TIME Smartphones

These Budget Smartphones Sold Out in India in 4.2 Seconds

Xiaomi Smartphones Sell Out in 4.2 Seconds in India
A Redmi smartphone from Xiaomi. Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Chinese smartphone maker is trying to crack other Asian markets—and it's working

Online sales of budget smartphone maker Xiaomi’s new Android phone were gone in India before many even had a chance to click.

Known as “China’s Apple,” Xiaomi sold all 40,000 units of its low-cost Redmi 1S within 4.2 seconds on Flipkart, an online marketplace that does business exclusively in India, according to Hugo Barra, Vice President of Xiaomi Global.

Those unable to swipe one of the phones took to Xiaomi India’s Facebook Page or Twitter to vent their frustration, criticizing the Chinese firm for entering one of the world’s largest markets with limited supply. A previous flash sale of Xiaomi’s Mi 3 phone was met with similar success—and annoyance—when 20,000 devices sold out in 2.4 seconds, according to NDTV. Registrations have already kicked off for another round of online Redmi 1S sales.

In India, Xiaomi is attempting to replicate the success it achieved in China. Only three years old, Xiaomi has become explosively popular in its home country thanks to its affordable pricing and personalized design, recently outnumbering shipments of phones compared to its biggest competitor, Samsung. While Samsung claims the largest market share in India’s smartphone market, Xiaomi is attempting to stake a place with its low-priced smartphones: the Redmi 1S, priced at Rs 5,999 ($100), remains equally affordable as, if not moreso than, Samsung devices like the popular Galaxy smartphones, which tend to retail well over Rs 5,999 in India.

But Xiaomi has a long road ahead if it wants India to be its next China. Only less than 1% of Xiaomi’s global smartphone units were shipped outside China during Q2 2014, according to tech intelligence firm Canalys. And a formidable competitor is approaching, too: Google has set a Sept. 15 event in India, which many expect will mark the Indian launch of a cheap Android One, according to NDTV.

 

TIME animals

Giant Hippo Splashes Into River Thames

Giant Floating Hippo River Thames
Steve Stills

The artist's latest creation following his giant floating rubber duck

Along London’s River Thames are some notable landmarks: the London Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, and now, a giant floating hippo.

The nearly 70-foot-long replica of the water mammal—named “HippopoThames”—is the latest project of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, according to CNN. The work was commissioned by the Thames Festival Trust, which had approached Hofman earlier this year to design artwork for Totally Thames, an annual festival celebrating the river.

Hofman, who debuted the “world’s largest rubber duck” last month, is known for his humor, sensation and maximum impact, In line with his artistic vision, HippopoThames was inspired by everyday objects, especially those that time warp people to their childhoods. It’s also designed to force viewers to appreciate public spaces, even after the installations are removed.

“I wanted to use the hippo to get people out of their homes, away from the Internet and the TV, and to explore London with a new perspective,” Hofman told CNN.

HippopoThames will be on display until Sept. 28.

TIME europe

Only Gender Quotas Can Stop the E.U. from Being a Boys Club

Newly elected President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker is congratulated on July 15, 2014, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Newly elected President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker is congratulated on July 15, 2014, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty Images

The European Commission's president has asked that EU member states nominate female candidates. Here's why gender quotas are necessary

Gender anxiety is enveloping the top levels of the European Union. By the end of this month, each of the bloc’s 28 countries is expected to put forward their candidate to sit on the European Commission, the powerful body that drives policy-making and enforces E.U. law.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission’s new president, has instructed member states to send female candidates, saying he wants more women in the top jobs. A social media campaign – #10orMore – is also under way to boost female representation at the E.U. to a record high.

Unfortunately, governments are not playing ball: so far only five countries have nominated women. Nineteen other nations have nominated a man, with four countries still to announce their candidates.

The goal of getting more women into top decision-making posts is simply common sense given that they represent more than half of the E.U.’s 507 million citizens. Right now this is not reflected by their visibility in politics, business or the media, meaning their interests are often sidelined.

The drive to change the status quo at the top echelons of the E.U. has attracted skepticism. On the Facebook page of Neelie Kroes – one of the nine women in the outgoing Commission and a co-founder of the #10orMore campaign – critics question why gender would qualify a person for one of the 28 commissioner posts.

Such knee-jerk accusations of tokenism greet most attempts to introduce gender quotas in politics or the boardroom. But while so many barriers stand between women and senior positions – and these range from sexism in the workplace, high childcare costs and the unequal distribution of maternity and paternity leave – quotas are one of the few measures that actually have an impact.

In 1997 the British Labour party introduced all-women short lists for parliamentary candidates in some constituencies. Later that year, a record number of women were elected, and Labour still has the highest proportion of female MPs in Britain.

Britain’s Conservative party, which formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, does not support all-women short lists, and a U.N. survey of women in ministerial positions earlier this year shows Britain languishing at around the halfway point, below Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire, with women making up just 15% of the cabinet.

There are other poor performers in Europe, with Greece, Cyprus and Hungary faring even worse, reflecting the problems Juncker is having in rallying enough women for his Commission.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are Sweden and Finland, which are in the top three of the U.N. survey with over 50% female representation in their cabinets. France and Norway are close to reaching gender parity.

What the top performers have in common are long-term and often legislated programs to improve gender equality across society. In Sweden, political parties have since the early 1990s imposed voluntary quotas for election candidates. Norway was the first to introduce quotas for women on company boards, while France has legally-binding quotas for both politics and the boardroom. “Quotas are nobody’s first choice but where they are introduced they do improve representation, they do improve visibility of women,” says Clare McNeil, a senior fellow at the London-based Institute for Public Policy Research, adding that they work best when coupled with penalties for non-compliance.

Given the pool of female talent in the E.U., having just a handful of women in the Commission would be a pitiful performance. It is crucial now that efforts to increase female representation go beyond headline-grabbing promises. Juncker and the European Parliament, which approves the Commission, must make good on threats to reject the line-up if it is too male-dominated.

Hopefully quotas will not need to be in place forever. But right now Europe is so far from being a level playing field that radical measures are needed to kick-start lasting change in society.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson is a writer and journalist based in Brussels.

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Objects to Russia Restaurant Closures

RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CRISIS-US-TRADE-FOOD-MCDONALDS
People sit on the terrace of a closed McDonald's restaurant, the first to be opened in the Soviet Union in 1990, in Moscow on Aug. 21, 2014. Alexander Nemenov—AFP/Getty Images

The Russian government says conditions in some of the chain's restaurants are unsanitary

McDonald’s on Friday objected to the Russian government’s decision to close 12 of its restaurants in the country, following weeks of highly publicized investigations into health and safety at the fast food giant’s locations.

“We are closely studying the content of the agency documents to determine what should be done to re-open the restaurants as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement. “We do not agree with the court’s decision and will appeal against it in accordance with the procedures established by the law.”

The investigations come as the United States and Russia face heightened tensions over the crisis in Ukraine. While Russian authorities maintain that the restaurants have been closed for health reasons, critics say the closures are a response to U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The Russian government is continuing “microbiology tests, sanitary and chemical tests” at other McDonald’s restaurants in Russia, according to reports.

TIME Spain

Go Inside the World’s Biggest Tomato Fight

The La Tomatina festival draws thousands of people to Bunol, Spain, every year

+ READ ARTICLE

Getting into a food fight is every school kid’s fantasy, but once a year in the town of Bunol, Spain, it becomes a reality.

The objective of the La Tomatina festival is simple: Throw as many tomatoes at other people as you can (or perhaps just roll around in the puree that covers the streets). This year, according to the Associated Press, there were approximately 125 tons of tomatoes and 22,000 participants.

Both residents and non-residents participate in the festival. This is the second year that Bunol charged out-of-towners 10 Euros (about $13) to help paint their town red.

[AP]

TIME Research

Study: Trash Burning Causes Serious Health Problems

A young scavenger walks near a burning pile of trash in the Anlong Pi landfill on June 11, 2014 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
A young scavenger walks near a burning pile of trash in the Anlong Pi landfill on June 11, 2014 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Omar Havana—Getty Images

More than 40 percent of trash worldwide is burned in unregulated conditions

More than 40% of trash produced around the world today is burned without regulation or oversight in a process that damages public health and contributes to climate change, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Air pollution across much of the globe is significantly underestimated because no one is tracking open-fire burning of trash,” said NCAR researcher and lead author of the study Christine Wiedinmyer in a statement. “The uncontrolled burning of trash is a major source of pollutants, and it’s one that should receive more attention.”

Mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a type of particle created during burnings, are among the potent materials released from unregulated burnings that have been linked to health problems like neurological disorders, cancer and heart problems.

While garbage burning happens across the globe, it’s particularly rampant in developing countries with limited access to controlled methods of trash disposal. More than 20 percent of large-particle pollutants in China come from trash burning. In fact, it was the visible presence of pollutants in the air during a trip to Ghana that in part inspired Wiedinmyer to conduct this study, she has said.

And, even if the problem is clear, the lack of current data solutions difficult to design.

“This study was a first step to put some bounds on the magnitude of this issue,” Wiedinmyer said. “The next step is to look at what happens when these pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere—where are they being transported and which populations are being most affected.”

 

TIME energy

Dropping Oil Prices Threaten Moscow’s Budget

Oil refinery in Ufa, Russia, seen in April 2014.
Oil refinery in Ufa, Russia, seen in April 2014. Andrey Rudakov—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Russia has seen its economy boom with the price of oil. But if the cost of crude falls, Moscow could struggle to make ends meet

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com

Oil and gas are at the heart of the Russian economy and are largely responsible for keeping Moscow’s government budget in balance. But the recent decline in the price of oil from the North Sea and Texas has now spread to Urals crude, giving President Vladimir Putin one more economic headache.

The price of Urals crude fell just below $100 per barrel on Aug. 18, an 18-month low. On Aug. 19, it dropped to less than $97 per barrel. These declines coincided with similar drops in the price of Brent crude from the North Sea and U.S. oil.

The reasons are fairly easy to recognize. First, the United States has been on a drilling tear, extracting oil at record levels to increase its supply at a time when demand is waning. Second, though more tentative, is that conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East are so far not interfering with oil production in these regions.

This oil production boom raises problems for Moscow. Two-thirds of Russia’s exports are oil and gas, accounting for fully half of the central government’s revenues. That means that so far this year, every dollar drop in the price of Russian oil means a cut of about $1.4 billion in revenues.

This comes as Russia’s oil industry joins its defense and finance sectors as targets of sanctions by the European Union and the United States over Moscow’s unilateral annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and its suspected role in the fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Some analysts say the effects of the lower oil prices may not be lasting unless the drop in oil prices fall further in coming years. Vladimir Kolychev, the chief economist at VTB Capital, a global investment firm with headquarters in Moscow, says brief dips have less of an impact on Russia’s budget than the average cost of oil over an entire year.

“The first thing to remember is that the oil price projected by the finance ministry is … $104 average for the year – that still looks conservative,” Kolychev told Reuters. “Even if the oil price falls to $90, we’ll still have $105 average.”

As an example, Kolychev calculates that Russia’s budget would balance if oil’s average price fell to $103 per barrel.

Even if Moscow can tame its budget, it seems clear that Russia’s oil sector will feel the pain from the one-two punch of Western sanctions and lower prices. Vedomosti, a Russian financial journal, reported Aug. 14 that government-owned Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, has asked Moscow for more than $40 billion in debt relief because of the sanctions.

That’s a sharp reversal from just a month ago. Western sanctions were imposed on July 15, and three days later, Rosneft officials shrugged them off, saying the company would continue to pursue its plans and reap profits. In fact, a week after that statement, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin boasted that the company’s revenues were soaring.

 

TIME Israel

Hopes for a Cease-Fire Rise as the Gaza War Drags On

A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an airstrike on Aug. 25, 2014 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an air strike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 25, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

The Gaza war has reached its eighth week, and people on both sides keep dying. But there are reports of a potential truce

Israeli and Palestinian media outlets were abuzz with reports Monday that the various factions involved in the Israel-Hamas conflict were close to agreeing on a cease-fire deal following renewed efforts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help negotiate a truce. Either way, the possibility of reaching a cease-fire with a longer shelf life seemed to increase the likelihood of the sides reaching a cease-fire that would also be the prelude to a return to peace talks.

Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official attending the Cairo talks, was the source of reports that on the possible cease-fire. But a senior Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, said the sides had yet to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, while another Lebanon-based Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, would only confirm in a Hamas radio interview that “efforts are under way to stop the Israeli aggression.” Late Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on Israel and Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire without a time limit attached and to return to the peace negotiations.

A senior Israeli official reached by TIME says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is declining to comment on the rumors of a possible cease-fire and suggests “exercising caution” in giving credence to the reports. A report on Israel’s Walla! news site suggested that Egypt would make an announcement on a deal late Monday, one that would include a reopening the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone to 12 nautical miles, two of Hamas’ demands. If the cease-fire is maintained, the report says, Israel will allow more commercial products into Gaza, including construction materials.

Still, Israel and Hamas have very different visions about how the conflict should end — which makes it challenging to reach an agreement satisfactory to all sides. “The dilemma is that Israel is not willing to talk before reaching a cease-fire, while there is still shooting going on, and the Palestinian factions insist that they want achievements in exchange for agreeing to a cease-fire,” says Ghassan Khatib, a veteran Palestinian political analyst and the vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Adding intrigue about what the week may hold, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview Saturday with the Egypt’s Sada El Balad station that in the coming days he would introduce his own plan for solving the greater Israel-Palestine conflict. Many analysts here have speculated that this will likely be built on the Arab Peace Initiative — also called the Saudi Peace Initiative — first put forward in 2002. In the plan, moderate Arab states would recognize Israel in return for Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Any such plan would, naturally, including a program for rebuilding Gaza, but Israel is concerned that materials like cement and steel will be used refresh Hamas’ military capabilities — including the tunnels that became the focus of the Israel Defense Forces’ recent Gaza invasion.

Abbas said he would be discussing the initiative this week with other top Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “It will be an unconventional solution, but I’m not going to declare war on Israel,” Abbas said in the interview. “I have diplomatic and political solutions.” He suggested that he doesn’t expect Washington to support his initiative but added that “in the end, our Arab brothers will go with us.”

Khatib believes that Abbas’s statement indicates that Saudi involvement would play a key role in a peace deal. “Saudi and international parties are trying to bridge the gap by giving guarantees, meaning that they would set up a mechanism by which a third-party will guarantee freedom of movement to and from Gaza, but check that this cannot be used for the rearming of Gaza.” Egypt, he says, would like to play this role — or at least a pivotal one. The three key European players — France, Germany and Britain — all are offering assistance as well. The three countries are reportedly working on a proposal for a U.N. resolution to end the fighting, according to a report leaked to Haaretz, as part of a plan to return Gaza to Palestinian Authority control under international supervision — the territory has been run by Hamas since June 2007 — end the Israeli embargo on Gaza and resume peace talks.

The alternative, it seems, is continued war. Each side has made it clear other over the past week than they are ready to keep fighting indefinitely. With the conflict between Israel and Hamas already dragging on far longer than expected — it is now heading into its eighth week — politicians on both sides in the conflict have begun to refer to the possibility of war of attrition. That’s a reference to the ongoing fighting following the 1967 Six-Day War, one that continued for another three years, pitting Israel against Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and even Soviet forces. Netanyahu and his Defense Minister told Israelis on Aug. 24 to expect a protracted war and “if necessary,” a delay of the start of the school year next week, at least for schools that are in the line of fire from Gaza.

In the meantime, both sides have continued their attacks. Israel has carried out 70 air strikes in the Gaza Strip over the past two days, the IDF said in its Twitter feed, while over the same period Israel was targeted by more than 230 rockets and mortars from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza. On Sunday a 4-year-old Israeli boy was laid to rest after he was killed in a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday, triggering an exodus of Israelis from communities near the Gaza border, which are not protected by the country’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The boy’s death brought the number of Israelis killed in the ongoing war to 68, including 64 soldiers. That same day a Palestinian mother and her four children were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. At least 2,120 Gazans have been killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Barring a lasting cease-fire, both numbers will keep rising.

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