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Facebook To Open Messenger App To Third-Party Developers

March 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook’s Messenger app mostly been used for keeping in touch with friends. Now people can also use it to send each other money. In the future, it could become a platform which other apps could use, if recent rumors prove true.

This Wednesday and Thursday at its F8 conference in San Francisco, Facebook will show off new tools to help third-party developers build apps, deploy them on Facebook and monetize them through Facebook advertising.

Among those tools might be a new service for developers to publish content or features of their own inside Messenger, according to a TechCrunch article. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Such a service could make Messenger more useful, if the right developers sign on. Search features, photo tools or travel functions could be incorporated into Messenger and improve users’ chats around events or activities.

However, Messenger already lets users exchange money, and it also handles voice calls. Layer on more services and Messenger could become bloated and inconvenient to use.

In other words, making Messenger a platform would be a gamble.

A more versatile Messenger could generate new user data Facebook could leverage for advertising, helping it counter a user growth slowdown in recent quarters. It could also boost Facebook’s perennial efforts to increase participants in its developer platform and the number of users of its third-party apps.

Even if Facebook doesn’t turn Messenger into a platform at F8, it will likely do so in the future, said John Jackson, an IDC analyst focused on mobile business strategies. For the same reasons Facebook might turn Messenger into a platform, it could do the same for other apps like WhatsApp or Instagram, he said.

“The objective is to enrich and multiply the nature of interactions on the platform,” providing valuable data along the way, he said.

 

Will Microsoft Dump It’s XBOX Division?

March 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft’s Xbox division is in a much healthier state today than it was a year ago. It’s had a tough time of it; forced to reinvent itself in an excruciating, public way as the original design philosophy and marketing message for the Xbox One transpired to be about as popular as breaking wind in a crowded lift, resulting in executive reshuffles and a tricky refocus of the variety that would ordinarily be carried out pre-launch and behind closed doors. Even now, Xbox One remains lumbered with the fossilised detritus of its abortive original vision; Kinect 2.0 has been shed, freeing up system resources and marking a clear departure for the console, but other legacy items like the expensive hardware required for HDMI input and TV processing are stuck right there in the system’s hardware and cannot be extracted until the inevitable redesign of the box rolls around.

All the same, under Phil Spencer’s tenure as Xbox boss, the console has achieved a better turnaround than any of us would have dared to expect – but that, perhaps, speaks to the low expectations everyone had. In truth, despite the sterling efforts of Spencer and his team, Xbox One is still a console in trouble. A great holiday sales season was widely reported, but actually only happened in one territory (the USA, home turf that was utterly dominated by Xbox in the previous generation), was largely predicated on a temporary price-cut and was somewhat marred by serious technical issues that dogged the console’s headline title for the season, the Master Chief Collection.

Since the start of 2015, things have settled down to a more familiar pattern once more; PS4 consistently outsells Xbox One, even in the USA, generally racking up more than double the sales of its competitor in global terms. Xbox One sells better month-on-month than the Wii U, but that’s cold comfort indeed given that Nintendo’s console is widely seen as an outright commercial failure, and Nintendo has all but confirmed that it will receive an early bath, with a replacement in the form of Nintendo NX set to be announced in 2016. Microsoft isn’t anywhere near that level of crisis, but nor are its sales in 2015 thus far outside the realms of comparison with Wii U – and their installed bases are nigh-on identical.

The odd thing about all of this, and the really positive thing that Microsoft and its collaborators like to focus on, is that while the Xbox One looks like it’s struggling, it’s actually doing markedly better than the Xbox 360 was at the same point in its lifespan – by my rough calculations, Xbox One is about 2.5 million units north of the installed base of Xbox 360 at the same point. Oddly, that makes it more comparable with PS3, which was, in spite of its controversy-dogged early years, a much faster seller out the door than Microsoft’s console. The point stands, though, that in simple commercial terms Xbox One is doing better than Xbox 360 did – it just happens that PS4 is doing better than any console has ever done, and casting a long shadow over Microsoft’s efforts in the process.

The problem with this is that I don’t think very many people are under the impression that Microsoft, whose primary businesses lie in the sale of office and enterprise software, cloud services and operating systems, is in the videogames business just in order to turn a little profit. Ever since the departure of Steve Ballmer and the appointment of the much more business-focused Satya Nadella as CEO, Xbox has looked increasingly out of place at Microsoft, especially as projects like Surface and Windows Phone have been de-emphasised. If Xbox still has an important role, it’s as the flag-bearer for Microsoft’s brand in the consumer space; but even at that, the “beach-head in the living room” is far less important now that Sony no longer really looks like a competitor to Microsoft, the two companies having streamlined themselves to a point where they don’t really focus on the same things any more. Besides, Xbox One is being left behind in PS4′s dust; even if Microsoft felt like it needed a beach-head in the living room, Xbox wouldn’t exactly be doing the job any more.

But wait, we’ve been here before, right? All those rumours about Microsoft talking to Amazon about unloading the Xbox division came to nothing only a few short months ago, after all. GDC saw all manner of talk about Xbox One’s place in the Windows 10 ecosystem; Spencer repeatedly mentioned the division having Nadella’s backing, and then there’s the recent acquisition of Minecraft, which surely seems like an odd thing to take place if the position of Xbox within the Microsoft family is still up in the air. Isn’t this all settled now?

Perhaps not, because the rumours just won’t stop swirling that Microsoft had quietly put Xbox on the market and is actively hunting for a buyer. During GDC and ever since, the question of who will come to own Xbox has been posed and speculated upon endlessly. The console’s interactions with Windows 10, including the eventual transition of its own internal OS to the Windows 10 kernel; the supposed backing of Nadella; the acquisition of Minecraft; none of these things have really deterred the talk that Microsoft doesn’t see Xbox as a core part of its business any more and would be happy to see it gone. The peculiar shake-up of the firm’s executive team recently, with Phil Harrison quietly departing and Kudo Tsunoda stepping up to share management of some of Microsoft Game Studios’ teams with Phil Spencer, has added fuel to the fire; if you hold it up at a certain angle to the light, this decision could look like it’s creating an internal dividing line that would make a possible divestment easier.

Could it happen? Well, yes, it could – if Microsoft is really determined to sell Xbox and can find a suitable bidder, it could all go far more smoothly than you may imagine. Xbox One would continue to be a part of the Windows 10 vision to some extent, and would probably get its upgrade to the Windows 10 kernel as well, but would no longer be Microsoft hardware – not an unfamiliar situation for a company whose existence has mostly been predicated on selling operating systems for other people’s hardware. Nobody would buy Xbox without getting Halo, Forza and various other titles into the bargain, but Microsoft’s newly rediscovered enthusiasm for Windows gaming would suggest a complex deal wherein certain franchises (probably including Minecraft) remain with Microsoft, while others went off with the Xbox division. HoloLens would remain a Microsoft project; it’s not an Xbox project right now and has never really been pushed as an Xbox One add-on, despite the immediate comparisons it prompted with Sony’s Morpheus. Xbox games would still keep working with the Azure cloud services (Microsoft will happily sell access to that to anyone, on any platform), on which framework Xbox Live would continue to operate. So yes, Xbox could be divorced from Microsoft, maintaining a close and amiable relationship with the requisite parts of the company while taking up residence in another firm’s stable – a firm with a business that’s much more in line with the objectives of Xbox than Microsoft now finds itself to be.

“None of Xbox’ rivals would be in the market to buy such a large division, and no game company would wish to lumber itself with a platform holder business. Neither Apple nor Google make the slightest sense as a new home for Xbox either”

This, I think, is the stumbling block. I’m actually quite convinced that Microsoft would like to sell the Xbox division and has held exploratory talks to that end; I’m somewhat less convinced, but prepared to believe, that those talks are continuing even now. However, I’m struggling to imagine a buyer. None of Xbox’ rivals would be in the market to buy such a large division, and no game company would wish to lumber itself with a platform holder business. Neither Apple nor Google make the slightest sense as a new home for Xbox either; the whole product is distinctly “un-Apple” in its ethos and approach, while Google is broadly wary of hardware and almost entirely disinterested in games.

Amazon was the previously mentioned suitor, and to my mind, remains the most likely purchaser – but it’s seemingly decided to pursue its own strategy for living room devices for now, albeit with quite limited success. I could see Amazon still “exploring options” in this regard with Microsoft, but if that deal was going to happen, I would have expected it to happen last year. Who else is out there, then? Netflix, perhaps, is an interesting outside possibility – the company’s branching out into creating original TV content as well as being a platform for third-party content would be a reasonably good cultural match for the Game Studios aspect of Xbox, but it’s hard to imagine a company that has worked so hard to divorce itself from the entire physical product market suddenly leaping back into it with a large, expensive piece of hardware.

This, I think, is what ultimately convinces me that Xbox is staying at Microsoft – for better or worse. It might be much better for Xbox if it was a centrepiece project for a company whose business objectives matched its strengths; but I don’t think any such company exists to take the division off Microsoft’s hands. Instead, Spencer and his talented team will have to fight to ensure that Xbox remains relevant and important within Microsoft. Building its recognition as a Windows 10 platform is a good start; figuring out other ways in which Xbox can continue to be a great game platform while also bringing value to the other things that Microsoft does is the next challenge. Having turned around public perception of the console to a remarkable degree, the next big task for the Xbox team will be to change perceptions within Microsoft itself and within the investor community – if Xbox is stuck at Microsoft for the long haul, it needs to carve itself a new niche within a business vision that isn’t really about the living room any more.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will nVidia’s Pascal Make It To Market In 2016?

March 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Pascal is Nvidia’s next generation architecture and it is coming after Maxwell of course. The company says it will launch next year, but details are still sketchy.

According Nvidia CEO Jen Hsun Huang, it is coming with Mixed Precision and this is the new architecture that will succeed Maxwell. Nvidia claims that the new GPU core has its own architectural benefits.

3D memory or High Bandwidth Memory (HBM), is a big thing and Jen Hsun Huang claims 32GB is possible with the new architecture, compared to 12GB on the new Maxwell-based Titan X. This is a staggering increase from the current standard of 4GB per card, to 12GB with Titan, and probably up to 32GB with Pascal. NV Link should enable a very fast interconnect that has 5 times the performance of PCI Express, which we all use right now. More memory and more bandwidth are obviously needed for 4K/UHD gaming.

Huang also shared some very rough estimates, including Convolution Compute performance, will be four times faster with FP16 precision in mixed precision mode. The 3D memory offers a six-fold increase in GPU to memory bandwidth.

Convolution and bandwidth at the front, and bandwidth to convolution at the back of the GPU, should get be five times faster than on Maxwell cards. It is complex fuzzy logic that is hard to explain with so few details shared by Nvidia about the Pascal architecture.

The width update interconnect with NV Link should get you a twofold performance increase and when you when you multiply these two numbers, Nvidia ends up with a comes to 10x compute performance increase compared to Maxwell, at least in what Nvidia CEO calls the “CEO bench”.

He warned the audience that this is a very rough estimate. This 10X number mainly targets deep learning, as it will be able to teach the deep learning network ten times faster. This doesn’t meant that the GPU offers 10 times the GPU performance for gaming compared to Maxwell, not even close, we predict.

Volta made it back to the roadmap and currently it looks like the new architecture will be introduced around 2018, or about three years from now.

Courtesy-Fud

Is Nintendo Going Mobile?

March 18, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Nintendo has formed a comprehensive new alliance with DeNA that will make every one of the company’s famous IPs available for mobile development.

The bedrock of the deal is a dual stock purchase, with each company buying ¥22 billion ($181 million) of the other’s treasury shares. That’s equivalent to 10 per cent of DeNA’s stock, and 1.24 per cent of Nintendo. The payments will complete on April 2, 2015.

What this will ultimately mean for the consumer is Nintendo IP on mobile, “extending Nintendo’s reach into the vast market of smart device users worldwide.” There will be no ports of existing Nintendo games, according to information released today, but, “all Nintendo IP will be eligible for development and exploration by the alliance.” That includes the “iconic characters” that the company has guarded for so long.

No details on the business model that these games and apps will be released under were offered, though Nintendo may well be reluctant to adopt free-to-play at first. The information provided to the press emphasised the “premium” experiences Nintendo currently offers on platforms like Wii U and 3DS. Admittedly, that could be interpreted in either direction.

However, Nintendo and DeNA are planning an online membership service that will span Nintendo consoles, PC and smart devices. That will launch in the autumn this year.

This marks a significant change in strategy for Nintendo, which has been the subject of reports about plans to take its famous IPs to mobile for at least a year. Indeed, the company has denied the suggestion on several occasions, even as it indicated that it did have plans to make mobile a part of its core strategy in other ways.

Analysts have been offering their reflections on the deal, with the response from most being largely positive.

“Nintendo’s decision to partner with DeNA is a recognition of the importance of the games app audience to the future of its business,” said IHS head of gaming Piers Harding-Rolls. “Not only is there significant revenue to be made directly from smartphone and tablet consumers for Nintendo, app ecosystems are also very important in reaching new customers to make them aware of the Nintendo brand and to drive a new and broader audience to its dedicated console business. Last year IHS data shows that games apps were worth $26 billion in consumer spending globally, with handheld console games worth only 13 per cent of that total at $3.3 billion.

“The Nintendo-DeNA alliance is a good fit and offers up a number of important synergies for two companies that are no longer leaders in their respective segments.

“DeNA remains one of the leading mobile games company’s in Japan and, we believe, shares cultural similarities with Nintendo, especially across its most popular big-brand content. The alliance gives Nintendo access to a large audience in its home market, which remains very important to its overall financial performance. Japanese consumers spend significantly more per capita on mobile games than in any other country and it remains the biggest market for both smartphone and handheld gaming. While the partnership gives Nintendo immediate potential to grow its domestic revenues through this audience, gaining access to DeNA’s mobile expertise is important too to realise this potential.

“This alliance makes commercial sense on many levels – the main challenge will be knitting together the cultures of both companies and aligning the speed of development and iteration that is needed in the mobile space with Nintendo’s more patient and systematic approach to games content production. How the new games are monetised may also provide a challenge considering the general differences in models used in retail for Nintendo and through in-app purchases for DeNA.”

In a livestreamed press conference regarding the DeNA deal, Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata reassured those in attendance that the company was still committed to “dedicated video game systems” as its core business. To do that, he confirmed that the company was working on a new console, codenamed “NX”.

“As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand new concept under the development codename NX,” he said.

“It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project but we hope to share more information with you next year.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

 

Is Valve’s Steam Machine A Flop?

March 17, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

There’s not a lot to argue with the consensus view that Valve had the biggest and most exciting announcement of GDC this year, in the form of the Vive VR headset it’s producing with hardware partner HTC. It may not be the ultimate “winner” of the battle between VR technologies, but it’s done more than most to push the whole field forwards – and it clearly sparked the imaginations of both developers and media in San Francisco earlier this month. Few of those who attended GDC seem particularly keen to talk about anything other than Vive.

From Valve’s perspective, that might be just as well – the incredibly strong buzz around Vive meant that it eclipsed Valve’s other hardware-related announcement at GDC, the unveiling of new details of the Steam Machines initiative. Ordinarily, it might be an annoying (albeit very high-quality) problem to have one of your announcements completely dampen enthusiasm for the other; in this instance, it’s probably welcome, because what trickled out of GDC regarding Steam Machines is making this look like a very stunted, unloved and disappointing project indeed.

To recap briefly; Steam Machines is Valve’s attempt to create a range of attractive, small-form-factor PC hardware from top manufacturers carrying Valve’s seal of approval (hence being called “Steam Machines” and quite distinctly not “PCs”), running Valve’s own gaming-friendly flavour of the Linux OS, set up to connect to your living room TV and controlled with Valve’s custom joypad device. From a consumer standpoint, they’re Steam consoles; a way to access the enormous library of Steam content (at least the Linux-friendly parts of it) through a device that’s easy to buy, set up and control, and designed from the ground up for the living room.

That’s a really great idea, but one which requires careful execution. Most of all, if it’s going to work, it needs a fairly careful degree of control; Valve isn’t building the machines itself, but since it’s putting its seal of approval on them (allowing them to use the Steam trademark and promoting them through the Steam service), it ought to have the power to enforce various standards related to specification and performance, ensuring that buyers of Steam Machines get a clear, simple, transparent way to understand the calibre of machine they’re purchasing and the gaming performance they can expect as a result.

Since the announcement of the Steam Machines initiative, various ways of implementing this have been imagined; perhaps a numeric score assigned to each Machine allowing buyers to easily understand the price to performance ratio on offer? Perhaps a few distinct “levels” of Steam Machine, with some wiggle room for manufacturers to distinguish themselves, but essentially giving buyers a “Good – Better – Best” set of options that can be followed easily? Any such rating system could be tied in to the Steam store itself, so you could easily cross-reference and find out which system is most appropriate for the kind of games you actually want to play.

In the final analysis, it would appear that Valve’s decision on the myriad possibilities available to it in this regard is the worst possible cop-out, from a consumer standpoint; the company’s decided to do absolutely none of them. The Steam Machines page launched on the Steam website during GDC lists 15 manufacturers building the boxes; many of those manufacturers are offering three models or more at different price and performance levels. There is absolutely no way to compare or even understand performance across the different Steam Machines on offer, short of cross-referencing the graphics cards, processors, memory types and capacities and drive types and capacities used in each one – and if you’ve got the up-to-date technical knowledge to accurately balance those specifications across a few dozen different machines and figure out which one is the best, then you’re quite blatantly going to be the sort of person who saves money by buying the components separately and wouldn’t buy a Steam Machine in a lifetime.

“Valve seems to have copped out entirely from the idea of using its new systems to make the process of buying a gaming PC easier or more welcoming for consumers”

In short, unless there’s a pretty big rabbit that’s going to be pulled out of a hat between now and the launch of the first Steam Machines in the autumn, Valve seems to have copped out entirely from the idea of using its new systems to make the process of buying a gaming PC easier or more welcoming for consumers – and in the process, appears to have removed pretty much the entire raison d’etre of Steam Machines. The opportunity for the PC market to be grown significantly by becoming more “console-like” isn’t to do with shoving PC components into smaller boxes; that’s been happening for years, occasionally with pretty impressive results. Nor is it necessarily about reducing the price, which has also been happening for some years (and which was never going to happen with Steam Machines anyway, as Valve is of no mind to step in and become a loss-leading platform holder).

Rather, it’s about lowering the bar to entry, which remains dizzyingly high for PC gaming – not financially, but in knowledge terms. A combination of relatively high-end technical knowledge and of deliberate and cynical marketing-led obfuscation of technical terminology and product numbering has meant that the actual process of figuring out what you need to buy in order to play the games you want at a degree of quality that’s acceptable is no mean feat for an outsider wanting to engage (or re-engage) with PC games; it’s in this area, the simplicity and confidence of buying a system that you know will play all the games marketed for it, that consoles have an enormous advantage over the daunting task of becoming a PC gamer.

Lacking any guarantee of performance or simple way of understanding what sort of system you’re buying, the Steam Machines as they stand don’t do anything to make that process easier. Personally, I ought to be slap bang in the middle of the market for a Steam Machine; I’m a lapsed PC gamer with a decent disposable income who is really keen to engage with some of the games coming out in the coming year (especially some of the Kickstarted titles which hark back to RPGs I used to absolutely adore), but I’m totally out of touch with what the various specifications and numbers mean. A Steam Machine that I could buy with the confidence that it would play the games I want at decent quality would be a really easy purchase to justify; yet after an hour flicking over and back between the Steam Machines page launched during GDC and various tech websites (most of which assume a baseline of knowledge which, in my case, is a good seven or eight years out of date), I am no closer to understanding which machine I would need or what kind of price point is likely to be right for me. Balls to it; browser window full of tabs looking at tech spec mumbo-jumbo closed, PS4 booted up. Sale lost.

This would be merely a disappointment – a missed opportunity to lower the fence and let a lot more people enjoy PC gaming – were it not for the extra frisson of difficulty posed by none other than Valve’s more successful GDC announcement, the Vive VR headset. You see, one of the things that’s coming across really clearly from all the VR technology arriving on the market is that frame-rate – silky-smooth frame-rate, at least 60FPS and preferably more if the tech can manage it – is utterly vital to the VR experience, making the difference between a nauseating, headache-inducing mess and a Holodeck wet dream. Suddenly, the question of PC specifications has become even more important than before, because PCs incapable of delivering content of sufficient quality simply won’t work for VR. One of the appealing things about a Steam Machine ought to be the guarantee that I’ll be able to plug in a Vive headset and enjoy Valve’s VR, if not this year then at some point down the line; yet lacking any kind of certification that says “yes, this machine is going to be A-OK for VR experiences for now”, the risk of an expensive screw-up in the choice of machine to buy seems greater than ever before.

I may be giving Steam Machines a hard time unfairly; it may be that Valve is actually going to slap the manufacturers into line and impose a clear, transparent way of measuring and certifying performance on the devices, giving consumers confidence in their purchases and lowering the bar to entry to PC gaming. I hope so; this is something that only Valve is in a position to accomplish and that is more important than ever with VR on the horizon and approaching fast. The lack of any such system in the details announced thus far is bitterly disappointing, though. Without it, Steam Machines are nothing more than a handful of small form-factor PCs running a slightly off-kilter OS; of no interest to hobbyists, inaccessible to anyone else, and completely lacking a compelling reason to exist.

Courtesy-Gi.biz

Microsoft’s Cortana Headed To Android, Apple Devices

March 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Microsoft is developing a modified version of its competitor to Apple’s Siri, using research from an artificial intelligence project called “Einstein.”

Microsoft has been running its “personal assistant” Cortana on its Windows phones for a year, and will put the new version on the desktop with the arrival of Windows 10 this autumn. Later, Cortana will be available as a standalone app, usable on phones and tablets powered by Apple Inc’s iOS and Google Inc’s  Android, people familiar with the project said.

“This kind of technology, which can read and understand email, will play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana, which we are working on now for the fall time frame,” said Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research and a part of the Einstein project, in an interview at the company’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters. Horvitz and Microsoft declined comment on any plan to take Cortana beyond Windows.

The plan to put Cortana on machines running software from rivals such as Apple andGoogle, as well as the Einstein project, have not been reported. Cortana is the name of an artificial intelligence character in the video game series “Halo.”

They represent a new front in CEO Satya Nadella’s battle to sell Microsoft software on any device or platform, rather than trying to force customers to use Windows. Success on rivals’ platforms could create new markets and greater relevance for the company best known for its decades-old operating system.

The concept of ‘artificial intelligence’ is broad, and mobile phones and computers already show dexterity with spoken language and sifting through emails for data, for instance.

Still, Microsoft believes its work on speech recognition, search and machine learning will let it transform its digital assistant into the first intelligent ‘agent’ which anticipates users needs. By comparison, Siri is advertised mostly as responding to requests. Google’s mobile app, which doesn’t have a name like Siri or Cortana, already offers some limited predictive information ‘cards’ based on what it thinks the user wants to know.

 

Google Said To Be Developing Virtual Reality Version Of Android

March 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google is said to be developing a virtual reality version of Android that will compete with software being built by Facebook, Samsung, Microsoft and others.

Virtual reality is being viewed as the next big thing, and not just for gaming. Facebook has talked about how VR headsets will let friends communicate as if they’re together in the same room.

A team of engineers at Google is building a version of Android for virtual reality applications, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing two people familiar with the project. “Tens of engineers” and other staff are said to be working on the project.

The OS would be freely distributed, the report said, mirroring the strategy that made Android the most popular OS for smartphones. The report didn’t provide any launch plans, and Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

With rivals investing heavily in VR, it would make sense for Google to build its own OS. Facebook has referred to VR as the next big platform after mobile, and it bought headset maker Oculus VR last year for US$2 billion.

They see VR as the future because it provides an immersive experience for gaming, entertainment, communications, and perhaps other applications not thought of yet. It’s still a way from mass adoption, though, and some people report getting nausea from VR systems, or just don’t want a big display strapped to their head.

Still, there are lots of players in the space. Samsung has Gear VR, Sony has Project Morpheus, and Microsoft has HoloLens.

Google, clearly, doesn’t want to be left behind.

Leading the Android VR effort are veterans Clay Bavor and Jeremy Doig, the Wall Street Journal said. Bavor helped to create Google Cardboard, the company’s low-tech virtual reality viewer that attracted attention at last year’s Google I/O conference.

 

 

Mozilla Announces 64-bit Firefox Preview For Windows OS

March 5, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Mozilla announced its first developer preview of a 64-bit Windows version of Firefox. The launch put the 64-bit edition on track to appear as a polished, ready for the public browser by mid-May.

“Today we’re happy to announce … 64-bit builds for Firefox Developer Edition are now available on Windows, adding to the already supported platforms of OS X and Linux,” wrote Dave Camp, director of developer tools, and Jason Weathersby, a technical evangelist, in a post to a company blog.

Firefox 38′s Developer Edition, formerly called “Aurora,” now comes in both 32- and 64-bit version for Windows. Currently, Mozilla’s schedule, which launches a newly-numbered edition every six weeks, has Firefox 38 progressing through “Beta” and “Central” builds, with the latter — the most polished edition — releasing May 12.

Cook and Weathersby touted the 64-bit Firefox as faster and more secure, the latter due to efficiency improvements in Windows’ anti-exploit ASLR (address space layout randomization) technology in 64-bit.

The biggest advantage of a 64-bit browser on a 64-bit operating system is that it can address more than the 4GB of memory available to a 32-bit application, letting users keep open hundreds of tabs without crashing the browser, or as Cook and Weathersby pointed out, run larger, more sophisticated Web apps, notably games.

Mozilla is the last 32-bit holdout among the top five providers of browsers.

Google shipped a Windows 64-bit Chrome in August 2014 and one for OS X in November, while Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) have had 64-bit editions on OS X and Windows since 2009 and 2006, respectively. Opera Software, the Norwegian browser maker known for its same-named desktop flagship, also offers a 64-bit edition on Windows.

 

 

 

 

 

Lenovo Announces 64-Bit Android Tablet For $129

March 3, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Tablets running 64-bit Android haven’t been on the market forr long but prices are already projected to drop quickly.

Lenovo’s 8-inch Tab 2 A8 will ship in June starting at $129, with a 64-bit version of Android 5.0 and a 64-bit quad-core processor from MediaTek. It was one of three tablets Lenovo announced ahead of the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.

Sixty-four-bit tablets have a few advantages. They can support more memory and therefore make light work of multimedia-intensive apps such as games, as well as apps that use encryption for security. More 64-bit Android apps are in development, so a 64-bit tablet also provides some future-proofing.

Only a handful of 64-bit Android tablets are on sale today. One of the best known is Google’s Nexus 9, which sells for $399.99 in the Google Play store. Many more are expected as vendors deploy Android 5.0 more broadly and as more 64-bit processors become available. Lenovo’s Tab 2 A8 could prompt other vendors to drive down prices for their own 64-bit Android tablets.

The Tab 2 A8 is 9 millimeters thick, weighs 360 grams and will offer eight hours of battery life, according to Lenovo. The $129 model has Wi-Fi only, while a $179 model will have integrated LTE. It doesn’t look like the LTE model will be offered in the U.S., however.

The tablet has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and 1GB of RAM. It has a maximum of 16GB of storage that can be expanded to 32GB with a Micro-SD card.

With a 720p screen, Lenovo has compromised on the display to keep the price low.

Tablet shipments flattened last year after years of strong growth, and the 64-bit Android tablets could spur people to upgrade from older models.

Apple had an early start in 64-bit tablets with the iPad Air, but the low-priced tablets could shift the market in Android’s favor.

Lenovo also announced the 10-inch Tab 2 A10, which has a 64-bit processor but will initially ship with a 32-bit version of Android, version 4.4. The tablet will start shipping in April and users will be able to upgrade their devices to Android 5.0 in June, Lenovo said.

 

 

 

Will Free-To-Play Hurt The Gaming Industry?

March 3, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Free to play has an image problem. It’s the most influential and arguably important development in the business of games in decades, a stratospherically successful innovation which has enabled the opening up of games to a wider audience than ever before. Implemented well, with clear understanding of its principles and proper respect afforded to players and creativity alike, it’s more fair and even, in a sense, democratic than old-fashioned models of up-front payment; in theory, players pay in proportion to their enjoyment, handing over money in small transactions for a continued or deepened relationship with a game they already love, rather than giving a large amount of cash up-front for a game they’ve only ever seen in (possibly doctored) screenshots and videos.

While that is a fair description, I think, of the potential of free-to-play, it’s quite clearly not the image that the business model bears right now. You probably scoffed about half a dozen times reading the above paragraph – it may be a fair description of free-to-play at its hypothetical best, but it’s almost certainly at odds with your perceptions.

How, then, might we describe the perception of F2P? Greedy, exploitative, unfair, cheating… Once these adjectives start rolling, it’s hard to get them to stop. The negative view of F2P is that it’s a series of cheap psychological tricks designed to get people to spend money compulsively without ever realising quite how much cash they’re wasting on what is ultimately a very shallow and cynical game experience.

I don’t think it’s entirely unsurprising or unexpected that this perception should be held by “core” gamers or those enamoured of existing styles of game. Although F2P has proven very successful for games like MMOs and MOBAs, it’s by no means universally applicable, either across game types or across audience types; some blundering attempts by publishers to add micro-transactions to premium console and PC titles, combined with deep misgivings over the complete domination of F2P in the mobile game market, have left plenty of more traditional gamers with a very negative and extremely defensive attitude regarding the new business model. That’s fine, though; F2P isn’t for that audience (though it’s a little more complex than that in reality; many players will happily tap away at an F2P mobile game while waiting for matchmaking in a premium console game).

What’s increasingly clear, however, is that there’s an image problem for F2P right in the midst of the audience at whom it’s actually aimed. The negative perception of F2P is becoming increasingly mainstream. It gets mass-media coverage on occasion; recently, it spurred Apple to create a promotion specifically pointing App Store customers to games with no in-app purchases. I happen to think that’s a great idea personally, but what does it say about the feedback from Apple’s customers regarding F2P games, that promotion of non-F2P titles was even a consideration?

Even some of the most successful F2P developers now seem to want to distance themselves from the business model; this week’s interview with Crossy Road developers Hipster Whale saw the team performing linguistic somersaults to avoid labelling their free-to-play game as being free-to-play. Crossy Road is a brilliant, fun, interesting F2P game that hits pretty much all of the positive notes I laid out up in the first paragraph; that even its own developers seem to view “free-to-play” as an overtly negative phrase is deeply concerning.

The problem is that the negativity has a fair basis; there’s a lot of absolute guff out there, with the App Store utterly teeming with F2P games that genuinely are exploitative and unfair; worst of all, the bad games tend to be stupid, mean-spirited and grasping, attempting to suck money out of easily tricked customers (and let’s be blunt here: we’re talking, in no small measure, about kids) rather than undertaking the harder but vastly more rewarding task of actually entertaining and enthralling people until they feel perfectly happy with parting with a little cash to see more, do more or just to deepen their connection to the game.

Such awfulness, though, is not universal by any measure. There are tons of good F2P games out there; games that are creative and interesting (albeit often within a template of sorts; F2P was quick to split off into slowly evolving genre-types, though nobody who’s played PC or console games for very long can reasonably criticise that particular development), games that give you weeks or months of enjoyment without ever forcing a penny from your pocket unless you’re actually deeply engaged enough to want to pay up to get something more. Most of F2P’s bone fide hits fit into this category, in fact; games like Supercell’s Clash of Clans or Hay Day, GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons and, yes, even King’s Candy Crush Saga, which is held aloft unfairly as an example of F2P scurrilousness, yet has never extracted a penny from 70 percent of the people who have finished (finished!) the game. That’s an absolutely enormous amount of shiny candy-matching enjoyment (while I don’t like the game personally, I don’t question that it’s enjoyment for those who play it so devotedly) for free.

Unfortunately, the negative image that has been built up by free-to-play threatens not just the nasty, exploitative games, but all the perfectly decent ones as well – from billion-grossing phenomena like Puzzle & Dragons to indie wunderkind like Crossy Road. If free-to-play as a “brand” becomes irreparably damaged, the consequences may be far-reaching.

A year ago, I’d have envisaged that the most dangerous consequence on the horizon was heavy-handed legislation – with the EU, or perhaps the USA, clamping down on F2P mechanisms in a half-understood way that ended up damaging perfectly honest developers along with two-bit scam merchants. I still think that’s possible; companies have ducked and dived around small bits of legislation (or the threat of small bits of legislation) in territories including Japan and the EU, but the hammer could still fall in this regard. However, I no longer consider that the largest threat. No, the largest threat is Apple; the company which did more than any other to establish F2P as a viable market remains the company that could pull the carpet out from underneath it entirely, and while I doubt that’s on the cards right now, the wind is certainly turning in that direction.

Apple’s decision to promote non-F2P titles on its store may simply be an editor’s preference; but given the growing negativity around F2P, it may also be a sign that customer anger over F2P titles on iOS is reaching receptive ears at Apple. Apple originally permitted free apps (with IAP or otherwise) for the simple reason that having a huge library of free software available to customers was a brilliant selling point for the iPhone and iPad. At present, that remains the case; but if the negativity around the perception of F2P games were ever to start to outweigh the positive benefits of all that free software, do not doubt that Apple would reverse course fast enough to make your head spin. Reckon that its 30 percent share of all those Puzzle & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga revenues would be enough to make it think twice? Reckon again; App Store revenue is a drop in the ocean for Apple, and if abusive F2P ever starts to significantly damage the public perception of Apple’s devices, it will ban the model (in part, at least) without a second thought to revenue.

Some of you, those who fully buy into the negative image of F2P, might think that would be a thing to celebrate; ding, dong, the witch is dead! That’s a remarkably short-sighted view, however. In truth, F2P has been the saviour of a huge number of game development jobs and studios that would otherwise have been lost entirely in the implosion of smaller publishers and developers over the past five years; it’s provided a path into the industry for a great many talented creative people, grown the audience for games unimaginably and has provided a boost not only to mobile and casual titles, but to core games as well – especially in territories like East Asia. Wishing harm on F2P is wishing harm on many thousands of industry jobs; so don’t wish F2P harm. Wish that it would be better; that way, everyone wins.

Courtesy-GI.biz

 

Microsoft Severs Ties With The Darkside

February 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

The security of the employees of Phantom Dust developer Darkside Game Studios is in doubt, after Microsoft decided to sever all professional ties to the studio.

Phantom Dust is a remake of an Xbox game from 2004, which was designed by Yukio Futatsugi, the creator of Panzer Dragoon. Darkside’s project was unveiled at E3 last year as an exclusive title for the Xbox One, but whatever agreement existed between the studio and Microsoft has been terminated.

Here’s the official line: “Microsoft partnered with Darkside Game Studios in the development of Phantom Dust, but our working relationship has now ended. We have great respect for their studio and their work in the industry.

“While we do not have anything new to share on Phantom Dust at this time, we can confirm that development of the title continues. We look forward to sharing more details on the game as we get closer to release.”

Darkside, which is based in Florida, has contributed to the development of a host of major releases, including a couple of Xbox exclusives: Sunset Overdrive, Gears of War: Judgment, the Borderlands franchise, the Bioshock franchise; it’s a solid track record, albeit entirely composed of contract work, and Phantom Dust was to be its first solo project.

However, the “respect” Microsoft has for that track record is now the subject of suspicion, with several sources from within Darkside claiming that the company has been forced to layoff its entire staff – around 50 people.

“The executives who saw it were impressed and as late as this morning gave our team every indication that the project was on solid ground,” one of the sources said to Kotaku. “Yet we got the phone call today that someone up on high who in all likelihood wasn’t even aware of the game in detail shut it down.”

The notion that the alleged termination of Darkside’s working relationship with Microsoft was sudden is reinforced by the studio’s recruitment page, which advertised six open positions as recently as the start of January. Among the perks listed there, one stands out: “Working with major publishers.”

Microsoft offered no comment on the situation at Darkside, but we are pursuing the studio’s management for clarification.

Courtesy-Gi.biz

Will Sony Exit TV, Mobile Phone Markets?

February 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony Corp hopes to increase operating profit 25-fold within three years by growing its camera sensors and PlayStation units, its chief executive said, laying out a strategy that could see the company exit the ultra competitive TV and smartphone markets.

CEO Kazuo Hirai said on Wednesday the Japanese consumer electronics firm would no longer pursue sales growth in areas such as smartphones where its has suffered competition from cheaper Asian rivals as well as industry leaders like Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics.

Sony would instead focus its spending on more profitable businesses such as camera sensors, videogames and entertainment as it seeks to return to growth after forecasting for this financial year its sixth net loss in seven years.

“The strategy starting from the next business year will be about generating profit and investing for growth,” Hirai told a briefing, adding that Sony’s units would be given greater autonomy to make their own business decisions.

Asked about the TV and mobile phone units, Hirai said he would not “rule out considering an exit strategy”, Sony’s clearest statement to date about the possibility of selling or finding partners for these struggling units.

Sony is in the midst of a restructuring that has so far seen it sell off its personal computer division and spin off the TV business. It has also axed thousands of jobs.

Sony shares have risen more than 80 percent over the past year as investors applauded the restructuring, which accelerated since Hirai appointed Kenichiro Yoshida as his chief strategy officer in late 2013.

 

 

Sony To Release Smart Glasses For $840

February 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

While Google is moving away from a consumer release of Glass, Sony is moving forward with sales to developers of its augmented reality SmartEyeglass.

The struggling Japanese manufacturer said it will release its Android-compatible smart glasses for $840 in early March, targeting developers and industrial applications ahead of a commercial release in 2016.

That price is just over half of the $1,500 that Google was asking from early adopters of Glass before it shut down commercial sales of the wearable display last month.

“As a hands-free device, SmartEyeglass can be a promising product with many practical uses,” a Sony spokeswoman said via email when asked about the release in the wake of Google’s move. “But since we recognize the need to explore applications at this stage, we’re releasing this developer edition.”

Sony is also upgrading an SDK (software development kit) that it first released last September, and has posted detailed specs on the device’s website as well as application suggestions for workplace uses. They include construction or maintenance workers being able to view schematics while laboring hands-free or security guards being informed of a threat, with relevant data displayed on the lenses.

The Internet-connected SmartEyeglass can display low-resolution monochrome imagery and text such as SMS messages on the lenses, overlaying the information on the user’s field of view. The 3mm-thick lenses have an 85 percent light transmittance rate and objects are highly visible, according to Sony.

In contrast to Google Glass, information on the Sony display is easy to see but it must be manipulated with a separate, wired controller unit that houses a microphone, speakers and an NFC module. Weighing 77 grams, the smart glasses have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and can obtain GPS data by linking with a smartphone. They also feature a 3-megapixel camera and sensors such as an accelerometer and gyroscope.

The SmartEyeglass Developer Edition SED-E1 will be released in Japan, the U.S. and Europe on March 10 and will be sold through the Sony Developer World website.

 

 

Zynga Continues The Downward Spiral

February 16, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

During the earnings call today CEO Don Mattrick highlighted where he believed the company had made mistakes this year.

“There are a number of things we could have done better this past year. First we had a challenging time implementing our new poker product. And we learned the tough lesson that we needed more adequate testing across consumer segments, geographies and devices,” he said.

“Second, we have big aspirations for our sports brand and view our NFL and Tiger Woods licences as incredible assets. We moved quickly to release NFL showdown to hit the season kick-off but by doing so launched an experience with less features than is typical for a worldwide launch. We believe in the potential of sports and our ambition for the category is bigger than our first product is showing out of the gate.”

“Finally, as a company, we are committed to managing the performance of our products and related cost structure. Local products from Zynga China, including the launch of FarmVillage at the end of Q4, have underperformed and not met our expectations. As a result, we are narrowing our international footprint and have decided to close our operations in China.”

Original story

During its third quarter, Zynga had announced a net loss of $57 million, which followed similar losses in the first and second quarters. Now the fourth quarter numbers are out and the company has lost another $45 million, nearly double the $25 million loss from Q4 2013. All in all, Zynga lost nearly $226 million for the year compared with a total loss in 2013 of nearly $37 million. 2014 was a “year of progress” though, if you ask CEO Don Mattrick.

“2014 was a year of progress for Zynga – we came together as one team and applied more discipline and rigor to our business. In the fourth quarter, we increased mobile bookings to 60 percent of our total bookings mix, expanded our mobile audience with monthly mobile consumers up 87 percent year over year, and grew our core franchise bookings by 35 percent year over year,” he said.

“In 2015, we will focus on three priorities: driving mobile growth, launching more products in more evergreen categories and building on our social legacy. We will deliver a 100 percent mobile-first new product slate featuring new games, with a goal of ending 2015 with more than 75 percent of our fourth quarter bookings coming from mobile. I am excited by the boldness of our 2015 product aspirations – this year we expect to launch between 6 to 10 new games in important categories like Match 3 and Action Strategy. We are building a high performing culture which takes time and while we would like to go faster, we are being methodical and purposeful about our decisions. We have a healthy balance sheet with $1.1 billion in cash and marketable securities which gives us staying power and the ability to invest in our future growth.”

Looking at the rest of the numbers, Zynga’s revenues did climb, year-over-year, from $176 million to $192 million in the fourth quarter, while bookings increased from $146 million to $182 million. For the full year, however, both sales and bookings dipped. Sales fell from $873 million to $690 million while bookings dropped from $716 million to $694 million.

As Mattrick alluded to, Zynga is hoping to boost its bottom line in 2015 with several new products. The talented folks at NaturalMotion are pushing Zynga into the action strategy category with Dawn of Titans, which will use NaturalMotion’s proprietary mobile technology and engine “to create unprecedented mobile visuals, animation and depth-of-gameplay that supersedes anything found today on mobile.” In addition, Zynga is preparing the mobile launch of a modern military strategy game, Empires & Allies, which should be out worldwide in the coming months. Beyond the strategy genre, Zynga also announced a new entry in its core FarmVille brand with a Match 3 category title called FarmVille: Harvest Swap. The game is expected to launch worldwide as a cross-platform mobile and web game this year.

Aside from the disappointing fiscal performance, Zynga also shared the bad news that it’s closing the Zynga China studio. All 71 employees in the Beijing-based studio will be laid off; the company noted that this “will result in an annualized cost savings of $7 million dollars.”

It’s been a challenging time for Zynga as the company continues to adapt its business to mobile. The space is more competitive than ever with giants like Supercell, King, EA and others topping the charts on a regular basis. The good news for Zynga is that it still has $1.15 billion in cash and cash equivalents as of the end of 2014, but the bleeding has to stop. Monthly unique users, monthly unique payers and daily active users were all down again in the fourth quarter. Zynga needs a hit, and fast. Hopefully one of the new titles mentioned above will do the trick.

Update: Investors are clearly not enjoying the earnings announcement as Zynga’s stock finished down 5.34 percent today at $2.66. In after hours trading, as of 4:55 PM Eastern, the stock is down 10 percent. By contrast, King, whose sales jumped 20 percent for the year, is enjoying a more than 17 percent boost to its stock in after-hours.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Ready For 8K Screens?

February 11, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

A new standard that supports higher-resolution displays should aid in moving 8K screens from the realm of high-end TV and into laptops, all-in-one PCs and possibly mobile devices.

The Video Electronics Standards Association’s Embedded DisplayPort (eDP) 1.4a will boost image quality on screens through faster video transfer rates. The newer standard is for displays inside computers, and it will replace the older 1.4 standard that was released in early 2013. With 8K, displays will show images at a 7680 x 4320 resolution.

Displays based on the new technology will start appearing in computers and mobile devices by 2016, VESA said.

Screens with 8K resolution could find their way into high-end laptops and all-in-one desktops. Apple has used a modified version of the eDP standard in its iMac with 5K Display. Some high-end gaming and business laptops already have 4K displays.

At the moment, 8K resolution is the province of high-end TVs. Japan’s NHK is testing 8K broadcasts in time for the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.

Tablets and smartphones don’t have 4K screens yet, and may not get 8K screens. It’s hard to differentiate pixels on small screens, and 8K screens could be expensive for device makers. For now, mobile devices have powerful graphics processors that are able to process 4K video, which can then be shown on external displays.

Displays are the most power-hungry components in laptops and mobile devices. But the new eDP standard could improve battery life by reducing display circuitry and improving processing of pixels.