Social

Richard Waters

You’re standing on the surface of Mars. You look down and marvel at the detail, then up to the horizon, following the ridge of mountains around to your left. You jump: the Mars Rover is right behind your left shoulder, taller than you are, one of its cameras slanted to the side and looking like a pet robot waiting for an order.

This isn’t some gamer version of Mars. It’s the real thing. Every rock, in clear 3D. In front of you stands the bronze avatar of a scientist ready to talk about the experiments you’re going to perform.

Microsoft has lacked the “wow” factor for some time. It’s been left to Google, Apple and Facebook, with its acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus, to set the standards in technical daring and creative ambition.

Not any more. With HoloLens, the “mixed reality” headset it unveiled on Wednesday, Microsoft is suddenly a contender in one of the most exciting races in the tech world: to mix the real and virtual worlds in ways that transform both.

 Read more

Ephemeral snaps and messages help the technology take on the form of a conversation Read more

There is something peculiarly impressive about the video below of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, talking in Mandarin to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. If nothing else, it shows a dedication to the country’s customs that very few foreign business leaders can match.

Mr Zuckerberg clearly has business motives for making the effort, in addition to his personal connections – Priscilla Chan, his wife, comes from a Chinese family and her mother speaks mostly Mandarin. Facebook is blocked in mainland China, along with other US internet companies, and wants restrictions to be loosened. Read more

Russian internet group Mail.ru has paid $1.47bn to acquire the 48 per cent of social media website VKontakte that it does not already own, ending a battle for ownership of Russia’s equivalent to Facebook. Read more

Buried under the avalanche of Apple announcements this week was the one that got the mobile operators pretty excited: an innovation that lets people use a WiFi connection rather than mobile signal to make calls.

On the face of it – like much of Apple’s news – it seems an old idea, with various services already on offer that allow people to make calls using WiFi. Three, the smallest UK mobile group, launched a service called InTouch this summer, while Telefonica’s O2 has offered TuGo for some time.

But, again like many of the advances unveiled this week, it is just being done better by the Cupertino-based technology group. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Two experiments by Snapchat this week point the way towards the photo-sharing app’s first sources of income, almost nine months after it turned down Facebook’s $3bn acquisition offerRead more

Robert Cookson

Facebook has created a new “missed call” product for advertisers in India, marking the first time that the social network has designed a special ad format for a single country.

When a mobile phone user clicks on one of the ads, it calls the advertiser and immediately hangs up. The advertiser returns the call with pre-recorded entertainment content and a marketing message – enabling the consumer to avoid paying data charges.

Facebook’s creation of a special ad product in India, where the company has more than 100m users, is part of a broader push to develop customised solutions across emerging marketsRead more

goog3

Smart watches, TVs and cars featured prominently on Wednesday as Google laid out its plans for pushing its Android smartphone software into new fields. At its annual I/O developer event in San Francisco, “wearables” had pride of place, with news that the first smartwatches based on Android Wear are now on sale – before Apple unveils its much-anticipated iWatch. With Android TV and Android Auto, on the other hand, Google was playing catch up with Apple. The event pointed to how the battle for the next big tech markets beyond the smartphone will be fought. Richard Waters and Tim Bradshaw were at the Moscone Center for this round. 

Tim Bradshaw

One of the dominant mantras in technology design these days is simplicity. From Apple’s Sir Jonathan Ive and his minimalist overhaul of iOS to the unbundling of Facebook’s “big blue app” into its smaller, faster components, smartphones are sweeping software to be ever simpler and sleeker.

For many people, most technology is still too complicated but those apps that do simplify tend to succeed. WhatsApp Messenger offers little more than basic text messaging, with none of the stickers or gimmicks of rival chat apps, and has amassed 500m users. Snapchat took out text altogether to allow people to communicate with just a photograph and three taps of the screen. Read more

Sarah Mishkin

with Nicole Bullock

China’s premier job-hunting site got an impressive raise in its first day as a public company in the US, as its stock closed up 8.5 per cent on their debut day of trading.

Zhaopin, whose name means “recruit,” is a LinkedIn-like site for professional networking and job seeking. Its shares closed at $14.65. It had priced its offering of 5.6m American depositary shares at $13.50 each – the middle of an indicated range of $12.50 to $14.50. That means it raised a total of about $76m, excluding an over allotment option. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Snapchat’s best feature is not disappearing messages: it’s simplicity. Sending a picture message to a friend takes just five taps of a smartphone screen, including one to open the app. This immediacy is a big part of what makes the pictures feel more personal and fun than more traditional messaging apps.

Now, in the biggest changes the young start-up has yet made to its app, Snapchat is adding text messaging and video chat to the ephemeral photos that made it famous. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Twitter’s stock was heading towards a new all-time low after reporting results that beat forecasts on the financials but left Wall Street wanting more from user growth and engagement. Hannah Kuchler and Tim Bradshaw bring you live reaction and updates from the analyst call.  

Robert Cookson

Big media companies owned by profit-hungry private equity groups don’t normally give their core products away for free.

But Getty Images, which was acquired for $3.3bn by Carlyle in 2012, is doing just that. The world’s largest supplier of stock photos has made more than 30m images available to people to share for free on their blogs and social media sites, including tumblr, WordPress and Twitter.

This is not charity, however. Behind the move lies cold commercial logic. It’s all about data, control and advertising. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

The co-founder of fitness tracking device maker Jawbone wants to take on Twitter with the long-awaited launch of a new “global opinion network”, State.

State, which emerges from private testing on Thursday, has been many years in the making. Alex Asseily, who is still Jawbone’s chairman, and his brother Mark have been developing State since 2011, soon after Alex returned to London following 17 years in San Francisco. They had originally hoped to launch it in 2012 but the delay partly reflects the daunting scale of Mr Asseily’s vision. Read more

Hannah Kuchler

The one big US social network not blocked in China launches its new site there in beta today – as part of a Chinese push previously reported by the Financial TimesRead more

Sirgoo Lee, chief executive of the South Korean mobile messaging company Kakao, chuckles when asked about Facebook’s acquisition of rival WhatsApp for $19bn. “All I can say is that’s a lot of money,” he says.

While it has a strong presence in India and Hong Kong, WhatsApp is a marginal player in many parts of Asia writes Simon Mundy. Kakao, Japan-based LINE and China-headquartered WeChat dominate mobile messaging in their respective home territories, and are fighting for control of the market in southeast Asia. The Japanese internet company Rakuten, meanwhile, last month spent $900m on Viber, an Israeli company that provides similar free calling and messaging services. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Expectations were running high ahead of Twitter’s maiden earnings as a public company – its stock had risen by almost 50 per cent since November’s IPO.
But investors got the jitters when they saw slowing growth in user numbers and engagement rates in the fourth quarter of 2013, feeding their fears that Twitter might be a niche product which the mass market will never understand. Dick Costolo, chief executive, stressed this was a problem they had always known about and had a plan to fix. Nonetheless, shareholders were not comforted, sending Twitter shares down almost 18 per cent in after-hours trading.
In this liveblog, Hannah Kuchler and Tim Bradshaw covered reaction and live commentary from the conference call.  

This just in from Facebook – it’s entered the news business, with an app called Paper. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Mark Zuckerberg’s push to make Facebook a mobile-first company seems to have paid off. Wednesday’s fourth-quarter earnings revealed that it now makes more than half of its advertising revenues from mobile devices, beating Wall Street’s forecasts and sending its stock up as much as 12 per cent in after-hours trading.
Hannah Kuchler and Tim Bradshaw reported from the earnings call as Zuck and his team talked about the opportunities in personalisation, messaging and artificial intelligence.