The UpStream

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.

Ello Takes $5.5M in VC Money, Signs Legal Papers to Never Sell Ads on Service

posted Sunday Oct 26, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Ello Takes $5.5M in VC Money, Signs Legal Papers to Never Sell Ads on Service

We were all curious what was going to happen when Ello ran out of money. An ad-free social networking platform is a noble idea, but pay-for-feature websites have sprung up in the past and have failed, so many were worried about Ello's sustainability. Well, the good news is that Ello has answered both the money question and its promise to remain ad-free.

Ello's creators, in their effort to stay true to their promise, has taken $5.5 million in venture capital funding, but not without signing legally binding papers that say Ello can never sell advertising space or sell its user data. How can a for-profit company do this without upsetting stakeholders? By registering under a special company type, a public benefit corporation, or PBC. As one of only about 1,100 PBCs in the US, a company can use its money in different ways as it sees fit, instead of simply spending money to build profit at any cost. In the charter, Ello writes,

Ello's explosive growth over the last few months proves that there is a hunger to connect with friends and see beautiful things - without being manipulated by ad salesmen, boosted posts, and computer algorithms that don't always have our best interests at heart. On an ad-driven social network, the advertiser is the customer and you're the product that's bought and sold.

All of this to simply avoid selling out like other companies sure does seem like a solid commitment to the initial idea of what Ello is supposed to be. Analysts everywhere have essentially made Ello's founders to look like they don't know what they're doing by thinking they can take money without a stream of ad revenue. However this charter, followed by the $5.5 million, effectively puts a sock in all of those mouths rather quickly.

Ello's co-founder, Paul Budnitz, also made sure to add in that if Ello were to ever be acquired, it cannot be by a company who would make Ello sell ads or user data. He said in a statement that,

A PBC is obligated to consider the mission based. We really cannot be forced by our investors to break the basic principles. Ello is a business, and we're here to prove that the internet doesn't have to be one big billboard. There's a better business model, and by becoming a PBC, we're hoping that other people are inspired to follow our example.

Ello has already gone to work with the added funding, too. The 10-week schedule of updates and features has been crunched into three weeks worth of work and Ello hopes to launch worldwide before the end of the year. Some of those updates include the already-implemented privacy options and new servers to hold the heavy influx of traffic to the site. What's at the end of the road for Ello? The founders have said there is no exit strategy and that never in any financial conversation has the talk of launching an IPO or selling the business come up.

For a full breakdown of what Ello's charter actually is and how it affects the company, be sure to check out the source link below, as it goes into insane detail on the nuances of the documents.

Stitcher Becomes Part of Deezer Streaming Company

posted Sunday Oct 26, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Stitcher Becomes Part of Deezer Streaming Company

Over the last few months, we have worked to get our shows into Stitcher. If you don't know what Stitcher is, it is essentially a centralized podcast marketplace. One of the things that makes the platform unique is its growing range of devices on which you can access its content.

Over the past few years at CES, we have seen Chevy and Ford add Stitcher support to their vehicles, among others. With this kind of support, you would expect a successful company. Unfortunately for Stitcher, a lack of support on some big names has been surprising. For example, not supporting the Microsoft platforms has been disappointing, especially considering the stats many of us get from Zune, even today, years after the software has been abandoned by Microsoft.

If you are in the podcasting community and you're intelligent, you have been keeping track of Stitcher's business. They have not been financially viable for a while, and some sort of big change was inevitable. Even their internal stats stopped updating for publishers, which pointed to a transition of some sort.

This week we learned exactly what that transition would be: a purchase by music streaming service Deezer. If you are a North American reader, you have probably never heard of Deezer, but if you are in Europe you might as well subscribe to their service. Adding podcasting and radio to their existing platform makes them a real competitor to iTunes.

The thing that separates them from iTunes is their HUGE range of devices. From Windows Phone to LG televisions, almost any device you might own has access to Deezer. If they apply their philosophy of wide range access to Stitcher, there is the possibility of gaining a huge following.

The question becomes, how does Deezer monetize their acquisition. Stitcher was not able to pull it off themselves, so can their new parent company? There is the possibility that the playlist/station concept might end up hidden behind a paywall; its a pretty natural way for a paid streaming service to go. There is another option, however. It is possible that, like iTunes, Deezer would use the podcast offering as their loss leader - offering it for free to tempt people into the Deezer family and converting them to paid subscribers of their music service.

Only time will tell how it plays out, but for now, it looks like it will be business as usual.

Malicious Ads Appear on Top-Tier Websites

posted Sunday Oct 26, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Malicious Ads Appear on Top-Tier Websites

Security is a topic we have had to cover a lot over the last few years; certainly a lot more than we would have wanted to have to. Malware has become a big part of the security issues, whether it be Chrome or Android being easy targets, or child porn ransomware, malware is almost everywhere. One thing we have been able to count on is being secure on top-tier websites.

Ad platforms can be a source of revenue for these sites, but it turns out, if you're not careful, they can be a source of disaster, as well. Major sites recently had malicious ads served by their ad services, damaging customers' computers and their brand's reputation. Included in the sites that got hit were AOL, and Yahoo.

The ads were incredibly deceiving, because they stole creative from actual advertisers, including Bing and Case Logic, two well known and respected brands on the web. To see an ad from either of these companies would not be a surprise. Unfortunately, when the person who clicked ended up on the other end, what they received was not a normal website, but instead ransomware.

Ransomware locks your computer, or just a collection of files, and asks for money to unlock said files. The money is transferred in Bitcoin, making it difficult or impossible to trace. Because of this, it is a very effective way of extorting money out of unsuspecting people. Adding in the ability to trick people into downloading the ransomware from top tier websites adds a lot to the scam.

A couple of things need to come from this. First, as a web user, be very careful what you click on. Just because it is an ad for Bing on does not mean that Bing is on the other side of the ad. Also, when you get there, don't download anything that it encourages you to download. Bing is never going to download something for you, period.

Second, publishers need to be careful what ads they allow on their sites, and even more careful what ad platforms they allow ads to come from. Google AdSense, LinkShare and Commission Junction are safe ad platforms, but not so much anyone else. Even then, these platforms can be tricked into serving ads from scam groups.

This leads into the third point, aimed at the ad platforms themselves: they must be more vigilant in protecting the end customers. Ads like these never should have been allowed in the first place. If the check doesn't come from Microsoft, the ad should not say Bing. If these platforms know the ad is fake, they should not accept the payment and should not serve the ad.

Hopefully this issue will make a positive change: add a lot of thought to the Internet's advertising world, for the users, publishers and ad platforms.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Goes 8-Player, Upgrades Create-a-Stage

posted Saturday Oct 25, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Goes 8-Player, Upgrades Create-a-Stage

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS has been out for a few weeks, and it is proving to be quite a seller. It has even helped Nintendo sell hardware, which is something they desperately needed. Now, with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Nintendo hopes to duplicate, or even expand on, these results.

In their most recent Nintendo Direct, they showed off 50 cool things about the new title. There were two interesting features shown off that need to be mentioned. First, one of the interesting game elements from Super Smash Bros. Brawl was the create-a-stage. The problem, of course, was the sometimes unpredictable interface because of the motion-controlled console. Well, with the Wii U we now have a touchscreen tablet included, which means that you can actually design a detailed, complete level.

A more important feature of the new title, however, is the expanded gameplay. In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, you will be able to play an 8 person game instead of the traditional 4. Finally having an HD-capable Nintendo console allows for a more detailed stage, and of course more combat on the screen.

Adding more players to a screen means everything will be a bit smaller, as the game can zoom out pretty far as the action separates. Hopefully you have a large screen to play this crazy new mode on so you can see everything.

Are you excited to see how these new and revamped features play in the real world? Well, for now you can check out the Nintendo Direct video in the source link and tell us your thoughts in the comments section.

Apple and Another Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

posted Saturday Oct 25, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Apple and Another Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Exactly one month ago, Apple had a very bad week. Between build quality issues on the iPhone 6, iOS 8 update issues, iCloud and Apple Pay security plus a UNIX bug, life was not good for their customers or the company in the press. One thing we have learned about Apple is that they have a plan for recovering from major public relations disasters; perhaps that is a thing of the past. This week, Apple had another series of PR disasters, many related to the last batch.

Apple Pay Partners Jumping Ship

Apple Pay is the new kid on the block in the mobile payment world. Numerous companies have had this type of system in place for a while; some for years. Lots of other companies, though, are working on their own standards at the same time as this launch; many of these groups are made up of interested parties.

Softcard is the best known of these groups, partially because of their brand change from ISIS for obvious reasons, but mostly because of the founding partners: AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. When 3 of the big 4 get together on something, people tend to pay attention. Softcard is not the only group, however.

Mobile Customer Exchange (MCX) has a competing standard: CurrentC. Unlike Softcard, though, MCX is made up of many large retailers, including CVS Healthcare and Rite Aid. Not coincidentally, both of these pharmacies have turned off their support of Apple Pay this week. This comes almost immediately on the heals of the launch of Apple Pay.

Most of the industry, myself included, had hoped that the launch of Apple Pay would help increase the awareness of NFC-based payments in retailers. Unfortunately, it is doing just that, but not in a way that is going to make these payments easier for consumers. While retailers have the hardware in place to accept Google Wallet, Apple Pay, PayPal, etc., turning off access to one or more of these platforms will not make the idea of NFC payments appear more convenient. What is does is makes Apple Pay look more niche and less useful.

Apple Pay Partner Double Charges

Even if you are using Apple Pay at a compatible retailer, it might not go exactly as planned. If you have used Apple Pay with Bank of America, you have might have noticed an issue where you were charged twice for your purchases.

While Bank of America has not commented on the cause of the issue, they have issued refunds for those charges. The fact that they can issue these refunds indicates that they know the source of the issue and can run a report showing all of the instances of said glitch. Hopefully they have also solved the issue to prevent future instances.

The problem does not appear to be on Apple's side, as they neither process the payments, nor have there been reports of any other processors having similar problems. This should not be enough to prevent people from using the platform, but it is something to think about. With the launch of a new payment product, there are bound to be glitches, and those glitches often end up affecting those willing to test the platform in the wild.

iCloud Attack Acknowledged

After weeks of open speculation, and plenty of proof, Apple has acknowledged that its iCloud data has been breached. Now, there are a number of caveats about the breach, and they are clarified in the company's quote.

We're aware of intermittent organized network attacks using insecure certificates to obtain user information, and we take this very seriously. These attacks don't compromise iCloud servers, and they don't impact iCloud sign in on iOS devices or Macs running OS X Yosemite using the Safari browser.

The idea here is that, using a fairly common certificate injection, people have managed to get ahold of data stored in iCloud without actually accessing iCloud itself. This happens usually through browser access, though Apple claims that Safari is immune (likely this is not the case, so don't actually let your guard down).

iCloud Spying in China

China has been spying on its people, and others, for a long time. Our government has even barred the importing of certain handsets over the years in fear of just that. This week, some speculation over iCloud spying has come to the surface.

Using a man-in-the-middle attack, the government could get ahold of everything synced to and from Apple's servers. This could be standard iCloud files, like photos and video, iMessages, etc. If the government can get ahold of this data, it can be used to prevent protests. These anti-government protests have happened in other countries, much of which has been coordinated using smartphones.

Luckily for China, it is easy to pull off. Being a communist country, they can force the carriers to do their bidding. In this case, their bidding could be injecting false security certificates to redirect data to government collection servers.

iPad Sales Disappointing

Apple's earnings were released and some interesting stats came out. Obviously, iPhone sales are still their bread and butter. This is the product that changed their business model so much that they changed their company's name from Apple Computers to Apple Inc.

Unfortunately for them, as sales and demand for tablets continues to grow, their iPad sales have stagnated. This likely has a lot to do with the increase in low-cost Android and Windows tablets on the market. When you compare what can be accomplished with an iPad, which is essentially a large-screened iPhone, for $249 with what can be done on a $100 Windows tablet, Apple's value is non-existent.

The good news for the company is they planned for this; sales were right within the margins that were expected. Tim Cook describes the sales dip as a "speedbump and not a huge thing."

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