Android home gaming consoles are nearly arriving for the consumer market, but one at least needs a little more time in the oven to bake. It’s the GameStick, the super portable USB-stick style device that plugs into an open HDMI port on your TV to turn it into an Android-powered gaming machine, and its release schedule is being pushed back another month until August, with a retail launch to follow after that, because of a need to gather more feedback related to the GameStick UI so that it can be refined prior to wide release.
GameStick wanted to nail the user experience strikes me as a familiar refrain; another company, Leap Motion, which also achieved lots of support from the community for a novel idea, said something very similar when it delayed its own product recently. In both cases, the apprehension about getting things right the first time around is understandable, since these are products that have few if any antecedents with demonstrated success in the wider consumer market.
The GameStick delay, though another one on top of its first ship date slip, isn’t yet one that should really raise any eyebrows – projects typically underestimate how long it will take to go to market on Kickstarter. The Ouya was also delayed from its original planned launch by three weeks, owing to “demand” on the retail side. BlueStacks’ GamePop hasn’t been delayed as of yet, but it’s targeting a more open-ended end of year launch, and that gives it some flexibility to make sure the experience is just right before putting too fine a point on things.
All of these companies are venturing into relatively uncharted territory, so delays are fine; you can’t hold them to the same standards as an Apple or a Samsung, and even those giants sometimes encounter problems shipping exactly on time. One, two, or even three small delays isn’t surprising; but once the months start to fall away and you don’t hear much, that’s when it’s time to worry.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with Samsung President Shin Jong Kyun this week to discuss how the two companies might work together to help Facebook reap more revenue from advertising sales targeted at mobile devices, according to Bloomberg. Kyun and Zuckerberg talked about possible partnerships between the two companies at a meeting at Samsung’s Seoul headquarters, which is especially noteworthy given that FB had a recent, very public joint product launch misfire with another handset manufacturer, HTC.
Neither Facebook nor Zuckerberg provided any comment on the purpose of the meetings, according to Bloomberg, but Samsung is already a limited partner of Facebook, presumably, given that Facebook Home supported some Samsung devices at launch, while ignoring handsets like the Nexus 4, which arguably provides the most generic, and most easily modified Android experience. Facebook Home is a launcher that sits on top of Android, and takes over the experience, essentially turning your phone into a Facebook-first device.
Facebook Home is still struggling in the downloads department, with total installs dropping off pretty steadily over the past 30 days. And the HTC First, the first and only smartphone to ship with Home pre-installed, can’t be doing well. Rumors that it would be discontinued by exclusive carrier partner AT&T so far haven’t come true, but European launches have been cancelled, indicating the First isn’t long for this world.
When the First and Home were announced, it seemed likely other OEMs would introduce handsets with Home pre-installed, but now that doesn’t seem nearly as realistic a possibility. Samsung are the big guns, however, so if Facebook is looking for one more kick at the can with Home, Zuckerberg meeting with Samsung to make the ask makes perfect sense. Of course, it’s equally possible that the social network wants to throw Home on the scrap heap and go back to the drawing board with a new partner, which is the far more interesting possibility here. Could we finally see a true Facebook Phone, for instance, with Samsung as a mostly behind the scenes partner? Possible, but hard to know where Zuck’s head at is given previous reversals stemming from flirtations with hardware.
If you own a Samsung Galaxy and are a Jay-Z fan, then you will probably be happy to hear that Samsung is giving away one million copies of “Magna Carta Holy Grail” to owners of its flagship smartphone 72 hours before the album’s official debut on July 4.
Jay-Z hinted at the endorsement deal on Sunday when he appeared in a TV commercial during Game 5 of the NBA finals, along with Pharrell Williams and producer Rick Rubin. The tagline was “The Next Big Thing”–a teaser for the early release of “Magna Carta Holy Grail” on Galaxy devices.
Samsung bought 1 million copies of the album, which is scheduled for release on July 4, to give to Samsung Galaxy owners. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung paid $5 each for the albums–reaping Jay-Z $5 million for “Magna Carta Holy Grail” before it even goes on sale.
The deal is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it could help Samsung further polish its image in the U.S. as it continues its heated rivalry with Apple. Though Samsung is the top smartphone seller in the world, with a 28.8% percent share of the global market according to IDC, iPhones continue to lead in the U.S. Samsung’s Galaxy series has performed very well in the U.S., but the Korean company still suffers from lingering perceptions that it’s just a copycat thanks to the drawn-out Apple-Samsung legal battles over patents. An endorsement deal with one of the U.S.’s top rap artists may help Samsung gain more cred with consumers, especially younger ones.
The deal may also help Samsung’s Music Hub, a streaming music service available on Galaxy devices, compete with Apple’s iTunes Radio, which will be included with iOS devices and offer preview of tracks before they are available elsewhere. If Samsung is successful in building an attractive ecosystem for its mobile devices, that will help it retain consumers even if the phablet frenzy slows down.
Not content with following Nokia’s past playbook, by saturating the mobile market with countless iterations of its smartphone hardware, pushing a whole Galaxy of gizmos at every price point and form-factor fancy you can think of, Samsung has gone one further. It’s opened an R&D centre in Espoo, Finland, right on Nokia’s doorstep. Literally on Nokia’s doorstep. If you were in any doubt that Samsung is the new Nokia, this really has to be the final call.
Samsung said the R&D facility, its first in Northern Europe, is being located in Finland because of “the excellent technology development eco-system in Finland”. Which is basically another way of saying ‘thanks to Nokia, and the tech skills of the local people who likely acquired them working at or with Nokia at some point over the past several decades’. Nokia’s presence in Finland has helped build a thriving startup culture, thanks to the pool of local tech skills and experience but also as Nokia has had to reduce its own headcount it has actively encouraged entrepreneurship through its Bridge Programme by supporting former employees leaving to found their own startups. The irony now is that Samsung is looking to tap into an ecosystem Nokia has been helping to build up.
The R&D center — which is part of Samsung’s strategy of ramping up spending in this area this year, up from the circa $10 billion it spent on R&D activities last year — will focus specifically on development of open source software and “advanced technologies in the domains of graphics, web & security for digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, Digital TV and PCs”.
Another irony here is that as Samsung has gobbled up the marketshare Nokia used to own, the Finnish former phone giant has been forced to pull in its horns – to operate with far fewer resources than it had during its mobile heyday (when it too could produce a phone for every price-point and pocket) — thereby limiting the types of devices it can push into. Which in turn leaves room for a company like Samsung to target more development cash at other device type categories, like tablets, a category where Nokia used to play. In a sense, Samsung is just expanding into the footprints of Nokia’s past success.
Samsung said it plans to recruit at least 50 experts in the various technical domains that the R&D center will focus on in the coming years. It also plans to “steadily grow” the facility, pushing research into whatever tech areas it decides it needs to down the line.
As well as thumbing its nose at Nokia by tapping into local Finnish talent, siting an R&D Center in Northern Europe will give Korea-based Samsung a base to plug into a regional network of research and academic organisations, as well as getting close to European startups and businesses.
Europe has been a stronghold for Samsung smartphone hardware, so building closer ties to the region makes sense to futureproof its lead here. A lead Nokia has been trying to dent with its Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphones. Evidence of a slight uplift in sales for Windows Phone in markets such as the U.K. may be another factor pushing Samsung to drive deeper into Nokia’s territory — hence its stated intention now, with the Espoo Centre, to “actively build relationships and co-develop cutting edge technologies with our Finnish partners”.
Foursquare this morning has launched a pretty new visualization feature called Foursquare Time Machine, which offers a new way to view a history of your check-ins on an interactive map. And oh, it’s also an advertisement for Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone. Hey, look, Foursquare is trying to make some money by using your data! How clever!
The company has long since allowed users to delve into their check-in history through a searchable timeline it offers on the Foursquare.com website. And while the new Time Machine offers a briefly fun diversion for bored office workers looking for a little escapism, there’s not much value to it as a real product feature that you would return to again and again, following your first, more curious exploration.
As the Foursquare blog post explains, Time Machine lets users view their history and “zoom through time and space” to visualize your check-ins and “discover all the places you should head to next.” On that latter point, it appears to be referring to the images at the bottom of the Time Machine page which suggest other venues near your top check-in spots, which you can click on and save for later if you choose.
Users can also compile and then share their stats as a custom infographic to networks like Facebook and Twitter, which it seems many are excited to do.
But all this is really just a front to allow Foursquare to show you (and generate some revenue from) a large Samsung Galaxy S4 ad. The site is branded on the left side and on the top right (upon first launch), and, after clicking “fetch my history,” the middle of the Time Machine’s top navigation teases “The Next Big Thing.” As that experience loads, Samsung Galaxy S4′s branding shows yet again. There is literally nowhere on this micro-site where you can’t see the word “Samsung.” To be clear, this is not a Foursquare product or feature, this is only an ad.
The company has been busy in recent weeks beefing up its online experience at Foursquare.com in an effort to get more users to consider visiting its site on the web where it could monetize better through ads. This is tough, since Foursquare is still generally known as a mobile check-in app, and not the Yelp alternative it now wants to become. In addition, Foursquare has been opening up its platform to more businesses and advertisers, striking deals with the major credit card companies for member discounts, bumping up its sales force, and more, all in an effort to finally make some money. And it has bought itself a little more time to figure things out, too, thanks to its recent $41 million round, closed this spring.
It’s a timely move for Samsung as well, as the branded Time Machine experience comes on the heels of a recent Reuters report stating that Galaxy S4 sales were going to disappoint. Brokerages downgraded Samsung, citing weakening profit growth for the company. Though the S4 became the fastest-selling smartphone since its launch in late April, that momentum has now slowed, leading Samsung to a need for bigger and more creative ads.
You know, just like this.