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State Farm Files Lawsuit Againt Apple Over iPhone Fire

July 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

We live in an age of exploding cell phone batteries, apparently.

In a new case, indeed, insurer State Farm and one of its customers, Wisconsin resident Xai Thao, allege that one of Apple’s older iPhones had a defective battery that led to a fire last year.

A lawsuit filed by both State Farm and Thao claims that her iPhone 4S “failed” and “started a fire at Thao’s home.”

The lawsuit further claims that “preliminary investigations show evidence of a significant and localized heating event in the battery area of the iPhone.” It also declares that there were “remnants of internal shorting, indicating that an internal failure of the iPhone’s battery caused the fire.”

Thao insists that she had not done anything to the battery at all.

The lawyers involved did not respond to a request for comment about who’d performed these preliminary investigations. Apple likewise didn’t respond to a request for comment. A State Farm spokesman, meanwhile, told me: “State Farm rarely comments on pending litigation and in this case has nothing to share. Our filings speak for themselves.”

But do they? It’s unclear from the lawsuit, for example, whether the phone was being charged at the time and, if so, what charger might have been used. It’s also unclear whether Apple was ever given the chance to examine the phone.

In a number of incidents of exploding or overheating phones, the devices had been charging at the critical moment.

But not in all cases. In 2015, a New Jersey man claimed that an iPhone 5C exploded in his pocket and caused third-degree burns.

The State Farm lawsuit says that Thao’s iPhone was “in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition” when she bought it in 2014.

The suit is claiming in excess of $75,000 in damages. The lawsuit says that Thao had to pay a proportion of the the damages out of her own pocket.

Skeptics might wonder why the phone allegedly caught fire at that moment, two years after it was bought. The iPhone 4S hasn’t been linked with major incidents of fire hazard since in launched in 2011.

Spotify Inching Closer To A Deal With Warner Music

July 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Music streaming company Spotify is one step closer to reaching a new licensing pact with Warner Music Inc, the last big music royalty deal it needs before pushing ahead with a U.S. stock market listing, four sources familiar with the situation said.

The parties are positive a deal could be signed by September as major issues such as granting loss-making Spotify a more favorable revenue split in return for making some new albums accessible only to its paying subscribers for a defined period have already been agreed, the sources said.

However, the precise revenue split and the size of a potential guaranteed upfront payment to the label, home to artists including Ed Sheeran and Muse, have yet to be agreed, said two of the sources.

“The negotiations are at a crossroads,” said one of the sources, asking not to be named because the talks are private, adding discussions were taking place daily. “There are still a number of key points that remain to be agreed. If we manage to come to terms on these points, then it could lead to a very quick transaction. If not, any deal would remain at bay.”

Others saw a deal being done by late summer.

“Given the way talks are progressing, I would be surprised if we don’t have a deal in September,” said another source on the other side of the table.

Does Windows 10 Support Intel’s Atom Chip

July 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

While most people expected that Windows 10 would last a while, it appears that some Intel users will not get feature updates.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott has written that systems built around Intel’s Clover Trail Atom processors are blocked from installing Windows 10 Version 1703, known as the Creators Update.

For those with the memory of goldfish, Intel’s Clover Trail Atom processors are generally low-cost, low-power machines released between 2012 and 2015. The devices that the chips are installed would end up broken or at the bottom of the wardrobe. However if you do try to install Windows 10 on the machine you will get the message that “the chip is no longer supported on this PC”.

Clover Trail machines were shipped with Windows 8 or 8.1. If their owners had kept Windows 8.1, they’d be eligible for the regular 5+5 support policy, with security updates ceasing on October 1, 2023. But the machines were deemed compatible with Windows 10 and hence eligible for the free upgrade that Microsoft offered to Windows 8.1 users for the first year of Windows 10’s release.

What is starting to look like happening is that rather than Windows 10 lasting on your machine forever, Vole is tying its software upgrades to hardware improvements. So your current computer might be able to run future versions of Windows 10, but Vole will not let you upgrade it until you get a better chip.

Each Windows 10 update will receive security fixes for just 18 months. Version 1607, the latest that these Clover Trail machines can install, will drop out of support in early 2018. After that date, they’ll cease to receive any patches at all.

The following Intel Clover Trail processors are currently not supported on Windows 10 Creators Update: Atom Z2760, Atom Z2520, Atom Z2560 and Atom Z2580.

However the issue is not because of an evil pact between Vole and the hardware industry. Clover Trail’s GPU was a non-Intel GPU designed by Imagination Technologies which has made driver development and support a nightmare.

Later Atom processors used Intel’s own GPU designs, a move that should simplify their ongoing support.

Courtesy-Fud

Samsung To Officially Launch Galaxy Note 8 On August 23rd

July 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung’s is gearing up to “do bigger things.”

The company has announced plans to hold its next Unpacked event — presumably the Galaxy Note 8 — at 11 a.m. ET on Aug. 23 in New York’s Park Avenue Armory.

The invitation provided to press showed the outline of a phone that looks similar to the shape of the Galaxy S8 — a screen that appears to curve around the long sides of the phone and thin bezels at the top and bottom. It also shows a bright blue stylus, which has been a key feature of the Samsung’s Note line since it introduced the first such device. Inside the phone outline are the words: “Do bigger things.”

This Unpacked event is an important one for Samsung. The company’s Note line literally went up in flames a year ago because of faulty batteries. Its well-liked Note 7 suffered through two recalls before being killed off less than two months after the device went on sale.

In March, Samsung went a long way toward regaining consumer trust with the introduction of its flashy Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. Neither device has had any problems since they went on sale in April. Now, Samsung will have to do the same with the Note 8, as well as give consumers a reason to buy the device instead of the regular Galaxy line.

Do Video Games Help Critical Thinking

July 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

At the Develop conference in Brighton this week, the team behind a new charitable foundation called The Near Future Society asked developers to embrace games as a tool for critical thinking; an antidote to a cultural landscape in which “fake news, bias and extremism” are increasingly powerful forces.

The Near Future Society was initially conceived by Oliver Lewis, a former diplomat and the current VP of corporate development at Improbable. Lewis was joined onstage by Nick Button-Brown, the COO of Sensible Object and one of Improbable advisers, who became intrigued by The Near Future Society’s belief in the positive influence games could have on society.

“We wondered whether games can develop critical thinking, and help us understand how to think about moral reasoning,” Lewis said. “We started having this conversation, and we decided that it’s much more complicated than ‘can they?’, and that perhaps they already do.”

“People are becoming more extreme. The center ground is disappearing. It has now become okay to ignore opposing viewpoints, it has now become okay to shout them down”

The Near Future Society’s first meeting took place before GDC this year, on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles. “The idea was to get together government, technology, education and entertainment people to talk about how to address the problems of the world,” Button-Brown said. “When we met the government people, the thing they were most worried about was fake news, and the impact fake news has on people’s opinions.

“People are not questioning. We see it, and we see it in our own lives as well. People are becoming more extreme. The centre ground is disappearing. It has now become okay to ignore opposing viewpoints, it has now become okay to shout them down.”

One of the distinctive qualities of games as a medium is the ability to empower players to make choices, and to show the consequences of those choices. Lewis and Button-Brown cited some well known examples of this technique: the admittedly “simplistic” moral split in a game like Knights of the Old Republic, the “Would you kindly?” reveal in Bioshock, and the creeping realization of The Brotherhood of Steel’s true nature in Fallout 4.

“Having spent a lot of time with the UK and the US military, I have an affinity for this group,” Lewis said, referring to his experiences embedded with the military in Afghanistan. “[The Brotherhood of Steel] have some really cool kit. But the more you interact with this group it starts to get a little uneasy, then you start to realize that they’re a little bit fascist.”

Games afford players the freedom to arrive at such realisations, encouraging a degree of critical thinking absent in linear media. This power, Lewis argued, gives developers a responsibility to carefully consider how they present difficult subject matter to the world. Call of Duty, for example, depicts “a type of warfare that’s unrecognizable to the modern Western soldier,” one where the Geneva Convention and “the reality of the law of armed conflict” are not strictly observed.

“If you go into a mission and your objective is to kill the enemy, you are murdering wounded and potentially surrendering soldiers. That is illegal,” he said. “You are potentially using a flamethrower as a weapon. That is illegal. You are told to destroy civilian property and religious buildings. That is illegal. To some extent you’re also committing war crimes.

“A lot of game depictions of war are not accurate emotionally, are not accurate operationally, even if they’re accurate visually. And as we get towards ever more immersive experiences we have a responsibility to represent that moral reasoning.”

“A lot of game depictions of war are not accurate emotionally, are not accurate operationally, even if they’re accurate visually”

However, while there are examples of games that don’t take that responsibility seriously, The Near Future Society was mainly inspired by the games that already do.

“There are just so many games where, fundamentally, we teach players to think analytically,” Button-Brown said. “We teach them to question their environment, and to expect that the people that are talking to them are not necessarily telling the truth all the time. That’s what we do in our stories. We’re already doing it, and we’re actually quite good at it.”

“In the earlier part [of the talk], we deliberately held up some of the areas where we could do better,” Lewis added. “But only as foreground to say that the games industry writ large is already doing so much good in terms of encouraging critical thinking, and encouraging moral reasoning.”

Button-Brown discussed State of Decay and EVE Online as examples of games that use persistence to encourage players to think about the consequences of their decisions. In the case of the former, when one of your companions dies there is no option to restart or bring them back. “I then had to start making decisions about which of my companions I could sacrifice,” he said. “That’s uncomfortable, even in a virtual world.”

Lucas Pope’s Papers Please, which puts the player in the role of a border guard in a fictional country, was also singled out for praise. “It teaches people that there’s a grey area,” Button-Brown said. “Good decisions in Papers Please can end up with bad outcomes. You’re teaching moral action, and also connecting that to the consequences.”

Lewis discussed 11 bit Studios’ This War of Mine as a kind of counterpoint to games like Call of Duty, in the way that it depicts the experience of the people who suffer the most as a result of conflict. “It induces empathy with the displaced person, the people left behind after war,” he said. “Ordinary, normal people who have to try and eke out an existence; to survive and protect the people that we fought for.”

“There’s a decent chance we’re going to have much more influence as an industry over people’s morals”

Lewis and Button-Brown aren’t the only people to have noticed the potential for games to explore difficult subject matter. Last year, 11 bit Studios launched a publishing division with a stated aim of drawing attention to “meaningful games” like This War of Mine and Papers Please. “There are a lot of players who want those experiences,” publishing director Pawel Feldman told GamesIndustry.biz. “We know how to talk about these games. All we need are talented developers.”

The Near Future Society has a similar goal, albeit as a charitable organisation rather than a commercial one. Lewis expressed his belief that “social and political taboos” are ideally suited to games as a medium because, through play, “people are much more likely to engage with them.” An open brainstorming session at the end of the talk proved that developers are eager to explore this new territory; the Near Future Society will attempt to serve as a conduit between interested studios and bodies that might fund and support their work.

“One of the partners that we’re going for is the Roddenberry Foundation,” Lewis said, referring to the organization established by the son of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. “We want many of the early projects that we do support to be deliberately utopian. If you want a living wage and [universal basic income], then let’s use popular culture to explore that, rather than just having a declaration from Mark Zuckerberg.”

Both Lewis and Button-Brown acknowledged that the games industry has a “left-wing bias”, and they were very clear that the goal of the Near Future Society is not to tell people how to think. “In the forum in Los Angeles, one of the greatest concerns of the US and UK government that came along…was that this would be propaganda,” Lewis said. “What we had to make very clear is that any projects that we do, we’ll be very open on who the collaborators are, and indeed what any overt political message is going to be.

“You could say that, within this broad idea of making games more political, you have to state what the politics are rather than hide it with subterfuge.”

Button-Brown added that simply reflecting the bias of any given side of an issue would could be “dangerous”, and it would also ignore the unique strength that games have to allow the player to explore ideas from multiple angles, and make their own choices. “That’s why we ended up at teaching critical thinking,” he said, “rather than ‘Get Trump out’.”

“Games are already the most accessible, arguably the most effective, and the largest provider of moral reasoning and critical thinking education in the world,” Lewis said. “Almost without realizing it, that’s one of the things that you’re providing to the global community.”

Understanding and embracing that idea will only become more important over time, Button-Brown said. “There’s a decent chance we’re going to have much more influence as an industry over people’s morals. We’re going to have much more influence over the way that they think. As people become more immersed in these worlds, it’s going to matter more.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Samsung Finally Launches Bixby Voice App For Galaxy S8

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung has finally officially launched voice capabilities for its Bixby smart sidekick in the US, about three months after the artificial intelligence technology first became available on its new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus phones. The company had delayed the launch and missed its own promised “later this spring” deadline, at least in the US.

Owners of its newest phones will be able to access Bixby Voice after downloading a software update, rolling out at 9 p.m. PT. South Korean users, who’ve had access to Bixby Voice in the Korean language since May 1, will also be able to now access the English language capabilities. The company didn’t say when Bixby Voice will be available in other countries.

Bixby is Samsung’s new digital voice assistant that debuted on its latest smartphones. It has its own dedicated button on the side of the device, letting you communicate with the artificial intelligence like you’d use a walkie-talkie. The only problem is the voice part of the assistantdidn’t actually work when the Galaxy S8 hit the market in April. What did work with Bixby was its “Vision, Home and Reminder” functions that identify objects in photos, help you track your day and remind you about upcoming events on your calendar.

Rather than launching voice capabilities right away, Samsung said it needed more time to get Bixby ready for mainstream consumers. It has been testing it out with over 100,000 Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus users in its early access preview program. Those participants generated more than 4 million commands and helped Samsung refine Bixby’s capabilities.

One benefit includes “increased comprehension on command variations.” You can, for instance, ask what the weather is like by saying “Show me today’s weather,” “What’s the weather like today?” or “What’s the forecast today?” Samsung says it has improved Bixby’s response times, increased hands-free operations and included a new “read aloud feature.” You can ask it to read the latest email you’ve received.

Samsung also has worked to make Bixby interact better with third-party apps. If you’re using Google Maps, you can use Bixby to change the location of your origin or destination.

Bixby is the latest entrant in the crowded field of digital assistants that already includes Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana. Every tech heavyweight is investing in these assistants because they’re heralded as the future of how we’ll interact with our gadgets. The hope is to build a relationship with you now and ultimately get you to buy more of their products later.

Google’s Mobile App Gets New Look, Feel

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Google has announced a re-tooling of its search app on mobile phones to include a personalized feed of links about hobbies, travel, sports and other topics, a move that puts the search company into more direct competition with social networks such as Facebook.

Google, the world’s largest search engine and a unit of Alphabet Inc, said the changes would begin rolling out in the United States on Wednesday and other countries in the coming weeks.

The new offering is called “Google Feed,” a name that may conjure comparisons to Facebook’s “News Feed,” a feature on Facebook used to browse updates from friends, family and other sources.

Google said, however, that it was not trying to duplicate Facebook Inc, the world’s largest social network. Instead, the company said it wanted to create another place to see a stream of relevant search results.

“This feed is really about your interests … It’s not really about what your friends are interested in,” Ben Gomes, a Google vice president for engineering, said in a briefing with reporters.

Typical updates might include a link to a website with tips about an upcoming vacation spot, or a link to a page about cycling or another hobby, the company said.

Facebook and Google are jockeying for attention online and by extension, for advertising revenue based on those eyeballs. The two Silicon Valley companies are expected to take in some 50 percent of overall online ad spending in 2018, according to research firm eMarketer.

There were no immediate plans to include advertising in Google Feed, Gomes said.

Google Feed will suggest links based on a user’s Google search history as well as data from other Google services, such as YouTube, Gmail and Google Calendar, the company said.

In addition to putting Google Feed on mobile apps, the company is looking at attaching it to web browsers in some form, Shashi Thakur, a second Google vice president for engineering, said during the briefing.

NBC To Host Daily News Show On Snapchat

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Comcast Corp’s NBC News plans to offer a twice-per-day news show on Snapchat, the company said on Wednesday, part of its push to attract younger viewers who tend to watch TV on mobile devices.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal invested $500 million in Snapchat owner Snap Inc  during its initial public offering as it seeks to boost its digital offering.

Broadcast news outlets like NBC News face an aging audience. The median age of NBC Nightly News, for example, is 64 years old, according to the Nielsen ratings agency. That is much older than the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that advertisers covet.

Last month, NBC News launched a digital video service, called “NBC Left Field” featuring short documentaries to appeal to social media users.

“This is a concerted effort that is crucial to our future,” said Nick Ascheim, head of digital at NBC News.

“Stay Tuned” will focus on issues of the day and will air at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. EDT on weekdays and 1 p.m. EDT on weekends. The show will also air for specific breaking news events.

The launch of the daily news show comes amid increasing investor skepticism about Snap’s ability to grow and compete with Facebook Inc’s Instagram.

Will WhatsApp Face Competition From Amazon

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Just when you thought the messaging app market couldn’t get any more crowded, along come the rumors that Amazon wants a piece of the action.

According to AFTV News, Amazon has begun surveying customers about the new messaging service to gauge which features are most important them.

Called Anytime, the rumored app will apparently be a one-stop-shop focused on voice and video calls, alongside a photo sharing feature with @mentions, as well as some highly-original real-time filters for photos and video with “special effects and masks.”

So yes, that will almost definitely mean more basic dog-eared AR seflies *eyeroll emoji*.

If the rumors are true, the service would also keep chats private and allows users to “encrypt important messages like bank account details”, allowing them to converse with businesses, make reservations, and – in true Amazon style – virtually shop until they drop.

“Based on the images I’ve been provided, Anytime by Amazon seems to be an all-in-one feature rich service that could even rival social networks,” the AFTV report stated. “[It] will also provide tasks that can be done in groups, like playing games, listening to music, and ordering food.”

There’s no word on how long the app will take to get into the phone-wielding hands of the masses, but a customer said the survey implied it was “a ready product”.

Are you surprised that Amazon is making a move on the messaging app market? We’re certainly not. The firm is desperate to get in on any kind of action these days in its plan to take over the world and be the go-to for everything.

Don’t be shocked when the company launches its own dating service, where we would expect you could get a dinner date with Alexa as part of a Black Friday deal.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Virtual Reality To Expensive For The Masses

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The current generation of virtual reality is not dead, but it’s not exactly full of life, either. What once was a pulsating buzz has faded into the background of an industry, not because there are newer, shinier toys to play with, but simply because for all the newness and shine of VR, there has been little evidence that a significant audience exists for the experiences we can deliver at this time.

Earlier this week, Oculus instituted a temporary $200 price cut of the Rift, dropping the headset and its Touch controllers to a $400 bundle that comes packed with seven free games (including Lucky’s Tale, Medium, Toybox, and Robo Recall) and an Xbox One controller for good measure. That’s in addition to the $200 price cut Oculus rolled out in March for the headset and Touch combo, meaning the company has slashed the price by 50% in just four months.

On its own, this could actually be an encouraging sign, but taken in context of the rest of the news coming out of the VR sector, it’s more concerning than convincing. For one, Oculus looks to be bringing up the rear among the three major high-end VR options on the market, despite being a first mover and having the significant financial backing of Facebook. Through the first half of this year, tracking firm Superdata put the Rift’s installed base at just 383,000 units, compared to HTC Vive’s 667,000 units and PlayStation VR’s 1.8 million.

Even ignoring its relative sales position, Oculus is already in a tough spot in the enthusiast VR fight, technologically a step behind the more expensive Vive, but still more expensive (when considering the cost of a VR-capable PC) and less mass market than the PSVR. That’s a difficult problem for marketing anything, doubly so when what you’re selling is an experience that by its nature needs to be experienced to be fully understood, triply so when you’re drastically scaling back the number of demo units in retail locations where interested customers could get their first taste of VR.

I also question Oculus’ decision to shutter its in-house Story Studio, which was set up with Pixar veterans to show how VR could shift the medium of film as much as it could games. The studio’s Henry won an Emmy in 2016. Its follow-up, Dear Angelica, premiered at Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews and has been submitted for Emmy consideration at this year’s awards, which are still a few months away. In short, Story Studio was exactly the sort of investment in a potentially disruptive medium you would expect a company with long-term ambitions to keep. Instead, they cut it loose, with head of content Jason Rubin essentially saying it was time for external filmmakers to pick up the narrative VR ball (albeit with some $50 million in funding from Oculus).

There’s a bit of a theme there. Just a couple months before closing Story Studio, Rubin pointed out for GamesIndustry.biz at GDC that Facebook–and by extension, Oculus–isn’t a content creation company.

“Facebook’s not a media company,” Rubin said. “So there may be a day where Facebook says we’re going to head towards our core competency… That’s why I don’t have internal teams. I have exactly one group of three people besides Story Studios because that didn’t exist outside.”

Facebook didn’t pay $2 billion for Oculus in 2014 because it wanted to make games. It wanted VR to be a popular thing it could leverage for its social network. If HTC Vive or Sony or Microsoft can make VR work better than Oculus, that still gets VR where the social network wants it to be. That’s not ideal for Facebook, but after the Rift’s slow start, the hundreds of millions it already owes in court judgments, the hundreds of millions more it might be made to pay in the future, and seeing the face of the VR revolution leave under a cloud of controversy, one could understand if the company’s commitment to VR began to waver.

Speaking of the competition, I’m not terribly optimistic with what they’re bringing to the table. Sony’s PSVR is leading the pack, but I’m still skeptical whether the company’s interest in the hardware will be any longer lasting than its support for Vita, or Wonderbook, or PlayStation TV, or Move, or EyeToy, or stereoscopic 3D. Sony’s E3 conference featured some promising games in Polyarc’s Moss, two titles from Until Dawn developer Supermassive, and Skyrim VR, but little that stands out as a system-seller the way that Resident Evil 7, or even the prospect of last year’s Batman and Star Wars VR experiences might have. When asked at E3 about whether that lineup would boost PSVR adoption, Sony’s Jim Ryan was unsure.

“I think we are still really just learning about VR,” Ryan said. “When hopefully we meet in a year’s time, I will be able to give you a better answer to this question. It still won’t be a perfect answer, but I’ll know more.”

That’s not exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence from PlayStation’s chief marketer. I’m not sure I want to bet the future health of VR on Sony’s continued support for a market that is (for now, at least) peripheral to its core business.

The situation with HTC and the Vive underscores another issue when trying to establish an emerging field like VR. Vive launched at the cutting edge, but since then has rolled out object tracker peripherals and a wireless adaptor, respectively giving developers more options and addressing a key complaint around high-end VR. In both cases, they would be better served as being part of the core hardware package rather than optional add-ons for what is already the most expensive option on the market. For the next generation of VR, perhaps they’ll be standard.

But who will invest in the next generation of enthusiast VR–on either the consumer side or the manufacturer side–if this generation disappoints? How long does a VR generation need to be before someone who spent $800 on a Vive (not to mention the cost of a VR-capable PC) feels they got their money’s worth and would re-up for a successor? How many great games does it need to have? How many generations does an HTC or Facebook need to take a bath on before the business turns around and justifies the continued investment?

Then there’s Microsoft, which will enter the fray this holiday season with its “mixed reality” VR headsets for Windows that are cheaper and require less of a set up than Oculus or Vive, but appear to make compromises on the technical side to get there. It’s telling that even with Microsoft launching the high-end, VR-capable Xbox One X this year, it is foregoing any sort of console VR push and relying on higher resolutions and better frame rates for Xbox One games as the sales pitch for a One X. Phil Spencer told us at E3 that VR was still years away from the mainstream for gamers, suggesting the company was waiting to launch its console VR until it had a proper wireless solution ready.

At this point, it seems more likely to me that the current enthusiast VR market is an expensive R&D exercise that won’t produce successful systems, but will lay the groundwork for the actual mass market VR, which will instead evolve both in audience and use-cases from the mobile VR world. (We call it mobile VR, but I don’t think I’m alone in having never once seen someone using a mobile VR headset on the subway, in the security line at the airport, or in the waiting room at a dentist.)

A number of the VR developers I’ve spoken to have mentioned wires, price, system-selling software, and installed base as key issues VR needs to tackle to become truly mainstream. As Google Daydream and the Oculus-powered Gear VR have shown, the first two are all but solved problems in mobile VR thanks to the use of existing smartphones. As for the other two, when your system is only $100 or so, the definition of a system-seller changes dramatically, which then has plenty of beneficial implications for the installed base. (Promotions like Samsung giving away Gear VR with new Galaxy phone purchases don’t hurt, either.)

All mobile VR really needs are better interfaces and more powerful phones. The Gear VR motion controller is a good first step for the former, and the latter is improving all the time. If VR is really going to go mass market, doesn’t it make more sense for it to grow not from the high-end early adopter market who would have dropped $600 on a PS3, but from the masses who made a compelling novelty like the $250 Wii a phenomenon?

Courtesy-GI.biz

Premium Nokia 8 Handset May Launch By End Of July

July 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

The premium Nokia 8 could get everything from dual cameras to Qualcomm’s fastest Snapdragon 835 chip (the same one that’s in the Samsung Galaxy S8), according to well-known mobile tipster Evan Blass, who also writes for VentureBeat. The phone may even be unveiled as early as July 31, Blass suggests.

If true, this is just what the Nokia brand — once a top-two titan of mobile — needs. After Microsoft sold a company called HMD the rights to use the Nokia mobile name in 2016, the company has released three midrange Nokia Android phones, the Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6, and a throwback to a simple feature phone, the Nokia 3310. The Nokia 8 could help bring some luster back to the flagging brand.

Some rumored Nokia 8 specs include: 5.3-inch screen, 2,560×1,440-pixel resolution (QHD), dual 13-megapixel cameras featuring Zeiss optics, Android 7.1.1 Nougat, Snapdragon 835 processor,  4GB or 6GB of RAM.

The phone is also said to cost around 589 euros, which translates to about $675, £520 or AUD$865. This puts it at a much higher price than the current most expensive option — the Nokia 6.

The Nokia 8 reveal was speculated to take place in a promotional Nokia video in May, but the actual video didn’t show much besides glimpses of the phone’s appearance.

HMD Global, which licenses the Nokia brand name, declined to comment on this story.

Samsung To Recycle Rare Metals From Old Galaxy Note 7s

July 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Electronics giant Samsung Electronics Co Ltd announced plans to recover 157 tons worth of rare metals from recalled Galaxy Note 7 smartphones in a bid to minimize the environmental impact of the fire-prone devices.

Samsung said in a statement it planned to reuse components such as camera modules, chips and displays as replacement parts on devices sent in for repairs or sell them. It would also recover metals such as cobalt, copper, gold and silver from components that would not be reused.

The world’s top smartphone maker is trying to move on from the withdrawal of the Note 7 premium devices last year due to safety concerns, a failure which cost the firm $5.4 billion in operating profit.

Sales of the flagship Galaxy S8 launched in April have been healthy, analysts say, suggesting a recovery is underway. The firm had sold 3.06 million Note 7s to consumers before its second and final recall in October, roughly 2 months after launch.

Environmental activists such as Greenpeace have called on Samsung to recycle or recover the rare materials contained in the devices.

The South Korean firm launched a modified version of the Note 7 in its domestic market earlier this month as part of the recycling effort.

Apple Pay Tempts Chinese Consumers With Huge Discounts

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

China’s mobile payments market is worth almost $6 trillion, and Apple wants to elbow its way in.

To entice more Chinese to start using Apple Pay, the iPhone maker is offering up to 50 percent discounts off purchases at participating vendors, many of them Western brands. It’s also rewarding users up to 50 times the usual points for designated credit cards, according to Apple’s official Chinese website. The promotion period will run from July 18 to 24.

China is a tough market to break into for Apple Pay, because the Chinese are more familiar with local mobile payment services such as WeChat Pay and Alipay. The two services have a combined market share of 92 percent, and people are so dependent on them that the companies have expanded overseas specifically to cater to Chinese travelers.

Promotions are offered by Apple Pay, but they are subject to varying terms and conditions set out by merchants. While Burger King and Costa Coffee have capped 50 percent discounts at 15 yuan (or $2.22), for example, 7-Eleven set its cap at 10 yuan (approximately $1.48). Starbucks, on the other hand, will take 15 yuan off purchases amounting to 60 yuan (or $8.86) or more.

Is Video Game Development Going Truly Global?

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The international video games industry owes a considerable amount to the efforts of immigrants from countries like Syria.

Companies like AdMob – founded by Syrian Entrepreneur Omar Hamoui, and later acquired by Google for $750 million – have helped reshape the conventions of game publishing as we know it. Steve Jobs’ own biological father was a Syrian emigrant to the states. On taking that journey, Abdulfattah ‘John’ Jandali unknowingly set events in motion that would lead to Apple’s reinvention of how we play, make and distribute games.

Beyond games there are numerous other examples of Syrian people who have helped better the world through technology, empowered to do so through freedom of travel. People like Sirin Hamsho, a Hama-born engineer who today resides in the United States, and has helped revolutionise renewable energy through her work with wind turbines.

Technology is, of course, progressed by collaboration, and cooperation happens most readily when people can get together. It’s the reason travelling to other countries – be it for a single meeting or a new life – is so often the catalyst for technological change. That’s why most in the games industry go to conferences all over the world; it’s a chance to understand distinct approaches, secure contacts, form alliances and spark collaboration.

When Trump’s long-promised travel ban became a rather chaotic reality, numerous games makers suddenly found their potential severely jeopardised. Suddenly, every US games conference was off the radar of hundreds of developers. No GDC, no E3, no nothing. Studios needing to take a couple of days to attend a meeting with a US publisher had the rug pulled from beneath their feet. Chances to meet new staff and find new partners were thrown into disarray.

That inspired Unity Technologies to conceive the ‘Unity Without Borders’ initiative, which sought to bring 50 developers to the Unite Europe conference in Amsterdam last month. After a selection process, Unity would handle and cover travel, accommodation, visas and anything else needed to afford games makers limited by Trump’s ban to engage with the free exchange of ideas that is the founding spirit of almost any game convention.

Meeting the developers brought to Unite as part of Without Borders, it is clear they greatly appreciate the opportunity. That, perhaps, should be obvious, but there is a sense on the show floor that the effort is about more than one middleware-specific company conference.

Ziad MollaMahmud is a man with many skills. By day he is a .NET developer for web applications, while also doing 3D modelling work in the architectural space. A Syrian based in Turkey, he has in recent years embraced game development, acquiring a taste for AR, which he has explored through modest projects of his own conception.

“This is a very, very good opportunity for me,” MollaMahmud says of his success in visiting Unite Europe as part of Without Borders. “It’s a breaking point in my life, where I can move to a better position and change my way of thinking about the future. I believe coming here will have a very good effect over me and my future.”

That’s not to say MollaMahmud is new to being overseas for his career. He estimates that he has visited some 13 countries during his 20-year career, but with the outbreak of Syria’s civil war – and long before the impact of Trump’s presidency – the ambitious developer started to realise global politics would limit his professional potential.

“It’s not only Trump. There’s a lot of restrictions on Syrian’s travelling and doing other things, and that makes it very hard”

“After the Syrian war started a lot of Middle Eastern countries placed travel bans on Syrians, just because of their nationality,” he says. “I was travelling before – without any visa – but after the war they all started to do these travel bans, and I couldn’t travel to the Middle East. It’s not only Trump. There’s a lot of restrictions on Syrian’s travelling and doing other things, and that makes it very hard.”

Those restrictions – whatever their source or motivation – continue today, and in many other ways that also prevent developers from collaborating. Many Iranian and Syrian studios keen to apply for Without Borders were faced with limitations on web access that impeded their submissions for the initiative. There’s a logic to the internet making face-to-face meetings less relevant today, but when the web you can access is restricted presence at real-world events is all the more important. And that was, Unity says, what inspired the Without Borders initiative.

“In some of their communities – especially in countries like Iran and Syria, where they can’t move around as much – they don’t have a lot of access to a lot of game developers or creators,” says Elizabeth Brown, Chief People Officer at Unity, who has been pivotal in implementing Without Borders. “Coming to a conference not only fuels inspiration, but establishes skill sets, sparks ideas and builds networks. They don’t always have access to a local game development community, so they rely on international conferences to feed them and develop their creations and businesses. When they are limited from going to those conferences, they are super limited. That’s as creators, but also as business owners. Some of them are making their living by making games.”

For Brown, this isn’t just a matter of providing those with a passion for games an exciting opportunity; it is about helping developers put food on their tables. Often, that is incredibly limited for a developer restricted to just their home country, market and development community.

“We don’t have anything like this in Iran,” explains Amin Shahidi, as he glances around the main expo hall of Unite Europe, smiling. Shahidi is team lead, animator and game designer at the Tehran-based studio Black Cube Games, and he’s at Unite thanks to Without Borders. “We don’t have these kind of networks,” he continues. “So in Iran, all the movement of developers is very limited, or even blind. So this kind of event – and the moment of being here – is very, very cool and very, very helpful.”

“It shows us that people actually care about us,” adds Ali Boroumand, a game developer at Dutch studio Ferox Games, and a former colleague of Shahidi’s. “We’re all humans, and we’re all pretty much the same people. So it’s very heart warming to think that, even in hard times, people see game developers as game developers. We’re all game developers, and it doesn’t really matter where we come from. We’re all trying to make good games.

“But before this, we had to rule out contributing to any conferences or studios inside the United States. We couldn’t contribute to anything there, and that’s probably a loss on both sides. And beyond the travel ban, there are quite a few other United States restrictions, mostly on money. Selling games outside of Iran is hard for us.”

Boroumand makes a very important point with regard to what Iranian developers have to offer the rest of the global games development community. Restricting developers’ opportunity to travel doesn’t only harm the game industry in their home countries; it equally detracts from the nations they would otherwise be visiting. Collaborating is at least a two-way process, and the learning, inspiration and innovation it engenders rarely passes only in a single direction.

“Syria, like anywhere, has talented people who can bring a lot of things to games development and all technology,” suggests MollaMahmud. “But we need a chance to open the window and say ‘we are here, you can do things for us, and we can do things for you’. We just need a chance to elevate ourselves and do something not just for ourselves, but for all those that make games. We can help your games when we can travel to you freely.”

Equally, there’s an obvious creative opportunity for any studio looking to bring distinct aesthetics and approaches to the global market.

“Iran has quite a long history,” says Boroumand, who is presently based in Sheffield. “The Persian empires have been around for a few thousand years, so Iranian art and Iranian culture is pretty rich in that respect. Games of Iranian art and Iranian influence can bring something to the rest of the world, definitely; something that isn’t often seen.”

There’s an irony to all this, of course. Trump’s travel ban has afforded the Unity Without Borders teams an opportunity to visit a conference they may never have seen had the US President not targeted the various nations blacklisted. For MollaMahmud, however, the irony of opportunity born from limitations runs a little deeper. Buoyed by his experience of attending Unite, he can be remarkably optimistic about a situation that had s dramatic impact on his life.

He believes the horrific Syrian war, which broke out just a couple of years after he returned to live in the country, offers an ultimate example of the potential opportunity hardship can bring game developers.

“After the war is finished – and I hope that is soon – I believe there will be a very good opportunity in Syria for all kinds of business, including game development and software in general,” he considers. “The war will leave a country that will have to start from scratch. Now there are millions of Syrian refugees outside of Syria. It’s really bad to be a refugee, and I believe a lot of refugees are ready to seize the opportunity – having learned many new things – of heading back to Syria.”

Forced displacement is no better than placing mandatory travel restrictions, of course, but in a strange, counter-intuitive way, migration from conflict could represent what freedom to travel can bring in terms of advantages.

“The war, I hope, will finish soon,” MollaMahmud repeats firmly. “Then a lot of people will come back to Syria, and help build our country from scratch. I always say that Germany after the second world war, for example, started from scratch, and they have built a very good, very beautiful, respected country. Then more of us can make successful games.”

MollaMahmud isn’t suggesting that the development of a healthy national games industry justifies a war; not at all. For one, there are more important things than the games industry to consider when a country emerges from conflict. But if Syrians can pool the experience gained through their peoples’ diaspora and establish a game industry to rival Germany’s, it would contribute a great deal to that renewal and rebuilding.

Movement of people can push technology like little else, for the benefit of everyone involved, regardless of their home or country of origin; Apple and AdMob are proof of that. War will likely exist forever, but its horror doesn’t preclude it from being used to inspire positive movements large and small.

Nobody is calling for the forced displacement of people for the benefit of the game industry, of course. But based on the enthusiasm and appetite for learning of every Without Borders developer at Unite Europe, it’s apparent that supporting thoughtful freedom to travel benefits us all.

Courtesy-GI.biz

FCC Tightens Rules Regarding ‘Robocalls’

July 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

The Federal Communications Commission intends to further attack those unwanted “robocalls” and is looking at ways to help consumers block them.

On Thursday, the commission voted unanimously to evaluate a system that would allow phone companies to check if a number calling you is legit. The goal is to deter unscrupulous companies that make these automated calls from “spoofing,” or using a fake phone number to trick you into answering their calls.

A call authentication system could help improve third-party apps that allow consumers to block these calls. It could also open the door to phone companies that may want to offer a service to block unwanted calls.

The FCC has already been considering rules that would allow phone companies to block robocalls from unassigned numbers or from numbers that don’t exist.

Ridding the world of robocalls entirely is tricky since some legitimate communications are made using automated call technology, such as messages from schools, weather alerts, public utilities or political organizations. Phone companies don’t want to block legitimate calls that consumers want to receive.

The agency also voted to consider how to prevent unwanted calls after a number has been reassigned. There is currently no way for legitimate companies to know if customers who have agreed to receive their marketing calls are still using a particular number. The FCC wants to get public comment on how phone companies should report when a phone number has been reassigned and how the data could be used.

Robocalls are a big nuisance to consumers with an estimated 2.5 billion automated calls being made per month.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said robocalls are a top consumer complaint. “Americans are mad as hell” that they still get these calls in spite of efforts by Congress and the FCC to stop them, he said. The FCC said it gets more than 200,000 complaints each year concerning unwanted calls, and the Federal Trade Commission said it received roughly 5.3 million complaints about telemarketing calls in 2016.

Pai said the FCC’s latest efforts to curb these calls could make a huge difference in the volume of robocalls consumers get.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn,agreed. She said the agency must take a “multi-pronged approach, to address this persistent problem.”

The FCC has also been stepping up its enforcement of illegal robocalls. Separately, it voted 2-1 to fine a New Mexico-based company $2.88 million for making unlawful robocalls. Last month, the FCC fined a Florida resident $120 million for allegedly making almost 100 million illegal robocalls in a three-month period.

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