TIME Companies

European Parliament Wants to Break Up Google

Signage is displayed outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California, on Oct. 13, 2010.
Signage is displayed outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California, on Oct. 13, 2010. Bloomberg/Getty Images

European Parliament reportedly set to call for a break-up of the tech giant’s search engine from some of its other commercial businesses

Officials want the tech giant to unbundle its search engine from some of its other commercial business, according to a report.

Concerned over Google’s growing influence, the European Parliament is reportedly set to call for a break-up of the tech giant’s search engine from some of its other commercial businesses, according to the Financial Times.

Politicians are pushing the European Commission to limit Google’s reach either by passing new legislation or through its antitrust investigation into the company, which the EU recently reopened. A draft of a parliament motion that FT viewed argues that “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services” could be one appropriate path to curbing the Internet company’s dominance.

The expected recommendation, which FT says is backed by the parliament’s Socialist and European People’s Party political groups, would represent the most extreme action proposed to date by European regulators concerned over how much control American companies have over the Internet.

A vote on the recommendation is expected early next week, FT reports.

A Google spokesman declined to comment.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Gadgets

Google Sweetens the Chromebook Deal Ahead of the Holidays

Google Chromebook To Be Available Online On June 15
Google Inc. Chrome and Samsung Electronics Co.'s logos are seen on a Chromebook in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 9, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Free storage promotion runs until the new year

Google is offering a terabyte of free storage with its Chromebook computers for the holiday season, the company announced Friday.

Customers who buy qualifying Chromebooks priced at $199 or more will receive a two-year subscription to Google Drive with a terabyte of free storage space. That amount of space typically costs $9.99 per month, so the deal is worth about $240.

Chromebooks are stripped of many of the programs typically found on PCs, and instead offer apps that are accessed online, like Google Docs. They’ve slowly gained in marketshare since Google first unveiled the barebones laptops in 2011 — Chromebook sales are expected to triple by 2017.

The Google Drive promotion runs through January 1.

TIME Companies

Google Just Took its First Step Back Into China

The Google logo is reflected in windows
The Google logo is reflected in windows of the company's China head office as the Chinese national flag flies in the wind in Beijing on March 23, 2010. AFP/Getty Images

Chinese developers can now sell their apps as exports in Google's app store

Google is trying to woo mobile developers in China.

The search giant has announced that Chinese app developers will now be able to sell apps to Google Play users in more than 130 other countries. It’s one of Google’s first attempts to engage with the Chinese marketplace since leaving the country in 2010 in following conflicts with the government over national censorship policies.

The Google Play Store is severely restricted in China, so app makers in the country will be selling their wares as exports. It’s no surprise that Google is having second thoughts on leaving the country behind: China has more than 600 million Internet users, and that figure is expected to reach 800 million next year.

This olive branch to developers may be the first step in a more ambitious strategy. Google is reportedly looking to partner with a Chinese phone manufacturer or wireless carrier to launch a full-featured version of the Play store in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal.

TIME Art

Google Doodle Celebrates Corita Kent, Feminist Nun Turned Artist

Google

It would have been her 96th birthday

Google celebrated what would have been the 96th birthday of artist Corita Kent on Thursday — also known as Sister Corita Kent.

In 1936, Kent started her career as a Catholic nun. She began taking art classes, and received a masters in art history — chairing the art history department at Immaculate Heart College. In 1968, she left the order and decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist.

Kent was known for her silk screens, and she often juxtaposed spiritual writing alongside symbols of consumerist culture. She was a well-known activist, fighting for civil rights, anti-war causes, and women’s rights.

She died in 1986.

MONEY Tech

Why “Facebook at Work” Might Not Work

Facebook at work on tablet
Alamy

Enterprise software is indeed a very lucrative space, but the time, energy, and development resources that it would require for Facebook to meaningfully challenge are simply too high.

This isn’t the first time, and it might not be the last. Dominant social network Facebook FACEBOOK INC. FB 0.2038% is reportedly looking to challenge LinkedIn LINKEDIN CORP. LNKD -0.5493% in the enterprise segment, among others. The Financial Times reported that the social kingpin is developing a new “Facebook at Work” site geared toward corporate settings.

The service is said to feature ways to communicate with colleagues, connect with other professionals, and collaborate on documents. Personal profiles and professional profiles would be segregated for the sake of privacy, and would be free initially. Beyond LinkedIn, this service means Facebook would compete with other large enterprise software makers like Google GOOGLE INC. GOOG 0.4992% and Microsoft , as well as start-ups such as Slack.

Does Facebook have a chance? Let’s look at all of these areas where Facebook wants to make a dent.

Connecting people

Helping people make professional connections is LinkedIn’s claim to fame, and the company has established an incredibly strong business in connecting recruiters with job candidates. Before even considering monetization methods, Facebook is a much larger overall network, which means it has a shot at growing its position here.

At last count, Facebook boasted 1.35 billion monthly active users, or MAUs, worldwide. That’s over four times LinkedIn’s count of 331 million registered members. Of that total, 89.7 million members log in on a monthly basis. LinkedIn reports these as unique visiting members, but in practice they are the same as MAUs for the sake of comparison.

“Facebook at Work” is unlikely to tap into Facebook’s entire network, since its rollout is still speculative and would likely be on a small scale. Still, there’s definitely some long-term potential here if Facebook builds out the rumored service, and eventually integrates it with its broader network.

Communicating with colleagues

Microsoft Exchange is the dominant player in enterprise email, but a slew of popular chat applications are also used in the workplace. Slack has been skyrocketing in popularity recently, and is now one of the fastest-growing enterprise software applications ever.

The key to Slack’s success is the ability to integrate with a plethora of third-party services that are already popular within the enterprise segment, creating a platform out of the enterprise messaging service. Slack also has powerful search features to help workers find what they’re looking for. The start-up’s blistering growth has already attracted the attention of high-profile venture capitalists. Slack recently raised $120 million at a $1.1 billion valuation.

In general, messaging is becoming an increasingly competitive arena. Facebook has both Messenger and WhatsApp under its blue belt, so the company undoubtedly has plenty of experience with developing messaging products and services. Facebook might have some strength in consumer-oriented messaging, but it seemingly lacks the deep integrations that rival services like Slack can offer.

Playing well with others

On the collaboration front, Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 billion. Yammer is a private social network that integrates with collaboration software and business applications, and is now part of Office 365. Yammer is a big part of Microsoft’s strategy with collaboration software as it transitions away from SharePoint.

Microsoft also recently partnered with Dropbox. By integrating the other’s services, Microsoft and Dropbox will bolster the collaborative features that are critical to each company’s enterprise customers. Google Apps for Business has also been winning customers from Microsoft for years, becoming a notable player in the collaboration space in the process.

This is easily the most important area of enterprise software, since employee collaboration is so critical to productivity. This is also where Facebook likely brings the least to the table. Current providers of collaborative tools offer comprehensive feature sets and have become very entrenched in the enterprise. Facebook will face a steep uphill battle in this area.

We don’t know what we don’t know

To be fair, not much is known about “Facebook at Work.” The company reportedly uses the product internally, and only began testing it at other companies within the past year or so.

Facebook’s current portfolio of consumer offerings might not be representative of what it hopes to offer the enterprise space. However, it’s hard to imagine the company could develop a full-featured offering that spans all of these areas in under a year when incumbents have spent many more years specializing and catering to these precise needs.

On top of that, Facebook is predominantly associated with personal social networking. The ability to separate personal and professional activity might be an attempt to blur the line, but consumer connotations aren’t easily shifted. Besides, aren’t Facebook’s privacy settings cumbersome enough already?

Shares of LinkedIn fell 5% of the news that Facebook could be developing a competing service, so it seems there is indeed some investor concern. However, history doesn’t inspire much confidence in Facebook’s professional abilities, which should downplay these fears.

Facebook acqui-hired job-search site Pursuit in 2011, but hasn’t done much in the job listing space that LinkedIn is disrupting. Third-party professional networking service BranchOut attempted to carve out a niche within Facebook as a free application (casually known as the “LinkedIn within Facebook”), but failed spectacularly and is now trying to sell itself.

The risk is that Facebook could become distracted by its pursuit of the enterprise segment, rather than focus on key business developments, notably building out the infrastructure for video ads or determining some type of monetization strategy for WhatsApp.

As an investor, I do like when Facebook takes calculated risks, such as Paper or Home, even if they fail. But those were inherently low risks with high potential rewards. Enterprise software is indeed a very lucrative space, but the time, energy, and development resources that it would require for Facebook to meaningfully challenge are simply too high.

TIME Gadgets

Why Google Glass Isn’t the Future

2013 Google Developer Conference Continues In San Francisco
An attendee tries Google Glass during the Google I/O developer conference on May 17, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Will Google Glass ever be a mainstream hit?

When Google first released Glass last Spring, the device immediately rocked the tech world. The wearable computer that puts a small screen in users’ field of vision to display directions, messages or video calls was quickly spotted at tech conferences, on TV pundits’ faces and, eventually, on the streets of tech-centric cities like San Francisco and New York. Google pitched Glass as a gadget that can help users take notes, get directions or take a picture, all without using their hands. There are now dozens of apps available for Glass, from news and weather apps to a Battleship-style game.

At first, it looked like Google might have been about to unlock a whole new way of computing, and developers at top websites and media outlets scrambled to pop out rudimentary apps for Glass just to plant a flag in case the device took off. A year and a half later, however, it’s clear that Glass isn’t going smoothly. Several developers working on apps for Glass have suspended their projects, Reuters reported Friday, in a story that seems to ask, “Hey, remember Google Glass?”

“While Glass may find some specialized, even lucrative, uses in the workplace,” the Reuters story reads, “its prospects of becoming a consumer hit in the near future are slim, many developers say.” Developers, fearing a lack of adoption, are headed for the hills, and it’s looking like Google’s Glass hopes could be shattered.

Part of the fault lies with the way Google introduced Glass to the world. Instead of making it available immediately to all interested buyers, Google launched what it called the “Explorers” program, which meant only those consumers who received an invite from the search giant had the privilege of forking over $1,500 for a pre-market version of Glass. Google has been quiet about how many people invited to the Explorers program, meaning it’s hard to get any precise numbers on how many Glass units the company has sold to date.

From a developer’s perspective, it takes a massive leap of faith to keep working on software for a device with unknown demand. It could be true that Glass will be a huge hit on the consumer market if and once it’s publicly released, as evidenced by how quickly the company sold out of Glass units when Google suspended the invite-only rule for a single day this year. But it could be equally true that anybody who wants Glass has already managed to get an invite and buy a pair, meaning there won’t be any demand for the device on the consumer market — and the supply of below-cost Glass units already for sale on eBay is evidence in that direction.

While Glass found fans among early adopters and technophiles at first, it was also immediately met with skepticism, ridicule and even outright fear in the mainstream. Its camera, in particular, has raised serious privacy concerns as people fear being recorded without their knowledge. Glass users found themselves singled out, labeled with a derogatory nickname (“glassholes”), and banned from movie theaters, bars and other businesses. Whether to avoid the stigma of wearing Glass or just because the device’s promise is in question, there are suddenly plenty of reasons to doubt its future. Google co-founder Sergey Brin has said a consumer version of Glass would be on store shelves this year, but it’s increasingly looking like that won’t happen until next year, if at all.

Wearable devices are bound to be the next big thing, and maybe Glass will find a use in some professional field like medicine. But if Glass fails with consumers, it will likely be because it is too different, too soon. This is a familiar pattern for technology. (Most of us don’t want to go around town looking like Star Trek’s Geordi La Forge.) Instead, the most successful wearables will just quietly replace the dumb versions of stuff we already wear. That’s already happening with our watches — and nobody’s going to get banned from a bar for wearing an Apple Watch.

If Glass has a path to salvation, it’s in a refreshed version that takes a page from smartwatches and looks more familiar than different. But the good news here for Google is that it already has a grip on the smartwatch world, with its Android Wear and Google Now software powering the best models on the market today.

TIME Innovation

Google Launching New Test Flight for Balloon-Based Internet

Australia is the site of the project's latest test trials

Google’s plan for “balloon-powered Internet for everyone” will expand its pilot test to Australia next month, The Guardian reported Monday.

During the trial, the company will fly 20 test balloons over Western Queensland in partnership with Australia’s largest telecom company, Telstra. Telstra will supply base stations to communicate with the balloons, and the test balloons will beam down 4G-style Internet from over 60,000 ft. in the air.

The ultimate goal for Google’s balloon-based Internet initiative, known as Project Loon, is to use high-altitude balloons to provide Internet access in rural or remote areas or during times of disaster, according to Google.

The Australia test flights are the latest step forward for Project Loon, which began in June 2013 with a test flight of 30 balloons over New Zealand. Other trials have since taken place over California’s Central Valley and Northeast Brazil.

Google said it aims to expand the pilot through 2014 with the goal of establishing a ring of uninterrupted connectivity around the 40th southern parallel, a circle of latitude that includes parts of Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.

[The Guardian]

 

MONEY Tech

Yes, AOL Still Exists—and It’s Got a Nifty Trick Up Its Sleeve

Man walking past AOL logo in NYC
Andrew Kelly—Reuters

Merger talks between AOL and Yahoo are heating up again, which raises the question: What does AOL actually do these days?

For the second time in two months, a Yahoo-Aol merger is in the headlines. According to a new report from Reuters, top shareholders are pressuring Yahoo to join with the company formerly known as America Online. If this were 1998, the news would shake the industry. In 2014, it’s got a lot of people scratching their heads. Aol? Forget the merger—how does that company still exist?

And yet, not only is Aol (the company lowercased its initials in 2009, when it was spun off from TimeWarner) still kicking around, it’s actually thriving. In 2013, CEO Tim Armstrong reported the first quarterly revenue growth in almost a decade, and the company recently posted an 18% year-over-year increase in revenue. The stock has soared, prompting the Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson to snark that the big A’s success is “a perfect lesson in why we shouldn’t confuse great stocks for great companies.”

It’s hard to blame someone for doubting a business that still makes most of its money from a dwindling pool of subscribers, but Thompson, like most tech observers, likely saw Aol for what it was, not what it is gradually becoming: namely, one of the most powerful players in the digital advertising world.

The Old Aol

Way back in the early days of the internet, Aol raked in boatloads of money from subscribers to its dial-up internet service. It was also a web “portal”—an internet directory of sorts—that pointed customers to its other online sites and services. The company’s model seemed flawless: Get paying subscribers in the digital door, then send them to your own media properties. For a time, the strategy worked. In 2000, Aol purchased TimeWarner (MONEY’s former parent company) in a $164 billion deal, becoming one of the largest corporations in the world.

But soon after the acquisition, Aol fell behind the times. Dial-up gave way to broadband, the company’s “walled garden” model was replaced by an open and vibrant web, and the merger is now widely seen as one of the worst business moves of all time. Nine years after their disastrous marriage, Aol was spun off from TimeWarner, and the newly independent company was essentially left for dead. How could such a tech dinosaur—an internet bubble cliché in so many ways—ever recover?

The New Aol

Two decades later, Aol technically still makes most of its money from subscribers to its various services, which these days include broadband. Total subscription revenue accounted for $650 million last year, and more than 100% of its operating income (that’s because the other sectors of the business are currently losing money).

But Aol’s true value isn’t in its shrinking subscriber base. The company has wisely taken the cash from its old business and poured it into a new one: digital video advertising. And in this sector, Aol has been dominating.

The company’s third-quarter earnings report shows Aol Platforms, its advertising arm, brought in a whopping $271 million in revenue. Even more impressive: the Platforms segment grew 44% year over year. That kind of growth is unheard of in most old-school tech companies, particularly one that predates the modern internet by more than a decade.

Why has Aol’s foray into digital advertising been such a hit? As Brian Pitz, an analyst at Jefferies covering Aol, explains, the company’s advantage comes from giving ad buyers and sellers a one-stop shop for all of their advertising needs. By combining analytics, tools for sellers, tools for buyers, and a number of other services, Aol promises to save marketers and publishers money by cutting out what it calls the “technology tax”—the extra money both sides pay for using various middlemen to accomplish the same tasks.

As the graphic below shows, advertisers and publishers need lots of different services to reach their desired audience. In the past, they would have gotten those services from multiple providers, each of whom took a cut. Aol is attractive, Pitz says, because it offers everything all in one place—”a fully integrated [advertising] platform. The only other company that has that is Google.”

Source: Aol

 

While Aol’s Platforms business seems to be doing just fine on its own, Pitz notes that the one thing the company lacks is bigger scale for its ad business to operate across. Merging with Yahoo, and gaining access to Yahoo’s millions of visitors, could help that problem; that’s one reason shareholders are pushing for a merger. (Another is a desire to unlock the value of Yahoo’s stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.)

But Yahoo may decide it would rather beat Aol than join it. On Wednesday, the company purchased BrightRoll, which specializes in programmatic video ad sales, for $640 million.

TIME Smartphones

Review: Lollipop Makes Your Android Phone Way More Beautiful

Google Nexus 6 Google

Android is getting a massive visual overhaul

This review originally appeared on Trusted Reviews

Android 5.0 Lollipop is the latest version of the Google mobile OS. It takes over from Android 4.4 KitKat and is likely to be the last major revision we see of the system until well into 2015.

Lollipop is the future, in other words, but is it really worth getting worked-up about? We’ve been using Android 5.0 with the Nexus 9, one of the devices launched alongside the software. Here’s what we think.

Android 5.0 Lollipop: Material Interface

Having used Android 5.0 Lollipop for a while now, we think perhaps the most significant change for now is the way the software looks. Not every change made offers a dramatic shift in the way Android feels, but the interface design does.

Google calls it Material, and aside from freshening-up the look, it’s meant to add “responsive, natural motion, realistic lighting and shadows.”

First, let’s take a look at the new design. Here are your home screens:

 

Android Lollipop Home Screens Trusted Reviews

You’ll notice everything is looking familiar, but a little different. Google has redesigned the soft keys — which now have a PlayStation-like flavor— and the Google app icons are different now.

It’s innocuous stuff, but tells you a lot about the aesthetic direction in which the system is heading. Android 5.0 Lollipop is all about friendly curves and shapes that have no intrinsic or obvious relationship with technology. They’re a circle, a square and a triangle: you don’t get much more basic than that.

Android Lollipop Soft Keys Trusted Reviews

We assume the idea is that they’re friendly compared with the rather more complicated soft keys of Android 4.4 KitKat. Despite their simplicity, the functions of two are pretty obvious even to relative technophobes.

The triangle already forms an arrow sign, and the circle is just like the Home button on an iPhone. When in doubt, copy Apple. The one on the right is called Overview these days, but it has much the same function as before: it brings up the multi-tasking menu.

The movement of the homescreens has changed. The animations are a bit less severe, with greater variance in their speeds and a greater sense of inertia. Android 5.0 Lollipop is all about shaving off that geeky exterior Android is still seen as having in some quarters.

You’re also likely to see a whole lot of the two headline backgrounds of Android 5.0. These are designed to look as though they’re made from real materials with clever use of textures. Once again, it’s a step away from the sharp technical refinement that has been more a clearer visual feature in previous Android UI elements. These backgrounds are still precise and geometric, but the textures are intended to ground them in the “real.”

It’s not so much “less geek, more chic,” but “less geek, more family-friendly.” Its no wonder Google has opted for this style, with tablets like the Tesco Hudl 2 plugging away at family buyers hard.

Is the new look good? Yes, it’s great. We already liked the Google Now interface used in some Android 4.4 phones, though, including the Nexus 5 and Moto G 2014.

The use of the real-time shadows/lighting promised on Google’s website is pretty subtle too. Those expecting jaw-dropping visual flashiness may be disappointed by this lack of bravado. Where you see the these live shadows most obviously is in the multi-tasking menu, which, as usual, is accessed using the right (square) soft key. Multi-tasking has gone 3D, folks, and each pane casts its own shadows. These are “design” shadows rather than realistic ones, mind you, and again are pretty diffuse. We like the look…

For the full Android 5.0 Lollipop Review, visited Trusted Reviews.

See more from Trusted Reviews:

Google Nexus 6 Hands-On

Google Nexus 9 Review

iPad Air 2 review

TIME Companies

What Took Silicon Valley So Long to Join the Ebola Fight?

Silicon Valley's humanitarian aid doesn't normally come in the form of cash — it comes in the form of tech

Until last week, there was one group largely missing from the list of Ebola donors: Silicon Valley companies.

Facebook’s and Google’s donation campaigns arrived months into an outbreak that in early summer had already been deemed “the worst Ebola outbreak in history.” And while their giving initiatives are generous — Facebook leveraged valuable online real estate for donation banners, while Google has already raised $5.1 million with its double-matched donations — it’s hard not to ask a lingering question: Why not sooner?

The question has plagued most humanitarian efforts in the Ebola fight. The World Health Organization’s chief criticized the timing of international support, mostly from governments, NGOs and international groups, as being “too little, too late” as far back as September. Some critics have even stepped forward to blast Silicon Valley companies over their timing directly — a Washington Post column noted that multimillion dollar gifts from Silicon Valley figureheads like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates highlighted the silence from the companies themselves. Another critic argued that Silicon Valley corporations, so-called promisers of change, were hypocritically “sitting out” the Ebola fight.

But companies like Facebook and Google weren’t really “sitting out.” Silicon Valley’s humanitarian aid doesn’t normally come in the form of cash — it comes in the form of tech. Google’s Ebola donation campaign was a product of its nonprofit arm, which funds innovative groups using technology to change the world, a Google spokesperson says. Facebook has used its site to show its massive audience how to support nonprofits fighting Ebola, says a spokesperson at the U.N. Foundation, which has worked with Facebook for months to promote Ebola aid.

Tech has been at the forefront of Silicon Valley’s aid in previous crises too. Google launched crisis maps to aid emergency preparedness and response, while Facebook’s social network, recently a platform for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge fundraising phenomenon, has facilitated communication during disasters. Still, while both companies have used their platforms to invite donations in the past, like during last year’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, neither had ever asked their users for help so directly — especially Facebook, which just last week followed Google’s example and started asking users to donate to various humanitarian organizations. That move, a Facebook spokesperson says, was way to amplify Facebook’s other ongoing humanitarian-contribution efforts.

Facebook and Google’s Ebola donation requests are just two ground-level examples of humanitarian efforts from an industry that’s better known for long-term, moonshot-style tech for a cause. Google has plans for a pill that can diagnose cancer and a smart contact lens that monitors diabetics’ glucose level, for example, while Facebook is developing solar-powered drones that beam down Internet access to less developed regions of the world. And few people in the humanitarian community really expect Silicon Valley companies, flush with cash as they are, to solicit donations or shell out their own money, but they very much welcome Facebook and Google’s efforts here.

“Silicon Valley companies have been very generous, as companies, to respond to different disasters. But for them to take a public stand and campaign like they’ve done is unprecedented,” says Rebecca Milner, vice president of institutional advancement at International Medical Corps (IMC), one of three nonprofits on Facebook’s Ebola donation banner.

IMC and other public-health organizations say they don’t consider Facebook’s and Google’s efforts to be too late. That’s partly because Silicon Valley isn’t usually involved in large coordinated efforts with humanitarian organizations, which work mostly with governments, NGOs and nonprofits. But that’s something that’s starting to change. Still, health experts believe that looking back — especially tempting now when we hear the best time for aid would’ve been before the Ebola outbreak even began — isn’t as useful as discovering how Silicon Valley’s humanitarian-engagement methods can be a powerful tool in the Ebola fight moving forward.

“This is something we’ve been chasing the whole time, and it’s hard to get in front of,” says Kate Dodson, vice president of global health at the U.N. Foundation. “It’s a learning process for all of us who are trying to support those on the front lines of the Ebola response.”

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