Technologizer

Eyefi Cloud Is the Best Wi-Fi Camera Experience Yet

Eyefi
Eyefi

New apps and a web-based service make it much easier to get to your photos from anywhere.

You might think that the market for Eyefi cards–the SD cards that have built-in WiFi, providing any camera with wireless networking–would have dwindled away by now. After all, the first cameras that came with Wi-Fi debuted almost a decade ago. But Wi-Fi still only ships as standard equipment on slightly over a third of new models, giving Eyefi a big market to go after.

I’ve used its cards with my cameras for years, especially since I started spending most of my time on my iPad, which otherwise only accepts SD cards through an external dongle I never remember to take with me. They’re indispensable. But in the past, I’ve never been overly impressed with the company’s software: It’s tended to be tough to set up and pretty clunky in everyday use.

Now that’s changing. The company is unveiling Eyefi Cloud, a new service designed to make it a cakewalk to to get your photos off the camera and onto every gadget you own: phones, tablets and PCs. And it’s coupling the service with all-new versions of its iOS and Android apps that are major improvements on their predecessors.

The service and apps work with Eyefi’s Mobi cards, which start at $49 for a model with 8GB of storage. The company’s more PC-centric X2 line remains on the market, and isn’t compatible with the new stuff.

As before, the apps snag photos wirelessly by connecting to the card while it’s still in your camera. But now they’re much meatier and modern-looking. Using an interface that reminds me of Dropbox’s new Carousel app, they cluster your pictures by date, present them more attractively and let you create tags and albums.

And now the apps automatically upload all your photos in full resolution, as well as snapshots you take with the camera on your phone or tablet, to Eyefi Cloud. (You can choose to have them do this over Wi-Fi and cellular connections, or only Wi-Fi.) Once they’re there, they’re available on all of your devices running the app, as well as in a browser-based version of the service you can use on your Windows PC or Mac. You can also share images and albums with other folks, who don’t need to have Eyefi Cloud accounts to view them.

The apps keep only recent photos on the devices themselves so they don’t gobble up all your storage. But you can quickly swipe backwards in time to get to any photo you ever took, and save it on any of your devices. (Any photo you took with your Eyefi card or device’s camera once you started using Eyefi Card, that is: The apps don’t provide a mechanism for getting your older pics into the service. But the company says it’s working on that.)

The Eyefi Cloud service lets you store an unlimited number of photos indefinitely at full resolution, so it shouldn’t come as stunning news that it’s not a freebie. After a 90-day trial period, you pay $49 a year. If you don’t want to spring for that, you can still use the new iOS and Android apps and take responsibility for moving your pictures between devices yourself.

Eyefi Cloud isn’t doing anything radically new: It’s already possible to automate the process of putting your Eyefi photos online by using the automatic uploading features provided by apps such as Dropbox, or the Google+ uploads built into Android. But it does what it does really well.

I do have one remaining beef, though. Each time you want to pair an Eyefi card with a phone or tablet, you need an activation code that’s in the original packaging. It’s possible to find the code online or in the app on an already-activated device if you’ve misplaced the printed version–which I did, inevitably, moments after buying my card. But the apps don’t explain that. And why do you need to re-enter the code manually, anyhow?

Nitpicks aside, this is the best user experience that Eyefi has ever offered. I recommended its cards in the past; now I do so more heartily than ever.

Security

The First Heartbleed Arrest Has Been Made

The Canada Revenue Agency website is seen on a computer screen displaying information about an internet security vulnerability called the "Heartbleed Bug" in Toronto, April 9, 2014 Mark Blinch—Reuters

In what appears to be the first arrest related to the Heartbleed bug, a teenager is in custody for allegedly hacking into Canada’s tax agency website

Nineteen-year-old alleged Heartbleed hacker Stephen Arthuro Solis-Reyes was arrested by Canadian Mounties at his London, Ontario home on Tuesday, and his computer equipment seized.

Solis-Reyes is accused of using the Heartbleed bug to hack into the Canada Revenue Agency’s database and hijacking Social Insurance Numbers and other sensitive information from 900 taxpayers.

The data breach forced the agency to delay its tax-filing deadline from April 30 to May 5.

“We are currently going through the painstaking process of analyzing other fragments of data, some that may relate to businesses, that were also removed,” the agency said in a statement.

While Canadians have been relieved of tax-filing pressures for an additional week, Americans shouldn’t count on the Heartbleed bug to do the same for them. The IRS stated last week that their systems are unaffected by the bug – and that all citizens and green-card holders should follow through on their tax-filing obligations in advance of the 15 April deadline.

[CNN]

deals

Sen. Franken Urges Netflix to Join His Quest to Scupper Comcast-TWC Merger

Cable Giant Comcast To Acquire Time Warner Cable
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Vocal merger critic Senator Al Franken has called on Netflix CEO Reed Hasting to take a public stance on the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, warning of "an anticompetitive advantage in the content market" if it goes ahead

Senator Al Franken on Wednesday called on Netflix CEO Reed Hasting to take a public stance on the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

“My concern is that Comcast will be able to use its clout in the broadband distribution market to obtain an anticompetitive advantage in the content market,” wrote Franken in a letter. “Comcast can achieve this by blocking, degrading, raising costs for or otherwise interfering with unaffiliated content that relies on Comcast’s distribution network to reach consumers.”

Franken is an unabashed critic of the proposed deal, and his missive to the Netflix camp may lure the online streaming company into locking horns with Comcast once again.

Earlier this year, Netflix protested Comcast’s additional fees, ostensibly to help safeguard high-quality streaming for its own customers.

Anki’s Slot Cars for the iPhone Era Get a New Game, New Tracks and New Cars

Anki Drive
Anki's new cars, Corax and Hadion Anki

Whenever I write about Anki’s Anki Drive–a remarkable plaything which involves tiny robotic cars you control via iPhone–I call them a dazzling modern-era take on the slot-car racing of my youth.

They are. But strangely enough, until now, Anki Drive hasn’t been racing. The gameplay involves shooting tiny virtual weapons at other cars (controlled by your friends or artificial intelligence). Rather than being the fastest car, it’s often been advantageous to hang out in back so you can shoot at the ones in front.

And for all the ways in which Anki improves on old-school slot racing, it’s only offered one track–the giant, roll-up one which it comes with. With slot car racing in its old-school form, you could vary gameplay by breaking apart the track pieces and reassembling them in new configurations.

With some new additions to its lineup, Anki is addressing both these issues. It’s giving its iPhone app a free update with a new game which really does involve racing: You compete to be the first to complete a set number of laps. The weapons are still part of the play, but the dynamics of the competition are meaningfully different, since you can’t win through pure violence alone.

The company is also rolling out two new tracks, each with the same dimensions as the original one (8.5 feet by 3.5 feet). “Crossroads” has a figure-eight layout, with an intersection where cars may cross each others’ path as they whiz by in both directions. And “Bottleneck” has an unevenly-shaped road, with one particularly narrow area which forces cars to squeeze through one at a time. You can play in either battle or racing mode on either track. They’re $99 apiece, and here they are…

 tracks
Anki

Then there are two new Anki cars, which go for $69 each. Like the others, they’ve got their own capabilities and personalities: Corax can use two weapons at once and works only in AI mode until you’ve beaten it on the track, and Hadion is Anki’s fastest car to date.

Anki’s cars may be physical, but a huge percentage of what makes its products interesting is the software that powers the experience. When the company does something like introducing additional tracks, it’s less about designing the new layout, and more about updating the iPhone app–which orchestrates the competition and keeps track of where the cars are–to deal with the new gameplay dynamics which that layout introduces.

“People should expect products to change over time,” says Hans Tappeiner, Anki’s co-founder and president. “You see it with cell phones, but you don’t see it in this industry with toys. That’s just wrong. There’s no reason you can’t use software to make things better over time.”

The updated app and additional cars are available on Anki’s site beginning today. The two new tracks go on sale May 6.

Video Games

Sony Says 7 Million PlayStation 4s Have Been Sold Worldwide

Sony

And Sony adds that it's sold more than 20.5 million PS4 games worldwide across retail and digital content.

Sony’s coming out swinging one day before U.S. retail tracker NPD’s game sales numbers are due: the international electronics behemoth says it’s shipped more than 7 million PlayStation 4 game consoles since the system arrived last November. That figure is as of April 6.

Sony Computer Entertainment president and group CEO Andrew House doles out the usual kudos in the press release, but adds that the company is “still facing difficulties keeping up with the strong demand worldwide.” In recent months, analysts and pundits alike have speculated that Sony’s sales might be higher still were the company able to provide retailers sufficient inventory to keep the system on shelves, though in fairness to the Xbox One, the PS4 is presently available in at least three or four times as many countries (Sony says 72 total countries and regions at this point).

The company adds that PS4 software sales are robust at more than 20.5 million to date (split between worldwide retail and digital downloads via the PlayStation Store through April 13). And there’s some crowing about games to come, in particular PS4 exclusives like DRIVECLUB, MLB 14: The Show and The Order 1886, as well as indies like N++, Secret Ponchos, Transistor, Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Daylight.

Related, Sony says over 135 million “shares” (pictures, videos, etc.) have been captured using the sharing button on the DualShock 4 controller. And between Twitch and Ustream, the company says players have delivered over 4.9 million gameplay broadcasts and nearly 90 million spectate sessions.

Sony community manager (and former GamePro editor) Sid Shuman announced the news on Sony’s PlayStation blog, and notes that the company will “have some great new details to share with you regarding our upcoming PS4 system software update very soon.”

Stay tuned tomorrow evening, when we’ll likely have Microsoft’s response, which’ll include Titanfall sales and give us a sense for whether that game — arguably the most important Xbox One exclusive for the first half of 2014 sales-wise — helped Microsoft make inroads on Sony’s lead.

In any event, 7 million units sold this early in a set-top’s lifecycle (we’re not six months out) is very, very good news for Sony, and the games industry in general.

Social Networking

Gmail Lets Users Share Images Auto-Uploaded from Their Phones

With help from Gmail, Google+ photos finally get social.

My friends and family probably don’t know this, but I have photos of them on Google+ stretching all the way back to October 2011, when I bought a Samsung Galaxy S II and set up automatic photo backups.

These photos aren’t public, and the vast majority of them are visible to no one except me. That’s because I haven’t bothered to share them.

The reason is not complicated: Most of the people I know don’t actively use Google+, so sorting through and sharing my photos on Google’s social network would be a waste of time. Still, I auto-upload my photos anyway, using Google’s unlimited storage (for images of 2048 pixels or less) as a glorified backup service.

The recent addition of Google+ photo attachments in Gmail may be a sign that Google has recognized the fate of its own network. Instead of forcing people to share photos through Google+, Google is now letting Gmail users attach photos directly to their messages, using a new “Insert Photo” button at the bottom of the email. As a way of sharing photos I’ve snapped from my phone, it’s incredibly convenient.

Google

I will be considerably more likely to share my auto-uploaded photos over email than Google+. Sharing images via email is more private, more convenient and less proprietary. I know my recipients won’t have to visit Google+ or even have a Gmail account to view the images I send. And on my end, I’ll no longer have to wade through the Google+ interface just to find a photo, download it and re-upload it again.

There are now more ways than ever to auto-upload photos to Google+. The latest version of Android includes a new “Photos” app, separate from the main Google+ app, that can automatically upload camera images. In December, Google released an auto-backup desktop app for Windows and Mac. And in October, the Google+ iOS app gained background uploads, allowing users to back up their photos without having to periodically re-open the app.

But without a good way to share those photos, users are essentially stuffing their pictures in a dusty closet, and Google is just wasting server space. By liberating automatic photo uploads from Google+, Gmail is making those photos more social than they ever were on Google’s social network.

 

 

 

Music

Which Music Service Makes Artists the Most Money?

Online Music Streaming Service Spotify Holds Press Event In New York
Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The answer is never easy — and it's devised through fractions of a penny

The digital music realm is complicated: artists like De La Soul want to sell their music online but can’t due to legal restraints on their sample-heavy music; meanwhile, while artists like Led Zeppelin, one of the biggest, longstanding holdouts of offering their music for streaming, are now poised to do so.

Artists like Thom Yorke of Radiohead have pulled their music from Spotify, criticizing the service for doing little to help emerging artists but instead offering sizable advances to marquee bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica for exclusive-access deals. Meanwhile, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is now the chief creative officer of new subscription service Beats Music.

So what’s the best way to support a band or artist so they can continue making the music you love?

First off, know that broadcast radio stations don’t pay performers or copyright owners. Buy their music and merchandise (directly from the band or artist if possible), go see them live in concert (although not all musicians are live performers, and touring comes with many expenses for the artist), contribute to their Kickstarter campaigns and consider supporting the brands and products they endorse (perfumes, headphones, video games).

The individual deals that streaming services broker for licensing music vary widely, as do agreements with digital distributors like CDbaby or Tunecore. An artist’s role in the creation of their music, genre, and career trajectory also factor in. And there is much speculation as to how services like YouTube, Deezer, SoundCloud and Amazon will continue to change the landscape further. “Its an ever-shifting landscape, with many stakeholders,” says Kristin Thomson, co-director of the Future of Music’s Artist Revenue Streams Project.

Still, here’s a sampling of royalty rates to help gauge your digital streaming or subscription choices:

Pandora or Sirius XM = $0.0023 per song play

A Copyright Royalty Board sets rates for these non-interactive webcasters and digital streaming services, based on many variables: commercial vs. non-commercial, subscription vs. non-subscription. They pay annual fees between $500 and $50,000 to operate.

Spotify = between $0.006 and $0.0084 per song play

On-demand subscription services like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Beats Music, Deezer, and Google All Access Play negotiate rates privately, and rates vary due to listener status (paid vs. unpaid subscriber), ads vs. no ads, company revenue, and more. Spotify, who for many music fans has become a substitute for owning music, published their full formula a few months ago, in response to widespread criticism about how much they pay in royalties.

iTunes Radio = $0.0014 per song play

It acts like a webcasting service, but negotiates its own rates, works in tandem with the iTunes store and artists can pull in 19% of their net advertising revenues. Artist revenue generated from services like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and eMusic varies widely depending on contracts (iTunes keeps about 30%), but even for independent artists like cellist Zoe Keating, an outspoken advocate for artist autonomy and musician’s rights, iTunes is the top revenue source.

BandCamp = varies

Everyone gets the same deal: artists selling on the site are paid directly by fans (roughly $3 million per month, total), and Bandcamp takes 15% on digital and 10% on sales of LPs, t-shirts, and tickets. But there ‘s no contract/agreement with Bandcamp: bands do as they please

YouTube = varies

For those who want to monetize their content, rights owners get a percentage of shared ad revenue; this can be hugely lucrative or relatively insubstantial, depending on the traffic.

Technologizer

12 Things to Know About Project Ara, Google’s Amazing Modular Phone

Project Ara
Google's Project Ara phone, broken down into its component parts Google ATAP

It's wildly ambitious, it's designed not to fall apart if you drop it -- and it may not come to the U.S. anytime soon.

When Google announced Project Ara last October, its plan to make modular smartphones, it shared some photos and very little else. This week, at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, the company is digging into the nitty gritty, by hosting the first Project Ara developer conference. It’s showing prototypes in public for the first time and explaining the technology to the hardware engineers it hopes will build stuff for the platform.

Back in February, I wrote the first in-depth look at Project Ara. It includes most of the key facts Google is discussing at the developer conference. (At least so far: It’s still in progress.) Here’s a recap of what makes Project Ara so ambitious, fascinating and — in some respects — odd.

1. It’s an infinitely customizable phone. Every feature — the screen, the cameras, the battery, stuff nobody has invented yet — comes in the form of a tile-shaped module. You slip these modules into a framework called an “Endo” to build a phone with the features of your choice. And modules are interchangeable, so you could decide to skip the rear camera and slide in a second battery, for instance.

2. It’s not going to be for you, at least at first. The concept sounds like it’s aimed at lovers of bleeding-edge gadgetry. But Google wants to offer Project Ara phones to folks who’d otherwise be unable to afford any smartphone. It plans to roll out the platform in developing nations first, and isn’t saying when it might reach the U.S.

3. The cheapest, most basic phone will be very cheap and very basic. With the target market in mind, Google aims to offer a $50 “grayphone” starter model — no wireless contract required. That version wouldn’t have frills such as one or more cameras. It wouldn’t even be capable of working on cellular networks — just Wi-Fi. But owners could upgrade their grayphones on the fly as their needs changed and budgets permitted.

4. Google is trying to do this fast and efficiently. Work began on Ara in earnest only a little over a year ago, and only a handful of Google employees are involved, along with outside collaborators as required. The company plans to have its first phone on the market in January 2015.

5. It’s inspired by the U.S. Department of Defense’s approach to innovation. Project Ara is part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, which models its small-team, tight-deadline approach on the Defense Department’s fabled Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which brought us the Internet and satellite navigation, among other things. Regina Dugan, who heads ATAP, is a former DARPA director; Paul Eremenko, who’s spearheading Ara, is also an alumnus.

6. Google thinks of it as Android for hardware. The company’s mobile operating system has done well because it’s essentially a joint effort between Google and the multitudes of software developers who have embraced it. The idea of Project Ara is to allow even tiny companies with inventive ideas to make modules and market them to phone owners — a big shift from the current situation, in which a few large manufacturers crank out one-size-fits-all phones designed to please the masses.

7. The phone isn’t as bulky as you’d expect. You can’t build a phone made out of multiple blocks and make it as skinny as the skinniest entirely-self-contained handsets. But Google’s prototype is 9.7mm thick, which is only half a skosh chunkier than the new HTC One M8. (The final shipping version may be slightly thicker.)

8. It won’t fall apart if you drop it. At least that’s the idea. The modules will use capacitive technology for electrical connections, and will lock in place using super-strong magnets (for modules on the back) and latches (for ones on the front). Google says an Ara phone should be as sturdy as a typical smartphone.

9. The project involves some 3D printing breakthroughs. Project Ara modules will be encased in covers that will be produced on demand using a new generation of 3D printers designed by 3D Systems. Consumers will be able to pick custom designs and snap new covers onto their old modules if they choose.

10. Google’s vision for how Project Ara phones will be marketed is pretty wacky. The company is designing portable stores, which it will be able to ship by sea to the first countries where Ara phones will be available. It’s also developing technology that will do things such as measure your pupil dilation and scan your social networks to help you choose an Ara phone that matches your personality.

11. The platform is going to require lots of enthusiasm from third parties. The only Google-branded part of the hardware will be the Endo. Everything else, like batteries, wireless subsystems, cameras and sensors will be produced by other companies, who will presumably only choose to get involved if they think they can make money. If only a handful of such companies buy the vision, it won’t work.

12. Being both excited and skeptical is a reasonable response. I’m glad Google is trying this: It involves both a big dream and multiple technological innovations, and it’s going to be awfully neat if it takes off.

But that doesn’t mean that I think the folks who are instinctively dubious — such as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber — are being unreasonable. Many things have to fall into place for Ara to evolve from a wild concept to a functioning product to something large numbers of people want. And if Google does indeed have a phone ready to sell in January of next year, it’s not the end of the journey, but the beginning.

I’m not placing any bets on its chances of success, but I can’t wait to see how the world — and especially the smartphone newbies who Google envisions would want this — will react.

celebrity

Drop Enemies Like They’re Hot While You Play Call of Duty, Now Narrated by Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg
Jordan Naylor / Getty Images

"It's the coolest game in the hood. All my homies play this game."

Fans of the first-person shooter game Call of Duty: Ghosts can soon enhance their playing experience by downloading an add-on pack featuring narration by Snoop Dogg.

Yes. Really. Snoop Dogg! The rapper has lent his voice to the game to provide commentary like “Ballistic vests ready. Those are some fine ass threads” and “Rack up points by reaching the enemy portal, ya dig?”

Snoop will also provide encouragement to players with pep talks like “Don’t stop! Cap ‘em and shank ‘em.” Oh man, now we kind of wish Snoop could just narrate out everyday lives.

“What interested me most about the project is that my voice could be connected with a game that’s so hip, that’s so hood,” Snoop said in the announcement video. “It’s the coolest game in the hood. All my homies play this game.”

The Snoop Dogg voiceover pack will cost $2.99, available on April 22 for Xbox One and Xbox 360. We suggest sippin’ on some gin and juice while you play.

Video Games

Richard Garriott Wants You to Remake His First Dungeons & Dragons Game

Think you've got the stuff to recreate a 1970s-era teletype roleplaying game?

Portalarium

I have no idea how Portalarium creative director Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar is going to turn out, but I’m all kinds of interested to see how this clever little promotional retro-competition he’s sponsoring will.

It involves one of the oldest games he designed. No, not Akalabeth. I’m talking about D&D#1, a game young master Garriott designed on a teletype machine nearly four decades ago while in high school (he’s 52 today, and a pretty eclectic guy — he’s also been to space).

Back in 1977, Garriott typed the game onto paper tape spools, which he fed into a terminal that ran the D&D-inspired roleplaying scenario in the simplest sense: explore a top-down dungeon (it used ASCII characters to indicate geometry), while doing battle with enemies and excavating treasure along the way.

Tele-who? Teleprinter technology. You know the Selectric 251 from the TV series Fringe that let people send and receive messages? Kind of like that, only without the interdimensional communications module. They’re electromechanical typewriters older than me, and Garriott used one to craft a slew of D&D-inspired games: 28 in all, paving the way for his first Apple II game, which in turn anticipated his storied Ultima computer roleplaying series.

Garriott’s asking anyone intrepid enough to take the source code (in BASIC) for that original teletype game — created at Clear Creek High School in Houston, Texas on a teletype machine connected via an acoustic modem to a PDP 11 type mini-computer — and translate it into something that faithfully recreates the original game (the instructions specify “No fancy graphics, stick with a traditional font on ‘yellow’ paper”). The contest just kicked off yesterday, April 15, and the clock’s ticking — entrants have until May 15.

According to the contest overview, the game’s been MIA since 1979, when teletype was retired. The idea here is to come up with a playable version Portalarium can drop into Shroud of the Avatar. You can submit using Unity or design “a no-plug-in Browser Version,” and the winners will be announced shortly after the contest closes. Winners (in each category) get a Citizen-level pledge reward (within Shroud of the Avatar) that Portalarium values at $550, while two runners-up in both categories will receive a Collector-level pledge reward valued at $165 apiece. The only catch: all submissions become Garriott’s property.

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