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The 9 biggest questions about Google’s Stadia game streaming service – TechCrunch

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Google’s Stadia is an impressive piece of engineering to be sure: Delivering high definition, high framerate, low latency video to devices like tablets and phones is an accomplishment in itself. But the game streaming services faces serious challenges if it wants to compete with the likes of Xbox and PlayStation, or even plain old PCs and smartphones.

Here are our nine biggest questions about what the service will be and how it’ll work.

1. What’s the game selection like?

We saw Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (a lot) and Doom: Eternal, and a few other things running on Stadia, but otherwise Google’s presentation was pretty light on details as far as what games exactly we can expect to see on there.

It’s not an easy question to answer, since this isn’t just a question of “all PC games,” or “all games from these 6 publishers.” Stadia requires a game be ported, or partly recoded to fit its new environment — in this case a Linux-powered PC. That’s not unusual, but it isn’t trivial either.

Porting is just part of the job for a major studio like Ubisoft, which regularly publishes on multiple platforms simultaneously, but for a smaller developer or a more specialized game, it’s not so straightforward. Jade Raymond will be in charge of both first-party games just for Stadia as well as developer relations; she said that the team will be “working with external developers to bring all of the bleeding edge Google technology you have seen today available to partner studios big and small.”

What that tells me is that every game that comes to Stadia will require special attention. That’s not a good sign for selection, but it does suggest that anything available on it will run well.

2. What will it cost?

Perhaps the topic Google avoided the most was what the heck the business model is for this whole thing.

Do you pay a subscription fee? Is it part of YouTube or maybe YouTube Red? Do they make money off sales of games after someone plays the instant demo? Is it free for an hour a day? Will it show ads every 15 minutes? Will publishers foot the bill as part of their normal marketing budget? No one knows!

It’s a difficult play because the most obvious way to monetize also limits the product’s exposure. Asking people to subscribe adds a lot of friction to a platform where the entire idea is to get you playing within 5 seconds.

Putting ads in is an easy way to let people jump in and have it be monetized a small amount. You could even advertise the game itself and offer a one-time 10 percent off coupon or something. Then mention that YouTube Red subscribers don’t see ads at all.

Sounds reasonable, but Google didn’t mention anything like this at all. We’ll probably hear more later this year closer to launch, but it’s hard to judge the value of the service when we have no idea what it will cost.

3. What about iOS devices?

Google and Apple are bitter rivals in a lot of ways, but it’s hard to get around the fact that iPhone owners tend to be the most lucrative mobile customers. Yet there were none in the live demo and no availability mentioned for iOS.

Depending on its business model, Google may have locked itself out of the App Store. Apple doesn’t let you essentially run a store within its store (as we have seen in cases like Amazon and Epic) and if that’s part of the Stadia offering, it’s not going to fly.

An app that just lets you play might be a possibility, but since none was mentioned, it’s possible Google is using Stadia as a platform exclusive to draw people to Pixel devices. That kind of puts a limit on the pitch that you can play on devices you already have.

4. What about games you already own?

A big draw of game streaming is to buy a game once and play it anywhere. Sometimes you want to play the big awesome story parts on your 60-inch TV in surround sound, but do a little inventory and quest management on your laptop at the cafe. That’s what systems like Steam Link offer.

Epic Games is taking on Steam with its own digital game store, which includes higher take-home revenue rates for developers.

But Google didn’t mention how its ownership system will work, or whether there would be a way to play games you already own on the service. This is a big consideration for many gamers.

It was mentioned that there would be cross platform play and perhaps even the ability to bring saves to other platforms, but how that would work was left to the imagination. Frankly I’m skeptical.

Letting people show they own a game and giving them access to it is a recipe for scamming and trouble, but not supporting it is missing out on a huge application for the service. Google’s caught between a rock and a hard place here.

5. Can you really convert viewers to players?

This is a bit more of an abstract question, but it comes from the basic idea that people specifically come to YouTube and Twitch to watch games, not play them. Mobile viewership is huge because streams are a great way to kill time on a train or bus ride, or during a break at school. These viewers often don’t want to play at those times, and couldn’t if they did want to!

So the question is, are there really enough people watching gaming content on YouTube who will actually actively switch to playing just like that?

Photo: Maskot / Getty Images

To be fair, the idea of a game trailer that lets you play what you just saw five seconds later is brilliant. I’m 100 percent on board there. But people don’t watch dozens of hours of game trailers a week — they watch famous streamers play Fortnite and PUBG and do speedruns of Dark Souls and Super Mario Bros 1. These audiences are much harder to change into players.

The potential of joining a game with a streamer, or affecting them somehow, or picking up at the spot they left off, to try fighting a boss on your own or seeing how their character controls, is a good one, but making that happen goes far, far beyond the streaming infrastructure Google has created here. It involves rewriting the rules on how games are developed and published. We saw attempts at this from Beam, later acquired by Microsoft, but it never really bloomed.

Streaming is a low-commitment, passive form of entertainment, which is kind of why it’s so popular. Turning that into an active, involved form of entertainment is far from straightforward.

6. How’s the image quality?

Games these days have mind-blowing graphics. I sure had a lot of bad things to say about Anthem, but when it came to looks that game was a showstopper. And part of what made it great were the tiny details in textures and subtle gradations of light that are only just recently possible with advances in shaders, volumetric fog, and so on. Will those details really come through in a stream?

Damn.

Don’t get me wrong. I know a 1080p stream looks decent. But the simple fact is that high-efficiency HD video compression reduces detail in a noticeable way. You just can’t perfectly recreate an image if you have to send it 60 times per second with only a few milliseconds to compress and decompress it. It’s how image compression works.

For some people this won’t be a big deal. They really might not care about the loss of some visual fidelity — the convenience factor may outweigh it by a ton. But there are others for whom it may be distracting, those who have invested in a powerful gaming console or PC that gives them better detail at higher framerates than Stadia can possibly offer.

It’s not apples to apples but Google has to consider these things, especially when the difference is noticeable enough that game developers and publishers start to note that a game is “best experienced locally” or something like that.

7. Will people really game on the go?

I don’t question whether people play games on mobile. That’s one of the biggest businesses in the world. But I’m not sure that people want to play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey on their iPa… I mean, Pixel Slate. Let alone their smartphone.

Games on phones and tablets are frequently time-killers driven by addictive short-duration game sessions. Even the bigger, more console-like games on mobile usually aim for shorter play sessions. That may be changing in some ways for sure but it’s a consideration, and AAA console games really just aren’t designed for 5-10 minute gaming sessions.

Add to that that you have to carry around what looks like a fairly bulky controller and this becomes less of an option for things like planes, cafes, subway rides, and so on. Even if you did bring it, could you be sure you’ll get the 10 or 20 Mbps you’ll need to get that 60FPS video rate? And don’t say 5G. If anyone says 5G again after the last couple months I’m going to lose it.

Naturally the counterpoint here is Nintendo’s fabulously successful and portable Switch. But the Switch plays both sides, providing a console-like experience on the go that makes sense because of its frictionless game state saving and offline operation. Stadia doesn’t seem to offer anything like that. In some ways it could be more compelling, but it’s a hard sell right now.

8. How will multiplayer work?

Obviously multiplayer gaming is huge right now and likely will be forever, so the Stadia will for sure support multiplayer one way or another. But multiplayer is also really complicated.

It used to be that someone just picked up the second controller and played Luigi. Now you have friend codes, accounts, user IDs, automatic matchmaking, all kinds of junk. If I want to play The Division 2 with a friend via Stadia, how does that work? Can I use my existing account? How do I log in? Are there IP issues and will the whole rigmarole of the game running in some big server farm set off cheat detectors or send me a security warning email? What if two people want to play a game locally?

Many of the biggest gaming properties in the world are multiplayer focused, and without a very, very clear line on this it’s going to turn a lot of people off. The platform might be great for it — but they have some convincing to do.

9. Stadia?

Branding is hard. Launching a product that aims to reach millions and giving it a name that not only represents it well but isn’t already taken is hard. But that said… Stadia?

I guess the idea is that each player is kind of in a stadium of their own… or that they’re in a stadium where Ninja is playing, and then they can go down to join? Certainly Stadia is more distinctive than stadium and less copyright-fraught than Colosseum or the like. Arena is probably out too.

If only Google already owned something that indicated gaming but was simple, memorable, and fit with its existing “Google ___” set of consumer-focused apps, brands, and services.

Oh well!

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No new Galaxy Note this year as Samsung’s foldables gain S Pen functionality – TechCrunch

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Samsung sent out invites for its August 11 Unpacked event last week. While it’s clear this is going to be packed (somewhat ironically) even by the company’s standards, the event may well be as notable for what it doesn’t include. Namely, a slew of rumors have pointed to Samsung skipping its annual Galaxy Note update.

In a blog post today, the company’s president and head of Mobile Communications Business, TM Roh, writes, “Instead of unveiling a new Galaxy Note this time around, we will further broaden beloved Note features to more Samsung Galaxy devices.” The language isn’t entirely clear what that means for the future of Samsung’s beloved – if occasional erratic – phablet. No Note this event? This year? This … ever?

Samsung offered TechCrunch the following clarification, “We will not be launching new Galaxy Note devices in 2021. Instead, Samsung plans to continue to expand the Note experience and bring many of its popular productivity and creativity features, including the S Pen, across our Galaxy ecosystem. We will share more details on our future portfolio once we are ready to announce.”

Early rumors chalked the lack of a new Note up to supply chain problems that have persisted throughout much of 2020 and 2021. But further speculation has left many wondering whether the company may finally be sunsetting the Galaxy Note series on the eve of its 10th anniversary. Is it possible that the pioneering phablet has run its course, especially as other Samsung flagships get larger and siphon off its biggest features?

What’s clear is that some of the devices announced on the 11th will follow in the footsteps of the Galaxy S21 and bring Note-like features including S-Pen functionality. Likely this means at least the Galaxy Z Fold, confirming earlier rumors that the foldable would be the latest Galaxy device to blur the line between it and the Note. Presumably this also means a further reinforced display for the product. Recent leaks point to a carrying case with a pen holster, rather than baking the slot directly into the Fold’s already complicated design.

“I hope you’ll join us as we debut our next Galaxy Z family and share some foldable surprises — including the first-ever S Pen designed specifically for foldable phones,” Roh writes. The executive also promises “even more refined style, armed with more durable, stronger material” on the new Galaxy Z Flip, while also confirming the arrival of a new Z Fold.

Rounding out the news is a reference to the One UI Watch that appears to confirm that the latest Galaxy Watch will also make a cameo at the upcoming Unpacked.

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Samsung will announce new foldables on August 11 – TechCrunch

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Samsung just sent out invites for its next Unpacked event. There are those companies that like to sneak hints into their invites — and then there’s Samsung. The note leads with the big, bold words “Get ready to unfold” and features a pair of flat-colored objects that can reasonably be said to resemble the form factors of the Galaxy Z Fold and Flip, respectively.

In keeping with…the general state of the world over the past year-and-a-half, the event will be held virtually on Wednesday, August 11. Interestingly, the company is also opening up preorders on its “next flagship,” sights and specs unseen. Perks for early preorders include “12 free months of Samsung Care+, up to an extra $200 trade-in credit and a special pre-order offer.”

But honestly, it’s generally best to wait until you actually see the thing and maybe even read a review or two.

There’s a lot to unpack (so to speak) ahead of the event. First, I’m probably not alone in expecting that the company would focus its next big event on the upcoming Galaxy Watch. The big event at MWC was a bit of a dud (not unlike MWC itself), offering up more information on the upcoming wearable partnership with Google, in lieu of announcing any hardware.

As the company noted at the time, “The upcoming One UI Watch will debut at an upcoming Unpacked event later this summer, sporting the new UI, as well as the forthcoming joint Samsung/Google platform.”

It seems reasonably likely that this will be the event where that will occur, even if the new watch doesn’t get top billing. For one thing we’re running out of summer. For another, rumors have the new Galaxy Watch set for a late-August (the 27th) release.

All told, this could well be a pretty huge summer event for the company, bucking last year’s trend of meting out devices one by one at virtual invents. Word on the street is we could be seeing a Galaxy Watch 4, Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3, Galaxy S21 FE (“Fan Edition” — basically the latest version of the company’s budget flagship) and even the Galaxy Buds Pro, which will more directly take on the AirPods Pro (which are getting a bit long in the tooth).

What’s missing in all of this? No points if you said the Note. Samsung’s well-loved phablet is reportedly not coming this year, as chip shortages continue to plague the industry. That would be a big hit to Samsung’s six-month cycle, though we’ll see how that all plays out soon enough.

The August 11th event kicks off at 10AM ET / 7AM PT.

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Kdan Mobile gets $16M Series B for its cloud-based content and productivity tools – TechCrunch

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Kdan Mobile founder and CEO Kenny Su. Image Credits: Kdan Mobile

Kdan Mobile, a company that provides a wide range of cloud-based software, including AI-based tech for organizing documents, has raised a $16 million Series B. The round was led by South Korea-based Dattoz Partners, which will also take a seat on Kdan Mobile, and included participation from WI Harper Group, Taiwania Capital and Golden Asia Fund Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.

Launched in 2009, Kdan Mobile has focused on developing content creation and productivity software for mobile devices from the start, founder and chief executive officer Kenny Su told TechCrunch. “We’ve observed more and more industries embracing remote or hybrid work for years now, even before 2020,” he said. “We always sensed that trend would continue.”

Kdan Mobile has now raised $21 million in total. Since announcing its Series A in April 2018, Kdan Mobile has grown from 70 employees to 200 in Taiwan, China, Japan and the United States. It also passed 200 million downloads and now has more than 100 million members on its platform. More than half of Kdan Mobile’s users are in the U.S. and Europe, 30% from Asia and 15% from Africa and Australia.

Part of the funding will be used to develop Kdan Mobile’s enterprise products, including Document AI, its data processing and filtering technology, and SaaS products like e-signature service DottedSign, PDF software Document 365 and Creativity 365 for multimedia content creation, including animations and video editing.

After focusing primarily on individual users, Kdan Mobile decided to start working with more enterprise clients in 2018 and its software is now used by more than 40,000 businesses and educational organizations. Su said the company’s focus on enterprise was validated with the 2019 launch of DottedSign, which now has more than 300,000 users. During the past year and a half, the number of signatures processed by DottedSign increase by 30 times as companies switched to remote work because of the pandemic. Kdan Mobile also began offering a set of APIs and SDKs so internal developers at large enterprises can integrate and customize its technology.

“We use a lot of what’s called B2C2B approach, or business to consumer to business, meaning that we still try to connect with users at the individual level, but do so in a way that we hope they’ll adopt our solutions at the company level,” said Su.

Document AI was launched in 2021 after Kdan Mobile found that many of its users wanted to reduce the amount of time they spend managing documents. Its features include optical character recognition, smart tagging and search, and protection for sensitive data. Some examples of how Document AI can be used include automating data-entry tasks and creating summaries of research documents.

When asked how its products differentiate from those offered by Google, Microsoft and Adobe, Su said one way is that Kdan Mobile has always created products for mobile first, before designing the user experience for other devices, with the idea of serving professionals who are on the move a lot.

On the other hand, Kdan Mobile doesn’t necessarily see itself as a competitor with those companies. Instead, its solutions are complementary. For example, it creates files that are compatible with Adobe products and is integrated with Google Workspace, Zapier and, in the near future, Microsoft Teams.

“In that regard, it’s about helping users where they are, rather than trying to sway them away from existing products or services,” Su said.

In statement, Dattoz Partner CEO Yeon Su Kim said, “We see tremendous growth in the market for software and solutions that empower the post-pandemic hybrid workforce. Kdan’s powerful product suite and the leadership team’s ability to executive have led to its strong momentum in several key markets, including the U.S. and Asia markets.”

 

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