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Dropbox Antes Up In The Cloud-Storage Price War

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:13

Cloud storage platform Dropbox announced today that it is offering a terabyte of storage for $9.99 a month, the same terabyte storage price set by competitors Google Drive and Microsoft’s One Drive.

This is just the latest move in the great cloud computing war of 2014, as these three heavy hitters engage in a race to the bottom for the consumer’s storage gigabyte. In March, Google announced a terabyte for $10 a month and 10 terabytes or more for $100 a month

Apple, meanwhile, plans to release its iCloud Drive later this year, which will offer 5GB for free, 20GB for a dollar a month or 200GB for $4 a month.

Images courtesy of Dropbox

Categories: Technology

The Truth About DevOps: "IT Isn't Dead; It's Not Even Dying"

Wed, 2014-08-27 17:37

With the rise of the modern developer, traditional IT operations is dead, right? 

Not even close, says Puppet Labs founder Luke Kanies. And he should know. Puppet is one of the technologies at the heart of the DevOps phenomenon, a merger of traditional IT and app development in which developers take on more responsibility for running the infrastructure that hosts their apps—in part, by automating it.

See also: DevOps: The Future Of DIY IT?

Yet Kanies believes that while there are "plenty of environments that can survive without ops for a while," they almost certainly don't look like the enterprise you work for today or want to work for tomorrow. As Kanies points out, even developer-heavy organizations like Google still depend upon operations:

To get more insight into the shifting landscape of IT operations, I sat down with Kanies to learn more about how operations is changing, and where it's going.

Long Live OperationsLuke Kanies, founder of Puppet Labs

ReadWrite: Developers are the new kingmakers. What does this mean for operations? Are they doomed?

Luke Kanies: I don't buy it. Developers have been the kingmakers since the 90s, and yeah, things are different, but to say that operations won't have a significant role in the future just doesn't make sense. 

The reason why operations is feeling pressure now is that they have a real competitor for the first time—if IT says no enough times, the developers just work around them, which is how you get shadow IT. That competitive pressure won't result in IT going away, though, it'll result in IT stepping up.

Or at least, that's what will happen in most cases, eventually. 

Sure, there are plenty of environments that can survive without ops for a while, like all-developer startups with no users and no production, and there are environments where IT just can't get it together, like very outdated enterprises where the only way to drive change is to essentially give up. In most cases, though, the majority of IT will shift, change, and evolve.

You're already seeing outsourcing move from the technology to the service layer, which is working really, but also doesn't make IT go away. Salesforce and Dropbox both still have sysadmins; I know, because they both use Puppet. However, your using them means your own IT load might get a bit smaller.

Specialize, Specialize, Specialize

RW: You seem to think there's a very long shelf life left for Ops. Why? What is essential about the role Ops plays?

LK: You can move operations around—outsource to Savvis, outsource at the service layer to a SaaS provider, abstract via a PaaS—but fundamentally, there are different skills involved in making infrastructure work and in running applications than there are in building them. It's fundamentally about specialization, and specialization gets deeper over time, not shallower.

RW: How is Ops changing? What tools do they need to know?

LK: It used to be that a sysadmin had to know every piece of technology, but somewhat shallowly. Now, with SaaS, and the (slow) transition from vertical network/storage/system/etc silos into horizontal abstractions across the whole datacenter, we're finding that sysadmins can go deep on a few topics.

I think the best analogy is from the industrial revolution: Going into it, every farmer made nails, clothes, thread, furniture, houses, and everything else. As excess capacity was created through productivity, people began to specialize and sell the results of that excess capacity. 

So, if you were particularly good at making nails, you could focus on that, and sell the extra. The reason there was someone to sell the extra nails to is that someone else was good at making thread, or cloth, and they could sell that.

We're seeing something similar resulting from SaaS. Modern startups get to focus almost exclusively on a couple of applications, and they outsource everything else to service providers. 

At Puppet Labs, basically all of our infrastructure is focused on our customers; we have SaaS providers for email, file-serving, trouble tickets, and essentially everything else. This allows us to specialize, so our sysadmins (and developers) go deep, and it allows our providers to similarly specialize.

Thus, it's a long transition from an inch deep and a mile wide to a mile deep and an inch wide.

Technology As A Core Competency—For Everyone

RW: Look 5 years out. What does development look like then? How about Ops?

LK: I'm not a huge fan of prognostication, because I hate being wrong, and I'm not convinced you can sufficiently reliably predict to avoid the egg on the face. 

That being said, it's pretty easy to believe that in the future we'll have more servers providing more services that evolve more quickly, and they'll be more important to us. Mostly that just means that technology will have to be a core competency of essentially everyone, and none of the stuff we're doing now is anywhere near done. 

If you think you're missing the cool stuff, don't worry. Everything that comes after is even more interesting than what's happening right now.

RW: With that in mind, if you were giving advice to someone graduating from college and interested in enterprise IT, what would you tell them? How should they build a career in IT?

LK: Wow. I wouldn't really give fair answers to people, because I didn't travel a path that others would. [Ed. note: He's not kidding. Kanies grew up on a hippie commune in Tennessee.] I have a degree in Chemistry from a liberal arts college [Reed College], and I got fired a *lot* in my path to becoming a sysadmin.

Given that, though, my advice is to become uniquely valuable. 

That is, become great at something that the market finds useful, and spend the majority of your time finding a way to be more valuable than the people around you. Don't travel the well-trodden path, but also, don't spend too much time bouncing around. Practice, learn, spend hours and hours improving.

You need to spend the next 5 years getting what amounts to a PhD. in whatever you're working on. What books do you have to read, what jobs do you have to take, what risks do you have to run, to learn what you'll need to base your career on? Answer those questions, and you'll be OK.

RW: How do companies use Puppet? How is this different from the old world of Ops?

LK: What's different is that it's faster, and more fun. The biggest pressure our customers feel is to move more quickly, both in making decisions, and in carrying out the resulting work. Puppet helps them stop firefighting and doing trivial repetitive work, and spend more time doing the interesting strategic work that involves getting more of your software out to your customers more quickly.

This makes the sysadmins happier and more fulfilled, because they like their jobs better and they're more relevant to their companies and customers, and it ties the work of IT to the strategic priorities of the company, which means the rest of the company is much happier and more aligned.

Lead image courtesy of Puppet Labs

Categories: Technology

Why We Self-Censor On Social Media

Wed, 2014-08-27 17:05

Have you ever caught yourself deleting a Facebook status update even before you post it, because you anticipate the negative backlash it will receive from your online friends?

I know I have, and according to a study by Pew Research, you probably have, too.

Twitter and Facebook can be useful tools for distributing news and information, but when it comes to sharing controversial news, America can be reluctant to share things on social media if they know friends might disagree with it.

To study the effect social media has on debate and discourse of polarizing public issues, researchers surveyed 1,801 American adults about the Edward Snowden NSA privacy revelations in 2013, which exposed the government’s massive data collection through surveillance of American’s phone and email records.

Just 42% of Facebook and Twitter users were willing to post about the NSA surveillance program, compared to 86% of people who were willing to have a conversation in-person. The study also found that people were more willing to talk about the topic with people who agreed with them, both online and off. 

The study also found that social media users are more hesitant than others to share their dissenting views, online or off. 

The average Facebook user (someone who uses the site a few times per day) was half as likely as other people to say they would be willing to voice their opinion with friends at a restaurant. If they felt that their online Facebook network agreed with their views on this issue, their willingness to speak out in a face-to-face discussion with friends was higher.

According to Pew, a “spiral of silence,” a term that was introduced long before social media, can be applied to both online and offline opinions and debate. This means that generally one dominating viewpoint overtakes the conversation because those with minority viewpoints are less likely to speak up.

American politics are more divided than any time in recent history, and that could be the result of people continuing to surround themselves, and have discussions with, people who are sympathetic to their opinions. With social media, it is easier to self-censor and share updates you know will get a lot of Likes, rather than opinions that could spark a negative debate in the comments. 

The old adage, "Don't talk politics or religion at the dinner table," apparently applies to social media, too.

Lead image by bryan 

Categories: Technology

Comcast Data Caps Aren't Data Caps, Says Comcast

Wed, 2014-08-27 16:09

Comcast, already less than loved, once again has some explaining to do.

For years, the company has made sure policy makers and journalists know that it doesn’t apply “data caps.” Despite that, in some cities, Comcast imposes data limits on customers and, if they surpass that amount, issues them fines.

This is what is generally known as a data cap virtually everywhere else, but Comcast has even submitted an article correction emphasizing that while it may have "data thresholds" or "flexible data consumption plans,” it is allergic to calling them data caps.

Why does it matter what Comcast calls its scheme? Aside from being infuriating, it's also deceptive. By not calling its own practices by the name they are commonly known as, it could slow down or deter regulatory investigations.

This week, Comcast submitted a filing on its proposed Time Warner acquisition to New York Public Services Commission, indicating that “Comcast does not have ‘data caps’ today” and that even if it did, the federal government ought to be the governing body to investigate it, not New York, so the PSC shouldn’t even bother examining the claim.

It’s just the latest in a series of fishy moves by Comcast. Ars Technica has the whole story.

Lead image by Steven Depolo

Categories: Technology

Why VMware Will Struggle To Embrace The Future

Wed, 2014-08-27 13:03

Most enterprises would love to embrace the future. The problem is they're so heavily saddled with the past. This is as true for customers as it is for vendors. 

Nowhere was this more evident than at VMworld this past week, where VMware, beset on all sides by containers, public clouds and other existential threats, embraced them all. Every single one of them.

See also: Docker Promises A Standard Way To Package Apps To Run Virtually Anywhere

Given its obvious conflict of interest—VMware's crown-jewel virtualization tech pays the bills even if containers and cloud draw the developer crowds—there's a real question whether any incumbent vendor, even a great one like VMware, can usher its customers into the future of computing.

Developers Steering The Ship

Developers have never been more powerful. Dubbed "the new kingmakers" by Redmonk, developers are driving fundamental shifts in how enterprise IT is delivered and consumed. In virtually every instance, developer-led IT is driven by agility and convenience, not more established concerns like security. 

This, in turn, has powered Amazon Web Services to hit and surpass $1 billion in revenue faster than any software business in history. It also explains much of the enthusiasm for middleware containers such as Docker, which aim to simplify both app development and IT infrastructure management by eliminating software dependence on particular operating environments (virtual or otherwise) and hardware.

As such, the claim by VMware executive Bill Fathers that IT operations is regaining control over developers represents wishful thinking. At best. 

What Choice Do They Have?

It's not surprising that VMware would be hopeful, however: it has so much invested in the old world of virtualized data centers that it cannot help but pray that it can bridge the chasm between what it provides and what the market now wants. They're not the same thing.

Not that VMware has much of a choice. As Windows analyst Paul Thurrott highlighted to me:

In other words, you can believe, as Thurrott does, that "VMware is on a long downward trajectory" while still agreeing with Pivotal's Andrew Clay Shafer that there isn't an obviously better solution.

Or, as Ingineering founder Jeff Sussna puts it:

It may be that containers are complementary to virtualization, whether by design or by necessity. As Pivotal's Andrew Clay Shafer posits, "the preponderance of containers will run in VMs for the foreseeable future." He's probably right.

But it's not clear this will last. As former Gartner analyst and current Apprenda executive Chris Gaun notes, there are some companies that are using containers to significantly lower their VMware investments. In one particular case, it's apparently a VMware customer running thousands of applications and saving millions of dollars by making the switch to containers.

And so VMware, like its customers, is forced to shore up its legacy business by partnering with Docker and the OpenStack crowd. 

"Bimodal IT" To The Rescue?

Gartner analyst Lydia Leong calls this "bimodal IT." As she explains:

Bimodal IT is the idea that organizations need two speeds of IT—call them traditional IT and agile IT.... Traditional IT is focused on “doing IT right,” with a strong emphasis on efficiency and safety, approval-based governance and price-for-performance. Agile IT is focused on “doing IT fast,” supporting prototyping and iterative development, rapid delivery, continuous and process-based governance, and value to the business (being business-centric and close to the customer).

Not surprisingly, it's generally not possible to use the same team to get these very different results. As Leong suggests, enterprises need "different people, processes, and tools supporting each" mode of IT. You're simply not going to find a good agile-minded DevOps person that wants to carefully plod down the policy-laden path of traditional IT. 

So you embrace both, but with different groups.

VMware's approach, according to Leong, fails to achieve this. She summarizes VMware's VMworld announcements as proffering a "heavy overtone of reassurance that the VMware faithful can continue to do business as usual, partaking of some cool new technologies in conjunction with the VMware infrastructure that they know and love—and control."

But, as she goes on to argue, "VMware needs to find ways to be relevant to the agile-IT mode, rather than just helping traditional-IT VMware admins try to improve operations efficiency in a desperate grasp to retain control."

It doesn't help VMware that its developer-friendly assets like CloudFoundry are run out of a completely separate company, Pivotal. That makes it that much harder for it to offer a truly cohesive story on how these VMware-savvy enterprises are going to become cloud/container-savvy enterprises.

The Future Is Here: It's Just Really Messy

This isn't to pick on VMware. In a Clayton Christenesque Greek tragedy sort of way, VMware is here a victim of its own success. No company did more to make data centers dramatically more efficient, or to profit therefrom. 

But the same is true of enterprises in general. They see these cool new things like containers and want to embrace them, but they're constrained by the technology investments they've already made, including VMware's virtualization technology.

The answer may be to spin up a bimodal approach to change, following Gartner's recommendation. The reality, however, is that it's really hard to change, no matter how you go about it.

Lead image by Tomás Fano

Categories: Technology

Soon Students Will Be Able To Control Satellites In Space

Wed, 2014-08-27 12:00

If you've ever dreamed of sending a satellite up into space to measure the Earth, an education-technology company is making it possible.

On Wednesday, Ardusat is publicly launching a program to offer "space kits" with programmable sensors that it will place in small satellites in partnership with commercial satellite company Spire.

The space kits cost $2,500, but the company has made the curriculum and online resources available for free. And through a partnership with the Association of Space Explorers, a global professional organization of cosmonauts and astronauts, along with a grant provided by Northrop Grumman, Ardusat is running a science competition beginning Sept. 2 to provide 15 high schools with a free space kit and the opportunity to work directly with an astronaut.

Already, more than two dozen schools are currently using Ardusat, and with its public launch, the kits are available to everyone.

 Space Dreams

Ardusat's program struck a chord with me: When I was in second grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. 

We’d just memorized the names of the nine planets—this was before Pluto had been struck from the list—and used glue and papier-mâché to build our own solar systems. That was about as hands-on as our learning ever got.

The next month, we learned about the ocean, and I wanted to be a marine biologist.

If I'd had the opportunity to send something up into space, perhaps my passion for discovering faraway stars and galaxies might have stuck around a little bit longer.

A Payload With An Educational Payoff

Ardusat's “space kits” contain an Arduino board—a cheap, widely available circuit board for DIY electronics projects—and multiple sensors that can be programmed to capture data on temperature, luminosity, and magnetic fields. 

The students can program the sensors using Arduino to test scientific hypotheses based on data that can be measured from satellite orbit—for example, finding the relationship between El Niño weather conditions and the ocean temperature near their schools. (Ardusat is a portmanteau of the words "Arduino" and "satellite.")

Once students are finished, Ardusat tests their code for bugs and sends the project to a Spire satellite.  Each of Spire’s satellites have something called an “education payload,” or a set of sensors used for educational purposes, where students’ projects will reside. Students can configure the projects in real time to collect different data.

The satellites, called "cubesats," are about the size of a softball. They are designed to orbit the Earth at 2,000 kilometers above the surface for nine months to two years, before reentering the atmosphere.

“There aren’t a lot of great STEM programs in education today, and it’s not because there’s a lack of materials—it’s just that it’s not engaging for students,” Sunny Washington, president of Ardusat, told me in an interview. “We’ll want to capture the interest of these students early on, and make space accessible to them, so hopefully they’ll be encouraged to pursue a STEM career.”

Satellite sensors will capture data and send it back to students in real-time, so classrooms can monitor how the experiment is performing each day. Ardusat offers pre-programmed sensors, so if students are unable to program Arduino, they still have the opportunity to send sensors up into space.

"We’re trying to encourage high school level people to take a look at science, technology, engineering and math, and see whether or not that’s something that excites them for their future," John-David Bartoe, a retired NASA astrophysicist and treasurer of the Association of Space Explorers, said in an interview. "It gives them the opportunity to get a taste of a very interesting field, and a very cool opportunity to operate a real satellite."

The group hopes to continue this competition annually, to provide low-income schools an opportunity to operate a satellite at no cost to them. 

Ardusat In The Classroom

Rachelle Romanoff is a physics and chemistry teacher at Bakersfield Christian, a college preparatory school in the central Californian city. She was one of four contributors who helped create the Ardusat curriculum. 

This year, Romanoff is bringing Ardusat to her 10th and 12th grade classrooms. Her AP Physics students are so excited to program sensors in space, some students enrolled in the class just for this particular project—she now has 23 students in the class, up from just 6 last year.

"I don’t know of any other way that they can get such a hands-on experience where they can be involved in all of STEM," Romanoff said in an interview. "The computer programming, the science—not only with physics, but with earth science too. And math. It’s all wrapped into one."

Because students can configure the sensors in real time, Romanoff says she'll be using Ardusat throughout the school year. Students will write code to then send to the satellites housing their particular project. It will be crucial in helping students understand concepts like electricity and magnetic fields. 

The satellites will send the data back down to Earth, and students can collect and view the data on their iPads, and make graphs out of the information received from space to observe patterns or work out hypotheses.

Want A Job? Learn About Space

The future looks dark—that is, our perception of it is expanding into what seems like an abyss. As funding for NASA gets cut, other companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are dedicated to pursuing the far-corners of our galaxy, unencumbered by funding, or lack there of, from the government.

Science and technology jobs will balloon in the future, as other corporations including Google and Facebook are investing in satellites, and private companies are promising commercial space flight. But due to lack of education and interest from students, those jobs might be hard to fill.

“The space industry—I’ve never seen anything like it,” Washington said. “When you talk to the people at NASA, when you talk to other commercial companies, they are so concerned that there aren’t enough scientists, and not enough students that are interested in space to replace these jobs.”

By providing students with the ability to travel to space, or at least program the sensors to, Ardusat makes the idea of space science a promising career field for students. Not just in the U.S., but around the world.

According to Washington, the company has talked with the Mexican Space Agency, and schools in Brazil, China, Guatemala, India, Indonesia and Israel. 

As the Ardusat programming gets more advanced, and more satellites become available for students, Ardusat envisions more technical experiments like thunderstorm tracking. With the control of satellites at their fingertips, more students may find the endless possibilities of a job in space appealing.

"There is no question, we will be exploring space continuously in the future, and going farther and farther away from Earth." Bartoe said. "For us, it's critical that the United States be a leader.... We don't want to be left behind here on Earth."

Images courtesy of Ardusat

Categories: Technology

Twitter Unveils A New Time-Waster: Tracking Your Popularity

Wed, 2014-08-27 09:45

You can now go back through your entire Twitter history to see how many people actually see your tweets, thanks to Twitter’s now publicly available Twitter analytics dashboard. (Check it out here.)

Favorite

Originally reserved for advertisers and verified users, Twitter is making the dashboard available to everyone who uses the service.

The dashboard lets you see how many people saw your tweet; how many interacted with it by favoriting, replying, clicking on a link or retweeting; and the “engagement rate,” or the percentage of people who saw the tweet and actually interacted with it.

One downside, however, is that you can't sort tweets by impressions or engagements—you'll have to manually scroll through your entire history. (Another is that you can spend a lot of time obsessing over this stuff, at least if you're a regular Twitter user.)

It’s a handy dashboard for figuring out which tweets are the most popular. By browsing through your past history, you may get a sense of how well future tweets may do. 

Lead illustration by Nigel Sussman for ReadWrite

Categories: Technology

Why We Need Messaging Apps

Tue, 2014-08-26 19:19

This is the second part of ReadWrite's four-part series on the future of messaging.

The central paradox of the social age is this: We share at once too much and too little.

We share too much, because it's impossible to do more than dip into the endless stream of updates from your friends, family, coworkers—everybody.

And we share too little because we have the sense of being on display when we post on Twitter and Facebook—either to a public audience or a diffuse, ill-defined set of "friends" who don't reflect our real networks of intimacy. 

The answer to that paradox has come in the form of a big, fast-growing category of mobile experiences: messaging apps.

Why Messaging Fills A Social Need

In the first part of our series on the future of messaging, we explored how messaging apps displaced texting and social networking—and why there won't likely be one dominant messaging app.

See also: Why No One's Going To Win The Messaging War

The rise of smartphones and mobile broadband help explain why messaging apps have attracted hundreds of millions of users around the world. But those factors don't fully explain their popularity. To understand them properly, we have to grapple with the psychology of messaging.

In the early days of social network, there was room to breathe and express yourself. When I was a freshman in college, I had 30 Facebook friends, and followed 10 people on Twitter who also followed me. Those social networks were intimate spaces for sharing private thoughts.

That has changed. Twitter is an online version of the town square—a decidedly public space. On Facebook, we feel only slightly less exposed—whatever we post goes to a large group of friends and followers, mixed in with updates and photos you see from brands and advertisers. Even our likes and favorites have become subject to scrutiny.

See Also: How Social Giants Are Trying To Take Over Your Text Messages

Before Facebook introduced its own private-messaging service, users communicated by leaving public wall posts for each other. That made sense when the service was limited just to college students. But once parents started joining Facebook, the need for more private options became clear. Teens didn't abandon Facebook—but they shifted more of their interactions to apps like Snapchat.

Changing Your Behavior To Fit Your Online Identity

On public social networks, it’s hard to be your authentic self. We work to construct the best possible narratives of our lives to present to our friends and family.

And that means not sharing some of our more private thoughts and opinions. According to a study by researchers from the University of Michigan, the more friends a college student has on Facebook, the less they talk about controversial issues.

The researchers wrote:

Users who have a large number of Facebook friends are less likely to talk about politics and gay rights issues on Facebook despite having access to increasing human and information resources.

Because such topics tend to spark negative reactions on Facebook, people often avoid posting about them all together. With a smaller audience, our online identities are likely to be more authentic.

With a continuously increasing number of options for communication, we’ve begun to think more about what we share, where we’re sharing it and who we want to share with. On Facebook, someone might post about an accomplishment, whereas on Snapchat, they might share a selfie with some scribbled text over it with a friend describing how frustrated they felt about how long it took to achieve it. That frustration might be an evanescent emotion—which makes Snapchat, where messages are meant to disappear after they're read, the appropriate medium.

These fractured communications may be here to stay. According to Forrester analyst Thomas Husson, author of the report "Messaging Apps: Mobile Becomes The New Face Of Social," people will become accustomed to using a number of different apps to chat with friends.

“The social media ecosystem is somehow fragmented by nature, due to the fact that individuals have multiple identities and will switch between apps that will provide different voices,” Husson told me. “These apps are ways to manage your identities ... people assume and drop personalities while allowing them to connect.”

Creating New Social Networks, Through Messages

Social networks ask us to define the people we know in groups—friends or acquaintances, followed or not. Google+ takes this to a ludicrous stream, asking us to categorize everyone we know into one or more overlapping "circles." But messaging apps let us discard those constraining categories and form ad hoc friend groups for every occasion.

“Sometimes apps seem safer—you can have a small group and create your own boundaries, which is what these messaging apps do,” Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, said in an interview. “So people create a messaging group that is a social network, where you’ve created the boundaries, not someone else.”

Teens might be the model for this transition, thanks to youngsters who want a place to chat with friends and not parents, but it also applies to a greater number of people that want more privacy.

“There’s an increasing awareness of the need for privacy, and the need to understand privacy settings,” Rutledge said. “Not across the board and not in a totally effective way, but we’re seeing an awareness about it which makes things like Snapchat appealing in a very face-value kind of way.”

Even though your pictures don’t technically disappear from Snapchat’s servers the way the startup originally advertised, there’s comfort in the idea that the photo or video you take in the moment will disappear soon after its viewed—not stored in your timeline for eternity.

Snapchat's disappearing messages are its distinctive feature. Other chat services have their own nuances, like Kik's emoticon stickers, WhatsApp location sharing, or Line's built-in games. These all contribute to the texture of the conversations they draw. What they have in common, though, is a sense that the messages aren't part of our permanent record—they're just part of a flow of communication.

“These [messaging] apps allow you to have a multi-sensory communication in a way that’s transitive—it isn’t too precious,” Rutledge said. “When we talk to each other, those words aren’t immortalized on paper. These apps really replicate features of face-to-face conversation.

"We want whatever is going to get the job done best. All these app developers are trying to figure out how to offer a big enough array of features so they capture the audience when they finally come to rest.”

New messaging apps are cropping up every day, but whatever service ultimately wins out is going to be where our friends are—and that’s not going to necessarily be just one place.

Just like people use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr for different purposes, different friend and interest groups will gravitate towards distinct tools that offer the best possible way of communicating.

The rise of messaging applications doesn’t mean the downfall of more public social networks. Rather, it signals a shift among Internet users who are realizing that in-jokes and baby pictures might best be delivered to a small group of friends who truly understand and welcome our true, authentic selves.  

Lead image courtesy of Henry Lockyer on Flickr

Categories: Technology

How California’s Smartphone Kill Switch Law Could Affect Everyone

Tue, 2014-08-26 18:46

After months of campaigning for smartphone anti-theft legislation, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon got what he wanted Monday: Governor Jerry Brown signed Bill SB 962 into California law, making “kill switches" mandatory on all new smartphones. 

Starting next summer, all phones sold in the state must have a built-in feature that renders the device inoperable to strangers or thieves, and it must be activated by default. The idea is to discourage smartphone theft, a problem plaguing law enforcement across the country.

The issue may be particularly acute in San Francisco—where it accounts for nearly two-thirds of robberies; in Oakland, it’s three out of four—but according to Consumer Reports, a total of 3.1 million Americans were victims of smartphone theft in 2013, twice the number of the year prior. 

With smartphone crime becoming epidemic everywhere, other states are likely watching California intently now, possibly to follow its cue. To get some perspective on what that means for the everyday consumer, let’s start with some fundamentals. 

See also: Smartphone "Kill Switch" Now Mandatory In California

5 Things To Know About California’s New Kill Switch Law

Interpreting the law can be tough for any layperson. But in this case, it boils down to a handful of basics: 

(1) Only California requires that kill switches are enabled in new smartphones by default, for now. (Kill switches are also mandated in Minnesota, but users must turn it on themselves.)

(2) The law only applies to smartphones, not tablets or any other devices.

(3) The law won’t take effect until next year. Phones sold after July 1, 2015 will be legally required to comply.

(4) Retailers or other companies could be penalized as much as $500 to $2,500 per gadget, if they don't comply.

(5) Wireless association CTIA is opposed to this law. Its position: Kill switches give hackers another way to mess with people’s devices. But skeptics believe the group is just trying to protect its member companies—the smartphone makers and carriers who profit from replacement phones.

Jaime Hastings, the association’s vice president of external and state affairs, said in a prepared statement, "Today's action was unnecessary given the breadth of action the industry has taken.” He's talking about the group's Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment, a promise that some tech companies and carriers have made to make free anti-theft tools available to users.

Smartphone titans Apple and Samsung both offer security features that block locked (read: lost or stolen) iPhones and Galaxy phones from being reactivated, unless the user enters the registered owner’s proper credentials. 

These are essentially the same kill switches California state legislators want, with one major difference: They aren’t loaded and turned on by default. So if users don’t take action, the features do no good.

A Potential Can Of Worms For Everybody

Hastings also said something else worth pondering:

Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation. State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.

He has a point. If some states adopt this law, but others don't, maintaining compliance whenever devices cross state lines could be a nightmare of complication and expense for tech companies and carriers. The next logical question is who would cover those costs? Likely you and me, the consumers. Think extra fees, inflated retail prices or both.

In that light, Hastings comments could be taken as a veiled threat, though a lot would depend on the execution. A few extra cents might be fine, a small price to pay for peace of mind. As someone who experienced a snatch-and-grab recently, I’d gladly sacrifice a couple of dimes if it means I don’t have to walk in fear with a white-knuckled grip on my phone. 

See also: A Thief Snatched My iPhone—And I Learned A Lot About Smartphone Crime

The big question is whether these companies can be trusted not to play fast and loose with fee-gouging shenanigans. After all, policing all those transactions would be difficult, to say the least. And cell phone bills are already indecipherable. (Do you know what Administrative Fees, County Gross Receipts Surcharges, Federal Universal Service Charges, MTA Telecom Surcharges and numerous other enigmatic fees are? Neither do most people.) If companies wanted to make up for some of their lost profits, who’d notice a few other charges hiding in there?

Some folks might save the lump sums that would've gone to replacement devices, but over time, everyone's wallets could suffer a death by a thousand cuts. Hopefully things won’t go that far. Because it would mean, en masse, that people are just trading one type of victimization for another. 

Lead image by zombieite

Categories: Technology

Amazon's Cloud Is So Pervasive, Even Apple Uses It

Tue, 2014-08-26 18:27

Amazon's cloud service dominates the Internet so thoroughly that it's scarcely worth noting new customers. Unless, that is, the customer in question is ... Apple. [Updated: see below.]

Tucked away in a Monday New York Times piece on the online-storage price wars lies this brief but interesting nugget (AWS is Amazon Web Services—i.e., Amazon's cloud):

Apple's iCloud storage service and other parts of Apple, along with operations at several large banks, run inside A.W.S., say people familiar with the service who spoke on the condition they not be named so they could sustain relations with the powerful cloud company.

You have to love the Timesian sourcing on that one, by the way, which at 24 words comes in five words longer than the actual information attributed to said people. Not to mention the possibly intentional ambiguity of which "powerful cloud company" these unnamed folks so desperately want to sustain relations with. (Both Amazon and Apple would qualify, depending on how literally you want to read this sentence.)

See also: Amazon's Cloud Is The Fastest Growing Software Business In History

In any event, this revelation is intriguing in a couple of respects. It's certainly not the first time Apple has used an outside company to provide Web services—see, for instance, Akamai, which delivers software, music and video downloaded from Apple's website and the iTunes store.

But Apple is usually obsessed with micromanaging every aspect of its technology and services. So some of its users might be surprised to learn that they're storing their backups and other personal data not on Apple servers, but on ones rented from Amazon. It's not totally clear that anyone should care about that, but you never know.

Of course, iCloud is also in the midst of a big transition, as it preps new consumer-storage services as part of Mac OS X Yosemite and its CloudKit service designed to provide cloud storage for iOS apps. And Apple has been building out data centers at a furious pace, with the latest one slated to start up sometime this year in Prineville, Ore. (My former colleague Taylor Hatmaker snapped some photos of the construction for ReadWrite last year.) 

See also: Apple Is Taking On Amazon And Google With A Big Server Giveaway

So possibly Apple is just short on server capacity until Prineville spins up. Though it's understandable why the company might not want to advertise its apparent dependence on Amazon at the moment, as the news runs slantwise to Apple's notable—and heavily marketed—environmental push to run all its data centers on renewable power. (Amazon's cloud scored 3 Fs and a D in the latest Greenpeace report on data-center energy use thanks to heavy reliance on power from coal, nuclear and natural gas.)

Apple's PR team didn't get back to me when I asked them about the company's use of Amazon's cloud. But the company didn't exactly deny the NYT report:

Amazon would not comment on confidential customer agreements. An Apple spokesman noted that Apple had its own data centers in four locations jn the United States and said that "the vast majority" of data in services like iTunes, Maps and the App Store ran on its own computers. Apple uses other facilities as well, he said.

Update, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 9:46am: Turns out Apple has previously acknowledged that iCloud stores user data in encrypted form on outside cloud services such as Amazon's S3 and Microsoft Azure. See, for instance, page 23 of Apple's February 2014 iOS Security white paper (PDF), where it notes that iCloud stores user files this way:

Each file is broken into chunks and encrypted by iCloud using AES-128 and a key derived from each chunk’s contents that utilizes SHA-256. The keys, and the file’s metadata, are stored by Apple in the user’s iCloud account. The encrypted chunks of the file are stored, without any user-identifying information, using third-party storage services, such as Amazon S3 and Windows Azure.

The white paper suggests, but does not say explicitly, that iOS-device backups and passwords stored in iCloud Keychain may also be stored on third-party services. The paragraph above is from the introductory section on iCloud security. In that same section, the paper states, "The service is agnostic about what is being stored and handles all files the same way."

This is exactly the sort of information you might expect an ordinary PR department to pass along to reporters who check in to ensure they've writing accurate information about a company. But no one has ever accused Apple of running an ordinary PR department.

Categories: Technology

Instagram's Hyperlapse App Is A Steadicam In Your Pocket

Tue, 2014-08-26 18:04

The latest app to come out of Instagram does only one thing. But it does it well.

Hyperlapse, which the Facebook-owned photo-sharing service revealed in a blog post Tuesday, is a video editor that steadies and speeds up your video recordings in order to make your home videos look like high-quality film productions, imitating the shot you might get from a Steadicam or tracking rig. Wired called it “a $15,000 video setup in your hand.”

The app works simply: You start recording, finish, and share your video with the click of three melodic buttons. On the editing screen, the only option for adjusting your Hyperlapse, as the recording is called, is to choose a playback speed between 1x and 12x the actual speed.

Why isn't this just a feature of the Instagram app? One answer is that Instagram is already getting overwhelmed with features. A private-messaging option, Instagram Direct, doesn't appear to have threatened messaging apps like Snapchat. A June update brought an extensive professional photography suite to Instagram—though Instagram won't say how many users bother to use them. 

Next to the jam-packed primary app, Hyperlapse looks positively sleek.

In order to use Hyperlapse, you don’t even need an Instagram account—once you download it, you just give it permission to access your camera and microphone, and you’re ready to go. (Nagging question: If it needs access to my mic, how come my videos don't have sound?)

For now, you need an iPhone or other Apple mobile device to use it, as the app is only available in the Apple App Store so far.

Here ReadWrite’s mascot pup, Ramona, models for a Hyperlapse. To get the full effect, we recommend viewing it while Yakety Sax plays in the background.

Screenshot via Instagram's Hyperlapse video

Categories: Technology

Clinkle's Awful Hackathon Video Is A Diversity Report In Disguise

Tue, 2014-08-26 17:39

Clinkle, the payments startup that has yet to launch an actual product (despite more than $30 million in funding), released a video highlighting a recent hackathon. It’s kind of embarrassing.

Pop music overlays a bunch of smiling coders, some wearing Mickey Mouse ears, playing video games and shooting Nerf guns. They wear shirts that read, “Haters gonna hate.”

Like many hackathons, it’s mostly men.

The handful of times women do appear are carrying grocery bags or organizing a swath of arts and crafts materials lined up on a wooden table. One woman, presumably an engineer, is featured with a MacBook on her lap. 

Were these purchases made using a payment app?

It’s pretty standard for a startup hackathon to be a boys’ club. The Silicon Valley “brogrammer” stereotype permeates both corporate and popular culture—hoodie and t-shirt wearing dudes hunched over an Apple computer, banging out code until from late morning through dinnertime. But if Clinkle ever hopes to successfully get off the ground, it should consider appealing at least a little to both genders.

Women are predicted to control two-thirds of consumer wealth in the United States over the next 10 years, Nielsen reports. What's more, U.S. women make up 53 percent of payment app users. In the developing markets, women play a critical role in mobile payment adoption, according to an extensive study from the the GSMA, an international mobile operator organization. 

Payment companies need to realize women will be using their product just as much, if not more, than men.

By marketing its company as a male-dominated environment and embracing the “brogrammer” stereotype, Clinkle alienates a large group of consumers who could influence the success or failure of its product.

Why Clinkle Needs Women In The Picture

Clinkle has enough image problems. Despite a wealth of funding, the company hasn’t released anything in the three years since its inception. Also, its experienced executives are departing quickly. Releasing a video that makes the company look like the frat party startup everyone thinks it is doesn’t help its deteriorating reputation. Especially when women in the video are almost nowhere to be seen.

Clinkle founder Lucas Duplan doesn’t look concerned.

It’s a shame this is how Clinkle chooses to be perceived, especially since, according to a LinkedIn search, there are are women who work there, including at least three on the technical team. They’re not just den moms setting up crafts for the boys who need to code.

Clinkle could learn a thing or two from companies like Zulily, an e-commerce marketplace that relied on women and moms to propel it to massive success. Why? Because moms spend money.

Take Heed, Startups

I don’t know who thought this video would be a good idea, but just in case startups are considering a similar marketing move, here are a few teachable moments from Clinkle's example:

• Don’t produce over-produced videos of your company hackathons if you haven’t released anything in three years. Your investors want your money to go somewhere else. 

• A frat party environment is not something to brag about. 

• Hire women. If women work at your company, feature them in your promotional video doing more than setting up the snack table.

It's unlikely Clinkle thought, or even cared, about the impact its video might have on women, considering employees were wearing, "Haters gonna hate," shirts. But if the company keeps promoting an image like this one, it should start wearing shirts that say, "Companies gonna fail."

Images courtesy of Clinkle.

Categories: Technology

Will Amazon Turn Twitch Into Another GoodReads Failure?

Tue, 2014-08-26 15:01

So Amazon is buying Twitch, the video-game livestreaming site, for $970 million in cash, apparently beating out Google's YouTube unit in the process. That unites the e-commerce giant with the world's largest site for the gaming community, on which users can upload or stream video of games or commentary.

Which raises an interesting question. Just what does Amazon know about managing a social-network community, anyway? The Seattle merchant isn't merely a novice when it comes to the social space; it's a novice whose preliminary forays in this area have received mixed reviews at best.

Remember GoodReads? The social reading website, with an emphasis on books, catalogues, and reviews, startup up in 2006 as a site for members to discuss the books that they loved. Amazon purchased GoodReads in March 2013; not long afterward, it was enmeshed in accusations of censorship and stifling creativity after it reportedly deleted hundreds of user reviews and ratings without warning, sparking a backlash by a small but active group of members. 

That example could leave some Twitch fans a little worried. And with just how fanatic and engaged loyal Twitch's users are, Amazon might want to take extra steps to keep them happy.

Buying a social network doesn't just mean you've purchased another outlet for marketing your products—and that's exactly how many Goodreads members felt post-acquisition. It means you have a community to tend to. Manage that badly, and you get disillusionment. Disillusionment leads to frustration, frustration leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side. Or at least to out-migration, often of the most innovative or talented members.

The Story So Far

For now, Twitch users and other gamers seem to be pleased with the acquisition:

Gaming as a spectator sport is a concept that has been booming in recent years, fueling rumors of several heavy players looking to buy Twitch—Google, and most recently, Amazon.

Rumor had it Google was in serious talks to buy the gaming site. The purchased would've been a smart move for the search engine giant, given that it already owns YouTube, still the king of online video streaming.

A partnership with YouTube would have also made sense for Twitch, as YouTube’s gaming community is one of the site’s most passionate and engaged groups on the Internet. Massive audiences tune into watch YouTube personalities like PewDiePie, a Swedish vlogger who runs the most subscribed YouTube channel of all time, record himself playing and commenting on games.

Now it seems as though Amazon is also trying to gain an edge on the gaming and social market, all the while appealing to a younger audience. For the past several years, Amazon has been investing in social games—building a gaming studio in San Francisco to compete with Zynga and King.com, as well as beefing up their number of games developers.

The acquisition of Twitch is not only one of Amazon’s priciest purchases to date, but also their biggest and most telling moves in entering the world of games.

Pursuing gaming as spectator sport can grant the e-commerce company access into the enormous niche community, a growing group full of gaming fanatics who religiously tune into livestreams of games like League of Legends, a multiplayer online game.

The League of Legends Season 2 World Championship finals 

The demand for spectator sports has transformed into the creation of “eSports”, or high stakes tournaments armed with throngs of fans, animated commentators, and—for League of Legends competitions—$2 million in prize money to its winners.

The potential for advertisements and revenue in the Twitch and eSports format should by now be pretty obvious. Amazon recently had another run-in with Google in news that the e-commerce company is gearing up for its own online advertising platform to rival Google’s own advertising business.

Having a foot in spectator gaming is already access to a huge pile of revenue, and then to be able to have a direct line to integrated ads and games buying? The potential for earnings through Twitch, for now, seems limitless.

One thing is for sure, this is Amazon’s first venture in operating a social site. With Twitch’s community being so passionate and niche, Amazon will have to play its cards right so as not to destroy the integrity of the gaming fan favorite.

Lead image by David Blackwell; image of League of Legends competition by artubr 

Categories: Technology

Will Amazon Turn Twitch Into Another GoodReads Failure?

Tue, 2014-08-26 15:01

So Amazon is buying Twitch, the video-game livestreaming site, for $970 million in cash, apparently beating out Google's YouTube unit in the process. That unites the e-commerce giant with the world's largest site for the gaming community, on which users can upload or stream video of games or commentary.

Which raises an interesting question. Just what does Amazon know about managing a social-network community, anyway? The Seattle merchant isn't merely a novice when it comes to the social space; it's a novice whose preliminary forays in this area have received mixed reviews at best.

Remember GoodReads? The social reading website, with an emphasis on books, catalogues, and reviews, startup up in 2006 as a site for members to discuss the books that they loved. Amazon purchased GoodReads in March 2013; not long afterward, it was enmeshed in accusations of censorship and stifling creativity after it reportedly deleted hundreds of user reviews and ratings without warning, sparking a backlash by a small but active group of members. 

That example could leave some Twitch fans a little worried. And with just how fanatic and engaged loyal Twitch's users are, Amazon might want to take extra steps to keep them happy.

Buying a social network doesn't just mean you've purchased another outlet for marketing your products—and that's exactly how many Goodreads members felt post-acquisition. It means you have a community to tend to. Manage that badly, and you get disillusionment. Disillusionment leads to frustration, frustration leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side. Or at least to out-migration, often of the most innovative or talented members.

The Story So Far

For now, Twitch users and other gamers seem to be pleased with the acquisition:

Gaming as a spectator sport is a concept that has been booming in recent years, fueling rumors of several heavy players looking to buy Twitch—Google, and most recently, Amazon.

Rumor had it Google was in serious talks to buy the gaming site. The purchased would've been a smart move for the search engine giant, given that it already owns YouTube, still the king of online video streaming.

A partnership with YouTube would have also made sense for Twitch, as YouTube’s gaming community is one of the site’s most passionate and engaged groups on the Internet. Massive audiences tune into watch YouTube personalities like PewDiePie, a Swedish vlogger who runs the most subscribed YouTube channel of all time, record himself playing and commenting on games.

Now it seems as though Amazon is also trying to gain an edge on the gaming and social market, all the while appealing to a younger audience. For the past several years, Amazon has been investing in social games—building a gaming studio in San Francisco to compete with Zynga and King.com, as well as beefing up their number of games developers.

The acquisition of Twitch is not only one of Amazon’s priciest purchases to date, but also their biggest and most telling moves in entering the world of games.

Pursuing gaming as spectator sport can grant the e-commerce company access into the enormous niche community, a growing group full of gaming fanatics who religiously tune into livestreams of games like League of Legends, a multiplayer online game.

The League of Legends Season 2 World Championship finals 

The demand for spectator sports has transformed into the creation of “eSports”, or high stakes tournaments armed with throngs of fans, animated commentators, and—for League of Legends competitions—$2 million in prize money to its winners.

The potential for advertisements and revenue in the Twitch and eSports format should by now be pretty obvious. Amazon recently had another run-in with Google in news that the e-commerce company is gearing up for its own online advertising platform to rival Google’s own advertising business.

Having a foot in spectator gaming is already access to a huge pile of revenue, and then to be able to have a direct line to integrated ads and games buying? The potential for earnings through Twitch, for now, seems limitless.

One thing is for sure, this is Amazon’s first venture in operating a social site. With Twitch’s community being so passionate and niche, Amazon will have to play its cards right so as not to destroy the integrity of the gaming fan favorite.

Lead image by David Blackwell; image of League of Legends competition by artubr 

Categories: Technology

Smartphone "Kill Switch" Law Now Mandatory In California

Tue, 2014-08-26 14:26

Lawmakers all over America have been pushing for the antitheft benefits of a smartphone “kill switch,” but California became the first state to require it by default on Monday.

Governor Jerry Brown signed what’s been colloquially known as the “kill switch” bill after it passed in the state legislature this August. Introduced in February by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the bill makes it mandatory for all smartphones to come with a default way to lock down the phone if it is stolen, making it unusable.

Minnesota was the first state to sign a “kill switch” bill into law this May, but the difference is that earlier bill made the kill switch an opt-in option, not a default setting. Leno stressed that the California version of the bill, if passed, would need to be more stringent.

"Opt-in does not end the problem. Because it will not be ubiquitous," he told the Senate in April.

See also: How A Smartphone Kill Switch Could Save Consumers A Ton Of Money

Policymakers and consumers alike have clamored for the “kill switch” standard, claiming that if stolen smartphones are instantly bricked, the incentive to steal them will plummet significantly.

William Duckworth, an associate professor of data science and analytics at Creighton University, found that a kill switch could save American consumers millions, if not billions of dollars. Not only do consumers spend $580 million yearly replacing their stolen phones, but if theft was no longer an issue, they could buy cheaper insurance plans.

Carriers are also rooting for the plan in their own way; CTIA, the largest U.S. trade organization that supports the cellular operators, made their own “kill switch” proposal in April. However, the proposal has been criticized for doing far more to cover the industry’s bases than to help people.

See also: The Kill Switch Proposal: Why U.S. Carriers Win Either Way

Overall, the general consensus is that kill switches will only act as a deterrent if they’re turned on by default; otherwise there’s no guarantee consumers will remember to turn them on. Now California, with its pioneering default kill switch, will put that theory to the test.

Photo of State Sen. Mark Leno by Kelly Huston

Categories: Technology

Smartphone "Kill Switch" Now Mandatory In California

Tue, 2014-08-26 14:26

Lawmakers all over America have been pushing for the antitheft benefits of a smartphone “kill switch,” but California became the first state to require it by default on Monday.

Governor Jerry Brown signed what’s been colloquially known as the “kill switch” bill after it passed in the state legislature this August. Introduced in February by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the bill makes it mandatory for all smartphones to come with a default way to lock down the phone if it is stolen, making it unusable.

Minnesota was the first state to sign a “kill switch” bill into law this May, but the difference is that earlier bill made the kill switch an opt-in option, not a default setting. Leno stressed that the California version of the bill, if passed, would need to be more stringent.

"Opt-in does not end the problem. Because it will not be ubiquitous," he told the Senate in April.

Policymakers and consumers alike have clamored for the “kill switch” standard, claiming that if stolen smartphones are instantly bricked, the incentive to steal them will plummet significantly.

See also: How California’s Smartphone Kill Switch Law Could Affect Everyone 

William Duckworth, an associate professor of data science and analytics at Creighton University, found that a kill switch could save American consumers millions, if not billions of dollars. Not only do consumers spend $580 million yearly replacing their stolen phones, but if theft was no longer an issue, they could buy cheaper insurance plans.

CTIA, the largest U.S. trade organization that supports the cellular operators, made their own “kill switch” proposal in April. However, the proposal has been criticized for doing far more to cover the industry’s bases than to help people.

See also: The Kill Switch Proposal: Why U.S. Carriers Win Either Way

Overall, the general consensus is that kill switches will only act as a deterrent if they’re turned on by default; otherwise there’s no guarantee consumers will remember to turn them on. Now California, with its pioneering default kill switch, will put that theory to the test.

Photo of State Sen. Mark Leno by Kelly Huston

Categories: Technology

Belatedly, TiVo Makes Its Play For Cord-Cutters

Tue, 2014-08-26 12:58

TiVo shot to fame, if not widespread acceptance, on the ability of its digital video recorders to impose order on the unruly smorgasbord of cable-TV programming. Which makes its latest product—its first set-top box that won't work with cable—a bit of a head-scratcher, at least at first glance.

The new "limited edition" device, the TiVo Roamio OTA (for “over the air”) DVR, is the company’s attempt to appeal to cord-cutters, a growing group of TV viewers who eschew pricey cable packages for cheap or free streaming and broadcast options. It’s a striking move, and certainly an indication that TiVo understands that the TV landscape it grew up in is shifting—even if it doesn't plan to sacrifice its valuable partnerships with cable and satellite providers just yet.

TiVo's clear hope is that the Roamio OTA will make it more relevant amid a growing array of smart TVs and streaming boxes like Roku. Its pitch: You may not need us to search out and record your shows on cable, but we can do something similar for terrestrial HDTV broadcasts, while giving you the major streaming services in one place. 

For a price, of course.

Thinking Inside The Box

Roamio OTA is basically a stripped-down version of the company's full-fledged premium Roamio boxes, except that you can't hook it up to cable or satellite service. Instead, it's limited to recording programs you can receive via an over-the-air antenna (thus the OTA) and to searching out things you'd like to watch on streaming services like Netflix.

The box will sell for $49—about par for your average streaming box. But it still requires TiVo's standard $15 monthly fee (and that's with a year-long commitment). It's considerably cheaper than the company's previous entry-level TiVo Roamio, which starts at $199. For that money, you get four tuners, 500GB of storage space, Wi-Fi, access via mobile devices, online streaming services and that popular TiVo remote and menu interface. 

The company’s primary pitch is to give cord-cutters a single place to search over-the-air TV shows and Internet videos from services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube, while also offering tightly controlled mobile access to recorded shows. Like its brethren, the Roamio OTA will let you shuttle recorded programs among other TiVo boxes in your household or to iPhones and iPads using the TiVo app.

That sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, there’s a downside: that pesky subscription cost. People can already stream using other, cheaper device such as the Roku or the Chromecast, neither of which have recurring fees. Folks who bypass cable TV because of price may not take kindly to shelling out $15 every month to record shows that, in large part, are available from places like Hulu for $8 per month—or for free.

Testing—1, 2, 3

Instead of launching broadly, the latest TiVo is rolling out in test mode in select Best Buy locations on September 14. According to the company, there are some very reasonable and pragmatic reasons for that. With no cable card, the new box will rely on signals culled from antennas, which can be a tricky affair.

A TiVo representative told me via email that:

… the intricacies around antenna usage (everything from the density of trees on someone’s street to general topography) and the variety of signal strength in specific markets does present unique challenges—which is why we’re testing the product to get a better sense of how the customer will navigate signal issues, pair the product with the best antenna for their location, etc. If all goes smoothly, we’re open and ready to expanding on this test.

Of course, it’s hard to overlook the possibility that the company may also be testing its pricing, to see how much people are willing to spend. My guess is that this subscription cost is high, even for an established elder statesman of TV technology.

Over the past 16 years, the company has developed an ardent fanbase. But staying relevant amid the swelling ranks of set-top boxes, dongles and smart TVs may be a tough proposition. And charging high subscription fees may not be the best way to make inroads with today’s newfangled TV audiences. 

Categories: Technology

Uber Is Waging A Vicious, Spy-Tech Ground War Against Lyft

Tue, 2014-08-26 09:13

In the war of the car-service apps, Uber has the upper hand. The on-demand transportation company has raised more money, signed up more partners, and landed in more cities than any other competitor, including Lyft.

Now it’s hoping to dominate the market even more by recruiting drivers through questionable tactics that include hiring contractors who request Lyft rides only to try to recruit drivers to work with Uber instead, The Verge reported on Tuesday.

It’s no secret that the companies aren’t fond of each other. Lyft has accused Uber of sabotaging drivers by requesting then canceling over 5,000 rides. (Uber responded by saying that Lyft used the same tactic on its drivers.)

In an effort to poach Lyft’s drivers, the company created a campaign called Operation Slog that provides Uber recruiters with multiple mobile phones and credit cards to create fake Lyft accounts. It trained them on a five-point pitch to convince drivers to switch, The Verge reports. Uber employees who were a part of Operation Slog received compensation up to $750 for successfully poaching a Lyft driver.

The recruiting spiel include promising Lyft drivers they would get a “more polished clientele" by driving with Uber.

Uber has talked about the sophisticated systems it uses to match riders and drivers. But The Verge's report shows that Uber also makes scrappy use of technological tools like Wufoo forms and GroupMe messaging to wage a ground war against competitors like Lyft.

Talk To The Hand On The Wheel

According to The Verge, Uber delayed responding to the publication's questions until it could publish its own blog post about Operation Slog, calling it a "marketing program"—and even used the opportunity to recruit more drivers and recruiters. Uber denied cancelling rides:

We can’t successfully recruit drivers without talking to them—and that means taking a ride. We’re all about more and better economic opportunity for drivers. We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living—and that includes never intentionally canceling rides.

This isn't the first time Uber has been accused of aggressively poaching drivers from a competitor. It targeted on-demand car service Gett by ordering and canceling rides, then following up with a text message trying to recruit the driver. In that case, Uber acknowledged that it had engaged in “too aggressive sales tactics," and said it would stop.

In the case of Lyft, it appears that ride cancellations weren't meant to inconvenience drivers. Instead, Uber recruiters were told to avoid targeting drivers who had previously been pitched by another recruiter in order to avoid raising drivers' suspicions. When an Uber recruiter saw that a previously targeted Lyft driver was assigned to pick them up, they would cancel the ride, lest the driver report being recruited multiple times to Lyft headquarters.

The Verge's report has prompted some Uber riders to reconsider their usage of the service.

Photo of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick by Silicon Prairie News

Categories: Technology

Latest Rumor: Twitch Will Sell To Amazon, Not Google

Mon, 2014-08-25 19:36

[Update: Amazon has officially acquired Twitch for $970 million in cash.]

Twitch, the popular video-game livestreaming site, may have spurned a reported $1 billion acquisition offer from Google in favor of a richer proposal from Amazon.

The Wall Street Journal and The Information have both reported that Amazon is nearing a deal to acquire Twitch for more than $1 billion, and that the companies could announce the agreement as soon as today.

Previous reports that Google was acquiring Twitch were fueled by the company’s previous moves in the online video space, particularly its purchase of video streaming site YouTube in 2006. With YouTube’s strong ties to the gaming community, many believed a future partnership with Twitch was highly plausible.

Twitch was introduced by livestreaming site Justin.tv in 2011. Earlier this year, Justin.tv rebranded itself as Twitch due to the success of the video-game network. 

Images courtesy of The World According To Marty, Ducksauce on Twitch.tv

Categories: Technology

LG Cuts Corners: Its Round Smartwatch Is Due Next Week

Mon, 2014-08-25 18:58

Looks like Moto 360 won’t be the only round smartwatch in Android Wear’s inner circle. LG just pushed out a YouTube video that basically leaks its own plans to introduce a circular model at the IFA 2014 show in Berlin next week. 

LG’s decision to blast the corners off its smartwatch line should come as no surprise. Much of the anticipation surrounding the Moto 360, the third device to support Google’s smartwatch software, stems from its classic and stylish round hardware design. It’s a look that sets it apart from the other Android Wear devices, the rectangular LG G and Samsung Gear Live, neither of which excited critics or consumers following their introduction at the Google I/O developer conference last June. 

A few screenshots we managed to glean from the video: 

The timing appears strategic. LG likely plans to steal the Moto 360’s thunder with its new watch, possibly to be called the LG G Watch R, as it will debut right after the 360 launch. It will also potentially slide in right head of Apple’s reported press event on September 9, where it might—depending on which rumors you believe—introduce its own smartwatch alongside the new iPhone 6.

See also: What Not To (Android) Wear: One Woman's Search For Smartwatch Bliss

Even if LG manages to grab attention, it could have trouble keeping it unless it addresses some major issues with its previous watch. Chief among them are comfort—the LG G feels like a board if your wrist is on the smaller side, thanks to its size and strap placement—and battery life. The current model offers a day to a day and a half of wear before the power cell requires a recharge, which is a pretty miserable scenario for active users on the go.

The changes that do appear to be on board include a side button and several new watchfaces, some of which feature step and distance tracking, a compass and a few analog-style designs. 

To check out the LG's YouTube video for yourself, see below. 

Categories: Technology