TIME apps

This Is the App You Need to Download for Earth Day

Getty Images

It lets you keep a log of your daily energy consumption and tells you how to reduce it

Has commemorating Earth Day on April 22 got you in the mood to save some energy? There’s an app for that.

My Earth — Track Your Carbon Savings uses a simple diary format to help make you aware of the energy you’re using during your daily routine.

The app tracks your energy consumption in areas like electricity, travel and food, and within each category, there are suggestions for doing things differently to help conserve energy. Some of the suggestions are simple (like recycling) and some are complex (like installing a high-efficiency water closet). As you take up the suggestions, you accumulate carbon units and can quickly see how much energy you are saving.

A cute visual device — a polar bear perched on an iceberg — depicts your progress. The more energy you save, the bigger the iceberg gets.

Nancy Wong, the app’s designer and professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said on the institution’s website that in many people what looked like a lack of concern for the environment was really “a failure to connect individual action to that bigger picture.”

She explained that “Hopefully the app could help you understand actually whatever you do is not insignificant, and this is how you can contribute.”

TIME technology

See How Virtual Reality Could Be the Future of Photojournalism

The Enemy, a virtual reality experience, puts you in the middle of a face-to-face encounter between combatants of opposing sides

At first, if it weren’t for the contraption that makes you look half-alien, half-astronaut, The Enemy, a virtual reality experience on show at the Tribeca Film Festival, would be akin to most exhibitions.

As you don the awkward oculus rift goggles and the backpack with the umbilical cord that ties you to the operating system, photos taken in the Palestinian Territories appear on opposing sides. As you would when touring a gallery, you approach either wall, focusing your attention on the scene depicted on the first image before moving on to the next. After a few moments, portraits of two adversaries, Abu Khaled, a garrison leader for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Gilad, an IDF soldier, replace the depictions of everyday struggles. The two men don’t stay inanimate for long. At once, they take shape right in front of you, as sophisticated holograms answering questions about violence and peace.

The virtual conversation mirrors the interactions of an actual one. Come in too close to the simulated fighter, and they’ll draw back. Shift left or right and their gaze will follow you. Take a few step back and the volume of their voice weakens. After a few minutes, once the conversation is over, they fade away, leaving you alone in an empty room. At this point, removing the high-tech gear feels like waking up from an exceptionally vivid dream: you keep a distinct memory of the experience, yet are acutely aware that it was not real.

“I wanted to know what would happen if we took the likeness of the combatants I’ve photographed off the wall and breathed life into them,” says Karim Ben Khelifa, the mastermind behind The Enemy, which received funding and support from the Tribeca Film Institute’s New Media Fund. “How would people react? How would the public engage with them? And what impact would it have on their understanding or on how much they care?”

iThe Enemy/i, a virtual reality experience, puts you in the middle of a face-to-face encounter between combatants of opposing sides
Karim Ben KhelifaPhotography consultant Stephen Mayes testing The Enemy

For the better part of the last decade, the Tunisian photographer has dedicated himself to taking portraits of foes, especially those captive to entrenched conflicts, born with the hatred of the other, such as the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities or the India-Kashmir rift. Ben Khelifa sees it as a way to make the viewer – and, hopefully, bitter rivals – see the human being behind the fighter.

“Fundamentally, as journalists, we’ve always been trying to arouse empathy so that viewers will care for a situation happening miles from their home or to others,” he says. “When I began as a photographer, I wanted to work for the most renowned magazines in order to reach the largest audience and touch the most souls. With time, I grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of results.”

It turned out that three images in a newspaper spread were not enough to bring on change. Nor were a dozen shared online. Nor even fifty or sixty bound in a book or displayed as a show. “The challenge is to devise mechanisms that will grab and hold people’s attention long enough for you to tell a complex story,” he says, two years after he had his first virtual reality experience when he joined the MIT’s Open Documentary Lab.

Virtual reality, with its potential to offer a fully engrossing experience, might just be the way, he believes, though it’s not without obstacles. Producing such an elaborate project is exorbitantly costly and requires a wide set of skills. Over 45 people have worked on The Enemy – some of whom were dedicated to rendering exclusively and with utmost accuracy skin, hair or the slightest movement.

“It is essential to make the presence of the combatant feel as genuine as possible,” says Ben Khelifa. “By reacting to the viewer’s behavior, the hologram is acknowledging his presence, which in turn, creates a cognitive reaction of reciprocity. The hologram appears more real.” So much so, that though participants could walk through the simulated fighter, none of them has done so. During a demonstration in Paris, one woman fled when the combatants appeared, unsure of whether they were going to come after her, and another turned away from Abu Khaled. She wanted to hear what he had to say, but staring the masked man in the eyes made her uneasy.

Since starting the project two years ago and basing himself on the reactions of his users, Ben Khelifa has been tweaking and fine tuning the experience, keeping it as simple and intuitive as possible. “The difficulty is that I can’t fully control how everything unfolds,” he says. “Some of it is in the hand of the user who needs to feel some agency. There’s a fine balance that needs to be achieved between directing the viewer and giving him freedom. I could add an endless amount of sensorial experiences, but that could quickly become overwhelming.”

The prototype for The Enemy is currently on view at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Storyscapes programming alongside other interactive experiences. Ben Khelifa hopes that within the next 20 months he will be able to add seven more duos of fighters that will interact with the viewers in different manners. He will also spend that time devising ways to make it more accessible, creating a traveling installation that could welcome more than one person at a time as well as an app version to be experienced at home.

And, he has plans to record with more accuracy the reactions of participants, monitoring their heart rate, keeping track of how close or distant to each combatant they get and noting how attentive they are. “Analyzing people’s responses will give us insights that can help us become more effective storytellers,” he says.

Karim Ben Khelifa is a freelance photojournalist and a visiting scholar at the Open Documentary Lab at MIT in Cambridge. Follow him on Instagram @karimbenkhelifa and Twitter @kbenk. Follow The Enemy on Twitter @theenemyishere.

Laurence Butet-Roch is a freelance writer, photo editor and photographer based in Toronto, Canada. She is a member of the Boreal Collective.

TIME technology

Instagram Now Allows Photos of Women Breast-Feeding

Instagram Changes Terms Of Service, Stirs Anger Among Users
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Updated guidelines clarify what images users can and cannot share

Last year, one mom said she had her Instagram account shut down after commenters complained about photos that showed her breast-feeding. She said she got her account back up and running after launching a social-media campaign.

Now, in an updated set of guidelines, Instagram has clarified that photos of “women actively breast-feeding” are 100% permitted. Photos of post-mastectomy scars are fair game too. (Images of “sexual intercourse, genitals and close-ups of fully nude buttocks” are banned.)

Breast-feeding photos on Instagram have long been a point of contention. In October actress Alyssa Milano posted a photo that showed her breast-feeding her baby and said she was surprised that it sparked backlash. Milano said she “got really sad” that she received so many hateful messages about her choice to share the photo.

The new guidelines also remind users not to share messages that “support or praise terrorism, organized crime or hate groups” or that offer illegal services.

Read Instagram’s complete guidelines here.

TIME Media

Why Investors Are So in Love With Netflix Right Now

The Netflix company logo is seen at Netf
Ryan Anson—AFP/Getty Images The Netflix company logo is seen at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, CA on April 13, 2011.

Nothing is ever straightforward about Netflix earnings–and last quarter was no exception: Netflix shares surged 12% in after-hours trading Tuesday after it reported earnings per share of 38 cents, a long way from the 63 cents a share that analysts had been expecting.

To explain that disconnect, you either have to conclude that Netflix investors have lost their minds or that there’s something else they saw and liked in the numbers. With Netflix, it can be both at once.

Because it’s as if there are multiple companies being analyzed here: the one poised to take over the world, or the one that is breaking the bank to get there. The stock that’s risen 4,000% over the past decade, or the speculative stock with the PE ratio above 160. In the case of Netflix, there’s plenty of room for both arguments.

One reason investors were willing to overlook the big earnings miss is that much of it was caused by the strong US dollar, which lowered international revenue 48%. Without the foreign-exchange losses, Netflix would have reported a 77-cents-a-share profit, above the Street’s expectations. As it was, Netflix reported a $14.7 million net profit, less than half the $35.8 million profit a year ago.

Investors, it seems, are willing to overlook that because of another metric, one that’s particularly scrutinized at Netflix these days: new subscribers. In the US, Netflix added 2.3 million new subscribers net of cancellations, which was well above the 1.8 million adds it had expected. Internationally, Netflix added 2.6 million net subscribers, also above the 2.25 million it forecast.

That was largely because of new original programming the company has creating, like the third season of House of Cards and the debut of new Netflix creations like Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the star-studded drama Bloodline. Netflix has been cultivating series that can appeal in the US as well as abroad, and the new subscriptions suggest it’s working for now.

This quarter, the company is rolling out even more original content, such as the Marvel series Daredevil, released last Friday; a documentary series, Chef’s TableGrace and Frankie, a comedy starring four Emmy award winners; Sens8,a scifi series created by the Wachowskis; and the return of Orange Is the New Black. Those should keep new subscribers signing up, but they’re also adding to spending.

It’s the mounting spending that the Netflix bears often point to. Streaming content obligations (basically, licensing fees for titles coming in the future) rose to $9.8 billion in the last quarter from $7.1 billion a year ago. These figures don’t necessarily affect the current income statement as much as give an indication of how spending will happen in the future, but they are daunting numbers nonetheless.

For the last quarter’s spending, Netflix offers another home-brewed metric, contribution profit. It’s revenue minus content spending and marketing expenses, so it excludes tech infrastructure or administrative costs. It’s an unorthodox metric, but it at least shows how, as Netflix pushes into new markets, content and marketing are performing against revenue.

In the last quarter, the contribution profit from US streaming operations rose 55% year over year to $312 million, or 32% of revenue. International streaming, however, incurred a contribution loss of $65 million, up from a loss of $35 million a year ago. In the current quarter, the contribution loss will swell to $101 million.

On a video call discussing earnings (like its home-brewed metrics, Netflix has its own style of conference call, where a pair of rotating analysts ask questions on a Google hangout), CFO David Wells was asked about how long the spending would keep growing. He reiterated a warning Netflix has made before, that the losses could grow throughout 2015, thanks in good part to marketing in newer markets in Europe and Asia.

“We’ve said we are committed to running the business at global breakeven and we have ambitious plans for international growth,” Wells said. “We’ll have some bigger launches, and we’ve described them as meaningful and significant investments in back half of this year. So you should expect those losses to trend upward and into ’16, and then improve from there.”

The case Netflix has been making has been that it’s spending aggressively to take advantage of a global, long-term trend away from traditional broadcast and cable TV and toward TV streamed over the Internet. Others, like HBO, Hulu and possibly Apple are approaching the same market, but Netflix is racing less to compete with them today than to be ready as the audience and demand for Internet TV emerges.

To get there, Netflix has made it clear it will spend what it needs to, even at the risk of losses or shrinking profits this year. Future content obligations are growing, Wells said, but not faster than current revenue. The company’s big bet is the spending today will translate into faster growth and more profit starting in 2016.

This explains why subscription growth is so closely watched. It’s the clearest measure of whether the spending on new programs and new markets is actually delivering. The bulls believe this long-term growth will come as Netflix has promised.

What it doesn’t explain is why the stock sees such volatile swings whenever Netflix reports its quarterly earnings. For that, you need to look to the stock speculators, who have for years driven Netflix shares to euphoric heights that make its executives uncomfortable, if not themselves.

Netflix’s business may be as bullish as ever, but that doesn’t mean the stock price is fairly valued. It rose $56 to $531.50 on Tuesday’s earnings, making it worth 162 times the profit Netflix is expecting this year. Netflix is making some risky but realistic investments in its future growth. But that risk is nothing compared to what investors are taking on by buying at such a crazy valuation.

MONEY technology

4 Devices That Let You Stream TV on the Cheap

TV streaming devices
Scott M. Lacey

Why drop $400 or more on a "smart" TV? These affordable devices will stream content to the set you already own.

The device: Apple TV
Cost: $69
Best for: iTunes users
How it works: For easy TV access to your videos, music, and other iTunes content, you can’t beat this set-top box and remote. Plus, families can pool content, using Apple TV to share up to six iTunes libraries. The system allows you to mirror your Apple device’s screen on the TV—great for viewing photos. Like all the devices in this story, Apple TV also lets you access third-party services such as Hulu and Netflix (some require a subscription).

The device: Amazon Fire TV Stick
Cost: $39
Best for: Amazon Prime members
How it works: The Fire TV Stick, which plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, promises to stream content instantly, without buffering. Use the device and remote to mainline your free Amazon shows, as well as video from the other big providers (no HBO Go yet; Amazon says it’s coming this spring). The Fire TV Stick is compatible with 300-plus videogames, though you’ll need a $40 controller for some.

The device: Roku Streaming Stick
Cost: $50
Best for: Media fiends
How it works: This plug-in device and accompanying remote work with all the usual channels, but the real appeal of the Streaming Stick is its wide range of niche selections. Users can access more than 1,800 channels, with categories from sports to news to kids’ programming. Roku also gets points for an outstanding remote, complete with “quick launch” buttons that take you straight to Amazon or Netflix.

The device: Google Chromecast
Cost: $35
Best for: No-frills streaming
How it works: The Chromecast has no remote; instead, you use apps on your smartphone or tablet to sling video to your TV. The device supports content providers, such as YouTube, HBO Go, and Netflix. To watch, pull up the app and tap the Chromecast icon to transfer the video to your set. Your phone controls volume and playback, and, using the Chrome browser, you can cast websites from your computer to the TV.

TIME technology

You Can Now Link Your Instagram Photos to Your Tinder Profile

Tinder App
Franziska Kraufmann—AP

Attract potential mates with those dope brunch pics

Until now, Tinder users could only share photos from Facebook. But a new update means you can finally link your Instagram account to your Tinder profile too.

Users who choose to integrate their Instagram profiles will be able to display the 34 most recent photos, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to Tinder president Sean Rad, a “substantial percentage” of people on the popular dating app already list their Instagram handles in their bios.

“It will help you better understand who the person is that you’re talking to,” Rad told Mashable.

If you’re a Tinder user with a private Instagram account, no worries: there’s an option to display your photos within your Tinder profile without changing your Instagram privacy settings.

So if you want to attract a quality mate, your Insta game better be on point. Also, now is the time to figure out which filter makes you look the best.

TIME technology

MIT Designer: Apple Watch Is a Glass Slab Trying To Do Too Much

Apple Watch
Apple Apple Watch

David Rose is a MIT Media Lab scientist and inventor and the author of "Enchanted Objects," out in paperback on April 28 from Scribner.

What fantasy does the Apple Watch fulfill?

As an interface design researcher at MIT, I’ve been critical of the cursed smartphone world for a long time. In my book, Enchanted Objects: Design, Desire, and the Internet of Things, I argue that the age of “connected things” will break the technological stranglehold smartphones have over our lives. Connecting everything will result in faster access to vital information and services, with less cognitive load and fewer distractions. The watch is Apple’s first bold move into the marketplace of the Internet of Things, but it’s still a glass slab trying to do too much.

What fantasy does the Apple Watch fulfill? Enchanted objects from fairytales and science fiction tend to satisfy a small set of wishes, the same set of super-powers that the Apple Watch is chasing.

Through glanceable displays of weather, stocks, and sales metrics, the watch aims to fulfill a fantasy of omniscience, sending you any real-time information you could desire. The watch also offers a form of telepathy through FaceTime and sending your heartbeat to a loved one. The age-old fantasies of immortality are also stroked by an activity and stress tracker that nudges you to be healthy. Teleportation, too, becomes a reality by making an Uber available at the click of a button on your wrist. And the Apple Watch fulfills another fantasy (though it’s more a fantasy of Apple’s) of frictionless capitalism, allowing you to pay for anything, anywhere (after Apple takes its cut).

The most exciting trend in technology and design is combining the physical and digital in elegant ways. To embed computing and interconnectedness into common objects (thermostats, pens, trashcans, jewelry, medication packaging, mirrors and more) makes the ordinary a little extraordinary. The smart watch is a step in the direction of enchantment, if the design is done well.

App developers have been presented an incredible design challenge: Take your current app and condense the functionality into a 1×1 inch square. The April 24th launch is re-prioritizing development plans. More than ever, app developers will have to consider the dimensions of touch and speech, as visual real estate has never been so limited. This matters because most apps are attention hogs, badly in need of a nip and tuck.

Mark Weiser, who coined the term “ubiquitous computing,” predicted that technology would become “as delightful as a walk in the woods.” When we walk through the woods, we process hundreds of pieces of information every second, yet despite this seeming sensory overload, the effect is calming instead of overwhelming. Why?

Our subconscious brain perceives these “raw” stimuli more quickly and easily than man-made symbols, such as words or numbers. Watches with analog displays have a leg-up because, like a tree in the forest, angles are processed “pre-attentively.” Numbers and text take much longer to perceive and process.

Perhaps the greatest and most desirable impact of the Apple Watch will be how it forces developers to summarize and display information in a way that demands less of our attentional pool. This is the world of milliseconds. Pre-attentive processing occurs within one-quarter of a second of sensing a stimulus, and can be done in parallel with other tasks, such as speaking and driving.

The Apple Watch has the potential to catalyze a new world of apps that are more useful and informative while diminishing their load on our brains — so we stop driving into road barriers, walking into light-poles, and dropping out of conversations with family and friends.

The pivotal question for you and me is this: Will the small size of the screen suck you into other apps and tasks on your phone, or create a bypass for these demands on your attention? Will the extra screen leave us more distracted or less?

As an object lesson, compare the e-book reader to an iPad. On simple Kindle models you are not distracted to check your email, because you can’t. When was the last time you read a book on an iPad without the temptation from all of the games and social media? With so many other apps singing their Siren-song, Odysseus himself could not get through The Odyssey.

Will the watch further divide, slice, and disrupt our attention? Or will it, as Farhad Manjoo wrote in the New York Times, “allow you to interact with the digital world at a glance, in a less outwardly antisocial way than you now do with your phone”? Will the new watch be a poisoned apple (a shiny exterior but evil inside), or will it help cure our information overload by forcing developers to trim their services to respect our attention?

We’ll know soon enough, and learn together by enchanting a familiar object that’s as old as, er, time.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

Here’s Why Asparagus Is Yet Another Thing We Should Not Deliver by Drone

Spoiler alert: Explosions

In the not-so-distant future, your dinner will probably be delivered straight to the window of your fifth floor apartment via drone.

Amazon is fighting with the FAA for the ability to test drone grocery deliveries, but drones have also been used less formally to delivery everything from burritos to pizza to champagne to… asparagus.

According to Dutch News, restauranteur Ronald Peijnenburg decided to celebrate asparagus season by using a drone to deliver the vegetable from the countryside to his Michelin-starred Netherlands restaurant. (He had previously delivered asparagus via Formula 1 cars and hot air balloons). But a video chronicling his attempted delivery shows a con of drones: Sometimes they crash and burn.

Between this and that one time a promotional drone in a TGI Friday’s accidentally lost control and cut off the tip of someone’s nose, can we maybe agree drones and the restaurant industry might not be a great fit?

TIME technology

Today’s iPhone Update Gives You Hundreds of New Emoji


Including more racially diverse options

After some beta tests, Apple has released iOS 8.3, an update that comes with 300 new emojis, a highly-anticipated feature since the tech giant pledged last year to make the popular characters more diverse after users protested.

Notable new emojis in this keyboard — in addition to faces with different skin tones — include same-sex families, a range of gadgets like the new Apple Watch and flags from 32 countries.

The update also boasts bug fixes to CarPlay, the Messages app, WiFi and Bluetooth, among others.

(h/t 9to5Mac)

TIME Smartphones

Google’s Plan to Help You Make Super-Cheap Overseas Cell Calls

Opening Day Of Mobile World Congress 2015
Simon Dawson—Bloomberg / Getty Images A Google Inc. and app logos sit on the screen of a OnePlus One smartphone in this arranged photograph at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, March 2, 2015.

The talks come as Google prepares to launch a wireless network that could shake up carrier fees

Google is reportedly discussing a potential partnership with an international wireless carrier that could move the search giant one step closer toward launching its own mobile network and stripping out fees for overseas calls.

Sources familiar with the talks confirmed to the Telegraph that Google has been discussing a partnership with Hutchison Whampoa, which runs cellular networks in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy, among other overseas destinations.

Google has been working toward a launch of its own wireless network service that would work by leasing out cell phone towers from existing carriers and experimenting with new pricing models, including a flat rate for calls and data usage from anywhere within its network.


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