TIME Companies

Amazon to Buy Video Game Live-Streaming Site Twitch for $970 Million

Google had been widely expected to acquire Twitch before today's announcement

Amazon has agreed to buy video game live-streaming website Twitch for $970 million, the companies announced Monday.

Twitch has become a popular online destination for video game players, who use the website to stream live gameplay of titles across a variety of consoles and formats. More than 55 million unique visitors viewed content generated by more than 1 million broadcasters on the site in July 2014.

It had been widely reported that Google was in talks to buy Twitch for about $1 billion, until Amazon’s surprise announcement. “We chose Amazon because they believe in our community, they share our values and long-term vision, and they want to help us get there faster,” said Twitch CEO Emmett Shear in a statement. Twitch will continue to operate as an independent brand from Amazon, he said.

The acquisition is the latest sign that Amazon is serious about becoming a big player in the worlds of both gaming and online video. The retail giant snapped up the video game developer Double Helix Games earlier this year, and the company’s new set-top box, the Amazon Fire TV, boasts a bevy of Android-based games and a traditional video game controller as a main selling point.

“Like Twitch, we obsess over customers and like to think differently, and we look forward to learning from them and helping them move even faster to build new services for the gaming community,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

More important than gaming though will be the foothold Twitch grants Amazon in the world of online video. As a rapidly growing video site that has generated more web traffic than Facebook and Hulu in past months, Twitch will give Amazon greater scale to compete for ad dollars with the Google-owned YouTube, the world’s biggest online video destination by far. Amazon has already been experimenting with pre-roll ads for episodes of some of its original shows. Now the company will have access to millions of additional video watchers between the ages of 18 to 34, a highly coveted demographic on Madison Avenue. “This is really interesting addition and a way to bring Amazon’s brand to that community in a way that they really haven’t been able to before,” says Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.

For Twitch, the purchase is proof that courting a niche demographic can pay off. Twitch began in 2011 as an offshoot of Justin.tv, a more broadly focused live-streaming platform. Shear and his colleagues realized that people were using Justin.tv to livestream gameplay of hits like StarCraft 2. “Watching and sharing in that experience is as much a part of video games as playing is,” Shear told TIME earlier this year. He was proven right—Twitch is now one of the biggest sites on the Web and Justin.tv shut down earlier this month.

But Twitch’s ambitions likely extend beyond gaming. This summer the company began experimenting with live streams of music concerts. Amazon’s long-term aim, Blau says, could be to develop Twitch into a “live version of YouTube.” Such an evolution, though, would require buy-in from Twitch’s fickle user base of passionate gamers.

TIME technology

WhatsApp Now Has 600 Million Monthly Users

Fackbook Acquires WhatsApp For $16 Billion
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

That's 100 million more than in April

Popular messaging service WhatsApp has reached 600 million monthly active users, according to the company’s CEO, Jan Koum.

WhatsApp was approaching the half-billion user mark when Facebook agreed to buy the company for $19 billion in February, and passed that figure in April.

WhatsApp is one of a variety of SMS alternatives that allow users to send mobile photos and messages to each other via the Internet. Line, a app popular in Asia, has 400 million users and Facebook’s own Messenger service has 200 million.

Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

TIME technology

4 Ways Tim Cook Has Changed Apple as CEO

Apple Hosts Its Worldwide Developers Conference
Apple CEO Tim Cook walks off stage after speaking during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

When Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO on August 24, 2011, the company’s future was anything but certain. The tech giant had become the most valuable company in the world just weeks before, thanks to a decade’s worth of wildly successful new products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad. The disruptive devices were credited almost exclusively to Jobs’ genius, and consumers as well as Wall Street analysts wondered whether Tim Cook, his soft-spoken successor, could guide Apple even higher.

Fast forward three years and Cook has proved his doubters wrong. This week, he got quite the anniversary gift when Apple’s stock reached an all-time high, largely because of strong recent earnings reports and anticipation of the iPhone 6, rumored to be announced this fall. Apple’s new share price high is a sign investors are buying into Cook’s vision for the companys’ future, which looks different from Jobs’s.

Here’s a look at four ways Apple has changed during the Era of Cook.

Only Cook Could Go to China

Jobs famously never visited China during his tenure as Apple CEO—that was Cook’s job, who served as the company’s chief operating officer before Jobs stepped down. As CEO, Cook has taken a more hands-on approach in the world’s most populous country, visiting China multiple times to meet with government officials and survey Apple’s factories there. Even more important than the trips is the deal Cook inked last year with China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless carrier, to carry the iPhone. His focus on the country has paid off handsomely. China is now Apple’s fastest-growing sales market by far, generating $5.9 billion in revenue in the most recent quarter.

“There is no doubt [Cook] recognizes the fact that China will become Apple’s number one market,” Thomas Husson, an analyst at Forrester, said in an email to TIME.

Goosing Apple’s Stock Through Share Buybacks

Investors have long clamored for Apple to make better use of its massive $160 billion cash hoard. Jobs ignored a suggestion by Warren Buffet to launch a share buyback program, but Cook has launched a massive share repurchase plan to reclaim $90 billion in company stock. Such programs make investors happy by putting cash in their pockets, while also improving a company’s financial optics by boosting its earnings per share. The share repurchase plan, which was expanded earlier this year, has helped Apple stock rally in recent months after tumbling from an all-time high in September 2012. In fact, the company’s 25% gain in stock price since purchasing $18 billion of its shares in the first quarter of the year was the best return ever following a share buyback, according to Bloomberg.

Diversifying Apple’s Core Products

Part of Apple’s financial success stems from the fact that it manufactures a relatively small slate of products that sell on a massive scale. Cook has deviated somewhat from this strategy by introducing variants on the iPad (the iPad Mini) and the iPhone (the iPhone 5c) that serve as smaller cheaper alternatives to Apple’s flagship devices. Apple doesn’t break out the sales of individual products within the iPad and iPhone lines, but according to mobile marketing firm Fiksu, the iPad Mini was the second most-used iPad as of April. More impressive than the sales is the fact that Cook has been able to keep Apple’s margins impressively high while adding new production costs.

“Jobs did a lot of the heavy lifting developing home run products such as the iPad and iPhone,” says Bill Kreher, an equity analyst at Edward Jones. “Cook has been able to extend the reach of those products, improving profitability.”

Increasing Apple’s Acquisitions and Partnerships

Apple made few acquisitions in the Jobs era, and they were generally small. Cook, on the other hand, has bought up 23 companies since taking the reins, according to Crunchbase. No buyout caused more waves than Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronics, which was either a smart acqui-hire of Beats’ music and marketing maestros or proof that Apple has lost its creative spark, depending on your perspective. The purchase mainly showed that Cook isn’t afraid to seek help from outside his Cupertino headquarters. For more evidence, consider Apple’s recently announced partnership with former nemesis IBM to bring a suite of enterprise apps to iOS.

Make no mistake—investors are still clamoring for Cook to release a new product disruptive as the iPhone or the iPad. Rumors persist that Apple will eventually launch an iWatch, or perhaps a pay-TV service to compete with cable. For now, though, with iPhone sales climbing ever higher and investors’ pockets being lined through a share buyback, Wall Street seems content with Apple’s trajectory.

“You have Steve Jobs, who was the innovator, the visionary,” says Kreher, “and you have Tim Cook, who is a good steward of the business and is an excellent executor.”

TIME

This Startup Thinks Pictures of Onions Can Reveal Changes in the Economy

Fruit and vegetables are common items photographed with the Premise app to help measure inflation

Correction appended, August 25

It’s probably every teenager’s dream to get paid for snapping iPhone pictures. Instead of selfies, though, David Soloff is seeking pictures of fruit carts, health clinics and remotely located schools. His startup is hoping to leverage the vast proliferation of smartphones—and our insatiable desire to take photos with them—in order to bring real-time economic data to the masses.

The new company, called Premise, tracks economic indicators by enlisting armies of local residents to record data about their communities, like the price of oranges at a local market or the physical condition of a local health clinic, via an Android app. Premise pays the photo-takers up to 15 cents for each “observation,” which can be a picture or other data point. The company aggregates all the individual observations to derive broader insights about inflation and consumption shifts in different countries, then sells the data to financial institutions.

Premise’s aim is to provide important economic metrics faster than government agencies, which often only release data in weekly or monthly intervals. The company is currently gathering data in 50 cities across four continents, including locations in Argentina, China and the United States.

“What people experience in their day-to-day lives is frequently really, really different from what the official government or news bureau or stats-gathering agencies tell them about their lives,” says Soloff, Premise’s CEO. “By the time those official numbers come out, the world’s probably changed a lot.”

Soloff points to countries like Argentina — where Premise and a variety of economists have projected inflation to be increasing much faster than the government says it is — as an example of a place where private data sources can be more reliable than official figures. In other countries, such as India, where onion prices leapt 190% in 2013, food prices are incredibly volatile and government-released figures can’t keep up with the rapid changes.

“Almost certainly, in a lot of countries, the government is lying about price changes,” says Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “It would be useful to know, to ordinary people and to businesses, what the real inflation is.”

How does Premise ensure that its figures are accurate? To devise its economic models, the company has brought on advisors whom Soloff calls the “adult supervision.” Among them are Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist and Alan Krueger, the former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. To guarantee that data are collected accurately on the ground, Premise vets local residents by giving them test assignments, then evaluating their performance before committing their observations to the official dataset. The company recruits new workers via social media, online job boards and college campuses.

“It’s not an open cast call,” Soloff says. “These are students or people on the way to jobs or people who are doing the weekly shopping for their families at the market.”

0_Task lists
The Premise app assigns users tasks to complete in order to feed the company’s massive data set.

So far, Bloomberg and Standard Charter Bank have signed on to receive Premise’s data, in addition to other financial institutions that Soloff declined to disclose. The company is currently unprofitable, but it has raised $16.5 million in venture funding from bigtime backers like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

Soloff isn’t the most likely man to head a high-tech San Francisco data firm. He studied Near Eastern linguistics as an undergrad at Columbia University and has a master’s in history from the University of California, Berkeley. But Soloff believes his humanities background gives him an edge in Silicon Valley.

“I’ve always been interested in systems, how things work,” he says. “Language systems, social systems, financial markets have always fascinated me.”

It also helps that Soloff had a two-year stint as a quantitative analyst at a Wall Street investment bank and co-founded Metamarkets, an analytics tool used for programmatic online advertising.

Soloff’s long-term goal is to expand the scope of Premise into a real-time financial pulse that can provide immediate economic data to not only wealthy investment institutions but also regular citizens. Other platforms have similar aims — the Billion Prices Project, started by a pair of MIT professors, gathers online price listings from more than 70 countries to predict inflation trends from around the world. Such initiatives “have a real value to consumers and businesses,” the Brookings Institution’s Burtless says.

But the devil is in the data, of course. Some economists question whether locally recruited residents can reliably document data for an entire community or country.

“Surveys are of no value unless we can be assured by some means that they are representative of the underlying population,” Barry Bosworth, another economist at the Brookings Institution, said in an email. “The survey will reflect all the biases of the reporter who decides what prices to report. We may use the Internet more in the future to collect data but it will have to be used with some structure to assure that the individual quotes are representative of an even larger underlying population.”

Premise spokesperson Sara Blask said in an email that the company’s contributors capture observations at predetermined locations and intervals to assure that the sample is indeed accurate. “In this sense we are the opposite of crowdsourcing,” she said.

Premise’s dataset should grow more robust and useful as it racks up more observations.

In five years’ time, Soloff envisions millions of people around the world submitting photos and other information to Premise. He believes such a cascade of data could help keep governments more honest in the future. “Rather than relying on the official story, so to speak, [people] have an alternative read that’s generated by the citizens just like them,” he says. “We don’t need to tell them what’s happening—it’s the opposite.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of locations where Premise has launched. The company is collecting data in 50 cities.

TIME Television

Quiz: How Well Do You Know The Simpsons?

THE SIMPSONS: The Simpson Family. THE SIMPSONS ª and ©Ê2013 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Fox

Test your knowledge of Springfield to find out whether your Simpsons IQ is closer to Lisa's or Homer's

TIME Tablets

This Enormous Tablet Could Replace Your Kid’s TV

Fuhu's Big Tab tablet boasts a screen as large as 24 inches. Fuhu

The Big Tab is aiming to replace video game consoles and TVs for kids' entertainment

Family game night is going digital — a new super-sized tablet for kids is aiming to replace the classic board game, the Xbox and maybe even the television.

The Big Tab, developed by fast-growing startup Fuhu, boasts a massive screen of either 20 or 24 inches, depending on the model. That’s a big jump from the company’s popular Nabi 2 tablet, which has a seven-inch screen. But Fuhu founder Robb Fujioka says the big screen size will encourage children to collaborate and socialize when they use their device, rather than tuning out the rest of the world.

To make the tablet into a social hub, Fuhu has developed a large suite of multiplayer games, from classics like checkers and Candyland to internally developed titles. A feature called “Story Time” offers 35 interactive e-books that utilize animated illustrations. Kids can also utilize video editing software, a Pandora-like radio service and educational software.

There are also tools for adults on the Android-powered device. A separate Parent Mode allows adults to download apps from the Google Play or Amazon stores. Parents can also set limits on which apps their children can access and for how long they can use them. Like Fuhu’s other devices, the Big Tab also boasts a virtual currency system that lets parents pay their kids when they complete chores or use educational apps for a certain amount of time.

The device, which also lets parents track their kids’ usage patterns, could appeal to adults looking to guide their children toward more productive forms of entertainment. Fujioka says he replaced the television in one of his children’s rooms with the Big Tab and uses it to keep track of whether his kid is playing educational games or watching Netflix. “It’s not just a boob tube,” he says. “It’s an interactive device.”

Though the tablet market is only a few years old, the devices have been embraced by parents in a big way. Tablet usage among children between ages two and 12 increased from 38% to 48% over the last year, according to research firm NPD. Juli Lennett, head of the toys division at NPD, said it’s a combination of safety, durability and kid appeal that has led to the quick popularity of children’s tablets. “When the price point is $99, on top of being a real functional tablet, these additional features are tough to beat,” Lennett told TIME via email.

The challenge for Fujioka and Fuhu will be convincing parents to pony up for a high-end tablet. The Big Tab will cost $449 for the 20-inch model and $549 for the 24-inch when it launches this fall, far more than the $180 the Nabi 2 goes for. And while the larger size means the Big Tab can be used by multiple people at once, it also makes the device less portable than its smaller cousins, eliminating one of the original selling points of the tablet form factor. “The beauty of these tablets is you throw them in your bag and you go,” says Gerrick Johnson, an equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets who follows the toy industry. “A [24-inch] tablet becomes a little more difficult.”

Still, Fuhu is well positioned to prove skeptics wrong. The company sold 1.5 million of its normal-sized kids’ tablets in 2013, says Fujioka. This year, Fuhu is leading the children’s tablet market in the U.S., according to NPD, beating out competitors like Samsung and KD interactive. The question now is whether others will follow their lead in developing kids’ devices that cost as much as an iPad or a video game console.

“We think there’s a big market out there,” Fujioka says. “We believe we’re defining a new category of tablet products for the family.”

TIME Companies

Uber Wants To Bring You Your Diapers and Shampoo

The Hamptons Lure Uber Top Drivers Amid NYC Slow Summer Weekends
The Uber app Bloomberg/Getty Images

Uber, but for deliveries

Uber wants to be your delivery boy now, too. The car-hailing service is testing a new delivery feature called Uber Corner Store that will allow customers to get more than 100 items sent right to their doorstep in a matter of minutes.

Via the Uber app, users can select the “Corner Store” option, and will then receive a text from the company with a list of items available in their area. Next, an Uber driver calls the customer and takes his or her order. Then the goods get delivered to the customer’s home. There’s no additional delivery fee and customers are not expected to tip their driver, according to an Uber blog post.

For now the service is only available as a test trial to a limited number of users in the Washington, D.C. area. The item list is mostly limited to pricey name brand products—you’ll be buying Pampers or Huggies, for instance, not store-brand diapers. But Uber says it plans to expand the number of products offered and extend the service, currently only available on weekdays, to weekends and late nights.

Uber Corner Store will compete directly with Google Shopping Express, which lets users receive buy products and receive deliveries from local stores, and Amazon’s same-day delivery service. The new service illustrates Uber’s ambition to extend far beyond being simply a taxi app. The company is also experimenting with a courier service in New York and a moving service called UberMovers in Atlanta and Nashville.

TIME apps

Apple’s iPhone Is at the Center of Another Major Revolution

First Person In The UK To Be Fitted With The I-limb Ultra Revolution Bionic Hand.
Patrick Kane is fitted with a Touch Bionics prosthetic hand on April 23, 2013 in Livingston, Scotland. Jeff J Mitchell—Getty Images

Improving lives in unexpected ways

The most essential app Aimee Copeland has downloaded for her iPhone isn’t Facebook, Candy Crush Saga or Evernote. It’s “my i-limb,” an app that allows her to easily change the gestures her two prosthetic hands can make while on the go. Copeland, who lost her hands after a zipline accident in 2012, used to have to visit a registered prosthetist who had access to special software in order to adjust the grips on her hands for different physical activities. Now, with the i-limb bionic hand and its accompanying mobile app, such changes are as simple as booting up her phone or tablet.

“The two things go together,” she says of the hands and the app. “It really allows me to have a greater control over the i-limb instead of having to go the prosthetist to have any tiny thing adjusted.”

Copeland is just one of the many people with disabilities who now use a smartphone as a tool to help navigate the physical world. A bevy of apps and services are helping not only those with prosthetic limbs but also those with poor hearing, troubled vision and impaired motor skills.

Copeland’s hands are developed by Touch Bionics, a Scottish company that specializes in prosthetic limbs. The company launched its app for Apple’s iOS devices in 2013 in order to provide users more mobility. Previously, changing grip settings would have required downloading software to a PC or visiting a prosthetist. Now the company’s app and the hand can communicate wirelessly and quickly via Bluetooth. “We wanted to move it to a more mobile platform,” says Touch Bionics CEO Ian Stevens. “You’re not going to take a PC to a restaurant with you if you want to reprogram the hand.”

Beyond programming the hand itself, users can also place special bluetooth sensors called grip chips around their home or office to shift their hand to different positions when it enters the chip’s proximity—a chip near a sink, for instance, might automatically shift the hand’s grip to effectively grasp a water faucet. The chips can also be programmed by the i-limb mobile app.

Apple’s ubiquitous iPhone is increasingly becoming a centerpiece of this new ecosystem. The California company has sold more than half a billion iPhones since the device launched seven years ago. Hearing aid manufacturer Starkey Hearing Technologies, for example, offers an iPhone app that allows users to fine-tune audio settings—such as volume, bass and treble—of its hearing aids. Using the iPhone’s so-called geo-fencing technology, users can program their hearing aids to automatically adjust to specific areas, a noisy restaurant for instance or home. Users can also pipe music and phone calls directly into the hearing aids, and even use an iPhone’s microphone to speak into the wearer’s ear from a distance.

Beyond the high-tech features, the ability to adjust the hearing aid’s basic settings has big appeal to users, says Dave Fabry, Starkey’s vice president for audiology. “You don’t have to fiddle around up in your ears or use an additional piece of hardware,” he says. “They just look like they’re doing what the rest of the world is doing, fiddling around with email or text. It reduces that stigma that they’re doing something different with that special device.”

Both Starkey and Touch Bionics say their phone-enhanced products have seen strong sales. Stevens said his company’s mobile app was “definitely a contributing factor” to the firm reaching $20 million in sales last year, while Fabry says Starkey’s app has opened up hearing aids to a new demographic. “We’re seeing young people being more attracted to this,” he says, noting that the average hearing aid user is 69. “It’s been selling like crazy.” Both companies apps are exclusive to Apple’s iOS for now, but they say they have versions for Google’s Android operating system in the works.

These small companies are able to offer innovative apps thanks to the groundwork laid by the tech giants in developing platforms that can cater to the disabled. Apple’s iOS 7 comes pre-installed with a wide variety of accessibility features. A program called VoiceOver helps the visually impaired by reading aloud whatever item a user touches on his iPhone screen, while AssistiveTouch lets people with motor challenges create alternate gestures to interact with their phone. Google’s Android also boasts accessibility features, and the company’s newest gadget, Google Glass, is already attempting to improve the lives of users with disabilities.

Advocates for the disabled still want software makers to do more. While praising Apple as the firm that “has done more for accessibility than any other company to date” earlier this year, Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said his group is still trying to ensure that all developers make their apps as accessible as possible.

Though accessibility in technology is hardly standard, experts say significant progress has been made. “In the past, people with disabilities have often been the afterthought,” says Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People With Disabilities, which works with tech companies to implement new technologies for the disabled. “Now people with disabilities are at the forefront of these technological innovations.”

TIME Companies

Uber Says a ‘Number’ of Lyft’s Investors Want Uber to Buy Lyft

The Hamptons Lure Uber Top Drivers Amid NYC Slow Summer Weekends
Th Uber Technologies Inc. car service application (app) is demonstrated for a photograph on an Apple Inc. iPhone in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Uber's statement came in reaction to Lyft's claims that Uber staffers were scheduling and then canceling Lyft rides.

Ride-hailing service Uber has shot back at bitter competitor Lyft over accusations that Uber employees intentionally called in and then cancelled Lyft rides in order to slow down the service’s drivers. Lyft claims Uber engaged in this practice at least 5,000 times since October, according to Bloomberg.

In a statement Tuesday, Uber denied Lyft’s claim and asserted Lyft was actually the one engaging in the shady practice. “Lyft’s own drivers and employees, including one of Lyft’s founders, have canceled 12,900 trips on Uber,” Uber said. “But instead of providing the long list of questionable tactics that Lyft has used over the years, we are focusing on building and maintaining the best platform for both consumers and drivers.”

Uber went so far as to say Lyft’s tactics are part of a strategy to provoke a buyout from Uber, which is now valued at $17 billion. “A number of Lyft investors have recently been pushing Uber to acquire Lyft,” Uber’s statement reads. “One of their largest shareholders recently warned that Lyft would ‘go nuclear’ if we do not acquire them. We can only assume that the recent Lyft attacks are part of that strategy.”

Lyft and Uber offer similar services and have gotten into the habit of copying each other’s featuresets. Last week, for instance, both companies announced a new carpooling option within mere hours of each other. And they’re increasingly battling for the exact same customers—Lyft just launched in New York, where Uber already operates. Whereas Lyft is most well-known for being a rideshare app and Uber a taxi-hailing app, Lyft has essentially adopted the taxi-hailing model in New York under regulatory pressure to do so.

A Lyft spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

 

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