TIME organization

4 Apps That Will Save You Time

Modern life comes with many hassles that eat up your precious time. There’s sorting through the daily influx of junk mail, waiting on hold for customer service and trying to find a parking spot when you’re late for an appointment, to name a few.

Fortunately, there are apps to help you deal with all these inconveniences. We list the best ones that help you stop wasting your precious time.

Reduce junk mail

PaperKarma

Do catalogs, coupon books, mass-mailed fliers, credit card offers and more clog your mailbox? For those of us trying to be more organized, not to mention going paperless, it’s a daily annoyance — and that’s where the PaperKarma appcomes in.

Available for iOS, Android and Windows phones, this free app helps you eliminate the steady stream of junk mail that comes your way every day. Once you’ve loaded and registered the app, you can use the camera on your phone to take a picture of the offending piece of junk mail. A few taps later, the app will send a request to the junk mail sender to take you off their mailing list.

It may take a few weeks to see results, but it will be worth it to see a reduction in the amount of useless and wasteful solicitations in your mailbox. The one type of junk mail they can’t stop is distributed based on zip code alone (i.e. local grocery store coupons or restaurant offers). These are usually addressed “To Our Friends/Neighbors.”

I tried it out with a postcard I got from Proctor & Gamble for Mach 3 razors. After I took a picture of the offending junk mail, the app needed my name and address. Once I confirmed I really wanted to unsubscribe, it sent off a request promising to resend if it didn’t hear back in 13 days, but I received confirmation about 60 seconds later that I have been taken off their list. It also provided the contact info for the mailing company if I wanted to reach out to them myself.

The company doesn’t share your information to third parties unless you explicitly choose to opt in. In fact, they even go so far as to state: “We will never share your information due to a creative interpretation of our privacy policy.” If only all companies were so straight forward with our personal data.

Price: Free at iTunes, Google Play and Windows App Store

Reduce drive time

ParkMe

Whether you live in New York, Los Angeles or points in between, finding an available parking spot can eat up a good amount of your valuable time. Enter the ParkMeapp. This handy service will show you available garage and street parking either immediately around you or anywhere you search on the map, along with the cost for each one. The app lists over 28,000 locations across 7 continents, and you can set it to look for either daily or monthly parking.

You can filter your search by either garage or street parking, as well as cheapest or closest spaces. Still can’t decide? Tap the ParkMe button at the bottom of the screen and the app will recommend the cheapest option in the area.

In addition, the app will tell you how many spaces are left in the garage or on a particular metered street, so you can judge if you can make it there in time to take advantage of their availability. Some garages allow you to pay for and reserve a space directly through the app (the parking icons with the price tag icons.) If that option is not available for the space you’re interested in, you can still see a picture of the parking area, the opening and closing times for the garage, as well as how much it will cost you based on how long you are going to stay.

Once you’re parked, there is a handy in-app timer you can set to warn you when you have to move your car (great for metered street parking.) In case you can never remember where you parked, you can also mark the location of your spot in the app before you walk away.

After a day battling traffic, it doesn’t get better than that.

Price: Free at iTunes and Google Play

Cut customer service hold time

FastCustomer

Sitting on hold waiting for a customer service rep to get to you is about as fun as a root canal. This is where the FastCustomer app comes in. Choose from the app’s list of thousands of companies and it will call for you, navigate through the choices and then call you back when a customer service rep is ready to speak to you.

I tried it out with three different companies in their directory: Time Warner, Verizon and Amazon. Both Verizon and Amazon worked as advertised: When my phone rang me back a few minutes later, I picked it up and heard a customer service rep ready to talk to me. But when the Time Warner call came through I got an automated voice telling me a customer service rep would be online in two minutes, then it hung up on me. In instances like this, FastCustomer encourages you to let them know so they can look into it.

While this app is only available for iOS and Android phones, the same service can be accessed for Windows Phone and BlackBerry using a texting option. For iPhone 4S, 5, 5c and 5s users, the same texting option allows you to use Siri to tell your phone to contact customer service of any company in FastCustomer’s database.

FastCustomer also has a strong privacy policy, only using your phone number so the app can call you back when the customer service rep you want is ready to speak to you.

Price: Free at iTunes and Google Play

Block spam calls

Mr. Number

No one likes to see their privacy and time violated by a telemarketer calling your mobile phone. Fortunately, with a smartphone, you can outwit them. There are apps that identify incoming calls from telemarketers and even outright block the call.

If you have an Android phone, you get the best of both worlds with Mr. Number. This app automatically blocks calls and texts listed as Private or Unknown. For all other calls, Mr. Number checks against a crowd-sourced list of known spammers and, if it finds a match, you can choose for the app to automatically hang up on the caller or send the call directly to voicemail.

Price: Free on Google Play (reverse look-up for a fee)

For iPhone users, it’s a little more complicated. No apps allow you to block incoming calls or texts, but that function is built directly into iOS7. Go to the Contacts app and tap on the contact you want to block or find the number on the Recent Calls tab (clock icon) on your Phone app and tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the number. Both these methods will take you to the contact page for that caller. Scroll to the bottom and click on Block This Caller.

There is help in identifying incoming telemarketer calls, though. The Truecallerapp will check incoming calls against its database of top spammers and let you know right in the call screen if the caller is a known spammer. If so, simply decline the call then use the method listed above to block them from contacting you again. If the number isn’t in the top spammer database, you’ll need to pay a fee to look up the number.

If you want to be able to look up numbers, opt for Lookup+ by PrivacyStar. You’ll pay $4.99 up front, but after that the app provides unlimited number lookups and even lets you file complaints against unlawful callers.

Price: Truecaller is free on iTunes (reverse look up for a fee); Lookup+ by PrivacyStar is $4.99 on iTunes

We hope these apps help you navigate the daily time-sucks that you encounter. If you know of any other great ones, please let us know in the comments!

This article was written by Dan O’Halloran and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME Technologizer

10 Things I Know to Be True About This Microsoft Hotmail Privacy Case

Hotmail
Microsoft's Hotmail Wikipedia

It's ugly. It's complicated. And it's a great opportunity for any webmail provider who isn't Microsoft

When the news broke on Wednesday that Microsoft had tapped into the e-mail of a Hotmail user who had apparently received stolen software from Alex Kibkalo, a rogue Microsoft employee in Lebanon, I didn’t immediately write about it in this space. It’s a complicated matter, and there’s a lot we don’t know about the details — including the identity of the French blogger who allegedly received the purloined code. (There’s a theory on the web about who the person is, but Microsoft’s criminal complaint doesn’t name a name.)

Still, in the fullness of time, I have come to a few conclusions:

1. You can be sympathetic to Microsoft about the crime apparently committed against it and still deeply unhappy with its response. There are presumably all sorts of questionable, potentially illegal things going on in Outlook.com (the successor to Hotmail) and its competitors. The one sort of case in which we know that Microsoft thinks it’s O.K. for it to spy on your e-mail without a warrant is when you might be stealing its own stuff. It’s a fundamental conflict of interest, and it isn’t completely solved by the company’s new policy which states it’ll seek approval from a former judge before doing this again. (The higher court is still a Microsoft higher court.)

2. Just calling the Hotmail user “a blogger” is misleading. When I hear about a blogger tussling with a giant software company, my instinct, as a journalist, is to side with the blogger. But Microsoft wasn’t just concerned about leaked screenshots showing up online. As the criminal complaint explains, outsider with Windows source code might be able to crack the operating system’s copy protection. The complaint says that this was Kibkalo’s whole idea in leaking the code, and that the blogger admitted to having previously trafficked in Microsoft activation codes on eBay.

3. Calling the person a journalist or reporter is even more misleading. That’s what Techdirt’s Mike Masnick did, even though the case isn’t just about a leaked-screenshot blog, let alone reporting. Microsoft was worried about leaked SDK code enabling piracy of its software. Even if you’re unhappy about the actions the company took, I don’t think this case is about freedom of the press.

4. These guys were idiots. According to the complaint, Kibkalo and the outsider used Microsoft products such as Hotmail, SkyDrive and Windows Live Messenger to steal Microsoft’s software. When it comes to digital espionage, they were a gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

5. We don’t know what Microsoft has done in other instances. It says that these events which we’re discussing were extraordinary, and perhaps they were. But thanks to the court case, they’re the only ones we know about. (The company says that it will henceforth disclose the quantity of such instances and the number of user accounts impacted on a biannual basis, but unless they crop up in the courtroom, we’ll apparently never know the gist of each individual situation.)

6. We really don’t know what other webmail providers have done. Maybe nothing like this has ever happened to a Gmail user or a Yahoo Mail user. Or maybe far more troubling stuff has been going on. Who knows? Not us. (For the record, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington says that he’s “nearly certain” that Google once dug around in his Gmail account, although his evidence is far from airtight.)

7. I’m not comfortable that I understand the legal situation. If Microsoft had successfully gotten a court order to search the blogger’s Hotmail, most outsiders would likely find its actions to be reasonable. Microsoft says that it’s impossible to get a court order to search your own servers, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Andrew Crocker says that this is not the case. If Crocker is right, then the only appropriate scenario in future situations such as this is Microsoft getting a court order.

8. Once again, “Scroogled” makes Microsoft look bad, not Google. Microsoft has been telling us that the way Google scans for keywords in Gmail e-mails to serve up related ads is an outrageous privacy violation. That automated practice, which affects every Gmail account, has virtually nothing in common with Microsoft’s contention that it’s acceptable to dig into a single Hotmail account to protect the company’s intellectual property. But it craters Microsoft’s ability to be self righteous and makes the whole “Scroogled” campaign look even sillier and hypocritical than it already did. (Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land has a good post on this.)

9. This creates a fantastic opportunity for somebody. Microsoft says it reserves the right to keep on doing this, albeit under tighter rules. If Google or Yahoo or somebody else declares that it won’t rummage through your mail without court approval, period, that company would make lemonade out of Microsoft’s lemons. I’m not holding my breath, though: So far, other webmail providers haven’t even said they’ll hew to self-imposed restrictions of the sort which Microsoft now says it’ll follow.

10. In a perverse way, Microsoft has done us all a favor. The French blogger didn’t own that Hotmail account; people who use Outlook.com don’t own their accounts. Their stuff is stored on Microsoft property, and when they signed up for the service, they gave the company broad license to intrude upon it. The same is true for countless other online freebies from other companies.

If we become a more cynical bunch based on these events, it’ll be kind of sad — but it’ll also be a more appropriate attitude than blithely treating a web service as if it really belonged to you.

TIME Tablets

Review: The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro Is an Oversized Tablet with One Missed Opportunity

Jared Newman for TIME

A tablet this size could really use its own keyboard.

There must be an unspoken rule that Android tablets shall not exceed 10 inches in screen size. Few tablets have dared to go larger, and the rare exceptions have been forgettable.

But Samsung’s Galaxy Note Pro stands out. It has a 12.2-inch, 2560-by-1600 resolution display, includes an active digitizer stylus and lets you run up to four apps on the screen simultaneously. The implication — especially given the name — is that you can use it for work.

I was excited to give it try, even though my past attempts with Android haven’t gone so well. With a review unit supplied by Samsung and a couple of third-party Bluetooth keyboards, I put the Galaxy Note Pro to work.

It went okay — better than expected, even — but while I generally enjoyed using the Galaxy Note Pro, a couple of errors and omissions hold it back.

Work, for me, involves reading and researching on the Internet, taking notes, writing in a document editor, building stories in WordPress and occasionally creating basic spreadsheets. There isn’t any particular program I need that doesn’t exist on Android, it’s just a matter of how well I can perform my usual tasks.

The Galaxy Note Pro’s “Multi Window” feature was a huge help in that regard. While putting together our comparison of cloud storage services, I had Chrome open on half of the screen, while splitting the other half between OfficeSuite and our group chat service, HipChat (using a different browser for the latter). On smaller Galaxy devices, Samsung doesn’t allow more than two Multi Window apps at once, but opening it up to four apps makes sense for the Note Pro’s larger display. I always felt like I had enough space to work comfortably, and I was working in a way that isn’t possible on other Android tablets or Apple’s iPad.

Still, for multitasking or referencing two apps at once, Multi Window isn’t as well-done as Snap view in Windows 8. Many Android apps don’t support Multi Window, and things don’t always work as you’d expect. For example, tapping a link in Twitter while you have Chrome open causes the browser to go full-screen, removing Twitter from view. The feature is still useful overall, but it could be better.

Jared Newman for TIME

Not all of Samsung’s software features are as well thought-out as Multi Window. The most egregious among them is the “Magazine UX,” a separate home screen for exclusive Samsung widgets. Each of these widgets — for things like Flipboard, the New York Times and Samsung’s own Calendar and Mail apps — resemble large tiles, forming a grid. It’s basically a more stylized version of the widget system that Android already offers, but the number of supported apps is much smaller.

I’d say there’s no good reason to use Magazine UX — except you don’t have a choice. Samsung requires you to dedicate at least one screen to Magazine UX, with at least one widget on the screen. That’s madness.

I’m also not convinced that Samsung’s “S Pen” stylus features have transcended gimmick status. Do people really have a strong desire to draw on top of screenshots or lasso little bits of the screen into a digital scrapbook? And why would I take out the pen just to draw a little window in which to open another app, when I can perform the same task more easily with my fingers? Many of these features seem helpful in theory, but never become necessary in real-world use.

Jared Newman for TIME

That’s not to say the stylus is useless. It’s obviously great for drawing, and it’s helpful for dealing with websites that are designed for a mouse or trackpad, because you can hover over screen elements just like a cursor. But Samsung’s built-in software doesn’t really help with these tasks. The one thing I really wanted to do with the S Pen — use the entire screen like a big sheet of paper for writing down ideas — required me to grab a third-party app from the Google Play store. (Correction: I somehow missed the S-Note app, which does allow for full-screen note-taking.)

Performance used to be an issue for getting work done on tablets, but the Note Pro was zippy enough for my needs. I often juggled lots of browser tabs at once, and was able to use the full version of WordPress’s website to write for Time.com. When I wasn’t working, I’d kick back with a few rounds of Beach Buggy Blitz, and it ran as smoothly as I’ve ever seen it. The Note Pro’s 1.9-GHz quad-core processor and 3 GB of RAM is about as good as it gets on a tablet, and I was able to make it through an entire workday with a Bluetooth keyboard attached.

There only performance problems I noticed were on the home screen, which was prone to choppiness and didn’t always register my taps on the first try. Again, I wonder if Samsung’s bloated home screen software is to blame.

As for the feel of the Note Pro, it’s reasonably light for its size at 1.6 pounds. I didn’t feel like the screen was too big to use comfortably, though it is more conducive to landscape mode than portrait mode. My only gripe is that the plastic chassis feels a bit flimsy, betraying Samsung’s “Pro” branding.

The Case for a Built-In Keyboard

Jared Newman for TIME

One really nice thing about the Galaxy Note Pro is that it pairs nicely with a full-sized keyboard. Along with the Galaxy Note Pro, I tried a couple of Bluetooth keyboards made specifically for Samsung’s large tablet. Zagg’s Cover Fit ($100, pictured on bottom) is a slim keyboard stand with a groove in the middle that props the tablet up. You can also easily snap the tablet into the case, face-down, for easy travel. Logitech’s Pro Keyboard ($130, pictured on top) is a folio-style cover that clasps into the top half of the tablet so you can fold it closed with the screen facing up or down.

I liked both keyboards for different reasons. Zagg’s keyboard is good for occasional use because you can just plop the tablet into the stand and pull it back out again with no fuss, but the keys are thin and don’t offer much travel. Logitech’s thicker keys feel better to type on, but leaving the tablet attached makes for a much bulkier contraption, and pulling the tablet apart takes more effort. It’s a better option if you want a physical keyboard handy most of the time.

Neither option would be as good as an integrated keyboard, like the one Microsoft offers for its Surface tablets. Pairing a keyboard over Bluetooth can be a pain, and if you want to go back to using just the touchscreen, you can’t simply detach the keyboard. You must either turn off the keyboard or turn off the tablet’s Bluetooth connection.

For a professional tablet, especially of this size, I would have loved a built-in, full-sized keyboard with a physical connection. Apple is rumored to be working on a larger tablet with its own integrated keyboard, so I don’t get why Samsung skipped this element if it’s trying to beat Apple to market with the Note Pro.

If you need a tablet that’s ready for work, you’ve got a few options. Apple’s iPad is a fine all-around option, with the best selection of apps and a huge number of Bluetooth keyboards to choose from, but not being able to open more than one app at a time is a big drawback. Windows-based tablets such as Microsoft’s Surface 2 are on the other end of the spectrum: They run Office and are better at multitasking than iOS or Android, but the selection of touch-optimized apps is the weakest.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note Pro occupies a middle ground. The selection of tablet apps is better than Windows, but weaker than iOS, but being able to reference two or more apps at the same time can be a great boost to productivity — especially on the extra-large screen. Still, the Note Pro is an expensive option, starting at $750 with 32 GB of storage, not including a keyboard. (If you can live without the stylus, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 is $100 cheaper, and is identical aside from the missing S Pen.)

So who’s the Note Pro for? It may work best for someone who’s comfortable leaving the laptop behind, but still wants something that’s a little more laptop-like than an iPad. I just wish Samsung had made more effort to appeal to that niche.

TIME Google

10 Google Glass Notions That Aren’t True (According to Google)

Google

Google takes aim at controversies surrounding its head-mounted computer.

In a post on Google+, Google’s decided to debunk some of the taller tales floating around about its Google Glass headgear. You’ve probably heard at least one of these in the past year or so, whether you saw the story about the driver ticketed for wearing a pair while driving in California, or the stories about apps that let you snap pictures of people, unsuspecting, by winking.

If one theme carries through the company’s lengthy 10-item post, it’s privacy: Google wants us to view Glass as just another rung on a ladder we’ve been climbing for a very long time: cameras, cellphones, YouTube and now Glass simply expand our social dialogue, goes this line of thinking.

I get it, but that somewhat blithe approach sidesteps important questions about the nature of “progress” and the whole history of positivist assumptions that whatever happens, happens for the best. I don’t disagree with most of Google’s points here, but looking past the ones that rebut feature-related matters of fact, the company too quickly glides past more abstract issues. Is it really enough to wave off privacy concerns by looking backwards? Is the widespread adoption of something validation enough? Plenty would disagree. You could argue (and in fact many have), for instance, that pervasive camera networks like Britain’s unprecedented CCTV system are Orwell’s future dystopia by any other name.

How we use technology and not the technology itself determines its cultural value, of course, but whether we’re capable of using all forms of technology wisely is another matter. It’s at the crux of the gun control argument, and you can follow it all the way up the line to technology like nukes. Hysteria’s one side of the coin, but carelessness is the other.

Google Glass might not be “the ultimate distraction,” but just like cellphones, it could be if used improperly, and who’s going to enforce its proper use? It might not be on and recording all the time today, but what about more powerful future versions down the road? It doesn’t do facial recognition at Google’s behest, but what about tomorrow? And for all Google’s assurances about curating its application store to control what people can do, what happens when people start jailbreaking these things?

In other words: how do you give people the personal freedom they need to feel liberated without endangering others? And how do you regulate something to prevent harm without harming personal freedom? If you can answer that, you’ve squared the oldest circle in the book.

The Top 10 Google Glass Myths [Google+]

TIME

An Illustrated History of Twitter in Two Minutes

In honor of the site's eighth birthday

+ READ ARTICLE

Just in time for Twitter’s eighth birthday this week, tech website Mashable animated the popular social media service’s exponential growth and global integration over the years — from founding, to now — with a sketch illustration video that features infographics and TwitPics of history. The illustrator, Bob Al-Greene, draws faster than I tweet — and that’s saying something.

TIME Smartphones

Samsung Galaxy S5 Pre-Orders Begin

The Samsung Galaxy S5
The Samsung Galaxy S5 Samsung

If you want to be among the first to get a new Samsung Galaxy S5, the time to act is now. AT&T announced that pre-orders for the flagship Android smartphone will begin in-store and online starting Friday, March 21.

Unveiled just last month, the new 5.1” Galaxy S5 boasts 2560 x 1440 resolution, a fingerprint scanner, IP67 water resistance, a black-and-white ultralow power saving mode and improved camera features. The smartphone is available in four colors: white, black, blue and gold.

Like the competing Apple iPhone 5S, the Samsung Galaxy S5 will retail for $200 on-contract; full retail is $649.99. AT&T Next customers can get the device for $25 per month for 18 months, or for $32.50 per month for 12 months.

AT&T is offering a bonus $50 discount if you buy a new Galaxy Gear 2 ($299) or Gear 2 Neo ($199) smartwatch at the same time you pick up a Galaxy 5. That said, I’m far more excited about Android Wear, Google’s new Android-based smartwatch operating system, and the coming Moto 360 smartwatch that runs it.

A release date for the Samsung Galaxy S5 has yet to be announced, though AT&T says the phone will begin shipping in “early April.” Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon will carry the phone as well.

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

More from Techlicious:

TIME video

Android Wear: Here’s What Google’s Smartwatch Interface Looks Like

+ READ ARTICLE

Over on YouTube, Dom Esposito burns through a roughly six-minute overview of the developer version of Android Wear, the software that’ll power Android-based smartwatches set to hit the market this year (see my colleague Jared Newman’s excellent Android Wear write-ups here and here).

In the above video, Esposito shows off the developer version of Android Wear, which he loaded onto his HTC One smartphone. Though the functionality shown in the video is a far cry from what we’ll see in finished products, the tour should give you a good idea of how text messages, tweets, email and calls will be handled.

Of all the smartwatch offerings on the market right now, I’ll admit that the Moto 360 watch shown in the video is the only one to have caught my interest to the point that I’m actually considering buying one. Two things will make or break the purchase for me, however: price and battery life.

For me, anything north of $150 probably won’t cut it. As for battery life, I don’t expect to get more than a few days out of each charge, but I certainly don’t want to have to charge it every night. Ideally, the screen would stay off to conserve battery life unless a call, text message or email comes through. In other words, I wouldn’t use this thing to tell time.

Google Android Wear: Full Overview And Demo (Beta) [YouTube via Tim Stevens]

TIME

Gmail Ramps Up Encryption to Thwart the NSA, but It’s Still Not a Silver Bullet

servers
Getty Images

Google announced that its Gmail service will use secure, encrypted connections in an effort to thwart NSA snooping. The measure is a step in the right direction, but users can still do more to protect their own privacy

Yesterday, Google announced that its Gmail service will use a secure, encrypted connection. Gmail has supported encryption since its early days, and the option was turned on by default in 2010 — but with this latest announcement, there’s no way to turn it off.

The official company line is as follows:

Today’s change means that no one can listen in on your messages as they go back and forth between you and Gmail’s servers—no matter if you’re using public WiFi or logging in from your computer, phone or tablet.

In addition, every single email message you send or receive—100% of them—is encrypted while moving internally. This ensures that your messages are safe not only when they move between you and Gmail’s servers, but also as they move between Google’s data centers—something we made a top priority after last summer’s revelations.

The quip about “last summer’s revelations” doesn’t name any names, but we’re talking about Edward Snowden and the NSA, of course.

Encrypting your Gmail messages from the web interface to Google’s servers – and as they bounce around between Google’s servers before being shuttled to your recipient’s Gmail interface – is a step in the right direction, but it’s still not a cure-all as far as general Internet security is concerned.

Here are a few of the pieces that are still missing.

This is a Gmail-user-to-Gmail-user solution. Everything Google is saying pertains to how Gmail messages move around Google’s network between Gmail users. Once you start exchanging email with non-Gmail users, the system can potentially break down. Not that other services aren’t encrypted, mind you, but Google’s not promising to protect your communications with someone who’s not a Gmail user.

We’ll (probably) never know the extent of Google’s relationship with the NSA. Google might not even know the extent of its relationship with the NSA, for that matter. This encryption setup takes steps to make it difficult or impossible for the NSA to snoop on Gmail messages in the traditional snooping sense, but who knows if the NSA doesn’t have a more direct line into Gmail.

The burden of true security is up to each user, and it’s too cumbersome for most people. As Snowden pointed out in his recent SXSW interview, end-to-end encryption from one user to another is currently one of the best ways to prevent others from snooping on you. The problem is that end-to-end encryption relies on both parties using encryption tools and services for sending messages back and forth. Your average Internet user doesn’t have the time or patience to deal with stuff like that, or they don’t care enough to make sure nobody can intercept the recipes, chain emails and soccer schedules they’re sending around.

These quibbles aside, this is still a nice addition to Gmail’s feature-set. And the greater the number of web companies that roll out widespread encryption like this, the better. Just don’t start emailing your social security number around – that’s all. It’s always best to use the Internet with a tiny ember of paranoia gently burning in the back of your mind.

Staying at the forefront of email security and reliability: HTTPS-only and 99.978% availability [Google]

TIME Television

Sony and Microsoft Are in New Kind of Break-Neck Race

Customers buy Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s PlayStation 4 video game console box during the launch event in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 17, 2013.
SeongJoon Cho—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It’s been a while since video game consoles were just about video games. Sony’s PlayStation 2 was initially a hot seller partially because it came equipped with a DVD player in the early days of that technology. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 offered a wide range of distractions besides games thanks to digital stores for movies and native apps for services such as Netflix and HBO Go. The next step in the transformation of the game console into an entertainment center? Original TV shows made exclusively for your Xbox or PlayStation.

Both Sony and Microsoft are prepping original programming for their newly launched PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. On Wednesday Sony revealed that it is developing an hour-long supernatural drama series called “Powers” that will air on the PlayStation Network, the service that PS3 and PS4 owners use to play games online and stream video content. That’s in addition to the Internet-based TV service Sony has planned that will feature live programming from cable networks. The company didn’t disclose whether the new show would be bundled with the pay-TV service but cast them as independent initiatives.

Sony is actually playing catch-up to Microsoft, though. The software giant launched Xbox Entertainment Studios in 2012, a production outfit helmed by former CBS executive Nancy Tellem that will make television-like programming for the console. The marquee project is a live-action series based on the popular Halo video game franchise that will be produced by Steven Spielberg. Other shows in the works include a documentary about the video game industry crash of 1983, a reality series about urban soccer leagues and a show based on the life of rapper Nas, according to Deadline.

For these tech giants, expanding consoles’ functionality beyond video games is a necessity in a world of multi-purpose devices. Gadgets that serve a single purpose (like Nintendo’s poorly performing Wii U console, for instance) no longer appeal as much to consumers, says Brian Blau, research director in consumer technologies at Gartner. “They have to show value in many different arenas,” he says.

Even without original shows, consoles have already proven formidable entertainment hubs. Microsoft revealed years ago that gamers spend more time streaming video content like Netflix and ESPN than playing Xbox games online. Ten percent of all digital movie rentals and purchases were made through Xbox consoles in 2013, according to research firm IHS Screen Digest. The PS3 has also been successful beyond gaming, with its users spending 17 million hours per week using entertainment apps on the console. It’s the most popular device for streaming Netflix to the TV, at times even eclipsing Netflix usage on the PC. “The game consoles have both been significant players in the rise of [Internet-based] video consumption,” says Dan Cryan, the research director for digital media at IHS Screen Digest.

Strong original content will only heighten the appeal of the consoles to casual gamers seeking a versatile entertainment device. Though the shows announced so far skew heavily toward the young male demographic typically associated with PlayStation and Xbox, Blau predicts the companies will craft content with a wider appeal as their consoles hit cheaper price points. “They really want to bring in a wider portion of the family in front of the television and even get some of the non-gamers in the family to pick up the controller,” he says.

Still, it’s not clear whether Microsoft and Sony will be able to craft shows that can compete with the glut of online video content coming from the likes of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Google. Sony already has huge production studios that have made hit TV shows like Breaking Bad. But analysts say the company has had trouble creating synergy between its Hollywood studios and its consumer electronics divisions in the past. Microsoft has little background in television, but neither did Netflix before it spent hundreds of millions of dollars to commission critical hits like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Microsoft strong-armed its way into the gaming industry by buying up talent and racking up huge monetary losses—it could do the same to establish itself as a player in television content.

Even as the giants of gaming are expanding to video, though, other tech companies are eyeing their video game turf. Amazon acquired the game developer Double Helix in February, perhaps to provide content for the company’s upcoming set-top box. Rumors persist that Apple is prepping a new Apple TV device that will include an app store for video games, and last year the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was developing a video game console running on its Android operating system.

The basic functionality of living room gadgets from all tech companies is likely to look increasingly similar in the coming years. That will heighten the importance of exclusive content—be it a hit video game or a popular television show—to stand out from the crowd. “These devices are now acting as effectively entry points for a smorgasbord of entertainment,” Cryan says. “The more value you add to that, the more people will use them and the more appealing they become.”

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME

Rakuten CEO Promises to Bring E-Books to Viber

Think Amazon meets Viber meets WhatsApp

+ READ ARTICLE

Hiroshi Mikitani, chief executive officer and founder of the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, said he plans to turn Viber into an e-commerce platform. “We are going to sell everything [on Viber]: we’re going to sell e-books, we’re going to sell content, games,” Mikitan told CNN. Rakuten, the owner of Kobo e-readers and online retailer Play.com, recently paid an eye-popping $900 million dollars to purchase Viber, a popular messaging platform.

There is big money to be made on these messaging platforms. WhatsApp says it has more than 400 million monthly users. Skype reports close to 300 million users worldwide. In an interview with Bloomberg, Mikitani said he wants to see its user base grow to a whopping two billion. And now, Rakuten is looking for other streams of revenue. “E-commerce is entering into what I call the ‘humanization stage.’” said Mikitani. “We’re not trying to become a huge vending machine, we’re trying to replicate face to face human transaction using the information technology.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser