow a strict pattern of commands for it to work successfully. Microsoft will have to ensure Cortana is at least as good as Siri for the company to position this as a full personal digital assistant.



Missing Flappy Bird? Here’s how you can get it back on your Android phone

Flappy Bird has been pulled off the iPhone and Android app stores by its developer and we are still getting over the fact. Here we were dreading years of sequels and false excitement about new versions, only to find ourselves Flappy-Bird-less in a weekend. Of course, those of you who still have the hugely popular and successful game, can continue playing as you have been. However, if you uninstalled the game to keep it from taking over your weekend, this must be pretty bad timing.


Fortunately for those using Android at least, there are many ways to get the game back, thanks to the native ability to sideload apps. Firstly, you have to find the apk for the game. A simple Google search for ‘Flappy Bird apk’ should suffice, although for us at least, one of the first few results turned a website with a Google Drive-hosted apk that had been downloaded so many times, that Google had stopped further downloads. Another option is to look on popular torrent sites. It’s not a big file and clocks in at less than 1 MB so you won’t be burning too much data.

Once downloaded, the apk can only be installed if you have allowed installation of apps from unknown sources. You will find this entry in the security tab of the settings app on your Android phone and it’s a simple checkbox that you should leave checked to be able to sideload apps. Since by default it’s turned off, you may have to turn it on first before installing the app. In any case, the installation UI should warn you about having to turn the setting on.

And that’s it. Once installed, the game should work just fine and you can get back to crashing into pillars and cursing your timing. Of course, using this roundabout trick might break some functionality, such as the Google Play Games sign-in, but that’s working as advertised for us.


ZX Spectrum hits Kickstarter target

The ZX Spectrum will hit UK shelves in the near future after the Kickstarter campaign started to fund its return hit its target.

The company announced that it had hit the target of £60,000 late last night.

Elite Systems floated the idea of bringing backing the games console as a Bluetooth accessory for iOSAndroid and Windows Phone after it acquired the rights to its back catalogue last year.

The company said that if it managed to raise the funds need, it would launch the keyboard for iOS, followed by Android and Windows Phone.

According to Elite, the company hopes to have the first batch of keyboards on sale by September. It has said they will be priced around £39.99.


Apple confirms developer site hack, stolen data can’t be ruled out

Apple Inc’s main website for developers remains shut after intruders tried to steal sensitive information last week, forcing the iPhone maker to overhaul its database and server software to prevent future breaches.

The intrusion last Thursday marked a rare cyber attack on the US company’s network and comes at a time when third-party developers are testing their apps on Apple’s iOS 7 – a smartphone and tablet platform to be launched in the fall.

Apple’s developer site also houses sensitive financial information, which is encrypted.

Apple said on Sunday that no customer information had been compromised, but was unable to rule out the possibility that some developers’ names, mailing addresses, and email addresses may have been accessed.

An Apple spokesman said the website that was breached was not associated with any customer information.

It remained unclear how much, if any, data was compromised or who the attackers were. Apple would not comment on their identity.

“Sensitive personal information was encrypted and cannot be accessed. However, we have not been able to rule out the possibility that some developers’ names, mailing addresses, and/or email addresses may have been accessed,” Apple told developers on its website.

“To prevent a security threat like this from happening again, we’re completely overhauling our developer systems, updating our server software, and rebuilding our entire database,” Apple said in a statement, adding that the developer website will be up and running soon.

The company also told developers that their membership, if set to expire, has been extended and all third-party apps will remain on Apple’s app store for the duration.


BBM coming to Android by September end, says BlackBerry India MD

Since the day BlackBerry announced its plans to bring its messaging service BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to Android and iOS, there has been a buzz in tech circles as well as among consumers. But except that the service will be available to Android users “this summer,” the company has not said anything on its availability.

But alongside the launch of the BlackBerry Q5 on Tuesday in India, Sunil Lalvani, managing director, BlackBerry India, gave us more information on the launch plans of the BBM service for Android. When asked Lalvani to narrow down the availability details, he said, “The service is coming to Android this summer. But summer as per North America, where it remains till September.” When asked if that means that BBM for Android would be available before the end of September, his response was in the affirmative.

This means that those who have been waiting for the arrival of BBM on Android would not need to wait for too long. BlackBerry on Tuesday also launched its mid-range BlackBerry 10 OS smartphone – the BlackBerry Q5 at Rs 24,990.


VLC for iOS resurrected, built from ground up this time

All those iOS owners who had been disappointed when VLC media player was pulled off from the app store can now heave a sigh of relief. The utility’s edition 2.0 is here. The VideoLAN tool will be pushed out only to those who have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch which run the platform’s version 5.1or above.

The Cupertino-based company had pulled the utility from its app store way back in 2011, owing to software’s General Public License which clashed with various parameters set by the iPhone maker. Although the service is still open source, it is now bi-licensed under the Mozilla Public License version 2 and the GPLv2. The code too will be pushed to the fore today itself.

While speaking to the guys over at The Next Web, VideoLAN said that this is not merely an upgrade, but a complete re-write from ground up. It went on to call the app faster than the previous version, mentioning that the tool is compatible with all files that are supported by the desktop edition.

Get multiple choices while syncing the media player, some of which include uploading over Wi-Fi, compatibility with third-party apps through the Share dialog and more. The revamped software also offers support for streaming videos, passcode lock and background audio playback, if we had to name a few.

The global rollout has already begun and over the day, VLC will be made available to iOS owners, beginning with New Zealand and Australia. It is being said that the service has also been spotted available for download in North America.


Mozilla’s Firefox OS debuts on first smartphone

The Mozilla Firefox OS has set foot into the smartphone industry, launching on its first handset today and offering a challenge to the budget sector currently dominated by Android.

The ZTE Open has a mere 3.5 inch screen, a 1GHz single-core processor and 256MB of RAM with the entirely reasonable price of €39 (£33).

Mozilla claims it isn’t trying to take over the top-end of the market but instead wants to go after the still-expanding market of customers looking for their first smartphone.

As a package customers will in fact pay €69 as the phone comes bundled with €30 pay-as-you-go credit and 4GB storage card. One alternative is to pick the phone up on a 24 month contract with Telefónica for a piddling €2.38 per month

Additional features include a 3.2-megapixel camera and support for Wi-Fi and A-GPS. But the ZTE Open is most noteworthy for using Mozilla’s HTML-based Firefox OS. It supports the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Nokia’s Here maps but still has a long way to go to make any kind of impact against Android, iOS or Windows Phone.

Firefox may have made a smart move in opting for the emerging market to start with, but it will need to get apps on board sharpish in order to win over users.


Microsoft to bring ‘Age of Empires’ to Apple Inc., Android phones

Microsoft Corp will offer its popular “Age of Empires” game for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and other smartphones through a tie-up with Japan’s KLab Inc, seeking to capture growth in a booming mobile game market.

Microsoft’s gaming business is dependent primarily on its Xbox franchise but mobile devices have been eating into the gaming industry, luring consumers away from traditional consoles.

While the tech giant has released a few mobile games for iOS and Android like Wordament, “Age of Empires” is its most popular game to date to be offered beyond its own consoles.

The strategy is one that analysts argue other game machine makers such as Mario Brothers creator Nintendo Co Ltd could consider in a bid to leverage their software assets.

KLab will develop a mobile version of “Age of Empires” which will be released before the end of March, a KLab spokesperson said.

Shares in KLab were overwhelmed by a glut of buy orders in Tokyo trade on Tuesday, with its price indicated at 972 yen, 18 percent higher than its last close.

Contrary to an earlier report, the agreement is only to develop a mobile version of “Age of Empires” and there were no announcements on other titles, the two companies said.

The historical strategy game will be released worldwide in English for iPhones and Andriod-based phones, “with plans to release the game in other languages and on a Windows Phone in the future,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.


Apple unveils iOS 7

Apple has unveiled iOS 7 after months of speculation.

“iOS 7 is the biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the iPhone,” said CEO Tim Cook, introducing iOS 7. “It’s packed with amazing new features, and a stunning new user interface.”

The latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system represented the biggest change to the look and feel of iOS since the first iPhone launched in 2007.

As anticipated, iOS7 sports a flat-design, with the skudeomorpism of the previous design done away with.

“We wanted to take an experience that people know very well and add to it,” Ive explains in a video shown during the keynote event. “We see iOS 7 as defining an important new direction … and in many ways, a beginning.”

The redesign of iOS has reportedly been underway for the last six months since Craig Federighi took over software development for the mobile platform.

Very little of the new operating system resembles the old version of the software. Almost every part of the software has been redesigned.

Among the new features are multiple pages within folders and the introduction of a today view for notification centre.

Apple also showed off its new Control Centre, which offers a quicker and simpler way to control many of the most used settings.

Another major change includes the introduction of a revamped multitasking interface, which is part of the Control Centre. Instead of icons, iOS 7 displays a preview of the screen. It is also smart enough to recognise when you use an app a lot during the day – such as Facebook – and devote more power and processing time to it to keep you updated.

iOS also introduces a raft of small, but all the same useful features, such as a Flashlight built into the device, and AirDrop, allowing you to share files and photos without needing to send them via email or text.

Other small features introduced in the latest version include FaceTime audio, per app VPN and perhaps long overdue, the ability to block people from calling you on the phone and via FaceTime, and sending texts via Message.

Siri sounds more human like in iOS 7. It’s also smarter and faster – very much needed with the superior processing available via Google Now. Siri also now has Twitter, Wikipedia, and most interestingly, Bing support.

Apple has also beefed up security on the device, enabling enterprise single sign on support for those of you who used your iPhone in the workplace, and a revamp of find my iPhone that locks the device until you sign in with your Apple ID and password.

Apple has said that the software is still under development at the moment and will be released later on in the year.