Microsoft today released an updated Cortana app for iOS, which features an overhauled interface and new features like music and podcasts support.
For those unfamiliar with Cortana, it is Microsoft’s version of Siri or Alexa, an AI-based personal assistant that can answer questions and complete small tasks.
Microsoft has been testing the revamped version of Cortana since October. The new interface is focused on conversational experiences with Cortana, plus it includes support for music and podcast suggestions, and a focus on setting reminders, timers, and meetings.
Cortana 3.0 offers up a new conversational experience when asking questions, and there is a new dedicated spot for setting up and managing Cortana devices. Microsoft’s full release notes for the update are below:
· A new conversational experience for answers
· A new place to manage and set up your Cortana devices
· Listen to music and podcasts on the go
· Stay on top of your tasks managing meetings, emails, reminders and To Do on the go
· Join your next Skype or Teams meeting by simply asking Cortana
While end users have been customizing the color schemes of their computers for decades, we’ve lately seen operating system developers follow their users’ lead with built-in, first-party support for dark themes. The dark theme was a big part of the appeal of macOS Mojave, and dark theme support in applications such as Windows Explorer was no less welcome.
With the next feature update of Windows 10, codenamed 1H19 and likely to ship in April next year, Microsoft is going a step further, with the introduction of a light theme. The light theme also comes with a new wallpaper (an iteration of the default Windows 10 wallpaper), and it will brighten up certain areas of the operating system that have always tended be dark regardless of the theme being used.
If the screenshot is anything to go by, it’s going to be a good-looking theme, too.
Microsoft today launched a preview of PlayFab Multiplayer Servers, a new Azure-based service giving game developers dynamic, on-demand scaling of multiplayer servers.
Microsoft bought Seattle-based PlayFab earlier this year with a view to using it to expand Azure’s reach in the gaming world. PlayFab is building all the cloud-based infrastructure needed for today’s games: matchmaking (using the same algorithms as Xbox Live to try to group players of similar skill together), leaderboards, server hosting, player identity/profile management, commerce, and so on. Broadly speaking, the intent of PlayFab is to let games developers focus on their games, taking care of the server-side work for them. PlayFab’s services are platform agnostic, and Microsoft has preserved this aspect: there are SDKs for Xbox, Windows, PlayStation, Switch, iOS, and Android.
At the time of the purchase, PlayFab ran atop Amazon’s AWS. Some parts still do, but others have moved to Microsoft’s own Azure. The Multiplayer Server feature, released in preview today, is one of the services on Azure. Microsoft has more Azure data centers in more parts of the world than Amazon or Google, which in turn means that Azure servers should generally be closer to where the players are. This should ensure lower latency and a better gaming experience for games on those servers.
New Windows 10 feature updates use a staggered, ramping rollout, and this (re)release is no different. Initially, it’ll be offered only to two groups of people: those who manually tell their system to check for updates (and that have no known blocking issues due to, for example, incompatible anti-virus software), and those who use the media-creation tool to download the installer. If all goes well, Microsoft will offer the update to an ever-wider range of Windows 10 users over the coming weeks.
For the sake of support windows, Microsoft is treating last month’s release as if it never happened; this release will receive 30 months of support and updates, with the clock starting today. The same is true for related products; Windows Server 2019 and Windows Server, version 1809, are both effectively released today.
In the immediate aftermath of the walkout, which saw thousands of Googlers across the globe protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment and misconduct claims, the search giant said it would put an end to its policy of forced arbitration for employees claiming workplace harassment. Facebook followed suit, announcing the next day that it would allow its employees to pursue claims of sexual harassment in court.
Today, Airbnb and eBay confirmed to TechCrunch they too would no longer require sexual harassment claims to be settled through private arbitration. Their announcements follow a BuzzFeed News article exploring which tech companies were updating their policies in light of the Google protest.
Thousands of Google employees protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment & misconduct allegations on Nov. 1.
“We are a company who believes that in the 21st Century it is important to continually consider and reconsider the best ways to support our employees and strengthen our workplace,” a spokesperson for Airbnb said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “From the beginning, we have sought to build a culture of integrity and respect, and today’s changes are just one more step to drive belonging and integrity in our workplace.”
Here’s what eBay had to say about its decision: “eBay takes great pride in fostering an inclusive culture that allows employees to feel comfortable and encouraged to report any workplace issues. We’ve adjusted our existing employee policy regarding sexual harassment claims to better reflect and encourage eBay’s values of being open, honest and direct.”
According to BuzzFeed, Pinterest, Oath, Twitter, Reddit and others have never required mandatory arbitration. Uber, Lyft and Microsoft each put an end to forced arbitration in the last year.
Arbitration is a private method of solving a dispute without a judge, jury or right to an appeal. Companies that require forced arbitration waive their employees’ rights to sue and to participate in a class-action lawsuit.
Throwing out its policy of forced arbitration was one of the five demands disgruntled employees had for Google. In a Medium post last week, the walkout organizers commended Google’s decision to end forced arbitration while emphasizing the company’s failure to address all of their demands.
…”The response ignored several of the core demands — like elevating the diversity officer and employee representation on the board — and troublingly erased those focused on racism, discrimination, and the structural inequity built into the modern day Jim Crow class system that separates ‘full time’ employees from contract workers. Contract workers make up more than half of Google’s workforce, and perform essential roles across the company, but receive few of the benefits associated with tech company employment. They are also largely people of color, immigrants, and people from working class backgrounds.”
Google employees began crafting a plan for a company-wide walkout in late October, days after a bombshell New York Times investigation revealed Google had given Android co-creator Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package despite multiple relationships with other Google staffers and accusations of sexual misconduct.
Rubin, for his part, has said that the NYT’s story contained “numerous inaccuracies.”
At the time, the piece defined a new breed of startup — the $1 billion privately held company. When Lee did her first count, there were 39 “unicorns”; an improbable, but not impossible number.. Today, the once-scarce unicorn has become a global herd with 376 companies on the roster and counting.
But the proliferation of unicorns begs raises certain questions. Is this new breed of unicorn artificially created? Could these magical companies see their valuations slip and fall out of the herd? Does this indicate an irrational exuberance where investors are engaging in wish fulfilment and creating magic where none actually existed?
List of “unicorn” companies worth more than $1 billion as of the third quarter of 2018
There’s a new “unicorn” born every four days
The first change has been to the geographic composition and private company requirement of the list. The original qualification for the unicorn study was “U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors.” The unicorn definition has changed and here is the popular and wiki page definition we all use today: “A unicorn is a privately held startup company with a current valuation of US$1 billion or more.”
Beyond the expansion of the definition of terms to include a slew of companies from all over the globe, there’s been a concurrent expansion in the number of startup technology companies to achieve unicorn status. There is a tenfold increase in annual unicorn production.
Indeed, while the unicorn is still rare but not as rare as before. Five years ago, roughly ten unicorns were being created a year, but we are approaching one hundred new unicorns a year in 2018.
As of November 8, we have seen eighty one newly minted unicorns this year, which means we have one new unicorn every four days.
There are unicorn-sized rounds every day
These unicorns are also finding their horns thanks to the newly popularized phenomena of mega rounds which raise $100 million or more. These deals are ten times more common now, than they were only five years ago.
Back in 2013, there were only about four mega rounds a month, but now there are forty mega rounds a month based on Crunchbase data. In fact, starting from 2015, public market IPO has for the first time no longer been the major funding source for unicorn size companies.
Unicorns have been raising money from both traditional venture capital but also more from the non-traditional venture capital such as SoftBank, sovereign wealth funds, private equity funds, and mutual funds.
Investors are chasing the value creation opportunity. Most people probably did not realize that Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle all debuted on public markets for less than a $1 billion market cap (in fact only Microsoft topped $500 million), but today they together are worth more than $2 trillion dollars
It means tremendous value was created after those companies came to the public market. Today, investors are realizing the future giant’s value creation has been moved to the “pre-IPO” unicorn stage and investors don’t want to miss out.
To put things in perspective, investors globally deployed $13 billion in almost 20,000 seed & angel deals, and SoftBank was able to deploy the same $13 billion amount in just 2 deals (Uber and WeWork). The SoftBank type of non-traditional venture world literally redefined “pre-IPO” and created a new category for venture capital investment.
Unicorns are staying private longer
That means the current herd of unicorns are choosing to stay private longer. Thanks to the expansion of shareholders private companies can rack up under the JOBS Act of 2012; the massive amount of funding available in the private market; and the desire of founders to work with investors who understand their reluctance to be beholden to public markets.
Elon Musk was thinking about taking Tesla private because he was concerned about optimizing for quarterly earning reports and having to deal with the overhead, distractions, and shorts in the public market. Even though it did not happen in the end, it reflects the mentality of many entrepreneurs of the unicorn club. That said, most unicorn CEOs know the public market is still the destiny, as the pressure from investors to go IPO will kick in sooner or later, and investors expect more governance and financial transparency in the longer run.
Unicorns are breeding outside of the U.S. too
Finally, the current herd of unicorns now have a strong global presence, with Chinese companies leading the charge along with US unicorns. A recent Crunchbase graph indicated about 40% of unicorns are from China,, 40% from US, and the rest from other parts of the world.
Back in 2013, the “unicorn” is primarily a concept for US companies only, and there were only 3 unicorn size startups in China (Xiaomi, DJI, Vancl) anyways. Another change in the unicorn landscape is that, China contributed predominantly consumer-oriented unicorns, while the US unicorns have always maintained a good balance between enterprise-oriented and consumer-oriented companies. One of the stunning indications that China has thriving consumer-oriented unicorns is that China leads US in mobile payment volume by hundredfold.
The fundamentals of entrepreneurship remain the same
Despite the dramatic change of the capital market, a lot of the insights in Lee’s 5-year old blog are still very relevant to early stage entrepreneurs today.
For example, in her study, most unicorns had co-founders rather than a single founder, and many of the co-founders had a history of working together in the past.
This type of pattern continues to hold true for unicorns in the U.S. and in China. For instance, the co-founders of Meituan (a $50 billion market cap company on its IPO day in September 2018) went to school together and had co-founded a company before
There have been other changes. In the past three months alone, four new US enterprise-oriented unicorns have emerged by selling directly to developers instead of to the traditional IT or business buyers; three China enterprise-oriented SaaS companies were able to raise mega rounds. These numbers were unheard of five years ago and show some interesting hints for entrepreneurs curious about how to breed their own unicorn.
The new normal is reshaping venture capital
Once in a while, we see eye-catching headlines like “bubble is larger than it was in 2000.” The reality is companies funded by venture capital increased by more than 100,000 in the past five years too. So the unicorn is still as rare as one in one thousand in the venture backed community.
What’s changing behind the increasing number of unicorns is the new normal for both investors and entrepreneurs. Mega rounds are the new normal; staying private longer is the new normal; and the global composition of the unicorn club is the new normal.
Just look at the evidence in the venture industry itself. Sequoia Capital, the bellwether of venture capital, raised a whopping $8 billion global growth mega fund earlier this year under pressure from SoftBank and its $100 billion mega-fund. And Greylock Partners, known for its focus and success in leading early stage investment, recently led a unicorn round for the first time in its 53-year history.
It’s proof that just as venture capitalists have created a new breed of startups, the new startups and their demands are reshaping venture capital to continue to support the the companies they’ve created.
Microsoft is continuing to invest in a broad spectrum of developers for its Xbox gaming ecosystem with the acquisition of Obsidian and InXile, makers of complex RPGs primarily aimed at PC users. The two studios will join four others snatched up in June, significantly bolstering Xbox’s first-party development resources.
The company announced the acquisitions (rumored for some time) at its XO18 event alongside numerous other interesting developments for the Xbox One and Windows gaming platforms. Xbox Director of Programming Larry Hyrb, better known by his pseudonym Major Nelson, welcomed them to the Microsoft Studios team of owned but independent devs:
Of the two studios Obsidian is probably the best known; Fallout: New Vegas is a modern classic of the open world genre, while Pillars of Eternity and its enormous sequel are a welcome revival of the classic isometric PC RPG. InXile is a bit more niche, though also successful: the Wasteland, Torment, and Bard’s Tale games are similarly appreciated by RPG lovers. The studios will, like the others in Microsoft’s stable, be given significant operational independence, not folded into some internal unit.
Microsoft announced the acquisition of Compulsion, Undead Labs, Ninja Theory, and Playground Games in June. But what’s clear from the more recent gets, that the earlier ones didn’t necessarily indicate, is a big focus on core PC gamers. Microsoft has had a rather mixed mission in that it wants to ensure the success of its Xbox One (and future) consoles, but also wants to bring the huge population of PC gamers into the fold somehow. It would help offset the significant but yet necessarily decisive lead Sony has in the ongoing console wars.
Numerous efforts over the years have failed to impress them and some are in fact still ridiculed. But the collection of some seriously PC-first developers commanding a hardcore audience may help bring some PC gaming wisdom to the Xbox world.
Although console exclusives are not as appreciated as they once were — gamers value cross-platform play far more — it doesn’t help to have a couple to sway undecided buyers or even tempt consumers to buy both. These acquisitions suggest an investment in Microsoft’s first-party development platform that could help close the gap, or prepare a real blitz for the next generation of consoles.
The studios issued videos talking about their take on the development, which you can watch below:
And now, a very special announcement from us here at Obsidian on becoming a part of the Microsoft family!https://t.co/bq5GGrM2UC
Some big news for #inXile Entertainment today! Here to talk about it is inXile CEO @BrianFargo. We’re excited about the future and our ability to continue to bring you great role playing games! https://t.co/C4FTh5whQ5
We knew the Xbox One was set to get keyboard and mouse support eventually, but now we know exactly when: November 14th.
Don’t expect all Xbox One games to play friendly with the new keyboard/mouse functionality right out of the gate. It’s up to individual developers to figure out if/how it works with their games and patch things up accordingly, so only a handful will support it at first.
But one of the first titles picking up support is a big one: Fortnite, the free-to-play third person shooter that has taken over the world, will roll out support with an update later this week. As will Warframe, the free-to-play coop shooter.
Bomber Crew, Strange Brigade, Warhammer: Vermintide 2, War Thunder, X-Morph: Defense, and Deep Rock Galactic will get support later in November, while Children of Morta, Vigor, Warface, Wargroove, DayZ, Minion Masters, and Moonlighter have pledged to add support at some less specific point down the road.