TIME apps

Hong Kong’s Protesters Don’t Need the Internet to Chat With One Another

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw
A protester waves her cell phone in the air outside the Hong Kong Government Complexon October 1, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

FireChat connects directly to other protesters' phones, building a massive network

If you’ve ever been crammed into a stadium alongside thousands of screaming football or music fans, you already know what the tens of thousands of demonstrators pouring into Hong Kong’s this week are learning: When you pack that many people into a tiny area, your phone’s Internet grinds to a halt.

Smartphones should make it easier to organize protests, but they’re as good as bricks when cell towers get overloaded with traffic or when governments decide to flip the switch. Hong Kong has seen both of these happen: Thousands of people on the street means mobile Internet is useless in packed areas, while Chinese authorities are blocking Instagram on the mainland, favored by Chinese dissidents because it was one of the few social networks not blocked in the country.

In the face of these hangups, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have turned to FireChat, a smartphone app that allows users to communicate even when they can’t get online or send texts. Unlike chat programs that work over the Internet, FireChat connects directly to other nearby users within up to about 250 feet. More people in range can then join the chat, extending the network even further. Pretty soon you can get up to a few thousand people chatting away, all without anybody connected to the Internet.

FireChat is based on mesh networking, in which every device on a network works as a node for expanding that network. The idea’s been around for decades, now popular as a way to communicate during disasters like hurricanes. But Hong Kong shows it’s useful during civil disobedience, too. Some 200,000 people there downloaded the app between Sunday and Tuesday, said Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, sending it skyrocketing to the top of the region’s app store charts.

Speaking from Hong Kong, Benoliel told TIME FireChat’s sudden popularity there isn’t a “complete surprise” because it was also popular with Taiwanese protesters last March. It’s also the latest in a long line of technologies that helped fuel wide-scale protests. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” thanks to protesters’ penchant for organizing via Twitter, likewise 2011’s Occupy Wall Street was a hashtag before it was a street protest. Facebook and YouTube, meanwhile, have brought us to the front lines of the Arab Spring and Syria’s long-fought civil war, even being used as recruiting tools by anti-government rebels and jihadi groups. Where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all fall short, however, lies in their need for an Internet connection to work — not the case for FireChat.

Still, FireChat isn’t perfect for protesters. The chat rooms are open, making it easy for a first-timer to join — but that first-timer could also be a local authority poking around at the goings-on. However, Benoliel said the company is working on protester-minded updates like private messaging and encryption, as Open Garden advocates for “freedom of speech and access to information.”

“If this application can help in this way, it’s very aligned with the mission of the company,” Benoliel said. “[FireChat] hasn’t been built for that purpose, but if it can help people in that situation, we are very supportive of what’s happening here in Hong Kong.”

TIME Gadgets

GoPro Just Announced the Cheap Tiny Camera You’ve Been Waiting For

GoPro Hero
GoPro Hero GoPro

The GoPro Hero is just $129

Many casual photographers have been wanting to dip their toes into the GoPro water for some time, but have found the company’s tiny but high-quality cameras too expensive to make the leap at upwards of $200, with the top models costing as much as $500.

But now they can go ahead and jump in; GoPro just announced the “Hero,” a scaled-back, entry-level model that’s perfect for first-time GoPro-ers who don’t need the top-of-the-line features found in GoPro’s flagship cameras. And the cost? Only $129.

Here’s what the Hero features:

  • 1080p video at 30fps
  • 720p video at 60fps
  • 5MP stills at up to five frames a second
  • QuickCapture and Burst Photo modes
  • Wide-angle lens for getting more in your shots
  • Integrated waterproof housing that keeps your Hero dry to an advertised 131 feet

Those features don’t hold up to GoPro’s absolute newest models, which pack ultra high-def 4K video modes. But if you don’t need crazy-high-def video capabilities, the Hero looks pretty great.

Interestingly, GoPro’s entry-level Hero comes at a pretty terrible time for Polaroid — yes, Polaroid — which just dropped a $99 entry-level GoPro competitor called the Polaroid Cube.

While the Cube is a bit cheaper, GoPro’s been building these tiny cameras for a long time, and they come with the benefit of access to GoPro’s immense ecosystem. With the Hero, GoPro is set to nip Polaroid’s cubed competition in the bud before it ever takes root.

TIME Books

Here’s Your First Look at Marvel’s Female ‘Thor’ Cover Art

Thor No. 1
Marvel

Thor No. 1 is out this October

Like the mighty Thor himself (or herself, now), Marvel shocked the comic book world last July when it announced on The View that a woman would be picking up the avenging Asgardian’s hammer. TIME got a sneak peek at the cover art for the issue in which the passing of the hammer goes down, Thor #1, out October 1.

We also had a chat with the book’s writer, Jason Aaron, about the new female Thor and the strong mixed reactions that came from Marvel’s announcement. Many welcomed the news as a sign of a largely male-dominated culture making moves to appeal to female fans, but others saw it as either a cheap play in that direction — or seemingly couldn’t handle the idea of the most macho of Marvel’s muscled men becoming a woman (even though a female Thor makes total sense).

“It was pleasantly surprising that it’s become such a big story,” said Aaron. “I would be worried if I didn’t feel strongly about the story that we had, if it was all just about a press release and creating a lot of buzz beforehand. But I don’t feel nervous because everything that we’re doing started with the story, the story that I’ve been telling with Thor and this new story that I want to tell.”

The only “disappointing” thing for Aaron, he said, is that “there has been some grumbling that seems to mostly revolve around the fact that it’s a female character we’re replacing Thor with. I think if we just said somebody else is going to pick up the hammer of Thor — it’s just this other dude — I don’t think we would’ve gotten quite the same response.”

“But for me, that part’s a little washed out by the response on the flip side, where you’ve got tons of people who are excited about the idea of a female character at the head of this book, and who are excited to pick the book up who haven’t been reading it before.”

Marvel Thor #1

When asked if having a female Thor was an effort by Marvel to diversify its characters — and then, hopefully, its fanbase — Aaron said that while Marvel was “behind [the plan] from the get-go,” the initial idea to make the switch was his.

“That said, you can say that Marvel is more conscious of diversifying the lead characters in their books by way of diversifying its audience, then in turn diversifying the creators who work on that book,” Aaron added. “It’s generally something everybody is more aware of, it’s something that’s in the zeitgeist these days. But it’s not like the changes that we’re doing to Thor were motivated purely by that, that’s more the reason that Marvel got behind it in such a big way . . . it’s certainly more than just a press release or a sales gimmick.”

Aaron was clearly excited not just about the new female Thor he’s created, but also the story he’s building around her. And the first issue — no spoilers — is a doozy, leaving behind plenty more questions than it answers. We’ll say this, though: The way in which the transformation happens fits in perfectly with the mythos around Thor — and his hammer, Mjolnir.

“To me, it’s not just about the idea of ‘let’s change Thor into a woman and figure it out as we go,'” said Aaron. “It’s about who is that character underneath the mask and what’s her story. So that’s the part I’m excited by. If I didn’t have that part, this would be pretty hollow, and I’d be worried about where we were going. But everything started with that story, so really the surprise of this happening, the surprise of somebody else picking up the hammer and the mystery of who that person is underneath that mask, that’s really just the beginning, that’s really just the introduction. Once we find out who she really is, the real story begins.”

Want more? You can preorder Thor #1 here.

TIME Transportation

Why a Fire Miles Away From an Airport Is Causing Massive Air Traffic Delays

Air traffic control is a big, complicated system, and any problems in one part of that system will affect the whole thing

A potentially suspicious fire at an air traffic control center about 40 miles from downtown Chicago is causing massive delays at O’Hare International, Midway and other airports across the country Friday morning. Looking at a screenshot of air traffic, it looks like aircraft were trying to avoid a black hole right over Chicago — and in a way, they were, as a ground stop Friday morning meant not much was able to fly in or out of Chicago-area airfields.

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FlightRadar24

 

A TIME reporter at Chicago O’Hare International Airport Friday said that flights which had been diverted to nearby airports began trickling into Chicago by mid-morning. The incoming aircraft were forced to fly at 10,000 feet, so they could be tracked by local radar, according to the reporter’s pilot. At O’Hare, travelers queued at every gate hoping to make it out on the handful of flights still scheduled to depart.

But how can a fire nowhere near an airport cause this much disruption to the national airspace?

The facility in question, which had to be evacuated, isn’t a control tower like ones you find at most airports. Instead, it’s an Air Route Traffic Control Center, or ARTCC. The center’s job is to control aircraft that are flying high above the country and in-between other air traffic controllers’ zones of responsibility. Air traffic control is a little like playing hot potato: From takeoff to touchdown, commercial aircraft typically get passed around from controller to controller — and facility to facility — as they make it to their final destination. The typical list of controllers a commercial pilot might talk to on any given flight might look like this: Clearance (for getting instructions about air routes before the flight), Ground (for taxiing around the airport), Tower (for takeoff clearance), ARTCC (for flying between airports), TRACON (for approaching airports) and then Tower again.

Not every flight will follow this precise order. Many airports don’t have regional TRACONs, for example, and most small airfields — the kind where you’d mostly find recreational pilots — don’t have controllers of any kind, instead relying on pilots’ ability to stay aware of one another’s location via a common radio frequency.

The Aurora, Ill. control center affected by the fire, one of 22 such centers across the country, is responsible for high-altitude air traffic for a good chunk of airspace above the central northwest. Here’s a cartoonish map from the Federal Aviation Administration (the Aurora center is represented by the light brown-shaded zone over Chicago):

FAA

This map pretty clearly shows why the Aurora fire messed up flights in and out of Chicago: Any major airports in that zone are going to be affected by a problem in Aurora. The FAA can offload some tasks normally handed by Aurora to other area ARTCCs, but that’s a bandaid more than a proper fix.

And the Aurora problems will probably cause air travel headaches for the rest of Friday, too. The air traffic control system is a network, and a major problem in one part of the network will cause issues elsewhere, too. On top of that, commercial airlines depend on their aircraft being in certain places in certain times: Your flight from New York to Florida, a course that shouldn’t take you anywhere near Chicago, could be affected today because your plane was coming in from O’Hare. Or, at least, it was supposed to. Four hours ago. Good luck, travelers!

–With reporting from Jay Newton-Small

TIME Smartphones

Apple Offers Fix for iPhones Affected by iOS 8 Problems

It's a process the company typically doesn't officially endorse

Apple posted an official fix for iPhone owners affected by problems with Wednesday’s iOS 8.0.1 update, which many users reported caused a total loss of cellular service as well as issues with Touch ID on iPhone models that support the feature. The tech giant pulled the update after complaints about those issues quickly spread over social media, but for many users it was too late.

Apple’s fix is essentially a way to revert affected iPhones back to iOS 8.0.0, a process the company typically doesn’t officially endorse.

From Apple’s support website:

Follow these steps to reinstall iOS 8.0.

  1. Make sure that you’re using the latest version of iTunes.
  2. Connect your iPhone to iTunes.
  3. Back up your iPhone in iTunes on your Mac or PC. iCloud backups won’t restore to earlier versions, including iOS 8.0.
  4. Download the file below that corresponds to your device:
  5. Select the file you just downloaded by doing one of these in iTunes:
    • Mac: Press the Option key and click Check for Update.
    • Windows: Press the Shift key and click Check for Update.
  6. Press Update to install iOS 8 on your iPhone.

The Health app won’t work in iOS 8 after these steps. It will be fixed in our upcoming iOS 8.0.2 software update.

The iOS 8.0.1 problems seem to only affect the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices. TIME installed the update on an iPhone 5C and experienced none of the reported issues. Apple told The Verge that it apologizes “for the great inconvenience experienced by users,” and promised to quickly issue an iOS 8.0.2 update that would fix the issues addressed by 8.0.1 without causing new problems in turn.

TIME Companies

Apple Has an iPhone Headache, but It Won’t Last Long

Apple's stock is recovering after it took a sub-100 dip on reports of a faulty software update and bendable hardware

Updated Saturay 9/27

After launching two new iPhones and a new mobile operating system, iOS 8, last week, Apple had a rough few days. Sure, it sold a record 10 million of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models over the weekend, setting them up to be its most successful phones ever. But no company can escape the headaches that come with almost every new launch, and Apple had three problems marring an otherwise spectacular introduction.

First, iOS 8, Apple’s new mobile operating system, inexplicably launched late last week without promised apps that used a health and fitness feature called HealthKit. Then, early this week, reports flew around social media and tech blogs showing the iPhone 6 Plus, the big 5.5-in. granddaddy of the two iPhone 6 models, was easy to bend — some people claimed the phone bent when sitting in their pockets for extended periods, others bent the phones on purpose to prove it was possible, and everybody loved calling the whole thing “bendgazi.” Finally, Apple rolled out an iOS 8 update Wednesday intended to fix that HealthKit problem and other minor issues, only to quickly pull it after users complained the update had caused their iPhones to lose the ability to make phone calls.

“We are actively investigating these reports and will provide information as quickly as we can,” an Apple spokesperson told several tech blogs in a rare public statement about the iOS 8 update problems. Several days later, Apple rolled out iOS 8.0.2, which took care of the bugs iOS 8.0.1 was supposed to fix, plus patched up the brand new bugs that update introduced. Apple later said only about 40,000 of the millions of iPhones out there in the world were affected by the iOS 8 update problems. Still, the company apologized “for the great inconvenience experienced by users” related to the issue.

While initially mum on the bending issue, late this week Apple said only a small handful of iPhone users formally complained about bent devices. Still, in a rare move, it decided to lift the veil on on its testing process, showing the world the rigorous quality control testing it conducts on every new device. That’s the latest sign the typically tight-lipped Apple is opening up: Apple also recently directly addressed an iCloud security flaw that led to the exposure of celebrities’ nude photos. Those minor moves toward transparency show an Apple that’s taking a different tack from years prior — back in 2010, late CEO Steve Jobs infamously made a nonapology apology for an iPhone 4 problem that prevented the device from making calls when it was held a certain way. While Apple acknowledged the issue and sent customers a special “bumper” case to fix it, Jobs still said the problem had been “blown so out of proportion it’s incredible.” That’s not the kind of language we’re hearing from the company under Cook, who also issued a public apology after the company replaced the widely-liked Google Maps app with its own Apple Maps back in 2012, a move met with much scorn from users and tech writers.

Even still , Apple investors initially balked at the news of the update problems and bending issues, sending the company’s stock dipping below $98 by Thursday’s closing bell. That’s a decent little dip for the world’s most cash-rich company, but there isn’t much reason to fret. Apple is still selling its new iPhones hand over fist, and it appears poised to sell its upcoming Apple Watch hand over wrist in just a few months. The company may have a little headache now, but it’s got plenty of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. Indeed, by the end of the day Friday, it seemed Wall Street got over it: Apple climbed nearly 3% on the week’s last day of trading action, ending back above $100.

TIME Companies

Why Apple Will Eventually Kill Beats Music

Apple Said To Be In Talks To Purchase Beats Headphones Company
Beats headphones are sold in an Apple store on May 9, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

It doesn't make sense for Apple to run iTunes Radio and Beats Music

Today isn’t the day Beats Music died. But that’s just around the bend.

Apple issued a rare public denial Monday of a report that the company is shuttering the Beats Music streaming service, which it acquired along with the rest of Beats in a $3-billion deal earlier this year. Apple didn’t say much else, leaving the tech world guessing about the future of Beats Music—and even if Apple’s denying it will shutter Beats Music today, this week or this month, it probably will do exactly that sometime down the road.

Apple bought Beats back in May, the $3-billion price tag making Beats the cash-loaded company’s biggest-ever acquisition. Initially, the deal looked to many like it was about Beats’ best-known product: Those iconic, typically bass-heavy headphones that are more status symbol than audiophile heaven. But it was really about software: Apple’s music platform, iTunes, is built around a download model, while music fans’ preferences are quickly shifting towards streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. iTunes has a streaming service of its own in iTunes Radio, but it hasn’t taken off in a way that would satisfy Apple (remember iTunes Ping? Me neither).

Apple needed a way to catch up quick, and so it looked outside the company and found Beats, home not just to headphones but also Beats Music, a streaming service with some quarter-million paying subscribers. That’s not much compared to, say, Spotify (10 million paid users), but it was enough to signal to Apple there were some smart people working at Beats—not to mention co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, who would come to Apple with some of the most loaded rolodexes in the music biz. Other big Beats brains, like CEO Ian Rogers, came to Apple as well, working on iTunes Radio.

So Apple eventually putting an end to Beats Music as a standalone streaming service makes plenty of sense: It bought Beats primarily for the talent, contacts and software, not because it wants to run two separately branded music services. No matter how much CEO Tim Cook claims to love Beats Music, what Apple will most likely do at some point down the road is something it and other tech companies do all the time: Shutter a purchased company’s service while integrating it into its pre-existing and Apple-branded software. With only a quarter-million users—well overshadowed by rivals Spotify and Pandora, who have a combined 240 million users at varying degrees of activeness—there’s just little reason to keep the Beats Music brand alive.

Ironically enough, Beats Music’s eventual death will be an echo from its own past. Beats Music was born only after Beats acquired streaming service MOG back in 2012. MOG was shut down earlier this year so Beats could focus on Beats Music, and now Beats Music faces the same fate. MOG was left on life support for a couple years, so there’s precedent for Beats Music to survive for some time —but the writing’s been on the wall since May. Expect, however, Beats headphones to stick around —they fly off the shelves in the way Apple’s own iPod once did, and it would be a mistake for Apple to mess with their success.

 

TIME technology

Apple Introduced Its First ‘Laptop’ 25 Years Ago and It Was Totally Awful

Apple Macintosh portable computer, 1989.
An early Macintosh portable computer Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images

Proof that Apple has come a long way

Correction appended, Sept. 22, 2014, 10:55 a.m.

Twenty-five years ago Saturday, on Sept. 20, 1989, Apple released its first “portable” Macintosh computer — and “portable” belongs in quotation marks, because Sisyphus might as well have been made to lift this thing up a hillside for eternity.

Coming in at a hefty 16 pounds — that’s more than five MacBook Airs, and about four of IBM’s rival product at the time — Apple’s Macintosh Portable had a price tag to match its weight: $6,500 got you the machine, loaded with super-modern features like an “active-matrix screen” and a “cursor-control device called a trackball,” as TIME described it in the Sept. 25, 1989, issue. The computer could also only run on a wall outlet when batteries were installed, unlike desktop computers.

“Apple is taking pains to call the machine a portable rather than a laptop, but computer industry wags have already dubbed it a ‘luggable,'” reads TIME’s article about the Macintosh Portable, revealing that tech writers’ penchant for adorable nicknames (“wearable,” “phablet” and so on) is well-rooted in our trade’s history. “Even so, experts believe the Mac is likely to be a walkaway success.”

Clever pun, but we (or those experts!) were way off base: Customers greeted the Macintosh Portable like a sour apple; PCWorld would eventually deem it the 17th worst tech product ever made.

Read the most recent TIME cover story about Apple here: Never Offline

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated the power needs of the original Macintosh Portable.

TIME Social Networking

Facebook Wants Your News Feed to Reflect What’s Happening Right Now

Facebook Expected To File For IPO
A sign with the "like" symbol stands in front of the Facebook headquarters on February 1, 2012 in Menlo Park, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

In a move into Twitter's turf

“Facebook is for ice buckets, Twitter is for Ferguson.”

That was John McDermott over at DigiDay about a month ago, writing on something social media obsessives were noticing that week: While our Twitter feeds were covered with tweets and photos from and about the protests in Ferguson, Mo., our Facebook News Feeds were about 70% Ice Bucket Challenges, the viral sensation that successfully raised millions of dollars for ALS research.

Some people — mostly journalists — framed that observation as a complaint. Facebook’s news feed doesn’t really do a good job of showing us the latest posts, a function at which Twitter, with its mostly chronological feeds, excels.

The reason is that Facebook’s algorithm, the company’s complex magic soup that determines what shows up on your News Feed at any given time, has long been designed to show you the most relevant stuff, not the latest stuff. And in August, Facebook’s algorithm mostly determined that Ice Bucket Challenges were more relevant than Ferguson. That reinforced the idea that while Facebook’s great for staying in touch with classmates and sharing baby photos with grandma, Twitter’s the place to be for what’s happening right now.

Facebook must’ve picked up on these comments and criticisms, because the company announced on Thursday tweaks designed to make the News Feed more about The Now.

First, Facebook will do a better job of showing you “what your friends or favorite Pages are saying about the stories of the day,” which should help reverse the notion that Facebook isn’t a place for timeliness. And second, Facebook’s algorithm will start looking at “when people are choosing to like, comment and share” to determine which stories get moved from the depths of your News Feed to the very top, a change that should surface more immediate content.

Taken together, these changes could make Facebook a platform for breaking news — a big move into Twitter’s well-established turf.

“We’ve heard feedback that there are some instances where a post from a friend or a Page you are connected to is only interesting at a specific moment, for example when you are both watching the same sports game, or talking about the season premiere of a popular TV show,” reads Facebook’s blog post about the changes. “There are also times when a post that is a day or two old may not be relevant to you anymore. Our latest update to News Feed ranking looks at two new factors to determine if a story is more important in the moment than other types of updates.”

TIME Smartphones

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Download the iOS 8 Update on Your Old iPhone

Inside An Apple Inc. iPhone
The components of a smartphone sold as an Apple Inc. iPhone 4S are arranged around the company's logo for a photograph in Hong Kong, China, on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The older iPhone 4S can't handle the new iOS 8

On paper, Apple’s new iOS 8 upgrade works with iPhones as old as the iPhone 4S. In real life… not so much.

The iPhone 4S is an older phone, released way back in late 2011. Still, lots of wireless carriers are giving them to customers as a free option when signing up for a two-year contract, so they remain a popular model. And while the iOS 8 upgrade will install just fine on an iPhone 4S, the newer software is designed for the top-of-the-line iPhone 6 and its blazing-fast processor.

Sadly for iPhone 4S owners, it seems the old phone just can’t keep up with the upgrade:

On top of performance problems, though, Ars Technica points out other issues: Apps in iOS 8 are optimized for the newer iPhones’ bigger screens, meaning apps will look pretty funky on the iPhone 4S’s comparatively paltry 3.5-inch display. The iPhone 4S is also missing out on hardware that’s key to some features in iOS 8, so iPhone 4S owners can never truly get the most out of the upgrade anyway.

Your best bet, iPhone 4S owners? Keep enjoying the OS you’ve got and don’t worry about the upgrade. If you really insist on having iOS 8’s new features, you should upgrade to the new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus—or at least one of the iPhone 5 models, which run iOS 8 swimmingly.


 

 

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