TIME Companies

Ad-Free Social Network Ello Gets $5.5 Million in Funding

US-IT-INTERNET-MEDIA-ELLO
The Ello website is seen on the monitor screen September 27, 2014 in Washington D.C. Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

Company promises it will never sell ads or user data

The burgeoning social network Ello has raised $5.5 million in a new round of venture funding, it was revealed Thursday. The buzzy startup gained widespread attention in September thanks to its manifesto decrying social media companies’ habit of gathering and monetizing user data.

“Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.” the manifesto reads. “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life.”

Ello is putting some legal muscle behind its lofty rhetoric by reincorporating as a public benefit corporation in Delaware. The company will vow in its new legal charter that it will never sell user data or advertising, according to The New York Times. The company plans to make money by charging users for extra, as-yet-unspecified features.

Though Ello has been around since summer, the site exploded in popularity last month after Facebook began kicking drag queens off its site because they were not using their legal names, leading some of those users to relocate to Ello. The small social network leapt from 90 users in early August to more than 1 million today, according to the Times. Facebook has since apologized for how its real name policy affected the LGBT community and others.

The funding round was led by Foundry Group, based in Boulder, Colo.

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TIME FindTheBest

5 Reasons People Aren’t Buying Tablets Anymore

Tablet ipad
Getty Images

First, some perspective: the tablet industry is still huge. Gartner predicts that over 250 million tablets will ship worldwide by the end of 2014, an impressive figure for any consumer electronics device not named “smartphone.”

But there’s reason for tablet makers to be worried. Sales are “crashing” at Best Buy and iPad sales are down year-over-year, a disappointing reversal after three years of explosive growth.

Whether it’s a sign of doom or just a “speed bump,” something, on some level, is wrong. Let’s break down five possible explanations:

1. Nobody knows what tablets are for

Is the tablet a leisure device? A personal assistant? A workstation? It’s difficult to say. For marketers, the latest craze is productivity. The Surface 3 can replace your laptop. The iPad is for climatologists and marine biologists. The Samsung Galaxy Pro is for taking business notes and organizing files. But does anyone actually want all this stuff in a tablet?

Probably not. Nearly all of the best-selling tablets on Amazon are small-screen, budget options, with productivity features ratcheted down…or even stripped out. And the proudly efficient Surface is still a billion-dollar bust. Despite all the ads, spreadsheets and styluses, tablet owners still seem to prefer browsing Pinterest to building PowerPoints.

Put it all together, and first-time tablet buyers are simply going to be confused. They probably don’t care much about efficiency, but every manufacturer is spending millions convincing them to get a tablet for expense reports and file management. What a mess.

2. Phablets, not tablets, are the sweet spot

The first iPad (2010) fit neatly between contemporary devices: it was more roomy than phones, but not as clunky as laptops—the perfect product for reading books or surfing the web after work. What’s more, phones above 4.5-inches were virtually non-existent, making a tablet’s 7- to 10-inch screen a big selling point.

Jump ahead to 2014, and the average phone is faster, smarter and most importantly, bigger. Over 80% of 2014’s new phones have screens over 4.5 inches, and the flagship models tend to be the biggest of all. The tablet’s biggest differentiator has faded, while the phablet has grabbed more market share and garnered increasingly glowing reviews. It’s just not worth snapping up a new Nexus tablet when your LG G3 is almost as big and twice as convenient.

3. Old models are good enough

When it comes to upgrading your tablet, what’s the better analogy: the smartphone or the TV? Three years ago, the phone was the obvious answer. After all, tablets looked and operated a lot like the smaller device, sharing the same apps, layouts and operating systems. Surely customers would upgrade their tablets once every two years or so, just like their Galaxies, iPhones and Nokias.

Given the benefit of time, however, the picture has become more clear. Consumers drop their phones regularly; tablets sit safely on the bedside table. Smartphone batteries go through hundreds of recharge cycles per year; tablet batteries go through only dozens. Users fill their phones with photos, apps and bloatware; tablet owners add only the occasional movie or game. At the 24-month mark, smartphone are chipped, cracked, bursting with data and barely able to hold a charge. Meanwhile, tablets often look like they just came out of the box. Like a TV, there’s no real incentive to get a new model until something truly special comes along.

 

As a result, the refresh cycle for a tablet is much closer to that of a television than a smartphone: four or more years for most customers. If you’re not a tech geek or millionaire, you’re not buying a tablet every other year…which means declining sales for tablet makers.

4. The apps aren’t good enough

The tablet’s saving grace was supposed to be the apps: games, photo editors and productivity suites designed for tablets—and only for tablets—from the ground up. Even if the phone would become the dominant device, customers wouldn’t be able to resist the perks of having bigger, tablet-exclusive applications.

Unfortunately, almost all the best apps are already available on phones, and in some cases, only on phones. Developers have discovered that the only way to compete with such low prices (say, $0.99 or $1.99) is to produce at a mass volume, and the only device capable of selling in mass volume is the smartphone. A few noble development teams have continued to support advanced tablet versions out of principle, but increasingly, it’s a bad business decision. So we end up with blurry, up-scaled interfaces or basic layouts optimized for phones and hastily ported to tablets. It’s a lost opportunity.

5. Lack of competition for Apple

Every year, the smartphone industry only seems to get more competitive, with Apple holding onto the high-end, Samsung clinging to the middle and upstarts like Xiaomi snapping up customers in the budget market. Even if you’re willing to say that Google is winning by market share, or Apple by profits, you have to admit that it’s still a fierce battle, with dozens of flagship phones contending for the crown.

With tablets, however, Apple is still winning handily, shipping 75% more devices than its closest competitor (Samsung) and hogging all the profits. The iPad remains king, despite an ongoing assault of giant Galaxy Pros and Microsoft Surface ads. In order for the industry to avoid stagnation, Apple’s rivals need to make the iPad maker less comfortable. Judging from the iPad Mini 3 non-update, however, they’ve got a ways to go. They’d better hurry, though: the tablet market just might depend upon it.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

TIME Gadgets

Watch Steve Jobs Unveil the iPod 13 Years Ago

Gather ’round, kids. Gather ’round. Old Uncle Doug is going to regale you with a tale of an excellent rectangle that was introduced to the world on October 23, 2001.

Back in 2001, MP3 players weren’t scarce, by any means, but they each had a fundamental problem: They were either pocketable and could only hold a few dozen songs or they were comically big and could hold several hundred songs.

I didn’t own the original iPod. It was too expensive (I didn’t have $400 to my name) and initially Mac-only (I didn’t have a Mac — a side-effect of not having money). I was, however, enamored with portable MP3 players. In fact, instead of buying several CD-, flash- and hard drive-based MP3 players at upwards of $200 a pop, as I did, I probably could have owned an iPod and maybe even a Mac.

Here’s a photo of two real gems I still own: the Pocket mStation (left) and the NeoPlayer (right), with an old iPhone 4 thrown into the mix to give you a sense of size. I’ll frame these someday:

iPod Size
Doug Aamoth / TIME

These two ridiculous beasts each used a 2.5-inch hard drive commonly used in laptops. So I could stuff a ton of songs on them, but I couldn’t stuff either of them into anything but the Hammer-est of Hammer pants.

iPod
Apple / Getty Images

The world needed an MP3 player that was small enough to fit in a pocket, yet had enough storage to hold hundreds of songs. The problem was that flash-based storage maxed out at mere megabytes and tiny, high-capacity hard drives didn’t exist in sufficient quantities…yet.

This was a conundrum for Apple engineers in late 2000, as Steve Jobs had expressed interest in building a sleek, pocketable MP3 player that could hold a ton of music. In true Steve Jobs fashion, Jobs tasked Jon Rubinstein with building such a device even though the necessary components didn’t exist.

Rubinstein lucked out, though. In February of 2001, while he was meeting with Toshiba, a boatload of tiny, high-capacity hard drives nearly fell in his lap. The following is a passage in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs book (page 384):

At the end of a routine meeting with Toshiba, the engineers mentioned a new product they had in the lab that would be ready by that June. It was a tiny, 1.8-inch drive (the size of a silver dollar) that would hold five gigabytes of storage (about a thousand songs), and they were not sure what to do with it. When the Toshiba engineers showed it to Rubinstein, he knew immediately what it could be used for. A thousand songs in his pocket! Perfect. But he kept a poker face. Jobs was also in Japan, giving the keynote speech at the Tokyo Macworld conference. They met that night at the Hotel Okura, where Jobs was staying. “I know how to do it now,” Rubinstein told him. “All I need is a $10 million check.” Jobs immediately authorized it. So Rubinstein started negotiating with Toshiba to have exclusive rights to every one of the disks it could make, and he began to look around for someone who could lead the development team.

The “exclusive rights to every one of the disks it could make” quip is important. Apple rolled out the iPod in late 2001; it would take a while for competing MP3 players to shrink down and catch up.

Further Reading:

TIME celebrities

Aaron Sorkin Confirms Christian Bale Will Play Steve Jobs

"We needed the best actor on the board in a certain age range and that’s Chris Bale."

Christian Bale didn’t have to audition to win the role of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic, says screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

“Well, there was a meeting,” Sorkin told Bloomberg Television in an interview confirming that the Dark Knight star will play Jobs. “We needed the best actor on the board in a certain age range and that’s Chris Bale.”

Sorkin, the writer behind television shows like The West Wing and The Newsroom, is adapting Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography for the big screen, four years after rendering Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, in the film The Social Network.

The Academy Award winning Bale was rumored to have won the role over other possible contenders, including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Leonardo Dicaprio, according to The Verge.

But Sorkin confirmed in the interview posted Thursday that Bale will fill the challenging role.

“He has more words to say in this movie than most people have in three movies combined,” Sorkin said. “There isn’t a scene or a frame that he’s not in. So it’s an extremely difficult part and he is gonna crush it.”

Read next: Remembering Steve Jobs, the Man Who Did Almost Everything Right

MONEY apps

Don’t Want to Wait for An Inbox Invite? These Email Apps Give You Its Best Features Right Now

white glove waiter holding silver tray with place card
Gary Alvis—Getty Images

Google's new email app looks a lot like some other products that are available right now

On Wednesday, Google released Inbox, a virtual redesign of the company’s Gmail service meant to help users deal with the troves of email that floods their inboxes every day. The product looks slick: You can snooze emails for later, create reminders that will also appear in your inbox, and similar messages are grouped together to make everything easier to find.

Unfortunately, Inbox is invite only, meaning email junkies eager to get their hands on a new toy could be left refreshing their real inboxes for a while. The good news? Many of Inbox’s best features are available right now. That’s because Google’s new release isn’t quite the reinvention of email some sites are hailing it as. In reality, lesser-known companies have been putting out Inbox-like apps for a while, and they’re pretty darned good. Here are three of the best ones, all of which work on both Android and iOS.

Mailbox

Price: Free

swipesnoozes

I would certainly never call Google’s Inbox a borderline ripoff of Dropbox’s pre-existing Mailbox app, but I can’t stop other people from doing it. Mailbox was the one to bring things like email snoozing and swipeable interfaces to the mainstream. Want put off a conversation until tomorrow? Just swipe left and Mailbox will remind you the next day. The app also makes sorting and archiving mail a breeze. This one might not have the same bells and whistles as its successors, but its simplicity can be a feature in itself.

CloudMagic

Price: Free

one four

One problem with Google’s blocky app style is it feels out of place on iOS’s hyper-modern interface. CloudMagic’s award winning design doesn’t have that problem. This app offers all the email snoozing and easy swiping of Mailbox in an even better looking package. And it’s not all eye candy. CloudMagic integrates with services like Evernote, Todoist, Salesforce, Pocket, and more, through a clever card interface. That means power users get a lot functionality, like reminders and notes, while casual users don’t have to bother with extra complexity.

Boxer

Price: $5 for pro upgrade

 email app
Boxer

Boxer is the only paid download on this list, but for some people it will be worth the money. This app’s main selling point is its “actions” interface, which you can activate on one or more messages at once. Once the action panel comes up, snoozing a conversation, adding a to-do item, firing back a quick reply, or even “liking” an email is all one tap away. Even better, the action interface also integrates with other web services, like Evernote, Facebook and Twitter.

 

Correction: Boxer previously integrated with Dropbox and Box but this appears to longer be true.

TIME

Mark Zuckerberg Gives Q&A in Chinese

"My Chinese is very bad"

Mark Zuckerberg spoke Chinese throughout a Q&A in Beijing Wednesday, barely unable to suppress a smile as murmurs of surprise and excitement rippled through the audience.

The billionaire CEO and social media guru discussed “connecting the world, Internet.org, innovation and the early days of Facebook” at Tsinghua University, where Zuckerberg recently joined the School of Economics and Management Advisory Board, according to his Facebook page.

 

Zuckerberg posted a video of his “first ever public Q&A in Chinese” on his Facebook page. In this clip he self-deprecatingly says, “My Chinese is very bad.”

TIME

Bank of America Issues Refunds to Apple Pay Users

A glitch charged users twice for purchases

Bank of America said it is refunding Apple Pay users who were charged twice for purchases due to a glitch in the system.

Approximately 1,000 transactions were impacted by a BoA app glitch, a bank spokesperson told TIME. Refunds were issued on Wednesday.

Apple launched its new mobile payment service Monday—the latest major expansion of service by the tech giant. With it, customers can use their smartphones in lieu of debit and credit cards at dozens of retailers including Macy’s, Chevron, and Walgreens. Shortly after the launch, Bank of America customers took to social media to gripe about being double charged.

TIME Innovation

This Technology Could Change the Way Deaf People Live

A new device being produced to ship in fall 2015 could be the first compact, real-time interpreter for deaf people who cannot speak. Courtesy of MotionSavvy

A San Francisco company is crowdfunding a project to make sign-to-word communication the most seamless it's ever been

Ryan Hait-Campbell says his San Francisco company’s invention is really about jobs. Deaf people like himself, explains the MotionSavvy CEO, are too often shunted into positions that don’t require talking to anyone—washing dishes, fishing or other solitary vocations that often have low wages, little opportunity for advancement and no need for an employer to hire an interpreter. One study found that only 58% of working-age Americans with a severe hearing impairment have a job at all.

MotionSavvy’s first product, though still in prototype stage, could revolutionize the prospects of millions who are deaf or hard of hearing. Called Uni, the device clasps around a PC tablet and uses MotionSavvy software to act as an interpreter between a signer (who can’t speak) and speaker (who can’t understand sign language) in very-close-to-real-time.

Two cameras read and project images of a deaf person’s gestures into a 3D virtual space. Uni’s software interprets those movements into English words that are spoken for them in a Siri-like voice. Then, when a speaker responds in words, the program uses voice recognition to display those sounds as text.

Here’s what the screen looks like:

20140919172223-Animated-UI

You can also watch a short video showing how it works on the company website.

The current options a deaf person has to communicate with people who don’t understand sign language are often expensive, cumbersome and leaving the signer at the mercy of an intermediary’s interpretation. They can hire an interpreter, either in person or through video relay services like FaceTime, paying rates that could be $50 an hour. Or they can use some equivalent of writing their words on a piece of paper and handing it to someone, who then writes their response on the paper and hands it back—whether that’s on actual paper or an app.

MotionSavvy’s chief design officer Jordan Stemper—one of eight hearing impaired MotionSavvy employees besides Hait-Campbell—says that nuance is often lost through interpreters, and points out that deaf people have been in situations where none of the available options suffice. Banks, for instance, have refused to allow deaf customers to call them using relay services because of privacy concerns (and have been sued for it), meaning any banking they want to do has to be done in person.

The key piece of technology in Uni is what MotionSavvy calls its “sign builder,” a system that can record gestures (made over and over and over again to account for variation among signers) and assign them English words. Right now, Uni can understand just 300 words and the alphabet. But Hait-Campbell says that the company plans to recruit about 200 beta testers this coming spring who will both try out the device and add needed signs, putting their lexicon at over 15,000 by fall 2015, when pre-orders are set to ship. The devices will also adjust to a user’s particular movements over time through machine learning, Hait-Campbell says. And if someone wants to add a non-standard sign for slang like “ridonculous,” they can.

The beta testers will be drawn from people who pre-order Uni through MotionSavvy’s Indiegogo campaign, a crowdfunding effort started this week that will determine how many devices can be shipped in fall 2015 and whether the products remain at their $499 price point, which Hait-Campbell says has caused sticker-shock among some in the deaf community. The MotionSavvy team wants to put the device—one they hope to eventually shrink to a mobile phone case and perhaps even an app—in as many hands as possible, and may consider cheaper subscription models to do so.

“I do not consider being deaf a handicap, but in reality it is,” Hait-Campbell writes to TIME. “There’s not been any real innovation for those deaf who cannot speak . . . Most deaf people, if they have jobs, have jobs that require little communication, like grunt work jobs. And it sucks, because the potential of these people, including my friends, can take them so far.” Most deaf people he knows are living on Social Security, he says, getting by month-to-month on what might be $500 checks.

The National Association of the Deaf does not endorse products, but spokesperson Lizzie Sorkin says the group is aware of Uni and sees it as “promising technology.” She also hints at some current limitations, like the fact that sign language is often conveyed through entire body movements, not just the fingers and forearms that show up on Uni’s screen. Hait-Campbell says later versions of the product will account for a wider range of motion, including facial expressions.

The app’s development will likely be of interest to far more people than the hearing impaired. Hait-Campbell says his company has already been approached by players in other industries who are interested in the technology, like defense contractors who want their software for controlling drones through gestures, as well as home automation companies. For now, he says, MotionSavvy has tunnel vision. “We want to focus on making this the best we can for the deaf world,” he says. “There is nothing like this out there at all. The need for this is so great.”

Colin Pattison Photography— Cinematography
TIME Companies

Apple Pay: Who Won and Who Lost?

Not all Apple Pay winners are created equal

Mobile payments are happening to the retail industry like bankruptcy happens to Mike Campbell in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: gradually, and then suddenly all at once. Google has offered mobile payments for three years, and Walmart and Best Buy have been talking about mobile pay since 2012. But Apple is one of the few companies that many observers say can quickly lead a critical mass of people to wave their phones in the air for everything from bed sheets to burgers.

Retailers, credit card companies and banks all have made big bets on Apple’s new mobile payment system, which makes it more likely to succeed. “We will put our shoulders into a big step change like this,” says Matt Dill, a senior vice president at Visa, an Apple Pay partner, in an interview with TIME. “Apple Pay is a tipping point for major institutions going all in.”

If Apple Pay becomes as ubiquitous as most observers expect, it won’t just change the way consumers pay for things, it’ll reshape the financial institutions that facilitate our purchases. That’s not good news for everyone — many companies felt pushed to join up with Apple so they weren’t left behind. For some, it was either the Apple Pay-way or the highway.

Here’s a list of the major players, roughly in order of who won the most to who won the least.

Apple. Every time a customer make a purchase with Apple Pay, Apple earns a 0.15% charge. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but researchers say it’ll add up in the long run. Equity analysts at Nomura estimated that charge will account for $1.6 billion in projected revenue by 2017. On the lower end of estimates, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster says that Apple Pay will generate revenue of $118 million in 2015 and $310 million in 2016.

Perhaps more importantly, Apple Pay, if successful, will increase demand for Apple devices. And once customers are using Apple Pay and all their purchases are wrapped up to their phones, it’ll be that much harder to leave Apple for Android or another smartphone platform.

“Just getting part of the transaction itself will be big” for Apple, says Rajesh Kandaswamy, researcher at Gartner. But “the largest issue is it’s harder to switch away if you’re an iPhone user.”

Banks. Consumers won’t have to pay for Apple’s 0.15% fee on Apple Pay transactions; banks will. The six big banks who have signed up for Apple Pay aren’t enthusiastic about that. But in the long run, banks expect Apple Pay will push people away from using cash and toward transactions that run over their networks. Online shopping will be faster, too, as customers won’t have to input their billing information every time they make a purchase.

Finally, because Apple Pay uses a difficult-to-hack system that encrypts all financial transactions, banks will experience less cybercrime breaches for which they’re held financially liable. “Banks are going to make less money on the transaction than if it were made on a regular card swipe” because of Apple’s fee, says Michelle Evans, an analyst at Euromonitor, “but they can make more money in the end if they can drive volume over the card network and reduce fraud.”

Credit Card Companies. Visa, MasterCard and American Express have loudly trumpeted Apple Pay’s rollout. They stand to make money off Apple Pay for the same reason the banks will: the program pushes customers to their global credit business. Dill, the Visa SVP, calls Apple Pay an “on-ramp” to Visa’s network and a growth-fueler. “If we didn’t encourage innovation” like Apple Pay, “then we would be the worst enemy to our own growth,” Dill says.

But there’s another reason credit card companies are enthusiastic about Apple Pay: the alternative, CurrentC, could be pretty scary. CurrentC is a payment system mega retailers like Walmart and Best Buy are working on that could cut out credit card companies altogether. While Apple Pay leaves the traditional credit card system intact by simply moving it to your phone, analysts speculate that the CurrentC program will link payments through a network connected directly to your savings account. Voila: no middleman.

“If a technology comes along that’s focused on getting you to not use Visa, then that’s a competitor to us,” says Dill. The threat of CurrentC makes Apple Pay look more like a rickety lifeboat for the credit card companies than the super-fast motorboat Apple has promised.

Retailers and Merchants. Walgreens, Macy’s, McDonald’s and other merchants that began using Apple Pay on Monday get the same bonus that they have always gotten from debit cards and credit cards: new customers who can spend money faster. If customers spend money more easily, retailers make money more easily.

Apple Pay is also a good way to move customers through lines more quickly. It could eventually lead to retailers adopting more self-checkout lines; for merchants, that means paying fewer cashiers and lower overhead.

But Apple Pay also reinforces a system that retailers never really liked: they have to continue to pay a fee for every credit and debit card transaction. “Retailers don’t like the fees they pay,” says Kandaswamy. “Apple Pay is going to consolidate power among the same players even more.” CurrentC, on the other hand, could allow retailers to collect customer-specific data. That would let businesses like Walmart target customers with products in the same way that Google or Facebook target their ads.

Two days into Apple Pay, there aren’t yet any data on the program’s success. It’s too early to know how many people have used it or how much money Apple has made from it. But financial institutions believe the way we pay for things is changing quickly, even if we don’t quite notice it yet. “The U.S. is in the midst of an innovation in payments,” Carolyn Balfany, senior vice president at MasterCard, tells TIME. “Payment security is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50.” If Apple Pay does take off, then it is happening gradually before it’s here all of a sudden.

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