TIME Google

Google Has a Huge New Business You Probably Don’t Know About

Google on iPhone 5
Iain Masterton—Alamy

Selling apps, television shows, e-books, music and games through Google Play is becoming a big business for the tech giant

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published atFortune.com.

In five years, Google Play has gone from being an upstart marketplace for mobile phone apps to a mammoth media hub.

On Thursday’s second-quarter earnings call, Google’s GOOGLE INC. GOOG -0.1916% outgoing Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora all-but-said as much. In addition to apps, it now sells now sells digital movies, TV shows and music to the more than one billion people worldwide who own Android phones and tablets.

It “continues to grow at breakneck speed,” Arora said on the call.

Google doesn’t break out numbers for just how well Google Play is doing. But sales have steadily grown into the second largest source of revenues behind the company’s long-standing cash cow, advertising.

Finding alternative sources of revenue is critical to Google as it tries to offset the inevitable slowing growth in its online ad business. Selling apps and entertainment for mobile device can be an important way to keep Wall Street investors happy along with making its operating system more attractive to consumers and device manufacturers.

Citigroup analyst Mark May predicts Google Play’s annual revenues will grow from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $5.2 billion in 2017. Those figures remain a fraction of the $10 billion in iTunes sales Apple reported last year, but Android’s momentum is undeniable.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Amazon

This Is What It’s Actually Like to Use Amazon’s New Fire Phone

A handout image of the new Amazon Fire Phone was introduced on June 18, 2014 by the company. EPA/Amazon.com/Getty Images

Fortune tries out Amazon Fire to gauge whether it lives up to the hype.

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at
Fortune.com.

Amazon made a big splash in unveiling a smartphone on Wednesday that it hopes will challenge Apple and Samsung’s years-long dominance. The device is packed with an arsenal of futuristic features that are intended to make it easier for people to navigate apps, shop and use Amazon services like video and music streaming.

But after a half-hour using the phone, called Fire, I didn’t really find that it lived up to the hype. While clever, those futuristic features didn’t entirely convince me that I absolutely needed the phone – or that it is better than the iPhone I already own.

Fire felt light but solid as I held it just hours after watching from the audience as Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, showed the phone in public for the first time. It seemed well-built and had an understated look that contrasted with Apple’srigorously polished aesthetic.

AMZN front 1Tilting to the left brings up a window with categories like “apps,” “games,” and Amazon Prime. Photo by JP Mangalindan/Fortune.com

What sets the Fire Phone apart are several new features, starting with “Dynamic Perspective,” Amazon’s take on 3-D. To be clear, it’s not the kind of 3-D most people are used to. Images and video don’t pop off the screen. Instead, the phone has four cameras built into it that keep track of a person’s head movements and adjusts the angle of what ever is on the screen accordingly. Tilt your head a few degrees to the left or right, and the phone subtly angles what’s onscreen to create the illusion that you’re peering around it.

Indeed, Amazon wants users to do less finger swiping and a lot more tilting to navigate around the device’s menus and apps. Tilting the phone left brings up a pane of shortcuts to categories like apps, games, photos and the Web browser. A tilt to the right summons another pane that displays different functions based on what you’re doing, like email attachments in the email app. If surfing the Web or reading a book, you can tilt the phone down to slowly scroll down the page. The phone also recognizes subtle flicks of the wrist, or gestures the company calls “peeks.” A peek to the left or right in the Maps app while searching for nearby restaurants brings up small pop-up windows with restaurant names and Yelp ratings.

Tilting is something users will have to get used to. The learning curve isn’t steep – it took me 5 minutes to get the hang of it – but tilting doesn’t come as naturally as learning to swipe when the iPhone launched in 2007 or or when Android devices arrived the following year. I’m not convinced tilting accomplishes anything materially better or feels any more comfortable than a finger swipe or tap. And I can’t shake the feeling that after a few days, I’d want to go back to swiping instead of tilting my phone every which way.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Apple

4 Surefire Ways Apple Can Blow the Doors Off 2014

Apple Introduces iPhone 5
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

With over 15 years of hit products under Apple’s belt, it’s a bold statement indeed when one of it executives promises “the best product pipeline” is still to come. But that’s exactly what Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue did on Wednesday at the Code Conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif. “We want to do a few really incredible things,” he said. “I believe certain products we’ve got coming are great.”

We’re not product maestros, but there are a few things Apple could do to make the rest of 2014 a stellar year.

Bring iBeacon into the home in a big way.

One of the biggest futuristic tech trends industry insiders salivate over is the so-called “Internet of Things,” in particular, home devices — TVs, thermostats, and even refrigerators — connected online to make them easier to manage. Last year, Apple introduced a technology called iBeacon that lets iPhones and iPads communicate with other devices via Bluetooth. The technology is still in its early stages. But it may be possible to use your iPhone to control all sorts of home electronics and appliances. One possible scenario? When approaching a TV, your iPhone automatically turns into a remote control that can turn the screen on and bring up show listings.

Release a huge Apple TV software update.

Many people are waiting impatiently for an Apple television set. But they’ll probably wait a while longer judging from comments by Cue that Apple is working on ways to fix the TV experience – but that the fix is “complicated.” Until that day comes, Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, suggests that Apple reinvent the way people use the current Apple TV, which requires users to open up different apps like Netflix or HBO and dive through their menus to find the shows they want. Instead, Rubin suggests a more unified experience that lets users search, view and play media from one set of menus.

More biometrics.

The iPhone 5s, with its Touch ID feature, remains the first and only Apple device that integrates fingerprint technology directly into the device. Expect Touch ID to find its way into the iPad, but imagine touch recognition applied across Apple’s entire hardware ecosystem including computers.

Thinner, faster, more efficient devices across the board.

Perhaps this is the e biggest no-brainer of them all. But if Apple is guilty of anything, it is in falling behind rivals in areas like screen size. Like it or not, smartphone screens are getting bigger – some easily push 5-inches – while the iPhone 5 and 5s remain at a comparably small 4-inches. Also, the well-received MacBook Air hasn’t been redesigned in years – and even the most sympathetic of gadget critics will admit the thin-and-light notebook line could use sharper screens. While such tweaks may not be what most people thought of when Cue made his bold statement, Rubin raises a fair point given ever-improving computer technology. “Over time, products are going to be better than they have been in the past. That could lead many companies to say that they have the strongest products in the pipeline than they’ve ever had.” Even, of course, if those companies aren’t truly innovating.

TIME

Here’s Why Uber May Seriously Want to Watch Its Back

Lyft Car
A Lyft customer gets into a car on January 21, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Calling Lyft’s expansion over the last year anything less than “aggressive” would be an understatement. Now, the Uber competitor is available in 24 new U.S. cities effective Thursday, bringing the total number of markets to 60.

In addition to cities ranging from Los Angeles to Baltimore, Lyft’s “tens of thousands” of drivers are now servicing places such as Kansas City, Mo., Omaha, Neb., and Corpus Christi, Texas. The company also announced a temporary 10% price cut on fares in all markets, following a recent 20% cut it had already announced.

Lyft’s swift growth has largely to do with its “sharing economy” business model, relying on a preexisting infrastructure — citizen drivers sharing their cars and their time — whenever it enters a new market. “We don’t have to open an office in every market we go to — it really helps us grow the community,” explains Lyft president and co-founder John Zimmer.

More: Coca-Cola’s equity plan: Did shareholders say yes, or no?

The news comes just one day after Uber announced a milestone of its own: With its most recent launch in Beijing, the company is now available in 100 cities worldwide. And while Lyft may fall short of that — it hasn’t expanded beyond the U.S. yet — the company has been extremely ambitious in recent months. Indeed, Lyft’s latest news almost doubles the number of available U.S markets. This April, it raised $250 million from backers including Alibaba, Third Point, and Andreessen Horowitz toward international growth. And over the last 12 months, Lyft has ballooned from 60 to 250 employees.

Like Uber, Lyft has faced legal battles in new markets where it threatens existing transportation services, such as taxis. In St. Louis this week, a circuit judge barred the company from operating in the county after the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission sought an injunction because Lyft had failed to apply for a taxi dispatch license. (Because of its business model, Lyft has said existing taxi and for-hire vehicle regulations do not apply.) Meanwhile, in Houston, a July injunction hearing could decide whether companies like Lyft and Uber can legally operate in the area.

“If it’s anticompetitive, we strongly disagree with that, but if it’s focused on safety, we’re there hand-in-hand working with local officials,” argues Zimmer. “As long as there’s a focus on safety and an honest conversation about what the real reason for regulation would be — protecting consumers — then that’s a really great conversation to have.”

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