BlackBerry fires 250 employees from its product testing, research and development team

160378752 520x245 BlackBerry fires 250 employees from its product testing, research and development team

BlackBerry has fired 250 people from its research and development division while it attempts to re-establish itself as a leading smartphone manufacturer and stabilize its business.

As reported by TechCrunch (via CTV News) all of the affected employees were based in the company’s new product testing facility in Waterloo, Ontario. A company spokesperson said the changes have been made to help BlackBerry streamline their product development.

“I can confirm on the record, that BlackBerry on Tuesday informed 250 employees of their termination in Waterloo,” BlackBerry’s Lisette Kwong said. “These employees were part of the New Product Testing Facility, a department that supports BlackBerry’s manufacturing and R&D efforts.

“This is part of the next stage of our turnaround plan to increase efficiencies and scale our company correctly for new opportunities in mobile computing. We will be as transparent as possible as those plans evolve.”

The move follows the resignation by David Smith, BlackBerry’s Vice President in charge of its struggling PlayBook tablet vision. That was less surprising given that BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins recently ruled out porting BlackBerry 10 to the unsuccessful slate – admitting that multiple teams had spent “a great deal of time and energy” looking at various solutions.

Richard Piasentin, BlackBerry’s US managing director, was also fired earlier this month.

Both departures follow BlackBerry’s announcement last year that it would shed 5,000 jobs from the company. A further 250 from its R&D team is certainly worrying, given that it’s the first place where new products and ideas would be conceived.

Image Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

If you’ve ever sent an email to the wrong person, Recipicheck wants to help

Uhoh 520x245 If youve ever sent an email to the wrong person, Recipicheck wants to help

We’ve all done it: one minute you’re happily sitting there sending emails and the next you have that horrible moment of realization that, actually, you hadn’t meant to send that confidential or potentially embarrassing file to that Sam, you meant to send it to the other Sam. The one you actually know and work with.

While potentially embarrassing in our personal lives, you can usually recover. An apology goes a long way. But in a work context when you’re a lawyer or banker where the need for secrecy is imperative – in some cases a legal imperative. For example, when an investment bank is managing a takeover but there are other teams in the same banks that can’t know it is taking place. Sending an email to the wrong Sam in that sort of situation could lead to far more serious consequences than feeling a bit silly.

This is why Quiver, a London-based startup with an eye on making sure this never happens again, has developed Recipicheck. It’s also why the company’s attentions have gone purely on businesses where data privacy is paramount, Quiver’s co-founder and director Tim Sadler, told The Next Web.

“It’s targeted at organizations that deal with highly-sensitive information. It uses algorithms that we’ve designed and developed just to try and predict whether you’re sending the email to the correct person or not. And kind of integrating with all the other processes that go on in an investment bank usually.”

Easy Peasy

Sadler explained that while the software has a critical mission, it has been designed to be non-intrusive for the end-user.

Through its algorithms it identifies situations in which it thinks you might be sending an email to the wrong person, either through possible name confusion, or by learning that you normally email certain things to certain groups of people, and that actually, in this instance you’re sending it to the usual group plus two other individuals.

“One of the things that we wanted was for it not to get in peoples’ way and for it not to be a burden for them. It’s completely discreet and operates in the background.

When it detects you’re sending an email regarding a certain set of information, whether that’s because there’s a certain attachment in there, or because it’s regarding a certain project or deal that you’re working on, the software will look to see if it thinks you are sending it to someone who is not approved to see that information.”

If it does it just pops-up a prompt asking if you really still want to send the email to the people addressed. Pricing for the service is just as simple, if not opaque. Businesses just pay a monthly fee, negotiated on an individual basis.

The company’s founders met as engineers at Imperial College in college, and as such mostly have a background in programming. After realizing that toiling for others as software engineers in investment banks wasn’t for them, they left their jobs and spent 9 months developing the software with feedback from the industry; the first public iteration was just last week.

receipicheck 730x350 If youve ever sent an email to the wrong person, Recipicheck wants to help

But how does this help me?

Well, Quiver wants to take Recipicheck (which as a name I don’t like) far and wide – put it in the cloud and make it interoperable with every single email service, client and device on the planet, whether a desktop installation of Windows Live Mail or that random little cloud email provider that you still use for some yet to be revealed reason.

It wouldn’t be a Web email client (as you might be thinking because of the word cloud), instead, it would allow you to stop yourself from accidentally sending an email to the wrong person from any device, account or platform. It’d be totally agnostic.

To do this would mean putting the service server-side (it’s currently all client-side, avoiding most potential issues), but to do that would mean all sorts of navigation of European (and beyond) data regulation laws, as well as some other headaches.

“Going server-side means we obviously have to have a host server that deals with this kind of information and these kind of email communications. We’re talking with engineers at the moment about how we can encrypt the data as it comes in so we wouldn’t even be able to see the data that came in. I think that’s something that would be of a major concern and will be a challenge for us as engineers to find a solution.”

Data regulation and practical encryption aside, I have bigger concerns for Recipicheck. The first thing that sprang to mind was, “aren’t there people already doing this? I’m pretty sure Gmail has a feature in Labs called Got the wrong Bob?”

When I asked Sadler about this and whether they had protected the software and algorithms’ IP (intellectual property). He said they were still looking into what Quiver’s claims to the technology could be.

Hmmm

Don’t misunderstand, I like the idea. I sent an email to my colleague Martin Bryant that was intended for someone else just yesterday. I’m just a little concerned that with no IP protection in place and rival/similar in effect, if not in method, filter services already out there Recipicheck could be ripe for copying.

However, with the launch just last week and the immediate plan to focus on the UK financial and legal business sectors, to be followed by expansion to other large financial centers, the service could service it’s niche very nicely. Whether or not the company will be able to break the service out of the niche is yet to be determined.

The long-term goal would then be to widen it out to every device and service under the sun before someone else does it. Maybe Recipicheck will manage it; I imagine Martin hopes so, that way he shouldn’t get any more emails like the one yesterday that wasn’t really meant for him.

Featured Image Credit – Thinkstock

Zynga decides against real-money gaming in the US, but will keep testing casino games in the UK

zynga sign gettyimages 520x245 Zynga decides against real money gaming in the US, but will keep testing casino games in the UK

Zynga confirmed today in its second quarter earnings announcement that it will not pursue a license for real-money gaming in the US.

In April, the company launched ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino real-money games in the UK in partnership with Bwin.party. At the time, reports emerged that Zynga had applied for a license to provide real-money poker in the state of Nevada. It’s not clear what happened with the application, but Zynga says it will instead focus on free games.

Here’s the statement directly from the earnings release:

Zynga believes its biggest opportunity is to focus on free to play social games. While the Company continues to evaluate its real money gaming products in the United Kingdom test, Zynga is making the focused choice not to pursue a license for real money gaming in the United States. Zynga will continue to evaluate all of its priorities against the growing market opportunity in free, social gaming, including social casino offerings.

Zynga’s second quarter performance was not stellar. It posted a net loss of $15.8 million and revenue was down 31 percent year over year to $231 million. After-hours trading pushed Zynga shares down over 12 percent, erasing the stock’s 6.71 percent gains from earlier in the day.

The company’s future is now in the hands of former Microsoft executive Don Mattrick, who took over as CEO earlier this month.

Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google’s free Netflix promotion for Chromecast sells out in a day

IMG 9605 520x245 Googles free Netflix promotion for Chromecast sells out in a day

That escalated quickly. When Google unveiled its Chromecast dongle for streaming YouTube, Netflix and Chrome tabs, it announced a promotion for three free months of Netflix with purchase of the device, but the deal is now sold out due to “overwhelming demand”.

Savvy shoppers quickly did the math yesterday ($35-$7.99*3=$11.03) and scooped up the device in droves. Google announced that the offer was no longer available little more than 24 hours after launching Chromecast.

Google Play lists Chromecast as shipping in 3-4 weeks, while Amazon is currently only selling the device by way of third-party sellers. Best Buy has also sold out of the dongle online, though it is listing in-store pickup in my area in 3 to 5 days.

Google has issued the following statement about the offer:

Due to overwhelming demand for Chromecast devices since launch, the 3-month Netflix promotion (which was available in limited quantities) is no longer available on Google Play.

That demand has led to a secondary market for the device, with some eager buyers paying as much as triple the price.

Google’s free Netflix offer may have been a generous one, but it hasn’t been handled well. For instance, its promotional page for Netflix is still live with no indication that the deal is over. Sure, the fine print says “Offer available while supplies last,” but shouldn’t the company, you know, tell us when those supplies run out?

google chromecast netflix 2 730x273 Googles free Netflix promotion for Chromecast sells out in a day

I bought a Chromecast on Amazon on Wednesday shortly after it became available, and it arrived on Thursday afternoon. However, the email with the Netflix promo code, which was supposed to go out after the device had shipped, has yet to arrive in my inbox.

When I called Netflix about the issue, a support representative said the email and code would come from Google, but when I called Google, a rep said it was on Netflix. I’m not the only one having these issues.

It’s nice to see Google have a hardware hit on its hands, especially after its struggles with the Nexus Q and Google TV, but the company needs to get better about communicating if it’s going to keep selling devices directly. My colleagues and I like Chromecast and see a lot of potential in it, but customers aren’t going to stay happy if they bought the device expecting a Netflix promotion and end up with nothing.

Related: Hands on with Google’s Chromecast, a tiny set-top box for the Web

Breaking Bad finale coming exclusively to Netflix in UK and Ireland starting August 12

Netflix 520x245 Breaking Bad finale coming exclusively to Netflix in UK and Ireland starting August 12

The series finale of the hit TV series Breaking Bad will air in the UK and Ireland exclusively on Netflix starting from mid-August, following hotly on the heels of the episodes being aired in the US.

The online streaming service announced the news on Friday, adding that new episodes will be available each Monday following August 12 as they are shown in the US.

“We are thrilled to be bringing the highly-anticipated Final Season of Breaking Bad to Netflix members in the UK and Ireland on a first-run basis,” Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said. “Breaking Bad is a once in a generation calibre of show and continues to be a huge success on Netflix.”

That’s right folks, you’re favorite crystal meth kingpin will be back on your screens shortly to conclude the story.

As well as watching the final season, Netflix members can also play catch up by streaming any of the previous series’ episodes.

The deal is a particular coup for Netflix in the UK and Ireland specifically as it will see the shows being transmitted with the minimum of delay following the US screening of the episodes. Traditionally, content shown in the US could take weeks or even months before it was ready to be shown to a UK audience.

The move keeps pressure up on rival online services like LOVEFiLM, Amazon’s online streaming arm in the UK. The domestic market is also seeing challenges from non-traditional content providers such as supermarkets. For example, Tesco’s BlinkBox service simply charges on a per-viewing basis, rather than charging a monthly subscription.

Featured Image Credit – AFP/Getty Images

Board game creator cans $123K Kickstarter project, reinforces the platform’s lack of accountability

P1040317 645x250 520x245 Board game creator cans $123K Kickstarter project, reinforces the platforms lack of accountability

After raising $123,000 on Kickstarter to develop a new tabletop board game called ‘The Doom That Came To Atlantic City’, creator Erik Chevalier has told backers that the project has been abandoned.

“The project is over, the game is cancelled,” Chevalier wrote in an update for the project’s Kickstarter page (spotted by CVG).

“Every possible mistake was made, some due to my inexperience in board game publishing, others due to ego conflicts, legal issues and technical complications. No matter the cause though these could all have been avoided by someone more experienced and I apparently was not that person.”

The remarks have been met with a wave of criticism from backers that have pledged potentially thousands of dollars to see the game realized and eventually own a copy of the final product. A number of these commenters have now filed complaints with the Oregon Department of Justice – the state where Chevalier’s company is based – for fraudulent activity.

Trying to make peace

A second update has since been posted by Chevalier to try to stabilize the situation. He has contacted the Oregon Department of Justice to explain the situation and will now work with them “to see what I need to do to make this right in their eyes.”

“This project has been a year of frustration on every level,” he said. “There are things you don’t know and I can’t talk about yet without first seeking legal advice, but hopefully in time everything will be made clear. I don’t expect everyone to accept my apologies, there is nothing I can say that will make every single backer forgive me.”

Chevalier has also stated that he wants to refund all of the Kickstarter backers, as well as those who pre-ordered the game after the campaign closed through his company’s webstore. He claims to have started this process already – starting with post-campaign pre-orders – although there’s no time frame as to when it will be completed.

We’ve seen this time and time again

The scenario is not uncommon for Kickstarter. Josh Dibb, a band member of Animal Collective, infamously raised over $25,000 in 2009 and never delivered any of the materials promised to backers, further highlighting the various flaws and pitfalls associated with Kickstarter.

The crowdfunding platform has huge accountability issues. It’s a tool that enables the public to make donations for projects they want to succeed. The problem lies in the ‘perks’ offered to backers with specific pledge amounts – these are often straight-up pre-orders, which come with social expectations. The main one being, of course, that they’ll eventually get the product.

Kickstarter doesn’t have a mechanism for ensuring that project creators actually deliver on their original pitch. The problem is heightened when the amount raised goes far beyond the original funding target – in the case of Chevalier, he raised well over three times his initial goal. The perception and expectation that backers have of the pitch is then changed and inevitably heightened, increasing the likelihood that the creator won’t fully deliver.

Kickstarter: Not our problem

Some projects are also downright scams. Kickstarter’s terms of use clearly state: “Project Creators are required to fulfill all rewards of their successful fundraising campaigns or refund any Backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill.”

It later adds: “Kickstarter does not offer refunds. A Project Creator is not required to grant a Backer’s request for a refund unless the Project Creator is unable or unwilling to fulfill the reward.”

This would point to some kind of structural, or perhaps contractual obligation by project creators to deliver their rewards to backers as promised. Wrong.

“Kickstarter is not liable for any damages or loss incurred related to rewards or any other use of the Service,” it continues. “Kickstarter is under no obligation to become involved in disputes between any Users, or between Users and any third party arising in connection with the use of the Service. This includes, but is not limited to, delivery of goods and services, and any other terms, conditions, warranties, or representations associated with campaigns on the Site.”

Kickstarter is, essentially, completely disconnected and won’t hold project creators to account. Just to make that crystal clear, it later states: “You release Kickstarter, its officers, employees, agents, and successors in rights from claims, damages, and demands of every kind, known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, disclosed or undisclosed, arising out of or in any way related to such disputes and the Service.”

Backers involved with ‘The Doom That Came To Atlantic City’ are therefore on their own. Reporting the matter to the Oregon Department of Justice was likely their only option.

Sky increases mobile and on-demand viewing figures more than five-fold

BSkyB 520x245 Sky increases mobile and on demand viewing figures more than five fold

British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), or known better as simply Sky, has reported full year earnings for the last 12 months revealing that the broadcaster made great strides in growing on-demand and mobile viewing figures.

Overall, revenue for the year was at 7.2 billion, an increase of 7 percent in comparison with the previous 12 months and operating profit was at 1.29 billion, an increase of 4 percent year-on-year (YoY).

Notably, Sky said that much of its growth had come from its on-demand viewing options and its Sky GO mobile TV service.

Overall viewing figures for on-demand content had increased by five times the level it was at this time last year and now delivers more than 6 million on demand streams per week.

“Over 2.7 million Sky customers, more than a quarter of total customers, have already connected their Sky+HD boxes to broadband, a rise of 170 percent on last year. This gives them access to the UK’s biggest Catch Up TV service alongside hundreds of hours of popular TV box sets and an extensive library of exclusive movies,” Sky said in a statement.

The company also said the growth of Sky GO had helped the overall perfomance during the period. For example, of the 3.3 million regular Sky GO users, the company has converted 166,000 of them to Sky Go Extra customers – which allows users to view content on mobile and tablet devices with or without an active connection.

Content house

As part of its push to increase the number of people using its streaming services, Sky has been gradually introducing new providers and programming for its on demand content.

For example, it introduced Fox and Sky Movies Disney to the line-up, while a further 14 channels joined Sky Go including 8 kids channels (Disney, Disney XD, Disney Jnr, Nick, Nick Jnr, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito and Boomerang), 5 entertainment channels (SyFy, Universal, C&I and Star Plus) plus Channel 4 and More 4 and 4oD’s VOD (Video On Demand) content.

Particular hit shows for the broadcaster over the past 12 months have been Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Sopranos and Hannibal, it said.

In order to keep up the pressure on rival providers, such as Virgin Media and BT’s Vision packages, as well as online streaming providers like Netflix and LOVEFiLM, Sky said it would introduce another 20 channels to its catch up service over the next 12 months.

To spur the number of people using its on demand services, Sky also introduced a new 10 NOW TV box that will allow people to access content on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The broadcaster has recently been in a bitter battle with BT to retain customers that are particularly interested in football and other sports broadcasting.

Earlier this year, BT won the rights to show 38 premier league football matches this season, and added an extra lure to win over existing Sky customers by offering its sports TV service for free to customers on its Infinity fiber broadband packages. Sky, naturally, responded with its own football-orientated offers, such as broadcasting the first day of the season for free to the whole of the UK, regardless of which TV service is used.

Featured Image Credit – AFP/Getty Images