Can it provide real change in a country like India, population 1.2 billion, which has been a tech resource for Silicon Valley in terms of talent and services but has been mired in poverty and bureaucracy? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrives in the Bay Area on Saturday, sees the potential of technology to create economic and social change in his country, and he is reaching out to the tech industry and specifically, Silicon Valley Indian-Americans, for help. And many among the Indian diaspora -- people born and educated in India -- welcome Modi's vision, which includes "Digital India," an $18 billion initiative to connect Indian cities and villages to the Internet.
Following new iPhone 6s upgrade/trade-in plans announced this week by both T-Mobile (starting from $5/month) and Sprint (starting from $1/month), now it’s Verizon’s turn to put on the boxing mitts and step into the ring.
While it’s admittedly not looking to deliver a knockout blow on pricing, it says its network offers the largest 4G LTE coverage in the U.S.
Re/code is specifically reporting that Verizon’s new plan will allow customers to “upgrade to a new [iPhone] every year if they have paid off half of their device’s cost and turned in their old device.”
While Verizon doesn’t appear to spell those terms out quite so clearly, it did say that “if you purchase either the iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus with Verizon’s Device Payment option beginning Friday, September 25, you’ll be eligible to get a new iPhone every year.”
Introducing the better way to always have the new iPhone: Verizon's new annual upgrade plan. http://t.co/yuT8cYgI2K
— Verizon News (@VerizonNews) September 24, 2015
The company is also offering customers who are not interested in upgrading the option to pay off their phone over 24 months.
Meanwhile, it takes a dig at the new leasing programs announced by rivals T-Mobile and Sprint, warning that they can include “surprise balloon payments just 18 months into your agreement, or ask you to turn over your phone without getting anything for it.”
Finally, Verizon is offering customers up to $400 when they switch and trade in an old smartphone.
There's having an iPhone 6s. Then there's having it on the best network. https://t.co/iQHl1AJ7rh
— Verizon (@verizon) September 24, 2015
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Watsi announced today that it has helped more than 5,000 patients from around the world receive funding for their medical treatment. To mark this occasion, the nonprofit organization says it’s starting a five-day campaign to raise additional funds and will match all donations made through its site through Monday. To date, $5 million has been donated to the program, with an average donation of $55.
“Our goal after raising our seed donation round two years ago was to prove the Watsi concept,” said cofounder and chief executive Chase Adam. “5,000 patients marks the success of that. Our next challenge is figuring out how to continue growing Watsi 100% every year.”
Dubbed by some as the “Kickstarter for third-world medical care,” Watsi makes it easy for people to donate to people around the world who are in need of medical treatment. The organization came to the attention of Silicon Valley and the technology industry in 2013 as the first nonprofit to ever be accepted by Y Combinator.
But how significant of a number is 5,000? To put it into context, when Watsi graduated from Y Combinator two years ago, it funded operations for 250 people. And the company told me the number of patients it funds is doubling each year.
The majority of patients come from Cambodia, Kenya, Tanzania, Guatemala, and Nepal, but that’s just five of the 20 countries where Watsi is helping people. 170 different procedures have been successfully paid for over the past couple of years and not just minor procedures, Watsi has donated treatment for brain tumors, cancer care, sight-restoring cataract surgery, and helped to battle malnutrition.
If you’re interested in donating to help someone in need or medical care, you can visit Watsi’s website and make a contribution there.
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Many of us are reading the press today about the launch of the newest iPhone tomorrow — the iPhone 6s — and wondering if upgrading is a good idea. Most of the early reviews of the phones say it’s debatable.
Of course it depends a lot on the phone you’re using now, and whether or not you’re under contract. But focusing on the appeal of the new phone itself, let’s turn down some of the noise (Live Photos is a parlor trick) and get to the real reasons to consider, or not consider, the iPhone 6s.
You could shoot better pictures. The new 6s phones have a 12-megapixel rear-facing iSight camera, which Apple says will create brighter and clearer stills and video. This is an improvement over the 8-megapixel rear camera in the iPhone 6. (The limitations of that camera can be clearly seen in the washed-out details of images.)
The front-facing (or “selfie”) camera also gets an upgrade with the iPhone 6s. The new phones ship with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, a decided improvement over the 1.2-megapixel camera in the iPhone 6.
3D Touch is actually pretty useful. The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus offer a new input feature called 3D Touch and haptic feedback. It’s a touchscreen technology that can detect various types of user touches. A “3D Touch” is a long finger-press on the screen that conveys a different message to the operating system than a light tap or a normal touch. The screen then responds with haptic feedback — a tap — that gives you the illusion you’ve pressed down on a physical button.
Your phone will run faster. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are powered by Apple’s new 64-bit A9 processor, which Apple says can render graphics up to 90 percent faster than earlier chips. The increased processing power, Apple said, will be most readily apparent in gameplay and video playback. The M9 motion co-processor is baked directly into the chipset in the phone to power things like health apps and Siri.
The iPhone 6 may offer some user faster wireless connection speeds. There’s a new antenna system inside the device that can theoretically (in the lab) produce LTE Advanced download speeds up to 300 Mbps. And a new 802.11ac Wi-Fi radio with multiple antennas could pump up Wi-Fi speeds.
It’s an expensive phone. Unlike many Android players, Apple has been able to stick to its premium price points for devices. And I mean premium. The top of the line iPhone 6s Plus 128GB version retails at $950. The bottom of the line iPhone 6s 16GB retails for $650. If you bought a Plus with a reasonably generous service plan, your monthly payment could be nearly $100.
It looks just like your existing phone. The iPhone 6s looks exactly like the iPhone 6, so you won’t the social cache of owning the latest and greatest Apple phone. If you get one of the new color options — space gray or rose gold — some people might notice. Sounds trivial, but to many people it’s not. Apple products, are “aspirational;” people are willing to pay the high price because they are accessorizing the smart, upwardly-mobile, affluent person they want to be.
Another commitment. It wasn’t that long ago since you signed a two-year contract with your wireless carrier. It was last year when you bought your new iPhone 6. Now you want the iPhone 6s.
Many buyers will choose to sign up for a 2-year contract instead of going month-to-month with a phone financing plan, or a lease. That will restart the clock on the contract period. And under the financing plans, you are on the hook to make payments for 12-24 months, depending on your carrier’s options.
Not that there aren’t any deals out there. Sprint is offering a dollar-per-month deal for the 16GB iPhone 6s, with trade-in of an old iPhone 6. Consumers who trade in can also get the 64GB version for $5.77 each month, and the 128GB model for $10.53 a month.
T-Mobile said consumers enrolled in its Jump program can get the 16GB iPhone 6s for $5 per month and no money down, or consumers can get the 16GB 6s Plus for $9 per month. However, for 64GB and 128GB models, consumers will have to pay an upfront cost of $99-$199, depending on the phone.
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Oculus VR chief technology officer John Carmack was desperate to get the block-building open-world game Minecraft into virtual reality, but it took a lot of effort and a meeting between two of the most powerful people in tech to make that happen.
At the Oculus Connect developer conference in Hollywood today, Carmack explained that, for him, VR gaming is all about exploring worlds. He explained that cresting a hill to see a beautiful vista “means something” when you’re in a head-mounted display, and he could think of no better game to bring that kind of experience alive than Mojang’s exploration-heavy phenomenon. So he got to work convincing Mojang and, eventually, Microsoft to let him make that happen — but he needed the power of Mark Zuckerberg to finally seal the deal.
“Minecraft was my quest, really, for the last year and a half,” Carmack said. “Before Gear VR even existed, Minecraft was something I was desperate to get into virtual reality because I thought it would be critically important.”
Carmack explained that while Minecraft is a game about exploring, it also has a number of other aspects that make it ideal for VR. It’s a metaverse with an infinite number of worlds where people can put on different skins to play as different characters. And it was with that stuff in mind that Oculus invited Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson into the office to talk about putting a version of the game into the Rift.
“We had Notch over,” said Carmack. “And we showed him early prototype stuff, and I talked with him about geeky programmer stuff for a long time. We were trying to get into a situation where he would let us try to put the [mobile] game on Gear VR — if it’s great, then we’ll see where we can go from there.”
But that didn’t work out right away. You might remember that when Facebook acquired Oculus in July 2014, Notch “blew up about it,” as Carmack puts it. Notch referred to the social media company as “creepy” and publicly stated that it wasn’t the partner he was envisioning when he backed the original Oculus Rift when it was just a Kickstarter project.
“Notch eventually got over that, and then there was the Microsoft acquisition,” said Carmack. “I started pestering Mojang about it. I would drive home this case that ‘we don’t want to ask anything from you. Just let me try to build this, and if you think it’s cool, then we’ll figure it out from there.'”
Carmack said he was so confident that Minecraft would work that he would agree to just about anything with Microsoft — and that seemed to do the trick.
“Microsoft actually got me GitHub access to the Minecraft: Pocket Edition code base,” he said. “But we signed a contract that our lawyers said was terrible. ‘They own everything you do. John, you’re basically working for Microsoft when you’re working on this.'”
But the CTO assured Facebook and Oculus’s legal team that this was worth it, and he got to work. Now, it’s up to him to get it up and running. He says he’s already given the framerate a boost and implemented head-tracking, which are the “fundamentals of VR.” But he’s also considering all kinds of other technical improvements — although, he notes that a lot of that stuff isn’t critical.
“It was amazing how quickly I was thinking to myself that I’m in the game and having fun,” he said. “I’ve played more hours of Minecraft in [Samsung’s] Gear VR than all other games put together. I still want to fix everything — I’ve talked to Mojang’s engineers about it. But it turns out that I wouldn’t say they are at all necessary for an initial release because I had an immense amount of fun with it.”
But despite all of that, Minecraft almost didn’t end up on the Oculus stage today. It took a last-minute emergency meeting to make that happen.
“I guess I can say this now. I got the email at 12:30 a.m. this morning that the deal was signed,” said Carmack. “We did all this preparation about how to announce it with the assumption that we would get to, but it really came down to the wire.”
Carmack said that after he did the initial work on Minecraft for VR about eight months ago, Oculus and Facebook spent the rest of the time trying to reach a deal with Mojang.
“I was willing to do just about anything,” he said. “On the phone I said that if this doesn’t happen, I’m going to cry. This will just be so terrible. This will be the best thing that we can do for the platform. But there are some problems that compilers can’t solve.”
It turns out that the solution was to get the top executives from Facebook and Microsoft together.
“Mark [Zuckerberg] and Satya [Nadella] were able to sit down and make sure that the deal happened,” said Carmack.
“I’ve called this my grail,” he continued. “I think it’s the single most important application that we can have to ensure we have an army of fanatic, passionate supporters that will advocate why VR is great. It’s part of this infinite playability that our current ecosystem is missing.”
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Foursquare expects Apple will sell roughly 16 million iPhone 6s and 6s Plus phones this weekend based on foot traffic leading up to the launch.
That would be a big leap from last year, when Apple sold 10 million of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus during opening weekend.
The app, which unearths shopping, eating, and entertainment destinations, is using its vast swathes of data about consumers and Apple stores to predict how many of the iPhone 6s will sell this weekend.
Here’s how it reached its conclusions:
Each time Apple launches a product, it sees a giant sales spike. To determine the degree to which sales will jump during the launch of the 6s phones, Foursquare looked at historical data comparing iPhone sales during a launch weekend with sales during the rest of the quarter.
Over the last three years, the difference between the average weekly sales and product launch weekends was roughly 200-300 percent, depending on the year.
It turns out that annual product-launch sales spikes roughly correspond to the increase in foot traffic that Apple’s stores see over the same period. During the iPhone 6 launch, for example, both foot traffic and sales experienced a 330 percent jump.
Already this week, Apple stores around the world are seeing 3.6 times the amount of foot traffic they do on average.
“That shows a level of enthusiasm that promises a better first weekend than we’ve seen in the past,” said Foursquare COO Jeff Glueck.
To collect foot traffic data, Foursquare taps into its 50 million users. The app turns on a background “awareness” feature when a person is in a location for more than five minutes, regardless of whether they have the Foursquare app open. Glueck assures me that all data collected is anonymized.
He also acknowledged that this metric doesn’t directly account for pre-orders online or phones sales through carrier stores. That said, the last few years indicate that foot traffic seems to be pretty closely related to sales. That means Apple is in for another banner year.