MONEY Tech

3 Gadgets to Cut Your Electric Bill

Unlike the rest of your devices, these items will actually reduce your energy consumption—and keep a few extra bucks in your pocket at the end of the month.

  • Honeywell Lyric

    Honeywell Lyric
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $279

    What it is: One of the latest “smart” thermostats, which claims to save users an average of $127 per year.

    How it works: The Lyric competes with the Nest and other high-tech thermostats but has a unique feature: It taps into your phone’s GPS to keep tabs on your location. That allows you to set up your system to, for instance, begin heating the house when it senses that you’re on your way home from the office. The thermostat also factors in humidity when setting the temperature, displays the day’s weather forecast for easy planning, and alerts you if it senses an HVAC system failure.

  • GE Link Light Bulb

    GE Link Light Bulb
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $15

    What it is: A super-long-lasting light bulb that can be linked to an affordable home-automation system.

    How it works: The Link has impressive stats: It uses 80% less energy than a typical bulb and lasts up to 22 years. However, to get the most from your Link bulbs, you must connect them to the $50 Wink hub, a Wi-Fi-enabled device that lets you control the lights (as well as compatible items such as locks and blinds) remotely. Use the hub to schedule when the Links should dim, brighten, and turn on and off.

  • Belkin WeMo Insight Switch

    Belkin WeMo Insight Switch
    Scott M. Lacey

    What it costs: $60

    What it is: This switch instantly turns any plug into an app-controlled outlet.

    How it works: The WeMo uses your home Wi-Fi network to communicate with
    a free iOS or Android smartphone app. Say you plug in a lamp. Using your phone, the WeMo allows you to turn the light on and off, monitor how long it’s been on, and see how much energy the bulb is using. You can also use the app to program your device so that, for example, your space heater turns on every day before you wake up, and off when you leave for work.

    Doug Aamoth covers tech news, reviews, and how-tos for Time. To see more of his work, go to time.com/tech.

TIME Smarthome

Google’s Nest Is Coming After the Rest of Your Home

Nest Labs, maker of the “learning” thermostat, is opening its platform to outside developers in a bid to expand the range of Internet-connected home devices it can interact with. Through Nest, which search giant Google acquired for $3.2 billion in January, users will be able to communicate with Mercedes-Benz vehicles, Whirlpool appliances, Jawbone fitness trackers and other gadgets.

Google is among the partners announced as part of the program. Google Now, the company’s personal digital assistant, will be able to set the temperature on a Nest thermostat automatically when it detects that a user is coming home, for example, or through voice commands. Nest said it will share limited user information with Google and other partners. Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told the Wall Street Journal that users have to opt in for each new device.

The move allows partners to link their software and applications to Nest’s thermostat, which will act as a hub for devices in the home. For example, Jawbone’s UP24 band knows when its users are about to wake up in the morning. Now, a Nest thermostat can automatically raise or lower the temperature just before a user gets out of bed in the morning. Likewise, a connected Mercedes-Benz can tell Nest when a user will be home from work, timing the house’s temperature correctly.

Nest is independently operated from Google. But the device maker is leading Google’s charge into the connected home market. Earlier this month, Nest announced it was acquiring Dropcam, a maker of connected cameras, for $555 million. The company’s founders have also said they are looking for unloved or poorly designed devices to reinvent.

TIME Gadgets

After Recall, Nest Smoke Alarm Is Back and Discounted

Nest

Nest’s followup to its nicely designed smart thermostat was a smart smoke detector called Protect (see our original coverage here).

One of the features of Protect — aside from being Internet-connected and able to send alerts to your smartphone — was a trick that let you wave your hand underneath it to silence it.

The thought was that people have a tendency to accidentally set off their smoke alarms while cooking, and getting the alarms to pipe down is more cumbersome than it should be.

However, the company found that the feature might have been at risk of malfunctioning, which in certain cases could have silenced the alarm when it was supposed to be making noise. So in early April — a few months after Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion — nearly half a million Nest smoke detectors were recalled; the wave-to-dismiss feature was able to be deactivated via a software update as well, making physically sending the smoke detector back to Nest unnecessary.

Now, the Nest Protect is back on the market, with the wave-to-dismiss feature disabled altogether. The company had originally alluded to trying to fix it via a future software update, so we’ll see if and when that comes to fruition. The price of the Nest Protect has also dropped from $130 down to $99 as well.

[New York Times]

TIME Gadgets

Smart Thermostats: Honeywell Takes On Google’s Nest

When it comes to the Smart Thermostat Wars (is that a thing yet?), there’s no love lost between Honeywell and Google-owned Nest. The high-profile Nest Learning Thermostat triggered a nasty patent scuffle back in 2012, when longtime thermostat behemoth Honeywell went after Nest over several claimed patent infringements.

Fast forward to today, and Honeywell is rolling out its own smart thermostat, the $279 Lyric. It’ll actually be part of a broader network of home automation devices, also fitting under the Lyric moniker, but the thermostat will be the first device in the line. It’ll be available now-ish from Honeywell’s home contractor partners, and in August from Lowe’s.

 

This isn’t the first of Honeywell’s connected thermostats: The company has a line of Wi-Fi-enabled, voice controlled models. But the new Lyric line will be smart in the sense that it recognizes when you’re home or away, and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Nest sports a similar feature that uses a sensor to detect whether you’re physically nearby; Honeywell’s system uses geofencing technology to detect whether your connected smartphone is nearby. That means it’ll be able to automatically tell when you’re on your way home from work, triggering the temperature to pop up a couple degrees once you get a few miles away, for instance.

Seeing that the Nest is a connected, smart thermostat, it seems like it’d be trivial to add geofencing capabilities in a future update. And certain Nest owners have already figured out how to enable geofencing features — see here and here — though to have such features built into the core of the product would do nothing but enhance the perceived value of Nest.

There’s also the price difference: Nest can be had for around $229, while the Lyric system will cost $50 more. It’ll be interesting to see if Nest answers Lyric by adding similar geofencing features, and if either system starts dropping their respective price tags in order to lure more customers.

[The Verge]

TIME mergers

Mega-Mergers Are Killing Innovation

The latest mega-merger in the telecommunications sector, that of AT&T and DirecTV, would be the fourth largest in history, and it comes only months after the nation’s largest cable operator Comcast announced that it was buying Time Warner Cable, the second largest cable operator. Nor is telecommunications the only sector to see such acquisitiveness. Microsoft purchased the devices and services business of Nokia for $7.2 billion late last year, Google snapped up Nest for $3.2 billion in January, and Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in February.

Such consolidation can be good for consumers as bigger companies have the resources to innovate and provide new products and services which might otherwise never materialize. However, the vertical integration of the telecommunications and technology sectors can also restrict innovation due to decreased competition and the limitation of research to specific technologies that support existing business lines.

Take, for example, the acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook’s primary reason for acquiring the company is to utilize the chat technology on its social media platform to bolster its existing messaging application, which currently lags WhatsApp in the smartphone market. Beyond that, Facebook will no doubt try to leverage WhatsApp’s own user base, currently more than half a billion, to promote its social media offering. But either way, the integration of Facebook with WhatsApp is the main goal and driver of value instead of some trailblazing technological development in the chat space itself.

Similarly, Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable enables the company to enter complementary markets without actually having to build new infrastructure in those markets or to innovate in any way. Such plug-and-play growth engenders laziness and deprives the U.S. of necessary infrastructure improvement and development. The U.S. is currently ranked a pitiable 35th in the world in broadband capacity according to the World Economic Forum, with even smaller nations outpacing us in cutting edge telecommunications.

Even when it comes to ‘pure’ or fundamental science that can form the basis of future technology, the relentless drive for commercialization limits its destiny to whatever fuels profits in the short term and can impede future research that does not support that. True, third parties could conduct research for other applications but the ironclad patents that major corporations hold on their technology can make such efforts unprofitable. In other words, the acquisition of promising technologies by major corporations can actually limit them by forcing them along proscribed lines in the future.

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries that have fueled mankind’s advancement were made in the vacuum of human curiosity without the profit motive that has now become the norm. Today, unless the process of discovery is sponsored by some major corporation or has an obvious application to industry at the outset, there is little motive to pursue it. Even research institutions, which have historically been neutral havens for such discoveries, now require corporate money to survive and are bound by corporate rules. This is a loss for the spirit of innovation that drives human achievement.

That is not to say that all acquisitions are bad or that our biggest companies don’t move us forward technologically, but if the pace of consolidation by major players continues, it could shrink the playing field to such a degree that innovation will become the sole domain of a handful of companies who, for the most part, will only finance targeted research that promotes their own bottom line, and use patents to prevent others from advancing that technology in other directions. That may be a win for commerce but not necessarily for the type of unexpected discoveries that could improve our world in the future.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a political and business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, as well as at hedge fund Ramius. Sanghoee sits on the Board of Davidson Media Group, a mid-market radio station operator. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is also the author of two thriller novels. Follow him @sanghoee.

TIME Technologizer

Nest’s Smoke Detector ‘Recall’ Doesn’t Mean You Need to Send Yours Back

Nest Smoke Detector
Nest Labs

A problem disclosed in early April is now the subject of an official bulletin from the Consumer Product Safety Commission

Nest Labs–a startup recently bought by Google which brings high style and web smarts to mundane household devices–is recalling Nest Protect, a smoke and carbon monoxide detector, over concerns that its alarm might fail to go off in emergency situations. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 440,000 Nest Protect units are affected by the problem.

Wednesday’s recall news, though important, isn’t quite as big a deal as it sounds like: It’s more of a formality, as the CPSC is officially alerting consumers to measures which Nest took on its own back on April 3. And the “recall” doesn’t involve Nest owners having to send the detectors back for repair; they were designed all along to update their own software over Wi-Fi, a feature which makes this unexpected development less of a disaster.

The risk relates to one of the detector’s most clever features, “wave to dismiss.” If the alarm goes off because of something which isn’t actually dangerous–like a little smoke wafting from your oven as you cook dinner–you don’t need to frantically whip a towel through the air or stand on a chair to turn it off. Instead, you can merely wave your hand and a motion detector inside Nest Protect will shut off the alarm.

Here’s the rub: The company concluded that there was a chance that the feature might malfunction, causing Nest Protect to stay silent in a situation that really is dangerous. There are no known examples of any harm coming to people or property because of the problem, but Nest decided to issue a software update which temporarily disabled the feature while it worked on a permanent fix.

On April 3, Nest disclosed the discovery of the potential hazard, issued the software update which shut off wave-to-dismiss, halted sales of new units and offered a refund to any Nest Protect owner who was unable or unwilling to perform the update.

Why the delay before the CPSC’s recall notice? The agency had its own technicians examine Nest’s solution for the issue and approve it–a process which took a few weeks. It considers the formal notification it published today to be a recall, even though the resolution involves the smoke detector self-installing the update. (And as before, consumers can also return the unit for a refund.)

Nest, meanwhile, says it’s finishing a new version of “wave-to-dismiss” which will bring back the feature while eliminating the malfunction. It’ll be part of another software update which the company plans to push out in the next few weeks, whereupon it will also resume sales of Nest Protect.

MORE: How a Thermostat Can Save the World

TIME Advertising

Google Wants to Put Ads in Your Refrigerator

A Google logo is seen at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, California
Stephen Lam—Reuters

Updated 12:53 p.m.

Remember how advertisements were crammed into Tom Cruise’s every waking moment in Minority Report? That, apparently, is Google’s vision of the future.

In a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed Tuesday, the tech giant revealed that it has hopes to place marketing messages in currently ad-free objects like refrigerators and thermostats. “A few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities,” the company wrote.

Google was trying to explain to the SEC why it doesn’t need to disclose to its investors the size of its mobile business. Because the definition of mobile devices is changing so quickly, it would be “misleading and confusing” to investors to break out mobile usage and revenue, the company said. When there are ads on our fridges and attached to the ceilings of our homes, it will be even harder to define “mobile,” according to Google. “Our expectation is that users will be using our services and viewing our ads on an increasingly wide diversity of devices in the future, and thus our advertising systems are becoming increasingly device-agnostic,” the company wrote. Other tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo regularly disclose figures related to mobile growth.

The disclosure, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, illustrates exactly why Google is so gung-ho about the “Internet of Things,” the move toward turning previously “dumb” gadgets like watches into connected devices that can interact with other computers. The company is already placing its Android mobile operating system into cars through a partnership with automakers and pushing it into smartwatches through an optimized OS called Android Wear. Earlier this year, Google also bought Nest, a company that manufactures smart thermostats, for $3.2 billion. At the time, Nest said that it would not broaden its privacy policy, which currently limits use of users’ personal data to “providing and improving Nest’s products and services.”

A Google spokesman clarified the implications of the SEC letter. “We are in contact with the SEC to clarify the language in this 2013 filing, which does not reflect Google’s product roadmap,” the spokesman said. “Nest, which we acquired after this filing was made, does not have an ads-based model and has never had any such plans.”

TIME Tech

The Reason for Apple’s Massive $3 Billion Beats Deal? Spotify

The era of digital downloads is coming to an end and Apple is still without its own streaming music product. That's why it looks poised to buy Beats for $3.2 billion, which would be its biggest acquisition ever

Why would Apple want to buy Beats Electronics?

It’s a question many tech observers have been asking since the Financial Times reported Thursday that the Silicon Valley behemoth is “closing in” on a $3.2 billion acquisition of the “high quality” headphones maker founded by music producer Jimmy Iovine and hip-hop artist Dr. Dre.

The FT suggested that Apple might be interested in Beats in order to recharge its “cool” factor at a time when streaming music services like Spotify, Pandora and Rdio have become increasingly popular with young people.

Apple’s iTunes service long dominated digital music sales, but the company never quite figured out how to present a streaming music product. Apple’s flagship music brand iTunes has been criticized over its user interface — so it makes sense that the company would be eager for outside help.

At $3.2 billion, the Beats deal would be more than three times larger than any acquisition in Apple’s history.

Apple can definitely afford the transaction — it’s sitting on more than $150 billion in cash and investments — but the company has traditionally preferred to build from within. Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs was fiercely proud of that fact. Unlike other tech giants, Apple has never made an acquisition larger than $1 billion.

Until now, perhaps.

Bolt-on acquisitions are in vogue in the tech world these days: Recent examples include Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Oculus (not to mention Instagram), as well as Google’s purchase of Nest and Waze, and Yahoo’s Tumblr buyout.

Dr. Dre, a musician and producer who co-founded the seminal Compton, Calif.-based hip-hop group NWA, has said that he was inspired to create Beats by the poor sound quality in many headphones. He teamed up with legendary producer Jimmy Iovine, a veteran music industry executive, to launch a brand that has proved remarkably popular.

“I knew people were going to dig it, but I didn’t know it was going to be this big,” Dre told TIME in a recent interview. “I didn’t know it was going to be at this magnitude. I know that people really care about the way their music sounds. So did I know it was going to work? Yeah, but I had no idea it was going to be this massive.”

For Apple, the streaming music service that Beats recently launched may be the most attractive part of the deal. Apple revolutionized digital music with the iPod and iTunes, but the company has yet to find a new formula to challenge Spotify, the streaming music darling of the moment.

“This is a reactive move — at best,” writes veteran tech journalist Om Malik. “Steve Jobs’ Apple would have pushed to make something better, but even he struggled to come to terms with the Internet and Internet thinking. That hasn’t changed.” (TIME’s Harry McCracken also poses some good questions about the deal.)

Subscription services are growing faster than any other area of the music industry. Music subscription revenue increased by 50% to $1.1 billion in 2013, according to a report by IFPI, the global music industry association, cited by my colleague Eliana Dockterman. Downloads fell 2% last year, in the first annual decline since Apple launched the iTunes store in 2003.

Spotify is valued at more than $4 billion, and the Swedish company is among the most high profile candidates likely to go public over the next few years. A Spotify IPO would likely blast the company’s market value into the stratosphere, so it would make sense for Apple to make a run at the company now.

But why has Apple been unable to develop a credible streaming music service internally? After all, the company has a multitude of talented software and hardware engineers.

Three reasons.

First, Apple was late to the streaming music game, perhaps because its iTunes franchise was built around buying individual music tracks. Simply put, the iTunes business model is not about streaming music.

Second, Apple’s specialty is hardware and software design, not media. The company has run into trouble in its negotiations with big media companies.

Third, Apple CEO Tim Cook is an operational wizard — and a genius at managing Apple’s supply chain and inventory — but he’s not a product visionary like Jobs.

Cook failed to anticipate that music streaming would become the new industry business model. As a result, Apple simply wasn’t set up to launch a successful streaming service of its own. And it’s not because Apple didn’t have the resources or Los Angeles connections to secure the necessary rights. It’s because the company failed to anticipate a major consumer entertainment trend.

“The age of digital downloads is basically over,” Aram Sinnreich, a media professor at Rutgers University who studies the intersection of technology and music, told Bloomberg. So now, Apple reportedly wants to buy Beats for $3.2 billion.

This situation raises a now-familiar question: What’s up with innovation inside Apple? The company makes the best consumer hardware and software in the world, but it hasn’t launched a new product category since the iPad launch in 2010. Incremental improvements to the iPhone, the iPad and the Mac computer line have been impressive, but what’s next?

One possible explanation for Apple’s interest in Beats might be the booming “wearable computing” space. After all, Beats’ signature product is the high-bass headphone unit. If Apple can incorporate the Beats product into its wearable computing system — think Internet connected headphones — then the deal could pose a threat to Google, Facebook, and other companies that are forging ahead on smart glasses and watches.

TIME T100

Can a Thermostat Save the Planet?

Tony Fadell and Nest are planning to build a more eco-friendly tomorrow

Forget your old home appliances, the new home is all about smart tech. From Bluetooth key locks to app-controlled light bulbs, the new home is undergoing a smart-tech revolution. Tony Fadell, designer of the first iPod, threw his hat into the ring of the smart-tech competition in 2010 with his company Nest. In 2011, Nest announced a high-tech remote controlled thermostat that is constantly learning about your energy use. Fadell’s company was recently bought by Google for 3.2 billion dollars.

When I looked at the environment in 2010 people were working on [renewable energy sources and grid changes]. When you looked at the thermostat and it hadn’t changed in 30 years, you were like, ‘wait a second.’ This is ripe for innovation, this is ripe for disruption … lets go fix that problem,” Fadell said.

Nest is slowly sliding to the forefront of green tech. Its smart thermostat is marketed to the average consumer worried about their wallet, but their underlying mission is to reduce the planet’s total energy consumption. Tony Fadell has been chosen as one of TIME’s top 100 most influential people for 2014.

MORE: Nest Protect Smoke Detector

TIME TIME 100

Power Tools

The objects that inspire our TIME 100 influencers.

  • Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Director: ‘I Ching’

    Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Director
    Tara Johnson—TIME

    “It’s an interesting text, because it combines Confucianism and Tao, but they’re actually two different things: one deals with ethics, and the other is more metaphysical. I consult it not so much to make a choice between this or that, but to understand my own attitudes. When I’m shooting, it’s in my backpack. When I travel, it’s in my bag. It’s like a guide in my life, more than a driving force.”

    Read J.J. Abrams on Cuarón’s influence.

     

  • Rand Paul, Kentucky Senator: Scalpel

    Rand Paul, Kentucky Senator
    Tara Johnson—TIME

    “I spent 25 years doing eye surgery. There’s probably nothing more amazing than removing someone’s cataracts and having them sit up and say, “I can see again!”. In medicine, we try to diagnose a problem and then look for a solution. There’s a Groucho Marx comment that politics is sometimes the opposite — politicians misdiagnose problems, and apply the wrong solution. But being an eye surgeon reminds me to take a more analytical approach.”

    Read Mitch McConnell on Paul’s influence.

     

  • Alice Waters, Chef: Mortar and pestle

    Alice Waters, Chef
    Tara Johnson—TIME

    “I really don’t like a lot of gadgets in the kitchen, and this is the opposite of a blender or a Cuisinart. It’s a primal way of mixing things together. Pounding something together, smelling it, putting your finger right there, tasting it. I’m using all of my senses to make something – a vinaigrette, a pesto, a salsa verde. It’s kind of therapeutic.”

    Read Ruth Reichl on Waters’ influence.

     

  • Mary Barra, GM CEO: Medallion

    Mary Barra, GM CEO
    Paola Kudacki for TIME

    “I got this 10 years ago, as a gift from a close friend after my mother died. The medallion is a symbol of my faith and reminds me of my Mom, and the incredible person she was. She taught me and my brother the value of hard work, integrity and honesty. Along with my Dad, I loved and admired her deeply, and I think of her every day. The medallion motivates me to live up to the personal standards she lived by. I keep it in my purse, so it’s with me every day.”

    Read Lee Iacocca on Barra’s influence.

     

  • Tony Fadell, Nest CEO: Running shoes

    Tony Fadell, Nest CEO
    Tara Johnson—TIME

    “When I’m running, I don’t want to be distracted by TV or anything else. I want to be outside, with no wearable computers or any of that other stuff. A lot of great things come to me that way. It’s such a part of how I think, like writing on a piece of paper.”

    Read Yves Béhar on Fadell’s influence.

     

  • Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO: Dry erase marker

    Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO
    Tara Johnson—TIME

    “My first business was SAT prep. I was 18, I had an office space, and [the score of] the first person I tutored went up by 400 points. I think I’m a teacher, that’s kind of how I roll. And it’s part of my management style today. If we have hard problems, I get up, I’m on a white board, and we’re hamming on the next big thing. It’s humorous, it’s collaborative, it’s creative and it’s high-energy.”

    Read Neil Patrick Harris on Kalanick’s influence.

     

  • Diane Paulus, Director: Music stand

    Dianel Paulus, Director
    Tara Johnson—TIME

    “As a director [of Broadway’s Pippin], I want to feel viscerally engaged in the rehearsal room. So I can’t be behind a table. It’s an anathema for me. Instead, I put my scripts on a music stand. It’s nice and tall and skinny, and I can push it to the side if I need to.”

    Read Audra McDonald on Paulus’ influence.

     

  • Carl Icahn, Investor: Headset

    Carl Icahn, Investor
    Tara Johnson—TIME

    “I’m on the phone a lot, like a telephone operator, and if I keep holding the phone it strains my muscles. I’ve been using this headset for many years. And it frees up my hands to write notes.”

    Read T. Boone Pickens on Icahn’s influence.

     

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser