Kano, the kids-focused coding and hardware startup, inks deal with Microsoft, launches $300 Kano PC

Source: Microsoft more

Kano, the London-based startup that builds hardware designed to teach younger people about computing and coding, is taking a significant step forward in its growth strategy today. The startup has inked a partnership with Microsoft that sees Kano launching the Kano PC, a new 11.6-inch touch-enabled, Intel Atom-powered computer, its first to run Windows — Windows 10 S specifically. As part of the deal, Microsoft is also making an investment of an undisclosed amount in Kano.

The Kano PC is up for pre-order now at $299.99 and £299.99 on Kano.me and the Microsoft Store, to ship in October. It will also go on sale at selected retailers in the US, Canada, and the UK starting October 21, 2019.

The shift to building a Windows-powered device is a significant one for Kano.

The startup first made its name with a popular Kickstarter campaign based around a device built using Raspberry Pi, speaking to the DIY ethos that has shaped it over the last several years.

Alex Klein, Kano’s founder and CEO, said in an interview that while Kano will continue to support its Raspberry Pi-powered devices, it has yet to determine what its roadmap will be in terms of launching new hardware on this processor:

“The Raspberry Pi devices remain in the portfolio at good price points, but this machine is designed for a much broader age set. It’s a proper Windows PC” — Klein said, pointing to the Intel Atom x5-Z8350 Quad core 1.44 GHz processor, the 4GB of memory, and 64GB of storage — “and a powerful machine for the price point.”

While the Kano line up to now has largely been used and tracked by 6-13 year-olds, Klein describes the Kano PC as a “K-12 device,” acknowledging that “branding might take more time to unfold” to connect with the younger and older ends of that range.

It will be doing so with an army of software now supplied by way of its Microsoft partnership:

Make Art – Learn to code high-quality images in Coffeescript
Kano App – Make almost anything, including magic effects and adventurous worlds, with simple steps and programming fundamentals
Paint 3D – Make and share 3D models and send them out for printing
Minecraft: Education Edition – The award-winning creative game-based learning platform
Microsoft Teams – To get new projects and content, and share your work (Yes, Slack, now kids will be using Teams)
Live Tiles – Personalized projects on coding and creativity delivered directly to your dashboard

Up to now, Kano’s traction with a core group of users — younger kids who are interested in computers and coding, as well as parents who want to encourage their kids to be interested in these — has led to it launching a number of other accessories to work with its basic computers. It’s also launched a clever tech toy that plays to its demographic: last year, it launched a Harry Potter magic wand that you could build yourself, program and use. Klein hinted in the interview that we’re going to see more products of this kind coming soon from Kano.

The Microsoft deal will bring it a higher profile among a wider set of consumers beyond early adopters, and likely a new entry point into selling into educational environments, where Microsoft has been making a big push.

This is the second side of the deal that’s also interesting: Microsoft has a long history of selling software and hardware into educational environments and this — a different brand from the rest of the pack — will bring move diversity into the mix, with a brand designed specifically for younger people, rather than adult-focused brands that have been downsized in functionality (but possibly not in price) for children.

“We’re very excited to partner with Kano for the launch of the Kano PC. We align with Kano’s goal of making classroom experiences more inclusive for teachers and students, empowering them to build the future, not just imagine it,” said Anthony Salcito, VP of Education at Microsoft, in a statement.

Kano’s scrappy success up to now has also led to it raising some $50 million in funding from a list of backers that include Saul and Robin Klein (relatives of the founder Alex Klein), as well as Marc Benioff, Index Ventures, Breyer Capital, Troy Carter and a number of other investors. Klein said that it’s likely to be looking for another equity round in the near future, but declined to comment further on that.


Kano, the kids-focused coding and hardware startup, inks deal with Microsoft, launches 0 Kano PC

China to lose top spot to U.S. in 2019 gaming market

Source: Microsoft more

China is losing its global lead in games. By the end of 2019, the U.S. will replace China as the world’s largest gaming market with an estimated revenue of $36.9 billion, says a new report from research firm Newzoo.

This will mark the first time since 2015 that the U.S. will top the global gaming market, thanks to healthy domestic growth in consoles. Globally, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and other console games are on track to rise 13.4% in revenue this year. Driving the growth is the continued shift toward the games-as-a-service model, Newzoo points out, on top of a solid installed base across the current console generation and spending from new model releases.

China, on the other hand, suffered from a nine-month freeze on game licenses last year that significantly shrank the stream of new titles. Though applications have resumed, industry experts warn of a slower and stricter approval process that will continue to put the squeeze on new titles. Time limits imposed on underage players will also hurt earnings in the sector.

As a result of China’s slowdown, Asia-Pacific is no longer the fastest-growing region. Taking the crown is Latin America, which is enjoying a 10.4% compound annual growth.

Despite China’s licensing blackout, Tencent remained as the largest publicly-listed gaming firm in 2018, pocketing $19.73 billion in revenue. Growth slowed to 9% compared to 51% from 2016 to 2017 at Tencent’s gaming division, but the Shenzhen-based company is back on track with new blockbuster Game for Peace (????), a regulator-friendly version of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, ready to monetize.

Trailing behind Tencent in the global ranking is Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Activision Blizzard.

Other key trends of the year:

Rise of instant games: Mini games played inside WeChat without installing another app are becoming mainstream in China. These games, which tend to have strong social elements and easy to play, have attracted followers including Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) to create with their own offerings.

Facebook’s Instant Games have also come a long way since opening to outside developers in 2018. The platform now sees more than 30 billion game sessions played across over 7,000 titles. WeChat doesn’t use the same metrics but for some context, the Chinese company boasted 400 million monthly players on mini games as of January.

Mobile momentum carries on: Mobile games will continue to outpace growth on PC and console in the coming years. As expected, emerging markets that are mobile-first and mobile-only will drive most of the boom in mobile gaming, which is on course to account for almost half (49%) of the entire sector by 2022. Part of the growth is driven by improved hardware and internet infrastructure, as well as a growing number of cross-platform titles.

Games in the cloud are here: It was a distant dream just a few years ago — being able to play some of the most demanding titles regardless of what hardware one owns. But the technology is closer than ever to coming true with faster internet speed and the imminent rollout of 5G networks. A few giants have already showcased their cloud gaming services over the last few months, with the likes of Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Tencent’s Start slated to test the market.


China to lose top spot to U.S. in 2019 gaming market

Microsoft’s first data center regions in the Middle East are now generally available

Source: Microsoft more

Microsoft today announced that is first data center regions in the Middle East are now online. The data centers are located in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and will offer local access to the usual suite of services, including Azure’s cloud computing services and Office 365. Support for Dynamics 365 and Microsoft’s Power Platform will arrive later this year.

“In our experience, local datacenter infrastructure supports and stimulates economic
development for both customers and partners alike, enabling companies, governments and regulated industries to realize the benefits of the cloud for innovation and new projects, as well as bolstering the technology ecosystem that supports these projects,” Microsoft’s corporate VP Azure Global writes in today’s announcement. “We anticipate the cloud services delivered from UAE to have a positive impact on job creation, entrepreneurship and economic growth across the region.”

The company first announced these new regions last March. Back in 2017, Microsoft’s cloud rival, Amazon’s AWS, said it would offer a region in Bahrain in early 2019. This region is not online yet, but is still listed as ‘coming soon‘ on the service’s infrastructure map. Google currently has no data center presence in the Middle East and hasn’t announced any plans to change this.


Microsoft’s first data center regions in the Middle East are now generally available

Microsoft PowerPoint gets an AI presentation coach

Source: Microsoft more

Love it or hate it, Microsoft’s PowerPoint is a ubiquitous tool in the corporate world. Over the course of the last few years, Microsoft started to bring some of its AI smarts to PowerPoint to help you design good-looking slides. Today, it’s launching a number of updates and new features that make this even easier. Even the best-designed presentation isn’t going to have much of an impact if you’re not a good public speaker. That’s a skill that takes a lot of practice to master and to help you get better, Microsoft today also announced Presenter Coach for PowerPoint, a new AI tool that gives you feedback while you’re practicing your presentation in front of your computer.

Microsoft’s AI can’t tell you if your jokes will land, of course, but the new coaching feature gives you real-time feedback on your pacing, for example, tell you whether you are using inclusive language and how many filler words you use. It also makes sure that you don’t commit the greatest sin of presenting: just reading the slides.

After your rehearsal session, PowerPoint will show you a dashboard with a summary of your performance and what to focus on to improve your skills.

This feature will first come to PowerPoint on the web and then later to the Office 365 desktop version.

As for the visual design, Microsoft today added new features like Designer theme ideas, which automatically recommends photos, styles and colors are you write your presentation. This feature is now rolling out for Office 365 subscribers on Windows, Mac and on the web.

If you work in a large corporation, then chances are you have to use your brand’s house style. With Designer for branded templates, companies can now define their brand guidelines and logos so that Design Ideas takes these into account as PowerPoint suggests new designes. This feature is now rolling out to to Office 365 Insiders subscribers on Windows 10 and Mac.

No announcement is complete without some vanity metrics, of course, so today, Microsoft announced that PowerPoint users have now used Designer to create and keep 1 billion slides since it launched in 2016 (and surely, they created quite a few more but discarded them for various reasons). Hopefully, that means the world has seen fewer bad presentations in the last few years and with today’s launch of the new coaching features, maybe that means we have to hear fewer bad presentations soon, too.


Microsoft PowerPoint gets an AI presentation coach

Microsoft brings its To-Do app to Mac

Source: Microsoft more

Microsft in 2017 said it would shut eventually down Wunderlist, a company it acquired, in order to forge ahead with its own “to do” app. It has since launched To-Do, as the app is called, on Windows, iOS, Android and the web and expanded its feature set. Today, it’s bringing the app to the Mac, as well.

The company announced this morning its To-Do app is live on the Mac App Store, where it will support most of the core features right away, including the ability to create and manage tasks, works offline, share lists, utilize tags, and more. It will also integrate with Microsoft Outlook to pull in your “Flagged” email list and will support integration with Planner soon, allowing you to see any items assigned to you.

The Mac version also takes advantage of its new platform to offer a handful of keyboard shortcuts, like ?2 to minimize the app so it only displays the list view, and ?1 to return to viewing all your lists. You can click on a task’s text to edit it directly from the list view, as well. 

It’s worth noting that Microsoft built this native Mac app using 100 percent AppKit, it says.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference this month, the company announced a new set of tools — called Project Catalyst — that allow developers to bring their iPad apps to the Mac by leveraging their existing codebase. This is expected to bring more Mac apps to Apple’s Mac App Store over time, as it simplifies the process of maintaining multiple apps for various platforms. Twitter, for example, said on Friday that it would leverage Project Catalyst to bring its app back to the Mac.

Microsoft, however, went a different route.

A big question now is what today’s news will mean for Wunderlist — an app that has a near-perfect 4.9 out of 5 stars rating on the Mac App Store and the No. 21 most popular free app in the store’s Productivity category.

As of today’s launch, Microsoft To-Do has seen a surge of downloads and jumped ahead of its predecessor. It now claims the No. 11 spot in the same category (as of the time of writing).

Microsoft had earlier promised that it wouldn’t close down Wunderlist until it was confident that it has “incorporated the best of Wunderlist into To-Do.” Some of the company’s initial concerns were adding support for list sharing in To-Do and rolling out support for all platforms — which Microsoft has now done with this Mac app launch.

We’ve asked Microsoft if it will comment on its updated plans for Wunderlist and will update if the company has a response.

In the meantime, the new Mac version of To-Do is a free download from the Mac App Store here.


Microsoft brings its To-Do app to Mac

From Project Scarlett to Gooigi: The best of E3 2019

Source: Microsoft more

Every story about E3 has opened with a mention of Sony’s absence, and this one’s no different. The lack of one of gaming’s “big three” loomed large over the show, right down to a strange sense of space on the showroom floor.

Even Xbox chief Phil Spencer mourned the absence of the company’s biggest competitor, stating, “I wish Sony was here,” during a live stream.

But the show went on, as it has through countless ebbs and flows of the gaming industry. Sony’s clearly got plenty up its sleeve with regard to next-generation content, and frankly, no one’s too worried about their health.

Microsoft, meanwhile, came out swinging on Sunday. The company had a TON of games to reveal at the show, with dozens of trailers, all told. And while Microsoft did touch upon two key pieces of news, it ultimately ended up blowing through those announcements, with very little time devoted to either its next-generation 8K console, Project Scarlett, or its streaming service, Project xCloud.

In fact, we ultimately went back to Microsoft later in the week to clarify some things about the service and discovered in the process that console streaming will be free and not a part of the broader xCloud offering.

While Microsoft ultimately seemed cautious (or pressed for time) to go into either xCloud or Game Pass in too much detail onstage, streaming was unquestionably the biggest story of the show. That’s due in no small part to the fact that Google took a little wind out of E3’s sails by shedding more light on its Stadia offering during a surprise press conference last Friday.

On Tuesday, a Nintendo executive confirmed for me that the company is exploring streaming, but wasn’t able to comment on any specifics. Regardless, the writing is clearly on the wall here, and Nintendo has certainly taken notice. In the meantime, the company showed off its latest Animal Crossing title, a sneak peek of the next Zelda and the surprise hit of the show: A gooey Luigi called, naturally, Gooigi. Honestly though, I’m most excited about that Link’s Awakening remaster.

Square’s big event was fairly lackluster, though we did get a preview of the Uncanny (Valley) Avengers. Ubisoft had some cool demos on tap, including Watch Dogs: Legion and story mode for Assassin’s Creed. The publisher is also launching its own streaming service, with help from Google Stadia. Bethesda, meanwhile, is getting in on the battle royale phenomenon with a new mode for Fallout 76. Though the Fall Guys’ version is far more adorable.

There’s a Razer energy drink, Opera gaming browser, new George R.R. Martin game, Warcraft-meets-The-Office show from the It’s Always Sunny crew and a dance game for the Nintendo Wii. Not the Switch, not the Wii U, the Wii. Happy E3 2019!


From Project Scarlett to Gooigi: The best of E3 2019

Microsoft makes getting started with Java and VS Code easier

Source: Microsoft more

After only a few years, Microsoft’s free Visual Studio Code has become one of the most popular code editors on the market. One of VS Code’s advantages is its flexibility. This flexibility does come with some complexity when it comes to getting everything set up. Today, the company launched a new project that makes it significantly easier to get started with writing Java on VS Code.

Recently, a Microsoft spokesperson told us, the VS Code team noticed that it was still difficult for some developers, including students and novices programmers, to set up their Java development environments. Typically, this is a pretty involved process that includes installing a number of binaries and VS Code extensions.

To help these developers, Microsoft today launched an installer that handles all of this for them. It first looks at whether a JDK is already installed or not. If not, it’ll install a binary from AdoptOpenJDK (which Microsoft sponsors), install VS Code if needed and the Java Extension Pack. AdoptOpenJDK, which is essentially a vendor-neutral alternative to the Oracle JDK, is now Microsoft’s recommended Java distribution for users who install the VS Code Java extension.

Currently, the installer is only available for Windows, but the team plans to expand its availability once it sees interest by the community.


Microsoft makes getting started with Java and VS Code easier

Microsoft will offer console streaming for free to Xbox One owners

Source: Microsoft more

Microsoft’s Sunday E3 presser was all about the games. In fact, while the company did offer some information about hardware and services, the information all arrived fast and furious at the end of the conference. While it’s probably unsurprising that the company had very little to offer in the way of information about its upcoming 8K console, Project Scarlett, most of us expected Project xCloud to get a lot more face time onstage.

The company powered through a whole lot of information about its upcoming streaming offering like it was going out of style (or, perhaps, like the lights were going out at its own theater). The speed and brevity of it all left a number of audience members confused on the specifics — and caused some to speculate that the service night not be as far along as Microsoft had hoped.

We caught up with a few Microsoft reps on our final day at the show to answer some questions. The company is unsurprisingly still mum on a number of key details around the offering. A couple of key things are worth clarifying, though. For starters console stream is not considered a part of Project xCloud. Rather, the ability to play games on one’s own Xbox One remotely is a separate feature that will be coming to users via a software update.

Asked what advantages console streaming has over the parallel xCloud offering, Microsoft’s answer was simple: it’s free. Fair enough. This serves a two-fold purpose. First, it helps differentiate Microsoft’s streaming offerings from Stadia and, second, it provides another value proposition for the console itself. As to how performance is expected to differ between console streaming and XCloud, it wouldn’t comment.

As I wrote earlier today, the company does see the potential of a large-scale move to the cloud, but anticipates that such a shift is a long ways off. After all, if it didn’t, it likely wouldn’t have announced a new console this week at E3.


Microsoft will offer console streaming for free to Xbox One owners

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

Source: Microsoft more

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

RapidAPI nabs $25M led by Microsoft as its API marketplace cracks 10K APIs and 1M users

Source: Microsoft more

APIs — the lightweight programming interfaces used by developers to integrate other applications with theirs, or to help their apps integrate with others — have become an essential building block of our software-powered world, with a majority of organizations building and working with them and, by some estimates, upwards of 50,000 of them in circulation today.

Those numbers and popularity, however, can lead to a lot of fragmentation and disorganization in terms of discoverability. Now, one of the startups that’s building a marketplace to help fix these problems has raised funding to capitalise on the opportunity.

RapidAPI, which developers use to search for, pay and connect to public APIs, has closed a Series B round of $25 million.

CEO and co-founder Iddo Gino said in an interview that the startup plans to use the funding to continue both expanding the size of its marketplace and the kinds of tools that it provides to developers to engage with it.

Up first will be a new product aimed at developer groups, appropriately titled RapidAPI for Teams, which will help them not only manage their use of public APIs but also organise and use their own internal APIs and microservices. (The product will be free for up to five developers and charged at $10 per user per month thereafter for unlimited calls, Gino said.)

The funding comes at a time of decent growth for the startup. The company now counts 10,000 APIs in its marketplace, which it estimates covers 33% of all publicly available APIs globally (leaving lots of room still to grow); with developers using RapidAPI now standing at 1 million, who now collectively make 500 billion API calls each month from a wide variety of companies big and small, including Microsoft, SendGrid, Nexmo, Telesign, Google, Skyscanner  and Crunchbase (TC’s cousin).

Customers, meanwhile, include some of API providers along with other enterprises, including Cisco, Hyatt, SAP, Delta, and Reddit .

In addition to that we have 20,000 more APIs that are either stale (not used, mostly private) or are used by just one user in private mode so we don’t consider them in our count.

The stats RapidAPI is putting out today are all up on numbers it revealed to me last year, when I wrote about the startup’s Series A. (Then, it had 8,000 APIs, 500,000 developers and 400 billion calls.)

It now also has some 50 employees spread out between San Francisco, Tel Aviv and Ukraine.

The Series B — which brings the total raised by RapidAPI to around $38 million — is being led by M12, the VC arm of Microsoft, with DNS Capital and previous investors Andreessen Horowitz and Green Bay Capital also participating.

Microsoft’s involvement is strategic and notable: the company has long been building itself as the go-to platform for all things developer, a strategy that goes back years but more recently has extended to its big investment in its Azure cloud platform, as well as its acquisition of code repository GitHub, among many other moves. You can easily see how well something like RapidAPI could complement those existing tools.

“Responding to the torrid growth of the API economy, RapidAPI is changing the way businesses scale with APIs and microservices,” said Mony Hassid, General Manager and Managing Director at M12, in a statement. “We are excited about the potential for RapidAPI to enhance developers’ productivity, streamline duplicative work, and assist to combine API contracts.” Hassid also has now joined RapidAPIs board of directors.

From what we understand, Microsoft wasn’t the only strategic company that was eyeing an investment in RapidAPI in this round. But Iddo Gino, the company’s young founder, said in an interview that the terms of this deal were very clear and the company is very free to pursue partnerships with others, including Microsoft competitors.

Competitors are top of mind for RapidAPI in another regard, too. As you would imagine, the popularity of API usage — which extends not just to software but a number of hardware devices and IoT devices that the software powers — has led to a number of companies that are all going after the same business.

Companies like Zapier and IFTTT (also backed by Andreessen) provide directories of apps that can be connected together; and ProgrammableWeb also has offered a longstanding API directory, although Gino argues that it incorporates less of the tools that RapidAPI offers. He noted that he sees Manifold, which is a much larger cloud services marketplace, a more direct competitor.

The proliferation of tools for developers, and more specifically those aimed at helping developers work with APIs, will inevitably lead to more consolidation, with bigger fish swallowing up some of the minnows, or the minnows coming together for a stronger proposition to the market. RapidAPI has already been a beneficiary of that trend: it acquired Mashape in 2017, leading to a nice bump in its user numbers. And there could be more of that to come.

While RapidAPI has focused up to now on public APIs, the turn with teams to private APIs will open the door to a whole new set of services and use cases that speak to another kind of growth for the company. Citing a survey by Ping Identity, RapidAPI notes that 25% of companies typically use more than 1,000 internal APIs or microservices, while another 35% have 400–1,000 internal APIs. API days are here again, it seems.


RapidAPI nabs M led by Microsoft as its API marketplace cracks 10K APIs and 1M users