The UpStream

Samsung, BLU, Prestigio, YEZZ and Others Announce Non-Android Phones

posted Saturday Jun 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

It is no secret that Android has seen a lot of commercial success over the past few years. A big part of that success has come from the perceived low cost of manufacturing an Android-powered device. Unfortunately, Google's mistreatment of others' patents has made the per-device cost pretty steep. For some manufacturers, they could pay upwards of $15 per device to license patents that Google has violated.

This is one of the main reasons we have seen companies searching for an Android alternative. Combine that with the shifting sands that are Android's manufacturing rules and regulations, and you'll find an immediate need for manufacturing alternatives. This week we got to see how manufacturers, both big and small, are responding to the Android issue.

Samsung

First we have Samsung. Samsung, whose smartphone business has been built on the back of Android, has been unhappy with the platform for a while. They have been working in-house on their own operating system, Tizen, which has been released on several devices. None of these, however, has been a Samsung smartphone. All of that changed at Samsung's Tizen developer conference, where the company has announced their first Tizen-powered smartphone, the Samsung Z.

On the outside, the device is classic Samsung: big screen, great camera and their iconic physical home button, which they currently use on both Android and Windows Phone devices. In fact, a casual look at the handset would lead you to believe it is one of their flagship Galaxy handsets. You wouldn't be far off, with the device having many of the Galaxy S5 features: fingerprint sensor, heart rate monitor, 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash, etc.

The big difference here, of course, is the operating system. However, if you are a Samsung fan, you might not notice too many visual differences. That is because the TouchWiz interface that Samsung uses on their Android phones is designed by them, as is Tizen. With this, Samsung has made the transition from Android to Tizen fairly seamless for users.

Hit the break for a photo and some of the other manufacturers ditching Android.

Netflix's Reed Hastings Speaks Out Against Comcast Again

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Netflix's Reed Hastings Speaks Out Against Comcast Again

One of the interesting things about Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is the fact that he's not afraid to say what he thinks. Over the past couple of months the thing he's been thinking about is net neutrality. This is been at the top of his mind because of the situation he's gotten into with some of the Internet providers. The service he has the most trouble with is Comcast.

This week at Re/code's Code Conference, he said what he was thinking once again. Once again, Comcast was the target of his frustrations. He calls out Comcast for what he considers to be "double dipping." By that he means Comcast charges both the subscribers and Netflix for the same Internet access.

They want the whole Internet to pay them for when their subscribers use the Internet. Should Comcast be able to charge everyone else for access to their subscribers?

He says the price Netflix is currently paying to keep their speeds high on some of the larger ISPs doesn't hurt them yet. However, if you're a cable subscriber, you know that the cable companies have a tendency to increase prices as time goes on. He feels that Netflix will become a victim of this same situation subscribers already go through.

In the past, Hastings has spoken out on the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. He believes that the merger will only lead to more situations like this. It will certainly increase the amount that Netflix have to pay to Comcast to get their speeds up, as Comcast's subscriber count will increase dramatically.

Another recent concern has come from AT&T's announced plans to acquire DirecTV. This move could also help to consolidate the broadband market, making prices go up. Those increased prices could affect both you and Netflix. As we know, as Netflix's cost goes up, so does their monthly price. All of these topics are what the FCC is trying to address with the net neutrality regulations.

Do you think Comcast should be able to charge for access in both directions, or should direct subscribers be the only ones subjected to fees? Let us know in the comments.

Bill to Prohibit FCC's Classification of Broadband as Utility

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Bill to Prohibit FCC's Classification of Broadband as Utility

We've been talking about net neutrality around here a lot lately. That is, in part, to the FCC recently trying to reinstate net neutrality regulations. While most of the country is happy about this, not everyone feels the same way.

One of the ways the FCC hopes to reinstate net neutrality is by reclassifying broadband as a utility. This move would make the Internet an optional necessity. This would allow for easier credit checks for customers, among other benefits. As a utility, more customers should have access to better Internet connections.

Unfortunately for the FCC, they have an opponent in Representative Bob Latta from Ohio. He has introduced a bill prohibiting the FCC from reclassifying broadband as the utility. Representative Latta said the move would actually hurt the economy.

At a time when the Internet economy is thriving and driving robust productivity and economic growth, it is reckless to suggest, let alone adopt, policies that threaten its success. Reclassification would heap 80 years of regulatory baggage on broadband providers, restricting their flexibility to innovate and placing them at the mercy of a government agency.

In light of the FCC initiating yet another attempt to regulate the Internet, upending long-standing precedent and imposing monopoly-era telephone rules and obligations on the 21st Century broadband marketplace, Congress must take action to put an end to this misguided regulatory proposal. The Internet has remained open and continues to be a powerful engine fueling private enterprise, economic growth and innovation absent government interference and obstruction.

Many consumer advocacy groups have demanded the FCC make this move. Since asking for open comment on the subject, the FCC has received over 48,000 comments. The general consensus from consumers is that they want the FCC to step in and prevent carriers from limiting their access to content.

The internet should be managed like a utility," wrote one person. "Don't let corporate greed degrade line speeds.

I am requesting that the FCC reclassifies Internet Service Providers as Title II common carriers. The USA is founded on principles of equality and freedom. These foundational concepts need to be applied to the Internet, particularly as we as a society move forward with technological advances. The internet is vital to society, and this uniquely creative and open marketplace must remain a place for all of us regardless of deep pockets and political connections.

These consumers fears have been underscored by the recent Viacom situation with Cable One. Viacom's ability to punish Internet subscribers for the perceived sins of their cable company is exactly what people are worried about. This, by definition, is the opposite of "The Internet has remained open," so eloquently spoken by Representative Latta.

So, do you think the FCC should regulate the Internet or do you think we should continue down the Wild West path we're on. We want to know. Sound off in the comments.

Electronic Arts Shutters Mythic Entertainment

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Electronic Arts Shutters Mythic Entertainment

Electronic Arts is working to streamline its mobile development by closing another studio. This time, instead of closing social-focused Playfish, EA is ending a studio that has been involved in a lot of big titles. Mythic Entertainment, creators of Dungeon Keeper and Warhammer Online and MMO pioneers of The Dark Age of Camelot, is closed.

According to a statement from EA,

We are closing the EA Mythic location in Fairfax, Va., as we concentrate mobile development in our other studio locations. We are working with all impacted employees to provide assistance in finding new opportunities, either within EA or with other companies via an upcoming job fair.

While it is nice that EA is working to find the affected employees new jobs, it is always disappointing when a 20-year-old studio closes. It is especially disappointing when that studio has been involved in projects early in the life of a genre. Unfortunately, it was to be expected when their mobile adaptations of Dungeon Keeper and Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar were such big flops. Peter Molyneux even attacked the franchise he created by saying the new version was just an EA pay-to-win title.

Hopefully everyone in the employ of the studio in Fairfax, Virginia will find new work. As for those titles, however, hopefully they will be let to disappear into the EA failure vault.

Samsung to Replace Android on Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Samsung to Replace Android on Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

This week Samsung made a move to bring it one step closer to its ultimate goal of being Android-free. The move will see the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch replace Android with Samsung's own Tizen operating system. This will bring the original hardware in line with the newer Galaxy 2 and Galaxy 2 Neo.

Part of the reason Samsung is making this move is to help ensure that its original hardware is not running a dead platform. While the original, highly skinned version of Android is functional, it doesn't give any reason for new developers to create software for it. By moving to Tizen, the same platform that the other smartwatches run, they will be able to run all of the same software assuming that they have the sensors to support all of the features.

Another reason for Samsung to abandon Android on this platform is because of Samsung's open dislike of how Google runs Android. While their smartphone transition has been a little slower than expected, Samsung has been on the path to move from Android to Tizen entirely. By updating the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, it brings them a little closer to not having to support Android any longer.

In addition to the clear reasons for Samsung to move to Tizen, there are reasons for you as well. In addition to better battery life, you also see the ability to save music directly to the device and play without being connected to a phone added; features that are already available on the newer hardware.

So, with new features, the ability for new apps and less reliance on Android, this seems like a win for everyone involved. Have you gotten the new update? If so, let us know what you think below.

Microsoft Announces Skype Universal Translator, Star Fleet Edition

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Mark Lauter

Microsoft Announces Skype Universal Translator, Star Fleet Edition

This is a guest post by Mark Lauter, president of Sumo Software.

Microsoft unveiled the next major version of Skype with real-time translation technology on Tuesday at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. While you won't be able to chat with your favorite Andorian or Tellarite via sub-space for at least another century, you will be able to speak to someone in Germany or France in their native tongue by the end of 2014. The best part is you won't have to spend weeks learning a new language with Rosetta Stone.

The product allows two people to converse in any two of over 40 languages. In video demos released by Microsoft, the translation appears to be as fast and accurate as a trained human intermediary. The technology is based on the voice-to-text or speech recognition engine that drives Microsoft's Cortana. Cortana is the new virtual personal assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1 and will be released to the general public sometime this summer. Microsoft plans to release Skype with translation technology by the end of 2014.

I can't get my hands on the next version of Skype yet, but as a software developer I do have access to the next best thing - the developer release of Cortana. I've been playing with this updated speech recognition technology for several weeks and I can tell you that it is nothing short of amazing. I've always been an enthusiast of natural language interaction with computers. Geeks aged 35 and older probably remember watching the crew of the Enterprise interact with the computer like it was a virtual crew member. Well, that was supposed to be a couple hundred years in the future.

Just last year I did a project that involved voice-to-text transcription services. We tried out several market leading technologies. Some were better than others, but none was capable of near 100% recognition. I told our client that we might be 10 years from meaningful advances. I was right and I was wrong. The massive improvement from the Windows Phone 8 to 8.1 technology is not incremental. It represents a total paradigm shift in the way researchers are approaching the problem of speech recognition. I won't bore you with all the technobabble details, but this new approach, called deep learning, is being applied to lots of computer science problems. This is the real story. It means that in the next few years you can expect surprisingly rapid acceleration and innovation in the high-tech world.

What does that mean for you? Better phones, more engaging games and entertainment, and devices we haven't even dreamed of. Microsoft already had great language translation tech. They already had great text-to-speech tech. All they did was add the first truly great voice-to-text tech to that mix and POW, a new product straight from the world of science fiction. We might still be a few hundred years from the first warp engine and first contact, but we'll be ready thanks to the brilliant engineers at Microsoft Research.

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