Category Archives: Mobile

Facebook Acquires WhatsApp for a Whopping $19B

WhatsApp

Probably one of the most hostile takeovers of our time, Facebook has acquired its rival WhatsApp. In terms of value creation, this is the biggest on record.

Sequoia Capital reportedly invested only $8 million back in 2011 in WhatsApp and no additional funding was announced after that. This initial investment has thus turned out to be a huge payoff. Sources say that Sequoia has between 10-20 percent ownership of WhatsApp and if this turns out to be true, they will be looking at about $3.2 billion in cash and stock.

Why WhatsApp?

Facebook currently has over 1.25 billion users and the acquisition of this popular messaging app, which is on a path to connect 1 billion people,  will only mean more control over how the word is connected.  WhatsApp currently has over 450 million active users making it larger than Twitter and LinkedIn. WhatsApp is growing by 1 million new accounts per day. It has been able to penetrate a market that Facebook has not been able to in developing countries, places where mobile take up is expected to skyrocket in the coming years.

According to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, “the growth rate they have today and the monetization that’s early but promising and in place, we see a clear trajectory ahead and are excited to work together on this.”

WhatsApp is a free service that does not have any ads. Users however are charged $0.99 after a year of use. This yearly subscription will likely remain while still leaving out advertisements based on an announcement by the founders, Jan and Koum, former Yahoo engineers.

Zuckerberg has compared WhatsApp acquisition to that of Instagram, which means that it will continue to operate independently.

What do you think? Is WhatsApp worth $19 billion?

Cell phone use may be allowed on airplanes, says FCC

phone on planeNow that flyers of all destinations can enjoy their virtual books through turbulence, landing, and even the seatbelt speech (though, for everyone’s sake, they shouldn’t), travelers are on the verge of one more flight-changing decision.

Just a few weeks after the announcement that eReaders are now safe for airplanes – from start to finish – comes the possibility of one more technology making the cut. The Federal Communications Commission now says cell phone usage just may be the next item allowed on flights, in every step of the process. Whether this comes after receiving a high amount of praise for the addition of eReaders, or has long been a process in the works, it’s obvious that flight regulations are steadily changing to keep up with growing technology.

But that doesn’t mean the public is happy about it. Just hours after the announcement, news sources such as CNN and the Huffington Post began running opinion articles about the proposed new law. The latter even went as far as to include a poll. The results show that nearly half (49%) of flyers aren’t on board with the switch, while 20% were undecided. That leaves just 31% wishing to make calls in-flight … if it’s deemed safe, that is. In addition, 63% said they would want texting to be allowed, with 22% opposing that as well.

What the Law Could Mean

It’s easy to see why many would oppose this law – planes are crowded enough. With the addition of cell phones, those we’re packed next to could be jabbering the entire time. Hopefully fellow travelers wouldn’t be that rude, but anyone who has ever sat next to a less than desirable seatmate knows that, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. And how would such cases be handled? There is nowhere for annoyed travelers to go; they must simply sit and wait it out. At least, as is, everyone is in the same boat – which is to say without the ability to chat mid-flight.

While there’s no decision as of yet, news sources and frequent flyers alike are making their opinions known on the possible addition of cell phone usage to flights. Whether undecided or strongly against, it seems as though the majority is voting for a veto, even before the law is put into place.

For more information on the upcoming FCC in-flight changes, head to their website at FCC.gov.

Looking for a Good Deal on an iPhone? Head to a Retail Store

By now it’s nothing new to see smartphone kiosks throughout Target, Walmart, or any other chain store. To optimize user experience and to make the wait time much shorter, phone companies have teamed up with these moguls to greatly increase the locations in which consumers can purchase their next phone. And considering the shorter lines, the increased customer service (an aspect phone providers are seriously lacking), and cheaper prices, shoppers are seeing the value as well.

For example, Target sells the new iPhone 5C for $50 on-contract, regardless of carrier. The store also offers a trade-in value or store credit for the user’s original phone. The iPhone 4S could net $105 in good condition, leaving more than enough leftover for a case, accessories, or whatever else you need from Target. In comparison, walk into the cell carrier’s store and an iPhone 5C is $99 on top of an $88-ish trade-in value, for the same phone.

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So why would anyone go to a carrier store, especially when they’re likely spending time at retail stores anyway? Users can save money, avoid the lines, and pair it with their regular shopping in the process.

Is There a Catch?

This makes us wonder what the carrier stores are getting out of it (such as Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon). They offer a shamble of a “deal” in comparison, yet they still seem to be thriving, in both corporate status and in company branches. The only real perk is that business phones have to be bought through the carrier no matter what. Are they making enough off these company phones? Or is service so incredibly profitable that it can pay the bills on its own?

Then again, maybe Apple, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, etc. just charges them more, knowing they’ll pay whatever fees they set.

No matter the reality behind these varied prices, it’s safe to say that retail stores offer the better deal for new iPhones and trade-ins. While a traditional contract (and upgrade date) is still needed, it’s a great way to bypass some paperwork while saving a few dollars along the way.

The next time you’re ready to venture into the latest iPhone, remember that a carrier store isn’t the only option. In fact, trying something new just may get you a better deal.

4 Apps to Make Traveling Easier

maps 2 goWhen on the road, even the most routine and everyday events can be made difficult. Internet connections can be hard to find, technology may not work correctly (or at all), and you’re forever searching for a free outlet. With all of these hang ups, it can be hard to check email or even locate your flight information in a timely fashion. But thankfully, there’s an app for everything, even for traveling.

Use these helpful apps to make the traveling process go as smoothly as possible, no matter how far you’re headed.

Apple’s Passbook

Coming standard on iOS devices, Passbook allows users to store all their important flight info in one, easy-to-tap location. This also goes for movie tickets, coupons, rewards cards, etc. Handy while on the go, Passbook is also great for everyday events. Simply load boarding passes, rental car info, or whatever other travel documents you need, and continue about your events paper-free.

Google Flights

Tired of searching around for the best deal? Download Google’s free compare app for a second opinion any day of the week. Use it to compare flight prices, or see which airlines are offering the best deals and when. The platform even offers suggestions and lets you know when to buy for the best deal possible.

City Maps 2Go

Out of your data network area? Try these pre-loaded city maps instead. The app offers easy-to-follow maps without the overage fees or slow data time. (Think of them as paper maps, but in a smaller package.) It even locates restaurants, shopping areas, or other specific types of businesses so you can find your way even when your phone has other ideas.

Packing Pro

Take the stress out of packing with this user-friendly app. Make a list of necessary items, and then check them off as you go. Adjust each list based on location, or email family members reminders of what to bring. For a small fee, packing becomes easier with this organized packing app.

Whether needing directions or expatiating your next flight, these apps are meant to take the hassle out of the traveling process. And considering users are on their electronic devices more often while traveling than any other time, pulling up these helpful screens shouldn’t be a problem. Just remember to charge up and log in for a stress-free traveling experience each time you leave the house.

How to make a DIY smartphone stand for under $1

7816754688_487dd75457_hSmartphone stands are a great way to watch content on your phone without having to hold the phone upright, and there are a ton of different DIY methods for making them. A lot of them are made so that they’ll hold your phone horizontally, but some users want stands that prop up their phones vertically, similar to an iPhone dock from Apple.

If you want to make something similar, I’ve discovered an insanely-cheap method for building a smartphone stand that will prop up your phone vertically. It’s cheap, but it does take a little bit of assembly. Here’s how to do it.

Supplies You’ll Need

  • MiniDV tape case or a regular cassette tape case
  • A handful of pennies
  • Hot glue gun w/ glue sticks
  • Rubber tape
  • Dremel power tool

How to Make It

Technically, just the tape case will do the trick if you want a barebones solution; just open up the case all way and stick your phone in the slot. A MiniDV tape case is the perfect size for most phones, but a regular cassette tape case will do the trick.

However, if you want to take the stand to the next level, you can add a few things to make it perfect:

1. Take your pennies and hot glue gun and glue the pennies inside the case. This adds weight to the stand so that it doesn’t slide around. Pennies aren’t the best option, since they’re currency and all, so if you have any other tiny objects that weigh a lot, you can use those instead.

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2. Next, use the rubber tape to line the stand so that the phone won’t slip around when it’s in the stand. Since my iPhone doesn’t fit perfectly in the slot, I cut out small strips of the rubber tape and glued them into the slot to add a little padding so that my phone would fit perfectly.

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3. Lastly, take your Dremel power tool and use a small drill bit to carve out a small hole on the bottom of the tape case slot so that the phone’s sound can exit through the speaker without it being blocked by the stand.

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Conclusion

It’s a pretty janky-looking smartphone stand, but it’s dirt cheap and it does its job. Plus, it still folds up just like cassette tape does so that you can toss it in your bag and take it with you on the go.

Of course, buying a pre-made smartphone stand may be a good investment if you plan on using it all the time. Good smartphone stands can cost as much as $30, but that’s a small price to pay for something that you’ll use every day into the future.

Distributed computing comes to Android with BOINC

Our understanding of the world around us has grown by leaps and bounds since the invention of the computer. The simulation of complex systems in particular involves crunching a ton of numbers, a task computers excel at. Unfortunately, the very best number crunchers happen to be extremely expensive, both to buy and to maintain. Through a system known as distributed computing large, complex tasks can be completed without the hassle of managing a supercomputer.

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Image credit: NASA

In distributed computing, a central server offloads small tasks to the computers connected to its network. Each computer completes its task and sends the results back to the server. By utilizing the spare CPU cycles of tens of thousands of volunteer computers, a project like Folding@Home can complete vital research without needing to buy pricey supercomputers. Distributed computing networks exist for a vast array of scientific pursuits, including disease research, the factorization of large integers, and even the search for extraterrestrial life.

Major distributed computing platforms have been available for the desktop computer for more than a decade, and a Folding@Home app can even be installed on the PS3, but until now the mobile market has remained largely untouched. The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) has changed that with the recent release of their Android app.

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Upon first opening BOINC’s app you’ll be prompted to select a distributed computing project to contribute to. A brief overview of each project’s goals can be found on BOINC’s website or by selecting a project in the app. After selecting a project you’ll need to create an account to track your computing progress. Once you’ve created an account, BOINC is ready to do its work.

You’re probably thinking that an app of this nature would quickly drain your phone’s battery, and you’d be right if the BOINC app ran continuously. Thankfully, it isn’t configured to run continuously. By default, it only runs when your phone is connected to power, and even then only when the battery is charged to at least 90%. These settings (and others) can be fine tuned in the preferences menu. I highly recommend changing the max used storage space option to something much lower, as the default setting is absurdly high.

The computing power of a current generation smartphone might not compare to that of even a meager desktop computer, but combined with thousands of other phones that power becomes much more substantial. Every little bit helps.

BOINC is available for Android and can be found on the Play Store. Clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux can be found on the BOINC website.

The Current State of Platform, Software and Device Security

The year 2012 and the better part of 2013 have witnessed the birth of new computing platforms, social network platforms and general computing trends that not only make the gadget and internet a better place, but also a more dangerous one. These innovations and developed habits expose us to a variety of threats that we must be aware of in order to survive in the modern digitally connected world.

Security

The release of new platforms gives both legitimate technology users and hackers something to look forward to. Users have to test new features and functionalities as hackers seek to exploit loopholes in the innovations’ firewalls. Since the adoption of new technology improves our efficiency, we will always be vulnerable to the accompanied hacker attacks and hope that the platform, gadget or software developer will release security patches as soon as security related bugs show up.

Are Security Risks Increasing or Decreasing?

As genuine developers come up with new software pieces, malicious developers are also at work trying to come up with re-engineered pieces that are better at breaching current and yet-to-come systems. This trend, confirmed by the attempts to improve on Skywiper/flamer to Stuxnet, gives system administrators something new to think about since they will be facing better-equipped criminals in the near future.

Even though the security trends of the future might strongly lean on the weaknesses of the new platforms and operating systems, we cannot overlook the birth of mobile devices. Since most people do not believe that, there are systems that can intrude the innate security of their mobile devices, cyber criminals might have an easier time in gaining access into the information people share through their devices.

With the number of possible additions to this list almost endless, the number of risks grows exponentially. The diversification of platforms and computing behaviors might give the average person an information overload that might force them to overlook some important security features or give cyber criminals more options to explore.

Do We Have a Choice?

Apart from the security issue, the manner in which we interact with other people is bound to change. The adoption of online solutions will greatly reduce personal level interactions while reducing the control we have over some of the information we might refer to as “personal.”

Nonetheless, the productivity per unit time is bound to increase since we no longer have to do all the hard work. The new systems and hardware products will take care of most of our needs despite the security and privacy risks, making them almost as important as the basic human needs. We will have no option but to live with the emergent vices and make the best out of the available virtues.

Will book apps replace the ebook?

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More and more people are reading ebooks instead of physical books nowadays. It’s a platform that continues to be popular and it’s definitely a lot easier to carry dozens of books on a tablet than to carry even a few actual books with you on vacation. As ebooks continue to grow in popularity, there’s a new type of platform entering the market, and it’s called the book app.

What is a book app?

A book app presents a book in app form rather than ebook form, and it allows for much more interactivity. Sure, an ebook can have video and sound in it now, but a book app can do so much more. It can add interactive video, games, and new ways to get involved with the story; it’s an entirely new and different experience.

Book apps have actually been around for quite a while, mostly being prevalent in children’s books. When the iPad first came out, Disney released a free Toy Story book app, and it’s still one of the best apps in the app store. It includes the book, along with a coloring book and games mixed into the story to engage children as they read it. After this book was released, Disney continued to release more and more interactive book apps, and they still do to this day. Other content creators have since jumped in.

Book apps are gaining steam

However, while it’s not a brand new category by any means, book apps are expanding to include more than just children’s books. Just these past couple of months has seen the release of two fantastic book apps. First,  The Animator’s Survival Kit. This is an app based on the book of the same name, which is a book that teaches animation. Instead of creating an ebook edition (one still might be on the way, but it’s not available as of this writing), the book was converted into a full-blown app, adding many fantastic features you wouldn’t get otherwise. The app is packed with all kinds of videos, including interactive videos that let the reader see the animation steps in a way not possible in an ebook. It’s fantastic, and it’s the same retail price as the actual book, so you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck.

ebooks are still sticking around

That was just one example of a recent book app, but does this mean the end of the ebook is near? I don’t think so. Certain books only work as text, and it’s what most people still want. However, I do see interactive book apps becoming more and more popular as time goes on. Can you just imagine a Stephen King book as an interactive app? That would be pretty amazing.

The Budget iPhone: A Risk for Apple?

The Apple rumor mill is currently working overtime with reports and leaks related to a new low-cost iPhone. In recent weeks, various photos have emerged, including the rear view of a plastic iPhone in a range of colors, as well as a pile of plastic boxes for an “iPhone 5C.”

While there’s nothing to guarantee that there’s any truth to the rumors, when the web-based chatter reaches this volume, there’s usually some level of fact in play. Prior to the launch of the iPhone 5, the bulk of the leaked information proved to be right, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that some of the reports that we’ve heard about the budget iPhone are correct.

Budget iPhone

Assumptions

Let’s assume that most of the rumors we’ve heard are true. What other assumptions can we hypothetically make about a new budget iPhone? Here’s what we could expect.

  • It will run iOS 7, because Apple’s hardly going to release something new that runs an old operating system, obviously.
  • Storage options will be similar, although there may be a return of the low-capacity 8GB model that’s been dropped since the release of the 4S.
  • It will have the same aspect ratio as the iPhone 5, although it may not be a retina display.

As we’re now playing the assumption game, let’s also assume that the cost of the budget iPhone is roughly half the cost of an iPhone 5. (A SIM-free 16GB iPhone 5 is $649 in the US right now, making our hypothetical budget iPhone cost around $325, which is broadly in line with internet rumor).

What will you get for paying double the price?

  • Potentially a little more storage space
  • A higher-resolution camera
  • A retina display
  • A phone built with higher-quality materials

So what’s my problem with all of this? My main problem is that aside from the points above, consumers still get an iPhone after paying half the price. Most everyday consumers don’t even know how many megapixels their camera has, nor do they probably care. Furthermore, the lack of a retina display will most likely have no bearing on sales, as the lower-quality display has done nothing to stop the iPad Mini selling by the boatload.

We’re then left with the materials. The materials that have made previous iPhones seem luxurious and desirable are the same materials that result in expensive repair bills from disastrous smashed shells and screen incidents. With this in mind, I have to wonder if, when I go to buy my next iPhone, I’ll decide to buy one that costs half as much. More importantly, it will still only cost half as much when I have to replace or repair it.

Conclusion

I welcome the possible release of a low-cost iPhone. I also fully appreciate that there will always be plenty of people who simply have to have Apple’s flagship phone. This is, of course, made easier for consumers in countries where handsets are network-subsidised.

However, I can’t help but wonder whether Apple is underestimating how many people just simply want an iPhone and aren’t that bothered about specs and materials. While a budget iPhone will undoubtedly sell to millions of people who haven’t been able to afford one before, it may also encourage existing iPhone users to “downgrade” the next time they “upgrade.”

New doorbell lets you answer the door from anywhere

doorbotIn the growing list of items to become “smart”, now comes the doorbell. Wi-fi enabled, video stream-able, and recreating the definition of privacy laws, this doorbell puts a completely new take on answering the front door. Known as the DoorBot, this new invention brings both safety and technology to the old fashioned knock at the door.

For instance, when traveling or running errands, a user can video chat with a delivery man, asking him to place a package around back or leave it on the porch. The camera also allows homeowners to screen their guests; simply check the camera to see who’s waiting at the other side before opening up one’s door. Whether using this feature to duck salesmen or helping kids identify strangers vs. friends, the DoorBot is bringing convenience to answering one’s door.

How it Works

Equipped with a small camera, when “rang,” the DoorBot notifies users through its free app and allows them to remotely chat with a guest. Connecting to the home’s Wi-fi, DoorBot owners can see a clear view of the knocker, while the guest only hears a voice. This way users can maintain their safety, never even having to mention they are at a remote location. While sound comes out of the device itself, it could easily be a speaker from indoors. Even if home, residents can answer remotely to keep interactions safe and brief.

The DoorBot also runs on a rechargeable battery, so there’s no need to constantly replace its power source. Add on an extra security feature, known as Lockitron, with the device for peace of mind, or stick to this futuristic doorbell for a convenient way to answer the door … no matter your location. In a world where smartphones can provide so many other virtual tasks, why not answer your door as well?

With the security add-on, where users can lock and unlock their front door from their phones, the device runs at about $350. Updated features also help the model stay put, so there’s no worry about doorbell theft.

Whether receiving packages while on business, wanting to protect one’s kids, or just need a way to thwart the salesmen, DoorBot offers a unique approach to the old fashioned, “Who is it?” form of answering one’s door.

Pre-order yours today or wait for them to hit the shelves later this year.