A new patent application filed by Microsoft describes methods for "enforcing" advertisements in downloaded media. Traditionally, ads accompany streaming content and, by extension, restrict that content to a browser. But technology that could bring ads to downloaded content would open up new opportunities for digital distribution services, advertisers, and consumers, and could give DRM a whole new leg to stand on.
Microsoft's patent application, titled Enforcing Advertising Playback For Downloaded Media Content, describes systems that are based both on tokens and DRM which would prohibit playing a media file unless its accompanying advertising is viewed. The technology is designed to prohibit fast-forwarding, editing, or otherwise circumventing the advertisements, though it is unclear exactly where the ads would be placed. Internet users have repeatedly announced their distaste for pre-roll ads in streaming content and video games, but users of NBC's Hulu service reportedly don't mind its TV-like interstitial ads.
On the other hand, users have made it abundantly clear that paid content, such as the $1.99 TV shows from Apple's iTunes Store, should be devoid of any advertising whatsoever. This is where Microsoft's ad-enforced download technology could actually offer a new choice for distributors and consumers. Downloads offered for less than $1.99—or, ideally, for free—that contain an agreeable amount of advertising could gain real traction with consumers who want to download, collect, and organize their own media library. This would be especially advantageous for users who want to experience media on portable devices, or while otherwise offline.
The studios could take a swing at digital distribution by offering free (or cheap) files that contain a little advertising and DRM, in exchange for offline and portable viewing. If Microsoft or another service could offer a selection of TV shows and movies at least competitive with the dominant iTunes Store, the allure of free, portable media might help customers overcome some of their DRM loathing.
In a Stevenote sent to Apple employees at mid-year, Jobs awkwardly described the company as a chair with the three legs—wouldn't that be a stool?—: the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone. As 2007 winds down, it's seems only appropriate to consider the year for Apple from that ternary perspective.
Intel CPUs, iPod Halo, Mac OS X, Windows Fatigue, whatever the cause, the effect is that 2007 will be remembered as a Mac Renaissance not seen since the early 90s. In 2006, 5,655,000 Macs were sold. 2007 will see sales between 7.7 million and 8 million—a 36 to 40 percent increase—and two to three times the projected growth of industry average. Since only the iMac saw significant revision this year, this is especially positive news. Of course, that hardware "leg" of Apple—someone find a new metaphor for Jobs—benefited from new software. Besides iLife '08 and iWork '08, including the spreadsheet Numbers, the tri-named Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was released in October. During its first weekend alone, Leopard sold 2 million copies, something that took the previous iteration of OS X over a month to do. Mac sales in 2007 were great, a trend that will likely continue in 2008.
While new Macs were scarce in 2007, the iPod line launched two new models, as well as repackaging an old one and adding color to the last. While the Shuffle got color cases, the iPod Classic was kept around to keep the Zune in its place: last. The iPod Nano introduced a wide-screen display to the most popular iPod, and the iPod Touch introduced the touch screen display to people who don't want a phone. In 2006, Apple sold 46,366,000 iPods and is expected to sell approximately 55 million in 2007, an increase of somewhere around 17 percent. While the growth rate for sales may be leveling off, that's still a hell of a lot of media players. In contrast, music sales at the iTunes Store continue to accelerate, with Apple passing the two-billion song mark in January, followed by three billion songs in July, with four, or even five billion, likely to be announced at Macworld Expo in January. The iPod, and the iTunes Store, continued their respective market dominance, and will likely continue to do so in 2008.
Finally, that leaves the third leg of Apple, an appendage whose sales continues to elongate. Introduced at Macworld Expo 2007, the iPhone went on sale six months later, selling 270,000 units in its first two days. Seventy-two days after that, Apple sold its millionth iPhone. Now, rumor has it that the iPhone will have sold 5 million units in 2007, putting it on track to meet projections of 10 million sold in 2008. Clearly, Apple has another hit product in the iPhone.
While this has been a great year for Apple, there have been problems. Lackluster sales of the "sort of a new DVD player for the Internet age," as Steve Jobs awkwardly described the Apple TV, has ensured the furniture metaphor will not become a table anytime soon. However, worse than the failure of the Apple TV in 2007, was the inability of Apple to bring video content to the iTunes Store. The impasse with the movies studios andNBC abandoning the iTunes Store means 2007 saw a decrease in the number of video titles available. Still, even this problem is small when considered against the spectacularly successful transition of Apple Computer.
In 1992, market share for the Macintosh peaked at just over 12 percent, an all-time high. By 1997, Apple Computer's percentage of the PC market had plummeted to less than four percent, and that's about where it stands now. It was only fitting then that 2007 began with a symbolic statement of the obvious, and so should we ring out the end of the year in the same way.
Apple Computer is dead, long live Apple, Inc.!
Aside from the likes of NBA Jam and NBA Street, I have little interest in basketball games. For all I know, NCAA 08 March Madness, the latest EA college basketball game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, might be the best basketball game ever created. But honestly, I'm a Canadian gaming writer. They send me American College Basketball. They never send me hockey. What's going on here? It's a like a developer that decides to send Ben JRPGs while throwing away its stock of rhythm games.
In the interest of science, I figured it was worth tackling the game just to see what it's like to play something completely new to me. Sure, March Madness 2008 features a ton of new modes, a buffed up dynasty mode, online play with new online leagues, over 400 teams, ESPN integration, and a ton more, but I simply wanted to see if I could have fun. I played a single game and decided to judge it solely on that single game: after all, with little outside knowledge of the sport, the single game should be enough to determine whether or not it would be worth playing again.
Selecting "Play Now" put me in a match as the Miami Hurricanes against the Kentucky Wildcats. Upon getting the game set up, a "mini-game" prompt popped up to offer a sub-goal to accomplish in addition to beating the Wildcats: "score 19 points or more in 40 seconds and boost your team intensity meter." A neat feature, I thought, and moved on. The loading screen quickly appeared, allowing me to shoot baskets while the game loaded. Another neat feature.
Actually getting into the game proved a little daunting. The typical control demo that most EA games have during the loading was absent, so it took a while to learn the basics. Passing and shooting worked fine, but setting up a pick proved more difficult. In fact, I never really got a feel for it, and as such, the key game became trying. Not helping matters was the sheer frequency with which fouls were called, which made me hesitant to try for a steal. However, I did learn how to manipulate one of the new features: team intensity. Controlling the crowd and the team with this feature felt more natural than it does in Madden, and soon I had the crowd standing and roaring with every move I made.
The graphics were sharp: the hardwood floor shined and gradually dulled, getting slippery and squeaky with the player's sweat. The sounds and motions of the crowd were equally impressive; each good play gave me a surge of enjoyment, and when the chanting in unison started, it was really something. Perhaps it's the lack of glass separating the players from the crowd, but there was something more pronounced about the crowd's interaction than the hockey games I play.
Though the audience had me going, I was down at the half and ultimately lost the game. If there was a really nice tutorial—which there isn't—then I could see myself, and other non-basketball fans, really getting into this. As it stands, though, the game isn't all that inviting to newcomers. EA's hockey, golf, and football franchises all have fairly welcoming beginner experiences, but I found myself shut out of the basketball world after a game: I wouldn't play again. It's a pretty safe bet to say that this game remains only for the fans.
This post came out of Frank contacting me to complain that EA, for some odd reason, keeps sending him the oddest games. He's a Canadian! Send him the hockey! He then asked if college basketball was really that big in the States. Having spent a few years attending the University of Kentucky I was taken aback. "Games are like holidays in Kentucky," I told him. "The bars fill, everyone wears the team colors… it's pretty intense."
After that, it was his turn to be amazed. We both thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on a game completely alien to him and see what he thought. When he remarked that there is no glass separating the crowd and the court as if it were breaking news, I knew we were going to read something special.
It's okay Frank, both sides of the border still love bacon. Even if your bacon is wrong.
Younger gamers looking to con a Wii out of parents this year by selling them on the physical benefits of "active" gaming, it's time to dream up a new strategy. A UK study entitled "Energy expenditure in adolescents playing new generation computer games" reveals that a round of Wii Sports doesn't work the body nearly as hard as proper exercise. While it expends more energy than "idle" gaming with a controller, the difference is negligible.
Eleven physically-fit teenagers, ages 13 to 15, were selected for the study. After measuring expended energy in a resting state using five sensors placed around the body, the participants played 15 minutes of Project Gotham Racing 3, followed by rounds of Wii Sports boxing, tennis, and bowlingfor 15 minutes each. Though there was a marked difference in expended energy between rest and PGR3, Wii Sports definitely has a lead on the racer in physical activity.But not by much:
Project Gotham Racing 3: 125.5 kJ/kg/minWii Sports bowling: 190.6 kJ/kg/minWii Sports boxing: 198.1 kJ/kg/minWii Sports tennis: 202.5 kJ/kg/min
The study concludes that the physical activity "was not of high enough intensity to contribute towards the recommended daily amount of exercise in children… In a typical week, active gaming rather than passive gaming would increase total energy expenditure by less than 2 percent."
Wii Sports is hardly representative of "active games" as a whole (no DDR? No Rock Band drumming?), but it's likely the most widely-played game among them. In an experiment to see if other games could lead to weight loss, Ars Technica's Gaming Editor Ben Kuchera was able to lose twenty pounds in two months with a combination of fitness games and an improved diet. There are certainly games out there that burn more calories than sitting on the couch with a controller, but unfortunately Wii Sports is not one of them.
Curiously, the study was funded by Cake, Nintendo's UK marketing arm—and probably didn't producethe results the company was hoping for. Of course, this is unlikely tohave muchimpact upon the Wii's tight availability.
The Christmas tree is all lit up; I can see it from my office. There is just one more day before Christmas, and the unwrapping of a bunch of new games and systems and toys and… oh, I'm excited. Nintendo has three new games for us today to tide us over, and one of them has me itching to go get the Wii turned on. In fact, I'm humming the theme song now…
Blades of Steel (NES, 500 points or $5)
For those of us who grew up with the bad voice samples, the awesome fights, and the playable Gradius game at intermission, this is one of those magical games from our youth. With real cities, fake teams, and shoot-outs to break up tied games, this is one of those things that my friends and I played for days. The best hockey game ever made? Debatable. But let's go ahead and say yes. For $5, this is worth a download.
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES, 800 points or $8)
Donkey Kong Country never really had the game play to justify multiple sequels. By removing Donkey and Diddy Kong for the third title, Nintendo and Rare make the game even less appealing by turning a pigtailed girl and a big, dumb ape baby named Kiddy into the lead characters. Not a smart move. This is good for the completist, but I would stick to the first two titles and call it a day.
Rolling Thunder 2 (Genesis, 800 points or $8)
Better graphics, two-player support, and the same solid game play from the first Rolling Thunder make this a compelling buy. I find that some people loved Rolling Thunder, and others are convinced I'm making it up when I describe it. Finding one of the assigned doors with a machine gun behind it was always a thrill, and the animations were impressive for the time. This isn't a bad game for a rainy day.
Out of these three, I'd say that Blades of Steel is the must-buy. By the way, is the announcer saying "Hit the pass," over and over, or am I insane?
A motorist yapping away on a cell phone is seldom a welcome sight for other drivers, and those who do so in the UK will now face stiffer penalties for their multitasking British prosecutors instituted new guidelines yesterday for enforcing the 2003 ban on handheld use while driving, which include more serious charges against the offending driver and even the possibility of jail time.
Officials estimate that, although motorists could previously be charged with careless driving and fines of £60, up to half a million Brits violate the law daily. The new guidelines are meant to curb that behavior. "This sends a clear message to motorists: don't mix driving and communicating, just as you would not drink and drive," said the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety's Rob Gifford in a statement seen by The Telegraph. "This is long overdue. At last the law has caught up with the reality of the road, with too many people using their phone while driving."
Drivers now face unlimited fines and up to two years in jail if caught using a mobile device while on the road. Those mobile devices include cell phones, music players, GPS devices, or any number of things that could be distracting to a driver. The use of handsfree devices is okay, but police can still stop someone if they believe the handsfree device has impaired his or her driving.
Of course, not everyone agrees that the new guidelines will help curb dangerous driving. "This does seem over the top. I would never condone using a handheld mobile and would never do it myself. But existing laws cover it and there are plenty of other things which are distracting," Association of British Drivers spokesperson Paul Biggs told The Telegraph.
Others believe that the existing laws just need better enforcement—Sheila Granger for the UK-based RAC told Reuters that if more motorists had been stopped in the first place, more people would be deterred from violating the law.
But enforcing cell phone laws properly isn't exactly easy, as the city of Chicago has recently learned. Attorney Blake Horwitz has filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Richard Daley, and several law enforcement officials over the city's strict ban on using cell phones while driving, saying that the law has been improperly enforced. Horwitz, whose firm specializes in police misconduct, points out that there are no signs around the city warning drivers to avoid chatting on cell phones, meaning that unwitting suburbanites and out-of-state drivers could be ticketed for violating a law they didn't know existed. Horwitz says that the city is violating the two-year-old law, which means that the $2 million police have collected in fines are illegal and should be refunded.
Others disagree with Horwitz's assessment, however. A number of city officials told The Chicago Tribune (free subscription) that the current enforcement methods don't violate any laws, and that the signs are not required. They also lamented that there would be no place to put the signs ("We'd have signs on every pole in the city," said Alderman Bernard Stone) and that putting up signs would place a tremendous burden on the city.
Anecdotally, I know at least one person who was fined and had his license temporarily suspended for using a cell phone while driving in Chicago. This was on his first offense, so the punishment seemed a bit harsh (although, as Granger said above, it did scare him and the rest of us into being more careful). He was aware of the law at the time, but out-of-towners aren't—a handful of visiting friends-of-friends have been stopped since 2005 as well. Signs don't need to be on every single pole in the city, but one every so often would certainly help.
Yesterday we broke the story of the retail chain Slackers' shady dealings with their Wii supply. Basically, the owner of the chain orders systems for his stores, butinstead of selling them through his retail locations, puts the systemson eBay for $400. Since we ran the story, we've spoken to, and have been contacted by, numerous employees of the chain, confirming this practice, and offering more details of how it works.
One person claiming to be an employee created an Ars account to comment on the story. I asked him what Slackers tells customers when they ask if the systems are in stock. "We tell them we are out and we don't plan on getting any in the near future," he replied. But they aren't sold out; they have three in stock, according to their eBay page. But is that even true?
"Also, it may say we have three, but that is just to make it appear as though we don't have a stockpile," the employee said. "The actual number is usually much higher."
So how many systems are they scalping? One e-mail that claimed to be from another employee told usthey had twenty or so, so I asked the source in the comments. "Twenty probably wouldn't be too far off. I believe that they just received a considerable amount recently, but I can't confirm that." He then confirmed that it's the logic of the store to let systems trickle out onto eBay to make sure demand is high.
"I'm not defending anything. I'm simply giving you the facts," he said. While the economy of scale certainly allows a tidy profit to be made from this practice, it's unlikely that regular customers would be happy knowing they're being lied to while the store stockpiles systems in the back just toscalp them for a much higher price online. Rest assured, they have units in stock, they just don't want to sell them to their regular customers, and they don't want people to know what they're doing.
I wonder what they're telling customers now that everyone knows where the systems are going?
College students of yesteryear had to do their learning in the library and the lecture hall; college students of tomorrow may do theirs in something more similar to Second Life. That's one of the conclusions of a 2007 study of educational technology from EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium. Their 2007 "Horizon Report" (PDF) describes six key technologies that its authors believe will make an impact on education in the next one to five years:
User-created contentSocial networkingMobile phone integrationVirtual worlds for learningNew forms of scholarly publication, including wikisMassively multiplayer educational gaming
To quickly summarize the report: both user-generated content and social networking are expected to enter the educational mainstream within the next year. Already such tools are beginning to be used in college campuses across the US, although we hear from readers who are none too impressed with what their profs can do with the technology (exceptions exist, of course).
Mobile phones will become an "ideal platform for educational content and activities" in two to three years, as will virtual worlds, says the report. "The new scholarship" (publishing to wikis and blogs, for instance) will take root among scholars in four to five years. And massively multiplayer gaming, which we imagine will be like World of WarCraft with fewer orcs and more turtle-necked philosophers ("I hurl the +7 Derridean Argument of Deconstruction at your Unenchanted Shield of Rational Modernism!"), is also scheduled to come into its own within five years.
So will college classrooms soon look like a darkened Chinese gold farming operation with students pecking away desperately at their superpowered mobile phones? Will education consist solely of task-switching between chatting up friends, posting to blogs, and generally becoming a "part of the conversation"?
No. The report suggests that having students compare user-created content, for instance, "can give students a valuable perspective on their own abilities and inspire them to try new ideas or techniques." This is true, but in order to join the conversation, one needs something to say. If you've ever assigned groups of freshmen to give in-class presentations on course topics, you know that peer learning has its limits.
Most disciplines have at their core a huge body of source material and criticism; while this can be appropriated in many ways (iPods, for instance), it's simply not possible to replace the hard work of gaining all that knowledge. While the technologies discussed in the report will all play their parts in the educational process over the next decade, games, student-created content, social networking, and virtual worlds simply can't deliver that content well in its primary form (of course, there are some disciplines where this doesn't hold true).
To return to the user-created content example, the report points out that groups of students can successfully create reading and resource lists, and the example projects cover just this sort of ground. While this is certainly useful, it's really just organizing preexisting expert material; learners can't simply "generate" content in their discipline until they have mastered what's already out there. This is actually true of most of the technologies outlined in the report. Despite the hype surrounding such tools, they are useful for core learning in only a limited set of disciplines. For most programs, consuming and understanding large amounts of knowledge remains fundamental, no matter how much audiences today like to be in charge of their content or how many times Time magazine puts "You!" on the cover.
But the other key part of the educational process,thinking throughmaterial and debating it with others, seems perfectly suited to new technology. Such tools are good at creating all sorts of secondary learning opportunities: class discussion blogs, games that allow users to explore ancient Greece, or interdisciplinary networks formed via social networking tools.
For teachers, too, such tools will quickly gain prominence. Social networking helps professors link up with other interested researchers in their field. New publishing tools like blogging software and wikis are already producing fascinating new outlets for knowledge and argument, and one can certainly argue that good academic blogs are more helpful to the community as a whole than Yet Another Journal Article.
And of course there are certain disciplines where such technologies can play a more central role than in the sciences and humanities. Management courses, for instance, could make much greater use of social networking tools and role-playing in virtual worlds, while programs that focus explicitly on user-generated content (writing, photography, etc.) can make excellent use of tech tools like Flickr and Scribd and social networks. Archaeology can benefit from virtual worlds containing reconstructions of buildings and towns.
Educators need to be discerning in putting such tools to use. The report suggests, for instance, that virtual worlds might be useful as theatrical sandboxes, and it says that "productions from murder mysteries to westerns have [already] been staged in Second Life." Well, fair enough. One could use such tools to work on set design and blocking, for instance, but how much would someone learn about the craft of acting from sitting behind a computer? Is a college literature course that requires its students to build Second Life buildings in the syle of various cultures they have studied really doingthe best jobof teaching lit?Is modding Neverwinter Nights really the best way toteach students about investigative journalism?
Let's hope so, since if the report's conclusions are true, such tools will become far more common in the classroom over the next few years. Perhaps we have only a year or two before virtual worlds are common… three or four before edugaming is rampant. Start leveling up your turtle-neckedavatar now.
Props to the Chronicle of Higher Education for bringing the report to our attention.
Opponents of Australia's controversial Access Card received an early Christmas present earlier this month when the incoming Rudd Labor Government finally axed the controversial ID program. Had it been implemented, the Access Card program would have required Australians to present the smart card anytime they dealt with certain federal departments, including Medicare, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, or Veterans' Affairs.
For reference, Medicare is the government agency responsible for the maintenance of Australia's universal health care system, Centrelink is responsible for the dispersement of social security payments, the Child Support Agency is responsible for the collection of child support from each parent in the event of a separation or divorce. Veterans' Affairs appears to be at least somewhat analogous to its US counterpart, minus the provisions for medical treatment.
Although the Australian government attempted to paint the Access Card system as a "Human Services Access Card," there's little doubt that it would've doubled as an effective national ID system. Information printed on the card was to include one's name, photo, signature, card, and DVA entitlements. Those particular requirements aren't any more onerous than what the US requires for a driver's license, but the Access Card didn't stop there. Each card would have been tied to an individual user via a specific card number and a corresponding PIN required to access the card's more detailed information .
Encrypted information contained within the card's RFID chip would have included a person's legal name, date of birth, gender, address, signature, card number, card expiration date, and Medicare number. Provisions were also included that would allow additional information deemed to be necessary for either "the administration or purposes of the Act."
Australians were unhappy about being forced to carry a unique ID card merely for the purpose of interacting with basic human and health services, and the proposal faced opposition from its very inception. The defeat of John Howard in the Australian polls was the last gasp of the Access Card program, which was killed off as one of the very first acts of the new Labor government, lead by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Australia's battle against the Access Card system echoes the active opposition in America to the REAL ID act. Although the two plans differ substantially in scope and implementation, critics of both argued against them on the same privacy- and civil-liberties-oriented grounds.
Although UMPC devices haven't taken off as fast as Intel would like them to, Intel may have a new fan of its upcoming UMPC platforms in Apple. Ars previously speculated that Apple was considering using Intel's Menlow and Moorestown platforms (particularly Moorestown) in future ultra-portable devices. An AppleInsider report has shed some further light on the subject; the site says that the Menlow platform will be coming to Apple products in 2008. Yes, it's a bit of an obvious rumor if you follow Intel, but it's worth taking a look at anyway.
The two companies have been thick as thieves for quite some time now, and began putting Intel processors into smaller devices with the launch of the Apple TV. The Menlow platform, specifically its Silverthorne processor, is apparently next on the list, and will be used for "multiple" Apple products that will be released in 2008. The Silverthorne processor is said to be much less powerful clock-for-clock than a Pentium M and uses far less power, and it can be stuffed onto a fairly small motherboard as well. Even better, the Menlow platform can include WiFi and 3G if manufacturers want it, and we all know how much Steve Jobs loves WiFi.
The big question is, of course, whether we'll be seeing something like a Menlow-based tablet, a Newton replacement, or some confluence of other rumors. Although the guesses are still a bit fuzzy, I'm voting for the Menlow tablet. The Menlow platform is still too big (and a bit too powerful) for inclusion in a phone, but it would we very well-suited for a tablet, particularly with WiFi or 3G included. An Apple UMPC could also be a possibility, perhaps something like a multi-touch Nintendo DS. As for the Moorestown platform, I suspect we'll see it used in iPhones a year or so from now. They're still just rumors, though, and are a bit useless without more details, so all we can do for now is keep our fingers crossed that Apple is indeed doing cool stuff with the upcoming Intel mobile platforms.