Microsoft Stores Are Permanently Closing

Microsoft today announced that it is permanently closing its physical stores worldwide. The company's retail employees will continue to serve customers through Microsoft's corporate offices and remotely, providing sales, training, and support.


Microsoft will continue to operate its online storefront, and it also has plans for reimagined "Experience Centers" for customers in New York City, London, Sydney, and at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

"Our sales have grown online as our product portfolio has evolved to largely digital offerings, and our talented team has proven success serving customers beyond any physical location," said Microsoft Corporate Vice President David Porter. "We are grateful to our Microsoft Store customers and we look forward to continuing to serve them online and with our retail sales team at Microsoft corporate locations."

Microsoft opened its first store in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2009, eight years after Apple's first stores opened in Glendale, California and the Washington, D.C. area.
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Microsoft Says Antitrust Regulators Should Review App Stores

Antitrust regulators are currently investigating competition in digital marketplaces, focusing on Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple.


Microsoft is not involved in the investigation, but Microsoft joined the conversation today when president Brad Smith said at a Politico event (via Bloomberg) that it's time for regulators to take a look at app stores. Smith was careful not to name Apple or Google, but those are the two companies that have major digital software marketplaces and that are the focus of the investigation.
"They impose requirements that increasingly say there is only one way to get on to our platform and that is to go through the gate that we ourselves have created," Smith said. "In some cases they create a very high price per toll - in some cases 30% of your revenue has to go to the toll keeper."

"The time has come - whether we are talking about D.C. or Brussels - for a much more focused conversation about the nature of app stores, the rules that are being put in place, the prices and the tolls that are being extracted and whether there is really a justification in antitrust law for everything that has been created," Smith said.
Microsoft distributes apps through the App Store and Google Play stores and has a vested interest in lowering the fees that app developers must pay. Microsoft pays Apple 15 to 30 percent for any customers who subscribe to Office 365 through Apple's platform.

Some app stores, says Smith, have created "higher walls and far more formidable gates" than what existed 20 years ago when Microsoft itself lost a Windows antitrust case.

Apple is facing an antitrust investigation in the United States, which is nearing completion, as well as a separate investigation in the EU that was just announced earlier this week. Both investigations are looking at ‌App Store‌ fees and the competitive advantages Apple's own apps have on Apple platforms.
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Analyst Argues Apple Should Acquire DuckDuckGo Search Engine

Apple should purchase a search engine to put pressure on Google, Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said Monday in a research report that was shared by Barron's.


Apple and Google don't share details on the amount of money that Google pays to be the default search engine for iOS and Siri, but Sacconaghi estimates that it's around $7 to $8 billion per year, or 30 percent of the estimated $25 billion that Google generates in ad revenue from search on Apple devices.

Google has long paid Apple to prevent Apple from turning to other search engine options like Microsoft's Bing, but Sacconaghi believes that Google has the upper hand in business dealings because it could opt to end its Apple deal if it can convince 70 percent of iOS users to go to Google.com for searching even if it's not the default Safari option.

Apple doesn't have many alternatives to Google, with its only leverage being a swap to Bing, so Sacconaghi suggests that Apple should acquire its own search engine.
"Yes, Google is clearly the dominant force in search today. However, we suspect the company's fear of 'rocking the boat'--which could compromise $15 billion in profits it captures today from iOS--may ultimately limit its freedom of action with Apple. Conversely, Apple may be in a stronger position than at first glance, given it controls the keys to the kingdom on who can monetize iOS search. However, it remains uncomfortably dependent on Bing to act as a counterweight to Google--hence our suggestion that Apple acquire its own search engine."
As for which search engine, Sacconaghi thinks that DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine option, would be a good choice for Apple. Apple could, he speculates, buy it for under $1 billion, giving Apple a solid backup option that does not rely on Google or Microsoft.
"To be certain, we doubt an Apple-owned DuckDuckGo could ever generate profits sufficient to make back the $7 billion to $8 billion a year currently paid by Google. Nevertheless, Apple would still likely be better off than a worst-case scenario where it had no backup, and Google or Microsoft (one or the other) withdrew from the bidding process altogether."
DuckDuckGo would also be compatible with Apple's privacy values, offering iOS users a search option that is free from invasive ad tracking.

Sacconaghi warns that if Apple did attempt to purchase a search engine like DuckDuckGo, it could trigger regulatory oversight that could ultimately block the acquisition, putting Apple in a worse position than before. DuckDuckGo is also reliant on Bing, so Apple would need to make changes to be completely free of Microsoft's influence.

Apple previously used Bing for ‌Siri‌ and Spotlight on Mac and iOS, but in 2017 swapped over to Google for consistency across iOS and Mac devices. Apple has not been rumored to be seeking to make a search engine acquisition.
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Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds vs. AirPods

Back in October, Microsoft decided to get into the wire-free earbuds market with the debut of the Surface Earbuds, designed to compete with Apple's AirPods, Google's Pixel Buds, and Samsung's Galaxy Buds.

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We picked up a pair of Microsoft's Surface Earbuds to check out the feature set and see how they measure up to Apple's ‌AirPods‌.

Priced at $199, the Surface Earbuds have a design that's rather... unique. There's an AirPods-style earpiece that fits into the ear, along with a circular exterior portion that's rather large and noticeable, designed primarily for touch gestures. The Surface Earbuds are not low-key, hard to see headphones -- it's obvious when you're wearing them.


When it comes to fit, the Surface Earbuds are relatively comfortable. The ‌AirPods‌ kind of rest on the outside of the ears, while the Surface Earbuds are designed to fit a bit deeper in the ear canal, though not as deep as the AirPods Pro.


Surface Earbuds come with small, medium, and large tips, so most people should be able to get a decent fit. We found them to be uncomfortable to wear at first, but after they settled in for a few hours, the Surface Earbuds were more comfortable to wear.


The design of the Surface Earbuds definitely looks a bit funky, but it's functional because of the simple and effective gesture set, which uses the large surface area of each earbud.


A double tap plays/pauses music, a swipe on the left earbud skips tracks, and a swipe on the right earbud controls the volume. ‌AirPods‌ don't have gesture controls for volume, which is one of the major negatives when it comes to ‌AirPods‌ gestures.

There are also controls for accessing voice-based help and answering/ending phone calls, plus several Microsoft apps can take advantage of Surface Earbuds gestures. On an Android phone, for example, a triple tap on either earbud opens up the Spotify app. On iOS, you can listen to, delete, and reply to emails with touch and voice using the Outlook app, and in PowerPoint, you can swipe to advance slides, enable live captions and subtitles, and have what you're saying be translated into one of 60 languages.

Sound quality on the Surface Earbuds was somewhat unimpressive. The low end was disappointing and on the whole, music playback had a tinny quality. There is an app that accompanies the Surface Earbuds for EQ adjustments, which helps improve the sound somewhat. There's no Active Noise Cancellation, so the only sound isolating comes from the fit of the Surface Earbuds in the ear.


The Surface Earbuds have a six to eight hour battery life, which is extended to 24 hours with the included USB-C charging case, which has a rectangular design reminiscent of a little coffin. The case charges over USB-C, and there's no wireless charging included.


When paired with a Surface device or a Windows PC running Windows 10, which is what the Surface Earbuds are designed to work with, there's a Swift Pair feature for fast pairing, but on iOS devices, the connection will need to be done through Bluetooth settings.


Surface Earbuds are fine if you plan to use them with a PC or a Surface device, but there's no reason to pick these up if you're planning to use them with a Mac or an iPhone because the full feature set is restricted to Windows. Given the $199 price point, these are best for those who are in Microsoft's ecosystem rather than Apple's.
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Microsoft Family Safety App Preview Available for iOS Users

Microsoft today announced that its Microsoft Family Safety app is available in a preview capacity to iOS users who sign up to use the feature.


Microsoft Family Safety includes features like device usage tracking, logging of content viewed, and location sharing, all of which Microsoft says is designed to allow parents to have conversations with children about device usage habits.
Find the balance that is right for your family. Give your kids independence to learn and explore, while setting boundaries that help them make good choices. Kids can see the same activity reports their parents see, so everyone can be part of the conversation. Additionally, with Microsoft Family Safety, family members can manage their data and information and who it is shared with. We work around the clock to help protect your information and will not sell your data.
An Activity Reporting feature provides details on how time is spent online, tracking usage, websites visited, and terms searched for. Email summaries are sent each week.

Screen Time Limits cap the amount of time that children can spend using Windows, Xbox devices, and Android smartphones. Limits through Microsoft are not a feature on iOS and parents will need to use the built-in Apple-designed Screen Time features for iPhones and iPads.

Content controls allow parents to create web and search filters to block mature content and limit browsing to kid-friendly websites when using Microsoft Edge.

Location sharing features allow parents to see where their children are at a glance, plus it labels locations visited the most like home, work, and school.

Microsoft is allowing a limited number of iOS users to sign up for Microsoft Family Sharing, and it's ideal for those who also use Microsoft devices. To participate, iOS users will need to make sure to set up a family group on Microsoft's Family website and then sign up to test through a form on the Microsoft website.
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Microsoft to Add Trackpad Support to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint Apps on iPad

Microsoft plans to add trackpad and mouse support to its Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for iPad by the fall, according to TechCrunch and The Verge.

iPadOS 13.4 introduced trackpad and mouse support on all iPad models released in the past four to five years. Keyboards with trackpads include Apple's Magic Keyboard and Brydge's Pro+ for the iPad Pro and Logitech's Combo for the 10.2-inch iPad and the 10.5-inch iPad Air.

When using a trackpad, the cursor displays as a circle on the screen, popping up only when you have a finger on the trackpad. The circle then morphs into various other shapes when hovering over app icons, text fields, or other on-screen elements.
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Forza Street Now Available on iOS

Forza Street, designed by Microsoft's Xbox Game Studios, is now available for download, Microsoft announced today. Designed as a free-to-play mobile version of Microsoft's highly popular Forza franchise, the new Forza Street game can be played on both Android and iOS devices.


Microsoft says Forza Street provides quick under-a-minute races aimed at mobile gameplay, with players able to unlock new cars and part upgrades to grow their car collections.

Players who download and play Forza Street between today and June 5, 2020 will receive a 2017 Ford GT and added in-game credits and gold to help them unlock new vehicles.

Forza Street can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]
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Wunderlist Users Have Until June 30 to Transfer Tasks to Microsoft’s To Do App

Microsoft today reminded users that Wunderlist will be shut down on May 6, meaning that to-dos will no longer sync. Wunderlist users will still be able to transfer their tasks and lists over to the Microsoft To Do app until June 30.


How to migrate from Wunderlist to Microsoft To Do:


1. Download the Microsoft To Do app.
2. Sign in with your Microsoft account. If you don't have one, you can create one using an existing email address (like Gmail).
3. Click on the pop-up in Microsoft To Do, or head to Settings and select Import. It'll direct you to the Wunderlist importer.
Microsoft acquired Wunderlist in 2015 and launched its own To Do app with many of the same features a few years later, including folders, subtasks, file attachments, list sharing, notes, reminders and due dates, and a dark mode.

Microsoft To Do is free on the App Store for iPhone and iPad.
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‘Forza Street’ Simulation Racing Game Coming to iOS on May 5

Developers Turn 10 Studios and Microsoft have announced that simulation racing game Forza Street is coming to iPhone and iPad on May 5.


Forza Street is a simplified version of the original Forza racing game series for Xbox and PC that emulates the performance and handling characteristics of real-life production, modified, and racing cars. The mobile version will include a story-driven mode as well as the option to compete in races that last just a minute.

In a game where collecting and upgrading cars often leads to domination on the streets, it'll be interesting to see how the developers balance the free-to-play mechanic with the presence of in-app purchases.

With that in mind, anyone who plays Forza Street within the first month will get the Founders Pack, which includes the 2017 Ford GT as well as virtual credits and gold.
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Former Apple Engineering Leader Joins Microsoft to Work on HoloLens and Other Hardware

Rubén Caballero, a hardware engineering executive at Apple who worked with suppliers on modem hardware, has taken on a new role at Microsoft, reports Bloomberg.


At Microsoft, Caballero is serving as corporate vice president of engineering and based on his Linkedin profile, he will work on mixed reality hardware such as Microsoft's HoloLens. He is listed as part of Microsoft's Mixed Reality and AI Division, and will also work on "special projects."

Caballero left Apple in April 2019, just after Apple settled its lawsuit with Qualcomm and inked a deal that will see Qualcomm supplying modem chips for the 2020 iPhones, and after his division was folded into Apple's custom chip vision headed by Johny Srouji.

Caballero first joined Apple in 2005, and his name has been on hundreds of patents related to wireless technologies. Caballero was a well-known part of Apple's antenna engineering group, having gained public recognition following the "Antennagate" situation that impacted the iPhone 4.
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