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Judge won't force Apple to restore Fortnite game but can't block Unreal Engine from powering apps – CBC.ca

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A federal judge on Monday blocked Apple Inc. from shutting down an Epic Games tool that’s relied upon by hundreds of other app makers but had become the subject of an antitrust battle between the companies.

The ruling safeguards Fortnite creator Epic’s computer graphics software Unreal Engine, which it offers through an affiliate business and which hundreds of games and other apps use to power their apps on Apple’s iPhones.

“Epic Games and Apple are at liberty to litigate against each other, but their dispute should not create havoc to bystanders,” Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote in a ruling late on Monday.

The legal battle arose after Apple removed Epic’s Fortnite game from Apple’s App Store and an affiliated account — effectively blocking distribution of Unreal Engine — when Epic rolled out its own method of in-game purchases in Fortnite, rather than using the required Apple system that charges commission of between 15 per cent and 30 per cent.

Epic then alleged in a lawsuit and social media campaign that Apple has engaged in anticompetitive behaviour by abusing its dominance in the market for iPhone apps, marking the highest-profile challenge to app store business.

WATCH | Firm behind Fortnite sues Apple, Google after game is pulled from app stores:

Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, is suing tech giants Apple and Google for removing the globally popular video game from their app stores, over a direct-payment dispute. 2:10

Epic had sought to reverse its punishments by Apple until the broader case could be decided.

Gonzalez Rogers said, “The current predicament [with Fortnite] appears of its own making” and refused to order its reinstatement. But she allowed Unreal Engine to continue powering iPhone apps, saying that Apple’s actions against Epic’s affiliates had been too severe because they had not breached the iPhone maker’s policies as Fortnite had.

During a terse exchange with Apple counsel Richard Doren at a hearing on Monday, the judge said she saw “no competition” to Apple’s App Store on the iPhone.

“The question is, without competition, where does the 30 per cent [App Store commission] come from? Why isn’t it 10? Twenty? How is the consumer benefiting?” she asked.

Doren replied that consumers had choices when deciding to buy an Android device or an iPhone.

“The competition is in the foremarket,” he said, reiterating an argument that has been central to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s defence during congressional antitrust hearings.

Gonzalez Rogers replied that there was “plenty of economic theory” to show that switching brands imposed costs on consumers.

She at one point muted Doren in the virtual proceedings. Doren later said that Apple would prove at trial that “people switch all the time.”

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Samsung's less expensive Galaxy S20 FE is 'very much a response' to the pandemic – CNET

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Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE starts at $699, which is $300 less than the regular S20.


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Samsung’s got another Galaxy S20 in store for its fans, and the device has been tailored for our unusual times. The Galaxy S20 Fan Edition, also known as the Galaxy S20 FE, packs some high-end features found in the rest of the S20 lineup — like low-band 5G connectivity — but at a starting price of $700 (£699, AU$999). That’s $300 less than the regular Galaxy S20. Adding super-fast millimeter wave 5G connectivity for the Verizon model brings the price up to $750 (though the carrier is currently offering a promotional $50 discount). 

The 6.5-inch S20 FE has the same Snapdragon 865 processor as the rest of the lineup and includes IP68 water resistance. It sports three rear camera lenses, including a 30x Space Zoom like what’s featured in the S20 and S20 Plus. It’s available in six bright colors. One of the device’s biggest differences from the rest of the lineup: The back is made of plastic instead of glass. 

Samsung, which unveiled the FE on Wednesday during its third virtual Unpacked event over the past two months, hopes to attract people who shy away from a $1,000 phone but still want flashier features of the company’s Galaxy S lineup. And it’s those people who want that Galaxy S brand instead of the cheaper but lower featured Galaxy A devices. During the novel coronavirus pandemic, that could turn out to be a lot of potential buyers. 

“It’s very much a response [to the pandemic],” Drew Blackard, vice president of product management for Samsung Electronics America, said in an interview ahead of the news. “We’ve seen the need for a really more value segmented offer that focuses on those core features that we know our users love the most and prioritize the most.”


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The company had considered introducing a device that fell between the A Series — which ranges from $110 to $650 in the US — and the bottom end of the S Series, which starts at $999, Blackard said. It’s done something similar in the past, like introducing the $650 Galaxy S10 Lite in January at CES 2020

But the pandemic caused Samsung to speed up the FE’s development and release, something it could do because it controls many parts of its supply chain. The FE, which goes on sale in the US on Oct. 2, arrives about seven months after the other S20 phones hit the market, whereas the S10 Lite became available in the US over a year after its siblings went on sale

“One of Samsung’s core advantages and competitive advantages in the market is speed,” Blackard said. “We can very quickly design new products and get to market.”

Samsung, which lost its crown as the world’s biggest phone maker to Huawei in the second quarter, has been introducing its new devices in a difficult environment. Instead of facing a strong market for phones, with 5G and foldable screens getting people to upgrade their devices, most handset makers are seeing lower demand amid the raging novel coronavirus pandemic. Nearly a million people have died, over 31 million have been infected and millions more are out of work, unsure when they’ll next earn a steady paycheck. 

While tech overall has seen a spike in demand during the pandemic, the phone market has struggled. Consumers are opting for less expensive devices, saving their money altogether or spending their cash on PCs and other work-from-home and entertainment supplies. This year, smartphone sales are expected to hit a 10-year low because of the pandemic, according to CCS Insight. 

Samsung, despite launching its new Galaxy S20 lineup in March and its less expensive Galaxy A phones over the following months, saw the biggest year-over-year drop of the world’s top five phone makers in the second quarter, Canalys said. Samsung’s 30% decline allowed Huawei to leapfrog it to become the world’s biggest smartphone vendor for the first time, the firm noted. It was the first time in nine years that a company other than Samsung or Apple shipped the most phones.

Samsung now hopes the S20 FE helps turn things around. 

“The new Galaxy S20 Fan Edition is ideal [for the current environment],” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential. “It gives people differentiated features … all at a price people are looking to pay.”

Pandemic problems

Samsung was counting on this year’s Galaxy S20 lineup — its first crop of phones that all feature 5G connectivity in the US — to woo buyers who’d been waiting to upgrade their devices. Then COVID-19 swept across the globe. The US went into lockdown about a week after Samsung’s Galaxy S20 lineup hit stores. Because consumers were worried about money — and couldn’t see the new devices in person — demand fell. In July, Samsung said its mobile business revenue tumbled 18% from the previous year. 

In the US, Samsung sold about 44% fewer Galaxy S20 models in the first four months of sales than the Galaxy S10 last year, according to M Science, a data analytics provider that tracks stats like mobile adoption. 

galaxy-s20-fe-cameragalaxy-s20-fe-camera

The Galaxy S20 FE comes in six colors, including Cloud Mint. 


Samsung

What Samsung has found is that its less expensive S20 model has attracted the most buyers in recent weeks. In a normal year, it’s the priciest Galaxy S or Note phone that sells in the highest numbers, at least at first, Blackard said. About six to eight weeks later, after the mega fans have made their purchases, the lower end models sell better. 

That happened this year but in a more pronounced way, Blackard said. The Galaxy S20 Ultra was the top-selling device of the lineup at launch, he said, just as the Note 20 Ultra surpassed sales of the cheaper Note 20. But then the less expensive models became more popular. 

“Within the first six to eight weeks [after] launch, you start to see that transition happen,” Blackard said. “And in this case, it just happened more sharply than it did the year before.”

Cheaper is king

Phone makers have responded differently to the pandemic. In the case of Apple, it likely developed the iPhone SE well before the coronavirus spread widely, but its launch timing proved to be fortuitous. At $399, the SE is the cheapest new phone in Apple’s lineup, and it includes a feature that’s perfect for the times: a Touch ID fingerprint reader. That makes it easier to unlock the device while wearing a mask, versus the Face ID technology in Apple’s pricier phones. 

That device helped Apple report strong financial results, even as the company delayed its high-end iPhone 12 lineup, in part because of pandemic-related production issues. Instead of arriving in September, as iPhones normally do, the devices will likely launch in October.  

Samsung’s answer to the iPhone SE was its Galaxy A lineup, a batch of devices available overseas for years but arriving in the US for the first time. The four new 4G LTE models ranged from $110 for the Galaxy A10 to $400 for the Galaxy A51. Samsung even introduced two 5G devices, the $500 Galaxy A51 5G and the $600 to $650 Galaxy A71 5G, giving the South Korean company two of the cheapest 5G phones in the US.

The Galaxy S20 FE falls more in line with Apple’s iPhone 11. It’s part of the premium range but lower priced. The iPhone 11 has been one of Apple’s top sellers over the past year.

Samsung hopes the FE performs the same way. 

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Android's yearly updates aren't for you anymore – Android Police

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This year’s big Android update has finally arrived, but there’s not quite the excitement around its release that was common just a few years ago. Given the current worldwide pandemic and Google’s shift to working from home, it’s impressive that Android 11 arrived even close to on time, but the upgrade seemingly crossed the finish line with little fanfare.

The upgrade process has long been a point of criticism for Android, so much so that Google has pulled most public information about how many devices are running the latest OS version. Apple can roll out iOS updates across its entire portfolio of phones and tablets at once, but Google is only a small cog in the Android upgrade machine — chipset makers have to update their hardware drivers, then device manufacturers add their own modifications on top of that, and finally carriers give the final sign-off (sometimes with even more changes, like custom VoIP implementations).

These more staggered updates often limit excitement around new Android versions to the platform’s most devoted fans. Over the years, enthusiasts have largely been responsible for getting others pumped about Android OS updates — folks on Reddit, writers at tech blogs, and of course, the fantastic readers of Android Police. However, as Android becomes a more mature software platform, even enthusiasts don’t have as much to talk about as they did in previous years.

Android 11 focuses almost exclusively on platform changes instead of new features.

Android 11, just like 10 and 9, focuses almost exclusively on underlying platform changes instead of shiny user-facing features. Scoped Storage and temporary permissions continue to rein in unruly behavior from third-party apps, 5G is better supported, apps can’t replace the system navigation anymore, and so on. As with Android 10 and 9, many of the new APIs are there to replace legacy implementations that aren’t as secure or manageable. For example, the new Bubbles feature largely exists to encourage developers to stop using screen overlays. Android updates have also focused on adapting to new form factors, with notch support in Android Pie and compatibility with foldable screens in Android 10.

Simply put, Android updates aren’t necessarily for you anymore. Android is no longer the consumer-focused product it once was, with highly-publicized announcements and tie-ins with candy brands. Android has become a software platform first and foremost, intended for manufacturers to build experiences with, rather than itself being the experience. When so much of the Android experience depends on the OEM or app updates delivered through the Play Store, the underlying version mostly only matters to developers.

It’s easy to look at this change from a cynical perspective. Part of me still sees Google’s lack of updated distribution data as an admission of defeat to the “Android is fragmented!” crowd, but the truth is that the average person wouldn’t notice much of a difference between Android Pie and Android 11. Most of the changes to Android in that time have been behind-the-scenes improvements to privacy and security, and all the core applications (Chrome, Google Photos, Gmail, etc.) have been updated through the Play Store for years. Project Mainline has accelerated this trend, by keeping even more components of Android updated without the need for full system upgrades.

The de-emphasis of features in the OS update cycle has also led to some proclaiming that Android updates are now overrated or don’t matter, which couldn’t be further from the truth. While manufacturers like Samsung and LG often ship features on their devices months or years before they appear in ‘stock’ Android, they can’t make drastic changes to security and APIs, or they would risk breaking compatibility with most apps. TikTok has dominated the news cycle for months over claims that it has been collecting too much personal data, which is exactly the behavior Google has been attempting to curtail with newer platform releases.

Android updates aren’t that exciting anymore, but they’re still as important as ever. Just like a decade ago, updates bring new APIs to developers, much-needed core changes, and new building blocks for manufacturers to use when creating new devices and form factors. The only difference is that most of the new features you and I care about aren’t usually attached to OS upgrades anymore.

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Why is so hard to order a PS5, Xbox Series X, or RTX 3080? – The Verge

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Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Series S preorders went live on Tuesday, capping a rough week of product rollouts that included similarly messy situations for preordering Sony’s PlayStation 5 and buying Nvidia’s RTX 3080 graphics card. The next two months are, without a doubt, the most pivotal hardware launch season the video game industry has seen in almost a decade. But for some reason, the biggest names in interactive entertainment can’t seem to solve the simple task of giving consumers an easy and straightforward way to exchange their money for a product.

Why, in the year 2020, are companies as large, experienced, and well-funded as Microsoft, Sony, and Nvidia still failing at preorders? It’s an especially puzzling question when companies like Apple, Samsung, and even Facebook-owned Oculus seem to have figured out how to properly manage expectations and sell a new in-demand device without turning it into a stress-inducing scramble.

We still have no idea how many units any of these companies intended to sell, how many they allocated to each retailer, or to what extent they plan to restock at any point this year. Right now, if you don’t have a confirmation email in your inbox for a new PlayStation or Xbox, or receipt for an Nvidia RTX 3080 card, you may not get your hands on one until 2021. Everything is “sold out,” with little to no information on when the situation may change.

Why these companies can’t seem to competently sell their most important products is a more complex question than it seems, as it’s not explained by sheer incompetence alone. These are major brands that have been selling products for decades with long-standing retailer relationships, supply chain management expertise, and vast amounts of data to source from when trying to predict consumer demand and manage global inventories.

Yet, as we’ve seen in the last week, this would not appear to be enough for console makers and major PC gaming players like Nvidia to solve the puzzle. The aftermath of preorders for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and S going live, as well as the initial wave of sales for Nvidia’s RTX 3080 graphics card online and in select stores, has been nothing short of a disaster. It’s created confusion and disappointment at a time when businesses like these should be celebrating such robust consumer interest in their products.

Even Microsoft, which watched Sony and its retailer partners completely fumble the initial batch of PS5 preorders, had a somewhat rough go of it on Tuesday, although it was a far cry from the chaos of Sony’s initial batch. Microsoft prepared fans well in advance with proper timing for when Xbox Series X and Series S preorders would go live in their region, throwing shade at Sony all the while. But when the pages went live, errors and other hiccups began to skyrocket.

Many consumers reported issues securing orders from Best Buy and Target, with Xbox consoles disappearing from shopping carts and issues processing payments during crucial slivers of time before the product pages listed the items as “out of stock.” Others said the Microsoft Store was experiencing similar problems before also reporting “out of stock” messages across the entire Xbox lineup, including the new Xbox All Access subscription. Many of these problems are the same issues that plagued Sony.

Stranger still is that these companies seemed to be surprised by the sky-high demand, even though they should have been well aware. Nvidia publicly apologized for its disastrous RTX 3080 launch, saying, “We were not prepared for this level, nor were our partners.”

The company claims its website received 10 times the traffic it did on its previous-generation launch of the RTX 20 series and that some of its 50 or so retail partners saw more interested buyers visit their websites than on Black Friday, causing all manner of issues with order processing and site crashes.

Nvidia’s new graphics card also seemed to be uniquely targeted by automated bots run by apparent scalpers eager to turn around and flip the newly available product on eBay and other marketplaces, forcing Nvidia to go so far as to manually review orders to ensure they went to legitimate customers. We may see a similar rush to hawk overpriced PS5s and new Xbox consoles come this November when both devices officially launch.

Sony apologized, too. “Let’s be honest: PS5 preorders could have been a lot smoother. We truly apologize for that. Over the next few days, we will release more PS5 consoles for preorder – retailers will share more details,” the company announced after the initial wave of preorders, which some retailers pushed live a day ahead of schedule and sold out immediately. “And more PS5s will be available through the end of the year.”

But ignoring the fact that retailers haven’t meaningfully restocked those consoles, Sony’s statement alludes to perhaps the most frustrating element of this fiasco: the lack of transparency. With record demand, companies like Microsoft and Sony could very easily implement a lottery system or any other manner of fairer preorder processes. Or they could allow retailers to disclose how many consoles they have, among other ways of helping manage consumer expectations.

For instance, the Oculus Quest 2, which went on sale last week and starts shipping on October 13th, is simply backordered by about a month in the US and Canada. Instead of telling people a product is “sold out” and hoping they’ll check back at the right time without any idea when that might be, Oculus is transparent about when it expects the product to arrive and is still taking orders. Apple does the same every year when it launches new iPhones, smartwatches, tablets, and other devices.

Instead, the video game industry and its intense culture of corporate secrecy means consumers don’t know when anything will happen. Sony claims “more PS5s will be available through the end of the year,” without offering any concrete details as to what that means — including how many, through which retailers, and whether those units will arrive on or around launch day or perhaps weeks or months after. Microsoft did the same on Wednesday morning, saying “more consoles to be available on November 10th” without any indication of where, including whether Microsoft means limited in-store options or more consoles for online retailers.

The primary issue at play may be one of misaligned incentives. The video game industry is fiercely competitive, and a primary motivator for even companies as large as Microsoft and Sony is getting to signal to investors, analysts, and consumers that a product is flying off the shelves and almost impossible to find. Immediate sellouts for these companies is a positive development because it means demand is higher than supply, and they don’t have to worry about producing units that sit unsold on store shelves or retailer warehouses.

Creating a narrative of scarcity also helps build excess consumer demand, even when the intention is not to outright restrict the number of people who can buy the product. Brands like Nintendo, to which a prolonged sense of scarcity is core to its business model, are able to drive interest in products by signaling that they may be hard to find for months or years to come.

We’ve seen time and again how Nintendo would rather produce too few of an item, even a major console like the Switch or the retro-fueled NES and SNES Classic, than produce too many or try to accurately predict demand. Nintendo is even being openly blatant about the short time frame in which you can buy its new classic Mario bundle, Super Mario 3D All-Stars. You have until around March 31st, after which Nintendo will presumably remove it from its eShop, and physical cartridges will become pricey collectors’ items.

Meanwhile, retailers just need to sell all of the units they can, and there’s not very much incentive for those companies to fix their websites or try to implement a proper digital queue when a website that works only some of the time during a mad preorder rush is sufficient to make that happen. GameStop seemingly tried a virtual waiting line with Xbox preorders, but savvy onlookers discovered its queue wasn’t even real. The company was just telling consumers not to refresh the page in hopes it would keep their servers from melting, all while an automated script refreshed the page every 30 seconds.

Soon enough, we’ll no doubt see the console bundles, the doorbuster deals, the Black Friday flash sales, and all manner of other retailer tricks that try to get you in the door and sell you stuff you don’t need. Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Target, and Walmart don’t have a good reason to care whether they have enough units to satisfy demand — and demand is great enough that they won’t for many months. The next priority is making the most of the situation. When people keep checking back online or visiting physical retail stores because they don’t know when units will arrive, each time is an opportunity for a retailer to sell other products.

Beyond the misaligned incentives is a lack of communication. We don’t know how many units these companies intended to produce, whether they will be more or less than the last console or graphics card launch, or whether that’s the result of shoddy logistics and planning or deeper issues like supply chain roadblocks and COVID-19-related manufacturing and distribution delays.

We don’t know if the companies or retailers anticipated situations like the ones that played out this past week or if they were all as genuinely surprised as they tried to sound in tweeted-out apologies. It’s hard to believe a megacorporation when they say they’re sincerely sorry you had trouble giving them money in exchange for a product.

Nvidia is promising it will continue to manufacture and ship new RTX 3080 GPUs to its partners and that it is “increasing the supply weekly.” But the RTX 3070, a slightly less powerful and less expensive version, goes on sale starting on October 15th, when the same ordering disaster might repeat itself. The same may be true in November when the new consoles launch and retailers inevitably reserve some for doorbusters and perhaps Black Friday deals to incentivize consumers to pick one store over another.

In an ideal world, this would be a solved problem, just as Apple has streamlined the process of selling as many iPhones as it can every year. But the video game industry doesn’t have much to say about how it intends to fix this, and it’s not clear these companies even care to try.

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