The UpStream

Anti-Cheat System Now Standard on Windows 10

posted Saturday Oct 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Anti-Cheat System Now Standard on Windows 10

Since the introduction of Windows 10, and the merging of Windows and the Xbox One platform, Microsoft has been working to bring developers to the Universal Windows Platform. Software written for UWP are potentially capable of running on Windows 10, Windows 10 mobile, Windows 10 IoT Core, Xbox One and HoloLens.

As for gaming, the allure of being able to develop a game once and have it available immediately on Xbox One and Windows 10 is seemingly a powerful one, but somehow it has not caught on with game developers. We have seen some developers launch universal games, such as Fallout Shelter, but even games that are available as part of the Play Anywhere program are not developed on the UWP platform.

Microsoft has been working to make the platform more attractive to developers by bringing new features to the platform. As part of the Fall Creators Update, build 1709, Microsoft has launched a much needed feature: TruePlay, an anti-cheat platform. The feature is available exclusively in the UWP platform, and can be enabled by developers surprisingly easily. In fact, a code sample is available on the developer's help page.

TruePlay can be triggered within a game at any time, meaning that developers can decide what parts of the game need monitoring. For example, a developer might not care if you cheat during single-player, but does care if cheating affects someone else's experience. In this case, TruePlay can be enabled only for multiplayer mode, and not used for single player.

The idea of an OS-level anti-cheat platform could encourage a lot of developers to embrace UWP. Many online PC games are plagued by cheating. If a developer can implement anti-cheating within their game with only a few lines of code, and the monitoring can be accomplished at a lower level than the developer themselves could accomplish themselves, it can make the development faster and provide a better experience for the gamer.

Apple's Mixed Tech Strategy Created an Unexpected Crisis

posted Saturday Oct 21, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Apple's Mixed Tech Strategy Created an Unexpected Crisis

Over the past 3 generations of handsets, Apple has had a 2-model strategy: a standard and larger screen variant of the same hardware. Other than the screen size, the only other major difference between the two models is the quality of the camera. Both models have come out at the same time, with the same general availability, meaning that neither truly cannibalized sales of the other.

This year, however, Apple took a different path: announcing three models across two generations of hardware. First is the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. These devices are minor updates to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and would probably be better named the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus. Second is the iPhone X, the first true redesign of the iPhone in its history.

While they might have announced both generations together, they did not release them together. The iPhone 8 series became available for preorder on October 15, 2017, with general availability on October 22, 2017. The iPhone X, however, will become available for preorder 6 weeks later, on October 27, 2017, with general availability on November 3, 2017. This staggered release schedule, combined with such extremely different hardware, has caused some sales issues for Apple.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus

These devices are, as we have come to expect, incremental upgrades to the existing line of products. Customers seem to have noticed this, and could potentially be skipping the product line entirely. A number of publications, including ours, have spoken with sales representatives from wireless retailers about the sales numbers for the new iPhone line, and it has not been positive. Many stores reported few people on launch day waiting for the devices.

The minor incremental upgrade could be to blame, but it could also be the price difference between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 for the small change in features. Reports suggest that iPhone 7 sales have actually eclipsed iPhone 8 sales for the quarter. A marginally better camera does not justify a $150 price increase for many consumers.

In addition to the lack of excitement surrounding the iPhone 8, there is the issue caused by the delayed release of the iPhone X. Many customers want to interact with a device before they buy it, and with the major redesign of the iPhone X, people could be waiting to hold both devices to decide whether to go with the iPhone X or iPhone 8.

The CEO of Rogers Communications, the largest wireless telecom in Canada, has described sales of the iPhone 8 as "anemic," a very descriptive word. The CFO of Verizon Communication said that phone upgrades as a whole have been down because of a lack demand for the iPhone 8, but is hoping for a surge at iPhone X time.

I think what you're seeing there is a difference in timing of some of the new devices coming out versus what we've historically seen.
As we get into the holiday season, some of those new devices come out, we think we will see strong demand.

iPhone X

Those waiting to touch the iPhone X before deciding might have another problem on their hands: a lack of devices. It is possible that Apple made a mistake in which devices would be more popular, focusing their manufacturing efforts on the iPhone 8 series, and not so much on the iPhone X. In fact, reports suggest that, after preorder quantities are exhausted on October 27, there will be no more devices until 2018. Some reports suggest that they might be fulfilling preorders until quarter 2 of 2018.

Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst for KGI Securities, and arguably the top Apple analyst in the world, has written that a combination of rare materials and a lack of manufacturers who are capable of producing certain required parts are the biggest limiting factor for Apple's production.

Special materials, recipes, design, processes, equipments and tests are required for antenna FPCB, as the specifications for iPhone X antenna (supplied by Amphenol (US)) are higher than those of iPhone 8 and only Murata (JP) and Career Tech (6153 TT, NT$30.1, NR) can meet Apple's requirements. Murata (originally with a 60% order allocation or higher) won't be able to resolve its issues before 2Q18, and thus has been fully replaced by second supplier Career. We believe Career will ramp up in November, as capacity expansion takes time, and its materials, recipes, design, processes, equipments and tests are different from those of Murata.

Combining this with previous issues, like the TrueDepth camera, could make getting an iPhone X nearly impossible.

Roku Files for IPO, Hoping to Raise Money to Boost Position in Industry

posted Sunday Sep 3, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Roku Files for IPO, Hoping to Raise Money to Boost Position in Industry

There is little doubt that Roku is a leader in the streaming platform space. They offer their own hardware, which adds smart capabilities to standard, or older, televisions. In addition, many television manufacturers build Roku technology directly into their sets. At CES 2017, we saw both TCL and Hitachi introduce Roku-powered televisions. It seems, if you want a good experience with native streaming, Roku is the way to go.

Riding that high, Roku has filed for an Initial Public Offering, or IPO. This means that the company plans to offer stock in the company to the public in hopes of raising some new capital. They are hoping to raise as much as $100 million, listing Class A common stock on the NASDAQ.

The filing revealed some information about the inner workings of the company, something that privately held companies are not required to disclose. First, the company had 15.1 million active accounts at the end of June, and saw 6.7 billion hours of streaming in that first 6 months. In 2016, one-third of all content streamed was on Netflix, and YouTube is its top ad-supported service.

Unfortunately, Roku cannot seem to find profitability. The company is currently running at a deficit, with $244 million in losses. The company also acknowledges that it could be some time before they can return to profitability. The important part of the note, however, is that they have a plan. In particular, the company wants to find a way to generate revenue off of its ad-supported platforms.

Instagram Hack Exposes Celebrities' Private Information

posted Friday Sep 1, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Instagram Hack Exposes Celebrities' Private Information

If 2016 went down as the year of celebrity deaths, 2017 is going to go down as the year of exposed data. This week, another company exposed customer data to the public - Instagram. The data included users' email addresses and phone numbers, and was exposed because of a flaw in the API, or application programming interface, which is how the Instagram applications receive data.

To retrieve the data, you simply need to use an older version of the mobile app, 8.5.1 from 2016 to be specific, and initiate the password reset operation. If the data is sent through certain proxies, you can read the data going both directions. By asking the server to reset the password of an account, the server responds with the personal information of the username requested.

Once this issue was discovered, it was a fairly obvious next step for someone, or a group, to begin grabbing information from high-profile accounts. That information immediately found its way to the underworld of the internet, being made available for purchase at $10 per account on a site dubbed Doxagram. The Daily Beast received a sample and verified at least some of the data.

Instagram fixed the potentially long-running bug, and released a statement saying,

We recently discovered that one or more individuals obtained unlawful access to a number of high-profile Instagram users' contact information-specifically email address and phone number-by exploiting a bug in an Instagram API. No account passwords were exposed. We fixed the bug swiftly and are running a thorough investigation.

Our main concern is for the safety and security of our community. At this point, we believe this effort was targeted at high-profile users so, out of an abundance of caution, we are notifying our verified account holders of this issue. As always, we encourage people to be vigilant about the security of their account and exercise caution if they encounter any suspicious activity such as unrecognized incoming calls, texts, and e-mails.

While Instagram claims that no security information was exposed, the timing is definitely unfortunate. Three days prior, the account of Selina Gomez, one of the highest profile accounts, was hacked and nude photos of her ex, Justin Bieber, were posted. It is not clear whether or not this hack was related to the data exposure, but the safe money is on a relationship.

One part of the company's statement sticks out, though: "one or more individuals obtained unlawful access." The question that comes out of this statement is who is legally responsible for the access of the data. If someone leaves a piece of confidential information in a bar and someone else reads it, is it the individual who left it behind, or is it the person who found it who has violated the privacy of the data?

We will discuss the topic of data responsibility, both personal and corporate, on F5 Live: Refreshing Technology Episode 478 this week.

Retro Gaming Steps Up the Retro with Surprising Street Fighter II

posted Friday Sep 1, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Retro Gaming Steps Up the Retro with Surprising Street Fighter II

The last 12 months have been littered with retro gaming products. Nintendo released the NES Classic Edition and announced the upcoming Super NES Classic Edition. Sega, with partner AtGames, released the Classic and Flashback Genesis hardware. Even Atari has throwback hardware available.

For the 30th anniversary of Street Fighter II, Capcom and Retrotainment Games have decided to up the ante on throwback products, releasing a fully functional SNES cartridge. The cartridges come in either red or glow-in-the-dark, but the packages are not marked as to which color is in which box. The idea of making a working cartridge for hardware that is decades retired is a fascinating one, and the opposite of what we saw with the Genesis hardware. While Sega made new hardware that plays old games, this is a new cartridge for an old system.

This retro gaming trend is an interesting one, and proves that gaming does not have to focus completely on the graphics. In all of these cases, we are seeing companies release games, hardware or both, that are for technology that runs 8-bit or 16-bit graphics. These were the days when you couldn't spend all of your development time focusing on graphics, which meant you had to build a game that played well and could focus on story - or abandon it completely - dealer's choice.

Maybe, with the proof that a good game can do better than a pretty one, we will start to see good games released again.

Cortana and Alexa to Become Colleagues

posted Friday Sep 1, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Cortana and Alexa to Become Colleagues

While there are a lot of markets in the technology sector where the big companies battle, few are as crowded or as competitive as the battle over digital assistants. Cortana, Siri, Alexa and the aptly named Google Assistant all have their places, with secondary services like Samsung's Bixby looking for a space to play. Cortana rules the computer, Alexa rules the smart speaker, Siri rules mobile and Google Assistant is gaining ground in Android.

Each of the assistants has its place, its focus and its strengths. For example, Cortana's direct integration into products like Microsoft Office and Skype give her abilities that none of the others have. Alexa's direct integration with Amazon's shopping service give her the ability to easily order, or reorder, products directly with your voice.

Wouldn't it be great if, as a regular user of Cortana, you could take advantage of Alexa's purchasing power? Or, as an Alexa user, you could get access to Skype? That was exactly the pitch that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pitched to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in May 2016. At Microsoft's CEO Summit, Bezos suggested that the two companies connect their assistants to improve the lives of customers for both products. Nadella said,

The personality and expertise of each one will be such that if they interoperated, the user will get more out of it. That resonated for me and for him, and then that's what led to the teams working.

Over the past year, the two companies have worked to put together a communications channel for the two assistants. The two services hope to introduce the ability to ask one another to complete tasks by the end of 2017. The process will not be ideal at first, requiring a command similar to, "Hey Cortana, open Alexa," followed by the command to Alexa, and vice versa. In time, they hope that they will create a way for the assistants to decide which is better suited for a task and route automatically.

As of now, Bezos has not contacted either Apple or Google to see if they are interested in joining the team, but he says he would welcome their participation, saying,

I want them to have access to as many of those A.I.s as possible.

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