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Updated: 6 days 9 hours ago

Samsung's Curvy Gear Smartwatch Headed To The U.S. Soon

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 18:46



Samsung's Gear S, its curvy standalone smartwatch, will hit U.S. shores soon, the South Korean tech giant announced. After announcing an October launch for Australian customers, the company issued a short, barely there press release stating that the U.S. will get the wearable device “this fall.” 

See also: Samsung's New Gear S Smartwatch Looks Great (But May Be Less Filling)

Samsung also mentioned that all four major U.S. carriers—that’s AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless—will carry the watch. In T-Mobile’s case, the gadget will be eligible for its Equipment Installment Plan (EIP), the carrier’s installment plan that drops the monthly fee as soon as the device’s retail price has been paid off. No word yet on price. 

First introduced at the IFA show in Berlin last month, the Tizen-powered Gear S features a large, 2-inch curved Super AMOLED screen and standalone cellular connectivity that doesn’t require pairing to a smartphone. Instead of Android Wear, which powers its Gear Live smartwatch, Samsung went back to its alternate operating system, Tizen, for the Gear S, which helps the Galaxy maker maintain some autonomy from Google—but may limit options for users.

It may not offer quite the range of apps that Android Wear devices—like the LG G, Moto 360 and its own Gear Live—can boast, but at least you can feel like Dick Tracy talking into your arm.

Samsung will also ship its Note 4 phablet to the U.S. next month. Prompted by Apple boasting about its record sales of its new supersized iPhones, Samsung reportedly sped up its phablet launch in South Korea and China, targeting a Friday ship date, with another 140 countries to follow in October.

Photos courtesy of Samsung

iOS 8.0.1 Kills More Than It Cures, So Apple Pulled It

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 18:23



Update: Apple has pulled iOS 8.0.1, presumably to fix the major bugs it introduced, as reported below. 

Do not—I repeat, DO NOT—update your iPhone to iOS 8.0.1. Not yet, anyway, at least if you want to actually want cellular reception or Touch ID to work.

See also: Think iOS 8 Crashes A Lot? You're Not Imagining Things

To fix its flub in HealthKit, Apple pushed out an incremental update to iOS 8, the latest version of its operating software for iPhones and iPads, just a week after making iOS 8 available to the public. That small update, however, led to a huge problem: It broke some core features, especially for the new set of iPhones.

See also: Why You Can't Download Health And Fitness Apps From Apple's App Store

Sites like TechCrunch and The Next Web report that people have been seeing 8.0.1 hobble their iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices. Indeed, we’re spotting trouble across the Web as well:

Some users with older iPhones, like the 5 and 5S, don’t seem to be affected, at least not en masse like iPhone 6 owners. So the bug could be particularly acute for Apple’s latest phones. 

See also: Apple's HealthKit Is Looking Unhealthy

The software update was intended to fix the unexplained bug that Apple said was plaguing HealthKit, its new fitness and health monitoring system. Third-party apps written to work with HealthKit found themselves yanked from the App Store as Apple attempted to repair the issues.

The iOS update also tackled other problems, such as downloaded keyboards that wouldn't stay selected as default options; some photos that wouldn't show up in Photo Library; errant data use with SMS or MMS; and in-app purchase glitches in Family Sharing. 

iOS 8.0.1 was supposed to address all of the following issues, according to Apple: 

  • Fixes a bug so HealthKit apps can now be made available on the App Store
  • Addresses an issue where 3rd party keyboards could become deselected when a user enters their passcode
  • Fixes an issue that prevented some apps from accessing photos from the Photo Library
  • Improves the reliability of the Reachability feature on iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
  • Fixes an issue that could cause unexpected cellular data usage when receiving SMS/MMS messages
  • Better support of Ask To Buy for Family Sharing for In-App Purchases
  • Fixes an issue where ringtones were sometimes not restored from iCloud backups
  • Fixes a bug that prevented uploading photos and videos from Safari 

For more information on the security content of this update, please visit this website

Those sound great, or at least they would have, if other phone-killing glitches weren't on board. Unfortunately, they are. So again, the major takeaway is this: 

Do not install this software update until Apple fixes this version. Tell your friends. 

We'll give you the all-clear when the new version is ready. 

Update: Apple appears to have already yanked iOS 8.0.1:

9to5Mac reports that Apple pulled this software update for now, and it seems that the company has indeed withdrawn its digital signature for iOS 8.0.1. Unfortunately, that doesn't help users who already grabbed it. But all may not be lost for them. 

Some folks say that restoring their iPhones successfully reverts the device back to the previous version. 

See also: How To Roll Back iOS 8.0.1

If you were afflicted and try this, let us know how it works out for you in the comments below. 

Photo by Tomás Fano

You Don't Need A Data Science Unicorn—You Need A Data Science Team

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 17:57



The allure of Big Data is that given enough data, human intuition stops mattering and the data takes over. It's a beautiful utopia where, as The Economist's Kenneth Cukier avers, we can "let the data speak" and stop hunting for causation while the data reveals correlations. 

Sadly, it's complete nonsense.

In a way, we seem to know this already. In a variety of surveys, executives again and again insist that data is valuable ... and then trust gut instinct, anyway. The key to overcoming this and welding data and intuition together may be to trust homegrown data analysts instead of outside data scientists.

We Love Data! (Sort Of)

Big Data is one of the most hyped phrases in technology today, and has led to big plans to harness it, according to Gartner research:

Source: Gartner 2014

As much as we may proclaim our allegiance to Big Data, however, executives tend to ignore it in favor of their own intuition. Consider:

  • 40% of CMOs make decisions based on intuition, not data (Formstack 2014)
  • 37% of CMOs use data regularly when making decisions, despite roughly 50% claiming that data is their most underutilized asset (Formstack 2014)
  • 62% of business executives said they tend to trust their gut, and 61% said real-world insight tops hard analytics when making decisions (Fortune Knowledge Group 2014)

This isn't surprising, given the kind of data science most companies seem to employ. While most of the world's "Big Data" is created by and for machines, most companies actually focus on the human side of Big Data, as a Gregory Piatetsky poll of his KDnuggets community illustrates:

Source: Gregory Piatesky

In fact, as much as we may hope that data will somehow overcome our human failings, it's our very humanity that gives data any chance of helping us at all.

People Are People

The problem is that we tend to assume that all data science is the same. It's not. As former Google and Foursquare data scientist Michael Li makes clear, data scientists either produce analytics for machines or humans, but generally not both. The two types of analysis require different skills.

Li suggests that the ideal characteristics of someone doing data science for humans include the ability to package analysis in a human-understandable format, with an emphasis on storytelling and articulation of "how" and "why." 

The same is true of developers: as much as they may want to live in the land of ones and zeroes, the reality is that they spend far more time with people:

Whether developers or data scientists or anyone else, then, the best people will be those that communicate well. 

It's therefore critical to find data scientists that speak the language of an organization, including its executives who are most likely to act on the data (or ignore it). Not surprisingly, it's far easier to find such people within the organization rather than scouring the planet for a cure-all data scientist fresh off Wall Street or elsewhere. 

The more familiar with a company's business, the more likely the data scientist will be able to ask the right questions and articulate the answers.

Start Small, Go Big

Often there isn't a single right person for the Big Data analytics job, but rather a team of people. As Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, highlights, a team approach may work best:

The smartest thing I’ve seen organizations start doing is seed-fund and empower small cross-functional data-oriented teams explicitly charged with delivering tangible and measurable data-driven benefits in relatively short periods of time. The accent is on the word team; the emphasis is on building greater data capability than better digital infrastructures. The goal is to make all of the organization—not just the geeks and quants—more conversant in how to align probability, statistics, technology and business value creation. 

While this team approach may not obviate the need for external hires, Schrage suggests that it lays a solid foundation for external data scientists to build upon. 

That foundation has become easier to build thanks to the cloud. As Matt Wood, Amazon Web Services' data science chief, told me in an interview, the cloud has led to an "exponential curve" of Big Data talent growth. By teaming up and experimenting with Big Data in a flexible environment, we're quickly building up data science expertise, usually in-house. 

All of which suggests that the right way to get moving on Big Data within your organization may be to spin up small projects in the cloud, and make sure they're staffed with a small, cross-disciplinary team within the organization. 

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

Amazon Doubles Down On The Connected Home

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 14:45



Amazon is quietly staffing up its Silicon Valley-based hardware lab as it gears up to create and test new connected home gadgets.

Lab126, the Amazon division behind hardware products like the Kindle Fire, will bring its full-time payroll to at least 3,757 in the next five years, Reuters reports in an exclusive story.

With this plan, detailed in an obscure government document, CEO Jeff Bezos’ plan to focus on hardware is affirmed. This despite lagging Kindle Fire sales and investors’ criticism of Amazon’s constant spending on long term pie-in-the-sky projects.

See also: Amazon Gets Serious About Hardware With 6 New Tablets

Anonymous sources told Reuters that Amazon will be investing $55 million into Lab126’s activities in an effort to prepare smart home devices to compete against Google and Apple.

Google, Apple, and now Amazon are all racing to create the ultimate platform for the Internet of things. In an era when dishwashers, refrigerators, and security systems have the potential to become self aware, technology companies all want to get in on the next big market.

The mobile phone industry has taught us that the device that ends up on top won’t only support the company’s products, but third party applications as well. As Amazon doubles down on the Internet of Things, it will need to work out a product that not only centralizes all the connected home devices, but streamlines the process better than anyone else.

Photo of Jeff Bezos by Steve Jurveston

Powering Up! Universities Get Serious About Women In Computer Science

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 14:30



When it comes to improving diversity in computer science programs at the university level, private liberal arts college Harvey Mudd College is leading the charge.

After successful initiatives boosted the number of women in its undergraduate computer science programs, the college is joining with the nonprofit Anita Borg Institute to expand its strategy to 15 universities around the U.S. and to track how well different tactics work out in the classroom.

The initiative—called Building Recruiting And Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID)— will work to increase the percentage of women and people of color in undergraduate computer science programs. Hillary Clinton was on hand to announce the initiative on Wednesday as part of a Clinton Global Initiative that supports programs for women and girls.

See Also: Why So Few Women Are Studying Computer Science

The group of 15 universities will receive $30,000 a year for three years to implement programs similar to the one that helped Harvey Mudd achieve 40% female enrollment in computer science classrooms. Facebook, Google, Intel and Microsoft have committed to funding the program.

Last month, I spoke with Colleen Lewis, an assistant professor of computer science at Harvey Mudd. She told me that efforts such as breaking up introduction to computer science courses into three different levels helped draw in more underrepresented students, many of whom didn't enter college with a lot of coding experience.

Participating universities will experiment with those and similar efforts, such as expanding outreach to high school teachers and students and developing joint majors between computer science and other programs like biology or engineering.

Measuring The Success

Over the course of three years, computer science departments will conduct research to study how effective these programs are in order to come up with a set of best practices for further expansion. Linda Sax, an education professor at UCLA, is leading the research.

“I would hope that, based on the research, we identity best practices in teaching, course structure, sequencing of computer science classes, and creating a community environment,” Sax told me in an interview. “Across these areas we’re hoping to identify what seems to be more effective.”

Sax will evaluate the university initiatives by interviewing students and faculty and measuring the changes in the classroom makeup. 

Questions might be: What are the teaching practices? What are the evaulation practices? How much interaction do students have with teaching assistants? Do the classes impact the students' goals of pursuing computer science? How do these self-perceptions or self-confidence change? 

Participating colleges include:

  • Arizona State University
  • Missouri University of Science & Technology
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • University of California – Irvine
  • University of Illinois – Chicago
  • University of Maryland – Baltimore County
  • University of Maryland – College Park
  • University of Nebraska
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Rochester
  • University of South Carolina
  • University of Texas – El Paso
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
  • Villanova University

Over the course of three years, BRAID researchers will take a look at feedback from interviews with students and faculty, as well as diversity data in the classroom, in order to devise a plan for other universities that want to expand participation in their computer science departments as well. 

For now, the funding only covers three years of research. If the program finds more funding, though, BRAID could eventually track computer science students throughout their careers to determine what impact the college experience had on their careers in technology.

Lead photo by Todd Kulesza

How To Host A Reddit AMA

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 13:00



Between hacked celebrity nude photos and an active men's rights community, there is one bright spot on Reddit that no bad press can dim: the Reddit AMA. Short for “Ask Me Anything,” it’s a popular Q&A format on the social website Reddit.

Everyone from President Obama and K-pop star Psy to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web took to thee AMA platform to answer audience questions. Reddit's huge community is the perfect hype machine for promoting a new movie, a product release, or a lagging political campaign.

See also: I Am A President — Obamamania Shuts Down Reddit

Redditors have been doing AMAs since at least May 2009, when a community called r/iAMA—as in "I am a"—was founded. The practice has caught on quickly in the last few years, with 6.154 million subscribers to the r/IAMA subreddit, what Reddit calls subcommunities on its service. Reddit recently capitalized on the AMA’s success with a new app specifically for viewing the /r/IAMA community.

However, the AMA format isn’t just for big shots. It’s for anyone with something to say that audiences want to hear. You don’t have to be the president to have a popular AMA; some of the top AMAs of all time (as voted by users) include a person who fought a bear and survived and a man with double the usual amount of genitalia.

See also: Ask Curiosity Anything: Mars Rover Takes Reddit Questions

“Some of our favorite AMAs have been by people whose interesting expertise or life experiences have made their AMAs absolutely captivating—from the vacuum cleaner repair technician to the dangerous spider handler, your stories are absolutely welcome on /r/IAMA,” Reddit spokesperson Victoria Taylor told ReadWrite.

Still, not all AMAs are created equal, and some are definitely more interesting and better attended than others. If you’re thinking of organizing an AMA for yourself or your company, here are some suggestions for making it a good one.

Organize With Moderators

It isn’t against the rules to show up unannounced for an AMA. But if you want the best experience possible, you’ll arrange it with the subreddit moderators in advance.

This will help you verify your AMA more quickly. Every person who submits an AMA is required to send proof to the moderators, whether they are claiming to be an employee of a particular company or even somebody with cancer. 

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovney's proof photo for <a href="">their AMA</a>.

Usually, proof takes the form of a tweet from the person's official Twitter account, which is already verified. Peter Dinklage recorded Reddit a video. The man with two penises took a picture—I'll let you guess what the photo was of. 

This may sound harsh, but back before proof was required, a supposed kid with cancer scammed a lot of redditors for money. Moderators first got suspicious when the AMA host, a 17-year-old, said he did not own a camera in any form. Soon, after the hoaxer posted a link to his music site with a request for donations, moderators took the entire thing down. Since then, dozens of AMAs have been proven to be fake, but it happens far less of the time now that proof is always required. 

As a result, redditors are wary of asking questions on an AMA thread that isn’t verified yet. If your AMA is not verified immediately, people may lose interest.

In some cases, moderators can also put your AMA on the calendar for people to look forward to. The general rule is that if there’s a Wikipedia page associated with your name, company’s name, book, etc., then it’s considered an AMA that’s noteworthy enough for the calendar.

Another benefit of letting the moderators know when you’re arriving is that one of them can budget time to keep an eye on your AMA for trolls and irrelevant questions. Only moderators have the power to delete questions or ban users, even if they’re derailing your AMA.

By the way, the moderators of r/IAMA aren’t the only administrators you could reach out to in advance. If you don’t think your story is general interest, you can also consider submitting it to the moderators of another subreddit aside from r/IAMA. Speaking personally, when I was promoting my book about anime, the more logical choice for my AMA was r/anime. Since there’s a subreddit for virtually every topic, there’s one for your interests, too.

Be Authentic

AMA questions answered in a genuine voice—versus a stiff facade—can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful AMA, Taylor said.

Bill Gates offering proof on Reddit.&nbsp;

Bill Gates peppered his AMA with goofy anecdotes and "dad jokes," kidding that people give him "free software" for his birthday every year. As one of the world's most powerful men, Gates has a reputation to protect. But by acting down to Earth, he well may have improved it. 

Redditors don’t want canned corporate answers, they want honesty and humor. So if your organization won’t let you be yourself, divulge details, and answer questions about whether you’d prefer to fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck and generally act like a human being, your AMA probably won’t go well.

It’s reasonable that companies are worried about answering the hardballs. However, recent AMAs have shown that tough questions can turn into opportunities. You’d think the Internet Explorer team would have had a hard time of it during their recent AMA, given the browser’s reputation. Instead, team members were open and frank about their problems.

"I remember a particularly long email thread where numerous people were passionately debating [the IE name]," Microsoft engineer Jonathan Sampson divulged. "Plenty of ideas get kicked around about how we can separate ourselves from negative perceptions that no longer reflect our product today.”

See also: Internet Explorer Struggles To Outrun Its Bad Reputation

The way Reddit works is that the questions the most people would like an answer to are upvoted to the top of the page. You should at least make an effort to answer the most popular questions, even if it surprises you to see what your audience is most interested in knowing.

Obviously, you shouldn’t answer downright hostile questions. And indeed, answering hostile questions poorly is going to do more harm than good. When a redditor linked Toronto City Council candidate Paul Alves to Rob Ford, Alves went off the deep end

"Slander, in it’s [sic] purest form. Do you happen to work for the [Alves opponent] Ana Bailao campaign? What’s your motive? You do know you can be identified by reddit account and slander is illegal, yes?"

Alves ended up deleting his Reddit account. His AMA, minus his own words, is still online.

Getting so riled up by your questioners that you threaten to sue them is always a bad idea. But an AMA where you reply to only the lightest of softballs won’t give an audience much reason to stick around.

Make Time

Reddit suggests putting aside 60 to 90 minutes for your AMA.

Benedict Cumberbatch's <a href="">proof photo</a>.&nbsp;

Don’t expect to be able to get anything else done in that time. Even if you’re not a celebrity, the r/IAMA community is enormous and you could get hundreds of questions in that window. One way to take the pressure off of yourself might be to write in the initial AMA prompt, “I will be here from X to X time, and do my best to answer everything I can!”

Even as questions start coming at you from all directions, you don’t want to rush. One word answers aren’t very helpful to your audience. Your AMA will be more popular with fewer longer, heartfelt answers than hundreds of short ones.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson engaged his AMA audience exceptionally well, and kept it going for several hours. Each time he answered a commenter's science question, Tyson tweeted the fact from his official Twitter account, simultaneously verifying his identity while drawing in an increasingly large number of audience members.

Remember, this is about engaging your audience, and maybe even growing it. Respond to people’s questions the way you like to be spoken to. Otherwise, Taylor suggests, maybe an AMA isn’t the right option for your brand.

“We encourage sharing long, in-depth answers—or at the very least, answers that defy people's expectations and that create a real conversation,” she said. “If a brand does want to engage, we recommend utilizing our dedicated brand space to launch content or supporting the community through advertising.”

The AMA can be a powerful tool for sharing your story, but it also has a very specific set of etiquette. Redditors don’t want to advertise for you, they want to talk to you. If you can’t work with moderators, be authentic, and make time, it doesn’t matter how important you are. 

Lead photo via the White House. All other photos via their respective Reddit AMAs.

How People Use Social Media For News

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:40



The news business is increasingly dependent on social media to reach an audience, and it's changed a great deal as a result—not always in good ways, either. That's what led the Pew Research Center to take a deeper look at how social platforms shape the way people get their news.

To no one's big surprise, Facebook is the big kahuna for driving traffic to news sites. According to the Pew study, almost half of U.S. adults that use Facebook—that is, roughly 30% of the general population—also find news there.

See also: Why We Self-Censor On Social Media

Entertainment and community news were the the most popular news subjects on Facebook, while topics like international news, science and technology, and business draw the least attention. Only 28% of people who obtain news on Facebook—and now we're down to a little more than eight percent of the overall population—use the social network to follow breaking news. (Facebook is trying hard to change that.)

Other highlights from the study:

  • Twitter users are more slightly more avid news readers than their Facebook counterparts. About one-sixth of the U.S. adult population uses Twitter, and half of those users find news there. 
  • Of the 50% of U.S. adults that use YouTube, 10% watch news there. 
  • Just three percent of U.S. adults use Reddit, but two-thirds of those users get news from the site.
  • Some 14% of social media users posted their own photos of news events.

Lead image by carterese

How To Roll Back iOS 8.0.1

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 08:46



Apple’s latest iOS 8.0.1 got you down? You’re not alone.

See also: iOS 8.0.1 Kills More Than It Cures, So Apple Pulled It 

The first update to the week-old iOS 8, Apple's new operating system for iPhones and iPads, ended up crippling cellular reception and the Touch ID fingerprint scanner for many users—primarily those with the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Apple yanked the update pending a fix.

In the meantime, you may be among those stuck with this dud of an update. But take heart: A few minutes with iTunes and you can revert your phone back to the previous version of iOS 8. Here's how.

Restoration Hardware, iPhone Style

Essentially, you'll be downloading and installing the old software, a process that will erase everything else on your device. That's why it's crucial to back up your phone first. This ensures you won’t lose stuff like messages, apps or settings.

In fact, the process is very similar to the way you'd downgrade your phone back to iOS 7. If for some reason you've decided iOS 8 just isn't for you at this moment, it might be time to check out our guide to downgrading. (It might not be possible for much longer, though, so you may want to hurry.)

 See also: How To Downgrade iOS 8 Back To iOS 7

For our purposes here, though, all you really want to do is get back the functionality iOS 8.0.1 slapped off your big new expensive Apple smartphone. Here's how: 

  1. Download the last official stable build of iOS 8, i.e. version 8.0.0, onto your desktop computer. Those show up as IPSW files, available for the iPhone 6 here and iPhone 6 Plus here. These are the official versions from Apple.
  2. Connect your iPhone to your computer using the USB/Lightning cable, and launch iTunes.
  3. On the iPhone page in iTunes, perform a backup by choosing “this computer” and tapping "Back Up Now." This saves your current iPhone data to your computer. Forget this step and you'll end up with a clean and empty, factory-fresh iDevice.
  4. Now use iTunes to restore. In the Windows version, you press and hold the Shift key while hitting “Restore.” Mac OS X users, do the same thing—just hold the Alt key instead of Shift as you choose “Restore.”
  5. In the window that pops up, pick the IPSW file for your specific device. Then follow the prompts. (If a nag warning tells you to shut off "Find my iPhone,” go to your iCloud settings and deactivate it for now.)
  6. Now tap "Restore backup," pick the iTunes backup you just made a few moments ago and let the program do the rest.

Voila! When you’re done, you should have an iPhone running iOS 8.0.0 with full cellular reception and Touch ID fingerprint scanning. And maybe, just maybe, a new wait-and-see approach whenever Apple sends out new software. 

Photo courtesy of Apple, adapted by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

Update: iOS developer Devran Ünal reached out to say that a full restore isn't even necessary. He states that simply getting the older iOS 8 files and choosing "Update" in iTunes instead should do the job. 

If this doesn't work for you, and performing a restore doesn't help, you have one more option: putting your device into recovery mode. Apple outlines the steps for that here

Let us know which method works for you in the comments below. (Thanks, @maccosmo!)

Apple's Touch ID Fingerprint Scanner Is Still Hackable, But Don’t Panic

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 19:24



For the second time in two iPhone releases, mobile-security firm Lookout has tested and bested the security of Touch ID.

Touch ID lets users unlock the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus just by putting their fingerprint over a sensor on the home button. By requiring a fingerprint to unlock the device and make purchases within the App Store, with Apple Pay, or through third-party developers, Apple is trying to make your data and information more secure.

So what happens if it’s hacked?

Lookout’s principal security researcher Marc Rogers hacked Touch ID on the 5S last year, and now he's done it again. Through a CSI-like process, he was able to unlock an iPhone 6 using a fake fingerprint made of glue.

With such a fingerprint facsimile in hand, an attacker could theoretically take over someone’s iPhone to make purchases or steal the owner's photographs, email, texts or other personal information. It sounds like a plot from a prime-time crime drama—and so it’s probably only a matter of time until iPhone fingerprint hacks hit the big screen.

While the thought of someone accessing your phone with a copied fingerprint might make you uncomfortable, don’t worry. Accessing a device the way Rogers did takes significant skill, time and effort. And, as we reported last year, a malicious attacker can’t use a finger that’s, well, detached from your body.

Rogers says consumers shouldn’t worry too much about the potential for duping the system.

“I don’t see this to be a risk to consumers in any way because I don’t think criminals are sophisticated enough,” Rogers said in an email interview. “It is difficult to make these fingerprints—think of Touch ID as being the equivalent of a door lock. It's there to stop the average criminal from getting access, or in the case of Touch ID, claiming they are you.”

Not only does a potential hacker need a clear print from their target that can be lifted by using super glue fumes and fingerprint powder, they will also have to get access to lab equipment to photograph, print, and then cast the fingerprint using chemicals and smearing it with glue. Unless you have access to a crime laboratory, the equipment is prohibitively expensive.

Through the experiment, Rogers discovered that there’s virtually no measurable improvement in the fingerprint sensors between the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 6, except that he got fewer “false negatives,” on the iPhone 6, meaning the reading was clearer.

Even though Rogers is impressed with the technology, he says Apple could do more to keep devices secure. Some improvements, he says, could include limits on the number of unlocking attempts a device will allow, a fallback to a passcode when the device hasn’t been used for a specific amount of time, and “best practices” suggested by Apple which may include using different fingers for different authentication.

“I was hoping to see improvements in the Touch ID sensor that show Apple is working to come up with a solution that cannot be fooled as easily,” he said. “However, while I can't say Apple isn't working on this, I don't see any significant signs of improvement in this version despite the fact that it is now going to be used for payments.”

Lead photo by Selena Larson for ReadWrite; iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S image courtesy of Lookout

Wink Relay Makes Walls Smarter With New Touchscreen Panel

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:49


This sci-fi wall panel has nothing on Wink's new Relay wall console.

ReadWriteHome is an ongoing series exploring the implications of living in connected homes.

Wink has been busy. After having introduced its wallet-friendly Hub a few months ago, the smart-home upstart backed by Quirky and GE already has another new offering: a touchscreen wall console called Wink Relay.

This futuristic beauty looks way better than the dingy wall-mounted panel Bruce Willis had to contend with in The Fifth Element, and it's smarter too. Relay acts like mission control for your Wink-powered smart home. It's sort of like having another smartphone clinging to your plaster, one that just runs the Wink mobile app. That's all it needs. 

The wall panel’s 4.3-inch multi-touch display features big finger-friendly icons that let users trigger tasks or switch modes. From here, you can activate lights and kick on the heater at night or open blinds and turn on the AC during the day. 

Why not just use the Wink app on your smartphone? Relay offers one more point of access to Wink’s bevy of smart-home products—one you don't have to track down or keep charged. Plus, it offers nifty extras like programmable hardware buttons and sensors that can detect your proximity, ambient temperature and humidity. Plans are in the works to integrate a speaker and microphone, to turn the wall panel into a full-blown intercom too.

Best part: You can set it up yourself, no technician needed (though Wink recommends professional installation, which makes sense if you're afraid to touch your home's wiring). The included adaptor locks onto standard light switch panels, making installation a breeze. Preorders open today for $300, available on Amazon, and will be offered from The Home Depot's website as well. Wink plans to ship the Relay by Thanksgiving.

In related news, Wink also issued an update for its mobile app and announced it will work with products from Google's Nest Labs, as well as devices from other smart home device makers Gilmour and Linear. In total, Team Wink encompasses nearly 20 companies, covering about 100 devices. 

The Fifth Element screenshot from YouTube video by MovieClips

NoSQL Databases Are Going Mainstream—They Actually Have Paying Customers

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 17:47



NoSQL, the newish alternative to traditional relational databases, is a big deal, but it can also be a big mess: there are more than 100 different NoSQL databases, and several different kinds ranging from document to key-value to columnar to graph databases. Even more confusingly, relational databases are now cross-dressing as NoSQL databases, adding support for JSON, among other things.

And yet enterprises are navigating the potential pitfalls and embracing NoSQL in droves. Today Redis Labs, the company behind the popular in-memory, key-value NoSQL database Redis, announced that it has hit 3,000 paying customers. 

See also: When NoSQL Databases Are Good For You And Your Company

This number would be impressive for any company, but it's particularly noteworthy for a company that has to compete with rivals who are also selling Redis.

The Redis Phenomenon

Most people tend to think of Redis as a close cousin to Memcached, an open-source memory-caching system often used to speed up data-intensive websites by limiting the number of database calls. That's true up to a point, although it doesn't do Redis justice.

Redis also offers "built-in persistence (snapshotting or journaling to disk) and more datatypes," which, among other things, means "you can use Redis as a real database instead of just a volatile cache," as Carl Zulauf described on Stack Overflow.

I interviewed Redis Labs co-founder and CEO Ofer Bengal this week, and he stressed that while Redis Labs is still early in its market adoption, "we are starting to also see enterprises adopt us." That's in addition to the early adopter Web companies and startups that have been its staple to date. 

Based on Leo Polovets' analysis of AngelList data, Redis is one of the hottest database technologies around:

Credit: Leo Povolets

It is not, however, always easy to use—or, rather, to overcome the operational limitations Redis presents to those trying to run it in the cloud. Redis Labs built a proxy-based architecture that overcomes Redis limitations and makes it easier for companies to have a good experience running Redis at scale.

Redis Finds Its Customer Niche

While Redis is still a rounding error compared to MySQL or even PostgreSQL, its relative growth is off-the-charts, measured in terms of jobs:

Source: Indeed

Regardless, Redis isn't growing at the expense of relational database systems, Bengal told me. Instead, it's enabling a whole new class of high-performance applications:

Redis is a bit different from other NoSQL systems in that it is served from RAM. RAM is much more expensive than disk, so Redis isn’t used as a replacement for other databases but people instead use it for net new use cases, architected for Redis. We have users that base their entire application on Redis.

Early on, Bengal said, the company saw Redis used side-by-side with Cassandra and other databases. "But now we’re seeing entire applications built on Redis," he said. "Not the majority, but it’s a nice trend."

So far, that trend is mostly playing out in a few particularly industries. Bengal said Redis Labs' 3,000 customers are largely concentrated in gaming, online advertising and financial services. The common thread connecting them? Speed. As he noted, "Most use cases have to do with high performance, given that Redis is the fastest database today." 

Learning Redis

Unlike most open source companies, Redis Labs doesn't provide consulting services. Frankly, it hasn't needed to, given the active Redis community

Nor has it needed to roll out training, though Bengal told me that the company expects to do this soon. As he says:

Redis has very attractive data types and commands that are very useful in almost any application. So developers really love Redis. It’s not very complex so people are doing OK with it without formal training.

Fortunately for Bengal, however, 3,000 companies feel the need to make Redis even easier by running Redis Labs' cloud services. 

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

This Business Suit Onesie Is Ingenious Laziness In Clothing Form

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 17:03



Silicon Valley Street Style is a weekly feature that looks at the intersection of fashion, technology and taste.

The business suit onesie is here, guys! Finally!

Clearly we’ve all been waiting for the day when Betabrand would unleash the perfect onesie to make it look like wearers put in the tireless effort to create an outfit. 

The Suitsy looks like a white button-up, jacket, and trousers, but none of these pieces of clothing are separate items—the Suitsy is actually a comfortable onesie made to look like a business outfit. 

The Suitsy is a protoype clothing piece created by San Francisco gentleman Jesse Herzog. 

In the description of the onesie Herzog writes, “Welcome to a revolution in apparel for the modern gentleman. Imagine looking professional but feeling like you're in pajamas.”

Betabrand, an online apparel store, allows mock-ups of potential clothing pieces wherein customers vote and comment on each entry. The winning piece then gets crowdfunded and turned into a real Betabrand product. 

See also: Does Silicon Valley Look Like "Silicon Valley"? 

Some people critique Silicon Valley’s love for casual dress. Startup t-shirts, hoodies, sneakers and backpacks certainly infest the Bay’s tech scene. Does this mean that Suitsy would be the perfect must-have item for Silicon Valley’s comfort-loving demographic? 

As of this post, the Suitsy stands at more than one thousand votes, with 23 days left to vote. That's one thousand people who either want to wear a business suit onesie, or see the Suitsy on somebody they love. One of these people may show up to your workplace in a Suitsy. He (or she) could even be one of your friends, or your family. And you may never know. 

Frankly, the Suitsy is sartorial fabrication. It is a one-piece masquerading as time, effort and style. Some might consider this a miracle—Betabrand customers on the Suitsy voting page are already praising the clothing piece. 

“So you are saying I can go to sleep in what feels like pajamas, wake up and not have to change to go to work? Genius,” says commenter Eric Tao. 

See also: Normcore Nerds Flock to Gingham Shirts

Another commenter, Susan Delly, says, “If reasonably priced, I'd get this for several of the guy gifts on my Christmas list!”

Of course, every seemingly miraculous product must have its drawbacks. Here are some concerns that I have: 

  • What about when your partner is cold and you sheepishly can’t offer your jacket because it is literally attached to every other item of clothing on your body and to take it off would mean you’d be naked? 
  • What if you’re out on a really hot day and you’re just sitting there sweating bullets and everyone is looking at you funny because you refuse to take off your jacket because you and only you know that there is actually nothing underneath the jacket? See: above.
  • What if you decide to engage in some spontaneous bedroom time? You’re just going to strip that business onesie right on down in front of someone you’re trying to impress? Just throw the Suitsy on a chair like some sort of hollowed-out animal carcass? 
  • Can you imagine the aftermath of actually stepping back into the Suitsy and zipping it back up? 

I just want to know how realistic navigating your life in a Suitsy would be, and what living life in public in a comfy onesie might look like. 

Don’t get me wrong—working in a fluffy pajama onesie sounds pretty wonderful right now. 

But I actually would respect the person brazen enough to publicly wear the sleeping onesie more than the person zipping up the business suit onesie pretending that they’re putting on something more than just full body sweats. 

Something about the Suitsy just feels wrong to me. It might be the deception.

Images and video courtesy of Betabrand, Flickr user Vicki Burton 

Polaroid Cube: The Cutest Action Camera Yet

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 15:31



If a mobile camera app icon manifested into a physical product, it would be the new Polaroid Cube. And judging by the looks of this wee little box, the action camera might just win over plenty of hearts, helmets and handlebars.

The Cube, which starts shipping next month, offers 1080p video recording and a retro-fabulous aesthetic for a price tag of $99. That’s half the price of a base model GoPro, the leading brand that defines this category.

Polaroid seems to have the makings of a mainstream hit. That’s no accident. The company hired design house Ammunition to mastermind the Cube, and says Robert Brunner, Ammunition’s founder and partner, the mission was clear: Take a device with decent technical chops and turn it into a fun, clever product that people would want.

That’s not easy to do in a niche owned by GoPro and fleshed out with others, including cheaper knock-offs and also-rans. But Ammunition and its client have one thing that the others don’t: nostalgia. And they’re milking it for all it’s worth.

Photographic Charm, Cubed

An elder statesman in consumer photography, Polaroid scored major retail hits with instant film cameras dating back to the 1940s. But the aging brand couldn’t overcome the onslaught of digital cameras that would later arrive, leading the company to go bankrupt not once, but twice—in 2001 and again in 2008. And yet, the camera maker managed to survive. Now it appears to be pinning its hopes on one itty bitty device. 

First introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show as the Polaroid C3, the Cube now readies itself for its public debut in October. I got a chance to take a look at this action camera, and one thing became clear to me: This is no GoPro.

In fact, anyone expecting a fierce competitor to that high-octane camcorder will be disappointed. Apart from high-resolution video capture, at 720p or 1080p, the rest of the hardware specifications are rather mediocre: 6 MP sensor for still photos, support for 32GB microSD cards, 90-minute battery life, 124-degree wide angle lens and an (optional) waterproof case up to 10M. GoPro tops them all.

See also: Roku TV Disrupts Nothing, Which May Make It The Smartest Smart TV Yet

But that may be an unfair comparison. The Cube isn’t targeting the adrenaline junkies or extreme athletes served by GoPro, Mobius and other competitors. 

“Other cameras in the action space come from an extreme sport perspective, but for a lot of people, that can feel intimidating,” said Brunner. “We felt this product needed to be more accessible.” Think bike rides and snorkeling, not high-elevation mountain biking and cliff diving. For those scenarios, the specs will probably suffice for most people. 

The relatively affordable $99 price helps make the case. So does ease of use. To make things even easier, the Cube—which also features a LED light and microphone—offers a single button on top that turns it off and on, and acts as a shutter. On the bottom, a built-in magnet lets users attach it easily to lockers, bike handlebars and other metals. Extra mounts, like a helmet attachment, are also available.

My favorite is the monkey mount. I have no idea what this item is for, and I don’t really care. I just know that I want it.

Cute, Clever And Easy On The Eyes

If the price, specs and ease of use don’t attract interest, the camera’s looks probably will.

The square camera measures a mere 35mm size, which is practically an inside joke for people who remember 35mm film. According to Ammunition’s Brunner, “the challenge was to create a small product with clever branding, [that’s] iconic enough that it is instantly recognizable as a Polaroid camera.”

The fun, laid-back approach to design eschews the bland, no-nonsense design of GoPro and others of its ilk, opting instead for a grippy, rubberized shell decked out with Polaroid’s signature rainbow stripes.

Does that seem familiar? It should. It’s a common app icon theme that smartphone photographers are already acquainted with. 

Those spoiled by the advanced features of their smartphone cameras will find one major omission here, though: wireless connectivity. There’s no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi support in that teeny box—which means there’s no remote shutter to snap photos, and users can only download pics and videos by connecting it via USB to their computers.

See also: Why Machine Vision Is On Track To Surpass Human Sight

Somehow, though, the lack of connectivity could be passed off as a quirk—a throwback to yesteryear that actually fits with the Cube’s retro persona. Plus, if some would-be customers really want wireless features in a Polaroid that looks like a smartphone app, the company won’t necessarily lose business. Its long-awaited Instagram-styled, sharing-oriented Socialmatic camera should be ready early next year. 

As for the Polaroid Cube, it arrives in October, which is plenty of time for the holiday season. And could you imagine a more charming stocking stuffer than this?

For more information, check out the Polaroid Cube product page online or play the company’s summer promo video, below. 

Product shots courtesy of Ammunition. All others by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

Apple: iOS 8 Update Downloaded By Nearly 50% Of Users

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 14:03



Slowly but surely iPhone users are updating to iOS 8, Apple reports.

The technology company has added a new pie graph to its App Store Distribution page for developers, which notes that 46% of users have upgraded to iOS 8. Meanwhile, 49% of users continue to use iOS 7 and 5% are still using even earlier versions.

Earlier this week, multiple usage trackers determined that iOS 8 adoption was off to a slower start than iOS 7. One possible reason might be that, in order to upgrade, iPhone users need to free up 5 GB of space to fit this latest upgrade, which wasn’t the case with iOS 7.

See also: How To Upgrade To iOS 8

Acquiring less than half of the userbase in a week may sound like a loss for Apple. However, history tells us that it’s quite good. KitKat, the latest Android update, took a whopping 9 months to reach 40% market share.

iOS 8 was released last Tuesday with a number of new features, but not everybody is impressed, as some users are already trying to downgrade to iOS 7.

Screenshots via Apple

Heroku 101: A Beginner's Guide To Hosting Apps In The Cloud

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 13:21



Apps are big business. Everyone is using them for games, messaging, and information. Some people are even making their own.

Small businesses and amateur programmers might be interested in getting into the app game, too. There are plenty of tutorials online for building an app. The hard part is figuring out what to do once the app has been built. How do you get it to people?

See also: How To Build A WinJS App In 10 Easy Steps

If you've built a Web app—that is, a self-contained program designed to run in Web browsers, as opposed to the kind of app you might download from an app store—then it needs a home on the Web. Specifically, it needs a Web address so people can find it, storage for the app's code and associated data and background support to ensure that traffic spikes won't knock it offline.

That’s where Heroku comes in. Heroku is a service that simplifies the process of getting your finished app to your potential users—in just a couple of clicks.

What Is Heroku?

According to Orion Henry, one of the three cofounders, “Heroku” is a nonsense word comprised of “hero” and “haiku.” The founders’ reason for a Japanese-sounding name is a node to Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto, the inventor of the Ruby programming language.

Founded in June 2007, Heroku predates most of the buzzword-laden phrases we now use to describe it. “It’s a PaaS [Platform as a Service].” “It lets you deploy apps from the cloud!”

In plain English, Heroku gives apps a place to live on the Internet. Much the way a website host puts your site up on the Web and keeps it running using its own servers, Heroku puts an app you've developed on the Internet for others to use. With a few clicks you can "deploy" your app, thus making it possible for others to find and load into their browsers the same way they'd load a Web site.

There are, of course, alternatives to Heroku. Appfog and Dotcloud are comparable services. However, they are much younger than Heroku, the granddaddy of online app hosting, and have had a lot less time to cement their reputations.

It's also possible to host apps on big cloud services like Amazon Web Services or a Web hosting service like DreamHost, although it's far more complicated to do so. And they charge a lot even for that level of service.

Since Heroku’s identity is so firmly entrenched in app deployment, I originally mistook it for a platform where developers could also build their apps. However, while you can easily test your applications with Heroku, it’s not designed to help you build them from scratch.

Who Uses Heroku And Why?

Some of Heroku’s most well known clients include Asics and Miley Cyrus. But companies of all sizes—and no small amount of independent developers—use it, too.

Sure, you can host your own website by running a networked server to, well, “serve” it out of your home or office. But it’s a lot of responsibility, and that’s why a lot of companies entrust this to outside hosting services. And as it turns out, hosting an app—which can be subject to occasional surges of user interest—is a lot more strenuous than website hosting can be. When the inevitable downtime happens, you have to deal with it yourself, rather than just check Heroku Status.

In fact, if you build your own infrastructure around an app, you’ll be lucky if you can do it in fewer than three days. And if things go wrong, you’re on your own. By contrast, Heroku allows you to deploy quickly, forget about the infrastructure, and just focus on improving your app.

Heroku is also great for beginners since its free tier of service covers everything newbies need. You can deploy as many apps as you like on Heroku, so long as they're not too large (in terms of the associated data you're hosting) and you don’t mind the possibility that Heroku might randomly take them offline for what it calls "unscheduled downtime."

I'm currently hosting five different apps on Heroku—all Twitter bots—and they only become active about once an hour when they attempt to send a tweet to Twitter. The rest of the time, I don’t care if they’re down.

See also: Five Steps To Build Your Own Random Non-Sequitur Twitter Bot

Scale is another major reasons people use Heroku. What if your modest app suddenly goes viral? Heroku will automatically devote extra servers to keep it from crumbling under the pressure. When Chris Whong, a civic hacker, suddenly saw his data visualization app of New York taxi drivers make the front page of Hacker News, Heroku adjusted it to support a flood of new users.

How Heroku Works

When you create an app on Heroku, it deploys to the Cedar Stack, an online runtime environment that supports apps built in Java, Node.js, Scala, Clojure, Python and PHP—all the programming languages that Heroku supports.

The current version of the Cedar Stack is Celadon Cedar. It supports hundreds of thousands of developer apps. When you deploy a new app, Heroku assigns it a unique name based on a natural theme, like “calm-springs3345” or “desolate-cliffs1221.”

My many apps, labeled with nature-inspired names for the Cedar stack

When it comes to your app, think of Heroku as home to a vast array of virtual computers, or "instances," that can be powered up and down. Heroku calls these instances dynos; these are lightweight containers that each run a single command for your app. In my experience as a beginner building apps that only perform one action, I’ve never had more than one dyno per app.

It turns out that a lot of apps require the same actions. Heroku keeps developers from reinventing the wheel with the Addon Store, which provides actions you can assign to dynos for free or, sometimes, a fee. I am using a free addon called Heroku Scheduler, which prompts my apps to become active once every hour.

For a more high level explanation, here’s an overview of Heroku’s architecture.

Heroku And Git

One of the reasons Heroku is easy for people to use is that it relies on a widely used revision control system—that is, a way of managing the program code for your app—called Git. If you’re not already familiar with Git, you might want to review ReadWrite’s beginner tutorial for Git and GitHub.

See also: GitHub For Beginners—Don't Get Scared, Get Started

In fact, you can’t deploy an app on Heroku unless you are using Git to manage your app clode. The “push” command, “Heroku push master,” is what you input on the command line to send the app from your repository to the cloud. That’s why Heroku is considered a “one click” deploy.

See also: See What The Code Behind An App Does With Just One Click

The "Deploy to Heroku" button on GitHub in Heroku's signature purple&nbsp;

It’s not just your own Heroku app that Git makes simple, but any finished app you might encounter on GitHub. Earlier this year, Heroku and GitHub teamed up to create a one click deploy button for repositories on GitHub. So if you see an app you’re interested in learning more about, you can click the deploy button and try it for yourself on Heroku.

Signing Up For Heroku

Interested in trying Heroku out for yourself? Signing up is easy, with one caveat.

To create your Heroku account, all you need is an email and password. But if you want to do anything with your Heroku-hosted app, like take advantage of one of the many useful free addons, you need to put in a credit card number. Heroku says it’s for account verification. Though it obviously makes it easier for Heroku to tempt you with paid services as well.

If all you want to do with your Heroku account is test other people’s apps using the GitHub one-click-deploy button, you can stop here. But if you want to deploy your own apps from your desktop, you’ll also want to install the Heroku Toolbelt.

Heroku Toolbelt is a resource that bundles three tools: Heroku client, a command line interface tool for creating and managing Heroku apps; Foreman, which lets you run your apps locally; and Git, which we already know allows you to push apps to the Heroku stack.

With Heroku Toolbelt, you can easily create, manage, test, and deploy apps from your PC.

Learning More About Heroku

If you learn by watching videos, Code School might be your best bet. Watch instructor Jay McGavren deploy a Ruby on Rails app with Heroku.

If you prefer written instructions, you can use my tutorial for deploying an app built with Python and Ruby. Or Dave Winer’s straight-to-the-point Node.js app walkthrough.

But ultimately, the best place to learn about using Heroku is the service's own Heroku Dev Center. Choose one of the Get Started Guides according to your preferred programming language. Though Heroku can get extremely high level, a refreshing amount of its development center resources are dedicated to people who want to learn new skills.

Heroku is just one way to host your apps online, albeit a particularly established and popular one. Hopefully this article helps you make an informed decision about which service is best for your app.

Lead image courtesy of Heroku

Think iOS 8 Crashes A Lot? You’re Not Imagining Things

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 11:53



Stability, thy name is not iOS 8.

According to a report by mobile app performance management firm Crittercism, titled "Mobile Experience Benchmark Report: Apple Edition," iOS 8 foists more crashes on users than iOS 7. 

The company found the new iPhone software has a crash rate of 3.6%, while the older version throws in the towel less often, at just 2%. (Crittercism measures the crash rate as the percentage of app launches that result in a crash.)

There are two ways to look at that: On one hand, the difference between the actual two numbers doesn’t look like much. Then again, you could also say that iOS 8 crashes 78% more frequently than its predecessor, which sounds like an awful lot. The latter, unsurprisingly, tends to be the version fueling this headline as it rampages across the Web. 

Courtesy of Crittercism

Either way, the news gets worse the further you drill into the details. iOS 8 crashes apparently haven’t slowed since the update launched last week; they’ve actually grown steadily, says the company, which came to the conclusion after analyzing data from its 1 billion users. 

See also: Five Common iOS 8 Complaints And How To Fix Them 

iPhone users still clinging to their older, smaller devices seem to have it the worst of all. While the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have crash rates of 2.6% and 2.1%, respectively, older iPhones (the 5S and earlier) crash at a rate of 3.6%. Companies tend to optimize their latest software for their newest, most powerful devices, so that’s not exactly shocking. Indeed, owners of the iPhone 4S—the oldest phone capable of running iOS 8—probably have the worst time of all.

Old hardware that can’t handle demanding new software may be only part of the problem. Old, buggy mobile apps that haven’t been optimized for iOS 8 could be another. And iOS 8 could simply still have a lot of bugs in it, one or more of which might be contributing to these crashes.

Those last two factors will likely improve over time. But there’s no cure for old hardware. If you own one of those phones and you don't want to risk being stuck with a crash-prone setup, the best thing to do might be to downgrade back to iOS 7 (and fast!) or get a new handset.

Lead photo by Mike Licht

Clinkle Confirms Its Massive Failure To Reinvent Payments

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 10:47


Clinkle homepage

After more than a year of buzz, Clinkle finally unveiled its first product Tuesday with a quiet launch on its website. 

It's a prepaid Visa card.

And an app.

You read that right.

What happened to Clinkle's rumored (but plausible) idea of using high-frequency transmissions to communicate with payment terminals? Missing in action. 

See also: Here's A Heavy Dose Of Reality For New Payments Startup Clinkle

What on earth were Clinkle's engineers working on during their recent hackathon? We have no idea, but it sure doesn't show in this product.

It's not an Apple Pay killer. It's not a Square killer. It's not even a Google Wallet killer. It may well, however, be a Clinkle killer.

It's at best—if you're feeling really generous—a competitor to American Express's Serve card, minus the customer support, brand, trust, and marketing power. Or Visa Buxx—remember Visa Buxx?

Clinkle pairs its extremely standard prepaid debit card with a goofy, gamified app, which lets you earn rewards and share them with friends.

Clinkle also manages a whopper of a lie on its homepage, claiming that "we're not into fees." In very fine print underneath, Clinkle discloses that it does in fact charge fees for loading money onto Clinkle cards via credit or debit cards.

Oh, and if you decide that Clinkle is far from the revolutionary payment product we were promised a year ago, and want to close your account and get your money back? That will be $20, please.

A small price to pay for closing the chapter on this ignominious failure to innovate in payments.

Lead image courtesy of Clinkle

iPhone 6 Problems: Not Safe For Your Pants Pocket—Or Your Microwave

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 10:03



There are worse things in life than a free U2 album automatically installed in your iTunes library. And now that new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners have had some time, we get to hear exactly what those worse things are. 

See also: You, Too, May Want To Delete That U2 Album From iTunes

Thumbs strained! iPhones microwaved! Apple phablets wilting under the strain of wedding attendance! Never mind the iOS 8 changes that troll our resistance to change or your inability to carry on now that Camera Roll is gone. Here are some very real and ridiculous iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus problems worth complaining about. 

Will It Bend? (It Might!)

One thing SquareTrade apparently overlooked in its iPhone durability tests was to place an iPhone 6 Plus in a wedding attendee's front pants pocket for 18 hours of driving, dancing, dining and otherwise celebrating nuptials in the typical way. But for the MacRumors forum commenter who claimed to have inadvertently put his new iPhone through such an endurance test, the results were not so celebratory:

As I lay it on the coffee table and sat down on the couch to relax from the drive (yes, sitting again ), I saw the reflection of the window in the iPhones slightly distorted.

As MacRumors' Kelly Hodgkins points out, the larger-yet-thinner smart phones get, the greater the pocket storage risk. "Unlike smaller phones that can slide out of the way, pressure points from sitting or bending now have greater potential to cause the longer iPhone to flex in a way that will damage the device," Hodgkins writes. 

The solution? Don't sit down with a ginormous iPhone in your pants pocket, unless it's encased in something as rigid as your resolve not to be careful. 

Operating Outside The "Thumb Zone"

Big mitts are no longer immune to the thumb strain common to smartphone users cursed with delicate hands. "Thanks to the larger new iPhone 6 Plus, some men are now experiencing the smartphone 'thumb stretch' that has plagued women (and their generally smaller hands) for a while," observes's Julianne Pepitone, who illustrates her point with some choice quotes from a variety of male sources. 

Indeed, all iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners are in for stretching, as illustrated in a "thumb zone" heat map by Quartz designer Scott Hurff, using data from mobile interface expert Steven Hoober:

As Hurff observes, iPhone screens may be getting bigger, but our thumbs stay pretty much the same. The best way to avoid the owies, it seems, is switching up how you hold your iDevice—which, Hoober observed, people pretty much do anyway.

Not Microwave Safe

Whether or not people are falling for an iOS 8-themed prank executed over the weekend by those scamps from 4chan is unverified. Then again, owning a smartphone doesn't make you smart by proxy. 

Since the faux Apple graphics encouraging iPhone users to try charging their smartphones in the microwave appear far more authentic than photos of that three-breasted woman in Tampa plenty of people want to believe is real, let's be clear on two things:

  1. With or without an iOS update, you cannot charge your iPhone in a microwave.
  2. Since everyone's mama—with the exception of Paris Hilton's—taught their kids that metal and microwaves don't mix, those #AppleWave photos and videos of allegedly microwaved iPhone 6es circulating on social media are likely not real either. 

As Lisa Vaas of Sophos writes:

I'm very suspicious of whether the photos going 'round the Twittersphere as purported evidence of the con's effectiveness aren't in fact borrowed from the video Mr. Toasty iPhone 5 posted two years ago.

Lead image screencapped from Microwaving My New IPHONE5

Will Google Drop Big Money On These YouTube Stars?

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 17:53



From teen fashion gurus to tipsy chefs, bedroom video blogs may be coming to an end for some of YouTube's biggest stars. The Google-owned video site announced it'll soon start paying the production bills for new content. 

"We’ve decided to fund new content from some of our top creators, helping them not only fulfill their creative ambitions but also deliver new material to their millions of fans on YouTube," Alex Carlos, YouTube's head of original content, said last week. 

See also: YouTube Is Chasing Hollywood—But It Should Worry About Its Homegrown Stars

YouTube clearly has a lot of confidence in its homegrown stars, which is smart, considering the millions of impressionable, fanatic teen loyalists who support their favorite vlogger's every move. Where the YouTube celebs go, their fans will follow. And with Google money behind the campaign to create Hollywood-level content, these small screen stars have a real chance for mainstream success.

While we don't know for sure which stars are about to get a big boost in financing, here’s who ReadWrite predicts will be getting a YouTube-funded show in the near future.  

See also: YouTube Wants To Be More Than Just "Internet Famous"—Here's How

More Than A Fashion Queen: Bethany Mota

Nobody on YouTube is having it better right now than Bethany Mota. The 17-year-old, whose road to tween fame on the glory of "haul" videos where she shows off her fashion purchases, has more than 7 million subscribers on her channel.  

Mota's sparkly personality, good looks and massive following make her a natural for the retail industry, so much so she now has her very own Aeropostale fashion line. She's the cover model on Seventeen magazine's first-ever YouTube-dedicated issue, on stands in October. And there's already so much push behind Mota, she's the youth-oriented  contestant on this season's Dancing With The Stars on ABC. 

YouTube's Justin Timberlake: Connor Franta 

He isn't a singer, persee, but nonetheless, fangirls and fanboys are obsessed with Connor Franta, whose channel is three-million subscribers strong.  The vlogger, who's known for his standard YouTube comedy commentary, used to be part of YouTube's boyband-that's-not-a-band, Our2ndLife.

Franta departed that boy comedy collective, but he continues to expand his performances and and collaborate with other high-profile YouTube stars. With his boy band good looks and big personality, Franta is like  N'sync's Justin Timberlake...and just like Justin, he's about to make it big. 

Drunk Recipe For Success: Hannah Hart

Comedian Hannah Hart hit the heights of YouTube popularity via her series "My Drunk Kitchen," a cooking show hosted by the inebriated Hart. Her very first video, “Butter Yo S - - t,” hit 100,000 video days after it was first posted in March 2011 and its been gravy ever since. She's so popular, British chef Jamie Oliver appeared on one episode. 

With more than 1.5 million subscribers, Hart recently hosted online video awards show the Streamy Awards, where she won for best comedy video. Other projects include her first feature film, Camp Takota, released in February, which created with YouTube friends Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart. Hart has both the fan following and the funny to make it in mainstream media. 

How To Take Over YouTube: Tyler Oakley 

LGBT youth advocate and "professional fangirl" Tyler Oakley boasts 5.5 million subscribers on his channel, which features humorous vlogs, collaborations, a slew of hosting gigs and his "How To Take Over" travel videos. Oakley also co-hosts PopSugar's online pop culture update "Top That!" with Becca Frucht. 

With more than three million Twitter followers, Oakley recently won 2014's Teen Choice Award for Choice Web Star: Male and Choice Web Collaboration. He also took home two Streamy online video awards this year, Entertainer of the Year and Activist Icon of The Year.  

We wouldn't be surprised to see Oakley getting his own YouTube-funded interview series. He's already turned the mic on big names like One Direction and Michelle Obama

Lead photo by Gage Skidmore.

How Apple Can Surge In China Yet Lose 30% Of The Market To Android

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 16:52



My iPhone 6 arrived last week. Perhaps yours did, too. But we’re increasingly the exceptions, not the rule. The rule? That’s Android, and it’s becoming clearer every day.

No, not in Western markets like the United States. But as much as we like to think we’re the center of the universe, Google just demonstrated that it knows how to compete where volumes are massively high but margins are vanishingly low. With a $105 high-end smartphone launched recently in India, Google just set the standard for what it takes to compete.

An Expensive Luxury?

Apple’s problem, as mobile strategist Curtis Prins points out, is that it’s cool with the rich kids, and rich-kid markets are heavily saturated. Google, by contrast, expects to sell two million smartphones in India by the end of 2014 at price points that Apple refuses to match.

Prins elaborates:

In Apple’s primary market—the US—it controls 42% of smartphone sales. That’s a problem because the US is saturated with smartphones—roughly 75% of Americans own one. Most developed economies have similar ownership levels. When you factor in that growth within the high-end smartphone market—their sweet spot—has plateaued, Apple should be exploring new markets.

Instead of adapting to price sensitivities within emerging markets, Apple’s iPhone 6 starts at $649 (without contract) and tops out at $949. That's an impossible purchase when the average household income in India is just US$7,700.

Again, this may not be a problem for you. Or for me. I signed up for AT&T’s Next plan, which lets me buy my iPhone on an installment plan of sorts. I pay $30 or so each month and in return get a $949 phone. It’s a decent way for Apple to keep charging comparatively rich people for premium products, but it’s a bad strategy globally.

The easy counterargument is China, which has seemed to be a strong market for Apple (and where Google is effectively blocked from erecting its Internet toll booth). Apple CEO Tim Cook tackled the Android market share story for China head-on:

When you really back up and look at what’s happening in China the usage numbers are staggering. Fifty-seven percent of the mobile browsing in China is done on iOS devices. Now there are many different views of unit market share and you can choose to look at whichever one you think is most reputable, but for us that is not our North Star, we don’t get up in the morning saying we want to sell the most, we get up saying we want to make and create the best, and so that’s our strategy and it doesn’t change.

That was in January 2014. Since then, as Prins highlights, Apple actually gave up 30% of its market share in China to Huawai and Xiaomi. This despite selling lots and lots of iPhones in China. 

In other words, there are lots of rich folks in China. But there are orders of magnitude more poor people.

Putting A Price On The Internet

Part of the reason that Google can charge so little for a high-end phone is that it doesn’t need to make money on the hardware. Google monetizes use of the phone, and not the phone itself. Every time someone uses the Internet, they’re likely to pay Google in some way. 

How much? As Asymco uncovers, excluding China, Google earns roughly $6.30 per Internet user per year:

Source: Asymco

A mere 2.2 billion people have access to the Internet today. That leaves another 65% of the world's population that would likely love to have access ... if only they could afford it.

Enter Google, which makes it cheap to buy a device. 

Google can also charge so little for the Google One because it’s getting good at streamlining manufacturing. The company looked to India-based chipmakers and OEMs to build its Google One for the India market. Apple builds in China, yes, but charges Western prices, even in China. It can't afford to sully its brand as it seeks premium margins.

Google, as noted, doesn't have that pressure. 

As VisionMobile illustrates, the platform wars are increasingly a local affair:

Source: VisionMobileA Global Business Model

One size does not fit all when it comes to smartphones, any more than it does for other areas of technology. Apple has a great strategy ... but it's not for everyone. It's not going to get the farmer in Zimbabwe using a smartphone. It's not for the vast majority of the world's population that struggles from paycheck to paycheck.

And maybe that's OK. Apple styles itself an aspirational brand, and that means maintaining profit margins and a certain mystique.

Google, however, doesn't mind selling to the rest of the planet, and has a great model to monetize low-cost and high-cost smartphones alike.

Lead photograph by Global X