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Toshiba Teams with Microsoft on New Internet of Things Initiative

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Toshiba Teams with Microsoft on New Internet of Things Initiative

In the ever-growing Internet of Things space, it's becoming harder and harder to stand out from the long list of devices, platforms and technologies. With the help of Microsoft, Toshiba is looking to gain the upper hand by truly harnessing the power of the cloud.

Announced at Computex in Taipei, Toshiba has signed a deal with Microsoft that will allow the company to use Microsoft's Azure services to boost its Internet of Things offerings. By the end of 2015, Toshiba says it will combine Azure with its various sensors, devices and apps in order to bring more offerings to enterprise customers.

Microsoft's OEM VP Nick Parker spoke at the conference.

Bringing together the power of the Azure Services and IoT Suite with Toshiba's cutting edge sensor-driven devices will provide a new level of data access and business intelligence to customers.

The first thing we should expect to see out of the deal will be a logistics solution that will take advantage of Azure Machine Learning, allowing devices in shipping vehicles the ability to track the finer points of package delivery. Toshiba said that the system will be powered off of a battery that can continually operate for six months before needing to be replaced or recharged.

This deal is part of Toshiba's efforts to achieve the company's "Human Smart Community" initiative, that pairs technology with real-life applications to make the world a better place overall. It was only a matter of time until a company would combine a greater good effort with the power of Azure to come up with a different way of accomplishing big-picture tasks.

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Showtime to Offer Streaming Without Cable, Partnering With Apple

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Showtime to Offer Streaming Without Cable, Partnering With Apple

When HBO announced HBO Now, the thing that seemed like a mistake to many was its Apple exclusivity. There may be a lot of Apple devices in the world, but when it comes to set-top boxes, Apple is far from a market leader. In fact, they are barely a market player. Their numbers are beat by nearly every set-top box and console on the market. Why, then, would they have launched Apple exclusive?

That exclusivity may have already ended, but that is not the end of the odd behavior. This week, CBS announced that they would be releasing a Showtime streaming service to compete with HBO Now. This would give users the ability to interact with Showtime content without needing a cable subscription, giving potential cord cutters one more reason to pull the plug, literally and figuratively.

The service will launch in July, with an expected date of July 12. This is based on Showtime's plan to launch in time for the Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan premieres. The service will run users in the United States $10.99 per month and will offer live channels and on demand content. There is one annoying caveat: the service is launching Apple exclusive.

iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV owners will be the only ones capable of using the service at launch, though the company has said that other platform announcements are incoming. So why would a service obviously aimed at cord cutters, designed to be watched on a television premiere on a platform that is statistically insignificant? It is all about Apple trying to make Apple TV a worthwhile product.

Right now, the device is fairly useless. Outside of these occasional exclusive launches, there has been very little reason to own one. There are more services available on Roku, more capabilities on Xbox and easier ways to share a screen from a phone or computer. Apple is making the device the hub for its upcoming HomeKit offerings, but that is unlikely to be enough to grab the attention of users. What they need is content, and they clearly believe that short-term initial lock-ins are the way to do it.

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Yahoo to Shutter More Products, Including Maps

posted Sunday Jun 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo to Shutter More Products, Including Maps

Ever since Marissa Mayer left Google and took over Yahoo, she has worked hard to turn Yahoo into everything her former employer was not: lean and focused. This has caused her to shed products, time and again, in an effort to bring the company down to the core content offering and the products that support it. In the past, most of the products that have been lost have been consumer-facing, legacy products.

This week, the company took a new tact, closing up a number of developer-focused offerings, many of which were also legacy. All but one of the closures were expected, with one being a surprise, but not a shock. The surprise was the closure of Yahoo Maps, a platform that developers relied heavily on in years past, but has been phased out by most in favor of Bing, HERE or Google mapping services. The fact that the current iteration of Yahoo Maps is powered by HERE is a great reason to avoid it and go directly to the source. In addition, the user interface for the consumer-side of the product leaves much to be desired. The service will be retired at the end of the month.

Another product going away is Yahoo Pipes. Based on a UNIX concept, Pipes were designed to create web-based widgets from existing data. As most things inspired from UNIX, the system wasn't terribly easy to use and has been easily replaced by more modern technologies. In this case, jQuery UI has the ability to do most of what Pipes did, all without having to rely on another company's code or server availability. The service will go into read-only mode on August 30, with shutdown scheduled for September 30.

Also on the list are GeoPlanet and PlaceSpotter. These two APIs provide data for helping to merge the digital and physical worlds through permanent physical location data, etc. These direct APIs were actually replaced by the Yahoo Query Language and Yahoo BOSS. In this case, the data is not being retired, only the old ways of accessing it. This is purely a consolidation of internal development efforts. These older APIs will vanish sometime in Q3.

The company will also be shuttering access to their servers from older technology, specifically the unpatched older Apple software, which likely still has the decade's old SSL bypass bug. This is simply a precaution for the few devices that might still exist in the wild running iOS versions prior to 5 and Mac OS X prior to 10.8. There are also a slue of regional sites being closed, many being redirected to other regions.

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Phil Spencer Promises Xbox on Windows Will Not be Games for Windows Live

posted Saturday Jun 6, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Phil Spencer Promises Xbox on Windows Will Not be Games for Windows Live

In 2013, Microsoft gave up on Games for Windows Live, their attempt at a unified gaming experience on the PC. It was originally billed as a PC companion to their ultra successful Xbox platform, but never quite got there. The two tried to meet in the middle near the end, with PC game listings showing up on Xbox.com, but it didn't seem to help, and the service was shuttered.

The company shifted their focus to gaming on the Windows Store - both PC and Phone - promoting the single store as the place to publish and get the best games for the Windows Platform. The Windows 8 Xbox companion apps, in the form of SmartGlass and the Windows Phone Xbox app, created an Xbox presence on both platforms, but one that was not terribly exciting. It gave access to profiles and achievements, but it certainly lacked the authenticity of Xbox itself.

With Windows 10, Microsoft is going back to its gaming focus, but doing it in a totally different way. By bringing the Xbox platform directly to Windows, it is a bit of a return to Games for Windows Live, which is both a blessing and a possible curse. Gamers have had a lot of fear that Microsoft could see a massive failure in the same way, leaving many to question the validity of the new platform. However, their transparent approach this time around could help. Phil Spencer said,

We want to make clear that when we talk about Xbox going forward, we're talking about gaming on all Windows 10 devices - PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox One, and HoloLens. And we'll talk about some of the games we have coming to the PC this year.

Our vision is to unify platforms so gamers can play the games they want on any Windows 10 device-PC, Xbox One, or otherwise. That can come in the form of game streaming to a Windows 10 PC from Xbox One or simultaneously shipping games on both platforms. While we want to break down the walls between platforms, we also know that certain games are optimized for certain devices.

While Xbox on Windows will feature a games store, the company does not believe that they will be in direct competition with Steam or Origin by EA. In fact, they seem to think that Xbox will be a good pairing with those distribution channels, even allowing Xbox to record and distribute recorded gameplay from games purchased there and not through Xbox. Spencer said that he believes the only direct competition is with exclusives on other platforms: App Store and Google Play.

Hopefully the fact that Xbox One will be based on the same core as PCs, Windows 10, will prevent this attempt from failing the way that Games for Windows Live did. The fact that there will be direct developer support this time could be all that is needed to accomplish this.

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3rd Time's a Charm: T-Mobile Looking for Merger with Dish Network

posted Saturday Jun 6, 2015 by Scott Ertz

3rd Time's a Charm: T-Mobile Looking for Merger with Dish Network

The telecom world has always been an incestuous one, filled with partner swapping and friends quickly becoming enemies. The best proof of this comes from a report this week from The Wall Street Journal that suggests that T-Mobile and Dish Network have begun talks about a possible merger. The talks are said to be very early and might not ever be finalized. The combined company would be led by CEO John Legere (T-Mobile CEO) and board chairman Charlie Ergen (Dish CEO).

While it may seem like this combined company is an odd idea, it is by far not the weirdest part of the story. To get a feel for just how odd all of this really is, let's go back to 2010. This was a time before John Legere, and long before anyone knew the name Softbank. The quickly failing T-Mobile was looking for a way to stay in business, and it started with a simple talk with Clearwire. The company was powering Sprint's WiMax network and T-Mobile wanted in. Ultimately this partnership was not to be, with Sprint owning over half of Clearwire it just didn't make sense.

T-Mobile's next step was to try for a merger, their first try, with AT&T Mobility for $39 billion. This announcement took place almost exactly 1 year after rumor broke of the Clearwire talks. The timeline suggests that T-Mobile's management must have left Clearwire's offices and drove directly to AT&T. Famously, however, this merger did not work out, costing AT&T $2 billion care of the federal government. At the same time that all fell apart, it was revealed that Sprint had been in talks with MetroPCS - that also didn't work.

In October of 2012, T-Mobile purchased MetroPCS despite their seemingly incompatible networks. T-Mobile put the purchase to good use, however, finally adding 4G to their network instead of blatantly lying up to this point. Not to be outdone, Sprint announced a purchase by Softbank just a few days later. Dish Network began their interest in telecom by offering a bid against Softbank. This wasn't Dish's only challenge, and the other came against Sprint itself, making an offer on Clearwire, which Sprint was in the process of purchasing.

When the Softbank-Sprint merger was approved, Softbank set their sights on T-Mobile, beginning their 2nd attempt at a life-saving merger. These talks never went anywhere, and T-Mobile instead rolled out their Un-carrier marketing, attempting to separate themselves from the big 3 instead of attempting to join them. Meanwhile, Dish Network also lost Clearwire to Sprint, leaving them with a lot of exposure and zero result in the mobile world.

Now, here we are 5 years after the beginning of this weird drama, and Dish Network has found itself a third acquisition target, and T-Mobile has found themselves a third suitor. Will the third time be the charm for both of these companies, or will lightning refuse to strike on a successful merger for either of these companies? It is likely the latter, as management for both companies seems to be the limiting factor, but maybe when 4 failures add up, it becomes the catalyst for success. I wouldn't hold my breath on it, though.

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Microsoft Teams with Duke University to Slash Cloud Computing Bandwidth

posted Sunday May 31, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft Teams with Duke University to Slash Cloud Computing Bandwidth

Microsoft, in its persistent effort to push the boundaries of cloud computing and gaming, have teamed up with a Duke University researcher to continue to do just that. The pair will be collaborating on reducing the bandwidth required to stream games from the cloud.

So far, Microsoft says it is able to cut the bandwidth needed by over 80 percent. The idea is that the workload can be split up between powerful servers and local CPUs, effectively cutting the overall load and making cloud gaming a more viable option.

The new method and toolset, named Kahawai, is already being used in test environments with much success. In fact, Doom 3 was loaded under this new way of computing and was consistently running at 60 frames per second.

In the end, this benefits those with slower connection, as it won't take a super high-end Internet speed to enjoy cloud gaming. It also helps those who are suffering from ISP bandwidth caps.

Duke computer scientist Landon Cox is excited about Kahawai's potential.

That's a huge win, especially if your cellphone plan has a data cap. You'll be able to play a lot longer. You essentially get the same gaming experience, but you save a lot of data.

He added that the technology can even be expanded beyond gaming.

Games are a natural place to start understanding how collaborative rendering can work, but any graphics-intensive application could potentially benefit from Kahawai, from 3-D medical imaging to computer-aided design software used by architects and engineers.

We have a demo video of the new technology after the break.

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