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Microsoft Begins Purge Of Dubious Apps In Windows App Store

August 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft has started getting rid of sham Windows Store apps that try to dupe users into paying for free software, the company has announced.

“Most of the developers behind apps that are found to violate our policies have good intentions and agree to make the necessary changes when notified,” said Todd Brix, general manager for the Windows Store, in a blog post yesterday. “Others have been less receptive, causing us to remove more than 1,500 apps as part of this review so far.”

The Windows Store is the official source of Windows 8′s (and 8.1′s) “Modern,” née “Metro” apps, the touch-based programs designed for tablets and touch-enabled notebooks.

Earlier this year, Brix’s team changed Windows Store apps’ certification — the process under which apps are admitted to the market — to require newly-submitted programs be clearly named, properly categorized and appropriately identified with an icon. Those modifications were made, said Brix, to “better ensure that apps are named and described in a way that doesn’t misrepresent their purpose.”

The same requirements have now been extended to apps already in the store.

The timing of Brix’s blog and Microsoft’s efforts to cleanse the Windows Store was no coincidence: More than a week ago, How-To Geek described its probe of the store in a piece titled ”The Windows Store is a Cesspool of Scams — Why Doesn’t Microsoft Care?”

In the story, How-To Geek pointed out worthless apps, some as expensive as $8.99, that did little more than point users to links for downloading Apple’s iTunes (free), Mozilla’s Firefox (also free) and VideoLAN’s VLC Player (yes, free). The publication also found fake — and paid — versions of Adobe’s Flash Player, Google’s Picasa, King’s Candy Crush Saga and Mojang’s Minecraft.

How-To Geek blamed Microsoft for the scam-app pollution. “Here’s one of the most shocking parts of this. People from Microsoft are actually examining each of these scammy apps, checking their content, and approving them,” the site said, pointing out pertinent parts of Microsoft’s certification process.

The apps How-To Geek fingered have been removed from the Windows Store, presumably as part the 1,500 Brix claimed had been bounced out.

How-To Geek’s story was widely cited by other websites, blogs and publications last week, reigniting charges that the Windows Store was packed with junk.

A quick look at MetroStore Scanner, which tracks each day’s new and updated apps, showed that Brix and his team have their work cut out for them. On Tuesday, according to MetroStore Scanner, 12 copies of the free KMPlayer, a media player owned by a Korean TV streaming company, were published to the Windows Store. However, the dozen KMPlayer copies — all using the transparently copycat name of “KM* 5.1 Player” but each with a different icon — were priced at either $0.99 or $1.99.

The real KMPlayer is currently at version 3.9.

MetroStore Scanner’s tally of the number of apps in the Windows Store was approximately 172,000 as of late Wednesday, meaning that the apps removed so far represented less than 1% of the total in the e-mart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samsung Unveils First Of Its Kind Smartwatch, Mobile Phone Not Required

August 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd on Thursday debuted what it said was the first smartwatch capable of making and receiving calls without a mobile phone nearby, in the South Korean firm’s latest effort to find a new growth driver.

The world’s biggest smartphone maker has been pushing hard to develop the wearable devices market as it looks to counter slowing earnings in its mobile division, which led to weaker-than-expected second-quarter earnings.

Samsung is hardly alone in pushing wearables, which have yet to catch on with consumers. Rival Apple Inc is expected to launch its own device this year and LG Electronics Inc on Thursday announced its new G Watch R smartwatch featuring a circular plastic OLED screen, a stainless steel frame and leather strap.

Samsung’s new smartwatch, called the Gear S, differs from its predecessors with a bigger 2-inch (5 cm) curved display and offers features like WiFi connectivity, pedestrian navigation and a built-in GPS. This device will run on Samsung’s nascent Tizen operating system.

Samsung said the Gear S will start selling from October. It did not give details on pricing or where it will be available.

LG said its G Watch R will launch in key markets in the fourth quarter, without indicating a price.

 

 

HP Recalls 6M Laptop Power Cords Over Fire Concerns

August 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Hewlett-Packard has recalled more than 6 million laptop power cords that could potentially cause fire and/or burning hazards.

HP is recalling LS-15 AC power cords used with HP and Compaq branded laptops. The company is recalling about 5.6 million power cords in the U.S. and 446,000 units in Canada.

The cord pulls out of one end of the AC adapter. It came with laptops and accessories sold between September 2010 through June 2012, HP said on its power cord recall website.

There have been 29 reports of power cords overheating and melting, which led to claims for minor burns and property damage, HP and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a statement.

Customers are eligible for a replacement at no cost. The power cords are black and can be identified by the tag LS-15, which is on the AC adapter.

Customers can call 1-877- 219-6676, or visit HP’s website for the replacement.

 

 

Apple To Go Big With iPad Next Year

August 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

First there was the iPad at around 10 inches and then there was the iPad Mini that is closer to 8 inches. Now Apple Inc is gearing up to roll out a larger, 12.9-inch version of its once dominant iPad for 2015, with production set to begin in the first quarter of next year, Bloomberg cited people with knowledge of the matter as saying on Tuesday.

The report comes as Apple struggles with declining sales of its tablets, which are faltering as people replace iPads less frequently than expected and larger smartphones made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd  and other rivals have taken a bite out of its sales.

Apple has been working with its suppliers for over a year on larger touch-screen devices, Bloomberg cited the sources as saying.

It is expected to introduce larger versions of its 4-inch iPhone next month, although the company has not publicized plans for its most important device.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

 

 

Microsoft Slash Prices On Surface 2 Tablets

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft has lowered the prices of its Surface 2 tablets by as much as 22%, dropping the entry-level Windows 8.1 RT device to $349.

It’s unknown whether Microsoft discounted the Surface 2 to clear inventory before it discontinues the tablet, in preparation for a successor, or simply to move a slow-selling product.

A clue may be in the length of the limited-time sale: Microsoft said that the reduced prices were good from Aug. 24 to Sept. 27, or “while supplies last,” and set the maximum number of devices per customer at a generous five.

Intriguingly, Microsoft is to host a press event on Sept. 30 to unveil the next edition of Windows, code named “Threshold” but perhaps officially to be called “Windows 9.” Rumors have circulated that Windows RT will also be revamped to drop the desktop mode and/or to add support for the pen bundled with the Surface Pro 3.

If those claims are accurate, the Sept. 30 event would be a perfect time to tout a revamped Windows RT and unveil replacements for the Surface 2.

Microsoft cut prices by $100 for each of the three Surface 2 models it sells: two Wi-Fi only tablets with 32GB or 64GB of storage, and a 64GB device that can connect to a cellular data network at LTE speeds.

The lowest-priced 32GB Surface 2 is now priced at $349, a 22% discount, while the 64GB tablet now costs $449, an 18% reduction. The sole LTE model, now $579, received a 15% price cut.

Microsoft’s Surface 2 is powered by Windows RT 8.1, the touch-centric, tile-interface that runs only “Modern,” nee “Metro,” apps. Windows RT cannot handle legacy Windows applications.

The Surface 2 was the follow-up to the disastrous Surface RT, the tablet which sold in such small volume — and which Microsoft built in such large numbers — that the company was forced to take a $900 million write-off in mid-2013.

Although the Surface Pro 2, which went on sale alongside the Surface 2 in October 2013, was updated to the Surface Pro 3 in May of this year, the Surface 2 has not been refreshed since its launch.

At its new price, the 32GB Surface 2, which boasts a 10.6-in. display, costs less than Apple’s entry-level 16GB iPad Mini with a 7.9-in. Retina-quality screen. That iPad Mini lists at $399.

Microsoft is selling the re-priced Surface 2 on its online store.

 

 

 

 

Does Nintendo Need To Offer Third Party Developers More Support?

August 26, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Along with publishing some rather good games, Ubisoft has quietly been developing another important role over the past few years. Thanks to the outspoken nature of CEO Yves Guillemot and the company’s careful balancing of enthusiasm for new technologies and platforms with a decent degree of financial and management conservatism, Ubisoft has become a bellwether for the publishing industry. Perhaps a difference between French and American business culture plays a role, perhaps not; either way, where other firms equivocate and fall back on meaningless corporate double-speak, Ubisoft and its executives have developed a reputation for speaking openly and giving us an insight into what the publishing industry at large is actually thinking.

When Guillemot pronounces, then, that his company is no longer going to launch “mature” titles on Wii U – Watch_Dogs will be their last such effort, following the disappointing performance of Assassin’s Creed on the platform – you can safely bet that it’s not acting in isolation. What Ubisoft says in the open is almost certainly precisely the strategy being pursued by other publishers as well; they’re just more likely to try and veil it with empty platitudes about what a great partner Nintendo is and how important it is to the industry, effusive corporate praise which, once picked apart, actually carries no commitment of substance to the Wii U platform.

Nor should any such commitment be forthcoming. If mature cross-platform titles aren’t selling on the Wii U, which they are not, then publishers should feel no obligation to continue to develop them for that platform. If this were a two-horse race between rival platform holders, some publishers might be tempted to continue support for the lagging console just in order to keep the front-runner on its toes, but with three strong companies competing, that branch of thought no longer produces fruit. Wii U is on its own, in this regard. Just as Ubisoft will continue to publish Just Dance titles and their ilk on the platform, where they do very well, other publishers will also find casual or kids’ games in their line-ups which suit the Wii U – but support for “mature” or “core” games will disappear in short order. I wouldn’t expect to see many multi-platform core titles on Wii U from 2015 onwards.

This will cause wailing and gnashing of teeth, because wailing and gnashing of teeth is essentially what the games media and the fanboy frenzy is set up to provide. The death knell! The final nail in the coffin! Vultures circle overhead! Once the core-game supply for Wii U completely dries up and other publishers admit to pursuing exactly the same policy as Ubisoft, headline writers will fall over themselves to drag out death-related imagery that would make a teenage goth poet blush. We know this, because it has happened before. Every Nintendo console since the SNES, in fact, has seen its third-party support fall off a cliff at some point in its life cycle. On each occasion, Nintendo’s failure to woo third-parties has been presented as a sign of inevitable doom.

Let’s lay it out, then; Nintendo’s home console platforms are terrible for third parties. They’ve been that way for twenty years and they’re not going to stop being that way any time soon. Honestly, it wouldn’t matter a tuppenny damn if Nintendo unveiled a PS4-beating HD console tomorrow; the business model, the branding and the market for Nintendo consoles is simply poison to the cross-platform “mature” mega-hit franchises like Call of Duty, GTA or Assassin’s Creed.

“Core gamers buy a Nintendo console as a second device because they want access to Nintendo exclusive titles, primarily first-party games”

Purchasers of Nintendo home consoles fall broadly into two categories. You’ve got core gamers who buy a Nintendo console alongside another gaming device – either a Sony or Microsoft console, or a PC; and you’ve got “casual” gamers, including the family and child segments, who buy a Nintendo device because they trust the brand. Neither of those groups is actually all that keen to buy the latest Call of Duty on a Nintendo platform. Core gamers buy a Nintendo console as a second device because they want access to Nintendo exclusive titles, primarily first-party games, but migrate back to their “primary” console to play mature cross-platform titles. Casual gamers don’t want to play mature cross-platform titles anyway. In both cases, they bought a Nintendo device to play Nintendo exclusives.

That’s exactly how Nintendo likes it. Nintendo consoles maintain pretty strong tie ratios – even the Wii, supposedly the dust-gatherer of the last generation, had a healthy software tie ratio – and the lion’s share of the games sold are Nintendo first-party games. It’s not that Nintendo “accidentally” builds consoles like the Wii and Wii U which are underpowered and “weird” compared with the other consoles of their era, then wrings its hands and wonders why third-parties aren’t launching loads of cross-platform games. Nintendo does this deliberately, building consoles that are custom-made to play Nintendo first-party games and which don’t risk being overrun by Call of Duty and its ilk and thus damaging or polluting the brand image which the company has carefully constructed over the past few decades. For Nintendo, the fact that Assassin’s Creed doesn’t sell too well on Wii U is a feature, not a bug, because it means that the company’s own first-party titles remain solidly in the spotlight and the brand image of the console remains Nintendo’s to control.

Of course, that approach begins to look a little less wise when the console in question fails to sell very well, leaving Nintendo’s first-party titles with only a limited audience to address – which is exactly what’s happened with the Wii U. Yet the solution isn’t to throw in the towel and simply copy what Sony does – an enterprise in which Nintendo would almost certainly be doomed to fail. Nintendo needs to find a solution to its current woes which actually suits Nintendo; something which leverages all the things the company is good at and rescues its market position without simply becoming a clone of its rivals or, worse, just another software publisher jostling for attention on the App Store.

The solution, perhaps unsurprisingly for a company with such a long history, may lie in the past. Nintendo doesn’t need or want a swathe of third-party multi-platform manshooters on the Wii U, and that’s absolutely fine. It does, however, need more breadth if not more depth in the Wii U’s software catalogue. The first-party games on the system are excellent, but it needs more of them, addressing more niches; maintaining Nintendo’s excellent quality standards while also exploring more genres, more aesthetics and more audiences.

Once upon a time, Nintendo used to do almost exactly that. It operated “second-party” studios within and outside Japan, most famously Britain’s Rare, which were independent but nestled under the wing of the platform holder, given access to Nintendo’s expertise, assets and finance in return for accepting creative guidance from Kyoto and publishing exclusively on Nintendo platforms. It also built relationships with publishers, mostly in Japan, which guaranteed exclusive titles to Nintendo systems on similar terms.

Some legacies of the second-party system remain. Bayonetta 2, which no other publisher or platform holder would fund, is a compelling Nintendo exclusive now; Hyrule Warriors, released in Japan last week, is a cross-publisher collaboration of a sort which the company should pursue more regularly. Yet these are mere echoes of a system which once guaranteed a strong flow of exclusive, high-quality titles to Nintendo platforms – titles which were different from the offerings on rival platforms, but compelling enough to ensure that gamers felt that they really, really needed a Nintendo console under the TV as well.

A resurrection and reinvigoration of second-party would make enormous sense for Nintendo today. It would look quite different to the system of the past in some regards; indie developers would have to form a big part of it, for example, although one could argue that Sony has already stolen a march on Nintendo in this regard with its policy of working closely with selected indie developers on PS4 and Vita. The scope would have to be as big as it once was if not bigger, though; studios around the globe, not just in Japan, with oversight from Kyoto but also enjoying the trust required both to build excellent new IP and to experiment with old properties. Rebuilding this system would require opening the Nintendo warchest, of course; and it would take time and patience, although both of those are qualities Nintendo has never lacked for. It would, however, do more that just giving Wii U a shot in the arm; it would set Nintendo up with a supply of IP and games that would sustain its platforms for generations to come.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Intel Moving Closer To ‘Wire-Free’ Computing

August 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Intel is moving closer towards providing what it calls “wire-free” computing by 2016, a plan the company first talked about publicly in June at the Computex trade show.

The company is developing a smart dock through which laptops can wirelessly connect to monitors and external peripherals, it said in a blog entry.

The dock will remove the need to plug HDMI or DisplayPort display connectors directly into laptops. The wireless dock will provide USB 3.0-like speeds to transfer data to external peripherals.

“When you walk in the office with your laptop, it will automatically link with your wireless-enabled monitor or projector to deliver an HD streaming experience without the hassle of plugging into your HDMI or DisplayPort,” Intel said.

The chip maker is also developing technology so wireless monitors automatically start and link up when laptops are within a specific distance. Intel calls this “proximity-based peripheral syncing” technology.

Intel demonstrated the technology in a video accompanying the blog post. Users could also log on with face recognition, without the need to touch the keyboard.

Intel has said most of its wire-free computing will be based on WiGig, a fast-growing wireless data transfer technology. WiGig is considered faster than the latest Wi-Fi technology. Intel is also considering WiGig to connect wireless keyboards and mice to laptops.

The company also wants to get rid of power adapters and is developing wireless charging technologies for laptops. Intel at Computex showed laptops charging on a table equipped with a charging pad based on A4WP’s Rezence magnetic resonance technology.

Intel will talk about wire-free computing for business PCs at the Intel Developer Forum next month in San Francisco. The company will share details about wireless docking and displays as part of vPro, Intel’s platform for managing PCs remotely.

Intel wants to make laptops easier to use, so they are more like smartphones and tablets, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

“If they don’t make investment like this, an old-school laptop starts looking really old,” McCarron said. “The goal of all this stuff is to make things seamless and transparent.”

The wire-free development also underscores the importance of WiGig, with more companies investing in the technology, McCarron said.

 

 

Can A Linux Certification Payoff Financially?

August 25, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

The Linux Foundation has announced an online certification programme for entry-level system admininstration and advanced Linux software engineering professionals to help expand the global pool of Linux sysadmin and developer talent.

The foundation indicated that it established the certification programme because there’s increasing demand for staff in the IT industry, saying, “Demand for experienced Linux professionals continues to grow, with this year’s Linux Jobs Report showing that managers are prioritizing Linux hires and paying more for this talent.

“Because Linux runs today’s global technology infrastructure, companies around the world are looking for more Linux professionals, yet most hiring managers say that finding Linux talent is difficult.”

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin said, “Our mission is to address the demand for Linux that the industry is currently experiencing. We are making our training [programme] and Linux certification more accessible to users worldwide, since talent isn’t confined to one geography or one distribution.

“Our new Certification [Programme] will enable employers to easily identify Linux talent when hiring and uncover the best of the best. We think Linux professionals worldwide will want to proudly showcase their skills through these certifications and that these certificates will become a hallmark of quality throughout our industry.”

In an innovative departure from other Linux certification testing offered by a number of Linux distribution vendors and training firms, the foundation said, “The new Certification [Programme] exams and designations for Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) and Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE) will demonstrate that users are technically competent through a groundbreaking, performance-based exam that is available online, from anywhere and at any time.”

The exams are customised somewhat to accommodate technical differences that exist between three major Linux distributions that are characteristic of those usually encountered by Linux professionals working in the IT industry. Exam takers can choose between CentOS, openSUSE or Ubuntu, a derivative of Debian.

“The Linux Foundation’s certification [programme] will open new doors for Linux professionals who need a way to demonstrate their know-how and put them ahead of the rest,” said Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth.

Those who want to look into acquiring the LFCS and LFCE certifications can visit the The Linux Foundation website where it offers the exams, as well as training to prepare for them. The exams are priced at $300, but apparently they are on special introductory offer for $50.

The Linux Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of Linux and collaborative development. It is supported by a diverse roster of almost all of the largest IT companies in the world except Microsoft.

 

Courtesy-TheInq

Unity Starts Pushing Open Source Plan

August 25, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Unity Technologies has stepped up its commitment to democratising game development by making key components of its ubiquitous engine open source.

At present, that applies to the Unity Test Tools and the engine’s new graphical user interface system, which was demonstrated in the opening keynote of Unite 2014. The features will be available under the MIT/X11 license, giving users the freedom to “control, customise and extend” their functionality.

The source code for the components will be hosted on BitBucket, and Unity has prepared a guide for any interested open source contributors. The source for the Unity Test Tools is already available, with the GUI to follow.

“Beyond that, we don’t have a concrete plan, but we have a lot of things in the pipeline,” the company said in a statement. “These components will all be isolated from Unity in such a way that you can modify them and use your own modified version with the official public Unity release.

“Although Unity Technologies has been active in the open-source community for quite some time, this is the first time we’ll be opening the source to components of Unity itself.

“We’re excited to see what you do with it.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will Activision Launch An Entertainment Group?

August 25, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Sources are suggesting that Activision is planning to launch an entertainment division that would be responsible for creating movies and TV shows based on Activision intellectual properties. The move might leave many scratching their heads if true since so many others have failed at trying to turn video game IP into gold.

Word is that CEO Bobby Kotick is taking to folks in an effort to secure the right talent to make this happen. Kotick has to be aware that this has not gone well for its competitors, but he apparently thinks that Activision IP is different and they will have no problem giving the people want they want.

Our take on this is that we will wait and see what happens, but it will not be easy to be successful, regardless of the IP that you have in your stable. The bigger question might be is it really worth the money and effort to try and make it work?

Courtesy-Fud

Ready For Tablets Priced At $35 Or Lower?

August 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Generic Android tablets with 7-inch screens and quad-core chips that deliver decent performance could soon make it to market for $35 or less.

Tablets with low-resolution screens are already selling for $45 on Amazon, many of which have single- or dual-core processors from a Chinese chip company called Allwinner.

But the prices could fall under $35 when Allwinner ships its “fully formed” quad-core A33 chip for only $4, said analyst firm Linley Group in a newsletter this week.

The chip’s quad-core processors will deliver better performance than older chips, and be capable of supporting 1280 x 800 displays, the analyst group said. The chip is based on ARM’s Cortex-A7 design and has a Mali-400MP2 GPU, which is capable of rendering high-definition video.

The cheap tablets will likely come from no-name vendors in China, and won’t offer the bells and whistles of Samsung or Apple tablets, but they could increase price pressure on brand names like HP and Acer, which have entry-level tablets priced around $100.

They’ll be most suited to first-time buyers or users who aren’t picky about hardware or software but certainly not power users, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. That’s because they’ll likely have limited memory, storage and fewer ports than more expensive devices.

“Users eventually will move up in performance,” McGregor said.

The tablets would almost be disposable items, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

And they could be here soon.

Mass production of the chip has already begun and prototype tablets have already been built.

A lot would come from Shenzhen, China, where a bulk of the device development is taking place, said Brookwood.

“This Shenzhen ecosystem, it’s absolutely scary what they are doing,” he said. “They operate on very thin margins. The kind of margins that no U.S. vendor can think about running on.”

The no-name tablets usually don’t come with customer support, and some may not have the Google Play store.

 

SanDisk Launches Ultra II SSD

August 22, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

SanDisk has updated its consumer solid-state disk (SSD) drive aimed at laptop upgraders.

Sandisk claims that the Ultra II SSD improves PC performance by up to 28 times and adds 15 percent to battery life. The drive also has an improved SSD Dashboard that offers firmware upgrades, security and cloning facilities in one user interface.

“We live in an era where we expect to have information at our fingertips anytime, anywhere, with technology that keeps us connected to both our personal and work lives on devices that won’t fail,” said Sandisk VP of retail product marketing Dinesh Bahal.

“The new Sandisk Ultra II SSD, together with the improved SSD Dashboard, provides consumers with an easy, affordable way to ensure that their PC can keep pace with their increasingly connected, information-driven lifestyle.”

The Sandisk Ultra II comes in capacities from 120GB up to 960GB with prices ranging from €75 to €409. UK prices are yet to be announced.

Under the hood is an X3 NAND flash array with Sandisk’s nCache 2.0 technology, which uses two tiers of caching. As with most SSDs, the drive is shock resistant. Read speed is 550MBs with write speed of 500MBs delivered in a 2.5″ drive with a 6Gbps SATA3 interface.

Although the drive is guaranteed for three years, its Mean Time Between Failure rating (MTBF) is 1.75 million hours, suggesting that for everyday use it will work a great deal longer.

The Sandisk Ultra II sits alongside the recently released Extreme Pro, a gaming SSD with similar specifications but a slightly faster write speed.

Sandisk has been aggressively expanding its range of solid-state products during 2014 with the first 4TB SSD drive, the Optimus Max premiering in April and the X300s for enterprise laptops in May.

Courtesy-TheInq

Cox Communications Shoots Down Rumors Of T-Mobile Merger

August 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Cox Communications Inc. is not interested in merging with wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc or rival cable providers, according to Cox President Pat Esser, dispelling rumors recently swirling about the private company.

“We’re not in any discussions to buy T-Mobile,” Esser told Reuters. “I don’t see a movement inside of our company that we feel like we have to pony up or match up with a wireless company.”

Asked whether Cox, the third-largest U.S. cable and broadband company, was considering a merger with one of its smaller cable rivals, such as Charter Communications Inc or perennial takeover target Cablevision Systems Corp, Esser said family-owned Cox was not looking to become a publicly traded company.

“I would never say we’ll never be public in the future. But right now where the family’s at, where [parent company] Cox Enterprises is at, they like being private,” Esser said. “We have a very, very healthy balance sheet, we have a lot of capacity and we can do most of that inside of our current balance sheet and still remain private.”

Continuing a year marked by a whirlwind of dealmaking among telecom companies, sources told Reuters earlier this month that Iliad, a French telecom firm, was in talks with U.S. satellite and cable operators Cox, Charter and Dish Networks Corp regarding a potential joint bid for U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile.

Esser said that instead, he saw the future of Cox Communications in wi-fi offerings and connectivity services, such as home security.

“Wireless use of broadband is growing but it’s not through traditional cellular services, it’s wi-fi. Wi-fi is exploding,” Esser said. “Wi-fi is the future … Connected homes are the future.”

 

 

Are Physical Games On The Way Out?

August 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Numbers added up by research firm DFC Intelligence, show that few physical games are being bought and that digital sales are where all the money is.

According to DFC, 92 per cent of PC game sales in 2013 were digital and it thinks this trend will continue and rise in 2014.

Gamers are starting to favour digital downloads over physical copies of the game, which is not really surprising given that who actually wants to own boxes and DVDs and manuals when all you really need is the game.

DFC Intelligence goes on to add that PC games outsold console games in terms of revenue so it means that channel is not the way gamers are playing. But then again the specs of consoles are well below PCs.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Is EA Finally Listening To Gamers?

August 20, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

By his own admission, Andrew Wilson still “geeks out” at EA’s press conferences, despite his position as the company’s CEO demanding that he take centre stage. When we meet after the Gamescom media briefing, he enthuses in great detail and at considerable length about a FIFA 15 video demonstrating the capabilities of the new game’s goalkeepers. What that team has accomplished since he ascended to executive level, Wilson says, never fails to make him smile.

And Wilson has spent his first year in charge identifying the ways to spread that enthusiasm to EA’s customers. That hasn’t always resulted in success, of course: with Battlefield 4 the company stumbled once again on the unpredictable landscape of online gaming, and with EA Access it met with resistance from Sony on the grounds of value. In this interview, Wilson discusses both of these issues, and outlines EA’s renewed dedication to listening to its customers and following wherever that might lead.

Q: The last time we spoke you were still with EA Sports, and you’ve had a promotion since then – quite a big one, in fact. You’re coming up on a year as CEO now. Have we started to see evidence of the mark you wanted to make on the company?

AW: I think…no, I know that I didn’t approach this role thinking about making a mark or leaving a legacy. It wasn’t personal in nature. I took on the role because of how I feel about the company. This company has been very good to me and my family over the years, I loved the people I worked with inside the company and I loved the games we made together.

“Financial return is an outcome, but it shouldn’t be the objective. We’ve made a lot of decisions based on that over the last 12 months”

As I worked in the company in a variety of different roles, it became apparent to me that in some areas we’d lost our way a little bit. When I came in [as CEO] I really wanted to bring to the forefront the things that I thought made the company great, things that had delivered for us over the years. That really meant building this foundation of ‘player first’. I get that there are things we have to think about: we’re a big company, we’re a public company, we have shareholders, we have 8,000 people working for us. But all of that is for nothing unless you deliver for your number one constituency: the players. Without that, it’s for nothing.

Q: So the idea that the CEO is stuck trying to serve two masters, the shareholder and the customer, that isn’t how you see it, then?

AW: Financial return is an outcome, but it shouldn’t be the objective. Financial return is what happens when you achieve the right objectives. We’ve made a lot of decisions based on that over the last 12 months. We are engaging with our player-base more regularly, through more platforms to ensure that we’re doing what they want, and to make sure that we’re listening to them when we’re doing something that they don’t want. It’s as much about eliminating what doesn’t inspire or entertain as it is about the stuff that does.

Q: Is that how we should think about the problems that Battlefield 4 faced? You’ve publicly addressed the complaints already, but was that just a consequence of trying to deliver on an ambitious objective?

AW: If I promised you that nothing would ever go wrong [on future projects], that would be very disingenuous of me. The reality is that we come to work every day and challenge ourselves and our teams to do creative and innovative things. What I can say, however, is that living up to that commitment to engagement and action I mentioned before means that we will make tough decisions in service of the player.

Titanfall for Xbox 360 was coming in hot, it needed a few more weeks, and we moved it out of the fiscal year to get a great game. I don’t think we would have done that before. Need for Speed is a franchise we’ve released every year for 17 years – it’s as sure a thing as FIFA. But the team said that they couldn’t do what we challenged them to do in a year. It wasn’t possible, so for the first time in 17 years we decided not to launch a Need For Speed.

More recently, Battlefield: Hardline, moving out of the holiday quarter would traditionally be seen as catastrophic in this industry.

Q: Particularly that franchise. Battlefield 3 and 4 were both holiday releases.

AW: Yes, but it was the feedback. We brought gamers in earlier, we let them play the beta earlier. And the beta was very stable, so we’d solved a bunch of the problems that existed in Battlefield 4. But what people said to us was, ‘This is pretty cool, but we think you should go deeper. We want more out of this.’ So we’ve given the team more time. That’s a tough decision to make, and it has a financial impact in the near-term, but long-term, for the player and the franchise, that’s the right decision.

Q: Do you see EA Access in the same way? You’re the first publisher to pull the trigger on something like this on console. I remember a talk you gave at the Develop conference a few years back, where you held up services like Netflix as a model for the games industry to emulate. Was this idea in your mind all the way back then?

AW: It’s not completely the same, but yes. But, again, I wouldn’t take credit for that programme in its entirety. I’ve been involved in that programme, but we’ve got a great team that’s been looking at challenging the standard by which certain people access products. It’s early days – we launched it yesterday – but for what it’s worth all the positive intent is there. It will evolve, but what we’ve come to understand – and what I believed back then – is that this concept of, ‘I want to give you an amount of money each month that makes sense, and for that I want a bunch of cool stuff’, we want to live up to that.

Does that mean people will stop paying $60 for games? No, but there’s a big part of the population for whom that [EA Access] is the right context, that’s the right way for them to engage with games.

“There’s a big part of the population for whom EA Access is the right context, that’s the right way for them to engage with games”

Q: And potentially it’s a way for people who wouldn’t ordinarily play, say, Madden to get acquainted with the franchise. For a lot of people, FIFA and Battlefield would be enough to justify for the annual fee, and anything else is a bonus.

AW: Yes, but there will be many different types of players. For some people that will be how they want to play all content, for others it will form some part of it. There’ll be others who might use it just to trial games. Again, the price point is low enough that it’s pretty cool as a trial mechanism. We want to build a service that players can use in a way that makes sense to them.

Q: It gives the catalogue longevity, too, which is something that the games industry hasn’t been particularly good at.

AW: EA makes great games. Stuff that we made ten years ago is still good, and so in ten years time the games we’re making now will still be good.

Q: It’s early days, as you point out, but even in the near term are you planning to grow the selection on EA Access, to be additive?

AW: Absolutely. We wanted to launch it at a point where we could put things into the catalogue, into The Vault, and it would have value. We thought that four [games] was the minimum for the price-point, but we want to get to a place where you could play any number of games for that price-point. Over time, the value will just get better and better and better, in much the same way that Netflix does. When I started subscribing to Netflix, there was no House Of Cards, there was no Orange Is The New Black – there is now.

Q: I have been surprised at my preference for buying games digitally in the generation so far. I thought it would take a bit more time.

AW: Convenience is a wonderful thing.

Q: Is that sort of behaviour behind the decision to get EA Access out there now, this year? Is that transition happening faster than you expected?

AW: No. Listen, we – and certainly myself – have matured in the understanding over the years about how people consume content, irrespective of the industry. One of the stats that I hear frequently is that 40 per cent of music is still bought on CD. Now, I haven’t bought a CD in 14 years. I’ve bought vinyl, by the way, a bunch in the last 14 years, so I consume media in different ways through different business models based on what I’m looking for. The way my view has evolved, I’m a bit like you: I haven’t bought a disc for my PS4 or my Xbox One; I click a button and it turns up, and that’s good for me. But that doesn’t mean that everyone wants it the same way. I’ve moved from a belief that there will be one access model to rule them all, to the belief that our objective as a company is to provide access to our entertainment in ways that make sense to the growing population of players.

 

Q: Services like EA Access to make sense in the context of this generation, which seems to largely about choice, whether that’s variety of games, how you want to buy, how you want communicate with other players. The experience is very open now.

AW: One of the things that we’re learning as we make the digital transformation is that we don’t need to guess what players want any more. For the longest time we had to guess, and the first opportunity to find out whether you got it right or not was when you saw the game on the shelf. Now, we’re getting better at listening. We haven’t always been great listeners, but we’re getting better, and what that’s telling us is that people want choice. They want to be able to choose what’s right for them at a given moment in time. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all any longer. We’ve got to build a core platform, game engines and games that facilitate that.

Q: Are you concerned that Access will alter your customer’s perception of value? FIFA 14 is still a game that can be played all year whether the new one is out or not. That $60 has got to feel like a better decision than before, surely.

“We thought that four games was the minimum for the price-point, but we want to get to a place where you could play any number of games for that price-point”

AW: It doesn’t matter whether you spend a $1, $10 or $100,000, as long as you’re getting value from what you’ve spent then you’ll feel good about that. EA Access feels like tremendous value, and whether you continue to feel good about paying whatever it is for a frontline product comes down to our ability to to deliver value.

The commitment that we’re making to those frontline products is that they will be bigger, more engaging, service oriented, with new and dynamic content every time you log in. People are now playing FIFA and Battlefield all year round. When I started a game would get played for four weeks, and then it was on to the next one. The value that we deliver today, we have games that can be the only thing you play for an entire year.

Q: Certain products have started to feel out of time to me. I won’t mention the name, but I bought a game digitally that cost the same amount as, for example, FIFA, and it took me six or seven hours to finish and that was it. I felt cheated in a way that I wouldn’t have with the exact same game at this point in the last generation.

AW: That understanding of value is really, really important, and I’m trying to push that into the organisation – irrespective of business model. Back in the day it was all about delivering $60 of value; now, I want to deliver $1 of value if you want to spend $1, I want to deliver $10 of value if you want to spend $10. I want to deliver value on your investment and on your investment of time. As you get older you realise that time is the most important resource. Part of your issue with that other game is that it took six hours, and you didn’t feel the value returned. We should think about the investment of money, but also the investment of time.

Q: You’ve mentioned the value of EA Access several times, and obviously Sony came out and disagreed on that point. For now, at least, Access won’t be available to PlayStation customers. Was that disappointing, particularly with the reason Sony gave?

AW: What I can say is that we launched it yesterday. We believed when we launched it that it was great value, and gamers, for the most part, have fed back that it’s great value. We’re going to continue to put things into that service that make it even better value. It will evolve and go through lots of permutations over time as we listen and learn from players who engage with it. My hope is that we can deliver that kind of service to many millions of players for years to come.

Courtesy-GI.biz