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Why Adultery Website AshleyMadison Is Going Public Abroad

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Even though most of its users are in America

There’s a perhaps-surprising reason that the owners of AshleyMadison.com, the Web site for people cheating on their spouses, decided to issue public stock for the first time in London rather than New York: Americans are too moral.

The Toronto-based Avid Life Media says it’s planning a London public stock offering sometime this year because “Europe is the only region where we have a real chance of doing an IPO,” Christoph Kraemer, the company’s head of international relations, told Bloomberg. “We’re no longer a niche, but it’s been difficult in North America to find the support to go public.” Europe, he said, is more tolerant of adultery.

And yet, while AshleyMadison operates in 46 countries, fully half of the cheaters on the site are in the United States. So maybe it’s more precise to say that Americans are too publicly moral, clutching our pearls until we’re alone in a room with our computers and smartphones, credit-cards out.

And not just a few credit cards. Somewhere around 18 million of AshleyMadison’s users are in the United States. The site has approximately 36 million users worldwide.

Avid Life, which also operates Cougarlife.com (which connects women of a certain age with their generally-younger admirers) and EstablishedMen.com, (a “sugar daddy” site), said Wednesday that it wants to raise up to $200 million to help it beef up to meet soaring demand for its services. You may cry now.

Avid Life claimed sales of $115 million last year, four times higher than in 2009, and says it’s worth about $1 billion. The site launched in 2001, and has been a target of moral outrage all along — to its own benefit. That’s the great thing about working in a business that is considered sleazy or marginal by just about everyone, including its own customers: when somebody calls you sleazy, that’s a good thing, at least from a marketing standpoint.

Avid Life says Asia is its next big market, and claims that more than half of its business will come from that continent by 2020 (a figure that would likely be much higher if the company could operate in China, but it’s hard to imagine the site, with its slogan “Life is Short. Have an Affair,” getting through that country’s government Internet filters).

AshleyMadison’s owners are often characterized as “unapologetic” (by polite news reporters) or as “shameless” (by less-polite critics). But like many companies that serve human vice, Avid Life has displayed a certain ambivalence about its business, at least in public statements. Kraemer told Bloomberg: “We’ve had stories from members that we’ve returned love to the marital bed and made others realize the grass is not greener on the other side.”

Which seems like an odd thing to say for a company that sells itself on the notion that the grass is so much greener on the other side that you want to leap the fence and roll around in it—and drain some money from your bank account for the privilege.

TIME legal

What to Know About Google’s Fight With Europe

Google and European Union logos are seen in Sarajevo, in this April 15, 2015 photo illustration.
Dado Ruvic—Reuters Google and European Union logos are seen in Sarajevo, in this April 15, 2015 photo illustration.

The search giant faces charges of anticompetitive behavior in Europe

A new antitrust complaint filed against Google by the European Union Wednesday could force the company to pay huge fines and change the way its search engine operates in Europe.

In the complaint, EU regulators say Google has abused its dominance in online search to stifle competition. If the charges stick, Google could face a cascade of antitrust allegations over a variety of its other services as well.

Here’s a quick explainer of why European officials are targeting Google and how the search giant has responded so far.

What is the European Union saying Google did wrong?

The formal accusation is tied to the way Google displays its shopping comparison product, Google Shopping, in search results. Items from Google Shopping are displayed at the top of the search results page when users search for many basic products, like “kites” or “dog food.” According to the EU, automatically placing Google’s own service in this prized digital real estate could “artificially divert traffic from rival comparison shopping services and hinder their ability to compete, to the detriment of consumers, as well as stifling innovation.”

Why does it matter whether Google promotes its rivals equally?

Google controls more than 90% of the search engine market share in most European countries, compared to about 65% market share in the U.S. According to Google’s rivals, such as Yelp and Microsoft, that control over search gives Google incredible influence over the viability of other companies that rely on search results to drive web traffic and generate business.

What is Google’s counterargument?

In a blog post Wednesday, Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president for Search, points out that traffic to Google Shopping is still dwarfed by sites like Amazon and eBay in European countries and does not significantly outpace other competitors. He also cited the successful IPO of German shopping site Zalando as proof that competition was not being stifled by Google Search.

“Any economist would say that you typically do not see a ton of innovation, new entrants or investment in sectors where competition is stagnating — or dominated by one player,” he wrote. “Yet that is exactly what’s happening in our world.”

How long has the European investigation been going on?

Officials began a general investigation into Google’s search practices in November of 2010. After years of back and forth, Google reached a tentative settlement with the European Commission in February 2014 in which the company agreed to place competitors’ search results at the top of the results page along with results from Google’s services. However, the settlement was ultimately rejected later in the year. Now the EU has a new antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, who has taken a harder line against Google.

What punishments could Google face?

The European Union can collect fines as large as 10% of annual sales for violation of antitrust law. In Google’s case, that would amount to more than $6 billion, though it isn’t clear if a final fee would go that high. The company could also be forced to change the way its search engine works — in its charges, the European Commission says Google should treat its own comparison shopping service the same as that of its rivals by showing whatever results are most relevant based on a user’s search query.

Google will have ten weeks to respond to the EU’s allegations in hopes of avoiding a big fine.

Is this only about Google Shopping?

No. The European Commission also announced that it’s opening an antitrust investigation into Android, Google’s mobile operating system. The Commission will consider whether Google pressured manufacturers who use Android on their devices to pre-install Google’s own apps. It will also seek to learn if Google prevented manufacturers from developing modified versions of Android in a manner that runs afoul of antitrust law.

For its part, Google argues Android has helped spur mobile innovation and that its practices are not out of line with the way Apple and Microsoft control their mobile ecosystems.

The Commission is also continuing to investigate how Google prioritizes its own specialized results in other specific fields, such as flights, and the kinds of restrictions the company places on advertisers.

Could Google face similar scrutiny in the U.S.?

It’s doubtful. The Federal Trade Commission launched an antitrust investigation into Google in 2011 but ultimately filed no legal charges against the search giant. A recently disclosed internal report, however, revealed the FTC was closer than initially believed to filing charges against Google.

Has this ever happened before?

American tech giant Microsoft long sparred with European regulators over antitrust concerns regarding the Windows operating system and Internet browsers. Microsoft initially got away without a fine by agreeing to offer new Windows users in Europe a wider choice of browsers. However, Microsoft was fined $732 million in 2013 when it was found not to be complying with that deal (Microsoft blamed technical errors). Some commentators argue Microsoft’s dealings with European regulators changed the company’s culture in profound ways.

Read next: How Google Perfected the Silicon Valley Acquisition

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TIME Silicon Valley

How Google Perfected the Silicon Valley Acquisition

Signage outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on Oct. 13, 2010.
Tony Avelar—Bloomberg/Getty Images Signage outside the Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California on Oct. 13, 2010.

As tech's largest firms grow in scope and age, acquisitions have become an increasingly important maneuver

Correction appended, April 21

In late October John Hanke and several of his co-workers met for a reunion of sorts at Fiesta Del Mar, a Mexican restaurant near Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Hanke, a 10-year Google employee who led initial development of Maps, was once the founder of a small geodata startup called Keyhole that Google acquired in 2004. The fact that the one-time entrepreneur has stayed with the search giant for more than a decade makes him and his colleagues oddities in Silicon Valley. “There are quite a large number of [us] who are still at Google, and I have to say I don’t think anyone expected that when we first came in,” he says.

Google has used acquisitions to expand its workforce and launch new products since before it was a household name. Recently that strategy has become the modus operandi for technology firms in Silicon Valley. Facebook is using its fast-growing cash hoard to take control over sectors both adjacent to its core product (WhatsApp for $22 billion) and far-flung from social networking (Oculus VR for $2 billion). Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon are doing the same, making big-ticket bets by buying Minecraft developer Mojang ($2.5 billion), Tumblr ($1.1 billion) and video game streaming site Twitch ($970 million), respectively. Even Apple, which long eschewed splashy acquisitions in favor of much smaller, less public buys, says it bought at least 30 companies during the last fiscal year, including the $3 billion purchase of Beats.

Overall spending on tech acquisitions topped $170 billion in 2014, up 54% from the previous year and more than double the amount spent in 2010, according to PrivCo, a research firm that tracks investments in private businesses. As the core of dominant technology companies get larger, they have come to depend on acquisitions not only to broaden their businesses but also to sustain the pace of innovation. “Companies are buying innovation,” explains Peter Levine, a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “As large companies need to be competitive and want to increase their footprints in a variety of different areas, one of the best ways to do that is through acquisition.”

The deals are a boon for startups as well. Venture capital is abundant, and companies can rely on investment rather than revenue to keep growing. If it’s not clear how a startup will eventually convert users into revenue, a buyout from a large firm can render that problem irrelevant—or at least less urgent. While investors and founders insist that launching a thriving self-supporting company is still the end-goal in Silicon Valley, “exiting” via a sale rather than an initial public offering can still net a lucrative payout. “It’s almost a goal for some of these companies as they start, to have that exit event,” says George Geis, a business professor at UCLA whose upcoming book, Semi-Organic Growth, analyzes Google’s acquisition strategy over the years.

But while snapping up a startup is now easy, holding onto its key employees is more difficult. Startup founders, who often think of themselves as entrepreneurs before engineers, are notoriously difficult to keep at large firms long. Partly, this is cultural: striking out on one’s own, idea in hand, is a fundamental part of the Silicon Valley ethos. The widespread availability of funding doesn’t hurt, either. That has left firms struggling to keep the expertise they may have spent millions acquiring. “When a firm is making a tech acquisition, they’re buying the talent as much as they’re buying the technology,” says Brian JM Quinn, a law professor specializing in mergers and acquisitions at Boston College.

A TIME analysis of startup founders’ LinkedIn profiles found that about two-thirds of the startup founders that accepted jobs at Google between 2006 and 2014 are still with the company. Amazon has retained about 55% of its founders over that time period, while Microsoft’s rate is below 45%. Facebook, with a 75% retention rate for founders, is beating its older competitors, but the company only began acquiring companies in significant numbers around 2010 or so. Yahoo and Apple, which have both gone on acquisition sprees under new CEOs Marissa Mayer and Tim Cook in the last two years, now have a similar retention rate to Google.

Google stands out among this cohort in large part because of the massive number of acquisitions it’s conducted. Overall at least 221 startup founders joined Google’s ranks between 2006 and 2014. Yahoo, the next closest competitor, added at least 110 founders to its employee roster in that time. Google’s internal calculation of its overall retention rate for startup founders through its history is similar to TIME’s, according to data provided by the company. Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft declined to share any information on the retention of founders; Amazon did not respond to a request for data.

An examination of the ways Google tries to retain employees provides a window into the increasingly ferocious battle among the tech sector’s giants to expand through conquest. “Google,” says Geis, “has done a pretty good job—among the best in Silicon Valley.”

‘The toothbrush test’

Even when Google was small, it wasn’t shy about spending. The company’s first startup acquisition, the 2003 purchase of Pyra Labs, forms the backbone of what is today Blogger, an online publishing platform. Since then, many of Google’s most well-known products, including Android, YouTube, Maps, Docs and Analytics, have originated from acquisitions. “M&A has obviously been a huge part of Google—and, I think, Google’s success—for a long time,” says Don Harrison, Google’s vice president for corporate development, who oversees the company’s acquisitions.

Before any deal is finalized, it has to pass what CEO Larry Page calls “the toothbrush test”: is the product something you use daily and would make your life better? “If anything matches the toothbrush test and relates to technology, then Larry has an interest in it,” explains Harrison.

Typically, Google buys occur in sectors where the company has already been experimenting itself. Harrison points to YouTube as a prime example. Google already had a video sharing service called Google Video in the mid-2000’s, but YouTube’s fast-growing user base convinced the firm to offer a then-eye-popping $1.65 billion for the startup, even though it was barely a year old and earned no revenue. Today, YouTube brings in billions of dollars of revenue per year and is the third most-visited website in the world, according to Web analytics firm Alexa.

But the return on investment on an acquisition isn’t only measured monetarily. It’s important to Google and other tech giants that the founders behind ideas worth paying for stick around as well. Harrison says founder retention is one of the significant factors Google measures as part of the “scorecarding” it does to evaluate its purchases. “We hold ourselves accountable to make sure that the founders are able to be successful within Google,” Harrison says. “It’s something that we’re not only working on at the time we buy the company but we work on for years after as well.”

Cash alone can’t convince the top startup founders to join Google. 2014 was the most active year for IPOs in the U.S. since the year 2000, according to IPO tracker Renaissance Capital, and Chinese online retailer Alibaba had the biggest public debut in world history, raising $25 billion in September. “As aggressive as we’re willing to be, we probably can’t match public company premiums right now,” Harrison admits.

So Google tries to find other ways to lure key talent.

‘A True CEO’

For Tony Fadell, the CEO of smart home company Nest, the decision of whether or not be acquired by Google was really a question of how he wanted to spend his time.

Google had begun courting Nest almost from the company’s inception, ever since Fadell showed Google founder Sergey Brin a prototype of the Nest Thermostat at a TED conference in 2011. At the time, Fadell wasn’t interested in a buyout. “I wanted to keep it as a startup as long as possible,” he says.

But as Nest grew, so did Fadell’s logistical headaches. By 2013, he says he was spending 90% of his time on what he calls “back-of-house stuff”: managing finances, talking to investors, wrestling with taxes and fending off patent lawsuits. “There was a lot of selling to multiple entities that we were doing the right thing,” he says.

When Google came knocking again, offering a big payday and the chance to keep Nest’s name brand intact—a key requirement for Fadell—an acquisition seemed more appealing. Now Fadell says he spends 95% of his time focused on product development and key relationships. Nest, meanwhile, has gotten access to resources that would have taken much longer to accrue independently. The company launched in five new countries in 2014, but Fadell thinks they would have only reached two without Google’s help.

In many ways, the Nest acquisition is the ideal scenario startup founders envision when they agree to be swallowed by a larger company. Harrison, Google’s M&A head, calls Fadell a “true CEO” and says Google execs serve more as a board of directors for Nest instead of supervisors. Fadell says he hasn’t had to get formal approval for anything from Google, though he reports directly to Larry Page and meets with the Google CEO a few times per month. “He’s like, ‘Call me when you need me, but this is for you to run,’” Fadell says of his relationship with Page. “He gives us the freedom, so I run with that. Only when it’s really major decisions do I really touch base with him.”

Some founders who don’t quite have Fadell’s free rein are still granted a certain level of autonomy. Skybox Imaging, a satellite manufacturer that Google acquired for $500 million last summer, reports to the company’s vice president of engineering for geo products but maintains separate offices from Google in Mountain View. “We kind of get a little bit of the best of both worlds,” says Ching-Yu Hu, one of the four Skybox founders that now works at Google. “We’re all Googlers now so we have access to all the infrastructure there, but at the same time we’re semi-autonomous.”

The company has experimented with more direct incentives to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit. For a few years in the mid-2000’s Google handed out Founders Awards valued at as much as $12 million in stock to teams that developed successful new products like Gmail and Google Maps. Today awards are a little less explicit, in the form of more traditional of raises or promotions. Google works closely with founders in their first 90 days on the job to insure they’re getting acclimated well, but check-ins on founders’ progress can continue for years, depending on the acquisition.

At the core of Google’s pitch to founders is the opportunity for bountiful resources. Sure, those can be scratched and clawed for independently, but going it alone requires a lot more time, money and luck than hitching your wagon to one of the richest companies on Earth. “It was a pretty compelling pitch,” Hanke recalls of his own deliberations about whether to sell Keyhole to Google. “We could achieve a lot more standing on the shoulders of all that was going on at Google versus trying to do it on our own as startup.”

When Founders Leave

Still, even Harrison admits that not every acquisition goes smoothly. Because California is an at-will employment state, workers can generally be fired or choose to leave at any time. Tech companies try to ensure founders stick around for a while by offering a stay bonus or using “golden handcuffs,” which often meter out the payday for a big acquisition in company shares that vest over several years. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, for instance, includes $3 billion in restricted stock for WhatsApp employees, but they can’t fully tap into those funds unless they stay at the company for four years.

In some cases, golden handcuffs aren’t enough to keep founders on board. Kosta Eleftheriou joined Google in October 2010 through the acquisition of his keyboard app BlindType, but life at the massive company wasn’t what he envisioned. Eleftheriou says he was relegated to maintaining Google’s stock Android keyboard rather than envisioning ways to improve the product. He left after one month, leaving half of his compensation package for the acquisition on the table (he says the total acquisition price was in the seven figures). Now he’s a founder again, with a new keyboard app called Fleksy that has been downloaded 4 million times.

“It was a mismatch between what I was expecting and what happened,” Eleftheriou says. “I think that was partly due to maybe some unrealistic expectations on my side on how much creative freedom I would have. I was hoping to be part of a bigger picture than just some engineer working on something by themselves.”

As the founder of a small company that didn’t make huge headlines when it was acquired, Eleftheriou’s experience isn’t uncommon in the Valley. “Unless they’re sufficiently large, very few acquisitions continue to run independently,” says Justin Kan, a partner at the venture capital firm Y Combinator and cofounder of Twitch. “Oftentimes founders are rolled up inside another group inside of the company. They can’t make decisions as freely as when they were entrepreneurs. That affects people’s willingness to stick around.”

Sometimes founders simply crave the excitement of starting something new. Uri Levine was the only one of Waze’s three founders who chose not to join Google when the traffic app was acquired for $1 billion in June 2013. Instead he launched a new startup—his sixth—called FeeX, which aims to help people reduce investment fees in their retirement accounts. “Entrepreneurs, they are driven by a passion for change,” Levine says. “As soon as you become part of a large organization, you cannot change anymore.”

Google’s also had some more high-profile misfires. When it made its largest acquisition ever, the $12.5 billion purchase of handset maker Motorola Mobility, Page hailed it as an opportunity to “supercharge the Android ecosystem.” But Motorola’s phones failed to gain traction, the subsidiary racked up $1.4 billion in losses for Google, and the company offloaded the handset division to Lenovo for $2.9 billion in 2014. Harrison defends the deal as a smart acquisition because of the patent portfolio that Google acquired, helping the company defend itself from lawsuits by Apple and Microsoft (Geis, who has studied the transaction closely, called it “a wash” for Google).

The Spree Continues

At Google, at least, there are opportunities for change for some founders who join the company. Hanke, the former Keyhole CEO, spent several years heading up Google’s geo services, but now he’s in charge of Niantic Labs, a separately branded unit that Google bills as an “internal startup.” Hanke’s team develops apps that increase the opportunity for digital interaction in real-world environments, like InGress, a mobile game that requires players to visit physical locations to gain power ups. Android founder Andy Rubin also took on a role far removed from smartphones when he became the head of Google’s robotics division in 2013. (Rubin eventually left Google in October after nine years at the company).

Google is constantly making these kinds of bets on the future, and it needs new blood with fresh ideas to sustain them. The company is currently wrestling with multiple threats to its core business, search, including a declining share of desktop searches and a mobile market where Amazon is stealing product search queries and Facebook is taking ad dollars. If Google is to maintain its steady growth, it will eventually have to tap into a new revenue source somewhere, and that may well stem from an acquisition. The company may view Nest as the key purchase that ensures its future dominance, given Fadell’s perch. “Founders and everyone else at these startups, they want to be businesspeople,” he explains.

And the big businesses themselves? They want to ensure they don’t miss out on the next big thing. “The ability to move quickly in rapidly changing markets is one of the major drivers,” says Geis of the acquisition spree. “If you want to effectively compete and innovate continually, it can’t all be from within.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described George Geis. He is a business professor at UCLA.

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Smart Thermostat You Can Get

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Nest

The Nest Learning Thermostat is still the best smart thermostat

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Three years after the Nest Learning Thermostat’s debut, the second-gen Nest continues to offer the best combination of style and substance of any thermostat. Its software and apps are solid and elegant, it learns your routines and the particulars of your house, and it’s easy to change the temperature from your phone or computer so you won’t have to get up from your cozy spot on the couch. It’s (still) the best smart thermostat for most people, though the competition is catching up.

Why a smart thermostat?

If you upgrade to any smart thermostat after years with a basic one, the first and most life-changing difference will be the ability to control it from your phone. No more getting up in the middle of the night to turn up the A/C. No dashing back into the house to lower the heat before you go on errands (or vacation). No coming home to a sweltering apartment—you just fire up the A/C when your airplane touches down.

The fact is, a cheap plastic thermostat with basic time programming—the kind we’ve had for two decades—will do a pretty good job at keeping your house at the right temperature without wasting a lot of money, as long as you put in the effort to program it. But that’s the thing: Most people don’t.

Get a smart thermostat if you’re interested in saving more energy and exerting more control over your home environment. If you like the prospect of turning on your heater when you’re on your way home from work or having your home’s temperature adjust intelligently without having to spend time programming a schedule, these devices will do the job. And if your thermostat is placed in a prominent place in your home, well, these devices just look cooler than those beige plastic rectangles of old.

01thermostat

Our pick: the Nest Learning Thermostat

The $250 second-generation Nest Learning Thermostat (introduced in 2012) is the leader of this category for a reason. Its learning mode automatically programs the thermostat based on your home and usage, its industrial design is the best, and it works with many other smart-home devices. The Nest offers the best combination of style and substance, and its software and apps are solid and elegant. It’s expensive, but Nest Labs claims the Nest can pay for itself in energy savings in as little as two years.

The Nest is striking, featuring a metallic ring with a black front and a circular LCD screen in the middle. The on-device interface is elegant, with every setting controlled by either a push on the face or a spin of the ring. The display shows red when heating, blue when cooling.

The Nest’s learning mode puts it above its competitors. It keeps track of how you adjust your thermostat over time, and it has an occupancy sensor that can tell when nobody’s around (in theory). The Nest can learn from your patterns and create its own schedule without any work from you.

The excellent Nest app (for iOS or Android) lets you program specific times and temperatures with a few taps. And Nest’s green leaf icon provides motivation to dial the temperature down just a little bit more in order to save energy. Unfortunately, the Nest doesn’t offer any external sensors to measure temperature in other rooms, and if it’s installed in a part of your house that doesn’t get much traffic, the occupancy sensor won’t be very useful.

Finally, Nest is owned by Google and seems to be the centerpiece of Google’s push into the smart-home ecosystem. If you plan on adding more smart devices to your home, the Works with Nest program means the Nest can integrate with a growing number of smart-home devices. Most of the interactions are gimmicky right now, but that won’t always be the case.

The next best thing (for larger homes)

If you have a large home with a single HVAC system, or you want to be able to measure the temperature in rooms other than wherever your thermostat happens to be, consider the $250 ecobee 3. It comes with a wireless remote sensor that monitors both temperature and occupancy, so it adjusts its settings to keep occupied rooms comfortable. It’s not as easy to use as the Nest, and its apps aren’t as stable, but it’s a better choice for people who want to be able to monitor the temperature in multiple rooms.

Wrapping it up

Despite its age, the second-generation Nest is still the best smart thermostat for most people. The hardware is excellent, and the software behind it is elegant and smart. And it works with a growing number of other smart-home devices. Competitors are hot on its heels, but for now the product that created this category is still its leader.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to TheWirecutter.com.

TIME apps

7 Exercise Apps For People Who Hate Working Out

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Antonio Saba—Getty Images

Whether you're motivated by money, competition or a simple push notification, there's an app to help you get moving

Looking to get in shape for summer? Fitness may be its own reward, but these seven apps can sweeten the deal by prodding, encouraging and even paying users to roll off of that couch and unleash their inner gym bunnies — or just move a bit more. No pressure.

Human

Human can track a whole range of movements, in and out of doors, whether the user is pounding the pavement or dancing alone in front of the mirror. Any activity short of shifting about in a chair counts toward a daily goal of 30 minutes in motion (busybodies can revise their goal upwards to 60 or 90 minutes). On those occasional inert days, the app automatically prods the user to get moving. It’s a great starter app for anyone who wants to get active, but doesn’t want to commit to a single, repetitive fitness routine.

Gympact

It pays to workout with Gympact, literally. A community of users bet $5 to $10 that they’ll stick to their weekly exercise routine. Those who break their pact automatically lose money, which is disbursed to those who uphold their end of the bargain. The app tracks progress toward your weekly goals using the phone’s motion sensor for movement and GPS for gym visits. With payouts ranging from $0.30 to $5, the carrot doesn’t quite match the stick. Then again, it’s one of the only workout apps to brandish a carrot and a stick in the first place.

Fitocracy

Fitocracy adds a competitive twist to the workout routine, awarding points for each recorded workout, badges for significant milestones and bragging rights on a social network of more than one million users (including Arnold Schwarzenegger). If points, public glory and a loose affiliation with the Terminator aren’t motivation enough, users can also hire a personal trainer for coaching and nutritional advice at $1 a day.

Couch to 5K

Couch to 5K may sound like an ambitious goal for anyone on the couch-end of the spectrum, but this app’s training regimen starts easy and gradually ratchets up the run time from one training session to the next. Audio cues from a personal trainer prompt the user to push just a little bit longer than the previous session. Stick to the program, and novice runners can complete a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) circuit within nine weeks.

RockMyRun

RockMyRun arranges music mixes by tempo, so that the beat falls roughly in line with your running pace, whether its an easy jog (120 beats per minute) or a hard run (150 beats per minute). Android users can manually change the tempo, but iPhone users can take advantage of the latest feature: tempos that automatically sync up to footfalls or heartbeats.

Johnson & Johnson 7 Minute Workout

Ever since a groundbreaking fitness study found that 7 minutes of exercise could yield impressive results, there has been a veritable explosion of 7-minute workout apps. Johnson & Johnson whipped up the cleanest looking interface. Reading the instructions is the easy part — actually following through on the high-intensity workout, not so much. On the upside, the end is always seven minutes in sight.

Type n Walk

The absolute last refuge for texting addicts, Type n Walk uses the smartphone camera to display the pavement immediately in front of you in real-time. Compose texts or emails against this moving backdrop. “This combined with your peripheral vision is just enough visual information to help you avoid obstacles,” the app makers say. Test their claim at your own risk.

Read next: The 10 Essential Rules of Gym Etiquette

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TIME apps

The 5 Best iPhone Apps of the Week

TIME.com stock photos Social Apps iPhone Facebook
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Try HBO Now, which brings you HBO content without a cable subscription

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.

HBO NOW

HBO NOW is HBO’s new standalone streaming service, offering all of the network’s programming for $15 a month sans a cable subscription. You can watch shows like Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley as they air, or dive deep into HBO’s back catalog to catch up on Sex and the City or The Sopranos.

HBO NOW is free in the App Store

Highball

Highball is less of a cocktail recipe app and more of a cocktail diary app, helping you remember exactly how you prefer certain drinks. For example, I like twice as much gin in my Negroni than the normal recipe calls for. Highball allows you to doctor and alter drink recipes, adding measurements as small as a “Pinch” (which will come in extremely handy for the eccentrics who like to add a drop of bitters into everything).

Highball is free in the App Store

Dingo

Ticket-buying app Dingo is perfect for anyone looking for more reliable options than Craigslist or scalping outside the stadium. U.K.-only at the moment, Dingo combines the efficiency of StubHub with the chat function of Tinder to bring you a pretty solid way to buy tickets directly from other fans.

Dingo is free in the App Store

Dialr

Dialr makes life easier by putting your most-dialed contacts right in the Notification Center so you can reach them with minimal effort. Basically, it makes your iPhone way more useful without overcomplicating the device. While there are other similar apps out there, Dialr is simple and doesn’t require launching the app every time you want to use it.

Dialr is $0.99 in the App Store

CARROT Weather

If ever you’ve wanted to feel like Tony Stark jabbing with his sarcastic artificial intelligence J.A.R.V.I.S., then CARROT Weather is the app for you. It’s an adorably designed weather app that talks to you, or, more accurately, talks back to you. It puts up new images on your screen for different weather scenarios, and makes checking the weather actually sort of fun as opposed to tedious.

CARROT Weather is $2.99 in the App Store

TIME Companies

See Which Cities Might Get Faster, Cheaper Internet Soon

Google's high-speed Internet is causing other ISPs to offer faster, cheaper service

Time Warner Cable customers in Charlotte, N.C., are getting an unexpected boost in Internet speeds this summer, the Internet Service Provider announced last week.

At first, TWC’s move looks like an unprompted upgrade. But a closer inspection reveals it’s likely a response to competition from Google, which confirmed earlier this year its ultra-fast Google Fiber Internet service is coming to Charlotte in the near future.

Google Fiber has already hit three U.S. cities (Kansas City, Mo.; Provo, Utah; Austin, Texas) and is scheduled to launch in a handful more, sending existing ISPs scrambling to match Google’s high-speed offerings and affordable prices. In early April, Comcast Atlanta unveiled plans for fiber Internet service reportedly twice as fast as Google’s after the search giant announced its plans to enter to the Georgia capital. Months before, AT&T slashed its existing fiber package prices to match Google Fiber’s prices in Kansas City, Mo., where Google Fiber first launched in 2012.

All this newfound competition in high-speed broadband is surely appreciated by Internet customers, who often aren’t very happy with their ISPs. Above, have a look at where Google Fiber is headed next — and whether you might be getting some faster, cheaper Internet just because Google is coming to town.

TIME Video Games

Meet the Guy Who Saved Final Fantasy XIV from Total Disaster

Final Fantasy XIV producer and director Naoki Yoshida talks to TIME about redesigning a troubled icon

Final Fantasy XIV might not be around today if not for Naoki Yoshida.

The original Final Fantasy XIV MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) that launched in September 2010 received widespread criticism for poor quality, threatening to become a black spot in the history of the beloved Final Fantasy game franchise. Yoshida was given the unenviable task of fixing one of the greatest failures in Square Enix’s history. He was made both producer and director of Final Fantasy XIV in December 2010 with a mandate to revamp the title.

An avid MMO gamer himself, Yoshida undertook to simultaneously create content for the original Final Fantasy XIV while developing a brand new MMORPG from the ground up to succeed it. The result was Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, launched in August 2013, a streamlined MMO that has been praised for its solid gameplay and numerous quality of life features.

More than a year and a half since later, A Realm Reborn now boasts more than 4 million accounts worldwide and is gearing up for the release of its first expansion, Heavensward on June 23. TIME caught up with Final Fantasy XIV producer and director Naoki Yoshida to talk about Final Fantasy XIV, its upcoming Heavensward expansion and the numerous challenges posed in designing a MMORPG.

Square EnixNaoki Yoshida, Producer and Director of Final Fantasy XIV

What are some key lessons that you have learned from creating Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn that you have incorporated into Heavensward?

To recover from the failure of the original version of Final Fantasy XIV, we had to come up with a long-term plan for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. So we worked frantically on designing detailed game mechanics and content within a very tight schedule. Throughout the different updates we were making for A Realm Reborn, we were gradually able to incorporate elements stemming from player feedback as well as improvisations that weren’t necessarily in our original designs. We are applying this experience to Heavensward, and are open to receiving even more feedback than before to challenge ourselves even more—while keeping a “long-term plan” in mind. Other than player feedback, we have gathered very valuable information, including the ever-diversifying tastes of our players, as well as log-in patterns based on lifestyle choices. We are considering all these factors to deliver an even more exciting experience.

Square EnixA flying mount in Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

What feature(s) in Heavensward are you the most excited for?

As producer and director, I look forward to seeing all of our players enter the land of Ishgard. I get the same kind of feeling when we release a patch update, but it’s truly a wonderful and happy moment to see excited players run around in a field or area that we’ve created. As a player of the game, I’m looking forward to new actions that will be added to my main job, the black mage, and the raised level cap! I’m also looking forward playing as a dark knight and flying around using the new flying mounts. There are just so many things to do! (laughs)

Were there any real life locations that inspired the architecture and landscape in Heavensward?

There isn’t a specific thing or location we can reference, but we focused on “gothic high fantasy” as the central theme for the artwork and in-game modelling. We also made sure to visually accentuate the dark and light areas with pronounced contrast to come up with a novel look. As for the storyline we moved towards dark fantasy which is reflected in each scene. That is another new challenge we’ve put forth for ourselves. All in all, this is a very unique realm created through the interpretations and imaginations of a core development team that is located in Japan. I hope everyone has the opportunity to get their hands on this new Final Fantasy.

Heavensward will launch on PC, Mac, PS3 and PS4. What were the main challenges you faced when creating a game for so many different platforms and did it affect or limit design decisions in any way?

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was designed to be on many platforms so that many different people can play. On top of that, we focused on ensuring that the gameplay experience was uniform across these platforms. This can be seen implemented through many different facets, including support for both keyboard and mouse and controllers. At the moment, I don’t think of this as a limitation, so it didn’t really affect or limit design decisions. Of course, hardware will evolve over time, so I believe we will eventually have to modify our target specs and evolve the gameplay experience based on the evolution of the hardware.

On another note, working with this many platforms simultaneously with language support, simultaneous updates, and simultaneous master submissions was an extremely challenging undertaking for all of us.

Not only do I want to thank each of our First Party and corporate partners for their undivided support, but I also want to thank and praise all of the efforts of my development and operation/management teams—as well as the managers—who have worked tirelessly. Last but not least, I want to extend the biggest thank you to the players and fans out there who motivate us to keep moving forward!

Square EnixThe new Dark Knight job introduced in Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

The three new classes introduced in Heavensward, the Dark Knight, Astrologian and Machinist maintain the concept of the MMO holy trinity of a tank, healer and dps. Are there any plans in the future to branch out from this paradigm to include hybrid classes, such as the dps/healer Dancer class from Final Fantasy XI, or other non-traditional roles?

Of course, I won’t say that it would never happen in the future, but in party situations, hybrid roles can become either be too overpowering or very difficult to use, and it can lead to imbalance. Final Fantasy XIV’s core concept is to have the freedom to play each role through the Armoury System, so we may explore new directions through a skill tree, in which the player’s job will be determined by what actions have been obtained. Needless to say these won’t be immediate changes, but we will continue to work on creating jobs that are in line with Final Fantasy in a system that is very much like Final Fantasy. The red mage is one of my favorites, after all…

Patch 2.55 introduced a significant plot twist to the final storyline of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. How far in advance was the final storyline for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn planned out and how much of the future storyline has already been written?

First and foremost, thank you very much for enjoying the storyline!

The final storyline of A Realm Reborn was finalized before the release of Patch 2.1 (December 2013). We needed a solid plot from the start so that we could create a story that wouldn’t fall apart. We introduced characters in each patch update every 3.5 months, and created the dialogue to establish these characters and/or build tension and excitement in the story.

Also, Final Fantasy XIV supports Japanese, English, French, German, Chinese (and Korean, in just a short while), with voice overs in many of the cut scenes. In order to accomplish this we need to record in the various languages well ahead of time, which naturally requires that the script be finalized much earlier than that. For Patch 2.55 (“Before the Fall, Part 2”) we recorded the voice overs in between the release of Patch 2.3 and 2.4. (This is about a 6 month lead time). I take my hat off to our script writers, localization team, and sound team.

In terms of future storylines, we’ve already determined a general outline of the next expansion pack (Version 4.0) after Heavensward. Of course, the details may potentially change, and depending on our players’ reactions, there is always a possibility for adjustments, too!

Square EnixA dragoon suits up in Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

What’s your favorite fantasy story and why is it your favorite?

Considering recent works, I’m into Game of Thrones, but what holds a special place in my heart are The Legend of King Arthur and The Lord of the Rings. (I think anyone around my generation will think so too!) Then there’s Star Wars, Dragon Quest I through III, and Final Fantasy I, which impacted me in terms of storytelling and world creation. As for “why” – all of these titles have a strong foundation in their settings and a sense of reality in a fictional world. Not only are they very entertaining, but they leave room for the imagination of the people who enjoy these titles to run wild.

I’ve read that Dark Age of Camelot is one of your favorite games. What other games, either past or present, have been the most influential to you as a producer and director?

As an avid online gamer, I can’t go without mentioning Diablo and Ultima Online. Diablo taught me about the joys of playing online with other players, and how to add value to an item so that players would obsess over it. I don’t even want to think about how many hundreds of hours I’ve put into that game (laughs). As for Ultima Online, the thousands of people sharing one world, the thrill of player killers, and role-play that is very free, were all very impactful to me. There are many other games that fuel my passion, but I would list these two as must-haves. I can still talk through the night about all of the episodes I had in-game.

With a game as wide-reaching as Final Fantasy XIV, how do you design for both hardcore and casual MMO players?

In recent years, the MMORPG genre has become more geared towards hardcore players. In order to attract experienced MMORPG players, games tend to be more action-oriented, or visually flashy. As a result, I feel that casual gamers find it difficult to continue playing MMO games. Having said this, from a business standpoint, it is more effective to cater to core MMORPG gamers, so titles are faced with a very difficult decision.

With Final Fantasy XIV, we deliberately targeted those who have yet to play an MMORPG, and made certain that the first part of the game wouldn’t require players to recruit a party of other players. Also, the speed at which players need to react is intentionally slower at the start of the game. For hardcore MMORPG players, this may seem boring (and admittedly this is an actual piece of feedback we receive), but if we don’t attract new MMORPG players, then we can’t expect this genre to expand. Based on this concept, we took a story-driven approach, where the battle content becomes progressively harder while the story motivates the player to continue. At the same time, we introduced non-combat-focused elements such as player housing, the Gold Saucer and its attractions, and the Triple Triad mini-game for players to enjoy. We also added other content that mitigates the more casual player’s fear of not being able to catch up to high-level players, such as easing the difficulty of obtaining gear over time. For high-end content, the stages are very difficult at first, but through subsequent updates, their difficulty level is toned down so that casual players will be able to clear the older content. These little touches can be seen all throughout Final Fantasy XIV.

Square EnixThe Triple Triad card mini-game in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Are there any plans in the future to incorporate additional mini-games from other Final Fantasy titles such as Chocobo Hot and Cold from Final Fantasy IX or Blitzball from Final Fantasy X given the popularity of introducing Final Fantasy VIII‘s Triple Triad to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn?

For readers who are unaware, the Manderville Gold Saucer is an amusement center located in the world of Eorzea which houses content like the Triple Triad card game, chocobo racing, and other mini-games. We are already creating a new attraction for Patch 3.1, and looking to introduce more attractions in the future that hearken back to popular mini-games found within the Final Fantasy franchise. In addition to this, we are looking to create many Final Fantasy XIV-original attractions so I don’t intend to imply that we will only have one or the other.

By the way, it seems there’s a big demand from our players for “snowboarding” in the Gold Saucer (laugh). Outside of video games, I love snowboarding, so it would be great if I can make that a reality. I may have players start with crafting their own snowboards first, though.

Last question — can we ever expect to see a Yoshida Triple Triad card?

Ha ha ha, thank you for the suggestion! In all seriousness, though, I believe we shouldn’t take a real-life character or person and put them in a game. There is a special character, known as the “Wandering Minstrel,” that exists in the game, but he is an exception because the scenario creation team really wanted to have a character represent the development team so that we could thank the legacy players who remained committed through the original (Version 1.0) Final Fantasy XIV. Eorzea is “another reality” created in the digital world. Wouldn’t it be awkward if I showed up in that fantasy world? (laughs) But it is an honor as both a game developer and as an individual to hear many players ask “What about a Yoshida card? Or a minion?” and I am very happy to hear it. Your continued support for Final Fantasy XIV is greatly appreciated!

Square EnixNaoki Yoshida’s “Wandering Minstrel” character in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
TIME Smartphones

Your Voice Could Replace Annoying Cell Phone Passwords

Day Two Of Mobile World Congress 2015
Simon Dawson—Bloomberg / Getty Images An employee holds a Motorola Solutions Inc. Moto E android smartphone in the Lenovo Group Ltd. pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

Google has reportedly enabled a "trusted voice" feature for a limited number of Android users

Google has reportedly begun to roll out a a new voice identification feature that unlocks Android smartphones with a spoken command rather than a PIN number.

Several smartphone owners told the website Android Police that they first spotted the “Trusted Voice” feature in the settings menu after they updated their phones to Android’s latest version. Switching it on enables the phone to detect the unique register of the owner’s voice. Saying, “OK Google,” automatically unlocks the phone. It also comes with a warning that the feature is currently “less secure” than a written password or PIN number, according to Android Police.

Google has yet to make a formal announcement on the updated feature, suggesting that the new technology may be subject to a quiet, gradual rollout.

 

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