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Amazon to Launch $50 6 Inch Tablet for the Holidays

posted Sunday Sep 13, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Amazon to Launch $50 6 Inch Tablet for the Holidays

When most people see $50 tablets, they usually assume it's a cheap, piece of junk Android that's probably infected with a ton of malware. But what if a big name company were to release a super affordable tablet? Enter Amazon. The company announced this week that it has plans to put out a Fire-branded tablet for this holiday season.

Coming in at just $50, Amazon hopes this 6-inch tablet will attract more people to its tablets. The higher-priced Fire HDX, among its other offerings, just haven't done well in the market. This holiday tablet won't have any of the bells and whistles of the typical ones on the market, but will be good for video streaming and shopping on Amazon. That'll pretty much be it. It has been confirmed that the tablet will only have a mono speaker instead of stereo, and it will also have a lower-resolution screen, less battery life, and it will be made of cheaper parts.

Reports have come in that the $50 tablet will be part of a new line that will include an 8-inch and 10-inch screen at affordable prices, too. While cheap tablets are popular among those who don't understand the technology and only want a throwaway device, will a similar device from Amazon affect the brand's reputation with quality? Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett adds insight in to what Amazon has to overcome.

Will people tolerate a potentially inferior experience just because a tablet is $50? Amazon has to be very careful about what they're giving up to get to that low price point.

With the recent failure of the Fire Phone, and a $600 price tag on the most expensive Fire tablet, is a $50 6-inch option from Amazon a smart move? There is no word yet on if the tablet would be ad-supported, but one could assume that it would be, similar to that of the $99 Fire tablet; the same tablet rings up at $114 without ads. Amazon currently holds less than 1 percent of the US tablet market, so there is a lot riding on this decision.

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Verizon Launches New Streaming Service, Initially Exclusive to VZW Customers

posted Friday Sep 11, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Launches New Streaming Service, Initially Exclusive to VZW Customers

In January of 2014, Verizon purchased OnCue from Intel, the company's never-released media streaming service. In the wake of the failure of their partnership with Redbox for Instant Streaming, Verizon has decided to go solo.

Their new service, based on OnCue, is called Go90, and will take a different approach from Redbox. Rather than charging a monthly service fee, the service will go YouTube style - ad-supported. The service will be available to users on any carrier on smartphones and tablets, and will combine live programming, like football games, and short clips, in the vein of YouTube. They are using the term "social entertainment" indicating their hopes of spreading the service without much marketing.

The company has sent out invites to VZW customers it has identified to be part of its target demographic: millennials (30ish and younger). They are hoping that by targeting millennials and offering the service for free that they will be able to carve out a niche in the ever-growing "over the top" television market. With services like Netflix, Hulu and amazon currently ruling the roost, someone trying something different was inevitable. What wasn't expected was that the creativity would come from Verizon.

This is, however, coming from a company that is in the midst of a culture change. Changing their logo, purchasing AOL and doing away with wireless contracts seem to be just the beginning of a major change from one of the largest telecoms in the world. The biggest change comes in the form of this platform, though. There will be no Verizon branding in the applications, including on non-VZW devices. A year ago, no one would have expected Verizon to do anything cross-network, let alone do it without turning it into an advertisement.

Have you received an invite to try out the platform? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Google Planning to Bring Fiber Service to 3 More Cities

posted Friday Sep 11, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Planning to Bring Fiber Service to 3 More Cities

When it comes to learning about your every activity, Google and their new parent company have lots of options. Between Search, what's left of Google+, Photos, Android, Chrome and Docs, plus the Nest product line, the company can easily learn a lot about your activities online and offline. The problem with all of this data collection is that it is indirect.

That is where Google Fiber comes in. Following your activities online are far easier when the company controls the entire pipe into your home. Hence Google Fiber's $70 1Gbit Internet plan. The price is not because Google loves you and your cable company doesn't; instead it is because the company loves your data. They can sell your Internet practices to advertisers and more than make up for the price difference between Fiber and FiOS.

This week, they announced plans to investigate moving in to 3 more cities: Irvine, Louisville and San Diego. According to the company,

We'll work with Irvine, Louisville and San Diego to conduct a detailed study of factors that affect construction, such as local topography, housing density, and the condition of existing infrastructure. Meanwhile, cities will complete a checklist of items-such as providing a map of utility lines-that will prepare them for a large-scale fiber build.

This will be an exciting development for those who do not mind the data retention policies of Google and have been asking for the company to bring their subsidized service to their areas.

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What the Apple TV Does and Does Not Mean for Gaming

posted Friday Sep 11, 2015 by Scott Ertz

What the Apple TV Does and Does Not Mean for Gaming

With the announcement of the new Apple TV, Apple has decided to try and compete in videogames in the living room. Based on what was shown on-stage, Apple has no chance of competing with Microsoft, Sony or even Steam, but they do have a chance of competing with Nintendo. In fact, with the motion-controller built into the remote, Apple seems to be going after Nintendo directly.

The perception of Nintendo gaming, especially on the Wii or Wii U, is that it is aimed at the casual gamer. In reality, though, it is aimed at the Nintendo gamer. That is actually a very different type of gamer, with many Nintendo gamers having been dedicated for decades. Titles in the Mario, Zelda and Smash Bros. franchises sell consoles, both home and mobile. Until Nintendo releases a game for the Apple TV, there will be consumer crossover, but no consumer theft by Apple.

Playing into the casual gaming perception, Apple showed off some games that felt like they were aimed at children and mobile gamers. Things that felt like they could have lived within the Wii Sports or Mario Party catalogs as opposed to content coming from the prime titles - the ones that sell Nintendo hardware. This will give some usability to gaming on the Apple TV, but will not solidify them as a competitor.

Post presentation, however, Apple tried to show that they have plans beyond casual gaming. SteelSeries, in partnership with Apple, announced the Nimbus, an Apple TV game controller. Interestingly modeled after an Xbox controller, with A, B, X & Y buttons (colors switched), 2 analog sticks and a directional pad, a center button and bumpers, the controller is certainly intended to attempt to compete in the regular gaming market. All MiFi iOS game controller will work, though.

So, what all does this mean? It means that Apple will not sell hardware because of the games that are available on their platform, but those who already own it will be able to enjoy the games available.

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Apple's Big Day Reveals Refreshes of Existing Products and the Worst Kept Secret

posted Friday Sep 11, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Apple's Big Day Reveals Refreshes of Existing Products and the Worst Kept Secret

This week, Apple held its annual September product reveal event. In past years, the event has been primarily focused on the iPhone product line, with separate events for the iPad, and Mac, iPod and Apple TV often taking the stage at the company's World Wide Developer Conference. This year, however, Apple changed the game, bringing the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV together. It is likely that Apple did not have faith in the iPhone and iPad to hold the stage on its own, but also believed that the Apple TV announcement deserved bigger billing than WWDC.

With that said, the response to this year's presentation was mixed. The hardcore Apple fans were excited about the new additions and upgrades to the product lineup. Meanwhile, others couldn't help but notice that there was nothing particularly new onstage, simply new to the Apple ecosystem. In fact, the most tweeted about aspect of their presentation was not from them but a partner. Let's take a look at what we saw and what we didn't.

Apple Watch

The surprise participant in this year's event was the Apple Watch. While we knew that an update to the operating system was coming, having only recently launched, an update to the line was certainly not expected. Expected or not, it is exactly what we got. In addition to a new SKU in the family announced on stage, we learned that a collection of SKUs are out of stock and have been discontinued and will not be returning.

The company also showed off some of the new features of the next generation of the watchOS, along with some partners coming with the upgrade. A large focus of the presentation was around the health features of the device, including personal and professional. They also highlighted some partners, including Facebook Messenger and medical platform AirStrip.

One of the interesting aspects of the presentation was integration with GoPro. You will be able to interact with your camera remotely using an Apple Watch. While this might not seem like a particularly exciting feature to most, it was to the stock market, with GoPro's stock price rising almost $2 following the announcement.

iPad Pro

This year's worst kept secret in the tech world was the iPad Pro. We knew many specs and even the name. What we didn't know was that it was going to borrow more than the "Pro" name from Microsoft. The device would be what most would consider to be a Microsoft Surface RT competitor, in that it runs a mobile operating system instead of the full desktop experience, like the Surface Pro. The thing that sets it apart from the Surface RT is its 3rd party support.

Coming in with a 12.9" screen, an A9x processor and 4GB of RAM (announced by Adobe, not Apple), the iPad Pro is a physical hybrid of the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3. Making it even more like a Surface is the attachable keyboard. It snaps in just like Microsoft's tablet, but without the kickstand on the back, it makes using it anywhere but on a flat surface difficult. If you thought the Surface keyboard was too small, we have news for you: the iPad Pro keyboard cover is even smaller.

Adding to the Surface-like features is the new Apple Pencil, an anti-Jobs multi-pressure stylus. Despite Steve Jobs decrying the concept of a stylus for years, following the massive failure of the Apple Newton, the company decided to include a 1st party stylus accessory in the lineup for the iPad Pro. While the company has not released pressure level values, we can assume they will be similar to the Surface Pen. The difference will be that you have to actually charge the Pencil, something that I have never had to actively do with my Surface Pen in the several years I have owned it.

To add insult to injury, after announcing a pretty direct ripoff of a Microsoft product, Apple invited Microsoft on stage to demonstrate Office 2016 on the iPad Pro. It's no surprise that Apple would need Microsoft's support in launching a new productivity-focused tablet. Office is the gold standard that basically all businesses use, and there is no way that enterprise customers would even consider spending the money on this tablet if it didn't have a well implemented Office suite available at launch.

The iPad Pro will run $799 for 32GB, $949 for 128 GB and $1079 for 128GB with Cellular connectivity. The Apple Pencil does not come with the tablet and will run $99, and the Smart Keyboard runs $169. Let's compare the Surface 3, the comparable product from Microsoft, to the iPad Pro on price. For the 128GB model, a Surface 3 will run you $777 for the Surface, Pen and Keyboard Cover, while the iPad Pro will run you $1,217 and will not run full featured applications, only iOS apps.

Apple TV

The Apple TV took the direction that all of us likely expected: featuring apps. The company has upgraded the hardware and added Siri, but not the way that one might expect or hope. You can ask her questions and even search for video content, but only in the apps that Apple has chosen to implement. There will be no real developer access to Siri, so your podcast app will not be searched when someone asks Siri for Star Wars content.

Assuring that developing for Apple products is as difficult as possible, the company has brought a 4th operating system to the lineup: tvOS. Based on iOS 9, but separate and apart, developing apps for the new Apple TV will be similar to developing for their other mobile platforms, but will not be able to be exactly the same. As Microsoft is working to provide a single, unified platform for developers in Windows 10, Apple is diverging their platform to make development harder - an interesting move. Unfortunately they are taking away some capabilities from developers as well, meaning that a number of existing Apple TV apps will not be possible on the new hardware.

The new remote control has added a screen-less touchscreen. similar to what is on the PlayStation 4 controller. Indirect touch mapping is something the tech savvy consumer will enjoy, but could potentially alienate the casual consumer, which is Apple's main consumer. They have also added motion controls, in an attempt to compete in gaming.

The new Apple TV will run $149 for 32GB and $199 for 64GB.

iPhone

As per usual, the S in the iPhone name stands for "same as last year" with very little change between annual models. There are some improvements, and one truly new feature - to the iPhone, that is. Thankfully, the company started by announcing a camera upgrade, bringing the primary camera to a 12MP iSight with 4K video support. That will bring the camera closer to inline with competitors in the Android world. They have also made the FaceTime camera a 5MP and added what they call Retina Flash, an over-engineered usage of the screen as a front-facing camera flash.

The iPhone-new feature, 3D Touch, is a return to resistive touchscreens - depending on how hard you press the screen, different things will happen. It is a resistive twist on the traditional long-press concept. For example, in the Mail app, if you long-press lightly on an email, you will get a preview of the message, whereas if you long-press hard on the message you will get the full-screen email. You can also continue to interact with the phone in the traditional way - with short presses.

The problem with the concept of 3D Touch, which was originally branded Force Touch, which sounds like something you would end up in prison for, is that there is no way to intuit its usage. All of the UI elements and implementation are hidden behind invisible controls. Will an app implement 3D Touch? If so, how? What will a light or hard long-press accomplish in said app? Unfortunately, only trial and error will reveal.

The new iPhone lineup works as expected: the iPhone 5 is discontinued, the 5s becomes free, the 6 drops $100 and the 6s takes the top-tier pricing block. The gold iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been discontinued, and a new color, Rose Gold, has been added for the new handsets. The "Rose Gold" does not actually live up to its name, though, just being pink. The company has also implemented their own leasing program, similar to what you can expect from your carrier. The difference is that you can get an upgrade every 12 months instead of 24 with the carrier plans.

Numbers

One of the things that Steve Jobs was famous for was starting the presentation with numbers: new devices sold, new service subscriptions, etc. This was during the height of the Apple boom, which seems to be quickly coming to an end. Why else would the company have backtracked on everything that Jobs hated: big screens, styli, etc.? This year, the numbers we would have expected to hear from Jobs would be Apple Watch sales and Apple Music usage. The numbers we actually got were: none.

Not a single useful stat was revealed, indicating that the company is ashamed of its performance. That is inline with what we have heard already about those exact stats: the Apple Watch sold well its first week, but trailed off almost immediately. It also explains the quick discontinuation of several models of the Watch. A lack of Music numbers also runs inline with what we've heard. The still-free service has seen steep declines in usage, with people displeased with the overall interface and quality.

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PayPal Competes with Square, Launches New Payment Platform

posted Sunday Sep 6, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

PayPal Competes with Square, Launches New Payment Platform

Mobile payments have become a popular thing as of late. The ability to easily send and receive money to friends and family has been in high demand and companies have stepped up to the plate to allow these things to happen. PayPal, one of the leaders in online payments, has introduced a new site, PayPal.me, in order to let its users accomplish this goal.

PayPal has had the ability to send and receive money as gifts through its website and mobile app for a while, but sometimes there are hang-ups. Some people may not have a bank account set up with PayPal or don't want to wait the five days for the money to clear, causing issues for users. The company has decided to fall in line with the likes of Square and has introduced a quick and easy way to send cash. Setting up a customized URL is all it takes now for friends to transfer money to your account. There is a fee to use the service, of course, but only for business users. The standard PayPal fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction will apply for those with a business account registered. However, if you set up a personal Friends & Family account, there are no fees to use PayPal.me.

PayPal conducted a survey recently and said that over $51 billion in small person-to-person debt are owed to people in the US. PayPal's senior director of global consumer product management, Meron Colbeci, said, "About 50 percent of Americans say they have small debt from friends and family that is owed to them." PayPal.me's mission is to make sure you get your money back quicker and easier, especially if all it takes is clicking on a link and typing in an amount.

There is one caveat, though. Unlike Square's Cash.me site, PayPal.me will require both users to have a PayPal account to use the service. You can then just send money through your connected debit or credit cards on your account. Adversely, Cash.me allows debit card transactions for those without a Square account.

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