MONEY Tech

How to Flip Your ‘Kill Switch’ and Protect Your Smartphone from Thieves

140826_EM_KillSwitch
Nathan Alliard—Getty Images

Starting next summer, every smartphone sold in California must have an anti-theft device. Here's what you can do to safeguard yours right now.

Smartphone theft just got a whole lot less lucrative. Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring that all smartphones sold in the state include a “kill switch,” software that makes it impossible for thieves to use stolen phones.

Here’s something you may not know: Your phone could already have such a switch. Both iPhones and Samsung phones have new software that “locks” the device so that unauthorized users are unable to activate it. According to the San Francisco Police Department, the city saw a 38% drop in iPhone thefts in the six months after Apple released its kill switch. In June, Google and Microsoft promised to offer kill switch technology in their next operating systems, and for now, both offer other apps to help you protect a lost phone.

The California bill requires that tech companies make the kill switch feature standard on all phones starting July 1, 2015. In the meantime, you can enable your phone’s available security features by turning on the right settings. Here’s how.

iPhones

Do this right now: Make sure you have iOS7 software (if you haven’t already, you can download the upgrade on iTunes). Go to Settings, then iCloud, and then flip on “Find My iPhone.” If your phone gets lost, you’ll be able to track it on icloud.com.

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to icloud.com/find and sign in using your Apple ID and password. There, a button lets you play a sound on your iPhone to help you locate the device. You can also put the phone in “lost mode,” which gives you the option to display an alternate phone number and a message explaining that the phone has been lost, so Good Samaritans will be able to find you.

If you’re sure your phone has been stolen, erase the data. Remember that this is a last resort: Once you’ve erased your phone, you won’t be able to track it. But that way, the only way someone will be able to activate it is by entering your Apple ID and password. (And in the event that you find your phone again, you can restore the data using iCloud backup.)

Android

Do this right now: Android doesn’t have a kill switch yet, but it has still some helpful anti-theft features. Start by downloading the free “Android Device Manager.”

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Sign in to the Android Device Manager using your Google account and password. Again, you’ll be able to play a sound, track your phone, reset the screen lock PIN, and erase the data. (Remember, once you erase the data, you won’t be able to track the phone anymore.)

However, hackers may still be able to reset and reactivate the device. Expect a tougher kill switch feature in Google’s next software upgrade.

Samsung

Do this right now: If you’ve got a Samsung Android phone, you’re in luck. Go to Apps, then Settings, and then Security. Check the box next to “reactivation lock.” You’ll be prompted to either sign in to your Samsung account or create one.

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to findmymobile.samsung.com and log in with your Samsung account. Like “Find My iPhone,” Samsung lets you track your phone, play a sound to help you find it, and lock your device remotely.

If your phone has been jacked, the reactivation lock renders it useless. Once you’ve turned the feature on, no one can reset the device without your Samsung account and password.

Windows Phone

Do this right now: Windows phones don’t have kill switches yet either, but they do have a device tracking feature. Go to Start, then App, then Settings, and then “Find My Phone.” You can opt to save your phone’s location every few hours, which could give you a more accurate reading of its last known location if the battery dies.

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to windowsphone.com and sign in with your Windows Live ID. You’ll be able to track your phone, play a sound, lock your phone with a message, and erase your data.

Windows also plans to add a kill switch in the future.

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 apps

Most of Us Don’t Download Any Smartphone Apps at All

Using a smartphone with Spotify app
Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images

And most people spend a huge chunk of time on just one app

More and more of us might be using smartphones to meet our digital needs but, according to the latest data from analytics firm Comscore, we aren’t downloading more apps on top of what comes with our phones.

Only about 35% of smartphone users download any apps at all in an average month, says Comscore’s Mobile App Report—put another way, 65% of smartphone users don’t download a single app in any given month.

That’s not to say that people aren’t using apps, or even that app downloads are down overall. Smartphone sales have been soaring worldwide, broadening the pool of potential app downloaders even as people individually tend not to be downloading very many apps. Indeed, July was Apple’s best month ever for app store revenue.

It seems to be that people just don’t need that many apps. According to Comscore, “a staggering 42% of all app time spent on smartphones occurs on the individual’s single most used app.” It may also be the case, as Quartz notes, that Apple’s app store—the elephant in the app retail room—relies too heavily on Top 25 lists and makes it difficult for users to find new apps they might want.

MONEY Google

4 Crazy Google Ambitions

Vehicle prototype photo of Google's self-driving car.
Prototype of Google's self-driving car. Google

Google has already changed the world by altering the way we interact with technology. As it enters its second decade as a public company, Google wants to repeat the trick.

Google’s thriving search business and Android mobile operating system are throwing off tons of cash. And with $60 billion to play with, the company is looking for the next new technologies to champion.

And it’s thinking big.

Co-founder Larry Page has frequently talked about putting new technologies to the “toothbrush test.” In other words, will we use it once or twice a day like our toothbrush…or for that matter, like Google?

He makes it sounds so easy. Perhaps too easy. Maybe it’s the inevitable overconfidence of someone whose youthful work turned out so spectacularly successful. (It doesn’t help to see this picture of him with a goofy oversized toothbrush.)

Can Google really create a third (or fourth) product that becomes so deeply enmeshed in our lives that it literally changes the way we live? If it fails, it won’t be for lack of ambition.

Here are four of the company’s biggest dreams.

1) Fuse man and machine.

You probably already carry a smartphone (maybe even one that runs on Google’s Android operating system.) Google wants to bring that convenience even closer to you, with projects like Google Glass, its new eyewear; Android Wear, a version of its mobile operating system that pairs with a watch; and a contact lens designed to help diabetics measure their blood sugar.

“Someday we’ll all be amazed that computing involved fishing around in pockets and purses,” Page said, discussing Google Glass on a recent conference call.

Unlike some of Google’s most outlandish schemes, “smart” eyewear and watches are already here, at least for the early adopters. The glasses are for sale for $1,500. At least two companies, Samsung and LG, make watches to pair with Android Wear, although reviewers have warned most consumers may want to wait for the technology to improve.

Of course, not everyone is excited about these new products. In July, the New York Post reported on what it called “The revolt against Glassholes.

“I don’t see why anyone feels the need to wear them,” the Post quoted one 30-year-old, who found it disconcerting to encounter a subway rider sporting a pair. “Was he reading his emails, watching an old episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ or recording everyone?” the man asked. “Just reach into your pocket and get your phone!”

2) Drive Your Cars.

Driverless cars have been a dream of techies for a long time. In fact, at the 1939 World’s fair, the famous “Futurama” exhibit predicted their arrival by 1960.

Things haven’t evolved quite so quickly. But Google’s efforts seem to be on the cusp. Modified Toyotas and Lexuses have already logged hundreds of thousands of miles, including on public highways. The company has said it plans to build a prototype that will operate without steering wheel or brakes next year.

It’s not just a matter of convenience. While most of us will certainly be nervous when we take our first ride, the cars could actually make roads safer by eliminating the all-too-human habits – from texting to falling asleep at the wheel – of today’s drivers.

Then again, solving old problems could create some new ones too…like the driverless car chase.

3) Bring the Internet to everyone, everywhere.

Google puts information at your fingertips. But that’s only if you have access to the Internet in the first place. That’s not something everyone can take for granted.

“Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access,” says the Web site of Project Loon, “a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”

Come again? While most of us hook into the Web through our cable or phone lines, there are many people and places those still don’t reach. The idea, as described by Wired, is for a network of high-altitude balloons, each able to beam high-speed Internet to one another, as well as a serve as a hub for access for an area of about 25 miles below.

Last year, Google floated 30 test balloons over New Zealand, allowing “a small group of pilot testers” to connect online. The company hopes to expand the pilot program, soon circling the Earth along the 40th Southern Parallel, which rings Australia and parts of South America.

Apart from technical and political hurdles, some have questioned whether connecting the world to the Internet is really a top priority.

Said Microsoft founder Bill Gates in a recent BusinessWeek interview:

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”

4) “Solve Death.”

“Can Google Solve Death?” asked TIME last year. The occasion was an interview with Page about a new Google-founded company, Calico LLC.

Page explained the job of the new venture would be to use data and statistics to look at age-related health problems in new ways because current goals, like trying to cure cancer, weren’t ambitious enough.

“One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy,” he told Time. “We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

How exactly does Google plan to pull this off? Apart from announcing some high profile hires, Google hasn’t shared much about its vision. CNN was reduced to speculating about cryogenics.

Can Google really find the Fountain of Youth? Maybe. But they also may end up looking as if spectacular and unexpected success made them arrogant and gullible, not unlike those Conquistadors we learned about in grammar school.

Related:
10 Ways Google Has Changed the World
The 8 Wrongest Things Ever Said About Google

MONEY Google

10 Ways Google Has Changed the World

Google Earth view
Google

It's been a decade since Google went public. Here are 10 ways the company has transformed the market—and our lives— since.

Back in 2004, investors weren’t entirely sure what to make of Google, and skeptics abounded. Fast-forward to today, when we can look back at how far the company has come, in ways that inspire both awe and concern. Below are 10 examples of its influence.

1. It has changed our language. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, there’s a reason “Bing” never caught on as a verb, let alone as a beleaguered anthropomorphic meme. The phrase “to Google” is so popular that the company is actually worried about losing trademark rights if the term becomes generic, like “escalator” and “zipper,” which were once trademarked.

2. It has changed our brains. Recent research has confirmed suspicions that 24/7 access to (near) limitless information is not only bad for human discourse—it’s also making us worse at remembering things, regardless of whether we try. And even if we aren’t conscious of it, our brains are primed to think about the Internet as soon as we start trying to recall the answer to a tough trivia question. Essentially, Google has become our collective mental crutch.

3. It set the stage for Facebook and Twitter’s sky-high valuations. Yes, lofty valuations based on mere speculation were also common back in the dot-com fervor of the ’90s, says Ed Crotty, chief investment officer for Davidson Investment Advisors. But Google broke new ground by proving that even just the potential for a huge audience could pay off in a big way.

“In the early days, when people were thinking in terms of web portals, the barriers to entry didn’t seem high for search,” Crotty says. That meant Google’s competitive advantage wasn’t clear. But “the tipping point was when Google was able to scale up their audience enough to attract ad agencies, and then further improve their algorithms, since those get better with scale. That’s partly why you see tech companies now willing to forgo profits for a period of time in order to build an audience.” And also why investors are willing to throw money their way.

4. It has taken over our cell phones. Since the first Android phone was sold in 2008, Google’s mobile operating system has bulldozed the competition. Today it claims nearly 85% of market share, nearly doubling its hold over the last three years. Next stop, self-driving cars?

5. It has transformed the way we use e-mail. Gmail was invented a decade ago, before bottomless inboxes were a sine qua non. It’s hard even to remember those dark ages when storage space was sacred—and deleting emails was as tedious-but-necessary as flossing. Today our accounts serve as mausoleums, housing long-forgotten files, links, and even whole relationships. Google itself has touted alternative uses for Gmail, such as setting up a virtual time capsule for your newborn—though in practice accounts can’t be owned by anyone under 13. But even that last point is about to change.

6. It’s changed how we collaborate. Back in 2006, Google acquired the company behind an online word processor named Writely. With that bet, Google created a world where it’s taken for granted that people can collaborate on virtually any type of document, whether for work, play, or (literally) revolution.

7. It has allowed us to travel the globe from our desks. Yes, MapQuest was popular first. But Google Maps (and Earth) has become much more than a tool for measuring travel routes and times. Since Google Street View came onto the scene in 2007, it’s been possible to “visit” distant destinations, give friends a virtual tour of your hometown, plan ahead of trips, and waste even more time on the Internet. Of course, the more popular a tool, the more useful it is to those who’d like to spy on us.

8. It has influenced the news we read. Ranking high in Google search results is serious business and can have a profound effect on the success of companies, media outlets, and even politicians. When I just Googled “how SEO affects journalism,” this link was at the top of my search results. How is that significant? Well, for one, that story itself has been so successfully search engine optimized that it still tops the list despite being four years old.

But most importantly, many of the concerns raised in the piece have not gone away—such as the pressure to “file some pithy blog post about the hot topic of the moment” at the expense of covering stories that would be prioritized based on traditional measures of newsworthiness. What that means for you, the reader: more headlines like this and this.

9. It has turned users into commodities. We all love free stuff, but it’s easy to forget that services offered by companies like Google and Facebook aren’t truly “free,” as data expert Bruce Schneier has pointed out. Remember that all of your data (across ALL of the services you use, and that includes Calendar, Maps, and so on) is a valuable good that Google is packaging and selling to its real customers—advertisers.

10. It’s changed how everyone else sees YOU. Unlike your Facebook profile, the links that turn up when potential employers (or love interests) Google you can be near-impossible to erase. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google uses the fear of embarrassing search results to encourage people to manage their image through Google+ profiles.

Related:
4 Crazy Google Ambitions
The 8 Worst Predictions About Google

TIME apps

Teenage Kid Ignoring Your Calls? There’s an App for That

iphone teenager
Getty Images

The "Ignore No More" application locks teens Android phones until they call mom or dad back

A New York mom got so sick of her teen kids ignoring her calls she created an app so they couldn’t.

Sharon Standifir, the creator of the “Ignore No More” smartphone application, told CBS New York that after repeatedly having her calls to her teens go unanswered, she researched how to develop an application that would shut their phones down until they called her back.

And so, that’s what she created after working with developers for months. The $1.99 app, which is currently only available for download on Android phones, allows parents lock their kids’ phones from a separate device, forcing them to call a list of select numbers (including 911) in order to gain access to the device.

“No calls to friends, no text, no games, notta’ until they call you back. When they do, you can unlock their phone if you choose to do so,” reads the application’s website. “How’s that for parental control?”

 

MONEY

This Is the Biggest Threat Facing Google Right Now

Xiaomi released its new smartphone product Mi4 on its annual new product release on Tuesday.
Xiaomi, a Chinese phone maker, sells devices running a modified version of Google's Android operating system, but without any Google services. Zhang Jin/Xinhua—Alamy

Google's Android operating system can be used—and changed—by anyone. Now the search giant might be losing control of its creation.

When Amazon’s Kindle Fire phone debuted last month, the engineers at Google’s Mountain View headquarters probably weren’t clamoring to get their hands on one. Exactly zero of the search giant’s mobile apps are available on the Fire. No Gmail, no Maps, no Play store, no Docs. Even the default search engine is set to Microsoft’s Bing. Amazon might be the first company since Microsoft to announce a major phone completely devoid of anything Google.

Which is strange, because without Google’s help, the Fire wouldn’t exist.

That’s because the very guts of the Fire, the open-source Android operating system, is owned by Google. Since 2007, Google has allowed hardware makers to use Android for free in their phones. Google generally benefits from this arrangement because its operating system plays well with — and thus sends a lot of users to — its own (money-making) applications. But by creating the Fire devoid of anything Google, Amazon appears to have short-circuited this strategy.

Unfortunately for Google, Amazon isn’t the only company doing this. A recent study by ABI Research found that some 20% of the smartphones worldwide run a customized version of Android that isn’t required to carry other Google apps. A portion of these smartphones do include some Google software, but many replace Google’s apps with competing services. For example, Xiaomi, China’s leading smartphone maker, replaces Google Play with its own app store.

To put this threat in context, Apple’s iOS operating system has a market share of only 11%. That means Google, not Apple, is Google’s largest competitor. By powering such a large percentage of the competition, the company has become its own worst enemy.

How did this happen? It goes back to the company’s early decision to grow Android as quickly as possible. In 2007, the year the iPhone was released, Google had virtually no mobile footprint and its executives feared that Apple might soon dominate the market and cut Google products out of the equation. To avoid that, Android was released as “open-source” software, meaning it could be freely modified and included on any phone, free of charge.

For a long time, the plan seemed to work. Manufacturers and wireless carriers loved Android’s customizability as well as its low, low cost of zero. The OS rapidly gained market share; according to Strategy Analytics’ most recent estimate, it currently runs on 85% of all smartphones. As Android became more and more essential to phone-vendors’ bottom line, Google used the threat of withholding its crucial suite of services to ensure phone makers gave its own apps preferential treatment. Android seemed to be under control.

But that control has begun to weaken. The first cracks in Google’s strategy appeared in 2011 when Amazon released the Kindle Fire, a tablet (and Fire Phone precursor) that ran a modified version of Android. Users of the product could still access Google services on the web, but everything on the device, from its custom app store to its Microsoft-powered search engine, steered owners in a different direction.

Other companies soon followed Amazon’s lead. Alibaba’s Android-based Aliyun OS—and the precedent it would set—scared Google enough that the company threatened to pull its services from Acer’s phones if the hardware maker didn’t drop the product. Acer complied, but Alibaba has since partnered with five other smartphone makers.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it may be hard to put back in. Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and founder of the website Asymco, thinks Google-less versions of Android will only become more popular. As handset margins continue to fall, phone makers will have more incentive to replace Google’s services with their own — both to pad their bottom lines and to make their own products stand out among legions of other Android phones.

“If you’re a phone vender, you don’t just want to be in the commodity hardware business, you want to move up the value chain,” Dediu says. “This is part of a decades-long quest for vendors to differentiate and not to allow the platform owner to capture all the profits.”

Over time, he adds, more phone makers in emerging markets like Vietnam and Indonesia will replace Google apps with locally tailored versions, something Xiaomi has already done in China. Samsung, the world’s most profitable Android phone maker, has also begun to challenge Google by shipping phones with a Samsung app store and other software that competes with Google’s apps. The company recently tussled with Google over its new “Magazine” user interface, which hid some Google services.

Other experts play down the threat to Google. Benedict Evans, for example, a mobile analyst currently at Andreessen Horowitz, says an aversion to Google apps is largely limited to China, where the government has crippled or censored the search giant’s services. “Google isn’t on mobile in China, but then Google isn’t in China anyway,” he says. Indeed, outside of China, Xiaomi phones ship with a full suite of Google apps.

That Google allows Xiaomi to sell both standard and non-standard Android products may indicate Google recognizes the danger it faces, and is prepared to make concessions to device makers in certain markets to keep its services available. Generally, hardware vendors are forced to choose between shipping Google apps on all of their Android phones, or being denied Google services entirely. Ron Amadeo, a journalist who has previously written on Google’s attempts to control Android, says Xiaomi’s unique arrangement appears to be a special exception.

The fate of Android may come down to whether other deep pocketed companies can offer compelling replacements for Google services. That’s no easy task, but it’s not impossible. China’s mobile market is thriving sans Google; Samsung continues to develop the non-Android Tizen operating system in case relations with Mountain View sour; and Amazon remains committed to building out its Fire platform. “Within five years,” says Dediu, “things can change a lot.”

TIME Video Games

Skylanders Series Finally Heads to Its Logical Home: Tablets

Activision

Activision's toy-game franchise is finally coming to tablets, and not a watered-down spinoff, but the full console experience (and then some).

Toys — speaking as a child informed by the 1980s’ halcyon infusion of Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe and Transformers — are things you want to play with using your hands, not virtual appendages. You want to feel their heft, to pick them up and set them down, to put fingers to their plastic contours and movable joints and smooth or spiny textures before positioning them along imaginary compounds and battlements.

Activision’s Skylanders series celebrates the physicality of toys by folding that experience into a virtual one and back again. But until now, you’ve always had the virtual part of the experience with a television screen, probably up off the floor and away from the toys themselves. The toys were the physical experience you had to carry to the virtual one.

Activision’s finally remedying that by inverting the formula and bringing the virtual experience to the physical one: Skylanders Trap Team, the newest installment in the series that lets players “trap” characters from the game in physical objects, will be the first to support tablets, and it’ll launch simultaneously with the console versions when they ship on October 5.

It’s not a scaled-down version, either, but the full Trap Team experience you’ll have with any of the console versions, soup to nuts. What’s more, and this is where the notion of a table version starts to get interesting, Activision’s engineered its own Bluetooth gamepad. Imagine an Xbox 360 controller with all the trimmings, including dual analog thumbsticks, d-pad, face buttons and triggers, only one that’s slightly smaller (designed for the game’s younger target demographic).

It’s available as part of something the team calls the Skylanders Trap Team Tablet Starter Pack, which includes a Bluetooth version of the Traptanium Portal (the plastic stand you set the Skylanders action figures on, as well as the traps) and the gamepad itself, which rests under the platform in a formfitting cubby hole.

The starter pack includes the controller, the built-in tablet stand (it’s part of the platform, so “included” may be overselling this point) and a display tray that lets you track the traps and villains you’ve collected. Activision told me all 175 existing Skylanders toys are compatible with the platform, and that’s in addition to Trap Team‘s over 50 new playable Skylanders heroes and 40 new villains.

The tablet docks directly to the portal, tilting backward slightly, nestling in a crook-like stand (built into the portal) designed to grab and hold it without mechanical latches. That’s so you can pull the tablet out or drop it back in with ease. Watching Activision demo the new interface, it looks like coming home, like a game that’s finally found the interface it was designed for.

How much? You’ll need a tablet, of course, but assuming you have one that’s compatible — Activision supports the 3rd gen iPad forward, the Kindle Fire HDX, the Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Note — you can lay hands on the starter pack for $74.99, same as console.

MONEY Shopping

OpenTable’s New Service Lets Diners Pay Without Having to Interact With Other Humans

The company's new mobile payments app means no more waiting for a server to give you a check.

Reservations app OpenTable already lets users book a table at 31,000 restaurants nationwide without having to go through the trouble of talking to another person. Now, the company is taking this service to its next logical level by letting diners pay for their food without any tedious human interaction.

As of Monday, the app will allow customers in New York City who made OpenTable reservations at one of 45 participating eateries to pay for the meal with their smartphone. The service will become available in 20 more cities by the end of the year. That means the age of waiting for a waiter to bring you a check may be coming to an end.

Sarcasm aside, this is a logical next step for OpenTable, and restaurants in general. The fact that we’re still stuck using pen and paper to pay for a meal in 2014 is a little strange considering that most people are carrying around internet-connected devices wherever they go.

There’s currently no fee for the service. According to Bloomberg, OpenTable hopes to make money by attracting more people to download its app. The company gets paid by participating restaurants for every reservation it schedules. But the Wall Street Journal ominously reports that while OpenTable CEO Matt Roberts isn’t currently making a profit from mobile payments, “he hopes to eventually.” So enjoy the free service while it lasts.

OpenTable isn’t exactly the first company to come up with the idea of dinner-centric mobile payments. In addition to Seamless and GrubHub, two companies that let users order take-out and delivery meals over the internet, there’s a whole industry emerging around letting diners pick up the tab on their phone. The Journal notes that startups like Cover, Dash, and TabbedOut, in addition to giants like PayPal, have all created similar apps.

That might make the market seem saturated, but in reality most restaurants don’t work with any of these products, meaning the market is wide open for anyone who gets it right. OpenTable probably has the best chance, given the size of its pre-existing network, although Paypal is aggressively growing its network internationally.

No matter who wins, the question remains: Which minor inconvenience will technology solve next? Maybe an app that lets you order pizza with a single button? Oh wait, that already exists

TIME Tablets

These Are the 10 Best Android Tablets of 2014

Samsung

Here's how to choose the best tablet for you

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at Trusted Reviews.com.

By

Are you on the lookout for an Android tablet? The range is vast and varied so we understand it can be a nightmare finding the right one for your needs. So to help you in your search we’ve selected some of the best Android tablets for a number of different scenarios, whether you want the best for a specific budget or you want a tablet that is perfect for your kids or for work.

If you’d like even more advance on what to look for when buying for a new tablet, you should read our Tablet Buyer’s Guide which explains the strengths and weaknesses of each type of tablet and anything else you may need to consider.

If, on the other hand, you know that the iPad Air or a Windows tablet isn’t for you then here’s the place to be.

One of the golden rules when looking at Android tablets is that you should steer clear of cheap no-name models. There are countless of them and they’re almost never worth the money or the effort of using such inferior products.

As for the “best” Android tablet, well there isn’t really one at the moment. What you have is a number of great Android tablets that do some things better than others. What is best for you may be very different from what the person next to you might need.

Click the next arrow to go through and read a bit more about each tablet to find your perfect Android tablet partner.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Originally reviewed by 09 July 2014

Best Android Tablet Overall

Key features:

  • 8.4-inch Super AMOLED screen
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD slot

It’s taken some time, but we finally have a tablet to knock the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) off its lofty perch. The 2,560 x 1,600 display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is fantastic, making it a great place to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The battery life is great and the slim design means it’ll slip nicely into your bag. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung tablets, it still has some not so great software quirks and the fingerprint scanner is not very useful. But if you are looking for an iPad Mini 2 alternative, then this is currently your best option.

Nexus 7 2013

Originally reviewed by 12 August 2013

Best 7-inch Android Tablet

Key features:

  • 7-inch, 1920 x 1200 IPS screen
  • Powered by a reasonably nippy Snapdragon S4Pro quad-core processor
  • Features a 5-megapixel rear camera
  • 16GB/32GB non-expandable

The successor to the brilliant Nexus 7, Google teamed up with Asus once again for the Nexus 7 2 and it’s still one of the best portable Android tablets to own. So, what’s new? Well, the screen resolution has been bumped up to 1,920 x 1,200, the Tegra 3 processor has been replaced with a Qualcomm snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and there’s now a 5-megapixel main camera. It’s more expensive than the original at £199 but it still looks great and offers a zippy performance. The new camera addition is no different from the average rear-facing snappers we’ve seen on other tablets, though.

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