Posts tagged could
It’s being speculated that Apple may be trying to distance itself from Google by dropping the company’s search engine as the default option within the Safari browser. There has been turmoil between Apple and Google ever since Google entered into the smartphone market and started competing directly with Apple. Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying he wanted to “destroy Android”, and one can only assume that this hostility towards Google hasn’t waned, especially as Android’s share of the mobile operating system market continues to rise. The Information broke the news about Apple potentially dropping Google as Safari’s default search […]
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Offering a shot of one-stop convenience, Starbucks began its roll-out of free Powermat wireless charging last week. The Seattle, Wash.–based coffee purveyor equipped roughly 200 stores in San Francisco with the technology, ahead of a nationwide launch next year.
I stopped by a location in Levi Plaza to check out the system and see if it lives up to the promise. I figured it would either be a cool new convenience or a lame, over-hyped feature.
See also: How To Boost Your Phone’s Battery Life
Sitting in the cafe, with my phone resting on the table that piped juice to it, the answer was clear. Starbucks should consider extra security; Frapuccino-fueled patrons are destined to jockey for a seat at one of these tables. After years of trying, wireless charging could finally be on the verge of going mainstream in a big, caffeinated way.
Getting Juiced Up At Starbucks
Wireless charging seems like a misnomer. People who have bought Powermat and similar products know that the main charging mat connects to a wall outlet with a cable. But it’s still considered “wireless” because phones, handheld gaming machines and other devices can power up just by sitting on top of it.
At Starbucks, the mats (or “Powermat Spots”) are built into some of the tables and countertops. Despite reports to the contrary, Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat Technologies, claims the charging speed rivals cabled connections. I gave it a try, and found the charging action to be pretty speedy.
The downside is that few phones support Powermat charging out of the box. Some Lumia phones have it built in, and compatible backplates, phone cases, batteries and small Power Ring attachments are available under the joint Duracell-Powermat brand. The system offers some backward compatibility—if you have one, even an older unit, you’ll be able to charge your device on Starbucks’ tables.
If not, you can still use the Starbucks charging surfaces. The store loans out Power Rings for free on the spot and sells them there too for about $10, if you’d like to own one. Duracell-Powermat also sells them online.
“You’ve got to have a complete system,” said Matthew Guiste, Starbucks’ vice president of in-store digital. “No one has taken the plunge, [but] we want to start giving manufacturers a reason to put it in their phones.” The retailer has a habit of pushing technologies into the mainstream. Back in 2001, the business proselytized Wi-Fi, being among the first to offer it for free.
The chain’s knack for popularizing tech was the main reason Powermat partnered with it. “Wi-Fi was not a known commodity then,” said Schreiber. “They’re in a place to educate consumers.”
Education is needed. Wireless charging has been around for quite a while, but despite that, it still hasn’t managed to gain traction with consumers yet.
Why Isn’t Wireless Charging A Thing Yet?
Even though the electromagnetic technology behind wireless charging goes back a century, people still mess with cables and power adapters—now more than ever.
Poor battery life forces the hassle. Today, huge phones with larger batteries and power-saving tactics, like Android’s Project Volta, try to prolong the longevity of our devices, but these are workarounds for batteries that just can’t keep pace with advancements in mobile technology.
Processing power, new features and our demanding requirements for connectivity make us “more dependent on our devices,” said Schreiber. “[But] it’s reached a crisis point where the industry is bringing us new uses that we routinely disable to give us more battery life.” The issue becomes worse with wearables, as tiny gadgets leave little space for big power cells.
Wireless charging’s convenience can help ease the pain of short battery life. Unfortunately, like the old video rivalry between VHS and BetaMax, warring factions within the industry prevent a universal standard from paving the way for wider adoption.
Earlier this year, two of the leading power consortiums—Powermat’s Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP)—made some headway by joining forces. Reinier H.M. van der Lee, director of product marketing at Broadcom, a key member of A4WP, told me then that it would lead to “dual-mode receivers,” or gadgets that support both PMA’s open standard and A4WP’s Rezence standard.
But the deal left out a third, the Wireless Power Consortium’s Qi—currently the most popular wireless charging option available in mobile devices. Devices like Samsung’s Galaxy, Motorola’s Droid and some Lumia phones offer built-in support.
All three standards essentially rely on the same technology. Coils (in mats) create electromagnetic fields that transmit electricity when receivers (in gadgets and accessories) sit on top. But their approaches vary, and none work directly with either of the others.
Rezence devices don’t exist as consumer products yet, but even if they did, single-mode products wouldn’t work on Starbucks’ Powermat charging tables. (They’d have to be dual-mode.) Qi gadgets, the most prevalent so far, won’t directly work either.
To cut through the complications, Starbucks and Powermat made a smart move: Those free Power Ring loaners come in a choice of micro-USB or Apple’s lightning port. This cross-compatibility should cover most smartphones, and their in-store availability means people won’t have to plan ahead.
This simple decision gives every customer some wireless charging powers. It just so happens to spread the gospel of Powermat to a massive audience as well.
Powermat’s Power Play
After starting out with test roll-outs in select stores in Boston and San Jose, Starbucks is ready to go all in with PMA now. Guiste calls Powermat “the perfect partner,” thanks to its focus on commercial installations and managed support.
“What we got is not just a standard,” he said. “We got launch partners and a managed network that can tell us what’s going on, down to the location and the [specific] spot at that location.”
What Powermat got is a direct line to the vast market of coffee drinkers across the country. (Starbucks serves more than 5 million customers per day.) While obviously beneficial to Powermat, the strategy could also raise the profile of wireless charging overall, giving the whole industry a boost.
It may even compel the various camps to work together on a universal standard. If so, it couldn’t come too soon. The already complex landscape of wireless charging could get even more complicated before long.
As cable-free power-ups work to establish themselves in the mainstream, fringe candidates have been trying to push it in new directions. Startups like Humavox and Ossia want to ditch the mat entirely, using radio frequency technology to transform charging into Wi-Fi-like affairs.
It’s All Up In The Air
Humavox CEO Omri Lachman explained the design strategy behind his Eterna charging platform to me earlier this year: Users don’t use mats, he said. Instead, they toss their devices in a box.
Those devices can vary, not just in variety, but size. With more than a little showmanship, he told me his company “didn’t start off with these devices,” holding up a smartphone. “We started with these,” he said, pointing to a small in-ear canal hearing aid.
The components were designed to fit inside one of the smallest consumer devices imaginable, so it’s not tough to see those tiny receivers embedded inside the compact casings of wearable gadgets, one of Humavox’s target areas.
Another startup, Ossia, believes charging should work entirely over the air.
Though a bit slower than traditional charging, Ossia’s Cota technology can supposedly transmit power safely over a distance. It has been tested at 16 feet, and the company claims it can work up to 30 feet.
Ossia has been making motions toward the smart home industry, hoping to power battery-operated sensors and other gizmos. In the controlled setting of a retail environment, Cota devices could theoretically start charging your devices the moment you walk in. But that scenario will probably take a lot of convincing to appease public concerns over safety.
If these emerging companies succeed, or the leading troika of wireless charging proponents get their act together, they could banish the drudgery of plugging in cables and power adapters once and for all.
We’re not there yet. But Starbucks and Powermat took a big step toward that future. And until it gets here, at least now we can sip our lattes and charge on a table while we wait.
Starbucks coffee photo (cropped) courtesy of Starbucks; Ossia photo courtesy of Ossia; all others by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite
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We’re finally going to get a Big Data IPO, with Hortonworks filing its S-1 this month. Yet I’m not hearing much cheering from the people who have the most to gain in the short term: venture capitalists. In fact, over the course of the last two weeks, I’ve talked with a number of VCs and each of them has expressed the same concern:
Hortonworks filed to go public way too early.
Given its still shaky financials, the risk isn’t merely that Hortonworks will struggle as a public company. The bigger risk is that a weak IPO will hold back other Big Data companies with better financials.
Rocket Ships Require Lots Of Fuel
In some respects, Hortonworks is a rocket ship, more than doubling top-line revenue growth. For the first nine months of the year, it pulled in over $33 million in revenue, more than double what it did last year.
This growth rate actually separates it from other subscription pricing-based peers, as Tien Anh Nguyen highlights:
The problem, however, is the source and cost of that revenue. For the former, as Gartner analyst Merv Adrian showcases:
Hortonworks’ 3 largest customers (Yahoo, Teradata, and Microsoft) account for 37.4% of its revenue–and two are investors. The biggest is Microsoft, at 22.4% now–it was 55.3% for the year ended April 30, 2013. That sort of concentration never makes investors too happy, and though it is declining it’s still sizable.
So that’s one risk.
The second is the cost of that revenue. Hortonworks has traditionally spent $3 for every $1 it makes. While recent results are marginally better—Hortonworks lost $87 million en route to acquiring $33 million in revenue in the January-September period this year—they still reflect the “spend big or go home” mentality that afflicts many Big Data companies.
As former Cowen & Co. analyst and current independent consultant Peter Goldmacher told me recently, most of the billions Big Data startups have raised “is going to go-to-market endeavors,” not necessarily differentiated product functionality that enterprises will pay to use.
It’s therefore crazy to hear Nguyen laud Hortonworks for:
spending at the level of companies 2-3 times its size—literally “punching above its weight”—ostensibly to acquire customers and maintain absolute product leadership.
Since when do we call it “punching above one’s weight” to spend more than peers?
And since when does Hortonworks have “absolute product leadership”? It doesn’t. Gartner calls Hortonworks’ “data lake” message a “fallacy.” Basho CTO Dave McCrory is not so kind: he calls it a “data garbage heap.”
Hortonworks is a good company filled with smart people, some of whom are friends. But Hortonworks’ strategy is to contribute all of its intellectual property to open-source communities. By definition, the only product differentiation it has is what competitors decide to give it.
As Adrian points out, Hortonworks’ “R&D spend enables their competitors too. It won’t separate them quickly and dramatically from the pack any better to have much more spending on either or both.”
Whatever one may feel about the moral superiority of this strategy, after over 15 years of vendors trying to use open source as a business model, only one company—Red Hat—has managed to do so successfully. (And even that success is subject to question, as Graham Neray points out.)
I Needed The Money…
Regardless, Wikibon analyst Jeff Kelley posits that Hortonworks “needs capital to compete with Cloudera after [its] huge Intel investment.” That sum amounted to a mighty $740 million concession by Intel that its own Big Data plans were better served through Cloudera than building its own Hadoop distribution.
Still, if Hortonworks needs money to compete with Cloudera, $100 million comes up $640 million short.
More to the point, while $100 million is a lot of money, an IPO is perhaps the hardest way for Hortonworks to raise that sum, as Gartner analyst Nick Heudecker intimates:
But let’s be clear: Hortonworks doesn’t really need the money. It currently sits on over $111 million in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments. It’s swimming in money.
Betting The Big Data Market On HDP
I’m sure there are compelling reasons for Hortonworks to file, although it’s not comforting when the best Adrian could come up with is “if not now, when?” You look at New Relic’s S-1, filed on the same day as Hortonworks’, and you think: “This is a company that deserves to be public.” It has over $100 million in annual revenue and ever-narrowing losses.
Hortonworks’ filing doesn’t inspire the same confidence. Rather, it creates all sorts of uncertainty about Hadoop and the overall Big Data market: whether it’s viable and whether its leading vendors can eke out a living.
Cloudera was quick to insist that it can. With more than double Hortonworks’ revenue (the company will do over $100 million this year) and a better profit/loss profile, Cloudera still feels it should wait for an IPO.
Of course, maybe Hortonworks is simply putting a public price tag on the company. I’ve heard from several VCs that they expect Hortonworks to get acquired on the way to the IPO altar.
If this happens, Goldmacher’s contention that the first Big Data vendor to get acquired will win makes Hortonworks’ premature filing seem opportune:
The minute an acquisition happens, your distribution lead is smoked. Customers don’t want to buy products. They want to buy a suite that fits into their existing architecture. Once a Big Data startup is bought, suddenly that product has a compelling, comfortable story for the enterprise.
This isn’t necessarily good for the market or for customers, but it may be perfect for Hortonworks. That may be enough to countenance moving on an IPO before its financials justify it.
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SearchCap: SEO Mistakes That Could Penalize Your Site, Bing Ads Offers Close Variants On Phrase Match & More
Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: SEO & SSL: A Conversation With Jon Henshaw Of Raven Tools Google says it will boost rankings for HTTPS sites, but, in an interview by contributor Clark…
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4 Easy & Honest SEO Mistakes That Could Penalize Your Site
Search Engine Land
Sometimes it happens through carelessness, sometimes through black-hat techniques and, sometimes, through honest SEO mistakes. I've watched four such mistakes happen recently. These sites were honestly attempting to follow SEO best practices, but …
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You did everything right when optimizing your site for search — or so you thought. Contributor Neil Patel explains where you may have gone wrong.
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Last Thursday, Amazon quietly released Echo, a device that uses voice command technology to answer questions, play music, and make shopping lists. Will the company take the next step to voice-controlled shopping?
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Microsoft, fresh from excising the Nokia name from its smartphones, is preparing to introduce its first devices under the Microsoft Lumia brand on November 11.
It’s the briefest sliver of an announcement pushed out via email and posted on its blog, with one headline, one sentence and a hashtag:
Microsoft is delivering the power of everyday mobile technology to everyone.
Come back on November 11, to find out more!
The device in the accompanying graphic is orange, so the company may be continuing its pursuit of fruit-colored handsets. Considering the timing of the announcement, we might even see Microsoft Lumias hit the market in time for the holiday shopping rush.
But anyone hoping for a high-end Lumia, no matter the name, might be disappointed. According to recent rumors, a low-end smartphone (referred to as RM-1090) could be a new Microsoft device with a 5-inch HD display, 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 200 processor, a 5MP camera and 1900 milliampere-hour battery.
If that’s what Microsoft plans to pull out next week, then it will be pretty anti-climactic after drastic moves to amputate Nokia’s staff and brand name from Microsoft’s mobile business. We’ll find out on Tuesday.
Image courtesy of Microsoft
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Editor’s note: This was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen.
I watch a lot of horror movies. Or, I did, at least.
In the same way that at some point spicy food becomes the only type of food that certain people want to eat, or that a person continues to drink harder and harder alcohol until their liver fails, I hit a point midway through adolescence where I no longer understood the desire to sit down and watch a movie that wouldn’t, at minimum, feature someone being stabbed to death. The net goal was to make the people sitting in the room with me uncomfortable. I may have been doing all of this just to get more of the couch to myself.
And so it would make sense that I also love horror games, but the opposite is in fact true: I hate horror games, even though I play them quite regularly. The sardonic remove that makes viewing horror films so invigorating is stripped away and I am just stuck yelling at the TV screen for my character to move faster, goddammit, why does he turn like that, run! By design, these are stressful experiences.
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These competing emotions made beating Silent Hill 2 a powerfully non-fun experience for me, playing as the game so directly does to both of these opinions in direct succession. On one hand is a game of deep anti-player mechanism: a thudding stretch of exploration and muddy combat through a sprawling, ugly city, in which the player’s primary activity is to pick things up and put them places, often with little inherent logic.
I conquered this expanse with a walkthrough on hand, shouting directions to my roommate in an attempt to bee-line as quickly as possible between the various save points and scripted events. When one of us got exhausted, the other would take the controller. The amount of forethought and careful planning put into each portion probably resulted in a near-perfect run-through, but trust that I feel no pride over this accomplishment. I played the game as a coward would.
Silent Hill 2 Is A Cinematic Marvel
The reward, though, was getting to enjoy one of the three or four best narratives in the history of video games, and I mean that in the cinematic sense: these cutscenes are an audio-visual feast, in their murky way. Because that cathode-ray fog that defined the first Silent Hill is, in the sequel, all-encompassing.
Walls bleed into carpets, a big red-brown run, and the characters look soft, human, although still firmly on the other side of the uncanny valley. The morality is foggy; the unreality is foggy. In one of the most singular scenes in the game, the protagonist questions a man who won’t stop puking into a toilet.
We barely see either actor’s face; the camera just stays in the dark hallway behind them, slowly twisting at a spectral angle as the protagonist plies the stranger for info, and that stranger responds by vomiting ceaselessly into the toilet. This too is the fog.
Throughout this scene—and every other one in the game—the characters speak patiently, in soft, unpracticed tones. The dialogue comes at the alien clip (full of stops and starts, weird peaks and valleys) of so many Japanese-produced video games, but here it feels in service of the game’s tone, adding to the lost, dream-like feel.
The first chunk of the game is spent chasing some little kid around the city, and when you finally find her, giggling under a bed in a pitch-black abandoned hospital, she calmly intones, “What’s the big deal?” When the protagonist realizes she may not be from this world, his response is clipped, “But, last year, Mary was already …” the ellipsis effectively ending the sentence. Then, perking up: “This is no place for a kid! There are all sorts of strange things around here.” The duo jogs back out into hell, never so much scared as dazed.
That deeply standard-definition presentation, and the raw, amateurish performances, combine to create the feel of a medium playing to its weaknesses—and then transcending them.
Video game actors, even the hyper-real LA Noire or Kevin Spacey types, do not look like humans, as we know quite well, and their voice acting is categorically incompetent. But in Silent Hill 2 these limitations congeal into virtues, the stiltedness of the acting and blurriness of the textures becoming bedrock components of this particular vision of hell. It’s a case of the software matching its hardware, the way James Brown’s drums kick harder on the vinyl they were meant to be played from.
But that’s the interesting thing about the game’s aesthetic, singular as it is: it’s near-impossible to experience today, unless you own the PlayStation 2/Xbox original and a fat old TV to play it on. In what is perhaps the quintessential resolution-gate in video games, Konami remade Silent Hill 2 (and its lesser sequel) in HD, to the immediate outcry of its most ardent fans.
How Konami Got The Silent Hill Remake Wrong
This is the type of thing I normally sleep through quite soundly without ever acknowledging. But then, the type of people who would ardently appreciate a game about murdering a sick woman are strange birds to begin with, and in this case they were spot-on: Konami did alter the delicate blend of good and bad that defined the original. That fog that swept around and through every scene, indoors and out, was turned into a weird scrim of white stuff hanging behind the characters, who, now in crisp HD, look pulled from the Thunderbirds:
Most damningly, they re-recorded all of the dialogue with new voice actors. That haunted, diffuse quality is replaced with the same stuff that plagues all other video game cutscenes—specifically, Troy Baker. Eurogamer, for their part, covered the hell out of this controversy as it happened, all of which seems like gamer-caterwauling until you get your mitts dirty and listen to the actual changes. Ignore if you can the general tone of the video below; its juxtapositions make its case strongly enough:
All of which has put me in a bit of a bind. Over the years, I’ve become less indulgent of horror movies’ whims, which rarely challenge themselves or subvert expectations but blankly deliver, in the way one might expect a pornographic film to. And so I’ve doubled down on the horror I know I like—Lynch and Cronenberg and Argento, and, indeed, the cutscenes of Silent Hill 2, which remain inimitable.
Turning Silent Hill 2 Into Art On YouTube
As I’ve attempted to revisit them, though, I’ve found myself stymied. Everything is on the Internet, and the cutscenes are, but not as I remember them. There is this weird, ambitious attempt to stitch all the cutscenes together, along with gameplay footage, into a coherent movie. (This is a fairly common thing with these games.) There are the weird, bastardized HD versions, on which I must side with the angry fans. And then there’s this loveless compilation of them in glorious standard definition, compiled by a person named “y2jarmyofficial,” a frankly baffling name which is written over the screen in a hot-pink font I can only assume is called “sandals.”
And hey: that sucks. It sucks real bad that y2jarmyofficial went and did that, but over time I’ve come to appreciate it. In a way, it adds to the crappiness so central to the entire Silent Hill 2 experience. When James unloads a pistol from a distinctly Blue Velvet-esque closet at Pyramid Head the violence has the feel of a snuff film. As James confronts a lost soul in a burning stairwell at the game’s operatic climax, y2jarmyofficial stays plastered on the screen, almost mocking the mournfulness of the story. On the other hand, maybe a broken game—a game about brokenness—is unbreakable.
What none of this changes—not the HD remixes, not y2jarmyofficial’s bad font choices, not even Troy Baker—is Akira Yamaoka’s score, which remains unsullied. The Lynch comparisons with the game are easy, but the shoe fits, and Yamaoka’s long, maundering synthesizers are pretty direct evocations of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack work for Lynch.
But Silent Hill 2’s triumph is that Yamaoka doesn’t stop at this evocation, but layers percussive intrigue over top: the almost random vibes of “World of Madness” sound more like Oneohtrix Point Never; “Ashes and Ghost” has more in common with the depravity of early Swans; and the sprightly, almost uptempo “Null Moon” recalls the influential Japanese hip-hop producer Nujabes.
Yamaoka’s soundscapes are what hold Silent Hill 2 together, despite all its wild iterations, and they’re what I’ve come back to over the years, even streaming behind hot-pink YouTube usernames. It’s not enough to say that I just like the soundtrack of the game, but that the soundtrack is emblematic of everything I like about Silent Hill 2.
Where so much modern horror delights in the mere delivery of gore, or in subtle, inside-baseball variations on that delivery, Silent Hill 2’s pleasures are much smaller; they’re knotty and internal and wholly of its own creation. We normally talk about the series as being psychological, in contrast to perhaps the viscerality of Resident Evil, but I think it’s more than merely psychological. Silent Hill 2 is character horror—it’s personal horror—and it’s all the more remarkable for the dank slop of audio-visual vomit through which it relays its ideas.
My point is that this is worth revisiting, in any old form you can stand it.
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How Voice Search Could Affect The Future Of SEO
Voice-based search queries have not traditionally been a significant consideration for search engine optimization (SEO); people usually would rather type their queries into a webpage directly, avoiding the errors and that can come with automated voice …
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