It is no secret that Microsoft is expanding the reach of the Xbox brand. Steve Ballmer's idea was to make Xbox the all-inclusive media brand, but under Satya Nadella, Xbox has returned to its gaming roots, but in a big way. Rather than just being a gaming console, Xbox represents Microsoft's gaming ambitions across everything running the OneCore: Xbox One, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Holographic.
This week, the company added a couple of new features to the Xbox ecosystem that will give you even more reasons to spend more time in the Xbox world.
Xbox Live Creators Program
As the Windows 10 Creators Update gets closer to the public, Xbox wants to embrace the community that they are cultivating. With that comes the new Xbox Live Creators Program, a new way for really indie developers to publish games to the Xbox ecosystem. The program is not intended to replace ID@Xbox, the program where large indie developers can publish fully-qualified Xbox titles. Instead, this is intended for much smaller shops, or single developers, looking for exposure.
Creators will have access to a much smaller subset of Xbox APIs. For example, they can access Xbox Live account information, but cannot publish achievements. They can create achievements and hubs, but cannot use Xbox Live multiplayer capabilities. Also, games must be UWP applications created using Construct 2, MonoGame, Unity or Xenko.
Because these games are required to be UWP, that means that they can run on Xbox One, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Holographic, all with a single publish. The breadth of platforms available places the Creators Program above
Valve's new Steam Direct, a similar program, but with a very limited availability.
Xbox Game Pass
Another new way to get new games to play is the Xbox Game Pass. Premiering with more than 100 titles, this new subscription service will give a variety of titles for a single monthly price. For $10, you will see Xbox One titles, like
Halo 5: Guardians, and Xbox 360 titles, like Gears of War. There are RPG titles like Fable and sports titles, like NBA 2K16.
While this is similar to PlayStation Now, it has a few major enhancements. For example, while Now only allows streaming of titles, allowing for gaming lag, Game Pass allows you to download the titles to your console. Now only offers access to older titles, while Game Pass will give access to more modern Xbox One content. Also, Now runs $20 per month, while Game Pass will come in at only $10 per month.
Obviously, games will cycle in and out of the program, so that new games are always available to try out. If a game leaves the program, and you want to keep access to it, Xbox will offer you a discount to purchase it. We don't have an official launch date, but Xbox Insiders can try out a preview of the service this week.
One of the most iconic brands in mobile devices is Motorola. The brand made smartphones long before they were popular in the Q, they made a flip phone that was the envy of the entire industry in the RAZR and they even made a phone so popular that even Mercedes Benz built its accessories into their cars in the StarTAC.
Over the past few years, the brand has not been shown the respect it deserves. After Google purchased the company, they let it languish, only releasing mid-range phones. During that time, Google partnered with other manufacturers to produce its Nexus line of devices, rather than using their own Motorola hardware division. Unsurprisingly, the purchase never paid off for Google.
Lenovo decided to add the brand to their collection of device brands, including IBM's ThinkPad line. Unfortunately, shortly after the purchase, they decided to try a rebrand, going from the iconic Motorola to just Moto. Even after the change, devices were coming out with the original branding, continuing the confusion.
This week, Lenovo has announced that they plan to return Motorola and its name to its former glory. The Moto moniker is gone, and Motorola will return full-force. In fact, not only will existing and future devices out of the Motorola division receive the proper Motorola name, but will also phase out its other phone brands. That means that future phones will no longer have the Lenovo or ZUK brand names.
Luckily, they have learned their lesson, and will not phase those additional brands out immediately, but will instead raise the profile of Motorola in countries like Russia and China, where the Lenovo brand is better known, before making the transition complete.
If you don't know who PewDiePie is, that is alright. Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg is a YouTube star, whose channel has the largest subscriber count at 53 million subscribers and generated him an estimated $15 million in 2016. He has managed to accomplish this by consistently being surprising. He started off as a gaming channel and later began to fancy himself a comedian, and the content began to change.
One of his go-to concepts is shock value. The thing he seems to find both shocking and funny is anti-Semitic content. While these types of "jokes" have been accepted for other content creators, such as
South Park, Kjellberg's latest video did not. The difference was in what the actual content was. He paid someone to hold up a sign that read, "DEATH TO ALL JEWS." The world did not respond to it as he had hoped, and he blames everyone else for that "problem."
Rather than saying he was sorry for creating something that offended a lot of people, he blamed the media for reporting on the negative response the video received. Of course it could not possibly be the fault of the person who created the concept, filmed the video and then published it to the world - the reason it didn't go well is because someone else noticed that it was offensive content.
I truly believe these articles slamming people like me for these topics, they're doing more harm than good. They're doing more harm than I'm doing by saying them. I think being the political correctness police is essentially just going to fuck us all over, and this year, 2017 I decided I'm taking a stance back, I'm going to be true to myself. I want to do the sense of humor that I enjoy, and this is the price for it, I'm fine with that.
While I do agree that the "PC Police" are creating an environment in which everyone is encouraged to be offended by something, there are still some things that are actually offensive, such as calling for the extermination of a people who have faced that exact fate more than once in their history, and are facing a new version of it today. Some things simply are not funny, and this is one of them. In 2016, he took a different stand on content, however, saying,
I still make kinda stupid jokes that I shouldn't make. But I feel like back then I didn't understand. I was so immature and I just thought things were funny just because they were offensive. So I would say a lot of stupid shit. I'm not proud of it. I'm really not. But I'm also glad that I've grown past it.
It makes you wonder what has changed, and why he feels that being offensive is his true self in 2017. The price he is mentioning in the first quote, however, is incredibly high. The PewDiePie channel has had two major partnerships which led to his financial windfall in 2016: YouTube itself, which is owned by Google, and MakerStudio, which is owned by Disney. Both of those partnerships came to an end this week after the video was published. MakerStudio released a statement about the termination, saying,
Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case. The resulting videos are inappropriate.
YouTube issued a statement about canceling Felix's YouTube Red series, which is produced by
The Walking Dead's Robert Kirkman, saying,
We've decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie season 2 and we're removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred.
All 3 of these changes are going to take PewDiePie from being a YouTube star to being an internet unknown. Removal from Preferred will mean new people will be less likely to encounter new content, and cancelation of his promoted content will end his financial successes. However, no matter what he says, this is his fault, not yours or the media's. He created controversial content, knew it was controversial and now must pay the price for the reaction. No one is responsible for paying for your mistakes but you, a lesson that is going to be incredibly expensive for Felix.
The future of Google Fiber has been in question for about 6 months. In August of last year, the company began the process of
scaling down their operations, followed nearly immediately by pausing new rollouts entirely in October. This week, Alphabet is transitioning hundreds of employees from Access, the division responsible for Google Fiber, to other areas within the company.
Nothing signals a major restructure like moving employees out of a division. The idea of fiber-to-the-door was always an expensive and unrealistic one. The cost of petitioning access to easements from cities is enough for most companies, essentially
wiping out an existing telecom from the market. Once the backbone is in-place, it is also expensive to run the fiber from the pipe to the premises and then convert existing internal infrastructure, all for internet speeds that nearly no one actually needs.
The question is, then, "What is going to happen with the brand?" As I have predicted before, the future for Access is wireless rather than fiber. The company
purchased Webpass in 2016, and will use their existing technology and infrastructure to continue their high speed internet access roll-out. Combined with Google's balloon-based internet service concept, they could potentially cover an entire city with internet quicker, easier and less expensive than laying cables.
This will require that Access gain more wireless spectrum to make this possible. It also, currently, requires whole buildings to convert to the network, as Webpass will not install their antennas and hardware on a single-tenant property. Unless that changes, people who live in houses will still not be able to switch, and neither will people within buildings who are unwilling to convert entirely. Without an operational change, the whole business model and consumer target for Access will change dramatically, though not entirely negatively.
Right now, for better or worse, the majority of the tech industry is focused on, and excited about, virtual reality. Even our
CES coverage couldn't avoid it this year. With that said, one of the companies who should be the most optimistic about the technology is taking a decidedly different, and characteristically unusual, approach: Valve.
Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve, is known for big, unfounded statements about the success, or lack of success, of certain products and platforms. He famously said that Windows 8 "isn't for gamers," a statement that turned out to be far from true. You would expect then, that he would have a very optimistic view of VR, considering the HTC Vive, a partnership with Valve, is arguably the best VR headset currently available. In a unique sit-down conversation, he said,
We're optimistic. We think VR is going great. It's going in a way that's consistent with our expectations... We're also pretty comfortable with the idea that it will turn out to be a complete failure.
Some people have got attention by going out and saying there'll be millions of (VR unit sales) and we're like, wow, I don't think so.
For the first time, potentially in history, I have to agree completely with Gabe. I believe that VR is going to be the next 3D TV - a technology that is splashy and popular for a while, but will fade to the background with time. There are two current issues that are preventing the technology form succeeding. First is the cost of entry for real, PC-based VR. Second, as I have maintained, is a lack of quality content. The majority of VR content on the market is so-so at best. Gabe, as it turns out, agrees,
I can't point to a single piece of content that would cause millions of people to justify changing their home computing... If you took the existing VR systems and made them 80 percent cheaper, that's still not a huge market. There's still not a really incredibly compelling reason for people to spend 20 hours a day in VR... There's an old joke that premature cost reduction is the root of all evil.
It will be interesting to see if this new revelation is the beginning of a change within Valve in regards to VR. There are really only 2 places for VR content today: Valve's Steam VR and Oculus, and a potential dismissal of the technology by Valve could open the door for another player, including Microsoft's incoming partner VR headsets, to rule the space.
Over the past 7 years, one of the stories that just won't die is the possible partnership between T-Mobile and Sprint. In 2010, T-Mobile
considered a technology switch, from their existing GSM platform to WiMAX for 4G. They were in talks with Clearwire, the company that was partially-owned by Sprint, and provided Sprint's WiMAX network. At the time, it was suggested that the move would have been intended to make it easier for Sprint and T-Mobile to become one network. In 2013, after acquiring Sprint, SoftBank opened discussions for T-Mobile.
Those discussions ultimately broke down because of the FCC, but not because the parties were uninterested. Today, the environment at the FCC is far less negative than it was 4 years ago, and SoftBank has begun reconsidering their offer. Unfortunately for them, Deutsche Telekom is no longer interested in relinquishing control of T-Mobile, so SoftBank has a new strategy. Instead of offering them a buyout to go away, SoftBank is considering offering them part of Sprint, making the two partners.
As of today, no official offer has been made, nor have any conversations been had of any sort. It turns out that is against federal regulations for participants in an ongoing spectrum auction to have any official contact. That means that SoftBank has through April to put their thoughts together before approaching Deutsche Telekom.
The issue at hand, though, is could a merger between the two networks be a success? Sprint is no stranger to cross-technology mergers, having purchased Nextel in 2005. Sprint used CDMA technology, while Nextel used iDEN technology, which were technologically incompatible. Nextel's fate was a complete shutdown of the iDEN network in 2013. Today, Sprint continues to use CDMA for its voice network and LTE (GSM) for its 4G data network. T-Mobile uses GSM voice and data technologies, leaving the proposed company with 3 different technologies to work with.
Some sort of overall purge would be necessary for the group. Likely, Sprint's CDMA technology would be the technological victim, giving Sprint the ability to bring unlocked devices GSM devices to their customers, as well as a larger variety of phones, which would be a welcomed addition. There would also need to be a brand purge, however. Within the proposed group would be: T-Mobile, Sprint, MetroPCS, Virgin Mobile USA and Boost Mobile.
Obviously, everything is conjecture at this point, as the two companies are not even permitted to discuss the idea until April, but this is a fascinating twist to a nearly decades-old story.