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The Consumerist

Can Camera Companies Stay Relevant In A World Where Smartphones Rule? They’re Certainly Trying

Wed, 2015-01-07 22:33

The Kodak smart lens aims to turn consumers' smartphones into professional grade photographic machines.

The Kodak smart lens aims to turn consumers’ smartphones into professional grade photographic machines.

Companies with long histories in the photography industry are scrambling to stay relevant in a day and age when nearly every smartphone comes equipped with a high-resolution camera, making it incredibly convenient and easy for consumers to snap away in just about every occasion. The fight for relevancy has never been more evident than during the showcases presented at the 2015 CES, where companies like Kodak, Cannon and Nikon displayed a range of products designed to compete and capitalize on the convenience afforded by smartphones.

Because most consumers carry around their smartphones everywhere they go, it makes sense to whip it out at the first sign of a picture-perfect moment.

While consumers’ ever-increasing use of smartphones as cameras has no doubt changed the way phone makers have designed their devices, it has also forced traditional camera companies to rethink their products.

Emily Wong, Kodak Pix Pro assistant manager of marketing, admits that the company has struggled to address consumers’ fondness for smartphone cameras in the past, but that’s changing.

“We started building a lot of products with WiFi that fit into everyone’s needs,” she says. “We’re taking the smartphone and extending the function.”

To do that, the company created the Pixpro SL10 Smart Lens, a 10x or 25x optical zoom lens that snaps onto a smartphone to produce high-quality photographs.

“Smartphones are great for the everyday shot because they are convenient, but for special events like weddings and sporting events you need more,” Steve Parsons, business director for digital devices for Kodak tells Consumerist.

In addition to the smartphone lens, Kodak introduced the C360 video camera – a GoPro like device that allows users to take full circle video while out and about.

The Nikon D5500 comes with built-in WiFi to make uploading photos to smartphones easier.

The Nikon D5500 comes with built-in WiFi to make uploading photos to smartphones easier.

Over at Nikon, the company is banking on consumers’ need for high-quality equipment and the convenience of automatic WiFi connection.

The new D5500, a DSLR camera with WiFi and remote capabilities, allows the consumer to connect directly to their smartphone for easier transfers, Steve Heiner, senior technical manager for Nikon tells Consumerist.

“It brings quality and convenience to all areas,” he says.

Unlike previous Nikon cameras, where consumers had to purchase a $60 connector to enable WiFi, the latest cameras come with the technology built in. Additionally, the D5500 can turn your smartphone into type of remote – through the Nikon app, of course.

For example if a user is assembling a large family photo, the feature allows them to use the smartphone to view what the camera is seeing and to press a button to snap the photograph.

Margaret Piemonte, a representative for Canon, tells Consumerist that the company is focusing on consumers’ desire to seamlessly share and store their photos.

“We’re constantly trying to evolve and give people the option to back-up and share,” she says.

Canon introduced a hub-like photo sharing machine called the Canon Connect Station - CS100 during CES.

Canon introduced a hub-like photo sharing machine called the Canon Connect Station – CS100 during CES.

This week, Canon is focusing on the CS100, a hub-like device that allows users to store, share and view their photos on any device.

In addition to the connect station, the company has also put its focus on cameras equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, that allows devices to transfer photos with a simple tap.

While the products being shilled by Kodak, Nikon and Cannon all aim to capitalize on the popularity of smartphone cameras, the convenience provided by them will cost consumers a pretty penny.

The Kodak Smart Lens costs $229 for the 10x zoom and $299 for a 25x zoom, while the SP360 camera sells for about $350.

Over at Nikon the new D5500 will run consumers between $1,000 to $1,200 depending on the accessories and kit purchased.

The Cannon CS100 will be available for purchase in June for about $299.

So, while the companies are attempting to stay relevant, the high cost of their products – rivaling the price of a new smartphone – might make it difficult to convince consumers they need these new products to up their photography game.

State Laws May Help Workers Get Paid While Waiting For Security Checks

Wed, 2015-01-07 22:19

(Kenny Yeo)

(Kenny Yeo)

A recent Supreme Court decision settled the question of whether workers should be paid for the time they spend having their belongings checked by security on the way out of work. The Supremes said “no,” but there may be room in state laws for retail and warehouse workers to be compensated for the time they spend waiting and being searched.

The key question in the federal case, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk et al., was whether the time that workers (in an Amazon order fulfillment center, in this specific case) spend waiting in line for security checks before they leave work and time they spend being checked is “integral and indispensable” to their jobs. That’s the language in a 1956 Supreme Court ruling: that case involved butchers who demanded to be paid for time spent sharpening the knives that they used to do their jobs.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that other companies, including retail stores, have faced similar lawsuits regarding the question of whether employees should be paid for security checks. The Busk ruling is clear and favors businesses: since the employees are not hired to stand in lines or undergo security checks, doing so is not part of their jobs. That’s federal law, though. State laws may differ, and the statute in California does.

California’s Supreme Court ruled almost 15 years ago that while federal law might limit what activities an employee can be paid for while at work, states can set a different standard if they want to. California’s statute says that employees must be paid for any time they spend “under the control of an employer.” If someone is required to wait for a security check before leaving the store where they work, they are still under the employer’s control. In the 2000 ruling, California’s Supremes explained that “an employee who is subject to an employer’s control does not have to be working during that time to be compensated.” They can be waiting for a supervisor to check their purse, or waiting for their backpack to roll down a conveyor belt.

Other states have similar statutes, and the lawyer who argued Busk has lawsuits based on state law ongoing in California and three other states. If the state courts agree that workers are eligible for pay, that could become very expensive for retailers that are currently making employees wait off the clock.

Apple and Amazon’s Unpaid Security Checks Face a New Challenge in State Courts [Bloomberg Businessweek]

The Oregon Trail Lives Again In Browsers As The Internet Archive Adds 2,400 MS-DOS Games

Wed, 2015-01-07 22:05

Hello, it's me.

Hello, it’s me.

You’ve been missing it for so long, you didn’t even know it until now, when the sweet feelings of relief are about to wash over you: You can play The Oregon Trail again in most Internet browsers, no MS-DOS needed, thanks to its addition along with around 2,400 titles to The Internet Archive this week.

“Considering the Internet Arcade has dragged in over 5 million people, this new collection will probably bring in a flood of its own. Welcome,” Internet Archive curator Jason Scott wrote this week in announcing the new additions on his blog (full list of games here).

Along with The Oregon Trail there are plenty of favorite titles to be had, from The Lion King to Donkey Kong, Street Fighter II to 4D Prince of Perisa. Though there are some caveats — as Ars Technica points out, some software might not be available for long depending on specific copyright rules.

And the experience isn’t foolpoof, warns Scott of the software:

“Some of them will still fall over and die, and many of them might be weird to play in a browser window, and of course you can’t really save things off for later, and that will limit things too,” he writes. “But on the whole, you will experience some analogue of the MS-DOS program, in your browser, instantly.”

Now, back to getting Poopypants McQuirk on the road to dysentery. Err, to Oregon. Successfully, at last.

Former Wet Seal Employees Reveal More Woeful Tales Of Stores Limping On To Death

Wed, 2015-01-07 21:29

(Gulf Coast Retail)

(Gulf Coast Retail)

As the carnage continues at the 338 or so stores Wet Seal is closing down today come more tales from now former employees who point out that all the tragic signs were there. One worker says her store received a package called “Store Project.” Said “project” was the fun task of packing up the store’s credit card scanners and other electronics and shipping it back to corporate by today, Jan. 7.

But wait, how might one conduct a sale at an ostensibly open retail location while also completing this project, one worker who’d been with the company for a year and a half and worked at the Gulfport, MS store wondered.

“I thought, how do we function as a business if we’ve packed up our credit card scanners?” she told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Her store hadn’t gotten as much new inventory in recently, but she says Wet Seal explained that with a supposed renovation plan. When she called the store’s manager and that person was clueless as to what was going on, she tried emailing corporate offices, to no avail.

Finally, another store nearby called with some news.

“That’s when we were told we’re closing down,” she says, adding that managers have been offered about $300 in severance pay while others are apparently getting $100.

“I was due for a promotion last October, too, that they told me would come in March, with back pay,” she says. “I guess that’s not happening now either.”

Wet Seal workers from around the country have been reporting similar stories of little or no notice that their jobs were in danger, prompting ex-employees to express themselves via sign in places like Birmingham, Dayton and Seattle.

“It’s one thing to not tell us something, but they told us specifically not to look for jobs, that everything was fine, and that we had low inventory because they were just going to remodel the store,” says former assistant manager at a Dayton store.

“Oh, and they haven’t answered our e-mails in two weeks.”

Fellow teen retailer Deb is joining the ranks of Wet Seal and dEl*A’s right now as well, announcing today that it’s liquidating assets and closing 295 stores.

If you’re a current or former Wet Seal worker and want to weigh in on what’s going on at your store, feel free to drop us a line at tips@consumerist.com. We will never publish your name without your permission.

Wet Seal to Employees: Surprise—You’re Out of a Job [Businessweek]

AT&T To Free Up More Data For Mobile Subscribers, At Cost Of Net Neutrality

Wed, 2015-01-07 21:04
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Most of us are used to mobile companies clinging tightly to every precious bit and byte of data like a dragon hoards gold. Unlimited data plans were everywhere for a while, then went away, and then kinda sorta came back but not really. This week, AT&T has announced two big changes that will work to free up “bonus” data for their subscribers. One is harmless and maybe even good, but the other could have big, negative repercussions for mobile internet use.

First, the good news: AT&T is making rollover data a thing. Subscribers to AT&T’s Mobile Share Value plan will automatically have any of their unused data start to carry over into the next billing cycle, the company announced today.

AT&T says that 50 million of their customers subscribe to Mobile Share Value, and will see the rollover data kick in to their plans on January 25. AT&T has about 118 million customers, so that’s 40% of their users who will get the “free” rollover data boost on their plans.

If it sounds a bit like the “data stash” that T-Mobile announced a few weeks ago, that’s because it is. The plans do have some key differences, though. AT&T allows all Mobile Share customers (including those on the 1GB plan) to roll over data, where T-Mobile’s stash becomes available at the 3 GB-and-up tier.

On the other hand, T-Mobile’s rollover data takes a full year to expire, but AT&T’s is a one month use-it-or-lose-it deal. If you have a 3 GB data plan and only use 1 GB of data in March, then in April you can use an extra 2 GB of data on top of your regular 3 GB. But if you don’t use that 2 GB in April, you can’t carry it forward into May or beyond.

While it sounds good for the high-volume data users, though, most of us probably won’t ever tap into that spare stash. Data is neither that limited nor that heavily used, in the real world.

AT&T’s other new plan, though, is more worrying. GigaOm caught the announcement at the company’s developer conference at CES.

AT&T is launching a Sponsored Data plan that allows app developers to buy (sponsor) a certain amount of data to be reserved for their app. When consumers use that app, they don’t get dinged for the data. The developer does.

So, for example, if Facebook were to become a data sponsor, they would pre-purchase an absolute mass of data from AT&T. Then Facebook users on the AT&T network wouldn’t see their data allowance take a hit when getting material from Facebook. That data would, instead, be charged on the other end, against Facebook’s allotment. Kind of like the digital version of business reply mail or prepaid return shipping labels.

In their developer conference, AT&T provided several best-case scenarios for using such a thing. For example, GigaOm relates, a business that has their business contract with AT&T could buy the exemption for their website, their e-mail client, or some other proprietary, work-use function. That would spare employees’ data when they’re doing many business-related tasks.

But the flip side is that this is the exact kind of scenario that net neutrality advocates have worried about, playing out in the wireless space. Companies that can afford to buy exemptions to data will become the favorites of consumers who don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars per month for expensive data plan boosts.

Like T-Mobile exempting certain popular music streaming apps from their subscribers’ data caps, this move will have the side-effect of making big, well-positioned companies even bigger while making it harder for new entrants to join the field.

GigaOm reports that AT&T stressed in their presentation that they would not prioritize traffic from organizations that bought sponsored data. But even so, a de facto hierarchy still forms: if you can use one of two apps to accomplish the same thing, with all else roughly being equal, why wouldn’t you use the one that doesn’t use up your data?

AT&T reportedly cited small app developers as an example of a target for sponsored data, but clearly big services like Pandora and YouTube are on their radar. And, as GigaOm points out, that means AT&T gets to win twice over: their own subscribers pay for their monthly data allotments, and so do app developers.

Sure, customers will get to keep their now freed-up and unused data for an extra 30 days, until it expires. But in the long run, as the cost of accessing data gets transferred to the organizations whose data you access, fewer and fewer outlets will be able to afford that cost. That means fewer small companies, less competition, and an overall loss for consumers.

“Ansel Adams” Bill Wants To Make It Legal To Take Photos In All Federal Spaces Open To The Public

Wed, 2015-01-07 20:55

(_jwong)

(_jwong)

A new bill dubbed the “Ansel Adams Act” introduced recently in Congress wants to make it just as legal to snap a photo of a federal building as it is to glance at one on the street. The bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas introduced on Jan. 2 is headed “To restore the First Amendment Rights of Photographers.”

The bill says that in recent years, the federal government has put regulations into place that “prohibit or restrict photography in National Parks, public spaces, and of government buildings, law enforcement officers, and other government personnel carrying out their duties.”

It goes on to say that photographers on federal lands in spaces have had their equipment confiscated or been threatened as much, and sometimes threatened with arrest for” merely recording what the eye can see from public spaces.”

Even when there weren’t regulations saying to do so, the bill says federal law enforcement and others would seek to stop pictures from being taken or tell people they’d be arrested for trying.

Because the First Amendment of the United States Constitution says “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and because still and moving images are speech, anyone threatening photographers or forcing them to pay hefty fees to get permits in order to take pictures is “abridging” their First Amendment rights.

The Ansel Adams Act says that it’s contrary to the public policy of the United
States to prohibit or restrict photography in public spaces, whether for private, news media, or commercial use.”

If a federal agency wanted to ban photos, the bill says it’ll have to get a court order first explaining why, for national security or other reasons, it can’t have people taking pictures.

The bill seeks to ban fees, permits and insurance from being required before taking photographs on federal lands, National Parks and Forests, and public spaces, whether for private, media, or commercial use.

It also wants to make it illegal to seize and confiscate photographic equipment Including contents/memory cards/film) or order a photographer to erase any of that either.

The bill credits Ansel Adams and other natural photographers who “helped bring home to Americans the beauty and fragility of our natural resources,” citing Adams’ works as a tool to build public support for making Yosemite a National Park.

“Future ‘Ansel Adams’ must not have their paths blocked, regulated and made more expensive with fees and fines, or be threatened with arrest and seizure of their equipment,” the bill reads.

Teen Clothing Retailer Deb To Liquidate, Close 295 Stores

Wed, 2015-01-07 20:13

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

The end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 have not been kind to teen-oriented retailers. Back in December, we learned that dELiA*s was bANkruPt and starting to liQuid8 its inventory. This week, Wet Seal announced that it will close two-thirds of its stores. Now another mall staple is putting down the store gate for good: Deb is liquidating and closing all 295 of its stores.

You know, Deb. That store where you tried on a bunch of prom dresses but ultimately didn’t buy any of them. Or maybe that was me. The chain was still in existence and almost 300 stores strong, but sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of 2014. Without a buyer, the company will close all of its stores and liquidate.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for hot deals on leggings and platform boots or whatever the kids are wearing this week, the liquidation sale doesn’t hold much promise. In the company’s bankruptcy auction yesterday, Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Retail Partners agreed to buy and liquidate the chain’s inventory and fixtures. You may not recognize those names, but you should. Those companies have handled many liquidation sales in recent years, including the end CompUSA, Circuit City, Linens-N-Things, Borders, Hollywood Video, Coldwater Creek, end every other store closing you’ve seen where prices weren’t even reasonable until a few weeks into the liquidation sale.

Liquidators To Run Final Sales At Teen Fashion Retailer Deb Shops [Wall Street Journal]

Former Korean Air Executive Facing Criminal Charges Over “Nut Rage” Incident

Wed, 2015-01-07 19:54

(Guerric)

(Guerric)

The former Korean Air executive who resigned in the wake of reports that she’d reprimanded a flight’s crew for improperly serving macadamia nuts and ordered an employee off the plane, causing a 20-minute delay, is now facing criminal charges related to the incident.

Cho Hyun-ah, the daughter of Korean Air Lines’ chairman Cho Yang-ho, was the vice president in charge of cabin services at the airline, before her resignation and subsequent apology over the “nut rage” incident.

The New York Times reports that Cho was indicted today on criminal charges of violating aviation safety regulations and conspiring to cover up the incident. The controversy sparked tempers in the nation from critics who pointed to the episode as yet another example of South Korea’s elite upper class of family-controlled businesses behaving badly.

Prosecutors allege that the executive verbally and physically abused the flight attendants in first-class on the flight bound for South Korea from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The issue involved serving macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of on a silver plate as the rules required.

Cho allegedly berated the cabin chief for 20 minutes and ordered the plane to return to the gate to boot the worker in question.

“The unprecedented turnaround of the plane undermined the credibility of Korean Air and the national image of South Korea,” the prosecutors said in a statement.

Another Korean Air executive was indicted along with Cho, accused of coercing Korean Air officials to delete an email regarding the incident and lie to government investigators to keep Cho out of trouble. A Transport Ministry official is also being charged for allegedly illegally briefing that other executive on the confidential details of the office’s investigation.

When the media picked up the story at first, Korean Air said it was “natural” for Cho to chastise the attendants because that was part of her job, notes the New York Times, At the same time, the Transport Ministry announced that it hadn’t found any evidence that Cho had been physical with the staff and that Korean Air hadn’t tried to cover the incident up.

However, the attendant who was kicked off the plane said in news interviews that the executive made him and another attendant get on their knees, and that she hit him on the hand with a plastic folder of in-flight service manuals.. He claims that she pushed the other flight attendant against a wall, and that airline officials had pressured him to tell a different, less incriminating tale to investigators.

In fact, he said investigators with the Transport Ministry were so obliging, they let Korean Air executives monitor his questioning and throw in their own queries as well.

The ministry has since said that its probe wasn’t on the up and up and was unfair, points out the NYT, disciplining eight investigators involved.

Former Korean Air Executive Indicted Over ‘Nut Rage’ Incident [New York Times]

Forgot To Return A Purchase? Maybe Your Credit Card Issuer Can Help

Wed, 2015-01-07 19:12

(Geoff Fox)

(Geoff Fox)

While racking up unsecured debt is generally a bad thing, there can be hidden advantages to using your credit card for everyday purchases. Two benefits that we often recommend as weapons for consumer justice are chargebacks and warranty extensions, but here’s another one that you may not be aware of: return period extensions. Yes, buying with some credit cards can give you longer to return an unwanted item to the retailer.

The emphasis here should really be on the word “some.” CardHub recently evaluated return extension policies at the ten biggest card issuers, scoring the policies on their consumer-friendliness in different areas. There’s a good reason why you may have never heard of return period extensions: they aren’t a well-publicized benefit, and some of the biggest card issuers don’t offer them at all. You’re out of luck if your credit card is through Bank of America, Capital One, or U.S. Bank. Citi offers the benefit, but customers need to know about it ahead of time and sign up for it again every year.

CardHub found that most cards with these policies don’t require customers to sign up in advance at all. They scored the policies and features of different issuers’ programs, finding that Discover, Chase Sapphire, and Chase Freedom were the top scorers.

There are obvious limits and exclusions: often jewelry and cosmetics will be excluded. However, the policy extends the return period to as long as 90 days,

Credit Card Return Extension Report: Who Offers the Best Deal? [CardHub]

N.C. Homeowners Wonder How Banks Could Disappear Charlotte’s NASCAR Debt While Taking Their Houses

Wed, 2015-01-07 18:46

(MEBiery)

(MEBiery)

The magical disappearance of debt sounds like a wonderful thing, doesn’t it? Unless of course, someone else is getting their debt canceled while you’re still stuck in the mud. When homeowners in foreclosure in Charlotte, N.C. heard that the city wouldn’t have to pay back millions of debt it owed Bank of America and Wells Fargo for a underperforming NASCAR Hall of Fame, they couldn’t help but ask why they’re still facing the loss of their homes.

WBTV.com lays out the tentative deal situation between BofA and Wells Fargo on the one side, and Charlotte’s $17.6 million debt it owes for the NASCAR attraction that hasn’t made enough money to pay a dime on a $19.1 million loan in the years since it opened in May 2010.

The proposal currently on the table would have the city pay the banks $5 million from Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority funds, and that’s it. The banks will go ahead and erase the $3.5 million in accumulated interest and the $14.1 million in principal.

Sounds like a sweet deal — and homeowners in foreclosure want in on it.

One woman whose investment home is being foreclosed upon by BofA says she’s been trying to stop the process, and would gladly take the same kind of deal as the NASCAR one.

“If they would just take off the interest, that would help,” she says. “They are still trying to foreclose on us, and we are still trying to fight them.”

John Autry, a Charlotte City Council member, chimed in as well, telling WBTV.com that neighborhoods have been struggling with foreclosures since the 2008 recession, and that he wishes the banks would be as “humane” toward homeowners in trouble as they were to NASCAR.

The banks say the deal is totally cool, and said they’ve been working to help people from losing their homes. Wells Fargo says it worked with Charlotte “reach a solution that supports the long-term viability of this city-owned landmark and benefits our community.” Bank of America said it has “made unprecedented investments to provide relief to mortgage customers in need of assistance … helped more than 2 million customers avoid foreclosure.”

The City Council will be voting on the proposal on Monday.

*Thanks for the tip, Dave!

After NASCAR debt write-off, some homeowners cry foul [WBTV.com]

Disney Cruise Ship Removes 4-Month-Old Infant, Ends Family Vacation

Wed, 2015-01-07 17:32

(David Richards)

(David Richards)

A Disney cruise is supposed to be fun for people of all ages, but one family from Florida is upset because family vacations apparently have an age limit. Disney Cruise Lines recently changed their lower age limit for passengers, banning babies under 6 months of age when they had previously allowed infants 12 weeks and older on board. The policy was suddenly enforced when the 4-month old visited the ship’s doctor.

The infant was part of a 31-person family group enjoying a last vacation with an elder family member who has cancer. When the group made their reservation, infants up to 12 weeks were allowed on board, so there was no problem. The policy changed to 6 months as of January 1st, but families that had already made reservations weren’t affected by that policy. Everything went fine until the great-grandbaby became ill and visited the ship’s doctor.

The cruise line declined to discuss the family’s specific situation with TV station WPTV (Warning: auto-play video) since it involved medical treatment on board the ship, but said that a travel agent helps families home when they have to disembark for medical reasons. The family says that they were sent to a “fleabag” hotel that didn’t have a safe infant bed available, paid $1,200 to a Bahamian hospital to learn that their daughter had gas, and only paid for the hotel and emergency travel home after the family negotiated with the company.

“No one would care if they took us off the ship and we were in complete safety in comparable accommodations and brought home,” the baby’s grandfather told the TV station. “They were deceitful about it. No one can believe that Disney would send a 4-month-old baby off into the dark in a foreign country.”

The family isn’t upset about being kicked off the cruise, but about how they were treated and how Disney, as the baby’s mother puts it, “feels that they owe [the family] nothing.” Meanwhile, the cruise line billed the four family members for gratuities for nights that they were no longer on board.

Disney Cruise Line forces family off ship; officials say 4-month-old baby too young to be onboard [WPTV] (Warning: auto-play video)

Lawsuit Accuses Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine Of Cheating Former Beats Electronics Partner

Wed, 2015-01-07 17:11

(nunodantas)

(nunodantas)

Beats Electronics and Music certainly got a tidy sum to become a part of Apple, in fact, the $3 billion deal is the iPhone maker’s largest acquisition to date. But a lawsuit from a former partner of Beats executives Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine claims that the duo swindled him out of his chunk of that very lucrative pie.

A complaint filed Tuesday in San Mateo Superior Court accuses Dre and Iovine of duping Noel Lee, who happens to be the founder of video and audio cable maker Monster. He alleges that his partners worked out a “sham” deal with HTC in 2011 that allowed them to sever their connection with Monster, reports the Associated Press.

Before that split, Lee held a 5% stake in Beats as a result of that former partnership. The suit alleges that Dre and Iovine’s machinations saw him cutting his stake to 1.25% before selling off the rest for $5.5 million in late 2013. This, after Beats executives allegedly assured him that the company wasn’t going to be sold in the immediate future.

Cut to May 2014, when Beats comes out and says hey, Apple is buying us for $3 billion, making Dre and Iovine Apple executives in the process.

That 1.25% stake could’ve reaped more than $30 million, Lee’s suit claims, and his original 5% would’ve netted about $150 million.

It’s unclear how much Dre and Iovine each made from the deal, but it’s assumed to be a hefty chunk of change, as Lee claims the two both owned 15% in the early stages of the Beats partnership.

Apple declined to comment on the lawsuit, and is not named in the complaint. Other listed defendants include HTC America Holding Ltd. and Beats investor and board member.

Lawsuit alleges Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine swindled Beats partner [Associated Press]

Comcast’s X1 Platform Might Have “National Known Issue” Stopping It From Actually Working

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:51
(Consumerist)

(Consumerist)

Comcast is really pleased with their Xfinity X1 platform, the set-top app-running digital-tuning computer that is their latest interpretation on the cable box. And it does indeed do some nifty things! But it’s also had some pretty bad, extremely widespread issues. And if what one customer service rep told a customer is true, it seems that far from being something sporadic and unpredictable, the problems with the X1 may instead be known issues that Comcast has yet to fix.

Consumerist tipster Michael points us to one Comcast subscriber’s complaint about his issues with the X1. The subscriber’s issues are particularly weird: a brand-new piece of technology insisting that it’s 44 years old, for example, and claiming that its hard drive is full before anything is recorded. But the more telling part is in the response the subscriber received from a Comcast rep in a private message.

The rep replied: “I must apologize, but from the information I’ve received so far, the issue you’re experiencing is a part od a national known issue with our DVR recordings. … It might be best to wait on the tech visit. Each market has their own way of dealing with this known issue.”

Comcast has been loudly touting the features and consumer benefits of the X1 — calling it “the future of TV with a state-of-the-art user interface and product features that revolutionize the viewing experience” — in their filings and statements about their planned merger with Time Warner Cable. Of course, the expansion of the platform also benefits Comcast. If the X1 really is being rolled out nationwide with known defects that prevent it from working as advertised, that kills the few benefits consumers do ever actually see.

We’ve asked Comcast for comment and will update if we hear back.

Wet Seal Announces The Inevitable: It’s Closing 66% Of Its Stores Starting Right Now

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:32

(addblue13)

(addblue13)

The end has certainly felt nigh for Wet Seal recently, as a death dirge has been wafting from the general direction of the teen ’90s dream store amid reports of lackluster sales, a company trying to give itself a makeover and the outrage of former employees claiming mistreatment at the hands of corporate. Wet Seal isn’t dead yet, but it did announce today that it’ll be closing 66% of its stores, laying off around 3,695 employees in the process.

It’s unclear if those layoff numbers include Wet Seal employees who claim they’ve recently found themselves jobless with little to no notice, however.

The massive cut is a sort of Hail Mary pass, as Wet Seal explains the decision to close the 338 stores came after an assessment of its finances left it no other option, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The company saw this coming in December, when it said bankruptcy protection could be imminent if it wasn’t able to right its sinking ship lickety-split.

If you’re working at Wet Seal right now and reading this, you should be sitting down by now, as the company says the closures are effective “on or about” Wednesday, or today, after negotiations with landlords apparently fell through.

The stores that are closing made up about 48% of the company’s sales in the nine months ending Nov. 1, Wet Seal says. There will now just be 173 stores, along with the online business.

Meanwhile, dELiA*s is like, “Come on in, the water’s fine! And there are nachos!”

Wet Seal to Close 66% of Its Stores [Wall Street Journal]

McDonald’s Japan Serves Up Food Containing Plastic Shards, Human Teeth

Wed, 2015-01-07 16:04

(Paxton Holley)

(Paxton Holley)

Here in the United States, McDonald’s is busy assuring us that their chicken nuggets are definitely made out of chicken. Over in Japan, the company has a different challenge: assuring the public that their food does not contain pieces of vinyl or human teeth. That’s in addition to the ongoing fry shortage due to a potato shortage in Japan.

The culinary misadventures in Japan began in the summer of 2014, when the company’s chicken supplier in China was accused of re-packaging expired meat with fresh new expiration dates on the packages. Now they’re importing chicken from Brazil after a customer found a piece of vinyl inside a nugget from their new supplier in Thailand. McDonald’s still hasn’t found the source of that plastic nugget, but this isn’t the first time customers have found strange objects in their food in recent months: one person found a human tooth in their fries back in August. A child was injured by a piece of plastic found in an ice cream sundae last month.

All this is not helping McDonald’s Japan with its falling sales, as customers in the home of 7-Eleven have been more interested in going to convenience stores for their snacks and coffee.

McDonald’s Japan apologizes after tooth, plastic found in food [Reuters]

NFL Players’ Lawsuit Over Use Of Their Avatars In EA’s Madden Games Gets The Go Ahead

Wed, 2015-01-07 15:50

NFlmaddenIt isn’t just former college football players upset with video-game maker Electronic Arts for using their likenesses in games without getting paid for it: A federal appeals court judge has just given another lawsuit against EA the go-ahead, this one brought by former NFL players who are ticked off that EA used their avatars in the Madden NFL series without proper compensation.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a district court that had rejected EA’s attempt to get the lawsuit thrown out, reports the Associated Press.

The court said EA’s argument that the use of players’ likenesses was only incidental, and therefore protected by the First Amendment, wouldn’t fly far. Because out of all the faces a computer program could pick to use on a football player, what are the odds that it would just happen to resemble a real life person who played that position?

“We hold EA’s use of the former players’ likenesses is not incidental because it is central to EA’s main commercial purpose – to create a realistic virtual simulation of football games involving current and former NFL teams,” Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher wrote in the opinion.

Players including former Los Angeles Rams quarterback said the Madden game has players with their exact characteristics and is using those faces without their permission.

EA said in a statement that it’s disappointed by the ruling.

“We believe in the First Amendment right to create expressive works – in any form – that relate to real-life people and events, and will seek further court review to protect it,” the company said.

A similar lawsuit brought against EA by former Arizona State University quarterback Sam Keller resulted in a $40 million settlement last year to resolve allegations that the company had swiped likenesses’ and used them in video games without permission.

The court’s ruling yesterday seems to be in line with that case, as the court again said EA hadn’t made much of an effort to change the players’ likenesses in the Madden NFL games.

“Like NCAA Football, Madden NFL replicates players’ physical characteristics and allows users to manipulate them in the performance of the same activity for which they are known in real life – playing football for an NFL team,” Fisher wrote.

NFL players’ lawsuit vs. video-game maker allowed to advance [Associated Press]

From Samsung To Razer To Oculus, Our Experience With The Latest In Virtual Reality

Wed, 2015-01-07 05:16

Razer's Open Source VR (OSVR) headset is still a way off from the retail market, but the prototype we tried showed a lot of promise.

Razer’s Open Source VR (OSVR) headset is still a way off from the retail market, but the prototype we tried showed a lot of promise.

Virtual reality has been a holy grail of sorts for tech developers for several decades, but previous generations’ attempts were too clunky, heavy, and unconvincing. The dream hasn’t died, and judging by what we saw at International CES this week, the field is ready to explode (in a good way).

A year ago, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset came out of (virtually) nowhere to win the Best Of award at CES. A few months later, Facebook bought the company for $2 billion.

Recently, Oculus tech was integrated into a Samsung VR device, the Samsung Gear VR, which was the first of three headsets we tried out during our trek around the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Folks trying out the demo of the Samsung Gear VR at International CES.

Folks trying out the demo of the Samsung Gear VR at International CES.

The Gear VR has actually been on the market for a short time, but only through the Samsung website. Additionally, while it only costs $199, it requires a Samsung Note 4 smartphone, so if you don’t have that device, you just have a headset you can strap on for the purpose of bumping into stuff.

But is it any good? Thanks for asking.

The short answer is yes. In our tests, it reacted well to our eye movements — which can be used to move cursors around the screen — and our head movements.

The most enjoyable experience for the Gear for us involved watching a series of pre-recorded videos that allow you to look around the scene in a full 360 degrees with a turn of your head. One particular piece — aerial footage from a flight over and around Hong Kong — actually made our knees a bit weak when we dared to look down and see nothing between the ground and us.

Gaming on the Gear VR was more hit or miss. Some games are playable with just your eyes or by moving your head around, but others required a separate controller. Problem is, you can’t see the controller (or your hands) so you have little to no idea what you’re doing unless you’ve mastered the layout of the controller.

osvrThis particular issue is one that gaming hardware company Razer is attempting to address in its design for its Open Source VR headset.

Even though the device is still in the prototype stage, Razer decided to show how far it has developed the tech, and we’re glad it didn’t shy away from showing an in-development product.

The OSVR can actually see your hands when they are within view of your eyes, and without the use of any hardware in addition to the headset.

That said, it didn’t always do a perfect job of being able to distinguish between right and left hand, especially when moving your head quickly, which is likely to happen in a gaming situation where you can be beset on all sides by foes. Razer techs we spoke to believe this is a software issue that will be fixed as development continues.

The most exciting aspect of the OSVR is right there in its name. It’s open-source in both its software and hardware, meaning developers will be able to tweak and customize based on what Razer has provided for them.

For example, even though Razer makes headphones, the company currently doesn’t think it will integrate headphones into the initial OSVR, mostly because gamers can get very particular about their headphones so they can continue to wear their earpieces of choice. However, a developer could take the basic design of the OSVR and tweak it to integrate headphones or include a headphone jack.

Razer says it hopes to have developers kits of the OSVR available this summer for around $200. A commercial release of the product will ultimately depend on how quickly developers can provide enough content to make it worth the purchase.

The demo prototype of the Razer OSVR had some technical issues when we were at the booth, but Razer engineers were on hand to get it working.

The demo prototype of the Razer OSVR had some technical issues when we were at the booth, but Razer engineers were on hand to get it working.

And that brings us to the latest project from Oculus…

crescentbay

Unlike the Samsung Gear VR and Razer OSVR, where we sat in comfy chairs and couches to enjoy the experience, the Oculus Crescent Bay prototype demo takes place in a padded chamber, standing up.

As someone who once got motion sick while watching the Christopher Guest mockumentary “Best in Show,” this was especially intimidating.

megoculus

It took a little maneuvering and adjusting to get the prototype headset over our eyeglasses, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. On the floor is a small pad and you’re instructed to practice feeling the edge with your toes. You’re not to move past the pad. A positional camera mounted on the wall tracks where you move, while the headset registers the movements of your head, creating a truly immersive experience. You can actually walk around these environments.

The resolution of the headset is very good, and the detail of the rendered environments is impressive, as is the sound. Bullets whiz by your head. You can dodge them, and duck. Objects have detail and texture, and you can move in and study them as if they were really there.

The demo included several different types of environments, ranging from slightly scary (a T-rex charging toward you down a long hallway) to humorous (an alien who seemed displeased with us, and a PIxar-esque robot battle that included a giant rubber duck) to downright trippy (standing at the edge of a steep drop off that genuinely made our knees weak, as heights are not our jam.)

The verdict? We didn’t get motion sick, even those of us who get sick from 100% of first-person shooter games and can’t even play Portal for more than 10 seconds without becoming violently, violently ill. (Not an exaggeration.)

The Crescent Bay prototype felt natural and real, and yet not. Like a dream.

Companies Showcase Hubs That Connect Appliances To Create Secure, Smart Homes

Wed, 2015-01-07 00:53
ADT showcased a security system that connects consumers appliances to create a secure, smart home.

ADT showcased a security system that connects consumers appliances to create a secure, smart home.

As we know, the Internet of Things – or the connection of all our connected devices – is here to stay. So it should come as no surprise that a number of companies are showcasing products that create a central hub connecting consumer devices to one another, creating a secure, smart home atmosphere.

Toronto-based MMB Networks showed off its module aimed at providing a platform to connect all of its consumers’ smart devices no matter the type of network communication they use.

The hub would allow consumers to control all aspects of their smart home from a television, smartphone or tablet.

MMB showcases a hub using Zigbee communication to connect appliances that consumers already own.

MMB showcases a hub using Zigbee communication to connect appliances that consumers already own.

In a demonstration, a representative from MMB showed how the switch of a Philips remote could change lights from party-mode to romantic mood lighting while also locking the door and closing the blinds.

Hubs like those in development by MMB Networks, which should be available this fall for about $150, would go a long way in creating a more seamless environment for consumers’ smart homes.

In the past the smart home products have been cumbersome, with consumers having to toggle between multiple apps to control their appliances.

While MMB Networks’ hub can control all of your related appliances, you don’t have to have to invest in each piece right off the bat.

A rep for the company says that consumers can buy items piece by piece to create an arsenal of smart home alliances.

On the home security side of things, ADT showcased their Pulse Total Security system which uses a wireless hub toto connect consumers’ devices, while providing the company’s signature security services.

While the program comes with a monthly subscription around $50 and varying installation costs, the total security panel acts as a hub, allowing consumers to remotely control devices like locks, garage doors, thermostats, lights and appliances that consumers already own.

For example, someone with a beloved coffee pot won’t to kick it to the curb under the system.Instead they can plug in the appliance to a bulky adapter and then the wall. The adapter allows the homeowner to both power and control the device remotely.

Both ADT and MMB’s products will work to alert consumers of issues while they are away from the home.

MMB and ADT’s hubs are just a few on display at CES this year, other electronics companies such as Samsung (which we know loves the Internet of Things) have also made promises to the consumer to better provide seamless use of connected smart homes.

Are Any Of The New 4K TVs Worth Blowing Your Paycheck On?

Wed, 2015-01-07 00:45

samsungsupercurveMake no bones about it — 4K TVs are going to become the standard for new televisions very quickly. But is there enough content to justify making the leap now?

That’s the question we asked ourselves as we walked the seemingly endless floors of the Las Vegas Convention Center this morning, going from tricked-out 4K display to tricked-out 4K display. Sure, they mostly look lovely and would make your neighbors jealous, but there are a lot of lingering questions.

WHAT AM I GOING TO WATCH?

We’ve gotten past the point in the 4K TV discussion of whether or not they can make these fancy sets for a somewhat reasonable price. Yes, they will cost you significantly more than most 1080p TVs, but they are also nowhere near as overpriced as they were when they first rolled out. And the price tags will only continue to become more consumer-friendly as adoption grows.

But what good is a TV with four times the resolution of 1080p if most of what you have to watch isn’t 4K?

The different manufacturers are answering this question in their own ways. Some, like LG and Samsung, are really pushing the fact more content companies — Netflix, DirecTV, Amazon, Dish, among others — are going to be providing more 4K video in the coming year.

samsungpartners

While Sony is also highlighting these outside sources, it’s also touting the upscaling abilities of its newest 4K sets. The Sony theory seems to be that you should buy a 4K set now because it thinks it can make your current video look even better without you having to search out native 4K content.

At International CES, Sony is trying to demonstrate that the new upscaling tech in its Bravia sets can make your current content look almost like 4K.

At International CES, Sony is trying to demonstrate that the new upscaling tech in its Bravia sets can make your current content look almost like 4K.

The upscaling that we saw was pretty impressive, showing a dramatic increase in detail between the source footage and the upscaled end-result. We have no idea if any behind-the-scenes doctoring was going on, but if the results are indeed accurate, it may be enough to win over some consumers on the bubble of adopting 4K.

SHOW US SOMETHING USEFUL

Most of the 4K screens on display here at International CES are showing hi-res photos or video made specifically to be shown on these fancy TVs. While this looks gorgeous and makes for good photos to share on Twitter, it doesn’t really help an observer judge whether or not 4K is useful in an at-home setting.

quantumdot

lgoled

Samsung did use footage from the recent Ridley Scott epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings, to demonstrate the difference between a “conventional TV” and UHD:
exodus2

exodus1

uhdalliance

In general, we found the skin tones more natural, finer details, less motion blur and a decidedly richer contrast to images. Again, there’s no way to tell without testing for ourselves whether any footage was manipulated to make it look better or worse.

TO CURVE OR NOT TO CURVE
samsungcurve

A number of manufacturers — most notably Samsung — are releasing more curved 4K screens in the coming year.

“We believe in the curve,” Samsung declared at its opening press conference, but after a few years of looking at these bent screens, we still don’t see the appeal.

Manufacturers and supporters of curved TVs claim that they are more immersive, but for screens smaller than 70″, that wraparound feeling doesn’t translate unless you’re up close and very personal. Of course, with 4K TVs you can get your face up near the glass without it becoming a pixelated mess, so the curve may be good for those who love to sit very close to the screen or to use as a massive monitor.

We suggest that anyone interested in buying a curved screen TV go out and get an eyes-on experience with the set before making a decision. You may like it, you may not. At least that way you’d be sure.

samsunggaming

MAKE YOUR OWN CONTENT

While we’re waiting for all the pay-TV providers and streaming services to make 4K content widely available, Sony’s solution is for consumers to just make their own 4K videos.

Sony offers the ability shoot 4K video on some of its Xperia phones, along with a new line of Handycams and Action Cams.

Sony offers the ability shoot 4K video on some of its Xperia phones, along with a new line of Handycams and Action Cams.

Sony now has 4K shooting capability on everything from its Xperia line of smartphones to its new Handycam and GoPro-competing Action Cam. So the company is hoping that people will want to see their home movies and selfie videos in all their 4K glory — on Sony sets of course.

actioncamfootage

WHAT’S THIS ABOUT 8K?

Yup, you heard correctly: 8K. That’s double the number of pixels of 4K, meaning eight times the resolution of your 1080p set.

No one is selling these beasts yet, though a couple of manufacturers are showing off prototypes.

Here are a couple of conference-goers being mesmerized by LG’s 98″ 8K prototype:
98inchlg

And here’s a slightly smaller, but still massive, 8K monster from Sharp:
8kcityscaps

What’s 8K look like? The effect is hyperreal, almost dizzying. It felt like a scene in a movie where someone is in a virtual reality simulation and things aren’t quite right. In short: The world is not ready for 8K.

Yelp Says That The FTC Investigation Of Yelp Is Complete

Wed, 2015-01-07 00:04

(colonelchi)

(colonelchi)

The Federal Trade Commission has received a lot of complaints about Yelp––more than 2,000 from 2008 through last spring. These led to what Yelp calls “a deep inquiry into our business practices” by the FTC, which has lasted almost a year. Today, Yelp announced that the feds have closed their investigation, and won’t be taking any action against Yelp regarding its business practices.

The company did recently pay a $450,000 civil penalty after a separate FTC investigation into its data collection practices regarding minors, but that’s separate from the repeated allegations that businesses and advertisers have made about the site’s review filtering and sorting methods.

The FTC hasn’t released any information about the end of this investigation, and declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal about it. Yelp says that the feds have spent the last year investigating the company. One component of the business that the agency investigated were the recommendation software that determines which reviews site users see and see first. Another item of interest was whether site employees have the ability to directly manipulate reviews according to the size of a business’s ad buy. Investigators apparently found nothing amiss, and closed the investigation.

A frequent criticism of the company has been that it solicits restaurants and other small, local businesses to sell ads, then threatens to hide positive customer reviews when those businesses decline to buy ads. While none of the accusers have been able to produce solid evidence of one of these advertising shakedowns, last year a federal judge ruled that Yelp isn’t legally obligated to present reviews in any order, and could give preferential ranking to advertisers if it wanted to. The company insists that it doesn’t, of course, but the end of a previous FTC investigation didn’t stop accusations from business owners.

FTC Closes Investigation of Yelp, Takes No Action [Yelp Official Blog]

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