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Valve Shows Off New SteamVR Controller Prototype

posted Saturday Oct 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Valve Shows Off New SteamVR Controller Prototype

Valve has put a lot of time and effort into its SteamVR program, and its partnership with HTC on the Vive headset. While headset hardware can set the platform apart from the Oculus to a certain degree, the idea of a headset with video playing is a pretty solved problem at this point, Where Valve can really set itself apart is in controller hardware, something that has been a bit of an overall loss in the industry.

At Valve's Steam Dev Days, an event which does not allow press but does allow smartphones and Twitter, the company showed off new controller hardware which seems to address the biggest issue with other controllers, including previous SteamVR controllers, the inability to open your hands. It also eliminates the grip buttons on the side of the previous model, instead sensing grip based on overall hand movement.

A good controller could be the feature that sets one platform apart from the others, or at least encourages sales. It is less than likely that a single accessory will determine the fate of a platform, but a controller is the thing that makes VR fun or a chore. Obviously we have not yet interacted with this new prototype, but seeing video of the controller in action is encouraging.

Of course, Valve is not known for their hardware, especially controllers. When they were still trying to make SteamOS work, the controllers were bad enough that the company decided to design the platform to allow for Xbox controllers instead. Hopefully they learned their lessons from the overall disaster that SteamOS was, and have applied those lessons to SteamVR and this new prototype controller.

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Verizon's Views On Unlimited Data Might Have Already Changed Somewhat

posted Saturday Oct 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Verizon's Views On Unlimited Data Might Have Already Changed Somewhat

It was only 2 weeks ago that Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said on an investor call,

At the end of the day, people don't need unlimited plans.

As it turns out, that statement was either a deflection, very focused or misinformed. This week, Verizon began testing a new program called PopData, in which you can purchase small blocks of unlimited data. The program seems to be intended to provide this data in short bursts just when you need it. You can purchase 30 or 60 minutes for $2 or $3, respectively.

There are limitations to the program, though. First, of course, is that it is a test program, which means that not everyone can currently participate. If you are one of the lucky beta testers, though, you still may see times when you cannot add your unlimited data option. For example, if the network is currently under heavy load in the location you are in, Verizon will decline your purchase request. To allow for this restriction, Verizon requires that you keep your Location Services turned on while interacting with the My Verizon app when you add the data.

One restriction we expected to have but do not is on tethering. If you purchase a 30 minute block of unlimited data, you can use it to tether your phone to another device, essentially giving you short bursts of unlimited data for tablets, laptops and more. Usually promotions like this exclude tethering, which makes this a nice change of pace.

There is no telling whether this program will eventually succeed or not, nor do we know what Verizon will consider success. There are a lot of potential end-games here, including terminating the program, rolling it out nationwide, or discovering a demand for unlimited data and bringing that feature back as a whole.

Is PopData a feature that makes Verizon's lack of overall unlimited data an acceptable loss? Let us know in the comments.

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Twitch Ditches Premium Tier, Introduces Twitch Prime

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Twitch Ditches Premium Tier, Introduces Twitch Prime

Since before Twitch was its own platform, the service has been advertising-based. Either you could be a free member and watch ads occasionally, or you could be a premium member for $9 per month and have the ads removed. This has been a winning feature, adopted by services like Hulu and YouTube. That concept is coming to an end for Twitch, however, at least as it is known today.

Announced at Twitch Con, the now Amazon-owned service will be doing away with the premium subscription service to Twitch and replacing it with what they are calling Twitch Prime. Exactly as the name suggests, the new ad-free option is simply part of an Amazon Prime subscription. So, in addition to free shipping, Instant Video and Music, Amazon Prime subscribers can now also watch Twitch ad-free to their heart's content.

For a company that is focused on increasing its Prime membership numbers, this is a smart move. However, from a customer standpoint, this could eventually become a problem. There's a reason that Netflix charges what they do for a single month of service. There is a particular cost to produce and license the content, as well as distribute it. Hulu and YouTube know the same thing, along with Groove and Spotify. So, why does Amazon offer so much for their $99 annual subscription?

It is likely that the intention is to build so much "value" into the subscription that they can increase the price of the service once again. They might also create tiers of Prime membership in the future. Of course, the other option is that they are using Prime to encourage people to continue using their services, keeping the brand Amazon in consumers' minds, thereby not caring if they lose a little money on the subscription.

For now, Prime is definitely a steal for the price and getting better with every feature they add to the service.

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Microsoft Introduces New Feature to Protect Edge Users

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Introduces New Feature to Protect Edge Users

The Internet is a scary and dangerous place. Ads served by networks like Google appear to be legitimate, but take you to downloads to steal your information or destroy your computer. Links shared on Facebook and Twitter appear to be news articles, but are actually serving malicious content. If you aren't paying attention, it can be easy to screw up your machine, and web browsers are the source of all of that turmoil.

Microsoft has a new idea for how to protect users of their Edge browser. The feature is called Windows Defender Application Guard, and it consists of running the browser within a very lightweight virtual machine. Essentially, this means that the browser will run within your computer, but will not have direct access to it. Instead, it will run within another, virtual computer residing on yours.

The advantages of this technique are incredibly positive. The browser cannot access your computer without your express permission. This means that anything that happens within the browser will be contained within the virtual environment. Code designed to change your homepage, search engine, system registry, etc. all will, if allowed, change the virtual environment. As soon as the browser is closed, the virtual environment is destroyed, taking with it any malicious code and cookies.

Unfortunately, with all major security protections come tradeoffs. For example, since cookies are destroyed, it means that features like saving passwords will be destroyed, too. You would not be able to click "save password" on a website and have it save between sessions, because that information is saved in one of those cookies being destroyed. There are also performance tradeoffs that will have to be made, as the browser is not running directly on your hardware.

Clearly, this feature will not be for everyone, but it is a good option for places that require additional security, such as secure facilities like banks and doctors' offices. It will also be good for common area computers in libraries and schools where people tend to not worry about security and also forget to logout of services like email, social networks, etc.

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No Man's Sky Trouble Thickens, Being Investigated by UK Organization

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

<i>No Man's Sky</i> Trouble Thickens, Being Investigated by UK Organization

In my time in the industry, I've seen a lot of videogames launch, and I have seen a number of games stumble at launch. Either the game isn't what it was advertised to be, the graphics aren't as soon as the trailers or the play isn't fun. Niantic struggled with server issues with the release of Pokémon GO. Maxis nearly destroyed the SimCity franchise with their launch.

No Man's Sky, however, has had all of these issues and more. The graphics in the game are nothing like they were promised to be. In fact, many of the creatures within the game look deformed versus their photorealistic initial claims. The game has been plagued by bugs, making the game either completely unplayable or slowly self-destructing. In one case, player's discoveries were slowly wiped out of existence.

Many players have asked for refunds under Steam's new refund policy, and others have simply given up. Even Sony President Shuhei Yoshida said in an interview,

I understand some of the criticisms especially Sean Murray is getting, because he sounded like he was promising more features in the game from day one.

It wasn't a great PR strategy, because he didn't have a PR person helping him, and in the end he is an indie developer. But he says their plan is to continue to develop No Man's Sky features and such, and I'm looking forward to continuing to play the game.

Unfortunately, he seems to be one of the only ones holding that view. Active players on Steam has dropped below 1,000, making it an incredibly empty universe. Because of all of the problems, including player count, people in the UK have contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the organization that investigates claims of false advertising. Their claims are not minor, claiming that essentially every claim about the game has been false. Here are the most common complaints:

Videos

  • User interface design
  • Ship flying behaviour (information; with a 'wingman'; flying close to the ground)
  • Behaviour of animals (in herds; destroying scenery; in water; reacting to surroundings)
  • Large-scale space combat
  • Structures and buildings as pictured
  • Flowing water
  • Speed of galaxy warp/loading time
  • Aiming systems

Screenshots

  • Size of creatures (9)
  • Behaviour of ships and sentinels (4, 5 and 8)
  • Structures and buildings as pictured (3)

Store Page in general

  • Quality of graphics
  • References to: lack of loading screens, trade convoys between stars, factions vying over territory

Until now, the developer, Hello Games, has not responded to any criticism. In fact, the only real feedback we have gotten from the company has been second-hand through Yoshida's comments. The company will now have to respond to the ASA, however. If the ASA finds false advertising, the listings will have to be altered and, more importantly, fines could be assessed. This is not a great position for a company who was already in over their heads.

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BlackBerry Ends Internal Development of Hardware, Will Focus on Software

posted Sunday Oct 2, 2016 by Scott Ertz

BlackBerry Ends Internal Development of Hardware, Will Focus on Software

The era of BlackBerry's hardware dominance ended quite a while ago, but the company has continued to struggle to recapture what it believes to be its glory days. CEOs have changed, executive management has changed, even their platform strategy has changed. The one thing that has stayed consistent, however, is their slumping hardware sales.

That number is about to go from dismal to zero, as the company has finally decided to do away with its internal hardware development efforts. Starting now, and really in the recent past, BlackBerry will license their name to existing hardware firms to design and build BlackBerry-branded devices. The handsets will runs BlackBerry's more secure version of Android, as well as the company's suite of applications.

This strategy is not new within the industry. Google has been doing the exact same thing with its Nexus line of phones and tablets. Nexus devices are designed by 3rd parties like HTC and Huawei, but run the "pure Google experience" rather than the manufacturer's altered version of Android. BlackBerry began this strategy with their new DTEK50, a BlackBerry-branded device designed and manufactured by Alcatel, originally available as the Alcatel Idol 4.

While this might seem like a big change for the company, it is not as monumental as you might think. BlackBerry has always been a software company who has focused on security. Their customers were the first to have end-to-end encryption on their mobile communications, through BlackBerry Messenger, Email and more. Their need to make hardware came more from a lack of potential partners than it did from wanting to have their own hardware. Palm was making their own hardware for both Palm OS and Windows Mobile and Motorola and UTStarcom/HTC were making Windows Mobile smartphones. There were really no other players in the market to get involved.

With this new ability to focus their attention back on software and security, BlackBerry can be what it always without the distraction of what they never really needed to be. If ever a strategy change was going to work for the company, this is the one. Android needs someone championing security for the platform since Google seems uninterested in doing it.

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