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Former Apple engineer describes 'secret war' with opponents of copy protection

A former Apple engineer on Friday told a federal jury that he worked on a project meant to deny rivals access to the lucrative iTunes digital music and iPod device markets, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Previously, the engineer, Rod Schultz, had characterized Apple's frequent updates of iTunes as a 'secret war' between the company and those who sought to break copy protection of music and movies.

At an Oakland, Calif. trial where Apple faces antitrust accusations, Schultz told the jury that his work was 'intended to block 100% of non-iTunes clients' and 'keep out third-party players,' the newspaper reported ( subscription required).

Schultz, who worked for Apple from January 2006 until March 2008, was a senior software engineer on the team responsible for FairPlay, the company's digital rights management (DRM) technology designed to prevent illegal copying and sharing of content. Currently, Schultz is vice president of product at Krimmeni Technologies, a privately-held cloud security company based in San Francisco.

The federal jury has been hearing testimony for two weeks, and will weigh allegations that Apple's practices resulted in higher iPod prices.

Schultz came to the attention of the plaintiffs' lawyers in large part because of a 2012 article he wrote for a French computer security and cryptography publication. While the plaintiffs were unable to convince U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to admit the article as evidence, they did subpoena Schultz, who testified reluctantly.

In that article, written years after his stint at Apple and while he was working at Adobe, also on DRM, Schultz described the cat-and-mouse game between Apple and outside researchers who quickly came up with ways to sidestep FairPlay each time Apple updated the technology.

'This was the beginning of a secret war between the FairPlay team and Brahms, costing millions of dollars,' Schultz wrote, referring to the moniker of the individual or team that in early 2008 reverse-engineered the latest FairPlay copy protection.

Schultz also described the reverse engineering work -- which resulted in a software program dubbed Requiem -- as 'an extremely sophisticated attack of Apple's FairPlay.'

Apple has not denied that it regularly updated iTunes and the iPod firmware to meet contractual obligations with content providers, but it has rejected claims that it did so to lock out rivals' devices from the iTunes marketplace or alternate music stores' wares from playing on its own iPods.

More interesting outside the narrow confines of the lawsuit, in the 2012 article Schultz offered an alternate explanation for Apple's argument five years earlier that it would be best to drop copy protection on the music it sold. That decision was initiated by then-CEO Steve Jobs, who issued an open letter in February 2007 in which he acknowledged the difficulty of staying ahead of those trying to break DRM.

'The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music,' Jobs wrote in the missive.

Two months later, EMI, one of the four major music labels, struck a deal with Apple to sell DRM-free tracks on iTunes; by January 2009, iTunes was selling unprotected tunes from all four labels, as well as thousands of independents.

Schultz speculated that the move was less Apple largess and more one forced on the Cupertino, Calif. company.

'Jobs was astute enough to realize the negative reaction the public had to DRM, and he successfully painted the picture that Apple hated DRM, and that Apple wanted music to be freely shared,' Schultz wrote in the 2012 piece. 'The music industry finally gave in to Steve Jobs, giving him -- and the consumer -- a victory in the music war on DRM.'

But perhaps there was another reason for Apple's reversal.

'Maybe Steve Jobs was really trying to spin a pending decision by the music industry into a public perception victory for Apple,' Schultz argued. 'The truth was that with the power of its DRM, Apple was locking the majority of music downloads to its devices. The music industry didn't go DRM-free because they hated DRM; they went DRM free because they were fearful of the leverage Apple was gaining with their iTunes + FairPlay + iPod combination.'

Under Schultz's scenario, the music industry, between the rock of piracy and the hard place of Apple's dominance, chose what it thought was the 'lesser of two evils' to break Apple's monopoly on the digital music business.

Schultz's article can be found on the website ( download PDF).

Valve Removes Controversial Massacre Sim From Greenlight

Hatred, the ultraviolent massacre sim that gained notoriety due to its controversial content, has been removed from Stream's Greenlight program.

Steam custodian Valve confirmed it had deleted the listing, after it had rapidly accrued thousands of votes, suggesting that the game's brutal content had spurred its decision.

'Based on what we've seen on Greenlight we would not publish Hatred on Steam,' Valve spokesperson Doug Lombardi told Eurogamer. 'As such we'll be taking it down.'

Hatred was revealed to the public in October with a trailer that immediately drew controversy. The video, above, features a lone gunman preparing for a massacre in his home, before setting himself upon the surrounding neighbourhood.

Later, the video depicts stabbings, mall massacres, and shotgun executions. The nameless character, dressed in a leather trench coat, is at one point seen jamming a pistol into a fallen woman's mouth, before pulling the trigger.

Valve's decision to not support the game follows a similar distancing from the game's engine creator, Epic Games. The company has previously said: 'Epic Games isn't involved in this project. Unreal Engine 4 is available to the general public for use 'for any lawful purpose,' and we explicitly don't exert any sort of creative control or censorship over projects. However, the video is using the trademarked Unreal Engine 4 logo without permission from Epic, and we've asked for the removal of our logo from all marketing associated with this product.'

Creative Destruction, the game's Poland based developer, has responded to Valve's removal of the game by saying it respects the corporation's decision, adding that it was overjoyed with the response from supporters of the project.

In a message to fans, the company wrote: 'Even though games like Manhunt or Postal are still available on Steam we of course fully respect Valve's decision, as they have right to do so. In the same time we want to assure you that this won't in any way impact the game development, game's vision or gameplay features we're aiming for. The game is still to be released in Q2 2015 as planned.

'Moreover we don't treat this as a failure because yet again this showed us a huge community support we're totally overwhelmed with. After only a couple of hours Greenlight campaign being live, Hatred gathered 13,148 up votes and ended up on a #7 on top 100 list.

'This is the best proof for us that there are diehard Hatred fans out there waiting for this game to be released. And that we need to keep going to deliver them a game that offers exciting and challenging gameplay. The whole situation only pushes us forward to go against any adversity and not to give up. It also makes us want to provide our fans Hatred pre-orders sooner, as many of you have asked for them.'

Case over Apple's digital music dominance heads to jury

Posted: 12/15/2014 03:24:57 PM PST

OAKLAND -- iTunes 7.0: A landmark improvement to Apple's software for the iPod or an empty update meant to drive out competitors and hike prices for consumers?

That will be the $1 billion question for a federal jury in Oakland as they deliberate over whether Apple's dominance of digital music during the iPod's heyday amounted to an illegal monopoly. After a two-week trial with a few speed bumps, lawyers for Apple and the plaintiffs made their final pitches to jurors Monday, offering up divergent portraits of the Cupertino-based tech giant.

Plaintiffs argue that Apple's practice of restricting music downloads on the iPod to the iTunes store stamped out competition from other firms. During his closing argument, plaintiffs lawyer Patrick Coughlin said Apple's software updates, which drove out a rival program from RealNetworks, were a 'one-two punch' in the market.

'Apple didn't want to leave you with that choice,' plaintiffs lawyer Patrick Coughlin said during his closing argument.

But when it was his turn to address the jury, Apple lawyer William Isaacson framed iTunes 7.0 not as a death knell for competition but a boon for consumers. He noted the update delivered enhanced security, games and a host of movies, among other features.

'The overwhelming evidence here is of genuine product improvement,' he said.

Kicking off deliberations Monday afternoon, jurors will consider first whether iTunes 7.0 was indeed an improvement, as antitrust laws hold that companies cannot be punished for enhancing their products, regardless of the ramifications for competitors. If jurors side with Apple on that question, the company will win; if not, the group will move on to other issues, such as damages. To compensate consumers for inflated prices, plaintiffs seek more than $350 million, which would be tripled under antitrust laws.

They are rooting their case in testimony from former Apple engineer Rod Schultz, who testified on Friday that he worked on a project meant to 'block 100 percent of non-iTunes clients.' Plaintiffs lawyer Coughlin reminded jurors that Schultz said he did not see the iTunes update as a product improvement.

'I don't think there was a more genuine witness to talk about whether the algorithm that he invented was a product or security improvement,' Coughlin said.

But Isaacson pointed out that the ex-Apple engineer conceded that the software did contain meaningful new features. Apple's digital music strategy was grounded in a belief that the iPod and iTunes worked best together, he said, touting the company's tradition of tightly integrated software and services.

'When you don't have Apple plus iPod, you're getting two steering wheels and, even worse, two drivers,' Isaacson said.

Continuing the closing argument, Apple lawyer Karen Dunn questioned why Apple would have targeted RealNetworks, a small player, while ignoring a giant like Amazon if its aim was to stifle competition. The loopholes exploited by RealNetworks were the real problem, she stressed.

'The issue is not being a competitor,' she said. 'The issue is doing damage to the system and creating security problems.'

Contact Julia Love at 408-920-5536 or follow her at

Anonymous reaps revenge on Pirate Bay

ANONYMOUS HACKERS have taken out their frustration about The Pirate Bay site being down on the Swedish government, while a former rival tracker has restarted a version of the torrent site.

Isohunt, another popular torrent tracker, has launched, which recreates the entire database of the mostly erstwhile Swedish site, and is at present unblocked by UK ISPs.

A number of fake Pirate Bay trackers have been popping up in the proxy addresses previously mirroring the original Pirate Bay, but most of these have no functionality or, at their worst, malware payloads.

Isohunt, which appears to be as kosher as an illegal torrenting site can be, said that Pirate Bay represented 'a symbol of liberty for a generation of internet users' and that 'nothing will be forgotten'.

However, this did not stop urine-swigging laptop revolutionary group Anonymous from showing its displeasure through a series of hacks on Swedish websites in retaliation for the raids that brought down the original Pirate Bay site, possibly permanently.

A Pastebin document has been released containing log-in details for government email accounts following the hack from a small group calling itself Hagash Team, but trading under the Anonymous banner.

Emails from Swedish police and New Zealand were hacked in response to seizure of the servers of The Pirate Bay

- Anonymous (@AnonymousGlobo) December 15, 2014

Swedish telco Telia was also hacked on Friday causing disruption to some customers' telephone and internet connections. This too is believed to be a retaliation attack by Anoymous.

Swedish authorities don't seem to be in any position to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Torrent traffic dropped significantly in the hours after the attack, but Variety reported that levels of torrenting had returned to normal within a few days.

At its lowest ebb, torrenting was reduced to 95 million users against an average of 99.9 million during November.

However, in the past couple of days, the renewed interest has seen the figure jump to 102 million.

This will probably settle for the month on average, but proves once again that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Or urine. µ

LG is about to take TVs to the next level with quantum dots

A new kind of display is about to make TV images appear even more lifelike. LG will show off a TV based on quantum-dot technology at CES 2015 in January, and the company also plans to start selling it later that year.

Quantum-dot tech uses extremely tiny crystals - measuring 2 to 10 nanometers - to generate light. (That's so small that the tiniest crystals are only about 20 atoms thick.) Different-size crystals generate different colors, and the size of the crystals can be controlled precisely. As a result, quantum-dot displays can reproduce color that's even better and more accurate than OLED screens, the current leading tech for advanced TVs.

There are already a few products with quantum-dot displays, most notably Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX, and China's TCL announced in the fall it would build the world's first TV based on the tech.

With LG, which sells roughly 17% of the world's TVs, on board, quantum-dot sets will have a shot at going mainstream. The company didn't say how big the TV would be, only that it would have 4K (a.k.a. Ultra HD) resolution, it would be on display at CES, and that the product would join its official lineup in 2015 (i.e., it won't just be a technology demo).

In LG's set, the quantum dots are in a 'film' that's mounted on the TV's LED backlight but, otherwise, the technology is just like an LCD model. With the quantum dots, however, the color gamut is increased by more than 30%, LG says.

One big downside of quantum-dot TVs has been their reliance on cadmium, which is considered a toxic substance. But LG says it has solved this problem, claiming its new quantum-dot set is cadmium-free.

LG didn't give a price for the TV, and it probably won't until it's ready to ship, but there's reason to be optimistic: TCL's set sold for one-third the price of an comparable OLED TV. The most advanced technology doesn't always need to be the most expensive.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.


Summary:T-Mobile continues its aggressive march on competing carriers by launching the first cellular Google Nexus 9 and offering low cost unlimited data, voice, and text business plans.

(Image: T-Mobile) Google launched the WiFi-only model of the Nexus 9, see my full review, in early November and this week T-Mobile announced they have the first LTE version available now for $599.76.

The LTE Google Nexus 9, made by HTC, may be coming to other carriers eventually, but T-Mobile is the only place to buy one at this time. This model of the Nexus 9 is the same as the WiFi version with the addition of LTE support. That means it has an 8.9 inch display, front-facing stereo speakers, Android 5.0 Lollipop, and a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor.

The HTC Nexus 9 can be purchased at T-Mobile's Underground site for $0 down and $24.99/month for 24 months. T-Mobile lets you add the Nexus 9 to your account for $10 per month that matches your Simple Choice data plan. You can also choose to get 200MB of data free. If you are not a T-Mobile customer and just want to buy blocks of data, prices range from $20 to $70 per month with data allowances from 1GB to 11GB per month, repectively.

T-Mobile also announced new low-cost unlimited everything business and family plans this week. You can sign up for two business lines with unlimited 4G LTE data, voice calls, and text for just $100. Additional employees are $40 for the same level of coverage, up to as many lines as you need for your business.

T-Mobile also announced a new small business plan for those who don't need unlimited data. Businesses can sign up for four lines for $100 with 2.5GB of data per line. These plan options are available now for a limited time. T-Mobile states that there is no expiration date of the plan once you sign up so get on the plan you need now before it's too late.


After successfully porting two of Valve's most popular franchises to the NVIDIA Shield, today's news is only natural -- Half-Life 2: Episode One is now available for download on Google Play as a Shield exclusive. The expansion's launch is notable not only as yet another high-profile PC game worming its way into the Android ecosystem, but also as a possible marker of something else: the slow death of NVIDIA's original Shield handheld. NVIDIA's original gaming portable is still available, but it won't run the platform's latest release: that's a tablet exclusive.

It's not the first tablet exclusive game to come to the Shield: the slate launched with a handful of Tegra K1 optimized games, including a handful of native Android games and Trine 2. There were enhanced ports of Half-Life 2 and Portal on the tablet too, but those titles were available on the company's handheld Shield as well. Leaving out the portable isn't too surprising ( Half-Life 2 ran significantly better on the tablet, after all), but be forewarned: the Tegra 4 is apparently getting a little long in the teeth.

Shield </a>Featured Stories A tale of two Chromebooks: one size doesn't fit all Chromebook 2 review (11-inch, late 2014): Samsung's entry-level laptop returns with longer battery life Toshiba Chromebook 2 review: great screen, but the battery life takes a hit Alienware Alpha review: almost the Steam Machine you're looking for ASUS ZenWatch review: subtle and stylish, with a few shortcomings 'The Crew': The Joystiq Review The world's slimmest smartphone is now 4.75mm thick

Xiaomi is now the fourth

Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Watch out Apple and Samsung, the Chinese company Xiaomi is creeping up in the ranks of smartphone-makers.

Read More 'China's Apple' Xiaomi's expansion is under threat

The company is now the fourth-biggest seller of smartphones worldwide, right behind Huawei, according to Gartner.

Xiaomi sold 15.8 million units in the third quarter of this year, a 322 percent increase from the same period a year ago, when Gartner reported it sold 3.6 million units.

Xiaomi isn't the only Chinese smartphone-maker that saw growth in sales year over year.

Three of the top five smartphone-makers worldwide are Chinese companies including Huawei, Xiaomi and Lenovo. Collectively, these three companies accounted for about 15 percent of all smartphone sales in the third quarter.

The other two leading handset companies were Samsung, which sold 73.2 million units, and Apple, which sold 38.2 million smartphones.

Read More China's Xiaomi makes strides in smartphone race

Apple's iPhones sales grew 26 percent from a year ago, while Samsung's sales dropped 10.8 percent, according to Gartner.

In China alone, which is Samsung's biggest market, its sales fell 28.6 percent.

Tech Companies Back Microsoft in Ireland Email Warrant Case

Corporate lobbyists, news organizations and academics joined forces with Microsoft on Monday in the software company's legal battle with the U.S. government over access to customer data stored overseas. The diverse set of interests filed briefs with a federal appeals court in New York, urging it to reverse a judge's order that Microsoft turn over emails from a data center in Ireland. They argued that turning them over would jeopardize the future of international cloud computing. Technology companies including Apple and AT&T also filed briefs supporting Microsoft's bid to fend off a government search warrant for the emails.

Microsoft began fighting the warrant in 2013, saying that U.S. prosecutors were overreaching by demanding data held in a foreign country without the assistance of local authorities. It is not known whose emails are sought, but prosecutors said they wanted them for a drug investigation. The prosecutors said their demand did not violate Irish sovereignty because Microsoft's U.S. employees had control of the emails and could retrieve them without going to Ireland. In July, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska agreed and ordered Microsoft to comply.

Others supporting Microsoft in court briefs included the American Civil Liberties Union and 35 computer science and engineering professors. A ruling by the appeals court is likely months away. The case is Microsoft v. U.S., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-2985.


First published December 15 2014, 3:20 PM

Sony Pictures hack takes yet another weird twist

The Sony Pictures Entertainment hack has taken yet another weird twist with hackers apparently offering to withhold data stolen from the company's employees.

On Sunday the group claiming responsibility for the crippling Nov. 24 hack offered not to release some email correspondence from Sony Pictures' employees. The group urged employees to contact them if they don't want their correspondence released.

There was no way to determine how many, if any employees, had supplied their details.

The post, which claimed to be from the shadowy Guardians of Peace, or GOP, group, appeared on file sharing sites Pastebin and Friendpaste, according to the website Recode.

'Message to SPE Staffers,' it read. 'We have a plan to release emails and privacy of the Sony Pictures employees. If you don't want your privacy to be released, tell us your name and business title to take off your data.'

Sunday's message also contained links to several file sharing sites for obtaining the group's latest leaks. Clearly keen to maintain the pressure on Sony, the group vowed to release 'larger quantities of data,' which it described as 'a Christmas gift,' reiterating a similar GOP message posted on Saturday.

Experts have noted the resolve of the attack's perpetrators, who seem intent on prolonging Sony's pain.

'Whoever it is, they must feel like they are immune to retaliation,' Jim Lewis, director and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told, in an email. 'They are also really motivated to keep it up this long - most of these incidents are more like smash-and-grab.'

Sunday's post is the latest in a flurry of cyber assaults aimed at Sony Pictures, which have included leaks of confidential data and unreleased movies, as well as threats against Sony employees. The producers of James Bond films have also acknowledged that an early version of the screenplay for the new movie 'Spectre' was among the material stolen in the massive Sony Pictures cyberattack.

'Sony is receiving repeated body blows from the breach, which is perhaps indicative of the intention to damage the reputation of the company,' wrote Chris Boyd, malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes Labs, in an email to 'Typically a big company breach is all about stealthy data theft and low profile operations, however in this case the motivation appears focused on creating crippling headlines - it could almost be the beginning of a Bond film itself.'

The finger of suspicion has already been pointed at North Korea over the hack, although Sony Pictures recently denied a report that it was poised to blame Pyongyang for the attack. The studio's forthcoming film 'The Interview,' starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists enlisted to assassinate dictator Kim Jong-un, has outraged North Korea.

There has also been plenty of speculation that the cyberattack was an inside job.

With the shockwaves from the hack still reverberating, Sony Pictures has reportedly demanded that at least three media outlets stop reporting stories based on documents obtained by hackers.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies' Lewis told that the attack has also shone a spotlight on hackers' use of file sharing sites such as Pastebin.

While Saturday and Sunday's GOP posts have been removed from Pastebin, a GOP message titled 'Gift of Sony for the 8th day: GOP at Christmas (2),' which apparently corresponds to Sunday's Pastebin message, is still available on Friendpaste.

A spokesman for Pastebin told that it received two requests about the posts related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). 'We always comply with such request when the items in question contain sensitive data,' he added, in an email to

Friendpaste was unavailable for comment.

Sony Pictures Entertainment has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story from A spokeswoman for the FBI, which is investigating the hack, told that its probe is ongoing.

FIVERRDIRECTORY.BLOGSPOT.COM contributed to this report.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @ jamesjrogers

FCC Won't Issue Public Notice On Net Neutrality Options

Source: Staff feels record will be sufficient and notice would be unnecessary delay 12/15/2014 03:43:00 PM Eastern

The FCC will not put out a formal public notice (PN) seeking additional comment on any of the proposed hybrid variations on new Open Internet rules offered up by various parties. There had been some speculation such a PN could be issued, with sources saying earlier in the month that the chairman had made no decision one way or the other. But Politico had reported the FCC was leaning toward not issuing the notice, and a source familiar with the FCC's plans, who agreed to speak on background, said Monday that a PN was not going to be issued. The source said FCC staffers feel there has been sufficient input on those suggestions, including filings in recent weeks that made them more comfortable with not putting out a separate notice. Such a notice could delay the process given that the commission would have to set a comment period, even if it were only a couple of weeks, and then vet those new comments. For the full story go to

BT in talks to buy EE for £12.5bn

Telecoms giant BT is in exclusive talks to buy EE - Britain's largest mobile network group.

It said the period of exclusivity would last 'several weeks' to enable it to carry out the necessary negotiations.

'The proposed acquisition would enable BT to accelerate its existing mobility strategy,' it said in a statement.

A takeover of EE would create a communications giant covering fixed-line phones, broadband, mobile and TV.

According to Citigroup, EE holds 33.8% of the UK mobile market by revenue.

In November, BT said it was in talks to buy either EE, jointly owned by Deutsche Telekom and Orange, or O2 which is owned by Spanish firm Telefonica.

EE's owners - France's Orange and Germany's Deutsche Telekom - put plans for an initial public offering of EE on hold this year.

BT spun off its own mobile network, BT Cellnet, now 02, in 2002. In 2005 it was acquired by Spain's Telefonica for £17.7bn.

Three of the top five smartphone companies are now Chinese

As Xiaomi has grown rapidly, and Lenovo's deal to buy Motorola from Google has closed, three of the world's top five smartphone vendors are now from China, according to third-quarter statistics released today by Gartner.

South Korea's Samsung and US-based Apple remain the world's No. 1 and No. 2 smartphone makers, by a significant margin, according to Gartner. But Samsung's third-quarter sales declined by 7 million units from the same period last year, while Apple's increased by almost 8 million, according to Gartner's tallies.

(Note: These estimates differ from Apple's officially released statistics. But Gartner is reporting 'sales to end users' while Apple reports shipments-allowing for differences in inventory, among other potential discrepancies.)

One storyline worth paying attention to is the rise of China's Huawei, Xiaomi, and Lenovo, which now command a combined 15.5% of the global smartphone market. It's unlikely they'll immediately compete-outside of China, at least-at the high end of the market, where Apple dominates. But at the mid-to-low end, they are already a real force.

Making a profit there, of course, is another story. Our first glance at Xiaomi's finances, via a Chinese regulatory filing, suggest razor-thin margins.

Skype Real

Imagine being able to speak another language without having to learn it. Skype is making it possible.

The Microsoft-owned chat service on Monday launched the first phase of its Skype Translator preview program first announced back in May. Jointly developed by Microsoft researchers and Skype engineers, the new feature uses real-time speech translation technologies to let you have a conversation with someone over the Internet who speaks a different language.

This means you can have a conversation just like normal, and Skype will translate what you say into the other person's language in 'near real-time.' Then, when the other person says something, it will be translated back to your language.

At this point, the feature is still pretty limited. It only works with Spanish and English, but Microsoft said it plans to add more languages soon. In the meantime, it will translate more than 40 different languages if you're just instant messaging, not speaking. You'll also need a device running Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 Technical Preview to try it out at the moment.

'Skype Translator relies on machine learning, which means that the more the technology is used, the smarter it gets,' the Skype team wrote in a blog post. 'We are starting with English and Spanish, and as more people use the Skype Translator preview with these languages, the quality will continually improve.'

For a look at Skype Translator in action, check out the video below. To check it out for yourself, sign up to be a preview user.

For more, see PCMag's roundup of Skype tips in the slideshow above.

Hackers offer to spare some Sony employees from stolen data leaks

Image: Nick Ut/Associated Press

The hacker group that calls itself GOP or 'Guardians of Peace' doesn't seem to have any plans to stop dumping information pilfered from its hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment to the press. But now they might be offering some Sony employees a way out if they contact the hackers.

In the latest data dump that was sent to reporters, which happened on Sunday, the hackers included what appears to be a merciful message to Sony employees.

'We have a plan to release emails and privacy of the Sony Pictures employees,' the message reads. 'If you don't want your privacy to be released, tell us your name and business title to take off your data.'

That's about as conciliatory as the hackers' message gets, however. In the past few weeks, the hacking collective has leaked controversial email correspondence between Sony executives, as well as financial documents and the personal information of celebrities.

'The sooner SPE accept our demands, the better, of course,' the post reads. 'The farther time goes by, the worse state SPE will be put into and we will have Sony go bankrupt in the end.'

The Guardians of the Peace's demands remain unclear. It's been widely speculated that the hackers want Sony to pull the release of The Interview, a comedy that dramatizes an assassination attempt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. There hasn't been a ton of evidence to support a North Korean link, however.

The hackers continue to threaten to release more stolen data, this time as a 'Christmas gift.'

'We are preparing for you a Christmas gift,' the latest message reads. 'The gift will be larger quantities of data. And it will be more interesting. The gift will surely give you much more pleasure and put Sony Pictures into the worst state.'

The post then provides a list of emails to contact for those want in on the 'gift.'

For its part, Sony has demanded that the media stop publishing information about its stolen data. Many publications, including Mashable, have published private conversations and information about the company from the leaks.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Sony hacking highlights challenge to CEO Hirai's 'One Sony' vision

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

An entrance gate to Sony Pictures Entertainment at the Sony Pictures lot is pictured in Culver City, California April 14, 2013.

The Japanese conglomerate is heading for its fifth net loss in six years, raising questions about its ability to hold on to businesses ranging from making television sets to movies. While activist hedge fund investor Daniel Loeb has given up his call for Sony to spin off its entertainment arm, others believe it should exit weak product lines such as TVs.

Bilingual Hirai is linked to both sides of Sony, having experience at both the video games and music businesses. He is therefore widely considered one of the company's few executives capable of bringing together the manufacturing and movie-making cultures of Tokyo and Hollywood.

But along with racial jokes related to U.S. President Barack Obama and disparaging remarks about top actors, leaked emails from Sony Pictures executives reveal tension between Hirai and the film studio.

The emails were leaked following a cyberattack on Sony's computer systems last month by a group demanding the company pull upcoming film 'The Interview', a comedy criticized by North Korea for depicting the assassination of its leader. They show Hirai ordered the film to be toned down and encountered resistance from the film's creators including co-director and actor Seth Rogen. Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal tried to mediate.

The emails also show film executives viewed Hirai and Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida with trepidation ahead of cost cuts aimed at increasing profit margins.

Sony Pictures Chief Executive Officer Michael Lynton in October forwarded to Pascal an email from Yoshida, marked 'confidential' and seeking 'serious consideration to modifying the Entertainment executives compensation plans'.

'This is also what I am now dealing with,' he wrote.

Sony declined to comment for this article and Hirai was not made available for interview.

Company sources said Sony Pictures was taking the lead in the investigation and that Hirai was briefed frequently. People close to the investigation told Reuters the North Korean state is a principal suspect.


The hack comes as Hirai is trying to prove Sony is better off with all of its businesses including cameras, films and insurance under one roof.

Last year, Loeb called on Hirai to sell part of the entertainment business to fund restructuring in its electronics arm. That, Loeb said, would also force the market to assess the value of the entertainment business more highly.

That business has recently been helping to partially offset weakness in smartphones. Last month, Hirai forecast sales at the Sony Pictures to rise to as much as $11 billion in three years, 36 percent more than current business year.

'The entertainment segment has maintained profitability for 18 years straight, and as a generator of stable profit, it is a major pillar of the Sony Group,' Hirai told investors on Nov. 18, days before the hack became apparent.

Sony shares have risen around 18 percent this year in recognition of Hirai's turnaround efforts. In September, however, Sony cut its outlook for the sixth time on Hirai's watch.

Many investors and analysts now believe Hirai should make more drastic cuts in its electronics arm.

Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal said Yoshida's appointment this year spurred change, such as an exit from personal computers. Goyal said Sony could eventually sell its TV set business.

Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Asset Management, said Sony should also exit the commoditized smartphone market as well.

'Phones, TVs... It would be better to wind down those areas, and soon,' he said.

Sony should focus instead on highly-profitable products such as its image sensors which are used in smartphones including Apple Inc's iPhones, he said.

'There's no reason to do everything.'

(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in BOSTON; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

Pirate Bay resurrected by fellow torrent site IsoHunt

A week after Swedish police shut down BitTorrent indexing site the Pirate Bay, torrent search site IsoHunt resurrected it in its entirety.

In a blog post, IsoHunt explains that, while it encourages Pirate Bay users to switch to IsoHunt (two sites are very similar in functionality), it has preserved the entire Pirate Bay site and put it up at the web address

'We, the team, copied the base of the PirateBay in order to save it to the generations of users. Nothing will be forgotten. Keep on believing, keep on sharing,' the post reads.

Restoring the Pirate Bay was not a very hard task, since an archive of the entire site has been available for download freely since Feb. 2013.

The new/old Pirate Bay now has a blueish hue, but other than that seems to be identical to the old site, which has been completely unavailable since the police raided its servers.

A couple of days after the shutdown, one of the site's cofounders, Peter Sunde, said he 'doesn't care if the site stays down,' claiming the new ownership has strayed from the original ideals behind the project.

A long-time thorn in the side of the entertainment industry, The Pirate Bay has been taken down several time in its past, but has always found a way to rebound back, switching several top level domains (TLDs) in the process.

It has not been kept down for a week in recent history, however.

Even if the site stays down forever, it's questionable that that will have any effect on piracy. A recent report by Variety claims that, after an initial deep following the site's shutdown, piracy levels have rebounded and stayed pretty much the same as before.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Chat App Viber Introduces Games In An Initial 5 Countries, Plans Global Rollout ...

It's been quite a year for Viber, and now the mobile messaging company is seeing out 2014 with arguably its most significant release to date: the launch of a social games platform.

Viber, which was bought by Japan's Rakuten for $900 million back in February - right before Facebook acquired WhatsApp - is taking a leaf from the Asian messaging app playbook with the launch of an initial three games. It isn't a global launch however. These titles will be available for iOS and Android users in an initial five markets - Belarus, Malaysia, Israel, Singapore and the Ukraine - with the company planning to roll them out to all Viber users worldwide in January 2015.

Earlier this year, founder Talmon Marco said Viber would introduce games before the end of 2014, and the company has just about stuck to that timeline. Just about.

Like other chat apps, linking a Viber account to the games platform will allow users to link to their social graph to do things like send gifts to friends, check the social-powered game leaderboard, challenge friends, battle friends, share their scores and more.

Viber's initial game developer partners are Storm8 - which created Viber Candy Mania and Viber Pop, pictured below - and Playtika, which developed the Wild Luck Casino title.

Viber will look to the examples of Korea's Kakao Talk, which became profitable last year thanks to its games platform, and Japan's Line, which clocked $192 million in Q3 2014 revenue thanks to games and has seen over 300 million cumulative downloads from its two-year-old gaming platform.

A Curated Selection Of

Marco told TechCrunch in an interview that the company is aiming to maintain a clutch of handpicked title rather than a huge number of games. To that point, the 'Viber Connect' API is staying provide for selected partners only.

'We will partner with other game developers in the future, but our approach is not to have hundreds of games, just small highly curated selection,' he said.

'We have wanted to do games for quite a while, our plans have been in process long before the acquisition,' Marco added.

Social gaming began with companies like Kakao Talk, WeChat and Line in Asia, but this year has seen the likes of Kik, Tango and now Viber - services that have significant user bases in the West - enter the fray. Marco said he is looking forward to the reaction of Viber's 209 million monthly active users, but he also outlined that Viber's games platform has been designed so as not to interfere with the core messaging experience for users.

There is a dedicated section inside the app for game notifications and other related messages, and users can opt out of that if they wish.

'If you don't want to play games, Viber will stay exactly how it is for you... but the games are a lot of fun,' Marco said, laughing at his own addiction to Viber Pop.

In addition to an upcoming global launch for games and the introduction of more titles for users, Marco teased a number of 'commercial tie-ups' that will come to Viber in the first quarter of 2015 to 'give users more capabilities.'

We recently saw Tango partner with Spotify, while Line is launching music streaming and video services, so it seems logical that Viber will jump into entertainment at some point - particularly given the recent introduction of Viber Chat, a communication platform that lets celebrities and entertainers to tap into the service's global presence.

First up though, the company is preparing to submit its final update for 2014, which will bring iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ compatibility to Viber for iOS.

Microsoft Windows 10 Early Build Leaks; Shows Cortana Integration and More

Ahead of Microsoft's scheduled 'The Next Chapter' event for Windows 10 on January 21, where it is expected to unveil the consumer preview of the upcoming OS, an early build has leaked showing numerous changes.

WinBeta claims to have received an early version of Microsoft Windows 10 with build 9901, and has posted a video (below) showing various purported changes in the upcoming build.

In the leaked build, Microsoft is seen to have made some visible changes such as new wallpaper showing upfront alongside Cortana integration. The video shows Cortana will be present on the task bar with search option. Interestingly, the voice-based virtual assistant app is seen to also support voice-commands; though the leaked 9901 build showed that the feature still requires some updates to work.

Some of the other changes include Store Beta, which is a revamped app for Microsoft's app store (currently incomplete); the settings pane appears in Modern window frame; face lifted Settings app (speculated to replace both PC Settings and Control Panel); new Camera (Beta) app; Remind Me; Contact support; and Get Started. The leaked build also included an overhauled Xbox app. The publication speculated that the update to Xbox might result in consumers getting to play Xbox One games on their PC. Some of the other updated apps spotted in leaked build include alarms, calculator, maps, and photos.

WinBeta pointed out, 'Apps throughout the operating system are being updated too. A whole number of apps have been given a complete UI overhaul, and we expect many more apps to join in on the facelift soon. This is our first proper look at the direction in which the Modern UI is going, and it's definitely a positive one.'

Further evidence for the unification of the Windows Store and Windows Phone Store was also spotted by a user (via WMPowerUser), with the HTC Make More Space app for Windows Phone seen listed on Windows 10 Store Beta.

The Redmond giant first announced Windows 10 in late-September.

Sony follows Microsoft into hungry China market with PlayStation 4 launch

Sony's PlayStation 4 will soon make a push into China, a country that has a ban on foreign game consoles since 2000. Photo: Getty Images

Sony will release its PlayStation 4 console in China next month, following Microsoft into the world's biggest game market after the government eased restrictions.

Sales will start January 11 with a price of 2,899 yuan ($571), Tokyo-based Sony said in a statement last week. The handheld PlayStation Vita will also begin sales at the same time at 1299 yuan.

Console makers and game developers are pouring into China after the end of a government ban imposed in 2000, trying to win over a generation of players who shifted to computers and mobile devices. Gaming is one of the few bright spots for Sony, which has sold more than 16 million units of the PS4 according to industry data, as the company heads for another annual loss and has been embarrassed by a computer hack in Hollywood.

Sony plans to start packaging consoles for the China market from this month. Its venture with Shanghai Oriental Pearl Group intends to package 200,000 consoles annually, according to a filing earlier this year on the website of the Shanghai free-trade zone.

The PS4 will be released with games including versions of Square Enix's Final Fantasy as well as other titles including Knack and Little Big Planet 3, subject to government approval of content. Microsoft released the Xbox One in September with just 10 titles from the hundreds released for the console because of government content restrictions.

'Sony will try its best to offer Chinese customers a PlayStation consistent with its global offerings, and compliant with government regulations,' Takehito Soeda, head of China Strategy Department for the PlayStation business, said at a briefing in Shanghai, without elaborating.

Sony also announced some Chinese-produced games, including fighting game King of Wushu that features characters doing battle in arenas with pagodas, temples and mountains in the background.

Sony is working with 26 Chinese companies for the market, according to the statement.

'We always say you need three things to do business in China,' said Hiroyuki Oda, Deputy President of Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Asia. 'We think we truly have the right time, right place and right people.'

Sony has two ventures with Shanghai Oriental. The Japanese company holds a 70 per cent stake in one entity that's for hardware production and 49 per cent in another for software sales and networks.

The expansion into China comes as Sony plans to boost cloud-based gaming by creating a mass-market streaming service similar to Netflix, called PlayStation Now.

The PlayStation Network has more than 50 million active users, and its PlayStation Now service is available in North America for streaming content on Bravia TVs and other Sony devices.

The Washington Post

Sony Gave Me $1349 Worth Of PlayStation Games This Year

In North America alone during 2014, Sony handed out 71 free games totaling a value of $1349 to PlayStation Plus members. I paid $49.99 for all of them.

That staggering statistic comes courtesy of website Push Square, which recently published a comprehensive evaluation of Sony's premium PlayStation service PS Plus. The optional subscription, which costs $49.99 when purchased annually, nets its users online multiplayer for PS4 (granted, that's not entirely 'optional'), cloud-based storage for game saves, discounts on regularly priced titles, access to Tune In radio, and a monthly allotment of free games for PS4, PS3, and PS Vita among other perks.

As of Sony's last earnings call in October, the service has a 7.9 million subscribers.

Push Square really did their homework, and the entire report is worth studying in its entirety to understand the depth and value of Sony's offerings. One strong example is June, when Sony handed out $139.94 worth of free games, including NBA 2K14, Trine 2, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate, and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.

For those who value the review score aggregator, the average Metacritic score for those selections was 82. The average Metacritic score for the years' worth of PlayStation Plus games? 79.

Perhaps that's why, in an industry that relishes its controversies, very few people got bent out of shape when Sony followed Microsoft's lead and quietly introduced PlayStation Plus as a requirement for online gaming. Xbox paved the way, and the monthly selection of PlayStation Plus games softened the blow.

Looking over the list of freebies, there's an undeniable preference for indie games over traditional blockbusters. Some may view that as a detriment to the service's value proposition, but Sony's devotion to indie developers is well documented. Sure, it's also a cost-saving measure, but I love the sense of discovery I felt playing gems like Velocity 2X, Thomas Was Alone, and Don't Starve for the first time without taking a monetary risk doing so.

Watch the First Street Fighter V Match Live Here [UPDATE]

Following the Capcom Cup tournament, where EG's Momomich took top prize playing as Ken, Capcom producer Yoshinori Ono took the stage both too introduce the first live Street Fighter V match as well as reveal that Charlie Nash will be a playable character in the PS4 exclusive Street Fighter V.

While Capcom is working on Street Fighter V, Ono promised to continue supporting Ultra Street Fighter IV next year.

Ono also announced that the prize pool for next year's Capcom tournaments will be increased to $500,000.

The original story appears below.

On Saturday, December 13, Capcom is hosting the finale of their Capcom Cup Ultra Street Fighter IV tournament here in San Francisco. You can watch the entire event live through their Twitch channel above, but the bigger reason for fans to tune will be to catch the first broadcast of a Street Fighter V match.

After handing out the $50,000 prize pool winnings for the tournament, Capcom is set to reveal some 'special announcements as well.'

Here's the full schedule of events (all times PST):

Street Fighter V was announced as a console exclusive on PS4 last week at the PlayStation Experience. However, Xbox executive Phil Spencer has also vowed to 'work on making amends for SF.'

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email Written By

Want the latest news about Street Fighter V?


Summary:T-Mobile continues its aggressive march on competing carriers by launching the first cellular Google Nexus 9 and offering low cost unlimited data, voice, and text business plans.

(Image: T-Mobile) Google launched the WiFi-only model of the Nexus 9, see my full review, in early November and this week T-Mobile announced they have the first LTE version available now for $599.76.

The LTE Google Nexus 9, made by HTC, may be coming to other carriers eventually, but T-Mobile is the only place to buy one at this time. This model of the Nexus 9 is the same as the WiFi version with the addition of LTE support. That means it has an 8.9 inch display, front-facing stereo speakers, Android 5.0 Lollipop, and a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor.

The HTC Nexus 9 can be purchased at T-Mobile's Underground site for $0 down and $24.99/month for 24 months. T-Mobile lets you add the Nexus 9 to your account for $10 per month that matches your Simple Choice data plan. You can also choose to get 200MB of data free. If you are not a T-Mobile customer and just want to buy blocks of data, prices range from $20 to $70 per month with data allowances from 1GB to 11GB per month, repectively.

T-Mobile also announced new low-cost unlimited everything business and family plans this week. You can sign up for two business lines with unlimited 4G LTE data, voice calls, and text for just $100. Additional employees are $40 for the same level of coverage, up to as many lines as you need for your business.

T-Mobile also announced a new small business plan for those who don't need unlimited data. Businesses can sign up for four lines for $100 with 2.5GB of data per line. These plan options are available now for a limited time. T-Mobile states that there is no expiration date of the plan once you sign up so get on the plan you need now before it's too late.

RIP iPod Classic: Music's most elegant solution

for The Atlantic

Recently I had a fairly pedestrian thought, a thought I've been having on and off for 10 years: 'I want to put some music onto my portable music listening device.' This used to be a relative cinch: I'd put the music on iTunes, plug in my iPod, and drag the songs over. Now, anytime I dare hook my iPhone up to a computer, there's software that needs updating, apps and photos I need to clear away for extra room, and esoteric rules regarding what is allowed to 'sync.' After finally getting an album onto my phone, another software update a week later reverted my music library to its previous state, putting me back at square one and making me long for my iPod, the last device I owned that was just for music.

Apple discontinued the 'iPod Classic' (the click-wheeled hard drive that changed the way much of the world listened to music) two months ago. Last weekend, The Guardian found absence was making hearts grow fonder. 'With a storage capacity double the size of any current iPods still being made, versions of the 160GB Classic - which can hold around 40,000 songs - are being sold as new via Amazon for up to £670,' or more than $1,000, Paul Gallagher wrote.

The price is a little lower in America, but an iPod Classic still retails for $493 on Amazon Prime. You can get an iPhone 6 Plus, with 128 gigabytes of storage, for pretty much the same price - and that sucker can browse the Internet, watch movies, use Spotify, and do a zillion other things. It also shackles you to a cellular contract, pesters you with notifications, and commits the unavoidable sin of trying to manage all of the stressful aspects of daily life. The smartphone is a miracle, to be sure, but it might not be making things simpler.

If I'm out and about and listening to music via headphones, those songs get interrupted by text message notifications and email dings all the time. I'm so used to it, but when I think about it for a second, I realize how crazy that is (and yes, I know I can turn my phone sounds off, but sometimes I have to be alerted to things quickly). Apologies if I sound like Andy Rooney, but the truth is I'm not railing against newfangled tech or yearning for a distant past - I'm frustrated to have to abandon a recent solution. It wasn't long ago that I'd get annoyed when music skipped on Discman as I walked to school. The iPod was the answer. That's when we fixed all these problems.

It's not hard to get conspiratorial about just why Apple doesn't want us to have iPods. I buy music directly from my phone, just so I don't have to deal with iTunes, a program that somehow gets more hellishly slow and unusable with every software update. That's vertical integration for you. The stated reason for the iPod Classic's demise was that its parts were no longer easily available to Apple for manufacturing, and that demand wasn't high enough to create new ones. And I'm sure part of the mad scramble for iPod Classics is their perceived rarity. If Apple brought them back, sales would remain at low.

But I remain on the hunt for something new, dreaming of downgrading my phone to a smaller hard drive that I just use for photos and games. Meanwhile, my bloated music library can move to an easier-to-manage brick. Remember the Zune? That was also discontinued, but has a cult following as a cheaper option to the iPod. Other long-running companies like Creative Zen and SanDisk have always had functional mp3 players, and Sony has revived the Walkman brand for the high-end audiophile crowd (to little fanfare, it seems). There's also this strange PonoPlayer, a Kickstarted device created by Pono Music (owned by Neil Young!) that boasts a weird triangular shape and the option to buy high-quality versions of the albums you already own.

It all feels very imperfect, which means I'm probably stuck getting increasingly frustrated with iTunes and groaning audibly when an album I want to listen to isn't streaming on Spotify. But the surge of demand for old iPods suggests what I've long been thinking: There's a hole in the market here. Something has to rush in and fill it eventually. The question is whether Apple will realize its mistake or some other company will do it for them.

This article originally published at The Atlantic here

Project Loon works with France's space agency to develop next

Project Loon has come a long way since Google X started working on it in 2011: its balloons can now stay afloat for 100 days, for one, and it has recently gained a partner carrier in Australia's Telstra. Now, France's space agency, Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), has revealed that it's been collaborating with the semi-secret lab for a year now to take this moonshot to the next level. Apparently, the agency is helping Mountain View analyze data from ongoing tests, as well as design its next-gen floating hotspots. Google, on the other hand, will help CNES conduct long-haul balloon flights to the stratosphere.

'No single solution can solve such a big, complex problem. That's why we're working with experts from all over the world, such as CNES, to invest in new technologies like Project Loon that can use the winds to provide Internet to rural and remote areas,' said Mike Cassidy, the Google VP in charge of the project. CNES has a long history researching stratospheric balloons (50 years, according to its announcement post) and continues to release around 20 per month.

Marc Pircher (CNES' Toulouse Space Center director) told that he thought Project Loon wasn't at all realistic when Google first approached the agency and laid out its plans. After all, the company wants to deploy 100,000 balloons to provide internet connection in remote areas around the globe and then retrieve them when they lose air -- something that's nowhere near easy or practical. In the end, though, they did strike up a partnership, as the folks behind the moonshot have brilliant ideas that will be beneficial to CNES, including some that 'will reduce the cost of the balloons by 10 times or so.'

[Image credit: CNES]

Featured Stories Alienware Alpha review: almost the Steam Machine you're looking for ASUS ZenWatch review: subtle and stylish, with a few shortcomings 'The Crew': The Joystiq Review The world's slimmest smartphone is now 4.75mm thick PlayStation is now Sony's top priority Unboxed: Sony's 20th Anniversary Edition PlayStation 4 is gorgeous, rare and sold out Samsung's virtual reality headset, Gear VR: what you need to know

FBI warns businesses about large

There's still some debate over the scale of Iran's reported Operation Cleaver hacking campaign, but the FBI is clearly taking it seriously. According to Reuters' copy of a confidential report, the federal law enforcement agency is warning businesses of advanced Iranian hacks targeting American defense, education and energy firms. The alert stops short of accusing Iran of a cyberwarfare campaign, but notes that the attacks usually come from two connections within the country. There isn't exactly a huge list of suspects here.

To security company Cylance, which first spotted Cleaver, the warning is a sign that the campaign is larger than first thought -- it emphasizes Iran's 'determination and fixation' to breach and spy on crucial infrastructure. The nation's government denies any involvement, but it's hard to imagine the FBI letting the country off the hook quite so easily given accusations that Iran broke into US Navy computers last year. No matter who's responsible, it's evident that the US' most vital companies now have one more thing to worry about.

[Image credit: IIPA via Getty Images]

Featured Stories Alienware Alpha review: almost the Steam Machine you're looking for ASUS ZenWatch review: subtle and stylish, with a few shortcomings 'The Crew': The Joystiq Review The world's slimmest smartphone is now 4.75mm thick PlayStation is now Sony's top priority Unboxed: Sony's 20th Anniversary Edition PlayStation 4 is gorgeous, rare and sold out Samsung's virtual reality headset, Gear VR: what you need to know

Top 5 smartphones of 2014 (Video)

It's been one year in the making, but it's finally time to take a step back and look at what we've been given this year in mobile technology. Smartphones have come a long way over the last year. With all of the launches we've seen, it's time to put together the top 5 smartphones currently available...

These are the best of the best. Most of the smartphone released this year pack large phablet-like displays, but we'll throw in a couple of alternatives in case you value pocket space over screen size. Keep in mind, this list is in no particular order, but each smartphone has clearly earned it's place. It's been a long and busy year for the smartphone industry and we've nailed down our top picks. This is going to be your definitive guide to smartphone buying. Without any further delay, let's get right into it.

Check out our Top 5 Smartphones of 2014 video below:

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

First up on the list is Samsung's Galaxy Note 4. This is one of the best smartphones Samsung has ever released. It's a huge step in the right direction for the Note lineup and Samsung really stepped it up this time with a massive 5.7-inch QHD display and an aluminum frame. The build quality here is amazing and it's perfectly balance with its frame and textured plastic back side.

Samsung's Note line is the only place you'll find the S Pen and it definitely offers an advantage to those who will take advantage of its features. Multitasking on the Note 4 is a breeze, Battery life on the Note 4 is a winner and this may be the best looking display we've seen all year. Be sure to check out our Galaxy Note 4 review, Galaxy Note 3 vs Note 4 comparison, or click here for more information.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Next up, is Apple's iPhone 6 Plus. This is Apple's first shot at making a 'phablet.' With a 5.5-inch 1080p display, all-day battery life, optical image stabilization, and a sleek new design, this is a big step up for iPhone. Even if you're not an iOS fan, it's hard this 2014 release. The iPhone 6 Plus may be a bit large due to it's top and bottom bezel, but its performance and battery life are both on point.

If you're in need of a smaller format, the iPhone 6 is a good option, but you'll miss out on the extended battery life, large display, and optical image stabilization. To find out more, be sure to check out the full review over at 9to5Mac or click here for pricing and availability.

HTC One M8

It shouldn't be much of a surprise, but the HTC One M8 is one of my favorite smartphones of the year. It's just a solid device all around. HTC really stepped up the game with a unibody metal design, a 5-inch 1080p display, and those wonderful BoomSound speakers this flagship line is known for.

This smartphone is fast, beautiful, and a huge leap forward over its predecessor. If Android skins aren't your thing, the M8 is also available as a Google Play Edition which runs a stripped down stock version of Android and is a win all around. You can check out our HTC One M8 review here. For contract pricing and availability, click here.

OnePlus One

It's been a struggle for OnePlus this year. We've seen numerous attempts over the past few months, but OnePlus has failed to make its '2014 flagship killer' widely available to the public. Nevertheless, it's a must-have smartphone and makes our top 5 list without blinking an eye. This is the best smartphone your money can buy this year, but only if you can get a hold of an invite.

OnePlus' invite system has turned away many potential buyers and it's still semi-difficult to get your hands on it. Either way, this smartphone packs a crisp 5.5-inch 1080p display, excellent build, and runs Cyanogen Mod which offers a near-stock version of Android with a handful of useful customizations. The specs inside of the OnePlus One are comparable to every smartphone in this list, but (if you can get one) it can be had for only $299 off-contract for the base 16GB model.

Google Nexus 6

It may be a very recent release, but there's only one smartphone this year that shipped with Android 5.0 Lollipop and that's Google's Nexus 6. This is the largest Nexus smartphone to date. Packing a 5.96-inch QHD display and a metal frame design that was borrowed from Motorola's 2014 Moto X, the Nexus 6 is a beautiful performer. Along with that, Nexus lineup is always going to be the first to get Android updates.

You really can't go wrong with a Nexus smartphone, but this year's model may be a bit large for some people. If that's the case, your next best option is Motorola's 2014 Moto X (or the Nexus 5 if you don't mind last year's release). The Moto X has an identical build quality, but a much smaller form-factor with a 5.2-inch display. For a closer look, check out our Nexus 6 review or Moto X 2014 review.

Which is your favorite?

That about wraps it up. It's hard to deny the power and functionality that each of these smartphones bring to the table. There's no doubt in my mind that you'll be happy with any of them, but which one is your favorite?

Any specific smartphone that you think should have been included? Drop us a line below and leave your favorites from 2014. Also, be sure to check out our reviews on each of the devices listed above for specifics about each one and how they compare to the competition.

Tech Week: Instagram Vs. Twitter And Europe Vs. Google

All Tech Considered

Instagram beat Twitter on a key metric, but Twitter's co-founder says he doesn't care. And...

If you've been too busy finalizing holiday vacation plans and buying gifts, we're here to catch you up on the tech headlines you may have missed from NPR and beyond.


Rise of Ransomware: This type of virus is getting more and more common, so Aarti Shahani explains Ransomware. Security experts seem to disagree over whether to pay up when hackers install a virus that sneaks into your network and takes your files, holding them for ransom.

Smart Power: This is a hectic time of year and your wee ones could pull off some shenanigans while you're too busy to notice, so Samatha Raphelson introduces us to the Brio, a power outlet that you won't have to kid-proof.

Big Conversation

Sony Fallout: The humiliating hack of Sony continues to trouble the company and its employees, from more scary warnings that indicate the hackers still have access to its servers, to reports of racist emails between executives and Re/Code reporting that Sony is striking back with denial of service attacks, in order to stop people from getting to the illegally obtained data.

Google News Goes Dark In Spain: Google announced it would shut down Google News in Spain, which recently passed laws that require online services like Google to pay for the privilege of showing news snippets from journalism outfits.


Harvard Business Review: Understanding New Power

This has implications across sectors, but it outlines how technology is driving a transformation from 'old power' to 'new power.'

Time: Twitter Co-Founder: 'I Don't Give a S*** If Instagram Has More Users'

Counting active users is the wrong metric, Ev Williams says.

Quartz: The pilots of Instagram: beautiful views from the cockpit, violating rules of the air

They aren't supposed to be taking those images, but boy are their Instagram followers glad they did.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR

Arts & Life

The themed party trend is on us again, and holiday garb bedecked with bells, lights and way too...

Looking for a stylish sweater for the holidays? Forget cashmere. Instead, go for the light-up, dancing Santa.

This season, holiday shoppers are demanding the ugliest, gaudiest, tackiest sweaters out there. They need them for ugly sweater parties, ugly sweater fun runs - even an ugly sweater party cruise.

All that demand has had an impact on stores large and small. On the national level, Walmart, Kohls and Target all sell vintage-looking sweaters with all the bells and tinsel you could want.

And at Re-Love It consignment in Purcellville, Va., last year, shop owner Michael Oaks had 120 sweaters that quickly sold. This year, he stockpiled more than a thousand for the Christmas rush.

His customers on a recent day included a Southwest flight attendant shopping for the perfect sweater to wear over her uniform - 'it's gotta be really, really gaudy,' she says - and holiday party-goers who hope to out-tacky their competition.

So far, Oaks has sold 800 sweaters - and he just received an emergency shipment of 200 more.

Share Your Tacky Sweater: #NPRuglysweaters

Do you have the perfect ugly holiday sweater? Can you out-tacky Re-Love It owner Michael Oaks?

Post your photos with the tag #NPRuglysweaters on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, and we'll pull together some of the highlights for a post Sunday night.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

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The Two-Way

Thousands are expected to attend the march sparked by anger over the fatal police shootings of...

Thousands of demonstrators were expected for a 'Justice for All' march today in the nation's capital to protest decisions in Missouri and New York not to indict police officers involved in the deaths of two black men.

The Rev, Al Sharpton's National Action Network, the NAACP and the National Urban League were to start at noon at Freedom Plaza and march to the U.S. Capitol, where they will hold a rally featuring the families of several African Americans who were killed in confrontations with police.

Dante Gabovuel, 20, a native of Chicago who is attending Emory University in Atlanta, was among those gathered early for the march.

'My generation has reached either a tipping point or a breaking point,' Gabovuel told NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. 'The violence has become very visible.'

He said now racism is 'bubbling back to the surface where you have basically public lynchings on video with no repercussions.

'We are not going to take this anymore,' he said.

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the choking death of Eric Garner by police officers in New York and the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in recent months have fueled anger among people who see different police standards for how suspects are treated, according to their race.

The Washingtion Post reports that organizers said buses would be arriving from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, North Carolina, Florida and elsewhere.

'[P]articipants include clergy and labor representatives.

'But some younger activists who have been disenchanted by Sharpton and the traditional black leadership are not planning to attend. Moreover, many of them will be participating in a 'National Day of Resistance' also planned for Saturday.

'Organizers of that protest, not surprisingly, are using more confrontational language that appears to be in stark contrast to the National Action Network's call for legislative action.'

A website for the group organizing the Day of Resistance says:

'What started as an urban revolt of young black people in Ferguson, MO has grown into a national movement for Black lives.

'The entire nation is awakening to the reality of our broken criminal justice system. We cannot stop or slow down now. This Saturday, we're taking it to the next level.'

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR

Maryland DUI App Aims To Prevent Drunk Driving

A new app, called ENDUI-as in 'End-DUI'-recently came out in Maryland. Funded with federal dollars, the app is designed to prevent people from driving drunk by acting as an intermediary to demonstrate partiers are too inebriated to get behind the wheel.

'It's unique,' describes Governors Highway Safety Association spokeswoman Kara Macek. 'I think states are starting to go that route because they're trying to reach consumers where they are and where they spend time, and everyone spends time on their phone. I think we're going to see more of that as we go forward.'

The Governors Highway Safety Association funded this new mobile app-which was developed by the Maryland Highway Safety Office-for approximately $50,000. And they aren't the only state with an app like this. New York, Colorado, New Mexico, and California, all have launched their own version of this app. Every one of these apps, though, are free through iOs and Android phones. One of the games featured on the app has users pressing a red button when the image of a pedestrian passes the car ahead of you or stops in your path. The game is supposed to simulate driving and the red button is, in essence, the brake. It is intended to show you how delayed your reaction time might be.

The other game in the app shows nine different road signs, blinking randomly. Your task is to remember the order of the signs. Of course, the game gets harder and harder every round.

Maryland Highway Safety Office chief Tom Gianni explains 'The game is meant to be a hook and pull you in. Then it's meant to give you a lesson of, 'See what can happen. Imagine if you were behind the wheel.''

Ford's new SYNC will be more like your smartphone

Ford's in-car infotainment system is getting an overhaul with SYNC 3, which will add a capacitive touch screen, better integration with smartphone apps and, eventually, support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

SYNC 3 will initially launch in a small lineup of vehicles rolling off assembly lines in 2015. Ford plans to have it available across its full North America line by the end of 2016.

While there are 10 million vehicles on the road with SYNC, none of them will get the new version of the service.

'It's both a hardware and software update,' said Don Butler, Ford's executive director of connected vehicle and services.

The biggest hardware change will be moving from resistive touch screens to capacitive ones. The new capacitive screens will be an experience most people are familiar with from tablets and smartphones. It allows for multitouch, pinch-to-zoom and requires light taps to activate on-screen buttons. Resistive touch displays, while cheaper to make, are typically more difficult and restrictive to use. They don't support multitouch and heavier pressure is needed to activate the screen.

Apple iPhone users that have their phones connected to the car via Bluetooth will be able to activate the Siri voice assistant by pressing a button on the steering wheel. Google Now, the Android equivalent, will not be available.

While not available during the initial rollout, Butler said the ability to mirror the screen from your smartphone for some functions will become available later. While SYNC is an upgrade that will cost car buyers more money, in-car navigation is often an additional premium on top of SYNC. With more drivers using their smartphones for navigation, Ford said that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto projection will be a software update coming in the future.

The new cars with SYNC 3 will also have a WiFi receiver for software updates. The process for updating SYNC now includes downloading an update, putting it on a USB flash drive and plugging it into the car. The WiFi receiver will let drivers update the car's software using their home wireless network when parked in the driveway -- assuming the home's network is in range.

An updated AppLink will give drivers better control of their smartphone apps from the car's display. For example, drivers listening to Pandora will be able to thumb up or down songs from the dashboard display.

Under development for about 18 months, Butler said Ford took input from about 22,000 customer feedback surveys.

SYNC first debuted in 2007. It is Ford's voice-based, in-car infotainment system, designed to keep driver's eyes on the road. Using a button on the steering wheel, drivers can activate SYNC, which will prompt drivers for a voice command. Drivers can lower the temperature, change radio station or make phone calls. Phones are paired via Bluetooth. Drivers can also accept incoming calls using SYNC. The new version of the service uses a Texas Instruments OMAP 5 processor running the QNX operating system.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

Ford dumps Microsoft for Blackberry infotainment system


Ford is upgrading its infotainment system to make it more like a smartphone or tablet -- and it is dumping its longtime software provider Microsoft as part of the change.

Instead, Ford will use Blackberry's QNX operating system for the new Sync 3 infotainment system. Ford Sync allows drivers to navigate, listen to radio and music, make phone calls and control the car's climate through touch or voice commands.

Among Sync 3's improvements will be the ability to expand or shrink the display with pinch-to-zoom gestures. Customers will also be able to swipe the screen's display, as they do on a smartphone or tablet.

Sync 3 will also have a better understanding of common voice commands. For example, drivers will be able to give a street address as 'eleven-twenty-five' rather than 'one-one-two-five.'

It also will integrate better with the Apple iPhone, allowing users to access Siri hands-free. The old Microsoft-based Sync did not always play nicely with Apple products.

Sync 3 will be available next year on Model Year 2016 cars, though Ford spokesman Alan Hall could not say what percentage of cars will still have the old touch screens and which will have the new ones.

Because the new touchscreens will include new hardware, owners of the current Sync with MyFord Touch system will not be able to upgrade to Sync 3.

The switch from Microsof to Blackberr has been rumored since early this year.

Sync with MyFord Touch has been a source of many customer complaints. The gripes about Sync have actually hurt customer satisfaction and quality ratings for Ford vehicles in surveys conducted by JD Power and others.

The system frequently locks up, has difficulty connecting to a device and it sometimes doesn't understand voice commands. Especially frustrating is Sync's complicated commands to navigate the various features by voice.

Hall said Ford's internal survey show it has 'turned the corner' on customer complaints and that those who have the current touch screen product are more satisfied with their cars than those who still have the more basic system which only works on voice commands. About 55% of Ford drivers have the touchscreens, while 40% still have the more basic system.

Sync was first introduced in 2007 -- before Apple introduced the iPhone.

Facebook unfriends Microsoft's Bing search

The world's largest social network has stopped showing results from the search engine.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook and Microsoft's relationship status? You can say 'It's Complicated.'

The social network said it is no longer relying on Bing for Web search results, ending a four-year online relationship with Microsoft's search engine. Microsoft still owns a tiny but valuable stake in Facebook.

'We're not currently showing web search results in Facebook Search because we're focused on helping people find what's been shared with them on Facebook,' a Facebook spokesman said in a statement.

Microsoft also confirmed the move, practically echoing Facebook's statement. 'Facebook recently changed its search experience to focus on helping people tap into information that's been shared with them on Facebook vs. a broader set of Web results,' a Microsoft spokesman said Friday.

Both companies stressed they continue to partner in other areas, however.

The pseudo-breakup is both surprising and expected. Facebook has been building its own search technology, focused primarily on helping users find information within its social network. Two years ago, the company unveiled 'Graph Search,' a way to sift through friends with queries like, 'College classmates who like Coldplay and X-Men movies and live in San Francisco.'

To Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, search is one of the most important initiatives happening at his company. He also expects search, as well as Facebook's Instagram photo messaging service and WhatsApp messaging program, will reach 1 billion people within the next five years. 'Once we get to that scale, then we think that they will start to become meaningful businesses in their own right,' he said in an October conference call.

The move is also a blow to Bing, Microsoft's answer to the world's top search provider, Google. Industry researcher comScore said that as of October, Google represented 67 percent of Web searches, while Microsoft's Bing represented nearly 20 percent. How much Facebook will affect Bing's market share is unclear.

What is clear is that Facebook and Microsoft's relationship isn't as strong as it was seven years ago, when the software giant acquired a 1 percent, $240 million stake in the social network, valuing the company at $15 billion. Today, Facebook is valued at more than $211 billion. So, there's a lot left for Microsoft to like.

The Spanish War Against Google

At least in Europe, the newspaper wars are not quite over.

Five years ago this month, Eric Schmidt, the chairman and then-CEO of Google, published a column in the Wall Street Journal about the crisis in print. Newspapers are 'struggling to adapt to a new, disruptive world,' he said. 'The Internet has broken down the entire news package.' Schmidt, Mr. Forward-thinking, cast his eye to 2015: 'The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. I flip through my favorite papers and magazines, the images as crisp as in print, without a maddening wait for each page to load.' Google News is what he had in mind, a website that compiles headlines and short summaries of news stories from many sources in clean, searchable form. Newspaper executives were frustrated and angry at Google, but he contended that Google would help news organizations rather than harm them. 'We want to work with publishers to help them build bigger audiences, better engage readers, and make more money.'

Google News has coasted to success in the United States, where fair use doctrine gives it wide latitude to aggregate content. But in Europe, in a climate where antitrust suits against Silicon Valley firms like Google have been heating up, the company is facing opposition. Earlier this year, Spain passed a law that would require content aggregators like Google to pay publishers for use of its story links or 'snippets,' the one or two sentences from the article that are displayed beside the source link. In response, Google on Thursday announced its decision to shutter Google News in Spain. For a giant like Google, the Spanish newspaper market is small fry, a novice matador up against a killer Miura bull. But it's at least possible that Spain's decision could be a turning point, showing publishers throughout Europe that it's possible to demand that Google pay for content.

'Whereas given their status of de facto gateway to the Internet, they hold all the keys, and offer only a take-it-or-leave-it choice of whether you come in and play their game or not.'

Angela Mills-Wade, Executive Director of the European Publishers Council

In the past, Google has avoided such litigation by setting up funds to support newspapers. In France, for instance, in February, 2013, Eric Schmidt traveled to the Élysée to personally cut a deal with President François Hollande. Under the terms agreed, Google set up a fund of €60 million (almost $75m) to finance innovation in digital publishing. In exchange, French publishers would not make Google pay to use 'snippets' of content on Google News. The following month, Germany passed a law known as the 'Google Tax' law, which gave publishers the exclusive right to profit from their content for one year. It made it illegal for sites like Google News to post ' non-insignificant' article excerpts without paying a fee. The law that went into effect allowed news publishers to explicitly opt in to Google's index, and prevent Google from paying fees.

But the new law in Spain says that the right to be paid cannot be waived-it is, in the Spanish, irrenunciable. Even if a publisher wants to license its content for free, it can't. The Spanish statute does not say exactly how much news aggregators would have to pay to aggregate an article, but, according to the New York Times, noncompliance could carry a one-time fine of $750,000.

In the background of Spain's law-for Google, lurking meanly-is a remark recently made by the new European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger. Oettinger took office last month and quickly announced his intent to reform copyright laws along the lines of the Google tax in Germany, his home country. According to, Oettinger told the newspaper Handelsblatt, 'If Google takes intellectual property from the EU and makes use of it, the EU can protect this property and demand that Google pay for it.' So although Spain isn't such a big deal, the stakes may be Europe-wide.

When Richard Gingras, the head of Google News, made the announcement to close Google News in Spain, he included a surprising claim:

As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it's with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we'll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

On Friday afternoon, I spoke to Angela Mills-Wade, the Executive Director of the European Publishers Council, about Google News's announcement. She called Gingras's assertion that Google News makes no money on the service 'astonishing,' pointing to a speech that Marissa Mayer, then vice president at Google, gave in 2008, at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, where Mayer said, according to Fortune's write-up, that Google News was worth about $100 million to the company. And that was 6 years ago. Mills-Wade told me that Google News should have been a partner to the news industry, considering the position they've established in the market. 'But,' she said, 'partnerships are built on trust by two willing parties with some common understanding and a balance of bargaining power based on mutual interest. Whereas given their status of de facto gateway to the Internet, they hold all the keys, and offer only a take-it-or-leave-it choice of whether you come in and play their game or not. If you do so, it is on their terms. So there is no trust and no hope of true partnerships or fair and open competition.'

When I reached Google for comment, a press officer sent a link to Gingras's announcement, along with a statement saying that, although they were 'incredibly sad' to be removing Spanish publishers from the site, they will 'continue to work with Spanish publishers to help them increase their readership and revenues online.'

Spain has pushed back against Google; its lawmakers must hope to set a precedent on compensation for publishers. Countries like China and Russia, which attempt strict control over their citizens' Internet activity, are pinching Google, too. The Financial Times reported Friday morning that Google is closing its engineering office in Russia, in response to a crackdown on Internet activity.

Unfortunately, whatever happens, none of this will change the troubled lot of newspapers.

What to expect from Sony at CES 2015

Didn't we just leave Vegas? Tech journalists the world over are probably asking themselves that question right now, and with good reason -- the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show is set to open its many, many doors in sunny Nevada in just a few short weeks. To celebrate (and prepare for) the world's biggest tech expo, we're taking a closer look at the some of the industry's most prominent players, starting with Sony's storied history at the show and where it's going next.

A Look Back

Sony's been a mainstay of the CES show floor for decades, ever since those heady days when the show split between winters in Vegas and summers in Chicago. Those early CES years were marked by Sony's hardware-pioneering prowess: new Walkman models in the '70s, incredibly tiny Beta camcorders in the mid-'80s and top-tier VAIOs in the '90s. And every once in a while, you'd catch a glimpse of a real game changer being born at the Sony booth.

Consider the events of CES Summer 1991: Olaf Olafsson had revealed the company's plans for the Play Station (the spacing is important!), a Super Nintendo CD-ROM add-on borne of a partnership between Sony and Nintendo that would play games off of so-called Super Discs. But the day immediately following the announcement, Nintendo, fearing its loss of CD-ROM royalties, slipped a knife between Sony's ribs and effectively backed out of the deal. Nintendo was now going to partner with Philips to create yet another CD-ROM gaming gizmo. If you're a gamer, you probably know how this infamous story ends: Sony retaliated by launching a proper PlayStation console, dominating the 32-bit generation and setting a new sort of entertainment empire into motion.

That same year, Sony announced its cultishly popular MiniDisc format (which quietly stuck around for 20 years before it officially died), and spent the rest of the '90s innovating products across its home theater, camera, mobile phone and media divisions. But the sprawling Sony proved ineffective at sustaining that momentum and, as the past decade showed, its innovation machine seemed to slow down a touch. Each year saw iterative improvements to the company's product lines, but nothing much in the way of game changers.

Hell, for a while there, it looked like the company's myriad kooky side projects were getting more attention than more substantive gadgets. Remember AIBO the robotic dog? And the QRIO? They've become the stuff of tech/pop-culture legend, if only because they were just weird and decidedly off Sony's usual, iterative beaten path. If nothing else, Sony's track record the past few years has been marked by caution. It's treaded into with mobile realm with dead ends like the Mylos, embraced Android with its Xperia line and launched iconic cameras like the Cyber-shot T1.

Today's Sony is a different beast from the one that spooked competitors and rode high on a wave on innovation in the late '90s and early 2000s. It seems less confident and more reactive than it used to be. And honestly, who could blame it? The chasm between its popular, profitable divisions and the one's dragging down the company's bottom line couldn't be bigger. And more than a few analysts, like Jefferies' Atul Goyal, have said the Japanese giant's electronics business is now basically worth nil. That's why there's a new plan in effect: Sony's refocusing on product categories (i.e., its PlayStation gaming business and imaging) that have the most growth potential, and CES 2015 is where Sony will make its renewed case for electronics domination to the world.

The Road Ahead

First things first, expect to see a familiar shift in the company's mobile philosophy: Sony's trimmed down its portfolio and plans to focus on a smaller number of smartphones than it has in years past. It's not like Sony has ever thrown spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks the way a company like Samsung has, but the time for the scattershot approach is over. That said, there's a pretty good chance the Xperia Z4 (and maybe an even bigger, Xperia Ultra cousin) will soon break cover in Las Vegas. We're barreling into CES leak season now, and early whispers about Sony's mobile lineup are already contradicting each other. If you take them at face value, then the new Xperia flagship will sport either a 5.2-inch 1080p screen or a more eye-catching Quad HD display, along with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 humming away inside that signature boxy body.

Today's Sony is a different beast from the one that spooked competitors and rode high on a wave on innovation in the late '90s and early 2000s. It seems less confident and more reactive than it used to be.

Sony took another stab at the wearables category last CES when it introduced the Core/SmartBand, a tiny little thing with a cool lifelogging concept and a dearth of staying power. It'll be interesting to see if (or how) Sony merges that sort of dedicated wearables line with its smartwatch play. After all, Sony's Android Wear-powered SmartWatch 3 just entered into a swelling market a few weeks ago. But even that's not a sure thing, as we've also seen images of a Pebble-esque, e-ink smartwatch surface too, a sign that the beleaguered titan is weighing the value of wearables as a way to boost its bottom line.

'Motorola's demonstrated that you don't have to tie your smartwatches directly to your smartphones to be somewhat successful,' said Jackdaw Research principal analyst Jan Dawson. 'I think that's the route forward for Sony too, and it might also be a good way to promote awareness of its smartphones, especially in the US, where they're very low-profile today.'

On the other end of the screen-size spectrum, Sony's guaranteed to show off some new Ultra HD televisions in just a few weeks. Duh. What's a little less obvious is just how important the company thinks Ultra HDTVs are to its future, if only because we're finally getting to the point where it actually makes sense to own one of the things. Prices have been slowly drifting down from the stratosphere since the first Ultra HD televisions debuted at CES a few years back, and this year's Black Friday shopping frenzy saw a handful of Ultra HDTVs from top-tier manufacturers like Samsung sell for under $1,000 (a tactic that Sony Electronics US President Mike Fasulo doesn't seem too fond of). And more importantly, the pool of content that makes use of all those extra pixels, some of which is owned by Sony, is starting to swell in significant ways.

Here's the thing, though: You'd do well to expect fewer models on the show floor this time around. Part of Sony's plan involves streamlining its TV selection for more impact, not to mention educating consumers like you and me about the virtues of Ultra HD. At least a few of those new sets will emphasize a new level of smarts in the form of Google's Android TV platform, of which Sony is a partner.

And then there's PlayStation, one of Sony's most lucrative cash cows. There definitely won't be any PlayStation 5-level announcements at the show, but we will see more software teasers and proclamations, paired with mentions of hardware updates. Though last year saw the introduction of the Gaikai-based PlayStation Now service, a sort of Netflix for streaming full-on PS3 titles, it's unclear what Sony has in store at CES in January. PS Now's been in beta for the better part of six months, so we wouldn't be surprised if it graduated to a full-blown release at the big show. And, if we're lucky, we'll get a better sense of how the service could handle streaming PS1 and PS2 games to boot.

Of course, we can't forget about Sony's Project Morpheus virtual reality hardware. The headset, and its handful of prototype games, seemed surprisingly polished the last time we checked in with Sony brass. And with competition from heavyweights like Samsung and Oculus, it's likely we'll be hearing more about Sony's bold push into VR. And what better place for the company to spread the word even further than in front of the world's nerds at CES 2015 in Vegas?

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