TIME Innovation

Google VP Breaks Record for Highest Skydive

Google Aims To Boost Video, Banner Ad Business In China
Robert Alan Eustace, Google Inc.'s senior vice president for engineering, speaks at the Google Innovation Forum in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. Nelson Ching—Bloomberg / Getty Images

“It was a wild, wild ride”

A senior vice president for Google cut himself loose from a balloon and parachuted 135,908 feet to earth on Friday, setting a new world record in skydiving.

Alan Eustace, 57, broke the previous record holder’s jump by more than 7,000 feet, the New York Times reports. It took roughly 2 hours for Eustace to make the ascent into the stratosphere and only 15 minutes to plummet back to earth. He made the jump wearing a spacesuit specially designed to withstand extreme altitudes and speeds topping 800 miles-per-hour. Witnesses on the ground reported hearing a sonic boom.

“It was beautiful,” Eustace said after the jump. “You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.”

[NYT]

TIME Companies

Amazon’s Dispute With Hachette Might Finally Be Hurting Its Sales

The book industry nurtured Amazon's growth. Now the online retailer's war against publishers is a thorn in its side

The book business launched Amazon to success, and now it’s hurting the online retailer’s growth.

Amazon announced its worst quarterly loss in 14 years Thursday, losing $437 million in three months. One of its worst-performing segments? Amazon’s old core business: North American book, movie and music sales. The segment’s sales increased a mere 4.8% from 2013, the slowest growth for the category in more than five years. That compares with a 17.8% growth in that segment a year ago.

Amazon chalked up the slow media segment growth to fewer students buying textbooks, but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. In fact, the company’s woes may in part be related to its damaging publicity spat with the publisher Hachette.

Here’s a quick recap of what happened: earlier this year, Amazon demanded Hachette give up a larger cut of its book sales; Hachette demurred. Amazon then increased shipping times on Hachette books, raised Hachette book prices, and redirected customers to other publishers on its website. Hachette, determined to hold its ground, rallied authors to its side. In August, 900 authors, including Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, John Grisham and James Patterson, signed a letter to Amazon defending Hachette, accusing Hachette of “selective retaliation” against writers.

There isn’t much visibility into what’s going behind closed doors and in sealed accounting documents at Amazon, but by targeting Hachette, Amazon is making it harder to buy the retailer’s own books. A customer deterred by an artificially long shipping time on a Hachette book is a sale lost. For a huge company like Amazon, that may be little more than a self-inflicted scratch, but it’s likely making difference.

And more importantly for the online retailer over the long term, the dispute may be hurting Amazon’s image and turning customers away. For book readers who love particular authors, it’s hard to forget when a bookstore is accused of having “directly targeted” a favorite writer. A literary-inclined crowd, already more likely to side with the letters people than the money people, may see the Hachette dispute as a turning point. “It’s logical that readers identify more with authors than with Amazon,” says Colin Gillis of BGC Financial. “Amazon is a service. You may like the service but you build a relationship with authors.” If book lovers ultimately decide that Amazon is bad for authors, Amazon could lose its hold on the very business that nurtured its growth.

 

 

TIME

This 1 Extension Makes Google Chrome Even More Awesome

Inside The Google Chromebook Store
The logo of Google Inc. Chrome is displayed at a Currys and PC World 2 in 1 store, operated by Dixons Retail Plc, on Tottenham Court Road in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

One small tweak to Google Maps, one giant time-suck for mankind

The Google Maps team has just torpedoed the productivity of Chrome users with the launch of “Earth View,” a new browser extension that displays a random and beautiful satellite image of the earth’s surface each time the user opens a new tab.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking technology — in fact, it just a marries two existing technologies from Chrome and Google Earth. But the sheer variety of terrains on display, from the schematic street-view of downtown Chicago to a frozen mountain range in Antarctica, makes opening a new tab an oddly hypnotic experience and opening dozens of tabs nearly irresistible.

The app launched with little fanfare on October 14, rapidly climbing the ranks of most downloaded Chrome extensions with more than 50,000 users to date.

You can download the extension for yourself here.

TIME Smartphones

4 Reasons Amazon’s Fire Phone Was a Flop

German Launch For Amazon's Fire Smartphone
A man holds the new Fire smartphone by Amazon.com Inc. during demonstration at a a news conference in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon still has $83 million worth of unsold units

Amazon’s ongoing expansion into more and more product categories has finally hit a big speed bump. The Fire Phone, Amazon’s recently launched smartphone, was supposed to compete with high-end devices like Apple’s iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy. But consumers apparently didn’t bite—Amazon was forced to take a $170 million writedown charge on costs related to the device, it was revealed Thursday. Meanwhile, the company reportedly has $83 million worth of unsold Fire Phones still in its inventory.

While CEO Jeff Bezos is likely surprised that the Fire Phone hasn’t flown off Amazon’s virtual shelves, the device’s lack of appeal was obvious to many outside observers. Here are four reasons Amazon’s Fire Phone was doomed from the start:

Too Expensive

Amazon has a history of undercutting competitors on everything from tablets to balsamic vinegar. So it came as somewhat of a surprise when the Fire Phone launched at $199 with a two-year wireless contract, essentially the same price as the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. The high price didn’t help incentivize iPhone and Galaxy owners to abandon their devices, which is what Amazon needed to happen for the Fire Phone to gain quick traction. The company saw the error of its ways relatively quickly and dropped the phone’s price to 99 cents in September, but that hasn’t been enough to turn things around.

Small App Store

Though Amazon’s devices run on Android, they use a proprietary app store tailor-made for the company’s phones and tablets. That means developers have to make different versions of their apps specifically for the Fire Phone and Kindle Fire, and many haven’t bothered. Amazon’s app store has about 240,000 apps, compared to more than 1 million in the Google Play store. Most notably, Amazon’s store lacks Google’s flagship apps, so Fire Phone owners have no easy access to Gmail, YouTube or Google Maps. Other popular services, like Dropbox, are also absent. Users can sideload Android apps onto the Fire Phone, but it’s a more cumbersome process that might be beyond the technical prowess of some Amazon fans who are used to the simplicity of devices like the Kindle e-reader.

Late to Market

The Fire Phone was a classic case of “too little, too late.” Apple is on its eighth generation of iPhones, and Android devices have been around nearly as long. Smartphones now account for 72 percent of the overall mobile market in the U.S., according to Comscore. Amazon would probably have the most luck convincing first-time smartphone buyers who have yet to develop a device preference to pick up a Fire Phone, but there simply aren’t many of those people left.

Features of Limited Interest

Many of the Fire Phone’s most innovative features, like the ability to scan 100 million real-world objects with the press of a button, are really aimed at getting customers to buy more things on Amazon. Making such features the main selling point of the device immediately means its appeal will be limited to only heavy Amazon users. Other new features, like the 3D display, were generally met with a collective yawn. The iPhone 6’s most prominent new feature, meanwhile — its big screen — is a more obvious upgrade, and its own commerce-focused perk, Apple Pay, works at plenty of places outside Apple’s ecosystem.

Overall, Amazon’s ambitious device simply doesn’t have a defining quality that would compel the average consumer to run out and buy it. We’ve all made it this far in life with perfectly suitable smartphones, and there already myriad ways to buy stuff on Amazon. The Fire Phone is solving problems that nobody had in the first place.

TIME Paycheck Friday

5 Unique Winter Warming Gadgets for Under $50

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Handwarmer/Smartphone Charger Combo ($34.99)

hand warmer
Sharper Image

Convergence is your middle name. It used to be Brock, but you changed it. Your seemingly never-ending search for a convergence device that could warm your hands, charge your smartphone and illuminate your path finally led you to this product, a lipstick-looking doodad that warms your hands, charges your smartphone and triples as a flashlight. It beats your own invention you were using before: a flashlight duct-taped to a surge protector with finger-melting exposed wires that spark sporadically.

Product Page [Sharper Image]

Toilet Seat Warmer ($49.90)

toilet seat warmer
Amazon

You’re used to the finer things in life. You drive a Mazda. You drink Budweiser Black Crown. You have an above-ground pool. So it’s no surprise that you seem relaxed and refreshed all winter long. Why? A warm toilet seat, of course. Let the mouth-breathing heathens be shocked awake in the morning by their common plastic toilet seats. You prefer a bit more refinement.

Product Page [Amazon]

Pajama-Warming Pouch ($39.95)

pajama pouch
Hammacher Schlemmer

Your nanny used to terrify you with urban legends of a primitive people who wore room-temperature pajamas to bed. You’d shiver in horror until she pulled your perfectly-toasted pajamas out of your family’s heirloom pajama warming pouch. When she died, you buried the pouch with her. Ursula was always more of a mother to you than your own mother, a truth you wouldn’t come to accept until you were in your early thirties. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. She’s dead and it’s time to replace the pouch.

Product Page [Hammacher Schlemmer]

USB-Heated Narwhal Slippers ($24.99)

narwhal slippers
ThinkGeek

Narwhals? Adorbz. I can’t even. They’re sah cute. Other whales might make fun of them for their weird tusk thingies, but we don’t know that. For all we know, whales don’t judge other whales based on appearance. We can only assume they do, because we do. And we, as humans, are the best. Sah great.

Just as narwhals are bound to the ocean, so too are these slippers bound to your closest USB port. Plug them in and feel the heat; if you’re feeling adventurous, unplug them and walk around until they cool off. But then hurry back to sitting in front of your computer. Don’t mess around.

Product Page [ThinkGeek]

Heated Steering Wheel Cover ($49.99)

steering wheel
Sharper Image

Extending one or more of your middle fingers toward other drivers is a rich American tradition. But the cold winter months can leave your joints frozen and stiff, making it difficult to show other drivers your displeasure in a timely fashion. And that’s assuming you’re not wearing bulky gloves, which can make which finger you’re extending imperceptible to other drivers. Don’t even get me started about mittens. This rechargeable heated steering wheel cover will ensure your hands are toasty-warm, leaving your fingers loose, flexible and ready for quick extension.

Product Page [Sharper Image]

Past Nonsense:

TIME Companies

Get an Inside Look at Amazon’s Massive Fulfillment Centers

Ordering holiday gifts on Amazon seems so simple. Ever wonder what happens between when you click "Checkout" and the items arrive at your door?

TIME Games

5 iPhone Games You Can’t Miss This Week

For when you're finally bored of Candy Crush

Done with Candy Crush and looking for a new iPhone game for your commute to work or lunch break at school? TIME rounded up some favorites from this week that are worth a download.

  • Enterchained

    Enterchained App Store

    For almost 15 years, countless video games have aimed to fill the cultural niche created by the Russell Crowe movie that helped pioneer fast-cut fight sequences, Gladiator. Now, a slightly more PG and much more endearing gladiator arena game has emerged. Enterchained brings simple animation and countless unlockable battle items to your iPhone.

    Enterchained is available for $0.99 in the App Store.

  • Ghostbusters Pinball

    Ghostbusters Pinball App Store

    Taking us back 30 years to when Ghostbusters was first released and to a time when movie-themed pinball machines dominated arcades, Ghostbusters Pinball is a hypnotic way to spend a few minutes. Obstacles in three dimensions, characters from the series, and different levels contained in a single map allow this app take advantage of the iPhone by invoking a charming, Ghostbusters universe without losing the authenticity of a real pinball game. Gameplay is run on tokens, and the app doles out 4 free tokens a day.

    Ghostbusters Pinball is available free in the App Store

  • Mmm Fingers

    Mmm Fingers App Store

    A reverse Hungry Hungry Hippos with graphics reminiscent of Plants vs. Zombies, Mmm Fingers is about keeping your finger safe. The goal is to navigate an increasingly dangerous field of monsters and traps without lifting your finger off the screen or colliding with obstacles. It’s a great game for quick breaks and short idle moments, and can even be played against friends.

    Mmm Fingers is available free in the App Store

  • Felllice

    Felllice App Store

    A black and white game about cell growth, Felllice is the endearingly downsized story of natural selection. Players start out as a cell, and grow by eating weaker, smaller-celled organisms. Similarly, players must avoid being eaten by larger organisms also fighting for their place in the world. Part of the fun is watching the environment and other cells interact with itself as your cell develops, grows, evolves and assimilates into an increasingly complicated organism.

    Felllice is available for $0.99 in the App Store

  • Super Mashteroids

    Super Mashteroids App Store

    Super Mastheroids follows a trend of bringing back 8-bit style games to advanced devices. Part Asteroids, part Space Invaders, the game intentionally brings together elements of celebrated 80s arcade games to create a new experience on your iPhone. Fly through a slightly tidied up version of retro space in a starship cruiser destroying asteroids and enemies, earning power ups and zooming to the next stage.

    Super Mashteroids is available free in the App Store

TIME How-To

5 Tips for Getting More Out of Gmail

Gmail is a comprehensive, powerful email program, but it can be confusing, even for those like me who have been using it since it launched in beta in 2004.

That’s because Google likes to add new features to improve the way it works. Some changes are welcome, like the tabs feature that sorts incoming mail into types of mail. Others may streamline the look, but hide basic options, like changing the subject on an email reply. So I’ve pulled together the five features I find most useful in the current iteration of Gmail.

Adding a calendar entry from Gmail

If you get a lot of invites in your email–whether they’re for social events or just plain old work meetings–it’s now easier than ever to add them directly to your Google calendar from an open email. Look for any dates or times in the email and you’ll see dashes appear under those words. Click the date and you’ll get a prompt asking if you want to “Add to Calendar.” Clicking yes shows you your calendar for that date with the event filled in. You can change the date and time and name of the event, before adding it to your calendar. Google also includes a link back to the original email right in your calendar entry.

gmail-calendar-entry-540px
Google

If Google hasn’t identified a date or time within an email, you can still add the entry without leaving your email. With the message open, click the “More” drop-down menu on top of the email. Select “Create event” and your email message will show up in the description section. You can then edit and enter details and click “save”.

Adding a person’s info to your contacts

One of the things I love about Gmail is the ability to easily update a person’s contact information right from within an email. It’s just a little tricky to find this option. In an open email, scan over to the right, just above the ads. This is where you see the option to chat with, email or start a video call with this person.

gmail-save-contact-590px
Google

Next to those icons is a little downward-pointing arrow that gives you more options if you click it. The top option is “Add to contacts” or “edit contact details,” if you have the person already in your address book. Before you click that, copy any info from that person’s signature that you want to paste into their contact entry. Now click edit contact details and you’ll see that person’s name and email address auto-populate in the proper fields. Paste the extra info like phone number and address into the notes field for easy access while you’re editing the contact information. All changes are saved automatically.

Once you’re done, simply hit the back button on your browser to go back to your email.

Sorting and labeling incoming email

One of Google’s recent “improvements” to Gmail is customizable tabs which separate incoming email into categories; Primary, Social and Promotions. Primary is email sent specifically to you, or that you mark as important. Social is email from social networking sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook. Promotions is where I find my Groupon emails and other newsletters that I subscribe to. I like this system because it lets me scan my inbox and see what needs tending to first. Then I can go through my LinkedIn updates and ultimately see if there’s a good neighborhood restaurant on Groupon.

The problem with this is that some emails which are sent to multiple users may wind up in the Promotions tab, leading you to believe they’re unimportant – or worse, spam. For instance, the Techlicious Newsletter appears under my Promotions tab, so I don’t see it when first perusing my email in the morning.

It’s easy enough to train Gmail to send items to the proper tab. To move the newsletters and emails that are important to you, simply drag them to the tab you want them to appear in. For instance, I dragged the Techlicious newsletter from the Promotions tab and moved it to my Primary tab. Google asked “do this for future messages?” Clicking “yes” taught Google to send it to my Primary tab the next time. Another option is to right click on the message in your inbox. You’ll get an option to move it to any of the other two folders, or archive or delete it.

You can customize these tabs to your liking. Click the + sign all the way to the right of the tabs and you’ll be given the option of adding Updates and Forums as folders. You’ll be given a preview of email senders from your own inbox that will be sent to each tab. Play around with this feature and choose what works best for you. If you can’t stand the idea of emails being sorted into folders, use this feature to de-select everything but Primary and all of your emails will appear in one folder.

gmail-tabs-568px
Google

Creating and using filters

While we’re on the subjects of sorting emails, it’s really important to know how to create filters for certain types of emails. You can use a filter to label, archive or even delete emails without them ever seeing the light of day in your inbox.

To send non-priority updates — like deals from a favorite retailer — to a folder where you can find them if you want to, open the email and click the more button on top of the screen.

gmail-email-more-button-600px
Google

Now click “Filter messages like these.” You’ll see a pop-up window with the email address of the sender already filled in. Now select “create a filter” and you’ll see a box with different options. I generally select Skip the Inbox (archive it) and then apply a label, like LinkedIn or Facebook.

Gmail-Filters-401px
Google

Now, when those messages come in, they’re automatically archived and sent to specific folders that I can peruse when I have time. You can also use filters to mark items important, or have email from a specific person – like your boss or your spouse – get sorted into a folder of its own.

Changing the subject line in a reply

This is a question I get asked all the time: “How do you change the subject line in an email reply?” Often, someone will reply to an earlier email I’ve sent and include brand new information on an entirely different topic than the original exchange, but the subject line doesn’t reflect that.

To change or update the subject, click reply in an open email and you’ll see that downward-facing arrow next to the reply arrow. Click that and you’ll see options to either reply, reply all, forward or edit subject.

gmail-reply-600px
Google

Could they have buried that feature any deeper? Now, you can delete, or write URGENT or New Info or whatever else you might want to add to the subject.

What are your favorite Gmail tips and tricks? Let us know what you found, or if you have any Gmail questions we can answer.

This article was written by Andrea Smith and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME Video Games

50 Things Nintendo Wants You to Know About Super Smash Bros. Wii U

Nintendo just rolled out a special Nintendo Direct that walks through 50 of the game's new features, including an eight-player offline Smash mode.

Some of us, myself included, were worried Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U wouldn’t make 2014. But then Nintendo ska-kawed our disquiet at the not-quite eleventh hour, announcing a few weeks ago that, yes, the game would arrive this year: November 21, in case you missed it.

Now the company’s released a 35-minute primer on the game that’s basically a feature pitch video. It’s (almost) nothing Smash aficionados don’t already know, but everything that’s new gets nicely compiled into a single straight-through look.

It’s also a helpful thing to watch if (a) you haven’t yet bought the 3DS version and so have no idea what’s different from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, (b) you’re a fighting-game fan who’s never played a Super Smash Bros. game but you’re Smash-curious, or (c) you want to see what the corybantic madness of eight-player offline Smash – a series first — looks like.

And with that, I suppose I’d better finish watching it, since I’m going to be playing the Wii U game tonight at a Nintendo event in Detroit.

TIME Apple

3 Features a Nike-Apple Wearable Absolutely Must Have

Apple Presents Apple Watch At Colette Paris
Chesnot—Getty Images

Apple's wearable will target fitness nuts. Here's what it has to be able to do—with Nike's help

Nike and Apple have had a special relationship since 2006 when the companies announced a partnership that created a sports-oriented ecosystem around iPods and Nike running shoes. Since then iPods and iPhones have been tightly integrated with Nike+, the Portland-based sports giant’s activity- and exercise-tracking social network. (Apple CEO Tim Cook is also on Nike’s board of directors.)

Now they may be working together to improve wearables. In an Oct. 22 interview with Bloomberg, Nike CEO Mark Parker said he is “bullish” on the two firms’ joint ambitions. He went on to explain:

As I look ahead at what’s possible with Nike and Apple…technologically we can do things together that we couldn’t do independently. So yeah, that’s part of our plan, is to expand the whole digital frontier in terms of wearables and go from 25 million Nike+ users to hundreds of millions.

Expanding the wearables “frontier” is likely to start with Apple’s upcoming Watch, which will go on sale sometime early next year. The device will pack sensors that can not only track movement, but differentiate between types of exercise as well as capture the heart rate of the person wearing it.

When Apple showed off the device earlier this year, executives emphasized its fitness applications. (The company hired Nike’s former design director last year to work on wearable devices.) And during the keynote, a Nike-branded app for the Watch was shown briefly.

What could the two companies be working on? Impossible to say. But here are three features I hope they build into whatever it is they are doing together.

Intelligent music management. Nike’s iPod and iPhone apps have always been able to control music playback. Some versions have also included a “power song” feature—a user designated tune intended to motivate through crunch time. Apple’s Watch will also be able to control music playback through a connected iPhone. But, as far as exercising goes, this is all uber-basic.

Even better would be to be able to generate playlists automatically based on track BPMs, a.k.a the speed of each song, and the desired intensity of a given workout. So, for instance, for an easy recovery run, a set of slower-paced songs might be strung together. Similarly, correlating personal performance data with listening history could yield interesting insights, such as you run your best splits to “X” album or “Y” artist.

Additional sports. This is an easy one. Despite forays into other sports, Nike’s apps have been strongest on running. With the integration of a connected phone’s WiFi and GPS data, a wearable app should be compatible with a wider array of sports. Cycling and golf are two obvious ones—with the device tracking performance for the former sport and location and weather conditions for the later.

Deeper social integration. According to this summer’s keynote presentation, Nike’s Apple Watch app will allow you to challenge friends to runs, much like its software currently does. But the Watch’s so-called “taptic” feedback—small vibrations and audio cues that simulate a gentle tap on the wrist—open up new opportunities.

For example: recording and trading “ghosts” for runs that would gently let you know when you’re outpacing or falling behind a friend on a run of a similar distance or course. Or, if two users both have watches, they might be able to swap route information, say, a favorite place to run, using the Watch’s built in communications.

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