The UpStream

Spotify Gains a Big New Partner in Samsung

posted Saturday Aug 11, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Spotify Gains a Big New Partner in Samsung

Ever since entering the US market, Spotify has owned the music streaming business. Apple has made some inroads since purchasing and rebranding Beats Music, but they still trail in music selection and userbase. Spotify has gained a bigger foothold in the industry thanks to their newly announced partnership with Samsung. As part of the relationship, Samsung will tightly integrate Spotify service into their devices, including phones, televisions and new Galaxy Home.

This partnership means that Samsung fans in the ecosystem will be able to experience what other users currently have: music continuity. The continuity sounds like it will mimic what Microsoft ecosystem users have experienced since Microsoft terminated Groove Music. Playing music on Spotify in the car through your Samsung phone will allow you to transfer the music to your television when you enter the house and play through the Galaxy Home in the bedroom.

This ability has always been the promise of Spotify's service, and especially the play-to capability of the client. The capability gets even more interesting and powerful with more integrated devices. Pairing to a Bluetooth speaker works well but doesn't travel around the house easily. It requires disconnecting and reconnecting to various devices, depending on where you are. Having Spotify integrated into devices means that you don't have to do anything special to play from room to room.

Having smart capabilities behind Spotify makes the experience even better. When paired with an AI, like Cortana or Bixby, it gives an even more direct and frictionless music experience. Asking Bixby for music recommendations will now default to searching Spotify, which means that playing music through Spotify won't require any physical interaction with a Samsung phone or Galaxy Home speaker, with Samsung Smart TV integration coming in the near future.

Facebook Implements Stronger Verification for Large Page Managers

posted Saturday Aug 11, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Facebook Implements Stronger Verification for Large Page Managers

Facebook Page integrity leaves something to be desired. There's never any telling if a Page represents who they say they do, or if they are even related to the topic they claim. It's also possible for pages to merge, bringing an unsuspecting audience to a new type of content. In an effort to bring transparency to Pages, Facebook is implementing some new policies for Pages that have a large following. Facebook explained the decision in a post, saying,

Our goal is to prevent organizations and individuals from creating accounts that mislead people about who they are or what they're doing. These updates are part of our continued efforts to increase authenticity and transparency of Pages on our platform.

Managers of affected pages will be required to implement a two-factor authentication and verify their country of origin. After verification, managers will be able to post to their Pages once again.

Pages will also be adding new information, including showing what Pages have merged. This is especially important for Pages that claim to represent political opinions, as merging Pages can change the focus of the content displayed by a Page you are following. You will also have a list of Page managers and their primary, verified locations. Right now this information is voluntary, but it sounds like it will become mandatory, at least for larger Pages.

Most importantly, you can also get detailed information on ads being run by a Page. Ads have been a major target of query against the company, with Pages running politically-leaning ads from outside of the US. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to answer questions from Congress over the topic. Ad transparency has been something that all social networks have been working towards ever since, and this is a big step towards understanding what a Page is currently up to.

While the company did not define what constitutes a "large following," it is only a temporary restriction, as the wording makes it sound like these transparency features will be coming to all pages eventually. The company also plans to bring similar policies to Instagram in the coming weeks.

Discord Challenges Steam After Steam Challenged Discord

posted Saturday Aug 11, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Discord Challenges Steam After Steam Challenged Discord

Less than a month ago, Valve launched Steam Chat to all of its users. The feature is a near exact clone of Discord, the leading chat platform for gamers. The services had a small chance of success, being as it is built into the most popular gaming distribution client for PC games, but it had a big uphill battle against the existing platform. It is always difficult to challenge an established and beloved brand, especially in an industry that is overpopulated with brand loyalty.

Seemingly in response to Valve's attack on Discord, Discord has rolled out an almost direct attack on Valve. Rolling out in phases, the Discord Store Beta has begun selling indie videogames directly to gamers in the existing Discord client. The new tab features a curated list of games, intended to feel less like a megastore and more like a mom-and-pop shop. According to Discord,

We'll be launching a curated game store experience similar to one of those cozy neighborhood book shops with recommendations about the hottest and newest games from us to you.

We'll be showcasing a variety of titles that we think you'll like. As the store grows, we'll rely on our community and our team to make the store feel super personal and focused on games that we genuinely think you'll enjoy!

The idea of a super-focused store that highlights some favorite content will certainly set the Discord Store apart from its competitors. However, it won't generate the same kind of revenue that a larger store would generate. As such, it will require a high rate of buy-in from the community to be able to be successful. To make being in the Store and game launcher more appealing, Discord has created a universal launcher, which will scan your computer for all of your existing games and will be able to launch them, regardless of their platform.

Discord is in the same boat for buying games that Steam is in for game chatting: behind the 8-ball. Working in a niche, especially indie games, gives them a chance to compete against the established brands.

TCL Takes Advantage of Backlash Against Huge Phones with Palm Reboot

posted Saturday Aug 11, 2018 by Scott Ertz

TCL Takes Advantage of Backlash Against Huge Phones with Palm Reboot

Over the past few years, phones have definitely gotten larger. In fact, since the beginning of the consumer smartphone market, phone screen sizes have nearly doubled. The original iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, while the original Android phone, the HTC Dream (known as the T-Mobile G1 in the US), had a 3.2-inch screen. Compare that to the iPhone X's 5.8-inch screen and Samsung Note 9, announced officially this week, with its 6.4-inch screen, and you can see a big change in the market.

Not everyone enjoys a phone with a large screen for a variety of reasons. Whether it be the way it feels in your hand, an inability to fit in into a pocket, or a variety of other reasons, there is a market need for high-profile phone with a smaller screen. Growing electronics brand TCL, who has become known for owning niche markets, is rumored to be interested in a small screen.

After Blackberry ended hardware developement, they licensed the brand to TCL to continue developing phones. Those phones, which focus on the otherwise ignored market of physical keyboards, have seen some pretty impressive success for a brand that had all but been written off completely.

TCL intends to do something similar with the small screen market, planning to re-launch the Palm brand, which they acquired after HP uncerimoniously killed it off in an idiotic and failed plan to become a software services company. Based on some leaked renders, the rumored phone, possibly to be branded the Palm Pepito, is designed in a similar style to the old Palm Pre line, minus the sliding keyboard - apparently that is reserved for Blackberry.

The screen is to be 3.3-inches, will ship with Android Oreo 8.1 and will feature 3GB of RAM And 32GB of internal storage. The device is expected to launch in partnership with Verizon Wireless in the US. That is not an unexpected partnership, as the Palm Pre Plus launched on Verizon before AT&T and T-Mobile jumped onboard with the Palm Pre 2 the following year. Verizon has previously said that they would launch a Palm-branded phone in 2018, so we can expect to see more about the Palm Pepito in the near future.

YouTube Finally Commits to Adding Features to Music Service

posted Sunday Aug 5, 2018 by Scott Ertz

YouTube Finally Commits to Adding Features to Music Service

Ever since YouTube released YouTube Music in May, users have been less than pleased with the experience. The large collection of music has not been enough to compensate for the terrible user experience or the complete lack of common music streaming service features. Many users have been so disenchanted that they switched back to services like Spotify.

The company has finally recognized their own shortcomings and has put into place a process for releasing new features to the platform. Starting now, YouTube will release new features to their apps every 2 weeks, with external storage releasing now. That means that, with the most recent release, YouTube Music can store music to an SD card or hard drive, which is good for most users who have a small amount of internal storage and a large amount of external, specifically for media.

In addition to feature additions, the company plans to fix a number of the interface issues. Hopefully, these changes will include making music searching more useful, as well as album discovery and content sorting. All of these things are standard fare for streaming services but are all made painful in the YouTube Music platform.

Of course, it's important to remember that YouTube Music is still very new, only being released less than 3 months ago. It is unusual for Google to get any interface correct in the first release (in some cases people don't even know what the product does). They do usually figure it out with time, which is likely how this product will go, as well - in time.

Google Might Be Working on a Censored Search Engine for China

posted Sunday Aug 5, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Might Be Working on a Censored Search Engine for China

In 2010, Google was offended by the Chinese government forcing them to censor search results. The government had demanded that Google remove any search results containing references to topics such as freedom, democracy, human rights and peaceful protest. As a result, the company turned off censorship and awaited the country's response, which came within hours. YouTube and other Google properties were blocked nearly immediately, with the rest of Google going away shortly after. At the time, Google's chief legal officer, Senior Vice President David Drummond, said,

We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement.

That is a very clear and firm stance on the idea of censorship, especially government-enforced censorship, from Google. Today, the tone at Google has changed significantly. The company regularly and almost gleefully censors content on YouTube daily, and not at the request of any government, but simply because they disagree with the content. There is even some evidence that Google may be shadow banning search results under the same circumstances.

This week, a report from The Intercept suggests that Google has decided that, with their new censorship-friendly attitude, it is the right time to give China a try again. The project, which is codenamed Dragonfly, has already gained a lot of momentum, including a meeting with the Chinese government last December to gain approval. The new Chinese search engine would be distributed as an app and would "blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest."

As the US government has continued to raise concerns about US companies doing business with the Chinese government, and about Chinese companies doing business in the US, it was inevitable that Congress would get involved. A collection of 6 Senators, including Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, sent a letter to Google expressing their concerns about the rumored project. The letter goes so far as to say that, if the rumors are true, Google could be considered complicit in China's human rights violations. It also says,

It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google - the biggest search engine in the world - to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values.

It would certainly be a huge win for the Communist Party to be able to say that such a large company was brought under the thumb of the Party. These kinds of fear-based PR campaigns are how Communism spread so widely the first time, and how Socialism is trying to spread today. It would be a problem for other US companies if Google does agree to censor their content in China.

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