A little over a year ago, the FCC voted not to implement guidelines intended to re-establish a guarantee for an open internet in the United States. There were problems with the original intent, of course, with the most important being a lack of legal jurisdiction for the FCC to have drafted the guidelines in the first place. The FCC belongs to the Executive branch, which cannot create new law - it can only enforce existing laws.
Creating laws is reserved for the Legislative branch, who allowed previous Net Neutrality rules to lapse almost a decade previous. In the past 13 months, the topic of Net Neutrality has not faded, as opponents had hoped. In fact, support for implementing the rules through the proper channels has grown, with drafts being written and passed around both houses of Congress.
This week, the first of these drafts was put up for a vote in the Senate. The Senate resolution took the easy route to a vote, simply creating a legal framework for the guidelines originally drafted within the FCC. The tact worked, as the Senate passed the resolution 52-47. Now the resolution will have to go through the House of Representatives, and finally be signed by President Trump.
There is a lot of money being spent in opposition lobbying, especially within the House. There is even a question as to whether the House will have the ability to call for a vote at all, so the resolution is far from being codified. There is a push within the House to force a vote, however, and House Democrats are hopeful they will be able to get it done. There is also question as to whether President Trump will sign or veto the resolution. If he vetoes, it is unlikely that Congress will get a 2/3 vote to override.
It will likely not be long before the votes are cast, as the guidelines officially expire within the FCC on June 11th. We'll continue to keep you posted on the reality of what is happening, as it happens.
It is no secret that Microsoft has been taking some wide swings lately with their product offerings. They've been looking to appeal to a wider range of customers, with products like Outlook for iPhone and Microsoft Pix, both of which are rated higher than Apple's included email client and camera app, respectively. They've even been enhancing their Cortana offerings, including the Harmon Kardon Invoke speaker, with an Alexa partnership.
This week, Microsoft showed off 2 new products in the gaming space, which are also swings hoping to strike gold again. First is a newly designed Xbox Adaptive Controller, designed specifically for accessible gaming. This large controller is similar in size to a fighting stick, but with a number of major differences. The most important is the removal of the traditional analog sticks, being replaced by large rocker plates. These plates are designed to be interacted with even if the player cannot open their hands, without sacrificing control capabilities. The directional pad and interface buttons are also greatly enlarged.
While all of that is fantastic, it doesn't yet touch on the adaptive aspect of the controller. That comes form the 19 1/8" jacks across the back of the controller. These jacks are not trying to make up for the lack of the headphone jack on the iPhone, but instead ports for the existing accessible gaming community. Many controller inputs, such as large joysticks/analog sticks, foot pedals and even air tubes, already exist to assist gamers with limited mobility. Microsoft wants to bring all of those accessories to the Xbox platform with the ease of an interface designed specifically for it.
Now, what if you're looking for a bigger, more public gaming experience? Microsoft's got you covered there, as well. The company has worked with their studio 343 Industries to produce Halo: Fireteam Raven, a new game in the Halo franchise designed specifically for the arcade. In fact, they have designed an incredible, specialized arcade cabinet for the game.
The cabinet features 4-player capability, and a 130-inch 4K screen. Unlike a traditional Halo title, there is no splitscreen capabilities, with the game playing equally across the single screen for all players. Following a more traditional Halo theme, players will play as the ODST and will fight alongside Master Chief to defend Halo. The game plays somewhere between a traditional Halo game and a traditional arcade shooter, so it should appeal to both the arcade fan and the Halo fan.
The arcade cabinet will release this summer in Dave and Busters across the US and Canada, with general availability coming at a later date.
2018 hasn't been a great year for Samsung. It's not been the PR disaster that was 2016, but it's not been smooth sailing. In 2016, Samsung famously had the Galaxy Note7 devices explode under a variety of scenarios. Even after ending sales, a product recall and "fixing the issue," devices kept sacrificing themselves to the gods of battery technology. The company also had a recall on certain washing machines because the appliances were... wait for it: exploding.
2018 has seen a number of PR issues for the company, but nothing in the realm of product explosions. Instead, the issues facing the company have come from update issues. Early in the year, the company issued the Oreo update for Galaxy S8, S8+ and T-Mobile version of the Note 8 phones, several months after the update was made available on other devices. Shortly after the update was released, it was pulled, because it was causing numerous issues on handsets, but mainly random restarts.
This week, we saw an almost identical story unfold, as Samsung finally began rolling out the Oreo update to the Galaxy S7 and S7Edge phones, months after the S8 problems. Unfortunately, the company had to pull the update because, surprise, the phones in question began random restarts, just like their younger siblings. After 2 days, the update was fixed and re-released to the public.
This is a disturbing trend from one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world. It feels like Samsung is more interested in responding to negative reports than actually making a product that people need. Being so late to the Android Oreo party was generating negative press for the company. Why would the largest manufacturer of Android phones in the world have so much trouble releasing the latest version of Android to their flagship devices? In an apparent attempt to best the heat, they jumped directly into it, rushing the update without the proper amount of testing, despite months of additional time.
Rushing on their phone updates isn't the only place where they're having problems, either. Samsung was #9 on LAPTOP Mag's Laptop Showdown this year, prompting Sherri to recommend they give up the ghost. While we would never suggest that they give up on building Android phones, we do need them to put more of an effort into supporting the devices that are already in the field. 6 months is too long to wait for an update, and breaking those phones with the update is unacceptable behavior.
New product and service announcements happen all the time. Often, they are made at trade shows like CES or Collision, at announcement events like Microsoft, Apple and Google, or in a press release. One place where we don't expect to hear about a new product is in a court testimony, though that's exactly what happened this week.
The AT&T/Time Warner acquisition is well known at this point, but just in case you're unaware, AT&T is trying to acquire Time Warner (not Time Warner Cable, which is owned by Charter), but the government is working to prevent the transaction. The Federal Trade Commission has filed a suit to block the merger, which is currently in court.
AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson took the stand this week to explain to the court why the merger of service provider AT&T and content provider Time Warner would not be a harm to customers. As part of his explanation, he announced a new streaming service from the company titled AT&T Watch. This new service will be a streamlined version of DirecTV NOW, another streaming service owned by AT&T. Unlike DirecTV NOW, AT&T Watch will cost $15 per month and will offer a very slim number of channels, which will not include any sports channels (one of the ways they intend to keep the cost down).
Watch was held up as an example of how AT&T is neither afraid of, nor trying to stifle competition in, streaming services. This is a chief concern raised in the FTC suit, as they claim that, if AT&T were to own Time Warner's content and cable channels, it would lead to more expensive cable packages and streaming services for consumers. Stephenson showed that consumers, regardless of their residence, would have another service option to watch this content.
There is no confirmation about whether or not this new service, which is reported to launch in just a few weeks, has any dependence on the successful acquisition of Time Warner. Either way, the launch of another service like this helps negate the longstanding issue with cable providers: choice. In many areas, customers only have one or two choices, but service like AT&T Watch, PlayStation Vue and Sling TV help to fix this, and AT&T Watch will bring something the others don't have: a lower price.
Last week, it was revealed that YouTube might be knowingly violating COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. This law, which was enacted in 1998 and expanded in 2012, ensures that online services are not allowed to collect information about children or their activities online without the consent of their parents or guardians. It is the reason why many sites require a person to be 13 years old to sign up - to keep themselves far away from the issue.
In the wake of the Facebook privacy issues, a number of organizations have begun looking into other areas in which privacy might be a concern. In a report released this week, Google Play is filled with apps that could potentially violate COPPA. The researchers who wrote the report designed an automated tool and scanned 5,855 popular apps in the store, looking for violations. The results of the study were... not good.
Some apps collected the type of information you would expect, especially the Android Advertising ID, which is a user resettable key that is designed to track user behavior for advertising purposes. Because this ID is resettable without having to reset your phone, it is not guaranteed identifiable and therefore is less important. In the report, you can see a list of the most common services receiving the Android Advertising ID. The types of data being collected and transmitted to third parties that are a real concern are things like GPS location.
Obviously physically tracking a child without permission is not only a problem, it is creepy. Some of the apps tested, which are targeted exclusively to children, did just that. Included in this group was Disney with their Where's My Water? Free, which transmitted the Wi-Fi name to a third party for geolocation purposes.
Many of the third party APIs that received inappropriate data from these apps explicitly prohibit exactly what the apps are doing - transmitting unapproved child data. Again, Disney is in violation of one of these Terms of Service, along with other high profile apps, like Minion Rush from Gameloft and Duolingo, the language learning platform. In the report, you can see a list of the most common services receiving data.
While the report gives a lot of data on a lot of issues, there is one that remains at the forefront: COPPA itself. As the law stands right now, COPPA does not exactly apply to mobile apps. In fact, it specifically applies to web-based products. That does not exactly mean that there is no legal remedy available, or that by making consumers aware of COPPA-style violations, there is no direct remedy available. It's always possible that, through market pressure, companies will fix these issues on their own, or, failing that, COPPA might be expanded to cover non web-based products.
At this point, many of us have been burned by the modern concept of games-as-a-service. For example, our team raged at the random cancelation of Sim City Social, an early big-budget entry into genre. This week, the now rather large graveyard GaaS titles grew a little larger with the announcement of the end of Puzzle Fighter.
The in-game store will close on Monday, April 23, 2018, while the servers will be shutdown on Tuesday July 31, 2018. The July closure will end the game entirely, only 8 months into its life. The reason why the game, which has a single player mode, will come to a close when the servers close is because of an always-on connection, which is required for the soon-to-be-closed store. Obviously, Capcom could save this 90s revival if they wanted to with a patch to prevent the online component or to open source the servers, but they have no intentions to do so. While the fate of the mobile version of the game is now sealed, there is no mention of the recently rated PC and console versions of the game, though it is an easy assumption that this software will never see the light of day, as the servers are going away.
This shutdown reminds us of the dangers and annoyances of the GaaS type of entertainment. It is beyond infuriating when a game, especially one with an in-game store, decide they no longer have value and go away. It's even worse when the title is not free-to-play (which Puzzle Fighterwas). Unlike games of the past, which are playable decades later, current games (including retail titles) sometimes have a lifespan under a year (see Battleborn as an example).
There is no game-specific reason given for the shutdown. In fact, according to Capcom, the blame falls on the team's rededication to Dead Rising. Of course, moving the developers to another project does not mean that the game would no longer function. Shutting down the servers would not be related to a focus on an unrelated title. It sounds like maybe Capcom has adopted the model of charge for digital goods and then move on to a new town.