The UpStream

Toshiba Begins Shedding Business Units

posted Sunday Dec 6, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Toshiba Begins Shedding Business Units

The last few years have been rough for several long-established electronics companies. Sony has proven time and again that persevering in the new marketplace can be difficult. They spun off their computer division to a standalone company, Vaio. They have also spun off their semiconductor business into wholly-owned subsidiary Sony Semiconductor.

Another company that has had trouble finding its feet in recent years is Toshiba. While some of their business units are highly profitable, it turns out that several of their units, including a lot of overlap with Sony, are not. As a result, Toshiba is making similar moves to Sony, only a year or so behind.

To begin the recovery process, Toshiba has sold its semiconductor business to the newfound Sony Semiconductor. Announced back in October, the acquisition was completed this week for $154 million, and includes all assets of the division. Toshiba said,

(We will) transfer semiconductor fabrication facilities, equipment and related assets of Toshiba's 300mm wafer production line, mainly located at its Oita Operations facility, to Sony Semiconductor as part of the deal.

Following the sale of its semiconductor business, Toshiba is reported to also be in talks to spin-off its computer division. If the rumors are true, then Toshiba's computer division would join the Vaio computer company, making it a larger company with extra assets. It could make it capable of competing with the larger, more successful companies, like HP, Lenovo and Samsung.

Adding to the rumor, Fujitsu is also rumored to be joining the Vaio consortium, marking another computer company throwing in the towel. More importantly, it shows extra support for the company who will be trying to slay Goliath.

Amazon Trying to Build Standout Video Service

posted Sunday Nov 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Amazon Trying to Build Standout Video Service

In the world of video streaming services, there are a lot of players. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, plus network-specific platforms are all available for separate monthly fees. Each of these platforms has tried hard to differentiate themselves from the pack. Hulu offers broadcast television mere hours after their initial airing from networks like ABC, Fox and NBC. That makes for an easy differentiator.

All 3 platforms have also been producing original content, like Hulu's The Awesomes, Netflix's Marvel's Jessica Jones or Amazon's Alpha House. This content can help one gain an edge over the others for some customers, but many of us use several services, sometimes on the same day. Especially, some of us are looking for content not provided through one of the Big 3 streaming services, such as HBO or Showtime.

Hulu had the bright idea to include Showtime content into their own platform, allowing you to pay a single monthly fee and getting both services. In fact, if you subscribe through Hulu, you save money versus subscribing directly to Showtime. As it turns out, this business model might just be the most brilliant of all, especially if you ask Amazon.

Bloomberg reports that Amazon is working on bringing together several platforms and making them all available through Amazon Instant Video. This additional content would include major movie and television producers and could become public within only a few weeks. This would turn Amazon from the smaller catalog into a virtual, online cable company, allowing you to access content from external producers.

It is possible that the end result would be something more akin to Hulu than Netflix, or it could be a major step up in the streaming industry. Would a service like what is rumored convince you to switch from Netflix? Let us know in the comments.

Two Major Online Retailers Fail on Black Friday

posted Sunday Nov 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

In the United States, Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, is the largest retail day of the year. Following a slump in sales, retailers run major promotions in an attempt to get people to shop at their stores, with the goal of bringing their ledgers into the black, or profitability. A lot of problems occur on this day, with brick-and-mortar stores creating such demand that Wal-Marts are known for people getting trampled.

One of the things that these stores do is work to make the shopping process as easy and safe as possible. In the past few years, their websites have become a huge part of that process. By shopping online, people can avoid the crowds and dangers of being in the physical stores. Is it any wonder people flock to these sites in the early mornings of Black Friday?

Unfortunately, not all retailers are tech-savvy, and do not have enough infrastructural support for their websites, causing them to go offline mid-sale. Last year, Best Buy suffered an outage of their website, causing a drop in sales. This year, 2 separate retailers saw failures of their sites during peak sales times. One was Neiman Marcus, a company not known for their technical prowess, especially following their 2014 data breach.

On the other hand, we saw the failure of Newegg.com, a company that exclusively sells electronics, mostly to tech-savvy customers. The company was active on Twitter keeping people up-to-date on the recovery process. It took a few hours to recover, but by early evening the site was back up and running.

PlayStation 4 Available on Windows and Mac via Remote Play

posted Sunday Nov 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

PlayStation 4 Available on Windows and Mac via Remote Play

The console rivalry is heating up again, and quickly. Microsoft has made some big moves with its Xbox One console over the past months, changing the interface for the better and adding huge new features. It seems like every time Microsoft adds or previews a feature, Sony responds quickly with the same feature and no timeline in which to release it to the public.

Microsoft revealed a while ago that, with the Windows 10 update, the Xbox One would get backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 titles. In fact, they said that any 360 title released under the Games with Gold program would be playable on both consoles. In response, last week Sony announced PlayStation 2 compatibility for the PlayStation 4. While the feature technically exists today for particular titles released as a bundle, a date the ability to play a wide range of games is still unknown.

This week, Sony has announced another new feature to the console: Remote Play. Currently, this feature allows you to play PlayStation 4 games on other PlayStation-branded devices, such as the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation TV. They will be adding this capability to Windows computers and Macs, mimicking another new feature that came with the Windows 10 update to the Xbox One.

Just like the backwards compatibility, there is no timeline provided by the company for wide distribution. This potentially exciting news comes right on the heels of an announcement of an unofficial Windows app that already provides this functionality. Clearly, with Microsoft and third-party developers showing Sony up, the company has decided to take the story into its own hands. The real question is, can Sony implement this well, or will it be a rush job?

Microsoft Releases Private Beta of Cortana for iOS

posted Sunday Nov 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Releases Private Beta of Cortana for iOS

When Windows Phone 8.1 was first released, the most anticipated new feature was Cortana, Master Chief's personal assistant. Microsoft went all-out on the implementation of Cortana for Windows Phone, going so far as to bring the voice actor Jen Taylor to voice the predictable parts of the character. As time went on and Microsoft added new features, such as jokes and impressions, Jen continued to voice those answers.

As for usability features, Microsoft had some really great concepts included into Cortana, such as known addresses and natural language processing, making access to these features more natural. Saying "Hey, Cortana. Get me to work." could easily open your primary navigation system with the address for your office pre-entered. Cortana was able to determine those known addresses on her own by seeing where you go often and offering to name them for you. Those features later came to the other platforms care of their own assistants.

In Windows 10, Microsoft has really increased the amount of information that Cortana keeps in her notebook. With events and meetings to packages and flight information, Cortana is getting to the point where she can keep track of just about everything for you. That's great when you're at home or on your tablet, or if you are already running Windows 10 on your phone, but what if you have Android or iOS?

A beta version of Cortana for Android was released several months ago, obviously with some features missing. Google's operating system is not as developer-centric as Microsoft's (they have been building developer tools for over 3 decades), so Cortana does not have access to data contracts like she does on Windows, meaning she can't gather quite the same information to help as she normally can, but she does provide a lot of help for Android users anyway.

This week, Microsoft has launched its private beta of Cortana for iOS. Like with Android, Cortana is not full-featured because of Apple's massive lack of developer capabilities. On Android, in some circumstances, Cortana can be set as the primary assistant, but on iOS, Siri will always be the not-quite-sassy queen. But, if you launch Cortana, she can still make your life a lot easier.

The only issue right now is that the way Apple distributes private software is through a platform they purchased called TestFlight. TestFlight has a limit of 2000 devices that can be published to, meaning that, for the time being, only 2000 users are getting access to this software. Hopefully this particular test will be successful and quick, giving access to the rest of Apple users in the near term.

Digital Holiday Sales Come to the Windows Store

posted Sunday Nov 22, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Digital Holiday Sales Come to the Windows Store

This time of year has long been known for physical sales in retail and online. Black Friday, as it is commonly known, is the day in which retailers try to enter the black, or profitability, for the quarter after a lull in pre-holiday sales. In recent years, digital creators have taken to running their own promotions, looking to get in on the pre-holiday sales as well. For example, Xbox, Origin and Steam are known for their game sales.

This year, Microsoft has expanded their sales from Xbox console games into the Windows Store. With this expansion, they have gone from just offering Xbox console games to offering games, music, video and apps for as low as $0.10. In fact, there are over 1000 items available, with content ranging from E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, which premiered decades ago, to Jurassic World, which is brand new.

The important thing to know about this sale is that the content is rotating, so if you look today, you might not see the same content you saw yesterday. It is worth checking out for anyone with any tastes, and keep checking back to see what new content has been added. You might be pleasantly surprised to see what is available.

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