The UpStream (Page 72)

Apple Doubles-Down on Face Id in Future iPhones

posted Sunday Dec 17, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Apple Doubles-Down on Face Id in Future iPhones

Before the announcement of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X lines this year, there were some issues in production across Apple. A rumored Apple-branded wireless charging solution might have been canceled over charging distance. The Apple HomePod has been delayed until 2018, possibly sacrificed to the production gods. But the real issue was in the availability of the iPhone X at launch, caused in part by a single piece.

The Face Id sensor, which works nearly identically to the Microsoft Kinect, was not able to be produced at the rate Apple needed. It meant that people who ordered an iPhone X on initial pre-order day might not have received them until this week. This makes Apple's announcement this week even more important.

Apple has invested $390 million into Finisar, the company that produces VCSEL, the vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers that power the TrueDepth camera, which powers features like Face ID and animojis. The investment comes from the company's billion dollar Advanced Manufacturing Fund, created in May of this year, and is designed to help partner companies with new developments. Those developments are intended to enhance manufacturing in the US, rather than continuing to produce the majority of the components in China. This could be a response to the fact that the company has come under fire from manufacturing organizations, unions and even the President over this practice.

This investment will allow Finisar to refurbish a manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas, which closed in 2012. The renewed 700,000-sqare-foot factory will provide 500 high-skill manufacturing jobs in the community, as well as improve the production capabilities of a company that Apple has placed a lot of their future reputation into. Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said of the investment,

VCSELs power some of the most sophisticated technology we've ever developed and we're thrilled to partner with Finisar over the next several years to push the boundaries of VCSEL technology and the applications they enable. Technology is only as good as the people behind it, and Finisar is a company with a long history of putting its employees first and supporting the community it's a part of. We're extremely proud that our involvement will help transform another American community into a manufacturing powerhouse.

Jerry S. Rawls, CEO of Finisar, added,

We're excited to continue our innovation with Apple of a technology that has tremendous potential. When you combine our proven ability to consistently manufacture exceptional products with our new state-of-the-art Sherman facility, we're confident we can achieve our shared goal of providing consumers with incredibly exciting features. Finisar has always been keenly aware it takes great people to power our work and that's why we're thrilled to be adding Sherman to our family.

This is a big opportunity for the area, with millions in new payroll entered into the community, and the entrance of a major tech company into the business environment. David Plyler, Mayor of Sherman, said of the investment,

Sherman is the perfect place for Finisar's significant investment in their operations and facilities and we couldn't be more grateful for their confidence. We're thrilled that Finisar and Apple will be a part of the Sherman business community. The City of Sherman has invested significantly in improved infrastructure and amenities, and that's translated into an unparalleled quality of life. The city has also adopted a pro-business culture, making Sherman the industry and commerce hub of North Texas.

Combined with the company's other facility in Allen, Texas, Finisar will have a payroll of $65 million in Texas and will produce all of the company's VCSELs.

Google Pulls YouTube Support from Amazon Products

posted Saturday Dec 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Pulls YouTube Support from Amazon Products

Just a few years ago, Google and Amazon overlapped in almost no markets, but that is no longer the case. Both companies offer cloud services, both offer storage options and both have game streaming services, but those are minor when compared to the more serious overlaps. When advertisers abandoned Google over YouTube issues, many publishers moved to Amazon for their targeted ads, and have not come back.

Cutting into Google's core business of advertising dealt a lot of damage to an already fragile relationship. In 2014, Amazon tried to integrate their app store into their Amazon app, which caused Google to remove the app entirely. Since then, a game of one-upsmanship has grown to a nearly absurd level. In recently weeks, however, the battle has spilled over into customer experience.

Amazon is conspicuously missing some popular products, such as Google Home and Chromecast devices. But now, the majority of Nest products have also disappeared, making Google one of the most obviously missing brands from the retailer. If a customer is like many online shoppers, they shop nearly exclusively on Amazon, meaning they might be entirely unaware of these products.

In addition to physical products, there are also media options missing. For example, Amazon Prime Video streaming cannot be used on Chromecast devices. In what appears to be retaliation, Google has announced that they will be removing YouTube from Amazon's products. The Amazon Echo Show will lose access this coming Tuesday, December 13, and FireTV devices will lose access on January 1.

Google claims that this move is a negotiating tactic, similar to how cable networks sometimes need to negotiate with providers: by pulling their content temporarily.

We've been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other's products and services. But Amazon doesn't carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn't make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest's latest products.

Given this lack of reciprocity, We are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.

Hopefully, this means that YouTube services will return to Amazon products in the near future. This is, however, one of the issues you encounter when purchasing first-party hardware: a lack of third-party, competitor services. You would never expect to see PlayStation Vue available on the Xbox One, or Microsoft Mixer on the PlayStation 4, and the same is likely in this case. Instead of purchasing a product that competes with a top-tier service provider, such as Chromecast or FireTV, the safer option is to choose a product like a Roku, which only aggregates services and does not try to compete with any of them.

As Bitcoin Value Skyrockets, Exchange NiceHash Gets Hijacked

posted Saturday Dec 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

As Bitcoin Value Skyrockets, Exchange NiceHash Gets Hijacked

There is no doubt that 2017 will be remembered as the year cryptocurrency went mainstream. Bitcoin, and its siblings like Ethereum, have been around for a number of years, but this year made their names household names, especially in the last 60 days. The value of Bitcoin has skyrocketed over the past 60 days, starting at just under $5,000 per coin on October 11, and having a peak price of just short of $20,000 on exchange GDAX just this week.

With the growing popularity of Bitcoin, as well as the surging price, it was only a matter of time before a heist was run on one of the middle-tier exchanges. Going after a top-tier, like Coinbase, would be incredibly risky, as security is high, as is the chances of getting caught. A mid-tier, however, would have lesser security, and therefore a greater chance of success. That heist happened this week, as NiceHash lost an estimated 4,700 coin, valued at over $92 million at the peak price.

This is not the first heist of its kind, where a site has lost bitcoin thanks to the use of its own tools. It's important to note, however, that the timing is anything but coincidental. No data stored on the internet is ever truly secure, especially when the data involves money. As the value of that data increases, so does the chance of theft.

After the heist, the company shut down its service, leaving only a notice on its homepage. The notice apologizes for the service interruption, and that they "are stopping all operations for the next 24 hours." This message has been up, and therefore the service down, for several days, suggesting that whatever happened was large enough that they cannot get past it.

Following the hijack, other exchanges, including Coinbase, were unavailable, and the value of Bitcoin tumbled. For many who lost bitcoin as part of this heist, the loss could have been lessened if they had not maintained their inventory of Bitcoin on an exchange, but instead kept the coins in their offline wallet.

EA Might Abandon Greed and Loot Boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II

posted Saturday Dec 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

EA Might Abandon Greed and Loot Boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II

Just a few weeks ago, EA launched Star Wars: Battlefront II to much criticism over loot boxes and microtransactions. The internet revolted against the game, threatening to success of the title. This wouldn't be the first time a game had failed, but it would have been a very public failure for EA and Disney on a Star Wars game. To head this off, EA announced that loot boxes and microtransactions would be unavailable in the game.

We hear you loud and clear, so we're turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we've made changes to the game. We'll share more details as we work through this.

While removing crates from the game boosted sales for any, the last part, about returning the concept to the game, retained concern within the gaming community. In messages to and petitions for EA, the company has given no indication that they had any intention other than to return the controversial aspect of the game in the future.

In addition to the internet backlash, there is also potential legal issues with loot boxes in games. Several states, as well as Congress itself, have begun to look into the concept as a form o digital gambling. If it is determined that loot boxes, like the ones intended for Star Wars: Battlefront II, are considered to be gambling, it would likely end the concept as a whole.

Following these changes in public perspective, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen spoke on an investor call, saying,

Over time we'll address how we will want to bring the (microtransactions) either into the game or not and what form we will decide to bring it into.
Clearly we are very focused on listening to the consumer and understanding what the consumer wants and that's evolving constantly. But we're working on improving the progression system. We turned the (microtransactions) off as an opportunity to work on the progression system inside the game. We're continuing to update that.

It would appear that EA is quickly responding to the potential of unhappy players, as well as pending legal complications from the business model. At this point, it would be a surprise to see this controversial business model return to the game, for the sake of the reputation with gamers and lawmakers.

Intel Faces New Competition with Windows 10 on ARM

posted Saturday Dec 9, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Intel Faces New Competition with Windows 10 on ARM

It wasn't long ago that Intel faced almost no competition in the PC space. AMD had all but given up on creating competitive processors for desktops and seemingly had given up on laptops, and Windows RT turned out to be a failure for ARM processors and Microsoft. Today, however, the tables have turned, and Intel faces competition everywhere they exist. AMD introduced their Ryzen processors for desktop and laptop, finally bringing some competition to the processor space.

A year ago, another challenger appeared in the space, and it was Qualcomm, with their ARM processors. Microsoft announced the Windows 10 on ARM initiative, which would bring a full-featured version of Windows 10 to ARM processors, specifically the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. Since then, Microsoft and Qualcomm have continued to assure us that the product was still in the works, but announcements about availability have been missing.

This week, at their Snapdragon Technology Forum, Qualcomm not only announced availability of the hardware, they showed it off on manufacturer hardware. The initial hardware will include the HP Envy x2 tablet, Asus NovaGo ultrabook and a Lenovo, which will make its first appearance at CES 2018. The first two were shown in action, and full specs were available. The third will be fully revealed in a month.

Qualcomm is showing that they are looking for a strong showing in this new market by announcing three major manufacturers as launch partners. The company has an uphill battle in gaining traction, so these partners are a good start. They will need to overcome Windows RT, which soured people who didn't know what it was towards Windows on ARM, and they also have to deal with the performance of the computers.

While running UWP applications will likely perform similarly on Intel and ARM, running applications designed specifically for traditional processors will have a performance drop. This is because these applications will run through a processor emulator, which takes the commands intended for Intel and convert them to commands for ARM, and then take the ARM return and convert them to Intel returns. We currently do not know exactly how much of a hit processes will take, but it could potentially be significant.

The big gains for ARM owners will be in battery life and connectivity. The aim for this new generation of hardware is always on connectivity, similar to how you interact with your phone. Hitting the power button should result in an immediate power-on, and you should still receive notifications even when the laptop or tablet is "off." Even with the always on status, the battery life should be greatly increased. The manufacturers are talking about 20+ hours of HD video playback on a single battery.

The availability date for these computers has not yet been announced, but with model numbers and working hardware on display, hopefully we will see these computers in the wild shortly after CES.

Redbox Sells Disney Digital Download Codes, Disney Sues

posted Saturday Dec 2, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Redbox Sells Disney Digital Download Codes, Disney Sues

The DVD rental business is certainly not what it used to be. 10 years ago, there was Blockbuster Video, Hollywood Video, plus local shops all over the country. That concept is long gone, put out of business by the original idea of Netflix - DVDs by mail for one low price.

Since then, a bizarre hybrid has emerged, and somehow maintained their existence: Redbox. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, they are vending machines in locations like CVS where you can rent a DVD without interacting with a person. Most of their business process is identical to that of Blockbuster: they purchase special versions of the DVD in bulk from the distributor for a special price, especially for rental.

The only distributor that doesn't offer this option to Redbox is Disney, which means that Redbox purchases retail packaging for their Disney DVDs. We are all intimately familiar with the digital download code that comes with Disney DVDs, which allows you to download a copy to your phone, computer or tablet as part of the purchase price. This is intended to prevent people from trying to break the encryption on the DVD to watch the movie on the go, which they were going to do anyway.

Redbox has decided that it would make good business sense to take the digital code and sell it through their kiosks. The problem, of course, is that this is completely against the law. The code is licensed to stay with the DVD, not to be sold or transferred separately. Because of this, Disney has filed suit against Redbox, claiming copyright infringement. This is a case that will be very easy for the company to make, as the licensing information is included with every DVD sold.

Disney is asking for all revenue generated from illegally selling digital copies of Disney films that it does not own the rights to, often undercutting Disney's own digital distribution prices on platforms like iTunes or Amazon. If the company refuses to turn over the ill-gotten revenue, Disney will ask the court for $150,000 for every instance of copyright infringement. That number, assuming they have sold even a dozen codes, could potentially cripple Redbox, who must already be seeing revenue issues if they took this desperate path.

We have seen companies in the past try creative licensing avoidance. There was Zediva, which streamed DVDs for $2, but their business model of individual DVD players per user was ultimately defeated. Then there was Aereo, which tried to stream local over-the-air programming, but their business model of renting individual antennas and streaming their tuner was ultimately defeated. These companies were startups, though, and flew under the radar for a while before paying the ultimate price. Redbox has money, employees, customers, distribution and notoriety, not to mention a legal team, all of which should have clued off the company that this was a VERY bad idea.

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