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Yahoo Out, Google In For Firefox Corporate Browser

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google picked up a previous location as the default search engine on Mozilla Corp’s Firefox Internet browser in the United States and other regions as the browser maker stunned Verizon Communication Inc’s Yahoo by canceling their deal.

Google confirmed the move but declined, along with Mozilla, to disclose revenue-sharing terms of the multiyear agreement. Google’s growing spending to be the primary search provider on apps and devices such as Apple Inc’s iPhone has been a major investor concern.

 Google will be Firefox’s default search provider on desktop and mobile in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said Denelle Dixon, Mozilla’s chief business and legal officer.

The decision was “based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search and the broader content experience for our users,” Dixon said. “We believe there are opportunities to work with Oath and Verizon outside of search.”

Verizon said Mozilla terminating the Yahoo agreement caught it off guard.

“We are surprised that Mozilla has decided to take another path, and we are in discussions with them regarding the terms of our agreement,” said Charles Stewart, a spokesman for Verizon’s Oath unit, which oversees Yahoo.

The search provider switch came as Mozilla announced Firefox Quantum, a faster, new version of the browser that company says is “30 percent lighter” than Google Chrome in that it uses less computer memory.

For a decade until 2014, Google had been Firefox’s worldwide search provider. Google then remained the default in Europe while regional rivals such as Yahoo, Russia’s Yandex and China’s Baidu Inc replaced it elsewhere.

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer won a five-year contract with Mozilla in 2014 when Firefox and Google’s Chrome browser were battling for users.

 Chrome’s U.S. market share has since doubled to about 60 percent, according to data from analytics provider StatCounter, with Mozilla, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp browsers capturing the rest.

Yahoo paid Mozilla $375 million in 2015 and said that it would pay at least the same amount annually through 2019, according to regulatory filings.

Yahoo and Google aim to recoup placement fees by selling ads alongside search results and collecting valuable user data. Google said in October that contract changes drove a 54 percent increase in such fees to $2.4 billion in the third quarter.

 

Amazon Decides Against Offering ‘Skinny Bundle’ Video Service

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc has decided to cancel plans to launch an online streaming service bundling popular U.S. broadcast and cable networks because it believes it cannot make enough money on such a service, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The world’s largest online retailer has also been unable to convince key broadcast and basic cable networks to break with decades-old business models and join its a la carte Amazon Channels service, the sources said and has backed away from talks with them.

 The reversals come a month after the abrupt departure of Roy Price from his job as head of Amazon Studios, the company’s high-profile television production division, following an allegation of sexual harassment, which he has contested.

They show how difficult it is for Amazon to change entrenched habits in the U.S. entertainment business in the same way that it has done in retail, cloud computing and other areas.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

Video has become an important tool for Amazon in generating subscriptions for its U.S. $99-a-year Prime membership service. It is on track to spend some $4.5 billion or more on video programming this year, analysts estimate.

On Monday it made waves in the entertainment world with the purchase of global television rights to “The Lord of the Rings,” planning a multi-season series to draw more viewers to Prime.

Such an offering, known in the industry as a “skinny bundle,” is a way of capturing younger viewers who are dropping traditional, expensive cable or satellite TV packages in favor of channels watchable on smartphones and tablets.

But in recent weeks, Amazon decided not to move ahead with a service on the grounds that it would yield too low a profit margin and did not necessarily indicate the direction the TV business will eventually go, the sources told Reuters.

Amazon could still decide to change course and introduce a skinny bundle, but the talks are over, the sources said.

SportsCenter Show Comes To Snapchat

November 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. sports broadcaster ESPN rolled out its flagship SportsCenter program on messaging app Snapchat on Monday, reimagining the show that provides sports highlights and commentary into a short-form series.

The new show deepens the relationship between ESPN parent Walt Disney Co and Snapchat parent Snap Inc.

The sports network, which has made Snapchat content since 2015, is trying to reach a younger audience, while the social media app, whose messages disappear after viewing, is adding more content in an effort to grow its user base beyond its core youth demographic.

The partnership is a two-year deal and Snap and ESPN will share revenues, Snap said, though it declined to give specifics.

SportsCenter will air twice a day on Snapchat during weekdays, and once a day on weekends. A roster of six hosts will give commentary and perspectives, including ESPN anchors Katie Nolan and Elle Duncan, and ESPN Radio host Jason Fitz, Snap said.

Sean Mills, Snap’s head of content programming, said SportsCenter helps round out the app’s stable of daily shows, which already includes news shows from CNN and NBC News, as well as an entertainment show called “The Rundown” from E! Network.

Along with daily shows, Snap launched a joint venture studio with NBCUniversal last month to produce scripted shows to air on the app.

Facebook Has A Unique Way To Fight Revenge Porn

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is prompting people to share their nude photos. But this isn’t what it sounds like.

The goal of the social network’s plan is to make sure people’s nude photos aren’t used for revenge porn by a disgruntled ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The way it’ll work is people will share their photos with Facebook via its Messenger app and the company will then “hash” the images, which is a process that converts the photos into a unique digital code. Once Facebook has that code, it can block the images from ever being uploaded to its site. The company will store the images for a short time and then delete them.

The company is piloting the technology in Australia with a small government agency headed by e-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

We see many scenarios where maybe photos or videos were taken consensually at one point, but there was not any sort of consent to send the images or videos more broadly,” Inman Grant told the ABC.

Other tech companies have used similar types of hashing technology in efforts to rid the internet of child pornography. Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have used unique digital codes to detect exploitative images, some of which have led to the arrests of people distributing the photographs on the web.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

Opera Browser Now Supports Virtual Reality

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The Opera desktop browser was revamped with social media capabilities earlier this year, but the updates didn’t end there.

The latest update adds VR support to the multifaceted browser, letting you stream 360-degree videos to your HTC Vive or Oculus headset, as well as any OpenVR devices. It’ll also let you edit screenshots, add emojis and take selfies with your laptop camera.

The feature-packed update comes as Opera plays catch up to Chrome, Safari and Firefox, and the new features are part of the company’s plan to rethink and modernize the browser as part of its Reborn project.

While tracking site Statcounter says Opera’s market share is just 3.89 percent globally in October, Opera is reporting rosy numbers. It claims to have seen double-digit growth in 2017, with active monthly users increasing by 25 percent year-on-year. The company says use of its desktop browser has grown by 65 percent in the US, 64 percent in France and by 50 percent in the UK.

Other features previously added include built-in browser support for chat services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and VK. Unit conversions were also added in a September update, making it easier to figure out time zones, miles to kilometers and more.

Twitter 280-Character Tweets Go Worldwide

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microblogging website Twitter Inc, known for its iconic 140-character tweets, officially announced that it would roll out 280-character tweets to users across the world.

Twitter said it ran a test on 280-character tweets in September that showed users spent less time editing their tweets and were less likely to abandon them.

User posting in languages including Japanese, Korean and Chinese, which do not face the issue of “cramming”, will continue to have a limit of 140 characters, Twitter said.

The company did not say when it would start allowing users to post 280-character tweets.

Snapchat Launches Re-design

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Snap Inc is redesigning its disappearing-message app Snapchat hoping to attract a broader audience, going back to the drawing board as Wall Street clobbered it for another quarter of slowing user growth.

The Venice, California-based firm, whose March stock market debut was the hottest of any tech stock in years, reported revenue and user growth for the third quarter well below Wall Street expectations as it struggles to compete with Facebook Inc’s Instagram.

Snap has disappointed investors each quarter of its brief existence as a public company.

User growth in the last three months was well below what investment analysts expected. Daily active users rose to 178 million in the third quarter from 173 million in the second quarter. Analysts had expected 181.8 million, according to research firm FactSet.

Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said the company was launching the redesign after hearing for years that Snapchat was difficult to understand or hard to use.

“We are going to make it easier to discover the vast quantity of content on our platform that goes undiscovered or unseen every day,” Spiegel told analysts on a conference call.

The 27-year-old CEO said there was a “strong likelihood” the redesign would be disruptive in the short term, but said Snap was willing to take the risk for long-term gain.

Such a radical change so soon after an IPO is unusual.

Snap is not the only social media company looking to revive growth by changing its look. Microblogging service Twitter Inc said on Tuesday it would roll out 280-character tweets to users across the world, double the length of its iconic 140-character tweets.

Asked on the analyst call what Snapchat’s redesign would look like, Spiegel said the company had been studying the evolution of mobile content feeds such as Twitter streams and the Facebook News Feed and saw room for a “personalized content service.”

Spiegel said the company next year would also build more tools for people to share with broad audiences beyond their friends, the type of public broadcasting common on Instagram and Twitter.

“It seems like a significant amount of change in a short period of time,” analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG told Spiegel on the call. He asked what led to the shifts.

Spiegel said Snap needed to evolve rapidly. “We’re just not afraid to make changes in the long-term interest of the business,” he said.

Snapchat Popularity Waning, Growth Slows

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Snapchat’s growth has come to a near crawl.

Snap, the company behind the social network, saw daily active users climb by 5 million in the third quarter — just 3 percent growth from the second quarter and 17 percent from a year ago — bringing the total to 178 million.

That trails the 300 million daily users on rival Instagram stories. Instagram’s parent, Facebook, boasted a year-over-year 16 percent growth rate, but off a base of more than 2 billion users.

The numbers illustrate the fact that Snapchat still faces stiff competition from Facebook and Instagram. While Snapchat has been successful in attracting younger users, it remains a mystery to a broader audience. Its array of filters and the idea of disappearing messages presents an intimidating barrier for people trying it out.

On the other hand, Facebook’s Instagram Stories continues to grow at an impressive clip.

“One thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said Tuesday in a prepared statement, adding that the company is planning a redesign to make the application easier to use.

“We don’t yet know how the behavior of our community will change when they begin to use our updated application,” Spiegel said. “We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.”

More bad news: Snap also took a $40 million charge to write-down unsold Spectacles.

The company reported a loss of $443.2 million, or 36 cents a share. Excluding one-time items, Snap lost 14 cents a share, narrower than the average analyst estimate of a loss of 15 cents a share, according to Yahoo Finance.

A year ago, the company lost $124.2 million, or 15 cents a share.

Snap’s revenue rose more than 60 percent to $207.9 million, but still fell far below analysts’ expectations of $239.5 million.

YouTube Shows Unsavory Videos To Youths

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

YouTube is facing criticism for allowing troubling videos to get past its filters on an app designed specifically for younger viewers, according to a report this weekend by The New York Times.

The Google-owned website is the largest video site in the world, with more than a billion people visiting a month. The affected service, YouTube Kids, was launched in 2015 to be a family-friendly version of the site.

But the kids service reportedly has a dark side. One video showed Mickey Mouse in a pool of blood while Minnie looks on in horror. In another video, a claymation version of Spider-Man urinates on Elsa, the princess from “Frozen.” The videos were knockoffs depicting the beloved Disney and Marvel characters.

Representatives from The Walt Disney Company, which owns Marvel, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

YouTube called the content “unacceptable,” but said it isn’t rampant. In the last 30 days, less than .005 percent of videos viewed in the app were removed for being inappropriate, the company said. YouTube is trying to reduce that number.

“The YouTube Kids team is made up of parents who care deeply about this, so it’s extremely important for us to get this right, and we act quickly when videos are brought to our attention,” a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. “We use a combination of machine learning, algorithms and community flagging to determine content in the app as well as which content runs ads. We agree this content is unacceptable and are committed to making the app better every day.”

The videos made it onto YouTube Kids by getting past safety filters, either by mistake or by trolls gaming the software.

The controversy comes as tech giants find themselves under intense scrutiny from Congress over the power and influence they have over what billions of people see online. Google, Facebook and Twitter spent last week in marathon Senate and House hearings over the way Russian trolls abused their platforms to meddle in last year’s US presidential election. Lawmakers grilled the tech companies over accountability for the algorithms they used.

This isn’t the first time YouTube has faced a backlash for unsavory content. Earlier this year, advertisers boycotted YouTube after their ads appeared next to extremist and hate content because of YouTube’s automated advertising technology. Major brands including AT&T and Johnson & Johnson ditched advertising on the platform.

As for the issues with YouTube Kids, the company said parents can use additional controls to limit what their kids see. The controls allow for blocking specific videos or channels and turning off search. YouTube said the app was never meant to be a curated experience, and that parents flagging inappropriate videos would make the app better over time.

Did Google Rush The Pixel 2XL

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

By now we must all be thinking that there can’t be anything more that could go wrong for the troubled Google Pixel 2 XL.

We’ve had screen burn, black smears, blue screens, failed quality control failed, missing earbuds, wrong colour handsets in the box, and now (drum roll)…the entire operating system is missing.

A Reddit forum has several reports of people who have ignored the naysayers (seriously, that screen is really, really blue), only to discover that when they switch on, they are greeted with “Can’t find valid operating system. The device will not start.”

Because, in common with most phones, the Pixel ships with a locked bootloader, there is no easy way to flash the image yourself, it’s certainly out of reach of the man in the street. So the phone has to go back and be replaced by one that has been properly quality controlled.

There is an error code and a web address for people to go to within the error screen. Trouble is, there’s no error code on the page that matches. This simply wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Pixel 2 XL was made for Google by LG instead of their usual sparring buddies, HTC, but the whole point of the Pixel line is to give Google an identity as a hardware vendor. As such, if it’s Google on the box, it’s Google that will be recognised as having cocked up a major phone release. Totes awkward.

But with a major partnership between HTC and Google now embedded, expect to see the slightly less troublesome HTC designs come to the forefront of future Pixel phones.

Google has told Android Police that the problem has “already been fixed” but we’re not entirely sure what that means, and we could see a few more reports in the coming days until LG successfully rounds up all the affected units.

If you want to see how the HTC version could have been, no problem, just take a look at the HTC U11 Plus, launched yesterday. That’s apparently the design you could have had if Google hadn’t decided to go with LG.

Courtesy-TheInq

Sprint Signs Partnership Deal With Altice For Mobile Service

November 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

U.S. cable operator Altice USA will offer mobile service on wireless carrier Sprint Corp’s network under a new multi-year agreement, becoming the latest firm to enter the wireless market in a bid to retain customers.

The companies announced the agreement a day after Sprint and T-Mobile US Inc ended merger talks.

Under the terms of the agreement, Altice, the fourth-largest U.S. cable operator, will use Sprint’s network to provide voice and data services in the United States. It gave no timeline on when it will introduce such services.

The deal will allow Sprint to use Altice’s cable infrastructure to transmit cellular data and develop a next-generation network, or 5G.

Sprint and T-Mobile on Saturday called off merger talks to create a bigger U.S. wireless company to rival market leaders. That has left Sprint, the No. 4 U.S. wireless carrier, to engineer a turnaround on its own.

Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp, Sprint’s majority owner, said in a separate announcement on Sunday that it intended to increase its stake in Sprint but that it would keep ownership of outstanding common stock under 85 percent, a move that avoids triggering a tender offer for the remaining shares. SoftBank currently owns roughly 82 percent of Sprint.

U.S. cable companies have begun venturing into the wireless market as a way to bundle more services to reduce churn, or customer defections, at a time when more consumers are canceling cable subscriptions.

Comcast Corp started selling wireless service this year on Verizon Communications Inc’s network, and Charter Communications Inc plans to launch service next year.

Apple, Qualcomm Relations Takes A Negative Turn

November 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Qualcomm Inc filed suit against Apple Inc, alleging that it violated a software license contract to benefit rival chipmaker Intel Corp for making broadband modems, the latest salvo in the longstanding dispute between Qualcomm and Apple.

Qualcomm said in a lawsuit filed in California state court in San Diego on Wednesday that Apple used its commercial leverage to demand unprecedented access to the chipmaker’s highly confidential software, including source code.

Apple declined to comment on the suit. The company started using Intel’s broadband modem chips in the iPhone 7.

In its complaint, Qualcomm alleged that Apple was required under its contract to ensure that Apple engineers working with Qualcomm did not communicate details about Qualcomm chips to Apple engineers working on competing chips from Intel.

Qualcomm alleged that in July, Apple emailed Qualcomm to request “highly confidential” information about how its chips work on an unidentified wireless carrier’s network. Apple copied an Intel engineer in the email for information, Qualcomm alleged.

In another instance, Qualcomm alleged that an Apple engineer working on a competing chip asked an Apple engineer working with Qualcomm to get technical information from Qualcomm.

Reuters reported earlier this week that Apple would drop Qualcomm’s chips altogether from its iPhones and iPads beginning next year.

Does Virtual Reality Have Unlimited Potential

November 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Virtual reality, exciting as it may be for enthusiasts, is a technology that has yet to truly take hold with the masses, let alone transform people’s daily lives in the way that smartphones have. First, 2016 was supposed to be the “Year of VR.” Then, in 2017, we’ve heard over and over about the trough of disillusionment from VR developers. But that’s okay, because these early VR developers believe that they can become the leaders of a VR space that one day will be mainstream.

Certainly, that’s what Oculus VP of Content Jason Rubin thinks and it’s why his company continues to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the ecosystem. If you ask Rubin to respond to analysts’ assessment that VR’s so-called trough is becoming more of an abyss, he’ll tell you why comparisons to other technologies, like Kinect, simply aren’t valid.

“I tried to explain this in my keynote [at Oculus Connect] in a few sentences and I think I utterly failed to get the point across,” Rubin tells me. “When I said that VR gets compared to other technologies, each technology is different. I would suggest the easiest explanation I can give to a type of technology that VR gets compared to that is exactly wrong to compare would be 3D TV. 3D TV, when it came out, you could understand exactly how good 3D TV could get… It’s two cameras sitting next to one another. It’s still not real 3D yet. It’s stereoscopic, but you can’t move your head and see behind things. So I could say right then and there I am not spending a dollar extra on 3D. And, for that reason, none of the networks wanted to make 3D content…So you saw the entire potential of that device in the moment it was launched and you could easily dismiss it. 

“Let’s look at VR. I can tell you that there is a world in which VR acts a little bit more like a holodeck than it does today. That is way out of our timeline, but if you talk to Michael Abrash about what VR could be in his lifetime or the next lifetime, you start to get into some weird discussions, because VR could be, literally, anything. There is nothing that can come after VR because VR could simulate anything.

He continues, “VR’s potential is literally infinite because as we go from, as Mark [Zuckerberg] said, admittedly bulky goggles to smaller glasses to tricking your inner ear to getting into haptic and touch, you can imagine a world in which VR can do literally anything you can imagine. So, if we judge VR on today’s market, we are making a mistake. Even if the trough of disillusionment is deeper than many analysts might have wanted it to be, or they’re making that momentary discussion, this is silly… Can we imagine a world where there’s no screen door effect? Yes. Can we imagine a world where it’s not heavy? Yes. Can we imagine a world where there’s more content? Yes. So, unlike 3D TV, in exactly the opposite way, it has infinite potential. Not limited potential. Infinite potential. The question is, how long will it take to get there?”

Some have used the discontinuation of the Kinect from Microsoft not only as a reminder of the demise of traditional motion gaming ushered in by the Wii, but as a cautionary tale for technology that just doesn’t resonate on a large enough scale.

Rubin dismisses any Kinect comparisons as well: “Kinect was not as easy to understand as 3D TV. So I cannot look at Kinect and say, ‘Well, that’s [like] 3D TV.’ When I looked at Kinect first, I thought, ‘Huh, this could do some interesting stuff.’ But it was also not [something with] infinite potential because, ultimately, all it can do is track one or more bodies and put the information that those one or more bodies was transmitting onto a screen.

“So Kinect looked great, reached its potential quickly, and then the additional potential failed to deliver. And developers looked at Kinect – and I was there, I remember I was talking to Microsoft about building a Kinect game at one point very early on – and two years later it was pretty clear to everyone that this was not going to be the future. We had reached the potential. So, while Kinect started looking like VR, it very quickly reached its potential. I will tell you as we sit here today, whether this generation of VR, or a next generation of VR, one generation of VR will take over the world. That’s infinite potential. And that’s why I don’t like any of these analogies. They all fall flat for me.”

An analogy he does like, however, is one that Intel’s Kim Pallister shared with me recently. And that is the VR space is still searching for its Wii – a headset that sacrifices some performance for a much more attractive price and accessibility. When Oculus Go launches next year at $199 – $100 more than Gear VR, with which it’ll share a library – Rubin believes the standalone headset could be the answer to the Wii question.

“The perfect product market fit is the right hardware quality with the right price point and the right software to drive it,” he says. “I would suggest that VR is on the path to finding that perfect product.”

Go is far from perfect, but Rubin believes it will offer consumers a good balance between price and performance. “That $199 buys you a significant amount of capability,” he offers. “First of all, it’s fully contained. It doesn’t need a phone to plug into it. So, right off the bat, if you happen not to be a Samsung phone user… it doesn’t require you to switch to Android from iOS or switch to Samsung from another Android marketplace. In being all-in-one, it also allows you to take it on and off quickly. It won’t draw on your phone’s battery. Updates, carrier things, other stuff like that are taken care of much more cleanly because it’s not doing double duty as a phone and a VR device.

“The lenses are fantastic. They’re our latest technology. They’re amazing. If you try it, you will know I’m not exaggerating. The ergonomics are fantastic. When you take apart a phone and you take the pieces you need for a VR device out and distribute it around a headset appropriately, the weight isn’t slung all the way out at the end of your nose, so it feels better. [Gear VR] is still a great way of getting VR inexpensively. But if you’re a big VR enthusiast and you use it often or if you don’t have a Samsung device, Oculus Go gives you an opportunity to jump into the market. So our addressable market at low price point radically improves.”

The other major hardware announcement at Oculus Connect was the company’s Santa Cruz headset – an all-in-one HMD that offers six degrees of freedom and hand-tracking (as compared with 3DOF on Gear/Go) but Oculus isn’t revealing it as a consumer product just yet. Similar to the multiple dev kit iterations that Rift went through following its Kickstarter reveal, it appears that Santa Cruz is going to continue to be tweaked by the engineers on the team. One thing is clear, though: barring a technological miracle, there’s no way Santa Cruz will be able to replicate the exact high-end VR experience that Rift provides.

“To be completely honest, that [power equation] is still a part of our research,” Rubin notes. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re looking at the marketplace that it would come into. We’re looking at the capabilities that are needed to run inside-out tracking, because all of that has to be in the device. We’ll make that decision. Having said that, anyone with a mild amount of technical expertise, could pretty quickly determine that the power usage, the cooling, and the other demands of the PC min spec even that we’ve taken on Rift is not likely to show up in a portable device in the immediate future.”

There’s no doubt that committing to VR remains a risky proposition for many studios still. EVE Valkyrie dev CCP Games just exited VR altogether, and while this interview was conducted prior to that news, Rubin sees a light at the end of this chaotic VR tunnel. Studios may rise and fall around VR in the next few years, but those who manage to stick around may be amply rewarded.

“The chaos and excitement is creating a lot of failure that will eventually lead to success,” Rubin stresses. “So if a company or three or five or ten are struggling, that is the business. They understand that. They may complain, but that’s the world we live in. They’re betting on the long-term success of the hardware, and their ability to be the Naughty Dog, the Zynga, the Rovio, whatever, of VR. There are companies now that are succeeding if you look at the numbers, making million dollar, multi-million dollar titles.

“That did not exist a few years ago. They could not [invest that much]. A few hundred thousand dollars, maybe you could make your money back. Could you make a million dollar title? Probably not. But if you just read across the press, there are companies out there that are self-sustaining and they’re making titles that are a few million dollars… As we continue to make more and more [games with larger budgets], we bring more consumers into the marketplace. As we keep our price reasonable, we bring more people into the marketplace. That allows $2 million games to become $3 million games, etc, etc. As long as we stay ahead of that curve, and continue to expand the size and scope of the products we’re making, we will continue to make the ecosystem larger and larger, and that will bring more and more people in and that makes developers more likely to succeed on their own.”

For that reason, Oculus has been funding games by investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the ecosystem. But it’s clear that Oculus would rather see the ecosystem become self-sustaining. At that point, then we’ll truly see some AAA efforts on digital storefronts.

“If we pull this off – and I intend to – in the long run, we will be able to back away, and there will be companies like EA and Activision and Take-Two and everyone else that are putting $100 million into VR games and making their money back without any input from us,” Rubin adds. “That is the eventual success state. When we reach that point, to wrap this into some of the other questions you asked, some of those people will also want to do non-game things, and that will lead to opportunities to create the next Uber of VR or the Airbnb of VR or whatever strikes the people.”

There’s been a fair amount of controversy surrounding Oculus’ exclusives, but to Rubin it’s the competition that’s not doing VR any favors. “Again, if you’re not investing in the ecosystem, you are not driving VR’s success. You are coming along for the ride,” he states.

These days, Oculus closely scrutinizes every project before it commits to funding rather than looking to fund every small developer that comes knocking at its door.

“If a team comes to Oculus with a $1 million title or so, the question we ask ourselves is, ‘Do we need to finance this?’ That title can make its money back,” he says. “Especially, when we don’t fund it, they can put it out on multiple VR platforms, which we’re all for. It just increases the odds of making their money back. As Microsoft and others enter the marketplace, that is good for VR, because it is yet more pieces of hardware out there. Unfunded content that comes out for all of them has a better chance of making its money back.

“The shape of what we fund will change as that window of investment that can pay off gets larger and larger every year as the consumer base grows. And it may be that we continue to stay ahead of that to the point where we’re funding very expensive games and very expensive non-games. If we get to that point where we’re spending twice what we’re spending now on an average title, the only way we’ve gotten there is the average self-invested title is significantly larger too, because it can afford to make that investment and get a return on its investment. I’m not looking to retire anytime soon. But I do think we’ll get there some day.”

As Rubin alludes to, non-games could very well become a large chunk of Oculus’ business in the future. Right now, Oculus is a games-first company, but clearly social platform software and enterprise software for various industries is gaining in importance. And with the new VR interface for Oculus (called Dash) that allows you to control all your programs within VR, thereby eliminating the PC monitor, it’s conceivable that Oculus could become more like Microsoft – gaming would be just a slice of the corporation.

“Games were a big part of the launch of the [Apple] App Store because it was a low hanging fruit and it was obvious. But, in the long run, there is no question that, when we reach a billion people [in VR], games will be A use case, not THE use case,” Rubin says. “Social will be a massive use case…So will applications and utilities, because we all have things to achieve in our life. Seems to me, since I’ve been alive, every year we get more things we need to achieve in our life. So if we find a technology that makes some of those things easier, faster, or more efficient, we will adopt it. And that is exactly what drove mobile phone usage. It’s in your pocket. Look at how much easier I can do x, y, or z, and you immediately start doing it. By definition, as a computer platform, we will do all of those things. But we will start with entertainment and move towards them. By the way, we announced our enterprise partner program, so we are already taking steps to broaden.” 

One of the problems that content producers may have with VR is that it’s such a young technology that keeps evolving. It’s effectively changing faster than some studios can keep up with. This, too, will stabilize, Rubin promises.

“As a long-term developer of content… the most frustrating and exciting times always happen at the same point,” he says. “It is frustrating because there is so much change. So as a developer, creative, or other app creator, you are frustrated by how much things are changing and how rapidly they’re changing. But it’s also the most exciting time because, invariably, that change leads to opportunity and then opportunity leads to success. I can give you an endless number of examples of this. When cartridge based 2D games went CD and 3D, 2D cartridge based character action game makers stuck with 2D because 2D was something they knew and they made hundreds of millions of dollars at that time making those products. My little team at Naughty Dog didn’t have that background, so we joined the frustrating and exciting change to 3D and we watched a lot of companies try and fail at how to get various things into 3D. My company happened to get it right and we created Naughty Dog and billion-dollar franchises. 

“The exact same thing happened at the beginning of mobile,” he continues. “If you remember iPhone 1, iPhone 2 – every resolution of the screens would radically change. The capability of the screens would change. It was crazy town. And we didn’t know what people wanted out of the devices… Again, when Facebook opened up the opportunity for people to make apps on Facebook, nobody knew how to make a social app. [That] created Zynga. Was it frustrating? Oh my God! I actually was working on games back then. I’m sitting in Facebook’s offices [and] I will still say this. They changed the underlying SDK and rule-set on a bi-weekly basis and we were working on stuff that was going to take six months to a year to come out. It was incredibly frustrating and crazy. [But] it created multiple billion-dollar companies.”

VR developers are in the midst of figuring out how to best leverage the medium’s best traits. Titanfall creator Respawn, for example, announced a new project at Oculus Connect that aims to depict the realism of being a soldier. Rather than simply glorify the violence the way some shooters do today, Respawn wants to make you feel the tension and fear that someone on the battlefield must endure.

very empathetic,” Rubin notes. “I would also add that it may be that if you experience certain things in VR, it will teach you a lesson about what that would be like in real life. And so everything is a lesson and a learning. I will also say that Respawn is very aware of what they make. They’re good citizens. So judge us when the product comes out.”

Respawn’s title isn’t due until 2019, but as we’ve seen with the VR marketplace itself, patience is a virtue.

“The one thing I have no control of at Oculus is bringing software through production any faster. And it pains me,” Rubin laments. “All the Crash [Bandicoot games] were made in a year. Jax took two years. Two years is aggressive these days. At some point, it’s going to be a lifetime to bring out software. I hope we can figure out a better way. But, yes, unfortunately, it will take a little while, but the payoff will be there when we finish.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

WhatsApp Now Allows Deleting Of Accidental Messages

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

You’ve just sent someone the wrong message and begin to panic.

Calm down. Much like Gmail’s Undo Send feature, WhatsApp now lets you delete messages you sent by mistake, according to a WhatsApp support article spotted by The Next Web.

The Facebook-owned messaging app tested the feature throughout this year and will release it gradually for real to WhatsApp users over the next week. It will let you delete messages up to seven minutes after you send them from individual or group chats.

You can delete a message by tapping and holding on it, then choosing Delete from the menu. From there, tap Delete for Everyone to make the message on your end and the receiving end disappear too. Note that when you do this, the message will be replaced in your recipient’s chat by one saying “This message was deleted.”

There are a few caveats, including that both you and others need to be using the latest version of WhatsApp. People may see your message before it’s deleted, and WhatsApp noted that “you will not be notified if deleting for everyone was not successful.”

Nintendo Not Happy With Super Mario

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Super Mario Run has now been downloaded 200 million times worldwide, and yet Nintendo still isn’t satisfied with how much money it has made.

Mario’s mobile debut launched in December last year, and it hit 150 million downloads at the end of April. However, despite adding a further 50 million downloads in the six months since then, Nintendo expressed disappointment in how profitable the game has been.

In an investor briefing, the company said that “we have not yet reached an acceptable profit point” with Super Mario Run, and emphasised the amount it has learned that can be used in its future mobile releases. Nintendo is still updating and promoting the game, including a new game mode, Remix10, which was added in September, and a “special price offer” to coincide with the update.

Nintendo saw better performance, relatively speaking, from a different mobile title: Fire Emblem Heroes, which launched in February and, notably, employed a free-to-play business model. In that case, an ongoing program of updates means it is, “on track to meet our overall business objectives, including our profit objectives.”

This difference is arguably evident in the strategy for Nintendo’s next major mobile release, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which will also use a free-to-play revenue model based on a soft currency called “Leaf Tickets.” Nevertheless, Nintendo described Animal Crossing’s business model as “free-to-start” when presenting to its investors.

“There will be Leaf Tickets, which can be used in a variety of situations within the game, as consumable items. They will be available for free as the game advances but players can also purchase these. Our objective is to offer a service that allows even consumers who do not normally play games on a regular basis to have a little fun each and every day.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

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