TIME Companies

Uber Just Hired Obama’s Political Guru to Battle ‘Big Taxi Cartel’

Key Speakers At The Year Ahead: 2014 Conference
David Plouffe, former senior adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama and Bloomberg News analyst, speaks at the Bloomberg Year Ahead: 2014 conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Nov. 20, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg /Getty Images

David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, calls opposition to Uber "unwinnable"

Uber has hired one of President Barack Obama’s top political advisers to help wage an increasingly fierce turf war with taxi cab associations.

David Plouffe, the Democratic strategist who successfully steered Obama’s 2008 bid for the White House, will join Uber as Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy and manage the company’s global campaign to extend its ride-sharing service to new cities, the company announced Tuesday.

“Our opponent – the Big Taxi cartel – has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement on the company’s blog. “We needed someone who understood politics but who also had the strategic horsepower to reinvent how a campaign should be run.”

Plouffe said in a statement that he is “thrilled to be joining Travis Kalanick and the great team at Uber.”

“I’ve watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change,” Plouffe added. “Ultimately, that approach is unwinnable.”

Taxi-hailing and ride-sharing services, including Uber, Lyft and others, have frequently been threatened with cease and desist orders from city officials who accuse the companies of working outside of the regulatory framework set up for licensed taxi drivers.

Uber hiring Plouffe should also put to bed rumors that the political strategist might head back to the White House to serve as Obama’s Chief of Staff.

TIME Companies

Uber Wants To Bring You Your Diapers and Shampoo

The Hamptons Lure Uber Top Drivers Amid NYC Slow Summer Weekends
The Uber app Bloomberg/Getty Images

Uber, but for deliveries

Uber wants to be your delivery boy now, too. The car-hailing service is testing a new delivery feature called Uber Corner Store that will allow customers to get more than 100 items sent right to their doorstep in a matter of minutes.

Via the Uber app, users can select the “Corner Store” option, and will then receive a text from the company with a list of items available in their area. Next, an Uber driver calls the customer and takes his or her order. Then the goods get delivered to the customer’s home. There’s no additional delivery fee and customers are not expected to tip their driver, according to an Uber blog post.

For now the service is only available as a test trial to a limited number of users in the Washington, D.C. area. The item list is mostly limited to pricey name brand products—you’ll be buying Pampers or Huggies, for instance, not store-brand diapers. But Uber says it plans to expand the number of products offered and extend the service, currently only available on weekdays, to weekends and late nights.

Uber Corner Store will compete directly with Google Shopping Express, which lets users receive buy products and receive deliveries from local stores, and Amazon’s same-day delivery service. The new service illustrates Uber’s ambition to extend far beyond being simply a taxi app. The company is also experimenting with a courier service in New York and a moving service called UberMovers in Atlanta and Nashville.

TIME Computers

(Not Very) Bold Prediction: $200 Laptops Aplenty for the Holidays

Inside a Best Buy Store Ahead of Earnings
Customers look at laptop computers at a Best Buy store. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images

For years — years! — we’ve been waiting for the $200 laptop.

Sure, laptops dip down to the $200 during super sales like Black Friday. And snagging a $179 Chromebook — Chromebooks are laptops too, you know — is now a relatively easy feat to achieve. Remember netbooks? Those things were known to flirt with the $200 price point toward the end of their collective lifespan, occasionally breaking through it entirely.

But the holidays this year will look different. Instead of searching, waiting, hoping — stampeding! — for a $200 computer, you’ll actually have a fair amount to choose from, and they’ll likely be in stock and regularly priced around $200 or less.

Over at GigaOM, Kevin Tofel passes along news of the so-called HP Stream 14, which was supposedly leaked to German blog Mobile Geeks. The Stream is apparently a 14-inch Windows laptop with very Chromebook-like innards that comes with 100 gigabytes of storage for two years, just like Chromebooks.

Microsoft doesn’t want to see Chromebooks continue to erode its share of low-end laptop sales. That’s straight from the horse’s mouth: As the Verge reports, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner recently said, “We’ve got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone.”

If that sounds aggressive, get this: Turner alluded to 7- and 8-inch models in this HP Stream line going for around $100 during the holidays. Aggressive indeed.

While ever-falling component costs lead to cheaper and cheaper computers, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the licensing fee Microsoft charges hardware makers to use Windows on their machines has reportedly dropped exponentially for systems in the sub-$250 price range. It apparently dropped from $50 down to just $15, which of course paves the way for lower retail prices as well.

It’s the perfect storm: Chromebooks are popular low-end machines, and Microsoft wants to stem the tide. These aren’t going to be the most powerful computers in the history of computing, but if you’re looking for something that can handle simple tasks like email and web surfing on the cheap, you’ll have plenty of options later this year.

Vintage Computer Ads

TIME Video Games

Take a Gander at Swing Copters, the Next Game from Flappy Bird’s Creator

Instead of tapping the screen to flap sideways, you tap the screen to propel yourself up.

+ READ ARTICLE

The creator of Flappy Bird‘s next game is upon us, and it’s called Swing Copters. It’s another single-tap game from designer Dong Nguyen that’ll arrive this Thursday, August 21. It’s free to play with ads, or if you like, Nguyen will let you pay $0.99 to remove them.

In the game, you play a little bug-eyed dude wearing a Tweedledee propeller hat. Above you lie open spaces between girder-like platforms that jut from the screen’s edges. Tap the screen and up you go, slewing to one side or another so that you have to course-correct continuously.

On either side of the opening hang hammers that threaten your passage, swinging to and fro like blunt pendulums. The hammers seem like the later stages of certain Flappy Bird vamps, specifically even more insanely difficult versions of that game where the pipes moved up and down.

TouchArcade laid hands on the game ahead of its rollout, putting up a video illustrating what it looks like in action (that’s it above). The object is braincell-stupefyingly simple: clear gates, then trump your gates-passed score, just like your pipes-passed one in Flappy Bird. There’s a medal system, too, presumably bronze, silver or gold, though the guy in the video never manages to clear enough gates to clinch one.

It does look harder than Flappy Bird, but then try flipping your screen on its side as you watch the video, and I suspect you’ll agree that it looks an awful lot like a vertical remaster of Flappy Bird.

TIME Special Effects

“Electronic Makeup” Will Probably Terrify You

A creepy vision of the future—maybe

+ READ ARTICLE

The project above, led by Nobumichi Asai, shows what is possible using cutting-edge face-tracking and computer-generated effects. So-called electronic makeup is the result of projected images on a models face. It’s all happening in real-time, making the possibilities for film and theater vast. If you watch the video, you can see it’s not perfect yet. But the experiment shows what may soon be possible.

TIME Video Games

Reddit Comes to Xbox One First with ReddX App

It may not be the first reddit app you can browse on a TV, but it is the first one you can access through a dedicated games console.

I’m not sure a big-screen TV’s the most natural home for a glorified bulletin board, but if you’ve always wanted to browse vast fields of reddit text on your TV, Microsoft has just the thing for you: an app called ReddX for the Xbox One (as well as Xbox SmartGlass), which it describes as “the first reddit app for the TV.”

You’re going to wind up in a semantic debate with the “first for TV” thing, since not all consoles connect to TVs, and we’ve been able to screen-share whole libraries of reddit apps from mobile devices for ages. But this is the first I’m aware of someone designing a reddit app specifically for a games console, so give Microsoft props for getting out in front of that.

ReddX, available today, lets U.S. and Canadian Xbox One owners browse or zoom in on text, images and videos, as well as tap to upvote, downvote, or comment on threads, just as you can through a browser. You can optionally save images you like to your profile, or make it the ReddX app’s background. And in addition to the Xbox One controller (with or without text keypad), ReddX will take input from the Xbox One media remote as well as Xbox SmartGlass via a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Microsoft says the app can be snapped to your TV’s side while you game if you want to keep tabs on a thread, allowing you to “interact with each other in similar ways to the reddit.com experience.” That’s probably the most interesting thing about ReddX: the keeping reddit up while you’re doing something else part, a migrational Windows 7-original feature that feels even smarter on a game console.

The least interesting (but slightly amusing) thing: unlocking “media achievements named after some of the Internet’s favorite memes.” I have no idea if any of these are real, but someone’s purportedly taken screenshots of some of them.

And the first reddit thread ever created with a games console? Right this way.

TIME Gadgets

A Built-In Roku TV Is Coming Soon

The Roku 3 television streaming player menu screen featuring Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu, and Redbox Instant is shown on a television in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2013.
The Roku 3 television streaming player menu screen featuring Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu, and Redbox Instant is shown on a television in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Available in September

Roku is working to streamline the video streaming process.

While consumers have long been able to use a Roku box to watch streaming internet TV on their screens, the company announced Tuesday that it will bring the screen to the Roku, with its first ever built-in smart television available in stores come September.

The Saratoga, Calif.-based company is working with Hisen and TCL to create a line of Roku-powered TVs that offer streaming options from thousands of apps — including Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and music sites apps like Pandora — just like the box version. According to Roku’s site, pre-orders are available on Amazon.

The 32-inch to 55-inch TCL Roku televisions will be available for between $230 and $650. Hisense will be offering four different sizes, ranging from 40″ to 55″, although prices have yet to be announced.

TIME Chemistry

Octopus Skin Has Inspired a New Type of Camouflage Sheet

It can only switch from black to transparent and back again, but that's a start

Scientists have developed a color-changing device inspired by octopuses and their natural camouflaging techniques.

The research, carried out at the University of Houston and University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, looked at how the skins of octopuses, squid and cuttlefish can change color so rapidly. From there, researchers were able to design a heat-sensitive sheet that quickly changes color when detecting light.

At room temperature the flexible sheet is black. Once the device’s top layer, which contains a heat-sensitive dye, detects light it becomes transparent. True, this is hardly a rainbow of hues, but scientists believe it is the first step to developing a camouflage material for human use.

“[The device] is by no means a deployable camouflage system but it’s a pretty good starting point,” said a lead researcher, John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, to National Geographic.

Popular Mechanics broke down the layers of the new device as follows:

The top layer of the new device is loaded with a temperature-sensitive dye that appears black at low temperatures and clear at temps above 116 degrees F. This dye-filled layer sits on top of a layer of white reflective silver tiles, an ultra-thin layer of silicon circuits that control the dye’s temperature, and a transparent silicone rubber foundation. All together, this stack measures less than 200 microns thick. (The average human hair is 100 microns wide.)

Underneath this flexible sandwich is a base layer containing an array of light-sensing photodetectors. The corners of each dye-filled pixel and silver tile above this photoreceptor layer are notched, creating gaps that are like holes in a mask, allowing light to get through to the photoreceptors so they know how and when to change color. This adaptive camouflage system can respond to changing patterns of illumination within just one to two seconds.

[National Geographic]

TIME Social Media

Facebook Could Start Labeling Satirical Posts So You Don’t Think They’re Real

Apple IPads Sales Down
An Apple iPad displays its home screen on August 6, 2014 in London. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

The confusion is more common than you might expect

Facebook is running what it calls a “small test,” tagging posts from satire outlets like the Onion so that users understand that the content isn’t real.

MarketWatch reports that the social-media platform is running beta tests on some users’ News Feeds, having “received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others,” in the words of a Facebook spokeswoman.

Facebook would not elaborate on the experiments, MarketWatch said.

The confusion is more common than one might expect: there are entire blogs devoted to documenting the dismay of Facebook users who have learned the “news” that Barack Obama has run over Jimmy Carter with his car, or that the Harry Potter series fostered a new wave of Satanism among the America’s elementary school students.

Nor is it limited to Facebook. When the Onion named Kim Jong Un the “sexiest man alive” in 2012, the story was picked up by the People’s Daily — the flagship publication of the Chinese Communist Party, which received the news with unsmiling gravity.

[MarketWatch]

TIME apps

Tom Hanks’ Typewriter App Is No. 1 in the App Store

Apps are like a box of chocolates—people are gobbling them up

Tom Hanks can add “created most popular iPad app” to his long list of accomplishments. The Oscar-winning actor’s Hanx Writer app, which gives the illusion of typing on a manual typewriter, sat at number one on iTunes’ app store for the iPad as of Monday evening.

Hanx Writer, which was launched on Aug. 14, mimics the look and feel of old typewriters on a touchscreen, complete with the ding noise at the end of a line. Unlike real typewriters, however, this version has a handy delete key. The app is free, though users can purchase different colors, texts and styles.

On the app’s welcome screen, Hanks explains how he became a collector of typewriters: “I write without caring about typeovers, XXXX’d out words, goofy syntax, & bad spelling because the feel & sound of a typewriter is satisfying in ways that couldn’t be matched — Until now!” Hanks has written in the New York Times before about his nostalgia for the writing device. He even professed his love of typewriters on Twitter:

See TIME’s review of Hanx Writer here.

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