Gadget Ogling: CES Edition

Welcome, friends, to the first 2018 installment of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, where we attempt to find the most compelling new gadgets that somehow survived a development process that lasted through the guttural wretchedness of 2017.

In our CES-packed edition this time around are a camera that allows you to hop back in time, a tiny wearable to monitor sun exposure, a mobile retail space that can come to you, an AR game controller, and an, um, Alexa-connected toilet.

As always, the ratings relate only to how much I’d like to use these myself. These are not reviews, mainly because I’ve never even seen these items in the same physical space as myself.

Turning Back Time

Roader’s Time Machine Camera is designed to hang around your neck and, for up to seven hours of battery life, constantly capture what it sees. When you hit a button, it saves the last 10 seconds of footage as well as the following 10.

You can send a low-resolution version of that 20-second clip to your smartphone immediately, and if you’d like to save a high-resolution version, you can grab that too.

It could be a great solution for people who always find themselves just missing an important or interesting moment occurring right in front of them.

By the time you grab your phone, open the camera, and hit record, it’s often too late. Having the chance to capture a child’s first word when it’s unexpected might be priceless for parents.

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It’s not quite the most subtle-looking device, and maybe there’s a way to incorporate this tech into clothing so it’s less conspicuous. I do wonder, though, how many times I’d be able to capture myself slipping on ice over the next few months.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Forever Moments

Sun Safety

I’ve long been ambivalent on wearables, but L’Oreal has concocted one I’d have to be a monster not to get behind. UV Sense needs no battery and is small enough to fit on a fingernail. Its sensor monitors your exposure to ultraviolet light and lets you know when it might be time for you to take shelter.

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It uses NFC to communicate with your phone rather than WiFi or Bluetooth. Since this is a L’Oreal gizmo, it can suggest some products based on your skin tone and exposure.

It’s a fantastic idea, and if it can help prevent at least one case of melanoma, it will have been a worthwhile endeavor. However, for me, I’m more content to hang out in the shade anyway. Give me moderate temperatures or give me my bed.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Averted Skin Cancers

Bringing You Everything and Everywhere

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of CES this year was Toyota’s autonomous vehicle, e-Palette. Partnering with the likes of Pizza Hut, Uber, Mazda, Amazon and Didi, this is sort of an autonomous van, bringing your orders and letting you try things before you buy in a mobile retail space, which is not entirely possible with typical online shopping.

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It can be used for ride-sharing too, which could be a boon for cities dealing with too much congestion. Toyota’s playing the long game here, with testing expected to start in 2020.

While the e-Palette is very much a concept for now, it’s another step toward autonomous transportation and delivery. And, heck, if it helps avoid my Amazon deliveries being left outside when a driver can’t wait 15 seconds for me to get the door, I have to support this to the largest degree.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Who Needs Drivers Anymores?

Blast Away

What’s CES without its more fun side? Merge VR has created the 6DoF Blaster, a plastic toy gun with a space for your smartphone that you can use for augmented-reality or mixed-reality gaming.

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It brings to mind the light gun game controllers of old or even the Wiimote. Only this time, one won’t need to be tethered to a game console.

I can imagine developers creating a game that uses a whole bunch of these, and leads groups of friends to a park for a mass laser tag-style encounter. It’s a game I just made up that I already can’t wait to play.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Pew Pews

Thermal Toilet

Kohler’s Numi is an Alexa-connected toilet. That’s right.

It can warm the seat as you get close and flush automatically when you’re done, like myriad public restrooms you’ve seen. It can have various presets adjusted to the preferences of everyone in your home, and can even play music if you have a compatible speaker.

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It uses UV light to sanitize and warm water for cleansing, and has a warm-air dryer, and ambient lighting, all of which seem a bit much for one of the oldest and most important pieces of technology in human history.

There’s even a touchscreen remote, for heaven’s sake, and of course, there are voice controls too.

I can’t sniff at the automatic deodorizer, though. That’s one feature that all toilets should have.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Do Not Disturbs


Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He’s Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word “soccer” in his company. You can connect with Kris on
Google+.

CVS vows to ban photo manipulation in its marketing material for beauty products

Following in the footsteps of many fashion and lifestyle brands, CVS Pharmacy says it will soon ban photo manipulation in all marketing material for beauty products, both in-store and online.

In a statement made at the National Retail Federation’s convention in New York, CVS Pharmacy President Helena Foulkes said: “The connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been established.” The statement later adds: “This new initiative is being introduced in an effort to lead positive change around transparency in beauty as well, as to allow customers to differentiate between authentic and materially altered imagery.”

A key part of this ban is what CVS Pharmacy calls the “CVS Beauty Mark.” This label, which will appear as a watermark across in-store marketing material, will be used as a means to identify images that haven’t been “materially altered,” a phrase CVS Pharmacy defines as “changing or enhancing a person’s shape, size, proportion, skin or eye color, wrinkles, or any other individual characteristics.”

The CVS Beauty Mark will start to be seen on marketing material produced by CVS Pharmacy in 2018. The end goal, according to CVS Pharmacy, is to have all images within the beauty sections of its stores reflect transparency by “the end of 2020.” To do this, CVS Pharmacy says it’s working hard with its beauty brand partners, “many of whom are already thinking about this important issue.”

CVS Pharmacy isn’t the first company to crack down on photo manipulation, specifically in regard to beauty and skin care products, but the fact it’s a retailer that sells scores of other products makes it a bit of a different story.

CVS Pharmacy is one of the largest retailers of beauty products and these changes are expected to affect more than 9,600 stores nationwide that carry beauty products from Maybelline, L’Oreal, Unilever, Revlon, Dove, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and many others.

Editors’ Recommendations

VICTOR sums up the trends that dominated CES 2018

For normal people, the end of the year is a time for celebration, vacation, and family.

For people in the tech industry, though, it’s a time of frantic preparation for the biggest trade show in the Western Hemisphere: CES.

The Consumer Electronics Show takes place in Las Vegas every January, perfectly timed to drain the joy out of the holidays for 170,000 people. It’s not open to the public — only to members of the industry and the media that covers it.

The Consumer Electronics Show comes once a year, whether we like it or not.

The purpose of the show is for nearly 4,000 companies to show off what they’re working on. When will these products reach stores shelves? Some of it soon, some of it next year, and lots of it, never.

Every year, everyone wants to know: What was new at CES? The world is hungry for an exciting answer, like, “Oh, there’s this thing called an iPad!” or “They showed this car called a Tesla!”

But every year, there are fewer new breakout inventions; at CES 2018 last week, I’d say there were zero. (In fact, the most talked-about display at CES last week was when the power went out for two hours. At an electronics show. #irony.)

Instead, CES these days is more about the same buzzword, technologies seep into existing products from across the industry, cross fertilizing. This year, six of these seeping technologies were on display — which, for your convenience, I’ve boiled down to a handy acronym: VICTOR.

It stands for voice, Internet of Things, cars, TVs, oddballs, and robots.

Voice

At this point, you probably know that the Amazon Echo is that cylinder that sits in your house and responds to voice commands, kind of like Siri for the home. Google has its own copycat version, called Google Home. These things are incredibly popular — already, they’re in 16% of American homes.

Both Amazon and Google have been aggressively encouraging other companies to build their voice technologies into their own appliances: refrigerators, light switches, lamps, speakers, robo-vacuums, TVs, headphones, security cameras, door locks, washers, dryers, cars, and so on. “Works with Amazon Alexa!” and “Works with OK Google!” signs were everywhere at CES last week.

You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting an Alexa-enabled product.

What’s great is that this isn’t an either/or thing. It’s not another Betamax/VHS war, or a Blu-ray/HD-DVD war. Since Alexa and “OK Google” are just software, there’s nothing to stop them from coexisting in the same product. The Sonos One speaker, Vivitar smart speaker, and new TiVo models, for example, can all understand commands barked in either command language.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things, of course, is the nonsensical name for home devices that are networkable, so that we can control them by pulling out our phones and opening an app. For something that’s supposed to make our lives simpler and easier, that’s too much hassle. Consumers have been staying away in droves.

What may save the “I” in VICTOR is the “V” in VICTOR — voice control. “Alexa, is the dryer done yet?” “Hey Google, make it two degrees warmer in here.” “Alexa, lock the doors.” “OK Google, I want to watch ‘Rambo.’”

That arrangement actually works — and was everywhere at CES 2018. Samsung and LG, among others, demonstrated entire model living rooms and kitchens filled with appliances waiting for your verbal command.

An LG employee shows how its new fridge has six cameras inside that let you see its contents.

Cars

The self-driving car courses at CES were a third bigger than last year. Every car company you’ve ever heard of, and a few you haven’t, were demonstrating their self-driving prototypes. Lyft was even giving a few lucky showgoers rides around town in self-driving cars.

Sleek-looking concept cars filled the CES exhibit halls.

For 10 years, people have been saying that these cars would hit the roads in 2020 — and guess what? Unlike most heavily hyped new technologies, this horizon isn’t receding. People are still saying 2020. That means it’s probably real.

Lots of people were also talking about Toyota’s e-Palette, a prototype self-driving store.

Toyota envisions its E-Palette as a self-driving store, delivery van, or even hotel room.

TVs

CES show floors have always been dominated by massive walls of brilliant TV screens, and this year was no exception. The industry is still hard at work pushing us to buy 4K TV screens, which have four times the number of pixels as hi-def screens. Only one problem: You can’t see the difference from a normal seating distance.

As it does every year, LG created a dazzling wall of TV screens—this time, in an undulating canyon.

Even if you could see it, there’s very little to watch. Not a single TV network or cable channel broadcasts in 4K. If you own a 4K television, and you want to watch 4K shows and movies, you have two choices: Buy a 4K Blu-ray player and buy new movies on disc — or stream your shows online, from services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.

In short, 4K is kind of a hoax.

(What you can see — what is worth upgrading to — is a much less catchy format. It’s called HDR, for high dynamic range. Much brighter brights, much darker darks; more detail in those bright and dark places; and more shades in between. More shades of color, too. Really fantastic.)

So the forehead-slapping breakthrough of CES 2018 was — get this — 8K screens. That’s right: four times as many pixels as 4K. If 4K was a stupid hoax, then 8K is four times as stupid. Really? They think we’re going to re-buy all our movies on disc again, to play on another new special disc player?

Samsung displayed a new display technology called MicroLED, which it claims to be as great-looking as OLED but at a lower price and less chance of burn-in. Cooler yet, the company proposes selling these TVs as one-foot, borderless tiles, which you can assemble to make as big a TV as you like. The one on the show floor, at 146 inches diagonal, dubbed “The Wall,” was a huge hit with showgoers.

LG also displayed (in an off-floor, invitation-only hotel area) a huge flat screen TV that rolls up. It’s built like an upside-down window shade; when you need the screen to get smaller, it wraps up around a roller at the bottom, hidden inside a wooden box.

LG’s prototype TV rolls upward or downward into the box below, to fit the video material.

Why? Because, the company says, you may want to watch different movies or shows that have different screen proportions. The real reason, of course, is, “Because we could.”

Oddball things

The “O” in VICTOR is the catch-all for all kinds of other crazy stuff on display. Walk the 50 football fields’ worth of exhibit space, and you’d find:

  • Two laundry-folding machines. One, the Foldimate, will cost $980 but will require you to attach each piece of clothing to clips; the other, the Laundroid, will go for $16,000 but does everything for you.
  • A full-body suit for playing virtual-reality games, so that bullets can “hit” you anywhere, or you can walk into a hot or cold virtual place, and you’ll feel it.
  • An electronic breast pump that you wear secretly inside your bra as you go about your day.
  • A tiny, battery-free sensor that you wear on your fingernail to detect excessive exposure to UV light.
  • Another stab at the Google Glass concept. This time, the virtual screen is superimposed on your field of view by a full pair of sunglasses.
  • Not one, not two, but three self-driving suitcases that follow you through the airport.
The Puppy 1 self-driving suitcase balances on two wheels, using technology adapted from Segway.
  • Remember my exhaustive (and exhausting) report about the struggles of the through-the-air charging industry? The products that can charge your gadgets at a distance? Well, the FCC just approved some of these products, including the Energous three-foot charging system. The very first product to include it is called the Myant Skiin, a line of clothing that tracks your vital statistics as you wear it.

Robots

No surprise here: Robotics and automation were the stars of the show. Heck, they’re the stars of every show right about now. Everywhere you looked, there were shiny white plastic robo-things with big eyes and smiley mouths to look less threatening. Most of them seemed to be “because we could” designs, rather than “you need one of these.”

Here and there, though, you could spot far more purpose-built robots:

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  • LG offered three new robots for commercial use: one for restaurants, to deliver food or drinks; one for hotels, to carry luggage up to your room; and one for grocery stores, which guides you to the food shelf you’re looking for, and scans the package as you drop it into its hopper.
LG’s new service robots are designed for restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores.
  • Sony is re-introducing its Aibo robotic dog, this time in a more advanced, more puppy-like incarnation (probably $1,700 when it hits the U.S.). Sensors make the dog respond appropriately when you pet it or swat it; it learns your voice over time and seeks you out; and, like the original Aibo, it plays fetch with a pink ball.
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  • Omron built a ping-pong-playing robot — not ever intended to be for sale, but to show off its robot-making skills.
  • Just to make sure all of Vegas’s bases were covered, the Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club featured two pole-dancing stripper robots as a CES gimmick.

Hail to the VICTORs

So, you get it: Same as last year, just more of it.

If all of that seems like a lot to read, well hey — here’s a rhyme to make it go down easier:

V is for the voice control in every gadget here —
“Alexa, do my bidding!”… “OK Google, bring my beer!”
In TVs, cars, and speakers, it’s a miracle of choice.
The world’s at your command — at least if you don’t lose your voice!

I is for the second realm, called Internet of Things,
It’s networked household stuff, complete with all the fun that it brings
It’s thermostats, refrigerators, all your kitchen gear…
So far, nobody’s buying it — but hey, perhaps next year.

C is for self-driving cars! So many at this show!
We’re told they’re really coming soon — about two years to go.

T is for the TV screens on all the expo floors.
They look amazing when they’re here — but less so once they’re yours. 

O is for the oddball stuff! The offbeat and bizarre:
This laundry-folding robot, or this crazy concept car.

R is for the robots — Sony’s puppy stole my show.
This grocery bot asks what you want, then shows you where to go.

So there’s your whole mnemonic — VICTOR! Hope you liked the show
And don’t forget the greatest part — you didn’t have to go!

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can sign up to get his stuff by email, here.  

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Everything you can do on the Overwatch League app, and how to use it

Blizzard’s Overwatch League kicked off in January, and it instantly dominated game streaming service Twitch, with hundreds of viewers tuning in to watch their favorite teams from around the globe compete in nail-biting matches. For fans who would rather watch on their phone, Blizzard’s official Overwatch League iOS and Android apps allow you to keep up with league easily. You can every match on the go, check scores and overall standings, view replays, check up on news, and even set alerts for when your favorite team is about to play. Let’s take a look at all the things you can do on the Overwatch League app, and how you use them.

Sign into the app and adjust your settings

how to use overwatch league app 5

If you plan to follow the Overwatch League regularly, the first thing you’ll want to do is sign in with your Blizzard ID, A.K.A. your Battle.Net account. You can use most of the Overwatch League app’s features regardless of whether or not you connect your Blizzard account, but signing in will give you the ability to follow your favorite teams and get phone alerts to remind you of scheduled game times.

To sign in, hit the user icon in the top left corner of the app and you’ll come to a page asking you to sign into your Blizzard account. Use the same username and password you use to sign into Blizzard’s Battle.net service — despite the name change, they are one and the same — and your account will be connected automatically.

From here, hit the “settings” option and you’ll be able to toggle match spoilers on and off – if you want to watch matches after they air, it’s best to hide them – as well as set match alerts as push notifications on your phone. You can also change your stream language to French or Korean instead of English.

how to use overwatch league app 4

Go back to the user page, and you’ll see a tab for “followed teams.” Click this and you’ll see a list of every team in the Overwatch League. Hitting the star by any team will follow them, giving you alerts for their matches, a shortcut to their page at the top of the app, and automatically syncing them to your account on the Overwatch League website.

Home page

how to use overwatch league app 3

Select the clock symbol at the bottom of the app to go to the home page. This gives you a snapshot of everything happening in the Overwatch league, including upcoming matches, videos, and news.

All matches taking place on the current day will be selectable at the top. Just scroll from side to side to select the match you’re interested in, and you’ll be taken to a page for that particular match, which shows the teams’ rosters. To set an alarm for the start of the game, tap the alarm in the top right corner, or ellipses symbol next to it, which you can use to add the match to your phone’s calendar.

Matches page

how to use overwatch league app 2

The scoreboard symbol at the bottom of the app will take you to the “matches” page. This is broken up by the four “stages” in the regular season, which you can change using the arrow at the top of the page – you can also set alerts for any matches you’re interested in here.

Click on any complete match (those with a score shown next to the teams’ names) to go an individual scoreboard page: On these pages, you can watch on-demand replays of each match. If the match hasn’t taken place yet, you’ll see the alarm symbol next to the teams’ names, instead, which you can also use to set an alert.

Standings page

how to use overwatch league app 1

The trophy symbol at the bottom of the app will take you to the “standings” page. This page is the most basic of the three, showing the current division leaders for the Pacific and the Atlantic, as well as those who would qualify for a wildcard spot in the playoffs should the season end today – a blue dotted line underneath these teams denotes those who would not make the playoffs in this scenario.

By default, this page shows the wildcard standings. Select “division leaders” and you’ll see the two divisions categorized separately, and selecting any team will take you to their organization’s page, complete with a schedule, videos, news, and a look at their roster.

If you click the three-lined icon in the top right of the standings page, you’ll see a menu which allows you to view the standings by particular stage, the playoffs, the grand finals, or even the “all-star weekend.” Each stage’s page also features the dotted blue line: In this case, it shows which teams will compete for the top prize in that particular stage, which earns teams a cash bonus.

Editors’ Recommendations

U.S. lawmakers reportedly pressure AT&T to completely cut ties with Huawei

After Huawei announced its flagship smartphone will not be sold by U.S. carriers, rumors surfaced the deal fell through due to security concerns. Now, sources close to the matter claim U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T to cut commercial ties with the Chinese company altogether — including any involvement in 5G development, Reuters reports.

According to the report, politicians are advising U.S. firms that having any ties to either Huawei or China Mobile could ruin their ability to do business with the U.S. government. In addition, two Republican lawmakers have already introduced a bill that bars the U.S. government from using or contracting Huawei as well as ZTE devices.

In 2016, Huawei was reportedly met with security concerns due to its networking equipment. The issue primarily stemmed from a 2012 congressional report suggesting U.S. carriers should stay away from Huawei and ZTE gear because “China might use it to spy on Americans.”

The call to end its 5G development is also due to security concerns, since it could potentially allow China to access other foreign networks. While AT&T declined to comment, the carrier did tell Reuters it had made no decisions on 5G suppliers.

The news comes after AT&T was reportedly pressured into dropping the deal earlier this month — due to a letter written by a group of lawmakers to the Federal Communications Commission expressing their concerns over Huawei’s plans to sell its products through a U.S. carrier, The Information reports. The letter specifically cited Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government — a concern that has caused the company difficulty breaking into the U.S. in the past.

But AT&T isn’t the only carrier that might be giving into the pressure. According to Android Police, a source familiar with Verizon’s plans says the carrier is reportedly also planning on canceling the launch of a Huawei smartphone later this year.

While it’s unclear whether Verizon was planning on selling the Mate 10 or the Mate 10 Pro, the launch was originally supposed to happen this summer and was pushed back to the fall season instead. Following the recent events with AT&T, it seems Verizon is now supposedly canceling the launch altogether — also due to security reasons.

Huawei already sells budget devices in the U.S., but not through carriers — they can be purchased through Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, and other retailers. It also sold the Mate 9 through Amazon, after a soft launch during CES 2017.

Regardless, Huawei will still launch the Mate 10 Pro in the U.S. on February 18 for $800. You’ll be able to purchase it through Amazon, Best Buy, Microsoft stores, Newegg, and B&H Photo. For more details on the launch and the device, be sure to check out our news post.

Challenges for Huawei

In addition to security concerns, there have also been technical obstacles when it comes to cellular standards. The Mate 10 Pro is sold as a GSM mobile device internationally, but since Sprint and Verizon use CDMA networks, Huawei would have to adapt its processors to be compatible with those networks.

Security and technological issues aside, being able to sell its devices via U.S. carriers would solve the lack of presence Huawei has in the country. By selling a flagship line to U.S. carriers, the company would work to possibly grow its presence via U.S. retailer stores, TV commercials, and carrier websites. Sources told Bloomberg that Huawei does plan to sell the Mate 10 device via ecommerce channels as well.

Regardless of the competition, Huawei is still the third-largest smartphone manufacturer — behind Apple and Samsung. The earliest reports claimed Xiaomi — another hugely popular Chinese smartphone brand — was also in discussions with U.S. carriers.

Update: U.S. lawmakers are reportedly urging AT&T to cut commercial ties with Huawei 

Editors’ Recommendations

Customer details may have been stolen from the OnePlus web store

OnePlus has opened an investigation into its web store’s payment methods after it emerged that some of its customers had been hit by credit card fraud shortly after making a purchase.

The issue arose when a user by the name of Superdutynick noticed that both of his credit cards had gained fraudulent charges after he made two separate transactions on the OnePlus store. Noting that the only common denominator was the OnePlus store, he started a poll on the official OnePlus forums asking other users had experienced a similar problem. When a significant percentage replied that they had and it was quickly followed by a similar post on Reddit that attracted hundreds of concerned comments, it became obvious that OnePlus was going to have to act fast.

The company did, in fact, react quickly. It responded with a forum post of its own explaining the situation, and later disabled all credit card payments on the website while the investigation was taking place. OnePlus team member Mingyu seems fairly certain what isn’t the cause of the leaks, saying that the recent Magento hack is not to blame, since the OnePlus website has been rebuilt since 2014, and had never included the Magento payment module on the previous Magento ecommerce site. Mingyu also did not believe it was as a result of a breach of OnePlus’s security, since no card details are stored on their servers.

Information security website Fidus seems to disagree with that idea, noting that OnePlus itself is not PCI-DSS compliant, and that while no information is stored on OnePlus’s website, there is a single page still hosted on OnePlus’ infrastructure where card details could be stolen, if an intruder has access. At this time, this seems to be the most likely culprit for the breach, though it’s worth waiting to see what OnePlus’ own investigation turns up.

OnePlus has been one of Android’s major success stories, with the company coming out of nowhere to become an established name within smartphones. It recently released its OnePlus 5T to great acclaim, and while no stranger to controversy, has generally had good press on its side. Thanks to its swift and decisive action to fix this issue as soon as it became apparent, we’re sure OnePlus will bounce back from this.

At this time, it seems that anyone who paid for their purchases via PayPal is in the clear, but OnePlus is urging anyone who has previously made a purchase on its webstore using a credit card to check their statements and get any unauthorized charges reversed wherever possible.

Editors’ Recommendations

Americans say social media is destroying the news — but nobody knows what to do about it

Social media truly is bringing Americans together… in our frustration over social media giants. 

Americans are fed up with the role that big tech companies now play in the news media, according to a new study from the Knight Foundation and Gallup. 

Maybe worse — we’re enormously conflicted on what to do about that.

On Tuesday, the Knight Foundation and Gallup published a sweeping study about the public’s perception of the media — including tech companies — and its role in politics and society. 

Entitled “American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy,” the study surveyed 19,196 Americans over the age of 18 about their news consumption habits, the extent that they believe the media is important to a democracy, whether they believe the media is succeeding in informing the public, how the proliferation of online news sources is contributing to their consumption of current events, the extent of the problem of fake news, and more. 

Many of the study’s statistical findings basically support what we’re all experiencing: a massive amount of vitriol and suspicion directed towards the press, the breakdown of faith in objective facts and reporting, the proliferation of partisanship across the board.

There’s one thing Americans agree on: everyone’s got to do better.

For all of these factors, the study compares differing opinions and behaviors across demographics like race, age, political views, party affiliation, and education. 

“I think it’s particularly sobering not just for media organizations, but for all of the organizations that are helping people become informed, including the major technology gatekeepers like Facebook and Twitter and Google,” said Brandon Busteed, a partner in Gallup’s government division.

The 2017 Gallup-Knight Foundation report on Trust, Media and Democracy was co-funded by the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Open Society Foundation. It was completed as part of the Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative.

Image: Gallup/knight foundation

Things get interesting when the study’s authors dig into the role social media and tech companies are playing in the public’s perception of the news. The study looked at how people use and feel about social media, and how people think social media should function as part of the news ecosystem. 

The picture their findings paint is one of conflicted ambivalence. But there’s finally one thing Americans agree on: everyone’s got to do better.

The echo chamber

Within social sharing sites, the study found that people share news knowing that most people they’re sharing a piece of news with will agree with it. People are aware that social media can and does further entrench partisan beliefs; however, they do see that as a problem: 57 percent of people say associating only with people who hold similar beliefs to yours is a “major problem.”

Image: GALLUP/KNIGHT FOUNDATION

Image: GALLUP/KNIGHT FOUNDATION

Delete ur account

Americans have an overall negative opinion of how Facebook and other social media sites are affecting the trustworthiness of the news. 

Furthermore, social media use itself has a corrosive effect: the more a demographic engages with social media, the less faith they have in the media as a whole. The largest group that has an unfavorable view of the news media is 18-29 year olds, who, surprise surprise, get their news the most from social feeds.

Image: GALLUP/KNIGHT FOUNDATION

Americans also believe that, thanks to technological developments, the proliferation of available news sources  is confusing them more than informing them. That finding skews conservative, but is consistent in terms of age.

Image: GALLUP/KNIGHT FOUNDATION

Sam Gill, Knight’s vice president for communities and impact, said that this was one of the study’s most surprising findings for him.

“An implicit core tenet of our democracy is that the more information we have access to, the more likely we are to get to the truth, to make better decisions,” Gill said. “At a time when we have as much information as we’ve ever had, we find it’s harder today to be informed than in the past. And I think that’s something that should give us pause.”

Where do we go from here? America says: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been in political hot water for how Russian hackers were able to manipulate their sites in order to influence the election. And while some members of Congress have expressed strong opinions about the need to regulate social media’s role in the news because of these controversies, American citizens aren’t so sure. 

Not only are Americans split on whether these companies should or shouldn’t be regulated — 49 percent for, 47 percent against — extreme splits are consistent within the demographics themselves.

Image: GALLUP/KNIGHT FOUNDATION

Survey respondents are also unsure about whether institutions or individuals are responsible for media objectivity, trust, and accountability. Half think it’s up to us to parse fact from opinion, to ensure “people have an accurate and politically balanced understanding of the news.” The other half want to put their faith in news organizations.

Image: Gallup/knight foundation

“People are mixed, or ambivalent, about who should play a role, who’s most responsible,” Busteed said. “This may be an issue that’s so important that we all feel responsibility, or we feel everybody has a responsibility, so that becomes the collective commons issue of, if we all feel responsible, how do we each act individually?”

So what?

Reading through the Gallup/Knight study, the numbers seem to confirm the sorry state of affairs the media is in, that we can feel in our guts, and our newsfeeds.

But Sam Gill is optimistic.

“People recognize the profound role that this technology plays in their lives, but are unclear, again, about what the rules and the norms ought to be,” Gill said “That’s a fantastic opportunity, hopefully, for a conversation about solutions that can cross sectors, or cross many of the divides that make other issues intractable.”

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Time spent in apps grew just 6% last year, down from 11% in 2017


The app economy is continuing to grow, with the worldwide revenue from app stores expected to top $110 billion this year, according to recent estimates from App Annie. However, the time people spend using their apps is starting to stagnate, another report has found. In Flurry’s “State of Mobile 2017” annual wrap-up, the firm reported that overall app session activity only grew 6 percent from 2016 to 2017.

That’s down from the 11 percent growth it reported at year-end 2016, and represents users spending an average of more than five hours per day on smartphones.

The declining growth in session activity means users are reaching a point where they can’t give up much more time out of their day to using apps. Instead, they’re shifting activity from older apps to newer ones. They’re spending time across a diverse variety of apps, too.

There are some clear winners and losers in terms of app usage growth over the past year.

Not surprisingly, this has been the year for e-commerce to boom. Usage of shopping apps was up 54 percent from 2016 to 2017, Flurry found, now that consumers are comfortable making purchases paying on mobile devices. App integrations with Apple Pay and Samsung Pay have also helped.

We saw this trend play out in particular during the holiday shopping season where mobile shopping was set to pass desktop for the first time, for example, and where $2 billion of Black Friday’s $5.03 billion in online sales took place on mobile.

Another big winner in 2017 was the Media, Music and Entertainment category, which saw 43 percent year-over-year growth in app usage as consumers increased their media consumption on mobile.

This was also evidenced in a recent year-end report from Sensor Tower, which found that Netflix’s app generated the most revenue of any non-game app during 2017 – a position that Pandora had won for a quarter previously before being beat out for the overall top spot by Netflix.

App categories with declining in 2017 included Lifestyle and, surprisingly Gaming.

To be clear we’re talking about declines in app sessions’ growth, not declines in app usage here. It’s a metric that points to a larger trend related to apps’ usage and popularity, but not one that should worry developers and publishers just yet. After all, as Flurry points out, gamers today are spending more time and money in mobile games than ever before.

Lifestyle apps saw the largest decline in growth, down 40 percent year-over-year. This indicates the app category as a whole could be struggling to build daily usage habits, Flurry suggests.

To generate this report, Flurry tracked more than one million applications, across 2.6 billion devices globally in 2017. It defines app usage as a user opening an app and recording a session.

The full also report delves into other areas of mobile usage, including form factor adoption and top mobile manufacturers. Here it found that phablets are still heavily used, accounting for 55 percent of active devices.

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Meanwhile, Android manufacturers made up two-thirds of all active devices in 2017, but Apple dominated individual market share with 34 percent of all active devices.

* Disclosure: Flurry shares a parent company with TechCrunch (Oath) by way of its 2014 acquisition by Yahoo. TC parent AOL merged with Yahoo to form Oath in 2017. Verizon owns Oath. 

DigitalOcean gives you more RAM and storage for the same price


Cloud hosting company DigitalOcean is launching some new price offerings today. In particular, the company is also upgrading its basic $5 droplet instances with better specs for the first time in years.

Five years ago, DigitalOcean offered something quite revolutionary. Before today, you could pay $5 per month and get a server with 20GB of SSD storage, 512MB of RAM and 1 CPU core. But virtual Linux servers have become a crowded space with plenty of competitors popping up and adjusting their prices.

On Linode, you can pay $5 per month to get 1GB of RAM, 20GB of SSD storage and 1 CPU core. On Scaleway, you can pay $3.65 (€2.99) for 2GB of RAM, 50GB of SSD storage and 2 CPU cores. You get the idea, DigitalOcean is overhauling its lineup to remain competitive.

For $5 per month, you now get 1GB of RAM and 25GB of SSD storage, while CPU performance remains the same. All standard droplets now get twice as much RAM for the same price and more storage in general. The higher you pay, the more storage you get.

Starting at $40, you get more CPU virtual cores for the same price except on the $160/month model. There are two new expensive droplets, including a new top-of-the-line one. For $960 per month, you get 192GB of RAM, 32 cores and 3840GB of storage.

Interestingly, there are now more options for $15 per month. You can get 3GB of RAM with 1 core, 2GB of RAM with 2 cores, or 1GB of RAM with 3 cores. Finally, optimized droplets get 33 percent more RAM and also a storage upgrade. DigitalOcean has a new pricing page with more details.

The company also says that per-second billing is coming soon. Amazon Web Services and Google Compute Engine already offer per-second billing.

As always, you can go to your administration panel on DigitalOcean and switch to another droplet model. That flexibility has been a key feature behind DigitalOcean’s success. So if you’re a DigitalOcean customer, it’s time to take advantage of those pricing changes.

Standard and flexible droplets

Optimized droplets

Lawmakers said to be behind Huawei’s continued U.S. carrier woes


The latest entry in Huawei’s ongoing struggles to come to the U.S. proved to be one of the more unexpected and engaging CES storylines last week. But there are still plenty of layers of this onion left to peel back. This morning, Reuters is confirming speculation that AT&T’s last-minute decision to pull out of a deal with the Chinese phone maker comes as U.S. lawmakers applied pressure on the carrier.

According to the outlet’s sources, AT&T’s hand was forced when members of Congress lobbied against its plan to offer Huawei handsets through its carrier subsidy program. Lawmakers are reportedly going even further, pushing the country’s second largest carrier to cut more ties with the company.

On the docket are a plan to hash out 5G network standards and a deal with Cricket, a prepaid wireless provider that was absorbed into AT&T back in 2013. The aforementioned lawmakers have also reportedly warned that ties to Huawei and state-owned telecom company China Mobile could jeopardize potential contracts with the government.

The report is certainly in line with a 2012  House Intelligence Committee report, which flagged both Huawei and ZTE as potential security risks, stating, “Private-sector entities in the United States are strongly encouraged to consider the long-term security risks associated with doing business with either ZTE or Huawei for equipment or service.”

On Friday, Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway introduced a bill seeking to prohibit the U.S. government from working with any carriers using either Huawei or ZTE handsets. That arrived a few days after Richard Yu seemingly went off script at a CES keynote to excoriate U.S. carriers for refusing to work with Huawei, stating, “it’s a big loss for consumers, because they don’t have the best choice for devices.”

Huawei clearly had big plans for a U.S. push this year, including a huge ad campaign featuring Wonder Woman actress, Gal Gadot. Without the support of a carrier, such an aggressive push will be something of a nonstarter in a country where most phone purchases are still made through service providers.