Video Games

Sony Says 7 Million PlayStation 4s Have Been Sold Worldwide

Sony

And Sony adds that it's sold more than 20.5 million PS4 games worldwide across retail and digital content.

Sony’s coming out swinging one day before U.S. retail tracker NPD’s game sales numbers are due: the international electronics behemoth says it’s shipped more than 7 million PlayStation 4 game consoles since the system arrived last November. That figure is as of April 6.

Sony Computer Entertainment president and group CEO Andrew House doles out the usual kudos in the press release, but adds that the company is “still facing difficulties keeping up with the strong demand worldwide.” In recent months, analysts and pundits alike have speculated that Sony’s sales might be higher still were the company able to provide retailers sufficient inventory to keep the system on shelves, though in fairness to the Xbox One, the PS4 is presently available in at least three or four times as many countries (Sony says 72 total countries and regions at this point).

The company adds that PS4 software sales are robust at more than 20.5 million to date (split between worldwide retail and digital downloads via the PlayStation Store through April 13). And there’s some crowing about games to come, in particular PS4 exclusives like DRIVECLUB, MLB 14: The Show and The Order 1886, as well as indies like N++, Secret Ponchos, Transistor, Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Daylight.

Related, Sony says over 135 million “shares” (pictures, videos, etc.) have been captured using the sharing button on the DualShock 4 controller. And between Twitch and Ustream, the company says players have delivered over 4.9 million gameplay broadcasts and nearly 90 million spectate sessions.

Sony community manager (and former GamePro editor) Sid Shuman announced the news on Sony’s PlayStation blog, and notes that the company will “have some great new details to share with you regarding our upcoming PS4 system software update very soon.”

Stay tuned tomorrow evening, when we’ll likely have Microsoft’s response, which’ll include Titanfall sales and give us a sense for whether that game — arguably the most important Xbox One exclusive for the first half of 2014 sales-wise — helped Microsoft make inroads on Sony’s lead.

In any event, 7 million units sold this early in a set-top’s lifecycle (we’re not six months out) is very, very good news for Sony, and the games industry in general.

Social Networking

Gmail Lets Users Share Images Auto-Uploaded from Their Phones

With help from Gmail, Google+ photos finally get social.

My friends and family probably don’t know this, but I have photos of them on Google+ stretching all the way back to October 2011, when I bought a Samsung Galaxy S II and set up automatic photo backups.

These photos aren’t public, and the vast majority of them are visible to no one except me. That’s because I haven’t bothered to share them.

The reason is not complicated: Most of the people I know don’t actively use Google+, so sorting through and sharing my photos on Google’s social network would be a waste of time. Still, I auto-upload my photos anyway, using Google’s unlimited storage (for images of 2048 pixels or less) as a glorified backup service.

The recent addition of Google+ photo attachments in Gmail may be a sign that Google has recognized the fate of its own network. Instead of forcing people to share photos through Google+, Google is now letting Gmail users attach photos directly to their messages, using a new “Insert Photo” button at the bottom of the email. As a way of sharing photos I’ve snapped from my phone, it’s incredibly convenient.

Google

I will be considerably more likely to share my auto-uploaded photos over email than Google+. Sharing images via email is more private, more convenient and less proprietary. I know my recipients won’t have to visit Google+ or even have a Gmail account to view the images I send. And on my end, I’ll no longer have to wade through the Google+ interface just to find a photo, download it and re-upload it again.

There are now more ways than ever to auto-upload photos to Google+. The latest version of Android includes a new “Photos” app, separate from the main Google+ app, that can automatically upload camera images. In December, Google released an auto-backup desktop app for Windows and Mac. And in October, the Google+ iOS app gained background uploads, allowing users to back up their photos without having to periodically re-open the app.

But without a good way to share those photos, users are essentially stuffing their pictures in a dusty closet, and Google is just wasting server space. By liberating automatic photo uploads from Google+, Gmail is making those photos more social than they ever were on Google’s social network.

 

 

 

Music

Which Music Service Makes Artists the Most Money?

Online Music Streaming Service Spotify Holds Press Event In New York
Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The answer is never easy — and it's devised through fractions of a penny

The digital music realm is complicated: artists like De La Soul want to sell their music online but can’t due to legal restraints on their sample-heavy music; meanwhile, while artists like Led Zeppelin, one of the biggest, longstanding holdouts of offering their music for streaming, are now poised to do so.

Artists like Thom Yorke of Radiohead have pulled their music from Spotify, criticizing the service for doing little to help emerging artists but instead offering sizable advances to marquee bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica for exclusive-access deals. Meanwhile, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is now the chief creative officer of new subscription service Beats Music.

So what’s the best way to support a band or artist so they can continue making the music you love?

First off, know that broadcast radio stations don’t pay performers or copyright owners. Buy their music and merchandise (directly from the band or artist if possible), go see them live in concert (although not all musicians are live performers, and touring comes with many expenses for the artist), contribute to their Kickstarter campaigns and consider supporting the brands and products they endorse (perfumes, headphones, video games).

The individual deals that streaming services broker for licensing music vary widely, as do agreements with digital distributors like CDbaby or Tunecore. An artist’s role in the creation of their music, genre, and career trajectory also factor in. And there is much speculation as to how services like YouTube, Deezer, SoundCloud and Amazon will continue to change the landscape further. “Its an ever-shifting landscape, with many stakeholders,” says Kristin Thomson, co-director of the Future of Music’s Artist Revenue Streams Project.

Still, here’s a sampling of royalty rates to help gauge your digital streaming or subscription choices:

Pandora or Sirius XM = $0.0023 per song play

A Copyright Royalty Board sets rates for these non-interactive webcasters and digital streaming services, based on many variables: commercial vs. non-commercial, subscription vs. non-subscription. They pay annual fees between $500 and $50,000 to operate.

Spotify = between $0.006 and $0.0084 per song play

On-demand subscription services like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Beats Music, Deezer, and Google All Access Play negotiate rates privately, and rates vary due to listener status (paid vs. unpaid subscriber), ads vs. no ads, company revenue, and more. Spotify, who for many music fans has become a substitute for owning music, published their full formula a few months ago, in response to widespread criticism about how much they pay in royalties.

iTunes Radio = $0.0014 per song play

It acts like a webcasting service, but negotiates its own rates, works in tandem with the iTunes store and artists can pull in 19% of their net advertising revenues. Artist revenue generated from services like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and eMusic varies widely depending on contracts (iTunes keeps about 30%), but even for independent artists like cellist Zoe Keating, an outspoken advocate for artist autonomy and musician’s rights, iTunes is the top revenue source.

BandCamp = varies

Everyone gets the same deal: artists selling on the site are paid directly by fans (roughly $3 million per month, total), and Bandcamp takes 15% on digital and 10% on sales of LPs, t-shirts, and tickets. But there ‘s no contract/agreement with Bandcamp: bands do as they please

YouTube = varies

For those who want to monetize their content, rights owners get a percentage of shared ad revenue; this can be hugely lucrative or relatively insubstantial, depending on the traffic.

Technologizer

12 Things to Know About Project Ara, Google’s Amazing Modular Phone

Project Ara
Google's Project Ara phone, broken down into its component parts Google ATAP

It's wildly ambitious, it's designed not to fall apart if you drop it -- and it may not come to the U.S. anytime soon.

When Google announced Project Ara last October, its plan to make modular smartphones, it shared some photos and very little else. This week, at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, the company is digging into the nitty gritty, by hosting the first Project Ara developer conference. It’s showing prototypes in public for the first time and explaining the technology to the hardware engineers it hopes will build stuff for the platform.

Back in February, I wrote the first in-depth look at Project Ara. It includes most of the key facts Google is discussing at the developer conference. (At least so far: It’s still in progress.) Here’s a recap of what makes Project Ara so ambitious, fascinating and — in some respects — odd.

1. It’s an infinitely customizable phone. Every feature — the screen, the cameras, the battery, stuff nobody has invented yet — comes in the form of a tile-shaped module. You slip these modules into a framework called an “Endo” to build a phone with the features of your choice. And modules are interchangeable, so you could decide to skip the rear camera and slide in a second battery, for instance.

2. It’s not going to be for you, at least at first. The concept sounds like it’s aimed at lovers of bleeding-edge gadgetry. But Google wants to offer Project Ara phones to folks who’d otherwise be unable to afford any smartphone. It plans to roll out the platform in developing nations first, and isn’t saying when it might reach the U.S.

3. The cheapest, most basic phone will be very cheap and very basic. With the target market in mind, Google aims to offer a $50 “grayphone” starter model — no wireless contract required. That version wouldn’t have frills such as one or more cameras. It wouldn’t even be capable of working on cellular networks — just Wi-Fi. But owners could upgrade their grayphones on the fly as their needs changed and budgets permitted.

4. Google is trying to do this fast and efficiently. Work began on Ara in earnest only a little over a year ago, and only a handful of Google employees are involved, along with outside collaborators as required. The company plans to have its first phone on the market in January 2015.

5. It’s inspired by the U.S. Department of Defense’s approach to innovation. Project Ara is part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, which models its small-team, tight-deadline approach on the Defense Department’s fabled Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which brought us the Internet and satellite navigation, among other things. Regina Dugan, who heads ATAP, is a former DARPA director; Paul Eremenko, who’s spearheading Ara, is also an alumnus.

6. Google thinks of it as Android for hardware. The company’s mobile operating system has done well because it’s essentially a joint effort between Google and the multitudes of software developers who have embraced it. The idea of Project Ara is to allow even tiny companies with inventive ideas to make modules and market them to phone owners — a big shift from the current situation, in which a few large manufacturers crank out one-size-fits-all phones designed to please the masses.

7. The phone isn’t as bulky as you’d expect. You can’t build a phone made out of multiple blocks and make it as skinny as the skinniest entirely-self-contained handsets. But Google’s prototype is 9.7mm thick, which is only half a skosh chunkier than the new HTC One M8. (The final shipping version may be slightly thicker.)

8. It won’t fall apart if you drop it. At least that’s the idea. The modules will use capacitive technology for electrical connections, and will lock in place using super-strong magnets (for modules on the back) and latches (for ones on the front). Google says an Ara phone should be as sturdy as a typical smartphone.

9. The project involves some 3D printing breakthroughs. Project Ara modules will be encased in covers that will be produced on demand using a new generation of 3D printers designed by 3D Systems. Consumers will be able to pick custom designs and snap new covers onto their old modules if they choose.

10. Google’s vision for how Project Ara phones will be marketed is pretty wacky. The company is designing portable stores, which it will be able to ship by sea to the first countries where Ara phones will be available. It’s also developing technology that will do things such as measure your pupil dilation and scan your social networks to help you choose an Ara phone that matches your personality.

11. The platform is going to require lots of enthusiasm from third parties. The only Google-branded part of the hardware will be the Endo. Everything else, like batteries, wireless subsystems, cameras and sensors will be produced by other companies, who will presumably only choose to get involved if they think they can make money. If only a handful of such companies buy the vision, it won’t work.

12. Being both excited and skeptical is a reasonable response. I’m glad Google is trying this: It involves both a big dream and multiple technological innovations, and it’s going to be awfully neat if it takes off.

But that doesn’t mean that I think the folks who are instinctively dubious — such as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber — are being unreasonable. Many things have to fall into place for Ara to evolve from a wild concept to a functioning product to something large numbers of people want. And if Google does indeed have a phone ready to sell in January of next year, it’s not the end of the journey, but the beginning.

I’m not placing any bets on its chances of success, but I can’t wait to see how the world — and especially the smartphone newbies who Google envisions would want this — will react.

celebrity

Drop Enemies Like They’re Hot While You Play Call of Duty, Now Narrated by Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg
Jordan Naylor / Getty Images

"It's the coolest game in the hood. All my homies play this game."

Fans of the first-person shooter game Call of Duty: Ghosts can soon enhance their playing experience by downloading an add-on pack featuring narration by Snoop Dogg.

Yes. Really. Snoop Dogg! The rapper has lent his voice to the game to provide commentary like “Ballistic vests ready. Those are some fine ass threads” and “Rack up points by reaching the enemy portal, ya dig?”

Snoop will also provide encouragement to players with pep talks like “Don’t stop! Cap ‘em and shank ‘em.” Oh man, now we kind of wish Snoop could just narrate out everyday lives.

“What interested me most about the project is that my voice could be connected with a game that’s so hip, that’s so hood,” Snoop said in the announcement video. “It’s the coolest game in the hood. All my homies play this game.”

The Snoop Dogg voiceover pack will cost $2.99, available on April 22 for Xbox One and Xbox 360. We suggest sippin’ on some gin and juice while you play.

Video Games

Richard Garriott Wants You to Remake His First Dungeons & Dragons Game

Think you've got the stuff to recreate a 1970s-era teletype roleplaying game?

Portalarium

I have no idea how Portalarium creative director Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar is going to turn out, but I’m all kinds of interested to see how this clever little promotional retro-competition he’s sponsoring will.

It involves one of the oldest games he designed. No, not Akalabeth. I’m talking about D&D#1, a game young master Garriott designed on a teletype machine nearly four decades ago while in high school (he’s 52 today, and a pretty eclectic guy — he’s also been to space).

Back in 1977, Garriott typed the game onto paper tape spools, which he fed into a terminal that ran the D&D-inspired roleplaying scenario in the simplest sense: explore a top-down dungeon (it used ASCII characters to indicate geometry), while doing battle with enemies and excavating treasure along the way.

Tele-who? Teleprinter technology. You know the Selectric 251 from the TV series Fringe that let people send and receive messages? Kind of like that, only without the interdimensional communications module. They’re electromechanical typewriters older than me, and Garriott used one to craft a slew of D&D-inspired games: 28 in all, paving the way for his first Apple II game, which in turn anticipated his storied Ultima computer roleplaying series.

Garriott’s asking anyone intrepid enough to take the source code (in BASIC) for that original teletype game — created at Clear Creek High School in Houston, Texas on a teletype machine connected via an acoustic modem to a PDP 11 type mini-computer — and translate it into something that faithfully recreates the original game (the instructions specify “No fancy graphics, stick with a traditional font on ‘yellow’ paper”). The contest just kicked off yesterday, April 15, and the clock’s ticking — entrants have until May 15.

According to the contest overview, the game’s been MIA since 1979, when teletype was retired. The idea here is to come up with a playable version Portalarium can drop into Shroud of the Avatar. You can submit using Unity or design “a no-plug-in Browser Version,” and the winners will be announced shortly after the contest closes. Winners (in each category) get a Citizen-level pledge reward (within Shroud of the Avatar) that Portalarium values at $550, while two runners-up in both categories will receive a Collector-level pledge reward valued at $165 apiece. The only catch: all submissions become Garriott’s property.

Instagram

Instagram Begins Purging Spam Accounts

US-IT-FACEBOOK-INSTAGRAM
Josh Edelson—AFP/Getty Images

You may have a few less followers the next time you log in to Instagram. Facebook's photo-sharing app announced Wednesday it is deleting inactive, old and spam accounts on a mass scale for the first time

Instagram is taking out the trash: the photo-sharing app is sifting through its entire user base and deleting inactive, old and spam accounts on a mass scale for the first time.

If you log into your account today, you will likely see a message that reads:

“Changes in followers

We’ve removed deactivated and spam accounts. Your list of followers and people you follow may have changed.”

“After receiving feedback from members in the Instagram community, we recently fixed an issue that incorrectly included inactive accounts in follower/following lists,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement to Re/code. “We believe this will provide a more authentic experience and genuinely reflect people who are actually engaging with each other’s content.”

Owned by Facebook since April 2012, Instagram has always had a bit of a spam problem. So many users complained about fake accounts that the company had to officially comment on the situation two years ago.

“There’s no quick fix, but we have a team of engineers working every day to tackle the issue and we hope you’ll notice their improvements,” Instagram wrote in the comments section of a photo on the official Instagram account.

Instagram’s terms prohibit people from spamming others on Instagram and encourage users to police the app themselves by reporting suspected spam as “inappropriate.”

Many users may see a drop in their number of followers thanks to the purge, but at least now you’ll know who your real friends are.

[Re/code]

Innovation

How to Generate Solar Power Where the Sun Don’t Shine

A powerful arc lamp is used to simulate sunlight on a sample of photoswitchable molecules, driving structural changes at the molecular level. A portion of the light's energy is stored with each structural change. The progress of these changes can be tracked by monitoring the molecules' optical properties. MIT

Imagine a versatile, environmentally nil nano-battery that provided heat for cooking or keeping you warm when the sun wasn't shining.

Solar power, it goes without saying, requires solar radiation, which if you’re thinking like a solar traditionalist means a shining sun. But the key to upending that sort of conventional thinking about how we sip “free” energy from the massive thermonuclear fusion reactor seething at the center of our solar system — and, critically, store it when the sun ain’t shining — turns out to involve a little something at the crux of a slew of recent breakthroughs, including the hypothetical continuation of Moore’s (currently doomed) Law.

Meet carbon nanotubes: atom-thin layers of carbon rolled into incredibly tiny tubes — carbon being a chemical element that, among other things, allows us and all other forms of organic matter to exist.

According to MIT News, researchers at MIT and Harvard have fashioned carbon nanotubes capable of absorbing the sun’s radiation and storing it in chemical form, where it can then be tapped at will to generate heat on demand. Heat alone, that is, and probably not electricity, since converting the thermal energy to electricity would nullify efficiency gains. But imagine a versatile, environmentally nil sort of thermal nano-battery that you could use to provide heat for cooking or warming or anything else that might benefit from economically captured and ready-stored high temperature fuel.

According to the researchers, publishing in the journal Nature Chemistry, we need far better ways to store energy — it’s one of the precepts behind mainstreaming solar power. “Other than liquid fuels, existing energy-storage materials do not provide the requisite combination of high energy density, high stability, easy handling, transportability and low cost,” they write.

Their solution: take special types of molecules known as molecular switches, capable of being switched (and reversed) between various states — a process known as photoswitching — and expose them to sunlight. When you do so, they absorb the energy and shift to a kind of “tense” storage state, and they can remain in that state for a long time. Then, all you need to do is give them a jolt, causing them to “relax” and discharge the energy in the form of heat. And best of all: the transaction is emissions-free — you can use it continuously, and the materials are never consumed.

The working cycle of a solar thermal fuel is depicted in this illustration, using azobenzene as an example. When such a photoswitchable molecule absorbs a photon of light, it undergoes a structural rearrangement, capturing a portion of the photon’s energy as the energy difference between the two structural states. When the molecule is triggered to switch back to the lower-energy form, it releases that energy difference as heat. MIT

The trick in this case lays in getting the molecules packed tightly enough to make the idea tenable. When the researchers tried to link their molecular switches to carbon nanotubes, they found they couldn’t get them half as close as their computer simulations indicated they’d need to. But it seemed those simulations might be wrong: Even at less than half the requisite modeled density, the synthetic material was meeting their heat storage demands.

Digging deeper, they discovered what was really going on: The photoswitching molecules were attaching to the carbon nanotubes in a way that brought the molecules themselves together much more closely than surmised.

As usual, the laboratory version is just that — a laboratory model. According to Defense One, the MIT/Harvard team is currently looking into other types of photoswitching molecules and underlying layers (like the carbon nanotubes) in hopes of increasing the amount of chemically storable solar energy, as well as finding more viable ways to scale these storage mechanisms up.

Smartphones

Phone Makers and Carriers Agree to Add Anti-Theft Kill Switches to Smartphones

Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Huawei will join Apple and Google in allowing smartphone customers to deactivate their handsets from afar if they are lost or stolen. If enough people are actually able to do so, it might make thieves think twice

Apple and Google already allow you to remotely lock a lost or stolen phone, but now more phone makers and carriers are joining in with promises to include “kill switches” by July of next year.

The voluntary commitment, outlined by the wireless trade group CTIA, includes four capabilities that all smartphones must include:

1. Remote wipe the authorized user’s data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen.

2. Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., “phone home”).

3. Prevent reactivation without authorized user’s permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as in 2 above).

4. Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have all agreed to allow these features on the phones they sell. Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung have signed onto the agreement as well.

The industry hasn’t always been so keen on kill switches. Samsung reportedly tried to offer this anti-theft feature last year, but said that wireless carriers had rejected the idea. At the time, the CTIA said mandatory kill switches could become vulnerable to hackers, who could then disable users’ phones remotely.

It’s unclear why the CTIA has changed its mind now, but the group may be trying placate lawmakers with a voluntary commitment under its own terms. Worth noting is that the commitment doesn’t require phone makers to enable the kill switch by default.

For that reason, some lawmakers such as California state Senator Mark Leno aren’t satisfied. In a statement to Recode, Leno said the kill switch will only deter thieves if they know most smartphones will be rendered useless. (It’s sort of like herd immunity, where even the non-immune are protected as the epidemic stops spreading.)

But there’s a balance to be struck here. Although opt-in kill switches won’t be effective if most users don’t take advantage, mandatory kill switches won’t help if users don’t know about the feature and don’ t know how to use it. Whether it’s opt-in or opt-out, the effectiveness really comes to down implementation.

Apple provides a good model for how the system should work. When users set up their iPhones for the first time, they’re given a prominent option to enable Find My iPhone, so new users should be well aware of the feature. As of iOS 7, Find My iPhone includes an Activation Lock feature that prevents thieves from erasing or reactivating the device. Google has taken similar steps recently with Android Device Manager, which gained a remote lock feature last fall.

The key is for phone makers and carriers to teach users about these features, so they know what to do when their phones are lost or stolen. But that’s a lot trickier to legislate.

Surveillance

The New Cop on the Beat May Be a Bot

Knightscope K5 promises enhanced policing capabilities, courts controversy

+ READ ARTICLE

Have we as a species learned nothing from Robocop?

A Silicon Valley company called Knightscope is currently testing a prototype robot designed to detect and monitor criminal activity, much the way a police officer or a security guard would.

The Knightscope K5 is a five-foot-tall autonomous robot (one presumes that its resemblance to a Dalek is merely coincidental) that roams around your neighborhood, observing and gathering data and trying to predict where and when criminal activity will occur.

It carries no weaponry, but it has a pretty complete sensor package that includes thermal imaging, license plate reading and facial recognition.

This takes public surveillance a step beyond stationary cameras, and the challenges to personal privacy are clear. The K5 could do a whole lot of good by deterring crime, especially in neighborhoods that lack the resources to field an adequate police presence.

But where do you draw the line?

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