Nintendo pulls two free-to-play mobile titles from download in Belgium to comply with loot box laws

In context: Though companies have been controversially implementing “loot box” microtransactions into AAA video games for years now — Valve has had a similar “crate” system in Team Fortress 2 for the better part of a decade — it wasn’t until the Star Wars: Battlefront II debacle that the loot box debate hit the mainstream.

Whether it was due to the strength of the Star Wars IP or dumb luck, Electronic Arts’ decision to push “pay-to-win” loot boxes in the title caused the company, and the game, to be lambasted by mainstream news outlets and smaller gaming sites alike. Perhaps due to this mainstream attention, regulators throughout the world began launching their own investigations into whether or not loot boxes violate gambling laws due to their unregulated nature.

While many of these investigations are still pending, some countries, such as Belgium, have ruled against loot boxes. As a result, several companies (including EA and Activision Blizzard) have been forced to pull loot boxes from Belgian versions of their games.

Unfortunately for fans of Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (both free-to-play mobile titles with loot boxes), Nintendo has decided to go the nuclear route. Instead of following in the footsteps of EA and Activision Blizzard, the company announced today that it will be pulling both games from Belgian mobile storefronts entirely.

The full announcement is in Dutch, but the following translated excerpt lays out the situation clearly enough (thanks, Google Translate):

Due to the current unclear situation in Belgium regarding certain in-game revenue models, we have decided to end the service for Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes in Belgium. It will therefore no longer be possible to play and download the games from Tuesday 27 August 2019.

Players who still have Orbs and / or Leaf Tickets in their account can continue to use them until the service ends.

In addition, future Nintendo games with similar earnings models will no longer be released in Belgium.

Notably, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp did not always have loot boxes; the additional monetization was added in a post-launch update. Perhaps Nintendo will revert the game to its previous state to comply with Belgium’s laws at a later date.

For now, Nintendo plans to remove the games from Belgian mobile storefronts on August 27, 2019.

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Apple launches repair program for MacBook Pro 'flexgate' defect

In brief: When you turn on your MacBook Pro, does it look like your desktop is about to put on a vaudeville show? It could be caused by a display cable that is too short. Apple will now fix that problem for free on eligible laptops.

Apple launched a repair program for those who have fallen victim to the “flexgate” display problem. The free repairs only apply to 2016 MacBook Pros with or without the Touch Bar. The program only covers laptops for four years after they were purchased, so those who bought their 2016 Pro when they first launched in October 2016, have a little over a year to make a claim.

The issue was first noticed back in January. One MacBook Pro user started a petition reporting that his display’s backlight was acting up. The symptoms included a “stage light” effect at the bottom of the screen or the display completely shutting off if the lid was opened more than halfway.

It turns out the cause of the issue is a cable that connects the display to the base of the laptop. The cable is a bit too short, and over time the stretching caused by opening and closing the MacBook creates a faulty connection.

An iFixit breakdown of a 2018 MacBook showed that Apple quietly fixed the problem in newer models by using a longer cable. Of course, this did nothing to address the issue that 2016 users are having, so Apple initiated the repair program.

It insists that the defect is only present in “a very small percentage of 13-inch MacBook Pro displays.” However, similar symptoms have also been reported occurring in 2016 and 2017 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. If complaints continue, expect Cupertino to expand the repair program.

Affected users can drop off their defective unit at the closest Apple authorized service provider or Apple Store. Alternatively, they can contact Apple Support to set up a mail-in repair.

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Opinion: Citrix advances the intelligent Workspace

One of the frustrating conundrums of modern work is that even though there has never been a better, nor broader, range of tools available to get our jobs done, it’s still tough for many people to keep up. Thanks to a host of modernly architected, cloud-based SaaS applications such as Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, Salesforce, Slack, Workday, and others, as well as an impressive variety of devices upon which we can complete our tasks, it really is a great time to be an active member of the workforce. In theory at least.

In reality, this abundance of different cloud services, along with the inevitable group of custom and/or older applications that most organizations run, often makes employees feel significantly less productive than they believe they could, or should, be. From a dizzying array of application choices with overlapping functionality, to complicated, multi-step procedures, to overwhelming amounts of incoming information, too many workers spend a significant part of their days simply maintaining their communications and basic tasks. As a result, little time is left to do the productive, and typically more satisfying, work people were actually hired to do.

Numerous companies have attempted to tackle this growing challenge in different ways over the years and at this year’s Synergy event in Atlanta, Citrix unveiled the latest additions to their answer: Citrix Workspace intelligent experience. If you haven’t seen it before, Workspace essentially provides an organized view of your available applications, documents, messaging, tasks and more. Importantly, it provides a consistent and synchronized view of all this information across devices and platforms, meaning you get the same basic interface whether you’re using a Windows PC, a Mac, a Chromebook, an iOS-based phone or tablet, or an Android-based phone or tablet. Behind the scenes, Citrix-powered infrastructure does the hard work of virtualizing applications to make them function consistently across platforms, screen sizes, network connection speeds, and more.

“If you haven’t seen it before, Workspace essentially provides an organized view of your available applications, documents, messaging, tasks and more.”

The new interface of Citrix Workspace provides something akin to a News Feed that organizes your critical tasks and lets you easily see what you need to get done. More importantly, thanks to the company’s acquisition of Sapho last year, the new intelligent version of Workspace incorporates a number of macro-like “micro apps” that can work within, and even across, different applications to accomplish common tasks. So, for example, if you need to submit an expense report or IT help request, these micro apps can turn tedious, multi-step procedures into a single click or two. Citrix is also providing a simple drag-and-drop tool for companies to create their own custom workflow micro apps across (or within) both their legacy and modern applications.

“The collaboration with Google brings significantly more integration with Google’s products and services into the Citrix environment, including the ability to run Workspace on Google Cloud.”

Citrix also announced extended collaborations with Microsoft and a new set of services built in conjunction with Google. On the Microsoft side, Citrix debuted support for Citrix-managed desktops and Windows Virtual Desktops on Azure, among other things. Both of these provide the kind of incremental, but still important, extensions to the overall Citrix ecosystem that make their software and services more compatible and more seamlessly integrated into a wider variety of customer environments. The collaboration with Google brings significantly more integration with Google’s products and services into the Citrix environment, including the ability to run Workspace on Google Cloud. In addition, for Workspace, Citrix announced support for G-Suite and Google Identity services (allowing for single, authenticated log-ins). Other capabilities now supported on Google’s Cloud Platform include the ability to run Machine Creation Services for provisioning Citrix-based VDI (virtual device infrastructure) workloads.

All of these efforts point to a general strategy of building tools that can let companies, and their employees, reign in the chaos of modern work environments and function in an easier and more productive manner where they can get real work done—regardless of the types of environments and applications they currently run. Looking ahead, it’s easy to see how these kinds of capabilities can be further enhanced with AI, as procedures and workflows are learned and automated, as well voice-based input, to drive more natural interactions. Ultimately, the goal is to drive a true work assistant-powered environment that can ease the tedium of necessary, but time consuming tasks, and enable people to fully leverage the impressive range of applications and devices they now have at their fingertips.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech. This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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California's State Assembly may ban the use of facial recognition tech in police body cameras

As the world forges ahead into the digital age, privacy has become an increasingly rare commodity; a privilege that many people no longer have. Law enforcement agencies’ need to adopt new technology to better catch criminals has further complicated the matter.

For example, China has rolled out “gait recognition” tech to identify criminal suspects even when their backs are turned, and in the US, law enforcement agencies have taken advantage of Amazon’s “Rekognition” facial recognition tech.

Concerns regarding the accuracy of this tech and the potential for false positives are commonly shared by privacy proponents, but those fears rarely stop law enforcement from moving forward. However, in California, privacy boosters may just get a major win — the state’s Senate is considering legislation that could outright ban the use of facial recognition tech in police body cameras.

“Much of it that is being used right now is actually not very accurate,” said legislation supporter and San Francisco-based Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting, in reference to existing facial recognition tech.

Ting isn’t the only one to feel that way — the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressed similar concerns with Amazon’s Rekognition in the past when their experiments with the tech led to 28 lawmakers falsely being identified as criminals (with “80 percent” accuracy). Though Amazon questioned the ACLU’s methods, the organization did not rescind its worries.

The legislation in question, Assembly Bill 1215, is expected to enter the upper chamber of California’s state Assembly “starting next month.” We will update you on the bill’s progress when that time comes around.

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Apple refreshes MacBook Pros with faster processors and improved keyboards

What just happened? Apple on Tuesday updated its MacBook Pro with faster processors and a revised keyboard design that addresses shortcomings with its current butterfly-style board. I suspect most fans will be more excited about the keyboard fix than the faster processor options which include an eight-core CPU for the first time.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is getting faster quad-core processors with Turbo Boost speeds up to 4.7GHz, Apple said. The larger 15-inch model, meanwhile, now features faster six- and eight-core Intel Core processors that can Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz.

Compared to the fastest quad-core 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new eight-core variant is up to twice as fast (and offers 40 percent more performance than the six-core MacBook Pro.)

Arguably more interesting is the change Apple is making to the MacBook Pro’s keyboard. The Cupertino-based company told The Wall Street Journal that it has made a change to a material used in the keyboard mechanism. Specifics weren’t shared but Apple told the Journal it would help with double keypresses that some users have experienced.

Apple on Tuesday also expanded the coverage of its keyboard repair program. Now, all Macs with butterfly keyboards are eligible for the program including the new 2019 models. Full details on the keyboard service program can be found on this Apple support page.

Apple’s updated 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros are available today starting at $1,799 and $2,399, respectively.

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