Security

Chromebooks Could Let You Skip the Login Screen When Your Phone’s Nearby

Google

A non-working feature in Chrome OS hints at a way to sign in without a password.

For a while, Google has been talking about killing the password with help from some physical object, whether it’s a phone, a ring, a tattoo or even a pill that you swallow.

The latest developer version of Chrome OS suggests that Google is putting those plans in motion.

Android Police has discovered a hidden setting, called “Easy Unlock,” that claims to let users sign into their Chromebooks without a password. As long as users have their phones nearby — and presumably paired via Bluetooth — they’d be able to skip the usual login screen.

Unfortunately, the feature isn’t actually working right now. Enabling it in the chrome://flags menu causes a notification to appear, and you can click on that notification for a basic explanation of what Easy Unlock does, but that’s as far as you can go. On my Chromebook, clicking the “Find your phone” button only caused the browser to crash and restart.

We’ve seen some similar approaches to device-based sign-ins before. Motorola’s Moto X, for instance, allows you to skip the PIN lock screen when the phone is connected to a Bluetooth device of your choosing. (When I reviewed the Moto X, I loved using this feature in conjunction with my Pebble smartwatch.)

But if Google adds device-based authentication for Chromebooks, it’d be the first time that such a feature was baked directly into a major computing platform. Neither Apple nor Microsoft have built anything similar into their operating systems, though Apple’s iPhone 5s does have a fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone without a PIN.

Easy Unlock wouldn’t kill the password entirely, but it could encourage users to set stronger, more complex passwords that wouldn’t need to be entered as often.

There are also a lot of other directions that device-based logins could go. Instead of replacing the password, a paired phone could be the second step in two-factor authentication, eliminating the usual hassle of entering a code sent to the phone via text message. The paired device could also become a way to automatically sign into websites that are tied to your Google login.

Beyond the smartphone, it’s not hard to imagine Google adding other Easy Unlock devices, starting with Android Wear smartwatches, and maybe some day moving on to those crazy tattoos and authentication pills. The early work spotted in Chrome OS brings us a small step closer.

deals

RadioShack Selling iPhone 5s for $100, or Free with iPhone 4S Trade

On your marks, get set, save $100 on a 16GB iPhone 5s if you buy one from RadioShack, starting today.

The deal gets a mite sweeter if you have an iPhone 4S, in which case RadioShack will hand you an iPhone 5s for nada, crediting you $100 toward the existing $100 deal, which of course equals nothing. Well, the sort of nothing that involves a two-year contract, anyway, since both the $100 standalone and $0 for trade-in deals are limited to contract-arians AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.

As noted, the promotion starts today, April 18, and runs until take-your-best-guess. MacRumors quotes a supposed Radio Shack source as saying “the promotion does not currently have an end date.”

[9to5Mac]

5 Fundamental Truths for Tech Companies

Google
Justin Lane—EPA

Maybe that correction in technology stocks wasn’t such a bad thing after all. As tech companies have started the quarterly ritual of reporting earnings, the early indications are that, while many are still growing, they aren’t growing enough to meet the outsize expectations the market had built up.

So far, the flagship tech companies that have posted earnings bore few big surprises or disappointments. While several companies posted solid results, it wasn’t enough for the more hyped, overvalued stocks like Google. Others, like Intel, that were left out of last year’s tech rally performed much better.

It’s almost enough to make a fundamental investor believe the market hasn’t quite lost its head. There are several more weeks to earnings season to come, but if this week is any indication of what’s ahead, there are several trends emerging.

Internet companies are growing fast, just not fast enough. At Google, revenue excluding traffic acquisitions costs rose 23%. That’s a far cry from Facebook’s recent 63% growth but it’s still pretty impressive. According to RBC Capital, only two other large companies have maintained growth above 20% for 16 straight quarters: Amazon and Priceline. Being as big as Google and growing that fast is a tough act to keep up.

But for investors who have strongly associated Internet giants with growth, Google’s feat doesn’t impress much. The stock slid 4% Thursday after Google fell short of revenue and profit expectations. The growth simply wasn’t good enough to justify the stock’s lofty price. Even after its recent slump, Google shares are up 36% in the past year, pricing it at 29 times revenue.

Mobile is driving down ad prices, and it’s starting to be a problem. If there was one worrisome part of Google’s report, it was the decline in cost per clicks, the price charged for ads. CPC’s fell 9% at Google, a decline that has been accelerating for the past few quarters. In fact, Google’s CPC’s have been negative for a couple of years, around the time mobile ads began supplanting ads on the desktop Web.

Mobile is an opportunity and a problem for Google. It’s where the users are going, but it’s also, according to Google, a key reason why CPCs are in decline. Google may also be seeing lower CPCs from emerging markets and ads outside its own sites. The company plans to offer more detailed data on CPCs in coming quarters. Facebook has had better rates with its targeted ads in mobile feeds, but most other companies are struggling to see mobile ads pay.

The market is getting competitive for IT services. IBM’s stock dropped 3% after it said revenue fell 4% last quarter to $22.5 billion. For years, IBM was a stalwart leader in the market for managing IT services for other companies. But rivals like HP and Dell are getting aggressive on costs, and cloud computing is cutting IT costs in general, and it’s all taking its toll on IBM.

Revenue at IBM’s IT and outsourcing business fell 3%, its consulting division was flat and its server and storage business declined 23%. Software was a bright spot, rising 2%. IBM is still vowing to reach $20 in earnings per share next year, although some analysts noted earnings growth is coming from a lower tax rate and an aggressive buyback program.

Old school tech still has the ability to impress. Intel shares reached their highest level Thursday in nearly two years as it delivered earnings slightly above Wall Street estimates, but showed the company is making a slow but sure move into chips powering tablets and mobile devices. That makes for a 23% rebound in Intel’s stock since last September.

Bulls and bears have been arguing over whether Intel can make the transition without eating into costs, which have been weighing on margins in recent quarters. Intel’s manufacturing prowess may be able to lower costs in the long run, while also pushing into new markets like sensor chips for the Internet of Things. So while Intel is still struggling in its legacy market for PC chips, it fighting for footing in growing markets.

Growth in Asian giants is outpacing US peers. For all of Marissa Mayer’s attempts to turn around Yahoo’s core business, investors still scour its earnings announcements for information on another company: Alibaba. Yahoo’s earnings from equity interests in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan rose to $301 million last quarter from $218 million a year ago.

China-based Alibaba was by far the big contributor to Yahoo’s equity earnings. Alibaba’s operating income rose 66% in its most recently reported quarter. Yahoo’s operating profit, by contrast fell 84%. And yet Yahoo’s stock has risen 6% since reporting earnings. Wags have joked that investors like Yahoo as a hedge fund better than an Internet company, and numbers like that show the truth behind the humor.

Video Games

5 Reasons the Latest PlayStation 4 and Xbox One Sales Figures Don’t Mean What You Think They Do

Sony's PlayStation 4 (upper-left) and Microsoft's Xbox One (lower-right). Sony, Microsoft

It's not as simple as 7 million PS4 units minus 5 million Xbox One units equals a 2-million sales shortfall.

Two million. That’s the global gully, valley or chasm — you pick — dividing Sony’s PlayStation 4 from Microsoft’s Xbox One in unit sales as we round the bend from March to April. That’s a lot of units in the short term, or it’s a drop in the bucket thinking longer-term, where bestselling platforms like Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Nintendo’s Wii went on to push more than 100 million and 155 million units, respectively.

It’s vogue to say console sales don’t matter, but those who do are just telegraphing fatigue with the irrational (and unintelligible, and often downright cruel) conversations that erupt on message boards like so much digital effluvium. (Fandom is as fandom does.) But there’s a very sound, perfectly rational reason to care who’s winning hearts and wallets in the monthly numbers, especially if it’s by wide margins. And it’s this: they determine where the games go.

Wii U owners are struggling with this unfortunate reality as we speak (and will increasingly as we roll forward), unable to play multi-platform games like Battlefield 4, Madden NFL 25, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid V, Destiny, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Assassin’s Creed Unity. It’s not necessarily because the Wii U isn’t capable of running downscaled versions of some or all of those games, but because the sales base isn’t there (and doesn’t seem likely to get there soon) to justify spending time and money on ports.

But let’s focus on the PS4 and Xbox One, in view of the latest sales claims, and delve beneath the surface of reductive analyses like “7 million minus 5 million equals 2 million!” That’s an oversimplification, of course, for at least the following five reasons.

You can buy the PlayStation 4 in 72 “countries and regions.” You can buy the Xbox One in 13.

Everyone misses this, and it’s easy to see why, since you have to scour the fine print to find it. It’s not clear what the nature of Microsoft’s problem is, exactly — whether it’s manufacturing or regulatory or who knows — but the Xbox One was originally supposed to launch in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland alongside the 13 countries in this list back in November. Microsoft scrapped those plans at the last minute, and so to date, the Xbox One exists in just 13.

Not all “countries and regions” are equal when you’re talking about potential audience size, of course, and Microsoft’s going to have its biggest bases covered by the time fall 2014 rolls around, raising its total markets figure to 39. In other words, the gulf between 72 and 13 is huge, but 72 and 39 — because we’re talking most of the key remaining ingredients added in that 39 — not so much.

Still, the clock’s ticking. If you’re a game developer, you want to be, as lyricist Howard Ashman put it, “where the people are.” Microsoft’s challenge at this point is as much (or more) about ramping up Xbox One availability as it is landing crucial third-party exclusives or thinking about price drops.

$100 is $100 (even when it’s not $100).

Show me a significantly more expensive game platform that trounced its competition in the long run. Don’t say Sony’s PlayStation 3, because a few million ahead at the end of the marathon’s hardly trouncing. Don’t say the PC because it’s a wildly different animal, and as gaming platforms go, it’s certainly seen better days. Of course, the PS3 had to drop in price dramatically to catch back up to the Xbox 360, and it did, managing to catch and just barely inch past Microsoft’s console in global sales toward the end.

Nintendo’s Wii left everything in the dust during its prime sales years, I’d argue as much, if not chiefly, because of its lower price tag. Microsoft’s Xbox One is $100 more expensive than Sony’s PlayStation 4, and all the shell-game price discounts and bundles and temporary retailer price overrides in the world won’t change the “much more expensive” public perception until Microsoft makes an Xbox One price drop official (perhaps by offering a version without Kinect). Forget all the blather about which platform’s more technically capable (answer: both!), if the Xbox One had launched at $400, we’d be having a very different sales conversation right now.

The point being this: Price is a big deal, and it’s almost surely hurting the Xbox One, as we knew it would. But you could also argue Microsoft selling 5 million Xbox One units at that higher price point is as much an achievement as Sony selling 7 million PS4 units at its lower one.

It’s impossible (for us) to know whether production constraints are impacting these numbers.

All we have are vague claims from Sony and Microsoft and anecdotal evidence provided by retailers, but production constraints could be masking demand (and almost certainly are if we factor regional availability, as noted above).

Sony knows precisely how impacted it is. So does Microsoft. But all they’re sharing are unverifiable vagaries about production issues. And so we’re left to speculate. Maybe Sony’s PlayStation 4 would’ve sold thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions more. Maybe that’s just marketing spin. But the possibility alone means we should be wary of reading these numbers as reflective of actual consumer demand.

Both the PS4 and Xbox One are performing sales feats of derring-do.

Both the PS4 and Xbox One are selling at unprecedented levels. As NPD noted in its March 2014 sales rundown last night, if you add both systems together through their preliminary five months of availability, you’re talking twice the sales of the PS3 and Xbox 360 for the same period. What’s more, if you run the same figure for retail software sales, combined PS4 and Xbox One software is up some 60 percent. You’d be mad to read those kinds of generation-on-generation numbers as bad in any way for either company.

Titanfall wasn’t supposed to change March 2014′s sales figures, but it did anyway.

Anyone paying attention to point number one (as well as Sony’s and Microsoft’s prior global sales figures) knew Titanfall wasn’t going to eliminate the Xbox One’s sales deficit. Imagine Microsoft selling 2 million consoles over the course of 30 days — that’s just wishful thinking unless you’re the Wii and it’s 2007 (or 2008) again. Titanfall‘s a core online-only game for a very specific sort of player. That it took the number one software sales spot for March 2014 despite the PS4′s unit sales lead speaks volumes in an industry where hardware paves the roads and sets up the shipping lines, but where it’s software that ultimately carries the lion’s share of your profits.

Software

Crazy Siri Hack Brings Voice Commands to Google Maps, Spotify

Googolplex

A new iPhone hack called Googolplex routes around Siri's restrictions, allowing custom voice commands.

Tired of waiting for Apple to open up Siri to more developers? So were a group of college students, who’ve come up with a clever workaround.

Their hack is called “Googolplex,” and it allows users to create custom voice commands for Siri. These commands can even hook into third-party apps, so you can ask Siri to get directions from Google Maps or play a song in Spotify.

Best of all, the setup is extremely simple, and can be done by anyone without jailbreaking:

  1. Head to betterthansiri.com and create an account.
  2. On your iPhone, go to Settings > Wi-Fi and tap the “i” button next to your wireless network’s name.
  3. Scroll to the bottom, and under “HTTP Proxy,” select “Auto” and enter “http://totally.betterthansiri.com” (without quotes) into the URL field.
  4. Initiate a Siri voice command starting with the word “Googolplex” (or “Google Plex”), and select “Continue” from the box that pops up.
  5. When prompted, enter your username and password from step one.

At this point, you should be able to use custom Siri voice commands beginning with the word “Googolplex.” For instance, you can say “Googolplex, give me directions to the nearest gas station,” and Siri will pull up those directions in Google Maps instead of Apple Maps. Other pre-loaded commands let you pick a song on Spotify, control a Nest thermostat and even unlock a Tesla car.

The trick is that when you say “Googolplex,” Siri interprets it as “Google Plex,” which in turn executes a Google search for the word “Plex” in the Safari browser. Googelplex then routes your request through its proxy server, where your custom commands are interpreted and sent back to the phone.

There’s been some concern about the security of this hack, since it’s basically routing your activity through Googolplex’s servers. But according to the developers, the routing only occurs when you explicitly ask Siri for “Googolplex.” In all other cases, your activity remains secure.

The bigger practical issue is that this hack only works on Wi-Fi networks, and only after you’ve set up the HTTP Proxy. You won’t be able to ask Siri to play a song in Spotify while you’re out on a run, or ask for Google Maps directions from your car.

Still, it’s an impressive hack, and it gives us a little taste of how much better Siri could be.

Video Games

Sony’s PlayStation 4 Was the Top-Selling Console in March, but Titanfall Was the Top-Selling Game

Screenshot from publisher Electronic Arts and developer Respawn Entertainment's massively-multiplayer first-person Xbox One shooter Titanfall (also for Xbox 360 and Windows). Electronic Arts

Microsoft's Xbox One cedes the top console sales spot to Sony's PS4, but takes first in software sales for March 2014 with EA and Respawn's Titanfall.

Xbox One owners, exhale: Microsoft had a very good March. While the company continues to cede the top monthly console sales spot to Sony’s PlayStation 4, its Xbox- and Windows-exclusive massively multiplayer first-person shooter, Titanfall, was tops in software sales.

That’s good news, as is Microsoft’s disclosure of a new sales figure: 5 million, or the number of Xbox Ones sold worldwide since launch. Yes, it’s some 2 million shy of Sony’s 7 million-selling PlayStation 4, but remember that Sony had a one-week lead, the PS4 is $100 cheaper and the company’s currently selling the PS4 in a whopping 72 countries and regions, while Microsoft’s only selling the Xbox One in 13. Microsoft plans to expand the Xbox One’s availability to 39 countries this September, but lopsided hardly begins to describe direct sales comparisons.

Retail (and burgeoning digital) sales tracker NPD Group says hardware sales were up 78 percent over March 2013 — no surprise, since hardware sales have been up year-on-year since the PS3 and Xbox One launched last November. That’s translating to across-the-board gains in hardware, software and accessories, which combined were up 3 percent year-on-year.

NPD confirms that both the PS4 and Xbox One are setting records: add both systems together through their preliminary five months of availability and you’re talking twice the sales of the PS3 and Xbox 360 for the same period. What’s more, if you run the same figure for retail software sales, combined PS4 and Xbox One software is up some 60 percent.

This sort of momentum’s never forever, but to all the naysayers who said this next generation of game consoles was going to flop, at least for now, crow’s still very much on the menu.

Sony hasn’t put up a blog post or dropped a press release yet, but fired this off through the PlayStation twitter account:

Microsoft hasn’t manned the Twitter-cannon yet, but did offer more granular figures in an email, noting that it sold 311,000 Xbox Ones in the U.S. in March (60 percent higher sales than the Xbox 360 for the same period — forget the PS4, who can argue with that?), that it sold 111,000 Xbox 360s for March (holding the top seventh-gen console spot) and that it’s seeing attachment sales of nearly 3 games per Xbox One console sold.

technology

Weibo Chief: We’ll Be Watching Facebook and Twitter

Weibo And Sabre Beginning Trading On NASDAQ
China's Weibo CEO Charles Chao (center) stands with Robert Greifeld, Nasdaq CEO, moments after Weibo began trading on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol WB on April 17, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

During its first day on the market in the U.S, the social network known as the "Twitter of China" saw its shares leap 19 percent Thursday. Weibo will now compete directly with social giants like Facebook and Twitter for the attention of U.S. investors

The social network commonly referred to as the “Twitter of China” saw huge gains during its first day on the market in the U.S amid a particularly rough month for both IPOs and tech stocks. Shares of Weibo, a subsidiary of the Chinese Internet company Sina, leapt 19 percent Thursday, from an IPO price of $17 to $20.24 when markets closed.

Weibo quickly earned back some of the market valuation it had lost by pricing at the very low-end of its IPO range of $17 to $19. The company raised about $285 million Wednesday night in its IPO, less than the $380 million originally anticipated. But caution seemed to pay off with an offering that saw an impressive first-day pop. “The IPO market is kind of soft in the last couple of weeks and the [tech] sector was also hit hard,” Charles Chao, chairman of Weibo, told TIME just before Weibo shares began trading on the Nasdaq. “It’s not perfect in terms of timing, but relatively speaking, we’re pretty happy about this pricing actually.”

Weibo, like Twitter, is a mostly public social network through which celebrities and ordinary Chinese people discuss news and personal happenings in their lives. The platform boasts 144 million monthly active users, 70 percent of whom use the company’s mobile app. Also like Twitter, Weibo has debuted on the public markets as an unprofitable business. The company lost $47.4 million in the first quarter of 2014, though it posted a small profit in the previous quarter.

Weibo will now compete directly with social giants like Facebook and Twitter for the attention of American investors. For now, they operate in different markets, with Facebook and Twitter banned in China and Weibo’s English-language site having only a small presence in foreign countries. But Facebook has expressed interest in China in the past, and Chao wouldn’t rule out a potential expansion of Weibo to appeal beyond Chinese users in the future. “These are great companies with a lot of innovations and powerful user bases,” he said of Twitter and Facebook. “We from time to time will look into their innovations to see whether some of these can be applied to the Chinese market.”

Excitement surrounding Weibo’s IPO had deflated in recent weeks partially due to censorship policies in China that could ultimately stem user growth. Chao dismissed such concerns, noting that Internet companies have to regulate themselves to some extent in every country, not just China. “We always want to be compliant with the laws and regulations in China,” he said. “I don’t see too much problem there.”

More broadly, Weibo was just a victim of bad timing, arriving on the market during an overall downturn in tech stocks that has seen the tech-heavy Nasdaq slide 6.5 percent from its March peak. Earlier Chinese IPOs this year, like the IT training company Tarena, have underperformed.

Weibo, though, managed to fight past these headwinds and achieve a successful offering. The strong IPO may ratchet up the fervor for Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant that is prepping a huge offering in the U.S. later this year. It could also provide some stability to the tech sector, which has yet to have a hugely successful IPO since Twitter’s runaway success last November.

 

Rumors

Report: iPhone to Get Built-in Song Identification Features

Siri
Bloomberg / Getty Images

A report said the next version of Apple's iPhone software will have built-in features to tell you what song is playing within earshot. Such a move would be a bit of catch-up for Apple, as similar song identifying features are baked into Android via the Google Now app

Bloomberg is reporting that the next version of Apple’s iPhone software — iOS 8 — will bring with it the ability to tell you which song is playing within earshot. The feature will reportedly leverage Shazam technology, which is already available as a standalone song-identifying app on several platforms, including Apple’s.

Such a move would be a bit of catch-up for Apple, as similar song identifying features are baked into Android via the Google Now app — you can simply ask Google Now “What’s this song?” — as well as Windows Phone via Microsoft’s new Cortana personal assistant, which features a song-identification button.

Bloomberg merely cites a duo of unnamed “people with knowledge of the product,” so take this news with a grain of salt. However, this seems like a logical extension of Siri’s abilities — the report claims you’ll be able to ask Siri “what song is playing,” which would be similar to how the aforementioned Google Now functionality works — and it help pad Apple’s bottom line by providing direct access to music tracks for purchase through the iTunes store.

Apple is holding its annual developer conference from June 2 to June 6 — we’ll find out more then.

[Bloomberg]

Smartphones

HTC One (M8) Review: Pushing Forward with Everything but Hardware

Jared Newman for TIME

HTC's latest flagship phone has lots of little hardware improvements, and some big promises of long-term software support.

The best things about the HTC One (M8) have nothing to do with the phone itself.

While the hardware is nice, it’s not a major leap over the original HTC One. It has a bigger screen and a faster processor, and its dual-lens camera is sometimes useful, but there isn’t single hardware advancement that will push the industry forward.

Instead, the new HTC One’s most important features are the promises the company has made to its users: HTC says it will keep the phone up to date with the latest version of Android for two years after launch, which is more than what even Google guarantees for its Nexus phones. And if you crack your screen in the first six months of ownership, HTC will repair it for free. Those perks, and others that I’ll explain later, make up for the lack of extra “wow” factor in the hardware.

Aesthetically, I still prefer the design of the original HTC One, a gorgeous phone with slabs of silvery metal sandwiching a layer of white trim. On the new One, a single piece of brushed aluminum wraps around the back and sides of the phone, so instead of seeing nothing but glass over the display, you get a metallic lip surrounding the entire phone. The 5-inch screen is also larger than last year’s 4.7-inch panel, and includes on-screen buttons for home, back and recent apps. Still, HTC has kept the black logo bar beneath the screen where those home and back buttons used to be, making the new One a lot taller than its predecessor.

Jared Newman for TIME

The new look is more industrial than elegant, but it has some practical points in its favor: The rounded edges are more comfortable to grip, and HTC has managed to squeeze in a microSD card slot this time. And while the longer “chin” under the screen is less attractive, it makes the phone easier to grasp for one-handed use. The larger chassis also leaves room for a bigger battery; I never had trouble getting through long days of heavy use.

Many of the 2014 HTC One’s other tech specs are similar to last year’s model. The processor, a 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, is a smidge faster, but RAM is unchanged at 2 GB. (The phone felt snappier to me, but this could have been due to software, or the fact that my original One is bogged down by more apps and media.) Built-in storage is still an extra-generous 32 GB on the U.S. version, and screen resolution is still 1080p. The superb “BoomSound” front-facing speakers are back, but while HTC says they’re louder than the speakers on last year’s One, they don’t sound quite as rich to me. (I wonder if the disappearance of Beats Audio has anything to do with it.)

HTC did bump the front-facing camera up to 5 megapixels, but the rear facing 4-megapixel camera is largely unchanged from last year’s One. HTC continues to argue that more pixels aren’t better, and that its “UltraPixel” technology helps let in more light, but over the last year, other high-end phones have managed to improve their own low-light performance without sacrificing detail. The new One still has fine camera, able to quickly snap lots of good-enough photos in dimly-lit rooms, but it no longer stands out for doing so.

To compensate for the lack of core camera improvements, HTC has slapped an additional lens onto the back of the phone. It won’t make basic photos any better, but it does allow for some impressive focus-based effects. For instance, you can blur the foreground or background of a photo with simulated depth-of-field, or tilt the phone to slightly alter your perspective on the subject.

Jared Newman for TIME

These features don’t always work flawlessly. With the depth-of-field effect, you might notice some blurring around the edges of your subject, or you might have trouble including your entire subject in the foreground. With the perspective shift effect, images can come out distorted at certain angles. But overall, the dual-lens system works well enough to transcend gimmick status, especially because you can apply the effects to photos you’ve already taken. You don’t have to activate these features beforehand, as you do with single-lens phones that claim to offer similar features.

In lieu of any other big hardware changes, HTC has increased its focus on software. The BlinkFeed news ticker is back on the home screen, with a slicker design and more sources of content. The Sense TV app still allows you to control your entertainment center through the One’s IR blaster, but now it includes social feeds and sports stats. HTC has also given a fresh coat of paint to its email and calendar apps.

As with any non-stock Android phone, some things work better than others. I like that HTC includes a scheduled “Do Not Disturb” feature, and that you can jump into your four favorite apps straight from the lock screen. I’m less enthused about “Motion Launch,” which lets you turn on the screen by swiping from any edge or double-tapping on the glass. It’s far too easy to invoke by accident, and would be better if you could disable individual gestures without turning the feature off entirely. But overall, the software seems cleaner, faster and less obtrusive than anything HTC has shipped before.

Jared Newman for TIME

And there’s a difference now: HTC has moved all its apps and services into the Google Play Store, where users can download updates directly. This basically allows HTC to deliver new features for apps such BlinkFeed without going through a lengthy carrier approval process, which can hold up core software updates for months. Google already uses a similar strategy for key Android apps such as Gmail and Maps, and it’s gone a long way toward curbing Android’s fragmentation problem. In theory, HTC’s use of Google Play should result in better built-in apps and services, and it’s the one other way that HTC is being more progressive in its approach to Android. (Motorola, under Google’s ownership, has taken the same approach for its software.)

To be clear, the HTC One (M8) is a fine piece of hardware. It has a sharp display, an attractive design and great speakers, and while the camera isn’t the best in its class, it still runs circles around the basic shooters on cheaper phones.

But if anything, the lack of huge hardware improvements only underscores the importance of software and services, and that’s where HTC has made its biggest leaps. Even as the hardware remains trapped in time, the promise with the new HTC One is that phone will keep getting better.

Video Games

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Won’t Swing onto Xbox One at First — Will It Ever?

Activision

Activision says it's working with Microsoft to get the game released, but it's also pulled the Xbox One logo from the game's official website.

File this under nightmare public relations debacles happening right before a major multi-platform game associated with one of Marvel’s oldest and dearest properties is due out in tandem with one of the spring’s biggest films: For reasons unknown, Activision has officially and indefinitely postponed the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on Xbox One.

“We are working with Microsoft in an effort to release The Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game on Xbox One,” an Activision spokesperson told Eurogamer. “Currently, the game will be available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and the PC on 2nd May, 2014 as previously announced.”

This would be something of a first. It’s certainly the case, historically speaking, that platforms are skipped in multi-platform lineups, whether because the platform isn’t popular enough, or it’s simply not capable enough (Nintendo’s Wii U being the most recent and prime example). But delaying one of two premium versions of a multi-platform game based on a triple-A character and film franchise (the movie launched internationally yesterday, and hits the U.S. on May 2) we’ve all been expecting for months? On a system that’s by all accounts selling quite well? At the eleventh hour?

Something’s clearly amiss. It’s no secret that developers have been struggling to get the Xbox One to match Sony’s PlayStation 4 when it comes to render scales and frame rates. Did developer Beenox swim in over its head? Is the game underperforming? Or are there Xbox One-specific features too unfinished at this point to allow the game to launch with its peers? On the game’s official website, the Xbox One version has been removed, which is generally not what you do if you’re simply delaying something’s release date.

It’s hard to imagine Beenox not releasing a version of the game for Microsoft’s flagship gaming console, but who knows: launching movie tie-ins in the vicinity of the movies they’re based on is a big deal. Missing that date, and depending how critics and consumers react to the game itself, the prospects sound iffy. If the game does poorly (the film’s already getting mixed reviews), it’s hard to imagine Activision (it owns Beenox) pumping a ton of money into the Xbox One version to finish it up.

And like anything, even if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 missing Xbox One turns out to be a blip from a sales standpoint, it could do longer-term damage to perceptions about the Xbox One — rightly or wrongly — from a public relations one.

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