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Google to Finally Retire Google TV Brand, Rename Android TV

posted Friday Oct 11, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Google to Finally Retire Google TV Brand, Rename Android TV

Google has struggled to get adoption on their Google TV brand of television-based operating system. They have had trouble getting content owners to produce platform-specific applications, with some producers specifically blocking the devices. On top of that, Google hasn't had a lot of success convincing manufacturers to produce devices based on the platform, even canceling some of their own announced, and one time paid for, hardware.

So, what is a struggling platform to do? Rebrand. Since Google currently only has 3 brands, why not pick the one most people know and that the technology is currently based on: Android, and voila, Android TV is born. While not officially announced just yet, branding has been discovered showing the Android Marketplace coming to the television, as well as marketing collateral.

Google TV has been basically abandoned, or so it would have seemed, since it received its most recent update in 2011. In addition, existing hardware partners have stopped using the name already. Sony's new Bravia TV stick talks about the power of Google services, but does not mention Google TV by name. Google Developers have started using the new name on their job titles and even called a developer event Android TV Developer Day.

The new branding is expected to be announced officially at this year's CES in Las Vegas. Also expected, along with the official rebranding, is new hardware and partners. CES looks like it is going to be good for the Google TV team.

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Russia Openly Says They Will Spy on You at Winter Olympic Games

posted Sunday Oct 6, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Russia Openly Says They Will Spy on You at Winter Olympic Games

I didn't think I would ever say something like this but here it goes. If you want the true definition of transparency, just ask Russia how they're doing it. That's because in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia has said that their Federal Security Service (FSB) will be heavily and actively monitoring any and all communication from the Games' athletes, fans, directors and staff.

While the program's name, Sorm, doesn't rival that of the NSA's PRISM, it does bear a good resemblance to the US SkyNet, as Sorm is a joint effort from dozens of security companies and IT specialists. This team has given FSB the ability to see and hear anything from phone call data to Internet activity, and also includes a nifty little program that'll pick up pre-identified words or phrases in social media, emails and chats, among other activity on the net.

Russian security expert and journalist, Andrei Soldatov, put it like this:

For example you can use the keyword Navalny, and work out which people in a particular region are using the word Navalny. Then, those people can be tracked further.

Director of Citizen Lab and University of Toronto professor, Ron Deibert, said that Sorm is kind of like "Prism on steroids" and that,

The scope and scale of Russian surveillance are similar to the disclosures about the US programme but there are subtle differences to the regulations. We know from Snowden's disclosures that many of the checks were weak or sidestepped in the US, but in the Russian system permanent access for Sorm is a requirement of building the infrastructure. Even as recently as the Beijing Olympics, the sophistication of surveillance and tracking capabilities were nowhere near where they are today.

This is pretty intense, even for Russia. However, we shouldn't be too surprised that countries like this are going to be tracking and monitoring data, and are doing it so openly, especially when things like transparency reports are being released here in the States. This is such a strong effort though, that the FSB has been working on this system since 2010 and has been actively testing it since early last year.

The good news is that Russia issued a friendly reminder in form of a leaflet sent to the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security, warning travelers of what's going to go down once they step foot outside of Sochi's airport.

Business travellers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities.

So Russia will be spying on you, looking for your next Facebook or Netflix idea, while you're watching your favorite curling teams out-slide each other in a game of ice darts. At least the country also advised you to take the batteries out of your devices when you land, so as to not let them turn on your device remotely. I guess it would suck to have an iPhone if you're at the Games.

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Valve Announces Official Specs for the 300 Steam Machine Prototypes

posted Sunday Oct 6, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Valve Announces Official Specs for the 300 Steam Machine Prototypes

Last week, Valve officially announced more information on both the Steam Machine and SteamOS. Eligible Steam users can sign up to be one of the 300 randomly selected members to receive a Steam Machine prototype, which will ship later this year. And now Valve has released details and specs of the prototypes.

Before jumping into the specs in the blog post, Valve was sure to reaffirm that the press and fanboy-created term "Steam Box" be clarified yet again, by explaining that the "Steam Machine" idea is more than just a piece of hardware made by Valve; it's a certification that other hardware manufacturers can slap on their boxes, assuming those companies would even want to include a Linux-based operating system on a machine being sold to consumers.

Valve didn't set out to create our own prototype hardware just for the sake of going it alone - we wanted to accomplish some specific design goals that in the past others weren't yet tackling. One of them was to combine high-end power with a living-room-friendly form factor. Another was to help us test living-room scenarios on a box that's as open as possible.

Then, Valve explained that the prototype is a very high-end machine, that can also be purchased in-store and pieced together, should a customer want to do that. This confused me and several other Steam users and journalists alike, as it seemingly eliminates the need to have Valve or any other PC builder pre-manufacture something that enthusiasts can build themselves.

The prototype machine is a high-end, high-performance box, built out of off-the-shelf PC parts. It is also fully upgradable, allowing any user to swap out the GPU, hard drive, CPU, even the motherboard if you really want to. Apart from the custom enclosure, anyone can go and build exactly the same machine by shopping for components and assembling it themselves. And we expect that at least a few people will do just that.

And to be clear, this design is not meant to serve the needs of all of the tens of millions of Steam users. It may, however, be the kind of machine that a significant percentage of Steam users would actually want to purchase - those who want plenty of performance in a high-end living room package. Many others would opt for machines that have been more carefully designed to cost less, or to be tiny, or super quiet, and there will be Steam Machines that fit those descriptions.

That being said, even though we still don't have pictures, here's the specs for the 300 prototypes:

GPU: some units with NVidia Titan, some GTX780, some GTX760, and some GTX660

CPU: some boxes with Intel i7-4770, some i5-4570, and some i3

RAM: 16GB DDR3-1600 (CPU), 3GB GDDR5 (GPU)

Storage: 1TB/8GB Hybrid SSHD

Power Supply: Internal 450w 80Plus Gold

Dimensions: approx. 12 x 12.4 x 2.9 in high

These specs are interesting for several reasons. First, Valve's idea of Big Picture Mode, along with Steam OS and the Steam Machine was to put "more flexibility" to the end-user. This allows them to pick and choose what operating system and other features they would want in a PC that would go into a living room. The key to this, however, is ease of use and affordability. Considering that the NVIDIA Titan cards run in the price range of $700-$1000 alone, this drives the Steam prototype, if it ever makes it to market, well out of the $200-$300 "open source, free-for-everyone" marketspace of the OUYA and Project SHIELD, their relative competitors for living room entertainment.

Secondly, even though Valve says that this prototype is "not meant to replace the great gaming hardware" many casual Steam users already have, so far the company has made no efforts to appeal to that very large userbase. Going back again to my original article about the Steam Box and its improbable fit in the living room, the enthusiast sees less of a need to put one of these pre-made boxes into their living room. Instead, the middle- and low-tier users are who Valve should be screaming at and the company has seemed to push them off to the side, at least for now. And, it really doesn't make sense for Valve to further limit an already limited Linux environment, considering that less than 10 percent of Steam games run stable on the platform.

Looking at the big picture here (no pun intended), it feels like Valve is more stability testing these monster specifications and will be less an indication of the final retail product from Valve than what most people are thinking right now. With as many combinations that could be made from the above specs, it would be more fitting for the gaming company to be trying out different options that could be receive a Steam Machine certification for third party manufacturers.

Still, if all of this has been made with parts that can be bought separately, is there really a market or a need for a Steam Machine or certification? Couldn't the "everything should be free" group be satiated simply with SteamOS? Or, could it be that Gabe hates Microsoft enough to still think that Steam won't run on Windows 8?

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Rdio Prepares Pandora Competition with Free Radio Service

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Rdio Prepares Pandora Competition with Free Radio Service

The battle for mobile streaming just got another major player in Rdio. The streaming service has announced that their stations service, similar to Pandora or Last.fm, will now be available to all users of the iOS or Android apps, whether paid or free subscriptions.

With an inventory of over 20 million songs, you can play all the music you want, just like Pandora's recent policy change. You can listen based on artist, song, genre or the customized "You FM" which is a curated station based on your listening habits from other stations. In addition, with You FM, or any other station, you are able to share your music choices with your friends, allowing people to show their friends what their music taste really is.

Rdio believes that their implementation of The Echo's Nest Taste Profiling is superior to Pandora's Music Genome Project implementation, and I will have to say, it couldn't be much worse. Anyone who has ever had Jonathan Coulton transform into Ke$ha in just a few plays on Pandora knows what I am talking about.

Other than its preference for music profiling, what does Rdio have going for it? It has the same number of songs as Spotify, but far less than that of Xbox Music; it isn't available on BlackBerry, Windows Phone or Windows Store. The thing that really makes it unique is the size of its catalog available for free. If you are a fan of streaming music but not of the poor matching algorithm of Pandora, give Rdio a try; it might just be worth the install.

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Apple's Woes on New iPhone Models

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Apple's Woes on New iPhone Models

The recent launch of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c have not been without the infamous Apple disasters. From the iPhone 4 antenna issues, Apple Maps overall inaccuracy and the myriad of iPhone 5 issues, including camera and in-box scratching, Apple has not had a good phone launch in a while. For once, Apple has launched 2 new handsets together, and both are having their own individual problems.

iPhone 5s

The iPhone 5s' problem is one that will affect the end-user, so let's start there. As it turns out, the hardware sensors in the new flagship phone might very well be wrong. Users have posted on the Apple forums complaining of issues with their sensors, especially the level, motion and acceleration sensors. Gizmodo decided to put these claims to the test and have confirmed the reports.

To duplicate the issues, all you have to do is load any level app and set an iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s side-by-side on the same surface. The problem is unlikely to be caused by software, as iPhones of previous versions running iOS 7 and testing in the same applications return expected data, leaving the problem specific to the new model.

If I had to take a wild stab in the dark, I would say that there is something wrong with the new sensor co-processor installed in the phones. So, if the problem is with the hardware itself, how do you solve it? The easy answer is, you can't without a complete hardware recall. Of course, Apple, who has been pretending to be a premium brand, loses the ability to make those claims if they recall an entire generation of devices over a hardware defect.

Apple has not commented on the issue.

iPhone 5c

The problems with the iPhone 5c are not in the same realm - instead of hardware failures, the iPhone that breaks all of the rules of what makes an Apple product is seeing sales failures. Apple announced opening weekend iPhone sales of 9 million handsets, but refuses to break out the two models individually. A refusal of this type usually indicates data the company doesn't want to admit to, like incredibly poor sales.

To corroborate that theory, we are seeing some massive price breaks in the iPhone 5c starting this weekend. Target has discounted the phone to $79.99, while RadioShack and Best Buy are offering a $50 gift card with purchase, and Wal-Mart is down to $45 after initially discounting the phone to $79 on launch day.

I had suspected that launching a new handset that went against all of Steve Jobs' philosophies would not pan out for the company, and it appears that the suspicion was correct. Maybe Apple can learn something from BlackBerry and stick to what you know.

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France to Illegalize Free Shipping

posted Saturday Oct 5, 2013 by Scott Ertz

France to Illegalize Free Shipping

France has a difficult relationship with reality. They have, in the past done crazy things like prevent Yahoo from purchasing Dailymotion because the government didn't want it sold to an American company, and then they go and do rational things, like challenging Google over its universal privacy policy. Defending them or being mad at them is definitely a moving target.

Recently they have moved more to the dark side, however, with a new bill that would ban free shipping. Yes, you read that right - a retailer would no longer be able to set the price of its own products and services as they see fit. Shutting down the free market has always worked well in the past, especially for the target market that is trying to gain the upper hand, and if you can't sense the sarcasm in that statement, it might be time to move to the next article.

Who is France trying to help, and who are they trying to hurt, with this new law? They are trying to hurt Amazon and help local bookstores. Brick and mortar stores believe that they have no way of competing with online pricing and, therefore, are unable to provide any value to their customers, since price is the only reason anyone ever shops anywhere (sarcasm again). So, teaming up with the government to essentially outlaw Amazon's business model makes perfect sense, if you know nothing about business.

In the States, there are physical bookstores in a lot of places. While Borders might not have succeeded, local and chain stores everywhere do. Why? Not because they offer lower prices than Amazon, but instead because they offer better SERVICE than Amazon.

So, why not offer personal service to your customers instead of attacking Amazon? When the government already dislikes your foe, it is easier to team up than to have a good business model. Amazon reports its European income through Luxembourg, because tax rates are lower, so France sees none of the money from their own currency. Again, rather than encourage sales in the country with tax incentives, they will just remove a large company from doing business there at all.

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