Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Facebook tells advertisers it is getting better at targeting specific user groups

Facebook highlighted on Wednesday two ad campaigns in an attempt to persuade advertisers that its massive membership base and ability to home in on specific audiences makes it a more effective advertising platform than broadcast TV.

The No. 1 social network revealed in a blog post some details about marketing campaigns from AARP and the American Legacy Foundation to show how Facebook can target specific age groups among its audience of more than 1 billion global users, which rivals the number of people watching TV.
Facebook is hoping to tap some of the billions of dollars that advertisers dedicate to television commercials to reach large groups of people.

"For an advertiser, in Facebook's view their users are more engaged than when they are watching TV," saidDebra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at research firm eMarketer. "It's not just sitting on the couch and watching something go by."

Still TV gets the lion's share of ad dollars with more than $66 billion in 2013 in the U.S. alone, according to eMarketer. Facebook generated roughly $7 billion in global ad revenue during the same year.
The AARP, an association for older Americans, sought to target ads to Facebook members over 45 in order to build awareness that the organization is for more than just retired people, Facebook said in itsblog post, while the American Legacy Foundation wanted to reach teenagers for its Truth campaign to curb smoking.

Both campaigns ran in Facebook's News Feed interspersed among a user's stream of news and other updates.

"One of the things we wanted to test is if there a better result when you air a TV ad spot and support it on social media," said Tammy Gordon, AARP vice president of social strategy.

A survey conducted by Nielsen Online suggested that 14 percent of 45-to-64-year-old Americans said they saw the AARP campaign.

"You don't just do a TV commercial, you have to be looking at multi-media campaign," Gordon said.
In the case of the Truth campaign, almost half of all Americans between the age of 13 and 19 saw at least one ad in their News Feed stream, the Nielsen survey found.

Investors have been concerned that teenage users may be drifting away from Facebook in favor of alternative online services such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, which Facebook recently acquired for $19 billion. But the survey results suggest marketers still view Facebook's social network as an important channel for reaching teenagers.

Christine Dela Rosa, senior brand manager of marketing at the American Legacy Foundation, said that Facebook was still a good way to expose teens to brands. She noted, however, that the foundation also adjusted its marketing campaign to run on other platforms like deviantART, a social network for artists that is attracting teens.

"Facebook is really huge and people tend to want to converse with us in that space," Dela Rosa said. "We are in other places too because teens aren't using Facebook for expression. Every single platform has a different purpose. We want to be there in all those different places."

New software may thwart online banking frauds

Scientists have developed a new software to prevent malware from sending spam emails and instant messages while blocking unauthorised money transfers.

"Imagine a user who intends to send $2 to a friend through PayPal. Embedded malware in the user's laptop, however, converts the $2 transaction into a $2,000 transfer to the account of the malware author instead," researchers said.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have created a prototype software, Gyrus, that takes extra steps to prevent malware from sending spam emails and instant messages, and blocking unauthorised commands such as money transfers.

Current protection programmes might recognise the original user's intent to send email, transfer money or engage in other transactions but cannot verify the specifics such as email contents or amount of money.

Without context, it is impossible to properly verify the user's full intent, regardless of whether the software is protecting a financial transfer, an industrial control system or a wide range of other user-driven applications.

"Gyrus is a transparent layer on top of the window of an application. The user experience with the application will be exactly the same as when Gyrus is not installed or activated.

Of course, if Gyrus detects that user-intended data has tampered with, it will block the traffic and also notify the user," said Wenke Lee, director of the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC).
The research is based on the observation that for most text-based applications, the user's intent will be displayed entirely on screen, as text, and the user will make modifications if what is on screen is not what he or she wants.

Users help Gyrus do its job by establishing pre-defined rules that help the software determine whether commands - authorised or not - fit with established user intentions.

"The idea of defining correct behaviour of an application by capturing user intent is not entirely new, but previous attempts in this space use an overly simplistic model of the user's behaviour," said Yeongjin Jang, the Georgia Tech PhD student who led the study.

"For example, they might infer a user's intent based on a single mouse click without capturing any associated context so the attackers can easily disguise attacks as a benign behaviour," Jang added.

"Instead, Gyrus captures richer semantics including both user actions and text contents, along with applications semantics, to make the system send only user-intended network traffic. Gyrus indirectly but correctly determines user intent from the screen that is displayed to the user," said Jang.

There are two key components to Gyrus' approach. First, it captures the user's intent and interactions with an application. Second, it verifies that the resulting output can be mapped back to the user's intention. As a result, the application ensures accurate transactions even in the presence of malware.

NASA to launch satellite in collaboration with ISRO

US space agency NASA today said it would launch a water-related satellite in collaboration with India's ISRO.

The NASA-Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Synthetic Aperture Radar mission is a part of its plan to launch in the next seven years a series of satellite related to water and drought, the agency said.

Among others include the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2); Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Follow-on and Surface Water Ocean Topography mission.

"These satellite missions join more than a dozen NASA airborne sensors focused on regional-scale issues, understanding detailed Earth science processes and calibrating and validating NASA satellites," the space agency said.

"NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing," it said.

"The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet," it said.

NASA said it is scheduled to launch three new Earth science missions this year, which will contribute to water cycle research and water-related national policy decisions.

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint satellite project with the Japan
Aerospace Exploration Agency scheduled for launch Thursday, February 27, will inaugurate an unprecedented international satellite constellation that will produce the first nearly global observations of rainfall and snowfall.

The new information will help answer questions about our planet's life-sustaining water cycle, and improve water resource management and weather forecasting.

"ISS-RapidScat, scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in June, will extend the data record of ocean winds around the globe. The data are a key factor in climate research, weather and marine forecasting and tracking of storms and hurricanes," NASA said.

"The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), launching in November, will inform water resource management decisions on water availability. SMAP data also will aid in predictions of plant growth and agricultural productivity, improve short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate change projections, and advance our ability to monitor droughts and predict floods and mitigate their related impacts on people's lives," the space agency said.

India's first river-linking project takes shape: will it revitalise BJP's fortunes?

Before the general elections, the BJP-led Madhya Pradesh government has gifted the Malwa region India's first ever river-linking project to solve the problem of water scarcity there.

As part of the Narmada-Kshipra link project, Narmada's water has been lifted to 350 metres and through pipelines spread over almost 49 kilometres to Kshipra river in Ujjain, about 15 kilometres from Indore. Inaugurated by senior BJP leader LK Advani on Tuesday, the first phase of the project was completed in a record time of 14 months. 

Interlinking of rivers was former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's dream project in the NDA government, but it has started taking shape only 10 years later. To commemorate the project, BJP's top brass has gathered in Ujjain.

"When all phases of the project are complete 3,000 villages, 72 towns will get drinking water and water to irrigate 16 lakh acres of land," said Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

The project has three more phases which will connect river Ganga to three rivers - Gambhir, Kalisindh, Parvati. Malwa region, which will benefit from this project, is water scarce. Since the BJP did not do well in the 2009 general elections here, the project is also being seen an attempt by the BJP to woo voters in the region. However, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was missing from both the stage and the posters at the two venues of the event.

Mr Advani praised the state government's effort and at the same time pushed the party's agenda. "Supreme Court has recommended that central government should work on linking river scheme. The next government will work for it and Shivraj has already started the work by linking Narmada and Kshipra," he said.

The project has been inaugurated just a few weeks before the model code of conduct is imposed before the Lok Sabha elections. The people from Malwa have their own take on the timing of this inauguration.

"Shivraj has done a commendable job it is better than the proposed sawarkhedi dam as it would have displaced people from villages," said one Anil Sharma.

Whereas, another resident Rahul said, "Just before Lok Sabha polls both parties are doing politics. Shivraj with this river project scheme is trying to ensure BJP's victory in Malwa region."

Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the 'dial tone for the Internet'

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg took a victory lap at the world's largest mobile technology conference in Barcelona on Monday, after beating out Google Inc in a $19 billion acquisition of free messaging service WhatsApp. But he faces bigger hurdles on the horizon.

Just 18 months after appearing at risk of getting crushed by the swelling mobile wave, the No. 1 social network is riding high. It gets a huge chunk of ad revenue on world-wide users of smartphones and tablets, from virtually nothing several years ago.

Now, Zuckerberg's purchase of WhatsApp - while raising eyebrows with the hefty price paid for a company that boasts 450 million users but has little revenue - places Facebook at the heart of smartphone communications.

"In the U.S. you can dial 911 and get access to basic services," Zuckerberg said, referring to the country's national emergency services phone number.

"We want to create a similar kind of dial tone for the Internet," he said, citing messaging, search and weather information among the essential online services that he said people throughout the world should be able to access on Internet-connected phones.

It's a vision that is sure to have some telecom bosses in Barcelona gritting their teeth. WhatsApp and its fellow messaging apps, including Viber and China's WeChat, have punched a hole in operators' sales by offering a free alternative to text messages, a $120 billion market for operators. Research group Ovum said telcos lost $32 billion in text revenue last year and will lose $54 billion by 2016.

But Zuckerberg is trying to cast Facebook and WhatsApp as partners not foes of the industry.
The 29-year-old co-founder of Facebook used his appearance at Mobile World Congress on Monday to talk up his company's recent effort to make wireless Internet access easier and more affordable in developing countries.

With WhatsApp now part of Facebook, Zuckerberg said the messaging service will have the breathing room to put its energy into garnering another 2 billion or 3 billion users, rather than trying to generate revenue.

Surprise deal
Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp is its latest move to transform a platform and company born on the PC into a full-fledged network for a mobile generation. Zuckerberg's progress so far on mobile has positioned the company to take advantage of the fast-growing markets. And it has helped boost Facebook's stock roughly 150 percent since July.

But with a new crop of smartphone applications threatening to eat into Facebook's audience, worrying signs of waning interest amongst younger users - which the WhatsApp acquisition may help address - and a tech landscape evolving more rapidly than ever before, Facebook can't afford to fall behind again.
That is critical for Facebook as it courts the "next 5 billion" Internet users, many of whom live in places like India and Africa and who are likely to first experience the Internet on a mobile rather than a PC.
"If Facebook is not first in line when those people are firing up their devices, it stands a chance of never connecting with those folks, because there are so many alternatives," said Brian Blau, an analyst at research firm Gartner.

Zuckerberg said the plan to bring wireless Internet access, and Facebook, to the world is a long-term project that won't pay off anytime soon.
"I think we're probably going to lose money on this for quite a while," Zuckerberg said.

No sure thing
To some, Google wields the advantage for now.
Its Android mobile operating system comes pre-installed on roughly 80 percent of the smartphones sold in the world today. That helps ensure new users will see and use its various online services, including search, maps and its Google+ social network.

Once WhatsApp is in Facebook's pocket, there's no guarantee the messaging service - which famously eschews games, shopping or other popular add-ons to focus on pure messaging - can remain ahead in a notriously fickle market.
Rival messaging apps such as Tencent Holding's WeChat and Naver's LINE are popular across Asia and have hundreds of millions of users. They have also expanded to allow users to book taxis, top up phone credit, and take part in flash sales, all on the app.
WhatsApp, which Zuckerberg has promised will remain independent, fits Facebook's recent approach of designing or buying "spinoff" apps for smartphones, such as Instagram or the Paper news app, which has earned positive reviews.

"You see Facebook trying to increase its surface area, with different apps for different things," said Josh Elman, a venture capital firm Greylock Partners. The idea is to give users multiple ways to interact with Facebook throughout the day.
To meet his ambitions, Zuckerberg could use the telecom industry's help. He will make his case to the handset makers and operators gathered in Barcelona that they should work together to make Internet access cheaper and more ubiquitous in the developing world.

Facebook has partnered with over 150 wireless providers over the past four years to offer free or discounted access to the social network, including a deal with Globe Telecom to provide three months of free access to customers in the Philippines.
Once people experience the benefits of wireless Internet access they will upgrade to additional data services, generating more profit for wireless carriers, Zuckerberg said.
The idea, he said, is to build a "more profitable model, with more subscribers for carriers, and get everyone on the Internet in a hopefully shorter period of time."
Not everyone is on board.

Vodafone Chief Executive Vittorio Colao said earlier this month that Facebook had approached him about waiving data charges when customers access the website from their mobiles. But Colao rejected the idea because he didn't see any benefit for his company, which is Europe's largest wireless carrier and also operates in India and across Africa.

Salaried Indians pay more income tax than high earners in US, China

It's a known fact that India's salaried class single-handedly contributes to the country's income tax base. But now a new study has found that Indians are among the most taxed in the world.
survey by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has found that the take-home salary (after paying income tax rates and social security contributions) of a high earner in India is less than that of salary earners in the UK, Canada, US, China and Russia.
In fact, among the G20 countries, only Italy ranked above India when it comes to higher taxes, the survey found. Indians took roughly 55 per cent of their wages home, the survey said. In comparison, earners in Saudi Arabia took 97 per cent of their salary home, while those in Russia took 87 per cent of their wages home, the survey stated.
Individual earners in India are categorized in three groups for taxes -- those earning between Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh fall in the 10 per cent tax bracket, while those earnings between Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh pay 20 per cent taxes currently. However, bulk of the taxes comes from high earners, who have incomes of Rs. 10 lakh and more and are taxed at 30 per cent.
Individuals (42,800 to be precise), whose taxable income exceeds Rs.1 crore, have to pay a surcharge of 10 per cent from this year. That's not all. Wealthy Indians (wealth exceeding Rs. 30 lakh) are also required to pay wealth tax of 1 per cent.
The skewed tax structure in India can be gauged from the fact that only 4 lakh people account for 63 per cent of tax collected in an economy with a tax-paying base of 3-4 crore people. 
The government cannot lower rates because income tax forms an important source of revenue for the government. In 2013-14, the government is likely to get Rs. 2.42 lakh crore as income tax (Revised Estimates), which is 21 per cent of total tax revenue estimated for the current fiscal.
The only alternative, then, is to widen the tax net to include many more Indians.
According to Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, India's tax-GDP ratio at 17.2 per cent in 2012-13 (Budget Estimate) is way below the average tax-GDP ratio for BRICS countries at 22 per cent.
But widening tax base is easier said than done. It involves more aggressive monitoring by tax authorities and taking some tough political decision, such as taxing agricultural income. There could also be a greater debate on abolishing the income tax as espoused by some sections of the main opposition party BJP.
Whatever be the means, rational taxes would not only lead to lower evasion, but also increased productivity.

India smartphone sales surge almost 3-fold to 44 million in 2013

Smartphone sales in the country grew almost three-fold to over 44 million in 2013, buoyed by a strong uptake of affordable devices made by local firms such as Micromax and Karbonn, research firm IDC said today. Smartphone shipments stood at 16.2 million in 2012.
"India was one of the fastest-growing countries worldwide in terms of smartphone adoption in 2013. This surge has been mainly powered by homegrown vendors, which have shown a tremendous and consistent growth over the past four quarters of 2013," IDC said in a statement.
Korean player Samsung maintained its leadership with a 38 per cent share of the Indian smartphone market, followed by Micromax (16 per cent), Karbonn (10 per cent), Sony (5 per cent) and Lava (4.7 per cent) in Q4 2013.
There was a remarkable migration from feature phones to smartphones last year, primarily because of the narrowing price gaps between the two product categories, it added.
Overall phone shipments in the country rose 18 per cent to about 257 million units in 2013 from 218 million units in the previous year.
"Growth in the smartphone segment is expected to outpace the overall handset market growth for the foreseeable future. The end-user shift towards mid-to-high screen size products will be amplified by the declining prices and availability of feature-rich localised product offerings," it said.
In the overall phone market, Samsung was the market leader with a 19 per cent share in Q4 2013, followed by Micromax (13 per cent), Nokia (12 per cent), Karbonn (10 per cent) and Lava (6 per cent).
In the October-December 2013, vendors shipped 15.06 million smartphones compared with 5.35 million in Q4 2012.
There was a spike in smartphone shipments by smaller domestic vendors such as Lava and Intex in the quarter.
"Growth in the smartphone market is being propelled by the launch of low-end, cost competitive devices by international and local vendors which are further narrowing the price gaps that exist between feature phones and smartphones," IDC India senior market analyst Manasi Yadav said.
International vendors have understood the importance of creating a diverse portfolio of devices at varied price points and are striving to launch cost competitive devices that cater to every segment in the target audience, IDC India research manager Kiran Kumar said.
The 5 inch-6.99 inch screen size smartphones (phablets) accounted for about 20 per cent of the overall market in Q4. The overall mobile phone market (feature and smart phones) stood at 67.83 million units in Q4 2013, up 16 per cent year-on-year.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why is the US spending so much on the F-35 fighter?

Despite incessant technical problems and delays, the US military has no plans to cancel the new F-35 fighter jet, the costliest weapons program in Pentagon history.

The Joint Strike Fighter has been touted as a technological wonder that will dominate the skies but it has suffered one setback after another, putting the project seven years behind schedule and $167 billion over budget.

As the Pentagon prepares to unveil its proposed budget for 2015, the program's survival is not in doubt but it remains unclear how many planes will be built in the end and how many foreign partners will be willing to buy it.

- Why has the F-35 program reached the point of no return? - 

After more than a decade since it was launched, officials insist there is no going back on the program, as the plane is supposed to form the backbone of the future fighter jet fleet.

The US Air Force and the Marine Corps have not invested in an alternative, having put all their eggs in the F-35 basket. The Navy, in theory, could bail out if it wanted and opt to buy more F-18 jets, but it is under intense pressure to keep in line.

The project has become "too big to fail," said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and former White House official.

The F-35 enjoys broad backing in Congress, as contractor Lockheed Martin has spread the work for the plane across 45 US states.

Foreign allies also have committed to the program, and Washington has promised to deliver a game-changing plane. 

- How much does it cost? - 

As a one-size-fits-all plane, and with US allies invited to take part, the program originally was touted as a money-saving idea.

But the program's costs have snowballed, for an estimated 68 percent increase over its initial price tag. The Pentagon now plans to spend $391.2 billion on 2,443 aircraft, with each plane costing a staggering $160 million.

When taking into account the cost of flying and maintaining the F-35 over the course of its life, the program could surpass a trillion dollars, according to the Government Accountability Office.

- Why is the F-35 touted as a "revolutionary" warplane? - 

The aircraft is billed as the ultimate stealth attack plane, with a design enabling it to evade radar detection. 

When the F-35 confronts an adversary in the air, the enemy plane "will die before it even knows it's even in a fight," Air Force chief General Mark Welsh told CBS television's "60 Minutes" show.

Equipped to fly at supersonic speeds and outfitted with elaborate software, the F-35 resembles a flying computer. Through the visor of a hi-tech helmet linked up with cameras on the plane, the pilot can see through the floor of the cockpit to the ground below -- providing the pilot an unprecedented 360-degree picture.

- Why is the program behind schedule and what is the effect of the delays? - 

The aircraft will not enter into service before 2016, ten years after its first flight. 

The main cause of the delay was a decision to start building the plane before testing was finished. As a result, bugs and other technical glitches keep forcing repairs and redesign work, slowing down production.

The 24 million lines of code for the plane's software have posed a persistent headache, and the jet has yet to attain the level of performance and reliability expected.

On Friday, the program office acknowledged to AFP that the F-35B, the short-takeoff variant for the Marine Corps, suffered cracks in its bulkheads during stress tests. As a result, the durability tests have been suspended and the plane may have to be modified.

Like other weapons programs in the past, the technical problems are driving up the cost of each plane, and that is forcing Washington to scale back the number of aircraft it will buy.

The Pentagon already has announced plans to purchase only 34 of the jets in fiscal year 2015, instead of the 42 originally planned.

- What countries plan to buy the aircraft? - 

Apart from the United States, eight countries are taking part in the program: Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

Israel has expressed an interest in the plane, as has Japan, South Korea and Singapore. 

Some governments have ordered their first aircraft but with the cost of each plane rising, purchase plans remain tentative.

Messaging, more real than 500 online 'friends'

Weary of noisy social networks filled with mundane updates from the most remote acquaintances, millions of people have turned to their smartphone address books - and the diverse array of messaging services that rely on them, like Snapchat, Secret, Kik and WhatsApp - for more intimate social connections. Now the stampede toward those messaging services has Silicon Valley's giants scrambling to catch up.

Being able to tap into this address-book messaging is a major reason why Facebook decided that WhatsApp, the most popular of these services, was worth as much as $19 billion. In announcing this week it would buy WhatsApp, Facebook is betting that the future of social networking will center on not just broadcasting to the masses but also the ability to quickly and efficiently communicate with your family and closest confidants - those people you care enough about to have their numbers saved on your smartphone.

Facebook has long defined the digital social network, and the average adult Facebook user has more than 300 friends. The company's strategy has mostly been about making that circle of friends even bigger, cajoling users into combining their friends, former friends, co-workers, second cousins and everyone they've ever met into a single, ballooning social network.

But the average adult has far fewer friends - perhaps just a couple in many cases, researchers say - to whom they talk regularly in their real-world social network.

"The prominence of the address book simply reflects the shift in relevance on the Internet to cater to the most universal and basic human need: communication," David Byttow, a founder of a new messaging application called Secret, said in an email. "The address book is a simple, reusable list for any application, and simplicity always wins."

Services like Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook encourage users to share from the rooftop every life event and moment as material to be viewed and commented on. The Internet enabled that sort of broad outreach like never before, and the services continue to grow, as more than 1 billion people have signed up on Facebook alone.

Yet the popularity of private-messaging applications like WhatsApp, which has more than 450 million users, suggests that despite all the technological advances in recent decades, people still crave to communicate in small groups and often just with one person at a time.

"There's a very human need for intimate, one-to-one communications," said Susan Etlinger, an analyst with Altimeter Group, who studies social technologies.

While the original ideas behind services like Facebook and Twitter may have been to connect people, Etlinger said, they have "evolved into a news feed," one that is increasingly clogged by advertisements, brands and near-strangers, all competing to be seen and heard.

In addition, many people may be growing tired of worrying about how an image or status update will be perceived by their broader social network of employers, in-laws and ex-flames.

"Contacting someone on Facebook is the equivalent of opening up the phone book and calling someone," said Scott Feinberg, 22, a user of WhatsApp. "With WhatsApp you've given me your number and actually want me to contact you."

Facebook and other major tech companies have tried several times to roll out their own messaging applications, but they have not caught on like the products introduced by startups. 
Messenger, Facebook's flagship chat product, was originally conceived as an alternative to email but is primarily used by people on Facebook to send notes to their friends within the network.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, acknowledged those shortcomings in a call to investors and analysts after the WhatsApp announcement. He also said his interest in WhatsApp came from realizing that "it's a service for very quick and reliable real-time communication with all your contacts and small groups of people."

Some analysts took Zuckerberg's move to buy WhatsApp as a signal that Facebook was vulnerable despite its huge user base. For the most part, though, the new social networks that focus on smaller groups of people are being used in addition to services like Facebook and Twitter, not instead of them, a point Zuckerberg made on the call with investors.

"WhatsApp also complements our services and will add a lot of new value to our community," he said. 

Whether the two kinds of social networks can coexist and thrive remains to be seen. It could well be that younger Facebook users, who tend to have more friends on the service than older users, have more of a need for a separate service. But with the addition of WhatsApp, Facebook has positioned itself to be ready if the move away from its core offerings is swift.

It could turn out that the dominant messaging platform has still not emerged. David Lee, an investor who is one of the founders of the prominent Silicon Valley firm SV Angel, said that he was watching the next-generation messaging category with intense interest. But he said it was not yet clear which ones would have long-term staying power.

According to Lee, these apps take off because people can quickly import their friends. But once people get bored or distracted by the latest hot app, "it's just easier to switch and move on to the next one."

The services that stick around, he said, will be the ones that people return to every day. 

Adam Ludwin, a serial entrepreneur who is working on a new messaging application, Ether, said Facebook was future-proofing itself for a sea change in social media: In the near-term future, people's mobile numbers will be as tied to their digital identities as their Facebook, Google or Twitter accounts.

"The address book is a very unique thing that sits on the phone and isn't available to the desktop world," Ludwin said. "It allows you to build services that have the potential to grow very fast."

Chiqui Matthew, 35, who works in finance, said he preferred services like WhatsApp. "I fear all communication in the digital age is being reduced to shouting in a crowded theater," he said in an email. "Everything is absolute, declarative, exclaimed, public and generally lacking in the nuance of face-to-face conversation. I like the digital version of a 'cocktail party whisper.' An intimation meant to be intimate."

But even Matthew has not given up on Facebook completely. He made his comment after responding to a Facebook post. 

Google 'Project Tango' 3D vision smartphone platform announced

Google announced a new research project Thursday aimed at bringing 3D technology to smartphones, for potential applications such as indoor mapping, gaming and helping blind people navigate.
The California tech giant said its "Project Tango" would provide prototypes of its new smartphone to outside developers to encourage the writing of new applications.

Project leader Johnny Lee said the goal of the project, which incorporates robotics and vision-processing technology, is "to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion."
"What if you could capture the dimensions of your home simply by walking around with your phone before you went furniture shopping?" Google said on its Project Tango web page.

"What if directions to a new location didn't stop at the street address? What if you never again found yourself lost in a new building? What if the visually impaired could navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places? What if you could search for a product and see where the exact shelf is located in a super-store?"

The technology could also be used for "playing hide-and-seek in your house with your favorite game character, or transforming the hallways into a tree-lined path."

Smartphones are equipped with sensors which make over 1.4 million measurements per second, updating the positon and rotation of the phone.

Partners in the project include researchers from the University of Minnesota, George Washington University, German tech firm Bosch and the Open Source Robotics Foundation, among others.
Another partner is California-based Movidius, which makes vision-processor technology for mobile and portable devices and will provide the processor platform.

Movidius said in a statement the goal was "to mirror human vision with a newfound level of depth, clarity and realism on mobile and portable connected devices."

"Google has paved the future direction for smart mobile vision systems and we're excited to be working with a company that shares our vision to usher in the next wave of applications that fundamentally alter how a mobile device is used to experience the world around us," said Remi El-Ouazzane, chief executive of Movidius.

"Project Tango is truly a groundbreaking platform and we look forward to seeing the innovation the developer community achieves," he added.

Friday, February 21, 2014

WhatsApp Shows How Phone Carriers Lost Out on $33 Billion

Facebook Inc.’s $19 billion purchase of mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp Inc. is a stark reminder of how much money phone carriers are losing out on as competitors let users text and chat at no charge.
Free social-messaging applications like WhatsApp cost phone providers around the world -- from Vodafone Group Plc toAmerica Movil SAB and Verizon Communications Corp. -- $32.5 billion in texting fees in 2013, according to research from Ovum Ltd. That figure is projected to reach $54 billion by 2016.
As more customers have switched to smartphones with better Internet access, people are relying more on applications such as WhatsApp to communicate. Instant-messaging services have taken off outside the U.S. where carriers don’t throw unlimited texting into voice and data plans. The rise of these applications has offered a cheaper source of communication, especially for correspondence between different countries, undercutting the texts that had once been a key source of income for carriers worldwide.
“The trend has been that messaging is eating away into that revenue, in some countries more than others, and that trend will continue,” Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless analyst in Issaquah, Washington, said in an interview. “The impact of free messaging has been felt worldwide. WhatsApp has clearly been the cream of the crop.”

WhatsApp Growth

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, said this week that it’s buying WhatsApp in a deal that values each of its 450 million active monthly users at $42. Free for the first year and 99 cents annually thereafter, WhatsApp is almost always cheaper than texting, especially across national borders.
With a particularly strong following in Europe, India and Latin America, the service is rapidly displacing traditional text messaging as the preferred method for young people to stay in touch on mobile devices. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 29-year-old chief executive officer, said he expects WhatsApp to reach more than 1 billion people worldwide in the next few years.
WhatsApp, Rebtel, Viber, KakaoTalk and other services use the Internet to send data instead of a a cellular network, allowing users to send text, multimedia and voice messages for free, or close to it.

Texting Decline

As free services continue to gain in popularity, U.S. text-messaging revenue will decline 3 percent to 4 percent this year from $21 billion in 2013, Sharma estimated. Globally, carriers’ texting revenues will peak by 2016 and then start to drop as well, he said.
The apps have eroded such revenue for several years and were a big reason why U.S. carriers began to include unlimited SMS in many of their service plans, Roger Entner, an analyst at Dedham, Massachusetts-based Recon Analytics LLC, said in an interview. The first SMS, or short message service, text was sent over Vodafone’s network in 1992.
“The wireless carriers were very concerned that WhatsApp and others would intermediate them,” Entner said. “So the wireless carriers found the most consumer-friendly solution -- they gave it away, too. And that took away the incentive to join WhatsApp.”
However, carriers in other parts of the world still charge high fees for texts, and their revenue will be affected as WhatsApp’s popularity spreads, Entner said.

Mexico Popularity

In Mexico, for instance, almost 90 percent of all instant messaging goes through WhatsApp, according to Ernesto Piedras, director of the Competitive Intelligence Unit, a telecommunications consulting firm based in Mexico City.
“From about a year and a half ago, WhatsApp use in Mexico has become overwhelming,” he said in an interview. “It’s convenient to use, and the more people have it, the more people use it.”
Six to eight years ago, phone companies in Mexico generated about 15 percent of their revenue from text messaging, Piedras said. Now it’s less than half of that.
WhatsApp also had an impact in Holland, where carrier Royal KPN NV didn’t offer free texts as a part of its bundles, Mark Little, a London-based consumer analyst at Ovum, said in an interview.
“KPN’s SMS revenues plummeted because people used something better and free,” he said. “Other regions haven’t made the same mistake.”

International Plans

Many carriers’ international-texting revenue may be in limbo. Five percent to 10 percent of U.S. wireless subscribers send a significant number of texts to friends and relatives overseas,Charles Golvin, an independent wireless analyst, said in an interview. They often pay 20 cents to 25 cents for a plain text message, and as much as 50 cents per multimedia message.
“Facebook might encourage U.S. users to be more aware of WhatsApp as an alternative,” Golvin said. “We might see the carriers start to reduce their fees for international messages, or bundle their international messages into a package.”
Most U.S. carriers have moved to flat-rate, unlimited text messaging offers. AT&T, for example, has a $10 a month plan that includes international texts. Users on that plan are limited to 100 messages and charged 20 cents per message afterward.
When asked about the threat to text-messaging revenue from apps like WhatsApp, Debi Lewis, a spokeswoman for New York-based Verizon, said the company includes unlimited messaging as part of its shared data plans. Last week, Verizon added unlimited international text and multimedia messaging to the “More Everything” pricing plans.
Texting isn’t dying anytime soon, Little said.
“At the moment, the telcos have actually been responding to the use of free social messaging by including lots of free SMS in their” bundles, he said. “However, WhatsApp does offer a very sleek and simple, high-quality user experience that one might argue the old interface of SMS or texting doesn’t.”

Delhi's alarming pollution level can reduce life expectancy by three years: study

Delhi is coughing hard and the air is to blame. Satellite pictures of Delhi's pollution should set off alarm bells - the city has PM2.5 or particulate matter 2.5 many times higher than the levels that World Health Organisation says is safe. 

This has meant a 10 to 15 per cent jump in complaints of respiratory ailments this winter, say doctors. 

Prof Randeep Guleria, Head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine, AIIMS told NDTV, "Those who come to Delhi on work or as students have complained of breathing problems they never had. And those with respiratory problems say their discomfort is now prolonged and more pronounced."

This has meant more and more people queuing up at hospital OPDs. In one such long queue of coughing, wheezing people at the AIIMS or All India Institute of Medical Sciences' Pulmonary OPD is daily wage earner, Sher Singh, a 50-year-old who decided to see a doctor after initially ignoring repeated complaints of cold, cough and congestion over the last three months.

"It has been particularly bad this season. I don't have asthma but breathing has become so difficult I finally had to come to the hospital," Sher Singh said. 

Here is why: PM2.5 or particulate matter 2.5 basically are particles floating in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers, which is 100 times thinner than a human hair. These are toxic organic compounds and heavy metals hanging low in the air as the grey smog that envelopes the city. 

When people inhale, they breathe in the particles which could then travel deep into the lungs causing serious respiratory problems. 

A new paper suggests that such high levels of pollution can reduce life expectancy by three years.

Rohini Pande who is a Professor of Public Policy at Harvard and wrote that paper says, "We see that looking across 180 Indian cities in 2010, the ambient air quality as measured by SPM (suspended particulate matter) is roughly twice the national standard (60 micrograms per cubic meter) and over six times the standard recommended by WHO (25 micrograms per cubic meter).

She says that if particulate matter pollution is brought down to the prescribed levels, then life expectancy can be increased by three years.