Mobile Video Calling Creates New Frontier as Technologies Improve

  • “As the cameras and screens of smartphones and tablets improve, and as wireless networks offer higher bandwidth, more companies are getting into the business of enabling mobile video calls,” reports The New York Times, noting that the rise has been so quick that analysts have yet to compile numbers.
  • In 2011, Microsoft acquired video calling service Skype. Similarly, Apple developed its own FaceTime feature to sell the iPad and in September expanded the service beyond just Wi-Fi to cellular networks.
  • Google’s free video calling service Hangouts on its social network Google Plus allows up to ten people to video conference, and it features more than 200 apps. Just last week, Yahoo purchased its own video chat service OnTheAir. Tango Mobile is yet another video calling service, which has attracted 80 million active users and sees 200,000 join daily, according to CTO and co-founder Eric Setton.
  • Microsoft has incorporated Skype into its Windows 8 mobile phones, allowing people to receive calls even when the app isn’t running. Google is interested in “making money on the applications, but in learning more about them so it can sell more ads by getting people to use [Hangouts],” notes the article.
  • “Don’t expect video calling to improve productivity. Tango uses the same technology that enables video calls to sell games that people can play simultaneously,” the article states. “Google says some jokey applications on Hangouts, like a feature that can put a mustache over each caller, seem to encourage people to talk longer.”
  • “Tango’s average video call used to last six minutes, Mr. Setton said, but when the company started adding other applications to go with the videos, like games and designs that float over people, the average call length rose to 12 minutes.”

Leap Motion Develops Gesture Control to Challenge Touchscreens

  • While computer makers are focused on adding touchscreen capabilities to desktops, Leap Motion has created a $70 matchbox-sized device that adds gesture control to computers, essentially negating the need for touchscreens.
  • The technology uses two small cameras and multiple infrarad LEDs to track the motion of a person’s fingers with an accuracy of a hundredth of a millimeter, Technology Review reports. The second camera is used to prevent errors from a hand obscuring itself. All the processing is done by a drive software installed on the computer.
  • According to Leap Motion co-founder and CEO Michael Buckwald, “Leap provides the solution to ‘gorilla arm,’ a term used to describe the dubious ergonomics of a person repeatedly lifting his or her hands from the keyboard or mouse and reaching out to operate a computer’s touch screen,” the article states. “Users of Leap’s device can lift their hands just slightly off the keyboard and make more economic gestures with their fingers.”
  • “If you’re controlling a cursor [with Leap], you don’t have to move one-to-one with the screen, like you do with touch,” says Buckwald, so small motions translate to larger movements on screen, making interaction faster than using a mouse and keyboard.
  • “We’re working with lots of consumer OEMs and for laptops but also automotive and medical companies,” he adds. In the future, the technology will be applied to mobile devices as well as new technology such as head-mounted displays. Leap Motion anticipates the technology will one day enable complex 3D interactions.
  • Pre-production versions of the device have been sent to developers who have created various applications for the interface, including a aircraft game and photo-browsing program. The post includes an impressive video featuring these uses and others.

Tim Cook Says Apple Will Return Some Mac Production to U.S.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the company plans to bring Macintosh computer production from China to the States. The move, Reuters suggests, could serve as an “important test of the nascent comeback in U.S. electronics manufacturing.”
  • “Apple makes the majority of its products, from Macs to the iPhone and iPad, in China, the world’s factory floor for electronics. But like other U.S. corporations, it has come under fire for relying on low-cost Asian labor and contributing to the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector,” the article states.
  • Apple will spend more than $100 million on the U.S. manufacturing project, according to Cook. He wouldn’t say which Macintosh products will be produced in the U.S., but said only one of the existing Mac product lines would be manufactured exclusively here.
  • “Also, while cheaper labor costs have been a key factor in encouraging U.S. manufacturers to move production to China,” notes Reuters, “wages and other costs have risen sharply — particularly in the main coastal manufacturing centers. Labor costs, moreover, account for only a tiny portion of overall expenses.”
  • Another added benefit to moving production to the U.S. is reducing the risk of intellectually property theft.
  • The company’s shares have been consistently dropping since September in light of intensifying competition from Google’s Android products, analysts say.
  • “Apple’s domestic manufacturing effort will likely buy the brand some goodwill at home, where the debate about off-shoring has heated up as the economy sputters along,” explains the article. “Beyond the marketing boost, some analysts said Apple could blaze a trail should it prove that American manufacturing of electronics can be profitable.”

T-Mobile Announces it Will Carry iPhone and Eliminate Subsidies

  • Starting next year, T-Mobile will begin offering Apple products, including the iPhone, but CEO John Legere says the company will make customers buy the phones themselves.
  • “T-Mobile is eliminating all device subsidies in 2013, requiring new customers to pay full price for their phones up front, buy it on installment or bring their own unlocked devices,” writes GigaOM.
  • “T-Mobile will shift entirely to its unsubsidized Value Plans, which offer customers far cheaper rates for voice and particular data,” the article continues. “Traditionally carriers factor subsidies into their normal contracts rates — basically you’re paying a mortgage on your phone. With the Value program, T-Mobile is keeping the contract, but passing what it saves on subsidies back to the consumer.”
  • Eighty percent of T-Mobile’s activations in the last quarter were value plans, signaling a strong demand for the model. However, the unsubsidized price of the iPhone 5 is between $650 and $850; the phone’s popularity is largely due to carrier subsidies, so T-Mobile could face a hurdle convincing customers.
  • “T-Mobile will have to explain to customers that they will actually save money over the length of a two-year contract by paying a lower value plan rate,” notes the post.
  • “Legere said that T-Mobile would offer the iPhone in a unique way. He implied that T-Mobile could heavily finance the device, selling it for $99 and then charging $15 to $20 a month in payments over 20 months. That kind of financing plan, however, would look very much like a subsidized contract plan to the customer.”

Battling Data Brokers: Reputation.com Builds Data Privacy Vault

  • “‘Information resellers,’ also known as ‘data brokers,’ have collected hundreds to thousands of details — what we buy, our race or ethnicity, our finances and health concerns, our Web activities and social networks — on almost every American adult,” reports The New York Times, highlighting one startup, Reputation.com, that wants to help Internet users escape the surveillance economy.
  • In addition to data brokers, there are companies that rank consumers using computer algorithms “to covertly score Internet users, identifying some as ‘high-value’ consumers… while dismissing others as a waste of time and marketing money. Yet another type of company, called an ad-trading platform, profiles Internet users and auctions off online access to them to marketers in a practice called ‘real-time bidding.'”
  • These new methods have spurred investigations from Congress and federal agencies, but they are legal — for now.
  • “As the popular conversation shifts from practices like privacy policies and opt-outs to ideas like consumer empowerment and data rights, however, marketing industry efforts have not kept pace with changing public attitudes, analysts say.”
  • “Consumers are leaving an exponentially growing digital footprint across channels and media, and they are awakening to the fact that marketers use this data for financial gain,” says Fatemeh Khatibloo, a Forrester analyst, who adds, “individuals increasingly want to know when data about them is being collected, what is being stored and by whom, and how that data is being used.”
  • Reputation.com thinks it has the solution. “For $99 per year, clients can have the company remove their personal details from databases maintained by various information resellers. They can also install company software that blocks Web tracking by 200 data brokers, advertising networks and ad trading platforms.”
  • The company’s data privacy vault, scheduled to open early next year, is designed to help consumers with their personal identity management. The data vault will serve as an authorization supervisor that manages the permissions marketers would need to access information about individuals.

Trends for 2013: Internet of Things, The Cloud, Big Data and More

David Alan Grier, professor at George Washington University and president-elect for the IEEE Computer Society, suggests five ways the computing world will change in the coming year.

1) “New companies and applications will bring the long-held vision of the Internet of Things closer to reality,” Grier writes for Forbes. By 2020, there will be an estimated 100 billion Internet-connected objects, triggering “an explosion of new uses by consumers and enterprises alike,” he predicts. “New types of sensors, new ways of connecting devices, and new strategies for embedded computing must be rolled out to bring IoT’s vision to the forefront.”

2) “Visualization and analytics will help solve the challenges of big data.” More and more data is collected and generated than ever before, but analyzing big data has become a significant challenge. Federal agencies and large corporations have launched research programs to address the problem of overwhelming or quickly outdated data.

3) “Enterprises will deploy hybrid clouds and consumers will embrace personal clouds.” Looking for energy-saving green approaches, companies will increase the demand for cloud computing; cloud interoperability and standards will also advance.

4) “The battle over Internet censorship and control will reach new heights,” Grier writes. “In 2013, expect to see these battles continuing, in the form of Internet filtering versus circumvention, surveillance versus anonymization, denial-of-service attacks and intrusion attempts versus protection mechanisms, and on- and offline persecution and defense of online activists.”

5) “Researchers and companies will develop new tools and approaches to help unleash the power of multicore computing,” which will be a “critical priority” in the age of parallel processing.

Instagram Removing the Ability for Twitter Users to Embed Photos

  • Instagram announced that it has removed support for Twitter’s expanded tweets or “Twitter cards” because the features pull users away from its own service.
  • “This is an evolution of just where we are and where we want links from our content to go,” says Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. “This is not a consequence of us getting acquired [by Facebook]. This is a consequence of us doing the best thing for our business at this time.”
  • The expanded tweets show excerpts from blog posts, online newspapers or in the case of Instagram, full photos.
  • “Instagram at some point clearly decided that doing this transferred too much of the value of its content to Twitter instead of allowing it to capture that value itself,” reports GigaOM. “Other media companies should probably also be asking themselves similar questions about their relationship with Twitter.”
  • The article notes the complicated relationship between the two platforms; Instagram was acquired by Facebook for an estimated $1 billion, while Twitter reportedly tried to acquire the photo-sharing service before Facebook.
  • Twitter is working to become a media entity, “rather than just a dumb pipe for distributing other people’s content,” GigaOM notes. As a result, the platform has a “desire to control and monetize as much of its platform as possible, and as much of the content that flows through it.”
  • Although having links and content show up on Twitter is undoubtedly good for content creators who are trying to expand their audience, Instagram “loses more value than it gains from the expanded-tweets feature because all of its content… is displayed inside Twitter’s frame,” the post states.
  • “It is not just a conduit for your content to reach your users whenever and wherever you wish (if it ever was) — it is a proprietary network built by a company with monetization and expansion on its mind, and your content is part of that equation.”

Google+ Debuts Competitors to Instagram and Facebook Groups

  • This September, the social network Google+ had 100 million monthly active users. Since then, the service has attracted 135 million monthly active users, showing “a momentum story,” says VP Brad Horowitz.
  • “We’re absolutely thrilled by the adoption and uptake,” Horowitz adds, noting that Google+ features, such as the “+1” button (similar to Facebook’s “Like” button), have also increased.
  • “Such integrations have had a big impact,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “as 235 million people per month now use Google+ features across all Google sites, up from 150 million in late June, the company said.”
  • “Still, Google declined to say how much time people are spending on the Google+ site — a change from June, when it said people spend an average of 12 minutes per month there — suggesting that the Google+ website hasn’t become a major destination unto itself, like Facebook has. Facebook has said it has more than one billion active users,” the article continues.
  • Google also announced new features and the launch of its mobile photo app Snapseed on the Android platform. Similar to Facebook’s Instagram app, Snapseed allows users to add filters to photos and share them with friends.
  • “In a blog post on Thursday, Google Senior Vice President Vic Gundotra said Google+ would be adding new features including a way to form ‘communities,’ or groups of Google+ users who share a common interest such as cooking or photography,” notes WSJ. “The communities feature would allow such people to share photos and articles and do live video chats publicly or privately, meaning only within their groups.”

Controlling Mobile: Custom Version of Android Restricts Data Access

  • New software for Android built by Boston startup Optio Labs will control what data you can access on your phone based on where you are, who you’re with, and more.
  • “You can dream up just about any rule — it can be your GPS location, or an indoor location detection: when you are in this specific room you can use these apps and connect to this data, but the moment you walk out we will delete the data, shut down the apps, prevent you from getting access to them,” says Jules White, Virginia Tech computer scientist and Optio co-founder.
  • “The technology’s most unusual trick is its room-specific security and access settings: the phone would only show you sensitive company data — or conversely, block things like e-mail, camera, or texting functions — when in range of a Bluetooth beacon sending a cryptographic tether,” reports Technology Review.
  • “Your location in the room (as opposed to a hallway) could be further confirmed through a signal sent via a near-field-communications device — perhaps the one in your boss’s phone, which you’d have to bump to get initial access, depending on the settings.”
  • Other businesses, including IBM and AT&T, have explored ways to increase security on company phones by restricting data access based on location or by offering remote data wiping.
  • “[Optio Labs’] technology could prevent data from falling into the wrong hands if a device were lost or stolen. It might also help enforce proper-use policies,” the post explains.
  • “Blending physical context (such as location) with the context of computing (what network you’re on, what data you’re looking at) is new, says Doug Schmidt, a computer scientist at Vanderbilt University who was a PhD advisor to White but has no financial tie to the company or technology. ‘This approach can enforce policies in specific situations where they make sense — rather than all the time.'”

Report Describes How Mobile is Leading to Multi-Screen Living Room

  • A new report from Business Insider Intelligence looks at how mobile devices are expanding into the living room; it also notes the opportunities for new forms of advertising and applications.
  • The report discusses the battle for the living room in four categories. First, BII analyzes substitution, finding that mobile video is most often complementary to TV viewing. “Mobile video is additive, creating more opportunities for watching video — whether it’s watching a sitcom on your smartphone during a train commute, or viewing a Netflix movie at home in bed,” notes the article.
  • The report also discusses sources, or the ability to relay high-quality video wirelessly, Business Insider explains. “Wireless TV connections are becoming increasingly common, and with them, the ability to bring smartphones and tablets more easily into the mix.”
  • Next, the study covers selection, noting many attractive apps with intuitive touch-screen interfaces are already being developed for TV.
  • “When hand-held mini-tablets and smartphones are able to send signals to audiovisual equipment and home theaters, consumers gain more flexibility with a remote control based on a smartphone or tablet,” the article states.
  • Finally, the report looks at synchronization, finding that 85 percent of U.S. tablet owners use the devices while watching TV. “In order to leverage the second screen as a companion to what’s happening on the TV, media companies must successfully migrate consumers from self-initiated use of the second screen to a programmed experience,” BI writes.

ISP Search-and-Disrupt: Copyright Alert System to Launch in January

  • Internet service providers will roll out a new “Copyright Alert System” in January to “disrupt and possibly terminate Internet access for online copyright scofflaws without the involvement of cops or courts,” reports Wired.
  • Backed by President Obama and pushed by Hollywood and record labels, the initiative was originally intended to start by the end of this year, but was delayed by Hurricane Sandy.
  • “Software makers sided with the film industry on the scope of the piracy problem, and, befitting their geekier nature, had actual hard data to back their gloomy conclusions,” the post states.
  • “Richard Atkinson, head of Adobe’s piracy unit, said the company charts 6,000 activations a day of 7-year-old pirated versions of Photoshop, and that there were 55 million ‘illegal activations’ in the past year alone of all pirated versions of the photo-editing software.”
  • Despite the initiative, Hollywood will continue to lobby Congress and file lawsuits.
  • “It doesn’t mean you give up on litigation,” says Chris Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Association of America. “It doesn’t mean you give up on legislation.”
  • “I think this is a critical issue of our time,” Dodd added.

MPAA Chief: Hollywood and Silicon Valley Can Fight Piracy Together

MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd is calling for Hollywood and Silicon Valley to join together against piracy. Dodd spoke at the Content Protection Summit in Los Angeles and criticized the idea that piracy debate is just a two-sided choice between free speech or copyright protection.

“Hollywood and Silicon Valley have more in common than most people realize or are willing to acknowledge,” he said. “Not only does Hollywood work closely with Silicon Valley to create and promote films; Hollywood film and television creators are tech companies.”

“They celebrate innovation through the world’s most cutting-edge content, and they embrace technology as imperative to the success of the creators in their community,” he added.

With the Protect IP Act and Stop Online Piracy Act, Hollywood and Silicon Valley were pitted against each other, but Dodd emphasized the need “to present a united front to deal with preventing theft of intellectual property,” Variety reports. He did not, however, advocate for any new legislation.

“We can have it both ways,” he said. “We can have an Internet that works for everyone. And in order to continue providing the world’s greatest content, we must protect the rights of our creators so they can produce for their audiences and also profit from their work.”

Facebook Reportedly in Talks to Acquire Microsoft Atlas Ad Platform

  • Microsoft’s ad-serving platform Atlas Solutions has been discreetly on the market for a while, but it recently captured interest from Facebook, according to people familiar with the matter.
  • “Sources said the social networking giant has been conducting due diligence on the media measurement platform, part of its efforts to create its own advertising network for third-party Web sites to compete with Google’s DoubleClick offering,” AllThingsD writes.
  • “Facebook and Microsoft are working on a deal that, if completed, would put Facebook one huge step closer to launching an ad network that could rival Google’s in size, and change the way advertising is done online forever,” adds Business Insider in a related report that details the massive potential of such a deal.
  • Microsoft bought the platform for $6 billion in 2007 and will be selling it for significantly less, the sources say. Facebook has been debating buying versus building its own platform. If the two companies reach an agreement, it could involve a more complex advertising network that leverages the billion email addresses, home addresses and phone numbers Facebook has on file.
  • “While there are some technological issues in taking over Atlas, sources said the prospect of starting from scratch was more daunting than picking up a platform that already delivers billions of ad impressions a day,” explains AllThingsD.

Spotify Overhaul to Debut Music Discovery, Collection and Follow Features

  • Spotify has announced a complete overhaul of its music service, which includes a Collection for users’ music, a Discover feature for finding new music and a Follow section for tracking celebrities. The update will be available in beta soon and then roll out to all devices early next year.
  • “The new features are not only meant to please users, but also to increase discovery as a whole on the platform, which could help artists gain traction,” writes The Verge.
  • “The recommendation engine works based on music you’ve listened to in the past, as well as based on artists you follow. There also appears to be a recommendation engine for showing you artists that are touring near you,” the post explains.
  • Spotify’s Collection feature gets rid of the plethora of playlists in the sidebar and brings all users’ music to one place.
  • “A fundamental behavior on Spotify is that people listen to whole albums,” says CEO and founder Daniel Ek. “A third of all playlists on Spotify are just albums people have saved. It was clear people want to listen to albums and wanted an easy way to save them, so for us [Collection view] is just about making it easier for users to save music the way they wanted.”
  • The third addition, Follow, enables users to follow friends and celebrities. “In order to keep fans on the right track, Spotify, like Twitter, displays Verified checkmarks on their profile pages,” The Verge writes. “Additionally, new push notifications can alert you as soon as albums drop inside Spotify by your favorite artists.”
  • At an event in New York City, Ek also announced that the service has 20 million monthly users and 5 million paid users, twice as many as a year ago. “We’ve paid out over half a billion dollars to musicians… over 70 percent of the money we make,” he added.

Study Indicates Mobile App Usage Challenging Time with TV and Web

  • The use of mobile apps is quickly catching up with television, and has already surpassed time spent on the Web.
  • A new study conducted by mobile analytics company Flurry tracked a trillion “events” within apps — finishing a game level or making restaurant reservations, for example — and found the numbers have grown exponentially in the last two years, Business Insider reports.
  • “In the U.S., time spent on the Web has stagnated at 70 minutes per day. Television watching has grown slightly, from 162 minutes to 168 minutes,” the article states. “But app usage has almost doubled from 66 minutes to 127 minutes a day. At current growth rates, it should catch up with television within a year.”
  • “And since we’re not getting more hours in the day, it’s pretty clear that the increased usage of apps must be happening simultaneously with other activities — like, yes, watching television,” the article continues.
  • The increased mobile use isn’t inherently bad for television producers. The “second screen” phenomenon could actually change the way shows are produced and consumed.
  • “We believe that, with the introduction of connected TVs, TV shows will behave like apps,” Flurry CEO Simon Khalaf states in the report.

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