University of Waterloo college students Dhananja Jayalath and Christopher Wiebe were frustrated by their workouts in the gym. They felt like there was no way to know whether they were actually working the right muscles when lifting weights. A personal trainer wasn’t an option for these cash-strapped students, and, as electrical engineers, both thought there could be a frictionless way that hardware technology could collect this data from your muscles. But this hadn’t been developed yet.
Fast-forward three years, and Jayalath and Wiebe are debuting this connected, wearable workout gear to the public after spending that time developing the hardware and software side. Backed with $3.5 million in seed funding from Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social+Capital Partnership, Athos offers a wearable technology that is fully integrated in workout clothing and can track your muscle groups, heart rate, breathing level and more. You can pre-order the Athos, which will be available in the spring of 2014, here.
When Jayalath and Wiebe started delving into the actual problem (which has even been on Apple’s mind) of creating this connected workout gear, they realized that they could take shortcuts around trying to measure muscle productivity or actually translate the medical science into actionable data that people could use and wear every day. The duo, whose alma mater graduates some of the most talented hardware engineers in the world, unsurprisingly chose to take the latter approach. So while in school, they spent all their spare time researching and developing their hardware product.
They soon discovered that the most effective way of tracking muscles is through electromyography, or EMG, which is the technique used to measure and evaluate electrical signals generated by muscles. With EMG, electrode adhesive sensors are put on the muscle to collect electricity and the raw signal. These sensors provide access to the physiological processes that allow muscles to produce movement, to stretch and to generate force. The traditional uses of EMG are putting on electrode sensors to conduct physiotherapy, rehab, and to treat muscular degenerative diseases.
Jayalath and Wiebe spent a year-and-a-half while still at Waterloo developing a prototype of the wearable compression garment that harnessed EMG technology wirelessly, with sensors that track muscle groups, heart rate, breathing and more. Of course, at the same time, both were being pursued aggressively by technology companies to join after finishing college. Along the way, Jayalath accepted an offer to be a hardware engineer at Apple and Wiebe planned to join Analog Devices as a chip designer. But in the meantime, they were making progress with their prototype. And last spring, they actually presented their idea at a competition at Waterloo.
Social+Capital founder and early Facebook growth exec Chamath Palihapitiya happened to be at the competition (he’s a Waterloo alum), and what Wiebe and Jayalath were working on caught his eye. The pair pitched him, and he quickly realized that there was something potentially game changing about what they could accomplish. “This was something I had been thinking about for a while – namely that sensors should be able to measure much more than just heart rate or using an accelerometer/gyroscope to impute the behavior of the body. So when I saw Athos’ original demo, it resonated immediately as a completely revolutionary way to use technology to measure one’s body and then act on that information in a useful way,” Palihapitiya tells me.
So he seeded them with $3.5 million, and the pair declined their respective job offers in order to build Athos. After moving, they teamed up with Joel Seligstein – who was the Android manager at Facebook – neuroscientist Julie Desjardins, and the former VP of hardware at Leapfrog, Hamid Butt. Until a few months ago, the team was incubated and working out of Social+Capital’s space in Palo Alto.
Over the past year, Wiebe, Jayalath, and Seligstein have built a way to use non-adhesive sensors in a compression garment (a long-sleeved exercise top and bike shorts/legging) that transmits the muscle data to a small module, which is called the core. This core then wirelessly syncs this data to Athos’ software app, which collects all information and actually gives users a way to track and understand their workouts.
The credit-card-sized core module is seamlessly integrated into compression workout clothing and transmits muscle feedback to an app. The first version of the upper body apparel will have 14 muscle sensors and 1 pair for heart rate and breathing. These sensors are places throughout the garment (which looks and feels much like a lightweight Under Armour workout shirt or legging). In terms of design, the Athos’ core is extremely lightweight, and the clothing itself feels like high-quality exercise wear. We’re told Athos partnered with Branch for design.
On the arm for the women’s shirt, or the chest for the men’s shirt (and at the hip for the lower body apparel), users can insert the core device, which is a small, orange oval-shaped module. This is inserted in the garment, and then the user essentially can transmit any data generated from muscular expenditure, heart rate, and breathing to the Athos mobile app.
In terms of the hardware specs, the module and garments include a 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis magnetometer to provide orientational awareness, e.g. lying down vs. sitting up; two multi-colored LEDs, which indicate status in the core and more; Bluetooth 4.0; and 10 hours of battery life (i.e. five days of two-hour workouts. The startup is not disclosing some of the chips and hardware in the core, as this is what they call their ‘secret sauce.’ All the hardware and garments are water-, sweat- and Gatorade-resistant, and you can clean the garments as you normally would in a washing machine and dryer.
The simplest use of Athos involves how you are actually using your muscles when working out, whether that be cardio or strength training. On the Athos iOS app (the startup is developing for iOS first, we’re told), you’ll see a simulated body, and, via the sensors, you’ll be able to see whether you are overworking or under working a muscle group. So if you are doing curls, your biceps will be highlighted in green, and if your muscle reaches a red color, you are over exerting your muscle and should scale back. Alternatively, your muscle will read as a lighter green, or won’t show anything at all if you are under-exerting the muscle. The sensor will input data such as heart rate and oxygen levels.
You’ll be able to measure heart rate without a chest strap, provide precise, real-time interpretation of complex movements, measure and recommend proper exercise form in any activity for the gym goer and the outdoor athlete, monitor muscle fatigue and recommend training levels, quantify and summarize the content of workouts (strength training vs. cardio vs. stretch), and track training levels over time to help avoid over or under training specific muscle groups.
The app will also be able to give you more targeted feedback according to the type of exercise being done. So you’d be able to input your goal (i.e. weight loss) and your type of exercise (strength training), and the app would show you whether you are in the right heart zone, whether your muscles are being pushed enough (or too much) and more. The overall vision for Athos is to show you how to better balance bike pedaling, breathe better through meditation, push through a hard set of weights, bend into the perfect yoga posture or push the body for maximum efficiency.
In terms of cost, Athos will be charging $99 for any piece of clothing, and $199 for a core. The startup already has two patents, and has applied for a few more.
In the world of wearables; the Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, and the Jawbone UP use accelerometers to track your steps and overall physical activity. The Basis takes this one step further to track your heart rate, perspiration level, and skin temperature. But Athos is one of the only “wearables” that is actually tracking your muscle output, as well.
Wiebe, Jayalath and Seligstein think that their product actually complements wearables, which track your motion all day. Athos, in their mind, can be the go-to wearable when you work out, or do any activity that uses your muscles beyond walking. Palihapitiya adds that over time, Athos can integrate with wearables so that the startup’s data can be shared and used. “We want to build the universal platform for a deeper, nuanced understanding of physiology,” he adds.
Already, Athos is being tested out by a number of professional athletes and trainers. It would make sense that Nike and Under Armour would follow suit. But Athos says it isn’t just building their hardware and software for the power athlete. They believe that their product can help anyone with exercise or even rehabilitation.
Palihapitiya explains, “I think we all want to be more physically capable – this means being a father who is able to play sports with his kids, a young woman who wants to use yoga as their primary workout or an NBA player who is training to excel and make another all-star team. The point is that a more optimal understanding of one’s physique is really useful information and can be used for a wide spectrum of things. Athos works in all of these cases because it is productized in the most universal way – in clothing you can just put on and go.”
I saw an athlete lift weights, cycle and even run wearing the Athos garments and core, and witnessed the app display all the performance and measurement in real time. It’s impressive to see just how much data and insight the startup is able to get from the combination of measuring muscle activity, heart rate and oxygen levels. And the consumer experience could become even more compelling if the app could actually start personalizing the experience, becoming more intelligent with each workout.
Unfortunately, we’re told that the Athos won’t be available until the spring. But I know for a fact that I will be purchasing the full set. In the ever-growing sea of smartwatches and wearables, I’ve also been looking for a device that can do more than just track calories burned, miles covered or heart rate when I am working out. I’m willing to wait with the hope that Athos will become that and more.
Amazon today announced its fastest EC2 instance type yet. The improved C3 instance type, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels noted in the announcement at the company’s re:Invent developer conference today, represents the highest process performance on EC2 yet. The C3 instances join the new storage- and I/O-optimized I2 instances the company also announced today.
These instances, Amazon argues, should be especially interesting to developers with run compute-intensive workloads on EC2, including running Hadoop or doing analytics, 3D rendering, engineering and simulation.
The new C3 instances are powered by 2.8 GHz Intel E5-2680 v2 Ivy Bridge processors and the smallest instance (c3.large) comes with 3.75GB of RAM, two virtual cores and seven EC2 compute units (Amazon’s proprietary way of classifying the speed of its instances). At the high end, the c3.8xlarge instance has 32 virtual cores, 60GB of RAM and 108 ECU. The processors, Amazon notes, support Intel’s Advanced Vector Extensions for more efficiently processing vector-oriented data.
The high-performance instance types all come with improved network performance and are all based on SSDs. Using these instances, Amazon launched a 26,496 core cluster and evaluated it against the recent Top500 scores for supercomputers. The cluster would have ranked as #56 on the list with a performance of 481.18 teraflops.
These new instances are now available in Amazon’s US East (Northern Virginia), US West (Oregon), EU (Ireland), Asia Pacific (Singapore), Asia Pacific (Tokyo), and Asia Pacific (Sydney) regions.
Read the rest here: Amazon Launches Its Fastest EC2 Instance Type Yet
The Android-powered YotaPhone, which features an LCD display on one side and an e-ink display on the other, is set to go on sale “internationally” before the year is out.
Unlike a traditional smartphone, the YotaPhone’s dual screen allows users to view (or mirror) content using the rear-mounted e-ink display, which the company says results in a much longer overall battery life than using just an LCD display.
Moving to the more traditional spec list, the YotaPhone will arrive sporting Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2, a dual core 1.7GHz processor, and a 4.3-inch 720 x 1280 pixel display on the front and a 4.3-inch 360×640 EPD, 16 grayscale display and a capacitive touch section below the EPD for gesture controls
Although already announced for Russia, the YotaPhone, is set for full international release in the first week of December, according to a spokesperson for the company.
View original post here: Dual-screen LCD and e-ink display-equipped Android YotaPhone headed to retailers ‘before Christmas’
Custom apparel company CustomInk just raised a whole lot of money, bringing on $40 million from Revolution Growth, the investment fund from Steve Case, Ted Leonsis, and Donn Davis. Along with the funding, Leonsis will join the company’s board as it seeks to expand and go after new opportunities.
This isn’t your usual tech startup funding story. Founded nearly 14 years ago by a bunch of friends who had gone to school together, CustomInk was built to scale the world of custom printing on the Internet. Raising just $600,000 to get off the ground, it survived the first dot-com crash and, after some time, even flourished.
The bootstrapped company was successful in part because the custom shirts its users ordered were for groups, teams, and causes that they were affiliated with. The result was that they would return whenever they needed to do another printing or were organizing around something new.
“We found out early on that the things people were ordering were pretty special,” CustomInk CEO and co-founder Marc Katz told me by phone.
As a result, CustomInk has seen its core business increase to nearly $200 million in annual revenues, and it continues to flourish, with year-over-year growth of 50 percent. To reach that number, it’s delivering more than 20 million custom t-shirts a year, and there’s plenty more room for CustomInk to grow. Custom apparel, after all, is a $5 billion business today, of which the company has only captured a small portion.
Based on its current growth and revenue numbers, you wouldn’t think that CustomInk would even need funding. And, in fact, it doesn’t. When Revolution Growth co-founder Ted Leonsis first approached Katz about doing a deal, the co-founder was reluctant to bring on outside capital after already building what is a pretty successful and scaleable custom printing business.
It took about nine months to change Katz’s mind, according to Leonsis, who was drawn not only by the huge market opportunity, but by CustomInk’s viral and organic growth. He was also impressed by the average order size and the number of return users who come back to the platform each time they needed custom shirts printed.
More than just adding fresh capital, CustomInk gets the benefit of adding Leonsis to its board. “I’m a big believer in the value-added board member,” Katz told me.
Leonsis, of course, was a longtime executive at AOL, holding roles that include vice chairman and president during the 13 years he was there. More recently, he’s joined the board of major companies such as American Express and Groupon, where he currently sits as chairman.
As Katz said, “A mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight” — a description which is apt for someone like Leonsis, who has immense background in helping to grow and run consumer Internet businesses. That experience will come in handy as the company goes after new opportunities.
In addition to CustomInk’s core business, it’s also going after two new growth opportunities. The first, called Booster, is a platform designed to help users raise money for charities, causes and other projects. Booster users will sell custom T-shirts to other supporters, with proceeds from the sale going to the cause they choose.
CustomInk is also working on a sponsorship platform called PearUp that will enable brands to back various groups and occasions. Imagine, for instance, if brands had the opportunity to sponsor the custom shirts worn by local sports teams or at various charity events.
In addition to the new business opportunities, CustomInk also plans to ramp up production and expand its core business. The company now employs 800 employees in three facilities across the U.S., with one in Northern Virginia, another in Charlottesville, Va., and a third in Reno, Nev. It has plans to expand all of those facilities over the coming months and to add a fourth office in Dallas.
Go here to read the rest: CustomInk Nabs $40 Million In Funding From Revolution Growth, Adds Ted Leonsis To Its Board
The technology press is abuzz this morning after Bloomberg published an article concerning what Nokia’s – and soon Microsoft’s again! – Stephen Elop would do to reform Microsoft should he be selected as its next CEO. He is widely tipped as a leading candidate for that role as he is set to return to Microsoft as an executive vice president once the sale of Nokia’s hardware business to the Redmond-based software giant is consummated.
The piece is interesting because it makes a number of claims concerning Elop’s plans for Microsoft that seem slightly odd. Elop, 49, is not an idiot, of course. But if this is his vision, and it could be, I don’t understand it.
Let’s examine the largest claims of his leaked, rumored, or invented vision for Microsoft, via Bloomberg’s unnamed sources that claim to know his thinking.
According to Bloomberg, Elop has a radical plan for Office:
[Elop] ould consider breaking with decades of tradition by focusing the company’s strategy around making the popular Office software programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint available on a broad variety of smartphones and tablets, including those made by Apple Inc. and Google Inc., said three people with knowledge of his thinking.
Tradition here strikes me as slightly tricky, as Microsoft has built Office for Mac for decades. Word for Mac came out in 1985, so the company clearly has a history of selling Office, or at least making it available, on rival platforms.
I think that smartphones and tablets are too new to have software traditions of their own, so to speak. But, granted, Office has been slower than some anticipated to land on tablets and smartphones. Let’s review where we are at the moment: Office for iOS exists, so if you are an Office 365 subscriber, you can Office all day on your iPhone, and according to the product page, iPad.
But you have to pay for that, so what about a free option? Microsoft has a free suite of Web apps called Office Web Apps that are, surprise, cross-platform. They are not quite good enough yet, and Microsoft knows it. In a piece detailing recent upgrades to Office Web Apps, journalist and general mensch Ed Bott pointed out that the apps
are relentlessly cross-platform [and] work on every popular browser in Windows, OS X, and iOS. (In a blog post announcing the changes, Microsoft says it’s “still on track to enable editing from Android tablets, so you can access Office files and tools from even more devices.” That change is due “in the next several months.”)
So, Microsoft is bringing free Office to all platforms, and paid versions likely as well, if you need something more heavy duty. The gist here is that Microsoft understands that the landscape for productivity applications is changing. I am not saying that Microsoft will succeed with its current plans. It may fail. But to say that bringing Office to other platforms is a radical departure from its current strategy doesn’t quite square with my understanding of the company’s current positioning.
Elop is said to be more than open to slicing off parts of Microsoft if they aren’t core:
Elop would be prepared to sell or shut down major businesses to sharpen the company’s focus, the people said. He would consider ending Microsoft’s costly effort to take on Google with its Bing search engine, and would also consider selling healthy businesses such as the Xbox game console if he determined they weren’t critical to the company’s strategy, the people said.
This is reasonable until you think about it. It is fair to say that any new CEO should review business units, and excise where sensible. However, you can’t extract Bing and Xbox from Microsoft, as you would a crouton from that damned salad you had at lunch. They are far more intertwined than that.
Xbox, for example, is now part of the Windows family. The Xbox One is partially run on the shared Windows core. This matters because Microsoft is working as fast as it can – not fast enough, in my view, but that’s a separate story – to unify its platforms. Once the Xbox One is released, Windows will span, as I have said time and again, from your smartphone (Windows Phone 8), to your tablet, laptop, and desktop (Windows 8.1), to your TV and finally projector (Xbox One).
This is not an accidental result. Microsoft has made two massive platform shifts in mobile and the living room to get here. Windows Phone 7.5 was essentially left in the dustbin of mobile history so that Microsoft could move Windows Phone 8 to the shared Windows core. Xbox 360 games are not compatible on the Xbox One, I think in part due to the radical changes that exist between it and the Xbox One.
All told, Microsoft’s work to create the largest, unified developer platform (not a PC on every desk, but Windows on every machine, form factor regardless) is not something that the company would, or should be willing to undo. Selling Xbox would be a blow to the strategy and harm Microsoft’s ability too woo developers long-term — a material impact.
Also Xbox is a massive success for Microsoft and is key to its current device (the console) and services (Xbox Live) strategy. To sell it off for a short-term financial gain would be, in my view, idiotic.
Bing. Oh, Bing. Bing loses money, so far as we can tell. Who else wants to buy the money-losing firewall to Google’s hegemony in search? Apple, perhaps, but why buy the weight that someone else is already carrying? Facebook can’t stomach its losses. And while Microsoft wishes Bing were profitable, it tolerates its deficits because as a company it cannot afford to cede the organization and searching of the world’s information to a rival; imagine Windows 8.1 without Bing. You can’t.
The simple idea that Bing can be hocked is to me a fantasy. Moving on.
Best for last:
Elop would probably move away from Microsoft’s strategy of using [Office] programs to drive demand for its flagship Windows operating system on personal computers and mobile devices, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the 49-year-old executive hasn’t finalized or publicly discussed his analysis of the business. [...]
Elop’s assumption is that Microsoft could create more value by maximizing sales of Office rather than by using it to prop up sales of Windows-based devices, said two of the people with knowledge of his thinking.
Windows revenue has been slipping, it is true, though not as much as was anticipated. Office is incredibly profitable and important for Microsoft. However, when it comes to the core of Microsoft, we’ve already established that instead of shifting away from Windows, Microsoft is currently in the process of re-betting its future on Windows.
If Elop thinks that maximizing short-term Office revenues at the expense of Windows is a good plan, that’s his business. I can’t imagine how he would accomplish that, however. If he cedes Office’s focus on Windows (which it does have, to be fair), and cuts its price and ships it on rival platforms, would that drive more revenue? Or if Elop merely intends to bring it to more platforms, the company is already doing that, at whatever implied cost to Windows. I’m not following this argument.
Microsoft, now focused on devices and services, wants to grow those components of its business. To say that it is going to sell off its most successful devices and services businesses is confusing.
Typically verbose Microsoft spokesperson Frank Shaw responded to the Bloomberg piece by saying “We appreciate Bloomberg’s foray into fiction and look forward to future episodes.” If Frank is right and the above points are not representative of Elop’s vision, he might make a fine CEO. If Bloomberg is correct in its portrayal of Elop’s views on how to grow Microsoft, I don’t see his selection as making much sense. It would undo much of what the company has spent recent years, and billions, to create.
Top Image Credit: Sam Churchill
View post: Elop Is Going To Do What Now?
You can now start placing your order for the gigantic Nokia Lumia 1520 on AT&T and the Microsoft Store, where it will retail for $199.99 with a two-year contract. The smartphone will be available exclusively on AT&T’s 4G LTE network from November 22.
A first for Windows Phone 8 with a (very large) 6-inch 1080p display, the Nokia Lumia 1520, unveiled in October, comes in four colors – matte black, matte yellow, matte white, and glossy red. It also packs a quad-core, 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor and a mighty 20-megapixel PureView camera. Off-contract, the phone is available for $749.
As an extra bit of goodwill for customers, AT&T is also offering a $20 app voucher, a free copy of Halo: Spartan Assault, and 50 GB of free cloud storage on AT&T Locker to those who buy and activate the phone, while the Microsoft Store is giving away $70 worth of app vouchers and a free copy of Halo: Spartan Assault.
➤ Preorders begin for the $199 Nokia Lumia 1520 on AT&T; Phones arrive Nov. 22 [Windows Phone Blog]
Headline image via Nokia
Go here to see the original: You can now preorder the Nokia Lumia 1520 on AT&T for $200, arriving November 22
Microsoft announced today that it is bringing together its Windows and Windows Phone developer programs. The commingling of both groups is a move by Microsoft to encourage developers to build for more than one of its supported device classes. It also represents another step in Microsoft’s effort to unify its platforms on top of a shared Windows core.
Microsoft now pitches Windows Phone and Windows as a package. The company has also combined the products’ marketing teams, likely helping to further unify their messaging and prevent crosstalk.
The Xbox One also leans on the shared Windows core. So, when that console is released, Windows will extend to your smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop and TV. Thus to see Microsoft bring together the Windows and Windows Phone developer groups is hardly surprising.
If you were a registered Windows Store developer, you can submit Windows Phone apps at no cost and vice versa. Microsoft has also lowered the price of registering to build for (now) both platforms. If you were already both a Windows Phone and Windows Store developer, Microsoft will give you a code for a free year-long renewal of your account.
The application ecosystem issue has long been the key issue holding Windows Phone back, and has become the largest issue with Windows 8.1, after Microsoft fixed a swath of usability plagues that made it frustrating to use Windows 8.
Therefore, Microsoft needs to eliminate all hurdles to building for its platforms. I noted above that the unification of the Windows and Windows Phone developer registration systems wasn’t surprising. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a smart move.
The introduction of the original Surface Pro pretty much came as a surprise to most people, and as such it was a bit of an unknown entity, at least in terms of expectations. Microsoft has a mixed bag of results when making hardware, ranging from the ever-popular XBox to the never-popular Kin, which went on sale for less than two months.
Second time around, however, we know better what to expect from Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 tablet and what it delivers one year on is minor hardware tweaks and a noticeable software upgrade. But is it enough to straddle the line between a full-blown laptop and a tablet successfully with retail pricing starting at $899 and going up to $1,799 (£720 – £1439 in the UK) for the higher capacity variants?
If you weren’t a fan of the original Surface Pro look away now, as the second iteration keeps a virtually identical design and overall chassis spec.
One of the notable upgrades is a change to using the newer fourth-generation Core i5 (Haswell) version of Intel’s 1.7GHz quad-core chip. In real terms, this means that you should get more use out of the Pro 2 before the battery is drained, and a little bump in the performance department.
Most hardware specs remain the same, but there has been an increase in RAM from 4GB to 8GB, although this only applies to the variants with 256GB/512GB of storage and not the smaller 64GB/128GB options.
One of the other most noticeable, and perhaps most needed, changes to the overall design of the device is that the kickstand will now lock into two different positions, rather than just one which made using the original Pro a bit awkward at times.
The overall dimensions of the Pro 2 measure up at 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 inches and it weighs in at a not inconsiderable 2 pounds (just under 1KG). Ultimately, at around the weight of a bag of sugar, it’s not prohibitively heavy but if you’re considering it as a tablet, it’s definitely heavier than average. Conversely, it’s within Ultrabook weight-range if you’re thinking of it as a laptop.
It keeps the same 10.6-inch ClearType 1920 x 1080 display as its predecessor and also has the same HD front-and-rear facing cameras for stills, videos and calls. Why anyone would use a 10.6-inch tablet as a camera, particularly on a tablet as weighty as this still confuses me a bit, but I can only assume some people like to as the option remains. Neither camera is particularly noteworthy in terms of quality, which is a bit of a shame as Microsoft has revamped its core camera app for Windows 8.1. That said, if all you really use the camera for is a bit of Skype calling now and again, the on-board forward-facing 720p option will be fine.
The display itself performs well, with crisp text and sharp images – it also feels pretty slick in use when pawing at it as a touchscreen. If you were looking for an improvement over the original though, you’ll be disappointed.
The Surface Pro 2 actually has quite a few input options, although sadly not in the ‘ports’ sense of the word as all you’ll find there is one USB 3.0 slot, a microSD slot and and Mini DisplayPort for connecting to an external monitor.
Rather, there are lots of options for controlling the device, whether that’s using the screen, the included Pen stylus for precision control or for handwriting, or one of the various available keyboards with included touch pad.
As before, the tablet itself docks with a variety of keyboards – although we only got to test out the new Touch Cover 2, which is now backlit and has a whole lot more sensors to support gesture control. Ultimately, while I like the convenience and (lack of) weight in using the Touch Cover 2, it still takes some getting used to there being no physical travel at all in the keys, they’re all flat. The addition of back-lighting to the Touch and Type Cover keyboards is a practical touch as well as an aesthetic one as it makes it easier to use in the dark and one that I fully approve of. Who isn’t a sucker for a backlit keyboard?
In testing, typing was plenty swift enough with a little practice, but I definitely made more errors (yes, than usual). In contrast, I rarely used the touch pad and instead found myself instinctively reaching to prod the screen, rather than navigate with a mouse. The new Touch Cover keyboard now also has a host of new sensors so you can also control the cursor simply by swiping left or right across the top of the keyboard. In reality, it wasn’t a feature I used much, though it worked, mostly. With more precise and quicker ways of achieving the same job, it’s a flourish I didn’t need.
Battery life is an area that Microsoft failed to give hard figures for when the Surface Pro 2 was announced, claiming instead that it would deliver an “up to 75 percent” boost.
As with all smartphones, laptops, tablets and anything similar, the settings and programmes you have running will greatly affect your battery life. If you want to conserve it, turn down the screen brightness and turn off anything you’re not using, like Bluetooth or WiFi – alternatively set-up a low-power mode to dial back the processor too. In our testing with standard settings enabled (indoors, mixed use – browsing, watching videos, writing, listening to music etc – Bluetooth and WiFi switched on) we got around six hours pretty much constant usage out of it before getting the ‘you really should plug it in now’ low-battery warning. About one-third of that was streaming HD content, while the rest was general usage with Spotify and a few other things running in the background.
As I said, exactly how long the battery will last isn’t an exact science, it really does depend on your usage and settings; I like the screen reasonably bright. Naturally, the claimed standby life of the Pro 2 is far longer (“7 – 15 days idle time”!) but we only had it for a short while, so couldn’t attest to that.
With so much of the Pro 2′s hardware remaining unchanged – at least externally – it’s hard not to think that perhaps it could have been refined a little more for its second-generation outing, that’s not to say it looks aged, but it’s definitely on the chunky side if you’re considering it primarily as a tablet.
While Microsoft only made small tweaks to the Pro 2′s hardware, it put significant effort into Windows 8.1 – the first major update of its newest OS.
Released in its final form last week, Windows 8.1 brings a host of new features and some significant updates to the core apps and even though we brought you a full review of the OS, we’ll hit on some of the highlights here.
One of the most important (for some people, at least) changes between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 sees a return of the Start button on the desktop view, although it does just throw you across into the Windows 8 Start screen. In order to quell some of the criticism that Windows 8 has a ‘split-personality’ as a result of its dual UIs. For example, you can now set your background to stretch across both the desktop and Windows 8 UI view which makes quickly and frequently switching between the two spaces far less jarring.
The Start screen is now easier to customize too (and yes, you can choose to boot to desktop, if you wish), with support for new color schemes and different sized Live Tiles. You’ll also now find all your installed apps just a swipe away from the Start screen, by swiping down, shown above.
However, much more importantly than that (to me) is the new and improved multi-tasking. One of my biggest complaints of the first Surface Pro, and indeed Windows 8, was that you could only ‘snap’ two windows side-by-side, and only in a pre-sized way. Now, you’re free to resize either application however you’d like and it will support up to four running on the same screen if your display is big enough. Alas, the Surface 2 Pro’s is not but it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re connecting up to an external monitor.
Better than that, you can now multi-task with the desktop on one side and a Windows 8 app (shown above) on the other too.
Search has also been radically changed for Windows 8.1 and now integrates Bing results directly with local on-device hits. The end result for some searches (shown above, a search for ‘Quentin Tarantino’) is pretty impressive.
As these aren’t features specific to the Surface Pro 2, we won’t dwell too long here, but it’s good to see Microsoft bringing some visual coherence to its core offering, which ultimately provides a slicker experience, provided it can convince people to use them in the first place.
Naturally, as it’s the full version of Windows 8.1, there’s also support for desktop apps.
In reality, with such similar hardware, the overall experience of the Pro 2 is much the same as the original. However, it’s worth calling out that the combination of a newer generation processor and a bump in RAM (we tested an 8GB RAM-equipped model) meant that the whole experience was just a little bit smoother, and certainly a lot swifter to use in our testing. It’s not going to replace your main desktop machine as a video editor or for other heavy-duty tasks if that’s most of your workload, but it’s perfectly capable of carrying out multiple everyday tasks simultaneously and being used as a laptop stand-in.
However, while mostly a capable machine, my 24 hours using the Surface Pro 2 wasn’t without problems. None were major, but I’d prefer not to have it switch off and reboot within half an hour of receiving it with no warning whatsoever, and no explanation after the fact. On one other occasion, I was left with little choice but to hold the power button down to force a reboot as it was clearly struggling and became unresponsive.
One thing I was glad to see included was the additional viewing angle from that tweaked kickstand. Now, the Pro 2 is far easier to use when up close on a lap, like a laptop, as well as when it’s on a table or a desk. That’s a pretty essential requirement for a device claiming to be the best of the tablet and laptop worlds in one package, and I’m surprised it wasn’t an option on the original.
The digitizer Pen input was a useful addition when using the Pro 2 at max resolution in the desktop UI mode for carrying out more intricate operations, like navigating sub-menus. It simply clips on and is held in place magnetically where you plug the charger in.
If a stylus isn’t your style, there’s always the touch pad built into the Touch Cover 2 for more fiddly tasks. Thankfully connecting the keyboard is easy enough. It simply snaps into place and is locked in by magnets.
While it might sound like a bit of a flimsy connection, it actually makes for a pretty good overall experience – balancing portability with robustness and interoperability.
However, put simply, the touch pad sometimes just plainly refused to work. The rest of the keys were all fine and operational, but at least two or three times in 24 hours the touch pad just stopped working altogether. In honesty, I’m not sure if rebooting the device or disconnecting and reconnecting the cover fixed the issue, or it simply resolved itself each time.
As an unintended aside to my short time with the Pro 2, I also accidentally dropped it from about desk height onto a wooden floor – sorry, Microsoft! Thankfully, or this would have been a very short review indeed, it carried on without missing a beat. I’m not recommending a drop test of your own, though.
The Surface Pro 2 wants to be everything to you. It wants to be your tablet, and it wants to be your every day laptop too. But it’s far more convincing at one of those things than the other.
I want my tablet to be light, to be convenient and easy to use for maybe just a few minutes at a time, or maybe a few hours. The problem with the Surface Pro 2 is that it doesn’t do very well in real life at these things. For example, it rarely, if ever occurred to me to use the Pro 2 in portrait mode – something I’d regularly do with other tablets. What if you’re just browsing the internet, who wants to do that with a 1KG weight in their hands? Or hand, depending on which keyboard configuration you’re using.
The flip side of that, however, is that 1KG is pretty light for a laptop. It’s pretty light for use on your lap, or to carry in your bag. And with a full version of Windows 8.1 and all the desktop/legacy goodness that brings, the Pro 2 is accomplished enough to be my workaday laptop, but then I’m not a big gamer and don’t do a lot of video editing.
Whether the Pro 2 represents good value for money or not depends on what you’re considering as its primary function. If you’re thinking of spending up to $1,700 for its tablet capabilities, you should probably look elsewhere. If however you’re looking at the base $900 model as a moderately well-specced laptop replacement, then the Pro 2 represents a very portable and premium-feeling piece hardware for the price-point.
In attempting to straddle both device categories, the Pro 2 makes compromises on weight and additional hardware (notably, ports – one USB 3.0 is a little lacking if considering it as a laptop replacement) support, though . While I can overlook the latter, or at least work around it, the Surface Pro 2 does less well at convincing me it should be my go-to tablet. It’s just too damn chunky for that.
Yesterday there were reports that Line, a messaging company that has gained strong traction in Japan and other parts of Asia, is planning an IPO at a rumored valuation of $28 billion. That figure certainly surprised a lot of people, in particular us at TNW who believe it to be somewhat inflated, but it isn’t as crazy as you might think.
First, here are some core facts about Line and its two-year-old business:
Most of the surprise around Line’s valuation is because it is ‘just a messaging company.’
Well, that’s not exactly true.
While rival services like WhatsApp are designed to replace or enhance SMS, Line’s ambition runs a lot deeper. It is really a mobile-first version of Facebook and, as we said way back last summer, it is among the messaging apps that are providing stiff competition for Facebook in Asia.
But there’s more — Line is really a content and communications platform on mobile.
Already it acts as a network for distributing games, digital content and there are plans to introduce e-commerce, music and perhaps other services in the future. The company also makes money by charging companies to use its network to communicate advertising and marketing messages to users that opt-in to receive them.
Then there’s Line’s growing offline commerce business, which has made $40 million in revenue to date, primarily from Japan. The company has Angry Birds-like characters, which — aside from starring on its sticker packs and in ad campaigns — are fronting cartoons and available as plush toys and other merchandising.
The way that I see Line’s potential is very much in the same way that analysts look at private car hire company Uber.
With its fast-growing network of drivers, Uber is a business that could expand to offer physical goods, delivery, and pretty much any service that can benefit from its distribution capacity.
In that same way, Line’s position as a core app on millions of people’s smartphones makes it a platform that could deliver any kind of digital good or service to a large audience of users.
If Facebook is worth $120 billion in today’s market, Line theoretically has a multi-billion dollar business on its hands — but making it real isn’t easy. The real question is whether Line can scale successfully out of its few strongholds and build robust networks of users in other countries.
While that thought percolates, enjoy this Line and Hello Kitty video from Japan. (You’re welcome.)
Read more here: How can a mobile messaging service be worth $28 billion?