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Microsoft Moves the Needle With Surface Again

posted Wednesday Oct 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Moves the Needle With Surface Again

When Microsoft announced the first Surface devices, they changed the PC industry in several ways. First, this was Microsoft's entrance into a new paradigm: competing head-to-head with their own partners. Some saw this as a mistake for Microsoft, feeling it could drive manufacturers to adopt Chrome OS. Microsoft saw it as an opportunity to push the industry in new and interesting directions. As it turns out, that was the second change: a whole collection of new hardware types and styles emerged.

The Surface was part tablet, part laptop, part Ultrabook and all powerful. Microsoft's aspirations for the new device family was not what most journalists believed. Microsoft wasn't trying to hurt their OEMs, but instead wanted to create a technical specification for other manufacturers to get behind. Because of the Surface, HP, Lenovo and even Apple are chasing the successes Microsoft has had in the space. Since then, Microsoft has done this with other product categories, most specifically the Microsoft Band.

The Product

This week, at Microsoft's #Windows10Devices event, the company unveiled a new entry in the Surface family, the Surface Book. With this product, Microsoft is making more changes to the industry. First is, again, their relationship with OEMs. While the Surface pushed manufacturers to try new things with hardware, with the Surface Book, Microsoft is telling OEMs, "If you're not interested in innovating in traditional PCs, we will."

The result was astounding. In a room filled with tech journalists that have proven several times that, no matter how exciting an announcement is, they will remain silent in the room, people were cheering and saying "I want one of those!" When was the last time a laptop actually got people excited, save for the rare gaming laptop? To my recollection, it has been many, many years, and yet Microsoft managed to do it with their first device.

The Intent

The good news for existing hardware companies like HP and Lenovo is, there is only one Surface Book. That means retailers will only need a single display position to carry the device. This leaves plenty of space for everyone else to design and launch products that can compete with the likes of the Surface Book, while separating themselves from the rest. This is a shot across the bow of many companies, some of which will respond, some will cease to exist - it is up to them which way they go.

The Result

The likely result is a culling of the herd. There will be some second tier laptop companies that will not survive because they are incapable of adapting. The rest will adapt and begin to produce exciting hardware, trying to fill the gaps left by the Surface Book. For example, not everyone will be happy with a laptop whose lid does not close 100%, no matter how cool the device is. That would be a perfect place for HP or Lenovo to swoop in and save the day. On the other hand, not everyone wants a premium piece of hardware, giving Acer a perfect place to swoop in and offer a budget-friendly competitor.

On the other hand, we have seen something like this before with very different results. When Google purchased Motorola's mobile division, Samsung's response was not to compete, but instead to develop Tizen. Most of us didn't think Tizen was going to be anything of any success, but Google decided not to risk the exposure and, instead, sold the division off to Lenovo. The problem is that productivity is a different marketplace from mobile. It is unlikely HP would try for their own operating system, especially considering they already sold a viable one to LG.

The thing that makes a laptop useful is productivity, which in the real world means access to Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and development tools. The likelihood of a company, even as big as HP, getting the support of productivity companies behind a new, limited-reach operating system is slim at best. There is little hope for any of the OEMs to magically succeed with Chrome OS, partially for the same reason and partially because they have yet to have any notable success to date. Linux is also not really a viable option for a myriad of reasons too numerous to discuss here.

The End Game

Personally, as someone who replaced a laptop with a Surface Pro since near launch without ever considering replacing it, even I am excited about this new device. In fact, it is likely you could see one appear in the studio shortly after its launch. I am excited about the insane hinge, the discrete graphics card and the blazing fast data transfer speeds. Why it took so long for someone to realize that laptops can still be sexy is unimaginable, but I think we can all be glad that it has finally happened.

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Songwriter Claims Minor Income from Massive Pandora Streaming Count

posted Saturday Sep 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Songwriter Claims Minor Income from Massive Pandora Streaming Count

It's official: streaming is an important part of the music industry. In fact, it recently overtook CDs in overall revenue making it the business model to beat. However, not everyone is happy with this change in the way business is done. Take, for example, Taylor Swift, who very publicly removed her music from streaming services with an annoying message, and attacked Apple when they re-launched Beats Music as Apple Music.

This week, a new voice in the debate was revealed. You have likely never heard of Kevin Kadish, but you were unable to avoid his 2014 megahit All About That Bass, which he co-wrote with author Meghan Trainor. He said at a roundtable discussion at Belmont University and led by the House Judiciary Committee, that he received just $5,679 for 178 million streams of the song. That works out to about $32 per million streams.

So, why was Kadish there, speaking to members of the US Congress? Because, for reasons beyond any rational comprehension, they set the rates for what is paid per play. Yes, you read that right - the rate is not negotiated with the artist or with the publisher as it is for Netflix or Hulu, but instead is a set rate decided upon by the federal government. As a result, for the height of this guy's career, he was paid essentially nothing.

These laws date back to 1911, when music was distributed on piano rolls, and in fact the industry term is still "mechanical licenses" in reference to those automated pianos. Kadish, along with others, believes that a law like this is not only outdated but ridiculous, and has urged Congress to do away with it. In its place, he is asking for the Songwriter Equity Act to be passed, that would establish a "fair rate standard" for these licenses.

It seems surprising that these musicians are still asking that their rate be regulated, as opposed to allowing their representatives to negotiate on their behalf. I guess the musicians believe that they are worth more than $32 per million plays, but not enough that they should have a say. No wonder Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have no issues with their business and music services seem to be under constant fire.

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Australian Tribunal Disagrees with US Court - Facebook Friends are Real

posted Saturday Sep 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Many years ago, a US judge deemed that Facebook "friends" were not real friends, and could not be admitted in court. That ruling made sense, especially for the time, when friends would have included celebrities and the like, with Facebook having not implemented personality Pages quite the way they exist today. Either way, even today, many of us can list off people in our Facebook "friends" list that we do not actually know. Personally, I have dozens, and that's okay.

An Australian Tribunal decided this week that the service has changed enough in the past few years, and made a very different ruling. In fact, it turns out that the act of "unfriending" someone on the social network can be considered humiliation. This ruling comes in a case between Rachael Roberts, an employee of a real estate agency in Tasmania. She claims that she was "belittled and humiliated" by sales administrator Lisa Bird and her husband James.

The listed offenses were horrible, including not being able to change the AC in the office and being referred to as "a naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher." Clearly this was a serious case of harassment that deserved the government's attention, but was overshadowed by being unfriended on Facebook. That was enough to push it over the edge of acceptable. The commission said,

This action by Mrs. Bird evinces a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behavior.

Nicole Wells, a member of the commission, added,

I am of the view that Mrs. Bird took the first opportunity to draw a line under the relationship with Ms, Roberts on 29 January 2015, when she removed her as a friend on Facebook as she did not like Ms. Roberts and would prefer not to have to deal with her. I am satisfied that the evidence of Ms. Roberts, as to the incident on 29 January 2015, is to be preferred and that the allegation of unreasonable behavior by Mrs. Bird in Allegation 17 is made out.

Okay, let's try and sum this up. A couple works with someone they truly do not like. In an attempt to not have to infect their personal lives with this person, they removed her on Facebook, keeping them from having to see her posts, likely about the barista at the coffee shop humiliating her by spelling her name Rachel. This act, which would be similar, I suppose, to not answering a phone call from a co-worker in your personal time, was considered workplace bullying.

In the end, I suppose the only solution is to not add your co-workers on Facebook. In Australia.

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New Call of Duty to be Half Game on Legacy Consoles

posted Saturday Sep 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

New <i>Call of Duty</i> to be Half Game on Legacy Consoles

It was a shock to many of us when Activision announced support for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in their upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops III. It seemed likely that the end of AAA titles on legacy hardware was a thing of the past, yet here we had Activision promising a flagship product still in development for older hardware. There was always a catch coming, though, we just didn't know what it might be.

This week Activision let the air out of the sails of many people who have yet to upgrade their hardware: the title will be only half of the full game on legacy hardware. In fact, the game itself will be missing; there will be absolutely no campaign mode when played on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Instead, players will only have access to multiplayer and zombie survival mode.

Obviously, since the title will be limited in capability as well as graphics and power, the title will not sell for full retail on the older consoles. Unfortunately, the game will only be discounted by $10 for the lack of content and capability. That is certain to get owners of last generation consoles to really think about their decision to purchase the title. It is also possible that this is the game that will finally drive these gamers to upgrade their hardware.

It is also likely that, since this game is not capable of running on older hardware, it is the end of new games coming out on the 360 or PlayStation 3. We will likely only see next year's entry in franchise, as well as other high-profile games from Activision, bypass the last generation and only support current generation hardware: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

Is Call of Duty: Black Ops III enough to get you to upgrade from your older console to current generation gaming? Will bundles possibly play into your decision? Let us know in the comments.

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Google Under Investigation by FTC Again, This time Over Android

posted Saturday Sep 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Under Investigation by FTC Again, This time Over Android

Last week, Google was charged with antitrust in Russia. The charge was in regards to how Google treats its own services in Android, and how they force their policies on manufacturers through contracts. The way they best enforce these policies is by denying access to the Play Store on devices that don't give preferential treatment to Google's services, even above the manufacturer's.

This week, Bloomberg has reported on a new threat to Google's Android policies, stating,

FTC officials have met with technology company representatives who say Google gives priority to its own services on the Android platform, while restricting others, added the people, who asked for anonymity because the matter is confidential.

This means that 2 years after the FTC ended their search investigation in Google's practices, the organization is once again ramping up its investigation into Google. The previous investigation was mostly solo in the global market, while this one, which began earlier in the year, is matched in countries worldwide, including the charges in Russia.

Meetings between the FTC and Google indicate that the FTC is gathering physical evidence to support a possible case against the company. While it might seem like a slam-dunk, being as they have already been charged elsewhere, Google seems to be good at getting out of trouble. We do remember the slap on the wrist when they actively stole data from unsuspecting homes via their StreetView cars. Because of that, anything is still possible.

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AVG's New Privacy Policy Will Sell Customer Data to Advertisers

posted Sunday Sep 20, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

With the sensitive topic of data privacy and protection being so prevalent as of late, would you ever expect an anti-virus and Internet security company to breach consumers' trust of said data and privacy? This week, we might have seen it all, as AVG is now in the hot seat for their latest privacy policy, which openly states that it will sell your information.

A new privacy policy will be enacted across all AVG products beginning October 15th. In it, AVG says that in order to support its free version of the insanely popular anti-virus, it will be mining, collecting and selling your data. AVG says not to worry though, as it will not sell personally identifiable info.

We collect non-personal data to make money from our free offerings so we can keep them free, including:

- Advertising ID associated with your device;

- Browsing and search history, including meta data;

- Internet service provider or mobile network you use to connect to our products; and

- Information regarding other applications you may have on your device and how they are used.

There are two important things to note here. First, I do commend AVG for proactively putting up a blog post before implementing the policy, allowing users to decide whether or not to use their service moving forward. The second thing to mention is merely a friendly reminder that whenever a product is free, almost every time it is because the end-user is a product for the company. This is the case here, as it is with Facebook and many other services that have no charge to the consumer on the web.

AVG did say that even though it won't sell your address, age, IP and the like, that the info may still be shared with its partners if they ask. The Czech-based company also said that things like credit card details will never be sold, but they might be leaked inside your browsing history that AVG will send to advertisers. Those two facts alone should be enough for anyone to deter from using these products, so long as those people are concerned with their data. Again, the policy goes into effect on October 15th, giving you enough time to uninstall any AVG-related product and replace it with something else, if you so choose.

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