TIME Tech Policy

Verizon: Buffering Problems Are Netflix’s Fault

Bloomberg/Getty Images

The latest salvo in an ongoing PR battle between the streaming company and the ISPs

Got buffering problems? It’s all Netflix’s fault, says Verizon. The Internet Service Provider published a lengthy blog post Thursday arguing that Netflix’s mismanagement of its video streaming traffic has led to slower speeds for users. It’s the latest salvo in a months-long public relations battle over who should pay for Internet traffic.

Following users’ complaints about slow speeds, Verizon says it studied congestion across many points in its network using a test case in Los Angeles. The company looked at both the point where content is delivered into users’ homes and the interconnection points where transit providers deliver data from content companies like Netflix to consumer-facing ISPs like Verizon. For most content delivered to Verizon’s network, there was no congestion. However, Netflix content approached 100% capacity during peak utilization hours, which can lead to slower buffering speeds for end users.

According to Verizon, Netflix is to blame for this because the company didn’t reserve enough capacity, either through the transit providers or through Verizon directly, to accommodate the massive amount of video traffic it sends out on a daily basis.

“For whatever reason (perhaps to cut costs and improve its profitability), Netflix did not make arrangements to deliver this massive amount of traffic through connections that can handle it,” Verizon said in its blog post. “Netflix knew better.”

Netflix countered in a statement of its own, saying that ISPs are responsible for controlling congestion levels on their networks.

“When Verizon fails to upgrade those interconnections, consumers get a lousy experience despite paying for more than enough bandwidth to enjoy high-quality Netflix video,” a Netflix spokesman said in an email. “That’s why Netflix is calling for strong net neutrality that covers the interconnection needed for consumers to get the quality of INTER-net (sic) they pay for.”

Netflix has been advocating for months that video providers should not have to pay fees to ISPs to deliver their content efficiently (even though Netflix has in the past paid third parties such as Cogent for this service). The streaming service has tried to conflate the issue with net neutrality, arguing that such fees amount to a toll ISPs can use to prioritize certain Web-based services above others. ISPs such as Verizon and Comcast have pushed back, saying that Netflix and its customers should foot the bill for delivering its massive video traffic, not all the subscribers of a particular ISP.

For now, Netflix has agreed to pay both Verizon and Comcast fees to boost buffering speeds for customers. And the streaming service has abandoned an earlier strategy to blame Verizon directly within its app for slow streaming speeds. The Federal Communications Commission will likely be the final arbiter on who is to blame for slow buffering — the agency is currently investigating the dispute between Netflix and ISPs and may provide guidance on the issue when it drafts new regulations for net neutrality later this year.


Sales of Big Smartphones Are Totally Killing Tablets

Tablet PC Sales Drop for First Time
A man uses his tablet PC, laptop and smartphone. Tetra Images—Getty Images/Brand X

The rising popularity of bigger 'phablet' smartphones is hurting tablet sales.

Tablet PC shipments fell in the first quarter of 2014 for the first time, a sign that customers are turning to large-screen smartphones instead of products like the Apple iPad.

56 million tablets were shipped worldwide between January and March this year, down from 59 million one year ago, according to a new report by NPD DisplaySearch. Along with delayed launches of new products, a major reason for the decline is that the rising popularity of smartphones 5.5 inches and larger is drawing in longtime users of smaller tablets.

“Tablet PC demand in 2014 is being affected by falling demand for the 7” class in emerging regions and in China, where many local white-box brands have experienced lower-than-expected shipment growth,” NPD vice president Hisakazu Torii said in a statement.

The study forecasts that in 2014 the year-on-year growth rate of tablet PC sales — once a primary growth driver for the smart device market, especially after the iPad debuted in 2010 — will fall 14%, a revised estimate that docked NPD’s original predicted growth rate by 3%. By 2017, the rate will slow to single digits.

NPD’s findings follow Samsung’s recent announcement of its disappointing sales, in part due to large smartphones cannibalizing sales of small tablets.

TIME apps

Amazon Sued for Profiting Off Kids’ In-App Purchases

A picture shows an Ipad with an "Amazon" logo on November 13, 2012 in Paris. LIONEL BONAVENTURE—AFP/Getty Images

Amazon vows to fight the allegations in court

The Federal Trade Commission filed suit against Amazon on Thursday, alleging that the company allowed children to rack up “millions of dollars” worth of in-app purchases on its tablet devices without obtaining parents’ consent.

The FTC says that Amazon’s children’s games for the Kindle Fire tablets, available for download through Amazon’s app store, enabled children to spend “unlimited” sums of money on virtual items within the game, such as coins, stars or acorns. The FTC alleges that the in-app purchases “blurred the line between what costs virtual money and what costs real money.”

“Even Amazon’s own employees recognized the serious problem its process created,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. The FTC highlighted one internal communication in which an Amazon employee likened the growing chorus of customer complaints to a “near house on fire.”

The lawsuit comes one week after Amazon vowed to challenge the FTC in court. The online retailer rejected a settlement deal, arguing that it had already responded to customer complaints by setting up a passcode for purchases and offering refunds.

“Parents can say — at any time, for every purchase that’s made — that a PIN is required,” said Amazon spokesman Craig Berman, the Associated Press reports.

TIME Video Games

Watch Dogs Has Shipped 8 Million Copies to Date, Says Ubisoft

The Montreuil, France-headquartered international games developer reports record first quarter revenue, thanks in part to bumper sales of its newest gaming IP.

This is what lots of buildup and unparalleled anticipation will buy you: 8 million copies shipped of a game that’s really not too shabby, but at the same time nothing like the breakthrough event Ubisoft pitched it as in the lengthy lead-up to its debut. (I reviewed the game here.)

Ubisoft just announced the figure in its first quarter 2014-15 sales report. Note that’s 8 million copies shipped, not sold, but still indicative of the game’s popularity — it sold over 4 million copies during its first week on shelves, so wildly successful by any measure. Watch Dogs launched on May 27 for Windows, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360, and a Wii U version is due later this year.

And it sounds like everything else is coming up roses for the company, financially: Ubisoft reports it had record first quarter sales of €360 million ($490 million), up 374% over the same period last year and notably higher than Ubisoft’s declared €310 million target. Ubisoft also cited strong digital sales growth — up 149% to €84 million ($114 million) thanks in part to Watch Dogs, but also the company’s free-to-play mobile games as well as standalone others like Trials Fusion, Child of Light (reviewed here) and Valiant Hearts: The Great War.

The company’s second quarter outlook is to do €85 million in sales ($116 million), and full-year sales of €1.4 billion ($1.9 billion) — the latter’s just a confidence update and the company upholding an already-announced target. The company’s key releases this calendar year remain Assassin’s Creed Unity (October 28), The Crew (November 11) and Far Cry 4 (November 18).

In any case, the chances we won’t see a Watch Dogs 2 are now infinitely less than zero.

TIME Drones

Martha Stewart Let a Drone Take Pictures of Her Huge Farm

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart attends Health Fest 2014 at The Palace At Somerset Park on June 30, 2014 in Somerset, New Jersey. Bobby Bank—WireImage

She's a big fan of drones

Martha Stewart seems to have a love-hate relationship with technology. She went on a Twitter rant last year when Apple didn’t send a rep to her house to fix her broken iPad. But the homemaking queen loves drones, in case you didn’t know. Earlier this year she gushed to Vanity Fair about how she could control the devices with her iPhone to take “wonderful aerial photographs” of her massive farm in Bedford, New York.

Stewart’s now showing off her drones’ handiwork, publishing more than 30 pictures taken with a DJI Phantom drone. A vibrant sunrise, rolling pastures and rows and rows of crops are all featured in the gallery.

“Controversial but fabulous, drones do a good job,” Stewart wrote on Twitter.

See the drone pictures for yourself on Stewart’s personal blog.

TIME Gadgets

Now You Can Control Google Glass With Your Mind

This Place

New app not yet approved by Google

A new app is taking the Google Glass hands-free model one step further by letting users control the device with their thoughts.

The program, called MindRDR, uses Glass and another head-mounted sensor to analyze the user’s brainwaves and gauge the user’s level of focus. When the level crosses a certain threshold, visualized by a horizontal line on the Glass interface, MindRDR tells Glass to snap a picture. If the user keeps concentrating, the app tells Glass to post the photo to social media.

“Google Glass cannot read your mind,” a Google spokesperson said in an email to TIME. “This particular application seems to work through a separate piece of kit which you attach to Glass. We have not reviewed, nor approved the app so it won’t be available in the Glass app store. Of course, we are always interested in hearing about new applications of Glass.”

The app is free and open source, so anyone can tinker with it to develop new functions. This Place, the London-based developer behind the software, says MindRDR could be used in the future to allow people with locked-in-syndrome, severe multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia to communicate through Google Glass. The company says Stephen Hawking has expressed interest in the software.

TIME apps

NYC to Lyft Drivers: We May Impound Your Car

A Post-Taxi Population Opts For Ride-sharing
Hunter Perry, a regular Lyft user, gets picked up on July 16, 2013 near his office on Harrison Avenue. Boston Globe—Boston Globe/Getty Images

Regulators warn Lyft drivers that safety and emissions violations could carry stiff penalties

Just two days before Lyft was planning to debut its ride sharing service in New York City’s outer boroughs, city officials warned that the service remained “unauthorized” and that participating drivers could face stiff penalties.

“Lyft has not complied with [the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s] safety requirements and other licensing criteria to verify the integrity and qualifications of the drivers or vehicles used in their service,” the New York City TLC said in a statement, “and Lyft does not hold a license to dispatch cars to pick up passengers.”

Unlicensed drivers who fall short of drug, background, emissions or safety standards could face fines of up to $2,000 or even risk losing their vehicles, the agency warned. Licensed drivers could also be subject to fines of up to $2,000 for accepting a ride through an unlicensed dispatcher.

The warning came as Lyft prepared to debut its service on Friday in Brooklyn and Queens, recruiting 500 new drivers and promoting two weeks of free trips for new riders.

Lyft argues that its drivers face stricter background and safety standards than New York taxi drivers, and that some 75,000 people have already used the app to hail one of their iconic mustachioed cars.

“The public is reminded that they should not get into a vehicle without a TLC license,” the TLC warned (emphasis theirs). The public may decide for themselves, however, on Friday at 7 p.m., when the service is scheduled to roll out regardless of the TLC’s warnings.

TIME FindTheBest

The Most Common Misconceptions About 8 Big Tech Companies

The Internet has an established narrative for every big tech company. There are the innovators and the copycats, the rising stars and the dying veterans, the money-makers and the time-wasters.

While there’s probably a little truth in all of these labels, each company’s story is built around a common misconception. So here’s my take on what we tend to get wrong about eight of the biggest tech titans.

1. Apple

Misconception: Apple is all about innovation, but they’ve lost their edge since Steve Jobs died.


Reality: Everyone loves to argue about the second half of this statement, but the big misconception lies in the first part. In reality, Apple has always been more about execution and refinement than wild innovation. Even their big hits—the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad—were just better executions of existing technology. With each product, the company has simply refined the design and user interface over many years, with minimal changes to size, shape, and concept. You can debate whether Apple’s execution has dropped off, but the “innovation” angle is a distraction. And even if you do insist on measuring success only by “number of new product categories,” consider that Steve Jobs waited six years after the iPod to launch the iPhone (from 2001 to 2007).

2. Google

Misconception: Google is churning out successful, innovative products faster than anyone.

Reality: Google certainly announces more ideas than anyone, but only a select few become profitable, ongoing businesses. To this day, Google has one extremely successful business (search), and three or four fairly successful ones (Chrome, Android, YouTube). Just about everything else—from Glass to Google Plus to those self-driving cars—are conceptual frameworks, prototypes, or half-baked businesses that have failed to catch on. (See this list of hundreds of Google products, in various stages of development, along with over 50 that have been discontinued.) Google should be applauded for its innovative spirit, but ultimately credited only for the ideas that actually become hit products.

3. Microsoft

Misconception: Microsoft is just a big copycat, with zero original ideas.

Reality: Microsoft has developed all sorts of creative products, from a tablet OS way before tablets were popular (10 years before the iPad) to a smart motion sensor (the Kinect) to the Microsoft Surface (by all accounts, an intriguing product with an original design). The problem? Execution. Microsoft routinely botches first attempts and product launches, losing out on early adopters and winning leftover customers only once markets have matured. Windows 8 is the latest example: a fresh, original operating system plagued with bizarre gestures, persistent bugs and a confusing tablet-desktop interface. With big new ideas but mediocre implementation, Microsoft truly is the anti-Apple, just not for the reasons most people believe.

4. Amazon

Misconception: Amazon makes billions in profit.


Reality: CEO Jeff Bezos reinvests almost every cent Amazon makes, whether the company is entering a new market, developing the next generation of Kindles or cutting prices to win even more customers. Traditionally, reinvesting all profits is a temporary strategy for a growth company, but for Amazon it’s business as usual. For now, Wall Street seems happy to play along.

5. Facebook

Misconception: Facebook is super creepy, and that News Feed manipulation scandal is just the latest example.

Reality: Facebook is a lot like every other big tech company, tweaking algorithms daily to increase engagement, boost user satisfaction and ultimately, grow revenue. In early 2012, they altered the News Feeds of one small group of users (~350k) to feature stories with more negatively-connoted words, and altered a second group of feeds (another 350k) to feature stories with more positively-connoted words. The study lasted one week, and Facebook was able to gather useful information from less than a million people that could ultimately help improve the News Feed experience for over a billion people.

Of course, the Internet howled with offense the second they heard about the study. How dare Facebook control what we see?

The problem with this reaction? The News Feed is already more manipulated than a World Cup match. It’s never been a pure, chronological account of your friends’ posts, like Twitter or Instagram, but rather a whole mess of status updates, photos, relationship changes and miscellaneous commentary that Facebook must interpret and prioritize for its users. Every day when you log into Facebook, you should assume that the company has pulled seven levers and flipped nine switches in an attempt to increase your engagement (and of course, make more money).

So that January 2012 experiment wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary. Okay: It was a little creepy to test people’s emotions without telling them. But for the most part? We shouldn’t be surprised.

6. Yahoo

Misconception: Yahoo has been a dying brand since Google ate its lunch in the early 2000s.

Reality: Yahoo remains the fourth most popular site on the web, and no one—not even Buzzfeed—does the same combination of click-friendly stories, content breadth and sheer volume of editorial traffic. Recently, Marissa Mayer has rejuvenated the business, attracting new talent and winning over new users. Sure, the company doesn’t control the Internet like Google does, but fourth place online is nothing to sneeze (or tweet sarcastically) at.

7. Wikipedia

Misconception: Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, though that makes vandalism rampant throughout the site.

Reality: Today, Wikipedia isn’t an unruly mob of vandals, but rather a tight-knit group of insiders, whose careful control has turned away well-meaning editors and benign contributors. In 2013, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota published an extensive study on Wikipedia, ultimately suggesting that the site should change its motto from “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit” to “the encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes him or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semi-automated rejection and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit.”

It’s hard to blame Wikipedia for overcorrecting in an effort to stamp out vandalism and shameless promotion. It is still, after all, one of the web’s most reliable resources for quick facts and general-topic summaries. But as online information and social networks continue to explode across the web, Wikipedia’s conservative, insiders-only mindset may end up leading to its demise.

8. Twitter

Misconception: A lot of celebrities tweet some pretty dumb things, especially given how many followers they have.

Reality: Okay, that one’s true.

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

TIME Video Games

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Suggests the Future of Xbox Could Be Mobile

Microsoft's CEO responds to concerns he might spin off the company's games division, doubling down on Microsoft's commitment to Xbox gaming.

Fresh-minted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has a lot to say about the company in a mammoth missive released this morning that outlines his vision for Microsoft rolling forward, soup to nuts. I’m going to focus on just a portion of it, specifically the part about halfway through where he addresses the Xbox.

Speculation in recent months, driven by presumptive sideline analysts and echo chamber punditry, to be fair, was that Nadella might try to spin off the Xbox brand at some point. Why? Because, assumed said analysts and pundits, Nadella’s a software guy, not a hardware guy. And so naturally he’d want to divest himself of something he hadn’t had much to do with, at least directly, during his tenure with the company.

That, no surprise to me, is effectively the opposite of what Nadella’s saying in his publicly promoted “fiscal year 2015″ email to company employees.

How important is Xbox to Nadella’s Microsoft? Not the company’s core, which he defines elsewhere as a “productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world.” But he follows by stating, “It’s important to make smart choices on other businesses in which we can have fundamental impact and success.”

“The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming,” writes Nadella in the letter, adding that Microsoft is “fortunate” to have the Xbox brand, and that the company “will continue to vigorously innovate and delight gamers with Xbox.”

And then he trumpets all the gaming-spawned technologies feeding other aspects of Microsoft’s platform-sphere: core graphics, NUI in Windows, Skype speech recognition, Kinect for Windows camera tech, GPU-related Azure cloud improvements and so forth. “Bottom line,” says Nadella, “We will continue to innovate and grow our fan base with Xbox while also creating additive business value for Microsoft.”

It’s as bold a line in the sand as you’d want from a CEO on strategic direction — as surely aimed at those wrongheaded analysts and nervous pundits as existing Xbox 360 owners and the company’s burgeoning Xbox One base.

Curiously, Nadella then shifts the conversation to mobile, noting we’re in the “infant stages” of a mobile-first world, saying that in the coming years, we’ll see significant category growth in mobile experiences “that span a variety of devices of all screen sizes.” I don’t think that statement’s proximity to Nadella’s confidence-bolstering paragraph about the Xbox is coincidental.

What Nadella must surely realize, though he doesn’t say or even allude to it here, is that Xbox is a pretty clunky-sounding brand name when you start thinking about it in terms of devices that aren’t actual boxes. The Xbox One isn’t just a box, it’s a 1990s-era desktop-computer-style boat. A phone obviously isn’t an Xbox, nor a watch, nor a pair of glasses, nor anything else you’re going to put on your person. People and mobile and things you’d describe as “boxes” don’t mix. So my bet is that whatever happens in the living room space with set-tops, there’s less an abandonment strategy in the offing for Microsoft’s highly visible and profitable gaming wing, so much as a rebranding one.

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