Opinion

The FCC’s Net Neutrality Proposal: Why It Stinks and How It Could Affect You

By the end of this year, the Internet as you know it could change for the worse.

Under new rules proposed by the FCC, Internet service providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable could ask your favorite sites to pay for special treatment. Companies that refuse, or who can’t afford to pay, could be stuck with slower speeds or more congestion compared to companies in the fast lane. The next Netflix or YouTube could still exist as it does today, but without enough extra capital to pay the gatekeepers, it could be at an inherent disadvantage to incumbent services or services with deep pockets.

Put another way, the FCC plans to take an axe to net neutrality, the idea that all websites and services should be treated fairly.

Blocking vs. Throttling vs. Express Lanes

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the press has got it all wrong, that the proposed rules will actually “restore the concepts of Net neutrality,” and that anti-competitive behavior won’t be allowed.

It’s an impressive bit of PR spin, straight from someone who used to be a cable and wireless industry lobbyist. Wheeler’s concept of net neutrality is focused on prohibiting straight-up blocking or discrimination. Essentially, he’s saying we won’t see the doomsday scenario of having paywalls thrown in front of certain sites or services. And that’s great, but it’s not the real danger here. The actual threat, in which companies get to pay for better service than they’re getting now, is much more insidious.

Let’s say you pay $35 per month for speeds of 10 Mbps, which is on the low end of what you’d want for streaming video. The proposed rules could let you to get faster speeds on sites like Netflix and YouTube for the same $35 per month, but only if those sites paid your service provider to be in the fast lane. You’d still get speeds of 10 Mbps for everything else–hence, no discrimination–but maybe you’d get 30 Mbps from services that are paying the toll.

If this scenario played out, service providers would surely promote it as a wonderful development for subscribers. What’s not to like about faster speeds at no extra charge? (AT&T recently pulled a similar tactic on the wireless side, allowing apps and services to pay for their users’ data consumption while calling it “an exciting new opportunity” for customers.)

How the Proposed Rules Could Affect You

The problem is that service providers would have little incentive to improve their baseline speeds for non-paying services, and lots of incentive to improve speeds for those in the fast lane. Over time, the gap in speeds would increase, to the point that new services would have a tough time competing without paying the gatekeepers. And while you may not pay directly for those fast lane speeds, participating services may be inclined to pass their costs along, ensuring that you’d shoulder the financial burden one way or another.

In the near term, the biggest risk is to online video. Services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube will feel the pressure to pay up if they want to stay competitive with one another. But in the future, many other emerging services would have to deal with the shakedown, from cloud gaming to virtual reality to things we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

Those potential services may require lots of bandwidth, and there’s definitely a reasonable discussion to be had about how service providers should manage the traffic. As GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham points out, that’s exactly what the FCC could be doing. Instead, the FCC seems content to let service providers take the lead, deciding which emerging services live or die based on whether they can pay the toll.

What Happens Now

The above scenarios are all realistic, according to the advocacy groups I’ve spoken to, but it’s important to note that the rules aren’t set in stone and they’re not even public yet. All we have to go on right now are statements from FCC officials, who say the proposal will allow Internet providers to negotiate directly with web companies on providing more than just the baseline level of service.

The finer details will be hashed out in the coming months, starting on May 15, when the proposed rules become public. It’s still unclear, for instance, exactly what the FCC means when it says service providers must act in a “commercially reasonable” manner, and how the FCC would take action against “unreasonable” behavior. (Is it reasonable, for instance, for fast lanes to exist if they’re open to any company? Because it would still favor the ones with the deepest pockets.)

In any case, the sparks are about to fly. Advocacy groups will likely launch petitions and protests, arguing that toll-based fast lanes will stifle innovation. Supporters of the proposal will likely argue that it’s a fair, free market solution (ignoring the fact that there’s a shortage of competition in the wired broadband market, so many users will have no alternatives if toll roads become a reality). So far, it’s unclear whether large tech companies will protest a potential shakedown or embrace their incumbent status.

Technologizer

The Secrets on ‘Secret’ Are Getting Juicier

Two pieces of anonymous scuttlebutt have turned out to be legit scoops

I’ve been using Secret–the iPhone app that lets you share brief items with friends without knowing who’s who–off and on since it debuted in April. Like all social networks, the content you see is determined by the people you know. In my case, the stream is an odd melange of musings about life in Silicon Valley, touching expressions of gratitude for family and friends, bad-taste jokes and private-life details I’d usually rather not know about. And it’s often not clear which secrets are sincere and which one are hoaxes.

In the last week or so, Secret has become something people thought it might be from the moment it launched: a source of juicy news about the tech industry.

First, a user posted that Nike was going to slash the staff responsible for its FuelBand wearable gizmo:

Secret

That turned out to be true. And then someone–presumably a different someone–posted that Vic Gundotra, the Google executive in charge of Google+, was job hunting:

Secret

That secret also panned out.

It would be very, very dangerous to assume that any future scuttlebutt of this sort is the real deal: Anyone can post anything on Secret, and it’s all anonymous. So there’s little danger in gaming the system with malicious fibs and/or silly stuff that may or may not be legit.

Still, if I worked in a prominent company in the industry and was up to something I didn’t want anyone to know just yet, Secret would freak me out. It seems like a pretty safe bet that bigger secrets than these will leak via the app at some point–and there’s nothing that anyone can do to prevent it.

Gadgets

Withings’ New Activity Monitor Measures Blood Oxygen Levels

Withings

Consumer electronics company Withings today announced its new Pulse O2 activity tracker, a full-featured activity monitor with special features for those with breathing concerns, like climbers.

The Withings Pulse O2 monitor does all the activity monitor basics and then some: It measures steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, sleep quality and pulse. But what makes this device special is its elevation monitor and blood oxygen sensor aimed at climbing enthusiasts and asthmatics.

Withings is clearly tapping into a limited market – so far, oxygen sensors are far from standard activity monitor features. If keeping an eye on your oxygen saturation level (SPO2) comes at a premium to you, then the price here sounds just about right.

The Withings Pulse O2 is currently available through Withings.com for $119.95. To learn more, you can watch the promotional video below.

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

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Technology and Media

Facebook Rolls Out a New Plan To Crush Twitter

Mark Zuckerberg arrives for a keynote session on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb. 24, 2014.
Mark Zuckerberg arrives for a keynote session on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb. 24, 2014. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Facebook launched FB Newswire, which aims to be journalists' social media resource for breaking news

Facebook announced a new service Thursday designed to make it the primary social media resource for journalists covering breaking news, a direct shot across the bow at Twitter.

FB Newswire is a tool accessible via Facebook that features an updated stream of newsworthy and embeddable public content. This includes photos, videos, and status updates about categories ranging from hard news to lifestyle to celebrity to sports. Journalists can grab that content to use it in their own stories across the web.

Newswire is powered by Storyful, bought by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp for $25 million in 2013, which promised users that it will be vetting all of the content it is providing.

Thus far, FB Newswire has provided content on stories ranging from Kim Kardashian’s views on the Armenian massacre:

To Obama taking pictures with a robot:

Twitter, one of Facebook’s primary competitors, has come to be known as a major breaking news resource for the media. It has built that news-friendly model with strategic hires and tool integration.

How-To

30-Second Tech Trick: Find Sites Similar to the Ones You Like

A simple Google trick is all it takes to find a list of sites similar to one you already like.

+ READ ARTICLE
T100

Can a Thermostat Save the Planet?

Tony Fadell and Nest are planning to build a more eco-friendly tomorrow

+ READ ARTICLE

Forget your old home appliances, the new home is all about smart tech. From Bluetooth key locks to app-controlled light bulbs, the new home is undergoing a smart-tech revolution. Tony Fadell, designer of the first iPod, threw his hat into the ring of the smart-tech competition in 2010 with his company Nest. In 2011, Nest announced a high-tech remote controlled thermostat that is constantly learning about your energy use. Fadell’s company was recently bought by Google for 3.2 billion dollars.

When I looked at the environment in 2010 people were working on [renewable energy sources and grid changes]. When you looked at the thermostat and it hadn’t changed in 30 years, you were like, ‘wait a second.’ This is ripe for innovation, this is ripe for disruption … lets go fix that problem,” Fadell said.

Nest is slowly sliding to the forefront of green tech. Its smart thermostat is marketed to the average consumer worried about their wallet, but their underlying mission is to reduce the planet’s total energy consumption. Tony Fadell has been chosen as one of TIME’s top 100 most influential people for 2014.

MORE: Nest Protect Smoke Detector

Video Games

Flappy 2048 Review: Wherein I Clear 2 Million

What happens once you flap past the 2048 block? You'll have to play to find out.

“Some maniac combined Flappy Bird and 2048!” writes an Imgur user. That about sums up Flappy 2048 (thank you @ShawnElliott, former editorial compadre, for bringing it to my attention): a game — you can play it here in a browser — that weds the inanity of Flappy Bird to the puzzling mathematical madness of 2048.

Flappy Birdthis link is to someone else’s web-based copy — you probably know. But in the event you don’t, it’s an endless side-scroller where you tap your screen (or click a mouse) to make a bird flap its wings and arc through narrow gaps between Super Mario Bros.-like pipes. The pipes are positioned close together, your flaps feel more like lurches, each gap is very small and they change height as you go, making sustained flight virtually impossible. There’s no saving, the achievements are competition-medal minimum (and they max out low), and so the impetus to play much past “gold” harks back to old-school arcade-dom, King of Kong style.

2048, by contrast, is a math-based slide-tile game currently tearing up the freemium charts that’s been relatively well-received. I first heard about it when someone claimed they’d landed a score of 8,192. Having fiddled with it myself, I now realize just how incredible a feat that is.

Flappy 2048 marries the two by replacing Flappy Bird‘s gaps with 2048‘s matching numbers. Click here to see that Imgur poster’s animated GIF of the game in action:

Like Flappy Bird, you click the mouse to flap the bird-cube’s wings and aim for a number match to trigger 2048‘s math-doubling, then repeat, ad nauseam. I’ve been playing the web version this afternoon and managed to clear 2,097,152, which sounds really impressive, but since I suck at Flappy Bird, is really just another way of saying it’s a whole lot easier than Flappy Bird. All you have to do is get close to the intended number block and it all but pulls you through (that, and it’s pretty forgiving about its thresholds). This is what those of you who can’t stand Flappy Bird should consider playing. That, or check out 2048 itself.

flappy-48
Flappy 2048

Though: “Things get really weird after you reach the 2048 block,” writes the Imgur poster. I can vouch that yes, they do. Yes, they definitely do.

Dating

LoveRoom and Other Apps That Should Be Reality Shows

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You never know... nullplus—Getty Images

The folks who created the 'Tinder of AirBnB,' are now casting a reality TV show about hooking up with renters. But why stop there? Here are 6 more app mash-ups that would make great TV

Reality shows have been putting humans together in twisted ways for more than a decade now, but like everything else, apps are now involved. LoveRoom is like the demon love child of Airbnb and Tinder; the premise is that hosts can use this social platform to rent out their spare rooms to hotties who just might have sex with them. And if its creators have their way, some of these antics will be fodder for broadcast TV.

To be clear, LoveRoom doesn’t have any official relationship with either AirBnB or Tinder, but they might as well be family. This mash-up of 21st century convenience apps is casting its own reality show founder Joshua Bocanegra told BetaBeat. An announcement on LoveRoom’s website says the show is seeking “sexy singles” with “dynamic personalities” who are “looking for love — or maybe just a hookup — in their cities.” (Which is of course way different from all the reality shows who want to cast people with boring personalities who hate sex.)

Bocanegra didn’t reveal which production company he’s working with, or any other details of the show, but he did say that the show would be “on national television” by October even though the concept hasn’t been picked up by a network yet. Sounds a little sketchy on the details, but that didn’t stop us from thinking of other app pairings that could make the leap to reality TV.

1. Words With Friends + Coffee Meets Bagel = LoveLetters

The app would sync your Words With Friends challengers with daily romantic matches from Coffee Meets Bagel. The reality show could be a couples Words With Friends round-robin tournament where contestants with dynamic personalities and large vocabularies have to choose between love and victory.

2. CandyCrush + Venmo = CandyCost

CandyCrush is already supremely addictive, but what if you could win cash? CandyCost the app would match users against specific players so you could put real money on the table (if that were legal.) The reality show can place 20 drama-loving contestants on a deserted island and them face-off on high-stakes CandyCrush games. Think Survivor meets the Player Channel.

3. Hinge + Kindle = Book of Love

The app would set you up with friends of friends who are reading the same chapter of the same book. The reality TV show would be the Oprah’s Book Club of love. Everyone would have to take a reading quiz at the end of each episode, and the person with the lowest score gets eliminated. Oh, and everyone has to wear bathing suits the whole time.

4. Seamless + FourSquare = FoodSquare

The app would tell you which friends are close by and want to split a food order with you. The reality TV show would feature 20 contestants who battle to agree on what to order for dinner. The hitch is that each contestant has a food allergy, but nobody knows about anybody else’s allergies.

5. Instagram + Epicurious = InstaCulinary

The app would tell you how to make the food you see on Instagram. The TV show would make amateur chefs compete to prepare food found on celebrity Instagrams. Then the celebrities would taste the food to select the winner each episode.

6. SnapChat + Grindr = SnapR

Obviously this app would feature raunchy pictures that disappear. The reality TV show would be like one of those memory card games where contestants have to match the body part to the owner. Then they compete to find true love with a sensitive partner who appreciates them for who they are.

 

 

 

 

 

FindTheBest

18 Headphone Brands Ranked from Worst to First

Full-time rapper and part-time headphone brand Dr. Dre likes to say that “people aren’t hearing all the music.” A more accurate assessment: people aren’t buying the right headphones.

Today, the audio industry is saturated with marketing. Clueless consumers snap up name-brands at $300+ price points while merrily scrolling past better, cheaper pairs. The problem? We’re conditioned to shop by brand, rather than by true audio experience.

It’s time for change. We set out to separate the sound from the unsound. Which brands deserve our attention, and which should customers avoid?

After gathering the specs, review scores, and features for nearly 3,000 headphones—from budget earbuds to full-featured DJ pairs—we scored every product out of 100, based on the following factors:

  • 75% – expert reviews (CNET, Wired, TechCrunch, What HiFi, Good Gear Guide, PC Mag)
  • 25% – specs and features (frequency, sensitivity, noise canceling, etc.)

The results might surprise you. In the words of Dr. Dre, “Sit back, relax, and strap on your seatbelt—you never been on a ride like this before.”

The Rankings

Blown Out

(average score in parentheses)

18. Plantronics (57)

17. Beats by Dre (58)

16. Skullcandy (62)

With apologies to celebrities, NBA players, and extreme sports athletes around the globe, our analysis was not kind to Beats by Dre or Skullcandy. Yes, each brand has a handful of decent products (ex: Beats’ Solo HDs, Skullcandy’s Navigators), but the average, mid-range product from either company likely isn’t worth your money.

Tone Deaf

15. Koss (68)

14. Creative (68)

13. Philips (72)

If you know exactly what to look for, all three of these brands offer solid, reasonably-priced options (ex: some of Philips’ Fidelio line; Creative’s Aurvana, over-ear headphones). The problem: they also offer dozens and dozens of less solid, less reasonably-priced products. If you’re a gambler, you might get a cheap thrill when you scoop one of these off the shelf—like ordering rare fish at a back-alley restaurant or betting on the Dallas Cowboys. For the rest of us, it’s not worth the risk.

Unsound

12. Bose (73)

11. Apple (74)

10. Panasonic (74)

Unlike Philips and Creative, Bose and Apple have a “less is more” headphone strategy, marketing just three or four flagship products at inflated prices. If you want a comfortable fit with top-tier noise canceling, Bose’s QuietComfort 15s actually stand up to most of the hype. Unfortunately, many of their other products have received mixed reviews, and regardless, you’ll end up paying a premium on anything that comes in a box labeled “Bose.”

Then there’s Apple. They’ve been something of a joke in the headphone industry until recently, when experts gave the new EarPods a polite nod and some decent review scores. While it doesn’t quite make up for years of blown out iPod buds, it was enough for a middle-of-the-pack finish.

Sounds Good

9. Audio-Technica (74)

8. JVC (75)

7. Sennheiser (78)

If buying Philips or Creative is a reckless gamble, then snapping up one of these brands is a responsible risk, like investing in an index fund or predicting another Justin Bieber arrest. Though none of these brands are a sure-thing, each has a distinct strength. Audio-Technica produces some of the best studio headphones on the market, and often at sub-$150 prices. Meanwhile, JVC makes many of the best cheap earbuds available: good for couch potatoes and loose change scavengers. Finally, Sennheiser’s best products are universally praised by audiophiles and DJs alike.

Sounds Great

6. AKG (79)

5. Sony (80)

4. Pioneer (83)

Both AKG and Pioneer make consistently stellar headphones for DJs and audio technicians. Even better, they don’t charge a superfluous $100 just because the box says “studio” on the side.

That leaves Sony, perhaps the most surprising high-performer, especially next to all these headphone industry stalwarts. With hundreds of products in almost any price range, color, and style, Sony’s biggest accomplishment is consistency of quality.

Super Sonic

3. Klipsch (84)

2. Grado (89)

1. Shure (90)

They’re three of the pricier brands, but Klipsch, Grado and Shure headphones are the most reliable buys on this list, with outstanding performance and consistently glowing reviews from experts. If you’re cash-strapped, a cheap pair from Sony or JVC will be fine, but those looking to take a new step in audio enjoyment should start here.

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

MORE: The 5 Best In-Ear Headphones

Reviews

Review: The Weather Channel’s New iPhone App Is Gorgeously Vertical

The Weather Channel

One of the best weather apps for iOS is now the best and most socially-engaged, bar none.

I took a look at The Weather Channel’s free mobile app for iOS back in May 2012, just after the company overhauled and streamlined its interface, adding visual elegance to functionality and helpful swipe gestures to complement button tapping. The only ad-related concession was to a strip that ran along the top, though the ads tended to clash with the app’s often pastel sky hues and picturesque weather-related phenomena.

I liked it a lot — enough to make it my primary mobile weather-checking tool. But at the same time, speaking as a guy who likes to commit cross-platform, I’ve been a little less than satisfied with the company’s web approach. Visit it these days and you’re as liable to encounter stories like “Your Kids May Never See THIS,” or “World’s Scariest Airport Runways (PHOTOS),” or “How I Lost 115 Pounds!” or “Don’t Miss Out on THIS” (with a shot of a giant potato on a flatbed) as genuine weather news. It’s obviously the company trying to pay the bills, if at the expense of offering a focused, informationally consistent experience.

You may also have heard about The Weather Channel’s shift toward infotainment if you watch the cable channel, and non-weather-related shows like Prospectors or Loaded or Reel Rivals. That, and in recent years, The Weather Channel’s taken to giving moderate to large winter storms names like “Athena,” “Brutus,” “Gandolf,” “Iago,” “Khan” and so forth. Even the National Weather Service took umbrage with that, refusing to recognize the channel’s questionable dubbing. You could argue The Weather Channel’s been following in MTV’s footsteps, gradually diversifying its content to broaden its viewership, but to the point that the channel’s name becomes a misnomer.

The way to avoid most of that is to use The Weather Channel’s mobile app, which the company overhauled significantly last night, trading its left-right, tab-based interface for a seamless scrolling column of information packed with visually polished meteorological data. Now, instead of one screen sporting multiple levels of left-right tabbed information you’d have to shuffle through like a deck of cards, you simply scroll down from the default temperature view through a parade of features: hourly weather, the 10-day forecast, a radar square (The Weather Channel claims radar is “faster than ever” now), a carousel of video stories, a feature called “social weather” (more on this below), a news carousel, a pollen index, another story carousel called “Our Favorite Things,” current airport conditions for your area and a flu report. The column’s intercut by a few tastefully unobstrusive banner ads, and that’s it: as I’m looking this morning, there’s one for a show on The Weather Channel, one for Microsoft Cloud, and a repeat of the show ad at bottom — so just three in all.

The Weather Channel

A few of the subsections offer “more” links, which slide you over one page to an expanded view, say you want to see hourly predictions — accuracy notwithstanding — that run out three full days instead of just five or six hours. Other subsections, like the 10-day forecast, let you slide those days left or right to see further ahead without leaving the up/down column interface. And instead of waiting for the app to update at intervals, as so many apps force you to, you can get this version to refresh by gently tug-swiping downward (from the default view). It’s all very slick and beautifully designed — leaps and bounds better than the last version, which was already headed in the right direction.

By default, The Weather Channel’s app uses your phone’s location-tracking capabilities to provide forecasts, taking its best guess at a street address and displaying it up top (as I sit here in my home office, the app shows the address for the home next door, which is close enough for me). This can be disabled, of course, and the app still supports adding locations manually, after which you just have to swipe left or right to view them. And if severe weather’s occurring nearby, the app now displays a prominent banner along the top, whereas before, alerts were tiny icons you had to slide out for details.

If you live in a major metropolitan area, say New York City, the default screen will display a shot of downtown Manhattan that’s also indicative of the weather (sunny, cloudy, raining, etc.). If, on the other hand, you live in a tiny Michigan village like me, you’ll see a nondescript photo that matches the local weather conditions. All that’s missing at this point is a mechanism that’d let you take your own photos of various local weather conditions and map them to local weather states that the app would know to display (in lieu of the generic ones) for the relevant location. Now that would be cool.

One of the more intriguing new features is something The Weather Channel calls “Social Weather,” which eschews the prior version’s social networking hooks to platforms like Facebook and iWitness in favor of a native, Waze-like weather reporting service. Click a checkmark icon that hovers above the temperature circle in the default view and you’re taken to Apple’s Maps app overlaid by a tagging interface: a row of icons at bottom reflecting general weather conditions, e.g. sunny, cloudy, partly cloudy and so forth. Tap the one that best represents what you see outside and you’ll automatically submit your report to The Weather Channel, then have the option to take a photo and submit that as well, after which an icon appears on the map over the submission location above a timer that counts down from 15 minutes before allowing you to report in again.

The Weather Channel

I expected to be able to see my photo by tapping the map icon, but if that’s the intention, it wasn’t working when I tested it, and tapping other nearby icons failed to conjure pictures as well, so perhaps the photos are just for your benefit (you can email them on, or attach them to a text message). In any event, the social weather report interface could be huge if enough people use it and do so accurately, potentially offering a far more immediately accurate survey of local weather conditions than The Weather Channel’s own sometimes-delayed reports (in a promotional video for the new app, The Weather Channel says it intends to use the data “to identify hard to predict spots, to help improve the forecasts”).

If you’re looking for the what might be the prettiest weather app on the market, as well as one that wisely keeps ads and non-weather-related stories to a minimum — speaking as someone who routinely uses or keeps tabs on apps ranging from Apple’s own iOS Weather to Intellicast, NOAA Hi-Def Radar, WeatherBug, Weather Underground, AccuWeather, MyRadar and Weather Radar — The Weather Channel’s latest is my new favorite, and it’ll even work with slightly older devices: while it’s designed with iOS 7 in mind, The Weather Channel says it’ll load on anything running iOS 6 and above.

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