The Next Gen Console War, Round 2: PS4 vs. Xbox One

It was around this time last year that Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft’s Xbox One (XBONE) were first released, starting the next generation of the console gaming wars—Nintendo, as per usual, is left out of the conversation. What does the second round clash between these two giants look like? Let’s take a look at the previous year and forecast what might be on tap for this holiday season.

Thus far, the PS4 has outsold the XBONE, 13.5 million vs. 10 million. Though it should be noted that the XBONE used to cost $100 more and was marketed more so as a general entertainment system than a gaming console.

As a whole, this next generation of gaming consoles is selling well; combined Sony and Microsoft have sold almost 24 million consoles since last year. This is roughly 70 percent more than last generation’s PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 made during their first year.

Neither system is backwards compatible, though each company appears to have a strategy to combat this issue. For Sony it is PlayStation Now: a marketplace on the PlayStation Network where older games can be purchased and downloaded. Microsoft appears to be addressing backwards compatibility through a strategy that Sony is known for: supporting both the Xbox 360 and the XBONE simultaneously—just as Sony did with the PS2 and PS3, and to a lesser extent currently with the PS3 and PS4.

Microsoft also has a strategy for hopefully transitioning gamers to the XBONE from their Xbox 360s. Certain games intended for the XBONE like Destiny currently have a special offer where, if you purchase a copy before January 2015 you will receive a digital copy for both the Xbox 360 and the XBONE. This both supports the notion of supporting both consoles but also suggests that Microsoft hopes gamers will begin transitioning to the XBONE.

There are some that believe the days of consoles are numbered. There are many reasons behind this school of thought, though one of the main threats to console gaming appears to be the rise of cheap mobile games that don’t require a several hundred-dollar console solely dedicated to playing games.

Consoles have historically also been threatened by the PC gaming. While the two have peacefully coexisted for a while, it looks like console games might have an additional front to fight. Steam, the popular video game market for computer gaming, is set to release a line of long awaited Steam Machines in 2015, which looks to be a hybrid of PC gaming and console gaming that makes Steam’s sizeable library of games more accessible and easier to interface with.

However, consoles are doing everything in their power to stay attractive. One feature of gaming consoles might see some improvements to this end: video-streaming apps. Video game consoles are important to video-streaming apps, in fact research shows that consoles are the most used source of video streaming services in the US. Sony is looking to take advantage of this audience in a big way, announcing Sony Vue: a TV video-streaming service that hopes to rival cable subscriptions. In a weird twist, Internet TV might be the thing that saves gaming consoles instead of multi-million dollar gaming projects.

In a nutshell, and a surprise to no one, the console war between Sony and Microsoft continues to be a tug-of-war with no end in sight.

Do you own a gaming system? Would you prefer to own a PS4 or an XBONE?

Taylor Swift vs. Spotify: Is the Steaming Service Good for Artists?

Spotify has been criticized by some as being bad for artists. Their arguments posit that, because it doesn’t bring in enough revenue, Spotify is “giving their music away for free.” Taylor Swift is one of the recent critics of Spotify. Since her voice is influential in the music community, her criticism prompted Spotify to fire back at her, defending their business model and protection of artists’ work.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote a blog post defending Spotify and responding to Taylor Swift with a number of myths about the music business. They have been criticized of “giving their music away for free.” However, as Ek states, Spotify has paid $2 billion to artists since its beginning, and $500 million in 2013 alone. Spotify now boasts 62.5 million subscribers, 12.5 million of which have paid accounts while the other 50 million are free users. More than 80 percent of Spotify users started as free users.

There are a few thoughts on the topic. One critique says that Spotify, and other similar streaming sites like Pandora, Soundcloud, and Rdio, is designed around providing a good service to already popular music while making things more difficult for new artists. The argument goes that these already popular songs and artists (think artists like Pink Floyd and The Beatles) receive larger rates than new artists, and new artists have to play the game or get out. Artist Nigel Godrich, who had his music on Spotify and then removed it, made this argument on Twitter.

What do you think about Spotify and other “freemium” services? Are freemium services good or bad for artists?

Stop Procrastinating Once and For All

procrastination

With the coldest months of the year quickly approaching, you might already have started to feel less productive than usual. When all your body wants to do is snuggle up with a book and some hot tea, it can be difficult to get motivated to actually do anything on that endless list of to-dos. Putting things off isn’t just unproductive for you and anxiety-inducing later down the road, it’s also a bad look to always be behind. Here are a few ways to stop procrastinating.

  • Find out where your procrastination comes from. Procrastination starts with psychology. It’s important to ask yourself why you are putting things off. Maybe you get an adrenaline rush from it, or maybe you seem to be easily distracted. Figure out what keeps bringing you back to the place of putting things off.
  • Prep yourself. Be ready for your scheduled time frame. Don’t let prepping eat into the time you are supposed to be tackling the task at hand. If you want to be prepped to finish an assignment in the morning, put the document up the night before and make sure you have everything in front of you to complete it.
  • Create a timer for yourself. Once you get going, and have a specific amount of time to do something, you will work faster. You are literally blocking off that time for whatever is being put off. If you can’t finish it in that time frame, set off another amount of time for it. Have the clock running on a literal timer if you need it.
  • Create habits for yourself. Start by working on a bit of your project at a certain time and create a daily habit of it. The most effective way to get you started on a procrastinated task is to ritualize it in some way and ease yourself into it. Plan 15 minutes on a project one day and then gradually increase the time.

Up Your 9-to-5 Attire

Living in a 9-to-5 world, or for most of us a 9-to-9, it can be challenging to juggle everything. There are thousands of emails to be answered, commutes to be traveled and meetings to attend. Sometimes you even must endure this without a cup of coffee.

business_attireYour wardrobe can influence how you carry yourself throughout all of this during the day. When you wear outfits that you feel great in versus the ones you are so-so about, you know and those around you likely do too. Getting an extra confidence boost before you walk out of your bedroom is the optimal way to start the day, especially since they are usually longer than you think.

Here a few buys and ideas to help you climb that corporate ladder in style:

  • Try a long-sleeve dress with a nice silhouette. They are easy to throw on and if it has a pattern, it can be an attention grabber.
  • Invest in some brightly colored heels. These are fun to wear and a high-fashion twist on a classic. Just don’t go tacky-bright.
  • Wide leg trousers look great on women and add some curves. Get them in a nice fall hue like mahogany or olive.
  • Step up your jacket game with a floor-length coat. Houndstooth patterns are a good twist on traditional black and are more fashion forward.
  • A colored t-shirt dress paired with a nice pair of loafers or pumps can be a fun but classic outfit for the office. Layer a casual cotton blazer over top for an even more defined look.
  • Adding a colored suit to your repertoire can make a unique statement and will help you to stand out from your peers.
  • Pick up a nice tote for yourself rather than coming into work with the same old laptop bag you’ve had since high school.

Investing in a few of these garments will help you dress for success at work.

Microsoft Releases “Band”, a Smartwatch that will “Make You a Better Human”

Microsoft’s new smartwatch, the Band, boasts that it will “know you better than yourself [and] help you be a better human”, according to a Microsoft blog post. The Band is similar to the fitness band by Nike, the Fuelband, in both form and function. Both the Nike Fuelband and the Microsoft Band are sleek, slim, and offer a lot of information about your health.

What exactly does the Band do? Here’s a brief list of the functionality garnered from Microsoft’s blog post.

  • It monitors your heart rate
  • It tracks your location with GPS, allowing you to map your runs or bike trips.
  • It monitors incoming UV levels and determines when you need to wear sunscreen.
  • It can access workout guides from various sources to supplement your workout.
  • It shows you how many calories you are burning.
  • It measures your sleep quality.
  • The Band can be synced with your smartphone, whether iOS, Android, or Windows, to display your calendar appointments, emails, and text messages.
  • And of course it can tell you the time—it is a watch after all.

This is Microsoft’s first stab at creating a smartwatch, and it appears they have done a solid job. They should be commended for the cross-platform functionality, though this is become more and more a standard rather than a bonus.

Microsoft appears to be using the same tactics with the Band that HTC did when they announced their new camera the RE earlier this season. Both of these devices claim to allow you to “live in the moment.” The RE accomplishes this by eliminating its viewfinder, while the Band lets you “leave you phone in your pocket and miss nothing.”

With already crowded smartwatch and fitness band markets, Microsoft must be confident that their Band, and its ability to let you live in the moment, will be special enough to succeed.

The Band is currently available online and in stores and is priced at $199.

Is Facebook Becoming a Conglomerate?

Facebook has been on a streak of acquiring tech companies with increasingly higher and higher bids as they expand their hold on the technology industry. Over the past few years, Facebook has acquired Instagram, Oculus Rift, and most recently WhatsApp.

First was Instagram, the picture-sharing app. Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012. When Facebook made their purchase, Instagram was valued at $500 million. However, Facebook paid $1 billion, twice the valued price. Then, the little utilized virtual reality headset company Oculus Rift was purchased for $2 billion.

The most recent of these purchases was WhatsApp. WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app that had 450 million users at the time of purchase, was purchased for $22 billion. What is most interesting about the purchase of WhatsApp is the fact that Facebook opened their wallets in a big way. Facebook valued WhatsApp at $6.7 billion, including value they added for the number of non-paying customers and potential news customers—in a $22 billion deal, that’s accounting $15.3 billion of the purchase as essentially good will.

Clearly, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others at Facebook believe that WhatsApp will be worth the investment. At Facebook’s quarterly conference call, Zuckerberg spoke about the purchase. “For us, products don’t get that interesting to turn into businesses until we get about a billion people using them,” Zuckerberg said.

Some have suggested that Facebook is looking to turn into conglomerate. In a Forbes article from April 2014, it was keenly acknowledged that Facebook might be growing at such a fast rate—and why companies with a large number of users are at a premium—because they acknowledge that not everyone likes Facebook. Given the apparently short life of social media websites (look to MySpace), it makes sense that Facebook would look to invest in technology that would improve their longevity.

Ultimately, only time will tell if these purchases were worth the heavy sticker price.

What do you think about Facebook’s high profile purchases?

Third Point’s 2nd Quarter Success Shows the Power of Activist Investing

When most people think of investors, they think of Wall Street and Warren Buffett. However, the most recent trend in the investment world has been the rise of activist investors. Activist investors are becoming more common and successful. According to Activist Insights, there were less than 30 activist investor campaigns in the year 2000. Compare that to present day, and the 237 campaigns launched in 2013, and you’ll see just how successful activist investors have been during the past few years.

One example of an extremely successful activist investor is Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC. Third Point, Loeb’s hedge fund, pulled in $2.5 billion in fresh cash from investors in just two weeks this past August. This increases the firm’s total assets to $17.5 billion, up from $15 billion. Loeb’s investments include shares in Dow Chemical, T-Mobile, Twenty-First Century Fox, Disney, FedEx, Yahoo!, and several others.

stock marketThe most well known example of activist investor influence to date is the $45.4 billion bid to purchase Allergan by activist investor Bill Ackman in partnership with Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Allergan, the company that gave the world Botox, is still considering the bid, but it is already being viewed as a watershed moment in the relationship between activist investors and big businesses.

“It’s not new for an investor to team up with an established company to make an offer, but I think this sets the precedent here for large companies to do it,” said Damien Park, managing partner at Hedge Fund Solutions. Ackman is another formidable activist investor, and his partnership with major companies like Valeant Pharmaceuticals will only strengthen his investment strategies.

While activist investors are undoubtedly becoming more successful and larger in number, there still remains the question of whether they are a good or bad influence on our economy. The debate rages on, though many have fallen in line to support the notion that activist investors and their actions keep companies on their toes, if nothing else.

“I think some aspects of activism have gone too far, and in some cases activism does breed corporate efficiency because corporations are made more vigilant than usual in anticipation of it,” said Evercore founder Roger Altman. “You can’t say activism is good or activism is bad.”

Learn more about activist investors by visiting Investopedia.

Facebook and Apple Now Offer Egg Freezing to Female Employees

Two technology giants, Apple and Facebook, are now offering women a phenomenal new perk: they are now offering to freeze the eggs of their female employees. This is a great benefit because it allows women to have “high-powered” careers without having to sacrifice the choice of having a family.

Facebook began covering egg freezing very recently, while Apple will begin to offer the benefit in January. This benefit allows women to effectively put their fertility “on ice” until they are ready to become parents. To have a successful career it is often difficult for women to compete because they want to have a family before they grow older. Now, the female employees of these companies shouldn’t have to choose.

While an incredible benefit it is very expensive: each round can cost up to $10,000 and it can cost upwards of $500 to keep the eggs frozen every year.

This is a great benefit for women, which will likely be beneficial for Apple and Facebook as well. These companies hope that offering these great new benefits will attract women to apply for jobs with them. Consider that women make up roughly 51 percent and you can see that having a leg-up on the competition for over half of the population is a huge benefit for recruiting the best talent.

It is important to note that while these techniques do have high success rates, there is no guarantee that this will guarantee women with children in the future. Therefore, doctors recommend that women freeze at least 20 eggs to cover their bases, which requires two rounds.

This comes in the midst of what some are calling a “benefits arms race” in Silicon Valley. Some companies offer their employees as much as $10,000 a year in benefits. 17 percent of surveyed high-tech companies say that they cover gender reassignment surgery.

Apple Releases OS X Yosemite, A Snazzy-Looking New Operating System

On Thursday October 16th Apple announced their new operating system: OS X Yosemite. So far, Yosemite has been getting good press from reviewers. Yosemite is the successor to Mavericks, and is being toted the biggest Apple upgrade since OS X Lion, which launched in July of 2011.

The first thing you’ll notice about Yosemite is that it has a sleek new look that sets it apart from Mavericks right away. Safari has had a redesign to match the snazzy-looking new OS. It also has improved functionality, my favorite being that third party developers can now create plugins that allow users to share web pages on social media websites with a few simple clicks, directly from the browser!

One of Apple’s goals was to make connecting all of your Apple devices incredibly easy. Now, once you have both an iPhone and a Mac running iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite respectively on the same Apple account, you can make phone calls on your computer as if it were your iPhone—your iPhone doesn’t even need to be in the same room as you! This is also true for text messages, regardless of the carrier of the person you are texting.

Handoff is another new feature that allows you to easily move documents from one device to another. Apple is hailing the seamlessness of the transition users will experience, and boasts that it works on many Mac apps, including Mail, Safari, Maps, Messages, and the Mac equivalents to the Microsoft Office Suite including Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Apple has also insinuated that app developers could easily make their apps compatible with Handoff.

While Handoff only works on files you were recently working on, Apple also expanded AirDrop to cover their bases. Now, AirDrop allows users to take files from any of their Mac or iOS devices and conveniently send them to another nearby device. Users on the receiving end will receive a status update.

Overall, OS X Yosemite appears to be an overall improvement of OS X Mavericks. The overhauled appearance and the increased ability to link devices and provide a seamless experience across all Apple devices make this update very attractive if you have more than one Apple product. And because it’s free, there is no risk in trying it out—which I highly recommend.

HBO to Join Streaming Market

HBO announced this week that it will start a stand-alone Internet streaming service in the United States in 2015. Unlike HBO’s previous offering, HBO GO, this new service will not require a subscription.

This announcement marks the beginning of HBO’s turn away from traditional television and into the field currently owned by services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. HBO hopes to capture a whole new generation of TV viewers who have canceled or never even had cable or satellite service.

Mentioning the 10 million homes in the US that pay for broadband connections but not traditional cable TV services, Richard Plepler, chief executive of HBO, called it “a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO.”

In fact, HBO’s move was predicted—or perhaps merely encouraged—as much as two years ago, when the website TakeMyMoneyHBO.com launched. More than 163,000 viewers in the first 48 hours, and many more afterward, determined that the average person would pay $12 a month for a non-subscription, online HBO option—cheaper than the $120 or more a month users typically pay for HBO-enhanced cable now.

Calling this a “new era,” HBO executives hope this streaming service, along with more original programming, buying into digital business opportunities, expanding international assets, and cutting costs across TV and film properties, will help parent company Time Warner stay relevant and active in today’s market. In fact, they expect to more than double their earnings in the coming years.

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