TIME Social Media

Facebook Will Now Help Your Photos Look Way Better

Facebook Auto-Enhance Photos
Thanasak Wanichpan—flickr Editorial/Getty Images

Auto-enhance feature coming to mobile apps

Ever wanted to upload a photo to Facebook from your phone, but the lighting was way off?

Facebook is adding an auto-enhance feature to its mobile apps, giving users the option to use a sliding bar to adjust photos before they upload them, TechCrunch reports. The new feature builds on Facebook’s previous enhancing capabilities, which were limited to unadjustable filters.

Facebook is the latest tech platform to make photo editing more convenient and personalized. Instagram, which launched five new filters this week, made a big change in June when the Facebook-owned photo-sharing community unveiled sliding bars to adjust the intensity of each filter. Apple’s iOS 8, released in September, also took a step towards fast photo editing when it included basic color and light editing on its default Photos app.

[TechCrunch]

TIME Environment

This Is How Much Water California Needs to Recover From Its Drought

California Drought NASA
NASA GRACE satellite data reveal the severity of California’s drought on water resources across the state. This map shows the trend in water storage between September 2011 and September 2014. NASA JPL

According to a new analysis on the impact of the three-year drought

California needs about 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from its three-year drought, according to a new NASA analysis, providing the first-ever calculation of this kind.

The figure, equivalent to about 1.5 times the maximum volume of the biggest U.S. reservoir, was determined by using NASA climate satellites to measure the water storage in the region’s river basins, which is one index for measuring drought severity, the agency said in a statement released Tuesday. The data reveals that since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased by 4 trillion gallons of water each year — more water than the state’s 38 million residents use annually.

Scientists said that while recent storms in California have helped the state replenish its water supply, a full recovery will take much longer. “It takes years to get into a drought of this severity,” said Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it.”

TIME space

NASA Can See Holiday Lights From Space

NASA Holiday Lights
City lights shine brighter during the holidays in the U.S. when compared with the rest of the year, as shown using a new analysis of daily data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. Dark green pixels are areas where lights are 50 percent brighter, or more, during December. NASA's Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen

Cities are brighter during the holidays than any other time in the year

The holiday lights on your roof are so bright they’re visible from space.

NASA said Tuesday that data from a polar-orbiting satellite, in partnership with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, shows how cities’ nighttime lights change during the holiday season. From Black Friday until New Year’s, city lights are about 20 to 50% brighter than other times of the year.

“It’s a near ubiquitous signal. Despite being ethnically and religiously diverse, we found that the U.S. experiences a holiday increase that is present across most urban communities,” said Miguel Román, a research physical scientists at NASA Goddard who co-led the research. “These lighting patterns are tracking a national shared tradition.”

Researchers also took a look at holiday lights during the holy month of Ramadan in the Middle East, where nighttime lights shine up to 50% brighter. Scientists discovered some cities were lit more heavily throughout the region, which they attributed to political or cultural differences.

“Even within majority Muslim populations, there are a lot of variations,” said Eleanor Stokes, a graduate fellow at NASA. “What we’ve seen is that these lighting patterns track cultural variation within the Middle East.”

TIME olympics

U.S. Will Bid to Host the Summer Olympics in 2024

The last Summer Olympics were held in London.
The last Summer Olympics were held in London. Dan Istitene—Getty Images

One of four cities will be picked for the bid in 2015

The United States Olympics Committee (USOC) unanimously approved on Tuesday a U.S. bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games.

The four possible bid cities are Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles, whose representatives gave pitches to the committee Tuesday morning, according to a USOC statement. A selection for the bid will be made in January, and the International Olympic Committee will select a host city in 2017 after reviewing all submitted bids.

The organization’s last decision to bid to host the Olympics was for the 2016 Games, which was awarded to Rio de Janeiro instead of Chicago. The USOC had decided not to bid for the 2020 Olympics, which will place in Tokyo.

The last Summer Olympics to be held in the U.S. were the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

TIME Immigration

Federal Judge Rules Against Obama’s Immigration Action

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Ruling has no immediate impact

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is unconstitutional.

Judge Arthur Schwab of the Western District of Pennsylvania found the actions violated the constitution’s separation of powers, Reuters reports. The ruling has no immediate impact but will give fodder to Republican lawmakers, who have criticized Obama as overstepping his authority.

Schwab had been addressing a case regarding a Honduran immigrant, Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, who pleaded guilty to re-entry in the U.S. He said he ruled on Obama’s actions because he believed Juarez-Escobar was eligible for relief under the policy.

A Justice Department spokesperson said Tuesday that Schwab’s ruling was “unfounded” and incorrect.

“No party in the case challenged the constitutionality of the immigration-related executive actions and the department’s filing made it clear that the executive actions did not apply to the criminal matter before the court,” the spokesperson said. “Moreover, the court’s analysis of the legality of the executive actions is flatly wrong. We will respond to the court’s decision at the appropriate time.”

TIME Companies

Al Franken Blasts ‘Lack of Detail’ in Uber’s Answers to Privacy Questions

"Quite frankly, they did not answer many of the questions I posed directly to them"

Senator Al Franken expressed concern this week with the way Uber’s privacy policies remain unclear, in the wake of criticism over the company’s use of customer data.

I recently pressed Uber to explain the scope, transparency, and enforceability of their privacy policies. While I’m pleased that they replied to my letter, I am concerned about the surprising lack of detail in their response,” Franken said in a statement. The senator chairs the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law.

“Most importantly, it still remains unclear how Uber defines legitimate business purposes for accessing, retaining, and sharing customer data,” Franken said. “I will continue pressing for answers to these questions.”

Franken’s letter, dated Nov. 19, addressed reports that execs had planned to dig up dirt on critical journalists, and that employees had abused Uber’s “God View,” which shows the location of all of Uber’s cars, to spy on riders’ whereabouts. In the letter, Franken listed 10 specific questions, ranging from what happens to customers’ data after they delete their account, to what training is provided to ensure employees abide by company policies.

Uber’s response to Franken’s letter described how the two incidents violated company policy. In particular, Uber clarified its policies regarding “God View,” stating that it is available only to certain employees, such as those working in operations. The company also said that recent press articles have “continued to generate misperceptions about how Uber employees treat the personal data of Uber riders.”

TIME Social Media

Why a Facebook ‘Sympathize’ Button Is a Terrible Idea

Facebook Dislike, Sympathize, Like Button
A view of Facebook's "Like" button May 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

It would reduce our empathy to a click

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t too keen on adding a “Dislike” button to the service, he said in a Q&A event Thursday. But Zuckerberg did float the idea of a new button for “sad moments” when pressing “Like” just doesn’t feel right. That’s why Facebook engineers recently toyed with a Sympathize button, a concept well-received by Facebook’s staff as well as the larger public.

But Facebook hasn’t implemented “Sympathize” yet. It’s still thinking about “the right way” to go about adding such a feature, Zuckerberg said, leaving users hanging. What’s taking so long?

It could be because implementing another Facebook button is a terrible idea — particularly to represent an emotion deeper than “Like.”

Ever since the Like button launched in 2009, the blue thumbs-up icon has become a symbol recognizable by nearly anyone who’s used the Internet. But the Like button’s mega-popularity also resulted in something that wasn’t so stellar: Like Anxiety, which strikes when your posts aren’t getting as many Likes as you think they deserve. While the Like button has made it easier to quickly express emotion on Facebook, Like Anxiety has turned the platform into a popularity contest and insecurity hotbed.

Now try imagining posting about something emotionally crippling — say, the passing of a loved one — and not getting enough “Sympathize” clicks. While most of us can get over when a positive post’s Likes plateau too soon, it would be far harder to move past our sadder missives getting Sympathy-snubbed. Hitting Sympathize is literally the least your friends could do for you in your time of need. If they didn’t click, that would feel pretty awful — you might even start checking which of your friends hit “Sympathize” and which didn’t bother, which wouldn’t be healthy for your friendships.

Facebook’s core mission, as Zuckerberg has put it, is promoting meaningful communications. That goal helps explain why Facebook Messenger was pushed into its own standalone mobile app and why disabling read receipts isn’t an option. Both moves are meant to encourage us to respond to our friends more quickly.

But if Facebook adds a Sympathize button, it would actually make our conversations less meaningful. How? It would override the only way to currently express sympathy on Facebook: Writing a personal comment to a friend, even if it’s only a few words.

The reality, then, is that ‘Sympathize’ is already on Facebook. So is “Dislike.” And “Love.” And “Thanks” — and any other emotion. They’re just not buttons. You have to write those emotions out yourself, and that surely means more than any button ever could.

TIME Smartphones

‘China’s Apple’ Is Still Getting Obliterated by Apple Itself

Xiaomi
A Xiaomi Corp. Mi 4 smartphone is arranged for a photograph at the company's showroom in Beijing, China, on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Xiaomi is known for its cheap smartphones — but its low prices are affecting its bottom line

While the popularity of Xiaomi’s smartphones have earned it the nickname of “China’s Apple,” its profits don’t come close to those of the Cupertino, Calif. company.

China’s Xiaomi, the world’s third largest smartphone company, pulled in only 347.5 million yuan ($56 million) in net profits from a revenue of 26.6 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) in 2013, Reuters reported Monday based on regulatory filings made by the company.

Meanwhile, Apple reported $25.4 billion of net sales during 2013 in Greater China, where nearly all Xiaomi smartphones are shipped. Apple’s profit margins stood at about 33%, towering over Xiaomi’s 1.8%.

Investors are continuing to question whether Xiaomi’s strategy of selling smartphones below what’s considered market price is sustainable. Xiaomi’s earnings, which Reuters confirmed with a Xiaomi spokeswoman, rebuke a November report in the Wall Street Journal which cited a “confidential document” saying Xiaomi had netted $556 million in profits in 2013, which would have been a massive spike in earnings.

[Reuters]

TIME Economy

Gas Was Dirt Cheap This Weekend

Gas Prices $2
Tom Merton—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

All 48 states in continental U.S. had average prices below $3

Gas prices fell under $2.oo in 13 states across the U.S. this weekend, sending the nationwide average down to $2.55 per gallon — a low Americans haven’t seen since Oct. 2009.

Oklahoma, Louisiana and Ohio had at least one gas station each with regular gas prices below $1.90 per gallon, CNNMoney reported Monday, citing data from GasBuddy.com. Another ten states had stations with prices below $2.00 per gallon: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia.

Meanwhile, all 48 states in continental U.S. had statewide average gas prices below $3.

The nationwide decrease in gas prices is due to falling oil prices, as economic downturns and the rise of fuel efficient vehicles slash demand for oil.

[CNNMoney]

TIME Video Games

Sony and Microsoft’s Newest Battlefield: China

Xbox One PlayStation 4
Attendees walk between signs for Sony PlayStation and Microsoft XBox on the first day of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, California, June 11, 2013. Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

A new front has opened in the console wars

The Chinese video game market is in for a major shake-up. Two of Sony’s mega-popular consoles, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, will be sold in China starting next month, the company announced Thursday. Sony’s move comes three months after Microsoft debuted its Xbox One in China.

Why did it take so long for Chinese gamers to get the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? For 14 years, China banned video game consoles over fears violent games would lead to moral decay. That ban was just lifted in January, opening the door for Sony and Microsoft.

China’s ban didn’t totally eliminate consoles there — a grey market of smuggled and home-grown consoles has long existed there. But analysts say the rule caused China’s gaming market to be dominated by PC and mobile games. That means Sony and Microsoft now have to convince Chinese gamers they should buy a console, too.

Sony and Microsoft could be in for a windfall if they can turn China’s gamers into console jockeys. Lewis Ward, research director of gaming at IDC, said his firm found that China’s current console penetration rate is in the “single digits.” But given China’s 1.3 billion-person population, that low rate actually translates into millions of potential customers already — and that’s before the companies’ marketing machines kick into action.

“In PC [gaming], you have Internet games like Starcraft, Warcraft and Defense of the Ancients. So how [do Sony and Microsoft] win back those groups?” said Roger Sheng, a Shanghai-based consumer electronics research director at Gartner.

The answer lies not in hardware, but in software. Game selection will be biggest reason a Chinese gamer decides to buy a PlayStation 4 (RMB2,899, or $468), an Xbox One (RMB3,699, or $598) or any other game console, analysts said. But while China is letting foreign consoles through the front door, whether or not they can bring along Call of Duty or Titanfall is another question. Each game sold in the country has to win the hard-to-earn approval of China’s Ministry of Culture, which prohibits everything from blood to touchy political topics.

“[Xbox One’s and PlayStation 4’s] prices are similar enough — both of them are expensive for a typical consumer in China,” said Lisa Hanson, managing partner at Niko Partners, an Asian games research firm. “The tricky regulatory landscape is always the biggest barrier to success for foreign companies in China.”

The key for Sony and Microsoft, analysts say, is for them to build partnerships with Chinese game makers, who enjoy pre-existing relationships with regulators and whose games have already passed the lengthy approval process. For now, Sony and Microsoft can entice Chinese developers to port their pre-approved games to the Xbox and PlayStation. If consoles take off with Chinese gamers, local developers are likely to start making dedicated games for them.

When it comes to building relationships and selling games in China, Sony has a leg up on Microsoft: As a Japanese company, it’s geographically and culturally closer to China than its American rival Microsoft. That means many Chinese gamers are already more familiar with Sony’s titles, a big advantage for the company. Sony hasn’t said which PlayStation games it’s bringing to China, but Microsoft is so far only selling 10 — a sign it might be having trouble connecting to the Chinese audience. Sony is also leading in terms of developer partners, with 26 to Microsoft’s 13.

Ultimately, the small size of Microsoft’s current catalog combined with the Xbox’s higher price may give Sony the edge in the Chinese console wars, analysts said.

“[Xbox’s catalog size] is bordering on negligence — I assume Sony is going to have a significantly larger catalog than that,” Ward said. “Make no mistake, people buy consoles because of the games.”

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