The UpStream

Samsung Follows HTC, Begins Pushing Ads to New Phones

posted Sunday Aug 23, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Samsung Follows HTC, Begins Pushing Ads to New Phones

Advertising has always existed in electronics as a way to overcome the large costs of product development. Obviously, the most common place we see them are on websites and in free apps, though we are beginning to see them in other places. Earlier this year, HTC introduced advertising into the notification system in Android, bringing a lot of negative attention to the already struggling company.

Proving that insanity known no bounds, Samsung has apparently begun experimenting with the same concept. Examples published online include an ad for Million Dollar Listing on Bravo (sponsored by Land Rover), Galaxy S6+ and Peel Smart Remote, a part of Samsung's included application suite. According to the initial report, the Bravo ad simply opens the Peel app, where you can set a reminder for the show.

This means that, for now, Samsung is technically only advertising their own products through their own products and/or services. That does not mean that it will stay that way. One of the recent HTC ads pushed to phones was for Fantastic Four, this year's entry into the disastrous movie franchise. It is always possible that HTC has a financial interest in the success of the film, which would play nicely into their last couple years of losing money, but it is more likely that they were paid to advertise the film.

We support responsible digital advertising, as it does make services like ours available to the public for free. The difference here is that you are not receiving a product or service for free - you have paid a lot of money to Samsung and HTC for your device. You have the reasonable expectation that the price you paid, likely through your carrier, would have paid for the cost of the device, therefore receiving advertising from the manufacturer, for their products or not, is an unexpected development.

Obviously this is not a legal issue, though it is definitely a customer service and expectations issue. If this continues, will it affect your future smartphone buying decisions? Let us know in the comments.

Google Becomes Alphabet, Confuses Everyone

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Becomes Alphabet, Confuses Everyone

Corporations change their names all the time. Usually, the change comes about when a company is in trouble and restructuring its operations. Research in Motion became BlackBerry during a restructuring that was intended to minimize other divisions. Tandy Corporation became RadioShack Corporation when they shed their other businesses, like Tandy Leather, to focus on their retail business, which was at an all-time high. What almost never happens is a company changing their name when the old name is highly recognizable.

I say almost never because this week, Google announced a corporate name change. Instead of Google, the company will now be known as Alphabet. Despite the name change, the company will continue to trade on the NASDAQ as GOOG, indicating, at least in some part, a lack of confidence in the move. The "new company" will become more of a holding company rather than an operational entity, with wholly-owned subsidiaries underneath.

A new company, called Google, will emerge below Alphabet, which will be responsible for several of the existing Google brands, such as Search, YouTube, Android, etc. Other, unrelated brands, such as Nest, Fiber and Ventures, will be spun out to their own divisions, with 8 in total (as of today). Alphabet will have CEO Larry Page, President Sergey Brin, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, CFO Ruth Porat and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond. The new Google will be headed by new CEO Sundar Pichai, who was previously the guy who was actually running the Google operations.

In addition to confusing everyone on the Internet, this change has the potential to cause some real problems for the company. For example, the name Alphabet is a registered trademark in many countries, some of which are existing software companies. Also, it turns out BMW already owns the trademark and domain name, and have taken issue with the announcement. Of course, the name is also bad for SEO, but Google has never been afraid to adjust their search results to emphasize their own brand.

The real problem they face is the potential loss of their trademark. It has been many years since the word Google became google, transitioning from a noun to a verb. As it becomes a common word in the vernacular, it becomes harder and harder to retain a trademark. Aspirin, Cellophane and Thermos are well-known brands who lost their protected status because of the commonality of their names in the popular vernacular. Google is headed in the same direction, accelerated by the demotion of the word even within its own corporate structure.

A potentially hidden, or at least unannounced result of the new structure is the siloing of the company. Google has long been known for having a happy, yet toxic corporate culture, one which can affect business decisions. Google product managers are paid partially based on the size of their teams, and team members can be easily poached. Add to that Google's long-term focus on information collection and advertising revenue, and companies like Nest can become a frightening brand to avoid at all costs, if affected by the corporate culture. Splitting Nest away from Google could help the company come up with its own business models without pressure from "above."

Will the new name work? Possibly, but it is clearly not going to be an easy transition for the company.

Crackdown 3 Shows Off Power of Azure, Only Limited by ISP

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Crackdown 3 Shows Off Power of Azure, Only Limited by ISP

As we fully move into current-gen gaming on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, we're finally starting to see the consoles pushed more and more. For the Xbox One, the Azure cloud was supposed to make playing games more immersive and dynamic, however fans seemed to hate innovation when this feature set was announced back at E3 2013. Because of this, many games pulled back on using cloud services to improve gaming experiences, however some first-party titles were still taking advantage of the superior performance. This week, Reagent Games stamped their approval on cloud-backed gaming as well, saying that Crackdown 3 will be so intense, your only bottleneck will be your Internet service provider.

In an interview, Microsoft Studios' GM Shannon Loftis said that the power of the cloud is real. Crackdown 3 will take full advantage of it with the game's multiplayer destruction, and the servers that host the 100% destructable cities can scale up and down, using more server power when needed. The only thing Microsoft and Reagent can't guarantee, however, is the connection between you and your ISP, which may limit how much chaos you will witness while playing.

We can ensure that what leaves the data center is in a particular state, but not what happens between then and when it gets to people's houses. There's code on the client side that ensures that all the instances stay synced and that you're seeing what I see and that it all runs smoothly.

It's worth mentioning here that the studio is saying that you will be affected; it's just saying that it might be a problem if you have a much slower connection than your peers in-game. Considering the fact that at Gamescom, we saw Crackdown 3 in all its glory leveraging the cloud, the game has already proven that it drives the Xbox One into being an insanely powerful console. Maybe this will be the game that finally pushes developers back to harnassing the tools that Microsoft gave them to really make this generation of consoles mean something.

Over $100 Million Made from Hacking 150k Press Releases

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Over $100 Million Made from Hacking 150k Press Releases

Classify this one as next-level insider trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a statement that says hackers out of the Ukraine hacked databases containing press releases that weren't released yet in order to use the information to make over $100 million on the stock market.

The SEC says that the hackers would secretly access the press releases and share the info they found with stock traders across the globe for a cut of their earnings on said information. The US government has arrested five suspects so far and has filed charges on 32 other people based on these findings.

Two particular gentlemen, Ivan Turchynov and Oleksandr Ieremenko, were allegedly behind the entire operation, according to the SEC. The agency says that these two worked their way into Marketwired, PR Newswire and Business Wire, three of the biggest news wire services. The hackers would then grab embargoed press releases and send them to businesses and investors. The SEC says over 150,000 pressers were stolen but would not say how long this was going on for.

The thieves aren't the only ones involved in this elaborate setup. Traders were actually sending the men lists of companies and press releases to go after, but only after they were sold on the idea. There was even a video made about how the traders could get access to the information.

SEC's Director for the Division of Enforcement, Andrew Ceresney, said,

This cyber hacking scheme is one of the most intricate and sophisticated trading rings that we have ever seen, spanning the globe and involving dozens of individuals and entities.

In all, 14 businesses and 16 stock investors have had civil charges filed against them. Seven other people, along with Ieremenko and Turchynov are looking at criminal charges. The SEC said they have already been granted the order to freeze any and all bank accounts and assets related to the crime.

Columbia House Files for Bankruptcy

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

You remember Columbia House, right? You know, the website and mail-order service where you could get 13 records, tapes, CDs or DVDs for JUST $1? As a kid, I thought this was the coolest and best deal ever, and I remember seeing those commercials on TV, in the mail and online for as far back as I can remember. And even though some of their marketing tactics were downright shady, it pains me to report that another nostalgic company has fallen.

Columbia House, which is now owned by Filmed Entertainment, Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection this week. The company has acknowledged that it can no longer compete in selling CDs and DVDs with the advent of digital music. It seems like that statement could have been made about 5 years ago with the same impact.

This decline is directly attributable to a confluence of market factors that substantially altered the manner in which consumers purchase and listen to music, as well as the way consumers purchase and watch movies and television series at home.

In its hey-day, Columbia House brought in $1.4 billion. That was in 1996. Since then it's been a spiral downward, with the company only making $17 million last year. How anybody was still paying them money is beyond me, but here we are. Even crazier, the company stopped selling CDs in 2010 and was completely outsourcing its DVD distribution until this announcement.

It's crazy to think how such a shady company stayed in business for so long, and that only the change in technology led to its closure. I can't tell you how many horror stories I've seen over the years of young adults getting suckered into the long-term commitments to Columbia House with no way out. While I wasn't one that fell for the 12 CDs for a penny or a dollar or whatever, I did fall victim to similar scams at the time with other companies. So while it's weird to see another 90s brand crumble, this one is oddly satisfying.

Microsoft Extends NFL Partnership to Include New Surfaces and a New App

posted Sunday Aug 16, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Microsoft Extends NFL Partnership to Include New Surfaces and a New App

The NFL and Microsoft have had a bit of a tumultuous partnership. A couple of years ago, the full push behind Microsoft's Surface as the technology that powered on-field devices ended up with announcers calling them iPads. This led to Microsoft issuing a statement and demanding all personnel know what the computers were actually called. This seemed to have fixed the problem, with NFL teams adopting more and more Microsoft technology, and even venturing into the virtual reality world. Now, the partnership between the National Football League and the team behind Windows has been extended even further, with new things coming for the fan, player and coach.

Fans of the NFL who are using Windows devices will benefit from having a new app for the Xbox One and Windows 10 that will feature improved video playback, new stats and an added fantasy football tracker. The NFL app on the Xbox One was badly missing a fluid user interface and not many people used it as it was reported that the app would freeze and crash on occasion. And with fantasy football becoming more and more popular, being able to snap a tracker on your Xbox seems like a perfect match for those watching football through their TV input on the console. Adding it to other Windows 10 devices gives customers the ability to check out all the content while away from home.

Added to the app will be a new feature called Next Gen Stats. The NFL has added sensors into player equipment that will provide really cool stats like the distance a player has traveled throughout a game or play, how fast they were going and even replays that feature player movements combined with those stats.

Next Gen Stats have opened up a new game for NFL fans to play, called NGS Pick'em. This new quick-hit game lets Xbox users pick players who they think will perform well in a game and will award them prizes for picking the right ones. The winners will be picked weekly, with one winner for the entire season getting tickets to Super Bowl 50. Microsoft has said all these features will be identical on the Windows 10 app as well, naturally.

For coaches and players, Microsoft has supplied them with an abundance of new Surface Pro 3 tablets. Players have fallen in love with the older Surface Pro 2s, as it gave them next to real-time feedback on their last plays and current performance on the field. Coaches were using the computers over printing each and every play from the 12 angles they have access to and instead were swiping, zooming and drawing right on the screen. Referees will get to join in on the tech fun, too, as they will continue to use a Surface for all replay reviews under the hood.

Lastly, Microsoft has made sure that nobody will forget what these devices are called ever again. Instead of just putting the Microsoft logo or the word on the back of the Surfaces, each and every one will have the word Surface labeled on the back of the special housing, in big, bold white lettering. This way, the only people who will misname them again will be those with a secret anti-Surface agenda.

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