Facebook Inc’s big ambitions in the ever expanding virtual reality industry could be threatened by a court order that would prevent it from using critical software code another company is laying claims to, according to legal and industry experts.
Video game publisher ZeniMax Media Inc has requested that a Dallas federal judge issue an order barring Facebook unit Oculus from using or distributing the disputed code, part of the software development kit that Oculus provides to outside companies creating games for its Rift VR headset.
A decision is likely a few months away, but intellectual property lawyers said ZeniMax has a decent chance of getting the order, which would mean Facebook faces a tough choice between paying a possibly hefty settlement or fighting on at risk of jeopardizing its position in the sector.
For now, Facebook is fighting on. Oculus spokeswoman Tera Randall said last Thursday the company would challenge a $500 million jury verdict on Feb. 1 against Oculus and its co-founders Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe for infringing ZeniMax’s copyrighted code and violating a non-disclosure agreement.
Randall said Oculus would possibly file an appeal that would “allow us to put this litigation behind us.”
An injunction would require Oculus, which Facebook acquired for $3 billion in 2014, to stop distributing the code to developers or selling those games that use it.
Such a court order “would put a huge stumbling block in front” of Oculus, said Stephanie Llamas, an analyst with gaming market research firm SuperData. It would offer the company’s rivals in the new market, which include HTC, Sony Corp, Alphabet Inc and others an “important opportunity for them to become first movers.”
Sales of the Rift itself would not be barred, but Llamas, said a lack of available titles could hinder Facebook’s offering relative to HTC’s Vive headset and Sony’s Playstation VR.
That market is relatively small at the moment – sales of VR hardware and software totaled $2.7 billion in 2016 – and mainly limited to gaming. But Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has predicted the technology “will become a part of daily life for billions of people,” revolutionizing social media, entertainment and medicine.
SuperData says the VR market will be worth $37 billion by 2020. Likewise, investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald last year issued a report predicting VR would account for 10 percent of Facebook revenue in four years’ time.
Snap Inc hit the roads of London on Monday promoting its initial public offering with a daring proposition: that it can build hot-selling hardware gadgets and ad-friendly software features fast enough to stay one step ahead of Facebook.
No longer just a purveyor of a smartphone app for disappearing messages, Snap has hired hundreds of hardware engineers, built a secretive product development lab and scoured the landscape for acquisitions as it pursues its newly stated ambition to be “a camera company.”
These efforts, which are aimed at developing hardware and so-called augmented reality technologies, are central to the strategy of a company that is seeking a valuation of up to $22 billion in its early March IPO despite heavy losses and the specter of stiff competition for advertising dollars with a far-larger Facebook.
It is a big gamble and the odds against Snap are long.
There is little precedent for a company with its roots in software and social networking succeeding in the notoriously difficult consumer hardware business. Few U.S. firms aside from Apple have made big profits on hardware, and camera and wearable gadget makers have much lower valuations than Snap is seeking. Once-hot camera start-up GoPro is a cautionary tale: its stock sits 61 percent below its 2014 IPO price.
More broadly, creating new products and features that have mass-market appeal and cannot be readily mimicked is a huge challenge, analysts say.
“It’s worrisome,” said Paul Meeks, chief investment officer at Sloy, Dahl & Holst, which manages more than $1 billion in assets. “Snapchat is going to have to continue to be really innovative and distinctive. It’s going to be very tough to trump Facebook.”
Snap declined to comment for this story.
Snap first signaled its new focus with the September reveal of Spectacles, funky sunglasses with an embedded video camera for posting to the Snapchat app. The company spent $184 million on research and development last year, nearly half its revenue.
Facebook is closing around 200 of its 500 Oculus Rift virtual-reality demo stations at Best Buy locations across the US.
Apparently the move is because of poor “store performance” which is spin for the fact that few people are even trying the technology out.
Business Insider claims it is common for them to go days without giving a single demonstration.
Oculus spokeswoman Andrea Schubert insisted that the closings were due to “seasonal changes”.
“You can still request Rift demos at hundreds of Best Buy stores in the US and Canada. We still believe the best way to learn about VR is through a live demo,” she enthused.
Best Buy said stores that no longer offer demos will continue to sell the Oculus Rift headset and accompanying touch controllers. But it apparently interests in the headsets dried up after Christmas.
Another worker from California said that Oculus software bugs would often render his demo headsets unusable.
Slack Technologies Inc, a Silicon Valley messaging and collaboration software company, is making a strong push to expand its business by offering technology to some of the largest businesses in the country.
Slack has unveiled a new product designed for big companies such as International Business Machines Corp, Capital One Financial Corp and PayPal Holdings Inc. The Slack Enterprise Grid is set up for companies with hundreds of thousands of employees and strict compliance requirements.
The development marks a striking evolution for a four-year-old messaging platform that started out as a tool used by a handful of entrepreneurs and was quickly adopted by media companies and startups.
Slack is a platform where employees can send messages, collaborate, organize and share files. The technology also integrates with a wide variety of business software – such as Salesforce.com Inc and Skype – so employees can do all their work within Slack.
The technology had been designed for teams or small groups of employees. But with additional security and regulatory approvals, Slack can sell its enterprise product to big financial and health care companies, said Noah Weiss, who heads Slack’s search, learning, and intelligence group. IBM, Capital One and PayPal have been using it for months.
Andrew Braccia, a partner at Accel Partners who provided Slack’s first venture investment, said Slack’s big-business strategy is “just a very natural progression of the company.”
“It worked for 50 people, and it scaled up to working for thousands if not tens of thousands of people,” Braccia said.
The new product provides another line of revenue for Slack, which was valued at $3.8 billion at its last private financing round a year ago. The company has raised more than $500 million from venture capitalists.
Slack is projecting about $150 million in annual revenue, Weiss said, based on its most recent monthly revenue. Its customers include 38,000 paying companies.
Slack started as a messaging system that co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield used to collaborate with colleagues as they built a gaming company, Glitch, which never took off.
Software king of the world is rumored to be announcing 700 more job cuts next week when it announces its quarterly earnings.
To be fair Vole has been saying it was going to liberate 2,850 Voles from its global Vole hills for a while now. These 700 will be the first wave to go.
Microsoft is not saying anything about the cuts but it appears that the rumours are accurate. The company’s previous job cuts have come in areas including its smartphone business and global sales team.
The new lay-offs are general and across a variety of job functions inside the company.
The staff reductions are nowhere near as bad as the cuts carried out in July 2014, where 18,000 Voles were released into the wild to fend for themselves. That was 14 percent of the company at the time. The difference is that Microsoft has been doing rather better of late so one has to wonder what is in the results which will make Vole so keen to reduce costs.
Announced at the World Economic Forum, the VR For Impact initiative will shared the same objectives as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 platform, Upload VR reports. These goals include no poverty, zero hunger, quality education and gender equality.
Vive is looking for experiences that will “improve awareness, education and lead to action”, whether that’s through virtual reality games, films or other cotnent.
“HTC Vive will fund the best ideas using Virtual Reality that truly drive awareness and positive change in our world,” said Cher Wang, the company’s CEO and chairwoman. “We encourage all players in the VR eco-system to join as only together can we drive real impact.”
Vive is now calling for ideas that could become part of VR For Impact, with plans to announce the chosen projects on April 22nd, Earth Day. Developers can apply at www.vr4impact.com. The initiative has already gained the interest of other organisations, such as the World Food Progam.
The power of virtual reality to immerse users in someone else’s story or situation is a major driver for the technology, and exploring the medium’s abilities to convey some of the world’s biggest crises to more people can only be a good thing.
Apple has decided that the reason that people are not buying its tablets is because they don’t have enough over-priced versions available.
To fix this problem Apple is planning to release three more tablets which contain all the same features you can find in cheaper Chinese Tablets at half the price.
According to Digitimes Apple will release three new tablets for 2017, a 9.7-inch iPad, a 10.5-inch iPad, and an upgraded 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The 9.7-inch model expected to enter mass production in the first quarter followed by the other two in the second.
It is odd really as Apple was thought to want to kill off the 9.7 inch pad and replace it with the 10.5-inch iPad. However not it seems that it wants to make the 9.7-inch iPad become an entry-level device. It can then flog these to corrupt or stupid school managers who don’t know that they can save their schools cash by going elsewhere .
There will be a few supply changes too. Apple will also procure components from its secondary suppliers for its new 9.7-inch iPad and Korea-based Seoul Semiconductor will supply LED for the device instead of the existing 9.7-inch iPad’s supplier Nichia.
The 10.5-inch iPad and 12.9-inch iPad Pro will get an A10X processor, but that is pretty much anyone knows for now. Our guess is that it will look pretty much like a tablet, have a similar price tag and be even more ignored than the current batch.
Japanese automaker Nissan said it will conduct its first European real-world trials of self-driving vehicles in London, choosing Britain just months after it said it would build two new models in the country despite concerns over Brexit.
The government has said it wants to encourage the development and testing of autonomous driving technology in Britain, helping build an industry to serve a worldwide market it reckons could be worth around 900 billion pounds ($1.1 trillion) by 2025.
On Friday Nissan said a modified version of its compact electric LEAF car equipped with autonomous driving technology will be tested in the capital next month, the first such demonstrations on European public roads.
In October the firm, which builds around a third of Britain’s total car output, said it would expand production at its plant in northeast England with what a source described as a government promise of extra support to counter any loss of competitiveness caused by Britain’s EU exit.
The chipmaker is working with Microsoft to add “far-field speech recognition” technology, where the user can shout out Cortana commands to a Windows PC from longer distances.
“Soon, you’ll be able to speak to your PC from a distance and access all of your information on the device and in the cloud,” said Navin Shenoy, senior vice president and general manager for the Client Computing Group for Intel, in a blog entry this week.
The range isn’t available yet.
Users also will be able to use Cortana to start a PC from standby. Users will have to say, “Hey Cortana.”
For now, Cortana works best if the user is close to the PC. This development is more in the vein of Amazon Echo, which can recognize commands from a distance.
The ability to shout commands to Cortana from a longer distance also has Amazon Echo-like benefits. Users will be able to tell a PC to play music or ask about the weather. The feature will be even more useful when Microsoft completes a plan to make Windows 10 PCs hubs for smart homes, with users being able to use Cortana to operate electrical appliances.
That’s just one of many developments Intel is planning for PCs. Intel is working with Microsoft on its wire-free PC initiative, with a high-speed WiGig wireless connection being used to connect PCs to peripherals. Intel also said it would bring its Optane premium memory to PCs by the end of 2017.
Intel is also aggressively pushing for LTE receivers to be installed in laptops and hybrid tablet devices, with the ultimate goal to bring 5G to all devices. The new 5G deployments are expected by 2020 and could bring new forms of long and short-distance communications to devices. Intel is developing modems for 5G connectivity.
German luxury automobile maker BMW plans to roll out a new version of its i3 electric car next year with a longer range and revamped design, German weekly Welt am Sonntag reported, citing company sources.
BMW will rework the front and rear of the i3 and equip the car with a new battery to increase its range substantially beyond the current 300 km maximum, the paper said, adding that the increase would be below 50 percent.
BMW has been torn about whether to accelerate development of new electric cars given its expensive early investment has only resulted in lackluster sales, with 25,000 i3s delivered last year.
BMW was not immediately available for comment on the newspaper report.
I had fun playing on Microsoft HoloLens this week.
That’s significant because the last time I went hands-on with the intriguing, expensive AR technology (at E3 2015) I was left palpably disappointed.
Part of that was because Kanye West had cut into the line and forced my group to wait an extra 30 minutes to play on it, but it was also because the restricted field of view meant that the ‘Halo experience’ (which is what we played) was underwhelming and only really worked well if we didn’t move our heads and stood exactly where we were meant to.
I could comfortably imagine how this device might work in the education, retail and manufacturing spaces, but it didn’t seem remotely suitable for video games. After playing HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, a piece of gaming technology where the illusion was ruined if I stood too close to an object just wasn’t good enough.
Microsoft seems to understands that. HoloLens, as it stands, is not a consumer product, it is not even a gaming device – not really. The demos we were shown at the firm’s Lift London studio last week mostly involved retail projects – the ability to dismantle a watch you might be buying, or to change the colours on a car you are interested in, or to make virtual changes to your kitchen. There were education uses, too, such as a nice demo where you can explore and analyse the human body. NASA has even invested in the tech so its engineers can wander around a virtual Mars Rover.
“It causes me great consternation every time HoloLens is shown at a gaming conference, because all journalists want to talk about is games.”
Leila Martine, Microsoft
It is here, in the commercial space, where HoloLens is most promising. We should all try to forget that Minecraft demo that over-excited the games business on stage at E3 2015.
“If you are in the gaming industry, it is things like E3 where you will have been exposed to this,” says Leila Martine, director of new device experiences in the UK.
“I am probably saying something out of turn, because I’m not sitting in the room when they’re making these decisions in Redmond, but I do know that it causes me great consternation every time they go to a gaming conference and they show HoloLens. Because when that happens, all that journalists want to talk about is games. I have Case Western University, which is one of these most phenomenal case studies [with its education product that teaches anatomy]. But they’ll get like 300,000 YouTube views, which is still great for a B2B scenario. But Minecraft… are you kidding me? Those views are in the bazillions.”
Martine says that games is ‘definitely a piece of the long-term vision’ for HoloLens, it’s just not there yet. However, Microsoft remains interested in attracting games studios. HoloLens utilises Unity technology, which means that video games developers are uniquely placed to build HoloLens applications – even if it’s not games that they end up making.
“We are definitely seeing games developers in demand,” says Martine. “Part of that is because Unity is a core way to be able to build on this right now. With their heritage in gaming and with the demand coming from these new places, it is a pretty hot place for these games developers to be. Then we are seeing who has the appetite to move outside of gaming and capture opportunities that are coming from, quite frankly, places they haven’t worked with before. It could be a power plant looking to visualise their plant, or training simulations for pilots or engineers. With the Unity capability, these opportunities are there for game makers.”
The HoloLens Minecraft demo at E3 2015 was viewed by millions
One of the key stumbling blocks for HoloLens right now, particularly for smaller independent games teams, is its price. HoloLens dev kits will set you back $3,000.
“Unlike some of the other ones that are out there on the market, you don’t need a high performance computer to go with it,” defends Martine. “Everything you need is right on that device. And that device is really unique in terms of it capabilities, and the team has done a tremendous amount to bring it to market in a very short amount of time.
“As we think about all the things that it can enable, there are a lot of companies right now that are going: “We need to be in this space”. This is not the final form factor, this is not a consumer device, there is much more on the roadmap, but right now, the focus is making sure that we’re getting it into the hands of people and doing stuff that isn’t trivial, but actually matters to companies… and we are seeing really good progress in that area.
“But this is not the end.”
Because we asked nicely, and promised not to tell people that HoloLens is anywhere close to being a consumer games product, Microsoft did let us try out one of its games it had experimented with.
The title in question was RoboRaid, which is a mixed reality demo where aliens drill through the walls in you room, and you have to shoot small flying robot invaders out of the sky. Over three levels, you’ll battle bosses, shoot around shields and dodge fireballs. It’s hardly a game that would inspire consumers to buy HoloLens, and it isn’t particularly dissimilar to the sort of experiences that you can find in VR. but it was definitely entertaining, it worked well within the device’s limitations and proved that maybe, one day, HoloLens might succeed in the world of video games.
BMW has set a goal to increase sales of electric cars by two-thirds next year to 100,000 vehicles as the luxury automaker is offering more battery-powered models, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, citing Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger.
Munich-based BMW expects to increase its deliveries of fully electric and hybrid vehicles to around 60,000 units this year, Krueger said in an interview published on Monday. Sales of battery-powered BMW models have totaled about 100,000 cars since 2013, he noted.
“Electric mobility will come, but demand is not going through the roof at the moment,” the newspaper quoted Krueger as saying.
To help improve sales, BMW is also increasing the battery range of its i3 city vehicle by 50 percent this year. The i3, BMW’s only fully battery-powered car, sold only 25,000 units last year.
The company, which has dropped behind Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz in global luxury-car sales rankings, wants to expand the share of electric cars and hybrid models to between 15 percent and 25 percent of sales by 2025, the newspaper reported.
Alienware has updated its 13-inch Alienware 13 notebook by equipping it with Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 1060 with 6GB of VRAM, making it both VR Ready and giving it a significant boost in graphics performance.
Starting at US $1,199.99, the Alienware 13 is built around a 13.3-inch screen and at this price, you’ll get 13.3-inch HD 1366×768 TN screen, Intel’s Skylake quad-core Core i5-6300HQ CPU clocked at 2.3GHz base and 3.2GHz Turbo, 8GB of RAM, 180GB M.2 SATA 6GBps SSD storage and Alienware HD+IR presence detection camera, which is a standard on all models, same as the GTX 1060 with 6GB of GDDR5 memory.
As was the case with most Alienware notebooks, the new Alienware 13 can be upgraded and taken over US $2,099.99 quite easily. The upgrade options include 13.3-inch FHD 1920×1080 IPS screen or high-end 13.3-inch QHD 2560×1440 OLED anti-glare touchscreen, Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core CPU, up to 32GB of DDR4 memory and up to 2TB of PCIe SSD storage – 1TB for Boot and 1TB for storage.
Compared to its predecessor, the new Alienware 13 is both thinner (22mm) and lighter (2.6kg) and comes with the new Alienware TactX keyboard with 4-zone multi-color RGB AlienFX lighting. It also comes with a couple of USB 3.0 Type-A and Type-C ports as well as both Thunderbolt 3 port (USB Type-C) and dedicated Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port.
The new Alienware 13 is certainly an ultimate small gaming notebook that can be further beefed up with Alienware’s external graphics box, the Graphics Amplifier, but as always, such things come with a hefty price tag.
The Alienware 13 is already available and you can check out basic offers as well as customize your own over at Alienware.com.
The assorted throngs at Valve’s Steam Dev Days developer conference had a chance to play with the new gear although the press were banned from taking photos. Apparently some members of the great unwashed who were not showing their press cards managed to tweet pictures of them playing with the new controllers before HTC bouncers could stop them.
The controller is smaller than the current Vive controller and it strap to the player’s palm, so users can open their hands without dropping them. HTC said there are 21 sensors on the current prototype but was managing to keep all other technical details under wraps.
Personally we are not impressed with this line of technology. Strapping on armour to play a game, or do anything important is not really the way VR should work. These remind us a little too much like handcuffs, and while that is great for watching sometime of VR porn, it will not be useful for the rest of the time.
It would be much better if they did everything with external cameras which track your every movement and limit the number of censors you have to wear. Making the user look like an idiot will always be a big handicap for VR and this sort of thing does not help.
Oculus VR has introduced new Oculus Earphones which it claims will give “next-level audio integration,”
The outfit added that they will be a “new sound solution to satisfy even the most serious audiophiles.” We have grave doubts about that from the outset.
Any audiophile will dismiss earbuds in any shape simply on principle, particularly when they are priced at $49. Earbuds which lost lesst han $50 will be the audiophone equivalent of listening to sound between two bean tins attached with a piece of string. The fact that these are being touted as an improvement on the Company’s Rift VR headset there is now worries me – it means that the sound is currently as a Justin Beiber concert but you can get an upgrade so that it sounds like a Céline Dion concert held in a rubbish skip.
Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, who announced them at the third-annual Oculus Connect developers conference in San Jose, CA.
Oculus Earphones will be available to buy from 6 December, though you can pre-order them starting 10 October on Oculus.com. There’s no word yet on pricing or availability outside of the US.