Earlier today Unity Technologies caused quite a stir in the games industry with the announcement that former Electronic Arts chief exec John Riccitiello would be taking over the CEO job for David Helgason. While EA struggled to make shareholders happy, Unity has been seeing tremendous growth, becoming a favorite toolset for large and small publishers and especially indies. In fact, the company serves over 600,000 monthly developers. But what does Unity really have up its sleeve? Is the hiring of a notable leader like Riccitiello a sign that the company is indeed being groomed for a buyout or public offering?
“John Riccitiello’s corporate moves will rightfully inspire speculation about major changes in the companies involved and as Unity is the dominant independent development platform, what happens next could affect most developers and publishers outside of the top ten,” remarked independent analyst Billy Pidgeon. “An acquisition is very possible although Unity CTO Joachim Ante has denied this. Unity needs to be independent and available to all to retain and grow its value, so a sale to a major publisher or developer would sharply decrease the company’s revenue flow. But a buyer outside the industry could allow Unity to remain somewhat independent, although clients might be wary of doing business with Unity’s new owner.”
EEDAR’s Patrick Walker, head of insights and analytics, largely agreed with Pidgeon, commenting, “While the stature of Riccitiello as a hire and his interest in helming the Unity ship suggest that there are big plans in the works for the company, it is unlikely that these plans are focused on the short term, such as preparation for a near-term buyout. A buyout has been rumored for a while, and the Unity executive team, including founder David Helgason and CTO Joachim Ante, has been consistent in their messaging statement focusing on the company mission rather than pursuit of a buyout. More likely, Riccitiello is being brought on board to spur growth for a longer-term play, such as an eventual IPO or larger-scale buyout.”
Regardless of whether a longer-term buyout is in the cards, Riccitiello has the experience to help accelerate Unity’s growth in the next few years, most believe.
“Unity is a well-positioned company with several paths to increase growth. While game publishing is one route to spur growth, there is also an opportunity for the company to leverage the strengths, such as cross-platform flexibility, that have given it such broad penetration in the indie market to increase penetration in other development verticals,” Walker continued. “Riccitiello has an ideal background, having led major companies both inside and outside the games industry and having served on the Unity board for the past year, to drive partnerships that will help grow Unity as a major development platform across the full spectrum of publishers and developers.”
Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter added, “He is certainly capable of leading them, and also well equipped to sell the company. [But] I don’t know the reason for the change.”
Perhaps one major reason for the change is to offload some of the business responsibility from Helgason who may wish to focus more on product development.
“Unity has been growing quickly for several years. The company now has over 300 employees and its technology is being used by hundreds of thousands of developers on practically every platform out there. I suspect that Dave recognized some time ago that the company had to get an experienced business manager at the helm or risk flying off the rails at some point, and that’s exactly what JR is,” observed Lewis Ward, IDC’s gaming research director.
“Some people just aren’t cut out to be CEOs of big businesses – just look at Notch. I suspect that Dave is going to be happier staying focused on the core product strategy and building relationships with studios and indie developers. From JR’s perspective, it’s a great opportunity to ride the beast that has been Unity growth over the past 3+ years. It’s a remarkable story, and I think John is probably going to enjoy the role and stepping back into an important spotlight in the industry.”
Twitter is looking to embrace the developer community after having alienated it in 2012 when it tightened API rules governing third-party app developers.
The company said during its first developer conference that Fabric is a ‘modular mobile platform’, or developer toolkit, which brings together tools and services from a mixture of outfits already under the Twitter wing.
This will make it easier to build, integrate and monetise applications, according to the firm.
“Fabric was built with ease of use in mind. Installation takes just minutes, and most features only require a few lines of code – so you spend less time managing SDKs and more time building the best experience for your users,” Twitter said.
“It combines the services of Crashlytics, MoPub, Twitter and others to help you build more stable apps, generate revenue through the world’s largest mobile ad exchange, and tap into Twitter’s sign-in systems and rich streams of real-time content for greater distribution and simpler identity.”
The Introducing Fabric blog post leans heavily on the system’s ease of use, claiming that the modular kits can be installed and set up in minutes.
Developers can choose from a range of modular kits depending on how they want to use them. They do not need to have an obvious benefit to Twitter, it seems, and the MoPub kit offers tools for ad placement in apps.
The Crashlytics Kit is designed to help developers strip bugs out of applications and limit the number of times they crash. It should also help improve usability.
“In just the past 30 days, Crashlytics identified over 5.5 billion crashes. And beyond just identifying them, Crashlytics is able to isolate the root cause down to the exact line of code, reducing the time it takes for you to fix the bug and submit an update,” said Twitter.
“The Fabric Crashlytics Kit – Crashlytics, Beta and Answers – helps you ship high-quality, stable apps and gives you a 360-degree, always-on picture of the health of your app.”
The move is a real change for Twitter which traditionally had a hands-off relationship with third parties and would cut off their access to its APIs.
When Twitpic closed down in September the firm blamed Twitter for its demise.
“Twitter contacted our legal [department] demanding that we abandon our trademark application or risk losing access to their API,” said Twitpic founder Noah Everett at the time.
“This came as a shock to us since Twitpic has been around since early 2008, and our trademark application has been in the USPTO since 2009.
“Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours. Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic.”
Astronomers investigated Beta Pictoris, a relatively young star located about 63 light-years from the sun. At only about 20 million years of age — far younger than the 4.6-billion-year-old sun — Beta Pictoris is surrounded by a huge protoplanetary disk. A disk of gas and dust just like this one encircled the sun in its youth.
For nearly 30 years, scientists have detected subtle changes in the light from Beta Pictoris that researchers thought were caused by exocomets traveling in front of the star. This is because the gas and dust from comets can absorb some of the light passing through them.
To study these exocomets around Beta Pictoris, the research team examined more than 1,000 observations gathered between 2003 and 2011 with the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter (11.8 feet) telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. They analyzed the orbits of 493 different exocomets.
The scientists discovered two very different families of exocomets around Beta Pictoris. One is apparently old and under the gravitational sway of a giant planet in the system, while the other is apparently young and the result of a recent breakup of far larger objects. Different families of comets also exist in the solar system.
The first group of exocomets generated relatively low amounts of gas and dust, suggesting they’re old enough to have mostly exhausted their supplies of ice during multiple passages close to their star. The shape and orientation of their orbits vary, but a giant planet seems to gravitationally influence all of them. This planet, Beta Pictoris b, orbits about 620 million miles (1 billion kilometers) from Beta Pictoris and was one of the first exoplanets that astronomers photographed directly.
The second family of exocomets generates far more gas and dust. These comets are also on nearly identical orbits to one another, suggesting they all have the same origin, probably as remnants of one or more larger icy objects that might have grazed the star Beta Pictoris. This makes the comets similar to the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided spectacularly with Jupiter in 1994.
“Our study confirms that the evaporating bodies around Beta Pictoris are analogous to the comets in the [Earth's] solar system,”study lead author Flavien Kiefer, an astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics of Paris in France and of Tel Aviv University in Israel,told Space.com.
“They are icy planetesimals, most probably the remnants of the processes which formed the planet Beta Pictoris b,” Kiefer added. “Now they are pushed towards the star, maybe by Beta Pictoris b itself, and become star-grazing evaporating bodies, or comets. This is very similar to the action of Jupiter on the Kuiper Belt objects.”
The Kuiper Belt is the ring of frigid objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. Pluto is the most famous of these faraway bodies.
The scientists said they expect to see similar cometary behavior in most, if not all, distant planetary systems younger than about 100 million years of age — when they can get a good look at the protoplanetary disks, Kiefer said.
“Our work shows that processes known to take place in the solar system also take place in young planetary systems,” Kiefer said. “This reinforces the feeling that when looking to the Beta Pictoris and its environment, we are observing a somewhat younger version of our sun, when it was 10 million to 20 million years old and it just formed its planets.”
The scientists plan to continue collecting data on Beta Pictoris using HARPS, which should shed light on how Beta Pictoris b influences cometary orbits, among other effects. The researchers detailed their findings in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Nature.
Pandora Media Inc, owners of the leading Internet radio service, reported a lower-than-expected increase in listeners in the third quarter, sending the company’s shares down 6 percent in extended trading on Thursday.
Pandora said it had 76.5 million active listeners as of Sept. 30, an increase of 5.2 percent from a year earlier.
Analysts, on average, had expected 76.7 million, according to market research firm StreetAccount.
Total listener hours rose to 4.99 billion from 3.99 billion, but again fell short of the average estimate of 5.02 billion.
Pandora’s profit and revenue both beat market expectations, however, as more people listened to streamed music on their mobile phones.
Mobile revenue increased 52 percent to $188 million, while local advertising revenue rose 118 percent to $41.8 million.
Despite its huge user base, Pandora faces stiff competition from Spotify, Apple Inc’s Beats online streaming service, Google Inc, and Amazon.com Inc in the fast-growing music streaming business.
The update, designated as Build 9860, followed the Oct. 1 release of the preview, which Microsoft has offered businesses and technology enthusiasts to give potential customers a look at the work in progress and collect feedback during development.
The Oct. 1 version of Windows 10 was labeled Build 9841.
“Sometimes [updates] will be more frequent and sometimes there will be longer gaps, but they will always be chock full of changes and improvements, as well as some bugs and things that are not quite done,” wrote Gabe Aul, of Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group on a company blog.
Aul said that Build 9860 had been handed to his group only a week ago, and repeated earlier warnings by other Microsoft managers that the preview remains incomplete and unpolished.
Although rapid iterations are nothing new to preview or beta software, Microsoft plans to accelerate the delivery of updates — ones that will include not only security patches and performance fixes, but also new features — once Windows 10 officially ships in mid-2015.
Updates will ship as often as monthly for consumers, while businesses will be able to choose between that and two additional tempos that Gartner has tagged as “near-consumer speed” and “long-term servicing.” The former will roll up the “consumer-speed” updates every four to six months to versions that fast-acting enterprises will test and deploy, while the latter will remain feature- and UI-static for as long as two to three years, receiving only security updates.
Other analysts have contended that Microsoft is pushing frequent updates to Windows 10 Technical Preview as much to test the process — both the back-end Windows Update service and the Windows 10 clients’ ability to absorb the changes and smoothly install the updates — as for the company’s stated reasons of gathering feedback and offering users an early look.
“Changes in Windows Update were put in place to make this possible,” Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in an interview earlier this month. “The biggest question for Microsoft is how the updating process works with the Technical Preview.”
In the preview, customers have an update frequently choice of only “Fast” or “Slow.”
Build 9860 will be delivered automatically to most PCs running Windows 10 within days, but users can manually initiate the process by going to “PC Settings,” choosing “Update and recovery” and then “Preview builds,” and finally clicking the “Check Now” button.
Aul said that the download would weigh in at between 2GB and 2.7GB, and that the reboot, the reconstruction of the OS’s search index, and the syncing of OneDrive would take “longer than normal” and “some time.”
Microsoft will ship a second consumer-oriented preview in early 2015, but it’s virtually certain that the firm will provide more-or-less-monthly updates to the Technical Preview between now and then.
After several years of accelerated growth, the U.S. market is feeling the effects of market saturation and smartphone ownership that’s lasting longer than once expected, Ramon Llamas, an analyst IDC, said in an updated forecast.
IDC’s five-year forecast issued for October significantly undercuts its April forecast, dropping expectations for U.S. smartphone and feature phone shipments by manufacturers to retailers. IDC now expects 1.7 million fewer phones shipped in 2104 than it had expected in April; it predicts 174 million phones will ship this year, with that figure declining gradually to 169 million in 2018.
Smartphone shipments alone will grow just slightly through 2018 in the U.S., but about 5% less than earlier expected, rising from 150 million in 2014 to 160.5 million in 2018. Feature phones shipments have dropped off faster than earlier expected.
Llamas said the signs of decline started in late 2011, prompting carriers in the past year to try to get customers to replace phones more often with easy trade-in plans and relaxed contracts.
It’s too soon to say what effect the early trade-in plans will have on the market, Llamas said. The life of an average smartphone still lasts about two years, but that could be changing.
Paying on installment plans “could really change the market,” Llamas said in an interview. “But if people pay off their devices and then realize they don’t have to pay the carrier as much [at the end of the payoff period] and only pay for wireless service, they might just hold onto their phones. I think people will hold onto their phones as long as they can after they are paid off. If this plays out and they hold on and don’t update, we’ll see flattening of sales volumes year after year, or even declines, all in the name of saving money.”
Realizing what’s happening in the U.S. and among other major economies, both Apple and Samsung have concentrated heavily on selling their new smartphones in China and other areas where smartphone sales are still strong.
November Xbox One update, explaining that it will throw a bucketful of new features into the console.
The firm polishes the console experience on a monthly basis and this month sees it swathe the device in tweaks and social networking positives.
Whether you use the console to browse the internet, talk to people, do social networking, watch television, or even play games, you will see some sort of improvement, according to spokeschap Major Nelson.
“We’re bringing you new and exciting ways to watch TV and interact with the Xbox Live gaming community in this month’s Xbox One system update preview. Today, we will begin rolling out a ton of new features to members of the Xbox One preview programme,” said Nelson in a blog that also introduces an excited video walkthrough.
Cosmetic features include the ability to change the background on your Xbox One, and even use achievements from games in your wallpaper.
Braggish players will be able to add their best clips to their profile page and generally swagger around the place, while people who like to crow on a range of platforms will be able to tweet clips from games.
Users can also share their location in their biography pages, and through the Smartglass app can see when anyone has checked out their profile.
Smartglass users can also check out their friends’ activities on the Xbox One, and can line up downloads of content, for example the free titles provided to Gold level subscribers.
The Xbox One store has been improved and Microsoft said that this would make it “easier to find and download apps for your Xbox One”.
The November update is out will be out, unsurprisingly, next month.
The company is expected to make more job cuts this month, including from other locations in the U.S., further lowering the ranks of its 33,000-person work force. Since January, the company has cut its ranks by about 5,000, from 38,000.
The latest headquarters cuts were in IT and portfolio management and Sprint’s network, technology and product areas, according to a statement by spokesperson Roni Singleton. Some employees will work their last day on Nov. 7 and others will finish Nov. 14.
“Sprint is focused on competing aggressively in the marketplace,” Singleton said. “We want our customers to pay less for a better value on a new networks. As part of this plan, we have to more closely align our cost structure with that of our competitors.”
CEO Marcelo Claure signaled there would be job cuts in August shortly after taking on his new role. Claure also inaugurated a round of pricing reductions.
Even so, analysts expect the company to lose more subscribers and fall into fourth place among the nation’s top carriers, behind T-Mobile.
An earnings call is expected in late October, although the date hasn’t been scheduled, Singleton said.
Sprint’s more than 5,000 job cuts in 2014 put it behind Cisco, with 6,000 job cuts (8%) announced for the year and Microsoft, with 18,000 job cuts (14%) planned for the year.
Nosey Google has updated its search engine algorithms in an attempt to restrict piracy web sites appearing high in its search rankings.
The update will mean piracy sites are less likely to appear when people search for music, films and other copyrighted content.
The decision to roll out the search changes was announced in a refreshed version of a How Google Fights Piracy report, which was originally published in September 2013.
However, this year’s updated report features a couple of developments, including changes to ad formats and an improved DMCA demotion search signal.
The move is likely to be a result of criticism received from the entertainment industry, which has argued that illegal sites should be “demoted” in search results because they enable people to find sites to download media illegally.
The biggest change in the Google search update will be new ad formats in search results on queries related to music and movies that help people find legitimate sources of media.
For example, for the relatively small number of queries for movies that include terms like ‘download’, ‘free’, or ‘watch’, Google has instead begun listing legal services such as Spotify and Netflix in a box at the top of the search results.
“We’re also testing other ways of pointing people to legitimate sources of music and movies, including in the right-hand panel on the results page,” Google added.
“These results show in the US only, but we plan to continue investing in this area and to expand it internationally.”
An improved DMCA demotion signal in Google search is also being rolled out as part of the refresh, which down-ranks sites for which Google has received a large number of valid DMCA notices.
“We’ve now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites. This update will roll out globally starting next week,” Google said, adding that it will also be removing more terms from autocomplete, based on DMCA removal notices.
The new measures might be welcomed by the entertainment industry, but are likely to encourage more people to use legal alternatives such as Spotify and Netflix, rather than buying more physical media.
Amazon, which had been in discussions with Simon & Schuster since July over pricing, confirmed the deal first reported by the Business Insider news blog that the two had reached an agreement.
Amazon had been locked in a months-long standoff with publisher Hachette Book Group, the fourth-largest U.S. book publisher owned by France’s Lagardere, over digital book pricing. That has led to numerous issues for authors.
Industry experts had expected other publishers eventually to be drawn into negotiations as well, as the Internet retailer tries to set new benchmarks for the e-book market.
Negotiations with Simon & Schuster took about three weeks and closed two months before Amazon’s contract expired, according to Business Insider.
Simon & Schuster made its original offer and an agreement was reached after a few changes by Amazon, the source told Business Insider.
Google didn’t elaborate on the price increase after announcing the Nexus 6, but several analysts said Google may be intending to push the Nexus as a premium brand that can compete with the iPhone 6 and other high-end phones.
Google originally developed Android to be inclusive and global, and indeed, it is the world’s largest OS by far. The company developed the Nexus line in 2010 to show Android phone manufacturers, and the public, how a pure Android phone could look and feel without the added features and bloatware installed by phone makers.
Meanwhile, the four national carriers are expected to sell the Nexus 6 with a subsidized price of as low as $200 with a two-year contract, and separate pricing for installment plans. AT&T will be a Nexus provider for the first time, and Verizon Wireless will carry the phone despite a spotty history with the Nexus line.
Such a carrier push to sell Nexus 6 phones with a subsidy seems to indicate that Google is intent on spreading wider adoption of its pure Nexus line that it so far hasn’t achieved. Google has long described Android as an operating system for all, but Google also wants to promote a more refined Android device, which it is trying to do with its Nexus line.
The $649 Nexus 6, which will run Android 5.0 Lollipop with support for 64-bit architecture, is a better phone than the $349 Nexus 5 that runs Android 4.4 KitKat. Nexus 6 also starts with 32 GB storage, double the capacity of its predecessor the Nexus 5. (A 64 GB Nexus 6 will run $699 unlocked on Google Play.)
But all the enhancements in the new Nexus 6, including its 5.96-in. Quad HD display and Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, still don’t fully account for the 86% increase in starting price for the unlocked model, analysts said.
Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android at Google, noted in a blog post that wireless carriers will offer the Nexus 6 on monthly contracts or installment plans. A number of industry sources predicted the two-year contract price will start at $200, a common industry price for high-end smartphones, including the new iPhone 6.
The four major carriers, Google and Motorola, which is the Nexus 6 manufacturer, all refused to discuss the prices that carriers will charge. They also would not disclose the November release date.
Twitter Inc will allow users to play podcasts, music and other audio clips direct from their timelines, or message feeds, by using a new feature designed in partnership with Berlin-based audio-streaming service SoundCloud.
The online messaging service introduced what it dubbed “Audio Card,” through which users can listen to a variety of content whilst browsing their timelines.
For starters, Twitter has promised audio from SoundCloud’s partners, which include such diverse sources as NASA, the Washington Post, CNN, David Guetta, Coldplay and Warner Music.
But it’s trying to snag more content partners in future, Twitter said in a recent blog posting.
Twitter didn’t say how Audio Card might evolve, except to stress that it offers musicians a chance to post exclusive clips.
“Many more musical artists and creators will be able to share exclusive, in-the-moment audio to millions of listeners on Twitter,” the company added.
Twitter’s new feature comes after rivals from Apple Inc to Google Inc have jumped into the business of music-streaming, considered the fastest-growing segment of a music market dominated by iTunes.
Twitter had reportedly been in discussions to acquire audio-sharing website SoundCloud, which has been called the Youtube of music, as far back as June.
The credit-card company showed a prototype of the card in London on Friday along with Zwipe, the Norwegian company that developed the fingerprint recognition technology.
The contactless payment card has an integrated fingerprint sensor and a secure data store for the cardholder’s biometric data, which is held only on the card and not in an external database, the companies said.
The card also has an EMV chip, used in European payment cards instead of a magnetic stripe to increase payment security, and a MasterCard application to allow contactless payments.
The prototype shown Friday is thicker than regular payment cards to accommodate a battery. Zwipe said it plans to eliminate the battery by harvesting energy from contactless payment terminals and is working on a new model for release in 2015 that will be as thin as standard cards.
Thanks to its fingerprint authentication, the Zwipe card has no limit on contactless payments, said a company spokesman. Other contactless cards can only be used for payments of around €20 or €25, and some must be placed in a reader and a PIN entered once the transaction reaches a certain threshold.
Norwegian bank Sparebanken DIN has already tested the Zwipe card, and plans to offer biometric authentication and contactless communication for all its cards, the bank has said.
MasterCard wants cardholders to be able to identify themselves without having to use passwords or PINs. Biometric authentication can help with that, but achieving simplicity of use in a secure way is a challenge, it said.
Amazon.com Inc is add more territory to its online grocery delivery program to Brooklyn’s well-heeled Park Slope neighborhood, giving the No. 1 U.S. online retailer a foothold in one of the wealthiest and densest markets in the United States.
The AmazonFresh program, which offers same-day or next-day delivery on more than 500,000 items including fresh and frozen groceries, will soon expand to other areas in Brooklyn.
The move is part of Amazon’s slow build-out of its “Fresh” program, targeting one of the largest retail sectors yet to be upended by online commerce. Amazon declined to say if it will expand to Manhattan or other parts of the New York metro area.
“Currently, we are offering AmazonFresh in Brooklyn and will continue being thoughtful and methodical in our expansion,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
Groceries have proven to be one of the toughest sectors for technology companies to manage, and Amazon faces competition from established companies like FreshDirect as well as fast-growing startups like Instacart.
But a successful foray in Park Slope could help Amazon cement customer loyalty and boost sales, especially among wealthy and middle-class families, analysts have said.
The top 10 to 20 percent of wealthiest Americans spend between 3 and 4 times more on food than the average American family, according to Bill Bishop, chief architect at Brick Meets Click, a consulting firm focused on retail technology.
“They are the sweetest of shoppers so anybody who attracts that business is taking the cream of the market,” Bishop said.
Amazon could also use its Fresh program to experiment with its own delivery service, analysts have said.
TSMC has announced that it will begin volume production of 16nm FinFET products in the second half of 2015, in late Q2 or early Q3.
For consumers, this means products based on TSMC 16nm FinFET silicon should appear in late 2015 and early 2016. The first TSMC 16nm FinFET product was announced a few weeks ago.
TSMC executive CC Wei said sales of 16nm FinFET products should account for 7-9% of the foundry’s total revenue in Q4 2015. The company already has more than 60 clients lined up for the new process and it expects 16nm FinFET to be its fastest growing process ever.
Although TSMC is not talking about the actual clients, we already know the roster looks like the who’s who of tech, with Qualcomm, AMD, Nvidia and Apple on board.
This also means the 20nm node will have a limited shelf life. The first 20nm products are rolling out as we speak, but the transition is slow and if TSMC sticks to its schedule, 20nm will be its top node for roughly a year, giving it much less time on top than earlier 28nm and 40nm nodes.
The road to 10nm
TSMC’s 16nm FinFET, or 16FinFET, is just part of the story. The company hopes to tape out the first 10nm products in 2015, but there is no clear timeframe yet.
Volume production of 10nm products is slated for 2016, most likely late 2016. As transitions speed up, TSMC capex will go up. The company expects to invest more than $10bn in 2015, up from $9.6bn this year.
TSMC expects global smartphone shipments to reach 1.5bn units next year, up 19 percent year-on-year. Needless to say, TSMC silicon will power the majority of them.