Tech

Richard Waters

Google’s Play Store is taking off. It has handed out more than $7bn to app developers in the last 12 months. And after an apparent slow-down at Apple, it looks like it may be closing the gap with the App Store:

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Better known for slick and glossy ads, LG Electronics on Monday uploaded 9 minutes of grainy footage to YouTube showing one of its top executives innocently looking at a washing machine.

The bizarre move was the latest salvo in the decidedly un-high tech washing machine wars. Tech may be an industry famed for its multi-billion-dollar patent lawsuits and occasional (careful) corporate espionage, but South Korea’s two tech wunderkinds are clashing over claims of old-fashioned vandalising a very domestic appliance. Read more

Richard Waters

What is Slack? Even for Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of the online collaboration tool of the moment, it isn’t an easy question to answer.

“We’re working on a tight articulation of that,” he says “It’s a new category.” Whatever you call it, though, Slack’s first year has been impressive. Read more

Cheap remote-controlled quadcopters from Syma and Hubsan bring aerial photography within reach of a much bigger audience.  Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Expectations are high for Apple as it publishes its first-quarter earnings, with analysts forecasting that it sold more than 65m iPhones in the three months to December. With the impact of China looming large but the iPad still looking weak, Tim Bradshaw and Sarah Mishkin bring the news, live updates and analyst reaction from San Francisco.  

“Cardboard” is a funny thing to call a teleportation machine. But when paired with a smartphone and a willing suspension of disbelief, Google’s low-cost design for a virtual reality headset becomes just that. Read more

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.

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Richard Waters

The sliding Bitcoin price has provoked a fair amount of schadenfreude recently. But it hasn’t done much to dampen the spirits of the start-up investors flocking to the market.

A case in point: Coinbase has just raised $75m in what is the biggest publicly disclosed funding round yet for a Bitcoin company. Also notable is that the backers this time include the New York Stock Exchange, BBVA and former Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit. Read more

Machines are getting smarter all the time, but could they ever attain the quintessentially human qualities of creativity and introspection?

Demis Hassabis – chess wunderkind, games designer and one of Google’s artificial intelligence whizzkids – thinks so.

He made a rare public appearance this week, speaking on a panel of philosophers and neuroscientists at the London School of Economics, to debate whether the brain is a “predictive machine”. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Soylent, the start-up which aims to replace regular meals with its low-cost nutritional drinks, has raised $20m to expand its manufacturing capabilities and develop its recipe. Read more

Hannah Kuchler

The damaging fall-out from emails leaked after the Sony Pictures cyber attack has spread to the technology industry, with details of Snapchat‘s business plan exposed in messages reported to be found in the inbox of Michael Lynton, Sony Entertainment CEO and Snapchat board member.

Evan Spiegel, Snapchat‘s chief executive, has reacted angrily to having what he described as his “business plans” and “secrets” spilled in an industry that places a high value on stealth. Read more

Sarah Mishkin

A German start-up is trying to change America’s reluctance to long-distance ride-sharing by partnering with Uber to make it more convenient, even in the sprawling US.

Munich-based carpooling is launching today in the US with an app that lets drivers offer spare seats to passengers for rides. The model has proven a hit in Europe, with multiple start-ups in the same field, but it has not taken off in the US, where cities are further apart and public transit within most cities fairly meager. Blablacar, carpooling’s French rival, told the Financial Times last week that it would not launch in the US. Read more

On Friday we reported that the European parliament is threatening to break up Google. More precisely, it is likely to approve a draft motion calling for the European Commission to consider the “unbundling” of search engines from other commercial services as one possible solution to Google’s dominance.

But would this even work in practice? The short answer is, it’s not clear.

The German MEP Andreas Schwab, a long-time Google critic who is sponsoring the draft motion, told the FT that the practicalities had still to be looked at. Read more

Is it too early to make forecasts for 2015? Not for CCS Insight, a UK-based technology research firm, which is already confidently predicting that a major internet player will buy Netflix, and Vodafone will buy Sky, by the end of next year.

“All Web players are looking for a stronger presence in paid-for video, something Netflix has achieved with remarkable success… Yahoo, Alibaba and Google are potential suitors,” CCS says in an upcoming report. If Google does not buy Netflix, it will launch its own video streaming service in 2015, it predicts.

Further bold/foolhardy predictions below. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Samsung has unveiled a prototype of a new kind of 360-degree camera that could help virtual reality move beyond its current gaming niche.

“Project Beyond” is an ambitious concept that looks a little like it belongs on top of a Google Street View car. Sixteen small cameras point out from a frisbee-sized disk, with another on the top. It can capture 3D, 360-degree video that can be streamed live to a VR headset, allowing the wearer to look around as if they were standing wherever the camera is placed. Read more

Sarah Mishkin

Uber’s been investing heavily in lobbying politicians around the country to allow it to operate, but new data out suggests that, at least in one respect, politicians are already big fans of the group. Read more

Robert Cookson

Taylor Swift clearly touched a nerve at Spotify last week when she pulled all of her music from the streaming service.

Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive, has responded to her move by publishing a 1,800 word essay that defends the company’s business model and reveals some fascinating numbers about its growth. Read more

Robert Cookson

The Economist, the 171-year-old weekly magazine, is launching its first daily edition.

The new product, called The Economist Espresso, will be available from Friday via smartphone apps and email. It takes the form of a daily briefing that is designed to be read in a few minutes each morning, and is part of a drive to expand The Economist’s digital audience following the first circulation decline in more than a decade. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

As Apple readies its Watch, Jawbone is aiming for “the other wrist” with the latest update to its Up fitness tracker.

Rather than challenge the iPhone maker’s forthcoming smartwatch head on, Jawbone’s new Up3 wristband is smaller than its predecessor, packed with more sensors including heart-rate and skin temperature detectors, and costs almost half the price of Apple Watch. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

SoundCloud has secured its first licensing agreement with a major record label, after months of tough negotiations.

The deal with Warner Music will allow SoundCloud, which was valued at around $700m earlier this year, to unlock new sources of revenue through advertising and subscriptions. Read more