All posts in “Microsoft”

Download this: Microsoft’s new app makes photo transfers much easier

Microsoft's Photos Companion app makes it easier to get your photos from your phone to your PC.
Microsoft’s Photos Companion app makes it easier to get your photos from your phone to your PC.

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If you use a PC, then you know that transferring files between your phone and your computer can be a huge pain. Well, Microsoft finally has a solution.

A new app called Photos Companion lets you move photos between your phone and PC using a wireless connection. Think of it as a bit like Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s AirDrop, except it works with both iOS and Android devices. 

Get started by scanning a QR code from the Photos app in Windows 10 — this links your phone and PC, provided they are both connected to the same Wi-Fi network. After you scan the code, you’ll be able to transfer your photos to your computer.

Image: microsoft

Image: microsoft

A project from Microsoft’s Garage, the company says it designed the service with students in mind, since it’s common for groups of students to begin projects on mobile devices and finish them on a shared classroom computer. 

But the app also helps solve what has long been one of Windows’ biggest pain points: It’s just not that easy to move photos from your phone onto your computer. The new app is still not quite as seamless as AirDrop, but considering it works with iPhones and Android devices, it’s far simpler than most other solutions.

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Microsoft revamps its startup programs with $500M commitment and new co-selling program


Over the last few years, Microsoft has launched a number of programs for startups that range from free BizSpark credits for Azure and Microsoft’s developer and productivity tools, to Microsoft Ventures and the Microsoft Accelerator programs around the world. These different programs never quite told a cohesive story about Microsoft’s commitment to startups, though. Now, however, the company is launching Microsoft for Startups, a program that aims to bring technology and marketing expertise to startups and that — maybe most importantly — includes a co-selling program that allows startups to piggyback on Microsoft’s existing sales force.

In addition, Microsoft is tweaking some of its existing programs to better support the startups in its ecosystem.

In total, Microsoft is committing $500 million over the course of the next two years to run joint sales engagements and offer to startups access to technology and community spaces.

But let’s get the bad news out of the way first: The number of credits for startups in the BizSpark and BizSpark Plus program will go down (though not for startups currently enrolled in these programs). Microsoft argues that this isn’t a big deal, though, and that its free offerings are still competitive with those of its rivals.

Charlotte Yarkoni, Microsoft’s corporate VP of growth and ecosystem, told me that she spent quite a bit of time with startups in and outside of the Microsoft ecosystem after she took this new role about a year ago. What she heard wasn’t that startups wanted more free credits — instead, they wanted more help from Microsoft to bring their products to market.

At the same time, Microsoft was also looking for ways to differentiate its startup programs from those of its competitors. “We started building around this concept of helping to broaden the reach for startups and go beyond the typical cloud credits to how we build a different program,” said Yarkoni. “How can we evolve our accelerator program and pull that forward and also think through how we can build more of a campus and neighborhood feel.”

The result of this is Microsoft for Startups, which includes a number of different components. The first is an expansion of the Microsoft Reactors project. These are physical spaces where entrepreneurs, developers, investors and others can meet and where Microsoft hosts a number of different social events and classes. Microsoft currently operates these in Redman, Seattle, San Francisco and New York. It’s now looking to open new ones in London, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Shanghai and Beijing, and Yarkoni tells me that it may move its existing Reactors to larger spaces as their leases come up.

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Microsoft Ventures, the company’s vehicle for investing in startups at the Series A to D stage, won’t see any major changes. “Ventures continues to expand and is run by a team that is very focused on our near-, mid- and long-term horizon needs,” Yarkoni said. “That program continues on as it is.”

The largest change will come to the Microsoft Accelerators program. This program is now called Microsoft ScaleUp, and for those startups that qualify for it, this program will now include the option of co-marketing and co-selling through Microsoft’s sales force.

“We tried to build a way to plug our startups into our sales engine,” Yarkoni said. Startups will get all the usual accelerator benefits, including access to Microsoft’s technology and expertise, but in addition, Microsoft is training and incentivizing its own sellers to sell these startups’ tools to its customers. These startups do need to be ready for this, of course, and for the most part, we are talking about B2B startups here that target the enterprise market.

One of the first companies in this program, which Microsoft has been quietly testing for a few months now, is the marketing intelligence platform Affinio. Affinio CEO Tim Burke, whose company went through the Microsoft Accelerator program in Seattle in 2016, told me that Microsoft is not just giving his company a clear playbook to follow, but also providing help with creating collateral like content, case studies and video content. He also stressed that Microsoft didn’t just give him a checklist to follow but that he had plenty of check-ins and meetings with Microsoft to push this ahead. “The unique thing with this is that Microsoft has this down to a science — all the way down to the playbook,” Burke said. He also stressed that he has seen a shift in how Microsoft approaches startups. “You can see and feel the shift,” he told me. “It’s amazing how the organization as a whole has bought in. Everybody knows the goal and direction.”

Affinio, which mostly targets larger enterprises, has already made a sale through this program, with 20 more in the pipeline. The plan is to push more than 100 sales opportunities into this system by the end of the quarter.

This is obviously exactly the success story that Yarkoni is talking about. It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t Microsoft’s first foray into cross-selling third-party products. It also recently launched a somewhat similar program for ISVs, and it’s taking its lessons from this to Microsoft for Startups.

Just as important as this new project, though, is the overall revamp of Microsoft’s startup programs. Instead of the somewhat scattershot approach it adopted a few years ago, it looks like Yarkoni plans to make this program into a more cohesive project that gives startups more incentives to work with Microsoft (and potentially Azure, Teams, Visual Studio and its other tools) at an early stage.

For the longest time, startups have also been somewhat wary of working with Microsoft, which wasn’t always known as being the easiest company to work with. At the same time, competitors like Google have been expanding their work with startups through similar accelerator programs. A bit of competition here is surely going to help founders in the long run.

PUBG takes the Chicken Dinner with 4 million players on Xbox alone


People like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the game where you basically re-enact a version of Battle Royale with you as one of the contestants in the human survival game. It had huge success in alpha prior to its full launch on PC, and now we know that console gamers also love the heck out of it – despite reports of buggy experiences with the Xbox One version.

Bugs aside, Xbox One’s PUBG player community now exceeds four million people. That’s a really big number, especially considering that PUBG for Xbox One only came out last month, and that the total number of console sales to date for the Xbox One is somewhere around 30 million based on current estimates.

If you read this because you don’t know what the heck ‘PUBG’ is, then now is the time to find out: Microsoft just pushed an update for the game with a bunch of bug fixes and content additions, and it’s giving people who buy the game before the end of this month bonus in-game credits to dress up your character.

The pole-dancing robots of CES 2018: An eyewitness report

On Monday, the world’s largest strip club — Sapphire Gentleman’s Club — became something else: The most subversive art show in Las Vegas.

All week, in Vegas, the Consumer Electronics Show takes over the city. CES is the biggest tech trade show of the year — a veritable debutante ball for electronics brands, and whatever they’re rolling out to the public (and the press) that year. And yet, this massive mecca of stripping located just off the Las Vegas Strip had somehow become the site of one of the most widelycovered events at this year’s CES:

Two pole-dancing robots. 

So, of course, we had to go check it out. 

When we showed up at Sapphire, we couldn’t hide our extreme disappointment. The robot strippers had been banished to the long, dimly lit entryway of the club — not, say, the main stage (as we’d been promised over the phone). We’d been duped. And yet, there was a silver lining around our weird adventure to Sammy Davis Jr. Drive — where Sapphire can be found, a road that runs just parallel to (and right in the shadow of) the massive casinos that light the Vegas sky.

Image: mashable / bridget bennett

At face-value, the robot strippers weren’t much more than a great way to demonstrate how the long tradition of chauvinism at CES isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon (to say nothing of the way that CES initially didn’t feature any women in its keynote speakers lineup this year, until heavy backlash prompted a turnaround). 

But that also goes without pointing out a crucial detail about these sexless, gyrating androids.

The robots were originally created by British artist Giles Walker for a project called Peepshow, as a commentary on the increasing reach of the surveillance state, and to challenge notions about the voyeurism of government-controlled security cameras. The artist explained that he created them as a response to “mechanical Peeping Toms,” or CCTVs, being placed around Britain back in 2010 when the robots were constructed.

Image: mashable / bridget bennett

And yeah, sure: They were robot strippers. They looked ridiculous. Like something out of a Disney World Tomorrowland ride gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Two robots with cameras for heads, gyrating on stripper poles, as one of the most covered spectacles at CES? There’s poetry to that.

But they also represented the harshest critique of CES yet — one sharper than any blog post, fire tweet, or scorching hot take could mount. They call into question the increasingly invasive, perverse reach technology (and its corporate architects) keep taking in our lives. 

It’s been one of the few moments of CES that’s not fawning news coverage by wormy journalists taking selfies with interview subjects (and the products those subjects have made). Even though the artwork was inspired by the British surveillance state, it’s a pretty convenient criticism of the increasingly invasive nature of corporate tech.

Large corporations regularly abuse users’ trust. When we use our favorite gadgets and services, the companies that make them are surveilling our every move, collecting data. Whether you realize it or not, someone is always watching you — and potentially eavesdropping. And two robots with cameras for heads, gyrating on stripper poles, as one of the most covered spectacles at CES? There’s poetry to that.

Image: mashable / bridget bennett

Because if people remember CES 2018 for anything that distinguishes it from the conventions of years past, it’ll be for the way big companies got bigger, as they went around announcing partnerships, almost as if on trend.

These partnerships, of course, are designed to only further the increasing reach and scope of multinational conglomerates. They want more — more of your money, more of your data, more influence on your daily life, and the way you go about it.

And if artificial intelligence is, as this year’s CES would have you believe, the not-at-all-far-off future, it means that Google and Amazon and Apple are gonna try to put AI in literally everything, everywhere: Your car, your home, your office, your kitchen, your bathroom, and your bedroom.

Image: mashable / bridget bennett

If CES is a celebration of the year’s biggest technology trends, consider the counterculture at Sapphire. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But it still gives us a reason to remind ourselves (and you) that tech companies are coming for your data, and will begin logging your daily behavior in a way that never seemed imaginable just a few years ago. And they’re doing a great job at distracting you as they do it.

Google, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft, Intel, and so many others are vying to create elaborate profiles of your preferences, habits, and real-world behaviors to sell you more things. While we embrace so many of these new advancements — willingly, or latently, out of convenience — it’s important to remember that companies are logging everything: your searches, locations, online browsing patterns, and much more. Including your fantasies. 

The future is here, and it’s always watching. Keep your eyes up here.

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A look back at the year that the Sub-Saharan African startup scene found its stride


African tech in 2017 was about the normalization of market events mostly absent even a decade ago. There were acquisitions, multiple investment rounds, lots of expansion, big strategic partnerships and some surprise failures.

Africa is fast becoming home to a dynamic tech sector. Here’s a snapshot of the news that shaped that transition over the last year.

Investment

Andela’s $40 million VC raise in October was one of the continent’s most notable. The technology training and job placement firm received Series C funding from CRE Venture Capital, DBL Partners, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Salesforce Ventures, among others.

Andela said it would use the funds for continued expansion. The coding accelerator marked three years in May by adding a Uganda office to locations in New York, Nigeria and Kenya.

New investment also helped moved Africa’s startup boom into the used autos space. In May, Nigeria-based Cars45.com raised a $5 million Series A round from the Frontier Cars Group to better connect used-car sellers to digital price quotes, first-time online service histories and offers.

2017 fintech funding went to Nigerian startups Flutterwave ($10 million) and Lidya ($1.25 million).  In digital solar, Kenya’s PayGo Energy raised $1.4 million.

Agtech startup Farmcrowdy received $1 million from investors including Techstars Ventures and Cox Enterprises to bring Nigerian farmers online.

In April, South African media and technology giant Naspers made a $70 million (majority stake) investment in Cape Town-based e-commerce company Takealot.

South African digital cleaning startup Sweep South concluded a Series A Round backed by, among others, DJ Black Coffee.

Several new African tech funding initiatives emerged in 2017. GSMA’s Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund made seven of its first nine global investments in African startups.

Lagos, London and Nairobi-based TLcom Capital raised $40 million for its new growth-stage Tide Africa Fund. In April, The World Bank launched its XL Africa accelerator to support Sub-Saharan African startups with business mentoring and up to $1.5 million in early-stage capital.

In October, U.S.-based private equity firm TPG Growth raised $2 billion for The Rise Fund, founded by TPG CEO Bill McGlashan with Bono’s support.

In perhaps a sign of things to come, Africa also registered some significant outward tech investment. In September, Naspers added $795 million to its holdings in Berlin-based food delivery company Delivery Hero.

Products, Partnerships, Expansion

African tech saw a number new products and platforms launch in 2017. In January, MasterCard’s 2Kuze — an agtech app connecting small-plot farmers to markets, payments and logistics services — went live in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Africa’s first unicorn, e-commerce venture Jumia, introduced an SME lending program. Safaricom ― Kenya’s largest telecom and M-Pesa mobile money provider ― went live with its Masoko e-commerce platform in November.

Earlier in March, Kenyan communications hardware company BRCK unveiled its SupaBRCK — a waterproof, solar-powered Wi-Fi box that operates as a 3G hotspot and off-grid server.

Africa also registered on the blockchain bandwagon. Earlier this month, 500 Startups-backed SureRemit launched a crypto token product aimed at disrupting Africa’s multi-billion-dollar remittance market.

On expansion and partnerships, Facebook was very active on the continent in 2017. FB announced its Africa Bots for Messenger Challenge in February, detailed plans to boost free Wi-Fi on the continent in April and teamed up with MainOne and Tizeti Network to improve Nigeria’s net connectivity in November. The company partnered with TechCrunch in October for the debut Startup Battlefield Africa and with CcHub to launch Nigeria’s NG_Hub accelerator.

Other big Silicon Valley names also registered in Africa in 2017. Microsoft announced the opening of Cloud Form data centers in May and a partnership with Liquid Telecom in August to accelerate cloud adoption in Africa.

Off of CEO Sundar Pichai’s July Nigeria trip, Google announced plans to train 10 million Africans in digital skills, increase funding to African startups and provide $20 million in grants to digital non-profits and modified versions of products (such as YouTube) in Africa. Google for Entrepreneurs also supported CcHub’s European PitchDrive tour in August.

The same month, eBay expanded its partnership with MallforAfrica.com to allow African vendors to sell wares directly to American online consumers.

On accelerators and capacity building, 500 Startups brought its frontier and emerging markets travel series ― Geeks on a Plane ― to Africa for the first time in March. Airbus held its inaugural BizLab pitch event in Nairobi targeting African startups using UAVs, 3D printing, smart sensors and IoT. The MEST incubator got a new CEO, Aaron Fu, and scaled its presence to include programs in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire.

And in October, Safaricom launched its Safaricom Alpha innovation center in Nairobi, with a goal of leveraging the company’s commercial social network (i.e. M-Pesa) to connect people to new product solutions.

Contraction and closing up shop

Of course, no tech sector expands and grows all the time. In September, Y Combinator-backed French language VOD startup Afrostream shuttered, ending subscription services in 29 countries.

In November, Jumia e-commerce competitor Konga slashed 60 percent of its workforce and ended its pay on delivery service, reportedly to cut costs. It’s not clear if this is a sign of trouble or a realignment of business strategy, per Konga founder Sim Shagaya’s Medium post.

Acquisitions, IPOs

Exits and public offerings are still scant in Africa’s tech landscape. There was a notable acquisition in online real estate startup ToLet.com.ng’s purchase of Jumia House Nigeria from e-commerce unicorn Jumia in November. Africa’s much anticipated and much delayed IPO of fintech firm Interswitch is expected in 2019, according to Nigerian tech insiders — who offered TechCrunch perspective on other African ventures with listing potential.

Tech to power

African tech and politics collided on several occasions in 2017. In September, anti-government protests in Togo, and the use of social media to mobilize them, led to the president shutting down the internet for several days.

In a tech to power success story, Cameroon’s #BringBackOurInternet movement — developed by local IT activists — went global, forcing the country’s government to restore connectivity after switching it off in response to demonstrations that started in January.

Revenues and space

Big revenue news from African tech startups is still elusive, but Paga offered promising info in August. The Nigerian digital payments firm reported its first EBITDA positive quarter, after processing 31 million transactions worth some $1.3 billion since inception.

And in July, teams from Nigeria and Ghana launched satellites into space, with a little help from SpaceX and NASA — demonstrating the sky was not the limit for Africa’s scientists and techies in 2017.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

Featured Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls/NASA/Bill Ingalls