MONEY Internet

Here’s How Many Internet Users There Are

Mobile is fueling global connectivity

More than 3 billion people are now using the Internet, according to the United Nations agency that oversees international communications.

The number of Internet users has increased from 738 million in 2000 to 3.2 billion in 2015, according to a new report from the International Telecommunication Union. That’s a seven-fold increase that brought Internet penetration up from 7% to 43% of the global population. Of all connected individuals, the ITU says most of them — some 2 billion — live in developing countries:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 11.03.25 AM

Much of the growth in web connectivity has come from mobile. Mobile broadband penetration has gone up 12-fold since 2007, and this year 69% of people on earth will be covered by 3G broadband. Meanwhile, growth in fixed-broadband connectivity has slowed, with just 7% annual growth over the last three years. That’s likely because access to it is 1.7 times more expensive than the average comparable mobile broadband plan:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.59.51 AM

One reason Internet access has taken off over the past 15 years is rising affordability. The ITU reports broadband is currently affordable in 111 countries, with a basic fixed or mobile plan costing less than 5% of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita.

 

MONEY snapchat

Snapchat’s Secret to Video Ads Is Deceptively Simple

Snapchat Raising Money That Could Value Company At Up To $19 Billion
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Vertical ads a the secret to Snapchat's success

A simple tweak to video advertising has made a big difference

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has a simple plan to turn his company into a money-making machine: video ads.

And not just any video ads. A Bloomberg profile on the mercurial executive reveals the secret to Snapchat’s success is to play advertisements in portrait mode so smartphone users don’t have to flip their screen to view them. Snapchat tells potential investors its users are nine times more likely to view ads displayed in this format, Bloomberg reports.

Snapchat, which inserts its advertisements into various media channels—11 media brands, such as CNN, ESPN, and People magazine have signed up so far—as well as other “stories” on the service, claims over 60% of smartphone users age 13 to 34 are watching more than 2 billion videos each day in total; nearly half as many as competitor Facebook, which boasts 10 times as many users.

However, despite Snapchat’s success, it’s not all easy going for Spiegal. Bloomberg notes the company has cut its ad rates significantly, down from $100 per 1,000 views to just $20.

TIME

Steve Wozniak: Edward Snowden is ‘a Hero to Me’

9th annual Southeast Venture Conference and Digital Summit Charlotte
Charlotte Observer—TNS via Getty Images Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, left, smiles as he answers a question from moderator Mike McGuire during the keynote luncheon of the 9th annual Southeast Venture Conference and Digital Summit Charlotte at the Le Meridien Charlotte on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Charlotte, N.C.

Apple co-founder says the NSA whistleblower "gave up his own life . . . to help the rest of us"

Steve Wozniak reaffirmed his staunch support for digital privacy in an interview over the weekend in which the Apple co-founder called National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden “a hero.”

Wozniak, who helped build Apple [fortune-stock symbol=”AAPL”] with Steve Jobs before leaving the tech giant in the mid-1980’s, has expressed an affinity for Snowden in the past. Over the weekend, Wozniak reiterated his admiration for Snowden in an interview with ArabianBusiness.com in which the inventor said Snowden “gave up his own life . . . to help the rest of us.”

Wozniak went on to tell the publication more on his feelings about Snowden:

“‘Total hero to me; total hero,’ he gushes. ‘Not necessarily [for] what he exposed, but the fact that he internally came from his own heart, his own belief in the United States Constitution, what democracy and freedom was about. And now a federal judge has said that NSA data collection was unconstitutional.'”

Two years ago, Wozniak favorably compared Snowden to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Last year, Wozniak also told reporters that he briefly met Snowden at a small event in Moscow, where the former NSA employee is currently living.

Wozniak has expressed some regret in the past for the role technology has played in allowing the government to expand its surveillance efforts. “We didn’t realize that in the digital world there were a lot of ways to use the digital technology to control us, to snoop on us, to make things possible that weren’t,” Wozniak told CNN in 2013.

TIME apps

Microsoft’s New iPhone App Could Make Siri Jealous

Cortana is coming to iPhone and Android

Microsoft’s “personal digital assistant” for Windows devices, Cortana, will soon take spoken commands on Apple and Android devices as well.

Microsoft announced Tuesday that a version of its Cortana app is coming to iOS and Android. Cortana will enter a crowded field of personal digital assistants on those platforms, dominated by Apple’s Siri and Google Now.

Microsoft has attempted to distinguish Cortana as a careful listener, responding not only to spoken commands but seizing on context to answer follow-up questions. Chattiness aside, Cortana will first have to break users of the habit of using convenient shortcuts to Apple and Google’s personal digital assistants, which have been tightly integrated into their respective operating systems.

Here’s more on Cortana for iOS and Android, via Microsoft:

The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. You can have Cortana remind you to pick up milk the next time you’re at the grocery store, and then your phone will wake up and buzz with the reminder. You’ll be able to track a flight using Cortana on both your phone and your PC, and get the updates on the device that you’re on so you don’t miss anything. Everything in Cortana’s Notebook will show up across all your devices and any changes you make on one device will be reflected when you use Cortana on any of your other devices.

The new app comes as Microsoft unleashes a suite of mobile services across rival operating systems, beginning with Microsoft’s surprise roll out of free Microsoft Office apps last November.

Read next: Watch: Proof Bill And Melinda Gates Are Ice Cold Under Pressure

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Smartphones

Samsung’s Iron Man Phone Will Make You Want to Go Fight Bad Guys

Samsung Iron Man Galaxy S6 Edge
Samsung

This is what happens when you cross an electronics brand with a box office juggernaut

Samsung unveiled a limited edition ‘Iron Man’ smartphone on Tuesday to coincide with the Marvel comic book hero’s latest big screen appearance in the box office smash Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Iron-Man-themed Galaxy S6 Edge is part of an ongoing partnership that Samsung launched with Marvel last June, in an attempt to find cross-promotional opportunities between movies and electronic devices.

The latest hybrid product comes in a matching red and gold case that Iron Man fans will immediately recognize as their superhero’s preferred color scheme. A decal of Iron Man’s face is also printed on the back of the phone.

Unfortunately for fans stateside, the phone will only go on sale in South Korea, Samsung’s home country, beginning May 27, followed by limited releases in China and Hong Kong in June.

Read next: 15 Tricks For Getting Way Better Smartphone Battery Life

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Companies

Apple’s Design Guru Just Got a Big Promotion

Jonathan Ive gets a new title

Jonathan Ive is taking on an even more important role at Apple. The design mastermind behind the look of the iPhone and the iPad will be promoted from senior vice president of design to the newly created position of chief design officer, CEO Tim Cook said in a memo to staff.

“Jony is one of the most talented and accomplished designers of his generation, with an astonishing 5000 design and utility patents to his name,” Cook said in the memo, obtained by 9to5Mac. “His new role is a reflection of the scope of work he has been doing at Apple for some time.”

Ive is already responsible for overseeing the physical look of Apple products as well as the design of the company’s software. In his expanded role, he’ll have more time to focus his design expertise on other parts of Apple’s empire, such as its Apple Stores, the physical packaging of its products and even the design of its massive new spaceship-shaped headquarters, which is set to open by 2017.

In an interview in the Telegraph, which first reported the promotion, Ive revealed that one of the touches he’s added to the new campus is custom-designed desks that can be raised or lowered with the press of a button.

Freeing up Ive to do more big-picture thinking will be two men taking on some his previous day-to-day managerial duties. Richard Howarth is being promoted to vice president of industrial design and Alan Dye will become the vice president of user interface design. The changes take place on July 1.

TIME Transportation

This Is Uber’s Last Place to Conquer

Ride-sharing services are now invading airports

Ride-hailing service Uber has already become ubiquitous on the streets of many major American cities. Now the company wants to conquer U.S. airports as well.

Uber is brokering deals with airports around the country to allow its drivers to pick up arriving passengers in the same way traditional taxis do, the New York Times reports. Airports often fine non-registered drivers who try to pick up passengers curbside, so in places like Atlanta, Uber users sometimes sit in the front seat and load their own luggage into a driver’s car so it looks more like they’re being picked up by a friend than hailing a ride. However, other cities like Nashville have fully embraced ride-sharing apps and now have a separate lane for passengers being picked up by Uber and services like it.

The stakes for airports are high because they charge fees to traditional taxis, and would likely want to do the same to Uber. Airports could also be liable for any accidents involving Uber cars that occurred on the highways they own and maintain.

TIME architecture

This $100-Million Building Looks Exactly Like Star Trek’s Enterprise

NetDragon Websoft

A Chinese technology executive made it so

A Chinese executive who sits on the board of Baidu has constructed an office that pays faithful homage to Star Trek‘s USS Enterprise. The building, which was built by NetDragon Websoft’s 43-year-old founder Liu Dejian, will provide office space for the Chinese game developer. The Wall Street Journal reports the 853-foot-long structure cost 600 million yuan or about $97 million to build.

Construction in the coastal city of Changle in China’s Fujian province reportedly wrapped late last year and began in October 2010. The firm reportedly contacted CBS, the show’s rights holder, to get permission to construct the office. “That was their first time dealing with [an] issue like this and at first they thought that it was a joke,” NetDragon wrote The Wall Street Journal in an email. “They realized somebody in China actually did want to work out a building modeled on the USS Enterprise only after we sent the relevant legal documents.”

The structure looks particularly convincing from the air, as seen here on Google Maps.

TIME Video Games

How The Witcher 3 Just Got Significantly Better

Just about a week after its initial release

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched last week to a fanfare of critical acclaim. CD Projekt Red’s massive, open-world role-playing game is being heralded as a “shot across the bow of the open world genre” (Polygon) and “one of the biggest games of the year” (PC Gamer). TIME’s games reviewer, Matt Peckham, has neither been seen or heard from since he loaded a promotional code for the game into his Playstation 4 more than a week ago.

But there has been some controversy over the game’s graphics. Some players have complained that the final version’s graphics aren’t quite what developer’s implicitly promised in early demonstrations and promotional videos. And most reviewers have dinged the game for occasionally stuttering frame-rates on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions. Extensive benchmarking of The Witcher 3 for PC seems to show that some of the title’s built-in graphics technology can significantly affect frame rates.

MORE: 10 Tips for Mastering The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

A new patch for the PC version of the game, released by CD Projekt Red on May 25, aims to begin addressing some of the issues. It also adds some player-requested features such as extensive key-binding options. From the 1.04 patch notes:

-Rebinding of all keys is now available after switching on the ‘Unlock Bindings’ option in the Options\Key Bindings submenu.

-Corrects an issue in the dialogue system that might have caused dialogue looping in certain scenes.

-Fixes an issue with incorrect behavior of Wild Hunt warriors after they were affected by the Axii Sign.

-Corrects a bug that caused spontaneous combustion of gas clouds.

-1280 x 720 resolution is now properly displayed as a valid resolution option.

-Fixes boat stuttering in cutscenes.

-Texture rendering quality for the high and ultra presets has been improved.

-Further improvements made in NVIDIA Hairworks performance.

-A few additional gwent cards are now available in the Prologue area.

-Fixes an issue where users with usernames incorporating non-Latin characters were unable to import saves from The Witcher 2.

-Includes a series of overall stability and performance improvements.

-Fixes issues related to alt + tabbing and minimizing the game window.

-Updates the game icon.

-Enlarges the loot pop-up window in the UI.

-Fixes an issue where, in certain circumstances, the comparison window could extend beyond the game borders in the UI.

-Upgrading items included in gear sets no longer destroys rune sockets on said items.

-Introduces small tweaks in the UI for gwent.

-Corrects some missing translations in localized versions.

TIME Google

Google’s Plan for a Sci-fi Teddy Bear is Terrifying

USPTO USPTO

Google has patented the idea for a connected stuffed animal that is part toy, part robot

Out of Google’s secretive moon-shot factory may come the scariest toys you’ve ever seen: Internet-connect robots that look like stuffed animals but are essentially fuzzy house servants that take orders from humans and program their other connected devices accordingly.

According to a patent filed by Google’s self-described mad scientist Richard DeVaul and fellow engineer Daniel Aminzade, the company has designed an “anthropomorphic device” that could take the form of a “doll or toy” and interact both with people as well as tech gadgets from computers to DVRs. While the patent was filed in February 2012, it was only published this week.

The patent filing diagrams a stuffed teddy bear and a bunny rabbit, but says that the devices could also apply to mythical creatures like dragons and aliens, or even humans themselves. Robots that are “cute” or “toy-like” are best, however, because they appeal to children as well as adults, according to the filing.

Equipped with cameras, microphones, speakers and motors, the toy animals could make eye contact with humans and blink; “straighten or relax” their ears, wiggle their nose, or twitch their tail.

And they could also handle some chores if someone commanded them—say, to turn on a TV to channel 7, pull up a weather report, or blast a playlist of 1960s John Coltrane jazz.

Indeed, the robots could potentially act like a sort of butler or concierge for Google’s growing family of so-called Internet-of-Things devices, such as its Wi-Fi-enabled “smart” thermostat, Nest. The blueprint for the devices references the proliferation of automated systems and “Internet appliances” for the home, including lighting, air conditioning and even window curtains. “Thus, it may be desirable to be able to simplify the management and control of a variety of media devices that may comprise a home entertainment system or a home automation system,” the patent filing states.

But the toy-like robots’ abilities seem to go far beyond functional and into artificial intelligence, potentially standing in for human companions. From the filing:

To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head, and/or focus its gaze on the user or object of its interest. To express curiosity, an anthropomorphic device may tilt its head, furrow its brow, and/or scratch its head with an arm. To express boredom, an anthropomorphic device may defocus its gaze, direct its gaze in a downward fashion, tap its foot, and/or close its eyes. To express surprise, an anthropomorphic device may make a sudden movement, sit or stand up straight, and/or dilate its pupils.

Cute or scary? We may never know, because a Google spokesperson told the BBC it couldn’t confirm whether the product would ever reach the market.

We would have asked DeVaul to comment, but his website is quite clear on what his response would have been:

I’m fortunate enough to have one of the coolest jobs in the tech world. And no, I’m not interested in discussing what I do with anyone outside a very small circle of people I work with. People I don’t talk to about my work include trusted friends and family as well as members of the press, bloggers, etc. I am extraordinarily unlikely to make an exception for you so it will save us both time if you fail to ask.

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