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March 4, 2015

Microsoft Tips Xbox Dev Tools for a Windows 10 World

Xbox on Windows 10

SAN FRANCISCO—Microsoft is bringing its Xbox platform into the Windows 10 ecosystem, and on Wednesday served up some tools for developers to make that a smoother process.

The big one is the Xbox Live software developer kit, which Microsoft is now making available for Windows 10. Microsoft's Xbox boss Phil Spencer announced at the Game Developers Conference here that the Xbox Live SDK for Windows 10 is "currently in the hands of managed partners to create new games," and will soon get a broader release to game developers.

The software toolkit provides developers with "access to the vast majority of Xbox Live services currently available on Xbox One, under a shared set of APIs, integrated with the Windows Store," Spencer said.

Microsoft said in blog post that it is "committed to making Xbox Live accessible to all game developers, regardless of size." To further that goal, Redmond is launching a new Xbox Live tier allowing any developer to "engage with the Xbox Live community."

Spencer also announced that going forward, all Xbox One wireless gaming accessories made by Microsoft will be designed to operate with Windows 10 PCs, too.

As part of its "One Microsoft" mission, Redmond has in recent months been talking up the cross-pollination of Windows 10 across an array of platforms, including PCs, tablets, the Xbox One game console, and smartphones. The next-gen operating system is expected to be released later this year.

Spencer also talked up Microsoft's Windows Universal App Platform, which gives developers the ability to create apps targeting multiple devices on a single application platform for Windows 10, now the core operating system for Windows-based PCs, tablets, phones, and the Xbox One.

Windows Store is a crucial part of Microsoft's strategy, the company said.

"For developers, the promise of one store across devices means they will now have the ability and flexibility to deliver content across PCs, console, tablets, and phones, easily and quickly," Microsoft said. "Similarly, by enabling new experiences such as cross-buy, developers now have more flexibility on the features they deliver to gamers across Windows devices."

To make taking advantage of the Windows Store easier for developers, Redmond has created the Universal Development Center. The one-stop portal for submitting games to the Windows also has tools for checking game metrics and lets developers update their games as well.

Spencer further touted the arrival of DirectX 12 for PC gaming and announced a couple of new titles that are arriving on the Xbox One and PCs. Those included Elite: Dangerous, an "epic space adventure" from Frontier Developments, and Motiga's Gigantic, a "five-on-five third-person battle arena game."



March 3, 2015

Report: iPhone Explodes in Man’s Pocket

Exploded iPhone One Long Island man is cursing his iPhone after it reportedly burst into flames in his pocket, causing third-degree burns.

Erik Johnson, 29, said he was in New Jersey at a cousin's wake when he suddenly felt a severe burning on the side of his leg. The cause of the pain? Johnson's iPhone 5c had exploded in his front pocket, according to a report from WCBS 880.

"All I heard was a pop, and it started fizzling, and it just started to burn my leg," he told the news outlet. "It went to a pretty much instant burn, it didn't even warm up; it just went to burn. And the only way I could get the phone away from me was to rip off my pants to get the phone out."

And this wasn't just a minor blister. Johnson said the explosion caused third-degree burns, requiring he spend 10 days in the hospital. He's still in pain and claims he cannot work, and is now planning to file a lawsuit against Apple.



March 3, 2015

Google Confirms Plans for Wireless Service

Fastest Mobile Networks Google today confirmed that it is exploring the option of offering a wireless service.

During a keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sundar Pichai, Google's SVP of Android, Chrome, and Google Apps, said that in order to push Android forward, you always need to be looking ahead. That's why Google got into the hardware business with the Nexus lineup, and why it's looking into offering wireless service.

"I think we're at the stage where we need to think of hardware, software, and connectivity together," Pichai said, according to a live blog from The Verge. That's especially important as more and more device - like smartwatches - get connectivity.

Don't expect Google to go head to head with the likes of Verizon and AT&T; this will be a "small scale" concept, and the company will be working with current partners, Pichai said. But more details will emerge in the next few months.

When asked if AT&T and Verizon should be worried, Pichai said Google has had conversations with them, according to The Verge. After all, the top U.S. carriers power some of Google's top Android phones, so it wouldn't be a good move to completely alienate them.

Among the things Google is looking at is technology that could automatically connect a dropped call, the live blog said.

Pichai's comments come about a month after reports emerged that Google was in talks with Sprint and T-Mobile to provide mobile phone plans to consumers. First reported by The Information, the project, codenamed "Nova," would allow Google to resell service on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks.



February 27, 2015

Lenovo to Ditch Bloatware on Windows 10 PCs

What to Expect When You've Been Hacked

In the wake of the recent Superfish gaffe, Lenovo this week promised to strip its consumer PCs of bloatware going forward.

"By the time we launch our Windows 10 products, our standard image will only include the operating system and related software, software required to make hardware work well (for example, when we include unique hardware in our devices, like a 3D camera), security software, and Lenovo applications," Lenovo said today.

"This should eliminate what our industry calls 'adware' and 'bloatware,'" the company said.

That industry might argue that bloatware and adware are not exactly the same thing. When I bought a PC last year, for example, the desktop had a shortcut to eBay and some other promotional icons that I considered standard bloatware. The Superfish adware, however, was surreptitiously installed on Lenovo PCs shipped during the fourth quarter of 2014, and resulted in annoying pop-ups and unwanted ads across the Web. It also made people's PCs susceptible to hackers.

Lenovo stopped shipping its PCs with Superfish in December, and issued an automatic removal tool for those who have the adware on their PC. It's also offering affected users a free, six-month subscription to McAfee LiveSafe service; more info on that will be posted to Lenovo.com in the next week.

Going forward, Lenovo pledged to "post information about ALL software we preload on our PCs that clearly explains what each application does. And we will continuously solicit feedback from our user community and industry experts to ensure we have the right applications and best user experience."

Microsoft's Windows 10 is expected to launch later this year.



February 27, 2015

Radioshack Name for Sale, Starting at $20 Million

Radioshack Feel like owning RadioShack? Not the business or its assets, but the RadioShack name. If you're interested, you just have to pony up at least $20 million, which is the cost of an opening bid for those looking to buy the ex-electronics retailer's moniker.

OK, so it's doubtful that you have that much spare change sitting around, and you probably might not know what to do with RadioShack's name even if you got it. But the move is designed to allow interested parties to acquire the rights to RadioShack's name without having to bid on anything else that would come along with it. However, RadioShack's biggest shareholder, Standard General, is interested in everything. The hedge fund made a few concessions to get itself in the position of opening bidder for many of RadioShack's assets. Not only is Standard General bidding on around 1,700 or so RadioShack stores at the retailer's big bankruptcy auction, but the hedge fund is also the opening bidder—of $20 million—for RadioShack's name.

Standard General allegedly plans to co-brand some of its to-be-purchased stores with Sprint—a "store within a store" concept, reports The Wall Street Journal—that would allow RadioShack goods to be sold without suffering the expenses associated with having a dedicated store. Additionally, the RadioShack stores could benefit from Sprint's popularity without having to convince customers to come to a separate store for electronics-related merchandise.

However, it remains to be seen whether these concepts will have any RadioShack branding. Standard General could decide to call them something completely different (or nothing at all). You might never know that a small section of your local Sprint store is actually RadioShack—or, at least, a part of what was RadioShack.

Sprint Mobile—not to be confused with Sprint—is allegedly interested in the chunk of stores that Standard General isn't going after. The GameStop-run chain could use these stores to fuel its own retail expansion, though it would likely also convert some ex-RadioShack stores into Gamestop stores as well.

"Managing real estate has always been one of our strengths and while it is still early in the process to offer further detail, if awarded these leases the locations would be primarily used to expand the retail footprint of our Spring Mobile business, which is an exclusive AT&T dealer," a Gamestop told Bloomberg.



February 27, 2015

Apple to Hold ‘Special Event’ on March 9

Apple March 9, 2015 event invite Heads up, Apple Fans. The Cupertino tech giant has some news to share in less than two weeks.

A new, larger iPad Pro? More details about the upcoming Apple Watch? Details are scant, but Apple today sent invitations to members of the media for a "special event" on March 9 in San Francisco. "Spring forward," the invite reads.

Tim Cook and Co. may be using this event to share final details and pricing for the long-awaited Apple Watch, which is slated to start shipping in April. Apple has yet to offer up an exact launch date for its upcoming timepiece — or details as to how much the various models will cost — so we may find that out on March 9.

It's also possible that Apple could unveil something new — like the larger "iPad Pro" we've been hearing about since last fall. Japanese news site Macotakara recently reported that Cupertino is prepping the iPad Pro to go up against business devices like Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, and that the tablet will feature a 12.2-inch display — smaller than the previously rumored 12.9-inch size.

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February 26, 2015

Google Play Music Free Storage Limit Gets Hefty Boost

50k Google Play Music storage locker

Good news for those with massive music collections. Google today announced it has more than doubled the free music storage limit on Play Music, allowing you to keep more of your music collection in the cloud for easy access on all your devices.

You can now store up to 50,000 songs in Play Music for free to stream or download on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV with Chromecast. That's a huge jump from the previous limit of 20,000 tracks.

Note that any music you purchase from the Google Play store does not count against your song limit.

In comparison, you can download up to 25,000 songs on Apple's iTunes Match service, but you'll have to pay $25 a year for the privilege. Amazon Music lets you store up to 250 songs from your personal collection for free, or up to 250,000 tracks if you upgrade to a paid subscription, which will also set you back $25 a year.

To claim your free storage, simply sign in to Google Play Music and you add your music collection through the website, a Chrome extension, or Google's Music Manager app for the desktop. The setup process will guide you through adding the Chrome app, which offers easy uploading if you use Google's browser. You can choose to simply upload your entire iTunes library, or select other music folders.

You can also opt to sign up for Google's $10-per-month Play Music subscription service (or get a 30-day free trial if you're new) for access to the Web giant's library of 30 million songs, but you do not need to subscribe just to store the music collection you already own. After uploading your personal collection, you can access it on the Web when you're at your computer or from your Android, iPhone, or iPad when you're out and about.

"And best of all, when you upgrade to a new computer or phone, your music comes along, too," Google Play Music Product Manager Andrew Stromme wrote in a blog post Wednesday.



February 26, 2015

Apple Ordered to Pay $533M in iTunes Patent Case

iTunes Tips

Apple this week lost a patent infringement case related to iTunes software and was ordered to pay $532.9 million in fines.

As reported by Bloomberg, Apple argued that it never used the patents in question, and had asked the court to invalidate those patents, held by Texas-based Smartflash.

In a statement, Cupertino said Smartflash is nothing but a patent troll.

"Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has not U.S. presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented," an Apple spokeswoman said in an email. "We refused to pay off this company for the ideas our employees spent years innovating and unfortunately we have been left with no choice but to take this fight up through the court system."

Smartflash, meanwhile, said the jury "worked hard" through the trial, paying close attention to facts.

"Ultimately, the jury saw through Apple's arguments and reached the right result," a lawyer with Caldwell Cassady & Curry, which is representing Smartflash, told PCMag in a statement. "The jury's verdict provides well-deserved and long-overdue recognition."

The firm won't get the $852 million in damages it sought, but the final ruling still throws a heavy financial punch at Apple, which claimed the three patents were worth no more than $4.5 million, Bloomberg said.

According to the original suit, filed in May 2013, Apple's iTunes infringed on copyrights regarding access to and storage of downloaded songs, videos, and games. Smartflash specifically pointed to infringements in iOS apps developed by Game Circus and KingsIsle Entertainment. Those companies served as defendants, but were dismissed from the case last year, Bloomberg reported.

Launched at the turn of the century by inventor Patrick Racz, Smartflash's only business is licensing seven patents issued between 2008 and 2012, Bloomberg said.

Smartflash has also sued Google, Amazon, HTC, and Samsung for patent infringement regarding data storage and access systems.



February 24, 2015

Report: Apple Upgrading Genius Bar Appointment System

Apple Store Genius Bar/Creative Commons

If it ain't broke… fix it? Apple may be adopting that motto when it comes to its Genius Bar.

The Cupertino tech giant is reportedly planning to overhaul its in-store repair service. According to a new report from 9to5Mac, citing several sources familiar with the company's plans, Apple is gearing up to launch a new initiative dubbed "the new concierge," which will replace the current walk-in appointment system.

As anyone who has been to the Genius Bar knows, you can either make an appointment by phone or online ahead of time, or just walk into an Apple Store, find someone in a blue shirt, explain your problem, and set up an appointment. This new system — the brainchild of Apple's Senior Vice Preside of Retail Angela Ahrendts — would prioritize appointments based on how pressing the issue is.

Under the new model, "a customer describes the issue to an Apple Store employee, who inputs the issue into an updated iPad application," 9to5Mac reports. "Using a special algorithm, the application provides the customer a wait time based on issue priorities. For example, a customer seeking an iPhone screen replacement will automatically be placed higher in the queue than a customer seeking help with a minor iCloud issue."

Customers will need to provide a phone number, and Apple will then send a text message with the wait time. If you don't feel like waiting in the store, Apple can send a follow-up text when it's time for you to start heading back, and a third message when the technician is ready, letting you know where you can find them in the store.

Several Apple employees told 9to5Mac that this is "one of the most significant changes" to Cupertino's retail operations in several years.

"This will likely reduce crowding in the Apple Store and possibly fatigue from waiting customers," the report notes. "Apple Stores will operate essentially like restaurants that provide diners with pagers and wait times instead of holding empty tables while people are waiting."

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February 24, 2015

Apple Adds Diverse Emojis to OS X, iOS Betas

Apple Diverse Emoji Apple developers are getting a sneak peek at the new lineup of racially diverse emojis.

The new OS X and iOS betas sent to developers this week (OS X 10.10.3. and iOS 8.3 beta 2) reportedly include a broader range of skin tones for human characters.

Based on screenshots published by The Next Web, the new emoji palette should please many more users, who've been pushing for better representation of the actual human race among the animated stickers used to communicate online.

In the next version of Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems, users will reportedly be able to click and hold an icon to choose one of six color options, from yellow to dark brown.

Other more subtle changes include a new set of family emojis that cover gay parents and various pairings of children, as well as more country flags. And in a self-serving move, Cupertino's timepiece icon now reflects its upcoming Apple Watch, and a redesigned phone emoji that matches the iPhone 6 and new iOS style.

When contacted for comment, an Apple spokeswoman said only that "Apple supports and cares deeply about diversity, and is working with The Unicode Consortium to update the standard so that it better represents diversity for all of us."

This move comes after emoji maker Unicode in November released a proposal to broaden the range of skin tones for human emoji. Characters are based on the six tones of the Fitzpatrick scale, a standard for dermatology; exact shades may vary on different platforms. The actual rollout of new emoji is controlled by app and mobile OS makers like Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

Apple will reportedly run its first public beta program for iOS starting next month. Limited to 100,000 people, the main goal of the program will be what 9to5Mac reported as "a more reliable and widely tested operating system by the time of the wider consumer launch."

A similar experiment was conducted last year with Mac OS X Yosemite.

The mobile beta is also expected to include an update to the Siri personal assistant, who will be able to understand and act upon voice commands in Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, Thai, Swedish, and Turkish.

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