TIME Social Media

You Can Now Send Private Group Messages on Twitter

And there's a new video capture feature, too

Twitter is rolling out a new group direct messaging feature, the company said Tuesday.

With the new feature, you’ll be able to privately chat with up to 20 people at a time. When you add somebody to a group chat, they’ll get a notification letting them know. The people you pick to add to your group chat don’t need to be following one another to enter the chat.

Group DMs might finally do away with “Twitter canoes,” long public conversations in which precious message space often get swallowed up by participants’ handles. The new feature is also a fresh sign Twitter is thinking about ways to make its typically very public service more intimate at a time when it faces competition from the rise of direct mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger.

Twitter also said Tuesday it’s introducing a way to record, edit and post videos directly within its mobile app. Most Twitter users looking to share video content on the service previously used Vine, a standalone app Twitter acquired back in 2012.

Expect both new features to appear on your Twitter app this week.

TIME Gadgets

The 7 Best Gadgets for Ski Freaks

Skiiing
Skiing At Speed George Clerk—Getty Images

Track yourself, record your friends, and rock out on the slopes with this cutting-edge gear

Skiing and snowboarding have both come a long way since the first time people strapped planks to their feet and went rocketing down the mountain. Every season there seems to be more advancements in gear, from the shaping and makeup of the skis and boards themselves, to the release of new bindings and other products.

But these snow accessories go above and beyond the powder, letting you get the most out of modern technology while conquering the slopes. And with a massive snowstorm barreling down on the east coast this week, there’s plenty of fresh powder to try out these new toys.

GoPro Hero 4

The action camera that single-handedly turned extreme sports into high-definition entertainment, GoPro’s latest version is one of the most advanced video gadgets going. Just a bit fatter than a matchbox, the $499 head-mounted shooter can capture 4K video and 12 megapixel resolution photos at a 30 frame per second burst.

Complete with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, it’s able to upload your last run to the web before you even push off the chairlift for your next descent.

Celestron Elements Firecel+

Hustling to the mountain to make fresh tracks in the morning and staying until they shut the lifts down in the evening can make for a long day on the slopes. If your personal batteries don’t wear out, then your phone’s certainly will.

This $49 battery pack pulls triple duty, producing enough juice to charge roughly half an iPhone, making heat to keep your hands warm, and lighting up to help you find your way back to the car in the dark. Whether you ski or not, it’s a good device to keep on hand.

Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS Sportwatch

There are few bigger hassles than trying to check the time when you’re on the mountain. Whether it’s pulling up your sleeve to get at your watch, or pulling out your phone and risk it falling in the snow, it’s not a good situation. The $500 Suunto Ambit3 Peak sport watch is the perfect thing to sling over your wrist, not only telling the time but connecting to a heart rate monitor and a family of smartphone apps that track your activity, map your location, count your burned calories and more. And the watch’s Movescount app also connects you to a community of other Suunto wearers, letting you compare your workouts and adventures.

Beartek Snowsport Gloves

Gloves have long been an ever-improving element of ski technology, but the $120 Beartek Snowsports have the upper hand on every model that’s come before. With the ability to insert either a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi module into them, these moisture-resistant mitts double as a controller for your digital music player or GoPro camera. By pressing certain finger pads together, wearers can play, pause, record, fast-forward and rewind, all without pulling out their devices. It’s the most technologically advanced hand-cessory since the old Nintendo Power Glove — and that’s saying something.

Oakley Airwave 1.5 Snow Goggles

Take Google Glass, add Oakley lenses, and you’ve got the Airwave 1.5, smart snow goggles that look as good on the outside as they do on the inside. With a small heads-up-display on the bottom of the field of view that displays everything from speed, elevation, and jump analytics to music information, your friends’ locations, and messages relayed from your smartphone, this $649 eyepiece turns skiers into the borg of the berg. And its switch-lock lens swapping ability gives it the ability to shine in sun or fog.

ScotteVest Knowmatic Hoodie

While not technically a ski product, anyone who’s ever tackled a mountain while carrying phone, a camera, a pack of gum, some chapstick, hand warmers, and all the rest will love the 13-pocket spread of this hoodie. Made of micro fleece, it’s better suited for spring skiing than blizzard conditions, but the $105 sweatshirt does have a series of interior cord channels, allowing phones and cameras in their own pockets to plug into portable batteries in another pocket. Just be careful if you fall with all your gadgets strapped to you, because that could make for a heck of a yard sale.

Forcite Alpine

Not yet for sale, but definitely ready for ogling, the Forcite Alpine ski helmet is the ultimate in connected sports gear. With integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, it syncs to smartphones to pipe in music and phone calls to the wearer. Foglights built into the casing light the slopes, which is doubly important when the Forcite’s 1080p camera is capturing your descent down the mountain. Motion and impact sensors keep track of safety and activity, while GPS capabilities make sure you can keep track of the trails you’ve conquered. All powered by a battery that lasts between six and eight hours, this futuristic helmet will last as long as you can, if it’s ever released.

TIME Social Media

Facebook and Instagram Go Down While Twitter Explodes

Facebook Inc. Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings Figures
The Facebook logo is displayed on an Apple iPad Air in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27, 2014 Bloomberg/Getty Images

Users around the world reported that they could not access either site

Social-networking site Facebook went down briefly Tuesday, along with its subsidiary Instagram.

The company issued a statement saying, “Sorry, something went wrong. We’re working on it and we’ll get it fixed as soon as we can,” according to Reuters.

Users across the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia said they were unable to access either site for upwards of 30 minutes.

Several took to social-media rival Twitter to voice their frustrations.

Rotten Tomatoes took advantage of the moment to make a punning comparison to a cheap Colin Farrell movie.

Fellow sharing website 9gag memed up the whole experience.

And naturally, the MySpace jokes were aplenty.

TIME Companies

Why Microsoft Is Making Less Money From Windows

Microsoft Unveils Windows 8
People walk past a display at a press conference unveiling the Microsoft Windows 8 operating system on October 25, 2012 in New York City. Mario Tama—Getty Images

Sluggish PC sales are partially to blame, but there's more to this story

Microsoft’s second quarter earnings report released Monday had a few bright spots, including rising sales in mobile devices and cloud services. Overall, the company’s sales were up 8% in the quarter ending Dec. 31, though costs related to acquisitions and layoffs meant profits were down 10.6% to $5.9 billion.

Despite the company’s good sales numbers, revenue from copies of its Windows operating system installed on new computers, long a reliable source of cash, were down 13% year-over-year. Why?

First, the consumer PC market has been either slipping or stagnant for years, meaning there’s fewer devices capable of running Microsoft’s PC operating system being sold.

But there’s another reason that’s far more under Microsoft’s control.

Back at the end of 2013, Microsoft was on the verge of ending technical support for Windows XP business customers. That convinced lots of IT and accounting departments it was finally time to upgrade from the decade-plus-old operating system, driving sales of Microsoft’s newer OSes, like Windows 8.

However, that XP end-of-life phenomenon wasn’t around to drive sales last year, helping explain Windows’ poor year-over-year numbers. (Microsoft also said cheaper copies of Windows it sold to academic buyers cut into the category’s revenue).

It’s safe to expect Windows to be less of a moneymaker for Microsoft in the future. Last week, the company announced that its upcoming iteration of the operating system, Windows 10, will be a free upgrade for users with older versions already installed. That’s a consumer-friendly move that should help drive adoption rates, but it will eat even further into Windows’ revenue figures. Still, if Microsoft continues to be successful in mobile and cloud services, that could more than make up for the free upgrade.

(Read next: Microsoft’s profits dip despite strong phone sales)

TIME Companies

Microsoft’s Profits Dip Despite Strong Phone Sales

Microsoft Holds Annual Shareholder Meeting
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses shareholders during Microsoft Shareholders Meeting December 3, 2014 in Bellevue, Washington. Stephen Brashear—Getty Images

Sales of Surface tablets are gaining steam, even if they still trail far behind Apple’s iPad

Microsoft said Monday its profits fell more than 10% during its latest quarter despite an uptick in sales. Here are the key points from the tech giant’s latest earnings.

What you need to know: Microsoft’s sales jumped nearly 8% in the quarter ending Dec. 31, improving to $26.5 billion. That is in line with the $26.3 billion in revenue that analysts expected, according to Thomson Reuters. But the company’s profits fell by 10.6% to $5.9 billion, or 71 cents per share.

Contributing to the decline in earnings was a $243 million charge the company took from “integration and restructuring expenses” related to the massive layoffs Microsoft announced last summer as well as ongoing costs from integrating the mobile phone business it acquired from Nokia in early 2014.

Microsoft shares dropped by 2.5% in after-hours trading following the release of the company’s financials.

The big number: CEO Satya Nadella has put a lot of focus on cloud computing since taking control of the company last year. Now, the company has said that commercial cloud sales more than doubled again in the latest quarter, the third under Nadella’s watch as CEO. That’s after cloud sales jumped 128% in the previous quarter.

A 30% gain in non-corporate Office 365 subscribers last quarter helped drive the increased cloud revenue, which Microsoft said extrapolates to $5.5 billion annually based on last quarter’s returns. “Microsoft is continuing to transform, executing against our strategic priorities and extending our cloud leadership,” Nadella said in a statement.

Microsoft’s overall revenue also received a major boost from its phone hardware sales, which added $2.3 billion to the quarterly tally by selling a record 10.5 million Lumina smartphones. Still, Windows Phones lost some of their share of the U.S. smartphone market in 2014, dropping to 3.1% from 3.3% the previous year, according to data from eMarketer.

What you might have missed: Sales of the company’s Surface tablets continue to gain steam, even if they still lag far behind iPad sales. Microsoft said its Surface revenue crossed the $1 billion mark for the first time, rising 24% year-over-year to $1.1 billion last quarter. By comparison, Apple reported $5.3 billion in iPad sales in its most recent quarter.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said its search advertising revenue jumped by 23% last quarter, helped by a slight increase in the company’s share of the U.S. search market. Microsoft’s Bing grabbed a 19.7% U.S. market share last year, which was up slightly and outpaced Yahoo’s 10.2%, according to comScore.

Microsoft also received a boost from a strong holiday retail season for its Xbox One gaming console, which sold 6.6 million units in the quarter. The company said last week that the Xbox One was the bestselling console in the U.S.in November and December after Microsoft slashed the price of the popular console, from $499 when it was first released in 2013, to $349 at the end of October. Still, overall sales for the company’s computing and gaming hardware segment dropped more than 10%, to $3.9 billion, in the second quarter.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Wireless

Can Wi-Fi Replace Your Cell Phone Plan?

TIME.com stock photos Social Apps iPhone Facebook
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Cablevision is building a cell phone service that relies entirely on Wi-Fi

The wireless industry has seen its fair share of changes over the last two years, many sparked by T-Mobile’s disruptive “uncarrier” policies that have been since co-opted by its rivals. But there could be even bigger shakeups coming in the year ahead.

New York-based cable and Internet operator Cablevision is preparing to launch a new cell phone service that relies exclusively on Wi-Fi, the New York Times reports. That would differentiate it from traditional mobile carriers, which use networks of cell towers to let users make calls, send text messages and surf the web. Google is also reportedly prepping a wireless service that may make extensive use of Wi-Fi.

A switch from cellular to Wi-Fi networks could have a huge impact on both the cost and quality of wireless service in the future. Here’s a quick look at what Wi-Fi-based carriers could mean for your cell phone plan:

How is a Wi-Fi plan different from a regular cellular plan?

Historically, cell phones have delivered phone calls, text messages and Internet data using cell towers owned and operated by wireless carriers like Verizon or AT&T. This system has created extremely widespread networks that let people make calls and access the web from almost anywhere in the U.S. But it also means the networks are extremely expensive to operate, so carriers charge customers high monthly fees to maintain them.

An increasing amount of activity on mobile phones is now being done using Wi-Fi networks instead of cellular networks. People can easily set up Wi-Fi in their own homes, while many businesses and municipalities are starting to offer Wi-Fi access for free. Cablevision has also been building its own network of Wi-Fi hotspots for use by its home Internet subscribers when they’re on the go.

Cablevision is now betting that its Wi-Fi hotspots are so widespread that it can build an entire mobile network around them. That means you’d use Wi-Fi not only to surf the Web at home, but also to send texts and make phone calls while out and about.

What are the advantages of a Wi-Fi cell phone plan?

The biggest differentiator would be price. Cablevision’s new Wi-Fi service, dubbed Freewheel, will cost $29.95 per month for new individual customers or $9.95 per month for customers who already subscribe to the company’s Optimum Online Internet service. A recent survey by research firm Cowen and Company found the average monthly cell phone bill on Sprint, Verizon or AT&T is about $140, though that factors in both individual and family plans.

Cablevision’s service also won’t require an annual contract, and it will provide unlimited data. Traditional cell phone carriers often require two-year contracts and punish customers with expensive overage fees if they exceed their data caps.

What are the disadvantages?

At launch, the only phone compatible with Cablevision’s new network is Motorola’s Moto G, which will cost $99.99. The service also won’t be able to match the wide coverage of mobile networks like Verizon’s or AT&T’s — Cablevision’s 1.1 million Wi-Fi hotspots are found only in the New York metro area.

For now, Optimum’s service doesn’t seem to be geared toward typical mainstream consumers. Cablevision Chief Operating Officer Kristin Dolan told the Wall Street Journal that Freewheel could be appropriate for college students, children or people with a fixed income.

What does this mean for the future of wireless?

People aren’t going to abandon reliable wireless carriers and their cellular networks anytime soon. But there will be growing pressure on carriers to make more effective use of Wi-Fi connectivity in urban areas. Google’s rumored wireless service may end up mixing Wi-Fi and traditional cellular networks, helping users automatically find and connect to the fastest or cheapest network while on the go, according to the Journal.

In the future, cellular networks could be viewed as a back-up connectivity option when Wi-Fi isn’t available. Such a model would lower cell phone bills as customers opted for cheaper data plans.

Should I subscribe to Cablevision’s Wi-Fi Network?

If you already subscribe to Optimum Internet (so you qualify for the cheaper subscription rate) and you live near New York and you don’t travel much, then maybe. Otherwise, it’s best to wait and see how the arrival of Freewheel impacts the offerings of the major carriers — and keep an eye out for Google’s upcoming service, which the Journal speculates could arrive in the first half of the year.

TIME How-To

Here’s How to Build a Homemade Sled in 10 Minutes

Sledding
Sledding Scott Suriano—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Get out there and enjoy the snow this week

Snow will pelt the Northeast on Monday and Tuesday, with snowfall in the New York City metropolitan area potentially hitting record levels. Is it massively inconvenient? Yes. Dangerous? Possibly. Most fun you’ve had sledding since the blizzard of 2006? That’s up to you!

Once the snow stops falling, sledding is one of the best ways to get out there and enjoy all that fresh powder. But not everyone still has their childhood sled lying around, so instructables has a nifty guide for building your own out of a large garbage bag, a thick cardboard box, and duct tape.

The basic idea is to use the cardboard box to make a solid base, and then wrap it with a black garbage bag. Voila: you’ve got a seat, and insulation to reduce friction. Read the step-by-step guide here.

You could still pick up one of these beautiful, old-school wooden sleds. But it’s snowing right now! Make that homemade sled and get out there — and stay safe!

MORE: Here’s Who Decides if Your Flight Takes Off This Week

 

TIME Video Games

Here’s Why This PlayStation 4 Just Sold For $129,000

Bidders went bonkers for this retro-style Sony PlayStation 4

How much would you pay for a PlayStation 4?

In Japan, the usual answer is 40,000 yen, or $340. But someone just spent $129,000 for one.

For the 20th anniversary of its console last year, Sony sold 12,300 retro-themed Playstation 4 units in a classic gray color scheme matching that of the original PlayStation. (The new generation is all in black and white.) The retro gray models were only a tad more expensive than the regular machines, but the No. 00001 unit had a special cachet.

In an auction last weekend, that unit closed with a final bid of 15.14 million yen, or $129,000.

“We appreciate all who participated in the auction and are surprised at the highest bid price, which was higher than our expectations,” a Sony representative told the Wall Street Journal.

The PlayStation 4 has sold more than 18.5 million units since it was introduced in November 2013, and has historically beaten competitors in sales, including Nintendo’s Wii U and Microsoft Xbox One. However, reduced prices for Microsoft’s console helped it trump Sony’s offering around last year’s holiday season.

(Read next: These will be the hottest PlayStation 4 games of 2015)

 

TIME the big picture

Why Sapphire Isn’t the Future of Smartphones

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Sapphire just costs too much and doesn't make for good screens

Apple’s long-awaited announcement of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last fall came with an unexpected twist: Contrary to rumors, the company opted not to use an ultra-strong glass called sapphire for the devices’ screens. That was startling because Apple was involved in a major deal with sapphire company GT Advanced, ostensibly to provide the material for Apple’s newest phones.

After Apple announced its sans-sapphire iPhones, it was revealed that GT Advanced couldn’t deliver the amount of the material Apple required on time because of production issues. In a column I wrote last fall, I said Apple never planned to put sapphire screens in the iPhone 6 regardless of GT Advanced’s problems. However, it turns out that Apple did in fact enter into the GT Advanced deal wanting to use sapphire screens in its new iPhones, but by late 2013, the company realized that issues at GT Advanced meant that just wasn’t going to happen. Apple changed direction at the beginning of 2014, when it began working with Corning to deliver its newest version of Gorilla Glass for use on the iPhone 6.

Not long after the iPhone 6 was announced, the relationship between Apple and GT Advanced imploded, with the latter filing for bankruptcy. As of today, there’s no indication Apple is still seeking sapphire screens for any new iPhones — but its patent filings mean it’s impossible to rule out this possibility.

But there are other reasons sapphire won’t see the light of day in smartphones. First, it’s incredibly difficult to make sapphire screens in serious quantities at a cost that would make them feasible for even top-of-the-line smartphones. Also, the smartphone market’s trend toward bigger screens is making sapphire even more expensive to produce and buy.

I recently recorded a podcast with two professors of material sciences that helped me gain a better understanding about the costs and difficulty involved with creating sapphire screens in volume. Joining me in this discussion were Richard Lehman, a professor and chair of Rutgers University’s Advanced Polymer Center, and Dr. Helen Chan, chair of Lehigh University’s Department of Materials Science.

You can listen above, but here are some of the key points we discussed:

  • Glass is used in almost all smartphone screens, and is a great solution. Lehman pointed out that sapphire is used in watches and products that have a long life. But because smartphones have a lifespan of 18 to 24 months, the extra cost involved may not be worth it for most consumers.
  • Lehman said glass costs about a nickel per square inch to manufacture, while sapphire costs several dollars per square inch to make. He also pointed out that manufacturing glass is highly scalable, while Dr. Chan explained that it takes a 2,000-degree furnace to melt sapphire, which has a serious impact on the environment.
  • While both professors are not experts in manufacturing, they brought up key points on the virtue of sapphire as a potential material for screens, but questioned anyone’s ability to make these screens in large volumes. In addition to the melting process, sapphire must be cut razor-thin and subjected to extra polishing, according to Chan. It takes at least four different steps or procedures to produce each sapphire screen.
  • The issue of transparency came up, too. Lehman pointed out that with sapphire, “there is a high reflective index involved that cuts down on the transmission through the screen and it also could give glare.”
  • Lehman said Corning’s new Gorilla Glass 4 is twice as tough as Gorilla Glass 3, providing 80% more protection in standard tests on survivability.
  • The professors also pointed out that hardness (a key attribute of sapphire) might not be the best way to go with next-generation smartphones. Here’s a video from that illustrates this point well and explains the breaking point of glass compared to that of sapphire:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVQbu_BsZ9o

Although the podcast and the video explore the possibility of using sapphire as a screen material for smartphones, they reinforce the idea that the long-term prospects of sapphire screens on smartphones just aren’t viable. Given the additional costs to make a sapphire screen and the increasing strength of more traditional glass, anyone pursuing sapphire for use on smartphone screens would be up against some pretty formidable challenges. For sapphire to be the future, we’d need to see a major breakthrough in its manufacturing process — and from what I can tell, that just won’t happen in the near future.

TIME advice

Here’s How to Enable Offline Maps in the Google Maps App

Google Maps shown on an iPad on June 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
Google Maps shown on an iPad on June 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Thomas Imo—Photothek via Getty Images

The feature can be a huge help when traveling internationally—or just navigating from the subway

Guess what! Google Maps has a hidden offline feature that can be used anywhere.

It may be 2015 but Zuckerberg’s mission to get the whole world on the Internet has yet to be fulfilled. Thankfully, Google Maps has a dark horse ready to ride us out of the Internetless-danger zones — OK Maps. This rarely talked about feature allows smartphone users to access Google Maps even when there is no Wi-Fi or data services available, for both the Android and iOS version of Google Maps. The only catch? You have to save the map ahead of time.

I wanted to give the tool a try to see how well it would serve as a guide when the Internet has betrayed me. To my surprise, OK Maps is remarkably easy to use. The only major downside I found was that saved maps are well, just maps: raw, downright simple maps. It does not allow users to route directions or search places offline and only provides a visual of the place you save. It’s basically an old school paper map but with a flashier screen.

Some point before an excursion, you’ll need to find a location where you have either Internet data or Wi-Fi available. To start, open the Google Maps app and sign into your Google account. Next, type in the location you want an offline map for. Living out my dream trip to Ireland, I use Dublin as an example.

Zoom in or out to focus in on the area that you know you will need for offline access. Google Maps allows users to zoom in and out from saved maps and gives closer details of streets and buildings offline. So it’s generally more useful to zoom out when creating a new map: there’s more data to look at later since it saves more minute details than you think it would.

The OK Maps feature can only download areas as large as 50 km (31.7 miles) x 50 km (31.7 miles). If the area you are trying to save is too large, the app will alert you to zoom in to save. If you really need an entire area, my suggestion would be to create two maps (ex. Dublin East and Dublin West) and use those interchangeably if necessary.

Next, tap the search bar again, this time, typing in the magic phrase “OK Maps” or, according to Lifehacker, “Okay maps.” Google Maps will ask you if you want to save the map. If the area looks good, tap “save.” The app will then ask users to name the map for reference later. All done.

Once the map is saved, it can be accessed again offline by opening the app and clicking on the menu button in the search bar. Depending on the type of mobile device you have, this may look like an icon in the shape of a person or three horizontal lines like in my example. This will take you to your Google Maps account where you can select “My Places.” Scroll down and voilà, your offline map is there for viewing.

Last July, Google announced they had created a new feature to make offline maps even more accessible for users. The feature functions the same way as OK Maps—i.e. you can’t get directions offline but you can look at previously saved maps—however there is a more direct way of saving maps that doesn’t require typing in the elusive “OK Maps” passcode.

To use the alternative method, open up Google Maps and again search for your place. Here, I choose San Francisco. Next, pull up the information about the location you just searched. This can be done by clicking on the name of the location at the bottom of the map. The screen will then change to the information brief. On this window, touch the menu sign (looks like three circles stacked on top of each other) in the top right corner.

When the menu comes up, an option to “Save offline map” will appear. You will want to choose this and then zoom in to your select location. Just as with using OK Maps, these maps can be accessed from within “My Places” on the Google Maps app.

Keep in mind that Google Maps only saves offline maps for up to 30 days. After that, they are wiped off your app. If you need the maps for a longer period of time, you can update the map by going into “My Places,” then selecting “View all and manage.” Find the map you want to renew and click its corresponding menu sign (three stacked circles on the right). Now it is good for the next 30 days.

Although it may not provide the same directive advice Google Maps has taught me to rely on, the offline maps feature can definitely be a useful tool to help get around an unfamiliar location. Even if the excitement of feeling like the Sherlock Holmes of Google Maps wears off, I’m sure saving money by not purchasing an international data plan will still win me over.

This article originally appeared on Map Happy.

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Read next: The Travel Hacks You Should Know (But Probably Don’t)

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