The UpStream

Razer Launches the Nabu Smartband For Just $100

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Razer Launches the Nabu Smartband For Just $100

Gaming company Razer set out last year to create a new social smartband called the Nabu, and after a year of testing that included a debut of the product at the 2014 International CES, the band finally went on sale this week in North America. Impressively, the device sold out within 72 hours of it becoming available to consumers.

For just $100, the Nabu features two screens for notifications, one at 32x32 pixels on the outside of the wrist and the other at 128x32 on the inside of the wrist. The Nabu also contains tracking technology you'd find in more expensive devices, such as an accelerometer, altimeter and a form of NFC, allowing users to link up and connect with each other via tapping bands. Dubbed "Pulse," a user could shake hands with another user and their contact information could be swapped with the feature enabled.

There's a couple of really cool additions that make this smartband stand out. For one, developers are currently working on a notification system that would let users know when they're friends are playing their favorite games. And with the dev kit only running $50, there is a load of potential that opens up for unique connectivity between devices. There is currently another app being created that will allow certain PC games to actually react to the movement of the Nabu, in conjunction with the Kinect 2.0.

What I like even more is the fact that there is support from the developers on Windows Phone compatibility. While Razer claims that the Nabu Utility app is currently available from the Windows Store, the link in the FAQ does not lead us to a valid page. However, the forums contain a link to sideload the app and the dev kit comes with an FTP to a ton of resources. Some features currently do not work on Windows Phone, but there are break-out groups of regular users, working to make the functions come to life for those with a WinPho.

It is interesting to see a gaming company get involved in a band that contains both fitness and social features with so much competition currently out there. Luckily, the band has not been said to cause third degree burns, so they already have a step up on the pack. If people get behind the device and can create some unique experiences, the product could end up being really successful, especially at the $100 pricepoint.

Microsoft, Barnes & Noble End Nook Partnership Deal

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft, Barnes & Noble End Nook Partnership Deal

When Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced in 2012 that they would be working together, the response was varied. Some saw the $300 million investment Microsoft made in Nook as a natural partnership - Barnes & Noble was working on being a contender in the low cost tablet market and Microsoft was about to take their fight to tablet hardware. Low cost Nook hardware powered by Microsoft's Windows 8 rather than Google's Android might have helped both companies. Others saw it as an impossible partnership with little to be gained by either company.

2 years later and the landscape looks quite different. Barnes & Noble has had very little luck getting people to purchase its Nook hardware, compared to Amazon's Kindle Fire. They will even spin Nook off to its own company, since the focus of the device seems to have been completely lost. The hardware is now made by Samsung, the system is made by Google and very little of it is focused on books.

On the other hand, Microsoft has made huge gains in both the low cost and top-tier tablet world. The Surface Pro 3 is a major contender in the high-end tablet, as well as Ultrabook, categories, and devices such as the HP Stream 7 have started to take hold in the low cost category.

With the breakup of this partnership, Microsoft leaves with $120 million in cash and stock. That is 40% of what they originally put into the partnership, and not all in cash. Certainly not the winning decision they had hoped, but also not the major loss it could have been, assuming the Nook continues to be the losing product it is today. At least Microsoft got a Nook app for Windows 8 out of the deal.

UK Plans to Create Google Tax, an Inappropriately Named Tax Dodger Punishment

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Right now, Internet taxation has become all the rage. Several countries, the world over, have considered or implemented taxes on Internet purchases, sometimes with huge public backlash. The United Kingdom seems to have taken the concept and expanded it, planning to punish companies that generate revenue in the UK, but divert the profits to other countries where taxation is lessened.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced what is being called the "diverted profit tax" but is better known as the "Google tax," despite the fact that its intended audience is not necessarily even Internet companies, nor is it exactly a tax. He said at the announcement,

Today I am introducing a 25 percent tax on profits generated by multinationals from economic activity here in the UK which they then artificially shift out of the country. That's not fair to other British firms. It's not fair to the British people either. My message is consistent and clear. Low taxes; but taxes that will be paid.

First, this is not exactly a tax, so much as a tariff. The British government looks to impose a fee on the exportation of profits, not on the actual revenue generated through business, which would be a tax. It is, ironically, very similar to what they did once before, and is today known as the Intolerable Acts which ultimately sparked the American Revolution. Once again, this tariff is targeted at the former colonies, as most of the affected businesses are US in origin.

Second, this is not about Google, so much as it is about foreign interests. Google, however, has been a major target of European regulation lately, so it makes some sense for them to associate the act with the search giant. In addition to Google, Amazon and Starbucks are also major targets, as they have been well-known to divert profits to other, international divisions instead of realizing them in the UK.

While this coercive act might work to their advantage, it is more likely that it will backfire. In 2010, Google proved to the world that they were not afraid to leave a market over a government disagreeance. It is far more likely that Google would shut down UK operations than bow down to a 25 percent tariff, whose only purpose is to force payment of a tax which is clearly higher than that from other countries. Perhaps, if the UK would like to see their economy not collapse like Greece, they might try lowering the percentage a foreign entity pays rather than trying to extort more money out of them. If it was financially reasonable for these companies to pay taxes in the UK, they would - it is not an inexpensive task to divert profits to other divisions.

Rovio to Lay Off 110 Employees and Close Studio, Proves That Fame is Fleeting

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Rovio to Lay Off 110 Employees and Close Studio, Proves That Fame is Fleeting

If ever there was a company that embodied the ideals of fame, it is Rovio. When their hit game Angry Birds hit the scene, it was a near instant success. Everyone was playing it on every platform - it even made its way to webOS. Then, almost as quickly, came the merchandise, both official and not. You couldn't go to a fan convention or comic shop without a vendor selling plushies, shirts, etc.

However, as Rovio has discovered this year, the old adage "fame is fleeting" is always true. Their userbase has declined heavily, leading to a major crash in profitability for the company. The company has also had trouble finding something that isn't Angry Birds to publish, ironically leaving all of their eggs in one basket.

As a result, the company will lay off 110 employees and close its Tampere studio. The publisher plans to consolidate its Finnish operations at their headquarters in Espoo. The layoffs are lower than first expected, leaving about 20 extra employees with jobs at the company.

Rovio was once considered the face of a new gaming industry, and looked to be headed to a large, successful IPO. Unfortunately for the company, it is the face of a new gaming industry - one that includes Zynga, which has had nearly identical issues since filing its IPO, and King. This new industry is populated by individuals or small teams who have a marketable idea, receive intense amounts of funding and stall out. It takes a lot of talent, and certainly more funding that these companies receive, to be able to milk a franchise the way Activision does, and for as long.

Verizon Begins Process of Retiring 3G Network

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Begins Process of Retiring 3G Network

In the world of cellular technology, everything comes to an end. Eventually analog networks gave way to digital. First generation gave way to second, and so on. Sometimes the transitions are easy, like retiring analog years after all phones in the wild supported digital radios. Sometimes they can be difficult and expensive, like when Cingular shut down their TDMA network, requiring many customers to make the switch from phones they liked, some being nearly new.

Verizon, the largest US carrier, followed by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, has begun the latest process of network retirements, with a plan to transition all customers to LTE-only. Unfortunately for Verizon, this transition requires a lot of preparations. For example, like with Cingular, all customers will have to have devices that support LTE, which is not necessarily the case today. While it may seem like all phones support LTE today, they don't. Think about your last family gathering where you saw a flip phone. That device does not support LTE and will be completely useless after this transition.

But it's not just LTE that these devices need to support; they also need support for Voice over LTE (VoLTE). What devices currently support this technology? Well, a number of the top-end Windows Phones, Android phones and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from Apple. If you just upgraded your phone to an iPhone 5s, you will not be able to use that handset after this upgrade completes. There are also many other devices not compatible - it is a far easier list to find all compatible handsets.

Secondly, Verizon needs to ensure that all of its network is LTE compatible, and that they won't cut off customers who can currently use their phone if they do retire 3G. For example, at our former office in Tampa, we had no access to LTE coverage on Verizon. No matter the handset, 3G was the best we could hope for in the area. Turning off the 3G network today would leave that area without Verizon coverage of any sort.

The good news here is that this transition will not happen any time soon. Verizon has not officially announced their intentions; they have simply begun running tests in markets like Manhattan. One user discovered that their 3G access had vanished and, several hours later, was replaced by LTE running on the same spectrum. The fact that Verizon has not made this process public yet is an important indicator to the timeline. When Cingular turned off TDMA, they made their plans known well over a year before the transition began.

Additionally, Verizon's plans do not call for the launch of an LTE-only device until 2016. While that may not be entirely indicative of their timeline, it does help. An LTE-only phone would not necessarily help Verizon in this process, or even be related. Even if Verizon does not support 3G going forward, removing the radio from the handset would serve to limit the phone's roaming capabilities, both domestically and abroad. It might actually be a mistake for them to attempt an LTE-only device at all.

Once a transition like this is complete, Verizon can use the spectrum currently dedicated to supporting older technology to help them feed the need for LTE spectrum, which will ironically only increase with the transition. LTE, however, is far less spectrum-hungry than its older counterparts, which required separate spectrum for data and voice, but ran on a single radio. This means that they can get more out of the spectrum once converted to LTE.

Lizard Squad Takes Down Xbox Live Twice

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Lizard Squad Takes Down Xbox Live Twice

If you were trying to connect to your Xbox 360 or last week but were unsuccessful, it wasn't because of your Internet connection. Instead, Lizard Squad, the same group behind the PlayStation Network outage last month and for calling in a fake bomb threat on an International flight, has taken claim for the attacks on Xbox's networks.

A Microsoft spokesperson has commented on the matter, only saying that service was interrupted.

On December 5, 2014, some of our customers experienced an Xbox service interruption. We worked quickly to resolve and address the issue and services are being restored to normal.

It should be pointed out that Xbox networks were also down on Tuesday the 2nd. The group's Twitter account, upon Xbox Live having connection problems, simply wrote, "Xbox Live #offline." Shortly after, however, Lizard Squad said that.

Unlike Santa, we don't like giving all of our Christmas presents out on one day. This entire month will be entertaining. #LizardSquad

Lizard Squad has even said that Christmas Day should be an "entertaining" time as well, then went on to take down a Steam server seemingly just for fun. Of course, all of this has sparked outrage within the gaming community, with users creating petitions on the White House website to stop the "infamous" Lizard Squad.

I think the real kicker is how all of this came to be. Based on the Twitter account, the group asked what the next target should be, and a follower responded with, "Xbox." I think this further proves that we should never rely on random Twitter users for ideas for anything.

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