TIME Technologizer

Apple Financials: What a Difference 13 Years Make

Steve Jobs shows off Apple's PowerBook G4 at Macworld Expo in San Francisco on January 9, 2001 John G. Mabanglo—AFP/Getty Images

The company is selling 7X as many Macs as it did in 2001. And that's just the beginning.

I’m not a business reporter, and don’t have a head for numbers. So I don’t pay all that much attention to the quarterly results of companies I write about, except when they provide clues about the stuff that consumers are buying, or avoiding.

Still, when Apple released its results for the first quarter of its fiscal 2014 today, it did leave me wondering one thing: How did the numbers compare to those for the company’s first quarter of fiscal 2001? I picked that particular point of contrast because 2001 included the last first quarter in which Apple was purely a maker of personal computers; a year after that, it was also in the iPod business, and thereby on its way to being the more diversified, remarkably successful enterprise it is today.

Herewith, a few sound bites from the 2001 and 2014 first-quarter press releases, and some thoughts about them:

2001:

CUPERTINO, California—January 17, 2001—Apple® today announced financial results for its fiscal 2001 first quarter ended December 30, 2000. For the quarter, the Company posted a net loss of $195 million, or $.58 per share. These results compare to a net profit of $183 million, or $.51 per diluted share, achieved in the year ago quarter. Revenues for the quarter were $1 billion, down 57 percent from the year ago quarter, and gross margins were -2.1 percent, compared to 25.9 percent in the year ago quarter. International sales accounted for 49 percent of the quarter’s revenues.

2014:

CUPERTINO, California—January 27, 2014—Apple® today announced financial results for its fiscal 2014 first quarter ended December 28, 2013. The Company posted record quarterly revenue of $57.6 billion and quarterly net profit of $13.1 billion, or $14.50 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $54.5 billion and net profit of $13.1 billion, or $13.81 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 37.9 percent compared to 38.6 percent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 63 percent of the quarter’s revenue.

(Yep — revenue in the first quarter of 2014 was 57.6 times revenue in the first quarter of 2001. And in 2001, it lost money in the quarter, vs. making $13.1 billion this year.)

2001:

Apple shipped 659 thousand Macintosh units during the quarter.

2014:

The Company sold 51 million iPhones, an all-time quarterly record, compared to 47.8 million in the year-ago quarter. Apple also sold 26 million iPads during the quarter, also an all-time quarterly record, compared to 22.9 million in the year-ago quarter. The Company sold 4.8 million Macs, compared to 4.1 million in the year-ago quarter.

(In the first quarter of 2014, Apple sold more than seven times as many Macs as it did in the first quarter of 2001, and another 73 million devices in categories that didn’t really exist in 2001. And that’s not counting iPods, which Apple didn’t mention in the 2014 release.)

2001:

“We took our medicine last quarter and brought our channel inventories back down to about five and a half weeks,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We’re starting this year with a bang — shipping our new PowerBook G4 in January, our new 733 MHz Power Mac G4 in February, and Mac OS X in March.”

2014:

“We are really happy with our record iPhone and iPad sales, the strong performance of our Mac products and the continued growth of iTunes, Software and Services,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We love having the most satisfied, loyal and engaged customers, and are continuing to invest heavily in our future to make their experiences with our products and services even better.”

(Steve Jobs, famous for not wanting to talk about unreleased products, had to pull several out of his sleeve in 2001 to assure Wall Street that better times might be ahead. In 2014, people would kill to know what Apple is working on, but Tim Cook can afford to be mysterious.)

2001:

“Our cash position remains very strong at over $4 billion, and we are planning a return to sustained profitability beginning this quarter,” said Fred Anderson, Apple’s CFO.”

(Apple didn’t mention how much cash it has on hand in this quarter’s release, but it’s $159 billion, or almost forty times the 2001 tally. If $4 billion was “very strong,” we can probably all agree that it remains in decent shape on this front.)

2001:

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.

2014:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

(In 2001, a large chunk of the company’s boilerplate about itself was devoted to past glories, and one of the implied messages of the rest of the text was that Apple wasn’t even trying to sell products to corporate customers. In 2014, it can barely cram in all the fronts it’s competing on.)

It’s worth noting that in early 2001, Steve Jobs had been back at Apple for years, products such as the iMac had helped restore its reputation and — though it had a bad quarter — it had bounced all the way back from its near-death experience in the mid-1990s. And yet even the most irrationally exuberant Apple booster wouldn’t have predicted what happened in the thirteen years that followed. That’s yet more evidence that the future of technology is unknowable, and trying to predict it in anything other than broad brushstrokes is pointless except as a form of entertainment.

TIME Gadgets

It’s About Time for Google’s Nexus Line to Go Away

Jared Newman / TIME.com

The brand has outlived its usefulness thanks to Google Play edition hardware and other market changes.

There’s a rumor going around today that Google will terminate its “Nexus” brand of hardware some time next year.

The source is Russian blogger Eldar Murtazin, who says Google will concentrate on Google Play edition devices after releasing a few more Nexus products, and will rebrand the entire hardware effort in 2015. Murtazin’s track record is not exactly spotless, but the rumor is still worth considering. The Nexus brand has become irrelevant, and the product line itself is running out of reasons to exist.

Over the years, the Nexus line has served three main purposes, some of which overlap:

  1. Provide developers, Android enthusiasts and Google itself with devices that show off Android at its best.
  2. Disrupt the subsidy-driven wireless market by selling unlocked, full-price devices directly to users.
  3. Provide mainstream users with the best “pure Google” experience at the lowest cost possible.

The first purpose is no longer served by Nexus devices alone, thanks to “Google Play editions” of existing phones and tablets such as Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and LG’s G Pad 8.3. Nexus devices once represented a cheaper option for pure Google devices, but this is already changing due to advancements in low-end hardware. The Google Play edition of Motorola’s Moto G, for instance, sells for $179, which is $170 less expensive than the Nexus 5. As long as Google Play editions cover a wide range of prices, enthusiasts won’t need Nexus devices.

Shaking up the subsidized phone market was a noble goal, but one that Google could never accomplish on its own. If you’re a smartphone user in the United States, and you don’t regularly take your phone abroad, you’re almost always better off with a $200 phone and a two-year contract than a $300 phone and no contract.

The big exception is if you’re able to get cheaper wireless service by paying full price for the phone. T-Mobile has offered this subsidy-free option for some time, but only recently started structuring its core business around it with installment-based payment plans. In other words, it’s T-Mobile that did the disrupting, not Google. As its subscriber numbers grow, we’ll surely see more solid mid-range phones that allow for lower monthly service bills, with or without Google’s involvement.

‘s Nexus 7 tablet Google

Google’s third goal with Nexus was to sell low-cost, pure Google devices to mainstream customers. The idea was that users would be lured to the cheap hardware, and subsequently get hooked on Google content and services. It’s a strategy that applies more to tablets such as the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 than to smartphones, because there are no subsidies or carrier partnerships to get in the way.

These devices have been, at best, a small-scale success. Sales of Google’s Nexus 7 tablets are reportedly in the millions, but usage in North America trails far behind tablets from Apple, Amazon and Samsung. The Nexus 7′s combination of decent tech specs and low prices was novel in 2012, but not any more as all tablet prices have fallen drastically. Meanwhile, it’s clear that the vast majority of price-conscious users don’t care whether a device is “pure Google.”

Android enthusiasts care, but that brings us back to the first point, and the expanding availability of Google Play edition phones and tablets. As long as we see a greater selection of these devices at reasonable prices, the loss of Nexus devices isn’t so tragic.

The one thing that potentially gets lost if the Nexus program goes away is Google’s design influence. Asus chairman Jonney Shih has talked about how the company was pushed to its limits by Google while creating the second-generation Nexus 7 — and it shows in the finished product. But if Google can provide a big enough stage for what it believes is the best Android hardware, perhaps vendors will do a better job of pushing themselves.

In any case, the Nexus brand name itself is due for retirement, because it communicates nothing about the product to those who don’t already know its meaning. “Google Play edition” is closer to the mark, but still a bit wordy. Whether or not this rumor pans out, a single product line with a sharper focus makes plenty of sense.

TIME Technologizer

Resolved: There’s Nothing Stupid About Using the iPad as a Camera

A student at Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, North Carolina takes a photo of President Barack Obama on an iPad on June 6, 2013 Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

Who are we to tell other people how to use their gadgets?

On the web, there’s nobody more certain of his or her righteousness than somebody who’s angry about somebody else’s usage of a computing device.

I run into this whenever I write about the fact that I use an iPad as my primary computer: I always get feedback from folks who inform me I should really be using a PC. Or that the fact I opt for an iPad means that my tasks are less worthy than their tasks. Or that it’s a sign that I’m kind of an idiot.

With all due respect to such people, they seem to have some form of cognitive disorder that leaves them believing that what’s right for them is right for everybody. But if somebody is doing something with a computer and is happy doing so, it’s usually a good sign that the person in question has found something that works. Not for you, not for me — for that person.

I’ve been thinking about that lately, because when the subject of taking photographs with an iPad comes up, the conversation nearly always devolves into a lecture about why that’s a terrible idea.

Eric Griffith of PCMag makes the case against the iPad as a camera, more politely than some:

Since the iPad 2 came out with front- and rear-facing cameras, 10-inch tablets have been used to take photos. And just about everyone agrees that taking a picture with an iPad makes you look like a complete tool. As the differences between a smartphone and a tablet blur together and the word “phablet” becomes part of the vernacular, maybe this becomes less of an issue. Then again, when you’re in a crowd and the person ahead of you obscures your view by holding up a gigantic iPad to take a picture of what you’d rather see live, maybe not.

Also, tablets—maybe iPads in particular—have lousy cameras. Even the new iPad Air only got an upgrade to the front-facing camera, specifically to make it better for FaceTime chatting; the back is still just a lame 5-megapixel iSight camera. Apple says the low-light shots are better, but as my late grannie used to say, “you can’t shine a turd.”

Got that? It boils down to:

1) The iPad camera isn’t all that spectacular.

2) When you use it, you block out what you’re looking at more than you would with a smartphone.

3) You look silly using it.

I could quote dozens of other pieces making similar points, such as this one and this one. Instead, I’ll just point out that the subject has been fodder for the Onion and a Tumblr with the self-explanatory name Look Stupid Taking Pictures With an iPad.

I’m not going to maintain that the iPad camera is superb — even though at least some of the people who use it surely don’t always have a better one on their person. I also grant that when you hold it in front of your face, it has a certain reality-blocking quality — although that doesn’t seem like a huge issue if you’re just snapping a quick still image or two.

I’ll even concede that taking pictures with a tablet looks goofy. Then again, I also recall when talking on cell phones in public, wearing Bluetooth headsets and staring at apps on a smartphone screen looked damned odd. And all of those activities looked less peculiar as they became part of everyday life.

Full disclosure: I use an iPad every day, but I’ve probably taken a grand total of fewer than 50 photos with one. Most of those have been when I’ve been using my tablet to tweet about something and have wanted to pop in a quick image. Or when my iPhone 5 — the best camera I own that I take with me almost everywhere — has had a dead battery.

But the thing is, none of this matters. If a meaningful number of people choose to use an iPad as a camera, those people have found something that works for them. Why any of them should care about what anybody else thinks, I don’t know.

I keep coming back to something Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She wasn’t talking about gadgets and how people choose to use them, as far as I know. But I’ll bet that if she had owned an iPad, and felt like using it to take photos, she would have merrily done so — no matter what anyone else thought.

(Side note: John Gruber of Daring Fireball is currently linking to a post by Shawn Blanc about how Shawn’s grandfather loves using his iPad as a camera. I haven’t read Blanc’s post — being linked to by Gruber apparently brought his site down — but I hope that nobody, but nobody, tells grandpa that he shouldn’t be enjoying himself.)

TIME twitter

How Twitter Knows When You’re Depressed

Twitter IPO Raises $1.82 Billion With Value Topping Facebook
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A team of researchers have developed a way to scan your tweets and determine whether or not you're depressed with a claimed accuracy rate of 70%, though the scientists admit their model is a long way from perfect

With its 230 million regular users, Twitter has become such a broad stream of personal expression that researchers are beginning to use it as a tool to dig into public health problems. Believe it or not, a scientist out there might actually care about the sandwich you ate for lunch—even if most of your followers don’t.

“Our attitude is that Twitter is the largest observational study of human behavior we’ve ever known, and we’re working very hard to take advantage of it,” explains Tyler McCormick of the Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences at the University of Washington.

What if, for example, an artificial intelligence model could scan your Twitter feed and tell you if you’re at risk for depression? And what if you could receive notices from third parties, for instance, that warned you that you may want to seek help, just based on an automated scan of your tweets? Eric Horvitz, co-director of Microsoft Research Redmond has helped pioneer research on Twitter and depression. He says that could one day be a possibility.

“We wondered if we could actually build measures that might be able to detect if someone is severely depressed, just in publicly posted media. What are people telling the world in public spaces?” asks Horvitz. “You might imagine tools that could make people aware of a swing in mood, even before they can feel it themselves.”

Horvitz and a team of researchers helped develop a model that can scan tweets and predict depression in Twitter users, with an accuracy they claim to be 70%. Researchers say the system is still far from perfect. When the model scans your tweets, it misses some signals and doesn’t diagnose many people—about 30%—who really will get depression. And the system has a “false positive” issue, Horvitz said, causing it to incorrectly predict that healthy Twitter users will get depression in about 10% of cases.

The Microsoft team found 476 Twitter users, 171 of whom were seriously depressed. They went back into users’ Twitter histories as far as a year in advance of their depression diagnosis, examining their tweets for language, level of engagement, mentions of certain medications, and other factors, using computer models to sift through a total of 2.2 million tweets. By comparing depressed Twitter users’ feeds with the non-depressed user sample class, they came up with a method for predicting depression diagnoses before they happened. When they tested the model on a different set of Twitter users, it showed 70% accuracy in predicting depression before its onset.

Some tweets the scientists looked at in the depressed group pretty obviously indicate some level of emotional distress. For example, the study cited tweets like these from their depressed user group:

“Having a job again makes me happy. Less time to be depressed and eat all day while watching sad movies.”

“I want someone to hold me and be there for me when I’m sad.”

“‘Are you okay?’ Yes… I understand that I am upset and hopeless and nothing can help me… I’m okay… but I am not all right.”

Not all users’ feeds are so clear. Microsoft’s researchers looked at factors like the number of tweets users made per day, what time of day users tweeted, how often users interacted with each other, and what kind of language tweeters were using. For example, seemingly depressed tweeters were more likely to post messages late at night (between 9pm and 6am) compared with healthy tweeters, who were most active during the day and after work hours.

The team also noticed that certain isolated words in Twitter posts also were characteristic of depression. Words like anxiety, severe, appetite, suicidal, nausea, drowsiness, fatigue, nervousness, addictive, attacks, episodes, and sleep were used by depressed users, but more surprisingly, words like she, him, girl, game, men, home, fun, house, favorite, wants, tolerance, cope, amazing, love, care, songs, and movie could be indications of depression as well.

The volume of tweets mattered too, as did the percentage of exchanges—users who are depressed begin to tweet less, and tweet less at other people, indicating a possible loss of social connectedness, said Horvitz. Of course, just because a Twitter user makes a post that includes the word fatigue and house at 4am, that doesn’t mean they’re depressed. The Microsoft team’s classifier looked at users’ feeds over long periods of time and incorporated many factors. A second Microsoft study that focused more on broader populations using slightly different methods achieved similar results, determining depression in tweets with around 70% accuracy.

One area of public health where this kind of research could come in handy is in measuring public reactions to events. Tracking public Twitter feeds after profound or traumatic events could help scientists understand how we’re affected by the news. “We really didn’t used to have many tools available traditionally for that kind of fine-grained analysis,” says said Horvitz. “Now there’s a new direction for doing the science.”

McCormick, of the University of Washington, said part of the research he and his team is now doing will involve improving earlier Twitter depression models, by weeding out false or misleading data and figuring out areas where depression-related data is being underreported. His team has also identified a group of first-year students at a number of colleges across the country based on their Twitter feeds—hashtags, posts relating to orientation—and is following them for “red flags” that could indicate emotional issues.

A study by University of California San Diego will also build on that research. Funded by the federal government’s National Institute of Health, UCSD’s Michael Conway is creating models that will eventually track depression in communities and figure out how to apply mental health resources better assess public health. “The ultimate goal of this work is to provide a cost-effective, real-time means of monitoring the prevalence of depression in the general population,” Conway said in an email.

In a post-Snowden era, privacy is a major concern facing any kind of mass-data collection. The Twitter users in the Microsoft study permitted Horvitz and his team to examine their tweets, but a possible future in which computer programs automatically sift through your tweets to make judgments on your health could understandably set off alarms with big data skeptics.

Conway’s team is looking at some of the tough ethical questions involved, by “investigating public attitudes towards the ethics of using social media for public health monitoring,” he says. “This ethical component of the work is particularly important given the evolving role of social media in society and concerns regarding the activities of the NSA.”

It may be some time before the research is developed enough for Twitter to warn individuals at risk for depression to seek help. Horvitz says part of what’s driven his research is the staggering number of suicides in the United States every year due to depression: 30,000. “If we can even save through interventions a few of those 30,000 people each year, it will make this research well worth it,” he said.

TIME Video Games

At 20 Million Copies Sold, Skyrim Is in the Top 20 Bestselling Games of All Time

Bethesda

That's across all platforms: PlayStation 3, Windows and Xbox 360

This is technically last week’s news — last Thursday’s to be precise: Skyrim has sold 20 million copies since it launched in November 2011.

That figure was buried in a press release about Bethesda’s upcoming The Elder Scrolls Online, so mentioned almost offhand, but I noticed a few sites picking it up this morning, and I understand why. While something as mainstream-obvious as Grand Theft Auto V already has Skyrim by some 9 million copies, Skyrim is a roleplaying game. Make that a deeply traditional roleplaying game: the apotheosis of computer-automated realizations of the sort of thing Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were thinking about back in the early 1970s.

I’m not asking anyone to genuflect at the altar of D&D, or even saying Skyrim‘s one of the greats (for me, because of the kinds of things Skyrim has to do to be the kind of game it was, given technological limitations in 2011, its greatness inexorably diminishes — just as Oblivion‘s and Morrowind‘s and Daggerfall‘s and Arena‘s did — with time and hindsight). I’m just noting that it seems counterintuitive, after years of treatises on the death of single player gaming, the death of extremely long form gaming and the stagnation of so-called Western fantasy gaming, that a game like Skyrim exists a decade into the 21st century, much less ranks in the top 20 bestselling games, across all platforms, of all time.

Bear in mind that 20 million copies comprises all the subsequent compilation editions, and a certain number of buyers (myself included) are probably double-dipping, but consider that by comparison, Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. 3 sold 18 million copies, while Super Mario World grabbed just a tick more at 20.6 million. None of the Halos are in that list, nor any of the Gears of Wars. Not a single Zelda game’s ever come close, and the top-selling installment in Sony’s bestselling PlayStation 2-exclusive franchise, Gran Turismo 3 (and remember that the PS2 is the bestselling game console in history), couldn’t crack 15 million copies. Even on the PC, granting that the revenue model for a lower-selling game, copy-wise, like World of Warcraft, is another matter, The Sims 2 is merely a sales tie — there’s nothing better-selling.

I still haven’t “finished” Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Between all the false starts and character rejiggering, the marathon play sessions that started out with the best of intentions but fizzled around the post-Dark Brotherhood quest-line business or the cosmic chitchat atop the Throat of the World, I’ve probably played more than most. But I have yet to feel that finish line ribbon snap across my chest. Maybe I never will. That’s what I love about games like Skyrim, and that’s why I’ll keep returning to them, story problems, gameplay drudgery and all.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft’s SkyDrive Gets a New Name, Maybe Some New Features

Microsoft's cloud storage service will be called "OneDrive" due to trademark issues.

Microsoft is renaming its cloud storage service from SkyDrive to OneDrive, after the original name caused trademark problems.

The name change has been in the works since last July, when Microsoft settled a trademark infringement case with British Sky Broadcasting. Microsoft had already lost its case in the U.K. courts, and decided to settle rather than appeal the verdict.

In a blog post on the name change, Microsoft didn’t explicitly mention the legal fight, but acknowledged it by linking to a ComputerWeekly story on the settlement.

“Of course, changing the name of a product as loved as SkyDrive wasn’t easy,” Microsoft wrote. “We believe the new OneDrive name conveys the value we can deliver for you and best represents our vision for the future. We are excited about what is to come, and can’t wait to share more.”

The post, and a preview page on OneDrive.com, suggest that Microsoft will add some new features when the new name goes live. Existing users will still have access to the same storage and features, along with whatever else Microsoft is planning.

SkyDrive has been a centerpiece of Microsoft’s new “devices and services” strategy. In Windows 8.1, users can set SkyDrive as the default storage location, so all their files are automatically backed up online regardless of which app they’re using. Windows Phone users can automatically back up photos and videos to SkyDrive, and subscribers to Office 365 get additional SkyDrive storage as part of the basic plan. Microsoft could use the name change to its advantage by drumming up more attention with a relaunch.

Perhaps the company should have figured out something similar with “Metro.”

TIME Big Picture

Pebble and Glyph: How Crowdfunding Is Creating Disruptive New Products

An early prototype of Avegant's "Glyph" mobile personal theater. Avegant

Two crowdfunded projects that opened up new categories of devices.

While a lot of people watch TV or YouTube or spend their downtime resting or playing, I find that I can be highly entertained by surfing the various crowdfunding sites that have popped up on the Internet over the past few years.

For most of my 33-year career, when entrepreneurs wanted to start a new business or create a new product, they had to go to venture capitalists, funding angels, banks, or in some cases even mortgage their houses to start up their businesses. Although this has been effective for many, thousands of others who had product ideas could not muster up the funding needed, and many products or service ideas died before they ever even had a chance to be created.

Then a few years back, a new source for startup funding popped up: crowdfunding. At its core, a crowdfunding site serves as a kind of clearing house for people with new product ideas that span everything from gadgets to games to books to movies and many more projects for which a person needs funding to bring an idea to life. One of the leading sites is Kickstarter, a service that got major public attention when it was used to crowdfund the Pebble smartwatch.

Here’s the quick version of Pebble’s funding story, according to Wikipedia:

Pebble Technology launched a Kickstarter campaign on April 11, 2012 with an initial fundraising target of $100,000. Backers spending $115 would receive a Pebble when they became available ($99 for the first 200), effectively pre-ordering the $150 Pebble at a discounted price. Within two hours of going live, the project had met the $100,000 goal, and within six days, the project had become the most funded project in the history of Kickstarter, raising over $4.7 million with 30 days left in the campaign.

On May 10, 2012, Pebble Technology announced they were limiting the number of pre-orders. On May 18, 2012, funding closed with $10,266,844 pledged by 68,928 people.

I wanted a good smartwatch, so when I saw it was live, I paid my $115 and was lucky enough to be in one of the first groups to receive the Pebble when it shipped. Since the Pebble started shipping, dozens of other smartwatches have been announced. Kickstarter and Pebble will always be seen by many as ground-zero for the smartwatch market — a market many believe will become a very big segment in the emerging wearable computing arena.

I also like perusing Indiegogo, another crowdfunding site, and Quirky, a site for crowdsourced product ideas. The folks from Mashable listed some other sites that do crowdfunding and are worth checking out.

Since my first backing of a product through Kickstarter, I have found at least a dozen other products that I wanted from various crowdfunding sites, and I continue to look for cool new things that are of interest to me. I also am highly interested in products that not only get major attention but that also get funded fast, since they often represent a product that could impact the future of the product category they represent. This was very true with the Pebble smartwatch: The short time it took the watch to reach its funding success suggested to us researchers that the Pebble struck a nerve with the public. The smartwatch category could potentially be big.

At CES there was a product launched from a company called Avegant: the Glyph. It went live on Kickstarter less than a week ago and met its funding goal of $250,000 within 4 hours. It holds the record for reaching a goal of $250,000 the fastest — done in 3 hours and 56 minutes. (Pebble’s goal was only $100,000 but was reached in two hours.)

The Glyph looks like a high quality stereo headset, but with a fascinating twist to its design. You pull the headpiece down over your eyes and it turns into a set of video monitors to deliver a cinema-like experience, with video content that can come from a smartphone, tablet or PC. It can be connected to the HDMI port on PCs and uses HDMI mini adapters to work with tablets and smartphones. Unlike another head-mounted display from Oculus, the Glyph works with any existing content in Windows, Android and iOS. Software has to be written for the Oculus platform and its focus is specifically on gaming.

Although the Glyph project is still a prototype, the alpha version I played with was very impressive. In headphone mode, it looks and works just like a high-end stereo noise-canceling headset with a battery life of 48 hours. But when you flip the headband down over your eyes, it turns it into a 2D or 3D screen, depending on the content (if you connect it to a 3D DVD player, the content is shown in 3D, for instance). One downside from the first generation is that it has only three hours of battery life in video mode.

The alpha model I tested was also a bit heavy, but the folks from Avegant say that when it’s released this fall, it will be thinner and lighter and will fit better than the alpha model. One other important feature is that it includes diopter controls, so that regardless of your prescription, you can fine tune it so that if you wear glasses you won’t need them.

Once I used the Glpyh, I really wanted one. As a traveler that puts 100,000+ miles under my belt each year, I could see using this while on planes as my audio headset and also my video screen. Although I do use laptops or even my iPad Air for watching movies when traveling, the cinema-like experience that the Glyph delivers is more enticing to me. Its $495 price is also impressive. A good set of noise-canceling headphones costs around $399. For $100 more, you get the cinema video feature, too. It also works with games. Pull one of the games up on a smartphone or tablet, and the Glyph delivers a cinematic view of the game you’re playing, and the smartphone or tablet becomes the controller. Although travelers and gamers might represent its initial audience, I see this product as having a very broad appeal, too.

While Google Glass and other glasses and video-specific goggles will have a place in the market, the Glyph delivers what I think is the next major innovation in headsets. The screens on smartphones and small tablets are just not optimal for delivering really good movie, video or gaming experiences. The Glyph delivers those experience along with a great audio experience. It would not surprise me if many of the top of the line headsets eventually deliver similar video viewing features as part of their offerings, since the Glyph delivers quite a compelling concept for mobile entertainment. The product’s first-mover position will have a big impact on how consumers view this audio/video category in the future.

This is a product to watch since it could become another crowdfunded project that opens up a whole new category of devices.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME

Microsoft Locks Up Gears of War Forever, Snatches Former Series Producer to Helm New Games

Microsoft

All eyes to Vancouver, Canada, because that's where the future of Gears lies.

Do we need more Gears of War games? Microsoft thinks so. Enough so, in fact, that it’s gone and placed further locks, chains and other securing mechanisms around a franchise it already had pretty much squared away as the popular third-person shooter’s exclusive publisher.

Make that the owner now, too: Microsoft announced just a few minutes ago that it’s picked up the rights to the Gears franchise from developer Epic Games, which means Redmond now holds everything, soup to nuts.

Big deal? Kind of, because instead of subcontracting Epic to continue developing new games in the series, Microsoft’s handing the gig to its own Black Tusk Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia. That would be the studio formerly known as Microsoft Vancouver, formed in 2010 and responsible for work on Microsoft Flight (development cancelled in mid-2012) and a Kinect-based interactive TV project for kids (also cancelled mid-2012).

I know, that makes me nervous too — “unproven” is the polite, PR-friendly way of describing this. But Microsoft’s drawing a dotted line back to Epic by hiring former Gears production director Rod Fergusson to head up Black Tusk’s work on future games in the franchise. Fergusson left Epic and signed on with Irrational Games back in August 2012 as BioShock Infinite was wrapping up, but left Irrational shortly after that game arrived, delayed, in March 2013. Last September, he saddled up with 2K Games to lead development on a new, as-yet unnamed game, and…now he’s working for Microsoft in Canada. Gears fans can hope, at least for the sake of continuity, that Fergusson’s tenure at Black Tusk is less abbreviated.

It sounds like that Epic dotted line will extend to future Gears games’ world-building engines: in a Microsoft Q&A, Black Tusk Studios general manager Hanno Lemke confirmed his team “will collaborate closely with Epic to ensure the inclusion of the Unreal Engine technology into the ‘Gears of War’ franchise going forward remains consistent with the high quality fans have come to expect from the franchise.”

TIME Gadgets

Asus Gets Boozy, Names Padfone After a Whisky

Asus

The Padfone E comes in "Johnnie Walker Black."

Apparently someone at Asus really enjoys half-decent blended Scotch.

The company’s latest phone-tablet hybrid, the Padfone E, lists “Johnnie Walker Black” as a color option, along with the less-exciting “Pearl White.” I’ve reached out to Asus to find out whether this is a sponsorship deal or just the result of a wicked bender by the Asus marketing department.

In any case, it’s unclear whether we’ll see the Padfone E outside of Taiwan. Asus has been putting out phones with tablet docks for years, and except for the Scotch-inspired name, this particular model is unremarkable, with a 4.7-inch smartphone screen, 1.4 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM and 13-megapixel camera, and it slides into a 10-inch tablet dock. Both devices have 1280-by-720 resolution displays.

In the United States, Asus is working with AT&T to launch the Padfone X. We suspect Asus will sober up by the time it has to pick a color.

[via AndroidCentral]

TIME technology

We’re All Doomed: Using Your Smartphone Before Bed Can Cause Cellphone ‘Hangover’

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Night time connection Getty Images

Mostly if you're using it for business things, but still

So, we already knew that using our smartphones too much alienates us from actual human beings. Here’s another reason we should probably chill out with our smartphone obsessions: using your gadget late at night before bed can actually make you feel “hungover” the next day.

Well, more specifically, using a smartphone for business purposes causes this so-called “hangover.” According to a new study from Michigan State University, people who were on their phones cramming in work after 9 p.m. were notably more tired and less productive the next day compared with their unplugged counterparts, the Telegraph reports.

“Smartphones are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep,” Russell Johnson, MSU assistant professor of management, told the Telegraph. “Because they keep us mentally engaged late into the evening, they make it hard to detach from work so we can relax and fall asleep.”

The study also pointed out that “blue light” emitted from smartphones interferes with the body’s levels of melatonin, a chemical that promotes sleep. So even if you’re using your phone for decidedly non-business purposes like Candy Crush or Tinder or Draw Something (just kidding, nobody plays that anymore), chances are good that your gadget will be messing with your ability to catch some quality shut-eye.

So here’s what we suggest: when you’re getting ready to sleep tonight, place your smartphone on the other side of the room and then get into bed with a good book. Oh, what’s that? You only read books on your iPad? You know what, just forget it.

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