TIME Gaming

Angry Birds Maker Rovio Plans to Cut Up to 130 Jobs

The Toy Fair
Angry Birds plush toys on display at the Toy Fair 2011 at Olympia Exhibition Centre on Jan. 25, 2011 in London, England. Tim Whitby—Getty Images

This represents 16% of the Finnish company's workforce

Rovio Entertainment, the company that brought Angry Birds to smartphones, toy stores and theme parks, said on Thursday it plans to cut up to 130 employees, or 16% of its workforce, “towards a simplified organization.”

Cue puns of the Finnish gaming company’s clipped wings and prematurely counted chickens.

Rovio announced in March that its 2013 net profit dropped by 50% from the prior year and, in August, the company replaced its chief executive.

“We have been building our team on assumptions of faster growth than have materialized,” Rovio said in a statement Thursday. But, maintaining a light tone, Rovio added, “as we consider these painful measures, we keep our eye on always delighting our fans with products they love.”

MONEY

Why Angie’s List Is In Trouble

Angela "Angie" Hicks Bowman, co-founder of Angie's List Inc.
Angela "Angie" Hicks Bowman, co-founder of Angie's List Inc. Scott Eells—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Paid memberships at the local business review service Angie's List have been rising for years, and the stock just took off. Even so, reviews of the company's long-term prospects aren't so hot.

To anyone under the age of 30, the idea of paying for reviews or online content of any sort is probably puzzling. But for nearly two decades, the online review service Angie’s List has built a loyal, paying membership of homeowners and renters who find real value in a network where real-life people can exchange honest, trustworthy recommendations about handymen, contractors, plumbers, electricians, clean-it crews, and other services they’ve used personally.

To these folks, the value proposition is simple: When you’re considering who to hire to do a $50,000 home renovation, forking over $20 or $40 for access to reviews on local contractors is a no-brainer. Indeed, according to the company’s second quarter 2014 results, paid memberships hit 2.8 million at the end of June, up from 2.2 million a year before and just 820,000 as recently as 2011.

So why does Angie’s List appear to be on the ropes?

This week, a report surfaced that the company had hired investment bankers to explore the possibility of putting Angie’s List up for sale. Shares of the stock rose more than 20% on the news but were still down more than 50% compared to a year ago. An in-depth post by the Indianapolis Business Journal suggests why: Angie’s List, founded in 1995, has never turned a profit. A report released last October, for instance, showed the company had a net loss of $13.5 million for the third quarter of 2013, following a loss of $18.5 million for the same period a year prior.

Why hasn’t all its growth translated into profits? Much of it can be attributed to (presumably expensive) expansion into new markets; the service is now available in 253 areas of the country, compared with around 200 in 2012.

More to the point, Angie’s List has been forced to scale back the amount charged for each membership as Yelp, Google+ Local, TripAdvisor, and other user review sites have flourished with an open-to-everyone, completely free business model. The most recent Angie’s List report states that from 2010 onward, the average annual membership fee was just over $12, down from more than $36 a decade earlier.

And the amount members pay continues to drop. A Wall Street Journal post published a year ago detailed Angie’s List’s plans to cut membership fees in several key cities to around $10 annually. Today, it’s a cinch to head over to an online coupon site to find offers for 30% or 40% off, bringing the cost of a one-year subscription down as low as $5.39.

Meanwhile, the company recently agreed to pay a $2.8 million settlement to end a lawsuit alleging it had re-upped members without proper notice and at higher rates than subscribers were led to believe.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the trustworthiness of Angie’s List is increasingly being called into question. Critics point out that a growing portion of Angie’s List revenues come from service providers paying for advertising on the site—the same service providers that are supposed to be rated in non-biased fashion by members. “Almost 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from advertising purchased by the service providers being rated,” a 2013 Consumer Reports investigation explained.

CR called out in particular the practice of allowing advertisers with B or better ratings to be pushed to the top of search results as questionable at best. “We think the ability of A- and B-rated companies to buy their way to the top of the default search results skews the results… They get 12 times more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads.”

To be fair, many Angie’s List competitors also actively solicit the businesses reviewed on their sites as advertisers. Yelp is known to flood restaurants, doctors’ offices, and other small businesses with pleas to advertise on the site, to the point that one restaurant in the San Francisco area launched a bizarre “Hate Us on Yelp” campaign to undermine the user-review site. (Despite claims that it engages in what amounts to extortion, Yelp has repeatedly stated that advertising doesn’t affect a business’s ratings in any way.) Porch.com, an online network created to help homeowners find contractors and other home improvement services, launched a partnership referral system with Lowe’s this year, and while businesses don’t pay to be listed, the website gives more prominent search result placement to contractors that pay for a premium membership. (Full disclosure: Porch contributes articles on home improvement to Money.com.)

For the time being, Angie’s List seems to have figured out how low it must cut membership fees in order to keep increasing subscriber numbers. But the strategy hardly seems sustainable, especially if the perception that the service’s ratings aren’t trustworthy continues to spread. Convincing consumers it’s worthwhile to pay for a review-and-ratings service when there are free alternatives is tough enough. It’s borderline impossible to convince them that doing so is worth the money when there’s reason to question whether the ratings are entirely legitimate.

TIME Companies

Microsoft Skips Windows 9 and Goes Right to Windows 10

The skip is to emphasize the company's effort to move forward

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft is trying to soften an unpopular redesign of Windows by reviving features from older versions while still attempting to nudge desktop users into a world of touch screens and mobile devices.

The company on Tuesday gave an early preview of the new Windows 10 software, which it aims to begin selling by the middle of next year. Although the current version is called Windows 8, Microsoft says it’s skipping ahead to Windows 10 to emphasize its effort to move forward.

“Windows 10 represents the first step in a whole new generation of Windows,” said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s operating systems group.

Windows 8 was introduced two years ago as an answer to the growing demand for mobile devices. But many users hated it because its tablet-like design and controls weren’t a good fit for many devices using keyboards and mice. Sales of personal computers continued to fall.

With Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to regain the loyalty of longtime PC users, while reaching out to consumers and businesses that are increasingly adopting touch-screen smartphones and tablets.

Analysts consider the success of the new Windows crucial for Microsoft and new CEO Satya Nadella, who must show that Microsoft can embrace mobile devices without sacrificing the traditional computing experience.

The new system will be a blend of the old and the new. For instance, it will have various controls that are familiar to users of older Windows systems, such as a start menu to quickly access apps. But this start button will also open a series of tiles that resemble what’s found in Windows 8.

Analysts said that more gradual transition is important if Microsoft wants to persuade users to upgrade.

“This is what Windows 8 should have been,” said Carolina Milanesi, a veteran tech analyst at the research firm Kantar Worldpanel. “Here they are doing the right thing.”

Microsoft executives signaled they got that message on Tuesday. They stressed repeatedly that using the next version of Windows won’t be a challenge for businesses or consumers who have continued to use Windows 7 or even earlier versions.

The new software seeks to offer “the familiarity of Windows 7 with some of the benefits that exist in Windows 8,” said Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft executive who oversees Windows design and evolution.

He compared it to buying a new car with a more powerful engine and a better audio system, without having to “learn a new way to drive.”

Windows 10, for instance, will suggest new ways to use or navigate through files, without forcing users to abandon the old way, Belfiore said.

“We’re designing the experience so that as you use it, the things you already know are familiar and present, but new value is presented to you at a rate that’s easier for you to ingest,” he said.

The effort drew tentative praise from several industry experts.

“They desperately needed to find a way to bridge that experience. I just wish they’d done that with Windows 8,” said Rob Enderle, a tech analyst with the Enderle Group.

Milanesi said that while many businesses resisted upgrading to Windows 8, they can’t avoid touch screens as younger workers are accustomed to using phones or tablets as their primary computing device.

Windows 10 will also be designed to work on a wider range of computing devices.

Microsoft currently has three main systems — Windows 8 for traditional computers and tablets, Windows Phone 8 for cellphones and Xbox for its gaming console. By unifying the underlying systems in Windows 10, software developers will be able to create apps for the various devices more easily. Consumers will also be able to switch devices more easily and avoid having to buy the same apps multiple times.

That doesn’t mean the apps will always look the same. Developers will still be able to adapt apps for the various screen sizes, but won’t have to start from the beginning for each version.

User interfaces on the various devices may also differ, even as they share underlying technologies. For now, Microsoft plans to keep the current Xbox interface on the game console.

Enderle said Microsoft’s effort to create a single platform should help lure more developers to write apps — something the company needs to boost usage of Windows tablets and phones.

Windows is the most widely used PC operating system in the world, but it is steadily losing ground as more people turn to smartphones and tablets, which primarily run on operating systems from Microsoft rivals Apple and Google. That’s why Nadella wants to create one system that will run on all devices.

“It’s certainly an ambitious goal, but it’s also a little early to tell how it will work,” said Michael Silver, a tech analyst at Gartner.

Apple and Google have both rejected Microsoft’s approach of unifying the various systems, preferring to keep systems for PCs and mobile devices separate.

Microsoft also touted new security and management features for business customers, which represent a lucrative market for the company. Almost half of all PCs are used in the workplace, according to Gartner.

While a “technical preview” version of the software is being released this week, Microsoft said it won’t be ready to talk about new consumer features until next year.

Microsoft declined to say how much the new software would cost or how it will be distributed. Analysts have speculated that the company might be considering a subscription model — as it has with Office software — rather than selling each new version of Windows separately.

MONEY Tech

4 Apps That Will Supercharge Your Productivity

Matthew Hollister

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

1. For Managing Tasks: Todoist

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

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

2. For Staying Focused: Anti-Social

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

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

3. For group editing: Quip

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

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

4. For easy presentations: Haiku Deck

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

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

Related:

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

TIME viral

This Video Captures Everything Wrong With Overblown Tech Hype

Ever heard of the MyBook?

Forget about the Apple Watch. What about the MyBook?

Never heard of it? In spoof video above, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone drops hints at, as an interviewer describes it, a “secret tablet-sized object you had in your hand at Disrupt?”

“My book?” Stone asks.

“The MyBook!” And that’s all it takes for the fanboys to being hyping up the most mysterious and disruptive product on the market.

Influential angel investor Ron Conway is behind the funny video launching One City, an initiative that asks tech companies to invest in their own communities. This pitch-perfect spoof touts a program that partners companies with schools, and it hilariously captures the zeitgeist surrounding tech products and begs the question: “What if schools were the next big thing in tech?”

 

TIME environtment

Dutch Man Fined for Crashing Drone into Yellowstone Hot Spring

View of the 'Grand Prismatic' hot spring
View of the 'Grand Prismatic' hot spring with it's unique colors caused by brown, orange and yellow algae-like bacteria called Thermophiles, that thrive in the cooling water turning the vivid aqua-blue to a murkier greenish brown, in the Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming on June 1, 2011. MARK RALSTON—AFP/Getty Images

The unmanned aerial vehicle is still at the bottom of the famed hot spring

A U.S. federal judge has ordered a Dutch tourist to pay $3,200 in fines and restitution after the man crashed his drone into an iconic hot spring at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Theodorus Van Vilet pleaded guilty to crashing his drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring in August 2014. A judge ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and $2,200 in restitution over the incident. Authorities have been unable to locate the exact location of the downed drone, which remains at the bottom of the hot spring.

The ruling is the second guilty verdict this year stemming from a violation of the National Park Service’s drone ban issued in June. A German man was ordered to pay $1,600 in fines and restitution after crashing his drone into Yellowstone Lake in July. A third case involving an Oregon man is pending.

MONEY Apple

Watch Apple’s ‘BendGate’ Response

Apple says only nine iPhone 6 Plus owners have contacted the company about a bend in their device, and it promises to replace any bent phones.

TIME bendgate

Apple Responds to ‘Bendgate,’ Says Bent iPhones Are Rare

Apple Responds to ‘Bendgate’

Apple responded Thursday to claims that its new iPhone 6 Plus is bendable. The hashtag #Bendgate as well as an Unbox Therapy video of a user bending his phone went viral within a few days of the iPhone 6 Plus’s release last week, and customers were not happy about it.

Apple said that with normal use a bend in the phone is rare, and that the numbers of users that have reported bent phones is extremely low; only 9 so far. Apple has publicly displayed the rigorous tests that phones undergo before being released to consumers, and has announced that some bent phones will be eligible for replacement.

An Apple rep added that the company is “looking into this with an insane amount of detail.”

MONEY Shopping

The Creepy New Way Macy’s Tempts You to Make Impulse Purchases

A view of a Macy's flagship store in New York.
A view of a Macy's flagship store in New York. Bebeto Matthews—AP

Macy's is outfitting stores with the ability to detect shoppers' exact locations—and then make ads and coupons magically appear on smartphones so they'll buy the merchandise in front of them.

The Shopkick app was born as a combo rewards program and location-based coupon dispenser, in which users accumulated points (or “kicks”) for doing things such as activating the app inside stores, scanning barcodes of specific items, or merely walking inside a participating retailer location. The app works with tons of national retailers, including Best Buy, Sports Authority, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s and was a hot topic in the news a couple of years ago, when Target made Shopkick available for use in all of its stores around the country.

From the get-go, retail experts anticipated a time when such technology would be fine-tuned and pushed to the next level. Instead of the app displaying basic coupons and deals the moment the customer walks through the doors, more precise location-based offers and promotions would appear based on where the shopper is standing inside the store.

During the upcoming holiday shopping season, this futuristic vision of retailer marketing will arrive in a big way at Macy’s. The Washington Post reports that over the next few weeks, Macy’s is installing 4,000 special devices inside nearly 800 stores, with the purpose of detecting the exact location of shoppers—and then sending them special tempting offers accordingly.

The devices, developed by Apple, are called iBeacons, and some people have already described them as “creepy.” Macy’s began testing how Shopkick and iBeacons would work together during the 2013 holiday season. Apparently, the retailer was happy enough with the experiment to roll out the technology to all of its U.S. stores.

How exactly will the tech play out in a real-world situation? Say you’re “in the housewares department standing next to our display of KitchenAid mixers,” Macys.com president Kent Anderson explained. “The ability to transmit to you information — a video about the quality of this product, the accessories that we have as part of our assortment that you may not see there — rich content that may, and should, help us close the sale, is where we potentially see the beacon technology going in our stores.”

Presumably, if the mixer was on sale or part of some other promotion, that information would also appear on the smartphones of those using the Shopkick app. Macy’s says that “more personalized” offers—based perhaps on one’s history of purchasing or browsing in stores and online—could pop up as soon as next spring, though that may depend on how the new program plays out during the upcoming season and how welcoming (or not) shoppers are to the retailer using even more of their personal data.

Macy’s maintains that it will proceed cautiously concerning how often specific location-based ads and promotions will be sent to shoppers in stores. Going to that well too often could prove to be, quite literally, a turn-off in that shoppers could wind up turning off the app. “There is the opportunity to overload them” with special deals, Anderson said, “and I think that the balance has to be found.”

MONEY Shopping

8 Things We Already Know About the 2014 Holiday Shopping Season

Mark Cerqueria, software engineer for the application software company Smule, performs as Santa Claus
In all likelihood, Apple will have good reason to celebrate during the upcoming holiday season. Jeff Chiu—AP

Among other things, it looks like it will be a terrific holiday season for Apple, "Frozen," and workers seeking temporary jobs.

It’s still only September, and there are many unknowns about the end-of-the-year holiday shopping period. We don’t know exactly how aggressive retailers will be in terms of starting price wars with the competition, for instance, nor what the chances are of a surprise “it” toy emerging as a must-have gift for legions of American children. Still, even at this early date, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the way much of the season ahead will play out. Here’s what we know:

The holiday season already started. Sure, the back-to-school shopping period is considered to last through September, and autumn and Halloween are increasingly important for the marketing of everything from scary costumes to pumpkin spice lattes. But everything—everything—pales in comparison to the importance retailers place on the winter holiday shopping season. That’s why stores try to make the season a little bigger every year. Kmart launched its first Christmas ad, or rather a coy “non-Christmas ad,” in early September. And soon after, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, and others rolled out various versions of the season’s “Hot Toy” list, long before kids even start thinking of making wish lists of their own.

You’ll be required by law to buy gadgets and “Frozen” merchandise. OK, it will only seem that way. That’s because the hot toy lists are dominated by “Frozen” products even though it’s been months since the Disney film was in theaters. When the lists aren’t directing parents to 3-foot-tall Elsa dolls, they’re steering buyers to techie items for kids like this Vtech smartwatch. Tech for adults will arguably be an even hotter category this season, what with a series of new tablets from Amazon and, of course, Apples’s hot-selling iPhones.

Stores will have longer hours and shorter checkout lines. Shoppers have come to expect the former around the holidays, with stores sometimes open for 88 hours in a row, or even longer, in the days leading up to Christmas. This year, Target launched longer hours (including midnight closings at some locations) before the summer even ended, with the hope of rebuilding its reputation as a convenient, fashionable spot to shop. What’s come as more of a surprise—and a welcome one at that—is Walmart’s promise to keep all of its checkout lines open during peak shopping hours throughout the season, starting on Black Friday weekend. As for Thanksgiving store hours themselves, experts expect big box retailers to open doors on the holiday even earlier than they did last year.

Black Friday won’t have the season’s best prices. On the day after Thanksgiving, stores will surely draw in the masses with promises of amazing discounts and doorbuster deals—but only on some merchandise. Because Thanksgiving store hours essentially mean that Black Friday begins on Thursday, because “Black Friday” sales start appearing days or even weeks before the actual Black Friday, and because retailers are known to launch wild sales out of the blue to stir up business before, during, and after Black Friday week, it’s foolish to assume that all of the prices shoppers encounter on the day after Thanksgiving are the lowest of the season. For some merchandise, including toys, name-brand TVs, and jewelry, shoppers can expect prices to drop after Thanksgiving weekend is over. Meanwhile, the discount-shopping site Ben’s Bargains anticipates that tablet prices will hit rock bottom in early November, and that prices for sports apparel and winter clothing will be cheaper in mid-November than they will be around Black Friday.

It’s a great year to snag a seasonal job. In 2008, retailers hired about 325,000 workers for the holiday period. The figure’s been on the rise ever since, hitting 786,000 a year ago. In a new report, researchers at Challenger, Gray & Christmas say they expect “seasonal employment gains in the retail sector to significantly outpace 2013.” Toys R Us, for instance, announced this week that it is hiring 45,000 seasonal employees, which more than doubles the company’s existing workforce, while UPS is planning on hiring 95,000 workers for the upcoming season. “We could see retailers add more than 800,000 seasonal workers for the first time since 1999,” said Challenger CEO John A. Challenger.

People will shop online earlier to avoid last year’s shipping nightmare. According to a new survey from Pitney Bowes, an e-commerce and shipping consulting firm, half of the consumers polled (49%) said that for the upcoming holiday season they will shop online earlier than they did last year. The most popular reason for doing so is to ensure that gifts and other packages arrive in plenty of time for the holidays. A year ago, many families were disappointed on Christmas morning because shipping delays caused orders from Amazon, Kohl’s, and other retailers to arrive after December 25. (Hopefully, the additional hires made by UPS will help ease the shipping problems of a year ago, but it’s smart for shoppers to play it safe by ordering well in advance.)

Apple loyalists will outspend Android users. Last November, the average order placed on a mobile Apple iOS device was $121.48, compared to just $89 for Android devices, according to a new IBM report. The data also shows that while we do more web-surfing with smartphones (accounting for 24% of all website traffic, compared to 14% via tablets), consumers are more inclined to make purchases on tablets (11.5% of website sales) than smartphones (5%). Again, Apple mobile device users outspend the rest of the field, representing 13.6% of web sales in March 2014, compared with 2% of site sales made via Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, and Nokia devices combined.

We’ll be heavily influenced by digital, but make most purchases in person. The forecast from Deloitte calls for a 4% to 4.5% overall increase in consumer holiday season spending. While researchers point out that 50% of sales will somehow be influenced by digital interactions (browsing online, for instance), only 14% of purchases will come in the form of non-store sales (primarily, e-commerce sales).

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