An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...
Huawei Says It Will Stick With Windows Phone
One of the big questions in the wake of Microsoft's announcement to purchase Nokia was whether Microsoft's other Windows Phone partners—HTC, Huawei, and Samsung—would walk away from the platform in retaliation. But Huawei, which is a giant in its native China and the most recent Windows Phone partner, says that isn't happening. "We will continue to develop devices running Windows Phone, and launch more products," Huawei executive Richard Ren told the Wall Street Journal. "We remain one of Microsoft’s strategic partners." Just not one of Microsoft's most strategic partners, I guess. Of course, Huawei understands its place in the world, and most of the company's products run Android anyway. It's nice to have a second option.
EU Will Decide On New Google Settlement Proposal in "Weeks"
If you've been following this case with bated breath, you know by now that nothing happens quickly in Europe. Well, except for those four-week vacations, I guess. The European Union (EU) started its investigation of Google's rampant antitrust abuses in November 2010 and early this year gave the firm a curious ultimatum: settle or be found to have violated the EU's antitrust laws and face fines and behavioral punishments. Since then, it has basically done nothing, giving Google ever-more-lengthy periods of time to submit ineffective proposals to settle the case. Months, years have gone by. There are threats—"Time is running fast," Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said months ago when such a thing seemed remotely plausible—and then silence. My guess? This stretches into 2014.
Microsoft Invents Siri
In 2001, Microsoft released a little game called Halo that included an artificial intelligence companion named Cortana who helped the protagonist, Master Chief, solve some puzzles and otherwise get through the single-player mission. Over the course of a decade and several games, Cortana became more and more lifelike—and, in the most recent game, sort of comically sexy with a new hairdo and look—and more central to the storyline. So it's only natural that Microsoft is now planning to release a real AI companion, code-named Cortana, which will perhaps one day help users in the real world as they, um, search for things online and complete their own real-life missions. Put another way, yes, Microsoft has just invented Siri. Or reinvented Siri. Or something. Coming to future versions of Windows Phone, Windows, and the Xbox One, Cortana currently doesn't visually resemble the suddenly buxom Halo version of Cortana. But you have to think that will be an option, too. Maybe it could be a Clippy-like avatar! You can find out more in Mary Jo Foley's post, 'Cortana': More on Microsoft's next-generation personal assistant.
Jessica Alba Caught Using an iPhone
Why is this a big deal? Because Jessica Alba is a paid spokesperson for—and alleged convert to—Windows Phone. In what can only be described as the biggest tech industry soap opera since BlackBerry celebrity spokesperson Alicia Keys was also caught using an iPhone (yes, this is as juicy as it gets around here), Ms. Alba was spotted using an iPhone at Fashion Week in New York because, you know, that's what celebrities do. Or something. All I have to say about this is that I complained quite vocally when Microsoft carted out this borderline talent last year. And this is what the company deserves for doing so.
New iPhones Defy Market Realities, Logic
You gotta give Apple some credit for Thinking Different (sic). This company was widely expected to announce a cheaper new iPhone this past week that would ease its market-share problems in places like China and emerging markets. But it responded by releasing a phone, the iPhone 5c, that actually retails for an astonishing $550, not the $300 or so most analysts expected. No problem, I thought: That's just the pricing for established markets. Surely Apple will price the devices differently in places like China. And I was right, sort of. Turns out the iPhone 5C will start at an incredible $700 or more in China, well above the price in other markets and well beyond the reach of consumers there. So what is Apple Thinking? I can't tell you. It's just Different.
Microsoft by the Real Numbers: Xbox Is Once Again the King of S#!t
For the thirty-second month in a row, the Xbox 360 was the number-one selling video game console in August, a fact Microsoft keeps touting without mentioning that the size of that market has been shrinking steadily during that same time period. The firm sold 96,000 Xbox 360 consoles in the United States in the month, more than any other video game console, Microsoft notes. But it doesn't note that it sold nearly 100,000 more consoles in the United States in the same month a year earlier (193,000), or that it sold 308,000 Xbox 360s two years ago in August 2011. Because, you know, those numbers make this year look bad. This downward spiral explains why both Microsoft and Sony are releasing next-gen consoles this year. But someone needs to keep these guys honest. (Read here about the forthcoming Xbox One.)
That Said ...
August was in fact notable for one reason, from a video game market perspective. For the first time in almost two years, overall video game sales improved in August when compared to the same month a year ago. As noted above, the (very slight) increase didn't help console sales, which were down big time. How slight was the increase? 1 percent. But it was still an increase. Must be all those PC games. OK, just kidding. But this kind of bump right before a major console launch is probably unusual, and analysts now expect overall video game sales to rise next year by 6.4 percent to $27.62 billion. After years of downward trends, that's a good sign.
But Wait, There's More
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