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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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Outages Reported Across Internet, Possible Protest Against WikiLeaks Internet Shutdown

posted Saturday Oct 22, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Outages Reported Across Internet, Possible Protest Against WikiLeaks Internet Shutdown

This week, two major stories that have been building for several weeks seem to have come together to create an Internet Perfect Storm, resulting in many major websites and services coming to their knees on Friday. The first of these stories we have been following here in the office for over a month: a report that a botnet made up of infected IoT devices could be ready to activate a massive DDoS attack at any moment.

An alert published by the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team cited security sources that had discovered a Trojan released to recruit IoT devices into the Mirai botnet, the most infamous modern systems, as well as other less powerful collections. This alert was based on research conducted by Brian Krebs, a security expert whose blog was attacked by this botnet, and his evidence suggested that over a half million of the devices involved were IoT devices. According to the alert,

The IoT devices affected in the latest Mirai incidents were primarily home routers, network-enabled cameras, and digital video recorders. Mirai malware source code was published online at the end of September, opening the door to more widespread use of the code to create other DDoS attacks.

Now, with those devices in place and ready for another attack, all that was required was a reason. That is where our second story comes in. Earlier this week, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been residing within the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past five years, announced that his internet access had been severed by a "state party." Shortly after, a trio of tweets containing encoded data were posted, suggesting to many that a "dead man's switch" may have been activated, suggesting that Assange had been assassinated. WikiLeaks had no statement on the status of Assange.

The organization has given evidence that US Secretary of State John Kerry was responsible for demanding that Ecuador cut Assange's internet access to prevent WikiLeaks from tampering in the US election. Shortly after, Ecuadorian officials confirmed that this was indeed what they did, though they denied that their actions were at the instruction of US officials. This is where the two stories get intertwined and the internet seemingly ended for a few hours.

On Friday morning, the IoT-powered botnet was triggered and against a high-profile target, but one you might have never heard of. Dyn, or previously known as Dyn DNS, is a domain name service used by large and small companies alike. In the past, this company has sponsored our CES coverage. For individuals, the company provides the ability to name your home connection so that you can use remote desktop or VPN against an ever-changing IP address.

For large companies, Dyn provides the service that allows you to go to Spotify.com and that name is routed to their various web and service servers al over the internet. While this is a nice convenience, it does provide for a single point of failure. And, since Dyn is one of the largest providers of enterprise DNS services, it provides a very large single point of failure. By striking Dyn, the botnet was capable of taking down a large number of services, many of which are listed at the end of this article.

As a result of the attack, WikiLeaks responded on Twitter, stating,

Mr. Assange is still alive and WikiLeaks is still publishing. We ask supporters to stop taking down the US internet. You proved your point.

First, this was the initial confirmation that Assange was still alive, an important piece of information needed to try to end the botnet. Second, recognizing that they accomplished something was an important piece. As a result, the attacks stopped - at least for a little while. In fact, there were 3 individual waves of attack. The first 2 seemed to end on their own, while the third ended because of the actions of Dyn. Likely they contracted with a DDoS overflow support company - a pretty common behavior.

Today, the internet seems to be back up and running, thankfully. Either Dyn was successful or WikiLeaks was - either way I am thankful that Netflix is fully functional again.

Hit the break to see the list of known services affected.

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Nintendo NX is Officially Nintendo Switch, Promises Anywhere Gameplay

posted Saturday Oct 22, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo NX is Officially Nintendo Switch, Promises Anywhere Gameplay

It has been quite a while since we heard the first rumblings about Nintendo's next console. Nintendo has been surprisingly open about the existence of the project, including referring to it by its codename: Nintendo NX. Over time, we have learned new information - both officially and unofficially - about Nintendo's intentions, including being cartridge-based. Before this week, the most detail we had was a release target of March 2017.

All of that has changed, though, as Nintendo released a 3 minute teaser trailer for the console, officially named Nintendo Switch. The name is a perfect moniker for the console, which essentially replaces both the Wii family and the 3DS family with a single product. This is accomplished by a fascinatingly unique hardware setup that serves as both home and mobile console.

The brains of the operation is a tablet-looking device that may or may-not be touch responsive. I say this because nowhere in the video do they show anyone interacting directly with the display. This could be because the device is not touch sensitive, or because all of the scenes were filmed with black screens and the gameplay was superimposed, and controller-interaction is easier to fake than touch. On the sides are controls that look similar to the design of the logo for the console, called the Joy-Con. Those controls can be used in two ways: attached to the tablet on the sides, or separately, either in unison or for 2-player mode.

Similar to existing mobile Nintendo handhelds, local multi-player remote play is shown, with up to 4 Switches networked together for a single game with 4 players. They also show off 2 Switches being networked together, with the Joy-Cons being used separately, for a total of 4 players playing on 2 the two Switches.

When you get home, the tablet sits into what looks like a charging station. In reality, though, it is likely more than that. In fact, it is almost certainly more like a Surface docking station, giving video output, possibly additional storage capabilities or wired controller support, in addition to powering and charging the tablet itself. That assumedly puts all of the responsibility for the performance of the console on the tablet, but it could also work more like the Surface Book, adding a more powerful video card when you dock the tablet.

In docked mode, the Joy-Cons come back into play. Here, the gameplay is often shown with a different dock for the controls, the Joy-Con Grip, which puts them into a more traditional console controller layout. This center dock likely adds additional power to the Joy-Cons as well. There is also a Pro Controller, which looks a lot like an original Xbox controller. I assume that this center dock is also able to be used remotely, though when they show a pair of pro gaming teams using a controller in mobile mode, they only show the Pro controller.

As was previously reported, the console will run on cartridges, which makes sense for a device intended for mobile use. Discs obviously require physical stability, something you cannot guarantee in a taxi, or while walking. For reference, remember how well a portable CD player worked while walking or riding a bike. This does mean that the Switch will not have any physical backwards compatibility with Wii or Wii U, and the change of cartridge style means no 3DS games, either. That doesn't mean that digital versions won't be made available in the future.

Nintendo has also not confirmed just how much of the console is required for operation, and how much will come in the box. All we know for sure is that the tablet and the pair of Joy-Cons will be included. Nintendo has not confirmed whether the home dock or Joy-Con Grip will be included, likely indicating that there will be bundles for both mobile-focused and home-focused.

More details will come out over the next 5 months, leading up to the March 2017 launch of the product.

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Tesla to Include Self-Driving Hardware in Vehicles But Not Activate It

posted Saturday Oct 22, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Tesla to Include Self-Driving Hardware in Vehicles But Not Activate It

In a blog post this week, automaker Tesla made an interesting announcement: all models being produced contain self-driving hardware. This means that, whether your vehicle has the capability for autonomous driving, the vehicle will have the hardware to support it.

We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory - including Model 3 - will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.

Unfortunately, just because the hardware is there doesn't mean you can use it. Not yet, at least. As the company has had a string of autonomous driving failures lately, this hardware will be software-locked, preventing its use. Before unlocking the feature, Tesla wants to do more testing and calibration of the overall system. Likely this is to prevent future issues like they have seen in past months.

In fact, vehicles with the new hardware will temporarily have a lack of existing features available in older vehicles, including active cruise control, automatic braking, collision warning and lane holding. These features will, eventually, be enabled through an over-the-air update once the company is confident in its functionality. New features, not previously available on existing models, will also be added over time in the same manner. There is no estimate on when these features will be available, though models with the new hardware are already for sale.

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Bill Belichick Complains About Wireless Communication on the Field, Internet Blames Microsoft

posted Saturday Oct 22, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Bill Belichick Complains About Wireless Communication on the Field, Internet Blames Microsoft

If you have spent any time online this week, you have likely seen at least one incredibly misleading headline about New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and comments he made on a conference call. Unfortunately, the internet can be a place filed with misinformation, as seems to be the case here. I'm not sure if this is a case of an industry looking for an opportunity to make Microsoft look bad, or simply a case of not understanding the man's comments, but I'm here to try and clear up what happened.

During a post-game interview on Tuesday, Belichick was asked,

It was reported that there were some issues Sunday with the sideline technology like the headsets and tablets you use. Does that affect the number of plays you guys may be able to call and how does it affect any potential adjustments that you would make over the course of a game?

Belichick, a man who is not known to be long-winded, took over 5 minutes to answer this question. The full text of the answer is available here if you are interested in reading it. In short, Belichick said that all of the communication technology that they use on the sidelines has problems. None of it is owned by the teams or the stadiums, but instead by the NFL, and teams do not receive it until a few hours before kickoff.

These devices include the Motorola headsets, wireless microphone packs, wireless earpiece and microphone transceivers inside key helmets and sideline Wi-Fi that provides network access for the provided Microsoft Surfaces. The thing to notice about all of this technology is that it works off of wireless frequencies. While all of them work on different frequencies, the stadiums are filled with wireless technology. From hotspots setup by fans to Clearcoms used by the broadcast team, there is plenty of additional technology that could interfere.

That is exactly what happens, according to Belichick, nearly every week. In fact, the technological failures are so common and so widespread that the league has rules that allow for one team to have an outage and for the other team to have the same technology taken away. For example, if the Wi-Fi fails and the coaches are unable to access their playbooks on their Surface, the other team cannot use their Surfaces anymore, either, to level the playing field.

For Belichick, the issue is that he doesn't have control. He is tired of the league equipment not working, and he is tired of losing essential communication with his coaching staff and players. Because of this, he is going to take back control where he can. Obviously he is not going to give up the headsets, because they are easier than making phone calls every 30 seconds. He's not going to give up the helmet communication, because you don't want to lose time on the play clock while your quarterback comes to the sidelines for a chat. The only place he has left is the tablets.

He was very clear that he didn't dislike the tablets themselves. What he did say was that he was tired of not being able to use them. He mentioned liking the ability to pull up previous game video, but only when the Wi-Fi worked. And, because the tablets are owned by the league, it means none of his data is local - it all has to be retrieved from some sort of network storage, which isn't possible if the league's Wi-Fi fails. So, in this case, he is willing to sacrifice the benefits of using the Surface sometimes for the consistency of using a physical playbook.

If I were in his place and, no matter how hard I tried, a piece of technology occasionally made my life harder instead of easier, I would retire it entirely. His feelings and his response are completely rational, though misinterpreted by seemingly every publication that wrote about it.

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