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Sony Makes Brilliant Move

13 Jun
Sony Playstation

Sony made brilliant use of Xbox’s PR fumbles.
Image: Shutterstock

If you aren’t a gamer, you may not be aware of the recent waves in the gaming industry as the next generation of console development is rolling out.  It began with Microsoft’s announcement of the Xbox One in late May.  Microsoft has fumbled the promotion of the new console, not only upsetting the gaming community with its lackluster game development but with a feature that many game enthusiasts have long feared.  Not only will the system require an online connection to play, but will essentially render used or borrowed games useless without a significant fee to Xbox for a new verification code.  While Microsoft scrambled to clarify the online features and announce more game titles, the sour taste from the original announcement is still fresh in consumer minds.

Especially now that Sony has swiftly used the bad PR to its advantage with its announcement of the Playstation 4 console. Not only did Sony include a montage of new games during their announcement at a major electronics conference, but also practically bragged that it would be a hundred dollars less than the Xbox.  Two complete its One-Two punch to Microsoft, Sony made a twenty-two second instructional video on how to share used games (you hand your game over to your friend).

Sony stocks spiked right after the Xbox announcement, indicating that Xbox may have some trouble peddling its new wares to the market.  However, it ultimately seems that Xbox is targeting another market entirely.  The promotion for the device has heavily stressed its cloud computing capabilities, indicating the ability to streamline a wide variety of media consumption at record speeds.  Television and movies are more important to the Xbox One marketing strategy, and may attract buyers who are not as upset about not being able to buy used games.  Meanwhile, Playstation is executing a pro-gamer strategy perfectly, using everything from pricing to humor to rake in loyalty. It will be interesting to see which one pays off.

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Will Google Glass Change the Workplace?

11 Jun
Google Glass

Google Glass
Image: giuseppe.costantino via Flickr CC

The new Google Glass is a pair of what looks like hi-tech clear sunglasses, when in reality it is a new, wearable screen that will allow you to interact on the web with even more ease.  Google Glass’s software will customize what you see based on your search history and Google usage, basically eliminating your need to search for your everyday information, such as flight times, messages or schedules.  Other applications suggested for the usage would be seeing instant translation subtitles while watching your favorite foreign film, getting directions from your point of view, and recording unique videos and pictures.

While the idea seems novel, highly advanced and sometimes frightening, Google insists that Glass is simply a way of streamlining and increases access to what you can already do with your smartphone. In fact, many of Glass’ applications, such as a GPS, will only work by being connected to your phone.

However, there are definitely some things about Glass that may give early adopters in business a leg up.  One is the ability for Glass to identify people, so when you are meeting new prospects you can be looking at their social media profile and have plenty of information about them, thus coming off more friendly and prepared.

Google Glass prototype 2012

Google Glass prototype 2012
Image: Antonia Zugaldia / Ars Electronica via Flickr CC

Obviously, Glass can also remind you of when you need to switch one task to the other, tell you to go to meetings even if you aren’t in front of your computer, and streamline your email process.  Other applications for Glass at work are speculated to be on the way. Google is already working on an Evernote app, a highly respected productivity application on many platforms.  It is clear the intention is to help boost workplace productivity, but whether offices will accept the new form of technology remains to be seen.

Roku Begins its Battle for Your TV Time

4 Jun
Roku capabilities include Netflix, Hulu, and even Angry Birds. Image: Amazon

Roku capabilities include Netflix, Hulu, and even Angry Birds.
Image: Amazon

In several rounds of fund raising efforts, media streaming device company Roku has managed to gather $60 million in investments from media giants Hearst and News Corp and British Sky Broadcasting.  Originally developed to stream Netflix movie and show selections to televisions, Roku has expanded their media selection to music and other media, incuding Hulu.com and internet gaming sensation Angry Birds.  Founder and CEO Anthony Wood says Roku intends to use the money to expand access to Roku services, such as partnering with companies to make “Roku Ready” televisions and other hardware devices.

The announcement comes hot on the tails of the Microsoft’s announcement to release the Xbox One, a revamped gaming console with a major focus on television viewing.  Both Roku and Xbox are setting themselves up to compete for precious consumer free time and leading the charge to move people away from cable and onto customizable online media.  Apparently Hearst and News Corp believe in their intention.  However, at a much lower price point, Roku may have the mass market appeal that Xbox will not.  The retail price for the Xbox One in set at $400, leaving it mostly to the enthusiastic gamer population to buy it.

Is the end of cable TV near? Image: AllMyFaves

Is the end of cable TV near?
Image: AllMyFaves

If Microsoft, Roku, Netflix and major media moguls push the entertainment industry to online streaming, one cannot help but wonder what is in store for cable companies and broadcasters.  It remains unclear whether organizations like NBC, ABC or CBS will do when they lose ground for consumer attention, especially since online streaming will likely have the ability to customize ads for the user, the way Google or Amazon can.  Will we see the death of television? It certainly looks possible.

Hulu Bids Are In: But Will They Sell?

30 May
hulu

Is Hulu up for grabs?
Image: Hulu

The subscription TV service Hulu is potentially up for grabs, and everyone seems to be rushing to get a bid in. Last year the company brought in nearly $700 million in revenue from ads and paying subscribers (of which there are about 4 million), so it’s likely that they will be looking for bids of $1 billion or more.

Hulu is currently owned by three different companies: News Corp., Walt Disney Co., and Comcast Corp. While Comcast operates as a “silent” partner, Walt Disney and News Corp. have disagreed on a strategy for the company. This difference in opinion has likely been a main driver in the sale. The shared ownership makes for a tricky situation for buyers, since one, two, or all three can independently decide whether or not to sell.

So who is knocking on Hulu’s door? Everyone is, it seems. Yahoo, who recently acquired Tumbler for a pricey $1 billion, has put in a bid, as has Silver Lake Management teamed with WME Entertainment. Private equity firm KKR, led by business leaders Henry Kravis and George Roberts, has also reportedly put in a bid.

netflix

Hulu, like Netflix, is a leader in next generation television.
Image: Netflix

Time Warner Cable, DirectTV, the Chernin Group, and Guggenheim Digital Media have all also shown an interest, according to inside sources. For each of the bidders and potential bidders, there is a wide array of benefits to acquiring Hulu. Yahoo likely sees this as a chance to get more involved with video media, as Google has done with YouTube. Cable and media companies would probably use the service as a way to distribute media in the future, and companies like Henry Kravis’ KKR are likely interested in the growth potential of Hulu as compared to competitor Netflix.

Will Hulu’s owners actually sell? The bids would have to be high, but we already know that some companies (like Yahoo) are willing to pay a big chunk of money for future investments, so long as they see it paying off in the long term.

Bitcoin Shows Promising Future

23 May
bitcoin

Bitcoin online currency is stabilizing at $120 per Bitcoin.
Image: Zach Copley / Flickr CC

Born out of online shopping habits and the desire for less regulatory control in finance, the Bitcoin is making some pretty serious progress with early adopters.  Although the currency is four years old, Bitcoin recently gained public attention when the trading price skyrocketed to over $230 dollars each.  The online currency has now stabilized to $120 dollars per bit coin, a massive increase over this time last year when it traded around $5.00 per Bitcoin.

Last weekend, about 1,000 Bitcoin enthusiasts gathered for Bitcoin 2013, a conference on the virtual currency in Silicon Valley. Attendees included a flood of start-ups, venture capitalists, Bitcoin vendors and exchange providers, and libertarians looking for more freedom in commerce.  Rather than using credit cards to make online purchases and deal with having to give companies personal information, Bitcoin works like a virtual cash, where only the money is verified rather than your identity.  Other benefits of using Bitcoin include the ability to back up your cash funds, a reduced risk of fraud, and short verification time for transactions.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss were on site at the conference as star investors in the new currency.  The twin brothers are credited with giving Mark Zuckerberg the idea for Facebook.  Along with the director of the Bitcoin Foundation Peter Vessenes, they called for the standardization, support and regulatory policies necessary to make Bitcoin thrive.  Right now, about $45 million in Bitcoin transactions take place daily, and that number is only expected to increase.  As more people adopt the currency, the price is expected to stabilize. For now, the Bitcoin foundation is preparing to hire a lawyer to work with Congress on better regulation for the new currency.

3D Printing Opens Worlds of Possibility for Entrepreneurs

16 May

As the price of 3D printers continues to drop and sales increase, new services are opening up to anyone who has an idea.  Suddenly, the jumping through hoops process of creating a prototype have disappeared.  No longer do people have to suffer the lack of flexibility of manufacturing plants commit to buying 50,000 copies of their own invention just to get it to market.

Now, services like Shapeways can make your design idea a reality almost immediately.  Some of their applications simply make a black and white drawing into a 3D model, with no extra technical knowledge on your part required.  Shapeways will even sell your design for you in their online marketplace if you choose.  With 8 different materials to print with, the possibilities are abundant and everything from art and jewelry to machine parts and tools can become a reality.

A start-up called Kor Ecologic has designed a car using 3D printers that is aimed to be the world’s greenest car. Urbee, as it is named, is lightweight, aerodynamic and requires little material and labor compared to other cars manufactured today.  The car comes with a solar kit for garage rooftops to recharge the battery.  Someday, surely every city will have small companies making custom cars to order out of someone’s garage.  Urbee is just one example of how 3D printing will eliminate manufacturing competition overseas, re-localize economies, and even the playing field for small businesses and start-ups.

The Urbee from Shapeways is being called the "world's greenest car" Image: solidsmack.com

The Urbee from Shapeways is being called the “world’s greenest car”
Image: solidsmack.com

The wonder of this technology is not without its demons.  Recently, a group called Defense Distributed posted plans for printing a gun on a 3D printer online.  The plans had over 100,000 downloads before the U.S. State Department ordered the group to remove the plans.  Such actions and other thoughts have put 3D printing in the hot seat for ethical debate.  Is a system that is easier to exploit mean there will be more abuse than what we experience now? It is hard to say.  Surely, the benefits to social equality and sustainability will outweigh any negative effects the technology could have.  New technology is always met with challenges and hurdles, but one thing is for sure: 3D printing will change our world.

What Veronica Mars and Donald Trump have in Common: They Make Crowdfunding Look Good

14 May
donald-trump

Donald Trump has jumped on board with the new startup, FundAnything.
Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr CC

A new startup called FundAnything launched last week with an investment and commitment to personally contribute to projects from The Donald himself.  The new platform welcomes any project without screening or (probably) support like those stuffy guys over at Indiegogo do.  Even though 500 plus crowdfunding platforms are exploding all over the internet, Founder Bill Zanker seems to think that his platform will take crowdfunding “to the masses”.   Never mind the record-breaking $5.7 million dollars that Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas managed to raise on Kickstarter from over 90,000 contributors.

All snark aside, bringing Donald Trump on board is a strong advantage.  While Donald Trump is a somewhat infamous figure in pop culture, his 2 million Twitter followers alone prove his social influence.  Trump has also promised to make personal contributions to projects regularly, and promote his choices through his social media outlets.  Someone important gives you money and then tells millions of people how cool you are.  Who doesn’t want that kind of free marketing?

The platform itself has a similar feel to it than other popular crowdfunding sites, but the smiling corporate mascot is definitely the key differentiator when you visit the site.  Currently popular projects vary from throwing a party for Sandy victims, supporting a man with cystic fibrosis, to a new album for an unknown pretty face.  Crowdfunding is a great social experiment in seeing what people will give you money for and how much they expect in return.  The future of crowdfunding will depend on the rate of funded projects actually delivering on promised goods.

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas raised $5.7 million to support a Veronica Mars movie.  Image: eonline

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas raised $5.7 million to support a Veronica Mars movie.
Image: eonline

A recent study found that the success of funded ventures depend highly on the quality of the business or product, the vested number of stakeholders and the quality of life where the project takes place.  Naive “backers” of crowdfunded projects may not have all the tools and savvy to judge whether the project will be successful, so we may be looking at potential for scams.  If you are considering funding a new venture online, take a look over the company and determine the commitment, process, timeline and quality.  Remember also to be patient; startups often encounter unforeseen obstacles during or soon after projects are funded.