TIME Web

Internet Users Surge to Almost 3 Billion Worldwide

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40% of the world is now online

The number of Internet users in the world is approaching 3 billion, according to a United Nations agency.

The International Telecommunications Union revealed in its annual report that the number of Internet users grew 6.6% in 2014, from 2.7 billion to almost 3 billion. Five years ago, just 2 billion people were online. Today, 40% of the world is plugged in.

The quickest growth has occurred in developing countries, where the number of Internet users has doubled in the last five years. But there are still more than 4 billion people on Earth without Internet access. Africa is the region with the lowest penetration rate, with only 19% of people on the continent currently using the Internet.

ITU has committed to bringing 1.5 billion more people online by the end of the decade through an initiative called Code 2020, which is focused on expanding access to mobile broadband around the world. A bevy of big tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have also launched projects to deliver Internet access to remote areas.

TIME Companies

Amazon Wants to Help You Find a Handyman

I know just the guy for the job, Amazon says

Amazon will sell you an air conditioner, and then it’ll find someone to install it for you, too.

The online retailer is connecting customers with local appliance installers like plumbers and electricians with a new offering called Amazon Local Services.

After adding an item to their virtual cart, customers will see installation offers from Amazon after buying items like an air conditioner or a car stereo. A recent search for air conditioners in New York yielded installation price options in the range of $99 to $120. Each offering came with appointment time preferences which then added the installation cost to the sticker cost of the air conditioner.

An anonymous source briefed on the plan told the Wall Street Journal that the service is now offered in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. Amazon’s new service will likely help the company compete with brick-and-mortar stores and other online retailers by making it more simple to install complicated appliances. It could also drive business to local installers.

One electrician in Los Angeles who had signed onto the program told the Journal that when he lands a job through Amazon Local Services, he pays Amazon a fee.

TIME Video Games

Halo: Master Chief Collection Developers Apologize for Xbox One Problems

Experience: HALO by Xbox 360
Master Chief stands guard at the Liechtenstein border during the HALO 4 launch by Xbox 360 on October 29, 2012 in Balzers, Liechtenstein. Getty Images—2012 Getty Images

"We will make this right with our fans."

The game developers behind Xbox One’s Halo: The Master Chief Collection released a public apology to gamers Tuesday for a multiplayer glitch that has left fans fuming over social media.

“Please accept my heartfelt apologies for the delay and for the negative aspects of your experience to date,” wrote Bonnie Ross, 363 Industries studio head, in an open letter posted to the Xbox website.

The glitch became apparent shortly after the November 11 release of the Master Chief Collection, a package of remastered Halo games for Microsoft’s latest console. Some gamers queueing up for a multiplayer game waited for minutes to upwards of an hour for matches to begin. Gamers vented their frustration over Twitter under the handle “#halomcc.” Some tweeted demands for refunds.

Halo’s developer, 343 Industries, acknowledged that the glitch would take a series of fixes to the game’s back-end servers and patches for the game itself to fix. The studio vowed to keep gamers in the loop about their progress through a running blog.

“Once we’ve done that, we will detail how we will make this right with our fans,” Ross wrote.

TIME apps

The 5 Best iPhone Apps You Should Download This Week

Google Maps Returns To Apple's iPhone
An icon for the Google Maps app is seen on an Apple iPhone 4S on December 13, 2012 in Fairfax, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

SurgeProtector keeps you clear of Uber's surge pricing

It seems like hundreds of new iPhone apps pop up every week, but which ones should you bother trying? We explored the App Store and found five apps actually worth downloading.

Weather or Not

Few weather apps address the solipsism of smartphone users. In short, we are left to wonder how the weather directly affects our plans. Weather or Not combines your calendar with a forecast, so all we have to do is ask ourselves the important questions: should I wear my suede shoes today, or will it rain? Can I take my date to that outdoor cafe? Was it a terrible mistake to leave my umbrella at home today?

Weather or Not is available for $2.99 in the App Store.

Cleen

If you’re anything like the millions of other iPhone users, you have an enormous stash of completely useless photos clogging up your phone’s memory. Cleen is like Tinder for your photos—swipe to keep the ones you want, and swipe in another direction to make peace with the idea that you’ll never look at a particular photo again. Unlike Tinder, however, you can choose to revisit certain images. Gone are the days when 80% of your phone’s memory is taken up by photos your children and grandchildren would delete without thinking twice about.

Cleen is available free in the App Store.

Goldbely

The highly-praised food-ordering website finally has its own app. Goldbely is like Seamless for the greatest hits of American dining. The app’s developers have researched and conglomerated the most impressive food in the country and have offered it for delivery, now on your phone. The genius of Goldbely is perhaps most evident in those moments of profound cravings when you’re far from home, which is to say that Goldbely will ship you a pastrami sandwich from Katz’s Deli on Houston Street.

Goldbely is available free in the App Store.

SurgeProtector

For those accustomed to using Uber over street taxis, it’s obvious how vulnerable a user experience is to price surging. This happens during certain times of the year of during important events. However, SurgeProtector does an excellent job at highlighting to Uber users no-surge and low-surge areas nearby to help you get home without getting fleeced.

SurgeProtector is available free in the App Store.

Next Glass

An excellent app that allows you to discover new craft beers and wines, Next Glass uses an algorithm to predict which new beverages you might enjoy. Users take photos of bottles and enter their scores. Next Glass takes a look at the beers on a molecular level to perceive what you liked about it in order to effectively make recommendations.

Next Glass is available free in the App Store.

TIME Gadgets

5 Must-Have Gadgets for Every Traveler’s Go-Bag

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Young man in airport Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Fill your daypack—and fuel your adventure—with these mobile must-haves

One reason smartphones are great is because with all the tools that their apps pack, the handheld devices have whittled down the gear you have to lug around on adventures. So now — instead of courier bags, carry-on luggage, and backpacks — the “go-bag” is the only carryall you need.

Loaded with items to keep your life powered up, connected, and protected, this action-packed adventure sack is just big enough to hold what you need and so small that it won’t slow you down. Is your go-bag running on empty? Here are five, great, tiny gadgets to keep it charged up and ready for anything:

Bose QuietComfort 20i Headphones

Whether you’re cruising at 30,000 feet or zipping around in a subway under the city, you’ll likely want to blast a soundtrack for your travels. These in-ear headphones not only pour sweet sounds into your earholes, but they also boast noise-canceling technology to keep the outside world from invading your headspace.

Positioning microphones both inside the ear and out into the surroundings, these earbuds collect noise data which is processed and used to send an “opposite signal” to your aural canal. Or, at the push of a button, you can turn this off and get the sound piped in — so you don’t miss that boarding call or subway stop. At $299, these can be pricey for a pair of earbuds, but seasoned travelers swear by them and audiophiles give them high marks, too.

Garmin HUD+

Slow down, Doc Brown — where you’re going, there are definitely going to be roads. This $179 heads-up display pairs with iPhones and Android handsets to beam turn-by-turn directions from Garmin and Navigon apps. A great device for popping onto the dashboard of a rental car, the HUD+ projects the apps’ directions onto the windshield in front of you — so you don’t have to precariously balance your smartphone on the dash, in the instrument panel, or on your lap while driving unfamiliar roads in the dark. Easy to read, the display even tells you the speed limit, your expected time of arrival, and what lane you should be in before making the next turn. It’s a pretty bright idea for a dim little projector.

Karma 4G Mobile Hotspot

When getting online is on-par with going outside, the only answer is a solid mobile Internet hotspot. Karma’s upcoming new 4G device is smaller than a wallet but pulls down as much as 25 megabits per second, allowing up to eight laptops, tablets, and even iPod Touches to connect to the web simultaneously.

Running on pre-paid data ($14 per gigabyte), the $149 battery-powered connectivity accessory is great for keeping a car-load of kids connecting to the web while on a road trip, so they keep their hands to themselves and their Instagrams shared with friends. #thanksdad

Olympus Tough Cameras

Underwater, on a zip-line, in an open-air cockpit: these are all places that you’d love to take unforgettable photos and video footage, but settings where you should never, ever take your smartphone. Instead — for these and other dangerous-to-tech circumstances — Olympus has a pair of great point-and-shoot cameras that should be in your arsenal.

The $349 Olympus TG-3 is their top-of-the-line offering, with a eye-popping 16 mega-pixel image sensor, Wi-Fi-control capabilities (if you must use your phone for something), waterproofing to 50 feet, and freeze-proofing to 14 degrees Fahrenheit—making it great for both hiking and ski trails. Meanwhile, the $199 Olympus TG-850 will only survive dives up to 33 feet, but has the same image sensor and offers a flip-around rear touchscreen, ideal for mastering underwater scuba selfies.

Travel Card Charger:

Portable batteries can be life savers when your battery is about to bite the dust. But otherwise, they’re just dead weight, taking up space, getting in the way, and, oh yeah, draining ever-so-slowly as they sit around unused. While nothing can be done about the latter, Travel Card takes care of the former with super-slim dimensions that let it easily slip into a pocket or even a wallet.

Its 1500 milliamp hour portable battery won’t quite fill an iPhone 6 to capacity, but with an Apple-certified lightning cable integrated into the unit, at least you won’t have to chase around looking for a power cord. And the versatile $39 battery pack also comes in a micro-USB variety, in case you need to juice your Android device instead.

TIME

Twitter Exec’s Errant Message Makes Acquisition Aspirations Public

TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 - Day 3
Anthony Noto formerly of Goldman Sachs speaks onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 at The Manhattan Center on May 1, 2013 in New York City. Brian Ach—Getty Images

Twitter’s CTO accidentally posts a private message about buying another company

Note to executives: Beware of using Twitter to send private notes to colleagues.

Anthony Noto, Twitter’s chief financial officer, showed why on Monday when he accidentally posted a message on Twitter for everyone to see suggesting an acquisition of another company.

“I still think we should buy them,” Noto wrote. “He is on your schedule for Dec. 15 or 16 — we will need to sell him. I have a plan.”

His message, later deleted, immediately raised speculation about the unidentified acquisition target. But more importantly, it hammered home a frequent complaint about Twitter: It’s direct messaging service is confusing to use and occasionally leads to embarrassing mistakes like Noto’s. There’s even a name for it, DM fail, for direct message failure.

Noto, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was hired in July to help improve the company’s lagging financial performance. Acquisitions would be an obvious part of the strategy and, in fact, are relatively common for Twitter, which most recently bought Mitro, a password security firm.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Companies

How HP Could Once Again Dominate Silicon Valley

HP has shown it can innovate — but can those innovations save the company?

Throughout Hewlett-Packard’s 48 years, it’s innovated many technologies that became commonplace: pocket calculators, laser printers. But for much of the past decade, the headlines about HP have centered on the Silicon Valley pioneer’s revolving door of CEOs, boardroom controversies and – more recently – its slow, painful turnaround.

CEO Meg Whitman has slashed 55,000 jobs in an ambitious restructuring. As the company prepares to split into two, the fruits of that effort are winning over investors who have pushed HP’s stock up 190% in the last two years — or nearly five times the Dow Jones’ rise. Throughout all of this, what HP hasn’t been portrayed as is what it was early on: an engine of innovation.

In recent months, however, new initiatives at HP have emerged to suggest that’s starting to change. In particular, HP has unveiled three innovations in printing, personal computing, and data analytics that each has the potential to influence or even reshape their respective markets. Even if that doesn’t happen, each one shows a new flair at HP to take bold new approaches in established markets.

Last month, HP announced its long-awaited entry into the 3D-printing market. While younger, smaller players like Stratasys and 3D Systems have dominated the nascent 3D-printing market early on, HP held back until it could deliver a breakthrough 3D-printing technology that could become the kind of industry standard HP has set in traditional printing. With its multi-jet fusion technology, HP seems poised to achieve just that.

Based on HP’s thermal inkjet technology – an area where HP is strong in expertise and intellectual property – multi-jet fusion promises 3D printers that offer higher resolution, lower cost and printing that the company says is 10 times faster than leading 3D printers on the market. HP’s first 3D printers will use thermoplastics, while in time HP hopes to employ metal, ceramics and other materials.

HP says it plans to make the new systems available starting next year to large and small manufacturers alike. That may seem like a late entry, but multiple analysts expect annual revenue in the 3D-printing market could rise north of $10 billion by 2020. HP says it expects its printers to be revolutionary, and some analysts agree. To persuade them, HP has a video showing how a chain link printed in less than half an hour can lift up a one-ton car.

Along with its 3D printing technology, HP also unveiled Sprout, a machine combining a PC, a projector and a 3D scanner. There’s nothing quite like Sprout on the market, and it’s hard to describe – it’s simpler just to watch a video of it – but basically the Sprout blends a tablet-like touchpad, a 14.6-megapixel camera, a projector and a scanner into a product HP calls immersive and intuitive.

Sprout is a risky product in that it sells for $1,900 at retailers like Best Buy, but it doesn’t have a pre-defined market. HP developed the idea out of an interest in bridging the physical and digital world, says spokesperson Elizabeth Pietrzak. “The target is more psychographic rather than demographic,” she says. Which means, basically, people who make things: designers, hard-core scrapbookers and school teachers, for instance.

Sprout is designed for creators who don’t have the training or the patience to use design software. HP is planning on building newer, specialized applications for markets like architectural design and health care, and it’s inviting developers to create still other applications for the platform, which HP built on Windows 8. Sprout may not end up being as disruptive as multi-jet fusion. But it shows HP is willing to innovate in areas where there is more potential than predictable outcomes – an approach that defines many startups.

Perhaps the most disruptive innovation HP is working on is something called the Machine. It’s a name at once understated and potentially pretentious, but what HP wants to do with the Machine is to create wholesale an entirely new computing architecture for the era of big data. As cloud computing and the Internet of Things demand systems that manage ever larger amounts of data, the drain on the electrical grid gets bigger.

HP’s answer is to create computing technology that can handle much more data using much less power. The Machine is being built with this goal in mind, and to reach it HP had to come up with multiple innovations: a software-defined server called Moonshot that uses 89% less energy and requires 80% less space; lasers a quarter the size of a human hair that use photonics instead of copper wires; and memristors that use ions to fuse memory and storage, making them faster and cheaper than DRAM or flash drives.

The Machine is the brainchild of HP Labs, which had earlier announced pieces of the plan, like Moonshot and memristors. In June, the company announced the Machine and discussed what may prove to be the hardest piece: an entirely new, open-source operating system. HP is also working on stripped-down versions of Linux and Android that could run the Machine on devices like smartphones.

HP expects products and services using the Machine to ship in four or five years. As with any ambitious project, the Machine faces uncertainty and questions. Will HP execute on the different pieces and integrate them into a seamless system? Will third parties embrace the Machine as a standard? Will other cash-rich tech giants build their own versions of the Machine first?

Whatever the answers to those questions, HP is showing that it’s pushing to return to its innovative roots. Earlier this month, venture capitalist Ben Horowitz talked about how big companies can innovate, arguing that the key is to have a secret insight that no one else understands, one that often comes from years of experience. HP has plenty of experience, much of it hard fought, and it’s boosted its R&D budget to 3.1% of revenue from 2.3% in 2010.

“Innovation has been a large part of our ethos over the years,” says HP’s Pietrzak. “Now we’re on a path where we can invest back in R&D.”

In Silicon Valley where young pups seem to rule, HP is an old dog, and one that has been through its share of scrapes in recent years. But it’s also showing that it can still learn some pretty intriguing tricks. And with any luck, those tricks could bring it to the forefront of tech innovation again.

TIME Security

Sony Pictures Shuts Down Systems After Cyberattack

A message from the hackers bears a picture of a skeleton and threatens to release the company's "top secrets"

Sony Pictures Entertainment was forced to shut down its worldwide email and computer network on Monday after being targeted by hackers who threatened to reveal the company’s “secrets.”

A message entitled “Hacked by #GOP” with a picture of a skeleton in the background appeared on company computers Monday morning, Deadline.com reported.

“We’ve already warned you, and this is just a beginning,” the message read, going on to state that the hackers have obtained “all your internal data including your secrets and top secrets.” They then threatened to release the data by 11 p.m. if their demands aren’t met, but no demands have apparently been made clear yet.

According to Variety, all Sony Pictures employees were told that the issue could take anywhere from a day to three weeks to resolve and have been instructed to turn off their computers and disable wi-fi on their handheld devices.

TIME Gaming

Blood-Sucking Video Game Pulled From Kickstarter

The game would have extracted blood when you lose a point

A video game that sucks players’ blood has been pulled from Kickstarter for unspecified reasons.

“Blood Sport” is a project designed to “raise the stakes” of gaming, so that whenever a player gets hit in the video game, they lose blood in real life. Instead of the normal “rumble” that indicates an avatar has suffered a blow, Blood Sport players would be hooked up intravenously to their consul, so that blood could be taken out of their arteries.

“All we’re doing is hacking a pre-existing blood collection machine to take your gaming experience to the next level,” the creators wrote on their Kickstarter page. The technology is equipped with a feature that determines how much blood a player can lose without passing out.

The gaming technology could be used to stage “blood donation gaming events,” they said.

The Kickstarter was suspended Monday, for unspecified reasons. It had already raised almost $4,000 of its $250,000 goal.

TIME the big picture

How Smartphones Could Evolve Into Something Totally Different

FRANCE-ECONOMY-TELECOMMUNICATION-SMARTPHONES
People show their smartphones on December 25, 2013 in Dinan, northwestern France. Philippe Huguen—AFP/Getty Images

Smartphones may become modular computers you drop into larger interfaces like "dummy" tablets or laptops.

One of the more interesting comparisons of computer speeds often checks the computing power aboard NASA’s Apollo moon missions to the computing power in your smartphones. Indeed, The Daily Grate actually compared how much more powerful your phone is compared to the computer that tracked all the Apollo missions and flew grown men through the narrowest event windows while guiding a tin can in the infinite reaches of space — the Apollo computer had 1 MHz of processing speed, your iPhone 5s sports 1.3GHz in two cores.

I’m not sure if the Apollo crew actually understood how underpowered their computers were, but thankfully they didn’t ask the question, and came back in one piece. However, the idea that we have this kind of computing power in our pocket could make smartphones the most important computing device we have, eventually powering all kinds of personal computing products.

About 23 years ago, I wrote a paper on what I called back then a “vision for modular computing.” I’ve traveled a great deal in my career, and in the early days, I lugged portable computers that looked like singer sewing machines. Once clamshell-style laptops came out, I started carrying them instead — but they weighed 6-9 lbs. and had short battery lives. But I envisioned — or actually longed for — a time when I could just carry a small modular computing core with me, plugging it into a TV in my hotel room or fitting it into a screen and keyboard on the flip side of an airplane seat tray.

I wanted the full power of a personal computer in a small device that could connect into all types of stationary devices. Now I know I was describing then what smartphones have become today, although they have the screen and keyboards built in as part of their design.

But that might not be the endgame for smartphones. In one of the more interesting products on the market this year, Asus has created something that embodies part of that original vision I had for modular computing. The Asus PadFone X is a unique product that includes a smartphone which slides into and powers a 7-inch tablet. The idea here is that all of the computing power is based in the smartphone, while the tablet simply mirrors what’s on the smartphone. However, if you undock the phone from the tablet, the tablet does nothing — all you get is a blank screen. The PadFone costs $199 without a contract and works with AT&T’s prepaid program.

The PadFone’s idea to put the computing power in the smartphone and using it to power a tablet is quite interesting and very much modular in design. I’m hearing another angle on this in the works in China, wherein you’d take a smartphone and pop it into a laptop clamshell design, using the smartphone as the core processor mirroring the device’s operating system and apps on a 12-inch laptop screen with a full keyboard. Motorola had a product like this a few years back called the Atrix Smartphone with LapDock. The Atrix never took off because 2011’s smartphones weren’t powerful enough to deliver on the idea, among other reasons. But the concept of using a smartphone docked to a laptop shell is now being tossed around design shops in Asia, and we could see new versions of the idea sometime next year.

The smartphone-based modular computer has plenty of potential, and what Asus delivers with the PadFone could just be scratching the surface. It would not surprise me if someday my original modular computing vision finally plays itself out in ways that make the smartphone the center of our computing experience and it becomes docked into tablets, laptops and desktops that powers our future computing experiences.

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