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“Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 now work on Xbox One and are part of the EA Access vault” plus 29 more VentureBeat

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“Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 now work on Xbox One and are part of the EA Access vault” plus 29 more VentureBeat


Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 now work on Xbox One and are part of the EA Access vault

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 01:30 PM PST

You can now play the entire Mass Effect trilogy on the Xbox One.

The Xbox One can now play every game in the sci-fi series that helped define the last generation of consoles.

Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3 all now work on Xbox One thanks to that system’s backward compatibility with the Xbox 360. This means you can play through the adventures of Commander Shepard as long as you own the disc or downloadable copies of the Mass Effect games. The trilogy is also available in the EA Access Vault, which is a collection of games that anyone who subscribes to EA’s premium service for $5 per month or $30 per year gets access to for as long as they maintain their membership. To get the games on Xbox One, you’ll have to search for them in the Xbox Store. If you already own them or have EA Access, you should have the option to Install. They do not appear in the EA Access app on Microsoft’s console.

All three games are sprawling, space-traveling role-playing adventures from publisher Electronic Arts and developer BioWare. They tell the story of the human race of Earth interacting with advanced alien races throughout the galaxy while giving players some freedom to shape their Shepard however they like. And now, you can enjoy the games without having to bust out your Xbox 360.

It is, of course, not a coincidence that the Mass Effect series came to the Xbox One on November 7. Today is what EA and BioWare call “N7” day, a celebration of Mass Effect that takes its name from the N7 special-forces designation that Commander Shepard earned before starring in the first Mass Effect game.

BioConsortia Raises $12 million to Accelerate Development of Multi-Microbe Products for Agriculture

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 01:05 PM PST

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DAVIS, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–November 7, 2016–

BioConsortia, Inc., innovator of microbial solutions for natural plant trait enhancement and crop yield improvement, announced that it has raised this year a total of $12 million for future growth. Last week, BioConsortia closed an $8 million equity round of investment financed by existing investors, Khosla Ventures and Otter Capital, and earlier in the year raised $4 million of venture debt from Square 1 Bank, a division of Pacific Western Bank.

Experienced ag tech investors, Khosla Ventures and Otter Capital funded BioConsortia’s $15 million Series B round in early 2014, enabling the move from New Zealand to the US, and establishing operations and headquarters in Davis, California. This move refocused the research on US microbes, seed genetics, more sustainable fertilizers and improved agronomic practices.

“We are thrilled with the commitment and support from our existing investors and Square 1 Bank. This is a busy time of year for all in the ag space with field trial data coming in. Having funding in place early means that we can keep our foot on the accelerator and continue to expand our research capabilities, field trials program and the number of beneficial traits that we are moving down our pipeline,” says BioConsortia CEO, Marcus Meadows-Smith.

BioConsortia continues to exploit its revolutionary Advanced Microbial Selection® (AMS) process to discover advantageous microbial consortia treatments for biofertilizers and biostimulants. Recently the company launched several biopesticide projects to identify crucial microbial solutions to combat seed and soil-borne diseases and pests.

Following the addition of Dr. Hong Zhu from Bayer CropScience earlier this year, the company is also further expanding its formulation and fermentation team to work on products that meet the best standards for seed and soil-applied solutions. Construction on new lab space at the current R&D facilities is underway.

Building on 2016 field trials, BioConsortia will increase its program for 2017. Next year’s trials will include important traits for drought tolerance and fertilizer use efficiency on corn, soy, and wheat, as well as biopesticide trials for management of soil-borne diseases in select high-value vegetable crops and pests such as corn rootworm.

About Us

BioConsortia, Inc. is developing effective microbial solutions that enhance plant phenotypes and increase crop yields. We are pioneering the use of directed selection in identifying teams of microbes – working like plant breeders and selecting plants based on targeted characteristics, then isolating the associated microbial community. Our proprietary Advanced Microbial Selection® (AMS) process enriches the crop microbiome, allowing us to identify organisms that influence the expression of beneficial traits in plants. We are currently focused on products for fertilizer use efficiency, growth improvement and both abiotic tolerance and biotic resistance, as commercial seed treatments, liquid in-furrow products and granule products for a range of crops.

BioConsortia, Inc.
Jon Amdursky, 201-394-2476
jamdursky@aol.com

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Why ‘fun’ and ‘easy to use’ are not the best chatbot features

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 12:10 PM PST

Why chatbots need to be more than fun.

As someone whose obsession with all things bot and AI related borders on unhealthy, I struggle to keep up with the ever-growing universe of bot platforms, bot building services, and NLP services.

I fancy myself something of an expert on the subject, yet when asked by someone considering building a bot which platform is right for them, I am often at a loss for words. Perhaps my terrible memory is partly to blame — I do routinely walk into rooms having fully forgotten what compelled me there in the first place. However, the deeper issue is revealed when reading how all these new products describe themselves.

About Us sections are awash with words that seem descriptive, but in reality don’t say anything. Empty terms like “fun” and “easy-to-use” are presented as though there are competitors out there who hang their hats on being boring and difficult.

Testing your pitch

I am reminded of my time working as a millennial marketing consultant in NYC. In countless client meetings, people on the other side of the table believed that the very act of targeting millennials was enough to properly endear their brand to a whole generation of people.

I was fond of using this simple litmus test with clients — take your value proposition and reverse it. Can you imagine any reasonable company making these claims? If not, you probably aren’t actually differentiating your offering.

The problem is many still think of the AI and chatbot space as being so new and cutting edge that they ignore the fact that it has become a highly competitive marketplace. Therefore, many tout the general benefits of AI technology as though it only applies to them.

This is, of course, a terrible strategy for selling in a competitive marketplace. What if Ford released its 2017 Fusion with bold claims like: “It can move you long distances!” or “Keeps you dry, even in the rain!” or “Smells much better than public transportation!”

While these may all be legitimate reasons for buying a car, it is certainly not the way to sell a car, especially not in a highly competitive marketplace.

The car market is a great example of what the AI and chatbot market needs to develop into. Even if you only know cars well enough to pick out which one might be your Uber when the license plate is still too far away to read reliably, you probably have a strong sense of which kind of car suits which type of people.

We all have preconceived notions of which cars are suited for a particular driver, whether it’s a minivan, a truck, or a muscle car. The point is, if someone were to ask for advice picking out a car, I would probably have some idea of which products are best suited to them.

Finding your niche

So how do you establish what makes your offering unique to users in the crowded AI/bot marketplace? An intense week-long Ayahuasca trip in the nether regions of the Amazon? Maybe, but for the sake of saving on airfare, let’s start with asking other people.

Surveys are tempting because they allow you to fire and forget, but for something as nuanced as this, I recommend asking people in person. This gives you a chance to read their facial expressions and see how easily descriptions are coming to them, or how much they are really digging deep to try and describe your offering.

The difficult part is picking out which people to ask. If you are operational, actual customers are the best option. I would also advise asking people you don’t have a strong relationship with, as they will feel less compelled to spare your feelings. If you aren’t live, pick people who you believe best embody your target demographic of users. The main point is, just don’t ask other like-minded developers who are working on a similar product and would never use yours.

The easy part is the questions; no need to overcomplicate these.

  • How would you describe my product to someone else?
  • How would you describe which users my product would be perfect for?
  • How would you explain to them why they should try my product?

Resist the temptation to try to finish the other person’s sentence, like an old married couple, trying to get them to say what it is in your mind. Let the person struggle to find their own words; let their “thinking pause” draw out until it’s awkward. The most important this is that you don’t taint your test results.

Another good exercise is letting another person describe your offering for you. I recommend using networking events for this, where total strangers begrudgingly ask what you do. Instead of mechanically diving into an elevator pitch, I like to jokingly insist that my friend is a master with words and is far better at explaining it than I ever could. I promise it’s a lot less awkward sounding in person — alcohol helps.

Exercises like this give you a real insight into how people perceive your offering, because now they are truly trying to explain it to someone new, not just tell you what you want to hear. Be mindful of the words they are using to describe it; it’s not a good sign if they default on just naming other companies.

“It’s like IBM Watson, but worse.” OK, hopefully your designated pitcher isn’t that drunk, but you get my point.

You may get them explaining how they feel your platform is better suited to the needs of non-developers who need a news bot. You may feel yourself push back against being pigeonholed, even wanting to correct them and explain how your platform can actually help all people. Fight the urge to interject.

Remember the car example. Can a muscle-car guy drive a minivan? Sure he can, when his Corvette is in the shop (it still is an American car, after all) and he needs to use his wife’s car to get to work. Just because it’s possible doesn’t change how manufacturers target their marketing.

AI and bots platforms large and small need to adopt this rigor if they are to thrive. Frankly, even the big players in the space are arguably not differentiated enough in the eyes of users. If the small teams are to have any luck gaining market share against all the biggest names in tech, they are going to need to take a page out of Darwin’s playbook and figure out what makes them unique.

After all, starting targeted doesn’t mean you will forever stay niche. People tend to forget that when Facebook launched, it was a way for a couple thousand Harvard students to share party pictures.  Now with over a billion users, it is one of the most widely used products of all time, meaning your weird uncle can share his awkward selfies with people in all corners of the globe.

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Hero’s Song takes it retro open-world to Steam Early Access

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 11:45 AM PST

Hero's Song is a 2D fantasy RPG with permadeath.

You can now play one of the more interesting-sounding role-playing games in some time.

Developer Pixelmage Games has released its open-world action RPG Hero’s Song on Steam Early Access. That means that even though it’s not finished, you can still buy it for $20 and start playing while the developer continues work on this game.

Hero’s Song has a 2D, pixelated art style. Its hooks is how it gives players a say in the creation of the game world by letting them pick its gods. For example, choosing an elvish god will add elves and more water than usual.

Hero’s Song comes from John Smedley, who worked on one of the first big massively multiplayer online role-playing games in EverQuest before becoming the head of Sony Online Entertainment until he left that company in 2015. He then started Pixelmage Games, where he serves as chief executive officer. That company then started a crowdfunding campaign for Hero’s Song on Indiegogo.

"We're investing in Hero's Song for the long term so it's important to us that we're transparent through the course of the game's development," Smedley said in a press release sent to GamesBeat. "We are making a game that the community and our own developers want to play, and having players involved in the process from the beginning is an important step in bringing the best of this virtual world to life."

Hero’s Song also features writing from Patrick Rothfuss, the fantasy author best known for the novel The Name of the Wind.

Pandora commits to increasing U.S. employees of color to 45% by 2020

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 11:23 AM PST

Pandora music analysts.

Publicly traded digital radio company Pandora today announced new commitments for diversity.

Most significantly, the company intends to raise the percentage of U.S. employees of color — that is, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska natives, blacks and African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and native Hawaiians — from 35 percent to 45 percent by 2020.

The idea is to “reflect the evolving makeup of our local workforce,” Kristen Robinson, Pandora’s chief human resources officer, wrote in a blog post. The effort will initially focus on Pandora’s “main hubs” of Oakland (the location of its headquarters), Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. “The breakdown for representation within each race and ethnic group will be informed by each local community of which Pandora is a part,” Robinson wrote.

Pandora also intends to reach parity for promotions across genders, races, and ethnic backgrounds by 2020. Additionally, the company will “aim to look at our business practices and activities through a diversity lens,” which will involve making sure the company “reflects diversity” in its brand, partnerships, and events, among other things, Robinson wrote.

The company last updated its diversity statistics in August. At that time, 65 percent of employees were white, and 52 percent were men. In leadership roles 80 percent of employees were white and 63 percent were men.

Like a few other technology companies, Pandora released its first diversity report in 2014. In August 2014, about 71 percent of employees were white and almost 51 percent were men, while its leaders were nearly 84.6 percent white and 61 percent male.

For the sake of comparison, Facebook’s U.S. employees were 52 percent white, and globally 67 percent of its employees were men as of June 30. At Google, 59 percent of U.S. employees were white and 69 percent of all employees were male as of January.

Intel has also made diversity commitments.

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As Web Summit arrives in Lisbon, Portugal tries to seize its startup moment with $220 million fund

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 11:15 AM PST

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa speaking at the Venture Summit in Lisbon.

As the massive Web Summit tech conference gears up in Lisbon this week, Portugal’s government is hoping to use this moment to ignite its own startup scene.

In remarks at the Venture Summit today, an investor-focused event that drew more than 600 venture capitalists from around the world, Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa announced the government had created a new public fund of $220 million that will match venture capital invested in the country’s startups.

According to Costa, any venture fund around the world is eligible to request matching funds for a single investment as long as the startup is located in Portugal.

The funds will be called 200M (it’s 200 million euros) and is part of a larger effort to pump $440 million into the country’s emerging technology economy over the next two years.

Luring the Web Summit from its traditional home in Dublin was part of that effort is well. Marking its first year in Lisbon, the Web Summit will bring people from 166 countries. Portugal officials are hoping the massive event will help shine a light on its startup economy in the same way the event put Dublin in the spotlight for several years.

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Android Nougat hits 0.3% adoption after 2 months

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 10:55 AM PST

android_nougat_logo

A new Android version has arrived, and that means we can start watching paint dry. Per Google’s Platform Versions page, the latest and greatest version of the company’s mobile operating system took more than two months to hit a whopping 0.3 percent adoption.

Google started rolling out Android 7.0 Nougat to Nexus devices in August. To be fair, the company’s new Pixel phones, which ship with Android 7.1, haven’t been on sale for a month yet. Still, the latest major version of Android typically takes more than a year to become the most-used release, and Nougat’s story will likely be no different.

android_adoption_november_2016

Here are the changes between October and November:

  • Android 7.0/7.1 Nougat (August 2016): Up 0.3 points to 0.3 percent
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow (October 2015): Up 5.3 points to 24.0 percent
  • Android 5.0/5.1 Lollipop (November 2014, March 2015): Down 0.9 points to 34.1 percent
  • Android 4.4 KitKat (October 2013): Down 2.5 points to 25.2 percent
  • Android 4.1/4.2/4.3 Jelly Bean (July 2012, November 2012, and July 2013): Down 1.9 points to 13.7 percent
  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (December 2011): Down 0.1 points to 1.3 percent
  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread (February 2011): Down 0.2 points to 1.3 percent
  • Android 2.2 Froyo (May 2010): Flat at 0.1 percent

The Platform Versions tool uses data gathered from the Google Play Store app, which requires Android 2.2 and above. This means devices running older versions are not included, nor are devices that don’t have Google Play installed (such as many Android phones and tablets in China, Amazon’s Fire line, and so on). Also, Android versions that have less than 0.1 percent adoption, such as Android 3.0 Honeycomb, are not listed.

For the sake of comparison, here’s the Android adoption chart for October:

android_adoption_october_2016

The Android adoption order now stands as: Lollipop in first place, KitKat in second, Marshmallow in third, Jelly Bean in fourth, Gingerbread and ICS tied for fifth, and Froyo in last. Marshmallow will move up to second place this year, but the gold medal spot will elude it until sometime in 2017. Nougat will meanwhile barely make it to 1 percent.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda trailer shows unfamiliar characters in an unknown galaxy

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 10:50 AM PST

Mass Effect Andromeda's heroes.

Mass Effect is finally getting its Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Trek (2009) sequel/reboot treatment, and a new trailer is giving fans the first decent taste of what that’s going to look and feel like.

Publisher Electronic Arts and developer BioWare released the “cinematic reveal” for Mass Effect: Andromeda this morning. The video established its extragalactic setting while also teasing a fresh cast of characters and a new threat. Andromeda launches in the spring for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The look at Mass Effect actually reminds me a lot of the kind of trailer that you would get for a new Star Trek movie — with the exception that none of the characters look familiar. For a franchise that established itself on its personalities across a trilogy of games on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, EA and BioWare will likely have to do a lot more work introducing players to the new heroes before the game launches.

For now, however, today’s teaser provides a glimpse at a lot of sights that still do look familiar. That includes the general design of the armor, weapons, and vehicles. While the Normandy, your spacecraft home in the original games, is no more (at least as far as we can tell in the trailer), you’ll end up on a similar-looking vessel called Hyperion. It’s Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Enterprise D versus the original series Enterprise NCC-1701.

Now, we’ll have to see if the new heroes of Andromeda are as memorable as Jean-Luc Picard and Data.

#FlipMyFunnel Announces Game-Changing Partnership With Sales Hacker for Revenue Summit

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 10:05 AM PST

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#FlipMyFunnel and Sales Hacker are joining forces to present Revenue Summit, an event dedicated to bridging the gap between marketing and sales, hosted in San Francisco

ATLANTA–(BUSINESS WIRE)–November 7, 2016–

#FlipMyFunnel, a vendor-agnostic community dedicated to challenging the status quo of B2B marketing, sales, and customer success, today announced it will partner with Sales Hacker, an organization focused on shaping the future with educational and actionable sales content to host Revenue Summit on March 7th and 8th at Pier 27 in San Francisco, California.

The conference will feature two days of sessions that highlight modern B2B marketing and sales practices. The agenda will include a variety of sessions that include real world case studies, world class thought leadership, and product demos of the latest technologies. The event is expected to have over 2,000 attendees who are eager to learn about modern practices that will strengthen the bond between sales and marketing teams.

“We are in the age of modern B2B, where marketing and sales need to partner together to serve the customer. The Revenue Summit, hosted by #FlipMyFunnel and Sales Hacker, is planning to bring the best and the brightest minds to help you modernize your organization at scale,” said Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing.

“Sales teams needs support from their marketing teams to close the accounts they care about the most,” said Max Altschuler, Founder of Sales Hacker. “Having both groups in under the same roof for two days listening to sessions from practitioners who have been there and done that is super powerful for driving revenue.”

“Account-based marketing cannot be successful in a silo. It requires marketing and sales teams to align around a single revenue goal,” said Sangram Vajre, Founder of #FlipMyFunnel and CMO and co-founder of Terminus. “This is why it made so much sense for #FlipMyFunnel to partner with Sales Hacker on this event. There’s nothing better than the two teams learning strategies together.”

Speakers and sponsors will be announced in the coming weeks. Visit The Revenue Summit Website for more details.

About #FlipMyFunnel

Founded in 2015 by Terminus CMO and co-founder Sangram Vajre, #FlipMyFunnel is a vendor-agnostic community providing B2B marketing, sales and customer success practitioners the opportunity to connect both online and offline with their peers. Its mission is to flip the traditional B2B lead-based sales funnel on its head and challenge the status quo with account-based marketing.

About SalesHacker

SalesHacker.com is the world’s top destination for all things sales innovation and sales acceleration. We provide you with educational and actionable content that you can leverage in your company today. The company consists of the online publication, webinars, LinkedIn Community, Conferences, and Meetups worldwide.

#FlipMyFunnel
Nikki Nixon
nikki@flipmyfunnel.com

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Vevo adds GIF-making tool to create 5-second clips of any music video

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 10:00 AM PST

Vevo's new GIF-making tool.

Music video service Vevo announced today a new feature that lets users turn any 5-second clip of a music video into an animated GIF.

The GIF-making tool is available only on desktop for the moment, but will be soon available on the company’s revamped mobile app. The new feature is the latest step in Vevo’s strategy to make itself more of a destination for users and create more independence from the network of YouTube channels that were the source of its initial success.

Earlier this year, Vevo announced a redesign that allowed users to create their own profiles on the service, as well as a new Vevo player for smartphones and a personalized video feed. With the GIF-maker, the company is hoping to promote greater interaction in a way that allows user to express themselves, a Vevo spokesperson said.

It also adds a touch of viral marketing as users share their animations across their social networks. Now when playing a Vevo video, there’s a “GIF” button on the screen. A user clicks that, and then a slider appears that allows them to select the 5 seconds of video they want and add some text.

From there, the GIF can be downloaded or shared directly across social media.

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Square Enix taps Mobile Strike maker MZ to create Final Fantasy XV mobile MMO

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 10:00 AM PST

Final Fantasy XV

MZ (formerly Machine Zone) has partnered with Square Enix to make a massively multiplayer online mobile game based on Final Fantasy XV.

The alliance is a combination of powerhouses that says a lot about how mobile gaming is changing. Mobile game fans, just like console and PC gamers, are gravitating to well-known game brands, and you can find plenty of evidence of that in the top ranks of the $36 billion mobile game industry. Branded titles such as Pokémon Go, Marvel Contest of Champions, and Madden NFL Mobile have been doing well in the charts. Nintendo’s Super Mario Run will debut soon, and in such an environment, it’s tough for original games to stand out. Yet free-to-play games such as MZ’s titles have held their own.

Meanwhile, Square Enix hasn’t really had a big international hit when it comes to mobile Final Fantasy games. That’s likely one reason that Square Enix is partnering with MZ, which has had a consistent top-five grossing game in Game of War: Fire Age for the past three years and another huge hit with Mobile Strike. Right now, Mobile Strike is No. 2 on iOS in the U.S. while Game of War is No. 4. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius is No. 46, according to market researcher App Annie.

That’s why the alliance isn’t surprising, as both companies can benefit from working together. Palo Alto, Calif.-based MZ has grown to more than 900 employees, thanks to the success of Game of War and Mobile Strike. The company is also growing its real-time communications infrastructure technology, RTplatform, which is being used to run New Zealand’s transportation system. The launch date and title of the mobile Final Fantasy MMO aren’t being revealed yet, but the title will surely benefit from the excitement around Final Fantasy XV, the action role-playing game debuting on November 29 for PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.

Final Fantasy XV E3 2016 01

Above: Final Fantasy XV

Image Credit: Microsoft/Square Enix

"It is an honor to work on a franchise I have loved since I was a kid. Final Fantasy is an iconic franchise in gaming,” said MZ founder and CEO Gabe Leydon, in a statement. “Bringing Final Fantasy XV to the mobile MMO gaming world is a significant opportunity for our players and we are proud to partner with Square Enix.”

The new game, which will be developed by a new MZ game studio, will combine the characters, storyline and soundtrack from Final Fantasy XV with Machine Zone's technology, which allows millions of people around the world to play together in a single universe in real time. The game will follow the successful MZ MMO titles Game of War – Fire Age and Mobile Strike, both of which have been top ranked in the iOS and Android app stores.

Part of the reason that MZ’s titles have been so successful is that they are built on the real-time infrastructure, which can handle millions of communications per second. MZ’s titles are also built to run on just about any smartphone around the globe, and a translation engine makes it possible for players in different regions to play in the same virtual space.

"Machine Zone has a stellar track record in the mobile gaming space and we are putting Final Fantasy XV in trustworthy hands," said Yosuke Matsuda, Square Enix president and representative director, in a statement. "We are very excited to work with the MZ team to bring together two leaders in the gaming world and look forward to Final Fantasy XV on MZ’s amazing gaming platform. We’ll work together to create MZ’s next great global mobile MMO game."

Square Enix has a number of Final Fantasy games in the market including a mobile Final Fantasy Dimensions title that it launched in 2012 as a premium title for $30. Such premium-priced games have all but disappeared in the app stores, while free-to-play games dominate. On a worldwide basis, Final Fantasy games have sold more than 115 million units worldwide.

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Myst studio Cyan announces Obduction for PS4, PSVR, and HTC Vive

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 10:00 AM PST

Obduction is a mysterious puzzle game.

Cyan, the legendary studio that released Myst and Riven in the 1990s, launched its Obduction game on the PC in August, and it debuted on the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset last week. Now, Cyan is announcing that Obduction is also going to debut on the Sony PlayStation 4, the PlayStation VR headset, and the HTC Vive VR headset as well.

That will help Cyan reach a wider audience for a mysterious puzzle game that is like a spiritual successor to Myst and Riven.

“We’re going all-in on VR,” said Rand Miller, CEO of Cyan, in an interview with GamesBeat. “And the PlayStation breaks open our availability as a much broader platform for us. I [was] amazed at how good this looks on a console.”

The project is a three-year effort by the indie studio in the woods of Spokane, Wash. Obduction introduces a whole new world. You begin exploring on the shore of a lake during a cloudy night. An artifact falls from the starry sky and transports you across the universe, as you have been abducted and added to an alien landscape with a Kansas farmhouse, a white picket fence, and bizarre ghost town. Your job is to explore, solve puzzles, and unravel a mystery.

Obduction has mesmerizing graphics.

Above: Obduction has mesmerizing graphics.

Image Credit: Cyan

The PS4 game will be the first console version of Obduction and opens the game to Sony’s audience of 40 million PS4 players. To boost awareness,

Cyan has already begun work adding support for hand controls and room scale. Hand controls will allow players to interact directly with objects in the world — buttons, levers, doors, valves, etc. — even picking up objects to examine them. These new features will provide a more immersive experience to players with the appropriate capabilities (Vive, Oculus Touch, and PSVR).

"Cyan has a history of creating meticulously crafted immersive worlds. VR feels like the ultimate medium for magically transporting players to new places," said Miller. "We're opening up the Obduction virtual reality experience to more platforms and going all in for the VR future. We have some optimization to do for the PS4, but it is surprisingly capable as a platform."

Obduction uses the Unreal engine for special effects.

Above: Obduction uses the Unreal engine for special effects.

Image Credit: Cyan

Obduction is available for PC and the Rift on Steam, the Oculus Store, GOG, and the Humble Store for the introductory price of $30. It is coming soon to Mac, Miller said. Obduction for PS4, PSVR, and the Vive will arrive in 2017.

Obduction started as a Kickstarter campaign in October 2013. The game raised $1.3 million through the crowdfunding campaign. It scored 76 out of 100 on Metacritic, a review score aggregator.

“We have gotten Obduction into a position where it is doing pretty good on the PC side and can do pretty good on the PS4,” Miller said. “It also feels like we are getting in on the VR at a time when it’s just perfect.”

Miller said he is very excited about the future of VR. He said Obduction is just the beginning of Cyan’s projects in the VR market, as he hopes that future titles will fully take advantage of the immersive strengths of VR.

“I think that’s what other developers should be doing as well,” Miller said. “For someone who has been in business as long as I have, I am getting excited. This isn’t dragging me in. This is what gets me up in the morning. It’s an interesting pivot point in technology when things start to change. It’s invigorating to be on the cusp, which is where we have always been.”

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Wellington Financial Named to Preqin’s 2016 List of Most Consistent Top Performing Private Debt Fund Managers

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 09:05 AM PST

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For the second time in three years, firm recognized globally for consistently producing top net returns

TORONTO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–November 7, 2016–

Wellington Financial LP, a privately-held specialty finance firm, today announced the firm was named to U.K.-based Preqin’s Most Consistent Top Performing Private Debt Fund Managers list for 2016. This is the second time in three years that Preqin has named Wellington Financial as a “Most Consistent Top Performing” Fund Manager.

“Pension plan CIOs and entrepreneurs alike care about consistency, and the Wellington team is gratified to receive this acknowledgement from one of the world’s leading sources of data and intelligence within the alternative asset industry. This designation recognizes our team’s ability to consistently provide great results for our investors for more than 15 consecutive years,” said Mark McQueen, President and CEO, Wellington Financial.

Preqin’s annual list named Wellington Financial, along with thirteen other private debt funds, for consistently generating 1st and 2nd quartile returns for their investors since inception, from a database of 140 different global managers managing 231 different funds. In the report, Preqin categorizes private debt as direct lending, distressed debt, special situations, mezzanine, and venture debt. In 2014, Wellington Financial was named to Preqin’s list of Most Consistent Top Performing Fund Managers, for the first time in the company’s history. Fund managers need to have raised multiple funds in the same strategy to be eligible for consideration by Preqin.

“This recognition once again puts Wellington Financial amongst leaders in its market, underscoring that we can consistently successfully compete with other top players in the Direct Lending sector,” continued McQueen. “Entrepreneurs have been able to rely on us for over fifteen years, and the fact that our 2015-vintage fund is already 60% committed speaks to our capital’s appeal to leading-edge firms across North America and the United Kingdom.”

Preqin is a UK-based consultancy and research firm focusing on alternative asset industries like private equity, real estate, hedge funds, infrastructure, and private debt, with offices in New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Manila, and Singapore. Preqin’s Performance Analyst is utilized by more than 40,000 professionals in over 90 countries.

About Wellington Financial LP

Wellington Financial LP is a privately-held specialty finance firm providing term, venture, amortizing and unitranche loans up to $40 million. Wellington Financial LP is currently managing a $900 million investment program with offices in Menlo Park, Santa Monica and Toronto. Wellington Financial LP is managed by a partnership controlled by fund management and Clairvest Group Inc. (CVG:TSX), who jointly have contributed a large financial stake to the Fund. LPs include several of Canada’s largest institutional investors, crown corporations, financial institutions and pension funds. Please visit the fund website at www.wellingtonfund.com.

Wellington Financial LP
Media Contact:
Kate Gundry, 617-797-5174
kate@pluckpr.com
or
For Additional Information:
Susan Mocherniak, 416-682-6007
smocherniak@wellingtonfund.com

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YouTube adds HDR video support

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 09:01 AM PST

youtube

YouTube today added support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) videos. This means you can now watch YouTube videos in HDR on supported devices, including HDR TVs with the Chromecast Ultra and soon on all 2016 Samsung SUHD and UHD TVs.

HDR videos have higher color contrast as well as more detailed shadows and highlights. The technology supports a wider range than the conventional gamma curve, mimicking what the human eye sees in the real world thanks to clearer and more vibrant colors. YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl first announced at CES 2016 in January that the service was getting HDR video support, though he didn’t offer a timeframe.

It’s not possible to show HDR quality on a standard dynamic range (SDR) display, so YouTube has produced a simulated comparison:

youtube_sdr_hdr_simulated

As you might expect, any device that doesn’t yet support HDR will still play YouTube videos as before in SDR. In other words, if you don’t have an HDR device, nothing changes for you today.

But YouTube isn’t just stopping here. The Google-owned company plans to work with partners to enable streaming in HDR. No timeframe was given as there are still very few HDR devices available.

YouTube has also partnered with creators like MysteryGuitarMan, Jacob + Katie Schwarz, and Abandon Visuals to offer new HDR content in time for the launch today. There’s even a playlist available where you can see all the new HDR clips.

But again, anyone can now upload HDR videos. YouTube worked with the DaVinci Resolve team to make uploading HDR videos just as simple as SDR videos. The YouTube Spaces in LA and NYC also now offer all the gear needed to produce HDR content.

It will be a long time before HDR videos are the norm, given that products for capturing, playing, and serving all need to support the technology. YouTube pushing support will definitely make a big difference.

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Microsoft will launch Azure Container Registry preview on November 14

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 09:00 AM PST

The Azure Containers stand at Microsoft's Build conference in San Francisco in March 2016.

Microsoft is announcing today a few updates to its Azure public cloud lineup. Most significantly, the company is introducing a new Azure Container Registry service that will let developers host container images for applications they want to run on the Azure infrastructure. Containers are lightweight alternatives to virtual machines (VMs) that have become popular in the past few years.

The service will become available in preview on November 14, Corey Sanders, director of compute for Microsoft Azure, wrote in a blog post.

“Using the Azure Container Registry, you can store Docker formatted images for all types of container deployments,” Sanders wrote. “Additionally, the Azure Container Registry integrates well with the orchestrator offered by the Azure Container Service. When you use the Azure Container Registry, you will find it compatible with the open source Docker Registry so you can use the same tools on ACR.”

This builds on the Azure Container Service, which does the work of hosting and managing containers in Azure. Other public clouds, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, and IBM SoftLayer, have container management services, and all of those three also offer container registries. Now Azure does, too.

With respect to the Azure Container Service, Microsoft is open-sourcing the tool’s underlying engine, Sanders wrote. Additionally, Microsoft is enhancing the service by making it possible for people to use the open-source Kubernetes software as the underlying orchestration tool for containers, instead of using Docker Swarm or Mesosphere’s DCOS.

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DICE general manager Patrick Bach left EA after Battlefield 1 shipped

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 08:55 AM PST

Battlefield 1's flamethrower in action.

Patrick Bach, general manager of DICE, the Electronic Arts game studio that makes the Battlefield series, has left the company.

EA confirmed the departure of Bach, who worked at DICE in various jobs at the Stockholm, Sweden studio that just shipped Battlefield 1.

"I've had an epic ride at DICE and EA, filled with amazingly creative and passionate people, and unforgettable experiences with our player community," Bach said to PlayStation Lifestyle, which first reported the news. "I'll certainly be playing Battlefield 1 for a long, long time to come, and I look forward to seeing what's next from the incredible team at DICE."

Patrick Soderlund, executive vice president of EA Worldwide Studios, said in a statement, “Patrick Bach has been a great colleague to many across DICE and EA for almost 15 years. We thank him for all of his contributions, especially to our Battlefield franchise and community, and wish him all the best on his next adventure.”

Bach started at DICE in 2002. He was the lead designer on RalliSport Challenge 2. I started interviewing him at various events related to Battlefield game launches. For the past 12 years, he worked on Battlefield games, starting with Battlefield: Bad Company. EA’s Battlefield 1 launched formally on October 21.

Bach was named general manager of DICE in 2014. He also oversaw the production of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and the upcoming sequel to Star Wars Battlefront.

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Overwatch gets a new esports group from a Helsinki hockey team

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 08:45 AM PST

Get em, McCree!

The Finland ice hockey club IFK Helsinki announced that it has created a team for Blizzard’s team-based shooter Overwatch. This is the first foray into the world of esports. This is another example of a traditional sports group getting in the competitive gaming scene, a business that's worth $493 million. Earlier this year, the NBA team Philadelphia 76ers also entered the esports arena, while owners of other NBA teams also get into the competitive gaming court.

IFK Helsinki plays in Finland’s Liiga, the country’s top ice hockey league. The group is calling the new esports club the Helsinki Reds. The roster includes:

  • Roope "Ruape" Kurkela (Captain)
  • Eemeli "Woomera" Ikonen
  • Miika "BBR" Tekoniemi
  • Toni "Effix" Hurme
  • Jani "Exceed" Kosonen
  • Ville "prettyWise" Mikkonen

Overwatch esports is growing with Blizzard’s announcement of the Overwatch League during BlizzCon last week, although this new team isn’t a part of that. The Overwatch League will have a combine where team owners can recruit players. Also at BlizzCon, South Korea won the Overwatch World Cup at the event. The Finnish team took fouth, although none of the new Helsinki Reds players were on that roster.

"Building the team with a relatively fast pace was a challenge, but with the lead of our team captain Roope Kurkela, we were able to obtain four of the core players relatively fast,” said Christer Kasurinen, team manager of the Helsinki Reds, in a press release sent to GamesBeat. “We took our time with the last member and found our team's youngest player Toni ‘Effix’ Hurme, who is certainly going to turn some heads in the coming months. The ‘Original Six’ is everything we could expect from a top-tier team and I am really looking forward to our cooperation for the upcoming future.”

Are your mobile and app KPIs measuring up? (VB Live)

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 08:35 AM PST

woman texting

Whether you're mobile-first or app curious, join mobile marketing maestros from TUNE and retail giant Staples in this free VB Live event to find out the mobile marketing benchmarks you need to hit — and learn how to meet your goals, boost your app, and grow your business.

Access this free VB Live event on demand right here.


Mobile marketers are in charge of a lot these days, says Sheila Bhardwaj, director of account management at TUNE, but the biggest and most critical piece is finding and nurturing new customers.

And mobile matters because not only are app users worth 2x what loyalty club members are, but global revenue from mobile app stores is set to reach $52 billion this year. So getting it right is critical.

"In Q1 2016, mobile's influence exceeded that of store and desktop combined," adds Gwen Murray, mobile marketing lead at Staples. In fact, she says, "the impact of mobile as an 'influencer' was greater than mobile's direct impact to the bottom line."

So how do you make sure mobile matters?

"A lot of marketers want benchmarks," Bhardwaj says. They're essential because they not only help you gauge success internally, but let you compare your own performance with industry standards and leverage industry best practices, from app discovery and in-app conversions to long-term engagement.

And it goes far beyond just identifying your whales and embracing them with your entire marketing budget. In fact, whales are exceedingly rare, as infrequent as one in a thousand users. And while ten percent of them can contribute up to 50 percent of a game's revenue, long-term value comes from uncovering the KPIs that reveal other valuable users, from long-time whales who help you rake in video advertising dollars with long session lengths to social whales who make your game or app go viral, to the retail whales who find your app inextricable from their shopping experiences, because of value-adds.

"You can get a lot of data about customers if they buy in the app with the app," Bhardwaj adds. "Every payment is accompanied with customer data, and you start to provide better services, products, and marketing."

But while the traditional metrics are essential to track and measure the right way, says Murray, stopping will just hamstring yourself — whether or not you're a mobile-first company.

"These metrics are definitely important, but part of thinking more broadly about KPIs means thinking more broadly about how these metrics roll up into the overall marketing strategy for your company," Murray explains.

She notes that cohort tracking is one of the more meaningful metrics that marketers can look at.

"When that’s available, it’s what audiences do over time," she explains. "How did they perform against some of those traditional or key metrics? How do we layer in things like revenue per install, things like direct revenue, and then how do we bubble those up into broader-based KPIs which are going to help us find the strategic alignment.

Activation events are also particularly important for her marketing team at Staples. "One of them is when users log on with their rewards account — or if they’re not logged in, we can activate them to sign up for a rewards account," Murray says. "That’s one of the ways we really provide benefits to our customers, as well being able to track them."

But it's not just about looking at the output of how customers perform, she continues. "Based on that performance," she explains, "what are we doing to put valuable features into our app? Are we designing for customer delight? Are we taking consumer feedback into account, be it app store reviews, consumer research, industry trends, etc."

For Staples that mean making rewards easier and the transaction process streamlined by reducing the checkout screen from 23 fields to 5 fields.

"The point there is basically that without strong products, you won’t have significant engagement or retention metrics to measure," she adds.

For more on the KPIs to keep, from discovery to long-term relationships, the key differences between metrics and KPIs, and how Staples drives the influence of mobile, catch up on this executive VB Live event.


Don’t miss out!

Access this VB Live event on demand right here.


In this VB Live event you’ll:

  • Learn the most widely used mobile marketing KPIs
  • Understand KPIs to target depending on your type of app, goals, and user lifecycle stage
  • Know unique KPIs that can help demonstrate value even if not a mobile-first business
  • Get action items for your new KPI data geared toward moving the needle for your business
  • See how your app stacks up against key industry benchmarks

Speakers:

  • Gwen Murray, Mobile Marketing Lead, Staples
  • Sheila Bhardwaj, Director of Account Management, TUNE

Moderator:

  • Wendy Schuchart, Analyst, VentureBeat

This VB Live event is sponsored by TUNE.

Tesla will stop offering unlimited free Supercharging for new cars ordered after January 1, 2017

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 08:06 AM PST

A promotional photo of a Tesla Supercharger station.

If you’ve always wanted a Tesla, and planned to rely on the company’s free Supercharger charging network to get around, you better order one quick.

While Tesla buyers currently enjoy unlimited charging, Tesla announced today that all cars ordered after January 1, 2017 will instead receive a limited number of free charging credits.

If you order a Tesla after January 1, or if you order before that date but receive your car after April 1, 2017, you will get 400 kilowatt hours of credits — “roughly 1,000 miles”-worth — per year, Tesla says.

Beyond those credits, Tesla says its network will “cost less than the price of filling up a comparable gas car.” More, from Tesla:

We will release the details of the program later this year, and while prices may fluctuate over time and vary regionally based on the cost of electricity, our Supercharger Network will never be a profit center.

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk has long warned that the company’s charging network exists for long-distance traveling, and not for daily refills. “The best thing to do with an electric car is to charge your car where you charge your phone,” Musk said in May.

Musk previously announced that owners of Tesla’s first mass-market car, the Model 3, will not receive unlimited, free charging for life when it ships at the end of 2017.

Tesla says the decision enables it to “reinvest in the network” and “greatly expand” it, as the Model 3 nears release.

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Android Auto now works right on your phone’s screen

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 08:00 AM PST

android_auto_phone_screen

Google today launched a significant update to Android Auto: The app can now be used right on the device’s screen. Android Auto is thus no longer a smartphone projection standard that must be operated using a car’s dashboard display. You can download the new version “in the coming days” from Google Play — it’s rolling out to the more than 30 countries where Android Auto is currently available.

Google launched the Android Auto mobile app in March 2015 with the goal of giving drivers an easier way to access information on their phone. There are now over 200 new car models from more than 50 brands that support Android Auto — today’s update is an attempt to bring a similar experience to older cars that are not compatible or don’t even have a built-in screen.

android_auto_two_screens

To take advantage of the new Android Auto, you’ll need a phone running Android 5.0 Lollipop (or higher), a data plan, and a car mount. In return you’ll get easy access to directions (turn-by-turn navigation with Google Maps), music (Spotify, Pandora, or Google Play Music), and communications (calls and messages with hands-free voice commands), without apps and notifications to things that aren’t essential while driving.

We had the opportunity to try the new Android Auto, and it performs just as you’d expect. The app takes quite a few taps to set up, but once that’s done, you get a very simple driver-friendly interface (pictured at the top). It’s possible to get away without using a car mount, but we wouldn’t recommend it.

Also noteworthy in this update is the ability to automatically start the app when the phone is paired with Bluetooth. That means if you have a Bluetooth-supported car mount, you don’t need to manually launch Android Auto on your phone every time you get in the car.

Finally, the “OK Google” hotword is coming to Android Auto “in the coming weeks.” We asked Google what exactly this means and were told that the hotword will work for existing hands-free voice commands. Currently, you have to tap on the microphone icon to use them or press the voice command button on the steering wheel in some compatible cars. But soon you’ll be able to just say “OK Google” and keep your eyes on the road.

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Ultrahaptics uses ultrasound so you can feel things in VR

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 07:59 AM PST

Steve Cliffe (left), CEO of Ultrahaptics, and Tom Carter, CTO.

The problem with virtual reality is that it’s never quite immersive enough. While the visuals and sound make you feel like you’re wandering in a 3D space, that feeling of immersion disappears when you try to touch something. That’s why Ultrahaptics is developing ultrasound “haptics” technology so you can feel things in VR using “mid-air touch.”

The goal of VR is to make you feel like you’re someplace else. The closer you get to that sense of immersion, the more likely the industry will grow as predicted to $30 billion a year by 2020 (as forecasted by tech advisor Digi-Capital).

Ultrahaptics, based in Bristol, England, is the brainchild of Tom Carter. The chief technology officer of the company started working on it during his university days in 2009. He turned it into a doctoral project (which he finally handed in a few weeks ago), and he met Steve Cliffe. They started a company in November, 2013. The company has a demo of the technology that allows you to feel things by sending vibrations over the air to your fingers.

“We have a small collection of speakers that are emitting ultrasound,” said Carter, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We focus the speakers on the skin. There’s enough force there to slightly displace the surface of the skin. We control that to vibrate the skin at different frequencies to create different sensations. We can also sculpt and form the ultrasound so that it feels like different shapes.”

He added, “This is the next challenge in augmented reality and VR. You have visuals and head tracking. But you need to get your hands into it. The next area of immersion where VR breaks down is touching something.”

Ultrahaptics lets you feel things in mid-air.

Above: Ultrahaptics lets you feel things in mid-air.

Image Credit: Ultrahaptics

It feels like a fingertip-size impression at its smallest. It can create a force field that feels like a barrier in the air.

“We can create any type of vibration the hand is capable of feeling, from soft and gentle to a continuous smooth sensation to a Force-like lightning from Star Wars, with a crackling sensation of electricity in your hands,” Carter said. “You can feel dry raindrops battering on your hands to a squishy foam.”

The company raised $872,000 early on, and last year it raised $12.5 million. Investors include the IP Group in the United Kingdom, and Woodford Investment Management.

Now it has 43 employees and is in the midst of bringing its product to the market. In 2014, the company generated about $60,000 in revenue. That turned into $500,000 in 2015 and an estimated $2.5 million this year, said Cliffe, CEO of the company, in an interview.

Ultrahaptics lets you control devices without touching them.

Above: Ultrahaptics lets you control devices without touching them.

Image Credit: Ultrahaptics

Ultrahaptics has been selling evaluation kits to developers for about $20,000 each. The buyers have been across the board, from virtual reality game companies to consumer electronics firms and location-based entertainment. One of the surprising markets is automotive, where car designers are trying to enable drivers to control functions on the dashboard without taking their eyes off the road.

“They really moved quickly because they have worked on gesture controls for a long time,” Cliffe said. “It’s like having a button come to your hand so you can turn your air conditioning down.”

Roughly 80 percent of car makers have an Ultrahaptics development kit. The company has lots of patents and no direct competitors at the moment. Taptical Hapitcs uses a different kind of touch feedback in controllers, using vibration motors. OmniWear is creating devices you wear around your neck that give you haptic feedback from a game.

Carter said, “I had always been interested in how you communicate with computers. I was annoyed at bad interface design. At the university, I wanted to do something in human computer interaction. I found a professor who did cool stuff in that area. We discussed the trends. It was around when the iPhone came out and a lot of it was about how you couldn’t feel the keys when you were typing. You could type faster on a BlackBerry. People felt how you lost haptics when you moved from buttons to glass. Kinect also came out and took gestures to waving hands in the air. But you couldn’t feel anything that way.”

Ultrahaptics could let drivers turn knobs and feel them without taking their eyes off the road.

Above: Ultrahaptics could let drivers turn knobs and feel them without taking their eyes off the road.

Image Credit: Ultrahaptics

Carter started working on the technology and eventually created a company. He said that the ultrasound isn’t harmful in part because 100 percent of it is reflected off the surface of your skin. The speakers are like the ultrasound is used in other sensors, like the sensors in cars that detect how close you are to objects, and the sensors that open automatic doors.

“We had to go back to fundamentals to get the ultrasound to work,” Carter said.

At the moment, Ultrahaptics can’t stop your hand from pushing through something. So it can’t simulate something solid like the feeling of a table, as you’ll always be able to push your hand through it. But Carter said the technology can do more nuanced sensations, re-creating various textures. Cliffe said that he can make the sensation of spiders running down your hand. Right now, the range of the technology is about a meter from the speakers.

One of the first products under way is a pro gaming product. But no details have been released yet. Over time, the company hopes to get the cost of the technology down to the tens of dollars.

I could see how Ultrahaptics could partner with a company like Leap Motion, which enables you to use your hands in VR but currently without the sensation of feeling. Another possible application: hospital elevators. The buttons in the elevators have a lot of germs, due to human hands. But if you could make the elevator move without pressing a button, that would stop the spread of germs. You could also use the technology at an ATM machine, as someone eavesdropping on you couldn’t figure out your pin code if you are just pressing buttons in the air.

Of course, VR porn makers would love to reproduce the sense of touch. But that’s not on the horizon just yet.

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Gmail for iOS now lets you undo send, swipe to archive or delete

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 07:01 AM PST

Gmail for iOS.

Google today is announcing that it’s updating the Gmail and Google Calendar apps for iOS. One of the most convenient features of Gmail on web and on Android, the ability to “undo” or unsend a message that you’ve just sent, is now available in Gmail for iOS.

That app also now allows users to swipe left or right on a specific email to archive or delete it. It’s been part of Gmail for Android for many years. And it’s something that should be available across platforms now because another popular email client for iOS, Microsoft Outlook, also lets you swipe to take action on emails. (That’s thanks to Microsoft’s Acompli acquisition.)

The app also provides instant search results, just like on Google Search. Again, this is something that previously arrived on Android.

But perhaps you won’t use these new features in Gmail for iOS. One thing that may strike you about the new version is that it’s now “a lot faster,” Google product manager Matthew Izatt wrote in a blog post.

As for the updated Google Calendar app, it lets you use the month view and week view in landscape mode; add in additional calendars such as Hindu, Islamic, and Lunar; and surface events, reminders, and goals from the Spotlight search feature that’s part of iOS, Izatt wrote. Microsoft recently launched its Interesting Calendars in Outlook for both Android and iOS.

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Need to raise $1 million? Start with 10,000 social followers

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 06:25 AM PST

JOBS ACT SOCIAL FOLLOWERS

Five and a half months after the SEC began allowing crowdfunded investments for startups, it's apparent that it pays to be popular. Entrepreneurs with the largest social networks have tended to be those who raise the most capital — even if the total amount of capital raised under the nascent Regulation Crowdfunding program is tiny. Of the $6.7 million funded thus far, entrepreneurs with fewer than 2,500 social followers have raised less than $100,000 in their individual funding efforts, while those with about 10,000 followers have raised between $200,000 and $1 million each, according to Crowdfund Capital Advisors, an investment advisory firm.

To implement Title III of the JOBS Act (officially known as The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act), the SEC began permitting entrepreneurs to seek equity investment via Regulation Crowdfunding on May 16, 2016. While the law provides specific guidelines about disclosure and transparency, in many ways new regulation simply updates for the digital age the friends and family-type financing common among small businesses and first-time entrepreneurs.

"This is a new way to do an old thing," said Sherwood Neiss, a principal at Crowdfund Capital Advisors, in an interview with VentureBeat. Neiss had helped lobby Congress for passage of the JOBS Act and is a leading advocate for crowdfunding. "Entrepreneurs have always raised money from people they know, usually based on pre-existing relationships."

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have expanded the pool of potential investors beyond geography to communities of interest, shared national origins, and so on, in ways that previously were not possible. Still, Neiss estimates that 90 percent of entrepreneurs who've received crowdfunded investment had a pre-existing relationship with their investors.

Crowdfunded equity investing is distinct from your typical Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns, which are often thought of as donation- or awards-based efforts. The key difference is that backers receive equity in exchange for their financial support, which incurs a series of regulatory requirements.

First, there's a cap on the funding amount. Under Title III, entrepreneurs can raise up to $1 million in a 12-month period from ordinary investors. Then there's the paperwork, which some critics have called burdensome and which may be a factor in the program’s slow start. (Other critics warn that the JOBS Act will usher in fraud and undermine the venture capital industry.) Entrepreneurs must register their fundraising campaign with the SEC, abide by strict limits on solicitation, and provide a range of disclosures. It's the restrictions on solicitation that make the size of an entrepreneur's social network a critical factor for successful fundraising.

Neiss and his team have seen positive signs for the new regulation during its first five and half months. They culled data from 5,200 fundraising efforts filed with the SEC under the JOBS Act, and analyzed the 144 companies that have specifically filed for Regulation Crowdfunding since May 16, 2016. Of those, 46 reached their deadline to hit their minimum funding target.  And 22 of those 46 were successful in hitting their minimum funding target.  Some of the key findings, according to Neiss:

  • Total number of individual investments: over 14,000
  • Average number of investors per deal: 268
  • Average investment per investor in successfully funded deal: $879
  • Average amount of successful raise: $239,155
  • Average valuation: $4.98 million (outlier valuations of $32.4 million and $56.3 million removed)
  • Total capital committed to date: $13.6 million
  • Total capital funded (meaning campaigns that hit their minimum funded target and closed) : $6.7 million

 

JOBS ACT Valuations Oct 2016

JOBS ACT AVERAGE INVESTORSWhile it's too early to draw many conclusions from this very small data set, Neiss says that the popularity of revenue-based financing is one metric that stands out among the successful deals. Thirty-nine percent of the nearly $7 million raised to date under Title III went to entrepreneurs who offered this arrangement. "Investors start getting paid back immediately," said Niess. "It's the JOBS Act's secret sauce."

Under revenue-based financing, entrepreneurs set aside some amount of quarterly revenue (say, 5 percent) and distribute it to investors over a set period of time (say, four years) until an agreed upon return is reached (say, 1.5x or 2x). It's long been a common vehicle for small businesses, but the JOBS Act allows entrepreneurs to pursue it with several hundred investors instead of perhaps a dozen family and friends.

While crowdfunded equity's revenue-based financing is different from typical venture funding arrangements, the measure of its overall success will be the same. In the investment game, it's all about exits and returns. In many cases, that will mean waiting five to seven years to know whether that $879 from a "mom and pop investor" helped launch the next Facebook or Google.

Neiss also draws another distinction from traditional venture capital. For entrepreneurs pursuing Sand Hill Road funding, having a great team, a great product, and a great business plan may be enough. But for entrepreneurs seeking Regulation Crowdfunding investment, he sees an additional requirement. "If you're going down the path of raising money from the crowd," he cautioned, "Do not do so until you have a strong social following."

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Blippar releases its AR and computer vision tech for third-party developers

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 06:13 AM PST

Blippar wants to make it easy to make AR applications.

Blippar has made a name for itself in augmented reality apps, and now it wants to take that technology to a broader market. The company is releasing its proprietary AR and computer vision technology as an applications programming interface (API) for third-party developers to use.

The self-serve API suite provides a range of functions — from basic free web tools to an enterprise-level platform. Dubbed BlippBuilder, the AR API makes it easy for developers to create AR experiences with drag-and-drop functions. Blippar also has BlippBuilder Script for more advanced JavaScript tools, and it has a computer vision API. (The AR market is expected to grow to $90 billion by 2020, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.)

BlippBuilder has been in beta testing for a while, and it has more than 4,000 users, including 100 agencies. The full BlippBuilder suite will be available for purchase in the SAP store.

Blippar's Blippbuilder tool

Above: Blippar’s BlippBuilder tool

Image Credit: Blippar

Games such as Pokémon Go from Niantic Labs have helped spread the appeal of AR for consumers. But Blippar has some serious competition in augmented reality development from Vuforia, which has a wide array of enterprise and consumer customers for its AR platform.

By releasing its technology as a self-service suite that anyone can use, regardless of experience level, Blippar wants to democratize the technology and unlock the potential for better engagement and interactivity across any brand and industry.

BlippBuilder enables agencies to develop creative solutions ranging from brand storytelling to shopper marketing, encouraging them to flex their creative and commercial muscles to push their clients into the future of brand-building. Further, BlippBuilder will allow game developers of any size to easily integrate AR capabilities and offer advanced AR gameplay without investing large amounts of time and effort.

"After over five years of defining this space and evolving with it, Blippar is seeing the world start to wake up and truly realize the enormous market opportunity for augmented reality," said Ambarish Mitra, Blippar cofounder and CEO, in a statement. "Where once AR was viewed as a niche technology, recent adoption in gaming, alongside advancements in wearables, has combined with a rising desire among everyday consumers to better tap into the potential of the world around them to create a mainstream trend. After creating thousands of AR experiences and campaigns and learning what moves the needle for brands as well as consumers, we know it is now time to open our platform to the world, empower developers marketers and everyday consumers to be creative, establish new best practices for this space, and together realize the full potential that AR combined with Artificial Intelligence has to make everyone's lives better, everywhere."

Blippar launched its original AR solution in 2011. Its clients include Nestlé, Condé Nast, Time Inc., Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Heinz, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, and Jaguar. Blippar has disclosed total funding of over $100 million from investors including Qualcomm; Lansdowne Partners; and Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the strategic investment fund of the Government of Malaysia. The company has more than 300 employees.

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AMD ships three Polaris-based Radeon Pro chips for game and VR developers

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 06:00 AM PST

An image made with Autodesk requires high-end workstation processing.

Advanced Micro Devices is announcing that its Radeon Pro workstation chips are shipping as early as this week to customers who build high-end graphics for games and other apps with game-engine software.

With Radeon-based workstation chips, AMD is targeting the 10 million professional creators and designers in the world. The new chips include the Radeon Pro WX 4100, aimed at low-profile workstations. It is available in graphics cards on November 10 for $400 for computer-aided design professionals. It has 1,024 stream processors and can hit a peak performance of 2.4 teraflops, along with having 4 gigabytes of video memory. The card draws about 50 watts.

It’s also shipping the Radeon Pro WX 5100 graphics card on November 18 for $500. The card has 1,792 stream processors and can hit a peak performance of 3.9 teraflops. It has 8 gigabytes of video memory. The card draws about 75 watts.

And the high-end chip is the Radeon Pro WX 7100, shipping November 10 for $800. The card has 2,304 stream processors and delivers 5.7 teraflops of peak performance, and it is designed to meet the needs of professional virtual-reality content creators. The card uses about 130 watts. AMD says the Radeon Pro WX 7100 is 45 percent faster than Nvidia’s Quadro M4000 in running SolidWorks 2015.

The newest Radeon Pro graphics chips are ideal for VR content creation.

Above: The newest Radeon Pro graphics chips are ideal for VR content creation.

Image Credit: AMD
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PlayStation 4 Pro delivers the 4K content — but 1080p-TV owners shouldn’t upgrade yet

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 05:00 AM PST

The PlayStation 4 Pro.

If you are reserving judgment of the PlayStation 4 Pro console from Sony until you get to try it, I have to warn you: I’ve played the system a lot over the past week, and I still don’t really know what the hell to think of this thing.

All year, gaming fans have heard rumors that Sony was planning to drop the PlayStation 4.5 or the PlayStation 4K, an updated version of the popular PS4 console with more horsepower. Finally, that device is about to turn into something you can buy and have in your house when it ships November 10 for $400. This new system is still a PS4, but now it supports a 4K video signal for both games and media. Some existing games will get “enhanced” patches, but — going forward — every new game will have to support both the Pro and standard PS4s. That will primarily manifest as higher resolutions, steadier framerates, and improved graphical effects.

But you only get some of these benefits when you plug a PlayStation 4 Pro into the TV that, statistically speaking, you currently own. Unless you’ve purchased one of those new UHD 4K sets in the last couple of years, you only have 1,080 lines of horizontal resolution. And many games (not all), are already maxing that out on our current hardware.

So what benefits can you expect from the PS4 Pro whether you own the necessary equipment to take advantage of it or not, and is it worth it? It could be, but probably not yet.

What you’ll like

4K is impressive

You should be skeptical of Sony’s claims that the PS4 Pro is rendering games at a 4K resolution because it isn’t in the vast majority of cases. Instead, most games run somewhere between standard “Full HD” 1080p and UHD 4K. The Pro then uses a number of integrated algorithms and tricks to upscale that original signal into a 4K image.

Only this isn’t your typical upscaling. Sony’s algorithms and tricks are using special technologies that can essentially get a faux-4K final product from a 2K-or-lower source that is almost indistinguishable from a game that natively renders at 4K.

All of that is a technical way of explaining that the PS4 Pro isn’t doing “real” 4K, but most people won’t be able to see a difference. You especially won’t see a difference when you’re using a 50-to-60-inch TV that you keep up on a wall 10 feet from your couch.

Games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered and Infinite Warfare both support 4K out of the box, and I have the most experience with them so far. On a display that supports the resolution, the improved sharpness is noticeable. Moving human characters don’t look like a shimmering mush of pixels when they are at a distance. Instead, they maintain their shape in a much more realistic way.

That detail applies to everything even if it is most noticeable on elements that move as well as surface textures. And while you get the full effect of this benefit on a 4K TV, the improvement is still somewhat noticeable on 1080p sets. On Full HD displays, the PS4 Pro uses supersampling, which is a graphical effect that renders a scene at a higher resolution than it will actually display at. This gives those aforementioned algorithms more information to work with, which helps them produce sharper images around objects.

At the same time, none of this looks like a potential “PlayStaiton 5.” Instead, you’re getting the same games you’d get on a PS4 but with notable improvements.

Your games work and always will

Since this isn’t a entirely new console, Sony is guaranteeing that any existing PS4 games that get the Pro upgrade will have a free patch. This means those discs or downloads you already own are now capable of outputting 4K or the wider high-dynamice-range (HDR)color spectrum. HDR uses more colors from the visible spectrum as well as blacker darks and brighter lights to create a more realistic image.

But even if a game doesn’t have a Pro patch to take advantage of the revision’s beefed-up capabilities, all games still work. They just will have the same resolution and framerate as you get on the standard PS4.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on PlayStation 4 Pro.

Above: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on PlayStation 4 Pro.

Quieter

PS4 Pro also doesn’t make a lot of noise. My launch PS4 is the loudest gaming device in my house. The disc drive or the fan (or both) often sound like they are preparing for blast off, and my PC and Xbox One and Xbox One S don’t even come close to matching that.

The Pro, however, is now potentially the quietest alongside the Xbox One S. That makes sense considering Sony is using AMD’s new Polaris chip architecture, which is a 16nm process that produces less heat and requires fewer watts. Sony has taken advantage of that to build something that is merely a whisper in most situations.

VR games run better

Sony isn’t just improving its on-screen games with the Pro. It also is using the horsepower to give PSVR players a better experience. In my tests, that seemed to largely come in the form of higher resolutions and improved graphical fidelity. Photorealistic games like DriveClub VR look remarkably better with the detailing of cars maintaining their integrity as they move far away, which is something that the game struggles with on PS4 proper.

The Pro brings the PSVR experience much closer to the Rift and Vive on the PC in terms of capabilities. The difference is enough that I think Sony should likely make sure any future PS4/PSVR bundle uses the Pro.

What you won’t like

You need a very specific TV

The 4K television market is a mess.

Standards are starting to clear up the most confusing elements, but plenty of display manufacturers are willing to let the “4K” term do their marketing hype for them. The issue is that if you went out and bought the first 4K TV you saw today, you have a high chance of bringing home something that cannot take full advantage of the PS4 Pro’s features. Most importantly, you want a set that supports HDR10, which is just one of the current HDR standards.

And while you may get a TV that says it is “HDR,” it might not always support HDR10. That might mean that your PS4 won’t display HDR at all or not to its full potential. Either way, you are missing out on a key feature. Unless you know for a fact that you have a TV that can support HDR10, upgrading to PS4 Pro is almost pointless because the 4K sharpness alone isn’t enough of an upgrade.

You can guarantee that you get a compatible TV if you purchase a set with the “Ultra HD Premium” sticker on it, which is a widerly accepted industry standard that used HDR10. But you probably only know that if you’ve paid close attention, and the average consumer hasn’t reached a point where they know that’s what to look for in the same way that they once learned to look for “Full HD.” And for now, getting a capable UHD Premium TV is going to mean spending around $1,500 at a minimum.

The PlayStation 4 Pro in its vertical stance.

Above: The PlayStation 4 Pro in its vertical stance.

Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

HDR doesn’t require a Pro

Even if you do have an HDR10 television, you don’t need a PS4 Pro to take advantage of it. Sony recently updated the original PS4 to support this functionality.

And the reality is that HDR is much more likely to impress you than 4K. At the distance you likely sit from your TV, those extra pixels are difficult to notice. An image that more accurately reproduces color, on the other hand, is easy to spot even when you’re sitting all the way back in your recliner.

So if you can get the more important upgrade with your original PS4, why get the PS4 Pro? I don’t know.

No Ultra HD Blu-ray player

Finally, and this won’t affect you if you’re done with physical media, but the PS4 Pro does not have an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. That’s a bummer since those 4K discs are among the best sources for HDR UHD content. Instead, you’ll have to settle for streaming 4K HDR video over the web from providers like Netflix and Sony’s PlayStation Store. Those will work, but they are both going to come up short in any comparison to UHD Blu-rays.

Conclusion

This is rough.

Let’s get the easy recommendation out of the way first. At $400, if you don’t own a PlayStation 4 already and you want to get one, then get the Pro. It’s only $100 more than a standard PS4 while also coming with twice the storage. It will probably last you a few more years as well, considering it should play games three or four years from now a lot better than the 2013 model.

If you already own a PS4, however, I think you should wait and see — unless you are in a specific situation where you have the right TV or the money to spare for an upgrade or you are all in on PSVR. If you don’t have the display, the cash, or the VR headset, force Sony to prove the value of the Pro to you first. I’m confident the company will establish a strong argument for the upgraded system going forward once it has more games that take advantage of it.

But you don’t have to act on an unknown, possible future. Instead, wait and see what Sony does, and then decide on the importance of upgrading.

Sony lent GamesBeat a PS4 Pro for the purposes of this review. It is available November 10 for $400.

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Gaming the system: Why you need to get your mobile users competing

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 03:55 AM PST

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When a new app publishes, it has to overcome the challenge of discoverability. In the iOS ecosystem alone, there are around two million different apps available in the App Store on any given day. And there's a reason for this high volume: Apps are pretty lucrative, with total app revenues projected to top $75 billion by next year.

Relatively low barriers to entry allow for the possibility of being quickly discovered and earning coveted ad revenue. Consider the colossal success this year of Pokémon GO, which sent Nintendo's stock skyrocketing on the back of 30 million daily active users at peak popularity. But if you don't have Pikachu to hook nostalgic millennials, standing out can be tough. After all, more than  10,000 games are submitted for consideration to the iTunes App Store every single month.

Even narrowing it down to a single category doesn't make the environment any less competitive; there are, for instance, more than 165,000 fitness apps in the App Store. So if you're a marketer tasked with driving downloads for your run tracker app (which, like most options, is probably free to download and can't rely on classic marketing levers like price) how do you hit your goals?

Enter mobile rewards marketing. The concept really began with incent, born out of the need to get apps discovered. Being found was the key driver of success when apps first became popular. The more downloads you have, the higher you rise in the ranks, and the more successful your app is considered. Incentivizing downloads and running a "burst" campaign became – and still is – a popular and extremely effective way to drive app discoverability, boost initial engagement, and increase organic installs.

As the app ecosystem evolved and matured, rewards marketing did, too. Marketers began leveraging rewards to solve not just the problem of discoverability, but to address the challenges around engagement as well.

Sports, gaming, and the spirit of competition

This desire to use rewards to improve engagement eventually led marketers to in-app competitions. Users who join competitions send a strong signal to marketers about their motivations. Smart marketers use this motivation to reinforce desired behavior and create repeatable habits within the app.

Competition brings out the best in us. While this platitude has been recited by everyone from athletes to economists, it remains not only true but relevant even to fields like marketing. Marketers would be remiss to overlook the psychology behind competition. Just as rewards — monetary and otherwise — have the power to drive a desired action, competition has the power to unlock a more intrinsic motivation in users. Studies have found that most people who play sports do so because the game itself is its own reward.

When we think of competition as a motivator, most of us will jump to athletics. Professional athletes are incentivized to perform by obscenely large paychecks, but most would agree that their willingness to participate in an often grueling, potentially dangerous competition stems from more deeply held psychological factors, rather than behavioral conditioning.

Thanks to technology, the genetically gifted aren't the only ones who can play games professionally or satisfy that urge to compete. eSports, the soon-to-be nearly billion-dollar industry, now connects video game players across the globe by hosting competitive gaming tournaments. From Call of Duty to Madden, the best gamers can compete for prizes in competitions that are streamed to thousands of live viewers, just like any other professional sport. According to market intelligence firm Newzoo, more than 89 million people spend over 3.7 billion hours watching eSports every year. Deloitte has reported that more than 40,000 individuals attend live events, with tens of millions tuning in to watch online. More people will probably watch the upcoming Halo tournaments than did the last Cubs-Indians World Series game.

The app opportunity

Marketers are now realizing that it's not just the Counter-Strikes and League of Legends of the world that are appropriate for a little friendly competition. Casual, mobile games are also looking to eSports to drive engagement. Take Doodle Jump, the wildly popular multiplayer game that announced its own eSports league this summer. Brands are increasingly bringing the fun of the massive eSports craze to the consumer, so they aren't fighting against ads but instead participating in an immersive experience that ties right into the game. Anyone who has had to sidestep Pokémon GO players walking down the street realizes just how immersive competition can be. While all games can't take advantage of augmented reality, embedding real competition — challenges for badges, recognition as a top player, etc. — is part of what made the game so difficult to put down, even in traffic. In fact, the first person to catch 'em all was rewarded for their prowess with free trips across the globe from Marriott and Expedia — a real (expensive) prize for competing in a virtual world.

The secret is moving that spirit of competition and enthusiasm to the mobile world — before the consumer clicks through what is perceived as an intrusion.

Playing to win the game

Psychology has gone hand in hand with marketing since the ad men on Madison Avenue realized the power of pulling behavioral levers to incentivize a particular action. Before De Beers equated devotion and self-worth to gemstones through clever ad copy in the 1940s, there was no market for diamond engagement rings.

Today, marketers should focus less on spinning a product and more on how to align their goals with the behaviors that their customers already are engaging in. Basic rules of economics describe both incentives and competition as essential forces in driving an outcome. Marketers would do well to take some cues from economists and get their customers competing. The possibilities are endless. Imagine a tournament-driven McDonald's Monopoly game on the phone, driving hundreds of thousands of users to the app each day to compete against each other for rewards. Or consider an annual international Candy Crush tournament that doles out huge prizes to competitors. MapMyRun, a fitness app that uses GPS and location tracking to log your run, already uses coupons as a reward for achieving certain goals, but one could imagine that runners would be even more likely to use the app if they had a chance to compete against friends and strangers. Maybe introducing a virtual 5K race, for example, where each user runs his or her own unique 3.1-mile course with the app tracking times — and rewarding the top finishers — could inspire more sustained engagement with the app.

Just as marketing evolved along with mobile technology to solve the problem of discoverability in an oversaturated market, it is now evolving to address the need for engagement. By aligning with the natural preferences, motivations, and even instincts of consumers, apps have a fighting chance of becoming the next big thing. Intrusion and obstruction will only serve to repel users, so it's imperative that app marketers create an experience that feels intuitive, unobtrusive, and fun. Marketers who recognize that the tide is turning and invest accordingly are sure to stand out from the competition.


Spencer_HeadshotSpencer Scott is the CEO and founder of Meed, a mobile rewards platform dedicated to helping brands grow and engage their audiences and acquire high-quality users. Having spent more than 20 years in tech, he has helped app marketers drive hundreds of thousands of installs and led teams that drove more unique U.S. traffic than any other incentivized ad network. An active advisory board member of Yesware, he has also served on the board of companies acquired by Facebook and Groupon. He is considered a prominent thought leader in the ad tech space, having spoken at events including Digiday, ad:tech, Casual Connect and more. Spencer previously served as the CEO of FreeMyApps, the world’s largest mobile app and game discovery network, which will continue to operate as a Meed offering.

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Tobii to raise $50 million to bring its eye-tracking smarts to VR and smartphones

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 02:40 AM PST

Eyes

Swedish eye-tracking company Tobii has announced plans to invest in “large-scale initiatives” involving smartphones and virtual reality and is seeking to raise SEK 400 million ($50 million) in a new rights issue of shares.

Founded in 2001, Tobii serves up tools that enable technology such as computers and smartphones to detect a user’s eye-orientation, thereby determining what they are looking at onscreen. Tobii’s smarts have been used by a number of big-name brands and are often used in the gaming realm, including in machines produced by Acer and Alienware. Acer has actually launched three monitors with Tobii’s eye-tracking technology built in, and around 40 games have been brought to market that support the nascent eye-tracking tech, including Tom Clancy's The Division, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Watch Dogs 2.

Tobii had raised around $70 million in equity funding before it went public on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in April last year. Having priced its initial public offering (IPO) at SEK 25 ($2.8) per share, the company went on to hit a peak of around SEK 80 ($8.90) last month and is currently sitting at around SEK 70 ($7.80) — almost three times its IPO price.

The company’s plans to raise a further $50 million are still subject to approval at a forthcoming extraordinary general meeting. If approved, the subscription period for the fresh rights issue will run from December 6 through December 20, 2016.

The company says that its ambition is to “make substantial investments in technology and market development,” specifically for eye-tracking in virtual reality (VR) and smartphones, and it notes that the demand for eye-tracking in such consumer markets has moved faster than it had originally expected.

“The interest for eye-tracking in various consumer applications has developed at a substantially more rapid pace than we anticipated at the time of the IPO in April 2015,” explained Tobii CEO Henrik Eskilsson. “At that point, we believed it would take a longer time for eye-tracking to become current for use in smartphones and VR-headsets than what we see today. The capital raise of just above SEK 400 million that was conducted in connection to the listing is sufficient to complete the business plan we decided on then. But to create the conditions to take a leading position also within these new segments, we now need to further increase our efforts in market and technology development. We are convinced that the time is right to expand our investments and that there is good potential to create great value for our shareholders.”

The AR / VR industry is expected to hit $150 billion by 2020, and Tobii is looking to move fast and not be left behind as others in the space invest in, and develop, new eye-tracking technologies. Indeed, the timing of today’s announcement is notable, as it comes just two weeks after Google snapped up Silicon Valley-based eye-tracking company Eyefluence, a startup that had raised around $20 million in VC funding to build eye-tracking technology for augmented reality (AR) glasses and VR headsets. Other startups focusing, if you will, on building eye-tracking smarts for VR include Facebook’s Oculus, while Japan-based Fove recently opened preorders for a VR headset that lets you play games by moving your eyes.

With $50 million more in its treasure chest, Tobii says that it would have more “financial flexibility” and may wish to carry out quick acquisitions. The company also revealed that it has signed a deal with a major smartphone manufacturer that will integrate eye-tracking technology into one of its models, though further details were not divulged.

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Google launches Firebase Test Lab free tier, real-time exporting to BigQuery

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 02:00 AM PST

google_firebase_logo

Google today is announcing a few updates to the services in its Firebase cloud service portfolio.

Instead of being a premium feature, the Firebase Test Lab tool for testing apps on physical and virtual devices will now be available free of charge as part of the Spark service tier. Plus, Google is adding new physical devices to test on the Nexus 6, the LG G4, Sony’s Xpedia Z3 and Z5, Galaxy S series devices, and Moto G series devices from Lenovo’s Motorola unit.

“We’re further giving developers access to devices that otherwise they might not get,” Google product manager Francis Ma told VentureBeat in an interview.

This announcement comes a few days after Google said it would begin offering Android developer previews through the virtual devices in Firebase Test Lab.

Competing cloud infrastructure provider Amazon Web Services (AWS) also offers testing on physical devices.

But beyond Firebase Test Lab, Google is also adding the ability to export data from Firebase Analytics — something that was introduced earlier in the year — to Google’s BigQuery cloud-based data warehousing service. From there, companies can send data to third-party business intelligence tools like Qlik and Tableau. There’s currently no way to circumvent BigQuery, Ma said.

To enhance Firebase Analytics further, Google is introducing a preview of something called a StreamView, which “lets developers see in real time a stream of events from all of their end users out in the wild,” Ma said. There is also a new DebugView to make sure that their analytics setup is working properly and events are coming in as they should.

Also today, Firebase is announcing the launch of a Unity plugin that enables developers building apps with the Unity game engine to easily start using Firebase’s analytics, authentication, dynamics links, notification, and real-time database features.

And the Firebase Crash Reporting feature is out of beta now.

See Ma’s blog post for more detail.

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China adopts cybersecurity law in face of overseas opposition

Posted: 07 Nov 2016 01:16 AM PST

China.

(Reuters) — China adopted a controversial cybersecurity law on Monday to counter what Beijing says are growing threats such as hacking and terrorism, although the law has triggered concern from foreign business and rights groups.

The legislation, passed by China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament and set to come into effect in June 2017, is an “objective need” of China as a major internet power, a parliament official said.

Overseas critics of the law argue it threatens to shut foreign technology companies out of various sectors deemed “critical”, and includes contentious requirements for security reviews and for data to be stored on servers located in China.

Rights advocates also say the law will enhance restrictions on China’s internet, already subject to the world’s most sophisticated online censorship mechanism, known outside the country as the Great Firewall.

Yang Heqing, an official on the National People’s Congress standing committee, said the internet was already deeply linked to China’s national security and development.

“China is an internet power, and as one of the countries that faces the greatest internet security risks, urgently needs to establish and perfect network security legal systems,” Yang told reporters at the close of a bimonthly legislative meeting.

More than 40 global business groups petitioned Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in August, urging Beijing to amend controversial sections of the law. Chinese officials have said it would not interfere with foreign business interests.

Contentious provisions remained in the final draft of the law issued by the parliament, including requirements for “critical information infrastructure operators” to store personal information and important business data in China, provide unspecified “technical support” to security agencies, and pass national security reviews.

Those demands have raised concern within companies that fear they would have to hand over intellectual property or open back doors within products in order to operate in China’s market.

‘Vague, ambiguous’

James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, called the provisions “vague, ambiguous, and subject to broad interpretation by regulatory authorities”.

Human Rights Watch said elements of the law, such as criminalizing the use of the internet to “damage national unity”, would further restrict online freedom.

“Despite widespread international concern from corporations and rights advocates for more than a year, Chinese authorities pressed ahead with this restrictive law without making meaningful changes,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement.

Zhao Zeliang, director of the Cyberspace Administration of China’s cybersecurity coordination bureau, told reporters that every article in the law accorded with rules of international trade and that China would not close the door on foreign companies.

“They believe that [phrases such as] secure and independent control, secure and reliable, that these are signs of trade protectionism. That they are synonymous. This is a kind of misunderstanding, a kind of prejudice,” Zhao said.

Many of the provisions had been previously applied in practice, but their formal codification coincides with China’s adoption of a series of other regulations on national security and foreign civil society groups.

The law’s adoption comes amid a broad crackdown by President Xi Jinping on civil society, including rights lawyers and the media, which critics say is meant to quash dissent.

Last year, Beijing adopted a sweeping national security law that aimed to make all key network infrastructure and information systems “secure and controllable”.

“China’s government has come to recognize that cyberspace immediately and profoundly impacts on many if not all aspects of national security,” said Rogier Creemers, a researcher in the law and governance of China at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

“It is a national space, it is a space for military action, for important economic action, for criminal action and for espionage,” he said.

(Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong, Michael Martina, Paul Carsten and Cate Cadell; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait)

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