In the past year since changing names from Beam to Mixer, Microsoft's game-broadcasting app has gone through a slew of updates and brought forth a number of innovations. Redmond says last December, the app had over 10 million active monthly users, an…
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Microsoft is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its game streaming service and Twitch competitor, Mixer, with a host of new features, including a refresh of the user experience and the launch of an expanded developer toolkit called MixPlay. The new streamer tools will roll out along with the revamped version of Mixer .com across desktop and mobile web, and will initially be available to Mixer Pro subscribers.
The company claims the service saw more than 10 million monthly active users in December 2017 – a figure, we should point out, may be higher because of holiday sales and the accompanying bump in game downloads and playtime seen across platforms.
However, Microsoft also says that the Mixer viewing audience has grown over four times since its launch, and the number of watched streams has grown more than five times. These are still not hard numbers, but third-party reports have put Mixer well behind Twitch’s sizable and still-growing lead in terms of both concurrent streamers and viewers. (Those reports aren’t 100% accurate either, though, because they can’t track Xbox viewership.)
Microsoft says the updated Mixer.com rolls out beginning today, with a focus on making it easier for viewers to find the games and streamers they want to watch, as well as those broadcasting in creative communities.
While Pro subscribers will gain access first, they’ll have to opt-in by visiting their Account Settings and turning the new look on manually. (To do so, select the “Site Version” dialog, then the “Feature/UI Refresh” option, Microsoft says.)
The full refresh will arrive to all Mixer users later this summer.
As part of the new experience, the company is also rolling out more tools for developers with the launch of MixPlay.
As Microsoft explains, instead of just adding buttons below a stream, MixPlay lets developers build experiences on top of streams, in panels on the sides of the video, as widgets around the video, or as free-floating overlays – all of which can be designed to mimic the look-and-feel of the streamed content. Basically, this means the entire window is now a canvas, not just a portion of the stream itself.
One example of what MixPlay can enable can be seen in April’s launch of Mixer’s “Share Controller” feature, which created a virtual Xbox controller that could be shared by anyone broadcasting from their Xbox One.
This allowed gamers and viewers to play along in real-time from the web.
In addition, MixPlay will enable other games that are only playable on Mixer where controls blend into the stream – like Mini Golf, which launched this month and now has 300,000 views, or Truck Stars, for example.
Three new MixPlay-enabled games are launching today, as well, including Earthfall, which lets viewers interact with streamers or even change the game; Next Up Hero, where viewers can help a streamer by taking control or freeze the streamer at the worst possible moment, depending on their mood; and Late Shift, a choose-your-own-adventure crime thriller you control.
These sorts of MixPlay experiences shift the idea of Mixer being just another game streaming service to one where viewers can actively participate by playing themselves, or at least guiding the action. That could also serve as a differentiator for Mixer as it tries to carve out a niche for itself in the battle with Twitch and YouTube Gaming.
But MixPlay isn’t just for interactive experiences, Microsoft notes. It can also help developers build experiences that simply enhance streams with additional content, too, like a stats dashboard.
Another update involves the Mixer Create app, which offers mobile support to streamers. Now, streamers can kick of a co-stream by clicking the co-stream button on their Mixer Create profile, then send out invites, among other things.
This is live on Android in beta today, and will launch soon on iOS beta, with a full rollout in early June.
In terms of perks, Microsoft is running an “anniversary” promotion offering $5 of Microsoft Store credit along with any Direct Purchase of $9.99 or more. A second promotion is giving away a free, 1-month channel subscription and up to 90 days of Mixer Pro to anyone who reaches Level 10 on their account between May 24th, 2018 at 12:00AM UST and May 28th, 2018 at 11:59PM PDT.
The company additionally announced a new partnership with ESL on esports, which will bring over 15,000 hours of programming from top competitive games to Mixer, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Dota 2. These tournaments will take advantage of Mixer’s FTL technology for “sub-second latency,” the company says.
Other announcements around games and esports are mentioned in the Mixer blog post, too.
Microsoft under CEO Satya Nadella has refocussed to double down on enterprise, artificial intelligence and cloud services, and today the company took the wraps a new project for advertising giant Publicis that shows how it is leveraging all three to expand its business. At an event in Paris, the CEOs of the two companies unveiled Marcel, a new platform comprised of multiple apps using AI, social networking mechanics, voice recognition, predictive analytics and more aimed at getting Publicis’ 80,000 employees to be more productive and work together better.
The first three apps on Marcel — named after Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, the founder of Publicis who had an interesting second career as a fighter in the French Resistance — will be Daily Six, Expert Match and Open Brief, with plans to add more apps over time, CEO and chairman Arthur Sadoun said in an interview this week. They’ve been trialled so far with 100 employees and will be rolling out more widely from today, with an aim of having its whole staff connected in 18 months.
The move is an interesting turn for Publicis, currently the world’s third-largest advertising agency, to defragment and improve how its organization works.
In keeping with the norm in the ad world, Publicis has been built up by way of acquisitions, and operates essentially as a holding company for all of them to largely continue working in their silos. While that might have been a useful model when the organization was smaller, at 80,000 employees it runs the risk of being inefficient, and could easily lead to many missed business opportunities for Publicis.
Now the aim will be to try to disrupt that model with technology. “We are committing to learn more, to share more, and create more,” Sadoun said.
Or as Microsoft’s Nadella put it today at the Marcel event in more — err — flowery words, “Our job is to find rose petals in a field of shit,” he said, describing how he talks about motivating teams at Microsoft to think in a more forward way. “Our job is to find, in a constrained world, ways to make things happen. That’s what this is all about.”
For Microsoft, working on Marcel is something of a home run for the company, in that it hits all three key bases — AI, enterprise and cloud — that Microsoft has been hoping will help propel the company into the future and away from being relegated to a role as a has-been in the software world best known for Windows and Office.
Playing on the concept of ‘consumerization of IT,’ where apps and mechanics that have proven popular are used in enterprise services to get employees more engaged in them, each app in Marcel has echoes of services that you might have seen and used in the consumer world.
Daily Six presents six pieces of content to the user that is tailored to him or her. They might include key updates from a current account, suggestions for creative activities, and reading recommendations — selections that are based on what a specific employee is already working on, and what he or she might want to do next.
Expert Match, meanwhile, is a very LinkedIn-style service that is actually built using some of the mechanics of LinkedIn (another plus for Microsoft and indication of how it will target enterprises and repurpose the assets it has for that end). It helps connect employees who are looking for answers or advice on specific questions, or mentorship, with those who are willing to help out.
Lastly, Open Brief will be a way for outside clients to put out requests for input or work to the wider group, and for a small selection of people who might have skills relevant to those requests to put in offers to work on them. Both this app and Expert Match use voice and video, and are powered by Cortana to pick up cues from the requests to power the recommendations that are made.
All three are opt-in — that is, employees, in keeping with GDPR data protection principles, will have to consent to using them and having their data be a part of the Marcel mix.
Sadoun would not go into too much detail about who else might have put in requests to build Marcel — which it first said it wanted to work on a year ago, and announced in January that Microsoft had clinched the deal to build it — and nor would he be drawn out about the business model behind it. (He did concede that Google, with its extensive ad business, remains a “frenemy”, so while Publicis and Google do work together, this that might have kept it out of the running, and Amazon also had talked to Publicis. “Microsoft represents zero competition for us,” he added.)
He also added that Nadella personally got involved with the pitch and lured Sadoun and his team over to Seattle to help seal the deal.
“One day I received a call from Satya saying Microsoft wanted to be a part of this,” Sadoun said. “We had a great time in Seattle. I understodod his vision of Microsoft, and saw that it was close to our vision of Marcel. That’s how we started this partnership.”
While there is not detail about the financial terms of Marcel, it’s likely that there will be several elements at play: the building the apps; moving data in and out of Azure; licensing technology to run the apps; and so on.
And as Publicis and Microsoft bring more of Microsoft’s AI smarts into the mix to help Publicis work better, it’s worth pointing out that — at least for now — the AI has a limit. I asked, and was told in no uncertain terms by Sadoun that there are no intentions of building AI products that might actually create the ads themselves.
“I think that AI will never replace emotional intelligence,” Sadoun said. “It will help us to leverage the talent in the room, tapping people who deserve to do and grow more.” He also said that this not a move to “optimize headcount” but about trying to surface more of its talent from across its global footprint, in a diversity play.
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Microsoft announced today that it has acquired Semantic Machines, a Berkeley-based startup that wants to solve one of the biggest challenges in conversational AI: making chatbots sound more human and less like, well, bots.
In a blog post, Microsoft AI & Research chief technology officer David Ku wrote that “with the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces.”
According to Crunchbase, Semantic Machines was founded in 2014 and raised about $20.9 million in funding from investors including General Catalyst and Bain Capital Ventures.
In a 2016 profile, co-founder and chief scientist Dan Klein told TechCrunch that “today’s dialog technology is mostly orthogonal. You want a conversational system to be contextual so when you interpret a sentence things don’t stand in isolation.” By focusing on memory, Semantic Machines’ AI can produce conversations that not only answer or predict questions more accurately, but also flow naturally.
Instead of building its own consumer products, Semantic Machines focused on enterprise customers. This means it will fit in well with Microsoft’s conversational AI-based products, including Microsoft Cognitive Services and Azure Bot Service, which are used by one million and 300,000 developers, respectively, and virtual assistants Cortana and Xiaolce.
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Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.
The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.
It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.
I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.
I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.
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According to a new report from Bloomberg, Microsoft is eyeing the end of the year to release a $400 version of the Surface designed to compete more directly with Apple’s ubiquitous tablet. Of course, many have tried and largely failed to take on the iPad — including Microsoft itself.
The company launched the Surface RT half a decade ago, without making much of a splash. These days, the tablet herd has thinned a bit, and Microsoft has established itself as a maker of premium first-party hardware.
The new device is said to sport a 10-inch screen, putting it in direct competition with Apple’s lower-priced iPad. At $400, Microsoft’s entry would run $70 more than the budget iPad’s starting price, but would still run considerably less than the $799 Surface Pro. And this being Microsoft, there are expected to be multiple SKUs. The devices reportedly won’t ship with a keyboard cover — one of the Surface’s biggest selling points — though they’ll all sport a kickstand and feature a USB C port for charging.
Microsoft, naturally, won’t respond to queries about the device, which is reportedly set for a release in the second half of this year. Given the company’s recent push with Windows 10S, the product could certainly make sense as part of the company’s push into low priced devices for the education market.
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Exactuals, a software service offering payments management for the music industry, is debuting r.ai, a new tool that it’s dubbed the “Palantir for music”. It’s a service that can track songwriting information and rights across different platforms to ensure attribution for music distributors.
As companies like Apple and Spotify demand better information from labels about the songs they’re pushing to streaming services, companies are scrambling to clean up their data and provide proper attribution.
According to Exactuals, that’s where the r.ai service comes in.
The company is tracking 59 million songs for their “Interested Party Identifiers” (IPIs), International Standard Work Codes (ISWCs), and International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) — all of which are vital to ensuring that songwriters and musicians are properly paid for their work every time a song is streamed, downloaded, covered, or viewed on a distribution platform.
Chris McMurtry, the head of music product at Exactuals explained it like this. In the music business, songwriters have the equivalent of a social security number which is attached to any song they write so they can receive credit and payment. That’s the ISI. Performers of songs have their own identifier, which is the ISWC. Then the song itself gets its own code, called the ISRC which is used to track a song as it’s performed by other artists through various covers, samples and remixes.
“There’s only one ISWC, but there might be 300 ISRCs,” says Exactuals chief executive, Mike Hurst.
Publishing technology companies will pay writers and performers based on these identifiers, but they’re struggling to identify and track all of the 700,000 disparate places where the data could be, says McMurtry. Hence the need for r.ai.
The technology is “an open api based on machine learning that matches disparate data sources to clean and enhance it so rights holders can get paid and attribution happens,” says McMurtry.
For publishers, Exactuals argues that r.ai is the best way to track rights across a huge catalog of music and for labels it’s an easy way to provide services like Apple and Spotify with the information they’re now demanding, Hurst said.
Do you remember the Surface Hub? Chances are you forgot it even existed. And yet, Microsoft just announced a second version of the Surface Hub. The company hasn’t shared any specifications or price, but it won’t be available before 2019 — selected customers will test the Surface Hub 2 starting this year.
The Surface Hub was a crazy expensive digital whiteboard that could handle anything from video conferences to document collaboration. Microsoft says that there are 5,000 companies using Surface Hubs, including half of Fortune 100 companies.
It’s unclear if each company has bought one Surface Hub or a thousand. But it seems like there was enough interest to work on a second version. At heart, it’s still a gigantic touchscreen-enabled display. It runs Windows 10 and supports the Surface Pen.
Compared to the previous version, Microsoft has drastically reduced the bezels. It looks like a modern TV now, but with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Surprisingly, the video camera is now gone from the main device. You’ll need to plug a webcam above the display to start video conferences.
The most interesting part is the concept video. You can see a device with fluid use cases. You can hook it to a wall, you can put it on a rolling case, you can create a wall of Surface Hubs.
Users log in by putting their finger on the fingerprint sensor. This way, you can find all your documents and data and accept calls from your account.
Microsoft is trying to push the needle when it comes to computers. This is an innovative form factor that could fit well in your company’s workflow. It’s interesting to see that the company isn’t standing still. The Mac hasn’t drastically evolved while Microsoft still has bold ideas to share.
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The UK and the USA have always had an enduring bond, with diplomatic, cultural and economic ties that have remained firm for centuries.
We live in an era of profound change, and are living with technologies set to change things ever faster. If Britain and America work together to develop these technologies for the good of mankind, in a way that is open and free, yet also safe and good for our citizens, we can maintain the global lead our nations have enjoyed in the fields of innovation.
Over past months we have seen some very significant strides forward in this business relationship. All of the biggest US companies have made decisions to invest in the UK. Apple is developing a new HQ in the iconic Battersea Power Station, close to the new US embassy, while Google is building a billion dollar new HQ in the increasingly fashionable King’s Cross. Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft are all extending their operations, and a multitude of smaller US firms are basing their international headquarters in London.
They are all coming here because as we prepare to leave the EU we are building a forward looking Britain that is open to the wider world, and tech is at the heart of this.
Similarly, there have been major expansions or new investment from British firms into the US. Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer, supports more than 9,000 jobs in the USA and have recently opened their new multimillion-dollar corporate North America HQ in New Jersey. iProov, a leading British provider of biometric facial verification technology, became the first international company to be awarded a contract from the US Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program last month.
We want to work with our global partners – to share expertise, and encourage investment – as we harness technology for the wider good. And that of course includes our old friend and closest ally, the USA.
We have a great deal to offer.
The UK was recently ranked the most AI ready nation among all the OECD countries. In the past three years, new AI start-ups have been created in the UK on an almost weekly basis.
Recently, UK government and industry together committed over $1 billion to support our AI sector, much of which will go towards entrepreneurs. Funding has been set aside to create a nationwide network of tech incubators, that we’re calling “Tech Nation”, which will support new AI businesses as they get off the ground.
We are also excited by — and I am a firm advocate for — the development of blockchain and similar technologies. The UK is leading the way in many areas where blockchain has the potential to be used, such as Fintech. There are now more people working in UK Fintech than in New York or in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia combined.
And we are eminent in the development of immersive technologies, like Augmented and Virtual Reality, which look set to radically improve many areas of life in coming years, with applications as varied as flight simulation and surgical training techniques.
There is so much to be gained from close collaboration between our two countries on these new technologies and from sharing our expertise.
Together, we can reap the economic benefits of stealing an early lead in their development. We estimate that AI, for example, if widely adopted, could add $33 billion to the UK economy. But, perhaps most importantly, we can also work together to build a strong regulatory and ethical frameworks for their wider application.
It is the role of governments across the world, the UK and US included, to set frameworks for these decentralised, cross border systems so we can manage their use in a safe and effective way.
Our aim should be to harness the power and capability of technology but always for the benefit of, and in service to the populace.
We in the UK are avowedly pro-tech, always seeking to put its power in the hands of our citizens.
We have all learned valuable lessons from the recent scandals regarding data use, most recently around Facebook’s use of data.
We want to build a system that protects and cherishes the freedom of the Internet while protecting the rights of individuals, and their property, including intellectual property.
We want to see freedom in a framework; where our tech entrepreneurs have the space to innovate, knowing they do so with full public trust. Trust underpins a strong economy, and trust in data underpins a strong digital economy.
So in the UK we are developing a Digital Charter, to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice. Our starting point is that what is unacceptable offline should not be tolerated in the online world. That includes how tech companies treat private citizens and use their data, as well as how people treat each other online.
Important changes like these cannot be agreed by one country alone. It is more important than ever that we work together and find common ground so we can make sure that tech continues to change the world for the better. Based on our mutual love of freedom and individual rights Britain and America have through history risen to challenges together. I firmly believe working together we can build that brighter future.
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