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It’s hardware season, and now it’s Microsoft’s turn to deliver the goods. The company will be holding its big Surface event bright and early tomorrow morning in New York. If past years’ events are any precedent (and they generally are), there’s going to be a lot of stuff shown off in the Big Apple this week.

This time last year, Microsoft introduced a new version of the Surface Pro, Laptop and Studio and adding over-ear headphones to the lineup. This time out, we’ve already seen a number of leaks that point to additional refreshes and a couple of big “surprises” (in as much as rumored products can truly be a surprise).

The Surface Pro and Laptop are both said to be getting refreshes this year. The Surface Pro 7 is getting a smattering of upgrades — likely the most underwhelming of the event, including a new Intel processor and a USB-C port, dragging it kicking and screaming in 2019. The Surface Laptop 3, meanwhile, gets two size options: a 13- and 15-inch inch model, along with, potentially, a new AMD processor.

As for fully new stuff, Microsoft is believed to finally be embracing the ARM for Windows 10 platform with its Surface line. Rumors have it launching an ARM-powered two-in-one at the event. Among the benefits are a smaller footprint and far improved battery life — both marked benefits for any portable.

The biggest reveal of the show, however, is expected to be the long awaited addition of a dual-screen Surface. A decade after abandoning Courier, Microsoft is expected to announced a new form factor for the line. The rumor, which includes a bespoke version of Windows 10 (the somewhat confusingly named Windows 10 X), also point to a potential launch for the device some time later this year.


TechCrunch

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the local telecom and features phone businesses in less than three years of its existence, is now ready to aggressively foray into many more businesses.

In a series of announcements, the subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house Reliance Industries today said it will commercially launch its fiber-optic broadband business next month, an IoT platform on January 1, 2020, and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months.

The broadband service, called Jio Giga Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium sized businesses, as well as enterprises, Mukhesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, said at a shareholders meeting Monday. The service, which will be available starting September 5, will offer free voice calls, high-speed internet and start at Rs 700 per month.

Continuing its tradition to woo users with significant offers, Jio said customers who opt for the yearly-plan of Giga Fiber will be provided with the set top box and an HD or 4K TV at no extra charge. A premium tier, which will be available next year, will allow customers to watch many movies on the day of their public release.

The Giga Fiber broadband service, which also offers access to TV channels, will bundle games from many popular studios including Microsoft Game Studios, Riot Games, Tencent Games, and Gameloft,

Partnership with Microsoft

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to leverage the Redmond giant’s Azure, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft AI platforms to launch new cloud datacenters in India to ensure “more of Jio’s customers can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a video appearance Monday.

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Core to this mission is deep partnerships, like the one we are announcing today with Reliance Jio. Our ambition is to help millions of organizations across India thrive and grow in the era of rapid technological change…”

“Together, we will offer a comprehensive technology solution, from compute to storage, to connectivity and productivity for small and medium-sized businesses everywhere in the country,” he added.

As part of the partnership, Nadella said, Jio and Microsoft will jointly offer Office 365 to more organizations in India, and also bring Azure Cognitive Services to more devices and in many Indian languages to businesses in the country. The solutions will be “accessible” to reach as many people and organizations in India as possible, he added.

The first two data-centers will be set up in Gujarat and Maharashtra by next year. Jio will migrate all of its non-networking apps to Microsoft Azure platform and promote its adoption among its ecosystem of startups, the two said in a joint statement.

Ambani also said Jio is working on a “digital stack” to create a new commerce partnership platform in India to reach tens of millions of merchants, consumers, and producers.

The announcement comes weeks after Reliance Industries acquired majority stake in Fynd, a Mumbai-based startup that connects brick and mortar retailers with online stores and consumers, for $ 42.3 million.

More to follow…


TechCrunch

AWS, Amazon’s cloud arm, announced today that it has opened a Middle East Region in Bahrain. The Middle East is an emerging market for cloud providers and this new region is part of a continuing expansion for the cloud giant. Today’s news comes on the heels of Microsoft announcing its own Middle East data centers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai just last month.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy pointed out last year at AWS re:Invent, the cloud is at different stages in different parts of the world and Amazon obviously wants to be a part of the emerging areas to extend its lead in the cloud infrastructure market.

“I think we’re just in the early stages of enterprise and public sector adoption in the U.S. Outside the U.S. I would say we are 12-36 months behind. So there are a lot of mainstream enterprises that are just now starting to plan their approach to the cloud,” Jassy told the AWS re:Invent audience last year.

Amazon sees this expansion as helping companies in the Middle East, much in the same way it has in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world, to digitally transform through the use of cloud services.

The new region in the Middle East is composed of three Availability Zones. That’s AWS lingo for a distinct geographic area that holds at least one data center. “Each Availability Zone has independent power, cooling and physical security, and is connected via redundant, ultra-low-latency networks,” the company explained in a statement.

Amazon reports that this is part of a continuing expansion. It also announced plans to open nine additional availability zones in Indonesia, Italy and South Africa in coming years.


TechCrunch

SoftBank Group announced today that it will launch its second Vision Fund with participation from Apple, Foxconn, Microsoft and other tech companies and investors. Called the Vision Fund 2, the fund will focus on AI-based technology. SoftBank said the fund’s capital has reached about $ 108 billion, based on memoranda of understandings. SoftBank Group’s own investment in the fund will be $ 38 billion.

It is worth noting that the second Vision Fund’s list of expected limited partners does not currently include any participants from the Saudi Arabia government (the first Vision Fund’s close ties to people, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who have been implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has understandably been a major source of concern for investors, companies and human rights observers).

But SoftBank Group also said is still in discussions with other participants and that the total amount of the fund is expected to increase. The full list of participants who have signed MOUs so far are: “Apple, Foxconn Technology Group, Microsoft Corporation, Mizuho Bank, Ltd., Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, MUFG Bank, Ltd., The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Limited, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, Limited, SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., Daiwa Securities Group Inc., National Investment Corporation of National Bank of Kazakhstan, Standard Chartered Bank, and major participants from Taiwan.”

SoftBank’s intention to launch Vision Fund 2 was first reported earlier this week by the Wall Street Journal. The new fund is expected to decrease SoftBank’s reliance on Saudi Arabian investment and also potentially change the relationship between startups, corporate giants like Microsoft and investors.

The second Vision Fund could help SoftBank extend its position as the most influential investor globally. Through its first $ 97 billion Vision Fund, the giant invested in dozens of high-profile growing companies, including ride hailing giants Didi Chuxing and Grab, and India-based grocery delivery startup Grofers, payments-firm Paytm, and budget lodging startup Oyo.

The maiden Vision Fund, which was announced in October 2016 and began investing in early 2017, has earned 62% returns to date, SoftBank said last month. SoftBank, known for consistently cutting checks of $ 100 million and of larger sizes, has invested in 24 of 377 unicorns globally (companies with valuation of $ 1 billion or more), according to research firm CB Insights.


TechCrunch

While AWS leads the cloud infrastructure market by wide margin, Microsoft isn’t doing too badly, ensconced firmly in second place, the only other company with double-digit share. Today, it announced a big deal with AT&T that encompasses both Azure cloud infrastructure services and Office 365.

A person with knowledge of the contract pegged the combined deal at a tidy $ 2 billion, a nice feather in Microsoft’s cloud cap. According to a Microsoft blog post announcing the deal, AT&T has a goal to move most of its non-networking workloads to the public cloud by 2024, and Microsoft just got itself a big slice of that pie, surely one that rivals AWS, Google and IBM (which closed the $ 34 billion Red Hat deal last week) would dearly have loved to get.

As you would expect, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke of the deal in lofty terms around transformation and innovation. “Together, we will apply the power of Azure and Microsoft 365 to transform the way AT&T’s workforce collaborates and to shape the future of media and communications for people everywhere,” he said in a statement in the blog post announcement.

To that end, they are looking to collaborate on emerging technologies like 5G and believe that by combining Azure with AT&T’s 5G network, the two companies can help customers create new kinds of applications and solutions. As an example cited in the blog post, they could see using the speed of the 5G network combined with Azure AI-powered live voice translation to help first responders communicate with someone who speaks a different language instantaneously.

It’s worth noting that while this deal to bring Office 365 to AT&T’s 250,000 employees is a nice win, that part of the deal falls on the under the SaaS umbrella, so it won’t help with Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure marketshare. Still, any way you slice it, this is a big deal.


TechCrunch

Low code and no code are the latest industry buzzwords, but if vendors can truly abstract away the complexity of difficult tasks like building machine learning models, it could help mainstream technologies that are currently out of reach of most business users. That’s precisely what Microsoft is aiming to do with its latest Power BI platform announcements today.

The company tried to bring that low code simplicity to building applications last year when it announced PowerApps. Now it believes by combining PowerApps with Microsoft Flow and its new AI Builder tool, it can allow folks building apps with PowerApps to add a layer of intelligence very quickly.

It starts with having access to data sources, and the Data Connector tool gives users access to over 250 data connectors. That includes Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe, as well as of course Microsoft services like Office 365 and Dynamics 365. Richard Riley, senior director for Power Platform marketing, says this is the foundation for pulling data into AI Builder.

“AI Builder is all about making it just as easy in a low code, no code way to go bring artificial intelligence and machine learning into your Power Apps, into Microsoft Flow, into the Common Data Service, into your data connectors, and so on,” Riley told TechCrunch.

Screenshot: Microsoft

Charles Lamanna, general manager at Microsoft says that Microsoft can do all the analysis and heavy lifting required to build a data model for you, removing a huge barrier to entry for business users. “The basic idea is that you can select any field in the Common Data Service and just say, ‘I want to predict this field.’  Then we’ll actually go look at historical records for that same table or entity to go predict [the results],” he explained. This could be used to predict if a customer will sign up for a credit card, if a customer is likely to churn, or if a loan would be approved, and so forth.

While Microsoft admits this won’t be something everyone uses, they do see a kind of power user who might have been previously unable to approach this level of sophistication on their own, building apps and adding layers of intelligence without a heck of a lot of coding. If it works as advertised it will bring a level of simplicity to tasks that were previously well out of reach of business users without requiring a data scientist.


TechCrunch

In a week where AMD, Intel and Qualcomm have already made major announcements, Microsoft’s keynote yesterday at Computex in Taipei was relatively lowkey. Instead of revealing new products, the company hinted at what it wants in a modernized operating system. Intriguingly, Microsoft’s blog post about the keynote does not mention Windows, lending credence to speculation that it is developing a new “super-secure” OS.

According to the blog post by Nick Parker, corporate vice president of consumer and device sales, a modern OS should enable “form factor agility” by being flexible enough to be integrated into different types of devices, which is noteworthy because last year the company hinted at new additions to the Surface lineup, which some have speculated might mean the line is adding a smartphone.

He added that a modern OS should include seamless updates, done invisibly in the background without forcing people to stop using their computers and be secure by default, preventing attacks by separating the state from the operating system and the compute from applications.

A modern OS would constantly be connected to LTE 5G and use AI to help make apps more efficient. It would also support different kinds of input, including pen, voice, touch and even the ability to use your eyes to control apps or write—two things that likely to fuel more speculation that the new OS will be developed with mobile products (like a possible Surface Phone) and lightweight or dual-screen laptops in mind.


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