Notable Microsoft news you may have missed for the week ending August 18th

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With Windows 8.1 set for an October release, Windows Phone 8 getting a new phone and new apps, and Xbox One becoming smarter with new features, this past week was an interesting week in terms of Microsoft news. This is yet another series in our "notable news of the week", highlighting what you might have missed during this week

Windows 8.1 received official release date, comes with new and improved features

Windows 8.1

After more than weeks of repeated leaks, we finally have a date for the official release of Windows 8.1. This week, Microsoft announced that the official release of Windows 8.1 to the general public will be on October 18th. While we are not sure when the Windows 8.1 will actually be RTM, with an October release, it should not be too far for an RTM version.

While we already have a pretty clear idea of what to expect with the release of Window 8.1 in terms of improved and new features, the general consensus is that Windows 8.1 is what Microsoft should have released a year ago.

Along the improvement that Microsoft will offer with Windows with the core apps (Bing News, Bing Weather and Finance, the Xbox Music and Video, and the People Hub), Messenger will cease to exist and Skype will be bundled and pre-installed on all new devices now. As we already know, SkyDrive will be integrated in the OS and the software giant is placing SkyDrive as the to-go storage for all files and settings.

The Mail app will also see significant improvement with the release of Windows 8.1. Some of the features, including sweep, social updates, and aliases, will be part of the new mail app. Drag and drop and folder pinning will be supported which many users will surely appreciate. The Mail app received a slight UI refresh but still looks relatives the same as the current version on Window 8. There is no unified inbox like we find on the Outlook desktop application but we are sure that such prevalent feature will come along with feature update.

Microsoft is also making available the Help and Tips app in Windows 8.1, which will allow users to get more familiarized with Windows 8 navigation, features and the overall functionality of the operating system. We still are wondering why Microsoft decided not to offer such an app a year ago when Windows 8 was first released. For a new operating system with such a radically different user interface, Microsoft is actually making the right choice to release this app, even after a year later. (Good job).

With the imminent release of Windows 8.1 compounded with the recently-released Intel Haswell processor, which will allow long battery life on portable device, will this be the moment for Microsoft’s operating system to recapture some of the acclamation that was lost with the maligned introduction of Windows 8? Based on the experience and time we have spent with the Preview of Windows 8.1, Microsoft is definitely on the right path with more work ahead. In fact, Windows 8.1 is really what the operating system should have been when it was released a year ago.

While there is certainly key apps missing from the Windows marketplace, the situation is constantly improving. On a side note, we have seen many official apps released for Windows Phone, and with the work that Microsoft has started doing to closely align the core technology of Windows and Windows Phone together, it should be a matter of time before the same official apps that are currently available for Windows Phone also become available for its big sibling.

With this release, do you think Microsoft still has a chance to sway consumers towards its operating system or is it too late especially with the Nokia tablet rumor?

Windows Phone update, the YouTube saga continues

This week was pretty special for Windows Phone users especially for Nokia Lumia Windows Phone users who started receiving the latest GDR2 + Amber updates. This week, Nokia started pushing the update worldwide to the different devices of the Lumia family. While recently-released devices, such as the Lumia 925 and 1020, were released on the market with the update per-installed, the Lumia 920, 820, 928 and 521 devices had yet to receive this update. We are still waiting on AT&T in America to release this update for the flagship device, the Lumia 920.

Windows Phone

Also this week, Samsung and Sprint announced the availability of a new device, the Samsung ATIV S Neo. With this release of the Neo on the Sprint Network, this marks the first time that Windows Phone 8 will be available on all four of the major carriers. We are still wondering what took so long. In terms of specs with 1.4GHZ dual-core processor, 4.8-inc HD display, 1GB RAM and 16GB internal storage with expandable microSD card slot, this device is on par to the many mid-range device that are already available on the other carriers. Still, it is good to see that Sprint users will finally have the option for a Windows Phone 8 device. We are still waiting to see when Nokia will announce something for the third-largest carrier on the U.S.

Halo Spartan Assault

On the app side, Halo Spartan Assault is now available for all Windows Phone 8 users after the app was released a month ago and exclusive to Verizon users. As of today, the app is now available for all Windows Phone users on all devices. Also this week, the official NFL Mobile app for Windows Phone 8, has received a significant redesign and improvements. With the football preseason already in full gear in the U.S. there could not be a better time for this app.

While many Windows Phone users will certainly rejoice at the release of the Halo Spartan Assault and the new NFL Mobile apps, one app that they will be missing is Microsoft's official YouTube app. For a quick refresh, since the release of Windows Phone, Google has opted not to make an official YouTube available for Windows Phone users. Although there were already many third-party YouTube apps in the marketplace, Microsoft decide to make its own YouTube app and it did not take too long for Google to take down the app due to TOS violations. The two giants publicly commented about the situation and announced a joint collaboration.

With the just-released and quickly taken down new YouTube app, which was supposed to be the fruit of collaboration between to two technology giants, it appears that both companies clearly were not working together to solve the problem. On one side, Google announced that Microsoft is still not complying with its TOS of the social video service and should comply to all the requirement before an app is released. On the other side, Microsoft is saying that Google is requiring that the Windows Phone app comply with requirements that even the Google owned YouTube app on Android and iOS do not comply with.

While we are not trying to take sides here, we believe that both companies should just work together for the benefit of all users and the fact is Google should not expect the Windows Phone app to comply with requirements that its own apps do not comply with. What do you think that both companies should do?

On a side not, if you are a Windows Phone user, there are plenty of third-party apps that will serve well for your YouTube experience. (Metro Tube, MyTube and Prime Tube)

Xbox One hardware is smart but you may have to wait before you get one

Xbox One

The more that we are learning about the Xbox One, the more it appears that Microsoft's next generation gaming console will indeed be a great machine. After we learned recently that the Xbox One's GPU clock received a speed boost and the console is designed for a ten year life-cycle, this past week we learned that the console will actually switch to a lower power state to circumvent overheating issues under abnormal situations. This is actually a great new feature especially for people that use their consoles constantly for a long period of time. As great as that sounds, this is a technology that is built on the new portable devices that allows them to enter into a low powered state for saving battery life. Although the idea of dialing into a low power mode to save battery life is different than compensating for overheating, the technology is quite similar.

Although Microsoft is working hard to make the Xbox One is great machine, the current generation of its gaming console, the Xbox 360, is already a great machine outselling many of its competitors. This week, according to NPD data, Microsoft sold nearly 107,000 consoles during the month of July, outselling on the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii for 31 consecutive months in a row in the U.S. market. This is pretty good news for the Xbox 360 especially with the imminent release of the new Xbox One which is scheduled to be released this holiday.

And if you are anxiously waiting for the new Xbox One this holiday, you won't be happy to learn that Microsoft will cut the number of markets where the Xbox One will be initially released. Microsoft wants to make sure that language, contents, and the Xbox dashboard are properly set of specific localization. So, if you are in the countries that will be receiving the device this year, then be ready to rejoice when you get your shiny new console.

While having to wait longer is certainly an unwelcomed news, at least they can rejoice knowing that the Kinect sensor, which is bundled with the Xbox One, will not be required. This will also be applied to all users when you buy the new console. At first, Microsoft made it clear that the Kinect Sensor will be required to use the new console. How do you feel about the changes? And will you have to wait for your new console or will you receive it this holiday? Let us know in comments below!

Stay tuned for next week's notable news highlights.

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