Friday, September 13, 2013

Welcome To The ReadWrite Family, ReadWrite Japan!

I’d like to welcome ReadWrite Japan to the ReadWrite family. Since Richard MacManus launched this site 10 years ago from New Zealand, ReadWrite has always had an international reach and outlook. Though we are now headquartered in San Francisco, we retain that point of view: Transformative technologies and smart opinions about them can come from anywhere. And thanks to the Internet, they can have broad reach and immediate impact on our lives. Think of Skype, born in Estonia, now part of Microsoft. Or the Japanese innovation of emoji, now a craze that Silicon Valley has translated as “stickers” and put in nearly every messaging app imaginable. ReadWrite has always covered these changes with an eye towards their consequences. We are known for our deep analysis, not just superficial recitations of the latest news. And we are very pleased, along with our partners at Yappa, to bring this to Japanese readers. Welcome to our global ReadWrite community.

Can Sony's Mad Scientists Fix Digital Photography?

Digital photography has been getting weird for a while, but this might take the cake. Sony has just unveiled its newest and arguably weirdest photography hardware experiment yet: a pair of devices that turn a smartphone into a much more powerful full-fledged digital camera. By latching onto its backplate like a giant squid, that is.
Unlike popular mobile photography accessories like the Olloclip lens, Sony's new creations, the Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 and Cyber-shot DSC-QX10, don't use a phone's camera at all. In fact, their squid-like knack for wrapping themselves around a phone is just a way for them to siphon off a smartphone's mobile network while turning it into a big viewfinder. The QX10 and QX100 both look like someone just lopped off the lens off of a DSLR and set it loose. And in many ways, that's pretty much true. The QX100 and QX10 look like lenses, but they're actually standalone cameras sans viewfinders, mounting on your phone and using its connection to share photos. The $500 QX100 is basically Sony's popular high-end compact RX100 II model stripped of a camera body. The $250 RX10 is the more casual consumer model, offering a smaller sensor and smaller price tag to match. Both will hit shelves on September 25, and they've already drummed up plenty of pre-order buzz on Amazon. The (Awkward) Space Between For any photographer who had high hopes for Samsung's Galaxy Camera, the QX10 and QX100 are intriguing—albeit very odd—little shooters. A bodyless camera that acts like a souped-up iPhone accessory looks weird, but it's pretty cool if you think about it. Sony admits that the new line is aimed at enthusiasts—after all, who else would buy a $250 or $500 device that scratches such a specific itch? But in a world where we can zap an iPhone photo to the world in seconds, the desire to shoot and share pro-quality photos online with ease burns bright. The QX10 and QX100 might just be proofs of concept, but they have a clever take on the tension between casual and serious photography. The Eye-Fi wireless memory card was a cool early solution to this, but in my experience the device is buggy at best—and a potentially unreliable SD card is anathema to any sensible photographer. Samsung's Galaxy Camera tackled the same issue last year, though disappointingly didn't offer a compelling boost in image quality. Zany lenses that clip onto the iPhone abound, but they can't conjure extra pixels or invent beautiful bokeh. Sony Isn't Afraid To See What Sticks The rise of mobile photography and the rocket fuel of the Instagram craze has left many traditional digital camera makers totally confounded. Unlike the Polaroids of the world, Sony has a pretty solid record of keeping up with the changing times. For camera makers, keeping pace with a fast-evolving industry isn't easy. With smartphones, most notably the iPhone, boasting cameras that can go toe-to-toe with the pros at low resolutions (think Web and Instagram), photography as an art and an industry has been flipped on its head over the past five years. But Sony just keeps pulling tricks out of its hat. The company's compact RX100 took everyone by storm, pairing a big sensor with a svelte little body perfect for travel. (It's so good that real photographers are even willing to give it a nod.) And Sony's NEX series of mirrorless interchangeable lens shooters garners consistently high marks. The potential Achilles heel here is Sony's "PlayMemories" app. From my experience testing Sony cameras in the past, the hardware is nearly always there, but the software can fall a bit short. Hopefully Sony has learned its lesson from its awkward early days of compact experimentation. After all, the company is clever when it comes to cameras. Sony's smartphone hardware may not dominate, but the QX10 and QX100 are clever little trojan horses into mobile—and a fun experiment for photography enthusiasts anxious to bridge the gap between their passion for quality and the instant online sharing of the Instagram age.

Zuckerberg's Surprise Speech: Facebook Needs Developers

Facebook needs apps. That's the message Mark Zuckerberg brought to the audience in a surprise appearance at Thursday's Parse Developer Conference, where he told attendees that Facebook wants to make it simple to build great applications. Zuckerberg reflected on his first days in Palo Alto building what would eventually become the world’s largest social network. “I wish Parse was around back then,” he said. Facebook acquired Parse, the San Francisco-based “backend as a service” startup, in April. The company provides services that help developers build mobile and web applications that span multiple platforms and devices without the need to focus on server management and related tasks. Zuckerberg’s 11th hour appearance underscores the big push Facebook is making in applications, as it strives to make itself into more than just a destination for sharing memes and Likes. The social network is doubling down on developers, building new tools for them and offering incentives for integrating Facebook's social features into mobile and Web applications. The company already offers Facebook Platform, which provides services that help developers create Facebook-interacting applications. The Parse acquisition extends that vision. In June, Parse said that over 100,000 applications are using its services, up by 20,000 since Parse joined Facebook. Parse is still growing quickly, according to cofounder and CEO Ilya Sukhar. “The idea is that Parse fits into Facebook’s current vision, which is that Facebook Platform should be the top platform to build, grow, and monetize cross-platform applications,” Sukhar said. In continuing the play to get more developers using its services, Parse announced five new products on Thursday. The two biggest additions are Background Jobs and Parse Analytics. Background Jobs allows developers to schedule recurring tasks, such as sending emails to users. A new analytics tool provides a dashboard to track any data points about an application. Parse announced the Unity SDK, the one mentioned in conjunction with Facebook’s announcement last week, which brings Parse services to Unity games across all platforms. The company also released two new cloud modules including the image module that will make it easy to pull photos from Parse-powered apps. “As you watch Parse going forward, Parse will become the underlying layer that people build on, and pull in various Facebook services in when they need them,” Sukhar said in an interview. “That’s what we’re focused on, and that’s how the product will evolve.” It’s clear that the recent announcements from Facebook and Parse show an importance on building products for, and relationships with, the developer community. “At Facebook, what were trying to do is build tools that help you do two things,” Zuckerberg said. “Build and grow your apps.”

In A Big Data World, Marketers Know Shockingly Little About Us

Big Data is a big deal for businesses, given the potential for marketing departments to discover our innermost thoughts and buying behaviors, and thereby tailor pitches to us. At least, that's the dream. For now, at least based on the data marketing firms actually have on most of us, the dream is far from being realized. The Sad Reality Of Big Data Marketing We've all read about how marketers are now able to make highly tailored product pitches to us based on our web searches, online purchases and more. Our every click, registered and used against us. Our privacy, destroyed forever! And yet the reality is kind of depressing. For all our talk about Big Data knowing so much, they marketers may actually know very, very little.
To help consumers understand the data being collected about them, Acxiom just launched a new website called The site allows you to enter some personal information (name, birthdate, etc.) and discover what marketers think about you. Granted, the site is likely also a way for Axciom to build up its reservoir of data, but it's kind of fun to see what the marketing data says about us. For example, according to, I'm a 40-year old, truck-driving Arab that votes Democrat, has a newborn and is into fashion. Well, one of those is true. My friend and Businessweek reporter, Ashlee Vance, notes that according to the site, "I'm a single Italian woman with one child. Time to get back to work, algorithms." Now whatever you may think of his first name, Ashlee is very much a man. And I think the closest he gets to being Italian is ordering pizza... at Dominos. No wonder that my friend and PR executive Lonn Johnston writes, "I'm feeling much safer if this is how the big data rubber hits the patch of road that runs through my life." Not That It's All Bad Of course, much of the information on the site is pretty accurate. I do donate to charitable causes (How did they get my tithing receipts?). I have lived in my 1930s era home for 10 years. I do make a lot of online purchases and probably do roughly average the dollars spent that Acxiom believes I do. What's weird is that despite this data, the ads I still see on the web (mostly obliterated by studious use of AdBlock) are generally irrelevant to my interests. I want to buy a used Subaru Outback as my daughter is now crowding me out of our family driving pool, and have registered that interest by spending far too much time on AutoBuyer, Edmunds, KSL and Craigslist looking at these cars. But I've yet to see a single ad tailored to this obvious buying intent. Instead I see the same stupid ads you see: how to learn a new language, weight loss miracle cures, etc. Which is why I can't credit Acxiom's warning that opting out of its marketing data repository will somehow hurt me: Opting out of Acxiom's online and/or offline marketing data will not prevent you from receiving marketing materials. Instead of receiving ads that are relevant to your interests, you will see more generic ads with no information to tailor content. For example, instead of getting a great offer on a hotel package in your favorite vacation spot, you might see an ad for the latest, greatest weight loss solution. I've never had a single ad giving me a deal on a Grand Targhee vacation. Or something urging me to get those new Rossignol S7s that I've wanted and demonstrated interest in by madly clicking on the new season's models. Or, really, anything that I actually want. Maybe Acxiom and the other online marketing companies don't send me such offers because they think I'm Arab. And drive a truck. And vote Democrat. But given all that they do know about me, I'd kind of hope to get an ad that actually mattered to me. At least once.

Facebook Delays Privacy Policy Updates

Changes to Facebook's data use policy announced a week ago will not be rolled out until next week, according to the LA Times. The proposed changes include adding profile photos to Facebook's facial recognition database, and clarifying the use of personal information for advertising purposes. According to the Times, the Federal Trade Commission has been asked by six consumer watchdog groups to block Facebook's proposed changes. The policy updates were in response to a privacy lawsuit filed in 2011 that the company settled for $20 million last month.

A New Google Technology Aims To Make Apps Run Everywhere—Well, Almost

The new Desktop section of the Chrome Web Store. Writing an app that will run on more than one software platform—think Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android and Windows Phone—has usually been an exercise in frustration for developers, because it meant creating separate versions for each respective operating system. But a long-awaited technology from Google may take a big step toward eliminating that headache by allowing Web apps to run on top of browser technology, not the underlying operating system. And without the need for an active Internet connection. The Vicious Cross-Platform Circle The time and energy it takes to "port" an app from one platform to another is clear from the fact that many developers and their accountants often decide not to port apps. If the numbers say it's not worth the effort, then it won't get done. That's why, for instance, there's still no official Instagram app for Windows Phone. With just a 3% market share, Windows Phone is simply nowhere near as attractive to developers as iOS and Android. Sure, there may be Instagram on Windows Phone someday, but it's clearly not a priority. The problem is self-perpetuating, too. If a platform doesn't have the apps people want, that makes it less attractive to would-be adopters—ordinary consumers, in the case of smartphones. This is arguably one of the big reasons Windows Phone remains marginal in the smartphone market—and why Linux has likewise failed to have much impact in the desktop/laptop world. Developers have long hoped for rescue by Web apps—software that resides in the cloud and runs in browsers, a la Google Docs. Hopes were high that improved HTML and scripting technologies would allow a vast number of apps to run in a variety of browsers. Since browsers are already ubiquitous on most any platform, that would seem a handy solution to the problem of cross-platform deployment. That has in fact worked, but only to an extent. For one thing, a Web app was basically just a Web page that had to be launched within a browser. There were workarounds—Prism for Windows and Fluid for OS X, for instance, made it possible to make Web apps look more like desktop apps, complete with icons you could click to fast-start Web apps. (I use Fluid to start up my Feedly instance in the morning, for instance.) Or users could make URL shortcuts. But such complications still limited Web apps' appeal. A second problem was harder to work around. By definition, Web apps require users to be, well, connected to the Web. That makes them basically useless if you're not in Wi-Fi range. Tethering Web Apps To The Desktop No browser or platform team is as committed to the idea of Web apps as the folks at Chrome and ChromeOS. For Google's developers, Web apps are central to the whole idea of Chrome and ChromeOS, which is to have developers write one Web app that can then run on any operating system where Chrome runs. This week, on Chrome's fifth anniversary, the team introduced a new twist known as Chrome Web Apps that aims to solve the two main shortcomings of "traditional" Web apps. Built with HTML5, JavaScript and cascading style sheets, Chrome Web Apps open in their own windows, not the browser. But these apps will work offline and can use hardware (memory cards, cameras, drives) connected to the device they're running on—something that traditional Web apps can't do. The browser itself doesn't even have to be running, although the apps will tap into its native functionality. Chrome isn't the only browser team working on this sort of packaged Web app software. Mozilla has made Open Web Apps available since 2011 in the the Firefox Marketplace. The Mozilla team has indicated that it has been working closely with the Chrome team to maintain standards capability. There are, however, a few obstacles to Google's vision. Chrome Web Apps are currently only available for Windows and Chromebooks, with Mac, Linux and mobile versions coming "soon." And you probably shouldn't expect to see these apps on Apple's closed iOS platform any time soon—if ever. On iOS, Chrome apps would have to use the same Webkit rendering engine that Apple's Safari uses, which means they're unlikely to work. Update: A comment to this story apparently from Google's Joe Marini indicates that this supposition about iOS is not correct. According to Marini, "Actually, our plan is in fact to allow these apps to work on iOS. We are working to implement support for Android and iOS via Cordova (PhoneGap)." Plus, Chrome Web apps would have to go through Apple's app store anyway. This point is important, because Chrome Web Apps are tied to the Chrome Web Store. So while you can theoretically create a Chrome Web app that could run on any other browser, you'll actually need to deploy it through the Chrome Web Store to package it for delivery to users. Such "packaged" Web apps might well usher in a cross-platform future once the kinks are ironed out. With any luck, Google's commitment to open standards won't turn out to be mere lip service, because if it is, developers might just trade the problem of which operating system to work with for the problem of which browser platform to work with.

How To Get The Most Money Selling Your Old iPhone

With a new iPhone around the corner, that iPhone 5 or 4S is starting to look a little long in the tooth. If you've got upgrade fever, you might as well squeeze every last dime out of that ancient old thing, don't you think? There are plenty of ways to sell used electronics, both online and in the three dimensional world. And while you might be in a hurry to liquidate your smartphone assets, assessing your options and playing your cards right can fatten your wallet significantly. Here's a look at some traditional and less common options for selling your old iPhone (or any smartphone, for the most part), as well as some tips for getting the most bang for your buck on each.
eBay: Maximize Effort, Maximize Value If you aren't an established eBay seller, diving into the auction site can be intimidating—but it doesn't need to be. To sell an old iPhone—or anything else—on eBay, the most important thing to remember is full transparency. Be completely honest about the condition of your device. Are the corners around the screen a little dinged up? It might not seem like a big deal to you, but mention that in your listing and include images depicting any wear and tear too. When it comes to used electronics, images are really important. Instead of settling on one or two stock shots of a shiny new iPhone, bust out a camera (a friend's smartphone will do) and take some nice, custom, in focus shots of your device. Pick good lighting and don't use flash—you'd be surprised what a difference a good photo can make in pushing up the bidding. Be sure to end your auction at night, not in the middle of the work day. And if you choose to include a Buy It Now option, make that price significantly steep—you don't want to undercut your own auction, after all. Want to up the ante? Throw in any cases and accessories you might have sitting around. Offering to jailbreak the device can also push auctions higher. And always check completed listings on eBay to see similar items that have recently sold, or failed to sell, to get an idea of what drives the bidding higher.
Craigslist: Convenient and No-Fee Craigslist may not have the robust built-in accountability of a virtual auction house, but it's got one big thing going for it: there's no middle man. If you sell an item on eBay and use PayPal to complete the transaction, that's two hands getting a piece of the pie that aren't yours. Craigslist is considerably sketchier—pro tip: don't meet up with a potential buyer by the railroad tracks after dark—but successfully selling a device there means that the cash goes straight into your pocket. Follow the same general guidelines as you would with eBay in your listing. Be honest and include a full swath of well-shot images depicting any damage (and wipe that screen down first!). Keep your listing fairly simple, and be sure to include the right details. Is your iPhone the 16GB or 32GB version? What carrier's networks will it run on? What version of iOS is it running? The latter bit of info is key to any prospective jailbreakers, so nail every detail. Once your post is up, you can link directly to your ad across social networks to raise exposure. And never put "OBO" in your post title—that's a surefire way to get less than you're asking for. Facebook: Where Your Friends Are Selling a used phone on Facebook is your simplest, most convenient option. If you have a big social network, odds are that you know someone who might need what you've got. Make a posting in plain language so you sound like yourself and not like a promoted post—your friends are your prospective customers, after all. You don't need to include anything beyond the basics (i.e. "Hey friends! I'm selling a White 16GB iPhone 4S for Sprint... want it?"); you can provide the rest of the info in backchannels like email, or meet up in person without worrying you'll be prey for a serial killer à la Craigslist. Other Options: Trade In Or Recycle If you just want to get rid of your old iPhone easily without maximizing value, online options abound. There are plenty of official-ish and unofficial trade-in options for used electronics, but odds are you're going to get more money elsewhere. Apple's own "recycling" program will give you an Apple gift card for your old device. Beyond that, Apple just launched a new in-store trade-in option powered by BrightStar—just hand your old phone to an Apple store employee and ask for a quote. Want to let your eyes roam beyond Apple? Plug in your phone's details on the website Gazelle, get an offer and ship it in for cash. Or get an online quote from a big box retailer like Best Buy, Walmart or even Gamestop for in-store credit. Screen cracked? iCracked will buy your old phone, shattered glass and all. Remember, when it comes to offloading used electronics, iPhones and otherwise, comparison shopping is key. Look around and get different quotes. Or take the plunge and maximize your value by going rogue and selling it without a middleman. Good luck out there.