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Most Sites Have Fixed Heartbleed Flaw, Many Remain Exposed

April 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The world’s top 1,000 websites have been updated to protect their servers against the “Heartbleed” vulnerability, but up to 2% of the top million remained unprotected as of last week, according to a California security firm.

On Thursday, Menifee, Calif.-based Sucuri Security scanned the top 1 million websites as ranked by Alexa Internet, a subsidiary of Amazon that collects Web traffic data.

Of the top 1,000 Alexa sites, all were either immune or had been patched with the newest OpenSSL libraries, confirmed Daniel Cid, Sucuri’s chief technology officer, in a Sunday email.

Heartbleed, the nickname for the flaw in OpenSSL, an open-source cryptographic library that enables SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Security Layer) encryption, was discovered independently by Neel Mehta, a Google security engineer, and researchers from security firm Codenomicon earlier this month.

The bug had been introduced in OpenSSL in late 2011.

Because of OpenSSL’s widespread use by websites — many relied on it to encrypt traffic between their servers and customers — and the very stealthy nature of its exploit, security experts worried that cyber criminals either had, or could, capture usernames, passwords,\ and even encryption keys used by site servers.

The OpenSSL project issued a patch for the bug on April 7, setting off a rush to patch the software on servers and in some client operating systems.

The vast majority of vulnerable servers had been patched as of April 17, Sucuri said in a blog postthat day.

While all of the top 1,000 sites ranked by Alexa were immune to the exploit by then, as Sucuri went down the list and scanned smaller sites, it found an increasing number still vulnerable. Of the top 10,000, 0.53% were vulnerable, as were 1.5% of the top 100,000 and 2% of the top 1 million.

Other scans found similar percentages of websites open to attack: On Friday, San Diego-based Websense said about 1.6% of the top 50,000 sites as ranked by Alexa remained vulnerable.

Since it’s conceivable that some sites’ encryption keys have been compromised, security experts urged website owners to obtain new SSL certificates and keys, and advised users to be wary of browsing to sites that had not done so.

Sucuri’s scan did not examine sites to see whether they had been reissued new certificates, but Cid said that another swing through the Web, perhaps this week, would. “I bet the results will be much much worse on that one,” Cid said.

 

 

Amazon Rumored To Launch Smartphone In Time For Christmas Season

April 14, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Amazon.com Inc is making plans to unveil its long-rumored smartphone in the second half of the year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people briefed on the company’s plans.

The Internet retailer would jump into a crowded market dominated by Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

The company has recently been demonstrating versions of the handset to developers in San Francisco and Seattle. It intends to announce the device in June and ship to stores around the end of September, the newspaper cited the unidentified sources as saying.

Amazon has made great strides into the hardware arena as it seeks to boost sales of digital content and puts its online store in front of more users. Amazon recently launched its $99 Fire TV video-streaming box and its Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets already command respectable U.S. market share after just a few years on the market.

Rumors of an Amazon-designed smartphone have circulated for years, though executives have previously played down ambitions to leap into a heavily competitive and increasingly saturated market.

Apple and Samsung, which once accounted for the lion’s share of the smartphone market, are struggling to maintain margins as new entrants such as Huawei and Lenovo target the lower-income segment.

To stand out from the crowd, Amazon intends to equip its phones with screens that display three-dimensional images without a need for special glasses, the Journal said.

Amazon officials were not immediately available for comment.

 

Americans Concerned About Personal Privacy Erosion, Says Survey

April 7, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The personal data gathering abilities of Google,Facebook and other technology giants has sparked growing unease among Americans, with a majority worried that Internet companies are encroaching too much upon their lives, a new poll showed.

Google and Facebook generally topped lists of Americans’ concerns about the ability to track physical locations and monitor spending habits and personal communications, according to a poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos from March 11 to March 26.

The survey highlights a growing ambivalence towards Internet companies whose popular online services, such as social networking, e-commerce and search, have blossomed into some of the world’s largest businesses.

Now, as the boundaries between Web products and real world services begin to blur, many of the top Internet companies are racing to put their stamp on everything from homeappliances to drones and automobiles.

With billions of dollars in cash, high stock prices, and an appetite for more user data, Google, Facebook, Amazon and others are acquiring a diverse set of companies and launching ambitious technology projects.

But their grand ambitions are inciting concern, according to the poll of nearly 5,000 Americans. Of 4,781 respondents, 51 percent replied “yes” when asked if those three companies, plus Apple, Microsoft and Twitter, were pushing too far and expanding into too many areas of people’s lives.

This poll measures accuracy using a credibility interval and is accurate to plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

“It’s very accurate to say that many people have love-hate relationships with some of their technology providers,” said Nuala O’Connor, the President of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet public policy group which has received funding from companies including Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

“As technology moves forward, as new technologies are in use and in people’s lives, they should question ‘Is this a fair deal between me and the device?’”

Fears about the expanding abilities of tech companies crystallized when Google acknowledged in 2010 that its fleet of StreetView cars, which criss-cross the globe taking panoramic photos for Google’s online mapping service, had inadvertently collected emails and other personal information transmitted over unencrypted home wireless networks.

Yet many Americans remain ignorant of the extent to which Internet companies are trying to extend their reach.

Google is one of the most aggressively ambitious, investing in the connected home through its $3.2 billion acquisition of smart thermostat maker Nest. Google is also investing in self-driving cars, augmented-reality glasses, robots and drones.

Almost a third of Americans say they know nothing about plans by Google and its rivals to get into real-world products such as phones, cars and appliances. Still, roughly two thirds of respondents are already worried about what Internet companies will do with the personal information they collect, or how securely they store the data.

 

Amazon Announces Amazon Dash, Gets Into Grocery Delivery

April 7, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Amazon.com Inc unveiled a new product named Amazon Dash on Friday that allows the user to add groceries and household goods to their shopping lists using the company’s AmazonFresh service.

A black-and-white hand-held wand-shaped remote-control features a microphone, speaker as well as a bar-code reader and links directly to the user’s AmazonFresh account.

The device is available only for users of the AmazonFresh which currently operates exclusively in Southern California, San Francisco and Seattle. The device is free during the trial period, according to the product’s website.

However, signing up for Amazon Dash is by invitation only while the AmazonFresh service is currently available only Southern California, San Francisco and Seattle.

The online retailer has been steadily expanding towards electronics manufacturing businesses, starting with the Kindle e-reader which was first launched in 2007, and the Fire TV streaming set-top box announced earlier this week, even as it seeks new ways to energize a gradually slowing core retail business.

Amazon has been steadily expanding its “Fresh” online grocery business, targeting one of the largest retail sectors yet to be upended by online commerce. The company has plans to launch AmazonFresh, which has operated in Seattle for years, in roughly 20 urban areas in 2014, including some outside the United States.

A successful foray into groceries could also help underwrite the development of a broad-based delivery service employing Amazon trucks to deliver directly to homes, which could have implications for UPS, FedEx and other package delivery companies that currently ship Amazon goods.

Still, groceries have proven to be one of the most difficult sectors for online retailers to manage successfully. One of the most richly-funded start-ups of the dot-com era, Webvan, was a spectacular failure as the cost of developing the warehouse and delivery infrastructure proved overwhelming.

 

Amazon Shoots Down Rumors Of Free TV Service

March 31, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc has no plan to provide a free streaming TV service, a spokeswoman said on Friday after a report that the online retailer might enter the streaming arena to challenge Netflix and Hulu.

Speculation about Amazon’s plans for its TV service, including the possibility that it could launch its own streaming device, has increased ahead of a news conference in New York next week.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the online retailer was considering a free, add-supported streaming TV and music service. Amazon spokeswoman Sally Fouts said no such plan was in the works.

“We have a video advertising business that currently offers programs like First Episode Free and ads associated with movie and game trailers, and we’re often experimenting with new things,” she said in an e-mail on Friday. “But we have no plans to offer a free streaming media service.”

Amazon’s streaming TV service currently comes included as part of its popular $99-a-year Prime service, which offers unlimited two-day shipping among other perks.

 

 

Cloud Computing Rivalry Heats Up As Google Slashes Pricing

March 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Google Inc deeply discounted its cloud computing service prices on Tuesday, seeking to woo customers away from Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp in the fast-growing market of renting computers and data storage to companies.

Price cuts range from 30 to 85 percent. Google’s Cloud Storage will cost 2.6 cents per gigabyte, about 68 percent lower for most customers. Google’s Compute Engine services will cost 32 percent less across all sizes, regions and classes.

“The cost of virtualized hardware should fall in line with the cost of the underlying real hardware,” Google Senior Vice President Urs Holzle said in a post on Google’s official developers blog on Tuesday in conjunction with a cloud event that the company hosted in San Francisco.

Holzle noted that hardware costs have improved by 20 to 30 percent during the past five years but that “public cloud prices fell at just 8 percent per year.”

Cloud services are increasingly popular among tech startups and larger companies, which rely on computers owned and operated by the likes of Amazon and Google, the world’s No. 1 Internet search engine, instead of buying the equipment themselves.

Amazon, one of the largest online retailers, was among the first companies to recognize the opportunity. Amazon Web Services provide the underlying infrastructure for key aspects of popular Web companies such as online movie streaming service Netflix Inc and social network Pinterest.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would respond to Google’s price cuts.

Earlier this week Cisco Systems Inc announced plans to spend $1 billion over the next two years to build a new cloud services business.

 

Cisco Makes Cloud Computing A Top Priority With $1B Pledge

March 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Cisco Systems Inc will offer cloud computing services, pledging to spend $1 billion over the next two years to make a foray into a market currently dominated by the world’s biggest online retailer Amazon.com Inc, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Cisco said it will spend the amount to build data centers to help run the new service called Cisco Cloud Services, the Journal reported.

Cisco, which mainly deals in networking hardware, wants to take advantage of companies’ desire to rent computing services rather than buying and maintaining their own machines.

Enterprise hardware spending is dwindling across the globe as companies cope with shrinking budgets, slowing or uncertain economies and a fundamental migration to cloud computing, which reduces demand for equipment by outsourcing data management and computing needs.

“Everybody is realizing the cloud can be a vehicle for achieving better economics (and) lower cost,” the Journal quoted Rob Lloyd, Cisco’s president of development and sales as saying.

“It does not mean that we’re embarking on a strategy to go head-to-head with Amazon.”

Microsoft Corp last year said it was cutting prices for hosting and processing customers’ online data in an aggressive challenge to Amazon’s lead in the growing business of cloud computing.

 

Cisco could not be immediately reached for comment by Reuters outside regular U.S.business hours.

 

Is Facebook Going After Solar-Powered Drones?

March 6, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is rumored to be acquiring Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico-based company known for making solar-powered drones.

Analysts speculate that Facebook may want to use the drones to bring Internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that are not connected.

The social networking company is reportedly paying $60 million for Titan Aerospace, according to TechCrunch, which cited unnamed sources.

Neither Titan Aerospace nor Facebook responded to requests for confirmation.

The aerospace company builds light-weight, high-flying drones that can take off at 20 mph and remain aloft for five years. The company’s Solara 50 drone, for instance, can fly as high as 65,000 feet above Earth.

“Drones are the latest rage with tech companies these days,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. “Amazon, Google and Facebook, plus a whole lot more seem to be looking for ways they can shoehorn drones into their business plans. And what young geek didn’t dream of having a remote control flying machine that could do anything they wanted it to do?”

But could Facebook use these drones to bring Internet connectivity to remote areas? Sure, but it’s not the only way they could go about it.

Last June, Google’s research arm, Google X, announced that it was working on affordable Internet connectivity through the use of a fleet of high-altitude balloons. The company tested its plan by launching 30 balloons that flew twice as high as commercial airplanes with 50 users trying to connect to the Internet from below.

Amazon.com had another use for drones, and in December announced plans to use the machines to deliver merchandise to customers. Possibly taking a page from Domino’s old promise of delivering pizzas in 30 minutes or less, Amazon said with drones, some customers could get their purchases within half an hour.

“Could drones be the way to provide net connections in Third World countries?” asked Olds. “Yeah, maybe, but wouldn’t a set of non-sexy, long-range cell towers or low-power, cost-optimized microwave repeaters be a better solution? Sure, there are some drawbacks to physical infrastructure on the ground, but they can be worked around.”

He reiterated that drones simply are the cool new tech tool. How could a tech company with very deep pockets resist?

 

 

 

Android Commands 62% Of The Market In Tablet War

March 5, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Android and Samsung Electronics enjoyed the biggest benefits in the tablet market last year, as sales surged by 68%, according to Gartner.

Worldwide sales of tablets to end users totaled 195.4 million units, fueled by sales of low-end, smaller screen devices, and purchases by first time buyers, the company reported.

Android has become the biggest tablet operating system with 62% of the market. In 2012, Google’s OS trailed Apple’s iOS by a margin of about 8 million tablets, but by the end of last year had turned that into a 50 million-unit lead.

The Android camp led by Samsung sold almost 121 million tablets, for a 61.9% share, compared to 53.3 million units and a 45.8% share in 2012. Apple’s tablet sales increased from 61.5 to 70.4 million units, but because the overall market grew faster, the company’s share dropped from 52.8% to 36%.

Microsoft’s Windows tablet sales improved but the share remained small at 2.1%, with shipments growing from 1.2 million to 4 million units. To compete, Microsoft needs to create a more compelling ecosystem for consumers as well as developers across all mobile devices, Gartner said.

Apple’s strong fourth quarter helped it maintain the top position among the manufacturers. Samsung, ranked in second place, had the biggest growth of the worldwide tablet vendors, at 336 %. The expansion and improvement of its Galaxy tablet portfolio, together with a lot of marketing, helped Samsung shrink the gap with Apple.

Samsung sold 37.4 million tablets for a 19.1% slice of the market.

The rest of the top 5 was made up of Asus, Amazon.com and Lenovo. Of those three companies, Lenovo did particularly well with tablet sales growing by 198% to 6.5 million units, or a 3.3% market share. The company’s success was due to a combination of new tablet models launched during the second half of last year, and sales of its Yoga model and its Windows tablets doing particularly well, Gartner said.

However, Lenovo is still behind Asus, with 11 million units sold, and Amazon, with 9.4 million. Asus’ market share grew from 5.4% to 5.6%, while Amazon’s share declined from 6.6% to 4.8%.

As the tablet market becomes even more competitive, this year it will be critical for vendors to improve user experience, technology and ecosystem value beyond just hardware and cost, Gartner said.

 

Barnes & Noble Has A Suitor

February 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Investment firm G Asset Management said on Friday that it had offered to acquire a 51 percent stake in either Barnes & Noble Inc or in the bookseller’s Nook digital business.

The little known firm said the proposal for Barnes & Noble as a whole would be for $22 per share, which would value the top U.S. bookstore chain at $1.32 billion. It comes after earlier proposal in November for $20 per share, its second.

G Asset, which not did detail how it would finance a deal, also made an alternative offer to buy Nook for $5 per share, saying spinning off the digital books and device business would create “substantial shareholder value.”

The latest offer for the whole company would value Barnes & Noble at $1.32 billion, while the proposal for Nook would value that unit at about $300 million.

The firm has previously pressed the company to spin off its Nook unit from Barnes & Noble’s bookstore and college units.

Michael Glickstein, G Asset’s Chief Investment Officer, and the only person listed on the firm’s website, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Barnes & Noble shares were up 5.8 percent at $17.75 in afternoon trading after going as high as $19.12 after the news was released, suggesting Wall Street analysts were doubtful a deal would get done.

A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman declined to comment beyond confirming that the company had received G Asset’s offer.

The original Nook device was launched in 2009 to help Barnes & Noble fend off Amazon.com Inc and allowed the retailer to win as much as 27 percent of the U.S. e-books market.

But the company lost hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep pace with deep-pocketed rivals such as Amazon, Apple Inc and Google Inc. It has scaled back its Nook business and focusing more on content and software.

Two years ago, Microsoft Corp invested $300 million in the Nook unit for a 17.6 percent stake, valuing the division at $1.7 billion. In late 2012, Pearson PLC took a 5 percent stake in Nook for $89.5 million.

 

 

Alibaba Launching E-Commerce Website In U.S.

February 12, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is preparing to launch a U.S. e-commerce website through its subsidiaries Vendio and Auctiva, which are in turn part of the Alibaba.com business group, the company told Reuters on Tuesday.

The 11 Main (11main.com) site is an online shopping business that offers “interesting, quality products” from “hand-picked shop owners” such as fashion, tech and jewelry goods.

Alibaba has been ramping up its international expansion with various acquisitions, including leading a roughly $200 million investment round in U.S. retail site ShopRunner Inc, setting up an investment division in the United States and offering more of its e-commerce and online payment products overseas.

At the same time China’s dominant e-commerce company is gearing up for an expected public offering later this year which will value the company at around $140 billion, according to a Reuters poll of eight analysts.

The foray into boutique e-commerce was conceived and created by Vendio and Auctiva, which Alibaba.com acquired in 2010 and helped businesses sell on eBay Inc’s and Amazon.com Inc’s websites.

“Alibaba is happy to support 11 Main,” an Alibaba spokeswoman told Reuters in an e-mail. “Alibaba is run by entrepreneurs and firmly believes in supporting entrepreneurs with great vision and a strong sense of mission for their companies.”

 

Amazon Seeks Customer Feedback On New TV Shows

February 7, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc released its second round of TV pilots on Thursday and asked for customer feedback to help determine which of the 10 shows to continue producing for its video streaming service.

The company is investing in original content to attract customers to its $79-a-year Amazon Prime service, which competes for online viewers with services such as Netflix and Hulu.com. Prime also includes free two-day shipping for Amazon products.

The new pilots include three comedies and two dramas for adults, plus five children’s shows. Amazon will make a decision on how many to put into development after customers have their say by leaving online comments and ratings.

Malcolm McDowell stars in the comedy “Mozart in the Jungle,” a story about “sex, drugs — and classical music,” an Amazon statement said.

A science-fiction show, “The After,” was written and directed by “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter.

Amazon chose the pilots after looking at the genres that are popular with its customers, said Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios.

“Customers have responded really well in the past to sci-fi,” Price said in an interview. “We start with some areas that customers are responding to and try to develop shows that fit in there.”

Other pilots include “Transparent,” a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family that stars Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light, and “Bosch,” based on best-selling novels about a Los Angeles homicide detective.

The new pilots are available for a month in the United States on Amazon.com and through the Amazon Instant Video app, and in Britain through Amazon’s Lovefilm streaming service.

Last year, Amazon released two comedy series, “Alpha House,” starring John Goodman as a senator, and “Betas,” about a tech start-up, after considering customer input on 14 pilots.

Three children’s series also were selected during that process, which brought in thousands of customer reviews within a few days, Price said.

 

 

Samsung Rolling Out 3 New Tablets Starting Feb. 13

February 6, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung announced that three of its latest four Galaxy tablet models running Android 4.4 (KitKat) will become available at U.S. retailers starting Feb. 13, with online orders immediately.

Samsung also revealed that all four of its new tablets will uses its somewhat controversial custom interface Magazine UX, a display mode that loads the screen with tiles that show information from different apps. Analysts expected Samsung to downplay the Magazine UX, as a way of staying closer to true Android from Google.

Prices will start at $399.99 for the 16GB Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4. The Tab Pro 10.1 is priced at $499.99 for 16 GB and the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 will cost $749.99 for 32 GB and $849.99 for 64 GB. Samsung said the fourth tablet recently announced at International CES, the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2, also running KitKat, won’t be available until March.

The models that go on sale Feb. 13 will be Wi-Fi-only, but Samsung also said that Verizon Wireless will be the first to offer a 4G LTE version of the Note Pro 12.2 later this quarter. Samsung posted more information about pre-orders on its website. The Note Pro and Tab Pro tablets come in black or white.

Samsung advertised the four models as ideal for use at work or play. Both 12.2 models (with 12.2-in. displays) as well as the Tab Pro 10.1 (with a 10.1-in. Display) come with virtual keyboards that mimic the size and appearance of a physical keyboard for faster typing. Both 12.2 models also have 2560 x 1600 LCD displays, making them the first with such high resolution. Both also allow users to view up to four applications at once for better multitasking.

The Note Pro 12.2 also has a Samsung S Pen, a digital pen for handwriting to text, and functions called Air Command and Pen Window for quicker access to apps and information.

All the new tablets will run Magazine UX, a new custom user interface that runs in the home screen layout and that Samsung says will bring users’ their favorite and most-frequented content, such as apps,email and games “to the forefront, offering direct access to content with a single touch.”

Some analysts said Samsung might drop or de-emphasize the Magazine UX in upcoming products in favor of the standard Android UI after recent negotiations between the two companies. after reports of recent negotiations between Samsung and Google were believed to result in future Samsung products with the same look as standard Android backed by Google.

The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 (with an 8.4-in. display) runs a Snapdragon 800 2.3 GHz quad-core processor, which makes it “built to handle high-powered games and video,” Samsung said.

With the range of Android tablets Samsung has already shipped to market and the latest round of new tablets, it is no wonder that Samsung is the largest Android tablet maker. IDC said Samsung shipped 14.5 million tablets in the fourth quarter of 2013, grabbing an 18.8% market share, second only to Apple’s 33.8% share in shipping 26 million iPads running iOS.

The next biggest tablet maker is Amazon.com, shipping 5.8 million Android core tablets for its Kindle Fire line and making up 7.6% of the market. After Amazon, Asus shipped 3.9 million Android or Windows 8 tablets for 5.1% of the market, while Lenovo shipped 3.4 million tablets running Android or Windows 8 for 4.4% of the market.

 

 

 

Market Saturation Causing Tablet Shipments To Drop

January 30, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Global tablet shipments are still on the uptick, but are showing signs of “dramatic…significant slowing” as consumer markets such as the U.S. become saturated, IDC said Wednesday.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that markets such as the U.S. are reaching high levels of consumer saturation and while emerging markets continue to show strong growth, this has not been able to sustain the dramatic worldwide growth rates of years past,” said Tom Mainelli, an IDC analyst.

Recent trends “point to a more challenging environment for tablets in 2014 and beyond,” he added.

IDC said there were 76.9 million tablets shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013, up 62% over the third quarter but just 28% higher than the fourth quarter of 2012. The rate of growth from the fourth quarter of 2011 to fourth quarter 2012 was actually 87%, well ahead of the 28% figure and the reason that Mainelli described a tablet market slowdown. “While the market’s growth rates remain impressive, they’re down dramatically,” IDC said in a statement.

With so many tablet makers competing for the same dollars, the consumer tablet market will be soft, although purchases by schools and businesses will accelerate, IDC said.

Apple led in the fourth quarter, shipping a record 26 million tablets, up from 14.1 million in the third quarter and higher than the 22.9 million it sold in the last quarter of 2012. IDC noted that its year-over-year growth was “well below the industry average” and indicate the challenges Apple faces from many competitors and in markets outside of the U.S. and other developed countries.

Apple had 33.8% of the tablet market in the fourth quarter, down from 38% a year earlier. Samsung was in second places, grabbing 18.8% of the market, an increase from its 13% share at the end of 2012. Amazon had 7.6% of the market in the final quarter of 2013, Asus had 5.1% and Lenovo 4.4%.

Lenovo benefited from low-priced tablets sold in emerging markets. It has just 1.3% of the tablet market in the last quarter of 2012.

 

Microsoft Takes Gears Of War IP

January 28, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Gears of War will continue to turn, as Microsoft has acquired the sci-fi shooter franchise from Epic Games. Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer confirmed, saying the deal covers the intellectual property, all existing games and assets, and the rights to continue the franchise in the future.

As for who will make the Gears of War games with Epic out of the picture, that task has been entrusted to Microsoft’s Vancouver-based Black Tusk Studios, under the leadership of the studio’s general manager Hanno Lemke. Spencer called it “a big vote of confidence” for not just the studio but the Vancouver development scene. (Microsoft closed its nearby Victoria development studio last month.)

Future development on the franchise will be led by Rod Fergusson, who was a producer on the first three Gears of War titles. While Fergusson has a long history with Gears of War, his appointment at Black Tusk has to be considered surprising. Just four months ago, Take-Two announced that Fergusson was launching a new Bay Area studio to work on a new project for the publisher.

“It’s kind of nice he can tie the franchise, the culture, bring it all together, and really help with the talent we already have up at Black Tusk to get the franchise going with a new organization,” Spencer said.

Fergusson released a statement on his new appointment, saying, “I’m extremely excited to be joining Black Tusk Studios to oversee development on the Gears of War franchise. I’ve been privileged to work on a lot of great games with a lot of great teams, but Gears has had the most impact on me professionally and personally, so this really feels like a homecoming. I can’t wait to share more with you all soon.”

“[I]f you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that.”

Phil Spencer

This isn’t the first time Microsoft has had to find a new studio to take over a blockbuster sci-fi shooter IP. In 2007, Bungie struck a deal to split off from the Xbox maker, leaving the Halo franchise in need of a new developer. Spencer said there were lessons to be learned from the successful transition of the Halo series to 343 Industries, and mentioned Lemke would be speaking with 343′s Bonnie Ross about her experiences.

“We’re not announcing anything right now, but I think if you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that,” Spencer said. “But it does give me confidence knowing that we’ve done this once with 343.”

343 cut its teeth on the Halo franchise with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, an Xbox 360 remake of the original Xbox launch title Halo: Combat Evolved.

Whatever else changes with Gears of War, one thing that will likely stay the same is the technology powering the franchise. Spencer declined to say whether the deal requires Microsoft to use the Unreal Engine for future Gears games, but he did say the company was a big fan of the technology.

“We’ve used the Unreal Engine in our development of the Gears franchise and other franchises,” Spencer said. “Unreal is important for us. So I don’t see us moving away from Unreal. I have confidence in the Unreal Engine going forward, and it’s important to the franchise.”

Spencer also noted that a Black Tusk teaser trailer shown at E3 was built using Unreal. And even though that clip–a man rappelling down the side of a present-day skyscraper before swinging in an open window to clobber a gun-toting guard–looked decidedly unlike Gears of War, Spencer called it a concept piece, and not a project that is being shelved as a result of the IP acquisition.

“This obviously isn’t something that started yesterday in terms of our discussions with Epic,” Spencer said. “Hanno’s been involved for quite a while, so he’s known that this is something we could land. And the leadership team there obviously knew as they started to build their road map for what they would be focused on. I wouldn’t say things have been shelved. Obviously, this will become a big focus of the studio and something that will be critical to them driving forward. There’s not really something that was on the road map that all of a sudden goes away.”

When Microsoft opened Black Tusk in 2012, studio representatives said it was not working on an existing franchise, but instead was “looking to build the next Halo” from the ground up.

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Courtesy-GI.biz