All posts in “Mashtalk”

Has tech given us a dark future?

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Is the future broken?

Maybe not, but by many measures the present is. Over the past couple of years, the networks and devices that we’ve come to rely on for our information, consumption, and social interactions have had their toxic underbellies exposed: Social networks have been twisted by fake news and filter bubbles, the constant ping of notifications on screens has shortened attention spans and created addictions, and it sometimes seems all the big tech companies are determined to erase every trace of privacy left in the world.

We know how we got here. In fact, most of the conversation around technology in 2017 was about examining the problems and laying blame. Now the conversation has begun about repairing the damage and charting the best way forward.

One of the people leading that conversation is Andrew Keen. Keen is an author, and if you look at the titles of his previous books — The Cult of the Amateur, Digital Vertigo, and The Internet Is Not the Answer — you can tell he’s been a tech naysayer since before it was cool. But he’s singing a different tune with his new book, How to Fix the Future. Instead of diagnosing problems, Keen is proposing solutions, traveling the globe to educate himself and his readers on how governments, private enterprise, and individuals can build a kind of new “digital social contract” as the influence of technology in our lives inevitably grows.

Keen joins Mashable’s MashTalk podcast to discuss those solutions, and the five tools he thinks are essential in creating them: competitive innovation, social responsibility, worker and consumer choice, education, and — yes — regulation. While many in Silicon Valley might bristle at any discussion of government stepping in on their turf, Keen sees regulation as an essential part of fixing things, although he also explains that it’s not a panacea, and that it needs to be complemented with empowered consumers and innovative companies with new business models if it’s going to help instead of hinder progress.

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

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Was Evan Spiegel right to turn down a billion dollars?

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Snap is starting the year off strong. Its quarterly earnings blew past expectations, and while its redesign is angering some users, the change is expected to improve the app experience for everyone, with time. 

But life hasn’t always been so great for Snapchat. CEO Evan Spiegel continues to be compared to Mark Zuckerberg and his tech giant Facebook, whose much larger products keep taking on Snapchat-esque features. Such a comparison isn’t so crazy. Back in 2013, Facebook offered $1 billion to acquire Snapchat. Zuckerberg later upped the offer to $3 billion. And that’s just one drama in a long saga of how Snapchat and Spiegel rose to fame. 

For more details on the rise of Snapchat, we spoke with the guy who wrote the book — seriously — on this week’s MashTalk. Billy Gallagher is the author of “How To Turn Down A Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story,” which is out Feb. 13 and available on Amazon

Gallagher has quite the personal knowledge of the whole “Snapchat Story.” He attended Stanford with Spiegel and was in the same fraternity. Back then, he covered the early days of Snapchat for TechCrunch. Gallagher later worked in venture capital, and now, he’s getting his MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He also says his favorite Snapchat filter is the puppy lens.

Billy Gallagher

Billy Gallagher

Image: larry langton

In the book, Gallagher illustrates the personality of Spiegel as a frat brother, someone who would stand back, solo cup in hand, and watch pledges push each other in shopping carts; someone who would ask those some pledges to help him with his startup; someone who later took Taylor Swift as his date to Snapchat’s New Year’s Eve party. 

A major character and story arc in the book is Reggie Brown, the classmate who suggested the idea of a disappearing messaging app. Brown later forced out of the company and sued. Spiegel and his fellow cofounder Bobby Murphy settled for $157.5 million. 

We chatted with Gallagher about Spiegel and Brown and what he predicts for the future of Snapchat. There wouldn’t be a Snapchat without Spiegel, he said, and there may not be one in the future without him, he argued.  

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

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How cheap Fire TV devices power Amazon’s streaming war

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

If you did some online shopping this holiday season, chances are you bought something from Amazon. And if you did, you certainly saw a splash ad for the company’s own devices, including one for the Fire TV Stick, which was slashed from the regular $39.99 to just $24.99.

I know I did. And when I saw the ad for the 17th or 18th time, even though I wasn’t planning to buy the Stick (I already had a first-gen device, which lacks Alexa integration), I found myself clicking “Add to Cart.”

I wasn’t the only one. Amazon says its customers bought 2.7x times as many Fire TV Sticks over the Black Friday shopping period than it did over the same period last year. It also claimed to have sold “millions” of Alexa-compatible devices.

That’s impressive. It also might make you wonder: How can any other purveyor of video streaming devices compete? Apple didn’t help itself when it decided to offer its Apple TV 4K at a prohibitive price point, starting at $179. To be fair, the Apple TV 4K more directly competes with the new Fire TV box, but the price difference is still eye-popping — you can buy a Fire TV today for just $54.99. Even if you look to streaming mainstay Roku, it’s 4K Ultra streaming box sells for $89.99.

Beware what you buy, though, since it might not be compatible with the services you want. Google made that abundantly clear recently by restricting YouTube from Amazon devices, and Amazon famously doesn’t make its streaming apps Google Cast-compatible, meaning they don’t work on Google Chromecast. It doesn’t even offer any Chromecast or Apple TV in its store… or at least it didn’t until this week.

Will things get better among streaming competitors? How does Amazon get away with selling its devices so cheap? And what are the guiding principles for its Fire TV line? Scott Henson, Amazon’s director of product management for Fire TV, swings by the MashTalk podcast to give some insights into Amazon’s streaming-box plans, as well as some thoughts on why how we’re watching is almost as important as what we’re watching. He also tackles the question: Will we ever see ads on Amazon video?

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

(Note: This podcast was recorded before Amazon announced it would accept Google Chromecast and Apple TV back into its online store.)

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Why it’s hard to get an iPhone on a budget wireless carrier

Image: Haley Hamblin/Mashable

Got a smartphone? Then you must also have a wireless plan, and if you live in the U.S., chances are it’s with one of the big four — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint.

However, there are a bunch of other carriers you may have seen around, carriers with names like Cricket, Jolt, metroPCS, and Virgin. These are MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators, and they exist by leasing spectrum from the major carriers. They’re also often a better deal, thanks to selectively targeting demographics and relying heavily on Wi-Fi to support the network.

One of those MVNOs is Republic Wireless. Founded in 2010, it made a name for itself by putting Wi-Fi calling on the map. Thanks to a Wi-Fi-centered strategy, Republic was able to offer incredibly cheap deals, which had the potential to cut big money off a wireless bill — a Mashable editor actually saved over $150 every month by switching. The big catch: The number of phones that actually worked on Republic was very limited. Notably, it didn’t — and still doesn’t — offer the iPhone.

After quietly expanding the number of phones that are compatible with its network, Republic Wireless is making noise again. It’s just announced two new hardware products that will debut in early 2018: a phone with no screen that looks more like a panic button, and its own smart speaker.

On this week’s MashTalk, Republic Wireless co-founder and CEO Chris Chuang explained who the products are for: families. The screenless phone, called Relay, functions as both a kid tracker and a way to communicate directly with them. The single button directly calls the parent, and it’s equipped with GPS so the parent can check the kid’s location anytime. The device also provides access to Google Assistant, so the kid can ask questions and get answers without bothering mom or dad (and yes there are parental controls for what information the Assistant can surface).

The smart speaker is called Anywhere HQ, and it’s also equipped with Google Assistant. It looks like any other wireless speaker, but if you pick it up off its (heavy) charging cradle and look at the bottom you’ll see all the buttons for a cordless phone. The big difference is that it’s a phone that works with your smartphone’s phone number, and it also works over the 4G LTE network — so you can take it anywhere.

If this all sounds great to you, but you’re still not psyched to jump to a carrier without the iPhone, Chuang has some good news for you: On the podcast he reveals Republic Wireless will offer an iPhone in 2018. He just didn’t say which one.

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

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Here are all the reasons you should be creeped out by Amazon Key

Image: Haley Hamblin/Mashable

Amazon has built up a lot of trust over the years as it’s evolved from digital storefront to ecommerce empire. Now it’s testing the limits of that trust with Amazon Key.

It’s a simple enough concept, and it really solves a problem: The main thing Amazon does is deliver packages to your door, but there’s always the question of what happens when you’re not home. In many cases, that package may find a different home if it doesn’t get through your door right away.

Amazon Key, which includes a smart lock and security camera, will let the delivery person in your front door and let you keep an eye on them, from wherever you are. In cities where lots of people live in apartments, the idea has merit.

It also has a lot of connotations Amazon would like to avoid. The company is already a presence in many households through its Echo devices and Alexa voice assistant, and Amazon Key feels like a bridge too far. It also speaks to just how much we’re willing to allow tech companies encroach into our lives, including in places where we’d never trust the government to intrude.

In this week’s MashTalk podcast, the Mashable team unpacks what Amazon Key means for the company and tech in general, and answers the question: Is it worth the tradeoff? We also discuss the company’s now-bloated line of Echo devices. Is this really fragmentation, and even if it is, does it matter for a voice-powered device like the Echo?

Finally, we reveal the gadget you should definitely get this holiday season. Surprise — it’s from Amazon.

You can subscribe to MashTalk on iTunes or Google Play, and we’d appreciate it if you could leave a review. Feel free to hit us with questions and comments by tweeting to @mashtalk or attaching the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

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