Microsoft is calling an audible on smart speakers


January 18, 2019

The Harman Kardon Invoke was fine. But let’s be real — the first Cortana smart speaker was dead on arrival. Microsoft’s smart assistant has its strong suits, but thus far statement of purpose hasn’t been among them. CEO Satya Nadella appears to have acknowledge as much this week during a media event at the company’s Redmond Campus.

“Defeat” might be a strong word at this stage, but the executive is publicly acknowledging that the company needs to go back to the drawing board. In its current configuration, the best Microsoft can seemingly hope for with Cortana is a slow ramp up after a greatly delayed start. For all of the company’s recent successes, the gulf between its offering and Alexa, Assistant (and to a lesser degree) Siri must seem utterly insurmountable.

The new vision for Cortana is an AI offering that works in tandem with products that have previously been considered its chief competitors. That’s in line with recent moves. Over the summer, Microsoft and Amazon unveiled integration between the two assistants. Nadella used this week’s event to both reaffirm plans to work with Alexa and Google Assistant and note that past categories probably don’t make sense, going forward.

“We are very mindful of the categories we enter where we can do something unique,” he told the crowd. “A good one is speakers. To me the challenge is, exactly what would we be able to do in that category that is going to be unique?”

It’s a fair question. And the answer, thus far, is nothing. Like Samsung’s Bixby offerings, the primary distinguisher has been the devices its chosen to roll out on — appliances for Bixby and PCs for Microsoft. And while moves by Apple, Amazon and Google have all been acknowledgements that desktops and laptops may play an important role in the growth of smart assistants moving forward, but they were hardly a major driver early on.

I suspect this will also means the company will invest less in pushing Cortana as a consumer-facing product for the time being, instead focusing on the ways it can help other more popular assistants play nicely with the Microsoft ecosystem.

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Apple Pay Cash starts rolling out to iPhone users in the US


December 4, 2017

by Brian Heater Originally Published on via RSS

Apple Pay Cash is finally starting to roll out to users in the States, bringing the ability to send other iOS users payments directly through iMessage. The update is arriving piece by piece to those who’ve downloaded iOS 11.2, which launched two days back with a not-yet-live version of the feature.

Apple Pay Cash was announced back in June at WWDC. However, the company added ahead of iOS 11’s September launch that the feature would be “coming this fall with an update to iOS 11 and watchOS 4,” and while it was intended to launch alongside 11.2, this weekend’s early arrival of the operating system left it behind, as the company worked to push the software live, seemingly in order to address an issue that was causing some iPhones to randomly reboot.

The new feature is a proprietary take on mobile payment apps like Venmo, PayPal and Square Cash, allowing money to be transferred to friends and family in a message or using Siri. Money sent is drawn from the credit or debit card tied to a user’s Apple Wallet. When it’s received on the other side, it shows up as an Apple Pay Cash card — sort of a virtual gift card, also stored in the Apple Wallet.

That money can then be transferred to the bank or kept on the device as a gift card, where it can be spent anywhere that accepts Apple Pay. It’s an added convenience, bringing all of that functionality directly to iMessage, rather than having to mess about with a third-party app. But for Apple, it’s also a way to rope in users who have been reluctant to install Apple Pay, and keep people in the iMessage ecosystem.

The feature appears to still be rolling out in pieces here in the States. No word yet on a time frame for international expansion.

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