Business Insider
Analyzing the top news stories across the web

May 16 2016 12:13 PM

Now That It’s Basically Taken Everything Else Over, Amazon Is Making Its Own Food Products

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

It looks as if Amazon is getting into the food business. A new report from The Wall Street Journal says the online retail giant is gearing up to launch its first brand of foodstuffs by "as soon as the end of the month."

These "private-label brands" will reportedly include Happy Belly (including nuts, tea, and oil), Wickedly Prime (snacks and treats), and Mama Bear (baby products). But they are designed and created by Amazon, with all the profits going straight to the company.

Amazon has sold private-label products before, including toilet paper and batteries, but this is its first foray into food. And it makes total sense.

For a start, the market is huge. The global food retail market last year was $2.14 trillion, according to data compiled by Statista. When we narrow this down to just private-label foodstuffs sold in the U.S., it is still a whopping $80-billion-a-year opportunity (via data from the Private Label Manufacturers Association).

In Europe, one in every three dollars spent in the consumer-packaged-goods market is on private-label content, Nielsen says.

And Amazon's playbook when it comes to online retail is increasingly to see what works, then mimic it—but cheaper. Back in April, Bloomberg published a report on Amazon's practice of monitoring best-selling products on its platform—citing a laptop stand as an example—and then creating its own version of them at considerably lower price points, drawing customers away from the originals.

The tech giant has been selling foodstuffs from other brands for a decade. That's a vast wealth of data to draw upon to figure out exactly what works and how the company can execute in a way that undercuts everyone else, leveraging the company's well-known indifference to profits.

It's a risky business, however, with higher stakes than Amazon normally deals with. If your brand of USB cable doesn't work, customers get annoyed and buy a different one. If your brand of food gives someone salmonella, you risk long-term reputational damage. But the potential rewards have also never been higher.

As shoppers increasingly turn to the web to do their weekly shopping, major supermarkets are beefing up their online grocery-ordering services. Loyalties are up for grabs as consumers make the transition—and Amazon, aiming to be a key beneficiary of this trend, reckons it's worth the gamble.

May 9 2016 1:45 PM

How a Hyperloop Company Plans to Make Its Super-Fast Trains Levitate

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

The company developing Elon Musk's 760mph maglev train has announced new details about the levitation system it plans to use.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies said on Monday that it will use a passive magnetic levitation system developed by Lawrence Livermore National Labs. HTT has exclusively licensed the technology for its Hyperloop project.

The Los Angeles-headquartered transportation company wants to build a system that involves firing a pod full of people through a low-pressure tube at speeds of up to 760 mph. It has been described by inventor Musk as a mix between Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table that could take you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under 30 minutes.

Hyperloop Technologies said that magnetic fields in the tunnel will lift the pod before a "thrust force" is applied by an electric motor, accelerating the pod to speeds just shy of the speed of sound (767 mph).

Maglev technology is already used on trains in Shanghai, China, but it's relatively expensive as it requires copper coils along the track and a large power supply. HTT's "Hyperloop Levitation System"—made out of aluminum rather than copper—has been designed so that it is cheaper than previous iterations of the technology. Much of the energy used to power the electric motor is created and harnessed when the pod decelerates.

"Utilizing a passive levitation system will eliminate the need for power stations along the Hyperloop track, which makes this system the most suitable for the application and will keep construction costs low," said Bibop Gresta, COO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, in a statement. "From a safety aspect, the system has huge advantages, levitation occurs purely through movement, therefore if any type of power failure occurs, Hyperloop pods would continue to levitate and only after reaching minimal speeds touch the ground."

HTT is planning to build a five-mile prototype of Hyperloop in California's Quay Valley within the next three years. If successful, larger versions of Hyperloop could be built across the world. Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Botswana, and India are all in contention. "We think the first Hyperloop will be built in a country where there’s a lack of infrastructure and less regulation," said Gresta.

Critics have questioned whether Hyperloop will ever come to fruition, targeting cost and safety as potential major setbacks.

Several other companies are building their own versions of Hyperloop. Rival Hyperloop Tech is currently trialing its own version of the transportation system.

May 5 2016 5:00 PM

The Mayor of Cupertino, California, Feels “Abused” by Apple

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Apple is building a new $5 billion campus in Cupertino, California, and is the largest employer in the city. So you'd expect Cupertino's mayor, Barry Chang, to have a close relationship with the company. But the two are barely on speaking terms, according to a report by Nellie Bowles in The Guardian.

In fact, when Chang last decided to pay an impromptu visit to Apple's campus, while he was a city-council member, before he was mayor, security escorted him off campus. "They said, 'You cannot come in — you're not invited,'" Chang told The Guardian. The city council these days usually votes with Apple, because, as Chang said, "Apple talks to them, and they won't vote against Apple." Chang links Apple's reluctance to work with him to taxes: He wants Apple to pay more, supporting a bill to levy $100 million from Apple to improve infrastructure that was voted down.

According to the most recent statistics cited by Bowles, Apple paid $9.2 million in taxes to Cupertino from 2012 to 2013. In the 2012 fiscal year, Apple made $156.5 billion in sales. Cupertino gives Apple an annual tax break on business-to-business sales that started in 1997, when Apple was on the verge of collapse. “In the meantime Apple is not willing to pay a dime. They’re making profit, and they should share the responsibility for our city, but they won’t. They abuse us,” Chang told The Guardian. 

But Chang's decision to speak out is the latest sign that residents in Silicon Valley, where Apple is rapidly expanding — its parking lots are overflowing, according to The New York Times — may want the tech giant to be a better neighbor. Apple has not commented on Mayor Chang's comments.

There's no doubt that Apple's considerable employee footprint puts stresses on Santa Clara County infrastructure. Traffic around Apple's giant "spaceship" construction project can get hairy at times, and Cupertino has a continually updated webpage with details about road closings and traffic for that project, specifically.

Apple's burgeoning and secretive car project has neighbors complaining about loud noises in neighboring Sunnyvale. Apple's penchant for secrecy can also be at odds with government policies that emphasize transparency. California assemblyman Evan Low, who represents Cupertino and surrounding cities, organized a technology caucus trip to Apple last month to discuss "key issues." A Low representative told me that Apple PR had told her that she could not name the Apple employees whom elected officials met with.

Apple's $5 billion campus is expected to be completed later this year, with Apple employees moving in next year. When Steve Jobs, then Apple's CEO, revealed the project in 2011, a city-council member pressed Jobs on what benefits Apple's construction project could provide the community, like the free public Wi-Fi network Google has implemented near some of its campuses.

Jobs threatened to move the project to neighboring Mountain View. "I'm a simpleton. I've always had this view that we pay taxes, and the city should do those things," Jobs said. "I think we bring a lot more [to Cupertino] than free Wi-Fi.

May 4 2016 11:13 AM

10-Year-Old Hacks Instagram Despite Being Too Young to Sign Up for Instagram, Collects Huge Reward

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

A 10-year-old boy named Jani successfully hacked Instagram and was paid $10,000 by Facebook for his discovery.

Jani, who lives in Helsinki, Finland, found a bug that allowed him to edit any caption or comment on Instagram. He is too young to register an account on Instagram or Facebook, but that didn't matter because he was able to demonstrate the hack without logging into an account.

"I could've deleted anyone's, like Justin Bieber's comments from there," he told Iltalehti.

Jani received the $10,000 reward after he submitted the vulnerability to Facebook's bug bounty program. He told Iltalehti that he was initially interested in coding video games but then "started to get interested on information security and started watching Youtube videos on it." 

Jani plans to buy a new bike and a football with the money.

May 4 2016 9:13 AM

Is Apple Building Its Own iPhones Graphics Processor?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Graphics experts who want to work for Apple might not need to move to California. The company is currently hiring several graphics-chip specialists in its Orlando, Florida, offices.

In the past week, Apple has posted seven new job listings for graphics-processing unit (GPU) engineers in Orlando. Four of the positions are listed as graphics-verification engineers and one listing is for a graphics-software engineer, and Apple is also looking for a graphics RTL (register-transfer level) designer.

These employees, in Apple's hardware-engineering department, will likely work at Apple's under-the-radar office in the Orlando University Center near the University of Central Florida. Apple started building out that office as a center for GPU design in 2013.

Here are a few of the skills Apple is looking for:

  • Graphics architecture and programming (OpenGL/OpenCL) highly desired
  • GPU modeling experience and hardware experience a strong plus
  • Advanced knowledge of CPU or preferably GPU design architectures, VLSI circuits, and digital-logic design
  • Three years of hands-on experience in front-end design synthesis and large-chip integration

These job listings were posted as rumors continue to fly that Apple is designing its own graphics processor for iPhones and iPads. IT blog Fudzilla reported in December that Apple had been working for years to create its own mobile GPU, although speculation over whether Apple was designing its own GPU had been going on for years.

Apple is one of a few companies that designs its own processors and chips. If it were to design and integrate its own GPUs as well, then it could achieve gains in power and efficiency. GPUs are also a key part of deep-learning technologies, which some experts believe Apple should be focusing more on.

Currently, Apple buys PowerVR graphics processors for iPhones from UK-based Imagination Technologies. Apple confirmed in March that it had entered into talks to buy its GPU supplier, but did not plan to make an offer.

An analysis of LinkedIn profiles shows that Apple continues to hire engineers from Imagination Technologies, with at least five employees jumping from Imagination to Apple in the past eight months, including one manager who had spent 16 years at Imagination.

Most of those employees work on GPU device drivers in California, but one works on the kind of image processing that a self-driving car might use.

April 29 2016 5:28 PM

Amazon Has One Edge Over Netflix: It Can Lose Money on Streaming Video

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Netflix might be the king of content in the streaming video world, but there's one gargantuan advantage Amazon has in the space: it doesn’t actually have to make money on its Netflix competitor, Prime Video.

Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky highlighted the value of video to Amazon during its earnings call on Thursday. He said that Amazon is going to “significantly increase [its] content spend” on its video offerings because the company is seeing better engagement and conversions from Prime members who use the video service.

In plain English: Prime Video helps Amazon make money in other ways.

Here’s a simple example. In arecent survey conducted by CutCableToday (independent of its website), Amazon Prime subscribers were found to be 10 times as likely to rent or buy movies from Amazon Instant Video than non-Prime members.

Let’s break that down. Amazon has two tiers of video. The first is Prime Video, which is a Netflix-like service attached to Prime (oravailable separately for $8.99 per month). The second is Amazon Instant Video, which is a “rent or buy” service like iTunes. And you can browse both at the same time.

One of the advantages for Amazon is that once people get in the habit of going to Prime to watch videos, which are free except for subscription fees, the company has a chance to sell them on renting or buying videos that aren’t available. Here’s the scenario: you search for “The Revenant,” and it’s not available on Prime, but there it is sitting on your screen, available to rent on Amazon for $5.99 with one click. You might just go for it.

In the survey, 40% of 380 Prime members polled said they rent or bought video from Amazon Video at least once per month, as opposed to just 4% of non-Prime members. That’s a big difference. And while that difference might be affected by factors other than exposure to Prime Video, Olsavsky’s comments suggest Amazon sees video as a driver of other purchases.

This isn’t good news for competitors like Netflix, whose core business is providing high-quality movies and shows for a per-month fee. Amazon could theoretically never make a single cent directly off of Prime Video, and still have the project be a resounding success. But a bigger threat to Netflix might be if other companies, like wireless carriers, follow Amazon's lead and start using subscription video primarily as a tool to make money off of other products.

April 28 2016 3:41 PM

The Big Reason Uber Says It Doesn’t Want to Add a Tip Button

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Tipping won't be coming to the Uber app any time soon. In a blog post Thursday, the ride-hailing company reiterated that "tipping is not included, nor is it expected or required."

Why? Uber says it is better for "riders and drivers to know for sure what they would pay or earn on each trip — without the uncertainty of tipping." All the debate around tipping comes from an impending settlement the company reached in California and Massachusetts. As part of the agreement, Uber must clarify its language around tipping. Previously the company said there was "no need" to tip — although that's not the same thing as saying a tip is included. 

As a result, many riders thought tip was already included in their ride. Drivers could (and can still be) rated lower by passengers who felt it was uncomfortable to have "please tip" signs in the back of a car. 

As part of the settlement agreement, Uber is clarifying, but not rectifying tipping for drivers. While its competitor Lyft has tipping built in, Uber is arguing that adding tips would lead to bias from riders to drivers. In addition, it could incentivize drivers to "spend more time where tips are likely to be highest — typically the wealthiest neighborhoods" and not service the whole town. 

None of these arguments negate the fact that riders are allowed to do this anyways by just tipping cash. If drivers are looking for cash tips, they might be going to these neighborhoods anyways. As CNN's Ethan Wolff-Mann writes, the company is focusing more on user growth than finding a way to take care of its drivers: 

"But citing racism for not adding a tip-screen, when the company has already acknowledged that gratuity is not included, is a transparent ploy to focus less on the drivers, and more on its endgame of user growth. Adding a tipping screen would undoubtedly increase tips—which users wouldn’t have an outward problem with—but it would creep into the consumer’s mind that an Uber trip isn’t quite so cheap as advertised, raising the barrier for consumers to use it."

Despite the pushback, the company has started sending out letters to its riders in certain cities to clarify the tipping policy. As Uber general manager for NYC Josh Mohrer wrote in an email to NYC riders, "Today, riders tell us that one of the things they like most about Uber is that it’s hassle-free. And that’s how we intend to keep it."

April 27 2016 5:54 PM

How Foursquare Accurately Predicted That Chipotle's Sales Would Plummet

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Chipotle on Tuesday reported its first quarterly loss, along with a massive decline in sales. Comparable-store sales, or sales at locations open for at least one year, fell nearly 30 percent.

The fact that Chipotle is suffering is not a surprise. Cases of E. coli last year were linked to some of the restaurant's locations in 14 states, and a federal criminal investigation is being carried out in relation to a norovirus outbreak in California. But most investors were still caught off guard by the scale of the drop in same-store sales. Chipotle shares slid 6 percent on Wednesday.

Not everyone was surprised, however.

It turns out that the decline was accurately predicted by Foursquare, the social-media app that has its users "check in" to tell their friends what they are up to. The company calls itself a "location intelligence" provider, because it turns out those check-ins are much more than just millennial chatter.

On April 12, Jeff Glueck, the CEO of Foursquare, published a post on Medium predicting that Chipotle's first-quarter sales would be down nearly 30 percent. That was based on foot-traffic stats built from explicit check-ins and implicit visits from Foursquare and Swarm app users who enable background location.

It isn't the first time Foursquare has had this kind of success predicting sales. In September of last year, it looked into foot traffic at Apple stores leading up to the launch of the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5s, and the iPhone 6, predicting that Apple would sell 13 million to 15 million iPhones over a weekend. The number came in at 13 million.



Foursquare offers this data through a tool called Place Insights, and it counts retailers, brands, and analysts among its clients. The cost of access to this data depends on the depth of the data required.

The service offered by Foursquare, and its accuracy, is further evidence of the growing use of what is known as alternative data on Wall Street.

This is a business in which obscure data sets can be turned into tradable information. It's a cottage industry of tech firms that have sprung up in recent years, processing information on everything from the weather to web searches to location data and selling it for thousands of dollars to hedge funds looking for any advantage they can get.

"There is a whole class of emerging data, and that comes from the deployment of million of sensors around the world by governments, companies or consumers," Adam Broun, chief operating officer at Kensho, a startup in the field that is backed by Goldman Sachs, told Business Insider last year.

Fundamental and quantitative funds have zoned in on this kind of data, along with so-called quantamental funds, which mix quant approaches with bottom-up analysis.

They typically license data and crunch it using their own internals teams, pay for analysis crunched by third parties, or gather the data themselves. The slide below, from a white paper on alternative data published by Integrity Research Associates and written by Gene Ekster, sets out the process.

Ekster, who has worked with alternative data at companies including 1010data and Point72 Asset Management, told Business Insider last year that this kind of data would eventually go mainstream.

Gene Esker

"At some point this isn't going to be alternative data anymore," Ekster said.

April 26 2016 4:43 PM

YouTube Wants People to Visit It for the Reason They Go to Facebook. Will This App Update Help?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Google just revamped its YouTube app, giving its home screen a sleeker design and, more importantly, an improved recommendation system designed to hook viewers into longer watch sessions. "We want to create the feeling thatYouTube understands you," says Johanna Wright, VP of product management at the video company. 

The app now provides one ranked list of video suggestions instead of the previous, tiered selection that had categories like "Watch again" or "Recommended by [insert friend's name here]." In the old format, you could see many more options with less scrolling. In this new format, YouTube's betting that its first few recommendations will be so good that you'll want to click in. Its deep neural network systems factor in your geographical data, watch history, device, how much you've watched a given video or channel in the past, and more. 

In the company's beta tests with its new system, people did indeed spend more time watching with the ranked video list. "The reason we were able to do this is that we’ve made so many changes to our machine learning systems that we can now tell what users most likely want to watch," YouTube says in a statement. 

The improvement touches on one of YouTube on-going challenges: Getting users to think of it as a destination for discovery instead of a just a repository for any kind of content they might want to look up. 

There are 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute so if you're looking for something specific, the site is likely going to have the right kind of content to suit you. But it also wants people to open the app and find things they didn't even know they wanted. As Facebook—the ideal place for discovering clips you weren't specifically looking for—amps up its own video reach, YouTube needs to prove it can do both more than ever. 

April 26 2016 1:24 PM

Microsoft Made a One-Handed Keyboard for iPhone. Here’s How to Get It.

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Microsoft's one-handed "Word Flow" keyboard has made its way onto iPhones. This is the second keyboard Microsoft has launched on iOS this month; the first was their productivity-centric "Hub" keyboard.

Both the Word Flow and Hub keyboards have come out of Microsoft's Garage division. Word Flow originally premiered for Windows Phone users alongside Windows 8.1 in 2014, but now iPhone owners can use it too. This string of keyboard releases comes only two months after Microsoft acquired the keyboard-focused AI company SwiftKey.

Word Flow's main focus is on making one-handed use on bigger smartphones more feasible. Here's how it works.

In order to use Word Flow, or any third-party keyboard, you'll have to install it by going to the "Keyboards" section of Settings.


Once installed, Word Flow will show up alongside all of your other keyboards. Just tap on the globe key to find it.


Word Flow uses the same typeface as Microsoft's Hub keyboard, and a stock background.


But there are a number of themes you can select to personalize your typing experience.


You can opt to give Microsoft full access to your keyboard to capture more data, but Word Flow works fine without it.


You'll notice these two arch-shaped keys in the corners of the keyboard. These are used to access the most interesting part of Word Flow, its one-handed mode.


Tapping and pulling on one of the arch keys contorts the keyboard, shifting it closer to the bottom corner of the screen so it's easier to reach with whatever hand you're holding your phone in. Now you can type with one hand, though it might take some getting used to.