TIME

This Startup Thinks Pictures of Onions Can Reveal Changes in the Economy

PHILIPPINES-ECONOMY-INFLATION-RATES
A vendo selling garlic at a market in Manila on August 5, 2014. Jay Directo—AFP/Getty Images

It’s probably every teenager’s dream to get paid for snapping iPhone pictures. Instead of selfies, though, David Soloff is seeking pictures of fruit carts, health clinics and remotely located schools. His startup is hoping to leverage the vast proliferation of smartphones—and our insatiable desire to take photos with them—in order to bring real-time economic data to the masses.

The new company, called Premise, tracks economic indicators by enlisting armies of local residents to record data about their communities, like the price of oranges at a local market or the physical condition of a local health clinic, via an Android app. Premise pays the photo-takers up to 15 cents for each “observation,” which can be a picture or other data point. The company aggregates all the individual observations to derive broader insights about inflation and consumption shifts in different countries, then sells the data to financial institutions.

Premise’s aim is to provide important economic metrics faster than government agencies, which often only release data in weekly or monthly intervals. The company is currently gathering data in 50 countries across four continents, including Argentina, China and the United States.

“What people experience in their day-to-day lives is frequently really, really different from what the official government or news bureau or stats-gathering agencies tell them about their lives,” says Soloff, Premise’s CEO. “By the time those official numbers come out, the world’s probably changed a lot.”

Soloff points to countries like Argentina — where Premise and a variety of economists have projected inflation to be increasing much faster than the government says it is — as an example of a place where private data sources can be more reliable than official figures. In other countries, such as India, where onion prices leapt 190% in 2013, food prices are incredibly volatile and government-released figures can’t keep up with the rapid changes.

“Almost certainly, in a lot of countries, the government is lying about price changes,” says Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “It would be useful to know, to ordinary people and to businesses, what the real inflation is.”

How does Premise ensure that its figures are accurate? To devise its economic models, the company has brought on advisors whom Soloff calls the “adult supervision.” Among them are Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist and Alan Krueger, the former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. To guarantee that data are collected accurately on the ground, Premise vets local residents by giving them test assignments, then evaluating their performance before committing their observations to the official dataset. The company recruits new workers via social media, online job boards and college campuses.

“It’s not an open cast call,” Soloff says. “These are students or people on the way to jobs or people who are doing the weekly shopping for their families at the market.”

0_Task lists
The Premise app assigns users tasks to complete in order to feed the company’s massive data set.

So far, Bloomberg and Standard Charter Bank have signed on to receive Premise’s data, in addition to other financial institutions that Soloff declined to disclose. The company is currently unprofitable, but it has raised $16.5 million in venture funding from bigtime backers like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

Soloff isn’t the most likely man to head a high-tech San Francisco data firm. He studied Near Eastern linguistics as an undergrad at Columbia University and has a master’s in history from the University of California, Berkley. But Soloff believes his humanities background gives him an edge in Silicon Valley.

“I’ve always been interested in systems, how things work,” he says. “Language systems, social systems, finalcial markets have always fascinated me.”

It also helps that Soloff had a two-year stint as a quantitative analyst at a Wall Street investment bank and co-founded Metamarkets, an analytics tool used for programmatic online advertising.

Soloff’s long-term goal is to expand the scope of Premise into a real-time financial pulse that can provide immediate economic data to not only wealthy investment institutions but also regular citizens. Other platforms have similar aims — the Billion Prices Project, started by a pair of MIT professors, gathers online price listings from more than 70 countries to predict inflation trends from around the world. Such initiatives “have a real value to consumers and businesses,” the Brookings Institution’s Burtless says.

But the devil is in the data, of course. Some economists question whether locally recruited residents can reliably document data for an entire community or country.

“Surveys are of no value unless we can be assured by some means that they are representative of the underlying population,” Barry Bosworth, another economist at the Brookings Institution, said in an email. “The survey will reflect all the biases of the reporter who decides what prices to report. We may use the Internet more in the future to collect data but it will have to be used with some structure to assure that the individual quotes are representative of an even larger underlying population.”

Premise spokesperson Sara Blask said in an email that the company’s contributors capture observations at predetermined locations and intervals to assure that the sample is indeed accurate. “In this sense we are the opposite of crowdsourcing,” she said.

Premise’s dataset should grow more robust and useful as it racks up more observations.

In five years’ time, Soloff envisions millions of people around the world submitting photos and other information to Premise. He believes such a cascade of data could help keep governments more honest in the future. “Rather than relying on the official story, so to speak, [people] have an alternative read that’s generated by the citizens just like them,” he says. “We don’t need to tell them what’s happening—it’s the opposite.”

TIME Innovation

Oculix, Netflix’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Demo, Looks Pretty Boring

Virtual reality interfaces should be more than clumsy-looking design transplants.

It’s a little discouraging watching Netflix’s Oculus Rift demo (a so-called hack it’s calling “Oculix”), the one where the screen pans through a black void in which the observer finds her- or himself circled by show portals.

Imagine iOS wrapped around your head like a towel: a vortex of lights, or a sheath of video boxes. (For some reason, it made me think of the Senate chamber in the Star Wars prequels with its movable hover-platforms.)

Pick a channel by waving your hands in the air (using LeapMotion’s gesture sensor) and you can stream movies or TV shows through Oculus’s head-mounted contraption direct to your eyeballs.

This isn’t what’s interesting about virtual reality to me. We’ve placed movies up close to our faces for decades, be that on giant screens or via glasses with special LCD displays designed to confound our sense of scale. But what’s so different about sitting in a comfortable movie theater (or for that matter, an Omnimax wraparound dome) looking at screens dozens of feet tall and wide, compared with watching video at home through a glorified, full-motion View Master?

Home convenience, there’s that, though I’d argue there’s little convenient about clapping hardware as unwieldy as World War I gas masks on our heads, then leashing ourselves to stationary servers with clumsy cables.

I’m less put off by the ungainliness of Oculus Rift (and Project Morpheus, and every other attempt to revive the buzz-concept “virtual reality” lately) than I am by the lack of imagination in these hacked-together interfaces, whereby a company takes the most obvious and mundane approach toward exhibiting the potential VR lays at its doorstep. Strap on Oculus Rift and you can watch Netflix videos up close to your face! Wave your hands in the air like Tom Cruise in Minority Report and take two or three times as long to do what takes everyone else microseconds with a remote or on a touch-based tablet!

To be fair, it is just a hack, and in a statement Netflix noted that it “may never become part of the Netflix product, internal infrastructure, or otherwise be used beyond [Netflix] Hack Day.” In other words, it’s just for fun, not even rising to the level “proof of concept.” This isn’t Netflix trying to sell you on either its stake in VR or the Oculus Rift headset itself.

I’m just surprised by its obviousness. If you’re going to hack Netflix into VR, why not do something no one’s seen before? Imagine, for instance, summoning a movie like The Matrix, only going into the extras and bringing up the making-of clips, then having the option to pan around virtual versions of the “bullet time” sets to see for yourself how that went down. You could be Keanu Reeves (or see what he’d be seeing) as he falls back limbo-like, his arms splaying, or you could be the circle of cameras themselves, wheeling around the actor’s frame at different velocities and elevations. Imagine reassembling a scene to create your own version of events, playing the role of virtual director with godlike visual command of the landscape.

Netflix is a viewing environment, an interface to conjure videos on demand, a kind of “visual carrier.” If we’re about to experience the visual paradigm shift everyone keeps telling us VR amounts to, it has a much bigger role to play in shaping what it means to stream a video in a virtual environment. To me, it at least means more than forklifting a bunch of screens into a wraparound environment, just because enveloping yourself in a cone of colors looks cool.

My hat’s off to the programmers who took the time to build the Oculix demo. I certainly couldn’t have done it. But next time, why not show us VR that feels like a compelling reason to use VR, and not just lights in a box on your face.

TIME Gadgets

8 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do with Your Smartphone

I use my smartphone every day, often in the first few minutes I wake up. It’s not because I’m addicted (ok, maybe I am a little bit addicted) – it’s because my phone is so darn useful. It tells me the weather. It helps me avoid and navigate around traffic jams. It helps me keep in touch with my friends.

Of course, you probably know all about that stuff. But your smartphone can do some pretty unusual things that you’ve probably never even considered. Here are some of the most amazing, out-there tasks your smartphone can help you conquer.

Diagnose a leaky window

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FLIR

As a homeowner in the oft-frosty Northeast, I know how important it is to have tightly sealed windows in the wintertime. Finding leaky windows doesn’t just make my home more comfortable; it saves money on my electric bills.

How can you find these energy-wasting areas of your home? Simple: Turn your phone into a thermal imaging camera with the FLIR ONE add on. It fits onto your phone much like a Mophie Juice Pack does, and translates thermal energy into color images. It’ll show you where cold air is seeping into your house, where pipes need better insulation and even help locate overloaded circuits.

The FLIR ONE Personal Thermal Imager is compatible with both the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. It’s available for purchase directly from FLIR.com for $349.

Measure your heart health

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AliveCor

You don’t need to take a trip to an expensive hospital lab to get a detailed look at your heart health – there’s a smartphone app (and device) for that.

The AliveCor Heart Monitor rests on your chest or finger, converting electrical impulses from your body into a printable ECG graph. The included AliveECG app helps you understand if your ECG is normal, or if you have an issue you should consult a professional about. The device is no substitute for an expertly trained doctor, but if you’re concerned about your heart health, it makes a great supplement.

The AliveCor Heart Monitor is available as a stand-alone device or with a case for the iPhone 5/5S. Both are available for order at store.alivecor.com for $199.

Prevent drunk driving

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BACtrack

Imagine you’re at a house party with a couple close friends. You’ve all shared a glass or two of wine. You feel like you’re probably O.K. to drive, but it’d be far more responsible to know for sure.

That’s where the new Bluetooth BACtrack Vio Smartphone Breathlyzer comes in. The compact keychain device measures the alcohol present on your breath in just five seconds, wirelessly sending your BAC reading to your iOS or Android smartphone. An included app will predict how long it’ll take for your levels to return to 0%, helping you plan whether to call a cab or just “wait it out.”

The BACtrack Vio is available directly from BACtrack and at Amazon.com for just $49.99.

Watch over-the-air TV

Belkin

You may already know that your smartphone can connect to streaming video services like Hulu, allowing you to catch your favorite TV shows on the go. But did you know there’s a way to watch your favorite shows live, over-the-air? It’s possible with the Belkin Dyle.

The Dyle is a small antenna device that connects directly to your older iPhone or iPad’s charger port to receive over-the-air digital signals. It’s a great way to catch coverage of the big game while you’re sitting in the stands, pass time while riding the commuter rail or keep the kids busy in the car. Of course, for the device to work, you’ll need to be close to a major metropolitan area to pick up a quality signal.

The 30-pin Belkin Dyle is compatible with the iPhone 4/4S, iPad, iPad 2 and 3rd generation iPad. You can buy yours direct from Belkin or on Amazon.com for $29.99.

Measure your muscles

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Skulpt

As any health expert will tell you, your bathroom scale isn’t the best way to measure progress at the gym. Muscle weighs more than fat, so gaining the occasional pound or two can be a very good thing.

The Skulpt Aim helps you get a better handle on your fitness by tracking your body fat percentage and the muscle fiber size instead of your weight. It uses small electrodes to measure individual muscle groups and areas and relays the info to your phone, giving you an overall picture of where you’re making progress and where you’re not. The device even comes with an app that recommends exercises that are best for your body’s unique composition.

The Skulpt Aim works with both Android and iOS devices and is expected to start shipping in fall 2014. You can preorder yours at skulpt.me for $169.99, which includes free shipping.

Figure out why your check engine light is on

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Automatic

I own an older Honda Civic. It’s a great, reliable car. But now that it’s been in service for nearly a decade, seeing the check engine light come on is a fairly regular occurrence.

The good news: You and I don’t need to take our cars to an expensive mechanic just to get that light diagnosed – we can do it ourselves using our smartphones and a device like Automatic. It connects directly to your car’s onboard computer, turning check engine events into push alerts to your iOS and Android phone. If it’s a minor issue, you may be able to fix it and clear the light yourself, saving a trip to the shop.

Automatic also tracks your driving, giving you feedback on your acceleration and breaking habits that can help improve your gas mileage. It can even alert emergency authorities in case of a disabling crash.

Automatic is compatible with most gasoline cars sold in the U.S. since 1996. You can purchase the device directly from Amazon for $79.99.

Improve your basketball skills

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94Fifty

Are you looking to take your son or daughter’s basketball game to the next level? You could clear out the spare bedroom and spend some serious cash on a live-in NCAA-quality basketball coach. Or, you could save the six-figure expense and get a similar coaching experience from a smart basketball like the 94Fifty.

The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is a regulation size and weight ball that contains a tiny Bluetooth sensor that measures spin and bounce. It connects wirelessly to iOS and Android phones to offer real-time feedback during the included training exercises, helping to improve skills in the moment. It’s like having a real basketball coach with you at all times, even when you’re just shooting a few layups in the driveway.

The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is available in both men’s and women’s sizes on Amazon.com for $249.95.

Catch fish

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Friday Lab

Normally, a family camping trip would be a reason to leave the smartphone behind so you can better enjoy the great outdoors. But let’s face it, this is 2014. Modern technology can make everything better – even your time away from it on the lake.

How? Check out the Deeper Fish Finder. The small, spherical device works as a fish-finding sonar in both salt and fresh water, helping you locate fish up to 120 feet under the surface. You simply attach it to a fishing line and cast it where you want to fish – it’ll turn on automatically upon hitting the water. Deeper works with most modern iOS and Android devices, but we recommend pairing it with a waterproof phone or tablet like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the Sony Xperia Z2.

The Deeper Portable Fish Finder is available for purchase on Amazon.com for $243.43.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME apps

Good Idea: Dock a Tiny Netflix Window in Your Browser While You Work

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Behold Netflix Mini in all its glory.

The idea was spawned from one of Netflix’s hack days. That’s the bad news: Netflix Mini is still just an idea at this point.

It would ostensibly be an extension for Google’s Chrome web browser that would dock a tiny window in the lower-right corner, allowing you to work on whatever you’re working on while catching up on whatever show you’re binge-watching. A similar extension called PIP Video already exists, but I couldn’t get it working with Netflix videos. YouTube videos worked fine, however.

While Netflix Mini may or may not become real someday, can we all agree that it probably should? Yes? Handshake?

Check out Netflix’s writeup of its summer hack day for other ideas that were presented.

[Geek.com]

TIME Rumors

Don’t Count the iPhone 6’s September 9 Debut Out Yet

The new iPhone line reportedly had a backlight engineering problem that goofed up the assembly process earlier this summer.

Reuters is reporting that Apple may be having difficulty prepping a sufficient number of screens for the next iPhone. Apple is expected to unveil the new line at media event on September 9. The problem, says Reuters, involves a “key” component that’s disrupting the production of the line’s new screens, rumored to be larger than the iPhone 5’s current four inches, and possibly come in two sizes.

More specifically, Reuters’s supply chain sources say the problem is with the backlight configuration in the new phones. Apple wanted to reduce the material used for the backlight from two layers to one in hopes of thinning the phones, says Reuters. But without that second layer, the phones apparently weren’t bright enough, which forced the parts back to engineering and held up the assembly process earlier this summer. That’s now impacting the number of screens Apple’s been able to produce in the ramp up to the unveiling, according to Reuters’ sources.

How many phones amounts to a sufficient number at launch anyway? I have no idea, nor does Reuters, but the news site defangs the issue somewhat by pointing out that its sources indicated the “hiccup” may or may not make it harder for you to get one of the new phones at launch or delay the phones outright. Thus we’re left to mull the possibility that there could be a launch availability problem, but with absolutely no idea of its magnitude, on a scale that runs from “catastrophic” to “irrelevant.”

Short of actually delaying the debut, which seems unlikely at this point–rumors of a September 9 event bubbled up just a few weeks ago, well after the June/July timeframe referred to in the Reuters piece–it’s unlikely we’ll know whether this story impacted the phones’ arrival. Availability issues have been a major part of every new iPhone launch, and a certain amount of scarcity–so long as Apple’s able to ramp up production to meet or surpass its fiscal projections in the long run–isn’t the worst problem to have. Sony’s PlayStation 4, for instance, which Sony claims was plagued by supply issues from launch, has gone on to sell 10 million units worldwide, a record-breaking figure even Sony can’t explain.

TIME apps

Most of Us Don’t Download Any Smartphone Apps at All

Using a smartphone with Spotify app
Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images

And most people spend a huge chunk of time on just one app

More and more of us might be using smartphones to meet our digital needs but, according to the latest data from analytics firm Comscore, we aren’t downloading more apps on top of what comes with our phones.

Only about 35% of smartphone users download any apps at all in an average month, says Comscore’s Mobile App Report—put another way, 65% of smartphone users don’t download a single app in any given month.

That’s not to say that people aren’t using apps, or even that app downloads are down overall. Smartphone sales have been soaring worldwide, broadening the pool of potential app downloaders even as people individually tend not to be downloading very many apps. Indeed, July was Apple’s best month ever for app store revenue.

It seems to be that people just don’t need that many apps. According to Comscore, “a staggering 42% of all app time spent on smartphones occurs on the individual’s single most used app.” It may also be the case, as Quartz notes, that Apple’s app store—the elephant in the app retail room—relies too heavily on Top 25 lists and makes it difficult for users to find new apps they might want.

TIME Innovation

Could This Be Solar Energy’s Big Moment?

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Solar power has been on an upswing in the U.S., with usage now standing at six times’ its 2010 rate and the cost of solar installations since 2010 down 60 %. Analysts predict a 29% rise in solar installations in the U.S. by the end of 2014 alone.

This could be solar power’s moment. What’s uncertain is how much of that market growth the U.S. will be able to capitalize on. Currently, almost half of the world’s solar panel production takes place in China, while the U.S. only counts for only 5%.

Investors like Elon Musk, whose solar power company Solar City bought the panel maker Silevo to help drive down costs, hopes to change that imbalance by ramping up manufacturing in the U.S.

TIME Software

5 Cheap Must-Have Apps for Back to School

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Ready for the school year to begin? Once you’ve picked out a tablet or laptop for your student, it’s time to grab the software that will make it the most useful. We’ve found the best cheap apps and programs to help kids study, work more efficiently and keep up with their assignments.

YouCam Snap

Pictures of whiteboards, projector slides and book pages are great for notes. However, the camera apps that come with them can’t always handle these tasks well, especially if it’s not possible to take pictures head on.

YouCam Snap solves this problem. It can straighten out the curve of book pages, whiteboard text taken at an angle, and even correct the brightness and contrast to capture usable images of bright projector screens in a dark room. And the ability to output the captures as PDFs that can be annotated and shared is a big plus.

Price: Free at iTunes and Google Play

iStudiez Pro

A digital student planner can be just as useful as its paper counterpart, especially if it syncs data across devices. iStudiez helps students keep track of class schedules and manage homework assignments, including pop-up notifications around due dates. Students can even keep track of their grades.

Price: $9.99 at the Mac App Store and $2.99 at iTunes

Looking for an Android alternative? Check out Class Buddy Student Planner for $1.99 on Google Play

Zotero

Zotero makes it easy to collect and organize information on the web as source material for research papers. When the software is installed, it detects usable content pulled up on your computer—text, images, video files, screen shots of web pages or documents, like PDF files—and gives the option to save with one click.

All of the text is searchable and tags can be assigned to each piece of content for easy organization. Once it’s paper-writing time, Zotero will create accurate citations for each item.

There are two versions of Zotero: a Firefox add-on that works across operating systems, and a standalone download for PC and Mac that plugs in to browsers. There are also plugins for MS Word and LibreOffice to make citing easier. All for free.

Price: Free at zotero.org

LibreOffice

If you want a full-featured free office suite, LibreOffice is the best choice. It can do everything that Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can do (except a very few functions only business/power users need) and can save to all the Microsoft Office file types as well as export to PDF.

The only things missing from the suite are Outlook and OneNote equivalents. If desktop email is a must-have, Thunderbird works well and has a great associated calendar app called Lightning. For notes, I suggest Evernote.

Price: Free for Windows and Mac at libreoffice.org

Looking for a good (free) mobile office suite? Check out WPS Office on Google Play and iTunes.

ezPDF Reader

PDFs are one of the most common file types students will encounter, and having an app that can read and edit them is a must. With ezPDF, students can add highlights, notes as comments, scribbles and written annotations, plus add, crop, rotate and delete pages.

Price: $2.99 on iTunes and Google Play, Free for Windows 8 at unidocs.com

Bonus: Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium Edition

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is not inexpensive, but it’s so useful for students that it’s worth the price.

Why? The top-notch voice recognition engine is able to easily to distinguish a voice from background noise, which makes it possible to get transcriptions of lectures. All a student needs is a good recording device or a smartphone with an external mic.

Price: $199 at nuance.com

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Video Games

Star Wars: Commander Is Slow-Going Unless You Pay Up

All of the game's content is available for free--so long as you're willing to wait for it.

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Disney’s new freemium real-time strategy game Star Wars: Commander just arrived on Apple’s App Store in the U.S. as a time-limited exclusive for iOS devices (there’s an Android version coming shortly).

Don’t confuse it with Star Wars: Force Commander, another real-time strategy game released back in 2000 for Windows by now-Disney-owned studio LucasArts. It was a mess of a game–one of several failed attempts to give players a thoughtful, strategic window into the iconic Star Wars universe. To this day, no one’s succeeded.

So Commander is interesting because it’s the closest thing we’ve had to a thoughtful, strategy-minded Star Wars game–boardgames notwithstanding–in years. The only downer: it’s a free-to-play-slow, pay-to-play-faster game.

I’ve been noodling with it this morning, and it’s your garden variety real-time strategy game: kit out a base, build and upgrade structures, then deploy troops to slug it out in Star Wars-ian locales. After stepping through a few tutorial exercises that illustrate where to tap to buy things and how to tap to deploy units in combat, you’re allowed to throw in with either the Rebellion or the Empire, the difference between the two a matter of campaign storyline and playable unit types. Choose the Empire and you can trot out AT-ATs and Tie Fighters. Favor the Rebellion and you’ll have access to individuals like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia.

Underlying the economy are crystals, credits and alloy. Refineries and credit markets produce alloy and credits respectively. You purchase structures and units with the latter two, though these accrue at ridiculously slow speeds (as in “go-do-something-else-for-several-hours” slow), and which you have to harvest manually by tapping on the producing structures. Automation is apparently beyond warring factions with ultra-high-tech weaponry, but then that’s how the developers get you to pay attention to just how little your factories are generating at a given interval.

If you want to speed things up, you can pay real money for greenish “crystals” at price intervals of $100, $50, $20, $10 or $5, which in turn let you buy oodles of credits or alloy, as well as pay for protection (presumably against hostile incursions by other players, since the game also supports PvP battles). Fairly warned: if you dislike freemium games that lock most of their gameplay behind punitively slow resource generation clocks, you’re not going to like Commander at all.

What makes it feel like a Star Wars game? The retro gliding yellow-letter intro, of course. The character likenesses, with voice work not by the original actors but plausible analogues. Mostly John William’s unforgettable musical motifs, with signature flourishes from flutes, french horns and trumpets ebbing or swelling in the background obligingly. If you want some insight into the nerd-lore propping up the game’s logistics, GamesBeat interviewed one of the game’s producers about that (preview: it sounds like the Rebels are scavenging Clone Wars tech).

But since Star Wars was never about the battlefield minutia or the specifics of this or that piece of Separatist technology, it does start to feel a little like a generic real-time strategy template overlaid with a Star Wars-ian one. On the other hand, that sums up most Star Wars games: vanilla ice cream with dollops of Star Wars sauce. It’s also clearly Disney spooling up its Star Wars turbolaser in advance of Star Wars: Rebels, its animated Clone Wars TV series followup set half a decade before the events of the original Star Wars movie.

I should caution that Commander has launch quirks, in particular one where I minimized the game, then reloaded it, only to have it claim I’d launched a second instance on a second device, thus squelching the first one (in general, the game seems to hate minimization). It’s also arguably a poor fit, visually speaking, for a 4-inch iPhone: while you can zoom on the maps, the interface panels and text are just too small to use comfortably (like 22Cans’ Godus, Commander probably should have been tablet-only). Assuming Apple’s next iPhone has a significantly bigger screen, I’d reconsider that position. Barring that, I wouldn’t bother unless you have at least an iPad Mini.

TIME FindTheBest

How China Will Change the Smartphone Industry: Predicting Winners and Losers

Back in 2012, if you compared a budget phone to a premium phone, you’d likely see a spec/features breakdown like this:

The comparison was simple: Twice the money bought you a phone that was, statistically speaking, twice as good.

But with Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi’s ascendance, the following type of comparison is becoming increasingly common:

The Xiaomi Mi 3 is less than half the cost of a Galaxy S5, yet boasts nearly identical specifications, even edging out Samsung’s flagship phone in a few categories, including display sharpness and standby time. For the money (at least based on the raw data) the Mi 3 is the clear choice.

But what about the fluffy stuff, like build quality, interface and overall user experience? Surely that’s where the Galaxy S5 earns its higher price tag.

Not necessarily. CNET calls the Mi 3 “quite the looker,” complementing the phone’s “aluminum-magnesium chassis and…beautiful face.” Meanwhile, TechRadar praises the “polished and comprehensive MIUI interface,” awarding the phone four out of five stars in both design and usability. Compare those accolades to the same experts’ opinions on the S5’s hardware (CNET: “at the end of the day, the Galaxy flagship feels…like plastic;” TechRadar: “[the S5] doesn’t look like a cutting edge smartphone”).

So Samsung might actually be in trouble, and the first warning signs are already here. Just last quarter, Xiaomi leap-frogged Samsung to become China’s #1 smartphone seller, usurping a spot Samsung had owned for over two years. What’s more, Xiaomi is just getting going, with its new flagship, the Mi 4, all set for launch.

The catch for Americans, of course, is that the highly-affordable, surprisingly-capable Mi line won’t be available in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Until Xiaomi decides to brave the fierce, patent-infested waters of the American electronics market, U.S. citizens will be stuck paying $650 for unlocked, top-shelf handsets.

Still, Xiaomi’s ascendance will likely shake up the mobile industry for years to come, as rival smartphone makers are forced to respond to top specs at low prices. So with that in mind, let’s speculate as to who will win and lose as a result of China’s maturing budget phone industry.

Winners

Chinese Manufacturers

The biggest winners here are Chinese handset makers—and not just Xiaomi. Originally the market followers, China’s gadget manufacturers are now positioned to be market leaders, with an opportunity to shape pricing, features and development trends around the world. If rival Chinese makers like Lenovo, Huawei and Yulong can match Xiaomi’s quality, they’ll be able to fight over Samsung’s old throne for the next several years.

Best of all, they’ve got a giant pie made up of 1.5 billion customers.

Consumers in Emerging Markets

Naturally, phone choice is only getting better in China, as manufacturers offer better and better phones at the same mid-to-low price points. It won’t be long before Americans are jealous of the latest Chinese-only hit—a 180 degree turn from five years ago.

Losers

LG, Samsung, Sony

Rival smartphone makers in Korea and Japan have the most to lose here—over time, they will have tremendous trouble competing with their Chinese counterparts on price. In order to survive, each company will need to find new ways to differentiate its offerings…and it has to be something other than specs and price.

Remains to Be Seen

Consumers in Developed Markets

On paper, consumers in developed markets should benefit from China’s new army of low-cost, high-quality handsets. Once Xiaomi and co. finally enter the U.S. market, the inexpensive products will theoretically drive down prices from the likes of Apple, Sony, and Samsung.

But how long will this take? Will Apple sue Xiaomi for infringing on patents to stall the threat? Will American manufacturers start making lower-quality phones to compete with China on price? And will any of this help solve America’s biggest smartphone problem: namely, the appalling, worst-in-the-world contracts forced upon us by big carriers? There may be a tech revolution going on in China, but the U.S. benefits could take years to unfold.

Apple

It’s tempting to call Apple a loser here. After all, the company has always rejected the low-cost phone, and here Xiaomi seems to be proving its success.

At the same time, however, Apple might just be positioned to sit above the fray as Samsung, LG and Sony fight for Xiaomi’s crumbs. Consider that Apple has never played the spec game, having ceded the spec-sheet war to Samsung years ago. Apple doesn’t sell handsets on the strength of megapixels or CPUs, but rather, great design and the Apple mystique. Perhaps the company was right to avoid the low-cost market all along, a territory that a Chinese company like Xiaomi was bound to win eventually.

Maybe people will finally abandon Apple once they can buy a phone with similar specs, for a third of the price. Or maybe the same group of geeks, Apple apologists and design nerds will just keep buying iPhones, Mi or no Mi. Time will tell.

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

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