Saturday, July 26, 2014

Android Headliner: Android Wear Needs Work, but Google’s Smartwatch Attempt has Staying Power

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G Watch AH 31

Android Wear has been out for some time now, and it’s not just Android sites like us that have now reviewed the G Watch and the Gear Live. Other tech sites have weighed in with their view on Android Wear and the two current options and well, it’s a little mixed. I’ve been reading reviews on the G Watch (the watch I reviewed and wear on a daily basis) from the likes of The Next Web, CNet and other reputable outlets and it seems the general consensus is that Android Wear isn’t all that great, and that things are a little ‘meh’. In general, I can certainly see why Android Wear is receiving such reviews, right now it’s in a strange sort of limbo period where it’s just getting off its feet, but there’s still not much happening in general. However, I feel that Google’s attempt at the smartwatch, or at least how we should interact with such a device on our wrist gets a lot of things right, and that Android Wear isn’t going to be yet another failed experiment of Google’s.

A lot of people’s mixed reaction – in my personal opinion – comes down to a lack of understanding just what Google were going for with Wear. It’s not designed to be a gadget on your wrist, we all have enough gadgets these days, and instead an Android Wear watch is designed to show info when you need it, and sort of fade away when you don’t need it. This approach to notifications is something that really ‘clicks’ with me. I don’t want to set up individual smartwatch apps or extensions for each app I want to get notifications for – as I had to with Sony’s SmartWatch 2 – instead I just want to rest assured that all my notifications get through. My G Watch does that, be it GMail, Hangouts, Muzei when my wallpaper changes, a phone call, a Facebook alert, Google+ or whatever else Android Wear picks up everything I want it to. Admittedly, only GMail and Hangouts prove much use to me on my wrist, I use SMS for most things and I can send a message from the main menu or reply quite quickly. Bizarrely, I can’t send a Hangouts IM in the same manner, and other apps like Facebook are fairly useless right now, but this is of course up to their respective developers, not Google.

After using Android Wear for about a month or so now, it’s just sort of fit in, I never have to deal with duplicate notifications on my wrist and my watch, I can send quick SMS messages back and forth when in the kitchen, music control is simple and easy to use and if I just want a watch I can shut off the noise. I feel that Android Wear has more to offer than a lot of people think it does, and the only real way to find out is to try it out for yourself. This past week I got to see a “real person” as I often refer to people that don’t ogle over tech like we do, learn to use Android Wear; my Dad.

My father isn’t the most technologically-aware person out there, and considering he’s getting into his 60′s now, he’s much like any other average user off the street. He has a smartphone and loves it, uses a laptop proficiently and you know, just uses technology like anyone else would. He recently upgraded to the excellent G3 after two years with a Galaxy S3 and got the G Watch on special offer. Watching my Dad wear the G Watch and tell it to remind him to deal with the trash in the morning, or ask it Football (sorry, soccer) scores was fairly fascinating. He had a little trouble getting used to the voice control and the idea that swiping a card away would mean it’s gone until later, but overall he is enjoying it. In fact, grasping the idea of swiping these cards away with no real way of getting them back again was his biggest issue, but after an in-depth explanation from myself he understood that it’s a watch first (despite the fact the G Watch and Gear Live are both pretty abysmal in bright sunlight) and then an extension of your phone second.

This is one of the biggest reasons I think Android Wear is going to stand the test of time and ward off competitors, it’s only just getting off the ground, but if everyday users can learn to use it and work it into their daily life, then Google have gotten it right. Sure, Android Wear needs work, but it’s not been the boring, disappointing start that others might have you believe.

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Google Updates Glass GDK To Support USB External Webcams

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AH Google Glass

Google Glass can do some really cool things, and while the every day practical use cases for what it can do may be few and far between for some users, there are some really interesting ways that developers as well as people on the Google Glass team(i.e. Glass engineers)are making use of the Google wearable tech specs. Google has been all about putting out updates to Glass as much as they could, and that includes making updates to the GDK(glass development kit)as well as the software build updates that get pushed out to users headsets.

This latest update to the GDK adds in some really cool capabilities which Google actually demoed off at the Google I/O conference just last month in the “Innovate with Glass Platform” session. The GDK update will now allow for support of external USB webcams, and we realize that might sound a little weird to some but if you’re a developer and a Glass Explorer, you may be familiar with this and probably already know what to do with this information. You can check out the demo in the video below which shows off Hyunyoung Song giving us a sneak peek at exactly how the USB webcam support that she built works. The video is of the entire session from start to finish, so if you want to skip right to the part where you can see the demo in action jump to about 29 minutes and 52 seconds. The way she demos this, the webcam was connected up to her Glass but facing behind her and attached to her bike helmet, so she could see a rearview shot of what was behind her while she was riding a bike.

It’s actually pretty cool if you think about it and obviously while this is a great use case for this type of capability, using a rearview connected USB webcam for Glass while riding a bike to see behind you(for safety reasons like merging with traffic and switching lanes etc.) is not the only thing it could be used for. Hyunyoung explains that this sort of thing is experimental but she wanted to show it off and let developers know that they could set something like this up as well. They also state that there is no current native webcam viewer for Google Glass, so options for setting something like this up would require the use of a third party application.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Android Game Of The Week: Modern Combat 5: Blackout

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Modern Combat 5

The wait for this game was long but ultimately worth every second of it. The Modern Combat series from Gameloft is perhaps the absolute most definitive FPS for Android and other mobile devices, and Modern Combat 5: Blackout, released just a couple of days ago, is the newest in the franchise and definitely one of the best games of the year. First things first, this game from Gameloft is $6.99 out of pocket, with not one in-app-purchase in sight. Rejoice! It’s a true premium game title and it shows. If you have a high end device, it is highly recommended that you take advantage of the new SSAO features that have been built in to the game as they make for a drastically improved visual experience. It really makes the game look stunning, of course not all devices support the SSAO(screen space ambient occlusion) but you can still turn the graphics to a higher setting.

Everything about Modern Combat 5: Blackout is an improvement over the past games in the series, from game dialogue and storyline, to controls and features. You can choose between touchscreen controls,(of which there are a few different control schemes you can choose from, with incorporation of the accelerometers and gyros for movement and aiming on one of them)or you can connect up an HID gamepad including the MOGA PRO. You’ll find single player campaign and multiplayer for gameplay modes. The game starts you out with a single player mission right off the bat to get you familiar, than you’re taken to the homescreen after you complete it, where you can choose between the two modes of play, and access your character selection screen, weapon upgrades, and access your stats, squad details and events information. You can also modify your loadout from this screen as well as swap between chat from either Global or your squad.

There are six total chapters, each of which will have four regular campaign missions, a spec ops mission and a multiplayer mission to complete. During the campaign missions you’ll gain XP which will help you level up your character class, with the unified progression being shared with multiplayer. This means that whatever character class you have chosen at the time, the XP gained from both the campaign and multiplayer matches is shared and counts towards the leveling up of that character. As you gain XP you will also unlock weapon attachments, which can be swapped out from the loadout screen which you access from the homescreen. Google Play Games services is also present within the game, which gives access to the leaderboards, achievements, and a multiplayer match system with the people in your G+ circles, as well as cloud saves so you can switch between devices. The only downside to this game is the requirement to be always connected to the internet to play, but it does help for the storing of all your game data. All in all, Modern Combat 5: Blackout is amazing, and is easily one of the best games to pick up this year.

Modern Combat 5 Modern Combat 5 Modern Combat 5 Modern Combat 5 Modern Combat 5 Modern Combat 5

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Team Win Makes TWRP For The LG G Watch Official

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AH Google IO 2014 LG G Watch (2 of 10)

What’s that you say? Your LG G Watch is missing a custom recovery option and your life won’t be complete until you have that capability gleaming from your wrist? Well good sirs and madams that time is upon us as the wonderful team of developers over at Team Win Recovery Project, have just graced the open source community with the official TWRP Recovery for the LG G Watch. Throw your inhibitions to the wind and play hooky for the rest of the day because you have some work to do here. Just say you’re sick, it’s OK, we won’t tell on you. While TWRP is already one of the most popular recovery options for many smartphones and tablets running the Android OS, this will be their first venture into the world of custom recoveries for Android Wear. What we also hope this means is that we can see recoveries for the Gear Live and the Moto 360(once it releases)sometime in the near future.

Team Win is calling this official build of the recovery “dory”, and just in case you weren’t already aware putting this on your G Watch is going to void your warranty. With that being said if you’re familiar with Team Win and the awesomeness that they create then you probably already knew that in the first place. Team Win mentions that there is one obvious known issue, which is that the icons are undersized but that shouldn’t remain for too long, with the icons currently sitting at 240×240 instead of 280×280.

If you’re ready to get this flashed to your watch there are actually a couple of different methods of how you can get it up and running. As Team Win states, you can do so by downloading the TWRP Manager app from the Play Store, and once inside the app you tap to Install TWRP, and then select dory from the device list. The file will(should)download and install automatically so there’s not much you have to do. This method does require root access though so be aware. The second method is to download and flash the latest .img file which can be downloaded from the official page for this recovery(located in the source link)which also has the proper instructions on how to complete the process. Is anyone ready to void their G Watch warranties?

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Breaking: New Colors For The LG G3 Surface With Moon Violet And Burgundy Red

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AH LG G3 Moon Violet and Burgundy Red

The LG G3 is definitely one of this year’s hottest new flagship devices to come from any OEM. There are arguably some other good ones out there too though. If you have been looking at the G3 as your next potential device but aren’t necessarily sold on any of the colors, we have some good news for you. It appears that there will be two more color options on their way to launch at some point(hopefully this summer)giving users a couple more options when deciding which one is the best fit. Currently the three colors that you can find the LG G3 in are Metallic Black, Shine Gold, and of course.. Silk White. All three of the colors look nice but to some they just might not fit the bill of what they’re looking for. Perhaps they need a little more vibrant color in their life.

If that’s the case, feast your eyes on the two new color options to come called Moon Violet and Burgundy Red. Both device color options have yet to be officially announced with a launch date, nor do we know whether or not they will be specific to certain carriers or regions. Hopefully though LG will see fit to launch them on multiple carriers and in more than one region around the globe so as to give plenty of people the chance to pick one of these up. Since these are just new color variants of the device, expect no sorts of changes to the specs or features, what you’ll be getting is a slightly more colorful expression of your personality that you can technically wear on your sleeve via your handset without having to slap on a case.

The Burgundy Red is more to my own personal liking but if you have a penchant for the deep hue of the purple section of the color wheel, Moon Violet may be right up your alley. What do you think of the new colors? Are you glad to see LG offering a more colorful selection or do you prefer to stick with the already available options? Sometimes nothing stands out quite like Gold, and black or white will always be classic choices when trying to answer the question of what phone color you should pick.

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Razer’s Upcoming Wearable The Nabu To Allow Info Exchange Via High Five?

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Razer Nabu

Of all the wearables to be coming out this year, one of the most compelling, perhaps more so for gamers, is the Nabu Smartband coming from well-known gaming peripherals company Razer. Normally we see products like gaming mice and keyboards, gaming mouse pads, gaming headphones and all kinds of other gaming peripherals coming from Razer, even Razer clothing swag. One area they have chosen to step up and forge a path forward into this year is wearables, with their first entry into the market being the Razer Nabu Smartband. They showed off and unveiled it to the world back in January at CES, and wow was it impressive. This might be simply because I myself am a huge gamer, but something about it just screams “must have”.

Like other wearables that it will be competing against, it has a small lcd display to show you any of the information about notifications that come through, and has some cool features like shaking your wrist to dismiss a notification. While the Razer Nabu has yet to reach commercial availability, it should be out before the end of the summer. They are currently working with the first round of the beta testers before they put it out in an official launch state, with beta testers having been picked sometime last week. What might be one of the coolest features of the Nabu though is not any of the stuff we see from other wearables like notifications or step counters or anything like that, but the possibility that users may be able to exchange information with other Nabu wearers simply by high fiving eachother.

If this becomes a feature Razer seems to be using the WeChat platform integration to allow this to happen, a chat platform that currently lets users exchange information details via Bluetooth. Let’s be honest though, sending contact info over Bluetooth the traditional way just isn’t cool enough, I mean… it’s 2014, and a high five is way better. Right now that feature is currently being researched, so it’s still unclear if Razer will actually end up implementing it or not. It’s also rumored that the Nabu Smartband will most likely end up at somewhere under $100 for the pricetag, which should make it very appealing to those who are looking for a smart connected wearable but don’t want a full fledged smartwatch. If you want to be prepared for when the Nabu hits store shelves, you can download the Razer Nabu Utility companion app from the Play Store.

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ZTE Release’s The Next Pure Android Device In Hong Kong

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AH ZTE Logo 1.4

As for pure Android devices, there are only a few. The Nexus line and the Play Editions by Google are the lone rangers that serve us up pure Android devices. Now Google’s home grown devices are not alone. ZTE has released the Blade Vec 4G that gives users the pure Android Experience with the Google Now Launcher. The Vec 4G was released in Europe prior to its Hong Kong release but had the ZTE interface. Now the handset has been unveiled with the Google Now launcher giving users Google’s spin on what Android is all about.

When looking at the ZTE Blade Vec 4G, the device comes equipped with some pretty decent specs. The screen on this handset is a 5 inch high density display. Looking deeper inside, the Blade Vec 4G has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM running along side. The device has 16GB of native storage so you will be able to hold quite a few things. The camera’s on the Blade Vec aren’t up to par with other camera’s out in the market, as the rear camera of the device is an 8MP while the front-facing camera gets even worse with a 1MP. Taking high quality photos on this phone is a myth considering the low-grade camera’s. Powering the device is a 2300mAh battery. The most up to date thing on this device is the software which is Android 4.4 Kitkat.

As already stated, the Blade Vec 4G offers users the Google Now Launcher. So with Android 4.4 Kitkat and Google’s launcher running with it, the handset gives users a pure Android Experience. What really is the pure Android experience? Well with the Google Now Launcher, getting to make as many screens as you like and accessing your favorite apps quickly are some of its key features. The main feature that drives the Launcher is Google Now. The feature gives you all the information at the right time such as nearby restaurants, information on flights, and so much more. Also the hands free assistance is a really big key feature too.

ZTE didn’t just unveil the Blade Vec 4G, they also unveiled the Grand S II. The device comes hailing with a 5.5 inch display and has a Snapdragon 801 processor. The handset has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of native storage. The rear camera on the device is a 13MP and the battery is a 3100mAh. The downside to this upgraded device is that it runs on Android 4.3 with ZTE’s own software sitting on top. ZTE is also getting into the health game with their own fitness band called the Grand Band. The Band keeps track of certain health information and can take your pulse, and it will also launch later this year in different colors. Now that we have another pure Android device roaming the Chinese market, let us know what you think about the handset in the comments below. Also what do you think about the Grand S II and ZTE’s soon to be unveiled fitness band?


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RUMOR: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 To Be Released In September

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You don’t say? Well this rumor is kind of a given really. Seeing as the Galaxy Note has been announced at IFA – which takes place the first week of September – for the past three years and it’s set to be announced there this year as well. So it would make sense for it to be released in September right? Well unless they mean the US, which we don’t expect to see it here until October. Similar to last year’s launch. This rumor comes out of ET News which is a Korean news outlet – and of course Samsung is from Korea. They are sometimes hit or miss with rumors and leaks. But this time I think they’re right, although I’m sure anyone could have published this rumor, and people think it’s true.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is rumored to be announced at IFA in Berlin in about 6 weeks. It’s supposedly being launched beside the Gear VR, which is their virtual headset. Think Google Glass, but from Samsung and for Samsung devices. Last year the Galaxy Note 3 launched along side the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, and the year before the Galaxy Note 2 and the Galaxy Camera launched together. There’s no confirmation on an Unpacked event for Samsung, but those event invites should be heading out the door pretty soon.

According to ET News, Samsung is looking to rush the Galaxy Note 4 out the door to try and combat the iPhone 6 which is due to launch that same month. Why are they worried about the iPhone 6? Well it looks like all the making fun of the small display is coming to bite Samsung in the butt, as Apple is rumored to be putting out a 4.7-inch and a 5.5-inch variant of the iPhone 6 in September. Which may sway a few Galaxy Note users over to Apple, or vice versa.

How many of you are excited to pick up the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in about two months time? Let us know in the comments below.

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Firefox Android Beta Allows for Better Customization and Add-On Capabilities

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Mozilla has released the latest iteration of Firefox Android Beta which allows for greater flexibility in customizing the browser for users in general and enables developers to do more with the functional aspects of the browser.

Firefox now allows users to tweak their home screen pages to reflect any website, feeds or service that are accessed frequently. Sources include Instagram, Vimeo, and Wikipedia and content is shown in a thumbnail format. This should make it pretty convenient to display content on specific sites and allows for greater convenience in accessing these pages without having to look through a list of text known as bookmarks. In addition, users can customize their default home screen pages to display whichever page is more relevant to them at any point of time. For example, users can opt to display bookmarks rather than history depending on their personal preference.

Another improvement lies in better or more powerful add-on functionality via a newer set of APIs, which enables developers to create their own home screen pages thereby allowing better interaction between user and Firefox. This helps to make Firefox more user friendly and adds more value to Firefox as a mobile browser. This could help in drawing more users to utilize Firefox as a browser. Interestingly enough, due to how ‘cutting edge’ Firefox Beta is, Android L is not supported.

The final point of interest lies in the restartless language switching. As of now, Firefox has up to 54 languages allowing us to switch between them effortlessly thereby saving time and effort required. In short, Firefox Android Beta seems to be following in the footsteps of its older brother in giving both users and developers a greater say in customization and implementation of features. Check out the link here to test out Firefox beta.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Control your Tesla Model S From your Android Wear Smartwatch with Tesla Command

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Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 12.48.52 PM

The Tesla Model S is a pretty popular car among the tech community. So it’s no surprised that this made us drool a bit. But the folks at Bnotion have put together an Android Wear app that will allow you to control your Tesla Model S straight from your wrist. You can do various commands like unlocking or locking the doors, honking the horn and opening the sun roof. Now many of you might think this wouldn’t be too handy. But imagine you forgot to close the sun roof on your Tesla Model S and it’s about to rain? Just open the app on your Samsung Gear Live or LG G Watch and close the sunroof. Don’t even need to go outside to your car. It’s pretty neat. Although I think it’ll be more for bragging rights than anything. Now if only you could use your smartwatch to start the car. That would definitely come in handy in the winter when it gets really cold.

There’s already a Glass app for the Tesla Model S that does much of the same functionality. It was named the GlassTesla app. So for those that have Glass and a Tesla Model S, they can do all kinds of things straight from Glass. But now they can do it straight from their wrist which is pretty exciting. Now these are the type of apps I’d love to see on Android Wear, and hopefully we see plenty more of them pretty soon. I’d love to see some of the other car manufacturers do stuff like this for their cars with Android Wear. It’d definitely make the Samsung Gear Live or LG G Watch more practical and a few more use cases as well. How many of you own a Tesla Model S? What do you think of the car? Is it the best car you’ve ever owned? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Sprint CEO Dan Hesse The Main Focus of Attack From Advisory Firm ISS

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Dan Hesse 1

Sprint’s CEO, Dan Hesse is facing an attack by a proxy advisor firm called Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS). The attack is in regards to Hesse’s future pay package and past pay package that amounted to $49 million in 2013.

The claims that ISS has made included Hesse’s $18.7 million special equity award, which ISS claims was “entirely time-based, lacking connection to any performance criteria.” ISS also claims that there were no goals set by Sprint that would be the cause of Hesse’s $16.7 million equity grant. The claims made by ISS are timed to coincide with Sprint’s annual shareholder meeting which is slated to happen on August 6th. The breakdown of Hesse’s pay shows that from 2012 to 2013, Hesse saw a huge jump in his award package due to stock awards, compensation that comes from Sprint’s non-equity incentive plan and options awards. In total, Hesse has become the highest paid CEO in the mobile service carrier industry with a $49 million package.

While Sprint is only the number three carrier in the US, they feel that the leadership provided by Hesse is worth the money he makes-if not more. While Hesse has been leading the way for Sprint, the company has completed a $21.6 billion transaction with SoftBank. The transaction gave SoftBank 80 percent of Sprint as a whole. They’ve also, shutdown the Nextel iDEN network, bought Clearwire, and started launching their tri-band LTE Sprint Spark service. While all of that turned out to be good for the company, Hesse has also seen some negative events occur under his leadership.

One thing a carrier never wants to see is the loss of subscribers to their network. During the last few years, Sprint has seen a huge decrease of subscribers. Though this is said to be due to Sprint working on their Network Vision modernization program. Still, the loss of both postpaid and prepaid subscribers hurt the company. In fact, analysts suggest that in the second quarter of 2014, Sprint may have lost the largest number of subscribers to date. Though more on that will be revealed when Sprint releases their numbers sometime in the coming week. Still, even with these hard times for Sprint, Hesse is getting a hefty pay package from Sprint, and even signed a new 5 year employment contract.

Sprint has said in a SEC filing earlier that they “recognized the benefits of leadership continuity in light of the transformative SoftBank [deal]” continuing to say that they also considered “the ongoing execution of our network modernization plans.” when considering Hesse’s pay package. Hesse’s newest employment contract, signed in 2013 and good through July 31, 2018, gave Hesse a one time award of 1,733,102 restricted stock units and 1,733,102 stock options. In regards to why they gave Hesse such a hefty package, Sprint said they “were intended to enhance our ability to retain Mr. Hesse’s leadership for a minimum period of at least five years during which the company plans to undergo a transformative change.” Possibly a change involving a magenta company?

To put things in better perspective, Hesse’s pay equaled three times the median amount that other CEO’s in his field were making. T-Mobile’s CEO, John Legere made a total of $29.2 million in 2013, putting him in second place behind Hesse. AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson made $23.23 million in 2012, and Verizon’s CEO made $15.82 million in 2013. Odd how the number one carrier in the US has the lowest paid CEO. While Sprint’s CEO may seem like the focus of the attack from ISS, he isn’t. In fact, they’ve also set their sights on Ronald Fisher who is a Sprint board member.

According to ISS, Fisher isn’t to be considered an independent director. ISS claims that there is a conflict of interest in regards to Fisher since he is the president of SoftBank Holdings, and serves on the board of SoftBank. However, there is a saving factor, at least for Fisher since SoftBank owns 81 percent of voting shares in Sprint. In fact, Sprint acknowledged this factor in their response to ISS and their claims. However Sprint didn’t say anything in regards to Hesse. Sprint said, “In our view, Mr. Fisher is highly aligned with all investors in ensuring a management team that has the right incentives to deliver extraordinary value,” they continued to say, “In addition, it would be highly exceptional at a controlled company for the entity that controls the firm not to be involved in the setting of compensation for the most senior executives of the company.”

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