The UpStream

Google Renames Android Wear as Wear OS, Renewing Hope of a New Focus

posted Saturday Mar 17, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Renames Android Wear as Wear OS, Renewing Hope of a New Focus

This week, Google made an announcement that was not expected: Android Wear is no more. The product is not being shuttered, but instead it has been rebranded as Wear OS by Google. Google claims that the reason for the change is related to a change in their customer base.

As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone. So as the watch industry gears up for another Baselworld next week, we're announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all-the people who wear our watches. We're now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone.

It makes sense that Google would be moving away from the Android brand. The general iPhone owner is, for one reason or another, anti-Android. Calling the platform Android Wear has likely limited sales to iPhone customers, despite iPhone accounting for a third of sales last year.

Unfortunately, the name is the least of the brand's issues. In reality, the brand needs a lot of attention, which Google has not given it for some time. Devices running the OS require a lot of interaction to get any information, for a number of reasons. For one, there is no way to pair down which notifications you receive from an app. You can either get all notifications from your email, or none. There is no way to only be informed if you get an email from your boos, for example. Second, the interface is way more complicated than it needs to be. Tons of swiping to move through apps and notifications makes the 2 seconds you save not pulling out your phone seemingly not worth it.

Hopefully, with the change of name will come some actual work from Google on the platform itself. This would not be the first time a brand change or revamp has come before a product revamp. For example, before Google modernized the nearly abandoned Google Voice product, they modernized the logo. While the product category of wearables has mostly languished of late, perhaps having some innovation and competition in the space from someone other than Apple and Samsung will revitalize demand.

NBC to Reduce Commercials in Their Primetime Broadcasts

posted Sunday Mar 4, 2018 by Scott Ertz

NBC to Reduce Commercials in Their Primetime Broadcasts

While large parts of the internet rely on advertising to make their services work, certain paid subscription services have made a name for themselves. Streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, have had a particular influence on how people consume media. The biggest change comes in the fact that Netflix features no advertising, and Hulu features few ads with the option to remove them entirely.

Broadcast television, on the other hand, has not caught on to this trend. Over time, networks have shortened their shows and extended the commercial breaks, the opposite of the trend that has made online services successful. There is a balancing act with broadcast, though: as you lose viewers, you need more ads to make the same revenue. One of the networks is banking on the idea that it works the other way, too.

NBC has announced that, starting later in the year, they will be lowering the number of ads shown during their primetime shows. They are hoping that, by dropping some of the ads, they can pick up some younger viewers who have never experienced television the way that networks air them. This change will apply to 50 of NBCUniversal's home-grown primetime programming, and will include shorter breaks and shorter ads within those breaks, culminating in about a 20% decrease in ads.

Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversals' chairman of advertising and client partnerships, told Variety,

There are more and more consumers, whether it's from Hulu or the Netflixes or Amazons of the world, who are liberated via technology... TV networks would be crazy to believe that anything other than commercial overhaul was anything other than inevitable.

This is a big gamble for the network. They are going to have to see an increase in viewership across these programs for the experiment to continue and expand beyond the 50ish programs. It is a positive sign to see that NBC is recognizing the change that services like Hulu, which they own a 30% stake in, have introduced to the industry, and are willing to try a similar approach in primetime.

Twitter CEO Recognizes Issues, Sees No Solution

posted Sunday Mar 4, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Twitter CEO Recognizes Issues, Sees No Solution

There is no secret that in the age of the internet, the reach of our power of speech has grown to a level unimaginable just a few decades ago. While it used to require a printing press and funds to get your opinion to more than your small circle of friends, today it only requires a phone and a social network. The lowering of the barrier to entry to speak to a wide audience has meant that more people can be heard, but it also means that more people can be heard.

It requires no training or thought to create a Twitter account and begin speaking to an anonymous audience. Because of that, people say things that they might not otherwise say, if they had to attach an identity to their words. Twitter has been aware that their platform is often used for mean-spirited, illegal and misinformational content.

This week, Twitter's CEO, Jack Dorsey, tweeted about the problem. In the thread, he said,

We love instant, public, global messaging and conversation. It's what Twitter is, and it's why we're here. But we didn't fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences. We acknowledge that now and are determined to find holistic and fair solutions. We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We aren't proud of how people have taken advantage of our service or our inability to address it fast enough.

There is a wide variety of issue with trying to deal with the problems that exist on the platform. The biggest issue, of course, is the same one that all of the social networks are experiencing: who decides what content should and should not be acceptable on the platform? What is a real person and what is a bot? How do you determine the difference? When dealing with content, who decides what is true and what is not? Just because it's a "conspiracy theory," does that make the content offensive? Conspiracy about the assassination of JFK has been around since the day it happened, but the books written about it have never been recalled because someone was offended.

This is, more than anything, the reason why Twitter, and the other social platforms, have been reluctant to make changes to their algorithms and to start policing content. They don't want to be seen as content censors, because that is a guaranteed way to lose at least part of your customer base. In the first episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, there is a fantastic quote that most of the modern world forgets,

Living with this free speech means sometimes you get offended.

Physical Videogames to Get In-Game Purchase Warnings

posted Saturday Mar 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

It all began with the free-to-play titles: a game that is theoretically free to play, but that involves in-game purchases to either enhance the experience or to get past a certain level. The model existed on PC, but was never a major player. It wasn't until mobile gaming that we saw a rather constant implementation of free-to-play. Nearly ever successful mobile game, from Candy Crush to Pokémon GO has implemented the free-to-play concept well.

At some point, however, the model of in-game purchases left the semi-exclusivity of free-to-play and migrated to paid games. There had always been DLC for games, but playing a paid game without the DLC was never painful or impossible; only adding bonus content to an already established game. Today, that isn't quite how it works. Often times, when you purchase a $60 videogame, you only get part of the game. To play the full game, you still need to purchase additional content via in-game purchases.

The most controversial version of this has been Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that would cost over $2,000 worth of in-game purchases to get the entire game. This game prompted a Congressional investigation into in-game purchases and loot boxes in games, which is still ongoing. However, the ESRB, the US videogame ratings board, has decided to take at least some action on their own.

Starting soon, the ESRB will be creating a campaign to inform buyers of physical games, either in retail or from online, that a game contains in-game purchases. In addition to the ESRB rating, retail packages will begin featuring a warning, similar to what we see in mobile app stores, that a game has additional costs.

The new In-Game Purchases label will be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency, including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads).

There is no announced launch date for the new labeling, but the ESRB does promise that it will begin appearing in the "near future."

iPhone's Most Hated Feature has Become a New Trend for 2018

posted Saturday Mar 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

iPhone's Most Hated Feature has Become a New Trend for 2018

The most distinguishable feature of Apple's iPhone X was not the one they had hoped. Rather than the "all screen" design, which is definitely a wishful thinking marketing campaign, the most noticeable feature is the notch at the top of the screen. This design element makes the screen look bizarre and makes the OS strange to use. It is also the phone's most hated feature.

Whether you are a user or a developer, no one seems to like the notch. The idea is fairly obvious: use as much of the body of the device as possible, while still maintaining the front-facing camera, speaker and Face ID sensor. The problem, of course, is that it makes the phone work in a way that no one would expect. If a wireless network's name is longer than a few characters, the name no longer displays normally, but instead scrolls constantly. The behavior of apps is also wildly changed, with all apps having to be rebuilt to support the unnecessary design idea.

Of course, Apple didn't create the notch; that distinction goes to the Essential phone, though they took it in a different direction. The notch there was as small as possible, only surrounding the camera.

Somehow, however, this idea that consumers seem to hate is catching on with other hardware vendors. At Mobile World Congress, a number of phones were spotted looking similar, if not identical, to the iPhone X, notch and all. Of course some small companies were going to make knock-offs, but it was the big companies that were surprising. For example, the announcement of the Asus Zenfone 5 showed that Android users and developers were about the face the same annoyance that Apple owners and devs have. In addition, Huawei and LG also have devices sporting the notch.

As this manufactured "trend" increases, there are some important things to know for owners. The most important is that apps are not going to work on these phones. It is a guarantee that information will be lost or, in some cases, the apps will simply fail. The likelihood is that the big Android developers, like Microsoft and Facebook, will deal with these issues quickly (they were some of the first to support the iPhone notch), but most developers will never try. That's because there are already too many different types of phone hardware to support that creating a whole new UI concept to support some smaller phones is not in their budget.

Apple has the ability to force developers to follow certain hardware-specific rules, but Google does not have that same power, because they do not control the ecosystem. It is one of the long-running issues for Android: version inconsistencies, hardware diversity and API variations. These things are also what make Android so powerful in the market, but Google has gotten itself into the same situation that Microsoft has been in for decades, but this time Apple has affected them in a negative way. The notch could certainly cause issues across the Android landscape.

Disney's Lawsuit Against Redbox Could Have Unexpected Side-Effect

posted Saturday Feb 24, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Disney's Lawsuit Against Redbox Could Have Unexpected Side-Effect

Often times, when a company files suit over copyright claims, the end result is predictable. For example, when Disney sued Redbox for reselling the digital distribution codes that are bundled with DVDs, most of the industry saw what was going to happen: Redbox was going to stop selling the codes. Obviously, the codes come as a package deal with the DVDs, so it should be a slam dunk, right?

Wrong. Federal Judge Dean Pregerson decided to throw a surprising wrench into the works during an initial hearing where Disney was looking to stop Redbox's practice during the trial. The judge used a mostly unknown and almost never used aspect of copyright law, which states that enforcement can be prevented if the copyright is being misused. In this case, the judge believes that tying the ownership of the digital distribution to the ownership of the physical discs was a misuse of copyright law.

Obviously Disney intends to appeal this ruling, for a number of reasons. If this ruling were to be allowed to stand, it would have sweeping implications across a number of industries. Let's start with the most obvious: Hollywood. If the ownership rules were to allow the discs and digital to be split, the immediate response would be for the bundles to stop. The only reason you get the digital version for free is because it is a single owner.

Possibly more importantly, there are a tremendous number of products that bundle software that is not allowed to be split. For example, you buy a digital camera, it might come with a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements. We all know that you cannot resell that copy of Photoshop, but with this ruling, that may no longer be the case. That free videogame that came with your videocard? Same thing might apply there.

With a change in copyright enforcement, stemming entirely from this case, might come a change in how we purchase products. DVDs may no longer come with digital download codes. Videogames may no longer come with DLC download codes. Videocards may no longer come with a free videogame. Commercial network hardware may not come with the management software. This could be a game changer that none of us expected to see.

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