MONEY Autos

The New Technology That Can Save You Hundreds On Gas

2013 Ford Fusion
Ford began offering auto stop-start technology as an option with the 2013 Fusion. Ford—Wieck

New research shows that funky, futuristic auto stop-start technology is a proven money saver on gas. It's available right now only in a tiny fraction of cars, but that's going to change soon.

Over the years, one urban fuel-efficiency myth has been pervasive—that you’ll save gas by letting your car idle rather than shutting the engine off when, say, waiting at the curb for someone running into a store. Popular Mechanics, AAA, and others have busted this myth, pointing out that a vehicle gets negative miles per gallon while idle. The consensus advice now is that if you car is stopped for more than a minute, the smart move is to turn the engine off.

The arrival of auto stop-start, a technology most often seen in hybrids, does this work for you, and not only if you’re idle for minute or more. As the name suggests, the tech shuts off the vehicle’s engine automatically when the car comes to a stop—at a red light, say—and then starts it again in the jiffy when the driver takes a foot off the brake pedal.

The technology has slowly been spreading beyond hybrids to a few vehicles powered by traditional internal combustion engines, and new research from AAA indicates that this is a good thing. After testing several cars with the feature, researchers concluded that the tech is a no-brainer that saves drivers 5% to 7% on gas costs annually. A blurb from the press release explains a little more about what this means to us all:

“Up to seven percent improved fuel economy can mean a $215 annual fuel savings for Southern California consumers,” says Steve Mazor, the chief automotive engineer of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center. “It also reduces the main greenhouse gas emitted from cars (CO2) by 5 to 7 percent in city driving.”

Navigant Research predicts that by 2022, 55 million cars sold annually will have stop-start technology, up from 8.8 million last year. Adoption is ahead of the curve in Europe, where gas prices are astronomical compared to much of the world: Roughly 45% of cars built in Europe already come with start-stop systems.

In the U.S., meanwhile, the stop-start feature remains an anomaly; only about 500,000 new cars sold in the U.S. in 2013 had the technology. Estimates call for that figure to shoot up to 7 million by 2022. But there’s no need to wait. The vehicles below already offer stop-start as an option or a standard feature in the U.S.:

BMW: Several BMWs have auto start-stop technology, but not all drivers are fans. “The stop-start system is just awful,” one Automotive News columnist wrote of his 2012 328i, describing the herky-jerky feeling of stepping off the brake and automatically restarting the engine as “balky” and “uncomfortable.” Drivers do have the option to turn the start-stop feature off if it’s proving to be too annoying.

Chevrolet Impala: The automaker has made stop-start technology standard on the 2015 Impala.

Chevrolet Malibu: Starting with the 2014 model year, Chevy made stop-start standard on the Malibu, which the automaker says has helped it boost fuel efficiency by 14% with city driving.

Ford Fusion: A couple of years ago, Ford introduced a stop-start system as a $295 option for the first time in the U.S. on a non-hybrid model. At the time, the automaker estimated that drivers would save $1,100 in gasoline costs over five years of driving by upgrading to stop-start. The 2015 Fusion is estimated to get an extra 3 mpg over the base model.

Ford F-150: Buyers who go for the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine on the 2015 version of Ford’s best-selling pickup get a special auto stop-start feature that’s a little different than others out there. Like other systems, this one automatically shuts off the engine as a fuel saver when the vehicle is stopped, but not when the vehicle is towing something or when it’s in four-wheel drive. Without that feature, the tech could prove frustrating for pickup drivers who are hauling something in the rear or are inching along stop-and-go on bumpy or muddy terrain. During all other driving situations, “The engine restarts in milliseconds when the brake is released,” Ford promises.

Porsche: Among the Porsche models that come with auto start-stop, the new Panamera’s system is special in that the engine not only shuts off when the vehicle is at a full stop—but it also shuts off when the car is slowing down approaching a traffic light. While the engine goes quiet, climate control, audio systems, and other interior features remain powered by the battery. And if the battery doesn’t have enough juice for all the auxiliary equipment, the engine will simply turn back on.

Ram 1500: The 2013 model year Ram truck offered start-stop technology as an option, the first in the pickup category to do so. “This new system is just one of the advances that allow the 2013 RAM 1500 to offer up to 20 percent greater fuel efficiency than previous models,” the automaker stated.

TIME

Here’s Why the Mac Is Beating the PC Right Now

Mac vs. PC
A MacBook computer and instruction manual. JiaJia Liu—flickr Editorial/Getty Images

Mac sales are up, PC sales are down. And in that shrinking market, Apple takes the lion’s share of the profits

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Tim Cook reported Tuesday that Mac sales grew almost 18% year over year in the June quarter while the rest of the PC market shrank by nearly 2%.

And the Mac is the most profitable PC on the market. By far.

“Indeed,” writes Asymco‘s Horace Dediu, “it’s more profitable than all the other vendors put together.”

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

MONEY Tech

Here’s a Look at How Apple and Microsoft Really Stack Up

On Tuesday, both Apple and Microsoft released their quarterly earnings reports, with Apple showing a 12.3% profit jump—and Microsoft showing a 7.1% decline. How do they compete on other measures? Here's a look at how the two tech giants stack up.

MONEY Tech

3 Smart Ways to Protect Your Smartphone Data

201407_FSA_1
Yasu + Junko

Yikes. One in 10 Americans has had a smartphone stolen, according to a new study by mobile security firm Lookout.

This is a double bummer: Replacing a phone can be expensive, and the personal information we keep on these gadgets is often priceless. Here, tips for keeping your device (and data) safe—and what to do when a thief strikes.

Lock it down. Protect your info by setting a security pin. Only 36% of people do, found a Consumer Reports survey. Avoid serial or repeated numbers (e.g., 1234 or 1111) and pins based on a recent year, says Gary Davis, of security firm McAfee.

Back it up. Use a free cloud service such as Dropbox or iCloud to make copies of your most important data. Get (and remember to turn on!) an app that can locate, lock, and wipe your phone remotely, says CNET.com’s Bridget Carey. Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager are two good options.

Wipe it clean. If your phone is stolen, fire up your anti-theft app right away. Next, call the police, then your carrier. If you don’t recover the device within 30 minutes, erase your data remotely, says Robert Siciliano, personal security consultant. “If you get the phone back, simply restore it.”

MONEY Tech

How Amazon’s New E-book Subscription Service Stacks Up

Amazon Kindle in front of a bookshelf
JHPhoto—Alamy

The Seattle retailer just announced Kindle Unlimited, which will go head to head with existing reader subscription services Oyster and Scribd.

Updated July 18th

This morning, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited, a new e-book subscription service. But while Amazon is now the biggest name in the “Netflix for books” business, it’s not the only option. So, how does Kindle Unlimited compare with Oyster and Scribd, it’s best-known competition? Here’s the rundown:

Price

At $9.99 per month, Kindle Unlimited is slightly more expensive than the competition. Scribd is priced at $8.99 a month, and Oyster at $9.95. All three offer a trial month for free.

Selection of books

Not surprisingly, Amazon comes out on top in terms of the sheer number of e-books included. The company says Kindle Unlimited includes more than 600,000 titles, plus “thousands” of audio books. Oyster says it has more than 500,000 titles. Scribd, for it’s part, has more than 400,000.

When it comes to the question of which service offers the “best” books, things get a little muddy. Kindle Unlimited includes popular series like the Harry Potter books and the Hunger Games trilogy, as well as a a number of best-sellers, like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and some new titles such as Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. But, as noted by GigaOm, the service does not include books from the “Big 5″ publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House.

Scibd and Oyster, on the other hand, both offer books from HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. In additon, each has a few notable deals with smaller publishers: Oyster has books from McSweeney’s and Rodale, while Scribd offers Lonely Planet guides and reference books from Wiley.

Device compatibility

Kindle Unlimited works with all Kindle devices (obviously!), and, via the Kindle app, can be used on most smartphones, tablets and computers. Scribd has apps for the iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire. Oyster users can access the service on Apple and Android devices, Kindle Fire and the Nook HD.

The takeaway

Kindle Unlimited isn’t a book lover’s silver bullet. Indeed, as noted by Gizmodo, the books offered by the service aren’t that different from what Amazon Prime subscribers can already access. However, if Amazon is able to get the Big 5 onboard, that could change. At this point, the decision about which service is best for you depends largely on which provider’s library you prefer. So, since all three offer a free month trial, why not give each a spin?

A previous version of this story stated that Oyster is available only on Apple and Android devices. It has been updated to reflect the fact that Oyster may also be used on Kindle Fire and Nook HD.

 

 

 

MONEY Tech

Should You Snap Up a (Cheap) Plasma TV Before They’re All Gone?

A visitor looks at a Samsung ultraslim plasma flatscreen television.
Jochen Eckel—Bloomberg

First Panasonic. Now Samsung. With the big makers dropping plasma, now could be a smart time to buy a TV.

Plasma TVs are going the way of the floppy disk, Walkman, and VCR. This month, Samsung announced that it would stop making plasmas by the end of November. Panasonic got out of the game last year. That leaves just LG to carry the plasma torch—and that probably won’t last. Indeed, by 2016, research firm IHS says plasma TVs will be completely vanish from the U.S. market.

So, with plasma on the way out, should you expect to start seeing killer discounts on TVs that use the technology? And, if you do spot a plasma bargain, should you buy it, or will you just end up with a 60-inch doorstop?

Plasma Prices

Let’s start with prices. No need to hotfoot it to Best Buy right now, according to industry watchers. Panasonic’s exit from the market didn’t have a significant effect on prices, says Ty Pendlebury of CNET.com, and Samsung’s move is expected to be similarly uneventful, at least in the short term. However, that may change “at the very end,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group. Eventually, retailers will be looking to move those last few plasmas to make room for newer stock and the markdowns will shift into high gear.

The average selling price for a plasma is currently $878, expected to drop 14% to $752 in 2015, according to IHS. On paper, plasmas seem more expensive than LCDs, which have an average price of $735. (A note: Some types of LCD TVs are often referred to LEDs. In this story, “LCD” refers to both types.) That’s misleading, though, because LCDs come in a range of sizes, while plasmas are only made in large (and thus expensive) sizes. When comparing TVs of similar size and quality, says Will Greenwald, who covers consumer tech for PCMag.com, plasma is cheaper.

The takeaway: If you’re in the market for a big TV, plasmas are a good deal and will likely get even cheaper. Just don’t expect to see fire-sale prices.

Is Obsolescence Really So Bad?

People who love plasmas–and they definitely exist–love them because they have great color contrast, a clear, sharp picture, and a wider “viewing angle” than LCD models, meaning you can sit further to the side of the screen without seeing a distorted image. However, they’re also massive energy hogs, and aren’t as thin or bright as other technologies.

The reason so many companies are dropping plasma has little to do with the technology itself. Rather, as LCD models have gotten better and cheaper to produce, it’s become less logical for manufactures to build and maintain factories capable of building only large, pricey plasmas.

Still, if you’re buying a technology that you know is headed for extinction, it’s worth considering what will happen if you need to get a new part for your plasma or have it repaired. Consumer Reports argues that TVs from the top brands are reliable and will continue to support their products. A Samsung rep echoed this, saying the company “will continue to provide support for our plasma TVs and our customer service policy will remain the same as before.” That said, it’s difficult to predict what repair options you’ll actually have.

So You Want to Buy

If you think a plasma could be the right buy for you, check out the Samsung F8500, which CNET dubs “the last great plasma TV.” Starting at $1,800 for the smallest 51-inch model, down from $2,700, “this TV is a very good value and will easily beat any LCD under $3,000 for picture quality,” says Pendlebury.

 

TIME Business

5 Secrets to Dealing With the Comcast Customer Service Rep From Hell

Cable Giant Comcast To Acquire Time Warner Cable
A Comcast sign is seen at one of their centers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

A former call center manager on how to circumvent the tricks of the trade of a "retention specialist."

Poor Ryan Block. He and his wife Veronica thought they would simply make a phone call to cancel their Comcast service when they switched providers. Instead, they went through a hellish 18-minute ordeal with an abusive “retention specialist” who browbeat both of them to keep their service. The result was a Kafka-esque conversation with a rep who continually held his powers of cancellation far out of reach.

When Block, an AOL employee and former technology journalist, decided to record the last several minutes of this seemingly endless call and post it online, the result was a PR disaster for Comcast. And what made many people angriest is that Block did just about everything right: he kept his cool, set appropriate boundaries and calmly kept stating his case. This call has quickly become an online rallying cry against corporate arrogance and sales pressure.

But most of the time, you have more power in these situations than you think. As a former call center manager turned psychotherapist, I’d like to share some tricks you can use the next time you’re on the line with the rep from hell.

  1. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Comcast claimed in a written apology that they don’t train their customer service representatives this way. Technically, they are probably correct. However, most companies strongly reward – and penalize – their retention reps around whether they keep reluctant customers. So first, be aware this is probably a low-paid employee whose job may be on the line, and realize that empathy will usually get you further than threats.
  2. Watch for “bracketing.” This is what I call a technique I see commonly in politics. Do you like family values? Of course. Should people learn to speak English in America? Golly, my English teacher always thought so. What is happening here is that people ask stupid questions with only one good answer, and then use your answer as proof that you should do what they want. Cable reps, salespeople and clerks selling extended warranties use bracketing because it leverages the power of influence, and it works. So stop their rhythm and don’t ever answer their questions. When someone asks, “Don’t you want the fastest Internet available?,” respond by politely redirecting them to your request.
  3. Repetition, repetition, repetition. One call center rep posted that their workplace had a policy of “three nos and a go” – when a customer says no three times to upselling, let them go. And when I teach people how to communicate in crisis situations, I also teach them to calmly repeat their request three times. Unless your rep is a bully like Mr. Block’s, your solution is often one more “no” away.
  4. Use the magic word. There is one thing most reps hate more than not closing the sale: getting called out in front of their supervisors. In call center lingo, the word for this is “escalate.” Politely tell the rep that you would like to escalate the call to a manager or supervisor, and often you will find yourself magically cancelled.
  5. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Finally, realize that none these techniques may work with a determined rep who is tone-deaf to anything but winning. Instead of suffering through a lengthy ordeal with people like this, simply hang up and try your luck again with another representative.

Sadly, there is one more option: wait a few years. Sociologists have long talked about “the tragedy of the commons” where, for example, farmers over-graze open land into oblivion as long as their cows get there first. Retention policies are a modern-day tragedy of the commons: by hassling their customers now, cable companies may be improving their short-term bottom lines as they chase people away to options like Hulu and Netflix. And for many, that may ultimately be the best revenge of all against the customer service rep from hell.

Rich Gallagher, LMFT, heads Point of Contact Group, a communications skills training firm in Ithaca, NY. His books include What to Say to a Porcupine and The Customer Service Survival Kit. Follow him on Twitter at @GallagherPOC.

TIME Tech

Google Joining With Pharma Company to Build its Smart Contact Lens

The lenses would be a breakthrough in diabetes management, allowing diabetics to monitor blood sugar levels without drawing blood

+ READ ARTICLE

Pharmaceutical company Novartis announced Tuesday that its eye care division, Alcon, will license Google’s smart contact lens technology, creating a tool to monitor diabetics’ blood sugar levels through tear samples.

Alcon will collaborate with Google[x], Google’s secretive lab for major technological advances which also designed Google Glass. The two will join forces to develop contact lenses that wirelessly connect to mobile devices to report blood sugar in near-real-time. The technology may also provide accommodative vision correction for those with impaired eyesight.

“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” said Google C0-Founder Sergey Brin in a statement. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”

A marriage between a medical juggernaut and a tech powerhouse, the agreement will benefit both companies by allowing Google to merge biology with its miniature electronic efforts and Novartis to leverage technology to manage disease, according to Novartis’ press release. The partnership remains subject to anti-trust approvals.

“This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez.

The partnership announcement arrives shortly after Babak Parviz, one of the Google[x] pioneers behind the smart lens and Google Glass, wrote on Google Plus Saturday that he will leave Google for Amazon. Parviz, who debuted in 2011 a smart lens prototype with a red LED light indicating glucose at or below certain thresholds, is expected to contribute to Amazon’s wearables and technological advancements.

Google announced its smart contact lens project in January.

 

 

TIME Tech

Report: One-Third of New York Residents Were Data Breach Victims Last Year

New York Record Number of Data Breach Last Year
A New York City Target during the period of December 15, 2013, to December 17, 2013, when the credit card information of 40 million customers who shopped at the retailer were stolen. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Millions have been exposed without knowledge or consent

Secure data of 7.3 million out of roughly 20 million New Yorkers were breached in 2013, breaching also the record for the highest number of information attacks per year in the state.

Private and public institutions in New York were hit by an unprecedented 900 data breaches exposing personal and financial information last year costing $1.37 billion, according to a new report released Tuesday by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. The report discloses historical statistics of New York data breaches between 2006 and 2013.

“With today’s report, we are proud to be taking a first-of-its-kind, multiple-year glance at information we’ve collected, so that we’re looking not only at the direct impact on New Yorkers, but also at trends in the data. This is an important step toward ensuring that everyone, from businesses to consumers, is better protected from these intrusions,” Schneiderman told TIME in an email.

From 2006 to 2013, 22.8 million personal records of New Yorkers were exposed in nearly 5,000 data breaches, with many victims unaware. Hacking is responsible for over half of personal information exposures; the number of hacking breaches have tripled since 2006. This chart shows the full breakdown:

New York Data Breach by Cause 2006 - 2013
Source: Office of the New York State Attorney General

Data breaches per year, while a volatile statistic, have trended upward since 2006 — it’s not just that the public eye has just begun to zero in on these information security attacks, a thriving practice largely driven by the black market. (TIME’s July 21 cover story dove head first into the rise of the data breach market.) This graph shows the number of New York records exposed by year, with dotted lines representing the total number of records exposed:

New York Data Breaches by Year
Office of the New York State Attorney General

The up-and-down nature of the graph is precisely due to mega-breaches, according to the report. These massive information spills are increasing, with half of the 10 largest mega-breaches affecting New Yorkers occurring after 2011, including Sony’s in May 2011 and Target’s in December 2013. Other recent, smaller breaches like P.F. Chang’s have demonstrated that no one is truly safe.

Of course, it’s not just New York. California, the first state to mandate a data breach report system in 2003, three years before New York, has previously released a data breach report, chronicling the Golden State’s dark rise of information attacks. But nationwide the upward trend is less clear, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), which collects data under a stricter definition of data breach over a subset of high-risk industries: finance, business, education, government and medicine. The ITRC’s findings suggest that for these industries, data breaches since 2006 had only doubled by 2013, versus tripled for New York.

Number of Data Breaches Nationwide
Identity Theft Resource Center

Regardless, New York officials are warning the broader public to make themselves aware that every transaction comes an inevitable risk.

“It’s clear that a broad, concerted public education campaign must take place to ensure that all of us – from large corporations, to small businesses and families – are better protected,” Schneiderman said.

 

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