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Alphabet Pauses Google Fiber Rollout, Mulls Future of Brand

posted Sunday Oct 30, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Alphabet Pauses Google Fiber Rollout, Mulls Future of Brand

In August, Google Fiber began the process of scaling back their operations. The brand has failed to meet their goals, or even come close to hitting their goals: only 200,000 subscribers instead of 1 million. This came shortly after purchasing Webpass, a company that provides a similar service, but entirely wirelessly, in high-capacity areas.

This week, the company publicly announced their plans to scale back and make a decision on the future of the brand. Access, the company within Alphabet that is responsible for Google Fiber, will not be taking applications for new cities for installation, and any cities that have been announced for future expansion, but whose rollout has not begun, will be put on hold.

As part of the exploration pause, Access will also be removing their offices and personnel. Current Access CEO Craig Barratt has stated that he hopes that these cities will understand this technological imperative and will still be open to discussions once all decisions have been made for future deployments.

In addition to pausing the installation, Barratt has announced that this transitional time for Access is the perfect opportunity for him to step aside as CEO. There is no telling who will replace him in the role, but it is likely that Alphabet leadership will replace him sooner rather than later. A turnaround plan like this can only be successful if there is a talented leader running the show. As for Barratt, he will be staying on in an advisor role, so he is not going anywhere just yet.

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The Most Essential Partner for Apple's TV App is Missing: Netflix

posted Sunday Oct 30, 2016 by Scott Ertz

The Most Essential Partner for Apple's TV App is Missing: Netflix

Apple may have focused their Thursday presentation on a MacBook Pro refresh, they also discussed a new app for video consumption, helpfully titled TV. The app accesses your video streaming services and presents information based on your current streaming habits, as well as recommendations from Apple itself.

Obviously, for TV to be successful, or even useful, it will require participation from the big content providers. Heavily featured in the presentation were services like Hulu and HBO Now, but some services were conspicuously missing. Namely, Netflix was nowhere to be found anywhere in the presentation, either in demo or even in screenshots. This could have been a mistake, but it wasn't. A Netflix spokesperson told Wired,

I can confirm we are not participating and evaluating the opportunity.

So, while Food Network content will be listed, nothing on Netflix will be. The majority of video streaming takes place through Netflix. In fact, the amount of video watched is so large that Netflix gets its own line item in bandwidth usage studies. As I write this article, I am streaming a television show on Netflix. The lack of Netflix participation in TV will make its usefulness almost non-existent.

Unfortunately for Apple, Netflix isn't the only high-profile service missing. Amazon Instant Video is also conspicuously missing, though not surprisingly. Amazon Instant Video has never been available on Apple TV, so their lack of participation in the TV app is no surprise. It will, however, make the app a lot less effective, but it will drive potential sales to iTunes.

Amazon is a longshot, but if Apple hopes to make TV the place people actually want to go, they will absolutely need Netflix participation.

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A Hard Week for Twitter: Earnings, Layoffs and Shutdowns

posted Sunday Oct 30, 2016 by Scott Ertz

A Hard Week for Twitter: Earnings, Layoffs and Shutdowns

2016 has not been Twitter's year. The company is seeing almost zero user growth and has shown continual profit loss. This has led to a recent round of conversations with potential buyers for the service, which ended in disappointment, after all potential buyers backed out.

This week, the company's financial report was released and the numbers were not positive. In the most recent quarter, the company lost $103 million on only $616 million in revenue. If their intentions are to find a serious bidder, these are problems that will need to be solved, as their current state was not enough to attract potential buyers.

The first move that the company has made to try and recover some profitability is to cut up to 350 jobs. That represents about 10 percent of the company's workforce, which is currently 3,600 people, down from 3,900 last year. Unfortunately for Twitter, cutting workforce is only a temporary fix. It can bail some water out of the ship, but it won't patch the hole.

In an attempt to patch that hole, the company has also announced that it will shutter one of its services: Vine. Twitter's take on a video service, relying on forced brevity, similar to Twitter itself, was popular in its early days, but has lost a lot of its allure. Twitter's second take on video, Periscope, has become the defacto consumer live video service. While services like Livestream and Facebook Live are the services of choice for professionals, Periscope is incredibly popular among consumers.

The popularity of live services, without the short format, have cut away at Vine's marketshare and, more importantly, the validity of the service. Ending this service is a natural progression for the company, both because of the waning usage and the waning revenue. Alone, these changes will likely not be enough to fix the problems, but it could help push the company closer to profitability and a potential buyout.

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No Man's Sky Developer, Hello Games, Didn't Admit Game Was a Mistake

posted Sunday Oct 30, 2016 by Scott Ertz

<i>No Man's Sky</i> Developer, Hello Games, Didn't Admit Game Was a Mistake

The developer behind game No Man's Sky, Hello Games, is certainly having more than their fair share of trouble. After seeing sales of the game tank, the company is now facing a false advertising suit in the UK. Following all of these issues, this week, the company's Twitter account announced,

No Man's Sky was a mistake.

While most of the gaming community would agree with this sentiment, it was certainly a surprise to see the developer admit it publicly. What made it even more surprising was the fact that the company's Twitter account had not been used since its troubles began in August. Clearly, anyone whose eyes are connected to their brain knew immediately that the account had been hacked and that this tweet was a fraud. That, however, was not the end of the story. In fact, it was just the beginning.

When several news agencies reached out to the company looking for comment, the email they received was as surprising, if not more so than the original tweet. It was sent from founder Sean Murray's email account, and stated in part,

I have contacted you because the silence from Hello Games has been unwarranted and unprofessional. The community has asked me to speak up, and I have a confession to make. The game was simply unfinished upon arrival. Our hand was forced by not only Sony, but the community as well. The constant harassment and absolute gross misconduct on the community's part has made it hard to fulfill our artistic vision, while the pressure from Sony to release the game as soon as possible forced us to cut key features. I want to apologize for what we did not deliver on, as the game does not meet up to what our artistic vision was.

Following these emails, Sean Murray's Twitter account became active again, harassing the company's official account. The two seemingly went back-and-forth a little bit, making a bad situation also awkward. The company, after retrieving their accounts, removed the tweet, as well as the Twitter sidebar on their website, which continued to show the tweet after the deletion. Another tweet was sent out, stating that the hacks were 100% solved, followed by the customary silence we have come to expect from the company.

This was not a dignified scenario for a company that is already disliked by the gaming community. The tone of the tweet and emails were certainly indicative of the way players have been feeling, but do not give a positive light to the company itself. Perhaps, in the future, the company will take better care to protect their corporate accounts and identity.

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Microsoft and Apple: Two Paths Diverged

posted Sunday Oct 30, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft and Apple: Two Paths Diverged

This week, Microsoft and Apple, two of the big three in the technology industry, held announcement events to show off their vision for the future of computing. While many seem to have taken away the idea that both of these companies are innovating in the space, what most seem to have missed is how both companies have taken incredibly different paths. While the hardware from both companies is aimed primarily at creators, both see different ways that those creators will want to use their computers.

Microsoft

Microsoft's approach to creators is centered around two theories: immersion and collaboration, and every aspect of their presentation was focused on these two aspects. The next major update to Windows 10, codenamed Redstone 2, was announced to be titled the Creators Update. This update will bring with it a myriad of collaboration features, with a lot of them focused on bringing 3D technology to the masses.

Paint has been updated to include 3D capabilities, 3D scanning technology is available to turn physical objects into digital ones, and an online community has been created to share those objects. Those objects can come from 3D Builder, Paint 3D, Minecraft and more, and can be used in everything from Word and PowerPoint to 3D printers, now allowing you to print items created in Minecraft.

The most exciting place where these objects can be used is in Augmented and Virtual Reality environments. As has become normal, Microsoft brought out a HoloLens, and showed off the idea of taking a 3D object, scanned in real life, altered in Paint 3D, and placing it on a table in holographic reality. They then announced Windows Holographic-powered virtual reality headsets from manufacturers ranging from Acer to HP.

The company then showed off an updated version of the Surface Book, with more battery life, more processing power, and, more importantly, a better video card. As with the other higher-end Surface Books, it has an additional graphics card for when the screen is docked, making things like video and photo editing easier.

Then came the real reveal: the Surface Studio. This computer is a highly-styled all-in-one that both looks amazing and has amazing specs. The world's thinnest and highest quality LCD screen ever produced, at a resolution of 4500x3000 at 28 inches, and a hinge that allows it to move from 90 degree upright to 20 degree drafter's board are the focal point. It, of course, has PixelSense technology, the original foundation for the Surface family, meaning multi-touch input, making the computer ideal for artists.

The screen also allows for external inputs, namely the Surface Pen. Again, this is a huge bonus for artists, placing the Surface Studio in direct competition with the Wacom Cintiq. Where the Studio completely sets itself apart from others is the new Surface Dial. Similar to a jog/shuttle, used by video editors, the Dial sits anywhere on the screen and allows for a wide arrange of adjustments. The chiefest among them is the ability to adjust colors on the fly, allowing for painting capabilities not even available in reality.

All of these things are designed specifically to draw the artist into the experience. Whether the 28-inch, multi-touch display with Dial, or the AR and VR headset, all aspects of the Creators vision from Microsoft are about making the artist feel closer to their work. Even as Panos Panay demonstrated the Studio, he couldn't help but lean onto the computer, making it look more like an artist's table than a computer.

Apple

Apple did not have nearly as much to show off as Microsoft. It was an event almost entirely focused on the must-needed upgrade to the MacBook Pro line. A line that often feels like a forgotten part of the company was last updated about 18 months ago, and that update was fairly minor. This year's change was less subtle and also focused on creators.

Rather than going for a full touchscreen, something that Apple has always made clear was not needed on a computer, they removed the function keys from the keyboard. The explanation for this change was because the function keys have existed for several decades, though the keyboard has existed longer than the computer itself. In its place, they have added a second screen, this one being full-touch.

Similar to what Razer did with their Switchblade interface, the screen is customizable depending on context. For the Touch Bar, Apple's name for the concept, Photoshop will show zoom and crop tools, while Word may show formatting controls, and iMessage might show emojis. This change is a modernization of the old WordPerfect keyboard covers that gave context to the function keys themselves.

Apple's approach is to maintain a razor thin context on the keyboard itself, keeping you back away from the computer. This will keep the artist in more of a perspective view, rather than an immersive view. Since the hardware lacks tactile feedback, like you would get with physical keys, it will force you to look at the smaller screen to make decisions.

The Differences

Microsoft's approach is designed to draw the artist into the experience. The Pen and Dial work together to keep your eyes on the screen and your attention on your work. Apple's approach is to maintain full perspective. The Touch Bar and mouse work separately to produce different, unrelated results. Both companies have created and explained their paths, now it is up to the creators themselves to decide which is right for them.

Are you a creator? Which path makes the most sense to you? Let us know in the comments.

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AT&T In Talks to Purchase Time Warner, Will Certainly Spark FCC Investigation

posted Saturday Oct 22, 2016 by Scott Ertz

AT&T In Talks to Purchase Time Warner, Will Certainly Spark FCC Investigation

Over the past couple of years, the nature and role of telecom companies has changed dramatically. In the past, a telecom was expected to provide wireline access to the premises, or wireless access over a cellular network. In the past few years, though, these telecoms have begun to make some big purchases to change the game.

In the past, we have seen cable companies purchase content producers, such as Comcast purchasing full stake in NBC Universal in 2010, or Time Warner purchasing Turner Broadcasting in 1996. This move gave these service providers access to the full vertical for their industry. Today, traditional telecoms, such as Verizon and AT&T are beginning to go the same direction; rather that just owning the pipes, they also own the content carried by those pipes.

Last year, Verizon made a surprise purchase of AOL, reminding the world that AOL still existed. Only 3 months ago, they also announced that they would be adding Yahoo to their portfolio, though that purchase may be in trouble today. In a similar, yet very different move last year, AT&T announced U-Verse branding to DirecTV.

This week, AT&T is in talks to increase the footprint of what is now their DirecTV division through a potential acquisition of Time Warner. Unlike their DirecTV acquisition, however, bringing Time Warner into their portfolio will add content, not just new distribution channels. Time Warner owns a number of high profile content producers, including HBO and, as mentioned previously, Turner Broadcasting. This would give AT&T direct access to HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as exclusive broadcasting rights for ELEAGUE Gaming.

What might AT&T have planned for a merger like this? Bundled services, for one. After the purchase of DirecTV, we saw AT&T offer unlimited data on their Mobility brand to certain customers of their DirecTV brand. It would not be unreasonable for the company to include HBO in their DirecTV brand, or even HBO Now in their Mobility brand.

Of course, all of this is speculation, on top of theory, as there has been no agreement reached for this purchase. Even if an agreement is reached, there will be heavy regulatory approval required before the purchase can be made. While the DirecTV purchase was fairly easy for the company, combining U-Verse, DirecTV and Time Warner into a single operating unit will spark an FCC investigation that will likely rival the investigation that ultimately ended their attempted purchase of T-Mobile.

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