The UpStream

Hungarian Prime Minister Abandons Internet Tax

posted Saturday Nov 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

We've seen Internet taxes proposed across the world before, but they infrequently get implemented and the ones that do infrequently last. This is the case in Hungary, whose proposed Internet tax has officially been abandoned. The Primi Minister, Victor Orbán, made the announcement following protests in the tens of thousands of participants were held across the country.

The abandonment, however, comes with a caveat: he said that there will be no Internet tax in this form, not that the concept of some sort of Internet tax was being abandoned. This means that the Hungarian people will not see a $0.62 per gigabyte of used bandwidth, but could still see some sort of tax applied in the future.

The concept of a bandwidth-based tax on wired connections is especially offensive. Here in the office, on an average week, we consume several hundred gigabytes of bandwidth just in Hulu and Netflix usage. It is not unusual to run 6 or more hours of video streaming per day; assuming full HD (~8GB per hour), that is 336 GB per week, or $208.32 in additional taxes under the abandoned plan. That is just for the usage via streaming services, not our Internet usage as a whole.

As the usage of Internet is increasingly video-based, and the quality available from these services increases, that number would only go up. Because of this, it is a great move for the government to abandon the plan in this form. A new plan could be formed in January 2015, as the government is planning a national consultation on the topic.

Either way, it is good to see the government listened to its people. The protesters celebrated their victory Friday night, following their success story with another street gathering.

Alienware Alpha Replaces SteamOS, On Sale Now

posted Saturday Nov 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Alienware Alpha Replaces SteamOS, On Sale Now

Because Valve underestimated the complexities of developing a specialized operating system, SteamOS has been delayed until, let's say 2015. However, if their other software projects are any indication, seeing the platform launch before 2017 would be pretty amazing. Unfortunately, unlike their normal inability to estimate the scope of a software project, this one has hardware partners losing money every day the platform is delayed.

At E3 2014, Steam Machine partner Dell announced that their Alienware Alpha console would release without SteamOS this Holiday if the platform was not ready for primetime. As expected, the platform is not ready and Alienware has officially given up waiting for its release, putting the living room PC up for pre-order, with a shipping date this month.

Rather than SteamOS, the Alpha will ship with Windows 8.1 and Steam Big Picture pre-installed. This decision will come as a blow to Valve CEO Gabe Newell, who famously said Steam games wouldn't run on Windows 8. Another part of the Steam Machine platform that is missing is the controller, which Dell has decided to replace with an Xbox 360 controller for the Alpha. Based on what we have seen of the odd design of the Steam controller, this is probably a huge upgrade for owners.

One of the big benefits of the operating system switch is the incredible increase in game availability. In using SteamOS, had it been ready, the console would have had access to approximately 11 percent of the Steam game catalog. By dumping SteamOS and going Windows instead, the Alpha will have access to 100 percent of the Steam game catalog. Yes, you read that right: by not using Valve's own OS you will gain more access to Valve's game catalog.

Also, with Windows 8.1, you gain access to the entire Microsoft library of games, both desktop and modern. This includes content from Valve competitor EA Origin, as well as anything available in the Windows Store, whose collection of games and media content is far greater than that available for Linux (the basis for SteamOS). No matter how you slice it, this transition from Linux to Windows appears to be an upgrade.

Microsoft Band, and Why Hardware Sales Don't Matter

posted Saturday Nov 1, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Band, and Why Hardware Sales Don't Matter

Thursday night, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Band, and new health-related wearable from Redmond. The device has a very Modern design, a very Modern interface and a collection of health sensors: some fairly common, like heart rate, and others fairly unique, like UV sensor. The accompanying application platform, Microsoft Health, has compatibility with the Big 3 mobile platforms: Windows Phone, iOS and Android. The device was available Friday morning at Microsoft Store locations and online.

Almost immediately, the device was sold out online and physical Microsoft Stores had lines outside to pay for the new device. While some will say that Microsoft is keeping a limit on the supply to keep demand up, the success rate of that tactic has been less than stellar for any manufacturer in the past. The number one goal of a company with a product is to get that product into the hands of consumers, and no amount of "Out of Stock" headlines will help with that goal - it will only drive your customers to find a similar alternative. So, why is Microsoft out of the Microsoft Band already?

The reality is, this device, like the Surface, is not intended to be a stand-alone successful product. Instead, it is a marketable prototype designed to show off a different way of thinking to their partners. In the case of the Surface, it was about challenging their manufacturers, who license Windows from them, to create unique hardware concepts. Because of this, we have a thriving market of unique Windows hardware, from the Surface and ASUS Transformer Book to the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga line, you can get a computer that matches your needs. More importantly, though, is the increase in options based on a Microsoft-licensed platform.

The Microsoft Band is the same thing, just with a focus on encouraging its hardware partners to build Microsoft Health-based products instead of Windows. In the announcement post, Corporate Vice President Todd Holmdahl said,

Microsoft Health is designed to benefit our partners in many ways. For new entrants and startups we have a complete offering that includes our app, and APIs as well as cloud storage for their data. Existing services can upload their data to Microsoft Health and take advantage of our advanced algorithms and the powerful machine learning from our Intelligence Engine to give their customers insights. New devices can license our 10 wrist-worn sensor modules to gather robust data including active heart rate, sleep and GPS.

So, for Microsoft, the idea was not to build a product to compete with the lines of Fitbit, but instead to show what Fitbit could do with the power of Microsoft Health at its back. This includes both the licensing of the sensor array and the use of Microsoft Health, which includes all of the incredible Azure-based machine learning technology that has made Cortana, Bing and the Xbox One so powerful. When your goal is to license the technology, also attempting to crush the competition would go a long way towards negating your primary goal.

This still doesn't exactly explain the supply shortage that Microsoft is currently experiencing, or does it? Actually, it does. As with the original Surface launch, Microsoft massively under estimated the demand for what they consider a marketable prototype. Most likely, the company expected a number of developers and Microsoft die-hards to purchase the device, along with some of their "competitors," but did not expect the lines in the stores from people who were not already Microsoft-focused consumers. Again, as with the Surface, I suspect we will see production increase and future generations of the technology produce more initial quantities.

The nice thing about having a semi-successful hardware product, with the intention of selling other hardware companies a software product is, if the Microsoft Health platform is completely ignored by the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone, Microsoft can simply start to market the Band and sell it as they have done the Surface Pro 3: successfully. Backup plans are always a good thing.

TuneCore Launches YouTube Money to Track Down Unlicensed Music on Platform

posted Sunday Oct 26, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

TuneCore Launches YouTube Money to Track Down Unlicensed Music on Platform

TuneCore, a widely-known distribution company, has launched a new project for artists to make money using YouTube. Musicians that have unlicensed music on YouTube can now sign up to YouTube Money and gain ad revenue from these songs.

Here's how it works. Users can pick what songs need to be searched on YouTube. TuneCore's system then jumps deep into YouTube, searching for uses of the track that aren't licensed. Upon identification of the videos, the clips are then monetized and the money made from the video is placed into the artist's account with TuneCore.

TuneCore's CEO Scott Ackerman spoke on the need for YouTube Money.

As YouTube's importance as a point of distribution increases, we want to ensure Artists are receiving the full benefits. With YouTube Money, we're confident TuneCore can help artists by collecting the YouTube revenue artists have earned while artists can focus on what's most important-making music and getting their music out to the world.

Unlicensed music on YouTube is certainly a point of contention for many artists out there, and this service certainly seems to help with that. I do like that instead of videos being muted for an infringing track, the video can simply be monetized for the artist This helps when tracks are playing in the background while a certain show is out on location and they cannot control what happens around them. On the other side, YouTube already does this natively, but I suppose it's better if the major labels aren't getting 90 percent of the revenue from those videos.

To date, TuneCore, prior to naming this program, paid out over $32 million over the past quarter, up 13.2 percent from the last year. TuneCore only charges users $25 per song you want to hunt down on YouTube via YouTube Money.

First Microsoft Lumia Device to Be Launching Soon

posted Sunday Oct 26, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

First Microsoft Lumia Device to Be Launching Soon

After the Microsoft-Nokia deal closed earlier this year, we knew it was only a matter of time until we'd see our first rebranded smart device. After announcing it earlier this year, a small Nokia blog post hinted at the debut of such hardware.

Consumers will also have noticed many of the Nokia apps on their Windows Phone slowly being renamed with the Lumia prefix. Over the next quarter, we'll be seeing a bunch of new Lumia devices hit shelves worldwide. The new Microsoft Lumia name will be taking over and it will start with a device launching "soon," according to a Nokia blog on the subject.

However, that doesn't mean Nokia is going away. The company still owns the rights to the name, and will be using it for all Here map-related things, among other projects like the NSN network equipment services and all patent licensing. Speaking of patents and licensing, the Nokia name won't be leaving the mobile market entirely either. Microsoft will still be launching Nokia-branded, entry-level phones, like the Nokia 130. Nokia will also be able to launch Nokia-branded smartphones, but not until 2016 according to the acquisition deal.

SVP of Marketing, Tuula Rytila, also wanted to mention in the blog that support of current Nokia Lumia phones won't be going away. As expected, Nokia falling into the Microsoft umbrella just means a more symbiotic relationship for the two companies, and updates and warranties will continue to be supported for all current devices, including the recently-launched Lumia 830 and 730.

Phil Spencer Says Customers Were Confused by Xbox One Specs and Features

posted Sunday Oct 26, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Phil Spencer Says Customers Were Confused by Xbox One Specs and Features

We've talked at length about the Xbox One and Microsoft's decision to be indecisive on the path of the console. The good news is that it's finally all coming together, albeit in a slightly altered path than the original. And even though its competition is copying ideas that gamers said they didn't want but somehow are now miraculously loving (and are paying for), there hasn't been a major vision shift for over six months, so I think we've hit our stride. Microsoft's Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has guided the ship for a while now but sat down with IGN's Podcast Unlocked to talk about some of the confusion and frustration consumers felt after the initial launch of the Xbox One.

Right off the bat, Spencer acknowledged where Microsoft missed its mark in delivering the proper message to its customers. Not properly explaining the Kinect requirement, or that the console would be forced to check-in online upset a lot of people and with social media allowing the ill-informed or unaware to voice an opinion on a subject, the backlash hit them hard.

"The year of the announce of Xbox, E3 2013, the toll it took on some of the internal team members was probably higher than I anticipated or many of us did," Spencer said. He compared it to E3 2014, where his team was "visibly emotional" in trying to bring back pride and a positive reputation to something they'd worked hard on. On his part in the decision-making and message delivery process, Spencer owned up to his role.

I see it sometimes on Twitter and other places, where people want to call me out as somebody who was at the leadership table when decisions were made for Xbox One, and that's absolutely true. I've never tried to wash my hands or distance myself from my role on the Xbox One leadership team through the announcement of the console, E3 2013 - I was there, and I'm not trying to create some kind of false history that makes me look better, to say I wasn't there, I wasn't involved. I'm going to take responsibility for those decisions, absolutely, good ones and bad ones. I have to, otherwise I don't have any credibility in what I do going forward. I wouldn't trust me if all of a sudden I tried to say 'well, I was asleep during those meetings'. It would be silly. I was there.

Spencer even went on to say that there should've been more time at E3 2013 spent with talking about the amount of games coming to the console, but insisted that the entertainment features are what makes the console a complete option for the living room. He boldly says they have the right to do that because they make an outstanding product.

I think we get permission as a platform to focus on entertainment when we're a great gaming platform. And before we've earned that permission, and we go out and try to explain to people that we're an entertainment platform, without checking for all the Xbox fans out there that this is going to be the place they want to play games - I think that's where we confused people.

Still, Spencer confidently stood behind the decisions the team has made from that point moving forward, and believes that the best companies can learn from mistakes, no matter the type. Are you sold on the Xbox One yet? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.

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