New product launches are often fraught with problems, from limited supplies to system failures. In the early days of iPhone launches, it was common for people to be turned away because there was no product available for customers. It got worse when 3rd party retailers got involved in the process. This week's launch of information about, and subsequent preorders for, the PlayStation 5 harken back to those days of complete sales chaos.
Watching the websites for participating retailers, such as Walmart and GameStop, it seemed as though they had as little information about what was happening as their customers. Retailer inventory was incredibly low, websites slowed to a crawl, and many people were booted from the process. Physical stores were given even less inventory availability and were only allowed to pre-order for that allotment, as opposed to being able to pre-order against the company's overall inventory.
Take, for example, GameStop. While we are unaware of the allotment of consoles for the company as a whole,
Ars Technica analyzed in-store inventory and discovered that physical GameStop stores only received an average of 30 consoles. Of those, less than 10 were the less expensive All Digital edition, meaning that those who came into the store to pre-order a PS5 All Digital were more likely to be met with a choice - commit to spend an extra $100 or take their chances with another store.
However, if Amazon was their other store of choice, their disappointment might have been even greater. After pre-orders were completed for Amazon, emails were sent out to some who managed to secure one. This email stated,
We're contacting you about your order of PlayStation 5 console to let you know in advance that you may not receive this item on the day it is released due to high demand. We'll make every effort to get the item to you as soon as possible once released.
As it turns out, Amazon oversold their pre-order allotment by enough that they don't believe they will be able to fulfill those orders with new allotments or day 1 inventory. This led to a
report from Bloomberg that said Sony had cut production by 4 million units for the fiscal year. However, Sony has said in no uncertain terms that this is a false report, and that inventory is increasing, not decreasing. In fact, the company announced via Twitter that more pre-order inventory was being made available to retailers in the coming week. Hopefully, this will help Amazon fulfill the orders already on the books.
One of the common complaints against Google Play is the store's willingness to allow apps with malicious intent to be listed for sale. While some apps steal data directly, such as a solitaire game accessing and uploading your contact list, others are even more covert in their theft. One class of apps, called stalkerware, has been a consistent pain in the neck of Android users. These apps have operated in the daylight, right under Google's nose, but not any longer, as Google has officially banned these apps - mostly.
Stalkerware apps are a category of app that goes beyond your usual data theft and, instead, monitor your full usage of your device. A lot of these apps are also referred to as spouseware because they allow a family member to watch your activity. It is common for these apps to be used to spy on a spouse that is believed to be cheating. The other user can use it to read through text messages, emails, or even monitor keystrokes in extreme circumstances.
new ban on these apps, which should have been in place since the beginning, is a welcome addition to the Google Play Store policies. Existing apps will be removed from the Store, and new ones will no longer be allowed to be added. That is unless the app can justify its existence.
Some stalkerware apps are legitimate. For example, both parental safety apps, as well as enterprise management products will be allowed on the platform. Both of these products serve an important service for those who are in charge of devices and will be allowed to remain. The issue, of course, will be that apps designed for more nefarious purposes could mask themselves as parental monitoring products. This would allow for a bypass of the new policy, keeping some of these apps in the store. However, the end result will at least be a less obvious set of listings, maintaining the privacy of Android users.
Based on the response to previous Disney live-action remakes, there was going to be a lot of trouble with
Mulan, but what actually happened had nothing to do with the actual content. Instead, controversy arose when the ending credits rolled and the company openly thanked the Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee. If you are unfamiliar with this segment of the Chinese government, you would not be alone. They are responsible for the propaganda against the Uyghur Muslims, which has been used to force over 1 million into re-education camps. Those camps are where scenes from the movie were filmed.
In addition to the re-education, which the Chinese Communist Party claims is part of battling religious fundamentalism, those detained in the camps are also forced to work for little to no money. They are also compelled to learn Mandarin. The offenses that can lead to being imprisoned in these camps can be as simple as growing a beard or praying.
Christine McCarthy, Disney's head of finance, had to address the controversy at the Bank of America virtual conference, saying,
The real facts are that Mulan was primarily shot -- almost in entirety -- in New Zealand. In an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this period drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China. It's common knowledge that, in order to film in China, you have to be granted permission. That permission comes from the central government. So, in our credits, it recognized both China and locations in New Zealand. I would just leave it at that, but it has generated a lot of issues for us.
Congress has asked for a better explanation from the company, sending the company a letter, saying,
Disney's apparent cooperation with officials of the People's Republic of China (PRC) who are most responsible for committing atrocities -- or for covering up those crimes -- is profoundly disturbing. The decision to film parts of Mulan in the XUAR, in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide.
While Disney officials do notn believe that cooperating with this group is a big deal, the trouble for the company seems to have only just begun.
This week has not been a good one for Amazon. Since the beginning of the lockdown,
price gouging has been a huge problem with online marketplaces. However, Amazon has worked to prevent third-party sellers from using the site to take advantage of shoppers. They have removed over a million listings and 10,000 sellers from the platform for price gouging. But, it turns out that Amazon's first-party prices are also out of control.
Consumer watchdog organization Public Citizen released a
new report showing that Amazon has raised prices on some of its first-party products up to 1000% above their normal prices. They point out two products, in particular: face masks which raised to $40 instead of $4, and corn starch which raised to $9 from $0.90. It is troubling that so much effort was put into blaming third-party sellers, but so little effort was made to stop the price increases-including on the products sold by Amazon directly. Amazon is not merely a victim in the price gouging on its marketplace. It is a perpetrator.
But first-party pricing isn't the only issue plaguing the platform. First-party products from the AmazonBasics line are seeing a huge number of serious defects. The company has previously had issues with products still being listed and sold on its platform after serious defects or even recalls, but those came from third-party sellers. It's a challenge for the company to regulate every listing, but when it comes to its own products, they seem to ignore issues.
Experts at the University of Maryland, as part of a CNN investigation into over 1500 consumer reviews about seriously faulty products, were able to replicate some of the issues. The most dangerous was an AmazonBasics microwave which has a tendency to spark, which could lead to a fire. Amazon disagrees with the report's use of consumer reviews but ignores video evidence of the issues.
While Apple may still be fighting against Epic's challenge to the App Store policies, it appears that the company is trying to make nice with the other group of companies who dislike the policies: streaming game brands. Previously, streaming services like Xbox Game Streaming (Project xCloud) and Facebook Gaming were not allowed on Apple's mobile devices because the content could not be individually moderated by Apple. However, since
Microsoft and Facebook called them out publicly, Apple seems to have worked to make it possible.
This has been accomplished through
changes to the App Store policies, made official this week. The big change is that game collection apps can now operate within the App Store, but with some heavy rules that could make it difficult to accommodate. The easy part is that all games within the catalog must follow the rules of the store. The app must provide metadata for each individual game available to Apple, to allow for full content search indexing.
On the other hand, all in-game purchases will need to be made through the App Store, just like other apps (including the 30% fee that Apple charges). Each individual game will also be required to go through the same app approval process that all games on the App Store must go through. This means that each game will be individually listed in the Store, making the management of the streaming services incredibly difficult.
This process is significantly different from that of streaming music or video services. Netflix does not need to get approval from Apple for each movie or TV episode that they list, and they do not have to list each piece individually in the store. Instead, Apple trusts that the content being provided will be acceptable to the platform. If it does not follow the rules, Apple can remove the entire app until it comes into alignment with the policies. However, they are really flexing their muscle in the gaming realm. However , the end result here will likely be an entire emerging market of gaming entirely off-limits to Apple users.