TIME Social Media

Facebook Is Playing a Brilliant Long Game for Your Attention

Facebook Messenger Platform F8
Bloomberg via Getty Images Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook Inc., speaks during the Facebook F8 Developers Conference in San Francisco, Calif., on March 25, 2015.

Remember Facebook Deals? How about Beacon, the ad-sharing feature that collapsed in a privacy scandal? Did you ever use Facebook Gifts while it was around? And when was the last time you fired up the Flipboard-like Paper app, if you ever downloaded it at all?

Facebook’s track record in releasing new apps or features is spotty at best, with a trail of outright failures running through the company’s history. This week, as the company announces new initiatives at its F8 developers conference, you have to wonder which ones will end up falling by the wayside.

And yet, taking the long view, you also have to wonder whether any new crop of failures will matter at all. Because when Facebook conceives new ideas and turns them into apps or platforms, the company is taking the long view. Facebook isn’t trying to bat 1.000, or even have a .407 season. Even with its collective failures, Facebook remains beloved by investors, who have pushed its stock up 232% over the past two years.

From that perspective, it’s more important to see what Facebook is trying to accomplish with its newly announced offerings, rather than looking too closely at the announcements themselves. With that in mind, here’s a quick summary of what Facebook has announced so far at F8:

Messenger Platform, which features a compose window loaded with third-party apps (40 for now), and a new customer-support communication with businesses.

Parse. The mobile platform Facebook bought a couple of years ago will let developers build apps for the Internet of things, including wearable devices and smart appliances.

Embedded videos. In a clear threat to Google, videos uploaded to Facebook’s site can be embedded YouTube-like, on other sites.

LiveRail. Facebook is launching a mobile ad exchange that lets publishers sell display and video ads using Facebook data alongside cookies.

Spherical videos. Shot with 24 coordinated cameras, the immersive, 360-degree videos bring an element of virtual reality to the news feed.

These are only the latest announcements. On Tuesday, Facebook unveiled On This Day, a feature showing users archived posts as their anniversaries roll by. On Monday, Instagram announced Layout, a new app that combines multiple photos into a single image. Over the weekend, word leaked out that Facebook was talking with media companies about hosting content inside its platform. And last week, Messenger added the ability for friends to send payments to each other.

Tech keynotes have become like Christmas stockings, a grab bag of new goodies that, handled right, fill gadget lovers and developers with either glee or disappointment. Facebook’s stocking this week wasn’t as squeal-inducing as some of Apple’s have been. But again, that’s not the goal. The goal is to keep innovating, to keep iterating, until something gels with user behavior, gaining enough traction to become a part of their daily lives.

In fact, many of Facebook’s newer initiatives are largely do-overs of its past misfires. Beacon was re-engineered in Facebook Connect, which also shared user information on third-party sites–and AppLinks, a feature mentioned in the F8 Keynote, takes that integration a step further with deep linking. Facebook Places, launched in 2011 to kill off Foursquare and shuttered a year later, was reborn this year as Place Tips, aiming once again squarely at Foursquare.

In the weekly tech news cycle, these little revelations seem ephemeral, even trivial. Take a few steps back and look at the longer-term perspective and something more significant emerges: Facebook is mutating, virus-like, to adapt to how we interact with each other online. In conference calls with investors, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg repeatedly warn they won’t monetize products until they resonate with a large base of users. That was the case with Facebook’s original Web site, and it’s still the case with Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook’s own Messenger app is a clear example. After launching as a “Gmail killer” in 2010, the original Messages feature became a staple of the site and, eventually, a distinct app. When the company later bought WhatsApp, some worried Facebook would spoil it by turning it into an all-in-one messaging platform like WeChat or Line. Instead, WhatsApp remains largely unchanged, while Facebook is amping up Messenger from app to platform, with an ecosystem of third-party apps on top.

Of all the F8 announcements, Messenger is the most interesting. By letting users download apps directly inside conversations, Facebook is making it easy to distribute apps virally–a huge draw for developers considering Facebook’s platform. If this plan succeeds, Facebook would be hard to rival in the messaging space.

But Facebook didn’t stop there. Messenger is also becoming a line of communications with companies. Deals and Gifts were attempts to anchor ecommerce inside Facebook that largely fell short of Facebook dream of getting consumers to interact as closely with brands as they do their friends. If Messaging–which chronicles transactions from purchase to delivery inside a single thread, aiming to make ecommerce as personal as in-store buying–doesn’t achieve that original goal, it’s a big step toward it.

Not all of Facebook’s new efforts are very far along. In opening Parse up to the Internet of things, Facebook cited examples like push notifications when garage doors open or close, or reminders that a plant needs to be watered. These feel like applications that make people dread push notifications or wired homes in general. But Facebook is working with chipmakers to build Parse support inside processors, so there’s clearly a long-term game being played here as well.

Some of these new features may fall by the wayside, prompting snickers by observers. But the real question–as is usually the case in Silicon Valley–is how will Facebook respond? If you don’t love the new Messenger or embedded videos, Facebook is all right with that. It doesn’t need you to love them. It just needs them to be just useful enough among your friends that you start using it yourself.

And when it does, Facebook will have wormed its way that much more tightly into your daily life. Because at Facebook, it’s never been about being loved. It’s aways been about being used.

TIME Research

Google Granted Patent for Smart Contact Lens

This undated photo released by Google shows a contact lens Google is testing to explore tear glucose.
Google/AP Google's smart contact lenses.

May allow people with diabetes to easily measure glucose levels

Google has been granted a patent for a contact lens with an embedded chip,

The patent, which was discovered by WebProNews, features a sensor in the lens. Google has previously said that it is partnering with the pharmaceutical company Novartis to create a smart contact lens that could monitor blood sugar for people with diabetes.

As TIME has previously reported, Google has been testing various prototypes of smart contact lens and is currently in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about a lens that measures glucose levels in users’ tears. The company says the chip and sensor are embedded between two layers of contact lens material and a tiny pinhole lets tear fluid from the eye reach the glucose sensor, and the sensor can measure levels every second.

Diabetics must currently prick their fingers throughout the day to measure blood sugar levels, but Google believes the contact lenses would be less invasive and allow people with diabetes to check glucose more often and more easily.

When asked if the patent is indeed for the smart contact lens for diabetes patients, Google told TIME the company does not comment on patent filings. “We hold patents on a variety of ideas—some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents,” a Google spokesperson said in an email.

TIME Social Media

Facebook Messenger Is About to Get Way More Useful

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during his keynote address at Facebook F8 in San Francisco on March 25, 2015.
Robert Galbraith—Reuters Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during his keynote address at Facebook F8 in San Francisco on March 25, 2015.

Facebook is inviting developers to make apps specifically for Messenger

Facebook is inviting software developers to build programs that will greatly expand the capabilities of its popular Messenger app, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday.

Speaking at Facebook’s annual F8 conference, Zuckerberg unveiled Messenger Platform, which allows developers to build apps specifically for Messenger. The platform will open up Messenger’s 600 million monthly users to third-party developers while giving Messenger users a plethora of new features cooked up outside Facebook’s offices.

Messenger users will see two immediate benefits from Messenger Platform. The first is a series of new third-party apps that will let users communicate in ways beyond text. Two new apps Facebook showed off Wednesday, for example, included Ultratext, which sends “eye-popping GIF messages,” and “Ditty,” which makes “every message musical.” Messenger users who receive a message from one of these new third-party apps will also get an invitation to download and install the new app themselves.

Messenger Platform will also support business-to-user messages, which aim to make customer service more efficient and seamless. For example, if you purchase something online, the business could send you a receipt and shipping info via Messenger. You could also send a message back to the business if you need to make changes, like ordering a different size shirt.

“I don’t know anyone who likes calling businesses — it’s just not fast,” Zuckerberg said of the feature, called Businesses on Messenger. “Helping people communicate more naturally with businesses is going to improve almost every person’s life.”

Some of the new Messenger apps will be available immediately, while developers interested in the platform can start designing apps of their own beginning Wednesday. Businesses on Messenger will launch in the next several weeks. Zuckerberg also promised the new platform would bring more feautres to Messenger in the future.

“There are going to be a lot of things we can do with Messenger Platform over time,” he said.

Facebook’s move to open up Messenger to third-party developers mirrors similar steps it took with its main site, leading directly to the rise of Facebook games like Farmville and Mafia Wars.

TIME 10 Questions

Katie Couric on A New Documentary, Her New Job and the NBC Rumor Mill

The anchor and activist answers 10 questions in this week's TIME

How did the nonprofit you co-founded, the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Stand Up to Cancer, get involved with the PBS series premiering March 30?

Cancer has been life-­shattering for me on more than one occasion. My husband died of colon cancer in 1998. My sister died of pancreatic cancer three years later. Laura Ziskin, one of my co-founders, died of breast cancer. She’d read an advance copy of Dr. Siddartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies and immediately said, “We have to turn this into a documentary.”

Many people touched by cancer get overwhelmed or tune it out. Why do you return to it again and again?

Everyone has a different reaction to cancer. My husband, who was one of the most intellectually curious people I’d ever met, didn’t want to know much. As someone who loved him, my impulse was to protect him. My journalistic instincts also kicked in. I learned everything I could. After he died, I realized I had this built-in bully pulpit and it would be almost criminal not to share what I’d learned.

Do you do anything weird to stay healthy?

I wish I drank, like, copious amounts of green tea. I’m just not one of those maniacally healthy people. I try to say no to french fries. I’m very good about getting screened, about getting mammograms.

You’re Yahoo’s Global News Anchor now. What have you learned from Marissa Mayer?

I think you learn to keep your blinders on, focus on the job at hand and ignore the noise. Marissa is very good at that.

What makes a good anchor?

Someone who’s experienced and who has credibility. When I came to CBS, people said I lacked gravitas, which was frankly an unfair assessment. I had probably done more interviews than most of the sitting anchors, and certainly my share of hard-hitting ones. I always said “gravitas” was Latin for “testicles.”

After the Brian Williams ordeal, some people said anchors face pressure to get in the trenches or be part of the story. Did you ever feel that?

It’s a very hard balance, because there are stories that warrant the anchor being there, but you also have to be cognizant that it not be as window dressing. You have reporters out there, day in and day out, covering a story, and then you have an anchor parachute in. You hope whoever that anchor is brings something to the table.

Every couple of months, there’s a new rumor you’re going back to NBC—

I know, I know. It’s very disconcerting and bizarre to be the focus of stories that just have no factual basis.

So is there any truth to it?

No. No, no. Listen, I love NBC and I spent 15 wonderful years there. I still have a lot of friends there. But right now I’m really excited about the work I’m doing at Yahoo. It’s wonderful to feel entrepreneurial. As a friend of mine said, it’s great to be part of a place that’s expanding optimistically instead of managing decline.

Who’s your dream interview right now?

Pope Francis. He’s such a transformative figure. He has expressed some attitudes of tolerance and compassion and some Jesuit values that I really admire.

Gossip sites ran some photos of you and your husband in swimsuits recently. How did that feel?

Oh my God, that was awful. I took some time off with my husband, and I look out and there are three big, huge cameras. I’m a 58-year-old woman. My heart sank. I guess it’s part of the fine print of having a public job, but I hope women out there everywhere felt my pain.

This interview appears in the April 6, 2015, issue of TIME.

TIME Video Games

5 Reasons You Need to Check Out Cities: Skylines

Colossal Order

The city-building genre is alive and kicking, thanks to an unabashed SimCity tribute by Finland-based developer Colossal Order

It used to be, the video game everyone played (if they played video games) was SimCity. This was back when PC gaming ruled the roost, and you called computers “desktops” because they actually sat on your desk and doubled as monitor stands. SimCity would eventually fall behind The Sims in terms of sales—now one of the top 10 gaming franchises in history. But for most of 1990s and early 2000s, SimCity was one of those series folks who’d never identify as gamers might, if you brought up gaming in conversation, cop to playing obsessively.

Over the last decade, the “sim” aspect of SimCity has vectored off toward steadily fuzzier, un-simulation-like pastures. Blame the success of The Sims, or the presumption that softer, friendlier, social-angled gameplay is some sort of Platonic gaming ideal. Whatever the reasons, by the time Maxis rebooted SimCity in 2013, the game felt very little like its acclaimed forerunners. You didn’t build cities so much as towns, monitored abstract symbols and color bars in lieu of meaningful metrics, and Maxis’ stumbling conflation of mandatory online play with a bunch of glitchy, not-ready-for-primetime servers — many couldn’t play the game at all, prompting Amazon to yank it from their e-shelves — wound up alienating hardcore and casual players alike.

Enter Cities: Skylines, a PC game by a totally different studio (interlopers!) that’s singlehandedly revitalizing the city-building genre. And not in a “Look, here’s something more clever than SimCity!” way, so much as a “Hey, why not just do SimCity old school?” one. Here’s a look at some of the reasons why.

It’s an unapologetic city-building simulation

“[Developer] Colossal Order delves deep into what Maxis and EA once made so popular with a traditional city-building approach,” writes GameSpot. “Few surprises or even significant innovations can be found here: There is just a standard single-player mode of play in which you choose from a handful of maps representing territory types ranging from flat plains to tropical beaches. You may also play the game with standard conditions, dial up the difficulty, and/or turn on sandbox and unlimited-money mods.”

And it’s ultimately about getting your city’s thoroughfares right

“Each stretch of road, every bus stop, every link in the transport network is important, and even small changes can have meaningful results,” writes PCGamesN, later adding “Everything in Skylines starts with a road. The very first thing you do is drag out that first stretch of tarmac from the highway, the first little piece of the city. Eventually that will connect up with elevated intersections, roundabouts, bridges and other roads both small and huge. Everything grows up around them.”

But it’s not overly complex, or byzantine for the sake of bean counting

“In addition to managing the physical aspects of your city, you’ll have to keep an eye on your bank account and supplement it with loans, decide what to budget for various utilities and services, and tweak taxes for residents and business,” observes PC Gamer. “None of this feels deep, simulation-wise—it’s mostly fiddling with sliders and finding a balance between keeping a positive revenue and annoying residents with steep taxes—but nothing about Skylines’ simulation feels terribly deep, at least economically, and apart from focusing on specific types of industries, or choosing office towers over factories, none of my cities have felt particularly specialized. That suits me just fine, though players looking for a deeply complex city simulation might be a little disappointed.”

Rejiggering your cities isn’t a pain in the butt

“[This] is arguably the heart of Cities: Skylines, which does a fine job making urban renewal as painless as possible,” writes Quarter to Three. “Because so much of the gameplay is premised on the traffic model, Colossal Order knows you’re going to have to widen streets, or put in subways, or deal with railways intersecting roads. So it gives you plenty of smoothly implemented options for one-way traffic, elevated roads, public transportation routing, and especially moveable service buildings. I can’t emphasize enough what a game changer it is that you can relocate an expensive university or hospital instead of having to demolish and rebuild it.”

And the game supports mods that already remedy potential annoyances

“Citizens will let you know what they think of your mayoral skills through the social network Chirper, with new ‘chirps’ appearing under the blue bird logo either criticising or praising your work,” explains God is a Geek. “Despite its helpfulness, this bird can get bloody annoying at times – especially when your population has expanded into the thousands and everyone wants to get their two-pence in. Unfortunately, the option to break the birdie’s neck isn’t available in the base game but mods are already available to combat this incessant feather vertebrae and turn him off completely. Hooray for the internet.”

TIME Companies

Google’s Self-Driving Car May Come With Airbags on the Outside

Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (R) and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt (L) ride in a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on February 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California.

Google could be be turning its vehicle into a real-life bumper car

Google’s latest idea might be its craziest yet. The tech company has secured a patent for airbags that go on the outside of the car to protect nearby pedestrians.

Skeptics have questioned how safe Google’s driverless car can be, and the new patent, awarded to the company on Tuesday, suggests the Google is taking great strides to reassure consumers. According to the patent, airbags on the bumper of the vehicle would deploy when sensors detect an imminent crash.

Though normal airbags would send pedestrians flying in the other direction, likely injuring or killing them, the patent says the Google car airbags would be made of “visco-elastic material.” Though Google doesn’t specify what exactly that material is, Quartz describes it as something similar to memory foam that would cushion the blow to pedestrians so that they are not pushed to the street.

Though the idea sounds bizarre, Google is not the first to come up with it. Volvo also has outside airbags that raise the hood and come out of the windshield. (See a demonstration of the Volvo technology below.) But don’t expect to see these ballooning cars on the streets anytime soon: Volvo has not yet used the technology, and just because Google has acquired the patent doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily use it.

TIME Video Games

Sony Just Made the PlayStation 4 Dramatically Better

Sony Corp. PlayStation 4 As Game Console Goes On Sale In U.S.
Bloomberg—Getty Images A logo sits on the front of a Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) games console, manufactured by Sony Corp., in this arranged photograph taken in London, U.K., on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.

You can now pause games as the console enters rest mode

Sony’s upcoming software update for the PlayStation 4 will include a number of “social enhancements” to beef up its online network of gamers, the company revealed on Wednesday.

Software update version 2.50, which Sony has codenamed “Yukimura,” will be out Thursday with a bundle of new features, including a friend finder that enables gamers to search for Facebook friends within the Sony network and connect with a single-step invite. Once invited, gamers can see which friends are online and playing the same games via a new “Friends Who Play This” viewing window.

The update also includes a faster way to jump in and out of gameplay through a new suspend feature, which will pause the action as the PlayStation 4 goes into rest mode. Games will be resumable with one tap of the button.

Read next: 4 Reasons Why Video Game Consoles Will Never Die

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Executives

Why It Matters Who Steve Jobs Really Was

Apple Unveils iPad 2
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks during an Apple Special event to unveil the new iPad 2 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 2, 2011 in San Francisco.

Dueling biographies fight over the story of Steve

In 2011 Walter Isaacson published a biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Isaacson’s biography was fully authorized by its subject: Jobs handpicked Isaacson, who had written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Entitled simply Steve Jobs, the book was well-reviewed and sold some 3 million copies.

But now its account is being challenged by another book, this one called Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender, a veteran technology journalist who was friendly with Jobs, and Rick Tetzeli, executive editor at Fast Company. Some of Jobs’ former colleagues and friends have taken sides, speaking out against the old book and praising the new one. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO and Jobs’s successor, has said that Isaacson’s book depicts Jobs as “a greedy, selfish egomaniac.” Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, has weighed in against it, and Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of software and Internet services, tweeted about the new book: “Well done and first to get it right.”

But who did get it right? And why do people care so much anyway?

(This article comes with a bouquet of disclosures, starting with the fact that Isaacson is a current contributor and former editor of TIME magazine and as such my former boss. I’m quoted in his biography—I interviewed Jobs half a dozen times in the mid-2000s, though he and I weren’t friendly. Schlender spent more than 20 years writing for Fortune, which is owned by TIME’s parent company, Time Inc., and Tetzeli was an editor both at Fortune and at Entertainment Weekly, also a Time Inc. magazine.)

Schlender and Tetzeli have given their book the subtitle “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader,” and its emphasis is on the transformation that Jobs underwent between 1985, when he was ousted from Apple, and 1997, when he returned to it. “The most basic question about Steve’s career is this,” they write. “How could the man who had been such an inconsistent, inconsiderate, rash, and wrongheaded businessman … become the venerated CEO who revived Apple and created a whole new set of culture-defining products?” It’s an excellent question.

Becoming Steve Jobs is, like most books about Jobs, tough on his early years. He could be a callous person (he initially denied being the father of his first child) and a terrible manager (the original Macintosh, while magnificent in its conception, was only barely viable as a product). On this score Schlender and Tetzeli are clear and even-handed. It’s easy to forget that Jobs originally wanted Pixar, the animation firm he took over from George Lucas in 1986, to focus on selling its graphics technology rather than making movies, and if the geniuses there hadn’t been more independent he might have run it into the ground.

Schlender and Tetzeli argue that it was this middle period that made Jobs. The failure of his first post-Apple company, NeXT, chastened him; his work with Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter taught him patience and management skills; and his marriage to Laurene Powell Jobs deepened him emotionally. In those wilderness years he learned discipline and (some) humility and how to iterate and improve a project gradually. Thus reforged, he returned to Apple and led it back from near bankruptcy to become the most valuable company in the world.

Schlender and Tetzeli strenuously insist that they’re upending the “common myths” about Jobs. But they’re not specific about who exactly believes these myths, and in fact it’s a bit of a straw man: there’s not much in Becoming Steve Jobs that Isaacson or anybody else would disagree with. What’s missing is more problematic: as it goes on, Becoming Steve Jobs gradually abandons its critical distance and becomes a paean to the greatness of Jobs and Apple. Jobs was “someone who preferred creating machines that delighted real people,” and his reborn Apple was “a company that could once again make insanely great computing machines for you and me.” It reprints the famous “Think Different” spiel in full. It compares Jobs’ career arc, without irony, to that of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. It unspools sentences like: “Steve [we’re on a first-name basis with him] also understood that the personal satisfaction of accomplishing something insanely great was the best motivation of all for a group as talented as his.”

Read More: Apple’s Watch Will Make People and Computers More Intimate

It’s easy to see why Apple executives have endorsed Becoming Steve Jobs, but it has imperfections that would have irked Jobs himself. The writing is slack—it’s larded with clichés (“he wanted to play their game, but by his own rules”) and marred by small infelicities (it confuses jibe and gibe, twice). It lacks detail: for example, it covers Jobs’ courtship of and marriage to Laurene in two dry pages (“Their relationship burned intensely from the beginning, as you might expect from the pairing of two such strong-willed individuals”). By contrast, a Fortune interview Schlender did with Jobs and Bill Gates in 1991 gets 13 pages. Whatever its faults, Isaacson’s book at least dug up the telling details: in his account of the marriage we learn that Jobs was still agonizing over an ex-girlfriend; that he had a hilariously abortive bachelor party; that he threw out the calligrapher who was hired to do the wedding invitations (“I can’t look at her stuff. It’s shit”); and that the vegan wedding cake was borderline inedible.

Jobs was famously unintrospective, but Schlender and Tetzeli seem almost as incurious about his inner life as he supposedly was. Jobs’ birth parents were 23 when they conceived him, then they gave him up for adoption; when he was 23 Jobs abandoned his own first child. It takes a determinedly uninterested biographer not to connect those dots, or at least explain why they shouldn’t be connected. We hear a lot about what Jobs did, and some about how he did it, but very little about why.

Jobs was a man of towering contradictions: he identified deeply with the counterculture but spent his life in corporate boardrooms amassing billions; he made beautiful products that ostensibly enabled individual creativity but in their architecture expressed a deep-seated need for central control. Maybe making educated guesses about a major figure’s private life is unseemly, or quixotic, but that’s the game a biographer is in. Ultimately there’s no point in comparing Steve Jobs and Becoming Steve Jobs, because the latter book isn’t really a biography at all, much less a definitive one.

A more interesting question might be, why has the story of Steve Jobs become so important to us? And why is it such contested territory? He’s also the subject of a scathing new documentary by Alex Gibney and an upcoming biopic written by Aaron Sorkin. Was Jobs, to use Schlender and Tetzeli’s terminology, an asshole, or a genius, or some mysterious fusion of the two? It’s as if Jobs’ life has become a kind of totem, a symbolic story through which we’re trying to understand and work through our own ambivalence about the technology he and his colleagues made, which has so thoroughly invaded and transformed our lives in the past 20 years, for good and/or ill. Apple’s products are so glossy and beautiful and impenetrable that it’s difficult to do anything but admire them. But about Jobs, at least, we can think ­different.

Read next: Becoming Steve Jobs Shares Jobs’ Human Side

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TIME apps

These Are the 5 Best iPhone Apps of the Week

Try Instagram's new collage-making app, Layout

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 some apps actually worth downloading.

Layout from Instagram

Some clever folks over at Instagram realized they weren’t doing enough to help users make collages or photo montages right in the app, seceding those functions to a plethora of third-party apps. Enter Layout, which lets you tinker with your photos by putting them in a collage or mirror-flipping them for a variety of clever effects. You can then share the results on Instagram or anywhere else on the web.

Layout from Instagram is free in the App Store

PICSPLAY 2

If you’re looking for a far more sophisticated photo-editing app, then PICSPLAY 2 is a necessary download. The app is packed with high-quality editing tools optimized for mobile use. That means you’ll find tools that aren’t only pared down for smaller screens, but ones that work well via swipes rather than needing super-careful fingertip placements to operate. You can completely change a way a photo looks—adjust color, burn parts of the image, eliminate elements, resize and more. It takes some getting used to, but it’s worth learning.

PICSPLAY 2 is free in the App Store

Atari Fit

It’s hard to tell which is the more appealing part of this app: that it offers you new exercises to include in your daily routine, or that it’s a gateway to the old school Atari games that you probably miss dearly. As you complete exercises, you earn experience points which then unlock different Atari games. Working out is just a small price to pay for access to the library of some of the greatest games of all time.

Atari Fit is free in the App Store

Adobe Fill & Sign

It’s total madness that in 2015 there are still moments when employers or landlords want you to fax documents — you might as well send files by carrier pigeon. Bring yourself into the digital age with Adobe Fill & Sign, which lets you scan paper documents or import files from your email inbox to fill out in the app. The files can then be sent electronically or, if you must, printed for snail mail.

Adobe Fill & Sign is free in the App Store

Star Wars™: Card Trader

It’s hard not to be excited for the next Star Wars film — but for those of us eagerly awaiting December 18, this cheesy trading card app can tide you over nicely. The app brings back Star Wars trading cards in digital form, letting you collect your favorite characters and swap with friends. It reminds me of my younger days finding Star Wars pogs in bags of Doritos, which is a level of excitement nobody should miss out on.

Star Wars™: Card Trader is free in the App Store

TIME Gadgets

9 Bicycle Gadgets That Will Keep You Safe in Style

Bicycle Technology
Guido Mieth—Getty Images Bicycle Technology

Turn some heads in the name of fun and safety with this techy cycling gear

Sure, the bicycle was invented in the early 1800s, but lately, a renewed interest in the two-wheeler’s eco-friendly footprint has yielded many great innovations for riders. Concerned first and foremost about sharing the road with gas-guzzling automobiles, cyclists want better visibility and more ways to pedal safely. But beyond that, they’re into making their commutes and cruises fun again.

These nine gadgets may have not exactly reinvented the wheel, but they’d be welcome additions to any modern-day ride.

Blink Steady

High design meets high visibility in this low-profile, rear flashing light. Hewn from solid aluminum, the $125 tail light securely affixes to your seat post using a 2 millimeter allen wrench, not the kind of tool your everyday thief typically carries. Lit by two 120-degree, low-powered LEDs, the waterproof flasher sips power from two AAA batteries.

But don’t worry about leaving the light on — an accelerometer ensures the light only flashes when you’re riding, and a photosensor only turns Blink Steady on when it’s dark enough.

Cycliq Fly Cameras

A pair of action cameras disguised in working bike lights, the Fly 12 and Fly 6 are ingenious devices for recording the road rage that goes on around you. Named after 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, the front- and rear-facing cameras (respectively) are two different products.

Fly 12, which just nearly tripled its Kickstarter goal, is a smartphone-compatible 400 lumen headlight that records 1080p video. Fly 6, which appears to be sold out thought Cycliq but is still in-stock through Amazon for $210, packs a 720p video camera into a 30 lumen flashing light. Whether it’s keeping an eye out for you or helping you to be seen, this smart technology certainly has your back.

Helios Handlebars

As righteous as many riders can get, there are quite a few that actually know their hand signals from their hind quarters. Due out this summer, Helios makes a range of connected handlebars (they come in bullhorn, drop, or straight styles) that not only pack a 500-lumen headlight, but also a blinker system into the ends.

Pair the $280 smart handlebar with your phone through Bluetooth, and you can make the lights turn on when you’re near (a great battery-saving feature), enable GPS tracking, and use the rear-facing LEDs (which serve as blinkers) to guide you around using your phone’s Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation.

Monkey Lights

Sure, a Tron light cycle would help improve night-time visibility, but you don’t need to replace your entire rig to turn heads. Monkey Lights snap onto your bike’s spokes and flash colored LEDs in certain patterns to give your wheels a brightly-colored visual. From rainbow stripes to barreling fireballs, the 8-bit-like graphics can be programmed in hundreds of color and pattern combinations. And ranging in price from $25 to $75 dollars (per wheel, and depending on how many LEDs you want) the waterproof and theft-resistant lights don’t draw much attention in the daylight, making them a cool surprise once the sun goes down.

Orp

Designed and tested on the mean streets of Portland, Ore., one of the bike-friendliest cities in the world, Orp is a bike bell for the 21st century. Give its rubber button a light tap and the $65 handlebar-mounted peripheral will emit a 76-decibel chirp, the kind of sound that seems to say, “oh hi!”

But if you lay down on that same “wail tail,” an urgent 96 decibel roar emits from the cute little device instead, also causing it to flash its LEDs angrily. USB-chargeable and easy (for you) to remove from a bike (so thieves don’t do it instead), Orp’s battery lasts up to eleven hours in slow strobe mode, or for three hours with a constantly-running 87-lumen headlight.

Scosche BoomBottle H2O

Back in the day, it was no big thing to see someone cruising down the street carrying a boombox. Okay, maybe it was a minor curiosity. But now, you can wirelessly stream your music into a battery-powered speaker that’s so small, it can fit into the water bottle cage on your bike.

Designed to take all the bumps and splashes your ride can dole out, the Schosche BoomBottle H2O can handle both dirt and water (and, therefore, mud) with an 11-hour rechargeable battery to help rock your ride. And, since your bike won’t be carrying any water, if you opt to take a plunge, fear not — the $99 speaker also floats.

Skylock

The only item on this list that is solely available through pre-order, this solar-powered, keyless bike-lock is the u-bolt for the smartphone set. Pairing via Bluetooth, the accelerometer-equipped lock will alert you if anyone is tampering with it, and send notifications to your friends if you’re in a serious accident (it’s got the brains to know when it’s gotten bashed).

In addition, you can set the Skylock to let your friends unlock your ride, so you can take part in bike-sharing without all the sign-ups. Chargeable through the sun or USB, the steel, shock-proof, device is weather resistant and both Android and iPhone compatible — and $159.

Siva Cycle Atom

It seems like a long-overdue technology, but Siva Cycle solved it anyway: Of all the energy we’re expelling pushing down on a bike’s crank, why can’t we capture it to do something useful, like charge a phone? The Atom, a wheel-mounted portable battery charger, turns kinetic energy into potential energy, storing it in a 1650Ah battery that’s perfect for topping up your phone on the fly. And, with an extension cord routing up to the seat-post, the $130 charger will even power your phone directly while you pedal. Talk about a stroke of genius.

Torch T1 Bike Helmet

Usually, a bright idea is symbolized by a lightbulb going off over someone’s head, but this brilliant concept integrates lights right into the helmet. Shining bright with 10 LED lights, this shatterproof helmet has a white headlight and red rear light that give you great visibility on the road. A marked improvement in safety because it puts the lights higher into drivers’ line of sight, the Torch helmet can last up to 12 hours before needing to be recharged, and only takes 1.5 hours to juice up.

Currently the T1 is on sale for $109. But get it while you can, because it looks like they’re cleaning out inventory while they gear up to sell the Torch T2, a new version currently fundraising on Indiegogo.

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