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Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft XBox One and the New Age of Hacking

The first half of 2013 has seen some significant announcements from some of the biggest tech players out there; Sony revealed (sort of) their plans for the PS4, Adobe announced that their Creative Suite products are going in the cloud (aka Creative Cloud) and finally Microsoft revealed their competitor to the PS4, the XBox One.

The interesting thing about the last two is that there’s the need to connect to an internet based authentication system on a frequent basis to validate the software/configuration (to be completely validated by Microsoft, but this appears to be likely).

Adobe’s Move to Cloud – Competitors Start to Gain Share?

In the case of Adobe, their Create Suite product is still installed on the local machine but they now have the ability to push smaller updates to their products, whereas before it tended to be “big bang” approach. Adobe are charging consumers $50 per month to access this service which gives them all the Adobe Creative Cloud products (Photoshop, Muse, etc.) – thus removing their multi-tier, one-time upfront payment product matrix approach (Design, Design Premium, Production Premium, Master Collection versions). Once subscribed, the user has some great features available to them – some of which were available to them previously but in a more fragmented, less integrated fashion.

However, $50 for the casual user may be a price barrier for Adobe; Over 2 years, one user would pay $2400 for the service (a little more than owning Creative Suite Master Collection); however, unlike the old pricing model, the costs continue (but so arguably do the updates, product features, etc.). More casual users of the toolset would then argue that they could have paid $600 for access to (say) Photoshop and now their costs are exponentially higher for a service they only want 15-25% use of. This would then create a market opportunity for others (e.g. Corel Painter) to step in and provide a migration path including an ability to take existing PS Plugins and continue to use them. In this scenario, Adobe would significantly lose share of the consumer market and possibly gain additional business users who are enticed by (a) not having to pay for something they possibly use personally as well as professionally (b) costs are spread over a continuing cycle which could be easier to justify/expense.

XBox One’s Kill the Hacker Approach

For Microsoft, it is claimed the XBox One will expect to connect every 24 hours – possibly for the same update push reason as Adobe, but also because Microsoft are probably trying to combat the hacked systems out there that allow people to play pirated games (Both XBox and XBox 360 can be hacked relatively easily and there’s no shortage of pirated games). It also means they can control the use of used and borrowed games – effectively removing the used games market for all but the big players and stopping friends sharing their legally bought games, as each game is tied to a user ID. It will also be interesting to see how this affects services such as GameFly and Redbox – both whom allow the renting of games.

All it needs is one Service

There’s an old saying that goes to the effect of “the more you try to grip a grain of sand, the more it slips away” – and this is true for technology. Think of all the product launched with security and protection built into them and think how many have been hacked, cracked and/or broken. The answer is most, if not all of them to some degree – and this is exactly what will happen here.

Simply put, if a product needs to connect to the internet to validate, it’s going to send communications out. These communications can be intercepted and re-routed to another service pretending to be the authentication service which sends back a “All is OK” signal. Now this may cripple some of the features of the product (e.g. updates, access to other services by the vendor), but people are already accepting that (XBox 360 hacked consoles can’t connect to Microsoft services otherwise they get banned [but there are ways to fix them]). Additionally, if the costs of owning a legal copy are such that owning a crippled copy that is workable for free or a significantly reduced charge is acceptable then folks will use that service. All it takes is one provider to offer an authentication service priced for volume subscriptions….

What’s the Solution?

Companies looking to create more adoption and disuade piracy should look at Valve’s Steam platform. This service has continually shown how consumers will happily adopt a system that is priced fairly and yet still offers an extensive service. Yes, there are still cracked versions of software that bypass it, but it also has a pricing model that increasingly negates the hassle of using cracked software – I’ve even seen others posting on forums as such.

Adobe should consider a tiered approach to their Cloud offering (I suspect they are, but are waiting to catch the early adopters and business users with the premier pricing) and Microsoft need to consider that they are not the only player in the market, so should take a pragmatic approach – e.g. You can install games for a period of 24 hours (for example), after which it either has to be licensed to your ID or deleted.

Or they can try to grip the market and let consumers slip away.

Playstation 4 (PS4) Announced; What Does It Mean For You?

Sony has marketed the hell out of the fact they were going to announce the PS4 details today (20 Feb). In reality what they released was vapourware – mainly because they never showed any unit, other than the controller and a bunch of carefully created videos and in-game sequences – nor did they announce the price. However here’s what seems to be clear and what it means for you.

Hardware

Basically it’s a powerful PC system on a single board; unless regular PCs where graphics cards and such are interchangeable, putting all the silicon on one board means that everything can communicate more optimally and therefore the “supercharged PC” claim. Just like any other console but unlike any other PC, that means no upgrades.

What this means for you: With a PC like specifications it means game ports between the two systems are easier and game developers can more easily push the system (the PS3 was notorious for being hard to program for). This is nothing new to the XBox, so this is more of a catch-up, albeit on steroids (AMRITE Lance Amstrong?)

System Features

There’s not been much shown so far to wow on the dashboard, but there was the ability to integrate social capability (facebook was mentioned). Not only that, but also the ability to stream your games with your friends through UStream, or let them take over your game to help you out of a tough level, or upload a short video of your gaming heroics.

The system apparently will also learn what games you prefer and be a TIVO-like device that downloads games based on your preferences. That could be annoying and pleasing a the same time!

Support for the Move (the magic wand Sony released for the PS3) continues.

What this means for you: Showboating game play is a bit of a gimmick for many gamers; It’s more of a feature than a benefit for many but there’s sure to be a niche use for it. For the casual gamer, it’s probably not something to be bothered with. Sony has decided to stick with physical objects to help with user detection – not sure this is the best option and Microsoft’s Kinect will probably continue to have the edge.

Integration

Stream games to the PSP Vita, Sony’s replacement for the PSP so you can keep on playing if the TV is being used – this is similar to the Wii U.

Additionally, Sony claims that the system will also integrate with tablets and phones. GIven they have their own range of said technology out there, you can expect this to be pushed (crossed promotion).

What this means for you: Integrating other devices has potential, but I think those devices will be a limited list. This could either be a unique selling point, or just another piece of show-off.

Games

The games shown looked great (except Krank, which had great intro graphics but the actual gameplay looked like today’s consoles). The hardware looks to have potential to push things, but the PC won’t be far behind.

There are some exclusive titles coming along – many of which impress; check them out here.

There’s also the ability to download games – playing them before they finish downloading. Interesting to see how this pans out, given some games are many gigabytes.

What this means for you: Games are the core reason for consoles being around; having some A-Class titles and game studios onboard means that it will be one of the leading consoles – so long as games continue to be pushed out with quality.

Retro Gaming

Though not yet fully developed, Sony associates talked about being able to stream (not play natively), PS1, PS2 and PS3 games on multiple devices including the PS4.

What this means for you: If you loved an older game, this could be an amazingly handy feature – One game I want to replay is the PS2 “Getaway”

Media Centre

A casual mention of the usual integrations – Netflix, Hulu, etc. plus a Bluray drive, but no significant details.

What this means for you: Unsure – any modern console needs to be a media console too; While XBox can’t play Bluray and it’s UI is clunky for Media play, it’s still capable. PS3 systems are a little more boxed in, but the way to access media is good. To go beyond a games console and to penetrate the home, any modern day console has to be strong in this space.

Price and Release Date

Prices were undisclosed, but rumours put it between US$429 and US$529, which is very competitive. Release date is Christmas 2013.

Should I buy this console?

If you’re the person that has to have the latest iPhone regardless to say you have the latest iPhone then nothing I say here will change your mind.

However for the rest of us I think it’s worth holding out for Microsoft’s offering before deciding. Rumour of new XBox features include a tighter home media console effort, streaming games, inability to play second hand games (stupid move) and built-in and enhanced Kinect. It’s likely to match the PS4 tech specs.

My opinion is that the winner will be that console that has the better user experience, integration with other devices, is accessible for all ages, media savvy, supports the new types of displays (3D and 4K TVs) and of course has quality of games.

Next Generation Consoles

Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3 Controllers
Image by Matt Brett via Flickr

The three major players, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have all had very successful product launches with the XBox 360, Wii and PS3 respectively. With continual developments across the semi-conductor world giving us faster processors and better graphics capability, a more tech-savvy consumer and tech world that isn’t so “black art”, it seems that we’re fast approaching a need to level up (pun intended) for all three console manufacturers.

Microsoft’s Games

The XBox 360 has had reasonable market share, with many exclusives and “first to appear”  games such as Halo and Burnout Paradise. Despite having a well reputed games catalogue, the XBox 360 has struggled to make gains on its’ competitors until recently.

The game changer has been the launch of the Kinect product – a controller-less controller. This has been a real differentiator with Microsoft shifting over 10 million Kinects units worldwide up to Q1 2011 (source: Microsoft). But in launching a product add-on, it also means they would want to avoid alienating those consumers who may have recently purchased either/both the 360 and/or Kinect shoudl they launch a new console.

Sony’s Technical Capability

From a technical capability, Sony should have had the advantage on its’ competitors; their product meant not only should the PS3 appeal to the consumer looking for a Bluray player (as the unit price was reasonably comparable), but also the games should be able to perform at blistering parallel processing speeds vs say, Microsoft’s traditional multi-core CPU architecture.

Despite that potential, Sony failed to capitalize on their edge and have been jostling with Microsoft for second place for unit sales (Wii being, until recently in first place). The recent introduction of their Move controller, which is more similar to the Wii’s nun chuck, has had admirable sales results, shifting 4.1m units in the first 2 months after launch (source: Joystiq)

Nintendo’s Marketing

Nintendo decided to approach their console market slightly differently; although the Wii is not HD capable and doesn’t play DVDs it did introduce the nun chuck controller which neither Microsoft or Sony had (until their own updates Q4 2010). They also created a simple user experience, both in the user interface of their onscreen dashboard, but also with the controller.

Combine this with a suite of games designed to appeal to all ages, the addition of “Wii Fit” and a price point lower than either of its’ two competitors meant that it took an early market lead and until only recently continued to dominate unit sales.

The Landscape Today

Research from video game tracking firm Strategy Analytics’ Connected Home Devices service, has been trending the spread of market share: Senior analyst, Jia Wu said “Microsoft’s Kinect was clearly one of the winners in 2010…In the second half of 2010, the Xbox 360’s market share for the first time exceeded the 30% mark among the current generation fixed consoles, which was clearly driven by the Kinect launch.” (source: Hollywood reporter).

Console Next Gen

Where does this put all three manufacturers on a timeline? I’ve put my gypsy cloth and crystal ball out to make a stab at where things are.

This is just a guess right now, but I do know that both Sony and Microsoft have made assertions that their products have plenty of life left – notwithstanding the significant development costs ploughed into them (source: Kotaku , GamerBlorge et al). Conversely, with the lower development and production costs for the Wii, there are rumours surfacing that their next-gen Wii (we’ll call it WiiHD) will be announced at E3 2011 (source: Slashgear).

Copyright Paul Morgan

What will we expect to see with these new platforms?

  • Nintendo WiiHD – DVD playback, HD capability, CPU and graphics engine upgrade, memory upgrade, SDD drive, refined controllers
  • Sony PS4 – Upgraded CPU & graphics engine, SDD drive, refined controllers, USB3.0 support, support for NTFS
  • Microsoft Kinect360 – Upgraded CPU & graphics engine, SDD drive, Bluray drive, SDD Drive, USB3.0 support

In all three cases, backward support for current-gen console games will be expected by consumers.

I believe Microsoft will also have some “home integration” into the mix; they seem to want to be as integral as a television, making their product just a natural extension of said television. Perhaps this means integration with major content providers to provide services like DVR, linking up lighting, alarm systems, connection to other smart devices (e.g. smart fridges). Having a controllerless controller means no searching around for the remote, or finding that the battery is out of power. This could be the differentiator which brings Microsoft to the forefront… however I wouldn’t discount Sony from not getting in on the action either.

Update, April 21st

Looks like the new Wii will have a display in the controller if rumours are to be believed:

http://www.engadget.com/2011/04/22/next-generation-wii-controller-to-feature-6-2-inch-display-turn/

Update April 25th

Nintendo confirm that the next-gen Wii console will be announced in detail and launched very much in line with my post above:

http://www.gamersmint.com/nintendos-new-console-officially-confirmed

Creating success for your product through hacking (or Product Marketing Conspiracy)

Have you ever thought about Jailbreaking your iPhone? Or homebrewing your PSP or Wii? Did you hack your Android phone to get the latest updates? Whether you have or not, there are many out there that have. But why do they do that? And what is this jailbreak/homebrew you speak of? This article aims to expose what hacking products is all about and possibly why manufacturers are missing the point.

Manufacturers create limitations

When creating products, manufacturers build in mechanisms which prevent or limit capability of their products. This is done for a number of reasons:

  • Safety: Prevent the system from being misused where it will perform outside safety parameters (e.g. “overclocking“)
  • Feature Control – They want to limit the functionality of the product – possibly so they can enable it later or introduce the feature in some other way/update (i.e. controlling how features are deployed)
  • Security – They want to limit access to the system to prevent tampering, bypassing of existing functions or plugging in extra ones.
  • Prevent Piracy – They want to prevent the ability to play pirated games, etc. on the device (typical of games consoles)

Hackers are evil, aren’t they?

Or so the Media would have you believe. Yes there are some rotten apples for sure, but there are also those out there that hack for good intention too. Generally speaking the purpose of hacking is to bypass or overcome one or more of the reasons mentioned above (Safety, Feature Control, Security, Piracy) but there are other reasons too; some want the notoriety that they were the first to break into a system. Others hack because they feel the limitations put on the product are restrictive.

You may be a hacker and not realise it…

Consider the humble MP3 player. A number of factors lead to its’ success such as portability, capacity, size, durability and also the fact it let you hack your CD collection by ripping any of the tracks into the MP3 format and then uploading them to any one of your MP3 devices.

Cars also have had many changes which have meant they too are hackable. Every car I’ve owned since 2001 has had the ability for its’ Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to be modified to either get more performance, economy – or both. On top of that, the burgeoning after-market business will allow you to replace many parts of your standard car, either to make it personalized to you, or to enhance it in some way shape or form.

The war on the home electronics front

Games consoles and phones have long been a target for hacking. When the original Microsoft Xbox came out it was soon hacked and people started to change it in ways it had never been designed for. A popular hack was to convert it to a media center by adding a larger hard drive, installing Xbox Media Center and an optical out – creating a true home theatre PC experience on the cheap (though not HD). The Xbox was (for its’ generation), a market leader and the ability to hack it made it more desirable over Sony’s PS2 product.

With the introduction of the Xbox 360, Microsoft decided to increase the security so that the system couldn’t be hacked so easily. As with most things, an exploit was found which allowed hackers to bypass the (local) security. There are also various exploits for the Sony PS3 which allow the user to take control over what happens to their console.

Going back to our Apple iPhone as well as the iPad and Android phones, people realize that these are very powerful platforms which have been (in their eyes) restricted by the manufacturer in some way and so will actively seek to hack and bypass security as they see it as their right that if they own the product, they should have it their way for their needs. As such exploits and hacks were found which allowed users to do what they wanted with the devices.

So why not just build “hackability” into Products?

Would manufacturers allowed “hacking” affects desirability? Going back to the  Xbox 360, Microsoft created a marketplace for people to re-skin their console with plastic shells that could be purchased. Whilst a good marketing idea, the actual desirability for this kind of hacking is minimal. The same goes for cars – the manufacturer often offers additional accessories with the vehicle which gives some degree of personalization (or a perception of it), yet in reality many folks will buy after-market parts instead.

So there are desirable hacks as well as non-desirable ones?

Absolutely! Some hacks make systems better for the end user – whether it be speed, appearance, extensibility. Simply put, manufacturing a product which has potential exploits to hacks or customize it in some way, shape or form, but that way isn’t documented, isn’t officially supported, perhaps is communicated as “we do not approve these changes” – but is coincidentally allowing the exploit could increase its’ chance to be desired.

Or to put it another way; if you let your product be hackable but you as a manufacturer do not condone it, you may increase your chance of market share because it’s viewed as underground and therefore increases its’ “coolness” factor – and thus your product gets notoriety.

So it’s easy right? Just make everything “hackable”…

What would happen if Apple offered a hacking tool for the iPhone that was charged a premium for? Someone would write a hack that did the same thing for free and they’d be the hero. Perhaps off the back of that Apple would offer them a job to help prevent other / hacks, etc. so everyone wins, but ultimately the  manufacturer hack tool could be viewed as too corporate and so people would try to work they way around it.

Again putting it simply, officially endorsing a hack doesn’t always win votes.

So what does that mean for the consumer?

There are pro’s and cons for the consumer with hacking a product; it can remove manufacturer liability, cause the life of the product to be shortened – or even break the product. On the other hand it can help make the product fulfill its’ potential.

When Microsoft release the Kinect product, folks immediately set to work to understand how they could use the product outside of its’ intended use. At first Microsoft made strong statements about how this was against the terms of use, but rapidly retracted the strength of that statement. People were starting to see how they could use the product for new ways such as 3D real time modeling and that this was pushing the boundaries of use – something more powerful that Microsoft alone may have considered- certainly in the short term.

Similarly the United States military showcased 200 networked Sony PS3’s that they use as one huge parallel processor. Hardly what the system was designed for but absolutely perfect for its’ capability.

In conclusion

If you’re thinking of going out and hacking every product you own that is hackable, don’t. Stop and think about what would happen if you did apply a hack – would you lose your warranty? Could you fix it if it broke? That being said there is good cause for some hacks, so definately research based off your needs and the risks.

For any manufacturers out there reading this… could this be your new marketing ploy?!

[ADDENDUM]

New article how a jailbreak can make your iPhone/iPad more secure

XBox 360 – Battling the inevitable – iXtreme

pirate.pngIf you’ve ever followed the original XBox “scene” you may be aware of the projects that went on there. It was quite possible to apply a couple of patches to the unit that would let you play ‘backed-up’ games and make the system a multimedia system – playing movies, streaming radio, mp3s.  The latter was called the XBox Media Centre. If you’re interested, there’s a video article how to do this on Instructables.

I was  able to try this software out for a while – the unit had a 120gb HD and 5.1 output added and I have to say, it made a compelling argument not to try and buy / build a media PC – there are of course limitations that the XBox’s maximum resolution is NOT HD… It supports 480p but that’s about it. Since the launch of the XBox360, the “scene” has been buzzing with ways to make these sorts of things happen with the new console. Microsoft have also been aware of what’s been going on and have built  several layers of protection into the unit, as well as providing their own media centre built standard into the console.

To date they (MS) have been successful at blocking any modifications made – and there ARE modifications available. The trouble (?) with these modifications is that once they connect the unit to XBox Live! The unit is banned and no further online gaming is possible. There are now rumours that a project called iXtreme has been successful at breaking this protection. They suggest that “…if you are planning on backing up your purchased games, please try to use samsung with schtrom 360 xtract or XBC for the most reliable replica possible!!!! This *could* mean the difference from being banned on xbox live, or not.“. For more low-down on this interesting development visit the Xbox-Scene site.

On a side note, I have tried to use the 360Media Centre with my PC (because, unlike the XBox I evaluated, you cannot have a large and just dump movies and songs on it to play from the 360MC) and have to date been unsuccessful in streaming anything to it – both from XP and Vista. I believe the problem lies in my LinkSys WRT54GS. There are a number of suggestions on how to fix it, but nothing conclusive. Those suggestions included firmware updates (including custom ones), making the 360 have a static IP address and use port forwarding, change the MTU… The latter I have tried and managed to kill all connectivity to every device connected (restored later by accessing the linksys console and resetting the MTU value followed by a hard reset).

If anyone has been successful using this router with the 360, please let me know how you solved it!