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Google cofounder Sergey Brin wears a pair of Google Glass. Google could be developing a Google Glass concept store in the San Francisco Bay. (Eric Risberg/AP/File)

Google Glass guidelines: No ads, for now. No charging money, for now.

By Contributor / 04.18.13

 Google Glass guidelines for software developers were released this week, and the first prototype glasses have been shipping to developers and “Glass Explorers” in batches as they are produced. Those receiving early-access Glass have paid $1,500 for the privilege of field testing.

Along with the shipment, which some users can expect this week, the company released tech specs, and Google's device guidelines.

The guidelines’ terms of use don’t allow developers to place advertisements in the display of the device. They don’t allow developers to track information about the client for advertising purposes, or transmit the data to third-party advertisers (that doesn’t stop them from tracking the data, though).

Google also commands that apps, known as “Glassware,” to be free of charge. According to the New York Times, most developers expect these restrictions to be removed in time. 

Glassware will be cloud-based, meaning the apps don’t live directly on the device, which will have “12 GB of usable memory, synced with Google cloud storage,” according to the tech specs.

As Google’s business model evolves into hardware, rumors of brick-and-mortar Google stores solidify. They already have kiosks in Best Buys to educate consumers about Google’s Chromebook, Nexus tablets, and maybe Glass. Having their own store may help the company compete on the same level as Apple and Microsoft.

Many people see the potential for Glass to invade privacy, or to affect social mores. Mashable.com, envisioning a future where everyone used Google Glass, asked questions about the social and health effects of such a device.

These questions have some people on edge. As The Monitor reported before, the group “Stop the Cyborgs” opposes the potential loss of privacy, and the power of big data to pry into consumers’ lives.

For now though, a select few are living on the cutting edge of technology.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss pose at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston in this 2010 photo. The Winklevoss twins are expected to walk away with between $250 million and $350 million when Facebook goes public. (Adam Hunger/Reuters)

Winklevoss twins try to buy up bitcoin market

By Aimee Ortiz / 04.12.13

The Winklevoss twins (two major characters Facebook creation story) are back in the news, this time making headlines with their $11 million purchase of one percent of all bitcoins, the virtual currency. 

As of Thursday morning, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss own approximately 108,000 bitcoins. The virtual currency has had a volatile week. Bitcoins were trading for as high as $266 each on Wednesday. However, it crashed that same day and sent the online money plummeting down to $105. It eventually stabilized around $150.

So, what is bitcoin? It’s a virtual currency that was created in 2009 by an anonymous person (or people) under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoins work on a peer-to-peer computer network. They are not backed by any government. They are worth only what people are willing to pay for them. 

Bitcoins are known for being favorites among hackers and, most notably, as the method of payment on Silk Road – a website where narcotics can be bought and sold. So, what would prompt the Olympic-rowing twins to invest in virtual money?

The New York Times Dealbook states that the Winklevoss brothers believe that the bitcoin will become the next gold.

“People really don’t want to take it seriously. At some point that narrative will shift to ‘virtual currencies are here to stay.’ We’re in the early days,” Cameron Winklevoss told the Times.

The twins also told the Times that the fluctuations are simply the “growing pains” for the bitcoin.

The brothers became known for their antagonistic roles in the movie "The Social Network." The film shows the real-life lawsuit the brothers had against Mark Facebook founder Zuckerberg, claiming that he had stolen their idea for Facebook. The pair settled for $45 million and Facebook stock.

For more tech news follow Aimee on Twitter@aimee_ortiz 

The Facebook logo as it is displayed on an iPad. (Matt Rourke/AP)

General Motors gives Facebook another try

By Aimee Ortiz / 04.10.13

"If you love something, set it free; and if it comes back, then it’s yours." That proverb seems to ring true for General Motors and Facebook. GM has announced that it will test-run advertising with Facebook after their very public break-up last May, just before Facebook’s initial public offering.

It was very bad timing for Facebook -- a major company pulling out $10 million just before its IPO. But now, less than a year from the split, GM and Facebook have reunited to advertise Chevrolet’s subcompact car, the Sonic. The Sonic is being marketed toward young people.

GM pulled its paid advertisement at the behest of its former Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanick. Mr. Ewanick stopped paid ads with Facebook under the claim that there was no proof that such ads were more successful than the free GM brands pages.

However, many things have changed with Facebook since then. In January, reports were published that Facebook has become the most used mobile application in the United States. Close to a quarter of the time that Americans spend using mobile apps is taken up just on Facebook. It comes as no surprise, then, that GM will run its advertisements solely through Facebook's mobile site.

“It’s almost inevitable that they would be back," says Brennan White, directing manager of Pandemic Labs in Boston. “Facebook is the dominant mobile application. We’re seeing a huge increase in Facebook advertising dollars and Facebook mobile advertising.”

Mr. White explains that Facebook has put considerable effort into “cracking the mobile nut, so to speak.”  Big companies like GM can better target potential customers if they pair up with Facebook, he says.

So, what else caught GM’s attention?

Facebook’s latest additions proved attractive to the automobile maker, according to valuewalk.com.

“Another key feature is the introduction of FBX ad-exchange, which inserts highly targeted promos into the users’ timeline. It increased the likelihood of users seeing and clicking more ads,” writes Vikas Shukla of valuewalk.  

As was mentioned before, it was GM's Mr. Ewanick that decided against paid ads on Facebook. Ewanick was forced to leave GM last July after not giving full disclosure with regards to Chevy’s sponsorship of the soccer team Manchester United.

GM replaced him with Alan Batey, who has reversed many of Ewanick’s decisions.

In addition to returning to Facebook, Mr. Batey has also reversed Ewanick’s decision to split Chevrolet advertising between Goodby Silverstein and McCann Worldgroup, consolidating it under McCann and changed the “Chevy runs deep” campaign to “Find new roads.”

Mobile ads are becoming a big part of Facebook’s revenue. The recent unveiling of Facebook’s Home app could further cement its seat in the app-universe. The social-network giant estimates that 23 percent of its ad revenue in the fourth quarter came from mobile ad, according to CNN.

Will Facebook and GM stay together this time? Nothing is certain; the ads are, after all, a test-run. However, with the ad market turning digital, Facebook could play a much bigger part in many companies's ad plans.

For more tech news follow Aimee on Twitter@aimee_ortiz

Models hold a Samsung Galaxy S III Mini phone and a Galaxy S III phone during the Mini's world premiere in Frankfurt in October. Samsung is expected to open 1,400 mini-stores in Best Buy. ( Reuters)

Samsung to open mini-stores in Best Buys

By Aimee Ortiz / 04.04.13

In what looks like a direct challenge to Apple, Samsung has teamed up with Best Buy to bring Samsung boutiques into Best Buys nation-wide.

The Samsung Experience Shop will take up an entire section of Best Buy stores and will display Samsung phones, laptops, cameras, tablets, television, and, of course, accessories.

In addition to a centralized shopping “experience,” owners of Samsung products will have access to in-store customer service.

The mini-shops, set to begin opening on April 8, will have Samsung employees there to assist consumers looking for new gadgets.

“This is our first opportunity to demonstrate connected mobile products in a location with educated Samsung employees able to walk a consumer through the experience,” says vice president of retail marketing for Samsung Mobile's American unit Ketrina Dunagan, according to ZDNet.

Ms. Dunagan goes on to say that "70 percent of the population lives within 10 miles of a Best Buy." A centralized shop for all Samsung products means that Samsung will be able to reach that wide audience.

According to a COMscore report released in March, Samsung holds 21.4 percent of the American smart-phone market. That’s just behind Apple, who ranked first with 37.8 percent.

“This effort is the last of a three-legged stool, from products to marketing and now retail,” says Dunagan, according to Bloomberg News.

Best Buy already sells Apple products from special, dedicated sections on the showroom floor. The Samsung Experience Shop, however, will be larger and will allow customers to purchase Samsung products directly.

Of course, Samsung already has retail locations, however, those shops have not had the success or popularity of Apple stores.

“Operating standalone retail stores has been a huge advantage for Apple, but it's a strategy that few companies have been able to replicate,” writes CNet’s Shara Tibken.

ZDNet’s Charlie Osborne explains that opening shops inside Best Buys will save Samsung the vast amount of money and time required to build multiple retail locations.

The announcement could also shake up Best Buy's fortunes. The Minnesota-based retailer has seen a decline in sales, due in part to stiff competition from other retailers like Amazon and Walmart.

“For Best Buy, the move could help further establish the retailer as a player in the mobile segment and reverse trends that have seen Best Buy struggling as consumers increasingly opt for Internet-based shopping,” writes AppleInsider’s Kevin Bostic.

Best Buy’s struggles are nothing new. In a world where CDs and DVDs have been replaced by digital files, the tech retailer has had to find different ways to keep afloat. After realizing that customers were window-shopping in stores but purchasing the items online, Best Buy began to match online prices.

Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly was hired in August to the lead a “turnaround.” Mr. Joly says the Samsung Experience Shop will help revive the store.

So, will taking a page out of Apple’s book help Samsung and Best Buy? We’ll find out by June. 

For more tech news, follow Aimee on Twitter, @aimee_ortiz

Indoor GPS would allow Apple's iPhone, and other devices, to give users detailed navigation in buildings. Here, a man looks at his iPhone's screen as he walks down a street in downtown Shanghai. (Carlos Barria/Reuters/File)

Indoor GPS: Why tech companies want to track you inside

By Contributor / 03.28.13

Every modern phone has a GPS built in, and some sort of navigation service to give you directions on the highway. But as soon as you get out of the car, that service isn't much use -- you might be able to guide yourself to a store that's a block away, but as soon as you step indoors you're out of luck. GPS can't help you find your friends in a mall, or direct you to the correct gate at an airport. 

But that might change soon. This week Apple purchased Silicon Valley start-up WiFiSLAM, an "indoor GPS" company whose technology can pinpoint a device's location indoors. Indoor GPS works by using Wi-Fi signals, as well as data from phone sensors like a compass and accelerometer, to enable much more precise tracking than is possible with regular GPS. The company says that it can peg a user's indoor location to within 2.5 meters, or about 8 feet.

So far, WiFiSLAM has been marketing its technology to app developers who want to be able to make indoor maps, according to Jessica Lessin at The Wall Street Journal. That might also allow for new kinds of retail apps -- picture what it would be like to have your phone give you sale information about whatever kind of produce you're standing in front of at the grocery store.

The purchase of WiFiSLAM is almost certainly a way for Apple to step up its mapping game against rival Google. Google Maps has included indoor navigation for a little while already, albeit only for buildings that the company has mapped already -- things like sports arenas and shopping centers. (Google says its database includes 10,000 buildings in 13 countries.) Apple, meanwhile, foundered initially as its own mapping service debuted last year to critical reviews. The company has since worked hard to improve Apple Maps, and WiFiSLAM could be a big step up -- for starters, since the technology relies partially on data from phone sensors, everyone using an iPhone indoors would be helping to create maps of the buildings they're in.

Indoor GPS, of course, raises some privacy concerns -- not least because it would allow Apple, or any other company that employs it, to collect pretty specific data on users' movements and habits. Since companies need to find a way to make money on services like this, it's probably not reasonable to expect a free indoor GPS that also completely respects users' privacy.

For more tech news, follow Jeff on Twitter@jeffwardbailey.

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Apple introduced two-factor authentication to iCloud accounts this week, adding an additional layer of security against hacking attacks. Here, people walk past an Apple logo at a shopping center in central Beijing. (Petar Kujundzic/Reuters/File)

Apple tightens account security with two-factor authentication

By Contributor / 03.22.13

Eight months ago, Wired writer Mat Honan's iCloud account was hacked. By exploiting some loopholes in Apple's and Amazon's security practices, the hackers were able to remotely wipe Honan's iPhone, iPad, and Macbook, and take over his Twitter and Google accounts as well. Mr. Honan's story spread, and in response to the concerns of other users Apple and Amazon quietly took measures to increase their security.

This week, Apple introduced two-factor authentication to iCloud, adding an additional layer of security that addresses some of the lingering flaws exposed by the Honan hack. 

Two-factor authentication works by requiring both something you know, and something you have, before you can get into an account. Right now iCloud accounts require only a password, which is backed up by security questions (think of standards like "What was your mother's maiden name?"). Two-factor authentication introduces a device -- like a phone or tablet -- into the equation. When someone tries to access an account from an unrecognized device, Apple sends a verification code to that account's "trusted" device, and the code must be entered in order to open the account. In theory, hackers can't get in without having physical access to the trusted device.

If you're interested in setting up two-factor security (and live in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand), you can head over to the Apple ID site and click on the "Password and Security" tab. Once you've identified your "trusted device," you're pretty much set. Two-factor authentication does away with security questions, which in and of itself probably makes your account safer -- since, in many cases, those questions can be answered based on publicly-available information.

Two-factor authentication is becoming more popular as a security measure: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and many other services all have two-step security options, although they're implemented slightly differently by different companies.

In Apple's case, the authentication code is sent either by text message to a particular phone number, or to the Find My iPhone app, if it's installed. When you set up two-factor authentication the first time, you'll get a recovery key that can be used to access your account in case you forget your password. That's important, since once two-factor security is installed Apple can no longer reset your password for you. (Depending on how you view it, that might actually be an upside: Apple's ability to reset passwords was a key part of the hack that Mat Honan suffered.)

Do you have two-factor security on any of your accounts? Do you feel it's kept your information safe? Share your stories in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow Jeff on Twitter@jeffwardbailey.

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This file image of a screen grab provided by Google Inc. shows the YouTube website. (Google Inc./AP/File)

YouTube: Eight years in and 1 billion people strong

By Aimee Ortiz / 03.21.13

YouTube has reached one billion monthly users, crossing the threshold a mere five months after Facebook. 

The now Google-owned company announced the achievement at a press event and on its blog on Wednesday. So what does this mean? According to YouTube, one billion users means that “nearly one out of every two people on the Internet visits YouTube” and it doesn’t stop there.

The numbers

The official blog goes on to explain that YouTube’s monthly viewership is the same as roughly 10 Super Bowl audiences. It also claims that if YouTube were a country, it would be the third biggest country in the world – surpassed only by China and India. Or, as YouTube so quaintly put it, one billion users would mean that Madonna and Psy would have to perform Gangnam Style for a packed audience 200,000 times.

According to YouTube’s statistics page, 72 hours of video are uploaded each minute and over 4 billion hours of video are watched each month. Some 70 percent of that traffic comes from outside of the US. YouTube is localized in 53 countries and comes in 61 languages.

Alexa.com, which tracks website popularity, ranks YouTube as the third most popular site in the world behind Google and Facebook, respectively.

The competition

It’s not surprising to see YouTube ranked near Google and Facebook but what about the other sites? Alexa ranked Yahoo in the fourth spot and Baidu.com, a Chinese-language search engine, nabbed number five. 

So where did other popular sites land? Wikipedia swept up the sixth spot and retail giant, Amazon, sits at number nine. 

The little bluebird of the Internet, Twitter, comes in at number 11.

Then and now

YouTube, which began back in 2005, quickly rose to global success. The website was started by three ex-Paypal employees who saw an opening in the market. By November 2006, the company had reached such fame and success that Google bought it for $1.65 billion.

What started off as a small start-up company has blossomed into a giant subsidiary of Google. In fact, YouTube's success has played a part in the decline of television viewership. 

“To appreciate how important YouTube is, it’s worth knowing the Television Bureau of Advertising reported that total ad spend last year was $74 billion, “ writes Forbes contributor Mike Rogowsky. “And a lot of that money went to television networks whose audience is disappearing in the click of a mouse or the tap of an app.”

The same Forbes article explains the drastic the drop in TV viewers. According to Mr. Rogowsky, "It wasn’t that long ago that a show could become big and find an audience of nearly 20 million regulars (think early Grey’s Anatomy). Now, something like NBC’s Revolution is considered successful with less than half that."

What’s next

While Google's plans for YouTube's future are still a mystery, a small glimpse may have already been released. 

“YouTube confirmed early this year that its evolution as an Internet stage for video may include subscriptions to content that creators expect people would pay to watch,” writes the AFP. 

For YouTube, the road to fortune is paved in cat videos, music, professional content, and more importantly, the people in front of the computer screen. 

For more tech news, follow Aimee on Twitter, @aimee_ortiz

The Oculus Rift, which made waves at this year's CES, could finally bring the technology into the mainstream. (Oculus VR/YouTube)

The Oculus Rift aims to make virtual reality gaming viable

By Contributor / 03.19.13

Virtual reality might have been a concept ahead of its time -- VR headsets promised immersive gaming experiences in the 1990s, but bulky headsets and relatively primitive graphics kept them from being widely adopted. The technology has come a long way in 20 years, though, and now a company called Oculus is trying to put us inside games in a way that no screen can. 

The Oculus Rift, one of the most talked-about products at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, looks like a plastic rectangle attached to a pair of ski goggles. (In fact, the original Rift prototype was literally a pair of goggles with LCD screens integrated.) But when the company approached crowd-funding site Kickstarter with a $250,000 funding request, it raised almost ten times that amount -- and attracted the attention of some big names in the gaming industry.

Now, six months later, Oculus is preparing to ship 10,000 developer headsets to its Kickstarter supporters, and we’re seeing the very first signs of Rift-compatible gaming. Team Fortress 2, the popular first-person shooter from Valve, will be getting a “VR Mode” update in a few weeks, and id Software has talked about giving Doom 4 a similar treatment. The Oculus Rift isn’t ready for consumers yet, but it’s headed in that direction. It helps that the headset will cost only a few hundred dollars -- since most of its components are the same ones found inside tablets and smart phones.

What does using the Oculus Rift feel like? Tech journalists who have been lucky enough to try a prototype headset describe a disorientingly realistic experience.

“The initial feeling of being instantly teleported is jarring,” writes Engadget’s Ben Gilbert. “You can turn your head to turn in-game, and you can freely aim all over the generous field of view without altering said field of view.” Over at The Verge, Sean Hollister writes: “With the 3D visuals, the wide field of view, and the motion tracking that shows you whatever your head points at, it feels like you’re truly in another world... only you’re looking at that world through a mesh helmet. The reality is that you’re seeing the actual rows of pixels, but your brain fills in some of the blanks.”

Compared with the complicated VR setups of yesteryear, the Oculus Rift is pretty simple: a single cable connects the goggles to a control box that accepts power and video. The headset itself can be adjusted to the shape of the user’s head, and even takes near- and far-sightedness into account.

In spite of these advances, Oculus still faces an uphill battle before VR headsets become commonplace. Convincing game companies to make compatible software is one hurdle; helping would-be users adjust to a new method of input is another (keep in mind that the Rift only responds to the user’s head movements; controlling of a video game character’s body is handled by a traditional controller). But the company hopes that its open-source ethic will enable those who are interested to help push the technology forward. And few would dispute that the headset, even in its infancy, is proof of the viability of a new approach to gaming.

Readers, what do you think about the Oculus Rift? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow Jeff on Twitter@jeffwardbailey.

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Google cofounder Sergey Brin wears a pair of Google Glass. Google could be developing a Google Glass concept store in the San Francisco Bay. (Eric Risberg/AP/File)

Google Glass: Apps, gestures, and audio revealed at SXSW

By Contributor / 03.13.13

Given how much buzz surrounds Google Glass, we know curiously little about it. Glass, which consists of a miniature heads-up display and camera attached to lensless eyeglass frames, promises all sort of info on demand, but Google is notoriously strict about letting people test it out -- and as a result, details on how Glass will actually fit into our day-to-day lives have been sparse.

But thanks to a Google presentation at the South by Southwest conference this week, we now know a little more about Glass, including how it’s controlled and how apps might work on the device.

Senior developer advocate Timothy Jordan took to the stage in Austin to show how Glass responds to user input. We knew already that the glasses can be controlled by voice -- “Okay, Glass, take a picture,” for example -- but Jordan demonstrated touch and head gestures as well. By subtly moving your eyes, you can turn the screen on and manipulate information; by gently tilting your head you can scroll through different screens.

During the presentation Mr. Jordan also used Glass to take photos and post to the Google+ social network. He also replied to an email by using voice dictation -- Glass displayed the text of his reply, and allowed him to edit it before sending. And Jordan used Glass to translate the phrase “Thank you” into Japanese; the audio result was loud enough for him to hear but too quiet for the audience to catch.

We also now know a little more about how third-party apps will work with Glass. Jordan modeled a few apps that are still under development, including one that displays headlines and photos from The New York Times, and another called “Skitch” that lets users collaborate by doodling on or otherwise marking up images. Jordan cautioned that because Glass is so different from smart phones, developers will need to write new software for the platform rather than trying to port their existing apps to Glass. And he added that developers should keep apps simple, since the glasses are positioned right in front of a user’s eyes. (It’s a safe bet that no one wants to be bombarded with ads and trivial updates thrust directly into their field of vision.)

Google also announced that Glass will work for those who would be wearing glasses anyway: “The Glass design is modular, so you will be able to add frames and lenses that match your prescription.” The design for prescription frames is still under development, but the news likely comes as a relief to anyone who was hoping to turn their glasses into Glasses.

Readers, what’s your take? Are you getting more excited about Glass as more information is revealed? Or is this something you’d never be caught dead wearing? Let us know in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow Jeff on Twitter@jeffwardbailey.

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The new SimCity has arrived. (Electronic Arts )

SimCity crumbles under online issues

By Aimee Ortiz / 03.08.13

On March 5, gamers eagerly downloaded Electronic Arts's (EA) latest game, SimCity. By March 6, players were angrily posting about the game (or lack thereof) and by March 7, Amazon stopped selling it.

SimCity was highly anticipated. Early reviews heaped on praise, but what should have been a magnificent launch for EA has turned into a nightmare. The latest SimCity game will not work unless you are playing online. Games save to EA's servers automatically and friends can build up regions together. But things fell apart, either by fan overwhelming the servers or through simply mismanagement on the part of EA. 

“We are hitting a number of problems with our server architecture which has seen players encountering bugs and long wait times to enter servers,” writes SimCity Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis. “This is, obviously, not the situation we wanted for our launch week and we want you to know that we are putting everything we have at resolving these issues." 

So what is the problem with SimCity? Well, to start off, the long wait times for server connection have frustrated players across the Internet. Wait times of 30 minutes or more have been reported as well as saving problems. That last one, the saving problems, has had a huge effect on digital mayors. Players have reported losing hours of work and planning due to connectivity problems.

“How would you feel if you waited for the new Corvette to come out, preordered one, and when you try to drive it home with its massive V8 engine the dashboard tells you, ‘Gas Pump not connected, aborting’?” writes Amazon user Jonny. “Bottom line: Go up to a random stranger, preferably a musclehead, hand him your $60 and ask him to punch you in the face. You'll get more out of your money, and it'll be less painful to watch."

The game’s previous high ratings have slipped. Amazon users hold it at one star and the site has a notification up, warning users about the server problems. Polygon has dropped its original rating of the game, a 9.5, down to a mere 4.0.

SimCity’s always-online requirement has been seen as the root of the problem. Unlike the previous Sims games, SimCity requires the gamer to be online at all times. The need for an Internet connection is a way to promote the social connectivity of the Sims as well as a way to slowdown piracy. Users’ games are stored in the cloud, giving them access to their game anywhere, that is, if the game would work.

EA’s Maxis studio previously explained that the online requirement exists because all of the cities created in SimCity are a part of a larger region. The region shares factors like pollution, resources, and crime. In order to keep the region alive, the game must be online. However, not all fans of the game want to be a part of the region.

There was some success for the video game. According to Mr. Katsarelis, the first 24 hours of SimCity brought 38 million buildings and 7.5 million kilometers of digital road.

For more tech news, follow Aimee on Twitter, @aimee_ortiz

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