It's that time of year where tech companies are making their announcements for the next generation of their products - just in time for holiday shopping. While these announcements may look different this year from past events thanks to the lockdown, most of the products are what we expect - incremental updates to existing prodicts. Amazon decided to take a different approach from the likes of Apple and announced some legitimately new prodicts, or big new features to existing lines.
Sure, the Echo speakers are generally unchanged, save for the design. Instead of a Pringles can, they now look like a ball. But, that's mostly just aesthetics. Sure, Alexa is getting upgrades, but that's not a device feature, that is a network-level feature. The Eero line also got a modest upgrade, with a pair of new mesh routers sporting Wi-Fi 6. This is a welcome upgrade, but fairly pedestrian, as most other brands have already released Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers.
The real shock for Amazon comes in a pair of devices: the upgraded Echo Show 10 and the Ring Always Home Cam. The new Echo Show 10 adds an interesting feature - the ability for the camera to follow you. But, if you have seen an Echo Show, you know the camera is built in to the frame of the screen. So, to accomplish this new feature, the entire screen follows you. It's an interesting concept, but a problem for anyone who is worried about privacy, because it means the camera is always looking for people, can identify them, and then follow them around a room.
While that's odd, the Ring Always Home Cam is even odder, and stranger. It is a camera drone that sits in a mouht in your home and can fly around and follow intruders. No part of Amazon, a company that has had privacy violation issues in the past, having moving access to view inside of your home makes this an uncomplicated issue. While Amazon assures people that the flying spy camera makes enough noise that no one would be surprised by it, it's less about Amazon and more about hacking that has me worried. If someone can gain remote access to the devices, like they did with the Ring cameras a while back, hackers might be able to scout the inside of your home using your own spy drone. They could even land it in a different location and keep an eye of your activities. Not a great possible outcome for a product that is really just a novelty looking for attention.
Last month, it was revealed that DC Universe was moving its content off of the service and onto HBO Max. The company promised that DC Universe would still exist, but the lack of original content did not bode well for the future of the service as a streaming platform. This week, DC Comics confirmed that DC Universe would no longer be a streaming service, but that it would live on in the form of a comic subscription service.
The newly minted DC Universe Infinite will change its focus from video to comics, resulting in a similar service to the Marvel Unlimited subscription service. This new subscription will allow people to access a large catalog of DC comics, both new and old. It will offer over 24,000 books at launch and will also include digital-first content, meaning that these books will be available to Infinite subscribers before they are printed to paper. Brand new content from the likes of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and more, will launch on the service 6 months after hitting comic shop shelves.
DC's Chief Creative Officer, Jim Lee, said of the service,
Our fans love the platform's robust library of comic books and, with the transformation, we will not disappoint. I'm excited to share that not only will DC Universe Infinite members still be able to read all of the great comics that they've enjoyed but new issues are debuting on the platform quicker than before, digital first exclusives are being created, and the members-only events will begin as soon as possible.
DC Universe Infinite will launch January 21, 2021, for $7.99 per month. You can also get an entire year's subscription for only $74.99. The company will offer a pre-order period, which will give a $10 voucher to the DC Store to monthly subscribers, and a $25 voucher to those who commit to a full year's subscription.
Over the past few years, Google has made Google Fiber an afterthought. They paused rollouts while purchasing Webpass, suggesting a possible switch in technologies. Since then, little has been done with the brand, with even the Webpass acquisition seemingly languishing. However, that seems to be changing, as the company has announced some major enhancements to the existing service.
The Google Fiber brand has announced an upgrade in speed, moving from the standard 1 Gbps service to 2 Gbps instead. The new, increased speed, will still only set customers back $100 per month. Considering that there are still markets in the US where the normal speed is 100 Mbps or less, 2 Gbps, which equates to 20 times that speed, is nearly comedic in comparison. However, the biggest difference in this service would be in the upload speed. Because cable services provide asynchronous speeds, a 100 Mbps package would likely only offer 10 Mbps upload. On fiber, though, the speeds are synchronous, meaning that you could have uploads that match your downloads, or a combination of the two. So, you could upload at 300 Mbps and download at 1700 Mbps with this new service upgrade.
The test, which will begin this Fall, will launch in two cities: Huntsville and Nashville. Google Fiber users who would like to be included in this test can apply for the Google Fiber Trusted Tester program. Being part of the program is not guaranteed, but it is worth the shot. The new service, following the test, should roll out to all Google Fiber customers in 2021.
As part of the new service, users will receive a Wi-Fi 6 mesh network router. Wi-Fi 6 would be the best way to wirelessly use as much of the available bandwidth as possible. We are finally starting to see a general acceptance of Wi-Fi 6, with Verizon and AT&T recently releasing 5G hotspots that also feature the new standard.
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.
The 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.