(CNN) — Hipsters, rejoice. Next time you ride your fixed-gear bicycle to the the thrift store, where you find a vintage, grease-stained mechanic’s shirt that matches your Rollie Fingers mustache and Grizzly Adams beard, there’s an edgy, if technologically sub-optimal, way to tell your friends about it.
Use a flip phone.
In an age of the iPhone 6 Plus and massive Android phablets, flip phones are inexplicably making a comeback.
No less an arbiter of cool than Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour has apparently dumped her iPhone in favor of a flipper. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, actress Kate Beckinsale and even Rihanna are just a few of the celebrities spotted proudly brandishing the famous piece of paleo-technology.
And, believe it or not, “dumb phones” aren’t exactly the elusive unicorn that some of us think they are.
As of January, 56% of American adults owned smartphones, compared to a total of 90% who had a cellphone of some kind, according to the Pew Research Internet Project. Among millennials age 18-29, an overwhelming 83% of those who owned cellphones had a smartphone, but that leaves the other 17% who keep their mobile life more basic.
The hinged, snap-shut “flipper” form factor was originally introduced to the public in 1982 by laptop manufacturer GriD with its Compass computer.
Motorola, perhaps the king of flip phones with its Razr line, introduced the clamshell style in 1996 with its StarTAC phone (which, appropriately enough, was re-released for nostalgic techies in 2010).
Is this really all about going for retro, hipster street cred? There is, at times, a mystifying aspect of “cool” that centers around eschewing modern convenience for vintage … well … inconvenience.
But there are obviously some more practical reasons some people, including millennials, go flip.
For some, it’s about simplifying and uncluttering in a 24/7 plugged-in society.
“It just seemed like it would be better for my addled brain than a smartphone,” 26-year-old Angelica Baker, a tutor and writer, told TIME. “Personally I’m too scattered and unfocused to handle email and Facebook on my phone.”
Baker swapped out her Droid for her mom’s retired flip phone, a pink Motorola Razr.
And, let’s be honest … there’s something satisfying about a switchblade-like phone flip after an annoying phone conversation that even the most emphatic tap of a touchscreen will never approach.
Maybe the hipsters are onto something after all. Though we’ll still pass on the bushy beards.
(CNN) — One of Facebook’s more popular, less attractive features is getting its very own app.
The social network is launching Facebook Groups, a standalone app for reading and posting to groups.
More than 700 million people check a group on Facebook every month, and the company says hundreds of thousands of groups have been created since the feature was introduced four years ago. However, posting to a group takes a bit of digging right now, especially on a mobile device.
“The current experience is relatively buried for people who want to get to it today,” said Shirley Sun, the product manager for Groups.
A new app, available for iOS and Android devices on Tuesday, is meant to make accessing groups easier, faster and more visually pleasing. It’s especially useful for the power-users who check multiple groups every day (whom Sun says sometimes call themselves “groupies”).
There are groups for every size and topic. Some are secret, others open to the public. Family members, close friends, school groups, neighbors and even couples use groups to stay in touch, share photos and coordinate events. Larger groups bring people together to discuss a shared interest or hobby, like toy collecting, being a new parent or a love of dim sum. There are groups for herpetologists, people with speech impediments and people who work in technology who also own small white dogs.
The new app updates the look of Groups, but its core features are largely unchanged. Additional features include unread counts and the ability to share a group. The most useful new feature is the ability to create a shortcut on your smartphone for an individual group.
If you want to join more groups, do a search or go to the discovery tab. It suggests new groups based on your interests, where you live and what groups your friends are in.
“We are not trying to do something sexy for this app. We are really building a simple and unique tool to get things done,” said Sun.
Facebook has been busy pumping out standalone apps recently, some experimental like Rooms and Poke, others more strategic such as Messenger and now Groups.
Though Rooms is also for people coming together over a shared interest, Sun says they are very different products. The key difference is that Rooms doesn’t require your real name and is more for strangers, like chatrooms in 1990s.
For people still upset that Facebook forced them to download the Messenger app, take heart. This is a strictly optional app meant for heavy Facebook group users
Nothing changes on the desktop version of Facebook or in the mobile apps, where groups will continue to exist, look and function the same as always. Any photos, videos and updates posted through the Groups app will still show up in your Facebook news feed.
“This is a very complimentary option,” says Sun.
(CNN) — The sub-zero climes of northern Sweden are an unlikely outpost for the world’s hippest tech firms.
Temperatures can plummet to a bone-chilling minus-40 degrees centigrade in the winter months, while the rural landscape is more commonly associated with the sparkling beauty of the northern lights than the humdrum back office of cloud computing.
So content with the operation is the social media giant that it announced the creation a second data center in Luela earlier this year.
According to Malin Frenning regional head of telecoms firm TeliaSonera the region has plenty to offer big international companies despite its distant location.
“There is a lot of (engineering) competence … and good cooperation with the technical universities,” Frenning said. On top of that, good transport links ensure its easily accessible by road and by air while solid infrastructure ensures business stability.
TeliaSonera is currently laying down Skanova Backbone North, a 1,250-kilometer (776-mile) fiber cable that will serve mobile and communications networks as well as provide the digital infrastructure that data centers in northern Sweden require.
“As far as we understand it this is one of the best places to establish data centers,” Frenning added.
The Facebook move has inevitably attracted the attention of other firms with large data storage needs.
Luela will soon host another large data facility for UK-based data-storage specialist firm, Hydro66, while the nearby town of Boden welcomed Bitcoin mining group KnCMiner earlier this year.
Across the border in Finland, Google runs a similar operation in the town of Hamina.
And a thousand miles over the Norwegian Sea in Iceland specialist data storage firm Verne Global caters for large firms likes of German car manufacturer BMW.
With so many wealthy companies with increased data related needs, storage clearly has the potential to become a highly lucrative business.
A report from management firm, Boston Consultancy Group estimated that the Facebook’s presence in Sweden will be worth upwards of 9 billion Swedish Kroner ($ 1.2 billion) and 4,500 direct and indirect jobs over a 10-year period.
In September this year, meanwhile, the Financial Times cited a report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch which stated that energy efficiency in the $ 220 billion cloud computing market could become a significant driver of growth.
The attraction of the extreme north for many tech companies is both practical and environmental.
Cold temperatures mean the high costs associated with air conditioning units used to keep servers cool can be drastically reduced.
An abundance of renewable energy sources, meanwhile, ensures the large amounts of electricity required to power data centers is clean and environmentally friendly.
Iceland, for example, currently meets 100% of its energy needs through geothermal and hydro-electric sources, according to independent energy sector analysts Askja Energy.
Northern Sweden is also blessed with a plethora of natural resources: Luela has produced large amounts of hydro-electricity for well over a century.
“The environmental impact (of data centers in the north of Sweden) is pretty much zero,” said Anne Graf of the Node Pole, a regional trade body designed to attract investment into Luela, Boden and nearby town Pitea.
“We have about a 50% surplus from the electricity we produce,” Graf added.
For high-profile companies like Facebook — which was once publicly scolded by Greenpeace for obtaining 53% of the electricity it uses from coal sources but has since said it wants to go green — these are highly attractive qualities.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimate that information and communication technologies are already consuming 10% of the world’s produced electricity.
A report from Greenpeace in April this year, meanwhile, found that if the internet was a country, it would rank in the top six energy consuming nations in the world.
On top of this, Greenpeace say demand for electricity that powers internet usage is expected to increase by 60% or more by 2020.
“We don’t really think that when we use our iPhone or Blackberry that somewhere there is a computer doing something,” Graf said. “When I do a Google search, somewhere there is a computer processing that. And that computer needs electricity. It needs ventilation. It needs someone to look after it.”
But not everyone is convinced that moving data centers to these icy climates is good for business — or the environment.
Yevgeniy Sverdlik of specialist IT publication Data Center Knowledge recognizes the potential environmental and cost benefits but highlights numerous circumstances where storing company data far away from headquarters or operations wouldn’t be practical or cost effective.
Big financial institutions require servers close to their core operations as they regularly perform trades where prices can change over a fraction of a second, Sverdlik said.
If a signal from a trading desk in London or New York had to travel all the way along a cable to Sweden to confirm a trade, vital milliseconds could be lost.
“For companies like Facebook or even Google that kind of latency difference (the time between a button being pressed and that action occurring) is negligible,” Sverdlik said. The data still moves at an extremely rapid pace.
“(But) a financial services company may have a physical location requirement where they want servers to be close to trading engines” because of this.
Then there are things like data protection laws that mean certain types of information like medical records or government data must be stored within particular jurisdictions.
“In the post-Snowden world there is mistrust (from people) in having their data held outside of their country,” Sverdlik added.
He points out that while cooling can be cheap and use less electricity near the Arctic for now, new server technologies are becoming more efficient and less power intensive.
This could eventually mean it becomes equally cost effective to house data centers closer to business hubs and centers.
“They (locations in the likes of Sweden, Finland and Iceland) say they are attractive because they have a lot of spare power that they want to sell.
“They’ve lost industries like paper and aluminum and have an excess of power (and) data centers appear to be a very high revenue load.
“Some companies are attracted to the corporate social responsibility thing and want to get Greenpeace off their back.”
“(But) most clients won’t go there because they want to build their data centers where they want their data centers.”
(CNN) — A nervous new doctor performing a procedure for the first time puts on a pair of Google Glass and scrubs in. From the moment she makes her first incision, a live video feed of the operation is streamed from her glasses to a surgeon outside the operating room who gives live feedback over earbuds.
Training medical professionals is just one of the many workplace uses Google Glass is experimenting with. Earlier this year, Google launched its Glass at Work certification program, in which it collaborates with businesses interested in using Glass to improve productivity and save money. Ten companies have signed on so far.
Google’s head-mounted computer is almost two years old, but the product is still officially in beta. Glass was originally marketed only as a consumer device, but it has had difficulty finding a niche in the consumer market, where it struggled with privacy, etiquette and safety issues.
But then some of Glass’ early adopters put the wearable to work, using the device to make their jobs more efficient.
Some of the most exciting potential for wearables is in the health industry, where workers need to keep their hands sterile. The small screen mounted on Glass can be used to display checklists or vital signs. Smart glasses can also let specialists consult on cases far from their hospital. This type of telemedicine has been around for years, but high costs and regulation have made widespread adoption difficult.
“Having the units like Glass or any sort of wearable first-person display that comes in at less than $ 1,500 really opens things up,” said Dr. Warren Wiechmann, who heads up the Glass tests at the University of California at Irvine.
UC Irvine is partnering with app developer Pristine, a Google Glass partner, to experiment with Glass in a number of case studies. In addition to using it as training wheels for medical students, the school is putting Glass on surgeons so they can broadcast operations live to students. Patient actors will wear Glass while medical students learn how to do a basic exam. Later, the students are shown the video to see themselves though a patient’s eyes, with the idea of improving bedside manner, empathy and listening skills.
Google is being slow and deliberate with the business partners it certifies. It vets each company to see if its specific use case solves a problem in the real world, and gives them access to technical experts.
For now, the company is focusing on workers who need to use their hands for their jobs, everyone from nurses and surgeons to mechanics, utility workers and chefs. Google says 80% of the global workforce does physical work every day.
“These are people who can’t reach into their pocket to pull out a cell phone, they can’t type on a laptop,” said Chris O’Neill, head of business for Google Glass. “They have every need to access information, every need to use tech to make their jobs that much more safe and productive.”
When an expensive printer breaks down, an expert is typically sent to make repairs in person. In another Google Glass test case, HP is experimenting with keeping the experts at home. Instead, a customer puts on a pair of Glass and the repair person walks them through the necessary fixes remotely.
Wearables in the workplace are still in the very early stages. Google and other similar companies are primarily focused on test cases and proving that there is a tangible benefit to the technology. Before smart glasses go mainstream, there are also a number of issues that need to be addressed, including getting old industries up to date with new technology, bringing fast Internet coverage to industrial work locations, and improving device battery life.
And of course, privacy concerns won’t disappear once a wearable is worn to work instead of to a bar. Employees might have concerns about being monitored and tracked on the job with wearables.
Google has the time and resources to tackle these issues as they come up. Down the line, wearables like Glass could be commonplace on oil rigs, in the exam room, up telephone towers and even in fast food restaurants.
Taco Bell is considering using Glass to train new employees on the proper cheese-to-bean ratios. Yum Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell and KFC, has worked with Google Glass app developer Interapt on test cases to see if Glass can cut down on the time it takes to train new employees. Glass uses location information and a specific training app to walk them through the steps for preparing food in real time.
“They’re not just reading a book about making tacos, they’re actually doing it.” said Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal.
CNN’s coverage of Web Summit, in Dublin, looks at how technology is changing the world.
Dublin (CNN) — Album sales are at an all-time low in the United States. Vinyl sales are at their highest for 15 years. Everybody says streaming is the future, yet major artists are pulling out of streaming services. And in tech-oriented Japan, CDs still account for 85% of album sales. The current state of the music industry is anyone’s guess.
Technology is transforming the way music is created, shared and enjoyed, and where we will go from here is hard to predict. The latest shock to the system is Taylor Swift’s decision to break up with Spotify, the popular music streaming service that has 40 million active users — one quarter of which are paying subscribers.
With the release of her latest album, entitled “1989,” Swift — arguably music’s most popular artist at the moment — requested that all her back catalog be removed from the service. The move, which would be risky for most other artists, helped boost sales of the album to 1.3 million units in its debut week, the best performance in the industry since 2002. With no legal option other than buying, fans obliged.
Spotify says that over 70% of its revenues go to artists, but just between $ 0.006 and $ 0.0084 is paid for each play, depending on the artist. Others before Swift have pulled out: Thom Yorke famously described the service as “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse,” and his solo works are not available for streaming. Other no-shows include The Beatles, who have an exclusive deal with Apple.
And yet, Spotify is now earning some artists more money than iTunes in Europe, as was revealed at the Web Summit technology conference in Dublin by Willard Ahdritz, CEO and founder of Kobalt, a company that represents thousands of musicians. That means that streaming is becoming, in some instances, more profitable than album sales.
Predicting the hits
Elsewhere in the digital world, social media is becoming a dominant contributing factor to the popularity of an artist, and it’s also generating a huge amount of data that can be a powerful tool for trend analysis. Public social data is like a crystal ball that can help the music industry predict who’s going to become the next big thing.
A company called Next Big Sound specializes in precisely these types of predictions. By tracking streams and collecting data from the Internet — new Twitter followers, Facebook likes and Wikipedia page views — the company says it can estimate the likelihood of an artist making it into the Billboard Top 200, which charts album releases, over a year before it happens.
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Making the charts is not easy. Speaking at the Web Summit, Alex White of Next Big Sound pointed out that in the last year, only 961 artists made the Billboard Top 200, and just 204 of those were entering it for the first time. The Billboard Top 100, which tracks singles rather than albums, is an even more exclusive club: out of 249 artists appearing, just 43 were debuting.
Despite the charts favoring established artists, it’s never been so easy to make, share and discover new music. “At the end of the 90s you needed a full blown musical studio to make real music,” said Eric Wahlforss, co-founder of streaming service Soundcloud, “now all you need is a laptop. Even an iPad can be enough. Music making is for everyone. Technology has made it cheaper, accessible and more powerful.”
Soundcloud was launched in 2007 and allows users to upload their music and embed it anywhere, offering a powerful tool for discovery. It has evolved significantly over the years, skewing its balance in favor of listeners and introducing algorithms that spot protected material. “We care a lot about copyrights and we have automatic filters that can block content on behalf of copyright holders,” said Wahlforss. “We want to go to a billion monthly listeners, and welcoming major labels is a key point of the journey there.”
The service, which currently boasts 175 million monthly listeners, has just announced a licensing deal with Warner Music, and is introducing a paid subscription model next year. “If you have those numbers, naturally you want to generate revenue, and that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment,” said Wahlforss.
A matter of taste
Even though music discovery has evolved rapidly in recent years, there is still no consensus on which technology is the best to analyze someone’s musical taste. According to Kevin Lee, who was among the founders of the Beats headphones brand, we might need to start from scratch. “Even with all this music, at any given time I still only have about five to 10 songs that I love and listen to, but I have to believe there may be 100 that would really touch me in the same way,” he said. “I feel we need a new technology that can figure that out.”
Lee now heads Sol Republic, a rising brand of audio products, and thinks that in the future we’ll have headphones capable of analyzing a user’s emotional response to a song, and then suggesting something similar. “It takes three seconds for you to know whether you like a song or not. There’s something about our ears and our body and our mind that figures that out so quickly, and we need to find a technology that can do that for us,” he said.
Apple bought Beats earlier this year for $ 3 billion, in a strong statement about the significance of headphones in this industry: because we listen to so much music through our phones, hidden away in our pockets, it’s what’s on our heads that counts. But Lee thinks that headphones have become too ubiquitous. “I hope people will discover this thing called the speaker,” he said. “Right now you need a large, expensive speaker to get good sound, but we had the same problem with headphones and we solved that. I’m confident that we’ll manage to shrink speakers in size without compromising sound quality: when we figure that out, people will change the way they listen to music at home.”
One thing, however, does seem likely: “Streaming is the way of the future,” said Soundcloud’s Eric Wahlforss.
At the end of the Web Summit, sharing the stage with the final panelists, U2’s Bono joined the discussion, defending Spotify’s royalty model, and arguing that streaming is, indeed, what lies ahead, even amid the many uncertainties. “The remunerative bit still has to be figured out,” he said. “This is an experimental and exciting period. So, let’s experiment and see what works.”
(CNN) — Lovers of vintage arcade games just got an early holiday present.
The Internet Archive has released more than 900 video games spanning the 1970s through the 1990s, according to PC World. The site, which is a nonprofit founded to build an Internet library, now has the Internet Arcade, where gamers with a taste for nostalgia can go at it for free.
“The game collection ranges from early ‘bronze-age’ videogames, with black and white screens and simple sounds, through to large-scale games containing digitized voices, images and music,” a posting on the site says. “Most games are playable in some form, although some are useful more for verification of behavior or programming due to the intensity and requirements of their systems.”
That means fans can relive the fun of Galaga, Pac-Man and the like.
Jason Scott spearheaded the project and wrote in his blog that there are some kinks with some of the games, given that they were designed to be played on consoles and such. “But damn if so many are good enough. More than good enough. In the right browser, on a speedy machine, it almost feels perfect. The usual debates about the ‘realness’ of emulation come into play, but it works.”
Scott said he knows that many will probably be drawn to their favorite games, but it is his hope that fans will go beyond that.
“A few more, I hope, will go towards games they’ve never heard of, with rules they have to suss out, and maybe more people will play some of these arcades in the coming months than the games ever saw in their ‘real’ lifetimes,” he writes. “And my hope is that a handful, a probably tiny percentage, will begin plotting out ways to use this stuff in research, in writing, and remixing these old games into understanding their contexts. Time will tell.”
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(CNN) — In the narrow winding lanes of Old Delhi, the knotted masses of electrical wiring hanging across the streets are sometimes so thickly entwined they blot out the sun.
In the streets of Bangkok, electricity wires loop and run in chaotic bundles from concrete power poles. In the slums of Mumbai to the townships of South Africa, electricity infrastructure is a triumph of make and mend.
For power utilities in emerging markets, collecting the bills from this tangled skein of wiring is a nightmare and slow payment – even outright energy theft – remains a powerful disincentive for new investment in the sector.
One company, however, says smart meters may hold the answers to the power problems of the world’s emerging markets.
While smart meters have been in use in the United States and Europe for more than a decade, in markets such as Africa they are set to encourage much-needed investment in the sector.
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The devices not only record electricity consumption but relay information back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes. Critically, they also require pre-payment which means that utilities that produce the power can be sure they will be paid for it.
Alain Bollack, director at the Global Power & Utilities Centre of Ernst and Young, said the company worked with the city of Tshwane outside Johannesburg in South Africa to install pre-paid smart meters to solve endemic problems of late payment, long-term debtors and electricity theft.
“The city had two major problems,” Bollack told CNN. “The first was they couldn’t collect the cash from customers — either businesses or individuals. They had 800,000 customers that were an average 500 days in arrears.
“The second was that a lot of clients were stealing electricity and that’s very common in emerging markets.”
He said the chaotic nature of the electricity infrastructure in places like Africa or India means that stealing energy is easy.
“Often it’s as easy as hooking onto a line, bypassing the meter and getting free energy. The first major problem of energy in emerging markets is getting access to it i the first place, the second problem is that when there is access it gets stolen.”
He said cities such as Mumbai had worked hard over the past 10 years to reduce the opportunity for consumers to steal electricity.
“Over ten years ago, some 65% of the energy produced in Mumbai was not paid for,” Bollack said.
Smart meters, he said, require customers to pay before they consume and also relay information back to the utilities if the meters are tampered with in any way.
Legislation is key
So far, some 3000 smart meters have been rolled out in Tshwane, particularly among high consumers of energy. At the core of the solution, however, is legislation and Bollack said that the city government passed laws to enforce the new rule.
“That might not be very pleasant for many consumers but, at the end of the day, if you provide a service, it’s quite normal to pay for it,” Bollack said. “If you have asked nicely for many many years and people still won’t pay, then you have a right to enforce that by law.”
He said the value proposition extended to consumers in that they also gained a better picture through smart metering of what and how they consumed electricity.
Ultimately, however, energy theft is not a sustainable business model, leading to under-investment, more costly production and higher prices. Bollack said that Tshwane’s foray into smart meters was now being viewed with interest from countries throughout the region including Ghana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and parts of Nigeria.
“They are looking at it as a possible way of resolving the financing problem of energy infrastructure in Africa,” Bollack said. “If you are lucky if you’ve got investors from China or the US or Europe, who are happy to put billions on the table but don’t have any guarantee of return on investment.”
He said that smart meters in Africa are fast becoming the holy grail for energy sector investors and ultimately could accelerate investment that would provide power for millions more people in the region.
While critics might argue that consumers have gone from free, albeit stolen electricity, to electricity they now can’t afford, Bollack said smart meters, for the first time, could reverse the vicious circle created by energy theft.
“The business case for the city of Tshwane is interesting,” he said. “Energy is one of the city’s main sources of revenue and what they are saying is that smart meters are not being introduced to balance the books, but to collect the cash to reinvest it into the community.
“Even though there’s a lag between when you collect the cash and reinvest, what you ultimately create is a virtuous circle.”