Facebook Gets More In-Your-Face

Facebook this week announced new features for News Feeds videos, along with an app for TV.

Facebook Gets More In-Your-Face

News Feed videos now have sound turned on by default in mobile devices. This can be disabled in the Settings menu.

A larger format to present vertical videos now is standard on iOS and Android devices. The feature became available as a preview last year.

A Watch and Scroll feature lets users minimize the video they’re watching and drag it to any corner of the screen so they can continue browsing their News Feed while the video is playing.
Android device users can keep the video playing even when they exit the Facebook app.

Facebook also announced a video app for TV, which it promised to roll out soon to Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Samsung Smart TV. More platforms will be added later.

The app lets users watch videos shared by friends or posted on Pages they follow. It lets them watch previously saved videos, and revisit videos users have shared, watched or uploaded. It also recommends videos.

“Facebook continues to innovate with a focus on the user experience,” remarked Cindy Zhou, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“Competition is fierce for user time and attention on video platforms,” she told TechNewsWorld, “and the new video features on mobile devices can give Facebook a competitive edge against YouTube and SnapChat.”

Mobile Marketing Moolah

“Facebook has been trying to provide a compelling new way for advertisers to reach viewers,” observed Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“What is effectively a video-streaming service would seem to be a good way to do it,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It works for YouTube.”

With its 1.86 billion monthly active users, the updates and the TV app “will be a significant way to generate advertising revenue if Facebook can get this right,” Jude noted.

Digital ad revenues grew 19 percent year over year in the first half of 2016 to hit a new high of US$32.7 billion, according to the IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report.

They continued to grow, with Q3 2016 digital ad revenues totaling $17.6 billion, the highest Q3 digital ad spending figure on record, according to IAB.

Facebook last month announced it was updating the way it accounts for video completion rates.

“These video viewership and completion stats are a key part of their advertising rate calculations,” Constellation’s Zhou pointed out. “The longer Facebook can keep their users engaged and on their platform, the higher the rates they can charge advertisers.”

The new video features and the TV app could pose a significant threat to YouTube’s ad revenues, she suggested, “as Facebook feed videos are from trusted sources such as users’ friends, family members and the brands they’ve opted in to.”

Ripple Effect

Facebook’s latest moves “will further fragment the advertising spend and make advertising campaign planning harder,” Frost’s Jude pointed out. “Anything with a video stream built in will be more attractive to consumers.”

The ability of Facebook videos to continue playing on Android devices even when users exit the social media platform “can be a virtue if you want to keep something running while you multitask,” Jude noted. “Of course, it can also be an irritant as you try to figure out how to shut off an obnoxious video.”

This feature might also raise concerns about privacy, he said, as “anything involving targeted advertising raises privacy concerns.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

Snap takes aim at Facebook in roadshow video


Snap is about to embark on its investor roadshow as it prepares to go public at the beginning of March. And a new video gives a glimpse at how they will be trying to persuade Wall Street to buy shares.

The video starts off with CEO Evan Spiegel emphasizing their mission as a “camera company.” He compares Snap’s video experience to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. “Snapchat really tapped into that human desire to communicate in a way that feels like its face-to-face even if you’re far way.”

With co-founder and CTO Bobby Murphy, the two reflect on the early days of a company and why they felt that photos should “delete by default.”  Spiegel said that because the photos vanish, “there isn’t pressure to feel pretty or perfect. Self-expression isn’t a contest.”

But it wasn’t long before they took some digs at other social media and how their mission differs. In what seems like a reference to Facebook, Snap said they were inspired to create its “stories” feature, partly because they didn’t like how other news feeds were in reverse chronological order. “You were always scrolling backwards through a story and that didn’t really make sense to us.”

This is a sensitive topic for Snap. Facebook-owned Instagram recently copied “stories,” which seemingly put a damper on Snap’s growth.

Snap suggests that “bigger isn’t better,” when it comes to number of friends on social media, another likely aim at Facebook. They emphasized that Snap users tend to add fewer friends on the app, which makes for a more intimate experience.

In what appears to be a reference to Facebook’s “fake news” problem, Snap highlighted their curated publisher stories. On other platforms, “wacky headlines” would get distributed widely, but the “more informative would get buried,” said Spiegel.  “That editorial perspective was missing.”

Instead of Facebook’s early motto of “move fast and break things,” Spiegel highlighted a more calculated approach. “It’s not a throw things at the wall and see what sticks kind of company,” he said. “We try to take time to really listen to what our community wants from our products.”

The video also reiterates Snap’s usage numbers, where they claim more than 60% of their 158 million users are on the app everyday, on average logging in 18 times or 25-30 minutes per day.

The video also talks about their road to profitability, which is likely a long way off.

You can watch the 35-minute video here.

Trump is causing a political app boom, data shows


Anyone surprised by this? The growth of politically focused mobile apps has been booming since November, with the top five political apps receiving a combined 300,000 downloads across iOS and Android over the past three months, according to new data from App Annie. This list doesn’t include news media applications, but rather those apps aimed at helping people find their representatives, track their votes, figure out their own political leanings and more.

App Annie says the following apps all saw above 5,000 downloads from November through January: Countable, Voter, We the People, VoteSpotter and Congress. Countable topped the list, accounting for more than 200,000 downloads on its own.

Countable, VoteSpotter and Congress are all focused on helping users find their reps, track their votes and get in touch. We the People is aimed more at political discussion, and Voter was used more heavily prior to the election to help people figure out which politicians best represent their values.

countable

Above: Countable, which saw 200,000 downloads over past three months

To put these new numbers in perspective, during the three months prior to the time frame App Annie analyzed (August-October 2016), this group of apps saw roughly one-third of the downloads they saw from the month of the election through January. The data is proof of the increase in civic engagement since President Trump took office.

Meanwhile, some (non-news) political apps saw less than 5,000 downloads during this same time. This includes Presidential Election & Electoral College Map, Boycott Trump Biz, Voice Political Advocacy, Brigade, One World Politics, iCitizen, Show of Hands and Vote 1 – Political Spectrum.

Notably, that list also includes VoteStand — the crowdsourced voter fraud app that President Trump tweeted about in January. VoteStand’s founder claimed 3 million people voted illegally in November, but hasn’t provided any proof. He certainly couldn’t pull any relevant data from his VoteStand app, as it has only around 10,000 total downloads to date.

Perhaps it’s not surprising the app didn’t grow after the election, given its purpose. But it’s interesting that Trump supporters didn’t even want to look at whatever supposed voter fraud the app had collected, following its presidential shout out.

Of course, politically focused apps are not the only ones being impacted by U.S. users’ increased interest in politics under the new administration. News apps are gaining more users, as well.

In particular, CNN — the media organization Trump famously declared mid-press conference as “fake news” — has benefited from the increased attention. App Annie says from November through January, it gained more than 1.5 million new downloads across iOS and Google Play.

In addition to CNN, The New York Times — which Trump liked to call “failing” — said it has seen subscriptions increase tenfold since Election Day, and now sees around 125 million to 130 million monthly users.

What’s that old adage? Any press is good press? Apparently, that holds true for Trump’s favorite “fake news” sites, too… Well, that and the fact that millions trust their reporting.

Featured Image: Marìa Helena Carey/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-ND 2.0 LICENSE

Oracle’s DB Dilemma

Seeking Alpha is an online outfit that offers investors good research and analysis on tech vendors, and it is especially well versed in Oracle. Its writers’ expertise involves matching technologies to investment attractiveness.

I am sure you are familiar with the type. XYZ company’s product does this, it should result in sales of this much, and that will drive profits so that the stock is worth so much. You get the idea.

Seeking Alpha recently ran an interesting article with the attractive title, “The Death of the Commercial Database: Oracle’s Dilemma.”

If you’re a techie or an investor in technology, that should get your attention, since Oracle has more than 45 percent of the database market. As the saying goes, if they sneeze, we catch a cold.

What’s significant about the headline is not that databases are going away, but how. NoSQL upstarts supposedly will eat the lunches of traditional vendors — not only Oracle, but also IBM, Microsoft and SAP.

Well, maybe.

What ‘No’ Means

Everybody likes to use the mainframe as an example of how markets shrivel, and the Seeking Alpha article does too. The plug got pulled on mainframes in the 1990s, and 10 years later the market was not much more than smoke and ash. Point taken.

Although there are mainframes in use right now, and while IBM still makes them, they aren’t the growth part of the technology world any more. Yet even if the analogy holds, the conclusion drawn by the article — erroneous, in my view — is that it’s just a matter of time before Oracle et. al. join the ash heap.

This reminds me of a quip often attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” (Sidebar: I wish I had five bucks for every witticism attributed to Twain that there’s scant evidence to support. He’s our go-to 19th century comic, I guess, though Oscar Wilde was pretty good too.)

At any rate, Seeking Alpha’s point is that the relational DB is old, it doesn’t do some things that NoSQL does, and relational therefore is in trouble. Whoa, horsey. First, in case you’d forgotten, the “No” in the name does not refer to “no” as in “no means no.” It’s actually an acronym that means “not only,” as in “yeah, we do that but we do other stuff too.”

However, there’s a performance cost. These days, it’s not a big deal, given how much compute power there is sloshing around the world and how much storage there is that doesn’t involve spinning disks, according to the Seeking Alpha article.

The RDBMS was built and tuned to the limitations of the hard drive — specifically, the fact that hard drives operate at millisecond speeds while the rest of the computing kit operates a million times faster at the nanosecond level.

That’s why performance in modern databases is tied to buffering and available memory; it’s why we have solid state disks today, and why Sun Microsystems, a part of Oracle, builds Xadata — a beast of a storage unit that consists of zero disks and lots of nonvolatile memory. Database speeds are incredible with this hardware.

So, the hard drive — not necessarily the SQL or NoSQL database — is the poky component, but we already knew this. NoSQL affords some nice advantages for businesses collecting nonstandard or unstructured data, which I won’t delve into here, but suffice it to say it’s useful.

That doesn’t mean the SQL DB is late for the door. In fact, now that in-memory databases are a thing, it’s useful to consider how best to use the performance premium provided. I think some of it necessarily will be invested in security, encryption and other approaches. In fact, we’re already seeing this.

New Tricks

If I’ve learned anything studying economic cycles, it’s that when the tide turns and most of a once-dominant technology exits, some part of it remains and continues to occupy a spot in the economy and the technology firmament.

We’re seeing this kind of transformation right now, as electricity is taking an increasing market share away from the internal combustion engine. Cars running purely on electricity are in our future, but fossil fuel will be an important part of the economy for quite some time.

Seeking Alpha makes a big deal about pricing models, and how every customer that goes to the cloud is a customer lost by Oracle or the others — to which I say, “And?” Pricing models come and go to fit the use patterns of customers. Back in the day, these models represented a stair-step based on number of users, with pricing increments set at multiples of eight, because that was how the hardware guys built interface cards. All I am saying is that things can change, and they will.

As far as technology goes, keep in mind that Oracle today has about 420,000 enterprise customers around the world. The company is trying to get them to the cloud and projects that it will take a decade or more to migrate this huge number of running businesses. That will put most of them on Oracle platforms, and somehow I expect that Oracle will find a way to charge for the value it delivers.

As for the emerging market for NoSQL, I’ve seen Oracle transition before — notably when the company decided it was time to catch up to the cloud computing craze. Oracle can do it again.

We’ve seen upstart vendors deploy surround strategies in which they land a small solution on a customer and gradually swallow up all the business. That was a long time ago, when most businesses were pretty green.

This time, look for incumbents to parry the threat posed by the upstarts with innovative pricing models, new products, and service, service, service. In the challenge to Oracle’s dominant position, I see opportunity and only a little threat — and I am sure the company and its leadership does too.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.

Blin.gy puts you inside your favorite music video


A green-screen effect, or chroma keying, is nothing new. The technology was first used in Hollywood as early as the 1930s, and is still used today in movies, sports broadcasting and, of course, weather shows. But it’s not really consumer technology — mainly because of the need for an actual green screen, a static camera and studio-quality lighting.

But being able to have a live video background behind you is cool — especially if you can use it to create unique social content to share with your friends.

Meet Blin.gy, a new app that’s figured out how to achieve a “mobile green-screen effect” without the need for a full studio environment.

There’s some background behind Blin.gy — the team had previously built Chosen, an American Idol-style app where you could create and share short video clips showcasing your talents. The startup partnered with The Ellen Show and gained some traction — but it soon became apparent that their key demographic, teenagers, were more into apps like Musical.ly, where music was the focus of the content they created.screenshot_20170215-205645

So the team took a step back and went heads-down with the goal of building a tool to create content that would let young people express themselves in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Essentially, they wanted to create a new type of content that would be unique to Blin.gy. Musical.ly has fast-motion videos with overlaid songs, Snapchat has filters and AR-style effects, Instagram has Boomerang — you get the point.

Eventually, the team came up with the idea to put users inside a music video, using a mobile green-screen effect. And while you’d think that with today’s technology it would be easy to just port old-school chroma keying to mobile, it’s actually more complicated than that.

The team’s patent-pending algorithm (they wrote a white paper going into more detail) essentially combines old-school chroma keying with new technologies, like object class detection, edge detection, color manipulation and other computer vision technologies. In short, they dynamically prioritize and combine these different techniques depending on the environment in which the video is being recorded.

So while a technology like Apple’s Photo Booth effect would be totally messed up the second you move your camera (and distort the background), Blin.gy’s tech allows you to use a non-stabilized camera that can actually be moving while you record the video.

[embedded content]

Of course, computer vision technology is still young (and limited by how powerful our phones are), so Blin.gy still recommends you do things like record your video in front of a plain background in order to achieve the most realistic result.

This means not all of the videos are perfect — scrolling through the main feed shows videos on all ends of the spectrum — some are great and look as if done in front of a “real” green screen, while in other videos the effect barely works.

But the startup explained that some of these videos are coming from lower-powered Android phones that don’t have the processing power to fully support the effect. There’s also an instructional component the first time you use the app that shows you how to pick a good background and lighting, and by nature of having a young audience (most current users are teenagers), they don’t always follow the directions, which results in sub-par videos.

Right now the app features tens of thousands of music video clips to choose from — all 15 seconds long. Eventually Blin.gy hopes to work with labels to get customized content designed for their app — like a version of a music video where there’s an empty spot next to Drake that a Blin.gy user can dance in. They’ve already experimented with this — the app has a special edit of Migos’ Bad and Boujee video that contains footage with open spaces and no jump cuts — making it look more realistic when someone uses it as a background.

You can download Blin.gy now on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

The world's smallest USB-C laptop charger—I'm in love

This might sound a little odd, but my favorite gadget of this young year is a laptop power adapter.

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The world’s smallest laptop charger.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="See, it’s no secret that I’m rabid USB-C nut.” data-reactid=”24″>See, it’s no secret that I’m rabid USB-C nut.

Imagine: You’ll soon have one power cord for every device (laptop, desktop, phone, tablet) from every manufacturer. A genuine universal power cord.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="There’s no upside-down way to insert a USB-C connector, and there’s no wrong end on the cord. The wattage auto-adjusts to whatever you’re charging. And the same cable carries not just power, but also video, audio, and data! It’s just crazy brilliant. (Here’s my interview with the guy who spent three years with 600 electronics companies designing it.)” data-reactid=”26″>There’s no upside-down way to insert a USB-C connector, and there’s no wrong end on the cord. The wattage auto-adjusts to whatever you’re charging. And the same cable carries not just power, but also video, audio, and data! It’s just crazy brilliant. (Here’s my interview with the guy who spent three years with 600 electronics companies designing it.)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="USB-C is already on laptops from Apple (AAPL), HP (HPQ), Razer, Google (GOOG, GOOGL), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell, Asus, Lenovo and others. And it’s already the charging jack on phones from Microsoft, Motorola (MSI), Samsung, LG, Huawei, OnePlus, LeEco, and many others. Rumor is that the iPhone 8 and Galaxy 8 phones will both use USB-C as well.” data-reactid=”27″>USB-C is already on laptops from Apple (AAPL), HP (HPQ), Razer, Google (GOOG, GOOGL), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell, Asus, Lenovo and others. And it’s already the charging jack on phones from Microsoft, Motorola (MSI), Samsung, LG, Huawei, OnePlus, LeEco, and many others. Rumor is that the iPhone 8 and Galaxy 8 phones will both use USB-C as well.

As I’ve written, the switch to USB-C currently involves adapters and replacement cables. But in the long term, it means we’ll no longer have drawers like these:

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The power-adapter drawer: Soon to be extinct.

It also means that we can carry just one charger for all our stuff. Since I’ve been learning to love the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, this is a big deal: Finding a smaller, nicer charger to replace the big white plastic 3-prong Apple one would make a huge difference to my bag’s travel weight.

And so I found this:

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Meet the Dart-C.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Dart-C, billed as the world’s smallest laptop charger. And it really is tiny.” data-reactid=”67″>The Dart-C, billed as the world’s smallest laptop charger. And it really is tiny.

Yet somehow, it provides 65 watts—plenty for laptops like the 12- and 13-inch MacBooks, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13, ASUS ZenBook 3, Dell XPS 13, and so on. Really honking laptops, like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, expect more wattage (85). This charger will work on those machines—just not as fast.

How do I love this thing? Let us count the ways.

  • It has a standard USB jack embedded in the cable. That means that you can simultaneously charge your phone, tablet, camera, or whatever—with no slowdown in charging your primary gadget.
  • It has an indicator light that lets you know if you’re plugged into a working outlet. (Apple’s chargers no longer have a status light.)

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The Dart-C can charge a second device simultaneously.

  • It comes in a choice of cool metallic colors.

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Choose your weapon.

  • It has a six-foot cord.
  • It has a two-prong plug, not three, so it fits into older outlets like the ones at my parents’ house.

I keep one laptop charger my laptop bag, and one plugged in by the couch. So I’ve been through the mill, trying to find just the right charging cord to be my spare.

Since USB-C means that I’m no longer locked into Apple’s proprietary chargers, I’ve experimented with a Dell ($27, 30 watts) and a Udoli ($35, 45 watts), shown below. I knew both would take longer to charge than my MacBook Pro’s original charger (61 watts), but that didn’t really matter for hotel-room purposes; they’d have overnight to charge.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="What I found, though, was that the Dell makes my laptop chime every few seconds, as though the cord is being unplugged and replugged. (“It’s probably not ‘to spec,’” a buddy of mine guesses—a hazard of the new, open USB-C world.) The Udoli works fine as long as the laptop is openbut when closed, it occasionally does that same chime.” data-reactid=”120″>What I found, though, was that the Dell makes my laptop chime every few seconds, as though the cord is being unplugged and replugged. (“It’s probably not ‘to spec,’” a buddy of mine guesses—a hazard of the new, open USB-C world.) The Udoli works fine as long as the laptop is openbut when closed, it occasionally does that same chime.

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Here’s the lineup.

(I asked Anthony Sagneri, chief technology officer of FINsix, the Dart’s maker, about this chiming business. His suspicion: “The Intel chipsets inside most laptops can draw large peak currents for short periods. But if the charger isn’t designed for those surges, they can trip its overcurrent mode, cutting power; at that point, the charger re-negotiates its connection.” In other words—ding!)

But the Dart? No problems. It’s small, gorgeous, lightweight (3 ounces!), fast, and chime-free.

There are some footnotes. First, the prongs don’t fold up, as they do on some chargers. And the Dart-C is back-ordered; the company says it has begun shipping, but new orders won’t ship until next month.

(It’s worth noting that the actual Dart-C—the “brick” itself—is identical to the original Dart charger, as first seen on Kickstarter. All that’s new is the USB-C cable that plugs into it, which contains all the USB-C electronics and smarts. In fact, if you bought the original Dart—the one that comes with plug tips for a wide range of laptop models—you can get just the USB-C cable for it for $35.)

Second, this charger costs $100, which is even more than Apple’s chargers ($70 and $80). That’s a drag. I’m confident that in the new, open world of USB-C chargers, we’ll have more compact, attractive, well-engineered options.

For now, though, since this will be my one and only charger for all my gadgets, and since I travel a lot, and since space and weight are valued commodities in my laptop bag, I’m going to bite the bullet. I have no problem saying it: The smallest laptop charger in the world is also one of the best. If you’re a rabid USB-C nut like me, you’ll be in heaven.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="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 read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.” data-reactid=”145″>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 read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.

ZTE scraps Kickstarter for Hawkeye, its crowdsourced smartphone

ZTE’s Project CSX, a competition that empowered customers to submit their vision of the next great mobile device, is heading back to the drawing board. ZTE is also canceling the Kickstarter campaign, but the Chinese company said it “doesn’t mean the project is over.”

The goal was to produce the world’s first “crowdsourced” mobile device — one with functionality, hardware, and an aesthetic voted on by ZTE’s online community. After an extended brainstorming session involving 400 submissions from more than 176 countries, the company settled on a winner: the Hawkeye, an eye-tracking phone that adheres to the surface of tables, walls, and chairs.

More: Faster than a bullet? ZTE’s going full speed ahead with the Gigabit Phone at MWC

But to keep the phone affordable, the Hawkeye’s specifications had to be on the lower end, and this didn’t sit well with the backers who were expecting a flagship phone. That’s why the Kickstarter has now been canceled, and ZTE is “reevaluating the device” while still looking to its Z-Community forum to listen for feedback. The company only reached $36,245 of its $500,000 goal.

Hawkeye will have eye-tracking and self-adhesive capabilities, but more importantly it will have better specs, or that’s what ZTE is promising at least. Of course, now that ZTE is going back to the drawing board it cannot maintain its original product timeline. Those interested will have to look to the forums for these kinds of updates.

“All of your support, perspectives, and suggestions are what has driven Hawkeye so far, and for that we are grateful,” the company wrote in a blog post. “We will continue to push the boundaries, think outside the box, and pave new paths to ultimately deliver a device that you want, all while continuing to listen and explore with you every step of the way.”

More: The Quartz will be ZTE’s first Android Wear watch, and it was just leaked online

Pledges by Kickstarter backers will be voided and refunded, and the company says any further updates will come from the Z-Community forum.

What made the Hawkeye special?

Everything. From the way it has been conceived and produced, to the way it was sold and promoted, ZTE’s Hawkeye phone broke away from conventional methods of making and selling smartphones.

“With Project CSX, we experimented by turning the typical R&D process on its head and did something completely different within the industry,” said Jeff Yee, ZTE USA’s vice president of technology planning and partnerships. “We believe that the Hawkeye name reflects the spirit and vision of ZTE as we continue to put the consumer first throughout this entire process and will continue to do so in every phone we deliver.”

More: Augmented reality, anyone? Lenovo is releasing another Tango phone in 2017

The Hawkeye beat out several other contending ideas in Project CSX. One was a stock Android flagship phone that would do away with the company’s third-party overlay. Another was a virtual reality diving mask that would let users swim anywhere while showing images that make them feel like they are in the ocean.

But the winner is in some ways even more radical. It uses eye-tracking sensors to translate eye movements to software tasks, a self-adhesive backing that allows it to be mounted to a wall or flat surface, and split-screen technology that allows two users to view different content at the same time.

If you’re wondering how ZTE settled on the name, it was put to a vote, just like most other aspects of the phone. However, the Hawkeye name wasn’t the top choice. There were apparently at least five other names ahead of it, but all had been snapped up as trademarks by other companies. ZTE got lucky when it arrived at Hawkeye, given how well it matches the phone’s headline eye-tracking feature.

The technology inside

The Hawkeye’s eye-tracking system, or ETS, comprises two laser-focusing cameras — one on the front and one on the bottom — that captures users’ pupil movement. This allows users to scroll up and down a PDF, book, or dense text file without tilting their heads, for instance, or rewind or fast-forward a video by glancing to the left or right.

Its dual directional viewing screen, meanwhile — technology pioneered by Japanese display technology firm Sharp — lets two different types of content be displayed simultaneously. A user standing to the left of the Hawkeye can see a different image than one standing to the right, for instance. ZTE says it’s the first time the technology has been implemented in a smartphone.

The self-adhesive backing — the result of two years of polymer research, ZTE says — consists of medical-grade silicon that provides an adequate adhesion strength that is “neither too strong to peel off […] nor too sticky to the hand.” It won’t be part of the phone though, and will be applied to a case for the phone.

The Hawkeye’s initial hardware was respectable. On the front was a 5.5-inch LCD screen with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. It featured eye-tracking cameras and sensors, as well as an ambient light sensor. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 octa-core 2GHz processor powered the device with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space, and a MicroSD card slot. The 3,000mAh battery is charged using USB Type-C with Quick Charge 2.0 technology.

More: Google Tango-enabled Asus ZenFone AR accidentally leaked by Qualcomm

On the Hawkeye’s back was a dual-lens camera setup. One has 12 megapixels and the other 13-megapixels, and used together will produce the desirable bokeh blurred background effect. We were told to expect some kind of optical zoom feature, which may operate like the iPhone 7 Plus, and it has optical image stabilization onboard. On the front is an 8-megapixel selfie camera.

Other features include a fingerprint sensor on the back, ZTE’s continued emphasis on sound with a decent audio system, and NFC to enable Android Pay.

Article originally published in January 2017. Updated on 02-17-2017 by Julian Chokkattu: Added in news that ZTE is canceling the Project CSX Kickstarter. 

ZTE pulls Kickstarter for Hawkeye, its crowd-sourced smartphone

ZTE’s Project CSX, a competition that empowered customers to submit their vision of the next great mobile device, is heading back to the drawing board. ZTE is also canceling the Kickstarter campaign, but the Chinese company said it “doesn’t mean the project is over.”

The goal was to produce the world’s first “crowd-sourced” mobile device — one with functionality, hardware, and an aesthetic voted on by ZTE’s online community. After an extended brainstorming session involving 400 submissions from more than 176 countries, the company settled on a winner: the Hawkeye, an eye-tracking phone that adheres to the surface of tables, walls, and chairs.

More: Faster than a bullet? ZTE’s going full speed ahead with the Gigabit Phone at MWC

But to keep the phone affordable, the Hawkeye’s specifications had to be on the lower end — this didn’t sit well with the backers who were expecting a flagship phone. It’s why the Kickstarter has now been canceled, and ZTE is “reevaluating the device” while still looking to its Z-Community forum to listen for feedback. The company only made $36,245 of its $500,000 goal.

Hawkeye will have eye-tracking and self-adhesive capabilities, but more importantly it will have better specs — that’s what ZTE is promising at least. Of course, now that ZTE is going back to the drawing board it cannot maintain its original product timeline. Those interested will have to look to the forums for these kinds of updates.

“All of your support, perspectives and suggestions are what has driven Hawkeye so far, and for that we are grateful,” the company wrote in a blog post. “We will continue to push the boundaries, think outside the box, and pave new paths to ultimately deliver a device that you want, all while continuing to listen and explore with you every step of the way.”

More: The Quartz will be ZTE’s first Android Wear watch, and it was just leaked online

Pledges by Kickstarter backers will be voided and refunded, and the company says any further updates will come from the Z-Community forum.

What made the Hawkeye special?

Everything. From the way it has been conceived and produced, to the way it was sold and promoted, ZTE’s Hawkeye phone broke away from conventional methods of making and selling smartphones.

“With Project CSX, we experimented by turning the typical R&D process on its head and did something completely different within the industry,” said Jeff Yee, ZTE USA’s vice president of technology planning and partnerships. “We believe that the Hawkeye name reflects the spirit and vision of ZTE as we continue to put the consumer throughout this entire process and will continue to do so in every phone we deliver.”

More: Augmented reality, anyone? Lenovo is releasing another Tango phone in 2017

The Hawkeye beat out several other contending ideas in Project CSX. One was a stock Android flagship phone that would do away with the company’s third-party overlay. Another was a virtual reality diving mask that would let users swim anywhere while showing images that make them feel like they are in the ocean.

But the winner is in some ways even more radical. It uses eye-tracking sensors to translate eye movements to software tasks, a self-adhesive backing that allows it to be mounted to a wall or flat surface, and split-screen technology that allows two users to view different content at the same time.

If you’re wondering how ZTE settled on the name, it was put to the vote, just like most other aspects of the phone. However, the Hawkeye name wasn’t the top choice. There were apparently at least five other names ahead of it, but all had been snapped up as trademarks by other companies. ZTE got lucky when it arrived at Hawkeye, given the phone’s headline eye-tracking feature.

The technology inside

The Hawkeye’s eye-tracking system, or ETS, comprises two laser-focusing cameras — one on the front and one on the bottom — that captures users’ pupil movement. This allows users to scroll up and down a PDF, book, or dense text file without tilting their heads, for instance, or rewind or fast-forward a video by glancing to the left or right.

Its dual directional viewing screen, meanwhile — technology pioneered by Japanese display technology firm Sharp — lets two different types of content be displayed simultaneously. A user standing to the left of the Hawkeye can see a different image than one standing to the right, for instance. ZTE says it’s the first time the technology has been implemented in a smartphone.

The self-adhesive backing — the result of two years of polymer research, ZTE says — consists of medical-grade silicon that provides an adequate adhesion strength that is “neither too strong to peel off […] nor too sticky to the hand.” It won’t be part of the phone though, and will be applied to a case for the phone.

The Hawkeye’s inital hardware was respectable. On the front was a 5.5-inch LCD screen with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. It featured eye-tracking cameras and sensors, as well as an ambient light sensor. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 octa-core 2GHz processor powered the device with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space, and a MicroSD card slot. The 3,000mAh battery is charged using USB Type-C with Quick Charge 2.0 technology.

More: Google Tango-enabled Asus ZenFone AR accidentally leaked by Qualcomm

On the Hawkeye’s back was a dual-lens camera setup. One has 12 megapixels and the other 13-megapixels, and used together will produce the desirable bokeh blurred background effect. We were told to expect some kind of optical zoom feature, which may operate like the iPhone 7 Plus, and it has optical image stabilization onboard. On the front is an 8-megapixel selfie camera.

Other features include a fingerprint sensor on the back, ZTE’s continued emphasis on sound with a decent audio system, and NFC to enable Android Pay.

Article originally published in January 2017. Updated on 02-17-2017 by Julian Chokkattu: Added in news that ZTE is canceling the Project CSX Kickstarter. 

TesLab is the companion app Tesla owners have been waiting for


Tesla actually makes a lot of data available to vehicle owners via APIs and other endpoints, but it’s not always easy to find and make use of that info. Enter TesLab, a new app that tracks data and links it to your profile, while also letting you share it out to a community of other Tesla owners in a way that, during the beta spotted by Teslarati, users have really enjoyed.

The app doesn’t require much on the user’s end. Basically you install it on your mobile device, connect your car and create an account (Facebook and Twitter login required for now, though that’s changing soon with original account creation directly in the app). It then monitors your trips, looking at factors including average speed, starts and stops, braking and more. Based on that info, it’ll tell you your overall efficiency (as a percentage of the total ideal mileage rating for the vehicle).

You can see this info as a color-coded heat map on a literal map, showing you where exactly you dipped below max efficiency and where you performed best. The app displays a total efficiency percentage for the trip, too, as well as total time driving, actual miles driven versus charge depleted as represented in miles and the average temperature — along with that most celebrated of EV stats, gas money saved.

“We both drive Teslas and we’re both really passionate about alternative energy, let’s dig into the technology behind Tesla and let’s see how far they’ll let us go, not being employed by Tesla,” said TesLab co-creator and HappyFunCorp co-founder Ben Schippers in an interview, explaining how he and partner Will Schenk came up with the app. “We also saw an opportunity because you buy this really nice car, and then you have this app and the car is super connected, but the app is not super exciting.”

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-3-01-40-pm“We thought, what if we could build a framework for what the connected car could be,” Schippers continues. “What if Tesla gave us enough access to our individual cars that we could build a community around what we envision the connected car of the future could be, across all connected cars?”

TesLab is the result of that experiment, and it does pull a lot of data from your vehicle, and attempts to answer that infinitely debated question among EV owners: How much range am I actually getting, as compared to the EPA rating, and why am I seeing the range I’m seeing? It can even provide data on a phenomenon known in the community as “phantom drain,” which is how much range your vehicle loses just from sitting idle between charges, which is hugely dependent on outdoor temp, among other factors.

Schippers and Schenk made a bet that Tesla owners would be willing to share a lot of information regarding their trips and their vehicles, including specific location data, in exchange for that kind of return info and an active community. It’s essentially the same bet Mark Zuckerberg made with Facebook early on, Schippers tells me, but in the specific realm of Tesla owners instead. But the idea isn’t to keep it limited to the exclusive Tesla driver club forever.

“We believe Chevy, and Ford, and BMW and all the big car manufacturers are going to see this and are going to say ‘we should do that, this is the connected framework people are going to want when they buy these cars,’” Schippers said. They key to driving appeal among other makers of EVs will be showing the momentum they’ve already captured with the Tesla community, and growing that with Tesla’s forthcoming entry into the mass market will be a key step toward that goal.

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“We already have a huge percentage of the Model X and Model S owners on the beta, and now we need to really focus on getting to the Model 3,” he added. “Once we get to the Model 3, I think it’s game over. Once we get to the Model 3, I think we’ll really be able to show what you can do with a massive amount of data.”

That includes things like crowdsourcing information about Supercharger occupancy, as well as putting a finer point on real-world range that incorporates factors like weather and road conditions, as well as hyper-local gas pricing to show you more exactly how much you’re saving. But it also means extending the app’s current connected controls, which allow remote unlocking and climate settings, to the connected home, too.

“People that drive Teslas, they have a Nest [connected thermostat], so we’ll be able to start doing things from the car to the home,” Schippers explains. “We’ll be able to pre-condition your house, we’ll be able to pre-condition your oven, because we know where you are in space. Once we know where you are in space, then we can connect all the other devices.”

French video trolling Trump has a cock in it, because of course it does

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France has finally joined the list of countries in Europe trolling the U.S. president with a spoof tourism video narrated in the voice of Donald Trump.

The video, produced by “La Nouvelle Edition” on Channel 8, starts by comparing the two national animals, and it’s quite brilliant: “America has the bald eagle, in France we have the cock,” the voiceover says.

If you think this is blunt, wait until you see the part where Steve Bannon’s physical appearance is compared to stinky cheese. 

You’re welcome! Or, as the French would say, de rien!

h/t Ça y est, la France a enfin sa parodie “America First” de Donald Trump