‘Battlefield V’ returns to WWII with ever-evolving multiplayer

Games in the Battlefield franchise have covered conflicts from the Vietnam War to a fictional future in 2142. Developer EA DICE took the series into new territory in 2016 with the well-received Battlefield 1, setting the game in the rarely touched Wo…

Next Xbox One update finally saves multiple WiFi passwords

Microsoft continues to chip away at software concerns with the Xbox One (work in progress indeed — can you even recognize the launch UI shown above?), and its latest Alpha test addresses two pain points that have existed practically from the start….

Microsoft acquires conversational AI startup Semantic Machines to help bots sound more lifelike

Microsoft announced today that it has acquired Semantic Machines, a Berkeley-based startup that wants to solve one of the biggest challenges in conversational AI: making chatbots sound more human and less like, well, bots.

In a blog post, Microsoft AI & Research chief technology officer David Ku wrote that “with the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces.”

According to Crunchbase, Semantic Machines was founded in 2014 and raised about $20.9 million in funding from investors including General Catalyst and Bain Capital Ventures.

In a 2016 profile, co-founder and chief scientist Dan Klein told TechCrunch that “today’s dialog technology is mostly orthogonal. You want a conversational system to be contextual so when you interpret a sentence things don’t stand in isolation.” By focusing on memory, Semantic Machines’ AI can produce conversations that not only answer or predict questions more accurately, but also flow naturally.

Instead of building its own consumer products, Semantic Machines focused on enterprise customers. This means it will fit in well with Microsoft’s conversational AI-based products, including Microsoft Cognitive Services and Azure Bot Service, which are used by one million and 300,000 developers, respectively, and virtual assistants Cortana and Xiaolce.

Revamped Xbox feedback program asks you to vote on ideas

Microsoft is shaking up the way it asks for your input on the future of gaming. The company has replaced Xbox Feedback with Xbox Ideas, a program with a narrower focus but (hopefully) more impact. It revolves around the concept of one- to three-mon…

The first major ‘Sea of Thieves’ DLC lands on May 29th

Swashbuckling pirate MMO Sea of Thieves will receive its first major update on May 29th. Microsoft's Xbox team made the announcement on Twitter with a short CGI trailer for 'The Hungering Deep' — the first of six free expected DLC packs. Of all the…

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.

The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.

It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.

I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.

I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.

Xbox Adaptive Controller first look: A new, necessary gamepad

Microsoft stumbled into the accessibility market about three years ago, with the launch of the Xbox One Elite controller. The Elite wasn't designed to help people with disabilities play video games — in fact, it was built for hardcore players who wa…

Microsoft Planning Low-Cost Surface Line to Compete With Apple’s $329 iPad

As Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface continue to compete in the tablet market, a new report out today by Bloomberg claims that Microsoft is planning its next tablet line to be lower-cost in an effort to attract people to Surface products who aren’t interested in the more expensive Surface Pro. The move is directly aimed at competing with Apple’s recently launched $329 iPad, and could see Microsoft debut the devices as soon as the second half of 2018.

According to people familiar with the company’s plans, the tablets will be priced at around $400, so they would still be more expensive than Apple’s cheapest options. They will be the first Surface devices to adopt USB-C and rounded edges “like an iPad,” instead of the square corners of the current devices. Storage tiers will include 64GB and 128GB, as well as LTE options, and the devices will feature 10-inch screens.

The Surface Pro


In an effort to make the tablets 20 percent lighter than the high-end $799 Surface Pro, Microsoft is believed to sacrifice battery life by as much as “four hours fewer” than the current generation (13.5 hours for Surface Pro). Not much is known about the insides of the upcoming tablets, but the people said that Intel will supply the main processor and graphics chips.

The devices will continue to have the kickstand for upright typing and video watching seen in current Surface models, and they will run Windows 10 Pro. Ultimately, the company is trying to enter the low-cost market again after previous attempts with the Surface RT in 2012 and the Surface 3 in 2015, which both started at $499 and performed poorly in comparison to the growing Surface Pro line.

Microsoft has struggled to find a high-volume hit with the Surface devices as well as to introduce a flow of new choices to keep growth steady. In the fiscal year that ended last June, Surface revenue declined 2 percent as the company faced lower volume sales owing to an aging Surface Pro line. Revenue rose 32 percent in the most recent quarter, indicating new interest in Microsoft’s hardware.

Apple sold about 44 million iPads that generated almost $20 billion in revenue during the past four quarters. Microsoft’s entire Surface hardware business produced $4.4 billion for the same period.

Microsoft is believed to be looking at Apple’s education-focused iPad launch from earlier in 2018, and the new Surface models “could likewise appeal to students and teachers,” as well as schools that look into buying cheap tablets in bulk. With the cheaper Surface, the company is planning low-cost updates to its keyboard cover, stylus, and mouse. Prices haven’t yet been pinpointed, but as a comparison the current keyboard cover runs for $160.

Apple’s low-cost iPad includes Apple Pencil support, an A10 Fusion chip with 64-bit desktop-class architecture, a Retina display, enhanced cameras, and advanced sensors with a gyroscope and accelerometer, which fuel powerful augmented reality apps through ARKit. Although the iPad is normally $329 for consumers when not on sale, Apple sells it at $299 to schools and says that the tablet was built for mobility and durability for students, sporting an aluminum unibody construction.

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