Gaming news summary for October 23, 2015
Welcome to the Game Replay, the thrice-weekly look at the wider world of gaming by the staff of MacNN. In today's edition, Activision Blizzard starts taking the business of eSports seriously, the people behind Payday 2 attempt to appease revolting players, and Harmonix employees have been caught giving positive reviews to Rock Band 4 on Amazon, a game the company itself produced.
Apple deducting eight percent from Japanese sales, prior to 30 percent cut
Apple has informed developers of new tax application on sold apps in China and Japan. The iTunes connect briefing warns of "transactional taxes in China" as well as new tax laws in Japan "with respect to foreign businesses that provide electronic commerce to residents of the country." The taxes applied are in addition to any of those owed already, due to state or country of residence, and a discussion has begun between developers on whether to abandon the localities entirely.
Yokohama facility to focus on materials, vehicle and health markets
A recent new report on the Japanese research and development center currently under construction by Apple in Yokohama claims that the facility will mostly be devoted to working on new materials and metallurgy, as well as the automotive and health aspects of Apple's business. The company has recently made some breakthroughs in all three areas, with new metal alloys as well as health-tracking technologies in the Apple Watch, and CarPlay.
Apple maintains fifth-place position on list of US companies by revenue
Fortune has released its annual list of top US companies, and Apple is again situated at number five on the list, following the same four companies it did last year: Walmart at the top of the list, followed by Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and financial firm Berkshire Hathaway. The listing, which prizes raw revenue over most other factors, noted however that Apple had the highest profits and market share value of any other company on the list.
New apps tailored for eldercare, long-term monitoring of patients
As part of Apple's partnership with IBM, a new deal has been struck with Japan Post Holdings to improve elder care in the country. IBM will combine forces with Apple and Japan Post, which provides insurance and healthcare solutions in addition to mail delivery, to develop software to assist with information transmission, communications with family, and help monitor health parameters of customers.
Quiet Xperia Z4 launch avoids details of release for rest of the world
Sony has quietly launched the latest in its flagship Xperia smartphone line, in Japan. Just like the Xperia Z3 in comparison to the Xperia Z2, the new Xperia Z4 is very similar to its predecessors in terms of design and functionality, with slight improvements to some of its internals while others remain the same, such as the 5.2-inch 1080p Triluminos display.
Former Panasonic factory to be repurposed, joins other new global facilities
First announced late last year by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese media and the mayor of the host city have confirmed that Apple will begin repurposing part of a former Panasonic plant into a new research and development center late this year, which is expected to open sometime in 2016. Apple has recently opened similar offices in China, Israel, and will be adding England to the list shortly.
Company building facility devoted to Apple Watch inside Tokyo department store
In a previously-unannounced move, Apple is creating a store dedicated to just selling the Apple Watch (and accessories) as part of an existing upscale department store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The "store-within-a-store," borrowing from previous Apple retail concepts, could be come a permanent display for the fashionable Apple Watch if sales merit it. The department store, Isetan, is placing the mini-shop near its main entrance.
Initial Vaio-branded smartphone limited just to Japan
The first Vaio-branded smartphone has surfaced in Japan, following the sale of the computer manufacturing arm and the brand by Sony to Japan Industrial Partners last year. Simply called the Vaio Phone, it is a mid-ranged device with a five-inch 720p IPS display, using a quad-core 1.2GHz processor with 2GB of RAM, running on Android Lollipop.
Facility will open next year, ensure steady LCD display supply for iPhone
Japan Display, a company created by three Japanese tech firms in 2012, has agreed to a deal with Apple to help build a $1.4 billion new display manufacturing facility that should increase its overall LCD capacity by 20 percent. The company already supplies Apple with some 50,000 raw-material Retina display panels per month at present, and the investment by Apple in the new facility could guarantee a steady supply in the future.
US, Japan, South Korea generate most app revenue
Google Play is vastly outpacing the iOS App Store in terms of downloads, but the latter is generating more revenue, according to analytics company App Annie. Google saw about 60 percent more downloads than Apple during 2014, but the App Store produced 70 percent more revenue. This includes both initial and in-app purchases.
Giant otherwise shows strong financial performance
Beyond its official press release, Apple has posted a detailed breakdown (PDF) of its fiscal first quarter. The document is the only one to mention iPad sales, and reveals that shipments dropped 18 percent year-over-year to 21.42 million. Revenues for the tablet fell 22 percent to $9 billion.
Apple leaps ahead of LG in latter's home market
Apple has seen significant surges in the Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean smartphone markets since the introduction of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus last September, according to a study by Counterpoint Research. The most significant performance is reportedly in South Korea, where in November Apple leapt from under 15 percent marketshare to 33 percent. That put the company ahead of LG, slotted at just 14 percent, and significantly closer to Samsung, which dropped from 60 to 46 percent. LG and Samsung are both local to Korea, and have traditionally enjoyed a homefield advantage.
Bag contents at least twice value of initial cost
Apple has sold out of the 2015 edition of its annual "Lucky Bag" promotion, in which its Japanese stores sell bags containing surprise goods worth more than their initial price tag. This year's bags cost 36,000 yen (about $300) each, but held products worth anywhere between $640 and $1,280. Each one had a "big" surprise, along with an Apple TV, Beats Powerbeats2 wireless earbuds, a New Year's edition of a Mophie power station, and a 1,000-yen iTunes gift card. All of the items were secured in Incase Icon Slim Pack backpacks.
Stores to open early, offer paid 'grab bags' that could be worth thousands
Apple Japan will begin its traditional promotion for Japanese retail buyers, known as Fukubukuro or "Lucky Bags," starting on January 2, the company has announced. The promotion involves customers buying one of several "grab bag" gift boxes for a set price -- last year it was about 36,000 yen, or roughly $300 in current US dollars -- that could contain very valuable gifts, and usually at least top the value of the list price. Some of the boxes contained iPads or MacBook Airs, for example.
Williamsburg Apple Store expected to debut in April
Apple is in the process of establishing a research and development facility in Japan, according to the country's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. The disclosure was made in a campaign speech ahead of Sunday's general election. Abe didn't offer any more details except to say it should be "formally announced soon," and rank with Apple's largest R&D centers in Asia. The company has been establishing new offices across the world in the past couple of years, growing R&D beyond the confines of its Cupertino-area headquarters.
Sensui will retain manager position in US, two executives to jointly assume role
The troubles for the Xbox One continue in Japan, not only because of the continuing trend of low sales, but also due to the recent resignation of Head of Xbox Japan Takashi Sensui. Sensui stepped down from his role as general manager of the Xbox division for Microsoft as of November 30, making way for his replacements Yoshinami Takahashi and Nobuyoshi Yokoi.
Man arrested in April for violating weapons laws convicted for printing two firearms
In what could be the first conviction for making a firearm with a desktop 3D printer, a former Japanese college employee was sentenced to almost two years in jail earlier this week after being arrested earlier this year. The 28-year-old man was convicted for printing at least two functional and lethal firearms, capable of firing bullets -- in violation of Japan's strict gun laws.
Company's performance generally healthy
In the wake of its official announcement, Apple has posted a detailed breakdown (PDF) of its Q4 financial results. On a regional basis, the company did well in most cases, for example increasing Americas revenue 17 percent year-over-year to $16.247 billion, and European revenue 19 percent to $9.535 billion. "Greater" China -- including Hong Kong and Taiwan -- advanced one percent to $5.778 billion, and Japan was up five percent to $3.507 billion. Only the rest of the Asia Pacific region saw problems, with revenue dipping three percent to $1.923 billion. Global retail sales rose 15 percent to $5.133 billion.
High-priced Vaio prototype could go on sale in Japan from May
The second attempt at a Vaio-branded notebook following the sale of Sony's PC business could give the Microsoft Surface some competition. A prototype consisting of a stylus-enabled tablet combined with a wireless keyboard has been shown off at Adobe Max 2014, with the company aiming to appease customers involved in design and illustration fields.
Small delay keeps console on track to be first console since ban lift, 1,300 units sold in Japan
The delay of the Xbox One's release in China appears to only be a small hiccup for Microsoft. Reuters reports that the console will be going on sale on September 29, pushing the console back less than a week from its initial launch date of September 23. Meanwhile, sales of the console in Japan have sunk even lower, hitting approximately 1,300 units sold in its third week on the market.
82.2 percent favoring regular iPhone 6
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are commanding the Japanese smartphone market, just a week into their availability, according to BCN sales rankings cited by Forbes. The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 was the most popular phone overall, taking eight out of the top 10 spots, and even then the iPhone 5s claimed 5th and 8th places. The larger, 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus reached no higher than 11th, but still took five out of the next seven spots.
Program similar to Sony's PlayStation Now tiered rental service in the United States
Japanese video game publisher Square Enix announced a new initiative this week, putting some of its most popular games in the hands of mobile device users. The new program, called Dive In, allows users to rent Square Enix titles through a dedicated application ,and play them on their Android or iOS tablets and smartphones.
Japanese publishers calling Amazon to task for abusing market position
In addition to its fight with publisher Hachette and UK booksellers, Amazon is also battling a series of Japanese publishers. In the process of launching a new ranking system in the country, Amazon Japan is alienating publishers, giving higher rankings to sellers that pay a larger percentage of income back to Amazon, and also boosting search results of publishers that hold larger back catalogs for sale on the service.
Virtual world to close its doors March 2015, service will continue in United States, Europe
Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Asia announced that it is bringing a close to PlayStation Home in Japan and Asia regions at the end of March 2015. The service was launched as a competitor to Linden Research's Second Life, but was offered for free to any PlayStation 3 owner.
Slim-bezel Sharp Aquos Crystal may arrive in United States tomorrow
Sharp has created two new Aquos smartphones with an extremely minimal bezel, giving the appearance of an edge-to-edge display. The Aquos Crystal and the Aquos Crystal X, with respective 5-inch 720p and a 5.5-inch 1080p displays, will both be going on sale in Japan, with at least one of the devices heading to the United States in the near future.
Waterproofing, higher-resolution Duo Camera in Japan-specific HTC Butterfly J
A new version of the HTC One M8 for the Japanese market has been announced by local carrier KDDI. The HTC J Butterfly manages to hold on to the majority of the One M8's specifications, including its five-inch 1080p display, but stems down the same route as the One E8 in having a plastic body, with the Japan-specific smartphone also having a few more minor changes.
Apple could be key client
Sony has announced plans to invest 35 billion yen, or about $345 million, on scaling up production of image sensors for phones and tablets. Manufacturing of stacked CMOS sensors will increase at two factories in the southern Japanese island of Kyushu; meanwhile, the company is planning to complete work on a factory in northwestern Japan that it bought from Renesas. The hope is to boost wafer output 13 percent to 68,000 per month by August 2015, moving towards a longer-term target of 75,000, itself just a mid-term goal.
iPod continues terminal decline
In addition to its official announcement, Apple has also posted a detailed breakdown of its fiscal Q3 results. "Greater China" -- including Taiwan and Hong Kong -- continued to lead the charge regionally, with its revenue increasing 28 percent year-over-year to $5.935 billion. Europe and Asia-Pacific each advanced 6 percent, to $8.091 billion and $2.161 billion, respectively. Apple's most important market, the Americas, rose 1 percent to $14.577 billion. Global retail numbers were up 1 percent to $4.104 billion.
Service sends out notes after user passes away, cleans up personal data on Internet
Yahoo Japan launched an interesting service this week, one that gives people an option for deleting part of their digital lives once they reach the end of their physical ones. The service, called Yahoo Endings, offers users some basic services like will-writing, but also sends goodbye notes and deletes personal information from Yahoo.
Could reach more regions soon
In Japan, Apple has unexpectedly announced iTunes Pass, a new service based on iOS' Passbook app. People wanting to refill their iTunes Store account can take an iPhone (or iPod touch) into a Japanese Apple Store and buy credit from a clerk, who then scans in the amount via Passbook. The money should be available immediately.
Apple, Disney overcome contract dispute
Disney content is once again available on the Japanese version of the iTunes Store, according to an official statement. That content suddenly disappeared recently, and without explanation. In talking with Variety, though, Disney confirms that "the interruption was due to difficulties negotiating the renewal of the old contract between Apple and Disney Japan. The new contract was signed on Wednesday and both rentals (VoD) and electronic sell-through returned to normal."
Government could oblige carriers to remove locks, allow citizens device freedom
The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry of Japan is considering a plan to remove all SIM locks from handsets in the country. Carriers would be obliged to remove the locks, ending a hold on customers that they currently have through current phone discounts. Sources from Jiji Press indicate that the plan was being addressed at a panel of experts earlier this week, with the intent of "drastically" reviewing the guidelines.
Regular AppleCare plan vanishes
Apple is today making major changes to its AppleCare plans for iPhone and iPad buyers. When considering an AppleCare+ plan, shoppers now reportedly have a 60-day window after their iPhone/iPad purchase, instead of the previous 30 days. The one exception to this is in Japan, where the old limit is still in effect.
VAIO Pro, VAIO Fit first notebooks from new VAIO corporation
The first VAIO-branded computers following the sale of Sony's PC business have launched in Japan. The first two devices being sold, the VAIO Pro and the VAIO Fit, appear to be a continuation of earlier devices of the same name, with the design and specifications apparently similar to the original versions launched last year under the control of Sony.
Feature's coverage still expanding
Apple has extended coverage of Maps' Flyover feature to two more locations. The most important of these is the Japanese capital of Tokyo, where people can now see 3D views of scenery like the Tokyo Tower or the Imperial Palace. In the United States, Maps users can toggle Flyover for the canyons of Utah's Zion National Park.
Includes separate iMovie, iBooks workshops
Apple has opened registration for the 2014 edition of its annual Apple Camps. The program is aimed at teaching creative projects to kids aged 8 to 12 while simultaneously promoting Apple products. This year, two sets of three-day workshops are available: one is dedicated to creating a short film using iMovie and the iPad version of GarageBand, while the other involves producing an interactive book using iBooks Author and illustrations done on an iPad.
Latest Tokyo store draws unusual large crowd, features metal-and-glass spiral staircase
Tokyo, Japan's latest Apple Store opened on Friday (local time) in much the same way most other Apple Stores debut -- free commemorative T-shirts, a large lineup of eager buyers waiting to get in (a rarer sight in Japan than in North America), extensive press coverage. The store in Omotesando, however, was a little different: the T-shirts featured a new, leafy Apple logo that may or may not be used again, and Apple's new Senior Vice President of Retail, Dame Angela Ahrendts, was among the attendees.
Brushed aluminum staircase, 'green curtain' of foliage among highlights
A new video posted to its official YouTube channel has given interested viewers a sneak peak at one of the company's latest stores, ahead of its opening in Omotesando, a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. The store, which shares the latest Apple layout "design language" with other recent stores such as the Stanford 2 in California, is roughly twice as tall as the Stanford store, using giant glass panes to hold a thin aluminum roof, and also offers a second floor which until now has been under wraps.
Portable SIM provides connection, acts as authentication
Japanese carrier Docomo is looking to separate SIM cards from smartphones and tablets in the future, by placing them inside wearable devices. A prototype Portable SIM device created by the carrier allows mobile devices to use its connection, which could potentially be used as a form of authentication for multiple devices, as well as providing a level of proximity-based security.
Will feature a 'green curtain' of vines to help cool store
In preparation for its June 13 grand opening, the newest Apple Store in Japan -- and the first since 2006 -- has taken the wraps off its frontage, revealing all-glass walls on three sides of the building, an all-glass staircase leading below ground, and the general design language first seen in the "Stanford 2" Apple Store in California. The back side of the building, made of concrete, has been used to grow a "green curtain" of vines that will help naturally cool the building, as that wall get most of the direct sunlight exposure during the day.
Pepper will go on sale in Japanese Softbank stores from February
Softbank, is planning to put a humanoid robot on sale from next year. Jointly developed with NAO creators Aldebaran Robotics, Pepper is said to be able to interact with others, with its various sensors and voice recognition allowing it to recognize gestures and speech, while analyzing vocal tone and reading expressions also allows it to recognize emotions.
Shipping ending in Japan following US in January, European PSP sales continue
Sony is retiring the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in Japan after nine and a half years of sale in the country, effectively signaling the oncoming end of the console's life. Shipments of the handheld game console will cease in Japan later this month, with the company instead continuing to push for sales of its successor, the PlayStation Vita.
'Green curtain' will take up one side of latest retail store, save energy
Apple's latest Japanese Apple Store, the Omotesando location in Tokyo, may feature a "green curtain" of vines covering one side of the building in an effort to reduce cooling costs. The foliage will cover a majority of an all-glass wall, and block sunlight from heating the interior of the building -- which will reduce the cost and need for air conditioning to keep the space cool, according to Mac Otakara.
Discounts knock just $20-30 off prices
Apple has extended discounts to the iPad at its educational store. The cuts are relatively modest, in the US only knocking $20 off of the cost of the Mini, Retina Mini, and fourth-generation iPad, plus $30 off of the iPad Air. That puts 16GB Wi-Fi models of the tablets at $279, $379/$379 and $469, respectively.
Japan release date set as August 14 for Dynasty Warrior style game
A release date for Tecmo Koei's Hyrule Warriors has been published, according to Siliconera. The Wii U game takes characters from classic Nintendo series The Legend of Zelda and puts them in combat series that mimics the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Information regarding the story and characters were released in a magazine, on top of the August 14 release date for Japan.
Demand for sales ban and high royalties over SEPs deemed illegal
Samsung, which has often used Standards-Essential Patents (SEPs) or patents purchased from other companies in an effort to mount some kind of countersuit in cases where Apple has accused the Galaxy maker of stealing Apple's technology, was found guilty again in a Japanese appeals court of illegally using SEPs as legal weapons and not honoring its obligation under Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) guidelines.
Gaming company's first app available on select phones, limited to single carrier
Nintendo has announced that it is releasing a 3DS tethering application for Android tomorrow in Japan. The app surfaces as one of the first expansions by the gaming company after posting lower than expected numbers in its most recent financial report. While the free app isn't one that many users wanted to see, it gives credence to the idea that Nintendo is trying to look to other avenues to help rebuild its brand.
Follows deal with top carrier NTT DoCoMo in September
Less than nine months after finally signing the country's largest carrier, Apple is now selling one out of every three smartphones in Japan, according to shipment data from Japan-based MM Research Institute. Thanks to the deal with NTT DoCoMo, Apple now has more than 36 percent of the entire Japanese cellphone market, and is the only country in which Apple handily outsells the combined cellphone output of its rival Samsung.
Strict gun laws in Japan lead to first 3D printed firearm arrest after video postings
A 27-year-old man was arrested in Japan, stemming from ownership of five firearms he created with a 3D printer, two of which were said to be functional and lethal, according to broadcaster NHK. Yoshitomo Imura, an employee of the Shonan Institute of Technology in Fujisawa in Kawasaki Prefecture, was arrested on illegal weapons possession after posting videos online showing him operating the firearms.