All posts in “Consumer Tech”

Large majority of Americans own at least one Apple product, claims study

Image: RITCHIE B. TONGO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Apple products are way more of a household staple than we thought. 

According to CNBC’s All-America economic survey, the average American household owns about 2.6 Apple products. Since the survey was last conducted in 2012, that number has increased by a full product. 

Additionally, 64 percent of Americans are estimated to own an Apple product. What’s most shocking is that the proportion holds true across demographics; a majority of all ages, races, genders, and religions own an Apple product. 

The demographic that does see discrepancies is, as you may have suspected, socioeconomic class. The poorest Americans own an average of just one Apple product, while the wealthiest own — wait for it — a whopping 4.7 products. 

And apparently, 64 percent of respondents in the survey reported that their smartphone usage is “mostly productive and useful.” Come on guys, you need to stop lying on surveys. We know you all love playing Candy Crush just as much as we do.

Today’s market for consumer electronics is, at first glance, saturated with quality products from the likes of Samsung, Google, Xiaomi, and other tech giants. But as one of the researchers told CNBC, no other brand has matched Apple’s level of dominance among the American public. 

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Say ‘Alexa’ to the Amazon Echo 2

The Spheres outside Amazon's Day 1 building
The Spheres outside Amazon’s Day 1 building

Image: nate gowdy/mashable

Amazon is ready to take Echo to the next level with it’s all new, smaller Echo. 

It’s got an even stronger focus on audio, including Dolby Digital audio and new far-field microphone technology. The company announced the new device at its headquarters in Seattle today.

It’s smaller and has six new fabric and even wood veneer shells available to help the Echo fit better into home decor.

It’s also just $99. Available in the UK for 89 pounds and Germany for $99 Euros.

There’s even a three-pack of new Echos available for a $50 discount to support multi-room audio.

This story is developing…

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The iPhone 8 will fuel Apple’s Upgrade Program, and that’s a bad thing

Image: Bob Al-Greene/Mashable

What is the best way to pay for a $1,200 iPhone? For many, the answer will be Apple’s official monthly installment plan. Just sign on the dotted line and shell out cash to the world’s wealthiest company every single month.

Though the iPhone Upgrade Program is ostensibly a way to pay for one iPhone over a period of 24 months, it’s designed to lock you in forever. That may be an agreeable prospect for anyone who imagines they’ll never want a smartphone that isn’t branded by Apple, but ceding more of your life to yet another gilded monolith in Silicon Valley — well, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Here’s how this works: Enroll in Apple’s plan and you’ll receive an installment loan that you’ll pay off, with 0 percent interest, over the course of 24 months. That loan covers a new iPhone, AppleCare+, and any activation fee for your carrier. Currently, the most expensive plan is for the 256GB iPhone 7 Plus, a $969 device that you pay off in $45.75 chunks. (The 24-month price is slightly more than the base $969 at retail because of the cost of AppleCare+, which you might opt out of otherwise.) 

The “iPhone X” is rumored to cost as much as $1,200, a painful sum that will look much more reasonable sliced into 24 gobs. But the Upgrade Program sets a bad precedent. You don’t have to complete your loan to get a new iPhone every year: You just need to pay off 12 portions, and then you’re eligible for an upgrade. Trading in your iPhone for a new one triggers the plan all over again, putting you on a hamster wheel of endless upgrades and cash paid to Apple.

If you don’t upgrade every year and choose instead to pay off and own your iPhone after two years, you’re getting screwed. And if you do upgrade, the single benefit is dodging a one-time payment of around $1,000: not a minor thing, but a questionable one all the same. Every benefit is reserved for Apple. Namely:

  • The iPhone Upgrade Program keeps you locked into Apple’s ecosystem. If you can upgrade to a new iPhone every year, with no obvious downside, why wouldn’t you? Thus, you will always be inclined to purchase a new iPhone when the time comes to replace your device, rather than buying a phone from a competitor.

  • It forces you to buy AppleCare+. Not a major expense in the grand scheme of things, but an otherwise avoidable one all the same.

  • You’ll keep buying new iPhones. Great for Apple’s bottom line! Who would say no to a new iPhone every year if the asking price doesn’t appreciably increase? The difference in monthly payments between a $969 iPhone 7 Plus and a $1,200 iPhone X would be less than $10, which might be easier to swallow than $231 all at once.

  • Apple gets your old iPhone, which it can refurbish, and re-sell. Maybe it’s not fair to call this “greedy,” exactly. Although, screw it, it’s greedy: When you turn your iPhone back in after 12 months, Apple can turn around and sell it for something close to full price (typically, they’re sold for 15 percent off), which means you’ve essentially paid for a year-long iPhone rental. 

  • It helps Apple control, and drive up, the base price for the iPhone. The average price paid for iPhones has increased over the past couple of years, as noted by Quartz reporter Mike Murphy in this graph:

Image: Mike Murphy/theatlas.com

This is because Apple is adept at finding new ways to push consumers toward more expensive options, like the “Plus-sized” iPhone and higher storage tiers. 

The introduction of a substantially different (and more expensive) iPhone X this year will help Apple carve out another premium-priced niche: smartphones with small front bezels, large OLED screens, and no home button. It, along with similarly sleek devices like the Galaxy Note 8 offered by competitor Samsung, will make even the recent iPhone 7 look less desirable to consumers the next time they upgrade. They may not buy it this year, but they might in 2018—Apple has pulled similar tricks in the past.

To be clear, none of this is really a case against Apple offering a bonkers-expensive iPhone, except to say that such a pricey device will naturally push consumers toward a manageable monthly plan. The problem is chiefly that installment plans like this — competitors like Samsung offer them, too — trap people in a system wherein corporations win while individuals are left with fewer good options.

If you were to buy an iPhone X for $1,200 outright, you would be able to resell it for a substantial portion of what you originally paid. And then you could switch to whatever device you want.

What we should all want to avoid is a moment in time when every good smartphone has such a hefty asking price. In 2017, a smartphone is close to a necessity: 75 percent of Americans own them overall, according to the Pew Research Center, and 64 percent of lower-income Americans do. It’s a ways off, given the amount of affordable phones on the market, but the worst thing we can accept now is the idea that consumers should enter into a contract with another tech corporation requiring them to pay back a loan every month simply to access a core piece of technology. It’s bad enough that we already deal with such rigid contracts from telecoms.

Get the iPhone X if you must; just think about how you choose to do so.

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Alexa has a new skill to help you throw away less food (and money)

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Those leftovers that get dumped uneaten, that tub of yogurt way past its expiration date, and the bunch of celery you ambitiously bought for a recipe that — let’s be real —wasn’t going to happen, all add up.

It might seem like clearing out the fridge doesn’t mean much, but Americans don’t eat 40 percent of their food. Consumers throwing out old bread and questionable milk cartons are throwing away an average of $1,500 every year. All this food waste adds up to $218 billion in uneaten food every year. 

To fight the growing waste, the Ad Council and Natural Resources Defense Council have launched the Save The Food campaign. This educational campaign targets consumers, who contribute up to 43 percent of all of America’s food waste. 

We can’t just blame big corporations and restaurants, though they aren’t off the hook. The NRDC reports that restaurants and food service providers make two to four times the waste of grocery stores, supercenters, and wholesale distributors combined. The nonprofit environmental advocacy group found U.S. restaurants generate 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste each year.

To make it easier to save food at home, Amazon’s personal assistant, Alexa, can tell you how to store food, whether a vegetable should be deep-sixed, or how to revive a hopeless frozen steak situation. The Save The Food skill was added to Alexa’s repertoire earlier this year.

Image: ad council/nrdc

Alexa’s food saving skill comes with NRDC’s updated report on food waste. The report is a refresh on 2012 data about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of wasted resources.  JoAnne Berkenkamp, an NRDC senior advocate for food and agriculture, said, “Consumers should feel empowered to make a big difference on this issue.” 

Small things like smarter shopping with lists and peeking into our pantries and shelves to see what we already have, and following through on cooking plans can cut down on food waste. “Our eyes are bigger than our capacity to prepare foods at home,” Berkenkamp said.

Once we have food at home we need to better understand how to store it and how long something can last. Confusing food labels push people to throw away food unnecessarily — about 20 percent of food waste stems from labels that tell us more about peak freshness than food safety.

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A new video the Ad Council and NRDC released with chef Dan Barber from New York’s Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns shows how using food scraps can be part of the solution. Being resourceful and using cosmetically imperfect produce that may have some brown spots or an odd shape can contribute to slashing our food waste total. The video, embedded up top, shows how zucchini ends and cores usually thrown out after making a gourmet meal can be incorporated into a second, just as delicious meal. 

It’s not all bad news despite resources from thrown-out food adding up to the equivalent of 37 million cars’ worth of green house gas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have set national goals to cut food waste by 50 percent by 2030, similar to a UN goal. So progress is happening.

Berkenkamp said one example of many corporate improvements and efforts includes Walmart’s discount program, which launched in 2014 and lowered prices on items closing in on their sell-by dates, and saved more than 30 million food products from going to waste. 

Alexa, let’s waste not, want not.

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Behold, the LG V30 in all its glory

LG has been revealing key details about its upcoming V30 flagship ahead of the Aug. 31 launch, but one important piece of the puzzle is missing: An actual picture of the phone. 

Well, it’s not missing any more. The image of the phone from all sides comes courtesy of leaker Evan Blass, and even though it’s not an official photo (likely a press render), it looks exactly what we thought it would look based on previous leaks. Simply put, it’s very likely the real thing. 

On the front side, the LG V30 looks a lot like the G6 with even smaller bezels, especially on the bottom and on the sides. It’s the currently prevalent trend in smartphones and I like LG’s simple approach. The back shows a dual camera, a flash and a fingerprint sensor, and it looks a bit clunkier than the G6’s symmetrical design, but still better (in terms of usability) than Samsung S8’s awkwardly positioned fingerprint sensor

Though this is hard to judge from the photo, it also looks that the V30 will have a metallic back, instead of the glass back design on the G6. Also notable is the lack of secondary screen which was so far a staple of LG’s V series of phones. With the V30, it seems that LG’s consolidated its two flagship lines into a singular design philosophy, leaving the days of wild experimentation (both with G5’s modularity and the V20’s secondary screen) behind. 

So what else do we know about the LG V30? It’ll have a 6-inch, 18:9 OLED screen, a powerful camera with an f/1.6 aperture and face recognition. And yes, if there’s anything left for LG to reveal, we’ll be there Aug. 31 to tell you all about it. 

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