The UpStream

Dell to Abandon Android, Focus on Windows Tablets

posted Sunday Jul 3, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Dell to Abandon Android, Focus on Windows Tablets

One of the truths about technology is that it eventually becomes a commodity. Centuries ago, bronze and steel were technologies, which were commoditized. In more recent times, cars were once considered technology, though today have also been commoditized. When that happens, manufacturers involved in those commodities must find ways to differentiate themselves in the market or get out.

A great example in the automotive industry is BMW. In the 70s, the company decided to stop marketing their cars themselves, but instead marketed the experience of driving the vehicle. Their slogan "The Ultimate Driving Machine" has absolutely nothing to back it up, but it emphasizes the emotional aspect of owning and driving a BMW. The marketing has been successful, seeing consistent sales increases.

Electronics are currently going through a similar transition, with many electronic categories becoming commoditized, but none more so than Android tablets. Everyone has seen the cheap, garbage Android tablets in drug stores and even convenience stores. Black Friday makes it even worse, with brands you've never heard of offering tablets for prices that don't seem possible. With so many companies competing on price, how can a manufacturer set itself apart from the pack?

Dell believes that they cannot and have decided to exit the market entirely. Effective immediately, the Android tablet division of Dell is closed, with current models discontinued, no future models coming and no future support for existing models. This means that if you have a Venue Android tablet now, you will never see an official update to Android Nougat, the next major release. A spokesperson said,

The slate tablet market is oversaturated and is experiencing declining demand from consumers, so we've decided to discontinue the Android-based Venue tablet line.

Rather than competing in the over-crowded, consumer-focused Android market, Dell has decided to focus on their own bread and butter: enterprise customers. In that space, the demand for Windows devices has always reigned supreme, so Dell will continue to produce tablets featuring Windows 10. This product category has a lot more room for growth and diversity, with specs being a top seller, as opposed to pricing.

Microsoft Studios to End Support for Xbox Fitness

posted Wednesday Jun 29, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Studios to End Support for Xbox Fitness

Since the beginning of the Xbox One, one of the best non-interface uses for the Kinect was Xbox Fitness. This app allowed you to exercise with the help of virtual trainers and coaches, using the Kinect sensor to ensure you were doing things correctly. Xbox Live Gold members got a whole collection of programs for free, with others available to purchase.

Microsoft Studios, the team behind the game, announced this week that Xbox Fitness would be coming to a gradual end. Effective immediately, no new content can be purchased. Existing content will continue to work, including the Xbox Live Gold benefits. On December 15, 2016, those Gold benefits will also come to and end. On July 1, 2017, Xbox Fitness will stop functioning all together.

The move seems very abrupt and harsh. It would seem that, if you purchased content within the app, such as the P90X workouts, that you should still be able to use that content after the "sunset period" has elapsed. If Microsoft is working so hard to bring Xbox 360 content to the newer console, why is it that content that was designed directly for the Xbox One is being dumped in such a way?

Personally, I am disheartened by this move. I have been using Xbox Fitness myself since the day my Xbox One arrived. In fact, it was a big part of the reason why I got the Xbox One when I did. Hopefully Microsoft will figure out a way to make the content, both the free and paid programs, available as a standalone platform, allowing those who have used, loved and paid money into the platform, to continue using the product, knowing that there will be no future development.

This concept falls inline with other closures in the gaming world, such as EA closing Playfish, the social-focused studio. With it went a number of pay-to-win type games, which some people had spent a lot of real-world money to advance their characters, cities, etc. Is this going to be the new trend in gaming - when the studio is done, so is our financial investment?

Have you lost money to a game or platform that has closed out from under you, including Xbox Fitness? Let us know in the comments.

Netflix to Implement Offline Viewing This Year [Report]

posted Saturday Jun 25, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Netflix to Implement Offline Viewing This Year [Report]

In the last few years, Netflix has become the indispensable service for most of the developed world. Between television and movies, plus comedy specials and original content, you can waste away many hours with the content available on the service. In fact, as I sit here writing, I have Netflix running in the background.

There is, unfortunately, a dark side to the service. That dark side is internet access: if you don't have it, Netflix is worthless. If you're on an airplane or driving through the desert, you are going to be completely without Netflix. For many people, this means resorting to either Amazon, which allows for offline viewing, or downloading content illegally. Obviously, neither of these options are good for Netflix.

In the past, Netflix has been very vocal about their customers' lack of interest in offline viewing, and the fact that they are currently not working on the feature because of the lack of interest. They have, however, remained open to the idea. A recent report suggests that, not only is the feature under development, but it is likely to be launched before year's end. Dan Taitz, Chief Operating Officer of Panthera, a mobile video downloading platform, says,

We know from our sources within the industry that Netflix is going to launch this product. My expectation is that by the end of the year Netflix will be launching download-to-go as an option for their customers.

Considering this feature is exactly what Panthera does, it is likely that the company is involved in the project. If not, perhaps they were approached to help implement the feature. Either way, a rumor from someone in this position within the industry is one to be taken seriously.

I still view download as something that's emerging into the consciousness of consumers. They know about downloads because before there were streaming services people downloaded movies and videos from iTunes, but they're not necessarily looking for download as a feature of their streaming service they're already paying for.

Of course, implementing offline viewing will be more difficult than just working with a partner like Panthera to build technology. The offering would be limited by contracts with the studios, similar to Hulu's Ad-Free option. Netflix will have to work with their content partners to allow for offline viewing, and not all partners will ever allow it. It stands to reason, though, that if Netflix is working on this feature, they will have already begun renegotiating the contracts, and have worked to include language in all new contracts.

Will we see this feature before the year's end? Let's hope so - it will give our team something to do on the flight to CES 2017.

Google Fiber Expands Through Acquisition of Webpass

posted Saturday Jun 25, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Google Fiber Expands Through Acquisition of Webpass

Google Fiber may be a well-known name, but it is not exactly a commonplace service. In fact, the company only offers service in 6 markets today, with another 6 in-progress, and several others being considered. Expansion has been slow, though, partially because of the high cost of installation and partially because of overall interest in the offering, both from consumers and from municipalities.

This week, the company has taken a major step in adding to their infrastructure, by announcing the purchase of Webpass. The San Francisco-based ISP offers a comparable service to Google Fiber, but in markets where Google is currently not offering their services. With this single transaction, they have nearly doubled their metropolitan footprint, including in 2 cities that were in-progress previously.

Webpass takes a different approach to offering their gigabit service to customers, though. Rather than using fiber running throughout a city, they use point-to-point wireless to connect to a central hub, where cabling is then run to the subscribers. For example, in an apartment complex, you might have an antenna on the top of a building, and the hub would cover everyone inside that single complex.

Because of this technological setup, the service is only offered to multitenant building, like offices, apartments and condos. The company says it is far too expensive to offer the service to individual buildings at this time. When combined with a fiber infrastructure from Google, however, it is possible that Google might be able to offer their services to all types of buildings in these markets for less than installing a full infrastructure.

Clash of Clans Studio Supercell Sells for $10 Billion

posted Saturday Jun 25, 2016 by Scott Ertz

In the start-up world, there is the concept of a unicorn. This is a company in a crowded space that receives an unexplainable amount of investment dollars or sells for a price higher than can be explained. The concept of the unicorn has existed outside of startups, though. For example, the casual and mobile gaming industry as a whole seems to be a unicorn in itself.

For example, when Electronic Arts purchased PopCap, the original name in casual games, for more than $750 million, it seemed insane. How could the company that made Bejeweled be worth that much money? Today, however, that number is considered small for this industry. Last year, Activision purchased Candy Crush studio King for $5.9 billion, shocking the industry. Today, once again, that number seems small.

This week, mobile developer Supercell, had a major stake transfer for an even more major price. Parent company Softbank, the company that owns Sprint in the US, sold 84% of their stake in the mobile developer behind the Clash of Clans franchise to Chinese developer Tencent. The purchase was for $8.57 billion dollars, valuing the studio at $10.2 billion. That is a lot of money for any purchase, especially for a company with a very small overall offering.

Let's put that number into perspective. In 2014, Microsoft purchased Mojang, maker of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion. In the same year, Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion. In 2012, they purchased Instagram for $1 billion. The same year, Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion. All of those purchased together barely exceeds this single purchase, and it's below the overall value of the company.

That's right: Supercell, a studio it is likely you have never heard of, is worth roughly 2.5 times the combined value of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, plus the infrastructure that has made them possible and successful. Why is that the case? Because fear breeds impulsiveness. It's what happened with Instagram, which Facebook paid far too much for because there was rumor that Twitter was interested. In this case, with Asian studios beginning to rule the landscape in mobile, it is no surprise that Tencent was willing to spend a lot of money to purchase a quickly growing competitor in a space that is expected to be 40% of the overall industry in 2 years.

Lenovo Support Software Allowed for Malicious Code, Now Fixed

posted Saturday Jun 25, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Lenovo Support Software Allowed for Malicious Code, Now Fixed

One of the topics we talk about a lot here is personal security and for good reason: There are lots of ways to get harmed through technology. Whether it be a malicious ad on a website, an attachment in an email or an app in an app store, if someone wants your information there are plenty of ways to get it. Over the years Microsoft has tried to prevent that in Windows, but it requires everybody involved to be responsible and observant.

This week Lenovo announced that they had not fulfilled their end of the bargain. 2 flaws found in Lenovo Solution Center, a product that comes preinstalled on many of their computers, were found to make it easy for third parties to steal data off of Lenovo computers. This was done by giving would be hackers the ability to bypass Microsoft's User Account Controls.

UAC is Microsoft's way of ensuring that the person sitting at the computer means to do the thing that's about to happen. For example when you install software you get the yellow dialogue asking if you mean to do this. Almost every account on a computer has some sort of UAC limitation.

One of the few that does not is LocalSystem. This is an account created by Microsoft, designed specifically for Windows to be able to do things in the background without having to bother the user. One of the issues from Lenovo gives any user the ability to route commands through LocalSystem instead of their own user.

Obviously this issue does not create a problem on its own. What it does is gives third party software the ability to take advantage of a lapse in security. For example if you were to accidentally click on a bad link on a website, this exploit could install software on your computer without you knowing - The whole reason that UAC exists.

The second flaw allows the same software to install without other alarm bells going off. It allows a user to terminate an existing process without permission. So for example if a third party wanted to install hijacking software on your computer your antivirus would probably prevent it. That is unless the hijacking software terminated your antivirus before installing.

This is not Lenovo's first bout with major security problems. Last year the company made headlines for Superfish, another product that came preinstalled on their computers which turned out to be adware. Because of these security issues, Lenovo has become the face of why you should uninstall the preinstalled software on your phone, computer and tablet.

If you don't plan on uninstalling the included software do you make sure that your automatic updates are turned on, which they should always be. This will allow them to patch these problems as they occur, which Lenovo has done this week.

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