The smartphone market has changed a lot in the past decade. Where once there was a thriving marketplace of ideas and platforms, today we have but 2 with commercial viability: iOS and Android. As the shift from diversity and choice to more sterile uniformity has been accepted, it has claimed some of the pioneers of the industry. For example, BlackBerry has abandoned its purposefully secure platform in favor of the security lacking Android. But other manufacturers have made self-sacrifices in the name of Android which have ultimately cost them dearly.
Motorola and HTC were both early innovators in the formerly diverse smartphone ecosystem. Motorola made phones with and without physical keyboards, featuring Windows Mobile 5 and 6. HTC produced white labeled hardware for Palm, white labeled hardware for carriers, like T-Mobile, as well as devices under their own brand. HTC's devices ran Palm OS as well as Windows Mobile. Both manufacturers recognized the value of additional diversity early on, quickly adding Android devices to their lineups. The decision has not fared well for either.
Motorola put themselves up for sale several years ago, ending up in Google's hands. As expected, Google was incapable of running a hardware division, and Motorola was eventually sold to Lenovo at a
$9 billion loss. Lenovo has some ideas to revive the brand, but so far has not had the successes they had hoped for.
Now we have HTC, the company at the center of the smartphone market for many years, looking to go the same way. After putting all of their eggs in the Android basket, as opposed to embracing the diversity that made them a success, the company has found themselves unable to compete with the likes of Samsung. In an attempt to diversity their offerings, they paired up with Valve to create the HTC Vive VR hardware, which has seen some successes, but the market is simply not large enough to support the company.
According to Bloomberg, the company is exploring strategic options, which is business speak for looking for a buyer. The current wisdom points to interest from Google, who already ran Motorola into the ground. Though they have learned some about running a hardware division, the idea of Google succeeding in the phone business themselves is almost a joke. Their Nexus/Pixel program has been a much better idea, as Google gets to spotlight some of their strategic partners, as opposed to trying to understand the difficult nature of hardware development.
It would appear that HBO's security procedures need to be reassessed. In the past few weeks, several different incidents have ended with unaired episodes of HBO shows being leaked to the public ahead of their official release. A group of hackers recently demanded money from the network to prevent the release of data that had been stolen from their servers, including scripts for
Game of Thrones episodes, emails from executives and more.
If that was the only data, HBO would likely have ignored the threats. However, more damaging data was included in that stolen - cast lists for
Game of Thrones, which included names, addresses and phone numbers. That kind of information is what will cause HBO to respond to future demands. If additional cast lists are included in the over 1TB of data stolen in this breach.
Unfortunately for HBO, this isn't the only issue they are dealing with. In India, employees of an HBO partner released a full episode of
Game of Thrones before its airing in the country. The partner is responsible for streaming the content after its initial airing, but the employees took the data and made it public unofficially. Unlike the direct hackers, these employees were dealt with almost immediately. In fact, all 4 people involved were arrested in India. Though arrests were made, investigations are ongoing into how and why this incident happened.
In addition to
Game of Thrones, new episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, whose series reboot won't officially happen until October, have also leaked online. This is a huge problem for the network, and one that absolutely needs to be solved. The value of the company and the brand are dependent upon getting their data policies under control, retaining episodes from partners until completely necessary, and respond to any future breaches with swift action.
Over the past few months, a bizarre new trend has started on Facebook - videos that are just still images. The trend is so prevalent that just a week or so ago, my own father asked me why it was happening, and if it made any sense. I have put a lot of thought into the trend, but have been unable to figure it out myself. It's possible that it has to do with analytics for page managers, it's possible that it has to do with auto-play on mobile, or maybe even guaranteeing that different platforms don't resize the image. The most likely cause, however, is Facebook's own algorithm, which often promotes videos over images in news feeds.
Whatever the reasoning, Facebook has recognized the trend as being without benefit, and is working to end the practice. The company will be adjusting their algorithm to end the video promotion. The content will not be removed entirely from Facebook, but it will no longer get the artificial inflation that it had previously received. To accomplish this, Facebook will use a technology they care calling "motion scoring," in which they look for actual motion in the video to detect still images. That should, hopefully, put an end to the trend entirely.
Another similar, but very different trend that has come about is placing a fake play button on top of the image that is shared on Facebook when a link is shared. We've all seen it at least once - it looks like a video initially, but when you click on it, it takes you to a website of questionable value. Those links will also be demoted in the news feed in an attempt to prevent deceptive practices. A spokesperson said,
While the prevalence is statistically low, the frustration expressed by people who use Facebook who encounter these deceptive practices is high.
It's good to see that Facebook is starting to take these issues seriously. As anyone knows, when you add rules to something, you turn it into a game. Sometimes, the best players of a game are nefarious. As far as Facebook is concerned, the algorithm is the rule set, and the fake videos are the result of playing the game. As the referees, it is Facebook's responsibility to make sure that the rules promote the proper behavior, not deceptive practices.
11 months ago, Blizzard made an unexpected announcement:
the retirement of Battle.net, in favor of a focus on the Blizzard brand itself. The company's Battle.net Launcher was renamed to Blizzard Launcher, the location where the branding was definitely most visible. The company's reasoning for the transition was explained,
When we created Battle.net, the idea of including a tailored online-gaming service together with your game was more of a novel concept, so we put a lot of focus on explaining what the service was and how it worked, including giving it a distinct name. Over time, though, we've seen that there's been occasional confusion and inefficiencies related to having two separate identities under which everything falls - Blizzard and Battle.net. Given that built-in multiplayer support is a well-understood concept and more of a normal expectation these days, there isn't as much of a need to maintain a separate identity for what is essentially our networking technology.
But, while the company committed to retiring the brand, they had some visible issues. For example, when the
Destiny 2 PC launch was announced to fall under the Blizzard brand, parent company Activision, as well as developer Bungie, repeatedly referred to the brand as Battle.net. This consistent slip illustrated the issue that Blizzard was up against: the brand had been around for 2 decades and was the face of the company for all that time. Getting people, even their own employees, to change their habits would be nearly impossible.
The company has finally come around to reality, this week announcing that Battle.net would be sticking around, with only a slight name change. They will be adding the Blizzard brand at the head, now calling the service Blizzard Battle.net. The company said in a statement,
Battle.net is the central nervous system for Blizzard games and the connective tissue that has brought Blizzard players together since 1996. The technology was never going away, but after giving the branding change further consideration and also hearing your feedback, we're in agreement that the name should stay as well. Take it from the developer formerly known as Silicon & Synapse, and Chaos Studios, names are important too.
It is unlikely that anyone, including Blizzard themselves, will ever verbally refer to the service by its new, full name, but it is reasonable that they would want to emphasize their own branding. If names are important, as they say, then putting your own brand in front of as many eyes as possible is the right choice, at least in logo and writing. There is no telling what branding that has already been changed, will be reverted. The Blizzard Launcher might keep its name, or see its branding reverted.
Since the introduction of Touch ID, there have been some potential legal issues for owners. When the feature was first introduced, Marcia Hofmann of Wired Magazine pointed out
Touch ID could override the 5th Amendment. Police are allowed to make someone perform a simple task, such as walking a straight line during a traffic incident, but they cannot compel you to share information without a warrant. Her prediction was that, eventually a court would rule that placing your finger on the device would not be protected the way that sharing your password is protected.
A year later, a Virginia court
ruled in the police favor, allowing them to force a Touch ID unlock without a warrant. Since then, iPhone owners all over the country have been forced to make a choice - do you use the Touch ID for convenience and risk a personal invasion, or do you use the phone PIN and protect your information?
With the most recent beta of iOS 11, Apple has introduced a feature that has an interesting side-effect. The feature allows a user to rapidly press the power button of the phone to trigger a panic mode. The panic mode allows you to call emergency services easily, but its side effect is even more intriguing. After triggering panic mode, the phone locks itself to prevent information from being stolen. To unlock the device, you must enter your PIN, as if the phone had been power cycled. This feature makes perfect sense, assuming you're being mugged, it can keep the phone safer from the mugger.
The interesting side-effect here is that, if you're being pulled over by the police, you can also trigger panic mode to prevent the cops from forcing you to unlock the device. This added feature, likely an accidental side-effect rather than a conscious idea, is a welcomed change. Personally, I have opted to skip the Touch ID feature all this time because of the potential for corporate confidential information to be retrieved by law enforcement without a warrant. This new feature, however, will finally be the turning point that will allow myself, and others, to use a feature that Apple introduced 4 years and 5 phone models ago.
Snap Inc., the company that produces Snapchat, has not been public very long, but it has had a difficult journey thus far. Their second quarterly report was released this week, and the results did not make anyone happy. The company has fallen victim to some of the same issues as other struggling social platforms, and has overcome others.
One issue that
Twitter has faced is user growth, or lack thereof. While Twitter gained a total of zero active users in the last quarter, Snap experienced a 4% growth over last quarter. Snap now has 173 million active users, while Twitter is stalled at 328 million. The user growth is particularly impressive, considering that Snapchat has no unique features at this point. The product's primary feature has been duplicated wholesale by Instagram, leaving little reason for new users to join Snapchat.
Active users isn't the only thing that Snap has managed to grow in the last quarter. The company has seen a 153% increase in revenue, landing at $181 million for the quarter. Unfortunately for the company, revenue is not profit, and profit is not something the company has figured out. In fact, expenses have grown exorbitantly, taking corporate losses almost four times over last quarter, to $443 million. Losses of that amount are a great way to burn free cash flow, but not a great way to keep the lights on in the long-term. If you need a litmus test, ask
SoundCloud how it's worked.
Investors showed a lack of confidence in the company, with stock prices dropping 11 percent following the report. That drop was on top of consistently falling stock prices, which have the stock well below IPO range, which is quickly approaching 1/3 of the initial offering.