Why Did Microsoft Buy Minecraft?

Posted in News on 18 September 2014

Even for a tech titan, $2.5bn is a lot to pay for a gaming platform. But Microsoft sees Minecraft as an investment for its future.

It’s fashionable these days for enormous American technology firms to spend exorbitant sums buying smaller, edgier companies. Amazon bought the video-game streaming service Twitch for $970m in August, Facebook acquired the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset for $2bn in July, Apple got down with the kids with its $3bn purchase of Beats headphones in May, while Google has been on an M&A spree since February 2010, buying one company on average every fortnight.
While it’s tempting to see these as nostalgic attempts to reconnect with their own days as young, energetic companies out to change the world, the explanation is almost certainly harder-headed. So what does Microsoft want with Swedish developer Mojang and its product Minecraft, a lego-inspired online game?
It’s profitable
The simplest explanation is often the correct one. With 54m copies sold and another 100m downloaded, Minecraft is a multi-platform gaming phenomenon, and this translates to the bottom line. The game, which allows enormous freedom to create buildings and objects within its virtual world, brought Mojang over $100m in profits last year.
But on its own, this can’t be the reason for the purchase. Even if the profits from Minecraft continue to rise, as they have since it was created in 2009, the game is unlikely, possibly unable, to become much bigger than it already is. And at $100m a year it would take 25 years for Microsoft to recoup the cost of purchase.
It’ll bring in fresh blood
When Apple bought Beats, the firm made a point of saying how in many respects it was paying for the genius and connections of Beats’ bosses Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre, as much as for the headphones business itself. It makes sense – if they created one super-successful business for themselves, they can do it again for you.
This is clearly not the case here, however. Although most of the Mojang team will join Microsoft’s games division, founder and creator Markus 'Notch' Persson is leaving big business altogether. ‘I'm not an entrepreneur,’ he said. ‘I'm not a CEO. I'm a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.’
One of those opinions that may have rubbed Microsoft up the wrong way related to his price tag. Back in 2012, he joked it was $2bn. 'Give me two billion dollars,' he tweeted, 'and I'll endorse your crap'.
It’ll boost Xbox
Minecraft is the most popular online game on Microsoft’s Xbox console, with more than 2bn hours of play logged in the past two years. While Microsoft has promised to continue supporting Minecraft on rival platforms such as Sony’s Playstation 4, it’s possible the firm will provide subsequent console versions of the game exclusively to Xbox.
But again, this wouldn’t justify the purchase. It would help Xbox gain market share, but it would also cost Microsoft profits from Minecraft’s sales elsewhere. Besides, boss Satya Nadella has said that Xbox is a valuable asset, but not core to the business.
It’ll help Windows Phone
This is the most plausible explanation. Microsoft is desperate to establish itself in the mobile market, of which its Windows Phone has only a 2.5% share. Minecraft is extremely popular on mobiles, being the top paid-for app on both Google Play and iOS Store in the US. At present, however, it is not on Windows Phone, as Mojang’s Persson claimed it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
Clearly, this will change, and Windows Phone will gain access – and later, possibly priority access - to Minecraft’s loyal gamers.
Whichever is the real reason, Microsoft’s purchase is still a gamble. The gaming market is notoriously fickle, and for any of the above benefits to be worth Microsoft’s investment, Minecraft will need to retain its popularity for at least the next five years.



IBM Launches Free Analytics Site

Posted in News on 18 September 2014
IBM has created a crystal ball for companies, but there’s no way of knowing if it will be a success.
Launched Tuesday, a new Watson Analytics tool is available at no charge for companies to upload data to and, in return, receive insights to where the company is headed and what may be in the future. The idea behind the project is to give companies without data analysts a program that works for them.
“This is an analytic journey and we’re dealing with people with varying skill sets,” Marc Altshuler, vice president product management for business analytics, told ZDnet.
The freemium model works on desktops, Android and iOS. The model is only one possible tool with IBM still determining costs and fees for more advanced models. While the current free model is available, IBM’s ultimate goal is to have companies ask for more analysis and pay for the more advanced models.
Forbes reported IBM will put sample data on the Watson Analytics site to assist users. The site will also feature tutorials and guides so users will quickly learn how to both supply their data but, also, understand it once it is analyzed.
The site is also protected with IBM’s cloud security support.
However, the free aspect of the site does have a limit. Companies using the site will, in time, reach a cap in space and, if they want to continue, will have to pay to upgrade to one of the next levels.


Frugl makes the move into Europe with German Acquisition

Posted in News on 17 September 2014
Frugl, the UK based start-up launched six months ago as an event discovery app for Londoners on a budget has acquired Tickethelden, the Munich-based last-minute ticketing solution. Tickethelden is one of a number of investments made by founder Tim Schumacher since his exit from Sedo in 2012. The year-old ticketing company has an active user base of roughly 100,000 mostly 20-30 year olds spread across Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Munich.
The purchase will enable Frugl to launch in Germany with an existing customer base as well as a large audience on Facebook.
Suzanne, founder and CEO of Frugl, says “We have been looking for the right opportunity to bring Frugl to the German market and this opportunity with Tickethelden was too great to resist and now gives us the perfect reason to launch in Germany quickly.”
“We are delighted that we have found a strong international partner in Frugl and Suzanne, whose expertise will drive the last-minute ticketing success-story in the future.” says Tobias, CEO of Tickethelden.
Final negotiations took place at last week’s European Pirate Summit in Cologne, and the deal was signed shortly thereafter.


Apple Sets Record, Sells Out of iPhone 6 Pre-Orders in 24 Hours

Posted in News on 15 September 2014
Apple has set a new record. The Cupertino company received more than four million pre-orders for its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in just 24 hours.
The high demand means the orders placed so far have surpassed Apple’s pre-order supply. As a result some iPhone enthusiasts will have to wait until October for their new Smartphones.
Apple said “a significant amount” of iPhone orders will be delivered on schedule, however. Deliveries begin on Friday and will be carried out throughout September.
There will also be iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices available for walk-in customers Friday, beginning at 8 a.m. local time, at Apple’s retail stores.
Both phones will also be available Friday at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless as well as additional carriers and select Apple Authorized Resellers.
“iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are better in every way, and we are thrilled customers love them as much as we do,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.  “Pre-orders for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus set a new record for Apple, and we can’t wait to get our best iPhones yet into the hands of customers starting this Friday.”
The new handsets are the first iPhones to boast larger screens.
The devices sport curved edges, a thinner design than previous models and a new tool to make it easier to use the phone with just one hand.
The new iPhones come with the all-new A8 chip which offers faster performance, less battery drain and the ability to play console-class 3D games.
Users can also use Apple Pay via the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to make secure payments in stores.


New Motorola Line Available for Pre-Order Tuesday

Posted in News on 15 September 2014
Motorola is gearing up for the launch of its new Moto line with pre-orders of four products kicking-off Tuesday.
The company’s Moto X for AT&T and Moto X Pure Edition Smartphones will be available for pre-order on at noon EST as will the Moto Hint earbud and Motorola Turbo Charger.
Moto X for AT&T is a version of the Smartphone made exclusively for the wireless carrier. The Moto X Pure Edition, meanwhile, is available unlocked, without a contract and with an unlockable bootloader for $499.99.
The Moto Hint is a wireless earbud that offers the user total control of their phone with voice command. It sells for $149.99.
The Motorola Turbo Charger takes just 15 minutes on the latest Moto phones to offer eight more hours of battery life. It will start at $34.99.
“Don’t forget about our Trade In program, making it easier than ever to purchase a customized Moto X using Moto Maker,” the company said in a blog post. “Just send in your old device, and we’ll mail you a Motorola Visa Prepaid Card worth up to $300 depending upon the phone you send in.”
A custom phone, the company said, can include items such as a leather or FSC-certified wood finish.


Google Debuts Android One Program in India

Posted in News on 15 September 2014
Google today launched its Android One initiative in India.
The goal? To provide Smartphones that cost less than $100 to high-demand emerging markets.
“There are three big reasons why it’s hard for people in countries such as India, Indonesia or the Philippines to get their hands on a high-quality Smartphone,” Google senior vice-president of Android, Chrome and apps Sundar Pichai said.
“First, is the hardware itself. Even entry-level Smartphones still remain out of reach for many (bear in mind that in some of these countries the average monthly income is around $250). Second, many people in these markets do not have access to the latest Android software and popular applications. Finally, even where 3G and 4G networks are available, not enough people have phones that can support data and the plans can be expensive.”
To solve the problem, Google is working with phone and silicon chip makers to “share reference designs and select components” which makes it easier for its partners to make phones that are functional and affordable. Pichai described them as having “lots of processing power,” front- and rear-facing cameras and expandable storage.
“We also added features that people in India will find particularly useful, like dual SIM cards, a replaceable battery and built-in FM radio,” he said.
Android One devices will also receive all of the new Android features including up-to-date security patches.
Those with an Airtel SIM card will receive software updates for free for half a year and will be able to download up to 200MB in apps per month.


Messenger App Tracking Tonnes of Information

Posted in News on 12 September 2014
Apparently, no matter what information you think you are sharing while using Facebook’s Messenger app there is, in fact, that much more that’s being shared.
Internet security specialist Jonathan Zdziarski set off a lot of talk Thursday when he spent some time poking around in Messenger’s iOS binary and later sent out a tweet stating he was surprised by his findings.
“Messenger appears to have more spyware type code in it than I’ve seen in products intended specifically for enterprise surveillance,” Zdziarski tweeted.
After looking through the binary, Zdziarski told Motherboard the app logs almost everything a user is doing. Facebook is collecting loads of data ranging from how often a device is held in portrait versus landscape orientation to how much time a user is spending in the app.
Some of the information being gathered is not unusual but Zdziarski did express surprise over some of his findings.
In an e-mail to Motherboard, he stated Facebook is “using some private APIs I didn’t even know were available inside the sandbox to be able to pull out your WiFi SSID (which could be used to snoop on which WiFi networks you’re connected to) and are even tapping the process list for various information on the device.”
Gizmodo picked up on the story and reached out to Facebook for comment. A spokesperson behind the Messenger app told the site the collecting of information is nothing out of the ordinary.
“Privacy is core to our approach with Messenger, and like any developer, we analyze usage trends to make our apps better, faster, and more efficient,” the spokesperson said.
“As an example, with regard to what where people tap — when we noticed that people were using the ‘Like’ stickers a lot, we modified the app so that people could send them with fewer taps.”


Google Buys Online Polster Polar to Give Social Network a Boost

Posted in News on 12 September 2014
Google’s spending spree continues with its latest acquisition of online poll company Polar to boost the technology company’s social network.
Although financial details of the deal were not disclosed, the companies said the Polar team will work on Google+.
“I’m thrilled to welcome +Luke Wroblewski and the talented Polar team to Google,” vice-president of engineering for Google Dave Besbris wrote in a brief Google+ post. “They’ll be joining our team and helping us make G+ even more awesome.”
The nearly two-year-old start-up polls users of its app via Smartphone and tablet to learn users’ preferences. The firm has served more than half a billion polls in the past eight months and counted 1.1 million active voters as of this month.
“Creating products is a journey. And like any journey, it’s filled with new experiences, missteps, and perhaps most importantly, lots of opportunities to learn,” said founder Luke Wroblewski. “My most recent journey started nearly two years ago when we began working on Polar … I’m delighted to announce we’re joining Google.”
Polar will be available for use by its users through the end of the year. Users will also be able to download an archive of the polls and data they have created.


Former NSA Boss to Patent Anti-Cyber Attack Technology

Posted in News on 11 September 2014
An innovative idea or making cash off the back of government-mandated work?
That’s the question that’s been asked since Keith Alexander, the former head of the National Security Agency, announced he’ll be patenting a way to significantly reduce the effectiveness of cyber-attacks. Alexander’s new company, IronNet Cybersecurity, is expected to patent this new technology.
The issue, as brought forward by Bloomberg, is that Alexander worked on these types of projects while heading up the NSA, a post he left earlier this year.
Is Alexander breaking new ground or taking information and technique he used while in his former job and cashing in?
“When the patents become visible to everybody, they will see the solution is a game changer and hugely different from what the NSA is looking at,” Alexander told Bloomberg in an interview.
Alexander has defended the new technology and is not taking credit for it. He said it was someone else who came up with the idea and it has no links to what he was doing with the NSA.
Regardless, the optics are not good and some are questioning the ethics behind the potential patent and Alexander’s motives.
It’s not the first time, though, that he has been criticized since leaving the NSA.
Earlier this year, Alexander came under fire when it was learned he was charging companies hundreds of thousands of dollars each month to provide Internet security advice and services.


No Quick Resolutions Expected in Ongoing Google Anti-Trust Probe

Posted in News on 11 September 2014
The European Union’s anti-trust probe into Google will not be over any time soon.
European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the investigation will not be wrapped up before he leaves office in October, when he will be succeeded by former Danish economy minister Margrethe Vestager.
“For sure this will not be concluded before the end of October,” Almunia said during a conference organized by Georgetown University.
The search engine giant’s tentative settlement with the European Commission fell through after European Union regulators asked Google for more concessions to address concerns it is using its monopoly of the market to give its own products and services prominence over that of its competitors.
The announcement, made earlier this week by Almunia, puts the kibosh on the deal that was to bring an end to the four-year anti-trust investigation into Google’s search practices.
If Google is unable to satisfy the EU with its next round of concessions, the company could be slapped with a $5-billion fine.
The news of the EU’s rejection of Google’s submission does come as a bit of a surprise, however, because Almunia, in February, said the proposal obtained from Google “after long and difficult talks” addressed the Commission’s concerns.
The deciding factor in rejecting the concessions was the “very, very negative” feedback received from Google’s rivals, which includes the likes of Microsoft, Expedia, Oracle and Nokia.


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