Technology Now
The business and culture of our digital lives
Amazon Fire Phone not enticing enough to leave Apple, Android made its boldest move yet into the electronics hardware business by entering the fiercely competitive smartphone market earlier this month with the release of the Amazon Fire Phone.

The Amazon smartphone is suited with top-of-the-line components and priced to compete with other high-end devices. The Fire Phone is a perfectly capable gadget, but it isn’t so remarkable that Apple or Android owners will jump ship. At best, the device is a convenient choice for devout Amazon shoppers, but at worst, it’s just another fish in a sea of smartphones.

The Amazon Fire Phone looks like an oversized black iPhone with front and back glass panels, curved corners, and a narrow, rectangular build. But it diverges in a couple of ways. The Fire Phone has rubber side edges, prominently features the Amazon logo on its back and it includes a speaker on both its top and bottom sides for stereo sound -- a rarity among smartphones.

But the Fire Phone’s most distinguishable feature is its four...

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Amazon jumps into 3-D printing market with bobbleheads, more

From personalized miniature bobbleheads to flower vases, Amazon’s new 3-D printing marketplace plans to simplify the 3-D printing process for consumers.

The online retailer, which launched the marketplace Monday, offers users the ability to customize a number of objects including jewelry, bobbleheads and wax seals before having them 3-D printed and shipped out, just like any other Amazon transaction.

Making the customization aspect of the website more accessible to 3-D printing novices is important, Amazon Marketplace Sales Director Petra Schindler-Carter said, because it opens a new marketplace to more consumers.

“It’s an innovation that we’re excited to invest in,” she said.

3-D printers use a variety of materials to create objects including toys and casts for broken bones. The printers themselves often cost several hundreds of dollars, and usually require a rudimentary knowledge of technical programs like AutoCAD to begin building 3-D designs.

Amazon is offering more than 200...

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10 nonprofits receive gift of Web facelifts by L.A. coders

With help from buckets of Red Bull, trays of sandwiches and some last-minute cake, nearly 50 software developers stayed up for the better part of 24 hours last weekend in Santa Monica to build apps for nonprofit organizations.

The technology industry hasn’t enjoyed the rosiest of relationships with their communities (see: the Google bus protests). But there’s hope that future flare-ups could be staved off in part by a growing number of hack-a-thons across the country that are oriented toward a cause.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to create an ecosystem of goodwill,” said Zach Suchin, chief executive of product development company Brand Knew, which organized the Causathon at the General Assembly school in Santa Monica.

The event attracted coders including those still in college and the winning squad, a group of friends from an El Segundo digital agency. Emerging from the chaos of charging cords, Red Bull cans and even a toothbrush were 11 projects. Eight judges, including Los...

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Apple to buy Swell, a talk-radio app, for $30 million, report says

Apple Inc. is reportedly set to pay $30 million to acquire Swell, a Pandora-like app for Internet talk radio. 

The deal was reported late Sunday night by Re/Code, which cited multiple anonymous sources. Neither Apple nor the Mountain View, Calif., start-up responded to requests for comment.

Swell plays podcasts in continuous streams that personalize for each user over time based on the programs they listen to and skip. Swell is currently available for Apple iOS devices and has a beta version for Android. The app will shut down this week, according to Re/Code.

If the acquisition is completed, Swell will be Apple's second audio streaming purchase this year, after acquiring Beats Music in May as part of a $3-billion purchase that also included headphone maker Beats Electronics. Beats Music lets users stream more than 20 million songs for $9.99 per month.

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Pinterest, dominated by white and Asian workers, looks to diversify

Like many other big tech companies, Pinterest says it knows it has a problem with diversity, or lack thereof.

Despite having users who are overwhelmingly female, Pinterest’s employees are 60% male, and 92% of the company’s 400 employees are white or Asian.

In a blog post published Thursday, the photo-sharing social media giant revealed that only 21% of the San Francisco-based company’s tech positions are filled by women, and more than 80% of its executives are male.

These imbalances are common in the tech world, Pinterest software engineer Tracy Chou said in an interview with The Times. Chou has been advocating for diversity in the tech industry at Pinterest and in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley-based tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo have all published uninspiring diversity data over the last few weeks, and information collected by Chou breaking down gender in computer engineering reveals an industry-wide problem.

But Chou, with stints at Facebook and Quora...

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Bose accuses Beats Electronics of infringing its headphone patents

Audio systems maker Bose Corp. filed a complaint to stop the sale of several headphones made by Beats Electronics, accusing the Culver City firm of infringing several patents for noise-reduction methods.

The complaint, filed Friday with the International Trade Commission, alleges that the Beats Studio and Beats Studio Wireless headphones used patented technology owned by Bose.

The patents relate to a method that uses a microphone within a headphone to detect unwanted ambient noise. The headphone then produces a sound wave that cancels out that noise.

The Beats headphones are made by Fugang Electronic Co. in China and imported by the Irish firm PCH International, both of which also were named in the Bose complaint.

Bose said its patented technology is used in its QuietComfort 20 and QuietComfort 20i headphones. The Framingham, Mass., company wants the commission to investigate the matter and ban imports and sales of the infringing Beats headphones.

Bose also seeks unspecified damages. 


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Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins expands educational gaming app

Trip Hawkins' educational gaming company If You Can on Thursday released an expansion of its iPad game that aims to teach children lessons about social and emotional behavior.

This year Hawkins, formerly the founder and chief executive of games giant Electronic Arts, unveiled the new game, called "If." Trying to meld the best techniques of gameplay with educational objectives, the game seeks to teach children lessons on things such as compassion and bullies by taking them on a journey with a rich, imaginary set of characters.

The game will eventually enable children to move through a series of chapters, and on Thursday If You Can released the second chapter of the game. In addition, the game now has a dashboard for parents to monitor their childrens' progress and to help them reinforce lessons in the real world.

The game is free to download for the iPad and iPhone, and it can also be played on a Mac or PC. The first chapter is free to play. After that, the games requires a $5-a-month...

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Tablet giants Apple, Samsung feel heat as competitors gain steam

When a company saturates its home market with a once-hot product, expect it to pump up its presence in foreign lands to keep the momentum going.

That old-time tactic is proving tough in tablet computers, where leaders Apple and Samsung are under heavy pressure in emerging markets from China’s Lenovo, Taiwan’s ASUS, and other tablet upstarts.  

Apple iPad shipments took a dive in the last quarter ended in June, down 9.3%. South Korea’s Samsung recently reported a quarterly tablet  shipment increase of only 1.6%. Lenovo and ASUS, meantime, were up 64.7% and 13.1%.

Both companies continue to dominate the global tablet market – heading toward $85 billion this year, according to ABIresearch – but their position is under threat. “We’re seeing a lot of new entrants,” IDC Analyst Jean Philippe Bouchard told The Times. New tablet demand is gaining strength in regions where consumers want cheap devices, he said – not the kinds of products Apple and Samsung make. "It's low margin and high volume...

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Like other tech firms, Twitter's workforce is mostly male

Following in the footsteps of tech giants such as Facebook and Google, Twitter released employee diversity data Wednesday revealing that the social media heavyweight mainly employs white men.

Overall, Twitter reported a 70% male workforce, with 90% of tech positions filled by men. Non-tech positions were split 50-50, but leadership jobs for the San Francisco company were also dominated by males at 79%.

The company also reported ethnicity data for U.S. employees, revealing a workforce that is 59% white and 29% Asian. Worldwide, Twitter employees around 3,000 people.

“We are keenly aware that Twitter is part of an industry that is marked by dramatic imbalances in diversity — and we are no exception,” Twitter executive Janet Van Huysse said in a statement. “By becoming more transparent with our employee data, open in dialogue throughout the company and rigorous in our recruiting, hiring and promotion practices, we are making diversity an important business issue for ourselves.”

The lack...

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Six indicted in alleged hack of StubHub customers' credit cards

An international cyber-crime ring was able to take over StubHub user accounts to steal identifying information and use victims’ credit cards to purchase tickets to concerts and sporting events, authorities announced Wednesday.

Six people were indicted in connection with the alleged scheme to defraud users on the popular online ticket marketplace. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the proceeds were transferred through a global network of accomplices in the United States, Britain, Russia and Canada.

StubHub, an EBay subsidiary, allows customers to buy and sell tickets to concerts, sporting events and other live entertainment. The company, according to authorities, discovered that more than a thousand accounts had been compromised by hackers who were fraudulently hijacking users’ credit cars.

StubHub implemented new security measures to stop the fraud, but authorities said the hackers were able to get around the new hurdles by using credit card information stolen from...

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Apple to offer 1 million users beta version of OS X Yosemite

Apple won't officially release its OS X Yosemite desktop software until this fall, but on Thursday, the Cupertino company will give 1 million users early access to a beta version of the operating system. 

The last time Apple gave the public beta access a new desktop operating system was in 2000, when it charged $29.95 to try out the first version of OS X. This time, the beta version is free. Apple says it wants users to test drive the software and give feedback. "Your comments will help us make OS X better for all Mac users," Apple says on the Web page where people can go to sign up for the beta program.

Twitter: @sal19

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Why iTunes, apps and services may be key to Apple's future

Despite its ecosystem of products, Apple's business relies heavily on the sales of iPhones. In the third quarter results reported on Tuesday, iPhone sales were 52.7% of revenue.

But what's the second most important business? That's harder to answer, and it may shift in the coming quarters thanks to the category Apple calls "iTunes/Software/Services."  

Right now that category is fourth, behind iPads and Mac. But not by much. The company reported revenue of $5.889 billion from iPads and $5.54 billion from Macs. 

The iTunes, etc. category brought in $4.485 billion, up 12% from a year ago, and is coming on strong.

"For the first nine months of this fiscal year, the line item that we call iTunes Software and Services has been the fastest growing part of our business," said Apple chief executive Tim Cook in a conference call with analysts on Tuesday. "iTunes billings grew 25% year-over-year in the June quarter and reached an all-time quarterly high, thanks to the very strong results from...

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