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Feb. 13 2015 3:45 PM

Is Apple Looking Into Making Cars?

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

It looks like Apple is developing a car, as hard as that might be to believe.

Tim Bradshaw and Andy Sharman at the Financial Times are reporting the following:

Apple is recruiting experts in automotive technology and vehicle design to work at a new top-secret research lab, according to several people familiar with the company, pointing to ambitions that go beyond the dashboard.
Dozens of Apple employees, led by experienced managers from its iPhone unit, are researching automotive products at a confidential Silicon Valley location outside the company’s Cupertino campus, the people said.
Sir Jonathan Ive’s team of Apple designers has held regular meetings with automotive executives and creators in recent months, in some cases trying to hire them. Recent recruits to Apple’s team include the head of Mercedes-Benz’s Silicon Valley R&D unit.

This is just the latest report to bolster the idea Apple is developing its own car. Here's a quick recap of the story to date:

And now, the FT quotes someone who has worked closely with Apple in the past on car systems saying the following: "Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay ... Today I think it’s a car."

It would be surprising if Apple made a car since Apple makes its money selling personal computers like the iPhone, the iPad, and the Mac. It will be selling the Apple Watch, it's most personal computer ever, as the company calls it.

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Robert Galbraith / Reuters via Business Insider

A car is not a computer. And unlike those other gadgets, a car has a longer upgrade cycle, and crappier margins. 

However, Steve Jobs had expressed interest in building a car. He told a New York Times reporter he would have loved to take on Detroit with an Apple car. Former Apple board member Mickey Drexler said Jobs wanted to make a car.

Apple's current executives have a deep interest in cars.

Eddy Cue, Apple's SVP of internet services, is on the board of Ferrari. Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of marketing, is really into cars. His Twitter bio reads, "Apple, Sports, Cars, Science, Scuba, Drums, Photography. It's racing season!" The tweet he has pinned to the top of his profile isn't an Apple product, but a photo of a Porsche. 

Last year, Vogue profiled Ive. In that profile, it quoted Ive's good friend Marc Newson talking about cars: 

“Shit we hate,” says Newson, includes American cars. “It’s as if a giant stuck his straw in the exhaust pipe and inflated them,” he adds, “when you look at the beautiful proportions in other cars that have been lost.”

Newson now works part time at Apple, and he has designed cars in the past.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is not known as a car guy, but he did hint that Apple is working on things nobody was aware of. In September, he said , "There are products that we're working on that no one knows about. That haven't been rumored about yet."

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Feb. 13 2015 8:43 AM

Some of the Oldest Companies in the Tech Industry Are Hitting Multiyear Highs

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

The story of the tech industry is one of usurpation.

A company wins a market. It gets slow and complacent. It refuses to invest in new areas that might undercut its core and still-very-profitable businesses. Eventually, new upstarts come along that solve customers' problems better, cheaper, and faster. The dinosaurs are too slow to respond, and by the time they wake up and start to change, they're irrelevant. 

That's how it's supposed to go.

But three of the oldest and biggest companies in the tech industry have all seen their stocks hit multiyear highs in the last few months.

Take Cisco. On Thursday, it hit a seven-year high following a solid earnings report Wednesday.*

csco-ticker-cropped

Courtesy of Yahoo Finance via Business Insider

Oracle almost touched its all-time high from July 2000 after its last earnings report in January.

orcl-ticker

Courtesy of Yahoo Finance via Business Insider

And Microsoft's stock almost touched $50 back in November—the highest it's been (split-adjusted) since the dot-com crash started in March 2000. It lost a few points after its most recent earnings report, but is still higher than any time since 2000:

msft-ticker

Courtesy of Yahoo Finance via Business Insider

What's going on?

The specifics are a little different for each company, but in all three cases, investors believe that the companies have awakened to new threats and come up with strategies that will counter those threats.

For Cisco, the main threat is a newish technology called software-defined networking, or SDN, which lets companies move bits of their network around using software, instead of having to buy and install and replace a bunch of hardware. Cisco's main business is selling that networking hardware, so SDN was potentially a huge threat. 

But Cisco came out with its own SDN product, and it's apparently getting a lot of customers. Meanwhile, it's still selling plenty of hardware.

The threat facing Oracle is the cloud, where customers move workloads out of their own data centers and into a hosted service instead. This shift means that companies no longer need to buy as much Oracle software to run within their own data centers.

But Oracle has managed to acquire its way into becoming a credible cloud player, and says it will make more than $1 billion of cloud bookings next year.

Microsoft also faced a threat from the cloud but responded with services like Windows Azure (which lets companies run infrastructure on Microsoft's data centers rather than their own) and Office 365 (a cloud-based response to Google Apps). Those initiatives have been around for a few years now, but this year they really started to take off, and Microsoft says they are on track for $5.5 billion in revenues this year.

All three companies still face challenges, and all will have to smoothly transition as their older businesses eventually go into decline. And plenty of old tech companies are having more trouble adjusting, like IBM, whose stock has been down for the last two years. 

But there's a good lesson here—disruption isn't always a sure thing, particularly in enterprise computing.

A lot of big customers are skittish about buying products to run their business. They know they should move to newer and more efficient technology, but they don't always trust the startups or even companies that come from a different background, like Google, even if those vendors get there first.

So if the incumbents can respond quickly enough, at least some of their existing customers will stick with them because it seems like the safer choice.

Sometimes, the dinosaurs keep winning. For a while, at least.

*Correction, Feb. 13, 2015: This post originally misstated the dates on which Cisco stocks hit a seven-year high and the company released its earnings report. It hit the high on Thursday and released the report on Wednesday.

Feb. 11 2015 1:19 PM

Keeping Cash Under Your Mattress Is a Terrible Idea. Why Are So Many Americans Doing It?

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Usually, a reference to stashing money under the mattress or in a shoebox is a joke. Real adults who make smart choices keep their money in the bank.

Or, at least, they should.

A new survey of more than 1,800 people from the American Express Spending and Savings Tracker found that 43 percent of Americans keep their savings in cash. An alarming 53 percent of those cash-hoarders “plan to hide bills in a secret location at home.”

While the survey itself doesn't explain why, it's reasonable to assume that at least some of these savers feel safer with money where they can see it, as opposed to hidden away in a bank that has played the bad guy since 2008. According to a 2014 Harris Poll, half of Americans say their trust in banks has declined in recent years.

Unless you have extenuating circumstances (although the only ones that come to mind immediately are running a drug cartel or operating as an international spy), avoiding the bank is usually a bad idea.

There are two primary reasons why:

It isn't safe: Keeping your money in literal, tangible cash makes it extremely vulnerable. You could be robbed or there could be a flood, a fire, or a pest infestation that snacks on your dollars. Your toddler could find it and use it for art projects, your teenager could siphon it for Friday night expenses, or someone working in your home could find it just too tempting to leave alone.

Arrested Development fans will remember this well.

On the other hand, money stored in a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation–insured bank is insured up to $250,000 per person, meaning that money deposited in accounts like checking, savings, and retirement savings is guaranteed and protected by the FDIC, which says on its website that since its establishment in 1933, no depositor has lost a single cent of his or her funds.*

Note, however, that products like mutual funds and life insurance are not protected. Then again, mutual funds and life insurance don't exist in the shoebox in your closet.

It isn't growing: Money in your pocket—or dresser drawer, or safe under your desk—loses value as it sits there. Even the less than 1 percent interest it would earn in a standard savings account is better than the 0 percent you'd get by keeping your money at home.

Inflation alone historically rises about 3 percent a year, and although there are various options to keep your money ahead of the curve (like investing in even the most conservative mutual funds or investing your retirement savings), keeping your money under the mattress is the quickest way for your wealth to essentially go backward.

Barring a flood, fire, or sticky-fingered visitor, you might have your savings in 30 years ... but you won't be able to buy as much with them as you would today.

You could also argue that storing savings in cash around the house could lead to miscalculations or tax complications (for instance, deciding to put more than $10,000 of cash into the bank could raise red flags) and could complicate payments (what major purchases does anyone make with a duffel bag full of cash, outside of the movies?).

The only feasible situation in which someone might want to keep his savings close at hand is if he has virtually nothing saved and needs that cash for everyday transactions until his next paycheck. If you have bigger savings goals, however, you'll probably want to empty out the shoebox and head to the bank.

Correction, Feb. 11, 2015: This post originally misidentified the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as the Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation.

Feb. 11 2015 12:03 PM

The World Wants American Whiskey

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

American whiskey is taking over the world. 

Vodka still has the biggest market share of the three big hard liquors in the U.S., but growth in whiskey is rapidly catching up.

Vodka sales, by volume, were up 1.6 percent in 2014. Tennessee whiskey and bourbon sales by volume were up 7.4 percent in the same period, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, the industry's trade association.

And when it comes to exports, all people really want is American whiskey.

Here's a chart from the DSC:

whiskeyexport

Distilled Spirits Industry via Business Insider

People in the U.S. and abroad are developing a greater taste for whiskey, but the exports also have to do with the weird naming rules that whiskey has. For instance, Champagne can only technically be made in the French region of Champagne; bourbon can only be made in the U.S. It's the same with Scotch in Scotland and Irish whiskey in Ireland.

Each of those kinds of whiskeys are made a little bit differently and have relatively distinctive tastes. At least that's what their producers will tell you. So there's less supply of each kind. As people around the world develop a taste for American whiskey, they have to import it from the U.S.

Vodka and rum, on the other hand, can be made anywhere in the world. They may taste a little bit different, but so far American producers haven't convinced the rest of the world that our spirits other than whiskey are really worth importing. Figuring out how to convince people of that is potentially worth billions.

Feb. 10 2015 11:44 AM

Android Sales Are Plummeting for the First Time Ever

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Last year, more than 1 billion Android smartphones were shipped. It's a massive milestone, and one that Apple, with its focus on the higher-end market, can't hope to replicate for years.

But according to a report by ABI Research, Android sales also went into decline in Q4 2014 for the first time ever.

Apple is demolishing the high-end smartphone market with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Samsung's profits have cratered as a result. New data shows that the South Korean company's woes aren't isolated: Apple is now taking an astonishing 93 percent of all profits in the smartphone industry, despite its minority market share.

The iPhone is also outselling Android handsets in the U.S. for the first time in years, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel.

And Google's Android is also under unprecedented threat from "forks"—independently developed versions of the operating system that the company has no control over. The market share of forks is rising, and Cyanogen—a popular fork—just raised $70 million at a valuation in the hundreds of millions. "We're going to take Android away from Google," CEO Kirt McMaster told the Wall Street Journal.

It's the fact that—astonishingly—the number of Android sales dropped in the last period of 2014.

This isn't a decline in market share. It's a drop, in real terms, in the number of handsets running the Android OS shipped quarter-on-quarter in Q4 2014, according to ABI.

More than 205 million were shipped in Q4, down from 217 million in Q3.

Here's the data:

androidchart2

ABI Research via Business Insider

This probably isn't the start of a long-term decline. As Android devices grow ever-cheaper compared with Apple handsets, it's likely to cement Android's position as the smartphone of choice for low-income consumers as the next billion people come online. But nonetheless it's astonishing that despite the huge potential markets emerging in the developing world, Android is seeing negative growth.

And forked Android vendor Xiaomi is going from strength to strength, further threatening Google at the low-end of the market. ABI Research senior practice director Nick Spencer says it's "worrying times for Google's mobile services and Android, but it presents opportunity for other service providers and even operating systems."

Add all these factors together, and things aren't nearly as good for Google as that 1 billion shipment headline figure suggests.

Feb. 4 2015 11:02 AM

The New Finance Minister of Greece Used to Oversee Virtual Economies in Video Games

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Yanis Varoufakis is one of the most important men in Europe right now. He's Greece's new finance minister, and he is trying to secure a new bailout deal for the country.

But Varoufakis hasn't always been a politician. He was hired in March 2012 by Valve Corporation, the company behind some of the world's most loved games.

Valve is known for games like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and Team Fortress 2. It also runs the Steam video game platform that lets people play games online. That's where Varoufakis comes in.

Games like Counter-Strike have in-game economies powered by real money. Customers can pay for items in games like new guns or even in-game clothes. But Valve games often allow players to trade items with one another, meaning that an economy forms as users set their own resale values on virtual items.

Team Fortress 2, for example, has an economy based around hats:

team-fortress-2-hats

Courtesy of Steam via Business Insider

Varoufakis was hired by Valve as its economist-in-residence. He oversaw the virtual economies in Valve games and was allowed to experiment with the online markets. Varoufakis referred to the role as “an economist's paradise” in a post on the official Valve blog.

It's difficult to pin down exactly what Varoufakis did at Valve (managing video game economies is a pretty broad task). But here's how he describes his role:

My intention at Valve, beyond performing a great deal of data mining, experimentation, and calibration of services provided to customers on the basis of such empirical findings, is to to go one step beyond; to forge narratives and empirical knowledge that (a) transcend the border separating the ‘real’ from the digital economies, and (b) bring together lessons from the political economy of our gamers’ economies and from studying Valve’s very special (and fascinating) internal management structure.

Jan. 29 2015 2:38 PM

The Best App for Gmail Is Made by ... Microsoft?

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Microsoft just released its new Outlook email app for iPhone, and the first reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

For iPhone users, finding an email app that works well with Gmail isn't easy, and Outlook in many ways represents Microsoft's bid to beat Google at its own game. It might just have pulled it off too, with The Verge's Vlad Savov writing that "the best Gmail app is now made by Microsoft."

Jan. 28 2015 12:13 PM

This Is What Happens When You Press “Insane Mode” in Tesla’s Dual-Motor Model S

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Tesla introduced its dual-motor Model S late last year, and among the many improvements it has over the original Model S is its incredible acceleration.

The standard Model S can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, which is pretty fast, but the new dual-motor Model S can get there in just 3.2 seconds—“roller-coaster stuff,” in other words.

That kind of acceleration is comparable to some of the world's fastest sports cars from Lamborghini and Ferrari, and even the McLaren F1 supercar.

YouTube channel DragTimes, which tests the acceleration and top speeds of some of the fastest cars out there, created a compilation of people's reactions while sitting in the seat of the new Tesla car as it hits “Insane Mode,” which is an actual button on the new digital console.

You can go into Insane Mode by coming to a complete stop and toggling a button on the digital console, which will quickly accelerate the car to 60 to 70 mph in just a few wild seconds.

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YouTube/DragTimes

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YouTube/DragTimes

Most people have the same shocked reaction, as no one is really expecting Insane Mode to actually live up to its promise. The last woman says, “I can do that every day. I need this every single day.”

Check out DragTimes' video below:

Jan. 27 2015 1:42 PM

This Hacker Figured How to Hijack One of the Most Popular Drones

An IT security engineer has discovered a vulnerability in one of the most popular drone brands that leaves thousands of quadcopters open to interference from hackers.

The Register reports that Rahul Sasi has developed software that hijacks drones in midair and kills their engines.

If a drone is within range of the malware (dubbed “Maldrone”) then it will plummet to earth. But if the drone is up high enough, then the malware can restart the engines before it hits the ground and control the drone, as well as its camera.

Right now, the malware only affects Parrot drones. Security Affairs reports that Sasi reverse-engineered the software on the drones sold by Parrot and found a flaw that allowed him to develop his own malware. 

This isn't the first time that drones have been found to be vulnerable to hacking. Back in 2013, security researcher Samy Kamkar developed a drone of his own that sought out other drones and hijacked them using their wireless signals.

Interestingly, Sasi claims that his malware could work with this older hack to create a network of drones that track down other quadcopters and hijack them, turning them into a fleet of tracker drones.

Jan. 26 2015 11:54 AM

Facebook Launches “Facebook Lite” in Emerging Markets

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Facebook has launched a new simplified version of its mobile app called Facebook Lite, and it's targeted toward Android users in developing countries.

facebook lite1

Google Play via Business Insider

Designed for older and low-end models of Android phones, Facebook Lite maintains the core functionality of Facebook while only taking up 252 KB of space. The app is also designed to run on slower 2G Internet connections, which will help people in developing countries with aging Internet infrastructures still connect to Facebook.

To minimize the digital footprint required for the app, Facebook has included its messaging service inside Facebook Lite, a feature that exists only as the standalone Messenger app for U.S. smartphone users. Facebook has also allowed push notifications and camera integration, two features that will help the pared-down app feel more like the full experience.

Facebook Lite is a smart move to make Facebook's services easily accessible in developing markets like Africa and Southeast Asia, which are increasingly using Facebook.

Facebook Lite is currently a limited rollout: It's only available in Nepal, Nigeria, Bangladesh, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The app's already seen decent adoption numbers with more than 10,000 downloads and an average 4.6 rating on Google Play, according to TechCrunch.

If you're in one of the countries where Facebook Lite is live, you can download it right here.

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