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Yahoo Out, Google In For Firefox Corporate Browser

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google picked up a previous location as the default search engine on Mozilla Corp’s Firefox Internet browser in the United States and other regions as the browser maker stunned Verizon Communication Inc’s Yahoo by canceling their deal.

Google confirmed the move but declined, along with Mozilla, to disclose revenue-sharing terms of the multiyear agreement. Google’s growing spending to be the primary search provider on apps and devices such as Apple Inc’s iPhone has been a major investor concern.

 Google will be Firefox’s default search provider on desktop and mobile in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said Denelle Dixon, Mozilla’s chief business and legal officer.

The decision was “based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search and the broader content experience for our users,” Dixon said. “We believe there are opportunities to work with Oath and Verizon outside of search.”

Verizon said Mozilla terminating the Yahoo agreement caught it off guard.

“We are surprised that Mozilla has decided to take another path, and we are in discussions with them regarding the terms of our agreement,” said Charles Stewart, a spokesman for Verizon’s Oath unit, which oversees Yahoo.

The search provider switch came as Mozilla announced Firefox Quantum, a faster, new version of the browser that company says is “30 percent lighter” than Google Chrome in that it uses less computer memory.

For a decade until 2014, Google had been Firefox’s worldwide search provider. Google then remained the default in Europe while regional rivals such as Yahoo, Russia’s Yandex and China’s Baidu Inc replaced it elsewhere.

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer won a five-year contract with Mozilla in 2014 when Firefox and Google’s Chrome browser were battling for users.

 Chrome’s U.S. market share has since doubled to about 60 percent, according to data from analytics provider StatCounter, with Mozilla, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp browsers capturing the rest.

Yahoo paid Mozilla $375 million in 2015 and said that it would pay at least the same amount annually through 2019, according to regulatory filings.

Yahoo and Google aim to recoup placement fees by selling ads alongside search results and collecting valuable user data. Google said in October that contract changes drove a 54 percent increase in such fees to $2.4 billion in the third quarter.

 

Amazon Decides Against Offering ‘Skinny Bundle’ Video Service

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc has decided to cancel plans to launch an online streaming service bundling popular U.S. broadcast and cable networks because it believes it cannot make enough money on such a service, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The world’s largest online retailer has also been unable to convince key broadcast and basic cable networks to break with decades-old business models and join its a la carte Amazon Channels service, the sources said and has backed away from talks with them.

 The reversals come a month after the abrupt departure of Roy Price from his job as head of Amazon Studios, the company’s high-profile television production division, following an allegation of sexual harassment, which he has contested.

They show how difficult it is for Amazon to change entrenched habits in the U.S. entertainment business in the same way that it has done in retail, cloud computing and other areas.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

Video has become an important tool for Amazon in generating subscriptions for its U.S. $99-a-year Prime membership service. It is on track to spend some $4.5 billion or more on video programming this year, analysts estimate.

On Monday it made waves in the entertainment world with the purchase of global television rights to “The Lord of the Rings,” planning a multi-season series to draw more viewers to Prime.

Such an offering, known in the industry as a “skinny bundle,” is a way of capturing younger viewers who are dropping traditional, expensive cable or satellite TV packages in favor of channels watchable on smartphones and tablets.

But in recent weeks, Amazon decided not to move ahead with a service on the grounds that it would yield too low a profit margin and did not necessarily indicate the direction the TV business will eventually go, the sources told Reuters.

Amazon could still decide to change course and introduce a skinny bundle, but the talks are over, the sources said.

Qualcomm To Power Alibaba

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Qualcomm and Alibaba have ported Alibaba Cloud Link One to run on the Qualcomm MDM9206 global multi-mode LTE IoT modem.

This is all part of a cunning plan to allow developers to quickly develop and deploy solutions that connect with the Alibaba Cloud using LTE IoT connectivity and client software running directly on the LTE system-on-chip (SoC).

Qualcomm pre-integrated the Alibaba Cloud Link One on to the MDM9206 modem, so that module manufacturers and IoT Tight and cost-effective integration between edge devices and the cloud.

The porting fixes a vast array of the existing and emerging LTE IoT use cases, including smart transportation (e.g. bike sharing), smart cities, as well as industrial IoT applications in areas such as smart grid, smart metering (e.g. electricity, gas, water), asset tracking and more.

It means that Qualcomm will have a foot in the door as more of our hardware becomes sentient and cloud based.

Courtesy-Fud

Can The Nintendo Switch Handle Virtual Reality

November 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The response to Nintendo’s portable/console hybrid has been incredible thus far, with sales almost on track to match that of the original Wii. While the VR market has yet to see mainstream appeal on a level anything close to the Switch, Cloudhead Games CEO Denny Unger does believe that it could benefit from a device that offers similar mobile functionality but when at home can “dock” or tether to a PC to utilize its full power. Moreover, he thinks such a device could help to solve one of the more frustrating issues that VR developers have faced in the early days: market fragmentation.

“I think there’s some frustration in the industry internally with the fragmentation of the market,” he says. “We’ve got this weird separation between high-end VR and lower tier VR, mobile VR, and consumers have a real tough time going into this understanding the differences, what kind of impact those different technologies have on the experience, which makes it a big challenge for developers to target one or the other or all. To target all platforms is a huge financial investment because you can’t build a high-end VR experience and then cleanly port it to Gear VR or some lower-end VR platform. It just doesn’t work that way.

“So what you tend to get is developers making something for Cardboard or Gear VR and then trying to up-sell it to Oculus or the Vive, but it’s not as good of an experience because it started on the lowest common denominator. If you’re working from the opposite end of the spectrum, you can’t really backport it. It doesn’t even work. There’s no motion control. There’s no 6DOF tracking. There’s no positional tracking.”

To that end, Unger says he’s amazed that none of the headset makers have worked towards a hybrid device that can scale based on how it’s being used – something you can throw in your bag and use on-the-go with lower performance capabilities or tether to your PC when at home for a high fidelity experience. It would be a natural solution to the fragmentation problem, and developers would likely embrace it rapidly.

“I want a headset that connects to my PC, utilizes all the power of that platform, uses room-scale, uses motion controllers, but then I can unplug the thing and take it with me and suddenly it becomes a mobile computing platform,” he explains. “It’s got a lower tier, a lower bar of entry, and I can only play certain experiences on it, but I can take the same exact headset with me and it does that job on its own. Then I can bring it back to my PC, plug it in, and I have all that power again. That’s what I want to see as a developer. They must’ve considered it.”

Unger doesn’t have anything against Oculus and others beginning to introduce mid-tier standalone VR headsets like Go or Santa Cruz, but he’d prefer to see more unification around standards and devices.

“This is just kind of a general frustration that I hear from other developers as well. We should be trying to harmonize and come to some kind of platform parity instead of spreading it out so far,” he adds.

The odds are, Unger notes, that some company has already thought about this idea behind closed doors, possibly even prototyped it. But costs could get in the way.

“[Companies are] trying to get price points down… I think that to smash all of these bits of technology into a single headset that is a hybrid and does both things is cost prohibitive,” he says. “But I also believe that a smart company could take that and make the system modular and let people add on things to that headset to make it more capable or less capable. So they could start with a lower baseline product, but if they want to bump up its capabilities, they can add a couple things for tethering to the PC and whatever. There’s a bunch of ways to do it.”

Unger remarks that the frustration around market fragmentation ultimately is borne out of the fact that small studios like Cloudhead have been doing the heavy lifting in VR, and he’d love to see the manufacturers do a bit more.

“Smaller studios are taking the biggest risks in VR right now to really drive adoption for these hardware companies. I guess we want some kind of meaningful voice within that development of stuff. We can’t dump money into every platform. It’s just not possible,” he says.

Another area that he’d love to see more of a unified voice around is in educating the masses on VR and what good VR should feel like in general. This is especially true when developers have to deal with players’ expectations around game length and a title’s pricing. Cloudhead’s communications lead actually took to the Steam forums to address this very issue and the “mistrust” that many gamers unfortunately have of VR developers right now.

“The big problem, and you probably heard this from other developers, is the numbers just aren’t there in terms of adoption, in terms of the headsets,” Unger says. “So consumers come into it and, rightfully so, they expect pricing models that are standard PC gaming pricing models. Because in that market you’re dealing with millions of PCs and because there’s such a density of platform attachment there, you can artificially reduce your price point. You can say, ‘Well, even though it cost us X amount to produce this product, we can drive that price point down to $5 or $10 a unit because we know we’re going to roughly hit a 30% attach rate or a 20% attach rate or a 10% attach rate even, and we’ll still make our money back.’ But VR fundamentally just doesn’t work that way because the numbers aren’t there.

“So, especially when it comes to a product that’s got high production values, like Call of the Starseed or Heart of the Emberstone, our pricing model reflects the actual production costs… And a lot of consumers come into it thinking, ‘Oh, this is just like Telltale Games and you’re just doing episodes and why is it so expensive?’ Again, the reality is it’s a lot more like when Valve did Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2. They were episodes, but each time they launched a new product, they were dealing with new advancements in the tech. Because of that, there was a deeper production emphasis on research and development and creating new systems or new designs to make this thing better. VR is very, very much like that. It’s heavily front-loaded with R&D.”

Consumers who come into the VR ecosystem expecting some sort of parity with traditional PC gaming are unfortunately going to have a problem accepting how developers price their games currently.

“The big problem for people in VR across the landscape is educating consumers about the slow growth curve of the market and what developers actually have to work with in terms of numbers,” Unger says. “So prices directly reflect that, unless you’re being supported by a third-party entity or you’ve got investors or you’ve got Valve or you’ve got HTC or Oculus supporting you somehow on the back end.

“As a developer, I really wish we had more help from the industry, from the hardware makers, from people who have really strong voices in the industry, to help describe why it’s different, why pricing models are the way they are, why it’s hard, where the effort and energy must go to create good experiences in VR. I would love to see an education campaign to help people out.

He continues, “I think the reason they don’t do that is because it would show some kind of weakness, some kind of systemic, ‘Oh, well then VR’s not doing very well, if we have to educate people on the why.’ So, as developers, we kind of get stuck with that bill and have to try to educate ourselves. But you have to be careful doing that, because then you look like an asshole, right? If you’re saying, ‘Well, it’s because of this, this, and this,’ people don’t care. They don’t want to hear that.”

Getting nasty emails or reading harsh feedback on forums from the audience is all too common for developers nowadays. So as much as Cloudhead may not have enjoyed seeing people complain online, dealing with player toxicity online comes with the territory in 2017.

“What really helps me personally, and it helps most of us in the studio, is to recognize that this isn’t just a VR problem,” Unger notes. “This is a games industry problem in general. And, even in traditional PC gaming, you have people complaining about price versus content and time. And a lot of times they’ll [not think about], well where’s the quality in that equation? Was it a quality experience? Did you have a good experience? Sure, it was two or six hours long, but was it good? That seems to be missing from the conversation. But it’s endemic in the entire video game industry.

“I don’t take it personally. As with any other video game in the industry, yeah, we’re pouring 16-hour days into production. Especially in VR, we’re taking substantial risks and there’s a lot of innovation and invention that happens alongside standard video game production. So it increases the workload for your small team substantially. So it’s hard not to take it personally when somebody attacks the game for being too short, or whatever the thing is. It does help to re-frame it in your head as, this is just the industry that we’ve somehow created together over the last 20 years. It’s what people of privilege tend to do.”

Cloudhead has been one of the leaders in VR since the beginning. It’s narrative adventure, The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, was a hit and the Vancouver-based studio has committed to making at least three episodes in the franchise. Episode 2, Heart of the Emberstone, recently released to rave reviews.

“The Gallery: Call of the Starseed was one of the top five selling games in VR of all time. Because it was so successful initially, even though it was a small market, all of the funding from that went directly into Episode 2. And we went from a 12-ish team to an 18-person team and dumped all of the money into upping production value across the board,” Unger says.

Interestingly, although Episode 2 offers several more hours of gameplay and has more to explore, it actually cost Cloudhead a bit less to make. “We actually started Episode 1 in early 2013. We were using prototype Oculus Rift hardware at the time,” Unger explains. “That was before motion controls and stuff too, so even though we were doing R&D… that was like a three-year span of development. So we actually put more money into Episode 1 than Episode 2, because Episode 2 was a year and a half of production. That was kind of the beauty of Episode 2 – we got into just refining systems, because we’d already done all that hard work. We knew what we were going to do. We could just kind of blow out the length and complexity of what we were doing.”

Cloudhead had a clear vision and plan in place, but that doesn’t make the VR space suddenly less risky for the team. Unger advises any developers interested in joining the VR industry to tread very carefully at this stage.

“It’s incredibly risky to get into VR and you have to do it from kind of a place of purity, honestly,” he comments. “You have to really believe that you’re bringing something new to the table and you’re pushing the conversation a bit further in terms of what the medium is and what it means. If you don’t care about that stuff, you’re probably getting into it for the wrong reasons. It is very costly. There is a lot of R&D involved. And you’re doing things that have never been done before. Because of the very nature of that, things fall apart or don’t work and you have to redo them. So if you’re not in a studio that’s highly experimental, or isn’t willing to put in the extra time and funding to do those things properly, then [it’s] probably not the industry for you right now.”

While the risk in VR remains high at the moment – just ask CCP Games – Unger believes the big turning point is about a year away for the industry. Christmas 2018, in fact, is when the stars may align for the world of VR.

“We constantly have our heads in numbers that are public and not public about where this market is going. We see an uptick in adoption happening sometime after Christmas 2018. So our internal goal is actually to get there. And we’ve been told this by many industry insiders as well – they want Cloudhead to be there – and if we get there, we’re going to be sitting in a really, really good position,” Unger says.

Investors and others staying out of VR simply because AR is on the horizon could be making a mistake, too, he says. Even with Apple getting involved, the AR market will take a long time to become established, while VR meanwhile continues to gain a better footing.

“AR is still a good five years out. I say that because we’ve seen some stuff being worked on and they have a lot of hard challenges,” Unger explains. “Everyone’s touting how amazing AR is going to be, and it will be, but it’s not going to be there for a long time. You’ll start seeing stuff coming out that is developer or enthusiast friendly, but it’s not the kind of thing that consumers are going to want to put on their face. It’s going to have the same trough and dips and ups and downs as VR will. It’s going to take longer. The thing about VR is we’ve already established this design language for what constitutes kind of a stable, good experience in VR. Developers, at this point, can jump in and do some pretty astounding stuff. On the same token, I see a lot of wave shooters and just garbage flooding the market, because that same group of people isn’t willing to take the risk or the investment risk into doing brave and different new things and figuring out what it does best.”

An industry that could give VR a leg up is Hollywood. There’s already been interest from famous directors like James Cameron and Jon Favreau, and the truth is that Hollywood very much needs video game talent in order to make VR work. Some cross-pollination of talent is inevitable, and that’s something Unger embraces. He recently attended an event called VR On The Lot, where he spoke to numerous people in film about why 360 video isn’t the best use for VR.

“I gave the example of, what I really want to do is be in an environment with my family. I want to see them in some way,” he says. “I want to be on the wall with Legolas and he’s shooting orcs with arrows on the top of the wall. I want to watch that narrative kind of play out. And it’s not going to stop no matter what I do with my wife. But if my kids get bored, they can get up and grab some bows and start nailing orcs as well, right?

“There’s a way to build a story that’s very movie-like that has a progression that you can be a part of but you’ve got a limited interactive influence over it. And you can choose to be as much a part of it as you want to be. So driving towards that I think is really important. And, personally, I want to see ports of beloved movies brought to VR. I want to make Indiana Jones in VR. I want to make a completely pitch perfect version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I want users to experience that. I want them to be Indiana Jones. That’s the kind of stuff I want to build towards.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

SportsCenter Show Comes To Snapchat

November 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. sports broadcaster ESPN rolled out its flagship SportsCenter program on messaging app Snapchat on Monday, reimagining the show that provides sports highlights and commentary into a short-form series.

The new show deepens the relationship between ESPN parent Walt Disney Co and Snapchat parent Snap Inc.

The sports network, which has made Snapchat content since 2015, is trying to reach a younger audience, while the social media app, whose messages disappear after viewing, is adding more content in an effort to grow its user base beyond its core youth demographic.

The partnership is a two-year deal and Snap and ESPN will share revenues, Snap said, though it declined to give specifics.

SportsCenter will air twice a day on Snapchat during weekdays, and once a day on weekends. A roster of six hosts will give commentary and perspectives, including ESPN anchors Katie Nolan and Elle Duncan, and ESPN Radio host Jason Fitz, Snap said.

Sean Mills, Snap’s head of content programming, said SportsCenter helps round out the app’s stable of daily shows, which already includes news shows from CNN and NBC News, as well as an entertainment show called “The Rundown” from E! Network.

Along with daily shows, Snap launched a joint venture studio with NBCUniversal last month to produce scripted shows to air on the app.

Were The Russians Responsible For The Yahoo Data Breach

November 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

At least one of the attacks carried out on Yahoo was the work of Russian spooks, according to former Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer.

Mayer apologised for two massive data breaches at the internet company, blaming Russian agents for at least one of them.

Speaking at a Senate hearing on the growing number of cyber attacks on major US companies, Mayer said sorry for the hacks which were committed on her watch.

“Unfortunately, while all our measures helped Yahoo successfully defend against the barrage of attacks by both private and state-sponsored hackers, Russian agents intruded on our systems and stole our users’ data”, she said.

Verizon, the largest US wireless operator, acquired most of Yahoo Inc’s assets in June, the same month Mayer stepped down. Verizon disclosed last month that a 2013 Yahoo data breach affected all three billion of its accounts, compared with an estimate of more than one billion disclosed in December.

In March, federal prosecutors charged two Russian intelligence agents and two hackers with masterminding a 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts, the first time the US government has criminally charged Russian spies for cyber crimes.

Those charges came amid controversy relating to alleged Kremlin-backed gaming of the 2016 US presidential election and possible links between Russian figures and associates of President Donald Trump.

Special Agent Jack Bennett of the FBI’s San Francisco Division said in March the 2013 breach was unrelated and that an investigation of the larger incident was continuing. Mayer later said under questioning that she did not know if Russians were responsible for the 2013 breach, but earlier spoke of state-sponsored attacks.

Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, asked Mayer on Wednesday why it took three years to identify the data breach or properly gauge its size.

Mayer said Yahoo could not identify how the 2013 intrusion occurred and that the company did not learn of the incident until the US government presented data to Yahoo in November 2016.

She said even “robust” defences are not enough to defend against state-sponsored attacks and compared the fight with hackers to an “arms race”.

“We now know that Russian intelligence officers and state-sponsored hackers were responsible for highly complex and sophisticated attacks on Yahoo’s systems”, Mayer said. She said “really aggressive” pursuit of hackers was needed to discourage the efforts, and that even the most well-defended companies “could fall victim to these crimes”.

Courtesy-Fud

Does Nintendo Still Plan To Focus On Mobile Gaming

November 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo’s long-awaited push into the mobile space hasn’t been quite as disruptive as many might have hoped, but the firm is determined to press on with its plans.

During a Q&A for investors following Nintendo’s most recent financial results, president Tatsumi Kimishima discussed the platform holder’s thoughts on the future of its mobile business and whether he expected Nintendo to develop its own smart devices.

“Nintendo is a newcomer for the smart-device business, and there is still much we have to learn,” he said. “Nintendo has a large stock of valuable IP characters and has developed many games. We cannot, however, simply port our existing games and IP to smart-device applications. A lot of thought is going into what kind of games for smart devices will further our business and how we can continue to foster good relationships with our existing dedicated video game platform business.

“Among the various ideas, a primary concern is enabling our consumers to play on not only smart devices, but also our dedicated video game systems. We want to build up the smart-device business as a core pillar of Nintendoʼs various businesses, but we have not yet reached that level.

“Nintendo is not at a stage where we can consider becoming a smart-device platform developer.”

Kimishima’s comments follow Nintendo’s acknowledgement that Super Mario Run, the ‘pay-to-start’ mobile platformer analysts believed would kickstart the firm’s aggressive growth in mobile, has “not yet reached an acceptable profit level”. This is despite worldwide downloads of 200 million, a not insignificant figure.

Nintendo’s next release for smart devices will be Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which will utilise the typical free-to-play mechanics that drive many of the mobile sector’s biggest hits rather than the one-time payment found in Super Mario Run. It also continues to enjoy decent revenues from Fire Emblem Heroes, which launched earlier this year.

Elsewhere in the Q&A, Kimishima reiterated how pleased Nintendo is with the performance of its new Switch console. Providing the device sells as well as expected this Christmas, the president is confident the firm “can maintain the same level of momentum we saw with Wii”, Nintendo’s most successful console to date.

Switch is on course to surpass the lifetime sales of its predecessor, the Wii U, within its first year. The previous console struggled so badly, Kimishima confirms Nintendo’s “cash reserves declined by hundreds of billion yen.”

He added: “The peaks and troughs in this business are this extreme, and we need sufficient cash reserves to make it to the next wave peak.

“I wouldn’t consider our current cash reserves to be very high, but if reserves increase going forward, we would need to consider different approaches. We are looking at possibilities for share buyback in terms of the timing and what kind of effect that would have, but I cannot say anything specific at this juncture other than that share buyback is something we always have on the table, and we will make an announcement when we are able to do so.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Facebook Has A Unique Way To Fight Revenge Porn

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is prompting people to share their nude photos. But this isn’t what it sounds like.

The goal of the social network’s plan is to make sure people’s nude photos aren’t used for revenge porn by a disgruntled ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The way it’ll work is people will share their photos with Facebook via its Messenger app and the company will then “hash” the images, which is a process that converts the photos into a unique digital code. Once Facebook has that code, it can block the images from ever being uploaded to its site. The company will store the images for a short time and then delete them.

The company is piloting the technology in Australia with a small government agency headed by e-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

We see many scenarios where maybe photos or videos were taken consensually at one point, but there was not any sort of consent to send the images or videos more broadly,” Inman Grant told the ABC.

Other tech companies have used similar types of hashing technology in efforts to rid the internet of child pornography. Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have used unique digital codes to detect exploitative images, some of which have led to the arrests of people distributing the photographs on the web.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

Opera Browser Now Supports Virtual Reality

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The Opera desktop browser was revamped with social media capabilities earlier this year, but the updates didn’t end there.

The latest update adds VR support to the multifaceted browser, letting you stream 360-degree videos to your HTC Vive or Oculus headset, as well as any OpenVR devices. It’ll also let you edit screenshots, add emojis and take selfies with your laptop camera.

The feature-packed update comes as Opera plays catch up to Chrome, Safari and Firefox, and the new features are part of the company’s plan to rethink and modernize the browser as part of its Reborn project.

While tracking site Statcounter says Opera’s market share is just 3.89 percent globally in October, Opera is reporting rosy numbers. It claims to have seen double-digit growth in 2017, with active monthly users increasing by 25 percent year-on-year. The company says use of its desktop browser has grown by 65 percent in the US, 64 percent in France and by 50 percent in the UK.

Other features previously added include built-in browser support for chat services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and VK. Unit conversions were also added in a September update, making it easier to figure out time zones, miles to kilometers and more.

Twitter 280-Character Tweets Go Worldwide

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microblogging website Twitter Inc, known for its iconic 140-character tweets, officially announced that it would roll out 280-character tweets to users across the world.

Twitter said it ran a test on 280-character tweets in September that showed users spent less time editing their tweets and were less likely to abandon them.

User posting in languages including Japanese, Korean and Chinese, which do not face the issue of “cramming”, will continue to have a limit of 140 characters, Twitter said.

The company did not say when it would start allowing users to post 280-character tweets.

Snapchat Launches Re-design

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Snap Inc is redesigning its disappearing-message app Snapchat hoping to attract a broader audience, going back to the drawing board as Wall Street clobbered it for another quarter of slowing user growth.

The Venice, California-based firm, whose March stock market debut was the hottest of any tech stock in years, reported revenue and user growth for the third quarter well below Wall Street expectations as it struggles to compete with Facebook Inc’s Instagram.

Snap has disappointed investors each quarter of its brief existence as a public company.

User growth in the last three months was well below what investment analysts expected. Daily active users rose to 178 million in the third quarter from 173 million in the second quarter. Analysts had expected 181.8 million, according to research firm FactSet.

Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said the company was launching the redesign after hearing for years that Snapchat was difficult to understand or hard to use.

“We are going to make it easier to discover the vast quantity of content on our platform that goes undiscovered or unseen every day,” Spiegel told analysts on a conference call.

The 27-year-old CEO said there was a “strong likelihood” the redesign would be disruptive in the short term, but said Snap was willing to take the risk for long-term gain.

Such a radical change so soon after an IPO is unusual.

Snap is not the only social media company looking to revive growth by changing its look. Microblogging service Twitter Inc said on Tuesday it would roll out 280-character tweets to users across the world, double the length of its iconic 140-character tweets.

Asked on the analyst call what Snapchat’s redesign would look like, Spiegel said the company had been studying the evolution of mobile content feeds such as Twitter streams and the Facebook News Feed and saw room for a “personalized content service.”

Spiegel said the company next year would also build more tools for people to share with broad audiences beyond their friends, the type of public broadcasting common on Instagram and Twitter.

“It seems like a significant amount of change in a short period of time,” analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG told Spiegel on the call. He asked what led to the shifts.

Spiegel said Snap needed to evolve rapidly. “We’re just not afraid to make changes in the long-term interest of the business,” he said.

Snapchat Popularity Waning, Growth Slows

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Snapchat’s growth has come to a near crawl.

Snap, the company behind the social network, saw daily active users climb by 5 million in the third quarter — just 3 percent growth from the second quarter and 17 percent from a year ago — bringing the total to 178 million.

That trails the 300 million daily users on rival Instagram stories. Instagram’s parent, Facebook, boasted a year-over-year 16 percent growth rate, but off a base of more than 2 billion users.

The numbers illustrate the fact that Snapchat still faces stiff competition from Facebook and Instagram. While Snapchat has been successful in attracting younger users, it remains a mystery to a broader audience. Its array of filters and the idea of disappearing messages presents an intimidating barrier for people trying it out.

On the other hand, Facebook’s Instagram Stories continues to grow at an impressive clip.

“One thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said Tuesday in a prepared statement, adding that the company is planning a redesign to make the application easier to use.

“We don’t yet know how the behavior of our community will change when they begin to use our updated application,” Spiegel said. “We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.”

More bad news: Snap also took a $40 million charge to write-down unsold Spectacles.

The company reported a loss of $443.2 million, or 36 cents a share. Excluding one-time items, Snap lost 14 cents a share, narrower than the average analyst estimate of a loss of 15 cents a share, according to Yahoo Finance.

A year ago, the company lost $124.2 million, or 15 cents a share.

Snap’s revenue rose more than 60 percent to $207.9 million, but still fell far below analysts’ expectations of $239.5 million.

YouTube Shows Unsavory Videos To Youths

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

YouTube is facing criticism for allowing troubling videos to get past its filters on an app designed specifically for younger viewers, according to a report this weekend by The New York Times.

The Google-owned website is the largest video site in the world, with more than a billion people visiting a month. The affected service, YouTube Kids, was launched in 2015 to be a family-friendly version of the site.

But the kids service reportedly has a dark side. One video showed Mickey Mouse in a pool of blood while Minnie looks on in horror. In another video, a claymation version of Spider-Man urinates on Elsa, the princess from “Frozen.” The videos were knockoffs depicting the beloved Disney and Marvel characters.

Representatives from The Walt Disney Company, which owns Marvel, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

YouTube called the content “unacceptable,” but said it isn’t rampant. In the last 30 days, less than .005 percent of videos viewed in the app were removed for being inappropriate, the company said. YouTube is trying to reduce that number.

“The YouTube Kids team is made up of parents who care deeply about this, so it’s extremely important for us to get this right, and we act quickly when videos are brought to our attention,” a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. “We use a combination of machine learning, algorithms and community flagging to determine content in the app as well as which content runs ads. We agree this content is unacceptable and are committed to making the app better every day.”

The videos made it onto YouTube Kids by getting past safety filters, either by mistake or by trolls gaming the software.

The controversy comes as tech giants find themselves under intense scrutiny from Congress over the power and influence they have over what billions of people see online. Google, Facebook and Twitter spent last week in marathon Senate and House hearings over the way Russian trolls abused their platforms to meddle in last year’s US presidential election. Lawmakers grilled the tech companies over accountability for the algorithms they used.

This isn’t the first time YouTube has faced a backlash for unsavory content. Earlier this year, advertisers boycotted YouTube after their ads appeared next to extremist and hate content because of YouTube’s automated advertising technology. Major brands including AT&T and Johnson & Johnson ditched advertising on the platform.

As for the issues with YouTube Kids, the company said parents can use additional controls to limit what their kids see. The controls allow for blocking specific videos or channels and turning off search. YouTube said the app was never meant to be a curated experience, and that parents flagging inappropriate videos would make the app better over time.

Did Google Rush The Pixel 2XL

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

By now we must all be thinking that there can’t be anything more that could go wrong for the troubled Google Pixel 2 XL.

We’ve had screen burn, black smears, blue screens, failed quality control failed, missing earbuds, wrong colour handsets in the box, and now (drum roll)…the entire operating system is missing.

A Reddit forum has several reports of people who have ignored the naysayers (seriously, that screen is really, really blue), only to discover that when they switch on, they are greeted with “Can’t find valid operating system. The device will not start.”

Because, in common with most phones, the Pixel ships with a locked bootloader, there is no easy way to flash the image yourself, it’s certainly out of reach of the man in the street. So the phone has to go back and be replaced by one that has been properly quality controlled.

There is an error code and a web address for people to go to within the error screen. Trouble is, there’s no error code on the page that matches. This simply wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Pixel 2 XL was made for Google by LG instead of their usual sparring buddies, HTC, but the whole point of the Pixel line is to give Google an identity as a hardware vendor. As such, if it’s Google on the box, it’s Google that will be recognised as having cocked up a major phone release. Totes awkward.

But with a major partnership between HTC and Google now embedded, expect to see the slightly less troublesome HTC designs come to the forefront of future Pixel phones.

Google has told Android Police that the problem has “already been fixed” but we’re not entirely sure what that means, and we could see a few more reports in the coming days until LG successfully rounds up all the affected units.

If you want to see how the HTC version could have been, no problem, just take a look at the HTC U11 Plus, launched yesterday. That’s apparently the design you could have had if Google hadn’t decided to go with LG.

Courtesy-TheInq

Sprint Signs Partnership Deal With Altice For Mobile Service

November 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

U.S. cable operator Altice USA will offer mobile service on wireless carrier Sprint Corp’s network under a new multi-year agreement, becoming the latest firm to enter the wireless market in a bid to retain customers.

The companies announced the agreement a day after Sprint and T-Mobile US Inc ended merger talks.

Under the terms of the agreement, Altice, the fourth-largest U.S. cable operator, will use Sprint’s network to provide voice and data services in the United States. It gave no timeline on when it will introduce such services.

The deal will allow Sprint to use Altice’s cable infrastructure to transmit cellular data and develop a next-generation network, or 5G.

Sprint and T-Mobile on Saturday called off merger talks to create a bigger U.S. wireless company to rival market leaders. That has left Sprint, the No. 4 U.S. wireless carrier, to engineer a turnaround on its own.

Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp, Sprint’s majority owner, said in a separate announcement on Sunday that it intended to increase its stake in Sprint but that it would keep ownership of outstanding common stock under 85 percent, a move that avoids triggering a tender offer for the remaining shares. SoftBank currently owns roughly 82 percent of Sprint.

U.S. cable companies have begun venturing into the wireless market as a way to bundle more services to reduce churn, or customer defections, at a time when more consumers are canceling cable subscriptions.

Comcast Corp started selling wireless service this year on Verizon Communications Inc’s network, and Charter Communications Inc plans to launch service next year.

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