Microsoft launches app that helps the visually impaired navigate cities

Microsoft launched Soundscape, a new app that aims to help people who are visually impaired navigate better by giving them 3D cues.

They don’t want to replace guide dogs or canes but enrich people’s perception of their surroundings. A guide dog can’t tell you that there’s a Nike Store just around the corner. Using GPS and the built-in compass on the phone, the app can give people audio cues.

“Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that,” said Erin Lauridsen, Access Technology Director, LightHouse for the Blind.“The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”

The app offers three possible actions: ‘locate’ tells you where you are, ‘around me’ calls out four points of interest around you and ‘ahead of me’ provides the names of five landmarks in front of you.

Why it’s hot:
It might not be a groundbreaking innovation and in terms of technology, it might not be the most advanced thing. But there’s nothing better than seeing technology been used to improve the quality of life of people.

Source: TechCrunch

A better way to fly?

Air New Zealand has partnered with Microsoft to begin beta testing HoloLens augmented reality headsets on flights to help their crews better serve their passengers.

Flight attendants using headsets on their faces might look really strange and scare little children, but the practical applications are pretty cool. Being able to know, for example, which passengers have dietary restrictions or are in a certain mood can enhance the customer experience.

Story on The Verge

Why It’s Hot

It’s hot because while this might not be a solution that gets mass adoption with every airline, it is nice to know that there is an airline out there that is trying to improve the travel experience (*cough* unlike United *cough*).


holograms, benjamin…

Some genius developer has boldly chosen to experiment with perhaps the world’s most forgotten voice assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and imagined what interacting with her could be like if you added another dimension to it.

In his words – “It’s basically what I imagined Microsoft’s version of Alexa or Google Home would be like if they were to use the holographic AI sidekick from the Halo franchise.”

As seen in the video above, in his prototype, it’s as if you’re speaking to an actual artificial person, making the experience feel more human.

Why it’s hot:
Amazon recently released the Echo Show, which allows skillmakers to add a “face” to their interactions, but this makes that look like a kids toy. This shows how what started not long ago as primitive voice technology on a phone, could quickly turn into actual virtual assistants that look and act like humans, powered by the underlying technology. Plus, apparently 145 million people may not ignore they have access to Cortana in the future.

Now You’re Speaking My Language – Skype Translator

Micorsoft has launched Skype Translator, a language translation tool that is able to automatically translate conversations between speakers of two languages in real-time. The technology is a package of four products stitched together into one experience. First it transcribes spoken words into text, which is displayed as a running feed alongside the video call. Next, it takes out the repetitious words (ahh’s, umm’s, ohh) from the conversation, while also adding punctuation to the written feed. It then translates the conversation and reads it aloud to the user in the correct language. The program takes about 4-5 seconds to do all of this in a real-time conversation.

Why It’s Hot:

The ability to talk to anyone in the world, face to face, without the need of a human translator is quite revolutionary. Especially at the speed of which the technology can maintain the conversation. This will certainly be put to use in schools all over the world as a way to easily connect and explore other cultures in the comfort of the classroom walls. As the technology matures, the implications for this on international business and small businesses in particular could be very large.

Microsoft’s Band: The Perfect Rival for the Apple Watch

I need to start this post by saying that I am a Mac guy. One hundred percent!

My first computer was a Mac, back in the days where laptops didn’t exist. In fact, the Dell they gave me at my current job, it’s the first PC I have ever had; and I’m still struggling with it! I just don’t get it…

That being said, I love the fact that Microsoft products have always (well, almost always) been cross-platform (think Microsoft Office and Windows Operating System, for example).

Now Microsoft does it again with the new Microsoft Health and Microsoft Band.

Microsoft Band

If Microsoft wanted to grab a slice of the impending Apple Watch audience, it couldn’t have crafted a better plan than with its just-released, cross-platform Microsoft Band. The company’s first wearable piggybacks off of the style and functions we’re already familiar with in today’s activity trackers. But with nifty features, a more affordable price tag, and a broader potential audience, Microsoft is taking a different approach than Apple and other wearable makers:

  • First and foremost, the Microsoft Band is cross-platform. This is huge as it’s something Apple can’t, and will not, do. Microsoft Health, the Band’s corresponding software platform, is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone making the tracker itself cross-platform, too. This opens the Band up to a huge audience (virtually all smartphone owners) rather than, in Apple’s case, limiting the product to devotees of its insular ecosystem.
  • microsoftband-315x258Unlike the Apple Watch, Microsoft’s wristband is not a watch replacement. It’s designed to be worn 24-hours a day on your less dominant hand. It can track your activity and sleep patterns, and if you have a favorite watch, it wouldn’t be weird to wear it on your other wrist.
  • Microsoft Band is not just functional, but also good looking enough to wear every day. It comes in an incredible number of colors, types of bands and textures. It’s a fashion item.

Why It’s Hot  |  We’ve been talking and hearing about the importance of putting consumers at the center. Microsoft has done just that. This is about user’s wellbeing, whether we are Mac lovers, Android fans, or PC enthusiasts. Run, Microsoft. Run!


Volvo Tells Millennials It’s Okay to Look Back

Millennials have been called the largest and most influential generation of consumers ever. The generation of people now 18 to 34 years old represents an estimated $1.3 trillion in spending. In the U.S., by 2030, Millennials will likely outnumber baby boomers 78 million to 56 million—and they are forming lifelong shopping preferences and habits now.

This group is known to identify with brands more personally than others – making it imperative that companies cultivate and foster a relationship with these individuals to ensure life-long brand advocacy. Recognizing that the first Millennials are reaching peak buying power, some companies are seeking to resonate with this audience by playing up the feeling of nostalgia in campaigns.

Volvo’s new spot manipulates their millennial target into feeling reminiscent of the days they spent growing up in the third row of a Volvo station wagon. The voice over drives the spot home stating, “And really, who wants to look backwards, when you can look forward?”

Possibly one of the best examples of brand positioning towards the Millennial crowd through nostalgia is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer spot “Child of the 90s.” Although this became a viral sensation, reviews were mixed if it was successful in winning back a generation now loyal to Firefox and Chrome.

Why It’s Hot

As a quintessential Millennial and a marketer, Volvo’s spot strikes a cord, but will I’m not yet convinced it has the legs to encourage fellow Millennials to go out and purchase a Volvo. My generation is unpredictable, we value authenticity and we have a BS-radar more keen than others leaving it up to debate how best to capture our ever-fleeting attention. Brands must find an original approach when relating to young consumers, and although Volvo’s forward-and-backward metaphor is pseudo-philosophy, it got me thinking that maybe nostalgia is the right first step to grab and keep a brand top of mind.

Read more here.