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Epic has filed lawsuits against Apple and Google after its Fortnite app was jettisoned from the App Store and Google Play. The issue: The 30% fee that Apple and Google get on each purchase.

Image: Epic Games

Epic Games is probably best known for the virtual battles players have in its hit game Fortnite, but the company is gearing up for a real-life battle against two of the tech industry’s biggest guns.

This week, Epic filed lawsuits against both Apple and Google after its Fortnite app was booted from their respective app stores for violating specific guidelines. A multi-player, shoot-em-up, survival game, Fortnite is free but offers in-app purchases. And therein lies the issue.

Apple and Google each get a 30% cut of every purchase in their app stores, whether apps or in-app features. Arguing that this cut results in higher costs for users, Epic tried to circumvent the app stores by selling V-Bucks for in-app purchases for Fortnite directly to customers.

Apple said that move was a violation of the App Store guidelines, so it removed Fortnite from the store, prompting a lawsuit from Epic. Google also pulled the game from Google Play for similar reasons, triggering a suit against the Android giant.

So now Epic finds itself in a legal battle with two of the most powerful players in the tech world.

SEE: Five skills you need to become a video game tester (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Revealing its initial intention on its website before the app store removals and lawsuits, Epic said it was introducing a new way to pay for V-Bucks for the latest Fortnite update via iOS and Android: Epic direct payment. Touting the direct payment route as a cost savings, Epic said that customers would save 20% going this route, pricing the V-Bucks at $9.99 through Apple and at $7.99 through direct payment.

“Currently, when using Apple and Google payment options, Apple and Google collect a 30% fee, and the up to 20% price drop does not apply,” Epic said. “If Apple or Google lower their fees on payments in the future, Epic will pass along the savings to you.”

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Image: Epic Games

But this move to offer direct payment is what got Epic into trouble first with Apple, which on Thursday removed Fortnite from its App Store.

“Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users,” Apple said in a statement shared on TechRepublic sister site ZDNet. “As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.”

In response, Epic quickly filed a lawsuit against Apple. In its suit, Epic said it’s not looking for monetary compensation or special treatment for itself but rather is seeking relief to allow fair competition in key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands of third-party app developers.

“Apple imposes unreasonable and unlawful restraints to completely monopolize both markets and prevent software developers from reaching the over one billion users of its mobile devices (e.g., iPhone and iPad) unless they go through a single store controlled by Apple, the App Store, where Apple exacts an oppressive 30% tax on the sale of every app,” Epic charged in its suit.

Shortly afterwards, Google stepped in to remove Fortnite from its Google Play store, also for violating its guidelines after Epic offered Android users a direct payment option for its V-Bucks.

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Image: Epic Games

“The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores,” Google said in a statement shared with TechRepublic. “For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.”

And just as quickly, Epic filed its suit against Google, arguing that the company is engaging in monopolistic and anti-competitive actions through its Google Play store restrictions. In its suit against Google, Epic again said it was not looking for financial compensation or a special side deal or favorable treatment from the company. Instead, Epic said that it wants an open and competitive Android ecosystem for users and industry participants.

“Google has eliminated competition in the distribution of Android apps using myriad contractual and technical barriers,” Epic charged in its suit. “Google’s actions force app developers and consumers into Google’s own monopolized app store—the Google Play Store. Google uses this monopoly power to impose a tax that siphons monopoly profits for itself every time an app developer transacts with a consumer for the sale of an app or in-app digital content.”

In its battle, Epic has also tried to rally the troops in the form of customers and users who now have no way of downloading Fortnite on their iOS and Android devices unless they had downloaded it previously. On its website, the game maker has created a page with the hashtag #FreeFortnite and an FAQ criticizing Apple for its actions. Epic has also cooked up a quick video called Nineteen-Eighty Fortnite, a parody of Apple’s famous 1984 commercial, but this time with the iPhone maker as the bad guy.

Though Fortnite’s efforts seem like a case of one David against two Goliaths, this is far from the first time Apple and Google have been accused of monopolizing their markets.

In late July 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook was called before Congress to answer questions about the company’s alleged monopoly with smartphones and mobile apps. Claiming that Apple doesn’t have a dominant share in any market, Cook defended the fees charged by Apple for App Store purchases, calling them lower than those from most of its competitors.

Apple also has always promoted its App Store as a safe and secure place where apps are vetted before becoming available to users. And it has continually pointed to the profits that app developers earn, even after the 30% commission.

But other app developers have criticized Apple for its commission costs and store policies, complaining that the App Store is the only viable method for the distribution of iPhone and iPad apps. And many of those developers will be more than happy to join Epic’s fight, at least in spirit.

Google’s app store isn’t as strict. Google allows other app stores on Android devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Store and Amazon’s Appstore. But developers who go through the official Google Play store are subject to the fees and policies handed down by Google, which many consider restrictive.

Some type of compromise would be in the best interests of all parties, placating app developers and making Apple and Google look kinder, especially to regulators eager to clamp down on the companies. But the two companies have deep pockets and high-priced lawyers and are used to combat in the legal arena. Changing their store policies and commissions could set a dangerous precedent, so Apple and Google are likely to fight this one out if necessary.

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Micromax in 1b to Go on Sale in India for First Time Today via Flipkart, Company Site: Price, Specifications

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Micromax In 1b is all set to go on sale in India today. The phone comes with an octa-core MediaTek Helio G35 SoC and features a 6.52-inch full-HD+ display. It also comes with a dual rear camera setup that houses a 13-megapixel primary sensor. The Micromax In 1b also has an 8-megapixel selfie camera sensor inside the waterdrop-style notch. The company has integrated a 5,000mAh battery inside the In 1b that supports reverse charging and 10W fast charging.

Micromax In 1b price in India, sale

The Micromax In 1b will go on sale at 12pm (noon) on Flipkart and Micromax.com. The phone is priced at Rs. 6,999 for the 2GB RAM + 32GB storage option and at Rs. 7,999 for the 4GB RAM + 64GB storage model. Micromax In 1b will be available in Green, Blue, and Purple colour options.

Flipkart offers include 5 percent cashback on Flipkart Axis Bank credit card, 5 percent off with Axis Bank Buzz credit card, and no-cost EMI starting from Rs. 778 per month.

Micromax In 1b specifications

Coming to specifications, the Micromax In 1b runs on Android 10 and features a 6.52-inch HD+ display. It is powered by an octa-core MediaTek Helio G35 SoC, paired with up to 4GB of RAM options. On the storage front, the Micromax In 1b carries up to 64GB of onboard storage options that are expandable via microSD card.

As for imaging, the Micromax In 1b offers a dual rear camera setup that houses a 13-megapixel primary camera sensor and a 2-megapixel depth sensor, along with an LED flash. The Micromax phone also comes with an 8-megapixel selfie camera sensor at the front.

Micromax In 1b comes with a 5,000mAh battery that supports reverse charging and 10W fast charging (compatible charger is bundled in the box). Connectivity options include 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS/ A-GPS, USB Type-C, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The phone also features a fingerprint sensor at the back.

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AI automation promises to have a big, and not always positive, impact

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Commentary: Just as telephone operators struggled with the automation of switching, AI promises to change global economies for the better, even as it wreaks havoc on individuals’ jobs.

Image: iStockphoto/PhonlamaiPhoto

The robots may not be taking over, but they just might erase your job. Yes, it’s almost certainly true that the “creative destruction” of technology will result in more jobs than it destroys, but a new academic paper about US telephone operators displaced by automated switching suggests that while the overall economy will be better off with artificial intelligence (AI)-driven automation, those immediately impacted may never recover. 

Better in the long run

As detailed recently by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet on sister site ZDNet, the World Economic Forum (WEF) expects to see AI and other new technologies shred 85 million jobs over the next five years–that’s the bad news. The good news is that these same technologies are expected to help create 97 million new jobs. COVID-19 has served as an accelerant to corporate plans to embrace things like AI/ML-driven automation, effectively hitting “fast forward” on this labor upheaval. All of this is for the better, at least at the macro level.

SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)

In practical terms, this means that the majority of the work associated with information and data processing and retrieval (65%) will shift to machines, according to the WEF. People currently working as data entry clerks, accountants and auditors, and factory workers will be most affected even if, as I’ve written, organizations figure out ways to leverage things like AI to enhance worker productivity rather than replace it.

So what happens to these workers? It’s a polite fiction that they’ll simply be re-skilled and adapt to this new AI-automated future. As we’ve seen in past situations where technology automated away jobs, the immediate impact on those workers can be painful. 

Just look at what happened in the telecommunications industry. 

Learning from Ma Bell

As detailed in the aforementioned academic paper “Automation and the Fate of Young Workers: Evidence from Telephone Operation in the Early 20th Century,” written by professors James Feigenbaum and Daniel P. Gross, “Telephone operation, one of the most common jobs for young American women in the early 1900s, provided hundreds of thousands of female workers a pathway into the labor force.” It was a great force for good, but between 1920 and 1940 AT&T (then the dominant telecommunications provider in the US) automated telephone switching in more than half of its network, eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

So what happened to those women who had been employed as telephone operators?

[T]he automation of telephone operation led to a large, swift, and permanent decline in the number of young, white, American-born women working as operators, of around two-thirds in levels—roughly 2% of total employment for the group (in any job). As it was for many women a transitory job (often, a first job), far more were exposed. For an automation shock, we consider this large, especially for a vulnerable subset of the labor supply. 

Our question is: what happened after these jobs disappeared? Did the elimination of a major entry-level job cut off future generations from entering the workforce? After accounting for concurrent trends taking place in cities of similar size around the country independent of cutovers, we do not find that the shock reduced later cohorts’ employment. We also see no substitution into marriage or childbearing. The negative shock to labor demand was instead counteracted by growth in other occupations, especially secretarial work and restaurant work, which absorbed the women who might have otherwise been telephone operators.

Future generations of would-be telephone operators, in other words, did just fine. The economy took care of creating net new jobs. But for those telephone operators who lost their jobs to automated switching? “While some became operators at private switchboards, others left the workforce, and those who remained employed were more likely to have switched to lower-paying occupations.”

Automation, in short, was good for the overall economy but bad for those whose jobs were automated away. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Beyond the Luddites

So what do we do? It doesn’t seem practical to destroy the looms as the Luddites once did, attempting to hold back the machines that threatened their jobs. But it’s also not useful to engage in wishful thinking about “upskilling” or “re-skilling.” These are positive endeavors, but it feels like we (by which I mean industry and government, working together) can’t afford to wave away the negative impact technology can have on jobs today. 

Those telephone operators either left the workforce or found lower-paying jobs. Is there something government can do to underwrite some of the costs of helping the modern-day equivalent of the telephone operators to find new jobs? I don’t know. If you have ideas, please comment below or ping me on Twitter (@mjasay). 

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine.

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Blast from the Past | Technology Org

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Gemini North observations enable breakthrough in centuries-old effort to unravel astronomical mystery.

An international team of astronomers using Gemini North’s GNIRS instrument have discovered that CK Vulpeculae, first seen as a bright new star in 1670, is approximately five times farther away than previously thought. This makes the 1670 explosion of CK Vulpeculae much more energetic than previously estimated and puts it into a mysterious class of objects that are too bright to be members of the well-understood type of explosions known as novae, but too faint to be supernovae.

350 years ago, the French monk Anthelme Voituret saw a bright new star flare into life in the constellation of Vulpecula. Over the following months, the star became almost as bright as Polaris (the North Star) and was monitored by some of the leading astronomers of the day before it faded from view after a year [1]. The new star eventually gained the name CK Vulpeculae and was long considered to be the first documented example of a nova — a fleeting astronomical event arising from an explosion in a close binary star system in which one member is a white dwarf, the remnant of a Sun-like star. However, a string of recent results have thrown the longstanding classification of CK Vulpeculae as a nova into doubt.

Blast from the Past Technology Org

CK Vulpeculae seen with Gemini North. The enigmatic CK Vulpeculae nebula. The team of astronomers measured the speeds and changes in positions of the two small reddish arcs about 1/4 of the way up from the bottom and 1/4 of the way down from the top to help determine that the nebula is expanding five times faster than previously thought. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA. Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Jen Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), Mahdi Zamani & Davide de Martin

In 2015, a team of astronomers suggested that CK Vulpeculae’s appearance in 1670 was the result of two normal stars undergoing a cataclysmic collision. Just over three years later, the same astronomers further proposed that one of the stars was in fact a bloated red giant star, following their discovery of a radioactive isotope of aluminum in the immediate surroundings of the site of the 1670 explosion. Complicating the picture even further, a separate group of astronomers proposed a different interpretation. In their paper, also published in 2018, they suggested that the sudden brightening in 1670 was the result of the merger between a brown dwarf — a failed star too small to shine via thermonuclear fusion that powers the Sun — and a white dwarf.

Now, adding to the ongoing mystery surrounding CK Vulpeculae, new observations from the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, reveal that this enigmatic astronomical object is much farther away and has ejected gas at much higher speeds than previously reported.

This team, led by Dipankar Banerjee of Physical Research Laboratory Ahmedabad, India, Tom Geballe of Gemini Observatory, and Nye Evans of Keele University in the United Kingdom, initially planned to use the Gemini Near-Infrared Spectrograph (GNIRS) instrument on Gemini North on Hawai‘i’s Maunakea to confirm the 2018 detection of radioactive aluminum at the heart of CK Vulpeculae [2]. After realizing that detecting this in the infrared would be far more difficult than they originally thought, the astronomers improvised and obtained infrared observations across the full extent of CK Vulpeculae, including the two wisps of nebulosity at its outermost edges.

“The key to our discovery was the GNIRS measurements obtained at the outer edges of the nebula,” elaborated Geballe. “The signature of redshifted and blueshifted iron atoms detected there shows that the nebula is expanding much more rapidly than previous observations had suggested.” [3]

As lead author and astronomer Banerjee explains further, “We did not suspect that this is what we would find. It was exciting when we found some gas traveling at the unexpectedly high speed of about 7 million km/hour. This hinted at a different story about CK Vulpeculae than what had been theorized.”

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Finder chart of CK Vulpeculae. This chart of the position of a new star (marked in red) that appeared in the year 1670 was recorded by the famous astronomer Hevelius and was published by the Royal Society in England in their journal Philosophical Transactions. Credit: Royal Society

By measuring both the speed of the nebula’s expansion and how much the outermost wisps had moved during the last ten years, and accounting for the tilt of the nebula on the night sky, which had been estimated earlier by others, the team determined that CK Vulpeculae lies approximately 10,000 light-years distant from the Sun — about five times as far away as previously thought. That implies that the 1670 explosion was far brighter, releasing roughly 25 times more energy than previously estimated [4]. This much larger estimate of the amount of energy released means that whatever event caused the sudden appearance of CK Vulpeculae in 1670 was far more violent than a simple nova.

“In terms of energy released, our finding places CK Vulpeculae roughly midway between a nova and a supernova,” commented Evans. “It is one of a very few such objects in the Milky Way and the cause — or causes — of the outbursts of this intermediate class of objects remain unknown. I think we all know what CK Vulpeculae isn’t, but no one knows what it is.”

The visual appearance of the CK Vulpeculae nebula and the high velocities observed by the team could help astronomers to recognize relics of similar events — in our Milky Way or in external galaxies — that have occurred in the past.

 

Credit: Images and videos: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, K. Pu’uohau-Pummill, A. M. Geller/Northwestern University/CTIO/SOAR. Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Jen Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), Mahdi Zamani & Davide de Martin. Music: zero-project – The Lower Dungeons (https://www.zero-project.gr/).

“It is difficult at this stage to offer a definitive or compelling explanation for the origin of the 1670 eruption of CK Vulpeculae,” concluded Banerjee. “Even 350 years after Voituret’s discovery, the nature of the explosion remains a mystery. ”

Notes

[1] 17th-century astronomers who observed the bright new star CK Vulpeculae included distinguished Polish mayor, brewer, and astronomer Johannes Hevelius and the French-Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered four of Saturn’s moons. After it faded from view in 1671 there were numerous unsuccessful attempts through the intervening centuries to recover it, some by noted astronomers including Halley, Pickering and Humason.

[2] A spectrograph is an instrument that splits light from an astronomical object into its component wavelengths, allowing the composition of the gas emitting the light, its speed, and other traits to be measured.

[3] Just as the pitch of an ambulance siren changes depending on whether the vehicle is moving towards or away from you, astronomical objects change color depending on whether they are moving towards or away from an observer. Objects moving away from Earth become redder (known as redshift) and approaching objects become bluer (known as blueshift).

[4] The brightness of an object is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from an observer. In the case of CK Vulpeculae, if the 1670 explosion occurred five times as far away it must have been 52 = 25 times as bright.

More information

This research is presented in the paper Near-Infrared Spectroscopy of CK Vulpeculae: Revealing a Remarkably Powerful Blast from the Past to appear in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The team was composed of D. P. K. Banerjee (Astronomy & Astrophysics Division, Physical Research Laboratory Ahmedabad), T. R. Geballe (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), A. Evans (Lennard Jones Laboratories, Keele University), M. Shahbandeh (Department of Physics, Florida State University),

C. E. Woodward (Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota), R. D. Gehrz (Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota), S. P. S. Eyres (Faculty of Computing, Engineering, and Science, University of South Wales), S. Starrfield (School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University), and A. Zijlstra (Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester).

Source: Gemini




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