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Tablet Or Phone?: Today’s Touchscreen Computing, “The Hobbit” Filmed At 48 Fps And Where

Taking a look at mobile computing, the fine line between phones and the tablets has become faint. Google has a full line-up of Nexus brand devices from a 10″ tablet to the new fourth generation Nexus phone, and we’ll compare them to their competitors. Then, we look at why the upcoming “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is like no movie before.

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New Microsoft “Surfaces”, iPad Mini and 4th Gen

Apple wrote the story of the tablet, didn’t they? This week, we’ve seen a lot of new heat brewing in the tablet space. Apple unveiled two new iPads: a Mini and 4th Generation iPad.  But with the recent Nexus 7 and the new Kindle Fires, it already looked Apple may have been given a run for its money. In only a couple days, Microsoft will be selling Windows 8 RT, the tablet version of Windows 8, along with the x86 desktop versions of the new Windows. With Windows 8 RT, Microsoft is bringing not only its own Surface tablets, but other Windows PC makers are jumping on board. Apple just announced its iPad 4th generation, along with the 7.9″ iPad Mini, which while cheaper than the regular iPad is also slightly larger than competitors in the size range.

Can a new logo, public image, marketing campaign, and entirely rethought strategy change the Microsoft we thought we knew? Microsoft is doing a lot to change who they are as a public company. As BGR editor Zach Epstein points out, Windows for the longest time has been an operating system that people used, but not one that necessarily inspired the advocacy of passionate followers. Things start to look different with Surface RT, starting at $399. Add $99 for the touch-sensitive keyboard-case, another $10 if you want the thicker cover with press-able keys, and you have a premium device. A 10.6″ ClearBlack screen, the thickness of an iPad 3rd gen, XDXC switchable ports, USB, and the Magsafe dock make it one-of-a-kind. The Surface is a device the likes of which we’ve never seen from Microsoft, and we’ve never seen anything like this for advertising from them, either. First airing after a new Dancing with the Stars episode, this commercial gives Microsoft some jazz that Ninja Tuna and Bob Acri never could. Read more on Surface, on Windows.

You really didn’t think you would be shocked this time, did you? But, nonetheless, you are as Apple unveils an entirely new generation of iPad, instead of a refresh. Starting at $499 (WiFi) and $629 (LTE), the 4th gen iPad has many similarities to the iPad 3, but it has a few new specifications, including a 720p HD camera, faster WiFi, and the Apple A6X processor. What most people did expect is the iPad Mini, a device to compete with smaller tablet counterparts running Android. It will run you $329 (WiFi) for the lowest memory, but it gives you your premium Apple product with access to the vast wonders of the App Store and other services. Read more.

Sources: BGR, WPCentral

November’s Big Releases, Updates For All

This November we will have a wealth of new games to play. There will be many big name titles coming out for the holidays, and there should be something for everyone. First up is the long awaited alien-shooter Halo 4 coming out on Nov 6. This new game will start the next Halo trilogy, and introduce a new enemy and new game elements. Also coming out on Nov 6 is NASCAR The Game: Inside Line. This new racing game will be a hardcore simulator, but is also to be friendly to beginners. On Nov 13 comes the one and only Black Ops 2. This year’s Call of Duty should add some spice to the series with an entirely rethought story and campaign. Hitman Absolution, the next game in the Hitman stealth series, comes out Nov 20 with more replay value in its contract mode. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 will also be coming out on Nov 20. Soccer fans can look forward to the next year’s sports gaming, with better gameplay, graphics, and more modes than ever. More November releases

A free dashboard update…what’s better? All Xbox Live subscribers and Playstation users will get an update that will greatly improve their console experiences. The Xbox update will include many things including Internet Explorer, improved voice recognition, a ratings and recommendations section, 9 more supported languages, and customizable homescreens. Microsoft says it wants it to feel more like Windows 8. Sony is also doing a dashboard update. Sony’s Playstation update is more focused on their store; now, everything in a game series is on one store page. More on the Xbox update  More on the PlayStation update

Sources: VGReleases, BGR, and USA TODAY

Xbox Gets a New Jam, The New Network, Testing Consciousness

Microsoft has offered Zune players and music services for a long time, but with the passing of the Zune player, the Zune pass is also being retired. Xbox Music launches for Xbox 360 October 16th as Microsoft’s answer to music streaming like Rdio or Spotify. Offering unlimited (DRM‘d) music downloads from the 18 million song database (for the US), the service is impressive. Down be confused, though. Xbox Music is both the streaming/download service and the store, which will be available on Windows 8 (being released on October 26th) and Windows Phone 8 devices.

The Xbox Music service provides a variety of features, but also has a downside. Actually – there’s two or three. First, the (US) price of the subscription is $9.99 a month, but you can alternatively choose to purchase a full year of service for $99.99. Second, you are required to have an Xbox Gold account, which is of course a separate, paid subscription. If you can bear to shovel the dough, the service is probably superior, offering intelligent “Smart DJ” channels based on your specifications, which will use both your current music, including your unlimited downloads, and your unlimited stream of music. ‘Unlimited’ is the key word, and that factor probably provides the best chance in helping Xbox Music become a real competitor for music. Read more.

Surprise! The majority share of Sprint Nextel was just bought at over $20 million. What does this mean for the future of the yellow carrier? For those of you, like myself, on the carrier which provides the only “truly unlimited data” network, this change in majority stock means that the Japanese company SoftBank has the biggest say – 70% –  in the goings-on of the carrier, and more importantly, Sprint now has $8 million to blow on getting its name back. Whether this means better 4G LTE, more phones, or just better commercials, this investment can hardly be a bad thing for Sprint. Read more.

Neurologists from the Belgian National Research fund may have discovered a more definitive method of determining whether a patient is actively conscious. Many patients may be put into a state of minimal consciousness, called a vegetative state.  Melanie Boly and her team presented a new method to measure the amount of consciousness that someone in a vegetative state may have; doctors may soon be able to measure just how actively someone is thinking while in a state resulting from something like brain trauma or cardiac arrest. At a point at which there is no option for resuscitation, families of patients may which to decide whether their family member should remain on life support, or be let off. This method involves emitting brief electromagnetic pulses through cranial electrodes and measuring the resultant brain activity. Doctors can then see into the minds of patients just a little, and can better inform the conscious of the unconscious mind. Read more.

Sources: Engadget, BGR, Nature News, Popular Science

Top 10 Selling Games This Month

This week we are looking at the top 10 selling games of September and what Nintendo and Microsoft have been up to.

Statistics based off VGChartz’s data show the latest, most popular games, compiled from Sept 1st to 22nd. Whether this helps you decide what to buy, or bragging rights on whose favorite game is really more popular, here it is:

  • 10. NHL (PS3) with 45,000 copies sold
  • 9. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (PS3) with 52,000 copies sold
  • 8. NHL (Xbox 360) with 76,000
  • 7. Borderlands 2 (PC) with 110.000
  • 6. Borderlands 2 (pS3) with 287,000
  • 5. New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS) with 400,000 (during reviewed time)
  • 4. Guild Wars 2 (PC) with 500,000
  • 3. Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360) with 613,000
  • 2. Madden NFL 13 (PS3) with 724,000
  • 1. Madden NFL 13 (PS3) with 877,000

Read more.

Nintendo has been busy this week while Sony has been sleep, meanwhile Microsoft has gone in lock down mode. Nintendo recently released Mario’s first DLC, three map packs for coin rush mode. They also gave a surprise video about the new animal crossing game for 3DS. Recently Microsoft went into lock down by closing off sections of their facility, so they could work on the Xbox 720 in peace. Read more.

More details on Halo 4

Halo 4, the newest game in Microsoft’s flagship franchise, will pick up exactly where Halo 3 left off, with Master Chief and Cortana in the Forward Unto Dawn drifting toward a planet. The game is packed with new stuff starting with new enemies and weapons and the start of a new story. In fact, there will be a whole new faction, the Prometheans. These strange robotic creatures are somehow related to the forerunners, a species of human-like creatures that lived in the galaxy in the past. The Prometheans fight very differently than Master Chief’s previous enemy, the Covenant. The Prometheans use many new tactics to bring you down, which should add new depth to the game. The crawlers, the Promethean equivalent of grunts, can crawl up any surface, so hiding behind pillars, walls, or on ledges won’t be as useful as it used to be. The knights, the Prometheans main unit, use their shields, speed, watchers, and teleportation abilities to destroy you. Watchers are an aerial support unit that are deployed by knights, they can use a tractor beams to throw grenades back at you, put a hardlight shield between you and a knight, or they could heal the knight. There are different types of knights and crawlers, so there should be plenty of variety. Halo 4 also has a new take on story telling by making the game more personal. Finally, the game will be in full HD. Before you say that Halo Reach was in HD, recall that true high-definition skins and textures to cover an entire game’s levels and maps would never fit on one game DVD like we buy. That’s why Halo 4 is almost undoubtedly coming on multiple disks. Halo 4 will be not only the must-have game on Xbox when it comes out on November 6, but looks to be a game to remember.

What about Sony?

This year at E3 there were many amazing games and hardware from Microsoft and Nintendo, but not Sony. Microsoft showed off it’s new smartglass, Nintendo gave more info on the Wii U, Sony showed us the Wonderbook. Sony was very lacking at E3 this year–actually they’ve been lacking for a while. Their last big achievement was releasing the Vita, and that release have been less than phenomenal.

The fact that they have not released any info on any new hardware is not helping their case, either. They only have a small list of good games, too. With Sony falling behind this is a good time for Nintendo to catch up and Microsoft to get ahead.

Windows Phone 8 Announced

While Microsoft has already made a huge impact this week at the Windows 8 Surface tablet announcement, but hasn’t stopped yet. At Wednesday’s Windows Phone Summit, the all-new Windows NT core found in Windows Phone 8 is the same Windows RT core in Windows 8. Sadly, existing Windows Phone devices like the Nokia Lumia 900 or HTC Titan II won’t be upgradeable to the new OS because the kernel requires specific hardware as well as security functions. Microsoft also announced Windows Phone “7.8”, which will be on the current Windows CE kernel and be offered to existing devices. This means that those devices will get many features of the new operating system, as well as the homescreen redesign. So what does all this mean for consumers?

We’ve already seen the first supposed Windows Phone 8 phones, and from those and all we heard we can draw some conclusions. According to the Verge, these devices from HTC, even the lower-end, all have at least dual-core processors, as well as chips which support NFC and LTE. This means that Windows Phones can be expected to offer superior hardware even in what would be at cheaper entry-level. For more info, check out the Verge’s post.

Below is a comparison of the Start screens of two Nokia Lumia 900 phones, one running Windows Phone 7.5 and the other, right, running 7.8. The difference is significant, and customizability has been seriously revamped. 

Now for the full feature breakdown:

  • DirectX and Direct3D support, Havok Technology Suite (the engine which powers Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and Skyrim) as well as other gaming engines for a powerful gaming experience.
  • C++ native code support. This means developers can access the grassroots of the phone, utilizing all hardware. (This also puts developing potential on the level of other platforms.)
  • NFC support.
  • Multi-core processor support.
  • “Wallet” app offers integration of credit cards, gift cards, coupons, and PayPal, allowing in-app purchases and supporting NFC payments.
  • A variety of new theme colors along with the new Start screen. Live tiles can be made quarter tiles, regular tiles, or double tiles (there aren’t any in the picture).
  • HD Screens including 1280 x 720 (720p) and 1280 x 768 (720p and a higher pixel density) resolutions, as well as current 800 x 480.
  • Over-the-air updates eliminates reliance on a PC.
  • Integrate Skype and VoIP services, as well as developer access to this.
  • Camera API which allows the camera button to be linked to other apps.
  • Device encryption and secure boot.
  • Office 2013 apps.
  • App “sideloading” (meaning you can install apps not on the market).
  • Device “manageability compatibility” (we’re not sure what this means).
  • Removable microSD support and management.
  • Java in web browser is faster than the iOS 6 beta.

That’s what we know so far, so of course we’ll be waiting to see the final product which Microsoft delivers. There’s also rumor of Microsoft making their own device, like they’re making the Surface tablets, but we’re not sure this rumor holds water. All-in-all, I’m impressed with Windows Phone 8, but in order to make a market impact, a lot more people are going to have to be impressed first.

The following is an informative video, showing a brief history of Windows Phone, along with introducing the new Start screen.

The entire Summit presentation from Microsoft is available to be viewed, coming in at about 2 hours long. There’s got to be more we missed, so check it out.

Via: WPCentral  Source: Microsoft Channel 9The Verge

Microsoft’s New Surface Tablets

Today in Los Angeles, Microsoft revealed their all-new line of Windows 8 tablets. The new Windows 8 tablets come with extremely thin case/keyboard combinations, along with a slick stand. They look to be  more portable than laptops and more functional than any tablets we’ve seen yet. Running Windows 8 and with all the bright cases, the 10.9″ tablets look great. Microsoft if making its own hardware, and the news-world drama which ensued was reminiscent of an Apple announcement.

The style is more than eye-catching!

Two devices were announced: a Windows RT version and a Windows 8 Pro version. This means that the RT version is running on ARM, so will be lighter, thinner, and cheaper, while the Windows 8 Pro version is traditional x86 architecture. This also means that some capabilities are limited, such as all features of Microsoft Office “2013”. The Windows RT version will come in 32 GB and 64 GB versions, while the x86 version will be 64 GB and 128 GB. The breakdown of the differences is in the chart below.

Here’s a promotional video which is pretty sweet, but not terribly informative:

We haven’t heard anything on prices yet, but we’re told they will compete with today’s ARM tablets and Ultrabooks accordingly. My guess on pricing is that Microsoft will be extremely competitive, but I would still expect to pay at least $299 for the Windows RT version, and a couple hundred more for the 8 Pro, but we don’t know until Microsoft discloses it. Plus, we can look forward to other devices coming from third-party OEMs like Samsung. All this and more is set to come Q4 this year.

Source: Microsoft

Can Smartphone Companies Keep Up With the Market?

How can you tell when a market is moving quickly? It’s a sure sign when some companies are falling behind, and worse–they don’t recognize it. Whether it be the hardware, the software, the tablet or phone, the market in cellular and mobile devices is growing at a very fast pace and becoming even more profitable than ever before.

As of early May, we can tell that its likely that about half of everyone in the U.S. who pays regularly for a phone has a smartphone. This is up from about 29% in October 2010. The growth of the smartphone industry has followed, growing significantly as well.

Here’s a severely obvious statement: The entire market in mobile is growing and has grown a lot. Facebook is continuing its unprecedented social network expansion, and Apple is continuing to set precedents with pioneer technology. They’re are growing rapidly, to put it mildly. Maybe a better example is Verizon, which has seen only further growth this quarter, as it has more than the past year. AT&T has exceeded profit expectations with record smartphone sales both 2011’s Q4 (4th Quarter) and Q1 this year. And that’s just in the US.

What’s new, then? Companies in the line of phone making, selling, and supporting are doing great with more smartphones, right? Not necessarily. It seems to be the strategy of many Android OEMs to pump out phones every month or two. But as we saw back in December, HTC was the first to discover that this hit-people-with-everything-you’ve-got method isn’t the most effective. As we go back to Economics 101, the demand, though growing rapidly, isn’t meeting that volume of supply. Without saying anything specifically about HTC’s future, balancing constantly improving and innovating in devices and getting that on shelves and making sure it actually get bought (or that there is sufficient demand) is difficult.

We’ve seen a lot of executive stepping up and stepping down recently anywhere from RIM to Best Buy. HP is reportedly cutting as many as 25,000 jobs as of Thursday. RIM got their new CEO Thornston Heins not too long ago, and is said to be adopting two new executive staff members from Light Squared and Sony. Best Buy has lost its chairman Richard Schulze and CEO Brain Dunn in a scandal, and is in need of a replacement CEO–along with a new strategy. They’re hoping to start this off by cutting 50-some stores, but while already looking at huge losses in revenue. And there are more examples of major rethinking in companies dealing with mobile products, and which are effecting companies’ strategies in the mobile market. The question for these companies and others is ‘Are the changes they’re making to adapt to this market enough?’.

The precedents that have been set recently with fast advancing technology such as quad-core CPU phones and LTE mean that consumers are continuing to expect greater things from manufacturers and developers. Apple could be argued to have largely brought on this age of smartphones, but the personal precedents they set raise the bar for everyone, themselves included. This means consumers expect them to deliver outstanding results as well. Because of these expectations, it’s more than a difficult market. New devices are coming out by the dozen, month-to-month, and companies have to continuously perfect products to keep up, let alone get ahead. If that wasn’t hard enough, companies have to juggle pleasing shareholders, which is far from an easy task. The strategies that companies have directly effect both their end product and end user, and the experience the user gets (UE or UX) can, overt time, come to directly reflect the share values of a company.

But this is like any other market, right? On the contrary, the vicious pace we’re seeing is more than just business competition. The competition for the best smartphone has been speeding forward at a pace which would cause many businesses strain. At this point, its nearly impossible for smaller companies to enter the game unless they have something which can make consumers think twice about their iPhone. We have seen some heads turned with Nokia’s new Windows Phone Lumia line, and considering the company has only reentered the US smartphone game a relative few months ago, the accomplishment is notable. It will be interesting to see if Samsung, Motorola, LG, HTC, Nokia, Sony, RIM, and others, all keep enough of a trusting and trusted userbase to keep on trucking. Can so many companies really keep up?

The answer, however, is difficult. On one hand, the heavy competition and difficulty in pleasing everyone could be a destructive burden that eventually beats out software and hardware giants alike. Yet at the same time, as the market grows, there should be room for more products.

In terms of shares, Apple currently appears to be greatly leading in its industry, to no one’s surprise, with share prices still climbing. Microsoft has been on a downward trend for years, but has had a small trend upwards very recently, though its shares are far below in value. It’s heyday was right around the turn of the century. Google looks tentatively to be trending upwards, growing rapidly, and though perhaps not at the pace of Apple, its share prices are far closer to Apple’s than Microsoft’s. That all said, Google and Apple have under 1 billion shares, while Microsoft has more than 8 billion, meaning that the company’s value could still be equal or higher. Ultimately, its difficult to tell who’s really on top. At least, right now.

Sources: Google Finance, Bits on NYTimes, Bloomberg Businessweek, BGR, Nielsen Wire, WPCentral, Forbes

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