Level Up: Nintendo Switch scores 10 million sold

Nintendo just confirmed what we already knew: its hybrid gaming system is a hit.

The company said on Tuesday the Nintendo Switch — one part mobile, one part home console — has sold 10 million units since its March 2017 launch.

The announcement comes less than two months after Nintendo increased its fiscal-year projection, ending March 31, 2018, from 10 million to 14 million units sold. Nintendo expects operating profit for the year to hit $1.06 billion, up from its original projection of $572 million.

“The fact that we reached 10 million units sold on a global basis and we’re not fully through the holidays is unprecedented territory for Nintendo,” Reggie Fils-Aime, president and COO of Nintendo America said. “The pace is one of the fastest in our own history and in gaming history.”

By contrast, the Wii U sold just over 13 million units since its 2012 launch, before it was discontinued earlier this year.

Fils-Aime attributed the success of Nintendo Switch ($300) to its portability, as well as its game offerings.

To play it, gamers insert a slim tablet into a handheld device that has controllers on each side. Users can then pop the tablet out of the mobile “Switch Console” and plug it into a “Switch Dock” base-station that allows for play on a TV. It will automatically transition to portable mode when it’s lifted from the dock. The concept makes it easy to “switch” from playing the game on the couch to taking it on the go.

More games are coming to Nintendo Switch’s lineup, including those that feature characters Kirby and Yoshi.

Last week, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” for Nintendo Switch was named game of the year at the 2017 Game Awards in Los Angeles. Other games such as “Super Mario Odyssey” and “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” have been widely praised, and titles such as “Bayonetta” and “Bayonetta 2” — which debuted on the Wii U — will come to the console next year.

Fils-Aime previously said it was important for the console to have a consistent flow of new games — unlike the limited offerings made available to the Wii U. The Wii U, which was considered a flop, also lacked a clear user proposition.

According to P.J. McNealy, chief executive at Digital World Research, the gaming industry was ripe for something fresh like the Nintendo Switch.

“The Switch is in a position to become the second console in households,” McNealy said. “The PS4 and Xbox One are in year four, while the Switch is a new console with great first-party titles. Nintendo’s strategy coming in was to load up on [games], such as Mario and Zelda, which help carry hardware sales for several holidays. The company nailed it this year.”

The Nintendo Switch isn’t the only gaming system fans are clamoring to get their hands on. The company’s Super NES Classic Edition throwback console has emerged as one of the hottest gifts the holiday shopping season, similar to the attention the NES Classic Edition attracted last year.

“We continue to ship them daily,” Fils-Aime said. “We’ll be selling the Super NES Classic Edition well into 2018, too. There will be lots more for consumers soon.”

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How does your brain tell your body to stop?

Many of us have found ourselves in the following situation at least once: You’re driving down the road, approaching a traffic light, and it turns yellow.

Do you speed up to make it through the intersection before the light turns red, or do you slam on the brakes to stop behind the white line?

You decide to gun it but, at the last moment, see a police car out of the corner of your eye. Can you change your mind and stop in time? The answer depends on just how well — and how fast — three distinct areas of your brain communicate.

“We have to be able to interpret any new information that we get in the context in which we’re in and make a split-second decision about whether that means that we should not go through with what we had just started to do,” said Susan Courtney, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University and senior author of a new study on the subject.

The report, published Thursday in the medical journal Neuron, pinpointed three precise parts of the brain that work together to stop body movement: the dorsal and ventral parts of the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, and the bilateral frontal eye fields.

For their laboratory experiment, researchers put 21 participants into an fMRI machine and had them complete a “context-dependent stop signal task.” They were shown colored shapes on a computer screen and asked to either move their eyes or stop their eye movement, based on which color appeared. The eye movement is what’s called a saccade: “a small rapid jerky movement of the eye especially as it jumps from fixation on one point to another.” The researchers measured how quickly the participants could keep going as planned or halt their eye movements.

A real-world example Courtney likes to offer this time of year is walking up a staircase outside a building. You’re about to step on the next tread but notice a glimmer of light from the exact spot where you’re about to put your foot. Very quickly, you have to ask yourself: Is it cold outside, and could it be ice? Are you wearing shoes that are more likely to slip or grip? Can you stop the movement of your foot in time and step somewhere else?

In any of these scenarios, the sooner you try to change your mind, the better.

According to a press release from Johns Hopkins, “If you attempt to change your mind after 100 milliseconds or less, you most likely can. If it takes you 200 milliseconds or more — that’s less than a quarter of a second — you’re still going through with the original plan. That’s because the original signal is already on its way to the muscles by then — past the point of no return.”

Courtney said the question she’s hoping to answer next is, “do these processes apply to things that are more general than just moving your eyes or using your legs? Does it even apply to shifting your attention … between different goals or thoughts?”

She presented another scenario in which a recovering alcoholic passes by his or her old favorite bar. Chances are, they’ll notice it, but what is important is teaching them to redirect their attention as fast as possible, Courtney said.

“We know that (in) people who are addicted … their attention is captured by stimuli that are associated with their previous drug taking,” Courtney said. “That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, unless you can’t then pull your attention away from that. You can be distracted, but then the important thing is, can you redirect your attention to what your current goals should be in that context?” Namely, avoiding drinking.

“The main thing is to pause for half a second and re-evaluate before you start your action plan. You don’t have to sit and ruminate, necessarily, but that half a second before you have an impulsive decision to do something that you’ll later regret can be very effective.”

In other words: As important as it is to do something quickly, don’t initiate movement until you’re confident you’re making the right decision.

“Give yourself time to change your mind,” Courtney said.

In the hypothetical driving situation, perhaps this means driving a bit slower so you can stop if you spot that police car. Better safe than sorry.

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Judge sets March 19 trial date for AT&T, Time Warner case

The Justice Department’s lawsuit to block AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner has a trial date: March 19, 2018.

In a short initial status conference on Thursday in the United States District Court for Washington D.C., Judge Richard Leon said the trial will last around three weeks and that he expects a decision in late April or May.

Either way, the decision would come after the current April 22 cutoff date for the acquisition, after which AT&T must pay Time Warner a $500 million breakup fee unless the two companies extend the deadline, which they have already done once.

“We thank the Court for its deliberate and expeditious approach to this matter,” AT&T’s General Counsel David McAtee said in a statement. “We understand and appreciate how busy the Court is, and we will promptly discuss the Court’s post-trial schedule with Time Warner. We are committed to this transaction and look forward to presenting our case in March.”

Lawyers for the government and the two companies had sparred in motions before the hearing over the trial date, with the Justice Department seeking a later start to the case, in May, and the companies wanting it to begin earlier than it will now in an effort to hit the deadline.

Still, both sides agreed that even Leon’s compromise date means that they will have to cram to be ready.

“We understood what we are getting into,” one of the DOJ’s lawyers, Craig Conrath said.

Leon also acknowledged the burden the case will place on both legal teams, saying he himself will likely be working over the holidays as a result of the timing.

Leon also noted in several comments the gravity of the case, pointing out for instance that his court room hadn’t been as packed as it was for the hearing in some time.

“This is not a normal case from many perspectives,” he noted. Leon said there will be status hearings every two weeks because “this is that important of a matter.”

A George W. Bush-appointee who has served on the court since 2002, Leon has dealt with big media mergers before. He reviewed the settlement that allowed the Comcast-NBC Universal merger to go ahead, and was critical of the deal before eventually signing off on it.

In its suit, the DOJ argues that the deal violates antitrust law because AT&T would likely “use its control of Time Warner’s popular programming as a weapon to harm competition.”

The government alleges that the deal “would result in fewer innovative offerings and higher bills for American families.”

AT&T disputes that and has said it offered remedies to the Justice Department, similar to what the department had accepted in the Comcast-NBC Universal deal. AT&T and Time Warner also pledged to offer arbitration to competitors if distribution negotiations broke down, and promised to never “go dark” in the middle of such negotiations.

During the hearing, Leon applauded both sides for managing to work together to settle a motion for a protective order regarding protecting confidential information from improper disclosure and said he hopes that is how future motions will be resolved.

“I encourage you to continue to work well together,” he said, though he also chided both sides for bringing legions of lawyers into the hearing.

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Instagram tests standalone messaging app

Soon you may have yet another way to privately message friends.

Instagram is testing a standalone messaging app called Direct exclusively for sharing private messages, photos and videos with your friends.

The app is similar to what private messaging is like on Instagram already, but it opens directly to the camera instead of your list of messages, similar to Snapchat.

It also has unique camera filters not available on Instagram.

The company confirmed to CNN Tech it is testing Direct in Turkey, Uruguay, Chile, Portugal, Italy and Israel. It’s expected to roll out broadly next year, but there is no definitive timeline yet.

Instagram added private messaging to its app in 2013.

It’s unclear whether Direct will fully replace the Instagram inbox. Users who download Direct will see their Instagram inbox disappear, but it comes back when the messaging-only app is deleted.

Instagram’s latest move follows parent company Facebook’s decision to remove private chats from its main app. In 2014, Facebook forced users to download Messenger in order to privately message Facebook friends on mobile — an effort that was widely criticized. But the app now has over one billion monthly active users.

It’s likely Instagram will receive some of the same backlash — users may not want to have to download yet another app.

Facebook continues to expand its mobile footprint with messaging apps. The company recently launched a private chat app for children ages 6 to 12.

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Bitcoin: What’s driving the frenzy

2017 has become the year bitcoin went big.

It started the year worth less than $1,000 but has soared above $15,000. Back in 2011, it was worth less than a dollar. It is being bought and sold by investors in a frenzy, driving the price higher and higher.

Some leading economists and financiers are calling bitcoin a bubble and a fraud, but industry insiders say they think it’s only going to get bigger as it gains more widespread acceptance.

So how does the virtual digital currency work — and what’s behind its spectacular rise?

What is bitcoin?

Bitcoin was created in 2009 by an unknown person using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Many of its backers saw it as a simple global payment system for anyone to use rather than a financial asset for investors to trade.

Unlike the U.S. dollar or Japanese yen, digital currencies such as bitcoin aren’t issued by central banks like the Federal Reserve. Instead, they are “mined” by computers using complex algorithms.

Payments in bitcoin can be made without traditional middlemen such as banks and without the need to give your name.

That made bitcoin popular with criminals and others who wanted to move money anonymously. It’s also been adopted by businesses around the world as a way to pay for everyday things like groceries, train tickets and haircuts.

Exchanges, or marketplaces, allow people to buy or sell bitcoins using different currencies.People can send bitcoins to each other using mobile apps or their computers. It’s similar to sending cash digitally.

Bitcoins are stored in a “digital wallet” a kind of virtual bank account that allows users to send or receive bitcoins, pay for goods or save their money.

Its price has taken off this year as mainstream investors have become more interested.

National governments are trying to keep up, puzzling over how to regulate bitcoin and other so-called cryptocurrencies. Countries like China and Venezuela have expressed interested in creating their own digital forms of money.

Why have prices gone crazy?

Some experts say the biggest force pushing bitcoin prices higher this year has been … higher prices.

Investors have been buying in this year out of “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out, according to Dave Chapman, managing director of Octagon Strategy, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange.

“There is admittedly a lot of speculation in this market,” he said.

Bitcoin is also being driven higher by the hands-off approach many financial regulators seem to be taking toward the digital currency, Chapman said.

Japan’s government, for example, gave bitcoin the seal of approval and started licensing bitcoin exchanges earlier this year.

The only black mark has been China, which has been cracking down on some uses of the virtual currency.

Announcements from some major financial institutions in the U.S. are helping bitcoin gain greater mainstream acceptance.

This month, investors will be able to start trading bitcoin futures via the Chicago Board Options Exchange and Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

New York’s Nasdaq plans to launch its own bitcoin futures in 2018.

“The fact the CME, CBOE and Nasdaq will now all offer bitcoin products lends additional legitimacy” to the digital currency, said Chapman.

Who’s buying it?

For much of this year, it’s mom-and-pop investors who have been buying in.

Many are in Japan and South Korea, where recent regulation changes have made it easier to trade bitcoin, according to experts.

But the biggest gains from the virtual currency’s massive rally are likely to be concentrated among a relatively small number of investors.

When you invest in bitcoin, you don’t have to buy a whole unit. According to research site BitInfoCharts, the vast majority of bitcoin accounts contain just 0.1 bitcoin (about $1,400) or less. Just 3% of more than 20 million bitcoin accounts hold one bitcoin or more.

Big institutional investors such as hedge funds and assets managers have largely stayed on the sidelines. But some experts predict they’ll move into the market in the coming months, despite skepticism from the likes of Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

What’s next?

Some industry insiders are incredibly bullish.

Arthur Hayes, CEO of Hong Kong bitcoin exchange Bitmex, predicts prices could hit a mind-boggling $50,000 by the end of next year, driven by the flow of money when institutional investors “pull the trigger” on investing in the digital currency.

Octagon’s Chapman is willing to stick his neck out even further. He thinks it will go above $100,000 before 2018 is over.

With a total value of around $250 billion, the bitcoin market is small compared with more established assets.

“This is a drop in the ocean compared to the trillions transacted daily” in currency and stock markets, said Thomas Glucksmann, head of marketing at Hong Kong bitcoin exchange Gatecoin. Just a small amount of mainstream investors’ money would make a big difference to bitcoin prices, he said.

But some finance industry veterans are wary.

Oanda’s Innes, who has worked in currency trading for decades, referenced a famous piece of investment advice from Buffett: “Be fearful when others are greedy.”

“Following the herd rarely produces large scale gains,” Innes said.

Investors were given a reminder of bitcoin’s unpredictability in November. After topping $11,000, it plunged more than $2,000 before resuming its ascent.

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Amazon Prime Video now available on Apple TV

A feud between two streaming rivals is easing up.

The Amazon Prime Video streaming app is now available for Apple TV.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the company’s developer conference in June that Apple’s streaming media player would support Amazon’s video app by the end of this year.

Starting Wednesday, Amazon Prime users will be able to more easily watch movies and TV shows directly on Apple TV, rather than using a workaround to mirror content from an iPhone or another Apple device via AirPlay.

Streaming devices allow people to use apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Prime on their TV. Most of the companies making these devices also have their own streaming services. The competition has led to a few standoffs.

Amazon’s own streaming device, Fire TV ($70), competes directly with the pricier Apple TV ($149).

Amazon stopped selling Apple TV and Google Chromecast devices in 2015, a year after it launched Fire TV. But with the Apple and Amazon streaming rivalry coming to end, Apple TV hardware could eventually be available to buy on Amazon.

Support for the Apple TV Amazon Prime Video app came one day after Google announced it was removing YouTube support from both Fire TV and Echo Show, Amazon’s smart speaker that features a touchscreen. Google pulled the service because Amazon doesn’t sell its products, the company told CNN Tech.

Both Amazon Prime Video and YouTube are available on Roku, a streaming stick not manufactured by tech industry behemoths.

Staying out of the fray has been good for business. According to eMarketer, the Roku ($30) is the most popular streaming device in the U.S.

Heather Kelly contributed to this report.

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