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 technology

7 Ways Satya Nadella’s Microsoft Is Completely Transformed

Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Officer Satya NadellaSpeaks At Company Event
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s not even nine months into the Satya Nadella era of Microsoft and the new CEO is making his mark. Notably, his Microsoft is smaller after completing this week most of the 18,000 job cuts he announced in July. Whether Nadella’s plans for Microsoft succeed, it’s clear the company is dramatically different from the Microsoft that ruled the technology industry in the 80s and 90s. The Microsoft that Nadella leads has strayed so far from its original incarnation that it seems in some ways to have become nearly its opposite. Here are seven examples of how today’s Microsoft is different from the juggernaut Bill Gates built.

1. Microsoft has a kinder, gentler CEO. Bill Gates frequently hurled verbal abuse at employees and was coldblooded about deploying predatory practices against competitors. Steve Ballmer had a reputation for hurling chairs and inspiring the rank and file in manic, sweat-soaked diatribes. Both heightened Microsoft’s image as a hard-charging software giant.

Nadella is cut from a different cloth entirely. Yes, his mansplaining about salaries revealed an ability to insert his foot in his mouth, but most accounts of his temperament describe a low-key and humble personality at odds with those of his predecessors. He communicates not in fist-pumping speeches but lengthy memos on strategy.

2. The tables have turned in the Microsoft-Apple rivalry. For decades, Apple had but a sliver of the market share for personal computers. In 2014, Apple is not onlyshipping more personal computers – counting the ones that fit in our pockets – it’s making much more money from them. Apple made $156 billion in revenue from iPhones, iPads and Macs in the last year. And Microsoft? Between Windows and Office software, Nokia phones and Surface tablets, it saw about $23 billion in revenue.

3. Microsoft isn’t a monopoly, but it competes with some. Gates never got the stranglehold he wanted on the Web, thanks to antitrust lawsuits and the Internet’s decentralized structure. And today, Microsoft is just one more company fighting for turf in a variety of markets: enterprise software, game consoles, search and, yes, personal computers.

And anyway, monopolies in the Internet era aren’t quite what they used to be. Yes, Amazon is bullying publishers but it’s pushing prices down, not up. Yes, Google dominates in search but it costs consumers nothing to find a perfectly good alternative like Bing. Neither of those companies is exactly stifling innovation but rather investing heavily in new technologies.

4. Microsoft isn’t really a Windows-driven company. And not just because PC sales have been declining for years. It’s more because Microsoft under Ballmer expanded into gaming and enterprise software markets. Under Nadella, these are becoming an even bigger part of the business. Enterprise offerings like server and storage software, cloud computing and consulting services made up 53% of revenue last quarter. Xbox made up 7%. Windows and Office were only 18%.

5. Microsoft has stopped worrying and learned to love open. Or at least it’s trying. Where Ballmer called the Linux open-source operating system a “malignant cancer,” Nadella proclaims, “Microsoft loves Linux.” All along, Nadella has said Microsoft needs to develop its own platform while playing well with others. Thefitness tracker Microsoft announced Thursday works with Windows as well as Android and iOS phones. Its Office programs work on those platforms too, even though that approach is leaving Microsoft vulnerable to upstarts.

6. It’s not exactly a growth company anymore. In the mid-90s, Microsoft’s revenue was growing by nearly 40% a year. It’s risen an average of 8.5% a year over the past two years, although that pace could increase this year under Nadella. Wall Street demands from Microsoft the kinds of hefty payouts older, slow-growth companies offer: Last year, Microsoft spent $4.9 billion on buybacks and $9.3 billion on dividends. Taken together, that’s more than Microsoft spend on R&D.

7. But it’s slowly gaining cachet among young geeks. A generation of software engineers grew up in the 80s and 90s loathing Microsoft – calling it evil, the Borg, or worse. But for those who came to know Microsoft not through Windows but the Xbox console and Halo franchise, the feelings range from indifferent to positive.

The $2.5 billion purchase of Mojang may or may not make Microsoft a cool brand. But it will wash away the hostility that the Microsoft brand inspired only a dozen years ago. Most kids who love Minecraft seem to think of Microsoft as a big corporation that won’t hurt and might even help Minecraft develop. That generational shift in sentiment may be the most dramatic evidence of how Microsoft has changed.

TIME Retail

Wal-Mart’s Apple Pay Competitor Has a Secret Weapon

Grand Opening At A New Wal-Mart Store
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. signage is displayed on a check out register during the grand opening of a new location in Torrance, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's perfectly tuned for low-budget shoppers with phones that aren't always cutting edge

Wal-Mart is among the biggest retailers not accepting Apple Pay, Apple’s new mobile payment system that got underway last week to rousing early success. The big box behemoth is instead going with a different, decidedly lower-tech solution called CurrentC, a mobile wallet developed by a group of merchants, Wal-Mart included, called MCX.

Despite not launching publicly yet, CurrentC is being lambasted in the tech press this week. Why? Over the weekend, several retailers involved with MCX stopped accepting Apple Pay after initially allowing it, which read to many as unfriendly to consumers. And on Wednesday, MCX revealed its email vendor was hacked, exposing CurrentC users’ email addresses and giving the company yet another PR headache.

CurrentC is also seen by many as having been designed more to benefit merchants than consumers. It’s certainly less user-friendly and probably less secure than Apple Pay, but it will help merchants sidestep the much-hated fees they have to pay every time a customer swipes a credit card. CurrentC is also just less cool than Apple Pay—from a tech obsessive’s perspective, it looks like a budget sedan to Apple Pay’s Tesla Model S.

But here’s the thing: None of the tech journalists I know shop at Wal-Mart. For Wal-Mart’s lower-income shoppers, CurrentC could actually have some advantages over Apple Pay. To wit:

1. CurrentC is QR-code based, like Starbucks’ payment app. That makes it backwards compatible with older, cheaper phones (and Android phones) whereas Apple Pay only works with Apple’s top-of-the-line, brand-new phones. Eventually, those iPhones will get older and trickle down into lower-budget shoppers’ pockets, but that’ll take years. The trade-off here is that Apple’s NFC-based system is inherently more secure, as it doesn’t give retailers vital data about your payment method.

2. CurrentC supports consumer loyalty programs (read: coupons), whereas Apply Pay does not. Many shoppers deride loyalty programs as annoying, but I can speak from my experience as a broke college student when I say that coupons can be a vital lifeline for lower-income shoppers. Of course, that support comes at a privacy price: Loyalty programs are really just a thinly-veiled way for retailers to collect data about their consumers.

You’ll notice both of those points contain significant tradeoffs in terms of privacy, a point that Apple CEO Tim Cook emphasized when he introduced the company’s service. Still, there are plenty of reasons for low-end shoppers to adopt CurrentC over Apple Pay, if they embrace the mobile wallet at all. Many won’t—but let the best mobile wallet win.

TIME technology

Kim Kardashian Can’t Stop Stockpiling BlackBerry Phones From eBay

Verizon hosts an exclusive launch party for the Blackberry 8330 Pink Curve
Television personality Kim Kardashian arrives at Verizon Wireless' exclusive launch party for the Blackberry 8330 Pink Curve in 2008 Mark Sullivan—WireImage

"It’s my heart and soul"

Kim Kardashian has placed the BlackBerry on the endangered species list — right next to the black rhino. And thus, she is creating her own smartphone reserve.

While speaking at Re/code’s mobile conference on Monday, Kardashian (who also goes by Kardashian West) admitted to buying the somewhat dated phones on eBay and keeping them in her room.

“It’s my heart and soul, I love it and I’ll never get rid of it,” she said. “I do have an iPhone, and I use it for photos. But if you write an email and you need to type fast — I like having the [key]board. They don’t even have them in stores anymore. I buy them on eBay. It’s a BlackBerry Bold. And I like to have three in my room that I line up in case they break.”

In spite of BlackBerry’s recent business travails — it posted a $4.4 billion Q3 2013 loss, but has slowly but surely seen rising sales — Kim K. would rather be safe than sorry.

“I love BlackBerry,” she said. “Every time I say that, people are horrified that I have a BlackBerry, and I don’t understand that reaction.”

[Re/code]

TIME technology

Apple Pay Registers 1 Million Credit Cards in 3 Days

MasterCard Launches NYC Tech Hub, Showcases Payment Innovations
MasterCard demonstrates Apple Pay at the launch of MasterCard's NYC Tech Hub on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014 in New York. Charles Sykes—Invision

The service now works at more than 200,000 stores

Owners of the iPhone 6 registered more than 1 million credit cards on Apple Pay in the first three days the tech giant offered the service, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Monday.

Cook’s claims of the mobile payment system’s rapid pickup came after it emerged large retailers including Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies would not allow the payment system in their stores. Those companies offer their own mobile payment system. Cook described that decision as a “skirmish” and said he remained confident in Apple Pay.

“You are only relevant as a retailer or merchant if your customers love you,” he said, during an interview at a Wall Street Journal conference. “It’s the first and only mobile payment system that’s easy, private and secure.”

Apple Pay, which launched Oct. 20, works with the six largest credit card companies and can be used at more than 200,000 storefronts in the United States.

TIME technology

YouTube Considers Ad-Free Paid Subscriptions

The details have yet to be determined

YouTube executives are considering offering a paid subscription service that will allow users to view videos without advertisements, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

“That’s actually a pretty interesting model because it’s giving users choice,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told a crowd at tech conference. “We’re thinking about how to give users options.”

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has been exploring ways to move beyond its traditional ad-based revenue stream to increase its profits in recent years, but has yet to release ad-free subscriptions. Video sites like Hulu Plus have seen increased revenue by offering subscriptions for online video streaming, while music sites such as Spotify and Pandora have also introduced premium ad-free packages.

YouTube has reached out to some content producers about potential subscription offerings,according to the Journal, but the details have not been determined.

[WSJ]

TIME facebook

Why Facebook Suddenly Wants to Handle Your Money

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg Hosts Internet.org Summit
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., speaks during the Internet.org summit in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Udit Kulshrestha—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It's quickly becoming the biggest battle zone in tech

Facebook already handles your social life; now it wants to handle your money. Hacked screenshots released this month show a hidden payment option inside Facebook’s popular Messenger app, which is used by 200 million people around the globe. The feature—discovered by a Stanford computer science student snooping around existing code—would potentially let users send money to one another in a message using debit card information. Facebook hasn’t commented on the hack or when, if ever, it might activate the feature.

But, for the moment, a far more interesting question is why would Facebook consider going down this road at all. Behind Facebook’s foray into payments is a thrilling possibility. Could the world’s largest social network be gearing up for a future showdown with the world’s largest credit card companies? At stake is a potentially massive jackpot: the $40 billion to $50 billion a year (in the U.S. alone) that credit card-issuing banks make off the so-called interchange rate, i.e. the hefty transaction fee that merchants have to cough up whenever customers use credit cards. The company announces earnings Oct. 28.

But do a few hacked screenshots really spell the upheaval of the entire payments industry? Maybe. For starters, Facebook hasn’t exactly been coy about its interest in payments. Back in June, the company poached PayPal president and payments guru David Marcus to head up Messenger, a move that now makes a lot of sense. Meanwhile, in a Q2 earnings call, as reported in TechCrunch, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quite explicit in saying that “over time there will be some overlap between [Messenger] and payments.” The groundwork for a Facebook payment service, in other words, has already been laid.

It’s important to note that, as leaked, Facebook Messenger’s payment feature would only allow peer-to-peer transactions, i.e. money transfers between the banks of ordinary users, not retailers or companies. Speculation is that a service like this might be especially popular among foreign workers sending money to relatives back home. Currently, the remittance industry charges notoriously high fees: By undercutting them, Facebook could find a healthy revenue source, should it choose to ultimately monetize the tool.

But—and here’s where things get really interesting—there’s nothing stopping Facebook from ultimately opening up the payment service to merchants, as well, allowing them to accept debit card payments from customers via Messenger. (Zuckerberg has hinted as much, noting that the planned tool will ultimately “help people share with each other and interact with businesses.”) For merchants, this would have some huge advantages. While credit cards, not to mention PayPal, Stripe, Square and other services, all charge interchange fees ranging from around 2- to 4-percent of total purchase price (an amount considered exorbitant by critics), debit card swipe fees in the U.S. are currently capped at a mere 21 cents.

With this kind of savings hanging in the balance, it’s not difficult to image millions of merchants and potentially hundreds of millions of consumers signing on. Consider that there are currently 79 million Mastercard credit card holders in the U.S.—a sizeable number. But there are nearly 200 million monthly active Facebook users in the country. Facebook, in other words, has the potential to create a payment network that rivals and, in some cases, dwarfs the major credit cards, virtually overnight.

Once merchants and consumers are hooked, Facebook may ultimately turn its focus to profits. Again, Zuckerberg has already signalled this aspiration, explaining to revenue-hungry investors in July that the company is planning “to take the time to do this in the way that is going to be right over multiple years.” With credit card interchange fees currently set so high, Facebook would have plenty of room to make money from merchants while still undercutting traditional credit cards by a wide margin. If the network were to eventually charge a $1 fee (as has been suggested) or even retain just a fraction of a percent of each transaction, the revenue stream could be enormous.

All of this might seem a bit far-fetched, if some of tech’s biggest players weren’t already pursuing similar strategies. In September, for instance, Apple unveiled Apple Pay, a mobile wallet app that lets users store credit card information and then “tap and pay” with their iPhones. For the moment, Apple is content to act as something of a middleman in this process, making it easier for customers to use their existing credit cards and collecting a tiny fee from the banks in the process. But with time, consumers and merchants may well get used to the idea of using Apple for their transactions, with credit cards playing an ever diminishing role and—maybe one day—slipping out of the picture entirely.

What’s clear from these efforts, as well as recent maneuvers by Square, Stripe and even online payment veteran PayPal, is that the stodgy old payments space, dominated for so long by traditional banks and their credit cards, is finally beginning to face some serious challengers. For consumers and merchants, there’s much to gain and little to lose aside from high fees. Meanwhile, for tech players like Facebook, payments may well represent the latest, greatest path to monetization.

And what about for social media users? Are we headed toward a future where social networks like Facebook are actually online, interactive malls where we happen to bump into friends and socialize as we shop? Both Facebook and Twitter are already beta-testing special “buy” buttons that pop up in users’ news streams with targeted offers based on demographic and psychographic information. This kind of one-click shopping – with limited-time deals flying by, meticulously targeted to users’ interests and shared virally among friends – hints at the dramatic changes in store. It’s an endgame that Zuckerberg likely never imagined but one that seems increasingly likely and lucrative: social network as advertiser, shopping mall and credit card – all rolled into one.

Ryan Holmes is CEO of Hootsuite. Follow him @invoker

MONEY Insurance

Why Even a Fair Insurance Claim Will Send Customers Packing

The insurance claims process is so painful and outdated that about half of customers who confront it bolt no matter what.

The financial services industry has been among the slowest to embrace the mobile and other technologies that many consumers crave. Within the industry, insurers probably have been slowest—and their old-fashioned ways are stirring a high level of churn.

Insurance customers are generally pleased with their provider. Only 14% of those who submitted a claim in the past two years are unhappy with how it was handled, according to a report from Accenture. As you might expect, a high rate of those—83%—plan to switch providers. But even among the vast majority who filed a claim and were satisfied, 41% say they are likely to switch insurers in the next 12 months, the report found.

Why would satisfied customers switch? In general, their claims experience, while satisfactory, left them feeling it should have been better. “The bar has been raised and insurers now need to handle claims in a way that not only satisfies policyholders but also differentiates them from other insurers,” says Michael Costonis, global head of claims services at Accenture, a research and consulting firm.

Technology exists that would greatly streamline the claims process, he says. Consumers understand that, and when they file a claim and confront the old way of doing things they resolve to look for something better. For example, Costonis says, in the case of an auto accident, sensors could summon assistance automatically, notify a garage, and get a tow truck on the scene—all without a phone call. Your car could be fixed and delivered to your door, and if any money was due to you it might be put in your account without the tedious paperwork.

Customers expect quick claims and fair pricing. But they also want transparency and this is where technology can make a big difference. “More and more, especially with younger customers, this takes the form of providing anywhere, anytime access online or through mobile apps,” Costonis says. In the study, 44% said they would switch providers to be able to use digital channels to monitor the claims process.

Broader use of technology could help in other ways too. Three in four customers are willing to share more personal information in order to get better rates, the study found. Insurers could easily gather information about the condition of cars and customer driving habits. They could also gather information collected by smoke, carbon monoxide, humidity, and motion detectors. Such data could help them help their customers manage risks and wind up filing fewer claims—and that is the Holy Grail because customers hate the process and insurers lose a high percentage of those who file a claim no matter what.

Related: How to make sure you have enough insurance coverage

TIME Healthcare

Need Your Flu Shot? Just Call an Uber

Uber Taxi App In Madrid
In this photo illustration the new smart phone taxi app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location next to a taxi lane on October 14, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

The one-day program is available in three U.S. cities

Uber on Thursday launched a one-day pilot program to deliver free flu shots and flu prevention packs in three major U.S. cities.

The UberHEALTH service will be available only Thursday in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET, according to Uber’s blog. The service can be requested while ordering a ride on the Uber app, after which a registered nurse will administer flu shots and distribute materials for up to 10 people at no additional cost.

The free flu shot service, which is a partner project with Vaccine Finder, is only the latest of Uber’s limited time specials. Uber has previously rolled out delivery services for air conditioners and diapers, and even its own Optimus Prime.

 

TIME technology

This App Lets You Order a Pizza by Clicking Your Heels Together

"Dorothy" brings Wizard of Oz technology to life

It’s been 75 years since Judy Garland clicked her ruby red slippers in a desperate attempt to get home to Auntie Em. Now you can click your heels to do a whole lot more than travel the time-space continuum, and you don’t even need a pair of sequined shoes to do it.

Washington, D.C.-based digital agency iStrategyLabs recently unveiled a new device, aptly named Dorothy, which allows you to trigger certain actions on your iPhone by clicking your heels together three times. A micro-controller no bigger than a fun-size candy bar, Dorothy clips onto your shoe, relying on an internal Bluetooth chip and accelerometer to send signals to an app on your phone.

You can use Dorothy to help you escape a bad date by programming the app to generate a fake phone call. All you need to do is click your heels to indicate that you can’t listen to one more word about exchange-traded derivatives. It can send your exact location to friends, call a cab or even order a pizza. And the folks behind the technology are crowd-sourcing more uses for Dorothy, open to the limitless possibilities enabled by the concept of web automation service “If This, Then That.”

The Dorothy team is working on smaller models that would make the device more inconspicuous, especially for those not keen on adorning their shoes with a ruby-emblazoned piece of hardware. And DJ Saul, iStrategyLabs’ managing director, envisions greater customization in the future. He illustrated what this might look like, telling the Daily Dot, “One click is ‘call my phone,’ two clicks is ‘send a message,’ three clicks is ‘order an Uber,’ four clicks is ‘order a pizza,’ five clicks is ‘open my garage door,’ and so on and so forth.”

Eliminating a few taps on our phones by clicking our heels is either a sign of our supreme and irreversible laziness or the power of technology to simplify our lives. For now, let’s stick with the latter.

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