An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including this year's home swap, an important ruling against Microsoft, Samsung warns that its year will not be rosy, Android now controls 85 percent of the smart phone market, Sony is dominating Xbox by more than you think, EA and Microsoft plot a "Netflix for games," hackers target Remote Desktop, the FCC stands alone against data throttling, and absolutely no one has purchased an Amazon Fire Phone.
It's home swap time
We're heading to Barcelona on Friday for our annual home swap, so we'll be gone for the first three weeks of August. I'm doing the same work/vacation/work split I did last year, so I'll be working the first and last weeks of that trip, but will be away—and offline—for the middle week. –Paul
Judge rules that Microsoft must hand over user data stored in Ireland
In a ruling that is sure to get privacy advocates steamed, Judge Loretta Preska of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday upheld a previous ruling which requires Microsoft to hand over customer data that is stored in its datacenter in Ireland. The good news? It's not over yet, and Microsoft has already pledged to "promptly" appeal. "What is at stake is the privacy protection of individuals' email and the ability of American tech companies to sustain trust around the world," Microsoft lead counsel Brad Smith noted in the wake of the shocking ruling. And good timing there, judge. The rest of the world was just getting over that Snowden stuff. Sort of.
Samsung warns on remainder of 2014
Samsung this week recorded its lowest quarterly profit in two years and warned that the rest of the year would be even worse. The world's largest maker of smart phones earned a profit of $7 billion, $4.42 billion of which came from mobile. That's a lot of money, of course, but the full profit is down almost 25 percent from the same quarter a year ago, and Samsung is blaming "intensifying competition of price and specifications, as well as the release of new competing [smart phone] models" for the drop. And it's not getting any better later in the year, in part, I'm sure, because of Apple's next iPhones, which have already reached blockbuster-in-the-making status. But the wider issue for Samsung isn't Apple, it's the hordes of low-cost Chinese smart phones makers that are starting to really eat into its market share. It should be an interesting rest of the year. And speaking of Android domination...
Android hits new smart phone market share milestone: 85 percent
And folks, that's a Windows-like percentage, and for a much bigger market. According to the industry analysts at Strategy Analytics, fully 85 percent of all smart phones shipped in the second quarter of 2014 were running Android, compared to just 11.9 percent for iPhone and 2.7 percent for Windows Phone. Android unit sales grew by 27 percent compared to the same quarter in 2013, when Android accounted for "just" 80 percent of the market. (iPhone market share fell 1.5 percentage points and Windows Phone share was off 1.1 percentage points in the same time period.) "Android is on the verge of turning smartphone platforms into a one-horse race," said SA's Neil Mawston. "Its low-cost services and user-friendly software remain wildly attractive to hardware makers, operators and consumers worldwide." Clearly, Android is dominant, but I'd argue that Apple's higher sales rate in established markets like the US and Western Europe make this a two-horse race, really. But whatever. 85 percent is 85 percent.
Sony: We are "dominating" Xbox One
As part of its quarterly financial results, during which it posted a net profit of $216 million on $17.6 billion in revenues, Sony said that the dominance of its PlayStation 4 console over the Xbox One has helped it turn things around. Sales were up 6 percent overall at the company, but sales in the video game business are through the roof, with a 96 percent sales bump year-over-year. And Sony sold 3.5 million PlayStations (PS4 and other devices) in that quarter alone, up from just 1.1 million in the year-ago quarter. To put that 3.5 million figure in perspective, Microsoft said that it sold just 1.1 million Xbox consoles in the same time period and, yes, that does include both Xbox Ones and Xbox 360s. So basically Sony is outselling Xbox by about 3 to 1. And it expects to sell 17 million PlayStation consoles by the end of the year. That's the hurdle Xbox One has to deal with.
EA, Microsoft partnering on a "Netflix for games"
This one is potentially interesting for video game fans, and for Xbox One users in particular. Electronic Arts is launching a "Netflix for games" service called EA Access which lets subscribers have unlimited access to its electronic game library for just $5 per month (or $30 per year). Despite the fact that we're in the process of subscribing ourselves to bankruptcy, this is clearly a great deal. And if you're on Xbox One it's even better: You'll get a 10 percent discount on all digital content purchases and a "Play First" guarantee so you will get access to key upcoming games (at least Madden NFL 15, NFL 15, FIFA 15, NBA Live 15, and Dragon Age: Inquisition this coming season) before the riff-raff. It's not clear yet when this service will launch, but it will be sometime soon so keep your eyes open.
Hackers are targeting remote desktop applications
If you, like many power users and IT pros, are using Microsoft's Remote Desktop software or similar solutions to remotely access PCs (and, admit it, servers) back at home (or work, of course), listen up: The Homeland Security Department warns in a new report that hackers are targeting these systems with electronic attacks. They're brute-force attacking logins until they get through in some cases, and are then scanning systems for credit card information and other data. These attacks are aimed primarily at retailers right now, and many major retailers—like Michaels, Neiman Marcus, PF Chang's, Target and others—are known to have been hacked this way. But it's obviously a general threat to anyone using remote desktop software. Check out the DHS warning for more information, and for a few tips about securing remote access. (The most obvious one: Only permit a few incorrect login attempts before locking out a user.)
Ah the wonders of data throttling
To all those people who thought that Net Neutrality was a terrible idea, too much government interference, or whatever, I say this: Welcome to the new world of double dipping, where you pay your provider for Internet access and your services, like Netflix, get to pay them as well to make sure that the connection between you and that service actually works at an acceptable speed. Netflix, as you know, has been striking a number of deals with US-based Internet providers aimed at ensuring that nothing, you know, untoward happens to that connection while you're streaming "House of Cards," the modern version of the back-room deals that the Mafia used to make with dock workers. And now Verizon has announced a scheme to artificially throttle the Internet speeds of users on unlimited cellular data plans so that they'll switch to limited plans where—surprise, surprise—everything just works. The FCC is trying to do something about both of these issues, of course, though they've met some curious resistance on the Net Neutrality side. I guess we'll just have to disagree on the definition of "unlimited." Not to mention the definition of "getting what you pay for."
What if you launched a phone and no one cared?
Let's ask Amazon! The retailer's Fire Phone has launched to ... well, mostly silence, actually. It's almost as if waiting for several years too long to enter a quickly changing market wasn't actually such a great idea. But then that's what they said about Windows Phone which, by the way, launched four years ago. Or Blackberry 10, which hit the streets 18 months ago. Or Samsung Tizen, which ... Actually, Fire Phone did beat Tizen to market.
But Wait, There's More
Buy the books!
I'm trying to change the book publishing model, and would appreciate your support: Windows 8.1 Field Guide is available directly from me for only $2 in PDF, MOBI and EPUB formats. And it is now available on Amazon Kindle for $4.99 too. I also have other free and inexpensive e-books available too, including Windows Phone 8 Field Guide (free from that site, or available from both Kindle and Nook too) and the in-progress Windows Phone 8.1 Field Guide.