AMD’s Mantle has been a hot topic for quite some time and despite its delayed birth, it has finally came delivered performance in Battlefield 4. Microsoft is not sleeping it has its own answer to Mantle that we mentioned here.
Oddly enough we heard some industry people calling it DirectX 12 or DirectX Next but it looks like Microsoft is getting ready to finally update the next generation DirectX. From what we heard the next generation DirectX will fix some of the driver overhead problems that were addressed by Mantle, which is a good thing for the whole industry and of course gamers.
AMD got back to us officially stating that “AMD would like you to know that it supports and celebrates a direction for game development that is aligned with AMD’s vision of lower-level, ‘closer to the metal’ graphics APIs for PC gaming. While industry experts expect this to take some time, developers can immediately leverage efficient API design using Mantle. “
AMD also told us that we can expect some information about this at the Game Developers Conference that starts on March 17th, or in less than two weeks from now.
We have a feeling that Microsoft is finally ready to talk about DirectX Next, DirectX 11.X, DirectX 12 or whatever they end up calling it, and we would not be surprised to see Nvidia 20nm Maxwell chips to support this API, as well as future GPUs from AMD, possibly again 20nm parts.
Kingston Technologies is the latest to throw its hat into the ring with a range of mobile oriented flash drives.
The Datatraveler Microduo has both standard USB 2.0 and microUSB slots allowing for easier data transfer between mobile and desktop devices.
Built with Android devices in mind, the device uses the On The Go (OTG) function in most modern Android microUSB ports to provide extra storage.
The device comes in capacities ranging from 8GB to 64GB with a five year guarantee and full technical support for anyone struggling to use the device.
“[The Datatraveler] Microduo is a great companion device to mobile phones or tablets as it lets users back up files on the go thus freeing up space, or share files between devices with ease,” said Nadine Frost, Kingston Technologies EMEA Business Manager,
“Its steel design has a built in key loop and rotating cap, so it is small on size and big on storage. Travellers can take entire libraries of music or videos with them on trips without worrying about filling up the memory on their own device.”
Kingston is not the first company to bring out a twin input USB port. In December we reported on a similar product from Sony.
The OTG port is already compatible with flash drives through the use of an adapter, however as storage companies look for ways to stay one step ahead of the cloud, these products play on their added convenience and are already proving popular.
In a keynote conversation with Entertainment Software Association boss Mike Gallagher at the Digital Entertainment World conference, Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore talked about industry lessons learned as the business transitions more to digital games.
For now, games remain a hybrid of physical and digital, and the quick sales of the new consoles are enabling the industry to coalesce around two great platforms that offer a tremendous competitive environment, which ultimately benefits the market. While he believes the console sector’s in great shape, Moore does see mobile gaming thriving, and digital revenues should surpass that of physical game sales in just two years, he said.
Looking back at the music industry’s transition to digital (which it still hasn’t recovered from), Moore said that the games industry must embrace “creative destruction” – there’s nothing an industry can do to stop a shift in consumer tastes and habits. The most important thing for EA – and much of the industry is headed this way with the digital transition – is that games are becoming live operations. That means they require a massive infrastructure with customer service and global billing. Moore noted that it’s a completely different industry now, with a global network running live ops, and gamers deserve their games to be always up and available, and it’s EA’s job to provide this access. Moore acknowledged that EA is still learning a lot about what that takes.
The online environment has been incredibly valuable to EA in building a direct customer relationship. Moore said that EA’s customers used to be the retailers, but now they’re the gamers. In fact, EA has tripled its customer facing support staff resources in the last five years. It’s changing how the publisher interacts with, and markets to, gamers. He eschews “marketing” and prefers “engaging”. Social media has become crucial to success, and Moore noted that on Twitter a gamer will get a response from EA within 30 minutes to resolve a problem.
On the marketing end, Moore said that EA’s TV spend is down 20 percent while the company has actually doubled its digital spend and engagement. Social media and community management are changing the rules. Don’t spend tens of millions on TV to see if it lifts sales, Moore said; instead game companies can more effectively use digital channels and focus on performance-based marketing.
“TV ads today are chum in the water. It attracts customers, then reel them in with digital media so you can engage instead of pushing a message out,” he remarked.
Oxide Games’ Dan Baker is getting all excited about Mantle in the upcoming game Star Swarm. He told Maximum PC that Mantle isn’t just a low-level API that’s close to the metal. But when compared to DirectX, Mantle is lower in the overall software stack.
Baker said that Mantle still abstracts the details of the shader cores themselves, so that it is not clear if it is running on a vector machine or a scalar machine. However, what isn’t abstracted is the basic way a GPU operates, he said. The GPU is another processor, just like any other, that reads and writes memory. One thing that has happened is that GPUs are now general in terms of functionality. They can read memory anywhere. They can write memory anywhere.”
Mantle puts the responsibility onto the developer. Some feel that is too much, but this really is not any different from managing multiple CPUs on a system, which Oxide have gotten good at. Oxide does not program multiple CPUs with an API, it just does it itself. Mantle gives us a similar capability for the GPU, he said. When asked about the performance in Star Swarm, Baker indicated that the performance will depend on how exploitative you are, and the specifics of the engine. In the case of Star Swarm, the team was limited in what they could do by driver overhead problems. There have been decisions made where the team traded GPU performance for CPU.
Baker said that the Direct3D performance for the game absolutely outstanding. We have spent a huge amount of time optimising around D3D, and are biased in D3D’s favor. “Mantle, on the other hand, we’ve spent far less time with and currently have only pretty basic optimizations. But Mantle is such an elegant API that it still dwarfs our D3D performance,” Baker said.
In a SamsungTomorrow blog post, Samsung showed icons for Speed, Outdoor, Curiosity, Fun, Social, Style, Privacy, Fitness and Life that could be part of the Galaxy S5 Samsung is expected to unveil on Feb. 24 in Barcelona at its Unpacked5 event.
The minimalistic-looking icons are each labeled with a superscript 5, hinting at the updated phone. The blog and the icons are part of an updated invitation to Samsung’s Unpacked5 event, which was first announced Feb. 4.
Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone line has long included the custom TouchWiz interface. The new, simpler-looking icons could be part of a back-to-basics approach by Samsung.
While the coming Galaxy phone will surely run Android, there’s been a lot of speculation at how far it will move away from pure Android. Some analysts predict the TouchWiz interface in the Galaxy phone line could be replaced by the Magazine UX seen in Samsung’s new Pro tablets. The Magazine UX has reportedly dismayed Google as it moves to reduce Android fragmentation in the market. In January, the well-known and usually spot-on news site evleaks tweeted photos of three smartphone UI screens that some analysts believe could be used with the Galaxy S5. Two of the three break the screen into panels along the lines of what Magazine UX does on Pro tablets, with square elements or tiles as seen in the Windows Phone UI.
Perhaps the icons in Samsung’s latest blog could adorn a Magazine UX-like interface on the Galaxy S5, but it’s not really clear what Samsung intends to do.
To some, it might not seem to matter much at all what Samsung does with the coming interface, but when Apple updated a new UI for iOS 7 last year, the tech world stood up and took notice. Reader comments on the new Samsung blog noted that Samsung’s new icons seem to imitate the flat design of Apple’s iOS 7.
What might matter more than the graphic design of the Samsung icons is the inclusion of icons labeled fitness and outdoor. Samsung may be prepping a direct link to smartphone apps for fitness and health monitoring that link over Bluetooth to its wearable devices, such as the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which could be updated on Feb. 24 as well.
Samsung appears to be looking to create a wireless ecosystem of devices, probably with its smartphones as a hub reaching to wearables.
“It’s safe to assume that Samsung is looking at the next Galaxy smartphone device as the hub for peripheral function devices like Gear and FitGear,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. “It makes sense to put hooks [in the form of icons] into the system that Samsung will ultimately need.”
Gold said it will interesting to see if Google adds similar icons to its own pure Android future releases “so as not to fork Android even further.”
Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar WorldPanel, said that Samsung still faces a choice on peripherals and wearables like Gear or rumored Samsung smart glasses, to keep them compatible with only Samsung smartphones and tablets or to make them compatible with Android products from various manufacturers. Either approach has merits, but each requires a different strategy.
Nobody seems to be terribly happy about the new Dungeon Keeper game. That’s a sentence I hoped I’d never write, given how much I loved the original Bullfrog games – but that fact alone places me firmly within the least happy demographic of all: the original fans of the franchise. The rest of the unhappy parties can form an orderly queue behind us; that means you, game critics who think the game is terrible, mobile gamers who think it’s not nearly as good as its most obvious inspiration, Clash of Clans, F2P advocates who could do without another awful example being used to unfairly crucify the entire business model, and, well, EA themselves, I expect.
Lots has been written about Dungeon Keeper in the week since it launched, almost all of it deeply critical and a good deal of it entirely fair. Dungeon Keeper is a nicely presented but mediocre game in the mobile/F2P genre it inhabits. Within the franchise it inhabits, however, it’s a disastrous, idiotic travesty of a thing, a game whose design process wouldn’t be out of place in the imaginative dungeons of the original titles – involving, as it did, the snapping of limbs and crunching of bones in order to stuff the screaming body of a much-loved core gamer title into a box that is distinctly too small and painfully the wrong shape. It’s enough to make a Dark Mistress’ eyes water.
I like the free to play business model, in principle. More than that – I think the free to play business model, still in its infancy and thus still making countless mistakes, is actually an inevitable step for the games industry. It’s not going to replace other business models, which will continue to be a better fit for certain types of game and certain types of audience, but it’ll probably be the most important and profitable business model in future (some would argue, convincingly enough, that it already is). From the moment it became possible to distribute games for free, it was certain that someone would do that, and devise a system for making money later, once an audience had been built up. Under the circumstances, carefully considered and ethically implemented F2P is probably the best, and fairest, system possible.
So I reject the notion that Dungeon Keeper is an illustration of F2P’s intrinsic evils. It’s not, any more than any number of terrible boxed games were an illustration of intrinsic evils of the retail game business model. F2P isn’t intrinsically evil or bad, but it’s open to abuse – just like the old boxed game model was plenty open to abuse, as you’ll know if you’ve ever preordered an expensive game only to find that reviews were withheld until after launch, previews had been based on glimpses of unrepresentative sections of the game, screenshots and trailers were a cocktail of lies and the whole thing is actually a massive stinker. F2P trips up more often because it’s new and many developers are still feeling out the parameters of the business model – and moreover, because it requires developers whose core skill is designing games to also design a business model in tandem with their game, which is a new skill that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
That means that if we’re being reasonable, rather than just howling pointlessly into the wind because it makes us feel better, we need to consider Dungeon Keeper not as an omen of doom but as a learning exercise. It’s obviously a mess. It’s disappointed lots of people and made a core group of those people – people who ought to have been its most rapt advocates – very very angry indeed. But why is it a mess? What does Dungeon Keeper actually do wrong?
You could say “microtransactions”, and you’d be right in one sense – it does microtransactions wrong, but not because microtransactions themselves are intrinsically wrong. Plenty of games handle them rather nicely and fairly. Supercell’s games are pretty good examples – Hay Day is, I think, the only F2P game I’ve bought premium currency in, and I’m perfectly happy with the few quid I spent there, as I knew perfectly well what my money was buying and what the alternative was to acquire the things I wanted in-game. I mentioned last week my Japanese friend who has spent the equivalent of $500 in Puzzle & Dragons, and doesn’t regret it in the slightest – from my own experience, P&D, the biggest-grossing F2P game in the world, is also scrupulously fair and up-front about its micro-transactions, and generous to a fault at handing out premium currency for free, thus allowing you to save up for things you want instead of feeling forced to fork out.
Those games – and Clash of Clans, the Supercell game to which Dungeon Keeper owes much of its genre heritage – get F2P microtransactions right. Even Candy Crush Saga, a game which I personally dislike quite intently (I think that describing yourself as a puzzle game and then confronting the player with randomly generated levels which are actually impossible to solve is a miserable failure of fundamental game design), is far from being abusive in its approach to microtransactions; a solid majority of players who complete all its levels do so without ever spending any money. I played Clash of Clans for months without spending, and I’m coming up on a year in Puzzle & Dragons without spending – both of which I still find fun, and both of which, I think it’s fair to say, are genuinely living up to the promise inherent in the words “free to play”. I’m quite convinced, incidentally, that they’re among the world’s most profitable games precisely because they allow most players to continue enjoying them for free, rather than in spite of that seemingly foolish generosity.
Dungeon Keeper isn’t a generous game. It’s a grasping, unpleasant game – which is a shame, because with a more likeable, generous approach to its players, it wouldn’t be a terrible game. It’s certainly among the better of the Clash of Clans clones, a multitude of which fill the App Store with game mechanics and art styles shamelessly copied from Supercell’s hit and absolutely zero effort at innovation. Dungeon Keeper – though I say it through gritted teeth, since the franchise abuse still rankles – has the guts of a decent mobile game that builds worthwhile variation onto the Clash of Clans formula. The problem is, you advance through that experience at a snail’s pace, halted every few seconds by a glowing gem icon that invites you to spend expensive premium currency to speed up your progress. That premium currency itself arrives in an absolutely miserable trickle, rendering the notion of saving up to buy things into a sad joke.
Slowing down progress to encourage players who are really engaged with the game to spend a bit of money to advance is a core tenet of F2P design. Some people hate that, which I perfectly understand, but it’s not necessarily the end of all things – it’s worth pointing out that lots of non-F2P games also stretch out tasks artificially for a variety of commercial and gameplay reasons (I’d point to World of Warcraft in the first instance and Animal Crossing in the second as good examples of this). The point is that in doing this, designers need to make sure they’re not compromising the fun of the game, and err on the side of generosity rather than grasping. Dungeon Keeper fails these tests. It starts asking for money almost straight away, long before any player has a chance to become really engaged or engrossed in the game, and continues to wheedle at players to pay up on an ongoing basis, ramping up within a couple of days to the point where it’s taking 24 hours to complete simple tasks like digging out a square of rock, and literally weeks to finish a tunnel or room unaided by a dip in your wallet. Good F2P design is about making people really love your game and then giving them opportunities to spend money on it. Dungeon Keeper is a grubby chancer who tries to steal your wallet before the main course has even arrived on your first – and last – date.
There’s an even more fundamental problem at work here, though. Making a bad, greedy F2P game with the beloved Dungeon Keeper license is inexcusable – but to be honest, making any kind of F2P game with this license was a terrible idea. Dungeon Keeper is an old franchise, one which never came to consoles – making it much loved by a significant group of gamers who are older and significantly more “core” than the primary market for mobile F2P games. If you weren’t a PC gamer in the 1990s, Dungeon Keeper has almost certainly passed you by entirely. On the other hand, if you were a PC gamer in the 1990s, I think it’s fair to generalise and say you’re probably firmly in the camp that by and large dislikes microtransactions and considers F2P in general with suspicion – suspicion which you’ll consider to be all but confirmed by Dungeon Keeper’s many transgressions.
So why did EA do this? What on earth did they believe they stood to gain from resurrecting a franchise like this in a form which would be utterly despised by the only people who recognise it, while the potential audience it might reach successfully – gamers who like mobile F2P and are looking for something different in flavour and approach to Clash of Clans – will have zero brand recognition with Dungeon Keeper, but may be dissuaded by the outpouring of one-star scores on the App Store with which gamers are registering their dislike. Note too that while it’s conventionally and reasonably held that the specialist games media has no impact on mobile game performance, the hatred for Dungeon Keeper has spilled over into the mainstream press – and while “no publicity is bad publicity”, newspaper articles accusing your game of greedy monetisation tactics aren’t the ideal way to introduce it to the public at large, while Google results populated with fiery critique and all manner of accusations don’t help much either.
Ultimately, EA could have avoided this by making essentially the same game (although doing a lot more careful consideration of monetisation tactics and trying not to destroy the game’s hopes of retaining players by being too greedy too early wouldn’t go amiss) without the Dungeon Keeper brand and the vaguely ghoulish overtones of corpse-robbing that go with Dungeon Keeper’s pilfered, ill-matched mechanisms and characters in this game. Alternatively, it could probably have made quite a decent commercial success out of a premium-priced Dungeon Keeper game carefully updating the original and launching on Steam and iPad – a game with a significant built-in audience and a huge store of goodwill, much of which has now been squandered. It could even have included some IAP further down the line for deeply devoted players, although more in the line of cosmetic items and so on than game-changing consumables. Hell, EA could have done both of those things, resuscitating a much-loved franchise and creating a brand new F2P franchise, thus ending up with two successful IPs rather than one battered, bruised and sorely abused one.
This comes back to a point I made earlier – there is an audience for F2P, a huge audience with a significant amount of spending power, but it’s not the only audience (even if it’s the biggest). There are other audiences who crave other genres, other business models, other price points. The notion that the vast expansion in the demographic reach of videogames is going to be attended by an absolute contraction of the possible business models for videogames is a transparent nonsense – F2P is an inevitable and by no means negative consequence of the reduction in distribution costs to (just about) zero, but it’s not the only business model or price point enabled by recent technological change. The first challenge for designers, producers and executives in this new era is to figure out what business model best fits the franchise, the genre and the audience for your project. EA isn’t the first company to fail that challenge, nor is Dungeon Keeper the last game which will do it – but for those of us with fond memories of Bullfrog’s glory days, this is the one that leaves the most bitter taste. The lesson, however, must not be “F2P is bad” – it must be, “Do F2P where appropriate, do it with care, and do it well”.
AMD revealed Mantle to the world at its Hawaii launch event and at the time it promised support for the new API would come to Battlefield 4 sometime in December. In December, AMD said the API would show up in January.
Now though, it appears that the delay may be somewhat longer. Late yesterday Extremetech reported BF4 support would finally land in February. AMD’s Robert Hallock denied the patch is coming in February, but he didn’t say it is coming in January, either. If it is, it’s coming by Thursday. If it is not, that’s very bad news for AMD given the scale of its PR onslaught.
Back at CES the company talked up Mantle in an elaborate demonstration, featuring Oxide Games and DICE products. AMD claimed Mantle would deliver a significant performance boost over DirectX, up to 45 percent in certain scenarios. Since Mantle is not available yet, it is impossible to put these very optimistic claims to the test.
Mantle won’t be a game changer, but if it is embraced by major developers, it could give AMD a competitive edge both in discrete and integrated graphics. Intel has been making headway in the graphics department and it is closing the gap with AMD APUs with its latest Iris series GPUs.
Mantle could be AMD’s trump card, a cheap way of making its APUs more competitive without wasting silicon, but for this to happen Mantle needs to be embraced by developers. It is very promising, but at this point there are quite a few “ifs” associated with Mantle.
Gears of War will continue to turn, as Microsoft has acquired the sci-fi shooter franchise from Epic Games. Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer confirmed, saying the deal covers the intellectual property, all existing games and assets, and the rights to continue the franchise in the future.
As for who will make the Gears of War games with Epic out of the picture, that task has been entrusted to Microsoft’s Vancouver-based Black Tusk Studios, under the leadership of the studio’s general manager Hanno Lemke. Spencer called it “a big vote of confidence” for not just the studio but the Vancouver development scene. (Microsoft closed its nearby Victoria development studio last month.)
Future development on the franchise will be led by Rod Fergusson, who was a producer on the first three Gears of War titles. While Fergusson has a long history with Gears of War, his appointment at Black Tusk has to be considered surprising. Just four months ago, Take-Two announced that Fergusson was launching a new Bay Area studio to work on a new project for the publisher.
“It’s kind of nice he can tie the franchise, the culture, bring it all together, and really help with the talent we already have up at Black Tusk to get the franchise going with a new organization,” Spencer said.
Fergusson released a statement on his new appointment, saying, “I’m extremely excited to be joining Black Tusk Studios to oversee development on the Gears of War franchise. I’ve been privileged to work on a lot of great games with a lot of great teams, but Gears has had the most impact on me professionally and personally, so this really feels like a homecoming. I can’t wait to share more with you all soon.”
“[I]f you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that.”
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has had to find a new studio to take over a blockbuster sci-fi shooter IP. In 2007, Bungie struck a deal to split off from the Xbox maker, leaving the Halo franchise in need of a new developer. Spencer said there were lessons to be learned from the successful transition of the Halo series to 343 Industries, and mentioned Lemke would be speaking with 343′s Bonnie Ross about her experiences.
“We’re not announcing anything right now, but I think if you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that,” Spencer said. “But it does give me confidence knowing that we’ve done this once with 343.”
343 cut its teeth on the Halo franchise with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, an Xbox 360 remake of the original Xbox launch title Halo: Combat Evolved.
Whatever else changes with Gears of War, one thing that will likely stay the same is the technology powering the franchise. Spencer declined to say whether the deal requires Microsoft to use the Unreal Engine for future Gears games, but he did say the company was a big fan of the technology.
“We’ve used the Unreal Engine in our development of the Gears franchise and other franchises,” Spencer said. “Unreal is important for us. So I don’t see us moving away from Unreal. I have confidence in the Unreal Engine going forward, and it’s important to the franchise.”
Spencer also noted that a Black Tusk teaser trailer shown at E3 was built using Unreal. And even though that clip–a man rappelling down the side of a present-day skyscraper before swinging in an open window to clobber a gun-toting guard–looked decidedly unlike Gears of War, Spencer called it a concept piece, and not a project that is being shelved as a result of the IP acquisition.
“This obviously isn’t something that started yesterday in terms of our discussions with Epic,” Spencer said. “Hanno’s been involved for quite a while, so he’s known that this is something we could land. And the leadership team there obviously knew as they started to build their road map for what they would be focused on. I wouldn’t say things have been shelved. Obviously, this will become a big focus of the studio and something that will be critical to them driving forward. There’s not really something that was on the road map that all of a sudden goes away.”
When Microsoft opened Black Tusk in 2012, studio representatives said it was not working on an existing franchise, but instead was “looking to build the next Halo” from the ground up.
Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.
As we reported earlier, AMD scored a major coup with the new Mac Pro. The lovely bucket from Cupertino features AMD graphics, which came as a surprise in many circles, as Nvidia is the dominant player in the professional graphics market.
The high-profile design win is expected to generate quite a bit of cash for AMD’s professional graphics business and it will also help boost its unimpressive market share. AMD currently holds about a fifth of the market, so for every FirePro card sold Nvidia manages to ship about four Quadros.
According to Digitimes, this will change next year. AMD could bump its share up to 30 percent by the end of 2014, thanks to Apple. Since we are talking about high-margin products, they should also boost AMD’s overall profitability in 2014.
AMD’s new FirePro S10000 and Sky series server products are competitive, too. They use PCI Express Gen 3, while Nvidia’s Tesla K20C is on PCI Express Gen 2. AMD uses OpenCL, while Nvidia uses its own proprietary CUDA platform.
In addition, AMD has a habit of pricing its professional products more aggressively than Nvidia. Earlier this year we were told by some AMD reps that the company hopes to gain ground in the professional space, but then again AMD has been saying that for years. This time around AMD seems to have a good chance of eroding Nvidia’s lead. However, Nvidia won’t take this lying down.
Japan’s SoftBank and German telecom operator Deutsche Telekom are close to a deal that would merge T-Mobile US with Sprint, eliminating one of the four major mobile competitors in the U.S., according to the Nikkei news agency.
SoftBank would pay more than 2 trillion yen ($19 billion) for a stake of up to 70 percent in T-Mobile, which is the fourth-largest mobile operator in the U.S.,Nikkei said, citing unnamed sources. SoftBank already owns a majority of Sprint, the country’s third-largest carrier. T-Mobile is majority owned by Deutsche Telekom.
The Wall Street Journal had reported earlier this month that Sprint was studying regulatory concerns about such a deal and might make an offer for T-Mobile in the first half of next year. The Nikkei story, posted on Wednesday in Japan, said the parent companies of Sprint and T-Mobile were in the final stages of talks on a possible deal. SoftBank might make its offer as early as spring 2014, Nikkei said, roughly matching the earlier report on timing.
A $19 billion price tag for T-Mobile would nearly equal the $21.6 billion that SoftBank paid for 78 percent of Sprint earlier this year.
Combining Sprint and T-Mobile would create a carrier with nearly 100 million customers, close to subscriber parity with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, each of which has more than 100 million. However, U.S. regulators might block such a transaction in order to preserve competition in the nation’s wireless industry. When the government shot down AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile in 2011, some regulators cited the need to keep four major rivals in the market.
T-Mobile has proved a scrappy competitor since emerging from the failed AT&T deal. In the past year, in a successful bid to make gains against its bigger rivals, the company has introduced new service and device-purchase plans that other U.S. carriers have emulated.
Scientists announced Thursday (Dec. 12) that they had detected transient plumes of water vapor erupting from Europa’s south pole and extending about 125 miles (200 kilometers) into space. The ice-covered moon is thought to contain a subsurface ocean of liquid water, and the geysers represent a way to sample this potentially life-supporting environment, NASA officials said.
“Indeed, the plumes are incredibly exciting, if they are there,” Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division, said here Thursday at the at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “They’re bringing up material from within the ocean; perhaps there’s organic material that will be laying on the surface of the south pole.” [Photos: Europa, Mysterious Icy Moon of Jupiter]
The new find, made using observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, could build some momentum for a mission concept the space agency is developing called the Europa Clipper.
The Europa Clipper probe would orbit Jupiter but make multiple flybys of the 1,900-mile-wide (3,000 kilometers) moon, using a number of different science instruments to study Europa’s ice shell and subsurface ocean. The strategy would be similar to that employed by NASA’s Cassini mission, which has made flybys of many Saturn moons since entering into orbit around the ringed planet in 2004.
“What we have been doing is studying several approaches to really understand Europa from a spacecraft in that environment, and it looks like the Clipper concept is our best one,” Green said.
“Based on these [new] observations, we’re going to redouble our efforts to take a good look at Clipper — its orbital trajectories, the plans for the mission architecture — to ensure that we have the right instrumentation and that we can cover this area very well and really, really understand it,” he added.
The Clipper could conceivably fly directly through Europa’s plumes, taking samples as it goes, researchers said.
The Europa Clipper is not formally on NASA’s books; it remains a concept at the moment, and some rethinking may be required to make the mission a reality. For example, its price tag — estimated last year to be $2 billion — is too high to be approved in these tough fiscal times, Green said.
The Clipper mission “is what we would call a flagship, and right now the budget horizon is such that we’re deferring that kind of mission until later in the decade,” he said.
The European Space Agency, meanwhile, has its own plans to study Europa. ESA plans to launch a mission called the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, or JUICE, in 2022, with arrival in the Jovian system slated for 2030.
JUICE will focus on three of Jupiter’s moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. However, the spacecraft will likely make just two flybys of Europa over the course of its mission, researchers said.
Saturn’s iconic rings likely formed about 4.4 billion years ago, shortly after the planet itself took shape, a new study suggests.
The origin of Saturn’s ring system has long been the subject of debate, with some researchers arguing that it’s a relatively young structure and others holding that it coalesced long ago, at roughly the same time as the gas giant’s many satellites.
The new study, conducted using data gathered by NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft, strongly supports the latter scenario, researchers said here Tuesday (Dec. 10) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. [Photos: Saturn's Glorious Rings Up Close]
Cassini’s measurements imply that “the main rings would be [extremely] old, rather than hundreds of millions of years old,” Sascha Kempf, of the University of Colorado in Boulder, said.
Saturn’s main ring system is huge but razor-thin, measuring about 175,000 miles (280,000 kilometers) across but just 33 feet (10 meters) or so in the vertical direction. The rings are composed primarily of water ice, but they contain small amounts of rocky material contributed by micrometeoroid bombardment.
Kempf and his colleagues used Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer instrument to measure just how frequently such tiny particles cruise through the Saturn system.
They found that a surprisingly small amount of dusty material comes into contact with the rings. On average, just 0.0000000000000000001 grams — or, in scientific notation, 10^-19 g — of dust per square centimeter zooms through space every second at a distance of five to 50 Saturn radii from the planet.
Having measured this low rate of dust recruitment, the team then calculated that the rings have likely existed for about 4.4 billion years.
“It would be consistent with an old ring system,” Kempf said.
Kempf and his colleagues were also able to reconstruct the orbits of many of these particles, finding that the lion’s share likely come from the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit. However, some of the dust probably hails from the even more distant Oort Cloud and some from interstellar space, Kempf said.
That makes the Saturn-area dust quite different from the stuff seen near Earth and other parts of the inner solar system — a situation caused by Jupiter and its huge gravitational pull.
“Jupiter is basically splitting the solar system with respect to the dust into an inner and an outer system,” Kempf said.
The $3.2 billion Cassini mission launched in 1997 and reached Saturn in 2004. The mission’s operations have been extended through 2017, when the spacecraft will end its life with a dramatic plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere.
The holiday season may have started with a lump of coal in the stockings of EA and Ubisoft. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter sent a note to investors in advance of this week’s November NPD US retail sales announcements, saying that software sales for the month would be down 13 percent due to “far weaker-than-expected debuts” for the heavily hyped Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV.
Those games’ troubles are the primary reasons Pachter believes console and handheld sales were down 13 percent to $1.25 billion, but they weren’t the only ones. Call of Duty: Ghosts sales were also lower than expected due to unflattering reviews, Pachter said, and the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launches may have also put a damper on the software sales figures. Pachter reasoned that consumers either devoted their spending money to next-generation hardware launches, or decided to forgo purchasing current-gen versions of titles until they could find one of the supply constrained next-gen systems.
Speaking of the next-gen consoles, Pachter gave a considerable edge to Sony in the November sales race. He believes the PS4 sold 1.25 million units in the US during November, compared to 750,000 for the Xbox One. The PS4 launched November 15, while the Xbox One debuted November 22. The new arrivals also appear to have put a significant dent in the pre-existing competition, as Pachter predicted Wii U sales would be down 65 percent year-over-year, with Xbox 360 and PS3 sales down 44 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
The NPD Group is expected to announce its November US retail sales data this evening.
Sony has promised to have “substantial” resupplies of the PlayStation 4 before the end of the year, but has given no indication as to what qualifies as substantial. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter has stepped in to fill that information void, telling investors in a note this morning that he believes Sony is making PS4s at the rate of a million systems per month.
Pachter followed up on Sony’s announcement today that it had sold 2.1 million systems worldwide, saying that number fits well with previous estimates that Sony began manufacturing PS4s for retail on September 1, and that it faces a gap of up to three weeks from a system’s creation to the time it arrives on shelves.
“We expect Sony to continue to ship 1 million consoles per month, so as of the end of January, we believe Sony will have manufactured a cumulative 5 million consoles and will have shipped 4.25 – 4.5 million,” Pachter said. “We expect the 55 percent allocation to North America to continue through January, and then revert to a more normalized 40 percent of units once Sony launches in Japan and other countries. We think that Microsoft is on a similar production schedule, with similar allocations to North America.”
Pachter added that specialty retailer GameStop has been receiving roughly half of the systems shipped to North America, and that it will continue to take up that share of the allocations through December. In the New Year, Pachter expects the company’s share to be dialed back to a “more customary” 30 percent.
If the shipment projections are accurate, the PS4 would be more than holding up its part of publishers’ predictions that Sony and Microsoft would combine to ship 10 million units of their new systems by the end of March.
Apple confirmed the acquisition but would not say why it purchased the company, which specializes in analyzing Twitter data and providing insights into current sentiment on a variety of topics.
The Wall Street Journal, which reported the news earlier, cited people familiar with the deal as saying Apple forked over more than $200 million.
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.
Topsy did not respond to requests for comment.
The iPad and iPhone maker often does what it calls “bolt-on” acquisitions, small deals to acquire technology that then gets integrated into existing or future products.
Apple’s main effort in social media has revolved around Ping, a music-centered social sharing network that was at one point integrated into its iTunes app. The service, which lets users post music tracks they liked to a newsfeed, didn’t catch on and was shut down.
But the California gadget maker has been increasingly making it easier for people to share photos, videos and news through its devices and directly to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
It also operates iTunes Radio, an online streaming music service that competes with Pandora and could benefit from Topsy’s data on consumer sentiment.