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Electronic Arts Shutters Mythic Entertainment

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Electronic Arts Shutters Mythic Entertainment

Electronic Arts is working to streamline its mobile development by closing another studio. This time, instead of closing social-focused Playfish, EA is ending a studio that has been involved in a lot of big titles. Mythic Entertainment, creators of Dungeon Keeper and Warhammer Online and MMO pioneers of The Dark Age of Camelot, is closed.

According to a statement from EA,

We are closing the EA Mythic location in Fairfax, Va., as we concentrate mobile development in our other studio locations. We are working with all impacted employees to provide assistance in finding new opportunities, either within EA or with other companies via an upcoming job fair.

While it is nice that EA is working to find the affected employees new jobs, it is always disappointing when a 20-year-old studio closes. It is especially disappointing when that studio has been involved in projects early in the life of a genre. Unfortunately, it was to be expected when their mobile adaptations of Dungeon Keeper and Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar were such big flops. Peter Molyneux even attacked the franchise he created by saying the new version was just an EA pay-to-win title.

Hopefully everyone in the employ of the studio in Fairfax, Virginia will find new work. As for those titles, however, hopefully they will be let to disappear into the EA failure vault.

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Samsung to Replace Android on Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Samsung to Replace Android on Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

This week Samsung made a move to bring it one step closer to its ultimate goal of being Android-free. The move will see the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch replace Android with Samsung's own Tizen operating system. This will bring the original hardware in line with the newer Galaxy 2 and Galaxy 2 Neo.

Part of the reason Samsung is making this move is to help ensure that its original hardware is not running a dead platform. While the original, highly skinned version of Android is functional, it doesn't give any reason for new developers to create software for it. By moving to Tizen, the same platform that the other smartwatches run, they will be able to run all of the same software assuming that they have the sensors to support all of the features.

Another reason for Samsung to abandon Android on this platform is because of Samsung's open dislike of how Google runs Android. While their smartphone transition has been a little slower than expected, Samsung has been on the path to move from Android to Tizen entirely. By updating the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, it brings them a little closer to not having to support Android any longer.

In addition to the clear reasons for Samsung to move to Tizen, there are reasons for you as well. In addition to better battery life, you also see the ability to save music directly to the device and play without being connected to a phone added; features that are already available on the newer hardware.

So, with new features, the ability for new apps and less reliance on Android, this seems like a win for everyone involved. Have you gotten the new update? If so, let us know what you think below.

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Microsoft Announces Skype Universal Translator, Star Fleet Edition

posted Saturday May 31, 2014 by Mark Lauter

Microsoft Announces Skype Universal Translator, Star Fleet Edition

This is a guest post by Mark Lauter, president of Sumo Software.

Microsoft unveiled the next major version of Skype with real-time translation technology on Tuesday at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. While you won't be able to chat with your favorite Andorian or Tellarite via sub-space for at least another century, you will be able to speak to someone in Germany or France in their native tongue by the end of 2014. The best part is you won't have to spend weeks learning a new language with Rosetta Stone.

The product allows two people to converse in any two of over 40 languages. In video demos released by Microsoft, the translation appears to be as fast and accurate as a trained human intermediary. The technology is based on the voice-to-text or speech recognition engine that drives Microsoft's Cortana. Cortana is the new virtual personal assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1 and will be released to the general public sometime this summer. Microsoft plans to release Skype with translation technology by the end of 2014.

I can't get my hands on the next version of Skype yet, but as a software developer I do have access to the next best thing - the developer release of Cortana. I've been playing with this updated speech recognition technology for several weeks and I can tell you that it is nothing short of amazing. I've always been an enthusiast of natural language interaction with computers. Geeks aged 35 and older probably remember watching the crew of the Enterprise interact with the computer like it was a virtual crew member. Well, that was supposed to be a couple hundred years in the future.

Just last year I did a project that involved voice-to-text transcription services. We tried out several market leading technologies. Some were better than others, but none was capable of near 100% recognition. I told our client that we might be 10 years from meaningful advances. I was right and I was wrong. The massive improvement from the Windows Phone 8 to 8.1 technology is not incremental. It represents a total paradigm shift in the way researchers are approaching the problem of speech recognition. I won't bore you with all the technobabble details, but this new approach, called deep learning, is being applied to lots of computer science problems. This is the real story. It means that in the next few years you can expect surprisingly rapid acceleration and innovation in the high-tech world.

What does that mean for you? Better phones, more engaging games and entertainment, and devices we haven't even dreamed of. Microsoft already had great language translation tech. They already had great text-to-speech tech. All they did was add the first truly great voice-to-text tech to that mix and POW, a new product straight from the world of science fiction. We might still be a few hundred years from the first warp engine and first contact, but we'll be ready thanks to the brilliant engineers at Microsoft Research.

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Beats Acquired by Apple for $3 Billion

posted Friday May 30, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Beats Acquired by Apple for $3 Billion

After about two weeks of rumors, the news officially dropped this week. Apple has acquired Beats Music and Beats Electronics to the tune of $3 billion. Both co-founders of Beats, actor, six-time Grammy Award-winning rapper, producer and all-around hip hop mogul Dr. Dre, and CEO of Interscope Geffen Jimmy Iovine, will move over to Apple. The cash breaks down at $2.6 billion upfront and $400 million paid over time, making Dr. Dre hip hop's first billionaire.

Beats brings a lot of property over to Apple in this move, and even though people recognize their highly-advertised Beats headphones as the flagship seller, Apple's acquisition of the company was definitely for other products. Beats Music, the up-and-coming music-streaming service, recently launched and has already gained 500,000 subscribers, largely in part to its name and its special offerings with AT&T. And, more importantly, the Beats Audio hardware technology, which provides unmatched 24-bit sound quality for both playback and recording in computers, will likely find its way into Apple computers in the future.

This is certainly a fitting move for Apple, a company that's rested its laurels on simply buying technology that it cannot create or sustain itself. Picking up a superior audio technology and a music-streaming service that iTunes Radio wishes it could be would seemingly complete the perplexing puzzle that is Apple's place in the music space beyond iTunes.

Apple CEO Tim Cook so eloquently explains that in his statement regarding the acquisition.

Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple. That's why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.

For Jimmy Iovine, he will leave his role as CEO of Interscope Geffen and take on a position in Apple. His story is really an interesting one as he started his career cleaning floors in New York City recording studios. Before taking over as a media icon for one of the largest labels in the music industry, Iovine was seen as a production visionary, creating music with legends such as John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Nicks. Most are also unaware that Iovine was one of the first people to see iTunes and that he had a hand in shifting the culture of the industry into buying single songs digitally.

And of course, we can't forget about Monster, the company that started the relationship with Iovine, Dre and Beats and initially came up with the concept to introduce a high-end music listening experience to the masses. You can say what you will about the company's cable (of which I will personally and factually refute to no end) but Monster's headphones are miles above the rest in terms of true, intended sound. I reached out to CEO of Monster Noel Lee for a statement on the acquisition of his brainchild.

Wow, a 3 billion dollar deal for Beats is an incredible achievement for Jimmy and Dre. We are glad to see that the company that we started together would turn into a Monster. The size of this investment shows what can be possible with Monster with our own new technologies in the headphone and speaker space. We look forward to our future collaborations that opens our eyes to how companies like ours can be valued as a part of youth and music culture. It will be exciting to see how this marriage will explode the portable music category once again. Monster will indeed play an important role for bringing incredible music experiences to consumers, as it did when Monster created Beats.

The future is bright for music, streaming or otherwise. I want to thank Jimmy and Dre for pioneering the way in marketing and Beats Music, and putting a spotlight to the value of companies in our space.

I can attest to the power of Beats Audio hardware technology in both laptops and mobile devices and I am honestly curious as to how Apple will handle its implementation into a possible MacBook or iPhone. I wonder how HTC is handling all of this, considering the company sold back its $150 million investment in Beats after just a year. Granted, they made back double of what they put in, but it's not a part of the $3 billion pie.

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Amazon Punishes Publisher Over Pricing

posted Sunday May 25, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Amazon Punishes Publisher Over Pricing

What happens when a large company that owns the market doesn't get what they want? Someone is punished. That's exactly what happened when Amazon didn't get the price reduction they wanted in negotiations with Hachette, the smallest of the five main book publishers.

After negotiations broke down, Amazon made changes to Hachette's listings; prices went up, delivery time went up and the books stop being featured. This includes JK Rowling's new novel The Silkworm, which has been completely removed from the site, as well as The Everything Store, which is a book about how Amazon does business.

Hachette is resisting Amazon's insistence that eBook prices be lower, an issue that once got Apple and publishers sued for price fixing. Now, without the power of Apple's illegal union behind them, Hachette is seeing a lot of trouble fighting this battle.

Neither Amazon nor Hachette have commented publicly on what is going on, but it is very clear that the two companies' business models are at odds. This is the type of move from a company from like Amazon that leads to a new, emerging marketplace.

As Amazon has grown its businesses in AWS, Fire, etc., their perception in the shopping world has been declining quickly. Is it time for a new Amazon.com competitor? Is this move to punish one of the largest book publishers the one that makes it possible? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Facebook's New Way to Share Your Music and Movie Habits is a Little Cool, a Little Creepy

posted Sunday May 25, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Facebook's New Way to Share Your Music and Movie Habits is a Little Cool, a Little Creepy

Whenever a story about Facebook comes up, you could probably guess it has a little bit of crazy in it. Things like spending over half a billion dollars on a police station, buying Oculus VR for $2 billion and ruling the skies with solar-powered drones are all considered normal for Facebook's wallet as of late. But occasionally the company makes an interesting internal change or feature-add as well, and no, I'm not talking about the latest layout that you either love or hate. This time, Facebook is launching a way for your smartphone to hear you TV and post about the show you're watching.

Facebook took to its newsroom this week to announce a new way to share and discover music, TV and movies. If you're writing a status update, your smart device's microphone will be able to listen in on what song is playing through your speakers, or what show or movie is playing. This way, you can tell all your friends without ever having to move your thumbs. It's convenient but a little creepy at the same time. Luckily, Facebook has made this a completely optional feature.

Facebook Product Manager, Aryeh Selekman, posted on how it works:

If you've turned the feature on, you'll see an audio icon moving on the screen when you write a status update. If the feature finds a match, you can then choose to add the song, TV show or movie to your post.

Like with any post, you choose who can see it. You can also turn the feature off at any time by clicking the audio icon in the top right of the screen.

If you leave the feature on, you will see the audio icon move and attempt to detect a match when you're writing a status update. No sound is stored and you'll always get to choose whether you post to your friends.

Now, it is pretty cool that if you do decide to share music, a 30-second preview of the song will attach to your status update. And for shows, the season and episode will display so that your friends who haven't seen that episode yet don't have to click on the comments and have it ruined by spoilers.

Naturally, it will be available for Android and iOS users in the US in the next couple of weeks. Sadly, not for Windows Phone. I will say, it'd be kind of cool to share tracks with your friends, but I'm not sure if I'd want to leave this option on by default. Seems a little creepy and I'm not sure that many friends care that much about what content I'm watching at all times. Your mileage may vary.

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