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Installment Plans Are A Hit With Mobile Phone Buyers, Subsidies Losing Steam

April 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Installment plans for mobile phones are starting to out pace the time-honored practice of paying a subsidized price up front, according to AT&T.

Buying installments is catching on in a big way, according to AT&T’s first-quarter financial results Tuesday. About 2.9 million people signed up for the carrier’s Next plan, in which subscribers pay for a phone in monthly installments and can trade it in for a new model after a year. That was more than 40 percent of AT&T’s postpaid customer additions or upgrades for the quarter.

Paying in installments is an alternative to buying phones at a price subsidized by the carrier, the way most U.S. consumers have done it up to now.

AT&T introduced Next in July 2013 amid a flood of new plan options among U.S. carriers that was led by T-Mobile USA. Only 15 percent of AT&T’s new subscribers and upgraders signed up for Next in the fourth quarter last year, so the plan seems to be gaining momentum. However, some of the uptake in the first quarter came from an offer that let customers upgrade their phones early, the carrier said.

U.S. carriers sell most of their phones at subsidized prices to draw customers in and then lock those subscribers into two-year contracts. With installment plans, subscribers still have to pay off their phones if they change carriers before they’ve made all the payments, but the monthly cost of the phone — about US$15 to $50 on Next — is spelled out on each bill. After 20 payments, the handset’s paid for. AT&T says consumers like having a more “transparent” way to pay for their devices.

“Many customers have been choosing to move off the subsidy model,” Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said on a conference call Tuesday. AT&T thinks this trend will continue but it’s not ready to drop the subsidy model yet.

“I wouldn’t suggest it would be eliminated as long as there’s a significant number of customers who enjoy and prefer it,” Stephens said.

If you’re wondering where those trade-in phones go, Stephens said AT&T can sell them to customers of its prepaid plans, use them to fulfill insurance plans that cover phone replacement, or sell them on the wholesale market, as it began doing last year. The fact that AT&T uses the GSM family of network technologies, which is used around the world, helps it get good prices for the used phones, Stephens said.

AT&T’s Mobile Share plans also are growing more popular. About 45 percent of its postpaid subscribers are on the plans, which let customers pay for one monthly bucket of data and use it on multiple devices. A lot of shared-plan users are buying big buckets, too: 46 percent of them have plans with 10GB or more per month, the carrier said.

 

ARM Predicts Smartphone Growth Recovering In Second Half

April 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

ARM Holdings, whose chip technology runs Apple’s iPhone, said demand for smartphones would increase in the second half after a disappointing end to 2013 resulted in first-quarter profit rising less than in previous years.

Sales of top-end smartphones, a market dominated by Apple and Samsung, were lower than predicted during the Christmas holiday season, leading to worries that the market was becoming saturated.

But ARM’s Chief Financial Officer Tim Score said there were signs that demand was picking up for smartphones from the low-end to the top, where Samsung has just launched its Galaxy S5 flagship and Apple is expected to unveil a new iPhone later this year.

The British company posted a 9 percent rise in pretax profit to 97.1 million pounds ($163.36 million), broadly in line with market forecasts, on revenue collected in dollars of $305.2 million, up 16 percent. In comparison, a year ago adjusted pretax profit jumped 44 percent.

Royalty payments, which ARM receives a quarter in arrears on every chip that contains its technology, rose by an underlying 8 percent year on year, about a quarter of the growth it was seeing at the same time last year.

Cambridge-based ARM said royalties were affected by an inventory correction as manufacturers used up components they had stockpiled because of weaker customer demand, particularly in mobile and consumer electronics.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chip producer which drives more than half of ARM’s processor royalties, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, said last week it was targeting record revenue in the second quarter.

“There has been an inventory correction in smartphones, that looks to be unwinding,” Score told reporters on Wednesday. “We saw TSMC showing very strong guidance for their second quarter, which will inform our Q3 royalties.”

In the longer term, growth in companies licensing ARM’s technology for uses ranging from networking equipment to microcontrollers in appliances like dishwashers would also drive royalty growth, he said. Processor licensing revenue rose 38 percent in the quarter to $111.6 million.

 

 

Vevo Sees Dramatic Growth, Monthly Viewership Up Nearly 50 Percent

April 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Vevo, the online music video hub that is a joint venture of two of the world’s biggest music labels, has enjoyed a nearly 50 percent spike in the number of music videos streamed each month from its platform, according to the company’s top executives.

The company, which is controlled by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, hit a monthly average of nearly 6 billion views in December, a 46 percent rise from a year earlier, said Rio Caraeff, the chief executive officer.

About 65 percent of the videos are being watched on mobile phones, according to the company.

“On a global stage, it’s really all about mobile,” Caraeff said in Miami, where he was participating in the Billboard Latin Music Conference. “Mobile and tablet and television are where the majority of the views are happening.”

A growing number of people watch music videos from the platform on smartphones, tablets or web-connected TVs using Apple TV, Roku and XBox devices.

Google Inc is a minority stakeholder in New York-based Vevo, which was founded in 2009. Universal Music is a unit of Vivendi SA, and Sony Entertainment is part of Sony Corp.

The online music video service started out distributing videos to AOL and Google’s YouTube, creating revenue from a portion of the advertising revenue it generated.

Of the approximately 6 billion music videos streamed each month, 5 billion occur outside the United States, Caraeff said. The top countries include the UK and Germany. Vevo offers its own service in more than 13 countries and will soon roll out in Mexico.

The most watched video ever is teen pop star Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with over 1 billion streams, according to the company. Last year, Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason” topped Vevo’s list of the most viewed videos.

Caraeff said the company is holding conversations with potential investors as it seeks to expand. He declined to say who the company has spoken with. The Wall Street Journal has reported Vevo held talks with financial services firm Guggenheim Partners.

“We are continuing to speak to investors as we try to find the right partners to grow the business more rapidly than we’ve been able to do so far,” Caraeff said. “We’re still very active in that process.”

Last week, Vevo, which provides some of the most popular content on YouTube, expanded its content partnership with Yahoo in a deal that brings Vevo’s music videos and other programming to Yahoo’s video channel, Yahoo Screen, in the United States and Canada.

The partnership is expected to soon extend to Britain, Germany, Spain, France and Italy as well as the Yahoo Screen mobile app.

 

Will Apple Become GlobalFounderies First Client For 14nm Chips?

April 24, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

It is being said that ambitious plans are coming out of Samsung and GlobalFoundries, as the chipmakers claim they can manufacture some 14nm parts before the end of the year. Some people who know the industry quite well are claiming that risk manufacturing can start later this year, but full volume production is definitely taking place in the latter half of 2015.

It takes time to transition from a manufacturing node and the general feeling is that industry will move from 20nm to 14nm much faster than it moved from 28th to 20nm.

FinFET transistors in 14nm/16nm are not easy to do and even Intel, the undisputed leader in the foundry business, is having trouble moving to 14nm production despite the fact that it mastered the 22nm process quite some time ago.

AMD’s 20nm, 14nm transition plan

AMD went on record saying that it plans 20nm parts next year and we expect to see both APUs and GPUs from this company in 20nm. We don’t know who will make them, TSMC or GlobalFoundries, or both. We would be surprised if all of AMD’s graphics business moves to GlobalFoundries, as TSMC has a lot of experience with big GPU designs, as it has been churning out GPUs for ATI (now AMD) and Nvidia since the first 3D accelerators back in the nineties.

Looking into our crystal ball, we see 16nm parts shipping in 2016 and if we are lucky we might even see some 16nm GPUs in the same year. Things are getting complicated as GlobalFoundries and Samsung calls their next node 14nm and the answer of whether the subsequent generation AMD parts will be 16nm or 14nm will depend on another answer – whether GlobalFoundries or TSMC have won the deal.

Our sources are also claiming that Apple wanted to get hold of Samsung and GlobalFoundries manufacturing capacities in USA. Samsung has the S2 Fab in Austin Texas, while GlobalFoundries have their new FAB 8 in Saratoga, New York State. Apple will be much happier to be able to manufacture its future chips closer to Cupertino.

Apple SoCs Designed in California, Made in USA

If all goes well the 2015 iPhone and iPad might end up with a 14nm custom SoC manufactured by the Samsung / GlobalFoundries alliance. According to the Samsung – GlobalFoundries 14nm collaboration presentation the performance of 14nm chip goes up 20 percent and the power consumption drops by about 35 percent. This is a big deal for battery operated devices.

With all we have gathered so far, we expect to see Apple A8 SoCs manufactured in 20nm in the latter half of 2014, just in time for the iPhone 6 and the next generation iPad launch. In 2015, Apple might be among first ARM licensees to start the 14nm chip production, manufactured on US soil.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Samsung 28-in 4K Monitor Drops To Less Than $600

April 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The price of Samsung’s latest 28-inch 4K monitor has decreased by $100 to just under $600, which could be a precursor to 4K monitor prices further dropping as the technology goes mainstream.

The price drop comes just under a month after Samsung announced the monitor — the U28D590D — for $699.99. Major retail sites taking orders for the new monitor at $599.99 include Amazon.com, where the product is currently out of stock, and Newegg, which will start shipping the product later this week.

Video with 4K resolution, also known as Ultra HD, displays images at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which is four times that of current 1080p high-definition monitors or TVs. TVs and cameras supporting 4K are available, and monitors for computer users are quickly falling in price as more brands become available.

Earlier this year prices for 4K monitors fell from over $1,000 to under $700 when Dell started shipping its 28-inch Ultra HD P2815Q monitor for $699.99. The product was temporarily pulled from the market before Dell made it available again.

Other sub-$800 monitors announced in January include Lenovo’s ThinkVision Pro2840m 4K monitor, which is due to ship this month for $799, and a $699 monitor from Asus, which is not yet available.

PC companies are eager to push 4K monitors to the masses, with Toshiba and Lenovo announcing 4K laptops this year. The new 4K monitors have a range of ports, but the lower-priced monitors typically suffer on refresh rates. The Samsung UD590 refresh rate through an HDMI 1.4 port is 30Hz, and a desirable 60Hz with a DisplayPort 1.2 port.

Dell’s 28-inch Ultra HD P2815Q monitor was criticized for its 30Hz refresh rate. The refresh rate is an important metric in determining how well monitors are able to reduce flickering while coping with fast-moving images.

The price drop on Samsung’s monitor could drive competitors selling larger monitors over $1,000 to drop prices as well. Asus’ 31.5-inch PQ321Q is priced at $2,899 on Amazon.com, and Sharp’s 31.5-inch PN-K321 is priced at $3,595 in Apple’s online store.

 

Mobile Payments Square In Trouble, Seeks Buyer

April 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Square Inc has been having discussions with several rivals for a possible sale as the mobile payments startup hopes to stem widening losses and dwindling cash, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The company spoke to Google Inc earlier this year about a possible sale, the Journal reported, adding that it wasn’t clear whether the talks are continuing.

Square, founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey, co-creator of Twitter Inc, will likely fetch billions of dollars in a sale. Square insiders sold shares earlier this year on the secondary market, valuing the company at roughly $5.2 billion, the Journal said.

The company recorded a loss of about $100 million in 2013, the Journal said, adding that the startup has consumed more than half of the roughly $340 million it raised from at least four rounds of equity financing since 2009.

Square makes credit card readers that slot into smartphones such as Apple Inc’s iPhone.

Square also had informal discussions about a deal with Apple

and eBay Inc’s PayPal in the past, but those conversations never developed into serious talks, the Journal said.

A spokesman for Square told the Journal that the company never had acquisition talks with Google. The report also quoted a PayPal spokesman as saying that the company did not have acquisition talks with Square.

Square, Google, Apple and eBay were not immediately available for comment.

 

 

AT&T To Offer Smartwatches This Year

April 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Smartwatches for use on AT&T’s network will be out this year, so says one of the company’s executives.

“I think you’ll see wide-area, high-bandwidth [smart]watches this year at some point,” said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T, in an interview.

The company has a group working in Austin, Texas, on thousands of wearable-device prototypes, and is also looking at certifying third-party devices for use on its network, Lurie said.

“A majority of stuff you’re going to see today that’s truly wearable is going to be in a watch form factor to start,” Lurie said. If smartwatch use takes off — “and we believe it can,” Lurie said — then those devices could become hubs for wearable computing.

Right now smartwatches lack LTE capabilities, so they are largely reliant on smartphones for apps and notifications. With a mobile broadband connection, a smartwatch becomes an “independent device,” Lurie said.

“We’ve been very, very clear in our opinion that a wearable needs to be a stand-alone device,” Lurie said.

AT&T and Filip Technologies in January released the Filip child tracker wristwatch, which also allows a parent to call a child over AT&T’s network. Filip could be improved, but those are the kind of wearable products that AT&T wants to bring to market.

Wearables for home health care are also candidates for LTE connections, Lurie said, but fitness trackers may be too small for LTE connectivity, at least for now.

Lurie couldn’t say when smartglasses would be certified to work on AT&T’s network. Google last year said adding cellular capabilities to its Glass eyewear wasn’t in the plans because of battery use. But AT&T is willing to experiment with devices to see where LTE would fit.

“It’s one thing if I’m buying it to go out for a job, it’s another thing if I’m going to wear it everyday. Those are the things people are debating right now — how that’s all going to come out,” Lurie said. “There’s technology and there’s innovation happening, and those things will get solved.”

Lurie said battery issues are being resolved, but there are no network capacity issues. Wearable devices don’t use too much bandwidth as they relay short bursts of information, unless someone is, for instance, listening to Pandora radio on a smartwatch, Lurie said.

But AT&T is building out network capacity, adding Wi-Fi networks, and virtualizing networks to accommodate more devices.

“We don’t have network issues, we don’t have any capacity issues,” Lurie said. “The key element to adding these devices is a majority of [them] aren’t high-bandwidth devices.”

AT&T wants to make wearables work with its home offerings like the Digital Life home automation and security system. AT&T is also working with car makers for LTE integration, with wearables interacting with vehicles to open doors and start ignitions.

 

Intel Looks To Android To Boost Tablet Business

April 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Its becoming more obvious lately that Intel and Microsoft are no longer joined at the hip. Intel is trying desperately to make a dent in the tablet market, and with Windows struggling on those devices, Android is where it’s at.

Intel hopes to see its processors used in 40 million tablets this year, and 80% to 90% of those will be running Google’s Android OS, CEO Brian Krzanich said on Tuesday.

“Our mix of OSes reflects pretty much what you see in the marketplace,” Krzanich said during Intel’s quarterly earnings call.

Most Intel-powered tablets running Android today use the older Medfield and Clover Trail+ chips. More Android tablets running the latest Atom processor, called Bay Trail, will ship later this quarter.

That’s not to say Intel is abandoning Windows — far from it. It’s just going where the market is today. Krzanich said he expects Windows to “grow and gain traction,” and more Intel-based tablets running both Android and Windows will be shown in June at the massive Computex trade show in Taipei.

The first Android-based Bay Trail tablet, the DreamTab, was announced in January, but it hasn’t shipped yet.

Intel is chasing ARM, the U.K. company whose processor designs are used in most tablets today, including those running both Android and Apple’s iOS.

The 40 million Intel tablets that will ship this year will give the company 15% to 20% of the tablet market, Intel CFO Stacy Smith said on the earnings call.

Intel is providing discounts and development funds to tablet makers to reduce the cost of using its chips. It’s looking for growth with the white-box Chinese tablet makers, which are expected to ship up to 130 million tablets this year.

Intel chips are available in some tablets now priced under $99, but most will be priced between $125 and $250, Krzanich said.

Microsoft hasn’t made much of a dent yet in Google’s and Apple’s share of the market, but IDC estimated last month that Windows would have 10.2% of the tablet market by 2017. Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard have launched Windows 8 tablets with Bay Trail, and Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 2 uses an Intel Core processor, but the tablets haven’t sold well.

 

 

 

Intel Shows Off New Hybrid Laptop Geared Towards Schools

April 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Intel unveiled a laptop-tablet hybrid with Windows 8.1 for the education market, where Chromebooks and tablets are also vying for customers.

The Intel Education 2-in-1 hybrid has a 10.1-inch screen that can detach from a keyboard base to turn into a tablet. Intel makes reference designs, which are then replicated by device makers and sold to educational institutions.

The 2-in-1 has a quad-core Intel Atom processor Z3740D, which is based on the Bay Trail architecture. The battery lasts about eight hours in tablet mode, and three more hours when docked with the keyboard base, which has a second battery.

Intel did not immediately return requests for comment on the estimated price for the hybrid or when it would become available.

Education is a hotly contested market among computer makers, as Apple pushes its iPads and MacBooks while PC makers like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo hawk their Chromebooks.

Some features in the Intel 2-in-1 are drawn from the company’s Education tablets, which also run on Atom processors, but have the Android OS.

The 2-in-1 hybrid has front-facing and rear-facing cameras, and a snap-on magnification lens that allows students to examine items at a microscopic level.

The computer can withstand a drop of 70 centimeters, a feature added as protection for instances in which children mishandle laptops and let them fall. The keyboard base also has a handle.

The screen can be swiveled and placed on the keyboard, giving it the capability of a classic convertible laptop. This feature has been drawn from Intel’s Classmate series of education laptops.

The 2-in-1 has software intended to make learning easier, including tools for the arts and science. Intel’s Kno app provides access to 225,000 books. Typically, some of the books available via Kno are free, while others are fee-based.

 

 

BlackBerry Plans To Release Patch For ‘Heartbleed’ Vulnerability

April 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

BlackBerry Ltd said it will release security updates for messaging software for Android and iOS devices by Friday to address vulnerabilities in programs related to the “Heartbleed” security threat.

Researchers last week warned they uncovered Heartbleed, a bug that targets the OpenSSL software commonly used to keep data secure, potentially allowing hackers to steal massive troves of information without leaving a trace.

Security experts initially told companies to focus on securing vulnerable websites, but have since warned about threats to technology used in data centers and on mobile devices running Google Inc’s Android software and Apple Inc’s iOS software.

Scott Totzke, BlackBerry senior vice president, told Reuters on Sunday that while the bulk of BlackBerry products do not use the vulnerable software, the company does need to update two widely used products: Secure Work Space corporate email and BBM messaging program for Android and iOS.

He said they are vulnerable to attacks by hackers if they gain access to those apps through either WiFi connections or carrier networks.

Still, he said, “The level of risk here is extremely small,” because BlackBerry’s security technology would make it difficult for a hacker to succeed in gaining data through an attack.

“It’s a very complex attack that has to be timed in a very small window,” he said, adding that it was safe to continue using those apps before an update is issued.

Google spokesman Christopher Katsaros declined comment. Officials with Apple could not be reached.

Security experts say that other mobile apps are also likely vulnerable because they use OpenSSL code.

Michael Shaulov, chief executive of Lacoon Mobile Security, said he suspects that apps that compete with BlackBerry in an area known as mobile device management are also susceptible to attack because they, too, typically use OpenSSL code.

He said mobile app developers have time to figure out which products are vulnerable and fix them.

“It will take the hackers a couple of weeks or even a month to move from ‘proof of concept’ to being able to exploit devices,” said Shaulov.

Technology firms and the U.S. government are taking the threat extremely seriously. Federal officials warned banks and other businesses on Friday to be on alert for hackers seeking to steal data exposed by the Heartbleed bug.

Companies including Cisco Systems Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co, International Business Machines Corp, Intel Corp, Juniper Networks Inc, Oracle Corp Red Hat Inc have warned customers they may be at risk. Some updates are out, while others, like BlackBerry, are rushing to get them ready.

 

Can Micro-Consoles Compete With True Gaming Consoles?

April 15, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

With Amazon’s Fire TV device the first out the door, the second wave of microconsoles has just kicked off. Amazon’s device will be joined in reasonably short order by one from Google, with an app-capable update of the Apple TV device also likely in the works. Who else will join the party is unclear; Sony’s Vita TV, quietly soft-launched in Japan last year, remains a potentially fascinating contender if it had the right messaging and services behind it, but for now it’s out of the race. One thing seems certain, though; at least this time we’re actually going to have a party.

“Second wave”, you see, rather implies the existence of a first wave of microconsoles, but last time out the party was disappointing, to say the least. In fact, if you missed the first wave, don’t feel too bad; you’re in good company. Despite enthusiasm, Kickstarter dollars and lofty predictions, the first wave of microconsole devices tanked. Ouya, Gamestick and their ilk just turned out to be something few people actually wanted or needed. Somewhat dodgy controllers and weak selections of a sub-set of Android’s game library merely compounded the basic problem – they weren’t sufficiently cheap or appealing compared to the consoles reaching their end-of-life and armed with a vast back catalogue of excellent, cheap AAA software.

“The second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail”

That was always the reality which deflated the most puffed-up “microconsoles will kill consoles” argument; the last wave of microconsoles sucked compared to consoles, not just for the core AAA gamer but for just about everyone else as well. Their hardware was poor, their controllers uncomfortable, their software libraries anaemic and their much-vaunted cost savings resulting from mobile game pricing rather than console game pricing tended to ignore the actual behaviour of non-core console gamers – who rarely buy day-one software and as a result get remarkably good value for money from their console gaming experiences. Comparing mobile game pricing or F2P models to $60 console games is a pretty dishonest exercise if you know perfectly well that most of the consumers you’re targeting wouldn’t dream of spending $60 on a console game, and never have to.

Why is the second wave of microconsoles going to be different? Three words: Amazon, Google, Apple. Perhaps Sony; perhaps even Samsung or Microsoft, if the wind blows the right direction for those firms (a Samsung microconsole, sold separately and also bundled into the firm’s TVs, as Sony will probably do with Vita TV in future Bravia televisions, would make particular sense). Every major player in the tech industry has a keen interest in controlling the channel through which media is consumed in the living room. Just as Sony and Microsoft originally entered the games business with a “trojan horse” strategy for controlling living rooms, Amazon and Google now recognise games as being a useful way to pursue the same objective. Thus, unlike the plucky but poorly conceived efforts of the small companies who launched the first wave of microconsoles, the second wave is backed by the most powerful tech giants in the world, whose titanic struggle with each other for control of the means of media distribution means their devices will have enormous backing.

To that end, Amazon has created its own game studios, focusing their efforts on the elusive mid-range between casual mobile games and core console games. Other microconsole vendors may take a different approach, creating schemes to appeal to third-party developers rather than building in-house studios (Apple, at least, is almost guaranteed to go down this path; Google could yet surprise us by pursuing in-house development for key exclusive titles). Either way, the investment in software will come. The second wave of microconsoles will not be “boxes that let you play phone games on your TV”; at least not entirely. Rather, they will enjoy dedicated software support from companies who understand that a hit exclusive game would be a powerful way to drive installed base and usage.

Moreover, this wave of microconsoles will enjoy significant retail support. Fire TV’s edge is obvious; Amazon is the world’s largest and most successful online retailer, and it will give Fire TV prime billing on its various sites. The power of being promoted strongly by Amazon is not to be underestimated. Kindle Fire devices may still be eclipsed by the astonishing strength of the iPad in the tablet market, but they’re effectively the only non-iPad devices in the running, in sales terms, largely because Amazon has thrown its weight as a retailer behind them. Apple, meanwhile, is no laggard at retail, operating a network of the world’s most profitable stores to sell its own goods, while Google, although the runt of the litter in this regard, has done a solid job of balancing direct sales of its Nexus handsets with carrier and retail sales, work which it could bring to bear effectively on a microconsole offering.

In short, the second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail. Moreover, they’ll be “trojan horse” devices in more ways than one, since their primary purpose will be as media devices, streaming content from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix and so on, while also serving as solid gaming devices in their own right. Here, then, is the convergence that microconsole advocates (and the rather less credible advocates of Smart TV) have been predicting all along; a tiny box that will stream all your media off the network and also build in enough gaming capability to satisfy the mainstream of consumers. Between the microconsole under the TV and the phone in your pocket, that’s gaming all sewn up, they reckon; just as a smartphone camera is good enough for almost everyone, leaving digital SLRs and their ilk to the devoted hobbyist, the professional and the poseur, a microconsole and a smartphone will be more than enough gaming for almost everyone, leaving dedicated consoles and gaming PCs to a commercially irrelevant hardcore fringe.

There are, I think, two problems with that assessment. The first is the notion that the “hardcore fringe” who will use dedicated gaming hardware is small enough to be commercially irrelevant; I’ve pointed out before that the strong growth of a new casual gaming market does not have to come at the cost of growth in the core market, and may even support it by providing a new stream of interested consumers. This is not a zero-sum game, and will not be a zero-sum game until we reach a point where there are no more non-gaming consumers out there to introduce to our medium. Microconsoles might do very well and still cause not the slightest headache to PlayStation, Xbox or Steam.

The second problem with the assessment is a problem with the microconsoles themselves – a problem which the Fire TV suffers from very seriously, and which will likely be replicated by subsequent devices. The problem is control.

Games are an interactive experience. Having a box which can run graphically intensive games is only one side of the equation – it is, arguably, the less important side of the equation. The other side is the controller, the device through which the player interacts with the game world. The most powerful graphics hardware in the world would be meaningless without some enjoyable, comfortable, well-designed method of interaction for players; and out of the box, Fire TV doesn’t have that.

Sure, you can control games (some of them, anyway) with the default remote control, but that’s going to be a terrible experience. I’m reminded of terribly earnest people ten years ago trying to convince me that you could have fun controlling complex games on pre-smartphone phones, or on TV remote controls linked up to cable boxes; valiant efforts ultimately doomed not only by a non-existent business ecosystem but by a terrible, terrible user experience. Smartphones heralded a gaming revolution not just because of the App Store ecosystem, but because it turned out that a sensitive multi-touch screen isn’t a bad way of controlling quite a lot of games. It still doesn’t work for many types of game; a lot of traditional game genres are designed around control mechanisms that simply can’t be shoehorned onto a smartphone. By and large, though, developers have come to grips with the possibilities and limitations of the touchscreen as a controller, and are making some solid, fun experiences with it.

With Fire TV, and I expect with whatever offering Google and Apple end up making, the controller is an afterthought – both figuratively and literally. You have to buy it separately, which keeps down the cost of the basic box but makes it highly unlikely that the average purchaser will be able to have a good game experience on the device. The controller itself doesn’t look great, which doesn’t help much, but simply being bundled with the box would make a bold statement about Fire TV’s gaming ambitions. As it is, this is not a gaming device. It’s a device that can play games if you buy an add-on; the notion that a box is a “gaming device” just because its internal chips can process game software, even if it doesn’t have the external hardware required to adequately control the experience, is the kind of notion only held by people who don’t play or understand games.

This is the Achilles’ Heel of the second generation of microconsoles. They offer a great deal – the backing of the tech giants, potentially huge investment and enormous retail presence. They could, with the right wind in their sales, help to bring “sofa gaming” to the same immense, casual audience that presently enjoys “pocket gaming”. Yet the giant unsolved question remains; how will these games be controlled? A Fire TV owner, a potential casual gamer, who tries to play a game using his remote control and finds the experience frustrating and unpleasant won’t go off and buy a controller to make things better; he’ll shrug and return to the Hulu app, dismissing the Games panel of the device as being a pointless irrelevance.

The answer doesn’t have to be “bundle a joypad”. Perhaps it’ll be “tether to a smartphone”, a decision which would demand a whole new approach to interaction design (which would be rather exciting, actually). Perhaps a simple Wiimote style wand could double as a remote control and a great motion controller or pointer. Perhaps (though I acknowledge this as deeply unlikely) a motion sensor like a “Kinect Lite” could be the solution. Many compelling approaches exist which deserve to be tried out; but one thing is absolutely certain. While the second generation of microconsoles are going to do very well in sales terms, they will primarily be bought as media streaming boxes – and will never be an important games platform until the question of control gets a good answer.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Wi-Fi Problems Plague Apple-Samsung Trial

April 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

There’s a new sign on the door to Courtroom 1 at the federal courthouse in San Jose, the location of the Apple v. Samsung battle that’s playing out this month: “Please turn off all cell phones.”

For a trial that centers on smartphones and the technology they use, it’s more than a little ironic. The entire case might not even be taking place if the market wasn’t so big and important, but the constant need for connectivity of everyone is causing problems in the court, hence the new sign.

The problems have centered on the system that displays the court reporter’s real-time transcription onto monitors on the desks of Judge Lucy Koh, the presiding judge in the case, and the lawyers of Apple and Samsung. The system, it seems, is connected via Wi-Fi and that connection keeps failing.

“We have a problem,” Judge Koh told the courtroom on April 4, soon after the problem first appeared. Without the system, Koh said she couldn’t do her job, so if people didn’t shut off electronics, she might have to ban them from the courtroom.

In many other courts, electronic devices are routinely banned, but the Northern District of California and Judge Koh have embraced technology more than most. While reporters and spectators are limited to a pen and paper in courts across the country, the court here permits live coverage through laptops and even provides a free Wi-Fi network.

On Monday, the problems continued and Judge Koh again asked for all cellphones to be switched off.

But not everyone listened. A scan of the courtroom revealed at least one hotspot hadn’t been switched off: It was an SK Telecom roaming device from South Korea, likely used by a member of Samsung’s team.

The hotspot was switched off by the end of the day, but on Tuesday there were more problems.

“You. Ma’am. You in the front row,” Judge Koh said sternly during a break. She’d spotted an Apple staffer using her phone and made the culprit stand, give her name and verbally agree not to use the handset again in court.

As a result of all the problems, lawyers for Apple and Samsung jointly suggested using a scheduled two-day break in the case to hardwire the transcription computers to the court’s network.

The cable wasn’t installed.

“I believe there were some issues, We’re attempting to install it,” one of the attorneys told IDG News Service during the court lunch break.

So for now, the problems continue.

The clerk opened the day with an appeal to switch phones off, “not even airplane mode.”

That still didn’t help.

The transcription screens failed at 9:09 a.m., just minutes into the first session of the morning.

 

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.

 

New App Aids in Making You Look Slimmer in ‘Selfies’

April 9, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

A new app that allows its users to shed virtual weight so their faces appear slimmer on “selfie” photos is raising concerns about health and body-image issues.

SkinneePix, for iPhone and Android devices, can trim from five to 15 pounds (2-6 kg) of virtual fat for a slimmer selfie look.

“Cameras add additional weight to photos and when you’re taking a selfie you’re also dealing with bad lighting, angles, close-ups and a lot of other factors that make people complain that the photo isn’t an accurate representation of themselves,” said Susan Green, co-founder of the Phoenix-based company Pretty Smart Women that created the app.

It was originally designed to help overweight adults show a leaner version of themselves, but Robin J Phillips, the other co-founder, said the app has also motivated people to lose weight.

“It’s a good reminder to get off the couch, turn the TV off, and go for a walk,” she said.

But some critics fear the $1.99 app, which only works on single head shots, could encourage an unhealthy body image.

Lauren Dickson, a social worker in the eating disorders and addiction clinic at the Center of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said the app is one of many factors that could contribute towards a young adult developing an eating disorder.

“The media obviously has some effect on people developing eating disorders, but it’s not the only variable. It’s one of many factors,” she said in an interview.

“The majority of young girls wouldn’t develop an eating disorder because of an app like this, but some might be more vulnerable and it could contribute,” Dickson added.

Green said the virtual weight loss in the app is capped at 15 pounds and the app focuses only on the face and not the entire body.

“We definitely understand that people can have body image problems and we’re not trying to contribute to that in any way,” she said.

“I think if someone who is very thin uses it and goes straight for 15 (pounds), then that’s probably not the best thing, but they could also do that in Photoshop,” Green added.

Other apps can also add or remove weight, including one called FatBooth.

 

HTC First Quarter Losses Steeper Than Anticipated

April 8, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Taiwan based mobile phone maker HTC Corp posted a first-quarter loss that was bigger than analyst estimates, after ineffective marketing resulted in weak sales of its former flagship model.

The HTC One spent its year at the top of the product line receiving rave reviews but was undermined by advertising widely criticized as confusing, sending the company’s market share into freefall.

HTC was once a firm third to Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, selling 10 percent of smartphones globally two years ago, but it ended 2013 with a market share of just 2 percent, showed data from researcher Strategy Analytics.

The company started 2014 by booking a net loss of T$1.88 billion ($62.06 million) for January-March. That compared with a mean loss of T$1.59 billion estimated by 18 analysts polled by Reuters, and profit of T$85 million logged a year earlier.

Revenue fell 22.6 percent to T$33.12 billion, the company said in a statement on Monday.

HTC, however, broke 28 months of on-year revenue declines with a rise of 2.16 percent in March, and said it expected to return to profit in the second quarter thanks in part to the late-March release of its upgraded flagship, the HTC One M8.

Shares of HTC have fallen 38 percent over the past year, compared with a 12 percent rise in the Taiwan Stock Exchange Weighted Index. Ahead of the release, they closed up 3.6 percent versus the benchmark’s 0.1 percent loss.

The former contract manufacturer released a series of mid-range smartphones in recent weeks, predicting cheaper phones in emerging markets will help it return to profit this year.

It has also launched a partnership with search engine giant Google Inc to manufacture smart watches.

But it is the new flagship HTC One M8 that the company hopes will help it reestablish itself as a challenger to market leaders Apple and Samsung.

“The M8 is good, but it’s not as revolutionary as the previous flagship,” said Yuanta Securities analyst Dennis Chan. “Everyone is watching the second quarter to see how it sells.”

Tech website CNET.com awarded the phone four and a half stars out of five, calling it “a stunning sequel” to last year’s HTC One – a phone whose equally strong reviews were not matched by marketing and so did not translate into strong sales.

The new flagship could be in for a similarly rough sales ride as smartphone growth globally is likely to slow this year to 19 percent from 39 percent in 2013, and taper off over the next few years, showed data from researcher IDC.

As smartphones mature and technological upgrades become more incremental, analysts say even more importance will be placed on marketing and brand image – an area Chairwoman Cher Wang admitted HTC “didn’t do well” last year.

To distinguish itself to trend-conscious consumers, HTC must learn from Apple, whose innovative brand image and marketing strategy has won plaudits, said Taipei-based brand consultant Mark Stocker.

“Mimic them, but figure out what your brand stands for,” said Stocker. “If Apple is Mercedes Benz, try to make yourself BMW.”