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HBO Now's Apple Exclusivity Ends, Coming to Android & Chromecast

posted Friday May 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

HBO Now's Apple Exclusivity Ends, Coming to Android & Chromecast

Ever since HBO Now was officially announced, the fact that it was exclusive to Apple devices was a shock. Apple holds a minority percentage of almost every market they are involved in; Android phones and tablets outnumber iPhones and iPads, Macs are statistically insignificant in the computer world and the Apple TV is outsold by many other set-top boxes, like the Roku. Why, then, did HBO Now release exclusively for Apple devices?

It is likely that Apple paid for exclusivity, to make the announcement for the much anticipated service part of their event. That exclusivity seems to have come to an end, however, as Google announced at their annual Google I/O developer event that HBO Now is headed to Google platforms. Some Google platforms, that is - it will be available on Android and Cast, but will seemingly not be natively available on Chrome OS devices.

With the end of Apple exclusivity, and a move to Google platforms, means the beginning of actual availability for the service. Hopefully this is just the beginning, with Windows 10 and web coming soon behind. The issue at hand is that we still don't know when the Google platforms will actually get the service, just that it is coming soon. Soon could be next week, or it could be after Windows 10 ships - there is currently no way to know.

As someone who spends much of his time surrounded by as many as 15 Windows screens and only two Android and one iOS screen, I really hope that HBO Now will come to Windows 10 and Xbox One in the near future and, failing that, at least the web. That would certainly expand their reach for the service, as Xbox 360 and Xbox One have been within the top streaming devices for many other services. Maybe at the official Windows 10 launch, or even at E3, we will hear about HBO Now on more platforms.

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FBI Forgets to Renew Major Domain, New Owner Runs Ads on Seized Sites

posted Friday May 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

FBI Forgets to Renew Major Domain, New Owner Runs Ads on Seized Sites

In the original days of the Internet, domain registrations did not auto-renew. This meant that at the end of your year, you had to remember to renew it manually or face losing the domain to someone else. This was especially bad when you had a popular domain, as hijackers would just wait for you to make a mistake and swoop in and steal the domain away from you. I lost my personal domain name years ago to exactly this type of mistake.

Luckily, in modern times, this is no longer an issue. All domain registrars offer auto-renewals and, for that matter, turn the option on by default. Unless you actively disable the option, or cancel you credit card or close your bank account, your domains will continue to renew for as long as you let them. This is a good thing, as it prevents hijackers from taking ownership of your domain because of a simple mistake.

This week, however, the federal government proved that if something can be screwed up, they will be the ones to pull it off. The FBI managed to lose one of their primary domains because they simply forgot to renew it. The domain, CIRFU.net, if the domain that they redirect seized domains to prevent further access to the seized materials. This is done with websites dedicated to drugs, child porn, copyright violations and the like. The most famous of those seized domains in recent memory is megaupload.com, which provided access to all sorts of content.

After failing to renew their domain, a black-hat hacker purchased the domain through a GoDaddy auction and turned into a server hosting ads, scams, drugs and porn. This is not an unusual situation in this case, especially not with a domain that is so highly in demand. What is unusual, in this case, is that it affects every domain that the FBI has seized. All of them point to this single server, meaning that every seizer domain began hosting this content.

As of right now, CIRFU.net is returning a domain error and related domains are now returning a Bing search, meaning that the domains cannot be reached and the browser's natural search feature is kicking in instead. It will be interesting to see if the FBI seizes their own domain back, if they switch to another, or if they have another plan up their sleeves.

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Konami Denies Collapse of Console Development

posted Friday May 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Konami Denies Collapse of Console Development

Over the past few months, Konami has found themselves in a PR nightmare fueled by a rash of unexplainable and seemingly insane decisions. First they removed Hideo Kojima's name form Metal Gear Solid V, much to the gaming world's disdain. This decision sparked rumors that Kojima might have been fired from, or resigned from, Konami's development group. This decision was quickly reversed, with Kojima's name returning to the game.

Next came the cancelation of one of the most anticipated games, Silent Hills, another Kojima title and the latest entry in the Silent Hill franchise. The game was to be a partnership between Kojima and Gullermo del Toro. The game also featured The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus as the main character, both in voice and appearance. This cancelation led to more rumors about Kojima's departure from the company, a rumor which Konami has not refuted.

In a letter to Ars Technica in an attempt to explain what has happened, Konami PR Director Jay Boor said,

Konami, as a company, underwent a major structural reorganization in March this year. The aim of this reform has been to guarantee that, in the quickly-changing digital entertainment industry where new game designs and platforms constantly alter the market environment, we can accurately observe new customer demands and market trends, and apply our long-established technology and knowhow quickly and effectively with a range of targeted responses.

While this explains what is happening to the structure of the company, it doesn't explain the future of the two franchises in question. Boor addressed this as well, saying,

We have nurtured them with care over many years since their inception, and will continue to produce products for both franchises, but we are not currently at a stage where we can announce the path these future titles will take.

Continuing, Boor included a full translation of the article that led many English publications to believe that Konami was abandoning console and arcade gaming in favor of a "mobile first" focus. The clarifying statement says,

Recently we often hear the term 'Mobile First,' and I want to specify that Konami's idea of Mobile First is not at all to focus purely on mobile games. Our aim is to continue to build up a comprehensive portfolio of console, arcade, and card game titles for each IP while also making the best possible use of the mobile devices that accompany our customers in their daily life, thus expanding the limits of entertainment and appealing to more and more customers.

The issue now becomes whether or not this is actually Konami's intentions. It could be that this is an attempt to fix a PR disaster that is damaging the perception of the people who will keep their doors open: gamers. If they lose the respect or trust of the gamers through odd or unexplainable decisions, there could be no recovering. Hopefully this is more than just a dodge - hopefully either this was all a big misunderstanding or Konami has learned from their mistakes and is righting the ship. It is likely that E3 this year will give us a better picture of the real future of the company.

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Google Launches 2 More Mobile Payment Platforms at Google I/O

posted Friday May 29, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Launches 2 More Mobile Payment Platforms at Google I/O

The battle over mobile payments got a little more awkward this week in a way that only Google can accomplish. At the company's annual developer event, Google announced not one but two new mobile payment platforms. Yes, you read that right: Google appears to have launched two competing payment systems on the same day.

Android Pay

First is Android Pay, the payment system we all knew was coming thanks to Google's purchase and subsequent shuttering of Softcard. While we knew about the platform, we now know details. The system will be an open API available within Android M, allowing developers to integrate functionality into their apps. This will allow for NFC or in-app purchases all through a single platform, meaning a single place to store your payment information.

Google will be taking after Apple in the way they transfer data between the device and the merchant, using a token system. What is not known at this time is exactly what will be contained in this token: whether it will be like Apple Pay's alleged token description, which passes a tremendous amount of information, or if it will more appropriately transfer a transaction identifier instead, preventing the retailer from having or needing the actual card. Considering that Google is using Host Card Emulation (HCE), it is likely that Android Pay will not be any more secure than Apple Pay.

Google Hands Free

Shortly after receiving this information, Google showed off Google Hands Free, a prototype for another payment system. This one, however, seems to skip the Android part and, instead, makes the payment via magic. The process uses no direct device transfer, but instead allows you to pay simply by saying that you'd "like to pay with Google." While very little information was given about how this works, it was said that McDonald's and Papa John's would be the prototype test partners. Also, a video was shown which felt a little more like an infomercial than a real product.

Google Wallet

In addition to Android Pay and Google Hands Free, Google Wallet will continue to exist, but will take on a new purpose: personal payments. It would appear that Wallet will be living in the same realm as most banks' mobile apps, allowing you to transfer funds from one person to another directly. Unless limitations are places on how much can be transferred, Wallet could compete against Android Pay for smaller merchants, such as food trucks, who could transfer without the credit card percentage.

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Once Again, Apple's TV Goals are Unlikely to be Realized

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Once Again, Apple's TV Goals are Unlikely to be Realized

Apple has had some insanely ambitious goals in regards to television. In fact, there have been two separate plans within the company involving strengthening their position in the television and broadcast worlds. Unfortunately for Apple, it turns out that this market might just be outside of their reach.

First has been the longest running inside joke in the tech world: the Apple television. This is different from the Apple TV, their set-top box that relies on outside content: this would be an Apple-branded television. The rumors surrounding this theoretical product have been around almost as long as the Apple TV itself, with new details popping up surrounding every product announcement event. It has never materialized, however.

Thanks to the usual "people familiar with the subject" and The Wall Street Journal, we not know that Apple had been working on this product. However, the company disbanded the team responsible over a year ago. While some people in the tech world find this a surprise, I most certainly do not, and here's why: televisions suck. No one loves their television, because they are mostly a transient technology. No one spends enough time with the television itself to have an attachment to it.

In addition, there is nowhere to innovate in the television space. You could improve the possible picture quality, but content will never catch up. 3D never did become a reality, and 4K content is still far from being available to the world, meaning those expensive 4K televisions are in reality REALLY expensive 1080p televisions. Smart televisions are a dime a dozen and yet, despite the easy access to these features, people still use their Xbox and PlayStation to access Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and the like. Why? Because televisions do not have the processing power to do it well.

The only way that Apple could have tried to accomplish something interesting in the television space is if they provided their own content, guaranteeing that your new 4K television had 4K content, for example. The problem there is, Apple is not a content company. They may be good at getting people to buy their patented rounded-corners, they do not produce anything real on a fixed schedule. Getting into producing content would be impossible, so partnering with other content providers would be their best bet. The problem there is that the content providers, it turns out, have no interest in talking with Apple about it at all.

The long-rumored streaming service appears to be shelved for the time being as well because of this. They believe that, in order to provide a full-functioned product, it would require live, local broadcasts from the Big 4. The Big 4 have made it very clear, though, that they have no interest in letting this happen, and Apple is no exception. So, for now, it appears that anyone waiting for any Apple-branded television products will have to draw their own logo on their existing televisions because nothing is coming soon.

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Teen Pleads Guity to 23 Charges, Including Harassment and Swatting

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

There is a terrible trend happening in the online gaming world called Swatting. In case you have not heard of this practice, it involves one person finding the home information of another and calling in a fake emergency call. Usually the caller claims to be within the house of the victim (the other person) and is either holding the family hostage or that they have killed everyone in the house. Because of this call, the local SWAT team shows up and kicks down the door, often barging in on a Twitch broadcast.

Obviously this is a terribly dangerous "prank" that should be taken very seriously. Luckily, law enforcement has begun to take this seriously. Earlier this year there was an arrest in Las Vegas in response to a well-publicized incident in July of last year. What it revealed was that these are not isolated incidents. In fact, the 19-year-old who was arrested had been involved in several incidents.

This week, a 17-year-old on trial in Canada pleaded guilty to 23 counts including several counts of swatting. While in most cases these "pranks" revolve around online videogame rivalries, this one turns out to have started even more ridiculously. The teenager met a girl from Florida online and began an online relationship. The problem is that the girl didn't know that this was what he thought was happening and rejected his reality. As a result he called in two threats to her school and one to her home.

These are not his only incidents, however. It turns out that, in more traditional fashion, he did look for further victims using League of Legends and Twitter. He apparently got sloppy with the later incidents, as they were done while part of an 8-hour YouTube Live broadcast in which he pulled this "prank" more than once. It also ended up being what got him arrested when enough viewers of the stream called the police.

Because of this very stupid decision, it is likely that a large portion of his young adult life will be lost to jail time when his sentencing, which takes place on June 29th, is complete. It is important, like in the Vegas case, that an example be made to try and prevent future incidents where someone could really get hurt.

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