An oral history of the many ways technology is changing the way we buy, sell, play, communicate...and live.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s preliminary statement of policy about autonomous vehicles is gung ho, to put it mildly.

"Although this Statement focuses on the enormous safety potential of these new technologies, they offer an even wider range of possible benefits. Vehicle control systems that automatically accelerate and brake with the flow of traffic can conserve fuel more efficiently than the average driver. By eliminating a large number of vehicle crashes, highly effective crash avoidance technologies can reduce fuel consumption by also eliminating the traffic congestion that crashes cause every day on our roads. Reductions in fuel consumption, of course, yield corresponding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. To the extent vehicles can communicate with each other and with the highway infrastructure, the potential for safer and more efficient driving will be increased even more. Drivers—or vehicles themselves—will be able to make more intelligent route selections based on weather and traffic data received by the vehicle in real time. Mobility for those with a range of disabilities will be greatly enhanced if the basic driving functions can be safely performed by the vehicle itself, opening new windows for millions of people."

www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/automated_vehicles_policy.pdf?c=ffd8be50-cc28-44ab-bb2a-5b0a48516802

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Even the handsets themselves are trickling up. That Alacatel handset is going to bring an Android-powered smartphone to U.S. consumers for just $80, with no contract. (And the T-Mobile pay-as-you-go plans cost about what you’d spend on a feature phone plan.) Another Alcatel smartphone, the OneTouch Evolve, retails for just $59–and it’s a 3G model. Both are based on a platform from MediaTek, a Taiwanese giant you’ve never heard of. It makes white label handsets that operators can customize for local markets. The Fierce is based on MediaTek’s MT6589 platform, and the Evolve is MT6575.

Thanks to a huge market in the developing world, the three out of ten American consumers who couldn’t previously afford a smartphone may be able to buy one this year (and next year, and the year after). These are phones for the unexotic underclass. These are phones for everyone who has broken a smartphone eight months into a contract. These are phones for traveling (dual SIM!), for adventures, for everything you want to do and document and stay in touch while doing it but are too afraid to take your new iPhone along.

It’s gotten easy to get blasé about high end flagships. The processors, cameras, screens, and, increasingly, the apps are all very, very good. We’ve reached the point of incremental improvements. They have parity. You basically know what’s coming, year after year.

But these cheap, fast, out of control handsets are something else entirely. Something new. Something different. Something we can’t really predict. And that’s really exciting.

Don’t Diss Cheap Smartphones. They’re About to Change Everything | Gadget Lab | WIRED

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These app constellations are possibly the only sustainable answer to solving the distribution conundrum in mobile – how do I get around the app store leaderboard traffic jam? If you own a leading constellation, you can use your apps and your relationship with the users of those apps to promote and distribute new apps that you either build or buy. This promotion is “in situ” right on the mobile phone where the consumer’s attention is increasingly placed. I see this as yet another “rich get richer” dynamic in the mobile ecosystem.

It is interesting to contrast all of this to what happened in the last downloadable software phase in tech – PCs and PC Software. In that world, Microsoft’s Windows OS became totally dominant and led to a dominant application monopoly (Outlook, Excel, Word, Powerpoint, etc). In native mobile, we have a duopoly with iOS and Android and what looks like at least six App Constellations (Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Dropbox). There may be some other important constellations emerging. I would love some suggestions of other ones in the comments (Foursquare?).

App Constellations – AVC

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Foursquare’s Swarm And The Rise Of The Invisible App | TechCrunch

There’s a fundamental shift in the way that we use apps underway, and the symptoms are all over the map. From a deeper, more thoughtful approach to push notifications to the breaking apart of large, unwieldy apps into smaller more focused components.

The shift we’re seeing will be the third strata of user interaction since the iPhone popularized the mobile app in a major way. The initial offerings for the iPhone and then Android devices adhered fairly closely to the ‘information appliance’ model. Using software, you transformed your phone into a mostly mono-purpose device just like it said on the tin. Now it’s a phone. Now it’s a calculator. Now it’s a messaging tool.

The second phase is the ‘home screen’ era, where every app fought hard to be your home base. The prevailing wisdom was that you had to cram everything your service offered into mobile, using a form of design-driven gavage to stuff your app until it was positively groaning with tabs and gutters and drawers.

Now, we’re entering the age of apps as service layers. These are apps you have on your phone but only open when you know they explicitly have something to say to you. They aren’t for ‘idle browsing’, they’re purpose built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors, location, history of use and predictive computation.

These ‘invisible apps’ are less about the way they look or how many features they cram in and more about maximizing their usefulness to you without monopolizing your attention.

What happens when a social network knows exactly what posts you’ll want to read and tells you when you can see them, and not before? What about a shopping app that ignores everything that you’re unlikely to buy and taps you on the shoulder for only the most killer of deals? What about a location aware app that knows where you and all of your friends are at all times but is smart enough to know when you want people to know and when you don’t?

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The change certainly isn’t an improvement for iOS users, but it’s clear why the change has been made: Apple’s App Store policies demand that it receive a 30 percent cut of all in-app purchases and subscriptions. By forcing its users to make purchases on the Comixology website, the company doesn’t have to give Apple a cut. Amazon — which just purchased Comixology earlier this month — has long played a similar game with its Kindle app for iOS, which is also missing a way to purchase new content.

Comixology removes in-app purchases to avoid paying fees to Apple | The Verge

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On Monday, Rovio, the Finnish gaming company behind the once-popular franchise, announced a more than 50 percent drop in its 2013 net profit, to $37 million, compared with the previous year.

The fall comes as Rovio tries to respond to changes in the gaming world, where the likes of King Digital Entertainment, maker of Candy Crush, and Supercell, the Finnish company behind the Clash of Clans franchise, have found success with so-called freemium games. Those companies allow consumers to play their games for free, but charge for in-game purchases, unlike Rovio, which has traditionally charged users to download its games.

Annual Profit Falls 52 Percent for Angry Birds Maker Rovio - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

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They are aided in these efforts by the huge pile of data the company has amassed. Every element of a booking—the reservation, payment, communication between host and guest, and review—takes place through Airbnb’s platform so the company can track each stay from conception to completion. If a host uses the words Western Union in a conversation with a guest—a sign that they may be trying to route around Air­bnb’s system—the company will block the message. If a host and guest are repeatedly booking rooms with one another, it could be a scam to build up fake positive reviews. And if a new host pops up and instantly starts booking expensive reservations with a new user, that could signal something like a money-­laundering racket. Airbnb’s analytics system takes factors like these into account, then assigns each reservation a “trust score.” If the score is too low, it’s automatically flagged for further investigation. (The system isn’t foolproof. In March a comedian discovered that his house had been used for a massive sex party. But Airbnb says it is largely successful; of 6 million guests in 2013, the company paid out only 700 host claims.) In a lot of ways, this process is simi­lar to the trust infrastructure that eBay developed—a machine that assumes risk on behalf of its customers and frees them from the responsibility of assessing each other’s trustworthiness.

How Airbnb and Lyft Finally Got Americans to Trust Each Other | Business | WIRED

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The sharing economy has come on so quickly and powerfully that regulators and economists are still grappling to understand its impact. But one consequence is already clear: Many of these companies have us engaging in behaviors that would have seemed unthinkably foolhardy as recently as five years ago. We are hopping into strangers’ cars (Lyft, Sidecar, Uber), welcoming them into our spare rooms (Airbnb), dropping our dogs off at their houses (DogVacay, Rover), and eating food in their dining rooms (Feastly). We are letting them rent our cars (RelayRides, Getaround), our boats (Boatbound), our houses (HomeAway), and our power tools (Zilok). We are entrusting complete strangers with our most valuable possessions, our personal experiences—and our very lives. In the process, we are entering a new era of Internet-enabled intimacy.

This is not just an economic breakthrough. It is a cultural one, enabled by a sophisticated series of mechanisms, algorithms, and finely calibrated systems of rewards and punishments. It’s a radical next step for the ­person-to-person marketplace pioneered by eBay: a set of digi­tal tools that enable and encourage us to trust our fellow human beings.

How Airbnb and Lyft Finally Got Americans to Trust Each Other | Business | WIRED

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If Google was going to compete, it had to find a way to tie the identity of its users across all of its major platforms, building robust profiles of their usage habits and the like along the way. Google countered with Android and Google+, but of the two, only Android really had to win. Google+ was, to my mind, all about creating a first-party data connection between Google most important services – search, mail, YouTube, Android/Play, and apps.

Think about your relationship to Google five years ago – you most likely weren’t “logged in,” unless you were using a silo’d service like mail. Now think about it today – you most likely are. We have Google+ to thank for that. It’s done its job, and it’ll keep doing it, whether or not you ever use its social bells and whistles as a primary social network.

http://battellemedia.com/archives/2014/04/google-won-or-why-google-never-needed-a-social-network.php (via disruptivelifestream)

(Source: disruptedlifestream)

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Whatever the status of an official moratorium, though, the real issue with all of this is that it’s boring. It’s a technicality. Selfies have gone from an Internet art form—perhaps loathsome but still genuine—to a policy issue. And this is what happens whenever advertisers get their hands on Internet memes. A commercial that attempts to tap an Internet trend may be the thing that makes the meme uncool, or it may just be the harbinger of a trend that has already peaked, but either way it’s never a good sign.

The Obama selfie is just one example of an Internet meme ruined by advertisers.

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(via Facebook’s Standalone App Plan: Launch Betas, If They Work Grow To 100M Users, Then Monetize | TechCrunch)

(via Facebook’s Standalone App Plan: Launch Betas, If They Work Grow To 100M Users, Then Monetize | TechCrunch)

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Why the focus on growth first? Because monetizing too early can scare off users. If an app can hit a huge user count, network effects kick in to make it more useful and fend off competitors. In the case of WhatsApp, there are plenty of international messaging apps still vying to replace SMS. Rather than nickel and dime users now and increase the risk of stagnation or losing the war, Facebook wants to earn dollars later by concentrating on getting these apps to massive scale.

Facebook’s Standalone App Plan: Launch Betas, If They Work Grow To 100M Users, Then Monetize | TechCrunch

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The music business has come to terms with something that the rest of the entertainment and media world is dealing with in differing ways. Despite the repeated pieties about the magic of creativity and the special skills of writers, image makers and personalities, content is not king. Delivery has mounted its throne and has already eaten its lunch. To take an example from the Jurassic era of pop, in 1966 the Beatles were more powerful than all the record shops in Britain put together. They could, and did, reshape the processes of the businesses. No matter how popular Beyoncé may be, she’ll never be able to make YouTube or iTunes dance to her tune. She is merely furnishing a handful of the trillions of noughts and ones being ground out in their mills day and night.

Beyoncé releases an album – within a week it’s as if it had never happened | Media | The Guardian

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Daily active users (DAUs) were 802 million on average for March 2014, an increase of 21% year-over-year.

Mobile DAUs were 609 million on average for March 2014, an increase of 43% year-over-year.

Monthly active users (MAUs) were 1.28 billion as of March 31, 2014, an increase of 15% year-over-year.

Mobile MAUs were 1.01 billion as of March 31, 2014, an increase of 34% year-over-year.

Facebook Reports First Quarter 2014 Results - Facebook

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The Cupertino tech company on Tuesday ran an Earth Day ad in numerous newspapers around the world, including The Times, that challenges its competitors to adopt the same environmentally friendly policies that Apple has.

"There are some ideas we want every company to copy," the ad reads in large letters.
The ad appears to be a shot at Samsung, with which Apple is currently in the middle of a lawsuit. The two companies allege they each infringed on each other’s patents; in opening statements this month, Apple called Samsung a copycat.

(via Apple mocks Samsung with Earth Day ad, kicks off iPad trade-in program - latimes.com)

The Cupertino tech company on Tuesday ran an Earth Day ad in numerous newspapers around the world, including The Times, that challenges its competitors to adopt the same environmentally friendly policies that Apple has.

"There are some ideas we want every company to copy," the ad reads in large letters.
The ad appears to be a shot at Samsung, with which Apple is currently in the middle of a lawsuit. The two companies allege they each infringed on each other’s patents; in opening statements this month, Apple called Samsung a copycat.

(via Apple mocks Samsung with Earth Day ad, kicks off iPad trade-in program - latimes.com)

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