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Japanese mobile game publisher DeNA was in the news recently due to its partnership with Nintendo. And it seems that it has been keeping busy. Partnering Square Enix, the company behind the Final Fantasy, Deus Ex, and Tomb Raider franchises, it has released Final Fantasy Record Keeper for iOS and Android devices.

Final Fantasy Record Keeper is a free-to-play social game that has players taking part in battles from the seminal Final Fantasy series. You assemble a party of five members that include characters from various Final Fantasy games and visit worlds that are a part of specific games in the series. There you’ll clear a variety of dungeons based on the game world they’re set in. Battles are like they are in older Final Fantasy games in the sense that they’re turn-based, much unlike the more real-time fare we’re treated to as they are in Final Fantasy XV.

Final Fantasy Record Keeper’s monetisation comes in the form of Mog Coins. You can use these to buy Mythril that is used for a variety of things such as restoring health, continuing through a dungeon when your entire team has been knocked out, and increasing your inventory limit.

A quick check on Google Play indicates that in-app purchases range from Rs. 61.87 to Rs. 5,311.86. It would be safe to say that micro-transactions for the iOS version would fall into the same range.

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Soon after Spice and Micromax, Karbonn has now announced the start of the rollout of its Android 5.1 Lollipop update for the Karbonn Sparkle V Android One phone in India. Last week the other two Android One smartphones – Micromax Canvas A1 and Spice Dream Uno started receiving the Android 5.1 Lollipop update, which is the first major update to Android Lollipop.
Karbonn Mobiles in a press statement confirmed that the Android 5.1 Lollipop update is now available to download OTA (over-the-air), while it can also be upgraded via any Karbonn service centres. Users can also manually check for the update by going to Settings > About phone > Software update on the Karbonn Sparkle V.

The domestic handset brand however has not revealed the changelog for the update. It notes, “Android Lollipop 5.1 offers a bold, colourful Material design for fluid, purposeful motion and easy access to preferred menu options. The Lollipop update has also successfully addressed random app crashes issue and includes quick heads-up notifications and enhanced security settings for improved user experience.”

Some of the features of Android 5.1 Lollipop include support for multiple SIM cards, Device Protection and HD voice on compatible devices. Other changes include easy handling of Wi-Fi toggles and Bluetooth from Quick Settings; fix for random app crashes; improved security in case the smartphone has been stolen or is lost; improved heads-up notifications that let users swipe up to collapse; better handling of system audio while playing a media file, and new ‘No interruptions until next alarm’ option in Priority mode.

Android One phones in India started receiving Android 5.0 Lollipop update in the last week of February. Despite Google’s promise to deliver the Android updates soon after they are released to Android One phones; the company has disappointed consumers with months of delay in Android 5.0 Lollipop update.

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After the hotly anticipated March update that finally lets you take screenshots on the Xbox One, Microsoft’s attempts to improve its latest console show no signs of abating.

The Xbox One preview program – which allows select community members access to features before they’re available for all users, has been updated yet again in preparation for April’s updates, which adds some interesting functions as per a blog post by Director of Programming for Xbox, Larry ‘Major Nelson’ Hyrb.

Headlining the list is voice messages. Members of the preview program can already record and send audio clips to friends via the messages app when snapped on the Xbox One. These can be exchanged between the Xbox One and Xbox 360 as well. Notably, the Sony PlayStation 4 already supports the voice messaging feature.

In addition to this, the company announced dedicated servers for party chat. What this means is if you’re an Xbox One owner suffering from NAT issues, being able to chat with your friends in a group will be a lot easier. This feature is only enabled for parties where one or more members are previewing the April system update.

Other additions include achievement notifications (so you can see what an achievements description is without opening the app), and the easy discovery of a game’s clips, screenshots and other content. Microsoft says it is also testing “different experiences for preview members in the US” for the What’s On section of the console related to videos, movies, and TV shows.

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Xiaomi India on Friday announced that the Mi 4 64GB will be available for the first time without registration on Saturday. The company in a tweet said, “Awesome news, Mi 4 64GB going on open sale 28 Mar 2pm at Rs. 23,999 Only Flipkart.”

Xiaomi earlier this week had announced that the Mi 4 64GB registrations for the next flash sale will start Tuesday evening. The company however seems to have changed its mind, and closed registrations for Tuesday’s sale next week. Xiaomi India is already selling the Mi 4 16GB without registration since February.

Xiaomi’s Mi 4 64GB went on sale earlier this week in its fifth flash sale where the company didn’t detail the number of units going on sale. Xiaomi India, unlike several previous occasions, appears to have stopped detailing the number of Mi 4 units going on sale.

The Chinese company is currently selling Xiaomi Redmi 2 and Mi 4 64GB via its popular flash sale models. Alongside these two devices, Xiaomi is also selling its first tablet – the MiPad, and the budget 4G-enabled Redmi Note 4G smartphone in open sale.

Xiaomi Redmi 2’s first flash sale earlier this week saw 50,000 units up for sale and it took 87 seconds to go out of stock. The company had claimed that it received over 300,000 registrations for the first sale of the handset.

To recall, the 16GB Xiaomi Mi 4 (Review | Pictures) is priced at Rs. 19,999, while the 64GB Mi 4 is priced at Rs. 23,999. The Xiaomi Mi 4 runs on Android 4.4 KitKat with the company’s MIUI 6 skin on top. It is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz alongside 3GB of RAM. The Mi 4 sports the same 5-inch full-HD display (1080×1920 pixels) found on the Mi 3; although this time the company has used a JDI OGS full lamination display. There is a 13-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera on the Xiaomi Mi 4, with both sporting Sony’s stacked CMOS sensors. The smartphone is backed by a 3080mAh Li-ion battery.

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The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has voted in favor of a resolution backed by Germany and Brazil to appoint an independent watchdog or ‘special rapporteur’ to monitor privacy rights in the digital age.

The council said Thursday that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy.

The proposed appointment of the rapporteur is likely to be mainly symbolic as the official’s functions will be mainly advisory. But it reflects continuing concerns around the world about privacy in the wake of disclosures of U.S. surveillance by former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.

The resolution refers to the deep concern of the Human Rights Council at the negative impact on the exercise of human rights of surveillance or interception of communications both within countries and abroad, and of the collection of personal data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale.

German officials said in October 2013 that U.S. intelligence agencies may have spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. There were also reports that the U.S. also spied on Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff among other political leaders.

The vote on Thursday was clearly prompted by concern over U.S. surveillance practices and the security of digital information, said the American Civil Liberties Union. The civil rights group said this was evident from ACLU’s meetings with the sponsors of the resolution and from the text of the document.

“Our hope is that the Human Rights Council resolution marks the beginning of a serious global reckoning with mass surveillance and its effects,” said Eileen Donahoe, director of global affairs at Human Rights Watch in a statement.

The new watchdog will, among other things, report on alleged violations of the right to privacy, and raise awareness concerning the importance of promoting and protecting the right to privacy, with a special reference to challenges arising in the digital age. The council has called upon all states to cooperate with the rapporteur, including by providing the information requested.

In November last year, a U.N. panel approved a resolution that would have the General Assembly call on states to respect and protect the right to privacy in the digital age.

The draft resolution, titled “Right to privacy in the digital age,” also had Brazil and Germany as the main sponsors.

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In 10 years, there may be no need to check Facebook’s site to see what that friend overseas is up to. You might just pick up a pair of goggles, reach out and hold her hand at her birthday party.

You won’t have to actually be there. The experience could be made possible through virtual reality.

Facebook sees it as a radical and important technology that in the not-too-distant future could provide new ways to help people connect and transport them to places that are out of reach or don’t even exist. Providing those experiences is among Facebook’s ambitious long-term goals, along with providing Internet access through aerial drones and deepening its artificial intelligence technology to better understand what people want.

Take the birthday scenario: Using a future headset from Facebook’s Oculus VR division, it might be possible for a person to watch a three-dimensional video of the event, move around the room, and with specialized sensors, touch his friend. It would be a dramatic play on the concept of teleportation, letting someone feel like they’re somewhere when they’re not. But Facebook just might be able to pull it off.

The company bought Oculus VR last year for roughly US$2 billion, baffling observers. Now, Facebook’s VR ambitions are coming more into focus. On Thursday, Facebook and Oculus executives laid out their vision for the future of virtual reality and gave some clues about possible applications of the technology at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco.

“Moments of bringing people together is what we’re trying to do at Facebook. It’s the core of our mission,” whether those are real or virtual, said Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer at the company, during a keynote talk at the conference.

The company is already tinkering with virtual presence. At the event, attendees could strap on the Samsung Gear VR, made in partnership with Oculus, and see a real-time, 360-degree view of Facebook’s campus in nearby Menlo Park. Facebook had six GoPro cameras set up on the campus and stitched together the views from them to create the experience.

The concept of virtual presence is not new, and virtual reality has had its share of stumbles over the years. Virtual Boy, the gaming console released by Nintendo in the mid-nineties, sought to provide a more immersive experience than other consoles of the time, transporting users into the game with a screen that covered the gamer’s entire field of vision. But many users just got headaches or became nauseated. Virtual Boy was only out for a year before it was discontinued.

Will it take a social networking company to do it right? The details of Facebook’s VR plans aren’t clear. But it’s clear that Facebook sees virtual reality as an extension of social networking, and perhaps more. Until now, many of the ideas about consumer uses of virtual reality have revolved around gaming and entertainment, like the ability to watch a concert in a full 360-degree view. Facebook has broader goals.

In time, virtual reality could expand the experience of the Facebook timeline, with new ways for people to interact with each other, said Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Oculus, during a talk on Thursday at F8.

Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, shared a video of him blowing out the candles on his 40th birthday. Virtual reality could let others share and partake in that experience, he said.

We’re at the point now where the technology is on its way to making that possible, and it’s becoming cheaper, Abrash and Schroepfer said. The Oculus Crescent Bay headset, for example, provides a 360-degree field of view by connecting with a camera that knows when you turn around. You can explore a chamber in an imaginary castle like you would explore an unfamiliar place in real life.

Trying out Crescent Bay at F8, I found myself reaching out with my hands, wanting to grab things like a dragon’s tail or some other unreal creature. But the system could not register my hand movements; instead I ended up grasping the wall in front of where I was actually standing.

That lack of tactile feedback is an aspect of the technology that needs to be improved. Also, the ability to see your virtual self, possibly as an avatar, is an area ripe for development, Abrash said.

Crescent Bay is one prototype of the device Oculus has been working on for years, called the Rift. Some early versions of the Rift have shipped to developers and to early Kickstarter backers, but it hasn’t gone on sale yet.

Facebook focused on virtual reality at F8 to get developers interested in the concept and inspire them to create applications.

Attendees seemed excited about Facebook’s plans to provide social, immersive VR experiences. At least a few were cautiously optimistic that the company could pull it off.

“They seem determined,” said Patrick Bottne, CEO at AppSpotr, which provides tools to help developers build apps.

Meanwhile, other companies are also becoming active in virtual reality, sensing a market. Competitors include Sony, with Project Morpheus, Microsoft, with HoloLens; and perhaps even Google, which is said to be developing a virtual reality version of Android.

But Facebook is well-positioned to produce something that gains mainstream acceptance, partly because of its acquisition of Oculus and its ties to the larger developer community, said Brian Blau, an industry analyst at Gartner who has been tracking virtual reality for more than 20 years.

It might just take a while for something big to happen, he said. “What will the killer app for VR be 10 years from now? The truth is we don’t know yet,” he said.

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Facebook’s US$22 billion acquisition of popular messaging app WhatsApp last year raised some eyebrows. Facebook already has a popular messaging app, the in-house Facebook Messenger, not to mention a popular photo-sharing app, Instagram. Why did it need to bring yet another app into the fold? Wouldn’t the three apps end up cannibalizing each other?

But as WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram continue to grow, with monthly active user numbers swelling to 700 million, 600 million, and 300 million respectively, Facebook has proved that naysayers know nothing about what people want from the apps they use every day. Product chiefs of WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram took the stage at Facebook’s annual F8 developers conference in San Francisco on Thursday to dispel any myths about rivalry between the three apps–and hinted deeper cooperation (or integration) could one day come.

On joining Facebook and competition

Joining Facebook was an easy decision, and not just because Mark Zuckerberg dropped some billions on the table. WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton, Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger, and Facebook’s David Marcus, vice president of messaging, said the infrastructure and talent Facebook provides makes it possible to improve the apps without worrying about servers or hiring the best engineers. The hard stuff is handled.

Acton said a key reason WhatsApp took Zuckerberg up on his offer was because of Instagram.

“We looked at it as a model for success,” Acton said. “We were able to have the confidence that our partnership with Facebook would work well. We had an alignment of mission in terms of connecting the world’s population.”

Now that WhatsApp is in the Facebook fold, the network has two messaging apps that Zuckerberg hopes will reach a billion users apiece. So WhatsApp isn’t concerned with Messenger’s forays into payments and platform.

“We continue to develop our products independently,” Acton said. “Platform is not top of mind for us. It’s about building a simple, reliable and fast product. We share ideas, technologies, and infrastructure, but there’s no strong competition.”

Is it possible that Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp will eventually become a communication monolith, a feature-loaded app that lets you message friends, make restaurant reservations, and pay your rent without ever leaving Facebook? Sure, but not any time soon.

“When the time comes, we’ll do it in an intelligent and thoughtful fashion,” Acton said.

On making new products

The reason the three apps remain on their own instead of being incorporated as features in the main Facebook app is concern about bloat. Instagram launched a new app, Layout, instead of folding a photo collage tool into its main app to avoid overloading Instagram with extras. Facebook was often criticized for cramming too many features into the big blue app, and so it started spinning off new ideas (and a few old ones) into stand-alone apps. That quest for simplicity is what also drives Instagram, Krieger said.

The same goes for Messenger, which opened its platform to third-party apps on Wednesday to give people options like GIFs and memes without adding a whole mess of features.

“We could’ve built a lot of those capabilities in Messenger and made it slower and less reliable, and we didn’t want that,” Marcus said. “We want messaging to be super fast, reliable and dependable, but at the same time want people to have those creative tools. Discovery is in Messenger but the content you share on Messenger isn’t created in the app.”

And developers aren’t too happy about it, but WhatsApp’s mission to make its app stable for every mobile platform around the world is keeping the company from releasing an API. There was some groaning in the crowd, but Acton stood his ground.

“We want to be careful about inundating people with messages they don’t want,” Acton said. “I receive emails from people on a routine basis who want to run their business with WhatsApp as the backbone of communication. We don’t want to buzz a person’s phone just because we can.”

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Toshiba today announced the development of the first 48-layer, three-dimensional flash memory.

Based on a vertical stacking technology that Toshiba calls BiCS (Bit Cost Scaling), the new flash memory stores two bits of data per transistor, meaning it’s a multi-level cell (MLC) flash chip. It can store 128Gbits (16GB) per chip. Sample shipments of products using the new process technology began Thursday.

Toshiba first announced its efforts to create 3D NAND flash chips in a partnership agreement with SanDisk last year.

Also last year, Samsung became the first company to announce it was mass-producing 3D flash chips, which it calls V-NAND. Those chips stacked 32-layers of transistors. Samsung’s V-NAND however, crams in 3-bits per transistor in what the industry refers to as triple-level cell (TLC) NAND. Because Samsung uses TLC memory, its chips are also able to store as much as Toshiba’s 48-layer 3D NAND — 128Gbits or 16GB.

In a separate announcement, Intel and Micron said they would also begin producing 32-layer 3D NAND.

With the 3D NAND chips, which started shipping Thursday, solid-state drives (SSDs) with more than 10TB of storage are just around the corner, according to Brian Shirley, vice president of memory and technology solutions at Micron.

The new 3D flash chips could be used to make M.2 expansion cards with more than 3.5TB of capacity for high-end tablets and ultralight laptops. In smartphones, the NAND flash will enable two to three times the 128GB top capacities of current planar (2D) NAND, while not increasing costs.

Toshiba said its 48-layer stacking process enhances the reliability of write/erase endurance, boosts write speed, and is suited for use in diverse applications, primarily solid-state drives (SSD).

Using a 48-layer NAND flash allows Toshiba to revert to larger NAND process technologies. The company had scaled its 2D NAND down to 15 nanometers (nm), but it was bumping up against a wall in terms of further size reduction because as NAND transistor size shrinks, electrons tend to leak, causing data errors.

With 3D NAND, Toshiba will again be using larger 30nm, 40nm and even 50nm lithography to create NAND flash, according to Scott Nelson, senior vice president of Toshiba’s memory business division.

Along with reliability and performance increases, the other benefit of 3D NAND for Toshiba will be cost reduction — the more dense the memory, the less silicon it needed to produce it. Once mass production begins in the second quarter of next year, however, prices for consumers of the technology will also begin to drop, Nelson said.

Eventually, Toshiba will begin to shrink the lithography process, enabling it to also offer the industry significantly higher capacity SSDs, Nelson said.

“The announcement today involves MLC, but we’ll be talking in the future about TLC for our 3D NAND,” he said.

The company is readying for mass production in the new Fab2 at Yokkaichi Operations in Japan. Fab2 is now under construction and will be completed in the first half of 2016, to meet growing demand for flash memory.

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For centuries in Japan, poets have both lamented and extolled the fleeting beauty of cherry tree blossoms, the quintessential symbol of spring.

Today, people are turning to apps instead of verses to enjoy the blooming, which can be as brief as a week. One way to celebrate the blossoms is through “hanami,” which means “flower viewing.” It refers to picnicking under the blossoms, often with copious amounts of alcohol. It’s a national pastime.

Such is the country’s passion for cherry blossoms, known as “sakura,” that the state-run Japan Meteorological Agency once deployed a supercomputer that crunched temperature, elevation and other data to predict when and where they begin and peak. Articles still discuss the agency’s mathematical equations to predict the pink explosions.

The agency provided cherry blossom forecasts for over half a century, based on sample trees and historical records, but stopped in 2009 to focus on other services. Since then, companies have stepped in with forecasts of their own and now compete to produce the best smartphone apps for timing hanami.

One of the latest is a crowdsourced feature called Sakura Channel, part of the popular Weathernews Touch app for iOS and Android, which has been downloaded 13 million times. It provides forecasts, based on user reports, for when cherry blossoms will bloom at 700 famous viewing locations across Japan. Users can see hanami calendars and get alerts about when their favorite groves of cherry trees will burst into pink-white flowers.

They can also choose from preferences such as public parks, cherry-lined roads and spots known for nighttime revelry under the boughs. A “sakura simulator” shows a low-res view of pink petals gradually taking over cities such as Tokyo as users click through the calendar from late March through early April, the usual season for sakura.

The app was developed by Weathernews, a climate information company that has also distributed about 1,000 spherical “pollen robot” sensors that can detect airborne pollen, useful for forecasting the hay fever season.

“Our app is special in that it uses information from ordinary people. About 8 million users are sending us photos and weather reports of every sort,” a Weathernews spokeswoman said.

“Some other developers simply tell you whether trees are blooming or not in each prefecture, but about 11,200 users across the country are sending us information about local cherry trees and we take advantage of that input.”

Weathernews has also introduced a “virtual hanami” feature showcasing time-lapse photos taken with smartphones and panoramic videos of cherry blossoms captured with Ricoh’s 360-degree Theta m15 camera.

Not to be outdone, Navitime Japan is offering twice-daily cherry blossom updates for more than 1,000 sites across the country. It has added the information to its popular smartphone and feature phone apps, which help Japanese navigate subway and train connections as well as roads and highways. They also provide location-specific info such as the availability of parking spots, and of course travel directions.

Japanese websites, meanwhile, abound with information on where to see blossoms, from timetables of current predictions compared to average flowering dates to lists of live cams trained on petals.

For instance, Weather Map, which began issuing predictions in 2010, has PC and mobile sites with detailed information including temperature charts, blooming graphs and a map of Japan showing the front of cherry blossoms moving up the archipelago from south to north. It uses observations of about 50 sample trees to make predictions, according to a Weather Map spokeswoman.

It also has a cherry blossom outlook and maps for most cities. The site predicts the flowers will be at full bloom in Tokyo on March 31 after opening three days earlier than the average date. The traditional cherry “weathervane” for the capital is a grove of old cherry trees at Yasukuni Shrine, a politically controversial Shinto sanctuary that honors soldiers killed in past wars.

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The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said its decision not to prosecute Google over its search practices was in line with the recommendations of its staff.

The statement issued Wednesday by FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Commissioners Julie Brill and Maureen Ohlhausen was in response to the leak of an internal document, which suggested that the agency’s staff had concluded that Google’s business tactics had caused “real harm to consumers and to innovation,” and had recommended a lawsuit against the company.

The FTC’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel, the three commissioners wrote, claiming that the document, which was inadvertently provided to The Wall Street Journal as part of a public records request, was only “a fraction” of the voluminous record and extensive internal analysis that was reviewed at the time.

“All five Commissioners (three Democrats and two Republicans) agreed that there was no legal basis for action with respect to the main focus of the investigation — search,” the three commissioners wrote. The other two commissioners, Joshua D. Wright and Terrell McSweeny, were not at the FTC at the time of the decision on the Google search investigation.

The FTC announced in January 2013 that Google had agreed to change some of its business practices to resolve the agency’s concerns.

Although some of the FTC’s staff attorneys on the search investigation had raised concerns about several other Google practices, the agency obtained commitments from Google regarding some of those practices, and the company has abided by them in the last two years, the commissioners wrote.

The leaked staff report painted an image of Google as a bully that boosted links to its own services, and copied content from rival websites and threatened them if they objected.

The commissioners said they regretted the inadvertent disclosure of the document and were taking measures to prevent such leaks in the future.

The agency also tried to distance itself from a WSJ report that Google may have benefited from access to the White House, and pointed out that the FTC had settled a complaint over Google’s conduct with regard to certain standard essential patents on the same day it closed the search investigation.

Google could not be immediately reached for comment.

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