TIME deals

Microsoft Is Giving Apple Users Hundreds To Buy the Surface Pro 3

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
The Microsoft Corp. Surface Pro 3 tablet computer is displayed during an event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Jin Lee/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Microsoft is once again throwing huge sums of money at customers to try to convince them to buy its products. The company is offering up to $650 toward the purchase of its new Surface Pro 3 to customers that trade in a MacBook Air that’s in decent condition. The deal, which runs through July 31, is only available in Microsoft’s physical retail stores.

The Surface Pro 3 has been billed by Microsoft as a true laptop-tablet hybrid. That Microsoft is targeting the MacBook Air rather than the iPad with the new promotion indicates the company believes its new product can go toe-to-toe with laptops in terms of functionality.

Even in the best-case scenario where a customer gets the full $650 deal (the actual discount depends on the model of MacBook and its working condition), the cheapest model of the Surface Pro 3, at $799, will still require $150 out of pocket. MacBook Airs start a bit pricier at $899, but the base model has 128GB of internal memory compared to the entry-level Surface Pro 3’s 64GB.

TIME Companies

Amazon and Warner Bros. May Have Buried the Hatchet

Movie Stills Database/Warner Bros.

The dispute between Amazon and Warner Bros. seems to be coming to a close. The Wall Street Journal reports that the option to pre-order upcoming Warner Bros. DVDs and Blu-Rays like Transcendence and 300: Rise of an Empire has been restored on the online retailer’s website after disappearing last month. Amazon had reportedly been trying to negotiate more favorable pricing terms for Warner Bros. films.

The conflict echoed the much more public spat between Amazon and book publisher Hachette, which has been protracted over several months as the two sides negotiate pricing terms. In addition to removing the option to pre-order certain Hachette titles, Amazon has also slowed shipping of the publisher’s books to customers and recommended people buy books from competing publishers instead.

Amazon says it is using these tactics on behalf of its own customers. “Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term,” the company said in its only public statement on the dispute back in May.

Unlike the Warner Bros. conflict, Amazon said it does not expect its issues with Hachette to be resolved in the near future.

TIME video streaming

Apple TV Just Got an Upgrade That Makes It Way Better

Apple TV
Apple

Apple TV scored a big get today with the arrival of ABC News on the set-top box. The new app will function as a kind of online network, delivering ABC News content to Apple TV users 24 hours a day. The video coverage will be a mixture of live news updates, original programming and edited clips from TV properties such as Good Morning America. In nine major markets such as New York and Chicago, news reports from the local ABC affiliate will also be available. In total the new channel will have about eight hours of live programming each day, according to Mashable. Unlike many online apps from TV networks, this one won’t require users to prove that they have a cable subscription in order to use it.

In addition to the new ABC app, Apple TV also added AOL On today, a video network by the Internet company that features mostly short-form web video. PBS also added a kids’ network, PBS Kids, and cricket broadcaster Willow TV also added an app. Yahoo’s Flickr app also got a redesign to make it more appealing for the big screen.

Apple TV has sold more than 20 million units since it first launched in 2007, beating out competitors such as Roku and Amazon’s new Fire TV set-top box. Rumors persist that Apple will eventually launch a streaming or pay-TV service that competes more directly with cable.

TIME Companies

6 New Products Google May Show Off This Week

Moto 360, Powered by Android Wear
A press handout photo shows Motorola's Moto 360 watch, powered by Android Wear, displaying a map. Motorola

Though the event is geared towards software developers, Google often uses the conference to unveil big new consumer products—Google Glass got its first public demo at the 2012 conference, and Google’s paid music streaming service debuted last year

Google will offer the world a peek at its future this week during its annual technology conference, Google I/O. Though the event is geared towards software developers, Google often uses the conference to unveil big new consumer products—Google Glass got its first public demo at the 2012 conference, and Google’s paid music streaming service debuted last year.

There’s no way to know exactly what Google has planned for this year’s I/O, but we can make some educated guesses. Here’s a guide on what to expect from the 2014 Google I/O conference, which begins Wednesday:

Android Wear

Google will likely put its operating system for smartwatches and other wearable devices front and center this year. Android Wear, announced in March, is a version of Google’s Android operating system fine-tuned for watches and wearables. It’s expected to incorporate digital assistant software Google Now and accept voice commands, among other features.

The development kit for Android Wear hasn’t yet been released, so it’s likely that programmers will get their first crack at the software during Google I/O. Google’s also likely to demo the first consumer watches to use the software, such as LG’s upcoming G Watch or Motorola’s Moto 360.

Android in the Car

Google doesn’t just want Android on your wrist—the company eventually wants its software on virtually every device you interact with — and cars will be one of Google’s first targets. Google announced a partnership with automakers such as Honda, General Motors and Audi earlier this year to bring Android software to their vehicles. The fruits of this deal may finally be unveiled this week.

YouTube’s Music Service

At last year’s Google I/O, the company unveiled the unfortunately named Google Play Music All Access, a subscription-based music streaming service similar to Spotify. Since that time, though, Google subsidiary YouTube has quietly been working on its own paid music service. The YouTube service was originally slated for release early this year, but it’s been pushed back partially because of tense negotiations with record labels. But the project is far enough along now that Google has begun letting its employees test the service. Now might be the time to let the broader world take a peek.

Google Fit

Google will reportedly use I/O to debut its own health tracking app, called Google Fit. According to Forbes, Google Fit will gather data from various fitness and wellness apps, and it’ll be able to link up with other services in the Google ecosystem. The idea is hardly new—Apple recently announced its own health software, called HealthKit, which will launch later this year as part of iOS 8. But many of the big players in tech seem to be betting that high-quality fitness software may help spur the adoption of wearable devices.

Android TV

Google has been trying to finagle its way into the world of television for a while. Google TV, a platform for smart TVs, failed to gain wide adoption, while its Chromecast streaming stick has been more successful. The next attempt may be Android TV, a set-top box similar to Apple TV or Roku that would let users easily switch between streaming apps from companies like Netflix and ESPN. Though rumors about Android TV have persisted for months, it’s not clear how Google would differentiate the product significantly from Chromecast, which already supports a variety of video apps.

Google Glass

Glass has been getting a serious push from Google this year, with promotional short films and ads starring tennis star Roger Federer. The company will likely show off some new apps for the headgear, and perhaps even reveal a timetable for broader distribution of the devices. People can currently buy Glass in the U.S. and the UK through Google’s website, but the product is still in beta.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Doubles Free Cloud Storage Space

Microsoft is boosting its cloud storage offering in an effort to better compete against the likes of Google, Box and Dropbox. The company announced today that it will begin offering 15 GB of free storage space in its OneDrive product, up from the current amount of 7 GB. The company is also increasing the storage space for Office 365, its online subscription service for productivity software like Word and Excel. Customers will now get 1 terabyte of storage space with Office 365, up from 20 GB previously. Microsoft is also slashing prices for purchasing additional storage on OneDrive. 100 GB of space will cost $1.99 per month, down from $7.49 per month. 200 GB will be $3.99 rather than $11.49. All the changes will take effect in July.

The new prices give Microsoft’s offering parity with Google Drive, which already offers 15 GB of space for free and additional 100 GB for $1.99 per month. It also further distances the tech giants’ offerings from cloud storage startups like Box and Dropbox, which give away less space for free. Everyone competing in the space has been racing to slash prices and expand free offerings over the last year in hopes of luring customers.

TIME Advertising

This Is the New Stat Facebook Should Be Worrying About

A view of Facebook's "Like" button May 1
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Updated 6:08 p.m.

All those ads that are increasingly crowding into users’ Facebook and Twitter feeds apparently aren’t doing much to affect what people actually buy. According to a newly released Gallup poll, 62% of Americans say social media has no influence on their purchasing decisions. Just 5% of people polled said social media has a great deal of influence on their buying habits. Even tech-savvy Millennials say they are not swayed by social ads—48% of respondents in that cohort said that social media doesn’t influence their purchasing decisions.

“A solid majority of American adults say that social media have no influence at all on their purchasing decisions — suggesting that the advertising may be reaching smaller segments of the market, or that the influence on consumers is indirect or goes unnoticed,” Gallup concluded. The company said people are more likely to consult in-store displays, television commercials, mail catalogs and magazines than a brand’s Facebook or Twitter account when making a purchasing decision.

If believed, the results could be problematic for social media companies like Facebook, which has tried to convince both marketers and investors that online ads can improve brand recall and drive in-store sales. U.S. companies spent $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, according to Gallup. Facebook alone generated $7 billion in ad revenue last year globally.

Since the poll measured people’s sentiment and not their behavior, it’s possible that people are being influenced by social ads and they just don’t know it or won’t acknowledge it. But respondents indicated that they’re not using social media to go shopping or engage in commerce. 94% of respondents said they primarily use social media to connect with friends and family, while just 40% use it to find out information about a company. Even fewer people, 29% of respondents, said they use social sites to find user reviews or product information.

Facebook dismissed the value of the findings outright. “The only thing this poll shows is that self-reported behavioral data is unreliable,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “For decades, studies that look at people’s actual, real-world behavior have shown that ads on all mediums, including social media, affect the things people buy. The most successful marketers in the world don’t just take our word for it when it comes to ad effectiveness, they’ve asked us to prove that our ads work. And we have.”

Gallup surveyed more than 18,000 American adults in December 2012 and January 2013 to derive the results.

 

TIME Education

This Company May Hold the Secret to the Future of Education

Seoul Digital Forum
Guatemalan Luis von Ahn, Co-founder and CEO of Duolingo, and inventor of CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA, speaks about 'The Beginning of New TIME: Key 2, Capture' during the opening ceremony of the Seoul Digital Forum in Seoul, South Korea on May 21, 2014. Jeon Heon Kyun—EPA

It was just 18 months ago that we were living in the “Year of the MOOC.” Massive open online courses—MOOC for short—were supposed to revolutionize the way people learned and deliver high-quality education to the masses. But the idea faced a tough 2013. The co-founder of Udacity, an early pioneer in free online education, admitted that his company initially had a “lousy product,” while studies showed that hardly any students were actually completing the courses offered by such services at all.

Luis von Ahn, the co-founder and CEO of language learning service Duolingo, says MOOCs make little sense for the digital world. von Ahn runs what is arguably the hottest educational tool online at the moment, but he’s also a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Even he admits that lectures, especially delivered via webcast, can be pretty boring. “You take a lecture that’s not all that great and put it on video, it’s actually going to be worse,” he says. “Typically, the things that succeed the most online are the things that are better online than offline. Think about email versus mail.”

von Ahn believes he has developed a platform that can indeed be better online—and on smartphones. Duolingo, which turns two years old this week, offers bite-sized lessons in French, Spanish, English and several other languages for beginners and intermediate-level speakers. Users learn vocabulary words, grammatical structures and even proper pronunciation by speaking into their device’s microphone. The service guides students through a battery of challenges, awarding points and badges for correct answers. Users can compete with friends who are learning the same languages.

The concept of learning a new language through software is hardly revolutionary, but it’s Duolingo’s mobile app that sets it apart. Six months into the company’s existence, Duolingo had 300,000 active users, all on its website. In the year and a half since it launched a mobile app for iOS, that number has leapt to 13 million, more than MOOC platforms Udacity, edX and Coursera combined, according to usage figures released by those firms. 85% of these users are learning with the mobile app, which Apple named the App of the Year in 2013. “One of the main ways to deliver education over the next 10 to 20 years is going to be through smartphones,” von Ahn says. “It’s the only way that this actually can scale. This is why we put so much effort into our apps as opposed to our website.”

The mobile approach has advantages both in the developed world—it’s easier to commit to a quick language lesson during lunch than block off an hour after work to sit at a desktop computer—and in emerging markets, where many people use smartphones as their primary computing device. “About 1 to 2 billion people do not have access to very good education,” von Ahn says, “but hundreds of millions of these people are very soon or already have access to smartphones.”

The son of two medical doctors, von Ahn grew up in Guatemala, a country with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. He says Duolingo, which is free and doesn’t have advertising, is primarily aimed at those people who can’t afford to take a college course or buy expensive software like Rosetta Stone. “We’ve become zealots about providing free education,” he says. “We develop for the poor people.”

And yet, Duolingo is a for-profit business. To make money, the company gets its users to translate real news articles from sites like CNN and Buzzfeed into their native languages as a way to practice their English. Duolingo then charges these sites between two and three cents per word for the translations. von Ahn says the venture generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue per year, but Duolingo is not profitable. The company just began offering an English language proficiency test for $20 aimed at job seekers, but it’s not yet clear how many employers will accept a Duolingo certification as an alternative to more established (and expensive) programs. The company has raised $38 million in venture funding.

Whether people are actually learning new languages effectively with Duolingo is still an open question. von Ahn is careful not to oversell the capabilities of the service. The idea that a piece of software could make a person fluent in a foreign language in mere hours is, in his words, “bull—t.” “If you really want to become perfectly fluent, probably what you need to do is move to that country,” he says. “Learning a language is something that takes years.” Still, he says completing all the lessons in a language course in Duolingo is about the equivalent of taking an intermediate-level language course in college. A study commissioned by the company found that people learned as much taking Duolingo lessons in Spanish for 34 hours as they would in a semester of an introductory college class.

That doesn’t mean that apps are going to replace classrooms anytime soon. Though there’s great potential in educational tools built for the Web and for mobile, their usefulness varies greatly by subject, says Matthew Chingos, a fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. “If I want to learn about the history of the Ottoman Empire, it’s harder to imagine the really engaging version of that where you’re doing one-sentence interactions around a topic like that,” he says. “Is this going to replace the way things are done now? I don’t think it is. But can these tools be important supplements? I think they can.”

Duolingo, along with other web-native learning tools like the computer programming site Codecademy, have carved out an online learning experience that feels both simpler and more engaging than the typical MOOC, which essentially replicates the college lecture hall. von Ahn plans to focus on improving Duolingo’s adaptive learning capabilities, so that no two users will have the exact same lesson plan. The goal, he says, is for the app to perform more like a well-trained personal tutor than a pedantic professor.

Eventually, he sees Duolingo’s interactive learning experiences spreading to many other subjects. “A really good one-on-one tutor can teach a 10-year-old kid algebra in six months,” he says. “I think an app should be able to do that.”

TIME Companies

Katy Perry’s Movie Is Streaming Directly on Facebook Now

Katy Perry
Katy Perry performs on stage on the second night of her Prismatic World Tour at Odyssey Arena on May 8, 2014 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Christie Goodwin—Getty Images

Facebook wants to start selling movies to its billion-plus user base. The social network began renting Katy Perry’s 2012 documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me directly on the pop star’s Facebook fan page Friday. The movie costs $4 to be rented for 48 hours and can be watched within the Facebook site itself.

A robust rental service would put Facebook in competition with video platforms like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and the iTunes Store. Facebook tops all of them in size, but it’s not known as a destination to watch long-form video. Several movie studios experimented with renting films such as The Dark Knight and The Big Lebowski via Facebook in 2011, but the initiative never gained traction.

So far the social network hasn’t made much of an effort to nab new releases, instead focusing on well-worn catalog titles. But Facebook’s video ambitions have increased significantly in the past three years. The company began testing auto-playing video ads late last year, and movie trailers in particular are expected to be a popular use case for the new ad unit.

TIME Telecom

Streaming Music Won’t Count Against T-Mobile Data Plans

Wireless carrier T-Mobile will soon begin allowing customers to stream as much music as they want from services like Spotify and iTunes Radio. The company announced Wednesday that it will no longer count music streamed from select services towards customers’ monthly data usage limits.

The services currently included in the program are Pandora, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Rhapsody, Slacker, Spotify and Milk Music. These options comprise about 85 percent of the music streaming traffic on T-Mobile’s network, the company said. Customers can vote via social media on other services they’d like to see included as well.

The move will allow avid music listeners to do considerably more with their monthly data allotment. A person that streams music for 50 minutes a day uses about 1.5 GB of data per month just for that task, according to T-Mobile’s own data calculator. If unchecked, such use can lead to huge overage charges on competing carriers’ networks or throttled speeds on T-Mobile (the carrier eliminated overage charges earlier this year in favor of slowing down service for people who use more than their allotted data).

The new feature has similarities to AT&T’s Sponsored Data plan, which alllows companies to pay AT&T to let customers use apps or websites without eating into their monthly data allotment. Some have said that these concepts violate the ethos of net neutrality, which discourages companies from granting preferential treatment in the way they deliver certain types of data across the Internet — though net neutrality rules have not previously applied to mobile Internet use.

Unlike AT&T’s Sponsored Data program, though, T-Mobile will collect no fees from the streaming services that are granted unlimited streaming.

In addition to lifting data caps on music streaming, T-Mobile also announced a new streaming service of its own, called unRadio. The new, on-demand service, made in partnership with Rhapsody, has a catalog of 20 million songs and no ads. It will be free for T-Mobile subscribers with an unlimited data plan and $4 per month for subscribers with more limited plans.

The new programs are the latest steps in T-Mobile’s “Un-Carrier” initiative, which has introduced several disruptive concepts to the wireless industry, such as the elimination of two-year contracts and international data charges. The cost-cutting measures are making T-Mobile bleed money, but they also helped the carrier gain more new subscribers in the first quarter than AT&T, Verizon and Sprint combined.

TIME Amazon

This Is How Much the Amazon Fire Phone Will Cost

Amazon announced Wednesday that its new Fire Phone will sell exclusively on AT&T’s network, starting July 25. A 32GB version of the phone will go for $199, while a 64 GB version of the device will sell for $299, with contracts. The two versions cost $649 and $749 without a contract, respectively.

By comparison, the 32GB version of the iPhone 5S is $299 with a two-year contract and the 64 GB version is $399. The 16 GB version of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is $199.

Amazon’s new phone boasts a 13-megapixel camera, unlimited photo storage and four camera sensors that give its screen an unusual 3D effect.

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