TIME Gadgets

Google Sweetens the Chromebook Deal Ahead of the Holidays

Google Chromebook To Be Available Online On June 15
Google Inc. Chrome and Samsung Electronics Co.'s logos are seen on a Chromebook in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 9, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Free storage promotion runs until the new year

Google is offering a terabyte of free storage with its Chromebook computers for the holiday season, the company announced Friday.

Customers who buy qualifying Chromebooks priced at $199 or more will receive a two-year subscription to Google Drive with a terabyte of free storage space. That amount of space typically costs $9.99 per month, so the deal is worth about $240.

Chromebooks are stripped of many of the programs typically found on PCs, and instead offer apps that are accessed online, like Google Docs. They’ve slowly gained in marketshare since Google first unveiled the barebones laptops in 2011 — Chromebook sales are expected to triple by 2017.

The Google Drive promotion runs through January 1.

TIME Companies

Google Just Took its First Step Back Into China

The Google logo is reflected in windows
The Google logo is reflected in windows of the company's China head office as the Chinese national flag flies in the wind in Beijing on March 23, 2010. AFP/Getty Images

Chinese developers can now sell their apps as exports in Google's app store

Google is trying to woo mobile developers in China.

The search giant has announced that Chinese app developers will now be able to sell apps to Google Play users in more than 130 other countries. It’s one of Google’s first attempts to engage with the Chinese marketplace since leaving the country in 2010 in following conflicts with the government over national censorship policies.

The Google Play Store is severely restricted in China, so app makers in the country will be selling their wares as exports. It’s no surprise that Google is having second thoughts on leaving the country behind: China has more than 600 million Internet users, and that figure is expected to reach 800 million next year.

This olive branch to developers may be the first step in a more ambitious strategy. Google is reportedly looking to partner with a Chinese phone manufacturer or wireless carrier to launch a full-featured version of the Play store in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal.

TIME Toys

Nintendo Wants to Cash In on the Toy Industry’s New Billion-Dollar Craze

"Toys to life" genre combines virtual play with classic action figures

In Nintendo’s wildly popular fighting game series Super Smash Bros., action figures spring to life so they can pummel each other in multiplayer bouts. When the next installment in the series debuts Friday on the Wii U, that fantasy will actually come close to reality. Along with the new game, Nintendo is launching a line of toy figurines that can actually be transferred into the digital world of Smash Bros. to fight against the game’s rowdy characters.

The new toys, called amiibo, are the latest entrants in the rapidly growing “toys to life” sector, a melding of the physical toys of yesteryear and the software kids now enjoy on their tablets and video game consoles. The idea is to expand the play kids are already enjoying in virtual games into the physical world—and let video game companies generate a tidy profit selling figurines and peripherals in the process.

The concept was first proven a hit by Activision, which launched its Skylanders video game franchise in 2011. In that series, gamers can purchase dozens of different figurines embedded with an electronic chip. When players place the figures on a special peripheral that can scan the chip, the characters are transported into Skylanders‘ virtual world. As the character levels up in the virtual world, so does the figurine. If a kid takes his figure over to a friend’s house to play, it’ll retain the same data from his own game.

“By combining the immersive world of video games with the physical connection that kids have with action figures, it was incredibly powerful,” says John Coyne, Activision’s senior vice president of consumer marketing.

While Activision made toys-to-life games viable, Disney has been able to leverage its massive trove of iconic intellectual property to popularize the genre even more. The company’s Disney Infinity series uses technology like that used by Skylanders to let gamers place their figurine characters into virtual worlds based on hit Disney properties like Brave and Lilo & Stitch. A separate, open-ended mode lets players create their own worlds, populate them with Disney characters and share them online.

“It’s very much about building things in there and kind of telling your own stories,” says John Blackburn, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Infinity.

Experts say these titles have been a hit because they spark kids’ imaginations more than a traditional video game can. “It’s really an extension of what kids want naturally, which is to not really have parameters in how they play,” says Liam Callahan, an analyst at research firm NPD. “It’s about breaking down that barrier.”

Skylanders and Disney Infinity have generated $600 million in software sales and nearly $1 billion in hardware sales in the U.S. between them since the genre was first introduced in 2011, according to NPD. Sales in the sector have risen 22% in the last year. Exactly who’s leading the market is a point of contention—Disney Infinity sold more than any version of Skylanders in 2013, but the latest version of Skylanders outsold Disney’s new Marvel-focused Infinity game in October.

It’s not yet clear how Nintendo will fit into this increasingly competitive space. Skylanders and Disney Infinity perform best on Nintendo consoles, according to NPD, which means Nintendo already has a user base actively interested in toys-to-life games. The strength of Nintendo’s intellectual property is also a selling point, as is the ability to use amiibo in games across different genres on the company’s Wii U system, like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8. “These characters have tremendous fan bases already,” says Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president for sales and marketing.

Whether these titles will become a permanent fixture in gaming remains to be seen. A few years ago, millions of gamers were buying plastic musical instruments to play games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero—now those titles are forgotten in bargain bins. But toys-to-life titles may evolve in more dynamic ways than past gaming fads. A new entrant called Anki Drive, for instance, has melded a mobile game with actual stock cars that players can race on a physical track, directing them with a smartphone and the cars’ built-in AI. The cars saw limited retail exposure in 2013 but will be available at Toys R Us and Target this holiday season.

The Anki Drive game uses AI-enabled stock cars that players can control with their smartphones.

The success of these physical toys in an age when apps dominate our lives shows that the next generation doesn’t want play with only their thumbs — there’s hope yet for the real world. “At the end of the day, it’s still very classic play,” says Chris Byrne, a toy industry analyst at Time to Play Magazine. “The technology has just made the toy box bigger.”

TIME Media

HBO Go Is Now on Xbox One

US-ENTERTAINMENT-IT-INTERNET-VIDEOGAMES-MICROSOFT-XBOX
A member of the Microsoft security team watches over the newly unveiled Xbox One videogame console at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, on May 21, 2013. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

It hasn't hit Sony's PlayStation 4 yet

HBO Go is now available on Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming console.

The online streaming service rolled out on the next-gen console Thursday, according to a Microsoft blog post. HBO Go is already available on the Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3, but hasn’t yet arrived on the PS4.

Currently, you’ll need a cable subscription to use HBO Go. However, in 2015, the cable network is planning to launch a standalone online version of its channel that Internet users can subscribe to without paying for cable.

TIME Companies

Netflix Is Now a Whopping One-Third of Peak Internet Traffic

US Online Streaming Giant Netflix : Illustration
In this photo illustration the Netflix logo is seen on September 19, 2014 in Paris, France. Pascal Le Segretain—Getty Images

But YouTube leads on mobile

Netflix now accounts for more than a third of all downstream Internet traffic during peak evening hours in North America, according to research firm Sandvine.

Netflix’s share of traffic during the second half of 2014 rose to 34.89%, up from 34.21% in the first half of the year, Sandvine found in its biannual report. The figure is the highest for Netflix in Sandvine’s publicly available data since 2011. The streaming service has long dominated downstream Internet usage — a point that’s sparked battles between it and Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon, which have argued Netflix should pay up for the bandwidth it uses.

While Netflix’s share inched up slightly, other tech companies also made gains. Facebook, which has been pushing video heavily this year, saw its traffic share increase from 1.99% to 2.98%. Amazon Video, Netflix’s most direct competitor, rose from a share of 1.9% to 2.58%. YouTube’s share also increased, rising from 13.19% to 14.09%. These gains in traffic came at the expense of iTunes and bitTorrent, which both had their shares dip below 3%.

These figures don’t account for Internet connections made via cellular data networks on mobile devices. On that front, YouTube is the leader with a 19.75% share, and Facebook is right behind it with a 19.05% share.

TIME Media

Spotify Streams Will Soon Be Included on the Billboard Charts

SWEDEN-MUSIC-COMPANY-SPOTIFY
This photo illustration shows the Swedish music streaming service Spotify on March 7, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden. Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images

1,500 streams will count as a sale

Streams from music streaming services like Spotify will soon be included on the charts that rank music album sales.

Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan will begin including streams in the rankings of the Billboard 200, the album charts that are the weekly benchmark for success in the music industry, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The new ranking formula will equate 1,500 streams from an album on services like Spotify, Beats Music and Rhapsody as a sale. Online downloads of ten or more individual tracks by consumers will also be counted as an album sale.

The inclusion of more digital services will likely help move acts that appeal to younger audiences further up the charts. Legacy acts whose audiences mostly buy CDs, however, could be negatively affected.

The music charts are increasingly being influenced by online music services. Last year, Billboard announced that it would begin including music streams in its Hot 100 ranking of the most popular singles.

[New York Times]

TIME Media

Apple Reportedly Making Beats Music a Pre-Installed iPhone App

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

The change could come as soon as March

Apple is, unsurprisingly, planning to use the massive reach of the iPhone and iPad to put its newly acquired Beats Music streaming service in front of more people.

The company is planning to make Beats Music one of the pre-installed iOS apps in an upcoming software update, according to the Financial Times. The move could happen as soon as March.

Apple acquired Beats for its headphone and music streaming businesses for $3 billion earlier this year. While the headphones are a bona fide hit, Beats Music is thought to have a tiny user base—founder Jimmy Iovine pegged the number of subscribers at 250,000 in May, whereas rival Spotify has 50 million monthly active users, 12.5 million of whom pay for an ad-free experience.

Making Beats a default iOS app would instantly give it exposure to hundreds of millions of potential new users. But the strategy isn’t fool-proof—iTunes Radio is now a default offering in iOS, but it’s done little to upset Pandora as the king of Internet radio.

TIME Media

Nielsen Ratings Could Become a Major Headache for Netflix

Danielle Brooks, Uzo Aduba, Samira Wiley, Vicky Jeudy, Adrienne C. Moore
(L-R) Danielle Brooks, Vicky Jeudy, Uzo Aduba, Adrienne C. Moore, and Samira Wiley in a scene from Netflix's Orange is the New Black Season 2. Jessica Miglio—Netflix

Streaming service may lose leverage if viewership data is widely known

House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black are wildly popular hits that prove Netflix can make shows that compete with the best of cable programming…right? That’s been the narrative around the streaming service over the last year, but hard proof has been harder to come by. Netflix has never provided concrete data validating that its shows are watched by large numbers of viewers.

Soon Nielsen, the standard-bearer for TV ratings, may change that. The TV ratings company revealed to the Wall Street Journal that it’s planning to begin tracking viewership of online video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video in December by analyzing the audio of shows that are being streamed. The new ratings will come with a lot of caveats—they won’t track mobile devices and won’t take into account Netflix’s large global reach—but they will provide a sense for the first time which Netflix shows are the most popular. And if the rest of the media world latches onto these new ratings as a standard, Netflix won’t be able to ignore them.

Ratings are important on traditional television because they help networks attract advertising. Netflix doesn’t sell ads and has argued that it therefore shouldn’t have to disclose its ratings. “It creates a benchmark that is irrelevant to the business but sexy and exciting to write about and puts a lot of performance pressure on shows that otherwise will be great shows over time,” chief content officer Ted Sarandos said at a conference in 2012. A Netflix spokesperson declined to comment.

But TV ratings are about a lot more than selling ads. Netflix viewership data would give traditional TV networks a better sense of how popular their shows are on the platform and, perhaps more importantly, how essential they are to the overall Netflix experience. This could affect negotiations for licensing programming, especially as more content companies such as CBS and Comcast launch their own streaming services. Networks already regularly leverage the popularity of their programming to extract higher fees from cable operators in very public spats, so they’d likely have no problem pulling Netflix into a similar scrum.

Ratings also help attract talent in the traditional TV world. HBO has risen to the top of the premium cable heap by continually serving up shows that are both critically acclaimed and extremely popular. If Netflix’s original shows are revealed to be watched less than those on TV, it might be harder to attract a David Fincher or a Kevin Spacey to the streaming service (even Fincher and Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan don’t know how popular their Netflix shows are).

Finally, regular ratings could introduce further volatility to Netflix’s already bumpy stock. The company’s share price tumbled more than 25% after it missed its own subscriber growth forecast in October. Investors might be further scared scared off if there were signs that the company’s growing stable of expensive original shows were not as popular as they believed.

Of course, there are ways Nielsen ratings could work in Netflix’s favor. If the company’s shows really are huge hits, that just lends more credence to its narrative as a television disruptor and could help convince more Hollywood stars to work with the streaming service. It’s also possible that Nielsen’s methodology, which is rather vague at the moment, won’t be considered accurate enough to be taken seriously. The company just recently acknowledged that it was reporting inaccurate ratings for the broadcast networks for seven months this year. And Viacom’s CEO has said he wants to adopt different ratings standards because he thinks Nielsen has been too slow to adapt to shifting consumer habits.

Either way, Netflix will probably have to contend with questions about the Nielsen figures from media executives, analysts, and reporters for a quite a while. It’s an unknown variable in their growth story that they’d likely rather not deal with. As the calculating Frank Underwood once said, “There’s a value in having secrets.”

TIME Social Media

You Asked: Can I Delete All My Old, Embarrassing Tweets?

Social Media Site Twitter Debuts On The New York Stock Exchange
In this photo illustration, The Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced it's initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Bethany Clarke—Getty Images

Twitter just made it easier than ever for anyone to find all your tweets

Twitter just made its search tool more powerful than ever. The social network has now made it easy to search any of the 500 billion public tweets that have been sent in Twitter’s eight-year history. Yes, that includes your tweets—even the drunk ones.

If you’re nervous about what an Internet sleuth might uncover if they searched for all your references to “weed” or a comprehensive listing of your embarrassing unanswered pleas directly to a celebrity, you might want to review your old tweets and delete the bad apples. And remember, if you ever become famous, someone will inevitably dig up all those racist tweets you sent in 2010.

Here’s how to head off your future PR nightmare at the pass:

Option 1: Request Your Twitter Archive

Before today, the best way to take stock of your Twitter past was to request your personal archive from the social network. Twitter will email you a zip file that includes all your tweets in an easily searchable database that mimics the Twitter.com interface. Just type in any questionable words you might have used in your younger days (“drunk,” “high,” “hella” ) and delete anything you wouldn’t want your Mom to read or embed on a public web page for the whole Internet to see.

To get the archive, go to your Settings and click “Request your archive.”

Option 2: Use Advanced Search

If you don’t want to wait around for Twitter to send you your archive, you can use the Advanced Search option (here) to quickly parse through your tweets. In the “From These Accounts” field, enter your username, and in the “Words” fields, enter whatever terms you’re trying to find that you previously tweeted.

Retweet the ones where you accurately predicted the future. Delete the incriminating ones.

Option 3: Scorch the Earth

You were a different person when you joined Twitter. If you were below the age of 20, it’s possible that you said so many cruel, vapid and ignorant things that there is simply no salvaging your younger digital self. You can wipe this person from Twitter’s record with a few clicks. Tweet Delete lets you automatically delete tweets more than a year old on an ongoing basis. Tweet Eraser allows you to delete everything you wrote before any given date. For more dire situations, you can download Tweeticide and erase your entire Twitter history.

Not sure whether you should delete or tweet? Consider this: Every public tweet is being archived for future generations to make judgments about our culture in the Library of Congress. Don’t make us look bad.

TIME Companies

You Can Now Search Every Tweet Ever

The Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device.
The Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device. Bethany Clarke—Getty Images

Archive of 500 billion tweets are now searchable

Time to start deleting your embarrassing old tweets—Twitter just made it easy to search every public tweet ever sent.

The social network announced Tuesday that it has completed indexing of every public tweet since 2006, which amounts to about half a trillion messages. A new, more powerful search function will let users search for specific words used by specific users, hashtags used between a set of given dates and other variables. In the past, these types of searches only yielded a portion of the tweets that fit the criteria.

“Our search engine excelled at surfacing breaking news and events in real time, and our search index infrastructure reflected this strong emphasis on recency,” Twitter wrote in a blog post that explains the indexing process for tweets in extreme detail. “But our long-standing goal has been to let people search through every Tweet ever published.”

The more robust archive will eventually affect the basic searches that Twitter users conduct from the site’s homepage. While basic searches currently surface tweets from the last several hours or days as “Top” tweets, the company will soon begin showing older tweets that may also be relevant. Getting people conducting Twitter searches more regularly could boost the company’s revenue, as Twitter already sells ads against keyword searches.

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