This Week On The TechCrunch Gadgets Podcast: PS4, Xbox One, And The Sense 3D Scanner

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. What are you thankful for?

My list is short, but sweet: I’m thankful for you guys, gaming consoles, and 3d scanners.

This week, on a very grateful episode of the TechCrunch Gadgets podcast, we look into the differences between the PS4 and the Xbox One, the latest generations of console gaming. Meanwhile, John’s excited about the new Sense scanner from 3D Systems, even though he can’t stop calling it “Scene”.

For our phone fans out there, we’re also chatting about the Moto G smartphone.

We discuss all this and more on this week’s episode of the TC Gadgets Podcast, featuring John Biggs, Matt Burns, and Darrell Etherington, and Chris Velazco.

Enjoy!

We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern and noon Pacific. And feel free to check out the TechCrunch Gadgets Flipboard magazine right here.

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Intro Music by Rick Barr.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Google Ejects Android ROM-Maker Cyanogen’s Installer App From Play – Citing Developer T&C Violations

Well that didn’t take long. Google has asked Cyanogen Inc. to remove its alternative Android ROM installer app from the Play store.

Cyanogen raised $ 7 million from Benchmark Capital back in September to turn its geek-beloved aftermarket version of Android into a mainstream flavour of the platform – with the ultimate aim of using an Android variant to compete with standard Android (and iOS) for consumers’ attention.

To kick off its mainstream market targeting effort, Cyanogen released an installer app for its CyanogenMod earlier this month – to make it easier for less tech savvy Android users to flash the ROM on their devices.

But, writing in a blog yesterday, Cyanogen said Google’s Play support team had contacted it to ask it to remove the app, citing violations of Play’s developer terms – warning that if the app wasn’t voluntarily removed it would be forcibly ejected.

So Cyanogen’s attempt to boost the popularity of its Android-based alternative to Android apparently got Google’s attention too.

Google Cyanogen

At the time of writing Google had not responded to requests for comment on why it asked Cyanogen to remove its installer app.

But here’s what Cyanogen said Google told it:

Today, we were contacted by the Google Play Support team to say that our CyanogenMod Installer application is in violation of Google Play’s developer terms.

They advised us to voluntarily remove the application, or they would be forced to remove it administratively. We have complied with their wishes while we wait for a more favorable resolution.

To those unfamiliar with the application, it has a single function – to guide users to enable “ADB”, a built in development and debugging tool, and then navigates the user to the desktop installer. The desktop application then performs the installation of the CyanogenMod on their Android device.

After reaching out to the Play team, their feedback was that though application itself is harmless, since it ‘encourages users to void their warranty’, it would not be allowed to remain in the store.

Android being an open platform means users can still download and install Cyanogen Mod via a number of routes, including from Cyanogen’s own website.

However, if you’re on a mission to lower the barrier of entry to your alternative Android firmware, requiring people to seek out and sideload your software rather than stumble across an installer app sitting on the shelves of Google’s mainstream store does make that mission a lot harder – as Cyanogen’s blog post goes on to note:

Fortunately, Android is open enough that devices allow for installing applications via ‘Unknown Sources’ (ie sideload). Though it’s a hassle and adds steps to the process, this does allow us a path forward, outside of the Play Store itself.

According to Cyanogen, the installer app was downloaded “hundreds of thousands” of times in the two weeks+ it was available on Google Play, which it argues proves “the demand for more choice” – another reason Google may have started feeling uncomfortable about the installer’s presence on its store. Android may be an open platform but Google Play is very much ‘made and maintained in Mountain View’.

Cyanogen is clearly hoping to resolve the Play blip if it can. “As we work through this new hurdle, we will continue to make available and support the installation process via our own hosting services,” it added in its blog.

Why might the average Android user want to install Cyanogen Mod? It’s a way to ditch the bloatware and crapware loaded onto many Android devices by carriers, for instance, or to remove a custom Android skin – such as HTC’s Sense UI – that’s irritating or slows down the Android experience.

Custom skins also typically delay the process of getting Android updates, and can also force Android users to be stuck on older version of the platform even if their device hardware could technically handle an upgrade.

Cyanogen Mod also includes features not offered in standard Android – including native theming, an OpenVPN client, support for Wi-Fi- Bluetooth- and USB-tethering, CPU overclocking and FLAC audio codec support.

In addition, Cyanogen argues that its ROM can increase the performance and reliability of Android compared with official firmware releases.

Why might Google be nervous about Cyanogen? If an alternative Android platform was able to gain significant traction it could undermine Google’s monetisation of Android – via the services it preloads onto Android (such as Play, Maps, YouTube) – by providing an opportunity for other services to be preloaded instead (as is often the case in the Chinese market).

It could also weaken Google’s control of Android, and it could erode the attractiveness of the platform in carriers’ eyes, making them less keen to promote Android devices to their customers and in their retail stores if they can’t be sure their users won’t be saddled with their branded bloatware.


TechCrunch » Android

Let’s Sit Out Black Friday, Shall We?

It’s Thanksgiving in the States and tomorrow is the biggest shopping day of the year. In fact stores will be open tonight so you can elbow your way into a scrum of bargain hunters and frotteurists. I’m here to tell you it’s a sucker’s game, at least when it comes to consumer electronics and computer hardware.

This is not to say you shouldn’t go out tomorrow. Are you looking for toys, scarves, and underwear for the family? By all means hit the malls. Those “soft goods” are so cheap wholesale that stores can afford to discount them drastically in hopes that you’ll make up for loss in profit with sheer volume. See a Lego door buster you’ve got to have? You better get in there.

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But computer hardware is a far different matter. Consumer electronics margins are so low right now that manufacturers make pennies per device. Deep discounts usually happen to items that are on their way out anyway. I checked out Best Buy’s Black Friday page. The iPad 2 is on sale there for $ 299 – it’s normally $ 399 – but it’s the Wi-Fi only 16GB model, pretty much the entriest of the entry level. You can grab a 64GB model refurbished for $ 469 on Apple’s website. “But this is for mom,” you say. “She wants to read and maybe Skype us.” Get her the Kindle Fire HDX for fifty less, no mall visit needed.

What about those $ 300 laptops (BB has a Toshiba model)? Well, the laptops on sale aren’t going to be on the market for much longer and Black Friday is a great way to clear out old stock. CES is right around the corner and we can expect Intel’s Broadwell chip to launch in a quarter or so. Therefore you’re buying obsolescence on sale.

Don’t expect to get a deal on an Xbox One or PS4, either. You won’t even see one in stores, let alone get a discount on one.

Going for the TVs? BB is selling their Insignia brand 39-inched for $ 169. This is an in-store deal which means you probably won’t get one. Do you want one? Eh, sure, if you’re looking for a 39-inch monitor without many frills. Is it worth stabbing a grandmother over in order to score the last box? No.

In the end Black Friday is an exercise in pure commerce. Stores want you to come in because it means they can clear out all their stock in a few short hours. It gives them a cushion for the slow post-holiday season and it makes shopping look like an event. While I’m all for expansion of the commercial spirit, I think Black Friday is such a cynical and scammy experience that it’s hardly worth rolling off the couch to partake in. Make some real nerds happy – hit the small guys online, pick up some ThinkGeek stuff or some cool board games or Estes rockets from a smaller hobby shop and let somebody else fight over a $ 12 Blu-Ray player.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

This Week On The TechCrunch Droidcast: We Give Thanks To BBM, Custom ROMs, And… Yoga?

Holiday weeks tend to be a little quiet, but there’s always something going on in the world of Android to dig into. This time around, though, Darrell and I roped in MobileSyrup’s Daniel Bader and our very own Natasha Lomas to liven things up before it goes quiet for a few days. And I daresay we pulled it off nicely.

Oh, but you want details. We four jolly bloggers couldn’t help but dig into BlackBerry’s curious new BBM preloading deal with Android device OEMs, and it wasn’t long at all before Dan and I shifted the conversation to the joys and tribulations of loading some custom ROMs on your smartphone (for the record, he’s a fan of Paranoid Android). Throw in some kooky startup ideas and some even more outlandish funding offers, and you’ve got this week’s show in a nutshell.

We’re not exactly the sappiest people you’ll ever meet, but we even had ourselves something approaching a heartwarming moment. Despite the fact that I’m the only one of the four who’s actually celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, I made everyone sit in a make-believe circle and share what they’re thankful for. Guess who went the classy route and chose something alcoholic? (Hint: it was Darrell.)

We invite you to enjoy weekly Android podcasts every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern and 2:30 p.m. Pacific (generally speaking), in addition to our weekly Gadgets podcast at 3 p.m. Eastern and noon Pacific on Fridays. Subscribe to the TechCrunch Droidcast in iTunes, too, if that’s your fancy.

Intro music by Kris Keyser.

Direct download available here.


TechCrunch » Android

Gaming’s Next Revolution Will Be Live Streamed, And The PS4 Has A Nice Lead

This holiday season, only one of the two major next-gen consoles will feature an out-of-the-box game-streaming solution: Sony’s PlayStation 4. And that streaming feature taps into some powerful trends that should act as an ambassador for the hardware and Sony’s online network.

If you’re not familiar with the feature, it’s very simple. The PlayStation 4 controller has a streaming button that you tap at any point while playing a game. From this screen you can upload a clip of your last 15 minutes of play (the console buffers a chunk at all times just in case you do something cool you want to share). But you can also choose to live stream your gameplay, with or without a feed from the PlayStation camera or mic that carries your image or voice. You can also choose to allow comments to be displayed on the screen during your stream.

This is all powered by Twitch, the gaming video network born of Justin.tv. You can also use Ustream to send live video, but the majority of gamers I’ve seen are using Twitch. I’m not sure it matters which you use, as the audience is likely coming mostly from your shared links, not the networks themselves. Though this could change if either/or builds special browsing tools that surface new streams faster.

While Microsoft has plans to implement game streaming, also via Twitch, those plans hit a snag and the only option available at launch is to save a video and upload it for later watching. You can’t do the same kind of real-time streaming on Xbox One as you can on PS4, at least not yet. Microsoft says that this functionality should arrive early next year.

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I’ve been testing out the live streaming on the PS4 and it’s a pretty awesome experience. The streaming is incredibly easy to get going. You can sign up for a Twitch account right in the flow and get going. You can share the stream to Facebook or Twitter so that people can hop in and watch, and a channel gets made on Twitch as well. People can comment on your gameplay as you run through Knack or Call of Duty or what have you.

There’s something invigorating about having people watch your play in the game live.

This partially taps into the ‘let’s play’ movement that’s been gaining steam on video sites like Twitch and YouTube in a big way. Millions of people watch pre-recorded videos of other people playing games. It’s a crazy phenomenon that seems counter-intuitive. Why wouldn’t you just play the games yourself?

The answer, I think, lies in the realm of spectator sports. Yes, we can all play basketball or football in one form or another, but there is a pleasure in watching people play that are really good at what they do. And there’s a sort of thrill that comes in seeing people fail as well.

In addition to the charge you get out of having an audience, there’s also the collaborative aspects. People watching my streams give comments, advice, encouragement and, yes, insults. I’m able to respond with the mic without having to type anything. It’s a super fun mechanic and really well executed on PS4.

Both ‘let’s play’ and the PS4′s live-streaming feature tap into something primal; games as performance art, to a degree.

I used to play games competitively in ladders, climbing rung after rung with every match, until I was close to the top of one of the biggest amateur leagues. Those matches often hosted spectators, who watched and chatted as they went on. This was long before the days of Major League Gaming or the Pro Gaming League or any of those huge formal events. It was cool then, but now the audiences are massive, with finals held in huge arenas. Live streaming allows anyone to get a small taste of that kind of performance.

Live game streaming is set to be the next big social layer for platforms big and small. Yes, it’s on the major consoles now, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see most portable devices, including those running iOS and Android, get some support for this kind of thing. Playing a game is fun, sure, but playing in front of an audience gives it another kind of punch, something I haven’t felt for a lot of years.

Sony and Microsoft have tried for years to get people to share achievements and trophies on social networks, or even to passively send status updates like ‘watching Netflix’ or what have you. But this is another level entirely.

Sony has a nice early start on the streaming layer for the holidays, and I think it’s going to be a big win for them. Microsoft’s Xbox One has a host of media-related features that outstrip Sony’s offering, and I’m enjoying both consoles. But when I play the Xbox One, I’m immediately missing the ability to just ‘pull’ people into my session to see what they have to say. Not having streaming ready to go on launch day has to irk them.

Now, Sony has roughly two months to capture the interests of gamers with its streams and the network effects of the social followers of those streamers. People are going to be seeing tons of these Twitch.tv links on Twitter and Facebook over their winter breaks of whatever sort, and they’re going to be intrigued. Clicking on them and seeing a human playing a fighter or shooter in real time is a compelling sales tool.

Beyond that, once both consoles have the capability, It will be interesting to see how fast and how far it spreads when it comes to other platforms. Twitch recently announced it had 45 million monthly viewers, and raised $ 20 million in a series C. That’s growth of roughly 10M viewers in 3 months and all of that was before the PS4 and eventually the Xbox One.

Game streaming is just getting on its feet, but the possibilities are strong.

TechCrunch » Gadgets