TIME Technologizer

At Microsoft’s Build Conference, ‘Windows Everywhere’ Is Baaa-aaaack!

Meet the new strategy for Windows, same as the old strategy for Windows

Let’s begin this piece on Microsoft’s grand vision for the future of its Windows platform by quoting a savvy analysis of the situation by PC Magazine‘s Charles Petzold:

By the fall of 1990, IBM and Microsoft parted ways; Microsoft was free to extend Windows into the 32-bit realm. Windows had become the industry-standard GUI, despite its technical failings in the current DOS-based implementation and the inelegance of the API. Microsoft began to promote a single-API strategy, succinctly summed up by the phrase “Windows Everywhere.”

The strategy envisions Windows as a scalable architecture that straddles a broad range of hardware platforms, from hand-held pen-based computers to powerful RISC-based multiprocessor servers.

The strategy is simultaneously ambitious, megalomaniacal, and extremely seductive to software developers. Write your programs for Windows, Microsoft says, and your applications will eventually be runnable (or portable to) many different platforms. The developer’s investment in Windows is preserved, and so is the user’s.

There are some telltale signs that the above sound bite dates from November, 1992, such as the references to IBM and DOS. But when I attended the jam-packed keynote at Microsoft’s Build conference yesterday, I was struck by how much the company’s overarching strategy feels like a 21st-century take on “Windows Everywhere.”

Most of the people in the keynote audience were developers, and the news they got there and at other Build sessions included the following:

  • They’ll be able to write Windows programs that work on PCs, tablets, phones and the Xbox One (with interfaces and features that adjust themselves to the platform they’re on as necessary);
  • Microsoft’s various app stores will let consumers buy a program once, then run it on multiple Windows devices;
  • The company will try to increase Windows’ market share in new categories by offering the operating system for free to manufacturers of phones, small tablets and Internet of Things gadgets;
  • Windows will also power “Internet of Things” gizmos of all sorts, such as the giant piano Microsoft honcho Joe Belfiore hopped around on as if he were Tom Hanks in Big;
  • Microsoft is working on putting Windows’ “Modern” interface into cars, via a system akin to Apple’s CarPlay.
  • The company is also open-sourcing some of its technology that’s used for creating Windows applications with JavaScript, which might lead to other companies creating web apps that look like Windows apps.

This isn’t so much a new direction as the next phase in an evolution Microsoft has been working on for years, ever since it began to unify the interfaces of its software platforms and made Windows Phone a technical variant of full-blown Windows rather than an operating system unto itself. Still, it’s all wildly ambitious. The end goal is a scenario in which consumers and businesses think of Windows not so much as software that runs on PCs, but more as an environment that’s on every screen in their lives–and on some devices that don’t even have screens. Windows Everywhere, indeed.

Back in the 1990s, when Microsoft attempted something similar, it was doing so from a position of strength. Windows was the world’s most important computing interface by far; the very fact that something ran it was a sign of credibility. And the company was so powerful that the notion of Windows Everywhere was a disincentive for other outfits to invest in product categories where Windows might show up. (There are probably mobile operating systems that never got invented because it seemed so likely that Windows Mobile would dominate the market as decisively as Windows dominated the PC business.)

Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the Build conference on April 2, 2014 Harry McCracken / TIME

Today, Windows Everywhere is an attempt at a comeback. PC users have reacted to the bold new ideas in Windows 8 with less than giddy enthusiasm–it turned out that a lot of them were pretty happy with the comfortable old ideas in previous versions of Windows–and Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android control the smartphone and tablet markets. Nobody’s going to buy Windows devices unless they look really good, and no Microsoft rival will be intimidated by the prospect of competing with Windows.

So I doubt that even Microsoft insiders envision a future in which Windows is, in fact, everywhere: The era of it powering 90 percent of the computing devices in our lives is over. But the company is offering a coherent vision, and it’s not a knockoff of what Apple and Google are doing. (Apple has both OS X and iOS and shows no interest in merging their interfaces; Google seems to be perfectly happy forging ahead with both Android and Chrome OS.)

Here’s something that’s easy to forget about the original version of “Windows Everywhere,” though: In the long run, it failed. Even early on, it turned out that it didn’t make sense to put Windows on some of the machines Microsoft coveted, such as printers and fax machines. The company knew that tablets would matter, but force-fitting Windows onto Tablet PCs did not. And the iPhone and Android were able to take over the smartphone market in part because Microsoft was fixated on putting Windows on phones rather than building the best possible mobile operating system.

I’m not predicting doom for Windows Everywhere 2.0: This time around, Microsoft has an interface that’s more plausible across a range of devices. It’s also a scrappier, humbler company than it had to be in the 1990s, which tends to result in better products. If there’s a smarter alternate strategy out there, I’d like to hear it–and so, I’ll bet, would Microsoft.

TIME apps

New App Lets You Watch Comedy Central Without Cable

comedy-central-ipad-app-350px
Comedy Central

Cable network Comedy Central has released a free new iOS app of the same name that offers next-day access to a handful of the network’s most popular shows regardless of whether you’re subscribed to pay cable TV.

The easy-to-use app, released Tuesday, offers a handful of recent episodes of The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, South Park and the new social media-centric show @Midnight. Episodes from other popular shows like Workaholics, Key & Peele and Broad City are also available, but only after authenticating with your cable TV provider.

You can find the Comedy Central app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch on the Apple App Store. You must be 17 years of age or older to download due to the mature content.

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

More from Techlicious:

TIME Internet

So Far, Online Gambling Revenues Have Been Pathetic

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Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

State budget makers and gaming interests have drastically, laughably overestimated the amount of money that would be generated with the advent of legalized online gambling, especially in New Jersey.

In March 2013, New Jersey officials forecast that online gambling would yield somewhere in the neighborhood of $180 million in tax revenues for the state during the first fiscal year Internet gaming was legal. But the estimates have been falling ever since—to $160 million when Christ Christie signed the state budget last summer, and down to just $34 million earlier this year, after a few months of legalized online gambling had passed. More recently, the state treasurer said that no more estimates on online gambling revenues would be made public, which seems wise considering how previous predictions have fared.

From the end of November, when legalized online gambling in New Jersey, through February 2014, a mere $4.2 million in tax revenues has been collected by the state, leading one legislative budget officer to now project an estimate of $12 million in revenues for the year, the Associated Press reported. The revised estimate for next year’s revenues was listed at $48 million. At that pace, it would take four or five years for the state to take in revenues equal to the amount it was supposed to collect in tax revenues during the first year of legal online gambling.

It’s not just state officials who seem mystified by the lackluster returns. Caesars Entertainment recently informed the New Jersey Star-Ledger that its online gaming operation was experiencing decent success in a few parts of the state—Jersey City, Toms River, Cherry Hill—but that it couldn’t explain why interest was strong in some areas and almost nonexistent in others.

New Jersey isn’t the only state that seems to have drastically overestimated online gambling’s potential as a budgetary savior. When Delaware’s gambling sites launched, there were often only a couple dozen players online at any moment, and almost immediately it became apparent that revenues wouldn’t come anywhere near to the first-year estimates. Toward the end of March, Morgan Stanley issued a note regarding longer term prospects for online gambling in the U.S. “We are lowering our estimates to better reflect the insights we have gained following the first few months of operations in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware,” the note stated, lowering the anticipated gross online gambling spending for 2017 from $5 billion to $3.5 billion, and for 2020 from $9.3 billion to $8 billion.

Toward the end of 2011, mind you, Morgan Stanley was estimating an online gambling market of $14 billion annually, though that was based on broader legalization.

Casino companies give plenty of reasons why online gambling hasn’t taken off in New Jersey and other states, including the continued existence of unregulated (illegal) gambling site competitors, the fact that some banks aren’t allowing their credit cards to be used for placing bets online, and basic lack of awareness among consumers. Surely, some if not all of the factors holding online gambling back can be addressed in time.

That’s assuming legalized online gambling will be around for a while. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., who obviously has no problem with people gambling in person because he runs casinos, has been waging a war against online gambling for months, at one point penning an op-ed calling Internet gaming “a societal train wreck waiting to happen.” With the backing of Adelson, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently sponsored a bill that would effectively outlaw online gambling throughout the country.

A group supported by Adelson, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, has released a series of online ads warning about the risks posed to children and their families in a world where gambling is available on screens 24/7, and it’s not always possible to tell who is using an online account. As the National Journal pointed out, one of the ads shows how a kid with a smartphone can be playing Angry Birds one minute, then be addicted to blackjack the next:

“I was playing Angry Birds and then, you know, I just found it,” the teen narrates, as images of online blackjack and poker tables flash on screen. “It’s a lot cooler knowing that I’m playing a real game, not just, like, Candy Crush or Fruit Ninja.”

TIME Crime

Hackers Target ATMs For ‘Unlimited’ Withdrawals

Federal banking watchdog says one recent attack in a scheme nicknamed 'Unlimited Operations' netted hackers more than $40 million with the use of just 12 debit card accounts

Cyber attacks against banks that use web-based ATM control panels are on the rise, according to a warning alert from a federal banking watchdog.

The alert by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council says that thieves are targeting “small-to-medium-sized institutions” and changing the controls on ATMs to enable the theft of practically unlimited withdrawals. The vast potential of the scheme has earned it the moniker “Unlimited Operations” from the Secret Service.

The statement released by the FFIEC revealed that one recent attack netted hackers more than $40 million with the use of just 12 debit card accounts. The thieves typically begin the scam by “sending phishing emails to employees at financial institutions,” according to the alert. Once malware has been installed on the bank’s network, the hackers change settings and gain access to the ATM control panels, enabling the withdrawal of huge sums. The “cash-out” phase of the attack takes place quickly, usually lasting somewhere between four hours and two days.

Regulators have asked that banks conduct ongoing information security risk assessments, add additional layers of security and take other measures to prevent against further attacks.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME facebook

8 Ways to Get Your Posts Seen More on Facebook

Facebook Inc. signage is displayed outside the company's new campus in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Businesses are in a tizzy these days because the posts on their Facebook Pages are reaching fewer people. A recent study estimated that brand posts on Facebook are typically seen by about 6 percent of a page’s fans, and that figure is expected to fall further this year. The decline has created a growing tension between brands, which have used social media for free marketing for a decade, and Facebook, which is trying to boost its thriving advertising business and manage a deluge of content from individual users and Pages. One company went so far as to “break up” with Facebook because of its page’s declining reach, which yielded a “sorry I’m not sorry” response from the social network.

Despite the angry reaction, Facebook will continue to nudge brands toward paying to reach more of their fans. But there are some strategies page owners can implement to make their free posts more effective. Here’s a guide to making your Facebook Page work for you in the pay-to-play era.

Target Your Posts

Hidden in Facebook’s myriad settings options is the ability to target Page posts to specific users based on their age, gender, location, relationship status and other criteria. Brandon McCormick, Facebook’s director of communications, wouldn’t say whether a targeted post gets a greater organic reach within its subset of users than a post broadcast to all a Page’s fans. But anecdotal evidence from TIME’s Facebook account indicates that targeted posts reach a large percentage of the fans they’re aimed toward in some cases. Even without a boost in reach, a smartly targeted post is more likely to engage those users that do see it. Brands can enable post targeting by selecting “Edit Settings” from the “Edit Page” drop down menu in a Page’s admin panel.

Use Photos, But Make Them Original

Plain-text status updates have secretly been one of most effective types of posts for boosting organic reach for years, but the company announced in January that it would be reducing the distribution of text posts and increasing distribution of others. Photos, when used correctly, can be a win for both audience engagement and reach, and they align with the increasingly visual nature of the social network and its spinoff apps. But be wary of “meme photos,” stock images with humorous or dramatic text layered over them. Facebook has reduced their reach in a quest to promote what it deems “high quality” content.

Post at Odd Hours

Figuring out the best time to post on Facebook has been an elusive goal for social media practitioners for years. Consider this, though: with 757 million people now visiting Facebook every day, maybe you don’t want to post something at the same time as everyone else. If the type of content you’re posting might appeal to people who are awake late at night or early in the morning, try posting during off-peak hours. Remember that it’s easy to schedule a Facebook post in advance.

Start a Conversation

An increasing number of items that appear in the News Feed show a user’s friends engaging with other content—liking, commenting or sharing a post from another friend or Page. If you can get a conversation started with a post by asking a question, it’s more likely that your Page will be pulled into other users’ feeds. Make sure the questions are pertinent to your organization, though. “If you’re a small restaurant, [fans] would rather see what your specials are that night than for you to ask how their day is going,” McCormick says.

Be Engaging

This may seem obvious, but remember that Facebook’s ultimate goal is to keep as many people as possible glued to the social network for as long as possible. If your posts keep people engaged, as measured by likes, comments, shares and time on screen, the social network will reward you with further reach. Spam up your page with excessive posts that no one likes or comments on, and your reach is likely to decline even faster than everyone else’s. The company now regularly resurfaces content that is more than 24 hours old if it’s receiving heavy engagement from users. “Brands are competing for a very, very small pool of space when they’re looking for organic reach,” says Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “The best way to do that is to offer relevant content that attracts user engagement.”

Cross-Promote With Other Pages

Get mentioned in a post by another brand, and your Page could show up in the News Feeds of users who don’t already like your organization. Facebook added this feature in February, but stressed that such cross-promotions have to make logical sense in order to earn extra reach. Ensuring that the two Pages have a large pool of overlapping fans can help. Pepsi, for instance, could mention its subsidiaries like Frito-Lay and Gatorade in a post, or a city tourism page could work to cross-promote that town’s popular restaurants.

Hop on a Trending Topic

Facebook took a cue from Twitter earlier this year and introduced trending topics that attempt to summarize the biggest news of the day. When users click on a trending topic, they see a mix of content from other users and Pages about the story. Posts from friends or Pages a user is connected to get higher placement in the trending feed, so if the topics are relevant to your brand, consider joining the conversation or providing a useful link.

Buy an Ad

Facebook, of course, says this is the most straightforward solution. The company has simplified its ad unit offerings in the last year in effort to attract more customers. “If you’re a business, advertising is probably the best bet for you because what you really care about is guaranteed reach,” McCormick says. “It’s not a great marketing strategy throw something out there and hope somebody sees it.” He points out that Page fans still matter for paid posts because Facebook offers discounts on ads that can be delivered with a social context (basically showing a user that one of their friends also likes the brand featured in an ad). More Page fans means more opportunities to provide this context and buy cheaper ads.

TIME Opinion

Microsoft’s Cortana Raises Important Questions About Sexism and Gender Stereotyping

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Cortana, the artificially-intelligent character from the popular Halo video game series Microsoft

Cortana (the Halo-series video game character) has a broader, occasionally controversial history.

Cortana, the name Microsoft’s given its response to Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, may turn out to be a bolder move for the company than I suspect many realize. For starters, she’s a character in a militaristic sci-fi video game that, for all its popularity in gaming-dom, locates her impetus well outside the entertainment mainstream — and as the historical purview of a very specific, mostly not-female demographic.

More importantly, from game one (released back in 2001 for the original Xbox) through Halo 4 (released in November 2012 for the Xbox 360), she’s been a sometimes controversial symbol. On the one hand, she’s a strong-willed and multidimensional female persona in a series that’s been fictively nuanced enough to draw the attention (and participation) of a Hugo and Nebula award-winning writer like Greg Bear. But she’s also a character who’s essentially imprisoned — literally in the series’ case — within the psyche of an adolescent male’s fantasy notion of a Campbellian hero figure: a simultaneously fleshed-out yet hyper-fleshy persona — she’s all but nude in these games, her female parts exponentially more detailed as console graphics and design techniques have improved — who appears in hologram form, Obi-Wan-like, only if Obi-Wan were a nubile pole dancer.

But perhaps that’s just my own biases as a clueless, culturally-compromised male showing through. What’s wrong with nudity (or near-nudity) anyway? Must attractive nearly-nude women be pole dancers? Am I selling pole-dancing short? Are people without clothes (or nearly so) mere sex objects? Is that just latent American prudishness on my part? Fear of female sexuality? Gender stereotyping? A kind of unconscious, compartmentalizing sexism? Is immobility itself necessarily reductive? Doesn’t that then sell the mobility-challenged short?

Or is there also something exploitive and sexist occurring in these games when you start thinking about their demographics and marketing? Does intentionality trump reception? What of Microsoft’s intentions? Do we presume too much? Surely the game’s writers are going to argue there’s nothing sexist about the character.

The question seems to be whether players should celebrate a character like Cortana for her depth and poise (though it’s worth noting that she loses her mind in the most recent game), or view her cynically, as an imprisoned, hyper-sexualized plot actuator — a ploy to titillate the game’s target adolescent male demographic.

And now she’s the name Microsoft’s given its Siri competitor, a Windows 8.1 assistant voiced by the same person responsible for Cortana’s Halo incarnation (Jen Taylor).

Forget Halo for a moment. What about this idea that the personality — and both Apple and Microsoft clearly want us to view Siri and Cortana as personalities — is female and not male, responsible for what amount to secretarial duties like creating alarms, reminders and appointments? To be fair, Apple has a male voice option in iOS, but does anyone use it?

In Microsoft’s case, it sounds like Cortana is female-only, in keeping with her video game persona. So does all the internal testing I presume Apple and Microsoft have been doing suggest people want their servile computer algorithms, just like the computer in Star Trek, to be female? If so, what does that say about us?

This isn’t an indictment of what Microsoft demonstrated at its Build conference yesterday, which from an algorithmic standpoint sounds pretty cool — another step on the very long road toward fully semantic computing, where your computer understands not only what you want to know, but the context in which you want to know it.

I’m just asking the question, because there’s a history here, and in Cortana’s case, one that reaches back over a decade and across one of the fastest-growing (and at this point, greatest revenue-generating) entertainment mediums in history. I don’t have a satisfactory answer yet, but I think it’s important to be mindful that there is a history here, and that we should at least be thinking about its potential implications as we engage with these applications rolling forward.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME FindTheBest

The Top 10 Tech Movies of the Millennium

It’s time. Fourteen years into the millennium, the top 10 tech films need to be crowned.

“Tech” Movies

I’ll admit: this list is more “mainstream tech” than “geeky tech.” Think super hero, special agent and space exploration (though we’ll still get a little computer hacking and time travel for good measure).

This Millennium

Sorry 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Tron (1982). This is for post-2000 flicks only. Keep in mind that late-90s favorites like The Truman Show (1998) and The Matrix (1999) also miss out.

Methodology for the Overall Score

Picking candidates for this list was always going to be subjective (who’s to say what’s “tech” and what’s not?). But with that little task out of the way, we turned to the numbers to assign an overall score for each film.

64% Ratings and Awards

We awarded points based on Oscar nominations for best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress, plus awarded bonus points if the film went on to win the category. We threw in the Golden Globe’s best picture nominees and winners as well. Finally, we awarded points for appearances at America’s top film festivals.

34% Popularity

We incorporated over two dozen top lists, including AFI’s top films and the late Roger Ebert’s picks. We also factored in Facebook fans and Facebook shares for each film.

2% Financial Performance

We gave a small bump for films that did well at the box office.

See the scores for over 150,000 films, plus a more detailed guide on the methodology.

Dishonorable Mentions

Antitrust (2001) – Released shortly after the dotcom bust, Antitrust premiered with promise, sporting a relevant subject, trendy political vibe, and cast of hot-and-young-twenty-somethings. The only problem? The film itself is bland, predictable, formulaic garbage.

Source Code (2011) – With a snappy premise, a half-shaven Jake Gyllenhaal, and a vaguely-tech-friendly title only Hollywood could have devised, Source Code seemed destined to become the next cult-favorite tech flick. Unfortunately, the film’s ending is so bizarre, not even Mr. Gyllenhaal’s deep, dreamy eyes can save it.

Looper (2012) – Another good premise gone dull, Looper builds a fascinating world of time travel, wonky tech, and moral choices before running off the rails of logic in its final hour.

10. Iron Man (2008) – 87/100

The Premise

Sometimes-scientist and full-time womanizer Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) demos a fancy “Jericho missile” in Iraq, then gets ambushed. The attack leaves our hero imprisoned, full of shrapnel, and more handsome than ever before. With the help of a fellow soldier, Stark builds an electromagnetic suit, designed to keep all those lethal metal shards from piercing his heart. In a lucky turn of events, the suit is also ideal for fighting crime. A feature-length film ensues.

The Verdict

Between all the tech jargon and Robert Downey, Jr.’s snark, the film is probably twice as verbose as it needs to be. Still, Iron Man represents something special among the saturated superhero genre: a popcorn blockbuster that actually cares about the science behind its technology. High-fives for 13-year-old boys and computer science professors across America.

Tech Smart

Experts praise the suit’s science—from its lightweight design to strength-increasing powers—as reasonably accurate.

Technically Incorrect

While the suit’s flying capabilities aren’t wholly absurd, the g-forces from the fast speeds and quick turns would kill the man, turning Stark to slop. Yes, even his gorgeous face.

9. Skyfall (2012) – 88/100

The Premise

James Bond (Daniel Craig) gets sniped off of a moving train, then whines about it for months while sleeping with gorgeous, semi-anonymous dirty-blondes. Meanwhile, M (Judi Dench) gets hacked by a cyber-terrorist, then grumbles about it while memorizing the complete poetic works of Lord Tennyson. Bond might be getting a little too old for this, but he nonetheless returns to save the very people that abandoned him.

The Verdict

Formulaic but fun, Skyfall is a return to classic Bond, neither as ambitious as Casino Royale nor as disjointed as Quantum of Solace. The basic plot might be used 19 times every summer (jaded white male hero must save girl and/or city who misunderstands him), but the jokes tend to land and Dench brings a heap of gravitas typically missing from modern Bond films.

Tech Smart

When the new Q (Ben Whishaw, geeky and goofy) chastises Bond for expecting more than a basic gun and tracking device, Skyfall says more about modern technology than most of Iron Man. Sometimes, simple is best.

Technically Incorrect

Q’s “hacking interface” near the end of the film is pure Hollywood, a colorful extravaganza caught halfway between a 3D brain model and Windows Media Player music visualizer. A simple command line would have been much more accurate.

8. Minority Report (2002) – 92/100

The Premise

It’s the year 2054, and the law has finally found a way to stop murders before they happen. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) specializes in putting together clues to predict murders, then crashing the future murderer’s pad and yelling loud Tom Cruise things while performing an arrest. It’s only when Anderton discovers that he himself will commit the next murder that the true trouble begins.

The Verdict

With an absorbing premise and smart attention to detail, Minority Report’s opening act is flawless. Then, as though out of ideas, the film cruises its way to an underwhelming finish, with predictable surprises and a Tom Cruise desperate to keep things interesting. Oh well. No one can say he doesn’t try.

Tech Smart

The clue-gathering interface—complete with pinch-to-zoom and swipe to close—seems positively prescient in today’s world of smartphone apps and Xbox’s Kinect. Plus, those iris-enabled, personalized ads (“Hello Mr. Yakamoto and welcome back to the GAP.”) feel exactly like where Google will be in a decade or three.

Technically Incorrect

Unlike the swiping gestures and ocular ads, the video holograms are a ways off—at least the sort that will render a 3D model perfectly from any angle.

7. Primer (2004) – 94/100

The Premise

A festival darling, Primer attempts to play out the logical ramifications of time travel, to a dizzying degree.

The Verdict

The film deserves credit for taking time travel’s many, many (many) logical complications so seriously. Primer is a PhD thesis next to the high school papers of Hollywood’s standard back-to-the-future fare. Unfortunately, Primer is so committed to its philosophical exploration that the film itself suffers. It’s just too damn dense for its 77-minute runtime.

Tech Smart

It’s the one movie on this list that takes its science 100% seriously.

Technically Incorrect

I really can’t comment because it’s too confusing.

6. WALL-E (2008) – 94/100

The Premise

Years in the future, Earth has been reduced to rubble, and Pixar has long, long since stopped making Oscar-winning films. The animation studio shows off what it can do without words for the first half, then flies us to a space station, where we find the human race has turned lazy, self-centered, and addicted to small-screen devices.

The Verdict

A triumph of animation and serviceable environmental brochure, WALL-E is among Pixar’s best feature films. The non-verbal elegance of the first half has rarely been replicated, and even if the PowerPoint-style second half is too blunt, the animation itself is still superb.

Tech Smart

The benignly self-centered, small-screen-obsessed humans are all too real. To Pixar’s credit, the movie is pleasant, creepy and clairvoyant, all at once.

Technically Incorrect

Pixar probably intended to emphasize its message by making all the lazy humans overweight, but the film oversteps a bit here, underscoring a link between lazy and fat that science says is more tenuous than we think.

5. Inception (2010) – 94/100

The Premise

Inception raises a tantalizing question: What if we could convince a person of something by infiltrating their dreams? Energy tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Dominick “Dom” Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) to convince Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to sell his father’s company. Dom and his crew develop a scheme to invade Fischer’s dreams in order to plant the key information deep in his brain.

The Verdict

DiCarprio mesmerizes as Cobb, mixing lost love, boyish intrigue, and overconfidence in a performance a notch or two better than the genre requires. Ellen Page plays the precocious youth as well as always. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Well, we all love Joseph.

Tech Smart

Inception plays with the concept of lucid dreaming, where the sleeper can take control of her dreams because she knows she is asleep. Science says a limited version of this is actually possible—some people can do so naturally, while others can learn and improve.

Technically Incorrect

While scientists have learned to inject very basic signals into dreams, they’ve never come close to actually creating thoughts from scratch. Inception does technology reasonably well—just suspend disbelief for the central premise.

4. Her (2013) – 95/100

The Premise

Greeting card writer and hipster-clad fashionista Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). He goes on to learn a little bit about life, a little bit about love, and a few other things that earn the film a best picture Oscar nomination.

The Verdict

Smarter and more believable than it looks, Her is a surprisingly touching love story. Phoenix pouts more convincingly than an 8-year-old ballerina, while Johansson delivers her best performance to date—using only her voice.

Tech Smart

Refreshingly, Her’s operating systems speak with human inflection and aren’t bent on world domination, more realistic than the thousand Terminators and I, Robots of evil-AI past.

Technically Incorrect

If Her takes place several decades in the future, then why does everyone in the film dress like they live in modern-day Portland or Seattle? The film nails the technology, but the fashion is too hipster for its own good.

3. Avatar (2009) – 95/100

The Premise

See Disney’s Pocahontas. Then add blue skin and tails in post-production.

The Verdict

While the overriding plot may not be all that original, Avatar is one of the few modern films that fully justifies 3D technology. The movie is gorgeous, imaginative, and as it turns out, unbelievably profitable.

Tech Smart

Scientists say all the space travel, floating land, and magnetic fields are reasonably believable, given the rules the film establishes. Plus, the interplanetary imperialism will ring true for anyone who’s read a history textbook.

Technically Incorrect

Biologically, Avatar leaves its firm (but floating) ground. In reality, the blue Na’vi people are far too similar to humans. The odds of finding such similar beings would be astronomical. Here, James Cameron (director) went for audience-appeal over accuracy.

2. The Social Network (2010) – 96/100

The Premise

Dancing from deposition room to a (fake) Harvard campus to an Appletini dinner, The Social Network tells the story of Facebook’s inception, from the original idea to the friendships and Shakespeare-worthy betrayals.

The Verdict

David Fincher nearly directs The Social Network to death, but his tight control ends up being one of the film’s greatest strengths. Each scene sparkles with Fincher’s precision, and the opening bar scene is worthy of London’s best stage productions. If you never liked The West Wing, you’ll have to get past Aaron Sorkin’s too-smart-by-half dialogue, but regardless, The Social Network is one of the finest films of the last 14 years. (And yes, it’s better than The King’s Speech.)

Tech Smart

The depiction of Facemash.com’s creation—from Mark’s on-a-whim decision, to the code used, to the traffic it received—is all spot on. You can even hear Jesse Eisenberg describe a “Perl script” in his best attempt at engineering geek-speak.

Technically Incorrect

Facemash may or may not have crashed Mark’s own computer, but it certainly wouldn’t have crashed Harvard’s network. This was pure invention, a little like half the statuses we see on Facebook these days.

1. Gravity (2013) – 96/100

The Premise

Surprisingly attractive astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) make gradual, seemingly arbitrary repairs on a space station while laughing about stories that are only sort of funny. Soon, however, space debris flies in, destroying their shuttle and sending our heroes hurtling into space. Will they survive?

The Verdict

Poetic, poignant, and gripping, Gravity succeeds with a simple plot and stunning visual effects. While some have criticized the film for being too shallow, Gravity presents a compelling metaphor about depression, loss, and sheer force of will.

Tech Smart

Gravity constructs each space vessel—from the buttons to dials to design—with admirable accuracy.

Technically Incorrect

Gravity takes several liberties in order to tell a more exciting story. From the speed of the space debris (it’s still too slow in the film), to the mysterious momentum (why is Kowalski being pulled away from Stone while they cling to a rope?), to Bullock’s beautiful, airbrushed body (she wouldn’t look like that after removing her suit), Gravity takes a few shortcuts.

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

TIME Software

WWDC 2014: Apple to Announce New Goodies at June Developer Conference

WWDC Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces iOS 7 at a keynote address during the 2013 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 10, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Kimberly White--Getty Images

There’s an old saying that tech bloggers like to use: “It wouldn’t be June without an Apple developer conference in the earlier part of June. Let’s wait to see what Apple announces and then either type about it or make videos about it, or perhaps both.” Ask any tech blogger about that saying, and if he or she denies it, the appropriate response is, “You’re either with us, or you’re against us.” Maintain eye contact the entire time you say that phrase, too.

Anyhoo, this year will be no different. Apple has just announced the dates of WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) – it’ll run between June 2 and June 6, almost certainly with an opening keynote where Tim Cook and friends will unveil what’s next for Apple.

The announcements skew heavily to the software side – this is a developer conference, after all – but previous WWDCs haven’t been without hardware announcements. Last year, we saw the totally redesigned and very-cylindrical Mac Pro and revamped MacBook Air models; the Retina MacBook Pro was unveiled in 2012; the iPhone 4 debuted back in 2010; there was the unibody MacBook Pro and the iPhone 3GS back in 2009; the iPhone 3G was revealed in 2008. But the point of the conference is software, software, software. Last year it was a heaping helping of iOS 7.

That’s not a bad thing, by any means. Without software, all you’ve got are paperweights. You could argue that software’s far more exciting than hardware nowadays: Phones are rectangles, tablets are rectangles, laptops are rectangles that fold down on top of other rectangles. Software is the soul of our gadgets.

We’ll have plenty of WWDC coverage right here – make sure to check back in early June.

Apple Worldwide Developers Conference [Apple.com]

TIME Video Games

Blizzard Pushing Hearthstone Out for iPad, Where It Probably Belongs

Blizzard

But you'll have to live in Canada, Australia or New Zealand to play the tablet version for now.

Hearthstone is a free-to-play card game staged in Blizzard’s Warcraft-verse that arrived for Windows and OS X earlier this month, March 11. It’s also been in the offing for iOS and Android devices, which is where you’d think any sort of card game would work best, but all Blizzard said last fall was that we’d see the latter versions sometime during the second half of 2014, i.e. sometime between July and December.

But as of last night, Blizzard says the game is officially available for Apple’s iPad (though not the iPhone, nor Android devices). The only catch: you have to live in Canada, Australia or New Zealand, since that’s all Blizzard’s supporting for now. The company says the “rest of the world” will see the iPad version “soon.” (Since Hearthstone is Battle.net-based and thus online-angled, I assume the staggered rollout is just Blizzard doing server capacity due diligence.)

Why push the iPad version’s release up by at least three months? Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime says that while 10 million people have registered accounts with the service, “we saw that a few people online were holding out for the iPad version.”

“Instead of calling those folks up individually, we figured we might as well let everyone know that the global iPad rollout for Hearthstone has begun, and pretty soon it’ll be available everywhere.”

Where it won’t be available everywhere soon: Android devices, iPhones and Windows tablets. Blizzard says those versions are “in development and will be available in the future.”

TIME Technlogizer

Hands On with Amazon’s Fire TV: 10 Things I’ve Learned So Far

Fire TV
Amazon

It's not a Roku- or Apple TV-killer. But it's got some clever touches

What you are about to read is not a full-blown review of Amazon’s Fire TV, the $99 video set-top box the company announced at a New York press event on Wednesday. In the short time I’ve had with it so far, I’ve only dipped briefly into the games, which are one of this Android-based gadget’s major features. And I haven’t yet tried the integration that lets you throw video from a Kindle Fire tablet to the Fire TV.

With that disclaimer out of the way, some initial impressions and notes:

1. It doesn’t blow away the competition. The Fire may be a latecomer, but it’s not a me-too knockoff: It has the beefiest specs of any product in its category and by far the most ambitious approach to gaming. But if you’ve already got a Roku or Apple TV, you don’t need a Fire TV. And if you haven’t bought one yet, all three contenders are worth considering.

2. It’s a bit thin on content. Not that there isn’t a lot to watch. And if you’re mainly interested in Amazon’s own stuff–including rentals, videos to purchase, and the items available at no extra cost to Amazon Prime members–you’ll probably be very happy. But Roku and Apple TV, which have been around for years, both have more in the way of sports (Fire TV just has Watch ESPN, MLB.tv and NBA Game Time) as well as HBO Go and other significant offerings not yet available on the Fire. Actually, Roku has over a thousand channels of content–a figure I can’t see either Amazon or Apple approaching any time soon.

3. The voice part of voice search works just about perfectly. At least for me. When I pressed and held the voice button on the little remote control, its built-in microphone understood almost everything I said–“Albert Brooks,” “Lady Gaga,” “The Freshman,” “Sonic,” “Pandora,” “comedies,” “new releases” and much more. Slick indeed.

4. The search part has some quirks. In the majority of cases, it does more or less what you’d expect: Search for “John Wayne,” and you’ll get John Wayne movies as far as the eye can see. But in multiple cases, I found the results to be anywhere from slightly weird to very weird. For instance:

  • Slightly weird: Some searches returned results that don’t make obvious sense. For instance, searching for “Peter Sellers” got me movies with Peter Sellers in them–but also the TV series Frasier, produced long after Sellers left us.
  • Very weird: Searching for “Beatrice Arthur” (or “Bea Arthur”) returned a number of films she isn’t in, including Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis (!), but not the two things she’s most famous for: Maude and The Golden Girls. Even though both are available from Amazon.
  • Not weird, but not helpful: Precise search results such as “Jason Alexander” often return one or more TV series in their entirety, dumping you at season one, episode one. As far as I can tell, there may or may not be something in there truly relevant to your search, and you may or may not be able to find it.

5. It is really, really easy to rent or buy content from Amazon with this thing. The voice search, generally snappy interface and 1-Click-style integration with your Amazon account add up to the fastest way I’ve seen to find something you want to see, pay for it and begin watching. It’s the best implementation of Amazon’s streaming service yet, which helps explain why Amazon decided it was worth building its own box even though it’s already on so many other companies’ devices.

6. Video sources other than Amazon are mostly second-class citizens. I noticed that voice search sometimes pulled up music videos from Vevo. But even though the Fire TV offers two major competitors to Amazon’s own video service, Netflix and Hulu Plus, they’re self-contained apps rather than part of the primary, Amazon-centric interface, and they don’t work with voice search. Use voice (or the main text-based search) to look for “House of Cards,” for instance, and you’ll only get the show’s first season, which is available for purchase from Amazon–even if you subscribe to Netflix, where you can watch the first two seasons at no additional cost.

7. The ASAP video feature really works. Amazon says that the box attempts to guess what you might want to watch before you’ve asked for it, so it can pre-fetch it and play it back instantly. And indeed, some videos started the moment I selected them, in a way that feels borderline impossible. Others took a few seconds, but were still speedy compared to the norm for Netflix and Hulu.

8. The box seems to err on the side of smooth video quality over a crisp picture. When I connected to my home network over Wi-Fi, I noticed that the image was often a bit blocky, but that the stream almost never stalled. (I ended up plugging the Fire into a wired network connection, which got rid of the blockiness.)

9. I don’t care much about the relative industrial designs of these little TV boxes. Amazon brags about Fire TV being .7″ thick, the same height as a dime balanced on its edge. But really, the nice thing about this device, Apple TV and Roku is that they’re all about the size of a sandwich, and easy to tuck out of the way. The aesthetics and exact sizes don’t matter all that much, because all of these boxes blend so unobtrusively into the background.

10. Amazon’s own music service is missing. I’ve bought a fair number of albums from the company, but I can’t listen to them on Fire TV. Which is a tad odd, since it does have Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

When Amazon introduces something new, it often does so at a price that changes the game. That hasn’t happened here. Instead, it tried to put together a really nice product at a price point ($99) with plenty of precedent. A couple of days ago, there were only two viable competitors in the market for small, simple, affordable TV boxes: Roku and Apple. Now there are three–and it’ll be fun to see where Amazon, which takes categories seriously when it gets into them, goes from here.

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