TIME apps

Hong Kong’s Protesters Don’t Need the Internet to Chat With One Another

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw
A protester waves her cell phone in the air outside the Hong Kong Government Complexon October 1, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

FireChat connects directly to other protesters' phones, building a massive network

If you’ve ever been crammed into a stadium alongside thousands of screaming football or music fans, you already know what the tens of thousands of demonstrators pouring into Hong Kong’s this week are learning: When you pack that many people into a tiny area, your phone’s Internet grinds to a halt.

Smartphones should make it easier to organize protests, but they’re as good as bricks when cell towers get overloaded with traffic or when governments decide to flip the switch. Hong Kong has seen both of these happen: Thousands of people on the street means mobile Internet is useless in packed areas, while Chinese authorities are blocking Instagram on the mainland, favored by Chinese dissidents because it was one of the few social networks not blocked in the country.

In the face of these hangups, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have turned to FireChat, a smartphone app that allows users to communicate even when they can’t get online or send texts. Unlike chat programs that work over the Internet, FireChat connects directly to other nearby users within up to about 250 feet. More people in range can then join the chat, extending the network even further. Pretty soon you can get up to a few thousand people chatting away, all without anybody connected to the Internet.

FireChat is based on mesh networking, in which every device on a network works as a node for expanding that network. The idea’s been around for decades, now popular as a way to communicate during disasters like hurricanes. But Hong Kong shows it’s useful during civil disobedience, too. Some 200,000 people there downloaded the app between Sunday and Tuesday, said Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, sending it skyrocketing to the top of the region’s app store charts.

Speaking from Hong Kong, Benoliel told TIME FireChat’s sudden popularity there isn’t a “complete surprise” because it was also popular with Taiwanese protesters last March. It’s also the latest in a long line of technologies that helped fuel wide-scale protests. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” thanks to protesters’ penchant for organizing via Twitter, likewise 2011’s Occupy Wall Street was a hashtag before it was a street protest. Facebook and YouTube, meanwhile, have brought us to the front lines of the Arab Spring and Syria’s long-fought civil war, even being used as recruiting tools by anti-government rebels and jihadi groups. Where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all fall short, however, lies in their need for an Internet connection to work — not the case for FireChat.

Still, FireChat isn’t perfect for protesters. The chat rooms are open, making it easy for a first-timer to join — but that first-timer could also be a local authority poking around at the goings-on. However, Benoliel said the company is working on protester-minded updates like private messaging and encryption, as Open Garden advocates for “freedom of speech and access to information.”

“If this application can help in this way, it’s very aligned with the mission of the company,” Benoliel said. “[FireChat] hasn’t been built for that purpose, but if it can help people in that situation, we are very supportive of what’s happening here in Hong Kong.”

MONEY Tech

4 Apps That Will Supercharge Your Productivity

Matthew Hollister

Not enough hours in the day? These tools can help you get it all done.

1. For Managing Tasks: Todoist

The problem: You’re juggling multiple projects, and you sometimes lose track of what to do next.

The fix: Todoist is a list-making and task-management app that can be as basic or as powerful as you need it to be. You can create a personal to-do list, of course. But it’s also possible to share lists with other people, so you can delegate tasks as projects get compli­cated. Your lists are available via a web browser, mobile apps, and desktop programs—13 platforms in all—and sync automatically. ­Todoist is free, but if you want reminders and other extra features, you’ll need to splurge on the $29-a-year premium version.

2. For Staying Focused: Anti-Social

The problem: It’s time to get serious work done—but you keep checking Twitter and Facebook.

The fix: This software for Macs and PCs blocks distracting sites for a period you set. It costs $15 (it’s free five times) but has a just-right mix of flexibility and strictness that free programs lack. If you do decide you need a Twitter fix, you must reboot—just annoying enough to make you reconsider. Facebook and Twitter are blocked by default, but you can shut out any site you choose.

3. For group editing: Quip

The problem: Everybody on your team has an opinion, and it’s hard to keep straight all their ­suggested changes to the Word doc you’re working on.

The fix: Quip, which is free, merges word processing with instant messaging. Designed by Facebook’s former tech chief, it’s a web-based word processor with a stream of chat messages and revision notes docked to the left of your text. It also lets you put docs into shared online folders, so you can keep track of multiple versions.

4. For easy presentations: Haiku Deck

The problem: Creating great presentations is a ­vital skill, but the process can be frustrating for ­PowerPoint newbies.

The fix: This free app makes presentation prep easy—and almost fun. Available on the web and the iPad, Haiku Deck lets you choose from a range of backgrounds, fonts, and layouts to create a slick package, even if you have no eye for design. Then you can put your work online, post it to Twitter and Facebook, or send it via email. A cool extra: Use your iPhone as a remote control to click through your presentation.

Related:

3 Sporty Gadgets That Will Make You Better, Faster, Stronger
4 Great Laptops Under $1,000

TIME Companies

No, Snapchat Hasn’t Been Hacked

But that doesn’t mean you won’t get annoying weight loss spam from your friends

Snapchat denied being hacked after some users reported receiving spam messages from their friends advertising a weight loss site.

The ephemeral messaging service told the BBC that it believed that user login data was taken from other sites and used to access Snapchat.

“We recommend using a unique and complex password to access your Snapchat account,” the company told the BBC.

According to the BBC, the spam is sent to all of the contacts on an affected user’s account. Snapchat informs those users of the breach–and recommends that they change their passwords–when they log on.

In January, the company was targeted by hackers who took 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers and released the personal data on the web–with the last two figures of the phone numbers redacted. The hackers said they were raising awareness about Snapchat security concerns.

[BBC]

TIME How-To

Mobile Payments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We use our smartphones in place of maps, health trackers and cameras, so why not use them to replace our credit cards, too? It’s not like Americans don’t already choose their smartphones when it’s time to shop and bank online.

Yet a 2013 survey from financial services company TSYS (PDF) found that just 6% of Americans valued being able to use their card or cash via a smartphone virtual wallet.

Consumers seem comfortable with credit cards, whether they’re signing a receipt, entering a PIN or waving the card at a contactless payment terminal, and they see little perceived extra value in using smartphones to pay in stores, asserts Rajesh Kandaswamy, an analyst at information technology research and advisory firm Gartner. “Consumers need an incentive to move to mobile payments,” he says. And Softcard mobile payment app (formerly Isis) does that, offering a dollar off every purchase you make with an American Express Serve card (up to 50 transactions).

The upcoming launch of Apple Pay will also help. The app will download automatically in October as part of an update to iOS 8 for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and it works with American Express, MasterCard and Visa cards.

“Given that Apple already stores millions of customers’ financial info in iTunes, Apple Pay is likely to be a catalyst for higher adoption of the smartphone wallet because it reduces the efforts of millions to even try mobile payments,” Kandaswamy says.

Apple Pay is also supported by major banks, including Bank of America, Chase and Citi. These big banks are unlikely to spike the cost of processing Apple Pay transactions versus credit card transactions, giving more merchants more incentive to make the service available to their customers.

Why switch to a smartphone wallet

A mobile wallet app offers a better way to manage payment cards, from debit and credit cards to discount vouchers and loyalty vouchers, Kandaswamy says. “A mobile wallet app can also offer better control over finances, in the sense that you have a single place to examine and analyze your purchases,” he says.

Paying with your smartphone can speed up the checkout process. Instead of rifling through your wallet (and possibly realizing you forgot to bring a card at all), simply tap your smartphone on a payment terminal to authorize a transaction and simultaneously apply discounts or loyalty points.

How the money moves

Most current smartphone wallet apps with a tap-to-pay feature require a phone with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip to work. For iPhones, that means the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Most Android phones that run Android 4.0 or newer are NFC-compatible, although some apps require a special, extra-secure SIM for storing financial information. Check with your carrier to see if your Android phone is e-wallet-friendly.

If you use a Windows Phone or BlackBerry device, you’re facing a wait. Microsoft recently announced Wallet for Windows Phone for storing credit cards, loyalty cards, vouchers and tickets, but the app’s tap-to-pay functionality isn’t yet supported by any Windows Phone devices. And although Visa approved the BlackBerry mobile payment framework last year, we have yet to see any official launch of a wallet app.

But the mobile payments game is heating up. Retail giant Wal-Mart has announced that it’s piloting its own mobile payments system, along with several other large brands. Current C, which will work on any smartphone, won’t launch until next year.

The apps to consider

For now, Android and iPhone owners can turn their smartphones into lean, mean paying machines with one of these apps:

apple-iphone-6-apple-pay-510px
Apple

Apple Pay

Apple Pay will be available in October for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as well as for the Apple Watch when it launches next year. Apple Pay holds credit and debit cards, and iTunes users can automatically link the credit card they already have on file. Once you’ve activated Apple Pay, you can use it for secure one-tap purchases in shopping apps as well as services such as Uber and Panera Bread, without having to fill out billing and shipping information.

Tap to pay: Touch the front of your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to a contactless payment terminal while holding your finger over the TouchID fingerprint sensor. You get a gentle vibration when the transaction is complete.

Security: Instead of storing and sending credit card numbers, Apple Pay allocates a device-specific account number encrypted on a dedicated chip in the iPhone 6/6 Plus. This number is sent with a one-use transaction ID called a token. “The consumer’s credit card is never exposed during the transaction, and merchants are no longer storing giant databases of credit cards, waiting for some hacker to come along and compromise them,” says Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at mobile security company Lookout. “However, whether [this is more secure] depends on how the token itself is protected and if it is securely stored, neither of which are clear at this point.”

Why you want it: It’s fast. Using the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner to tap and pay beats signing a receipt or entering a PIN code. And with the support of every major U.S. bank, the number of shops that accept Apple Pay could skyrocket very quickly.

Where you can use it: Use it at about 220,000 shops over about a dozen retailer chains, including McDonald’s, Subway, Bloomingdales and Walgreens.

Which phones support it: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus only.

Google Wallet

Google Wallet holds credit and debit card information as well as loyalty cards and discount coupons. You can transfer money into a prepaid card called the Wallet Balance. If you’re using an NFC-enabled Android 4.4 phone, you can pay for purchases in-store. Tap-to-pay won’t work on iPhones or on Android phones running Android 2.3 or older; however, these can access the Wallet’s other features, such as sending or requesting money, one-click checkout at online retailers and tracking orders made with linked payment cards.

Tap to pay: Open the Google Wallet app on your phone, then enter a PIN before holding it against the terminal.

Security: Google encrypts and stores users’ financial details on its servers, and use of the app is protected by a PIN. If someone should manage to pilfer your phone and guess your PIN, Google claims its fraud protection covers 100% of “verified unauthorized transactions.”

Why you want it: Google Wallet supports dozens of loyalty programs and coupon sites. Adding points and receiving discounts when you purchase something is hassle free, even if you’ve forgotten which vouchers and cards you have.

Where you can use it: Use it at any store where contactless payments are accepted.

Which phones support it: Android 2.3; 4.4 and higher required for tap-to-pay; iOS 6 or newer, but does not support tap-to-pay.

softcard-paying-at-kiosk-510px
Softcard

Softcard

Softcard was created by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, so (you guessed it) you’ll need to be on one of these carriers to use it. You’ll also need an NFC-compatible Android phone. The app supports American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo credit cards plus a handful of loyalty and discount cards. You can set up an American Express Serve account and use it to make payments with any debit card, credit card or U.S. bank account.

Tap to pay: As with Google Wallet, open the app, enter your PIN, then hold your NFC smartphone against the payment terminal.

Security: To use Softcard, you need a secure SIM card that can store your financial information so that only the Softcard app can access it. (You can request one from your carrier, assuming your phone is Softcard-compatible.) For each transaction, a one-use token is created so that your card details are not sent to the merchant. Like Google Wallet, a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: Softcard also scans nearby merchants for offers or discounts available to Softcard users, which you can then use at checkout.

Where you can use it: Use it at dozens of chains including Urban Outfitters, Subway and Walgreens. Check the full list at paywiththis.com.

Which phones support it: Android 4.0 and higher.

LoopPay

LoopPay, a Kickstarter success, works via a smartphone app combined with a Loop device — either a fob ($39, pairable with iPhone or Android phones) or a ChargeCase for iPhone 5/5S ($99). Credit and debit cards, loyalty and rewards cards and your driver’s license can be scanned into the Loop app. Most Android phones running Android 4.2 or newer work with Loop, but some have compatibility issues; check to see if yours works at LoopPay’s compatibility page.

Tap to pay: Hold your fob (or ChargeCase-sheathed iPhone) by the credit card terminal, then swipe your phone screen or press the fob button to pay. If you need to show ID (say, for an alcohol purchase), hit the ID icon on the phone screen and display a scan of any identification you’ve loaded.

Security: All payment information is encrypted and stored in a secure chip inside the Loop fob or ChargeCase, and a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: LoopPay works at 90% of retailers around the world — far more shops than any of the other apps.

Where you can use it: Use it anywhere there’s a credit card reader.

Which phones support it: iPhone, Android 4.2 and up.

More than an app, not quite a wallet

starbucks-app-balance-screen-320px
Starbucks

Starbucks

This iPhone app combines your loyalty card and prepaid card balance into one handy app for tap-and-pay, keeping track of rewards you’re due and seeing how much more coffee you need to buy before you hit the next reward. Starbucks got this right — the app is used for $6 million in transactions every week.

PayPal

If you’re in a shop that accepts PayPal, log in to the app (iPhone and Android) and check in to your location. You can then take your purchases to the register, tell the cashier you’re paying by PayPal and simply approve the payment on the phone screen. It’s not quite a wallet replacement, but it is handy if you forget your real-world wallet. The app can scan your vicinity for PayPal-friendly merchants.

Keep your information secure

Using a mobile wallet app can be more secure than using a credit card because wallet apps don’t send as much sensitive information (such as your credit card number and expiration date) in the course of a transaction. To maintain security with a mobile payment app on your phone, follow these suggestions from Lookout’s Rogers:

  • Set a password on your phone.
  • Download an app for finding your phone if it’s lost. When your phone becomes your wallet, loss or theft becomes even more inconvenient.
  • Only download mobile payment apps (or, indeed, any apps) from sites you trust. Check the app’s ratings and permissions and read reviews to make sure they’re widely used and respected before you download.
  • Turn off your device’s NFC connection when you’re not using it.
  • Use NFC payment stations with caution; you might end up paying for someone else’s purchases.

Will you be replacing your wallet with an app? If so, which one? Let us know in the comments.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

MONEY mobile banking

How Millennials Will Change the Way You Bank

woman with iphone image of her mouth in front of her mouth
The mobile generation wants to do everything with pictures instead of words, including paying bills and depositing checks. Maciej Toporowicz—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Nearly all young adults carry a smartphone and prize the camera as its key feature — not just for selfies, but as a means to conduct their life without words.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, soon we may not need words anymore. Nearly nine in 10 young adults are never without their smartphone, and a similar percentage say the camera function is among the most important features, new research shows. This love of the visual has broad implications for all businesses, perhaps most notably banking.

The youngest millennials have almost no memory of cell phones without cameras. They post pictures to avoid writing about events in their lives and snap photos as reminders to perform ordinary tasks. A third of all pictures taken are selfies, according to a report from Mitek Systems and polling firm Zogby Analytics.

This generation wants to do everything with a snapshot—from clicking a picture for online purchases to depositing money or paying a bill by snapping an image of a check or invoice. Four in five millennials say it is important for retailers to have a high quality mobile app; nearly nine in 10 either have or would deposit money in their bank with mobile technology, the report found.

“There is a substantial disconnect between what young people have come to expect and the often horrendous consumer experience they get with mobile,” says Scott Carter, chief marketing officer at Mitek. Banks have been among the slowest to respond, he says. About half of consumers who try to open a bank account online give up because it is so tedious, Carter says.

A bank that adopts more sweeping image technology such as facial recognition or fingerprint identification and uses it to replace passwords and the need to fill in account numbers would be a big winner—and not necessarily just with the younger set. Mobile banking is taking off with all generations. Only 12 million people used mobile banking services in 2009, according to Frost & Sullivan, a research firm. That number was expected to hit 45 million this year.

More than one in eight Americans have deposited a check within the past year using a mobile app, the American Bankers Association found. Of those, 80% use the app at least once a month. Other findings from the Mitek survey of millennials:

  • 34% have deposited a check by taking a picture
  • 54% would pay for goods using their smartphone as a mobile wallet instead of credit cards
  • 45% would pay a bill by taking a picture if the technology were available to them, vs. the 21% who do so now
  • 36% have switched where they do business based on a company’s mobile app
  • 60% believe that in the next five years everything will be done on mobile devices, much of it through images

We will never be a wordless society. But just think about those awful assembly instructions that come with a box of parts at IKEA or Target. If a YouTube video or other image makes it easier, why fight? A lot of people think of banking and personal finance the same way—and for them, a picture really is worth 1,000 words.

MONEY

10 Smart New Uses for Your Old iPhone

old iphones hanging
If all else fails, tap your crafty side. Obsolete old phones + twine = wind chimes! Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

Don't let it take up space in a landfill or gather dust in a desk drawer. With a few free or cheap apps, you can give your out-of-date iPhone a second life.

With about 10 million new iPhone 6s ordered in the initial days on the market, a whole lot of old iPhones are destined for the scrap heap.

Sure, you could sell, donate, or recycle your old iPhone, but you probably will not. And there are better things to do with it.

One creative example: At the Missouri University of Science and Technology, a biology class is making old iPhones into microscopes. Using less than $10 worth of supplies, the old phones are mounted onto a lens and can magnify an object to 175 times its size.

Even an old phone with a cracked screen can be repurposed, says Josh Smith, editor of GottaBeMobile.com. “You’re only really limited by your imagination,” Smith says.

Here are 10 smart—and cheap—uses for old iPhones.

1. Clock

Set your old phone on a dock or a stand and use a clock app. With Standard Time ($3.99), you will have a timepiece unlike any other.

With this app, your clock is a non-stop time lapse video of construction workers switching out pieces of lumber to shape the actual time. “It’s mesmerizing,” says Shawn Roberts, 47, an Oakland, Calif., marketing executive.

You can also set up flexible alarms and get the phone to play soothing white noise as you go to sleep. Set it close enough to the bed, and it can be a sleep tracker, too, with an app like SleepBot (free).

2. Music for your car

Take your music library on the road. Some cars come equipped with docking ports for iPhones and have dashboard screens so you can navigate your musical options hands-free. Or you can just use the cigarette lighter for power.

3. Remote control

Televisions, speakers, and other devices now have apps that allow users to make their iPhones into sleek remotes.

Carm Lyman, 42, of Napa, Calif., converted his iPhone 4 into a remote for his household sound system after his iPhone 5 arrived. Lyman can control the audio levels and activate speakers in various parts of his home as well as access different music services.

4. Surveillance system

Apps can convert an old iPhone that has access to WiFi into a surveillance camera and motion detector. Presence, which is a free app, provides a live stream from the area you want to monitor. You can set it up to record video clips when it detects motion, too.

If you buy a robotic viewing stand for about $100, you can move the camera 360 degrees rather than stick with a stationary view.

5. Cookbook

No need to go through recipe books or hunt around for other devices when you have a kitchen iPhone. Download a cookbook app, such as My Recipe Book (99¢) or Big Oven (free), and just leave the device on the kitchen counter. It takes up almost no space and will hold far more recipes than any book.

6. Extra storage

Need a place to store old photos and music or other files? Turn your old phone into a storage drive using a free app like USB & Wi-Fi Flash Drive.

7. Voice recorder

Why buy a digital voice recorder when you have a retired iPhone? Using any of several free apps, including Voice Recorder and Voice Record Pro, you will have a designated memo recorder or a device to record interviews and speeches.

8. Document scanner

Genius Scan and Doc Scan are two apps that will turn an iPhone into a handy portable scanner that you can use for work, school reports, genealogical research, or recording receipts. And they will not cost you a penny.

For $20 and up, you can buy a stand that makes your iPhone into a stationary scanner.

9. Baby monitor

Sure, you can spend $100 or more on a baby monitor, or you can just set your old iPhone up to watch streaming video of your baby as well as hear and even talk to him or her.

Cloud Baby Monitor ($3.99) also allows parents to receive the signal on a wireless network or on WiFi so they do not have to be within a certain number of feet of the monitor.

10. Vehicle Tracker

Whether you need to find your car if it is stolen, record where you have traveled, or spy on your teenage driver, the built-in GPS in your phone can be used as a tracking device. An app like InstaMapper ($2.99) lets you watch the vehicle in real-time and have a record of it.

Of course, you may end up taking the simple path of letting a child use your old iPhone as an iPod Touch. Keep in mind that the phone can still dial 911, even if it does not have cellular service, Smith says.

You can also use your old phone as a back-up in case your new model suffers irreparable harm. That said, the battery of a phone that sits in a drawer unused could drain to the point where it is no longer viable.

TIME How-To

iOS 8 Guide: 10 Cool Tips and Tricks

Whether you just picked up an iPhone 6 or you're looking to squeeze a little life out of an older iPhone, here's a handful of tricks to try once you're using iOS 8.

Say “Hey Siri” for No-Touch Assistance

If your phone is plugged in, you can get Siri to do your bidding just by saying, “Hey Siri.”

You’ll need to enable the feature first by going to Settings > General > Siri and then toggling the Allow “Hey Siri” switch.

Again, your phone has to be plugged in for this to work, but it could be useful when paired with a car charger or while you’re at your desk.

Find Battery-Sucking Apps

Battery being run down too fast? It’s most likely an app or two that are sapping an inordinate amount of juice. You can check which ones are causing the most trouble by going to Settings > General > Usage > Battery Usage.

You’ll see a list of the apps that have used the most battery over the past 24 hours, with the option to check which ones have been the top drainers over a longer period of time as well.

Adjust Brightness in Photos

When you’re taking a photo and you tap the screen to adjust the camera’s focus, you can now also adjust the brightness. Just tap the screen as you’re taking a photo, then swipe up to make the image brighter or down to make the image darker.

Use the Camera Timer

The camera also has a timer function. Tap the little clock icon in the top menu when you’re taking a photo and it’ll let you choose between a three- or ten-second delay before firing off some snaps.

Get Notified of Email Thread Replies

If you want to keep an eye on an important email thread, you can enable notifications to pop up every time someone adds a new email message to the thread. Click on the little flag icon in the lower left corner of an email message, choose Notify Me… and then Notify Me again. Step through the same process to remove yourself from future notifications once you’ve had enough.

Minimize an Email You’re Writing

If you’re in the middle of typing an email message to someone and you realize you need to reference some information from a previous email elsewhere in your inbox, you can swipe down on the message you’re writing to minimize it to the bottom of the screen. Once you’re ready to write some more, tap the message to expand it again.

Track Your Phone’s Final Location Before the Battery Dies

You’ve misplaced your phone — or worse, it’s been stolen — and the battery is surely dead. You can find out its last known location by heading into Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone and then toggling Send Last Location on.

Minimize the QuickType Feature

If you find the keyboard’s new QuickType word-guessing feature more annoying than useful, you can minimize it by swiping down from the top of the QuickType bar. If you find that you miss the feature, swipe back up and it’ll re-assume its perch atop your keyboard.

Quickly Send an Audio Recording, Photo or Video in a Text Message

When chatting back and forth in the Messages app, hold down the microphone icon in the lower-right corner to begin recording an audio message. When it’s ready, tap the arrow above it to send it or tap the X to delete it. To send a photo or video instead, hold down the camera icon in the lower-left corner and tap the top icon to snap a photo or the right-hand icon to record a video. Note that these features require that your recipient has an iPhone as well, although you’ll be able to send photos and videos (but not audio) to non-iPhone owners by tapping the camera icon in the lower-left corner and then following a couple additional steps.

Reply to a Text Message Without Leaving Your Current App

When you receive a text message up at the top of your screen, pull down on it to access a quick-reply box. Type your reply, hit Send and go back to what you were doing — all without leaving your current app.

MONEY Shopping

Now You Can Return Stuff to Sears Without Getting Out of Your Car

Sears Returns
Mel Evans—AP

A new service from Sears promises shoppers that they can make returns and exchanges in less than five minutes, without ever having to step foot outside the car.

For old-fashioned brick-and-mortar-based stores, it’s hard if not impossible to compete with the cut-throat pricing and convenience of online shopping. The strip malls and shopping centers of America are littered with shuttered stores once occupied by iconic retailers like Barnes & Noble, Staples, and yes, Sears. This week, Sears shares plummeted when news hit that the struggling retailer needed a $400 million loan from its CEO, Eddie Lampert—actually, the loan came by way of a hedge fund Lampert owns—to stay on track with plans to, well, not totally go out of business.

Also this week, Sears announced a new service that will hopefully make it a more appealing shopping option compared with online and physical store competitors alike. Earlier this year, Sears rolled out In-Vehicle Pickup as an option for its Shop Your Way app, and now customers can not only do curbside pickups of purchases without going inside stores, they can do exchanges and returns as well.

In recent years, grocery stores and select chains such as the Container Store have introduced drive-thru and pickup services targeted at today’s harried, on-the-go consumers, who can pre-order merchandise online and then swing by to pick it up—without having to actually “go shopping” for the goods inside, and without ever having to get out of the car.

To take advantage of Sears’s new service, the customer requests a return or exchange at the Sears website, and after getting an email confirmation heads to the selected store to handle the physical transaction. Once you’re in the parking lot, you use the app to alert the store you’ve arrived, and Sears guarantees a store associate will appear within five minutes to complete the return or exchange. A YouTube video explains further:

Obviously, Sears prefers that customers keep the merchandise they purchase rather than return or exchange it. But a good return policy is incredibly important in helping retailers drum up sales in the first place. Shoppers are more likely to make purchases when they know it’ll be quick and easy to return or exchange the merchandise. And once items are bought, they tend to stay bought. So long as customers don’t take advantage of the system, generous return policies generally benefit stores even more than they do shoppers.

One of the biggest reasons for the success of online sellers such as Zappos (which is owned by Amazon) is that they are renowned for terrific customer service, especially when it comes to easing the return process—complete with free shipping in both directions. Shoppers like anything that makes their lives easier, and the ability to conduct purchase pickups, returns, and exchanges from the comfort of one’s car certainly qualifies.

TIME Gadgets

Best Weather Apps for iPhone and Android

With our high-tech tendency to watch TV using DVRs, TV on demand and streaming media, there are some things we miss: like the local news. And though we get most of that news from our favorite online news sources, the local weather report is something we sorely miss—we just don’t miss it quite enough to remember to catch the local news for the forecast every night.

Fortunately, there are quite a few apps to keep us on top of the local forecast and help us remember to pack our umbrellas—or carry our sunglasses—when we need them.

Top Pick: AccuWeather

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AccuWeather

Our overall favorite weather app is the simple-to-use AccuWeather, from the company of the same name. Specifically, we love its MinuteCast feature. It predicts when precipitation will start in your exact GPS location all the way down to the minute. And if it’s severe weather you’re worried about, Accuweather has you covered with GPS location-based push notifications. You can get forecasts for other cities too, of course, but that’s not where this app shines. It’s for when you’re most concerned about a hyper-local weather forecast for your exact location.

You can download the free, ad-supported Accuweather app for iOS on the Apple App Store and for Android devices via Google Play. An ad-free version is available for $2.99.

Top Rural Pick: Weather Underground

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Weather Underground

Whenever I’m visiting my parents’ house out in farm country, I like using Weather Underground. The well-designed app delivers data from over 40,000 professional and hobbyist weather stations to provide highly localized data for out-of-the-way places. Besides a wealth of temperature and condition data, you get air quality data and access to local webcams so you can see the weather for yourself. Another great feature is the WunderMap, a simple TV-style map with a temperature overlay pulled from the stations nearest you.

For International weather info, check out Weather Underground’s separate iPad-only WunderStation app. It collects real-time data directly from 37,000 personal weather stations across the world. You can take a look at plenty of historic data, too. And if you have family around the globe, you can set severe weather alerts for any station to stay in touch.

You can download the free ad-supported Weather Underground app for iOS on the Apple App Store and for Android devices via Google Play. You can download WunderStation for the iPad on the Apple App Store.

Top Allergy Forecaster: Zyrtec AllergyCast

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Zyrtec

If you’re an allergy sufferer, you don’t need all the details of the weather: You just want to know what the pollen forecast looks like. Zyrtec AllergyCast—by the makers of allergy medicine Zyrtec, so it’s happy to recommend Zyrtec products to help your symptoms—gives you an allergy-specific forecast, including the current temperature and predominant pollens. Swiping to the right gives you an hourly forecast and swiping again gives you a weekly forecast.

If you’re looking for an easy way to track your symptoms, AllergyCast also includes a simple symptoms log where you tell it how you’re feeling (“great,” “okay,” “not well,” or “ugh”) and select any allergy symptoms you’re suffering. We especially like this log because it doesn’t require you to type anything in. Just move your thumb to set the dial on the screen and tap the checkmark to save. Easy!

You can download the free Zyrtec app for iOS on the Apple App Store and for Android devices via Google Play.

Top Hurricane App: Hurricane Tracker

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Hurricane Tracker

When it comes to hurricanes, one of the most important details is the storm’s path. Keep up to date on brewing and imminent storms with the Hurricane Tracker app. It delivers official bulletins and maps from the National Hurricane Center in real time, along with animated satellite maps. And if you want even more analysis, the Hurricane Tracker team creates its own maps to explain each storm’s impact. It may not be a perfectly polished app, but it’s certainly a useful one.

You can download the $2.99 Hurricane Tracker app for iOS on the Apple App Store. There’s no Android version of the app, but you can still access the info by logging in to hurrtracker.com on your favorite browser (fee required).

Top Tornado App: iMap Weather Radio

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iMap Weather

The fall may not be peak tornado season, but they can and do happen in any month. Stay protected no matter where you are with the iMap Weather app. We love that it’s customizable – you can draw an area for the app to keep watch over, and you’ll get push alerts for that area only. You can also set it to track your location and give you tornado warnings for your exact GPS coordinates.

You can download the $4.99 iMap Weather app for Android devices via Google Play and for iOS on the Apple App Store (it’s called Weather Radio, but it’s the same thing).

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Companies

Facebook Tests Disappearing Posts Feature

A view of and Apple iPhone displaying th
A view of an Apple iPhone displaying the Facebook app's splash screen, May 10, 2012 in Washington. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The option is being offered to a small group of users

Facebook has quietly released a Snapchat-like feature that allows some users to set their posts to expire at a predetermined time.

“We’re running a small pilot of a feature on Facebook for iOS that lets people schedule deletion of their posts in advance,” a spokesperson for the social network told TIME.

The option, which is being offered to a small subset of users, allows them to set posts to delete anytime from 1 hour to 7 days after they are initially published, The Next Web reports. Facebook has released many features to select groups of users in the past before deciding to either roll them out larger or go back to the drawing board.

Though Facebook hasn’t publicly revealed what the tool actually looks like, some users have taken to Twitter to share screenshots.

Last year, the social network reportedly turned down a $3 billion offer to buy Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send photos and videos that disappear within seconds of a recipient opening them. Market valuations from last month estimated Snapchat’s value at $10 billion.

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