TIME alibaba

Alibaba’s Massive U.S. IPO Could Top Facebook’s Debut

Alibaba founder Ma gestures during celebration of 10th anniversary of Taobao Marketplace, China's largest consumer-focused e-commerce website, in Hangzhou
Alibaba founder Jack Ma gestures during a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Taobao Marketplace, China's largest consumer-focused e-commerce website, in Hangzhou, May 10, 2013. China Daily/Reuters

Last year, the Chinese e-commerce business that is part-owned by Yahoo handled $248 billion in transactions, more than Amazon and eBay combined. The company's IPO could be the largest in tech history

Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba has filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public in the U.S., setting the stage for what could become the largest technology stock offering in history.

If successful, Alibaba’s IPO could eventually value the company at substantially more than $150 billion, according to Wall Street analysts, in what would amount to a windfall for Yahoo, which owns 22.6% of the e-commerce giant. Alibaba’s public debut would be the largest ever by a Chinese company in the U.S. public markets.

Alibaba, which was founded 15 years ago by English teacher-turned-entrepreneur Jack Ma, dominates the Chinese e-commerce market, powering four-fifths of all online commerce in that country, according to Reuters. Along with its flagship Taobao website, the company also operates a digital payments service and a cloud computing business.

In its filing with the SEC, Alibaba said it aims to raise $1 billion, but that figure is a placeholder amount used to calculate registration fees. Wall Street analysts believe Alibaba could eventually top Facebook’s 2012 $16 billion IPO, which set a record as the largest technology stock offering in history. Alibaba has yet to decide whether to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq.

Alibaba aims to sell a 12% stake to the public, according to Bloomberg, which could generate as much as $20 billion in new capital for the company. In the coming months, Alibaba will embark on a “road show” designed to woo Wall Street investors. Demand for a piece of the IPO is expected to be intense because Western investors are eager to gain exposure to China’s massive and fast-growing e-commerce market.

Alibaba could eventually have a market valuation of between $150 billion and $200 billion, according to Jeffries technology analyst Brian Pitz, who estimates that Alibaba accounts for about 75% of Yahoo’s valuation, along with other Asian assets and cash holdings.

Yahoo owns 22.6% percent of Alibaba, and is expected to sell a 9% stake, which could generate more than $10 billion for the purple-hued Silicon Valley pioneer depending on the final price of the IPO.

At $200 billion, Alibaba would be worth more than U.S. tech titans Facebook and Amazon, but it would still trail Apple and Google, the world’s two most valuable technology companies. Last year, Alibaba handled $248 billion in online transactions, according to the company’s IPO filing, more than Amazon and eBay combined.

Alibaba’s meteoric growth has been powered by economic and demographic trends in China, including the ongoing emergence of a large, tech-savvy middle class. In its IPO filing, Alibaba cited China’s population of 1.35 billion people, including 618 million Internet users. The company said there are 500 million mobile Internet users and 302 million Internet shoppers in China.

Alibaba said its logistics partners delivered 5 billion packages last year, substantially more than UPS, which delivered 4.3 billion packages globally.

“There is less of a retail culture in China, ie. ‘Let’s go shopping on Sunday,'” Paul Sweeney of Bloomberg Industries told PBS Newshour. “They don’t necessarily have that as much, and as a result, e-commerce has actually grown much faster in China than it has in a lot of the Western markets.”

“The Alibaba opportunity there is tremendous,” Sweeney added. “U.S. and Western investors recognize that. There are very few ways for Western investors to invest in this growth story. Alibaba will be by far the largest, most liquid, and arguably safest investment vehicle.”

Last month, Yahoo reported tepid results for its core business, but the company’s stock jumped 8% based on Alibaba’s revenue, which soared 66% from the year before. The company’s net income was $1.6 billion, more than double the previous year. Yahoo shares moved 1% higher in after-hours trading on Tuesday, following Alibaba’s IPO filing.

“The bottom line is that Yahoo’s stock continues to be driven by Alibaba results,” Macquarie tech analyst Ben Schachter wrote in a recent note to clients. “With its reaccelerating revenue growth and high margins, Yahoo will continue to reap the rewards of its Alibaba holdings.”

Investment banking giants Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Citi are listed as underwriters for Alibaba’s stock offering.

TIME Gadgets

Review: AfterShokz’s Bluez 2 Bone Conduction Headset Aces Speech, but Muddles Music

Aftershokz

Aftershokz's Bluetooth headset does just what claims to, so long as you're after a robust, lightweight, elegantly designed, handsfree interface for speech-based audio listening or making phone calls.

“Bone conduction technology.” It sounds like a gimmick, something you might file on the shelf next to 3D positional audio, high-res music, gold-plated cables and surround-sound cans. It’s not.

In fact, you’ll find it today in breakthrough medical technology like cochlear implants: tiny, surgically implanted electronic devices that can transmit enough sonic information to the listener that even someone mostly deaf can hear sounds and understand speech. If you’re a talk radio devotee, you’re probably aware that Rush Limbaugh uses the latter.

I mention all that because I’ve been test-driving a pair of $100 open ear wireless headphones from Aftershokz for the past few weeks, the Bluez 2, and that’s their claim to fame: “bone conduction technology,” transmitting vibrations produced by a pair of small speaker-pads (sporting what look like rubber shock absorbers abutting your cheekbones) directly to your cochlea. The cochlea, in case you don’t know or remember, would be that spiraling, snail shell portion of your innermost ear you maybe had fun drawing in elementary school biology, that place in your brainpan where fluid jukes and jives reacting to said vibrations, which then get converted into electrical signals that make their way to your brain via neurotransmitters. Imagine a relatively low cost, external headset that can tap directly into that.

The Bluez 2 reminds me a little of an old Sony AM/FM radio headset I used back in the late 1990s — a clunky-looking thing that perched above each of my ears and looped around the back of my head like a wobbly boomerang. Sony’s headset had speakers that rested directly over your earholes and drew its architectural stability from that connective band — all one piece, with no wires or pendulous protuberances. And it took a licking, which is all that mattered to me in that hazy, pre-MP3 era, before the shift from low-fi, functionally minimalist portable audio gear to dragging around microcomputers into which most people I see out running or at the gym still plug headphones today, whether dangling or coiled inside an arm band.

Wireless headsets are a dime ten-dozen nowadays, and bone conduction technology’s not new, but when Aftershokz’s Bluez 2 headset arrived unbidden, looking just enough like that old Sony headset to draw my eye, I decided to give it a shot. I’ve worn it most of each day for the past two weeks and used it as the primary interface to my iPhone 5: listening to audiobooks and music while running outside, and chatting on the phone both indoors and out as well as in the car.

For a Bluetooth device that gets about six hours to a charge and has to generate haptic feedback, my initial reaction putting it on was “Man, is this thing light.” Weighing just 41 grams, it rests almost unnoticeably on your ears, its narrow, glossy black band wrapping behind your head without touching it (Aftershokz includes a reflective sticker you can optionally place on the neck band). If I cared about aesthetics as much as functionality, I’d probably use it in a sentence with words like streamlined and elegant. It doesn’t look half-bad on your noggin, either, though when I wore it out grocery shopping a few weeks ago, someone stopped me to ask if it was Google Glass. (Insert quip about eyes in the back of your head here.)

Let’s talk about the bone conduction angle, since that’s the buzziest buzzword in the mix. Imagine a pair of haptic gamepads strapped to either side of your head like Princess Leia’s cinnamon buns and the vibration-feedback mechanisms in said gamepads jackhammering away. The Bluez 2’s vibrations feel nothing like that, thank goodness, though there’s a slight buzzing sensation that pulses as audio’s conveyed through the audio pads. On my head, the pads align with my temporomandibular joint (the place your lower jaw connects to your skull — it’s right in front of your ear), and that’s where I suspect most are going to feel it. To be clear, it’s strictly vibration-based and not electrical, but it feels a little weird, a bit like someone holding the end of a sonic toothbrush against your cheeks, and that takes some getting used to.

But the benefits are considerable, especially if you’re listening to speech, whether talking on the phone or devouring an audio book. The headset’s speakers are physically positioned in front of your ears, which looks like it can’t possibly work properly, until you realize the sounds are being transmitted and augmented by the vibrating pads, up your cheekbones and through your ear canals. I have narrow ear canals and weird-shaped ears, meaning most earbuds (even with sizing tips) tend to fall out. The upside of Bluez 2’s headset is that it’s one-size-fits-all, and all-fits-comfortably — no fussing with sizers or trying to adjust the speakers to your earhole. And they’re perfectly comfortable for extended sessions, even if placed over a pair of glasses (so long as the temple pieces aren’t too thick). As a glasses-wearer, that’s more than I can say for any other pair of over-the-ear headphones I’ve used.

The other benefit — and I noticed this most while running outdoors in moderately noisy environments (traffic, mostly) — is that speech came through clearly at all times, even while battling a strong headwind. I wound up listening to several hours of the audiobook version of that old 1988 PBS documentary The Power of Myth while testing the Bluez 2, and both Joe Campbell and Bill Moyers came through clearer and more consistently than they ever had using a pair of wired headphones. The same held true when I summoned TuneIn to catch Internet-streamed cable news or local radio. If listening to speech-related audio is your thing, from audiobooks to talk radio to news, Aftershokz’s headset really excels.

I’m sad to say I had the opposite reaction to the Bluez 2’s music playback quality. Paired with my iPhone 5 and the volume set to maximum, XTC’s Skylarking sounded washed together and hollow, as did Elbow’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Elton John’s The Diving Board and Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid. And I had difficulty getting the Bluez 2 to play loud enough in even modestly noisy environments. This, despite a product bullet point that boasts of a patented feature Aftershokz calls “PremiumPitch,” which uses dual transducers to “guarantee the finest bone conduction audio.”

I guess that means the finest still has a ways to go: Switching to a pair of low-end, wired Sony MDR-AS20J headphones with loop hangars, the quality upgrade when listening to that same music was startling.

My sense is that where bone conduction technology excels at bulldogging basic audio — especially speech — through your brainpan in noisy environments, it’s comparably poor at conveying even moderate details produced by higher fidelity audio sources. If not being able to listen to music at even moderate quality and volume levels is a deal-breaker, I’d steer clear of this headset, if not bone conduction technology in general. At this point, music and bone conduction feel like a mismatch.

If you’re just looking for something to use as a handsfree headset for voice calls, on the other hand, the Bluez 2 sports dual microphones that worked ably enough in both low and high noise environments. Switching between the headset and Apple’s default iPhone earbuds, the people I called said the audio improved a bit with the earbuds and noted that the Bluez 2’s audio sounded slightly muffled by comparison, but was otherwise fine. I suspect the latter has something to do with noise-cancellation algorithms, the flip side being that in noisier environments, those algorithms helped capture and convey what I was saying more dependably.

Music aside, I’m pretty happy with the Bluez 2 as-is. I wasn’t expecting a revelatory music listening experience (and to be fair, no one’s offering that over Bluetooth at this point), and it does do what it claims to if you’re just after a robust, lightweight, elegantly designed, handsfree interface for speech-based audio listening or making phone calls. $100 feels about right if the latter’s what you’re after, and that includes an adjustable tension band, a micro-USB charge cable and a smartly designed “breathable” storage pouch with one side mesh to let the headset dry if you’ve soaked it during a workout.

TIME Technologizer

DuckDuckGo, the Anti-Google, Is About to Become a Far More Powerful Google Alternative

DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo

The search engine for the privacy-minded is adding images, videos, news and more

DuckDuckGo is a tiny search engine company with a straightforward value proposition: Unlike Google, Bing and Yahoo Search, it doesn’t track your searches or mine your data for advertising or other purposes. Catering to folks who want to use the web in complete privacy, it’s offered a service that’s pretty good, but very basic.

Now it’s about to get considerably fancier. As I learned from an article by VentureBeat’s Harrison Weber, DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg has blogged about a new version of the site he hopes to launch within the next month. You can try it out in preview form at next.duckduckgo.com.

There’s a ton of new features, including suggestions of searches that appear as you type, images and video search, news, maps locations and products, all woven together into one interface, providing a far more comprehensive substitute for Google than before. But the overall feel is still lean and mean, and results pop up quickly. It looks great.

Which is not to say that it’s come anywhere near catching up with Google in every important respect. For instance, when I searched for “DuckDuckGo” on DuckDuckGo, it didn’t show any of the stories from the last day or so about this new interface, which suggests that it still doesn’t have the real-time understanding of the web that Google nailed years ago. Its news feature is also bare-bones: It only pulled up three items for “Barack Obama.”

DuckDuckGo also doesn’t rival Google does when it comes to providing answers to questions right at the top of its results, in part because it lacks a counterpart to Google’s amazing Knowledge Graph technology. I did notice DDG responding to questions such as “How tall is Will Ferrell?” by pulling the information from Wolfram Alpha. But it doesn’t have answers for queries like “What is Apple’s stock price?” and “Did the Red Sox win yesterday?” Even though both of those questions showed up as search suggestions when I began to type them.

Personally, I hope that this search engine never overdoes it when it comes to the stuff it packs into its results pages: One of the things I like about it is that it’s felt like a time-machine trip back to the early days of Google, when that search engine was obsessively simple and clutter-free. The new version isn’t nearly so stripped down as its predecessor, but retains much of the same minimalist charm.

Will I dump Google for DDG? Nope. Google still has the best search engine going, and I’m not a Googlephobe on principle. It’s also worth noting that it’s possible to use Google search without leaving any tracks: Just use a private-browsing mode such as Chrome’s Incognito and don’t log into a Google Account.

Still, Google dominates search so utterly–its share of all searches worldwide hovers around 70 percent, according to NetMarketShare–that there’s a nightmare scenario in which consumers have no viable alternatives at all. So I’m very happy that DuckDuckGo exists–and impressed that such a small company has put together something as ambitious as this new version.

TIME Computers

Here Are a Bunch of New Intel-Based Chromebooks for 2014

Intel and Google recently partnered up for an event in San Francisco that could safely be referred to as a Chrome-splosion of sorts.

See, Intel understands that Chromebooks – Google’s low-cost, browser-based laptops – are here to stay. Problem is, some of the recent crop of Chromebooks have been using non-Intel processors.

In an effort to get the pendulum to swing back in Intel’s direction, the processor giant is upping its Chromebook lineup from a paltry four models in late 2013 to a whopping 20 to be trotted out over the course of this year.

You’ll have plenty to choose from, in other words. You’ll also need to opt for a Celeron-based model or a Core i3-based model when choosing a Chromebook. The Celeron models will generally be cheaper and able to last longer on a charge – Intel is promising up to 11 hours – while the Core i3 models will be more powerful (no 11-hour battery life promises, though).

Here’s a look at what was just announced, starting with the Celeron models and finishing up with the Core i3 selections. Just to make things interesting, we’ll throw the Chromeboxes in the middle, which use Haswell-based Celeron chips (more powerful but less energy efficient than Bay Trail Celeron chips) and most closely resemble desktop computers.

Bay Trail Celeron

Asus C200 Chromebook

ASUS_C200
Asus

Asus C300 Chromebook

ASUS_C300
Asus
  • 13.3-inch screen
  • Intel Celeron CPU
  • Available in June
  • Price unknown (C200 starts at $250; C300 likely around $300 to $350)

Lenovo N20 Chromebook

N20_Chrome_Standard_03
Lenovo
  • 11.6-inch screen
  • Intel Celeron CPU
  • Available in July
  • Price starting at $279

Lenovo N20p Chromebook

N20p_Chrome_Hero_01
Lenovo
  • 11.6-inch convertible touchscreen
  • Intel Celeron CPU
  • Available in August
  • Price starting at $329

Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook

  • 11.6-inch screen
  • Intel Celeron CPU
  • Available “this spring”
  • Price starting at $349

Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Yoga Chromebook

Lenovo
  • 11.6-inch convertible touchscreen
  • Intel Celeron CPU
  • Available “this spring”
  • Price unknown (11e starts at $349; 11e Yoga likely around $400 to $450)

Toshiba Chromebook

Toshiba
  • 13.3-inch screen
  • Intel Celeron CPU
  • Available “over the next few months.”
  • Price unknown (current model starts at $300)

Haswell Celeron

LG Chromebase All-in-One

LG
  • 21.5-inch full-HD (1920×1080) screen
  • Intel Celeron CPU (Haswell)
  • Available May 26
  • Price starting at $349

HP Chromebox

HP
  • Dual-display support (you supply your own) via HDMI and DisplayPort connections
  • Intel Celeron CPU (Haswell)
  • Available in June
  • Price unknown

Core i3

Dell Chromebook 11

Dell
  • 11.6-inch screen
  • Intel Core i3 CPU
  • Available “later this year”
  • Price unknown (current model starts at $279)

Acer C720 Chromebook

Acer
  • 11.6-inch screen
  • Intel Core i3 CPU
  • Available in June
  • Price starting at $350

Press Release [Intel.com]

TIME apps

Google Maps App Gets Lane Guidance, Offline Mode and Other Substantial Features

Navigation with Lane Guidance
Google's Maps app features GPS lane guidance Google

Google recently updated its Maps app for iPhone and Android with a whole mess of new features, such as:

  • Lane guidance while in navigation mode, so you can be sure to be in the correct lane while preparing to exit;
  • The ability to pre-download certain sections of maps for use when you’ll be offline;
  • The ability to sort nearby restaurants, bars and hotels by hours, rating or price;
  • Integration with the Uber app, if you have it installed: You can check whether walking, talking public transportation or taking Uber will get you to your destination most quickly;
  • More accurate public transportation information, such as the ability to set your desired departure time for the train or look up the last time the train runs;
  • The ability to star places on a map, saving them so you can remember to visit them later;
  • Deeper integration with Street View functionality, allowing you to see first-person imagery of popular tourist destinations, restaurants and bars.

Lane guidance and offline mode are the two big-ticket items here, as they help round out the Maps app as a free, powerful GPS replacement. The other additions are nice touches, too, many of them with the apparent goal of trying to keep people inside the Maps app instead of using apps from the likes of Yelp or one of several public transit apps.

TIME How-To

Delete Your Accounts: Links and Phone Numbers to 65 Sites and Services

Delete
Getty Images

It's time for some spring cleaning, friends.

Here’s a list of direct links and phone numbers to 65 popular tech services. Some are harder to quit than others, forcing you to call to speak to a live person who’ll undoubtedly try to talk you out of your decision (be strong!). In those instances, I’ve listed the phone numbers directly under the service name.

For most of the others, the link under each one’s name should either lead you to a way to close your account online with a few clicks or to an email address you can use to request that your account be closed. And if you’re not sure which accounts you even have any more, here’s a handy trick to look them up.

Adobe

Cancel your membership or subscription

Amazon

About Closing Your Account

End Your Amazon Prime Membership

AOL

How do I change or cancel my AOL account for paid plans?

How do I change or cancel my AOL account for free plans?

Apple (iTunes)

Contact Apple Support (choose Account Management > Managing or editing an Apple ID)

AT&T

Cancel service or remove a line from an account (wireless: call 1-800-331-0500)

Other services (Internet access, TV, home phone, etc.): Call 1-800-288-2020

Comcast

Cancel or Make Changes to Your XFINITY Service (call 1-800-934-6489)

DirecTV

How do I disconnect my DIRECTV services? (call 1-800-531-5000)

Dish

MyDish – Cancel Service (call 1-888-496-1260)

Disqus

Deleting your account

Dropbox

How do I delete my account?

EA (Origin)

How to delete an Origin account

eBay

Closing your account

Etsy

How do I close my Etsy account?

How do I close my shop?

Evernote

How do I deactivate my account and remove its data?

How to manage or cancel your Evernote Premium subscription billing

Facebook

Deactivating, Deleting & Memorializing Accounts

Flickr

Delete your Flickr account

Flipboard

Email privacy@flipboard.com with a request that your account be deleted

Foursquare

How do I delete my account?

Google

Delete or restore a Google Account

Groupon

Customer Support (email support@groupon.com or call 1-877-788-7858)

Hulu

How Do I Delete My Free Hulu.com Account?

How Do I Cancel My Hulu Plus Subscription?

Instagram

Delete Your Account

Instapaper

Delete Account

Klout

How do I opt out of Klout?

How do I delete my account?

Last.fm

Account settings (select the “Data” tab)

LinkedIn

Closing Your Account

Cancel Premium access

Microsoft

How do I close my Microsoft account?

Myspace

How do I Delete My Account

Netflix

Cancel Membership (streaming)

Cancel your DVD plan

Nintendo

How to Deactivate an Account

How to Delete an Account

Pandora

Must be done via email form

PayPal

Log in to your PayPal account, then click Profile > Close Account (under Account Information)

Pinterest

Deactivate or reactivate an account

PlayStation

Close a Sony Entertainment Network Account

Pocket

How can I delete my Pocket account?

Quora

How do I deactivate my Quora account?

Rdio

Cancel subscriptions

Delete account

Reddit

How do I delete my account?

Rovio

Rovio account page (click “Delete Account” at the bottom)

RunKeeper

How to delete your RunKeeper Account

Samsung

How Do I Delete My Samsung Account?

Shutterfly

Email, use the Live Help feature or call 1-888-225-7159

Skype

How do I cancel my subscription?

Deleting Skype Accounts

Snapchat

Delete your Snapchat account

Soundcloud

How do I delete my account?

Spotify

Cancel your subscription

Contact Spotify support to delete your account

Sprint

Call 1-888-211-4727

Square

Disable Your Square Register Account

Disable Your Square Wallet Account

Steam

Create a support ticket

StumbleUpon

How do I delete my account?

Ticketmaster

Close Your Account

Time Warner Cable

Transfer or Cancel Service (call 1-888-892-2253)

TiVo

Considering canceling your TiVo® subscription? (call 1-877-367-8486)

T-Mobile

Call 1-800-866-2453

Tumblr

Close my account

Twitter

Deactivating your account

Verizon

Wireless: 1-800-922-0204

Other services (Internet access, FiOS TV, home phone, etc.): Call 1-800-837-4966

WhatsApp

How do I delete my account?

Wikipedia

Right to vanish

WordPress

Deleting Accounts

Xbox

Close your Microsoft account

Yahoo

Terminating your Yahoo account

Yelp

Close my account

YouTube

Delete YouTube channel

(See also: Delete or restore a Google Account)

Zynga

Privacy FAQs (see fourth question)

TIME Retail

Apple Bets $68 Million on Ahrendts to Lead Retail Efforts

ahrendts
Angela Ahrendts, former Burberry CEO and new Apple retail SVP, seen holding an iPad in 2013 Peter Foley -- Bloomberg / Getty Images

Apple has been looking to return some stability to its retail operations since Ron Johnson’s departure back in late 2011. His successor, former Dixon’s CEO John Browett, lasted a mere six months.

As a nice bit of incentive, Apple’s latest SVP of retail, former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, is poised to receive north of 113,000 Apple shares — worth around $68 million — doled out over the next four years, with the first vesting period occurring June 1.

That first haul on June 1? A cool $9.8 million, reports CNN. And Ahrendts can lay claim to around $10.5 million in stock options from her former employer, “even though those options were not supposed to pay out until June,” says CNN.

Not a bad first couple of months for Ahrendts, in other words. Apple’s stock also recently cleared $600 per share for the first time since 2012 on the tail of an announced 7:1 split set to happen in early June.

[CNN]

TIME Companies

Activision Is Reportedly Spending Half a Billion on a Single Game

Bungie

Activision is making a half-billion-dollar bet on a single video game. At a Los Angeles conference last week, CEO Bobby Kotick said that his company would pour $500 million into Destiny, an upcoming massively multiplayer online first-person shooter being developed for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox 360. The game comes from Bungie, the makers of the Halo series, so it has a high pedigree and a mountain of hype. But the figure may still be unprecedented in the gaming industry, especially for a new IP. Activision did not respond to a request for comment.

Typically, lavish budgets are reserved for franchises with proven popularity. Last fall’s Grand Theft Auto 5 was estimated to cost $160 million to produce. The Destiny figure dwarfs that, but an Activision spokesperson clarified to Reuters that the budget includes marketing, packaging, infrastructure support, royalties and more. The spokesperson said that the game’s budget will be “roughly in line with other Triple-A titles.”

Still, the huge sum shows that Activision is hungry for a new massive franchise. The company’s annual Call of Duty games have been selling less and less in recent years, and Activision’s sales and profits were both down in 2013. In an industry increasingly dependent on blockbusters, Activision is trying to position Destiny as too big to fail.

TIME Gadgets

How Qualcomm Is Tackling the Smartwatch Battery Bottleneck

Jared Newman for TIME

Qualcomm brings voice controls to its experimental Toq watch, but keeps features on a tight leash.

For Qualcomm’s Toq smartwatch, everything traces back to the battery.

The experimental smartwatch’s color Mirasol display can last for days on a charge, unlike any other full-color watch. The battery lives inside the wristband, allowing the watch itself to be smaller. And when the battery runs dry, a wireless charging station keeps users from fumbling with cables or messing with dock connectors.

Battery life is also the reason Toq’s new voice commands are limited in scope. Qualcomm just added Nuance-powered voice dictation to its smartwatch this week, but users might not even notice unless they know where to go. You can use voice to record a text message, but you can’t use it to write emails, launch apps or set reminders. And unlike Nuance’s Android app, you can’t initiate a voice command just by uttering a special phrase. Doing so would have caused a significant hit to battery life.

Toq exists, in part, to tackle these kinds of battery issues in wearable technology. Qualcomm’s goal isn’t to sell a lot of watches, but to figure out how people use wearables so the company can build better chips, and expand on its vast mobile processor business. Although Toq is available to anyone who will pay $250 for it, it’s more of an experiment than a mass market product. It’s also a showcase, aimed at getting Qualcomm’s processors, Mirasol display and other technologies into wearables from major gadget vendors.

In the case of voice controls, Qualcomm wants to figure out subtle ways to conserve power while users are speaking to their watches. Ultimately, the information Qualcomm collects may help the company design a family of chips that are better-suited for wearable technology.

“On the watch, I think it’s going to be important to balance functionality versus days of use, and I just don’t think we have enough data yet,” Rob Chandhok, Senior Vice President of Qualcomm Technologies and President of Qualcomm Interactive Platforms, said in an interview.

Nuance, whose speech recognition software powers Toq’s voice controls, benefits from the arrangement as well. Matt Revis, Nuance Vice President of Mobile Product Management, said the company will use Toq to learn how people use voice on smartwatches, and pitch its own voice services as a feature for other device makers.

“We’re trying to learn about what makes a great wearable platform for voice, in particular how voice can integrate into the overall experience, and the more of these types of integrations we can do, the more we’ll learn,” Revis said.

It’s unclear how many test subjects Qualcomm has. Last September, Chandhok told my colleague Harry McCracken that Qualcomm would be happy to sell tens of thousands of units, but he wouldn’t reveal any sales figures to me.

“I think like any company, we’d hoped to sell more, but we’re doing well with it, we’ve learned a lot, and it’s translating into relationships with customers and partners that really match what the business strategy was,” Chandhok said.

Chandhok also wouldn’t get into details on any potential arrangements with device makers, but said the company is working with partners. This is just a guess on my part, but with Qualcomm confirmed as a partner for Google’s Android Wear platform, and with device makers promising always-on, color displays, I have a feeling Toq’s technology will turn up in other smartwaches soon enough.

TIME Gadgets

Microsoft to Hold Tablet Event on May 20

Surface
Microsoft's 10.6-inch Surface tablet Nigel Treblin -- Getty Images

Microsoft has invited reporters to a Surface tablet event on May 20, referring to it as a “small gathering” — a play on words that seems to indicate a line of small-screen Microsoft-branded tablets will be unveiled.

The current crop of Surface tablets sport 10.6-inch touchscreens with wide, 16:9 aspect ratios; Microsoft is on its second-generation the devices. The Verge reports that a smaller version might sport a 7.5-inch screen with a more square 4:3 aspect ratio, but the latest round of such rumors last bubbled up back in September, so plans could have changed between then and now. We’ll know the full story in a couple weeks.

[The Verge]

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