TIME technology

Amazon’s Fire Phone Is Now Just 99 Cents

AN AT&T worker holds the new Amazon Fire phone at an AT&T store on July 25, 2014 in San Francisco.
AN AT&T worker holds the new Amazon Fire phone at an AT&T store on July 25, 2014 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Critics turned off by an over-emphasis on selling the user Amazon products

Amazon’s first-ever smartphone now costs under a buck, the company announced Monday, after less than two months on the market. The Fire phone’s price has been cut to just 99 cents under a two-year contract with AT&T.

The online retailer is notoriously reticent to divulge sales figures for its specific products, but the fact that the Fire phone has tumbled nearly $200 in price in a matter of weeks implies that its sales were not up to Amazon’s expectations.

The device, Amazon’s latest ambitious foray into the world of electronics, launched during the summer to middling reviews. Critics praised its high-quality camera and 3D screen but were turned off by the limited app store offerings and over-emphasis on selling the user Amazon products.

Amazon’s price-drop comes one day before Apple is expected to launch two new, larger iPhones and a smartwatch.

TIME Companies

Facebook Now Has 100 Million Users in Africa

10% of all Africans now use the social network on a regular basis

While Facebook’s growth tapers off in the U.S., the social network is continuing to rack up new users abroad. The social network announced Monday that it now has more than 100 million monthly active users in Africa.

The figure means that nearly 10% of all Africans use Facebook on a regular basis. That’s also half of the 200 million Africans that are connected to the Internet, according to Facebook. More than 80% of Facebook’s users in Africa are visiting the site via mobile devices.

Facebook does not regularly break out userbase figures for specific countries, so there are no specific earlier numbers from Africa to compare it to, but the company had 411 million monthly active users outside Asia, Europe, the U.S. and Canada as of June, according to its latest quarterly earnings report. The company announced in April that it also had 100 million users in India.

Much of the company’s focus right now is on attracting more users in the developing world. Facebook’s Internet.org initiative recently launched a mobile app that provides free Internet access to wireless subscribers in Zambia. Earlier this year the social network also bought a drone company, which it plans to use to beam Internet access to remote areas.

TIME Retail

Twitter’s Newest Feature: Shopping

A step into e-commerce for social networking giant

Twitter is diving into the world of e-commerce with a new “Buy” button embedded directly into tweets, the company said Monday.

When clicked, the button will prompt users to enter their payment and shipping information to purchase a product. Twitter will then store that information to make future purchases more seamless. The company promised that Twitter-exclusive items would be available to purchase through the tweets.

The feature is currently available for a limited number of U.S. users on Twitter’s iOS and Android apps. Home Depot, Burberry and Pharrell are among the 20-plus brands and artists that will be offering products for sale during the feature’s early rollout.

“This is an early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile devices convenient and easy, hopefully even fun,” Twitter said in a blog post.

Twitter has long been signaling that it has big ambitions in the world of mobile commerce. The company hired the former president of Ticketmaster as its first head of commerce last year and recently introduced a partnership with Amazon to let users place products in their Amazon shopping cart via a Twitter hashtag.

The opportunity is lucrative. Research firm eMarketer projects that mobile commerce revenue will climb above $50 billion in the U.S. in 2014. And Twitter’s not the only social network going for a piece of that pie: Facebook began testing a very similar “Buy” button back in July.

 

 

TIME technology

Twitpic Is Shutting Down, and It’s Blaming Twitter

Twitter Illustrations Ahead of Earnings Figures
The Twitter Inc. application and logo are displayed on a laptop computer and Apple Inc. iPhone 5s in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, April 25, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

“We're sad to see Twitpic is shutting down,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

The photo-sharing website Twitpic is shutting down due to a trademark dispute with Twitter, Twitpic said Thursday. In a blog post, Twitpic founder Noah Everett announced that the company would shutter its operations on September 25.

Everett said that Twitter’s lawyers had contacted Twitpic’s legal team demanding the company abandon its trademark application or risk losing access to Twitter’s API, the code that lets Twitpic users share photos over Twitter. “Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours,” Everett wrote. “Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic.”

Twitpic was a popular service in Twitter’s early days as a means of sharing photos on the social network. As Twitter gained more features, it eventually made embedding photos a part of the main Twitter website and mobile apps, lessening the need for Twitpic. Twitter has also steadily narrowed the number of companies to which it grants full access to its API over the years.

When asked whether the allegations by Twitpic were true, a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the social network has to protect its brand and trademarks. “We’re sad to see Twitpic is shutting down,” the spokesperson said. “We encourage developers to build on top of the Twitter service, as Twitpic has done for years, and we made it clear that they could operate using the Twitpic name. Of course, we also have to protect our brand, and that includes trademarks tied to the brand.”

Twitpic will launch a feature to let users export their photos and videos in the coming days.

 

TIME Regulation

Google Refunding Parents At Least $19 Million for Kids’ Unwanted Purchases

Holiday Shoppers Visit A Google Winter Wonderlab
A shopper plays the Riptide 2 GP video game on a Google Inc. Nexus 7 tablet computer at the Winter Wonderlab inside the Roseville Galleria mall in Roseville, California, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Apple made a similar settlement and Amazon may do so as well

Google is the latest tech company to be dinged by federal regulators for making it too easy for kids to rack up unwanted in-app charges on their parents’ phones. The tech giant has agreed to a settlement of at least $19 million with the Federal Trade Commission to refund parents for their children’s unauthorized charges.

According to the FTC complaint, Google in 2011 did not require any password authorization to confirm in-app charges in its Google Play Store, then called the Android Market. The feature was added later, but inputting a password opened up a 30-minute window in which purchases could be made without a password confirmation. These issues led some parents to complain that their kids managed to rack up hundreds of dollars in charges buying virtual goods in games and other apps, according to the FTC. Seemingly harmless children’s mobile games can sometimes have individual items or features priced at as much as $200.

In addition to the refunds, Google will be required to get express consent from consumers when charging for in-app purchases in the future.

The Google settlement is the latest action in an ongoing campaign by the FTC to force tech companies to make their mobile payment systems more transparent. The Commission reached a $32.5 million settlement with Apple over the same issue in January, and is currently suing Amazon to seek similar refunds for customers whose kids placed unwanted charges.

TIME stocks

Apple Stock Slips Ahead of New iPhone Unveiling

Apple Hosts Its Worldwide Developers Conference
Attendees gather at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

After Samsung rolled out new phones Wednesday

Apple stock dipped more than 4% on Wednesday, just a few days before a Sept. 9 event where the company is widely expected to unveil the iPhone 6. The tech giant’s shares closed at $98.94, finishing the day below $100 for the first time since August 18.

There could be a number of culprits for the Apple slide. The company’s iCloud service is at the center of a widely publicized hacking scandal in which nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities were stolen from Apple accounts and posted on the Internet (Apple says the incident was a “very targeted attack” and its services were not compromised). Samsung also announced its latest set of large-screen smartphones Wednesday, including the newest iteration in the Galaxy Note Line and a new phone with a curved screen. The iPhone 6 is expected to have a much larger screen than older iPhone models as a response to the success of Samsung’s bigger phones.

Apple had been in the midst of a long rally in share price since it beat expectations in its July quarterly earnings report and announced a 7-to-1 stock split. In addition to the virtually assured iPhone 6 unveiling, the company is rumored to be debuting a smartwatch and a mobile payments system next week as well.

TIME Gadgets

Samsung and Oculus Teamed Up to Make This Virtual Reality Headset

Samsung

In another bet on the future of technology

In another bet that wearables are the future of tech, Samsung announced Wednesday a new virtual reality headset called the Samsung Gear VR. The new device will use the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s 5.-7 inch screen as its display, while using technology developed by Oculus VR, a virtual reality company purchased by Facebook for $2 billion earlier this year.

The Samsung Gear VR will come with new virtual reality software developed by Oculus, including a virtual movie theater called Oculus Cinema and programs that let users play back panoramic photos and videos in a virtual reality environment. Oculus has been working on the Samsung project for at least a year, well before the Facebook purchase.

For now the Gear VR is only being released as a beta version, which means it’s aimed at developers and VR enthusiasts and not the general public just yet (just like the Oculus Rift). The headset launches in the fall, but Samsung hasn’t yet disclosed its price.

TIME Companies

Amazon’s CFO Is Stepping Down Next Summer

Customers Collect Online Orders From An Amazon.com Inc. Locker
The Amazon logo sits on an Amazon.com Inc. pickup and collect locker as a customer collects an online purchase at Newbury Park railway station in Newbury Park, U.K., on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

After more than 12 years on the job

Amazon’s chief financial officer is retiring after more than 12 years on the job, the company said Wednesday. Thomas Szkutak, who took over as CFO in October 2002, will retire from the online retailer in June 2015. He will be succeeded by Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s current vice president of finance for the company’s global consumer business. Prior to joining Amazon in 2002, Olsavsky worked as an executive at General Electric.

With Szkutak at the financial helm, Amazon has vastly increased its revenues as it has offered more products for sale and expanded the appeal of its Prime membership with perks like streaming movies and music. But the company has also been racking up losses in recent quarters as its ambitions have outstripped its sales. The company posted a net loss of $126 million in the most recent quarter, up from a $7 million loss a year prior. Amazon’s stock has sagged this year as investors search for proof that CEO Jeff Bezos can one day turn his vast business into a profitable one.

TIME Economy

Happy Birthday, U.S. Treasury

Exterior of the US Treasury building.  (
The U.S. Treasury building in 1937 Carl Mydans — The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

You still look like a million bucks

It was 225 years ago today that the still-nascent United States finally decided to get its financial house in order. The Department of the Treasury was established on Sept. 2, 1789, during an early session of the 1st United States Congress. The Department’s duties, according to the founding law, are:

“…to digest and prepare plans for the improvement and management of the revenue…to prepare and report estimates of the public revenue, and the public expenditures; to superintend the collection of revenue; to decide on the forms of keeping and stating accounts and making returns, and to grant under the limitations herein established, or to be hereafter provided, all warrants for monies to be issued from the Treasury, in pursuance of appropriations by law.”

Or, in layman’s terms, the Treasury Department issues savings bonds, prints cash, mints coins, collects taxes through the IRS and enforces laws related to alcohol and tobacco. People often conflate the duties of the Treasury with those of the Federal Reserve, but the two are actually separate organizations. The Treasury is a department of the executive branch and is generally concerned with properly maintaining the day-to-day activities of the government. The Federal Reserve is an independent body that sets long-term fiscal policy in an effort to control borrowing and inflation rates.

Our first Secretary of the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton, a key figure in the development of early American fiscal policy who advocated heavily for a central banking system and the federal assumption of state debts following the Revolutionary War (and no, he didn’t put himself on the $10 bill — he wasn’t added to the currency until the 1920s). The current secretary is Jack Lew, appointed by President Obama in 2013.

In addition to the Treasury’s birthday, we also just passed another significant fiscal anniversary. In August 1971, the U.S. stopped converting dollars held by foreign governments to gold at a value of $35 per ounce. The policy, called the Bretton Woods system, had been put in place following World War II to convince rebuilding countries like Germany and Japan to invest in American dollars. But by the 1960s, the system was placing strain on the U.S. economy as the number of dollars held by foreign countries outpaced the amount of gold the U.S. had on hand. Following a secret meeting at Camp David with this top advisers, President Richard Nixon announced on August 15 a suspension of the policy, transforming the dollar into a floating currency not pegged to any particular exchange rate. Nixon also announced a 90-day freeze on prices and wages in the U.S. and an additional 10% tariff on imports.

Nixon's Economic Gamble
The Aug. 30, 1971, cover of TIME

Collectively known as the “Nixon Shock,” the measures surprised people both at home and abroad. Reporting in the days following the announcement, TIME wrote of foreign leaders abandoning their summer vacations to react to the announcement amid worries that the dollar, no longer tied to a fixed rate, would plummet in value. In the years that followed, countries in Europe and Asia also allowed their currencies to float, making exchange rates more volatile than they had been in the past.

Read TIME’s original 1971 report on Nixon’s controversial decision to abandon gold: The Dollar: A Power Play Unfolds

TIME Fast Food

Fast Food Workers Plan Another Strike in 150 Cities

Workers are planning another set of one-day walkouts on Thursday

Fast food workers around the country are planning another set of one-day walkouts this Thursday, according to Fast Food Forward, an organizing group for the protests. The strikes will take place in 150 cities at restaurants such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and KFC. Fast-food workers have spent almost two years using such walkouts as part of an ongoing campaign to demand pay of $15 an hour—what they call a living wage—and the right to unionize. The average hourly wage for restaurant workers was $8.74 as of May 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The efforts began with 200 fast-food workers in New York City in November 2012 and have since become a regular occurrence across the country every three or four months. In their attempts to reach their stated goals, the workers’ efforts have so far yielded modest results. In May Daisha Mims, a McDonadl’s employee who has participated in walkouts, told TIME she’d received 35 cents in raises since the strikes began. “I still feel as though I need a second job,” she said at the time. Organizers pointed to similarly sized gains for a small number of individuals across the country.

But there have been larger shifts in the labor landscape that seem clearly influenced by the fast food workers’ actions. Thirteen states increased their minimum wages at the start of the year by an average of 28¢, according to the National Employment Law Project, and the city of Seattle has approved a $15 minimum wage. More recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in July that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for wage and labor violations that are enacted by its franchise owners. Previously, McDonald’s and other fast food corporations have argued that franchisees are solely responsible for determining the wages and working conditions for their restaurants. McDonald’s has said it will appeal the decision.

The strikes are largely being funded by the Service Employees International Union with a media strategy devised by the PR firm Berlin Rosen.

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