Read/Write Web

Subscribe to Read/Write Web feed
Updated: 5 days 7 hours ago

Facebook Adds Groups App

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 20:50

Categories:

Web

Facebook released a new app on Tuesday designed to make it easier for users to interact with groups they're already a part of on Facebook. 

When opened, the app displays all the groups the user is a member of. From there, one can dive in and out of their different groups, or create more groups. The app will also recommend groups based on your activity. 

Facebook's Groups app is designed to let users more easily interact with specific groups of people.

Unlike the Facebook Messenger app, which moved Facebook's messaging feature to a separate app on mobile devices, users will still be able to interact with groups from within the basic Facebook app. 

See also: Why Facebook For Work Will Be A Hard Sell To Employers

"Groups is deeply integrated with News Feed and is central to people’s experience on Facebook," said a Facebook spokesperson. "We know that some people prefer to interact with Groups through News Feed and the main app is still the best way to do that."

Lead image by Joris Louwes

Intel’s MICA Bracelet Just Might Be Smarter Than Your Average Smartwatch

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 20:31

Categories:

Web

Pretty Geeky is an ongoing series that explores the role of style and design in wearable technology. 

After months of ramping up, Intel’s partnership with design house Opening Ceremony officially made its bid for women's wrists Monday, filling in a few more details of what its new MICA intelligent bracelet—on sale next month—has to offer. 

Good looks are a given. The cool-hunting designers from Berkeley are known for mixing classics with some edge and theatricality. That’s a perfect match for a new device in an emerging category with plenty to prove—mainly, that people should want to wear it. 

See also: Intel's MICA Smart Bracelet, For Women Who Want Luxury Tech

End result: Intel technology stuffed inside a high-fashion Opening Ceremony design. The hard plastic accessory features an inward-facing, curved sapphire glass display, along with a hinged closure and luxury touches, including semi-precious stones, 18-karat gold accents and Ayers snakeskin exterior (in black or white). 

It's a high-fashion item, and it comes with a high retail price to match: $495. But when you look into the details, that price may actually be cheaper than you think. In fact, it could be less expensive than your typical smartwatch—and more intelligent too. 

The Functionality's Looking Pretty Good

Generally, most wrist-worn devices work primarily as fitness trackers or notifications gadgets. A few others—like Samsung’s Gear S smartwatch, will.i.am’s upcoming Puls cuff and Omate’s TrueSmart watch—attempt to do it all, essentially slapping a shrunken smartphone on our wrists.

MICA (pronounced "meeka") stands for "My Intelligent Communication Accessory,” so it's no surprise that it sits firmly in the notifications category. It could have hopped on the step-tracking or heart-monitoring bandwagon too, considering Intel bought quantified-fitness company Basis earlier this year. But it doesn't. 

That’s a strength, not a weakness. While plenty of competitors try to stuff in as many features as possible, MICA has no such identity crisis. It knows exactly what it is and who it’s for: fashionable women who want to know when people contact them. And not just anyone. 

The device offers VIP alerts, allowing some selectiveness over notifications. Intel's MICA lets users create lists of filters, so they can prioritize certain contacts or categories of messages. MICA also respects Gmail’s “Important" contacts filtering, making it easy to delineate which contacts get to reach you on the bracelet. 

Granted, message filtering may not seem like high technology, but don’t underestimate its importance. Priority notifications have been a fundamental gap in all the major wearables I’ve tested this year. My wrists have basically become numb to vibration alerts, thanks to an incessant stream of emails, texts, Facebook updates and other notifications, all of which come flooding to my arm. Granular control that narrows them down to just the most important alerts has been pretty much non-existent.

Think of it this way—if you’re putting your phone away, you’re probably engaged in an activity that only the most important messages should disturb. 

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

The alerts may land on that inward-facing screen, or just subtly vibrate. Either way, they don’t rely on your smartphone as the source. MICA is a standalone device, with its own data connection, that functions independently. 

Intel claims MICA can run for two days between charges. In reality, that's not much. But that says more about the dismal state of battery life in all wearables, not just this bracelet in particular. Two days is actually on the longer side of the typical range for any connected wrist gadget with a display. 

The Expense Is Just Skin Deep

The $495 price may be average, even cheap, for a luxury designer accessory. This is, after all, a water snake-skin bracelet with high-quality materials. The black version features pearls from China and lapis stones from Madagascar, while the white bracelet offers a tiger's eye from South Africa and obsidian from Russia. 

Even so, it's still a gob-smacking sum for a market that tends to hyperventilate when prices rise above $250. Here's what levels the price out: The bracelet comes with two free years of AT&T wireless service. 

The details or data limits in the plan haven’t been disclosed, but at minimum, AT&T charges $15 for 250MB of monthly data. Over two years, that's $360, which means MICA’s hardware actually costs about $135. 

Thanks to that connectivity, MICA is not beholden to another device. It can freely pipe select texts, Gmail messages, calendar appointments and Facebook alerts. Built-in GPS also serves Yelp alerts for stores and restaurants in the vicinity, and lets TomTom push “Time to Go” prompts, which know where and when your next appointment is, can estimate travel time based on your location, and tell you when to leave. 

And if you somehow lose the bracelet, you can locate it, access it remotely or lock it down from an online portal. 

What you can't do is pay for things—like the Apple Watch or Pebble. But mobile payments aren't a proven, essential feature yet. Messages, notifications and remote geo-location are. 

Likewise, you can’t snap a photo, write an email or track your steps. In terms of entering information, you can only send canned or pre-set customized responses to messages. But that's a product of feature distillation, not a flaw. MICA doesn't want to be all things to all people. It focuses on its primary function—to provide useful notifications, and to make sure you look good wearing it.  

To start, MICA will launch at Opening Ceremony retail locations in New York and Los Angeles, select Barneys locations in New York, and online at OpeningCeremony.us and Barneys.com. 

For more information, you can check out the company’s press release here. Or view Intel’s promo video below, starring Parks and Rec’s Rashida Jones. 

Photo of white MICA on a wrist by ReadWrite. All others courtesy of Intel/Opening Ceremony

Snapchat: Our New "Snapcash" Won't Disappear—Oh, And Neither May Your Snaps

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 18:29

Categories:

Web

Snapchat jumped on the payments bandwagon on Monday, through a deal with Square Cash which allows users to transfer money to their friends as easily as sending photos of their naughty bits.  

Simply trust the Snapchat app with your debit card number, as you might your personal pics, type $ and the amount you wish to send in the chat-text field, and hit the payment button. The recipient has 24 hours to accept the cash infusion, or it disappears back into your bank account. 

Snapchat introduced the new service, available now for Android and coming soon to iOS, with a discount Busby Berkeley musical-style video featuring dancing girls and raining money. But security concerns from potential users are sure to ensue now that Snapchat is attempting to compete with Venmo and Google Wallet in peer-to-peer money transfer. 

Snapchat, after all, launched as a photo-sharing app that deletes images seconds after they're viewed. And nobody wants to think about their money "disappearing"—or, worse, the opposite. Just imagine your hard-earned cash leaking all over the Internet, as happened in October with hundreds of thousands of personal pics purloined from a third-party Snapchat photo-saving app.

See also: Snapchat Blames Victims In Nude Photo Leak

Square is handling all the debit card details, with established security protocols for money transfer that should prevent your life savings from popping up all over the Internet. As for your future photos, Snapchat has updated its privacy policy to let you know it can't be expected to protect your photos from leaking: "Don’t send messages that you wouldn’t want someone to save or share."

Screenshot via Snapchat

Nokia Still Exists—And Its New Android Tablet Competes With Microsoft

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 17:45

Categories:

Web

Nokia has just unveiled the N1, the first Nokia-branded Android tablet to hit the market, the company announced Tuesday.

The N1 is Nokia’s first foray into the tablet game since it sold off its phone business to Microsoft. Now that Nokia phones are no more (well, mostly), the Finnish technology company has turned to Android tablets to differentiate itself from its one-time partner.

See also: Goodbye, Nokia Lumia—Hello, Microsoft Lumia

The tablet’s 7.9" laminated display fits in a case 6.9mm thick. That means a screen that's 0.1 inch larger that on the iPad Air 2, and a case that's just than and a case 0.8 mm thicker. It will cost about $250 and be on the market by February 19, 2015, just in time for Chinese New Year. The N1 will run Android 5.0 Lollipop, the latest version of Google's operating system.

Hardware wise, the N1 will be one of the first devices to include a USB Type-C socket, a reversible USB port that will allow people to insert a USB plug in it either way around. It has an 8 megapixel camera in back, a 5 megapixel camera in front, and 32GB of storage space for music, photos, and movies. A 2.4Ghz Intel© AtomTM quad-core processor is inside.

Microsoft’s deal with Nokia allowed the Finnish company to retain the intellectual property rights over the Nokia name, with one exception: Microsoft would continue to use it for its lower level phones, like the Nokia 130. Apparently, neither company is concerned that branded Nokia tablets risk confusing consumers.

Photo courtesy of Nokia

The Real Lesson From Recent Cyberattacks: Let's Break Up The NSA

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 17:09

Categories:

Web

Over the weekend, the U.S. State Department shut down its unclassified email network after finding evidence that hackers might have been prowling around. It's in good company: In the past several weeks, hackers have poked around in computers at the White House, the Postal Service and the National Weather Service—not to mention JPMorgan and nine other big banks.

If only there was a federal agency dedicated to protecting federal information systems and critical U.S. infrastructure from criminals and foreign attackers. Oh, wait—there is. It's the National Security Agency. And to all appearances, it's botched the job so badly you'd think it wasn't really trying in the first place.

Maybe it wasn't.

The Origin Of Dysfunction In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral NSA

The NSA has historically been a house divided against itself. On one side, it ostensibly works to "ensure appropriate security solutions are in place to protect and defend information systems, as well as our nation’s critical infrastructure." This mission, the NSA says, aims to ensure "confidence in cyberspace."

See also: 3 Security Tips For Every User From NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden

Then there's the other side of the NSA, which listens in on the communications of U.S. adversaries, conducts mass surveillance of Americans and foreigners and undertakes military-style cyber attacks against other nations and alleged terrorists. Oh, and that also deliberately tries to undermine security tools used to guard both civilian and and government systems against intrusion. 

For instance, the NSA's secret 2013 budget request—provided by Edward Snowden and published by the New York Times, ProPublica and other outlets a year ago—revealed that the agency seeks to "introduce vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems, IT systems, networks, and endpoint communication devices used by targets." In other words, the NSA routinely undermines the security tools that government agencies, businesses and consumer services use to protect messages and data from attackers. It's a little as if car makers were surreptitiously making it easier for repo men to unlock and drive away your vehicle—right in the midst of an auto-theft epidemic.

The NSA apparently does this in the misguided belief that its own spooks will be the only ones to notice and exploit these vulnerabilities. But criminals and foreign governments are smart, too, and just as eager to exploit security holes created by accident or design. In 2010, for instance, Chinese hackers were able to break into individual Gmail accounts by using "secret" backdoors that Google had installed specifically to comply with U.S. government search-warrant requests.

See also: Why Google Wants To Padlock The Web

"Confidence in cyberspace," anyone? Let's put it this way: It was bad enough if the NSA's right brain didn't know what it's left brain was doing—and even worse if it did. In neither case could anyone trust the NSA's assurances of helping to secure the Internet.

Static On The Line

In the aftermath of those disclosures, security experts immediately began expanding the scope of encryption in fundamental Internet architecture; companies like Google have likewise began pushing to shield more routine Internet traffic from eavesdropping in addition to incorporating surveillance-scrambling encryption in their own products and services. 

And cryptographers have begun systematically reviewing and rewriting security software in order to identify and eliminate as many vulnerabilities as possible—especially any that may have been inserted deliberately.

See also: Open Source Gets A New Security Attitude

These are all necessary steps toward limiting the NSA's manipulation of general-use security software and tools. Even in that respect, though, they're insufficient, as the NSA has never renounced its efforts to subvert encryption methods—despite the recommendation of a White House advisory panel that:

The US Government should take additional steps to promote security, by (1) fully supporting and not undermining efforts to create encryption standards; (2) making clear that it will not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial encryption; and (3) supporting efforts to encourage the greater use of encryption technology for data in transit, at rest, in the cloud, and in storage. 

President Obama was pointedly silent on the NSA's attempts to subvert encryption and other security technologies when he outlined his response to the panel's recommendations on January 17.

Taking Apart The Puzzle Palace

Even had the president fully embraced the panel's suggestions, it would have done little to restore "confidence in cyberspace," at least so far as the NSA is concerned. This is an agency, after all, that reportedly uses its contacts with industry—ostensibly intended to help private companies improve network and computer security—to instead cajole or strongarm them into opening backdoors or compromising security products. From ProPublica:

The N.S.A.’s Commercial Solutions Center, for instance, invites the makers of encryption technologies to present their products and services to the agency with the goal of improving American cybersecurity. But a top-secret N.S.A. document suggests that the agency’s hacking division uses that same program to develop and “leverage sensitive, cooperative relationships with specific industry partners” to insert vulnerabilities into Internet security products.

In short, it's hard to see how NSA's defensive mission can coexist with its surveillance work without becoming a punchline. So why not just break up the NSA's different functions entirely?

This isn't an unprecedented idea. Cryptographer and security expert Bruce Schneier has pushed for an NSA breakup since early this year, ever since it became clear that the window for true reform of its surveillance programs had basically slammed shut:

The NSA has become too big and too powerful. What was supposed to be a single agency with a dual mission—protecting the security of U.S. communications and eavesdropping on the communications of our enemies—has become unbalanced in the post-Cold War, all-terrorism-all-the-time era.

Putting the U.S. Cyber Command, the military's cyberwar wing, in the same location and under the same commander, expanded the NSA's power. The result is an agency that prioritizes intelligence gathering over security, and that's increasingly putting us all at risk. It's time we thought about breaking up the National Security Agency.

There are lots of ways this could be accomplished. Schneier's plan, for instance, would move military-style targeted surveillance—for instance, of the sort that infected computers in Iran's nuclear program with the malware Stuxnet—out of the NSA entirely under the aegis of the U.S. Cyber Command in the Department of Defense. It would also transfer all surveillance of American citizens to the FBI. The rump NSA would then handle both signals intelligence—i.e., telephonic and digital eavesdropping—and cybersecurity defense.

Of course, that's still a lot of cognitive dissonance in one organization, even if it's required to prioritize security over SIGINT, or "signals intelligence," as both Schneier and the White House panel recommend. Particularly in times of crisis, the needs of the spies always seem to trump those of the defenders; putting them together in one organization under unified management makes it far easier for safeguards and priorities to shift, often in invisible ways.

A better idea would be to break out the NSA's defensive mission entirely—creating, as the national-security journalist Marcy Wheeler has suggested, "competing champions, one fighting to create holes, and one fighting to plug them." Sure, that would entail some duplication of effort, but at least we'd have a cybersecurity agency we could actually trust.

Lead image of NSA headquarters by Trevor Paglen

So That's What The Feds Are Doing With Seized Bitcoins

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 15:07

Categories:

Web

What are the Feds doing with all that Bitcoin they seized from Silk Road last year? Auctioning it off to interested parties, as it turns out.

The US Marshals Service announced Monday that it’d be auctioning off 50,000 bitcoins, worth roughly $19 million, on Dec. 4. It is a silent auction, where potential bidders must submit their bids in advance with no prior knowledge of other bidders’ offers.

This is the US Marshals Service’s second Bitcoin auction, about five months after it first began to sell off the assets seized in last October’s Silk Road raid. (Last time, venture capitalist Tim Draper was the auction’s sole winner, taking home an amount of Bitcoin worth $19 million at the time.) This latest auction is for bitcoins the Feds found on a computer belonging to alleged Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht. Ulbricht and prosecutors reached a deal in January that would allow these Bitcoins to be sold. 

See also: Former Bitcoin Exchange CEO Arrested In Silk Road Drug Trafficking Scheme

It’s a powerful reminder that, while Bitcoin may be a pseudonymous currency, there is nothing anonymous about it, and the Feds can find and charge any user they need to. Though the black market site Silk Road was located on the Dark Web and extremely covert, the Feds were able to find its creators by following the trail of the bitcoins exchanged.

There will be no concern, however, about tracing the bidders on these particular bitcoins up for auction. All bidders are required to register and prove their identities before being allowed to make an offer. They must also vow that they are not affiliated with Silk Road or its alleged creator in any way.

Photo by fdecomite on Flickr

What The WatchKit Developer Tools Tell Us About The Apple Watch

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 12:04

Categories:

Web

Apple has released its WatchKit software development kit (SDK) ahead of next year’s Apple Watch debut. Now other developers can join early partners ESPN, American Airlines and Instagram by creating their own apps for Apple’s littlest screen.

Spring-boarding off Apple’s iOS mobile platform, the SDK lets app makers code and test their Apple Watch apps. Given the timing of the kit’s release, however, it seems likely the new wearable won’t land right after the turn of the New Year. Early spring seems far more likely at this point—a leaked video transcript certainly suggests as much.

The development path carved out by the SDK presents three options for app creators:

  • Make a standard Watch App, with its own interface and features. (Though fully customizable interfaces don’t appear to be possible, at least not yet.)
  • Add snippets of info to the device's Glances feature, to let users roll through card-like bits of swipeable data. Think news, weather, stocks, sports scores or other small, easily digestible information. ESPN has already been working on a Watch app that funnels scores and news to Glances. American Airlines will send gate changes or flight status updates to the wrist.
  • Create pop-up alerts that let users take action—like replying to a text on the wrist or silencing an incoming call with a message. Instagram has been working on an Apple Watch app that lets users like and respond to images directly through notifications, as well as view photo feeds or follow other Instagram users.

What they can’t do, however, is build a standalone Watch app, at least not yet. It’s on the road map for later on in 2015, but for now, any third-party wearable software will have to link to a companion mobile app running on an iPhone or iPad.

According to the SDK, the sizes and display resolutions of the two versions should pose no real challenge, as they merely funnel in data from the host phone or tablet. But that doesn’t mean developers can ignore the differential. The 1.65-inch tall display on the men’s version has a 312 x 390 pixel resolution; the women’s 1.5-inch screen offers 272 x 340 pixels.

For more information on the inner workings of the SDK, here are some reactions from developers who have dug into WatchKit so far. 

That jibes with the Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines, a few highlights from which super blogger John Gruber pointed out

  • The system font is named San Francisco. That rings a bell. There are two versions: San Francisco Text, for sizes 19pt and smaller, and San Francisco Display, for sizes 20pt and up. Display is set tighter; Text has bigger punctuation marks and larger apertures on glyphs like “a” and “e”.
  • From the Watch HIG: “Avoid using color to show interactivity. Apply color as appropriate for your branding but do not use color solely to indicate interactivity for buttons and other controls.” Can we get this HIG guideline on iOS next year? UPDATE: Neven Mrgan thinks Apple means “use color not just for interactivity”, not that you shouldn’t use color alone to indicate interactivity.
  • A lot of WatchKit is about offloading processing to the iPhone — the Watch is effectively a remote display for an extension running on your iPhone. This should be good for Watch battery life, but limiting when you’re not carrying your iPhone. This is not going to be a “leave your iPhone at home” device; more like “leave your iPhone in your purse or pocket.”

Ultimately, it looks like the Apple Watch will start off as little more than a pipeline for the apps running on iPhones—which, frankly, doesn't really distinguish it that much from other smartwatches that have already hit the scene. We'll see how many different directions developers can take this. And when the company will really let them loose. 

Photo courtesy of Apple

Apple Who? After The Snub, PayPal Runs To Pebble

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 10:17

Categories:

Web

Mobile payments may or may not be a real thing yet, but one thing is clear: Wearable tech providers badly want to give traditional wallets the heave-ho, and they’re kicking up a maelstrom of activity to make it happen. Next up: PayPal and Pebble.

PayPal, the payments service Apple forgot (or rather, chose to ignore) for Apple Pay, landed on Android Wear in June. Now, the company announces its service has also landed on Pebble smartwatches via an all-new watch app. 

See also: Apple Is Less Than Inviting To PayPal In Apple Pay

Mobile users need to have the PayPal mobile app installed on their phones, and then download the PayPal watch app from Pebble’s app store. Once downloaded, you'll have to log in. 

Just like the smartphone apps on Android and iPhone, the app uses your location to find PayPal-friendly restaurants and stores near you. The Pebble watch app should work at any business that accepts the standard PayPal mobile app. 

When you're physically at the business location, you scroll through the list of stores and restaurants to the one you want, and then press the middle (right side) button to check in there. The cashier will see you pop up in the POS system, and approve the transaction. Afterward, Pebble will display your payment receipt. 

One thing that's missing: You can’t email money to friends from your wrist. Then again, maybe this is best left off the Pebble. Trying to enter a contact’s email on that little black and white e-paper screen by mashing buttons doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. Not having to fumble for our phones or wallets, however, sounds quite handy.

If you’ve got a Pebble, the PayPal app is already sitting in the Pebble Appstore, ready to install. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

Search All The Tweets! Twitter Now Indexed All The Way Back To 2006

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 09:44

Categories:

Web

Twitter gave its search function a major upgrade, indexing the hundreds of billions of public tweets sent since 2006, the company announced on Tuesday.  

Currently, Twitter's search feature is fairly perfunctory, returning what it calls "real-time" tweets that go back only about a week. The expanded search feature, rolling out to users in the next couple of days, will access an index of  “roughly half a trillion documents,” Twitter engineer Yi Zhuang wrote in a blog post. The current cache of every tweet ever tweeted “is more than 100 times larger than our real-time index and grows by several billion Tweets a week.”  

Beyond just  helping you dig up that tweet about that one show that one time, the expanded archive allows access to all manner of documentation. As the Twitter post points out: 

This new infrastructure enables many use cases, providing comprehensive results for entire TV and sports seasons, conferences (#TEDGlobal), industry discussions (#MobilePayments), places, businesses and long-lived hashtag conversations across topics, such as #JapanEarthquake, #Election2012, #ScotlandDecides, #HongKong,#Ferguson and many more. 

Twitter engineers took on this mammoth project incrementally over the past two years, a process Zhuang describes in laborious detail in his post. 

Like Google or Topsy's third-party Twitter search engine, you can search by keyword or hashtag, and select a time frame or Twitter account to narrow down the results. Zhuang writes that Twitter will continue to fine tune its in-house search engine. 

If you can't wait for the feature to pop up on your own Twitter account, you can try it out on this test page, which searches public New Years tweets posted between Dec. 30, 2006 and Jan. 2, 2007.

Lead image by Anthony Quintano

Apple’s iOS 8.1.1 Update Is Pretty Minor—Unless You Have An iPhone 4S Or iPad 2

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 11:18

Categories:

Web

Apple mobile software updates have been a dicey proposition lately, so you might be inclined to skip the minor follow-up to last month's big iOS 8.1 release. Unless, that is, you have an older iPhone or iPad.

Apple promises to boost performance for the earliest gadgets with the A5 processor and iOS 8—specifically the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. The fifth-generation iPod touch and the first iPad mini also use the A5 chip, though Apple didn’t call them out explicitly. But it’s possible they might see some improvements as well. 

See also: Apple Really Needs To Get It Together

Developers have been working with an early beta version for a few weeks now, and by all accounts, the software appears to be pretty stable. So if you still have PTSD over the world of hurt iOS 8.0.1 wreaked, take heart—at the very least, this one shouldn’t cripple your phone.

The caveat, as with most iOS software updates, is for jailbreakers. If you hacked your iPhone using the Pangu tool to gain access to system-level resources or ability to install unauthorized software, or plan to some time soon, you may want to hold off on iOS 8.1.1 for now. The update will kill the Pangu jailbreak.

As for everyone else, the release notes for version 8.1.1 boast “bug fixes, increased stability and performance improvements for iPad 2 and iPhone 4S.” 

The new update follows last month’s introduction of iOS 8.1, which launched Apple Pay and the iCloud Photo Library public beta.

You can download and install the software directly on your handset over Wi-Fi through Settings > General > Software Update, or perform the update by connecting to iTunes on your desktop.

Lead photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

New Kindle Software Update: Sharing Is Caring

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 20:44

Categories:

Web

Amazon announced a new software update for its Kindle e-readers today that adds a variety of features, including the option to share ebooks more freely. 

The Family Library feature allows users to access the books from the Amazon account of a spouse or partner. This option is being applied via a software update that should come to the Kindle, Kindle Voyage, and Kindle Paperwhite "in the coming weeks." You can also download it directly from the Amazon website if "coming weeks" isn't soon enough for you. 

Other features include "Words Wise," an in-text feature that overlays definitions of difficult words in some books, and the awkwardly named Kindle Free Time Unlimited. The latter gives you access to a limited list of ebooks for children and young adults for "as little" as $2.99 per month.

The Words Wise function adds definitions to "difficult" words

Words Wise is designed for readers that are new to English, and comes with a slider that scales with the user's comfort level and evolving reading ability. The announcement for this software update —which also includes a more expansive "X-ray" of books, enhanced searching, and more robust book information—comes just two weeks before Black Friday. 

Lead image by Mike Licht

Now You Can Skype From Your Browser

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 20:40

Categories:

Web

Microsoft, Skype's parent company, just unshackled its text and video application from the desktop. Meet Skype for Web, a new beta offering that makes the service available in various Internet browsers. 

The test service allows users to chat without downloading a bulky desktop program. According to the Skype blog, users can access it by navigating to Skype.com with Internet Explorer, Chrome on Windows, Firefox or Safari, and sign in. 

See also: Hey Google Hangouts, Skype Now Offers Free Screen Sharing And Group Calls, Too

Mac users may notice one glaring omission: Chrome for Mac. That may seem like a business decision by Microsoft, however; it's apparently a technical limitation. A spokesperson told ZDNet that "Chromebook owners can use Skype for Web for IM, but the plug-in required for voice and video calls hasn't been configured for that device so it isn't currently supported." 

For now, the plugin is mandatory for Skype for Web, but that will change in time. The company plans to implement Web RTC (Real-Time Communications), a key technology that will bake Skype into the browser, no plugins necessary. 

The service holds a few other bugs for Mac users, including battery consumption issues and delays in which calls can take longer to ring. According to the Skype blog, these are known problems that the company continues to work on. 

Photo courtesy of Skype

Samsung's Edge Of Glory: Cool Tool, If You Get A Grip

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 18:04

Categories:

Web

Samsung may not hang its future on smartphones, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally phoning it in now. Case in point: its new Galaxy Note Edge smartphone with curved glass display. 

See also: Samsung Reveals Its Master Plan To Connect Your Life

There's no denying that the Edge is a sleek, stunning smartphone. Its beauty comes at a cost, though: a wallet-thumping $400 with a two-year contract, or $700 without contract. The price tops the company's well-received Galaxy Note 4 by $100 (on contract). That’s a hefty sum for your average smartphone user. Then again, this is not an average phone.

At its core, the Edge is essentially a Galaxy Note 4, but with a twist: a curved display that bends over the phone's right edge. The bend allows for a thin, secondary screen, which provides extra controls, notifications and other features. 

It's a thing of beauty. And the ancillary display adds more function too—that is, if you hold it correctly. 

It's A Beauty ... 

Like the Note 4, the Edge features an S-Pen stylus, fast charging, fingerprint scanner, 32GB of memory, microSD card slots, 16 megapixel camera, as well as Samsung’s own stock apps, like S Health, S Note and S Voice. 

See also: Galaxy Note 4 Rolls With An Entourage: VR Headset, Curved Smartphone And Smartwatch

The difference obviously lies in the additional display. Years ago, Samsung experimented with a supplemental screen in the doomed Samsung Continuum. But it appears to have learned a lesson from that flop—mainly, that it's hard to beat curving glass for sex appeal. 

The Edge's AMOLED Quad HD technology displays great-looking graphics, and the 5.6-inch size of the main display only shaves a slight bit off the Note 4’s 5.7-inch screen. 

But that's enough to make room for a bonus display that houses settings, some built-in tools, ticker-style information or a scrollable, customizable list of your favorite apps. You can roll through as many as seven panels. 

The screen also offers some app-specific options. Launch the camera app, and you get camera controls that sit at a comfortable angle, for easy reach. 

Notifications, custom messages and other information can spread out onto that side, so they don't interfere with whatever app you’re using on the main display. That can include things such as stocks, weather forecasts, Yahoo news headlines, tweets, song info or music controls during playback. You can change the look around, or even slap a teeny Edge-specific game there. 

The device comes with a couple of delightful surprises as well, including a 4-inch ruler on the skinny display, plus a clock perfectly angled to show the time when the device—and you—are in sleep mode.

Samsung intentionally designed the Edge so that a palm resting on that right-hand sliver of screen shouldn’t set off any actions. In my own experience, it worked pretty well. Perhaps once, my palm launched something. Most of the time, the apps and features saved themselves to kick on to intentional finger taps only. 

Then I switched hands. 

... And A Beast

It seems obvious that grabbing an asymmetrical device would pose some challenges. But Samsung adjusted the touch control and designed the screen to flip upside down, so it can work in either hand. 

It's creative. But make no mistake—it's not a solution. The topsy-turvy action is a workaround, one that's not going to work for everyone. 

In my right hand, there were few errant taps. But in left-handed mode, my fingers naturally tended to rest on the inclined glass. Over and over, I set off a cacophony of app launches and other unexpected behaviors. 

A rep stepped in to inform me I was holding it wrong. (Cue Apple joke.) He took the phone from my hand, turned it upside down and handed it back to me, with the home button now at the top. “There,” he said. “This is how you’re supposed to hold it.” In this orientation, with my left palm on the edge, everything worked well again. 

So intentional gripping is apparently key. Too bad I tend to manhandle my phone, often digging it out or pawing at it to answer calls, respond to texts or fire off a quick photo, with whatever hand I have free. I guess that means I'm not exactly the ideal user of this sleek device. 

A Ticker Tape Parade

Even if the Edge is not perfect, at the very least, it's a refreshing change of pace—one that could get better over time. 

Samsung just released developer tools for the Edge’s ancillary display. With this, app makers may dream up some creative new uses. 

Whether they can overcome the practical reality of grabbing hold of a phone with an angled, touch-enabled edge isn’t quite clear. But based on the number of developers I saw crowding around the gadget at the Samsung Developer Conference this week, it looks like some are very interested in giving this ticker a parade of cool, new uses. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

K5, The Autonomous Security Robot, Is Now On The Beat

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 16:09

Categories:

Web

Working as a security guard can be a dangerous and thankless job. Now Knightscope wants robots to do it for us.

The Mountain View, Calif., startup has been building and testing a robot model known as the K5 for this purpose since 2013, MIT Technology Review reports. Now the robot fleet is advanced enough to patrol Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus.

See also: R2-D2? Dalek? Actually, It's A Pre-Cog Robocop

At five feet tall and 300 pounds, the K5 is an ambulatory robot with semi-human proportions. Sleek and smooth, it is supposed to look friendly from a distance, but intimidating close up. It doesn’t carry weapons and it can’t hurt people, but it will beep ominously if you try to detain it while sending an alert to a remote monitoring center. (Early models still have a serious vulnerability—push them over and they can't get up without assistance.)

On the other hand, the K5 can also be a friendly presence. If you need help, you can press a button on the top of the robot’s head to summon a human operator.

“This takes away the monotonous and sometimes dangerous work, and leaves the strategic work to law enforcement or private security, depending on the application,” Knightscope cofounder and vice president of sales and marketing Stacy Stephens told MIT. (Translation: Low-wage security guards, you're out of a job. K5 will now escort you from the premises.)

See also: China Doubles Down On Robotics

The robots use Wi-Fi to communicate with one another and with human operators. They include four high-definition cameras on either side of the robot, a license plate recognition camera, four microphones, and a weather sensor.

Stephens did not disclose how much the K5 will cost, but noted that potential customers include security companies, office buildings, and schools. 

Photo of the K5 via KnightScope

Amazon's Cloud Looks Unstoppable—And Databases Are Its Next Target

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 15:11

Categories:

Web
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Last year, VMware president Carl Eschenbach told a group of business partners, "I find it really hard to believe that we cannot collectively beat a company that sells books." He was, of course, referring to Amazon. And as it turns out, they can't.

Indeed, that bookseller seems hell-bent on destroying the business of every other 20th century software company. So far, it looks like Amazon will succeed.

See also: Amazon Web Services: Big, Getting Bigger And Not Slowing Down

So much so, in fact, that at AWS re:Invent this week, Amazon Web Services (AWS) chief Andy Jassy declared that AWS could become Amazon's "biggest business." That's a mighty bold statement for a company that did $74 billion in annual revenue last year, only $5 billion of which derives from AWS.

Bold, but quite possibly true. 

Setting Its Sights On The Enterprise: All Of It

It's not surprising that AWS is growing, given its stature as the dominant public cloud platform. 

What is surprising is just how fast it's growing. By some estimates it's the fastest-growing software business in history. Jassy told the re:Invent faithful that AWS adds 1 million active customers each month, translating into a "recent revenue growth rate of >40% year over year." 

Source: Ben Evans

Nor is AWS content to grow without troubling the existing software market. The company that recently insisted that it's in the business of "enterprise pain management" clearly sees plenty of pain to manage, and isn't content to simply build low-level infrastructure.

The Database Crown Jewels

Amazon showed its cloud ambition this week in multiple ways. But one that should most alarm the enterprise technology behemoths is Aurora, a high-end relational database-as-a-service offering that complements existing investments in MySQL and its home-grown NoSQL offering, DynamoDB.

As a Morgan Stanley analyst report details:

Amazon launched Aurora after 3 years in development, which in our view, may compete directly with Oracle (roughly half of all [database] spend), IBM and Microsoft relational database management systems, which according to Gartner is an annual $25-30B market. MySQL leads in open databases but lags Oracle’s traditional database platform. Amazon believes that its competitive advantage may came from the deep integration Aurora has with existing AWS infrastructure, allowing firms to keep all of their workloads easily managed on a single platform. Aurora is MySQL compatible, which they believe should make it easy for IT administrators to port their implementations to Aurora. Jassy believes that Aurora provides 5x performance, and at $0.29 / hour, 1/10th the cost of existing database solutions.

Data, particularly now, is the heart of computing. By introducing Aurora, Amazon has declared war on the core of the IT incumbents. Enterprises have sprinted full-speed into AWS with new applications, but have also already been migrating existing workloads to AWS. 

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

With Aurora, expect that pace to shift into overdrive, as the reasons to keep an app stuck on expensive Oracle in a data center are rapidly vanishing.

Yes, We Do Private Clouds

Also of significant concern is the way AWS is marching into the data center. Well, sort of. 

While Amazon remains firm in its belief that all workloads can run on its public cloud, it has thrown cloud-averse CIOs a bone by offering what it calls virtual private clouds (VPC). As Jassy says, "Our VPC has really become an extension of our customers’ own data center topology," allowing enterprises to run data center workloads in an isolated corner of AWS.

Gartner estimates that the global enterprise IT market is worth $3.6 trillion. With its sop to "hybrid clouds" and its continuous introduction of products that remove the need to stick with less cloudy incumbents, Amazon has essentially declared it wants all of that IT spending.

On current form, it might not be wise to bet against AWS.

Lead photo of Jeff Bezos by Steve Jurvetson

Google Go Finds New Home On GitHub

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 14:15

Categories:

Web

Programming language Go, initially developed at Google, has just moved to GitHub.

Go, a language loosely based on C that is used in some of Google's production systems, was hosted on GitHub competitor Mercurial until Thursday. Rob Pike, Google engineer and lead designer and contributor at Go, explained the decision on Go’s message board.

“Mercurial has served us well, but it's time to move on,” Pike wrote. “The world today is quite different from the world then. Most members of the Go community use Git and host their work on GitHub, and we should join them.”

See also: Microsoft .NET Takes The Full Open-Source Plunge

Go will join dozens of other Google projects already hosted on GitHub, including Dart. It will also be following Microsoft’s decision earlier this week to open source its programming framework .NET and host it on GitHub.

GitHub, a repository hosting service based on the version control software Git, now hosts more than 17 million repositories from companies like Twitter and major open source projects like Ruby on Rails. The real winner of the day is GitHub, a Ycombinator commenter noted:

See also: JavaScript Dominates GitHub, Language Study Shows

“Google hosting Go on GitHub. Microsoft hosting .NET on GitHub. It must feel like an accomplishment to be implicitly endorsed by these companies.”

Sexting With Robots With Kara Stone

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 14:00

Categories:

Web

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by our partners at Kill Screen

The Sext Adventure booth at the Boston Festival for Indie Games stood out almost because it had little to distinguish it. While many of the other tables surrounding it had monitors, art, multiple people in matching T-shirts running around talking to attendees, Sext Adventure was almost calm, peaceful in a sea of chaos.

Kara Stone was going solo at the booth, sitting with her legs crossed behind the table, which featured little besides a decorated canopy with a chair beside it. Inside this canopy was a Samsung smartphone with the default SMS app open and a few messages already dotting the small screen.

For more stories about videogames and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

I had been assigned by Kill Screen to interview Stone only the day before. I had done some preliminary research into her work, looking at the photos from her exhibition of Knitting Simulator (intriguing because I had recently taken up knitting), performing the breathing exercises assigned by Medication Meditation, but I had somehow missed Sext Adventure, which was the game—if you could call it such—on display here.

Sext Adventure is not really a game with win conditions so much as a sexual, cyberpunk and, at times, embarrassing experience. Through a phone's text messaging application, you can get the chance to understand what it would be like to sext with a robot, exchanging pre-determined actions and photos that start off mostly innocuous but can become existentialist questions about human and robot nature and relations. The canopy was there at the booth, thankfully, so that you can click and open the images without becoming too frazzled that you were looking at porn in public.

It's embarrassing, but that was kind of the point. Stone said that she's tried sexting in the past but it was weird. She added that she felt like a robot while doing it.

"I can’t imagine it’s turning anyone on," she said. "I’m 25, so I’m somewhat of the age of sexting, but maybe a little older. I feel like a robot, trying to understand why people like sexting and why it’s a thing that people find interesting or sexy."

See also: Lauren McCarthy Takes On Silicon Valley Optimism

Sext Adventure was built on an engine created by Nadine Lessio, who previously had created a texting-based adventure game called Cat Quest. Stone wanted to explore the engine, which uses texting, and she, along with Lessio, came out of it with an idea that becomes more than just sexting with a robot. It becomes a reflection of how we approach sex and gender, how the technology we use has become incorporated into our intimacy. It's more than just looking at some pornographic images and shock value, even though some people who check it out tend to miss the point, instead focusing on things such as the gender of the robot.

“Sometimes I get emails from guys saying ‘how do i make sexbot a woman,'” she says, “which makes me laugh because that’s not the point, to troll these dudes and send them dick picks.”

Challenging A Masculine Media And Culture

When looking at some of Stone's other work, you notice that there's a running theme and a sense of personal politics. Her experiences shine through these ruminations into what exactly makes a game, what it's like to be a woman in the tech industry, and that in part lends itself to experimentation. 

There's more of an emphasis on interactivity than on traditional game-like, winning or losing mechanics, character or storytelling. What can you do with that interactivity? What points can you bring up when you bring in a player? Medication Meditation is something that touches upon the smaller, draining aspects of having anxiety. Cyborg Goddess, another title, provides a "cost-benefit analysis of two archetypes available for women" as you explore two stories that are usually available for female characters.

Accordingly, in Sext Adventure, Stone sought not to give people the opportunity to sext with a robot of their choice, but to instead let the player explore what that kind of relationship would be like, separate from the sexual aspects. It’s the opposite of what she said she would expect from a game with this kind of title, and it’s a fun side effect to surprise others.

See also: Meet Voltage, The Japanese Choose-Your-Own-Romance App Maker

“If I had heard about a sexting game I would assume it would be by a bunch of white dudes who think they’re being funny, aimed at other white dudes that are very heterosexual and very heteronormative,” she said. “But it’s fun to surprise them.” Because her work challenges the traditional definition of a game, she has had people say what she creates are "not games."

"We don’t fit the typical game maker and therefore the games we’re making don’t get to be called videogames because it’s still seen as a very masculine media and culture," Stone said, explaining what it's like to be a female game maker. "People like to make up these rules but they’re only in place for. you know, women and trans people and gender non-binary people, people don’t think fit into the category or stereotype of video game maker."

Gaming's World Of Possibilities

Stone got her start at Dames Making Games, an organization that provides workshops and programs for women, non-binary, and queer people interested in games. Previously having studied filmmaking, Stone was struck by this seemingly novel concept, that she could make games. She joined a workshop called Junicorn that helped people make their first game. Six months later, she released Medication Meditation.

"I had been in art school forever and it was never an option, nobody was talking about it. It seemed like something that very tech-y white dudes did in California. That was a big shift for me," she said.

Now she's making games full time, in part because of this growing diversity in gamemaking circles. When faced with whether she was going to work for her PhD or go into games, Stone said she was at a crossroads. There's little money in small, artist-driven games, and at least going to school would provide her with a sense of stability. However, the idea that there were groups of people, such as Dames Making Games, that were promoting diversity in storytelling and were experimenting with new mechanics and ways to make games, was very appealing.

See also: Hatsune Miku Is Here To Destroy Everything You Love (And Hate) About Pop Stardom

Many of the games available on her website are experiments in some way or another. Knitting Simulator, which was created in a game hardware jam, isn't available to play, but from photos, you can see that it uses needles as controllers. Sext Adventure uses an engine rarely used on mobile to enhance the texting experience. It's an approach to move games out of the fixed place it fell into, something that Stone and others think the medium desperately needs.

"Games are changing and there are so many radical people working in it now that it’s inevitable that super cool, inventive things that we’ve never seen before are gonna come out," she said. "There’s just really a whole world of possibilities with games."

Header illustration by Jordan Rosenberg

More From Kill Screen

For more stories about videogames and culture, follow@killscreen on Twitter.

Reddit Interim CEO Ellen Pao: A Rare Instance Of A Woman Running A Tech Company

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:52

Categories:

Web

Amid the hoopla over the defenestration of Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, few noticed that the social news site did something else really interesting: It named a woman as its interim CEO, one who seems to have a good chance of holding the job permanently.

That would be Ellen Pao, whose last news moment came when she sued venerable venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in 2012 for sexual discrimination. The lawsuit, which is still pending, put a spotlight on gender bias in the male-dominated tech industry.

See also: Building The Front Page Of The Internet: Reddit's Alexis Ohanian

Pao joined Reddit, which is currently owned by Conde Nast parent company Advance Publications, as a brand strategist in 2013. During her brief tenure, Pao helmed Reddit's long-awaited move into mobile. Reddit first attempted building a potentially lucrative platform for ad sales in 2011 with an  app so glitchy it was eventually pulled. Under Pao, Reddit's mobile team launched two successful apps for iOS and Android.

Pao's ascent is remarkable in Silicon Valley, where most women have better odds of getting their employer to freeze their eggs than of being named CEO. As interim leader, Pao now runs of one of the most popular properties on the Internet, home to 174 million audience and recent recipient of $50 million in Silicon Valley funding. And it's a striking statement at Reddit, home of The Fappening—a now-shuttered "subreddit" focused on the sharing of celebrity nudes in the wake of Apple's iCloud leak—and a host of "jailbait" forums dedicated to sexual photos of females who appear to be underage. 

See also: For Once, The Entire Internet Isn't Blaming The Victims Of This Nude Celebrity Photo Leak

Pao's diplomas are as impressive as her career. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she is also a Harvard Business School MBA and holds a degree in electrical engineering from Princeton. She worked at a number of Silicon Valley businesses prior to her seven-year career at Kleiner Perkins.

Helming Reddit's mobile team, Pao oversaw Reddit's canny push into mainstream by simplifying its most popular forum via the official Reddit Ask Me Anything app. The AMA forum, a crowd-sourced Q&A which has featured luminaries such as President Barack Obama, Bill Gates and a host of celebrities.

See also: How To Host A Reddit AMA

Pao also oversaw the acquisition and rebranding of Alien Blue, the most popular third-party Reddit app for iOS, now available for iOS and Android.

Bolstering Silicon Valley's Female Elite

As Reddit's interim CEO, Pao joins—temporarily or not—the minority of female CEOs in Silicon Valley. Despite the visibility of Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, women executives remain rare.

See also: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to Women: Don't Ask For A Raise, Trust Karma

More than 45% of Silicon Valley companies have no women among its top employees, according to a study by law firm Fenwick & West. Other exceptions include Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman; the CEO of Google-owned YouTube, Susan Wojcicki; and Ramona Pierson, CEO and co-founder of social learning startup Declara. 

Installing Pao as interim CEO with a strong possibility of becoming permanent sends a strong message not just to investors and advertisers, but also to the Reddit community. Pao's successful mobile push indicates business acumen and organization the for-profit company previously appeared to lack. Her role in making gender inequity and sexual harassment a talking point in Silicon Valley—whether desired or not—may signal a future Reddit less friendly to creepshots and other investor-repelling content.

Lead image courtesy of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Facebook's Latest "You Are The Product" Message: We Will, We Will, Sell You

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 18:15

Categories:

Web

Facebook's latest iteration of its privacy policy is both the shortest and clearest so far about what it means to do with your personal information: Squeeze it for all the money it's worth. 

Your privacy settings won't be changing, the social network explained Thursday in a blog post. But its rules for using your location and payment information (when that service is added) are getting an update to accommodate its expanding empire.

To augment—if not distract from—this reminder that it owns its users, Facebook simplified its privacy settings with color-coding and a "Privacy Basics" tutorial.  

From the Facebook blog post:

We’re updating our policies to explain how we get location information depending on the features you decide to use. Millions of people check into their favorite places and use optional features like Nearby Friends. We’re working on ways to show you the most relevant information based on where you are and what your friends are up to. For example, in the future, if you decide to share where you are, you might see menus from restaurants nearby or updates from friends in the area.

While couched in the language of "friends," this is actually about targeted advertising. If Facebook knows exactly where you are, it know, it knows exactly which advertisements for local establishments to show you. 

See also: Mark Zuckerberg's Mythic T-Shirt And Fake Silicon Valley Do-Goodery

Soon too, Facebook will be able to help you spend that money by tapping into your wallet with those targeted ads:

In some regions, we’re testing a Buy button that helps people discover and purchase products without leaving Facebook. We’re also working on new ways to make transactions even more convenient and secure.

Facebook's new data policy is where you'll find the explanation on the information collected when you buy something through the social network. This includes:

... your credit or debit card number and other card information, and other account and authentication information, as well as billing, shipping and contact details.

And more targeted advertising ensues. 

In keeping with Facebook's 2011 settlement with the Federal Communications Commission, in which the social network agreed to give everyone a heads up on privacy changes, you've got seven days to comment on these changes. 

Lead image by mwichary

Why Booming Mobile Commerce Is Good For Developers

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 15:51

Categories:

Web

While games continue to dominate the apps that consumers buy, there are clear signs that the future of mobile may not be what they allow you to play, but what they enable you to buy. According to a new research report, mobile commerce is finally getting real. 

How real? This busy shopping season, as much as 31% of all online purchases will happen on mobile devices. That's a big change from even a year ago, and portends a healthy future for mobile developers. 

Tracking American Purchasing Behaviors

Since 2008 the Adobe Digital Index (ADI) has evaluated the purchasing behaviors of American consumers, tracking more than 1 trillion visits to 4,500 retail websites in that time, and 20 billion visits to ecommerce sites in October 2014 alone. (I recently came across the ADI upon starting work at Adobe last week.) This translates into analysis of 70% of all money spent online with the top 500 retailers, and past-year predictions falling within 1% of actual spend.

In other words, ADI is a pretty good gauge of consumer buying behaviors. (Have a look at it yourself here.)

Source: Adobe

Some of the findings offer clues as to when to get good deals. For example, ADI holds that the best day to find a deal is Thanksgiving Day, when the average discount hits 24%. 

If you can't wait until Thanksgiving, at least wait until the Monday preceding the U.S. holiday, as ADI predicts a 5% price drop between Sunday, November 23, and Monday, November 24, the largest single-day price drop of the season.

Oh, and if you're inclined to wait until Cyber Monday to start your shopping engines, be warned: "Out-of-stock messages will increase 5-fold on Cyber Monday due to increased demand and limited supply."

More Money, More Mobile

But the more interesting data ADI uncovers has to do with mobile buying behavior.

Across the board, ecommerce is booming. As reflected in the Nielsen Global E-Commerce Report, "Online purchase intention rates have doubled in three years for 12 of 22 measured categories," topping $1.5 trillion on 2014. As noted in the ADI, during the holiday shopping season this growth can reach 28% over last year's numbers.

But online retail isn't news. Mobile, however, is.

Last year most mobile ecommerce behavior essentially amounted to showrooming, whereby consumers would visit a Best Buy, for example, to see a dishwasher in person and then would complete the purchase online. 

But in 2014 the ADI predicts huge growth in the number of people both initiating and consummating a purchase on their mobile devices and, increasingly, their smartphones.

That's right: tablets, those ugly stepchildren, are getting even uglier, even though you'd think they're by far the better shopping device given their superior screen real estate. The Wall Street Journal's Christopher Mims captures the zeitgeist well:

Not that the tablet is losing all relevance. While smartphones increasingly take center stage among our mobile distractions, tablets still have a big place in mobile commerce:

Source: Adobe

But the role of tablets is shrinking fast. In 2013, for instance, tablet use outpaced that of smartphones nearly two-to-one, according to last year's ADI post-mortem on holiday sales. This year, tablets and smartphones are much closer to parity. Next year, don't be surprised to see phones jump ahead.

At the heart of this shift away from computer-based buying to mobile-based buying is consumer convenience. A few years ago mobile apps or websites were virtually unusable. Today they're optimized to make it easy to buy. 

As a personal example, I can't recall ever buying clothes online, and certainly not shoes, which (for me) has always required trying them on to ensure a good fit. 

But yesterday I bought a pair of shoes using my Nordstrom app. I was at work, prompting me to think about the need for work shoes. I don't have time to head over to the nearest Nordstrom, so I downloaded the app and started flicking through options. Ten minutes later, I had a pair of Eccos heading to my house.

What This Means For Developers

All of which is good news for mobile developers and the companies that employ them. In the past there was essentially one business model: build an app that was wildly popular (which almost by necessity meant it had to be free) and sell it to Facebook for $1 billion.

What this meant, as ReadWrite's Dan Rowinski highlighted, is a non-existent middle class of mobile developers: "The revenue distribution is so heavily skewed towards the top that just 1.6% of developers make multiples of the other 98.4% combined.” Nearly half of all mobile developers make nothing at all.

Part of this derives from the revenue models available to mobile developers. While the desktop web has a healthy advertising-based market, mobile ads have been slow to catch on, and getting someone to notice and then pay for an app is even harder. 

Mobile commerce, however, offers another, perhaps better way. And according to a Goldman Sachs report (nicely summarized by Jay Fiore), it's on a tear:

M-commerce, which accounted for a little more than one quarter of total e-commerce retail sales in 2014, will account for nearly half of all e-commerce sales in 2018. That’s 3x growth for m-commerce while non-mobile e-commerce grows only 31% over the same period.

Given that prospective growth, coupled with the growth already seen in the ADI data, mobile developers really need to be thinking about apps that not only encourage consumers to play games or watch video, but also to buy things. Citibank understands this and is reaching out to app developers to help it build the future of mobile banking, but there's really no reason to go build someone else's app when developers can focus on their own.

In short, as consumers become comfortable buying with their mobile devices we're seeing a "shift in revenue models from pay-to-buy [the app] to pay-as-you-use [the app]," according to VisionMobile's Developer Economics Q1 2014 report. This changes "the role of developers from innovators to value-adding resellers."

Given the money at stake, that may be exactly what developers need to be in the mobile app economy.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock