The UpStream

Have we reached the breaking point? Can an $1800 phone be a success?

posted Saturday Nov 17, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Have we reached the breaking point? Can an $1800 phone be a success?

For months, the tech industry has been focused on the inevitable announcement of Samsung's foldable phone, the first of this generation's multi-screen Android devices. Unlike the last generation, the Samsung device is designed to eliminate the seam between folded and unfolded modes, making it a far better concept than the Kyocera Echo and similar devices. Last week, the device, officially dubbed Samsung Galaxy F, was finally announced and shown to the world with all of the expected features in tow.

Two important pieces of information were missing, however: release date and price. Thanks to South Korean news site Yonhap News Agency, we now have a report that March 2019 will be the release window, which is in that perfect period immediately following Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The report also contains information about price, and it is not going to make many people happy. According to internal sources, Samsung is planning a price tag of two million Korean Won, which is the equivalent of about $1,770.

Phone prices have certainly been on the rise for the past few years, thanks in great part to Apple's iPhone X rocketing its price to over $1000, and its successors doing the same. With Apple's price increase came other manufacturers increasing the price of their flagship devices, including Samsung, whose Galaxy Note9 also has a price point upwards of $1000.

The question remains: How long can this continue? When will a manufacturer breach the breaking point for consumers and release a phone that is too expensive for consumers to consider? It will likely depend on the manufacturer. We saw the launch of the Essential Phone met with relative indifference until the company cut the price in half. What will be the tipping point for Samsung owners, though? Is it possible that Samsung has already hit that point with the Galaxy F?

Would you spend $1800 on a smartphone? Let us know in the comments.

Netflix Reverses Course, Bringing 3 Films to Theaters Before Streaming

posted Saturday Nov 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Netflix Reverses Course, Bringing 3 Films to Theaters Before Streaming

There is no question that streaming services are the current go-to for many movie viewers. The industry, however, feels very differently about streaming services, including industry leader Netflix. Studios and producers continue to look down on these services, despite the rising viewership versus shrinking viewership in theaters. It has caused a problem for Netflix, who has maintained a policy of "day-and-date" delivery for the films they bring to theaters, which means that they launch in theaters and on Netflix at the same time.

Because of this policy, Netflix content has been banned from the Cannes Film Festival and other similar events, preventing the company from winning these awards, which can lead to more prestige with investors, directors, producers, and studios. Hollywood heavy hitters have even petitioned the Academy to prevent Netflix from being eligible for Oscar awards, comparing Netflix originals to made for TV movies, which are also not eligible.

Seemingly in response, the company announced on Halloween that they are bringing 3 films to theaters: with exclusivity to theaters for varying lengths of time. The most notable is a black-and-white film called Roma, which has had massive festival success, even being called a masterpiece. This film will have the longest theatrical exclusivity, with it living in art-house theaters exclusively until it appears on Netflix on December 14th. In addition, Ballad of Buster Scruggs from the filmmaking masters of the Coen Brothers and Bird Box, a thriller starring Sandra Bullock.

There's no way to know what affect this will have on Netflix, of course. It's possible that the festivals who previously banned Netflix from participating will begin to reconsider their positions, but it is equally possible that they will consider this to be a pandering move and maintain their positions. One thing is for sure: very few theaters will see anything extra from this.

Google Employees Stage Walkout Over Harassment Claims, CEO Responds

posted Saturday Nov 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Google Employees Stage Walkout Over Harassment Claims, CEO Responds

The tech industry has long had a difficult relationship with sexual conduct within the context of work. HP lost a CEO over sexual misconduct. Uber fired an exec over it last month. One company at CES is known for "hookers and blow" at their events. Even Microsoft hosted a party at the Game Developers Conference which featured scantily clad women on tables.

Unfortunately, not all companies are called on the carpet for their handling of these issues, especially in the way that Google was addressed this week. After a report published by The New York Times showed that Google had quietly ignored credible accusations of sexual misconduct by their executives, Google employees and contractors responded publicly.

20,000 of the company's employees and contractors walked out from 50 offices across the globe. They met in courtyards and common areas, where employees who have experienced inappropriate behavior shared their experiences with one another and the world. These employees thought the problem within the culture were so problematic that it needed to be addressed immediately. They got their wish.

Rich DeVaul, who had headed up the Google X research division, resigned over accusations involving an applicant in 2013. He apologized for his "error of judgement." CEO Sundar Pichai responded directly to employees over the issues, saying,

So first, let me say that I am deeply sorry for the past actions and the pain they have caused employees. Larry mentioned this on stage last week, but it bears repeating: if even one person experiences Google the way the New York Times article described, we are not the company we aspire to be.

I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel. I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on and (sic) issue that has persisted for far too long in our society… and yes, here at Google, too.

Will this change anything within the organization itself? Only time will tell. What this will do, however, is give employees at other Silicon Valley companies, and tech companies in other parts of the country, the confidence to address issues they see, as well. A comfortable employee, especially in a creative industry like software, is going to be more creative and more productive. Plus, it's just the right thing to do, to treat people with respect.

Surprisingly, Nintendo Commits to Support for 3DS Product Line

posted Saturday Nov 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Surprisingly, Nintendo Commits to Support for 3DS Product Line

There is no doubt that Nintendo has seen incredible success with the Switch. Creating a console that can be both an in-home and portable console in one brought to reality a promise made by both Microsoft and Sony, but accomplishing it first. The success of the device has created a lot of questions about the fate of Nintendo's other portable console, however: the 3DS family.

Those questions have been put to rest this week, as Nintendo announced on a financial briefing that the Nintendo 3DS family is still going strong. In fact, the company sold one million new 3DS devices in this past six month sales period, which represents 8 years of the product category being on the market. To put that into perspective, the incredibly successful Switch sold a little over five million units in the same period. Comparatively, the original DS handhelds sold 2.35 million units at the same point in their lives, and they didn't have another product to compete with.

According to the company,

Nintendo 3DS is set apart from Nintendo Switch by its characteristics as a handheld game system that is lightweight, price-friendly, and highly portable. Affordability is the strong point that positions Nintendo 3DS in a niche clearly separate from Nintendo Switch. In the grand scheme of things, Nintendo 3DS has a prominent position as the product that can be served as the first contact between Nintendo and many of its consumers, and for this reason we will keep the business going.

This means that Nintendo is still committed to bringing value to the 3DS family. It's a reasonable commitment, being as the devices are still selling so well, and they are a great value. The 2DS currently sells for $149 - half the price of the Switch. Plus, there are whole franchises that are available on the 3DS that are not yet on the Switch. For example, Pokemon does not have a presence on the Switch, though it will be remedied in a few weeks.

Obviously, the 3DS will not live forever, but it's good to see that it is still going strong 8 years later, with support from Nintendo.

Apple Better Embracing Standards While Sticking to the Past

posted Saturday Nov 3, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Apple Better Embracing Standards While Sticking to the Past

This week was one of several annual "Apple Days" where Apple unveils a collection of new products. This month's event was focused on Apple's computers and tablets. While the company announced new laptops and a refreshed (after 4 years) Mac Mini, the real hero of the event was even smaller than the company's tiny desktop. In fact, it was smaller than an inch: Apple replaced the Lightning connector on the iPad Pro!

While that might not seem like a big deal, it is important to note that in nearly 2 decades of portable products, Apple has only updated the connector twice previously. The iPod premiered with Firewire, which was a technology dead on arrival. They replaced it with the 32-pin connector, which lasted for a decade, but was itself replaced by Lightning. All of these connectors have been Apple-focused (Firewire was a standard, but it was never widely adopted outside of Mac).

This change, however, is not Apple-focused. In fact, the company ditched Lightning for USB-C. Yes, that is the same connector on the HP Elite x3 (Windows Phone), Samsung Galaxy S8 (Android) and beyond, and more. This port is the defacto standard in the industry, being able to universally charge phones, tablets, laptops, and a host of other devices. In fact, we are currently reviewing Bluetooth headphones that charge over USB-C. This brings Apple into the same world with the rest of the industry for the first time - ever. This is not to say Apple has completely eschewed standards - in fact, Apple was one of the leaders in adopting USB-C for the MacBooks.

Unfortunately, the iPad Pro does not support everything that USB-C can do. The device billed as the Apple tablet for creators will not allow those creators to connect external storage. That will prevent photographers from using the tablet to edit photos without bringing a computer with them, which negates the value of the tablet. It prevents video editors from using the device without a computer, again making the tablet less than valuable.

Ideally, this limitation will be removed by Apple at some point in the future. Lightning used to prevent external storage, but now there are many storage options for Lightning.

Two Blockbuster Disney Franchises in Serious Trouble

posted Friday Oct 26, 2018 by Scott Ertz

Two Blockbuster Disney Franchises in Serious Trouble

Over the last few years, two Disney-owned franchises have absolutely ruled the big screen: Marvel and Star Wars. New films are always just around the corner, and almost all of them have received nothing but positive box office results. However, 2018 has been hard on both of these brands, and this week saw Disney responding to the issues.

For Star Wars, the second anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story received less than stellar reviews and equally disappointing box office sales. While a number of issues have been cited as to why this might be the case, the most common theory is the overpopulation of new content in the family. Between a new section in Disney theme parks, a variety of films, and several new television series, Star Wars fatigue might be setting in.

As a result, Disney has officially canceled the third anthology film, the as yet untitled and previously unconfirmed Boba Fett film. The confirmation came directly from LucasFilm President Kathleen Kennedy by way of Sirius XM's Erick Weber. Rather than spreading the love across a variety of related projects, Lucas will instead put all of their focus into The Mandalorian, a streaming series from Iron-Man director Jon Favreau.

On the Marvel topic, Disney created problems for themselves when they fired James Gunn, the franchise director for Guardians of the Galaxy, based on what some saw as controversial tweets from several years ago. After the firing, fans and actors alike let Disney know that they disapproved of the decision. The entire cast published a public letter to Disney asking that Gunn be reinstated and refusing to work on the project under another director.

Disney has not been interested in listening to fans or staff, and have decided instead to suspend the third installment of the series. Once again, Erick Weber brings the news, this time care of Marvel boss Kevin Feige, who confirmed the status. There is no telling what the final determination will be on producing the film, but one thing is for sure: James Gunn has joined rival DC's writing team, penning the next Suicide Squad film.

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