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October 22, 2014

Google Earth for Android is now faster, better at 3D exploration

Heads up, Android fans: Google Earth for your phones is about to get a lot better. That's what the folks in Mountain View are promising, anyway -- they've released an update to the app brings with it snappier performance and improved labels for maps (you'll never wonder where Foster City and Redwood Shores begin and end again). Perhaps the biggest change, though -- a completely rebuilt 3D rendering engine -- means those cityscapes and mountain ranges you pore over should show up with more crispness and clarity. Try not to lord that over your friends using Apple Maps, will you? Throw in a way to import your own custom .KML files into the app from Google Drive and you've got all the makings of a pretty momentous update. Itching to take it for a spin? Mosey on over to the Google Play Store to get your globetrotting fix.

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Source: Google

October 22, 2014

Bank of America issues refunds after double-charging Apple Pay users

Testing Apple Pay in September

Went on a spending spree with your Bank of America debit card the moment Apple Pay hit your iPhone? You might be in for a (brief) shock. The bank is now issuing refunds after it charged at least some Apple Pay users twice when they made purchases at retail shops. While it hasn't said what triggered the glitch, the issue doesn't appear to involve Apple's software -- there haven't been widespread reports of problems with other cards, and Apple itself doesn't process transactions. Whatever was the cause, it's not surprising that a major mobile payment service would run into some hiccups just after launch. Let's just hope that things go more smoothly from here on out.

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Source: Cult of Mac

October 22, 2014

Technology changed product placement (and you didn’t even notice)

Mirriad Asha GIF

As the music video starts, Avicii nonchalantly wanders into Stockholm's Tele2 Arena. He strolls past the venue's reception; a Grand Marnier poster gets some vital screen time. The bass drops. The crowd goes wild. For some reason, I feel like drinking.

Over the past few weeks, Avicii fans in the US have been unknowingly drawing an association between their favorite Swedish DJ's proghouse hit "Lay me Down" and orange-flavored cognac. Everywhere else in the world, the brand is never seen -- a plain wall lies in its place. It's one of the first examples of a new kind of temporary product placement called "digital insertion." Typically, product placement currently takes the form of a lingering product shot -- like a Beats Pill speaker at the start of a Miley Cyrus video. With recent advances, companies can now use algorithms to digitally serve you unique product placements based on where you live, your age or your salary. It's a creepy concept, but it could change advertising forever.

The Grand Marnier spot is the work of Mirriad, an agency that sells what it calls "advertising for the skip generation." Mirriad uses highly complex analysis tools to map video clips, automatically discerning the best places to insert products, billboards and other adverts. The software it created tracks objects and backgrounds in each frame, creating an optical flow of how objects move from second to second and essentially mapping the video in 3D. This enables both planar tracking (for modifying flat surfaces like walls, computer screens or newspapers) and 3D tracking (for placing complex 3D objects into a moving scene).

Mark Popkiewicz, Mirriad CEO, explains the potential for the company's technology. "We can embed brand assets, digital forms of whatever the brand is. It could be signage, like posters or billboards; it could be actual products. Anything from a can of Coke, a packet of Frosties, a mobile phone. You name it. It can even be a car; we've done many of those."

Mirriad has signed some big deals with Vevo and Universal Music Group (UMG) over the past six months. It also recently announced a partnership with advertising firm Havas to match the right companies to the right videos. Havas is an industry giant with huge brands on its books, and the first wave of Mirriad-UMG placements will include Coca-Cola, LG and Dish Network.

Product placement is obviously nothing new. It dates back almost a century in radio and film, and has its beginnings in literature: Companies reportedly clamored to get a mention in Jules Verne's 19th century novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Music videos, too, have long been firmly in the grasp of brands, with many clips acting as thinly veiled advertisements for Beats, Coca-Cola and countless other brands. However, these placements come with their problems.

Advertising is ephemeral. Why should product placement be any different?

Ever seen the first minute of Hilary Duff's "All About You" video? It's essentially an Amazon Fire Phone commercial. How valuable will that ad be to Amazon in five years' time? You need only look at the countless '00s musicians flashing two-way pagers for your answer. Regular advertising, be it in print, web or TV, is ephemeral. The ads running alongside this article, for example, are for current products and companies. Why should product placement be any different? Once Grand Marnier's contract expires, Avicii may be walking past a Ford poster, or a can of Sprite.

But let's not forget location. At the time of writing, the Fire Phone is available in exactly three countries, yet anyone in the world can watch "All About You." With digital product placement, the same artist can plug different brands depending on where the video is viewed. When it comes to buying these ads, Mirriad's software automatically generates metadata about videos it processes, cataloging not only the advertising opportunities in each, but also the ideal target market and the value of placements -- in fact, it's really quite similar to web advertising. Rather than Microsoft placing branding on Taylor Swift's wall, the company need only come to Mirriad and explain what kind of people it wants to advertise to. A campaign could target a million views from 16- to 24-year-olds in the US over a four-week period. Mirriad then embeds the relevant ads into as many videos as necessary to meet that target, using existing analytics from YouTube and others to prove their worth.

"There's no algorithm in the world that can tell you, 'This is a good place for Smirnoff.'"

"Our algorithms monitor down to a pixel level the actual exposure on screen, time, size, location and orientation of the brand so that we're always meeting and exceeding a minimum level of exposure," says Popkiewicz. "Our technology is monitoring that, so that when you buy a campaign from us, you're going to get a guaranteed level of exposure ... For the brands, it takes the uncertainty out of advertising." Of course, there are limits to what can be automated. "There's no algorithm in the world that can tell you, 'This is a good place for Smirnoff because it's a party atmosphere,' as opposed to, 'This is a good place for Starbucks because it's an office environment.' Those sort of things we have to leave to human judgment."

Mirriad has already brought its ads to TV, and it's not the first company to do so, either. If you're in the UK and you watch Hannibal or Bones, chances are you've seen some digital product placement, while in the US, rival firm SeamBI offered a similar service that was used to, among other things, insert up-to-date ads into reruns of How I Met Your Mother. SeamBI was founded almost a decade ago, but it's unclear what's happened to the company. It hasn't issued a press release in over two years; its founders are all working elsewhere; and a request for comment on this article was left unanswered. For now, it seems, Mirriad has this potentially lucrative market largely to itself.

mitsubishi product placement

Popkiewicz is coy when quizzed on where the company's placements might end up next, but is clear the company has big ambitions. TV could potentially be a far bigger market for Mirriad and other firms than music videos. There's an obvious trend away from traditional television and toward digital content, whether through on-demand services from existing TV companies (think Hulu or HBO Go), or from all-digital services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. As we move away from watching live broadcasts or buying Blu-ray boxsets, Mirriad's techniques become more and more feasible, and with a growing audience the potential for more complex placements increases.

Although none of the big streaming players are keen on discussing the viability of product placement, TV studios are happy to explain its potential benefits and drawbacks behind closed doors. "As you offer your shows around the world through syndication, you encounter different laws about product placement," one executive, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains. "Adding ads after the fact increases the amount of money you can make from syndication because each country that airs your show can potentially generate revenue." Another executive felt similarly upbeat about the financial possibilities, but did note that placements would have to be "tasteful" in order to prevent upsetting its shows' "biggest fans."

"If you're not careful to be tasteful, you'll just end up upsetting your biggest fans."

Services like Netflix could be key to kicking product placement up a gear. There's nothing preventing distributors from supplying streaming sites with special versions of your favorite show for various territories, each with different product placements from the version that aired on TV. Similarly, a service could, at any given moment, have hundreds of versions of a particular video for targeted advertising, serving Coca-Cola ads to teens or Grand Marnier to 20-somethings. Of course, this would require a lot of work on Netflix's end -- the company told us it has "nothing to share" on the matter -- but should it make financial sense for both parties, it's hard to see it not happening in some form.

The same could be true for on-demand movies. Of course there would be some backlash if, for example, Quentin Tarantino's Big Kahuna Burger joints suddenly turned into McDonald's, but with a subtle hand, there's a chance you may not even notice a new bottle of Coke in the background of your favorite Pulp Fiction scene.

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October 22, 2014

Pivotal Living hopes you’ll pay $12 a year to use its fitness tracker

Pivotal Living hopes you'll pay $12 a year to use its fitness tracker

Fitness trackers come a dime a dozen and worse, they all seem to do the same thing: monitor your step count, calorie burn and sleep quality. As it happens, the Life Tracker 1, the first device from a startup called Pivotal Living, does all these things, and not much more. But it's not what the product does or how it looks that has the potential to distinguish it -- it's how you pay for it. Whereas most health trackers cost somewhere around $100, and work with a free companion app, Pivotal Living is charging $12 a year for access to its Android and iOS apps. For the money, you also get the hardware, a simple plastic band with an OLED screen for showing your daily step and calorie count. Every time the company introduces a new iteration, you can renew or extend your subscription for $12 and in so doing, get the latest piece of kit. If you ever cancel, you can keep the band and continue to view your daily stats on the device; you just won't have access to the app, or any of your big-picture data.

Basically, it's like the fitness equivalent of a subsidized phone: In exchange for long-term service fees, you pay less for the hardware than you normally would. Except in this case, the math might actually work in the consumer's favor. To equal the cost of Jawbone's $130 Up24 band, for instance, you'd have to pay $12 a year for more than 10 years, and keep the same device that whole time. That's just not happening, though. I mean, first of all, a device won't last nearly that long. Even Jawbone's bands, which are somewhat ruggedized, have just a one-year warranty. And besides, there comes a point when you want to keep up with the technology. Imagine how the owners of the older Up band felt when Jawbone finally came out with one that could sync wirelessly. Then imagine putting up with that sort of thing for a whole decade. Yeah, like I said: not happening.

In theory, then, the $12-a-year deal could be worth it -- if, of course, the device works well and the user experience is good. I'll be the first to admit, I haven't used the Life Tracker 1 beyond a few minutes of hands-on time, so I can't tell you how accurate the calorie and step read-outs are. But from what I've seen, the app seems well-designed and easy to use. From the app, you can drill down to get more information on your weight, how well you slept, how many calories you've burned, how active you've been and how well hydrated you are. Throughout, the app is color-coded, so it's especially easy to know if you've left the calorie section and entered the sleep graph. And hey, who doesn't love a rainbow color palette?

I also like how easy it is to enter information in the app. If you want to adjust your current weight for instance, or indicate how much water you've had to drink, you can do so by moving your finger over a sliding scale; no text input necessary. In fact, it's for that reason that the current app doesn't include a food-logging feature -- CEO David Donovick says there's just no convenient way to do it. (Jawbone might beg to differ.) Also, in the event that some of your friends use the app too, you get granular control over exactly which stats certain people and groups can see.

All told, the one thing that gives me pause is that the device doesn't automatically sync; you have to do it manually by swiping down in the app to refresh. I suppose this could be beneficial to battery life (the device is rated for five to seven days of runtime), but that's also not how people expect fitness trackers to work. Speaking of battery life, the device charges over USB, and takes a little under an hour to reach 100 percent.

The device is up for pre-order now, and is expected to ship the first or second week of December. Will we review it? Hopefully! In the meantime, would any of you do a subscription deal like this? Sound off in the comments.

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Source: Pivotal Living

October 22, 2014

Google partners with Jane Goodall to capture Tanzania’s chimp heaven

Google has joined forces with the Jane Goodall Institute to bring Street Views of Gombe National Park and its numerous chimpanzees. Using portable Trekkers, Google's intrepid photogs captured thousands of 360-degree images in the jungles where Goodall first started her research. Some of the Institute's favorite highlights include a chimp called "Google" swinging on a vine (above), the slopes of Gombe, a group of chimpanzees fishing for termites and the interior of Jane's house. To head down the trails or up into the tree canopies yourself, hit the source -- there's a monkey around every corner.

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Via: TNW

Source: Google

October 22, 2014

Jawbone’s Drop lets you build music playlists using tweets

At Twitter's Flight mobile developer conference, Jawbone just announced a new app called Drop, which lets you and your friends create and manage playlists with tweets. Hosain Rahman, Jawbone's CEO, says that this would be very useful in party situations, where each guest wants to add a different song to the party playlist. Once you're in the app, you can "drop" a song in a playlist by sending a tweet to a specific username. Further, you don't need the app to add songs -- your friends can just mention you on Twitter and the word "drop" followed by the name of the song or artist. According to Jawbone, the list is comprised of songs on Spotify or Rdio, so you'll need a premium or paid subscription to either of the two music services to use Drop. It should be available for iOS today, with no word on an Android version just yet.

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Source: Jawbone

October 22, 2014

Pandora lets artists know just how well their music is doing

Pandora Radio on its IPO day

Many musicians put their tunes on Pandora in the hopes that they'll build an audience, but how are they supposed to know it's working? That's what the streaming service's new Artist Marketing Platform (AMP) aims to solve. The initiative gives performers data on not just how many plays and thumbs-up ratings their songs get, but the demographics of who's listening and where the music is taking off -- very handy for planning a national tour. It won't guarantee that your indie band catches a big break, but it could help you focus your musical talents where they matter the most.

[Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

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Source: Pandora (1), (2)

October 22, 2014

Twitter trades passwords for phone numbers with Digits login

At its mobile developer conference in San Francisco, Twitter just announced Digits, a brand-new way to log in to apps with just your phone number. Instead of going through the tedious process of signing up with an email and password or using one of many different social logins, all you need is to enter in your number. When you do, you'll get a confirmation code via SMS. Enter that in as well, and away you go; no need to remember passwords or go through CAPTCHAs. Digits is not based on your Twitter account at all; it's actually an entirely new product that developers can incorporate into their apps. It's a key part of Fabric, Twitter's new mobile development kit that it's rolling out today. Digits is available for iOS, Android and the web, and it's available in 216 countries in 28 languages right now.

Aside from Digits, Fabric includes several other tools that Twitter hopes developers will incorporate into their existing apps, such as Crashlytics, the crash-reporting tool that the company bought last year, and MoPub, its advertising platform. There's also something called TwitterKit, which finally brings system-level Twitter sign-on to Android, a service that's been on iOS for a while now. This means that you only need to sign on to Twitter once on an Android phone, and you'll be able to easily access all apps that require a Twitter login. Especially of note is that developers can now not only embed tweets in their apps, but also add the ability to compose and post tweets inside of them without having to launch the dedicated Twitter app.

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Source: Digits

October 22, 2014

Google’s ‘Inbox’ is a smarter take on email, created by the Gmail team

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you're anything like us, Google's Gmail has an iron grip on your life. Google's looking to create a whole new iron grip with a new app from its Gmail team, and it's called "Inbox." What is it? That's a good question -- Google's made a demo slash advertisement video that we've dropped below. As far as we can tell, Inbox is a combination of Google Now and your Gmail inbox -- a "smart" inbox, if you will. It combines alike pieces of email (bank invoices, for example), highlights related information (like Google Now alerting you to flight changes, traffic, etc.) and keeps track of your life (it'll give you reminders, among other heads ups). Is this the end of Gmail? We seriously doubt it, but it is Google's latest foray into simplifying email. Head below for more!

In introducing the service, Google's Sundar Pinchai called out the frustration of an overflowing email inbox. Inbox is Google's attempt to make the inbox more approachable and organized without much user effort. " For many of us, dealing with email has become a daily chore that distracts from what we really need to do-rather than helping us get those things done," Pinchai wrote. "If this all sounds familiar, then Inbox is for you. Or more accurately, Inbox works for you."

As seen below in GIF form, the app both shows prioritized events and emails you've received. Think of it as the lovechild of Cards and Gmail. Whether it'll replace our standard Gmail app is another question altogether; trading the flexibility of Gmail for a more streamlined inbox is appealing, but also Gmail has an iron grip on our lives. In case that wasn't clear the first time.

The app's still in the invite stage, and Google says the first round of invites are already out in the world. Should your current Gmail (or whatever service) inbox be without an invite, Google's set up an email address for you to ask to get in on the action. It's only running on a Nexus 6 in the image, but Google says it runs on Android phones with Jellybean or better (4.1+) and iPhones running iOS 7 or better. There's a web-client as well, but it's a Chrome-exclusive.

[Image credit: Google]

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Source: Google

October 22, 2014

The NSA can now use Samsung’s Galaxy phones for classified work

A computer workstation bears the Nationa

Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets have just become the first consumer mobile devices approved by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to carry classified documents. The edict covers most of its newer Galaxy devices, including the Galaxy S5, Galaxy Note 4, and the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet (2014 edition) -- as long as they're equipped with Knox, Samsung's mobile security app. Knox-enabled devices have already been approved by the US Department of Defense, but only for general, not classified, use. That's a shot of good news for Samsung in the face of recent dismal earnings, and it no doubt wants to translate the NSA's golden nod into consumer and corporate sales. Ironically, many of those potential customers may be paranoid... of the NSA.

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Via: PC World

Source: Samsung