Xbox One built for 10 years of silent running

Microsoft’s design for the Xbox One is intended to keep the console on—and quiet—for the console’s entire 10-year life cycle, according to a report yesterday by Eurogamer.

The upcoming Xbox One appears to be larger than the Xbox 360 and significantly larger than the upcoming PS4. That “relatively voluminous piece of console hardware” allows for greater heat dissipation, with fan noise being “only noticeable during gaming when the AMD processor is really being put through its paces,” Eurogamer reported based on anonymous sources. With a good heat sink and a relatively large fan that spins more slowly than a small one, the console is expected to be “almost entirely silent in standby and during its media functions,” the report states.

Early versions of the Xbox One sent to developers were reportedly loud because a “thermal control algorithm—which monitors the heat output of the major chips on the motherboard and adjusts fan speed accordingly—simply wasn’t implemented in the developing OS, and so to avoid damaging the hardware, the fans were set to 100 per cent all the time,” Eurogamer wrote. This problem was resolved in a software update in March.

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Engadget’s tablet buyer’s guide: summer 2013 edition

Tablets are virtually tailor-made for our summer vacations, whether we’re checking email at the hotel or watching movies during an airport layover. The manufacturers must know this, as there’s a surge of new slates set to arrive while the weather’…

Microsoft Will Rebrand SkyDrive After It Settles Trademark Case With Sky Broadcasting

Microsoft SkyDrive

British Sky Broadcasting Group and Microsoft today announced that they have settled the trademark infringement arguments in Europe that Sky brought against Microsoft in an English court. As a result of this, Microsoft will have to find a new name for its cloud storage service SkyDrive. Sky will allow Microsoft to continue using the name for a “transition period,” but after that, Microsoft needs to rebrand the service. It’s not clear when Microsoft plans to announce the new name.

Earlier this month, the English High Court found that Microsoft’s use of the term SkyDrive infringed on Sky’s right to the “Sky” trademark. While Microsoft could have appealed the ruling, the company chose to settle the case and has agreed not to go ahead with an appeal. The settlement includes some financial terms, but the details of these are under wraps.

“We’re glad to have resolution of this naming dispute, and will continue to deliver the great service our hundreds of millions of customers expect, providing the best way to always have your files with you,” Microsoft said in a canned statement today. We asked Microsoft for further clarification, but except for this statement, the company isn’t commenting on today’s announcement.

All of this will sound awfully familiar to anybody who has followed Microsoft’s brands in the past. The Windows 8 Metro interface, after all, had just become a household name before the launch of Microsoft’s new operating system when the company had to change it because of what most pundits assume was a trademark dispute with Germany’s Metro AG. Today, nobody knows what to call the Windows 8 interface, its apps and design language, so most people still call it “Metro.”

Surface Scorecard: Microsoft’s Tablet Had FY2013 Revenue Of $853M, Or $3.4M Per Day

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Today in an SEC filing, Microsoft revealed a very interesting fact: Its Surface tablet hybrid line brought in revenue of $853 million in the company’s fiscal 2013. However, the Surface line didn’t become available for sale until October 26, giving it 247 days in the market during the financial period.

That places Surface revenue on a per-day basis at $3.45 million. Extrapolated for a one-year period, that financial rate puts the Surface line on a $1.26 billion per-year run rate. However, I would wager that revenues for Surface were highest at launch of the Surface RT and Pro, and lower in between, so the per-day and per-year estimates could vary.

Reviews of the figure have been decidedly negative. The Next Web’s Josh Ong flatly stated that the revenue figure confirmed that the tablet line is a “financial failure.” Tom Warren over at The Verge noted that the total revenue for the devices is less than the $900 million writedown that Microsoft took during its last quarter. And Todd Bishop of GeekWire underlined that the $853 million in revenue is again less than the $898 million in new costs that Microsoft called “primarily with Windows 8 and Surface.”

If Surface were a standalone business, it would be dead. However, as a Microsoft division, it is anything but.

Microsoft as a company has tectonic financial wealth in the form of past profits stored as cash. It has decided to enter the OEM world, and has, to my knowledge, continued with the Surface project, slow initial sales be damned.

There is a firm, recent precedent for the company to continue to invest in this way: Windows Phone. It took two full years of hard scrabble work to get Windows Phone to a point in which it was healthy enough to walk a bit on its own. Put another way, until Windows Phone 8 and the recent Nokia handsets, the smartphone line was sucking air.

Perhaps not as much as Surface, given that the line of tablets has caused material damage to Microsoft’s short-term profits — the $900 million charge was $0.07 in lost EPS for the company in the last quarter.

However, Microsoft has the money, and if it wants to can continue to pour it into Surface, as it did with Windows Phone, and Bing, and other properties that it finds to be strategically important. Does Microsoft want to cede complete hardware primacy to its OEM partners that have failed for so long to demonstrate innovation and forward-looking thought?

I don’t think so, no. Naturally, Microsoft would prefer if Surface lost less money, but I don’t think that Microsoft is done with this project yet. A decent test: If the rollout of the next-generation Surface line is muted, we could be watching the door close.

Top Image Credit: Vernon Chan

Xbox One controllers will be $59.99 each, without charging kit

Microsoft has announced extra controllers for the Xbox One will come at $59.99 each, according to new listings on the Microsoft Store website. A controller that comes with a play-and-charge kit will cost $15 more.

Microsoft has slowly rolled out information about the new controller and its rumbling impulse triggers, new d-pad, and redesigned analog sticks. As is the custom for most gaming consoles, only one controller will be included in the box with the $499 Xbox One (along with two AA batteries and a USB port for external power).

For comparison, the Xbox 360 wireless controllers were priced at $49.99 back in 2005, while the wired controllers cost $39.99. The 360 play-and-charge kits were $20 standalone packages, while a standalone Xbox One play-and-charge kit will cost $24.99.

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Australian Parliament urges citizens to bypass geo-locks on software

An Australian parliamentary committee released a report today encouraging Australian consumers to find lawful ways to bypass “geo-locks” on popular software from Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, and others. According to ABC Australia, the report is the result of testimony given to the committee by representatives from Microsoft, Adobe, and Apple, companies that do business globally and charge Australian consumers and businesses considerably more for the privilege of purchasing their products and services. On average, Aussies pay 42 percent more for the same stuff as Americans.

The three companies grilled by the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications each gave differing answers on why their wares cost more in Australia. “Adobe said it offered a specialized ‘bespoke’ experience for Australian customers,” wrote science and technology reporter Jake Sturmer. “Apple blamed local copyright holders for higher prices on its local iTunes store. Microsoft said its prices were set and customers could vote with their wallets. Except customers couldn’t exactly do that because of geo-blocking.”

The terms “geo-locking” or “geo-blocking” refer in aggregate to the broad set of techniques companies put in place to segregate the world into different regions or markets. Most companies that do business internationally have different pricing models for different regions of the world; Microsoft, for example, might charge customers in “emerging markets” less for products than it would charge customers in the US or UK. But software pricing in Australia tends to be skewed far to the expensive side of things—indeed, Penny Arcade Report Editor and Ars alum Ben Kuchera recently wrote about the cost of being a gamer in Australia, noting that new game releases will often cost more than A$100 (about US$92).

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Ballmer Admits What We All Knew: Microsoft Built Far Too Many Surfaces

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At an internal meeting, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that the company overproduced the Surface RT tablet, leading to its recent $150 per unit price cut. As quoted by The Verge’s Tom Warren, Ballmer plainly explained that the company “built a few more devices than [it] could sell.”

But we already knew that.

In its most recent quarterly earnings release, Microsoft took a $900 million charge relating to the Surface RT tablet line, essentially admitting that the inventory that it has on hand was not worth its previous internal valuation; you can’t cut the market price of a product that you have in a warehouse and not lower its value on your books. The write down cost Microsoft $0.07 per share. It missed expectations for the quarter.

Microsoft has been on a mission to clear Surface RT inventory for some time. As I wrote earlier this year, through a combination of giveaways and discounts, Microsoft was moving to liquidate what appeared to be mountainous superfluous unit volume of its ARM-based Windows tablet hybrid.

At that time, Microsoft released a bland statement, saying that the offers and handouts were in “response” to the “positive reaction” Surface had enjoyed since launch. That felt a bit backwards: If response had been so strong, why give away a single device or discount? Wouldn’t organic demand be sufficient? Well, as it turns out, reaction hasn’t been overly positive, so the entire argument was logically moot.

Ballmer said something else during the meeting that is a non-surprise: Microsoft is not selling as many Windows devices as it would like. We knew that, too. The figures released quarterly that describe the PC market are brutal — and dropping. Even Apple is suffering from declining Mac sales in the face of nearly insurmountable headwinds that it helped to create with its leadership of post-PC product categories.

Next-generation Surface devices are being designed and tested. I suspect that Microsoft learned its lesson regarding production volume: Prove product-market fit first, and then kick the afterburners.

Top Image Credit: BUILDWindows

Report: OS overhead takes up 3.5GB of PS4’s 8GB of RAM

Since its public debut in February, Sony has made a lot of hay out of the 8GB of high-speed GDDR5 RAM that will be available in a unified architecture on the PlayStation 4. But a new report suggests that game developers will generally only have access to 4.5GB of that RAM, with the rest taken up by the underlying OS.

The folks over at Digital Foundry cite “current PlayStation 4 documentation shown to Digital Foundry by a well-placed development source” in detailing the RAM breakdown. The numbers aren’t set in stone, though. Digital Foundry reports that developers can take back as much as 1GB of “flexible memory” from the OS when it’s available. However, taking back this memory isn’t as simple as flipping a switch; it’s complicated enough that only first-party games may be able to do it at first, according to the report.

For some context, the Xbox One devotes a comparable 3GB of its 8GB of RAM to the system software, according to reports, and the Wii U uses a full half of its 2GB of RAM for the OS. On PCs, Windows 8 needs 1GB of RAM, while OS X Mountain Lion requires 2GB of memory, according to official specs.

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