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BlackBerry Lays Off More Employees, Shrinking Smartphone Division

posted Sunday May 24, 2015 by Scott Ertz

BlackBerry Lays Off More Employees, Shrinking Smartphone Division

Apparently finally turning a profit was not enough to save employees at struggling BlackBerry. The company announced they would be laying off an unspecified number of employees. It is expected that the majority of those layoffs will come from the devices business, including jobs in hardware, software and applications for the BlackBerry platform.

In the early days of smartphones, before consumers had really ever heard that term, BlackBerry regularly battled Palm to hold the #2 slot behind Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform, which often held strong in the #1 spot. Today, the smartphone landscape looks very different, with Android taking the top spot, and Microsoft and Apple battling for #2 from area to area. In North America, Apple tends to lead, while in Europe it's Microsoft. BlackBerry, however, barely makes the charts.

BlackBerry said in a statement,

As the company moves into its next stage of the turnaround, our intention is to reallocate resources in ways that will best enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities while driving toward sustainable profitability across all facets of our business...

One of our priorities is making our device business profitable. At the same time, we must grow software and licensing revenues. You will see in the coming months a significant ramping up in our customer-facing activities in sales and marketing.

Their software growth has begun to see a resurgence. For example, BlackBerry Messenger, which was always a favorite for businesses because of its security focus, has arrived on other platforms, bringing the brand name back to popularity. The app is actively maintained, with the Windows Phone app receiving an update this month.

In addition, Ford recently announced that their lower-end Ford Sync models would switch to a QNX-based system after Microsoft stopped developing the highly specialized platform to focus on the more universal Windows 10 platform. QNX is a company which was purchased by BlackBerry and was used to transition to BlackBerry 10, the OS that runs the now defunct PlayBook and all modern BlackBerry handsets.

Can this IBM-style focus on software and services work out better for the company, or will they eventually go the way of Palm and become part of a larger company (hopefully with a happier ending)? It is likely that, no matter the outcome, it will come to pass sooner rather than later.

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TiVo Believes They Can Legalize Aereo's Business Model

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

TiVo Believes They Can Legalize Aereo's Business Model

After Aereo's Supreme Court loss and corporate shutdown, the company's trademarks and customer list were purchased by TiVo out of bankruptcy. At the time, it seemed odd that TiVo, an established brand, would be interested in the trademarks of a defunct startup, but TigerDirect bought the trademarks of both Circuit City and CompUSA out of bankruptcy, so who were we to argue?

The company's plans for those assets came to light, at least out of the shadows, during an interview with Tom Rogers, TiVo's CEO last week. He said that the company was working on a product that would give cord cutters the ability to DVR and stream OTA content, going so far as to describe the product as "kind of the Aereo model, done legally and better." There is a problem with that business model, however: The Supreme Court of the United States ruled the practice illegal.

So, how on Earth does TiVo plan to revise the business model to make it legal? It's all guesses at this point, though a spokesperson for the company did say,

Yes, they are currently developing a product and although they are not releasing any details, they plan to hold a significant event in San Jose in late July to discuss it.

So, we won't have to wait too long to get the answers to our questions. The likely answer is that TiVo is planning on paying transmission fees to the affected broadcasters, though there is no real telling how they might come to a consensus about audience size and overall fees. It is also unknown whether the broadcasters will even be willing to discuss this possibility, as several of them have introduced their own branded version of this service, including ABC, CBS and NBC. There is also Sling to compete with, which offers cable options in addition to the networks.

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Verizon Purchases AOL, Shocks the World that AOL is Still Around

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Purchases AOL, Shocks the World that AOL is Still Around

Verizon shocked the world this week, announcing that America Online (AOL) was still in business. Even more shocking was the fact that Verizon valued the company at approximately $4.4 billion. This is the amount the company has agreed to pay to acquire the company and all of its assets.

As it turns out, those assets are far more valuable than the company itself, including patents in the online advertising space and content delivery. Verizon is in the process of enhancing its LTE video business, and Verizon plans to use AOL's content delivery platform, as well as their advertising services, to accomplish this goal.

AOL is more than just video and ads, though. You may remember that in 2011, AOL purchased Huffington Post, and appointed Arianna Huffington president and editor-in-chief. This put her in charge of brands such as TechCrunch, Engadget, Joystiq and more. This transition did not do well, and many people the company made promises to were lied to, and Huffington was removed a year later.

Tim Armstrong, AOL chairman and CEO, will continue to serve in those roles, as the acquired AOL will continue to operate as a separate division inside of Verizon. He said of the acquisition,

Verizon is a leader in mobile and OTT connected platforms, and the combination of Verizon and AOL creates a unique and scaled mobile and OTT media platform for creators, consumers and advertisers. The visions of Verizon and AOL are shared; the companies have existing successful partnerships, and we are excited to work with the team at Verizon to create the next generation of media through mobile and video.

Obviously Verizon sees something in the company that the rest of the world does not. Lowell McAdam, Verizon chairman and CEO, said,

Verizon's vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multiscreen network platform. This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience...

AOL has once again become a digital trailblazer, and we are excited at the prospect of charting a new course together in the digitally connected world. At Verizon, we've been strategically investing in emerging technology, including Verizon Digital Media Services and OTT, that taps into the market shift to digital content and advertising. AOL's advertising model aligns with this approach, and the advertising platform provides a key tool for us to develop future revenue streams.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this acquisition. Hopefully it will go better than when AOL purchased Time Warner and drove it to such heights that it was almost purchased by Comcast.

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Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Parks

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Parks

2015 has been an interesting year for Nintendo. They have finally begun to recover from last year's profit issues and they have broken from corporate tradition on more than one occasion. The rumored Zelda series would certainly have been a departure for the company, as is their newly formed mobile gaming partnership with studio DeNA.

This week, a new partnership was announced which will be an even bigger departure for the company: theme parks. Working with Universal Parks & Resorts, Nintendo will be bringing their brand of entertainment to Universal parks. Nintendo has long been interested in creating a partnership of this sort, but has never been convinced of the quality that such a partnership could bring. Universal changed their minds, but how?

According to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, it was how Universal handled another property that they do not own, Harry Potter, that convinced him that Universal was the company he could trust with his brand. Of course, Islands of Adventure has had Marvel Island far longer than The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, their treatment of the Marvel brand was not nearly as well-considered. In fact, with the impending doom of the Marvel rights reverting to new owner Disney, there is little concern that it could be rebranded without any real loss.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, however, could not so easily be unbranded. What this means is a far more convincing and immersive environment. This type of immersive environment and respectful treatment of a 3rd party brand brought Nintendo to the table. Iwata described the meetings with Universal, saying,

Even inside Nintendo, the possibility had been discussed several times. But we had not made this a reality because, on each occasion, the time was not ripe yet or we were not able to find an appropriate partner with whom to work. In the case of our first meeting with Universal Parks & Resorts, they provided us with a very detailed proposal right from the beginning. Also, as we met right after they had opened the Harry Potter attractions, we were able to learn precisely how they had been created...

As soon as I returned to Japan, I informed (Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto), and I told him that I wanted to give positive consideration to it. Since then, we have met with them several times in Japan and in the U.S., and not only me and people who carry out our negotiations but also members from each company's creative side, namely, people who will be assigned to make the actual attractions and Nintendo's game producers who have been creating our games for many years.

There is no timeline on the release of these new attractions, but hopefully it will come about sooner than later.

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Windows 10 Mobile Build 10080 - Almost There

posted Saturday May 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Windows 10 Mobile Build 10080 - Almost There

Microsoft released the latest build of Windows 10 Mobile to Windows Insiders this week. Marked Build 10080, this release does two things: leapfrogs the Mobile build beyond the Pro build, last marked 10074, and brings us closer to a production release than any build we've seen to date. Granted, there were some release problems, with the Lumia Icon and 930 having serious issues with the release, but anyone involved in the Insider Program knows there are major risks participating, and no one would run it on their main device.

Operating System

The system itself has become far more stable than previous builds. In my experience some apps do still have issues remaining open, but most of the affected apps are designed for Windows Phone 8 or 8.1, not newer native apps. With that said, the fairly common issue of apps closing unexpectedly has greatly decreased. In addition, access to lower-level system resources seem to have been fully restored, meaning apps like Netflix have recovered their full functionality. This is inline with Pro Build 10074, in which Hulu began working properly again.

We have also seen some major customization come back to the platform. First, the settings we gained in Pro 10074, like accent color, have made their way to this build. One capability that I personally was pleased to see was Start screen background style. For existing Windows Phone users, the style of background available there is something many of us love, with the image only showing through the transparent live tiles. The introduction of a full-bleed background was a jarring experience for many of us. Luckily, 10080 allows users to choose from 3 background choices: None, Tile and Full.

One of the most interesting moves of this new build, however, is its introduction of non-Lumia handsets to the program. Namely, the HTC One (M8) for Windows is now eligible to enroll in the program. This means that hardware vendors are getting their drivers put together, allowing 3rd party hardware support.

Xbox

Most of the great new capabilities of the Xbox for Windows app is now available on Mobile. You can access Achievements, Activity Feed & Alerts, Friends, Game DVR and Messages no matter where you are. It's like the best of the SmartGlass apps and website all wrapped up in one. It also highlights the power of the new Windows Apps, and how the app can adjust itself based on the size of the screen.

Office Preview

Another set of Windows Apps available for the first time on Mobile is the Office Preview suite. First made available for Pro builds in February, the new universal versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint show off more than just how an app adjusts to a smaller screen - they show off how an app on a small screen can accomplish truly complex and complicated controls.

The concept of the Ribbon control, which was introduced in the desktop version of Office several years ago, is finally explained for the forward-thinking element it is. The grouped collections of controls, when transitioned to a small screen, makes for an easily navigable UI. Collapsed into an Application Bar, the grouped controls means that you don't have to wade through dozens of formatting elements in a single stream - instead you can go to a group and only look through a few related controls.

Final

This build is not exactly ready for primetime, but it is getting closer. It is also converging the Pro and Mobile builds into a very similar thread, bringing to fruition the promise of a single experience on all of your screens.

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Former Xbox Exec and Zynga CEO Steps Down From Position

posted Sunday Apr 12, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Former Xbox Exec and Zynga CEO Steps Down From Position

As quickly as the Don cometh, the Don leaveth. This is the case for Zynga, as former Xbox executive Don Mattrick took over the job as CEO just under two years ago. Mattrick announced this week that he was leaving the company effective immediately and will also be departing the board of directors.

Zynga will go back to what brought them here, with former CEO and company founder Mark Pincus reclaiming his CEO throne at a salary of $1 per year, exactly what he was taking in when he left the company in 2013. Pincus spoke on Mattrick in a statement about the transition.

Don joined us in a very important time in our evolution. I sincerely thank him for his leadership in better serving our players in a mobile-first world and for delivering world class quality and value to our consumers.

Pincus puts the company back on his shoulders at an interesting time. Despite Mattrick's best efforts, sales are still down in the company. However, revamps of popular titles are on the horizon, as well as new launches. Zynga is looking forward to hopeful success with Dawn of Titans, FarmVille: Harvest Swap, Wizard of Oz Slots and Empires & Allies.

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