TIME Technologizer

LG’s G3 Smartphone Has Eye-Popping Resolution, Laser-Focusing Camera

LG G3
LG

The big Korean hardware maker hopes to raise its profile with a new flagship handset

In the Android-based smartphone wars–in the U.S., at least–LG has kept a relatively low profile. Its Korean arch-rival, Samsung, dominates the market with its Galaxy models. HTC aspires to be the category’s class act with its One handsets. And it’s been unclear what LG was, aside from yet another large manufacturer of credible Android phones.

The company just announced its new model, the G3, at a splashy London launch, with satellite events elsewhere such as the one I attended in San Francisco. I heard LG executives extoll the phone’s virtues, then got a bit of hands-on time with an early model (very early–part of its interface was still in Korean). That’s not enough to come to any firm conclusions about the G3, but it looks a smartphone which will merit being taken seriously.

And LG is definitely trying to carve off a clear identity for itself. It hammered home its marketing pitch for the phone — “Simple is the New Smart” — by repeating it at every opportunity during the event. Heaven knows that the average Android phone still isn’t as straightforward as it might be, in part because hardware manufacturers’ “improvements” often add clutter and inconsistency. Erring on the side of simplicity is therefore a worthy goal.

The G3 has an expansive 5.5-inch display–big enough to place it in that popular-but-ungainly-named phablets category. LG doesn’t seem especially eager for people to think of this phone as a phablet, though: During its event, it emphasized that the phone, at 5.76 inches wide, is only a bit bulkier than a 5.1-inch phone.

That 5,5-inch display packs a “quad HD” resolution of 1440-by-2560 pixels, for a pixel-per-inch count of 538–way beyond what the iPhone 5 (326 ppi) and Galaxy S5 (432 ppi) offer. In fact, the conventional wisdom is that a resolution as high as that offered by the G3 is purely an act of specsmanship; the human eye supposedly isn’t capable of detecting a difference between it and a lower resolution.

LG argues otherwise, although its explanation involved showing images blown up to appear on humongous screens at its London venue–which means that its comparison had nothing to do with what our eyes can make out on a smartphone display. Still, the screen on the G3 I examined looked awfully pretty.

Selfie
A selfie I snapped of myself at LG’s G3 launch event Harry McCracken / TIME

The other intriguing G3 feature its the auto-focus capability on its 13-megapixel camera, which uses a laser. That, combined with the camera’s optical stabilization and dual-LED flash, might make for better photos when you’re shooting on the go or in dim environments. The phone is also designed to appeal to the selfie set: You can hold up your hand and then make a fist, whereupon the handset will do a quick countdown and then snap a picture of you with its front camera.

That’s about it for major new hardware features: There’s no fingerprint scanner or heart-rate monitor or anything else which treads the fine line between useful addition and silly gimmickry.

Like other makers of Android phones, LG has tweaked the operating system’s interface, but it doesn’t look like it’s done so with too heavy a hand. The company says that it’s aimed for a “mature” color palette, and it’s following a current trend by using round icons in some places. There’s also a notification system which does things such as let you respond to incoming calls with a text message.

Industrial design-wise, the G3 looks polished: Along with the Galaxy S5, it’s one of a shrinking number of phones with a pop-off back and a removable battery, but the back is metallic and considerably more upscale than the Galaxy S5’s bedimpled plastic one. In a wacky feature carried over from the G2, the power and volume controls are on the back, on a multi-purpose button located below the camera, leaving the phone with no buttons or other controls on its front or edges.

The G3 is available now in its home market of South Korea. Those of us in the U.S. will have some time to ponder the model before it goes on the market: It’ll be available on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon sometime this summer, at a price to be announced.

TIME Gadgets

An Apple Smart Home Could Be the Ultimate Kind of Lock-in

"Siri, turn on the downstairs lights and start brewing that K-Cup."

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you own an iPhone and want to switch to Android or Windows Phone. Doing so wouldn’t cost you much, if anything. Most of your favorite apps are probably free to download, your music catalog is easy enough to move around, and you can sync your contacts and calendar to Google or Outlook to break them free of Apple’s iCloud. The biggest loss would be the time it takes to complete the switch.

Now, imagine trying to leave Apple’s ecosystem when everything in your home — the lights, the locks, the thermostat, the garage door and even the coffee maker — are iPhone-controlled. Suddenly, the hundreds or thousands of dollars you’ve spent automating your house would be for nothing. You’ll have a wonderfully convenient set-up, but you’ll be stuck with it.

This scenario may not be hypothetical for much longer. Citing unnamed “people familiar with the matter,” Financial Times reports that Apple will announce a home automation platform at its Worldwide Developers Conference next week.

The platform will reportedly allow users to control many aspects of their homes through the iPhone and other iOS devices, in some cases automatically. For instance, the platform could reportedly detect when you’ve arrived at your house and connected to the home network, and turn on the downstairs lights.

While many companies have tried to solve home automation before, the market is currently a mess of competing standards, and disparate apps and devices that don’t easily talk to each other. And right now, there isn’t a single major computing platform that integrates home automation at the system level; if you have a Nest thermostat, you can’t just ask Siri to turn up the heat (at least not without some trickery).

If Financial Times’ report is correct, Apple would still let other companies build all the home automation pieces, such as the lights and the security systems, but iOS would be the glue holding everything together.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of such a system. Apple is known for making things easy to set up and use, so it could remove the hassles that have kept home automation out of the mainstream. People who own lots of iOS devices already could buy into this system knowing that everything is likely to work well. At the same time, home automation product makers could have a single, widely popular platform to target, with a common set of software tools to build around. Apple could then use its marketing prowess to get the word out about these products, and sell the best pieces through the Apple Store.

But as exciting as this sounds, it’s also a bit scary, because the more you invest in an iOS-only home automation system, the harder it may become to leave for another platform.

The idea of platform lock-in isn’t new, nor is it unique to Apple. Amazon, Google and Microsoft also dream of having customers who are unwilling or unable to move to competing platforms. But with home automation, the stakes are higher than ever because the hardware is so expensive. A smart thermostat costs $100. A single smart light bulb can cost around $30. A smart door lock can cost $200. You could easily spend over a thousand dollars turning your home into something out of the Jetsons, and the convenience may be totally worth the monetary cost.

But what happens if you decide the iPhone isn’t right for you anymore? Maybe you like the way Android handles notifications, or the way Windows Phone integrates with Xbox and Office. Perhaps you want a screen that’s bigger than anything Apple offers, or a phone with killer front-facing speakers. Only now, the decision to switch isn’t so simple. You’d better hope your home automation gear supports some other platforms, or else your expensive smart home investment could start to look pretty dumb.

TIME Video Games

Here’s How Much Time People Spend Playing Video Games

The good news is that we’ve finally gotten our priorities in order. According to Nielsen, the average U.S. gamer age 13 or older spent 6.3 hours a week playing video games during 2013. That’s up from 5.6 hours in 2012, which was up from 5.1 hours in 2011. If you like fun, we’re trending in the right direction.

As for which systems were used most often in 2013, seventh-generation consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) beat PCs by a percentage point – 34% to 33% – while mobile phones took a distant third at 10%. Tablets followed at 9%, dedicated gaming handhelds at 6%, eighth-gen consoles at 4% and “other” at 4%.

Also of note is that people who play games on consoles are starting to play games on their phones and tablets more, too. Half of Nielsen’s console respondents for the 2013 study said they also played games on mobile devices; that’s up from 46% in 2012 and 35% in 2011.

TIME Security

Apple iPhones, iPads Held for Ransom: What Happened and What You Can Do

Another week, another security breach. This one’s extra weird, though.

What happened?

People are reporting that their iPhones and iPads (some Macs, even) woke them up in the middle of the night with a message demanding between $50 and $100 in order to regain access to the devices. Most of these people are in Australia, though some reports are trickling in from elsewhere.

Apple has a feature called Find My iPhone that lets you locate, lock and erase your device if you lose it somewhere. It appears that whoever’s behind this has gotten ahold of people’s iCloud usernames and passwords, then used the Find My iPhone feature to remotely lock devices, demanding payment in order to unlock them.

The incident is being discussed at length in Apple’s support forums. Apple hasn’t officially responded yet. I’ve requested comment from its PR team and will update this post if I hear back. (Spoiler: I probably won’t hear back).

Who is affected?

What’s interesting is that this issue is mostly affecting users in Australia. It’s also affecting some users in New Zealand, some users from Australia who are currently travelling abroad outside Australia, and users from outside Australia who are in or have been in Australia for a while.

At least one person in the U.S. with no ties to Australia in any way claims his or her device has been compromised as well.

How did this happen?

That’s a great question, and we’re not really sure of the answer quite yet. There are a few main theories floating around, none of which have been proven.

Some are speculating that a hacker got ahold of a bunch of usernames and passwords, either from an email phishing scam or from a previous data breach. That’s an easy explanation, but it doesn’t really address why the issue seems mostly isolated to Australia. Several users are reporting that they used wholly unique usernames and passwords for their Apple accounts, too.

Some are speculating about a man-in-the-middle attack, where an Australian Internet service provider has been compromised to the point that traffic sent between Apple devices and Apple’s iCloud servers has been intercepted. The trouble with this theory is that the issue isn’t isolated to single service provider, and it’s apparently affecting a handful of users outside the country.

And some are speculating that Apple’s iCloud servers have been compromised. The Australia angle makes that a bit unlikely, and Apple’s got enough layers of protection – data sent back and forth is encrypted, for instance – that this seems like a longshot. Some users are reporting that they’ve used strong, long and unique passwords and have still been affected, so this theory can’t be totally thrown out.

For what it’s worth, the man-in-the-middle theory — or some derivation of it — seems the most plausible to me, but it’s still early. The handful of random outliers keep poking holes in each theory, which makes this whole case wonderfully weird and interesting.

What should you do?

For starters, if you’ve received this ransom message, don’t bother contacting your wireless provider. They’ll send you to Apple.

If you use a four-digit passcode on your device, you’ll be able to regain control of it: Simply do the old Slide-to-Unlock trick and enter your four-digit PIN.

Whether you’re in Australia or not, just to be on the safe side, you should change your Apple password if you use it elsewhere. Go to iforgot.apple.com to change it, and check out this video for tips on choosing a strong password you can actually remember:

If you don’t use a four-digit passcode on your device and you’ve been hit with the ransom note, you can restore your device to its last backup point. You’ll lose photos, videos and other items you’ve collected since you last backed up your phone, but at least you’ll have control of your phone again. Instructions for how to restore your device using Recovery Mode are as follows, per Apple:

Follow these steps if you never synced your device with iTunes, if you don’t have Find My iPhone set up, or if you can’t get to your own computer. You’ll need to put your device in recovery mode to erase the device and its passcode. Then you’ll restore your device.

  1. Disconnect all cables from your device.
  2. Turn off your device.
  3. Press and hold the Home button. While holding the Home button, connect your device to iTunes. If your device doesn’t turn on automatically, turn it on.
  4. Continue holding the Home button until you see the Connect to iTunes screen.
  5. iTunes will alert you that it has detected a device in recovery mode. Click OK, then restore the device.

Once you’ve restored your phone, change your Apple password by following the steps a few paragraphs up if you haven’t already.

If that doesn’t work, your best bet may be to bring your iPhone into your nearest Apple store. Make sure to bring your ID and receipt, if you still have it, as you’ll need to prove the phone belongs to you in order to get help unlocking it.

TIME Gadgets

Finally, an Ultra-Light Electric Skateboard You Control With Your Phone

Get to work in a jiffy with a skateboard you can control from your phone

A group of designers has created an ultra-lightweight, ultra-quick electric skateboard that could change the way we commute.

Founded by a startup called Marbel, the board is just under 10 pounds and produces enough power to hit 20 miles per hour — uphill. It has a 10-mile range and uses battery technology similar to that in the Tesla Model S. Recharging the board takes only 90 minutes.

Perhaps the niftiest aspect of the board’s design is that it’s controllable by a smartphone app that sets the speed and acceleration for the board, from “starter” mode to a blazing fast “sport” mode.

Marbel has already surpassed its Kickstarter funding goals by tens of thousands of dollars. After watching the project’s video, it’s not hard to guess why:

Marbel plans to begin shipping out its skateboards to its hardcore early Kickstarter supporters by the end of the year—if they donated more than $999, that is.

TIME Companies

Spotify Was Hacked, But Only One Victim Targeted

US-IT-MUSIC-SPOTIFY
A Spotify logo is seen as founder and CEO Daniel Ek addresses a press conference in New York EMMANUEL DUNAND—AFP/Getty Images

A single user of the streaming music service had their data breached, but the company will roll out an Android update in coming days as a safeguard

The digital music streaming service Spotify posted on its company blog Tuesday that it had been hacked.

But there’s no need to panic just yet. After an investigation, Spotify has concluded that only one user’s data has been breached, “and this did not include any password, financial or payment information.”

To be safe, the music app will provide all Android users with a new upgrade in the coming days. iOS devices and Windows Phones were not impacted. This transparency stands out in light of how Target and eBay recently handled major security breaches, to some criticism.

TIME technology

Meg Whitman Has the Hardest Job in Silicon Valley

Technology Business Leaders Address Salesforce Conference
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

See correction below.

Meg Whitman has vowed to turn around HP, a task that many thought impossible in her early years at the company. Judging from the company’s stock performance over the past year, she may finally be gaining ground but it could come at a cost. In slashing costs to fix HP, is Whitman slashing too aggressively?

In October 2011, a month after Whitman took over, HP employed 350,000 people. That wasn’t as big as IBM, which employed 431,000 at the time, but it’s vastly larger than most of the startups that are having a big impact on the tech innovation these days. (WhatsApp, to offer an extreme example, had 35 employees when Facebook bought it.)

The following spring HP announced it would lay off 27,000 employees through the end of 2014. By fall, headcount had fallen to 318,000 and HP upped the number of layoffs to 34,000 jobs – equal to about a tenth of its peak employment. To manage that, HP said it would take $4.1 billion in charges related to the layoffs, a figure that exceeds its annual budget for R&D spending by a good margin.

When HP reported its earnings last week, the company said it would cut as many as another 16,000 jobs. Many of those positions are expected to come from declining businesses like personal computers, traditional printers and enterprise services, areas that all declined in 2013.

The idea, in theory at least, is to reduce spending enough to generate more corporate cash that can be invested in new innovations like tablets, cloud computing or 3D printers. But more often these savings go into the stock buybacks and dividends that placate antsy investors. HP’s board allocated $10 billion worth of stock to be repurchased in 2011, and the company still has $7 billion to spend.

The broader issue facing HP and others is that big tech is very often old tech. Companies that have grown successful in the past decade years are less dependent on hardware manufacturing and are able to benefit from technological efficiencies. As a result, Google can boast revenue per employee of $1.3 million while Facebook’s sees $1.2 million per worker. HP’s revenue per employee is $354,000.

So even while the tech industry is growing in revenue, it’s not really growing as a source of jobs. Technology jobs grew through the 1980s and 1990s but have declined in Silicon Valley and the US during the past decade. In 2000, technology accounted for 5% of jobs in California, but that ratio has since settled down to around 4.3%, even as the share of technology companies contribute to California’s economy has remained stable.

The layoffs are helping HP’s performance in the short run. HP’s stock rose as high as $34.09 on Friday on the news that Whitman was axing even more positions. That price marks a 175% increase since November 2012, when HP’s stock hit a decade low. The last time HP’s stock traded above $34 a share was in August 2011, a month before Meg Whitman was named CEO.

Whitman was left with a difficult hand to play. A series of scandals and a longer series of ill-advised and costly acquisitions by her predecessors, coupled with a decline in PC sales left the company in a tough spot. Layoffs were widely expected to be part of the process of stabilizing HP, but they come with a catch: Cut too many employees and you weaken the company’s ability into the kind of growth investors are demanding.

In words that must sound callous to departing HP employees, Whitman declared her willingness to cut more jobs if things don’t turn around soon. “Listen, I’m not at all disappointed. I think it’s the natural course of what makes sense in a turnaround of this size and scale,” Whitman said on a conference call with analysts last week. “HP must be manically focused on continuous improvement in our cost structure.”

Some on Wall Street, mindful that endless rounds of layoffs can both help and harm, doubted whether HP’s newfound mania was a good thing. “Serial restructuring cannot solve HP’s secular challenges, particularly following years of underinvestment,” wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope in a research note. Kubinder Garcha of Credit Suisse wondered if the restructuring charges, now estimated at $4.9 billion, would undo any cost-savings benefit. “HP is turning into a perennial restructuring story,” Garcha said.

Neither is HP’s maniacal focus on cutting jobs certain to position it against an ever competitive market for enterprise IT. While HP is defensively cutting costs, companies at the high-end are investing in improving their strengths, while those on the low end, including Asian companies like Lenovo, are growing by aggressive pricing.

HP may be, as Whitman says, “making us a more nimble and decisive company” and putting it back on a track to revive revenue growth. But it’s also true that the slashing jobs, while pleasing to investors in the short term, maybe hobbling the HP’s ability to become, in the longer run, a company that can keep growing in the growth-driven tech industry.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly identified WhatsApp as another company.

TIME Big Picture

Don’t Give Up On Tablet Innovation

As I survey the tablet market and its trends, I am continually reminded that tablets are still in the early stages of development. We talk with consumers and enterprise customers alike, and there still seems to be some perceptual nuance surrounding tablets. People are just starting to get their heads around what a piece of glass that’s bigger than their phone yet smaller and more portable than their PC means to them.

Laying all my cards on the table, I use the iPad Air with the Zagg iPad Air Folio case. I take this setup out into the world to meetings, or to pop into a Starbucks to get some work done in between meetings, and I constantly get the exact same question: What kind of computer is that? People see this device and realize that it is, in fact, a computer. This fundamental point is where the paradigm shift to tablet computing is about to happen.

The amazing thing about a tablet that sets it apart from every device I use is that it has more computing capabilities than my phone and is more portable than my PC. I can sit reclined on my couch or in bed and learn, work or play. I can take it to the office and work. I can use it as portable TV or DVD player. I can use it to make music. I can take it to the lake and capture video of my family water skiing, editing and creating the video right there on the lake. I can keep going with these scenarios, but you get the picture. The tablet is more capable than my smartphone and more portable than my PC. This is why I believe it has the most potential of any form factor out there with regard to the future of computing.

A point that often gets made is that most people just need their smartphone — and once bigger-screen phones are more popular, people will simply choose to use a bigger phone and a traditional PC over a tablet. I don’t doubt that there will be a certain percentage of the market that chooses this solution. However, I feel more people will choose a phone (of any size) and a larger tablet solution. If there is any device that I feel may be threatened when five-inch-and-larger phones become the norm, it’s smaller tablets, not bigger ones. The best way to think about this is that bigger smartphones will challenge small tablets the same way tablets challenge PCs. Larger tablets, however, are poised to become the dominant computing form factor. All of this is because of both its unique form factor and the developer ecosystem behind it.

In 1978, something important happened. In those days, personal computers were in their infancy. Most viewed the desktop personal computer as a hobbyist toy. But in 1978, a piece of software called VisiCalc was being developed, and overnight, its business and productivity value was grasped. The rest was history. Where we are with tablets feels very much like 1978 for personal computers. We have a few showcase apps, mostly from Apple with iWork and the iLife suite of applications for iPad. We also have a number of great apps from third-party developers for music creation, art and any number of genres. But the list of showcase apps to drive home the value of the tablet as a personal computer are still in the minority.

Whenever people ask my how I get away with using my iPad as my main PC, I always show them the above types of applications. I show them how I can capture video and make a movie right on the spot. I show them how I can write my columns and even post to my blog. I show them how I can use it to create spreadsheets and presentations, all with as much ease as if I was on my notebook. Every time after I give these demonstrations to someone, they always respond with a kind of profound tone in their voice: “I didn’t know you could do all that with an iPad.”

This is the point. As consumers catch on that these devices are more capable than their smartphones and more portable that their PCs, the floodgates will open. Developers will similarly begin re-imagining entire categories of new applications and new software to drive this unique form factor forward as a computing platform. Hardware manufacturers will continue to enhance the tablets features, from its optics, biometrics, sensors, chipsets, and displays. We really are just getting started with tablets. And more importantly, the tablet is going to help many consumers — both existing tablet owners and new ones just getting started with computing.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Innovation

TIME/Qualcomm Panel Discussion: The Future of Invention from Singapore

Jeffrey Kluger, Editor-at-Large, TIME (l) and Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore Chrisppics+

TIME’s Global Invention Poll, in cooperation with Qualcomm, surveyed 10,197 people in 17 countries around the world about the subject of Invention. The poll, which accompanied TIME’s annual list of the 25 Best Inventions, revealed a wide range of opinions about the subject of inventiveness. In the poll, and in the article “The Spark of Invention” by Jeffrey Kluger, TIME explored the questions sparked by the subject: who are inventors, how do they do their work, and what is the relationship between countries, culture and inventiveness?

TIME continued the conversation with a special panel discussion, The Future of Invention, on 28 May, 2014 at the Studio Theatre, School of the Arts, Singapore. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore sat down with TIME Editor-at-Large Jeffrey Kluger to discuss the inter-connectedness of Inventing Globally. Hannah Beech, East Asia Correspondent and China Bureau Chief moderated a session, Inventing By Design which explored the lessons and ingredients which influence success in the inventing process with leading inventors and thought leaders from around Asia, including Susmita Mohanty, CEO-India of Earth2Orbit; Raj Thampuran, Managing Director, A*STAR and Wong Meng Weng, Co-Founder and Chairman, JFDI.Asia. Kluger then sat down with Edward Jung, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Intellectual Ventures to explore the idea of Inventing Ecosystems and the best-in-class models that fuel invention and offer insights into where those ecosystems could lead the future of invention.

Watch highlights from the panel discussions below.

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