TIME Innovation

This Technology Could Change the Way Deaf People Live

A new device being produced to ship in fall 2015 could be the first compact, real-time interpreter for deaf people who cannot speak. Courtesy of MotionSavvy

A San Francisco company is crowdfunding a project to make sign-to-word communication the most seamless it's ever been

Ryan Hait-Campbell says his San Francisco company’s invention is really about jobs. Deaf people like himself, explains the MotionSavvy CEO, are too often shunted into positions that don’t require talking to anyone—washing dishes, fishing or other solitary vocations that often have low wages, little opportunity for advancement and no need for an employer to hire an interpreter. One study found that only 58% of working-age Americans with a severe hearing impairment have a job at all.

MotionSavvy’s first product, though still in prototype stage, could revolutionize the prospects of millions who are deaf or hard of hearing. Called Uni, the device clasps around a PC tablet and uses MotionSavvy software to act as an interpreter between a signer (who can’t speak) and speaker (who can’t understand sign language) in very-close-to-real-time.

Two cameras read and project images of a deaf person’s gestures into a 3D virtual space. Uni’s software interprets those movements into English words that are spoken for them in a Siri-like voice. Then, when a speaker responds in words, the program uses voice recognition to display those sounds as text.

Here’s what the screen looks like:

20140919172223-Animated-UI

You can also watch a short video showing how it works on the company website.

The current options a deaf person has to communicate with people who don’t understand sign language are often expensive, cumbersome and leaving the signer at the mercy of an intermediary’s interpretation. They can hire an interpreter, either in person or through video relay services like FaceTime, paying rates that could be $50 an hour. Or they can use some equivalent of writing their words on a piece of paper and handing it to someone, who then writes their response on the paper and hands it back—whether that’s on actual paper or an app.

MotionSavvy’s chief design officer Jordan Stemper—one of eight hearing impaired MotionSavvy employees besides Hait-Campbell—says that nuance is often lost through interpreters, and points out that deaf people have been in situations where none of the available options suffice. Banks, for instance, have refused to allow deaf customers to call them using relay services because of privacy concerns (and have been sued for it), meaning any banking they want to do has to be done in person.

The key piece of technology in Uni is what MotionSavvy calls its “sign builder,” a system that can record gestures (made over and over and over again to account for variation among signers) and assign them English words. Right now, Uni can understand just 300 words and the alphabet. But Hait-Campbell says that the company plans to recruit about 200 beta testers this coming spring who will both try out the device and add needed signs, putting their lexicon at over 15,000 by fall 2015, when pre-orders are set to ship. The devices will also adjust to a user’s particular movements over time through machine learning, Hait-Campbell says. And if someone wants to add a non-standard sign for slang like “ridonculous,” they can.

The beta testers will be drawn from people who pre-order Uni through MotionSavvy’s Indiegogo campaign, a crowdfunding effort started this week that will determine how many devices can be shipped in fall 2015 and whether the products remain at their $499 price point, which Hait-Campbell says has caused sticker-shock among some in the deaf community. The MotionSavvy team wants to put the device—one they hope to eventually shrink to a mobile phone case and perhaps even an app—in as many hands as possible, and may consider cheaper subscription models to do so.

“I do not consider being deaf a handicap, but in reality it is,” Hait-Campbell writes to TIME. “There’s not been any real innovation for those deaf who cannot speak . . . Most deaf people, if they have jobs, have jobs that require little communication, like grunt work jobs. And it sucks, because the potential of these people, including my friends, can take them so far.” Most deaf people he knows are living on Social Security, he says, getting by month-to-month on what might be $500 checks.

The National Association of the Deaf does not endorse products, but spokesperson Lizzie Sorkin says the group is aware of Uni and sees it as “promising technology.” She also hints at some current limitations, like the fact that sign language is often conveyed through entire body movements, not just the fingers and forearms that show up on Uni’s screen. Hait-Campbell says later versions of the product will account for a wider range of motion, including facial expressions.

The app’s development will likely be of interest to far more people than the hearing impaired. Hait-Campbell says his company has already been approached by players in other industries who are interested in the technology, like defense contractors who want their software for controlling drones through gestures, as well as home automation companies. For now, he says, MotionSavvy has tunnel vision. “We want to focus on making this the best we can for the deaf world,” he says. “There is nothing like this out there at all. The need for this is so great.”

Colin Pattison Photography— Cinematography
TIME Companies

Apple Pay: Who Won and Who Lost?

Not all Apple Pay winners are created equal

Mobile payments are happening to the retail industry like bankruptcy happens to Mike Campbell in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: gradually, and then suddenly all at once. Google has offered mobile payments for three years, and Walmart and Best Buy have been talking about mobile pay since 2012. But Apple is one of the few companies that many observers say can quickly lead a critical mass of people to wave their phones in the air for everything from bed sheets to burgers.

Retailers, credit card companies and banks all have made big bets on Apple’s new mobile payment system, which makes it more likely to succeed. “We will put our shoulders into a big step change like this,” says Matt Dill, a senior vice president at Visa, an Apple Pay partner, in an interview with TIME. “Apple Pay is a tipping point for major institutions going all in.”

If Apple Pay becomes as ubiquitous as most observers expect, it won’t just change the way consumers pay for things, it’ll reshape the financial institutions that facilitate our purchases. That’s not good news for everyone — many companies felt pushed to join up with Apple so they weren’t left behind. For some, it was either the Apple Pay-way or the highway.

Here’s a list of the major players, roughly in order of who won the most to who won the least.

Apple. Every time a customer make a purchase with Apple Pay, Apple earns a 0.15% charge. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but researchers say it’ll add up in the long run. Equity analysts at Nomura estimated that charge will account for $1.6 billion in projected revenue by 2017. On the lower end of estimates, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster says that Apple Pay will generate revenue of $118 million in 2015 and $310 million in 2016.

Perhaps more importantly, Apple Pay, if successful, will increase demand for Apple devices. And once customers are using Apple Pay and all their purchases are wrapped up to their phones, it’ll be that much harder to leave Apple for Android or another smartphone platform.

“Just getting part of the transaction itself will be big” for Apple, says Rajesh Kandaswamy, researcher at Gartner. But “the largest issue is it’s harder to switch away if you’re an iPhone user.”

Banks. Consumers won’t have to pay for Apple’s 0.15% fee on Apple Pay transactions; banks will. The six big banks who have signed up for Apple Pay aren’t enthusiastic about that. But in the long run, banks expect Apple Pay will push people away from using cash and toward transactions that run over their networks. Online shopping will be faster, too, as customers won’t have to input their billing information every time they make a purchase.

Finally, because Apple Pay uses a difficult-to-hack system that encrypts all financial transactions, banks will experience less cybercrime breaches for which they’re held financially liable. “Banks are going to make less money on the transaction than if it were made on a regular card swipe” because of Apple’s fee, says Michelle Evans, an analyst at Euromonitor, “but they can make more money in the end if they can drive volume over the card network and reduce fraud.”

Credit Card Companies. Visa, MasterCard and American Express have loudly trumpeted Apple Pay’s rollout. They stand to make money off Apple Pay for the same reason the banks will: the program pushes customers to their global credit business. Dill, the Visa SVP, calls Apple Pay an “on-ramp” to Visa’s network and a growth-fueler. “If we didn’t encourage innovation” like Apple Pay, “then we would be the worst enemy to our own growth,” Dill says.

But there’s another reason credit card companies are enthusiastic about Apple Pay: the alternative, CurrentC, could be pretty scary. CurrentC is a payment system mega retailers like Walmart and Best Buy are working on that could cut out credit card companies altogether. While Apple Pay leaves the traditional credit card system intact by simply moving it to your phone, analysts speculate that the CurrentC program will link payments through a network connected directly to your savings account. Voila: no middleman.

“If a technology comes along that’s focused on getting you to not use Visa, then that’s a competitor to us,” says Dill. The threat of CurrentC makes Apple Pay look more like a rickety lifeboat for the credit card companies than the super-fast motorboat Apple has promised.

Retailers and Merchants. Walgreens, Macy’s, McDonald’s and other merchants that began using Apple Pay on Monday get the same bonus that they have always gotten from debit cards and credit cards: new customers who can spend money faster. If customers spend money more easily, retailers make money more easily.

Apple Pay is also a good way to move customers through lines more quickly. It could eventually lead to retailers adopting more self-checkout lines; for merchants, that means paying fewer cashiers and lower overhead.

But Apple Pay also reinforces a system that retailers never really liked: they have to continue to pay a fee for every credit and debit card transaction. “Retailers don’t like the fees they pay,” says Kandaswamy. “Apple Pay is going to consolidate power among the same players even more.” CurrentC, on the other hand, could allow retailers to collect customer-specific data. That would let businesses like Walmart target customers with products in the same way that Google or Facebook target their ads.

Two days into Apple Pay, there aren’t yet any data on the program’s success. It’s too early to know how many people have used it or how much money Apple has made from it. But financial institutions believe the way we pay for things is changing quickly, even if we don’t quite notice it yet. “The U.S. is in the midst of an innovation in payments,” Carolyn Balfany, senior vice president at MasterCard, tells TIME. “Payment security is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50.” If Apple Pay does take off, then it is happening gradually before it’s here all of a sudden.

TIME Gadgets

The Best First Smartphone for Your Child

Australian fans take a picture with a smartphone before a Group B football match between Australia and Spain at the Baixada Arena in Curitiba during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 23, 2014.
Australian fans take a picture with a smartphone before a Group B football match between Australia and Spain at the Baixada Arena in Curitiba during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 23, 2014. William West—AFP/Getty Images

It's time to get your kid a smartphone. But which one?

There’s no more modern rite of passage than the first smartphone. How else for kids to text their friends (all of whom, rest assured, “already have one!”), swap Instagram and Snapchat photos, and stream the latest Iggy Azalea music video?

Of course, if they’re clever, they’ll argue the practical side: You’ll always know where they are. They can text you when soccer practice ends early. Apps will help them keep tabs on homework assignments. Minecraft teaches spatial skills!

Pretty good points. So let’s take a look at some kid-friendly smartphones, along with service-plan options that won’t obliterate an allowance — yours or theirs.

First things first: Your kid wants an iPhone. He’ll settle for something else, but based on what I’ve heard from my own offspring (and their friends), iPhones are the cool phones. Feel free to leverage this teachable moment (“The phone you use doesn’t make you cool or uncool”), but there’s no escaping this truth: Your kid wants an iPhone.

Should you decide to oblige, don’t feel like you have to spring for one of the new models. In fact, there are deals to be had on last year’s iPhones, both from carriers and individual sellers. The recent introduction of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus has produced a glut of used previous-gen models on eBay and Craigslist, and a glut market means a bargain market.

Another perk to going this route: You don’t have to get locked into a two-year contract. Rather, depending on whether the used phone is a CDMA or GSM model, you can take it to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile, or shop around to smaller and regional carriers offering a bit more bang for the buck. Walmart’s Straight Talk, for example, lets you bring nearly any GSM phone, and charges a competitive $45 per month for unlimited everything.

If you’re more comfortable buying new (which adds the assurance of a warranty), consider a no-contract carrier like Virgin Mobile. An iPhone 5s (32GB) would cost you $412.49 up front, but then just $30 monthly if you set up auto-pay. Total cost over two years: a little over $1,100. I priced the same basic arrangement at T-Mobile, and it amortized out to nearly double: about $2,050.

Finally, the path of least resistance — if not lowest cost — might be adding a new line of service to your existing plan. Check with your carrier to see what options they offer, as you can sometimes get a lower per-device rate as you add more lines.

Too many options? Fear not: Here are my picks for the three best smartphones for teens and preteens.

iPhone 5 (Ting)

Whether you bring your own phone (Ting allows for most Sprint models) or buy a refurbished one (a used iPhone 5 runs about $250), Ting boasts an average monthly rate of $21 per subscriber. Why so low? The company relies on floating text, voice, and data rates, and charges you only for what you use every month.

In other words, if your kid texts constantly but rarely makes a call, you’ll pay accordingly, rather than shelling out for an inflated flat rate that aims to cover everything. (Why can’t the cable companies work this way?)


Moto G (Any GSM carrier)

Motorola’s entry-level phone sort of redefines the entry-level phone, packing everything plus the kitchen sink for a price that would make Apple blush. The newly updated (a.k.a. 2nd-gen) Moto G has everything a kid wants, starting with a roomy 5-inch screen, a processor fast enough for Clash of Clans, decent cameras (front and rear), and an all-day battery. At $179.99, he or she can probably afford to buy it him or herself.

That price, remarkably, buys the phone unlocked, without ties to any contract or carrier. Just take it to any GSM-friendly provider and sign up for the plan that suits you best. The only hitch: The Moto tops out at 3G for cellular data, there’s no blazing-fast LTE speed here. Fortunately, most kids probably won’t mind — or even notice.

Samsung Galaxy S4 (TextNow)

Sprint-powered TextNow reverse-engineers its phones to rely primarily on Wi-Fi, switching to cell towers only when necessary. (Smart, and prescient: Apple’s latest iPhones will soon be able to do likewise.) That’s how it can offer service plans starting at $18.99, a price that includes unlimited texting, which, let’s face it, is all kids want anyway.

The company sells a handful of handsets (and lets you bring nearly any Sprint-compatible model), but the best deal by far is the refurbished Galaxy S4 for $250. Lest we forget, it was the hot smartphone of 2013, and it’s still plenty powerful for a kid.

TIME Social Media

Twitter Wants to Dominate Apps By Winning Over Developers

Twitter Inc. Headquarters As Company Raises $1.8 Billion After Boosting First Debt Sale
The Twitter Inc. logo is seen on coffee mugs inside the company's headquarters in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Social network wants to expand its reach beyond tweets

Twitter is trying to make itself an essential part of the app ecosystem with a new suite of tools aimed at mobile developers. Those tools, announced Wednesday and bundled together in a free service called Fabric, put Twitter in more direct competition with Google and Facebook for control of the mobile future.

Fabric is comprised of a suite of individual tools that together help developers deal with many of the issues they face getting their apps up and running. Crashlytics, a company Twitter bought in 2013, will help developers analyze crash rates for their apps and improve stability. MoPub, another recent Twitter acquisition, is an ad exchange that allows developers to easily serve ads in their apps that are bid on in real-time auctions. The third leg of Fabric, called Twitter Sign In, will let people sign into different apps using their Twitter login credentials rather than a username and password specifically for that app. Similarly, a new service called Digits will let people sign into apps using their cellphone number instead of a username and password.

Outside of Digits, Twitter had offered some form of these services before, but they hadn’t been wrapped up in one simple-to-use interface. Announced at the company’s first-ever mobile developer conference, Fabric is something of an olive branch Twitter is extending to the development community after the social network tightened access to its API a few years ago. Whether app makers will play nice with Twitter now remains to be seen.

TIME apps

Google’s New Email App Wants to Save You From Your Inbox

Opening an email could become a thing of the past, if 'Inbox' can get the right information up front

Google launched a new email app called “Inbox” Wednesday that strips essential information from your incoming messages, displaying it in a stream similar to a social media newsfeed.

Inbox Google

Rather than display messages by subject line, Inbox cuts straight to the body of your emails and attempts to prune out everything but the essential bits, such as flight times, event invitations and attached photos. A flight, for instance, will have your flight times clearly displayed up front without the airline’s preamble. The app can also draw pertinent information from the web, such as your flight’s status. The app also attempts to automatically populate to-do lists and calendar appointments, sparing you from copying the details, flipping to a new app and pasting the information into all of the related fields.

The question remains how well a machine can gauge “pertinent” information to a human user. Early hands-on demonstrations suggest an intuitive user experience. For now, only a select group of users will get to use Inbox by invitation only, who, in turn will be able to invite friends and collectively will decide whether this app will replace regular email for good.

TIME Web

25% of Women Say They’ve Been Sexually Harassed Online

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Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Name calling and humiliation are pervasive, but stalking and sexual harassment disproportionately affect young women

Four out of 10 adults have experienced some form of online harassment, but some of the most alarming variants — stalking and sexual harassment — disproportionately affect upon young women, according to a Pew survey released Wednesday.

The survey breaks down online harassment into six categories, from name calling and humiliation to physical and sexual threats. The milder attacks crossed gender lines and occurred so pervasively that many respondents said they chose to ignore their attacker rather than engage or withdraw from the forum.

But beneath the white noise of insults, experiences varied dramatically depending on the respondents’ age and gender. Roughly one-quarter of women aged 18 to 24 said they have been stalked or sexually harassed online, making them visible stand-outs from an otherwise level field of insults.

PI_2014.10.22__online-harassment-02 2

The Pew survey also exposes deeper divides that can exact a greater emotional toll on Internet users. “Those who exclusively experience less severe forms of harassment report fewer emotional or personal impacts,” the study authors write, “while those with more severe harassment experiences often report more serious emotional tolls.” It lends empirical weight to the argument that there’s no comparing male and female harassment online.

 

TIME Reviews

Apple’s New iPads Are Great, But Not Essential

Apple Unveils New iPad Models
The new iPad Air 2 (R) and iPad Mini 3 are displayed during an Apple special event on October 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Apple unveiled the new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 tablets and the iMac with 5K retina display. The Asahi Shimbun—2014 The Asahi Shimbun

You may be better off seeking last year's cheaper models

Apple’s latest iPads, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3, are being released to relatively muted fanfare compared to the excitement that surrounded the launch of the company’s latest iPhones. It makes sense—while the latest iPhones sported larger screens, much-improved cameras and the ability to be used as mobile wallets in stores, the improvements to the iPad line are subtle by comparison.

The new iPads are great, reviewers say, but they may not warrant running out for an immediate upgrade. Here’s a rundown:

Over at The Verge, Nilay Patel praises the iPad Air 2’s unprecedented thinness (6.1 millimeters), improved A8X processor, TouchID fingerprint scanner and battery life. However, at $499 for the cheapest model with 16 GB of storage, he says the product doesn’t differentiate itself enough from the slightly smaller iPhone 6 Plus or a full-fledged Macbook:

iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite are designed to make the transition from iPhone to Mac easier than ever with features like Handoff and Continuity; there’s hardly any reason to take a pitstop at the iPad along the way . . . For better or worse, Apple’s allowed the iPad to become the giant iPhone its critics have always insisted that it is, and in a world with giant iPhones that’s a tough spot to be in.


The iPad Air 2 is “pretty close to perfection,” according to CNET, but it also “doesn’t do anything startling or new.” As Scott Stein explains:

The iPad Air 2 is undoubtedly better than any other current iPad, but its advantages might matter less than last year’s dramatically-redesigned iPad Air: screen quality, size, and battery life are close enough, effectively, to feel the same. Processor power and camera quality — and Touch ID — are welcome additions, but not needle-movers for the typical iPad user. Year-old iPads have never seemed like better bets.

The original iPad Air is now retailing for $399 for its cheapest model. Critics say that may be a better choice for iPad newcomers or those with even older tablets looking for an upgrade.

Apple’s new pint-sized tablet, the iPad Mini 3, probably isn’t worth its price, according to the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo. It doesn’t sport the super-fast processor in the iPad Air 2 and it has the same weight and dimensions as its predecessor, the iPad Mini 2. The newly-added Touch ID is the main differentiating factor, along with a new gold model, but Manjoo says that’s not enough. “Unless you’re going to be doing a lot of Apple Pay shopping or you’re gaga for gold, it’s best to save the $100 and go with the Mini 2,” he writes.

The final verdict: Apple’s latest products are well-designed and probably the most advanced in their respective markets, but they still don’t quite warrant their high price tags, especially if you’re looking for more storage than the basic models provide.

 

TIME technology

This App Can Scan and Solve Math Equations Instantly

Doing math homework just got way easier

A viral video about a new app looks like a dream come true for anyone who struggles with math.

Based on the promo clip, PhotoMath, dubbed a “smart camera calculator,” appears to use smartphone cameras to scan a photo of a math equation in a textbook and display the answer instantly — similar to apps that scan barcodes and takes users to a link in a web browser. It looks like the app can also show step-by-step instructions for solving the problem.

PhotoMath’s parent company MicroBLINK launched the app this week at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in London, TechCrunch reports. It is available in the App Store on iTunes.

MORE: Really Hard Math Problems With Friends: A New Way to Prep for the SAT and ACT

Read next: 50 Best iPhone Apps, 2014 Edition

TIME Gadgets

This $100 Nightlight Tells You When Your Smoke Alarms Go Off

Leeo Leeo

It's not your average nightlight

Smart home company Leeo has unveiled its first product: a smart nightlight.

The light also monitors temperature and humidity in your home and alerts your phone when your smoke or carbon monoxide detectors go off. The device plugs into your wall and has a microphone so it can monitor those detectors, sending you or other people in your call list a warning if there’s smoke in your house.

There’s no doubt the Leeo nightlight is a nifty product. But it’s not clear it’s worth $100 for a device that’s like a combined smoke detector, a NEST and a regular ol’ nightlight, and may not do any of those things as well.

Leeo formed in 2013 and plans to release a series of connected home devices that connect to your home’s Wi-Fi.

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