Redmond has announced today the acquisition of SwiftKey, the maker of one of the most popular keyboard apps on Android and iOS.
It definitely looks like Microsoft is serious about bringing Word Flow to Android and iOS, as I reported a couple of weeks ago. Its own keyboard is already highly functional, fact that won it a Guinness World Record, but it seems that Microsoft plans to make it even better by integrating technologies from the newly acquired SwiftKey. However, this acquisition is about more than just implementing new features into an existing product. Over the past 8 years, SwiftKey has amassed quite a userbase, as there are more than 130,000 VIPs, not to mention the thousands of regular users. In fact, the SwiftKey keyboard and SDK can be found on 300 million iOS and Android devices, and Microsoft definitely wouldn’t mind attracting that many users to its side. Once again, the Redmond company’s strategy is in stark contrast with Apple’s, who prefers to develop apps exclusively for its own ecosystem.
“This acquisition is a great example of Microsoft’s commitment to bringing its software and services to all platforms,” explained Harry Shum, Executive VP, Technology and Research, in a blog post. “We’ll continue to develop SwiftKey’s market-leading keyboard apps for Android and iOS as well as explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and services portfolio. Moreover, SwiftKey’s predictive technology aligns with Microsoft’s investments and ambition to develop intelligent systems that can work more on the user’s behalf and under their control.”
“Our number one focus has always been to build the best possible products for our users. This will not change,” added SwiftKey co-founders Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock on the company’s blog. “Our apps will continue to be available on Android and iOS, for free. We are as committed as ever to improving them in new and innovative ways.”
“In the coming months, we’ll have more to share about how we’ll integrate SwiftKey technology with our Guinness World Record Word Flow technology for Windows,” concluded Shum. “In the interim, I’m extremely excited about the technology, talent and market position SwiftKey brings to us with this acquisition, and about how this further demonstrates Microsoft’s desire to bring key apps and technologies to platforms from Windows to Android to iOS.”
No financial details have been released, nor have the companies disclosed what will happen to SwiftKey’s employees. It remains to be seen what exactly will Microsoft keep, what it will implement in its own keyboard, and what will happen to the SwiftKey app for iOS and Android. I’m particularly interested in SwiftKey Neural Alpha, which made the news back in October for being the world’s first neural network keyboard. That one really took word prediction and correction to a whole new level.
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After Norway announced a couple of weeks ago that it would bring eSports to high-schools, it’s now time for Finnish company TeacherGaming to make the news. Microsoft announced today the acquisition of MinecraftEdu off them, as well as the plan to bring Minecraft: Education Edition to classrooms.
Nordic countries really seem to be in a world of their own as far as gaming and eSports are concerned. Whereas some view video games as the root of all evil, Nordics are firmly convinced that these could play an important role in education. Microsoft acquired Mojang, the developer of Minecraft, back in 2014, and it has now complemented that by buying MinecraftEDU off TeacherGaming.
“One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it’s a common, creative playground,” said Vu Bui, COO of Mojang. “We’ve seen that Minecraft transcends the differences in teaching and learning styles and education systems around the world. It’s an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything.”
MinecraftEDU, the version of the sandbox game that’s built specifically for the classroom, is now being used by thousands of classrooms from over 40 countries across the globe. Microsoft’s plan is to expand on that, and to bring the game to even more countries, starting this summer.
To jumpstart things, Microsoft is going to grow a community of educators at education.minecraft.net. The community pages will be home to very helpful resources and lesson plans. On top of that, the Minecraft Mentors page will bring together educators who are familiar with this sandbox game with the ones who are just getting into it.
As a sandbox game, Minecraft is incredibly versatile, so it’s no wonder that it has been used in classrooms for teaching anything from STEM subjects to poetry and other forms of art.
“In education, we are constantly seeking pathways to explore learning beyond the confines of a textbook. Minecraft allows us that opportunity,” added Rafranz Davis, Executive Director of Professional Development and Learning, Lufkin ISD. “When we see our kids enjoying the process of learning in this way, it’s a game changer.”
Anyone interested in finding out more details about Minecraft: Education Edition, or on how to sign up and become part of the educator community should check education.minecraft.net. The title will be available as a free trial this summer, so that educators can decide whether the game is fit for their classrooms. After that, teachers and children need to pay an annual fee of $5. It is also required to own an Office 365 ID in order toa access the service. MinecraftEdu customers can keep using it for as long as they want, and in addition to that, they will get the first year of M:EE for free.
Such announcements make you wonder how the education system will look like 20 years from now. Personally, I think that more games that promote creativity should be added to the curriculum.
A bit over a year ago, Fossil shook hands with Intel and started a collaboration on wearables that ultimately wrecked its earnings. To right that wrong, the American watchmaker bought a wearables manufacturer that should strengthen its position in this industry.
Misfit, the maker of some of the most stylish wearables on the market, must have done something right, if it drew the attention of such a popular watchmaker as Fossil. Besides that, Misfit already has an audience of its own, and by buying this company, Fossil Group manages to expand its addressable market. This way, the watchmaker will be able to satisfy both the needs of people looking for traditional timepieces, and of the ones looking for smartwatches and smartbands that help stay in touch with the
“We have a significant opportunity to add technology and connectivity across our platform of watches and accessories,” explained Kosta Kartsotis, CEO of Fossil Group. “With the acquisition of Misfit, Fossil Group will be uniquely positioned to lead the convergence of style and technology and to become the fashion gateway to the high-growth wearable technology and connected device markets.”
Misfit brings with itself a scalable cloud and app platform, which really is something that the watchmaker desperately needed, so that the world gains confidence once again in its wearables. Another problem that has been addressed properly by Misfit is the battery life of wearables, something that other manufacturers are still struggling to solve.
Another thing that Fossil Group will manage to do after this acquisition is accelerate its connected accessory roadmap. Misfit’s business model will also add new distribution channels and enterprise partnerships to Fossil’s already great portfolio. Not at last, the world-class software and hardware engineering team that helped Misfit get where it was will now have a new home under Fossil’s roof.
“We fundamentally believe consumers care about both technical functionality and fashionable design. In fact, one without the other is simply not enough. With the acquisition of Misfit, Fossil Group will be positioned to win with the connected consumer,” added Greg McKelvey, chief strategy and digital officer of Fossil Group. “Our world-class design and global distribution, combined with Misfit’s technology platform, creates a significantly advantaged, multi?brand and global wearable technology business poised to drive the convergence of fashion and technology.”
“We are thrilled to join forces with Fossil Group to usher in the next era of wearables where elegance, beauty and long-lasting wearability are paramount,” concluded Sonny Vu, founder and CEO of Misfit, who will serve as President and Chief Technology Officer of connected devices for Fossil Group. “Together, we will introduce products that blend Misfit’s seamless, intuitive technology and user experience with the design, style and branding that is the hallmark of Fossil Group.”
The deal went down for $260 million, which really isn’t a spectacular amount, considering the transactions that usually take place in the tech world.
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With the acquisition of King, US developer Activision Blizzard, known for such popular video games as Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, made it pretty clear that it also wants to focus on mobile gaming.
The acquisition price was of $5.9 billion, and just to put things into perspective, Disney paid $4 billion for Lucasfilm, the film production company that brought us Star Wars. King is the largest game developer ever in the history of Facebook.com, but I still think that the company is overvalued.
“With a combined global network of more than half a billion monthly active users, our potential to reach audiences around the world on the device of their choosing enables us to deliver great games to even bigger audiences than ever before,” stated Activision Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick in an interview with the Reuters news agency.
The main goal of Activision Blizzard in this whole deal is to increase its demographic, with a particular focus on female gamers, who represent 60% of King’s audience. Why do so many girls and women enjoy Candy Crush Saga and the other, less popular games made by the social games company? The answer to that question is rather simple: there’s no hardware needed, apart from a smartphone or tablet. Female gamers who play Candy Crush Saga don’t need to invest in expensive mechanical keyboards, futuristic mice, blazing fast monitors, or headphones with a crystal clear sound.
That’s exactly what Activision Blizzard was lacking, as its own games (Call of Duty, in particular) require either expensive video game consoles or gaming computers to be played. On top of that, the games are not free, costing between $30 and $60. Candy Crush Saga, King’s
With offices in both Dublin and Stockholm, King Digital Entertainment will continue to operate as an independent unit under chief executive Riccardo Zacconi.
As Zacconi explained, “Since 2003, we have built one of the largest player networks on mobile and Facebook, with 474 million monthly active users in the third quarter 2015. We believe that the acquisition will position us very well for the next phase of our company’s evolution.”
Piers Harding-Rolls, Head of Games at IHS Technology, emphasized the impact that King’s most popular game has had: “Candy Crush Saga was such a massive global hit, it’s a very difficult challenge to replicate that even if they release sequels or expansions to the original theme or release new titles. The share price reflects that. It’s a big move by Activision who have gained access to an audience that does not overlap with its existing market, particularly in Asia.”
More precisely, King’s shares were $15.54 when the bell rang yesterday, which is a lot more than Zynga’s $2.45. Activision Blizzard probably wanted to seem generous, as it offered King $18 per share.
“For Activision, it will provide a step-change in its penetration of the mobile gaming channel, which is the fastest growing segment of the video games market. For King, it offers the potential to leverage its mobile and social gaming expertise across Activision’s large games portfolio and reduces its reliance on its own blockbuster games like Candy Crush,” concluded analyst Eric Opara at Edison Investment Research.
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The tech giant is looking to continuously improve its products, and the acquisition of 360-degree photography startup Digisfera suggests that Street View will become better in the foreseeable future.
Founded in January 2011 by António Cabral and his son Manuel Cabral, the Portuguese startup focuses on panoramic images. Google is mainly interested in one of the two sets of tools developed by Digisfera, specifically Marzipano (which truth be told, really sounds like an Android version). Some of Digisfera’s past work, which surely caught Google’s eye, were the large-size panorama of the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, during the 2014 World Cup and a 360-degree view of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the US president.
One of the immediate consequences of the acquisition is the discontinuation of PanoTag, DigiSfera’s other tool, which enabled photographers to tag their panoramas, and thus increase their potential of going viral on social networks. The PanoTag servers will remain operational until October 31.
Marzipano, on the other hand, allows photographers to create virtual tours via a set of panoramas. Most importantly, the virtual tour can be exported as a web application. “In the coming weeks,” Google intends to open-source Marzipano, a move that “will benefit the panoramic photography community,” according to Digisfera.
The startup’s engineers will be working on Street View, which really was the entire point of the acquisition, but it is currently unknown whether the two founders will join Google, as well. Other details pertaining to this transaction, such as the acquisition price, are currently unknown, mainly because Google has declined to comment them.
Here is Digisfera‘s announcement:
“We’re excited to share that Digisfera is joining Google. We started Digisfera almost five years ago and have had the opportunity to work in many interesting projects involving 360º photography over the years. We’re excited to join the Street View team at Google to continue building great experiences using 360° photography.
As we move on to our next adventure, it will no longer be possible for us to keep developing PanoTag, so it is being discontinued. We are planning to open-source our Marzipano viewer in the coming weeks and hope this will benefit the panoramic photography community.
Thank you to all of our customers and friends who have supported us along the way!”
Between this and the continuous development of Mountainview’s driverless car, it’s getting clear that Google Maps has a very bright future ahead. If only offline turn-by-turn navigation was implemented earlier.
Google’s acquisition of Digisfera may also have an impact on the tech giant’s desire to bring Street View photography into the classroom via virtual field trips. This acquisition didn’t pass unnoticed, and some feel that Google should spend more time and money on making their Earth and Maps 3D views better, instead of focusing on 360-degree virtual tours for Street View.
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If there’s one thing that still redeems Blackberry, it must be its security features, but up until now no other company has thought of acquiring the Canadian smartphone manufacturer for its patents. Samsung is attempting to do that in order to improve the security of its mobile devices.
The patent war has been going on for a few years now, and most acquisitions are made exactly with the purpose of having some unique advantages over the competition. Blackberry may not be getting a lot of love for its design, nor for its latest mobile platform, but there still one area where it excels. Security patents are the things that keep Blackberry relevant in a world where all the other technical specs are changing every other month. Sure, the Passport had flagship specs at the time of its launch, but there aren’t a lot of people out there fond of its design. Hence, Samsung buying Blackberry could lead to those security features being implemented in more pocket-friendly devices. Bear in mind that neither of them confirmed the rumors, despite Reuters claiming to even know the sum Samsung would pay for Blackberry: $7.5bn.
That’s not supposed to mean that without Blackberry’s patent portfolio Samsung would be naked as a jaybird when facing hackers. South Korea’s tech giant has its own security platform, known as KNOX (not an acronym, just a reference to Fort Knox), but considering that the best devices coming from this manufacturer are running Android, a few additional layers of security wouldn’t hurt. Android has a bit of a dark history as far as security is concerned, with the latest story revealing that Google refuses to fix a bug that affects 60% of Android devices.
A lot of things change when a company is acquired by another, and it is currently unknown how and if Blackberry would continue to exist, should it be bought by Samsung. If Blackberry devices will keep being manufactured post-acquisition (I imagine that the POTUS Obama, the owner of a Blackberry smartphone himself, would frown otherwise), the staff of the Canadian company will keep their jobs. Hopefully, Samsung is interested in more than just getting the patents that would make its devices some of the most secure in the world.
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Besides mean comments about Google and some Hollywood actors, the recent Sony leaks also revealed that Snapchat has secretly bought Vergence Labs, a manufacturer of smart eyewear.
It is in fact the Epiphany Eyewear subsidiary that makes wearables, but that doesn’t change the news a bit. What’s baffling about it is that the whole deal was kept a secret, which is a bit unusual when companies make a move against Google. Seeing how the search giant’s Glass still isn’t available commercially, you would think that any other manufacturer of smart glasses would take pride in making the news. Even more so when we’re talking about a $300 pair of intelligent eyewear. That’s a fraction of the cost of the Google Glass Explorer Edition, which currently sells for $1,500.
According to the leaked Sony documents, Snapchat paid $15M for Vergence Labs. However, that still isn’t a guarantee that the photo messaging application developer will start manufacturing its own wearables any time soon. As is the case with many acquisitions nowadays, it’s quite possible Snapchat bought Vergence Labs for a patent it needed.
What sets Epiphany Eyewear smart glasses from the its competitors is the ability to record HD videos and upload them directly to the cloud. That’s a different approach from storing the video files locally and sharing them only when a Wi-Fi connection is available. Epiphany Eyewear was convinced its glasses would work wonders on ski slopes, but Snapchat might be more interested in having them at parties. Not to mention that these look more like conventional eyewear, and not a piece of AR tech that partially blocks the view.
“That’s the reason we wanted to make these glasses as cool as possible,” stated Epiphany Eyewear CEO Erick Miller in an interview with LA Weekly in February, “because we wanted cool people to wear them.”
To some, it may look like Google Glass has fallen from grace, and that’s an opportunity that should be seized by wearable manufacturers everywhere. My opinion is that Google will get back to this stronger than ever next year, as it is not in its habit to spend years on end developing a product and then dropping it out of the blue. Unless we’re talking about these discontinued Google services. That’s another story.
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3D printing has gone a long way, and it could easily get even better if the brilliant minds behind this industry teamed up. MakerBot products will definitely see a few improvements in the near future, now that the company has acquired startup software company Layer by Layer.
Each merger or acquisition makes the involved parties or the resulting entity stronger than ever before in their respective industry, in a similar way the Planeteers could summon Captain Planet by combining their powers. 3D printing has been a really hot topic in the past few weeks, with HP launching a revolutionary printer, and more recently with the acquisition of Layer By Layer by the maker of the Replicator.
Layer By Layer is a fairly new company, being founded only two years ago. After the acquisition by MakerBot, the startup will be dissolved, and some of the team members will join the buyer. As Layer By Layer was specialized in developing software, it’s this side of things its team members will take care of, remaining for MakerBot to make sure that the hardware they’re making is working perfectly.
“We’re excited to announce the acquisition of Layer By Layer and move forward with the projects we have been working on with the Layer By Layer team. We see this as a major step forward in being able to support not only our licensed content partners with a secure digital rights management system, but other content as well. The team has been working on several really interesting projects and we are excited to implement added features and benefits to the MakerBot 3D Ecosystem,” pointed out Jenny Lawton, acting CEO of MakerBot.
“Since we started Layer By Layer almost two years ago, it has been our goal to push 3D printing forward by building a complete and seamless user experience from finding something you want to print, to actually printing it. We have always strived to make 3D printing a more accessible technology by reducing the barrier to entry with innovations in design and computer science. So, as you probably can tell, we’re incredibly excited to now be working at MakerBot, where we’ll continue to innovate and explore within 3D printing,” added Max Friefeld, co-founder of Layer By Layer.
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