The UpStream

Apple Better Embracing Standards While Sticking to the Past

posted Saturday Nov 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Apple Better Embracing Standards While Sticking to the Past

This week was one of several annual "Apple Days" where Apple unveils a collection of new products. This month's event was focused on Apple's computers and tablets. While the company announced new laptops and a refreshed (after 4 years) Mac Mini, the real hero of the event was even smaller than the company's tiny desktop. In fact, it was smaller than an inch: Apple replaced the Lightning connector on the iPad Pro!

While that might not seem like a big deal, it is important to note that in nearly 2 decades of portable products, Apple has only updated the connector twice previously. The iPod premiered with Firewire, which was a technology dead on arrival. They replaced it with the 32-pin connector, which lasted for a decade, but was itself replaced by Lightning. All of these connectors have been Apple-focused (Firewire was a standard, but it was never widely adopted outside of Mac).

This change, however, is not Apple-focused. In fact, the company ditched Lightning for USB-C. Yes, that is the same connector on the HP Elite x3 (Windows Phone), Samsung Galaxy S8 (Android) and beyond, and more. This port is the defacto standard in the industry, being able to universally charge phones, tablets, laptops, and a host of other devices. In fact, we are currently reviewing Bluetooth headphones that charge over USB-C. This brings Apple into the same world with the rest of the industry for the first time - ever. This is not to say Apple has completely eschewed standards - in fact, Apple was one of the leaders in adopting USB-C for the MacBooks.

Unfortunately, the iPad Pro does not support everything that USB-C can do. The device billed as the Apple tablet for creators will not allow those creators to connect external storage. That will prevent photographers from using the tablet to edit photos without bringing a computer with them, which negates the value of the tablet. It prevents video editors from using the device without a computer, again making the tablet less than valuable.

Ideally, this limitation will be removed by Apple at some point in the future. Lightning used to prevent external storage, but now there are many storage options for Lightning.

Two Blockbuster Disney Franchises in Serious Trouble

posted Friday Oct 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Two Blockbuster Disney Franchises in Serious Trouble

Over the last few years, two Disney-owned franchises have absolutely ruled the big screen: Marvel and Star Wars. New films are always just around the corner, and almost all of them have received nothing but positive box office results. However, 2018 has been hard on both of these brands, and this week saw Disney responding to the issues.

For Star Wars, the second anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story received less than stellar reviews and equally disappointing box office sales. While a number of issues have been cited as to why this might be the case, the most common theory is the overpopulation of new content in the family. Between a new section in Disney theme parks, a variety of films, and several new television series, Star Wars fatigue might be setting in.

As a result, Disney has officially canceled the third anthology film, the as yet untitled and previously unconfirmed Boba Fett film. The confirmation came directly from LucasFilm President Kathleen Kennedy by way of Sirius XM's Erick Weber. Rather than spreading the love across a variety of related projects, Lucas will instead put all of their focus into The Mandalorian, a streaming series from Iron-Man director Jon Favreau.

On the Marvel topic, Disney created problems for themselves when they fired James Gunn, the franchise director for Guardians of the Galaxy, based on what some saw as controversial tweets from several years ago. After the firing, fans and actors alike let Disney know that they disapproved of the decision. The entire cast published a public letter to Disney asking that Gunn be reinstated and refusing to work on the project under another director.

Disney has not been interested in listening to fans or staff, and have decided instead to suspend the third installment of the series. Once again, Erick Weber brings the news, this time care of Marvel boss Kevin Feige, who confirmed the status. There is no telling what the final determination will be on producing the film, but one thing is for sure: James Gunn has joined rival DC's writing team, penning the next Suicide Squad film.

iCloud Outage Receives Almost No Response From Apple

posted Friday Oct 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

iCloud Outage Receives Almost No Response From Apple

With the way the electronics world works today when a cloud-based service goes down, Twitter loses their minds. In fact, you can always find out within minutes if a service is having an outage simply by opening up your Twitter feed. If you need evidence of this, go look last week when YouTube crashed for only an hour, or the last time PlayStation network experienced an outage. More importantly, you can also find out about these outages quickly directly from the companies. YouTube, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Azure, Amazon Web Services, and more all notify users almost immediately when they experience issues.

Apparently, this generalization has an exception: iCloud. This week, Apple's cloud service experienced an outage on some of their most critical services, such as Drive, Photos, Mail, Calendar, and Find my iPhone. Even if you are an Apple customer, you might be surprised to find this out right now, because Apple has been completely silent about it. Except for their System Status page, there was no official acknowledgment of the issue at all. The status page only said that some users were experiencing slower than normal performance, despite the fact that the services were mostly unavailable, not slow.

The lack of communication from Apple is certainly concerning. If you are paying a company for a service and that service is not provided, consumers expect to find out something. In the tech world, you're never going to get a lot of information in the moment, but you will at least get some sort of acknowledgment. Silence usually indicates a bigger problem, such as a security issue. It would not be a huge surprise to find out that iCloud was experiencing an attack and Apple shut the service down to protect user data. On the heels of Apple's big announcement about renewed data protection, a previous iCloud breach, and the almost total silence, this is a realistic possibility.

Until the company acknowledges what happened, the best course of action is to keep a close eye on your account and possibly change your password, just to be safe.

Harmonix Developing New Rhythm Game in Partnership with Twitch

posted Friday Oct 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Harmonix Developing New Rhythm Game in Partnership with Twitch

While two decades ago Konami was the kind of rhythm games, today that title definitely belongs to Harmonix. It seems that no one knows how to produce a fun and creative rhythm game quite like Harmonix. The company created their name on the massively successful title Rock Band, and last year, in partnership with Hasbro, launched one of our top holiday gifts: DropMix. Our team at DDRLover was surprised to see not only a new music title but even more surprised that it was a new take on music.

This year, at TwitchCon 2018, the Amazon-owned company announced that they had partnered with Harmonix to bring a new spin to an old music idea: karaoke. Taking the best strengths of both companies, Twitch's active community, and Harmonix's music knowledge, combining them into a karaoke title makes perfect sense. Karaoke is an activity that works the best when there is an audience, which is something that Twitch will bring to the game automatically. Combined with Harmonix's execution of making music fun, and their established history of success with vocal games in Rock Band, there is a lot of potential in Twitch Sings. According to Twitch,

We're just starting to scratch the surface of what's possible when everyone wants to play together. There are many games and genres that are made better on Twitch, and we believe there's an opportunity for a new category of game to emerge that's made to be streamed, where the audience isn't a 'nice to have' - they're a crucial part of the game experience.

We knew karaoke would be the perfect place to start. It's live. It's always entertaining. And when it really gets going, the line between the crowd and the stage disappears completely.

The most interesting aspect of the game is the ability to involve your Twitch followers in the game itself. You can actually perform duets with members of your streaming community, sharing the whole experience live with the rest of your viewers. While the closed beta will be limited to a small number of streamers, anyone can apply.

Good News for Fixers: You Can Now Repair Your Tech

posted Friday Oct 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Good News for Fixers: You Can Now Repair Your Tech

While many aspects of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) are in place to protect the correct entities, in some cases the wording has created unintended problems. The most notable issue has been Section 1201, which is described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation,

Section 1201 makes it illegal to circumvent the computer code that prevents copying or modifying in most software-controlled products-which nowadays includes everything from refrigerators and baby monitors to tractors and smart speakers.

This has been felt most recently by new software implemented by Apple which disables computers repaired by unapproved people. Those unapproved people include the owner of the device, who apparently doesn't quote own the computer - at least in Apple's eyes. This policy is enforced by the fact that it is not legal to circumvent the software that locks the computer out because of copyrights.

This week, the Library of Congress, who is entrusted with the regular maintenance of the DMCA, revised the rules surrounding software circumvention, adding a collection of exceptions. These exceptions include unlocking brand new phones, jailbreaking smart speakers, and, most importantly, repairing devices yourself or on behalf of the owner. This means that getting locked out of a device you own because you repaired it should no longer be a part of the small electronics world.

Unfortunately, products that are not smartphones, home appliances, or home systems, such as boats and airplanes, are not covered by these exceptions. That means that Apple can continue to prevent owners from repairing their computers and Sony can continue to ban PlayStations from the PlayStation Network that have been repaired unofficially. While the rules around gaming console bans make sense because of cheating, allowing computer manufacturers to lock their devices because of a simple repair is unacceptable. However, as iFixit founder Kyle Wiens said,

With those few exceptions, the Copyright Office went as far as they could in granting access to the repair community. There are still significant limits, though, that will need to be addressed by Congress.

Perhaps, during a future review, more devices will be added to this list.

European Union's Newest Consumer Attack is Against Streaming Services

posted Saturday Oct 20, 2018 by Scott Ertz

European Union's Newest Consumer Attack is Against Streaming Services

Over the last year or so, the European Union has seemed intent on either isolating itself from the rest of the digital world or in crippling the ability of consumers within. GDPR seemed to be the beginning, though the regulations ended up being mostly easy to implement (unless you're using blockchain). They followed it up with copyright laws that could prevent user-generated content sites from operating within the Union.

Their newest attack on consumers comes in the form of what is being referred to as "content quota." This new idea would mean that, if a streaming service operates within the European Union, at least 30% of all of the content available on the platform must be produced within the region. This means that companies like Netflix, which produce content wherever makes the most sense, either for the story, scenery, or budget, will have to make decisions to either move production to the EU (which is unlikely), or remove content from their European services.

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, took the opportunity on the company's quarterly conference call to speak out against the idea. He said that, rather than imposing a penalty for not producing content locally, which will only limit the availability of content, especially in the short-term, the EU would do better to provide incentives to produce content locally. In their release, the company said,

We are heavily investing around the world to share stories broadly and to strengthen local production capacity and opportunity. We'd prefer to focus on making our service great for our members, which would include producing local content, rather than on satisfying quotas, but we anticipate that a regional content quota which approximates the region's share of our global membership will only marginally reduce member satisfaction. Nonetheless, quotas, regardless of market size, can negatively impact both the customer experience and creativity. We believe a more effective way for a country to support strong local content is to directly incentivize local content creators, independent of distribution channel.

Take Atlanta, Georgia, as a great example: 20 years ago, nothing entertainment-based was produced in the city. Today, a lot of television and film projects are produced in and around Atlanta, entirely because of incentives provided by the city. Decades before, Toronto did the same thing, transforming the city into an entertainment hub, thanks to production incentives. Neither of these cities got to where they are because of coercion.

Netflix believes they can satisfy the rules by "evolving our content offering," but what this means is questionable. Luckily, the member countries have a couple of years before enforcement begins, giving the companies involved time to comply.

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