TIME Smartphones

Meet the $329 Phone Everyone’s Been Waiting For

The new OnePlus 2 smartphone.
OnePlus The new OnePlus 2 smartphone.

The OnePlus 2 is the best phone you've never heard of

OnePlus, a rising smartphone star in China, released a new, top-of-the-line product this morning. It’s a smartphone called the OnePlus 2—an admittedly clever bit of mathematical marketing—and it’s billed as the “2016 Flagship Killer.”

Translation: Dear Samsung, Apple, Lenovo, Huawei, and LG: We’re comin’ for ya.

The device itself is enticing. It’s based on Google’s Android operating system, as most phones that don’t start with “i” are, and has the latest mobile innards: A Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor rated at 1.8 GHz, four gigabytes of memory, 64 gigabytes of storage, 13- and five-megapixel cameras, a fingerprint sensor, and a 5.5-inch screen (about on par with the iPhone 6). It’s a bit heavier than Apple’s model. (Is it better? I’ll leave it to Fortune’s Jason Cipriani, who will soon answer that question in a forthcoming review.)

Most important, it’s $329 without a contract. That seems expensive to American consumers used to phones (on contract) in the $200 range, but consider that the iPhone is roughly $650 without a two-year service plan and Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is $685. This is a strategy we’ve seen time and time again from Chinese manufacturers: Match the competition’s hardware and software and undercut them on price. It’s a page ripped directly from the South Korean playbook, itself ripped from the Japanese playbook. (For more on this dynamic, as well as the rise of OnePlus, read “Enter the Dragons,” Scott Cendrowski’s feature in the March 2015 issue of Fortune magazine.)

But despite the hyperbole and hyperventilation in the tech press this morning—”So good it makes me want to leave Verizon,” one early reviewer breathlessly wrote; “pushes the boundaries of what a flagship phone can be,” wrote another—the bigger strategic maneuver for OnePlus is clearly found in the business model. All smartphone makers are subject to the same hardware providers (unless they’re big enough to make proprietary components like Apple and Samsung). That leaves user experience (including customer service!) and price. What makes OnePlus different is its ability to match the former while achieving the latter,reportedly at cost. The marketing doesn’t hesitate to encourage it: “Never Settle” is the company’s slogan. “We believe that great products come from great ideas, not multi-million dollar marketing campaigns,” is a Samsung-targeted line it regularly trots out, even as it tries to reconcile both concepts in international courts of law.

It’s easy, of course, for a small company to punch up at the big giants; it’s got little to lose by starting a war with the incumbents. (Take note, 2016 U.S. presidential election contenders.) But OnePlus should not forget that those five companies—two Korean, one American, and two Chinese—comprise more than half of the global market for smartphones, per IDC’s latest estimates. While ascendant, OnePlus is still obscure to most consumers around the world, and it has yet to truly dominate its own, extraordinarily competitive home market. But with attitude aplenty, OnePlus may have already won an important battle before ever having shipped a single unit of its new model: The one for the minds of consumers who look at smartphones and see Apple, Samsung, and no one else. If this new device helps them see OnePlus, too, then it’s the kind of addition that all Chinese smartphone makers should cheer.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Amazon

Amazon Creates Startup Service To Find The Next GoPro

Amazon-prime-day
LIONEL BONAVENTURE—AFP/Getty Images

The company wants to be the go-to retail platform for emerging products.

Amazon is offering a new service that will make life easier for start-up founders. Amazon Launchpad, announced on Tuesday, creates an “Amazon Launchpad store” that will showcase start-up products and provide the makers with marketing and distribution support.

Start-up products featured in the store include the Soma Sustainable Pitcher and Plant-Based Water Filter, Rumpl High-Performance Indoor/Outdoor Blanket, Casper Mattress, and eero Home Wifi System, among others. So far, the store boasts more than 200 products from more than 25 accelerators, crowd-funding platforms, and venture capital firms.

“We…know from talking to startups that bringing a new product to market successfully can be just as challenging as building it,” Amazon Vice President Jim Adkins said in a press release. The Launchpad aims to smooth over that process by taking care of order fulfillment and customer service for start-ups. As a part of the launchpad, start-ups can offer their Amazon Prime customers free shipping.

“Amazon Launchpad gives customers access to a dedicated storefront featuring a variety of innovative new products from emerging brands. For startups, we handle inventory management, order fulfillment, customer service, and more, allowing them to focus their efforts on the innovation that results in more cool products,” Adkins said.

TIME Microsoft

Your Complete Guide to Microsoft Windows 10

It comes out early Wednesday morning

Microsoft is rolling out Windows 10 beginning at 12 a.m. ET Wednesday morning. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest Windows operating system before installing it.

5 Windows 10 Features We Can’t Wait to Use:

Microsoft’s personal digital assistant will feel familiar to anyone who regularly gives commands to Siri or Google Now, with one essential difference: Cortana will be baked into your desktop. As a result, Cortana can conduct a single search across your hard drive, as well as the cloud and the web, bundling the results into a single pop-up menu.

 

Why Windows 10 Is So Important for Microsoft’s Future:

Microsoft’s effort to right those wrongs arrives this week with Wednesday’s launch of Windows 10 (the company skipped “Windows 9″). Windows 10 lets users easily restore the old Windows interface, while simultaneously gently nudging people to try the new style, too. I’ve been using a beta version of Windows 10 for some time, and it feels like a solid operating system. Over time, it will probably help Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reach his goal of having 1 billion Windows-powered devices on the market by the next two-to-three years.

Here’s What Really Makes Microsoft’s Cortana So Amazing:

Microsoft’s Cortana team says the goal is to strike up a chatty, inoffensive rapport with users, in the hope that users will reward Cortana with their trust and open the kimono on their personal data. That data is critical to Cortana’s success, because if Microsoft wants to outwit the brainiest digital assistants on the market — Apple’s Siri and Google Now — Cortana will first need to take a good, hard look at your browser history, your emails and your web searches. With your permission, of course.

This Is Microsoft’s Trick to Make Office Way Better on Smartphones

Microsoft has kept that dividing line in mind when designing the next generation of Office apps for Windows 10, which launches this summer. TIME got an early look at the new Windows Phone apps this week, which will be released in preview mode for Windows Phone Insiders by the end of the month. The company hopes the software’s new interfaces will let workers switch seamlessly from desktops to tablets to smartphones without straining their eyes, fingers or thumbs.

It Will Be Ridiculously Easy to Bring Apple and Android Apps to Windows

App developers whistled and applauded at Microsoft’s bombshell announcement Wednesday that they’ll be able to take code for Android and Apple apps and import it directly into the Windows ecosystem.

This Is Microsoft’s Big Secret Windows 10 Feature:

Microsoft announced last November Windows 10 would pack a technology called AllJoyn. An open source framework that encourages devices to be interoperable, AllJoyn was developed by the AllSeen Alliance, a group of more than 150 companies including the likes of Electrolux, Honeywell, LG, and Qualcomm that have banded together to make an open standard for Internet of Things (IoT) devices to speak to each other.

Microsoft Will Sell Windows 10 on a USB Stick:

Microsoft has confirmed it will make Windows 10 available for purchase via a USB stick, replacing the iconic disc packages that have defined the brand’s image for decades.

 

 

TIME Mobile

Google Fixed the Worst Part About Grocery Shopping

Google Lines
Google Google Lines

New search feature shows when stores have long lines

No one likes waiting in lines, but there’s little way to avoid them besides trying to ballpark when a business will be extremely busy.

Now, Google is rolling out a new feature in its search results that shows hourly foot traffic at millions of different businesses around the world. The feature works by using anonymized location data from people’s mobile phones, much in the same way Google measures traffic congestion data.

Google has gotten scarily good at predicting when a traffic jam is going to slow drivers down, so it will likely get equally skilled at predicting peak waiting times in stores eventually.

The feature is available across mobile phones and will begin rolling out in the next few days.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Just Unveiled This Totally Unexpected New Product

US-IT-INTERNET-SOFTWARE-MICROSOFT
AFP—AFP/Getty Images The Microsoft logo.

No, it doesn't have anything to do with Windows 10

While many Microsoft customers are patiently awaiting the release of Windows 10, Microsoft has surprised us all by quietly unveiling a completely unexpected new product: Arrow Launcher Beta.

Arrow Launcher is a basic and user-friendly Android launcher with three main pages, and as its name suggests this is an early version of the product.

Your home page contains all of your apps. It’s divided into a Recent section, displaying the ones you recently downloaded, and a Frequent section, showing the apps which you use most often. Swipe to the left of the home page to find your phone and email contacts, which are also organized by frequent use. To the right of the home page are your notes and reminders, a valuable feature that isn’t included in most Android launchers. Swipe up for a list of quick-access apps, settings, and feedback options.

Arrow Launcher is currently in private beta. In order to access it, you need an invitation, which you can ask for by joining this Google+ group. However, you may want to keep in mind that, as with any other product that’s undergoing beta-testing, Arrow Launcher does come with some bugs: the row of apps on the bottom of the home page may be cut off, the Frequent sections on the home and People pages take some time to settle in accurately and, as of yet, the launcher does not support widgets. If you think you’re strong enough to endure all that, you can request an invitation to access it by joining this Google+ group.

TIME Apple music

Apple Music Just Passed a Major Milestone

Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Opens In San Francisco
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Jimmy Iovine announces Apple Music during Apple’s WWDC on June 8, 2015, in San Francisco, Calif.

The service has reportedly hit 10 million users

The music site Hits Daily Double reports that Apple Music has netted over 10 million users since its launch four weeks ago. The report only uses anonymous “inside sources at some of the major labels,” so the veracity of the statistic is far from sure.

But despite the sketchy sourcing, the report holds some water. During Apple’s third quarter earnings call last week, Tim Cook said “millions and millions of new customers are already experiencing the new service using a three-month trial period.” Apple Music, which offers streaming and radio services, has already signed on more than 15,000 artists — even a reluctant Taylor Swift.

If the report is true, 10 million users in one month a remarkably quick uptake: Spotify took five and a half years to reach its first 10 million paying users.

It’s worth noting, however, that free trial users are a far cry from paying subscribers. iPhone owners across 100 countries were prompted to download the service free of charge if they opened the Music app on iOS 8.4. And unlike Spotify, Apple Music does not offer free versions of the service, so it won’t have a bloated “active user” statistic to boast besides its paying base. So when a credit card prompt appears in three months time on the screens of the supposed 10 million users, that number might plummet.

TIME Mobile

Motorola’s New Phone Has 1 Huge Advantage

Moto X
Motorola Moto X

The Moto X Pure Edition was announced Tuesday

Motorola is taking a new tack with its next flagship phone by selling the device directly to consumers.

At a global press event Tuesday, the company announced the Motorola X Style, its followup to last year’s Motorola X. A version of the device called the Pure Edition, which comes unlocked and will be sold on Motorola’s website and at select retailers, will sell for $399 starting in September.

The Moto X Style will boast a 5.7-inch quad high-definition display as well as an improved 21 megapixel camera. The device also charges very quickly. In a pre-recorded demo, the phone gained about one-third of its charge back in 15 minutes. Like the previous Moto X, customization is also a key feature, with customers able to choose outer casings in a variety of colors and with materials such as metal, wood and leather.

Last year’s Motorola X was regarded as one of the best Android phones on the market. If the new one matches it, it will be a quality high-end smartphone retailing for about $200 less than the unlocked versions of the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 when they first came to market. Customers who buy the unlocked Motorola phone will also be able to sign up for wireless service from whichever carrier they choose without having software from the carrier already installed on their phone.

“We’re confident that this is the new wave of the future,” Motorola Design Chief Jim Wicks said at the event. “This strategy allows us to take out the middle man.”

Motorola also announced that its popular more affordable phone, the Moto G, is getting a refresh that launches Tuesday worldwide. The improved Moto G has a 13-megapixel camera and 4G LTE. It’s also waterproof, able to be submerged for as long as 30 minutes. The device starts at $180 for an 8GB version.

Motorola also unveiled the Moto X Play, which boasts a 5.5-inch screen and fewer customization options than the Style. The device has a longer battery life, and like the Style, Motorola says it will be considerably cheaper than high-end phones from competitors. The device will launch in select markets in August but has no scheduled release in the U.S.

TIME Algorithms

Coders Are Making More Room for Curators in Silicon Valley

Entertainer Aubrey Drake Graham known as Drake speaks during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, June 8, 2015. Apple Inc., the maker of iPhones and iPads, will introduce software improvements for its computer and mobile devices as well as reveal new updates, including the introduction of a revamped streaming music service. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Drake
David Paul Morris—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP Entertainer Aubrey Drake Graham known as Drake speaks during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, June 8, 2015.

Facebook, Apple, Netflix and others are relying on human expertise to complement automated algorithms

It’s been almost a decade since the debut of the Netflix Prize, a $1 million bounty for the person or group that could best improve the company’s movie suggestion algorithm. Netflix’s much-touted recommendation engine was, at the time, one of the driving forces of its success as a DVD-by-mail service. The idea that a computer could churn through thousands of movie cast, plots and genre and pluck out the one or two that a particular viewer might enjoy was novel and exciting. The highly publicized prize proved to be great marketing for the company.

Fast forward nine years and the phrase on the tip of Netflix executives’ tongues isn’t “smart algorithms”—it’s “original programming.” Sure, Netflix still uses software to recommend titles available on its streaming platform, but the company says what’s really driving new subscriptions are the dozen or so originals it has bankrolled over the last two years, including flagship series like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. As The New Yorker’s Tim Wu points out, today Netflix’s most valuable “algorithm” might be chief content officer Ted Sarandos, who’s in charge of picking which programs the company funds.

This is just one example of human expertise and insight complementing automated, data-driven experiences in Silicon Valley. But it represents a broader sea-change in thinking about what humans can do computers simply can’t.

Since the very first Google query in 1998, Internet denizens have been taught that ever-more-intelligent algorithms would one day be able to serve them recommendations that, if not altogether perfect, were at least much better than anything a lowly human could ever muster. Each of us was supposed to have our own personalized, pristine digital experience calculated with such exaction by computers that you’d feel uncomfortable even questioning the algorithm’s authority.

MORE: 5 Reasons to Buy a PlayStation 4 Right Now

But tech companies seem to be jutting up against the limits of what an algorithm can achieve, at least affordably. (The algorithm that won the Netflix prize was never actually implemented because it was prohibitively expensive). Now, the coders are having to make more room for the curators and the creatives across a variety of sectors.

Last month, Apple launched Apple Music, an on-demand streaming service similar to Spotify. Human curators are a core selling point. Music experts hand-select songs for oddly specific but weirdly compelling playlists to serve to users based on their favorite artists and genres. Meanwhile an Internet radio station called Beats 1 has become the centerpiece of the service, featuring live DJs, interviews with artists and songs far afield of the Billboard charts. The old-school format’s launch was followed as closely by the tech press as the inaugural fireside chat.

Even in areas where it seemed as though algorithms had decidedly won out, human input is gaining greater importance. Facebook’s News Feed is controlled by a closely guarded algorithm that sorts through the thousands of posts available to a given user each day and shows only the ones that it thinks will be most interesting to each individual person. For the last year, though, the company has been paying hundreds of people around the country to grade the News Feed’s quality and offer suggestions for improvements. Insight from these everyday users has led to algorithm improvements that a computer program seeking to boost engagement metrics could never discern, such as the need to show sad or serious posts prominently even though they may not garner a lot of “Likes.”

MORE: YouTube Is About to Look Very Different

The approach seems to be paying off. Facebook’s number of users and the average time spent on-site has continued to climb as it has made its algorithm more human. The human elements of Apple Music, such as Beats 1, have received high praise even as people have griped about the service’s confusing interface and rocky stability. Even newcomer Snapchat has gotten in on curation. It’s hard to imagine an algorithm replicating the mini-narratives that emerge in Snapchat’s “Live Stories,” the 24-hour local pastiches the burgeoning social network curates from snaps from its 100 million users. These stories now attract 20 million viewers a day, and the format has been so successful that Twitter is planning to imitate it this fall with Project Lightning, an upcoming feature that will show a human-curated feed of interesting tweets, photos and videos tied to major events.

Algorithms are here to stay, of course. They have the ability to analyze millions of pieces of data faster than a team of humans ever could. The emergence of Big Data—the vast trove of data generated by people and devices—is only likely to make them more crucial. But in the future, recommendation systems that meld human and algorithmic input may be more commonplace. Apple Music analyzes a user’s past listening activity to decide which human-curated playlists to present, for instance. Netflix uses its massive trove of data about people’s viewing habits to determine what types of shows to bankroll (though, Sarandos and other executives give the final green light).

We increasingly rely on computers to guide us in the right direction, but we may still need a living, breathing human to be that final arbiter of taste.

TIME Microsoft

Your Computer May Already Have Windows 10

Get ready for the big switch

The countdown has begun until some Windows 7 and Windows 8 users are upgraded to Windows 10 for free.

Microsoft will officially release Windows 10 Wednesday morning at 12 a.m. ET. But some users’ computers may have already downloaded the new software in the background, The Verge reports.

Microsoft will only blast out the update to some Windows users at first. The rest will be updated in waves as Microsoft fine-tunes Windows 10 and makes sure that it works on a massive scale.

Windows 10 offers a new interface, closer Xbox One integration and a new notification center. It also features Cortana, a Siri-like assistant that takes care of tasks like reminders, search and news article curation.

TIME Social Media

LinkedIn Is Making a Big Change People Have Wanted for Years

LinkedIn Corp. To File For IPO
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images In this photo illustration, the LinkedIn logo is displayed on the screen of a laptop computer on January 27, 2011 in San Anselmo, California.

You're going to love this

A quick Google search of “LinkedIn email” provides a glimpse at how users of the professional social network feel about its presence in their inboxes. The first page of search results includes “How to Stop Annoying LinkedIn Emails,” “Turn Off Annoying LinkedIn Emails,” “How to Disable all of LinkedIn Emails,” and even “Judge Allows Lawsuit Over LinkedIn Emails to Progress.”

LinkedIn is listening. In a blog post Monday, Aatif Awan, senior director of product management, said, “we get it.” And LinkedIn is cutting down the number of emails its users receive.

Now, instead of emailing a user each time he or she receives an invitation to connect, users who receive a large number of requests will only receive one weekly digest email. And LinkedIn users who are part of groups — like alumni or professional networks — will receive digests of the groups’ updates instead of minute-by-minute emails. The changes will cut emails by 40%, the company says.

“When it comes to your inbox, the message has been received: less is more,” Awan wrote.

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