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Mobile TECH_Social TECH_Technology

Twitter prepares to say goodbye to hashtags and @replies

When you think of Twitter, chances are its of characters like @ or #, the reply or hashtag features that make it possible for you to connect with other users and expand your following on the social network. However, according to a recent report from the Telegraph, not even these devices on which Twitter has so long been based are sacred. In fact, Vivian Schiller, Twitter’s head of news, last week made a statement calling hashtags and @replies “arcane,” and several sources are pointing toward Twitter phasing out their use entirely with the next version of its mobile app.

Schiller referred to hashtags and @replies as “the scaffolding of Twitter,” suggesting that, while Twitter was built on these items, it doesn’t need them to be at the forefront in order to progress and move forward. CEO Dick Costolo has made similar comments in the past, stating on a recent financial call that “by bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background,” the social network would be able to boost the quality of user interactions and make it easier for casual users or outsiders to understand the appeal of Twitter. In short, ditching stylistic gimmicks like @replies and hashtags would allow Twitter to become more accessible to a wider range of users, much like Facebook has done over time.

A leaked screenshot of an alpha test Android app showed what Twitter might look like without @replies and hashtags. And while the app from which the screenshot was taken is by no means ready for public use and distribution, it’s clear that the social network is in the process of implementing the widest scale change yet since it first opened for business eight years ago.

The other major change was the addition of the “re-tweet” function, which was not originally a part of the Twitter interface, but which grew out of a movement of users who would copy and paste tweets of people they followed and tweet those messages themselves with an “RT” tacked onto the beginning. Twitter programmers ended up building the function into the social network’s capabilities.

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Mobile TECH

Microsoft unveils cheaper Office 365 Personal

Microsoft is trying to expand the reach of its Office 365 subscription-based cloud service.

According to a report published by InformationWeek.com, Microsoft this week announced “Office 365 Personal, ” a tweak on the Office 365 Home or Office services that it revealed back in 2010. The basic fundamentals of the program are still the same, allowing users to access applications from the Microsoft Office suite – including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint – from both desktop/laptop computer and mobile devices. The Office 365 service essentially moves the classic functions of Microsoft’s Office suite into the online realm, allowing users to save their files to the cloud so that they can be accessed anywhere. In short, Office 365 has taken Microsoft’s most essential software into the mobile realm.

Until now, the most “consumer-oriented” version of Microsoft’s cloud-based service was Office 365 Home Premium, which is available to users on a $9.99 per month/$99 annual subscription fee. Home Premium – which, in the wake of the launch of Office 365 Personal, will be rebranded to simply “Office 365 Home” – allows users to access Office programs and cloud services on up to five computers and five mobile devices. In contrast, Office 365 Personal will be meant for single-person households or homes with only one computer. It will only allow for activation on one computer and one mobile device, but will in turn boast a lower $6.99 monthly/$69.99 annual subscription price.

Precisely what other changes are on the way with Office 365 Personal is difficult to say. As of yet, Office 365 has only truly been accessible from Windows-based tablets, leaving owners of iPads or Android tablets out in the cold. Microsoft has stated a few times that it will be opening Office 365 for use on non-Microsoft tablets at some point – a move that would greatly increase the appeal of the Personal platform. However, no one knows right now when that particular point of expansion may be coming. Microsoft also wants to add new functionality to Office 365, including voice and touch-based interaction.

In essence though, Office 365 Personal is merely a cheaper version of the cloud-based service that has been a Microsoft flagship for several years now. A $30 price drop might actually be too slim to truly make waves among consumers, especially since the Home version of Office 365 will allow for five times the coverage of Personal for just 1.4 times the price. However, since other cloud-based word processing alternatives (Google Docs, for instance) have sprung up in recent years for free or cheap, Microsoft is undoubtedly feeling pressure to appeal to a more consumer-based audience.

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Mobile TECH

Google rules operating systems, Apple rules devices in new mobile market study

Research firm ComScore revealed nothing unexpected when it announced its latest mobile study for a three month period running from November 2013 through to January 2014. The firm and its mobile research projects are meant to rank the main players in the mobile device sector in terms of their market share.

According to the ComScore study, Apple rules the actual smartphone product sphere, while Google and its Android platform are the first place players in the operating system field. Undoubtedly, this information was to be expected by anyone who has been paying attention to the mobile landscape over the past few months. Since the study was conducted in the months following Apple’s release of the latest iPhone models – which hit U.S. shelves in late September – it’s no surprise that the iPhone was found as the dominating force in the smartphone marketplace.

Apple’s iPhone products collectively gave the company a commanding market share of 41.6 percent. Comparatively, Samsung had 26.7 percent of the market according to the ComScore study, while all other mobile device manufacturers were left in the dust by the two leading competitors. Third place was notched by LG, with a somewhat paltry 6.9 percent market share, while Motorola and HTC rounded out the top five with 6.4 percent and 5.4 percent shares, respectively. Apple’s prominence will be challenged in the next quarter, as Samsung is expected to release its Galaxy S5 smartphone in early April.

Meanwhile, in the operating system space, Google took the gold. The search engine company’s Android platform is still the operating system for the majority of smartphones, with an ownership of 51.7 percent market share. Considering just how many phones use the Android system, from Samsung’s devices to HTC and Motorola’s phones, it’s hardly surprising that Google’s operating system is still an industry leader.

More surprising is the fact that Apple still managed to get 41.6 percent of the market with its iOS operating system. Unlike Android, which earns its prominence by being spread across dozens or hundreds of different smartphones, iOS is only installed on Apple’s iPhone products – proving yet again how powerful Apple’s phone is in the mobile world.

With Google and Apple sharing over 90 percent of the mobile operating system market, there wasn’t much room for other competitors. Microsoft came in third place with its Windows Phone Operating System, which scored 3.2 percent of the market. The Blackberry Operating System nearly tied Microsoft, but ultimately had to settle for fourth place with a 3.1 percent share.

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Mobile

Blackberry Messenger updated with voice calling

Blackberry has updated the feature set of their popular Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service as an attempt to return the company back to profitability. Once the cornerstone of the suite of proprietary services for its own hardware, Blackberry Messenger has since opened up to iPhone and Android smartphone users in an effort to bring the technology company back from the dead.

The latest version of Blackberry Messenger contains a host of changes aimed at making it a standard for messaging on the iOS and Android operating systems. Among these additions and changes include:

BBM Channels — BBM users can utilize channels to have control over discussed topics. Channels will act as live forums on a variety of topics of the users’ choosing, and can be open or marked as private.

BBM Voice — BBM Voice will allow Blackberry Messenger users to make voice calls over either their Wi-Fi or cell phone data connections absolutely free of charge.

Onebox Integration — Existing Onebox integration will be tightened to allow for one-click file sharing with the file sharing service. Not only can data be uploaded to Onebox, but individual BBM users can be authorized to allow for the download of data from Onebox to their specific smartphone(s).

“BBM continues to deliver new functionality as a premier messaging platform that provides a simple and effective way to stay connected. Today’s announcement gives Android and iPhone customers the rich experience of BBM Voice and BBM Channels – two great ways to connect with friends, family and colleagues, to build out communities around shared interests, and to follow your favorite people and brands,” said John Sims, President, Global Enterprise Solutions at BlackBerry. “BBM continues to quickly evolve as a social mobile platform for consumers as well as for business customers through innovative features that give you great new ways to connect and share with each other.”

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Mobile

EA responds to ratings controversy over Dungeon Keeper

Electronic Arts has an illustrious history in the video game industry, from long-running sports franchises like the “Madden” football games to the fruitful period about a decade ago when it held licenses for major film properties like James Bond, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings. However, the company’s plentiful experience hasn’t helped it to navigate the labyrinth of modern mobile gaming apps. That fact has been made evident by the latest EA game to hit the market – a strategy title called “Dungeon Keeper” – which, according to BBC News, has ignited a fair amount of criticism and controversy among players.

The roots of the fan criticism are twofold. First of all, EA’s mobile version of “Dungeon Keeper” is a modern re-imagining of the 1997 computer game of the same name. The original game, developed by a company called Bullfrog Productions and published by Electronic Arts, gave players the power to build, manage, and defend a dungeon. In the late 90s, taking inspiration from other popular strategy games like “Warcraft,” “Starcraft,” “Sim City,” and “Command & Conquer,” the game made quite a splash among players. Upon hearing that Electronic Arts would be bringing the classic “Dungeon Keeper” formula to modern mobile platforms, those players were excited to exercise their nostalgic feelings for the original game by playing a new version.

Unfortunately, many players have been sorely disappointed in the new take on “Dungeon Keeper.” At its heart, the game is still the same as it was 17 years ago, giving players control of small “imp” characters, who dig through dirt and rocks to create a sprawling dungeon. However, numerous reviewers  have noted that the imps work at the speed of the molasses most of the time and only speed up their work if the player has gems to offer. Gems are available via in-app purchase, meaning that a player can speed up the digging process at any time, but only if they are willing to spend real money. Some players have gone as far as to call the game “unplayable” without gems and pay-based upgrades – a fact that is contrary to the game’s advertised “free to play” structure.

For their part, the game developers at EA felt they were staying true to modern mobile game design, which largely encourages users to play games for a few minutes at a time and then wait for resources to replenish. In this case, players wait for imps to dig the dungeon. Still, despite EA’s feeling that “Dungeon Keeper” has a good balance between free play and pay play opportunities, most players haven’t been in agreement. Currently, the title has a “user review” rating of 0.3 out of 10 on Metacritic, while Peter Molyneux – the creator of the original “Dungeon Keeper” – has spoken out publicly against the lengthy wait times and aggressive in-game payment options that now plague the game.

According to Pocket Gamer, EA was also accused of trying to prevent the submission of negative ratings. The app reportedly asks users to rate their experience. Users who select a score other than five out of five stars are directed to a feedback form.

“We’re always looking at new ways to gather player feedback so that we can continue to improve our games,” an  EA spokesperson told Eurogamer about the ratings controversy. “The ‘rate this app’ feature in the Google Play version of Dungeon Keeper was designed to help us collect valuable feedback from players who don’t feel the game is worth a top rating.”

“We wanted to make it easier for more players to send us feedback directly from the game if they weren’t having the best experience,” the spokesperson added. “Players can always continue to leave any rating they want on the Google Play Store.”

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Mobile

'Flow' for Amazon iOS app to allow scanning of real-world items for purchase

Amazon has hatched their latest attempt to broaden their reach and increase sales via use of a new feature for their official iOS app.

“Flow” is a baked in feature to the Amazon App Store offering that allows iPhone users to utilize the device’s camera to scan real-world items around them and then purchase that exact item through the app via amazon.com. After all, why take the time to type and search for a generic version of something when you can literally scan in the precise item you want to Amazon? The online retail giant is betting the convenience and novelty of the new Flow feature will drive more app users and greater sales numbers.

The feature works by enabling users to simply move the iPhone’s camera over an item to scan it as opposed to seeking out the barcode. Additionally, bulk scanning is possible, as users can sweep over multiple items at the same time in order to scan them all into Amazon at once. Once found, items can be saved for later use or immediately added into the shopping cart.

The ability of Flow to scan items without the hassle of dealing with barcodes is seen as a boon, as many phone users have never taken to scanning barcodes due to the additional step of finding it on the product, or because certain items don’t offer any barcode at all. Flow represents a step forward in ease of use in this respect.

There are some current limitations to Flow, however. It “works best” when scanning products such as video games, DVDs, books and packaged groceries, meaning success rates may be quite limited with other product categories and oddball items. Flow is also currently only compatible with iOS 7, so those with older, unsupported iPhones are out of luck.

Flow was previously released by Amazon in 2011 as a standalone application, although its integration into Amazon’s official iOS app should significantly improve its visibility with consumers and give the feature a greater chance of wide adoption. The Flow standalone app for iOS and Android currently remains available, although it is unclear as to how long.

The updated Amazon app with Flow scanning feature is currently available for iOS 7 devices as a free download.

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Mobile

Sony to shut down Reader store, transition users to Kobo

Amidst a sea of announced changes for technology giant Sony comes news today that the Sony Reader store will be shut down in the United States and Canada as of March 20, 2014 at 6PM ET. The Reader Store has been Sony’s channel for distributing eBooks, and its closure follows on the heels of the company’s decision to sell its PC division and dedicate its focus to mobile devices.

Through its Reader Store blog, Sony announced its intentions to transition Reader Store customers to the Kobo Store in March. The Kobo Store is ran by Toronto-based eReading company Kobo, and Sony feels the move will enhance the e-reading experience for its customers. In an effort to ease the transition, current Reader Store users will receive an email in late March instructing them on how to transfer their existing eBook library to Kobo. Existing Reader Store credits will automatically transfer to newly created or existing Kobo Store accounts. However, bookmarks, highlights, annotations, periodical subscriptions, wish lists and related items will not make the transition.

iOS and Android apps are currently planned to remain operational following the Reader Store shutdown.