Technology Now
The business and culture of our digital lives
Chromecast, Roku lead 2013 sales in growing video-streaming market

Chromecast and Roku gadgets accounted for more than half of the video-streaming devices sold in the U.S. in 2013, according to a new survey.

Parks Associates, a market research firm, said Chromecast and Roku each accounted for about 32% of U.S. sales of the devices, which connect to the Internet to play content from services such as Netflix and YouTube. Coming in third place was Apple TV, which accounted for 18% of 2013 U.S. sales. 

Chromecast's sales are particularly impressive considering the device was not released until July of last year, yet it was able to beat Apple and match Roku. Barbara Kraus, director of research for Parks Associates, said this was possible thanks to Chromecast's small size, Google's brand name and the gadget's low $35 price point.

"It was priced very well at a nice point where it was an impulse purchase that didn't carry really any level of risk for the purchaser," Kraus told The Times.

Parks Associates' data only includes sales for 2013, so there is no...

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FTC sues Amazon over millions of dollars for in-app purchases made by kids

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is suing alleging that the online retailer unlawfully billed parents millions of dollars for mobile in-app purchases accidentally made by their kids.

The federal complaint, which was filed in Washington’s District Court on Thursday, asks for a court order requiring Amazon to refund customers for unauthorized charges and to ban the company from billing parents for in-app charges made by children without their consent.

According to the complaint, many of the kid-friendly games and apps on Amazon mobile devices, such as the Kindle Fire, encourage children to pay for virtual in-game items with real world money, usually connected to their parent’s bank account.

Amazon, which, according to the complaint, collects 30% of all in-app charges, allegedly did not require password certification on in-app purchases when the company launched the service in November 2011.

Thousands of parents have complained to Amazon about in-app purchases made by children...

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Uber passengers allegedly taken on wild car chase in D.C., Virginia

Three Uber customers were allegedly taken on the ride of their lives this week when their driver decided to flee from a taxi inspector and race through Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

"Was just kidnapped by an @uber driver in DC, held against my will, and involved in a high speed chase across state lines with police #Crazy," tweeted Ryan Simonetti, a New York businessman who was in town on business,  according to the Washington Post.

The incident occurred when Simonetti and two colleagues ordered an Uber so they could head to Washington's Tysons Corner after finishing up a meeting near the city's Verizon Center. As they approached the car they saw a taxi inspector talking to their driver. They climbed in and the driver drove away from the inspector, who then hopped into his own car and began following.

That's when the Uber driver allegedly began driving like a wild man, running through a red light before racing down Interstate 395. The Uber driver said that if he stopped he could get a...

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Samsung will unveil virtual-reality headset in September, report says

As if it didn't have its hands in enough product categories already, Samsung will reportedly unveil a virtual-reality headset in September.

The South Korean giant will announce the Gear VR at the IFA electronics trade show in Germany, where it is also expected to introduce the fourth edition of its Galaxy Note large-screen smartphone, according to the SamMobile tech blog. 

Reports of a Samsung headset surfaced earlier this year, but SamMobile is the first to say when Samsung plans to announce the gadget. Samsung declined to comment. 

The Gear VR works by connecting to users' Samsung smartphones using a USB 3.0 cable. Once connected, the smartphone's processor powers the headset while its gyroscope and accelerometer sensors give the Gear VR head-tracking capabilities. Users wear the Gear VR like a pair of glasses to achieve a virtual-reality effect. The gadget is expected to be used for gaming. 

Virtual-reality headsets have had a big year, beginning with Sony's March unveiling of...

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Big-data start-ups become target for investors

A new Los Angeles venture capital fund was among 78 funds nationwide to raise money in the second quarter of 2014, the largest number of funds pulling in money since 2007, according to the National Venture Capital Assn. and Thomson Reuters.

Though the funds raised 19% less money than in the previous quarter, the $7.4 billion raised still points to a strong market for start-ups to snag investments, the association said Wednesday. The growing number of successful initial public stock offerings of technology companies is paying off for venture capital firms, and likely spurring them to re-invest.

"This reinvestment cycle is not only good for the venture firms and their limited partners, but for the next crop of American innovators that want to take their businesses to the next level,” said Bobby Franklin, president and chief executive of the association.

In Los Angeles, four angel investors announced last week that they have formed Susa Ventures, which will split $25 million among about...

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Apple granted patent for all-glass iPhone, iPad building process

Apple has been granted a patent for a method to create all-glass shells for electronic devices, such as iPhones and iPads.

The method described in the patent, first reported by Apple Insider, would allow Apple to create glass shells that are durable and lightweight. Glass shells would be created by fusing together separate glass pieces and then machining them down to the desired shape.

Consumers should not expect a glass iPhone or iPad in 2014, but the patent may be a clue about what's to come from Apple. The Cupertino, Calif., company is known for its high-caliber product design, but it frequently changes up its style. For example, Apple has used several different materials to create the exterior of the last few iPhone models. 

The iPhone 4 and 4s featured glass front and back panels with metallic edges. The exterior of the iPhone 5 and 5s was the opposite, built predominantly out of metal with just a few glass panels. The iPhone 5c, meanwhile, features a plastic shell. Apple has...

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YouTube video purportedly shows larger, sturdier iPhone 6 screen

A new iPhone will have a bigger screen, according to a popular YouTube reviewer who contends he’s gotten his hands on a production version of the upcoming iPhone 6's outer screen.

The screen measures 4.7 inches diagonally, up from the iPhone’s current standard 4 inches. Apple, however, has not announced any official details about the next iPhone model -- and has not said whether the phone would come in different sizes.

In his YouTube video, Marques Brownlee also says the new screen is made of “sapphire crystal glass,” which Apple already uses to cover camera lenses on iPhones and iPads and the home button on the current iPhone, the 5s.

Sapphire crystal glass is reputed as harder and more scratch-resistant than Gorilla Glass. That claim is refuted by Corning, maker of Gorilla Glass, which is now used for current iPhone and iPad screens and many other devices. Review site Cult of Mac put the two kinds of glass to the test.

Brownlee credited famed Apple leaker Sonny Dicksonfor providing him...

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More tablets to be sold than PCs in 2015, report says

Don't be surprised if you start to see more people with tablets than laptops -- a report Monday said tablet shipments will exceed PCs by 2015. 

Gartner said worldwide tablet shipments -- meaning units sold from manufacturers to retailers -- will climb from 256 million in 2014 to nearly 321 million next year. At the same time, shipments of desktops and laptops will fall from 276 million this year to less than 262 million in 2015. 

The shift represents the first time tablet shipments surpass PCs, which would be a monumental change in the tech landscape. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs predicted the shift in 2010, calling it the "post-PC" era, comparing desktops and laptops to trucks.

"We were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that's what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers and America started to move into those urban and then suburban centers, cars got more popular," he said. "PCs are going to be like trucks. They're still going...

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Privacy group calls for regulators to act against Facebook

An online privacy organization filed a complaint against Facebook with U.S. regulators Thursday, saying the company “purposefully messed with people's minds” in conducting a controversial 2012 experiment.

Facebook has come under fire after details of the study were released recently. The social network slightly altered which posts some users saw on their feeds, with some seeing happier updates and others seeing more negative ones.

The goal was to see whether the emotional content of posts was contagious.

The study has already drawn scrutiny from United Kingdom regulators, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center is hoping the Federal Trade Commission will also look into it.

EPIC says the study was deceptive to users, and has accused the social networking site of not getting permission from users to conduct the study.

Facebook officials have acknowledged that the study was mishandled.

“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do...

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HTC posts profit in second quarter with the help of One (M8) smartphone

HTC showed signs of life Thursday, reporting a net profit of $75.5 million for the quarter ending June 30.

Despite the positive results, analysts remain skeptical of the company's long-term fortunes.

The Taiwanese company's second-quarter net profits were an 80% improvement from its results a year ago, and they end a string of three consecutive quarters in which the company posts an operating loss. In the previous quarter, HTC had posted a net loss of $62.8 million.

Leading the way for HTC in the second quarter was its new One (M8) flagship smartphone. The device was launched in late March, just before the start of the second quarter, and it was received with positive reviews. HTC has not disclosed sales of the gadget, but it has said that the device is outperforming its predecessor, the 2013 HTC One. 

HTC also helped its second quarter fortunes by launching the Desire 816, a low-cost device intended to help the company compete in emerging markets. HTC also made efforts to cut costs...

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Amazon says it will fight FTC on in-app purchases made by children is resisting a request by the Federal Trade Commission to set stricter controls on in-app purchases made by children.

The Seattle company is facing a potential lawsuit by the FTC on the matter and is prepared to go to court to defend itself, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited a proposed complaint as well as a letter from Amazon to the FTC.

In the letter, Amazon vowed to stand by its current practices in court "rather than agree to fines and additional record keeping and disclosure requirements over the next 20 years," the Journal said.

Increasingly, many apps allow users to buy various virtual goods once they've been installed on a smartphone or tablet.

Amazon maintains that its app store already includes a "prominent notice of in-app purchasing, effective parental controls and real-time notice of every in-app purchase," according to its letter to the FTC.

But the FTC wants Amazon to make its notices more prominent, require passwords for all in-app purchases...

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Lindsay Lohan sues 'Grand Theft Auto V' makers, claims use of likeness

Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit against the makers of Grand Theft Auto V, claiming they used her likeness for one of the characters of the popular video game. 

Lohan reportedly filed the civil suit with the state Supreme Court in New York on Wednesday, her 28th birthday. The suit alleges that Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive's use of a character named Lacey Jonas is an "unequivocal" reference to the "Mean Girls" and "The Parent Trap" actress.

The Jonas character appears in the game hiding behind a car from paparazzi before asking one of the main characters for a ride. "Please, I'm hardly wearing any makeup," the Jonas character says. Later, Jonas gets frustrated when the main character doesn't recognize her. "I'm really famous! I didn't do anything -- this is my average commute," she says, as they evade photographers. 

"The portraits of the Plaintiff (Lohan) incorporated her image, likeness, clothing, outfits, Plaintiff’s clothing line products, ensemble in the form of hats, hair...

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