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Xiaomi Sets Sights On Premium Smartphone Market With Mi 4 Device

July 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

China’s Xiaomi introduced on Tuesday its new flagship Mi 4 smartphone, aimed primarily at the premium handset market dominated by Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

The Mi 4 has a 5 inch, 1080p screen and a Qualcomm Inc Snapdragon 801 2.5 Ghz processor, said Chief Executive Lei Jun at a launch event in Beijing.

But sheathed in iPhone-like metal sides, the Mi 4′s similarities to Apple’s smartphone drew murmurs from the crowd of ‘iPhone’ when showcased by Lei.

Founded in 2010 by Lei, Xiaomi seeks to cut costs by eschewing brick-and-mortar stores in favor of web-based distribution and word-of-mouth marketing.

Xiaomi became the world’s sixth-largest smartphone vendor in the first quarter of 2014, according to data firm Canalys, after repeatedly doubling its sales. The company was valued at $10 billion last year.

Xiaomi sold 18.7 mln smartphones in 2013 and on Tuesday maintained a 60 million sales target for 2014. For comparison, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd has said it is targeting 80 million smartphone sales for the year.

The latest phone was unveiled at a glitzy launch event at the National Convention Center in Beijing, where Lei Jun and Vice President Hugo Barra – a former Google executive – posed for photos with a winding queue of fans decked in Xiaomi-branded red T-shirts.

Barra told Reuters in an interview this month that the company was actively targeting the Indian market.

 

Apple Agrees To $450 Settlement In E-book Antitrust Case

July 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Apple Inc has agreed to pay $450 million to settle U.S. state and consumer claims the iPad manufacturer conspired with five major publishers to fix e-book prices, according to court records filed Wednesday.

The settlement, which would provide $400 million for consumers, is conditioned on the outcome of a pending appeal of a New York federal judge’s ruling last year that Apple was liable for violating antitrust laws.

A ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversing the judge could, under the settlement, either reduce the amount Apple pays to $70 million, with $50 million for consumers, or eliminate payments altogether.

“While we cannot predict the outcome of the appeal with certainty, we are confident in the case we made against Apple at trial,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement.

Apple in a statement denied that it had conspired to fix e-book prices and said it would continue pressing its case on appeal.

“We did nothing wrong and we believe a fair assessment of the facts will show it,” Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman, said.

The settlement, which requires approval of U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, had been announced in June. Terms were not disclosed at the time.

It came ahead of an Aug. 25 damages trial, in which attorneys general in 33 states and territories and lawyers for a class of consumers were expected to seek up to $840 million.

The deal follows earlier settlements with five publishers that provided $166 million for e-book purchasers.

Combined with the $400 million from Apple, the recovery is “among the exceedingly rare cases that provide consumers nationwide with double the amount of their estimated damages,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in a motion.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the state attorneys general sued Apple and five publishers in April 2012, accusing them of working together illegally to increase e-book prices.

In July 2013, Cote found Apple liable for colluding with the publishers to impede e-book competitors such as Amazon.com Inc after a non-jury trial.

The publishers include Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group Inc, News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, CBS Corp’s Simon & Schuster Inc and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH’s Macmillan.

 

Is Apple Having Issues With Sharp?

July 17, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

There is a spat brewing between Apple and its long term supplier Sharp. Sharp has been making Apple displays for ages and has an entire plant dedicated to this purpose. The manufacturing gear now belongs to Apple and Sharp wants to buy the equipment back for $293 million.

Apparently, Sharp wants to diversify its production and shift away from supplying only to Apple. Jobs’ Mob is amenable to the idea of selling the facilities but only if Sharp never sells anything to Samsung. Samsung mostly utilizes OLED screens in most of its products, so there is little for Apple to worry about. However some devices still use LCD screens and might have Sharp gear under the bonnet.

An agreement has not yet been reached and it seems unlikely as the manufacturer is not keen on accepting the blatant anti-competitive behaviour or as Apple would say “shrewed negotiation ability.”

Sharp does not want to piss off Apple. It is busy producing iPhone 6 screens for Apple and the Kameyama Plant No. 1 which is the one that Sharp wants to buy back, flat out.

Courtesy-Fud

Standalone Wearables Coming This Year, Says AT&T

July 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The most successful wearable devices will be ones that can operate without a phone, and AT&T will have at least one of them by the end of this year, the man who manages the carrier’s partnerships said.

“It needs to be an independent device. It needs to do something different for the end user, for people to buy it en masse,” said Glenn Lurie, AT&T’s president of emerging enterprises and partnerships.

A likely place to start could be wearables for wellness, such as a device that knows when your workout’s begun, holds your music, and lets you post information about your performance to social networks, he said. “I think you’ll see devices like that this year,” Lurie said.

The hottest devices will be able to work both on their own and with a phone, Lurie said. They’ll also have to be simple to use, a bar that no wearable has crossed yet, he said.

Once wearables start talking to LTE on their own, the sky’s the limit of what consumers will take with them, Lurie said. “Just like tablets, it’s going to all of a sudden explode.”

Cars will be another hot category of connected devices, with natural-language commands letting drivers do many things, he said.

“We believe technology in a car can make the car not only a safer place, but a place where you can do everything you can do today with your smartphone in your hand,” Lurie said. But there are hurdles left to be crossed: Cars will need to be able to talk to both Android and iOS phones without those phones coming out of the driver’s pocket. And as cars age through several generations of mobile technology, their software will have to be upgradable over the air. “The car is going to become a smartphone with four wheels.”

Lurie has overseen AT&T’s new businesses and partnerships for years, going back to the carrier’s blockbuster deal to carry the Apple iPhone exclusively for five years. Speaking before the audience at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, he wasn’t giving away any secrets about what manufacturers are showing off to AT&T.

“The things I’m seeing are pretty darn exciting,” Lurie said.

 

Will EA Mimic Mobile Developers?

July 9, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Late last year, Frank Gibeau switched roles at Electronic Arts, moving from president of the PC and console-focused EA Labels to be the executive vice president of EA Mobile. Speaking with GamesIndustry International at E3 last month, Gibeau said he was enticed by the vast opportunity for growth in the mobile world, and the chance to shape the publisher’s efforts in the space.

“One of the things I enjoy doing is building new groups, new teams and taking on cool missions,” Gibeau said. “The idea was that EA is known as a console company, and for our PC business. We’re not particularly well known for our mobile efforts, and I thought it would be an awesome challenge to go in and marshal all the talent and assets of EA and, frankly, build a mobile game company.”

It might sound a little odd to hear Gibeau speaking of building a mobile game company at EA. After all, he described EA as “the king of the premium business model” in the mobile world not too long ago, when the company was topping charts with $7 apps like The Sims 3 or raking it in with paid offerings like Tetris, Monopoly, or Scrabble.

“Two years ago, we were number one on feature phones with the premium business model,” Gibeau said. “Smart devices come in, freemium comes in, and we’re rebuilding our business. I think we’ve successfully gotten back into position and we see a lot of opportunity to grow the business going forward, but if you had talked to me about two years ago and tried to speculate there would be a company called Supercell with that much share and that many games, we wouldn’t even have come close.”

Gibeau expects that pace of upheaval to continue in the mobile market, but some things seem set in stone. For example, Gibeau is so convinced that the days of premium apps are done, he has EA Mobile working exclusively on freemium these days.

“If you look at how Asia operates, premium just doesn’t exist as a business model for interactive games, whether it’s on PC or mobile devices. If you look at the opportunity set, if you’re thinking globally, you want to go freemium so you can capture the widest possible audience in Japan, Korea, China, and so on… With premium games, you just don’t get the downloads you do with a free game. It’s better to get as many people into your experience and trying it. If they connect with it, that’s great, then you can carry them for very long periods of time. With premium, given that there are so many free offerings out there, it’s very difficult to break through.”

Unfortunately for EA, its prior expertise is only so relevant in the new mobile marketplace. Its decades of work on PCs and consoles translated well to premium apps that didn’t require constant updating, but Gibeau said running live services is a very different task – one EA needs to get better at.

“Our challenge frankly is just mastering the freemium live service component of what’s happening in mobile,” Gibeau said. “That’s where we’re spending a lot of our time right now. We think we have the right IP. We have the right talent. We’ve got great production values. Our scores from users are pretty high. It’s really about being able to be as good as Supercell, King, Gungho, or some of these other companies at sustained live services for long periods of time. We have a couple games that are doing really well on that front, like The Simpsons, Sims Freeplay, and Real Racing, but in general I think that’s where we need to spend most of our time.”

As Gibeau mentioned, EA has already had some successes on that front, but its record isn’t exactly unblemished. The company launched a freemium reboot of Dungeon Keeper earlier this year and the game was heavily criticized for its aggressive monetization approach. In May, EA shuttered original developer Mythic.

“Dungeon Keeper suffered from a few things,” Gibeau said. “I don’t think we did a particularly good job marketing it or talking to fans about their expectations for what Dungeon Keeper was going to be or ultimately should be. Brands ultimately have a certain amount of permission that you can make changes to, and I think we might have innovated too much or tried some different things that people just weren’t ready for. Or, frankly, were not in tune with what the brand would have allowed us to do. We like the idea that you can bring back a brand at EA and express it in a new way. We’ve had some successes on that front, but in the case of Dungeon Keeper, that just didn’t connect with an audience for a variety of reasons.”

The Dungeon Keeper reboot wasn’t successful, but EA continues to keep the game up and running, having passed the live service responsibilities to another studio. It’s not because the company is hoping for a turnaround story so much as it’s just one more adaptation to running games with a live service model.

“If you watch some of the things we’ve been doing over the last eight or nine months, we’ve made a commitment to players,” Gibeau said. “We’re sincere and committed to that. So when you bring in a group of people to Dungeon Keeper and you serve them, create a live service, a relationship and a connection, you just can’t pull the rug out from under them. That’s just not fair. We can sustain the Dungeon Keeper business at its level for a very long time. We have a committed group of people who are playing the game and enjoying it. So our view is going to be that we’ll keep Dungeon Keeper going as long as there’s a committed and connected audience to that game. Are we going to sequel it? Probably not. [Laughs] But we don’t want to just shut stuff off and walk away. You can’t do that in a live service environment.”

Much like EA’s institutional experience, there’s only so much of Gibeau’s past in the console and PC core gaming world that is directly relevant to today’s mobile space. But as the segment grows out of what he calls the “two guys in a garage” stage, EA’s organizational expertise will be increasingly beneficial.

“These teams are starting to become fairly sizeable,” Gibeau said, “and the teams and investment going into these games is starting to become much greater. Now they’re much, much less than you see on the console side, but there’s a certain rigor and discipline in approach from a technology and talent standpoint that’s very applicable… If you look at these devices, they will refresh their hardware and their computing power multiple times before you see a PlayStation 5. And as you see that hardware get increasing power and capability on GPU and CPU levels, our technology that we set up for gen 4 will be very applicable there. We’re going to be building technologies like Frostbite that operate on mobile devices so we can create richer, more immersive experiences on mobile.”

Even if mobile blockbusters like Candy Crush Saga aren’t exactly pushing the hardware, Gibeau said there’s still a need for all that extra horsepower. With the increased capabilities of multitasking on phones, he sees plenty of room for improvement before the industry runs up against diminishing returns on the CPU and GPU front. He likens today’s mobile titles to late-generation PS2 games, with PS3 and Xbox 360-level games just around the corner.

“As it relates to games, this is like black and white movies with no sound at this point, in terms of the type of games we’ve created,” Gibeau said. “We’re just starting to break through on the really big ideas is my personal view. If you look at games like Clash of Clans, Real Racing, even Candy Crush, they’re breaking through in new ways and spawning all types of new products that are opening up creativity and opportunities here. So I think computing power is just something we’ll continue to leverage.”

The best part for Gibeau is that the hard work of convincing people to buy these more powerful devices isn’t falling solely on the shoulders of game developers.

“The beauty of it is it’s not a single-use device,” Gibeau said, “so people will be upgrading them for a better camera, better video capability, different form factor, different user inputs, as a wearable… I think there’s so much pressure from an innovation standpoint between Samsung, Apple, Google, and Windows coming in, that they’ll continue to one up each other and there will be a very vibrant refresh cycle for a very long period of time. The screens get better, the computing power gets better, and I don’t have to worry about just games doing it like we were in the console business. Those were pretty much just games consoles; these are multi-use devices. And the beauty of it is there will be lots of different types of applications coming in and pushing that upgrade path.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Walmart Slashes iPhone 5S And 5C Prices

June 30, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Wal-Mart has slashed prices of Apple’s iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C to $99 and $29, respectively, with a two-year service contract.

The cuts, which followed recent reductions to $149 and $49, put Wal-Mart’s prices 50% less than Apple’s for the iPhone 5S and 71% less than the iPhone 5C’s list.

Both models are available only at Wal-Mart stores — not on the retailer’s website — and the prices are for the entry-tier devices that sport 16GB of storage. A two-year commitment to a mobile carrier contract is required to get those prices, so the offer is good only for new customers or current customers who are eligible for a subsidized upgrade.

Wal-Mart also cut in-store prices of the 32GB iPhone 5S and 5C to $129 and $199, respectively, retaining the $100 differential that Apple maintains between its storage allotments. Those prices are 33% to 35% under Apple’s suggested retail prices.

Most analysts expect Apple to reprise 2014′s schedule and roll out one or more new iPhones this September — with the new models dubbed “iPhone 6″ in keeping with Apple’s alternating naming convention that uses a numeral in even-numbered years, then adds an “S” in odd-numbered years — and Wal-Mart may be attempting to sell off inventory in advance of the arrival of new models. Or it may simply be trying to attract shoppers to its stores.

Asked whether the discounts were designed to lower inventory or drive store traffic, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said only, “We’re providing our customers with the affordable technology that they’re looking for.”

The fact that the new prices are not available online suggests that driving foot traffic to stores may be the primary goal.

Another possible factor is the fact that iPhone sales in recent years have flagged in the quarter preceding the introduction of new models. Last year, for example, second-quarter iPhone unit sales were down 17% quarter-over-quarter; in 2012, the sequential decline was 28%.

In the last two years, Apple has launched new iPhones near the end of the third quarter.

Apple has noticed the downturns. The company acknowledges that, as speculation about the next iPhone’s features starts to build (something that has already started to happen this year, with many people assuming that the iPhone 6 will have a larger screen), some customers postpone purchases until the newest hardware reaches retail. “We’re reading the same rumors and speculation that you are about a new iPhone, and we think this has caused some pause in customers purchasing,” admitted Peter Oppenheimer, then Apple’s CFO, during a mid-2012 conference call with Wall Street analysts discussing the second quarter.

 

 

 

BlackBerry, Amazon Team Up To Offer Android Apps

June 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

BlackBerry Ltd has agreed to a licensing deal with Amazon.com Inc that will let the Canadian smartphone maker offer some 240,000 Android applications from Amazon’s app store on its lineup of BlackBerry 10 devices this fall.

The move allows the Waterloo, Ontario-based company to add a vast array of consumer-focused apps to its devices, while at the same time directing its own efforts toward developing enterprise and productivity applications.

Customers who own smartphones powered by its BlackBerry 10 operating system will now be able to access popular Android apps such as Groupon, Netflix, Pinterest, Minecraft and Candy Crush Saga on their BlackBerry devices this fall. Google Inc makes Android, the mobile operating system used in more than a billion phones and tablets.

The apps will become available after the Canadian smartphone maker rolls out the upgraded BlackBerry 10.3 operating system, the company said.

The move is the latest by the smartphone pioneer to streamline its focus as it attempts to reinvent itself under new Chief Executive Officer John Chen as BlackBerry phones have lost ground to Apple Inc’s iPhone and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s Galaxy devices.

Analysts saw the move as a step in the right direction, but are not sure whether it will help turn the tide for BlackBerry.

“While this will widen the BB10 app ecosystem, the consumer

smartphone environment still remains challenging,” Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um said in a note to clients.

Um views the announcement as a positive for BlackBerry, but said “whether it stems consumer churn remains to be seen.”

Chen wants to remain a competitor in the smartphone segment, but is focused on making BlackBerry a dominant force in machine-to-machine communications. The company’s QNX software already is a mainstay in the automotive industry, powering electronic and other systems in a wide range of cars.

BlackBerry already works with hundreds of large enterprise clients, including corporations and government agencies, to manage and secure mobile devices on their internal networks.

Chen intends to build on those ties and BlackBerry’s security credentials to let these enterprise clients build and customize in-house corporate and productivity applications for their employees.

 

T-Mobile Offering One Week Free Service To Lure New Customers

June 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

T-Mobile US Inc said it’s offering at least a million mobile phone users the chance to use an Apple Inc iPhone in a free one-week trial of the No. 4 U.S. wireless carrier’s network with unlimited access.

The announcement is the latest promotion from T-Mobile, which last year shook up the industry by unbundling service fees from device costs, a move other carriers soon followed.

In cooperation with device maker Apple, customers can sign up online, receive a free iPhone 5s in two days and pay no charges unless the phone is broken or not returned at aretail store one week later.

“We believe every Verizon, and every AT&T customer should cheat on their carrier and enjoy every minute of it,” said T-Mobile CEO John Legere, speaking at a T-Mobile event in Seattle that was broadcast on the Internet. The carrier’s “seven-night stand” campaign asks consumers to allow the company to “woo you with our powerful data strong network” for the week.

T-Mobile’s aggressive discounting won it more subscribers in the first quarter of 2014 than any of the top wireless carriers combined. But the company’s price slashing cost it $151 million in lost revenue in the first quarter.

The company also said on Wednesday that music streaming from eight major music providers, including Pandora and Spotify, will no longer count against the data allowance included in consumers’ subscriptions.

“Streaming music is a showcase of what makes our network different. We can handle it,” said T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert.

T-Mobile customers use 69 percent more data than Verizon, and 100 percent more data than AT&T, according to the company.

The company also launched a music streaming service called ‘unRadio’, in partnership with music provider Rhapsody, which is free of advertising and will be included for customers who have unlimited high speed service. The service will also be available for $4 a month to all other subscribers.

The move follows a January AT&T announcement of a discounted subscription to Beats Music for family plan members, and a similar partnership between Sprint and Spotify in April.

T-Mobile’s massive price discounts have led to a restructuring of pricing plans across the wireless industry, as carriers unbundled service plans from the cost of devices.

 

3D Printers To Use Recycled Plastic

June 19, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

3D Systems has just come up with a 3D printer which makes its creations using recycled plastic bottles. The Ekocycle Cube 3D is a collaboration between 3D Systems, Coca-Cola and Ekocycle.

3D Systems, the company which appointed pop star will.i.am as creative director is pairing with The Coca-Cola Company to print using recycled plastic. It’s also teaming with Ekocycle who promotes sustainability. Ekocycle achieves this with “aspirational yet attainable lifestyle products.”

Plastic cartridges filled with recycled materials are fed into the machine to create a PET plastic filament, unique to this printer. Cubify offers customers a $5 credit for any cartridges returned after use.

The printer will be capable of printing an area of 6 x 6 x 6 inches with a 70-micron resolution.

The Ekocycle Cube 3D printer will be on sale for $1200. It all seems a good idea, after all if you don’t like you creation you can just melt it down afterwards.

The only difficulty we see with the project is that is fronted by popular beat combo artist will.iam still it could be worse it could be Justin Beiber which would not be fun unless you could melt the plastic twit down and turn him into something more useful, like an arse scratcher.

Courtesy-Fud

Did Apple Lose A Trademark Battle In Mexico?

June 11, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

A battle over the name iPhone has resulted in Apple’s Mexican business partners being forbidden from advertising the iPhone.

Earlier this year, the tame Apple press claimed that Apple had won a trademark lawsuit against Mexican telecommunications company iFone over the use of the phonetically-identical “iPhone” brand. The iFone trademark was originally filed in 2003, and in 2009 the company filed a suit against Apple to stop it confusing its telecommunications busienss.

The press claimed that Apple won that war on the basis that iFone flogged telecommunications services, Apple sells smartphones. But the problem with the ruling was that Jobs’ Mob’s carrier chums offer telecommunications services, the IMPI (Mexico’s equivalent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) ruled that carriers selling the iPhone could no longer use the name in their advertising materials.

To make matters worse Telcel, Movistar, and Iusacell are now being charged fines for infringing on iFone’s trademark and have been ordered to remove the word “iPhone” from all marketing materials within the next 15 days. Needless to say the Presstitutes in the Tame Apple Press are saying this is terrible because Apple was found blameless in its actions and pure as the driven snow.

However what is clear from the result was that original reports claiming that Apple had won the ruling were incorrect and spun in Apple’s favour. iFone had successfully defended its trademark against Apple and the company’s cargo cult could not use the name to interfere with iFone’s business.

This is one of the problems when journalists sell out to companies and interpret news stories in favour of their corporate sponsors. The facts of the case were lost and now people are wondering why Apple can’t really advertise in Mexico.

Courtesy-Fud

 

ZTE Wants Better Brand Image, High-end Mobile Phone Market

June 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

China’s ZTE Corp is place its bets on high-end smartphones to help raise global shipments by a third next year and establish a brand to rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd andApple Inc at home.

ZTE and other Chinese smartphone vendors are increasingly tapping the high-end sector as competition has pushed margins so narrow that their mainstay low-priced handsets in China are barely profitable.

The world’s ninth-biggest smartphone vendor launched its Nubia brand in 2012, while peer Huawei Technologies Ltd is gunning for high-end recognition with its Ascend series and Lenovo Group Ltd is touting its Vibe and K lines.

“We will make more and more premium smartphones,” ZTE’s executive vice-president Zeng Xuezong told Reuters in a recent interview.

Shenzhen-based ZTE, which also makes telecommunications network equipment, aims to increase its global smartphone shipments from 40 million last year to 60 million this year, 80 million next year and 100 million in 2016.

“After our efforts in the past two years, I believe our brand awareness and approval rating from customers could rival those of Apple and Samsung in China,” Zeng said.

The introduction of fourth-generation (4G) networks in the world’s biggest mobile market is likely to stimulate demand for compatible handsets, so at least 60 percent of next year’s smartphone shipment target will be 4G-ready, Zeng said. That would compare with 40 percent of ZTE’s 2014 target.

ZTE’s feature-rich Nubia Z5, Huawei’s Ascend P7 and Lenovo’s Vibe Z are billed as high-end smartphones, but are priced around 2,000 yuan less than premium handsets such as Apple’s iPhone 5S and Samsung’s Galaxy S5.

More up-market handsets could help ZTE and its peers shed perceptions of inferior quality associated with Chinese brands – perceptions exacerbated by security concerns raised by U.S. government officials about Chinese-made communications equipment.

“There is indeed a gap between the brand awareness of Chinese companies and those top global brands, and this is what our team is trying to build for consumers,” Zeng said.

ZTE aims to raise its U.S. market share to 10 percent by 2017 from 6 percent last year by spending more on marketing.

 

 

 

Is Far Cry Playing With Fire?

May 23, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

In the Far Cry games, fire is a wonderful tool. It spreads dynamically, opening up a wealth of creative and strategic possibilities for players to achieve their goals. However, it also gets out of control in a hurry, potentially coming back to hurt the player in sometimes unpredictable ways.

It’s an appropriate metaphor for the series’ approach to controversial subject matter. Last week, Ubisoft announced the development of Far Cry 4, showing off some key art in the process. The picture depicts a blonde light-skinned man in a shiny pink suit against the backdrop of the Himalayas, smirking as he uses a defaced statue as a throne. His right hand rests on the head of a darker skinned man who is kneeling before him, clutching a grenade with the pin pulled. Though we know very little about the characters depicted, their backgrounds, or their motivations, the art got people talking (and tweeting). Some were concerned about racism. Others were worried about homophobia. Many saw neither. At the same time, details about the game are so scant that it’s entirely possible the problematic elements here are properly addressed within the context of the game itself.

But at the moment, we don’t have that context. It’s promotional art, so to a certain extent, it’s designed to exist out of context, to catch the eye of someone on a store shelf, even if they’ve never heard of the series before. And while we lack the context the actual game would provide, there’s no such thing as “without context.” Here, the context we have is that this is a Far Cry game, the latest entry in a series that has been earning a reputation for boldly storming into narrative territory where other games fear to tread (often with good reason).

Like the fire propagation mechanic, this narrative ambition was introduced to the series with Far Cry 2. What had previously been just another shooter (albeit one in a tropical setting more attractive than most) became a series that embedded its stories within thorny issues. Far Cry 2 cast players as a mercenary in a fictitious African country’s prolonged civil unrest, using blood diamonds, malaria, and Western imperialism as texture in a story emphasizing the moral vacuum of war. Far Cry 3 took things a step further, with players controlling a spoiled rich white kid on a tropical island vacation who suddenly must deal with nefariously swarthy pirates and intentionally stereotypical natives. And just in case that didn’t stir up any controversy, the story also weaves in rape, sex, drugs, and torture. In both cases, some critics and players felt the games offensively trivialized important or tragic subjects.

Given this history, it’s not surprising that Far Cry 4 would not universally receive the benefit of the doubt. Much more surprising (to me, at least) is that Ubisoft is continuing down this path with the franchise. Far Cry 3 sold a staggering 9 million units, putting it in the same class of blockbuster as Assassin’s Creed (last year’s version of which sold 11 million units). However, the publisher’s narrative approach to the two games could not be more different.

Assassin’s Creed is a fascinating case study for dealing with touchy subjects in AAA video games. It wasn’t long after the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq that work on the first Assassin’s Creed started. You know, the one set in the middle of a holy war between Christians and Muslims. Assassin’s Creed II had players attempt to assassinate the pope. Assassin’s Creed III put players in control of a Native American protagonist during the Revolutionary War. Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry saw the gamification of emancipation.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise draws some criticism from time to time for its handling of these subjects, but the series has rarely found itself at the flashpoint of controversy. Part of the reason for that is the Assassin’s Creed developers research their subjects thoroughly. They understand what the concerns surrounding the sensitive topics are, and by virtue of the games’ historical settings, they can point to factual evidence of certain people’s actions, or common situations of each era.

When it comes to dealing with controversy, Assassin’s Creed is much like its stealthy protagonists are imagined to be: quiet, cautious, and efficient. Far Cry, on the other hand, deals with these topics more like the way Assassin’s Creed protagonists behave when I play them: recklessly uncoordinated and endlessly destructive. Even when it’s clear Far Cry’s developers have put plenty of thought into what they’re saying, it’s not always clear they’ve put much thought into what people will hear them saying through their games.

It speaks volumes about how Ubisoft perceives the long-term value of the two series. Assassin’s Creed is the company’s biggest and most adaptable blockbuster, an annual gaming event based on a premise that can be mined and iterated on endlessly in almost any medium, a recurring revenue stream to be nurtured over time. Far Cry, this key art release suggests, is just another first-person shooter, a brand defined primarily by how hard it works to shock people, perhaps because the company doesn’t have faith that it can sell on its other merits. One of them is the kind of project you make a Michael Fassbender film around. The other might be more of an Uwe Boll joint.

I’m not saying that Far Cry should avoid these subjects. I actually love to see games of all sizes attempting to tackle topics and themes often ignored by the industry. But the right to explore those subjects should come with a responsibility to do so with care. These are legitimately painful subjects for many people. If developers want to force players to confront them, they should have a good reason for it that goes beyond pushing people’s buttons, exploiting tragedy for shock value and an early preorder campaign. In video games, we don’t push buttons for the sake of pushing buttons. We push them to do things.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Here Comes Faster Speeds, So Says Verizon With New XLTE Service

May 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Verizon Wireless launched XLTE network coverage in more than 250 U.S. cities  earlier in the week, promising its customers twice the 4G LTE bandwidth and “faster peak speeds” in those areas.

Verizon created the XLTE name to describe a network capable of juggling a wireless connection between AWS (advanced wireless services) in the 1700 MHz band and 700 MHz bands. What’s new is that Verizon added the ability to use the AWS band as well as the older 700 MHz band, and in doing so, Verizon implied, doubled the bandwidth.

As for the promise of “faster peak speeds,” Verizon hasn’t provided details on what that means, although presumably it is the ability to meet promised LTE speeds that top out at 12Mbps, even when a nearby cell tower is crowded with users, such as at a baseball game. A large crowd of smartphone users can hammer nearby cell towers with transmissions, lowering speeds on everyone’s phones. It’s much the same physics as if everyone in a small town flushed the toilet at the same time, lowering water pressure in every household.

When asked about what speeds to expect with XLTE, Verizon spokeswoman Debra Lewis told Computerworld, “We haven’t changed our promised LTE speeds of 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps on the download and 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps on the upload.”

XLTE adds network capacity by doubling the bandwidth, “so it’s about getting people on the network and staying on the network, having a reliable experience and being able to do what they want when they want,” Lewis said.

In addition, the Verizon Web site lists 27 phones, tablets and wireless devices that can function with XLTE, including the iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Droid Mini from Motorola. Verizon also made the point that older phones using 700 MHz only should see capacity benefits from XLTE-ready device traffic that is moving over to the AWS spectrum.

 

 

Firefox Falling Behind As Mobile Browsing Explodes

May 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Mozilla’s Firefox is running the risk of becoming irrelevant as more Internet browsing originates on smartphones and tablets, statistics from a Web measurement vendor show.

During April, about one in every six people who went online surfed the Web using a mobile browser, according to Net Applications. Mobile browsing’s climb of more than 5 percentage points in the last 12 months represented a growth rate of 48%.

Most of the rest of those who went online in April did so armed with a desktop browser installed on a personal computer.

The shift toward mobile has hurt Mozilla most of all: Firefox’s total user share — the combination of both desktop and mobile — was 14.1% for April, its lowest level since Computerworld began tracking the metric. That was only slightly ahead of Apple’s Safari and significantly behind Google’s Chrome and Android browsers.

Mozilla’s dilemma continues to be its inability to attract a mobile audience. Although the company has long offered Firefox on Android, its share was so small that Net Applications did not even note it last month. And Mozilla’s Firefox OS, a browser-based mobile operating system that has garnered limited support, didn’t show up in the analytics company’s numbers, either.

Mozilla’s case hasn’t been helped by a steady drain on its desktop user share, which in April slipped to 17% of all desktop browsers, down from 20% a year earlier.

Hot on Mozilla’s heels in April was Apple, whose combined desktop and mobile browser user share reached 13.1%. Almost two-thirds of that was credited to Safari on iOS, the mobile operating system that powers iPhones and iPads. While Safari on iOS continued to shed share last month — it’s long been under attack from the glut of Android-powered devices used around the world — the increase in mobile browsing’s popularity was enough to actually boost its combined user share from September 2013, the last time Computerworld visited the topic.

But Google has become the clear winner in the mobile browsing sweepstakes. Its old-stock Android browser has held steady while Chrome has grown by leaps and bounds as new devices come online armed with the browser, which is available for download from Google Play. In the last 12 months, Chrome’s user share of mobile has soared 447%.

 

 

 

Samsung’s Galaxy 5 Sales Hit 11M First Month Out

May 16, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Despite less than glowing reviews from critics, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 smartphone is proving to be another hit for the company, with 11 million of the devices sold in the first month of launch.

The sales figure, disclosed on Thursday by a company spokesman, suggests the S5 is performing slightly better than its previous model. Last year, the Galaxy S4 sold 10 million units in 27 days after it went on sale.

But the days of a huge year-over-year sales boom for Samsung phones may be passing. When the S4 went on sale a year ago it sold 10 million units in almost half the time the Galaxy S3 needed to reach that figure. As for the older Galaxy S2, it was on sale for five months before reaching the number.

And even though 11 million units is still a big number, the figure shows Samsung’s flagship phone grew in sales by only about 10 percent. This is far lower than overall shipment growth in the smartphone market, which rose 29 percent year over year in the first quarter, according to research firm Canalys.

The Galaxy S series phones have been Samsung’s flagship line, and are built with some of the latest technologies. In the case of the S5, the Android phone has a fingerprint scanner along with a heart rate monitor, in addition to a HD screen and cutting-edge processor.

Not all the critics have been happy with the device. In particular, reviewers have been disappointed with the phone’s plastic casing that they said gives the handset a cheap feel. Others have said the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor don’t always function properly.

In a sign that Samsung maybe listening to the negative feedback, earlier this month the company named a new head for its mobile products design team. Vice president Min-hyouk Lee was promoted to the position, to allow the previous head, Dong-Hoon Chang, to focus on longer-term design of the company’s products.

Samsung said last month it expects the S5 to sell well, and predicted the phone would sell over 10 million units in its first month.

Lately, the company has been posting weaker earnings, as competition in the smartphone market continues to stiffen. But Samsung expects the S5 to give it a sales boost in this year’s second quarter.